Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Leonard Cohen might not be Michael Jackson, but he has a devoted, even passionate, following in various parts of the world.   Israel is one of those places.

The occupied Palestinian territory is not.

Yet, an announcement has been made that Leonard Cohen will perform in Ramallah in late September — a day after he performs on 24 September in Israel’s Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv, with a seating capacity of 50,000.

Leonard Cohen’s appearance in Ramallah was, in fact, added as an afterthought, in response to the boycott calls for him to avoid performing in Israel.

Instead of cancelling the Israeli show, it was apparently thought that adding a Palestinian one might add some “balance”. But, it might be too late for that.  The situation is too polarized.

Now, both performances — part of Leonard Cohen’s multi-city and nearly year-long World Tour 09, with more mileage and events than Michael Jackson’s 50-concert revival in London — are in question, due to a small but growing international campaign to boycott Israel.

For Palestinians, it would be better if Leonard Cohen didn’t perform in Israel at all, and would only come to Ramallah (or Gaza).  But that’s more on the level of political symbolism, because Leonard Cohen is not at all well known among Palestinians.

Consideration was given to hosting the Leonard Cohen Palestinian concert in the 9,000-seat Feisal Husseini football stadium (upgraded to international standards with EU funding) in ar-Ram, right next to a particularly in-your-face section of The Wall which runs right down the middle of what used to be the main street between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  But, it was apparently then decided that it would be better to have the concert in Ramallah’s Cultural Palace (built with Japanese funding), a smaller and enclosed venue, right next to the hilltop where Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried (and where he gave his final performance on 1 July 2008).

After initial planning, a Palestinian opposition emerged, with objections to hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah (that is, if he still intends to perform in Israel).  Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year has only intensified the moral outrage on the Palestinian side.

The search for a solution has been put in the hands of Qaddura Fares, one of a group identified as “Young” Fatah leaders, and head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, “If there were peace”, there would be no problem, Fares indicated in an interview in his Ramallah office last week —  but, he said, “there is no atmosphere for peace” right now.

Qaddura Fares said that his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit.  “Yes, why not?”, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled.  “All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free”.

He indicated that Leonard Cohen’s agents/promoters have “accepted the idea”.  There is also a proposal, he said, that Amnesty International should somehow be involved. There are still a lot of problems, Qaddura Fares noted.  “A lot of intellectuals and artists have refused to come to Israel because of the boycott call.  And so, for the Boycott Forum, we would be making an obstacle for their progress if Leonard Cohen comes to Tel Aviv and Ramallah”.

He said that “if Leonard Cohen comes “just for summer, and for love, maybe it would be a mistake.  But, Israel has been dealing with out prisoners as if they were killers and terrorists, and if Leonard Cohen comes to sing for their release, then maybe it will recognize that they are freedom fighters.  Maybe if he comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

Qaddura Fares noted that a group of Palestinian intellectuals asked to meet him to discuss the issue, and he agreed.  “They tried to convince me it’s a mistake to bring Leonard Cohen.  They promised they would bring famous singers who would visit only Palestine and not Israel”. Why hadn’t these Palestinian intellectuals brought these singers before?  Qaddura Fares replied that he had asked them the same question.  He recounted that he told them: “Every Monday I go to the Red Cross and sit with the mothers and wives of the prisoners — between 20 and 50 women come every week.  But never did I see these intellectuals there.  And, I said to them, “What’s the problem if we invite Leonard Cohen.  We can continue our discussion”.

But, Qaddoura Fares said, he would leave the decision up to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club — and that he wanted “a collective decision”, meaning near unanimity, or at least no opposition.  Then, he said, “I can organize Fatah and other groups to support the invitation”.

The decision is imminent, Qaddoura Fares said.

Continue reading Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Gaza and more

For those who follow what is happening in and to Gaza, there is an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post that reported “Reeling from four damning reports in one week from human rights organizations about the IDF’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead, the sense among senior defense officials is that the ‘legal front’ against Israel is growing at an alarming rate”. This article can be read in full here

As we reported yesterday here, the IDF appears to have blinked, and in a statement issued by its Spokespersons’ Unit it said Thursday that “In addition to the investigations ordered by the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF is currently looking into complaints that were received from various sources – private lawyers, human rights organizations (including Amnesty) and media outlets (both domestic and international) – that raise different questions regarding the way in which the IDF operated during Operation Cast Lead. In certain cases, the Chief Military Advocate has already ordered the opening of a criminal investigation“.

