April 29, 2010

Fooling the world again, by Carlos Latuff

Settlement ban fear of Palestinian labourers: BBC

Many Palestinians don’t see they have any other choice but to work on Israeli settlements
By Tim Franks
It may only be April, but on the exposed hillside settlement of Har Gilo it already feels very hot.
Perhaps for that reason not many people are out and about in this small, middle-class, Jewish enclave in the West Bank between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
And most of those who are walking around have, perhaps surprisingly, Palestinian faces.
They are a group of construction workers, who laugh when you mention the Israeli government’s self-declared “freeze” on building in settlements.

Najah Saadi operates a pile-driver.
He has worked in Har Gilo five days a week for the last two years, commuting from his home in Ramallah.
“I’m not happy about working here,” he says. “But I don’t feel I have a choice.”
He says he has a large family to support. “If I work in Ramallah I get a quarter of what I earn here on the settlements.”
Mr Saadi has little time for the talk from the Palestinian Authority of a ban on Palestinians working in settlements.
“They can’t do that,” he states baldly.
“The PA doesn’t care about its people. If they don’t want us to work in the settlements, they should invest in us instead.”
Cheap labour
A little further down the road Ilia Saditsky, an Israeli construction manager, is poring over blueprints with a Palestinian worker for eighteen new cottages which he plans to start building in the next few months.
All of his builders will be Palestinians from the West Bank, he says.
Mr Saditsky describes them as “hungry for work”.
“Even if they weren’t so cheap, we’d still want to use them because they work so hard.”

Dilemma of Palestinian settlement builders
Were a ban to come into effect Mr Saditsky says he would have no choice but to bring in workers from Jerusalem.
That, in turn, would mean the price of houses would go up.
It is difficult to know precisely how many Palestinians work in the approximately 120 settlements dotted across the West Bank.
One estimate puts it around 30,000.
And those Palestinians are coming up against an increasingly concerted campaign, led by the PA, against the settlements.
On Monday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a law banning settlement produce from Palestinian shops in the West Bank.
Traders who break the law face prison and a heavy fine.
And now senior officials in the PA have told the BBC that, come the end of the year, Palestinians will be breaking the law if they work in the settlements – despite the considerable economic pain this might cause.
Palestinian Economy Minister Hasan Abu-Libdeh is helping to lead the drive.
“The process we are embarked on will clean the Palestinian economy and society from any association with settlements,” he says from his modest office in Ramallah.
He has little sympathy for those who say that they have no choice but to work in the settlements.
“It is a shame to be part of the lifeline of settlement activity,” he says. “No Palestinian should.”

Sarkozy: Netanyahu’s foot dragging on peace process is unacceptable: Haaretz

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz – 28 April 2010
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has told his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres that he is disappointed with Benjamin Netanyahu and finds it hard to understand the prime minister’s diplomatic plan. Sarkozy made his comments at the Elysee Palace two weeks ago.
The latest criticism follows the diplomatic crisis between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama and the subsequent fallout between Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
High-level Israeli officials briefed on the Peres-Sarkozy meeting called it “very difficult.” The officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said Sarkozy began criticizing Netanyahu at the start of the discussion and continued for around 15 minutes.
Sarkozy’s remarks were only slightly more measured than the condemnation he expressed over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last summer. “You must get rid of that man,” Sarkozy told Netanyahu at the time.
Sarkozy met with Obama the week before in Washington; the effect of the encounter was evident in the French leader’s discussion with Peres. Sarkozy expressed frustration at the continuing stagnation of the peace process and assigned much of the responsibility to Netanyahu.
“I’m disappointed with him,” he reportedly told Peres. “With the friendship, sympathy and commitment we have toward Israel, we still can’t accept this foot-dragging. I don’t understand where Netanyahu is going or what he wants.”
After listening to his host’s remarks in full, Peres reportedly replied, “I’m aware that trust between Israel and the Palestinians has been undermined, but Israel has reached out its hand in peace and adopted the two-state principle, and Israel is working to strengthen and develop the Palestinian economy. There is no alternative to returning to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”
The Israeli officials described Sarkozy’s remarks as part of a broader trend among Israel’s European and American allies amid the lack of diplomatic progress in the region.
Amid the tension with the U.S. administration, even Israel’s European allies have begun criticizing the Netanyahu administration. Merkel, widely viewed as one of Israel’s most solid supporters in Europe, recently issued a public condemnation of Netanyahu and Israel’s wider policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
Last month Merkel accused Netanyahu of distorting the nature of a telephone discussion they had had following the uproar over Israel’s authorization of construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
Meanwhile, Italian diplomats have said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s unqualified support for Israel on the Palestinian issue has also begun to wane. “Netanyahu spoke with Berlusconi twice recently by phone, and each time said he would surprise him on the Palestinian issue, but this doesn’t seem to be in the offing,” one of the diplomats said.
In Washington, Obama continued to assert this week that his administration aims to push both parties back to the negotiating table. On Monday, he told a Washington summit of entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries that “So long as I am president, the United States will never waver in pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
In an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times, Roger Cohen quoted U.S. special envoy George Mitchell as saying, “There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue.”
He quoted Mitchell, who is currently visiting Israel, as saying, “I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement.”

