August 13, 2010

Ramadan on zero: Al Ahram Weekly

While some extra goods are now available to people in Gaza, few have the money to buy them, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Click to view caption
One of Gaza markets filled with Ramadan goods
Mohamed Nassar, 49, was astounded and at a loss as he walked through Al-Zawya market in the heart of Gaza City. He was amazed at the large variety of products on sale, and confused because with little money he was unsure what he could afford from the shopping list his wife gave him in preparation for Ramadan. Nassar, father of four, is a repairman who works on refrigerators and air conditioners with an income of about 1,500 shekels ($400) a month.

He pays $150 in rent and told Al-Ahram Weekly, “To be honest, I only have 600 shekels, which needs to last until the end of the month. I am thinking of buying some Ramadan goods, such as cheese and canned food, with a third of this money. The market is very tempting this year and has many new products.” He quickly adds, “This month will be especially hard because expenses are usually high and it is followed by Eid [the Islamic holiday after Ramadan]. I hope charities will be more attentive to the needs of low-income families because we cannot afford this.”

When you stroll through the markets of Gaza in the last week of Shaaban, a few days before the fasting month begins, one sees a variety of foods, such as dairy products, household items, and other Ramadan specials. What is surprising is how competitive everyone is about buying these goods, especially that many of these items were banned from entering for many years, as part of the siege on Gaza.

Merchants and shop owners have been working for two months to meet the demands of the people of Gaza who have craved many foods over the past few years. Ramadan decorations have even gone up, raising the spirits of the people.

“This year, merchants have prepared well for Ramadan,” Abu Youssef Al-Darqotni, 55, a grocer in Gaza City told the Weekly. “They have prepared themselves and brought goods which they haven’t seen since the beginning of the blockade. The shops are ready to sell everything you need for Ramadan.” But Al-Darqotni also expressed his fears that people will not be able to afford the products brought in for Ramadan. He stated that people’s purchasing power remains weak, “despite the slight easing” of the siege after world pressure mounted in the wake of the Israeli massacre on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship that was part of the Free Gaza Flotilla.

In Al-Sheikh Radwan district, north of Gaza City, a group of children are standing outside a shop selling Ramadan toys, looking at the goods, especially the Ramadan lanterns. Some of them bargain with the shop owner over the prices, which have already dropped considerably. The children are hoping that their parents will buy these lanterns for them at the beginning of the holy month, so they can play and have fun like other children.

Hassan Zeineddin, a toy vendor, stated that Israel allowed large volumes of toys to enter Gaza and which have flooded the markets and caused prices to drop. “During the worst years of the siege, trade was almost at a standstill because good quality products were not allowed through, and all that was available were poor quality goods smuggled through the tunnels,” stated Zeineddin. “We expect more of this during Ramadan.”

FASTING WITHOUT ELECTRICITY: Gaza residents fear that power shortages will continue during Ramadan. “Ramadan will be very difficult if blackouts continue,” asserted Nader Qonita, 35, who lives in Al-Tifah district in Gaza City. “Will we break our fast in candlelight? Will we be able to bear fasting in the heat of summer without air conditioning? If this continues, then fasting will be very tough.”

He added that despite the surge in goods on the market, “we are worried to buy anything because it will spoil without refrigerators because of the lack of electricity. We hope that officials will keep that in mind, so that we can welcome the month of Ramadan with joy, as we always do.” Qonita told the Weekly that his family is ready to begin the holy month, and he is focussing on buying canned food that will not spoil if there is a power outage.

Despite all the goods being sold in Gaza, financial and economic conditions for most families are poor because of extensive unemployment resulting from Israel’s blockade on Gaza imposed since Hamas won legislative elections four years ago.

Nahed Afana, 38, told the Weekly that conditions at border crossings have improved, but people’s lives have not because the blockade has rendered many jobless, and now they live on aid from relief agencies, charities and the government. Afana, who is in the low-income bracket, stated that many people are disheartened when they go shopping, especially during Ramadan, because they cannot afford any of the goods.

“We are worried that this season will be a loss to us, especially since the people’s economic situations have not yet improved,” said Mazen Al-Dalu, a grocer at Al-Zawya market. “These days, sales are low, but acceptable. We fear, however, that sales will not pick up, even during the first days of Ramadan.” Al-Dalu noted that the siege was only partially lifted, and mainly focused on foodstuffs that do not offer work opportunities for most workers, unlike if raw materials had been allowed in. Had the occupation allowed the passage of raw materials two months ago, he explained, the volume of trade would have been much greater.

“Ramadan is one of the best seasons for the sale of food products,” economist Omar Shaaban explained to the Weekly. “But because of Israel’s blockade and economic conditions, sales may not be as high as they used to be before the siege.” Shaaban continued that the Gaza Strip “needs to import more products, especially raw materials for factories to provide employment for many, in order for the people and merchants to be happier.”

He called on vendors to keep in mind that customers are cash strapped, and recommended they drop prices, especially in Ramadan. Shaaban expected that Ramadan sales this year would be no different from previous years because of the siege, unemployment and the drop in income.

RAMADAN ASSISTANCE: Many Palestinians rely on handouts from charities in the Gaza Strip, especially after unemployment levels went through the roof. Several charities have sponsored Ramadan assistance projects, including food baskets, food stamps and purchasing stamps, which target poor and needy families in the Gaza Strip.

