Friday, April 13, 2012
Israel's Other Temple.Research Reveals Ancient Struggle over Holy Land Supremacy.(Spiegel).By Matthias Schulz.The Jews had significant competition in antiquity when it came to worshipping Yahweh. Archeologists have discovered a second great temple not far from Jerusalem that predates its better known cousin. It belonged to the Samaritans, and may have been edited out of the Bible once the rivalry had been decided. Clad in gray coat, Aharon ben Ab-Chisda ben Yaacob, 85, is sitting in the dim light of his house. He strikes up a throaty chant, a litany in ancient Hebrew. He has a full beard and is wearing a red kippah on his head. The man is a high priest -- and his family tree goes back 132 generations. He says: "I am a direct descendent of Aaron, the brother of the prophet Moses" -- who lived perhaps over 3,000 years ago.
Ab-Chisda is the spiritual leader of the Samaritans, a sect that is so strict that its members are not even allowed to turn on the heat on the Sabbath. They never eat shrimp and only marry among themselves. Their women are said to be so impure during menstruation that they are secluded in special rooms for seven days. Outside, on the streets of Kiryat Luza, near Nablus, a cold wind is blowing. The village lies just below the summit of Mount Gerizim. There's a school, two shops and a site for sacrifices. This is home to 367 Samaritans. It's a small community.
Everyone here is required to attend religious services in the synagogue on Saturdays. "Every baby boy has to be circumcised precisely on the eighth day," says the high priest -- not beforehand, and not afterwards. Most important of all: the sect only believes in the written legacy of Moses, the five books of the Pentateuch, also commonly known as the Torah. They reject all other scripture from the Bible.
From a historical perspective, the Samaritans and the Jews have a common lineage. The Old Testament recounts that 10 of the 12 tribes in the region of Samaria founded the state of Israel in the year 926 BC. The two other clans lived farther south, in the mountainous region of Judah, with its capital Jerusalem (see map). In other words, the Samaritans were once in the majority. In ancient times, there were 300,000 of them -- perhaps even over a million. But their strictest law almost led to their downfall. It states: "None of you may settle outside the promised land."
As a result, while the Jews fled across the globe to escape the cruelty of foreign rulers, their relatives persevered in the land of their forefathers and suffered under Byzantine tyrants and merciless sultans. At the end of World War I, there were only 146 of them. "Today we are doing better," says Ab-Chisda cheerily, as he gazes out the window. Now, together with another group in Holon near Tel Aviv, this religious community consists of 751 individuals.
But this population increase only took place because they broke with age-old traditions and rescinded the ban against mixed marriages. In 2004, five Jewish women from Ukraine and one from Siberia, all of them ready and willing to get married, were accepted into the community. Nevertheless, due to inbreeding, they have a wide range of genetic defects. Trade journals have published studies on the forgotten children of God. They often suffer from muscle weakness and Usher syndrome, also known as deafblindness.
Stefan Schorch compares the Samaritan Torah with the Jewish version. "Actually there's only one main difference," he says. Among the Jews, Jerusalem is the world's religious epicenter, whereas for the Samaritans it's Mount Gerizim. But which Torah is the original?
Until recently, the generally accepted school of thought was as follows: In the fourth century BC, the Samaritans split off as a radical sect. In the Bible, they appear as outsiders and idol worshipers; they are evil.
The parable of the "good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37) offers a rather atypical portrayal of a member of this sect. The historian Titus Flavius Josephus, himself a Jew, mentions that the apostates erected a shrine "in all haste" in the year 330 BC, as a rather dilettantish attempt to emulate the Temple in Jerusalem. Increasingly, though, it looks as though the Bible has handed down a distorted picture of history.
Papyrus scrolls recovered from Qumran on the Dead Sea, as well as a fragment of the Bible that recently surfaced on the market for antiquities, necessitate a "complete reassessment," says Schorch. Yet the most exciting indication of how history actually transpired has now been unearthed by Yitzhak Magen. Working behind security fences, the archaeologist has been digging on the windswept summit of Mount Gerizim. His findings, which have only been partially published, are a virtual sensation: As early as 2,500 years ago, the mountain was already crowned with a huge, dazzling shrine, surrounded by a 96 by 98-meter (315 by 321-foot) enclosure. The wall had six-chamber gates with colossal wooden doors. At the time, the Temple of Jerusalem was, at most, but a simple structure.
Magen has discovered 400,000 bone remains from sacrificial animals. Inscriptions identify the site as the "House of the Lord." A silver ring is adorned with the tetragrammaton YHWH, which stands for Yahweh. All of this means that a vast, rival place of worship stood only 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Jerusalem.
