A few weeks ago I spent six hours at the main checkpoint between Israel and Gaza. Here is what I saw.
UPDATE: A fund has been set up for Almigdad’s family. Anyone who wants to please donate here
This morning I received the devastating news that Almigdad Mojalli, a Yemeni journalist who had written for a whole range of media – both Western and Yemeni – was killed, seemingly by a Saudi airstrike.
While I am no longer with IRIN, for over six months I had the pleasure of working with Almigdad as he wrote fantastic stories during Yemen’s brutal civil war.
He had the rarest of qualities of journalists in a civil war – total commitment to neutrality and objectivity. As journalists across the country were systematically squeezed to support either side, he maintained a healthy distain for all warring parties. His commitment was always to tell the suffering of the Yemeni people.
This dedication to facts, to truth and most of all to the Yemeni people made him unpopular with all those with weapons but loved by all those without. While we do not know the full circumstances of his death, on many occasions previously he had been both threatened by the Houthis and narrowly avoided Saudi airstrikes. In a war as brutal as Yemen’s, those genuinely committed to criticising all sides have been systematically under attack.
Almigdad wrote for IRIN freelance for nearly a year, along with other publications including VOA and The Telegraph. During that time, he systematically documented the suffering of his people amid one of the world’s most brutal civil wars. Among the topics he covered were the lack of aid arriving in the country, the remains of the country’s most famous orphanage and how people battled to feed their families.
He took the pain of his people and brought it to the world.
Multiple members of his family have been killed since the Saudi bombing campaign began in March 2015. We spoke many times about him leaving – fleeing to Jordan, or Malaysia or elsewhere. It often came back to the same point, he didn’t feel he could do it.
“I am a Yemeni, this is my home,” I remember him saying. He just wanted to live in peace with his family.
Almigdad Mojalli was a wonderful human being who did more for Yemen than all the country’s myriad political factions could ever hope to.
While journalism has suffered a great loss, his family’s pain is far sharper. His son, just six years old, will never know his wonderful father who sacrificed so much for him. Our thoughts are with them at this time.
Almigdad’s passing is a moment of sober realism for us all. Journalism, Yemen and the world will be far poorer without him.
I will leave you with a few of his words from this beautiful piece.
Over the past six months, I’ve been to dozens of bombsites. Even as a Yemeni, it is hard not to become desensitised. Every day I wake up to hear that 10 people were killed last night, or 20, or 40. It almost stops feeling real.
More than anything you focus on protecting those you care for. I am a journalist working in a war zone, but I am also a husband, a son and a father.
While I have stayed in Sana’a, I moved my family out to a village away from the airstrikes, so I don’t get to spend as much time with the children as I would like. “When will you take me to the park, Dad?” my five-year old son also asks me lovingly every week. The reply is always the same: “When the war stops.”
UPDATE: February 15 2017. After Airwars and Foreign Policy revealed that in fact the US has started using Depleted Uranium, I was asked by a couple of people for the full quotes where they pledged not to use it. In the interests of transparency I produce them in full below.
Q1: Given that A10s have carried out around 10 percent of attacks on ISIS so far, can you confirm whether any of them have been equipped with PGU 14 Armor Piercing Incendiary?
A1: CJTF can confirm that the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jet has been conducting dynamic strikes in support of Operation Inherent Resolve since late November on a regular basis. They are not equipped with PGU 14 Armor Piercing Incendiary.
Q2: The Iraqi government has called for a global ban on the use of Depleted Uranium munitions. Can you explicitly confirm that no DU has been used in any attacks within Iraq and/or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve?
A2: CJTF can confirm that US. and Coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.
JOHN J. MOORE Captain, U.S. Army CJTF-OIR Public Affairs (Media Relations)
Original article below
In recent weeks there has been growing chatter about fears of the potential use of depleted uranium in Syria and Iraq as the Americans and their allies bomb the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
In particular, an article (Arabic) in the Syrian publication “Raqqa is being slaughtered” recently claimed that residents in the ISIS-run town of Raqqa were fearful that the Americans would use DU as they seek to knock the Islamist militants back.
While potentially effective militarily depleted uranium has long been criticised for being incendiary and having potentially long-term effects on civilians.
The US allegedly used depleted uranium in civilian areas in the 2003 Iraq war in breach of their own protocols. The country has suffered from high rates of birth defects ever since, with allegations that the depleted uranium was to blame.
The only type of plane with the capacity to deploy depleted uranium is the A10. So far, the Americans confirmed, around 10 percent of the strikes carried out have been by A10s – the vast majority in Iraq. But to do so they must be equipped with PGU 14 Armor Piercing Incendiary.
