Archbishop Desmond Tutu Endorses United Methodist Divestment Resolution
26 April 2012
Dear Friends of the United Methodist Church
The situation in Israel and Palestine pains me greatly since it is the place where God formed a very particular relationship with a particular group of people; Hebrews who were oppressed as slaves in another land. As time moved on, this people disobeyed God and time and time again the prophets had to call them back to their deepest values.
The Jewish Holocaust, engineered and implemented primarily by Europeans, gave some ideologues within the Jewish and Christian community an excuse to implement plans that were in the making for at least 50 years, under the rubric of exceptional Jewish security. In this way began the immense oppression of the Palestinian people, who were not at all involved in the Holocaust. Not only is this group of people being oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa, their very identity and history are being denied and obfuscated. What is worse, is that Europe and the USA are refusing to take responsibility for their actions with regard to both the Holocaust and the over-empowering of the Israelis, their disregard for the international conventions and regulatory framework of the nuclear industry and their continued oppression of the Palestinian people.
But God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, neither slumbers nor sleeps. Prophetic voices have been calling this empowered people who were once oppressed and killed, to their deepest values of justice and compassion, but they have refused to listen even to the most reasonable voices. The human community cannot be silent in the face of the gross injustice being meted out to the people of Palestine. If international courts and governments refuse to deal with this matter, we in the churches and in the rest of civil society really have no choice but to act in small ways and big ways.
God is busy doing a new thing. And God is using all of us to be partners with him. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have to be liberated, but at this stage the greater onus is on the Israelis since they are the ones who are in power, economically, politically and militarily. We have to think about ways that will allow them to reflect deeply on what it is that they are doing and bring them back from the brink, not out of spite or revenge, but because we love them deeply.
I therefore wholeheartedly support your action to disinvest from companies who benefit from the Occupation of Palestine. This is a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
May God bless your conference as you deliberate on this matter, and I pray that your decision will reflect the best values of the human family as we stand in solidarity with the oppressed.
God bless you.
Archbishop-Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Cape Town, South Africa
The US 60-Minutes documentary on Christians leaving Palestine continues to make waves. When you see how people respond to this information though (see, for example, the comments left in response to this article) it seems that the coin just still hasn’t dropped for most Americans. How much more evidence do people need before they open their eyes to what is really going on?
Palestinian Christians and 60 Minutes (Cont’d)
In the wake of the controversy over last week’s 60 Minutes episode on Palestinian Christians, the Israeli website 972 today runs an illuminating post by a Palestinian Christian, Philip Farah. On the question of whether Christians are being driven out of the occupied territory by Islamic radicals or by Israeli policies, Farah writes:
Palestinian Christians are, indeed, worried about the militancy of extremists who cloak themselves in distorted Islamic rhetoric. Yet, the majority of Palestinian Muslims and Christians have chosen peaceful resistance. To say that Hamas is the cause of the declining Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories is standing the truth on its head.
Our people are fleeing their homeland because the Israelis are confiscating the land of Palestinians — Muslims and Christians alike — to build Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall which is ghettoizing many Palestinian communities. Palestinian Christians are leaving because of Israeli checkpoints and barriers that severely restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians, destroying their economy and preventing their access to their holy places in Jerusalem. They are leaving because Israel diverts Palestinian water resources in a way that gives illegal Jewish settlements the right to enjoy swimming pools while the fields of Palestinian farmers next door go fallow for lack of water.
This testimony meshes with the one piece of evidence on this issue that I got first-hand. During a trip to Israel and the West Bank last summer, the group I was with visited a Palestinian brewery in the village of Taybeh. After touring the brewery, before getting back on the bus, a few of us were chatting with a Palestinian woman who was one of the brewery’s proprietors. Small talk about how her business was doing led her into a pretty intense discussion of the occupation. She didn’t deliver a political rant–she didn’t talk about Palestinians lacking the right to vote or due process of law. She just talked about how her brewery couldn’t count on the things an American-based company would take for granted–consistent access to water, electrical power, etc.–because these were under the control of Israelis who didn’t seem very attentive to the needs of Palestinians.