“This aid meets an urgent need as the holy month of Ramadan approaches, especially that economic conditions continue to deteriorate for the residents of Gaza as a result of Israel’s unjust siege of our people for more than four years,” Nassim Al-Zaaneen, a member of Gaza Gives Society which is sponsoring the “Ramadan Kheir” campaign for poor and needy families, told the Weekly. Al-Zaaneen continued that charities are making a huge effort to carry out transparent and accurate surveys, to ensure that assistance reaches those who deserve it.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Affairs in Gaza announced a relief campaign that will provide assistance to some 70,000 families in Gaza by giving them $50 each. “So far, we have given money to nearly 45,000 families, and the campaign will continue until this reaches all the targeted families during the holy month,” Minister of Social Affairs Ahmed Al-Kurd told the Weekly. Al-Kurd stated that the money is being distributed in coordination with tens of charities working in the Gaza Strip, to ensure that assistance reaches all segments of society.

He added that the Ramadan charity campaign has the full support of the Palestinian government in Gaza, and revealed that his ministry intends to distribute financial aid during Ramadan to families that are suffering the most, as well as the unemployed who lost their jobs because of the blockade.

It seems that Ramadan this year will not be very different from those in the past three years. The Palestinians will continue to live in need under crushing conditions of deprivation.

Palestinian on Hunger Strike in Berlin for Family Rights in East Jerusalem: The Only Democracy?

August 12th, 2010, by Jesse Bacon
From the Palestinian rights group Al Haq.
(Ed’s note: As many of us celebrate the ruling supporting marriage equality in the case of California, it bears remembering how Palestinians still face discrimination based on who they choose to wed.)
12 August 2010
As a Palestinian NGO committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is deeply concerned about Firas Al-Maraghi’s hunger strike that he has been holding since 26 July 2010 opposite the Israeli embassy in Berlin, Germany. Firas, a Palestinian resident of occupied East Jerusalem who is married to a German national, is protesting a decision which was taken by the Israeli embassy to ban the couple’s new-born daughter from being registered as a Jerusalem resident. This decision breaches Firas’s right to live in Jerusalem with his family.
Firas was born and raised in the neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem to a Palestinian family with deep roots in the city. In 2007, Firas temporarily moved to Berlin to be with his wife, who is completing her doctoral thesis there. Since then, Firas has regularly revisited Jerusalem. Knowing that they would return to Jerusalem after the completion of his wife’s PhD, Firas refuses to apply for any other passport or travel document that might strip away his right to hold the laissez-passer, a travel document issued by Israel to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.
Firas has been on hunger strike for 18 days, drinking only water, refusing to end his strike until the Israeli embassy in Berlin revokes its denial of registering Firas’s daughter as Jerusalem resident.
Israel’s refusal to allow family unification is not an isolated case. Since 1967, Israel has engaged in a deliberate policy of reducing the number of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem while facilitating the increase of the Jewish population in the city. To this end, Israel has used various legal and administrative means aimed at preventing the unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with non-resident spouses and children.
In the past, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were able to apply to the Israeli Ministry of Interior for family unification for their spouses and children in order to legally reside in East Jerusalem and Israel with their families (a requirement that does not apply to Jewish citizens and immigrants).
In 2000, Israel de facto suspended all family unification procedures, impacting tens of thousands of Palestinians and their foreign spouses. Moreover, since 2003, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has regularly extended the discriminatory “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003” (most recently on 21 July 2010). This law formally denies family unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with their spouses and children from other parts of the OPT or abroad. Consequently, these families are prevented from living together in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, resulting in the separation and forced relocation of such families.
In its recent concluding observations, the Human Rights Committee has asked for the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003” law, which is ostensibly a temporary provision, to be revoked. The Human Rights Committee’s concern with regards to this issue stems from the fact that Israel’s ban on family unification is in blatant violation of international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 23(1) of ICCPR states that, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”  Israel, as the Occupying Power in the OPT, must respect Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that, “protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights.”
Israel uses a fundamentally flawed security rationale to justify its illegal policy. While international law recognises Israel’s right to protect its citizens, Israel remains obligated to act in accordance with the principle of proportionality. Israel’s total ban on family unification for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem is not only inherently discriminatory but also disproportionate. Israel’s security rationale is further undermined by the government’s clear statements with regard to ensuring the demographic superiority of the Jewish people within illegally annexed East Jerusalem. Israel’s policy of denying Palestinians the right to family unification hinders the prospects of a two-state solution where East Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu rejects peace talks based on 1967 borders: Haaretz

Prime ministers rebuffs Palestinian ‘precondition’ as talks with U.S. envoy George Mitchell end in failure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday rejected a Palestinian demand that direct negotiations be based on a statement by the Quartet confirming its position that the future Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 borders.

Meeting in Jerusalem with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu repeated his demand for the renewal of direct talks without preconditions. Mitchell briefed Netanyahu on his meeting on Tuesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and gave the prime minister the Palestinian proposal.

According to Palestinian sources, Mitchell did not dismiss Abbas’ proposal. Abbas is demanding a clear framework for the direct talks and an Israeli commitment to cease construction activity in the settlement during the negotiations.

The Quartet – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – issued the statement after a meeting in Moscow on March 19. It calls for 24 months of talks between Israel and the PA that would result in an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The statement said that the founding of the Palestinian state would end the occupation that began in 1967. It also called on Israel to institute a total freeze of construction in West Bank settlements and to refrain from home demolitions in East Jerusalem. The declaration even went so far as to mention that the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

Senior officials in Jerusalem who are involved in the efforts to renew direct peace talks said yesterday that Abbas’ latest formula was unacceptable to Netanyahu because it sought to impose preconditions that the Israeli public would oppose.

