Tehran’s Christians residents have embarked on their shopping for the holiday season. While Iran is officially designated the “Islamic Republic,” among its more than 66 million people is a small but important Christian minority. Most of Iran’s Christians are Armenians and Assyrians, who remain relatively free to follow their faith. The numbers of Protestants and evangelical Christians are said to be growing. For these people, life is often much more difficult. A number of Christian denominations still live in Iran today and include Assyrians, Armenians, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians. Although a minority religious group in Iran, Christians of Iran are free to practice their religion and perform their religious rituals. (see article)
The pretty two-storey home with a red-tiled roof built by Adel and Iman Kaadan looks no different from the rows of other houses in Katzir, a small hilltop community in northern Israel close to the West Bank.
But, unlike the other residents of Katzir, the Kaadans moved into their dream home this month only after a 12-year battle through the Israeli courts.
The small victory for the Kaadans, who belong to Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority, dealt a big blow to a state policy that for decades has reserved most of the country’s land for Jews.
Katzir is one of 695 so-called “co-operative associations”, communities mostly established since Israel’s creation in 1948, whose chief purpose is to bar non-Jews from residency.
Last month, the Israeli parliament moved to enshrine in law the right of these associations, comprising nearly 70 per cent of all communities in Israel, to accept only Jews.
The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a private members’ bill that will uphold the right of the communities’ admissions committees to continue excluding Arab citizens, who make up one-fifth of the population. The bill is expected to pass its final reading in the coming weeks.
Commentators have compared the legislation with South Africa’s notorious apartheid laws such as the Group Areas Act. A leading jurist, Mordechai Kremnitzer, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the bill gave off the “foul odour of racism”.
The legislation, both its supporters and opponents were agreed, was a rearguard action to prevent the possibility that other Arab citizens might be inspired to follow the Kaadans’ example.
Israel Hasson, of the centrist Kadima party, who was among the bill’s formulators, said it reflected “the state’s commitment to the realisation of the Zionist vision” in Israel. That vision is embodied in a decades-old “Judaisation” programme to settle as many Jews as possible in the heavily Arab-populated north.
Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with the Adalah legal centre for the Arab minority, said that the long-standing practice of using admissions committees to weed out applications from Arab citizens was being given legal standing for the first time.
“This legislation makes clear in very blunt fashion that the thrust of policy in Israel is towards maintaining segregation in housing between Jewish and Arab citizens,” she said.
The question of control over land, Ms Bishara said, was felt especially keenly by the Arab minority, because the state had nationalised 93 per cent of all territory inside its recognised borders.
Co-operative associations, which are limited to no more than 500 families each, have jurisdiction over most of the country’s habitable land and were regarded by the authorities as a bulwark against an Arab takeover, she said. Arab citizens, meanwhile, are largely restricted to living in 124 towns and villages, and control 2.5 per cent of Israel’s territory.
Planning and building laws confine the development and expansion of Arab communities, leading to overcrowding. Tens of thousands of Arab families, forced to build in non-zoned areas, live in homes under demolition orders.
Mr Kaadan, 54, a hospital nurse, said he had wanted to move to Katzir to improve his family’s quality of life. Baqa al Gharbiyya, an Arab town 10km from Katzir where they previously lived, was densely populated and lacked public services, while the local schools for his five children were underfunded and crumbling.
Typically, Arab municipalities receive only one third of the budget of Jewish communities.
Mr Kaadan said he had applied to Katzir when he learnt that plots of land there for house-building were heavily subsidised by the state, selling for a fifth of the price demanded in Baqa al Gharbiyya.
The family’s legal fight to win a place in Katzir has been arduous. It took five years for the Supreme Court to rule on the community’s decision in 1995 to reject the Kaadans on the grounds that they were Arab.
Making “one of the most difficult decisions in my life”, Aharon Barak, the court’s president, ordered Katzir’s admissions committee to consider the family’s application, warning that it could not reject them because of their ethnicity.
Katzir, therefore, imposed a new criterion for admission – “social suitability” – that the Kaadans also failed. It was clear to everyone, Mr Kaadan said, that “suitability” referred to the fact that they were not Jews.
When the Kaadans appealed to the court again, the Lands Authority, a state body that manages territory in Israel, relented and sold the family a plot in 2007. However, the case has continued to reverberate. Other exclusive Jewish communities in the Galilee sought their own solution to barring the entry of Arab families after Ahmed and Fatina Zbeidat, from the Arab town of Sakhnin, applied to the co-operative association of Rakafet in the Misgav region.
