Saturday, August 28, 2004

Italian Hostage Killed in Iraq for money?

By Susan Brannon
August 27,2004

Related links:
report of journalist killed in Iraq(CPJ)
report of supporters killed in Iraq (CPJ)
Rome - Enzo Baldoni 56, was taken hostage on the road between Baghdad and Najaf in Iraq , the Italian government confirmed Thursday evening after viewing a tape given to Al-Jazeera. He was killed because the Italian government refused to withdraw their troops from Iraq . But a few hours ago on RAI (the Italian national news agency) said that the Italian government thinks that there is a possibility that Baldoni was first kidnapped by a gang of Iraqi's who received money to turn him over to the Islamic Army.
The Italian newspapers said that Baldoni was caught in an ambush and his driver was found dead on Saturday. He was captured at the scene of fierce fighting between the US troops and the al-Mahdi Army of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The group identifying itself as the Islamic Army, on Tuesday gave Italy 48 hours to withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq or Baldoni would be killed.
The Italian government rejected the demand, saying that it would maintain its “civil and military” presence in Iraq, but earlier on Thursday Rome said it was prepared to pull out its troops if the interim government in Baghdad requested it.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, “There are no words for an inhuman act which at one swoop wipes out centuries of civilization and returns us to the dark times of barbarism”
Baldoni was a reporter for a Milan weekly called the “Diario” (Diary) and was also volunteering for the Red Cross while in Iraq . His son and daughter were interviewed on Rai 2, an Italian television station on Wednesday, saying, “He was trying to save human lives in Najaf by helping a Red Cross convoy in a spirit of solidarity which has always underscored his thinking and actions”
Before his murder, the director of the weekly “Diario” said that Baldoni is “motivated by humanitarian feelings for the world's suffering people. He is an independent journalist and is totally autonomous” Another source at the “Diaro” stated , “We are counting on this explanation to show who Baldoni was, someone who had nothing to do with the policies of the Italian government and who found time to carry out humanitarian acts – this should facilitate his release.”
The Italians had hope for his release based on his humanitarian instincts and his murder was a surprise to the locals. He was known for his rigor of investigative reporting and his independent tone, Baldoni was generally critical of the administration of Berlusconi and their support for the Iraq war.
If it is true that a gang was paid for the kidnapping of Baldoni, then it puts the lives of may journalists in increased danger. The risk of war reporting, changes most likely due to increased poverty in Iraq due to the loss of employment since the start of the war.
There has been 13 journalist and 9 supporters of reporters killed in Iraq in 2004 reports Committee for the Protection of Journalists. (CPJ).
A day before the murder of Baldoni, CPJ reports that the Iraqi police, masked and firing weapons threatened and detained dozens of journalists Wednesday night at the Bahr Najaf hotel in the southern city of Najaf . Knight Ridder News service, reported that the police fired shots and detained near 60 journalists quoting one of the officers shouting, “All the journalists, out now or we'll kill you!”
Knight Ridder says that the journalist were transported in flatbed trucks to a local police station where they were held for an hour. The journalist had international press passes and included the Knight Ridder journalist, Getty photo agency and BBC were among some of those detained. The police also confiscated some satellite phones and computer equipment.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, five Al-Arabiyya employees were briefly detained by the Iraqi police after airing a news item that U.S. missiles had landed near the Imam Ali shrine.
Also on August 15, the Iraqi authorities in Najaf ordered all journalists to leave the city within two hours, while a plainclothes security officer warned journalist to leave in two hours or they would be “shot”. Al-Jazeera was also barred from working in Iraq for 40 days accusing the station of incitement to violence and hatred.
The Iraqi government seems to be taking the position to suppress the rights for the support of press freedom. This position along with the increased “gang activity” in Iraq clearly threatens the security and safety for journalist attempting to report from the ground in Iraq .
As it stands, many of the news agencies would rather pay freelance journalist who are willing to enter into the most dangerous places in the world than to hire reporters to enter under their corporate names. This is because of the concern of an increased risk to the agencies reputation, and financial concerns (lawsuits) if one of their own staff were to be kidnapped and murdered.
Journalist are increasingly pushed into a position of being freelance in a highly competitive career to remain in the same career job market. They need to purchase extra medical and life insurance, risk the loss of equipment, pay for the cost of satellite telephones, hotels, hiring security guards/translators and drivers.
Baldoni was one of those independent freelancers, whose heart was with humanitarian concerns wanting to help those that were in distress. His death may have been due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the suppressed economy in Iraq and greedy gang members who have traded the value of life for a few dollars.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

A letter from Beit Jala

After the War...? 
by: Ben White in Beit Jala
Posted Sept. 3,2004

August 26th, 2004 -- From Nabil Saba's terrace there is a clear view of the Wall snaking its way around Beit Jala. Sitting underneath his family's vineyard, enjoying the protection it offers from the afternoon sun, the peace is sometimes interrupted by the sound of construction work.

For Nabil, history has a habit of repeating itself. At the beginning of the 1970s, he was still living with his family in their ancestral home on Ras Beit Jala, the highest point in the town. But in 1972 the Israelis came to the house and offered to buy the land from Nabil's father.

