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Friday, November 18, 2011

Concerns over rising settler violence in the West Bank



Nidam Qaraweq with his burnt olive tree  
Palestinians in Awarta say their olive trees have been deliberately destroyed by settlers
"These trees are holy to me. They're so old you can't put a value on them," says Nidam Qaraweq, a Palestinian olive farmer from the West Bank village of Awarta.
He pokes at the blackened, and gnarled trunks which are hundreds of years old. A large piece of what is now charcoal breaks off in his hand.
"They're all dead," he says angrily.
Last month, around 20 of Mr Qaraweq's olive trees were destroyed by fire.
He says Jewish settlers from the adjacent settlement of Itamar deliberately set his fields alight in an arson attack.
Some of Mr Qaraweq's other olive groves lie in land that has been taken over by the Itamar settlement as it expanded.
A high metal fence surrounds the settlement and Israeli soldiers patrol the gate denying Palestinians entry.
Mr Qaraweq says the land has been stolen.
Each olive harvest, the Israeli army escorts Palestinian farmers into Itamar to allow them to pick their olives for a few days.
When this happened in October, the Palestinian say settlers attacked them with sticks.
Israeli soldiers had to intervene and the Palestinians were forced to leave.

There's been a big rise in Jewish Settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The situation around Awarta is especially tense after two Palestinian teenagers from the village were convicted of murdering a family of five settlers including two children and a baby in March this year.
But the broad picture is that settler violence is on the increase across the West Bank.
'Shameful' inaction The United Nations says the number of attacks by extremist Jewish settlers on Palestinians resulting in either injury or damage to property has roughly tripled since 2009.
The UN says so far in 2011 around 10,000 Palestinian-owned olive trees have been destroyed or damaged in attacks by settlers.

Jewish settlers from Itamar shout from behind a fence as Palestinian farmers from Awarta try to pick olives in October  
There were clashes between Itamar settlers and Palestinians during the annual olive harvest
 
"They've made life very difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank," says Ramesh Rajasingham, Head of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
"You have settler attacks on Palestinian property, on shepherds. In some cases, they attack kids going to school."
In June this year, I visited a mosque in the Palestinian village of al-Mughriah near Ramallah, which had suffered an arson attack.
Burning tyres had been thrown into the mosque and the walls had been sprayed with graffiti in Hebrew.
The imam told me he believed settlers were almost certainly to blame.
It has been just one of several attacks on mosques in the West Bank this year.
The UN says in 90% of complaints filed to the Israeli police by Palestinians against settlers, nobody is ever indicted.

UN statistics:

  • Weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property increased by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 165% compared to 2009
  • In 2011, three Palestinians have been killed and 167 injured by Israeli settlers
  • One Palestinian has been killed and 101 others injured by Israeli soldiers during clashes with settlers in 2011
  • Eight Israeli settlers have been killed and 30 injured by Palestinians in 2011. In the same period in 2010, five were killed and 43 injured
"For a country such as Israel which has such excellent capacities in terms of rule of law, this level of inaction is really shameful," says Ramesh Rajasingham.
"If you have this level of impunity, people will free to do it. If people feel they can get away with it then they have all the opportunity to continue such attacks."
Revenge attacks Some attacks by settlers are referred to as "price tagging".
This is a policy of revenge carried out by Jewish extremists if any action is taken by the Israeli government or security forces against settlement expansion.
Typically price tagging happens after the Israeli authorities move to dismantle settler "outposts", small Jewish communities build on occupied Palestinian land which even the Israeli government regards as illegal.
Usually it is Palestinians or their property which are attacked in revenge but occasionally action is taken against Israel's security forces.
In October, an Israeli army patrol was surrounded and assaulted by a group of extremist settlers in the West Bank.

