Diary of a Misanthrope

News, views and nihilistic ramblings from a London based writer and filmmaker. Occasional contributor for VICE, BBC World Service, Al-Jazeera English, High Times and The Daily Star (Lebanon).

Polish Fascists Attacked a Music Festival in Tottenham on Saturday

A piece I wrote for VICE on a fascist attack I witnessed and filmed last month. Link to the full article here.

On Saturday, a group of about 20 Polish far-right nationalists attacked the audience at a family event called Music Day, held in Tottenham’s Markfield Park. It was billed as “an all day celebration of music in tandem with celebrations across the world” and seemed to have passed off peacefully enough, as you’d expect a family music festival to. However, as it was drawing to a close, a group of skinheads rushed the stage, assaulted several members of the crowd and events team, and left one man in hospital with stab wounds. The crowd managed to push the skinheads back into a small corner of the park, before four riot vans turned up to shut down the melee and arrest several people for breaching the peace.

Footage shows festivalgoers and the far right exchanging missiles, including flares. Another video shows a man getting arrested wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Wielka Polska”, meaning “Great Poland”. The attackers were from a group of far-right Polish immigrants known as Zjednoczeni Emigranci Londyn (Emigrants United London). The police confirmed that a 22-year-old Polish man was charged with racially aggravated common assault, religiously aggravated common assault and common assault. Police said that another man – aged 22 – was arrested for racially aggravated common assault after a man’s kippah was pushed from his head.

I spoke to Rob, one of the organisers of the event, about what happened.

VICE: Hi Rob, can you tell me a bit about what went down on Saturday?
Rob: You know, this was clearly marked as an inclusive family event and it turned into fucking Armageddon. We have held this event for several years and never had any problems before. It had been a great day in the sun and everyone was having a good time.

Did you know about the group beforehand?
Well, while we were setting up two people from the local council came and warned us that “the BNP” were having a rally [in the area] today. So the council knew this was a possibility but I have no idea why it was presented to us as “the BNP” when these were clearly Polish nationalists. The council told us that they were aware of the situation and that there would be a police presence in the park all day. We sent out a text to alert people but we thought everything would be fine. But – at the moment when these guys came – there were no police around and that’s when it kicked off.

How aware of Zjednoczeni Emigranci Londyn were you before the event? 
We know they’ve been in the park and in the community for a while. We have seen their stickers and racist graffiti popping up over the last few months and there have been some standoffs between us and them, a few words here and there, but nothing violent. They have been waving nationalist flags and displaying aggressive behaviour, but nothing like this. This is the first physical confrontation; we did this event last year in the same place and it went off without a hiccup.

How did the fight start?
We were just coming to the last DJ set and the group came, I’d say there was about 50 of them, but only ten to 20 were the ones instigating the trouble. I was stood there with a friend immediately as they came and we stood against them. Before anything, one guy stole a beer from our bar, cracked it open and walked away. We tried to stop him from doing that and the beer was taken from his hand by one of us asking him to pay for it. Then another guy got on the stage for some reason. He was obviously inebriated, the way he was moving. By this point, more of them had started to congregate at the back of the stage. We instructed them to get off, but not a hand was laid on them. He asked us to move out of the way so he could get down and we let him do that, walking past a line of us peacefully to get back to his crew.

Okay. So how did that escalate?
There was then a standoff as they drew up to us, there were more of us and we were standing face to face. There was a conversation between the two groups in Polish – one of our guys was confronting the group in Polish as to why they were here making trouble and asking them to leave. The guy who stole the beer then started shouting in Polish, “Are we going to fucking do this, guys?”

Immediately after this, the skinhead who had been arguing with our friend in Polish punched him in the face. He fell to the ground and crumpled into the wheel of one of the vans. Once that happened, they charged at us. One of our group was stabbed once and he fell to the ground. Punches, bottles and flares were thrown and the fascists retreated into the rose garden.

Sounds pretty horrible.
There were babies there, you know? There were broken bottles being thrown, and there were children in prams. Could you imagine what would have happened if a baby had got hit in the face with a bottle?

Is the guy who got stabbed OK?
The stab was shallow and didn’t get to the kidney, it was superficial and he is going to be OK. Several people were injured though; two of our guys were left with large open wounds on their foreheads. We were lucky we had two paramedics in attendance.

Where were the police when this was happening?
We were let down by the police. They knew [the far-right nationalists] were going to be there and when we needed them the most, they weren’t there. There couldn’t have been more warning, so we feel disappointed there weren’t active police stationed for the duration of the day. They had been seen in the park all day; I had been told there had been an arrest made prior to the [main attack].

