Wednesday, April 30, 2008

[ePalestine] FEATURE-"Falafel fuel" powers cars in petrol-starved Gaza

Dear friends,

When is this Israeli-created human experiment in despair going to be brought to an end?!

Gaza in our hearts,



"Falafel fuel" powers cars in petrol-starved Gaza 

30 Apr 2008 09:37:55 GMT 
Source: Reuters 
By Rebecca Harrison  

GAZA, April 30 (Reuters) - When Hassan Amin al-Bana gingerly steps on the gas pedal of his bright yellow taxi, a strange smell wafts from the exhaust: deep-fried fast food.  

Faced with chronic fuel shortages due to an Israeli blockade and a strike by Palestinian distributors protesting supply caps, taxi drivers in the Gaza Strip are filling their tanks with cooking oil, often scrounging leftover fat from street vendors.  

"It's not like driving with diesel -- it takes time to get it going in the morning," said Bana, 40, at Gaza City's main taxi stand. "I know it's bad for my car, but I have to pay for food for my kids so what can I do?"  

The pumps at Gaza's petrol stations have been deserted for several weeks but brightly- coloured cartons of soya bean cooking oil, some smuggled from Egypt, are piled high at the taxi rank in the impoverished territory's main city.  

The drivers say they mix the oil with turpentine before filling up. Used oil is better than the fresh stuff so they often beg or buy leftovers from street vendors who sell falafel -- a fried chick-pea snack popular in the Middle East.  

Vendors are doing a brisk trade.  

"I set up the stall last week when I saw taxi drivers had started putting cooking oil in their cars," said Yehya Karam, 21, as he stacked cartons of oil alongside waiting taxis. "I sell about 70 cartons a day -- I'd say most of the taxi drivers still on the streets are powering their cars this way."  


Israel has sharply cut the amount of fuel it pumps into the Gaza Strip as part of tightened restrictions on the enclave after Hamas Islamists routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and wrested control last June.  

Limited supplies have all but dried up since the Palestinian fuel association went on strike this month to protest the limits, preventing one million litres of diesel and petrol in tanks on the Gaza side of the border from being delivered.  

Israeli restrictions on cooking oil are less stringent than for fuel, although aid groups say supply is starting to run low now it is being used to power cars. Prices are also rising.  

International organisations condemn the Israel-led blockade but the Jewish state says it aims to curb Palestinian militants who fire rockets at Israel and target its border crossings.  

Some drivers buy diesel smuggled through tunnels from Egypt on the black market. But a litre costs up to 20 Israeli shekels ($5.76), about three times the price in Israel and beyond the reach of most Gazans, more than half of whom live in poverty.  

Others have hooked their cars up to canisters of cooking gas, but that too is in short supply. Many travel by donkey or bicycle.  

The fuel shortage has also hit the enclave's creaking sanitation system, and stinking sewage gushed onto the Gaza City streets on Wednesday when a main pump stopped working because diesel for back up generators ran out during a power cut.  

Ahmed al-Beltaji, who runs a falafel stall at the taxi rank, started selling his leftover oil to drivers about 10 days ago.  

"It makes the cars smell like a kitchen -- you feel like falafel is following you," said Beltaji, crinkling his nose. "Next week they'll be putting water in there." 

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jon Boyle) 


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

[ePalestine] NYT: Pariah Diplomacy (By JIMMY CARTER)

New York Times

April 28, 2008 

Op-Ed Contributor 
Pariah Diplomacy 


A COUNTERPRODUCTIVE Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies. 

Two notable examples are in Nepal and the Middle East. About 12 years ago, Maoist guerrillas took up arms in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and change the nation’s political and social life. Although the United States declared the revolutionaries to be terrorists, the Carter Center agreed to help mediate among the three major factions: the royal family, the old-line political parties and the Maoists. 

In 2006, six months after the oppressive monarch was stripped of his powers, a cease-fire was signed. Maoist combatants laid down their arms and Nepalese troops agreed to remain in their barracks. Our center continued its involvement and nations — though not the United States — and international organizations began working with all parties to reconcile the dispute and organize elections. 

The Maoists are succeeding in achieving their major goals: abolishing the monarchy, establishing a democratic republic and ending discrimination against untouchables and others whose citizenship rights were historically abridged. After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists. 

On the way home from monitoring the Nepalese election, I, my wife and my son went to Israel. My goal was to learn as much as possible to assist in the faltering peace initiative endorsed by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Although I knew that official United States policy was to boycott the government of Syria and leaders of Hamas, I did not receive any negative or cautionary messages about the trip, except that it might be dangerous to visit Gaza. 

The Carter Center had monitored three Palestinian elections, including one for parliamentary seats in January 2006. Hamas had prevailed in several municipal contests, gained a reputation for effective and honest administration and did surprisingly well in the legislative race, displacing the ruling party, Fatah. As victors, Hamas proposed a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah as president and offered to give key ministries to Fatah, including that of foreign affairs and finance. 

