June 18, 2010

Beleaguered still: Al Ahram Weekly

Dina Ezzat finds little evidence that Arab countries are poised to break the siege imposed on Gaza
While the severity of the siege of Gaza may be lessened in the coming weeks, a total lift of the Israeli imposed blockade is not on the cards. That, at least, is the assessment of Egyptian, Arab and Western diplomats in Cairo.

But any easing of the blockade, according to an Egyptian official, would not be through the exclusive use of the Rafah crossing. Crossings into Gaza under Israeli control would also help ease the siege.

Egypt, which closed its borders with Gaza in the wake of the Hamas takeover of the Strip, is still determined that crossings will only resume routine operations after Fatah, Hamas’s political rival, is “fully re-instated in Gaza”.

“There will be no operation of the borders before the Palestinian Authority [PA] is back in Gaza. We cannot afford otherwise,” insisted a high level Egyptian official.

In the past few months Egypt has strengthened security measures along its 14km border with Gaza, including installing underground steel plates to prevent smuggling via tunnels. “Of course we will continue with these measures,” the same official noted.

Egypt, say officials, has promised both the US and Israel that it will not tolerate the smuggling of any arms, or materials that could be used to develop primitive arms, into Gaza. It is a commitment that persists despite the increasing number of voices calling on Cairo to ease restrictive controls on its border with Gaza.

Egypt does, however, seem willing to display more flexibility in mediating the so-far elusive national reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Cairo, according to Egyptian officials and Hamas sources, is showing new signs of acceptance of Hamas.

Hamas sources, who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly in Gaza on Sunday, say the one-day visit Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa made to Gaza earlier this week is a clear sign of a new Egyptian — and maybe Arab — position on Hamas. Moussa, according to both Hamas and Egyptian sources, had been lobbying for months to gain Egyptian, and wider Arab, approval for the visit.

“This siege has to be broken. No country should accommodate, or show any respect to, this siege. This is not just about Arab countries but all the countries of the world. We shall break the siege,” Moussa said in Gaza on Sunday.

During his talks with Palestinian political factions, including a tête-a-tête with the Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and in meetings with families who suffered from Israeli brutality during the three-week war on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Moussa repeatedly promised he would work towards ending the siege. Moussa, the first Arab official to visit the Strip since July 2007, was shown endless examples of the destruction caused by the war and subsequent siege.

He spoke with families who had lost children during the war and who risk losing more members due to poor healthcare facilities, and received complaints from Palestinian medical staff and UN officials trying to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s 1.5 million beleaguered residents. Moussa said that he was committed to ending the blockade. But while he mocked Israel’s announcement, on Sunday, that four items — mayonnaise, tomato sauce, sewing needles and shoe-laces — would henceforth be allowed entry to Gaza, he warned that any lifting of the siege would be gradual.

During talks with representatives of the squabbling Palestinian factions, Moussa stressed that reconciliation would speed up the chances of the siege being lifted. “He told us it would help Egypt to operate the Rafah crossing if the PA returned to Gaza,” said one Hamas source.

In Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, a day after his meetings with Hamas leaders in Gaza, Moussa discussed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “some ideas” to find an exit out of the impasse that Egyptian mediation on national Palestinian reconciliation has hit. While sources suggested a breakthrough was not yet round the corner, they did not exclude some movement in the next few weeks.

“There will be meetings and talks and messages, and there might even be some goodwill gestures,” said one informed source. This, he added, could help in easing the siege since it would encourage Egypt to be more forthcoming in its own operation of the borders and allow Abbas and Cairo to pressure Israel to show more flexibility on the borders it controls.

“Israel should open all seven crossings [linking Gaza with the outside world],” Abbas said following talks in Sharm El-Sheikh on Tuesday with President Hosni Mubarak. European sources in Cairo say proposals that are currently being examined with both Egypt and Israel could allow for the easier transport of commodities, and maybe even individuals, in and out of Gaza. “We are still in the discussion phase. Nothing is concluded yet,” said one European source.

The current commotion, many Palestinians in Gaza believe, is a result of Israel’s bloody assault on the peace flotilla that was attempting to break the siege on 21 May.

European diplomats in Brussels now believe Israel’s stranglehold of Gaza has been discredited.

“That logic must now be abandoned,” said a joint statement signed by the foreign ministers of Italy, France and Spain. If not, more tragedies will occur, warned the three European ministers.

Supermarkets join Turkey boycott: YNet

Israel’s leading food chains plan to stop importing Turkish-made pasta, flour
Published:     06.18.10
Israel’s leading supermarkets have joined the boycott against Turkey following the flotilla affair and will soon stop importing products made in the country.
The main victim of the boycott is expected to be pasta imported from Turkey, which was marketed by the food chains due to its cheap price.
Youths hang signs informing shoppers that most clothes sold by fashion chain are made in Turkey and that ‘by buying them you are funding anti-Israel terror’
Full story
“Although I am against boycotts and believe the problem between Israel and Turkey must be solved on the diplomatic level, I am considering stopping the imports of pasta from Turkey,” said Willi Food CEO Zvi Williger, one of the main importers of pasta from Turkey.
He added that “all the suppliers from Turkey are pro-Israel and against the anti-Israeli policy.”
The Mega chain, which markets Turkish-made pasta under its private label, said Sunday that it would also stop importing pasta and flour from Turkey. The chain noted, however, that the Turkish products could still be found in the stores until the stock run out.

Rami Levy, the owner of Shivuk Shikma, has also joined the move. “We will stop importing pasta from Turkey and start importing past from Italy instead, although it is more expensive than the Turkish pasta,” he said.
“I believe the consumers will support our move and I hope that all retailers importing from Turkey will join the initiative and found an alternative in other countries,” he added.
The Shufersal chain said Sunday that it was still looking into the matter.