But however mundane her critique, it was no less animated for that. And after watching this articulate, forceful testimony from a Palestinian woman with a cross around her neck, I said to a traveling companion something to the effect that, if you could get this woman on American TV, that could change some American opinions about the Palestinian predicament. I think that’s one reason the Israeli government was so concerned about the 60 Minutes broadcast: It provided first-hand testimony about the grim reality of the Israeli occupation from people large numbers of Americans might actually believe.
This article available online at:
Apparently over 2,000 Palestinian prisoners are participating in an open hunger strike and are now in their third week! Two detainees – Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab – on the brink of death. How is it that the Western media have ignored this?
Published on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 by Foreign Policy Journal
The Massive Palestinian Hunger Strike: Traveling below the Western Radar
by Richard Falk
Can anyone doubt that if there were more than 1,300 hunger strikers in any country in the world other than Palestine, the media in the West would be obsessed with the story? It would be featured day after day, and reported on from all angles, including the severe medical risks associated with such a lengthy refusal to take food. At this time, two Palestinians who were the first to start this current wave of resistance, Thaer Halaheh and Bilal Diab, entering their 64th day without food, are reported by the prisoner protection association, Addameer, and the NGO, Physician for Human Rights-Israel, to be in critical condition with their lives hanging in the balance. Despite this dramatic state of affairs there is scant attention in Europe, and literally none in North America.
A handcuffed Palestinian prisoner appears from behind the bars of a prison bus. (AFP)
In contrast, consider the attention that the Western media has devoted to a lone blind Chinese human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who managed to escape from house arrest in Beijing a few days ago and find a safe haven at the U.S. Embassy. This is an important international incident, to be sure, but is it truly so much more significant than the Palestinian story as to explain the total neglect of the extraordinary exploits of these thousands of Palestinians who are sacrificing their bodies, quite possibly their lives, to nonviolently protest severe mistreatment in the Israeli prison system? Except among their countrymen, and to some extent the region, these many thousand Palestinian prisoners have been languishing within an opaque black box ever since 1967, are denied protection, exist without rights, and cope as best they can without even the acknowledgement of their plight.
There is another comparison to be made. Recall the outpouring of concern and sympathy throughout the West for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured on the Gaza border and held captive by Palestinians for five years. A powerful global campaign for his release on humanitarian ground was organized, and received constant reinforcement in the media. World leaders pleaded for his release, and Israeli commanding officers even told IDF fighting forces during the massive attacks on Gaza at the end of 2008, which killed more than 1,450 Palestinians, that their real mission was to free Shalit, or at least hold accountable the entire civilian population of Gaza. When Shalit was finally released in a prisoner exchange a few months ago, there was a brief celebration that abruptly ended when, much to the disappointment of the Israeli establishment, Shalit reported good treatment during captivity. Shalit’s father went further, saying if he was a Palestinian he would have tried to capture Israeli soldiers. Not surprisingly, Shalit, instead of being revered as an Israeli hero, has quietly disappeared from public view.
This current wave of hunger strikes started on April 17th, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, and was directly inspired by the recently completed long and heroic hunger strikes of Khader Adnan (66 days) and Hana Shalabi (43 days) both of whom protested against the combination of administrative detention and abusive arrest and interrogation procedures. It should be understood that administrative detention is validated by secret evidence and allows Israel to imprison Palestinians for six months at a time without bringing any criminal charges, with terms renewable as they expire. Hana Shalabi was among those released in the prisoner exchange, but then barely recovering from her prior detention period, was rearrested in a night arrest raid, and sentenced once again to a term of confinement for four months. Or consider the experience of Thaer Halahla, eight times subject to administrative detention for a total of six and a half years.
