Monday, January 26, 2009

[ePalestine] Call for arrest of 15 Israeli leaders suspected of war crimes in Gaza

Call for arrest of 15 Israeli leaders suspected of war crimes in Gaza 

Public asked for information on travel plans and whereabouts of top Israeli leaders  

By Redress Information & Analysis
 26 January 2009  

Criminal acts that go unpunished are repeated, over, and over, and over,


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Saturday, January 24, 2009

[ePalestine] YNET: Gaza war summary (CONCISE)

Yedioth [Israel Newspaper] Internet

Gaza war summary 

Despite widespread praise, B. Michael unimpressed with military’s performance in Gaza 

B. Michael 

Did the army draw lessons from its past performance? Unclear. The praise being lavished on the IDF still requires verification. This army participated in two wars: In Lebanon it was fired at and it emerged out of it by the skin of its teeth. In Gaza it was almost not fired at, and it immediately “won.” Therefore, the only learned conclusion we can draw from the Gaza events for the time being is that it is much easier to win without an enemy. 

Did the Palestinians learn their lesson? No. Death and destruction do not educate nations. This is just the way it is. More than 1,000 Israelis were killed in the second Intifada, yet this didn’t quite turn us into peace-lovers. It also didn’t make us moderate or logical. 

Was our deterrence was restored? No; among other things, because we never had “deterrence.” Israel has been pulverizing the Palestinians for dozens of years now, yet they are having difficulty grasping this, and continue not to be deterred. This will be the case this time around as well. 

Did we prove to the world that Hamas is hiding behind civilians? I’m sorry, but we haven’t done that either. We are the only ones who can buy this excuse. Gaza is all about crowded civilians, and underground movements are not regular armies. They live within their people. Didn’t Menachem Begin hide in a residential building in northern Tel Aviv? And weren’t kibbutzim and other communities replete with mythological arms caches? And weren’t members of the underground Haganah movement hiding among women and children? And weren’t roads at borderline communities mined to protect against invading Arab armies? But how can I compare. After all, this is us, and they are just them. 

Was the army’s morality proven again? Oy vey. A moral army is not one that kills civilians and then rushes to boast how moral it is. A moral army is one that goes out of its way to avoid killing civilians, even at the price of risk-taking. When the brutal British occupier assassinated the Stern Gang’s commander it shot him at point-blank range at his hideout in the heart of a Tel Aviv neighborhood. The moral Israeli occupier would have apparently dropped a one-ton bomb on the entire neighborhood and explained that it did not wish to jeopardize its troops. 

Did the media draw lessons from the past? Most certainly. Democracy’s watchdog was wonderfully tamed and became a dog hungry for patting that only wishes to safeguard the government. So there, something did come out of all this operation after all. 


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Friday, January 23, 2009

[ePalestine] Palestine and Sweden's Third States Responsibility (ON THE MARK)

Palestine Chronicle 

14:31 01/22/2009 

Palestine and Sweden's Third States Responsibility 

By Various Authors 

To: Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt and,
Minister for International Development Co-operation Gunilla Carlsson 

In view of upcoming political decisions and donor conferences planned for the rebuilding of Gaza, We would like to bring your attention to the needs expressed on the ground. 

Sweden needs to take its third states responsibility within International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and demand accountability from conflicting parties that violated IHL. 

Based on a call from the Israeli-Palestinian organization Alternative Information Center, we Swedish NGOs would like to support their message that emergency and humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip is counterproductive without political demands. This message is instrumental at this very moment when many countries are rushing to pledge funds for the rebuilding of Gaza in upcoming donor conferences. 

The Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip during 27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009 has resulted in the deaths of hundreds, injury of thousands and long-term physical and psychological harm to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The first estimates of the physical damage to infrastructures and buildings in the Gaza, amount to at least 1.6 billion USD. The immediate and long-term costs of the loss and injury to human lives and spirits, in addition to the damage to roads, schools, hospitals and clinics, water and electricity sources, will reach horrifying levels of historic proportions. The humanitarian crisis created by the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip will take decades from which to recover. 

The Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip will require massive emergency and humanitarian assistance in order to meet the most fundamental needs for human existence. However, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip is the result of Israeli long term policies and their attendant military actions. Without addressing the root problems that caused the current humanitarian crisis, international donors will simply enter another cycle of providing emergency and humanitarian assistance for infrastructures and projects that could once again be compromised or destroyed by Israel at a later date. 

