Sunday, May 31, 2009

[ePalestine] Hay festival: Tutu calls for urgent solution to Israel-Palestine conflict

Guardian (

Hay festival: Tutu calls for urgent solution to Israel-Palestine conflict 

Alison Flood 
Thursday 28 May 2009 23.37 BST 

The Israel-Palestine crisis is the most urgent problem for the world to solve, according to Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town who said tonight that if it remains unresolved, no other issues – from the war on terror to nuclear disarmament – will ever be resolved. 

The Nobel peace laureate, who said that in some ways the situation in Palestine was worse than it was in apartheid South Africa, told a packed audience of more than 1,000 – including Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury – that the west "feels a deep, deep shame for what it did – or didn't do – during the Holocaust". And that was right, he said. 

"You jolly well ought to feel that shame, but then the penalty, the penance, has been paid, not by the west, but paid by the Palestinians." 

Speaking at the Guardian Hay Festival, where he received two standing ovations, Tutu said if the problems of Israel-Palestine weren't solved, "you can give up on all other problems. You can give up on nuclear disarmament, you can give up on ever winning a war against terror, you can give it up. You can give up any hope of our faiths ever working really amicably and in a friendly way together. This, this, this is the problem, and it is in our hands". 

Dressed in deep pink robes, Tutu spoke of the trips he has made over the years to Israel, to Gaza, to Jerusalem, to the West Bank – most recently to Gaza on a UN human rights fact finding mission, where he met a mother who had seen in the space of minutes the death of her baby, her husband and her son. "Her son was on the floor, struggling to push back his bowels, which had been disembowelled, trying to shove them back into his abdomen, and she said that she said to him 'no, my son, go and join your brother and your father'." 

Passing through checkpoints in the country, he said, "brought back memories of what things had been like at home" in South Africa under apartheid – "the arrogance of the police or the soldiers. You depend on their whim whether they'll allow you through or not." But things happen in Israel that never happened in apartheid South Africa, Tutu said, pointing to the "collective punishment", which sees the home of a suspected terrorist destroyed. 

But Tutu was clear that he doesn't believe "ordinary Israelis would want to have supported something of this nature if they knew the effects of policies", and said that there were "some incredible people in Israel … have felt it was something that was contrary to the best in their faith", as well as women "who stand by at these check points who try to shame the soldiers into good behaviour". 

He still believes a two-state solution for the region can be viable, "a solution that says Israel is a sovereign state, and there would be a sovereign Palestinian state and Israel's existence would be guaranteed". 

Despite this he "can't quite understand how a people with this history could get to agree". But then again, "we do in fact have short memories", and he believes that one of the reasons that apartheid ended – that "God put the South African example as a small success"  -was "to give the world some tangible notice of the fact that no situation is ultimately totally intractable – that the world would have to say 'if they could do it in South Africa, they could do it anywhere'." 

A by turns serious and jovial Tutu was also critical of those "who have glibly said because of September 11 that Islam is a violent faith". 

"One has to keep saying that Christians are the last people to say that. We burned witches, we burned those we said were heretics, and more recently the Holocaust – it wasn't pagans, it was Christians," Tutu said. "The people who proposed apartheid were not heathens – they said they had the support of the Bible." 

God, he said with another roar of laughter, "is not a Christian". © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009 


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Sunday, May 24, 2009

[ePalestine] Sam Bahour & Bernard Avishai - Economic Peace in the Middle East

To listen or download see:

Economy in the service of smart resistance to occupation,


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

[ePalestine] Think Gaza onslaught is over? Think again!!

Dear friends, 

As a prelude to this article, I should note that dear friends in Gaza are telling me that Israeli warships along the coast of Gaza are closer than ever and can be clearly seen by the naked eye, which is not usually the case.  They shell warning shots all day, really creating a renewed sense of fear that round two (or is that 1,002) of the onslaught against Gaza is about to begin any day. 

No headlines does not mean no war crimes,



Last update - 08:05 17/05/2009 

Amira Hass / Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza 

By Amira Hass  

Israel allows only food, medicine and detergent into the Gaza Strip. Thousands of items, including vital products for everyday activity, are forbidden.  

Altogether only 30 to 40 select commercial items are now allowed into the Gaza Strip, compared to 4,000 that had been approved before the closure Israel imposed on Gaza following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, according to merchants and human rights activists.  

