By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa
Senators are ramping up their push to get Ottawa to stop barring humanitarian workers from responding to devastating crises in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been waiting for months now for the government to do something, and they’re just dragging their feet,” said Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan.
“Really, come on — all our allies have found a way to work around it.”
The Ontario senator, chair of the upper chamber’s human rights committee, has persuaded her colleagues to hold hearings next month on rules that bar aid groups from working in Afghanistan.
The Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, and humanitarian groups say Canadian officials told them that they can’t pay anyone in Afghanistan or buy goods there, because paying taxes counts as supporting a terrorist group.
Aid groups such as the Canadian Red Cross are set to testify about the issue at a Dec. 5 hearing, while bureaucrats or ministers might appear Dec. 12.
Ataullahjan says a Canadian running an orphanage in Kabul fears landing in prison for 10 years if she does anything to improve the living conditions of children following the pullout of the U.S. and allies from Afghanistan.
“Our young men and women died there,” Ataullahjan said. “The least we owe them is that we need to be concerned about the people that they died for. It’s not rocket science.”
In June, a House of Commons committee called for Ottawa to come up with a remedy, noting that other countries had already amended their laws to clarify that delivering aid will not lead to prosecution. The United Nations has issued a similar rule for its agencies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have said they want to resolve the issue, but as of Monday they still lack any timeline or publicly stated plan to resolve the issue, despite having regular talks with the Taliban.
Government departments told the House they “will consider measures, including legislative options, to address the need for exemptions.” The Liberals have repeatedly noted that they are funding some aid that UN agencies are delivering on the ground.
“It’s not good enough,” Ataullahjan said. “It’s a lot of non-answers.”
The UN says nearly 60 per cent of the Afghan population needs humanitarian aid to help with the collapse of food and health systems due to an economic crisis, natural disasters and armed conflict. Winter temperatures can plunge to —25 C in some parts of the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted.
“Many displaced and conflict-affected families will be left exposed to the elements,” the agency reported on Nov. 11.
“Many displaced families will have no option but to choose between food and warmth as they struggle to heat their shelters, source warm clothing, and cook hot meals.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported a rise in poverty and spiking cases of child pneumonia and malnutrition ahead of the typically harsh winter.
Ataullahjan grew up in Pakistan and fondly recalls vacations in Afghanistan, decades before it was ruled by zealots.
She has been distressed to hear friends describe parents drugging their children so that they sleep, because they’re subsisting on a meal of soaked bread once every two days.
They send her videos of children hiding under parked cargo trucks before running along and jumping onto the vehicles to help smuggle goods between Afghanistan and Pakistan in return for money.
“I was sent the videos of these little kids, and it just disturbed me so much,” Ataullahjan said. “I was horrified when I saw that.”
Last week, a United Nations group of experts reported that the Taliban may be committing crimes against humanity in its treatment of women, on top of “violations of their human rights and freedoms that are already the most draconian globally.”
Women have been lashed in front of hundreds of spectators in a sports stadium, while the Taliban has banned women from entering parks and gyms, and beaten men for allowing their female relatives to wear bright clothing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.
78 years on, Jewish Holocaust rescuers want their story told
By Alon Bernstein in Kibbutz Hazorea
KIBBUTZ HAZOREA, Israel (AP) — Just before Nazi Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, Jewish youth leaders in the eastern European country jumped into action: They formed an underground network that in the coming months would save tens of thousands of fellow Jews from the gas chambers.
This chapter of the Holocaust heroism is scarcely remembered in Israel. Nor is it part of the official curriculum in schools. But the few remaining members of Hungary’s Jewish underground want their story told. Dismayed at the prospect of being forgotten, they are determined to keep memories of their mission alive.
“The story of the struggle to save tens of thousands needs to be a part of the chronicles of the people of Israel,” said David Gur, 97, one of a handful of members still alive. “It is a lighthouse during the period of the Holocaust, a lesson and exemplar for the generations.”
As the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, historians, activists, survivors and their families are all preparing for the time when there will no longer be living witnesses to share first-person accounts of the horrors of the Nazi genocide during World War II. In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazis and their allies.
