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‘Unfathomable’: Activists renew call to end US aid to Israel | Human Rights News



Washington, DC – Palestinian rights advocates in the United States have condemned a recent visit to the US capital by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, renewing their calls for an end to unconditional US military aid to Israel.

US Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters last week that Israel would be requesting $1bn to “replenish” its Iron Dome missile interception system, as well as buy munitions for the Israeli air force, in the aftermath of 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory killed 235 Palestinians, including 67 children, and displaced at least 58,000 Palestinians. Twelve people in Israel, including two children, were killed by rockets fired by Palestinian groups in Gaza.

“The State Department is already trying to rush through $735m in additional weapons sales on top of the annual $3.8bn American taxpayers provide Israel every year,” Mohamad Habehh, a national development coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, told Al Jazeera.

“To come to the United States and ask for another $1bn after the wholesale destruction of Gaza, after the murder of over 60 children, is unfathomable.”

‘Military edge’

Reports of a meeting between Gantz and US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Thursday morning did not indicate whether Israel’s expected request for $1bn in military aid had been made formal.

Gantz tweeted that he discussed “protecting Israel’s QME” with Sullivan. QME stands for “qualitative military edge”, denoting Israel’s technological and military superiority that the US for decades has helped finance through generous aid packages that critics say embolden the Israeli government to act with impunity in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“American tax money should not be spent financing apartheid and ethnic cleansing, especially when there’s so much need right here in the United States,” said Habehh.

The National Security Council said in a statement that during the meeting, Sullivan emphasised the Biden administration’s “commitment to strengthening all aspects of the US-Israel security partnership, including support for the Iron Dome System”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) meets with Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz on June 3 [Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via AFP]

“Mr. Sullivan highlighted the importance of ensuring that immediate humanitarian aid is able to reach the people of Gaza,” the statement also said. On May 25, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the US would provide $38m in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians.

But to some Palestinian rights advocates, the gesture feels empty.

“So you give a few million dollars to Palestinians for humanitarian aid, but then you sell hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons to the country that is oppressing them?” said Laura Albast, a Palestinian-American activist with the Palestinian Youth Movement who attended a small demonstration outside the White House against Gantz’s visit and the expected aid request on Thursday afternoon.

“Biden said he was going to stand up for human rights. We’ve gone to the streets to march in the tens of thousands, we’ve signed petitions, we’ve raised our voice against Israeli crimes of apartheid. But it’s clear that Joe Biden doesn’t care about us or the human rights of Palestinians,” Albast told Al Jazeera.

She added that she has relatives in Gaza whose home was destroyed during an Israeli bombing last month. “They are all safe, thank God,” she said. “But their home is totally destroyed. Where will they go now?”

Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip killed 235 Palestinians, injured many more, and destroyed buildings and critical infrastructure across the territory [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

US aid to Israel

US military aid for Israel has long been considered a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy, and the substantial political influence of pro-Israel groups has helped create a strong, bipartisan consensus in support of the billions of dollars Washington sends to Israel each year.

But Palestinian advocacy groups say that they are witnessing a changing discourse around Israel-Palestine in the US, and that public opinion is shifting among Democratic Party voters – even if that shift has yet to reach the leaders of the party establishment.

Nevertheless, progressive Democratic Party members are increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the military aid. When the Biden administration announced its intent to sell Israel an additional $735m in munitions – a revelation that was first reported on during the Israeli assault on Gaza – several progressive members of Congress tried to block it.

A bill has also been introduced by Representative Betty McCollum that seeks to ensure that US aid money is not being used to facilitate Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, detention of Palestinian children, and confiscation of Palestinian land, among other actions.

“My colleagues are rushing to give the Israeli military another billion dollars to fund apartheid, meanwhile our education system, our healthcare system, our housing system all remain underfunded,” Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush said in a recent tweet, in reference to Gantz’s visit. “Our communities need that $1 billion. Send it to us instead.”

Meanwhile, on May 23, more than 500 Democratic staffers and others who worked on Biden’s presidential campaign signed a letter calling on his administration to take a firmer stance against Israel and do more to uphold Palestinian rights. “As you tweeted last month, ‘No responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ We could not agree more. That is why we ask you to unequivocally condemn Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians,” the letter states.

For Palestinian-American activists, such signs are an encouraging indication that their years of organising are starting to bear fruit. “Things are starting to change,” said Habehh. “For so long American aid to Israel has been a total blank check with no conditions, and when that’s the case, why would Israel ever change its behaviour?”

