Ignorance is vicious and can kill: U.S. Ambassador to Libya + 3 colleagues die for film on the Prophet Mohammed that hasn't even been released

Ignorance is vicious and can kill.

The violent murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three of his colleagues on Tuesday at the U.S. consulate Tuesday in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, by a mob incensed by reports about a movie of unclear origin which has not yet been released is deeply disturbing and revolting.

    UPDATE: It now appears [possibly even earlier than Oct-Nov 2012] that this initial report is untrue — as this report published on 10 November indicated: “The CIA ‘s reporting to Congress included a claim that protests over a YouTube video played a role in the attacks, thus allowing Obama to initially discount the possibility that the U.S. had suffered another terrorist attack just before the election”. This was published here.

UPDATE: U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told journalists at the regular daily briefing in Washington on Thursday, posted here, that: “we said that the circumstances surrounding the death of Ambassador Stevens included the fact that he and two other people – Sean Smith and a regional security officer – were in the main building in Benghazi when it was hit and caught on fire, but in – that the regional security officer attempted to lead the other two out, that he got separated from Ambassador Stevens, that he then got – but when he got to Sean Smith, he was already dead. He pulled him from the building. He went back into the building with additional security forces, but was unable to locate Ambassador Stevens before the fire overcame the building. We were then not able to locate Ambassador Stevens for many, many hours. We were later informed by some of our Libyan contacts that they understood he had been taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We were not able to confirm that, although there is a huge amount of reporting on it. And his body was later returned to us at the airport in Benghazi in the context of our evacuation of the rest of our people. So in response to Matt’s question, we don’t have any definitive information of our own as to exactly when he passed or what the precise causes of death were. I would guess that this is among the things that’ll become clearer as the Libyans work on their investigation with our support”.

About the film itself, Nuland said “I don’t want to get too much into this particular video, because it just gives it more credit than any of us want to. I think you heard the Secretary speak to this issue this morning and to make it clear that we absolutely reject both its message and its content, which we consider disgusting and reprehensible. She said it far better than I can here. The interesting thing about this, as I understand it, is that this had actually been circulating at a relatively low level for some months out there in cyberspace and that it only caught fire in the region on the day or just before the day that we began to see these various protests”.

For hours, nobody even knew what film had caused such a reaction.

AP this morning published a report here trying to identify those behind the film which caused this violence.

AP wrote this morning that:

    “Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced ‘Innocence of Muslims’, which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film. Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cell phone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others. Nakoula told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian and said the film’s director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims. Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found it and other connections to the Bacile persona. The AP located Bacile after obtaining his cell phone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who had promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Egypt’s Christian Coptic population has long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Arab majority … The YouTube account, ‘Sam Bacile’, which was used to publish excerpts of the provocative movie in July, was used to post comments online as recently as Tuesday, including this defense of the film written in Arabic: ‘It is a 100 percent American movie, you cows”…

    UPDATE: Reuters here on 7 November that: “The convicted California scam artist behind a crude anti-Islam film that stoked protests against the United States across the Muslim world was sent back to jail for a year on Wednesday over probation violations stemming from his role in the video. The Egyptian-born Coptic Christian, who has been publicly identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but whose legal name is Mark Basseley Youssef, admitted to several probation violations during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. At least one violation involved his use of an alias, Sam Bacile, a name that several actors from the film said he used in producing the video, which was circulated on line under several titles, including ‘The Innocence of Muslims’.”

Continue reading “Ignorance is vicious and can kill: U.S. Ambassador to Libya + 3 colleagues die for film on the Prophet Mohammed that hasn't even been released”

Why no progress in investigation of murder in Jenin of Juliano Mer-Khamis?

Amira Hass has written a new article reporting that Jenin Camp residents — and PA care not to antagonize some of them — are partly responsible for blocking the investigation in the assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis in Jenin Refugee Camp two months ago. Her reportage, in Haaretz, is posted here.

But, she wrote, there appear to be other forces of inertia at work as well.

Hass wrote: “Of the four law enforcement agencies investigating the case – the Palestinian police, the Israel Police, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service – none seems to be working particularly hard to solve it, says Abeer Baker, the attorney for the family”…

Continue reading “Why no progress in investigation of murder in Jenin of Juliano Mer-Khamis?”

Sarkozy looses it + attacks journalists during press conference

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who looked years younger (with the aid of pink powder? Or was it due to his wife’s care?) during an astonishing interview in mid-November with three famous French TV journalist (during which he made an astonishing and evidently well-rehearsed ode to his wife — why not talk about politics and take advice if you have such an intelligent woman by your side, he said), had an even more astonishing encounter with a broader press corps during a news conference at the sidelines of the NATO summit this week.