Israel, which was established as a refuge for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust, has gone to great lengths over the years to recognize thousands of “Righteous Among the Nations” — non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Accounts of Jewish resistance to the Nazis, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, are mainstays in the national narrative but rescue missions by fellow Jews — such as the Hungarian resistance — are less known.
Hungary was home to around 900,000 Jews before the Nazi invasion. Its government was allied with Nazi Germany, but as the Soviet Red Army advanced toward Hungary, the Nazis invaded in March 1944, to prevent its Axis ally from making a separate peace deal with the Allies.
Over the 10 months that followed, as many as 568,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and their allies in Hungary, according to figures from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.
Gur said he and his colleagues knew that disaster was looming when three Jewish women arrived at Budapest’s main synagogue in the fall of 1943. They had fled Nazi-occupied Poland and bore disturbing news about people being shipped off to concentration camps.
“They had fairly clear information about what was happening, and saw the many trains, and it was obvious to them what was happening,” said Gur.
Gur oversaw a massive forgery operation that provided false documents for Jews and non-Jewish members of the Hungarian resistance. “I was an 18-year-old adolescent when the heavy responsibility fell upon me,” he said.
There was great personal risk. In December 1944, he was arrested at the forgery workshop and brutally interrogated and imprisoned, according to his memoir, “Brothers for Resistance and Rescue.” The Jewish underground broke him out of the central military prison in a rescue operation later that month.
The forged papers were used by Jewish youth movements to operate a smuggling network and run Red Cross houses that saved thousands from the Nazis and their allies.
According to Gur’s book, at least 7,000 Jews were smuggled out of Hungary, through Romania to ships on the Black Sea that would bring them to British-controlled Palestine. At least 10,000 forged passes offering protection, known as Shutzpasses, were distributed to Budapest’s Jews, and around 6,000 Jewish children and accompanying adults were saved in houses ostensibly under the protection of the International Red Cross.
Robert Rozett, a senior historian at Yad Vashem, said that although it was “the largest rescue operation” of European Jews during the Holocaust, this episode remains off “the main route of the narrative.”
“It’s very significant because these activities helped tens of thousands of Jews stay alive in Budapest,” he said.
In 1984, Gur founded “The Society for Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary,” a group that has promoted awareness about this effort.
Last month at a kibbutz in northern Israel, Sara Epstein, 97, Dezi Heffner-Reiner, 95, and Betzalel Grosz, 98, three of the remaining survivors who helped save Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, received the Jewish Rescuers Citation for their role in the Holocaust. The award is given by two Jewish groups — B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust.
“There aren’t many of us left, but this is important,” said Heffner-Reiner.
More than 200 other members of the underground were given the award posthumously. Gur received the award in 2011, the year it was created.
Yuval Alpan, a son of one of the rescuers and an activist with the society, said the citations were meant to recognize those who saved lives during the Holocaust.
“This resistance underground youth movement saved tens of thousands of Jews during 1944, and their story is not known,” he said. “It’s the biggest rescue operation in the Holocaust and nobody knows about it.”
International Holocaust day falls on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 78 years ago. Israel is home to some 150,600 Holocaust survivors, almost all of them over the age of 80, according to government figures. That is 15,193 less than a year ago.
The United Nations will be holding a memorial ceremony at the General Assembly on Friday, and other memorial events are scheduled around the globe.
Israel marks its own Holocaust Remembrance Day in the spring.
Associated Press writers Eleanor Reich and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
House GOP seeks new restrictions on use of US oil stockpile
By Matthew Daly in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second time this month, House Republicans are seeking to restrict presidential use of the nation’s emergency oil stockpile — a proposal that has already drawn a White House veto threat.
