Jared Malsin

On the Middle East

Did The Police Arrest A Protester After Running Over His Foot?

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My report and video from the near-eviction of the Occupy Wall Street New York encampment on October 14 appeared on the New York Times Local East Village site. Here’s the video and an excerpt from the post:

 

A feared confrontation between the police and Occupy Wall Street protesters was averted this morning after the company that owns Zuccotti Park postponed a planned cleaning of the plaza.

The morning was not without incident, as a smaller group of several hundred protesters announced their intention to “celebrate” their continued occupation of the park with an unpermitted civil disobedience march through the streets of the Financial District. The group pushed through a police line onto Broadway chanting “Whose streets? Our Streets!” Police on foot and riding motor scooters forced the protesters back onto the sidewalk, only to have the demonstrators spill again into the streets.

As The Local’s cameras rolled, one man fell to the ground screaming after a police scooter moved into a cluster of people. The man was struck with a baton and arrested moments later as witnesses called out, “You ran over his foot” and chanted, “The whole world is watching.” One bystander hurled a bag of trash at police officers as they pushed protestors back onto the sidewalk.

Writer Michael Tracey, who tweeted that he was punched in the shoulder by a detective, reported that a member of the National Lawyers Guild had his foot run over (it is unclear whether the tweet refers to the same incident), and Miles Doran, a journalist with CBS News, tweeted that his foot was also run over: “This happened several times. Some protester’s feet, legs run over by scooters.”

Thousands of demonstrators had converged on the three-quarter acre park before sunrise Friday, fearing police would evict demonstrators who have camped in the park for nearly four weeks.

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5 November 2011 at 6:51 pm

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Is Occupy Wall Street anti-Semitic? Of course not, says Jewish organizer

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Jewish media activist Daniel Sieradski, left. [Photo: Jared Malsin]

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a conservative Republican group dedicated to criticizing President Obama’s Middle East policy, released an ad Thursday accusing the Occupy Wall Street movement of anti-Semitism.

The ad was the latest in a series of accusations from mainly right-wing pundits and organizations alleging bigotry on the part of the economic justice protesters, who have been camped out in New York and across the country for more than three weeks.

New York Times columnist David Brooks noted on Monday that Adbusters magazine, which was involved in the initial organizing of the protest, published in 2004 an article titled “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” about Jewish neoconservatives in the Bush administration.

Riffing on Brook’s suggestion, right-wing talk radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh went on to suggest that the slogan “We are the 99 percent” was a variation of the anti-Semitic trope that financial system is controlled by Jews.

In New York’s Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza), where the main Occupy Wall Street encampment is located, there is no evidence that the handful of anti-Semitic signs and utterances featured in ECI’s ad are anything other than an isolated fringe, spurned by the rest of the protesters. On Wednesday, one man holding a cardboard sign reading “Google: Zionists control Wall St.” was followed around by another protester with his own sign reading “This guy does not represent Occupy Wall Street. à” with an arrow pointing to the offensive demonstrator.

Protesters also note that Jews have participated in the demonstration from day one. One group, Occupy Judaism, has organized religious services at the protest camp during the Jewish high holidays. Organizers say a thousand worshipers turned out to a Yom Kippur service last Friday.

The prime mover behind Occupy Judaism is new media activist Daniel Sieradski, who was at Zuccotti on Thursday, standing outside a tent which served as a Sukkah, a traditional structure erected by Jews on the holiday of Sukkot.

For Sieradski, the allegations of anti-Semitism highlighted what he sees as a double standard. He told me: “I think it’s really despicable that the media, and in particular the conservative media, is going out of it’s way to falsely represent the activities here, which are not at all incongruous from the tea party protests, which they adamantly defended as not being anti-semitic, despite the fact that there were way more people holding up anti-Semitic signs to the tea party protests.”

He added: “You’re going to tell me that we’re antisemites? My mom grew up ultra-orthodox.”

He also said: “We’re people who care about social and economic justice for all americans. And we’re not clowns.”

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14 October 2011 at 1:13 am

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Occupy Wall Street: The tipping point?

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Occupy Wall Street reached critical mass this week.

What began as an encampment of a few hundred protesters swelled, at least temporarily, to a mass movement as thousands of protesters jammed the financial district on Wednesday as labor and community organizations turned out their members in support of the ongoing social justice protest.

The demonstrations have also jumped onto the national political agenda. President Obama was asked twice about the protests at a news conference on Thursday. “I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel,” he said. “People are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.”

