Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blogger power: subversion and ridicule

The Egyptian authorities have recently meted out a 4-year prison sentence to Kareem Amer, an outspoken 22-year old blogger for “inciting hatred of Islam” and "criticising President Hosni Mubarak".

The blogger community is incensed by this harsh punishment. His blog supporters have initiated a worldwide campaign to publicise his case and free him. Syrian bloggers, who would be just as exposed to the risk of government harassment and imprisonment back home, have taken up his case in solidarity.

For Middle East bloggers, Kareem’s sentence comes as no surprise. He has provoked both the religious and political establishments and challenged their legitimacy. He has also managed to upset many devout Muslims who do not necessarily support the authorities. His own father has disowned him and called for him to be hanged!

Like any 22-year old rebel, Kareem tends to see the world in black and white and be severely critical of injustice, hypocrisy and intolerance in his own community. But his real crime is that he has been able to propagate his private thoughts to the rest of the world and reach out to many people who happened to agree with him. His potential power to subvert has alarmed the authorities, so much so that Egyptian Prosecutor Mohammed Dawoud is reported to have accused Kareem of being an “apostate” who “has hurt every Muslim across the world,” and to have told The Associated Press, “I want him to get the toughest punishment. I am on a jihad here … If we leave the likes of him without punishment, it will be like a fire that consumes everything.”

It is well to remember that authoritarian governments and fundamentalists of any type fear most two things: media freedom and ridicule. The former challenges their ideas and legitimacy and subverts their power base and the latter exposes their fallibility and shatters their carefully-nurtured personality cult.

The blogosphere is the essence of media freedom. Bloggers who are sufficiently articulate and determined can attract many followers. Like modern-day Messiahs, they have the capacity to wage intellectual wars that could eventually topple regimes and rock the foundations of long-held value systems.

We have truly reached the point of no return. From now on, no single government, cult or culture will ever be able to brainwash and impose its will on any community that can use the Internet.

Let us not get carried away though; as Bridget Johnson of LA Daily News has reminded us, “Unless the global community takes a stand, Kareem’s imprisonment will not be the last”. I am certainly writing directly to every Egyptian cabinet minister and ambassador I can reach and to every international organisation that funds the Egyptian government to let them know my private thoughts! Bloggers acting alone or in unison can make a difference, and in this case we shall.

The names and contact details of the Egypt’s cabinet members are here.

The contact details of some Egyptian embassies and consulates are here.

The contact details of USAID's programme for Egypt are here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Regime Rottweilers demand more meat

Syrian human rights campaigner, Lawyer Anwar Al-Bunni, incarcerated since May 2006, is about to be served another dose of humiliation and persecution by the authorities.

Not content with beating him up in the street, jailing him twice, torturing him in prison, ignoring his hunger strike, shaving his hair and revoking his license to practise law, they now want to strip him of his citizenship. The full story is here.

Stripping someone of citizenship is a drastic measure reserved for cases of high treason. In Syria this is almost unheard of. According to a 1967 decree, a citizen can be stripped of his citizenship if he is proved to be in the service of a foreign state working against Syria or a country at war with Syria.

In the case of Mr Al-Bunni, the move to deprive him of citizenship has come from the Minister of Labour & Social Affairs, Mrs Dayala Al-Haj Arif. Al-Bunni is accused of establishing an unauthorised human rights organization in Syria. The organization with an office in Damascus received partial funding from the EU and was closed down within one week. How can the diligent minister regard it as high treason when Syria was negotiating an association agreement with the EU which demands respect for human rights? Is the EU working against Syria? Is it at war with Syria? Has it not provided funding for some developmental projects in Syria in recent years?

It seems likely that some regime Rottweilers are out to make an example of Mr Al-Bunni. His treatment certainly smacks of a thuggish personal vendetta. Where is the treasonable offence?

Human Rights Watch report on Syria

Events of 2006
Syria’s poor human rights situation deteriorated further in 2006. The government strictly limits freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Emergency rule, imposed in 1963, remains in effect, despite public calls by Syrian reformers for its repeal. The authorities continue to harass and imprison human rights defenders and non-violent critics of government policies. Following the May 2006 Beirut-Damascus Declaration, which called for improved relations between Lebanon and Syria, security forces apprehended some dozen activists who had signed the petition, including prominent writer Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni. On August 15, 2006, a military court sentenced Habib Saleh, a regular contributor to online forums, to three years for “spreading false and exaggerated information.” Saleh had earlier served a three-year sentence for his involvement in the Damascus Spring initiatives of 2001.

Thousands of political prisoners, many of them members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party, remain in detention. Syrian Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority, continue to protest their treatment as second-class citizens. Women face legal as well as societal discrimination and have little means for redress against sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and “Disappearances”
In January 2006 the government released five of the eight remaining Damascus Spring prisoners, including former members of parliament Ma'mun al-Humsi and Riad Seif, as well as Fawaz Tello, Walid al-Bunni, and Habib Issa, but all five continue to face harassment. The authorities briefly detained Riad Seif twice following his release. Rights activist Ali al-Abdullah, who was released after six months in prison in November 2005, was detained again in March 2006 along with two of his sons. Syrian authorities disavowed any knowledge of their whereabouts for over a month. Al-Abdullah and one son were convicted in October 2006 for spreading false news and undermining the state but were released as they had already served their six-month sentences.

