Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Ugly Occupation: the new rules of engagement and the Israeli "Mista'arvim"

Over the past two weeks, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is once again taking center stage. Increasing tension over Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, which for Palestinian Muslims is the Holy Haram al-Sharif, has spilled over with many claiming that we could be witnessing the beginnings of the "Third Intifada." 

Tragically both sides have suffered dead. Over the last few days, Palestinians have embarked on a wave of stabbings and shootings against Israelis, and the Israeli army and police have continued to react with excessive force--often live ammunition--against protesters hurling rocks at any Israeli military presence within the Occupied Palestinian lands. 

Making it worse, recently, the Israeli Cabinet changed the rules of engagement, allowing the army to use live ammunition even in cases when its soldiers' lives are not in danger. While the decision on paper might makes sense, allowing live gun fire also when a third party is in danger, clearly the army has taken it as a green light to use live ammunition to deter stone throwing Palestinians resisting Israel's ongoing 48 years of occupation.

Funeral of child killed by Israeli army gunfire.
photo credit:MUSA AL-SHAER / AFP
As a result, just two days ago, a 13-year old, Abdel Rahman Abdullah, was killed at a demonstration, when clearly Israeli soldiers were not in a not in a life-or-death situation. The Israeli army claims now that it was an accident and that it "had intended to shoot a protester who was leading the riot." However, any way you look at it, there was no "third party in danger" and to claim their own lives were in danger is ludicrous as they were armed with full riot gear.  

Israeli army claims that this unarmed protester proved a threat and as a result
was shot point-blank in the leg
Even more damning is the video that surfaced yesterday of Israeli undercover security personnel, dressed as Arabs (a unit within the army known as the "mista'arvim"),  inciting Palestinians to attack the army with stones and then turning on the protesters with pistols, as the army stormed them. In the video, posted by the Agence France Presse on YouTube, one protester is caught by the undercover agents and soldiers, and then brutally beaten with one undercover man coming and actually shooting him directly in the leg.

This disgraceful video shows us once again how ugly the occupation is, highlighting the abuse of force by the Israeli army--making it easy to understand why with each bullet more people will come out to challenge its presence. 

With years of relative silence on behalf of the West Bank Palestinians, it seems the time has come that once again they are saying "enough" to the occupation--especially since this silence has been met with the continued building of Israeli settlements, not to mention the decades of oppressive measures they live with on a daily basis.  

Will this turn into the "Third Intifada"? Only time will tell, however, what is clear is that Israeli attempts to use live ammunition as a preventive measure will only increase the circle of violence bringing more death to both sides, as was feared by the Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Turkey's Snap Election: One Month to go (Turkey November 2015 election, part 1)

Turkish Snap Elections 2015: An Intro

In exactly one month, on November 1, Turkish voters will return to a new round of elections, following the failure of the religious conservative AKP to form a coalition government with the secular-orientated CHP, the nationalist MHP, or the mostly-Kurdish leftist HDP. It seemed clear from the past that this was an impossible feat, with the three other parties staunchly opposing AKP’s plan to transfer new powers to the nation’s president (and its former party leader and prime minister), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, essentially creating a “super-presidency.”

The fact that the AKP was not able to form a government was no surprise; in fact the only surprising part of the whole election was the party’s dwindling show at the ballot box, receiving just over 40% of the vote, down almost 9% from the 2011 vote. This of course was caused when the HDP crossed the 10% parliamentary threshold—a remnant of the 1980 Coup—and one that was kept in place by the AKP despite 13 years of single-party rule and promises to rid the country of the remnants of the coup.  

For my analysis of the June elections, please click link

Since the election however Turkey has seen some of its bleakest days in over a decade, once again locked in conflict with the PKK, with the Turkish security forces taking heavy blows. Let us remember that the peace process with the Kurds entitled the AKP and Erdogan continued support; however, as I stated recently in an article in Haaretz (related to the AKP’s Grand Congress):

“the days of hope have been buried with the widespread belief that Erdogan instigated the renewed violence in order to delegitimize the HDP and ensure the AKP’`s stability and electoral support. The question of whether the lives of soldiers, policemen and innocent civilians could have been spared by doing its utmost to keep the peace process on track will forever loom over the AKP.”

Therefore, placing aside whether Erdogan bears some responsiblity for the violence, the quick unravelling of the peace process, the growing number of dead (from among civilians and security forces), and the subjecting of large parts of the population to military curfews, is ample proof that the AKP’s peace process was wrongly mapped out from the start, and despite the best of intentions of many involved, it has turned into a massive failure. 

Nevertheless, even if a failure, on the flip side, the AKP can be credited with placing the process on the daily agenda and thus paving the way for a possible future deal.  

Now to the elections….

So the question is how do you hold elections in this terrible state of violence and turbulent times? Well, the answer is, the show must go on. And, based on most polls, the Turkish electorate is not about to change their vote, with almost all showing a similar outcome to the previous June 7 elections with Turkey most likely witnessing the fact that the days of AKP’s sole rule is over.