PR for internal consumption: Haaretz

Netanyahu’s PR, which plays on the paranoia and deepest fears of the ghetto , is working – but only internally.
By Doron Rosenblum

War criminal Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting

If the Israeli public employed the classification system famously used by Napoleon Bonaparte – who made light of the courage and cleverness of officers who were recommended to him, focusing instead on the question “But are they lucky?” – there is no question that not only would Defense Minister Ehud Barak drop to the bottom of the popularity scale, but so, and to the same degree, would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is hard to be certain which of them is the schlemiel and which the schlimazel, or whose luck is worse. But one thing is clear: Every time those two grab the steering wheel – whether together or separately – they find themselves battered and bruised, limping from mishap to fiasco, from screw-up to snafu, and from there to all kinds of bad luck that have not yet even made it into the slang dictionaries.
It wouldn’t matter if it were only them. The problem is that those two get all of us into trouble: Shortly after the journey begins, the entire Israeli bus finds itself overturned on the side of the road with its wheels spinning uselessly on top.

In order to understand why public opinion surveys nevertheless tend to fault the ticket taker more than the driver, you have to get to the bottom of the difference, which does exist, between Barak’s schlimazel personality and Netanyahu’s schlemiel personality. The former, despite his great expectations, sees every initiative blow up in his face. But the latter has no intention of succeeding, and never did have.

In his ambition to perform spectacular pirouettes that will take the region’s breath away, Barak repeatedly finds himself on the boards. Netanyahu gets even more battered, but somehow looks less ridiculous, since he repeatedly tries – and repeatedly succeeds – to prove his standard opening argument: The floor is crooked. It was, still is and always will be. Or as he summed up his own failure of statesmanship this week, “Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy.”

For Barak bad luck is random, an accident (even if it is a multivehicle pileup ). For Netanyahu, bad luck is a worldview, a psychological situation assessment, almost an ideology – the decree of “Jewish” fate. That is precisely the difference between Barak’s premature assertion in the city square – “This is the dawning of a new day” – and what Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction this week: “Benighted medieval forces are rising up against us … A wave of hatred is flooding us … They are trying to grip us in an iron vise of missiles and terror.” Perhaps these words were a boastful “I told you so,” or perhaps they were a type of vision: a pessimistic vision that, whether consciously or not, fulfills itself every day as long as the prophet of destruction – this Job, who scratches himself with a potsherd – continues to serve as prime minister.

Is it by chance that during the term of “Mr. Public Relations” of all time, Israel has become one of the most ostracized and misunderstood countries in the world? Ironically, the person who built his entire political career on being a fluent spokesman for Israel’s righteousness to the outside world changed the direction of the loudspeaker the moment the responsibility became his. He has turned into the great rebroadcaster of every external threat for internal consumption – into a person who repeatedly plays on the paranoias and deepest fears of the ghetto mentality.

In that sense, Netanyahu’s PR has in fact succeeded, but only internally: The national PR man has once again succeeded in explaining to the domestic consumer, who is wallowing in his fears and hatreds, that there really is a reason for the sense of siege, isolation and persecution: The world is hypocritical, the wave is getting stronger, the vise is closing in.

Ostensibly, his reason for doing so is clear: to obviate the need for action and to avoid personal responsibility. For if this is a deterministic existential situation, there is nothing to be done: There is no point in further shaking up the ship that is being flooded in any case, or in trying to navigate it. All that remains is to sit and curse the entire world. But in that case, one question arises: Why did Netanyahu want to be prime minister, and for a second time yet?

After all, he can be a “concerned citizen” at home, too. So why is he behaving this way? Where is he actually trying to lead us? What does he want to promote, if anything – even according to his own lights? The answers to these questions have long since gone beyond the political realm. They apparently belong to the realm of the soul. And not only Netanyahu’s.

Israel urged to do more as Gaza blockade is eased: The Independent

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
18 June 2010
Israel announced yesterday it would “liberalise” the flow of goods to Gaza in a statement which stopped short of a pledge to allow in raw materials needed to revive the besieged territory’s paralysed manufacturing sector.

The EU and aid agencies welcomed the Cabinet decision, taken after two days of deliberations, as “a step in the right direction” but warned that much more needed to be done to restart Gaza’s moribund economy and boost post-war reconstruction. Israel had been under mounting international pressure for a significant relaxation of its three-year-old embargo since its lethal commando raid on a pro-Palestinian flotilla earlier this month.

The inner Security Cabinet said it had agreed to expand the shipment of construction materials needed for internationally supervised infrastructure projects. And it said further decisions would be taken in the coming days on “additional steps to implement this policy”. Some such projects, requiring strict security guarantees from international organisations like the UN, will be exempted from a general prohibition on materials like cement which Israel says it fears will be used by Hamas to build up its “military machine”.
Raed Fattouh, the Palestinian co-ordinator for the shipment of goods from Israel into Gaza, said a newly expanded list of goods would now include food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. There was no sign however of goods like industrial margarine or glucose which could be used for food processing being allowed in.

There was no mention in yesterday’s Cabinet statement of a switch from an “allowed” list of goods to a “banned list” – something which Tony Blair, representing the “Quartet” of the US, EU, UN and Russia, said on Monday in Luxembourg had been agreed “in principle” by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A senior Israeli official said yesterday that the idea of the switch from a “white list” to a “blacklist” was still “on the table.” The list would make it more difficult for the Israeli authorities to ban items like raw materials to revive private sector production but which did not pose a threat to Israel’s security.

