Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Veteran Amerian journalist Helen Thomas quits over remarks on Israel

Reporter quits over Israel remark- Aljazeera

Thomas, centre, has covered every US president
since John F Kennedy [AP]

Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas, who has covered every US president since John F Kennedy, has abruptly retired amid a storm of criticism over her controversial remarks about Israel.

Her retirement on Monday as a Hearst Newspapers columnist came after she was captured on video saying Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and that they should go "home" to Germany, Poland or the United States.

The comments drew widespread condemnation with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, describing her comments as “offencive and reprehensible”.

Thomas, 89, long considered the dean of the White House press correspondents, apologised for the statements she made on May 27.

In a statement issued over the weekend she said: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognise the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."


In depth
A tough questioner and pioneer female journalist

The controversy prompted Thomas to be dropped by her public speaking agency and also led to the cancellation of her plans to deliver a high school commencement address in suburban Washington.

"Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately," Hearst News Service reported. "Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet."

Thomas was absent from Monday's White House briefing, where she has a reserved seat in the centre of the front row.

The White House Correspondents Association called her remarks "indefensible" and, before the announcement of her retirement, scheduled a meeting on whether an opinion columnist should have a front-row seat in the West Wing briefing room.

"Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat," the association's board said in a statement.

Thomas became a columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain in recent years after working for decades as a White House correspondent for United Press International.

Read here: Helen Tells Jews to go back.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Rachel Corrie: Israel to deport aid ship activists

Israel to deport aid ship activists

Jacky Rowland reports from Israel on
the boarding of the MV Rachel Corrie

Passengers on board an aid ship seized by the Israeli military as it tried to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip are awaiting deportation in Tel Aviv.

Eleven activists and eight crew were arrested after the Malaysia-funded Irish ship ignored warnings to divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The activists' expulsion from Israel has been delayed by their refusal to sign documents presented to them by Israeli authorities.

"We are trying to convince all of the passengers and members of the crew to sign the document. Otherwise, in accordance with the law, they risk having to wait up to 72 hours for a judge to decide their fate," an Israeli immigration spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Ashdod, said the vessel Rachel Corrie is being held at the port while its cargo is inspected.

"The aid will be taken off and inspected," she said. "It is not clear how much of it will be taken to Gaza."

The seizure of the Rachel Corrie came five days after Israeli troops killed nine activists while raiding a flotilla of aid ships carrying humanitarian supplies for the beseiged Palestinian territory.

Israeli statement

Israeli naval vessels trailed the ship for several hours before boarding it, jamming its radar and cutting off all radio communication.


Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said naval forces involved in Saturday's operation had followed exactly the same procedures as they had done earlier in the week, but the difference lay in the attitude of the activists on board the vessel.

"We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists ... waiting for our soldiers on the deck with axes and knives," Netanyahu's office cited him as saying.

Raising awareness

Mukhriz Mahathir, head of the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, a Malaysian non-governmental organisation that sponsored the Rachel Corrie, said people would be willing to contribute to further aid ships.

Al Jazeera reports from London on protests against the Israeli raid and embargo on Gaza

"These actions have finally succeeded in raising lots of awareness," he said.

"But for the moment, we are upset that these aid goods have not reached their destination."

The Rachel Corrie is named after an American womanwho was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, while protesting against a house demolition.

Pro-Palestinian activists on board the ship had earlier said they were determined to press ahead towards the Gaza coast, despite the Israeli warnings.

"We are not afraid and we are all advocating non-violence… and we will just sit here and go if they insist on commandeering our boat and forcing us into Ashdod," Mairead Maguire, an activist and Nobel Peace laureate aboard Rachel Corrie, said before radio contact with the ship was lost.

The Israeli military had cautioned that troops would consider storming the ship, if it continued its journey towards Gaza.

Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston, reporting from Gaza, said the Rachel Corrie had hundreds of tonnes of aid, including medical supplies, wheelchairs, cement, building materials and even note pads for children.

UNRWA appeal

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Saturday, Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNWRA, the United Nations Palestine refugee agency, underscored the need for Gaza's land and sea blockades to be lifted.

Israel's raid has led to protests in many nations including in the French capital Paris

"The World Health Organisation needs $20m worth of aid to enter Gaza, there is 44 per cent unemployment and education is in crisis," he said.

"We are turning thousands of five and six year olds away from our schools [and] 39,000 children in Gaza are not receiving United Nations education because we cannot get our building materials in.

"We also want to see exports coming out of Gaza. It is already 80 per cent aid dependent. What we don't want is to make it more aid dependent."

