Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Terra Incognita: From beauty to brutalism The rise and decline of architecture in Israel


Terra Incognita: From beauty to brutalism
12/21/2010 22:39

The rise and decline of architecture in Israel.

Conrad Schick arrived in Jaffa in 1846. Born in the village of Bitz in the old German kingdom of Wurttemberg, his sharp mind brought him to the attention of Christian Fredrich Spittler, a clergyman who had a plan to revive the Holy Land, to bring the gospel to the East, and he needed missionaries. So he settled on the Schick to create a German Protestant foothold under the auspices of St. Chrischona Pilgrims Mission.

It doesn’t seem it was ever Schick’s destiny to convert the East. However his arrival in Jerusalem was to revolutionize the city in another way, through his architectural creations. It is not clear what professional training Schick had in architecture, but he had a keen eye for detail. He taught himself locksmithing, mechanics and watchmaking, and became a qualified amateur archeologist, scholar on the Holy Land and model maker.

Initially he worked out of a bruderhaus, a fraternity, that he rented with other missionaries. Lonely and quiet he tinkered on his clocks while the other brothers worked at soap making and other crafts.

He apparently wrestled with fears that he was becoming too worldly. It seems the death of his patron, Spittler, in 1867 may have freed him from his obligations. Or perhaps his finances ran low. In that year he took on a commission to excavate an area around a tomb that was to become the famed Garden Tomb in east Jerusalem, which some Protestants believe to be the true holy sepulchre.

Schick planned several Jerusalem neighborhoods, among them Mea She’arim, which was constructed in 1874, and the Bukharan Quarter. He designed the Bukharan Quarter to look like a European neighborhood, with wider streets than was then common in Jerusalem. His plans for Mea She’arim called for open spaces and courtyards and the use of the most modern technologies, such as street lights. Not all of his ideas were incorporated, but he left an indelible mark on both neighborhoods.

SCHICK DESIGNED beautiful buildings as well. In 1882 he built a house for himself on Rehov Hanevi’im, an unforgettable gem, which he called Tabor House. He designed Jesushilfe in 1867, a leper hospital in Talbiyeh that was run by a German organization. In the same year he began supervision of the construction of Talitha Kumi, a Christian girl’s school that once stood next to Hamashbir on King George Avenue. The building was considered of such architectural value that when it had to be torn down to make way for modern works, its fa├žade was preserved.

His work on St. Paul’s Anglican Chapel on Rehov Hanevi’im is considered a gem of Victorian “gingerbread” style. He also designed part of the German Deaconess Hospital, which is now the eastern wing of Bikur Cholim. Schick dedicated his life to Jerusalem and died there in 1901.

His architectural gingerbread was followed by Antonio Barluzzi’s often neo-renaissance style pilgrimage churches. It seems that, like Schick’s overall influence in 19th century Jerusalem, no great Catholic building was built in the land of Israel without Barluzzi’s hands having been dipped into the mold. Born in 1884 in Rome, his life did not seem destined for architecture. He obtained a degree in engineering and spent time in the army overseeing archeological excavations. For a while he worked as a builder, rising to director of construction before enlisting once again during World War I. He became a chaplain and somehow got himself torpedoed off the coast of Gaza and ended up in Jerusalem in 1918.

For the next 42 years until his death, he designed and restored some 24 major churches and Christian institutions, from the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem to the Church of Beatitudes that overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

Later he wrote: “Whenever possible – as now – it is the duty of all Christians to save these relics and to give them the honor that is due. And in this I do not believe that too much can be done, since no materials or work could be precious enough to be worthy custodians of such holy treasures.”

IF SCHICK devoted his energies to designing original structures and neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and Barluzzi devoted his religious faith to the Church’s attempt to reclaim the holy sites, then Ram Karmi’s achievement has been to translate the socialist pragmatism of Zionist planners into reality. Karmi was born in Jerusalem in 1931, served in the army and studied at the Technion and in London. The son of an important architect, the discipline ran in his veins and it was his expertise.