Polish far right stickers in Markfield Park

In a statement, North London Anti-Fascists referred to Zjednoczeni Emigranci as a “a relatively small but hardcore group”. Made up of ultra-nationalist Polish immigrants, they have about 350 members on Facebook. Their Facebook page seems to have been pulled for now, but when it was up was littered with ultra-nationalist iconography, racism and links to videos and stories about Polish football hooliganism.

The group are known to the local community, and according to several locals they have been a presence in Markfield Park for some time. A local skater said that he’d seen a rally take place in the park three months ago and that a group of about “200 of them were assembling and displaying nationalist flags, lighting flares and talking through megaphones”.

A local business owner and retired police officer who wishes to remain anonymous, said his business had been broken into three times by the same group over the past couple of years. “It’s been a while, a good few years. They had nearly 500 people in the park yesterday,” he said, “They’ve been congregating here, slowly building, over the last three and a half years now. This group has been causing a lot of issues here by drinking, damaging property and robbing people.

“We have been working with the council and the authorities but they are getting worse and worse and now we have a fascist Polish party here trying to rule the country. All of them are youths and full of energy and this is really worrying for us.

“We need help and protection from the authorities,” he continued, “we have our children that use this park and these guys are out of control. I have seen one of them getting arrested about six times in this park but he still comes back like nothing has happened to him, every single time.”

Unite Against Fascism have organised a rally outside Tottenham Town Hall today at 6PM, under the slogan, “Nazis Out of Haringey”. Meanwhile, North London Anti-Fascists have warned that, “We will not stop until every piece of ZE graffiti and stickers are removed or covered up, and their events so opposed by antifascists that they are forced to abandon them… if they dare to try to intimidate the communities of North London again we will be there to oppose and stop them.”

@OzKaterji

 

On Militancy and Resistance in Gaza, Palestine.

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In memory of Ahed, Zakaria, Mohammed & Mohammed Bakr and the countless lives destroyed by racist ideologies worldwide.

If you are 7 years old and living in Gaza, you are witnessing the 3rd major Israeli bombing campaign of your life, leaving thousands dead and even more injured and homeless. You almost certainly live below the poverty line and you are lucky if you have access to running water and electricity, which for the most part are cut off.

You have no passport and cannot leave Gaza, even to seek medical treatment as you are denied by a racist border guard.

Couple that with the likelihood that if you are 7 and living in Gaza you have almost certainly seen someone you know killed in front of you by an Israeli bomb.

How can you expect a 7 year old growing up in this hell not to grow into an 18 year old militant. I am 27 years old and have spent my whole life growing up in London, yet I am sickened to the point of apoplexy by the injustice of it all. It is difficult enough for me, a rational, non-violent atheist, not to want to arm myself to the teeth and fight to preserve the lives of the innocent. The Zionist state of Israel’s very existence depends upon ethnic cleansing and apartheid, yet the narrative driving everything is that Hamas is the problem.

Anyone that has lived the life that I have just described would find out quickly that to an ideology that views your very existence as a demographic threat that we are all Hamas anyway to these people. I don’t have a single ounce of condemnation in me for any Palestinian that grows up to be a militant, even a vile, murderous racist one. When you take away an entire people’s humanity you can expect nothing less.

Palestine will only be free when its people are freed from their chains, given the vote and had their humanity restored by tearing down the ideology that imprisoned them in the first place. Hamas is not the problem. Zionism is.

‘When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.‘ – Nelson Mandela

Tiocfaidh Ar La – Our day will come. No justice, no peace, no compromise.

Israel Killed Five Palestinians and Detained More than 400 in West Bank Raids

My latest for VICE:

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron. All photos by Oren Ziv

On Thursday, June 12, three teenage Israeli settlers between the ages of 16 and 19 were kidnapped while hiking through the West Bank in Palestine. Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrah, and Gilad Shaer were reported missing after last being seen hiking between Jewish settlements in the Hebron area in the West Bank late on Thursday evening.

Since the kidnappings, Israel has detained more than 400 Palestinians, including the speaker and several elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in ongoing raids across the West Bank. Of that number, 282 are allied to Hamas, the Israeli army says.

Israeli security forces also killed five Palestinians. Many are describing the actions of the Israeli army as “collective punishment.” The initial phase of the operation was described by Haaretz as “more a general strike against Hamas.” After two weeks, the Israeli government is finally starting to lower the public’s expectations of actually finding the missing teenagers. “As time passes, concern for their lives grows,” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told reporters near Hebron on Tuesday.

Jewish students pray for two of their friends that were reported missing on Thursday night.

