Saudi Arabia arrests Thinker for Encouraging Dissent!

(By Human Rights Watch)

Saudi authorities have repeatedly harassed Abu al-Khair for his human rights work, and now they’ve suddenly jailed him without letting him notify his family. The authorities should free Abu al-Khair immediately and drop the charges against him.

UPDATE: Samar Badawi, the wife of Waleed Abu al-Khair, said that authorities allowed him to speak to her by phone for one minute on April 17, 2014.

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately release prominent human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair and drop all charges against him.

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered Abu al-Khair’s detention when he attended a hearing in his case on April 15, 2014. Since his arrest the authorities have not allowed him to contact family members, who had no knowledge of his whereabouts for 24 hours. Abu al-Khair faces charges based solely on his peaceful human rights work, including “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “making international organizations hostile to the kingdom.”

“Saudi authorities have repeatedly harassed Abu al-Khair for his human rights work, and now they’ve suddenly jailed him without letting him notify his family,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should free Abu al-Khair immediately and drop the charges against him.”

On February 4, Abu al-Khair lost an appeal of a separate Jeddah Criminal Court conviction for signing statements critical of Saudi authorities, and received a prison sentence of three months.  It is unclear whether his detention is connected with the Jeddah conviction. Police in Jeddah arrested Abu al-Khair on October 2, 2013 and held him for one night for hosting a weekly discussion group for reformists, but prosecutors have yet to file criminal charges in that case.

Abu al-Khair attended the fifth session of his trial before the Specialized Criminal Court on the morning of April 15, travelling from his home in Jeddah to Riyadh. A lawyer, Abu al-Khair is representing himself during the proceeding and did not bring family members or trial monitors to the hearing. After several hours, Abu al-Khair’s organization, the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, released a Facebook statement stating that Abu al-Khair had gone missing and could not be reached by his mobile phone, which was switched off.

[Abu al-Khair is featured in this video about how social media is challenging the status quo in Saudi Arabia.]


On the morning of April 16, Samar Badawi, Abu al-Khair’s wife, travelled to Riyadh to search for him. She told Human Rights Watch that officials at the Specialized Criminal Court informed her that the court had ordered Abu al-Khair’s detention, and authorities had taken him to al-Ha`ir Prison south of Riyadh. Badawi travelled to the prison and confirmed with prison officials that Abu al-Khair was present, but was not allowed to speak with him. She told Human Rights Watch that neither court nor prison officials told her the basis of Abu al-Khair’s detention.

Abu al-Khair is known for his legal defense of other human rights activists, including Abd al-Rahman al-Shumairi, one of the so-called Jeddah reformers, a group of around a dozen men known for their public stances demanding human rights and political reform in Saudi Arabia. Authorities arrested them in February 2007, allegedly for gathering funds for terrorism.

Abu al-Khair is also the supervisor of the Facebook group “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia,” whose website is blocked in the kingdom.

His detention comes amid an ongoing campaign to silence human rights defenders and civil society activists throughout the kingdom. In March 2013, a court sentenced Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), to 10- and 11-year prison terms respectively on vague charges such as “harming public order” and “setting up an unlicensed organization.” A court in the central town of Buriada convicted and sentenced to prison ACPRA members Omar al-Sa`id and Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr on similar charges in 2013. ACPRA member Fowzan al-Harbi is currently on trial.

On April 8, authorities detained independent political activist Abdulaziz al-Ghamdi, who publicly supported ACPRA and helped the families of imprisoned ACPRA members.

Saudi authorities regularly pursue charges against human rights activists based on their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights obligations. The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression under article 32. Under the United Nations General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to “impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“The jailing of peaceful activists shows that Saudi Arabia has no tolerance for those even speaking about human rights and political reform,” Stork said.