Is the Middle East on a peace process to nowhere?: The Guardian

Israeli iconoclast Meron Benvenisti says negotiations for a Palestinian state are an illusion that perpetuates the status quo

A Palestinian demonstration in the West Bank. Meron Benvenisti is convinced that a two-state solution in the Middle East is doomed to fail. Photograph: Oliver Weiken/EPA

Meron Benvenisti has been talking, writing and arguing about the Israel-Palestinian conflict for much of the last 40 years. Now aged 76 he is as forceful, articulate and unconventional as ever – and convinced that President Barack Obama is doomed to fail in his attempt to cajole the two sides to hammer out a solution at the negotiating table.
Benvenisti, the Cassandra of the Israeli left, has long held the view that the occupation that began after the 1967 Middle East war is irreversible and that Israelis and Palestinians need to find an alternative to the elusive two-state solution that has dominated thinking about the conflict in recent years. Controversial and iconoclastic when he first advanced it, his thesis is gaining ground.

“The whole notion of a Palestinian state now, in 2010, is a sham,” he told the Guardian at his Jerusalem home as the US intensified efforts to get the long-stalled peace process moving again. “The entire discourse is wrong. By continuing that discourse you perpetuate the status quo. The struggle for the two-state solution is obsolete.”
George Mitchell, the US envoy charged with launching “proximity talks” between Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – in the absence of direct negotiations – does not agree. Nor do Israelis who believe that without an end to the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state the Jewish majority and democratic character of their own state cannot survive. Abbas and his technocratic prime minister, Salam Fayyad, are working towards independence, though Palestinian opinion seems increasingly sceptical about the prospects.

Benvenisti’s book, Sacred Landscapes, is one of the very best written on the conflict, interweaving the personal and the political. It is also deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians and their attachment to the land. He defines the Zionist enterprise bluntly as a “supplanting settler society” but also warns that using labels is a way of shutting down debate. He is wary of Holocaust-deniers and antisemites who try to recruit his dissident views to serve their anti-Israel goals.
Benvenisti, a political scientist by training, served as deputy mayor of Jerusalem after the 1967 war and was heavily influenced by his academic research on Belfast, another bitterly divided city. In the 1980’s his West Bank Data Project collated and analysed the information that showed how the settlers were becoming fatefully integrated into Israeli society – under both Likud and Labour governments.

Israel’s domination, he says, is now complete, while the Palestinians are fragmented into five enclaves – inside Israel, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the diaspora.
In this situation, the concept of two states is misleading. “What does it mean, a state? It’s a solution for less than one quarter of the Palestinian people on an area that is less than 10% of historic Palestine.” Palestinian leaders who are ready to accept this “are a bunch of traitors to their own cause”. Ramallah, prosperous headquarters of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and the recipient of millions of dollars in foreign aid, is a “bubble in which those who steal the money can enjoy themselves”.

Benvenisti’s territorial assumptions are not based on the 2000 “Clinton parameters” which Yasser Arafat turned down, nor proposals submitted by Ehud Olmert to Abbas – which talk of Israel withdrawing from some 97% of the West Bank with compensating land swaps – but a far smaller area hemmed in by Jewish settlements, settler-only roads and military zones.

“For the last 20 years I have questioned the feasibility of the partition of Palestine and now I am absolutely sure it is impossible,” he says. “Or, it is possible if it is imposed on the Palestinians but that will mean the legitimisation of the status quo, of Bantustans, of a system of political and economic inequality which is hailed as a solution by the entire world – unlike in South Africa.
“The entire paradigm is wrong. We are doing this because it is self-serving. It is convenient for us to stick to the old slogan of two states as if nothing has happened since we began advocating it in the 1980s.”

Taken the salience of the settlement issue in the peace process – rows over Netanyahu’s temporary freeze in the West Bank and new building in East Jerusalem triggered the recent crisis in US-Israel relations – it is startling to find that Benvenisti is so dismissive of it.
“Israel’s domination of the West Bank does not rely on the numbers of settlers or settlements,” he argues. “The settlements are totally integrated into Israeli society. They’ve taken all the land they could. The rest is controlled by the Israeli army.”

Benvenisti relishes overturning conventional wisdom. “The Israeli left would like to make us believe that the green line (the pre-1967 border) is something solid; that everything that is on this side is good and that everything bad began with the occupation in 1967. It is a false dichotomy. The green line is like a one-way mirror. It’s only for the Palestinians, not for Israelis.”

He avoids speculating about future scenarios and makes do with the concept “bi-nationalism” – “not as a political or ideological programme so much as a de facto reality masquerading as a temporary state of affairs … a description of the current condition, not a prescription.” And he sees signs that the Palestinians are beginning to adjust to the “total victory of the Jews” and use the power of the weak: demanding votes and human rights may prove more effective than violence, he suggests.

“The peace process,” Benvenisti concludes, “is more than a waste of time. It is an illusion and it perpetuates an illusion. You can engage in a peace process and have negotiations and conferences – which have no connection whatsoever to reality on the ground.”

No fines for Palestinian settlement workers: Y Net

Palestinian Authority grants grace period to workers who violate ban on working in Israeli settlements to allow them to search for employment elsewhere

Palestinians who violate a ban by their government on working in Israeli settlements will be given time to find other employment before facing punishment, a senior official said Wednesday, reflecting how hard it will be to enforce the measure in the job-strapped West Bank.
The law, which also prohibits the sale of Israeli settlement products in the West Bank, was signed this week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Violators face up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Other Side of the Fence

Palestinians view the more than 120 settlements that Israel has built across the West Bank as a key obstacle to setting up their own state. Supporters of the tough new legislation say it is the least Palestinians can do to stop helping settlements flourish.
Palestinian security forces have confiscated about $5.3 million worth of settlement goods since the Palestinian government announced a crackdown several months ago, Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said.
However, enforcing a ban on work in Jewish settlements could prove more difficult.
About 21,000 Palestinians work in the settlements. Despite a modest economic recovery, nearly a quarter of the West Bank’s labor force remains unemployed.
Abu Libdeh said the workers would not face immediate punishment. “We will give (them) a grace period, and then we will implement (the law),” he said. He would not say how much of a grace period is being offered.
Israeli officials denounced the law.

