Daily Archives: March 18, 2015

Tale of two stories: Tunisia & Palestine

[Publisher’s note: Compare the international attention given to these two news stories below. The stories are taken from Ma’an News, an independent news source in Palestine.]

19 killed as gunmen attack Tunisia museum

Tunisian security forces secure the area after gunmen attacked the famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015.(AFP/Fethi Belaid)

TUNIS (AFP) — Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen killed at least 17 foreign tourists in a brazen attack Wednesday on Tunisia’s national museum before being killed in a police assault, officials said.

Polish, Italian, German and Spanish tourists were among the dead, Prime Minister Habib Essid said, adding that two gunmen had been killed.

A Tunisian national and a policeman were also reported dead.

Essid said the gunmen, dressed in military uniforms, opened fire on the tourists as they were disembarking from a bus and chased them inside the museum.

Health Minister Said Aidi told reporters that 38 others had been wounded in the attack, including citizens of France, South Africa, Poland, Italy and Japan.

The attack appeared to be the worst on foreigners in Tunisia since an Al-Qaeda suicide bombing on a synagogue killed 14 Germans, two French and five Tunisians on the island of Djerba in 2002.

Some officials, including French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, had said hostages were taken at the museum but this was not confirmed by Tunisian authorities.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but Tunisia — the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolutionary movement — has struggled to tackle a rise in attacks from Islamist extremists.

Interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told reporters that “two or more terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs” had targeted the Bardo National Museum next to the Tunisian parliament.

‘Enormous panic’

Aroui said about 100 tourists had been inside the museum at the time of the attack.

He said “anti-terrorist units” had entered the museum but refused to confirm reports of a hostage taking.

In Brussels, Valls said he condemned “this terrorist attack in the strongest terms”, adding that there had been a “hostage taking”.

French President Francois Hollande also expressed his country’s “solidarity” with Tunisia, a former French colony.

President Beji Caid Essebsi was to make a public statement to the nation, spokesman Moez Sinaoui told AFP.

The Bardo National Museum, a famed repository of ancient artefacts, is next door to Tunisia’s parliament, where work was suspended during the attack.

An Islamist lawmaker, Monia Brahim, told AFP that gunfire from the initial assault prompted parliamentary committees to suspend their meetings as lawmakers were ordered to assemble in the main chamber.

“There was enormous panic,” another lawmaker, Sayida Ounissi, wrote on Twitter, saying the attack took place during hearings on Tunisia’s anti-terrorism law.

Tunisia has seen an upsurge in Islamist extremism since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Dozens of police and military personnel have been killed or wounded in attacks blamed on Islamist militants.

Increasing radicalization

An army offensive against the militants, who are linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has been underway since 2012 but the ground and air campaign has failed to eliminate them.

The country is also fighting against the radicalization of Muslim youth, with authorities saying as many as 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Iraq, Syria and neighboring Libya to fight with militants, including with the Islamic State group.

Some 500 are now believed to have returned to Tunisia.

Essebsi said the government’s “top priority” is “providing security and the battle against terrorism” after it took office last month following Tunisia’s first free elections.

Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring with its overthrow of Ben Ali and, despite the continued unrest, has taken pride in forming a stable and democratic government.

The country is hoping to rebuild its once-burgeoning tourism industry, which is struggling to recover from the effects of the 2011 revolution.

Tourist arrivals dropped by three percent last year.

The Bardo museum, renowned for its exceptional collection of ancient mosaics, is a significant draw and opened a new wing in 2012 following a major facelift.

It boasts objects from prehistory, the Phoenician period and Punic and Numidian times, as well as Roman, Christian and Islamic artifacts.

Its curator had described it as “the flagship” of Tunisia’s heritage.

Housed in a former palace dating from the 19th century, the museum greeted hundreds of thousands of visitors every year before the revolution. In 2011 the number dropped to about 100,000 but attendance had been recovering.


9 injured as Israeli forces open fire on protest at Jalazun camp

Israeli soldiers fire on protestors (MaanImages/file)

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Nine Palestinians were injured Wednesday afternoon after Israeli forces opened fire on protesters at al-Jalazun refugee camp north of Ramallah.

Israeli soldiers shot 20-year-old Palestinian named Ali Mahmoud Safi in the chest with a 0.22 caliber bullet during the protest.

The bullet exited his body through the back, and the youth was in serious condition as of Wednesday evening.

Locals said three other protesters were struck by live bullets, and five by rubber-coated steel bullets.

The protest reportedly began after locals gathered in opposition to the construction of a wall between the refugee camp and the nearby Jewish-only settlement of Beit El.

Beit El is strategically located on a hill at the northern edge of Ramallah, blocking free movement for local Palestinians to and from the city through a checkpoint. The most direct road north, meanwhile, is off-limits to Palestinians.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed the shooting.

“There was a riot of 50 Palestinians in Jalazun,” she told Ma’an, adding that “rioters hurled rocks at the soldiers and they responded with riot dispersal means.”

“Upon their refusal to vacate the area and refrain from further violence, they fired a .22 caliber round toward the main instigator,” she said.

“A hit was confirmed.”

The spokeswoman refused to comment on how the protest had begun or why the soldiers were in the area immediately beside the camp.


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Stop forced closure of Aboriginal Communities!

