June 26, 2010

EDITOR: You have read about the Israelis easing the Blockade. So now read about the real facts in Gaza…

Now that Tony Blair took the credit for changes in Gaza, standing on the blood of the nine activists murdered by Israel, and posed for lovely pictures with that other tzadik, Benjamin Netanyahu, just read about all the great changes which (never) took place in Gaza…

Report: Israel seizes oxygen machines donated to PA: Haaretz

Seven machines donated by Norwegian agency confiscated en route to PA over chance generators attached could be used for purposes other than medical treatment, Ma’an reports.

Israel confiscated seven oxygen machines en route to hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza based on the claim that there was a chance the generators attached to the machines would not be used for medical purposes, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported Saturday.
According to Ma’an, the Ramallah-based health ministry said that the generators, which were donated to the Palestinian Authority by a Norwegian development agency, were seized by Israeli officials despite the fact that only one machine was bound for Gaza.

The generators “came under the category of possible use for non-medical purposes” if they were delivered to southern Gaza, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement, adding that the six other machines were bound for government hospitals in the northern Gaza, inducing the European Hospital in Gaza City, the Rafdieyah hospital in Nablus, and other facilities in Ramallah and Hebron.

The Ministry of Health appealed to the Norwegian Development Agency, which supplied the machines, and asked that they intervene and demand the release of the equipment at the soonest possible date, Ma’an reported.

“Any delay in obtaining the medical equipment will negatively affect the health of patients,” the statement concluded.

Gaza factories remain paralysed despite Israel pledge to ease blockade: The Independent

After three years of deadlock, Palestinian businesses are hoping for a better future. But some fear that the new Israeli trade rules could actually mean a fresh squeeze. Donald Macintyre reports from Gaza City
Saturday, 26 June 2010
The chilled Tropika that Salama al-Kishawi proudly serves guests in his office tastes, unusually for a processed juice, of real oranges – especially refreshing on a 35C midsummer day in Gaza. But the flagship product of the Gaza Juice Factory has a significance that goes way beyond its taste.

The factory employs 65 workers and is one of very few industries to function despite the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel after Hamas seized full control of the territory three years ago this month.

How long it continues to function may well depend on just how the deal easing the Israeli blockade announced last Sunday works in practice. The future of Tropika has become a litmus test for Gaza’s real economy.
In diplomatic terms, the deal negotiated between Israel and international envoy Tony Blair was a breakthrough. Israel is still refusing – apart from internationally supervised exceptions – to allow in anything, including cement badly needed for rebuilding bombed out homes, which it deems Hamas could use for military purposes.

But the announcement signified a real change of policy: in theory at least, all other goods will, for the first time in three years, be allowed to enter.

But nearly a week after the announcement, the people of Gaza, while content about the prospect of an increase in consumer goods from Israel, are demanding that the much more fundamental promise in the agreement, to allow the expansion of “economic activity”, will also be honoured.

“If consumer items are allowed to come through the crossings, but at the same time we don’t allow materials and the means of production to enter, that will have a negative effect,” said Amr Hamad, Gaza director of the Palestinian Federation of Industries.

The Gaza Juice Factory, which is in the eastern suburb of Shajaia, in full view of the Israeli border, is a perfect illustration of the problem. Its neatly tended gardens and the bustle of forklift trucks loading the newly bundled bottles on to vans for shipment to local supermarkets testify that this is –unusually for Gaza – a going concern.

Their are tracks left by the Israeli tanks that smashed through the green metal perimeter fence during the military offensive of 2008-9, and the remains of what company boss Ayed abu Ramadan thinks must have been an Apache missile have been hung on the front wall as a memento to everything the factory has been through.

Its history is inextricably woven with that of the territory’s turbulent and blood-splashed politics over the last 15 years.

An imposing plaque reminds visitors that it was opened by Yasser Arafat just two days after his triumphant return to Gaza from exile in Tunis in July 1994. The factory became a success, exporting to Egypt, the US, Europe, and Israel itself for more than a decade.

In 2006, however, the exports ground to a halt. Hamas had won the elections, the land crossings were mostly closed. By then Gaza’s famous citrus groves had been almost destroyed by the Israeli military during its frequent incursions since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

“Here in Gaza we have always had the best oranges in the world,” said Mr Kishawi. “Now most of it has gone.”

Yet the 87p bottles of Tropika on the shelves of Gaza stores today are a testament to the company’s remarkable adaptability. Its managers diversified into Tropika, but also strawberry and tomato juice, along with ketchup, jam, and a popular range of candied fruits.

From being a 100 per cent exporter, the company now caters 100 per cent for the home market. And although it would have greatly preferred to buy its raw materials much more cheaply from Israel, it was obliged by the closure to bring in bottles, packaging, flavouring and colouring additives through the tunnels from Egypt, paying what Mr Ramadan delicately calls the high “subway tolls” demanded by the tunnelers to pay their own costs – including levies to the Hamas de facto government.

Scarcity of fruit was the first problem. “Last year I needed 9,000 tonnes of citrus to meet demand,” said Mr Kishawi, “but I was only able to find 1,000 tonnes.”

Oranges from Israel were half of what they cost in Gaza but only eating – as opposed to juicing – oranges were allowed in by the Israeli authorities.

