September 8, 2010

Financial Times: Israel’s choice is land or peace: Financial Times

2 Sept 2010
Israeli-Palestinian talks is under way after a carefully choreographed White House ceremony rich in political pieties and low on substance. No sooner was it over than the questions began.
It is not just that, while both sides employ the same words – peace, two-states solution and so on – they mean different things. It is not just that both camps are split and their leaders may not be able to close a deal, were they to reach one. Nor is it just that Israel, as the occupier, able ultimately to count on unconditional US support, is so much more powerful than the occupied Palestinians.
Within weeks the talks could judder to a halt. On September 26, the partial Israeli moratorium on building settlements on occupied Palestinian land expires – and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu says it will not renew it.
While ways of fudging this are being looked at, the settlers’ lobby, powerful within Mr Netanyahu’s coalition and, indeed, his own Likud party, wants none of it.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is under enormous pressure. He has nothing to show for his strategy of seeking a Palestinian state by negotiation. Israel has expanded the occupation, having taken 42 per cent of the West Bank according to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group. To retain what little remains of his credibility, Mr Abbas may be forced to withdraw if the moratorium is not renewed.
The standstill was in any case relative. Exclusions of Palestinians from occupied east Jerusalem have increased. Two Arab villages have just been razed, in the Jordan Valley and Negev desert. Segregated, Israelis-only roads have bulldozed ahead. The situation is explosive enough even without the moratorium timebomb under the talks. Mr Abbas called off West Bank municipal elections in July, even though Hamas – which defeated his Fatah party in the 2006 general elections – was not standing.
While every consideration is being given to the delicacy of Mr Netanyahu’s position, little or none is accorded to Mr Abbas.
Yet, it should be perfectly obvious that talks aimed at the creation of a Palestinian state cannot possibly prosper while Israel continues its strategic colonisation of the land on which that state would be built. The US and its international partners must insist on a cessation of settlement-building.
Would this sink the Israeli coalition? Very possibly. But Mr Netanyahu has options, including an alliance with the centrist Kadima party. Mr Abbas has none.

Fidel Castro tells Ahmadinejad: Stop denying the Holocaust: Haaretz

‘The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust,’ former Cuban leader tells U.S. journal The Atlantic.

Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro has urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop slandering the Jews, according to an article published on the U.S. website The Atlantic on Tuesday.

The ageing revolutionary devoted much of a five-hour conversation to the issue of anti-Semitism, wrote Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed Castro in the Cuban capital Havana.

Castro told The Atlantic that the Iranian government should understand the consequences anti-Semitism.

“This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.”

He added: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Asked by Goldberg if he would repeat his comments to Ahmadinejad, Castro said. “I am saying this so you can communicate it.”

Following the interview, Goldberg spoke with Haaretz about his impression of the thinking behind Castro’s comments.

“I think he [Castro] realizes he’s gone too far in certain criticisms of Israel,” Goldberg said.

“I think he wants to be a player in this issue; and I think he’s genuinely offended by Holocaust denial.”

Ahmadinejad has publicy called the Holocaust “a myth”, claiming Jews exaggerated the Nazi genocide to win sympathy from European governments.

Legitimizing an obstacle to peace: Haaretz

I have often spoken out in opposition to cultural boycotts… but in the political arena, artists make a statement by their presence or their absence.
By Theodore Bikel
I feel compelled to speak out on the controversy surrounding the Israeli artists who have announced their refusal to perform in the territories. For the record, my career as a performer has spanned 68 years. In my 20s, I was a cofounder of the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv ‏(of that group, I am the last one alive‏). I have resided in America since 1954, and as a concert artist I frequently work in the field of Jewish culture, performing in the languages of our people − Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino and even in English, the language spoken by the largest Jewish community in the world.

As president of the Associated Actors & Artistes of America ‏(the umbrella union covering performers in the United States‏), I have often spoken out in opposition to cultural boycotts. I have argued that art opens minds and builds bridges, even when carried into the very heart of enemy territory − perhaps especially then. But life, as we know it, often defies simple formulas. In the political arena, artists make a statement by their presence or their absence.

Pablo Casals, the world-famous cellist, who chose life-long exile from his native Spain because of the fascist dictator who ruled the beloved country of his birth, said this: “My cello is my weapon; I choose where I play, when I play, and before whom I play.”

My own choices have often been dictated by similar sentiments. For many years, when apartheid was the law of the land there, I refused official invitations and lucrative offers to perform in South Africa. Indeed, I have always refused to appear in halls that were racially segregated, whether in America or elsewhere in the world. More than two years ago, I refused an invitation by the mayor of Ariel to appear at the opening of the very same cultural facility then under construction and now at the center of the controversy.