The number of items changes according to what is determined by The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. COGAT has refused the PA representative's request for an updated list of the items permitted into Gaza in writing, and passes the information only via the telephone.  

Gaza merchants are forbidden to import canned goods, plastic sheeting, toys and books, although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other aid organizations are permitted to bring them into the strip.  

The few items merchants are allowed to trade in are divided into three categories: food, medicine and detergent. Everything else is forbidden - including building materials (which are necessary to rehabilitate Gaza's ruins and rebuild its infrastructure), electric appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, spare machine and car parts, fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses and animals. Many of the banned products are imported through the tunnels and can be found in Gaza's markets.  

Pasta, which had been forbidden in the past, is now allowed, after U.S. Senator John Kerry expressed his astonishment at the ban during a visit to Gaza in February. But tea, coffee, sausages, semolina, milk products in large packages and most baking products are forbidden. So are industrial commodities for manufacturing food products, chocolate, sesame seeds and nuts. Israel does allow importing fruit, milk products in small packages and frozen food products as well as limited amounts of industrial fuel.  

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that during the first week of May, 2.2 million liters of industrial fuel - some 70 percent of the weekly supply required to operate the power station - was allowed into Gaza. UNRWA receives petrol and diesel supplies separately. A daily 270-300 tons of cooking gas - 54 percent of the required amount - is allowed.  

Petrol and diesel for private cars and public transportation have not been imported from Israel since November 2, 2008, except for a small amount for UNRWA. The union of Gaza's gas station owners estimates that some 100,000 liters of diesel and 70,000 liters of petrol are brought through the tunnels daily.  

Egypt, which in the past two months has been restricting the trade movement through the tunnels, does not limit the supply of gas and fuel. But since Egyptian fuel is heavier than Israeli fuel, it damages the newer cars in Gaza and causes malfunctions.  

In the past, Israel allowed wood for home furnishings to be brought into Gaza for some time, but not wood for windows and doors. Now Israel has resumed the ban on wood for furniture.  

The ban on toilet paper, diapers and sanitary napkins was lifted three months ago. A little more than a month ago, following a long ban, Israel permitted the import of detergents and soaps into Gaza. Even shampoo was allowed. But one merchant discovered that the bottles of shampoo he had ordered were sent back because they included conditioner, which was not on the list.  

Five weeks ago Israel allowed margarine, salt and artificial sweetener to be brought into Gaza. Legumes have been allowed for the past two months and yeast for the past two weeks. Contrary to rumors, Israel has not banned sugar.  

COGAT commented that, "The policy of bringing commodities derives from and is coordinated with Israel's policy toward the Gaza Strip, as determined by the cabinet decision on September 19, 2007."  

A COGAT forum convenes with representatives of international organizations weekly to address special requests of the international community regarding humanitarian equipment and the changing needs of the Palestinian population, the statement says.  


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Saturday, May 16, 2009

[ePalestine] The American Conservative - Saving Israel From Itself (By John J. Mearsheimer)

Dear friends,

This article is well worth the read -- concise and poignant.

Heading to one state,


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[ePalestine] Boston Globe: Endgame diplomacy for Mideast (By Sam Bahour and Geoffrey Lewis)

Boston Globe / Op-ed 

Endgame diplomacy for Mideast 

By Sam Bahour and Geoffrey Lewis  |  May 16, 2009 

PRESIDENT OBAMA has acknowledged that "we can't talk forever" about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. "At some point," he said recently, "steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground." This attitude sheds a cautious ray of hope that the United States may be finally considering a policy shift gauged by facts on the ground instead of the number of meetings held to discuss a peace process. This is a wise starting point. 

The 41 years of Israeli occupation of Palestinians works to neither side's advantage. It is clear the situation on the ground is a powder keg waiting to explode, yet again. 

Obama's positive statements about the Arab Peace Initiative are welcome. So, too, is Obama's appointment of Senator George Mitchell as his Mideast envoy. 

While contemplating which way to turn at this historic juncture, all interested parties would be advised to keep in mind that another colossal failure of the international community, such as has been the norm for so long, could cause the situation to deteriorate to a point of no return. 

A powerful "friendly interventionist" is necessary. The parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians, have proven that they are unable to resolve this conflict bilaterally. This should not be breaking news. An occupying power and an occupied people - anywhere - will find it impossible to resolve their differences given such an imbalance of power. What would be breaking news is the point at which the international community - led by the United States - takes concrete action to effect a real, just, and lasting solution to the conflict. 

