Friday, February 26, 2010

[ePalestine] Rev. Abuna Elias Chacour: Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality?

January 26th, 2010

Rev. Abuna Elias Chacour of Israel,
Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church

Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality?


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

[ePalestine] Financial Times: For Israel, defiance comes at the cost of legitimacy

Financial Times

For Israel, defiance comes at the cost of legitimacy 

By Henry Siegman 
February 23, 2010 

The Middle East peace process and its quest for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict that got under way nearly 20 years ago with the Oslo accords has undergone two fundamental transformations. It is now on the brink of a third. 

The first was the crossing of a threshold by Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank; there is no longer any prospect of its removal by this or any future Israeli government, which was the precise goal of the settlements’ relentless expansion all along. The previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who declared that a peace accord requires Israel to withdraw “from most, if not all” of the occupied territories, “including East Jerusalem,” was unable even to remove any of the 20 hilltop outposts Israel had solemnly promised to dismantle. 

A two-state solution could therefore come about only if Israel were compelled to withdraw to the pre-1967 border by an outside power whose wishes an Israeli government could not defy – the US. The assumption has always been that at the point where Israel’s colonial ambitions collide with critical US national interests, an American president would draw on the massive credit the US has accumulated with Israel to insist it dismantle its illegal settlements, which successive US administrations held to be the main obstacle to a peace accord. 

The second transformation resulted from the shattering of that assumption when President Barack Obama – who took a more forceful stand against Israel’s settlements than any of his predecessors, and did so at a time when the damage this unending conflict was causing American interests could not have been more obvious – backed off ignominiously in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of his demand. This left prospects for a two-state accord dead in the water. 

The disappearance of the two-state solution is triggering a third transformation, which is turning Israel from a democracy into an apartheid state. The democracy Israel provides for its (mostly) Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. A democracy reserved for privileged citizens while all others are denied individual and national rights and kept behind checkpoints, barbed wire fences and separation walls manned by Israel’s military, is not democracy. 

At first, the collapse of the assumptions on which hopes for a fair and just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict rested triggered much despair. But that despair has begun to turn to anger, and options for resolving the conflict, previously dismissed by the international community as unrealistic, are being looked at anew. That anger is also spawning a new global challenge to Israel’s legitimacy. 

Anti-Semitic opponents of Israel will undoubtedly celebrate this emerging challenge to Israel’s incipient apartheid regime. But Israel will have only its own misguided policies to blame for its empowerment of this racist fringe. Such participation will no more detract from the inherent legitimacy of that challenge than Israel’s collaboration (on the development of atomic nuclear weapons) with a racist South African regime in the 1970s and 1980s provided democratic sanction for South Africa’s apartheid. 

Mr Netanyahu’s government has hardly been indifferent to the seriousness of this challenge. A study by one of Israel’s leading policy institutes warning of this looming global threat to the country’s legitimacy was taken up by Israel’s cabinet, and described by its members as constituting as grave a danger to the country’s existence as the nuclear threat from Iran. Unfortunately – if predictably – the government’s response has been to mount a campaign to discredit critics as anti-Semitic enemies of Israel, rather than abandoning the policies that are transforming it into an apartheid state. 

No country is as obsessed with the issue of its own legitimacy as Israel; ironically, that obsession may yet be its salvation. An international community angered and frustrated by Israel’s disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, and determined to prevent their relegation to an apartheid existence, may well decide to have the United Nations General Assembly accept a Palestinian declaration of statehood within the pre-1967 borders, without the mutually agreed border changes that a peace accord might have produced. Nothing would challenge Israel’s legitimacy more than its defiance of such an international decision. 

Prospects for such international action may serve as the only remaining inducement for Israel to accept a two-state solution. Not only its legitimacy but its survival as a Jewish and democratic state depends on it. 


The writer is president of the US/Middle East Project and a visiting professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Programme at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies


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Monday, February 22, 2010

[ePalestine] The Nation: Gaza: Treading on Shards (By Sara Roy) - A MUST READ

The Nation

Gaza: Treading on Shards 

By Sara Roy 
February 17, 2010 

"Do you know what it's like living in Gaza?" a friend of mine asked. "It is like walking on broken glass tearing at your feet." 

On January 21, fifty-four House Democrats signed a letter to President Obama asking him to dramatically ease, if not end, the siege of Gaza. They wrote: 

The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas's coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead.... The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts.... Despite ad hoc easing of the blockade, there has been no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza.... The crisis has devastated livelihoods, entrenched a poverty rate of over 70%, increased dependence on erratic international aid, allowed the deterioration of public infrastructure, and led to the marked decline of the accessibility of essential services. 

This letter is remarkable not only because it directly challenges the policy of the Israel lobby-- a challenge no doubt borne of the extreme crisis confronting Palestinians, in which the United States has played an extremely damaging role--but also because it links Israeli security to Palestinian well-being. The letter concludes, "The people of Gaza, along with all the peoples of the region, must see that the United States is dedicated to addressing the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and to ensuring that the legitimate needs of the Palestinian population are met." 