Hamas had been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, and the elected Palestinian government was forced to dissolve. Eventually, Hamas gained control of Gaza, and Fatah is “governing” the Israeli-dominated West Bank. Opinion polls show Hamas steadily gaining popularity. Since there can be no peace with Palestinians divided, we at the Carter Center believed it important to explore conditions allowing Hamas to be brought peacefully back into the discussions. (A recent poll of Israelis, who are familiar with this history, showed 64 percent favored direct talks between Israel and Hamas.) 

Similarly, Israel cannot gain peace with Syria unless the Golan Heights dispute is resolved. Here again, United States policy is to ostracize the Syrian government and prevent bilateral peace talks, contrary to the desire of high Israeli officials. 

We met with Hamas leaders from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria, and after two days of intense discussions with one another they gave these official responses to our suggestions, intended to enhance prospects for peace: 

• Hamas will accept any agreement negotiated by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel provided it is approved either in a Palestinian referendum or by an elected government. Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, has reconfirmed this, although some subordinates have denied it to the press. 

• When the time comes, Hamas will accept the possibility of forming a nonpartisan professional government of technocrats to govern until the next elections can be held. 

• Hamas will also disband its militia in Gaza if a nonpartisan professional security force can be formed. 

• Hamas will permit an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, to send a letter to his parents. If Israel agrees to a list of prisoners to be exchanged, and the first group is released, Corporal Shalit will be sent to Egypt, pending the final releases. 

• Hamas will accept a mutual cease-fire in Gaza, with the expectation (not requirement) that this would later include the West Bank. 

• Hamas will accept international control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, provided the Egyptians and not the Israelis control closing the gates. 

In addition, Syria’s president, Bashir al-Assad, has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations with Israel to end the impasse on the Golan Heights. He asks only that the United States be involved and that the peace talks be made public. 

Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders, it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation. 

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the founder of the Carter Center and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. oref=slogin


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Sunday, April 27, 2008

[ePalestine] PRESS RELEASE: Right to Enter Campaign meets with Blair

For Immediate Release 
27 April 2008

For more information please contact:
Rasha Mukbil, Campaign Coordinator

Right to Enter Campaign meets with Blair Calls on Quartet to take concrete steps to solve the denial of entry issue 

Quartet Representative Tony Blair met with representatives of the Campaign for the Right to Enter on 17 April to discuss the obstacles that foreign passport holders encounter when they seek to enter or reside in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and their likely impact on the Quartet’s efforts to revive Palestinian economic life. 

Campaign member Charles Shammas explained that “contrary to international law, Israel continues to exercise its control over entry and residency in an arbitrary, capricious and political manner that seriously harms Palestinian economic, social and cultural life.” 

In the past two years, hundreds of Palestinians with foreign passports and other foreign nationals have been denied entry into the oPt. Many others have been denied permits to stay in the oPt and expelled. Israel’s failure to act on the overwhelming majority of family reunification applications since 2000 directly affects at least half a million people whose families remain separated or under threat of separation. Vital health, educational, religious and social services are handicapped and disrupted. Business investment is deterred or thwarted. Families are forced to relocate outside the oPt just to stay together. 

Campaign members drew Mr Blair's attention to the futility of attempting to attract investment in the oPt while the ability of investors’ to directly manage and oversee their investments and the ability of Palestinian institutions and businesses to recruit and retain the human resources needed for development remains uncertain and subject to Israel’s political discretion. The upcoming May investor’s conference in Bethlehem, part of the Quartet's current efforts to stimulate foreign investment in the Palestinian economy, is likely to be confronted with such critical questions by participants who will only be able to attend the 3-day conference under an exceptional arrangement with Israel. 

Despite the repeated calls of states whose nationals have been denied entry to the oPt Israeli authorities have persistently failed to establish a transparent, internationally lawful policy on which foreign nationals wishing to enter or maintain their presence in the occupied Palestinian territory can rely. The Campaign stressed the need for a comprehensive solution for the broad spectrum of foreign nationals that are vulnerable to arbitrary exclusion or expulsion. 

The Campaign urged the Quartet to begin receiving, compiling and reviewing data on Israel’s exercise of control over entry, residency, and family unification in the occupied Palestinian territory. “To have any hope of success, the Quartet should start sending clear signals that the arbitrary exclusion and expulsion of foreign passport holders from the oPt, like Israel’s other abusive restrictions on movement and access, violates Israel’s treaty obligations to the states represented in the Quartet, is contrary to the UN Charter, and thus directly concerns the Quartet itself” Shammas concluded. 



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Friday, April 25, 2008

[ePalestine] Hats Off to Congressman Dennis KUCINICH...From the floor of the House

Please write Congressman Dennis KUCINICH a  message of support at

Congressional Record, April 22, 2008,  Page: H2522

Mr. KUCINICH. Mr. Speaker, today I join my colleagues in Congress in celebrating Israel's accomplishments over the past 60 years. I am happy to be co-sponsor of this congratulatory resolution. However, like many Israelis and Palestinians, I have concerns about Israel's future, its stability, its security and the prospect for peaceful coexistence for both Palestinians and Israelis. One of those concerns relates to the ongoing lack of resolution on the dispossession of Palestinian property and the dislocation of Palestinians after Independence. It must be remembered that about 700,000 Palestinians became exiled. Much Arab property was appropriated. And about 500 Arab villages were destroyed. On December 11, 1948, the United Nations passed Resolution 194, affording Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes in Israel, or to compensation for their property should they choose not to return. To this day, the mandate of U.N. Resolution 194 has not been fulfilled. Unfortunately, this failure remains as one of the most significant barriers to the realization of a two-state negotiated solution. 