Like Schick and Barluzzi, his hands reached wide and he grasped many of the great projects of his day, from playing a role in the design of the Knesset, to building that great beast known as the new Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. He was the chief architect of the Construction and Housing Ministry until 1979, built the Supreme Court and has been hired to restore the famed Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv.

In contrast to Barluzzi’s neo-renaissance style that sprang directly from his faith and Schick’s tinkering, Karmi has been devoted to the Brutalist style. There is nothing more brutal than to behold a Karmi building. Endless reams of concrete flow across the landscape coming together in imposing fortress like structures. The Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, one of the most horrid large buildings in the world, is a monument to the fact that the person who designed it probably never envisioned using it himself.

And this is the tragedy of the country’s Brutalist architecture. It escaped the roots from whence it springs, the people, and devotes itself to the stringent socialist belief in the way people “should” live. This is the essence of the planned neighborhoods. Consider the difference between the buildings that Schick hoped to bequeath to his Jewish clients, the courtyards and open spaces, and the ugly decaying tenements the Brutalists have designed for millions of new immigrants. As Paul Barker and Philippa Louis argued in The Freedoms of Suburbia: “It is about the way people wish to live. Why should their wishes be trampled on, in the name of the plan?”

Zionism has put down roots in the Holy Land in the shadow of three great architects, one who loved Jerusalem, one who loved the Church in Rome and one who loved the concrete plan. We would do well to return to a Schick building and ponder what the next 100 years should bring us in terms of freedom, as best symbolized by what we build.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terra Incognita 122

Terra Incognita: The Israeli archipelago
Published in the Jerusalem Post 12/14/2010 23:22

The Jewish state is a country of islands. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own society.
Art project: Take one large sheet of white paper and write “Israel” at the top. Do not draw borders.

In the Palestinian territories and on the Golan, place dark green dots on the Palestinian villages and towns. Place orange dots for the Jewish villages and towns (settlements). For the four Druse villages of the Golan, place purple dots. For the village of Ghajer, the lone Alawite village, place a tan dot.

Inside the Green Line, place red dots for the 268 kibbutzim and dark blue dots for the 500 moshavim.

For all the Muslim Arab villages, place a green dot. For the two Circassian villages, place dark brown dots. For the 17 Druse villages and towns, place light purple dots. For the Maronite village of Jish in the Galilee, place a light blue dot. For the Christian villages, most of which are shared with Druse or Muslims, but several of which are mostly Christian (Kafr Yasif, Eilabun and Mi’ilya), place yellow dots. For the 49 illegal Beduin villages of the Negev, place dark grey dots.

For the 30-40 development towns – home to Russians, Ethiopians and Mizrahi Jews – place grey dots.

For the haredi towns, neighborhoods and villages, place black dots. For Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, place large empty circles (if you have done this project correctly, they should already have dots in several of them representing the Muslim, Christian and haredi communities).

The map you have drawn is a map of Israel. Of course there are no borders, there need not be. This is not the Israel you commonly think of, the wedge of land between the Jordan and the sea, with or without the Palestinian territories. This is the Israeli archipelago, and it represents much better the reality than the one found on any map. For Israel is more a country of islands, like those found in the Caribbean or the South Pacific. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own island. Forget the myth that people “mix” at the university or in the army. For the most part, they do not.

THE REALITY of the Israeli archipelago confronts us on a daily basis. It is a cultural and socioeconomic reality and it transcends many factors in society. A recent article by Amos Harel described the country’s largest city as “the draft-dodging state of Tel Aviv [which]... resembles the haredi city of Bnei Brak in its percentage of draft dodgers.”

He points out that “most of the draft dodgers from Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv studied at specific educational institutions – the former in a certain type of yeshiva, the latter in certain [secular] high schools.”

It turns out that Tel Aviv is ranked worse than the Beduin town of Rahat in draft statistics compiled by the army. The national religious sector accounts for a massively disproportionate number of officers and combat soldiers in the army. But alongside the disproportionate service is the disproportionate lack of service in the Arab, haredi and wealthy secular Jewish sectors.

Also, almost half of all Jewish women do not serve.

In the final analysis 52-55% of citizens do not do any sort of national service.