A Palestinian looks at Hebrew writing on the wall of a mosque in Qusra, near Nablus in September  
Extremist settlers have set fire to West Bank mosques and daubed their walls with graffiti
 
The attack on the soldiers came after a Jewish teenager was arrested on suspicion of carrying out an arson attack on a Palestinian mosque.
In clashes between settlers and Palestinians it is the Israeli army who have to intervene, often using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse stone throwing Palestinian youths.
But some soldiers express frustration at the more extremist settlers.
"Both sides are as stupid as the other," an exasperated looking Israeli commanding officer told me as his troops stepped in to stop fighting between settlers and Palestinians near Nablus last month.
The man who recently left his post as Israeli army commander of the West Bank, Nitzan Alon, went much further.
Brigadier General Alon said not enough had been done to tackle Jewish extremism referring to price tag attacks as "terror".
"These acts not only should be condemned for their folly and wrongdoing but we should also have done more to prevent them and to arrest the perpetrators," he said in his outgoing speech.
'Exaggerated' reports However many settler leaders say he is wrong.
"I think that Commander Alon is exaggerating. He's making a mistake, not being careful with his words," says David Haivri, a settler and spokesperson for the Shomron Regional Council in the West Bank.
Mr Haivri says Nitzan Alon went too far with his accusations and argues there is not as much tension between settlers and Palestinians as people make out. He says the United Nations figures on settler violence are wrong.

A Jewish settler from the occupied West Bank city of Hebron argues with an Israeli soldier  
Israeli soldiers are brought in to stop clashes between settlers and Palestinians
 
"It seems that so-called human rights organisations are bouncing numbers off each other, building up statistics that don't reflect what I see in the area where I live. There have been much more tense years than this one," says Mr Haivri.
Around 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land that has been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Settlements are illegal under international law although Israel disputes this.
Many settlers believe they have a religious right to the land.
The vast majority of settlers are non-violent but some within the Israeli government acknowledge a growing problem with extremists.
This month, the Israeli Education Minister, Gideon Saar, strongly condemned the "price tag" policy conducted by extremist settlers.
"The price tag gangs that harass innocent people, damage property, attack Israeli soldiers and security forces, burn mosques and terrorise political opponents are a violent and dangerous cancerous growth that must be uprooted," he said.
Mr Saar was speaking at a memorial service for the former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo Peace Accords that Mr Rabin had signed with the Palestinians two years earlier.
Settlement growth For Palestinians, settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace. They say it makes a future Palestinian state less and less viable.
The United States, the European Union and virtually the entire international community feels the same.
The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to return to peace talks with Israel until settlement expansion stops completely.
The Israeli government disagrees with his position and says settlement growth is a symptom of the Palestinians' refusal to engage in talks.
The survival of the right wing coalition government is, at least to some extent, dependent on political parties that draw much of their support from people who favour settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian territory.
But if ever there is to be a Palestinian state, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders know that tens of thousands of settlers would have to be removed from their homes.
That would not happen easily and the number of settlers and their influence over Israeli government policy is growing by the day.

Unwrapping the ancient Egyptian animal mummy industry



Jane O'Brien looks around the Smithsonian's collection of mummified animals

The ancient Egyptian animal mummification industry was so large it put some species in danger of extinction. But as a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC shows, the Egyptians believed they were doing the animals a great honour.
Egypt in the 7th Century BC was not a healthy place to be if you were a cat or a dog.
Puppy farms and other animal breeding programmes were a huge industry - not to produce pets, but to provide a stock of animals to be killed and mummified.
The Egyptians believed that animals held a unique position in the afterlife. They could keep the dead company, they represented the gods, and they were well received as offerings by the gods, Egyptologists say.
Millions mummified Such was the enthusiasm for animal slaughter that experts say it contributed to the extinction in Egypt of at least one bird species. The Sacred Ibis were mummified in the millions because they were sacred to Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, says Selima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

A fake baboon mummy, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution  
Many baboon mummies were actually forgeries - no animal harmed
 