That is important, and good But is it too late? There has been too much appallingly irresponsible disregard for other people here.

Maan News Agency reported recently that Israeli Intelligence forces have said that there has been a marked increase in “fake medical papers and documents being submitted to Israeli border officials by Palestinians in Gaza. The permits allow the patients to enter Israel … Israeli authorities, who claim most of the patients are ‘not sick’, and only want to enter the area to find work in Israel or the West Bank”.

Is that surprising?

Continue reading Gaza and more

Free Gaza expedition warned not to try sea voyage to Gaza – but if it does, it will lose Cypriot support

The Free Gaza movement has been warned not to try to sail to Gaza — its latest expedition of two ships was supposed to leave Cyprus yesterday but did not, after Cypriot authorities required additional detailed inspections — but the international activists say they “will not back down from Israel’s threats and intimidation”

According to their latest update, maybe only one ship will go, but they will not be taking cement. They say they have a plan.

The activists said last night that “our ships were not given permission to leave today [Thursday] due to concerns about our welfare and safety. Our friends in Cyprus tell us that the voyage to Gaza is too dangerous, and they are worried we will be harmed at sea”.

In response, the group says, they intend to deliver a waiver “signed by all going to Gaza, that we absolve Cyprus of all responsibility for our safety” — and will set sail anyway today, Friday.

If it actually departs, this would be the eighth Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus to Gaza — and it might be the last.

The two boats in this expedition were supposed to be carrying “3 tons of medical supplies, and 15 tons of badly needed concrete and reconstruction supplies”, according to the Free Gaza movement, which began sea expeditions to Gaza last August with the express intention of breaking the seige — which Israel has since elevated into a formal naval blockade of Gaza.

In its latest statement issued Thursday night, the Free Gaza expedition spokespersons said that “The purpose of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance is to take risks – to put ourselves ‘in the way’ of injustice. We take these risks well aware of what the possible consequences may be. We do so because the consequences of doing nothing are so much worse. Anytime we allow ourselves to be bullied, every time we pass by an evil and ignore it – we lower our standards and allow our world to be made that much harsher and unjust for us all”.

They added that “The journey to Gaza is dangerous. The Israeli navy rammed our flagship, the Dignity, when we attempted to deliver medical supplies to Gaza during their vicious assault in December/January. Israel has previously threatened to open fire on our unarmed ships, rather than allow us to deliver humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to the people of Gaza. The risks we take on these trips are tiny compared to the risks imposed every day upon the people of Gaza”.

On Friday afternoon, the group indicated it was buying childrens’ toys to take with them to Gaza (in place of the cement, which Israel bans). But actually, childrens’ toys are banned as well — as the Israeli military-administered sanctions are said to be designed to allow in only the most basic supplies needed, a *humanitarian minimum”.

The Free Gaza statement says that “the American consulate in Nicosia warned us not to go to Gaza, stating that: ‘…[T]he Israeli Foreign Ministry informed U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv that Israel still considers Gaza an area of conflict and that any Free Gaza boats attempting to sail to the Gaza Strip will “not be permitted” to reach its destination’. Former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney [who is on the passenger list] responded to this warning by pointing out that, ‘The White House says that cement and medical supplies should get into Gaza and that’s exactly what we are attempting to take to Gaza. Instead of quoting Israel policy to us … the U.S. should send a message to Israel reiterating the reported White House position that the blockade of Gaza should be eased, that medical supplies and building materials, including cement, should be allowed in. The Free Gaza boats should be allowed to reach their destination, traveling from Cyprus territorial waters, through international waters, and straight into Gaza territorial waters. The State Department has chosen to advise us to take the Israeli notification seriously. Our question is, Can we take President Obama seriously? Will he stand by his own words and allow us to provide relief for Gaza or will he back down?’.”

Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire is also on the passenger list, which is posted here .

There do not appear to be any journalists on board — and there has been precious little media interest in this saga.