The root cause of this humanitarian crisis is Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Territory it occupied in 1967, including the Gaza Strip, effective and control over which Israel continues to yield even following its redeployment of troops in 2005. 

Without work by the international community, including governments and civil society, to end Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, there simply can be no real change in the situation. 

Humanitarian and emergency aid, though offering relief in the short-term, also informs the Israeli occupation. Aid projects are used by Israel to evade its own responsibility, explicit in international humanitarian law, to the occupied population under its control. While aid might save lives in the short run, it also relieves Israel to pay the costs of the destruction that its military actions lead to, and it gives increased budget availability for military spending which would finance future military operations with possible new destructions and damages. 

The Israeli government is now stressing the issue of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but they are taking no responsibility at all for the destruction and damages they have caused and they seem to rely on the international community and especially the EU to pick up the bill. By this Israel is also avoiding its obligation to provide the full scope of reparations to victims of IHL violations. 

Swedish NGOs active in the occupied Palestinian territory implementing humanitarian aid and development cooperation asks the Swedish government the following: 

1. Gather, analyze and disseminate information about the destruction of Swedish humanitarian aid and development cooperation in Gaza. Share information with other organizations and the media. Encourage other donor countries to do the same, and consolidate e.g. a joint EU and UN damage report. 

2. Hold Israel accountable for the destruction it has caused to infrastructure and projects funded by Sweden in the Gaza Strip. The Swedish government and its Embassy in Tel Aviv need to contact the relevant Israeli authorities and demand explanations and full reparations for the destruction of civil infrastructures. 

3. Use your political power to ensure international human rights and international humanitarian law. Israel is dependent on international aid to ensure the well-being of the Palestinian population, thus freeing it to take decisions unilaterally and with no consideration for the Palestinians. Donors thus have leverage over the Israeli government and can use it to demand compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. 

4. Don't assist Israel in economically benefiting from its attacks on Gaza. The United Nations estimates that 45% of international aid sent to the Occupied Palestinian Territories flows back into the Israeli economy. The Paris Accords often render it less expensive to import goods to the OPT from Israel rather than neighboring or European countries. Demand that Israeli taxes on emergency and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip be frozen. 

5. Demand right to freely implement emergency and humanitarian projects. Demand free passage of goods and staff into and out of the Gaza Strip, in addition to unhampered movement within the Gaza Strip in order to implement projects, including for local partner organizations. Protest Israeli limitations on Your work, including the associated higher costs in storage and shipping that result accordingly. 

6. Support political negotiations grounded in international law between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Oslo Accords have proven irrelevant and the Annapolis process has failed. It is time the international community publicly recognizes this reality and focuses on implementation of all United Nations resolutions and international laws applicable to the Israeli occupation and the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

These demands are part of Sweden's third states responsibility within International Humanitarian Law. Continued and new humanitarian aid due to the latest damages and destructions, without political demands, would also risk continuing the vicious cycle of conflict and counterproductive to the long term aims of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Since the EU is striving for a common foreign and security policy on these matters, the Swedish government should also encourage the EU to endorse the proposed actions above. If the above-mentioned measures prove to have no effect, the Swedish government should call upon the EU to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which unequivocally commits Israel to respect human rights and democratic principles, until Israel has demonstrated a concrete commitment to uphold its responsibilities and obligations accordingly. 

Sincerely Yours,

Lena Ag
Secretary General; The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation 

Bo Forsberg
Secretary General; Diakonia 

Per Gahrton
Chairman; The Palestine Solidarity Association in Sweden 

Bo Paulsson
Secretary General; The Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief 

Jens Orback
Secretary General; Olof Palme International Center 


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[ePalestine] Israel's Lies (by Henry Siegman) - MANDATORY READING

London Review of Books 

29 January 2009 

Israel's Lies 
Henry Siegman 

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network. 

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties. 

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. In an interview in Ha’aretz on 22 December, he accused Israel’s government of having made a ‘central error’ during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing ‘to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,’ General Zakai said, ‘it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.’ 

The truce, which began in June last year and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (even Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on 4 November, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but only on condition that Israel ended its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population. 