Western diplomats have been pressing Israel to take more concerted action in what could be a relatively short window before a fresh flotilla poses a fresh maritime crisis by setting out from Gaza, on the grounds that it is much easier to condemn the flotillas if the blockade is being relaxed. At least two Lebanese organisations are threatening to send boats to the territory.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said the European Union had noted the development with “great interest” but hoped “the in-principle statement by the Israeli government can now be followed up very quickly with the detail which we shall look at with interest”.

A Foreign Ministry official in Turkey, nine of whose citizens were killed in the commando raid this month, said Ankara wanted to “evaluate” the Israeli move. “However, our attitude on the issue is obvious, we expect that the blockade be lifted altogether,” the official added.

While in Gaza one Hamas official condemned the move as “window dressing,” the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israeli decision was “not sufficient”. He added: “With this decision, Israel attempts to make it appear that it has eased its four-year blockade…. In reality, the siege of the Gaza Strip, illegally imposed on Palestinians, continues unabated.”

Gaza convoy activists claim Israeli soldiers using debit cards stolen in raid: Haaretz

Boarding party troops in deadly flotilla raid confiscated cards and spent on them, claim campaigners who were on board
One of the ships impounded by Israel when it raided the flotilla of aid vessels off Gaza. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA
Israeli troops have been accused of stealing from activists arrested in the assault on the Gaza flotilla after confiscated debit cards belonging to activists were subsequently used.

In their raid of 31 May, the Israeli army stormed the boats on the flotilla and, as well as money and goods destined for the Palestinian relief effort in Gaza, the bulk of which have yet to be returned, took away most of the personal possessions of the activists when taking them into custody.

Individual soldiers appear to have used confiscated debit cards to buy items such as iPod accessories, while mobile phones seized from activists have also been used for calls.

Ebrahim Musaji, 23, of Gloucester, has a bank statement showing his debit card was used in an Israeli vending machine for a purchase costing him 82p on 9 June.

It was then used on a Dutch website, www.thisipod.com, twice on 10 June: once for amounts equivalent to £42.42 and then for £37.83. And a Californian activist, Kathy Sheetz, has alleged that she has been charged more than $1,000 in transactions from vending machines in Israel since 6 June.

Musaji and Sheetz were on board two separate boats – one the Mavi Marmara, on which nine Turkish activists were killed, the other on the Challenger 1. Both activists only entered Israel when arrested, and were in custody for their entire time on Israeli soil.

“They’ve obviously taken my card and used it,” Musaji told the Guardian.

“When they take things like people’s videos and debit cards and use them, and their mobile phones, it becomes a bit of a joke.

“We were held hostage, we were attacked, and now there’s been theft. If the police confiscate your goods in the UK, they’re not going to use your goods and think they can get away with it.”

Musaji cancelled his card on 7 June, the day after he returned to Britain, where he is a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. His bank has agreed to treat the transactions as fraudulent and he will not be charged for them. His mobile phone was also used for two short calls in Israel after it had been confiscated.

Another American activist, David Schermerhorn, 80, from Washington state, claims his iPhone was used, while Manolo Luppichini, an Italian journalist, said his card was debited with the equivalent of €54 after it was confiscated.

Activists say Israel still has possession of at least £1m of goods and cash, comprising aid and personal possessions, including laptops and cameras.

Some passports, three of them belonging to British citizens, have still not been returned. On Thursday, delegations in 12 countries, including the UK, held meetings with their respective governments to exert pressure on Israeli to return the seized property.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London advised Musaji to register a formal complaint.

“We regard any misconduct as described in Mr Musaji’s allegations to be utterly unacceptable and intolerable, and suggest waiting until this subject matter is clarified,” she said. “As had happened previously, an Israeli soldier was found guilty of illegal use of a credit card for which he was indicted and sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment.”

Israel and the Palestinians: The Irish connection: BBC

17 June 2010 15:14 UK
There were five Irish people on board the MV Rachel Corrie
Recent attempts to deliver aid to Gaza by sea, in defiance of the Israeli blockade, revealed a strong Irish dimension. Vincent Dowd reports from Dublin on the connections between Ireland and the Palestinian cause.

For three years journalist Eoghan Harris has been an independent member of the Irish Senate.
How does it feel being avowedly pro-Israel in today’s Republic of Ireland?

The Senator sighs. “I would probably be the only voice currently in the upper house of the Irish parliament to support Israel.
“The fact is there’s a whole consensus now in Ireland against Israel.”
Few would disagree. For a small nation, the involvement in attempts to deliver aid to Gaza by sea has been notable.

At the end of May there were Irish nationals in the original flotilla.
Then on 5 June the Israelis intercepted the Irish-registered MV Rachel Corrie, which also had Irish people on board.
Ireland’s Fianna Fail Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, has condemned the blockade of Gaza as “a violation of international law”.

‘Pavlovian reaction’
Eoghan Harris says after the formation of Israel in 1948 some in Ireland were strongly on side with the new state, seeing a parallel with their own recent struggle against Britain.
“At first Zionism seemed quite an attractive philosophy,” he says. “We’d been doing something like it ourselves.

“Each country had ambitions to revive its national language, Hebrew and Gaelic. Though they succeeded and we failed.”
And Senator Harris points out that a later President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, was born in Ireland.
As a rule the Irish like to side with small nations against any big nation
“There was always quite a strong anti-Semitic faction in Ireland, even if suppressed,” he says.

“But then over the years the whole liberal left in Ireland shifted into anti-Israeli mode, as it’s done in Europe generally.
Might it be that a nation which succeeded in kicking out the colonial master came to identify more with the Palestinians as underdogs?