On Thursday 19th March 2015, Australians across the Nation are being asked to celebrate Close the Gap Day – but for many of our countrymen the gap has been significantly widened placing increasing pressure and trauma on our people. Nationwide aboriginal people will stand in solidarity with our WA mob to stop the forced closure of these remote communities.

5pm King George Square
Brisbane City
Thursday 19 March 2015

Abbott will live to regret his ‘lifestyle choice’

Tony Abbott’s brain snap describing the indigenous outstation movement was not only crass, unthinking and deeply offensive; it was just plain wrong, and wrong on a whole series of different levels.

The full quote revealed the width of its ignorance: “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if these lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have,” he told ABC radio in Kalgoorlie.

First and most obviously, the outstation movement is not a lifestyle choice in any accepted sense of the phrase. It has little to do with a leisurely move to sell up a vastly expensively inner city property and career to settle in a comfortable seaside resort, to sit by the pool with a chilled bottle of chardonnay and a few Vogue magazines beside the table.

The move to the outstations was driven not by self-indulgence but by necessity, at times by desperation; the urban ghettoes of the cities had become sinkholes of degradation and misery, for those who have been forced off their traditional lands and for those who had immigrated to them in the vain hope of employment, and more importantly for their children, whose future was being blighted by alcoholism, drugs and violence.

A return to the bush was their only recourse; it offered not a comfortable and relaxed retirement, but rescue. They were looking to regain the remnants of their culture, their country and their old ways— a lifestyle, if you like, but one steeped in many generations of tradition.

And they were not demanding endlessly subsidies, but the bare necessities – those that would expected by right by all Australians. They asked for shelter, water, some source of power and transport, communications and a modicum of welfare – in precisely the way the government is prepared to provide for remote and isolated communities throughout the land.

These communities can be increasingly unviable; economic rationalists rail at what they see at the futility of propping up farms which can no longer become profitable, mining towns which have left their use by date, settlements passed by the major production routes, and many other communities which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be able to involve themselves in the full participation of Australian society. But the people cling to their land and governments are generally willing to help them survive, and indeed make a virtue of doing so.

An entire political party, the Nationals, is devoted – or at least was – to funding a lifestyle choice to live in rural and regional environments, however remote, inconvenient and expensive they may have becom

So those in need receive subsidised education and health care, transport and communications as a matter of course, not to mention drought and flood relief, and many other forms of assistance – the diesel fuel rebate and the super phosphate bounty to name but two. An entire political party, the Nationals, is devoted – or at least was – to funding a lifestyle choice to live in rural and regional environments, however remote, inconvenient and expensive they may have become.

But governments go much further than that; the cities are also pampered when it suits. What is middle and upper class welfare but tax-payer funded lifestyle choice? Superannuation tax concessions for the rich, rebates for private hospital care, handouts for the wealthy schools of wealthy parents – all go into the pot. Abbott’s now deferred paid parental leave bonanza is one of the few which has been seriously challenged.

And at times there is not even a pretence of justification to give greedy votes what they believe to be their due in offering to fund their lifestyle choices, especially during election times. The politicians scour the country for the opportunity to raid the pork barrel; electorates are showered with benefits. Parks and gardens, sporting facilities, performance venues, upgraded bus stops – there are no limits.

Many years ago Gough Whitlam’s staff used to joke that when they flew into a new electorate, they would look out the window: if they saw a river they would promise a dam, if they didn’t they would promise a College of Advanced Education. Only the lifestyle choices have changed.

Obviously this is particularly rife in marginal electorates, which live from triennium to triennium of the certain beneficence of taxpayers funds, but the grateful winners are not denied either: in 2013 Tony Abbott’s opulent constituency of Warringah received a handsome grant to tart up Brookvale Oval. Some of these projects can be called worthy, but many are clearly simply electoral bribes, based on what the politicians see as enhancing their own self interest in getting re-elected – funding their lifestyles, in fact.

For Abbott to single out the most needy and deprived of them, the wretched of the outstation movement, is not only unfair; it is just irrational. Funding taxpayers’ lifestyles is precisely what governments do.

So why did Abbott, who prides himself on his empathy with Aboriginal Australians, say something so silly? The cynical will say that it was a deliberate ploy: Abbott was determined to shore up his support both among the hard-line conservatives in the party room who insist that he must abandon any remaining attempt to play Mr Nice Guy, and more importantly to the populists in the electorate who have always regarded his commitment to Aborigines as a distraction, and one that he could far better spent on benefits conferred on themselves.

Well, perhaps. But there is an old and well-tested adage in politics that if you have to choose between a conspiracy theory or a stuff up, nine tomes a out often it will be the stuff up. The simplest answer is almost certainly the right one: Tony Abbott, in spite of all his protestations of reform, of consultation, of listening to the people, has reverted to the habit of a lifetime and shot his mouth off and refused to recant or apologise; he will bluff it out and to hell with the consequences, even if it means that all his plans for reconciliation and his memorial as the Prime Minister of Aboriginal Affairs who delivered the long awaited constitutional recognition for of Indigenous Australia has to be ditched.

Perhaps, in the excitement of the last few weeks, he has been just a bit punch drunk. Yes, the same old Tony Abbott.

Mungo MacCallum
in the Echo


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