Archive for May, 2009

The battle over settlements

Posted in History, International community, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Siege, USA foreign policy, Videos, West Bank with tags , , , , , , on 28/05/2009 by 3071km

Riz Khan show

Air on Thursday 28th May 2009

Source: Al-Jazeera English

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Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is set for his first official meeting with his US counterpart on Thursday.

One of the key issues on the agenda – Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Under the so-called “road map for peace”, Israel had pledged to stop settlement expansion but continued construction and establishment of new outposts.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, says he will stop new construction but wants to leave room for what he calls “natural growth” of existing settlements.

So far, it seems the Obama administration is holding firm, calling for a halt to all construction. But will Israel listen?

On Thursday’s Riz Khan we look at the battle over settlements and ask whether or not a construction halt will be enough to save the government of President Abbas?

Joining our conversation from Washington, DC are Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and best-selling author of “The Stakes: America and the Middle East”; and Professor Mark Levine, author of “Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989”.


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Ken Loach open letter to the Edinburgh Film Festival

Posted in International community, Israel, Palestine with tags , , , on 26/05/2009 by 3071km

Date: 26th May 2009

Sources: Russell Tribunal on Palestine & Medialens

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Following an open letter from the Israeli film maker Tali Shalom Ezer (see below as well) regarding the Edinburgh film festival accepting money from Israel, here is Ken Loach’s full reply.

This was sent to The Sunday Times but the newspaper never published his reply in full. Instead, The Sunday Times used some bits of it taken out of context. Loach’s full letter has been circulated by his assistant, Ann Cattrall, to allow people to make their own minds.


Ann Cattrall’s e-mail:

Here’s Ken’s reply in full. It may be useful to publish this online somewhere, as an ‘open letter’, as the press don’t seem keen to print the full facts:

Dear Tali Shalom Ezer

From the beginning, Israel and its supporters have attacked their critics as anti-semites or racists. It is a tactic to undermine rational debate.

To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh . You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival’s taking money from the Israeli state.

The call for a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions comes from many Palestinians: writers, artists, journalists, lawyers, academics, trades unionists, teachers. They see it as “a contribution to the struggle to end Israel ’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.” Who are we, that we should not heed their call? Your counter arguments were used against the South African boycott yet that proved eventually to be successful.

We remember that the Palestinians have been dispossessed for sixty years, houses destroyed, communities wrecked. Israel ignores international law, the Geneva Convention and many UN resolutions.

We saw with horror the recent massacres in Gaza , how the Israeli army used phosphorous bombs in populated areas, how UN food stores and shelters were destroyed. The Red Cross described strikes on medical crews and the injured denied attention. Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, wrote of the killing of people flying white flags and the annihilation of entire families.

Faced with such crimes, Israeli poet, Aharon Shabtai, writes: “I do not believe that a state that maintains an occupation, committing on a daily basis crimes against civilians, deserves to be invited to any kind of cultural (event).”

Those who have attacked the boycott here are the usual suspects, old hacks and right wing extremists. One thought you were a man. They would embarrass you.

Please stand with the oppressed against the oppressor. I hope you enjoy the Festival.

Ken Loach

It may be worthwhile also printing the open letter from the filmmaker to Ken, as I don’t think that got published fully either. Here’s a copy of it:

Dear Mr. Loach,

In the past 24 hours, I have been asked repeatedly to comment on your statement demanding to return Israel ‘s grant to our embassy in Edinburgh . I admit to have mixed feelings about your statement and all that it implies. As I have indicated in previous occasions, I have always been a member of the Israeli peace camp. Contrary to common perceptions in the media, ours is a large, strong camp – as I’d like to believe is the case amongst Palestinians.

I oppose, with all my heart, the Israeli occupation and settelments; I oppose an automatic resort to military solutions in times of conflict. I appreciate the wish to change the world by shunning what is perceived as an act of injustice, but I feel that what may seem right in theory, may be extremely wrong in practice.

