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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Denis MacShane does the Decent Thing and Pleads Guilty

Denis MacShameless has done the decent thing and pleaded guilty to being the dodgiest character ever.  Hmm, maybe not quite that.  Let's have a look at The Guardian:

The former Labour ministerDenis MacShane has pleaded guilty to making nearly £13,000 of bogus expenses claims.

The ex-MP admitted false accounting by putting in fake receipts for £12,900 for "research and translation" services.

He used the money to fund trips to Europe, including one to judge a literary competition in Paris.
Sentencing was adjourned until 19 December and he was granted unconditional bail
Mr Justice Sweeney told MacShane "all sentencing options remain open".
I ought to say here that as much as I don't like Denis MacShane, it is very cruel to leave him stewing over whether or not he'll go to prison but then, as a zionist he approves of far greater cruelties. 

BTW, I got that pic from google.

Crisis at the Co-op – please join our campaign to get their new Chair to drop their anti-Israel boycott

Dear Renaud,

Crisis at the Co-op - please join our campaign to get their new Chair to drop their anti-Israel boycott 

I am sure you will have seen the extensive media coverage of the crisis afflicting the Co-op Group. Following the rescue of the Co-op Bank by private investors and the personal scandal about the Bank’s former Chairman Rev Paul Flowers, Co-op Group Chairman Len Wardle has resigned. He has been replaced by Ursula Lidbetter. Before resigning he set in place a major review of how the Co-op Group is run.
This presents us with an opportunity to re-open the question of the Co-op’s boycott of four Israeli companies. The boycott policy was decided by a Group Board which included the now discredited Rev Flowers. Given the Board’s flawed judgement calls on the Bank (a decision to merge with the Britannia Building Society meant that the Co-op Bank inherited loss-making loans that brought it near to collapse)  its other decisions ought to be questioned. The Group Board’s decision on the boycott was in part an attempt to appease pressure from extremist anti-Israel activists, without consulting the wider Co-op customer membership. This isn’t a sensible way for a major company to take decisions and we would hope the governance review will tackle this aspect of their decision-making.
Please can you write a hard-copy letter to the new Chair at this address?
Ursula Lidbetter
Chair, Co-Op Group
1 Angel Square
M60 0AG
Please use your own words and state if you are a Co-op member or customer. Points you should make in the letter are:
·         The Co-op Group’s boycott of four Israeli companies was a product of their old, discredited decision-making process and should therefore be reviewed as part of that wider review process. There is no evidence that the boycott was supported by ordinary Co-op customer members.
·         The situation in the Middle East has changed since the boycott was introduced. In the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks a boycott of one side is particularly inappropriate.
·         Boycotts of Israeli companies and produce are divisive, working against peace, demonising one side and giving comfort to those who promote continuing conflict and violence.
·         The Co-op policy has alienated many current and potential customers who feel an affinity with Israel.
·         By focussing on the question of a territorial dispute, the Co-op’s policy unfairly singles out the only democracy in the Middle East for censure and confrontation while giving a free pass to surrounding undemocratic regimes which commit repeated and extreme human rights abuses.
 ·         The Co-op could play a more positive role by working with the Israeli and Palestinian co-op movements to foster economic engagement and joint projects that build confidence and trust between the two peoples.

There is a briefing note about the Co-op’s boycott here:
Please send a copy of any letter you send and any reply you receive to me
If you want to take the campaign one step further, Steven Jaffe at the Board of Deputies is organising a rolling programme of local petitions against the boycott in communities around the country, which are delivered to local Co-op stores and publicised in the local press. Please email me if you could help organise a local petition in your area. To understand the effectiveness of this, here’s what activists from Wimbledon Reform Synagogue have reported about delivering a petition yesterday to the Co-op store in Roehampton:
“Today [we] delivered our petition with 56 signatures to the Roehampton store manager. Our mission started with the photo opportunity with a photographer from Wandsworth Guardian taking lots of pics of the three of us and our petitions and cover letter with the Co-op as the backdrop. ... the manager ... was very interested in what we had to say and took a number of booklets about Israel and the West Bank so that he could understand the issue. He took the petitions with the cover letter ...  and said he would discuss it with his area manager and other Co-op managers before forwarding it to Head Office. So we believe it was a successful delivery – it was clear that the store manager knew little about the boycott and possibly even less about Israel and the Palestinians but was willing to take an interest and was impressed by our concerns. Hopefully we will follow up the momentum with deliveries of petitions to other local stores.”