This is why Obama's immediate attention to this conflict is key and he must act decisively now. America played the role of "friendly interventionist" in Northern Ireland and it seems, with the appointment of Mitchell, that Obama may be contemplating playing the same role in the Middle East. This would be a welcome shift in policy. 

The following key obstacles to peace must be addressed by such a shift: 

Hope. People need hope that it really could happen in the Middle East. Northern Ireland is a perfect example of where it did. 

Leverage. A powerful and influential friend has to help make it happen. This is what America has to do in the Middle East as it did in Northern Ireland, where it had much less influence. 

Participation. The people most affected must be made to become involved by having them vote on a plan. This is what all the people on the island of Ireland did. 

Livelihood. While not a replacement for inalienable rights of any party in the conflict, the "carrot" of economic benefits and jobs should not be underestimated. Nothing less than a Marshall Plan for the Middle East is required. 

Self-Determination. It is a must that all parties be given the right to have legitimate and sovereign political power, thus a Palestinian state must be realized and be in line with international law. 

Leadership. Politicians need to have sufficient political "cover" to do the right thing. If the majority of Israelis and Palestinians vote for the plan, this creates a safeguard for politicians to remain sincere to people's desires. 

Addressing all of these obstacles is within reach if the political will exists in the White House. 

There have been many failures in the Middle East peace process, including the blockading of the Gaza Strip, the firing of missiles into southern Israel, and the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The room to maneuver has never been narrower and the stakes of failure higher. The Obama administration should follow the model of success that took place in Northern Ireland and become the "friendly interventionist" that both sides - and the world - desperately need. 

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman who lives in the West Bank. Geoffrey Lewis, an attorney, is a member of the executive committee of the Israel Policy Forum.   

© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company 


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Friday, May 15, 2009

[ePalestine] The paradox of Israel's pursuit of might (By Max Hastings)

"I was one of those foreigners who progressively fell out of love with Israel." 

The Guardian

The paradox of Israel's pursuit of might 

Forty years ago, I was enraptured by Israel's courageous sense of mission. For me today, as for many, that idealism has palled 

Max Hastings, Saturday 9 May 2009 08.00 BST 

I first visited Israel in 1969. It was a time when much of the western world was still passionately enthused about the country's triumph in the 1967 six-day war. President Nasser had for years promised to sweep the Israelis into the sea. Instead, the tiny Jewish state, less than 20 years old, had engaged the armies of three Arab nations, and crushingly defeated them all. The Israelis successively smashed through Nasser's divisions on the western front, scaled and seized the Golan Heights, and snatched east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the face of Hussein's highly capable Jordanian army. Sinai was left strewn with the boots of fleeing Egyptians. The Israeli victory was an awesome display of command boldness, operational competence and human endeavour. 

There was a euphoria in Israel in those days, which many visitors shared. We watched Jews from all over the world gathering to pray at the Wailing Wall for the first time in almost 2,000 years; Israelis of all ages revelling in the sensation of being able to work the kibbutzim of the north free from Syrian shells. From inhabiting one of the most claustrophobic places in the world, suddenly they found themselves free to roam miles across Sinai on a weekend. The soldiers of the Israeli army, careerists, conscripts and reservists alike, walked 10ft tall – the image of an exulting soldier made it on to the cover of Life magazine. They had shown themselves one of the greatest fighting forces of history, expunging almost at a stroke the memory of Jewish impotence in the face of centuries of persecution, of six million being herded helpless into cattle trucks for the death camps. 

In the years that followed, I gazed across the Suez Canal during the artillery bombardments of the 1970 war of attrition with Egypt. I was a correspondent there in October 1973, during the Yom Kippur war. It was an extraordinarily moving spectacle, to behold the people of Israel rallying to meet what they perceived as a threat to their national survival. One morning I stood on the Golan Heights and watched Israeli tanks duelling with the Syrians, amid pillars of smoke and flame. A few nights later I bivouacked in the Sinai passes, talking for hours under the stars to Israeli reservists about their hopes and fears. With a colleague from the Financial Times, having thinly disguised ourselves as Israeli soldiers, we made an illicit night crossing of the Suez canal, to report Ariel Sharon's stunning encirclement operation which trapped the Egyptian army on the east bank. In those days I loved those people, and boundlessly admired their achievement. I wrote in one of my less temperate dispatches, expressing faith in Israel as a bastion of western civilization in the Middle East: "These last three weeks, I am proud to have shared the Israelis' camp fires in Sinai. They are a very great people who three weeks ago came closer to destruction than blind Europe seems willing to recognise." 

