During last few days, I met with two old friends: Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.
Well, the term “friends” may not quite be appropriate. Certainly, Arafat called me “my friend” in a recorded message for my 70th birthday, but Rabin called nobody “friend”. That was not his character.
I am glad that I knew both from close up. Without them, my life would have been poorer.
I don’t think I ever met two more different people than these two. Continue reading
The Saudis may be holding the Lebanese Prime Minister hostage but their apparent plan to topple the Beirut government has gloriously backfired. Far from breaking up the cabinet and throwing Hezbollah’s ministers to the wolves, the Lebanese nation has suddenly woken up to what it’s like to be united – against the Saudis. The Lebanese government has announced that it does not accept the resignation statement which Saad Hariri was obliged to make in Riyadh, and overnight hashtags have appeared on several Beirut streets saying “kul na Saad” – “We are all Saad”. Even the Sunni Muslims of Lebanon are furious at their Sunni counterparts in Saudi Arabia. Continue reading
About eight or nine years ago, I had an Afghan friend who previously worked for a large US aid agency funding projects in the Afghan provinces. He had been hired to monitor their progress once work had got underway, but he did not hold the job very long for reasons that he explained to me.
The problem for the Americans at the local agency headquarters in Kabul was that the risk of ambush by the Taliban was deemed too high for them personally to visit the projects that they were funding. Instead, they followed the construction from one step removed, by insisting that the Afghan company involved should transmit back to Kabul, at set intervals, detailed pictures of its activities, to show that they were fulfilling their contract to the letter.
Almost as an afterthought, the aid agency thought it might be useful to send along an Afghan in their employ to check that all was well. His first mission was to go to Kandahar province, where some plant – I seem to remember it was a vegetable packing facility – was believed to be rising somewhere in the dangerous hinterland. He went there, but, despite earnest inquiries, was unable to locate the project. Continue reading
The scandal surrounding Priti Patel, who was forced to resign as Britain’s international aid minister last week after secret meetings with Israeli officials during a “family holiday”, offers a small, opaque window on the UK’s powerful Israel lobby.
Patel’s off-the-books meetings with 12 Israelis, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were organised by a British lobbyist in violation of government rules requiring careful documentation of official meetings. That is to prevent conflicts of interest and illicit lobbying by foreign powers.
Government protocol was flouted again when Patel headed to the Golan Heights, occupied Syrian territory, escorted by the Israeli army. There she was shown an Israeli military field hospital that patches up Syrians, including Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters, wounded in Syria’s civil war. Continue reading
Deadly Attack in Taizz Shows Need for International Inquiry
Yemenis were again mourning their children this weekend – this time in Taizz, Yemen’s third largest city. Houthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled a residential neighborhood killing three children – two of whom were playing football – and gravely wounding nine more, activists said. The same day, a world away, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was debating whether to create an international inquiry into all side’s abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict.
The war has taken a particularly heavy toll on Taizz. For over two years, Houthi-Saleh forces have fired artillery indiscriminately into the city. Human Rights Watch has documented repeated attacks that have struck the city’s populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians, including children. The attacks we’ve documented are a tiny fraction of the deadly bombardment Taizz’s residents have endured. We’ve seen list after list, photo after photo, video after video of lethal attacks documented by local activists. The shelling of Taizz, the UN human rights office reports, has been “unrelenting.” Continue reading
To a certain extent, Aung San Suu Kyi is a false prophet. Glorified by the west for many years, she was made a ‘democracy icon’ because she opposed the same forces in her country, Burma, at the time that the US-led western coalition isolated Rangoon for its alliance with China.
Aung San Suu Kyi played her role as expected, winning the approval of the Right and the admiration of the Left. And for that, she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991; she joined the elevated group of ‘The Elders’ and was promoted by many in the media and various governments as a heroic figure, to be emulated. Continue reading
When old and young are systematically rounded up and shot. When women are gang raped and their babies thrown into waterways to drown. When their homes and businesses are burned. When all the atrocities of ethnic cleansing are plain to see, international law leaps into action. Global bodies and their constituent states work to simultaneously put an end to the atrocities, provide refuge for survivors and bring perpetrators to book, no matter the identity of the offender or the victim. Or so we are told. For as the on-going slaughter and displacement of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims reveals, international law is not so blind. Continue reading