The groups’ statement added that “Cyprus has been a wonderful home for the Free Gaza Movement over these last 10 months. Cypriots know first-hand the terrible consequences of occupation. They too know what it is to suffer from violence, injustice, and exile. Since our first voyage to break through the siege of Gaza, the Cypriot authorities have been extremely helpful and understanding of our goals and intentions”.

Nevertheless, the Free Gaza movement is indicating it plays to defy the Cypriot authorities on this matter.

A Cypriot diplomat in the region says that there is no physical way the Cypriot authorities will try to stop this Free Gaza expedition from leaving port, if they intend to do so. But it would be a violation of Cypriot law or regulations, he indicated, because there is no “port” at the Free Gaza expedition’s destination in Gaza.


(n.b. There is a little fishing port in Gaza City, but not a real seaport. The Agreement on Movement and Access [to Gaza] that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to become involved with negotiating — staying up all night on her birthday, 15 November 2005 — stated that “Construction of a seaport can commence. The GoI [Government of Israel] will undertake to assure donors that it will not interfere with operation of the port”. But, so far, there has been no movement at all on the construction of a seaport in Gaza.)


While this technicality (the lack of a “port” in Gaza) was not invoked by Cypriot authorities during the earlier Free Gaza expeditions, there has been a powerful international effort in recent months to close all the loopholes.

And, the Cypriot diplomat added, “we cannot stop them, if they tell us they’re going to Crete, or someplace else, then change once they’re at sea and head toward Gaza”.

But, he added, if they do so, they will lose their base of support in Cyprus.


Israel allowed the first expeditions to pass, explaining that they did not want to give the Free Gaza activists a propaganda victory. But, toward the end of the year, Israel took an increasingly tough stance. During the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December – 18 January), Israel announced its formal naval blockade on 3-4 January, the day that the Israeli Army began its ground invasion. And, a day or two before the Israeli government finally agreed to international calls for a cease-fire, the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice, signed a formal agreement with Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — the consequences of which were not all fully and immediately public — to participate in naval activities as part of a global interdiction of arms shipments that might be used by Israel’s enemies, either in Gaza or by one of Israel’s main nemesis, Hizballah, in Lebanon.

Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), who sailed with the first Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus to Gaza last August — and when he left Gaza by land via Israel’s Erez “border” terminal to return to his home in Jerusalem, he was arrested and jailed for his trouble. He was freed on a modest bail, and charges against him are still pending.

He told me recently that he was thinking of participating in this Free Gaza expedition — but that he had heard that “UN forces” were a second level of interdiction operating in the Mediterranean Sea, and might also try to intercept the next expedition. I asked the UN spokespersons in Jerusalem and at UNHQ/NY if they knew anything about this, but they all expressed astonishment.

UNIFIL is the first UN peacekeeping operation ever to have a maritime component. It was deployed after Israel’s most recent war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. According to a UNIFIL press release, “an Interim Maritime Task Force was deployed until 15 October 2006, when the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force led by Germany took over. On 29 February 2008, Germany handed over command of UNIFIL Maritime Task Force to the European Maritime Force (EUROMARFOR) led by Italy. Under this arrangement it was for the first time that EUROMARFOR – a Maritime Multinational Force formed in 1995 by France, Italy, Portugal and Spain to carry out naval, air and amphibious operations – operated under a United Nations mandate. The EUROMARFOR held command of UNIFIL MTF for one year, first under Italy’s lead (29 February – 31 August 2008) and then under France (1 September 2008 – 28 February 2009). On 1 March 2009, France/EUROMARFOR handed over the command of MTF to Belgium“… This press release is posted on the UNIFIL UN website here.

The European Union’s Maritime force, EUROMARFOR, which has participated in various naval interdiction missions, actually took over command of the maritime component of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and operated under a United Nations mandate for one year — from 29 February 2008 until 28 February 2009.

I then corresponded with a spokesperson of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) at UNHQ/NY, to ask if there were anything to this story.

Specifically, I asked, “Did either EUROMARFOR alone or EUROMARFOR-MTF intervene in any way with any of the Free Gaza expeditions (including the one that was interrupted by a forceful Israeli naval interdiction, after which the ship made its way to Lebanon for repair)? During this period that it commanded the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force (MTF), was EUROMARFOR involved in any maritime interdiction activity in the Mediterranean off Gaza?”