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process, and largely stuck to it for more than a year. Bush publicly welcomed that decision, citing it as an example of the success of his campaign for democracy in the Middle East. (He had no other success to point to.) When Hamas unexpectedly won the election, Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel’s leaders as a ‘plucked chicken’. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas – brutally, to be sure – pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade. 

Israel seeks to counter these indisputable facts by maintaining that in withdrawing Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, Ariel Sharon gave Hamas the chance to set out on the path to statehood, a chance it refused to take; instead, it transformed Gaza into a launching-pad for firing missiles at Israel’s civilian population. The charge is a lie twice over. First, for all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah’s rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes. 

The greater lie is that Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended as a prelude to further withdrawals and a peace agreement. This is how Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass, who was also his chief negotiator with the Americans, described the withdrawal from Gaza, in an interview with Ha’aretz in August 2004: 

What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements [i.e. the major settlement blocks on the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns . . . The significance [of the agreement with the US] is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission . . . and the ratification of both houses of Congress. 

Do the Israelis and Americans think that Palestinians don’t read the Israeli papers, or that when they saw what was happening on the West Bank they couldn’t figure out for themselves what Sharon was up to? 

Israel’s government would like the world to believe that Hamas launched its Qassam rockets because that is what terrorists do and Hamas is a generic terrorist group. In fact, Hamas is no more a ‘terror organisation’ (Israel’s preferred term) than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons. According to Benny Morris, it was the Irgun that first targeted civilians. He writes in Righteous Victims that an upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 ‘triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict’. He also documents atrocities committed during the 1948-49 war by the IDF, admitting in a 2004 interview, published in Ha’aretz, that material released by Israel’s Ministry of Defence showed that ‘there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought . . . In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them, and destroy the villages themselves.’ In a number of Palestinian villages and towns the IDF carried out organised executions of civilians. Asked by Ha’aretz whether he condemned the ethnic cleansing, Morris replied that he did not: 

A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on. 

In other words, when Jews target and kill innocent civilians to advance their national struggle, they are patriots. When their adversaries do so, they are terrorists. 

It is too easy to describe Hamas simply as a ‘terror organisation’. It is a religious nationalist movement that resorts to terrorism, as the Zionist movement did during its struggle for statehood, in the mistaken belief that it is the only way to end an oppressive occupation and bring about a Palestinian state. While Hamas’s ideology formally calls for that state to be established on the ruins of the state of Israel, this doesn’t determine Hamas’s actual policies today any more than the same declaration in the PLO charter determined Fatah’s actions. 

These are not the conclusions of an apologist for Hamas but the opinions of the former head of Mossad and Sharon’s national security adviser, Ephraim Halevy. The Hamas leadership has undergone a change ‘right under our very noses’, Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth, by recognising that ‘its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.’ It is now ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967. Halevy noted that while Hamas has not said how ‘temporary’ those borders would be, ‘they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their co-operation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.’ In an earlier article, Halevy also pointed out the absurdity of linking Hamas to al-Qaida. 

In the eyes of al-Qaida, the members of Hamas are perceived as heretics due to their stated desire to participate, even indirectly, in processes of any understandings or agreements with Israel. [The Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled] Mashal’s declaration diametrically contradicts al-Qaida’s approach, and provides Israel with an opportunity, perhaps a historic one, to leverage it for the better. 

Why then are Israel’s leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian ‘state’ made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel’s military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War.[*] They believe that Hamas would not permit such a cantonisation of Palestinian territory, no matter how long the occupation continues. They may be wrong about Abbas and his superannuated cohorts, but they are entirely right about Hamas. 

Middle East observers wonder whether Israel’s assault on Hamas will succeed in destroying the organisation or expelling it from Gaza. This is an irrelevant question. If Israel plans to keep control over any future Palestinian entity, it will never find a Palestinian partner, and even if it succeeds in dismantling Hamas, the movement will in time be replaced by a far more radical Palestinian opposition. 

If Barack Obama picks a seasoned Middle East envoy who clings to the idea that outsiders should not present their own proposals for a just and sustainable peace agreement, much less press the parties to accept it, but instead leave them to work out their differences, he will assure a future Palestinian resistance far more extreme than Hamas – one likely to be allied with al-Qaida. For the US, Europe and most of the rest of the world, this would be the worst possible outcome. Perhaps some Israelis, including the settler leadership, believe it would serve their purposes, since it would provide the government with a compelling pretext to hold on to all of Palestine. But this is a delusion that would bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. 