Rakafet’s admissions committee ruled in 2006 that the Zbeidats were unsuitable: Fatina was too “individualistic”, while her husband lacked “knowledge of sophisticated interpersonal relations”. Like the Kaadans, the Zbeidats have appealed to the Supreme Court.
Several Jewish communities near Rakafet hastily changed their bylaws last summer to include a loyalty oath. Typical was Manof’s, which requires applicants to share “the values of the Zionist movement, Jewish heritage, settlement of the Land of Israel … and observance of Jewish holidays”.
Ms Bishara, who represents the Zbeidats, said the couple was seeking a ruling against the use of admissions committees in the allocation of land and housing. The judges ordered the government to justify the practice at a hearing next month.
The new legislation, known as the Admissions Committee Bill, is designed to pre-empt any ruling by the court.
Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, said it would petition the Supreme Court to strike down the bill if, as expected, it becomes law in the next few weeks.
The liberal Haaretz newspaper called the bill an “outrageous” attempt to preserve “Jewish purity” in communities such as Katzir and Rakafet.
But the rightwing Jerusalem Post newspaper backed the legislation, saying Israeli Jews “should have the right to live in a community where they are not threatened by intermarriage or by becoming a cultural or religious minority”.
Relatives of Spanish cameraman killed in Baghdad use WikiLeaks to press for justice
After years of delays, the family of a Spanish journalist killed in a 2003 US attack on a Baghdad hotel turns to WikiLeaks documents that suggest the US and Spain colluded to prevent legal action.
Undated file TV image of Spanish TV cameraman José Couso who was killed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In what could be the first legal case to use filtered WikiLeaks documents as evidence, the family of a Spanish cameraman killed in 2003 by a US tank shell during the battle for Baghdad filed a complaint Monday. They seek to open an investigation into whether high-ranking officials here colluded with the US Embassy to stop charges being filed against three American soldiers, including a colonel.
Javier Couso, brother of Spanish cameraman José Couso who was killed by US fire during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, holds up a legal document during a news conference in Madrid, Dec. 3.
José Couso of Telecinco, the Spanish cameraman, and Taras Protsyuk, a Ukranian cameraman working for Reuters, died April 8, 2003, when a shell fired by an M1 Abraham tank hit the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel, which scores of foreign journalist were using as a base and Pentagon-approved safe haven. Two other media locations were hit that day, also killing Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayyoub. Four others were injured, leading to broad condemnation and demands to protect reporters.
Couso’s family has been fighting an uphill battle as it presses for criminal charges against the US soldiers. The US and Spain are, after all, close allies, and the US has taken the position that its soldiers are not liable to foreign jurisdictions, particularly when carrying out their duties in war zones.
The case has been dismissed twice at the request of Spanish prosecutors, only to be reopened by the Spanish Supreme Court. Currently, the country’s National Court is awaiting Iraqi entry visas to investigate the involvement of a sergeant, a captain, and a colonel in the incident seven years ago.
What the WikiLeaks documents show
According to the WikiLeaks documents posted by El País newspaper, former US ambassador in Madrid Eduardo Aguirre wrote in May 2007 that “while we are careful to show our respect for the tragic death of Couso and for the independence of the Spanish judicial system, behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.”
A month later, according to the documents, Mr. Aguirre told former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Spanish government “has been helpful behind the scenes in getting the case appealed.”
Then in July 2007 another confidential embassy report summarized a lunch meeting between Aguirre and Attorney General Conde-Pumpido in which the Spanish official “said that he continues to do what he can to get the case dismissed, despite public pressure from the family, leftist group, and the press,” according to Aguirre.
The latest complaint from the family, filed at the Attorney General’s office, asks that US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks be used as evidence that Spanish officials conspired to unduly influence prosecutors to dismiss the case. The accused include former Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, former Justice Minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido, and National Court Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza.
“The fundamental goal is to stop government meddling,” says Enrique Santiago, the Couso family’s lawyer. “The family could have filed this with the courts directly, but it wanted to make sure that the rule of law still exists.” The Attorney General’s Office did not return calls for comment.
“It’s certainly going to increase the pressure on the government to play it straight,” says Reed Brody, a Brussels-based lawyer for Human Rights Watch. “The implication that top Spanish officials did bidding for the US is very damaging and I think even without the lawsuit it may cause them to try to rectify [the situation].”