After I came home from the Yom Kippur war, I received a note from the renowned journalist, James Cameron. Jimmy, a longstanding Zionist, wrote warmly about my reporting. He said: "It is impossible to work in combat with the Israeli army without this response, if you have any sense of history and drama." But then he added: "I have sometimes wondered over the past few years whether this irresistible military mesmerism hasn't clouded for us some of the political falsities. I just don't know. I think I was marginally led up the garden in 1967." 

Jimmy's tentative note roused the first stirrings in my mind of ideas which evolved only slowly in the years which followed. Remember, I was still in my 20s. I had always loved soldiers. I was enthused by the romance of the battlefield.  I possessed an excessive respect for military prowess. 

Ironically, it was the experience of spending much more time with the Israeli army in the mid- 1970s, in the course of researching a book, which caused me to begin to perceive the importance of what Cameron said. I glimpsed a darker side of Israel. I learned a lot about the ruthlessness of Israeli anti-terrorist operations. I spent many hours talking to thoughtful Israelis, who voiced their fears about the perils, the threatened corruption of their own society, which they perceived in the 1967 conquests. I also became dismayed by the naked imperialism displayed by Israel's rightwing zealots. One night at a dinner party in Jerusalem in 1977, I heard a young Israeli talking about the Arabs in terms which chilled my blood. "In the next war," he said, "we've got to get the Palestinians out of the West Bank for good." 

To me, in my naivete, Israel's struggle had hitherto seemed that of a brilliant little people, who had suffered the most ghastly experience of the 20th century, struggling for survival amid a hostile Middle East still bent upon their destruction. Now, suddenly, I found myself meeting Israelis committed to the creation of a greater Israel embracing the West Bank, who were utterly heedless of the fate of its inhabitants. The Palestinians were perceived as losers, a mere incidental impediment to the fulfilment of Israel's historic territorial destiny. By a curious quirk, that young Israeli whom I heard enthuse about emptying the West Bank of Arabs was Binyamin Netanyahu, today his country's prime minister. 

Listening to Israelis such as himself speaking of the Palestinians 30 years ago, I began to understand what a more thoughtful young man than myself might have seen from the outset: the huge danger implicit in rooting a society's polity in its military prowess and powers of conquest. 

When I said something of the kind to a politician of the Israeli right, he responded contemptuously: "You are a typical European. You loved Israel when it was a victim. Now you turn your face from us, because we have become too strong for your taste. We are no longer Jews on our knees, begging for pity." I had lunch one day in Jerusalem in 1979 with that brilliant Israeli novelist and peacenik Amoz Oz, who said something of the same kind, but from a different perspective: "People like you," he said to me, "are going to become very disappointed in Israel in the years ahead. You want it to behave like a European society. Instead, it is becoming a Middle Eastern society. I hope that it will not behave worse than other Middle Eastern societies. But you should not delude yourself that it is likely to behave much better." This seemed a profound observation. The generation of Israelis whom I met, and embraced, in the late 1960s and early 1970s were overwhelmingly formed by the diaspora from which they came. In the decades since, as they have died, their society has become dominated by those forged by different experiences – either of whole lifetimes in the fevered hothouse of Israel, or by immigration from Russia, whence so many newcomers have arrived in recent times. 

Three years ago in Jerusalem, I met a very bright couple in their late 40s, who had emigrated from Russia a decade earlier. When we began to speak of the Palestinians, the husband said: "In my Russian village in 1920, there was trouble with guerrillas. Budenny's Cossacks came. They burnt the village from which the guerrillas came. The guerrillas returned twice more. The Cossacks burned two more villages. Then there was no more trouble with guerrillas." This was the culture from which these two highly-educated Israelis came. They asserted that the Budenny method was the only proper one by which to address Hamas, Hizbollah and Fatah. The policies of recent Israeli governments suggest that their view is widely shared. 

Between the late 1970s and 1990s, I was one of those foreigners who progressively fell out of love with Israel. I became persuaded that the arrogance of its faith in its own military power had induced its people to go far beyond a belief in defending their own society, to support a polity committed to perpetuating a great historic injustice against the Palestinians. Whatever government is in power in Jerusalem, there is a belief that peace with the Muslim world is unattainable; and thus that Israel must resign itself to a future dependent on its military capability rather than on negotiation. Associated with this is a belief that Jewish colonisation of the West Bank is a price the Palestinians must expect to pay for their refusal to make peace. 