Over the next month, I will be covering different aspects of the election, recapping major points leading up to the vote, and highlighting each points related to each party and its leadership, so stay tuned!

Erdogan’s Political Gamble: From Peace to War?*

With each passing day, Turkey is falling deeper into a chasm of violence. Pictures showing funerals of Turkish security forces are splashed across the news, together with reports of Turkish airstrikes hitting at strongholds of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), located deep in the mountainous regions of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. With this news, it is easy to forget that Turkey has been steadily working toward a peace agreement with the PKK since 2012. It has become one of the most prized policies of the former prime minister, and now president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This sharp turn in events occurred just days after an Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) sympathizer led a suicide attack on the youth wing of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), which is affiliated with the mostly Kurdish leftist bloc, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The attack occurred on July 20 in the southern town of Suruc, taking the lives of 32 people. The victims were mostly university students, on their way to deliver goods to the Kurdish-Syrian border town of Kobane, whose People’s Protection Units (YPG) had resisted a massive Islamic State onslaught just last fall. It is important to note that the YPG has numerous leftist Turkish citizens fighting among its ranks, much to the dismay of the government and radical Islamist groups in Turkey.

Once news broke that the suicide bombing in Suruc was the work of an ISIS sympathizer, the interim Turkish government, led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, opened a military front against the organization, arresting members in Turkey and conducting airstrikes against it in Syria. This move was welcomed by the United States, which was becoming impatient with what appeared to be Turkey’s “hands-off stance” – or even, at times, preferring Islamic State over the Kurds in Syria. In June, after ISIS lost control of the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad to the Kurds, Sabah – a staunchly pro-Erdogan newspaper – went so far as to run a headline stating the Kurds posed a greater danger to Turkey than ISIS.

The problem, however, went up a notch when Turkey didn’t just suffice with hitting Islamic State, but also used the opportunity to embark on a bombing campaign against what now appears to have been its real target, the PKK. This came after the PKK assassinated two Turkish police officers, claiming they had collaborated with ISIS in the Suruc attack. While Turkey certainly has the right to retaliate, its response was disproportionate, leading one to ask why it has taken a path that is clearly working on collapsing the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) much-cherished peace process.

Unfortunately, the answer boils down to Erdogan himself, who is still running the show and maintaining a strong hold over Turkey’s prime minister, Davutoglu, who took the AKP reins when Erdogan became president last summer. Even before the June election – when the AKP failed, for the first time in 13 years, to secure a parliamentary majority – Erdogan made clear time and again that if peace was to be made with the Kurds, it would be done on his terms and his terms alone. He even softly threatened the Turkish electorate that it needed to give the AKP an overwhelming majority if they wished to change the system “peacefully.” The AKP didn’t get a majority, and Turkey is now farther than ever from peace.

Unsurprisingly, the AKP’s war of words against the PKK has swiftly turned into a delegitimization campaign against the HDP, amid claims by Erdogan that it has “links to terrorist organizations,” and that its members’ parliamentary immunity should be lifted, with prosecutors opening investigations within days. One can only marvel at the irony that the very people who were acting as intermediaries between Erdogan and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan just months ago could now be placed on trial. And if found guilty they will be sent straight from parliament to a jail cell, essentially barring them from any potential snap election.

Even more worrying is the fact that all this is happening as the AKP is serving as an interim government. In other words, the military offensive against ISIS (which has repercussions not discussed in this article) and the PKK come without a mandate, and make you question who Davutoglu is actually referring to when he declares, “We are ready to sacrifice our sons.” In the meantime, the muscle-flexing PKK has shown in the last two weeks it is still able to hit hard at Turkey, with daily attacks on the Turkish army and police. It has pushed Davutoglu into a corner, leading him to react in similar fashion to previous leaders who also believed military power could silence the Kurdish question.

With optimism at a low, one can only hope the HDP’s charismatic coleader Selahattin Demirtas can convince the PKK to adhere to a cease-fire – since, like Turkey, it has little to gain from the current escalation. It is important also to commend the main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu (Republican People’s Party – CHP), for not getting dragged into the wild nationalist rhetoric used by Erdogan, Davutoglu and, most recently, Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist MHP (National Action Party) leader. The CHP has opted to take a high road and, by not undermining the HDP’s role in Turkish politics, is proving to be an important stabilizing factor.

Let us hope Turkey is able to overcome this sudden turn toward violence. However, this is unlikely to happen until the AKP accepts the outcome of the June election, which can be interpreted as an overwhelming vote for a continuation of the peace process together with a resounding “no” to Erdogan’s plans for a presidential system. Until Davutoglu and other AKP members take this fact to heart, and recognize that the peace process belongs to the people and they don’t have a monopoly over it, it seems Turkey could be on its way to much darker days.

*This article appeared in Haaretz on 8 August 2015, please click here for original