“We refused. So almost every day and night they would come to the house, to threaten us, to intimidate us. They would take me and my brothers to jail. They falsely accused us of supporting the guerrillas with 300 dinars, which was a lot of money in those days. They beat my brother in jail.”
The campaign of intimidation continued: “The Israelis would come to our home and put me and my brothers up against a wall. Then they would ask my mother which one of us she wants to see killed first. My mother would cry.”

This way of life was endured for a whole year by the family before Nabil's mother finally broke. So we all left the house, taking most of our belongings with us. We thought we would be away just temporarily; we left out of fear.”
With the family out of the house, the Israelis were free to occupy the property. First, however, they came and demanded the keys. “They wanted to occupy one room in the house, they said, to stop the guerrillas. After that, they stopped us going back to the house. I've never been back since.”

Nabil's family land was required for the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo, created in 1976 as a military outpost before being transformed into a civilian colony with a population of around 350 settlers. Even though Har Gilo is a short distance away, Nabil does not return: “If I were to go back, I would have a heart attack to see Israeli housing there. There were grapes, fig trees; they were all bulldozed, like you see them doing to the olive trees.”

Like nearly every Palestinian who has suffered dispossession and loss at the hands of the occupation, Nabil has no truck with crass anti-Semitism. “I used to, I still have, many Jewish friends”, he stressed. “A Jew is a man just like me, we don't hate.” Yet Nabil also has something to say to those in the West who shout “terrorist” at the Palestinians.

“Come and see the truth. Who's stealing the land? Who's the terrorist? When a man fights against Israel , it's not in vain. It's because something has happened. Do you think suicide bombers kill themselves for nothing? They go out of hatred. Maybe they have seen their father killed, or their house destroyed.”

When the intifada began almost four years ago, Nabil's house was on the front line for Israeli shelling from Gilo. Houses on his street were utterly destroyed, while his home escaped with repairable damage. Now, however, the threat is not so much Israeli bombardment as the Wall.

In the last few months, the Israeli Defence Force has issued military confiscation orders to residents of Beit Jala to take land for the Wall amounting to around 400 dunums. Once completed, the Wall will separate the town of Beit Jala from around 40% of its land — much of it among the fertile.

“The Wall has taken the land from the people of Beit Jala. They have put us all in a prison. There is no land left for Beit Jala. We are in cantons, ghettoes, now.” Along with the neighbouring towns of Bethlehem and Beit Sahur, Beit Jala will be completely hemmed in by the Wall; expansion of the town will be rendered impossible.

Nabil does not believe that his children will see peace. Sitting on the edge of his sofa, he gesticulates with a finger. “My father, before he died, said he wished he could sleep just one more night in his house. I will never forget those words.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hunger strike final avenue for prisoners

Hunger strike final avenue for prisoners
by Omar Karmi
Palestine Report published at