‘Damages chances for peace’
“While Israel is making great efforts to promote and improve the Palestinian economy, this order damages the chances of both economic and political peace,” said Silvan Shalom, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promoted the idea of “economic peace,” including closer economic cooperation with the Palestinians. He has done more than his predecessors to ease restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, but Palestinians have dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as a poor substitute for real independence.
The Palestinians also took aim at four Israeli cell phone companies they said are operating illegally in the West Bank, without licenses or paying taxes to the Palestinian Authority.
Authorities are confiscating prepaid phone cards of these companies, Palestinian Communications Minister Mashour Abu Daka said.
Israel’s communications ministry gave no details on market penetration but said Israeli mobile operators are permitted in the West Bank under previous agreements.

Hard hand against Hamas
Palestinian authorities are also cracking down on their Hamas rivals. In the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian police arrested a local businessman suspected of trying to smuggle $2.7 million worth of Viagra pills and other sex-boosting drugs hidden in tennis balls. Some of the drugs were destroyed publicly.

West Bank police spokesman Adnan Damiri said the businessman faces charges of tax evasion, selling unlicensed drugs and laundering money for Hamas.
Damiri said Hamas has been using West Bank importers in a money-laundering scheme by paying for their merchandise, usually from China. The Palestinian security forces have been cracking down on Hamas activities in the West Bank since 2007, when the Islamic militants seized the Gaza Strip in a violent takeover.
In Gaza, meanwhile, medical officials said a 20-year-old Palestinian died at a hospital after being shot by Israeli soldiers during a protest near a border crossing with Israel.
The Israeli military said Palestinians were rioting violently and threatening to damage the security fence at the border. The military said troops fired warning shots to disperse the rioters and was investigating reports of a casualty.

Palestinian militants often use the area to carry out attacks against Israel.

Big Think: The impending Israel-Palestine disaster: The Independent

Tuesday, 27 April 2010
The more unwilling Binyamin Netanyahu is to take a historic leap, the more dangerous it’s going to get, says David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker.
(For more on world politics and The New Yorker, see David Remnick’s full Big Think interview .)

Egypt sentences ‘Hezbollah cell’: BBC

Hezbollah had confirmed one of the men was a member of the group
An Egyptian court has convicted 26 men of planning terrorist attacks on ships and tourist sites.
The 22 men given prison sentences – some with hard labour – were accused of working for the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah.
Sami Shihab, a Lebanese citizen who Hezbollah had confirmed was a member, was given a life sentence.
The sentences were issued by the State Security Court in Cairo and cannot be appealed, reports say.
Another four men, who are still on the run, were convicted in absentia.
The sentences on the other defendants ranged from six months to 25 years.
Last year Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah confirmed Shihab was a member of the group and in Egypt to help its Palestinian allies Hamas get weapons across the border into the Gaza Strip.
But Egypt said it was holding the group on suspicion of planning attacks.
Prosecutors said Hezbollah had told the men to collect intelligence from villages along the Egypt-Gaza border, tourist sites and the Suez Canal.
The group had received equipment from Hezbollah, and had also been tasked with spreading Shia ideology in the predominantly Sunni country, the Egyptian government said.
At the start of the trial it was reported that at least one of the accused said he had been tortured while in Egyptian custody.
Hezbollah has said the charges are politically motivated and in revenge for the movement’s stance on Egypt’s support for the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Hezbollah supports Hamas – the Islamic movement which controls the coastal enclave – and has strongly criticised Egypt for not opening its border with Gaza to relieve the Israeli-imposed blockade on the territory.

Who Rules Israel?: NY Times

Published: April 22, 2010
TEL AVIV — The Obama administration’s problems with Israel go beyond the construction of another few hundred housing units in East Jerusalem. More ominously, the ruling coalition in Israel reflects a reshaping of Israeli society that has fortified right-wing designs on the West Bank and strengthened resistance to a peace agreement.

To be sure, this is not the first time Israel is dealing with a right-religious-settler-Russian coalition pushing a reactionary agenda. The difference is that this political alignment could be dominant in Israel for some time to come.

The political left has virtually disappeared, discredited by failed peace gambits. At the same time, the conservative, ultra-orthodox sector is growing rapidly in numbers. So is the Israeli Arab population, which, in the shadow of a failed peace process, is becoming increasingly hostile to the idea of being a minority in a Jewish state — thereby stiffening the reaction of the Jewish majority.

Moreover, the stakes are higher than in the past. The Israeli right perceives an international onslaught against its bastions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has resolved never to permit a repeat of the withdrawal from Gaza. Hence it is attacking its critics and beefing up its grip on the instruments of power. And this reaction further amplifies Israel’s international isolation, creating a vicious circle.

The most blatant aspect of this right-wing campaign is its focus on the Israeli civil-society groups that monitor government actions and decisions. A bill that has already passed a preliminary vote in the Parliament would require all Israeli NGOs that receive support from foreign governments to publicly declare themselves “foreign agents” if they seek to “influence public opinion or … any governmental authority regarding … domestic or foreign policy.”

That means everyone from critics of the occupation to women’s rights advocates could be deemed “foreign agents” if they accept American or European financial support. This could seriously deter domestic criticism of Israeli settlement and occupation policies.

The rightward shift of Israeli society is changing the shape of fundamental state institutions. The combat ranks of the Israel Defense Forces are now so heavily manned by religious settlers and their supporters — close to a third of infantry officers, by some reckoning — that it is possible the IDF can no longer be counted on to forcibly evict masses of settlers. The army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, has asked that the government avoid turning to the army for such tasks.