The most extraordinary, indeed nihilistic aspect of Israeli military policy towards the Palestinians is that it has sought to punish terrorism by deliberately wrecking the economic base of Palestinian society. On its own terms, this has succeeded. Today the only thriving industries in Palestinian territory are human reproduction, terrorism, and the propagation of grievances. The conditions in Gaza are, to us, almost unimaginable. Few have work. Most live in breezeblock barracks. From one year to the next they see nothing that is beautiful except the sea and sky. Hatred for their oppressors has become the only functioning engine of their society. People who have nothing have nothing to lose. 

The policies of modern Israel have created the certainty of new generations of neighbours committed to its undoing. The Palestinians' only influence rests upon the power of such weapons as they can obtain, and upon their destructive capacity to broadcast terrorism. Who can be surprised that the people of Gaza elected a Hamas government? No sane society engages an overwhelmingly militarily superior nation on the battlefield on terms which suit the possessor of power. There is no purpose in wasting rhetoric upon moral denunciations of terrorism or even suicide-bombing, especially so when Jewish terrorism played a substantial part in Israel's birth. The Palestinians, together with the Muslim world and many in the west, no longer believe that Israel will grant justice to their people by negotiation; they believe that only force might eventually drive the Israelis to make concessions. 

Israel suffers the same frustration on a regional scale as that which afflicts the US globally: the difficulty – some of us would argue impossibility – of leveraging overwhelming military power to make its will prevail upon the Palestinians. The Palestinians are incapable of imposing their own will on the Israelis. But poverty, misery and impotence represent weapons of their own. These things cause Israel to be regarded by a large part of the world as an oppressor. 

I often think that Israelis focus too much upon their past, not enough upon their future. In the days when I visited Israel regularly, dinner-table arguments about the nation's strategy became familiar. There would often come a moment when somebody would blurt out – justifying this or that aspect of Israeli policy: "But you've got to understand why we must do this – because of the Holocaust." For more than 60 years, the Holocaust card has been played again and again. Today in Europe, there is not the slightest danger that the unspeakable fate of the Jews in the 1940s will be forgotten. But many people, especially the young, no longer perceive the crimes of Hitler, however monstrous, as providing remotely adequate justification for – for instance – Israeli military excesses in Gaza and the appropriation of scarce water resources at Palestinian expense. 

The Holocaust argument is sometimes displaced by a more facile jibe: that those who criticise Israel are guilty of anti-semitism. I have been accused of this myself. Yet I take comfort from the number of Jews who express repugnance about Israel's excesses. Avi Shlaim has dissected the failures and deceits of modern Israeli policy far more convincingly than I could. Rabbi David Goldberg has described Israel's failure to create a plausible successor vision to that of the old Zionists. "Zionism's most important achievement," he says, "was to provide a haven for the escapees and survivors of Hitler's Holocaust." Today, by contrast, few western Jews want to live there. The Zionist claim, that the country is the natural home of Jews, is rejected by a majority of the world's 14 million Jews. Goldberg argues that "Zionists claim that only in their own land can Jews lead a full, 'normal' life without fear of anti-semitism. But the irony of Israel's geopolitical situation is that the average Jew walking the streets of Los Angeles, Golders Green or even Moscow is physically safer than the average Israeli walking in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv." 

Many Jews no longer believe that the Zionist concept of entitlement, based first upon Biblical history, and latterly upon the Holocaust, suffices to justify perpetuating historic injustice upon the Arabs of Palestine. Benny Morris's excellent recent history of the events of 1948 shows that even a respected Israeli historian is today ready to acknowledge the scale of Israeli ethnic cleansing at the time, and of the deceits employed since to conceal what took place. The Israeli myth, that the Palestinians displaced in 1948 voluntarily abandoned their homes and property, is unsustainable in the face of such evidence. 

An Israeli listening to all this might interrupt angrily: "But why do you say so little about Hamas and Hizbollah, rocketing and suicide-bombing innocent Israeli civilians?" Yes, indeed – such acts must always be condemned. But what of proportionality? In recent years, for every Israeli killed by terrorism, the Israeli security forces have killed 30, 40, 50 Palestinians – most of them civilians. Israel exacts a blood price from the innocent of a severity which only tyrannies have historically thought appropriate. 

