September 26, 2010

Israeli ties: a chance to do the right thing: The Times

Sep 26, 2010

By Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The University of Johannesburg’s Senate will next week meet to decide whether to end its relationship with an Israeli institution, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the grounds of that university’s active support for and involvement in the Israeli military. Archbishop Desmond Tutu supports the move. He explains why

‘The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own.

We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face. Yet we would be less than human if we did so. It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.” – Nelson Mandela, December 4 1997

Struggles for freedom and justices are fraught with huge moral dilemmas. How can we commit ourselves to virtue – before its political triumph – when such commitment may lead to ostracism from our political allies and even our closest partners and friends? Are we willing to speak out for justice when the moral choice that we make for an oppressed community may invite phone calls from the powerful or when possible research funding will be withdrawn from us? When we say “Never again!” do we mean “Never again!”, or do we mean “Never again to us!”?

Our responses to these questions are an indication of whether we are really interested in human rights and justice or whether our commitment is simply to secure a few deals for ourselves, our communities and our institutions – but in the process walking over our ideals even while we claim we are on our way to achieving them?

The issue of a principled commitment to justice lies at the heart of responses to the suffering of the Palestinian people and it is the absence of such a commitment that enables many to turn a blind eye to it.

Consider for a moment the numerous honorary doctorates that Nelson Mandela and I have received from universities across the globe. During the years of apartheid many of these same universities denied tenure to faculty who were “too political” because of their commitment to the struggle against apartheid. They refused to divest from South Africa because “it will hurt the blacks” (investing in apartheid South Africa was not seen as a political act; divesting was).

Let this inconsistency please not be the case with support for the Palestinians in their struggle against occupation.

I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, “Why are our memories so short?” Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own previous humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon?

Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about all the downtrodden?

Together with the peace-loving peoples of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence – but surely we must recognise that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh? Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

South African universities with their own long and complex histories of both support for apartheid and resistance to it should know something about the value of this nonviolent option.

The University of Johannesburg has a chance to do the right thing, at a time when it is unsexy. I have time and time again said that we do not want to hurt the Jewish people gratuitously and, despite our deep responsibility to honour the memory of the Holocaust and to ensure it never happens again (to anyone), this must not allow us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinians today.

I support the petition by some of the most prominent South African academics who call on the University of Johannesburg to terminate its agreement with Ben-Gurion University in Israel (BGU). These petitioners note that: “All scholarly work takes place within larger social contexts – particularly in institutions committed to social transformation. South African institutions are under an obligation to revisit relationships forged during the apartheid era with other institutions that turned a blind eye to racial oppression in the name of ‘purely scholarly’ or ‘scientific work’.” It can never be business as usual.

Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation. BGU is no exception. By maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry, BGU structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation. For example, BGU offers a fast-tracked programme of training to Israeli Air Force pilots.

In the past few years, we have been watching with delight UJ’s transformation from the Rand Afrikaans University, with all its scientific achievements but also ugly ideological commitments. We look forward to an ongoing principled transformation. We don’t want UJ to wait until others’ victories have been achieved before offering honorary doctorates to the Palestinian Mandelas or Tutus in 20 years’ time.

pro-palestine protest at BT-sponsored olympic ball: Indymedia

Published: Saturday 25 September 2010

last night, a star-studded BT-sponsored ‘british olympic ball” was targeted for protest by pro-palestinian activists to highlight BT’s partnership with israeli telecommunications firm “bezeq international” who provide military telecommunication infrastructure throughout the occupied west bank and golan heights. here there is a report , some pics and a very short film of the night.

Israel must show that it truly wants peace: Observer Editorial

Israel can continue down the path of insular militarism or it can start repairing its credentials as a liberal democracy

Abba Eban, the veteran Israeli diplomat, observed of negotiations with neighbouring states in the1970s that: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Today, the jibe is better suited to Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, whose resistance to serious engagement with the Palestinians has been practised over two decades. His reluctance to extend a freeze on expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank is only the latest example. The moratorium expires today. If it is not renewed, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could walk away from direct talks sponsored by the US.

The generous view of Mr Netanyahu’s stance is that his ruling coalition, which relies on the support of far-right MPs, might collapse if he ordered a halt to settlement building. His hands are tied by domestic politics. But pursuing that logic is a recipe for perpetual deadlock. Israel is negotiating from a position of total military superiority. Successive prime ministers have pursued a strategy of dismissing the credentials of Palestinians as “not partners for peace” and using overwhelming force to keep Israel secure. That approach has been accompanied by a rise in xenophobic and religious nationalism, with any discussion of Palestinians’ civil rights confined to a dissident margin. The political mainstream has come to accept high levels of civilian casualties as the necessary cost of antiterror operations. These trends are subverting the character of Israeli democracy, once its greatest claim to moral authority in a region characterised by authoritarian regimes.

Israel stands at a crossroads. It can continue down the path of insular militarism and religious separatism to the point that it becomes an international pariah. Or it can set about repairing its credentials as a liberal democracy sincerely committed to peace. Ultimately, that would require stopping the settlement and withdrawing from land occupied since the war of 1967.