A journalist from France 2 Television asked him about a document which had his name on it … and Sarkozy goes off and compares this to someone having to deny that he is a “pedophile”. Liberation has the transcript:

Nicolas Sarkozy: “Est-ce qu’il y en a un seul parmi vous qui a vu un document qui me mette en cause ni de près, ni de loin ? Mais moi, sous prétexte que je suis président de la République, et que j’ai été porte-parole de la campagne de Balladur… Mais en quoi ? Y a-t-il un document qui me mette en cause, un seul ?»

Un journaliste : «Il semblerait qu’il y ait votre nom, que vous ayez donné votre aval à la création de deux sociétés au Luxembourg…»
Continue reading “Sarkozy looses it + attacks journalists during press conference”

More on the Museum of Tolerance + Mamilla Cemetary

Last month, Haaretz published an extensive and lengthy multi-part special report on the controvery — and fight — over the construction of a Museum of Tolerance on top of part of the ancient Mamilla Cemetary that became part of West Jerusalem and Israel as a result of the 1948 creation of the State of Israel in part of the former British Mandate of Palestine.

The Haaretz series was so exceptionally good that it was recently submitted on behalf of Palestinian families seeking redress for some of the related injustices via the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

But, it has not gotten much attention here in Israel — even the number of comments on the various articles in the Haaretz series is well below the norm.

The various parts of the Haaretz Special Report can now be consulted at one place on the Haaretz website, here.

Today, Nir Hasson reports in Haaretz that a new group, called “The Association for Muslim Affairs”, representing “the heads of various Muslim communities in Israel”, has filed a complaint to Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss over the “handling of Muslim graves unearthed at the museum’s Jerusalem construction site”. Haaretz reports that “The complaint was filed by attorney Kais Nasser [who] asked Lindenstrauss to investigate both the way the remains were removed and the way the land was allocated to the Wiesenthal Center – which is building the museum – by the Israel Lands Administration and the Jerusalem municipality. He also asked Lindenstrauss to examine the role played by Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem and then a cabinet minister with responsibility for the ILA during the relevant period. Nasser argued that since Olmert traveled overseas at the Wiesenthal Center’s expense during this time, he may have had a conflict of interests. Nasser charged that the hasty removal of the remains violated a High Court of Justice order to carry out the work in a way that minimized damage to the graves. He also argued that the person in charge of the excavation, Dr. Alon Shavit, has a conflict of interests, as he is both an adviser to the Wiesenthal Center on the project and, as an archaeologist licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a representative of the state”. This new report can be read in full here.

What does this mean?

Ma’an News Agency has reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] issued a decree on Sunday banning all violations of privacy and personal freedoms, following the results of a Palestinian Authority inquiry into corruption allegations against his former chief of staff. ‘In light of the report handed over by the inquiry commission into the Rafiq Al-Husseini case, and reiterating previous instructions, the minister of interior must inform security services that any violator of the law of private freedoms will be called into account’, the presidential decree read”. This report can be read in full here.

What does this mean?

Is this another rebuke to Tawfik Tirawi (who reportedly previously lost his job as head of Palestinian General Intelligence because of this very scandal)? Tirawi was then apparently rehabilitated when he easily won a seat, in elections in Bethlehem in August, on the powerful Fatah Central Committee, and he now holds the portfolio on that body of Palestinian labor unions and syndicates (in which capacity he has been instrumental in changes affecting the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate)

Ma’an says: “Legal experts interpret the decree as signaling the need for court approval before recording private acts, such as phone tapping and video surveillance”.

We are still waiting for news about the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry that Abu Mazen set up to look into this whole affair … As Ma’an reported, the Commission of Inquiry completed its investigations — Ma’an says this happened on Monday, and the members handed their report over in a meeting with Abu Mazen on Saturday.

Abbas suspends Rafiq Husseini for "sex + corruption" affair – orders "investigation".

It has just been announced in Ramallah that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has apparently suspended (not fired) his Chef de Cabinet Rafiq Husseini, and established an investigation committee headed by the Fatah No. 2, Abu Maher Ghneim, in the wake of the all-too-public release of a “sex + corruption” videotape featuring Husseini. (Azzam al-Ahmad is a second member … Rafiq an-Natshe is the third.)