The entire thrust of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians in recent times has been to convey a crude message of overwhelming power, of Israel's ability to command, kill or destroy at will, without fear of sanctions. The Israeli army, which once exemplified much that was best about Israel, has today been corrupted by the long experience of suppressing insurgency. Morally, if not militarily, it is a shadow of the force which fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. 

Israel has tested to destruction the utility of force in achieving its security. It is not enough to assert proudly that the Jewish state remains a democracy and haven of free speech in a region in which neither of these precious things is much in evidence, if that same democracy behaves in a fashion which denies mercy to the weak. For someone like me, who enjoyed a love affair with Israel 40 years ago, it is heart-breaking to see the story come to such a pass. It is because so many of us so much want to see Israel prosper in security and peace that we share a sense of tragedy that 61 years after the state was born amid such lofty ideals, it should be led by such a man as Bibi Netanyahu, committed to policies which can yield nothing honourable or lasting. Amoz Oz's 1979 prophesy to me has alas been fulfilled. It will be as great a misfortune for Israel as for the Palestinians, if its governments persist in their past delusions through the years ahead. 

Extracted from one of the Leonard Stein lectures delivered by Max Hastings. The full text of the speech can be downloaded here . © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009 


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[ePalestine] Professor Stephen Hawking on Gaza and more - THE SMARTEST PERSON ON EARTH GETS IT---DO YOU?

Riz Khan: What do you think will be the fallout from the war in Gaza? 

Professor Stephen Hawking:  The attack on Gaza is similar to that on Lebanon two years ago, that killed over two thousand but did not achieve Israel's war aims.  I think the assault on Gaza will be equally unsuccessful.  A people under occupation will continue to resist in any way it can.  If Israel wants peace it will have to talk to Hamas like Britain did with the IRA. Hamas is the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people and cannot be ignored. 

Riz Khan: Professor what have been your thoughts during the three weeks of violence that has taken place in Gaza? 

Professor Stephen Hawking: Israel's response to the rocket attacks has been plain out of proportion.  Almost a hundred Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli.  The situation is like that of South Africa before nineteen-ninety and cannot continue. 

To see the whole interview go to: 

Note: Thanks to my good friend Ray Nakley from Youngstown, OH for passing this on.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

[ePalestine] AFP: Hamas to rebuild Gaza homes with mud bricks

Hamas to rebuild Gaza homes with mud bricks 

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP) 
Date: 09 May 2009 
by Adel Zaanoun 

GAZA CITY, May 9, 2009 (AFP) - The Hamas-run government in the fenced-off Gaza Strip said on Saturday that it will use mud bricks to rebuild houses destroyed during a massive Israeli offensive at the turn of the year. 

"In the next few days we will start using mud to rebuild the houses that the (Israeli) occupation destroyed in Gaza," Hamas deputy prime minister Ziad al-Zaza told AFP. 

"This will be done as an option for those owners of destroyed houses who want it," he added. "This is a serious operation by the government to break the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip." 

Israeli forces destroyed thousands of homes during a massive three-week offensive launched in late December aimed at halting rocket attacks from the territory, which has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement since June 2007. 

Since Hamas took power Israel has sealed off the narrow coastal strip and its 1.4 million Palestinian residents from all but basic humanitarian aid and has allowed in virtually no construction materials, saying they might be used for making explosives and weapons. 

Small quantities of concrete and steel have nevertheless been brought in through a network of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, which Israeli warplanes repeatedly bombed both during and after the deadly war. 

Zaza said the government would use blueprints approved by local municipalities and the union of Gaza engineers for three-storey houses that it said would last for decades. 

The programme will begin with the building of a three-storey "model home" on 250 square metres (around 2,700 square feet) of land, he added. 

The cost of rebuilding would be borne by the government and by "Arab and local aid groups," Zaza said, adding that the project would provide employment for construction workers and allow some factories to reopen. 

In recent days Gaza residents have started building mud brick houses on their own in some of the hardest-hit areas of the territory in Gaza City and the southern towns of Khan Yunis and Rafah. 

In Rafah Jihad al-Shaer, 36, recently completed an 80 square-metre (860 square-foot) mud brick house and has moved in with his wife and six children, the youngest of which was born last week. 

