Wednesday, April 28, 2010

[ePalestine] WPost: Sharing a West Bank highway proves a tall order for Israel, Palestinians

"We give these people no hope and no ability to be able to safeguard their rights," she said, "so what options do we leave them with?" 

Sharing a West Bank highway proves a tall order for Israel, Palestinians 
By Janine Zacharia 
Washington Post Foreign Service 
Monday, April 26, 2010; A09 

BEIT UR AL-TAHTA, WEST BANK -- For eight years, Israeli commuters have whizzed between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Highway 443, a road whose West Bank portion is lined with barriers, off-limits to Palestinians who live along the way. 

Naji Suliman, mayor of the Palestinian community of Beit Ur al-Tahta, thought that would change after a decision by Israel's Supreme Court calling for the ban on Palestinians to be lifted by May. Then, after meeting with an Israeli military commander last week, Suliman concluded that Israel's actions came "just for public relations." 

To comply with the court ruling, the military plans to create only two entry points within nine miles, and Palestinians would be subject to searches. There are no plans to reopen an artery linking the highway to the commercial hub of Ramallah, which Suliman said is the main reason his residents want access. 

The debate over Highway 443 illustrates a fundamental rub in the West Bank: If the Israelis and Palestinians can't agree over how to share nine miles of pavement, how will they ever resolve the far more complex issues that divide them? 

From an Israeli viewpoint, allowing Palestinians on the road increases the risk of violence and adds traffic. To Palestinians, the road is another example of Israel's reluctance to make life easier for them in occupied areas. 

"The moment you allow people who can harm us free access to this road, it's terrible for us," said Dina Yaakov-Yan, a 24-year-old Israeli student hitching a ride along Highway 443. 

"I know that in the Israeli eyes it's very acceptable to say that it's a security problem," said Limor Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer who filed the initial court petition on behalf of the Palestinians. "But it's not a security problem. It's an economic and transportation issue." 

In a written appeal to the Justice Ministry on Sunday, Yehuda described the access plan as a "huge disappointment" and asked the authorities to open all entry and exit points and facilitate access to Ramallah. 

Highway 1, the main route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, can be a traffic nightmare during rush hour. Highway 443, a major chunk of which cuts through Palestinian lands in the West Bank, eases congestion by drawing roughly 40,000 commuters each day. 

In the 1980s, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that in order to expropriate Palestinian land for the construction of Highway 443, the road had to serve the needs of the local Palestinian population. Under rules of occupation, Israel couldn't seize Palestinian land and build a road exclusively for Israelis, it said. 

After it was finished, Israelis and Palestinians managed to share the road mostly in peace until the outbreak in 2000 of what's known as the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, when deadly attacks on Israeli motorists began. The road was completely closed to Palestinians in 2002. 

The high court in its recent ruling left it to the Israeli army to decide on access arrangements. It didn't require the army to open the artery to Ramallah. Without it, the highway is largely a road to nowhere for Palestinians. 

A few Palestinians will use the road "to make a point," said Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli army's central command. Beyond that, he said, "we don't expect to see a great increase in traffic. They won't want to go through the checkpoints." 

Still, many in Israel worry about traffic. "If drivers don't feel safe on the road, the alternative is Route 1. If the truck drivers will feel uncomfortable in terms of security, we'll have to deal with them on Route 1. What this means is a total collapse of Route 1," Yishai Talor, a Transportation Ministry official, told a legislative committee. 

Israel finished alternative roads last year for Palestinians, which the army says are adequate. Palestinians, however, complain about floods, circuitous routes and lengthier travel times -- it takes an hour instead of 15 minutes to get to Ramallah. The increased transportation costs for Palestinians have also hurt the local economy. 

Because of all this, Yehuda, the civil rights lawyer, celebrated in December when the court agreed that blocking Palestinian access to the road was beyond the military commander's authority. 

Her elation has since turned to disappointment. 

The way the army is implementing the court's decision shows "the farce of the rule of law when it comes to the occupied territories and the inability of the legal system to give real redress to people's claims," Yehuda said. 