Statistics show such shocking dissimilarities among other places in society. Take the murder of women by their husbands and lovers; 18 were killed this year – seven Arabs, three Ethiopians and three Russians.

To put it simply, your chance of dying as a woman at the hands of your partner is not the same in Modi’in as in Lod and Ramle. And two communities don’t even share the same language for the murder of women – the Arab community, by and large, denies that honor killings even happen, while the Israeli Jewish community tends to excuse the killings as a cultural problem for the Arabs.

And suicides; who is killing themselves? Statistics show it is mostly people in towns with economically vulnerable and high immigrant populations. Of the 10 most common places for people to commit suicide, based on statistics from 1998-2004, we find Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Motzkin, Hadera, Kiryat Bialik, Bat Yam and Kiryat Gat. New immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia made up 32% of all suicides in 2004, which is out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. In contrast, few people in Nazareth or Bnei Brak are at risk of becoming a statistic.

So there are islands of death and wife killings in our society. But those are just a few of them.

THERE ARE islands in the media. The only place one will find people from the poorer or minority communities is on the reality shows (Big Brother, Master Chef, A Star Is Born, etc.); the rest of Israeli TV is dominated, culturally and physically, by a few elite communities.

There are islands of illegality, of squatters on state lands who do not pay taxes. Those are the 49 unrecognized/ illegal Beduin communities in the Negev, not to be confused with the seven legal ones the government built in the 1970s and 1980s. And the island of the foreign workers, stuck in South Tel Aviv, is helped by the islanders from North Tel Aviv who champion their rights.

There are islands of differing taxes for water. While the public was asked to pay extra for water in 2009 due to the shortage, the kibbutzim not only didn’t pay extra, but according to writer Nehemia Shtrasler they don’t even pay the same amount as everyone else for household consumption.

Consider the fracas over the Knesset bill that would allow communities to reject people based on internal criteria, or what is taking place in Safed or Jaffa between the local community and others who want to move there. “Racism! Racism!” we hear. But why is it not racism that 268 kibbutzim have been subjecting potential members to “selection criteria” for 62 years of the country’s existence? There is no greater pastime than pointing fingers at a group and demanding they live with the “other,” while your community fanatically keeps others out.

Israel is an archipelago, each community segregated from the others. Some rely on fences to keep the unwanted masses away, some live on state lands for free, and some are called “racist” in Karmiel or Safed for, oddly, asking that they be allowed to do what the others have done all along, and have an island to themselves. For better or worse, that’s the way it is; the least we can do is demand that those who want to break down the barriers between the islands first tear down the fences around their communities.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Terra Incognita 121 Why Eli Yishai Must Not Resign

Terra Incognita: Why Eli Yishai must not resign
Published in the Jerusalem Post 12/07/2010 23:51

His departure would add an injustice to the death and ruination the fire left behind. Leaving means walking out on responsibility, not owning up to it.

Last week, after being shocked by initial reports that 40 had perished in a fire on the Carmel, I was glued to the news and Internet trying to find out about the great natural catastrophe.

Always in the back of my mind was the worrying sense that it would not take long for the recriminations and complaints to start circulating.

Sadly the prediction came true. Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and Meretz MK, was the first to chime in. He must have begun writing his op-ed soon after learning of the fire, because it was ready by the early morning of December 3. He titled his rant “Israel devours its own people – this time with fire” and explained to readers that “you don’t have to be a genius to predict horrible disasters... Israel is a stupid, lawbreaking state.”

He appears to have been the first wellknown person to point fingers at Interior Minister Eli Yishai. “I also wrote about the minister in charge, the interior minister who is in no hurry when everything goes up in flames. He relies on God, whose salvation is instantaneous, like the blink of an eye. The minister is ready to set Jerusalem on fire at any moment as well.”

As if taking their cue, the blamers began the mantra: Eli Yishai must be the fall guy.

On December 6 Haaretz’s main editorial screamed: “In the wake of the Carmel fire, Eli Yishai must resign.” The grand poobahs intoned that “Yishai is responsible for the state’s fire-fighting forces, which were insufficiently prepared to contend with the massive blaze in the Carmel... Perhaps this is the way of a religious man, who prays with great intent and leaves the execution to a higher power.”

