Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 20th, 2011

Part 2. Genesis of Hezbollah of Lebanon: Accounts of Robert Fisk

It is recommended, in order to appreciate the facts, eye-witness accounts, and reports of Robert Fisk, which points to the creation of Hezbollah and how it started to resist Israel occupation of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, to read https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/part-1-genesis-of-hezbollah-in-lebanon-accounts-of-robert-fisk/

Robert Fisk wrote the book “Affliction of a Nation” and I am reading the Arabic translated version. Fisk was the correspondent to the British The Times in Beirut and covered Lebanon civil war for nine years.

“The Moslem Shias in south Lebanon believed the claims and pledges of Israel that Israel invasion was meant to “liberate the south from Palestinian occupation”.  Very quickly, the claims didn’t match what they inflicted on the Shias on the ground.  During the siege of West Beirut, most of the casualties were Shias living in the suburbs of Bourj Barajneh, Shiyah, and Hai Selum.

Sheikh Ali Mahdi Ibrahim (64 year-old) of the town of Adlun knew Ayatollah Khomeini intimately:  He studied in the Iraqi city of Najaf, where Khomeini spent 15 years of his exile. Sheikh Ibrahim said: “It is the Iranian revolutionary clerics who learned from us in Tyr…”  Many of Ibrahim students presented themselves as members of Hezbollah.  This was in 1984, and most of the kidnapping were claimed by “Islamic Jihad” before they adopted the name of Hezbollah.

When the Shia inhabitants in the south asked me “Are you a spy?”, it was less of their animosity against the western States behaviors, but rather relevant to their endemic isolation:  The successive Lebanese governments ignored the regions in the south and totally forgot to budget in any development resources.  It was incumbent on the “citizens” to shoulder the central State responsibilities in building schools, and hospitals…, even before the total collapse of the government in the civil war that started in April 1975 to 1991.

Before the Lebanese resistance got organized and spread to the south, most of the attacks and ambushes targeted the Israeli brigade 162, stationed in the Druze Chouf district, and commanded by Brigadier General Amnon Lifkin (39 year-old).  Ten years earlier, Lifkin commanded a terrorist team of the Mossad:  This team entered Beirut and assassinated three Palestinian officials; two Israeli soldiers were killed in this infiltration (Read “Searching for the red prince” by Barzhar Whitan Haber).

As of February 1983, this brigade was ambushed eight times.  I arrived in March to a headquarter located in a villa.  The Israeli soldiers were celebrating their Jewish Easter.  One soldier told me “There is no future to Lebanon”. Suddenly, a detonation like a thunder-clap shook the villa.  The second detonation got the soldiers scrambling for their guns and running outside.  Two Jeeps were ambushed and a rocket missile killed two soldiers and injured many others.  The spirit in the villa had changed: Up until now, it didn’t yet sink in the Israelis that they were an occupation force, and unwanted in the land.

By mid May, all hopes had evaporated to staying in the Chouf. Lifkin was making plans to withdraw his troops to north Saida.  Already, brigade 162 had lost 118 soldiers in 6 months (one-fourth the total loss during the invasion). In the south, the Israeli defense line extended from the Awali River, crossing the valley of Bisry River, all the way to the Baruk Mountain. Israel had built helicopter fields, radar stations, and depots for tanks…

In June 1983, Israel Shin Beth secret agents, in civilian cloths, and backed up by soldiers rounded-up 60 young men in the city of Tyr Palestinian camps.  In one month, the Lebanese resistance ambushed the occupation troops 35 times on the regular roads lounging the Karawon artificial lake.  Israel started constructing a highway to avoid old roads.

Israel adopted blackmail tactics:  Mayors of towns and villages had to cough up $5,000 per month in order to hire Israeli appointed “guards” to secure “law and order”.  Otherwise, the sons of the village will not be released from the Ansar prison, and the militias will barge into town, ransack it and round-up more people to prison…

Mayor (mokhtar) Ahmad Shebli of Beit Leef wrote to the UN Netherlands peace force contingent saying: “Are we living within the State of Israel?”  The mokhtar of Yater disbursed the first installment and refused to pay more. Consequently, Israel set up check points at the exit of the town and levied fees on every car and truck leaving town.