I was last in Gaza in August, my first trip since Israel's war on the territory one year ago. I was overwhelmed by what I saw in a place I have known intimately for nearly a quarter of a century: a land ripped apart and scarred, the lives of its people blighted. Gaza is decaying under the weight of continued devastation, unable to function normally. The resulting void is filled with vacancy and despair that subdues even those acts of resilience and optimism that still find some expression. What struck me most was the innocence of these people, over half of them children, and the indecency and criminality of their continued punishment. 

The decline and disablement of Gaza's economy and society have been deliberate, the result of state policy--consciously planned, implemented and enforced. Although Israel bears the greatest responsibility, the United States and the European Union, among others, are also culpable, as is the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. All are complicit in the ruination of this gentle place. And just as Gaza's demise has been consciously orchestrated, so have the obstacles preventing its recovery. 

Gaza has a long history of subjection that assumed new dimensions after Hamas's January 2006 electoral victory. Immediately after those elections, Israel and certain donor countries suspended contacts with the PA, which was soon followed by the suspension of direct aid and the subsequent imposition of an international financial boycott of the PA. By this time Israel had already been withholding monthly tax revenues and custom duties collected on behalf of the Authority, had effectively ended Gazan employment inside Israel and had drastically reduced Gaza's external trade. 

With escalating Palestinian-Israeli violence, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June 2006, Israel sealed Gaza's borders, allowing for the entry of humanitarian goods only, which marked the beginning of the siege, now in its fourth year. Shalit's abduction precipitated a massive Israeli military assault against Gaza at the end of June, known as Operation Summer Rains, which initially targeted Gaza's infrastructure and later focused on destabilizing the Hamas-led government through intensified strikes on PA ministries and further reductions in fuel, electricity, water delivery and sewage treatment. This near daily ground operation did not end until October 2006. 

In June 2007, after Hamas's seizure of power in the Strip (which followed months of internecine violence and an attempted coup by Fatah against Hamas) and the dissolution of the national unity government, the PA effectively split in two: a de facto Hamas-led government--rejected by Israel and the West--was formed in Gaza, and the officially recognized government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas was established in the West Bank. The boycott was lifted against the West Bank PA but was intensified against Gaza. 

Adding to Gaza's misery was the decision by the Israeli security cabinet on September 19, 2007, to declare the Strip an "enemy entity" controlled by a "terrorist organization." After this decision Israel imposed further sanctions that include an almost complete ban on trade and no freedom of movement for the majority of Gazans, including the labor force. In the fall of 2008 a ban on fuel imports into Gaza was imposed. These policies have contributed to transforming Gazans from a people with political and national rights into a humanitarian problem--paupers and charity cases who are now the responsibility of the international community. 

Not only have key international donors, most critically the United States and European Union, participated in the sanctions regime against Gaza, they have privileged the West Bank in their programmatic work. Donor strategies now support and strengthen the fragmentation and isolation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip--an Israeli policy goal of the Oslo process-- and divide Palestinians into two distinct entities, offering largesse to one side while criminalizing and depriving the other. This behavior among key donor countries reflects a critical shift in their approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from one that opposes Israeli occupation to one that, in effect, recognizes it. This can be seen in their largely unchallenged acceptance of Israel's settlement policy and the deepening separation of the West Bank and Gaza and isolation of the latter. This shift in donor thinking can also be seen in their unwillingness to confront Israel's de facto annexation of Palestinian lands and Israel's reshaping of the conflict to center on Gaza alone, which is now identified solely with Hamas and therefore as alien. 

Hence, within the annexation (West Bank)/alien (Gaza Strip) paradigm, any resistance by Palestinians, be they in the West Bank or Gaza, to Israel's repressive occupation, including attempts at meaningful economic empowerment, are now considered by Israel and certain donors to be illegitimate and unlawful. This is the context in which the sanctions regime against Gaza has been justified, a regime that has not mitigated since the end of the war. Normal trade (upon which Gaza's tiny economy is desperately dependent) continues to be prohibited; traditional imports and exports have almost disappeared from Gaza. In fact, with certain limited exceptions, no construction materials or raw materials have been allowed to enter the Strip since June 14, 2007. Indeed, according to Amnesty International, only forty- one truckloads of construction materials were allowed to enter Gaza between the end of the Israeli offensive in mid-January 2009 and December 2009, although Gaza's industrial sector presently requires 55,000 truckloads of raw materials for needed reconstruction. Furthermore, in the year since they were banned, imports of diesel and petrol from Israel into Gaza for private or commercial use were allowed in small amounts only four times (although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, periodically receives diesel and petrol supplies). By this past August, 90 percent of Gaza's total population was subject to scheduled electricity cuts of four to eight hours per day, while the remaining 10 percent had no access to any electricity, a reality that has remained largely unchanged. 

Gaza's protracted blockade has resulted in the near total collapse of the private sector. At least 95 percent of Gaza's industrial establishments (3,750 enterprises) were either forced to close or were destroyed over the past four years, resulting in a loss of between 100,000 and 120,000 jobs. The remaining 5 percent operate at 20-50 percent of their capacity. The vast restrictions on trade have also contributed to the continued erosion of Gaza's agricultural sector, which was exacerbated by the destruction of 5,000 acres of agricultural land and 305 agricultural wells during the war. These losses also include the destruction of 140,965 olive trees, 136,217 citrus trees, 22,745 fruit trees, 10,365 date trees and 8,822 other trees. 