Noam Sheizaf, writing on 972mag.com declared “if Israel’s prime minister doesn’t show his racist and incompetent interior minister the way out immediately, he should face consequences, too.”

Inane comparisons came fast and furious.

Headlines blared that the fire was the “Yom Kippur War” of the fire services and “Netanyahu’s Katrina.”

Why is the initial reaction so unoriginal, so base, so ridiculous? Why are the comments so personal, castigating the interior minister and making fun of his belief in God? Had he been a secular Jew, or more improbably an Arab, what diatribes would have been cast on him? Yishai has defended himself. He and his friends have argued that the assault on him is a “lynching” due to people’s hatred of his political, ethnic and religious views.

Judging by the comments above, it is obvious that his religion has been a lightning rod for criticism.

MANY OTHERS have commented on Yishai’s past political behavior. A blogger at Tikkun Olam asked: “Do you think the corrupt Interior Minister Eli Yishai – someone far more concerned with deporting children of foreign workers from Israel than fighting fires – will resign?” Monday’s Knesset session, which should have been a solemn moment to reflect on the tragic loss of life, included calls for Yishai to go. Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz declared: “The interior minister should resign, because he has direct ministerial responsibility for the fire-fighting services.”

To their shame Shlomo Molla (Kadima) and Eitan Cabel (Labor) joined in. Using their logic, maybe it is Molla’s friends in Kadima who should resign, as they did little to improve the fire-fighting services when they were in charge.

But Yishai must not leave. His resignation would add an injustice to the death and ruination the fire left behind.

Leaving means walking out on responsibility, not owning up to it.

Resignation would send the message that the blamers, the whiners, the shrill voices are winning. All too often in recent Israeli history, they have been the winning voices. Those who cast the most aspersions, those who hate the most and scream the most are the ones who get the most attention. All too often in recent times “finding the culprit” has carried the day, rather than reasoned progress toward a better future. More often than not, the long knives have come out rather than the notebooks.

The only action of Yishai that is suspect is based on a Jerusalem Post report that shows he severed relations with a major pro-Israel Christian charity that wanted to donate more fire trucks (it had donated eight in 2009). But the accusations are confusing.

The organization wanted a photoop with the haredi politician, and for him to attend an event, “but they said no, and we dropped it.”

This doesn’t hold water; if the organization cared so deeply, it could have donated the trucks to the Fire and Rescue Service and, to be sure, its officers would have been happy to be in the photos.

Why did they need Yishai to be there; it was obvious it would run against his feelings toward a Christian Evangelical group.

When the Orthodox have accepted pro- Israel Christian donations, they have been ridiculed for it.

Did Yishai err here? It’s not clear.

Not one solid fact shows Yishai to have been negligent. During the previous decade, he was one of the voices in the Knesset calling for increased funding for fire-fighting services. Ze’ev Segal writes in Haaretz that “it is no surprise that documents have already been produced that show that the minister responsible for the Fire and Rescue Service, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, had in the past demanded an increase in the fire service budget.”

Yishai must not resign. The bullying rhetoric must not be rewarded. Instead, Yishai must go back to work and make good on his desire to see more funding go to the firefighting services.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Terra Incognita 120 The Iranian "octopus" and Wikileaks

Terra Incognita: WikiLeaks and the Iranian octopus
12/01/2010 05:52

The documents show that the Arab world understands the threat coming from the Islamic Republic better than the Americans do.

"[Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah always told us that the Arab regimes were collaborating, not only against their own people, but with others against the Arabs and now these WikiLeaks just prove how correct he always was.” That comes from an educated secular Muslim Palestinian woman, surely the kind of “base” that should be counted on to vote for Mahmoud Abbas. However the base is fickle and is captivated by the Iranian juggernaut.

The WikiLeaks documents have shown that not only are the Arab, and other Muslim governments, candid in their wish that Iran be crushed, they also have insights into how the Americans should fight terrorism.

