August 20, 2010

Israel and Palestinians poised for direct talks: The Independent

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Friday, 20 August 2010
The first direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for more than 18 months were in prospect last night after successful diplomatic efforts to find a formula designed to allow the talks to start.

The international Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia is expected to issue a statement today paving the way for the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to open political negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A draft of the statement is understood to say that direct bilateral negotiations which “can be completed within one year” should resolve “all the core issues dividing the two sides and should “lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation… and results in a [Palestinian] state at peace with Israel”.

The Quartet statement is intended to provide Mr Abbas with the internationally endorsed political cover he has been seeking to enter the talks. Mr Abbas had been seeking an affirmation that the talks would be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders and that it would continue not to build in Jewish West Bank settlements after the present partial freeze on settlement building ends late next month.

The statement will not specifically articulate those points but will make clear its “full commitment to its previous statements” – including those at its meetings in Moscow and Trieste in March and June of this year. The Moscow statement made clear that the negotiations should end “the occupation began in 1967″ and repeated earlier calls for Israel to freeze all settlement activity, dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001, and refrain from house demolitions and evictions in Arab East Jerusalem.

The delicate construction of the statement is designed to meet Mr Abbas’s demands without making newly explicit what Israel has been arguing would be unacceptable “preconditions” for the negotiations. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian sources commented on the imminent developments yesterday, with an Israeli official simply reiterating that the government had repeatedly called for direct talks to start.

Earlier yesterday the US State Department spokesman P J Crowley said: “We think we are very, very close to a decision by the parties to enter into direct negotiations. We think we’re well positioned to get there.”

Mr Crowley said that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had called the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, late in the day yesterday and also spoken with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, and the former British prime minister Tony Blair, the special representative of the “Quartet”.

While today’s expected move is a breakthrough in the long and tortuous “talks about talks” that have taken place since the indirect “proximity” negotiations mediated by the US Presidential envoy George Mitchell began earlier this year, there remains scepticism in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories that even direct negotiations will have the positive outcome envisaged in the Quartet draft.

There is uncertainty about whether Mr Netanyahu is seriously prepared to make concessions on the core issues – including the future status of Jerusalem, the Eastern sector of which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state but which Israel regards as under its own sovereignty. However the statement from the Quartet meeting in March of this year explicitly recalled that “the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognised by the international community”.

Public pessimism appears to be increasingly shared by US voters, according to a new poll for the Israel Project published yesterday. Only 45 per cent of Americans surveyed in the July poll said they felt Mr Netanyahu was committed to the peace process. Only 51 per cent of Americans thought the US needed to support Israel, compared with 63 per cent a year ago.

Quartet ‘aims to start Mideast peace talks September 2′: Haaretz

World powers will invite Israelis and Palestinians to begin direct peace talks on September 2 in Washington, diplomatic source says.
World powers will invite Israelis and Palestinians to begin direct peace talks on Sept. 2 in Washington, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.

Envoys from the so-called Quartet of powers – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – agreed to the details on Thursday, the source told Reuters. A formal statement is due to be issued on Friday.

“They’ve got an agreement that the talks will start on September 2 in Washington,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Israelis and Palestinians were expected to agree to attend, and President Barack Obama would be present at the talks, the source said.

Earlier, diplomatic sources said the Quartet was discussing a draft statement inviting Israel and the Palestinians to embark on direct talks intended to conclude a treaty in one year.

The Quartet said in June that peace talks would be expected to conclude in 24 months. The new draft says 12 months. The Palestinian Authority government intends to have established all the attributes of statehood by mid-2011.

Diplomats say the idea that a unilateral declaration of statehood could win support if talks do not start or collapse in the next 12 months is gaining interest.

The peace process resumed in May after a hiatus of 19 months but is stalled over the terms of an upgrade from indirect talks mediated by U.S. envoy George Mitchell to direct negotiations.

Israel insists it is ready for direct talks provided there are no preconditions. The Palestinians are ready provided there is a clear agenda. Israel says an agenda means preconditions.

The White House declined to comment. Obama is currently on vacation in Massachusetts.

Protecting academia: Haaretz Editorial

As education minister and chairman of the Council for Higher Education, Sa’ar must go beyond his feeble condemnation of the attempt to sabotage the universities’ balance sheets.
Presenting his plan for NIS 7.5 billion in additional funding for higher education on Wednesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar described the reform program as “putting higher education back on the right track.” Sa’ar’s comment came at a critical juncture in relations between civil society and the higher education system: Right-wing groups that presumptuously claim to be defending the Zionist ethos are threatening to derail academia from its proper track.

Haaretz revealed earlier this week that the Council for Higher Education gave university heads the Institute for Zionist Strategies’ report on the “post-Zionist” curricula prevalent in sociology departments. In response, Tel Aviv University’s president asked sociology lecturers to provide him with their course syllabi. Following an uproar from within and without the university, this order was retracted.