Israeli students visit Belfast

April 2013: The Teachers Union of Ireland urged its members to ban Israeli students from educational exchanges.

November 2013: Over 350 people gathered in Belfast to welcome two Israeli students and call for inclusivity and dialogue - not exclusion and boycott.
Here is a short video from the organisers, Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, of the meeting where they spoke:

Rita Concert

We wanted to remind you about the London concert, “Tunes for Peace”, being performed by Rita, Israel’s biggest singing star, on Thursday 12 December. Details are here:

"Shall We Dance" - Israeli play

Another great piece of Israeli culture you can support is the award winning Israeli play “Shall We Dance” which opens on 8 December. Details of the venues where this New End Theatre Beyond production will be staged and booking details are here:

Essential Reading

If you haven’t already read them, the latest edition of Fathom, the quarterly journal about Israel, is online here: and the newly updated BICOM FAQs about Israel are online here:

Best wishes,

Luke Akehurst
Director, We Believe in Israel

Sowing the seeds together

Some of the most rewarding mitzvahs (good deeds) are the ones in which a seed is planted for future endeavors. The old maxim of “a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah” applies perfectly to the Mitzvah Day activity at Spitalfields City farm on Sunday in which teenage girls from a Jewish, Muslim and Catholic school planted and weeded the community gardens and cared for the farm animals. The programme brought together young women aged 16-18 from three all girls faith schools to volunteer at the farm. For the overwhelming  majority of the girls it was the first time that they had interacted with peers from another faith, as well as working at a farm. The pupils were from the Azhar Academy Girls School in Redbridge, Hasmonean High School for Girls in Hendon, and Maria Fidelis in Camden. Spitalfields City Farm was originally set up by volunteers in 1978 and relies on volunteers to help maintain the farm and gardens, look after the animals and assist in delivering projects. This grass-roots social action gathering was one of over 1,000 Mitzvah Day projects simultaneously taking place on Mitzvah Day, Sunday 17 November across the country. Run in partnership with the Board of Deputies, the Council of Christians and Jews and Near Neighbours, Laura Marks, Founder and Chair Mitzvah Day and Board of Deputies Senior Vice President said. “One of 50 interfaith Mitzvah Day projects this year, this initiative demonstrated interfaith social action at its best - it was heartening to observe the girls generously donate their time, and equally warmly engage together in the process. Doing something worthwhile joined these girls together -- turning them from stranger into new friend. What a fabulous start to interfaith week!”

Swords into Ploughshares: learning about conflict resolution from Belfast

Learning and listening. That is the key to discussing and debating conflict. Resolution takes time. And patience. With that in mind, the Board came up with the innovation of bringing over different faith leaders from England to Northern Ireland for a two day conference: these leaders hold differing views on the Israel-Palestine conflict; indeed their own communities are often polarised on the debate. The 14 faiths leaders, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, traveled together to Belfast to meet with  representatives from the religious, grassroots and political  sector - including former paramilitaries -  to hear about how day to day conflict – with life and death consequences - can be managed, and in the long run, how to bring different peoples closer together. The group met at the East Belfast Mission in Skainos Square in one of the poorest areas of Belfast. In a neighborhood scarred by sectarian violence, and still marred by murals of baklava-clad paramilitary men enclosed in slogans of blood, violence  history and God, the Skainos centre is an an inspiration.  This new building was created on the initiative of the Rev Dr Gary Mason, the Methodist Minister of the Mission, in a Protestant area of Belfast with the deliberate attempt to create a neutral space where different community groups could meet, homeless could find a shelter, former prisoners were re-building old bikes, and youth programmes catered to every age.  It was literally hope personified in a building.  According to Rabbi Natan Levy, the Board’s Interfaith and Social Action consultant who helped coordinate the trip, "As the three faith leaders often have an elephant in the rooms we share, that elephant is Israel and Palestine. Together with the co-creators of this trip, Imam Usmama Hasan from the Quilliam Foundation, and Canon Robert Reiss, Emeritus of  Westminster Abbey, we came to the understanding that our three communities may not yet be ready to speak directly about that elephant, until we can speak with trust and sensitivity about the meta-issues that surround  that pain.  We needed to hear about how hard resolutions are made, how reconciliation can work on a day to day level, how faith leaders take extreme risks for peace: that led us to Belfast, to Revd Gary Mason, and-ultimately,  to these deeply transformative two days together." On the second day, the group moved carefully on to consider the parallels with the situation in Israel/Palestine.  The takeaways from the trip were vast including:  Moving from violence to dialogue in conflict arenas; Learning from NI experts on how to model constructive language for Holy Land dialogue between and for our own communities; Development and training in conflict resolution; Trust building, and social action work as a group. The 14 faith leaders are now considering  an experiential trip to the Holy Land, with a strong basis of mutual trust and profound respect engendered by the challenging time together in Belfast.
Board of Deputies Community Briefing

