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Moral Low Ground


Israeli Strikes Kill 12 Civilians, Including 5 Children, In Gaza

Israeli forces have been pounding targets in Gaza for a week now, with a major escalation in the past 24 hours.

Israeli forces have been pounding targets in Gaza for a week now, with a major escalation in the past 24 hours.

At least 20 Palestinians, including 12 civilians, were killed across Gaza on Tuesday as Israeli military forces expanded a major bombing offensive targeting Islamic militants who have fired dozens of rockets at Israel.

Reuters reports five children were among the dozen innocent Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli bombardment.

Israeli civilians ran for cover in cities and towns throughout the nation as air raid sirens sounded warning of imminent rocket attacks. Hamas rockets targeted, among other places, Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, and the holy city of Jerusalem, both of which suffered hits during the last Gaza war in 2012.

Repeating the historical pattern of Israeli-Palestinian violence, far more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed during Operation Protective Edge. There were no reports of any Israeli deaths as of Tuesday evening. Two Israelis were reportedly wounded.

Israel has called up some 40,000 military reservists and is considering mobilizing even more.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the time has come to “take off the gloves” against Hamas, the democratically-elected rulers of Gaza who are considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

“Hamas chose to escalate the situation and it will pay a heavy price for doing so,” vowed Netanyahu.

“We will not tolerate rocket fire against our cities and townships, and therefore I ordered a significant broadening of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) operations against the terrorists of Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip,” said Netanyahu.

Senior Israeli officials said Operation Protective Edge could last for “a long time” and that a ground invasion of Gaza was a possibility.

“We are prepared for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end within days,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. “Hamas is leading the current confrontation to a place in which it seeks to exact a heavy price from our home front. There is a need for patience.”

The current escalation of hostilities is largely the result of a chain of events that began with the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by suspected Hamas militants. Israeli extremists then abducted and burned to death a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.

More than 200 rockets have since been fired from Gaza into Israel.

The previous ground invasion of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead. Of those, 926 were innocent civilians, including 429 women and children. Thirteen Israeli troops and three civilians died during the 2008-2009 war, which lasted 22 days.

Hamas said on Tuesday that it had launched rockets as far north into Israel as Haifa, 140 km (88 miles) away, and Israel confirmed that a rocket had struck Hadera, 100 km (62 miles) from Gaza. Hamas militants celebrated the strike; it represented the furthest any of its rockets, some of which come from Iran, have reached.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted at least one missile fired at Tel Aviv by the resistance group Islamic Jihad, the Jerusalem Post reports. Tel Aviv police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said no rockets fired from Gaza have landed in the capital, although one landed near a home in nearby Mateh Yehuda without causing injury or damage.

Military officials said Iron Dome also intercepted at least 21 other rockets fired at cities and towns including Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza border communities.

The United States has condemned the rocket attacks against Israel.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a Tuesday press briefing. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

But as night fell on Tuesday, the only civilians paying with their lives in the continued struggle between Israel and Palestine were the ones living in Gaza.

As Threat of Renewed War Grows, Families of Murdered Israeli, Palestinian Teens Mourn Together

Israeli-American teen Naftali Fraenkel (L) and Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir (R).

Israeli-American teen Naftali Fraenkel (L) and Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir (R).

The families of two murdered teenagers —one Israeli, the other Palestinian — have discovered solace from an unlikely source: each other.

The Jewish Daily Forward reports relatives of Naftali Fraenkel, the 16-year-old Israeli-American kidnapped and murdered along with two other teens by suspected Palestinian resistance fighters, and family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian teen burned to death by suspected Israeli extremists, have mourned together by phone and in person.

On Sunday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat posted on Facebook about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.”

While visiting the Fraenkel family home in Nof Ayalon, Barkat met Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and lamented the teen’s murder, which he called “barbaric.” The mayor suggested that Abu Khdeir speak with Yishai Fraenkel, Naftali’s uncle, who recently said that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew.”

“Blood is blood and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab,” Fraenkel had said.

Khdeir and Fraenkel then spoke by telephone, reportedly comforting each other.

“We expressed our deep empathy with their sorrow, from one bereaved family to another bereaved family,” said Fraenkel, according to the Times of Israel. “I think it’s very good that they seem to have found the culprits [of Khdeir’s murder],” he added. “We expressed our absolute disgust with what had happened. He accepted our statements, it was important for him to hear it.”

Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, who chairs the religious council in the Gush Etzion settlement cluster, organized a separate visit of Palestinians from Hebron in the occupied West Bank to the Fraenkel home.

When asked why they had come, one of the Palestinians said that “things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other.”

“Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews,” the unnamed mourner added.

“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he said. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”

But not everyone was in the mood for reconciliation, with Israelis and Palestinians alike bracing for a renewed wave of violence as Hamas militants stepped up rocket attacks against southern and central Israel. In response, Israel declared Operation Protective Edge, calling up 40,000 military reservists and attacking around 150 targets inside Gaza. At least 16 Palestinians have been killed; it is currently unknown how many of the dead are resistance fighters and how many are civilians.

The United States has condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a press briefing. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

Palestinian militants, who are vastly outgunned by Israeli forces —which receive billions of dollars in annual American military aid — often resort to largely indiscriminate rocket and terror attacks as they attempt to liberate their homeland from nearly half a century of illegal Israeli occupation. Palestinian violence has resulted in repeated Israeli military operations which have claimed tens of thousands of Arab lives.

The crisis has been exacerbated by continued illegal Jewish settler colonization of the occupied West Bank and the construction of what Israel calls a ‘security barrier’ but what critics have dubbed an ‘apartheid wall’ between Israel and the occupied territories.

Chicago Police SWAT Teams Patrol City After 82 Shot, 14 Killed, Over Holiday Weekend

Heavily-armed police SWAT teams are patrolling the streets of Chicago following a violent Fourth of July weekend during which at least 82 people were shot, 14 of them fatally.

The Chicago Tribune reports dozens of shooting incidents occurred in America’s third-largest city over the weekend.

Among the 82 shooting victims, who were concentrated in the city’s South Side, were five people shot by police, including two boys ages 14 and 16 who were killed after allegedly refusing to drop guns they were carrying. Witnesses claim one of the slain boys, 16-year-old Warren Robinson, was unarmed and had his hands in the air when he was shot by police.

“They shot him over 20 times,” Georgiana Utendahl, Robinson’s mother, told CBS Chicago. “They are trying to say he had a gun on him and he didn’t have a gun on him.”

The Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the officer-involved shootings.

In the most recent fatal shooting incident, 44-year-old Tonya Gunn was struck by bullets fired by a drive-by shooter while attending a family barbecue in Morgan Park at around 12:30 a.m. on Monday. Gunn’s 11-year-old daughter was standing beside her when she was gunned down, WLS reports.

The spike in shootings in the crime-ridden city prompted authorities to dispatch police SWAT teams to patrol affected neighborhoods. A police helicopter and SUV shuttled lockers full of rifles to SWAT units, the Tribune reported.

In a Monday morning press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy called the violence “unacceptable” and blamed it in part on a “proliferation of firearms.”

McCarthy also pointed the finger at the gangs infesting much of the city of 2.7 million inhabitants and said lax state and federal firearms laws are to blame.

“There is more of a sanction from their gangs for losing a weapon than there is to get arrested with an illegal firearm,” said McCarthy. “Something’s got to change.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also wants stricter gun laws, condemned the wave of shootings.

“This violence is unacceptable wherever it occurs in our city and all of us need to take a stand,” Emanuel said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Emanuel announced a “summer safety” campaign featuring increased police presence throughout the summer months, including 300 additional officers on duty over the Fourth of July weekend.

“We all know that crime spikes in the summer when there are more people out on the street, and more opportunities for confrontations and violence,” McCarthy said in unveiling the plan in April.

“Just because that’s a reality doesn’t mean it is acceptable, and we will continue building on our policing strategy to ensure every family, every child and every resident can enjoy a safe and carefree summer,” added McCarthy.

As of Monday morning, no suspects had been arrested in connection with any of the weekend shootings.

Citing Hobby Lobby Ruling, Guantánamo Detainees File Motion Seeking Group Prayers

GITMO detainees participating in group prayer in 2011 (US Navy)

GITMO detainees participating in group prayer in 2011 (US Navy)

Citing the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, attorneys for two detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay have filed a motion seeking religious freedom for their Muslim clients.