Anthony Cordesman, one of the most reliable military analysts of the Middle East, and a friend of Israel, argued in a 9 January report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the tactical advantages of continuing the operation in Gaza were outweighed by the strategic cost – and were probably no greater than any gains Israel may have made early in the war in selective strikes on key Hamas facilities. ‘Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it can credibly achieve?’ he asks. ‘Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes.’ Cordesman concludes that ‘any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends.’ 

15 January 


[*] See my piece in the LRB, 16 August 2007

Henry Siegman, director of the US Middle East Project in New York, is a visiting research professor at SOAS, University of London. He is a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America. 

Other articles by this contributor: 

The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam  · There Is No Peace Process 

Gaza’s Future  · Breaching the Barrier

ISSN 0260-9592 Copyright © LRB Ltd., 1997-2009 


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Thursday, January 22, 2009

[ePalestine] Guardian: How Israel drowns dissent (A MUST READ)

How Israel drowns dissent 

Firefighters turned their hoses on a peaceful anti-war protester last week. Their attitude reflects a worrying shift in public opinion 

Seth Freedman
Wednesday 21 January 2009 14.46 GMT 

Last week, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, a group of Israeli firemen threw their hats into the political ring, albeit in somewhat undiplomatic and uncivilised fashion. During a peaceful anti-war vigil outside a Tel Aviv air force base, several members of the fire brigade turned on one protester, drenching her relentlessly with water from their hoses, before approaching her and ordering her into the station in order to "give us all head". 

Their actions were, while wholly illegal, none the less emblematic of a massive shift in Israeli public opinion over the last few years, according to Sharon Dolev, the woman on the receiving end of the assault. A veteran activist, Dolev has suffered a great deal during her 20 years of campaigning in the Israeli peace camp ("death threats, being shot with rubber bullets, hate mail, beatings"), but said that this incident was "the first time that the establishment felt safe in [taking action such as this]". 

"It used to be a big deal if bus drivers criticised protests and vigils in public," she recalls, "since as employees of the state, they were not allowed to express political opinions in uniform." Now, however, the firemen felt so secure of escaping punishment that they even bombarded her with firecrackers during the attack, telling her "now you know what it's like to live in Sderot". 

When video evidence emerged on an Israeli news website of her ordeal, readers' comments were predictably scathing of Dolev and her fellow protestors for daring to speak out in the first place against the IDF's operation. "Of the 380 comments, all but 10 were in support of the fire brigade," said Dolev. "Some readers even called openly for our murder, urging the police to shoot us, or saying 'Why use water – use acid instead'." 

In her view, the inexorable shift of the Israeli public towards out and out hostility and hyper- defensiveness was inevitable from as far back as 1967, when the West Bank was first conquered. "We used to hold signs at protests reading 'The occupation will corrupt'," she told me. "Now, we can see that it has [come to pass]. As a society, we have lost our ability to see clearly; we have let fear blind us. Once, calling someone a racist was the harshest accusation you could make. Later, you began to hear people say 'I know I'm a racist, but...'; nowadays [during Cast Lead], we heard 'I know I'm talking like a Nazi, but at least the Nazis knew how to deal with their enemies'." 

Despite others employing Nazi comparisons to describe Israeli military actions, Dolev isn't comfortable with such terminology herself, not least because it derails the debate about the issues at hand. "It's all too easy for the Israeli authorities to say 'we didn't build an Auschwitz for the Palestinians, so everything's ok', but in reality everything is not ok." She believes that history has come full circle, and that instead of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, "we have become the racists ourselves". 

"Isn't Gaza a ghetto?" she continues. "OK, we don't use the Palestinians' hair for cushions, but the [stage is being set for the] same kind of process of dehumanisation here." Working in a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation in Gaza in 1989 gave Dolev her first exposure to "the banality of evil", she says. "It wasn't seeing a soldier get scared and shoot into a crowd, but rather seeing a girl sitting in her house and getting shot by a stray bullet. And then, when she needed to be transferred to a Cairo hospital, the Shabak officers saying only she could cross, and no one else. A 12-year-old girl, in a vegetative state, and they wouldn't even let her mother accompany her. That is the banality of evil." 