Also this week, the president of Ben-Gurion University revealed a letter she had received from the Im Tirtzu organization threatening to urge foreign donors to withhold contributions unless the university took action “to correct the anti-Zionist tilt” of its politics and government department. The education minister, who once praised a report the group had drafted on what it termed the “post-Zionist” bent of political science departments, is now railing against Im Tirtzu’s threat to intimidate donors, “independent of any arguments about pluralism.”

The higher education system is not immune to external criticism over the quality of its academics or the proficiency of its administration. But a pluralistic, democratic society is incompatible with external interference in course curricula or lecturers’ political views.

As education minister and chairman of the Council for Higher Education, Sa’ar must go beyond his feeble condemnation of the attempt to sabotage the universities’ balance sheets. No financial assistance can preserve Israeli academia’s prestige or ensure its excellence if the government, including the prime minister, does not unequivocally censure this attempt to undermine the independence of higher education.

Granting even tacit legitimacy to an internal boycott of institutions and lecturers that espouse “unpatriotic” narratives will merely legitimize a foreign boycott of Israeli academia.

India employing Israeli oppression tactics in Kashmir: The Electronic Intifada

Jimmy Johnson, 19 August 2010

A Kashmiri protestor raises his fist to Indian forces during a protest in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, 13 August 2010. (Newscom)

The 2010 summer in the disputed area of Jammu and Kashmir, administered by India, has been marked by popular protests by Kashmiris and crackdowns by India’s military. The stream of violence has left more than fifty dead, mostly young protestors. The situation in Kashmir has some parallels with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even borrowing the term intifada to describe the uprising. But the connection is more than analogy — Israel’s pacification efforts against Palestinians have proven valuable for the Indian police, army and intelligence services in their campaigns to pacify Jammu and Kashmir with numerous Indian military and security imports from Israel leading the way.

India and Israel had a limited relationship prior to 1992. India, as a prominent member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), had helped to form the NAM political positions on Palestine as part of the “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, apartheid, racism, including Zionism and all forms of expansionism, foreign occupation and domination and hegemony” (1979, Havana Declaration). Beyond its anti-colonial and Third World solidarity politics, India also had realpolitik reasons for keeping a distance from Israel. The nation had a developing economy with a huge need for petroleum resources, of which it had no domestic source. Good relations with the Arab League and the Soviet Union helped to secure access to resources necessary for India to become the regional and global economic power it aspires to be.

With the beginning of the Oslo negotiations process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s and the end of the Cold War, India was free to pursue relations with Israel from a NAM standpoint. An end to the Israeli occupation was assumed a formality under Oslo by most international observers, especially early on — and had, by that time, gained the economic strength to pursue a policy taking it, as described in a US Army War College (USAWC) analysis, “from a position of nonalignment and noncommitment to having specific strategic interests taking it on a path of ‘poly-alignment.'” The report states that India has been in a “scramble to establish ‘strategic relationships’ with most of the major powers and many of the middle powers,” including Israel.

Israel rendered limited military assistance to India in its 1962 war with China and the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. It was not until after the Oslo process began though, that the limited military contacts developed into a fuller strategic relationship. According to The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, in 1994 “India requested equipment to guard the de facto Indo-Pakistan Kashmiri border. New Delhi was interested in Israeli fences, which use electronic sensors to track human movements” (Thomas Withington, “Israel and India partner up,” January/February 2001, pp.18-19). The remaining years of the decade were peppered with arms sales from Jerusalem to New Delhi, most notably unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and electronic warfare systems.

The strategic military relationship picked up even more steam in the new millennium and annual arms sales average in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The shift of Israel being a major defense supplier to a strategic partner was formalized in a September 2003 state visit by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India where the Hindu nationalist government then in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party led by then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, hosted the Israeli delegation and coauthored the Delhi Statement on Friendship and Cooperation between India and Israel. The statement’s longest segment is on terrorism. It declares that “Israel and India are partners in the battle against this scourge” and that “there cannot be any compromise in the war against terrorism.” The relationship has expanded drastically since 2000 with, in some recent years, Israel even supplanting Russia as India’s largest arms supplier. Surface-to-air missile systems, naval craft, advanced radar systems and other remote sensing technologies, artillery systems and numerous joint production initiatives ranging from munitions to avionics systems have all further boosted the relationship.

But as the Kashmiri uprising enters its third decade, the most telling part of the relationship is the export of Israeli pacification efforts against Palestinians to India, and their use in Jammu and Kashmir (and elsewhere as India faces multiple popular revolts). Israel has trained thousands of Indian military personnel in counterinsurgency since 2003. According to a 2003 JINSA analysis, “Presumably to equip these soldiers, India recently concluded a $30 million agreement with Israel Military Industries (IMI) for 3,400 Tavor assault rifles, 200 Galil sniper rifles, as well as night vision and laser range finding and targeting equipment.”