LET’S BEGIN in Azerbaijan, a non- Arab state that borders Iran. There, President Ilham Aliyev said to the US on February 25 that “he supported economic isolation and believed it could be effective if enforced by a broad coalition.” Azerbaijan’s population is made up of Azeri Muslims, who are also a badly treated minority in Iran. Iran helped Christian Armenia against the Azeris in the wars of the 1990s.

The Saudis come out in WikiLeaks documents with a clear and strong voice in favor of attacking Iran. However they won’t send troops. One official in an April 2008 cable “recalled the king’s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program. ‘He told you to cut off the head of the snake’... Prince Muqrin echoed these views, emphasizing that some sanctions could be implemented without UN approval.”

The Gulf Arab states were particularly wary of Iran and encouraged the US to beat back the threat. According to a May 2005 cable, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi expressed interest in a harsh US response to Iran; “[he] agreed with [a] tough line with Teheran... A nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the Gulf region and possibly allow terrorist access to WMD. [He] asked Lt.-Gen. Dunn whether it would be possible for anyone to ‘take out’ all locations of concern in Iran via air power.” In December 2009 he reiterated his concerns, noting that Iran believes itself to be a superpower and could not be dealt with like North Korea. Like other Arab leaders, he stressed that a deal with Iran would not transpire. The United Arab Emirates foreign minister noted in a February meeting that “the nuclear issue is only one aspect of the Iran problem, and that Iran’s regional meddling was a serious concern. He pledged the UAE’s backing as the US rallies support for new sanctions but questioned whether they would achieve the desired effect.”

Qatar’s prime minister noted in December 2009 that in regards to Iran, “they lie to us, and we lie to them.” Furthermore the Qatari leadership understood that military force would eventually result and didn’t seem to express any objections. In a November 2009 conversation with the American ambassador, the king of Bahrain expressed his support for the use of force against Iran. “King Hamad pointed to Iran as the source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear program.”

Oman was on board as well.In an August 2007 meeting “Lieutenant- General Ali bin Majid al-Ma’amari, reviewed Oman’s view on Iran from a security perspective, highlighting Omani awareness of Iran’s deceptive tactics and expansionist ideological desires in the region.” Furthermore “Oman would not oppose imposition of further measures against Iran by the international bodies; however, Oman did not want to play an active role in advocating for such measures itself.” An April 2009 document reveals the degree to which the Jordanians understand the Iranian threat. This is interesting considering Jordan is neither a front line state nor does it have a consequential Shi’ite minority.

According to the American who met with Jordanian officials, “The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates. Iran’s tentacles include its allies Qatar and Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government sometimes seen as supplicant to Teheran, and Shi’ite communities throughout the region.”

The Jordanians “doubt” the US knows how to effectively deal with Iran. Furthermore “Upper House [of the Jordanian Parliament] President Zeid Rifai has predicted that dialogue with Iran will lead nowhere... military force becomes the only option: ‘Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.’” WHAT THE leaked documents make clear is that the region fears Iran. Everyone wants it to be contained, sanctioned and probably attacked.

However they want Americans, Israelis or Europeans to do it for them. None of them discussed any activities of their own. None of them is shipping weapons to the Ahwazi Arabs in southern Iran or Azeris in the north. No one is arming the Baluchi or Kurdish separatists. They all fear Iranian intrigues in Iraq, yet none of them will counter them.

The most Yemen’s deputy prime minister would do is admit to lying to his own parliament while President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised “we’ll continue saying the bombs [directed at Yemeni terrorists by the US] are ours, not yours.” The Kuwaitis apparently encouraged the Americans to take the Guantanamo detainees and drop them into combat zones in Iraq to “get rid of them.” That would be better than having Kuwait take back the “rotten” people. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested implanting the inmates with a chip and then releasing them. They could be tracked like horses or falcons. If they got out of line, a Predator drone could pay them a visit. These are inventive ideas (I’ve always felt the latter one would have been a good choice when Israel released the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in 2008) but they aren’t substantive.