To underline the Alice in Wonderland economics of Gaza it was also possible to import from Egypt, through the tunnels, identical concentrate to that which it used to export to Egypt. “In June 2007 I was selling concentrate at $1,350 (£900) a ton but now it costs me $4,000 a ton to bring in,” explained Mr Kishawi. “Where is the competition in that?”

As if this wasn’t enough, eighteen months later the factory suffered devastating damage from Israeli ground and air assaults during the 2008-9 offensive, which hit hundreds of industrial sites. The damage prompted Amr Hamad of the Federation of Industries to remark: “What [Israel] were not able to reach by the blockade, they have reached with their bulldozers.”

The main tube in the juice factory’s key evaporator, wrecked by a missile, was quickly repaired, but the huge, 2,000-tonne capacity freezer, along with its contents, was destroyed. Then, toward the end of last year, the firm hit another obstacle. It thought it had done a deal with Israeli suppliers to supply 500 tonnes of badly-needed grapefruit.

“But then, when they realised that it was going to a juice factory and not the supermarkets, they stopped the grapefruits coming in,” said Mr Kishawi.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of the international outcry that followed the crisis over the pro-Palestinian flotillas, came the first stage of the easing of the embargo and, perversely, with it a fresh threat to Tropika. The company was happy to hear the blockade was being eased – anticipating that it would now be able to import from Israel much cheaper raw materials.

Instead, it found that it was facing new competition. For the first time in three years, Israel has permitted the entry of processed fruit juice – at the competitive price of five shekels (86p) a bottle. In a final irony (though its bosses are not sure how long this will last), the company, which is effectively owned by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and has a board of directors appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is now depending on a lifeline from the Hamas de facto government. It has issued a protectionist warning to traders not to order processed juice from Israel.

The company has already preemptively reduced Tropika’s own price, from six to five shekels a bottle, and would have no problem competing with the Israeli product if it was also to import the much cheaper raw materials available in Israel. “If we have a truly open market we can compete with anybody, including Israel,” says Mr Kishawi.

Underlining the present imbalance, however, the company’s chief buyer, Haitham Kannan, says: “Israel can produce a bottle of juice for around 25 cents – which is what the plastic bottle alone costs us.”

As his boss, Mr Ramadan, puts it: “This is like tying someone’s hands up and telling him to get into the boxing ring. After everything we have been through – closure, war, shortages, it would be crazy if we lost the business now.”

Yet the Gaza Juice Factory is still – for now – operating. More typical is the fate of the Aziz Jeans factory on the edge of the Jabalya, eerily silent now, four years after it was alive with the din of 100 employees stitching teenage fashion jeans for the Aziz family’s appreciative Israeli business partner.

Able neither to import the fabric or, even more importantly, export the finished jeans, the firm, like many hundreds of others, came to an abrupt halt almost immediately the blockade began.

Its highly skilled workforce dispersed – “a lot”, according to Aziz Aziz, on to the Hamas payroll. The last time The Independent was here, Mr Aziz had generated a modest income by assembling electric plugs – but the competition of ready-made plugs smuggled though the tunnels made this a hopeless task.

Mr Aziz says that if the big Karni cargo crossing terminal – through which he and his brothers used to import denim and export the finished garments – was re-opened, he would bring his sewing machines back out of storage and be ready to start the factory rolling in a week.

Mr Aziz is no friend of Hamas, and would like a change of government in Gaza. But he adds that by maintaining the blockade – including on exports – over the past three years, “Israel has to know that it is not besieging Hamas; it is besieging the people of Gaza”.

That view is now the consensus in the international Quartet. Israel is still resisting, on security grounds, the reopening of Karni, relying instead on an expansion of the much more limited Kerem Shalom crossing’s capacity.

Most experts are convinced that Karni will have to be reopened if any semblance of Gaza’s previously productive manufacturing capacity can be restored.

Nevertheless, the promised expansion of Kerem Shalom would be a modest start if it happens – provided Israel is also ready to allow exports to resume.

Israel itself is facing conflicting pressures; the fourth anniversary yesterday of the incarceration of abducted sergeant Gilad Shalit, still being denied even Red Cross visits – on the one hand, and the prospect of more pro-Palestinian flotillas on the other.

But without a jolt for Gaza’s collapsed economy, Israel risks being seen as using Gaza as a captive market for its consumer goods while doing little or nothing to get people back to work.

Sari Bashi, director of the Israeli human rights agency, Gisha, said this week she was “mildly encouraged” by the explicit mention of “economic activity” in this week’s government statement, but warned that this would not happen “unless Karni is opened and exports are allowed”.

She added: “Israel has to abandon its policy of economic warfare and accept that it has failed.”

How the blockade is changing life in Gaza

The number of trucks bringing goods from Israel into the Gaza Strip each day has not yet increased, according to Palestinian coordinators, but the range of goods – including books and children’s toys, long banned – has.

At Hazem Hasuna’s supermaket in Gaza City’s western Rimal district, Egyptian razors, smuggled in through tunnels, were summarily replaced on Thursday by Gillette Fusion razors legally imported from Israel. But the comprehensive range of smuggled goods has made some Gazans cynical about the new imports. “Nothing has really changed,” said Mr Hasuna, 38, “People haven’t been missing ketchup and mayonnaise [two of the newly permitted products]. The only real change will be if they start bringing in cement for reconstruction and what the factories need to give people work.”