Aside from the irony of Obama expressing sympathy with a movement that is at least partly an indictment of his administration, what is interesting about Obama’s statement is that it is a concise summary of the spirit of the protests. One of the central criticisms of the Wall Street protests has been the lack of a clear demand, and yet even the president gets the underlying grievance driving people into the streets.

If the signs brandished by individual protesters on Wednesday were any indication, the demands are a wide variations on the theme of accountability in the financial system. They ranged from the conventional (“Hands off my Social Security!”) to the radical (“Take your money back: Nationalize the banks under worker control”) to the humorous (“You know it’s bad when librarians are marching!”).

This ideological diversity could be seen as a demonstration of the advantages of not having a clear platform: the protest is many things to many people, which means more protesters show up.

Police challenge

As the demonstrators ranks swelled, so did those of the police. On Wednesday NYPD helicopters hovered overhead while on the ground hundreds of uniformed police officers corralled the marchers into lanes designated for the protest, lined by metal barricades and the infamous orange nets seen at previous protests.

The barricades were a source of friction. At one point Wednesday I stood in a crowd of hundreds of demonstrators waiting for 20 minutes just to turn the corner where police had created a bottleneck with the barricades. “Let us march!” the crowd chanted. A young man suggested that the crowd move the barricade themselves. The police didn’t budge, and the protesters hesitated to begin an open confrontation. “They just want to show us who is in control,” one man remarked to me.

Later on Wednesday, two dozen people were reportedly arrested night after protesters attempted to march to Wall Street proper, and one police officer was videotaped using a baton to beat back a number of demonstrators.

Arrests and police violence have provided much of the drama in the three-week old saga of Occupy Wall Street. Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna’s pepper-spray attack, and the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend, when protesters did openly confront the police, brought more attention to their actions, and perhaps encouraged more people to join them this week.

Many now speculate that the endgame of the protest could be a police eviction of the protesters camped out in Zuccoti Park (Liberty Plaza). The police say it’s up to Brookfield Properties, the real estate company that owns the private park, whether to declare the occupiers trespassers. Justin Elliot of Salon reported Thursday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board of that company.

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7 October 2011 at 11:01 am

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NYPD pepper spray officer named in nine lawsuits

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This is an investigative piece I wrote for The Local East Village, a blog collaboration between NYU and The New York Times. Using court documents, I report on the fact that Anthony Bologna, the senior police officer who was videotaped using pepper spray on unarmed demonstrators at the Occupy Wall Street protest last two weeks ago, was named in nine previous civil rights lawsuits alleging violations of protesters’ rights.

Here’s an excerpt:

Last week, The Guardian reported that Anthony Bologna, the senior police officer who was videotaped using pepper spray on the eyes of protesters, was previously named in a lawsuit alleging police brutality at the 2004 protests of the Republican national convention. The Local has now acquired court documents, some of which are posted below, that show it is just one of nine lawsuits in which the officer is named, all of them alleging the violation of demonstrators’ constitutional rights.

The lawsuits, dating as far back as 2003, accuse Inspector Bologna of personal involvement in numerous false arrests, use of excessive force against demonstrators, and violation of free speech rights. In each of the cases, he was named alongside a list of defendants including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly, and other senior officials.

Seven of the lawsuits resulted from the arrests of protesters at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Two earlier suits followed arrests at the World Economic Forum in 2002. Four of the cases resulted in settlements in which the city agreed to pay as much as $30,000. The other five remain open.

Inspector Bologna, the other police officials, and the City of New York denied the accusations in all of the lawsuits, court documents show.

Notwithstanding the accusations against him, Mr. Bologna was promoted, in the years since the convention, from captain to deputy inspector.

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6 October 2011 at 2:37 pm

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Reporting from the UN

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I reported intensively from the United Nations during the General Assembly in September, focussing on the expected showdown over an application for Palestinian membership. We’re unlikely to see a climactic vote any time soon, but in until then, here are three of my reports about the UN gambit:

Escaping Oslo: Questions for Mouin Rabbani

Uncertainty clouds Palestinian bid for UN membership

Fight for votes as Security Council meets on Palestine

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6 October 2011 at 2:21 pm

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Leaked: Embassy cable shows PA mislead public after detainee’s death

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My latest report for Ma’an:

NEW YORK (Ma’an) — Palestinian security officials privately offered American diplomats candid details about the 2009 death of a detainee while they publicly refuted allegations of torture, according to a US diplomatic cable recently released by WikiLeaks.

Suspected Hamas member Haitham Amr, a nurse at a Hebron hospital, died less than a week after the PA’s General Intelligence division arrested him in June 2009.

Security officials claimed publicly that Amr fell to his death trying to escape through a second-story window. But the recently released cable, part of a full batch posted online in late August, reveals that General Intelligence officials told the US Consulate in Jerusalem that their initial account was “simply wrong.”