The authorities brought additional charges against activist Kamal al-Labwani, who has been detained since November 2005 after meeting abroad with European and US officials. He now stands accused of "communicating with a foreign country and prompting it to direct confrontation," which carries a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

Dr. `Arif Dalila, a prominent economics professor and a proponent of political liberalization, continues to serve a 10-year prison term imposed in July 2002 for his non-violent criticism of government policies. His health deteriorated sharply in 2006; reports indicate that he suffered a stroke.

The London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) estimates that about 4,000 political prisoners remain in detention in Syria. The authorities refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of people in detention on political or security-related charges.

The government also targets university students and other youths who exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. In early 2006 Syrian Air Force Intelligence arrested eight young men who tried to establish a youth movement. The authorities referred all eight—Husam Melhem, Ali Nazir al-Ali, Tariq al-Ghourani, Ayham Saqr, ‘Ulam Fakhour, Maher Ibrahim Asbar, Omar al-Abdullah, and Diab Siriya—to the Supreme State Security Court, but as of mid-November 2006 the charges against them were still unknown.

Torture remains a serious problem in Syria, especially during interrogation. The September 2006 report of the official Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the 2002 US deportation to Syria of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, concluded that “the SMI [Syrian Military Intelligence] tortured Mr. Arar while interrogating him during the period he was held incommunicado at the SMI’s Palestine Branch facility.” The report also concluded that Arar had come under Canadian and US suspicion on the basis of information the SMI extracted by torture from two other Canadian nationals of Arab origin, Abdullah al-Malki and Ahmad El Maati.

Syrian human rights organizations reported a number of cases of torture in 2006. One such case involved 26-year-old Mohammad Shaher Haysa, who reportedly died in a Damascus interrogation center as a result of severe torture.

2006 passed without any government acknowledgement that its security forces had “disappeared” an estimated 17,000 persons. The “disappeared” were mostly Muslim Brotherhood members and other Syrian activists who were detained in the late 1970s and early 1980s as well as hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians who were detained in Syria or abducted from Lebanon by Syrian forces or Lebanese and Palestinian militias.

Human Rights Defenders
Human rights activists continue to be targets of government harassment and arrest. Among those arrested in 2006 and still in detention is human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, arrested May 17 on charges of “belonging to a secret organization intending to topple President Bashar al-Assad.” Fatih Jamus, arrested May 1, was released on October 12, 2006, but awaits trial for “spreading false information.”

The government continues to prevent human rights activists from traveling and in 2006 expanded its list of those banned from leaving the country. The Syria-based Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights has published a list of over 110 activists banned from traveling; the actual number is considerably higher. Among those banned from traveling in 2006 are Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies; Suheir Atassi, head of the Jamal al-Atassi Forum for Democratic Dialogue, which Syrian authorities shut down in 2005; and Walid al-Bunni, a physician who helped found the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society.

Syrian officials consistently have denied registration requests by human rights organizations. For instance, in August 2006 the Ministry of Social Affairs refused the request of the Syria-based National Organization for Human Rights to register, without providing any explanation.

Discrimination and Violence against Kurds
Kurds are the largest non-Arab ethnic minority in Syria, comprising about 10 percent of the population of 18.5 million. They remain subject to systematic discrimination, including the arbitrary denial of citizenship to an estimated 300,000 Syria-born Kurds.

Tensions have remained high since serious clashes between Kurdish demonstrators and security forces in Qamishli in 2004 that left more than 30 dead and 400 injured. Despite a general presidential pardon for those involved in the March 2004 clashes, dozens of Kurds still face trials in the criminal court of Al-Hasake, reportedly on charges of inciting disturbances and damaging public property.

Syrian authorities also suppress expressions of Kurdish identity. On March 20, 2006, security services arrested dozens of Kurds for participating in a candle-lit night procession in celebration of the Kurdish new year, Nowruz, and used tear gas and batons to break up the march.

Discrimination against Women
Syria’s constitution guarantees gender equality, and many women are active in public life, but personal status laws as well as the penal code contain provisions that discriminate against women and girls. The penal code allows a judge to suspend punishment for a rapist if the rapist chooses to marry his victim, and provides leniency for so-called “honor” crimes, such as assault or killing of women and girls by male relatives for alleged sexual misconduct. Wives require the permission of their husbands to travel abroad, and divorce laws remain discriminatory.

Situation of Refugees Fleeing Iraq
An estimated 450,000 Iraqis are now living in Syria. While Syria initially welcomed Iraqi refugees and provided them with access to public hospitals and schools, Syrian attitudes and policies towards these refugees hardened in 2006 with the implementation of increasingly restrictive national immigration rules. Access to public hospitals has also become more limited. This has created difficulties for an increasing number of Iraqis, some of whom have started to leave the country seeking asylum elsewhere.