In her eyes, the Israeli public has allowed its leaders and military to get away with such punitive measures simply because they have allowed fear to override all other emotions: "Fear turns us into beasts," she says flatly. "I remember in my first week at school, aged six, we were taught how to blockade the classroom in case a terrorist got into the playground. While some fear is justified, there is not enough reason to make the public terrified on a daily basis." The media are just as responsible as the government for perpetually scaring ordinary Israelis, she believes. "Fear sells papers," she says cynically. 

Such defensiveness allowed the police to get away with imprisoning some 700 activists over the course of Operation Cast Lead, she believes; many on the most spurious of charges. "They arrested some on the charge of disturbing public order, others on even vaguer charges. And some were even detained for 'damaging the nation's morale' – a charge which doesn't even exist [in the statutes]. There is no law in Israel anymore." 

As well as her experience at the hands of the fire brigade, Dolev also points to the kind of sloganeering in the election campaign as proof that the bedrock of democracy on which Israel is founded is beginning to look far less solid. "When you have Lieberman declaring 'No loyalty, no citizenship', you start to worry about what point we've come to." However, she is undeterred in her struggle on behalf of the peace camp, believing that hope is not lost in terms of convincing the Israeli public of an alternative to perpetual war and aggression. A firm promoter of the Arab Peace Initiative, she is convinced that the proposal is the best way to resolve the decades-old conflict. 

"It's the biggest carrot ever offered to the Israeli people," she says. "One-state or two-state is a non-issue; whatever the two peoples agree on I would take with both hands. All that matters is that there are borders, and that those living within the borders are given full rights and citizenship. However, I worry about [Israeli Jews] becoming a minority, because after all we've taught them over 60 years of how to treat minorities, it's become dangerous to be a minority ourselves ... " 

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009 


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Monday, January 19, 2009

[ePalestine] Bitterlemons: Barack Hussein Obama Is Human (By Sam Bahour)


Barack Hussein Obama Is Human 

By Sam Bahour 

Barack Hussein Obama is human—he is also a young and ambitious politician that likely already has his eye on a second presidential term.  This all may sound self-evident, but listening to the expectations Americans—and much of the world—have for him makes one wonder.  

Seeing what Israel did in Gaza over the past three weeks—as if in a rush to complete their crime against humanity before President-elect Obama is sworn into office—seems to indicate that Israel is fearful that their 60-year free-ride with the US may be coming to an end.  Thus, Israel decided to set the terms—in Palestinian blood and destruction of Gaza—of their relationship with the Obama Administration.  On the other hand, listening to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah building up hopes that this US president is going to come to their rescue makes one sick to the stomach, yet again.  For sure, President Obama is making history by being the first African American president, but as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, all would be well-advised to look deeper into how US government policy is formulated before expecting a superman-like US president to come to our salvation. 

Compared with the past eight years of President Bush, I can understand the excitement that someone saner will be at the world’s helm.  Likewise, having a new president who is young, articulate, and able to connect with the masses is a feature long missing from US politics and bound to create a buzz in America and abroad.  However, in the excitement of the moment, people are forgetting that US policy formulation has little to do with the likeability of the person sitting in the Oval Office. The US model of democracy has a deep separation of powers. The dynamics of each power are so complicated, and the divisions between the powers so distinct, influencing US policy making has become a science—a science that Israel has mastered long ago and the Palestinians refuse to engage. 

The Palestinian people have been on the receiving end of the US-armed- and-financed Israeli military machine for over sixty years.  Yet, ever since 1974 the Palestinian leadership has looked toward Washington D.C. for justice to be served.  Instead of understanding and accepting that the US has long ago taken the Israeli side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many Palestinian leaders continue to reach out to every incoming US administration as if one day the US will wake up to be the neutral mediator we all desire.  That day is not coming—it has not come with eleven US administrations since the creation of the State of Israel, nor will it come with the twelfth, President Obama’s. 

Since its first 11 minutes of existence, Israel pulled off the largest heist in US politics to date; they were successful in converting what should be a US foreign affairs issue—how to deal with Israel—into a largely domestic issue. This shift should never be underestimated and can be seen in all 50 states, whether you are running to be a US mayor, congressperson, or senator.  In each such case, and in many more, candidates and appointees across the US are brought to task to register their blind and inviolable support for Israel and everything Israel does, or otherwise be forced to compete with the well- oiled, ruthless pro-Israeli lobby. 

