Israel’s Holy See ambassador, Zion Evrony, announced that a recent string of graffiti on Christian holy areas in Jerusalem must be publicly addressed or else it can harm Israel’s image as a nation that enjoys freedom of religion.
Evrony and Pope Benedict XVI met in Rome for a meeting to discuss the current relationship shared between Israel and the Vatican. The vandalism has been termed as “price tag” assaults and has been widely condemned by the Catholic Church in Italy. Despite the recent wave of vandalism, the pope and ambassador met under positive circumstances as the former was presented a gold figurine of a dove that symbolized peace. The meeting concluded with the pope sending a prayer of blessing to the Israeli people.
Price tag vandalism began recently when unknown vandals spray painted defamatory comments on the walls of a monastery on Mount Zion. The graffiti contained inscriptions that read “Jesus, son of a whore, price tag.”
The assailants remain on the loose though authorities suspect that the culprits may be tied to an extreme pro-settler Jewish organization that have already claimed responsibility for similar attacks on mosques, churches and even equipment belonging to the Israeli military. The vandalism is believed to be in retaliation for what is perceived by the group as Israel’s pro-Palestinian policies set by the government.
Christians make up less than two percent of the country’s population but have already faced repeated instances of defacing of their sacred sites. President Shimon Peres has publicly denounced the attacks and said that the actions are not values shared by the Jewish community.
Just a month prior, when a settlement outpost in the West Bank that was illegally built was torn down, vandals responded by spray painting a door on a monastery with the inscription “Jesus is a Monkey.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared before the U.N. General Assembly and gave a half hour speech that emphasized mainly on Israel, which he refused to call by name and described as “uncivilized Zionists.”
The speech took place at the United Nations located in New York. Members of the delegation from the U.S., Canada and Israel were not in attendance. Ahmadinejad blasted Israel for relying on military threats and intimidation, which he claims have led to a divide in international relations.
The speech came just a day after President Obama told the same assembly that a threat to Israel would be imminent if Iran were to reach nuclear capabilities. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also chimed in and said that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
Overall, Ahmadinejad’s speech was surprisingly subdued. Most in attendance expected the Iranian president to spew out a fury tongue lashing at Israel; however, his tone was less provocative than what most are accustomed to hearing. Aside from Israel, Ahmadinejad also spoke of the return of Jesus Christ along with the Islamic end-time messiah, the 12th Imam. He called for peace among people of all spiritual backgrounds and insisted that there is no hostility between people of different faiths.
He also emphasized on the importance of human rights and called for the end of oppression, poverty and discrimination. He further went on to say that the return of Christ and the Imam will put an end to all wars and bring about everlasting peace. Like most other Muslims, Ahmadinejad believes that Jesus was one of God’s prophets but that he was not a divine figure.
The nature of the speech by the Iranian president has certainly caught many off guard. CNN commentator Piers Morgan says that for a man of Ahmadinejad’s nature, the speech was actually reasonable and low key.
Salman Rushdie is a British author credited for publishing many successful novels and essays. He has also been living with a target on his back for the last 20 years. An organization in Iran has raised the bounty for anyone who can locate and kill Rushdie.
The problem started after Rushdie published the novel “Satanic Verses,” a book which is highly critical of Islam and its prophet Mohammed. Since then, he has been in hiding after Iran has issued a fatwa against him for blasphemy. A fatwa is a set of rules governing Islamic law. It is normally imposed by a cleric; under the fatwa in severe cases, a cleric can impose a death sentence on someone who commits the crime of blasphemy.
A cleric heading a conservative Islamic foundation has increased the bounty by another $500,000, bringing the total to $3.3 million. The organization released a statement saying that unless Rushdie is killed, there will be further releases of films and books insulting their holy prophet in ways that must be punished with death.
In 1998, Iran’s foreign ministry assured British authorities that it will not impose a fatwa on Rushdie. However, in 2005, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement calling for the murder of Rushdie under Islamic law.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a public appearance on U.S. television and warned that Iran is only about half a year away from reaching 90 percent of what is needed in order to complete a nuclear warhead.