"I got tired of waiting, because I need to live in a house with my family," he said. 

The new dwelling has no electricity or running water, but Shaer says it only cost him 3,000 dollars to build. He estimates he would have spent 25,000 dollars if he had used cement. 

Nearby another man, Ismail, who declined to give his last name, has also built a small house out of mud. 

"It looked like it was going to be a long wait," the 29-year-old said. "Maybe it is only a temporary solution." 

But not everyone is happy about the plan. 

Mohammed al-Samuni, the member of a large clan whose neighbourhood on the edge of Gaza City was flattened during the offensive, said he would prefer to wait for cement. 

"We want to rebuild our houses the way they were before," he said. "This is our natural right." 

According to official Palestinian statistics around 4,100 dwelling places were destroyed during the offensive as well as 48 government offices and buildings, 31 police stations and 20 mosques. 

International donors pledged 4.5 billion dollars in aid at a reconstruction conference in Egypt in March but little has made its way to Gaza amid the continuing blockade and bitter Palestinian political divisions. 

More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Gaza offensive, which came to an end on January 18 when Israel and Hamas each declared unilateral ceasefires. 

Copyright (c) 2009 Agence France Presse 


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

[ePalestine] Appeal For Israel Not to Deny Entry to the Pope on Visit to Palestine/Israel

Campaign for the Right to Enter the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt)  

A Grassroots Campaign for the Protection of Foreign Passport Holders Residing in and/or Visiting the oPt  


6 May 2009  

Appeal For Israel Not to Deny Entry to the Pope on Visit to Palestine/Israel 

Fearing further repetition of Israel’s ongoing practice of arbitrarily denying entry to foreign nationals trying to enter the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the Campaign for the Right to Enter the oPt is issuing an open appeal to the Israeli government not to deny entry to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.  

In light of the hundreds of cases of foreign-passport holders—teachers, doctors, businesspersons, students, husbands and wives, clergy, pilgrims and caretakers, just to name a few—who have been turned back at ports of entry under Israel’s control while trying to reach their place of work, their families or their churches, representatives of the Campaign remain concerned by Israel's continued failure to provide a clear, transparent and lawful policy regarding who can enter the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).  

On the occasion of the visit of His Holiness, the Campaign repeats its demand that Israel stop the practice of arbitrarily denying entry to foreign-passport holders wishing to visit or reside in the oPt and reminds the public that nobody is immune. While Israel is unlikely to stamp “Denied Entry” on the Pope’s Vatican passport, as it did to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Professor Richard Falk, a few days before last Christmas, the Campaign wishes to call His Holiness’attention to the fact that even he is not immune from being told by Israeli authorities to “return to where you came from,”as they did to Professor Falk.  

The Campaign is actively calling on states, religious leaders, and all people of conscience worldwide to work for an end to Israel's unlawful restrictive measures and to the serious harm they cause to the protected Palestinian population, their family life and their educational, religious and social institutions.  

The Vatican, like other high Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, has an obligation to scrutinize Israel’s exercise of authority as an occupying power and to oppose arbitrary denials of entry to the oPt. The Campaign calls on his Holiness to give his attention to these abusive practices, which have also threatened the continuity and integrity of Palestinian religious life. Failing to object to internationally unlawful acts and policies when confronted with them implies accepting them as lawful.  

For more information please contact:
Campaign Coordinator
Telephone: +970.(0)59.817.3953
Facsimile: +970.(0)2.295.1551

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

[ePalestine] Israeli minister blocks zone deal for Church sites

Israeli minister blocks zone deal for Church sites 
Mon May 4, 2009 6:27pm BST 
By Dan Williams 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's interior minister has blocked a proposal to declare six Christian heritage sites exempt from land appropriations by the Jewish state ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict, Israeli officials said on Monday. 

Unresolved zoning rights at the Vatican-owned shrines, including the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Church of the Multiplication on the Sea of Galilee, have impeded relations that Israel and the Holy See established in 1993. 

Keen to crown Benedict's May 11-14 tour with a breakthrough, an Israeli inter-agency committee drafted a deal making the sites off-limits to state land seizures, which non-Jewish minorities often complain disproportionately target their turf. 

"It is very relevant because we wanted the pope to be able to unveil a deal when he comes," an Israeli official familiar with the deliberations said. "The Catholic world has long seen this outstanding issue as a sign of poor faith on our part." 

Yet when called upon this week to sign off on the proposal, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who heads a powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition government, refused. 