“There’s a Pavlovian reaction,” says Senator Harris. “As a rule the Irish like to side with small nations against any big nation. A lot of it is empty posturing”.
British colonialists
Another factor may be Israel’s closeness to the USA.
In earlier decades public criticism of America was almost unknown in Ireland.
But the image of a benign and wealthy Uncle Sam across the Atlantic took a knock in the George W Bush years, says Fintan Lane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“Israel is closely associated with the United States, and even [President Barack] Obama hasn’t managed to recreate the levels of support for America you got here before Bush.
“But also it’s down to Israel’s policies. I was on the flotilla and just look at the support we’ve had in the last couple of weeks.”

Mr Lane says one factor has been that the MV Rachel Corrie set sail from Ireland, with some Irish crewing.
The vessel was bought in March by the Free Gaza Movement; under an earlier name it had lain abandoned in Dundalk after its owners went bust.
“But Palestinian solidarity activists in other European countries have always remarked on the depth of support here for Palestine,” says Mr Lane.
“People see the Israelis as meting out what Ireland suffered from British colonialists.
“It’s true that historically some in Israel saw the rebel leader Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera [Ireland’s first Taoiseach] as heroes.”

Public relations
But Mr Lane says the admiration the other way had evaporated by the 1970s as Palestinian resistance gathered momentum.
“Once interest here was mainly on the Left and from Republicans,” he says. “Now even right-wing politicians make pro-Palestinian comments.”
“In Northern Ireland the Nationalist community has often had Palestinian flags flying in the street – and in retaliation the Loyalist community tends to fly Israeli flags. They associate Palestinians with Irish Republicanism.”
Senator Harris sees a parallel between Israel’s standing in the Republic today and how the South used to view northern Unionists.

“The Israelis are seen almost as evil, as Unionism was,” says Senator Harris. “But the Unionists were never evil, they were just terribly bad at public relations.
“They said, ‘We’re a democratic state under attack; you should support us.’ But their narrative was bad; they weren’t media friendly.”
“Today the Israelis have the best story in the world to tell, but they tell it terribly badly. They need an Alastair Campbell or a Peter Mandelson.”
Ireland forced out its colonial master, a memory which runs deep.

Its people are often alert to anything they perceive as latter-day colonialism.
For now supporters of Israel in Ireland are likely to remain a small minority.

Another futile effort: Al Ahram Weekly

Direct or indirect, Palestinians are telling Washington that no progress can be made in peace talks with Israel, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
President Mahmoud Abbas seems to have failed to stir the waters in the American capital.
Abbas pleaded with President Obama to pressure Israel to show more seriousness in the current proximity — or indirect — talks with the Palestinians. However, Obama responded by merely reasserting his general commitment to the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state.

He also reiterated his view that “both sides” would have to make sacrifices for peace, which he said was a Palestinian as well as an Israeli interest.

Abbas was unsatisfied by the mere repetition of old platitudes, asserted ad nauseam by successive US presidents in recent years, including George W Bush, but without being translated into facts on the ground. He warned that the two-state solution was becoming difficult if not impossible to realise. He told reporters in Washington that while the creation of a Palestinian state was still “our strategy”, many inside and outside the region were reaching the conclusion that the strategy was unworkable.

Abbas pressed Washington to make more effort to get Israel to lift its crippling siege on the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leader, speaking in a stronger tone than usual, described the three-year-old blockade as “illegal and unethical”. He emphasised that the PA was willing and ready to assume its responsibility in monitoring the movement of people and goods in both directions at border crossings between Gaza and the outside world.

Hamas doesn’t object to the stationing of PA operatives at the Rafah crossing, but insists that Israel must not be allowed a final say as to when the border crossing is open and when it is closed. Israel had retained this privilege — which the Palestinians complain made their freedom of movement hostage to Israeli whims — by tightly controlling the access of European monitors who live in Israel to the terminal.

Prior to the violent showdown between Fatah and Hamas in July 2007, Israel used to routinely declare the road leading to the Rafah crossing a “closed military zone,” thus barring European monitors from reaching the terminal.

According to the 2005 protocol governing the operation of Rafah Crossing, it can operate only in the presence of the monitors. Hence, Hamas wants to alter the rules, arguing that it is unfair to leave the Palestinians — 1.6 million Gazans — at Israel’s mercy, especially after years of immense suffering, siege and war.

The Obama administration, using circumspect language, has been calling for relaxing the siege on Gaza, but without using strong language, apparently lest that alienate Israel or upset the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington. According to American and Israeli sources, the administration is seeking a “formula” whereby the consumer needs of the people of Gaza, especially in basic goods and products, are met but without strengthening Hamas.

This very much represents the current Israeli attitude, which means that the US would content itself with noticing a slight improvement of the current humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Israel currently allows no more than 70 or 80 consumer items out of thousands previously available to reach Gaza. Israel had hoped that the draconian sanctions would force the people of Gaza to rise up against Hamas and replace it with the more moderate PA that Israel thinks would be more amenable to making concessions to Israel with regards to cardinal final status issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants uprooted from their homes when Israel came into being 62 years ago.

On Monday, 14 June, one Israeli cabinet minister admitted that the siege on Gaza utterly failed to unseat Hamas or prompt the Gazan masses to turn against the Islamic movement.

According to Palestinian sources, Obama asked Abbas to accelerate the pace of talks with Israel and switch to direct talks as soon as possible. However, Abbas told Obama that switching to direct talks would be futile in the absence of a solid agreement on the issue of borders and security.

Israel refuses to withdraw to the 4 June 1967 borders, insisting that the West Bank is “disputed” rather than an “occupied” territory. Israel also refuses to dismantle Jewish colonies built in the West Bank, especially those located west of the so-called “Separation Wall”. Moreover, Israel refuses to cede East Jerusalem, which it considers part of its “eternal and undivided capital”.

Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister, who is due to visit Washington in late June or early July, has been pressing Washington to pressure Abbas to agree to direct bilateral talks with Israel. Palestinian officials have called such talks a ruse for diluting the entire peace process, gaining more time in order build more Jewish settlements and frustrating the Obama administration into stopping pressuring Israel.

Nonetheless, it is widely assumed that Abbas tends to agree with switching to direct talks, if only to prove to Washington that the problem doesn’t lie in whether the talks are direct or indirect but rather in Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war.

The failure of the US-mediated process to make any substantive progress is weakening the Palestinian leadership. Last week, the PA leadership abruptly cancelled municipal elections that were due to take place mid-July. The PA didn’t explain the decision, but many observers argued that internal disunity within Fatah and the group’s fear of a poor showing stood behind the decision.

Fatah’s current standing is in sharp contrast with that of Hamas, which has gained further popularity in the aftermath of the bloody Israeli attack on the Free Gaza Flotilla and growing calls from the international community for lifting the siege in Gaza. The recent visit to Gaza by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa also boosted Hamas, at least psychologically.

Hamas hopes that concerted efforts to lift the siege, and the renewed movement towards reconciliation with Fatah, will place the movement in a better bargaining position vis-à-vis the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) faction. A high-ranking delegation comprising PLO officials is slated to visit Gaza in the next few weeks to hold further talks with Hamas’s leaders on national reconciliation.

Hamas said it would welcome the delegation.

Better late than never: Haaretz Editorial

The army’s failure to investigate allegations for crimes in the Gaza War have shown how much Israel needs groups like B’Tselem to expose the truth.
The military advocate general is poised to file a grave indictment against an Israel Defense Forces soldier from the Givati Brigade who allegedly shot and killed two Palestinian women carrying white flags in an open field during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. Riyeh and Majda Abu Hajaj, a mother and daughter, were killed while fleeing their home after the IDF had ordered them to leave it.
This severe incident of killing was first exposed by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and by Haaretz reporter Amira Hass – both of whom investigated the suspicions and collected testimony from eyewitnesses shortly after the incident. The IDF Spokesman’s response to Haaretz’s query at the time was, “the event was examined over the course of several days, and these checks found that the IDF is unaware of any such case.”
About a year and a half have gone by, and now Military Police investigators and army prosecutors have concluded that Staff Sgt. S. opened fire on the two women contrary to regulations. After a hearing for the suspect next week, the MAG will decide what charge to indict him on – manslaughter or causing death by negligence.

The army prosecution should be commended for its courageous and necessary decision to put the soldier on trial. Shooting at civilians who are carrying white flags and pose no threat to the soldiers is a war crime. If it transpires that the soldier did so, he must be severely punished.

However, one must wonder why the IDF initially tried to ignore and deny the story, and why the investigation dragged on for so long. A more vigorous investigation into this and other serious incidents could have warded off some of the international criticism hurled at Israel following the army’s operation in Gaza. It could also have helped the IDF and the Israeli public discover the truth, so that they could learn the required lessons to prevent similar incidents from recurring in the future.

The slaying of the two women is included in the Goldstone Committee’s report. Instead of slamming the report, as the Israeli government did, it should have studied its contents. Perhaps its pages hide other incidents that require thorough investigation and whose perpetrators should be brought to justice.

But Israel’s fury was not directed at Goldstone alone. Since Operation Cast Lead, Israeli human rights groups, first and foremost B’Tselem, have been subjected to an unbridled public onslaught. Even graduates of the Rabin premilitary academy, who testified about a similar killing, were harshly castigated.

Now, after the IDF has admitted that the investigation into the women’s slaying was based on testimonies it received from B’Tselem, all the slanderers and mudslingers must retract their deplorable smear campaign. The IDF needed the human-rights organization’s investigators in order to probe its soldiers’ conduct, and Israeli society needs organizations like B’Tselem to expose that which must be exposed, to investigate what must be investigated and to draw the necessary conclusions. Without such organizations, there is no real democracy.

Now it is time to praise the army prosecution, make sure the truth comes out and conduct a swift trial. And it is also time to repent the sin of having slandered and smeared nongovernmental groups that are doing sacred work on behalf of democracy.

Echoes of Widgery in flotilla inquiry: The Guardian Letters

“Prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” – the words being used to justify the internal Israeli inquiry into the deadly assault on the humanitarian flotilla attempting to run the blockade of Gaza (Obama backs Israeli internal inquiry into assault on flotilla, 14 June). These words sound too similar to those used for the setting up of the now-ridiculed Widgery inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings, which justified the behaviour of the paratroopers and blamed the innocent civil rights marchers for what happened. Two events with similar protagonists and similar results: a military force attacking peaceful protesters with terrible consequences.

Surely, now the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday has been confirmed by the conclusions of the Saville inquiry (38 years on, justice at last, 16 June), Israel’s clearly politically motivated inquiry headed by a former Israeli supreme court judge, Yaakov Tirkel, should not be acceptable. As did Widgery, I imagine he will come under immense pressure from his prime minister to deliver an acceptable judgment. In contrast to Obama’s approval, the international community should categorically reject the Israeli proposal. We don’t want another Widgery inquiry with all the poisonous baggage that that left behind.

Ernest Rodker
London

• Lord Trimble’s credentials as an impartial observer of the Israeli inquiry seem questionable. Is this not the same person who in 1998 endorsed the Widgery report? He warned Tony Blair that the Saville findings should not deviate a millimetre from Widgery’s. We may confidently anticipate that the Israeli inquiry will report that, although the killings bordered on the reckless, they were lawful.