Lands previously irrigated are now dry, while effluent from sewage seeps into the groundwater and the sea, making much of the land unusable. Many attempts by Gazan farmers to replant over the past year have failed because of the depletion and contamination of the water and the high level of nitrates in the soil. Gaza's agricultural sector has been further undermined by the buffer zone imposed by Israel on Gaza's northern and eastern perimeters (and by Egypt on Gaza's southern border), which contains some of the Strip's most fertile land. The zone is officially 300 meters wide and 55 kilometers long, but according to the UN, farmers entering within 1,000 meters of the border have sometimes been fired upon by the IDF. Approximately 30-40 percent of Gaza's total agricultural land is contained in the buffer zone. This has effectively forced the collapse of Gaza's agricultural sector. 

These profound distortions in Gaza's economy and society will--even under the best of conditions--take decades to reverse. The economy is now largely dependent on public-sector employment, relief aid and smuggling, illustrating the growing informalization of the economy. Even before the war, the World Bank had already observed a redistribution of wealth from the formal private sector toward black market operators. 

There are many illustrations, but one that is particularly startling concerns changes in the banking sector. A few days after Gaza was declared an enemy entity, Israel's banks announced their intention to end all direct transactions with Gaza-based banks and deal only with their parent institutions in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Accordingly, the Ramallah-based banks became responsible for currency transfers to their branches in the Gaza Strip. However, Israeli regulations prohibit the transfer of large amounts of currency without the approval of the Defense Ministry and other Israeli security forces. Consequently, over the past two years Gaza's banking sector has had serious problems in meeting the cash demands of its customers. This in turn has given rise to an informal banking sector, which is now controlled largely by people affiliated with the Hamas-led government, making Hamas Gaza's key financial middleman. Consequently, moneychangers, who can easily generate capital, are now arguably stronger than the formal banking system in Gaza, which cannot. 

Another example of Gaza's growing economic informality is the tunnel economy, which emerged long ago in response to the siege, providing a vital lifeline for an imprisoned population. According to local economists, around two-thirds of economic activity in Gaza is presently devoted just to smuggling goods into (but not out of) Gaza. Even this lifeline may soon be diminished, as Egypt, apparently assisted by US government engineers, has begun building an impenetrable underground steel wall along its border with Gaza in an attempt to reduce smuggling and control the movement of people. At its completion the wall will be six to seven miles long and fifty-five feet deep. 

The tunnels, which Israel tolerates in order to keep the siege intact, have also become an important source of income for the Hamas government and its affiliated enterprises, effectively weakening traditional and formal businesses and the rehabilitation of a viable business sector. In this way, the siege on Gaza has led to the slow but steady replacement of the formal business sector by a new, largely black-market sector that rejects registration, regulation or transparency and, tragically, has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. 

At least two new economic classes have emerged in Gaza, a phenomenon with precedents in the Oslo period: one has grown extremely wealthy from the black-market tunnel economy; the other consists of certain public-sector employees who are paid not to work (for the Hamas government) by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hence, not only have many Gazan workers been forced to stop producing by external pressures, there is now a category of people who are being rewarded for their lack of productivity--a stark illustration of Gaza's increasingly distorted reality. This in turn has led to economic disparities between the haves and have-nots that are enormous and visible, as seen in the almost perverse consumerism in restaurants and shops that are the domain of the wealthy. 

Gaza's economy is largely devoid of productive activity in favor of a desperate kind of consumption among the poor and the rich, but it is the former who are unable to meet their needs. Billions in international aid pledges have yet to materialize, so the overwhelming majority of Gazans remain impoverished. The combination of a withering private sector and stagnating economy has led to high unemployment, which ranges from 31.6 percent in Gaza City to 44.1 percent in Khan Younis. According to the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, the de facto unemployment rate is closer to 65 percent. At least 75 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people now require humanitarian aid to meet their basic food needs, compared with around 30 percent ten years ago. The UN further reports that the number of Gazans living in abject poverty--meaning those who are totally unable to feed their families--has tripled to 300,000, or approximately 20 percent of the population. 

Access to adequate amounts of food continues to be a critical problem, and appears to have grown more acute after the cessation of hostilities a year ago. Internal data from September 2009 through the beginning of January 2010, for example, reveal that Israel allows Gazans no more (and at times less) than 25 percent of needed food supplies, with levels having fallen as low as 16 percent. During the last two weeks of January, these levels declined even more. Between January 16 and January 29 an average of 24.5 trucks of food and supplies per day entered Gaza, or 171.5 trucks per week. Given that Gaza requires 400 trucks of food alone daily to sustain the population, Israel allowed in no more than 6 percent of needed food supplies during this two-week period. Because Gaza needs approximately 240,000 truckloads of food and supplies per year to "meet the needs of the population and the reconstruction effort," according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, current levels are, in a word, obscene. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program, "The evidence shows that the population is being sustained at the most basic or minimum humanitarian standard." This has likely contributed to the prevalence of stunting (low height for age), an indicator of chronic malnutrition, which has been pronounced among Gaza's children younger than 5, increasing from 8.2 percent in 1996 to 13.2 percent in 2006. 