In 2004, the Israeli intelligence agencies Mossad and General Security Services (Shin Bet) arrived in India “to conduct the first field security surveillance course for Indian Army Intelligence Corps sleuths.” The Globes article on the topic cites an Indian source stating “The course has been designed to look at methods of intelligence gathering in insurgency affected areas, in keeping with the challenges that Israel has faced.” The further acquisition of UAVs, their joint production and the acquisition of other surveillance systems, notably 2010 agreements for both spy satellites and satellite communications systems, have all helped to further India’s pacification campaigns in Jammu and Kashmir. A notable example of how deeply embedded in India the Israeli counterinsurgency and homeland security industries are is the May 2010 agreement whereby Ra’anana-based Nice Systems will provide security systems and a command and control center for India’s parliament. Parliament security head Sandeep Salunke noted the context for the $5 million contract being “In light of the recent increase in global terrorism” (Nice Systems press release, 25 May 2010).

India’s political trend towards poly-alignment whereby it can have both strategic energy agreements with Iran and strategic defense agreements with Israel is part of a broader strategy the USAWC report noted by which “India will fiercely protect its own internal and bilateral issues from becoming part of the international dialog (Kashmir being the most obvious example).” This hostility towards international engagement with its occupation is not the only resemblance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Both were born out the the end of the British colonialism, both are seen as front lines of the “War on Terror,” both the Kashmiri and Palestinian armed groups are erroneously seen as illegitimate in their own right, being mere tools of a foreign aggressor (Pakistan for Kashmir and Iran or Syria for Palestine), both have widespread abuses of human rights, and the Israeli public’s general apathy about or hostility towards Palestinian self-determination is surpassed by the domestic discussion in India, where Kashmiri self-determination isn’t even an issue, though pacifying Kashmir and securing the border with Pakistan is.

The analogy between the two conflicts can only be taken so far, but the direct connection by which Israel’s pacification industry exports tools of control developed for use against the Palestinians (and Lebanese) to be deployed against Kashmiris (as well as against the Naxalites and others in India) shows a deep linkage between the two conflicts and how one feeds the other. So long as Israel seeks to maintain control over Palestine it will continue to develop pacification tools, and so long as India continues its campaigns in Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmiris can expect to taste the fruits of Palestinian pacification.

Jimmy Johnson is a Detroit-based mechanic and an organizer with the Palestine Cultural Office in Dearborn.

Officer held for stealing, selling Gaza flotilla laptops: Haaretz

Second lieutenant arrested along with six other soldiers earlier this week on suspicion of stealing at least six laptop computers from Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

An Israel Defense Forces officer suspected of stealing laptop computers from passengers on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that the navy raided in May, and then selling them to other officers, was remanded by a military court yesterday.

Two other soldiers, who had been detained for questioning on suspicion of buying the computers, were released.
The officer, a second lieutenant, was arrested along with six other soldiers earlier this week on suspicion of stealing at least six laptop computers from the aid flotilla.

The officer allegedly sold some of the computers directly to other soldiers and sold the remainder with a mediator’s help. The mediator allegedly bought a laptop for himself from the officer for NIS 1,200, then brokered deals to sell the others to three other soldiers.

The suspected mediator was one of the two soldiers released yesterday. His attorney denied the allegations and said his client did not know the laptops had been stolen from the Turkish ship.

Haaretz reported in June that an Italian journalist detained by the IDF following the flotilla raid said his credit card was used to purchase items after it was confiscated by the Israeli authorities.

Manolo Luppichini was aboard the Sfintoni-8000, one of the smaller boats in the flotilla, when naval commandos took it over. The soldiers searched every passenger and confiscated everything they found, he said.

“They took two cameras, microphones, a stand and other equipment from me and my photographer,” he said. “They took my wallet, passport, bag and all my personal effects.”

Israel’s multi-front war on Lebanese resistance: The Electronic Intifada

Hicham Safieddine, 18 August 2010

A weapon is positioned at a UN base in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel. (Matthew Cassel)

The international coverage of border clashes between Lebanese and Israeli military forces earlier this month may have suggested the confrontation was a mere squabble over cutting a tree that went awry in a “trigger-happy” and “conflict-prone” region. Less than a week later, one of several recent speeches by Hizballah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to get brief global media coverage. He presented visual and audio material suggesting that Israel may have assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005.

However, both incidents were much more than a routine tug-of-war between two long-time foes. They were part of an ongoing war between Israel and resistance forces along Israel’s northern frontier that continued even after the July 2006 Israeli offensive against Lebanon. The second phase of this war is being fought by other means and on more clandestine fronts. From spy networks that reached the highest echelons of Lebanon’s security and political establishment, to war by proxy conducted via UN forces in southern Lebanon, to international blackmail through the UN-sanctioned tribunal into Hariri’s death, the battle between Israel and Hizballah has taken on new dimensions. These dimensions have wide-ranging implications on the future of the struggle against Zionism and the success or failure of US regional imperial aims.

The 3 August border clash itself that left two Lebanese soldiers, one Israeli officer and a Lebanese journalist dead underscored several realities of the current political and military climate. Despite the incessant war-mongering by Israel over the past few months, the killing of one of its high-ranking officers — a colonel — did not translate into a massive offensive the same way Hizballah’s capturing of two Israeli soldiers did in July 2006. This clearly undermines arguments blaming Hizballah for starting the July 2006 war. Wars are rarely improvisational affairs. Specific incidents are almost always pretexts rather than triggers of war. Israel was ready and eager to go to war in 2006. In spite of its rhetoric, this time Israel was not.