In my opinion, every time a nation is subjected to a cultural boycott – be it a film or a lecture by an Israeli professor abroad – there is a tendency amongst its subjects to draw closer to more nationalistic elements; every time this happens, peace is farther away. Every time this happens, the concept of “A People that Dwells Alone” gathers more believers, and the conviction that the only way to survive is by strengthening the state’s military power, is reinforced. Every time this happens, moderate voices are hushed, art is weakened.

I do not know if you are aware of this fact, but Surrogate was filmed by Radek Ladczuk, a talented Polish cinematographer. For 21 years, Israel and Poland had no diplomatic relations; all I knew about the country came from the media and history lessons about WWII.

I approached Radek from purely artistic considerations. Our work, despite difficulties in verbal communication, has proven to me once more the power of art and the many points of similarity which join people together, everywhere. I have no doubt that collaborations of this kind promote dialogue and lessen prejudice.

To conclude, I just want to stress my deep appreciation for your work. I have been an avid fan over the years, and will be honored if you attend the screening of Surrogate, thereby showing the world that despite your opposition to Israel’s politics, you are a firm believer in the power of art, and the power of individuals to bring about change.

Yours

Tali Shalom Ezer

Netanyahu: Settlements to expand

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on 25/05/2009 by 3071km

Date: 25th May 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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All settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law [AFP]

Israel’s prime minister has said that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank will continue to be expanded.

“I have no intention to construct new settlements,” Binyamin Netanyahu was quoted by officials as telling his cabinet on Sunday.

“… but it makes no sense to ask us not to answer to the needs of natural growth and to stop all construction,” he added.

Barack Obama, the US president, pressed Netanyahu to halt all settlement activity when the two men met in Washington last week.

About 500,000 Jews live in settlement blocs and smaller outposts built in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

Netanyahu also told the cabinet that the government would move settlers living in the outposts it considers to be illegal under Israeli law.

“We will take care of them,” he said. “If possible by dialogue. There is no doubt that we have committed ourselves to deal with them.”

Dismantling outposts

Last week an outpost near the town of Ramallah was demolished and Ehud Barak, the defence minister, told reporters that Israel was planning to dismantle 22 others.

“We should deal with the remaining 22 in a responsible and correct way,” he said. “First, by talking and, if that doesn’t work, then unilaterally.”

However, the Peace Now group says that more than 50 outposts have been erected since March 2001 and more than 100 are currently in existence.

All settlements are considered illegal under international law and US and European negotiators see them as a major obstacle to achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“What we are interested in seeing is that Israel should implement its obligations under the road map, which includes halting settlement activity and expansion in all its forms,” Mohammed Shatayyeh, the Palestinian public works and housing minister, said on Sunday.

He said that if Israel wanted to show it was serious about peace talks with the Palestinians then it should stop providing utilities, such as water and electricity, to settlements and deny them state funding.

But Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said the fate of existing settlements should be decided at any such negotiations.”In the interim period, we have to allow normal life in those communities to continue,” he said.

Yesha, the main Israeli setttler organisation, criticised Netanyahu’s comments, saying that he “should respect the wishes of voters who voted en masse for parties that are in favour of continuing construction in Judea and Samaria,” as Israelis refer to the West Bank.

Naqba law

In video
Israel pays lip service to dismantling outposts

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, ministers also approved a draft law banning commemoration of the Naqba, or “catastrophe” as it is referred to by Arabs, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948.

The draft law is scheduled to be submitted for parliamentary approval next week and will propose punishment of up to three years in prison, an official told the AFP news agency.

The law was brought forward at the instigation of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister.

Yisrael Beitenu, Israel’s third biggest party with 15 of the 120 seats in parliament, targeted Israel’s Arab minority during this year’s election campaign, adopting the slogan “No Citizenship Without Loyalty.”About 1.2 million Palestinians live inside Israel.

They are descended from 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Gaza’s school children still struggle after war

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Videos with tags , , , , on 17/05/2009 by 3071km

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Hamid al-Mallahi studies under a streetlight when it works, walks an hour or more to school and sleeps in a tent that could collapse at any moment.

More than four months after Israel’s 22-day offensive on Gaza, life for the 14 year-old-is similar to that of thousands of other children still living in makeshift camps.

Al Jazeera’s Casey Kauffman reports from Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.