I am also concerned for those Palestinians who did not flee and who became Israeli citizens after Independence. According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, today there exist 20 Israeli laws which explicitly discriminate against the Palestinian minority in Israel, who constitute 20 percent of its population. In its 2005 Annual Report, the U.S. State Department said that ``[There is] institutionalized legal and societal discrimination against Israel's [Arab] Christian, Muslim and Druze citizens. The government does not provide Israeli Arabs with the same quality of education, housing, employment and social services as Jews.'' 

Finally, Israel has a right to security and a right to defend itself. Accordingly, I am concerned that the 40 year military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem has been and continues to be brutal and unjust and undermines the security of Israel. It is a fact that the government of Israel continues to support the construction of settlements on Palestinian land, perpetuating the consequences of dispossession and exile. Additionally, I am concerned that the government of Israel has increased the number of checkpoints which destroy a viable Palestinian economy and a vibrant civil society. I am concerned that the Israeli government has erected a wall, often on Palestinian land, that divides Palestinians from Palestinians, rather than divide Israel from the West Bank. As stated by Judge Elaraby of the International Court of Justice in his 2004 Advisory Opinion on the legality of Israel's separation barrier, ``The fact that occupation is met by armed resistance cannot be used as a pretext to disregard fundamental human rights in the occupied territory.'' This conundrum of a dialectic of conflict further separates Israelis and Palestinians alike from hopes for peace. 

H. Con. Res. 322 eloquently states the many reasons why I celebrate Israel's accomplishments and I sincerely wish it a bright future. I only wish to add that, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many Israelis and Palestinians as well, Israel's future will be bright only if it includes an open dialogue with Palestinians, a respect for human rights and international law, and a society built on coexistence and tolerance. Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace with justice and I encourage the United States government to help Israel achieve that so the joy of future anniversaries will be unalloyed. 

I support the resolution in the spirit of reconciliation to which we must all inevitably turn, to achieve peace and justice with our brothers and sisters from whom we may be estranged. 


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

[ePalestine] BBC NEWS: Gaza's sewage 'tsunami'


Gaza's sewage 'tsunami'
By Jeremy Bowen 
BBC Middle East editor 

A five-month-old baby lay on a blanket in the shade of a hut made of metal sheets. 

Thin tree branches, with leaves and twigs intact, were laced around the ends of the hut to insulate it against the hot wind that blows into the sand dunes, rolling away to the border fence and on to Israel. 

The baby's mother sat with her legs tucked under her, hiding most of her face behind her black head-scarf. It flapped slightly in the breeze, and she used it to wipe her tears and muffle her sobs. 

The woman's name is Aziza Abu Otayek. She wept because she was remembering the death of another baby son, one morning in March last year, just after the older children had gone to school. 

Until that day their home was just downhill from a deep pond of sewage, pumped into a depression in the dunes and held there by earth walls because the water authorities in the Gaza Strip had nowhere else to put it. 

'Wall of human waste' 

On 27 March 2007, the walls gave way. 

Aziza heard someone shouting, telling her to run away. She got out of the hut, then went back in because she had forgotten her head covering. 

The wall of raw human waste slammed into them. It knocked her down and tore the baby from her arms. 

He drowned. They found his body against the wall of the mosque a hundred metres away. He was nine months old. 

His grandmother was also drowned. 

Aziza worried about her new baby until he was born at the end of last year, because when she was hit by the flood she swallowed some of the sewage and she thought it might have harmed him. 

They named the new baby Mohammed, after his dead brother. 

While she talked, he gurgled happily, untroubled by the flies that buzzed around his eyes and lips. 

Aziza has an older son, a four-year-old called Ramadan. His father said he asks about his dead brother, and when he is cross he says he prefers the first Mohammed to the second one. 

But Ramadan seems a cheery little soul, though he has nightmares about the flood. 

He looks around the lakes of almost raw sewage that still lie near their home and asks his parents if another wave is going to come. 

One might. The pond that killed Ramadan's brother and grandmother is not the only one near their home. The others are much bigger and full of sewage. 

Growing population 

A Palestinian water engineer called Sadi Ali gave me a tour. He explained that the sewage lakes have grown so big because Gaza's growing population - 1.4 million, half of whom are under 16 - has overwhelmed what were anyway inadequate facilities for dealing with waste water. 

Even though, to his great regret, they pump tens of thousands of litres of untreated sewage into the Mediterranean every day, they have to do something with the rest. 

Sadi said that the lakes are 11m (36ft) higher than the surrounding land, and only the earth walls around them hold the muck in. 