But the answer I received was this: “On the interdiction question, I daresay there would not be anything of the sort outside of Lebanon’s coastal waters, in line with Security Council resolution 1701 which defines the mandate of UNIFIL and its MTF.  I’ve also cc’ed colleagues at UNIFIL who may have suggestions/thoughts/insight on this”.

However, there was no further information forthcoming, either from DPKO in New York, or from the colleagues at UNIFIL.

Jeff Halper is not on the list of those aboard the two Free Gaza ships that were supposed to leave Cyprus Thursday.  He did not return a phone call Friday afternoon


Um Kamel stays steadfast in her East Jerusalem tent – Code Pink women try to enter Gaza

UPDATE: THE CODE PINK WOMEN’S DELEGATION ARE NOW IN GAZA CITY.  They — and their donations — were allowed to pass from Egypt’s Sinai through the Rafah crossing into Gaza today.  Apparently, this was accomplished with the intervention and support of Egypt’s First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak.

After all … Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day.

So, it’s a good occasion to remember Um Kamel, who has been living in a tent — all winter — down the hill from her former home in East Jerusalem, perhaps a kilometer north of the Old City, from which she and her husband were evicted at dawn one day in mid-November, when he was on his death-bed.

He died, in the nearby St. Joseph’s hospital, just a week-and-a-half later.

A separate mourning tent was erected next to the tent where Um Kamel has been residing.

Um Kamel in her tent below the home from which she was evicted in East Jerusalem

In the photo above, Um Kamel’s house is the low stone structure seen at the far right of the picture, just above the white plastic extension of the tent.

She stayed in the tent, on land owned by another East Jerusalem Palestinian, and remained there, despite the agony of her husband’s final days, despite the fact that the tent was literally bulldozed (it was just a tent! ) on several occasions by the Israeli Border Police (even a tent, on private land with the permission of the owner, needs a permit! ), despite the fact that there was no toilet, no shower, no kitchen, and all kinds of small animals and insects were running around, and that it was winter, and rainy and windy and cold. With a gentle manner, but evident determination, Um Kamel has received visitors — dominated by the Islamic movement, with a few Jerusalem-based Palestinian Authority figures, and the steady accompaniment of a few international solidarity activists — explaining her situation and her feelings.
Continue reading Um Kamel stays steadfast in her East Jerusalem tent – Code Pink women try to enter Gaza

Another Christmas journey to Bethlehem

BBC Correspondent Aleem Maqboul has just completed a ten-day journey — on foot, with a donkey (actually, a series of donkeys) — from Nazareth (in Israel) to Bethlehem (just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank). His intention was to replicate the journey taken by Joseph and Mary some 2008 years ago, as recounted by Luke in the New Testament of the Bible.

BBC correspondent Aleem Maqboul enters Bethlehem

Maqboul wrote in his trip diary’s final entry today that “throughout history, change in this part of the world has often come unexpectedly and in dramatic fashion. According to the Bible, a journey here made by a man, a heavily-pregnant woman and a donkey changed the world in an instant. Around two millennia on, their story still impacts on the lives of hundreds of millions of people”. The diary can be read in full on the BBC website here .

BBC's Aleem Maqboul walks toward Bethlehem with donkey

He also wrote: “Much of the trip was a reminder that, however obvious this sounds, people in a conflict zone are as three-dimensional as those anywhere else. There were, of course, sad indications of the tensions here. There was the silence of hundreds of people as they buried a 22-year-old militant in the village of Yamoon, after an Israeli army raid”. [n.b. – Maqboul wrote on this killing on 16 December, a day after he started his trip, saying: “On the news of one such raid, on a village close to the border crossing, I decided to take a detour. The raid was over, and the army had gone. They had killed a 22-year-old man, Jihad Nawahda. We were told he was a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group and had been wanted by the Israeli army for some time. Funeral prayers had already been carried out, and by the time I arrived, hundreds of men escorted the body to the cemetery for immediate burial, in accordance with Muslim tradition. A few black and yellow Islamic Jihad flags were carried in silence by the mourners”. This killing provoked a large increase in the number of “projectiles” being fired from Gaza onto Israeli territory in the vicinity of the northern Gaza strip. This entry in Maqboul’s trip diary can be found on this page.]