Seamus Fox
Little Plumstead, Norfolk

Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe: Al Ahram Weekly

While Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in reality there is a catastrophe, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Passengers exchanged satirical remarks when they heard the news in the taxi they were riding Sunday morning; that the Israeli government decided for the first time since imposing a blockade on Gaza to allow the passage of new items. These include mayonnaise, ketchup, shoelaces, buttons, needles, safety pins and sewing thread. Israel’s decision was the butt of many jokes made by passengers heading from the town of Deir Al-Balah to Gaza City. Until Sunday morning, these goods were considered a threat to Israel’s security. Lifting the ban is “an expression of Israel’s desire to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians living in Gaza,” according to Israeli Army spokesman General Eitan Ben Eliyahu.

At a coffee shop in Al-Remal district in Gaza City, one young man sarcastically declared: “If it took them more than three and a half years to allow sewing thread and buttons through, it will probably take seven years before they allow clothes in. As for cement, we can forget it.”

International economy expert Omar Shaaban, who heads the PAL-Think Institute for Strategic Studies, warned of the dangers of Israel’s decision. “When the people in the US and UK hear that Israel has finally allowed ketchup and mayonnaise, which are luxury items, they assume that all other goods are available in Gaza. This is deception.” Shaaban told Al-Ahram Weekly that, “some 8,000 commodities were being imported into Gaza before the siege. This number has dropped to a few dozen, which demonstrates the tragic conditions the blockade has caused.”

Shaaban points to another fallacy in Israel’s claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “What is the scientific definition of a humanitarian crisis?” he inquired. “Is it defined in terms of food shortages only? There are other health, social, psychological and security factors that should be taken into consideration.” He noted that prior to the siege, Gaza did not see significant food shortages, contrary to the image Israel is trying to portray that Gaza was always deprived. Gaza had always managed, and sometimes prospered, Shaaban explained. “The blockade aimed to intentionally debilitate Gaza,” he argued. “While many goods are being smuggled through the tunnels, the majority of Palestinians cannot afford them because they are impoverished.”

According to a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 50 per cent of the children in Gaza suffer from anemia and malnutrition. Also, one million Palestinians depend on humanitarian relief for sustenance; 80 per cent of Gaza residents live below the poverty line; and employment has reached 65 per cent, especially among the youth and university graduates. Average income per day per person is only $2.

The blockade has also depleted stocks of 88 types of vital medications, such as those for mental health, blood disease, liver disease, and formula for infants. There is also a shortage of 120 types of medical supply, including catheters, materials needed for chemotherapy, and surgical thread. The report revealed that 90 per cent of potable water in the Gaza Strip is unsuitable for human consumption, and the sole power station in Gaza has lost 60 per cent of its capacity, resulting in power outages averaging 10 hours every day.

Palestinian economist Hamed Gad asserted that the siege has almost completely obliterated all industry in the Gaza Strip. Gad told the Weekly that out of 3,900 functioning factories before the blockade, only a handful is still operating because of shortages in raw material. He added that the few factories still in business rely on materials smuggled in via the tunnels.

At the same time, Gad continued, a large number of Gaza residents relied on agriculture for their livelihood, a sector that has been destroyed by the blockade because of shortages in fertilisers, insecticides and supplies such as nylon, hoses and seeds. This situation encourages the spread of agricultural diseases that threaten crops harvested in some areas. Gad further stated that the average income has dropped by more than 50 per cent in the Gaza Strip compared to figures from 1999, when it reached $1,750 per annum. Today, it stands at $850 annually.

Prices in the Gaza Strip are also higher than the average prices in Israel, although the average share of an individual in Israel of GDP is $21,000 — 24 times more than the figure in Gaza. Exports from Gaza have come to a complete halt and imports have dropped to less than $700 million, 70 per cent of which are smuggled from Egypt through the tunnels.

According to the Petrol Station Association, daily fuel needs in Gaza amount to 350,000 litres of solar fuel, 120,000 litres of petrol, 350 tonnes of natural gas and 350,000 litres of industrial fuel for the power station. But as a result of the blockade, solar imports have dropped by 74 per cent, petrol by 79 per cent, natural gas for domestic use by 71 per cent.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Israel did not meet its commitment to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that it will allow construction material in needed for two projects that the UN is supervising. OCHA stated that Israel has allowed in only 17 per cent of the needed construction material for these two projects, despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak personally assured Ban that they would allow in any material needed for the projects.

OCHA also revealed that Tel Aviv did not follow through on its promise to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to permit the passage of construction material needed to rebuild Al-Quds Hospital, destroyed during the 2008-2009 war on Gaza when it was attacked by Israeli tanks positioned in the western part of Gaza City. Sarkozy twice telephoned Netanyahu personally to request passage of the materials.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi stated that conditions in Gaza were intolerable, noting that 1.5 million people — one million of whom are registered refugees — are paying the price of the blockade. In a interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, Grandi said that Israel is not responding to calls from the UN to end the siege, adding that Tel Aviv should at least allow enough construction material through to rebuild what was demolished during Israel’s last war on the Gaza Strip, and the years prior to that. He criticised Israel for rejecting this “minor request”.

“The blockade on the Gaza Strip is unacceptable and the policy of sporadically allowing a sack of flour here and some equipment there after a long and complicated process is unacceptable,” asserted Grandi. “One and a half million people cannot live like this.” He continued that while the tunnels alleviate some of the effects of the blockade imposed by Israel, it is “an illegal economy” which will have dangerous implications on the stability and security of the region.

According to Ziyad Zaza, deputy prime minister and economy minister of the dismissed cabinet in Gaza, the list of goods that Israel have recently allowed into Gaza is a joke that mocks the people and skews reality. Zaza told the Weekly that Israel is distorting and fabricating reality in an attempt to divert attention away from the harsh siege on Gaza. He called for an end to the siege once and for all, and for allowing the passage of goods — especially cement, steel, primary materials for industry, agriculture — and permitting imports and exports between Gaza and the world.