Netanyahu has been under sharp criticism all week both at home and abroad for his efforts to get the Obama administration to take a more aggressive stance against Iran. On American airwaves, he stressed that Obama needs to clearly lay out a “red line” that Iran must not cross in its nuclear enrichment activities, and that crossing those lines could result in military force.
Using an American football analogy, the prime minister said that Iran is only 20 yards away from reaching nuclear capability and that we must not let it cross the touchdown line because that would jeopardize the security of the world.
Iran continues to claim that its nuclear ambitions are only for peaceful purposes and warned that any form of military aggression will be met with swift retaliation. General Mohammed Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran, said in a conference that “nothing will remain” of Israel if it proceeds with an attack on its nation.
Netanyahu also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and suggested that there is a correlation between Iran and the wave of violence spreading in the Middle East over an American-made Youtube video that insults the prophet Mohammed.
In a phone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama reportedly refused to set conditions for Iran. Netanyahu’s patience with the Obama administration is growing thin, and he continues to demand that the U.S. sets a clear red line that Iran must not cross without facing consequences.
A spokesperson for the White House, however, has insisted that the administration will do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon.
Traditional outfits and modest clothing are being abandoned in favor of sleek new styles for this generation of youth in Iraq. For both young men and women, they are beginning to adopt western styles of fashion. This means skin tight jeans and high heels for girls, and slacks and spiky hairdos for guys. While the youth are enjoying more freedom with their wardrobe selection, the transition is a nightmare for the older generation who feel that customs and tradition are being abandoned in favor of what is hip and popular.
A few clerics, however, find the fashion sense to be in violation of religious morality and have took it upon themselves to dispatch a group of security guards to assume the role of fashion police and crack down on youth who dress provocatively.
Posters have also been displayed warning people, especially women, to dress conservatively and to be covered from head to toe. Posters have also reminded women to wear a head scarf.
Some residents in Baghdad have even petitioned for a law to pass to require women to be veiled when walking in public areas. The government, however, has been in support of personal freedoms and even ordered posters that enforced dress codes to be removed.
By law, women are only required to wear a headscarf when entering a mosque. Outside, however, they are encouraged to wear one out of modesty though it is certainly not against the law not to wear one.
Western styles have become more prominent ever since the U.S. invasion that lead to the topple of Saddam Hussein’s regime. More women are beginning to abandon their head scarves and favor tight fitting clothing. Men are also beginning to break from tradition by getting tattoos and piercings.
There is a clear division between the youth who value personal freedom and the older generation who maintain that traditional customs and respect for religion must be adhered to.
Nearly 10 years ago, Rachel Corrie was killed after being crushed by a bulldozer that she was trying to stop from entering the Gaza Strip. In the years since, Corrie’s parents have been going through the legal channel and hold the military accountable for the events leading to their daughter’s death. They are now awaiting a judge’s ruling.
The case of Rachel Corrie has drawn national attention and is the first civilian trial stemming from the death of a foreigner at the hands of Israel’s military. All other related cases have resulted in settlements out of court.
Rachel Corrie was an American student studying at Evergreen State College. She was also an active pro-Palestinian activist who was involved in numerous rallies denouncing Israel over its treatment of the Palestinian people. In March of 2003, she was killed when she was crushed by a bulldozer that she believed was about to demolish homes belonging to the Palestinian people in the town of Rafah. According to the driver, he did not see Corrie and the incident was ruled an accident.
At the time, bulldozers were being sent to destroy homes that were being used as the point to carry out sniper fire and mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers and Jewish civilians.
Since her death, Corrie has become the image for the Palestinian people and to support pro-Palestinain demonstrations. To her supporters, she became an iconic symbol of the way non-violent protesters are treated. For supporters of Israel, she was a reckless young woman who put her own life at stake by interfering with the military in a conflict zone.
Corrie’s parents have spent nearly $200,000 in their own savings to attend hearings and gather witnesses. They are seeking reparation against the driver of the bulldozer and his superiors as well as compensation for the money they spent to get the case this far.
UPDATED: Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon on August 28 handed down his verdict: the State of Israel and the Defense Ministry were not responsible for Rachel Corrie’s death.
For a different perspective of this case please read the following article at the Nation.