It is an astonishing discovery. A religious war was raging among the Israelites, and the nation was divided. The Jews had powerful cousins who were competing with them for religious leadership in the Holy Land. The dispute revolved around a central question: Which location deserved the honor of being the hearth and burnt offering site of God Almighty? Researchers have a long way to go before they uncover all the details of this conflict. It's clear, however, that it was extremely acrimonious.
Each side reviled the other. There was murder, mayhem and, ultimately, even the Holy Scripture was revised. At first -- so much is clear -- the Samaritans had the upper hand.
Indeed, compared with Jerusalem, Mount Gerizim enjoyed significantly older rights: In the great tale of the history of the chosen people, the mountain plays a key role.
Abraham, the progenitor of the Israelites -- who, according to legend, roamed through the Orient as a shepherd around 1500 BC -- stopped there because God had appeared to him in a wondrous vision. Later, Jacob the patriarch traveled there to build the original shrine. In the fifth book of Moses, the mountain summit finally earns a prominent place in biblical history: After the flight from Egypt, the Israelites wandered through the Sinai desert for 40 years. At last, they reached the Jordan River from the east. Their old and weary leader gazed across the river to the promised land, where "milk and honey flow." Shortly before his death, Moses issued an important command: The people must first travel to Mount Gerizim. He said that six tribes should climb it and proclaim blessings, while the other six tribes should proclaim curses from the top of nearby Mount Ebal.
It was a kind of ritual taking of possession of the promised land. Finally, the prophet tells the Israelites to build a shrine "made of stones" on Mount Gerizim and coat it with "plaster." Indeed, he said, this is "the place that the Lord has chosen." That, in any case, is what stands in the oldest Bible texts. They are brittle papyrus scrolls that were made over 2,000 years ago in Qumran, and have only recently been examined by experts.
In the Hebrew Bible, which Jerusalem's priests probably spent a good deal of time revising, everything suddenly sounds quite different. There is no longer any mention of a "chosen place." The word "Gerizim" has also been removed from the crucial passage. Instead, the text states that the Yahweh altar was erected on "Ebal." "By naming the mountain of the curses," says Schorch, "they wanted to cast the entire tale in a negative light, and deprive Gerizim of its biblical legitimacy." Schorch dates the intervention to around 150 BC.
The researcher stops short of calling it fraud, though, preferring to label it an "adaptation of the Bible to their own religious view."
But why was this ruse ultimately successful? Why did the minority win out? Didn't the opponent have the more populous country? A palace already stood in their capital city, Samaria, in the year 1000 BC. Ivory has been found there. At the time, Jerusalem was still little more than a village, with barely 1,500 inhabitants. Researchers have solved this puzzle, and the answer even has a face: It sports a curly beard and wears a bronze helmet. Starting in the year 732 BC, the Assyrians used their chariots to advance to the Mediterranean and subjugate the state of Israel. The inhabitants were either impaled or taken into captivity. This devastated the country. The land of the Lord had been overrun by violent hordes. Many fled to their cousins in Judah. Jerusalem's population soared to 15,000.
Around the year 180 BC, the ceremonial building grew to a size of roughly 200 by 200 meters. The Samaritans added a monumental staircase and rooms for "thousands of pilgrims." There were apparently huge crowds of devout visitors. None of this is mentioned in the Bible.
The dispute finally came to a head. In the year 128 BC, John Hyrcanos, a Jewish prince, ascended Mount Gerizim with an army and burned the proud sanctuary to the ground. Archaeologists have found a "burn layer" along with arrow heads, swords, daggers and lead missiles for slings. The Samaritans never rebuilt their temple. From then on, the victors wrote the (biblical) history books and forced their rivals into oblivion. And yet the "guardians of the law," as they call themselves, still exist today.
When Mark Twain visited the region in 1867, he encountered the "sad, proud remnant of a once mighty community," which he stared at "just as one would stare at a living mastodon." Today, this astounding religious community is better off. They have a seat in the Palestinian parliament and they maintain contacts with the United Nations. "We want to live in peace with everyone," says the high priest Ab-Chisda. Despite their tragic history, the spiritual leader has not lost his sense of humor. In response to the question as to what the Samaritan paradise looks like, the old man hesitated briefly. Then, he said mischievously: "It must be a wonderful place. Nobody has ever returned to make a complaint."Hmmmm......I enjoyed the history lesson , but i'm wondering who pays for his research and could this be a stealth attempt to discredit the claim of the Jews for Jerusalem.Read and see the full story here.
White house 'releases' President Obama and Vice President Biden's 12 Years of Tax Returns.Obama's returns have NO SSN!