"We give these people no hope and no ability to be able to safeguard their rights," she said, "so what options do we leave them with?" 

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report. 


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Monday, April 19, 2010

[ePalestine] WBAI NY Radio interview / Bitterlemons: End occupation then start negotiations (by Sam Bahour)

WBAI radio (New York) April 19, 2010, 6:21am EST

Interview with Sam Bahour on new Israeli Military Order 1650

Starts at 21:00 minutes into program:


End occupation then start negotiations 
by Sam Bahour 

US President Barack Obama is about to take a political leap on the Palestine/Israel issue. Many American presidents took similar leaps and each and every one of them fell flat on their faces. The leap is the launch of a new US peace initiative that promises, yet again, to bring the stubborn Palestinian-Israeli conflict to an end. 

Obama would be well advised to learn from all the other infamous US initiatives as he frames his own. There is absolutely nothing news-breaking in the news of a fresh US peace initiative. Palestinians and Israelis have been on the receiving end of so many such plans that they can usually accurately predict the content before they receive them. 

This time, however, expectations are not so clear. The way Obama has been dealing with this issue since taking office has been far from traditional. The hope is that the substance of his upcoming initiative will veer away from the traditional, given that the traditional also means failure and more bloodshed and suffering for both sides. 

Why do folks here on the ground see Obama in a slightly different light than past US presidents? For starters, shortly after he took office, he delivered a historic speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009 where he stated: is also undeniable that the Palestinian people--Muslims and Christians--have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations--large and small--that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. 

This is a significantly deeper reflection about the conflict from the US then can be remembered in recent history. Obama's linking of the dispossession of Palestinians when Israel was established with the continuation of the Israeli occupation has great meaning. 

Secondly, Obama wasted no time in appointing Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East. This was a clear indication that Obama's administration was taking the issue seriously and was planning to deal with it from the outset and not at the end of his term like so many before him. 

Thirdly, Obama challenged Israel on the issue of settlements--the key indicator that reflects the level of Israeli seriousness in not only resolving the conflict, but in reducing tension and creating a confidence-building environment to allow peace negotiations to restart. The response was the equivalent of Israel repeatedly slapping and spitting in the Obama administration's face. 

Lastly, and most recently, US General David Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, explained while speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee that, "enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility." 

Petraeus' statement was read as a signal that the Obama administration would not allow the strategic interests of the US in the region to be trumped by Israeli intransigence. Indeed, prior to this public statement by one of the highest-ranking officials in the US military, it was a poorly kept secret that Israel was negatively affecting US strategic interests in the region. In 2006, for instance, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group report explicitly noted that for the US to make progress in Iraq and the region it must address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Given all of this, Obama has the clear ability to steer the US to do the right thing at long last. The remaining question is if the US and its institutions will allow him to reframe US policy with an approach to peacemaking that gives him a chance for success. 

The foundations of past peace plans have swung from generic macro plans that were proposed before direct negotiations even started between the parties (e.g., the 1982 Reagan Plan) to super micro incremental transition plans (e.g., the Oslo peace process). There was even a big bang approach when President George W. Bush promised to resolve the conflict before leaving office. It goes without saying that all of these failed, completely and violently. Each failure has cost Palestinian and Israeli lives and livelihoods. 

What Obama can do differently is to take a concrete approach to resolving the conflict with two clear milestones. The first milestone is to end Israel's 43-year military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then, and only then, can Palestinians be expected to negotiate in good faith toward the second milestone, which is a negotiated final status agreement that would end the conflict and launch a process of reconciliation. Holding Palestinian freedom hostage to an unachievable final status agreement is paramount to a war crime. 

In his Cairo speech, Obama also said, "We cannot impose peace". I hope he has reached clarity that imposing peace is not what is needed to avert yet another catastrophe in Palestine. What is needed is for the US to respect international humanitarian law and numerous UN resolutions, and leverage US power to bring Israel in line with the will of the community of nations by forcing it to end its occupation. For the US to uphold international law would be a true expression of "shock and awe" that could well prove to be Obama's historical legacy: putting the US on the correct--as in just--side of history in this region. 