His final trip diary entry continued: “A sense of how far apart the worlds of Jewish settlers and Palestinian villagers were, how little interaction there was between the two and how entrenched their views are. And then there was the military checkpoint that greets visitors entering Bethlehem. But people along the way did speak of hope – though not necessarily expectation – that things would get better one day”.

BBC's Aleem Maqboul has company as he walks near Nablus

However, on 23 December, Maqboul passed through Ramallah and then Jerusalem on his way, and noted: “Ramallah is the city in which I have lived for more than a year-and-a-half. Amid all the chaos and conflict in other parts of the Palestinian Territories, Ramallah tries hard to cocoon itself. Three Palestinian refugee camps are incorporated into the city; Jewish settlements expand on the hills around it; access to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or parts of the northern West Bank has become difficult – yet the building work on new apartment blocks all over Ramallah points to the beginnings of economic progress. Socially too, the city has tried to remain resilient. An evening out in any number of fancy restaurants or bars hypnotises the wealthiest of Ramallah’s residents into thinking that all is well in the world. Many Palestinians here, outwardly at least, seem determined not to concern themselves even with the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, for example. Underneath, most acknowledge that Ramallah’s future is still incredibly fragile. Approaching the Kalandia checkpoint, through which I needed to pass continue my journey, I noticed a large, new piece of graffiti on the familiar grey … I negotiated the queues, turnstiles and x-ray machines with few hold-ups, and headed through the crossing towards the centre of Jerusalem. I was turned back at a subsequent, smaller, checkpoint [n.b., we know which one that was — the infamous “ar-Ram” checkpoint at Dahiet al-Bariid, and for more details and descriptions see our other posts on this blog], but it was a minor inconvenience as I knew a route around it…”

I don’t know what happened to the comments that I read on the site at an earlier stage of Maqboul’s journey …

Night of Power – Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Laylat al-Qadr at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem

The crowds at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Crowd control at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

A friend, who took these pictures, wrote me that “I can estimate more than 500,000 [people — possibly a record] were there tonight, from all over the country, even from Jordan. Everybody was extremely happy to be there, people would share the checkpoint experience but overall are happy to make it to the mosque. Many teams were on the floor to help people reach the different facilities and separate men and women, other teams were deployed to give medical assistance. One man from the Old City was giving free “Hamra and Baida” (in English red and white) a famous desert from Jerusalem. The Old City streets were busy and overloaded with people, till after midnight…

NOW, how did these people get there? There were flying checkpoints all over East Jerusalem.
People who arrived in East Jerusalem cars parked wherever they could – and even where they couldn’t.
It is a mystery where all these people, who willingly underwent great stress and hardship, some coming from the far reaches of the West Bank and passing through serial checkpoints, were able even to go to the bathroom, or to wash afterwards before prayers — facilities were severely limited, or lacking.

People got through on good will, and by spiritual uplift.

And those who came from the West Bank through the infamous Qalandia “border crossing” checkpoint, well, they went through a lot, and that’s a huge understatement.

Here are photos courtesy of Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch, who observed the passage of Palestinians through Qalandia. She told me that “The control was very strict, and it was very tense, very tense, but it didn’t come to shooting or stones. Instead, the army every time just took the young men to the military vehicles inside the checkpoint, and they just disappeared. That’s what happened to the shebab“, she said. She added that “it was very sad to see all those people coming such long distances, from Jenin, and everywhere, and then some being turned away…it was very ugly the way they were treated, like cattle, having to pass through one point for checking to another”.

Women lined up at Qalandia to cross to Jerusalem for Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Man blindfolded and being detained in sterile zone at Qalandia - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Young man blindfolded and being detained at Qalandia on the last Friday in Ramadan 2008

Blindfolded and detained young man being led away - to where - on last Friday in Ramadan 2008

James Weatherill of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that it had been very crowded — the most crowded Friday of Ramadan to date. “The IDF did take our recommendation to open up a humanitarian lane”, he said, “but they didn’t manage it well. At one point, they were letting only those with Jerusalem ID use the humanitarian lane, but we managed to get it back. We had 15 volunteers from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society helping us. However, we would often have to wade into the crush of the crowd when we saw people having trouble, to pick them out and help them get through to the humanitarian lane”. The humanitarian cases were defined as anybody having any difficulty walking, or blind, or with heart conditions (documented), or over the age of 70.