There are weighty reasons why I find myself in full support of the artists’ refusal to perform in the territories. And it should be noted that I am not alone in supporting the courageous stand of our Israeli colleagues. There is a growing list of over 150 prominent artists and arts leaders from the U.S. who have expressed similar concerns to mine.

The cause celebre regarding the new performance facility in Ariel has given rise to statements from the leaders of that community as well as from Prime Minister Netanyahu and the culture minister, Limor Livnat. While the latter asserts that “political disputes should be left outside cultural life and art,” both the prime minister and the settlers’ council make it clear that the matter is not about art at all, but about what they call an attack on Israel “from within.”

The declaration of conscience signed by prominent Israeli artists − among them recipients of the Israel Prize, the highest cultural accolade given by the state − is characterized as emanating from “anti-Zionist leftists” and is described by the prime minister as being part of an “international movement of delegitimization.”

Clearly, anything that is connected to the settlers or to the settlements’ presence beyond the Green Line is political. And, if the refusal of the artists to perform in the territories is tantamount to delegitimization, it follows that any agreement to perform there would amount to legitimizing what many of us ‏(in and outside of Israel‏) believe to be the single most glaring obstacle to peace.

Theodore Bikel is a Tony- and Oscar-nominated actor and musician.

Israeli soldier jailed for killing British activist Tom Hurndall released early: The Guardian

Tasyir Hayb freed from prison with two years remaining on his eight-year sentence for Briton’s manslaughter in Gaza in 2003

Tom Hurndall was shot in the head by Israeli soldier Taysir Hayb in 2003 as he helped Palestinian children cross a street in Gaza. Photograph: Kay Fernandes/Reuters/HO Photograph: Ho/Reuters
The Israeli soldier convicted of killing British activist Tom Hurndall was released from prison today, two years before completing his sentence.

Tasyir Hayb was found guilty of manslaughter in 2005, when a military court found he had violated orders. He was also convicted him of obstruction of justice and false testimony. He has served six years of his eight-year sentence.

Hurndall, then 22, was shot in the head in April 2003 while he was helping Palestinian children cross a street in Rafah, in the Gaza strip. He had been filming with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Hurndall fell into a coma and died the following year.

According to Israeli newspapers, the military prosecution opposed Hayb’s early release, fearing it would damage Israel’s relations with the UK. But a military committee overruled this last month, arguing that Hayb, 27, had been sufficiently rehabilitated.

Tom’s mother, Jocelyn, today said: “From the moment that Tom was shot, we said it wasn’t about the soldier, who is a small part of the machinery, but about the responsibility of the Israeli army and its lack of accountability over civilian killings. To say that the soldier has reformed is to miss the point – the British government needs to hold Israel accountable for its actions.”

Hayb’s release comes as the case against the Israeli state filed by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Rafah the month before Hurndall was shot, is reconvened in Israel.

Sha’ath: PA will never recognize Israel as Jewish: YNet

Week after launching of direct talks, Palestinian negotiator says recognizing Israel as Jewish state would ‘directly threaten Muslims, Christians’ and prevent Palestinian refugees from ‘returning to their homes’

“The Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said Wednesday, just a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched direct talks in Washington.

“Such a declaration would directly threaten the Muslims and Christians in Israel and prevent Palestinian refugees, who left their homes and villages a number of decades ago, from being granted the right to return to them,” Sha’ath told reporters in Ramallah.

The senior Palestinian official said he was not opposed to a Jewish majority in Israel, but stressed that “the Palestinian problem is purely political.”

Sha’ath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said Netanyahu planned to raise the issue (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state) at Sharm el-Sheikh, where the direct negotiations are set to resume in mid-August, “but we flatly rejected this demand.”

“We won’t expose our people to security and political threats,” he added.

Earlier this week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state is worrying.

“If the international community defines Israel as a Jewish state – such a decision should be approved by the UN,” Aboul Gheit said.

This time in Washington, honest brokerage is not going to be enough: The Guardian

An intractable asymmetry between Palestinian and Israeli power bases means the US must intervene. Otherwise, these talks fail
The pope, according to a no doubt apocryphal story, maintains that there are two possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict – the realistic and the miraculous. The realistic solution involves divine intervention; the miraculous solution involves a voluntary agreement between the parties themselves. The American-sponsored peace talks that got under way in Washington last week may be viewed in this light. It will take nothing less than a miracle to produce a peaceful settlement of the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land.