On the legal front, the government has failed to enforce High Court orders to dismantle some sections of the West Bank security fence deemed illegal or to remove unauthorized settlement outposts and structures in Arab East Jerusalem and provide equal schooling opportunities for Jerusalem Arab children. High Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch recently felt compelled to remind the government that court rulings are “not recommendations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition almost seems programmed to provoke. The Internal Security and Foreign Affairs portfolios are in the hands of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home), the Russian immigrant-based party whose leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is known for his Arab bashing and is himself under investigation for corruption. Housing is in the hands of Shas, a party based in the low-income Sephardic Orthodox community — hence the housing construction in places like Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem, where land is cheap.

Of course Israel does have real enemies. Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah present growing existential threats to the Israeli public. But the right wing’s hard-line stance leads the government to ignore genuine opportunities for progress toward peace, such as the successful state-building enterprise of the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in the West Bank, or Syria’s repeated offers to renew a peace process that could, if successful, strike a blow against Iran and its proxies.

In this context, Israel’s occasional security successes, as in Gaza last year, perversely strengthen the growing international campaign to delegitimize it.

The Netanyahu government complains loudly about Palestinian incitement against Jews (which is, in fact, decreasing) while its policies encourage or ignore growing anti-Arab incitement in Israel.

If 80 percent of the students in Israeli religious high schools want to disenfranchise the Arab citizens of Israel (one-fifth of the population), as a recent survey found, their schools must be teaching them something very wrong. If the spiritual head of the Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, can tell his huge flock, as he did late last year, that the Muslims’ religion “is as ugly as them,” and provoke little but embarrassed smiles, it is because Shas is a member of the governing coalition. Yet if an NGO I belong to objects to such statements, I might soon be legally labeled a foreign agent.

One redeeming truth remains: Israelis know they need not only American support for their security, but also American endorsement of the Jewish and democratic society they aspire to. A vital U.S. and international interest in regional stability is involved here.

Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, is co-editor of bitterlemons.org.

Israel: Abbas Signals Readiness for Indirect Peace Talks: NY Times

Published: April 26, 2010
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, signaled Monday that he was ready to start indirect peace talks with Israel. Mr. Abbas, left, told Israeli television that he would present the American proposal for talks to the Arab League this week, and “we hope that the reply will be positive.” The talks were derailed last month after Israel announced a new housing development in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital. Jerusalem officials have said the government has effectively frozen new Jewish construction in East Jerusalem.

Scudding into the whirlwind: Al Ahram

Are Israel’s claims that Syria is giving bigger guns to Hizbullah just an excuse for its next invasion of Lebanon, asks Bassel Oudat from Damascus
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Scud-D missiles with a range of more than 650km crossed the Syrian-Lebanese border and reached the hands of Hizbullah fighters. Consequently, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona are now within Hizbullah’s striking range. Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Israel’s Yediot Aharonot related that intelligence reports confirm that Syria is also training Hizbullah agents on using these missiles.

A few days later, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed Washington’s concern about the reports, and warned of “severe” repercussions against Lebanon and “changing the balance of power”.

Within days, Commander of US Centcom General David Petreaus joined the chorus, saying that Iran is supplying Hizbullah and Hamas with “bigger and bigger” missiles, in reference to Scuds. Meanwhile, Israeli circles issued a covert threat to Syria, delivered via Israel’s representative to the UN, who officially accused Damascus of transporting missiles to Hizbullah. At the same time, Israeli President Shimon Peres warned of Syria’s “double talk. The Syrians talk about peace, but at the same time encourage Hizbullah”.

Meanwhile, Europe did not remain silent. Deputy spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry Christine Fages stated that if the information revealed by US and Israeli officials is confirmed, “it would be of great concern.” Fages called for “complete adherence to Security Council Resolution 1701″, regarding banning weapons in Lebanon if they are not sanctioned by the Lebanese government or the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

The Syrian embassy in Washington denied the accusations, saying that it is an attempt by Israel to divert international attention from its settlement building, occupation of Arab lands, alleged nuclear arsenal and continued arming with US weapons.

While it is uncommon for Syria to respond to every hostile claim by Israel and the US, it appears that the Syrian leadership sensed a real danger behind these latest accusations. The Syrian Foreign Ministry “strongly” denied Israel’s claims, asserting that they “aim to increase tensions in the region and pave the way for possible Israeli aggression, as well as evade the requirements for a just and comprehensive peace.” Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallim said in Tehran this week. “The controversy instigated by Israel paves the way for an Israeli aggression.”

This public reaction confirms that Syria senses that the accusations are a run-up to an attack. Israeli newspapers reported that the Israeli Air Force had prepared a plan to prevent Syria from sending missiles to Hizbullah, but decided not to implement it. This confirms that there is a plan of attack against Syria and Lebanon, targeting military bases and infrastructure in Syria, and possibly Hizbullah military bases in Lebanon. Fear of the potential reaction of the US administration could be the reason why the plans were shelved.

Some political analysts asserted that the news is nothing new or surprising, and that US-Israeli objections came 20 years too late. Otherwise, how is it that Hizbullah possesses an arsenal of more than 40,000 missiles of various sizes and ranges. Some 4,000 such missiles were launched at Israel during the war in July, 2006. The only new factor is the game-changing size of the missiles because their range can reach every city in Israel.

Last September, through special ops, Israel was able to detain a vessel in the Mediterranean which it claimed was carrying weapons from Iran to Syria on their way to Hizbullah. It broadcast photographs of missiles and weapons on the ship. Syria denied its involvement in the shipment and claimed it was fabricated.