In this single spot alone - and he said other parts of Gaza were as bad - the lakes were so big that if the dykes burst a tsunami of sewage 6m (20ft) or 7m (23ft) high would swamp an area inhabited by 10,000 people. 

Conflict with Israel 

Sadi Ali worries that a stray bomb or missile could break a dyke. 

There is a £40m ($80m) plan, funded by international donors, for a proper sewage treatment system for north Gaza. 

Sadi Ali is trying to build it. But it is well behind schedule. 

The problem is the same one that dominates every part of life here - the conflict with Israel. 

Restrictions imposed by the Israelis - which they say are vital to protect their own people - have slowed down, and sometimes completely stopped the import of raw materials for construction like cement and piping. 

Contractors have not been able to move freely. The latest problem is the lack of fuel. 

Try building a sewage system in a war. 

Gaza has been battered by years of fighting. 

When we set up the television camera near the sewage lakes a little barefoot boy, barely more than a toddler, came up and asked if we were going to attack the Israeli positions. 

He might have been asking if it was going to rain. 

For him, and several hundred thousand other Gazan children, explosions are part of the soundtrack of their lives. The boy must have assumed the camera and its tripod looked like a weapon. 

After that we worked faster, in case the Israelis thought the same thing. 

Story from BBC NEWS: 

Published: 2008/04/22 09:11:55 GMT 


PHOTO 1 Caption: Aziza lost one baby child when a wall of sewage hit her home

PHOTO 2 Caption: The sewage ponds vary in size


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Monday, April 21, 2008

[ePalestine] Henry Siegman: Tough Love for Israel

The Nation 

posted April 17, 2008 (May 5, 2008 issue) 

Tough Love for Israel 
Henry Siegman 

We now have word that Tony Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to organize yet another peace conference, this time in Berlin in June. It is hard to believe that after the long string of failed peace initiatives, stretching back at least to the Madrid conference of 1991, diplomats are recycling these failures without seemingly having a clue as to why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more hopeless today than before these peace exercises first got under way. 

The scandal of the international community's impotence in resolving one of history's longest bloodlettings is that it knows what the problem is but does not have the courage to speak the truth, much less deal with it. The peace conference in Germany will suffer from the same gutlessness that has marked all previous efforts. It will deal with everything except the problem primarily responsible for the impasse. That problem is that for all the sins attributable to the Palestinians--and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of rejectionist groups--there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never had the intention of allowing such a state to come into being. 

It would be one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain security concerns had been dealt with. But no government serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued, without letup, the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands, which even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible. 

Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel's claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail. 

As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible. 

There can be no greater delusion on the part of Western countries weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jews seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people. 

John Vinocur of the New York Times recently suggested that the virtually unqualified declarations of support for Israel by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are "at a minimum an attempt to seek Israeli moderation by means of public assurances with this tacit subtext: these days, the European Union is not, or is no longer, its reflexive antagonist." But the expectation that uncritical Western support of Israel would lead to greater Israeli moderation and greater willingness to take risks for peace is blatantly contradicted by the conflict's history. 

Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior. Indeed, soon after Sarkozy's and Merkel's expressions of eternal solidarity, Israel's Ehud Olmert approved massive new construction in East Jerusalem--authorizing housing projects that had been frozen for years by previous governments because of their destructive impact on the possibility of a peace agreement--as well as continued expansion of Israel's settlements. And Olmert's defense minister, Ehud Barak, declared shortly after Merkel's departure that he will remove only a token number of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has repeatedly promised, and just as repeatedly failed, to dismantle. That announcement shattered whatever hope Palestinians may have had for recovery of their economy, as a consequence of $7 billion in new aid promised by international donors in December. In these circumstances, the international donor community will not pour good money after bad, as they so often have in the past. 

What is required of statesmen is not more peace conferences or clever adjustments to previous peace formulations but the moral and political courage to end their collaboration with the massive hoax the peace process has been turned into. Of course, Palestinian violence must be condemned and stopped, particularly when it targets civilians. But is it not utterly disingenuous to pretend that Israel's occupation--maintained by IDF-manned checkpoints and barricades, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, targeted assassinations and military incursions, not to speak of the massive theft of Palestinian lands--is not an exercise in continuous and unrelenting violence against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians? If Israel were to renounce violence, could the occupation last even one day? 

Israel's designs on the West Bank are not much different from the designs of the Arab forces that attacked the Jewish state in 1948--the nullification of the international community's partition resolution of 1947. Short of addressing the problem by its right name--something that is of an entirely different order than hollow statements that "settlements do not advance peace"--and taking effective collective action to end a colonial enterprise that disgraces what began as a noble Jewish national liberation struggle, further peace conferences, no matter how well intentioned, make their participants accessories to one of the longest and cruelest deceptions in the annals of international diplomacy. 

Henry Siegman, director of the US/Middle East Project in New York, is a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America. 


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

[ePalestine] The Independent (UK): Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army (Read to understand Palestinian's bitterness and anger)

'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't bug me. I kill. I have no mercy.' 

Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army 

In shocking testimonies that reveal abductions, beatings and torture, Israeli soldiers confess the horror they have visited on Hebron 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem 
Saturday, 19 April 2008 

The dark-haired 22-year-old in black T-shirt, blue jeans and red Crocs is understandably hesitant as he sits at a picnic table in the incongruous setting of a beauty spot somewhere in Israel. We know his name and if we used it he would face a criminal investigation and a probable prison sentence. 

The birds are singing as he describes in detail some of what he did and saw others do as an enlisted soldier in Hebron. And they are certainly criminal: the incidents in which Palestinian vehicles are stopped for no good reason, the windows smashed and the occupants beaten up for talking back – for saying, for example, they are on the way to hospital; the theft of tobacco from a Palestinian shopkeeper who is then beaten "to a pulp" when he complains; the throwing of stun grenades through the windows of mosques as people prayed. And worse. 

The young man left the army only at the end of last year, and his decision to speak is part of a concerted effort to expose the moral price paid by young Israeli conscripts in what is probably the most problematic posting there is in the occupied territories. Not least because Hebron is the only Palestinian city whose centre is directly controlled by the military, 24/7, to protect the notably hardline Jewish settlers there. He says firmly that he now regrets what repeatedly took place during his tour of duty. 

But his frequent, if nervous, grins and giggles occasionally show just a hint of the bravado he might have displayed if boasting of his exploits to his mates in a bar. Repeatedly he turns to the older former soldier who has persuaded him to speak to us, and says as if seeking reassurance: "You know how it is in Hebron." 

The older ex-soldier is Yehuda Shaul, who does indeed "know how it is in Hebron", having served in the city in a combat unit at the peak of the intifada, and is a founder of Shovrim Shtika, or Breaking the Silence, which will publish tomorrow the disturbing testimonies of 39 Israelis – including this young man – who served in the army in Hebron between 2005 and 2007. They cover a range of experiences, from anger and powerlessness in the face of often violent abuse of Arabs by hardline Jewish settlers, through petty harassment by soldiers, to soldiers beating up Palestinian residents without provocation, looting homes and shops, and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators. 

The maltreatment of civilians under occupation is common to many armies in the world – including Britain's, from Northern Ireland to Iraq. 

But, paradoxically, few if any countries apart from Israel have an NGO like Breaking the Silence, which seeks – through the experiences of the soldiers themselves – as its website puts it "to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created" in the occupied territories. 

The Israeli public was given an unflattering glimpse of military life in Hebron this year when a young lieutenant in the Kfir Brigade called Yaakov Gigi was given a 15-month jail sentence for taking five soldiers with him to hijack a Palestinian taxi, conduct what the Israeli media called a "rampage" in which one of the soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian civilian who just happened to be in the wrong place, and then tried to lie his way out of it. 

In a confessional interview with the Israeli Channel Two investigative programme Uvda, Gigi, who had previously been in many ways a model soldier, talked of "losing the human condition" in Hebron. Asked what he meant, he replied: "To lose the human condition is to become an animal." 

The Israeli military did not prosecute the soldier who had fired on the Palestinian, as opposed to Gigi. But the military insists "that the events that occurred within the Kfir Brigade are highly unusual". 

But as the 22-year-old soldier, also in the Kfir Brigade, confirms in his testimony to Breaking the Silence, it seems that the event may not have been exceptional. Certainly, our interview tells us, he was "many times" in groups that commandeered taxis, seated the driver in the back, and told him to direct them to places "where they hate the Jews" in order to "make a balagan" – Hebrew for "big mess". 

Then there is the inter- clan Palestinian fight: "We were told to go over there and find out what was happening. Our [platoon] commander was a bit screwed in the head. So anyway, we would locate houses, and he'd tell us: 'OK, anyone you see armed with stones or whatever, I don't care what – shoot.' Everyone would think it's the clan fight..." Did the company commander know? "No one knew. Platoon's private initiative, these actions." 

Did you hit them? "Sure, not just them. Anyone who came close ... Particularly legs and arms. Some people also sustained abdominal hits ... I think at some point they realised it was soldiers, but they were not sure. Because they could not believe soldiers would do this, you know." 

Or using a 10-year-old child to locate and punish a 15-year-old stone-thrower: "So we got hold of just some Palestinian kid nearby, we knew that he knew who it had been. Let's say we beat him a little, to put it mildly, until he told us. You know, the way it goes when your mind's already screwed up, and you have no more patience for Hebron and Arabs and Jews there. 

"The kid was really scared, realising we were on to him. We had a commander with us who was a bit of a fanatic. We gave the boy over to this commander, and he really beat the shit out of him ... He showed him all kinds of holes in the ground along the way, asking him: 'Is it here you want to die? Or here?' The kid goes, 'No, no!' 

"Anyway, the kid was stood up, and couldn't stay standing on his own two feet. He was already crying ... And the commander continues, 'Don't pretend' and kicks him some more. And then [name withheld], who always had a hard time with such things, went in, caught the squad commander and said, 'Don't touch him any more, that's it.' The commander goes, 'You've become a leftie, what?' And he answers, 'No, I just don't want to see such things.' 