"This matter is under the minister's authority, and he is not prepared to sacrifice Israeli sovereignty, even if it is only symbolic," Yishai's spokesman Roi Rachmanovitch said. 

Further complicating the dispute is the fact the one of the sites under discussion, the Garden of Gethsemane, is in Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally. 

Palestinians want to set up a capital for their future state in East Jerusalem and would likely resent any Vatican overtures that appeared to confer recognition on Israeli controls. 

"All we are seeking are safeguards that they (sites) will not be taken away in the future," an informed Catholic Church source in Rome said. 

Yishai's decision could be overruled in a vote by the Israeli cabinet, political sources said. Netanyahu's office had no immediate word on whether such a vote was planned. 

Israeli officials have described Benedict's visit as a chance to dispel tensions over the Vatican's handling of a Holocaust-denying bishop and its attendance at a U.N. racism conference where Iran's president railed against Zionism. 

Having seen tourism plummet over a Palestinian revolt that erupted in 2000, Israel also hopes the pope will usher in more pilgrimages from the billion-strong Catholic world. 

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome, Editing by Janet Lawrence) 


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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

[ePalestine] For sale: Great location (By Daphna Golan)


Last update - 01:48 05/05/2009
For sale: Great location
By Daphna Golan

It's to be hoped that the White House gets a subscription to one of the local Jerusalem newspapers ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington. Simply leafing through the giant advertisements would save American and Israeli taxpayers significant amounts of time, money and grief. 

Israel has long promised there would be no new construction in West Bank settlements. President Shimon Peres reiterated this promise recently to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency. Topolanek, in turn, promised to work to improve Israeli-European relations. Netanyahu, during his U.S. visit, is certain to repeat the same lies uttered by Peres. 

Yet this week, a Jerusalem daily promised that any Israeli factory willing to move to the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim would benefit in three ways. First is the community's "Ideal location," ten minutes from Jerusalem. The map featured in the ad shows only Israeli communities as recommended sites for factory owners to build in - no Palestinian communities, even those next door to the settlements. 

The second advantage is accessibility. In case the Americans do not understand, the significance of this is that Israel has built roads for Israelis alone to use, so they can live and work in the occupied territories without having to come across Palestinians. Route 443 was paved for the sake of accessibility to Ma'aleh Adumim. The state assured the High Court of Justice that the road - built on lands expropriated from Palestinians - was intended for the benefit of the "local population." But in stark contrast to that pledge, the road is open to Israelis only. 

Third, the advertisement promises the same tax deductions as in "National Priority Area A," adding: "Ma'aleh Adumim's industrial park has the largest land reserves in the Jerusalem area. 

The plots are available for allocation at attractive prices." This is the same area that Israel had promised not to develop, in order to someday allow Palestinians to travel freely between the northern and southern West Bank. 

And if anyone in the White House or the EU thinks the building in Ma'aleh Adumim is an exception to the rule, the enormous notices in the Jerusalem papers testify to new construction in all the occupied territories around Jerusalem. 

There is, for example, a "golden opportunity" in Har Homa, but no mention is made of the Palestinians on whose land the houses are being built. Nor is there mention of the neighboring village of Nuaman, whose lands were annexed to Jerusalem but whose residents hold Palestinian identity cards, and are therefore classified as illegal residents in their own homes. 

The separation fence imprisons Nuaman's residents and separates them both from Jerusalem - from which they are barred entirely - and from the West Bank, to which they can travel only when their checkpoint is opened. 

An ad for "a project born with a silver spoon" features a model apartment, but makes no mention of nearby Sur Baher, Umm Tuba, Abu Dis and Beit Sahour. These Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, some of them under the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem, have vanished not only from the map printed in the newspaper, but from the consciousness of the Israeli government, which has not seen fit to offer the Palestinians a zoning plan that would allow them to build, pave roads and erect schools. 

Today, when American taxpayers are being forced to deal with cutbacks, we can spare them the money they invest in the construction and maintenance of the settlements. 

Instead of investing time and resources in attempting to understand why Israel insists on building roads, neighborhoods and settlements for Israelis only, the White House could obtain a yearly subscription to one of the Jerusalem dailies. 

It could also inform the Israeli prime minister and his cohorts that they will be welcome to come and discuss continued American support once construction for Israelis in the occupied territories has truly come to an end. 

The writer teaches law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 


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