Another feature of this latest clash that instigated a circus of political posturing in Lebanon, Israel and the United States was the fact that the army, rather than Hizballah, was the party engaging the Israelis. In all three countries, the issue of arming the Lebanese military was a topic for discussion. In Beirut, Hizballah’s opponents in the Lebanese government hailed the clash as living proof of the ability of the Lebanese army to defend the country and called for a campaign to better equip and arm the military. In a silly bid to start the campaign, the temperamental minister of defense, Elias al-Murr, and his father, a wealthy veteran politician, deposited half a million dollars into a newly established bank account for such a purpose.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government called on Washington to stop arming the Lebanese military. Unsurprisingly, several US congressmen complied and sought a review of US military aid to Lebanon. Meanwhile, Iran’s top supreme guide aid Ali Akbar Vilayati was in Beirut offering his country’s willingness to fill in the gap.

The fact remains that cutting US aid to the Lebanese army harms Israeli interests rather than serves them. Indeed, the 3 August incident was the exception rather than the rule of relations between Israel and the Lebanese army. Since Lebanon’s formal independence in 1943, US military aid has been significant only when the Lebanese army was an actual or potential ally to Israeli strategic aims and actions, from 1981 to 1984 at the height of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and immediately after the July 2006 war. Even then, the amounts were meager — $138 million in the 1980s and $220 in 2007 — and excluded any weapons necessary to defend Lebanese territory. Rather, the funds boosted the army’s internal security readiness that can be used against resistance forces or for the destruction of the Palestinian refugee camps. A cut in this aid will only hurt petty beneficiaries in the army ranks and diminish the army’s ability to control radical elements inside Lebanon rather than face Israel.

The perception that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) colludes with Israel was reinforced by the 3 August incident. In the days that followed the tree incident, the Israelis quietly — and without any Lebanese response or much media reporting — cut, and with the consent and cooperation of the UN forces stationed there, not one but three trees. Over the past few months relations between UNIFIL and local villagers have deteriorated precipitously. Currently under French command, UNIFIL has clashed with villagers on several occasions as they conducted more intrusive and uncoordinated missions within these villages to enforce their mandate of ensuring that there is no “non-state armed presence” south of the Litani River. While this is indeed part of their mandate as defined by UN Security Council resolution 1701 that outlines the terms of ceasefire following the July 2006 war, UNIFIL’s rules of engagement also stipulated that they were to coordinate their moves with the Lebanese government, something they have increasingly avoided or complained about.

In effect, the heavy presence of the Lebanese army and that of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon are two sides of the same coin: a last-resort strategy by Israel to drain and weaken Hizballah in every possible indirect way after the most direct one — outright total war — failed to crush the movement in 2006. The heavier the non-Hizballah military presence, the more eyes and ears and bodies there are to disrupt the “sea” of people where the “fish” of the resistance survive and grow. Hizballah’s official position has remained supportive and encouraging of the Lebanese army presence and lukewarmly tolerant of the international one.

The real threat to its power, Hizballah’s cadres declare, lies elsewhere. First, in the open spy war whose extent and impact continues to unravel daily in Lebanon. Second, in the ramifications of decisions by the international Hariri tribunal expected to implicate high-ranking members of Hizballah’s military wing in the 2005 assassination.

By any standards of espionage, the extent of the spy war and its unraveling is of staggering proportions. Dozens of alleged and convicted Israeli spies have been exposed and arrested in Lebanon in the past couple of years. International media would have been buzzing with stories about them had they been less than a handful but accused of spying for Syria or Iran or any of the usual “Axis of Evil” suspects. The reach and role of these spies is tremendous according to local media reports. They have managed to infiltrate the communications networks and the security apparatus of Lebanon at the highest levels. Both fields are essential to safeguarding the operations of the resistance. These fields are also the gateway to conducting clandestine operations in Lebanon such as assassinations or tampering with evidence pointing to perpetrators of such acts. It is this reality that links the spy war to the international tribunal that has prompted a public and diplomatic offensive by Hizballah lately in the form of a series of appearances by its leader Nasrallah.

The first volley of this offensive was largely focused on discrediting the international tribunal by showing the unreliability of any evidence it presented based on phone communications (now shown to be controlled and manipulated by spies) or false testimonies — now clearly the work of conspirators keen to manipulate public opinion to extract political prices from Syria or Hizballah. The credibility of these witnesses that formed the backbone of earlier reports by the tribunal pointing fingers at Syria is baseless. Key witnesses accusing Syria and its allies in the Lebanese security services have since then recanted their testimonies or were shown to be mercenaries receiving fat sums of money from political parties aligned with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated former prime minister. Despite the exposure of these witnesses and the gravity of the consequences of their testimonies, the tribunal has refused to investigate who was behind concocting these false testimonials.