That, say Israeli politicians, is asking too much. The Arab world must first guarantee that Israelis will no longer be targeted by terror. But that argument is wearing thin. The Palestinian Authority has all but exhausted its political capital by clamping down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah militants in the West Bank. That no progress is visible towards statehood in return only boosts the standing of fanatics among ordinary Palestinians.

If Israel wants to reduce the influence of the extremists, it needs to reward the efforts of the moderates. If Israeli politicians really want peace, they must start selling compromise to their own electorate instead of using public fear of terrorism as a reason not to make concessions.

Successful negotiations require movement on all sides, but since Israel has the most power on the ground, it also has the greater capacity to move the peace process forwards.

When Mr Netanyahu calls for peace, he means an end to armed attacks on Israel’s borders. That is a legitimate demand to make. But the programme of absorbing occupied territory into the rest of Israel with Jewish settlements amounts to a demographic war being waged against the very idea of a Palestinian state. Only by reversing that policy can Israel get back its moral authority to speak about “partnership for peace”.

Jerusalem or Gaza – where is it worse to be Palestinian?: Haaretz

Is it the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza, or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them?

By Amira Hass

Graduates of the Shin Bet security service pride themselves on being able to recite Arabic proverbs, claiming this is the way to win over an Arab interlocutor. If it sounds to you as if I’m a bit envious of the linguistic training they receive, you are not mistaken; in my sort of school – the field – I have been able to memorize only a few Arabic adages.

One I learned from one of the many villagers who was handed an expropriation order for his land. Sitting at the entrance to his home, he looked like he was attending a funeral. “To whom can a grain of wheat complain when the cock is the judge?” he said, in response to my dumb question about what he planned to do.

This saying is useful in situations when all other words fail. For example, in a military tribunal that convicts and detains demonstrators protesting the robbery of their land, like Adib and Abdullah Abu Rahma.

Another adage often quoted goes something like this: “He who lives with a tribe for 40 days will begin to behave like it.” Not exactly, but like the Palestinians, who hold some strange competitions, I have found myself wondering which Palestinians have it the worst under the Israeli rule.

For many years, I thought there was nothing worse than life in Gaza. I even argued my point with a friend, who claimed the absolute worst is to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship because “we live in the midst of the Nakba [1948 catastrophe] sites and experience the daily racism masquerading as democracy.”

But for more than a year now, I have been vacillating between Gaza and Jerusalem. That is to say, I have been trying to decide which is worse – the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza (which includes being cut off from water sources and from the cultural, social and family ties those residents have with their People ); or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them.

A visit to the neighborhood of Isawiyah decided the issue. Heaps of concrete, uncollected garbage, roads that are becoming narrower due to pirate additions to buildings – forced on residents thanks to construction prohibitions and the expropriation of vacant lots – all lies in sight of the Hebrew University campus and the city’s French Hill, which are so green, spacious and civilized.

‘Unsafe space’

And now a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has confirmed my determination. The report, titled “Unsafe space: The Israeli authorities’ failure to protect human rights amid settlements in East Jerusalem,” is based on testimonies, media reports and official documents. It highlights the loss of personal and collective security in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, in the heart of which hostile bodies have settled over the past 30 years – settlers supported by millionaires and religious and archeological associations.

Some 2,000 such people live in fortified, well-guarded complexes in Palestinian neighborhoods like Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City – and there are more to come. Life in Palestinian Jerusalem is shaped by these Israeli statics: 65.1 percent of the city’s Palestinian residents live below the poverty line, as compared with 30.8 percent of the city’s Jewish population; and 74.4 percent of the Palestinian children in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, as compared to 45.1 percent of the city’s Jewish children.

The city’s Palestinian neighborhoods have a dearth of 1,000 classrooms; 50 percent of the school children drop out; and 24,500 dunams of private land – more than one third of the area annexed to Jerusalem – have been appropriated from the Arab owners, while more than 50,000 housing units have been built on this land for Jews alone.

The authorities who prevent Palestinians from building and developing their lands allocate vacant plots to the Jews, not only outside of the populated areas but also in their very heart. These spaces are allocated for parking or entertainment, archeological digs or construction.

As these neighbors are the authorities’ darlings, confrontations are unavoidable, so the Housing and Construction Ministry provides hundreds of armed guards for the Jews at the public’s expense (some NIS 54 million in 2010 ). When Palestinians complain to police about harassment, they find themselves treated like suspects. When they call the police, they feel like the officers are in no hurry to get there. And when police investigate cases in which Jews are suspected of causing bodily harm, these cases are closed swiftly. In this way, the Palestinians are left at the mercy of the aggressive, belligerent and officially sanctioned invaders.

The guards, who are employed by a private company, think their position permits them to hit people, to act abusively and even to shoot. The people in whose midst these fortified complexes are sprawling are afraid to get in and out; relatives and friends think twice before coming to visit them. These complexes are also characterized by a great deal of noise – digging at archeological sites that goes on until night, and dancing and religious celebrations accompanied by anti-Arab songs.