Damascus says it is not easy to hide long- range missiles which measure 10m in length and 1m in diameter and are transported on huge trucks. They compare US and Israeli warnings to others issues over the years, which were followed by invasions of Lebanon’s airspace, declarations of mobilisation and then revelations of Israel’s attack plans.

The Syrians and Israelis know that Scud missiles cannot tip the strategic balance in the region against Tel Aviv, because they cannot harm most Israeli cities. At the same time, neither Syria nor Lebanon is capable of withstanding Israel’s attacks if war broke out. Sending Scuds to Hizbullah will not “threaten the balance of power in the Middle East”, according to the Americans; and blocking them will not improve “peace and stability” assert the Israelis. With or without these missiles, stability in the region will remain fragile.

US-Israeli accusations come at a time when the US Congress is considering the appointment of the new US ambassador to Damascus, and as the dialogue between Syria and the US continues. They also coincide with improving relations between Syria and Lebanon, and as Washington looks into international sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear portfolio.

The Syrians have not gone to battle with Israel since 1973, and during the 37 years since, Syria’s alliances have shifted. Iran has become its number one strategic ally instead of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Syria’s special relationships with Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine represent a significant addition to this alliance. This alliance represents a threat to Israel, especially that a nuclear programme has been thrown into the equation with the capability of producing nuclear warheads in two to three years, according to US estimates. This implies that a unilateral or multilateral war by Israel against Syria, Lebanon or the Gaza Strip could be a way to try to break up this alliance.

One month ago, Syria’s Al-Muallim stated that any Israeli aggression will ignite a war, indicating that Israeli cities will be within striking distance if his country is attacked. The foreign minister was implying that Syria is working on changing the balance of power after losing faith in US and European promises, and the failure of Arab proposals.

Nonetheless, Damascus realises that arriving at a new balance of power is risky, since Israel’s missile attacks against Syria and Lebanon would be far more destructive and painful than damage done by a few Scud missiles aimed at Tel Aviv. But it also believes that the new military reality could cause Israel to rethink the situation if it wishes to attack Syria and Lebanon.

Since the US and Israel ignore the peace process, Syria may be compelled to arm Hizbullah with Scuds and other weapons as a message to both Washington and Tel Aviv. It appears that Damascus is not worried by the Americans or Israeli threats this time, even though it knows it is playing a risky hand and that transporting missiles and arms to Hizbullah is a red line which should not be approached.

Israeli troops kill Gaza protester: Al Jazeera online

Israeli soldiers opened fire as protesters gathered close to the border with Israel [Reuters]
Israeli soldiers have shot and killed a 19-year-old Palestinian during a protest against a buffer zone being built between the eastern Gaza Strip and Israel, Gaza medical officials have said.

Moaweya Hassanein, was shot in the abdomen, the head of Gaza’s emergency services, told reporters.
He was evacuated to hospital in critical condition, where he later died of his wounds.
An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, released video footage shot by one of its Palestinian field workers, which showed a relative peaceful crowd of several dozen demonstrators being taken by surprise by a gunshot apparently fired by an Israeli soldier on the other side of the nearby security fence on the Gaza-Israel border.
The Palestinian teenager who was shot is then seen being carried away on a stretcher.
No armed protesters could immediately be noticed in the unsteady video footage.

‘War zone’
An Israeli military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said the Israeli army was investigating the incident.
She called that the protest had been violent, saying the protesters hurled rocks at the soldiers guarding the border fence and “lit fires that potentially could have damaged and reached the security fence”.
“An IDF [Israeli army] force operated in order to drive the group away from the security fence, including firing warning shots,” she told the German Press-Agency DPA.

The buffer area, she argued, is considered a “war zone” used by armed groups to carry out attacks against Israel.
Palestinians say the aim of the peaceful protests is to prevent the establishment of the zone which they say is resulting in large areas of farmland being confiscated and farmers being prevented from reaching their fields.
Gaza has seen relative calm since the end of Israel’s devastating three-week offensive on the Strip in the winter of 2008-2009 that left at least 1,400 Palestinians killed.
Since the Gaza war, both Israel and Hamas have largely observed an unwritten truce, but in recent weeks fatal incidents in the area have increased, sparking some fears among observers that they may build up to a new cycle of violence.

Toxic tunnels
Meanwhile, at least four Palestinians died and five others were suffering from inhalation injuries in a smuggling tunnel beneath the border between the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah and Egypt, medical sources said on Wednesday.
The sources said that nine Palestinians working in one of the tunnels were affected after inhaling a toxic substance. Four died from suffocation and five were in critical condition.

Rescue teams and ambulances were called to the scene and evacuated the victims, witnesses said.
They claimed that Egyptian security forces present at the borderline area with the Gaza Strip had spread a toxic material into the tunnels in a bid to prevent smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.
Israel has imposed a tight blockade on Gaza and closed down all the commercial crossing points after Hamas movement seized control of the Strip in June 2007.