One of his customers, Rasha Farhat, 33, was asked by her Saudi-based relatives, who came to visit after the opening of the Rafah crossing this month, what she needed. “I told them ‘nothing’.” She added that, thanks to the tunnels, “we have never had as many products as we have now”.

Up to a point. Although still active, the tunnels have shown a sharp drop in activity in the past two weeks as wholesalers wait to assess the new blacklist of security sensitive goods Israel has promised to substitute over the next week for its heavily restrictive “permitted” list as part of the new “liberalising” imports regime.

Acknowledging that Gazans have become used to “tunnel products” over the past three years, a prominent Gaza economist, who preferred not to be named, said: “Of course Israel is capable of saying one thing and then acting differently. We will have to wait to see what are the consequences of the new policy.” But confessing that he had just filled his own car with Israeli diesel in preference to Egyptian, he added: “Palestinians have been receiving Israeli goods for 40 years. They regard products from Israel as extremely high quality compared with their Egyptian equivalents.”

MESS Report / Israel has missed every opportunity to free Shalit: Haaretz

The negotiations on the swap deal to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit have been stuck since December; the way things look now, the affair is likely to drag on indefinitely.
The negotiations on the swap deal to free captive soldier Gilad Shalit have been stuck since December. As far as is known publicly, nothing significant has happened since German mediator Gerhard Conrad gave Hamas Israel’s answer (positive but with conditions ).
Few people on the Israeli side are willing to talk, and no one will speak on the record. But their opinions are similar – there are no signs anything will move anytime soon.

Israel’s governments had three opportunities to free Shalit since he was taken prisoner in June 2006. One was right after the abduction, when Hamas’ leaders in the Gaza Strip were not yet fully aware of the “asset” they held and were subject to the Israeli military attack of Operation Summer Rains.
This opportunity was missed because Ehud Olmert’s government got entangled in the Second Lebanon War and the prime minister came out with statements – not implemented for years in Israel – that “we do not negotiate with terrorists.”

The second opportunity emerged at the end of Olmert’s term in February-March 2009. Gaza was in shock following Operation Cast Lead and Olmert wanted to clear his desk and resolve the Shalit affair before handing over the reins to Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite the apparently favorable terms, a deal did not happen. Olmert sent his own coordinator, Ofer Dekel, and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin to talks in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. The Egyptians put Hamas’ leaders in a different hotel.

The proposed deal consisted of Israel releasing 450 “heavy” prisoners demanded by Hamas and another 550 prisoners sentenced for lighter offenses. Palestinian sources persisted in believing that Israel would agree to release 400 more prisoners who would not be included on the official list.

Diskin and Dekel said Israel would agree to release up to 325 “heavy” prisoners on Hamas’ list. Hamas insisted on the entire list and the talks stalemated.

Behind the scenes, Olmert’s people accused Defense Minister Ehud Barak of foiling the deal. They said Barak’s visit to the Shalit family’s protest tent led Hamas leaders to believe they could continue to twist Israel’s arm.

Olmert left the Shalit portfolio to Netanyahu. Former senior Mossad official Hagai Hadas replaced Dekel and Conrad resumed his mediation.

Conrad, who succeeded in formulating the 2004 deal between Israel and Hezbollah for businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, got Israel to agree to release 325 of 450 prisoners on Hamas’ list. Later Israel agreed to release 125 others, but Hamas continued demanding the release of its senior activists.

By December 2009, Conrad had had enough. He set Christmas as a deadline, managed to make a few more proposals, but they were not enough to clinch a deal. He didn’t resign, as he had hinted, but the talks have not been resumed since.

A large part of the blame lies with Hamas’ leaders, namely Khaled Meshal, head of the organization’s political bureau in Damascus. Also to blame are Ahmed Jabri and Mohammed Def, heads of the military wing in Gaza. Even if Hamas’ prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, wanted the deal to succeed, he couldn’t persuade his partners to join him.

On the Israeli side, the impression that Netanyahu was determined to bring Shalit home seems to have been premature. “Have you ever seen Bibi do anything unless he was under heavy pressure?” asked a source who knows the prime minister well. Since Netanyahu feels no real pressure, he will not change his position, the source predicted.

The cabinet’s decision to ease the blockade on Gaza has eliminated the controversial option of putting pressure on Hamas, a move whose results were dubious to begin with. In the past two weeks, amid growing frustration with Netanyahu and the approaching fourth anniversary of Shalit’s abduction, his family and the activists campaigning to free him have organized a mass march to pressure the cabinet to make a deal.

Many cynics are joining the bandwagon – journalists eager to inflame emotions, celebrities and politicians, including those who advocate “no concessions.” But unlike Netanyahu, they do not bear responsibility for the consequences of freeing murderers in a deal.

It is doubtful whether the new campaign will do any good. In the past four years no public move has had any influence on Netanyahu or Olmert regarding a deal to free Shalit.

The way things look now, this affair is likely to drag on indefinitely and we are likely to mark the fifth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s abduction in a year’s time.