Syria has also hardened its position towards Palestinians fleeing Iraq. Since May 2006 Syria closed its border to Iraqi Palestinians and several hundred remain now at a makeshift camp in the no-man’s land between the Iraqi and Syrian border checkpoints.

Key International Actors
Syria’s relationship with the United States, United Kingdom, and France remained strained in 2006 over Syria’s role in Lebanon and its ties to Iran. On May 17, 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1680, which called on Syria to cooperate in the implementation of Resolution 1559 requiring the complete withdrawal of all foreign—that is, Syrian—troops from Lebanon. Following the war between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2006, a number of European countries began to question the policy of ostracizing Syria and started thinking about how best to reengage dialogue with al-Assad’s regime.

Syria remains under pressure to cooperate with the ongoing international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In his September 2006 interim report, Serge Brammertz, the head of the UN International Independent Investigation Committee, wrote that Syria’s cooperation “remained generally satisfactory, and the Commission continues to require its full support in providing information and facilitating interviews with individuals located on Syrian territory.” At this writing, four senior pro-Syrian Lebanese intelligence and security officers remained in detention in Lebanon on suspicion of involvement in the Hariri assassination.

Iran continued to be Syria’s main regional ally and in June 2006 the two countries signed an agreement for military cooperation aiming at consolidating their defense efforts.

The Association Agreement between Syria and the European Union, initialed in October 2004, contains a clause requiring respect for human rights. At this writing, the agreement remained suspended at the final approval stage as European countries remained divided over how to engage with Syria.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Syria to establish a National Human Rights Commission!

In February last year, the UN agreed to support the Syrian government in implementing its 10th five-year development plan (2006-2010). A technical assistance programme was signed at a cost of US$110 million and the UN agreed to absorb US$30 million of this cost.

The aim of the programme is to address mounting social and economic problems in the country and, in particular, reduce poverty and regional disparities. The key targets of the programme are to:

1) improve governance
2) improve transparency and accountability
3) create a participatory democratic society
4) create a socially responsible economy
5) generate sustainable economic growth
6) generate higher employment to improve human development and reduce poverty

These goals translate into more detailed plans and projects on the ground (see the Annex in the full report here).

Syria, in common with other countries that suffer from deep-seated corruption and maladministration, is better at making plans than implementing them. Reform campaigners should monitor in particular the following 4 targets and outcomes and take the government to task on these and other elements of the programme:

Target 1: Accountability of executive bodies reinforced towards the general public and in regard to committed United Nations conventions
1.1 Capacity of legislative bodies and elected representatives to oversee executive bodies strengthened
1.2 Capacity of civil society and media to monitor performance of public institutions and service delivery strengthened
1.3 Anti-corruption legislation and institutions in place

Target 2: Democratic electoral processes and civic education enhanced
2.1 Local electoral laws revised according to international standards of political participation and election commission/institution established
2.2 National programmes on civic education as well as free, fair and transparent election systems and practices implemented
2.3 Women's capacity strengthened to enhance their participation in political life and decision-making

Target 3: An empowered civil society involved in the development and implementation of public policies, planning and programmes
3.1 The legal framework improved and implemented to allow enhanced participation of civil society organisations
3.2 Capacities of civil society and private sector associations enhanced, including in the use of ICT tools, to participate in reform policy formulation
3.3 National dialogue on human development deficits promoted among stakeholders

Target 4: Improving administrative services for citizens and courts’ administrations taking into account citizens’ rights and the needs of vulnerable groups.
4.1 Better targeting, access to, and improved quality of some administrative services through reform of legal frameworks, processes (cutting red tape) and automation
4.2 Strategy for the management and development of human resources within the civil service defined and implemented
4.3 E-government and e-business introduced
4. 4 Awareness of human rights issues for actors involved in law enforcement and rule of law, education and media improved
4.5 National Human Rights Commission established
4.6 Court procedures and capacity of the justice sector improved

The government has already implemented some measures relating to local elections (see previous post on the forthcoming Syrian elections in 2007) but local democracy could be undermined if financial resources continue to be raised and allocated entirely by central government.

It is interesting that the programme envisages the establishment of a national human rights commission. Could Assef Shawkat perhaps be persuaded to lead it?!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is the Syrian government doing about corruption?

When Bashar Assad inherited the presidency in 2000, he declared his intention to purge the government, civil service and public enterprises of corrupt elements. In the language of the following post, he has done no more than fry some big fish. Conveniently, the fish he fried were not so keen on closer relations with Iran. Corruption has been left to eat away at the foundations of Syrian institutions and public morale.

Leadership under Systemic Corruption
Based on an excellent speech by R Klitgaard, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University

Suppose a new leader wishes to attack systemic corruption in his country. What advice might he need? A distinguishing characteristic of systemic corruption is that the parts of the government that are supposed to prevent corruption have themselves become corrupted—budgeting, auditing, inspection, monitoring, evaluation, and enforcement. This makes the anti-corruption task much more difficult. We cannot simply call for capacity building in these anti-corruption parts of government, because their capacity has been bought off and directed away from their ostensible mission.