The obstacles to peace are formidable. All previous attempts to clear them have ended in failure, most notably the Camp David summit of July 2000. An American-sponsored peace process of some sort has been going on intermittently since the Madrid conference of 1991, the mother of all Middle East peace conferences. So direct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, with or without American peace processors, are nothing new. In the words of one American, it is deja vu all over again.

The current negotiators will have to find solutions to all the deeply sensitive issues that lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the so-called permanent status issues. These include the right of return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the future of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and the borders of the Palestinian entity.

But there is an immediate stumbling block: settlements. A partial and temporary Israeli freeze on their expansion on the West Bank is due to expire at the end of the month and, if it is not renewed, the Palestinian negotiators have said they will walk out. And who can blame them? If Israel persists in its bad old Zionist ways of “creating facts on the ground”, the peace talks will become a charade. It would be like two men negotiating the division of a pizza with one of them continuing to swallow chunks of it.

The prospects for reaching a permanent status agreement are poor because the Israelis are too strong, the Palestinians are too weak, and the Americans mediators are utterly ineffectual. The sheer asymmetry of power between the two parties militates against a voluntary agreement. To get Israelis and Palestinians round a conference table and to tell them to hammer out an agreement is like putting a lion and a lamb in a cage and asking them to sort out their own differences.

Third party intervention is clearly indispensable. To put it more simply, there can be no settlement unless America pushes Israel into a settlement. Playing the honest broker will not do the trick. In the first place, most Arabs regard the United States as a dishonest broker on account of its palpable partisanship on behalf of Israel. Moreover, honest brokerage is not enough. In order to bridge the huge gap separating the two sides, America must first redress the balance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party.

The negotiations in Washington will be face to face but they will also be back to back, with each leader constantly watching his domestic constituency. President Mahmoud Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, is the most moderate partner for peace Israel could hope for. But his domestic position is rather precarious. He is the leader of the mainstream party Fatah, a democratically elected president, and the head of the Palestinian Authority. But he faces a formidable rival in Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, and other splinter groups like Islamic Jihad.

Hamas won a free and fair election in January 2006; it moderated its rejectionist stand once in power, and formed a national unity government with Fatah in March 2007. In June of that same year, however, it seized power violently in Gaza to pre-empt a Fatah coup. Since then Gaza has become an open-air prison camp because of the brutal and illegal Israeli blockade.

Today the Palestinian camp is deeply divided between the West Bank, ruled by the Fatah-dominated PA, and the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas. Hamas is vociferously and violently opposed to the peace talks with the Jewish state. It maintains that Abbas has no mandate to represent the Palestinians. Its military wing reinforced the message by killing four Jewish settlers in Hebron on the eve of the talks. Hamas’s capacity to play the spoiler should not be under-estimated. Even in the highly unlikely event of Abbas reaching a peace agreement with Israel, it is difficult to see how he would impose it on Palestinians in the teeth of such strong opposition.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister and leader of the Likud party, enjoys a more solid power base at home but he, too, is subject to severe constraints on his freedom of action. His coalition partners are the Labour party, Yisrael Beitenu, and Shas. Together they command a comfortable majority of 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Confronted with painful choices over the future of the West Bank, however, the coalition is likely to fall apart. Likud used to regard Judea and Samaria, the Biblical names for the West Bank, as an integral part of the land of Israel. Yisrael Beitenu and Shas still do. Labour, with only 11 seats in the Knesset, carries little weight. This is the most rightwing, chauvinistic and racist government in Israel’s history. The ideological makeup of the government militates against a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is not a dove who has fallen among hawks. On the contrary, he is a rightwing nationalist, a believer in Greater Israel and a proponent of the strategy of the iron wall, of dealing with the Palestinians from a position of unassailable military strength. He grew up in a nationalistic Jewish home. His father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, who at 100 years old is still a force to be reckoned with, was the secretary of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of the Israeli right. Netanyahu junior belongs to the hawkish wing of the Likud. He denounced the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO as incompatible either with Israel’s security or with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel. The policy guidelines of his first government, when the Likud came to power in 1996, amounted to a declaration of war on the peace process. Netanyahu spent his three years as prime minister in a largely successful attempt to destroy the foundations for peace with the Palestinians that his Labour predecessors had built.