UPDATE: Husseini apparently intends to hold a press conference at 7:30 pm Sunday evening at the Palestinian Red Crescent building …

UPDATE TWO: Despite the interest, this press conference does not appear to be on television — it is neither on Al-Jazeera mubashir (live), which is running only program announcements, or on Palestinian television, which is doing a lottery-style program …

UPDATE THREE: Husseini told journalists that the videotape shown on Israel’s Channel 10 television — “Israel’s“, he stressed — was dubbed and falsified (i.e., he is claiming that he did not say bad things about Yasser Arafat, President Abbas, or Abbas’ two sons.  He made a short statement, with his voice betraying anger, and then did not answer any questions.) He said that the episode shown in the videotape happened a year and a half ago. And he said he would cooperate with the investigation committee set up by President Abbas

UPDATE FOUR: Palestinian TV played it straight.  The top story was the presidential decision to suspend Husseini and establish an investigation committee, then Husseini’s brief, angry, statement to journalists was aired in its entirety.

UPDATE FIVE: Al-Jazeera TV did it’s first report on the matter tonight. It showed a brief excerpt from the Husseini remarks to the press. Then an anchor in Doha quizzed first Palestinian presidential aide Nimr Hammad in Ramallah, then the disgruntled Palestinian security agent who had also been shown on the videotape, Fahmi Shabaneh, was interviewed from his home in East Jerusalem. There was a brief mention of the role of Shabaneh’s former boss, Tawfik Tirawi who was moved to another job (supervision of the Palestinian Police Academy in Jericho) after the videotape entrapment, but who was subsequently elected to the powerful Fatah Central Committee at elections last August in Bethlehem. None of the Al-Jazeera correspondents in the West Bank were put on the story, and bureau chief Walid Omary instead did a report focussing on Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from West Jerusalem.

UPDATE SIX: AP reported that “Husseini told a news conference that he was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at deterring him from fighting for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem … ‘I was ambushed by a gang that works for Israeli intelligence’, Husseini said. “This gang used the tape to blackmail me financially and politically, which means that I (should) abandon my work in Jerusalem and leave the homeland. I did not submit to it’.” This AP report can be read in full here.

It’s too bad that Husseini himself did not resign, and apologize. But, like many others, he seemed to think that he might not have done anything wrong…

And, it took Abbas too long. The incident that the Israeli media began to expose at the end of January, with a crescendo of articles and TV reports including very embarassing videotape footage of Husseini sitting (like King Farouk, according to my friend Mohammad) on a sofa in a living room having a bizarre discussion with two women (one of them either his secretary or a secretary working in another office in the Palestinian Presidential headquarters in Ramallah’s Muqata’a), and then in a bedroom (perhaps not in the same place at the same day or time, but still absolutely embarassing) getting completely undressed, rolling into bed, between the covers, and calling out to a woman who remained offscreen (because she was aware that it this episode was being filmed by Palestinian security officials…).

It seems that Husseini was not fired because he did what is shown on the videotape + possibly more — but because it became public in the way that it did.

For the past week, people have spoken of little else here.

Rafiq Husseini being interviewed on television in better days – Ma’an News Agency photo

Rafiq Hussein in television interview - Ma'an photo

Palestinian politics wonks will have a field day analyzing all the conflicting internal rivalries that finally lined up to create a critical mass of consensus forcing this decision… One hint of this was the participation by former West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub in the discussion on Palestinian TV (in which Husseini himself was supposed to participate, but didn’t) two nights ago.

Probably the threats of the disgruntled Palestinian security officer who revealed the videotape to the Israeli media, to hold a press conference by 28 February if Husseini were not fired before hand, probably that did not enter into the equation at all…

As to the investigation committee — well, the Palestinian leadership has been aware of this videotape for over a year, and nothing happened. And, there have been many of these in these parts, concerned with many matters, with few results…

The three-member investigative committee is to present its findings in two weeks, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Palestinian "sex + corruption" videotape scandal continues

Some of the reactions are interesting — some Israeli comments on various news stories and blog posts say they are happy to learn that the Palestinian leadership is interested in sex rather than violence… “Let them make love, not war”, one Israeli wrote.

OK.

This only shows how the lack of contact, the media incitement against Palestinians, and the separation of peoples has created such a demonization that it has become impossible to view The Other as really just human.

But, this “he’s only human, and nobody is perfect” business does not adequately deal with what was shown about Rafiq Husseini, Chef de Cabinet of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the Palestinian “sex + corruption” videotape that was aired, repeatedly, on Israeli TV during the past week, and which is also now available globally on the internet via Youtube.