"We were right next to this, but did nothing. We were indifferent, you know. OK. Only after the fact you start thinking. Not right away. We were doing such things every day ... It had become a habit... 

"And the parents saw it. The commander ordered [the mother], 'Don't get any closer.' He cocked his weapon, already had a bullet inside. She was frightened. He put his weapon literally inside the kid's mouth. 'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't bug me. I kill. I have no mercy.' So the father ... got hold of the mother and said, 'Calm down, let them be, so they'll leave him alone.'" 

Not every soldier serving in Hebron becomes an "animal". Iftach Arbel, 23, from an upper- middle class, left-of-centre home in Herzylia, served in Hebron as a commander just before the withdrawal from Gaza, when he thinks the army wanted to show it could be tough with settlers, too. And many of the testimonies, including Mr Arbel's, describe how the settlers educate children as young as four to throw stones at Palestinians, attack their homes and even steal their possessions. To Mr Arbel, the Hebron settlers are "pure evil" and the only solution is "to remove the settlers". 

He believes it would be possible even within these constraints to treat Palestinians better. He adds: "We did night activity. Choose a house at random, on the aerial photo, so as to practise combat routine and all, which is instructive for the soldiers, I mean, I'm all for it. But then at midnight you wake someone up and turn his whole house upside down with everyone sleeping on the mattresses and all." 

But Mr Arbel says that most soldiers are some way between his own extreme and that of the most violent. From just two of his fellow testifiers, you can see what he means. 

As one said: "We did all kinds of experiments to see who could do the best split in Abu Snena. We would put [Palestinians] against the wall, make like we were checking them, and ask them to spread their legs. Spread, spread, spread, it was a game to see who could do it best. Or we would check who can hold his breath for longest. 

"Choke them. One guy would come, make like he was checking them, and suddenly start yelling like they said something and choke them ... Block their airways; you have to press the adams apple. It's not pleasant. Look at the watch as you're doing it, until he passes out. The one who takes longest to faint wins." 

And theft as well as violence. "There's this car accessory shop there. Every time, soldiers would take a tape-disc player, other stuff. This guy, if you go ask him, will tell you plenty of things that soldiers did to him. 

"A whole scroll-full ... They would raid his shop regularly. 'Listen, if you tell on us, we'll confiscate your whole store, we'll break everything.' You know, he was afraid to tell. He was already making deals, 'Listen guys, you're damaging me financially.' I personally never took a thing, but I'm telling you, people used to take speakers from him, whole sound systems. 

"He'd go, 'Please, give me 500 shekels, I'm losing money here.' 'Listen, if you go on – we'll pick up your whole shop.' 'OK, OK, take it, but listen, don't take more than 10 systems a month.' Something like this. 

"'I'm already going bankrupt.' He was so miserable. Guys in our unit used to sell these things back home, make deals with people. People are so stupid." 

The military said that Israeli Defence Forces soldiers operate according to "a strict set of moral guidelines" and that their expected adherence to them only "increases wherever and whenever IDF soldiers come in contact with civilians". It added that "if evidence supporting the allegations is uncovered, steps are taken to hold those involved to the level of highest judicial severity". It also said: "The Military Advocate General has issued a number of indictments against soldiers due to allegations of criminal behaviour ... Soldiers found guilty were punished severely by the Military Court, in proportion to the committed offence." It had not by last night quantified such indictments. 

In its introduction to the testimonies, Breaking the Silence says: "The soldiers' determination to fulfil their mission yields tragic results: the proper-normative becomes despicable, the inconceivable becomes routine ... [The] testimonies are to illustrate the manner in which they are swept into the brutal reality reigning on the ground, a reality whereby the lives of many thousands of Palestinian families are at the questionable mercy of youths. Hebron turns a focused, flagrant lens at the reality to which Israel's young representatives are constantly sent." 

A force for justice 

Breaking the Silence  was formed four years ago by a group of ex-soldiers, most of whom had served in Israel Defence Forces combat units in Hebron. Many of the soldiers do reserve duty in the military each year. It has collected some 500 testimonies from former soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza. Its first public exposure was with an exhibition of photographs by soldiers serving in Hebron and the organisation also runs regular tours of Hebron for Israeli students and diplomats. It receives funding from groups as diverse as the Jewish philanthropic Moriah Fund, the New Israel Fund, the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the EU. 



[ePalestine] Mahmoud al-Zahar: No Peace Without Hamas      

No Peace Without Hamas 
By Mahmoud al-Zahar  
Thursday, April 17, 2008; A23  

GAZA -- President Jimmy Carter's sensible plan to visit the Hamas leadership this week brings honesty and pragmatism to the Middle East while underscoring the fact that American policy has reached its dead end. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acts as if a few alterations here and there would make the hideous straitjacket of apartheid fit better. While Rice persuades Israeli occupation forces to cut a few dozen meaningless roadblocks from among the more than 500 West Bank control points, these forces simultaneously choke off fuel supplies to Gaza; blockade its 1.5 million people; approve illegal housing projects on West Bank land; and attack Gaza City with F-16s, killing men, women and children. Sadly, this is "business as usual" for the Palestinians.  