Fake calls to “ease” the Gaza siege: The Electronic Intifada

Hasan Abu Nimah, 24 June 2010
Complicit in the siege: Mahmoud Abbas meets with Head of the EU Mission in the West Bank and Gaza, Christian Burger, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 20 June. (Thaer Ganaim/MaanImages)

Ever since Israel’s murderous attack on the Freedom Flotilla on 31 May, there have been increasing calls from many parties on Israel to end its siege of Gaza. This is strange as well as deceitful, for the siege is not Israel’s alone.

Many of those who now talk about ending the blockade have strongly supported it all along and continue to support it. Their empty calls are primarily intended to absolve themselves of blame for the harm the cruel, illegal and unjustifiable siege has caused to the Palestinian population in Gaza Strip.

It is clear now that the siege has failed, first and foremost because the brave people in Gaza decided to adjust to its harshest effects and to endure with dignity and courage the collective punishment intended to strangle them into submission and despair. They never acquiesced to trading their national dignity and rights for a few more goods — even ones desperately needed.

The siege has also failed as a result of mounting civil society pressure orchestrated by hundreds of concerned organizations and activists who kept reminding the civilized world of the illegality of the Gaza siege, the complicity of the UN through its bizarre membership in the self-appointed Quartet (the US, EU, Russia and the UN), as well as the cruelty and double standards of the Europeans, the Americans and many others who lined up behind Israel’s decision to terrorize the entire population of Gaza for political ends.

The latest, but certainly not the last, such effort was the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which fell victim to Israel’s bloody sea and air attack, followed by hijacking and kidnapping of all the ships and passengers on board.

Israel has become increasingly concerned about the international response, often positive, to activists’ attempts to break the siege. Faced with the dilemma of either letting the Freedom Flotilla proceed to Gaza and mark the end of the siege or blocking it and face international condemnation, Israel chose the latter. But its use of terrorist violence against unarmed civilians on a peaceful convoy has caused much more serious revulsion than Israel bargained for.

Israel’s premeditated savagery was apparently intended to discourage similar efforts. If that was the goal, it failed, as reports pour in of new flotillas being organized in several countries. Thus, Israel will likely face the same dilemma again and again.

The Freedom Flotilla was not an historic incident that opened the eyes of an otherwise oblivious world to the fact that Gaza was under siege. That was very well known. What it did was to cause enormous embarrassment to all those who had, right from the start, endorsed and supported the siege.

With its barbaric attack on the Flotilla, Israel exceeded even its own usually unsurpassable contempt for international law, common decency and respect for human life. Its actions exposed the complicity of regional and international powers, forcing them to speak out or rightly be seen as silent partners in Israel’s crime.

Thus they started, one after the other, to make empty calls for the siege to end. European countries that had already committed their navies to help Israel enforce what the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed was an illegal blockade made some noises against the siege. But all they offered were proposals to better manage the blockade by having Europeans act as proxies, searching ships heading to Gaza on behalf of Israel.

This mirrors the accomplice role the Europeans volunteered for in the US-brokered 2005 agreement on the Gaza crossings, in which Europeans replaced Israeli occupation forces in impeding the movement of Palestinians, while the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt remained effectively under full Israeli supervision and veto. This amounts to institutionalizing the siege rather than demanding its removal.

Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah leader and head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, who was reported to have pleaded with US President Barack Obama not to let Israel end the siege and thus hand Hamas an easy victory, is also now calling for lifting the blockade. But when pressed, Abbas is always careful to condition his demand on “reconciliation” between Hamas, which has survived numerous Abbas-backed coup attempts since it won the 2006 elections, and his Fatah which — with international support — usurped control of the Palestinian Authority apparatus after it lost the election.

The “reconciliation” that Abbas wants is to return to the status quo before Hamas foiled the last coup attempt in June 2007. In other words, Abbas wants for himself an easy victory — to return his forces to control Gaza and its borders — which he could not achieve through conspiracies and armed adventures.

Even the Israeli government started talking about the need to “ease” the siege. It announced it would allow everything into Gaza except for potential “dual use” items that could be used to make weapons. Press reports indicated that the list of banned items includes virtually all construction supplies, pipes for plumbing, electrical goods, cleaning supplies, fertilizer and many other items whose absence cripples Gaza’s economy. With international acquiescence, Israel succeeded in redefining building supplies as dangerous weapons, only to be allowed in under the auspices of the UN.

It remains to be seen if Israel meets even its minimal promises, but based on past experience, there is every reason to expect that these are cosmetic changes designed not to ease the siege but to ease international pressure.

The sense of deception was heightened when the Netanyahu Cabinet issued a statement in English, talking about a government decision to relax the siege, while the Hebrew version of the same statement including nothing of the sort.

Even with these measures, Gaza remains effectively a prison for all who live in it; it is as if merely giving them enough food is all that counts. Their fundamental human rights, the right to enter and exit, to study, to move around and travel, is not on anyone’s agenda.

As for the United States, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned last week that the situation with respect to Gaza was not “tenable,” she was not hinting at ending a siege that violates fundamental rights. All she meant was that the siege was not tenable politically, and thus it needs to be repackaged to make it more acceptable.