White house 'releases' President Obama and Vice President Biden's 12 Years of Tax Returns.Obama's returns have NO SSN!(BO).Following the long-standing precedent set by past presidential candidates, President Obama and the First Lady, as well as Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, have released over a decade of tax returns to answer any questions Americans may have about their finances.The Returns for VP Biden have the Social Security Number Blackened. For the Obama Tax returns there's no Social security number at all. Another 'fabrication'?Read and see for your self here.
This is awesome. It shows when the people DO STAND UP they have more power and win against the corrupt bankers and politicians of a country. Iceland is forgiving and erasing the mortgage debt of the population. They are putting the bankers and politicians on the "Bench of the Accused." Which means I assume they are putting them on trial for corruption. Now the rest of people of the world need to start doing the same thing. We all need to stand up and against all the corruption and fraud of the banks and politicians that are puppets of the banks and corporations.Read the full story here.
Russia Rejects G8 Attempts to 'protect' Homosexuals.(RN).Russia has disassociated itself from words in a G8 statement that singled out homosexuals as a separate group whose rights need to be protected, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday. “We have repeatedly said that the Russian Federation condemns any forms and manifestations of discrimination on any grounds. We proceed from the assumption that a ban on discrimination in international legal acts on human rights is general and relates to all people without exception,” Ryabkov told journalists. “These norms are more than enough. All states should thoroughly observe them,” he said in Washington that hosted G8 foreign ministerial meetings on April 11-12. “At the same time, international law lacks separate norms regulating protection of persons in line with their sexual orientation or so-called gender identity,” Ryabkov said. “In this connection we cannot agree with attempts to artificially single out this category of people as an independent group claiming that its rights and interests should be specially protected,” he said. Ryabkov also hit out at attempts to impose homosexual views on society. “We believe aggressive promotion of a certain behavior and system of values that may insult the feelings of a considerable part of society under the pretext of protection of so-called sexual minorities’ representatives is inadmissible,” he said. “Therefore we have disassociated ourselves from relevant wordings in the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting Chair's Statement,” Ryabkov said. The words in the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting Chair's Statement that Ryabkov spoke about read: "The Ministers reaffirmed that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all individuals, male and female, including lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals." "These individuals often face death, violence, harassment and discrimination because of their sexual orientation in many countries around the world," the statement said. Russia's viewpoint is reflected in a separate phrase under a footnote: "The Russian Federation disassociates itself from this language given the absence of any explicit definition or provision relating to such a group or such persons as separate rights holders under international human rights law."Last month St. Petersburg’s Governor Georgy Poltavchenko approved a law penalizing "the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors." The law effectively outlaws any Gay Pride events.The law, which came into force in March, caused a divided reaction among Russians, where anti-gay sentiment remains strong. Russian LGBT groups have requested support in the West against the law that made the "promotion of homosexuality" an administrative offense. The influential Russian Orthodox Church has backed the law.Read the full story here and here.
Largest Kim Jong-il Monument Unveiled in Pyongyang.(RN).The largest North Korean monument of the country’s late leader Kim Jong-il was unveiled in the capital of Pyongyang on Friday. A 25-meter monument that was installed near the statue to the North Korean founding leader Kim Il-sung, is a part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. The ceremony that has drawn about 100,000 people to the main square in Pyongyang turned into mass festivities with a military orchestra, fireworks and thousands of balloons released into the sky. Kim Jong-il who had headed the isolated, nuclear-armed state for 17 years, prohibited his supporters to raise the monument citing the country’s economic difficulties. “There are money shortages in the country, and you want to spend it for luxury,” he used to say.Read the full story here.
After rocket 'debacle', N. Korea may test nuke.(JPost).North Korea said its much hyped long-range rocket launch failed on Friday, in a very rare and embarrassing public admission of failure by the hermit state and a blow for its new young leader who faces international outrage over the attempt. The isolated North, using the launch to celebrate the 100th birthday of the dead founding president Kim Il-sung and to mark the rise to power of his grandson Kim Jong-un, is now widely expected to press ahead with its third nuclear test to show its military strength. "The possibility of an additional long-range rocket launch or a nuclear test, as well as a military provocation to strengthen internal solidarity is very high," a senior South Korean defense ministry official told a parliamentary hearing. The two Koreas are divided by the world's most militarized border and remain technically at war after an armistice ended the Korean War in 1953. The United States and Japan said the rocket, which they claimed was a disguised missile test and the North said was to put a satellite into orbit, crashed into the sea after traveling a much shorter distance than a previous North Korean launch. Its failure raises questions over the impoverished North's reclusive leadership which has one of the world's largest standing armies but cannot feed its people without outside aid, largely from its only powerful backer, China. "(There is) no question that the failed launch turns speculation toward the ramifications for the leadership in Pyongyang: a fireworks display gone bad on the biggest day of the year," said Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations. In a highly unusual move, the North, which still claims success with a 2009 satellite that others say failed, admitted in a state television broadcast seen by its 23 million people that the latest satellite had not made it into orbit. The failure is the first major and very public challenge for the third of the Kim dynasty to rule North Korea just months into the leadership of a man believed to be in his late 20s. "It could be indication of subtle change in the North Korean leadership in how they handle these things, something that may be different from the past," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses a think tank affiliated with South Korean Defense Ministry. "I mean it would have been unthinkable for them to admit this kind of failure in the past, something that could be seen as an international humiliation. The decision to have come out with the admission had to come from Kim Jong-un."Read the full story here.