The ACRI report was presented to the police and the Housing and Construction Ministry for perusal. The legal adviser to the police, Roni Leibowitz, asked the organization to delay publication of the report so he could examine the specific charges, saying seven days was not enough time to conduct a serious investigation.

Nevertheless, his first impression was that the ACRI report “describes the reality in a partial and sometimes tendentious manner… It relates in a forgiving light to serious violent events that took place in the village of Silwan, that by some miracle did not end in death – such as firing from live weapons by a terrorist cell, mass riots, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails, stones, iron bars and other harmful objects at security forces…”

In addition, Leibowitz says the claims of deficient treatment on the part of the police are based solely on “the testimonies of those who were interrogated as suspects in these events, which obviously can lead to an erroneous portrayal of the way the situation developed.”

Ariel Rosenberg, the ministry’s spokesman, firmly denies any claims that guards harass Palestinians and praises their professionalism and the instructions they receive to show restraint and forbearance.

“In the past year,” he writes, “the situation in the area under discussion has significantly worsened and the guards are witness to extremely hostile activity.”

‘We were looking for a nice, peaceful place near Jerusalem’: The Guardian

If the construction of settlements in the West Bank is meant to be on hold, why are Israeli buyers being offered new properties on Palestinian land at knock-down prices?

New housing under construction in Almon: 'Residents do not fit the headline-grabbing stereotypes of fanatical settlers. There is a marked paucity of Israeli flags.' Photograph: Warrick Page

The housing project currently under construction in Almon offers enticingly priced, spacious family homes with a garden and a view. The surrounding neighbourhood, also known as Anatot, sits on a ridge overlooking the Judean hills, near Jerusalem, a blaze of cultivated greenery in the parched landscape. Residents have a relaxed air, and newcomers who have recently relocated from Jerusalem wish they’d made the move years ago. If I were a prospective house-buyer, I’d be charmed. But I would not be looking here – because Almon is in the occupied West Bank.

It is a Jewish settlement with a population of around 1,000, established in the early 80s. Like all Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, Almon is illegal according to international law. But its residents do not fit the headline-grabbing stereotypes of fanatical settlers, motivated by a national-religious drive to claim land. There is a marked paucity of Israeli flags and no settler-slogan banners bedeck the streets. If the West Bank became part of an autonomous Palestinian state, residents of Almon would be unlikely to put up a fight, as the ideological settler movement has sworn to do. Instead, they would pack up and move back to Israel.

The settlement movement began almost immediately after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, seized as the spoils of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Settlers were initially ideological but, by the 80s, the rightwing government that came to power realised that greater numbers of, perhaps less politically-motivated, Israelis would have to be enticed on to Palestinian land. Israel has always argued that settlements are a strategic and military asset. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon – one of the settler movement’s biggest supporters – summed up Israel’s approach in 1998 when he said of the occupied territories: “Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand more territory. Everything that’s grabbed will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.”

Yet in 2007, when the Israeli organisation Peace Now polled settlers about their motivations for living where they do, 77% cited “quality of life”, suggesting that economic factors and proximity to Israeli cities were primary considerations. That percentage can be split into two camps: there is the rapidly expanding, low-income, ultra-Orthodox community, which, priced out of Jerusalem, has migrated to nearby settlements such as Modin Illit and Beitar Illit; then there are secular or mixed community settlements, such as Almon. These are often located close to the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. And they exist primarily because the state wants them to.

In Jerusalem – just as in the rest of Israel – decades of state planning has priced people out of the city and into settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Meanwhile, ideologically-motivated budgeting has resulted in enticements and benefits for Israelis who live on occupied Palestinian land.

Settlements, and the resources, infrastructure and military might required to keep them going, are a major impediment to negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under international pressure, for the past 10 months, Israel has operated a partial freeze on settlement construction. However, the incentives still offered to Israelis to live on Palestinian land are so considerable that, leaving politics aside, it would be silly not to take advantage of them.

To find out how easy it would be to buy a settlement home on Palestinian land in the midst of this supposed freeze, I pose as an Israeli buyer, looking for a reasonably priced property for myself, my fictitious husband and the family we’re planning. Walking into a Jerusalem estate agency with an imaginary spend of £200,000, a realistic sum for an average Jerusalem couple, it comes as no surprise when the agent says, “With that sort of budget, you need to get beyond the city.”

I’ve already checked the housing market online and seen that the price for a home in West Jerusalem – four bedrooms across around 100 square metres – can start at around £400,000. Jerusalem’s housing problem is blamed variously on its lack of high-rise housing (in part because many observant Jews do not use lifts on Saturdays); on environmentalists, who have prevented the city’s expansion to the west (the only direction within Israel’s borders); and on the “ghost town” effect in well-heeled parts of the city, where foreign Jewish buyers have snapped up second homes, pushing up the prices. The housing market is under such stress that, last year, Jerusalem’s mayor wrote to absentee home-owners, asking them to rent out or sell up.

The agent suggests Pisgat Ze’ev or Neve Yaakov, both in East Jerusalem. Though these areas are defined as settlements by the international community, Israel views them as neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and has prioritised rapid Jewish development here, at the expense of affordable housing in West Jerusalem. However, at £250,000 for around 120 square metres, these houses might still be too pricey.

