The most glaring feature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine over the past five decades is the forcible seizure of Palestinian lands, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the unlawful construction and expansion of Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian territories. Tens of thousands of Palestinian homes and properties have been demolished by the Israeli authorities and entire villages have been uprooted and thousands of Palestinians have been
driven out of their homes. At least 100,000 hectares of Palestinian lands have been seized by the Israeli government for the settlement project. Palestinian resources, including fertile land, pastures, water and minerals, have been extensively appropriated by the Israeli authorities for creating and sustaining Jewish settlements.
The state-sponsored construction of Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank started in 1967, in violation of the Fourth Geneva convention. By 2017, Israel had established 237 settlements on the West Bank, settling approximately 580,000 Jews. Significantly, Jewish settlers enjoy the benefits of Israeli civil law, including legal protections and rights. Ironically, these benefits are not extended to Palestinians, who have been living in the same territory for centuries. Jewish settlers are provided with infrastructure, services and subsidies, which are denied to Palestinians. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are routinely denied permission to build houses. The settlements built by Palestinians, deemed "unauthorised" by Israeli authorities, run the risk of being bulldozed. Israeli authorities have placed wide-ranging restrictions on Palestinians' access to the use of water, land and other resources as well as on their freedom of movement and right to livelihood.
Netanyahu has pledged his continued commitment to expanding settlements in the occupied territories. Israel's military-run Civil Administration has approved thousands of new homes in the existing Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Israeli settlements and their continued expansion on occupied Palestinian territories are indisputably illegal under international law and amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Yet, Israel has brazenly defined international law and United Nations resolutions with impunity. For five decades, the so-called international community has watched the expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and the dispossession and repression of Palestinians with indifference and has not gone beyond pious words of condemnation. There has been no international action on stopping Israel from expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and from committing atrocities on Palestinians.
Israel has succeeded in creating, expanding and sustaining Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories mainly due to the financial and political backing of the United States. Israel receives more military assistance from the US than the rest of the world combined. Israel has received more than $120 billion from the US since the occupation began. The US has spent tens of billions of dollars backing pro-Israeli regimes in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Jordan. The US has consistently backed Israel and has vetoed all UN resolutions that condemned Israel for its atrocities on Palestinians and called for stopping settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Over the past five decades, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories has been marked by massive human rights violations, unlawful killings, an unequal system of laws and rules that privileges Jews and discriminates against Palestinians, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians, forced displacement of Palestinians, abusive detention and wide-ranging restrictions on Palestinians' movements. Israel has arbitrarily excluded hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from its population registry. Israel justifies all these inhuman measures in the name of national security. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, has said, "Israel today maintains an entrenched system of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territory - repression that extends far beyond any security rationale." Many Western commentators have pointed out that Israel today represents an apartheid state.
Israeli troops killed over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the past three conflicts in Gaza (2008-09, 2012, 2014). In many cases, the actions of the Israeli security forces are marked by violations of international law and human rights conventions and amount to crimes against humanity. In the West Bank, Israeli security forces have often used excessive force in dealing with nonviolent demonstrations by Palestinians. Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been languishing in Israeli prisons, most of them after trials in Israeli military courts. Hundreds of Palestinians, including those participating in peaceful protests, have been detained without charge or trial.
An overwhelming majority of Palestinians continue to live in poverty and insecurity, thanks to the Israeli system of entrenched discrimination and repression against Palestinians. Seventy percent of Gaza's 1.9 million Palestinians rely on humanitarian assistance.
As early as 1980, UN Security Council Resolution 465 called on all member-states not to provide Israel with any assistance "to be used specifically in connection with Jewish settlements in the occupied territories." Unfortunately, this resolution has been ignored by the US as well as the European Union. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which urges the international community to boycott Israeli goods made in the occupied territories and to impose sanctions on the country for its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, has not made any noticeable headway and has not made a dent in Israel's economy.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Amnesty International has made a call on governments worldwide to ban settlement goods from their markets and to put in place laws and regulations to stop their companies from operating in settlements or trading in settlements goods.
Reign of Terror in Al-Sisi's Egypt
In the wake of the 2011 massive popular uprising against then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi was elected as the country's first democratically-elected president. Morsi appointed Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then chief of the armed forces, as defense minister in August 2012. A year later, on July 3, 2013, Sisi led a military coup against the democratically-elected government and unceremoniously removed Morsi from power and put him behind bars. Following general elections in 2014, Sisi was elected as president.
Since 2014 Sisi has ruled with an iron hand and has unleashed a reign of terror and has resurrected the horrifying legacy of Hosni Mubarak. More than 60,000 people have been detained over the past four years. Most of the inmates in the country's detention cells are political prisoners who have been subjected to torture, force-feedings and denied access to their relatives and lawyers. Some of them have died due to torture in prisons. In the first half of 2016, 754 cases of extrajudicial killings were reported by human rights organisations. Following a decree issued by Sisi soon after becoming president, the armed forces were given wide-ranging powers to prosecute civilians in military courts. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 7,400 civilians have been prosecuted by military courts over the past three years.
Sisi, supported by the courts, parliament and the armed forces, has placed wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. In 2016, the Egyptian parliament passed a law that placed the operations of all non-government organizations in the country - estimated to number around 47,000 - under the oversight and supervision of a government supervisory body. In 2016 Egypt's supreme court confirmed a law that bans a public gathering of more than 10 people and lays down an imprisonment of up to five years for those who violate the regulation. Another law ratified by Sisi places strict censorship and control over the media. The Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, put in place by Sisi's order, has the authority to revoke the licenses of newspapers and TV channels and suspend publications and broadcasts. Since April 2017, a state of emergency has been in place. In June 2017, 64 news websites that did not conform to the government's censorship guidelines were blocked.
