Stories by Arsen Ostrovsky

Arsen Ostrovsky is an attorney specializing in litigation, international law and human rights in the Middle East.

Iran’s Nuke Double-Talk

June 11th, 2011 at 1:41 pm 21 Comments

In an exercise straight out of the political  theater of the absurd, Iran this Sunday will convene a two-day conference on “International Nuclear Disarmament.” According to Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhoundzadeh, the conference will discuss the “doctrines of nuclear powers”, “practical measures to have a world free of weapons of mass destruction” and review “regional as well as international disarmament commitments”. I wonder what’s next — maybe Syria can hold an international conference on Effective Crowd Dispersion Methods and Saudi Arabia could convene a conference on the Advancement of the Status of Women & Minorities?

Targeting Terrorists: OK for U.S. But Not Israel?

May 4th, 2011 at 11:20 am 18 Comments

As world leaders rightly applaud and congratulate the United States on the death of Osama Bin-Laden and the evil he represented, it is well worth remembering that these are the same leaders who also condemned Israel when it did the same to Hamas terror mastermind Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004.

Bin Laden, of course, needs no introduction.

But some background to Sheikh Yassin. Yassin was the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, a group sworn to Israel’s destruction and which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, UK, Canada and many other countries.

Yassin was directly involved in planning, orchestrating and personally ordering countless terrorist bombings, rocket attacks and suicide operations by Hamas. These attacks resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis, in addition to many foreigners – including Americans and Europeans. As a percentage of its population, many more Israelis were killed at the hands of Yassin than those who tragically died on September 11.

Although Hamas and al-Qaeda may differ on points of theology and tactics, they have always been united for one particular purpose – their common hatred of Jews and Israel. Indeed, Hamas was even one of the sole groups to condemn the United States for the killing of Bin Laden, with Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, calling him an “Arab holy warrior” and accusing the United States of pursuing a policy based on “oppression and the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood“.

Yassin was killed by an Israeli Air Force missile strike on his car on March 22nd, 2004, which also took out several other Hamas terrorists.

For all intents and purposes, Bin Laden and Yassin were one and the same person. They represented the same hatred, evil and abhorrence for human life. Their hands were bloodied with the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Yet, the reactions of world leaders to their deaths could not have been any different.

This is just a sample…


United Nations:

2011 – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

The death of Osama bin Laden is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism.

2004 – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan:

I do condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him. Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution.


European Union:

2011 – EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton:

I would like to congratulate the US, pay tribute to its determination and efficiency in reducing the threat posed by terrorists and underline the close cooperation between the EU and US in the fight against terrorism.

2004 – EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana:

This type of action does not contribute at all to create the conditions of peace. This is very, very bad news for the peace process. The policy of the European Union has been consistently condemnation of extra-judicial killing.


Britain:

2011 – British PM David Cameron:

The news that Osama bin Laden is dead will bring great relief to people across the world. It is a great success that he has been found and will no longer be able to pursue his campaign of global terror.

2004 – British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw:

The British government has made it repeatedly clear that the so-called targeted assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive.


France:

2011 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated President Obama on his “determination” to hunt down Osama bin Laden, saying:

The scourge of terrorism has suffered a historic defeat but it’s not the end of al-Qaeda.

2004 – French President Jacques Chirac:

We condemn the act conducted against Sheikh Yassin because it was against international law.


Palestinian Authority:

2011 – PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib:

Getting rid of bin Laden is good for the cause of peace worldwide.

2004 – Palestinian President Yasser Arafat declared three days of mourning and closed Palestinian schools, while Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei described it as a “dangerous, cowardly act”, calling it:

[O]ne of the biggest crimes that the Israeli government has committed.

Russia, Italy, Germany, Jordan, China, Turkey and just about every significant nation in the world has applauded the death of Bin Laden as a major victory in the global war on terror – but condemned Israel on the death of Sheikh Yassin.

I guess every nation has the right to target a terrorist mastermind responsible for some of the most unspeakable carnage against its citizens – of course, unless that nation is Israel. Double standards and hypocrisy anyone?