The lawyers have asked a US district court in Washington, DC to allow their clients, Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan, to participate in group prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Al Jazeera reports.

According to the attorneys, the detainees’ religious liberty is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the law cited by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, five of the nine justices ruled that the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide their female workers with access to free contraception is an unconstitutional violation of the RFRA.

The motion filed on behalf of the GITMO detainees claims prison officials “prevent them from praying communally during Ramadan,” Islam’s holiest month. During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset and are required to participate in additional group prayers during which they recite the Koran. GITMO officials have banned communal prayers.

Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons — human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien — enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the motion states.

One of the attorneys claims GITMO officials are punishing detainees for launching a 2013 hunger strike to protest prison conditions and their continued detention without charge or trial. More than half of the detainees have been cleared for release, many of them by both the Bush and Obama administrations, some since 2004.

“Why are the authorities at Guantánamo Bay seeking to punish detainees for hunger striking by curtailing their right to pray?” detainee attorney Cori Crider asked Al Jazeera. “If, under our law, Hobby Lobby is a ‘person’ with a right to religious freedom, surely GITMO detainees are people too?”

Emad Hassan, one of the detainees filing the motion, has been cleared for release by US authorities since 2009. He has not been charged nor tried for any crime. According to the human rights group Reprieve, the Yemeni was studying in Pakistan in 2002 when he was abducted and sold to US forces for $5,000, a common practice under a bounty program designed to catch terrorism suspects but which in reality was often used to settle personal vendettas.

US Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff during George W. Bush’s first term, claims Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all knew that the “vast majority” of GITMO detainees were innocent but kept them imprisoned in the notorious lockup, where torture and other abuse were rampant, for political reasons.

Classified US military documents leaked to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks in 2011 confirmed that 150 innocent men and boys were held at GITMO.

Hassan has been on a hunger strike to protest his wrongful detention for nearly seven years. He has been subjected to brutally painful force-feeding, an internationally-recognized form of torture, since 2007.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III told Al Jazeera that he is aware of the detainees’ motion and that the “government will respond through the legal system.”

“We are committed to religious freedoms and practices for the detainees, keeping in mind the overall goal of security and safety for detainees and staff,” added Caggins.

‘Rolling Coal’: Anti-Environmentalist Right-Wingers Modifying Diesel Pickups to Spew Toxic Smoke

rolling coalConservative pickup truck drivers in the United States have launched a new protest movement aimed at environmentalists, hybrid and foreign car drivers and President Barack Obama.

They’re modifying their diesel pickups with smokestack-style exhaust pipes and removing or disabling emission control devices so their vehicles intentionally spew noxious clouds of foul black diesel smoke. It’s called “rolling coal,” and it is a growing subculture among mostly rural, overwhelmingly right-wing Americans.

Vocativ reports “coal rollers” are targeting “socialists” who drive environmentally-friendlier hybrid cars, imported Japanese “rice burners” and random pedestrians.

“The feeling around here is that everyone who drives a small car is a liberal,” a South Carolina high school senior named Ryan told Vocativ. “I rolled coal on a Prius once just because they were tailing me.”

Robbie, a 25-year-old diesel mechanic who is Ryan’s boss, explained that “your truck is not just something to get you from point A to point B, it’s who you are.”

“If someone makes you mad, you can just roll coal and it makes you feel better sometimes,” he added.

Other “coalers” are upset that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cracking down on devices that allow truck drivers to remove diesel particulate filters, regulation they claim reduces fuel economy and horsepower. Others just don’t like President Barack Obama.

“I run into a lot of people who really don’t like Obama at all,” one Wisconsin smokestack kit dealer told Slate. “If he’s into the environment… we’re not… To get a single stack on my truck, that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”

Some people “roll coal” because they believe it makes them feel like more of a man.

“A lot of these guys thrive on how much coal they can roll when they’re in town next to hybrid cars,” Arizona pickup driver Sean Miller told Slate. Miller once embraced “coal rolling” but said the practice got embarrassing — and expensive—  after a while.

“It’s just a testosterone thing,” added Miller. “It’s manhood. It’s who can blow the most smoke, whose is blacker. The blacker it is, the more fuel you have in your injectors.”

