Stephen Hawking celebrated on 70th birthday

The Guardian’s Science correspondent Alok Jha has written a piece on the occasion of the 70th birthday celebration of scientist Stephen Hawking reporting:

    “The world’s most famous living scientists turns 70 today. Professor Stephen Hawking has defied medical expectations, since being diagnosed with a form of motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given only a few years to live, to become one of the most accomplished physicists in the fields of black holes and the study of the early universe”.

Part of the birthday celebrations apparently involve a three-day scientific seminar in Cambridge, on The State of the Universe at which Hawkins will speak on the final day, Sunday [today].

    UPDATE: The Washington Post later reported that Hawking was not well enough, following a recent hospitalization, to attend the celebration in person, but he did deliver an address via videotape on Sunday, and “…in a recorded message played to attendees he repeated his call for humans to colonize other worlds. University of Cambridge Vice Chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz told the conference that Hawking, who is almost completely paralyzed because of Lou Gehrig’s disease, had only recently been discharged from the hospital for an unspecified ailment … In his recorded speech, Hawking pleaded for interplanetary travel, arguing that humans faced a grim future unless they spread out from their terrestrial home. ‘I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping beyond our fragile planet’, he said…”

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Silwan faces crisis-point: two simultaneous evictions + evacuations

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is facing a new crisis point.

According to a late-night report from the Silwan Information Center (Silwanic), posted on their website here, “Silwanic has been informed that the illegal settlement of Beit Yonatan in the Baten al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan will be evicted at 9am either tomorrow [16 January] or [Monday] 17 January. Beit Yonatan is not the only illegally-built settlement in the area, it has stood at the heart of the settlement issue in Silwan, its continued existence a telling example of the double standards of the Jerusalem Municipality, who have issued hundreds of demolition orders to date to Palestinian homes on the strength of questionable licensing issues”.

We have previously reported on this matter on this blog, including here.

Late last week, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein — who has previously pressed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to execute court orders requiring the eviction of several settler families from Beit Yonathan, and the sealing of the building which does not comply with Jerusalem municpal building codes — again called on Mayor Barkat to carry out the evacuation order.

YNet reported, here, that Weinstein hinted that the Mayor could be charged with violation of the law if he failed to act to enforce the court order. Weinstein reportedly stated that “the implementation of the order was ‘an obligation set by the court’.”

At the beginning of the new year (2011), Barkat linked the eviction and evacuation of Beit Yonathan with the the fate of the Abu Nab family, whose 60 members have been living for decades in a compound they built that includes a structure that formally served as a synagogue for Yeminite Jews in Silwan before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 (when all Jews were evacuated from the area).

Barkat, who continues to want to implement an earlier plan he has proposed for the Silwan neighborhood that would reduce the number of pending Palestinian home demolitions [from something like 88 to something around 20] in exchange for retroactive “legalization” of all other structures there (including Beit Yonathan), did manage to temporarily persuaded the Aterit Cohanim settler organization to withdraw a civil suit they had filed to compel the eviction of the Abu Nab family.

YNet reported last week that “Despite a compromise proposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat the State insists on implementing the sealing order imposed on Beit Yonatan in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein sent a letter to Barkat Thursday stating that a date in the near future must be set for the implementation of the order”.

But, the Attorney General has apparently accepted the logic of the Mayor’s linkage of the fate of the two neighboring structures — one inhabited by East Jerusalem Palestinians, and the other one housing Israeli Jewish settler familes and their private (though state-salaried) security guards.

YNet reported that Weinstein added: ” ‘I have asked the enforcement elements to try and have the implementation of the order be performed at the same time another order is being carried out‘ … He was referring to the evacuation of Arab residents from the Abu Nab house which is adjacent to Beit Yonatan. He stressed that the sealing order must be implemented ‘without the intervention of unauthorized elements’ and noted that he has informed the political rank of this decision. Weinstein even hinted to Barkat that he should be careful for his actions over the Beit Yehonatan issue could come to criminal proceedings. He referred the Mayor to the Attorney General’s directive which stated that “an elected representative’s attempts to intervene in favor of one defendant or another in criminal proceedings carried out by the criminal prosecution has no place and is inappropriate. ‘These actions harm the independence of Israel’s criminal prosecution system and could harm the parity of the criminal process, coloring it with political opinions, if in essence, if outwardly and in certain cases, the actions themselves could become a felony. Last month Barkat prevented the evacuation of Beit Yonatan at the last minute after the Ateret Cohanim foundation lifted its demand to evacuate the residents of Abu Nab house which previously served as a synagogue. Barkat declared that should the foundation not agree to temporarily withdraw their demand he will evacuate both sites on the same day”.

Silwan organizer Adnan Gheith, who is also a Fatah activist, withdrew his appeal at the end of December — apparently with the support of the Fatah movement — to an Israeli military order banning him, or deporting him, for a period of four months from his home and from all of the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”, and arrived in Ramallah this week.

For someone whose birthday is today – add. 1

You’re so vain, I bet you think this post is about you…

Here is a great message: “Every war has two losers“.   It was originally written by William Stafford.