By focusing on the tribunal’s inaction in this matter, Nasrallah was attacking local rivals, namely the Hariri camp, which provided the political and possibly material cover for the witnesses. If Hizballah is going to be put on the hot seat by the tribunal, Nasrallah will put his opponents on a hotter seat domestically. If the false testimony file was about the tribunal’s questionable past, Nasrallah’s second volley was about the reliability of its future actions. Nasrallah presented video recordings showing Israeli spy planes tracking Hariri’s whereabouts and routes of transportation prior to the assassination. The findings were the result of Hizballah’s success in intercepting, in real-time, aerial streams of surveillance footage being broadcast from Israeli spy planes roaming Lebanese skies back to headquarters inside Israel. Nasrallah was clear that the footage was not a smoking gun but enough grounds for the tribunal or any investigative body to subpoena Israeli officials and investigate the possibility that Israel was behind Hariri’s killing. Daniel Bellemare, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, filed a formal request with the Lebanese government to obtain all the material in Hizballah’s possession relating to this footage. Although Hizballah agreed to the request, it explicitly stated that it was only doing so in compliance with the Lebanese request and will only hand over the material to the Lebanese government. But the latter has so far acted as a mailman in this case, and the tribunal could easily serve as a conduit of all this material to the Israelis without committing to investigating them.

The tribunal’s report implicating Hizballah members in the Hariri assassination is expected in the fall. Hizballah’s pre-emptive attack on its credibility and its local cheerleaders has led to Syrian and Saudi efforts to seek a compromise. The Saudis might try to petition Washington so that the report is delayed until the spring. But anything short of a complete restructuring of the tribunal to eliminate the possibility of international manipulation or to neutralize its effects locally (which requires bringing down the current Lebanese “unity” government if it doesn’t continue to equivocate on the matter), may only put things on hold for a year or so. Without a complete takeover of the investigation by Lebanese authorities, as Hizballah has called for but so far not insisted on, the tribunal will remain a sleeping cell of international pressure activated at the opportune time to justify whatever larger aims, including new wars, the US administration and Israel have in store for the Middle East. By then, regional conditions — at least in the eyes of Washington and its Israeli and Arab allies — may seem ripe for another round of sowing “constructive chaos” from Tehran to Tel Aviv, and there will be no shortage of trees — of different roots and fruits — to cut.

Hicham Safieddine is a Toronto-based researcher and journalist.

UN receives over 100 complaints of police, IDF abuse of West Bank teenagers this year: Haaretz

Since September 2009, DCI has given the UN details of more than 100 cases in which the military authorities allegedly abused minors who were held in detention.
By Amira Hass
The way the army and police treat Palestinian minors arrested in the West Bank is the focus of complaints filed recently with both Israeli legal authorities and the United Nations.

The Palestinian branch of Defence for Children International (DCI ) has taken affidavits from dozens of minors who have been arrested. According to DCI-Palestine Section, the minors’ testimonies describe a policy of routine and painful abuse, involving various forms of physical and psychological pressure, in order to extract confessions from minors in custody.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Yesh Din, two Israeli rights groups, say the provisions of the relevant military laws play a major role in the abuse perpetrated on imprisoned Palestinian minors. Both groups sent a letter to Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit in June with recommendations for changes in this law.

On August 15, DCI and an Israeli organization, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, filed two complaints alleging cruelty and sexual abuse of A.M., a 15-year-old from the village of Beit Ummar, near Hebron. A.M. was arrested by soldiers on May 26. He was questioned and held for five days, then released after he admitted to having thrown stones. His testimony was reported by Haaretz on June 10.

During A.M.’s remand hearing on May 30, attorney Iyad Misk claimed the teenager had been both sexually and physically abused.

The judge, Lt. Col. Avshalom Meushar, responded that “there was no evidence in the [case] file” to support this claim. “The substance of the confession made by the suspect, and the detailed nature of his answers, constitute evidence that the answers he gave were not provided under pressure or torture, but of his own free will,” the judge added.

The teen claimed that at the time of his arrest and while he was being transported to the Etzion lock-up, the soldiers hurt him in various ways. He also said his confession to the police interrogator was extracted by torture and sexual threats.

A spokesman for the police’s Shai (Samaria and Judea ) District told Haaretz at the time that the minor’s allegations conflicted with the evidence in his case file. During his testimony to the police investigator, the spokesman said, the minor did not complain that any violence had been used against him.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said at the time that an investigation would be launched into the soldiers’ conduct. Two months after the report in Haaretz, the Military Advocate General’s Office finally sought testimony from A.M. But the meeting, scheduled for this week, did not take place, because the MAG representative refused Misk’s request that the boy’s testimony be given with his attorney present.

In their letter of complaint to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and attorney Herzl Sbiro, who heads the Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating police misconduct, DCI and the Public Committee Against Torture asked for a criminal investigation to be launched against the person who questioned A.M. The organizations wrote that A.M. had told them the investigator attached an electric cable to the boy’s genitals and threatened to give him an electric shock unless he confessed to throwing stones.

The two groups also wrote to Lt. Col. Sigal Mishal Shehori, who is in charge of operational affairs for MAG. In that letter, they demanded a criminal investigation into the conduct of the officers and soldiers involved in A.M.’s arrest. A.M. said the soldiers abused and laughed at him while he was handcuffed in a painful position.