There was a time when the Arabs did fight the Iranians, sort of. Al- Qaida members in Afghanistan, most of whom were Arab, hunted down Shi’ites and Iranian agents and murdered them in the 1990s. From 1980 to 1988 Iraqis died in droves to fight the Iranians. In that war, Saddam Hussein was bribed by Kuwait, the Gulf states and the Saudis to get his Iraqis to die to defend the other Arab states from Shi’ite fundamentalism. The Arab members of the Israelibacked South Lebanese Army fought Hizbullah for a decade.

Today’s Arab states are afraid even to tell their own base that Iran is a threat. Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt in Lebanon are begging Syria to save them from Hizbullah, even though it was Syria which probably arranged the murder their fathers. The WikiLeaks documents illustrate the complete breakdown and failure of the Arab leaders to realistically confront their problems, especially concerning Iran.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Terra Incognita

Tera Incognita: Bloody coexistence
11/23/2010 22:48

The bizarre horror and roots of the Kosovo organ-trafficking ring; almost all those involved were respected professionals in their communities.
In mid-November, the world media reported that Interpol was hunting for seven members of an organ-trafficking ring. They were accused of operating a clinic called Medicus in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Most news media were excited to reveal that two Israelis were among those named in the 46-page Interpol report. Less interest was shown in the other international members of the ring – Turkish and Albanian Muslims.

Only one Israeli, Moshe Harel, was wanted by Interpol in connection with the ring. The other Israeli, Zaki Shapira, was listed as an unindicted coconspirator. A Turkish doctor and five Albanians were also indicted for their role in diverse criminal activities such as “trafficking in persons and unlawful exercise of medical activity.”

THE ORIGINS of the ring appear relatively recent. According to reports, Lutfi Dervishi, a urologist and professor at Pristina University, visited Istanbul in 2006 to attend a conference. At the conference he let it be known that he was looking for someone who could perform organ transplants. He was contacted by Yusuf Sonmez, a Turkish national and surgeon who has a history of involvement with illegal organ harvesting.

Sonmez maintains a website which claims he completed his residency in surgery at Istanbul University medical faculty in 1984 and was an expert in kidney transplants. According to a November 3 article in Hurriyet he also worked at the Ministry of Health. He completed his first transplant from a live donor in 1993, and by 2006 claimed he had performed more than,1,300 kidney transplants. In 2005 he was running a private hospital in Istanbul. Turkish websites indicate that his hospital was shut down in 2007 after a police raid, during which his brother Bulent was also detained. He received a suspended sentence.

Sonmez again fell out with the law over organ thefts in 2008. His medical license was revoked and he was banned from the profession for six months – which news outlets criticized as too weak a punishment. At the time Turkish articles called him the “the Turkish butcher” and Hurriyet referred to him as “Frankenstein.” In 2010, when it emerged that he was involved with organ trafficking in Kosovo, he turned up inAzerbaijan, apparently free to go about his bloody business. His status at present is not clear.

In 2006, while at the height of his power, operating his own clinic prior to the police raids, he contacted Dervishi. Sonmez then contacted a Turkish-Israeli, Harel, who according to the government of Kosovo was born in 1950 in Turkey. Harel later allegedly “identified, recruited and transported the victims, as well as managed the cash payments before the surgeries.” Sonmez, it seems, was also the contact for Shapira, who has a history of brushes with the law regarding organ harvesting.

Shapira was once head of kidney transplant services at Beilinson Medical Center in Petah Tikva. He was also a member of the Bellagio Task Force on global transport ethics. In the 1990s he ran afoul of ethics charges in Israel and moved to Turkey. In 2007 Shapira was arrested in Turkey; it seems he was already connected with Sonmez’s hospital. Now Sonmez brought Harel and Shapira to Pristina to help run Dervishi’s clinic. The clinic was operated by Dervishi’s son, Arban. Illir Rrecaj, a Kosovo Health Ministry official, granted the clinic a license to do urological checkups but was, according to Interpol, privy to the actual goings on there.

In October 2008 police suspicions were raised when a poor man was dumped at the Pristina airport and it was found his kidney had been removed. A raid on the Medicus clinic discovered that the organ harvesting ring had been bringing in poverty stricken patients from countries such as Turkey and Russia, promising them 15,000 euros, and then selling their organs for upward of 100,000 euros. Rrecaj was dismissed from his post. On November 4, Harel was arrested.