Last week's attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot should not surprise critics in the West. Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal -- from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold, from its falsified history to its judiciary that "legalizes" the infrastructure of apartheid. Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world's largest open-air prison, can do no less.  

The U.S.-Israeli alliance has sought to negate the results of the January 2006 elections, when the Palestinian people handed our party a mandate to rule. Hundreds of independent monitors, Carter among them, declared this the fairest election ever held in the Arab Middle East. Yet efforts to subvert our democratic experience include the American coup d'etat that created the new sectarian paradigm with Fatah and the continuing warfare against and enforced isolation of Gazans.  

Now, finally, we have the welcome tonic of Carter saying what any independent, uncorrupted thinker should conclude: that no "peace plan," "road map" or "legacy" can succeed unless we are sitting at the negotiating table and without any preconditions.  

Israel's escalation of violence since the staged Annapolis "peace conference" in November has been consistent with its policy of illegal, often deadly collective punishment -- in violation of international conventions. Israeli military strikes on Gaza have killed hundreds of Palestinians since then with unwavering White House approval; in 2007 alone the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed was 40 to 1, up from 4 to 1 during the period from 2000 to 2005.  

Only three months ago I buried my son Hussam, who studied finance at college and wanted to be an accountant; he was killed by an Israeli airstrike. In 2003, I buried Khaled -- my first- born -- after an Israeli F-16 targeting me wounded my daughter and my wife and flattened the apartment building where we lived, injuring and killing many of our neighbors. Last year, my son-in-law was killed.  

Hussam was only 21, but like most young men in Gaza he had grown up fast out of necessity. When I was his age, I wanted to be a surgeon; in the 1960s, we were already refugees, but there was no humiliating blockade then. But now, after decades of imprisonment, killing, statelessness and impoverishment, we ask: What peace can there be if there is no dignity first? And where does dignity come from if not from justice?  

Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state -- the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees -- to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism -- which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam -- has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.  

A "peace process" with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.  

I am eternally proud of my sons and miss them every day. I think of them as fathers everywhere, even in Israel, think of their sons -- as innocent boys, as curious students, as young men with limitless potential -- not as "gunmen" or "militants." But better that they were defenders of their people than parties to their ultimate dispossession; better that they were active in the Palestinian struggle for survival than passive witnesses to our subjugation.  

History teaches us that everything is in flux. Our fight to redress the material crimes of 1948 is scarcely begun, and adversity has taught us patience. As for the Israeli state and its Spartan culture of permanent war, it is all too vulnerable to time, fatigue and demographics: In the end, it is always a question of our children and those who come after us.  

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a surgeon, is a founder of Hamas. He is foreign minister in the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, which was elected in January 2006. 


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Friday, April 18, 2008

[ePalestine] Jeff Halper: Born to Demolish

"...we were accosted by a slim, blond Border Policeman, probably of Russian origin. “I was born to demolish Palestinian homes,” he informed us mockingly, a big smile on his face, a swagger in his movements. “I love demolishing homes. I wake up in the morning hungry to demolish homes.”  

Born to Demolish
Jeff Halper
Friday, April 11, 2008

It was another of those routine tragedies that are never publicized. At eight in the morning we at ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) received a call that the Border Police, Israeli police and Jerusalem Municipality bulldozers were massing below the Palestinian village of Anata, poised to begin another day of home demolitions. We never know of demolitions ahead of time. The Israeli authorities responsible for demolishing Palestinian homes – the municipality and the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem, the “Civil” Administration in the West Bank and the army – do not provide advanced warning to us or, indeed, to the families themselves. Tens of thousands of Palestinian families live with demolition orders on their homes, some 22,000 in East Jerusalem alone, where fully a third of Palestinian homes face demolition at any time. When we received word of preparations for a demolition that morning, however, we knew precisely which home would be targeted first: that of the Hamdan family, the elderly parents their married son and daughter-in-law with their five children, and an unmarried son. It was a home we had rebuilt for the second time in last summer’s ICAHD work camp, when Israeli and international peace activists joined with local Palestinians to rebuild as an act of political resistance to the Occupation. 

In fact, we had been present at the original demolition two and a half years before, a report of which, entitled “The Miserable Occupation on a Miserable Morning,” appeared on our website. At that time, 6:30 on a very cold and rainy morning in late November, 2005, ICAHD staff, volunteers and activists had rushed to Anata to witness, document and resist the demolition of the Hamdan family home – and subsequently of their next door neighbor. By the time we arrived the area had already been blocked off by the Israeli Border Police, so we had been unable to approach the houses. We watched from afar as a bulldozer systematically demolished the homes, leaving a pile of rubble and the shattered families standing amidst their belongings in the freezing rain, wondering where to go, where they would sleep that night, how to survive without a home and any financial resources. Later that day we learned that another five Palestinian homes had been demolished: three in Beit Hanina, one in Isawia and another one in A-Tur. The home of yet another family suffered an even more grotesque fate. In a "compromise" with the court, the family is to demolish half its house with its own hands, while the other half will be sealed while the family attempts to obtain a building permit. 