Mitchell told Netanyahu that Washington has not taken a position on the proposal yet, noting that his job was simply to present Abbas’ offer to Israeli. The U.S. envoy told Netanyahu that Abbas indicated to him that if Israel were to accept the offer, he would be ready to enter direct talks immediately.

After Netanyahu’s rejection, it appears that Mitchell’s latest visit to the region has ended in failure.

According to Palestinian sources, the United States rejected two earlier proposals put forth by Abbas to jump-start direct talks. One called for U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials to meet in order to reach agreement on a framework for direct talks. The other called for U.S. President Barack Obama to issue a statement spelling out the terms of the framework.

Palestinian journalists who met with Abbas this week said they came away with the impression that he is determined to move forward in negotiations with Israel but will not back down on long-established Palestinian positions. Despite international criticism of his refusal to begin negotiations, Abbas is insistent on an agreed framework for discussions prior to the start of direct talks.

An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times urged Abbas to renew talks with Israel, warning him to avoid a clash with Obama, who is keen to see the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

In his meeting with Palestinian journalists Abbas urged them to meet with their Israeli colleagues, after the main journalists’ union in the West Bank failed in its campaign to boycott all contacts with Israeli reporters. Abbas told the Palestinian reporters it was important for them to continue their dialogue with Israeli journalists.

The case against Israel: Al Ahram Weekly

The fate of the UN Hariri Tribunal hangs in the balance after Hizbullah reveals evidence that implicates Israel, Omayma Abdel-Latif reports
Click to view caption
For almost a year, Hizbullah assigned a team of legal experts the task of collecting evidence that could prove Israel’s culpability in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri in February 2005. The outcome of Hizbullah’s “private investigation” was presented in a press conference held by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in which he revealed valuable evidence that points a finger at Israel as the sole beneficiary of the “shattering earthquake” — as Nasrallah described it — that was Al-Hariri’s assassination.

For three hours Monday evening, Nasrallah built his case against Israel by presenting aerial reconnaissance footage of areas frequented by Al-Hariri, including the site of the assassination. He pointed out that this proved Israel was tracking his movements for the purposes of assassination. Nasrallah said that Israel has “wiretapping devices, aerial and field surveillance in addition to logistic support to carry out the assassination operation in the Lebanese interior”. Nasrallah said the footage was intercepted from Israeli surveillance planes prior to Al-Hariri’s assassination. This interception, according to Nasrallah, was one of the breakthroughs achieved by the Islamic resistance movement. “Such footage usually comes as the first leg of the execution of an operation,” Nasrallah said in a news conference broadcast via video link.

Several clips were also aired showing aerial views of the coastline off West Beirut on various days prior to Al-Hariri’s assassination. The Israeli cameras panned across the Hamra district, Al-Hariri’s residences in West Beirut and the parliament, his last stop before his killing in a seafront bomb blast. The Israeli drone’s monitoring of Al-Hariri’s movements “was not by coincidence”, said Nasrallah. “We have definite information on the aerial movements of the Israeli enemy the day Al-Hariri was murdered. Hours before he was murdered, an Israeli drone was surveying the Sidon-Beirut-Jounieh coastline as warplanes were flying over the coast off Beirut.” An Israeli AWACS plane was hovering over the coast the day of the assassination — further proof, pointed out Nasrallah, of Israeli involvement.

In building his case against Israel, Nasrallah took the audience back in time to the early 1990s, presenting evidence that Israel has been working to create a wedge between the resistance movement and the late Al-Hariri. He unveiled information about an Israeli spy called Ahmed Hussein Nasrallah who claimed before the late Al-Hariri that a Hizbullah ring was planning to “liquidate” him and that among this group were senior figures like Imad Mughniyeh (later assassinated by Israel), Ali Dib — better known as Abu Hassan Salama — and other big names among Hizbullah’s security apparatus.

Hizbullah arrested Ahmed Nasrallah whose confessions were videotaped and aired for the first time during the press conference. Hizbullah’s secretary-general said his party handed Ahmed Nasrallah over to Syria, the dominant political and military force in Lebanon at the time. But after his return from Syria, Ahmed Nasrallah remained in prison in Lebanon only to be released “for unknown reasons”. He then managed to flee to Israel. “Spy Ahmed Nasrallah deluded Al-Hariri into thinking that Hizbullah had a plan to assassinate Bahia Al-Hariri, and hence to force him to go to Sidon to receive condolences so that he would be assassinated there,” Nasrallah added.

Ahmed Nasrallah was the first of “the false witnesses” phenomenon that plagued the Hariri Tribunal investigation. Recent leaks that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was planning to issue its indictments in the fall in which it would direct charges against what it claimed were “undisciplined members” of Hizbullah triggered a series of speeches by Hassan Nasrallah.

The idea to have a team conducting a private investigation into the killing was, according to Nasrallah, inspired by the arrests of an Israeli spy ring in Lebanon starting April 2009. Since then some 150 Israeli spies have been arrested by Lebanese army and security intelligence officers. “An in- depth reading of the confessions of the Israeli agents gave us leads to work towards proving the possibility of Israel’s culpability of the crime, although this has been completely ruled out by the [STL] investigation committee,” said Nasrallah. Nasrallah spoke at length of suspected spies in Lebanon, airing detailed profiles of a handful of Israeli agents arrested by Lebanese security forces.