A GOP bill set for a vote Friday would require the government to offset any non-emergency withdrawals from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with new drilling on public lands and oceans. Republicans accuse President Joe Biden of abusing the reserve for political reasons to keep gas prices low, while Biden says tapping the reserve was needed last year in response to a ban on Russian oil imports following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden withdrew 180 million barrels from the strategic reserve over several months, bringing the stockpile to its lowest level since the 1980s. The administration said last month it will start to replenish the reserve now that oil prices have gone down.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attacked the latest GOP proposal, which follows a bill approved two weeks ago that would prohibit the Energy Department from selling oil from the strategic reserve to companies owned or influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.
“House Republicans will vote to raise gas prices on American families … and help Putin’s war aims by interfering with our ability to release oil,” Jean-Pierre said, referring to the current GOP bill. “These extreme policies would subject working families to immense financial pain and balloon our deficit, all just to benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and big corporations.”
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, appearing with Jean-Pierre at the White House, said the bill would make it ”harder to offer Americans relief in the future” from oil disruptions that could raise prices.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsored the GOP bill, accused Granholm and the White House of multiple misleading claims, including an erroneous assertion that the bill could affect use of the reserve during a presidentially declared emergency.
“At a time when gas prices are on the rise, Secretary Granholm and the Biden administration need to be transparent with the American people about their efforts to cover up how they’ve abused the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as an election-year gimmick,” McMorris Rodgers said.
“Republicans want durable, long-lasting relief at the pump. The best way to do this is by unleashing American energy,” which her legislation helps accomplish, added McMorris Rodgers, of Washington state.
The heated rhetoric is part of a larger fight over oil drilling and climate change. Republicans say restrictions on oil leasing imposed by the Biden administration hamper U.S. energy production and harm the economy, while Democrats tout a sweeping climate law approved last year as a crucial step to wean the nation off fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas. The measure authorizes billions in spending to boost renewable energy such as wind and solar power and includes incentives for Americans to buy millions of electric cars, heat pumps, solar panels and more efficient appliances.
Biden, citing the dangers of climate change, canceled the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline in his first days in office and suspended new oil and gas leases on federal lands. The moratorium has since been lifted, under court order, but Republicans complain that lease sales for new drilling rights are still limited.
Biden campaigned on pledges to end new drilling on public lands, and climate activists have pushed him to move faster to shut down oil leasing. Fossil fuels extracted from public lands account for about 20% of energy-related U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making them a prime target for emissions reductions intended to slow global warming.
“Whether on land or at sea, oil drilling poses an unacceptable risk for our wildlife, wild places and waterways,” said Lisa Frank of Environment America, an advocacy group. “When we drill, we spill. At a time when we should be moving away from this destructive, dangerous practice — and expanding use of renewable power — this bill doubles down on the outmoded energy of the past.”
Frank urged lawmakers to reject the GOP bill and instead move to permanently ban new drilling off U.S. coasts and in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservative and industry groups support the bill.
“We can continue making the Strategic Petroleum Reserve the nation’s sole response to future disruptions, or we can also utilize more of the vast oil supplies sitting beneath the lands and offshore areas currently kept off limits by the president,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other conservative groups said in a letter to Congress.
The Treasury Department estimates that release of oil from the emergency stockpile lowered prices at the pump by up to 40 cents per gallon. Gasoline prices averaged about $3.50 per gallon on Thursday, down from just over $5 per gallon at their peak in June, according to the AAA auto club.
Morris Rodgers accused Biden of using the reserve to “cover up his failed policies” that she said are driving up energy prices and inflation. Average gas prices are up more than 30 cents from a month ago and are higher than when Biden took office in January 2021, she and other Republicans noted.
“Millions of Americans are paying more at the pump as a result of the Biden administration’s radical ‘rush-to-green’ agenda that has shut down American energy,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Granholm, citing thousands of unused leases by oil companies, said GOP claims of obstructionism on drilling were off-base. “There’s nothing standing in the way of domestic oil and gas production,” she said, a claim McMorris Rodgers disputed.
“There are plenty of barriers to unleashing domestic oil and gas production, including burdensome regulations and this administration’s discouragement of financial investment in domestic oil and gas industries,” she said, noting that U.S. oil production is well below its 2019 peak of 13 million barrels of oil a day.
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