While we have seen, in recent years, images of a number of Palestinian men forced to strip down to their underwear — or more — to fulfill the imperious demands of Israeli mililtary forces, this is the first time we have seen one of the top officials (he couldn’t really be called an operative) in the Palestinian Authority take of all his clothes — all of them — roll into bed, and wait for a woman (who remained off-camera in what was clearly a “sting operation” to entrap him. When he is surprised by a group of four Palestinian men who walk into the bedroom (instead of the woman he was waiting for), Husseini keeps a lid on his anger, and hops out of bed and gets dressed again.

The defense offered by some Palestinian leaders, going now right to the top, is not inspiring.  Ma’an News Agency reported today that Abbas told a Dubai satellite TV channel yesterday that “When Israel wants to defame someone or some party, they launch accusations against him from all directions”.  Ma’an said that “Abbas referred to ‘Israel’s attack’ on him via a media interest in hundreds of leaked document and a sex tape allegedly used in a corruption scandal”.  This Ma’an report is published here.

For full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an chief editor Nasser Lahham yesterday wrote an editorial published by his news agency which — among other things — called on Husseini to resign: “No matter what pain it causes him personally, chief of staff Rafik Al-Husseini must resign immediately for the sake of the country and national interest. Bold steps are required to overcome this crisis and quickly – his silence is no longer enough … guilty or not, any competent media advisor would urge someone in his position, the head of the Office of the President, to cede all responsibilities until a commission of inquiry can be established and its results reviewed … [But] The leadership has unfortunately adopted the same tired and evasive tactics, failing to take responsibility”.

Nasser Lahham does see himself, of course, as a media pundit and a media advisor, and was invited to appear on the Palestinian TV show last night on which Rafiq Husseini was supposed to participate as well, but didn’t. Instead (see below) one of the women involved, apparently Husseini’s secretary, called in. On the TV show, Lahham expressed outrage and indignation, said that there was no real, free, journalism in Palestine, called into question the authenticity of the full videotape that was shown on Israeli TV, and said that he was once honored to have a visit from Rafiq Husseini. His editorial can be read in full here.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an News Agency last night published a “right of reply” from the disgruntled Palestinian Authority (PA) security officer who was shown on the videotape interrupting what Husseini thought would be a sex session, and who was interviewed non-stop on Israeli TV last week — after Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh flogged the story for all it was worth starting in late January in the Jerusalem post. In the “right of reply”, the disgruntled Fahmi Shabaneh wrote, among other things, that “The Rafiq Al-Husseini episode occurred in June 2008. Rafiq misled President Abbas about what happened. I was suspended for 10 days through a decision taken by President Abbas, after he was contacted by [PA official] Ibrahim Al-Masri Tawfiq At-Tirawi, who was abroad … After President Abbas reviewed the facts that I told him, and after I delivered copies of the tapes that revealed the lies and fabrications of Rafiq Al-Husseini, I was back at work on 31 November 2008 at Abbas’ request. I was also promoted as head of intelligence in the West Bank’s northern district on 21 December 2008. That I returned to my post infuriated Rafiq Al-Husseini, so I found myself imprisoned in an Israeli jail for a month and a half, after which they imposed house arrest from 4 January 2009 until just recently. After the Al-Husseini story came to light, Israel demolished part of my house, which is in At-Tur, East Jerusalem. The Palestinian general intelligence and the PA didn’t help me [after I was arrested by Israel – n.b. he writes later that this happened on 12 January 2009] by hiring a lawyer, paying legal fees, or paying expenses related to my house arrest, which resulted in my having to sell my home to cover the costs of the case and the arrest. I wrote President Abbas four letters, two others to the prime minister, another to the Fatah movement’s court [established by Abbas for inter-party matters], three letters to Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala), a letter to [PA Housing Minister] Muhammad Ishtiyah, and letters to the head of each security department and a plethora of other officials, knocking on doors to no avail. I still have all this correspondence … I will not waver from what I’ve committed to doing, and will host a press conference on 28 February 2010 in the event that no procedures are taken against those whose names I gave to President Abbas”.