When Nasrallah was asked whether or not such valuable evidence would be submitted to the STL investigating Al-Hariri’s killing, his answer was brief but telling: “We do not have confidence in this investigation to start with, and even when we accepted to help with the investigation, we did this as witnesses.” But if the STL ignores the new facts presented and does not investigate them, this will confirm Hizbullah’s conviction that the STL is politicised, said Nasrallah.

Initial reactions to Nasrallah’s bombshell remarks varied. Significant, however, was that the signals coming from Saad Al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister and son of the late Rafik Al-Hariri, were not encouraging. The Hariri-financed TV channel Al-Mustaqbal ignored the press conference and continued airing its programmes as usual. Former Al-Mustaqbal MP Mustafa Aloush told several TV channels that he “was not convinced by Nasrallah’s evidence”. There has been no comment — until Al-Ahram Weekly went to print — from Hariri’s office on Nasrallah’s accusations.

Al-Hariri’s silence, explained Ibrahim Al-Amin of the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, has one meaning: things may get complicated. “Al-Hariri told his confidantes that silence will protect the tribunal,” wrote Al-Amin in Al-Akhbar ‘s editorial on Tuesday. This can only mean that Al-Hariri is turning down Nasrallah’s helping hand to put an end to the politicisation of the tribunal and the investigation into his father’s murder, he added. But other key players, such as the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, voiced the view that Nasrallah presented “evidence valuable enough to open a new investigation into Al-Hariri’s killing”.

Nasrallah insisted that what he presented was not “conclusive evidence”, but was sufficient to open a new investigation into the Al-Hariri killing that should focus on Israel’s possible culpability. He added that Hizbullah was ready to assist in any investigation so long as it proved its “seriousness”. Although Nasrallah left much unsaid, yet he made no secret of the real purpose behind the press appearance. It is the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab, Muslim and Lebanese public. “We are very concerned about briefing Lebanese, Arab and Muslim public opinion about the information we have,” explained Nasrallah, “because we believe that the primary goal behind indicting Hizbullah is to soil the resistance’s reputation and image in the eyes of Arab public opinion and to clear Israel’s reputation.”

Israel suffers from evoking Holocaust to justify militant policies: Haaretz

Israel will probably succeed in preventing Ahmadinejad from building a bomb, but if in doing so its leaders continue to invoke Auschwitz repeatedly, then we are all losers.
By Anshel Pfeffer
Not long ago, I was walking through one of the antique sales areas in London with a friend. One of the shops specialized in military paraphernalia and on a corner of a shelf, a pile of Wehrmacht Knight’s Cross medals caught my eye. The shop lady informed me that they were much sought after collectors items and upon further inspection, I saw at the back of the shelf a pile of red cloth that ominously looked like swastika flags, folded so as to show just about enough to attract the discerning enthusiast, and at the very back a strip of blue and white cloth with a yellow triangle and a number on it. I couldn’t tell whether it was an authentic concentration camp uniform – somehow it seemed too clean – but I felt too physically sick to remain there and left the shop for some fresh air.

An hour later, we were browsing through some other items at a stall further down the road selling Chinese souvenirs. I leafed through an English edition of Mao’s Little Red Book. “You don’t seem so disturbed right now,” said my friend, “even though Mao probably killed many more human beings that Hitler did.”

She had a point. I was disgusted by the thought of people buying Nazi flags and medals, but the thought of owning Mao’s book seemed rather cool. But then we seem to have a sick national fetish for any kind of Holocaust relic.

This week a wooden hut in what was once the concentration camp of Majdanek on the outskirts of Lublin in Poland was badly damaged by fire, and thousands of shoes of camp inmates were destroyed. Israeli officials said that it was “a tragic loss” and I couldn’t help but thinking that at a place where over 79,000 human beings had been industrially slaughtered, the destruction of some old shoes is hardly a tragedy.

I saw the shoes at Majdanek 20 years ago, as a high school student on a trip to Poland. Actually, Majdanek was the very first stop on our route, before Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto, because it is the best preserved of all the camps in Poland, with the crematorium and gas chamber still intact and all those huts filled with personal belongings of the victims. They take high-schoolers there at the beginning for some shock treatment, in the hope that will make them act in a solemn way throughout the trip. (It doesn’t always work though. As harrowing as the visits to the camps are, the raucousness at the hotel in the evening goes up a few notches. And why not? )

I know that many visitors have been greatly moved by looking at the huge piles of shoes, which are supposed to emphasize in some way the millions killed, but I wasn’t taken in by the numbers. Somehow all the black, nearly identical footwear seemed to blur into each other, and all I sensed was the oppressive smell in the close, hot hut. What did move me finally was when I saw at the edge of one pile a woman’s red sandal, with the decorative strap still intact. A remnant with a hint of individuality. I can still see that sandal in my mind very clearly today, and often think of the woman who wore it. How did she turn up at a death camp with such a useless shoe?

Tens of thousands of such shoes still remain in Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps that are no memorials, but apparently some of the more delicate exhibits, clothes, the piles of hair shorn from the victims, the cardboard suitcases they used to bring a few belongings to “resettlement” and such stuff is falling to pieces, and millions are needed for their complex restoration. But will this be money well spent?