Barack Obama becoming President does not change the basic political foundations of the institution called the United States of America.  However, given the renewed political interest and involvement of millions of Americans due to Obama’s descent on the Whitehouse, time is ripe for Palestinians to finally play US politics.  The US politics game requires real leadership, real resources, and a sustained institutional effort to engage America from the grassroots—the only place where change can start to be made.  Such an approach would require more than outsourcing narrow-focused, ego-driven, Palestinian-run non-governmental organizations in D.C. to fawn US administration officials.  Understanding and linking into the fabric of America, while working to bridge American citizens’ interests into realizing a just approach to Palestine, is the most prudent way to support President Obama to lead America to be on the right (as in correct, not politically right) side of history on this seemingly intractable issue. 

President-elect Obama’s website starts with a quote by him saying: “I'm asking you to believe.  Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours.”  Let’s hope the Palestinian leadership understands that he is talking to them as much as to every American citizen. 

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the occupied West Bank and is co-editor of "Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians." He may be reached at 

- Published 19/1/2009 © 


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

[ePalestine] LA TImes: Israel TV news broadcasts a Gaza father's heartbreak

From the Los Angeles Times 

Israel TV news broadcasts a Gaza father's heartbreak 

Dr. Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who gave frequent interviews to the Israeli media, was minutes away from giving another when he called newscaster Shlomi Eldar, screaming and weeping with grief. 

By Jeffrey Fleishman and Batsheva Sobelman 
Reporting from Jerusalem 

January 17, 2009 

See YouTube VIDEO
Israeli TV airs telephone call to father after children killed -English

It was a voice of anguish that pierced a nation. 

Israeli TV broadcast a father's heartbreak Friday night when a Palestinian doctor living in Gaza made a frantic phone call to a newscaster saying an Israeli tank had shelled his home, killing three of his daughters and injuring other family members. 

Izz el-Deen Aboul Aish, who speaks Hebrew, worked as a gynecologist in an Israeli hospital. Even as the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel had largely been closed in recent months, he had traveled frequently from one place to the other. But he had remained in Gaza since the Israeli offensive began 21 days ago. He gave frequent interviews to the Israeli media on living conditions in the seaside enclave. He spoke of having tanks around his house and of passing through checkpoints; he told Israelis what it was like to be Palestinian. 

Minutes away from a scheduled phone interview on Israeli TV 10 with newscaster Shlomi Eldar, Aboul Aish called Eldar's cellphone, screaming and weeping in Arabic and Hebrew. The doctor's home had been struck by a shell: 

"Oh God, oh my God, my daughters have been killed. They've killed my children. . . . Could somebody please come to us?" 

Sitting at his news desk for one of Israel's main evening news broadcasts, Eldar held his phone up. For three minutes and 26 seconds, Aboul Aish's wailing was broadcast across the country. 

Eldar welled up. He put his head down. He looked at the camera. He looked at his phone. He made pleas for helpfor the family, but the doctor kept crying, his voice scratchy, like sand on paper, until Eldar took out his earpiece and walked off the set to try to arrange for help. The newscaster's bewildered face seemed to capture a bit of pause in a nation that has largely supported its military campaign and prefers not to question its course. 

News reports said there had been shooting in the area of the doctor's house before the shelling. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. 

Israeli officials permitted ambulances carrying members of the doctor's family to cross the border to a hospital. 

Aboul Aish was a single father. His wife had died of cancer. He made his daughters sleep close to the walls of their home in hopes that would keep them safe if airstrikes or artillery collapsed the ceiling. 

"I don't know how this man will stand on his feet again after this tragedy," Dr. Liat Lerner- Geya, an Israeli who worked with Aboul Aish, told the Hebrew-language news website Ynet. "He would come to Israel and sleep at friends' houses for three nights. Even though he had all the necessary permits, they always gave him trouble at the crossings. But he believed there should be coexistence and practiced this in his work." 

After the newscast, Eldar met with reporters. He said the doctor told him that evening "that since his wife's passing, the girls had been his entire life. He said his eldest daughter wanted to study at Haifa University. Just today another one of his daughters had told him she had gotten her period. 'In the middle of a war you get your period. You are a woman now.' " 

She and her sisters are dead. The news spread across Israel's websites; the video of the doctor’s broadcast quickly made it to YouTube. 