Corroborating allegations of torture from the victim’s family and human rights groups, the cable says the PA’s own investigation found evidence that Amr was abused before his death.

Those findings seem to correspond with the results of an official autopsy, witness reports and investigations by human rights groups that Amr died under torture by his Palestinian captors. Amr’s body showed signs of severe abuse like electric shocks and cigarette burns, his father insisted at the time.

The cable also shows that senior PA figures as well as American officials were made aware almost immediately of the circumstances of Amr’s death, but they never shared that information in public.

Multiple “mid- and high-level” General Intelligence officials told the consulate that investigators had “confirmed that bruises and other signs of abuse were observed on Amre’s body prior to his burial,” the document says.

“While the investigation continues, GI officials said they now expect to conclude that Amre’s death resulted from maltreatment,” according to the cable, marked “secret” and dated three days after the incident.

The PA never retracted its initial account, although Interior Minister Said Abu Ali conceded in October 2009 that there had been a “violation of the rights” of Haitham Amr.

Rights campaigners say the new information casts doubt on the credibility of a special military court which acquitted five officers who were charged in connection with Amr’s death.

The cable seems to confirm that the court “ignored not only the testimony of prisoners who saw Amr die, but also information from the GI itself,” Human Rights Watch researcher Bill Van Esveld said Monday.

Esveld told Ma’an that “Until today, Haitham Amr’s family has been denied justice for his death, and the result in his case is typical” and indicative of widespread reports of human rights abuses.

The 2010 verdict ordered the General Intelligence officers to pay compensation to the victim’s family, which rejected both the ruling and the money. Another officer, identified by witnesses, was never charged.

No PA security official has ever been criminally convicted of abusing persons in custody “despite hundreds of documented complaints of torture and other abuse,” Esveld says. “Given these serious and widespread abuses, the US should stop funding PA security agencies until the PA ends this record of impunity.”

In 2010, the US provided $350 million to the PA for its security forces in addition to $150 million in direct budgetary aid, according to Human Rights Watch.

US government officials have consistently denied that American funds support security agencies accused of torture; they say most aid goes to the PA’s National Security Forces.

News reports suggest otherwise. In December 2009, The Guardian quoted Western officials saying that the CIA works so closely with the General Intelligence and the Preventive Security organization that the Americans seem to be supervising the Palestinians’ work.

Former negotiator Yezid Sayigh, an expert on the Palestinian security sector, has also reported that the US and UK have been providing funding and training to the General Intelligence since the mid-1990s.

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7 September 2011 at 1:35 am

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Jenin Freedom Theater raided

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The damaged courtyard of the Jenin Freedom Theater. Photo: Emily Smith

Israeli special forces raided the Freedom Theater early on Wednesday morning, according to workers at the  cultural institution in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank and the Israeli army.

The theater said the following in a press release:

Special Forces of the Israeli Army attacked The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee
Camp at approximately 03:30 this morning. Ahmed Nasser Matahen, a night
guard and technician student at the theatre, woke up by heavy blocks of stone
being hurled at the entrance of the theatre. As he opened the door he found
masked and heavily armed Israeli Special Forces around the theatre.

Ahmed says that the army threw heavy blocks of stone at the theatre, “they told
me to open the door to the theatre. They told me to raise my hands and forced me
to take my pants down. I thought my time had come, that they would kill me. My
brother that was with me was handcuffed.”

The location manager of The Freedom Theatre, Adnan Naghnaghiye, was arrested
and taken away to an uknown location together with Bilal Saadi, a member of
the board of the Freedom Theatre. When the general manager of the theatre,
Jacob Gough from the UK, and the co-founder of the threatre, Jonatan Stanczak from
Sweden, arrived to the scene, they were forced to squat next to a family with four
small children surrounded by about 50 heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

Jonatan says: “Whenever we tried to tell them that they are attacking a cultural
venue and arresting members of the theatre, we were told to supt and they
threatened to kick us. I tried to contact the civil administration of the army to
clarify the matter but the person in charge hung up on me.”

The Israeli military has confirmed that it arrested two people near the theater but denies attacking the building.

The attack comes just a few months after unidentified gunmen, apparently Palestinians, shot dead Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Palestinian-Jewish actor who ran the theater.

Mer-Khamis’ mother founded the camp in the 1980s in order to support children in the refugee camp. Mer-Khamis documented the theater and its destruction by the Israeli military, during the first intifada, in his film Arna’s Children.