How important is it for us to see physical remnants of the Holocaust? While there have been voices in Israel in the past questioning the value of the high school trips to Poland, mainly from the left wing as students tend to come back infused with nationalism, not only have they continued at a greater pace, but the practice has spread also to the army. Hundreds of IDF officers now participate annually in “Witnesses in Uniform” delegations to Poland – one armored battalion commander told me recently that “whenever I want to try and keep an officer in the service and he’s hesitating, I send him on one of the delegations to Poland. That usually does the trick.”

The Holocaust is also very present in the IDF, on the office walls of many generals and colonels who put up the framed photograph of three Israeli F-15s flying over the Auschwitz crematoria in 2003. Jeffrey Goldberg picked up on that detail in the interviews he did in Israel for a piece he wrote in this month’s The Atlantic, predicting that Israel will almost certainly carry out a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities by June 2011. The main reason Israeli leaders gave him for such a decision – preventing a second Holocaust.

There are good and valid reasons for and against attacking Iran, but as long as the Holocaust is part of the equation, those who have to make the call will never be able to reach a reasoned decision.

It seems that in the national Israeli psyche, backed up by the education system and the IDF, the only worthwhile lesson of the Holocaust is that Israel should be strong and defend itself, and the only purpose of defending Israel is that there should not be another Holocaust.

Israel will probably succeed in preventing Ahmadinejad from building a bomb, but if in doing so its leaders continue to invoke Auschwitz repeatedly, then we are all losers. Israelis will lose the ability and ambition to try and turn their country into something more than just a safe haven, and their senses will become even more dulled to feeling the pain and suffering of others.

Global conference votes for RMT anti-Israel motion: Jewish Chronicle

By Jennifer Lipman, August 12, 2010
The RMT transport union has passed a motion condemning Israel at an international conference representing more than 4,600,000 union members.
The resolution, voted for by delegates at the annual International Transport Federation (ITF) conference, calls for action on “illegal Israeli settlements”.
The RMT, which is led by Bob Crow, seconded the motion proposed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) at the Mexico event.
It calls for transport workers to halt the movement of people and goods into the Palestinian Territories.
The ITF is the umbrella organisation for more than 750 transport unions in 155 countries around the world.
In June, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) rejected calls to boycott Israel and pledged its “universal recognition” of the country’s right to exist.
But trade unions around the world have been vocal in calling for divestment and sanctions on Israel.
Earlier in 2010 Britain’s largest union, Unite, unanimously passed a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli companies, while the University and College Union supported several anti-Israel resolutions at its national conference.

Israel accepts trivial probe: Al Ahram Weekly

After insisting that Israel has nothing to hide from the UN secretary-general’s panel of inquiry into its 31 May bloody attack on a Turkish ship carrying pro-Palestinian peace activists, Israel is now trying to arm-twist the international body in the hope of eviscerating the investigation of substance, reports Khaled Amayreh
The four-member panel is due to meet for the first time in New York on Tuesday. UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon hailed the formation of the panel calling it, “an unprecedented step”. “I am grateful for the spirit of constructive engagement that has made this unprecedented panel possible. I am confident that this initiative will contribute to regional stability.”

Earlier, as UN officials vowed to conduct a “credible and honest” probe into Israel’s murderous assault on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, Israeli officials vowed to prevent the UN body from questioning Israeli soldiers or officers involved in the bloody operation which took place in international waters.

However, in a sign denoting confusion or malfeasance on Israel’s part, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pointed out that, “It is in Israel’s national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident will be brought to light.” Netanyahu later warned that Israel would quit the probe altogether if it insisted on questioning members of the Israeli armed forces.

Israel views such a prospect as violating a jealously guarded taboo whereby Israeli soldiers implicated in war crimes must never be subjected to interrogation by foreign bodies under any circumstances. The Israeli media has quoted Netanyahu as making it “absolutely clear that Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate soldiers.”

Israeli sources said Israel’s agreement to join the probe represented a certain change in policy. However, the same sources admitted that the world outcry against the 31 May raid, which left nine Turkish activists dead, and the spotlight it turned on Israel’s harsh four-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, left Israel no choice but to cooperate.

More to the point, Israeli officials hinted that Israel gained the impression that the UN probe would content itself with relying on the outcome of Israel’s own military inquiry, without having to hear testimonies from soldiers. Meanwhile, Netanyahu told the Israeli investigative commission looking into the maritime assault that details regarding the “incident” were left for Defence Minister Ehud Barak to decide.

Netanyahu’s remarks were interpreted by the Israeli media as a cynical attempt to evade responsibility. The blame casting eventually prompted Barak to declare before the commission that, “I take full responsibility,” saying the government had seen the potential for bloodshed when it decided to carry out the operation.

“I carry overall responsibility for everything that took place in the systems under my command. I carry responsibility for the orders given on the political level,” he told the panel headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Yaakov Turkel.

Nonetheless, Barak refused to admit guilt, arguing that, “the decision-making process at the political level was not the reason for the reality that emerged at the end of the operation,” insisting that intercepting the ship was a reasoned decision made by a group of senior cabinet ministers.

