May 27, 2010

Britain vows to change policy allowing U.K. to arrest Israeli politicians: Haaretz

British Foreign Secretary William Hague says it is unacceptable for Israeli politicians to feel like they can’t visit for fear of being arrested.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday that the new U.K. government is already looking into the issue of universal jurisdiction, describing the current situation as “unsatisfactory” and “indefensible”.

Judges in Britain can issue arrest warrants for war crimes suspects around the world under the Geneva Convention Act 1957, without any requirement to consult public prosecutors.
Speaking to reporters early Thursday, the Foreign Secretary said that “we cannot have a position where Israeli politicians feel they cannot visit this country and indeed not just Israel, but this could apply to many other nations as well. So this has to be put right. And that is well understood and agreed in the coalition government.”
A London court last year issued a warrant for the arrest of opposition leader Tzipi Livni over her role in Israel’s war in Gaza, launched at the end of 2008 when Livni was the foreign minister.

Livni reportedly cancelled a trip to the U.K. in December for fear of being arrested after the warrant was filed against her following an application by Palestinian activists.

Hague said he hopes “we’ll make a decision about this fairly soon. I can’t say exactly when but you can be assured that we’re working on it. We find it completely unacceptable that someone such as Mrs. Livni feels she cannot visit the United Kingdom. This is a country that wants to play a strong role in the Middle East peace process as we have just been discussing and for that Israeli leaders and others have to be able to visit the United Kingdom.”

Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary said: “We will take every opportunity to help promote peace and we will now examine how to deal with the totally unsatisfactory situation that has had the effect of barring Israeli politicians, among others, from visiting the U.K. without weakening our commitment to hold accountable those guilty of war crimes.”

A question of time: Haaretz

By Ari Shavit
The siren that sounded across the country yesterday did not signal a genuine emergency. No rockets fell in the center of the country, and no skyscrapers collapsed in central Tel Aviv. The Kirya defense compound wasn’t damaged, and Israel Air Force bases weren’t paralyzed. The army’s emergency storehouses weren’t torched, and no power plant was wiped out. Underground parking garages were not swamped with masses of people seeking shelter. The roads were not blocked by hundreds of thousands of urbanites pouring out of the cities. And Ben-Gurion International Airport was not overrun by frightened Israelis fleeing their country.
But let’s not delude ourselves: The national security situation is not good. Thanks to the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Israel now faces a strategic threat from the north. Due to the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel faces the threat of rocket fire from the south as well. The Olmert war in Lebanon a year later strengthened Hezbollah to an unprecedented extent, and the Olmert war in Gaza in 2008-09 led to a dangerous erosion of Israel’s legitimacy.

As a result of these four lamentable events, as well as the development of rockets and missiles, the Israel of 2010 is under far greater threat than the Israel of 2000. Its ability to use decisive force against those who threaten it has been greatly restricted. The quiet is deceptive. The ice is thin, and there is no way of knowing when or where it will break.

The threat of the occupation is no less severe than the threat of rocket fire. The settlers are extending their reach by the day, as the complexities of the territories grow ever more complex. The Palestinians are slowly pulling back from the two-state solution, and the implementation of that solution is growing increasingly more difficult. The international community is showing increasingly more impatience with one of the two states. Because of the occupation, the demographic situation of the state of the Jews is intolerable, and the state’s moral situation is disgraceful. Because of the occupation, the political threat looms ever larger. Time is working against the State of Israel.

That’s not what the right thinks, though. The right is still spreading the word that, apart from one or two things, everything’s just fine. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to put the brakes on U.S. President Barack Obama for a time. After all, Israel was approved for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The economy is flourishing, summer’s almost here, and life is grand. Just as immigration from Russia saved us in the 1990s and high tech saved us in the following decade, the natural gas fields that have been discovered and those yet to be discovered will save us in the next decade. Israeli vitality will prove itself yet again. It will soon become clear that we can live perfectly well even in an impossible situation. The doomsayers can talk all they want, but everything will be fine. There’s nothing to worry about, nowhere to rush off to. If we don’t give in, Abu Mazen will give up. If we don’t blink, Obama will disappear. Don’t worry, promises the right, the State of Israel has time on its side.