The good news is that around the world courageous leaders have made impressive progress against systemic corruption. Each case is different. But some themes emerge that might be helpful for other leaders:

i) Change the Institutional Culture
When corruption is systemic, the institutional culture itself has grown sick. The norm is corruption; expectations are that corruption will continue. Cynicism and despair are widespread. Change seems impossible. And yet there are cases where leaders have made substantial progress in changing the institutional culture. Not completely and not forever, but enough to enable systemic corruption to be reduced. What did the leaders do?

In all cases the leaders begin by sending a strong signal of change to their institutions and to citizens. They publicize their intent to attack corruption. But in corrupt societies, words count for little. People have heard plenty of rhetoric about corruption and now don’t believe it. The culture of corruption contains the idea that big fish will swim free, that the powerful enjoy impunity. Successful leaders change this idea through impressive action, not just words. One step is to fry a big fish (or two).

A second principle used by successful reformers is to change the institutional culture by “picking low-hanging fruit.” These leaders do not necessarily tackle the most important problem first, if that problem is very difficult. Instead, they create short-term successes that are highly visible and change expectations: “Maybe things can change…maybe they will change.” Short-term successes built momentum for long-term reforms. Finally, successful leaders bring in new blood. Even though they work with people within existing institutions, they invite in young people to be “eyes and ears”, business people to take important public positions and investigate cases in depth.

ii) Mobilize and Coordinate
A successful fight against systemic corruption must involve more than one agency of government. For example, success requires the help of the supreme audit authority, the police, the prosecutors, the courts, the finance functions of government, and others. What’s more, the fight against corruption requires the help of the business community and civil society. They can provide unique information about where corruption is occurring and how corrupt systems work. This suggests an apparent paradox. The fight against systemic corruption requires a strong leader—someone strategic and brave and politically astute. But the leadership trait that is most important is the ability to mobilize other actors and to coordinate their efforts productively. The task is not command and control, but mobilization and coordination.

It is important to mobilize the employees of the systemically corrupt institutions. Surprisingly perhaps, many success stories involved people in the government in the diagnosis of government corruption. It turned out that even people involved in corrupt systems were willing and able to analyze where those systems were vulnerable—where there was a combination of monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. Successful reformers also begin with the positive. They to do something good for their public sector employees. For example, new systems of performance measurement are linked with better pay, promotion policies, and “prizes” such as overseas trips and courses.

Those who have successfully fought systemic corruption have involved the people. Many leaders invite business groups and lawyers and accountants to describe how corrupt systems work and to suggest remedial measures. Successful leaders analyze existing corrupt systems in terms of winners and losers. The winners from corruption will resist change. They have to be neutralized. The losers are potential allies. They can be mobilized in the anti-corruption effort.

The potential allies include international aid agencies and multinational corporations, as well as the President (if the reformer is a mayor or a minister or the head of a public enterprise). Successful leaders help these important actors look at the fight against corruption as something good for them—and thereby earn crucial financial and technical assistance.

Reform Systems
In the long term, curing systemic corruption requires better systems. Successful leaders understood that better systems go well beyond better laws and new codes of conduct. They apply the formula

Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion - Transparency

to guide their systemic reforms. Corruption flourishes when someone has monopoly power, has the discretion to decide how much you get or whether you get any at all, and where transparency and accountability are weak. So, to fight corruption we must reduce monopoly, reduce discretion, and increase transparency in many ways.

Reducing monopoly power means enabling competition. Mexico now puts online all government contracts and procurement plans before and after the decisions are made, so prices and winners are public knowledge. Argentina reduced corruption in hospitals by publishing prices of all purchases throughout the hospital system. Corrupt deals that had resulted in higher prices were quickly made evident.

Limiting discretion means clarifying the rules of the game and making them available to the common man and woman, such as manuals which describe simply what is required to get a permit, build a house, start a business, and so forth. Enhancing accountability means many things, and creative leaders use a remarkable variety of methods. One way to improve accountability is to improve the measurement of performance. Leaders can work with their employees and clients to create new systems for measuring the performance of agencies and offices—and then link rewards to results.

Another method is listening and learning from businesses and from citizens. This includes mechanisms for public complaints. Accountability is also increased by inviting outside agencies to audit, monitor, and evaluate. Finally, the press can be an important source of accountability, if they are invited to be partners in reform instead of treated as potential political enemies. Successful reformers recognize that corruption is an economic crime, not a crime of passion. Reformers work hard to change the risk-reward calculations of those who might give bribes and those who might receive them. Raising pay is good, especially for Ministers and other government leaders. Salaries should be somewhat competitive with the private sector—perhaps 80 percent is a good norm. But note that beyond some reasonable minimum that enables leaders to live well, the level of pay does not have much of an effect on corrupt calculations. “Should I take this bribe or not?” The answer depends on the size of the bribe (which is a function of my monopoly power and my discretion), the chance I’ll be caught (a function of accountability), and the penalty I’ll pay if I’m caught. It only depends a little on my level of income, at least once I have enough to live on. Therefore, once salaries for top officials are “reasonable,” leaders should emphasize improving information about performance and the incentives attending good and bad performance.