“Coal rollers” are spending $1,000 to $5,000 to modify their pickups to emit copious amounts of pollution into the atmosphere. Besides adding smokestacks and smoke switches, which “trick” engines into “thinking” they needs more fuel, pickup owners are shelling out big bucks for complete fuel system overhauls.

The subculture is small but growing. A Facebook page dedicated to “rolling coal” has more than 15,000 ‘likes,’ and there are tens of thousands of photos of smoke-spewing trucks on photo sharing sites like Tumblr and Instagram.

Obviously, “rolling coal” damages the environment. But it can also be deadly. The American Cancer Society notes that inhalation of diesel exhaust causes cancer, as well as lung and heart disease.

According to the environmental group Clean Air Task Force (CATF), diesel exhaust is one of America’s “most pervasive sources of toxic air pollution,” emitting toxins that cause 21,000 premature deaths each year. But “coal rollers” don’t understand or don’t care very much.

“I’m not a scientist, but it couldn’t be too horrible,” Robbie, the South Carolina diesel mechanic, told Vocativ. “There are a lot of factories that are doing way worse than my truck.”

“It’s bad for the environment, that’s definitely true,” said Ryan, Robbie’s employee. “And some of the kids who have diesel trucks can look like tools. And you can cause a wreck, but everything else about it is pretty good.”

US State Department Condemns Israeli Police Beating of American Teen Tariq Khdeir

Tariq KhdeirThe US State Department has strongly condemned the savage beating of an American teenager by Israeli Border Police officers.

Haaretz reports the boy, 15-year-old Tariq Khdeir of Tampa, Florida, was visiting occupied Palestine to attend the Friday funeral of his cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive in an apparent Jewish revenge attack for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by alleged Hamas militants.

Multiple videos show Khdeir lying handcuffed on the ground outside the Jerusalem home of his slain cousin. In one video, multiple Border Police officers are sitting on the boy while another kicks and punches him. The officers then drag Khdeir’s apparently unconscious body away.

“We are profoundly troubled by reports that [Khdeir] was severely beaten while in police custody and strongly condemn any excessive use of force,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force,” the statement added.

Palestinians, some armed with stones, slingshots and Molotov cocktails, clashed with heavily armed and armored Israeli security forces in the wake of the slain teen’s funeral on Friday. Khdeir was arrested and beaten during the violence.

An Israeli Border Police spokesperson claimed Khdeir had a slingshot and had resisted arrest. His father, who witnessed the beating, insists he was not involved in the skirmish but was only watching it.

Khdeir is being held under police guard at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He is scheduled to appear before a judge on Monday. Meanwhile, the Israeli Border Police have launched an investigation into the beating.

Meanwhile, six Jewish extremists suspected of participating in the abduction and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir have been arrested, Israeli security sources announced on Sunday.

Federal Judge Rules Kentucky Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage was an unconstitutional violation of LGBT people’s rights.

In striking down Kentucky’s voter-approved constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, District Judge John G. Heyburn II eviscerated arguments against LGBT marriage equality. Heyburn emphatically rejected the argument made by lawyers for Gov. Steve Beshear that “traditional marriage” — the union of one man and one woman — keeps birth rates stable and helps to ensure the state’s economic success.

“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn wrote in his ruling.

“Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why,” explained Heyburn. “Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the court fails to see, and defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreating among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.”

“The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and ‘ensuring humanity’s continued existence’ are at best illogical and even bewildering,” wrote Heyburn.

Judge Heyburn acknowledged the large number of people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. But, he wrote, “in America, even sincere and long-held religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional right of those who happen to have been out-voted.”

Heyburn was referring to the 75 percent of Kentucky voters who approved Amendment 1, the state’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Kentucky was one of 11 states that passed such bans during that November’s elections.

The judge added that the gay marriage ban violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, and has “no conceivable legitimate purpose.”

In addition to being unconstitutional, Heyburn asserted that, “perhaps most importantly, [the ban denies same-sex couples] “the intangible and emotional benefits of civil marriage.”

The case at hand involved Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, a gay couple who have lived together for 34 years and who were denied a marriage license in February by the clerk’s office in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the state’s largest city. Co-plaintiffs Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James, together for 10 years, were cited for trespassing when they refused to leave the clerk’s office after they were denied a marriage license. A jury later convicted the couple of trespassing and fined them a penny.