I certainly can’t afford a decent-sized property in the plusher Ramot or Gilo – also settlements, or “neighbourhoods”, within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. So the estate agent suggests Givat Ze’ev, a secular settlement a 10-minute drive north-east of Jerusalem. The agent doesn’t currently have homes to view there, but properties in this settlement – and many others – are advertised online under the category “Jerusalem and surrounding area”. A quick call to each settlement’s secretariat would provide me with agents’ phone numbers, and sometimes the numbers of private sellers, too.

Givat Ze’ev is a pretty settlement of 10,000 residents living in semi-detached homes on leafy, winding streets. It is spacious and organised, with shops, schools and health services. Everything about its planning is designed to make you feel as though you’re in a satellite of Jerusalem – there are no demarcation lines, no checkpoints back into the city, and the Palestinian villages, if visible, are behind a wall. Like so many settlements that hug the Green Line, Givat Ze’ev is on the Israeli side of the separation barrier that cuts into the West Bank for around 80% of its path. The barrier route runs, in some places, up to 12 miles deep into the West Bank, but settlements on the Israeli side of it are, broadly speaking, “consensus settlements” – ones that Israelis assume will be conceded to the Jewish state in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

At Givat Ze’ev there are plenty of large, affordable houses for sale, but the only new properties are on a recently-finished ultra-Orthodox project. I ask residents about new secular housing, but their response is, “Don’t you read the news?” They’re referring to the current 10-month freeze, but in August, Peace Now found that building on at least 600 settlement housing units had begun during that period, in more than 60 different settlements. Of those, it says, at least 492 were in direct violation of the freeze.

My search for affordable, secular housing leads me, eventually, to Almon. It’s a short drive east of Jerusalem, and I’ve had to cross an Israeli checkpoint, but it’s specifically for settler use – a nod, the “right” appearance and Israeli number plates get me waved through. Outside, a billboard advertises the number of the contractor, who confirms that 70 units are under construction at the site. The four-bedroom houses vary in size from 130 to 140 square metres, with gardens of up to 70 square metres, and they are shifting fast. The settlement is not officially exempt from the construction freeze, but Palestinian constructors are currently working on the site and homes could be ready within a year. The starting price is £175,150.

It is staggeringly cheaper than an equivalent property on the Israeli side of the Green Line, because it is on Palestinian land, confiscated by Israel. There are no market forces to dictate land value here, as there would be in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem. Instead, the Israeli housing ministry regulates prices, keeping them low to attract settlement. Campaigners say the contractor will also have received considerable state subsidies for connecting new settlement buildings to water and electricity mains – another saving that’s passed on to me, the buyer.

Calculating my hypothetical mortgage allowance gives me yet more incentive to live across the Green Line. All Israelis qualify for a state allowance, an add-on to the mortgage lent by the bank, but with more favourable repayment terms. Points are added to your basic state allowance if you have children, have served in the army, or if you are a new Jewish migrant. Then there is a top-up if you live in areas defined as “national priority zones”, which include some under-populated parts of Israel and all settlements.

For a new property in Almon, I’d get almost £11,600 as a special allowance. But the allowances rise sharply for Israeli couples who pick homes in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Illit, near Jerusalem, or in Ariel, around 25km east of the Green Line, or in Kiryat Arba, a hardline settlement near Hebron. For each of those, I’d get a total allowance of around £40,200. When I ask, the housing ministry says that state subsidies vary according to the “security threat assessments” pertinent to each area, adding that properties on the Israeli border with Lebanon qualify for similar amounts.

Israeli settlements expert Dror Etkes describes how, at times, mortgages given in the West Bank have “included loans which, after a period of time, turned into grants”. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reports that, between 1997 and 2002, the state put 419m shekels (around £72m) into state-subsidised “association mortgages” for 1,800 apartments, most of them in the West Bank. The state comptroller, investigating these payments, found they were not included in the housing ministry’s budget. Responding to queries over this funding, the ministry said it was not intended for “the entire public” and that announcing it would have caused “unnecessary confusion”.

The veteran Israeli journalist and author Danny Rubinstein remembers a time in the late 80s when contractors offered free cars to those who bought settlement homes. Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem council member for the leftwing Meretz party, claims that at around the same time, Israelis invested in settlement property, left uninhabited, in the knowledge that at some point the state would offer compensation to evacuate it. He says the practice was “an open secret among settlers”.

Today, on top of my mortgage incentive, I’d get free nursery care for my children from the age of three, instead of five, as I would in Israel. Settlement schools are better funded, health services are allocated more state funds. I’d no longer get a 7% discount on income tax – that incentive was scrapped in 2003; I’d pay lower local taxes, but my local council would be twice as flush as those inside Israel, because of a central government funding bias. In 2006, the Adva Centre, an Israeli policy analysis organisation, found settlers pay 60% of the national average in local tax.