What about ethics and morality? Successful leaders set a good example. They sometimes create training programs for employees and citizens. Nonetheless, in the success stories I have studied, what might be called “moral initiatives” are not the key feature of the long-term reforms. The keys are systems that provide better incentives for imperfect human beings to perform in the public interest—and to avoid corruption.

Subverting Corruption
There is one final and important point to make. When corruption has become systemic, it resembles organized crime. It has its own parallel system of recruitment and hierarchy, of rewards and punishments, of contracts and enforcement. This parallel system has some inherent weaknesses. For example, in no country of the world are bribery and extortion legal. Therefore, they must be kept (somewhat) secret. The money gained must be hidden. One cannot openly recruit new members. The mechanisms for enforcement are illicit. How can these corrupt systems be subverted? Obviously we cannot count on members of organized crime to clean themselves. Instead, we must analyze the corrupt systems and ask, “How might they be destabilized?” Who is “we”? It can be a new president and his or her team, or a new mayor or head of a public enterprise. But it can also be you and me as members of civil society. Around the world we see new examples of citizen activism, of business groups entering into “integrity pacts,” of intellectuals and journalists and religious leaders going beyond lectures and sermons to analyze corrupt systems and work together to subvert them. For example, a corrupt system of road building in Colombia involved senators, government executives, and key business people. The system involved many “emergency works” that were let on a noncompetitive basis—at a price 30 percent higher than works bid competitively. The surcharge was shared corruptly. This system did not involve all senators, all government officials, or all businesses. The honest ones combined forces. They analyzed the corrupt system. They documented the lifestyles of the corrupt senators and officials. Finally, they publicized the results. The corrupt system could not withstand the light, and soon the key figures were in jail.

A wise leader wishing to fight systemic corruption will mobilize people in the same way. Together, they can analyze corrupt systems and document lifestyles far out of proportion to official pay. And together, they can subvert organized crime and begin a new era of good government.

Ethical Reforms
What about the promotion of ethics in the civil service? As part of a wide-ranging campaign against corruption, the promulgation of a simple and easy-to-understand code of conduct may be a useful step. For example, government officials might sign a declaration that they will not accept bribes, and all firms participating in public-sector procurement might sign one saying that they will not offer bribes.

Experience in many countries, however, shows that efforts to improve public servants’ ethics through codes of conduct and exhortation alone are non-starters. Some of the most scandalous regimes make the loudest noises about public ethics (witness Marcos’s 1975 reforms in the Philippines, or Mobutu’s many moralization campaigns in Zaire). If we could suddenly transform ourselves into more ethical beings, corruption would be reduced, but governments lack ready tools for accomplishing such transformations. Therefore, combating corruption should focus on the reform of systems, combined with great political sensitivity and strategy.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What Assad thinks of the Syrian people

No comment

Click on image to enlarge

Friday, February 09, 2007

Independent Jewish Voices

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is a network of individuals who wish to have a platform for critical debate on major political questions, the situation in the Middle East in particular. The initiative was born out of a frustration with the widespread misconception that the Jews of this country (Great Britain) speak with one voice - and that this voice supports the Israeli government’s policies.

In the year that sees the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, our project is to create a climate and a space in which Jews of different affiliations and persuasions can express their opinions about the actions of the Israeli government without being accused of disloyalty or being dismissed as self-hating. The need for such debate becomes even more urgent as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate.

From a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of views, we all share the belief that the interests of an occupying power should not count for more than the human rights of an occupied people, together with

1. a commitment to human rights

2. the conviction that Palestinians and Israelis have a right to peace and security

3. a condemnation of racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Our founding principles are set out in our Declaration "A Time to Speak Out - Independent Jewish Voices" . We urge those who share these principles to join us .

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is one of a growing number of networks across the world reflecting the views of Jews with a strong commitment to peace and human rights who feel that an independent stand is vital in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. Apart from the UK, among other countries that have given birth to such groups in recent years are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, USA.

In addition, there is an impressive number of both Israeli and Palestinian NGOs active in the areas of peace, human rights and co-existence. The ones we are aware of us are listed below (we assume there are others we have not come across). Many of them have websites, which may be accessed by keying their names into a search engine.

Please note that while we believe their agendas are oriented principally towards peace and human rights, IJV cannot vouch for the credentials of each and every group or take any responsibility for their activities or pronouncements. We will attempt to keep these lists up to date and if you know of other relevant NGOs (or any on the list that are no longer functional), please email details to Where the groups are joint Israeli/Palestinian, they are listed under both headings (but not necessarily under the same name).