More than just civil rights were at stake. Legal recognition of marriage status is literally a matter of life or death; as Heyburn noted, Love was forced to postpone emergency heart surgery while documents granting Ysunza hospital access and decision-making authority were prepared.

While Heyburn has ruled Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, there will be no weddings in the immediate future. The judge stayed his ruling pending the outcome of cases in four states to be decided by the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming months. One of those cases involves Heyburn’s February ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The plaintiffs in the most recent case, as well as LGBT advocates, hailed Heyburn’s ruling.

“It’s a win and we’re going to win in the end,” Love said following the decision. “Now the headline is, ‘Love wins.'”

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the LGBT civil rights group Freedom to Marry, said Heyburn’s ruling “underscores that America — all of America — is ready for the freedom to marry, and the Supreme Court should bring the country to a national resolution as soon as possible.”

But opponents of LGBT marriage equality lamented Heyburn’s decision. Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation, an anti-gay group which spearheaded efforts to pass Amendment 1, called the ruling “another indication that we are no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of judges.”

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also expressed his disappointment.

“The people of Kentucky voted to enshrine in our Constitution that marriage in our state is between one man and one woman,” said McConnell. “I support that position.”

Gov. Beshear, a Democrat, said the state will appeal Heyburn’s ruling.

The Kentucky ruling was the latest in a long string of decisions by federal judges that have struck down states’ gay marriage bans. Last week, Indiana’s ban was ruled unconstitutional. Also last week, a federal appeals court ruled that Utah may not deny same-sex couples their “fundamental right” to marry.

Cameroon Investigating World Cup Match-Fixing Allegations

July 1, 2014 by Brett Wilkins in Africa, Sports with 0 Comments
Cameroon's Alex Song elbows Croatia's Mario Mandžukić, getting sent off during the June 18 World Cup match in Manaus, Brazil. (ESPN screen grab)

Cameroon’s Alex Song elbows Croatia’s Mario Mandžukić, getting sent off during the June 18 World Cup match in Manaus, Brazil. (ESPN screen grab)

Football officials in Cameroon are investigating claims of World Cup match-fixing allegedly involving seven players from the African nation’s team, which lost all three of its first-round matches.

BBC Sport reports convicted Singaporean football match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that Croatia would defeat Cameroon 4-0 in the first round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and that a Cameroonian player would be sent off in the first half.

That’s exactly what happened in Manaus on June 18, with Alex Song lashing out at Croatia’s Mario Mandžukić and getting ejected from the match.

Bodies of 3 Missing Israeli Teens Found in West Bank


Israeli officials announced Monday night that the bodies of three teenagers abducted 18 days ago in the occupied West Bank have been found.

Haaretz reports the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16 and Israeli-American Naftali Fraenkel, 16 were found north of the Palestinian town of Halhul, north of Hebron, the apparent victims of murder.

The grisly discovery of the three bodies marks the end of Operation Brother’s Keeper, an intensive Israeli search for the missing teens which resulted in the largest ground operation inside the illegally-occupied Palestinian territory in nearly a decade. Six Palestinians were killed and some 370 more were arrested as Israeli forces desperately attempted to locate the missing teens.

Israeli President Simon Peres released a statement Monday evening mourning the loss of the teens:

“The entire nation is bowing its head with unbearable sorrow this evening. Over the past 18 days the nation prayed as one that the fate of our wonderful teenagers would be that they are found alive and well. Now that the bitter news has come, the entire Israeli nation mourns the premature death of our finest youth…

Alongside deep sorrow, we will remain resolute to punish the atrocious terrorists. Our war on terrorism will only intensify and will not waver so that this murderous terrorism won’t dare to rear its head.”

Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely of the ruling Likud party was more blunt in her reaction to the news of the teens’ deaths.

“The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price,” said Hotevely. “The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders.”

Hotovely called for a return to the policy of targeted assassinations of militant Palestinian leaders resisting Israeli occupation and Jewish settler colonization of Palestine, acts which are illegal under international law but which Israel considers legitimate activities.

“Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, may God avenge their blood,” said Aryeh Deri, a member of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) and leader of the far-right ultra-orthodox Shas party.