Living in a constant nakba

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, History, Palestine, Videos with tags , on 15/05/2009 by 3071km

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Nakba remembered amid Gaza suffering

Palestinians have marked the occasion of the 1948 “catastrophe”, or Nakba, when they fled their homes in the face of the establishment of Israel.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Gaza where this year’s commemorations have been overshadowed by the more recent destruction wrought by Israel’s war on the territory.

Palestinians mark the ‘Nakba’

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Everyday life in the West Bank, Hamas, History, Israel, Israeli occupation with tags , , , , on 14/05/2009 by 3071km

Date: 14th May 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Palestinians demand the right of return for descendants of those who fled in 1948 [AFP]

Thousands of Palestinians have marked the 61st anniversary of the “Nakba” or “catastrophe,” in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced following the creation of Israel.

Demonstrators marched through cities across the West Bank on Thursday, holding Palestinian flags and images of Arab villages razed by Israeli forces in 1948.

The ceremonies took place a day early because the May 15 anniversary of the Nakba falls this year on a Friday, a day off in the mostly Muslim Palestinian territories.

In Ramallah, demonstrators waved banners reading, “The right of return is sacred,” and “Return, Jerusalem And Self-Determination: Our Struggle Will Continue” as they gathered at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader.

Meanwhile in the northern West Bank town of Ramallah, about 2,000 Palestinians held a separate rally, marching through the streets with black ribbons to signify mourning.

Silenced in Gaza

But in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, officials from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) accused Hamas authorities of preventing them from holding any ceremonies to mark the Nakba.

Witnesses said police were deployed in the centre of Gaza City to disperse any demonstrators who tried to gather, AFP news agency reported.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the creation of the Israeli state six decades ago.

Palestinians demand the right for the 4.6 million descendants of those who fled in 1948 to return to their lands that are now inside Israel.

‘Go back and die in Gaza’

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza, Israeli occupation, Siege with tags , , on 12/05/2009 by 3071km

Written by Stephanie Doetzer

Date: 08th May 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English

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Short on supplies and facilities, Gaza’s hospitals cannot treated the most severe cases [GETTY]

Since Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip in 2007, only severely sick Palestinians have been allowed to seek medical attention elsewhere provided they receive authorisation and security clearances from the Israeli authorities.However, getting the special permit that allows patients to leave Gaza for medical treatment is a bureaucratic hassle and, many Gazans say, comes with strings attached.

According to the Israeli organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Palestinian patients are increasingly being asked to make an impossible choice: Either to become collaborators with the Israeli intelligence apparatus – or to remain in Gaza without medical treatment.

Al Jazeera spoke with Hadas Ziv, the director of PHR.

Al Jazeera: Your organisation has collected dozens of testimonies of patients who were pressured to collaborate with the Israeli General Security Services. How did you find out about this? A Palestinian will not easily admit he or she has been asked to become an informant.

Ziv: True; it is not a subject people talk about easily and it happened gradually. Our organisation tries to support Gazan patients who were prevented by the Israeli authorities from treatment in Israel, or from crossing Israel on their way to hospitals in the West Bank.

Instead of clear rejection or admittance, the Israelis started saying: “permit pending interrogation”. The permit became conditional – not so much on individual health conditions, but on the outcome of the interrogation at the Erez Crossing.

Then, many of the patients we were in touch with came back from interrogation and told us they did not get the permit: “They tried to extort me to collaborate and I wasn’t willing to give them information, so they sent me back to Gaza.”

When more and more people told us the same story, we understood that this was a new policy.

How do you know the testimonies are true?

The testimonies come from very different people, of different ages, different political opinions and from different towns in the Gaza strip. To believe that there is such a high degree of co-ordination among all the patients is pretty far-fetched. But more importantly, it needs a lot of courage to speak to us about this.

Some of the patients have a lot to lose if they talk.

You started collecting testimonies in the summer of 2007. But when do you think this practice started?

Very soon after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Since then Israel sees Gaza as an enemy entity, as something that has to be closely monitored and controlled.

And since then, it has become more difficult for the General Security Services (GSS) to gather intelligence from Gaza. They have little direct contact with Palestinians.