A genuine call to lift the siege would mean freeing Gaza from all restrictions, like any other international entity. No power has the authority to decide what goods should enter or be banned from entering Gaza, not even arms imports so long as all the American and European arsenals are wide open to Israel to shop freely for its military needs while Israel is the aggressor, the occupier and the constant violator of international law. It is people under occupation and siege who need to be empowered to free themselves and to recover their stolen dignity.

Rather than claim that plumbing material and cement are weapons, it would be much better for Israel’s friends to urge it to talk to Hamas and accept one of Hamas’ many truce offers if it is serious about ending the violence that its occupation and brutality have caused.

Any genuine calls to lift the siege should also make sure that the Israeli monopoly on power in the region and its reign of lawlessness and terror are brought to an end.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.

British trade union calls for boycott: Jerusalem Post

06/24/2010 22:27
One of UK’s largest unions votes for boycott, expelling Israeli envoy.
One of Britain’s largest trade unions passed a motion at its annual conference in Bournemouth last week accusing Israel of lying over the Gaza flotilla incident and has called for a complete boycott of Israel and for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, it was confirmed on Thursday.

The emergency motion was introduced on the third day of the annual conference of UNISON, the largest public sector union with around 1.4 million members. It said Israel was “brazenly lying” over the flotilla incident, as it “attempted to define it as an attempted lynch mob of its troops by passengers on the boats. “This is a further sign that Israel does not respond to words of condemnation, only action will have any effect,” the motion states.

One attendee said that the few Unison members who spoke against the motion were heckled.

UNISON member Lilach Head, a care worker from Devon, spoke against the motion and was heckled. She said the atmosphere was intimidating and the vote was called before more people could speak against it.

“Only three people were able to speak against the motion, there were six others waiting but then the vote was called. There was no hope,” she said.

The union will now support a full boycott of Israel – economic, cultural and sporting; it has joined the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign and will suspend ties with the Histadrut.

In addition to these measures, UNISON is calling for Britain to expel the Israeli ambassador.

“Conference reaffirms the support for an economic, cultural and sporting boycott of Israel and call on Unison to join the scores of unions around the world who have endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Further to that as an immediate sanction for the illegal attack on the flotilla, we call on the government to expel the Israeli ambassador,” the motion states.

The union had already banned a organization that promotes Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation from having a stall at its conference.

UNISON’s deputy general secretary, Keith Sonnet, a pro-Palestinian activist and patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – a fringe group that advocates a one-state solution and major player in the boycott and delegitimization campaign against Israel – wrote to Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) saying the union was unable to offer the organization a stall because “we have no ongoing work with the TUFI, nor are we affiliated to the organization.”

“More than 2,000 delegates to UNISON’s national conference, representing our 1.4 million members, did indeed carry a motion condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla, in which nine people were reportedly killed,” a union spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

“The motion noted that the boats were carrying much needed humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza [and that] the passengers on the boats were civilians.”

Asked if the wording and the sentiments expressed in the motion were a fair and honest reflection of the views of the members, the spokesperson said: “Our 2,000 delegates were well aware of the words in the motion before it was carried. We have constantly called for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and have pushed the case for a peaceful settlement – including an end to the bombings, on both sides.”

Asked how the motion would be implemented, the spokesperson said: “Our international committee will be taking forward the actions called for in the motion when it meets in the next couple of weeks.”

“Again, this is making accusations before the facts have been established and an investigation into this tragic incident have been completed,” said Stephen Scott, director of TUFI. “The outrageous attack on their fellow trade unionists in the Histadrut, who have called for a lifting of the blockade restrictions and the resumption of final-status peace talks, is counterproductive.
The Israeli embassy in London said the motion was “misleading” and “dishonest” and an “outrageous attempt” by anti-Israel activists to manipulate the union to serve their agenda.

“We categorically reject this misleading and dishonest motion. This is yet another outrageous attempt by anti-Israel elements to manipulate a union into serving their agenda.

“At a time when public sector workers face unprecedented challenges to their jobs and conditions, it is bizarre that the union’s leadership is focusing an emergency meeting on an overseas situation of which they are so clearly ignorant and prejudiced,” the spokesman said.

The Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), a movement working to unite trade unions and non-governmental organizations to counter boycott calls of Israel, said the motion presented an “utterly one-sided view” and could have easily been written in Iran.

“UNISON continues to speak with two voices,” said TULIP spokesman Eric Lee. “On the one hand, the union’s official policy remains support for a two-state solution, which was reaffirmed by the union leadership – and the union has actually done some good work on the ground, promoting Jewish-Arab peace and reconciliation.

“However, this resolution was hastily drafted and even more hastily adopted; it contradicts the union’s own long-standing position and instead presents an utterly one-sided view of the conflict. It fact, it so demonizes Israel that it could easily have been written in Teheran,” Lee added.

Yes, Kahane lives: Haaretz

Kahanism is flourishing in Israel’s universities.
By Yitzhak Laor
On July 29, 1986, extreme right-wing MK Meir Kahane submitted another no-confidence proposal: “The government’s refusal to discuss the disintegration of Zionist ideology, which endangers the existence of the Jewish state.” According to Kahane: “Since the beginning of political Zionism, the movement’s thinkers have ignored and avoided the terrible and frightening truth of the basic contradiction between Zionism and enlightened Western democracy, to which all the Zionist leaders were indentured servants. Herzl, Nordau, Sokolow, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion – all of them, right and left, with their heads in the sand, one big ostrich. Not one of the progressives, the liberals, the enlightened waved a banner or blew a large shofar to warn of the terrible danger of the contradiction between the Zionist concept of a Jewish state and the democratic foundation of majority rule.”