There are plenty of questions out there about whether or not sections of the tape may have been doctored, whether or not the dialogue was electronically altered by sophisticated means, and whether some of the sequences may have been shot at different times, there are some facts that stand up:
(1) Rafiq Husseini is shown sitting in a small living room with two women whose faces are blurred on the Israeli TV video, apparently to hide their identities, but whose voices were apparently not altered. (Both the living room, and the bedroom which is shown later, do not look as though they are places where someone normally lives. The two rooms are quite small, and have the anonymous crisp look of a temporarily-rented furnished apartment. Nasser Lahham noted on last night’s Palestinian television program that Husseini appeared to be wearing a different shirt in the living room and in the bedroom which was shown later…)
(2) In any case, one of these women is apparently either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office in the Ramallah Muqata’a Presidential headquarters where Yasser Arafat was beseiged under constant threat of death for the last years of his life, and where Yasser Arafat’s tomb now stands.
(3) The other woman is a friend of the secretary, and was apparently sseeking something that Rafiq Husseini was in a position to arrange.
(4) One or both of these women were apparently aware that a unit of the Palestinian security services was seeking to get Rafiq Husseini in a compromised and ridiculous position on videotape; and cooperated with this operation.
(5) The conversation between Husseini and the two women in the living room did not have the tone of a normal social interaction. Husseini appeared arrogant, and bantered in a suggestive way.
(6) Though it is clearly suggested, it is not absolutely certain either (a) that the bedroom was in the same apartment as the living room shown on the videotape, or (b) whether or not the presence of Husseini in both rooms happened in sequence on the same day.
(7) What is clear is that Husseini in the living room was being asked for something … and Husseini in the bedroom was clearly expecting a sexual encounter from a woman to whom he called out, but remained off camera.
(8) At least some of the men who entered the bedroom and surprised the naked Husseini waiting expectantly between the sheets were recognized by Husseini as Palestinian.
(9) One of these women who was in the living room — who identified herself in a phone call into last night’s Palestinian TV program as one of the two women, and whose voice seemed very similar if not identical to the voice of one of the women who was pictured on the videotape with Rafiq Husseini, and who apparently is either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office of the Presidency — said that almost everything that was being said was a lie (but neither of these women appeared undressed or in the bedroom with the visibly naked Rafiq Husseini). The explanation that this woman offered in her phone call last night was illogical, unsatisfactory, and implausible.

Many here are remembering Bill Clinton’s unforgettable testimony: “I did. not. have. sex. with. that. woman”.

(I should note here that neither the host of the program nor Nasser Lahham asked her any probing questions — they seemed embarrassed. Nasser Lahham wrote in his editorial published before the TV show that “Adults and children alike were left speechless when they saw what aired on Israel’s Channel 10 last night. How could parents explain to their kids, with any credibility, what they were witnessing? The shock was enormous”.)

It has been written in other news reports about this sex + corruption scandal that Palestinian society is “deeply conservative”. Well, yes and no. There is enormous social pressure to appear deeply conservative. But from what I have seen, observed, heard and experienced, I can state that everything that goes on everyplace else in the world also happens here. It’s just that here, it’s important to pretend that it doesn’t happen, and to save face publicly. Some people would call this hypocrisy. Palestinians would say it’s simply smart — and it would be not only utterly insensitive, but would show a complete lack of culture, delicatesse and good manners, and would also be incredibly stupid to behave otherwise, here.

Just this is enough to set aside all the other possible questions and discrepancies about the videotape (and about the motivations of the person who made the accusations, about the motivations of the Israeli media and the Israeli leadership and the Israeli secret services) and to show that something is very wrong inside the Muqata’a, and inside at least a certain segment of the leadership.

The episode(s) shown in the videotape aired on Israeli TV are reported to have happened in June 2008. And nothing was done, until now?

The crisis has been brewing since Khaled Abu Toameh published in the Jerusalem Post on 29 January his first article in this recent series. And nothing was done, until now.

The fact that the leadership appears to be tone-deaf, and prefers to lash out at all its possible opponents rather than acting as it should and must act, shows that this is just a repeat of the scandal concerning the lightly-taken decision to put off the first Human Rights Commission vote the Goldstone report … and it further erodes the political viability of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian Authority.

Another indication that something is wrong is the defiant reaction that there is no corruption so long as “the PA maintains transparency with donor countries and operates a strict oversight mechanism on their payments”, as one PA official reportedly told YNet, here — as if donor money is the only thing that is important, the only thing that needs to be handled correctly.

Who is this man?