Abdullah, the Bedouin, the MB and the Palestinians.(IP).By Ted Belman.A year ago Mudar Zahran was interviewed by Yoel Meltzer and FPM published it under the title A Voice of Reason from an Arab Dissident. Since then Zahran has created the New Jordan Party to prepare to mobilize the Palestinian vote after the fall of the king. TB.
Introduction: The following is an interview with Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian and former political insider who fled Jordan and currently resides in England. In an open and honest manner, Mudar briefly discusses the current unrest in Jordan, the various players in Jordan and their links to Islamic groups, his vision of a Palestinian state in Jordan as opposed to the two-state solution, his attempts at effecting change and the subsequent threats against him.
Protests in Jordan
Yoel Meltzer: Like most Arab countries, protests are also taking place in Jordan. According to what I’ve read the king is claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is responsible for the protests. Is this true?
Mudar Zahran: Not at all. A story was reported in the Jerusalem Post and it dismissed such a claim. The organizers of the events are mostly tribal Jordanians calling for less power for the king.
YM: So the MB is not involved at all?
MZ: The MB represents just a small fraction of the protesters. Most of those involved are tribal elders or people representing tribal factions and very, very few Palestinians. What the king is doing is exactly what Colonel Gaddafi is doing. Just as Gaddafi is claiming that he is fighting Al-Qaeda when he is actually fighting rebels who hate his oppressive rule, so too Abdullah and his media, and lately his prime minister, are all insisting the protesters are MB members.
YM: But I thought the Bedouin tribes were allies of the king?
MZ: They are. Yet he has fed them and empowered them to the point where they do not want him any more. They want a constitutional monarchy as was referred to in a 1920 convention. In that year King Abdullah’s grandfather met with tribal leaders of what was then Eastern Palestine and agreed with them to mutually rule the country. They want that restored so that they become partners in his rule, or nearly rulers themselves. If not, they shall revolt. They have been saying that openly.
YM: Isn’t Jordan already a constitutional monarchy?
MZ: Jordan claims to be a constitutional monarchy while it is by all means a dictatorship. A constitutional monarchy is where the king reigns but does not run the country, as is the case in the UK, Sweden, Norway and others. In Jordan the king has all the authority with zero accountability.
In reality Jordan is a dictatorship headed by a slick-dressing dictator who speaks perfect English, as opposed to Saddam’s military uniform or Assad’s bad English.
YM: Regarding the current protests in Jordan, are they being attended by large crowds or do most people choose to stay away?
MZ: Most Palestinians, who are the majority, are too afraid to get involved. Even the Washington Institute and the Jerusalem Post have confirmed that most Palestinians are not participating. While in other Arab countries the protesters are facing their own cousins behind the police guns and clubs, in Jordan the Palestinians would be facing the ruthless Bedouins who have been terrorizing them since 1970.
This is mainly an affair between the king and the tribes.
YM: In your opinion, will the changes that the tribes are requesting have a positive effect on the Palestinians?
MZ: Just read their statements. The latest one was signed by 36 of their leaders calling for the expelling of the Palestinians or taking away their passports. Some even called for repossessing the property of Palestinians and several called for “re-establishing Israel as an enemy state.”
YM: Are they more anti-Israel than the king?
MZ: You bet. The king is just a puppet in their hand and that is why he has been taking an anti-Palestinian and an anti-Israeli stance since he came to power.
YM: So which would you prefer, the king continuing as is or the changes that the tribes want?