Both Mr. Adnan and Ms. Shalabi were released by deals negotiated at a time when their physical survival seemed in doubt, making death seem imminent. Israel apparently did not want to risk a third intifada resulting as a reaction to such martyrdom. At the same time Israel, as usual, did not want to seem to be retreating, or draw into question its reliance on administrative detention and imprisonment. Israel has refused, until the present, to examine the grievances that gave rise to these hunger strikes. In Hana Shalabi’s case her release was coupled with a punitive deportation order, which cruelly confines her to Gaza for the next three years, away from her family and the familiar surroundings of her home village of Burqin near Jenin in the West Bank. There are some indications that Ms. Shalabi was not fully informed about the deportation feature of her release, and was manipulated by prison authorities and the lawyer representing her interests. The current hunger strikers have been offered similar conditional releases, but have so far steadfastly refused to resume eating if it led to deportation or exile. At this time it is unclear how Israel will respond. There is a fierce struggle of wills between the strikers and the prison authorities, between those with hard power of domination and those with the soft power of moral and spiritual courage. The torment of these striking prisoners is not only a consequence of their refusal to accept food until certain conditions are met. Israeli prison guards and authorities are intensifying the torments of hunger. There are numerous reports that the strikers are being subjected to belittling harassment and a variety of punishments, including solitary confinement, confiscation of personal belongings, denial of family visits, denial of examination by humanitarian NGOs, and a hardhearted refusals to transfer to medically threatened strikers to civilian hospitals where they could receive the kinds of medical treatment their critical conditions require.
The Israeli response to the hunger strikes is shocking, but hardly surprising, within the wider setting of the occupation. Instead of heeding the moral appeal implicit in such extreme forms of resistance, there are widespread reliable reports of punitive responses by Israeli prison authorities. Hunger strikers have been placed in solitary confinement, held in shackles despite their weakened conditions, denied family visits, had personal belongings confiscated, and subjected to harassing comments by guards intended to demoralize. Israeli media has generally taken a cynical attitude toward the strikes, suggesting that these hunger strikers are publicity seeking, aiming to receive ‘a get out of jail free’ card, and deserve no empathy even if their life is in jeopardy because they voluntarily gave up food by their own free will, and hence Israeli prison authorities have no responsibility for their fate. Some news reports in Israel have speculated about whether if one or more hunger strikers die in prison, it will spark an uprising among the Palestinians, but this is less an expression of concern or a willingness to look at the substantive issues than it is a source of worry about future stability.
Broader issues are also at stake. When in the past Palestinians resorted to violent forms of resistance they were branded by the West as terrorists, their deeds were covered to bring out sensationalist aspects, but when Palestinians resort to nonviolent forms of resistance, whether hunger strikes or BDS or an intifada, their actions fall mainly on deaf ears and blind eyes, or worse, there is a concerted propaganda spin to depict the particular tactic of nonviolent resistance as somehow illegitimate, either as a cheap trick to gain sympathy or as a dirty trick to destroy the state of Israel. All the while, Israel’s annexationist plans move ahead, with settlements expanding, and now recently, with settler outposts, formerly illegal even under Israeli law, being in the process of being retroactively legalized. Such moves signal once and for all that the Netanyahu leadership exhibits not an iota of good faith when it continues to tell the world that it is dedicated to negotiating a peace treaty with the Palestinians. It is a pity that the Palestinian Authority has not yet had the diplomatic composure to call it quits when it comes to heeding the calls of the Quartet for a resumption of direct talks. It is long past time to crumble bridge to nowhere.
That rock star of liberal pontificators, Thomas Friedman, has for years been preaching nonviolence to the Palestinians, implying that Israel as a democratic country with a strong moral sensitivity would yield in the face of such a principled challenge. Yet when something as remarkable as this massive expression of a Palestinian commitment to nonviolent resistance in the form of this open-ended hunger strike, dubbed ‘the war of empty stomachs’, takes place, Friedman along with his liberal brothers is stony silent, and the news sections of the newspaper of the New York Times are unable to find even an inch of space to report on these dramatic protests against Israel’s use of administrative detention and abusive treatment during arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Shame on you, Mr. Friedman!