Groups in Israel
Abraham Fund Initiatives
Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Akoda - promoting a culture of peace in Israel & the Middle East
Alternative Information Centre
Anarchists Against the Wall
Arab-Jewish Ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Arava Peace & Environmental Network
Association of Arab University Students
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
Association of Forty for Recognition of Arab Villages
Bat Shalom - Women for Peace
Beyond Words
Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights (human rights & spatial planning)
Bitterlemons - Palestinian-Israeli online journal
Black Laundry
Blue Rising Coalition - for a Permanent Status Peace
Breaking the Silence
Bridges - Israeli-Palestinian Public Health Magazine (sponsored by WHO)
Bridge for Peace - Israeli/Palestinian/Jordanian Disk Jockeys
B'Tselem - Israel Information Centre for Human Rights in the occupied territories
Bustan L'Shalom - social justice & environment
(The) Campus Is Not Silent
Centre for Creativity in Education & Cultural Heritage
Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development
Centre for the Struggle against Racism
Chefs for Peace
Children of Abraham
Citizens' Accord Forum
Clinical Legal Education Center for Human Rights & Social Responsibility
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace
Combat Seruv - Israeli officers & soldiers refusing to serve in the occupied territories
Combatants for Peace - former Israeli & Palestinian combatants
Conscientious Objectors' Support Forum
Council for Peace & Security
Creativity for Peace
Crossing borders - Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Youth Magazine
Culture of Peace Educational Program
(The) Democratic Choice
Disabled Veterans
Druse Initiative Committee
Du-Et - Israeli newspaper written & produced jointly by Jewish and Arab journalists
Du Siach
Economic Cooperation Foundation - for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement
E'Elam - Media Centre for Palestinians in Israel
Emda Circle
Encounter - EMEM
Eshed - citizenship, peace, democracy
Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP)Fighters Meet Fighters
Forum for National Consensus
(The) Fifth Mother
Geneva accord (Beilin-Abed Rabbo initiative)
Gisha - Center for the legal protection of freedom of movement
Givat Haviva - Jewish-Arab Centre for Peace
Green Action
(The) Green Line - Students for a Border
Gush Shalom
HaCampus Lo Shotek -The Campus Is Not Silent
HaKav HaYarok
HaMifkad HaLeumi - Voice of the People (Nusseibeh/Ayalon peace initiative)
HaMoked - Center for the Defence of the Individual.
Hand in Hand project - Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel
(The) High Follow-Up Committee for the Arab citizens in Israel
HRA - The Arab Association for Human Rights
High school seniors draft refusers
IFLAC - Peace through Culture
Indymedia - Independent Media Group
Interfaith Encounter Association
Interreligious Coordinating Council
IPCRI - Israel-Palestine Centre for Research & Information
Ir Amim - City of Nations or Peoples (= Jerusalem)
Ir Shalem
Islam-Israel Fellowship
Israeli Committtee Against House Demolitions
Israeli Committee for the Right of Residency
Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace
Israeli-Palestinian Peoples' Peace Campaign (IPPPC)
Israeli Section of Amnesty International
Jerusalem Foodsong
Jerusalem Jewish-Arab Circus
Jewish-Arab Community Association, Acre
Kav L'Oved - Workers' Hotline
Kav Yarok - Students for Immediate Withdrawal
Keshev - The Center for the Protection of Democracy in Israel
Kol Aher BaGalil - A different voice in Galilee
Kvisa Sh'hora - Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation
Left Forum
Manara - advancing the status of Arab women in Israel
Mas'ha Group
Merchavim - Institute for Democratic Education
MachsomWatch - women monitoring soldiers' conduct at checkpoints
Masha Peace Camp
Mateh Ha'Rov - Coalition of the Majority
MEET - Middle East Education through Technology
Mideast Web
Monitoring Committee of the Arab Population of Israel
Mossawa Center - Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel
Negev Coexistence Forum
Negev Shalom
Network of Organizations for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Israel
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam - integrated Jewish-Arab village near Latrun
New Israel Fund
New Profile
Olive Harvest Coalition
One Struggle
One to One - fosters peace & co-operation between Arabs & Jews in Israel
One Voice
Open House, Ramle - meeting place for Jewish & Arab youth
Open Tent
Ossim Shalom - Social Workers for Peace
Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom - orthodox Jewish movement for peace
Palestine-Israel Journal
Parents Circle - Bereaved Families Forum
Peace Alliance
Peace Child Israel
Peacemaker Community - Israel
Peres Centre for Peace
Physicians for Human Rights, Israel
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Rabbis for Human Rights
Rave Against The Occupation
Re'ut/Sadaka - Jewish-Arab Youth Movement for Peace & Equality
(The) Seventh Day
Shalom Achshav - Peace Now
Shovrim Shtika - Breaking the Silence (The Combatants Story)
Shuvi - Come Home (women urging withdrawal from Gaza Strip)
Sikkuy - Opportunity (Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel)
Sons of Abraham
Sulha Peace Project / Young Sulhita
(The) Supreme Followup Committee
Ta Adam
Tajamu Youth
Take-Their-Guns Coalition
TANDI - Movement of Democratic Women in Israel
Ta'ayush - Arab-Jewish Partnership
Together Forum (32 groups)
Union of Arab Associations
University Student Coalition
Vision of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine
War widows
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (conducted by Daniel Barenboim)
WILPF, Israel - Women's International League for Peace & Friendship
Windows for Peace - Palestinian-Israeli Friendship Centre
Wives of Reserve Soldiers
Women Against The Wall
Women & Mothers for Peace (formerly Four Mothers)
Women in Black
Women's Coalition for Peace
Women's Interfaith Encounter
X-Fighters - former Israeli & Palestinian combatants educating youth on costs of violence
Yesh Din- There is Law (promotes human rights in the West Bank & Gaza Strip)
Yesh Gvul - There is a limit / border
(The) Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation
Zochrot - Remembering (Israeli citizens raising awareness of the Palestinian Nakba)