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27 July 2011 at 12:56 am

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PLO leak source: Peace process ‘a farce’

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A former member of the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, Ziyat Clot, has confirmed that he was the source of January’s “Palestine Papers” leak of peace process documents. This revelation represents a kind of coda to George Mitchell’s resignation on Friday as US Mideast envoy, another sign of the demise of the peace process.

In an article published in The Guardian, Clot says he felt compelled to leak these documents because the peace process itself became harmful:

The “peace negotiations” were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU. Far from enabling a negotiated and fair end to the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population, as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far from preserving the land on which to build a state, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, was instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions among Palestinians. In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the seven million Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months in Ramallah confirmed that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.

Tragically, the Palestinians were left uninformed of the fate of their individual and collective rights in the negotiations, and their divided political leaderships were not held accountable for their decisions or inaction. After I resigned, I believed I had a duty to inform the public.

Shortly after the Gaza war I started to write about my experience in Ramallah. In my 2010 book, Il n’y aura pas d’Etat Palestinien (There will be no Palestinian State), I concluded: “The peace process is a spectacle, a farce, played to the detriment of Palestinian reconciliation, at the cost of the bloodshed in Gaza.” In full conscience, and acting independently, I later agreed to share some information with al-Jazeera specifically with regard to the fate of Palestinian refugee rights in the 2008 talks. Other sources did the same, although I am unaware of their identity. Taking these tragic developments of the “peace process” to a wider Arab and western audience was justified because it was in the public interest of the Palestinian people. I had – and still have – no doubt that I had a moral, legal and political obligation to proceed accordingly.

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14 May 2011 at 1:10 pm

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Clinton: Israel-Palestine still on regional agenda

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg interviews Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and poses to her the dubious notion that Arab Spring proves Arabs don’t care about Israel and Palestine. Interestingly, Clinton pushes back (emphasis mine):

JG: Come to the Middle East peace process for one second. The Israelis and a lot of their supporters in America will say, “See, the Arab revolt proves that the people were not upset about Palestinians; they’re upset about a lack of accountability in our governments, etc., economic opportunity –”

HRC: They’re upset about both.

JG: How related to the Arab Spring is the Middle East peace process? And how could it affect it in adverse or positive ways?

HRC: Well, I think a lot of it is sequencing, Jeff. Right now, people in Egypt, for example, are very focused on their own future. That doesn’t mean that the Arab-Israeli conflict doesn’t come up, because it came up when I was there, but it didn’t come up as the only subject people wanted to talk to me about, which was sometimes the case in the past. It came up as, “Okay, for now we’re going to honor the Camp David accords, but you know we’re going to have to take a look at this when we get a new government and we get more stable, we figure out what our relationship really is. We’re not going to be an automatic supporter of the peace process. But right now, we’ve got to get our economy going, we’ve got to get our political transition done.”

So it’s not like it’s off the table. It’s just stuck in a corner until other matters get tended to. But if you talk to King Abdullah of Jordan, it is still very much on the mind of Jordanians, because they live with it every single day.

Also intriguing is that Clinton seems to have internalized the argument that the Israelis don’t actually want Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria to fall.

JG: So lack of progress could have an adverse effect on —

HRC: This is nothing that I haven’t said many times and told my Israeli friends, because I love Israel and I feel so strongly about the future. Right now, you have a secular leadership in the West Bank that has made economic progress and has made security progress. You have an uncertain environment that Israel is now having to cope with, and I do not in any way discount how difficult that is. That has happened in Egypt [for one], and you’ve seen Israeli commentators saying they’re not so sure that change in Syria is in Israel’s interest.

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10 May 2011 at 12:26 pm

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Gaza’s Salafis

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I published a piece on Foreign Policy’s Middle East channel on Monday (“Gaza’s Salafis under scrutiny“) examining the role of jihadi Salafi groups in Palestinian politics in Gaza. The piece draws on reporting I did in Gaza toward the end of last year. I was, sadly, spurred by news of Vittorio Arrigoni’s death—reportedly at the hands of Salafis—to finish the piece.

Here’s an excerpt:

The subset of jihadi or militant Salafis in Gaza includes four main groups: Jund Ansar Allah(Soldiers of God’s Supporters), Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam), Jaysh Al-Umma (Army of the Nation), and finally Tawhid wa Al-Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad), whose members were blamed for the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni. Although membership estimates vary widely, the jihadi groups are believed to include no more than a few hundred activists, mostly young men, some of them still in their teens. Two Hamas officials said these groups together number fewer than 100 members. Many of these adherents are recruited from the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. An unknown further number of cadres within these larger factions have sympathy for the Salafis or may participate in Salafi armed action.