Mirrored from Human Rights Watch


Video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV reports: Saudi Arabia jails lawyer and human rights activist

Has Al Gore been Vindicated? The Former VP speaks out on Climate Menace In Hawaii

Al Gore On Climate Change Crisis (via Clean Technica)

Originally published on Green Living Ideas. Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a powerful address to a packed house at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this week. Environmentally, Gore is most famous, perhaps, for his…


UH Magazine: “Al Gore headlines major sustainability conference at the University of Hawaii”

Pharrell’s “Happy” – Gaza Style

All we in the West ever hear about Gaza concerns the Hamas Party-Militia or the conflict between its Palestinians and the Israeli army.

Some Gaza youth did a cover of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” to show a different side of the 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip:

#Happy (#Gaza version) – #Pharrell Williams

Despite being Barred from Jerusalem Easter is a Symbol of hope for Palestinians

Palestinian Christians in the West Bank say that they have been denied permits to visit Jerusalem in record numbers this year, despite their living just over the green line not far from the holy city.

Hanan Ashrawi, the prominent Palestinian human rights activist, maintained that Palestinians only received 30% to 40% of the permits they requested. She observed,

“There should not even be a question of needing permits to visit one’s own city,” she said: “East Jerusalem is the occupied capital of the Palestinian people and freedom of worship is a basic human right for all of our Christian and Muslim citizens, a right which is being systematically and increasingly denied by a foreign occupying force.”

The Israeli government is denying the vast cutback in permissions granted, but it is difficult to see why the Palestinians would be complaining in such numbers if they were not in fact experiencing added difficulties.

The Arabic press says that the reduction in permits is revenge by Israeli authorities on the Palestinians because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went outside the bilateral framework to sign a raft of United Nations treaties and instruments, including the 1949 Geneva Convention. These steps are preparatory to a Palestinian case being brought against Israel for illegally squatting on Palestinian land, at the International Criminal Court.

The Arabic press alleges that no Christian Palestinians from Gaza were allowed by Israeli authorities to reach Jerusalem this year, [though this appears to be an exaggeration; it is possible that very few permits were given, creating this impression.]

Nevertheless Bishop Younan is quoted by Norwegian journalist Lena Odgaard as saying the Easter remains a powerful symbol of hope for all Palestinians (Muslim Palestinians also believe in Jesus, as a prophet, and tend to claim him as a Palestinian). “This day can be long and dark, and give us hopelessness as the peace process is not moving. But Easter gives me hope that no oppression or injustice will last…”


Related video:

Orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Saturday in Jerusalem’s Old City

The New 1% isn’t just the Rich, it is the Spoiled Oligarch Heirs (Krugman)

Bill Moyers interviews Paul Krugman


” Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, shows that two-thirds of America’s increase in income inequality over the past four decades is the result of steep raises given to the country’s highest earners.

This week, Bill talks with Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, about Piketty’s “magnificent” new book.

“What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth.”

Krugman adds: “We’re seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.” ”

Was John Lennon Right? Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights lament Paucity of Religious Jewish Allies

(By Rabbi Arik Ascherman)

There are days when I wake up and say, “John Lennon was right.” Maybe we really would be better off in a world without nationalism or religion. So much blood has been shed throughout history in the name of these beliefs, especially in my part of the world, the Middle East.

Here in Israel, we have a thriving if imperfect democracy plagued, as are most democracies, by racism and discrimination. There is democracy in Israel proper, including for those Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. There is no democracy for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, however. Israelis are deeply divided on many key issues. Many support the positions of the organization I have led for more than 18 years, Rabbis For Human Rights, but ironically most supporting us on the human rights of non-Jews are secular. On issues of socioeconomic rights within Jewish-Israeli society, however, many religious Jews believe, as do we, that it is a Jewish obligation to build a society that cares for its weakest and poorest members.   

Painfully for me as a rabbi, however, polls consistently show that religious Jews in Israel are more likely to be racist, xenophobic and opposed to human rights for non-Jews. They are the ideological vanguard behind the settlement movement, believing that the religious obligation to settle the Biblical Land of Israel overrides our religious obligation not to oppress non-Jews. For some, the obligation not to oppress non-Jews is nonexistent.

So why not just acknowledge reality and work for a world without nations or religion, where we all speak Esperanto? 