The developments surrounding the Rachel Corrie came as the UN human-rights chief said that Israel could face prosecution for Monday's flotilla raid, and that she was following requests for a referral to the International Criminal Court [ICC] in The Hague.

"I am following very closely the very many calls that come particularly from civil society and from all the people who are suffering in Palestine for that kind of action to be taken," Navi Pillay said on Saturday in Kampala, Uganda, where she was attending the ICC's ongoing review conference.

She said she believed Israel's blockade of Gaza violates international law.

"International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare ... It is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on the civilian population, so it is [for those reasons] that I have consistently reported to member states that the blockade is illegal and must be lifted," Pillay said.

"Even if it is demonstrated that the blockade is legal under international law, Israel's current military operations against the flotilla must be analysed from the perspective of its obligation to allow humanitarian aid to be brought into the Gaza Strip."

Friday, 4 June 2010

Rachel Corrie makes its way to Gaza

AMMAN: Volunteers on the MV Rachel Corrie are not trained soldiers, and they are fearful of being attacked by the Israeli army – but they are determined to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Of course there is worry, but this is an amanah (trust bestowed upon us) to deliver the aid to Gaza,” said Perdana Global Peace Organisation representative Shamsul Akmar in an interview.

He is on board the sole ship making its way to Gaza.

Israel’s attack on the six aid ships in international waters on Monday resulting in nine deaths only made those on Rachel Corrie more determined to carry out their amanah.

Rachel Corrie was supposed to be part of the flotilla but she got left behind due to delays and some “suspicious stringent checks” by port authorities at several places, said Shamsul.

If all goes well, the 1,200 tonne Rachel Corrie, carrying medical aid, construction material, toys, educational and writing material is expected to reach Gaza on Saturday.

There are 19 people on board and they have been travelling for 20 days.

Other than Shamsul, who is the head of the delegation, there are five other Malaysians – Matthias Chang, Parit MP Nizar Zakaria, activist Ahmad Faizal Azumu and TV3 crew members Halim Mohamed and Jufri Junid.

Also on board is a strong Irish delegation with Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

There are six crew members, a captain and a chief engineer.

The ship is funded by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Perdana Global Peace Orga­nisation.

Shamsul said there are a number of possible scenarios:

> Israel may let Rachel Corrie through

> Israel may become aggressive and board the ship; and

> those on board the ship may be shot by Israeli forces

Shamsul said that if Israel stopped the ship in international waters, but the ship was forced away, “we collectively feel we should stay there for a few days to try and deliver the aid.”

The tiny Gaza strip has been put under a strangling blockade after Hamas took over control of it in 2007, causing hardship to the 1.5 million living in what is called the “world’s biggest prison on earth.”

In December 2008, Israel launched a three week massive military strike on Gaza, killing at least 1,400 people and destroying many homes, buildings, factories and infrastructure.

But because of the siege, Gaza has not been able to bring the materials needed to rebuild including construction material like cement, glass and bricks. The Star

Muslims Pray, Protest Against Israeli Violence

KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 (Bernama) -- Muslims on Friday offered special prayers for Palestinians and protested against the Israeli raid on the Gaza humanitarian flotilla killing nine people.

Non-governmental organisations (NGO) including Aman Malaysia and Umno Youth gathered in the compound of Masjid Negara after Friday and special (hajat) prayers for the safety of the activists.

Aman Malaysia adviser and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said the rally was to support Palestinians and condemn the inhuman act of the Israeli regime.

Chairman Datuk Ahmad Zaki Zahid said Malaysians had been angry with Israel for a long time for oppressing the Palestinians.

"Israel's act of violence and utter disregard for international law has inflamed anger among Malaysians," he said.

Khairy launched a "SMS For Gaza" campaign to collect funds for Gaza. Donors only have to send SMS by typing "GAZA" and send to 32928.

Earlier, Masjid Negara imam besar Tan Sri Syaikh Ismail Muhammad used the sermon to condemn Israel for the inhuman act against activists taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Another rally took place at Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru led by opposition leader and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The anti-Israel rally attended by about 10,000 people then proceed to the United States embassy in Jalan Ampang and ended at 4pm after a memorandum was delivered.

In JOHOR BAHARU, over 100 NGO and Pakatan Rakyat party members held a rally in the compound of Masjid Sultan Abu Bakar after Friday prayers.

The anti-Israel rally in heavy rain lasted 30 minutes and ended with burning of the flags of Israel and United States.

In KOTA BHARU, some 5,000 Muslims gathered near Sultan Mohammed Stadium for special prayers for Palestinians led by Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.