Monday, 18 November 2013

Iraqi-Jewish archive: an Arab view

 The documents drying out in the sun soon after their discovery in 2003

 This article in the Egyptian news medium Al-Ahram is busy casting aspersions on the truth of the mainstream version of the Iraqi-Jewish archive story. It questions whether the documents were seized from the secret police headquarters; the involvement of Ahmed Chalabi, who tipped off the Americans about  the trove, suggests that it may have been planted. It is the US which is guilty of 'looting Iraq's cultural heritage' (with thanks: Maurice):  

According to a story widely used by the American and Israeli media, the items were found in a flooded Baghdad basement in May 2003, just days after invading US forces captured Baghdad and ousted Saddam.

This story goes on to say that a group of US soldiers happened upon the Jewish documents while searching the headquarters of the mukhabarat, Saddam’s intelligence services, for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Nearly identical reports say that the documents, including books and records five centuries old detailing the life of Baghdad’s Jewish community, were found submerged under four feet of water in a building’s basement.

However, a new version of the archive story, published last month by Harold Rhode, an American specialist on the Middle East who worked as an analyst at the Pentagon and was in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion, gives a different account.

According to this version, it was Ahmed Chalabi, an exiled opponent of Saddam who arrived in Baghdad with the US invading forces, who called Rhode to tip him off about the trove to be found in the intelligence building.

Rhode was working at the time as a policy analyst with the US Defense Department and was assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that took over the administration of Iraq after Saddam’s ousting.

Writing in Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news outlet on 27 October, Rhode said the documents were found in the Israel and Palestinian section of the mukhabarat, which had been submerged in water after the building’s water system had been destroyed by an American bomb.

American preservation specialists from the National Archives in Washington were summoned to Baghdad to salvage the items. A few weeks later the documents were flown to Washington.

As the discovery was made amidst the turmoil that spread across Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, there have been no Iraqi eyewitnesses or officials who have been able to provide details of how the collection was found or who authorised its transfer to the United States.

The US preservation project for the documents says on its website that this was done with the agreement of Iraqi officials.

Since then, the materials, which include 2,700 books and tens of thousands of communal records in Hebrew, Arabic and English, dating from the 1540s to the 1970s, have been given the name the “Iraqi Jewish Archive.”

The documents have never been seen in public and nor have they been registered officially in Iraq. It is also not clear if the sensitive materials have been used for research or documentation, or if they have been removed to a third country while in the US National Archives’ custody.

The US media has reported that some materials have been deposited with the Centre for Jewish History in New York, which is in partnership with other Jewish organisations.

The present exhibition in Washington has now led to Jewish activists in the United States, as well as some members of the US Congress, to demand that the artefacts never be returned to Iraq and that they be given to Iraqi Jews in the United States.

The lobbyists have been claiming that the documents were stolen from members of the Iraqi Jewish community before they emigrated to Israel or went into exile from Iraq.

They claim that the artefacts are part of the Iraqi Jews’ heritage and say that Iraq does not have the right to recover the sacred objects of a now-exiled population.
Among their other claims is that there is no constituency of Jews remaining in Iraq to ensure that the books are well-maintained, especially since the country is still riven by violent conflict.

An online petition has been organised to collect signatures urging the US government to keep the Iraqi Jewish archives. Some activists have written newspaper opinion pieces urging that the items be shared with the exiled Jewish community or that torn pieces of Torah scrolls be buried, as is customary for Jewish holy texts that are no longer useable. (No exhortation needed: the Iraq authorities have given their consent to the burial - ed).