- Published 19/4/2010 © 

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American management consultant living in Ramallah.


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Monday, April 12, 2010

[ePalestine] POWERFUL VIDEO: "The Silence of a Nation"

POWERFUL VIDEO: “The Silence of a Nation”

Excerpts from a speech presented by Chris Hedges

and for anyone that believes good news from Gaza at face value, read this brief report.

The day we forget Gaza, is the day we lose our humanity,


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Friday, April 09, 2010

[ePalestine] Why There Are No “Israelis” in the Jewish State (by Jonathan Cook)

Why There Are No “Israelis” in the Jewish State 

Citizens Classed as Jewish or Arab Nationals 

by Jonathan Cook / April 6th, 2010

A group of Jews and Arabs are fighting in the Israeli courts to be recognised as “Israelis”, a nationality currently denied them, in a case that officials fear may threaten the country’s self- declared status as a Jewish state. 

Israel refused to recognise an Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality”. Although all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel”, the state is defined as belonging to the “Jewish nation”, meaning not only the 5.6 million Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora. 

Critics say the special status of Jewish nationality has been a way to undermine the citizenship rights of non-Jews in Israel, especially the fifth of the population who are Arab. Some 30 laws in Israel specifically privilege Jews, including in the areas of immigration rights, naturalisation, access to land and employment. 

Arab leaders have also long complained that indications of “Arab” nationality on ID cards make it easy for police and government officials to target Arab citizens for harsher treatment. 

The interior ministry has adopted more than 130 possible nationalities for Israeli citizens, most of them defined in religious or ethnic terms, with “Jewish” and “Arab” being the main categories. 

The group’s legal case is being heard by the supreme court after a district judge rejected their petition two years ago, backing the state’s position that there is no Israeli nation. 

The head of the campaign for Israeli nationality, Uzi Ornan, a retired linguistics professor, said: “It is absurd that Israel, which recognises dozens of different nationalities, refuses to recognise the one nationality it is supposed to represent.” 

The government opposes the case, claiming that the campaign’s real goal is to “undermine the state’s infrastructure” — a presumed reference to laws and official institutions that ensure Jewish citizens enjoy a privileged status in Israel. 

Mr Ornan, 86, said that denying a common Israeli nationality was the linchpin of state- sanctioned discrimination against the Arab population. 

“There are even two laws — the Law of Return for Jews and the Citizenship Law for Arabs — that determine how you belong to the state,” he said. “What kind of democracy divides its citizens into two kinds?” 

Yoel Harshefi, a lawyer supporting Mr Ornan, said the interior ministry had resorted to creating national groups with no legal recognition outside Israel, such as “Arab” or “unknown”, to avoid recognising an Israeli nationality. 

In official documents most Israelis are classified as “Jewish” or “Arab”, but immigrants whose status as Jews is questioned by the Israeli rabbinate, including more than 300,000 arrivals from the former Soviet Union, are typically registered according to their country of origin. 

“Imagine the uproar in Jewish communities in the United States, Britain or France, if the authorities there tried to classify their citizens as “Jewish” or “Christian”,” said Mr Ornan. 

The professor, who lives close to Haifa, launched his legal action after the interior ministry refused to change his nationality to “Israeli” in 2000. An online petition declaring “I am an Israeli” has attracted several thousand signatures. 

Mr Ornan has been joined in his action by 20 other public figures, including former government minister Shulamit Aloni. Several members have been registered with unusual nationalities such as “Russian”, “Buddhist”, “Georgian” and “Burmese”. 

Two Arabs are party to the case, including Adel Kadaan, who courted controversy in the 1990s by waging a lengthy legal action to be allowed to live in one of several hundred communities in Israel open only to Jews. 

Uri Avnery, a peace activist and former member of the parliament, said the current nationality system gave Jews living abroad a far greater stake in Israel than its 1.3 million Arab citizens. 