To his second term as prime minister Netanyahu brings the same old ideological baggage and the same dogged determination to deny the Palestinian people the same right to national self-determination that Israel exercised back in 1948. His rhetoric has changed, but his policy can still be summed up in one ominous word: politicide – to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence in Palestine. This world view identifies him not as a genuine partner to President Abbas on the road to peace but as the proponent of permanent conflict.

Yet the possibility of a change of heart cannot be entirely ruled out. Maybe Netanyahu will surprise us all by moving on from the relentless rejectionism of the past to become a peacemaker. And maybe the pope will start smoking pot.

Clinton: Latest effort could be last chance for Mideast peace: Haaretz

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that those who doubt the prospects for success of Israel-Palestinian peace talks are ‘wrong’.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the direct talks launched between the Israelis and Palestinians could be the last chance to secure a peace settlement in the long-running conflict.

Clinton expressed confidence that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are committed to negotiating a peace agreement.

“Both sides and both leaders recognize that there may not ever be another chance,” Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Clinton hosted Netanyahu and Abbas at the State Department last week for the first direct negotiations between the two sides in nearly two years. Clinton plans to attend a second round of talks on September 14 and 15 in Egypt.

Clinton cast aside those who doubt the prospects for success as “wrong” and said the process has gained momentum with backing from Arab states willing to accept a two-state solution.

“There’s a certain momentum,” she said. “You know, we have some challenges in the early going that we have to get over, but I think that we have a real shot here.”

Disarming Lebanon’s Palestinians: The Guardian

Palestinian refugees must be properly integrated into Lebanese society if the country is to put the scars of civil war behind it

Lebanon is regenerating. On balance, the country’s collective sloughing off of history has been more successful than not. It is only 20 years since the civil war ended, and the memories of internecine atrocities remain; sporadic sectarian violence is a fact of life here. Fortunately, the Lebanese have avoided descending once more into civil war’s morass but, despite all the healing, the Palestinian refugee issue still festers.

I was visiting a friend of mine – a magazine editor – for coffee at her office in east Beirut. The new labour law for Palestinians had just been enacted and we talked about it for a while. I told her it didn’t go far enough, and she insisted that it ceded too much.

Her view was that the Palestinians in Lebanon have to offer more before making demands on the Lebanese state. More specifically, Palestinian arms in and out of the camps must be reined in. If the Palestinians want full rights and access, they’ve got to give something in return. The fear is that guns and greater access to economic opportunities will result in Palestinian dominance – which is the way it used to be. So it’s one or the other.

Palestinian guns – or more broadly, resistance – became an institutionalised part of Lebanese life in 1969. That’s the year that the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, brokered the Cairo agreement between Yasser Arafat and General Emile Bustani, the Lebanese army leader. The agreement’s purpose was to define the scope of Palestinian life in Lebanon. It ceded security control within the camps to Palestinians, and affirmed their right to join in armed resistance against Israel.

In practical terms, the agreement contributed to the continuous erosion of state control in Lebanon, which led to its eventual abrogation by the state in 1987. Despite that, the Palestinian camps are still mostly self-administered and heavily armed.

I’ve heard repeatedly from Palestinians in the camps that their guns are trained only to the south – towards Israel. And, for a long time, they were. Palestinians contributed heroically to guerrilla campaigns against invading Israeli forces in the 1970s and 1980s. But the intervening decades have seen the resistance mantle pass from the Palestinians to a strong and vibrant Lebanese force, Hezbollah.

It was Hezbollah fighters, not the Palestinians, who were credited with liberating most of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. And it was Hezbollah that repelled the Israeli onslaught in 2006. Along with the Lebanese army, Hezbollah claims to be part of the country’s national defence – a claim that few would dispute on factual grounds, regardless of whether it’s a rightful role.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Palestinians live in the thrall of dark memories. They commune with the spirits of Sabra and Shatila and clutch their weapons. They recall the War of the Camps and grasp them more tightly. Theirs is an endless insecurity. They exist outside the social fabric and rely on an illusion of martial security.

I use the word “illusion” deliberately. When terrorists infiltrated the Nahr al-Bared camp in 2007, the army simply razed the camp to eliminate them. Here the Palestinians felt their second-class status acutely – a Lebanese village would not have been razed – and saw that their guns were powerless to prevent the destruction.

The Lebanese state has an interest in demilitarising its territory. Indeed, the Taif agreement – which precipitated the end of the civil war – called for the disarmament of all the militias in Lebanon. However, the issue of national security still prevents its complete implementation.

The only party that ought to exercise martial control is the Lebanese army. But while the army manages internal security effectively, it is Hezbollah’s intelligence services and strategic use of force that fends off Israel. So while the Taif agreement and the disarming of militias is accepted in principle, honouring it should not come at the expense of diminished national security.