The real argument is the one concerning time. The right believes that Israel has plenty of time, because time gives Israel the opportunity to create facts on the ground. The right believes that Israel was established as a fact on the ground, and will succeed as a fact on the ground.

But that is wrong. Israel was established because its founders created facts on the ground with one hand and won diplomatic recognition of those facts with the other. Israel was established because its founders recognized when time is on the side of Zionism and when time is working against it. But over the last few decades, that insight into time has gotten lost, as has the wisdom of equilibrium. The illusion has sprung up that military might and economic prosperity are enough to assure our future. A dangerous dissonance has developed between visible reality and its invisible counterpart. The relative quiet that the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and high tech have granted us has become a toxic quiet. It has allowed us to celebrate our lives without seeing the circumstances of our lives. It has allowed us to ignore the threats that are closing in on us.

The argument about time is an argument about life and death. On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the right thought there was still time. On the eve of the intifada, the right thought there was still time. Today, too, when the threat of rocket fire and the threat of the occupation are tangible and immediate, the right thinks there is still time. But the truth is that there is no time. If we don’t act in time, time will beat us. It is only the silent siren that warns us of the genuine emergency.

Israelis and Palestinians share route 443 again amid suspicion and fear: The Guardian

Court ruling granting right for all to use highway that cuts through West Bank is soured by new chain of army checkpoints
Bassam Kassab says the world should be outraged by ‘this apartheid system’. Photograph: Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian

As the afternoon heat shimmers on the surface of a four-lane highway whipping through the occupied West Bank, Hani Aburabah, a 45-year-old chicken farmer, drops down a slipway and walks towards a row of large concrete blocks forming a barrier across the road.

He is on his way home to his village of Beit Sira, a journey that takes him one and half hours. “I have to go round the globe in order to enter my village,” he says with a wry smile.

It wasn’t always so. Route 443, the road he has just come off, has been barred to Palestinian traffic for the last eight years – a symbol of the separation between the two sides of this conflict. Before 2002 Palestinians used it freely to get between nearby towns and villages in the West Bank; since then they have been forced to use circuitous and poorly maintained back roads, often quadrupling their journey times.

But from tomorrow the army will be forced to comply with an order from Israel’s high court to reopen the road to Palestinian traffic following a case brought by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (Acri).

Nobody is happy. Israeli drivers fear their security will be compromised; Palestinians say the reopening of the road is a farce, rendered worthless by the construction of new checkpoints.

“The IDF [army] say they are opening the road, but they are also building new checkpoints on our land,” says Bassam Kattab, 34, selling lemonade to workers passing through the concrete barrier.

Nearby, separated by an earth bank and a two-metre high metal fence topped with razor wire, some of the 40,000 Israeli cars that use route 443 daily are hurtling towards Jerusalem. Army watchtowers punctuate the length of the road.

Over the years a number of roads connecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank have been designated for exclusive Israeli use. The 443, however, is a strategic corridor between Israel’s two main cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. More than half its 15-mile length cuts through the West Bank. Privately owned Palestinian land was expropriated to develop the road in the 1980s, a move allowed by the high court on the basis that it would serve both Israelis and Palestinians.

For years, the road connected seven Palestinian villages along its route with each other and with the city of Ramallah, a hub for shopping, business and recreation. But following several attacks in 2001-2, in which six Israelis were killed, route 443 was closed to Palestinian drivers and access to their villages blocked.

Journeys that had taken moments suddenly took hours. Villagers say it wasn’t just an inconvenience: several have died while trying to reach hospitals on the back roads, they say. Then last December the court ruled in favour of the challenge brought by Acri.

More than 1,000 Israeli families have petitioned against the move. “They don’t want to risk their lives by using this road alongside Palestinian drivers,” says Nitsana Durshan-Leitner of Shurat HaDin, a law centre that represents them.

Acri believes few Palestinians will use the road even if they are allowed to. Along the route four army checkpoints are being established at which Palestinian vehicles will be searched and their drivers’ papers examined.

The aim, according to Acri, is to make it difficult if not impossible for the villagers to use the road while allowing the IDF to claim it has fulfilled the order of the high court.

This cuts no ice with Durshan-Leitner. “Even if it harms Palestinian lives by forcing them to spend more time on small roads, the rights of people using [the 443] are superior. The right to life is higher than the right to get somewhere five minutes earlier.”