Al Jazeera Journalist Calls Out Network Bias

April 24th, 2011 at 2:00 pm 24 Comments

Al-Jazeera has long been suspected of lacking objectivity in its reporting of the Middle East. Now one of its most prominent journalists and director of their Beirut office, rx Ghassan Bin Jeddo, look has resigned because of this.

According to Lebanese newspaper, As-Safir, which first broke the story yesterday, Bin Jeddo resigned in protest against Al Jazeera’s coverage of the recent uprisings throughout the Arab world, saying:

Al Jazeera has abandoned professionalism and objectivity, turning from a media source into an operation room that incites and mobilizes.

Al-Safir added that:

Ghassan Ben Jeddo believes Al-Jazeera TV news channel no longer pursues… independent and unbiased policies, and quite conversely, is in pursuit of a certain type of [policy] regarding the brewing uprisings in the region.

As Al-Jazeera continues its rapid growth into a global media behemoth, buoyed by the Arab uprisings, hopefully Ben Jeddo’s resignation will draw greater scrutiny and examination of the station, which has until now escaped relative attention.


Arab League Wants Gaza No-Fly Zone

April 10th, 2011 at 11:15 am 12 Comments

According to reports coming out of the Middle East, the Arab League said it will request that the U.N. Security Council impose a no-fly zone over Gaza.

I wonder what led the Arab League to request such a drastic step.

Was it the 120 grad missiles, rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into southern Israel this weekend that forced some 750,000 Israelis to rush for the nearest bomb-shelter? Or was it the deliberate Palestinian missile strike on a school bus carrying Israeli children on Friday, critically injuring one child?

Maybe it was the bomb left at a Jerusalem bus station a few weeks ago that killed one person? Because it certainly wasn’t the Palestinian terrorist who brutally massacred 5 members of an Israeli family in their sleep last month, including 3 children, aged 11, 4 and a 3-month old baby.

Does the Arab League wish to convince the world that they side with Hamas and terror every time?


UN Turns a Blind Eye to Syria

March 26th, 2011 at 2:07 pm 30 Comments

As Syria verges on eruption, view with riots and widespread killings across the state, hospital the Syrian propaganda machine goes into full swing, ampoule with Muhsin Bilal, the Information Minister, declaring: “The situation is completely calm in all parts of the country“.

He sure has a twisted interpretation of the meaning of ‘calm’.

In sharp contrast, Amnesty International says that at least 55 people have been killed during a week of unrest, as Syrian security forces open fire on protesters, while simultaneously carrying out arbitrary arrests, torture and beatings.

Most NGOs, media outlets and eyewitness testimony corroborate this account.

In Deraa and Damascus, tens of thousands marched in funerals for some of the dead, chanting “Freedom.” And as this YouTube clip of protestors ripping apart a poster of President Bashar Assad shows, clearly the situation in Syria is anything but calm, with the first real challenge to the 40 year Assad family stranglehold over Syria.

At the same time as Syria slaughters pro-democracy protestors, last week saw continued violence and human rights abuses rage throughout the Middle East – from Libya to Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere.

One would be forgiven for thinking that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), that august body charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, would have stood up when it counted most. Wrong.

Instead, the only Middle East country to be singled out by the UNHRC for special opprobrium last week was none other than its favorite punching bag – Israel, with 6 resolutions condemning Israeli settlement activity and supposed human rights violations. Never mind for a moment that the UNHRC chose to turn a blind eye to the horrendous massacre of an Israeli family in their sleep in Itamar or the Jerusalem bus bombing earlier this week or the 100 plus rockets which rained down on Israel from Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

But then again, perhaps the UNHRC also thinks that the situation in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East is ‘completely calm.’


Is It Time for “Gaza Dictatorship Month”?

March 16th, 2011 at 12:23 pm 12 Comments

While thousands of students and academics around the world exercise their democratic right to protest in the name of Israel Apartheid Week (an annual Israel hate-fest on campus) their brethren at Gaza’s Al-Azhar’s University are being beaten up by Hamas for – wait for it – protesting. But of course, patient you’re unlikely to hear a word from the Israel bashers about this.

As reported by AFP, tadalafil on Wednesday, dozens of Hamas police and security forces entered the university (dressed in civilian clothes) and began attacking students heading out for a protest.

University sources say that at least 10 students were taken to hospital and around 20 were arrested by Hamas.