Zaza urged the world not to allow Israel to continue the blockade, underlining that through such “ludicrous” decisions as that to allow thread and needles, Tel Aviv is attempting to avoid anger from around the world along with pressure to end the siege. He insisted that the economic siege must be lifted and all border crossings reopened. He underlined that Israel’s attempts to deceive the world would not succeed because the suffering caused by the blockade could not be concealed.

Hezbollah says it will not join Lebanon Gaza-bound aid flotilla: Haaretz

Lebanon aid ship Miriam plans to head to Gaza on Sunday; Israel defense officials say Hezbollah is behind the aid flotilla.
The Lebanese Shiite Movement Hezbollah said Friday that it will not take part in Gaza-bound aid missions so as not to give a pretext for Israel to attack Lebanon.
“We in Hezbollah highly value the humanitarian moves to break the siege on Gaza, but since the beginning we have stayed away from such acts not because we are greedy but because we do not want to give the Israeli enemy an excuse to carry out an aggression against Lebanon,” a statement by the group said.
The statement came after some local media said Hezbollah was urged not to give Israel a pretext to attack by supporting aid ships leaving from Lebanon for Gaza.

Israel defense officials said in response that they still believe the Hezbollah was behind the Lebanese aid Flotilla planned to set sail for Gaza on Sunday.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Liwaa quoted on Friday an anonymous Lebanese source as saying that Public Works and Transportation Ministry has asked Hezbollah to refrain from participation in the Lebanese aid ship Miriam.
Some 50 Christian and Muslim Lebanese women as well as foreigners are preparing to leave Lebanon on Sunday on board of the Miriam.

The group of women, who announced that they do not belong to any political group, will sail from the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli to Cyprus and then to Gaza, between June 23 and 25.
The ship which will be loaded with medical supplies for cancer patients, would be the latest bid to break Israel’s four-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.
On Thursday Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Lebanese government that it would be held responsible for ships sailing from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.
Samar al-Hajj, who is organizing the Miriam voyage to Gaza, thanked Israel “for its threats which only strengthened these women’s willpower to make the trip. I tell the Israelis we are not afraid and we are going on with our plans.”

Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb slams U.S. indie rocker for nixing Tel Aviv shows: Haaretz

Devendra Banhart said he was looking forward to performing in Israel but was forced to cancel due to political pressures.
Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb on Tuesday lashed out at American indie rocker Devendra Banhart, who canceled his planned performance in Tel Aviv one day earlier, just three hours before he was due to arrive in the Israel.
“A few days ago I played him on my program with pride because he is a great musician and mainly because he was clear, strong and decisive on his stand to come to Israel,” Tayeb said.
“I likened him to the king of the animals, a mighty lion. Today, I think he is a great musician but more like the lion from the Wizard of Oz – a coward and pitiful.”

“I thought, like many others, that he was above politics and religion. This is truly a great disappointment.”

Banhart’s agents said that the musician was pressured into canceling the performance for political reasons.

“We love the land and people of Israel, and have been looking forward to our third show there with unimaginable anticipation,” Banhart’s official website said.

“Unfortunately, we tried to make it clear that we were coming to share a human and not a political message but it seems that we are being used to support views that are not our own. We will be overjoyed to return to Israel on the day that our presence is perceived and reported on as a cultural event and not a political one. We truly hope that day comes soon.”

Bernhart was booked for two concert’s at Tel Aviv’s Barbie club – June 15, 16 – and the concerts were nearly sold out.

The show’s Israeli producers said that they were “very disappointed by the cancellation and very surprised by the last-minute decision, particularly in light of the fact that his managers repeatedly stated that they would not cancel under any circumstance and would arrive in Israel as planned.”

Ticket holders will be reimbursed

Ultra-Orthodox Jews accused of racism over education demands: The Independent

Parents of European descent are refusing to let their daughters attend school with girls of Middle Eastern or North African origin
Friday, 18 June 2010
More than 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets across Israel yesterday for a showdown between religious and secular society over the way the Jewish state runs its education system.
The protests brought central Jerusalem to a standstill as a group of religious parents prepared to go to prison for defying a court order demanding their daughters attend classes with girls of different ethnic origin.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, origin do not want their daughters to be educated in the same classroom as schoolgirls of Middle Eastern and North African descent, or Sephardim, claiming that they are not as religious.
The row brings into sharp focus growing discrimination within religious Jewish communities, and the increasing influence of the ultra-Orthodox sects that have long considered themselves unfettered by society’s norms.

Batting off accusations of racism, the parents, who live in the West Bank settler community of Immanuel, have argued that their wish to separate their children is motivated only by religious and cultural differences between the different Jewish communities.
“The Sephardic Jews are less observant, they dress differently,” said Carter Schwartz, a 31-year-old protester with an American accent. “It’s like sending kids of a totally different learning level to Harvard, and the government forces [Harvard] to take them in.”

Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected the parents’ argument, and has ordered them to serve two weeks in jail.
A massive police presence was stationed around Jerusalem’s Old City as 100,000 protesters, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic, converged there to protest the court’s decision and proclaim religious rule. A smaller contingent of some 20,000 marched earlier in Bnei Brak, a town near Tel Aviv.

Schoolchildren and women thronged the streets and leaned over balconies overlooking Jerusalem’s religious Mea Shearim neighbourhood to watch the mostly-male demonstrators, most of them singing mournful dirges, go past.