Others, including hawks and falcons, saw their populations dwindle.
"It's easier to say which animals the Egyptians didn't mummify," says Prof Ikram, who helped curate the Smithsonian's largest mummy exhibition to date.
"There are no mummified pigs as far as we know, no mummified hippos, and I think that's about it - because almost every other creature at some time or another has been mummified."
At the exhibit, visitors can see a range of mummified animals, including the Sacred Ibis, and gain an insight into the industry that became a driving force of the economy of ancient Egypt.
When animals in the wild started dying out, extensive breeding programmes were launched by the temples and surrounding villages.
'Obsessed with life' The programmes began as early as 3,000BC and peaked from 650BC to 200AD, when the mummification industry was "phenomenally large", says Prof Ikram.

A cat mummy, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution 
Cats were bred not as pets, but for ritual mummification
 
Mummification represented a culture of life, not of death, says exhibition curator Melinda Zeder.
"The ancient Egyptians weren't obsessed with death - they were obsessed with life," says Ms Zeder. "And everything they did to prepare for mummification was really looking at life after death and a way of perpetuating oneself forever.
"The priests would sacrifice the animal for you, mummify it and then place it in a catacomb in your name. So this was a way of obtaining good standing in the eyes of whatever god it was."
While many animals were bred specifically to be killed on demand, others were worshiped as deities themselves.
The museum has a rare bull mummy which, as a manifestation of the sun god Re, would have been allowed to live out its life in luxury.
During its life the bull would have received daily massages and paraded through adoring crowds while priests studied its movements and tried to divine messages from the gods.
When the bull died of old age - probably after 20 years - it was mummified, placed in an immense sarcophagus and put into a catacomb.
"Some might have died of heart attacks because they were overfed by the priests," says Prof Ikram.
Other animals did not fare even that well.
Another species killed to the point of extinction in Egypt was the baboon.
When none were left, the Egyptians manufactured fake baboon offerings, creating mummies that looked real on the outside but which CT scans have recently revealed to be elaborate forgeries.
"If you wanted to have a baboon as an offering, you make it look like a baboon - and if you say it is a baboon, then it magically becomes a baboon," says Prof Ikram.
"The real ones were very expensive and hard to come by and that's why the whole genre of fake mummies started."
Animal lovers today might be appalled that such large scale slaughter took place in the name of religion and ritual burials.
But Egyptologists say the ancients believed it was a great honour for the animals involved: They were bred for a higher purpose and would spend eternity with the gods.
"They believed there were going on to a better life," says Prof Ikram, "although their short term life might not have been fantastic."

Myth that antibiotics cure coughs and colds still rife

Antibiotics  
Antibiotics "will not cure viruses"

Related Stories

A quarter of people wrongly believe antibiotics work on most coughs and colds, a Health Protection Agency survey has found.
However antibiotics cannot treat viruses, which cause most respiratory tract infections.
The HPA poll of 1,800 people in England also found one in 10 people keep leftover antibiotics - and many would self-medicate next time they got ill.
A leading GP said antibiotics were not a "cure all".
The HPA's Dr Cliodna McNulty said self-medicating was unsafe and could fuel drug resistance.
Dr McNulty, head of primary care for the HPA, said: "The majority of people can treat themselves at home using over-the-counter medicines to relieve symptoms."
Of those polled, 500 had been prescribed antibiotics in the previous year, with 11% reporting they had leftovers and 6% saying they might take them if they had future infections.
Speaking on European Antibiotics Awareness Day, Dr McNulty said that while the numbers might appear small, they could translate into large numbers given that 30% of people take antibiotics every year.
She said: "There is evidence that the more antibiotics you have, the more likely you are to develop resistance. And you're also more likely to develop antibiotic-related diarrhoea."
But 70% were aware of the problem of antibiotic resistance in hospitals, and a similar number were aware that they or their family could be affected.
'Not a cure-all' The HPA says health professionals must learn to resist demands from patients for treatments they know have little or no effect on coughs and colds. It found 97% of those questioned said that the last time they had asked their GP or nurse for an antibiotic, they were prescribed one.