In addition to Israel, which is represented by Joseph Ciechanover, the UN probe panel includes Ozdem Sanberk, representing Turkey. The panel will be chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and co-chaired by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Although representing a certain departure from past UN behaviour of surrendering to Israel, due to mostly massive US pressure, the present panel is not being well received by the human rights community.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expressed “serious concerns” regarding the panel’s composition. “As of now, the panel’s mandate has not been clearly defined and seems to be limited to simply assessing national investigation reports. This would clearly be not sufficient to bring to light the circumstances of this tragedy and bring those responsible to account, in an independent and impartial manner.”

Objecting to the inclusion of the former Colombian president on the panel, FIDH pointed out that “thousands of extrajudicial and summary executions, massacres, enforced disappearances, internally displaced persons and other grave international crimes have been documented by the United Nations itself in Colombia under Uribe’s presidency.”

Further, it has been suggested that Uribe had extensive relations with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, especially in pursuing political opponents abroad. The FIDH letter also pointed out that Uribe “has publicly sought to enforce Colombia’s military relations with Israel and promoted security cooperation with Israel during his mandate.”

Uribe’s perceived bias in Israel’s favour enforces the impression that his inclusion on the UN panel of inquiry may have been instrumental in getting Israel to accept the UN probe.

CIA evidence of an Israeli nuclear test: Letter to the Editor, The Guardian

David Lowry asks (Letters, 11 August) whether Israel has carried out a nuclear weapon test. Although there is no conclusive answer, he is not correct to say that there is no public information. Since 2004, the CIA report on the double flash detected by a US Vela satellite on 22 September 1979, originating in the south Atlantic, has been declassified, albeit heavily redacted. The purpose of the Vela satellites was to detect atmospheric nuclear tests, and the double flash is characteristic of nuclear explosions.

According to the report: “In September 1979 some special security measures were put into effect which indicate that certain elements of the South African navy were exercising or on alert. The harbour and naval base at Simonstown were declared on 23 August to be off limits for the period 17-23 September … Also, the Saldanha naval facility was suddenly placed on alert for the period 21-23 September.”

A clandestine nuclear test by Israel would have been useful. According to the report: “The Israelis might have conceivably foreseen needs for more advanced weapons, such as low-yield nuclear weapons that could be used on the battlefield. Or they might have considered desirable a small tactical nuclear warhead for Israel’s short-range Lance surface-to-surface missiles. Israeli strategists might even have been interested in developing the fission trigger for a thermonuclear weapon. If they were to have developed reliable nuclear devices for any of these weapons without access to tested designs, moreover, Israeli nuclear weapons designers would probably have wanted to test prototypes.”

Taken with your coverage of Israeli-South African military collaboration during the 1970s (24 May), the evidence for an Israeli test is strong, if not conclusive.

Emeritus professor Norman Dombey

University of Sussex

IDF to dismantle intifada-era barrier in Jerusalem: Haaretz

Apartheid wall in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood. Photo by: Daniel Bar-On

Army spokesman says barrier’s removal reflects the stable security situation seen at this particular site in recent years.

On Sunday, the Israeli army will begin dismantling a concrete barrier installed eight years ago, during the second intifada, to shield Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood from arms fire from the neighboring West Bank Arab town of Beit Jala.

The wall was installed along the eastern edge of Gilo, the area at which the shooting was directed.

The worst incident in the vicinity at the time saw a border policeman critically injured after being shot in the head.

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said the barrier’s removal reflects the stable security situation seen at this particular site in recent years.

Tony Judt: An intellectual hero: Al Jazeera online

By Mark LeVine

Tony Judt’s call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earned him the wrath of the organised Zionist community in the US [EPA]
New York University (NYU) professor and internationally renowned historian Tony Judt died last week of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known in the US as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player whose death from the disease first brought it to public consciousness in 1941.

It is hard to fathom the scope of the loss, not just of the man, but of the type of scholarship, of the way Professor Judt taught those willing to learn about how to approach and utilise history.

I only knew Judt in passing as a graduate student at NYU but his reputation was already secure then, as a leading historian of France and the European Left. What was as striking as his superior intellect was his equally clear intellectual courage. He was clearly an intellectual of both the 1960s and of the Left (a much maligned combination in Newt Gingrich’s America). But unlike so many of his peers he grasped the inherent contradictions of both while they were happening.

And so Judt became an astute and critical observer of why the era and its politics not only failed to bring about revolutionary change in Europe and the US, but produced a conservative backlash that is largely responsible for the slow destruction of the welfare states that had enabled unprecedented prosperity in the West in the decades after the second world war.

Israel shaping politics

What is most interesting in this regard is that among the most important experiences that shaped Judt’s critical stance towards the Left was the years he spent as a devoted left-wing Zionist, including many summers spent working on Israeli kibbutzim and even volunteering as an auxiliary in the Golan Heights in the wake of the 1967 war.

As he explained in an article earlier this year, despite their progressive ideology (or better, the mythology surrounding them), the kibbutzim were “provincial and rather conservative communities, their ideological rigidity camouflaging the limited horizon of many of their members …. The mere fact of collective self-government, or egalitarian distribution of consumer durables, does not make you either more sophisticated or more tolerant of others …. Even now I can recall my surprise at how little my fellow kibbutzniks knew or cared about the wider world-except insofar as it directly affected them or their country”.

Judt’s realisation is not surprising. The mundane realities of daily life inevitably batter down ideological commitments and utopian visions. More broadly, the paradoxes and ethical contradictions of the “New Left” of the 1960s, during which he came of age, led many acolytes of the movement to lurch rightwards in disgust. In so doing, it planted many of the seeds out of which the neoconservative movement grew in the ensuing two decades.

