The World Today for November 13, 2023

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Teasing a Detonator


After the Palestinian terror group Hamas killed about 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7, Israeli settlers – sometimes wearing masks or reservist army uniforms – started breaking into Palestinian homes in Zanuta, a village in the West Bank, and attacking their occupants.

For years, Zanuta residents remained steadfast in their determination to stay in their homes. Now, however, given the war in Gaza, the simmering tensions in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and the escalating violence they are being confronted with, they opted to depart.

“It is a new Nakba,” said Issa Ahmad Baghdad, referring to the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians when Israel was established in 1948, in an interview with the Guardian. “My family are going to Rafat. But we don’t know anyone there. We don’t know what to tell the children.”

Over the past month, Israeli settlers and the country’s security forces have become emboldened to increase attacks against Palestinians throughout the West Bank, according to KALW, a public radio station in San Francisco. More than 130 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in the three weeks leading up to Nov. 7. Meanwhile, about 158 Palestinians died there in all of 2022 – the deadliest year for Palestinians in that part in two decades.

Before Oct. 7, analysts were worried about the West Bank, not Gaza, as the potential spark for an explosion of Israeli and Palestinian violence, wrote the Washington Post. Now, the Palestinian-administered territory is on the sidelines of a war raging in Gaza – but analysts warn it might not stay that way.

Instead, some believe it might be the source of the next explosion and a second front.

“Falling under the radar are events in the West Bank, arguably the most complex sphere of the ongoing conflict, and certainly one of the most consequential,” wrote Alex Lederman, a senior policy analyst for the Israel Policy Forum, in Time. He said the most obvious threat emerging from the West Bank from the Israeli perspective is Palestinian violence – including terror attacks against Israeli civilians, which had already killed more than 30 Israelis between January and September 2023.

But he added that there is a spike in attacks by Israelis against Palestinians and detailed a “sickening example” of settlers and security forces terrorizing Palestinians. The “provocations” against Palestinians in the territory are reaching a boiling point and could tip Israel into a multi-front military war, he said.

“A responsible Israeli government would approach Israel’s challenge in the West Bank as the two-front battle that it truly is: against Palestinian and Jewish violence alike,” he wrote. “But this problem transcends Israel’s current political reality.”

That reality includes around 700,000 settlers living in 150 settlements and 128 outposts that were built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, wrote Al Jazeera. Some moved to the West Bank to fulfill the goal of controlling territory in an expanded Jewish homeland. Others moved because the settlements have lower living costs, in part due to financial incentives that the government has offered them.

Daniella Weiss, who has been a leader of the Israeli settler movement for decades, says Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should be resettled in countries such as Egypt and Turkey. “The world, especially the United States, thinks there is an option for a Palestinian state,” she told the New Yorker in an interview. “And, if we continue to build communities, then we block the option … we want to close the option for a Palestinian state, and the world wants to leave the option open. It’s a very simple thing to understand.”

However, the Nation noted that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are violations of international law. But since the new right-wing government took over in Israel last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been championing the settlers, even though, as the Economist noted, the settlers have been causing “mayhem” throughout the West Bank since Oct. 7.

This has alarmed some Israelis, particularly in the intelligence community, and also the White House, all of whom fear an escalation of violence in the near future that Israelis and Palestinians might be not able to contain, wrote the Times of Israel.

“It’s pouring gasoline on the fire,” said US President Joe Biden in late October of the settlers and their attacks on Palestinians. “It has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It has to stop now.”

Unfortunately, for the moment, the bloodshed, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, shows no signs of doing that.


The Darkest Shades of Dire


Sudanese paramilitaries and their allies took control of cities in Darfur from government forces, a major advance marked by reports of mass killings and fears of renewed ethnic violence in the restive western region, the Washington Post reported.

“The capture of the cities, previously divided between the militias and the army, is the most significant military breakthrough by the Rapid Support Forces since the war began seven months ago, and it threatens to usher in a new chapter of violence by drawing in forces that had kept aloof from the fighting,” the newspaper wrote.

Over the past two weeks, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) captured three of five regional capitals, including a number of important military bases. Witnesses’ accounts told of massacres of entire families and looting by paramilitary forces in the region. Aid officials said more than 7,000 people had crossed the border into Chad in the first three days of November, more than for the entire previous month.

The United Nations described the situation as “verging on pure evil,” adding that recent reports show that more than 800 people have been killed by armed groups in Ardamata, an area hosting a large camp for internally displaced people, Agence France-Presse wrote.

The civil conflict began in April following a dispute between the RSF, led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), and the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Both leaders collaborated to overthrow a civilian government two years ago.

But both sides have since accused the other of atrocities: The military has repeatedly bombed civilian neighborhoods, while the RSF – allied with various ethnically Arab militias – has been accused of mass killings and ethnically motivated assaults in Darfur.

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project, at least 10,000 people have died in the conflict, but the exact death toll is believed to be higher. Nearly five million people have been displaced.

Analysts called the RSF’s recent seizures a major breakthrough for the paramilitary unit, but warned that this could risk plunging Darfur into another civil war akin to one that devastated the region 20 years ago.