However, under international law the artefacts and all other cultural and official materials removed from Iraq during the US occupation belong to Iraq and should be returned to the country.

International conventions relating to armed conflict clearly state that warring parties should take measures to prevent the theft, pillage or looting of cultural property.

The Society of American Archivists has also said that the seizure and removal of the documents from Iraq was “an act of pillage” prohibited under the laws of war.

The Obama administration has rejected requests to keep the pieces in America and has said that the collection will be returned to Iraq upon the completion of their preservation and the exhibition.

The US State Department also says that under an agreement that the US National Archives signed with the CPA in Iraq, the documents are to be returned to Iraq “following their restoration”.

Read article in full

What will become of Iraq's Jewish artifacts ?(Commentary: with thanks Eliyahu)

No comments:

PA: No Peace Without Full ‘Right Of Return’


PA chief Mahmoud Abbas said that the “fate” of Arab refugees must be resolved if a peace treaty is to be achieved with Israel.

By David Lev

At a joint press conference Monday with French President Francois Hollande, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas said that the fate of what he said were 5 million Arab refugees must be resolved if a peace treaty is to be achieved with Israel. That must come in addition to the establishment of a PA state in all of Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem.

The official policy of the Palestinian Authority is to demand repatriation for the descendants of Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 to their original homes in Israel, thus flooding the Jewish state with Arab refugees and effectively erasing Israel from the map, replacing it with a “secular, democratic Palestine.”

In a law approved by the PA parliament in 2008, and signed into law by Abbas, the “right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, along with compensation for their suffering, is a holy cornerstone of their rights that cannot be negotiated away. There will be no consideration of negotiation on this issue, nor will there be a referendum on it,” the law says.

A separate PA law states that “it is forbidden for Palestinian refugees to leave their current domicile as a solution for the ‘right of return.’ Anyone who acts against this law will be seen as a traitor, and will be subject to the penalties that this crime entails.” The law of the language is similar to that of the law against selling land to Jews. PA Arabs who do so are considered “traitors,” and their penalty is death.

For rest of this article click Link

Hamas PM Haniyeh's granddaughter transferred to Israeli hospital for treatment


The granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was transferred on Monday to an Israeli hospital for treatment, sources in the Gaza Strip confirmed.
The sources said that the girl, Amal, was in serious condition after being diagnosed with acute infection in the digestive system.

Amal is the daughter of Haniyeh’s oldest son, Abdel Salam, who confirmed on his Facebook account that his one-year-old daughter had been transferred to Israel.

“Dear brothers, Amal has been transferred inside the Green line,” the father wrote. “I pray to Allah for her recovery.”

He later posted another message saying that his daughter was expected back in hospital in the Gaza Strip after undergoing medical check-ups in Israel.

Palestinians published on Facebook a photo of the Hamas leader during a visit to his granddaughter in Al-Nasr Hospital in the Gaza Strip just before she was taken to Israel. 


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Judaism is an experiment

The former U.K. chief rabbi, in Israel to promote Hebrew release of his latest book, talks about the power of religion.

By Nov. 18, 2013 | 5:46 PM

In an epigraph to the first chapter of his most recent book, "The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning," Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks offers four quotes about faith, God and the meaning of life – from Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Tom Stoppard. It just so happens that all of them were or are secular or assimilated Jews – or in Wittgenstein’s case, the descendant of three Jewish grandparents, which was Jewish enough for the Nazis.

When questioned about this, Sacks acknowledges it’s no coincidence that they’re his conversation starters. “A Christian atheist doesn’t believe in God. A Jewish atheist doesn’t believe in God, but keeps arguing with Him,” he quips.

In books such as “The God Delusion,” “God Is Not Great” and “The End of Faith,” a cadre of Western thinkers has, in the past few years, set out to prove why religion is not only foolish but also damaging, dangerous or simply passé. Sacks' mission is to convince the masses that the worlds of science and religion are not damned to an undeclared, eternal war with each other, but actually can and should coexist and collaborate. That is the raison d’être for the book, the Hebrew version of which has just been released in Israel.

While visiting Israel to promote the book and to address last week’s General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, Sacks sat down with Haaretz in the lobby of Jerusalem's stylish Mamilla Hotel to talk about “The Great Partnership,” some of the controversial decisions he made in his 22 years as chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth and what lies ahead for the philosopher-rabbi whose flock is perhaps increasingly more global than British.