Dressed in their traditional black garb and wide-rimmed hats, bearded marchers held aloft banners saying “God will rule for all eternity”, a reference to the supremacy of religious interests over secular law, and “High Court against the people”.

Many secular Israelis have little patience for Haredi Jews, the extremely conservative, religious minority that lives in ghetto-style communities across Israel, but are concentrated in Jerusalem within reach of Judaism’s holiest sites.

Miriam Wiedler, a retired teacher, said that the state was meddling in affairs that should be the sole preserve of the parents, many of whose families pre-date the state. “These Haredim have been in Jerusalem for the last 250 years. They were here when the Turks were here, even before Israel became a state,” she said. “If they let everybody live their own lives, nobody would fight each other.”

The 43 sets of parents were scheduled to start their prison sentences at midday yesterday. That was later moved to 5pm to allow them to take part in the march and present themselves at a police station in central Jerusalem.

Commentators from both sides of the political divide railed against the marchers, warning that the religious communities have gone too far. “The discrimination in Immanuel contains in a nutshell the essence of the clash between the rule of law and separatist interest groups,” wrote the liberal Ha’aretz newspaper in an editorial.

“Such groups… demand state funds to strengthen the independent education system that serves their children, but are unwilling to give in on even a single convention that governs their lifestyle.”

The Haredi Jews are seen as an economic drain on society, with many of the men choosing years of subsidised religious studies over paid employment. A soaring birth rate has led to predictions that they could form a majority of Jerusalem’s half-million population in a decade.

In recent months, they have proved a disruptive presence, littering Jerusalem with rubbish and soiled nappies to protest against a new parking lot that would encourage more traffic on the Sabbath and clashing with police to prevent the exhumation of ancient human remains that they claim are Jewish to make way for a new emergency hospital wing.

“No negotiation or agreement are possible with people who have no God but their father in heaven and his representatives on earth,” wrote Yossi Sarid, a liberal commentator.

“This is a war… we cannot afford to lose. The rebellious Haredim must be put in their place, so that we, too, have a place in which to live.”

At least some of the ultra-Orthodox community withheld their support from yesterday’s demonstrations. Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, who heads the army’s religious programme in Petah Tikva, called on religious Jews not to take part in the march.

“I cannot take part in the racism and discrimination that is taking place, which is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mr Sherlo, Ha’aretz quoted him as saying. “It’s impossible to claim that this is Jewish law or that it is sanctifying the name of God.”

Mad Israelis section

This section is devoted to the many unhinged in Israel whose voice should be heard…. to separate its contributors from others, less nutty correspondents, their names have been coloured red.

EDITOR: The real victims

If you did not know who the real victims of the Gaza Strip are, read below. It is the very settlers who have brought the situation to what it is now. But they have complaints…

Betrayed by the State: YNet

Instead of healing evacuees’ wounds, State adds insult to injury
Renana Kapach
Published:     06.17.10
Almost five years ago, then-18-year-old Renana Kapach (nee Marmelstein) was evacuated from her home in the Gush Katif community of Ganei Tal. In the months before the evacuation and during the disengagement, she wrote a touching blog for Ynet. Today, she is writing to Ynet’s readers again – married, with an academic degree, yet still without a home.

Almost five years have passed. Five years where I performed my national service, complete a BA in communications, and even changed my last name – I got married. I lived in a cara-villa for three years, and another two years in a residential building far away from my parents and from Ganei Tal. Five years is a long time – too long.

On Tuesday, a commission of inquiry submitted its recommendations regarding the handling of the Gush Katif evacuees, or more accurately, the mishandling of the evacuees. Otherwise, how can we explain the fact that only now, five years after the face (at best,) people are starting to move into their permanent homes – at worst, just like the case of the Ganei Tal community, people are still waiting for building permits. That’s what we call mishandling.
What difference will the committee’s conclusions make? They’ll prepare accordingly for the next evacuation?! We don’t want another evacuation. We merely want to live in our own home, and to get what was taken away from us.

Jewish law does not permit us to start mourning for our loved ones before the burial. Hence, as far as my parents and the entire Ganei Tal community is concerned, while they spend their days in a dilapidated caravan in a temporary location (yes, still temporary,) they are akin to people who still see the dead lying before them. Hence, the mourning period had not yet started over everything that was crudely and maliciously taken from us, under a veneer of peace mutterings that for more than a decade have refused to materialize according to the daydreams of peace worshippers

Rubbing salt on our wounds

What my family in particular, and the Gush Katif community general, went through in the past five years was akin to rubbing salt on our wounds. The evacuation left all of us with a very deep mental wound. Everything we believed in was taken away from us, both ideologically and practically – a home and work. Things were taken away, but nothing had been returned so far.

Some people think the evacuation was a good thing, yet I’m certain that none of them think that it’s a good thing to see us still not living in a home, with the State failing to assume responsibility for its acts and failing to help us rebuild our lives.
Instead of healing the wounds, in the past five years the State picked at our wounds further. At times, this hurts more than the original wound. The extent of the bureaucracy we had to contend with, and still do, is simply a form of abuse. I love our State, but I’m also angry. How can you add insult to injury? Why does it take five years to grant building permits?

The daily routine is stronger than everything, and we live our lives in the day-to-day sense, yet when my head meets the pillow in bed and I sink into a dream, I’m still there; all my dreams still take place somewhere in those golden sands.
We don’t want anything that we don’t deserve, merely to build our nest and start rebuilding our lives. We still live in the past. We have not yet closed this chapter. We’re still back in 2005. Some of our crates are still closed, the containers have gathered dust, and others were emptied out by thieves. The furniture is waiting to be used again, and so are the plates and glasses. For us, time has stood still.

We are still there, hoping that in 2011, six years later, we’ll be able to come back to life, here.

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