He said the Kelantan government spent RM25,000 monthly under the Palestinian Education Aid Fund to finance Palestinian students at several institutions of higher learning.

In Penang, over 500 people participated in an rally organised by Penang Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) at Masjid Kapitan Keling.

The 30-minute anti-Israel protest after Fridays prayers was filled with fiery speeches by NGO representatives.

In TAWAU, about 100 Muslims held a peaceful rally at Masjid Al-Kauthar after Friday prayers to protest Israeli violence.

Special prayers were also held for the safety of Palestinians and the humanitarian vessel heading for Gaza.

In IPOH, the family of Dr Selamat Aliman, one of 12 Malaysian activists on board "Mavi Marmara" raided by Israeli commandos, would be holding a feast to mark his return.

Dr Selamat, 54, a member of Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM) was expected to arrive at KL International Airport (KLIA) early Sunday with nine others, including two staff of Astro Awani.

His wife Faezah Hassan, 52, said no date had been set as it would depend on Dr Selamat's work schedule. -- BERNAMA

Thursday, 3 June 2010

12 Malaysians among 124 Gaza-aid activists released by Israel

Published: Wednesday June 2, 2010 MYT 10:40:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 2, 2010 MYT 9:17:51 PM

PETALING JAYA: The 12 Malaysians who were on board aid ship Mavi Marmara, which was attacked and detained by Israeli forces Monday morning, have been released and are now in Jordan.

They include Astro Awani journalist Ashwad Ismail and cameraman Samsulkamal Abdul Latip.

Malaysian Ambassador to Jordan Datuk Abdul Malek Abdul Aziz said the 12 arrived at 6.30am local time Wednesday.

They are currently staying at the Crown Plaza Hotel while waiting for their travel documents to be processed, he said when contacted.

"We are doing what we can to bring them home. Some of them lost their passports and documents. The news crew's cameras were also confisicated," he added.

"We are doing what we can to bring them home. Some of them lost their passports and documents. The news crew's cameras were also confisicated," he added.

The Malaysians who were on board the Mavi Marmara after their release. With them are Malaysian ambassador to Jordan Datuk Abd Malek Abd Aziz (front, fourth from left)and First Secretary Wong Chia Chiann (front, right). -BERNAMA

Abdul Malek also said he had not heard from six other Malaysians on the Rachel Corrie, which was expected to reach Gaza later Wednesday.

However, according to a TV channel, journalist Shamsul Akmar, who is on the ship, said they would continue towards their destination despite the threat of being boarded by the Israeli navy.

"We are prepared for the possibility. If they do board us, we will not resist," he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian delegation leader Noorazman Mohd Samsuddin said Israeli forces treated the detainees like criminals.

"We were not even allowed to go to the toilet,” he said.

According to Astro Awani, the Malaysians were among 124 Gaza flotilla aid activists aboard five buses, who arrived in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday morning via Allenby Bridge, after being detained and ill-treated by Israeli forces.

Ashwad, 26, said all media equipment was confiscated, including notebooks and pens.

Relating his experience live from Jordan earlier Wednesday, he said they were exhausted and dehydrated after 28 hours in detention at Beersheba prison.

He said Israeli naval forces, comprising 19 naval boats, eight naval ships and three Apache helicopters attacked the ship at 4.40am on Monday.

"We were fully prepared as we had received reports that Israeli forces had expanded their claim on territorial waters from 64km to 108km (off the coast of Gaza).

"They started to circle us at 11pm. They began advancing at 2am and attacked us from all angles at 4.30am. They attacked us incessantly. Alhamdullillah, our cameraman, Shamsul and I were safe from the assault," he said, adding that the Israelis had used live ammunition.

Contrary to Israeli defence forces claims in the international media that aid activists had used sharp weapons, Ashwad said they had merely sprayed water from fire hoses to ward off their attackers. (read here: "It was pure hell." , here and here)

"I did not see any sharp weapons in the form of knives, parang, sword and so on being used. Volunteers merely used water to stop the commandos from boarding the ship.

"Two Turkish nationals, one of my right and the other on my left, were shot on the arm and hand. I managed to escape and crawled to safety on the deck, which was filld with blood. It was indeed a painful experience. It was an eye-opener to the world. I did not expect Israel to act in such a way. We were civilians onboard but subjected to military action.

"It was a war against humanity. During the 28-hour ordeal, I could fathom the six decades of Israeli-Palestine conflict and the oppression against Palestinians. I hope our audience, including my parents, will get the message."

Ashwad said he was handcuffed, taken to Ashdod and later detained in Beersheba prison. He was separated from Shamsul then but they were reunited at the Jordan-Israel border following their release.