In June 10, an Israeli convoy was ambushed by 10 resistance fighters and three soldiers killed.  The town of Gebsheet was stormed and its religious cleric sheikh Ragheb Harb arrested and detained in Tyr.  Gebsheet was thus on the resistance path. When I visited Gebsheet the next day, a banner said “Death is part of our attributes. Martyrdom is a grace from God”.  The Mosque displayed large photos of Khomeini and Imam Moussa Sadr.  A bearded young man named Jihad, a member of Islamic Jihad, was talking of “America the greatest Satan”  Jihad said: “For months, Israel secret service agent, code-named Abu Nour, tried hard to meet sheikh Ragheb, who refused any communication with this occupation officer.  On March 17, sheikh Ragheb was arrested.

A week later after the arrest of Ragheb, ten militia “guards” drove to the Shin Beth headquarter in Nabatieh and returned their guns:  They refused to be part of Israel watch dogs.  Israel appointed Lebanese to head selected associations in order to facilitate communications; for example, requesting the freeing of prisoners in exchange of favors…

On September 4, Israel withdrew its forces from Chouf to north of Saida.  It re-organized the 25,000 occupation forces, and maintained 300 tanks, and 100 field guns in 5 brigades.

In November 4, a Lebanese kamikaze blew up his car, packed with explosive, in the Israel military headquarter in Tyr; over 75 people were killed instantly.  It was time for Israel to regroup its troops and shrink its occupation territory.  (to be continued)

Crowd-sourcing in Syria? Satellite crisis-mapping Imagery Analysis?

What if we crowdsourced satellite imagery analysis of key cities in Syria to identify evidence of mass human rights violations?

Looks like using micro-tasking, with backend triangulation to crowdsource the analysis of high resolution satellite imagery for human rights purposes, is definitely breaking new ground.

This is precisely the question that Patrick Meier and his colleagues at Amnesty International USA’s Science for Human Rights Program are being asked to follow upon.  

Patrick Meier of Crisis Mapping at Ushahid has been publishing posts on mapping Syria military concentration. The post is titled “Help Crowdsource Satellite Imagery Analysis for Syria: Building a Library of Evidence” and says:

“I coordinated this pilot project for Somalia.  AI-USA has done similar work in the past with their Eyes on Darfur project. But using micro-tasking, with backend triangulation to crowdsource the analysis of high resolution satellite imagery for human rights purposes, is definitely breaking new ground.

A staggering amount of new satellite imagery is produced every day. Millions of square kilometers’ worth of images are mapped according to one knowledgeable colleague. This is a big data problem that needs mass human intervention, until the software can catch up.

I recently spoke with Professor Ryan Engstrom, the Director of the Spatial Analysis Lab at George Washington University, and he confirmed that automated algorithms for satellite imagery analysis still have a long, long way to go. So the answer for now has to be human-driven analysis.

Professional satellite imagery experts, who have plenty of time to volunteer their skills, are far and few between.

The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), is composed of a very small team and a few interns. Their focus is limited to the Sudan and they are understandably very busy. My colleagues at AI-USA analyze satellite imagery for several conflicts, but this takes them far longer than they’d like and their small team is still constrained given the number of conflicts and vast amounts of imagery that could be analyzed. This explains why they’re interested in crowdsourcing.

Indeed, crowdsourcing imagery analysis has proven to be a workable solution in several other projects & sectors. The “crowd” can indeed scan and tag vast volumes of satellite imagery data when that imagery is “sliced and diced” for micro-tasking.

This is what we did for the Somalia pilot project thanks to the Tomnod platform and the imagery provided by Digital Globe. The yellow triangles below denote the “sliced images” that individual volunteers from the Standby Task Force (SBTF) analyzed and tagged one at a time.

We plan do the same with high resolution satellite imagery of three key cities in Syria selected by the AI-USA team. The specific features we will look for and tag include: ”Burnt and/or darkened building features,” “Roofs absent,” “Blocks on access roads,” “Military equipment in residential areas,” “Equipment/persons on top of buildings indicating potential sniper positions,” “Shelters composed of different materials than surrounding structures,” etc.

SBTF volunteers will be provided with examples of what these features look like from a bird’s eye view and from ground level. Like the Somalia project, only when a feature—say a missing roof—is tagged identically  by at least 3 volunteers will that location be sent to the AI-USA team for review.

In addition, if volunteers are unsure about a particular feature they’re looking at, they’ll take a screenshot of said feature and share it on a dedicated Google Doc for the AI-USA team and other satellite imagery experts from the SBTF team to review. This feedback mechanism is key to ensure accurate tagging and inter-coder reliability.

The screenshots shared will be used to build a larger library of features. For example, what a missing roof looks like as well as military equipment in residential areas, road blocks, etc. Volunteers will also be in touch with the AI-USA team via a dedicated Skype chat.