While spirituality is generally a good thing, when belief in God turns into religious fanaticism, it creates nothing but chaos and gives religion a bad name. This is what is happening right now in Pakistan with a young girl who is being imprisoned and faces a possible death sentence for burning pages out of the Koran.
The girl in question is 11-year-old Rimsha Masih, and there are reports that she has Down’s syndrome. The incident occurred August 16th when a neighbor reported that he saw Rimsha set a page of the Noorani Qaida on fire and placed the burnt remains in a plastic bag. The Noorani Qaida is an Arabic learning guide used by children.
Muslim fundamentalists dispute the reports that Rimsha is only 11 and suffers from downs syndrome. Some claim that she is 16, mentally sound and was completely aware of what she was doing when she lighted up the Noorani Qaida.
After the news spread, Rimsha and her mother was taken into custody where they currently sit in a prison cell. However, her arrest was not enough for some of the locals in her city. They wanted to dish out justice themselves. Reports have already spread of Christians, a minority in the country, being mobbed and having their homes vandalized. It is also believed that as many as 600 Christians were forced to flee their homes near Islamabad for fear of being targeted.
News of Rimsha’s arrest has spurred human rights activists in the country and all over the world to spring to action. They are challenging Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law, which states that anyone who desecrates the Koran or speaks ill of the Prophet Mohammed is a crime punishable by imprisonment and even death. The law does very little to protect Christians and other religious minorities. They are left to fend for themselves from vigilantes and violent extremists.
Israel has made it blatantly clear that it is seriously contemplating a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. If Iran wants to avoid the possibility of a military showdown, then it is certainly not helping matters when the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, openly called Israel’s presence as an “insult to humanity.”
Ahmadinejad spoke in front of a large crowd at Tehran University following a series of pro-Palestinian marches that swept through the nation.
Israel has long considered Iran a threat due to its nuclear facilities and support for organizations with an anti-Israel agenda. Ahmadinejad, along with the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, have made repeated references about the need to bring about Israel’s destruction.
While Israel stated that it hopes for the issue to be resolved through diplomacy, it has also made it clear that it will not hesitate to launch a military assault if Iran does not abandon its nuclear uranium program, which Iran continuously insists is for peaceful purposes. Iran has threatened retaliation if Israel were to proceed with plans of a military strike and has also pledged to do the same to the U.S. if it allies itself with Israel.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad also called Israel “corrupt” and “anti-human.” He also added that Israel needs to be confronted in order to protect “the dignity of all human beings.” During his speech, demonstrators burned the Israel and American flag and chanted “death to Israel and the U.S.”
The White House has publicly condemned Ahmadinejad’s speech and also blasted him for defending Syrian president, Bashar Assad, despite the government’s repeated violation of human rights and the brutal assault on its own people, which claimed over 20,00 lives since March of last year.
Ahmadinejad’s words are really nothing new. In 2005, he denied the events of the Holocaust and called it a myth. He also vowed for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.
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A tense situation is unfolding between Turkey and Syria after the latter shot down a fighter jet belonging to the former. According to Turkish officials, one of their aircrafts was shot down while in international space. Authorities are now convening with NATO allies to decide what kind of measures should be taken in response. Syria claims that the jet crossed over to its airspace, which is a violation of its sovereignty.
Members of NATO will be gathering for a conference in Brussels to discuss the issue. No military action is expected at this point.
Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, said that Syria was merely acting out of self-defense and dismissed claims that the aircraft was in international space. It was also reported in the Syrian media that the jet may have been on an espionage mission and flew over the area to spy on the country’s radar system located in Latakia.
Turkey has said that no actions will be taken until it has discussed the matter with NATO, but has warned that the incident will not go unpunished. The matter may escalate even further after a claim that a second plane was fired at while on the search for wreckage of the downed jet.
Taner Yildiz, Turkey’s Energy Minister, said that a possible response may be to cut off Syria’s electricity supplies, since Turkey currently supplies Syria with about 10 percent of its power.
Turkey has also leaked news that several high ranking military members from Syria have defected due to souring relations between the two nations. Syria, in the meantime, has vowed that it will not stand idly by if NATO responds in an aggressive nature.
From the start of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has taken a firm stance against Syria’s government and has provided a refuge for defectors. About 33,000 Syrians have crossed over to Turkey for shelter.
