January 23, 2011

EDITOR: Two years to the end of the Gaza Carnage

Two years ago, Israel has retreated from Gaza after the Cast Lead operation has brought about the murder of 1430 Palestinians, and the destruction of the civic infrastructure serving almost two million people. I the past two years we have witnessed the ineptness of the UN and the international community in the face of continued brutalities by Israel: the blockade continues unabated, the daily murders go on, and the Gaza citizens are not allowed to leave to other countries, and neither are others allowed to enter. Israel has taken a leaf out of the Nazi book – they have created the largest ever Ghetto in the world, and are applying similar tactics to its population. This will not be forgotten or forgiven – despite the inaction of the governments of the west, as well as the corrupt Arab regimes, millions across the globe are now active on this issue – boycotts are called every day in many countries, the trade boycott is harming Israeli economy, and Israel’s standing internationally has never been lower.

Solidarity with Palestine has never been more urgent. And to those who join the Palestinians in their struggle, solidarity is also offered in Palestine; below you can watch a video clip of two days ago in Bilin, where the demonstrators call for the release of the activist Yonathan Polack, arrested few weeks ago.

Bil’in 21.1.2011- Free Jonathan Pollak

Israelis target Macy Gray with racist diatribes AFTER she agrees to play Tel Aviv (and who are the “assholes?”): Max Blumenthal

It wasn't enough for Macy Gray to agree to perform in Israel. She has to take a virtual loyalty oath, too.

The Israeli media is filled with reports about Macy Gray confirming her plans to perform in Tel Aviv in March. This should have been an occasion for Israelis to celebrate their continuing ability to behave as a normal society despite occupying millions of people, holding Gaza under siege, maintaining an apparatus of racism against its non-Jewish citizens. But in a poorly calculated stunt designed to wash her hands of human rights concerns, Gray had first asked her “fans” if she should perform despite what she called Israel’s “disgusting” treatment of the Palestinians. Within hours, thousands of people who had no prior interest in Gray or her music flocked to her Facebook page (they only had to “like” her page in order to post) to register their opinions. Gray, who appeared to have every intention of performing anyway, remarked after announcing her plan to go to Tel Aviv, that some of those urging her to boycott were “assholes.”

Under normal circumstances, Gray’s roundhouse attack on some supporters of BDS and her subsequent pledge to perform in Tel Aviv should have pleased nationalistic Israelis. However, her initial criticism of Israel’s occupation has invited a firestorm of racist, sexist and generally hateful diatribes from Israelis. Indeed, many Israelis are more furious with Gray for performing inside their country than for refusing to come. Several internet forums, including one called “Don’t Betray,” have sprouted up to incite public anger at artists such as Gray who have criticized Israel — even if they agree to perform in the country. Meanwhile, the talkback sections of articles in the Hebrew media about Gray’s Tel Aviv shows have provided a forum for the most extreme screeds about the singer.

I have collected and translated a sampling of talkbacks from an article in the Hebrew edition of Ynet, the online version of the Israeli paper Yedioth Aharonoth, which highlight the attitude of some Israelis towards Gray. The talkbacks are almost entirely negative towards Gray, with many urging her to cancel her show for daring to criticize Israel, while others call her a “nigger” and denigrate black music as “contaminated.” Gray might be vaguely aware of Israel’s systematic abuse of Palestinians, but is she aware of the racism towards black Africans inside Israel, including Ethiopian Jews? Has she considered how she might be treated if she were living in Israel? And who are the “assholes” anyway?

Some of 500+ comments from the talkback section to the Hebrew Ynet article provocatively entitled “Gray is against Israel but not canceling:”

THe ugly niggers are joining the Darfurians entering here. All of you go away. wedontwantyou

Go find whoever is going to shag you you fucking whore. Every piece of garbage opens their cunt on us. muslimit

David from Safed: She should take all her brothers the Sudanese and Eritreans and fuck off here.

Another “afro american.” Nice name that the niggers made for themselves. Max

Black music is inferior music that fits you. No name [Another commenter calls him a racist.] “No name” replies: What is racist about that? To say “black” is racist?