Israeli political figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have accused Hamas of being responsible for the kidnappings. The Israeli government have presented no evidence to support these claims yet, but say that they have “unequivocal proof” that they will make it public soon. Hamas have denied involvement and dismissed the accusation as “stupid.”

One of the Palestinian victims in the crack down, 19-year-old Ahmed Sabbaren, was shot in the chest and killed as Israeli soldiers stormed the al-Jalazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah. I spoke to a B’Tselem spokesperson, Sarit Michaeli, who told me more about what happened. “During an Israeli military raid on al-Jalazoun refugee camp, youths confronted the army with stones and clashes ensued,” he said. “The army responded by shooting the youth in the chest with a live round. It’s quite common for IDF incursions into Palestinian communities to lead toconfrontations between youths and the army, that are one of the major causes of death and injury in the West Bank.”

Israeli soldiers tie up a Palestinian youth in the West Bank town of Halhul.

This escalation of tensions follows Hamas’s recent signing of a reconciliation agreement to end a seven-year division with the Palestinian Authority and the formation of a new unity government. Many political commentators have claimed that the Israeli government are using the kidnapping as political cover to remove Hamas’ political leadership in the West Bank and drive a wedge between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in advance of the upcoming Palestinian elections.

Writing for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, military and strategic analyst Alex Fishman said the kidnapping had created a “one-time operational opportunity” that Israel would use to “castrate” Hamas and suppress its “strongholds in Palestinian Authority territory to the greatest extent possible.”

Right-wing Israelis burn the Palestinian flag and shout racist slogans during an anti-Palestinian protest at the Gush Etzion junction, next to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem

The disappearance of the teenagers has certainly created the political space for a crackdown within Israel. Anger has been spreading. A Hebrew Facebook page entitled “Until the boys are back, every hour we shoot a terrorist” has nearly 20,000 likes with dozens of photos and comments inciting racial hatred and calling for the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians.

Israeli soldiers searching a Palestinian in Hebron

With the recent growth of the Boycott, Divestment ,and Sanctions movement and the collapse of the US-led peace initiative, Israeli commentators are talking about the cost of indefinite occupation.

The author and prominent Jewish studies academic Marc H. Ellis summed it up well in an opinion piece for Mondoweiss. “In occupation, the innocent suffer,” he wrote. “Can it only be Palestinians who suffer? There is a cost to occupation. Even the powerful have to pay a price. Jews have to pay a price—when they’re occupiers. Missing Jews are a terrible to price to pay. But, then, Israeli jails are filled with ‘missing’ Palestinians. So return the missing—on all sides. Including the land and ethics and service to one’s own people. When all the missing are returned then we could begin again. A fresh start, honouring all the missing, which, in justice, would be returned.”

But the return of the three teenagers is looking increasingly unlikely as time goes on.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri demanded the Palestinian unity government take responsibility and protect Palestinians from Israeli aggression: “The Intifada is the greatest event in the history of the Palestinian people, and it renews itself every time there is an escalation in Israel’s aggression,” he warned. “Resistance through every channel is the legitimate right of the Palestinian people.”

The cost on both sides of the conflict could be set to rise.

Follow Oz Katerji on Twitter.

On Tonight’s UKIP Victory and Britain’s Lurch to the Right

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 02.25.01Although the news that Nick Griffin has lost his seat as an MEP has brought me some joy tonight I am reminded of my earliest memory of racism. I must have been no older than 6 and watching a party political broadcast on TV with my father, pointing at the mosque we used to attend together surrounded by worshippers on a sunny day on-screen.

My father had to explain to me that this was a BNP broadcast, and the man talking to camera was explaining that he wanted people like me and my father out of the country because we were Muslim. It is hard to summarise in words how that felt to a child, or how it still feels today to be a victim of racial abuse, my best description would be that it feels like getting kicked in the stomach.

But really, I take no joy from today’s results. BNP racism has not been defeated in the polls, instead it has been assimilated and overtaken by a more nuanced, socially acceptable and insidious form of bigotry and our country and the rest of Europe will suffer as a result.

 

High Times – Lebanon Hash Growth Report

I was published in High Times late last year, it’s not online so here is the unedited article for your consumption.

Chilling out in a Bekaa Valley Hash Farm

Chilling out in a Bekaa Valley Hash Farm

Cannabis farming in the Baalbeck region of Lebanon is an ancient practice that goes back to beginning of recorded history. The plant is indigenous to the region and grows without care or watering.