Who is this man, really? (He is the Chief of Staff of the Palestinian President.)  Is all this just another Israeli conspiracy? Or is there something seriously wrong here? Does responsibility start at the top? Or somewhere in between? Certainly, it also has to start inside the heart, and conscience, of each person, doesn’t it?  What, exactly, is corruption? What is acceptable behavior for employers? What is acceptable behavior for men?  Where do they get such a sense of entitlement?  And why, if it was known for months, or even more, that there were problems here, might there only be action after an outcry, when the Israeli press takes up a massive campaign — while the Palestinian press goes into defensive mode?  What is the difference between this and l’affaire Taqrir Goldstone [Goldstone Report]?  Which scandal aroused more passionate public interest? What are the similiarities? [Hint, the tone-deafness, and the failure to realize the impact…]

Rafiq Husseini

This has previously been brushed away by calling it a “personal matter”. AP is reporting that the Palestinian leadership is “rallying around” this man — but maybe not … Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — who reportedly has known about the accusations against this man, and the videotape evidence which was broadcast on Israeli TV this week — was in India and Pakistan today. This matter has, however, now reached such proportions that it is no longer possible to imagine this man to remain in official functions. The next question is, will people be so relieved just to see him retire from view that they will not want to ask questions about why the Palestinian leadership knew about this for so long, without doing anything other than brushing it under the carpet?

Rafiq Husseini story on Huffington Post

The AP report says that “In the video, broadcast by Israeli TV, xxxxxxxxx is shown undressing in a bedroom and calling out to an unseen woman, heard off camera, to join him.  A former Palestinian intelligence official who says he secretly took the footage in collusion with the unidentified woman says Husseini demanded sex with her in return for using his influence to solve a family problem”.   This item is posted here.

See also our earlier post here (point 3) about the disgruntled former Palestinian Authority (PA) security official, Fahmi Shabaneh, and his claims.

AFP reported that “Palestinians were shocked on Thursday after Israeli TV aired a graphic video showing a senior official caught on a hidden camera soliciting sex from a job applicant.  The video, parts of which aired on Israel’s Channel 10 earlier this week, was shot by former Palestinian intelligence officer Fahmi Shabaneh, who has accused the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of widespread corruption.  In the video, xxxxx xx-xxxxxxxxx, President Mahmud Abbas’s chief of staff, is shown flirting with a woman Shabaneh said was seeking a job in the Authority before entering a bedroom, taking off his clothes and crawling into bed.  “How does this work? Should I turn off the lights or will you,” he chuckles from inside the room to someone off-screen in the video, now widely available on youtube.  Moments later Shabaneh and several other security men walk into the room, surprising a naked xxxxxxxxx, who holds British citizenship, and confronting him with the allegations. The video was shot sometime in 2008″.  This AFP report is published here.

The Israeli TV Channel 10 report can be found in full on Youtube. In it, xxxxxxxx is seen sitting in a small living room with two women whose faces are blurred to disguise them. One of them was identified as a secretary in the man’s office. The other one wants either a job, or some family issue resolved, or both. The women ask the man leading questions about the former and present Palestinian leaders, and he replies, with answers that are at the very least embarassing — whether true or not. Then, the man is shown undressing in a bedroom, calling out to a woman, to ask if he should turn off the lights. [There is no woman in the same room with him when he is undressed…] Then, the disgruntled PA security official and several other men walk into the room, and introduce themselves. The man gets dressed, without too much display of emotion.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian TV showed this man receiving a sports delegation from the United Arab Emirates.

By the evening, it was not only the Israeli media which had identified Rafiq Husseini by name — it was all over the main-stream media.  And Palestinian TV announced that Husseini would be making an appearance on the “All In The Open” live discussion, hosted by Maher Shalabi, after the regular nightly news.  He was joined tonight by Ma’an News Agency’s Editor in Chief Nasser Lahham.  But, Husseini did not show up.  Instead, a statement was read on the air in his name, in which said he believed he was the target of a conspiracy to discredit him and the Palestinian President.  He promised to reveal the full truth in due time, and said he was ready to be held accountable if it were proven that his had done something wrong.

Then one of the women who was shown in the film was speaking on air via telephone line (the voice was recognizable from the videotape) — apparently the secretary — and she said the other woman had been her friend for many years. The friend had a problem (with her daughter, it seems), and they all went together to her house. All the lies that have been told are just unbelievable, she said, after speaking at length. Her account did not make sense.

UPDATE: One Palestinian journalist in Ramallah said that he turned off the program in disgust as soon as it was announced that Husseini would not be participating. “I was hoping he would come forth and apologize”, this journalist said. “I could have forgiven him if he had offered an apology … Despite his very important position as one of the closest adviser to Abbas, he is new to politics, and has been here only five years. Before that, he was in London, working for at least 15 years with an organization providing medical aid to Palestinians. And, his wife is still in London”.