“Many complaints are received by the Committee [Against Torture] regarding abuse by soldiers and violence against Palestinian prisoners,” the letter said. “This suggests the existence of a serious and widespread practice of violence and abuse of Palestinian prisoners by soldiers.”

“This violent and systematic behavior was described extensively in a report published by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel more than two years ago … to show you that a clear policy to contain the phenomenon of abuse of prisoners by IDF soldiers must be instituted,” it added.

In both letters, the authors asked that an attorney be allowed to be present while giving testimony to MAG or Justice Ministry investigators, as it is natural for minors to feel frightened and threatened by interrogators who are part of the same military system that arrested them.

Meanwhile, on August 3, DCI sent details on the case of S.A., another 15-year-old from Beit Ummar, to the UN special rapporteur on torture.

Both the teenager and soldiers who witnessed the incident say he was used as a human shield when security forces entered his village on April 16, at a time when an event was taking place in the village to mark Palestinian Prisoner Day.

The soldiers allegedly forced the teenager to march in front of them so they would not be hit by stones thrown by local youths.

S.A. said the soldiers demanded that he confess to having thrown stones, beat him and forced him to drink tainted water that made him vomit. The story was reported by the Palestinian news agency Maan, which also reported that the IDF spokesman had said the case would be investigated.

Since September 2009, DCI has given the UN details of more than 100 cases in which the military authorities allegedly abused minors who were held in detention.

Many of the Palestinian minors are brought before a military judge when they are already scared and exhausted as a result their incarceration, often after having been arrested in the middle of the night. They are then tried on the basis of a military law that, even after it was slightly changed last year, “seriously violates the rights of minors and contravenes the protection they must be given in criminal proceedings,” according to ACRI and Yesh Din.

In a June 15 letter to the MAG’s office, they requested certain changes to improve the situation, including treating Palestinians as minors until the age of 18 (as Israelis are ) rather than 16, and refraining from imprisoning Palestinians under the age of 14.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in response that after S.A. and A.M. are questioned by the Military Police, the findings will be delivered to the military advocate general. ACRI’s request was received by the MAG on August 16, it added, and will studied thoroughly.

The military prosecution has recently received a number of requests relating to the legal status of minors held in West Bank military courts, the statement continued, and “these requests are currently being examined by all the relevant bodies, including the Justice Ministry.”

Wikipedia editing courses launched by Zionist groups: The Guardian

Two Israeli groups set up training courses in Wikipedia editing with aims to ‘show the other side’ over borders and culture

Two Israeli groups have set up 'Zionist editing' courses with aims to alter perceptions about Israel. Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images

Since the earliest days of the worldwide web, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen its rhetorical counterpart fought out on the talkboards and chatrooms of the internet.

Now two Israeli groups seeking to gain the upper hand in the online debate have launched a course in “Zionist editing” for Wikipedia, the online reference site.

Yesha Council, representing the Jewish settler movement, and the rightwing Israel Sheli (My I srael) movement, ran their first workshop this week in Jerusalem, teaching participants how to rewrite and revise some of the most hotly disputed pages of the online reference site.

“We don’t want to change Wikipedia or turn it into a propaganda arm,” says Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council. “We just want to show the other side. People think that Israelis are mean, evil people who only want to hurt Arabs all day.”

Wikipedia is one of the world’s most popular websites, and its 16m entries are open for anyone to edit, rewrite or even erase. The problem, according to Ayelet Shaked of Israel Sheli, is that online, pro-Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinian voices. “We don’t want to give this arena to the other side,” she said. “But we are so few and they are so many. People in the US and Europe never hear about Israel’s side, with all the correct arguments and explanations.”

Like others involved with this project, Shaked thinks that her government is “not doing a very good job” of explaining Israel to the world.

And on Wikipedia, they believe that there is much work to do.

Take the page on Israel, for a start: “The map of Israel is portrayed without the Golan heights or Judea and Samaria,” said Bennett, referring to the annexed Syrian territory and the West Bank area occupied by Israel in 1967.

Another point of contention is the reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a status that is constantly altered on Wikipedia.

Other pages subject to constant re-editing include one titled Goods allowed/banned for import into Gaza – which is now being considered for deletion – and a page on the Palestinian territories.

Then there is the problem of what to call certain neighbourhoods. “Is Ariel a city or a settlement?” asks Shaked of the area currently described by Wikipedia as “an Israeli settlement and a city in the central West Bank.” That question is the subject of several thousand words of heated debate on a Wikipedia discussion thread.

The idea, says Shaked and her colleauges, is not to storm in, cause havoc and get booted out – the Wikipedia editing community is sensitive, consensus-based and it takes time to build trust.

“We learned what not to do: don’t jump into deep waters immediately, don’t be argumentative, realise that there is a semi-democratic community out there, realise how not to get yourself banned,” says Yisrael Medad, one of the course participants, from Shiloh.

Is that Shiloh in the occupied West Bank? “No,” he sighs, patiently. “That’s Shiloh in the Binyamin region across the Green Line, or in territories described as disputed.”