What were the students protesting, you may ask? The downfall of Hamas? No. God forbid closer relations with Israel? Certainly not. The students were calling for an end to the bitter enmity between Hamas (which controls Gaza) and Fatah (which controls the West Bank) and the creation of a Palestinian national unity government between the two.  If Hamas were a little less obsessed with destroying Israel and asserting their dominance over every aspect of Gazan life, they would actually have noticed that this protest was in their benefit.

The University protest follows earlier demonstrations on Tuesday, when thousands of Palestinians rallied in the streets of Gaza City and the West Bank, calling for an end to the division in their national movement and unity between Fatah and Hamas.

Perhaps during Israel Apartheid Week, when students and academics seek to single out and demonize Israel (where incidentally, campuses are filled with both Arab and Jewish students, seemingly doing much more protesting than studying), they spare a thought for their Palestinian colleagues in Gaza City, who do not have the same luxury under Hamas.


Hamas Ramps Up Rocket Attacks

December 23rd, 2010 at 9:27 am 12 Comments

On the 2nd Anniversary of the Gaza War, the Israel-Gaza border is again on edge following a spate of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks.  One rocket landed near a kindergarten in Ashkelon Israel, wounding a girl on her way to school and injuring two other people.  In response, the Israeli Defence Forces struck eight targets in Gaza, including a Hamas training camp and a tunnel used for smuggling weapons.

However, in what can only be described as the theatre of the absurd, the Palestinian Authority has warned Israel against launching an attack on the Gaza Strip, while Hamas announced they will file a U.N. complaint against ‘Zionist aggression.’

In a statement today, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said:

I condemn the firing of indiscriminate mortars and rockets by militant groups in Gaza at Israel, which has escalated in recent days. These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and endanger civilians in Israel.

Serry reiterated that:

Israel has a right to self-defence consistent with international humanitarian law.

However, apparently not everyone believes Israel has a right to self-defense, with PA President Mahmoud Abbas saying:

any new Israeli aggression would put the entire peace process in real danger.

Oh really? How about rockets attacks from the Gaza Strip aimed at Israeli kindergartens jeopardizing whatever crumbs may be left of the peace process? Does President Abbas – or anyone for that matter (with the exception of maybe Hamas) – honestly expect Israel to remain silent while rockets target their children?

This year has already seen more than 200 rockets and mortars fired into southern Israel from Gaza. That means that, on average, Southern Israel has not enjoyed more than two days in a row without a rocket attack from Gaza.

In the 4 years between Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and Operation Cast Lead, Hamas fired some 8,000 rockets and mortars before Israel took any action. Today, those rockets, which are expanding in reach and damage – courtesy of Iran – are in reach of almost 1 million Israelis. No government can tolerate rockets fired at its civilians, let alone children and kindergartens.

In the coming days and week, the U.N. Security Council will likely have before it, two competing resolutions – one from Israel, seeking a “clear and resolute message that these attacks are unacceptable” and the other from Hamas, or on its behalf. Indeed, eyes will firmly be focused on the U.N. to ensure that this theatre of the absurd does not continue any longer, lest the region spills into another all-out war.



Israeli Outsourcing to Palestinians Booms

December 18th, 2010 at 9:05 pm 4 Comments

That Israel is a world leader in high-tech is well known, but a story you’re unlikely to see much coverage about – Israeli companies outsourcing IT work to Palestinians. Proof that in the 21st century, IT is a language that transcends all cultural, economic and political barriers.

Although peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian politicians may have reached an unfortunate impasse, AP reports that an increasing number of Israeli high-tech companies are doing work with their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank.

For some Israelis, this is their own small way of making a positive contribution to an otherwise troubled part of the world. To others, it’s “because it simply makes good business sense.”

Traditionally, many Israeli high tech firms sent their work offshore to Eastern Europe, India or China. However, in the last 3 years, they have increasingly turned to their Palestinian neighbors and have found that not only are they smart, ambitious and hard working, but “the cultural gap is much smaller than we would think,” said Gai Anbar, chief executive of Comply, an Israeli start-up that develops software for global pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Teva.

And here’s the thing – many Palestinians have also warmed to the idea. “I doubt you would find a company who says, ‘I am closed for business‘” to Israelis, said Ala Alaeddin, chairman of the Palestinian Information Technology Association.