Gideon Levy: Israel’s tyranny of the majority is dangerous: IOA

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz – 29 April 2010
The only democracy in the Middle East is perhaps unique, but it’s doubtful if it’s the real thing. Results of a poll published in Haaretz yesterday reflect what has been known for a long time: a combination of ignorance, a basic lack of understanding and a fascist mood. An ill and dangerous wind is blowing toward a government that is threatened with collapse.
According to the poll, which was conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, there is a clear, solid anti-democratic majority. It’s a majority that wants to punish people who expose wrongdoing by the military, and it’s not willing to allow human rights groups to operate freely. It’s a majority in favor of punishing those who call for a boycott on Israel, and it wants heavy sanctions against journalists who reveal information about immoral acts committed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Punishing and punishing, and delighting in the silencing of the critics – that’s what the people want. That’s their opinion. Of all the real and manufactured dangers lurking against Israel, this is the greatest, most real and most immediate.
Take accountant Haim Yoavi-Rabinovich in the Anat Kamm case. He called for the arrest and trial of Haaretz’s publisher, Amos Schocken, for blackmail and treason, no less. “Kamm is not a spy, she’s a traitor,” Rabinovich wrote, calling for Kamm to be punished accordingly, too. It can be assumed that in the view of people like him, an execution in a public square would not be an excessive punishment.
Rabinovich is not alone. His ideas are all over the Internet and have attracted plenty of support. But he’s not the problem. The likes of him exist in every proper, civilized society. The problem is that in the Israel of 2010 almost no system remains to halt this dark and ignorant Rabinovichism and defend freedom of expression, which 98 percent of the respondents in the survey, believe it or not, said is important to them.
How Israeli it is to be (theoretically) in favor of freedom of expression yet in practice be so much opposed. You don’t need a poll. Most Israelis believe that democracy (only) means elections every few years, because it’s enough for a narrow majority of MKs to raise their hands in the Knesset in favor of every kind of crime and injustice to make it all right. Security is used as a cover for everything. There is a connection between the politicians’ flattery campaigns in the primaries and democracy; that anyone who dares criticize, expose wrongdoing, step out of line or voice a different opinion is destined to the same fate; that the majority can do whatever it wants and the minority must be powerless.
Most Israelis are fed up with any system of government supervision, which is the true test of the nature of government. To hell with the remnants of real journalism in Israel, and to hell with the Supreme Court, which doesn’t necessarily always do its job. And enough already with those treacherous human rights organizations. Let’s have an Israel without a High Court of Justice and without human rights groups like B’Tselem.
Such an Israel is ready to move forward in the face of any threat. Israel is ready for a monster. Nothing will stop it. Every kind of violent and dangerous leader and every war crime will be welcomed here, welcomed by the stupid and ignorant.
Our immune systems have long weakened. The press will be silent, and the Supreme Court will forgive. Meanwhile, protest slumbers and civil society, a concept on the rise in world politics, doesn’t exist. Go explain to the Israel of 2010 that the media’s role is to expose wrongdoing, the non-governmental organizations’ role is to warn us, and the Supreme Court’s role is to be a gatekeeper. Instead, all of them are to be punished. Go explain that the tyranny of the majority is no less dangerous than control by the minority. Go explain that democracy means unlimited, free criticism.
All this is gone and forgotten. We have no one to instill these values. We have survived Pharaoh, and we will survive Iran, but not this problem. It filters down from within, threatening to bring everything down on the people. The current public atmosphere is the classic breeding ground, as if it were taken from the history books for cultivating savage regimes. There is no need for a military coup in Israel. The defense establishment has excessive control over most aspects of life. There is no need for a dictator, either. The tyranny of the majority is dangerous enough.
“Mr. Schocken, editor of Haaretz,” as Rabinovich ignorantly called him, will not be put on trial for now. And Anat Kamm will not be executed. But democratic government in Israel has already been put on trial, and the punishment is being delivered right in front of our eyes.