Gaza's agony does not end there. According to Amnesty International, 90-95 percent of the water supplied by Gaza's aquifer is "unfit for drinking." The majority of Gaza's groundwater supplies are contaminated with nitrates well above the acceptable WHO standard--in some areas six times that standard--or too salinated to use. Gaza no longer has any source of regular clean water. According to one donor account, "Nowhere else in the world has such a large number of people been exposed to such high levels of nitrates for such a long period of time. There is no precedent, and no studies to help us understand what happens to people over the course of years of nitrate poisoning," which is especially threatening to children. According to Desmond Travers, a co-author of the Goldstone Report, "If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms." 

It is possible that high nitrate levels have contributed to some shocking changes in the infant mortality rate (IMR) among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. IMR, widely used as an indicator of population health, has stalled among Palestinians since the 1990s and now shows signs of increasing. This is because the leading causes of infant mortality have changed from infectious and diarrheal diseases to prematurity, low birth weight and congenital malformations. These trends are alarming (and rare in the region), because infant mortality rates have been declining in almost all developing countries, including Iraq. 

The people of Gaza know they have been abandoned. Some told me the only time they felt hope was when they were being bombed, because at least then the world was paying attention. Gaza is now a place where poverty masquerades as livelihood and charity as business. Yet, despite attempts by Israel and the West to caricature Gaza as a terrorist haven, Gazans still resist. Perhaps what they resist most is surrender: not to Israel, not to Hamas, but to hate. So many people still speak of peace, of wanting to resolve the conflict and live a normal life. Yet, in Gaza today, this is not a reason for optimism but despair. 

About Sara Roy 

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her new book, Hamas and Social Islam in Palestine, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press.


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

[ePalestine] World Bank Examines Impact of Conflict and Closure Regime on Palestinian Women

World Bank 

Checkpoints and Barriers:
Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza

Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse

February, 2010

Exec Summary (snip)

An important dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one that has been extensively documented, concerns Israel's control over the movement of Palestinian people, goods, and resources. Since 1967, control over Palestinian movement has relaxed and tightened, following in part the ebb and flow of the conflict. Over time, however, the apparatus of control itself has gradually become more sophisticated and effective in its ability to interfere in and affect every aspect of Palestinian life, including job opportunities, work, and earnings. Extensive and multilayered, the apparatus of control includes a permit system, physical obstacles known as closures, restricted roads, prohibitions on entering large areas of land in the West Bank, and most notably the Separation Barrier. It has turned the West Bank into a fragmented set of social and economic islands or enclaves cut off from one another. It has surrounded Gaza with a perimeter fence with heavily controlled crossings. This report assesses the impact of the movement and access regime in the period 2000–07 on the economy and the working lives of Palestinians, exploring the gender dimension of restrictions on labor force participation, and how new tensions in the arena of work resulting from movement and access restrictions have affected relations between women and men. 



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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[ePalestine] Jews-only homes for Ajami (By Jonathan Cook in Jaffa)

Jews-only homes for Ajami  

Arabs of Jaffa face settlers as neighbours  

By Jonathan Cook in Jaffa   

17 February 2010   

Jonathan Cook reports from Ajami, in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Jaffa, which has become the target of a takeover by extremist Jewish settlers bent on pushing the district’s Arab residents, who are citizens of Israel, out of their homes.   

Over the past few days graffiti scrawled on walls around the mixed Jewish and Arab town of Jaffa in central Israel exclaims: “Settlers, keep out” and “Jaffa is not Hebron”. Although Jaffa is only a stone’s throw from the bustling coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, Arab residents say their neighbourhood has become the unlikely battleground for an attempted takeover by extremist Jews more familiar from West Bank settlements.   

Small numbers of nationalist religious Jews, distinctive for wearing knitted skullcaps, have begun moving into Jaffa’s deprived main Arab district, Ajami, over recent months.   

Tensions have been simmering since a special seminary was established last year in the heart of Ajami for young Jewish men who combine study of the Bible with serving in the Israeli army. Many such seminaries, known as hesder yeshivas, are located in the occupied territories and have earned a reputation for turning out extremists.   

Last week Ajami’s residents were dealt a further blow when an Israeli court approved the sale of one of the district’s few remaining building plots to B’Emuna (Hebrew for “with faith”), a construction company that specializes in building subsidized homes for religious families, many of them in West Bank settlements.   

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel, the country’s largest human rights law centre, which petitioned the courts on the Arab residents’ behalf, called the company’s policy “racist”.   

B’Emuna, which is expected to complete 20 apartments in the next few months, is applying for approval for a further 180, as well as a second seminary and a synagogue.   