Eldar said of Aboul Aish: "It is simply surreal. He is part of this place yet not of it, belonging and not belonging." 

Even so, across Israel the doctor's anguished voice kept playing over and over. 

Sobelman works in The Times' Jerusalem Bureau. 

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

[ePalestine] The Jailer State (by Oren Yiftachel) - A MUST READ

12 Jan 2009 

The Jailer State 

Israel has turned Gaza into a massive prison, and is choosing to prolong the cycle of state terror and prisoner resistance that goes with that, writes Israeli academic Oren Yiftachel 

"We have a great opportunity now in Gaza to smash and flatten them…[We] should destroy thousand of houses, tunnels and industries, and kill as many terrorists as possible…" 

So declared Eli Yishai, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, a few days ago. On the same day Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni promised "to topple the Hamas Regime", and Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert demanded in every forum to "hermetically seal" the Gazan-Egyptian border. 

These, and many similar statements by Israeli leaders, sketch in painful clarity the "political geography of mass incarceration" increasingly evident in Israel/Palestine. Under this regime large populations are locked into specific areas against their will, and often against international law, and are then subject to the mercy of their wardens. Typically, when the conditions of imprisonment become unbearable, a rebellion erupts, and is suppressed by violent collective punishment, which in turn sets the conditions for the next uprising. 

This is how Israel is now treating its rebelling prisoners in Gaza. As its leaders’ statements show, Israel seeks to lock them in the tiny strip and punish them with enormous force. At the same time Israel is further institutionalising the geography of incarceration and with it the likelihood of future uprisings. 

This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it peculiar to the Palestinian situation: European colonialism widely used mass incarceration of indigenous groups, condensing them in reserves and Bantustans, to enable whites to freely exploit land, minerals and labour. Today too, racist governments attempt to deal with the existence of unwanted populations by applying methods of spatial containment and violent "punishment", as evident in the cases of Chechnya, Kosovo, Kashmir, Darfur and Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The key to this spreading political order is the prevention of the rebelling region from gaining state sovereignty, leaving it "neither in nor out" of the state’s control system. As a non-state entity, resistance of the jailed against colonial power is often criminalised, leading the state’s self-righteous claim that it has no choice but to further oppress the anti-colonial struggle. 

Importantly, the mass incarceration strategy is usually not the preferred option. It is typically employed only when the colonial power has lost some of its ability to settle and control the land by other, softer, means, and when the option of ethnic cleansing has become too embarrassing or unpopular. Much to the regret of racist regimes, this is the situation today. Hence, mass incarceration remains one of the main policy options for colonial states aiming to dominate indigenous populations. 

Back to Israel/Palestine: Gaza had turned into an open-air jail by the late 1940s when over 150,000 Palestinian refugees were driven by Israel into the small region (covering just 1.7 per cent of British Palestine), joining its 60,000 previous residents. The refugees were never allowed to return to their lands and homes which were confiscated and destroyed. Ironically, it was during the "peace process" of the early 90s that the incarceration of Gaza intensified, with a sequence of closures, movement restrictions and the construction in 1994 of a massive barrier around the Strip. Following the 2005 disengagement and the election of Hamas, Israel’s illegal siege around the area was taken up a notch with a near-total blockade of movement and trade. 

Gaza is a severe case, but it’s not unique. Since its establishment, Israel’s ethnocratic regime has worked incessantly to Judaise the country by confiscating Palestinian lands, constructing hundreds of Jewish settlements and restricting the Palestinians to small enclaves. This began with the military government inside the Green Line [1] until 1966, and the establishment of a "fenced area" for the Bedouins in the south, which operates until today. Since the 1990s, the ghettoisation of Palestinians continued with the demarcation of areas A, B and C [2] in the occupied territories, with the advent of closures and checkpoints, and finally with the construction of the wall — all helping to fragment Palestine into dozens of isolated enclaves. 

The long-term geographical impact of the Judaisation policy has been dramatic. For example, the Palestinians in Israel, constitute 18 per cent of the population, but control less than 3 per cent of the land. In the entire area between Jordan and sea, the population is just under 50 per cent Palestinian, but they control only 13 per cent of the land. Critically however, Judaisation seems to have reached its limits, and since the Oslo period Israel has been re- arranging its colonial geography to fit that realisation. 