The farmers do not usually process the plants themselves instead choosing to sell their crop to drug lords in exchange for a relatively small return. They earn not much more per hectare than the revenues they could get from other crops and resort to Cannabis because they do not have the seed capital necessary to start up orchards or grow tomatoes or other crops ventures. For Cannabis they do not need to buy seeds, invest in irrigation or pay for fertilizers. Drug lords then process the leaves into paste or oil and these are gangs usually affiliated with the contraband networks and the more extravagant gun battles and kidnappings associated with the drug trade in the region.

At the lower end of the industry you have farmers cultivating and selling the crop earning a subsistence income. However these farmers are fiercely protective of their fields and are often willing to use force to protect them from state intervention.

In 2012 armed farmers fought off state employed bulldozers sent to destroy the illegal plantations. A ceasefire was only called after government ministers promised financial compensation for the farmers which never arrived.

As a result of the Lebanese government’s inability to provide compensation to the farmers there is a temporary block on the destruction of Cannabis farms.

Once the crop has been harvested and sold it is processed by locals who then sell it to traders or to the local market and this part of the trade is controlled by a number of tribal families. Then you have the drug lords who ensure contact with international networks and export the drug. They are also generally members of local tribal families, however their power is derived from their alliance with the de facto forces controlling the political scene at a specific period.

According to sources close to the trade the smuggling routes used for all of this traffic are controlled by Hezbollah. With the tightening of the sanctions on Iran, money flowing to Iranian-backed party was reduced and as a result drug-smuggling has become a much needed fund-raising activity.

Some of the recent political developments in Lebanon are heavily linked to the local drug trade. According to local sources the recent bout of clashes between Hezbollah and Lebanese security forces headed by Ashraf Rifi were triggered by losses of revenue from government clamp downs on the trade. The recent spate of high-profile gun battles and kidnappings in Arsal also stem from families with deep ties to the local drug trade.

Most traditional smuggling routes go through the Arsal Jur which is a border mountain area that slopes down into Syrian territory. Arsal Sunni families work together with Shi’ite tribal families along the smuggling routes and according to sources many of the recent flare ups have been caused by deals that have gone bad due to the worsening situation in Syria.

On the ground things are also getting worse for the casual smoker, prices have increased on average by 50% a year over the last 3 years, meaning that 100 grams now will set you back around $500 with prices set to continue rising. “They have arrested 160 smokers and dealers in the last few weeks” said a local Beiruti resident. “We can’t get smoke anywhere now, it is becoming really hard to find, very expensive to buy and dangerous for us to locate.”

Pretty glad I published this and hope to do more for High Times, also links awesomely well with my VICE documentary:

Lebanon’s Hash Farm Wars

Got to host my own VICE News documentary, filmed in Lebanon at the end of last summer’s harvest.

Lebanon’s Illegal Arms Trade

Here is the 2nd documentary I filmed with VICE in Lebanon with my colleagues Rami Aysha, Phil Caller and Aris Roussinos following up on Lebanon’s illegal arms trade at the heart of its sectarian issues.

Lebanon: A Brief Timeline of Recent Events

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The assassination of Wissam al-Hassan

I began writing this on January the 21st in response to yet another car bomb attack on South Beirut. I am continuously updating the timeline below as the situation in Lebanon continues to deteriorate. I hope that  bringing together a list of recent events, starting roughly around the time Wissam al Hassan was assassinated and triggered by the Syrian Revolution, a better picture can be gained of the timeline of escalation for Lebanon’s own civil conflict.

Lebanon: A Timeline of Escalation

03/04/14 – The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon has now reached 1 million, 55% of the total refugees from Syria are now residing within Lebanon’s borders.

03/04/14 – Jabhat al-Nusra member killed at an LAF checkpoint in the Bekaa along with 2 others who were injured.

29/03/14 – 3 Lebanese soldiers are killed by a car bomb targeting a military checkpoint in Arsal.

26/03/14 – An 11 year old child is shot dead by a sniper targeting the Akkar highway in Tripoli

24/03/14 – Violence rages on in Tripoli over the weekend, IEDs and snipers responsible for increasing the death toll which now stands at 26, with over 150 injured

23/03/14 – Violent clashes break out in Beirut between Pro and Anti Assad groups as Sunni unrest continued in the capital killing one and injuring 8.

23/03/14 – Cross border rebel rockets and raids by Syrian airforces are becoming a daily occurrence.

19/03/14 – An 8 year old is killed in the Tripoli clashes bringing the death toll since the 11th up to 13 dead. A Syrian Helicopter also conducted a raid against targets in Arsal earlier in the afternoon.

18/03/14 - A Lebanese man identified as Ghazi Pierre Tohme was found choked to death in his tailor store in the Baabda town of Hazmieh, in a separate incident, Lebanese citizen Abdel Rahman al-Rifai, nicknamed Abu Draa, was found shot dead in his taxi cab in the Beirut area of Tariq al-Jedideh as Sunni protests sweep the country.