Only one small but devastating incident distinguished the Hamdan demolition this past week from the normal routine. As Shaadi Hamdan and I were standing in front of the home, we were accosted by a slim, blond Border Policeman, probably of Russian origin. “I was born to demolish Palestinian homes,” he informed us mockingly, a big smile on his face, a swagger in his movements. “I love demolishing homes. I wake up in the morning hungry to demolish homes.” With that he walked away. I can’t convey the mixture of anguish, anger, bewilderment and resignation that crossed Shaadi’s face at that moment. He simply stood aside as his home was demolished for the second time. 

I could not stand aside. Sensing that the forcible removal of the family’s possessions (or most of them) was about to cease and the demolition begin, I seized the moment and rushed into the home, planting myself in a corner of what had been the kitchen before the surprised Border Police could react. The head of the police unit rushed up to me sitting on the floor and ordered me to leave. My conscience as an Israeli, a Jew and a human being forbids me to permit this illegal and immoral act of demolition from taking place, I told him. In fact, I informed him, I am placing you under citizen’s arrest for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 53), which prohibits the demolishing of homes in occupied territories. I thereby asked the accompanying policemen to arrest him. Sputtering, furious, he placed plastic handcuffs on me and had me forcibly thrown out of the house. 

Lying on the ground as the bulldozer commenced its evil work, I noted what I often see at demolitions: police and soldiers standing around laughing among themselves, eating sandwiches, swapping the latest sports news. Taking advantage of their being distracted from the demolition itself, I suddenly sprang up and made a run for the bulldozer. The police chased me and wrestled me to the ground. Furious at this additional challenge to his authority, the policeman in charge had me put in tight metal handcuffs and, since I refused to walk, dragged down the mountainside to an awaiting paddy wagon. 

Nothing, of course, happened to me, besides a few bruises. The Border Policeman “born to demolish” paraded around me repeating his delight at the day’s events, all of which ICAHD activists recorded on film. But we Israeli Jews enjoy a privileged position. We know the police or soldiers will not shoot us, will not beat us, will not detain us for long, and so we exploit that privilege in ways that Palestinians can’t. Shaadi would have been shot for doing what I did. We also know another sad fact: that unless an Israeli like me performs such a dramatic act, no one will notice the demolitions that take place almost daily in Jerusalem, the West Bank and, yes, Gaza. The news spread quickly throughout the world. I was interviewed that day, my hands still in handcuffs, by radio stations from South Africa to Norway. I tried, of course, to put my action in context, to stress that my experience paled next to the crime that had been perpetrated upon the Hamdan family by the Israeli authorities. But I knew the truth: only the arrest of an Israeli makes the news; Palestinian suffering, as their very claim for justice, is ignored. Still, resistance is necessary. 

The Hamdan family is now in serious debt and without a home of their own. The three family units have been scattered amongst their relatives. We have offered to rebuild the home, but Shaadi says he has no more stomach for the unending cycle of building and demolishing. He doesn’t see the point of it, neither as an act of political resistance about which no one seems to care nor as a solution to his personal problems. Unable or unwilling to leave the country, which is what Israel’s policy of house demolitions is all about, he will sink into the woodwork, managing to survive out of sight as do millions of other Palestinians. Overwhelmed by the scope of demolitions, it is unlikely we will stay in close touch with him as well. With 18,000 homes demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 and thousands more targeted, we will do our best to resist those demolitions we can reach. We have rebuilt about 150 homes in the past eleven years, a drop in the bucket in terms of those needing to be rebuilt but significant in terms of acts of political resistance. Shaadi might not see it, and the Palestinian Authority does not pursue it, but ICAHD has succeeded in raising the issue of house demolitions among both governments and civil society in countries around the world. Ending house demolitions is in the first phase of the all-but-defunct Road Map. 

Still, the demolition of the Hamdan home reminds us that Israel continues to strengthen and expand its Occupation daily, through the demolition of Palestinian homes, the expropriation of their land, massive settlement construction, the building of a massive highway system that separates Israeli from Palestinian traffic, the continued construction of the Wall and in a hundred other ways that escape public attention – all in violation of the so-called Road Map to which the US and Europe claim to be so committed. 

Our struggles against the Occupation must continue, of course, even if no solution is apparent. Many of us in the critical Israeli peace movement believe that the two-state solution has been eliminated by Israel’s settlement policies (unless we accept the notion of a Palestinian Bantustan, which we do not), but we doubt that a one-state solution will garner the support needed to become a practical program. Many Palestinians like Shaadi feel isolated and even defeated; they persevere, but are in desperate need of international support and protection until a solution – or the will to impose a solution – emerges. We must redouble our opposition to the Occupation in order to show Shaadi that, in fact, the rebuilding his home is part of an effective political movement that will achieve Palestinian national rights and a just peace. We can begin with a minimalist demand that Rice, Blair, Ban and the other international decision-makers should have insisted upon years ago: that Israel end the demolishing of Palestinian homes NOW. 

Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). 

Picture by Virginia Paradinas


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