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Rwandan Army Releases Abducted UPDF Soldier – Here is How He Got in Trouble




Private Bakulu Muhuba has regained his freedom following his release by Rwandan security. According to the Rwanda government, Muhuba who is attached to the 32nd Battalion Nyakabande in Kisoro district was arrested by Rwanda Defense Force-RDF soldiers at around 2:45pm on Sunday while loitering in Kamanyana-Majyambere village, Cyanika sector in Burera district, Northern Province.

RDF soldiers on patrol intercepted Muhuba while donning a UPDF uniform and carrying a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) with 100 rounds of ammunition, a binocular, cell phone, and his military identification documents. However, a Ugandan security official at Chanika border who preferred anonymity refuted Rwanda’s claims saying that Muhuba was in a group of fellow UPDF soldiers while patrolling the Ugandan side of Chanika border on Saturday evening at around 5:50pm but stayed behind to make a short call.

He says that he later fell in an ambush of Rwandan soldiers who had crossed to the Ugandan side. They placed him at gunpoint and whisked him off to Rwanda. At around 9:00pm on Sunday evening, Rwandan security officials repatriated Muhuba and handed him over to Ugandan security officials at the no man’s land at Chanika border.

They also handed over a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) with 100 rounds of ammunition, binocular, cell phone and the military identification documents recovered from Muhuba. Captain Peter Mugisha, the Kisoro Resident District Commissioner witnessed the repatriation and hailed RDF for releasing Muhuba unhurt. Such incidents are common along the Uganda-Rwanda border.

On May 25, this year, two RDF soldiers crossed to Kazaza and Mukayaga villages in the Kamwezi sub-county, Rukiga district. The soldiers who included a captain and his two escorts crossed to Uganda in pursuit of Waragi smugglers.

The soldiers returned to Rwanda without being arrested by Ugandan security authorities. The governments of Uganda and Rwanda have been feuding since 2019. On February 27, Rwandan President Paul Kagame issued a travel advisory to his nationals against travelling to Uganda, saying their safety is not guaranteed.

He accused Ugandan authorities of abducting its citizens and locking them up in non-designated areas. Kagame also accused Uganda of hosting and facilitating dissidents especially from Rwanda National Congress-RNC and the Democratic Forces for the liberation of Rwanda FDLR, which have declared war on the Kigali government.

The Rwandan authorities advised the truck drivers to use the Mirama Hill border in Ntungamo district. The border closure took a huge toll on truck drivers and suffocated business along the border especially Katuna and Chanika town. This led to an increase in smuggling along the border with most Rwandan nationals crossing to Uganda through porous border points to buy food.

Rwandan authorities on accusations of smuggling have shot dead at least eight people including Ugandan and Rwandan nationals. On July 30, 2019, President Museveni told journalists at Kabale State Lodge that they are discussing the impasse with his Rwandan counterpart. However to date, the negotiations mediated by the Angolan President João Lourenço and his Democratic Republic of Congo counterpart Félix Tshisekedi, are yet to bear positive results.





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Trauma and mental health in Gaza | Mental Health




The May 20 ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas brought the latest round of conflict in the region to an end and led to a collective sigh of relief from the beleaguered Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

But the deep wounds the violence opened remain fresh.

Eleven days of Israeli bombardment on the besieged enclave left 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, dead. Nearly 2,000 have been injured. Homes, offices and hospitals have been destroyed.

As the fragile ceasefire appears to hold, those who survived the conflict are once again trying to rebuild their lives. But the damage inflicted during those 11 days was not only physical and material. The mental health of Palestinians in Gaza was also bombarded during those dark days.

Living in fear of the next air attack, the spectre of death looming. Losing loved ones and homes. It is hard to imagine how utterly traumatising their reality has been.

Residents of Gaza have been enduring layer upon layer of trauma for decades. The deadly Israeli onslaughts are the most damaging – four in the last 14 years – but they occur against the background of chronic trauma imposed by the occupation.

Atrocities like the seizure and demolition of homes, oppressive policing, unlawful killings, detention without trial and torture all inflict profound psychological damage. Such perpetual subjugation can destroy self-esteem and leave victims in a state of “learned helplessness” – resigned to their fate and vulnerable to depression.

Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza also amounts to a psychological stranglehold. The resulting economic deprivation has caused widespread unemployment and poverty – well-recognised risk factors for mental illness – and left health services underfunded, underdeveloped and unable to meet the demand. Each war on Gaza decimates them further – at least six hospitals, two clinics, a health centre and a Palestine Red Crescent Society facility sustained damage this time.