Sisi's autocratic style of functioning and the government's reckless and short-sighted policies have adversely impacted Egypt's economy. Egypt has a huge budget deficit, thanks to government overspending, massive state subsidies and currency flotation. The economic crisis led the government to devalue the currency by 48%. A gloomy atmosphere of political uncertainly and chaos and insecurity has had a negative impact on the tourism industry.
The specter of poverty, unemployment and inflation continues to haunt Egypt. Nearly 28% of the population lives below the poverty line and the unemployment rate is over 13%. The inflation rate has galloped to 30%, the highest in the past three decades.
The depressing political and social scenario in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other Arab nations has led some commentators to wonder if the fruits of the 2011 Arab Spring have gone sour.
Iraqi Forces Liberate Mosul from Islamic State
The so-called Islamic State or Daesh proclaimed a self-styled caliphate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in July 2014. At the height of its power in 2015, the Islamic State controlled a vast swathe of territory extending from northern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad, inhabited by tens of millions of people. The IS rule over these territories was exceptionally brutal and inhuman, which led to the displacement of millions of Syrians and Iraqis, the killing of thousands of civilians and large-scale destruction. The IS massacred thousands of civilians who attempted to flee. The IS inspired or masterminded deadly terrorist attacks on dozens of cities in Europe, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In October 2016, Iraqi forces, consisting of government troops, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militia and backed by US air power and logistical support, launched a massive operation to free Mosul from IS fighters. Realizing that its fighters were besieged by Iraqi forces from all sides, the IS commenders blew up the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the 46-year-old supreme leader of the IS, announced the establishment of the caliphate in 2014. Since June 2014, an estimated 6,000 IS fighters have been killed by the Iraqi forces.
In a massive push, Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from IS fighters on July 10, 2017. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on July 11, 2017 that it had confirmed information that al-Baghdadi had been killed. The US had put up a $25 million reward for his capture.
Much of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, lies devastated. Nearly 90,000 of the city's population of 2 million have been displaced. Iraq needs an estimated $1 billion for reconstructing Mosul. The future of Iraq remains uncertain. Kurdish forces have taken control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Shia militias, numbering between 2,000 and 4,000 fighters and backed and financed by Iran, are now a force to
reckon with. Though the IS has largely been defeated, it still controls several towns in the Euphrates river valley and is still fighting a losing battle in Raqqa. Its commanders are now focusing on 'lone wolf' attacks on European cities.
Unesco Designates Hebron as Palestinian Heritage Site
Hebron, located in the Israeli occupied West Bank, is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating from about 3000 BC. It was conquered in various periods of its history by Romans, Jews, Crusaders and Mamluks. The tombs of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his wife Sarah, who are held in great esteem by Jews, Muslims and Christians, are located in Hebron. In Jewish tradition, Hebron is revered as the site of the Tombs of the Patriarchs. Today Hebron is inhabited by over 200,000 Palestinians and a few hundred Jewish settlers. In 2015, Unesco affirmed that the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron are "an integral part of Palestine." The tombs were built by Muslims in the 14th century.
On 7 July 2017, the United Nations cultural organization Unesco recognized the old city of Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage Site. Unesco's ruling puts Hebron in the 'danger list' and allows for the allocation of immediate World Heritage Fund assistance . Israel sharply criticized the Unesco ruling for its declaration of Hebron as a site in danger and because it declared the old city as a Palestinian heritage site rather than a Jewish site. It tried, without success, to have the motion blocked. US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made a personal intervention to scuttle the motion, which did not succeed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the ruling as "delusional" and announced that Israel would further reduce the membership fee it pays to the UN by $1 million a year. Unesco's decision was hailed by Palestinian officials as a diplomatic victory for Palestine against pressure from Israel and the US to derail the vote.
The United Nations has passed a number of resolutions against Israel for the illegal construction and expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, for atrocities against Palestinians and for its gross violation of human rights. Unesco recognized Palestine with a full membership in 2011, following which the US halted funding to the UN body. In 2012 the UN General Assembly decided to upgrade the status of Palestine to a non-member observer state of the UN. In 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized for mishandling Muslim heritage sites in Jerusalem. The resolution strongly condemned "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims' access to their holy site, Al Aqsa Mosque." The resolution deplored the continuous storming of the mosque compound by "Israeli right-wing extremists and uniformed forces."
Afghan-American Pilot to Set New Flying Record
Around the world, female pilots account for less than 5% of commercial pilots. Some female pilots have dared to break the barriers by sheer will power and determination.
Shasta Waiz, an Afghan-American pilot, was born in a refugee camp during the closing years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The family moved to the US in 1987. Wait enrolled at an engineering college in Florida and after graduation obtained her pilot's license.
In the first week of July, 29-year-old Waiz took off from Florida aboard her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 on a long solo flight. She plans to fly approximately 25,800 kilometers, criss-crossing 18 countries, before ending the trip back in Florida in August. Her trip is backed by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Wait has launched Dreams Soar, a non-profit organization. On its website, she wrote, "Every time I open the door of an aircraft, I ask myself, 'How did a girl with my background become so luck? The truth is, anyone can be me.'