The jihadi Salafis are opposed to Hamas over two primary issues: implementation of Islamic law — the jihadis want the imposition of a puritanical reading of sharia — and ceasefires with Israel, which they oppose on principle. Tawhid wa Al-Jihad, the organization whose alleged members were blamed for killing Arrigoni, is said to be one of the smaller groups. According to Hamas and other Salafis quoted by Crisis Group, the group’s leader, Hisham Sa’idni, is “more vehemently against Hamas than other Salafi-Jihadis.” Saidini’s first arrest by Hamas was followed by an escape, Crisis Group reports, during Operation Cast Lead, when Gaza’s central prison was destroyed.

The second of the two issues has arguably been more troublesome for Hamas. Salafis have been blamed for launching homemade rockets into Israel in violation of a ceasefire agreed upon by Hamas and the other armed factions in Gaza. With the exception of an escalation of violence in March, Hamas and most other armed factions’ policy since the end of Israel’s devastating 2009 military offensive has been to maintain calm and to arrest fighters responsible for unauthorized attacks.

More recently, Hamas has enforced a system in which each of the main armed groups –Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees, and others — discipline its own members for ceasefire violations. Those who commit infractions are also denied the protection, prestige, and support of the faction, even if they are killed in the process. Perhaps realizing that a heavy hand can create further radicalization, Hamas has also recently taken a more nuanced approach to the Salafis, including sending religious scholars into prisons in hopes of nurturing a more tolerant outlook among them.

In November, Israel assassinated two members of the Salafi group Jaysh Al-Islam in separate strikes, alleging that they were plotting attacks on Israeli and American targets in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. (The Mubarak government in Egypt also accused Jaysh Al-Islam of carrying out the bombing of an Alexandria church, which killed 21 people on New Year’s Day.) Hamas denied the Israeli allegations. “Maybe this is what the Israelis think, that they can justify to the Americans that they are targeting those people, because some of their rhetoric is that they [the Salafis] are targeting Americans, or trying to depict them as Al-Qaeda,” said Hamas official Ahmad Yousef, when asked about the accusations leveled against Jaysh Al-Islam.

In both hits, Israeli drones or helicopters fired missiles at the men’s cars as they drove on the busy streets of Gaza City, leaving only blackened wreckage. The killings threatened to trigger a wider crisis. Fighters — said to be affiliated with the Popular Resistance Committees –responded by firing mortars, homemade projectiles, and one Russian-type Grad missile into Israel. The Grad produced a loud explosion and a fireball in the sky over my temporary Gaza City residence. Less than a day later, that barrage ended with a meeting among the various militant groups and a renewed agreement to maintain the ceasefire. A well-connected Gaza analyst told me that Hamas might have turned a blind eye to the brief spurt of attacks in order to allow fighters to “let off steam.”

This is the crux of Hamas’ dilemma: if it allows attacks on Israel, it risks massive retaliation from the Israelis; if it imposes too strict a ceasefire, it risks eroding its credibility among its political base in Gaza, particularly among its armed cadres. A U.N. diplomat, quoted anonymously by Crisis Group explained the problem: “How long can Hamas sustain a policy of not engaging in resistance, while this non-engagement doesn’t produce any results in terms of liberating Palestine, easing the blockade, or any other political goal for which the movement exists?”

Still, Hamas officials I spoke with dismissed the theory that the Salafists posed a significant challenge. Ehab Al-Ghussain, the spokesman for Hamas’ Ministry of Interior, also downplayed the issue: “If you look by percentage, Gaza has the lowest percentage of these people [Salafis] in the world.” Ghussain did explain, however, that the first of the assassinated men, Muhammad An-Nimnim, had been jailed by Hamas authorities in the past for actions “against the Palestinian government.”

Nimnim was widely believed to have been a top aide to Mumtaz Doghmush, the leader of Jaysh Al-Islam, himself a former member of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Forces, often described as a Mafioso-like figure. Doghmush’s group cooperated with Hamas in the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006, but relations between the two groups soured over Jaysh Al-Islam’s kidnapping s of westerners, which began with the August 2006 kidnapping of two Fox News journalists , and culminated in the prolonged captivity of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007. Johnston was freed days after Hamas seized full control of Gaza in June 2007. He was the last foreigner kidnapped in Gaza until Arrigoni’s abduction two weeks ago. Indeed, many Gazans credit Hamas for ending the lawlessness and chaos that characterized the last years of Fatah rule. According to Ghussain, however, Nimnim had been imprisoned for assisting another group, Jund Ansar Allah, whose challenge to Hamas rule marked another turning point in relations with the Salafis.

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28 April 2011 at 2:54 am

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