“Mideast Tunes” Jams for Change

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“We work against repression, discrimination and persecution” ~ Mideast Youth

guitarsIt’s no secret that the recent “Arab Awakening”, which has already toppled a couple of Middle East governments and sent others into a tailspin, could never have reached such epic proportions as it has without the Internet and specifically social media outlets. Countless numbers of protests and mass amounts of information have been catapulted into the global arena, courtesy of bloggers and social media activists. The power of the Internet has proven to be a force to be reckoned with–much to the chagrin of governments seeking to quash its effect. For the youth, in particular, social media is not only an excellent way to share information but it is also a vital way to cope with the anger and frustration that comes as a direct result of the political upheaval.

Most youths in the Middle East have to deal with political turmoil from the time they are born and many, unfortunately, will have to grapple with it right up until their deaths. For this reason many youths turns to different forms of self-expression, such as art or music, to cope.  Some politically active youths have taken to the underground to create unique music stylings that would be unwelcome, and in many cases illegal, in the mainstream media of their specific country. For years, the underground politically “amp-ed” music scene of the Middle East was one that was rarely seen and even less heard. But thanks to MidEast Youth, which is a grassroots cyber social activism network based in the Middle East, more and more youths have a welcome platform to share their politically-inspired music with the world.

In 2010 Mideast Youth launched Mideast Tunes, which is an online cyber stage that showcases the musical talents of various underground solo artists and bands in the Middle East. According to the mission statement on its website, “Mideast Tunes is dedicated to providing a platform for emerging musicians in the Middle East. Our aim is to encourage, inspire and expose talented young artists across the region.” The genres featured on the site range from heavy metal to hip-hop and everything in between. Some of the current artists featured include ‘Sop’ which is a hip-hop band based in Palestine and ‘Disturb the Balance’ which is an alternative rock band based in Saudi Arabia. The tunes may be different but all of the artists featured on Mideast Tunes share the same plight to create viable and positive social change with their music.

The website does not charge users or bands a fee for features to ensure that everyone has the freedom share their voice. However, it does rely heavily on donations to keep it up and running.

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The STAY HUMAN Flotilla to Gaza

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Freedom Flotilla II, named the Stay Human flotilla, will sail for the beleaguered Gaza Strip of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of June. The postponement from the originally scheduled March departure date is due to the complex logistics involved in campaigns to raise money for multiple sailing vessels and to outfit them properly and prepare them for their journey. Another factor is the political turmoil in the region, particularly what is happening in Libya and Syria.

The name Stay Human was chosen to honor the late Italian Palestinian activist Vittorio ‘Vik’ Arrigoni. His recent violent death, under circumstances still in question, left the Palestinian activist community stunned. Tributes poured in from all over the world, and people who knew him and worked with him and were touched by his charm and dedication could only work through their grief by rededicating themselves to his cause.

His favorite expression to his co workers was “Stay Human”, and thus the flotilla name.

“Our message of peace is a call to action, for ordinary people like ourselves, not to hand over our lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round, but to take responsibility for the revolution. First, the inner revolution- to give love to give empathy; It is this that will change the world.”

Two activists who contributed to this article, veteran  human rights activist and International Solidarity Movement (ISM) member, Greta Berlin, and human rights activist, ISM co founder, and member of the Flotilla Steering Committee, Huwaida Arraf, were among the many who paid tribute to “Vik”.

Ms Arraf delivered a tribute at his funeral and Ms Berlin had the following to say: “Nothing that we can write can capture the man who was so full of the joy of life, a man with the pipe in his mouth and the captain’s hat always tilted at an angle on his head.The man with the big smile and gentle nature, someone who used his physical strength to hold small children in his arms, sometimes several at a time. His laughter and his last comments every time we saw him will ring in all of our ears as we board the boats to return to Gaza at the end of May.”

In the past the organizers of the vessels have worked with the government of Cyprus. This coming flotilla is and will be working with the Mediterranean governments of France, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Ms Berlin urges all our readers to advocate for the flotilla’s safe voyage. People should call their representative, send an email, call the White House, and the State Department and inform them that the American people expect all on board the vessels to be safe.

Most of the monies raised were raised by grass roots fundraising. The only boat scheduled to leave from the United States, named The Audacity of Hope”,  was funded in part by activists going into the streets of New York with buckets and asking for contributions. The organizing group bought a 100 foot boat that will support from 50-60 passengers. Most on board will be from civil society with a few notables.

The boat will not carry cargo but will carry messages and letters from the American people, said Jane Hirschmann of the US Boat to Gaza. The relevant web site is: www.ustogaza.org. Americans who want to send a personal message should access the web site to find out the protocol.

Present estimates give the number of ships in the flotilla as between ten and fifteen. A number of the ships represent joint ventures. The ships are nation oriented though they are networks of national organizations and do not represent a government or an NGO.