There are currently more than 200 settlements, including West Bank outposts and neighbourhoods in annexed East Jerusalem, and half a million Israelis live on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. B’Tselem says it is impossible to calculate the total state spend in settlement benefits, because “government ministries obscure documentation of the moneys in their budgets that are directed to the settlements”. But Peace Now estimates that settlements cost Israel $556m (around £355m) a year – and it is clear that this cost is keenly felt by those living within Israel, since the state seems to prioritise settlements at their expense.

Responding to international pressure, in 2008 the Israeli government debated a plan to offer settlers cash to leave the West Bank, a move designed to target economic settlers rather than ideological ones. The proposal – backed by then prime minister Ehud Olmert – couldn’t get through government. Yet there are currently thought to be lists of settlers who have expressed interest in leaving the West Bank, if compensated.

For as long as Israel has occupied Palestinian lands, there has been a dominant force within government that has kept the settlements project going. Driven by a mix of national-religious conviction, expansionist politics and military tactics, the settlements project has wholly controlled state agenda. B’Tselem describes the project as one of Israel’s main national enterprises. State efforts to pull Israelis over the Green Line have been so forceful that, as Rubinstein puts it, “You could say it was a bribe on a national scale.”

Israel has always played up the pain of dismantling the settlements. Yet as Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar writes in Lords Of The Land: The War For Israel’s Settlements In The Occupied Territories, the “elixir of life” for these settlements is their infrastructure: the electricity, water pipes and military forces that guard them. Remove these, “and this project collapses like a house of cards”. Today, Eldar describes Israel’s purported inability to do so as “a myth perpetrated by the government to make us believe that it is impossible”.

How hard would it really be to divert funds from the occupied West Bank back into Israel, thus encouraging settlers to move back – especially from somewhere like Almon, where residents have already said they will relocate if political realities dictate that they should?

One man who has lived there for 20 years says of the settlement, “It is not fanatic in a religious sense and not fanatic politically, either.” Other residents agree. “We came here because we were looking for a nice, peaceful place near Jerusalem,” says one woman, who still votes for the Israeli Labour party. “We didn’t want to annoy anyone, and we are not ideological… The settler movement does not represent us.”

The problem, as Rubinstein points out, is that what starts off as economics can eventually become ideological. “When you move [to the settlements],” he says, “you can’t say, ‘Well, I went there because I’m greedy.’ You change your political opinion.”

Jewish Boat to Gaza sets sail from Cyprus: Haaretz

Jewish boart for Gaza Press Release – 26 Sept 2010

http://jewishboattogaza.org/

Jewish Boat to Gaza - Irene

At crisis point in peace talks, Jews, Israelis call to lift the siege on Gaza, end the occupation.

A boat carrying aid for Gaza’s population and organized by Jewish groups worldwide has set sail from Cyprus today at 13:32 local time

The boat, Irene, is sailing under a British flag and is carrying ten passengers and crew, including Jews from the US, the UK, Germany and Israel as well as an Israeli journalist.

Passengers on the Jewish Boat to Gaza gather for a group photograph before their departure. (Photo: Vish Vishvanath/Metro)

The boat’s cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children’s toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza’s fishing communities and prosthetic limbs for orthopaedic medical care in Gaza’s hospitals.

The receiving organization in Gaza is The Palestinian International Campaign to end the siege on Gaza, directed by  Dr. Eyad Sarraj and Amjad Shawa, Director of PNGO

The boat will attempt to reach the coast of Gaza and unload its aid cargo in a nonviolent, symbolic act of solidarity and protest – and call for the siege to be lifted to enable free passage of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip.

The boat will fly multicolored peace flags carrying the names of dozens of Jews who have expressed their support for this action, as a symbol of the widespread support for the boat by Jews worldwide.

Speaking from London, a member of the organizing group, Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said today that the Jewish Boat to Gaza is a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege of Gaza, and a message of solidarity to Palestinians and Israelis who seek peace and justice.

‘Israeli government policies are not supported by all Jews,’ said Kuper. ‘We call on all governments and people around the world to speak and act against the occupation and the siege.’

Regarding the threat of interception by the Israeli navy, Kuper said ‘This is a nonviolent action. We aim to reach Gaza, but our activists will not engage in any physical confrontation and will therefore not present the Israelis with any reason or excuse to use physical force or assault them.’

Passenger Reuven Moskovitz, 82, said that his life’s mission has been to turn foes into friends. “We are two peoples, but we have one future”, he said.

Passengers aboard the boat

Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, is a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor. Speaks German, Hebrew and English.

Rami Elhanan, from Israel, lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict. Speaks Hebrew and English.

Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, is a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Speaks English and German.

Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, is an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace. Speaks Hebrew and English.

Carole Angier, from the UK, is the biographer of the renowned author, Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. Speaks English, French, Italian and German.

Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Speaks English.

Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008. Speaks German and English.

Alison Prager, from the UK, is a teacher and peace activist. She is media coordinator for the boat. Speaks English.

Itamar Shapira, from Israel, is Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew. Speaks Hebrew, Spanish and English.

Eli Osherov,  Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News.

Supporters: Jewish organizations and individuals from UK, Holland, Germany, US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria, Australia and Israel.