MZ: The king cannot continue and the tribes will oust him sooner or later. His father remained their king only because he fed them so much and gave them unbelievable privileges even according to American standards. The present king does not have the money to do this and their numbers have exceeded the country’s resources. Economically speaking Jordan, which heavily depends on excessive taxation of its Palestinians, will not have the resources to pay any more of the privileges and benefits the tribesmen get in Jordan. So sooner or later they will oust him, probably sooner more than later. The result will be hostile uncontrollable tribes in Jordan who are playing with the country in an unruly manner just like their ancestors did for thousands of years. In the Bedouin culture stealing someone else’s wealth and land is not a shame, in fact it is a matter of honor…they call it Ghazou and Khawa.
YM: Almost sounds like Afghanistan
MZ: Very much so, only the Bedouins in Jordan are well armed and well trained with fine American weapons. For some unknown reason Jordan spends 40 percent of its budget on military and building an army.
Links between Bedouin Tribes and Islamic Groups.
YM: Are the tribes close to the MB or to other groups outside of Jordan such as Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah?
MZ: The MB’s leadership is mostly tribal. Its senior leaders are Zaki Bani Rushaid, Salim Flahat and Abdul Majid Thubnibat. Each one of them is a Bedouin and not a Palestinian and each one was present at the last protest which ended up violently. Zaki Bani Rushaid, who is the strongest leader within the MB, was a former office manager of Khaled Meshaal (the political leader of Hamas).
The southern part of Jordan is closely and heavily connected to Al-Qaeda. Many tribesmen believe in Salafi methodology and lately they have been parading around the southern city of Maan, a tribal stronghold, waving their own flags and walking around with their fine M-16s. Yet for some reason none of this has made it to the western media.
YM: What is “Salafi methodology”?
MZ: Salafi methodology is the orthodox denomination in Islam. It is the ideology that Osama bin Laden belongs too as did Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who was the chief Al-Qaeda operator in Iraq until shortly before he was killed. Also connected to Salafi was Hammam al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who killed 7 CIA officers in Afghanistan in the 2009 Khost bombing.
Trying to Establish Peace in the Wrong Geographical Location
YM: As you know, later this year the Palestinians intend on declaring a state. Although personally you believe that Jordan should be this Palestinian state, Abbas is pushing for a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria. What do you think about this?
MZ: I believe Jordan is the eastern side of Palestine and that the Jordan River should be a good fence between Israel and Jordan. What Abbas is going to do is comedy evolving into Saturday Night Live sponsored by the UN. What state Mr. Abbas? What state when most Palestinians, including 70 percent of Palestinians in Jerusalem, would rather be under Israeli rule? Mr. Abbas is repaying those Arab states who finance his authority and who do not want to see the Palestinians and the Israelis enjoying peace.
The question is, are the Israelis that weak? In any normal country the Itamar massacre would send shock waves of reality. Have I seen any Israeli politician, even so-called right-wingers like FM Lieberman, speak openly of putting the Palestinians back in their homeland?
YM: Your words are very powerful. The problems in Israel are deep and complex. Putting them aside for a moment, the current problem is that Abbas going to the UN has serious repercussions. Whether it’s approval from the Security Council or from the General Assembly, either way it’s something that carries a lot of weight. From there it might be relatively easy to call for sanctions against Israel if it fails to comply and remove its citizens and army from the new Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.
MZ: It seems that Mr. Abbas’s adventures will lead the region into a massive war. Although I doubt the US and Israel’s other friends would approve a UN resolution calling for sanctions against Israel, nonetheless there will be more headaches and more trouble for Israel. More importantly, I believe all of this is the result of trying to establish peace in the wrong geographical location. Imagine if the pressure had always been to share historical Palestine where we get two thirds and you get one third – us across the river and you on the other side.
Abbas’ statehood stunt is reckless and will eventually lead the region into a massive war that might even produce WWIII.
Such a move is also harmful to the Palestinians since it can give Israel every legitimate reason to sever ties for good with the Palestinians. Israel is the only country that allows them to accept and take jobs and it is their transportation and trade outlet. Only Abbas will benefit from such a move. He is following in the footsteps of Hamas who only wanted to rule and didn’t care if the Palestinians starved. The same is going to happen with Mr. Abbas.
By the way, his seeking a state is also against the Oslo agreement. Hence it’s about time that Israel gets real and revises its agreement. Israel needs to decide that the Palestinians can establish their own state across the river since any Palestinian statehood between the sea and the river will only lead to more wars and more troubles.
However, keep in mind that all of this is happening because one family, the Hashemites, want to keep controlling Eastern Palestine. This is absurd.
YM: I’m not sure if it’s only because of the Hashemites but that certainly is part of it. Whatever may have been in the past, today most of the world “buys” the Palestinian story and Israel is increasingly being slandered as a “horrible occupier.” Just recently was the 7th annual “Israel Apartheid Week” in colleges throughout the West. Can the trend of the world be changed in order to stop, as you said, “trying to establish peace in the wrong geographical location”?