Groups in West Bank / Gaza Strip
Bethlehem Peace CenterBitterlemons - Palestinian-Israeli online journal Bridges - Israeli-Palestinian Public Health Magazine (sponsored by WHO)Bridge for Peace - Israeli/Palestinian/Jordanian Disk JockeysCenter for Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation (CCRR)Civic Forum Institute Crossing borders - Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Youth MagazineDemocracy & Workers Rights Center (DWRC)Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP)Forum for Dialogue & Peace
Geneva accord (Beilin-Abed Rabbo initiative)
Holy Land TrustCommunity Development & Economic Programs (including peace and reconciliation)International Peace & Cooperation Center (IPCC)IPCRI - Israel-Palestine Centre for Research & InformationIsraeli-Palestinian Coalition for PeaceIsraeli-Palestinian Peoples' Peace Campaign (IPPPC)Library on Wheels for Non-violence & PeaceMedical Working CommitteesMiddle-East Non-violence & DemocracyMuwatin - Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy
One VoicePalestine-Israel JournalPalestinian Center for Democracy & Conflict Resolution (PCDCR)Palestinian Center for Peace & Democracy (PCPD)Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between PeoplePalestinian Conflict Resolution Center (WIAM)Palestinian Council for Justice & Peace (PCJP)Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG)Palestinian initiative for the promotion of global dialogue & democracy (MIFTAH)Palestinian Peace Coalition (PPC)Palestinian Section of Amnesty InternationalPanorama - Palestinian Center for Democracy & Community Development
Parents Circle - Bereaved Families ForumPeace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME)
Ru'ya - Palestinian VisionSeeds of Peace - Regional ProgramSociety Voice FoundationSumud (Steadfastness) CampTA'AWM - Palestinian Conflict Resolution InstituteVoice of the People (Nusseibeh/Ayalon Initiative)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Should Hamas recognise Israel?

In many ways this is a silly question. It is like asking if the ant should recognise the elephant's right to exist!

Yet, Israel and the so-called Middle East Quartet, Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, have been demanding not only that the ant should recognise the elephant's right to exist but also to live by its shadow, blindfolded.

Let us be clear on the history. Palestine was a British mandated territory from the end of the First world War to 1947. The UN partitioned the territory in 1947 into a Jewish state and an Arab state (resolution 181). Israel established itself in 1948 on the land alloted to the Jewish state, which amounted to 56% of the territory, or 1393 km². To be precise, Israel never officially defined its own borders and went on to grab a bit more land than it was entitled to under the partition plan. The Arabs never accepted the partition and went on to wage wars against the Jewish state, most of which they have lost together with a great deal more territory. Interestingly, Iran, India and Yugoslavia, which had taken part in the 11-neutral country committee that investigated the situation in Palestine before the UN decison, wanted to create a single federated state for Arabs and Jews. They did not think the partition would be a good recipe for peaceful coexistence in the long term or create viable economies. So they voted against the partition along with the Arab states.

Hamas's charter does not recognise Israel's right to exist, not even within its 1947 borders. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear which Israel the Quartet wants Hamas to recognise. The territory that Israel now controls is 15 times bigger (20,770 km²) than the original land alloted to it in 1947. Israel has captured these lands in battles with the Arabs, annexed them and established permanent settlements over them. Morality and justice aside, trying to pick though the 60-year conflict between Arabs and Israelis to apportion blame and then attempt to roll back history does not take us very far. There are winners and losers in most battles. The Arabs have lost. Rolling back history can only be done through patient negotiations and building trust over decades, or fighting more battles with the risk of losing more territory and lives.

Nonetheless, neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian group is under any moral or political obligation to recognise Israel's right to exist outside of its 1947 borders. The PLO (Fateh faction) may have signed agreements implicitly or explicitly recognising Israel's control over a wider territory, but Hamas, as a democratically elected government, still representing more than 50% of Palestinians, is entitled to take its own stand and, if necessary revoke any past PLO-Israel agreements (just as Israel has effectively done by building the separation wall). This line of thinking may be dogmatic, impractical and dangerous but it is entirely logical, just and legitimate. One has to start from what is logical, just and legitimate and proceed to making compromises if necessary.