The AP story, developed later, reported additionally that “Shabaneh said he began investigating Husseini after a woman complained that the chief of staff made suggestive remarks when she went to his office to ask for help with a family problem. Shabaneh said he set up cameras in the woman’s apartment, with her permission, and filmed Husseini’s next encounters with her. In the video, Husseini is shown sitting on a couch in a living room, flanked by two women Shabaneh identifies as Husseini’s secretary and the unidentified woman who sought his help. During their conversation, Husseini is heard describing Abbas as aloof and lacking charisma and says Arafat surrounded himself with crooks. At some point, Husseini alludes to his own influence. ‘Would you like a decree? Would you like me to issue a presidential decree for you?’ he asks, though it’s not clear to which of the two women the remark is addressed. In a later scene, Husseini is shown undressing, alone, in a bedroom. He gets into bed, plumps the pillows and calls out to the unseen woman to join him. ‘Do I turn off the light or do you? What is the procedure?’ he is heard asking the woman.  Moments later, Shabaneh enters the room with three other men and identifies himself. Husseini jumps out of bed and gets dressed.
The official Palestinian media have not reported the details, but the video appeared on YouTube and quickly became a main topic of conversation across the Palestinian territories. The independent West Bank-based Maan news agency urged Husseini in an editorial to step down pending an investigation, arguing that he could no longer carry out his job effectively. ‘This is embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority, this is embarrassing to our people, this is embarrassing to our families’, Maan editor-in-chief Nasser Laham, who wrote the editorial, said in an interview. However, Laham also portrayed the Abbas aide as a victim of a smear campaign, calling Israeli TV’s airing of the footage ‘a lynching’. Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, promised an investigation. ‘There will be accountability, if it was proven that there were excesses’, he told Palestine TV. He said he believes the video is a result of entrapment, but that Husseini bears some responsibility”. This developed AP story can be read in full here.

It seems that PA officials have grown accustomed to the idea that “corruption” only involves donor money, and all the rest is … fair game. Yesterday, the Israeli newssite YNet published a story saying that “A high-ranking PA official said Wednesday to Ynet that the video revealed by Shabana is a personal issue known for quite some time and that his staff are not rattled by the corruption claims. According to the official, the PA maintains transparency with donor countries and operates a strict oversight mechanism on their payments … the PA noted that Shabana first negotiated with them to exchange monetary compensation in exchange for not publishing the claims reported Tuesday. ‘If we had any concern, we would have closed that file by paying Shabana’, said the PA official”.   This YNet story can be read in full here.

Fatah counting continues

UPDATE: It has just been announced that Mahmoud Abbas will give a press conference in the Muqata’a in Ramallah at 1:00 this afternoon — in about two hours’ time.

Apparently, the vote-counting for the important Central Committee seats has been completed, but the picture is not any prettier.

(At one point, a Fatah delegate told me, some ballot envelopes for the Central Committee had been put into the ballot boxes for the larger Revolutionary Council, and when they were discovered — the counting for the Central Committee was done first — they had to be added into the totals. Media sources then reported “rumors” that the contents of one ballot box was also entirely recounted…)

But, the net sum total of all this is that it turns out there was a tie for the 18th seat.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that there would be exactly 18 seats up for election.

Yesterday, when the tie was discovered, the head of the Fatah election commission announced that in accordance with a [new] decision from Abbas, the two tied candidates would both be admitted, making a 19-member elected Central Committee — just like that.

Abbas himself was nominated without prior announcement as party leader in a plenary session on Saturday, and this passed by acclamation, making him a 20th member of the Central Committee.

It is widely understood — there is no better way to explain this at the moment — that the Fatah Central Committee would have a total of 23 members. In his announcement that launched the elections process last week, Abbas indicated that there would be a few seats whose holders he would nominate [after the elections, allowing a certain margain for political largesse or punishment]- Those nominations that Abbas would make would then have to gain the “approval” of two-thirds of the new Central Council and the “accord” of two-thirds of the new Revolutionary Council [counting for that body may or may not be in a recount phase, but in any case it is expected to continue until tomorrow, Friday].

What is not clear is whether this new announcement of 19 elected Central Committee members would mean that Abbas would thus only name three appointed members, or whether there would suddenly be a decision to name a couple of more appointed members as well. After all, there are a number of ruffled political feathers that need smoothing and soothing …

In any case, the larger Revolutionary Council would also have some members appointed in the same way, but this is of lesser interest.