Back at the concrete barrier near Beit Sira, Bassam Kattab has some questions. “Why are the people of Tel Aviv allowed to move freely, and not me? Why are we the forgotten people? Why aren’t there demonstrations all over the world to protest at this apartheid system?”

Bibi or Tibi?: Haaretz

By Gideon Levy
Bibi or Tibi? Barak or Barakeh? Dov Khenin or Hanin Zuabi? Practically every Jewish Israeli would answer that question with an automatic Pavlovian response, without a moment’s hesitation. Of course Bibi, certainly Barak. And even Khenin is better than his fellow MK Zuabi. Why? Because they’re Jews.

Their worldview, opinions or even qualifications and performance don’t matter one iota. The thought that an Arab citizen could ever lead the state is far beyond the boundaries of any public discourse in Israel. This is understandable, of course, in a state that wants so desperately to be completely Jewish and to ignore the large Arab minority. But it’s impossible not to notice this axiom’s shrill, disturbing tone. If it’s true about the prime minister, it’s probably true to a large extent in other aspects of our lives.
Somewhere else, one could and should call it racism. But not here. Here it’s simply self-evident, and to hell with the definitions and implications. A black man can be the president of the United States, minority representatives can be elected to any post in many countries, even to head of state in some. Only here is this inconceivable, even in an imaginary peace situation.

The thought of MK Ahmed Tibi or someone like him ever being prime minister is the greatest, most horrible threat hanging over our heads. Worse than the Iranian bomb. This is the ultimate intimidation weapon against all Israeli Jews.

Eldad Yaniv provided an excellent demonstration of this in his op-ed in Haaretz on Tuesday. Under a headline that could only be seen as ironic, “Zionists are not racists,” the creator of the “National Left” proved exactly the opposite. Zionists are indeed racists. In his piece, Yaniv threatened that “if we do not leave the territories … Ahmed Tibi will be prime minister.” A man who wants, justly and courageously, to shake the comatose left into action at any cost, in any way, has exposed the unsavory side of all Israeli Jews, both left and right.

Inadvertently, perhaps, Yaniv has proved that even among the Zionist left, it’s enough to scratch the surface of the pretty talk about justice and equality to reveal the racism and nationalism. These sentiments prevail there no less than on the right.

Tibi, of course, will never be prime minister here, and it’s doubtful whether he’d want to. His heart is with his people, the Palestinians. But the left wing, yes, the left, disqualifies him in advance. This disqualification doesn’t stem merely from his opinions. It stems first and foremost from his origin. For even if Tibi supported the Greater Land of Israel and believed that the Israel Defense Forces was the most moral army in the world, even if he were wondrously gifted, he’d still be ineligible, unfit, disqualified forever and in advance. At least the right-wing racists don’t hide their racist views. But the (national ) left is tainted with nationalism, too.

Is it even permitted to ask in these parts whether Tibi is more qualified than Bibi? Perhaps as prime minister he’d be less inactive than Benjamin Netanyahu? Perhaps he’d cause Israel less damage? Perhaps he’d bring on us fewer wars and less occupation? Perhaps he’d be more concerned about social justice for all the country’s citizens? Perhaps he’d be more liberal than a nationalist Jew? Maybe the election of a minority representative would one day make society more enlightened? Maybe it would send an amazing message to the world and ourselves?

But all these questions are entirely irrelevant. Tibi is an Arab, and an Arab – talented, moderate and even an Israel-lover – would never gain our confidence.

Why? Because he is an Arab. Period. This is true regarding the position of prime minister, and it’s true regarding the owner of the garage where we have our car fixed.

So let’s all take the masks off. When we say “a Jewish state” we mean a nationalist state. For how else could it be described? Moreover, when we say Jewish state, we are denying the chance that it would ever really be democratic.

Democracy? Only for the Jews in this state. The possibility that an Arab citizen with “equal rights” would ever head Israel frightens us all, including Yaniv, more than anything else.

Israel Denies It Offered South Africa Warheads: NY Times

JERUSALEM — The office of Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, strongly denied Monday that Mr. Peres, as Israel’s defense minister, offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975, as reported by The Guardian.

Dan Meridor, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy, told reporters on Monday that he had no particular knowledge of what went on in the 1970s, as he was “not in business” then, but that he believed Mr. Peres.