For most other countries, COVID-19 is currently the primary public and mental health concern. In Palestine, it is almost an afterthought, superseded by more dangerous assailants – air attacks and oppression. Nonetheless, more than 110,000 people in Gaza have been infected with the virus thus far, with more than 1,000 deaths. There are only enough doses available to vaccinate 60,200 people in a population of more than 2 million. So pandemic anxiety is also rampant in Gaza, adding to the mental burden.

All this turmoil translates to actual mental illness. In Gaza, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which features disrupted sleep, feeling permanently on edge and easily startled, flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma and emotional numbing – are incredibly high. A 2017 study found 37 percent of the adults living on the Strip qualify for the diagnosis.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I have treated refugees with PTSD from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be severe, complex and protracted. It would be almost impossible to start the healing while the root causes persist. The head of mental health services in Palestine once said her people do not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because their trauma is ongoing. Present-traumatic stress disorder may be a more fitting description of their experience.

As is often the case in these situations, children suffer the most in Palestine. A study conducted in 2020, before the latest conflict, found that 53.5 per cent of children in Gaza were suffering from PTSD. Nearly 90 percent had experienced personal trauma. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported the devastating news that 11 of the children killed by the recent Israeli air attacks were participating in its trauma programme. No wonder UN Secretary-General António Guterres described Gaza as “hell on earth” for children.

Of course, Israelis have suffered too. Twelve were killed by Hamas rockets in May, two of them children – a tragic loss of human life. But for the Israelis, the Iron Dome defence system and bomb shelters provide a vital safety net and sense of security that Palestinians live without. Their highly developed healthcare services are far better equipped to deal with both physical injuries and the psychological impact of rocket fire. They are not living through the mental anguish of occupation either. All this is reflected in their lower PTSD rates, ranging from 0.5 to 9 percent of the population.

Back in 2008, I went on a trip to post-conflict Somaliland to teach psychiatry to medical students. The civil war affecting the area ended in 1991 but its effects on the mental health of the population and health infrastructure were still evident some 17 years later. They still continue to this day. It will take time to rebuild the fragmented minds and health services in Gaza, but there is little hope for them until Israel ends its illegal occupation, settlement expansion and blockade on Gaza.

The oppression of Palestinians has led Human Rights Watch to the conclusion that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Perhaps viewing this situation through the prism of human rights violations and their grave impact on mental health might prompt the international community to pressure Israel to act. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve security and protection from trauma. The best way to achieve this is by affording Palestinians their basic human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Ex Museveni Bodyguard, Capt. Opolot, Succumbs to COVID-19




Retired UPDF Captain, Alex Opolot, is dead.

Opolot, who served for over 20 years in special military operations, lost the battle to COVID-19 this past weekend at Prime Hospital in Namugongo, Wakiso district.

Friends described him as a “great family man who was loved by his children to the moon and back.”

Born on January 21, 1962 in Bukedea district, Eastern Uganda, Opolot was among the first officers in the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).

He survived action in Somalia where served as a peacekeeper.

Opolot attended Kumi Primary School and Father Hilders Primary school.

He later moved to Soroti Secondary School before joining Busitema College of Agriculture and Mechanization.

Opolot also worked with Peko Machinery Works in Soroti before joining the army.

He recently retired from the army and was working with Arrow Security Group of Captain Mike Mukula at the time of death.

He was attached to Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Presidential Protection Unit/Brigade.

Opolot was later deployed in Northern Uganda to battle the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels where he excelled in field intelligence operations.

He recently retired from the army and was working with Arrow Security Group of Captain Mike Mukula at the time of death.

The deceased’s friends say he was a very skilled footballer, great dancer, very peaceful and cheerful soldier.

Opolot during his footballing days. He was know as Opolot Wizard
Opolot served in Somalia under AMISOM

He is survived by a widow and four children.

Opolot will be buried on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 in Odoot Etom, Okolotum, Kocheka Sub-County, Bukedea District.

Results of COVID-19 tests done on 11 June 2021 confirmed 1,727 new cases. The cumulative confirmed cases are 61,977 with 428 deaths.

To prevent infection and to slow transmission of COVID-19, do the following:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and people coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs.
  • Practice physical distancing by avoiding unnecessary travel and staying away from large groups of people.

The post Ex Museveni Bodyguard, Capt. Opolot, Succumbs to COVID-19 first appeared on ChimpReports.

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