(Editor’s note: See the Freedom Center’s campaign to counter the lies of “Israel Apartheid Week”.)
Efforts to Change the Entrenched Point of View
MZ: True, it is not only because of the Hashemites yet it certainly is partly due to their presence. Were the Hashemites not ruling the eastern part of Palestine then the Palestinians already would have had a country for sixty years and nobody would have pressured Israel to give away its land. Yet this is not the case and the Hashemites are ruling the place and constantly telling the Palestinians they are merely refugees.Read the full story here.
Russian Warships will continuously Patrol Syrian Coast.(RN).MOSCOW, April 13 – Russian warships will be continuously deployed for patrol duty off the Syrian coast in the Mediterranean, a high-ranking source in the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday. “A decision has been made to deploy Russian warships near the Syrian shores on a permanent basis,” the source said. The Russian Kashin-class guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy is currently deployed near the Syrian coast. “Another Black Sea Fleet ship will replace the Smetlivy in May,” the source said, adding that several Russian warships were on their way to the Mediterranean. “This may be the Pytlivy frigate or one of the amphibious assault ships,” he said, adding that “deployment of a Black Sea Fleet task force to the region cannot be ruled out.” The United States, France, Great Britain, Germany and some other countries have deployed more warships to the Mediterranean since the outbreak of unrest in Syria in February 2012. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the violence, according to the United Nations. On Thursday, the Syrian government declared a ceasefire with opposition fighters as part of a U.N.-brokered peace plan. The Russian military has repeatedly underscored the need for Russian warships to patrol the Mediterranean on a permanent basis. In Soviet days, up to 50 warships from the Fifth Squadron of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other Soviet Navy units have been deployed in the Mediterranean on a permanent basis. Over the winter months, a Russian task force, led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, has been deployed to the Mediterranean. The ships returned to the Russian Northern Fleet’s home base of Severomorsk in February, after two-month naval exercises. Other Russian ships currently on patrol duty in the Mediterranean are the Kildin surveillance ship, as well as the Iman tanker vessel and a floating workshop deployed near the Syrian port of Tartus.Read the full story here.
German 'efficiency' - Lufthansa cancels airline tickets of 'flytilla' participants.(YNet).German airline Lufthansa canceled the tickets of dozens of pro-Palestinian activists scheduled to fly to Tel Aviv on Sunday as part of a mass fly-in dubbed "Welcome to Palestine," the organizers said Friday. "Dozens of passengers who bought a plane ticket to travel to Tel Aviv on Sunday, April 15, were notified Thursday by Lufthansa that their reservation was canceled at the behest of Israel," they said in a statement.The "flytilla" participants, which consists of some1,500 pro-Palestinian activists from several countries, plan to land in Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday, and from there proceed to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli authorities announced they would deny the activists entry into Israel and said they would seek to prevent their boarding by providing airline passenger lists. "Lufthansa, like all airlines, is obliged by the principle of following the laws and guidelines on entry to the territory of countries to which it transports its passengers," said a spokesman for the company."The Israeli authorities have written to several airlines including Lufthansa, and asked them not to fly certain passengers to Israel. Therefore, Lufthansa is obliged to follow this directive," he said. However, in their statement, the fly-in organizers warned that passengers "will arrive, as expected, at airports this weekend," adding that the move constituted a violation of international law. Read the full story here.
The Royal Mecca Clock Tower looms over the Kaaba (Photo: Reuters)
The Saudis have spoiled Mecca – but the British Museum doesn’t want you to know.(TheTelegraph).BY Will Heaven.Go to the British Museum’s Hajj exhibition if you want a close-up look at Egyptian textiles and medieval Turkish manuscripts.
But if you want to find out the truth about Mecca, and specifically how the Saudis have destroyed and spoiled some of the holiest sites in the Islamic world, you’d be better off staying at home to read this jaw-dropping article in the New Yorker by Basharat Peer.
Here’s what the British Museum didn’t let on in its blockbuster exhibition, which I visited last month.
Looming large over the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba (the black cube-shaped building that is the holiest site in Islam) is the largest and second tallest building in the world, called the Royal Mecca Clock Tower complex.
You can’t miss it (see pic above) – unless, it seems, you’re a British Museum curator. The 2,000-foot hotel certainly didn’t feature in the exhibition.
Peer, a recent pilgrim to Mecca himself, writes with disdain: “When I walked along the western wall of the Kaaba, the Clock Tower felt like a concrete djinn staring down at me, dwarfing the mosque. Filled with resentment, I lowered my head in anticipation on each circumambulation.”