Organizers and sponsors: European Jews for a Just Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK), Juedische Stimme fuer einen gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Germany), American Jews for a Just Peace (USA), Jewish Voice for Peace (USA), Jews Against the Occupation Sydney.

UN panel accuses Israel of war crimes for ‘unlawful’ assault on Gaza flotilla: The Guardian

Israel dismisses report of ‘unnecessary and incredibly violent’ attack as ‘politicised and extremist’

A United Nations panel of human rights experts has accused Israel of war crimes through willful killing, unnecessary brutality and torture in its “clearly unlawful” assault on a ship attempting to break the blockade of Gaza in May in which nine Turkish activists died.

Hands of a detained activist from the Gaza-bound flotilla. Photograph: Alberto Denkberg/AP

The report by three experts appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) described the seizure of MV Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel, by Israeli commandos as illegal under international law.

It condemned the treatment of the passengers and crew as brutal and disproportionate. It also said that the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave is illegal because of the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“There is clear evidence to support prosecutions of the following crimes within the terms of article 147 of the fourth Geneva convention: wilful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health,” the report said.

“A series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation.”

Israel swiftly dismissed the accusations as “politicised and extremist”. But the report is likely to be welcomed by Turkey which has dramatically cooled once-close relations with the Jewish state since the attack on the ship.

The 56-page report – compiled by a former UN war crimes prosecutor, Desmond de Silva, a judge from Trinidad, Karl Hudson-Phillips, and a Malaysian women’s rights advocate, Mary Shanthi Dairiam – accuses Israeli forces of various crimes including violating the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression, and of failing to treat the captured crew and passengers with humanity.

“The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel toward the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality,” the report said.

The UN security council is expected to debate the findings on Monday.

The report does not have any legal force and the UN human rights council, which has been accused of a disproportionate focus on Israel, is viewed with scepticism by many western countries because it is dominated by the developing world.

But the report will be a further severe embarrassment to Israel after the assault on the ships brought widespread international condemnation even by generally sympathetic countries and breached relations with Turkey.

Israel, which refused to co-operate with the inquiry, said the report is biased.

“The Human Rights Council blamed Israel prior to the investigation and it is no surprise that they condemn after,” said Andy David, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry.

Israel has claimed that its troops only resorted to force and opened fire after coming under attack by activists with metal bars, axes and wooden clubs. The pro-Palestinian activists said they were defending the ship from what amounted to a pirate attack on a vessel in international waters.

The raid prompted an international outcry and focused attention on the blockade of Gaza. Israel has since lifted most of the restrictions on the flow of medicines, food and many goods into the territory but still maintains a ban on some items, such as building materials, on the grounds they can be used to manufacture weapons.

Israel is working with another UN inquiry under the former leaders of New Zealand and Colombia, Geoffrey Palmer and Alvaro Uribe, that is still in progress.

The Jewish state is also carrying out its own inquiry into the attack on Mavi Mamara.

Last month, Israel’s military commander, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, defended his forces’ use of live ammunition during the assault on the ship, saying that commandos had not expected to meet such violence from the activists and were forced to defend themselves when they came under attack.

“Israel is a democratic and law-abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “That is how Israel has always acted, and that is the way in which investigations were conducted following Operation Cast Lead, launched to protect the inhabitants of southern Israel from rockets and terror attacks carried out by Hamas from Gaza.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said that the report is further evidence that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories violates human rights “not only against Palestinian people but against innocent people who came to show their sympathy”.

He said the report should be used as the basis for international prosecutions of Israeli commanders responsible for the attack.

Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and ‘god-given land’ claims – 20: Said on YouTube

Edward Said, acclaimed for his literary and cultural criticism, is a sought-after commentator on Middle Eastern politics and America’s foremost spokesman for the Palestinian cause. His influential book, “Orientalism,” (1978), is an examination of Western perceptions of the Islamic world. His criticism extends to the United States, which he calls a dishonest broker in the peace process due to its long-standing support for Israel. – ResearchChannel is a nonprofit media and technology organization that connects a global audience with the research and academic institutions whose developments, insights and discoveries affect our lives and futures.

Watch the full one hour and 39 minute lecture HERE

Israel jails Arab activists for vague ‘contact with a foreign agent’: Jonathan Cook

‘Vague’ law used to lock up activists

A vague security offence of “contact with a foreign agent” is being used by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, to lock up Arab political activists in Israel without evidence that a crime has been committed, human rights lawyers alleged this week.

The lawyers said the Shin Bet was exploiting the law to characterise innocent or accidental meetings between members of Israel’s large Arab minority and Arab foreign nationals as criminal activity.

The chances of such contacts have increased rapidly with advances in new technology and opportunities for Israel’s Arab citizens to travel to the wider Arab world, said Hussein Abu Hussein, a lawyer who represents security detainees.

The lawyers’ criticisms come at a particularly sensitive moment, as Israel has been widely accused of hounding two prominent political activists. Both were arrested on the grounds that they spied for the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah.