Late Monday, Israeli leaders were busy pondering and formulating their response to the kidnappings and apparent murders, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with his Security Cabinet, the Associated Press reported.

The three victims, Jewish colonists living in the settlement of Nof Ayalon, disappeared while hitchhiking home near Hebron late on the night of June 12. Israeli officials suspected operatives from the militant resistance group Hamas had abducted the teens, and last Thursday Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, released the names of two well-known Hamas fighters believed to be responsible for the kidnappings.

Binyamin Proper, one of the Israeli civilian volunteers who discovered the teens’ bodies on Monday, told Channel 2 TV that members of his search party “saw something suspicious on the ground” in a field near the village of Halhul.

“[There were] plants that looked out of place, [we] moved them and moved some rocks and then found the bodies,” said Proper.

Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings and dispatched security forces to closely cooperate with the Israeli search operation, Netanyahu has demanded that Abbas to dissolve a unity government recently formed with Hamas. Netanyahu asserts it is impossible for Abbas to be committed to achieving peace with Israel if he joins forces with a group the Jewish state considers a terrorist organization, a group that kidnaps and kills innocent Israeli civilians.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic ‘Buffer Zones’

Anti-abortion protesters in Washington, DC. (Flickr Creative Commons)

Anti-abortion protesters in Washington, DC. (Flickr Creative Commons)

The United States Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts law prohibiting protests near abortion clinics is unconstitutional.

The justices ruled 9-0 on Thursday in McCullen v. Coakley that the 2007 law, which established 35-foot (10.6 meters) ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, is a violation of protesters’ First Amendment rights.

Abortion foes challenged the law on First Amendment grounds, arguing the ‘buffer zones’ impeded their ability to have quiet conversations about alternatives to abortion with women entering the clinics. Supporters of the law countered that it was enacted in response to repeated harassment and worse — two receptionists were shot dead, and five other people were wounded, when a gunman attacked two abortion clinics in Brookline, a Boston suburb, in 1994.

But the justices rejected the law, asserting “the buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests.”

The Court said restricting access to public pathways and sidewalks violated the First Amendment, since those spaces are traditionally forums for free speech and debate. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that such “sites… have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history.”

Roberts added that in order to enforce the ‘buffer zones,’ Massachusetts “must demonstrate that alternative measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier.”

“A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency,” wrote Roberts.

Although the ruling was unanimous, the majority opinion was relatively narrow. Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote that opinion, was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurrence, which was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, went further, declaring the law “unconstitutional root and branch.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito filed a separate concurrence.

Scalia wrote that the “speech-free zones… add nothing to safety and access; what they achieve, and they were obviously designed to achieve, is the suppression of speech opposing abortion.”

Alito called the law discriminatory.

“It is clear on the face of the Massachusetts law that it discriminates based on viewpoint. Speech in favor of the clinic and its work by employees and agents is permitted; speech criticizing the clinic and its work is a crime. This is blatant viewpoint discrimination.”

Eleanor McCullen, the lead petitioner in the case, hailed the Court’s ruling.

“It restores your faith in the country,” McCullen told the Boston Globe. “The Court recognized our First Amendment rights, and now I’ll have a chance to speak to people one-on-one.”

McCullen added that many women visiting abortion clinics have second thoughts, and that’s where she’s able to step in and influence their decision in a pro-life direction.

“This is life and death,” she told the Globe. “This is about a little child.”

McCullen rejected accusations that anti-abortion protesters are frightening and belligerent.

“We’re not there to disturb the peace,” she said. “We’ll be gentle and loving.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the defendant in the case, issued a statement vowing to “fight to make sure women have safe access to reproductive health care.”

“We will utilize all of the tools we have available to protect everyone from harassment, threats and physical obstruction,” the statement read.

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts executive director Megan Amundson called the Court’s decision “a giant step back” for women’s rights.

“This decision ignores the very real violence that still occurs at abortion clinics,” Amundson told the Globe. “It disrespects the community right here in Boston that was violated by an armed zealot just 20 years ago,” she added, referring to the 1994 Brookline shooting.

“The buffer zone did exactly what it was intended to do: it prevented violence at clinics while allowing anti-choice protesters to express their views.”

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