Hamas is making a fatal strategic error in failing to recognise Israel's right to exist within its 1947 borders. Just like the Arab countries which never accepted the UN partition and set out to destroy the Jewish state, Hamas is criminally selling an impossible dream to its young and desparate followers that jihad, suicide bombing and killing Israeli settlers would win back lands and secure a lasting peace. Hamas is alienating the world against it, dividing the Palestinian people and allowing the regimes in Syria and Iran to manipulate it for their own political ends. Yet, Prime Minister Hanniyeh, despite his rhetoric, is a pragmatic man compared to the Damascus-based political leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, who is stubborn and ideologically driven. Ideological and fundamentalist religious leaders pose a grave danger to their own people because they can lead them to destruction, have an inflated view of their own strength, do not know how to engage with their opponents and have a predictable one-track mind that can be easily manipulated by bigger powers. The Arab world has had more than its fair share of leaders like him since 1947.

Mashaal has given Israeli hardliners a perfect excuse to block any progress towards a two-state solution (no matter how illusory such progress might have been in the first place) and continue to expand settlements and capture territory with the separation wall. On the other hand, Israel and the Quartet have absolutely no right to dictate to Hamas that it should recognise Israel's right to exist outside of its 1947 borders. They have essentially sent a hypocritical message to the Palestinians that "you can vote for whoever you like, but if we don't approve of the winner we don't have to deal with them". Israel has gone further by seeking to destabilise and bring down the Hamas government. Every inch of territory captured after 1947 is therefore legitimately open to negotiation, even if takes 200 years to achieve a settlement. In reality, Israelis and Palestinians who care about their children and value life, would likely come to their senses and compromise in their lifetime. Any reasonable, pragmatic and fair-minded person would wish no less for both peoples.

Mashaal and Hanniyeh (representing Hamas) and President Abbas (representing Fatah) are now locked in discussions in Saudi Arabia in an effort to avert a Palestinian civil war. Syria and Iran have pressured Mashaal against compromising and Israel and the Quartet have called on Hanniyeh to recognise Israel, renounce violence and respect previous agreements signed with the PLO, as a price for resuming peace talks.

Hanniyeh needs to show leadership, courage and wisdom by recognising Israel within its 1947 borders immediately. He should ban and punish any attacks against Israeli civilians anywhere and start negotiating with Ehud Olmert as part of a Palestinian national unity government. Doing so would legitimise Hamas in the eyes of most countries of the world. But many would regard this as a ridiculous negotiating position for Hamas to take when the PLO has effectively accepted Israeli control of territories captured in 1967 and beyond, as envisaged in the road map. Israeli hardliners would also try to torpedo any peace negotiations. Nevertheless, compromises are needed on both sides and Israel should not get away with thinking that success on the battle field and expanding illegal settlements buys her long term security or legitimacy. The road map itself is a ridiculous plan that cannot possibly withstand the test of time and Hamas would be perfectly entitled to reject it and seek to negotiate more economically and politically viable alternatives. No matter what peace strategy Hamas and Fateh may be able to formulate, the strategy must be based on a clear commitment to a negotiated settlement and non-violence (except in self defence against unprovoked attacks by the Israeli military).

The real battle is to win over world opinion while making it easier for Israeli moderates to win elections so they can persuade the majority of Israelis to trade viable land for peace and security. The alternative for Hamas is to continue to get in the elephant's way, blindfolded, and get trampled to death.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cheap oil and inflatable democracy

George Bush, all of a sudden, has gone green. He says America should no longer depend on Mid East oil. Let me translate his words:

"Fellow Americans, the mess in Iraq.. is all your fault. You made me go after cheap gas but the Chinese got there first. The gas is no longer cheap and I can't control the region any more, so I'm quitting Iraq".

Levantine Dreamhouse reports on the openning of the first "Terror-Free" gas station in Omaha. The people behind the campaign claim that buying Middle East oil funds terrorism against the US and Israel. Who is the terrorist here?

So far, nearly 700,000 Iraqis have died and 1.6 million displaced in the pursuit of cheap oil and inflatable democracy.

Click on image to enlarge
You might argue that it is the Iraqis who are killing each other. Well, what do you expect? That's what usually happens when you take the lid off a pressure cooker. Any responsible (and I do not mean moral) superpower would have used overwhelming force to invade and stabilise a country, with the minimum of casualties, but no, the "clever" Rumsfeld thought he was going on a picnic and wanted to do it on the cheap. Or was he super clever and super arrogant in trying to divide and rule?

Here is where morality comes in. As a full-scale civil war erupts in Iraq, you either bring in 20 times the number of troops and stay on for at least 7 years or pack your bags and go. Anything in between is both delusional and immoral. When the so-called insurgents and bandits scent weakness they go for everyone's jugular.

What we are witnessing now is the American administration, devoid of any morality, trying to save face and retreat gradually after blaming the Iraqi government for incompetence. The administration has not even explored the idea of a neutral multinational Islamic security force to fill the vacuum, even though some countries have expressed interest in providing troops (e.g Pakistan and Malaysia).

George will no doubt retire to his ranch with a clear conscience that he has done his best to turn Americans away from buying terror oil. The neocons and Condi have already given up on the idea of parachuting down inflatable parliaments in far away places. In any case, they are now too busy planning a war against Iran, so the "birth pangs of democracy" are upon us (again).