One, Omar Said, was released last week after a plea bargain in which the Shin Bet reduced a serious security charge of “aggravated espionage” to “contact with a foreign agent”.

The evidence it revealed suggested that Said had attended the meeting in Egypt unaware that his contact was a possible Hizbollah agent and that he had turned down an alleged offer to spy for the organisation.

Amnesty International has termed the continuing prosecution of the other defendant, Ameer Makhoul, as “pure harassment”.

As he was freed, Said, from Kfar Kana, near Nazareth, accused Israel of persecuting activists whose politics it does not like.

Abir Baker, a lawyer with the Adalah legal centre, said cases such as Said’s were intended to have a “chilling effect” on Israel’s Arab community, which comprises one-fifth of the population.

She said his arrest should be seen in the context of efforts by Israel to limit the right of Arab citizens to strengthen cultural and political ties to the rest of the Arab world.

Several of Israel’s Arab political parties, including the one Said belongs to, have been trying to inform the Arab world about the minority’s campaign for democratic reforms to end Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

A 2008 law removed the diplomatic immunity from Arab members of the Israeli parliament to visit Arab countries defined as enemy states.

One MP, Said Nafaa, who is to be tried over a visit to Syria with a party of Druze clerics in 2007, faces charges of contact with a foreign agent for meetings he held with Syrian politicians.

“There are laws to stop us from visiting countries classified as enemy states such as Syria and Lebanon, but Israel uses this particular offence to make us afraid to talk to any Arab national, whether at international conferences or online,” said Baker. “Israel wants to make us invisible.”

Khaled Ghanayim, a law professor at Haifa University, said misuse of the offence of contact with a foreign agent had grown with the right wing’s ascendance in Israel.

“Paradoxically, the Soviet Union advanced a similar policy for decades to prevent Jews in the Eastern bloc from meeting Israeli Jews. Israel and the West denounced that policy as a violation of their human rights, but today Israel is doing the same to its Arab citizens.”

Abu Hussein said the offence was particularly hard to challenge because, uniquely in Israeli criminal law, the onus to prove that the meeting did not harm state security rested with the defendant, not the prosecution.

The Shin Bet was unavailable for comment. But the agency is believed to be concerned that Hizbollah, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during a month of hostilities in 2006, is trying to recruit spies among Israel’s Arab community.

According to the Shin Bet’s website, Hizbollah is particularly keen to identify the sites of Israeli security facilities in the north that might be targeted in a future confrontation and gauge the Jewish public’s mood.

Gideon Ezra, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet and now a member of parliament, said: “The state of Israel does not seek to put people in jail, but to carry out proper investigations. There is always a gap between what is known at first and the final outcome.”

Baker, who is studying the use of the “contact” offence, said there was a clear pattern in which the Shin Bet started its investigation with a serious security violation, such as transferring information to the enemy, which carries a life sentence, in addition to the allegation of contact.

“That way an impression is created with the public and the media that the suspect was harming state security.”

As the investigation proceeded, she said, the Shin Bet typically dropped the serious charge and sought a plea bargain on contact with a foreign agent. The charge carries a sentence of up to seven years in jail.

Defendants, faced with secret evidence and limited rights as security prisoners, were under pressure to agree, Abu Hussein said.

Baker said it was difficult to be sure exactly how often the law was being used but pointed to several notable recent cases.

In 2005, Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the main wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and Suleiman Aghbaria, mayor of the city of Umm al Fahm, served jail terms of 30 months and 46 months, respectively, after agreeing a plea bargain.

The Shin Bet’s case that the pair belonged to a terrorist organisation, Hamas, and supplied it with weapons, collapsed during the trial.

In the most recent case, both Said and Makhoul claimed they were tortured while they were held without access to a lawyer.

Ghanayim said it was notable that both men were publicly involved in activities to challenge Israeli policies. Makhoul is known to have angered the Shin Bet by leading demonstrations against Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008 and by heading calls for a boycott of Israel.

In the past the Shin Bet has warned that it would use all the powers at its disposal to “thwart” political activities it regarded as a threat to the state’s legitimacy.

Baker said use of the law against contact with a foreign agent had begun shortly after the start of the second intifada in 2000 to prevent Arab citizens meeting Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Last year, in a case that attracted wide attention in Israel, Rawi Sultani, a 24-year-old activist from Tira in central Israel, was sentenced to five and a half years after attending an international Arab summer camp in Morocco at which he was approached by a Hizbollah agent.

Mr Sultani was originally accused of conspiring to assassinate Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s chief of staff. The charge was dropped but he was convicted of giving information to the enemy by revealing that he had visited a gym used by Ashkenazi.

Frank Gehry, Daniel Barenboim join Ariel boycott campaign: Haaretz

21 Sept 2010

www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/frank-gehry-daniel-barenboim-join-ariel-boycott-campaign-1.315011

World-renowned architect Frank Gehry and the legendary pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim joined Tuesday the international campaign in support of the Israeli actors’ refusal to perform in the new cultural center of Ariel, according to the website of Jewish Voices for Peace.

The boycott statement has been signed by over 200 artists, including Jennifer Tilly, James Schamus, Tony Kushner, Harold Prince and others.