Every War Has Two Losers” is also the title of a 32-minute documentary film about the views of poet + conscientious objector William Stafford (1914-1993), who refused to fight, even in World War Two …

The documentary is based on a book of the same title, “Every War Has Two Losers“, a compilation of William Stafford “journal entries that his son put together about his thoughts on war and reconciliation”, said one reviewer, here.

In the documentary, and in its trailer, posted on Youtube, W.S. Merwin, 82 years old, just named by the U.S. Congress as America’s poet laureate, says: “When its an ‘enemy’ it’s not a person anymore, it’s a target”.

The trailer, via Avner Cohen on Facebook (to whom I send thanks), is posted on Youtube:

Is Bethlehem the new Gaza?

This video posted on Youtube hereshows the dreadful Bethlehem “300” (or “Rachel’s Tomb”) terminal as looking a lot like Erez crossing into Gaza used to look, back in the days when tens of thousands of Gazans lined up in the pre-dawn hours to be herded through lines leading to daily employment in Israel.

Here’s another video — done two-and-a-half years agom apparently by a volunteer with the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) — showing the same thing, before the technology got even more “perfected”:

For someone whose birthday is today

There is an edited version of an interview with Leonard Cohen published today in The Guardian which makes me wonder about Leonard Cohen and love.

It made me think of someone whose birthday is today (not Leonard Cohen – his birthday is 21 September, as we already reported here . )

According to The Guardian, it is “an edited transcript of an interview conducted for the Canadian broadcaster CBC”.

It seems so cold. Maybe he was just nervous, there was no chemistry with the interviewer (I would not have liked being asked some of these questions), or he was tired, or … feeling (or made to feel) old?

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Getting a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint

I once drove through the Ar-Ram checkpoint with two flat tires, just praying that the soldiers wouldn’t be more difficult than usual, so I could get to a garage to put in enough air to get to a place where I could have the tire repaired.

That time, my tires were probably deliberately punctured in the war being waged by my neighbors over parking spaces.

Hair-raising as that was, it was nothing compared to suddenly having a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint last Sunday afternoon, in the peak heat of the day, as traffic trying to get out of Ramallah began to get out of control, and a collective electric road rage took over. Nobody was in a mood to help, needless to say. And the traffic pressure was increasing, and the heat was unbearable, and then the wilder drivers began driving on the other side of the road, and on the space on the side of the other side of the road, where I had pulled over to get out of the way and to try to think what to do next. They kicked up more dust, the hot wind was blowing, and they drove directly toward me in a stupid game of chicken, trying to bully me to get out of their way (they were really not where they were supposed to be, but that didn’t matter at all to them). They didn’t even think that I might have been there because I had a totally collapsed tire. No, for them, I was there just to be annoying and to bother them by getting in their way. It was, to be perfectly honest, scary. And hot.

The traffic gets out of control at Qalandia for one simple reason — too much traffic is funneled through a too-narrow space, and there is no traffic control allowed by the Israeli military near the checkpoint. So, it becomes a laboratory of the law of the jungle, where the strongest rule. And a multi-hour gridlock ensues.

I was trying to think what to do next. Then, I called Ibrahim, who I had just seen at his worksite, and who had big responsibilities. But he said without hesitation: “I am coming”, and he came right away, with his assistant, and they saved me, really saved me, an act of kindness and sympathetic solidarity for which I am extremely grateful. And all the time, as Ibrahim and his assistant were changing my tire, they were being greeted and exchanging greetings with friends slowly passing by in the gridlocked traffic, in the hot sun as the wind blew up gusts of sand, just outside Qalandia checkpoint. Then got back into their car and drove back to ar-Ram, merging easily back into the slow flow, headed back to the soccer/football stadium that is really just on the other side of The Wall from where I live, but so far away. Yet, coming back around from Jerusalem I can see the bright lights of the stadium lighting up the skyline. And, sitting here at my computer, I can hear the cheers and shouting and singing, whenever there is a soccer match on the other side of The Wall.

Photo of Jimmy Carter and Noam Shalit in Jerusalem on Friday 12 June 2009

Today, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met Noam Shalit, the father of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit who was seized in a cross-border raid in late June 2006, and who is still presumably being held somewhere in Gaza. Carter took a letter from Shalit’s parents to their son, and hopes to transfer it during a visit to Gaza next week.

Jimmy Carter and Noam Shalit meet in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem - Carter takes letter for Corporal Gilad Shalit held somewhere in Gaza

Israel has said that it will not re-open the border crossings into Gaza until Gilad Shalit is returned home safely, while Hamas has been involved in on-and-off-again negotiations which would involve the release of large numbers — over one thousand — of the 11,000 Palestinians currently being detained by Israel.  Noam Shalit just wants his son back, and has urged the Israeli government to do whatever is necessary.

A group of leading investigators and judges call for full international investigation into Gaza war

Sixteen international investigators and judges have written a open letter to the UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, and to the UN Security Council, calling for a full international investigation into alleged abuses of international law during the recent Gaza conflict — not just one limited to attacks on UN installations.