“We have no problem living peacefully with Jewish neighbours,” said Omar Siksik, an Arab councillor representing Jaffa in Tel Aviv’s municipality. “But these Jews are coming here as settlers. “Like in Hebron, their policy is to weaken us as a population and eventually push us out of our homes,” he said, referring to a West Bank city where an enclave of a few dozen settlers has severely disrupted life for tens of thousands of Palestinians.   

Jaffa’s fortunes have changed dramatically since early last century when it was the commercial hub of Palestine, famously exporting its orange crop around the world. During Israel’s founding in 1948, most of the town’s Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee, with the few remaining inhabitants confined to Ajami. 

Today, Jaffa’s 18,000 Arab inhabitants are outnumbered two to one by Jews, after waves of immigrants were settled in empty homes during the 1950s. 

Arab residents have long complained of being neglected by a municipality controlled from Tel Aviv. Ajami’s crumbling homes, ramshackle infrastructure and crime- ridden streets were on show in this year’s much-feted eponymous movie, nominated for an Oscar as best foreign- language film.   

But the latest arrivals in Ajami are causing considerable anxiety, even from officials in Tel Aviv. Gilad Peleg, head of the Jaffa Development Authority, said he was “deeply concerned” at the trend of extremist organizations arriving “to shake up the local community”. 

Nasmi Jabali, 56, lives in a modest single-storey home close to the olive grove where the new apartments will be built. “We’ve seen on TV how these settlers behave in the occupied territories, and don’t want them living next to us,” she said. “They’ll come here with the same attitudes.” 

But despite widespread opposition, the Tel Aviv District Court last week rejected a petition from 27 residents who argued that the Israel Lands Authority had discriminated against them by awarding the land to B’Emuna, even though its policy is to build apartments only for Jews. 

Yehuda Zefet, the judge, accused the residents of “bad faith” in arguing for equality when they wanted the interests of the local Arab community to take precedence over the interests of Jews. 

Mr Siksik said the judge had failed to take into account the historical injustice perpetrated on Ajami’s population. “For six decades the authorities have not built one new house for the Arab population, and in fact they have demolished many Arab homes, while building social housing for Jews.” 

Fadi Shabita, a member of the local Popular Committee for the Defence of Jaffa’s Lands, said the plots in Ajami being sold by the government originally belonged to Palestinian families, some of whom were still in the district but had been forced to rent their properties from the state. 

“The land was forcibly nationalized many years ago and the local owners were dispossessed,” he said. “Now the same land is being privatized, but Ajami’s residents are being ignored in the development plans. 

“For the settlers, the lesson of the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005] was that they need to begin a dialogue with Jews inside Israel to persuade them that a settlement in the West Bank is no less legitimate than one in Jaffa.” 

B’Emuna told Israel National News, a settler website, that it was developing Jewish-only homes in several of the half dozen “mixed cities” in Israel to stem the flow of Jewish residents leaving because of poverty and falling property values caused by the presence of an Arab population. 

B’Emuna has said it is looking to buy more land in Jaffa. 

A short distance from the olive grove that is about to be developed is the Jewish seminary established last year. An Israeli flag is draped from the front of the building and stars of David adorn the gate at its entrance. 

The manager, Ariel Elimelech, who was overseeing two dozen young men on Sunday as they pored over the Torah, said he commuted daily to Ajami from his home in Eli, an illegal settlement deep in the West Bank south of the Palestinian city of Nablus. 

Mr Elimelech said he favoured coexistence in Jaffa but added that the seminary’s goal was to strengthen Jewish identity in the area. “We don’t call this place Ajami; it’s known as Givat Aliyah,” he said, using a Hebrew name that refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel. 

He said the students performed a vital service by visiting schools to help in the education of Jewish children before performing 18 months of military service. 

Kemal Agbaria, who chairs the Ajami neighbourhood council, said residents would launch an appeal to the Supreme Court and were planning large-scale demonstrations to draw attention to their plight.   


Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is  

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi. The version on this website is published by permission of Jonathan Cook. 


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Monday, February 15, 2010

[ePalestine] A Palestinian arrest so ridiculous even the Israeli judges smiled


Last update - 05:21 15/02/2010                          

A Palestinian arrest so ridiculous even the Israeli judges smiled 

By Amira Hass 

Something about 12-year-old Bassam caused two Israelis to smile. Two Palestinians noticed, but did not remember their smiles as being disparaging or arrogant. On the contrary. The Palestinians regarded the smiles as a rare moment in which two Israelis - and not just any Israelis, but military judges - realized how ridiculous the situation was. 

There were three other Israelis present, who held back their cries as they watched the boy enter, faltering - the chains around his legs clanging against each other, the prisons service coat he wore much too big for him. These three women, of their own accord, go regularly to the caravans that house the Ofer military tribunal and take notes. Were it not for these three women, who eventually shared his story, Bassam would have become yet another hidden detail of a non-event. A non-event of the sort that takes place countless times, all the time. Without those non-events, it is impossible to comprehend what life is like under hostile rule. 