Overheard in the Muqata'a

U.S. officials who had been present in the just-concluded meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud today in the Muqata’a presidential palace in Ramallah, but who were waiting for the two principles to appear for a press conference, were joking around — with one or another of the five journalists who composed the U.S. traveling Press pool.

David Welch (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs), Rice’s aide, jokingly revealed to one of the traveling press corps traveling with Rice a small glimpse of a healthy-looking Cuban Cohiba cigar in his suit jacket pocket. Ohhhhhh, one of the journalists exclaimed … Cuban cigars are, I believe, still banned in the USA.

Then Walsh said (in a manner that clearly indicated that the punch line was meant as a joke): “I get one of these for every checkpoint”…

Today at the opening in The Wall in Dahiet al-Bariid

This morning, when I woke up, it was impossible to make coffee. There was no electricity.
When I went out, I found that the whole street was out of electricity (but not the Tibi house around
the corner). The grocer on the corner had no electricity either, and he was worried about his freezer full of ice cream. He was making coffee for himself using a flame on a gas bottle, and he shared a cup with me. The street in front of the opening in The Wall was dug up — nobody knew why — and one of the (Israeli-hired but Palestinian) work crew came in to buy cigarettes. He explained that the workers had hit the electricity cable when they were digging up the road. Why were they digging up the road? He shrugged. Nobody knows.

Workers digging up the road at the opening in The Wall in Dahiet al-BariidWork - 2Work - 3

IDF Colonel: Israeli army controls the West Bank

This information is in a report Monday night from Agence France Presse: “A total of 87 members of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s party, which was largely expelled from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in June 2007, arrived in the desert town of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. ‘(Israel) decided to take the humanitarian decision to transfer to Jericho 87 residents of the Shujaiya neighbourhood in Gaza because of the violence carried out by Hamas’, Colonel Yoav Mordechai of the Israeli army said. ‘We talked with them on the bus and we told them that Jericho and the West Bank are different from the Gaza Strip and that the Israeli army controls this region. They have to respect the law‘, he told reporters…[emphasis added]”.

The full AFP report can be read here

A sensitive State Department official — notes North Korean sadness

An unusually-sensitive U.S. State Department official has noticed North Korean sadness.


The North Koreans were sad at having to blow up a cooling tower to show that it was sincere about “disabling” its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Destruction of Yongbyon cooling tower- 27 June 2008 - AP Photo compiled from APTN footage

That’s what you get for testing nuclear weapons after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Associated Press reported today that “There hasn’t yet been any official North Korean reaction to the destruction of the most visible symbol of its nuclear program, but a U.S. diplomat who witnessed it said Saturday that the big blast saddened government officials there … the State Department’s top Koreas expert said he believed the event was an emotional loss for the Stalinist state. ‘I detected … a sense of sadness when the tower came down’, said Sung Kim, who traveled to Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of the capital of Pyongyang to watch the demolition of the 60-foot-tall cylindrical structure. ‘There is a significant degree of emotional attachment to the Yongbyon facilities’, he told reporters in the South Korean capital after briefing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials about the destruction of the tower on Friday. The reclusive nation, one of the most isolated in the world, has yet to inform its citizens of the development, which came amid a flurry of activity in the international effort to get North Korea to give up atomic arms, and it is not clear if or when it will. Kim said the sadness was most apparent on the face of Ri Yong Ho, the director of safeguards at North Korea’s Academy of Atomic Energy Research who was the most senior Pyongyang official present, but was shared by other North Koreans who were there. ‘(You could tell) just looking at the expression of the Yongbyon engineers who were on the site when this happened’, said Kim, who shook hands with Ri after the smoke cleared and the cooling tower had vanished from the landscape. ‘He said he just hoped that this would contribute to peace and stability’, Kim said, adding that he understood the North Koreans had spent up to two weeks preparing the tower for demolition…”

The full AP report can be read here