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.

Jerusalem Palestinian families come out against building on their ancestors graves

Members of prominent Palestinian families from Jerusalem have come out today in protest against plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on top of part of the ancient Mamilla Cemetery where their ancestors are buried. Until now, much of the opposition to the building plan came from Israeli and Jewish rights activists — including Danny Seidemann, a lawyer who founded Ir-Amim (which works for an equitably shared Jerusalem), and Gershon Baskin, co-Director of the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), who have argued, in part, that the construction offended their Jewish beliefs and values, and was against Jewish religious and moral teachings. They have tried, through the Israeli court system, and through appeals directed mainly to Israeli and international Jewish public opinion, to block the construction of the Museum of Tolerance on the Mamilla Cemetary in Jerusalem. Excavations began on the site in 2005. It is now surrounded by a high white metal fence, with security cameras posted all around, and armed guards in navy blue shirts and trousers, wearing black sunglasses. The initiative being taken by the Palestinian families today is reaching out to a larger audience, and includes filing a petition today in Geneva to various United Nations Human Rights bodies, and to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), which is responsible for protecting the world’s cultural heritage. The petition is also being addressed to the Swiss Government, which is the repository for the Geneva Conventions.

Mamilla Cemetary - http://www.mamillacampaign.org

More information is available on the website of the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, here. There is also a website for the 60 Palestinian families from Jerusalem who have launched this campaign, here.  This Mamilla Campaign website says that “Sixty individual petitioners who have attested that their ancestors … are interred in Mamilla (Ma’man Allah) Cemetery … including the following Jerusalem notables: * Abdullah Ali Koloti * Ahmad Agha Duzdar * Al-Amir Esa Bin Muhamad al-Hakari * Bader el-Din Zain * Ghaleb Jawad Ismail ‘Aref Musa Taher Abdul-Samad Ben Abdulatif Husseini * Jamal Eddine Al-Imam * Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn `Abdullah al-Dayri  al-Khalidi al-`Absi * Omar Saleh Zain * Qadi Burhan al-Din Ibn Nusayba * Qadi Mahmoud al-Khalidi * Salah El-Rahal al-Sadi * Shaykh Ahmad Ali Dajani * Shaykh Said Abdullah Ansari * TajuDin Abul Wafa Mohammad Ben ‘AlauDin ‘Ali Ben AbulWafa Al-Badri al-Husseini * Uthman Suleiman al-Kurdi * Yousef and Ali Beks Hallak * Yousef H.A. al-Kurd  Individual Petitioners (at 1 February 2010).” According to the Mamilla Campaign website, the petitioners also include Adnan Husseini, who is the Palestinian Authority’s appointed Governor of Jerusalem; AbdulQader Husseini, the son of the late Faisal Husseini, who was the PLO representative in Jerusalem and a member of the Palestinian team incorporated in the Jordanian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference; Rafiq Husseini, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Huda Imam, directrice of the Al-Quds University Center located in the Souk al-Qattanin in the Old City of East Jerusalem; and Sari Nusseibeh, head of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. In a press conference held in Jerusalem this morning, moderated by Huda Imam, several of the signatories briefly spoke, according to Adnan Abdel Razek (a former UN staff member who is an expert on issues related to Palestinian property seized after the 1948 war), who attended:  He said that Asem Khalidi noted that a number of men from Saleh ed-Din’s army, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, were buried in the Mamilla Cemetary.  Hajj Toufiq Abu Zuhra, Director (“al-Qayam”) of the Mamilla Waqf explained his efforts to block the excavations in the Israeli Supreme Court, and he reported that he recently found wood shavings scattered on other areas of the Mamilla Cemetary, which he and others from the Mamilla Waqf went to clean up — he said he feared this indicated that other areas of the cemetary would be obliterated and claimed for other purposes.  And Adnan Husseini called what was happening immoral and illegal. Much of the momentum behind today’s initiative comes from Palestinians who grew up and who still live in the diaspora, many in the United States. Press conferences are being held in Jerusalem, Geneva, and Los Angeles, home of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which is moving forward with its plans to build the Museum of Tolerance on top of the Mamilla Cemetary. Continue reading Jerusalem Palestinian families come out against building on their ancestors graves