BUT ACCORDING to other sources it appears the tentacles of the case go deeper.

The Serbian newspaper Blic claims that Dervishi was also involved in the murder and harvesting of organs from Serbs who were captured by ethnic Albanian terrorists during the Kosovo war of 1999. After the war there were rumors that Kosovar Albanians were keeping Serb prisoners in camps near the Kosovo border with Albania.

A Spanish KFOR contingent attempted to penetrate the village of Vrelo but was called back. Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the UN for war crimes committed in Yugoslavia, claimed in her 2008 book that as many as 300 Serbs were murdered for their organs just across the border in the Albanian town of Burrel. The infamous “clinic” in Burrel became known as the “yellow house,” but not until 2004 was it visited by a UN team to investigate the accusations. By then, only a few traces of blood remained.

According to Blic, in 1998 during the Kosovo crises, “[a] witness told Serbian war crimes prosecutors that he saw Dr. Lutfi Dervishi at locations where it was suspected that organs had been extracted from civilian prisoners and sold later.” Another Serbian source alleges that Shapira was also involved in 1999 in instructing those who harvested the organs, and according to the Croatian magazine Politika, he showed up in Macedonia in the same year, connected to a similar operation.

This claim is based on the fact that he had Turkish connections who were supporting the Kosovars during the war.

Whatever the case, it seems the recent organ-trafficking scandal is merely the latest emergence of the dark cloud that has hung over Kosovo for years; it has become a center for human and organ trafficking in Europe.

What makes the present case so shocking is that almost all those involved were respected professionals in their communities.A professor from Pristina, a member of the Kosovo Health Ministry, an Istanbul doctor and pioneer in organ transplants and a former head of transplant services at Beilinson. What made these men turn evil? What sort of strange dark coexistence is this, where Turks and Israelis work together to steal organs?

Does their ring have its origins in the dirty war fought in Kosovo in 1998-1999? The anti-Israel and anti-Semitic media like to shed light on supposed Israeli involvement in organ trafficking, but what this case shows is that the networks behind the story have much deeper and more disturbing roots.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Enigma of Tariq Aziz

Terra Incognita: The enigma of Iraq’s Tariq Aziz
11/16/2010 23:10

Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, charged with several crimes, may soon find himself at the end of a rope.

When Tariq Aziz is hung, and most likely he will be, he won’t be the first foreign minister to have been executed for taking part in the government of a lethal regime. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s minister of foreign affairs during World War II, was executed after being found guilty at the Nuremburg trials. He also feigned innocence, claiming that he was not responsible for the crimes or even the warpath that his country embarked on from 1939.

Aziz, the indomitable foreign minister of Iraq from 1983 to 1991 and deputy prime minister from 1979 to 2003, has been sounding a familiar tune. In a long ranging, and rare, interview with The Guardian in August, he complained that the US was “leaving Iraq to the wolves” and claimed he did not commit any crimes against civilians.

The Iraqi High Tribunal, the court that has sentenced numerous former regime members, disagrees. He has been convicted of a role in the deaths of 42 merchants executed in 1992, planning the displacement of Kurds and persecuting Islamic political parties.

Aziz hasn’t been swiftly executed, as was the case with Saddam Hussein, and demands for clemency have poured in. The Vatican, the EU, the UN and the Greek and Russian governments have all expressed their displeasure over his death sentence. As a Christian, he has received support from Iraq’s bishops. The Chaldean patriarchal vicar, Shlemon Waduni, and the Latin archbishop, Jean Sleiman, have both expressed opposition to the death penalty. Some others have gone further. Muriel Mirak-Weissbach, a radical leftist journalist who has covered Armenia and the Palestinians, wrote in September in Dissident Voice that “Tariq Aziz should be released.”

THE ENIGMA of Aziz is a story that captures both the past and the present of Iraq and the Middle East. He was born Mikhail Yuhanna in 1936 near Bakhdida, a major Assyrian Christian town in northern Iraq. Educated in Baghdad, like many Arab Christians of his generation he became interested in Arab nationalism and socialism. His life mirrored other Christian Arab nationalist leaders who became influential diplomats, such as Boutros Boutros-Ghali (born 1922) of Egypt and the Palestinian Afif Safieh (born 1950). Aziz became the editor of the Ba’ath Party newspaper Al Thawra.