If the Palestinians are to disarm, Lebanon must provide them with security guarantees – which means that other historically antagonistic militias must also be disarmed. Palestinians won’t consent to relinquishing their arms so long as the Lebanese Forces militia possesses the strength to massacre civilians in the camps once again. Therefore, Palestinian disarmament has to occur within the context of a greater Lebanese disarmament.

Simultaneously, the state ought to incentivise Palestinian disarmament by increasing access to Lebanese society; it’s not enough to say that Palestinian security is guaranteed. In an ideal world, Palestinian rights – which are human rights – would be unlinked to the issue of arms. But Lebanon’s is a fractious society, and one must take other communities’ legitimate concerns into account to realistically promote the country’s progress.

To be sure, what I’m proposing here isn’t feasible in the near term. The issue of sectarian self-defence is not going to be solved overnight, or in the next decade. But the status quo is inherently unstable – Lebanese leaders realise that.

For the country to progress and succeed, it needs a strong central government, and it needs to drastically improve the lot of its second-class population. The Lebanese – all of them – along with the Palestinian refugees can only benefit from a stronger state apparatus. Before Lebanon can move past the civil war, it needs to neutralise the factors that contributed to its eruption.

Clinton: Latest effort could be last chance for Mideast peace: Haaretz

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that those who doubt the prospects for success of Israel-Palestinian peace talks are ‘wrong’.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the direct talks launched between the Israelis and Palestinians could be the last chance to secure a peace settlement in the long-running conflict.

Clinton expressed confidence that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are committed to negotiating a peace agreement.

“Both sides and both leaders recognize that there may not ever be another chance,” Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Clinton hosted Netanyahu and Abbas at the State Department last week for the first direct negotiations between the two sides in nearly two years. Clinton plans to attend a second round of talks on September 14 and 15 in Egypt.

Clinton cast aside those who doubt the prospects for success as “wrong” and said the process has gained momentum with backing from Arab states willing to accept a two-state solution.

“There’s a certain momentum,” she said. “You know, we have some challenges in the early going that we have to get over, but I think that we have a real shot here.”

Renew our days: Haaretz Editorial

On the eve of 5771, the need to disengage from the stigma of the “occupation state” is already seen by many, even within the ranks of the realistic right, not as a luxury but as an emergency lifesaving operation.

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” wrote the American poet Emily Dickinson. In Israel, the hope for peace is today like a plucked, limp-winged bird that many people, including the foreign minister, believe is not even fit for the pre-Yom Kippur kapparot sacrifice.

Nevertheless, if there is any hope for the peace process at the dawn of the Jewish Year of 5771, it is pinned primarily on the historical irony that occasionally results in our region when the extremist turns conciliatory or the peacenik gets caught up in war, and occasionally forced the parties into doing the unavoidable.

Over the past year, however, it has been hinted that our future will be determined not by declarations and diplomatic evasiveness but rather by deep tectonic shifts. Last year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah Israel received a holiday gift, bitter as wormwood, in the form of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead. The United Nations report on the Gaza aid flotilla incident is scheduled for release next week.

These two reports, problematic as they are, symbolize the shocking erosion of Israel’s international image over the past year: an erosion that is gradually expanding from a performers’ boycott to a popular consumer boycott and even to loathing on the part of leaders, and which sometimes no longer distinguishes between the settlements and the Green Line, between the “occupation” and Israel’s very right to exist.

One can dismiss this as an atavistic wave of hatred that is linked to the latest incarnation of anti-Semitism, and to respond, as various ultranationalist groups that have cropped up in Israel this year propose, by going on the offensive in support of an inert “Zionism” that is centered around the settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, in an effort to annihilate freedom of speech in the media, academia and the Supreme Court.

One can also, on the other hand, try to break down the walls that are closing in on Israel by shaking off the foreign-policy status quo that is strangling our existence and our future.

On the eve of 5771, the need to disengage from the stigma of the “occupation state” is already seen by many, even within the ranks of the realistic right, not as a luxury but as an emergency lifesaving operation. We can only hope that it’s not too late to wish that Israel, dynamic and vibrant, will once again extend its wings fully within the family of nations.