Back home, Sacks has untold numbers of followers and fans. But he also has more than a few foes, particularly among Britain’s progressive Jews. They accuse him of having bowed to ultra-Orthodox pressures during his tenure, which came to a close in September. His respected books on faith, geared for a wide audience, and his frequent appearances on the British Broadcasting Corp. have made him a household name among educated Britons. He took the unconventional path of writing books for the general public and appearing in the media in large part, he says, because he wanted to reach unaffiliated Jews.

“As chief rabbi, I spent my time going around to all the synagogues, and at some point, I felt I’d met every Jew who comes to synagogue, so the next question is how to reach the Jews who don’t come,” he says. “It was only through the national press that I could reach them. So I began speaking way beyond the boundaries of the religious community.”

That journey has brought him into conversation with many go-to gurus and big-thinkers of the day, from the Dalai Lama to Richard Dawkins. Speaking at a launch event at Jerusalem's Menachem Begin Heritage Center on Thursday night, Sacks recalled asking the noted atheist and evolutionary biologist, “Only stupid people believe, right?” Dawkins' answer, Sacks says, was "Well, yes."

Sacks unpacks his passionate opposition to that attitude in the book's introduction: “If the new atheists are right, you would have to be sad, mad or bad to believe in God and practice a religious faith. We know that is not so. Religion has inspired individuals to moral greatness, consecrated their love and helped them to build communities where individuals are cherished and great works of loving kindness are performed. The Bible first taught the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, the imperative of peace and the moral limits of power.”

Sacks may be the person whom prime ministers and philosophers call on when they want a Jewish perspective on some ethical quandary or policy problem, but his name barely resonates in Israel beyond a few specific circles. Bringing Sacks into the Israeli consciousness is what motivated Maggid, an imprint of Koren publishers, to get his work into Hebrew.

This past week was aimed boosting his visibility in Israel, where he says he’ll be spending “progressively more time,” in addition to lecturing at New York's Yeshiva University and New York University. On Thursday night, he shared the stage with Dr. Micah Goodman, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman institute whose quick wit and religious-but-questioning approach gave the impression of taking the rabbi out for a run.

“Some of our halakhot don’t have respect for women,” Goodman asserted, referring to Jewish religious law. He added that it had homophobic and xenophobic aspects.

Sacks gave the audience a wide, closed-mouth smile, as if to acknowledged he’d been thrown a tough one, and went on, as he often does, not so much to answer the question but to offer other, interesting points. “I see Judaism as an experiment, a journey,” he said. “A woman can’t be a cohen (priest) but she can be a nevia (prophet).”

Sacks muddled through the evening in somewhat halting Hebrew, joking that he himself didn’t know what he was saying and occasionally switching to English. But he insisted on standing up to the linguistic challenge. “I believe with full faith that the Jewish neshuma (soul, in the Yiddish pronunciation) speaks Hebrew,” he offered, eliciting a round of laughter.

In our interview the following day, Sacks compared himself with self-deprecating humor to Moses, who tried to avoid the task of challenging Pharaoh because he wasn’t a good speaker: The greatest leader of the Jewish people had a speech impediment. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Sacks is probably one of the most eloquent spokesmen for Judaism in a century. But some of his concepts are a challenge to translate. “And what gets lost in translation,” Sacks says, paraphrasing Robert Frost, “is the poetry.” In fact, the third chapter of the book explores the concepts that got lost in translation between ancient Jerusalem and Athens, owing to the untranslatability of many terms from Hebrew to Greek. He suggests that Greek science and the Jewish conception of God are two different languages that only “imperfectly translate to one another.” Recognizing this, he suggests, might “leave science freer to be science and religion to be religion, without either challenging the integrity of the other.”

It’s not a coincidence that his solution is for religion and science to avoid the tendency to challenge each other. Sacks has a tendency to avoid conflict, sometimes to a fault, his critics charge. In his more than two decades in office, he never went to Limmud Conference, the annual late-December learning event that has reinvigorated British Jewry, drawing interest and spawning spinoffs across the Jewish world.