He added: “How long will you skip between the two opinions? If [you want] Zionism and a Jewish state, say so and put an end to the insanity of political democracy for the Arabs, which will lead us to a war between the nations and suicide. And if democracy is God – follow it, but stop chattering about Zionism and a Jewish state.”

That was Kahane’s hobbyhorse. The contradiction. How did the Knesset deal with it? With a boycott. Every time he spoke the MKs left the hall, with the exception of a few nationalist Haredim. Shevach Weiss of the Labor Party responded to the proposal as follows: “We suggest that the no-confidence proposal be removed from the agenda.” That’s all. The parliamentary correspondents also took part in the impotent boycott. It was convenient to be disgusted by Kahane. He screamed, threatened, waved his fist, spoke in a foreign accent, but politically there was no difference between him and general and cabinet member Rechavam Ze’evi, though the latter had bridges and streets named after him because he was “one of ours” and Palestinians killed him.

It would be demagogic to take the speeches of Kahane – whose party was outlawed after two years due to its racism – to count the Kahanist MKs today and use their increasing numbers to explain the state’s attitude toward the Arab minority; for example, the attack on Arab MK Hanin Zuabi. The issue is almost the opposite. The racists’ broad representation in the Knesset is nothing more than a long-standing conclusion of an official policy whose language is the only thing about it that is not Kahanist.

From time to time, mainly during election campaigns, politicians speak in the future tense about overturning “past” discrimination, but the present is the real breeding ground of racism, because it is carried out by state institutions. That is the real common denominator of the parties in the governing coalition: They talk about equality and wink, and use up most of the pie for the Jews. The campaign against the racism of Hasidic settlers in Immanuel almost succeeded in camouflaging the real, profound and institutional racism against the Arab minority.

For example, Highway 6, the Trans-Israel Highway – you can’t get to the Arab town of Taibeh from it; the city has no exit of its own. For example, infant mortality in the Arab community and road accidents due to infrastructure. In every area where the national pie has to be shared the Arabs are discriminated against. Computers and air-conditioning for school children? Positions in the civil service? Community centers?

The battle in Europe for an academic boycott against Israel is missing out on a good excuse: Israel’s universities are leaders of the camp that discriminates against Arabs. Arabs make up 20 percent of the population, but less than 0.5 percent of university faculty members. The situation at the University of Haifa is a scandal: 20 percent of the students are Arabs, but not even 1 percent are faculty members. Here merit is usually cited as the reason, which is clearly racist: They aren’t good enough. That’s how big the appetite of the Jewish faculty is. (And in the universities’ administrative and technical staff? Not even 0.5 percent are Arabs ).

That is where Kahanism is flourishing. Not in the synagogues, but where the establishment’s future employees are trained. The education minister and MK Zevulun Orlev of the Knesset Education Committee can stand at the head of the right-wing Zionist student group Im Tirtzu, which objects to freedom of research. Their work is done mainly by Sadducees and Pharisees, left or right, Mizrahim or women – they won’t share the pie and the curriculum with the Arab minority.

Incidentally, discrimination at our universities as a reason for an academic boycott doesn’t apply in Europe for the simple reason that the universities there are no better in that sense. This reason will apply some day in the United States, and not only at the universities. It is very doubtful whether the most passionate defenders of Israel there could live under the unwritten Israeli constitution.

The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives by Gilbert Achcar: The Guardian

Tariq Ali applauds an attempt to analyse the Arab-Israeli conflict

“Since the fourth century after Christ,” wrote the late Raul Hillberg in his masterwork, The Destruction of the European Jews, “there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation. The second appeared as an alternative to the first, and the third emerged as an alternative to the second.” What this suggests is that “Judeo-Christian civilisation” is a relatively new and an essentially ideological construct.

If anything, from the eighth to the 19th centuries, there can be said to have existed an Islamo-Judaic civilisation that spanned the Iberian peninsula, the Arab world proper, Persia and the Ottoman lands. The Christian reconquest of Portugal and Spain led to forced conversions and expulsion of Jews and Muslims. Tens of thousands of Jews were given refuge in Muslim North Africa and the Ottoman empire.

It was not until after the first world war that relations between the communities began to deteriorate seriously. The reason for this was the Balfour declaration (opposed by Edwin Montagu, the only Jewish member of the British cabinet) that offered a homeland in Palestine to the Zionist Federation, without any consultations whatsoever with the people who lived on the land. Hitler and the judeocide of the second world war further cemented the foundations of the settler-state and led to the nakba for the Palestinian Arabs of the region. Hardly surprising that this led to the “war of narratives”.