Here’s why: Were we to eliminate all the divisions between us tomorrow, we would likely create new ones the very next day. Faith, moreover, is not something one simply turns on and off like a light. And finally, given religion’s tremendous power, it would be a terrible mistake to abandon the field to those who interpret it in xenophobic ways.

Religion as part of the solution

Several years ago, I attended a conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and an Oslo peace organization. The premise was that, while civil society and diplomats had for years thought that they must circumvent religion to solve conflicts, the diplomatic community had come to realize this wasn’t possible, and that religion must become part of the solution.

At Rabbis for Human Rights, our first mandate is to prevent or redress human rights abuses. Our second is to introduce to our fellow Jewish-Israelis another way of understanding Judaism, an interpretation very different from that which currently dominates.

The dominant understanding is very different from the Judaism I grew up with. In Erie, Pennsylvania, it was simply assumed that a basic part of what it means to be a Jew was to be committed to universal human rights and social justice. This is what I learned from my parents, from my rabbis, from my community. Polls consistently show that a commitment to justice is a key component of North American Jewish identity.

For many years, almost all of Rabbis for Human Rights’ financial and moral support came from Jews in the United States and Canada, particularly from our fellow rabbis. I was truly shocked when I discovered that values axiomatic to me were not shared by all Israeli Jews, especially religious Jews.

Increasingly, religious Jews, particularly members of what is called the “national religious camp,” are socialized into a very problematic mixture of extreme nationalism and Jewish particularism. 

Particularism means that the ultimate value is the survival and wellbeing of the Jewish people. It means that all of the wonderful humanist values and Jewish commandments flowing from the teaching in Genesis 1:27 – that humans are created in God’s Image – apply only to our treatment of Jews. Some would not even apply them to all Jews, but only to their own insular community. 

At Rabbis for Human Rights, however, we note that Genesis doesn’t say that only Jews, or only the wealthy, were created in God’s Image. The Torah specifically states that both men and women – all men and women – were created in God’s Image. 

Circling the wagons

American and Canadian Jews who are liberal on just about any other human rights issue are often defensive when it comes to Israel. Unwillingness to confront Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is not just a function of religious belief but also of our collective consciousness. This consciousness stems from 2000 years of oppression, along with the ongoing enmity toward Israel in our region and beyond.

I penned these words shortly before our Jewish holiday of Purim, when we read the Book of Esther, a story about the precariousness of Jewish life when our fate is in the hands of others. In April, the traditional Passover Seder contains the words, “In every generation there are those who have risen up to destroy us.” These lessons give rise to the strong feeling that Jews must circle their wagons to protect themselves against the non-Jewish world.

Many Jews who have concerns about human rights issues in Israel keep their thoughts to themselves out of fear that their words will be twisted by those who wish to delegitimize Israel’s very existence. They can see those who violate this taboo as traitors. We see this same tendency in many groups with a history of oppression.

Many Jewish Israelis aspire to be moral and just. Most truly believe that the human rights abuses we talk about are isolated, non-representative incidents that the government is doing everything it can to combat and that we have the most moral army in the world. It is frustrating that they live in a bubble, but it is positive that they aspire to having the most moral army in the world.

At Rabbis for Human Rights, our task is to find a way of holding up a mirror to our fellow Jewish Israelis, and to tell them, “We know that you aspire to be good and decent people, but take a look at what we are actually doing. Is this who we want to be?”

Easier said than done, of course. To tell Jewish Israelis that we don’t have the most moral army in the world, or that our human rights abuses are often intentional and systematic, is to burst one of their most cherished bubbles. People get angry and resistant when their bubbles are burst.

Rabbis for Human Rights have just completed our 25th anniversary as an organization, and I am proud of the many instances where we have prevented or reversed human rights abuses. Among them:

  1. In 2002 Palestinians attempting to harvest their olives and those of us acting as human shields to protect them were being shot at, beaten, threatened, etc., without the Israeli security forces intervening. As the result of a 2006 Israeli High Court victory, the army is now protecting Palestinian access to places they couldn’t previously reach for as many as 15 years.
  2. Significant tracts of land have been returned to their Palestinian owners. In 2009, Rabbis for Human Rights returned residents to the village of Bir El-Id, abandoned for almost 10 years because of settler intimidation.
  3. Rabbis for Human Rights helped end the Israeli Wisconsin Plan, a carrot-and-stick approach to returning the unemployed to the workforce that around the world has almost always increased poverty.