“The State of Israel cannot recognise an ‘Israeli’ nation because it is the state of the ‘Jewish’ nation … it belongs to the Jews of Brooklyn, Budapest and Buenos Aires, even though these consider themselves as belonging to the American, Hungarian or Argentine nations.” 

International Zionist organisations representing the diaspora, such as the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, are given in Israeli law a special, quasi-governmental role, especially in relation to immigration and control over large areas of Israeli territory for the settlement of Jews only. 

Mr Ornan said the lack of a common nationality violated Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which says the state will “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex”. 

Indications of nationality on ID cards carried by Israelis made it easy for officials to discriminate against Arab citizens, he added. 

The government has countered that the nationality section on ID cards was phased out from 2000 — after the interior ministry, which was run by a religious party at the time, objected to a court order requiring it to identify non-Orthodox Jews as “Jewish” on the cards. 

However, Mr Ornan said any official could instantly tell if he was looking at the card of a Jew or Arab because the date of birth on the IDs of Jews was given according to the Hebrew calendar. In addition, the ID of an Arab, unlike a Jew, included the grandfather’s name. 

“Flash your ID card and whatever government clerk is sitting across from you immediately knows which ‘clan’ you belong to, and can refer you to those best suited to ‘handle your kind’,” Mr Ornan said. 

The distinction between Jewish and Arab nationalities is also shown on interior ministry records used to make important decisions about personal status issues such as marriage, divorce and death, which are dealt with on entirely sectarian terms. 

Only Israelis from the same religious group, for example, are allowed to marry inside Israel — otherwise they are forced to wed abroad — and cemeteries are separated according to religious belonging. 

Some of those who have joined the campaign complain that it has damaged their business interests. One Druze member, Carmel Wahaba, said he had lost the chance to establish an import-export company in France because officials there refused to accept documents stating his nationality as “Druze” rather than “Israeli”. 

The group also said it hoped to expose a verbal sleight of hand that intentionally mistranslates the Hebrew term “Israeli citizenship” on the country’s passports as “Israeli nationality” in English to avoid problems with foreign border officials. 

B Michael, a commentator for Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel’s most popular newspaper, has observed: “We are all Israeli nationals — but only abroad.” 

The campaign, however, is likely to face an uphill struggle in the courts. 

A similar legal suit brought by a Tel Aviv psychologist, George Tamrin, failed in 1970. Shimon Agranat, head of the supreme court at the time, ruled: “There is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish people. … The Jewish people is composed not only of those residing in Israel but also of diaspora Jewries.” 

That view was echoed by the district court in 2008 when it heard Mr Ornan’s case. 

The judges in the supreme court, which held the first appeal hearing last month, indicated that they too were likely to be unsympathetic. Justice Uzi Fogelman said: “The question is whether or not the court is the right place to solve this problem.” 

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). Read other articles by Jonathan , or visit Jonathan's website


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Thursday, April 08, 2010

[ePalestine] Children of Gaza - 48 minutes to keep us all grounded in reality!

Children of Gaza
28 March, 2010 — Ann

A moving, must-see video that first aired on Channel 4 (UK)’s Dispatches on 15 March. BAFTA-winning filmmaker Jezza Neumann follows the lives of three children for over a year. The children are amazing: well-spoken, reflective, resilient, understandably vengeful and fearful, but very endearing. The toll this inhumanity has taken is also clear. 



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Friday, April 02, 2010

[ePalestine] Haaretz: Independent and interdependent (By Sam Bahour and Bernard Avishai)

Haaretz, Fri., April 02, 2010

Independent and interdependent 

By Sam Bahour and Bernard Avishai 

The latest rift between the United States and Israel, which began with Israel's announcement of more planned construction planned in Ramat Shlomo - a Jewish-only neighborhood - that would further separate East Jerusalem from the rest of a future Palestinian state, distracts from the larger, even more inhumane separation that must be reversed if the Israeli- Palestinian conflict has any chance of being resolved peacefully. This is the separation between Israel and Palestine themselves. 

