Issue 1 - 2023 front

29 April 1999 Edition

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Netanyahu threatens to close Palestinian offices

Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of his intention to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) office in Jesusalem, known as Orient House, as the Israeli election campaign hots up. Orient House is an old hotel in the Arab quarter in East Jerusalem. It could be considered as the Foreign Office Department of the Palestinian government. Netanyahu also ordered the arrests of 25 of the Palestinian party's officials, including Faisal Huseini, head of the PLO in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has chosen as the central issue of his campaign the preservation of Jerusalem as the indivisible Jewish capital, and the office closure threats and arrests signal his move from words into actions.

Five candidates are competing for election as Israeli prime minister. The contenders with some chance of become elected are the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud, Ehud Barak of the Labour Party, and Yitzhak Mordechai of the newly created Center Party. None of them can expect to be elected on the first round on 17 May, and the Likud and Labor candidates will have to face a second round on 1 June.

Thirty three parties will contest the parliamentary elections on 17 May. It is what is called a ``closed list'' elections, with voters choosing the party they want to vote for and supporting a list of 120 names that represent the number of seats in the parliament (Knesset). Four lists will appeal to the Arab citizens, who make up 12% of the electorate. These are the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, led by the Communist Party, the National Democratic Alliance, with Yasir Arafat's advisor on Israeli affairs on its list, the Arab Democratic Party, and the Organisation for Democratic Action, which opposes the Oslo Agreement.

New evidence on ETA volunteer's death

Forensic and photographic evidence and witness testimonies are indicating that the suspicions of members of the pro-indepencence Basque movement in relation to the death of ETA volunteer José Luis Geresta could be right. Spokesperson for Herri Batasuna, Arnaldo Otegi, said that the death of Geresta, whose body was found on a field nearby the town of Orereta, in Gipuzkoa, should have not been treated as a suicide, as there were suspicions involved of a return of the dirty war directed by the Spanish state's security forces.

The evidence gathered by Basque newspaper GARA shows that there are very suspicious elements surrounding Geresta's death, as the positioning of the ETA member's body was incompatible with the positioning of a body of someone who has shot himself on the temple. He was found lying on his back, with his arms stretched alongside his body and his legs also stretched. Furthermore, the gun used was lying 30 centimetres to the left of the body, while the bullet's entry wound was on the right side of his head. Although Geresta was not wearing gloves, there were no fingerprints on the gun found at the scene nor on the lighter or money in his trousers pocket.

Two of Geresta's back teeth were missing, and the forensic expert concluded they were extracted shortly before his death. His jaw was broken.

A cousin of Geresta, who saw him three days before his body was found, declared that the ETA volunteer told him that the police were after him. Geresta's sister, Miren, explained that the family are ready to keep fighting until the truth comes out, although they know they face an uphill battle.

Police Brutality in the US

``Fourteen-year-old Jenni Hightower was killed in March 1998 in Trenton, New Jersey, after police fired 20 shots into the stolen car in which she was a passenger. The driver, 16 year-old Hubert Moore, was critically injured. A state grand jury declined to file criminal charges against the officers when they argued that the teenagers had tried to run them down.'' This is one of the cases highlighted by an Amnesty International report on Police Brutality in the U.S., presented to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission, and which highlighted ``the widespread and persistent'' abuses inflicted by police officers on U.S. citizens.

The last example on a very long list, a 22-year-old Guinean immigrant and street vendor, Amadou Diallo, was gunned down by four white policemen in the vestibule of the building where he lived in the Bronx in the early morning of 4 February. According to a New York medical examiner, Diallo was struck at least 19 times. So much for the ``zero tolerance'' policy of Mayor Giuliani, which some Irish politicians are so set on introducing in Ireland.

The United States of America, the `model democracy', has some of the most violent police officers, who will kick, punch or baton suspects who have already being restrained. The use of excessive physical force and batons, chemical sprays and electro-shock weapons account for most of the complaints presented against police departments, together with the deaths caused by dangerous restraint holds and shooting incidents. But there is another aspect to the pattern of abuse: racism.

Amnesty International's report points out that the majority of victims are members of racial or ethnic minorities, while most police departments remain predominantly white. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Indians ``are more likely than whites to be stopped and searched without cause.

`Race-based police profiles' label every black driver a suspected drug offender'', a practice so common it is widely known as ``driving while black''. This racial bias has caused the deaths of 23 black undercover police officers at the hands of fellow officers in New York City alone.

In a ten-year period, 94 suspects have died as a consequence of restraint-related in-custody deaths, involving hogtying - where a suspect's ankles are bound from behind to the wrists - or after pressure has been applied to the neck or chest.

The Amnesty International document points out how officers are rarely prosecuted for excessive force and the inadequacy of the sanctions imposed on officers found guilty of brutality. Impunity is related to ``the code of silence'', as in most cases other police officers will be the only witnesses to the abuses or killings. Civil rights and community groups have frequently questioned the impartiality of criminal investigations, claiming that local prosecutors depend on police cooperation.

In recent years there have been moves to introduce independent oversight of the complaints process in some U.S. police departments.

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