“I view Limmud as one of the great achievements of British Jewry,” Sacks says in retrospect. “It brings together thousands of Jews to learn who have never learned before. So every year, I made it clear privately and publicly that any rabbi under my aegis who chose to go, did so with my blessing. Some of my colleagues were very critical of Limmud because it’s not a purely Orthodox phenomenon, and therefore I had to stand back. It was an explosive issue that might have split the community, or at least the rabbinate.”

Upending Sacks’ conservatism on the issue, Britain’s new chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has already agreed to attend the conference next month, sparking protest by some ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

“One of the jobs of the leader of any team is not to split the team, even if you’re regarded as weak for not doing what you give others the permission to do,” Sacks says. “Sometimes you have to lower the flame. To go to Limmud would have raised it to an intolerable level.”

Simon Cowell - Simon Cowell To Convert To Judaism?

Simon Cowell is rumoured to be converting to Judaism for Lauren Silverman.

The 'X Factor' boss - who was raised a Roman Catholic - pledged a whopping £100,000 in support of the Israeli army at a plush gala for the Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, sparking speculationthe music mogul could be changing his religion for his pregnant girlfriend.

A source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: ''Simon is getting increasingly excited about becoming a daddy. He really is embracing fatherhood and wants to be the first person to cradle his newborn son.

''He is open to reason on the subject of religion and the faith in which his son is brought up. But he is naturally inquisitive and really wants to visit Israel so that he can make a more informed decision.''

Although the 54-year-old star has expressed little interest in religion in the past, his late father, Eric, was Jewish, and Simon is thought to want a traditional Jewish ceremony if he ends up getting married to Lauren after their son is born next year.

Meanwhile, Lauren is expected to give birth to Simon's first child in New York City on February 28 after it emerged the pair have reportedly already booked a delivery room in one of the most exclusive hospitals on the east coast of the US.

Palestine casts first vote at UN General Assembly

Article from
Middle East Online, 

Most of Assembly members stand in applause as Palestinian Ambassador casts vote for judge on International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

‘Symbolic’ vote

UNITED NATIONS - The Palestinians voted for the first time at the UN General Assembly Monday and claimed the moment as a new step in its quest for full recognition by the global body.

Most of the 193 members of the General Assembly stood in applause when Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour cast a vote for a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The Palestinians became observer members of the United Nations on November 29 last year. It cannot vote on UN resolutions, but under UN rules, it and other observers such as the Vatican can vote in elections for judges on international courts.

"This is an important step in our march for freedom and independence and full membership of the United Nations," Mansour told the assembly.

Israel accused the Palestinians of trying to "hijack" the vote. But afterwards, Mansour told reporters: "I think that this is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations."

"It is another step for strengthening the pillars of the state of Palestine in the international arena," he added.

Mansour acknowledged it was a "symbolic" vote, but said: "It is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations."

The envoy said the "overwhelming reaction" when the assembly applauded as he voted was a sign that countries want the Palestinians in the United Nations.

"I felt so proud ... that on behalf of all the Palestinian people, and our leadership, that I was privileged to have that special moment, of putting on behalf of our entire nation that ballot in the box."

Israeli Deputy UN Ambassador David Roet complained to the meeting that Mansour should have celebrated the vote outside the assembly and was "trying to hijack" attention at the election.

"Israel maintains its position that the Palestinian Authority is not a state and the Palestinian Authority fails to meet the criteria for statehood," added Roet, who insisted that the Palestinian vote did not change its statehood bid.

Israel and the United States have lobbied strongly against UN recognition of the Palestinians, arguing that a separate state can only be achieved through direct bilateral negotiations to end the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the Palestinians have joined UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, and voted there, in addition to winning historic observer recognition in the UN General Assembly.

The United States has sought to revive direct Mideast peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year freeze the Palestinians blamed on Israel's settlement expansion.

Since the contacts restarted, Israel has announced plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank -- territory the Palestinians want for their future state.

Asked whether the United States or Israel had objected to their vote in the UN assembly, Mansour said: "They can't. This is a very crystal clear case."

The Palestinians have sought to become an observer member of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, which organizes the International Criminal Court. The assembly is to meet in The Hague this week.

The United States blocked the move even though it is not a a formal member of the court, diplomats said.

"The United States said this was not acceptable -- they refused," according to one UN diplomat.

"It would have been a step too far for the Americans. They can cause problems even though they are not members," added a second diplomat who confirmed the move.

Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia Intensifies Recruitment

Benghazi — Speculation about Ansar al-Sharia's plan for Libya ended this week when the al-Qaeda proponents released a mission statement demanding the imposition of Islamic law.

The agenda is clear: today, Derna, tomorrow, all of Libya.

"Stability and security are dependent on the application of Sharia," AFP quoted the Islamist organisation as saying on Tuesday (November 13th).

The group, which began as a brigade of revolutionary fighters, advocates Sharia as the sole source of legislation. At the same time, it refuses to recognise state institutions, including the security services. The jihadist organisation accuses anyone working for the government of apostasy and of being "taghuts" (evil forces in the service of tyranny).

Ansar al-Sharia Libya members control neighbourhoods in Benghazi and Sirte, and most of Derna, with an arsenal of weapons looted from Kadhafi's stockpiles. They made it a point to say in their statement that their arms would "not be aimed at children".

Meanwhile, an eight-year-old boy was among the victims of the recent surge in Benghazi violence. He died after unknown gunmen opened fire on his naval officer father.

A day before the Ansar al-Sharia statement's release, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan pledged to beef up security forces to combat the unrest plaguing Benghazi and other eastern cities.

"There are those who want to sow chaos in the country to prevent the development of the state, to govern Libya in their own way and make it like Somalia," he said.

As the premier promises action against the violence, Ansar al-Sharia members have been working on ways to increase their visibility.

On October 24th, they officially opened their Derna branch under the slogan, "A step toward building the Islamic state".

Ansar al-Sharia also set up new accounts on Twitter and Google Plus to promote their outreach campaigns.

The group used the social networking sites to denounce the recent capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Libi (Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Raghie), calling for his liberation "by all possible means".

Ansar al-Sharia has been blamed for a spate of deadly unrest in eastern Libya, including the September 11th, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

In Benghazi, where citizens are already facing car bombings, carjackings and other crimes, a group that publicly disavows law officers and state institutions raises concerns.

"Libya does not need more extremist ideologies, no matter where they come from," Libyan officer Mohsen Ali tells Magharebia.

Activist Najat Omran, 42-years-old, says: "Any active political movement outside the framework of the state, or any groups surrounded by question marks remain suspect. Besides, they don't recognise the army and police."

"We hope that they explain their position on assassinations and bombings in Benghazi, as well as clarify whether there are non-Libyan elements among them or not," she adds.

Abdel Nasser Muhammad, 48, says: "Why Derna? First of all, the city of Derna is considered an active salafist jihadi stronghold. And who are Ansar al-Sharia? They are currently working on recruiting young people and sending them to Syria."

"Their ideology is pure jihadist and of course like any Islamist organisation they have a Shura Council, political and military councils, and a known leader," he adds.

Sadek Ben Ali says, "Although they are divided inside - some are radicals, others are jihadi and some preach only - their goal is one and that is the application of Islamic Sharia in the country."

"Derna constitutes fertile ground," Zine El Abidine Abdul Hadi tells Magharebia. "The city hasn't seen for a while the presence of regular police and army forces; hence it is easy to have a grip on it."

Al-Qaeda ties

"The city of Derna is captive to al-Qaeda," 20-year-old Murad tells Magharebia. "Assassinations and bombings have also been occurring for a while in Derna, yet the media is silent and no one speaks about it."

Talk about al-Qaeda in Derna is based on the presence of Sufian bin Qumu, a former chauffeur for Osama Bin Laden. He reportedly leads an armed battalion in the town.

"Those people don't appear in public; rather, they work in secrecy," local resident Feras Muftah says. "There are a lot of blasts, but perpetrators are never known. It is said that this battalion is the entity carrying out these blasts because they target people who used to work for the state under the former regime."

"This group doesn't want any army; rather, they want to apply God's Sharia as if we weren't Muslims," Muftah added. "For the time being, they are attracting adolescents and paying them money."

"Sufian's creed is extremism to the maximum," Derna attorney Ahmed tells Magharebia. "Besides, there is no security in Derna, neither police nor army."

Another wanted terrorist is also operating in the area, according to local resident Abdul Rahman Nasser.

"Most assassinations and acts of terrorism in Derna and Benghazi are because Ahmed Boukhtala, the mastermind of all these crimes, is in Benghazi," he says.

Ahmed Boukhtala is accused of several crimes, including the 2011 murder of rebel military commander Abdul Fattah Younes and the attack on the US mission in Benghazi.