There will no doubt be a learning curve, but the sooner we climb that learning curve the better. Democratizing satellite imagery analysis is no easy task, and one or two individuals have opined that what we’re trying to do can’t be done. That may be true, but we won’t know unless we try.

This is how innovation happens. We can hypothesize and talk all we want, but concrete results are what ultimately matters. And results are what can help us climb that learning curve. My hope, of course, is that democratizing satellite imagery analysis enables AI-USA to strengthen their advocacy campaigns and makes it harder for perpetrators to commit mass human rights violations.

SBTF volunteers will be carrying out the pilot project this month in collaboration with AI-USA, Tomnod and Digital Globe. How and when the results are shared publicly will be up to the AI-USA team as this will depend on what exactly is found.

In the meantime, a big thanks to Digital Globe, Tomnod and SBTF volunteers for supporting the AI-USA team on this initiative.

If you’re interested in reading more about satellite imagery analysis, the following blog posts may also be of interest:

• Geo-Spatial Technologies for Human Rights
• Tracking Genocide by Remote Sensing
• Human Rights 2.0: Eyes on Darfur
• GIS Technology for Genocide Prevention
• Geo-Spatial Analysis for Global Security
• US Calls for UN Aerial Surveillance to Detect Preparations for Attacks
• Will Using ‘Live’ Satellite Imagery to Prevent War in the Sudan Actually Work?
• Satellite Imagery Analysis of Kenya’s Election Violence: Crisis Mapping by Fire
• Crisis Mapping Uganda: Combining Narratives and GIS to Study Genocide
• Crowdsourcing Satellite Imagery Analysis for Somalia: Results of Trial Run
• Genghis Khan, Borneo & Galaxies: Crowdsourcing Satellite Imagery Analysis
• OpenStreetMap’s New Micro-Tasking Platform for Satellite Imagery Tracing

In particular, we are looking to identify the following evidence using high-resolution satellite imagery:

  • Large military equipment
  • Large crowds
  • Checkpoints
The idea is to provide volunteers the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) Satellite Team with as much of road map as possible so they know exactly what they’re looking for in the  satellite imagery they’ll be tagging using the Tomnod system:

Here are some of the links that Chris already sent us for the above imagery:
Comment:  This a great endeavor. I suggest to Patrick Meier to start crowd sourcing on Israeli check-points, road-blocks, concentration of military centers in Jewish colonies in the Palestinian occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Let us be fair and equitable in matters related to human rights, regardless of what States like to define their political systems and disseminate false images.  Palestine is an independent State, recognized by the UN.
Note 1: Patrick Meier, born and raised in Africa, is director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi and co-founder of the International Network of Crisis Mappers. Previously co-directed Harvard’s Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning.
Note 2: In one of the many articles I published related to Syria uprising in the last six months I wrote: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/whats-going-on-in-syria-any-insider-pieces-of-intelligence-part-two/
Note 3: The same technique is being used for the search of the missing Malaysian airliner this March 2014.  Apparently, about 30,000 registered clients view each of the shots and report whether they have seen any party of the wreckage.  If many report on a shot, the image is sent to a specialist to decide before forwarding the shot to the proper authorities. This search has not been successful so far.

 What’s happening in Yemen? Are youth set to win in the longer-term?

You may read one of my many articles on Yemen and its geopolitical and social structure https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/updates-on-yemen-what-may-change-after-president-saleh/

The British daily The Guardian published an article, translated from an Arabic version, this Thu 12 May 2011 titled “The youth will win in Yemen”.  It says (with slight editing from my part):

“We will complete our revolution and oust President Saleh, with or without international support. Young Yemenis can no longer contain their desire to become a real part of the world.
yemen youth revolution saleh

Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images, Wasim Alqershi

Yemen is a fertile land with beaches that stretch for more than 1,700km (same beach stretch as Libya?) In an age of extraordinary medical advances, the greatest hope of 24 million Yemenis (as populated as Syria?) is that their children are not crippled by polio.  

It is also a country in which more than 10 million people are threatened by starvation: Thousands spend their lives sneaking into neighbouring countries in search of better opportunities, and where children are violated in forced labour markets.  Many still dream of travelling by car rather than donkey. In an age of Facebook and Twitter, many Yemenis simply wish they could read a letter from a loved one (see note).

That is why the Yemeni revolution was formulated in the minds of the young long before it broke out on the ground. A failing economy and a deteriorating security situation, together with spiralling corruption, simply amplified most Yemeni people’s daily experience of poverty, ignorance and disease.
 