16/03/14 - A suicide car bombing kills 4 Hezbollah members including an officer in the Bekaa valley, Jabhat al Nusra claim responsibility as a response to the “rape of Yabrud”.

16/03/14 - Clashes begin to subside again in Tripoli, with the death toll of the recent clashes reaching 12 including at least one Lebanese soldier. Over 55 have been reported wounded.

15/03/14 - One dead, two injured in Bekaa rocket strike, Jabhat al Nusra claim responsibility.

11/03/14 - Clashes resume in Tripoli killing a 10 year old girl and leaving 13 others wounded.

04/03/14 - Five missiles launched from Syrian territory targeted the Beqaa town of Arsal on Tuesday evening without causing any casualties.

04/03/14 - Five missiles launched from Syrian territory targeted the Beqaa town of Arsal on Tuesday evening without causing any casualties.

04/03/14 - Three missiles landed in the Shiite-populated northern Beqaa town of Labweh on Tuesday without causing any casualties. ISIS claim responsibility.

03/03/14 – A hand grenade attack in Ain al-Helwe Palestinian refugee camp injures three.

03/03/14 - Syrian regime warplanes fired seven missiles at the outskirts of the Beqaa town of Arsal.

03/03/14 - Five rockets launched from Syria hit a Hezbollah-dominated area of eastern Lebanon on Monday, causing no casualties.

01/03/14 – Syrian rocket lands near Nabi Sheet

28/02/14 - Rocket fire from Syria hit the eastern Lebanese border town of Brital, slightly wounding a little girl, shortly after Syrian warplanes struck the outskirts of Arsal. Jabhat Al Nusra claims responsibility.

28/02/14 – Judge issues indictments in absentia for Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, Fadel Shaker and over 50 others and requests the death penalty in all cases.

26/02/14 – Lebanese army arrest Jabhat Al-Nusra commander Nidal Souiedan in Masharee al-Qaa.

26/02/14 – 2 Alawites shot and injured in Tripoli

26/02/14 – Special Tribunal for Lebanon adjourned till Mid-May.

25/02/14 – Pro Syrian revolution singer Marwan Dimachkie and writer of the song “Dig Your Grave in Yabrud” found shot dead in his car near Dbaye.

24/02/14 – Israel strikes Hezbollah targets in the Beqaa valley’s Al-Nabi Sheet near the Syrian border. According to the Daily Star 4 members of Hezbollah were killed during he assault. Hassan Nasrallah vows retaliation.

24/02/14 – Judge issues arrest warrant for Ali Eid, 48 hour ADP moratorium passes.

22/02/14 – Suicide bomb blast targets LAF checkpoint in Hermel killing 3 soldiers. Jabhat al Nusra claim responsibility.

20/02/14 – ADP official Abdel-Rahman Diab, (father of Aug 23 suspect Youssef Diab) assassinated whilst driving his Chevy along al-Mina highway by motorcycle assailants. Clashes continue in Tripoli with the ADP responding to the attack leaving 2 dead. ADP issue 48 hour ultimatum stating that “Tripoli will bear the consequences” if the responsible parties are not apprehended.

19/02/14 – Tripoli clashes resume, 2 injured.

19/02/14 – Twin Suicide Bomb blasts in Bir al Hassan kill 11 and wound 80 Abdullah Azzam Brigades claim responsibility. An Ain al-Helwe man is said to be the bomber, further giving credence to the idea that Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir is returning to power in Ain al-Helwe.

15/02/14 – Tamam Salam forms new government after 10 months, split between March 14th and March 8th alliances.

03/02/14 – Suicide Bomb blast kills 2 in Choueifat

01/02/14 – Suicide bomb blast kills 2 in Hermel

21/01/14 – Suicide bomb attack in Haret Hreik, Dahye, Southern Beirut. So far 4 dead, 35 wounded.

21/01/14 – Tripoli Death toll up to 6

20/01/14 – Tripoli Death toll up to 4 (including a 2 year old child)

19/01/14 – Tripoli Clashes resume, 1 dead, 20 wounded

17/01/14 – Syrian air strike in Lebanon’s pro-opposition Arsal kills 7. Heavy clashes reported in border towns.

16/01/14 – Car bomb in Hezbollah controlled Hermel, North Lebanon kills 4 and leaves 30 wounded. Jabhat al Nusra claim responsibility.

13/01/14 – Proceedings for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon begins, prosecuting 5 Hezbollah members in absentia for their role in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.