During war there are no civilians: Al Jazeera TV

Sitting in on the Rachel Corrie trial alarmingly reveals an open Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians.
Nora Barrows-Friedman Last Modified: 08 Sep 2010
Rachel Corrie’s plight symbolised the ruthless policy of Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the social psyche of millions of people outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip [Getty Images]
“During war there are no civilians,” that’s what “Yossi,” an Israeli military (IDF) training unit leader simply stated during a round of questioning on day two of the Rachel Corrie trials, held in Haifa’s District Court earlier this week. “When you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war,” he added.

For the human rights activists and friends and family of Rachel Corrie sitting in the courtroom, this open admission of an Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians — Palestinian or foreign — created an audible gasp.

Yet, put into context, this policy comes as no surprise. The Israeli military’s track record of insouciance towards the killings of Palestinians, from the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem to the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza that killed upwards of 1400 men, women and children, has illustrated that not only is this an entrenched operational framework but rarely has it been challenged until recently.

Rachel Corrie, the young American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer, as she and other members of the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement attempted to protect a Palestinian home from imminent demolition on March 16, 2003 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Corrie has since become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity as her family continues to fight for justice in her name.

Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Israel for Rachel’s unlawful killing — what they allege was an intentional act — and this round of testimonies called by the State’s defense team follows the Corries’ witness testimonies last March. The Corries’ lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that violate both Israeli and international laws.

Witnesses insisted that the bulldozer driver couldn’t see Rachel Corrie from his perch. The State attorneys called three witnesses to the stand on Sunday and Monday to prove that the killing was unintentional and took place in an area designated as a “closed military zone.”  Falling under the definition of an Act of War, their argument sought to absolve the soldiers of liability under Israeli law.

The Rachel Corrie trials focus on one incident, one moment, one death, one family’s grief. However it’s important to include the context within which the Israeli military operated on that day in March of 2003 in order to properly understand the gravity of the trial and the reverberations seven and a half years later.

Yossi, the military training leader, described the area where Corrie was killed as an “active war zone.” The State’s defense argues the same. Yet what was happening in Rafah that was so important to Corrie that she confronted a 4-meter high armored bulldozer in the first place?

According to statistics from Human Rights Watch, Israel had been expanding its so-called “buffer zone” at the southern Gaza border after the breakout of the second Palestinian intifada in late 2000. “By late 2002,” reports HRW, “after the destruction of several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter high metal wall along the border.”

The area that Israel designates as its buffer zone has since enveloped nearly 35% of agricultural land, according to an August 2010 report published by the United Nation’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA says that this policy has affected 113,000 Palestinians inside the Gaza strip over the last ten years as their farms, homes, and villages were intentionally erased from the map.

Rachel Corrie’s nonviolent action — standing in front of the bulldozer in direct confrontation to this project — cost her her life.

The home Rachel Corrie died trying to protect was razed, along with hundreds of others. The Gaza Strip remains a sealed ghetto. And countless Palestinian families have not seen justice waged in their favor after the deaths of their loved ones.

In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued against Major General Doron Almog — a senior soldier in charge of Israel’s Southern Command — by a British court related to the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah in
2002 under his authority. He was warned before boarding a flight to the UK that he could be arrested upon arrival, and canceled his trip.

Related to the Rachel Corrie case, Maj. Almog gave a direct order to the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short, according to Israeli army documents obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.

This indicates that the impunity of Israeli soldiers and policy-makers can — and will — be challenged in a court of law. And when the trials continue next month, the Corries will be back in the courtroom in anticipation of a long-sought justice for their daughter.

For a morally consistent boycott of Israel: The Electronic Intifada

Statement, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, 7 September 2010

Provoked by the recent announcement of the inauguration of a cultural center in Ariel, the fourth largest Jewish colony in the occupied Palestinian territory, 150 prominent Israeli academics, writers and cultural figures have declared that they “will not take part in any kind of cultural activity beyond the Green Line, take part in discussions and seminars, or lecture in any kind of academic setting in these settlements” (“150 academics, artists back actors’ boycott of settlement arts center,” Haaretz, 31 August 2010). A few protestors went as far as reiterating the fact that all Israeli colonies built on occupied Palestinian land are in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus constitute a war crime.

This position by tens of Israeli academics and artists has generated a great deal of controversy within the Israeli public sphere, attracting rebuke from across the political spectrum and especially from the academic and cultural establishment. All major theaters were quick to declare their refusal to boycott Ariel under the pretense of serving “all Israelis;” university administrations echoed this position or resorted to silence, continuing business as usual with Ariel and other settlements. The terms of the discourse, however, raise a number of issues for supporters of Palestinian rights. While we welcome acts of protest against any manifestation of Israel’s regime of colonialism and apartheid, we believe that these acts must be both morally consistent and anchored in international law and universal human rights.