So I asked the U.S. military whether the A10s had been equipped with PGU 14 and whether they would consider using depleted uranium in ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’ – the name for the campaign against ISIS.
John Moore, a captain in the U.S. army and a media relations guy for Operation Inherent Resolve, was unequivocal in his reply.
He said he could confirm that “U.S. and Coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.”
He also said that none of the A10s had been equipped with PGU 14.
This follows NATO confirming that they did not use DU in Libya. It seems that the pressure by campaigners around use of DU may have convinced militaries to stop its use.
Ones for the data nerds…
I did a brief interactive timeline on how Syria’s neighbours have one by one increased their restrictions on refugees crossing the borders.
See it here
I recently returned from a 16-day reporting trip to Afghanistan. Here are some of the stories I wrote. Will post the rest of the links when they are published. Photos also mine.
When Shaharzad completed her law degree and announced she wanted to get a job, her younger brother did what he could to stop it. Coming from the culturally conservative Badakhshan region, the siblings had left their parents behind to move to the capital Kabul and her brother was technically the head of the household. Even still, she was determined to stand on her own feet.
Uzbekistan has a perhaps unusual ally in its territorial claims over neighbouring Afghanistan: the mighty and ever-wandering Amu Darya river. And no one knows it better than the children of Arigh Ayagh School, just inside Afghanistan.
Slowly but surely, NGOs and UN bodies are admitting it publicly – they are dealing with the Taliban again. While such deals have been developing in private for several years, NGOs have been hesitant to discuss their relations with the Afghan Islamist group because of political pressure and counter terrorism legislation.
In northern Afghanistan, the residents don’t often use the phrase – most don’t even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change.
Abdullah’s wails of pain are punctuated only by his rasping cough. His arms bound to his body, he is five months old but weighs just 3.2kg, lighter than some newborns. In the next bed, three-month old Shukoria looks withered and worn, her face wrinkled and pained.
Afghanistan’s internally displaced persons (IDP) policy – finally passed earlier this year after a long delay, but not yet implemented – is a landmark document. Heavily inspired by the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the policy is thought to be the first of its kind in Asia. It grants a whole swathe of rights to those forced from their homes by conflict or disaster, but who have not crossed an international border.
A piece I wrote for Huffington Post. Original can be read here.
The central square of a major Syrian city. Two dozen bodies are piled high, limbs distorted, faces contorted and mutilated. The remaining local residents swarm by, encouraged by the murderers to view the price of resistance.
One witness records the scene, describing it as a “Dantesque horror: the corpses’ shoes were scattered all about; they had tragic faces, their arms outstretched. One, so very young, still had his mouth open, as if he were crying something out…it was a scene of human carnage.”
These visions have become depressingly common as the militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (formerly known and hereafter referred to as ISIS) have swept across large swathes of both Syria and Iraq in recent months, massacring thousands and displacing over half a million. Yet this is not Raqqa or other areas controlled by ISIS. This is not even the 21st century.
This morbid scene took place in October 1925, the perpetrators the French colonial occupying force. Following the start of what would become known as the Great Syrian Revolt 1925-7, the bodies of the twenty-four rebels were dragged to the centre of Damascus and portrayed as a lesson for all to see.
This article was published by IRIN, a press service funded by the UN, on September 2
Nearly a week after a ceasefire agreement that was believed to include the partially lifting of the blockade on Gaza, no restrictions have been eased, say humanitarians and border guards.
NGOs are eager to increase aid to the Palestinian region after a 50-day Israeli bombing campaign left over 2,000 dead, thousands wounded and much of the enclave’s infrastructure in ruins, but access rules continue to present huge challenges.
I have recently completed a month-long trip to Brazil in which I was reporting extensively on the Lebanese-Brazilian diaspora (and watching the World Cup!) For those that don’t know, there are perhaps twice as many Brazilians of Lebanese descent as there are people inside Lebanon itself. They are also hugely powerful and economically successful.
As such I spent a few weeks meeting senior Lebanese-Brazilians, including an interview with Michel Temer – Brazil’s vice-president. I also wrote an extensive history of Lebanese emmigration to Brazil, which was fascinating to research and write. I have copied and pasted the first part of it below.
You can view all the articles here.
This article originally appeared in the Times Education Supplement
Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s new minister of education, does not mince his words. “Without more support, the Lebanese education system may collapse. It is that serious,” he says.
The population of the small Middle Eastern country, home to just over 4 million citizens, has swollen by more than a quarter over the past three years. As Syria’s uprising has grown into a vicious civil war, more than a million people have fled across the border into Lebanon. This influx has driven the country’s public education system to the brink. Continue reading “‘This generation of Syrians may be lost if we don’t get help’”