The people’s aspirations for something better were transformed into a crisis when President Ali Abdullah Saleh sought to extend his rule beyond 40 years and to bequeath Yemen – as if the country was one of his possessions – to his son. Young Yemenis could no longer contain their desire to become a real part of the world.
 
We took to the streets – unarmed in a country where the people own more than 60 million guns. What we wanted was a modern civil State in Yemen. When we saw the success of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, our determination to topple the Yemeni regime was heightened. Students from the University of Sana’a went out on to the streets raising placards which called, for the first time, for the overthrow of the regime. One hour after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, thousands of youths in the city of Taiz came out to celebrate, and to announce the start of the Yemeni revolution.
 
On 21 February, the opposition parties joined in: It became clear that Saleh had lost all popular legitimacy and was now being propped up only by tribe, the army, vested economic interests and the international community. We knew that if he was to fall, these elements must be overcome. First, the tribes joined the revolution: the Hashid and Bakil, the largest ethnic groups in Yemen, followed by all the others.
 
In revenge, Saleh sent republican guard snipers to Sana’a, killing at least 45 and wounding hundreds. This bloody Friday shook the conscience of the nation. Those murdered youths had gone out into the streets carrying only their beautiful dreams, and had ended up being carried on the shoulders of others.  The killings persuaded many in the army’s leadership to declare their support for the revolution, and many in Yemen’s administrative and diplomatic bodies resigned.
 
Saleh then said he would step down. We knew this was a lie. He continued to exert control over the republican guard, which is  led by his son, and the central security led by his nephew, and the air force led by his brother. The young people decided to escalate the protest, staging marches and sending a message about our ability to access the presidential palace.
 
Saleh sensed the imminence of his downfall and began to hint that he would provoke a war that would have a disastrous impact not only on Yemen but on the entire region. This led to the Arabic Gulf States’ initiative, to broker a transfer of power from Saleh to his opponents. This initiative had US support and has become Saleh’s last source of legitimacy.
 
However, the youth movement rejected it – partly because, under the initiative’s terms, Saleh’s departure would not be immediate, but would take place a month after the agreement was signed. Saleh has previously broken agreements after just two days, so what would he do if given a month?  The initiative also guaranteed that Saleh and his government would not be tried. This would be a betrayal of the blood of our martyrs, and of the Yemeni people who need to recover their looted wealth to rebuild their country.
 
In addition, the initiative required that power be transferred to Saleh’s deputy until presidential elections could be held. We feared that a new regime could emerge from the old – different faces, but the same corruption. We demanded a regime built on a true balance of national forces, with the authority and legitimacy to ensure political and media freedoms, respect for human rights, and an independent judiciary.
 
The Gulf initiative had also stipulated that that the protests should be suspended, but we plan to maintain the sit-ins until the objectives of the revolution have been achieved.  The Gulf initiative presents a way out for the regime, prolonging its life and stirring up disagreement between the youth and the opposition parties – who agreed to the initiative under pressure from the international community and to “stop the bloodshed”.
 
Our young people have decided to escalate civil disobedience until Saleh’s regime is overthrown. It remains for the international community to realise that the youth will complete their revolution with or without international support.  However, the withdrawal of international legitimacy from Saleh would achieve two things: First, it would stop Saleh from killing any more young people; and second, it would reinforce the values of freedom, justice, equality and democracy for which we are struggling.
 
The youth of the revolution realise that once their civil State is born, it will form part of the wider world. The more the revolution is supported today by the international community, the more that will motivate the youth to become a positive international partner when that day comes”.
 
The British daily The Guardian wrote in its front page: “After 8 months, the Capital Sanaa is witnessing mass killing to the opposition forces. A third of the people in Yemen are suffering from hunger according to a report sent to Oxfam agency.  And yet, the US is focusing on targeting Al Qaeda bases with drones in south Yemen.  Saudi Arabia’s best interest is preserving the administrative structure intact, otherwise this absolute monarchy might have to confront long-term instability on its borders with Yemen.
 
In the short-term, the Arab Gulf alternative might be established because Yemen is very poor and need all the funds that are available, but what the youth wish should be sustained with samll donations by the Arab youth movements.
 
Note 1: It appears that the people in south Yemen have a tendency to extreme positions. Before the unification with north Yemen, south Yemen was a communist-Marxist regime.  How come extremist Sunni ideology made such a vigorous entrance in south Yemen? 
 
Note 2: One of the many jokes on Yemen is this one.  The Prophet Muhammad came back and saw the Arabic Peninsula.  Things have drastically changed in matter of construction and life-style, but Yemen was the most familiar place: Nothing changed there in the last 1,400 years.

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2011
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