In a systematic and scholarly refutation of the simplistic myths that have arisen following the formation of Israel, Gilbert Achcar, the Lebanese-French historian, who is currently professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, has provided us with the best book on the subject so far. Achcar has little time for Arab pieties. He makes no bones about the fact that Holocaust denial is not uncommon in the Middle East and that charlatan historians (Roger Garaudy is one of many examples cited in the book) have received a warm welcome from many in power in the Gulf states. He could have added that the late King Ibn Saud of the kingdom that bears his name was in the habit of presenting visiting western leaders with copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There is no recorded instance of any US President or western European leader refusing the gift.

Achcar also informs us that it is the Arabs with whom the Israelis chose to mate (the late Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Abu Mazen, the current leader of the PLO), who are on record as crude antisemites. Much space is devoted to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his meetings with the Nazis during the second world war. All this is true, but was not restricted to Palestine. Since nationalists were fighting the British and Dutch empires in many parts of the world, some of the nationalist leaders based their tactics on the wrong-headed basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Subhash Chandra Bose in India is the best-known example. He helped organise Hindu, Muslim and Sikh Indian prisoners-of-war in Japanese camps into an Indian National Army that fought alongside the Japanese. After the war Nehru donned his lawyer’s gown to defend the INA in court. They were popular throughout India.

But was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the founder of modern Egypt, an antisemite, as depicted in numerous Israeli accounts? Or an Arab Hitler, as portrayed by the British prime minister, Anthony Eden, prior to the Anglo-French-Israeli assault on Egypt in 1956? Achcar provides chapter and verse to the contrary. Nasser may have made mistakes, but essentially the tenor of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 60s was “of a socialist, anti-imperialist bent”. Nasser’s principal critique of Israel was not ethnic but political: he saw the Israeli state as a “tool of the imperialist powers”. He cites examples of how the Israeli government orchestrated a campaign to encourage the old Egyptian (and Baghdadi) Jewish communities to migrate to Israel, where their writers and poets wrote longingly about what they had left.

The book, which also contains numerous references to supportive Israeli literature on the subject, is a valuable corrective, especially in these times when Tzipi Livni, as foreign minister, could declare that: “The Palestinians can celebrate an independence day if, on that day, they eliminate the word nakba from their vocabulary.” Achcar’s comment is admirably restrained: “Statist Zionism is a Janus, one face towards the Holocaust, the other toward the nakba, one towards persecution endured, the other towards oppression inflicted . . . yet only recognition of both can bring Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs into a genuine dialogue.”

Hillberg, Peter Novick, Tony Judt, Gabi Piterburg, Norman Finkelstein, Amira Hass and numerous others of Jewish origin have warned against the uses being made of the Holocaust in contemporary politics, and not just in Israel. It is short-sighted and counterproductive.

It will not help towards a settlement in the region. Nor will official Israeli attempts, mimicked by their apologists in the west, to declare that all those who oppose Israel’s repression in Gaza and the occupied territories are anti-semites. Crude propaganda of this sort, which debases history and politics, might even lead some to accept the label as a price to be paid for opposition to Israeli policies. Achcar’s volume is a bold attempt to avoid partisanship. An Arabic edition has just been published in Cairo. One looks forward to a Hebrew equivalent.

Tariq Ali’s The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom: And Other Essays is published by Verso.

Reining in Barkat: Haaretz Editorial

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is once again proving that he remains faithful to the views of the extreme right on all issues related to the capital.

At the same time that the government is easing the blockade on Gaza to mitigate international criticism toward Israel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has pushed the country back into the eye of the storm. While U.S. President Barack Obama tries to salvage the Middle East peace process, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee this week approved Barkat’s initiative to create a recreational park in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

The plan calls for razing 22 of the 88 homes built without permits in the neighborhood known as Al-Bustan (Gan Hamelech ), with its residents transferred to a nearby area. Jerusalem city hall refuses to hold talks with the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents over alternative plans they have proposed, and even ousted the Meretz faction from the city’s coalition along with its head, former deputy mayor Yosef Alalu.

This is not the first time Barkat has proven to his electorate – many of them from the political center or left – that he in fact remains faithful to the views of the extreme right on all things related to the capital. Under the pretext of “developing East Jerusalem,” Barkat is promoting a plan to bolster Jewish presence in Arab neighborhoods. Under the pretext of “law and order,” he is pushing out Palestinians from areas Israel annexed unilaterally in June 1967.

Barkat is conducting himself like a bull in the china shop of his putatively undivided city, defiantly ignoring Israel’s pledge to include East Jerusalem in negotiations on a final-status agreement. This demonstrates a pointed lack of interest in the international ramifications (particularly in the Arab world ) of violating the status quo in neighborhoods east of the Green Line, where fully a third of the city’s residents live.

In March 2009, after Barkat dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s censure of home demolitions in Silwan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Washington he would move to freeze demolitions. Four months ago, Netanyahu instructed Barkat to defer the demolition of homes in Silwan and the creation of a tourist park there. Shortly after, Netanyahu also asked Interior Minister Eli Yishai not to push forward measures to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, which had been authorized by the Jerusalem district committee of the Interior Ministry. In each of these instances, the prime minister exerted his influence and authority over both the municipal and national governments, but only after Israel suffered international condemnation and an upbraiding from the White House.