This particular non-event began with Bassam (not his real name), who lives in a village west of Ramallah, deciding to visit his aunt who lives in another village 14 kilometers away. It took place in the afternoon hours of Monday, December 21, 2009. Bassam's home is some 10 kilometers north of Route 443 and his aunt's home to the south. A narrow, winding path links the villages located along the way. Bassam took two taxis, then began walking the rest of the way. At the suggestion of another boy he met on the path, he took a shortcut through a valley and headed for the little tunnel that runs below the road which is closed off to Palestinians, but built on their land. 

Several hundred meters from the elevated road, some Israel Defense Forces soldiers popped out from in between the olive trees. According to the boy, they called him over, saying "Come, come." "I was afraid and fled," Bassam says. But the soldiers grabbed him. He noticed there were two jeeps nearby. 

"They boxed me a little on my ears, covered my eyes and put plastic handcuffs on my wrists. Then they lifted me and threw me into a jeep," he says. An Arabic speaker, he says, told him: "If they ask you, say that you threw stones." "I was so afraid that I did not think about anything," Bassam says two weeks later, at home. 

With his eyes covered and hands cuffed, Bassam was taken from place to place. At the first stop, he was kept about two hours. They offered him water, but he said he did not want any. Then they drove to another place where a police interrogator asked him if he "had ever thrown stones on 443," Bassam relates. "I said yes - because that's what the soldier in the jeep told me - but I didn't know what 443 was. He asked me whether I had ever thrown stones with a sling. I asked him what a sling was. He explained to me and I said no." 

At the third stop, Bassam was seen by a doctor who spoke some Arabic. "He asked me if I had had any operations and I said no. Then they covered my eyes again, handcuffed me and we went off," he says. By then it was already dark; they next arrived at the Ofer Prison. In the Prison Service records, Bassam is registered as prisoner number 1336183. 

The inmates in the cell he was taken to immediately calmed him down, gave him something to eat, and explained that he would appear in court the next day. "I knew about Shabak [the Shin Bet security service] but I didn't know what the court was," he says. 

'But I am standing' 

At around 3 P.M. on December 22, in the caravan which houses the court, Iyad Misk, an attorney with DCI (Defence for Children International), spotted Bassam, whom he did not know, huddled among the other prisoners. When the judge, Major Shimon Leibo, entered, Misk thought Bassam didn't realize he had to stand. "Get up, get up," he said in a stage whisper from the attorney's stand. Bassam stared at him in amazement. "But I am standing," he said. Judge Leibo heard, looked and began to smile. 

Misk immediately volunteered to represent the kid. The prosecutor, police officer Asher Silver, said: "We ask that the suspect be released on condition of a NIS 1,500 deposit and that he be called to a hearing, as we intend to submit an indictment against him." 

Misk explained that the suspect did not have NIS 1,500 (approximately one and a half times a Palestinian worker's monthly wage), and that his family members were not present and apparently did not even know where he was. In what sounded like a suppressed reprimand, the judge said that not enough had been done to inform the boy's family about the arrest, and ordered that Bassam be released after NIS 500 was deposited. Misk _ who believed the police should have immediately released the boy the previous day, when the soldiers brought him to the police interrogator - was prepared to pay out of his own pocket, but the offices where the payment was to be made were already shut. 

Meanwhile, Bassam's parents were beside themselves with worry. When he did not return home in the morning from his aunt's home, they started searching for him throughout the surrounding areas _ in the orchards, at the checkpoints, on the roads, at army posts. "I walked through the mountains looking for him and crying," his father, who is a welder, recalls. In the evening, one of Misk's friends found the father and informed him that Bassam would be spending a second night in detention. The following day, December 23, the father appeared at the military tribunal. 

He held back his tears as he watched his son enter the caravan. The jacket reached his knees and his hands were buried inside the long sleeves. "Take a look at him," the father told the judge, Major Sharon Rivlin-Ahai, in fluent Hebrew. "Is this what the great Israel Defense Forces are needed for - to arrest this boy?" 

And then it was time for the second smile - hers this time. The father remembers her saying, "Right." But then she added: "That's the law." She reduced the amount of the deposit to NIS 200, along with a guarantee that his son would appear in court if and when a charge sheet is brought against him. As long as there is no indictment, no one will know what the soldiers who took in Bassam are claiming. It is their word against the word of a Palestinian boy. 


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Friday, February 12, 2010

[ePalestine] NYT: Hard Mideast Truths

Dear friends,

With my strong objection to some of the omissions (like the separation/Apartheid barrier was deemed illegal under int' law, misuse of numbers - he omits the 200,000+ settlers in E. Jerusalem settlements, among others details), I still think this new analysis coming out of this kind of writer in the NYT is important.

Another writer/analysis today, an Israeli working in a US Think Tank, touched on the same theme and was much more to the point:

A retractionist-retentionist discourse
By Daniel Levy

Mobilized against Israeli Apartheid, along with many Israeli/Jewish friends,


The New York Times 

February 12, 2010 
Op-Ed Columnist 

Hard Mideast Truths 


NEW YORK — For over a century now, Zionism and Arab nationalism have failed to find an accommodation in the Holy Land. Both movements attempted to fill the space left by collapsed empire, and it has been left to the quasi-empire, the United States, to try to coax them to peaceful coexistence. The attempt has failed. 