One Jerusalem-based Wikipedia editor, who doesn’t want to be named, said that publicising the initiative might not be such a good idea. “Going public in the past has had a bad effect,” she says. “There is a war going on and unfortunately the way to fight it has to be underground.”

In 2008, members of the hawkish pro-Israel watchdog Camera who secretly planned to edit Wikipedia were banned from the site by administrators.

Meanwhile, Yesha is building an information taskforce to engage with new media, by posting to sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and claims to have 12,000 active members, with up to 100 more signing up each month. “It turns out there is quite a thirst for this activity,” says Bennett. “The Israeli public is frustrated with the way it is portrayed abroad.”

The organisiers of the Wikipedia courses, are already planning a competition to find the “Best Zionist editor”, with a prize of a hot-air balloon trip over Israel.

Wikipedia wars
There are frequent flare-ups between competing volunteer editors and obsessives who run Wikipedia. As well as conflicts over editing bias and “astroturfing” PR attempts, articles are occasionally edited to catch out journalists; the Independent recently erroneously published that the Big Chill had started life as the Wanky Balls festival. In 2005 the founding editorial director of USA Today, John Seigenthaler, discovered his Wikipedia entry included the claim that he was involved in the assassination of JFK.

Editors can remain anonymous when changing content, but conflicts are passed to Wikipedia’s arbitration committee. Scientology was a regular source of conflict until the committee blocked editing by the movement.

Critics cite the editing problems as proof of a flawed site that can be edited by almost anybody, but its defenders claim the issues are tiny compared with its scale. Wikipedia now has versions in 271 languages and 379 million users a month.

Abbas under duress: Al Ahram Weekly

Obama’s support for the Ground Zero Islamic centre called his integrity and even his citizenship into question, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Despite opposition from Palestinian political factions, including his own Fatah Party, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas is expected to formally agree to “direct” talks with Israel.

According to sources in Ramallah, Abbas is waiting for the clarification of “minor details” before officially announcing the resumption of direct talks.

The last round of direct talks, spanning almost 15 years, failed to reach a breakthrough, mainly due to Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war and allow for the repatriation of refugees to their original homes and villages in what is now Israel.

US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell had given the Palestinian leadership a “set of assurances” in an effort to encourage Abbas to enter negotiations though Palestinian officials have dismissed the assurances as “vague and insufficient”.

There is a general feeling that Abbas is being bullied by the American administration to agree to direct talks with the Netanyahu government which the Palestinian leadership, and the rest of the Palestinian people, are convinced will lead nowhere.

Last week, during a rare briefing to Palestinian journalists, Abbas looked demoralised. He indicated that he was coming under immense pressure from the Americans. He also hinted that he had been all but abandoned by the Arab world and had no choice but to heed Washington’s instructions in order to give peace a chance.

What was noticeable in his meeting with the journalists was that Abbas did not even attempt to defend the decision to join in direct talks. At one point he asked journalists to explain to the Israeli public that the Palestinian leadership was not making new demands but was asking for the implementation of agreements already reached by Israel and the PA, e.g. that the two sides must refrain from acts that would prejudice the final status of the occupied territories.

Abbas has been striving to obtain minimal assurances from the Americans and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia), including Israeli acknowledgement that any Palestinian state would have to be based on the 1967 borders and that Israel would have to freeze settlement expansion activities for at least the duration of talks.

Israel, however, has rejected the Palestinian demands, arguing that talks ought to start without preconditions.

“Israel is not willing to agree to any preconditions from the back door via a Quartet announcement that would serve as a basis for the negotiations,” a senior Israeli official was quoted as saying.

With this Israeli rejection in mind, Abbas reportedly asked the Quartet to reiterate its March declaration which included clauses pertaining to the creation of an independent Palestinian state as well as an end to settlement expansion.

Israel is not only refusing to commit itself to halting settlement expansion after the expiration of the half-hearted moratorium on settlement construction in September. This week the Israeli government announced plans to build two dozens Jewish schools in the West Bank. The announcement followed a plethora of statements by Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, vowing to resume settlement activities when the moratorium expires in a few weeks.

Netanyahu has informed Washington that any extension of the settlement freeze, however incomplete, would cause his government to collapse. Some of Netanyahu’s more hawkish coalition partners have threatened to leave the government if the Israeli prime minister agrees to extend the freeze in response to American requests.

Meanwhile, opposition among Palestinians to what is widely viewed as “capitulation” to the Obama administration and Israel is growing among Palestinian factions, including Fatah, the backbone of the Palestinian Authority.

Most recently, 600 Palestinian intellectuals petitioned Abbas to refuse to join “futile talks with Israel” in the absence of genuine guarantees that would end the occupation and preserve Palestinian rights, including the creation of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the repatriation of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian factions based in Damascus have castigated the “PA’s propensity to join direct talks with Israel”. They issued a statement lambasting PA flaccidity vis-à-vis Israeli intransigence and US backing of the Israeli stand as “bargaining with the Palestinian cause and rights”.

“The Palestinian resistance movements affirm their rejection of direct, or indirect, negotiations and warn against the dangerous consequences of policies aiming at selling Palestinian national rights.”

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a founding member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, were among the factions that signed the statements.