Robert Malley, another influential liberal voice who had been a Middle East advisor to Bill Clinton when he was president, while more constrained than Friedman, suggests that any sustained display of Palestinian nonviolence if met with Israeli violence would be an embarrassment for Washington. Malley insists that if the Palestinians were to take to the streets in the spirit of Tahrir Square, and Israelis responded violently, as the Netanyahu government certainly, it “would put the United States in an … acute dilemma about how to react to Israel’s reaction.” The dilemma depicted by Malley derives from Obama’s constant encouragement of the democratic aspirations of a people who he has repeatedly said deserve their own state on the one side and the unconditional alignment with Israel on the other. Only a confirmed liberal would call this a genuine dilemma, since any informed and objective observer would know that the U.S. Government would readily accept, as it has repeatedly done in the past, an Israeli claim that force was needed to maintain public order. In this manner, Palestinian nonviolence would be disregarded, and the super-alliance of these two partners in crime once more reaffirmed.
Let there be no mistake about the moral and spiritual background of the challenge being mounted by these Palestinians. Undertaking an open ended hunger strike is an inherently brave act that is fraught with risks and uncertainties, and is only undertaken as an expression of extreme frustration or acute deprivation. It is not an act undertaken lightly or as a stunt. For anyone who has attempted to express protest in this manner, and I have for short periods during my decade of opposition to the Vietnam War, it is both scary and physically taxing even for a day or so, but to maintain the discipline and strength of will to sustain such a strike for weeks at a time requires a rare combination of courage and resolve. Only specially endowed individuals can adopt such a tactic. For a hunger strike to be done on such a scale of collective action not only underscores the horrible ordeal of the Palestinians that has been all but erased from the political consciousness of the West in the hot aftermath of the Arab Spring.
The world has long refused to take notice of Palestinian one-sided efforts over the years to reach a peaceful outcome of their conflict with Israel. It is helpful to recall that in 1988 the PLO officially accepted Israel within 1967 borders, a huge territorial concession, leaving the Palestinians with only 22% of historical Palestine on which to establish an independent and sovereign state. In recent years, the main tactics of Palestinian opposition to the occupation, including on the part of Hamas, has been to turn away from violence, adhering to a diplomacy and a practice that looked toward long-term peaceful coexistence between two peoples. Israel has not taken note of either development, and has instead continuous thrown sand in Palestinian eyes. The official Israeli response to Palestinian moves toward political restrain and away from violence have been to embark upon a program of feverish settlement expansion, extensive targeted killing, reliance on excessive retaliatory violence, as well as an intensifying oppressiveness that gave rise to these hunger strikes. One dimension of this oppressiveness is the 50% increase in the number of Palestinians held under administrative detention during of the last year, along with an officially mandated worsening of conditions throughout its prison system.
© 2012 Foreign Policy Journal
Richard Falk is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. An international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years, since 2002 Falk has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Read more articles by Richard Falk.
Thank you, Father Jim, for letting us know about the Palestinian Mother’s Day march.
It seems that when Palestinians protest the Occupation with violence they are condemned. When they protest peacefully, they are ignored!
For more of Jim’s wisdom, see his blog – Wallwritings
Your Hard-Earned US Tax Dollars and Church Pension Funds at Work for Israel
|Mass demonstrations in support of 2500 Palestinian hunger strikers swept through the West Bank this weekend.|
|Marchers moved through the streets of Hebron, Kafr Qaddoum, Nablus, Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin, Ramallah, al-Walaja and outside of Ofer prison. The picture here was taken in Hebron.|
|It shows an Israeli soldier with his knee firmly planted on a young Palestinian’s neck.|
|The picture also shows how American tax dollars and church pensions are at work on this Mothers Day weekend, a commercially-driven event in which American teenagers and their families annually honor mothers with gifts and family meals.|
|On this particular American Mothers’ Day weekend, a large contingent of Palestinian teenagers joined their mothers and other family members to offer their support to prisoners on lengthy and dangerous hunger strikes.
Laura Kacere wrote in A Nation of Change, that Mothers Day had a different meaning when it was initially launched. In fact, the Palestinian mothers who marched this weekend in support of hunger strikers, some of whom may have been their children, are demonstrating in a manner more akin to the original purpose of Mothers Day.