President Barack Obama came to office more than a year ago promising new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. But nice speeches have given way to sullen stalemate. I am told Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have a zero-chemistry relationship. 

Domestic U.S. politics constrain innovative thought — even open debate — on the process without end that is the peace search. As Aaron David Miller, who long labored in the trenches of that process, once observed, the United States ends up as “Israel’s lawyer” rather than an honest broker. The upside for an American congressman in speaking out for Palestine is nonexistent. 

I don’t see these constraints shifting much, but the need for Obama to honor his election promise grows. The conflict gnaws at U.S. security, eats away at whatever remote possibility of a two-state solution is left, clouds Israel’s future, scatters Palestinians and devours every attempt to bridge the West and Islam. 

Here’s what I believe. Centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust created a moral imperative for a Jewish homeland, Israel, and demand of America that it safeguard that nation in the breach. 

But past persecution of the Jews cannot be a license to subjugate another people, the Palestinians. Nor can the solemn U.S. promise to stand by Israel be a blank check to the Jewish state when its policies undermine stated American aims. 

One such Israeli policy is the relentless settlement of the West Bank. Two decades ago, James Baker, then secretary of state, declared, “Forswear annexation; stop settlement activity.” Fast-forward 20 years to Barack Obama in Cairo: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” In the interim the number of settlers almost quadrupled from about 78,000 in 1990 to around 300,000 last year. 

Since Obama spoke, Netanyahu, while promising an almost-freeze, has been planting saplings in settlements and declaring them part of Israel for “eternity.” In a normal relationship between allies — of the kind I think America and Israel should have — there would be consequences for such defiance. In the special relationship between the United States and Israel there are none. 

The U.S. objective is a two-state peace. But day by day, square meter by square meter, the physical space for the second state, Palestine, is disappearing. Can the Gaza sardine can and fractured labyrinth of the West Bank now be seen as anything but a grotesque caricature of a putative state? America has allowed this self-defeating process to advance to near irreversibility. 

In fact, it has helped fund it. The settlements are expensive, as is the security fence (hated “separation wall” to the Palestinians) that is itself an annexation mechanism. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, U.S. aid to Israel totaled $28.9 billion over the past decade, a sum that dwarfs aid to any other nation and amounts to four times the total gross domestic product of Haiti. 

It makes sense for America to assure Israel’s security. It does not make sense for America to bankroll Israeli policies that undermine U.S. strategic objectives. 

This, too, I believe: Through violence, anti-Semitic incitation, and annihilationist threats, Palestinian factions have contributed mightily to the absence of peace and made it harder for America to adopt the balance required. But the impressive recent work of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank shows that Palestinian responsibility is no oxymoron and demands of Israel a response less abject than creeping annexation. 

And this: the “existential threat” to Israel is overplayed. It is no feeble David facing an Arab (or Arab-Persian) Goliath. Armed with a formidable nuclear deterrent, Israel is by far the strongest state in the region. Room exists for America to step back and apply pressure without compromising Israeli security. 

And this: Obama needs to work harder on overcoming Palestinian division, a prerequisite for peace, rather than playing the no-credible-interlocutor Israeli game. The Hamas charter is vile. But the breakthrough Oslo accords were negotiated in 1993, three years before the Palestine Liberation Organization revoked the annihilationist clauses in its charter. When Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn, that destroy-Israel charter was intact. Things change through negotiation, not otherwise. If there are Taliban elements worth engaging, are there really no such elements in the broad movements that are Hamas and Hezbollah? 

If there are not two states there will be one state between the river and the sea and very soon there will be more Palestinian Arabs in it than Jews. What then will become of the Zionist dream? 

It’s time for Obama to ask such tough questions in public and demand of Israel that it work in practice to share the land rather than divide and rule it. 


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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

[ePalestine] Aljazeera: Israel denies NGOs work permits


Israel denies NGOs work permits

For more info on this subject visit: 


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Friday, February 05, 2010

[ePalestine] The Independent: In the West Bank's stony hills, Palestine is slowly dying

The Independent

January 30, 2010 

In the West Bank's stony hills, Palestine is slowly dying 

In the richest of the Occupied lands, Israeli bureaucracy is driving Palestinians out of their homes. 

Robert Fisk reports from Jiftlik 

Area C doesn't sound very ominous. A land of stone-sprinkled grey hills and soft green valleys, it's part of the wreckage of the equally wrecked Oslo Agreement, accounting for 60 per cent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that was eventually supposed to be handed over to its Palestinian inhabitants. 

But look at the statistics and leaf through the pile of demolition orders lying on the table in front of Abed Kasab, head of the village council in Jiftlik, and it all looks like ethnic cleansing via bureaucracy. Perverse might be the word for the paperwork involved. Obscene appear to be the results. 

Palestinian houses that cannot be permitted to stand, roofs that must be taken down, wells closed, sewage systems demolished; in one village, I even saw a primitive electricity system in which Palestinians must sink their electrical poles cemented into concrete blocks standing on the surface of the dirt road. To place the poles in the earth would ensure their destruction - no Palestinian can dig a hole more than 40cm below the ground. 