The difference between Gaza and the other enclaves is the depth of its isolation and its persistent rebellion. The Hamas leadership never accepted the Oslo illusion, or the promise of "two states for two people" enshrined in the "roadmap" or the "Annapolis process". They have realised that the promise has become an empty rhetoric which enables the ongoing colonisation of their lands. In the meantime, the promised Palestinian state has become fragmented, suffocated and impoverished. 

And what has been Israel’s response to this crisis? The deepening of mass incarceration, "necessitated" to protect Jewish settlement, maintaining at the same time a massive campaign of personal incarceration, during which Israel has arrested over 10,000 people, and imprisoned them without trials, a group which includes dozens of Palestinian parliamentarians. The incarceration policy has thus resulted in the creation of prisons within prisons. 

While the geography of incarceration is typically explained as a security measure, its appeal is also increasing for economic reasons. During the current age of globalisation, personal, commercial and financial movement has become essential for development and prosperity. The geography of mass incarceration helps to keep the unwanted outside the riches of this process. Therefore, the ongoing fortification around Gaza, including the current invasion, also put in place a system of protecting Jewish economic privileges. 

Palestinian violence plays an important part in the creation of this geography, through the hostile dialectic between coloniser and colonised. For example, the shelling of Israeli civilians by Hamas and suicide bombing of previous years are clear acts of terror, which gave legitimacy within Israeli society to carry out the incarceration policy. But Palestinian violence, and particularly the shelling from Gaza should also be perceived as a prison uprising, currently suppressed with terror by the Israeli state, which kills many more civilians and creates infinitely more damage than the initial act of resistance. This is the cycle of suppression, resistance and suppression maintained through the which exists within a geography of incarceration 

It is important to note, however, that the option of rebellion only intensifies the punishment and killing, but not the basic geography of imprisonment. Hence, even after the current invasion is over, Israel will undoubtedly continue to use this strategy in both Gaza and the (non-rebelling) West Bank, and in softer forms inside the Green Line, where Israel’s Palestinian citizens are also contained in small enclaves. I have termed this process "creeping apartheid" — an undeclared yet powerful political order which creates vastly unequal forms of citizenship under one ruling power. Rights under such regimes are determined by a combination of ethnic affiliation and place of birth. This cannot be illustrated more vividly than by noting the differences in mobility and property rights — Jews are free to move and purchase land in almost the entire area under Israeli control, while Palestinians are limited to separated enclaves — Gazans in Gaza only, Jerusalemites only in Jerusalem and so on. 

This type of political geography tends to result in a chain of absurdities. Here is one: the invasion and destruction of Gaza is carried out by an ousted Israeli Government, and is actively supported by a defeated US Administration. The two governments which lost power are violently attacking in their dying days the democratically elected Government of Palestine. This leads to the next absurdity: instead of condemning and placing sanctions on Israel, which has put Gaza under siege for the last two years, the world has imposed sanctions over the Hamas Government. In this way the occupied are punished twice: once by the brutal occupation, and a second time attempting to resist. 

Sadly, these absurdities are not surprising, being part of the geography of mass incarceration, under which the colonial power will recognise the prisoners’ leadership only if they refrain from rebelling against their incarceration, as is currently the case with the Abbas regime in the West Bank. In the case of a rebellion, however, its leaders are likely to be oppressed and often eliminated. 

What may be slightly (but not entirely) more surprising is that Israeli leadership and society have not learnt from history that a geography of mass incarceration exists on borrowed time. Such as geography can never receive legitimacy, and hence cannot create security for the jailing side. On the contrary, instability and constant rebellions are likely to undermine the incarcerating regime itself. 

To conclude, against the reality of mass incarceration, it may be advisable to listen to Mahmoud Darwish’s [3] wise words: "My prison guard looks me in the eye/ I can see his fear/ Like me, he knows that/ today’s warden is already tomorrow’s prisoner. 


Professor Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography and urban planning at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. Yiftachel has written extensively on the political geography of ethnic conflict. Among his books are: Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (2006, PennPress), and Israelis in Conflict (ed, 2004, Sussex Academic Press). He is an occasional contributor to Israel's leading newspapers Haaretz and Ynet. Yiftachel is an active member in several peace and civil society organizations, including B'tselem, the Bedouin Council of unrecognized villages, Adva and is a founding member of Faculty for Israel-
Palestine Peace (FFIPP).


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