“MY DAUGHTER has only seen her father twice in her life,” said one woman. “It's been two months since I last saw my husband.” A young boy, in a faltering voice, then recited a poem he had written to his father, also a prisoner, to warm applause from the audience. A group of youngsters sang a song, and an elderly woman asked how “we can have peace when our children are being treated like animals.”
They were all speaking at a tent erected in front of the Ramallah Baladna Cultural Center on August 17. Similar tents have gone up all across the Palestinian areas for people to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have gone on a general hunger strike to protest their conditions. August 18 has been declared a national day of solidarity with the prisoners and in a speech on the same day, President Yasser Arafat praised them for their steadfastness and vowed his unstinting support.   “They have tried legal means to improve their conditions,” Khalida Jarrar, Director of the Ramallah-based Adameer Prisoners' Support & Human Rights Association, told the Palestine Report. “But nothing has worked. This is their last avenue.”   On August 15 it was announced that Palestinian prisoners were commencing a hunger strike until certain demands pertaining to their conditions were met. By August 17, according to numbers from Adameer, 3,500 prisoners were striking. The number is important if only because the Israel Prisons Service, in charge of the prisons that are affected by the hunger strike (as opposed to Israeli military prisons, or administrative detention centers), on August 18 claimed the number was 1,469 after “several dozen terrorists halted their strike.” Jarrar dismissed that claim as “Israeli propaganda.”   The prisoners are charging that their basic rights are being systematically violated and accuse Israel of being in transgression of Israeli as well as international law. They are demanding, according to an August 15 press release from the Families of Palestinian Political Prisoners organization, an end to “arbitrary and indiscriminate beatings; arbitrary and indiscriminate firing of tear gas into prison cells; humiliating strip searches in front of other prisoners every time they enter or exit their cells; and arbitrary imposition of financial penalties for minor infractions such as singing or speaking too loud.”   Prisoners are also demanding improved medical treatment and more and better food, while six separate demands deal with family visitation rights and procedures.   “I think the family visits are especially important,” said Jarrar. “Many prisoners and their families have been telling me how they wish they could go back to the old visitation facilities where, while prisoners and their relatives were separated, the glass partition wall had holes in them so they could at least touch fingers.”   Now, explains Jarrar, prisoners are separated from their visitors by two partition walls, and no physical contact is possible. In addition, children are no longer allowed to go and sit with the prisoners, and communication usually takes place over a phone. Both prisoners and visitors are subjected to what Jarrar calls “humiliating searches, not only on their way into the visits, but on their way out.”   Finally, there are many restrictions in place as to who can visit, and how many times they go. In order to apply for a permit to visit prisoners, relatives must go through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that then applies to the Israeli civil administration on their behalf. Rejections or permits are conveyed back to the families through the same route. According to Jarrar, in many cases people are simply rejected “for security reasons” with no other explanation forthcoming. Appeals must be lodged through the ICRC. Only closest relatives are allowed to go in the first place, and no children or siblings between the ages of 16-45 will get a permit.   The ICRC is also in charge, subject to the strictures of the Israeli authorities, of transportation to and from prisons, a process, prisoners charge, that has been needlessly prolonged and complicated. Trips that should only take a few hours are sometimes prolonged to dozens of hours, according to Israeli, Palestinian and international prisoner rights groups.   Indeed, none of the prisoners' complaints are new, and most of them are well documented. In February 2003, the International Federation of Human Rights (FDIH), in cooperation with several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, released a lengthy report detailing several violations of international law. The report concluded that Israel , despite being signatory to international conventions on the treatment of detainees, was in “flagrant violation” of, among others, the Universal Human Rights Declaration, particularly those articles prohibiting all forms of torture and other abuses (article 5) and which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners (articles 9, 10 and 11); the Fourth (4th) Geneva Convention; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly those articles regarding the prohibition of torture and other forms of abuses (article 7) and the rights of detainees and prisoners (article 9, 10, 14); the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment! of Prisoners; as well as the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.   “I hope,” said Jamal Ali, 40, now a municipal employee with the Palestinian Authority, “that the world will see what is happening here.” Ali spent five years in jail from 1986 to 1991. He recognized all the demands of the prisoners. He said in his five years in jail – 30 months were spent in administrative detention – he received no more than five visits from family. The food, he said, was “not fit for consumption,” and the medical attention was terrible.   “Whatever was wrong with me – I had a problem with my knee – the doctor would just point at his head and give me aspirin. It didn't matter what I complained of.”   So far, the official Israeli response to the hunger strike has been uncompromising.   “They can strike until death,” Israeli Internal Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi told the Jerusalem Post on August 16. Hanegbi also said he had received support from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take a “strong and stiff stand” against the prisoners.   Israeli prison authorities have declared they are ready to weigh prisoners every day, and force-feed them if necessary. On August 17, it was reported that prison guards would use “psychological warfare” to break the strike, including holding large barbeques in jailhouses.   While Jarrar is not concerned about the BBQs – “it's a silly idea. It's a direct challenge to the prisoners and will only make them more determined” – she's more worried by the threat of force-feeding prisoners.   “In 1980,” she recalls, “two prisoners [Ali Ja'fari and Rasem Halawi] in Nafha prison were force-fed after a lengthy hunger strike. When they put the tubes down, they put them in the wrong place, and they ended in their lungs.” Ja'fari and Halawi both died.   She's also concerned at reports that prison authorities at the Eshel Prison have confiscated water and salt from prisoners. On August 18, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel charged that prison guards there had taken salt, water, juice and milk from prisoners and on August 15 cut off the water supply until the evening. Salt and water are essential to keep hunger strikers from deteriorating too rapidly.   “This can be handled well,” said Jarrar, “or it can be handled badly. If it is handled badly, it can get very dangerous,” she said, adding she felt prisoners were very serious in their demands.   Ali concurred. “If any of these prisoners die, it will cause an explosion on the Palestinian street.”   At the Baladna Center , meanwhile, there was a break in proceedings. For obvious reasons no refreshments were being provided, and medical staff was on hand to aid anyone feeling weak in the hot afternoon weather.   Eleven-year-old Huda Barghouti was sitting with a group of her female relatives. She has only ever seen her two uncles, Fakhri and Issam, in prison where both have so far served. 27 years. Huda has been able to visit twice. She last went in July, and was allowed to stay for 45 minutes. She spoke to Fakhri through a phone. “It was hard to hear what he was saying,” she said, but would otherwise not be drawn on how the procedure had been.   “She's shy to talk about it,” explained her mother, Hanan, who said that while Huda had not been strip searched, guards had run a metal detector across her body, including between her legs and it had made her so uncomfortable that she had hardly been able to tell her mother about it.   Hanan, 40, has herself not been able to visit her brothers since the early 1990s.   “Until Oslo ,” she said, “I could go freely. But after Oslo I have not been allowed to go once.” She had been told she was not allowed for the standard “security reasons.” She speculated, however, that the real reason was because she herself had once spent time in jail. In 1989, she had been detained for four days for attending a demonstration calling for improved prisoners' rights. – Published 18/8/04 ©Palestine Report