There will be high profile people aboard these ships including members of parliament. For security reasons many are not currently named. It is known that they will include Colonel Ann Wright, Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, and Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin as well as Rugby star Trevor Hogan. Mr. Hogan has written an opinion piece in The Irish Herald in which he announced that he will be a part of the flotilla and will be aboard the Irish ship to Gaza.

Foremost among the cargo will be construction supplies, equipment for hospitals, water purification systems, and generators. Organizers would also like to be able to bring solar paneling for Green energy so that Gaza might become more independent  of Israel for its energy needs. However the costs are prohibitive. Individuals who want to contribute but hold back because the amount they can contribute is small should consider that their donation, along with others, will purchase a part of an important commodity. Please access the following web site: www.freegaza.org/donate.  

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza is in need of volunteers, and some of the flotilla passengers may elect to remain in Gaza to work with them. Huwaida Arraf cautions those who wish to remain that pre arrangement must be made with an organization including the ISM. ISM works with fishermen who challenge the limitations that Israel places on their right to move their fishing vessels – and therefore their livelihood – more than a few miles from the Gaza coast. Farmers with ISM help challenge the buffer zones imposed by Israel which zones prevent them from reaching their land.

People who must leave Gaza may be on the departing vessels. Again Ms Arraf cautions that they must have the proper paperwork required by the nations where they hope to be taken as this is an immigration issue that the Free Gaza Movement has no control over. While previous vessels leaving Gaza have dealt with the issue, the permanent opening of the Rafah border renders the issue moot.

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Pushing Freedom

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. 

~Abraham Lincoln

freedomThe word “freedom” is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation.  Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.

The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Press Survey” for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.

Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court.  However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of “hot water” over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.

According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the university’s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as ‘The Democratic Circle’ has retorted, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the university’s reputation as an educational institute.”

Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold. 

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Israel Burnishes Missile Shield as Mideast Churns

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Williams

PALMACHIM AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s upgraded Arrow air defense system, designed to blow up ballistic missiles in space, could be rushed into deployment before its 2014-15 target date, a senior officer said Thursday.

Partly funded by the United States, Arrow III is envisaged as the future Israeli bulwark against Iran and Syria, with shorter-range interceptors providing protection against rockets favored by neighboring Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas.

Political turmoil in the Middle East has focused Israel’s crisis planning and a senior military officer, speaking during a rare media tour of Arrow’s command center on a base down the coast from Tel Aviv, predicted a tighter production timeline.

“We’ve already shown how we can get systems out ahead of schedule when there’s a need,” he said, referring to Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor, which shot down several Katyushas fired from Gaza last month during what was billed as an accelerated field trial.

Arrow’s manufacturers had slated the new version for 2014 or 2015. But the officer, who could not be identified under military guidelines, said: “Don’t be surprised if it’s sooner.”
The Arrow command center, dubbed “Defensive Sword,” is one of the few Israeli military units to offer a public glimpse of preparations at a time of often dizzying regional instability.
Watching citizen revolts buffet Arab states, a few of them heretofore friendly, Israelis have preferred to fret quietly on the sidelines rather than risk been perceived as meddling.
But with the future of the stable, decades-old standoff with Syria in doubt, and arch-enemy Iran forging ahead with controversial nuclear and missile projects, Israel’s air defense corps has been promoted as a strategic deterrent.

While its officers insist they can protect the Jewish state alone, the corps has practiced meshing Arrow with mobile U.S. counterparts like the seaborne Aegis ballistic interceptor.

Ensconced amid a pentagon of ochre structures in Palmachim base, protected by bunker-like steel portals and passages, the Arrow command center is staffed around the clock by a dozen officers.

Though the lieutenant-colonel in charge Thursday was careful not to answer questions about current geopolitics, the exercise playing out on his computer screen seemed topical: a Scud missile launch by Syria and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies.

The unit trains regularly, under conditions meant to simulate the stress of a real war. The commander’s F2 button sets off the firing sequence for the Arrow interceptor missiles.

A battery of Arrow II — the system’s current configuration — could shield most of Israel, a major in the unit said. But Israel has deployed several batteries and drilled using them against salvoes involving “dozens” of incoming missiles.

Defense sources report an interception rate of 80 to 90 percent. Back-up Arrow batteries, or lower-altitude interceptors like Patriot and the yet-to-be-deployed David’s Sling, would be expected to take on missiles missed by the first volley.

As with Iron Dome, Arrow has an in-built thrift in its ability to ignore missiles determined to be on a “safe” trajectory away from residential areas.

Could such protection be extended to Palestinian cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should they, along with Jewish settlers nearby, find themselves facing an incoming missile?

“I’m in the business of protecting populaces, whether or not they pay us taxes,” the lieutenant-colonel said.

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