04/01/14 – Leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, charged with the Iranian embassy blasts dies in police custody.

02/01/14 – Car bomb detonates in Haret Hreik, Dahye, Southern Beirut. 5 dead, 60 wounded.

27/12/13 – Mohammed Chatah, an MP from Tripoli, a political moderate and Hezbollah opponent is assassinated in a car bomb in Central Beirut killing 4 others and wounding 50.

23/12/13 – Hezbollah fighters ambush and kill 32 Jabhat al Nusra militants in Wadi al-Jamala, East Lebanon.

17/12/13 – A car bomb is intercepted and detonated near a Hezbollah position in Labwe in the Bekaa, casualties reported.

04/12/13 – Senior Hezbollah commander Hassan al-Laqees assassinated outside his home in Beirut.

02/12/13 – Lebanese villagers attack Syrian Refugee camp, set it on fire.

01/12/13 – Tripoli death toll reaches 13

29/11/13 – Clashes renew in Tripoli

19/11/13 – 2 car bombs detonated outside Iranian embassy, 23 dead, 146 injured. Local Islamist group Abdullah Azzam Brigades claim responsibility.

23/07/13 – 47  killed and more than 400 wounded in two huge bomb attacks in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli on the Al-Tawa and Al-Salam Mosques. Arab Democratic Party implicated – Youssef Diab arrested in October in connection with the  attacks. Youssef Diab reportedly confessed to driving a rigged car to Al-Salam Mosque and detonating it while another member of the Alawite ADP, Ahmad Merhi, allegedly drove the other car and detonated it at Al-Taqwa mosque.

15/07/13 – 14 killed and hundreds wounded by a car bomb in Rweiss, a Shi’ite district of Southern Beirut.

23/06/13 – 41 killed (16 Soldiers and 25 militants) in clashes in the southern city of Sidon between supporters of hardline cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir and the Lebanese Armed Forces supported by members of Hezbollah. Fadel Shaker and Assir escape the compound before it is destroyed. Later it emerges that they have set up a new base in Lebanon in Ain al-Helwe Palestinian refugee camp.

09/06/13  – 15 killed in a car bomb in Bir al Abed, a Shi’ite district of Southern Beirut.

02/12/12 – 15-20 Sunni fighters from Tripoli killed in an ambush in the Syrian border town of Tal Khalakh further increasing violence in Tripoli. By the end of 2012 over 80 people died as a result of the clashes in Lebanon’s second city.

19/10/12 – ISF chief and Hariri aide Wissam al-Hassan assassinated in a car bomb in Achrafieh that also kills 7 others. The arrest of Michel Samaha is seen as a motive for his assassination.

24/08/12 – Sunni cleric Sheikh Khaled al Baradei is killed by sniper fire in Tripoli, clashes resume.

9/08/12 – MP and Minister for Information and Tourism Michel Samaha arrested for colluding with Syrian Security Chief Ali Mamlouk to transport explosive devices into Lebanon to be used on internal targets.

The Syrian Regime Is Using DIY Barrel Bombs Against Its Citizens

Here is my most recent piece for VICE catching up with Eliot Higgins AKA Brown Moses:


A bomb exploding in Darayya, Syria

The Syrian civil war is now in its third year, and the country’s citizens continue to suffer. The warring sides are stuck in a stalemate, millions of Syrians are now refugees, and, once the death toll reached 150,000, the United Nations stopped counting casualty figures. The West’s attempt at a peace deal was a total shambles, and even if there was an end in sight the country’s infrastructure is so badly damaged that it would take decades to repair. Essentially, everything is 100-percent fucked.

To make matters worse, the Syrian regime has changed its tactics, now using starvation as a weapon of war and increasingly dropping “barrel bombs” in an attempt to cripple the opposition. Unfortunately, these bombs aren’t exactly accurate, and the blasts have killed countless civilians, prompting John Kerry to label their use as the “latest barbaric act of the Syrian regime.”

With dozens of fatalities attributed to these bombs on a daily basis, the Syrian Air Force seems to have found itself a successful and low-cost tool for causing widespread destruction in opposition-controlled areas. I caught up with munitions expert Eliot Higgins to talk about the latest in cheapskate warfare.

Footage of an unexploded barrel bomb

VICE: Last time we spoke, the UN was still debating the Syrian chemical weapons debacle. Can you update me on what’s happened since then?
Eliot Higgins:
 The Syrian chemical weapons program is being dismantled, with the equipment and munitions already being destroyed. All that remains is the chemicals, a mix of mustard gas and precursors to various chemical agents, including sarin. The process is going slowly, with only a small percentage destroyed so far.