The parties to this conflict must recognize that their futures are inevitably linked, in peace even more than in war, and that they already can establish cooperation, as equals under international law, with international partners, without forgoing national sovereignty. America's commitment to "confidence building" begins here. 

Yes, negotiations cannot take place unless the sides are each attributed the right to self- determination; each side will exercise sovereignty after any agreement is concluded. But self- determination never meant that a nation does whatever it wants, without regard for the interests of others. In this context, the need for cooperation is especially urgent. The shared territory is very small, and more like one big megalopolis than two hermetically sealed states. 

The need for mutual accommodation usually comes up when discussing security arrangements: demilitarization, safe passage to Gaza, and so forth. But this is only the beginning. There are scarce resources to be shared: water, the electromagnetic spectrum, natural gas reserves. Tourists will travel around what they'll need to see as a borderless territory. There will have to be reciprocal agreements on currency and labor law. There will be investments in what will seem like a common business ecosystem. 

This is why the United States should seek to use its leverage to reduce tensions and mitigate grievances now, in advance of any final-status agreement, by reinforcing international conventions regulating state-to-state relations. These conventions would enable Palestinians and Israelis to advance their economies through a joint planning process. Why not establish an equitable foundation now in areas where progress is possible? Why shouldn't Palestine already enjoy the prerogatives of a sovereign state in fields that do not pose a security threat to Israel, especially where international conventions and bilateral modalities are clear? 

Water is an ideal place to start, given its strategic importance in the region. What is keeping Palestinians and Israelis from applying international water treaties to water allocation? Israel already recognized Palestinian water rights as part of the Oslo II Interim Agreement. However, it has not implemented that agreement, and continues to deprive Palestinians of their fair share of water. On average, Palestinians receive less than 100 liters per capita per day, far less than the minimum availability of 150 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. The average Israeli uses 353 liters of water per day, while the average Israeli settler in the territories uses up to nine times what's available to a Palestinian. If the international community is sincere about incubating an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, why should this issue be deferred to political negotiations later on? 

The same is true of electromagnetic spectrum. Visit Palestine's $350-million cell-phone company, Jawwal, which now faces legal competition from Wataniya Mobile, a joint venture of the Palestine Investment Fund and Wataniya Telecom from Kuwait and Qatar. From the roof of Jawwal's modern headquarters in Ramallah, what you see is disturbing. On one hill to the north is an Israeli settlement in Area C, with a cellular tower for Israeli operator Cellcom. To the south is another settlement with another tower. Cellcom gets about 10.5 megahertz of spectrum; Jawwal, 4.8. To get 3G and continuous coverage, which is what every Palestinian entrepreneur needs, you need an Israeli carrier. This conflict over bandwidth should be negotiated away now, and subject to the rules of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union - of which Israel is a member. 

There are other ways of untangling the web of military occupation, including free trade zones, postal services and environmental protection. These should all be managed based on tested international models, such as the European Union's. Most important, perhaps, is access for Palestinian talent and foreign intellectual capital (such as investors, educators and doctors) to, and movement throughout, the occupied territory. 

If progress is made on things like bandwidth, movement and access, will the classification of territory into areas A, B and C not seem obsolete? Moreover, if Israel and Palestine can build trust as two sovereign entities, will Hamas be enough of a reason to maintain the siege on Gaza, especially as Palestinian entrepreneurs from the West Bank prove able to bring hope there? 

The challenge, in short, is to create dignified ways of becoming equals and partners in each other's lives. Postponing this invites new violence that will rip apart the fabric of both Palestinian and Israeli society. And who knows how the violence will spread? Rather, we must shrink the negotiating agenda to a manageable scale, whose end game is clear: two independent but interdependent states, living side by side. The United States, for its part, should build on its condemnation of settlements and establish international law as a reference point for immediate changes. 

Sam Bahour is a management consultant and entrepreneur living in Ramallah. He blogs at Bernard Avishai is an author and management consultant living in Jerusalem. He blogs at (Published in conjunction with Common Ground News Service.) 


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