"Ansar al-Sharia and the Rafallah Sahati Brigade are there also providing support and security for the perpetrators of assassinations. Since bin Qumu and their militias are in Derna, no one objected," Nasser adds.

The Tunisia question

The appearance of al-Qaeda terrorism in Tunisia and Libya may be connected, authorities hint.

Across the border in Tunisia, a jihadist group bearing the same name - Ansar al-Sharia - is led by Seif Allah Ben Hassine (aka Abou Iyadh).

Tunisia officially designated the hard-line salafist movement as a terrorist organisation tied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In September, an international arrest warrant was issued for the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia. Abou Iyadh is wanted in connection with the killings of Tunisian National Guard members in Jebel Chaambi, the assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid and the deadly attack on US embassy in Tunis.

And according to Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui, Abou Iyadh is now in Libya.

From Soccer to Jihad: German Football Talent Killed in Syria

  Photo Gallery: German Footballer Turns to Jihad


Burak Karan had a bright future as a professional soccer player in Germany and even played for the national team's youth side. But he ended his career at 20 and joined radical Islamists. He was killed in Syria in October.

Burak Karan's first life ended on March 29, 2008, when he played his last match for the second team of Alemannia Aachen, alongside Lewis Holtby, who now plays for British Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur and has played three times for the German national team.

A few weeks later he ended his footballing career, aged just 20. Until then, German-born Karan, the son of Turkish immigrants, was seen as a footballing talent with a promising future.

The midfielder from the western town of Wuppertal played for Germany seven times, for the Under-16 and Under-17 teams. Several of his former teammates -- including Sami Khedira, Dennis Aogo and Kevin Prince Boateng -- went on to become soccer stars.

In January 2008, when Alemania Aachen bought Karan from Hannover 96, his new coach Thomas Hengen said of him: "He has a good eye, is a skillful passer and good on the ball, which you need for this position."

Five years later, Karan is back in the news. He died in early October near the northern Syrian city of Asas, reportedly during an air raid, Bildnewspaper reported on Monday in a front page story. His brother Mustafa told the tabloid daily that Burak had travelled to the border region between Turkey and Syria seven months ago, together with his wife and two sons, to help distribute aid.

Mustafa denied his brother fought side-by-side with Jihadists in Syria. "If he armed himself it was to protect transports. Was he supposed to throw stones? He always told me he doesn't want to fight," Mustafa told Bild.

Contacts with Islamists

But a video posted on YouTube on Oct. 22 by an unknown Islamist group gives a different impression. It shows Karan posing with an assault rifle. A text below the video refers to him under the alias of Abu Abdullah al-Turki and says he "stormed like a lion into the area of the Kafir (PKK, may Allah destroy them all) and took pleasure in fighting them."

Karan's family blamed the Wuppertal-based Islamist Emrah Erdogan for radicalizing Karan. The two men knew each other for several years, and according to the German domestic intelligence service, Karan tried in April 2010 to travel to Afghanistan together with Emrah Erdogan and Erdogan's brother Bünyamin. The brothers made it to Afghanistan, Karan didn't.

Bünyamin Erdogan was killed in a US drone strike in October 2010 and his brother Emrah went on trial in Frankfurt in June of this year, charged with having been a member of al-Qaida in Pakistan and of the jihadist al-Shabaab group in Somalia.

He is alleged to have been in the Pakistan-Afghan border region between May 2010 and January 2011 and of having joined al-Shabaab in February 2011. Erdogan was arrested in Tanzania in June 2012 and extradited to Germany soon after.

The German Federal Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into Karan for allegedly supporting a foreign terrorist organization. But the case never went further than a preliminary suspicion.

The Düsseldorf public prosecutor in 2010 began investigating him on suspicion of preparing a major attack. A court ordered his telephones to be monitored. In 2011, Karan allegedly made contact with the Austrian-Egyption Islamist Mohamed Mahmoud, an imam at a mosque in the western German town of Solingen and leader of an Islamist group called Millatu-Ibrahim that was banned in May 2012 for "efforts against the constitutional order and against the concept of international understanding."

By the time police raided the group, Mahmoud had already moved to Egypt. He is now in prison in Turkey. He is believed to have tried to fight in the Syrian civil war -- where his protégé Karan was killed last month.