We have helped to improve the lives of both our fellow Israeli Jews and of the many non-Jews who are part of our society or under our control. 

Yet I must also acknowledge that few of our successes are connected to the fact that we are rabbis. On April 6, 2014, we marked our anniversary with a panel discussion on what is, could and should be the role of Judaism in the struggle for human rights in Israel. We are still searching for the answers and looking for new ways to better fulfill our mission. 

Rabbis for Human Rights was founded in 1988 by a group of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative rabbis led by Rabbi David Forman (may his memory be blessed). In the late 1980s, during the challenging days of the first Palestinian intifada, Rabbi Forman wrote an open letter to Israel’s Chief Rabbis, asking why the religious establishment focused almost solely on Sabbath observance and Kashrut, our Jewish dietary laws. As important as these things are, Rabbi Forman said, where were rabbis on the burning moral issues of the day? We should not ignore the very real dangers we faced, Rabbi Forman said, but these threats should not be used as an excuse to behave immorally. In the words of Hillel the Elder, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?” 

Today, Rabbis for Human Rights number approximately 100 rabbis from various liberal and Orthodox streams of Judaism, with some 30 full- and part-time staff members. Many of these are rabbis, but some are secular, Christian or Muslim. The organization defines itself as Zionist. We believe, however, that true Zionism, and our self-interest, lies in working for an Israel that is not just physically but morally strong, one that lives up to our highest Jewish values. These values were part of what we dreamed of when we wrote in our Declaration of Independence that Israel would be based on “Freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” and that it would guarantee “Total social and political equality for all, regardless of race, nationality or gender.” 

A key principle of my Zionism is that I can’t ask for myself what I am not prepared to grant to others. This includes the human rights and national aspirations of Palestinians. Rabbis for Human Rights believes that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations. However, it is beyond our mandate to take a position on a one- or two-state solution, borders, or various possibilities regarding what ending the Occupation might look like. 

A beacon for all

Our organization is involved in protecting the human rights of both Jewish Israelis and of non-Jews who are a part of our society or under our control. We serve as a beacon for all those Jewish Israelis, religious or secular, who believe that their humanistic values are rooted in Judaism.

The national Orthodox community does not like us, and often has misconceptions regarding who and what we are. But they are quite aware that we throw a monkey wrench into the symbiotic relationship they have created between Judaism and all those political positions that are antithetical to human rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights’ work often causes cognitive dissonance, forcing people to reexamine their stereotypes and beliefs. Ironically, we may have been most effective in breaking down Palestinian stereotypes of religious Jews. Many times I have gone to rebuild a demolished home or defend Palestinian human rights, and find that Palestinian parents insist that their son, who wants to grow up and be a terrorist, meet us in order to understand that not all Israelis come with guns to demolish their homes and trample on their human rights. 

Combatants for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee against House demolitions held a nonviolent demonstration alongside the inhabitants of Wallaje in Bethlehem province in January 2010.Richard Stitt/Demotix. All rights reserved.

The one who acts with decency

Faith has helped me continue in this work for so many years, when many have burned out. We are taught, “You are not expected to complete the task by yourself, but neither are you free to desist from doing your part.” We each need to play a role in the grand drama that is God’s plan. We believe that the eventual outcome will be a world that honors God’s Image, in every human being.

As the Middle East and Israeli Jews become increasingly motivated by religious belief, we must struggle for Judaism’s soul. We must find a way to introduce our understanding of the Jewish tradition into the intellectual universe of our fellow Jewish Israelis. We must make Judaism part of the solution, and not just part of the problem. The religious text, Pirkei Avot, teaches us, “In a place where no one acts with basic human decency, you must be the person who does.”