Who wants you? You look like a monkey. Mikhal

It’s really disgusting that Israel is going to see black!!! music. Disgusting. Contaminates your soul. Ayela

Don’t come we don’t need your ugly fat ass here. Dude

Blacks and Muslims always go together. Brainless fraternity of people. Shai

[Responding to other commenters denying that any occupation exists]: Right, what chutzpah of us to survive in the jungle around us, as if she can’t understand the jungle. M

They [Americans] killed thousands of innocent people in Iraq but they come to complain here. mosheWhat Israeli fans does she have here? Leftist garbage maniacs [bastards] need to be killed whoever comes to her show. victorbruriera hess: What Palestinian people? What peaceful people? Maybe terrorism? Maybe right of return on your expense?Don’t give us favors. IF she’s contemplating coming Israel should cancel the show. DontgiveusfavorsAnee: I returned the ticket. And you?Maybe they will let her perform in Gaza. Raymondpessey: Go to Gaza, perform and fuck for the Hamas. May your name be cursed.Go find whoever is going to shag you you fucking whore. Every piece of garbage open their cunt on us. muslimit[Responding to other commenters denying that any occupation exists]. Right, what chutzpah of us to survive in the jungle around us, as if she can’t understand the jungle. MMany say cancel, cancel, we don’t want you here.When you’re being spit at at least you have to get a kleenex to clean it up. hamitnasehRonen: thank you new israel fund you did your job wellFuck you who wants you here anyway? SharonQuote by Ben Gurion. “It doesn’t matter what the goyim will say it matters what the Jews will do.” LTAnother “afro american.” Nice name that the niggers made for themselves. MaxTHe ugly niggers are joining the Darfurians entering here. All of you go away. wedontwantyouShe is boycotting only Israel because she’s anti-Semitic. Gives long list of countries including the US and UK she should boycott.Many say Lieberman should cancel the concert.Many say yalla, yalla, go look for someone to fuck youMany say she should perform in GazaDavid from Safed: She should take all her brothers the Sudanese and Eritreans and fuck off here.Many suggestions to take her to the Holocaust Museum.Who wants you? You look like a monkey. MikhalIt’s really disgusting that Israel is going to see black!!! music. Disgusting. Contaminates your soul. AyelaBlack music is inferior music that fits you. No name Someone calls him a racist. No name replies: What is racist about that? To say “black” is racist?Don’t come we don’t need your ugly fat ass here. DudeBlacks and Muslims always go together. Brainless fraternity of people. ShaiIsraeliJewishFighter: Sweetheart, don’t come here. We don’t want you. Who do you think you are talking about us?Hineh: Those who are “disgusting” towards the Balestinians [mocking the Arabic pronounciation of Palestinian] are the Balestinians themselves.Many are angry with Ynet for posting on this and allowing talkbacks. NA: The problem with the Jews and that we’re stupid, sensitive and attendant to what every idiot around the world is saying. Why is it so important for Ynet to report on this? So a few miserable goyim are not coming. Oy yoy yoy! What are we going to do?Please don’t cancel. What are we going to do without your show? My Asshole
They [Americans] killed thousands of innocent people in Iraq but they come to complain here. moshe

What Israeli fans does she have here? Leftist garbage maniacs [bastards] need to be killed whoever comes to her show. victor

What Palestinian people? What peaceful people? Maybe terrorism? Maybe right of return on your expense? Bruriera Hess

Don’t give us favors. IF she’s contemplating coming Israel should cancel the show. Dontgiveusfavors

I returned the ticket. And you? Anee

Maybe they will let her perform in Gaza. Raymond

Go to Gaza, perform and fuck for the Hamas. May your name be cursed. pessey

When you’re being spit at at least you have to get a kleenex to clean it up. hamitnaseh

Fuck you who wants you here anyway? Sharon

[Quote by David Ben Gurion]: “It doesn’t matter what the goyim will say it matters what the Jews will do.” LT

Sweetheart, don’t come here. We don’t want you. Who do you think you are talking about us? IsraeliJewishFighter

Those who are “disgusting” towards the Balestinians [mocking the Arabic pronounciation of Palestinian] are the Balestinians themselves. Hineh

Please don’t cancel. What are we going to do without your show? My Asshole

Pilgrims to site where Jesus was baptised risk landmines: Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook, The National
Jan 20, 2011

Visitors to Qasr al Yahud, in the Jordan Valley, received an unusual welcome, however. They had to pass through a fenced-off corridor warning that landmines surrounded them on all sides.

At the river’s edge, they were watched over by armed Israeli soldiers in watchtowers with orders to stop anyone trying to cross the short stretch of water that marks the border with Jordan.

Some 15,000 pilgrims arrived at Qasr al Yahud on Tuesday to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany – when Orthodox Christians traditionally mark Jesus’ baptism – despite a warning from a local landmine action group that the site could be dangerous.

Like many other religious sites in the Holy Land, Qasr al Yahud already attracts more controversy than brotherly love.

Israeli government ministers who were due to attend the celebrations cancelled their participation at the last minute after it was decided to postpone the site’s official opening until next month.