But let's return to the bureaucracy. "Ro'i" - if that is indeed the Israeli official's name, for it is difficult to decipher - signed a batch of demolition papers for Jiftlik last December, all duly delivered, in Arabic and Hebrew, to Mr Kasab. There are 21 of them, running - non- sequentially - from numbers 143912 through 145059, all from "The High Planning Council Monitoring [sic] Sub-Committee of the Civil Administration for the Area of Judea and Samaria". Judea and Samaria - for ordinary folk - is the occupied West Bank. The first communication is dated 8 December, 2009, the last 17 December. 

And as Mr Kasab puts it, that's the least of his problems. Palestinian requests to build houses are either delayed for years or refused; houses built without permission are ruthlessly torn down; corrugated iron roofs have to be camouflaged with plastic sheets in the hope the "Civil Administration" won't deem them an extra floor - in which case "Ro'i's" lads will be round to rip the lot off the top of the house. 

In Area C, there are up to 150,000 Palestinians and 300,000 Jewish colonists living - illegally under international law - in 120 official settlements and 100 "unapproved" settlements or, in the language we must use these days, "illegal outposts"; illegal under Israeli as well as international law, that is - as opposed to the 120 internationally illegal colonies which are legal under Israeli law. Jewish settlers, needless to say, don't have problems with planning permission. 

The winter sun blazes through the door of Mr Kasab's office and cigarette smoke drifts through the room as the angry men of Jiftlik shout their grievances. "I don't mind if you print my name, I am so angry, I will take the consequences," he says. "Breathing is the only thing we don't need a permit for - yet!" The rhetoric is tired, but the fury is real. "Buildings, new roads, reservoirs, we have been waiting three years to get permits. We cannot get a permit for a new health clinic. We are short of water for both human and agricultural use. Getting permission to rehabilitate the water system costs 70,000 Israeli shekels [about £14,000] - it costs more than the rehabilitation system itself." 

A drive along the wild roads of Area C - from the outskirts of Jerusalem to the semi-humid basin of the Jordan valley - runs through dark hills and bare, stony valleys lined with deep, ancient caves, until, further east, lie the fields of the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers' palm groves - electrified fences round the groves - and the mud or stone huts of Palestinian sheep farmers. This paradise is a double illusion. One group of inhabitants, the Israelis, may remember their history and live in paradise. The smaller group, the Palestinian Arabs, are able to look across these wonderful lands and remember their history - but they are already out of paradise and into limbo. 

Even the western NGOs working in Area C find their work for Palestinians blocked by the Israelis. This is not just a "hitch" in the "peace process" - whatever that is - but an international scandal. Oxfam, for example, asked the Israelis for a permit to build a 300m2 capacity below-ground reservoir along with 700m of underground 4in pipes for the thousands of Palestinians living around Jiftlik. It was refused. They then gave notice that they intended to construct an above-ground installation of two glass-fibre tanks, an above-ground pipe and booster pump. They were told they would need a permit even though the pipes were above ground - and they were refused a permit. As a last resort, Oxfam is now distributing rooftop water tanks. 

I came across an even more outrageous example of this apartheid-by-permit in the village of Zbeidat, where the European Union's humanitarian aid division installed 18 waste water systems to prevent the hamlet's vile-smelling sewage running through the gardens and across the main road into the fields. The £80,000 system - a series of 40ft shafts regularly flushed out by sewage trucks - was duly installed because the location lay inside Area B, where no planning permission was required. 

Yet now the aid workers have been told by the Israelis that work "must stop" on six of the 18 shafts - a prelude to their demolition, although already they are already built beside the road - because part of the village stands in Area C. Needless to say, no one - neither Palestinians nor Israelis - knows the exact borderline between B and C. Thus around £20,000 of European money has been thrown away by the Israeli "Civil Administration". 

But in one way, this storm of permission and non-permission papers is intended to obscure the terrible reality of Area C. Many Israeli activists as well as western NGOs suspect Israel intends to force the Palestinians here to leave their lands and homes and villages and depart into the wretchedness of Areas B and A. B is jointly controlled by Israeli military and civil authorities and Palestinian police, and A by the witless Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Thus would the Palestinians be left to argue over a mere 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank - in itself a tiny fraction of the 22 per cent of Mandated Palestine over which the equally useless Yasser Arafat once hoped to rule. Add to this the designation of 18 per cent of Area C as "closed military areas" by the Israelis and add another 3 per cent preposterously designated as a "nature reserve" - it would be interesting to know what kind of animals roam there - and the result is simple: even without demolition orders, Palestinians cannot build in 70 per cent of Area C. 

Along one road, I discovered a series of large concrete blocks erected by the Israeli army in front of Palestinian shacks. "Danger - Firing Area" was printed on each in Hebrew, Arabic and English. "Entrance Forbidden." What are the Palestinians living here supposed to do? Area C, it should be added, is the richest of the occupied Palestinian lands, with cheese production and animal farms. Many of the 5,000 souls in Jiftlik have been refugees already, their families fled lands to the west of Jerusalem - in present-day Israel - in 1947 and 1948. Their tragedy has not yet ended, of course. What price Palestine? 


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