First, we believe that the exclusive focus on settlement institutions ignores and obscures the complicity of all Israeli academic and cultural institutions in upholding the system of colonial control and apartheid under which Palestinians suffer. PACBI believes there is firm evidence of the collusion of the Israeli academic and cultural establishment with the major oppressive organs of the Israeli state. Focusing solely on obviously complicit institutions, such as cultural centers in a West Bank colony, serves to shield mainstream Israeli institutions from opprobrium or, ultimately, from the growing global boycott movement that consistently targets all complicit institutions.

Furthermore, the cherry-picking approach behind targeting a notorious colonial settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank diverts attention from other institutions built on occupied land. Supporters of this peculiarly selective boycott must be asked: is lecturing or performing at the Hebrew University, whose Mount Scopus campus sits on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, acceptable?

If opposition to Israel’s military occupation is driving this movement, then why has the deplorable stifling of cultural institutions in occupied Jerusalem, for example, been ignored? In 2009, the Arab League with support from UNESCO declared Jerusalem the Arab Cultural Capital for that year. Celebrations that were to be held across the city throughout the year highlighting the historical and cultural role of Jerusalem in Palestinian society and beyond were shut down and at times physically attacked by Israeli security forces in their ongoing attempt to stifle expressions of Palestinian identity in the occupied city. In scenes worthy of Kafka’s novels, organized activities throughout East Jerusalem were summarily cancelled as Palestinian artists, writers and cultural figures resorted to underground techniques to celebrate their city’s cultural and popular heritage.

If the artists’ and intellectuals’ role as voices of moral reason is behind this most recent call to boycott Ariel, where were these voices when academic and cultural institutions were wantonly destroyed in Israel’s war of aggression on Gaza in 2008-2009?

It has not gone without notice in Israel that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is gaining momentum internationally as an effective means of resisting Israeli colonial oppression. Given this context, one may be excused to assert that these recent efforts to narrow the focus of the boycott against Israel may be deliberately missing the forest for the trees. It is important to reiterate the morally consistent rationale and principles of the Palestinian boycott campaign against Israel.

The BDS movement derives its principles from both the demands of the Palestinian BDS Call, signed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in July 2005, and, in the academic and cultural fields, from the Palestinian Call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, issued a year earlier in July 2004. Together, the BDS and PACBI Calls represent the most authoritative and widely-supported strategic statements to have emerged from Palestine in decades; all political factions, labor, student and women’s organizations, and refugee groups across the Arab world have supported and endorsed these calls. Both calls underline the prevailing Palestinian belief that the most effective form of international solidarity with the Palestinian people is direct action and persistent pressure aimed at bringing an end to Israel’s colonial and apartheid regime, just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was abolished, by isolating Israel internationally through boycotts and sanctions, forcing it to comply with international law and respect Palestinian rights.

Those who claim to care about the coherent application of international law and the primacy of human rights are urged to recognize the “forest” of academic and cultural complicity beyond the “trees” of Ariel and act accordingly and consistently.

This essay from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was first published in the September 2010 issue of the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP) newsletter.

PA official: We won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state: Haaretz

Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath says recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would harm Israeli Arabs and negate the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian Authority will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even though the PA acknowledges there is a Jewish majority in Israel, senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said at a press conference in Ramallah on Wednesday.

According to Shaath, the Palestinian negotiating team turned down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to discuss the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state during the upcoming round of peace talks in Sharm el-Sheikh next week.

Shaath said that the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would harm Israel’s Arab citizens and negate the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Shaath added that any future peace agreement with Israel would be brought before the Palestinian people in a referendum.

“If we’re on the verge of a peace agreement, we will need complete unity,” he said.

Israeli right wing admits to dispossessing Palestinians, says Nakba was worse: TheOnlyDemocracy?

September 8th, 2010
By Jesse Bacon
Reading the press coverage of Jewish Voice for Peace’s fabulous campaign in support of the Israeli theater artists boycotting settlements, I was struck by an item in Arutz Sheva, the settler’s news service, which ends with this paragraph..
The liberation of Israeli territory in the War of Independence in 1948 was accompanied by a massive exodus of Arabs, and dozens of Jewish communities were then built atop the ruins of Arab villages whose inhabitants had fled, as opposed to the Six-Day War in 1967, when the return of Judea and Samaria [Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza] to Israel was less violent and was not accompanied by an Arab exodus. Paradoxically, leftists in Israel consider communities built on the ruins of Arab villages taken in 1948 legitimate, but view communities built beside Arab villages taken in 1967 as illegitimate.
First of all, over 200,000 Palestinians were displaced by the Six Day War. and no doubt more would have been if the memory of the Nakba had not been so recent. Many people died as well, so I am not sure about where Arutz Sheva gets “less violent” from. But nonetheless I am fascinated that the settlers’ news service is arguing the dispossession they are responsible is not so bad as the Nakba, Israel’s founding. Is this is further sign of potential right wing support for a one state solution?