When he enters the Clock Tower complex, he discovers it has the feel of “the duty-free section of the Dubai airport”.
“The ground floor is devoted to retailers: stores that sell alcohol-free perfume, prayer mats, and Hajj memorabilia, British and Italian clothing boutiques; luggage shops filled with Samsonite travel bags and Prada totes…”No wonder some Muslims feel so at home in Harrods.
And the situation in Mecca is worsening: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah plans to redevelop the centre of the holy city into “high-rises and shopping malls”. Mecca's mayor, Osama al-Bar, justifies all this by saying that “a tower is very much like a mountain in its height”. Never before have "mountains" looked so garish and distressingly ugly.Read the full story here.
A photo of a Muslim woman wearing full Islamic dress and holding up a bra as she sorts laundry is stirring controversy in Kamloops, B.C., and the Saudi Arabian Embassy is now involved. The photo, taken by Thompson Rivers University fine arts student Sooraya Graham, features one of Graham's friends wearing a niqab, a veil covering the face, and an abaya, a full-body cloak. The picture was a class assignment and was originally displayed with other student photos in mid-March, until some students complained and a staff member tore it down a week later. "I was pretty shocked and I kind of felt my personal space as an artist and a Canadian had been invaded," said Graham.Christopher Seguin, the vice president of advancement at Thompson River University, said the art work was removed by a staff member who was acting on their own, and not in an official capacity.
Once the institution learned of the action, it immediately returned the art and made a commitment to cover any costs for its repair or replacement. "The university is committed to honouring artistic expression and on a campus with many international stakeholders it is important that we balance cultural sensitivity with freedom of speech, and we value the conversations that this piece of art and all our others inspire," said Seguin. Graham was allowed to display it at the university's art gallery, as part of an art show, until April 12th. But the Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, which is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and provides support to Saudi students and their families, is taking issue with the photo. "The artist didn't approach the artwork let's say in a very professional way that can state and can clarify the information and clarify the idea behind the picture," said centre president Trad Bahabri. Bahabri said he thinks text explaining the photo's meaning is needed. "I'm pretty sure many people misinterpret and many people misunderstand it. I can guarantee that," he said. Graham counters it's up to the viewer to interpret the meaning, but says she had hoped the photo would show the public that women who wear the niqab are the same as everyone else.Read the full story here.
Defying ban by Pope Shenouda III, Coptic Christians visit Jerusalem.(AlArabiya).After the death of their spiritual leader, more than 2,000 Egyptian Copts have poured into the Holy Land for the Easter holidays, defying a ban he imposed on visiting Jerusalem and other Israeli-controlled areas. The influx - after decades when Egyptian pilgrims were a rarity - adds a new element to the already diverse mix of languages and faiths in Jerusalem’s Old City during the holy season. The pilgrims are clearly distinguished by the Egyptian accent of their Arabic and long cotton robes worn by many of the men. “It’s the most beautiful thing in the world to see light of the Messiah. We have dreamed of this for a long time,” said Halim Farag, 60, in the plaza outside the cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
Farag, his sister and his wife paid $860 each for their five-day trip - money they scraped over a year of saving and borrowing. They will stay for Coptic Easter, which is Sunday, following the Orthodox calendar used by some Eastern churches. For many Copts, visiting the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, is one of the most meaningful acts of faith they can perform. Some liken it to the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are obligated to make at least once in their lives if they can. But for the past three decades, very few Copts have made the journey because of the ban by Pope Shenouda III. Shenouda imposed the ban to protest Egypt’s 1979 peace agreement with Israel, saying Christians shouldn’t visit Israel until it makes peace with the Palestinians.
Shenouda was also upset over a custody dispute with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church over a rooftop monastery at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That dispute remains unresolved. Small groups of Copts have always defied the ban. But following Shenouda’s death in late March at the age of 88, there has been a clear spike. The ban remains in place, but the visitors said they believed this was their chance. “There is nothing more beautiful than to visit the holy sites. This is a pilgrimage this shouldn’t tied to politics,” said a 62-year-old pilgrim who would only identify herself by her first name, Samia, because she was worried about punishment from the Church. Another woman said the pilgrimage is “a dream for all of us” but admitted she was concerned over the repercussions, both from the Coptic Church and the Egyptian public, who largely reject any normalization of ties with Israel. “You don’t know what they will do to us when we come back - especially after they see what numbers we came in,” said the woman, wearing a knee-length black skirt and black shirt.