Unlike his more politically jaundiced contemporaries, Judt retained his core commitment to justice and intellectual honesty even as he grew disenchanted with the politics of his era.

As he put it: “By the time I went up to Cambridge I had actually experienced – and led – an ideological movement of the kind most of my contemporaries only ever encountered in theory. I knew what it meant to be a “believer” – but I also knew what sort of price one pays for such intensity of identification and unquestioning allegiance …. I was – and remain – suspicious of identity politics in all forms, Jewish above all. Labour Zionism made me, perhaps a trifle prematurely, a universalist social democrat – an unintended consequence which would have horrified my Israeli teachers had they followed my career. But of course they didn’t. I was lost to the cause and thus effectively dead.”

Judt might have been “dead” to his Israeli teachers, but in the US his honesty and willingness to be self-critical about his attachment to Zionism made him one of the main enemies of the organised Zionist community, both its institutions and its intellectuals. The attacks against him intensified after he had the temerity to propose a one-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, explained that with his public disavowal of Zionism Judt “has become precisely the kind of intellectual whom his intellectual heroes would have despised,” and even removed Judt’s name from the masthead of the magazine (he had been a contributing editor), just because he dared to advocate what in essence would be a “new republic”.

A death, of sorts, but one that Judt likely (one can hope) did not mind too much, since the magazine had moved far from the kind of thoughtful progressive politics that defined its first half century and towards the type of uncritical ideological politics he abhorred, whether from the Right or the Left.

Threatened status quo

Judt posed a threat to the dominant narrative on Israel and the US [EPA]
Of course, Wieseltier was not concerned about Judt’s heroes. He was concerned by who Judt was: a brilliant Jewish intellectual, who actually lived in Israel, knew the country well, spoke Hebrew, and had the ability to contradict the official party line with integrity and compassion. And because he was not a “knee-jerk” leftist who uncritically supported any cause or group that opposed US or Israeli policies, he was even more dangerous to the dominant narrative surrounding Israel and American foreign policy.

In the last decade the neoconservatives have created something of a cottage industry going after professors they deem “dangerous” because they refuse to provide the intellectual support for and often vehemently oppose both the militarisation of US policy abroad and the disintegration of government services at home.

Judt’s work, even as he became physically incapacitated, was as trenchant as ever in uncovering why the Right had succeeded in getting the majority of Americans to acquiesce to, if not actively support, their agenda.

In his last book, Ill Fares the Land, he explored how the social contract that defined post-war life in Europe and the US and the guarantee of security, stability, and fairness it represented stopped being considered a legitimate social goal and how a social democratic vision could win back the disaffected by creating a “civic language” that could support a renewed social contract between governments and their citizens.

Ignored

Needless to say, few politicians paid much attention to Judt or invited his counsel. I could find no evidence of his ever having been called to testify before the US congress. The White House made no mention of his passing, even though Barack Obama, the US president, has during his tenure invited well known historians to the White House to help provide him with historical perspective on the numerous crises he faces.

According to a just published account by one of the invited historians, Gary Wills, most invitees warned Obama that “pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson,” an assessment none of the government officials who participated in the celebrated-but-secret top secret review of Afghan policy apparently sought fit to make before suggesting the massive, but still seemingly ineffective surge.

I could not help but contrast the principled and well-reasoned analyses of scholars like Judt with their limited ability to impact political discourse as I perused a glossy flyer sent to me by my congressman, John Campbell, as part of his 2010 reelection propaganda.

Titled “Strengthening Our Relationship with Israel,” the slickly designed cardboard notice provided details of everything he has done “to support Israel’s right to defend herself and ensure her safety in the region”.

The illustrations and the symbolism they evoke are in fact quite striking – picture of Campbell at a American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, of a young Israeli girl, of the Dome of the Rock (which has been all but appropriated by Israel as a defining image of the country, despite its function as a major Muslim holy place and symbol of Palestinian nationalism).The Israeli flag is even more prominent than the US flag – right next to the congressman’s head in one image.

Lowest political instincts

Among the resolutions and letters “in support” of Israel Campbell shared with constituents were those “repudiating the findings of the Goldstone Report,” “reaffirming the unequivocal support for the alliance and friendship between the United States and Israel,” several Iran sanctions bills, and finally, HR 5501, the “America Stands with Israel Act”.

This bill, currently referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, would not only remove the US from the UN Human Rights Council, but “prohibit American taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for any UN investigation into the flotilla incident”. It also support Israel’s “unconditional right to defend herself and support[s] Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza”.

In excerpts of his letters to Obama administration officials Campbell declared that “a strong Israel is an asset to the national security of the United States and brings stability to the Middle East”.

To Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he gushed that “in a volatile area of the world, where Israel stands as a beacon of light for democratic values, the country and all it stands for is hated by many. Thus, it has been forced to defend its mere existence and must be able to continue to do so in situations like this, in which efforts were made to aid a terrorist-controlled region”.

The flyer is utterly devoid of any critical thinking, which is precisely the way the congressman intended it. How else could he declare that he will continue “supporting America’s strongest ally in the Middle East” without a hint of irony? There is no reason for him to consider that the Israeli government itself has agreed to cooperate with the UN flotilla investigation, that its own investigation has found numerous violations of the laws of war, and agreed to ease the blockade – all of which make his opposition redundant.

