31 October 2015

Criminalizing Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

TeleSUR English

On the corniche in Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s seaside promenade, I recently witnessed the following scene: four Syrian boys who looked to be in their early teens were harmlessly partaking of some snacks on a bench when two members of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) descended upon them on bicycles. Identity papers were demanded, one of the boys was physically searched, and another was made to get down on his hands and knees and painstakingly collect every last sunflower seed shell that had accumulated at the group’s feet while one of the cops inexplicably took photographs of him. (They’ll surely make a great addition to any future brochure showcasing the ISF’s services.)

When my companion approached the boys afterward to ask for details, they claimed the intervention was triggered by their Syrian accents — a plausible hypothesis given the fact that the Lebanese present on the corniche continued to blissfully scatter remnants of their own snacks without meriting attention from the forces of law and order.

The boys added that the police had asked them if they also littered in their own country — to which they had appropriately responded that they could not properly dispose of the sunflower seed shells because the Lebanese government had nowhere to put Beirut’s trash. Indeed, willful incompetence on the part of the state has resulted in an ongoing rubbish crisis, which has meant that, for the past several months, sizable sectors of the capital and environs have found themselves inundated with festering garbage. Needless to say, much of this waste is far less biodegradable than sunflower seeds.

Profiling and harassment are only two of the ways the Lebanese government has complicated Syrian refugee existence. Last October, for example, it flat out stopped admitting refugees, and now requires the ones already present to pay an annual fee of US$200 to remain in the country. A host of other requirements further defy logic: refugees must provide a notarized pledge not to work in Lebanon, as well as copies of a lease agreement or property deed. For refugees who are both poor and forcibly jobless, it’s anyone’s guess where the money for housing — or the US$200 — is supposed to come from. READ MORE AT TeleSUR English.

21 October 2015

For Israel, ‘Human Rights’ Has Meant the Right To Dominate Palestinians

In These Times

Shortly after the conclusion of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, a 34-day affair that dispensed with approximately 1,200 (mainly civilian) lives in the latter country, my friend and I embarked on a hitchhiking trip through the rubble. One of our stops was the town of Bint Jbeil, located 2.5 miles from the Israeli border and known as the “capital of the Resistance.” A former focal point of the Hezbollah-managed struggle against Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, which was forcibly terminated in May of 2000, Bint Jbeil was savagely attacked by Israeli forces in 2006, partly as payback. Much of the town now lay in ruin.
The destruction of property, not to mention friends and loved ones, had somehow not interfered with the south Lebanese capacity for hospitality, and my companion and I were quickly ushered into one family’s living room for coffee. This particular family of five had spent the first 10 days of the war in a basement with a multitude of relatives and neighbors before fleeing northward in a convoy of white flag-waving vehicles, the last of which was pulverized by an Israeli missile.
Thanks to this experience, our hosts’ four-year-old daughter now panicked at the slightest sound. She nonetheless appeared more resilient than my friend and me: After learning that there was a two-foot-long unexploded Israeli aerial bomb lying in the unoccupied house next door, we spent the rest of our visit hyperventilating.
During the 2006 war, the Israeli military saturated south Lebanese homes, yards, and fields with up to 4.6 million cluster bombs, a good percentage of which failed to detonate on impact and thus continue to maim and kill to this day. One of Israel’s excuses for such behavior was that Hezbollah was using south Lebanese civilians as human shields, storing weaponry in area homes and launching rockets from civilian areas. Expanding on the Israeli fabrication that much of Hezbollah’s arsenal was located under civilian beds, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reasoned: “When you go to sleep with a missile, … you might find yourself waking up to another kind of missile.” READ MORE AT IN THESE TIMES.

19 October 2015

Lebanon’s landscape of refugee despair

Middle East Eye

The view from the mental health room at the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF) clinic in the Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar showcases a scene typical of today’s Bekaa Valley. In the distance, a tented settlement housing refugees from Syria is featured against a mountainous backdrop, beyond which lies the Syrian city of Zabadani. This summer, battle sounds from the city reverberated across Majdal Anjar.

As we sit by the window, Tarek Baydoun - one of MSF’s volunteer mental health counselors - mentions an occasional fear that a stray missile will come flying over the mountain. (It wouldn’t be the first case of a direct hit on an MSF healthcare centre, that achievement having already been accomplished by the recent US airstrikes on the organisation’s hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.)
Indeed, for the estimated two million Syrian refugees currently residing in Lebanon, it’s been difficult to put much distance between themselves and the homeland - either physically or psychologically.
According to Baydoun, who often sees four or more patients per day, the most common psychological afflictions facing Syrian refugees involve depression and severe anxiety. In children, enuresis - or bedwetting - is a frequent manifestation of mental strife. The causes of mental troubles, Baydoun says, have to do not only with stressful and traumatic experiences accumulated in war-torn Syria but also with difficulties adjusting to the new reality in Lebanon, where refugees have been given a less-than-warm reception. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

17 October 2015

A new front-line in the war on terror

Al Jazeera English

On August 28, a 17-year-old citizen of El Salvador became the country's first person to be sentenced for "acts of terrorism" on account of his association with alleged gang activity, the Spanish news agency EFE reported. Identified only as Antonio N, the teenager was accused of attacking a group of police with a handmade weapon.
In El Salvador, it is customary to refrain from publishing the full names of minors charged with crimes, but classifying them as terrorists is apparently acceptable.
The case was a litmus test for a new ruling. Four days prior to Antonio N's sentencing, the Salvadoran Supreme Court had decreed that gang membership was now punishable under the 2006 Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism, which can set prison sentences of up to 60 years.
The law has been trotted out on various occasions. A former administrationused it to charge protesters at a 2007 demonstration against the privatisation of water systems. In this case, "terrorism" amounted to blocking roads and throwing stones.
Following the new supreme court decision, both the state and police have been having a field day with additional arrests. Last month, 231 people were taken into custody at a dance party in the city of Apopa, north of the capital San Salvador, where, the Salvadoran online newspaper La Pagina reported, the musical entertainment had included songs "alluding to gangs". READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

14 October 2015

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: Whose breaking point?

Middle East Eye

Since refugees began pouring into Lebanese territory from neighbouring Syria in 2011, much commotion has been made regarding Lebanon’s supposed position at the “breaking point” in terms of refugee capacity.
There’s no denying that the diminutive nation, home to an estimated four million people, has taken in a disproportionate number of refugees as compared to Fortress Europe and other less-than-helpful locales. Some two million refugees, both registered and unregistered, are reported to reside in Lebanon at present, thus constituting one third of the total population.
But just how likely is Lebanon to “break” under the weight of its guests? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

09 October 2015

How to Become a Specially Designated Global Terrorist

TeleSUR English

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced on its website that Samir Kuntar of Lebanon had attained the distinction of Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224. According to the site, this means that “all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Kuntar has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him or to his benefit.”

Kuntar’s previous distinctions have included being Israel’s longest-held Lebanese prisoner, racking up 29 consecutive years in Israeli custody. The marathon began in April 1979, when a then 16-year-old Kuntar was apprehended in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya during a botched operation organized by the Lebanon-based Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), a component of the PLO.

The aim of the operation, in which Kuntar and three companions sailed from Lebanon in a rubber dinghy, was to kidnap Israelis to use as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. In the end, two members of Kuntar’s team and five Israelis died, including two policemen and three members of the Haran family. Kuntar was sentenced to 542 years in prison for allegedly shooting 32-year-old Danny Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter Einat and then smashing the girl’s skull against a rock with his rifle butt—a version of events that Kuntar denies, as the world finally learned in 2008 when Israel deigned to release the relevant court transcripts. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.