In addition, it appears that it is also possible for Abbas to name some “observers” to both bodies.

Meanwhile, there has still been no closure of the Fatah Sixth General Conference, which opened in Bethlehem on 4 August.

Today’s Jerusalem Post reported that “Senior Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday demanded an investigation into alleged fraud in this week’s election for the faction’s central committee. Meanwhile, the final results of the vote, which were announced late Wednesday at a press conference in Bethlehem, gave another seat to Tayeb Abdel Rahim, an old-guard Fatah leader and close aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The announcement had been delayed following requests from some candidates to hold a recount of the votes …
Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a Fatah leader from the Gaza Strip, said that many delegates from his area had been denied the right to cast their ballots in the election. Abu al-Naja, one of the candidates who were not elected to the Central Committee, called on the Fatah leadership to reconsider the decision to hold the vote without the participation of dozens of delegates from the Gaza Strip. But another senior Fatah official from the Gaza Strip, Zakaria al-Agha, said the mass resignations were in accordance with the faction’s internal regulations and not an act of protest … Many Fatah representatives in the Gaza Strip expressed skepticism over the voting process and said it was ‘inconceivable’ that nearly all the members of the Central Committee were from the West Bank. One of the representatives, Ahmed Nasr, accused unnamed parties of tampering with the results of the vote. He, too, failed to win a seat on the committee. ‘The results were changed so as to serve the interests of operatives with political and financial influence’, he said. ‘We have no doubt that there was forgery’.” This article can be read in full here.

There were several extensions of the voting deadline to allow full participation of the Fatah delegates who were stranded or blockaded in Gaza. Abu al-Naja was actually one delegate who managed to travel to Bethlehem, but he then returned before the Fatah conference officially opened, for reasons that were publicly explained as a protest against the inability of all the invited Fatah delegates from Gaza to attend.

It is clear that Israeli “coordination” facilitated the attendance of a number of Gaza delegates — I met some who arrived in Bethlehem on the morning of the opening session. Israel inexplicably closed all of the border crossings it controls for the three days prior to the Bethlehem conference (and some “coordinated” movement of Fatah delegates took place during that time).

The issue of the voting by Gazan delegates took a very large proportion of the time of the General Conference. A decision on a simultaneous procedure was made after a determination that some 350 out of s9me 500 Gazan delegates were present at the Sixth Fatah Conference in Bethlehem (though it is true that a large number of those 350 in Bethlehem had not been in Gaza for a while, and that some of them were living in Ramallah after having been evacuated following the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007).

On the weekend, the official Conference spokesperson Nabil Amr said — before leaving for scheduled medical treatment abroad — that it was very important that there be no objections to the election process, or to its results. He also indicated that there could be no criticism of the treatment of the voting from the delegates in Gaza.

What is not entirely clear is the procedure by which the Fatah delegates in Gaza actually voted — in particular, (1) how the secrecy of their ballots would be preserved, and (2) how fraud, including any surreptitious changing of their actual votes, was prevented.

Meanwhile, Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem reported today — in an apparent effort to deal with inconsistencies [not necessarily their own] that they had reported earlier — The confusion came after Fatah’s Palestinian Authority-linked establishment suffered major upsets in the leadership vote. Top peace negotiator Ahmad Quriea, who was in the top 20 at first count, remains ousted in the unexpectedly competitive race for 18 elected seats on the 23-member committee. Others, including jailed resistance leader Marwan Barghouthi and controversial former Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan, won seats for the first time. In late July sources said Abdul Rahim had decided not to stand for election to Fatah’s Central Committee, noting he hoped to make room for younger leaders to step up. The Fatah leader had earlier described the younger generation of Fatah as the ‘spine of the Palestinian national project’. According to the same sources, Abdul-Rahim was set to become a member of a new governing entity Fatah intended to form called the Higher Council, or Advisors’ Council. No such council has yet been made public, and no further mention of any higher council has been made. Sources said Abdul Rahim nominated himself for the Central Committee the morning of the vote. Following the first round of vote counting observers speculated that Abdul Rahim would be one of those four members appointed by the committee following elections. Vote counting for Fatah’s second-highest governing body, the Revolutionary Council, started on Wednesday morning and will last three days, according to Munir Salameh, the executive director of the Fatah congress in Bethlehem. An elected member of the movement’s top body, the Central Committee, Muhammad Al-Madani, said counting would take a significant period of time because of the large number of candidates (617) and large number of voters (2,241). He also said that the vote count would take place under the supervision of the party’s election committee along with monitors”. This can be read in full here.