“Those of us who are pushing the Obama administration to undertake serious investigations were always hoping that Spanish cases would cause the US to act,” Mr. Brody says. “Nobody expects [former Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld in a court in Madrid, but it would be beneficial if these processes led to… answered questions at home.”
The Pentagon has publicly apologized for the deaths but found US troops acted within rules of engagement in the Palestine Hotel attack. US forces trying to capture Baghdad came under heavy sniper and rocket propelled grenade fire that day and intelligence suggested that a “spotter” was directing fire against US troops from the hotel, the US investigation said.
However, multiple journalists’ accounts disagreed. Reporters on the scene said there was no fire coming from the hotel and that the location was a known refuge for foreign media. An investigation into the attack led by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists concluded that while the attack “was not deliberate, it could have been avoided and may have been caused by a breakdown in communication within the US Army chain of command.”
“The most disturbing thing of the revelations,” says Brody, “is that the US was bullying other countries, not just Spain, to try to get officials to interfere with the judiciary. The US has built a wall of immunity and impunity for acts related to Iraq and Afghanistan and now it’s trying to get impunity extended abroad.”
“It’s the first use of Wikileaks information in a court,” he adds, “but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. It’s going to change the playing field.”
And even if the collusion complaint doesn’t prosper, few doubt Spanish public opinion will be a lot more vigilant now over the broader Couso case. “Spanish people get upset with interferences on their courts,” Brody said. “Part of this case is to hammer away at that point, that Spain should not be a lackey and should let the courts do its work.”
Visa, Mastercard and PayPal all enable donations to be made to US-registered groups funding illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law.
It appears at least one of the major credit cards also enables donations to an extremist Jewish group that has placed a bounty on the lives of Palestinians.
All three have in the last week ceased enabling donations to WikiLeaks. Neither Mastercard nor Visa have explained the basis for their decision to do so. PayPal has backed away from its initial claim that the US State Department told PayPal WikiLeaks had broken the law after the claim was discredited. This is the third occasion on which PayPal has suspended payment services for WikiLeaks.
Israel subsidises over 100 settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law. Another 100+ are “illegal outposts” even under Israeli law. All benefit from extensive support from the United States, channelled through a range of Jewish and right-wing Christian bodies, all of which have charitable status under US law. The International Crisis Group’s report on settlements in July 2009 identified the important role played by US charities. Israeli newspaper Haaretz has investigated the strong support provided via US charities, and Israeli peace groups have also targeted the generous support provided via private donations from the US and Canada.
Credit card transactional systems play a key role in facilitating this support for illegal settlements. Here are some examples.
The Shuva Israel group, an evangelical Christian group based in Texas, is accused by Israeli group Gush Shalom of channelling money to fund the illegal West Bank settlement of Revava. You can donate to it, says the Shuva Israel website, via Mastercard, Visa and Paypal.
The One Israel Fund, used as an example in the International Crisis Group report, boasts of being “the largest North American charity whose efforts are dedicated solely to the citizens and communities of Yesha”. You can donate to the One Israel Fund, according to its website, via Mastercard, Visa and Amex.
The website of another right-wing Christian group, the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities describes support for settlements like Argaman, which are illegal under international law. You can donate, their website says, via Mastercard, Visa and PayPal.
One of the highest-profile groups is the Hebron Fund, the centre of a 2009 row when the New York Mets were criticised for hosting a fundraising dinner for the group. It provides extensive support for the extraordinarily aggressive Hebron settlement, described by one Israeli group as “an ongoing war crime”, while the Fund itself has been linked to praise for an Israeli mass murderer. According to its website, it receives donations via all major credit cards.
Worst of all is the extremist SOS Israel group, which has incurred even the wrath of the Israeli Defence Force by rewarding Israeli soldiers who disobey orders to evict settlers from illegal outposts (i.e. inciting mutiny), and which has offered a bounty for Palestinians shot by IDF soldiers. The SOS Israel website describes a number of ways you can make your “generous donation” to it, including credit cards. Crikey’s token $2 donation via a Visa card was successful last night.
At this stage WikiLeaks has breached no international law and no laws of any country, but Mastercard, Visa and PayPal have all blacklisted it. All three continue to enable the support of settlements that are in breach of international law, in some cases of Israeli law, and in defiance of US policy on settlements under successive Republican and Democrat administrations.
Crikey invited Visa, Paypal and Mastercard to comment but none had responded by deadline.