Mother’s Day began in America in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Written in response to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, her proclamation called on women to use their position as mothers to influence society in fighting for an end to all wars. She called for women to stand up against the unjust violence of war through their roles as wife and mother, to protest the futility of their sons killing other mothers’ sons.
Amira Hass, the Ha’aretz columnist who has watched Israeli duplicity at work for decades, explains how Israel makes use of ”administrative detention”:
Administrative detainees have been held without trial for years under emergency regulations inspired by the British Mandate. It’s not important. Hundreds of prisoners from the Gaza Strip haven’t seen their families for six or more years. Why should anyone care?
American tax-payers and church members should care. But do they? The record is not good.
The Methodist General Conference ended its once-every-four-years confab in Tampa last week with a small step toward caring. They will not have this opportunity again for four years in a governance system first established in the early 1800s by John Wesley.
In their 2012 Conference the Methodists voted to call for a boycott of US companies supporting the occupation. They failed, however, to pass a specific divestment resolution removing church pension funds from three US corporations, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Systems.
Why did the 2012 Methodists only hit .500? The Methodist Board of Pensions and their allies roamed about the floor of the conference spreading the lie that divestment from these companies would threaten Africa University’s funding. Those prefabrications were aimed at Central Conferences (overseas) delegates, who are very protective of their continent’s Methodist University.
There were even reports that some Methodist delegates were told they could be sued if they voted for divestment. Would church leaders act in this manner? Hard to imagine, but then, there have also been reports (a tape recording to be exact) that Mitt Romney cannot recall a teenage incident which his classmates insist involved young Mitt cutting the hair of a classmate suspected of being gay.
Now it is the Presbyterians’ chance to divest from three US corporations that support the Israeli occupation. Will they join the Episcopalians and urge tea and cookies with their local rabbis, or will they look more closely at how the Israelis are spending their pension funds?
Meanwhile, the Palestinian hunger strikes continue.
Why hunger strikes? How else does a prisoner reach the outside world, at least that part of the outside world willing to look up from its tea and cookies long enough to notice?
There are currently 2,000 Palestinian inmates on a mass hunger strike in the Nafha, Ashkelon, Gilboa and other prisons around Israel. Amira Hass writes that it is “the very fact of their decision to refuse food and their willingness to risk being punished by the authorities [that] stands as a reminder of their humanity”.
The US public remains blissfully ignorant during this Mothers Day weekend that 2000 Palestinians hunger strikers, some near death, are refusing food to protest their treatment and their unfair and unjust incarceration.
The bulk of the Israeli public, safe and secure behind a massive Security Wall, remain largely indifferent to the strikers.
Amira Hass explains:
The Israel Prison Service does not have to make much of an effort to conceal this mass action from Israeli eyes. The great majority of Israelis label all incarcerated Palestinians as conscienceless murderers or common terrorists, at the least. They have little interest in acts of personal or collective courage on the part of Palestinian detainees that serve as reminders that they are human beings.
Richard Falk and Noura Erakat have written about the history of the Israeli use of administrative detention, which in case you have not noticed, is a practice the US Congress is currently planning to add to the American legal arsenal against its own citizens.
Administrative detention has constituted a core of Israel’s 1,500 occupation laws that apply to Palestinians only, and which are not subject to any type of civilian or public review. Derived from British Mandate laws, administrative detention permits Israeli Forces to arrest Palestinians for up to six months without charge or trial, and without any show of incriminating evidence. Such detention orders can be renewed indefinitely, each time for another six-month term.
Ayed Dudeen is one of the longest-serving administrative detainees in Israeli captivity. First arrested in October 2007, Israeli officials renewed his detention thirty times without charge or trial. After languishing in a prison cell for nearly four years without due process, prison authorities released him in August 2011, only to re-arrest him two weeks later. His wife Amal no longer tells their six children that their father is coming home, because, in her words, “I do not want to give them false hope anymore, I just hope that this nightmare will go away.”