Protecting Jerusalem’s fragile coexistence is a foremost Israeli interest, and responsibility for maintaining it lies with the prime minister. Netanyahu must put Barkat in his place now, instead of waiting for the next phone call from Washington or another disparaging statement from the United Nations. Jerusalem is too volatile for Netanyahu to leave it in the hands of reckless politicians.

Strenger than Fiction / Ya’alon’s style of nationalism is driving Israel further into the bunker: Haaretz

Vice Premier Ya’alon believes liberals have a ‘distorted’ vision of Zionism, but his own form is inflicting harm on Israel and pushing it into deeper isolation.
By Carlo Strenger
Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon recently gave a lecture at an event celebrating the 70th birthday of the Lehi, the pre-state underground militia.

He explained to the audience that Lehi founder Avraham Stern’s “words of eternal dedication and national Jewish pride have been contaminated in public discourse. They have been turned from words of national consensus to negative remarks seen as ‘extreme’ and ‘uneducated’.”
Yaalon thinks that Stern’s nationalist vision should be used to educate Israel’s youngsters, and concluded by saying that recent events show that Israel cannot rely on anyone but itself.

But Ya’alon also has the diagnosis for Israel’s problems: It’s the left! It turns out that the left has a “distorted view of Zionism,” and that of course is unhealthy. And Ya’alon’s diagnostic instincts have been intact for quite a while. Last year he branded Peace Now a “virus.”

Clarification: I should mention that after some pressure from Netanyahu, Ya’alon kind of retracted his statement, saying that he recognized the importance of democratic discourse.

I am not sure that this semi-retraction was meant honestly, judging from Ya’alon’s record. He, for example, considers it an unfortunate habit that the courts call certain outposts illegal. How can the legal system do such a thing, when Ya’alon is telling us time and again that Jews should have the right to settle anywhere in the Greater Land of Israel?

Well, quite frankly, I’m not particularly hurt by Ya’alon’s view that liberal-minded Jews have distorted Zionist values, because I think the same of him. I suggested a while ago that the fake “respect” that political correctness prescribes for beliefs that you consider false, irrational or immoral should be replaced by what I call civilized disdain.

Given Ya’alon’s worldview, he obviously can have nothing but disdain for liberal positions – and this heartfelt disdain is mutual. But we should keep this disdain civilized, and I think that Ya’alon calling Peace Now a virus is uncivilized.

It is quite unfortunate that Ya’alon is unaware how deeply he is stuck in a 19th century conception that idealizes land and the connection of spirit and land. He doesn’t notice that he is committed to the one historical form of Zionism that is most remote from today’s reality. He seems to be even less aware that he is basically disqualifying not only Israel’s liberals as having a “distorted form of Zionism,” but also throwing all non-revisionist, right-wing versions of Zionism into the dustbin. Nothing but fiery nationalist rhetoric seems Zionist to him.

Given that Ya’alon is minister of strategic affairs, I think that it is even more unfortunate that he thinks that Israel can and should rely only on itself. He might do well do read legal scholar and terrorism expert Philipp Bobbitt, who advised six U.S. presidents. In his brilliant Terror and Consent, rightly hailed as one of the deepest diagnoses of the relation between the liberal state and global terrorism, Bobbit shows that no nation state can fight global terrorism on its own. He might want to read Peter Beinart’s incisive analysis of American hubris in The Icarus Syndrome. This might wake him up to wonder whether Israel could not learn from the failures of the world’s only superpower about the limits of unilateralism.

Quite unfortunately, at this point in history, Ya’alon’s type of nationalist rhetoric is rather strong in Israel. But I have no doubt that the future of Israel hinges on liberal, open-minded and sophisticated versions of Zionism that Ya’alon seems to despise. We don’t have to invent liberal Zionism: it was held by early Zionists like Herzl and Ahad Ha’am (hence I would suggest that Ya’alon presses the minister of education to strike them from the curriculum; they might harm the values of youngsters who read them!)

Neither Herzl nor Ahad Ha’am believed in the sanctification of stones or the deification of land. Both thought that cultural and scientific creativity is the sign of health for a country. Both were liberal minded and believed that Jews and Arabs should live in full equality and respect. Herzl was against ethnocentrism, and he was a great believer in diplomacy.

Hence, as Dimitry Shumsky has pointed out, it would be a good idea if “Im Tirtzu” would stop using Herzl as the icon of its totally illiberal version of Zionism that Ya’alon endorses.

Meanwhile, I suggest that liberals continue developing forward-looking, humanistic versions of Zionism as I have been doing for quite some time. Only liberal Zionism is capable of moving Israel onto a sane political course and of nurturing Israel’s cultural, scientific and economic flourishing.

Liberal Zionism also has strategic implications, because it thinks in terms of creating alliances rather than aggravating the whole world. Along with liberal commentators like Akiva Eldar I am constantly amazed at Israel’s most blatant policy failure of the last decade: its unwillingness to engage with the peace initiative of the Arab League, which would bring Israel full recognition by 57 Islamic states.

Full acceptance of Israel by the Islamic world would have done more to either isolate Hamas or force it to change its policy than four years of useless and inhuman blockade. But thinking in such terms would require moving from Boogie-style nationalism to sophisticated Liberal Zionism. Until this happens, we can only hope that the Boogies will not inflict too much harm on Israel along the way, or push it into even deeper isolation.

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