In a declassified interview with the FBI’s George Piro in 2004, Saddam Hussein remembered that in those early days of the party no one distinguished between Christians, Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis. Saddam claimed “it was only later that [I] learned that one of the party’s leaders, Tariq Aziz, was a Christian.”

Aziz was seen as a formidable member of the party and became very close to Saddam. In April 1980 members of the Shi’ite Islamic Dawa party attempted to assassinate this Christian consigliore. This was against the backdrop of increasing border tensions between Iran and Iraq. At the time the Dawa party’s headquarters had been relocated to Teheran, whose radical Shi’ite fundamentalist leaders were using it as a tool to topple the Arab socialist regime in Iraq. Saddam’s reaction was calculated. He waited five months and then launched a surprise attack on the mullahs. His model for the attack: Israel’s lightning victory of 1967.

One story that emerged from the FBI interviews with Saddam was that Mahmoud Abbas was present in Iraq at some point and that he “requested money, training, weapons and transportation to carry out missions to attack Israel.” What role Aziz played is not clear and will likely go with him to the gallows.

In the 1980s Aziz was the point man for Iraq’s relations with the West. Donald Rumsfeld, later to be George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, came to Baghdad in 1983 and met with Aziz and Saddam. He agreed that the “U.S and Iraq... [share] many common interests.” In 1984 assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy met with Aziz and discussed possible arms shipments. At this time Aziz was described as a cigar-chomping dandy who sported a military uniform, despite not being a soldier, and wore a pearl handled revolved. He was at the infamous July 25, 1990 meeting with US ambassador April Glaspie at which the Iraqis believed they received a “green light” to invade Kuwait.

The Kuwait crises, which was a strange result of the Iran-Iraq War, brought Aziz into the international limelight. He was tasked with heading off war and met with secretary of state James Baker in Geneva in January, 1991. In the seven-hour meeting he mentioned that the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait should be tied to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US and its allies would have none of it and on January 17 the bombing of Iraq began.

The cigars now discarded, Aziz took on a harried look in the years that followed. His son was arrested for corruption in 2000 and sentenced to prison, although he was subsequently released. Nevertheless he faithfully served his friend Saddam through 2003 when he was tasked with getting the Vatican to intervene on Iraq’s behalf and prevent the US invasion. His Catholic upbringing was often touted during these meetings. But to no avail. On March 20 US troops crossed the sand berms that separate Kuwait from Iraq.

On April 24, 14 days after Baghdad fell, Aziz emerged from hiding and surrendered. He now complains that he wished he had been martyred. At the time he had more pressing concerns. He told The Guardian’s Martin Chulov, “I told the Americans that if they took my family to Amman, they could take me to prison. My family left on an American plane. And I went to prison on a Thursday.”

SO HE has sat in prison for more than seven years, growing gaunt, frail and now looking every bit his 74 years. Ayad Allawi, a Shi’ite former Ba’athist and now head of the Iraqiya bloc of political parties that won a plurality of the vote in 2010 parliamentary elections, has said that Aziz is his friend. It is no surprise. Nuri al-Malaki’s party, the second largest in Iraq, is a religious and ideological descendant of the same Iranian backed Dawa terrorists who tried to assassinate Aziz in 1980. Aziz’s hometown votes heavily for Allawi. So things come full circle.

But was Aziz’s “Christianity” just a shill? Chulov found him wearing a Muslim prayer cap in his recent interview. Did he work to improve the lives of Christian Iraqis under Saddam? It seems that in that period the Christians at least had greater security. Since the US invasion and the terrorist-sectarian chaos that followed, the Christian population has declined almost by half from 1.1 million to 600,000 or less. Their priests have been beheaded and their churches bombed. They have been thrown to the wolves. And their last representative, a member of that uniquely 20th century class, the Christian Arab nationalist, may soon find himself at the end of a rope. He remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.