Noam Chomsky: A Middle East Peace That Could Happen (But Won’t): IOA

By Noam Chomsky, TomDispatch – 27 April 2010
The following is an excerpt adapted — with a new beginning by the author — from Noam Chomsky’s latest work, Hopes and Prospects, which can be pre-ordered today.
In Washington-Speak, “Palestinian State” Means “Fried Chicken”
The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might appear to be rather strange.  For many of the world’s conflicts, it is difficult even to conjure up a feasible settlement.  In this case, it is not only possible, but there is near universal agreement on its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders — with “minor and mutual modifications,” to adopt official U.S. terminology before Washington departed from the international community in the mid-1970s.
The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the entire world, including the Arab states (who go on to call for full normalization of relations), the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran), and relevant non-state actors (including Hamas).  A settlement along these lines was first proposed at the U.N. Security Council in January 1976 by the major Arab states.  Israel refused to attend the session.  The U.S. vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980.  The record at the General Assembly since is similar.
There was one important and revealing break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism.  After the failed Camp David agreements in 2000, President Clinton recognized that the terms he and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any Palestinians.  That December, he proposed his “parameters”: imprecise, but more forthcoming.  He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while expressing reservations.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were making considerable progress.  In their final press conference, they reported that, with a little more time, they could probably have reached full agreement.  Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and official progress then terminated, though informal discussions at a high level continued leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored by the U.S.
A good deal has happened since, but a settlement along those lines is still not out of reach — if, of course, Washington is once again willing to accept it.  Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.
Substantial mythology has been created about the entire record, but the basic facts are clear enough and quite well documented.
The U.S. and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the occupation.  In 2005, recognizing that it was pointless to subsidize a few thousand Israeli settlers in Gaza, who were appropriating substantial resources and protected by a large part of the Israeli army, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to move them to the much more valuable West Bank and Golan Heights.
Instead of carrying out the operation straightforwardly, as would have been easy enough, the government decided to stage a “national trauma,” which virtually duplicated the farce accompanying the withdrawal from the Sinai desert after the Camp David agreements of 1978-79.  In each case, the withdrawal permitted the cry of “Never Again,” which meant in practice: we cannot abandon an inch of the Palestinian territories that we want to take in violation of international law.  This farce played very well in the West, though it was ridiculed by more astute Israeli commentators, among them that country’s prominent sociologist the late Baruch Kimmerling.
After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel never actually relinquished its total control over the territory, often described realistically as “the world’s largest prison.”  In January 2006, a few months after the withdrawal, Palestine had an election that was recognized as free and fair by international observers.  Palestinians, however, voted “the wrong way,” electing Hamas.  Instantly, the U.S. and Israel intensified their assault against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed.  The facts and the reasoning were not concealed; rather, they were openly published alongside reverential commentary on Washington’s sincere dedication to democracy.  The U.S.-backed Israeli assault against the Gazans has only been intensified since, thanks to violence and economic strangulation, increasingly savage.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, always with firm U.S. backing, Israel has been carrying forward longstanding programs to take the valuable land and resources of the Palestinians and leave them in unviable cantons, mostly out of sight.  Israeli commentators frankly refer to these goals as “neocolonial.” Ariel Sharon, the main architect of the settlement programs, called these cantons “Bantustans,” though the term is misleading: South Africa needed the majority black work force, while Israel would be happy if the Palestinians disappeared, and its policies are directed to that end.
Blockading Gaza by Land and Sea
One step towards cantonization and the undermining of hopes for Palestinian national survival is the separation of Gaza from the West Bank.  These hopes have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on Gaza, writes that
“the restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open territory of a single country — to be sure, one that was occupied, but was nevertheless whole.… The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel’s military superiority.…
“Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and freedom of movement.”
The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar Sara Roy, adds:
“Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers.… Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation — now largely forgotten or denied by the international community — has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006…. After Israel’s December [2008] assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.
“In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.… Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a March [22, 2009] decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006.”
It cannot be too often stressed that Israel had no credible pretext for its 2008–9 attack on Gaza, with full U.S. support and illegally using U.S. weapons. Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel’s flat rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its U.S. partner in crime knew very well. That aside, Israel’s siege of Gaza is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on its access to the outside world, though nothing remotely like what it has long imposed on Gaza.
One crucial element of Israel’s criminal siege, little reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that, “on its coastal littoral, Gaza’s limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships.” According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza’s territorial waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions, Gaza’s fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore because of the contamination caused by Israel’s regular attacks, including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.
These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the BG (British Gas) Group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas. The standard industry source reports:
“Israel’s finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. (IEC) approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.
“Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the field by the IEC…. Recently the Israeli government changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by private power producers.”
The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Gaza is surely known to U.S. authorities. It is only reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate these limited resources, either by Israel alone or together with the collaborationist Palestinian Authority, is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from entering Gaza’s territorial waters.
There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in “the Indonesian Province of East Timor.” The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, “is the only legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognises Indonesia’s right to rule East Timor,” the Australian press reported.
Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian conquest and to rob the sole resource of the conquered territory, which had been subjected to near-genocidal slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong support of Australia (along with the U.S., the U.K., and some others), Evans explained that “there is no binding legal obligation not to recognise the acquisition of territory that was acquired by force,” adding that “the world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force.”
It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow suit in Gaza.
A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce the concept “responsibility to protect” — known as R2P — into international law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P.
In an article devoted to this “idealistic effort to establish a new humanitarian principle,” the London Economist featured Evans and his “bold but passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the ‘responsibility to protect.’” The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption “Evans: a lifelong passion to protect.” His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to run a different photo that circulates in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty that they had just signed.
Though a “protected population” under international law, Gazans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the “responsibility to protect,” joining other unfortunates, in accord with the maxim of Thucydides – that the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must — which holds with its customary precision.
To read the rest of this long article, please use the link above

Gabriel Sheffer: Are they all really anti-Semites?: Haaretz

By Gabriel Sheffer,Haaretz – 28 April 2010
Most Israelis are not fond of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan or other foreign figures who criticize Israel. However, it is well worth listening carefully to some of the things they are saying. One of Erdogan’s criticisms, for example, is that Israel cannot shake off responsibility for the continuation of the conflict and Iran’s plans to develop nuclear weapons.
There is truth in this criticism, insofar as it concerns the positions of Israel’s governments and most of its people. Israel looks at itself in a one-way mirror. It tends to attribute all its troubles to the other side and protest that its hands are clean. This tendency became much more marked after the Holocaust, declined somewhat after the establishment of the state and has gained pace since the 1970s. It has strengthened considerably in recent years, especially under rightist governments.
On the international plane, this one-sided approach is evident in the attitude toward the United Nations and international organizations in general. The origin of this approach goes back to David Ben-Gurion’s time. In fact, the tendency to accuse the UN and other international organizations of anti-Israeli positions has not changed at all since then – as witnessed by the reaction to the Goldstone report, which has been described as a clearly anti-Semitic document.
The one-sided Israeli approach that accuses personages, political parties and non-Jewish organizations of anti-Semitism when they criticize Israel ignores Israel’s contribution to these manifestations. Immoral behavior by Israel and Israelis – for example, conducting relations with and selling arms to “leper states” in South America, Africa and South Asia – is directly related to the criticism.
The Israeli one-sidedness is also seen in the crude accusations by Israelis and Diaspora Jews about U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration. They are accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli and preferring Muslims and Arabs. But Obama and his administration, in which there are many Jewish appointees, are very far from those positions. And if criticism of Israel is expressed, this comes in reaction to Israeli moves and derelictions.
With respect to the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict, Israel has contributed and is contributing to the inability to reach a solution; it is also contributing to the inability to manage the conflict reasonably and fairly. The gap between Israeli politicians’ statements and deeds is large, and contributes a great deal to the continuation and exacerbation of the conflict, parallel to the other side’s contribution. Note, for example, the decision to approve military orders enabling the deportation of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank.
These things also apply to Israel’s position concerning Iran’s aspiration – and perhaps also Syria’s – to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran’s development of nuclear weapons is in part a response to the nuclear capability that foreign media reports attribute to Israel. It’s clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands this, so he did not attend the nuclear conference that Obama convened.
These are just some of Israel’s major contributions to the criticism of it. If the government really intends to change Israel’s attitude in a fundamental way – and this is very doubtful – it must cast off its blinkers. This is because every conflict and clash is two-sided, and because Israel – as well as the other side – has significantly contributed to the processes taking place around it.
The writer is a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Matthew Taylor: Gaza War Crimes – When Will UC Stop Funding?: IOA