A mall in Jerusalem was crowded with shoppers over the weekend. However, the patrons were not there to shop for the latest brand of clothes. They were there to purchase gas masks and other survival gear as they embrace for a possible chemical strike by Iran.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has publicly announced that a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is imminent. There are talks that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are contemplating a strike within the next six months and possibly before the U.S. presidential election in November.
In light of the announcements, media sources have critically slammed the Prime Minister for being overly hawkish. Opinion pieces and Media analysts from Israel, U.S., and Europe have openly expressed their dismay at Netanyahu’s apparent eagerness to resort to military force. His critics have harshly condemned him as a war monger.
However, Netanyahu has openly praised two journalists who came to his defense. The journalists were Professor Eyal Winter of Israel and Colbert King of the U.S. who writes for Washington Post. Both writers received a personal phone call from the Prime Minister who thanked them for their support in Israel’s right to defend itself against a nation that has fervently vowed to wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu has also invited Winter to his office and has plans of making the same arrangement for King in September.
Both the U.S. and Europe have urged the Prime Minister to exercise a little more patience to give negotiations and diplomacy a chance. Netanyahu, however, balks at the idea of further talks and says that doing so will only give Iran more time to build up its nukes. Netanyahu has also announced Avraham Dichter as the new civil Defense Minister. Dichter could play a pivotal role in deciding whether Israel proceeds with its plans of a military strike.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been marred by the intrusion of viruses that have sabotaged its computers. So far, two major cyber-attacks have been reported and have been given the name Stuxnet and Flame. While the U.S. and Israel have been accused of being the masterminds behind the virus assault, both nations have denied involvement.
The cyber-attack continues on with the emergence of a new virus. This one is being dubbed the “Gauss” and appears to be created for the purpose of hacking into banking institutions in the Middle East. This virus is so complex and advanced that it is believed that it could only be carried out by a nation and not by a lone hacker or small organization. Once again, the U.S. and Israel are being blamed for the attack though both countries are claiming innocence.
So far, Gauss has mainly targeted banking institutions in Lebanon though attacks have also been verified in 25 other countries. However, it is believed the virus is more directed for the purpose of monitoring transaction information rather than stealing money. It is also capable of stealing passwords and monitoring audio and keystrokes. Gauss was discovered in June though the virus is believed to have been active since last September. About 2,500 accounts have been reportedly hacked and monitored by Gauss though it is believed the actual number of infected accounts could be in the tens of thousands.
In the past few months, The Middle East has come under the assault of extremely sophisticated malware. Stuxnet was the first to be discovered and was responsible for hampering the progress of Iran’s nuclear facilities. This was followed by Flame and Duqu, which targeted various computer systems throughout various regions in the Middle East. It is believed all these viruses are linked and originated from the same creator.
The unending onslaught of violence brought on by Syria’s regime has resulted in an unimaginable death toll of civilians. News has been surfacing of military generals and other high ranking commanders defecting from the regime and fleeing the country with their families.
There is now rumor that Syria’s Prime Minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, has packed up his bags and fled as well. If the news is true, then this will make Hijab the highest ranking administer to defect from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The news of Hijab’s defection was initially reported by opposition forces. Syria’s government-run media, however, has denied all rumors of Hijab making an about-face. The media has insisted that Hijab was fired and did not defect as reported by the opposition. There are also reports that the country’s finance minister defected as well; this is also being disputed by the media.
Since the conflicts began about 17 months ago, Syria’s regime has consistently been fazed by the sudden defection of top military and civilian officials. According to an activist, while Hijab had close ties to President Assad’s brother, he appeared to be deeply disturbed by the atrocities committed by the government he was heading.
Aside from the defections, Iran’s role in the melee is also becoming more tangled. Rebel fighters have reported the capture of 48 Iranians in Damascus. Iranian officials have also called for an international emergency conference to be held in Tehran. According to the rebels, the captured Iranians are members of the country’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has denied the claims and insisted the men were merely visitors embarking on a pilgrimage to a religious shrine in the city of Tadamon.
Iran has been an ardent supporter of President Assad and has continuously blamed Syrian rebels for the violence and civilian deaths. It has also blasted neighboring countries for siding with the opposition.