So the Syrians haven’t been keeping to their promised schedule? Are they cooperating?
Currently they’re behind schedule, and it appears that transporting the chemicals has proved to be more of a challenge than was expected by many people. Whether or not the government is cooperating is questionable, but there are certainly plenty of reasons on the ground that could explain the delay.

John Kerry recently came out in condemnation of the regime’s use of barrel bombs. Can you tell me more about those?
The term “barrel bomb” has been used as a bit of a misnomer in the media and by activists. In my experience, activists have used the term to refer to both conventional bombs dropped by aircrafts and DIY bombs, pushed out the back of transport helicopters. Recently we’ve seen a big increase in the use of DIY barrel bombs, in particular in Darayya, Damascus.

How are they designed?
When barrel bombs were first identified back in August of 2012, they really didn’t have a consistent design beyond being barrel-shaped objects—trash cans, large pipes, etc.—filled with explosives and scraps of metal. They were detonated using a wick fuse, like you’d see on a stick of dynamite, which was lit in the helicopter before it was pushed out the back. The problem with this was that it had a tendency to detonate prematurely, or too late, so I’d come across videos of them exploding mid-air, or smashed to pieces on the ground.

Recently we’ve seen a new type of DIY barrel bomb, which is much larger than the type used previously. This type is about six feet long, and three feet wide, has fins welded to the back, and an improvised impact fuse. The fins ensure the barrel bomb lands on the fuse, making the bomb far more reliable, and its increased size makes it extremely powerful.

How powerful are we talking?
Enough to severely damage a small apartment block, for example.

How accurately can a barrel bomb hit a target from the sky?
Not very. They’re dropped from very high up, so it’s not like you can target specific buildings.

Barrel bombs being dropped over civilian homes

So it would be fair to say these bombs are being dropped indiscriminately over civilian populations? 
I would say so. It’s not like you can hit a specific target with any accuracy. But, of course, it really comes down to where they’re being used.

Where have they been used most?
At the moment it seems that dozens are being dropped on Darayya, Damascus, every day. It appears they load the helicopters at the nearby Mezzeh air base and are dropping them in pairs.

Given everything you’ve said, would their use in this manner constitute a war crime under the Geneva Convention?
Potentially, yes—although I think a lawyer would be better equipped to answer that question.

How has the war in Syria in general progressed since we last spoke?
The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) has now begun to fight with other opposition groups, which is a major development. It’s unclear where that will lead, but it has obviously taken pressure off the Syrian government in some areas. Broadly, I would say the conflict is in a stalemate, with both sides making small progress in various parts of the country. But there’s still no end in sight.

What’s going on with the opposition right now?
The Islamic Front is doing pretty well. They were formed in November of 2013 and brought together a lot of Islamist groups. There are many different armed groups in Syria, however, and they don’t always do a great job of holding together.

Is there anything more in particular that you can tell me about the barrel bombs?
I’ve been tracking the use of DIY barrel bombs in Syria since they first appeared in August of 2012. It’s really only recently that we’ve seen this new type being used, and they are really hammering Darayya with them in the last month or so; there are probably dozens being dropped each day. The problem with tracking their use is that, as I mentioned before, activists tend to use the term “barrel bomb” to describe conventional bombs as well, so reports of injuries and deaths due to barrel bombs aren’t very useful for collecting data.

Why do you think the regime started deploying them in the first place?
There are various theories, but I suspect it’s to make the most out of their transport helicopter fleet, which would otherwise just be sitting around doing nothing. Their transport helicopter fleet outnumbers their attack helicopter fleet by quite a bit, so it makes the most sense to me.

Thanks, Eliot.

Follow Oz (@OzKaterji) and Eliot (@Brown_Moses) on Twitter.

An Interview with a Journalist Who Was Tortured for Investigating Hezbollah

Here is an article I published back in December for VICE about the fate of my good friend and colleague Rami Aysha, as soon as there is an update on the case I will update this blog entry.


Rami, pictured middle right

Rami Aysha was investigating Hezbollah’s curious practice of selling arms to the Syrian rebels – despite sending fighters to aid the side of Assad – when he was kidnapped at gunpoint. After being held, beaten and interrogated by Hezbollah, he was handed over to the Lebanese authorities, who released him on bail on trumped up charges of arms smuggling. Rami was tried in absentia as he was out of the country at the time of sentencing. He was also sentenced by a military court, despite being a civilian. So when the judge threw out his defence that he was a journalist investigating a story, he didn’t feel that justice had been served all that well.