The call is supported by Amnesty International, and comes at a time when a UN Board of Inquiry is expected to report to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on its initial findings regarding attacks on UN facilities and personnel in the region.

The letter calls for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict that: (1) Has a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict; (2) Acts in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations; and (3) Can provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations of the law by the relevant authorities.

The letter stresses the need for an investigation into “all serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict”.

It — and the just-revealed report of what Israeli soldiers said about their “permissive rules of engagement ” in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead — put into context this outrageous statement, below, from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Despite our criticism and complaints, it is still posted on the MFA’s website: “To Israel’s great sorrow, innocent civilians in Gaza have been harmed. However, the figures of civilian casualties have been greatly exaggerated. Most of these figures come from Hamas sources, amplifying the number of civilians killed by including as ‘children’ teenage Hamas fighters and as ‘women’, female terrorists. According to an Israeli investigation, of the 1,100-1,200 reported casualties, 250 were civilians. The rest are believed to be terrorists or have yet to be identified, but given that most of them are young men in their 20s, it is not unreasonable to assume that they are also members of Hamas or other terrorist organizations“. This disgraceful piece of propaganda can be read in full here.
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Majority of World's 125 Jailed Press are Online Journalists

There are now 125 members of the press jailed world-wide, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) — and 56 of them are on-line journalists, “reflecting the rising influence of online reporting and commentary”, CPJ says in its newly-released annual census of imprisoned journalists.

According to its report, “CPJ found that 45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors. Online journalists represent the largest professional category for the first time in CPJ’s prison census … The number of imprisoned online journalists has steadily increased since CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its 1997 census. Print reporters, editors, and photographers make up the next largest professional category, with 53 cases in 2008. Television and radio journalists and documentary filmmakers constitute the rest”.

The total number of jailed journalists is down slightly — two fewer than in 2007 — and down from a peak high of 139 imprisoned in 2002.

The CPJ notes that its research “shows that imprisonments rose significantly in 2001, after governments imposed sweeping national security laws in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Imprisonments stood at 81 in 2000 but have since averaged 128 in CPJ’s annual surveys”.

The annual census also reveals that “Forty-five of the journalists on CPJ’s census are freelancers; most of them work online. These freelancers are not employees of media companies and often do not have the legal resources or political connections that might help them gain their freedom. The number of imprisoned freelancers has risen more than 40 percent in the last two years, according to CPJ research”.

And the CPJ reports that “The number of imprisoned online journalists has steadily increased since CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its 1997 census. Print reporters, editors, and photographers make up the next largest professional category, with 53 cases in 2008. Television and radio journalists and documentary filmmakers constitute the rest”.

The CPJ says that it “does not apply a rigid definition of online journalism, but it carefully evaluates the work of bloggers and online writers to determine whether the content is journalistic in nature. In general, CPJ looks to see whether the content is reportorial or fact-based commentary. In a repressive society where the traditional media is restricted, CPJ takes an inclusive approach to work that is produced online.

According to CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, ” ‘Online journalism has changed the media landscape and the way we communicate with each other … But the power and influence of this new generation of online journalists has captured the attention of repressive governments around the world, and they have accelerated their counterattack … The image of the solitary blogger working at home in pajamas may be appealing, but when the knock comes on the door they are alone and vulnerable … All of us must stand up for their rights–from Internet companies to journalists and press freedom groups. The future of journalism is online and we are now in a battle with the enemies of press freedom who are using imprisonment to define the limits of public discourse.”

And, the CPJ annual survey reveals that “About 13 percent of jailed journalists face no formal charge at all. The tactic is used by countries as diverse as Eritrea, Israel, Iran, the United States, and Uzbekistan, where journalists are being held in open-ended detentions without due process. At least 16 journalists worldwide are being held in secret locations. The CPJ reports that “U.S. military authorities have jailed dozens of journalists in Iraq–some for days, others for months at a time–without charge or due process. No charges have ever been substantiated in these cases”.

This information is published in full here.

Elsewhere on its website, the CPJ reports that 713 journalists (of whom over 11% were freelance) have been killed world-wide from 1 January 1992 through 11 October 2008 — and it says that 28.8% were threatened before being killed. and 18.7% were taken captive before being killed:

Type of death:
* Murder: 72.1%
* Crossfire/Combat related: 17.5%
* During other dangerous assignment: 10.2%
* Undetermined: 0.2%

Type of weapon used:
* Small arms (includes handguns, rifles): 53%
* Heavy arms (includes artillery, air strikes): 14.3%
* Explosives: 10.5%
* Knives: 6.6%
* Hands (includes beating, strangling): 5%

Suspected perpetrators in murder cases:
* Political groups: 31.2%
* Government officials: 18.5%
* Criminal group: 11.1%
* Paramilitaries: 7.2%
* Military: 5.8%
* Local residents: 2.1%
* Mob: 1.2%
* Unknown: 22%

Impunity in [these] murder cases:
* Complete impunity: 88.5%
* Partial justice: 6.4%
* Full justice: 5.1%

The CPJ also says on its website that “We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents—such as car or plane crashes—unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire)”.

This information can be studied in full here.