Hamas, too, criticised the Abbas leadership for giving concessions to Israel and the United States which had emboldened them to demand yet more.

“While Abbas continues to wallow in meaningless negotiations, we affirm that Abbas and his group have no mandate from the Palestinian people and do not express its collective will. Any agreement that may be reached will not be binding on the people; and Abbas and his group will solely bear the ramifications and consequences of such an agreement.”

Hamas called on the PA leadership to ally itself with the people and refuse dictates from the US.

Some insiders in Ramallah argue that Abbas has no choice but to heed proposals — even instructions — from Washington, given the political atmosphere in the US, which faces congressional elections this Fall.

One source close to Abbas argued that Obama would shun the Palestinian leadership if Abbas said no, in which case Netanyahu would emerge the winner. It is an argument that has met with very little sympathy in the occupied territories.

“We must not strive to appease Washington under each and every circumstance. We must remember that without us no peace can be made in this region,” said one Fatah leader opposed to unrestricted talks with Israel.

President Abbas is languishing between the American hammer and the anvil of his own people who are unwilling to allow political weakness, including the division between Fatah and Hamas, to divert their long held political aspirations.

From The Horse’s Mouth – Words of the Israeli Unhinged

EDITOR: A new contributor to this popular section is Dr. Haim Misgav, and we hope he can write some more twaddle soon, so we can include him again. Israelis like spicy stuff for their Sabbath read, like readers of the Sun do in Britain, and Haim Misgav always provides the merchendise. For Misgav, anyone critical of Israel’s crimes is a Nazi and anti-semite.

Freedom to give Nazi salute: Ynet

Op-ed: No other state would allow Ben Gurion University-style ‘academic freedom’
Haim Misgav

The Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities is raising the banner of academic freedom in vain. There’s nothing academia-like about the publication of articles in anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, Holocaust-denying websites that call for boycotting Israel in universities abroad or for indicting IDF officers and prime ministers on war crime charges.

The heads of Israeli academia, who on Wednesday openly called for safeguarding the independence of Israel’s academic institutions, are preaching to others while being guilty themselves. The hornets’ nest that has developed at Ben-Gurion University’s politics and government department needs to be dried up, as one deals with a festering wound.

Academic Debate
Saddam-style freedom / Omer Gertel
Op-ed: Leftist professors’ concept of ‘freedom’ similar to Saddam Hussein’s vision
Full Story
If, for example, a senior lecturer in that department dares travel to Palestinian government headquarters in Ramallah (while blatantly violating the law) a day after one of the most terrible massacres we’ve ever seen here, in order to support Yasser Arafat and pose next to him in a photo where both hold their arms up, does this constitute academic freedom? Is this about the freedom to explore, or about a despicable act by someone who under false pretenses holds on to a job in a publically funded academic institution?

And if this department includes students who take part in an illegal rally at campus following the Turkish flotilla raid, while being photographed (knowingly) giving the Nazi salute, does this have anything to do with academic freedom? Are Nazi salutes a part of the education offered to politics and government students?

I saw the photographs, both of the lecturer alongside Arafat and of the student giving the Nazi salute; I also saw the photo of a female Master’s student who climbed up a campus building in order to post a libelous, outrageous, provocative anti-Israeli banner, and I contend that we must put an end to this “academic freedom.”

Those interested in this kind of “academic freedom” should go ahead and become lecturers elsewhere. There are many “academic research institutions” abroad funded by anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, Holocaust-denying elements that would be happy to establish a politics and government department to be run by “refugees” from the Beersheba university.

Jews didn’t conquer foreign land
And what about the threats to drive away donors? Jews should not be contributing to an institution that nurtures such deep hatred for the Jewish State and everything represented by it. The Declaration of Independence accurately characterized the nature of the national home created here for the Jewish people’s benefit. This is the home which the man the university was named after, David Ben-Gurion, wanted. By the way, he also ordered the conquest among other sites, of Beersheba and Eilat, as well as many parts of the Galilee and Coastal Plain.

I assume that the politics and government department, which has been cultivating an almost obsessive hatred to anything that gives off a scent of Zionism in the view of its “researcher,” also preachers a return of land conquered in 1948 to the Arabs. I don’t know how these lecturers explain this view, but I’m certain that even members of the National Academy of Science and Humanities do not view these types of lectures as part of academic freedom.

I would also take this opportunity to reexamine how some of the lecturers there secured their academic degrees. That is, who granted them their degrees, and what type of articles prompted this reward.

I do not believe that any other state in the world would allow this kind of “academic freedom” to run wild through its academic institutions. A sense of nationalism is among the inalienable assets of any country; it serves as the glue that unites its citizens. No nation in the world would give it up. Under its flag, a nation’s sons head to the battlefield to defend their homeland.

The Jewish argument has added value: The Jews are not in the Land of Israel randomly. Their national movement, Zionism, did not aspire to conquer a foreign country. The whole world recognized this in 1917. I assume that in any other country, those who reject the values entrenched in the state’s constitutive documents would be spewed out.

Dr. Haim Misgav is a law lecturer at the Netanya Academic College

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