The Copts, mostly middle-aged or senior citizens, have been busy milling around the Holy Sepulcher throughout the week. They have trundled to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, built on the site where they believe Jesus was born. They have shopped and haggled on the way, charming many Palestinians with their Egyptian accents and humor, made familiar throughout the Arab world through generations of popular Egyptian movies and soap operas. A Palestinian tour guide who works with the Coptic community said most in the wave of pilgrims “are old, and they want to visit at least once in their life.” The Coptic Church has not yet named a successor to Shenouda, and it remains unclear how strictly the next leader will enforce the ban. Pilgrims face being denied the sacrament when they return home to Egypt, said Father Antonious al-Urashalimi, secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He said the Church would decide on an individual basis whether the impose punishments. Those not considered elderly could be banned from the sacrament for six months to a year.
The punishment is hefty for Coptic believers, who say it is equivalent to being denied union with Christ through eating the bread and drinking the wine symbolizing his body and blood. The flow of Copts to the Holy Land could also bring a backlash back home in Egypt, where Copts make up about 10 percent of the 85 million population. The 33-year-old peace between Israel and Egypt has never been warm. The few Egyptians who do make the journey to Israel are often viewed with suspicion back home. Already, one newspaper article in a pro-government newspaper has reported on the visits to Jerusalem in what the pilgrims felt were dark undertones. Few expect violence against Copts in Egypt to rise because of these visits. But Copts said they feared their visit would be used as propaganda by hardline Islamists or others trying to portray them as disloyal. “They want to show that the Copts aren’t nationalists,” al-Urashalimi said. “We hope God will enlighten those minds, those people who say this is the root of treason, because we are Egyptian nationalists who have sacrificed many things for our homeland.”Hmmmm.......Since when do hardline Islamist need excuses?Read the full story here.
Official: "Saudi religious police may hire women".(IMRA).Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – An official within the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice [CPVPV] acknowledged that the organization is having trouble monitoring female-only gatherings, particularly in light of reports that illicit and illegal activities are taking place at such gatherings. The source attributed the CPVPV’s failure to get to the bottom of what is happening at female-only gatherings to the absence of female CPVPV operatives. The CPVPV official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that “we have received unconfirmed reports that behaviour contrary to Islamic Sharia law is taking place at closed female-only gatherings. These reports are unconfirmed due to the absence of female CPVPV operatives who can transfer credible information on this issue.”
He added “in addition to this, some people may be providing the CPVPV with inaccurate or false reports.” The CPVPV official stressed that “in this regard, the CPVPV relies on other means [to uncover what is happening at female-only gatherings], including receiving reports from sources close to those taking part in such gatherings, as well as contacting the sites where such gatherings take place.” He also confirmed that the CPVPV is thinking seriously about appointing female operatives who can specialize in dealing with such issues. He stressed “if this is studied carefully, women working for the CPVPV will help to resolve many issues tied to female-only gatherings and the alleged illegal activities that are taking place there.”
With regards to the penalties for violations committed by women, the CPVPV official said that “we will take a preventative pro-active approach, before penalties are imposed, and this includes the sites and locations where these gatherings are taking place to be punished…as it would be better to punish the administrations that contravene the law, rather than the women themselves.” He added that such penalties will have positive results, as it will serve to deter others from committing similar violations. He said “nobody will be unjustly punished…but whoever fails to comply with statutory regulations or Islamic Sharia law… deserves to be punished.”
CPVPV President Dr. Abdullatif Al Al-Sheikh had previously announced that a study would be conducted to research the benefits of women taking part in special operations for the CPVPV, adding that this came at the request of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. Dr. Al Al-Sheikh had previously told the press that “women working for the CPVIV will complete the work of men [working for the CPVPV]” adding that CPVPV female operatives would only deal with issues pertaining to women. The CPVPV official also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Prince Sultan Chair for Youth Research and Hisbah Issues, which is affiliated to the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, was established more than two years ago to study and research issues relating to the CPVPV and its dealings with the youth, as well as in order to provide solutions to outstanding problems.
He added that the CPVPV is actively involved in this research. The source also revealed that “70 percent of the CPVPV force has received additional training in one of the 13 training courses available, which deal with a number of issues including how to deal with cases of sexual harassment and extortion, as well as all other cases that the CPVPV deals with.” He added “we are often asked to focus on finding forward-thinking people to work for the CPVPV, whilst at this time we are paying even more attention to this aspect, which includes rejecting [CPVPV] applicants with criminal records.” The CPVPV official stressed that once someone is accepted within the CPVPV, they must pass a 3-month training course and then are provided with a one-year provisional contract during which their operations and behaviour are closely monitored.Read the full story here.
Posted by Will at 6:43 AM