To ensure support from his many conservative Jewish – and even more important, Evangelical Christian – constituents, no compromise is possible with the UN or anyone who would challenge Israel’s “unconditional right” to do whatever it wants.

There is not a chance that Campbell might consider how a region in which the majority of countries are US clients or allies can be “terrorist-controlled” – unless he means that most of the region’s governments regularly terrorise their citizens (but I doubt it). Nor can one hope that Campbell might read the many Israeli scholars and policy-makers who increasingly warn about the deterioration of democratic values and freedoms in Israel. What would be the point of that, particularly when the US is not far behind, even under a Democratic administration?

Indeed, I wish that Judt could have had the chance to discuss his experiences and disenchantment with Israel and the numerous actions the congressman so uncritically supports before he died. But even if he had and Campbell had become better educated as to the realities of the country and its policies, what good would it do? When it comes to the Middle East, and Israel/Palestine in particular, promoting nuanced discussion and policies can only cost votes, while pandering to peoples’ willful ignorance and most chauvinistic interests will at least bring out the party faithful.

Useless knowledge?

Ultimately, Campbell and the vast majority of his 534 House and Senate colleagues have little use for the knowledge that historians like Judt could offer because the main purpose of that knowledge is to disrupt hypocritical arguments and the fantasies of ideologically – and as importantly – money-driven policies.

As Judt put it, the historian’s task is precisely “to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well-organised society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves”.

Today Americans and their politicians much prefer pretty lies to hard truths, even as they pay for that privilege more dearly with each passing year. It would be nice if Judt’s arguments and scholarship could help shape the civic language that has so clearly gone missing in the US during the last 30 years.

But in the meantime, his writings on European history and the need for a new social contract between rulers and ruled can inspire a new generation of scholars and activists in other cultures, including the many societies of the global south that are still grappling with the slow demise of the “authoritarian bargains” that for decades ensured continued power for autocratic elites, and in return, a basic level of development for their citizens.

It is there, in Latin America, Africa, and the Muslim world, where the legacy of Judt’s call for a critically reflective social democratic political discourse might well be found. If American militarism, European myopia, corporate greed and the militant ideologies of numerous stripes do not doom them first.

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).

From The Horse’s Mouth – Words of the Unhinged in Israel

EDITOR: A new contributor to this popular section is Professor Ron Breiman, and we hope he can write some more twaddle soon, so we can include him again.

Probe the ‘peace process’: YNet

Op-ed: Instead of probing flotilla incident, Israel should focus on truly momentous failures
Ron Breiman
These days, Israel is home to intensive acts of scrutiny that had already graced the country with the dubious label of “a state of all its inquiries.” One should not disparage the need for commissions of inquiry, as long as their purpose is to identify the reasons for failures, in order to prevent them from repeating. The personal aspect should be secondary.

Regrettably, the shallow media (and mostly the electronic kind) seeks blood and wants to see heads roll – if possible along with a change of government not via the natural ballot-based way.

The last days, where our leaders testified before the needless Turkel committee, constitute an example of turning the essence – prevention of repeated failures – into the insignificant, while turning the insignificant – a witch hunt, especially against those disliked by the media – into the essence.

If there is a desirable and beneficial outcome for commissions of inquiry, it’s the improvement in decision-making processes, and especially the integration of a risk assessment process – in advance – in respect to any operations of this type. Committees that would assess risks in advance, before making and implementing a decision, can spare us the failures, their cost, and subsequent commissions of inquiry.

In the case at hand, stopping the Turkish terror ship was an important act and the objective was achieved, yet the risks that could reasonably be assumed to exist on board the vessel were not predicted, thereby complicating the raid’s execution. In fact, the working assumption was that no mishaps were expected.

Reckless media to blame
Indeed, we should be improving the decision-making process. Yet regrettably, the gravest decisions in Israel’s history were taken without proper consideration, without profound public debate, without an appropriate, serious risk assessment, and through disregard for those who in real-time sounded the alarm regarding expected risks (which ultimately fully materialized and were much graver than the damages caused by the incident currently examined by the Turkel Committee.)

I am referring both to the “peace process,” which as opposed to the delusions spread by the false prophets who marketed it prompted the Oslo War, and to the Gaza Disengagement, which did not only turn Jews into refugees in their own country, but also worsened Israel’s diplomatic and security situation, ultimately leading up to the terror flotilla and its outcome.

The decision-making processes in these two fateful cases lacked a simultaneous process of risk assessment, as well as an advance decision regarding the kind of circumstances that would halt the execution of these decisions. In both cases, no exit strategies were formulated. Moreover, the cost was not estimated in advance – both in terms of casualties as well as in diplomatic, security, and economic terms.

In both cases, even after the grave implications were revealed, no conclusions were drawn on the organizational or personal level. Indeed, our leaders – including the current ones – are plotting to continue in the directions that had been proven to be erroneous. In these cases too, the working assumption was that mishaps are not expected.

Yet it is precisely these two fateful cases that prompted no official commissions of inquiry even retroactively, after the extent of the failure was revealed to all. The reckless media, which marketed both the “peace process” and the “disengagement” enthusiastically and uncritically, without demanding an advance risk assessment and without strongly cautioning us of the risks, are also the ones that kept silent later and silenced the failures after the fact – in order to avoid revealing the kind of misdeeds they were party to, both in advance and retroactively.

Dr. Ron Breiman is the former chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel

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