The only ones who are still allowed to cross Erez, even if they also have a lot of difficulties, are the patients. They are an easy prey for the GSS.  They are very vulnerable – for some, getting out of Gaza can be a question of life and death.

The GSS is using this situation to exert pressure.

Is there a standard procedure for these interrogations?

It varies. The newest development is that you have a specific appointment for interrogation and it’s not on the day of your treatment. But there are also cases where people think they have a permit and can go out, but then they are suddenly being taken to interrogation. Sometimes the patient has to wait in a room for several hours, without his family.

Then, they take him to another room for interrogation. They may ask just a couple of questions to find out if you know any Hamas members or they may suggest a deal for long term co-operation: “If you help us, we will help you. You need a treatment, we need information. We will give you a number, you call us once a week and give us information about your neighbours.”

If you refuse, they become more blunt: “Okay, go back and die in Gaza.”

What happens back in Gaza?

The patients are in a lose-lose situation. If they refuse to co-operate with the Israelis and are sent back, they may die because they can’t get appropriate treatment in Gaza.

If they do manage to get the permit, they will be branded as potential collaborators.

Whether you really did it or not is not so important. If people think you collaborated, your life may be at risk. In the end, everyone suspects everyone else. It’s like Orwell’s 1984.

And this is the objective – humiliation and fragmentation.

Isn’t the objective in the first place a more immediate one – simply gathering intelligence?

That’s just the surface.

I think the main goal is to break the cohesiveness and solidarity among Palestinians. This way, it’s much more difficult for them to unify and to struggle for a common cause.

What already happens between Fatah and Hamas then also happens between neighbours, between families … and this is good for the one who tries to control you.

But the Israeli government says it wants a partner for negotiations and thus a united Palestinian position.

What troubles me most as an Israeli citizen is that we suffer from a kind of collective psychosis.

We are governed by fear and manipulated by fear. Security is everything.

But what we are being offered is a very narrow definition of security. No one has the courage to say that long-term security is security for everyone, not just for us but also for Palestinians. But we are obstructed from seeing this, because we let fear govern our lives.

We constantly have something to fear. If one fear stops, another comes up. When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, it was very convenient for the Israeli government to use this. Hamas is being presented to the Israeli public as an entity that you cannot talk to. But 20 years ago, we claimed Fatah could not be talked to. Every time, a situation is being created in which you claim you have no one to talk to.

How are your views received by other Israelis?

When I argue with people they tell me I should be grateful to the people who defend me. That the GSS may be saving my life through these interrogations. They say I’m naive, that I am not patriotic and things like that.

But I think my point of view has the same legitimacy as others.

In Israel, if you mention the word “security”, no further arguments are needed. They say patients may come to Israel to organise terror attacks. In this case, Israeli society does not demand further explanation.

The result is that even things that we wouldn’t think about doing with convicted criminals, these things are suddenly permissible when it comes to Palestinians. It is as if we had two different sets of values. And this is only possible because we constantly dehumanise the Palestinians. If we would consider them as normal human beings, it would not be possible.

Everything is conditioned according to us. To our needs and our security. I think this is not justifiable. Not just because the victims suffer. Of course, the victims’ suffering is unimaginable.

It is beyond what I can express. Imagine you are the mother of a 17-year-old girl who has cancer, needs urgent treatment and is being extorted by the GSS. You, as a mother, are in a different room and you don’t know what your daughter is going through. This is unimaginable to me.

But it is also unimaginable to me what future my society has if it continues to act like this. I’m afraid for my society as well. I think we are at a crossroads. We have to choose. If we want to remain human, we cannot continue like this.

In a written statement given to Al Jazeera, the Israeli defence ministry has denied all the allegations made by Ziv.

“These charges are false. The only considerations Israel has are humanitarian and security-related ones,” the statement says.

“There is no truth to the contention that other factors are involved. The reason why clarifications are conducted by our security personnel is to ensure that those granted medical entry permits are indeed in need of such permits, and to ensure that those planning on abusing these permits to foment terror in Israel cannot gain entry into Israel.”