Yossi Beilin, a former leftist minister, also dismissed the newspaper article and the book on which it was based, “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa,” by Sasha Polakow-Suransky.

“The article does not concretely say that Israel wanted to sell nuclear warheads. It is a conclusion,” Mr. Beilin told Israel Radio. “The book itself does not say this explicitly, and I think that the president’s denial puts an end to the subject.”

Israel has a longstanding policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying that it has nuclear weapons, though it is widely believed to have developed a large arsenal.

The president’s denial was unequivocal, stating that “there exists no basis in reality for the claims” that “Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons.” The Guardian article, the president’s office added, was “based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts.”

The Guardian said its reporting was based on the “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975. The documents, it said, were uncovered by Mr. Polakow-Suransky in research for the book, and showed that South Africa’s defense minister, P. W. Botha, had asked for nuclear-capable Jericho missiles with the “correct payload,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said in an interview with Al Jazeera, and that Mr. Peres had responded by offering them “in three sizes.”

The “three sizes,” The Guardian stated, “are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.” That, however, was not detailed in any of the documents shown, though Mr. Polakow-Suransky said the documents made clear that the South Africans had interest in Jericho missiles, “only if they carried a nuclear warhead.”

“Sure, there was some kind of cooperation, and there was talk about weapons,” said Ephraim Asculai, who worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years, and who retired in 2001. But to conclude that the “three sizes” necessarily referred to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads, was a long stretch, he said.

In an interview with the South African Press Association, Pik Botha, who served as South Africa’s foreign minister in the waning years of apartheid, also questioned the article’s claims. “I doubt it very much,” said Mr. Botha, who is not related to P. W. Botha. “I doubt whether such an offer was ever made. I think I would have known about it.”

Mr. Peres, an elder statesman, was responsible for establishing Israel’s nuclear program with help from France in the 1950s.

Israelis acknowledge that there was cooperation with South Africa — what Mr. Beilin, the former minister, called “an unholy alliance that Israel, in its isolation, forged with the apartheid regime.”

Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said it was well known that there had been cooperation between Israel and South Africa on ballistic missiles. “They paid, we developed them, then they bought,” said Mr. Brom, who served as defense attaché at Israel’s embassy in South Africa from 1988 to 1990. Mr. Brom said that Israel had also “probably” received uranium from South Africa.

But he said he had a hard time believing that Mr. Peres was trying to sell nuclear warheads to the South Africans in 1975.

Israeli Arabs accused of spying for Hezbollah: The Guardian

Israeli prosecutors have charged activists Ameer Makhoul and Omar Said with spying for Lebanese militant group
Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon protesting against the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008. Photograph: Mahmoud Tawil/AP/AP

Two prominent Arab citizens of Israel were yesterday accused of spying on behalf of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, charges that would earn hefty prison terms if the men were convicted.

Ameer Makhoul, 52, was charged at Haifa district court of assisting an enemy in a time of war, conspiracy to assist an enemy, aggravated espionage and contact with a foreign agent. Omar Said, 50, was accused at Nazareth district court of contact with foreign agents and passing information to an enemy. Both men deny the charges.

Makhoul, the director of an Arab rights group, Ittijah, was arrested on 6 May, and Said, also a political activist, was arrested on 24 April. They were denied access to legal representation for about two weeks.

Adalah, a group representing Arab citizens in Israel, claimed both men had been subjected to severe interrogation methods and sleep deprivation while in custody.

Makhoul’s family said: “The Shin Bet and the Israeli establishment should be indicted for using torture and banned interrogation methods to trample democratic freedoms and human rights.”

The indictment claimed Makhoul met Hezbollah agents in Denmark in 2008 and agreed to pass information to them, according to reports in the Israeli media. He was allegedly asked for details of the security surrounding Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and a Mossad base in central Israel.

Gag orders on the Said case were imposed immediately after his arrest and lifted after being widely flouted by bloggers.

Both men have a track record of campaigning about discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. Makhoul’s family has accused the authorities of political persecution.

Yesterday a “citizen loyalty” bill, proposed by the right wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which demands that Israel revokes the citizenship of any person convicted of activity or espionage on behalf of groups such as Hezbollah, passed its first reading.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Permalink Print