Israel’s evidence questioned as Corrie trial resumes: The Electronic Intifada

Report, 7 September 2010
Rachel Corrie Testimonies resumed in the ongoing civil suit lodged by Rachel Corrie’s family against the State of Israel in Haifa’s District Court this week, as the state’s defense team called three witnesses to the stand.

On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was crushed and killed by an Israeli soldier operating an armored, modified Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer. Corrie was attempting to nonviolently block the vehicle from destroying the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah in the south of the occupied Gaza Strip.

The Corries’ civil lawsuit charges Israel with criminal negligence and the intentional killing of their daughter, as well as a failure of due regard to the presence of unarmed and nonviolent civilians by operators of a military vehicle and their commanders. Last March, the Corries’ witness testimonies were first heard in court.

US Consul General Andrew Parker and members of Palestinian human rights groups Al-Haq and Adalah, along with the Corries’ friends and family, attended the trials on 5 and 6 September.

State attorneys and their witnesses insisted that the Israeli military bulldozer operators should be absolved of responsibility and liability under Israeli and international law in Corrie’s killing, claiming that her death took place inside a “closed military zone” during an “act of war.”

At the time, the Israeli military was in the process of razing hundreds of Palestinian homes and agricultural land to create its so-called buffer zone where more recently Palestinian farmers and laborers have been shot while tending to their crops or scavenging for scrap metal. The United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the area currently amasses nearly 35 percent of land inside the Gaza Strip, according to a recent report (“Between the fence and a hard place,” August 2010).

Hussein Abu Hussein, the Corries’ lawyer, told The Electronic Intifada that the family is determined to understand exactly what happened when Rachel was killed. “But the more that we hear the testimonies of the state, the more that the family and I discover that Israel continues to lie step by step,” Abu Hussein said.

“We get the impression that the investigation — from the beginning — was never thorough nor impartial, and was not done by experts,” he added.

On 5 September, the first defense witness — who at the time was a 20-year-old sergeant charged with leading internal investigations following the killing, known to the court as “Oded” — confirmed that a senior commander ordered the interruption of the investigations.

Earlier this year, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that it obtained classified military documents that revealed that Oded’s superior, Major General Doron Almog, who was head of Southern Command at the time of Rachel Corrie’s death, demanded that the investigations cease (“Did IDF general cut short probe into US activist Corrie’s death?” 26 March 2010).

In court, Oded stated that he did not question Maj. Almog’s intervention. He also testified that as an investigator, he never Palestinian eyewitnesses, including the paramedics and doctors who treated Corrie immediately after she was crushed.

In addition, the witness admitted that he did not request the army’s video or radio transmissions — which were shown to the court during his testimony — during his limited investigations.

“It was his first experience dealing with the case of a killing,” Abu Hussein said. “He had never been involved in any deep investigations. He did not visit the scene of the crime, and did not confiscate the tapes immediately. And when he finally acquired the tapes, he said he didn’t recognize the voices on the tape.”

In the military’s official transcript of the audio recordings taken after Rachel Corrie’s killing, there were several important details left out. Abu Hussein said that these omissions — clearly heard in the original audio recording — means that there is evidence of negligence.

“There were two Arabic speakers on the tape,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “The first voice asks, ‘Did you kill him?’ and the second voice replies ‘May God have mercy on his soul.’ So you have crucial evidence about the killing — and there is no response.”

Oded told Abu Hussein in court that he didn’t think those parts of the audio recordings were “important.”

The next day, the state attorneys brought two more witnesses to testify inside the courtroom, including a military training officer known as “Yossi,” who stated that “during war, there are no civilians.” Abu Hussein said that Yossi wrote a war protocol manual and asserted that the four-meter-high armored bulldozers with limited visibility should operate while civilians are present.

Abu Hussein remarked that when the trials resume in October and November, the Corrie family might have a chance to hear from the operator of the bulldozer who killed their daughter, but that it is not yet confirmed. “It would give them an opportunity to see the criminals who cooperated in this crime,” he said.

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