Gehry, the architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, recently pulled out of desiging the Museum of Tolerance planned to be built in Jerusalem on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery.

Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director, commended Gehry for his support.

“It is particularly critical for architects to speak out against the ongoing construction of Jewish-only communities on Palestinian land,” she said, adding that “architects and planners are the key implementers of the Israeli policy of taking and brutally occupying Palestinian land in violation of international law. For Mr. Gehry to take such a moral stand once and for all ends the mythical firewall between architecture, policy, and human rights.”

“We hope Israeli architects will be inspired to launch their own campaign to refuse to work in the settlements,” Surasky added.

The Jewish Voice for Peace website published a statement saying that “as American actors, directors, critics and playwrights, we salute our Israeli counterparts for their courageous decision.”

“They’ve made a wonderful decision,” the statement added, “and they deserve the respect of people everywhere who dream of justice. We stand with them”.

The “artists’ boycott” stirred growing controversy in Israel, with calls to stop the funding to the artists who refuse to perform in Ariel – a city of slightly above 18,000 people, most of whom are not religious.

Why Does Israel Still Occupy the Palestinians?Newleftproject

24 September, 2010

by Shir Hever

Shir Hever is an economist at the Alternative Information Center and author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation. In this essay he examines the political, economic and strategic forces driving the continuation of Israel’s occupation.

1. The Cost of the Occupation to Israeli Society

The majority of Israel’s anti-occupation movement, unfortunately, does not focus on the rights of Palestinians to live free, but on the damage that the occupation causes to Israeli society (Sternhell, 2009).

The arguments that the occupation is a major investment of resources that could be useful in alleviating Israel’s many social problems, and that the settlements, or colonies, enjoy exorbitant government subsidies (Swirski, 2008) are well known in Israeli society, and seldom challenged on a factual basis.

Within Israel, the arguments used to support the occupation on the basis of its purported economic benefits to Israel have gone silent. Even Marxist economists who effectively demonstrated the profits derived by Israel from the occupation in its first two decades largely abandoned the notion that Israel occupies the Palestinian territories for economic profit after the First Intifada of 1987, since when Palestinian resistance to the occupation has exacted a heavy economic toll on Israel – although clearly Palestinians paid a much heavier price for daring to challenge Israel’s occupation (Swirski, 2005).

The costs of the occupation to Israeli society can be divided into three. First, the massive subsidies to the illegal colonists in the West Bank are estimated at about US$ 3 billion annually, and growing by 5%-8% annually. Second, the cost of security for the colonies, and the military expenditure to keep the Palestinians under control (both in the West Bank and Gaza) is about double that – at US$ 6 billion annually, and growing at about the same rate as the civilian costs (Hever, 2005). Third, the social costs of the occupation are too numerous and complex to list here, including the collapse of public services, social solidarity and democratic institutions within Israel, and the widening of social gaps to monstrous levels.

Ever since the Israeli economy began to absorb cheap Palestinian labour in 1967, more and more companies adopted a business model dependent upon cheap labour, and so worker’s rights have been eroding, contributing to a spike in inequality (Swirski, 2005). Meanwhile, the dual legal system for Israeli citizens and for Palestinians has strained Israel’s democratic institutions beyond what they could bear (Kretzmer, 2002).

It would therefore seem that the rational course of action for the Israeli government would be to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Read the rest of this important article on the link above.

Gaza flotilla attack: UN report condemns Israeli ‘brutality': The Guardian

UN Human Rights Council accuses Israel of a ‘disproportionate’ response to Gaza blockade-breakers, nine of whom died

A UN-appointed panel said today that Israeli forces violated international law, “including international humanitarian and human rights law”, during and after their lethal attack on a flotilla of ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza in May.

The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission judged Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory to be “unlawful” because there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza at the time.

The panel’s report, published today, described Israel’s military response to the flotilla as “disproportionate” and said it “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”.

Eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American were killed in the raid, which prompted international criticism of both the attack and Israel’s policy of blockading the Gaza Strip. Israel has since eased its embargo, although still refuses to allow full imports and exports and the free movement of people.

Israel says the soldiers acted in self-defence. But the mission criticised the Israeli government for failing to co-operate with its inquiry. “Regrettably to date, no information has been given to the mission by or on behalf of the government of Israel,” it said.

The panel was led by Karl Hudson-Phillips, a retired judge of the international criminal court and former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago.

The report said: “The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. Such conduct cannot be justified or condoned on security or any other grounds. It constituted grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

The panel concluded that there was “clear evidence” of wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health – all crimes under the Geneva Convention.

The panel expressed the hope that there would be “swift action” by the Israeli government to help victims achieve effective remedies. “The mission sincerely hopes that no impediment will be put in the way of those who suffered loss as a result of the unlawful actions of the Israeli military to be compensated adequately and promptly,” it said. It described the blockade of Gaza as “totally intolerable and unacceptable in the 21st century”.

The Israeli government has fiercely resisted demands for an independent international inquiry into the flotilla attacks, establishing three internal investigations to avert pressure from the UN, Europe and Turkey.

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