In 2003, the government of now-deposed President Omar al-Bashir unleashed Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, in response to a rebel uprising in Darfur. Janjaweed fighters burned villages, conducted mass killings and used mass rape as a weapon of war.

Later on, numerous Janjaweed units became integrated into the RSF, while certain ex-rebels secured governmental positions as part of a negotiated peace agreement.

Res Ipsa Loquitur


Turkish opposition politicians and bar associations launched protests and legal actions across the country over the weekend in response to a major constitutional crisis that has raised concerns about Turkey’s judicial system, Voice of America reported.

On Friday, hundreds of lawyers from across Turkey marched to the country’s Supreme Court of Appeals in response to the court’s refusal to comply with a ruling from the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court.

The crisis began late last month when a majority of judges in that court ruled in favor of releasing jailed opposition lawmaker Can Atalay.

Atalay has been held in custody since last year when a local court charged him with “assisting the overthrow of the government” during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 in Istanbul – the largest demonstrations against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently Turkey’s president.

Atalay’s lawyers took the case to the Constitutional Court, with nine of 15 judges ruling that the lawmaker’s imprisonment breached his rights “to be elected” and “to have personal freedom and security.”

But the lower court that charged the legislator refused to comply with the verdict. It took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals (Court of Cassation), Turkey’s highest appeals court, and which responded Wednesday by filing a criminal complaint against the nine Constitutional Court judges.

The move immediately prompted anger from opposition parliamentarians, who called it a “judiciary coup attempt.” They added that the complaint was unconstitutional, citing the constitution’s relevant article that says judgments of the Constitutional Court shall be final.

Lawmakers have also refused to leave the legislature until the issue is brought to the floor for discussion by the speaker of parliament.

Meanwhile, hundreds of lawyers across the country held a series of demonstrations demanding “respect for the rule of law.” Some bar associations also filed criminal complaints against the Supreme Court of Appeals for its refusal to abide by the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Erdogan also inflamed the situation with comments that appeared to side with the lower court’s decision.

“Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court has come to a point where it has been making mistakes, one after another, in this regard,” he said.

Amid criticism, he issued another statement saying he was “not taking sides but rather acting as an arbitrator as the head of the state.”

However, some legal analysts questioned Erdogan’s stance, noting that the president “has a constitutional duty to ensure the constitution is abided by.” They cautioned that the crisis could feed into growing doubts among its Western allies about Turkey’s commitment to constitutional rule.

In Bouffier’s Footsteps


Kenya will celebrate a nationwide tree planting day Monday, a new public holiday that will see citizens plant trees across the country in an effort to tackle climate change, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki announced that Nov. 13 would be a surprise national holiday and called on Kenyans to make a “patriotic contribution to the national efforts to save our country from the devastating effects of climate change.”

Environment Minister Soipan Tuya added that seedlings would be provided to the public. The decision is part as part of the government’s plan to plant 15 billion trees across Kenya by 2032.

The government has allocated a budget of $80 million to increase Kenya’s tree cover to 10 percent from the current seven percent. This would enable the country to limit its carbon dioxide emissions – trees absorb carbon, while deforestation accelerates climate change – and help meet its obligations regarding climate action, the AP explained.

The impact of climate change in the region and the Horn of Africa has resulted in deep and devasting droughts, which prompted President William Ruto, who took office in 2022, to declare a national day of prayer in February. The rainy season has seen little to no rain for five seasons in a row.

King Charles III applauded the project while he was visiting Kenya two weeks ago, and took part in the tree-planting effort in the capital Nairobi.


A Loaf, a Vote

Many a voter bemoans the current state of election campaigns, wishing they were less vitriolic, less dirty.

Turns out, the ancient Romans probably wished that too, according to Smithsonian Magazine, detailing a discovery in Pompeii that highlights vote-buying and other election shenanigans almost two thousand years ago.

In a new study, archeologists reported the discovery of an election poster encouraging voters to elect Aulus Rustius Verus for the political office of aedile – an elected official who oversaw public infrastructure. “I beseech you to make Aulus Rustius a true aedile, worthy of the state,” according to the Latin translation.

Researchers said the ad, in the form of an inscription, was found inside a home believed to have belonged to one of the candidate’s supporters. The finding was peculiar because the sign was kept inside the home’s shrine, which suggests that the homeowner was hosting an event to help the candidate get elected.

More interesting, however, was the bakery in the supporter’s house and how Verus’ initials were written on a millstone. Researchers say the candidate may have been financially supporting the bakery.

That would be unsurprising because researchers say the practice of “vote buying” was common in Pompeii, where “electoral passion was lived with intensity.”

Even so, the candidate’s machinations “verged on being illegal,” said co-author Maria Chiara Scappaticcio: “Verus may well have realized from the start, when he was scheming to become aedile and at the height of his electoral campaign, that voters (above all else) live on bread.”

Historical records don’t detail what happened to Verus when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE and buried Pompeii and other surrounding areas in volcanic ash.

But researchers already know from prior excavations that Verus went on to secure the more powerful post of duumviri: Duumviris were magistrates appointed in cities across the empire.

That means, researchers say, that he likely won the post of aedile.

Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we used the term “Madagascan” in our item, “The Grudge Match,” to refer to the people of Madagascar. The correct term is, in fact, “Malagasy.” We apologize for the error.

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