Although the Palestinian workers cost less to the Israeli companies than do Israelis, they still earn on average more than say their Indian or Chinese counterparts, and more importantly – than the average Palestinian salary in the West Bank (and certainly more than in Gaza, where such ‘collaboration’ would be tantamount to treason in the eyes of the ruling Hamas). It is an opportunity for them not just to put food on the table for their families, but like their Israeli counterparts, also a chance to make a positive contribution to peace between the two people.

So here’s the thing – next time you think about boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israeli companies, remember this – you’re not only hurting Israelis, but you’re hurting the Palestinians and hopes for peace even more.

Hamas: We’ll Never Recognize Israel

December 14th, 2010 at 5:54 pm 30 Comments

Next time you think about blaming Israel for the current impasse in the peace process, instead look first to Hamas – and reconsider who really is the biggest impediment to peace.

In a speech in Gaza today marking the terror group’s 23rd anniversary, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, before a cheering crowd of some 250,000 people that:

We will never, we will never, we will never recognize Israel.

Responding to speculation last month about a possible change in Hamas’s Charter (which calls for Israel’s destruction) in which Hamas may consider accepting a referendum on any prospective peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, Haniyeh said such a truce would entail:

No recognition of Israel and no concessions over any part of the land of Palestine.

Some truce.

If you’re wondering as to what Haniyeh means by ‘Palestine’, rest assured he is not referring only to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem or anything like the 1967 borders. Instead, look no further than his own words:

Hamas bears the flag of Palestinian liberation, all of Palestine, from the river to the sea.

Translation? Hamas’s ‘Palestine’ is ALL of Israel.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the rally was that Hamas officials handed out chocolates and candy with a card saying “from Hamas with love.” Perhaps their slogan ought to have instead been: “Kiss peace goodbye. From Hamas with love.”

Nobel Prize Puts China’s Leaders to Shame

December 9th, 2010 at 11:30 pm 24 Comments

Today, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to Chinese dissident and peace activist Liu Xiaobo. But Liu’s seat at the ceremony will be empty because the Chinese government has imprisoned him on trumped-up charges and has forbidden even his family to attend the ceremony to receive the award on his behalf. Also empty will be 18 seats from embassies around the world who have pitifully decided not to attend the ceremony in a show of support for China.

In awarding Liu the Prize for 2010, the Nobel Committee said it was in recognition of his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Committee noted that:

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

Liu is currently serving the first year of an 11 year prison sentence for supposedly spreading a message to ‘subvert the country and authority’. His crime you ask? Co-authoring and then circulating on the Internet a pro-democracy manifesto affirming the importance of freedom, human rights and equality as “universal values shared by all humankind” and calling for direct elections, judicial independence, democracy and equality. How heinous of him! Liu has served three prior jail sentences in China for similar charges over the past twenty years.

Many leaders from the United States and Europe and human rights activists from around the world have called for Liu’s immediate release. However the calls to China have, predictably, fallen on deaf ears.

Equally predictable have been efforts by the Chinese government to exert strong pressure on countries to boycott the Oslo ceremony, after it was incensed over the award to the jailed dissident.

Of the countries that have disgracefully acquiesced to Chinese pressure and declined to attend this year’s ceremony, the list hardly reads as your democratic all-star team.  It includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.  Six of these countries even shamefully occupy a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

In the absence of Liu and his family, there will instead be an empty chair and a portrait of Liu on the podium.

In an open letter in The Washington Post to Chinese President Hu Jintao, Yang Jianli, a former political prisoner in China, current Harvard fellow and the liaison to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee on behalf of Liu’s wife, writes that:

a vacant seat on the stage will speak of weakness and fear. It will raise the specter of a government that clings to the past and is unwilling or unable to accept change based on the realities of life and the desires of its people.

It is perhaps no coincidence that on the same day the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, the world also celebrates International Human Rights Day, honoring the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th, 1948 as the first global enunciation of human rights.

If there is any bright light from Liu’s empty seat (and those of the 19 countries), it is that their absence will shine a glaring light on China’s abysmal human rights record. Only question is – will the world pay attention and do something about it?