By Matthew Taylor,  BeyondChron.org – 27 April 2010
When will the University of California stop funding war crimes against Palestinian civilians and the occupation of Palestinian land? How much longer will grieving mothers have to wait for justice?
Zinad Samouni is still waiting. She is a 35-year-old Palestinian mother of eight who lost 48 of her family members in Israel’s assault on Gaza in January 2009, including her four-year-old son Ahmed. “The soldiers came early on the morning of Sunday January 4th. [My husband] Atiyeh went to the door with his hands raised holding his ID but they shot him in the doorway,” said Zinad. “I shouted ‘children, children’ in Hebrew but they started shooting,” said Zinad’s nephew Faraj.
After the massacre, Israeli soldiers left messages for the dead Samounis on the walls of a neighbor’s house. The graffiti read: “Arabs need 2 die,” “Arabs are pieces of shit,” and “1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO.”
Israel’s attack on civilians was a “deliberate policy” designed to inflict “humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population,” according to a United Nations report.
On April 28th, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) — UC Berkeley’s Student Senate — will cast a final vote on a divestment bill that targets Israel’s war crimes and occupation. Fourteen votes out of 20 are needed to override the student president’s veto of the bill. Last time, 13 voted yes.
Five Nobel peace laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have endorsed the bill.
The student senators who did not vote yes the last time the divestment bill came up for review expressed uncertainty about whether Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.
Why is it that every independent organization that has investigated has asserted that Israel committed war crimes? Is it credible to believe that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations are all lying? Why did numerous Rabbis endorse the Goldstone Report’s findings?
Israel’s defenders on campus want to kill the bill because they can’t stand legitimate criticism of Israel. The Israel lobbying group AIPAC and its allies have instructed students to create dramatic displays of emotion and claim to feel marginalized. AIPAC has announced plans to “take over [UC Berkeley’s] student government” to ensure that it never criticizes Israel for any reason.
What is the Student Senate’s responsibility: to protect the human lives that are stolen by UC-funded war crimes, or to insulate Israel’s defenders from the uncomfortable feelings that arise when the truth is told?
Why did the Israeli Prime Minister’s sister-in-law, Ofra Ben-Artzi, join numerous prominent Jews and Israelis in endorsing the divestment bill? Is it credible to believe she would have done so if the bill somehow undermined Israeli identity or criticized Israel unfairly?
Some of the student senators who didn’t vote yes have expressed that if today were 1960, they would support a divestment bill related to Jim Crow segregation, because it was clearly a situation of oppression.
How many more Palestinian civilians must die at the hands of UC-funded bombs before student senators see this oppression? Or will senators forever sit on their hands because of the tears and emotional outbursts of the defenders of Israel, who cry about their supposed feelings of marginalization even as the UC-backed Israeli military deals out death and destruction to school children?
The divestment bill only targets corporations with clear ties to Israel’s war crimes and illegal occupation, such as United Technologies and General Electric. It does not call for divestment from Israel, as Israel’s defenders have falsely claimed (including the supposedly liberal, but apparently dishonest, J Street).
It sensibly does not take any stance on the final status issues in the Israel/Palestine conflict, such as negotiations over borders. The only thing it does is to send a message to the UC Board of Regents, an undemocratic and unelected oligarchy, to stop funding illegal activities that harm Palestinian civilians.
This bill would also establish a committee to investigate other possible examples of UC-funded war crimes. Many of the UC Regents have personally profited from the military-industrial complex. It’s doubtful they’ll listen to students – they rarely do – but it is our moral obligation to speak out.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas also committed war crimes, albeit on a smaller scale than Israel’s. Fortunately, U.S. law prohibits investments that support Hamas. Thus it is unnecessary to include Hamas in the divestment call.
Israel’s defenders point out that the divestment bill does not mention any other human rights violations. But no one said that Berkeley’s South Africa Apartheid divestment bill must include Colombia’s human rights violations, for example. Each human rights violation is unique, and those who want to target other violations should write and promote such a bill. They will need to establish how University funding contributes to those violations, which requires months of careful research.
Senators, how do you think it feels for us students to know that our tuition dollars are paying to kill our friends, family members, and colleagues in Gaza? Israel should not be entitled to special treatment and a free pass to commit war crimes just because it promotes itself as a Jewish state and certain defenders of Israel can’t bring themselves to see the reality of war crimes.
A vote in favor of the divestment bill is a small cry for common sense and ethics in UC investments, and removes the current UC bias toward funding Israel’s military. Any other vote will continue the status quo of this University funding yet more war crimes against Palestinian civilians. A yes vote will finally begin the process of justice for Zinad Samouni’s 48 dead family members.
BREAKING NEWS – UC San Diego students have introduced a similar bill aimed at removing UC’s bias toward funding Israel’s military actions, also to be considered for approval on April 28th.

Matthew A. Taylor is a Jewish UC Berkeley Peace and Conflict Studies student on leave. He is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, and author of a published paper entitled The Road to Nonviolent Coexistence in Israel/Palestine.

Permalink Print