I would add, “In places where rabbis are strikingly absent, you must be the rabbi who acts as rabbis should.”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman is president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights, based in Jerusalem. 

El rabino Arik Ascherman es presidente y rabino superior de Rabbis for Human Rights, con sede en Jerusalén. 

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.

Mirrored from Open Democracy


New America Foundation: “Envisioning a “Jewish and Democratic State” That Promotes Peace”

The Shakira song and 3 other hits inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Continue reading The Shakira song and 3 other hits inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Fox News asks Rand Paul if Reid is right to “call Americans” “Domestic Terrorists”

(By Juan Cole)

Not since George W. Bush complained that the problem with the American economy was that “too many of our imports come from abroad” has such hilarious use of the English language been on display. The furor on the Right about Harry Reid terming “domestic terrorists” the militiamen who brought sniper rifles across state lines to confront the Bureau of Land Management produced the following interview by Fox News of Rand Paul.

Eric Bolling asked Sen. Paul, “Is there any reason to call Americans domestic terrorists?”

So, Mr. Bolling, you see, the category of “domestic terrorist,” when used inside the United States, cannot be used for foreigners, only for “Americans.”

If you meant to ask whether there are any domestic terrorists, I think Timothy McVeigh might be an answer to your question.

So, yes, there is sometimes a reason to call Americans domestic terrorists. When they are.

If what you meant to say is that “white Americans” should not be called “terrorists” and that the term should be reserved for brown-skinned peoples, that is just Fox News editorial policy, not a feature of, like, the English language. It is a feature I have complained about all week

The remark is at 0:20 here:

Rand Paul: Harry Reid Needs to ‘Calm the Rhetoric’ on Bundy Ranch

Senator Reid on Friday defended his use of the term:

Reid said he hadn’t been referring to Cliven Bundy, the deadbeat cattle rancher, himself when he spoke of domestic terrorists, but the armed militiamen who interfered with the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle for non-payment of fees.

“600 people came armed, they had practiced, they had maneuvered… they set up snipers in strategic locations… they had automatic weapon . . . And they boasted about the fact they put women and children . . . so they would get hit first” . . . “If there were ever an example of people who were domestic violent terrorist wannabes, these are the guys . . .”

Good for Reid!

It should be noted that deploying firearms to interfere with the Bureau of Land Management officers is a felony, and that crossing state lines (as many of the militiamen had done) with firearms in order to commit a felony is a Federal offense.

One of my readers wrote last week:

“Imagine that the Bundy ranching family in Nevada, instead of being white and Mormon, are all black and Muslim. And imagine that they, too, believe not only that the federal government should have no jurisdiction over the public land adjoining their ranch, but also that a second revolutionary war should topple the U.S. government.

Imagine that, just like Mr. Bundy, they lost two court decisions and are expected to either pay one million in overdue fees or have their cattle seized to pay the debt. Imagine that they send out a call, via Facebook and Twitter, for all like-minded thinkers to take up arms and prepare to fight the agents sent to collect the cattle.

How would the media describe some 2000 black, Muslim men, armed with automatic rifles and shotguns, who drive from all across the country to show up in Nevada ready to kill government officials?

How would the media portray those black, Muslim men when they used their guns to shut down I-15, a major interstate freeway, forcing hundreds of travelers to bake in the hot desert sun until the road could be re-opened?

What would right-wing pundits say about those black, Muslim men who were crouched on overpasses training their sniper sights on the cowboys and drivers hired by the federal government to move the cattle?

Would they agree with those black, Muslim militants who planned to put their wives and girlfriends on the front lines so there would be news footage of federal agents shooting women?

Would Nevada politicians, senator Dean Heller and Governor Brian Sandoval, still throw their support behind a Bundy who said, “. . . I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,” if he were Muslim and black?

Try as hard as I can, I can’t see people on the right using any word other than “terrorist” to describe homegrown, black, Muslim militants who are willing to use violence to support their belief that the U.S. government is meaningless.

And that shows us exactly how far Americans have to go before we define each other by character, not race or religion.”