Neither did Reporters Without Borders, who have called for the withdrawal of all proceedings against Aysha and have described his arrest as “unacceptable” and stated that “it is crucial that the Lebanese judicial authorities distinguish between journalistic investigation and illicit trafficking”. Lest you doubt his journalistic credentials, Aysha runs TIME Magazine‘s Lebanese bureau and has worked with many major foreign news organisations throughout the Middle East, including VICE.

Rami returned to Beirut yesterday. He went to court and his sentence was reduced from six months to two weeks. The fact that he was already locked up for over two weeks means that he should be released straight away, sources told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. He is now taking his case to the supreme court in order to be declared innocent. We caught up with him for a chat.


Rami, chilling out

VICE: Hey Rami, can you tell us how this whole situation started?
Rami:
 On the 30th of August I was doing a report about arms dealing and arms trafficking in Lebanon when I was kidnapped by Hezbollah and tortured for three hours. The torture continued after I was handed to Lebanese intelligence, who kept me without water, food and sleep for three days. A week after my arrest I saw the military judge who issued an arrest warrant against me and I stayed in prison for one month. After that, I was released on bail and since then I have been attending the hearings.

What did you find out that was so important that Hezbollah felt it necessary to kidnap you?
Well, I discovered that due to the corruption of Hezbollah and the overloading of their their warehouses with weapons, they are selling them to the Syrian opposition. They had no other option to stop such a report because I was so close to providing evidence to the whole world that Hezbollah is corrupt and they are sending their poison to destroy the whole region and instigate the fighting in Syria.

So Hezbollah are fighting with Assad but arming the rebels. Why do you think they are doing this?
As I said before, due to the huge stocks of weapons in their warehouses some of their commanders are selling weapons to make money out of it. It is purely a business thing. I wanted to use my report to show that Hezbollah is not part of the resistance any more, it is a militia causing a lot of chaos in the region. Add to this most of the weapons sold in Lebanon are actually coming from these warehouses, which I was so close to visiting and filming.

What happened to you while you were in captivity?
I was kidnapped in the middle of the street, in front of eyewitnesses and driven to one of Hezbollah’s secret prisons. They tried to make me confess that I was purchasing arms but I insisted I was reporting. My camera which was smashed over my head by Hezbollah members; they even asked me which hand I write with and when I answered left-handed, they started hammering it with a gun. I was badly tortured and badly beaten, I had a broken nose, fingers, ribs and bruises all over my body. I was bleeding for three hours and screaming from the pain. I even passed out twice during my torture.

They knew that you were a just a journalist doing your job, right?
They knew because I identified myself as a journalist and said that I was doing a report. But they didn’t care. They just kept torturing me. They even told me several times that they promised to make me stop writing till the “end of days”.


Rami, chilling out again

After this they handed you to the authorities, what was their behaviour like?
Even during my interrogation by the Lebanese intelligence they were more focused on who I met, what reports I was working on – it was more about the nature of my job. Even the judge told me that if I solved my problems with Hezbollah he would release me. This shows how Hezbollah controls the judiciary system and especially the military tribunals in Lebanon. During my interrogation, I urged the judge to extend his investigation and try to arrest those who kidnapped me but he refused.

Do you think that in this instance the authorities are working for Hezbollah?
Sure. It’s not a secret that Hezbollah controls the army, intelligence and military tribunals and they can fabricate any story they want against you. You can never have a fair trial if your opponent is Hezbollah.

Have any charges been brought against the people involved in the arms smuggling?
For the dealers, no, because it directly involves Hezbollah but for the buyers, yes they are convicted.

So despite being able to provide evidence against Hezbollah nothing has happened to any of the members involved?
Nothing has happened to them and no one punished those who kidnapped and tortured me.

What evidence was presented against you?
I challenge them to show one piece of evidence against me. I challenge them to extend the investigation. What makes you feel sorry for Lebanon is that the criminal becomes a hero and the victim becomes a criminal. I am now convicted with the failed attempt of arms purchasing. My only weapon that night was my camera.

What do you think this says about press freedom in Lebanon?
There is no press freedom in Lebanon and freedom of speech has dropped to a dangerous level. We are turning into a real dictatorship. Journalists are facing their worst moment in the history of Lebanon and freedom of speech has disappeared.

But didn’t your sentence get reduced?
There’s no difference between two weeks and six months for me because being judged as guilty threatens my career as a journalist. My annual press credentials are needed to work as an official journalist – especially due to the nature of the topics I cover, they are very sensitive. Today, we take my case to the supreme court hoping to get innocence because I believe I was prosecuted for political reasons. I will fight for justice and innocence until the very end.

Thanks Rami. Good luck.

Follow Rami on Twitter: @ramiaysha

Follow Oz on Twitter: @OzKaterji

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