TOP TIPS FROM THE HPA

  • Most coughs and colds get better on their own - antibiotics will not speed recovery
  • Talk to your GP about whether you need them
  • Coughing up phlegm on its own is not a reason to need an antibiotic - even if it is yellow
  • A sore throat plus runny nose with phlegm suggests the infection is less likely to respond to antibiotics
  • A high temperature, red throat and feeling really ill means you probably need an antibiotic
  • If you feel able to stop taking them early, you may well not have needed them
  • Always take all doses for as long as instructed
  • Never keep any leftovers - what's prescribed for one infection might not work for the next
  • GPs can give a delayed antibiotic prescription for you to take only if things get worse
  • In cases of severe illness, antibiotics can save lives
Dr McNulty added: "Despite many years of public health campaigns advising people that antibiotics don't work against coughs, colds and flu, our research results show that these myths prevail.
"We understand people feel very unwell with coughs, sore throats, flu and colds, but for the majority of people these symptoms are unpleasant but short-lived."
The Department of Health issued fresh guidance on antibiotic prescribing in hospitals on Friday, with doctors and nurses being urged to "think twice" before offering them to patients.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Antibiotics are a wonderful thing when used properly, but they are not a cure-all for every condition, and should not be seen, or used, as such.
"The opposite is often true and, when used excessively or inappropriately, they can actually do more harm than good - reducing a patient's immunity to illnesses, or building up an immunity to antibiotics, both of which can have negative consequences for good health."
Writing in the Lancet medical journal, Prof Laura Piddock of the school of immunity and infection at the University of Birmingham warned there were global implications from the misuse of antibiotics, and drug companies' failures to develop new ones.
She warned: "The demise of antibacterial drug discovery brings the spectre of untreatable infections."

Pakistan telecoms authority to block 'obscene' texts

Someone using a mobile phone  
The list has caused confusion and amusement among many Pakistani mobile phone users

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has told mobile phone companies to begin blocking text messages containing "obscene" words.
Mobile phone companies Telenor Pakistan and Ufone confirmed to the BBC
that the PTA has sent them a "dictionary" of banned words and expressions.
The PTA has reportedly ordered operators to begin screening text messages by 21 November.

Ufone say they are now working on how to block the offending words.
A letter dated 14 November, apparently written by Muhammad Talib Doger, an official at the PTA, has been leaked to Pakistani media.

It states that mobile phone operators should begin screening the words, provided on a list attached to the letter, within seven days.

"We have received both the dictionary and the memo and we're discussing a way forward," said Anjum Nida Rahman, corporate communications director for Telenor Pakistan.

Some of the allegedly banned words

  • Athlete's foot
  • Flatulence
  • Jesus Christ
  • Monkey crotch
  • Back door
  • Bewaquf (foolish)
  • Bakwaas (nonsense)
  • Wuutang (a presumed reference to American rap group the Wu-Tang Clan)
The ban is a reaction to consumers' complaints of receiving offensive text messages, Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the PTA, told The Guardian newspaper.
"Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl," he said. He added that the list was not finished and that the authority would continue to add to it.
'What am I missing?' An unconfirmed version of the PTA's list is being circulated online, containing hundreds of words and expressions in both English and Urdu.
According to this version, the entries range from those too obscene to repeat to the bizarre.
Some of the choices on the list have baffled Pakistani mobile phone users, many of whom have taken to Twitter to ridicule the move.
Syed Adnan Yousuf, tweeting as @AdnanWhy, asked: "Why is 'head lights' banned? What am I missing here?"
Some people have suggested bypassing the ban by replacing words with their number on the PTA's list.
Pakistan has seen a big increase in mobile phone use in recent years - 100m Pakistanis are now estimated to be mobile phone users.

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