Twenty percent of the Palestinian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories have at one point been held under administrative detention by Israeli forces. Israel argues these policies are necessary to ensure the security of its Jewish citizens, including those unlawfully resident in settlements surrounding Jerusalem, Area C, and the Jordan Valley—in flagrant contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s Article 49(6), which explicitly prohibits the transfer of one’s civilian population to the territory it occupies.
And how does the US government view the hunger strikes?
When one persistent journalist (identified as “Said”) demanded, politely, that US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, answer a question about the Palestinian hunger strikes, this is how Nuland handled his query, according to the transcript from the State Department:
QUESTION: Okay. And one – a couple more. On the Palestinian prisoner issue, I wonder if you are aware of the situation of striking – hunger striking Palestinian prisoners?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said.
QUESTION: Well, do you have a position on the hunger strike of prisoners who have not been charged with anything and they have been held for a long time? They’ve gone today – their 70th day of a hunger strike. Thaer Halahla and many others, five others, are probably – are likely to – they could face – I mean, they could die in the next day or so. Would the United States Government take a position on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, let me take the question, Said, because frankly, I don’t have anything one way or the other. I don’t know if we have a comment on it.
QUESTION: Because, lastly, I mean, it – if something happens to these prisoners, it could be a flashpoint between Israelis and the Palestinians.
MS. NULAND: No, I understand the question. Let me take it, okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
If, or when, a hunger striker dies in an Israeli prison, the US State Department will have an answer ready to go. It will express regret at the death and urge “all parties involved” to resolve their differences.
One “party” involved is the IDF, shown in action at the pictures above and below. In this picture, smoke makes it difficult to determine if the IDF vehicle is a Caterpillar product. Perhaps not, since it is smaller than the Caterpillar tractors that built the Wall, and continues to demolish Palestinian homes.
But there is no question that the battle between the rock-throwing teen aged Palestinians and their IDF enemy serves as a metaphor for a US and church supported occupation force and a defiant civilian population.
Karl-John N. Stone and Thomas A. Prinz have just written an article for The Christian Century magazine, “Invest, Not Divest” which argues just what the title suggests it would argue, a misguided solution which embraces a market faith rather than a religious faith.
Stone is assistant to the bishop in the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Prinz is pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Leesburg, Virginia. They ask:
What better way for the church to act as peacemakers than to engage in actual investment, building up Palestinian society and infrastructure, thereby helping to ensure a sound and viable sovereign state when a political solution is found and potentially hastening that political solution?
Stone and Prinz close their argument for “hastening that political solution” with this bit of capitalist stock market cheer leading:
The New York Times reported in February that the Palestinian Stock Exchange has been one of the best-performing markets in the Arab world in recent years. In 2011, a year marked by great political upheaval in the region, the Palestinian exchange was second only to that of Qatar, falling only 2.58 percent over the course of the year.
The Times quoted Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital’s $50 million Palestine Growth Capital Fund, as saying: “Strong stock market performance proves that these Palestinian companies are well managed, resilient and adaptive.”
They conclude their market-driven argument:
Investment moves churches beyond a black-and-white concept of justice and a conflict model of advocacy toward a model of empowerment and reconciliation. This move represents the best hope for churches to contribute to long-term peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
Give our Lutheran brothers credit, they do offer us a choice between “a black-and-white concept of justice”, and “a model of empowerment and reconciliation”.
Prinz and Stone may think they are channeling Reinhold Niebuhr with that division. I suspect they are really channeling the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop quoted in their piece.
Speaking of quoting, there is no sign that Prinz and Stone discussed this matter with any Palestinians under occupation, unless you count the New York Times‘ quote from Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital’s $50 million Palestine Growth Capital Fund.
Next time Prinz and Stone offer advice to Palestinians, they might want to talk with Palestinian Baptist pastor, Dr. Alex Awad, who told Methodists when they were debating their divestment resolution:
“We are asking for divestment for our freedom, not investment to improve our lives in prison.”
The picture at top is by Mussa Qawasma. It was used in a Mondoweiss article by Allison Deger. The picture of the teen agers confronting IDF fire power is by Jaafar Ashtiyeh. It is from Agence France Presse (AFP)