He thanked the Government and the Malaysian Embassy in Jordan as well as the international community for efforts to secure their release.

Astro Awani general manager Rozina Aziz said the TV station was unable to contact Ashwad directly as his handphone had been confiscated.

He was contacted through the ambassador’s number.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman left for Jordan on Wednesday to help expedite their return to Malaysia.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Prime Minister's office said a motion would be tabled in Parliament on Monday to strongly condemn the attack by Israeli military on the aid ship Mavi Marmara, which was carrying humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Earlier, Kuwaiti ambassador Sheik Faisal Al Sabah had said that in addition to the 16 Kuwaitis aboard the buses, the other activists came from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Yemen, Oman and Bahrain.

Dozens of other activists remain in Israeli detention, but most are expected to be deported in the coming days.

The bridge across the Jordan River is under Israeli control. It links Jordan with the West Bank.

Jordanian government spokesman Nabil Al-Sharif said there were 30 Jordanians in the group. Jordan is one of two Arab nations with a signed peace treaty with Israel.

The bridge's Jordanian chief, Brig. Mahmoud Abu Jumaa, said Jordan will help repatriate the activists - who include lawmakers and journalists - to their respective countries in coordination with their governments.

Worldwide condemnation has poured on Israel since its naval commandos halted the aid flotilla in international waters overnight Monday, setting off a melee that left nine activists dead and dozens wounded.

Eighteen Malaysians were involved in the humanitarian mission, with six on board another ship, the Rachel Corrie.

Mavi Marmara was leading a convoy of six vessels bound for Gaza to deliver aid to 100,000 Palestinians when it was attacked by Israeli commandoes in international waters at 10.30am Malaysian time on Monday. - The Star

Read here "Gaza Aid convoy" and here "Lying About the Gaza Flotilla Disaster"

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Worldwide condemnation of Israel...

...after its troops stormed aid ship, Flotilla, trying to break Gaza blockade, killing 10 activists on board. (Read here and here. ).

While the majority of world leaders have condemned the attack, Israeli's strongest ally, Barrack Obama, the president of United States, has been conspicuously silent, except for a brief statement from the White house expressing "regrets over the loss of life and injuries sustained..." avoiding any hint of criticism of Israeli action in its public statement.

Across the world, Muslims have held numerous protests against the dawn raid. But there is not much information on the aftermath of the raid - because of a news blackout by the Israeli. As a result, the main international media organisations have relied on Israeli spokespeople to step in unchallenged through its own version of the incident by its great propaganist, Mark Regev, who has been monopolising the airwaves.

Israel claimed the aid activists were terrorists armed with guns and in cahoot with al-Qaeda and Hamas. And, of course, the Israeli soldiers had acted reasonably. They faced a lynch, says Israel.

No names of the dead have been released but reports say that most of them are Turkish.

Human Rights groups have condemned the occupation of Gaza and in the latest incident say that Israel has flouted International laws and has no right to control Gaza’s sea as its own territorial waters and to stop aid convoys.

The flotilla, is among six fleet of ships, carrying 5,000 tonnes of reconstruction materials, school supplies and medical equipment to the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza.

Deadly Israeli raid on aid fleet - Aljazeera

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Jerusalem on the storming of the flotilla and its aftermath

Israeli soldiers have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships off the coast of the Gaza Strip, killing as many as 10 people on board.

Dozens more were believed to be injured when troops raided the convoy of six ships, dubbed the Freedom Flotilla, early on Monday.

But those figures were hard to confirm as the flotilla was being held in the Israeli port of Ashdod on Tuesday, with 700 passengers from 30 countries either being detained or in hospital.

Israel said activists on board attacked its commandos as they boarded the ships, while the flotilla's organisers said the Israeli forces opened fire first, as soon as they stormed the convoy.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, gave his "full backing" to the military forces after the raid, which he said "was to prevent the infiltration of thousands of rockets, missiles and other arms that could hit our cities, communities or people".

"I give my complete backing to the army, the soldiers and commanders who acted to defend the state and to protect their lives." He also said Israel regretted the loss of life in the raid.

Protests worldwide

Israeli media reported that many of the dead were Turkish nationals.

Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the Gaza Strip, said the assault was a "massacre" and called on the international community to intervene.... continue here

Read here "A Prayer for the Safety of our Gaza-bound friends" ; here "Malaysia Condemns Israeli Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla."Malaysia Condemns Israeli Raid On Gaza Aid FlotillaMalaysia Condemns Israeli Raid On Gaza Aid Flotilla