The delay came after the leaking to the Israeli media last week of a letter from the tourist minister, Stas Meseznikov, warning that opening Qasr al Yahud with too much fanfare could inflame regional tensions with Jordan and the Palestinians and upset the international community and churches. He said the site could rapidly turn into a “bone of contention”.

With competition intense for the tourist dollars of Christian pilgrims coming to the Holy Land, Jordan has been developing its own site around the location of Jesus’ reputed baptism. Known as Wadi Kharrar, it is on the opposite bank of the River Jordan from Qasr al Yahud. It now attracts 800,000 visitors a year.

Mr Meseznikov said he preferred to increase tourism at the location quietly.

He is reported to be opposed by Silvan Shalom, the regional development minister. On a recent trip to Qasr al Yahud, Mr Shalom said the government hoped the Israeli-developed site would soon challenge Jordan’s success, particularly by appealing to Eastern Europe’s large Orthodox Christian population.

Israel has spent more than US$2 million (Dh7.3m) renovating the area. Avner Goren, an archaeologist for the tourism ministry, said Israel’s long-term goal was to attract more than a million pilgrims a year to Qasr al Yahud.

A source in the ministry, who asked not to be named, said that many government officials were fearful that, if Israel did not “liberalise” its policy at Qasr al Yahud, Jordan’s claim to the baptismal site would eventually win the Christian world’s blessing.

Pope John Paul II visited the baptism sites on both sides of the river on his tour of the Holy Land in 2000. His successor, Benedict XVI, however, visited only the Jordan side in 2009.

The Israeli decision unilaterally to develop Qasr al Yahud has been sharply criticised by Palestinian officials, who point out that the area is located in the West Bank, only a few kilometres from the Palestinian city of Jericho.

Under the Oslo accords, Qasr al Yahud falls in so-called “Area C,” which is territory under full Israeli military control. But Palestinians expect the Jordan Valley to be part of their future state in a peace agreement.

Gerias Kumsiyeh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s tourism ministry in Ramallah, said Qasr al Yahud’s opening had been undertaken without the co-operation of Palestinian officials.

“This important site is occupied by Israel and is being developed unilaterally by them. The extra tourists will benefit Israel’s tourism industry but won’t help the Palestinian economy,” he said.

Israel angered Palestinian officials last year by declaring two locations in the West Bank – Rachel’s tomb, next to Bethlehem, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron – as Israeli “national heritage sites”.

Despite the importance to some Christians of the baptismal site, close to where the River Jordan empties into the Dead Sea, decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict have overshadowed efforts to develop it.

The army declared the River Jordan a closed military zone in 1967 and later laid mines along much of its length to deter “infiltrators” from Jordan, both Palestinian refugees seeking to return to their homes in the West Bank and Arab fighters trying to launch attacks.

The Israeli army said it had removed 8,000 landmines in the Jordan Valley last year and that the Qasr al Yahud area was entirely safe.

But Dhyan Or, the Israel director of Roots of Peace, a global advocacy group opposed to landmines, said half a million remained in the Valley. He added that mines could drift from fenced-off areas during storm-floods, putting worshippers at risk if they strayed off marked paths.

Faced with the problems at Qasr al Yahud, the Israeli tourism ministry has for many years offered an alternative baptismal site on the River Jordan known as Yardenit, inside Israel and a few hundred metres south of the Sea of Galilee.

Although a popular stop for pilgrims who want a full-body immersion, the site has been recognised by neither Biblical scholars nor the main Christian denominations.

Attention has focused instead on an ancient crossing point on the river 40km further south, where John the Baptist is believed to have preached. The site is marked on the oldest map of the Holy Land: a sixth-century floor mosaic in Saint George’s church, close to the town of Madaba in Jordan.

Remains of early churches have been found on both banks of the River Jordan at the site. Qasr al Yahud also has nearby a largely complete fifth-century Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to John the Baptist.

Jordan, unlike Israel, rushed to develop the area after the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries in 1994. It demined Wadi Kharrar and King Abdullah, Jordan’s ruler, donated land to various Christian denominations to build churches close by.

Middle East Friends of the Earth have warned that both Qasr al Yahud and Wadi Kharrar are unsuitable as baptismal sites because of severe pollution in that stretch of the River Jordan.

Gidon Bromberg, the group’s director in Israel, said the Israeli National Parks Authority had lowered water quality standards to ensure the site remained open.

He said the flow of the river had diminished by 98 per cent in recent decades because Syria, Jordan and Israel had diverted feeder streams for agriculture.

Given the meagre flow of water, tourists on both sides of the river are able to call out to each other.

Mr Meseznikov has made the growth of Christian tourism a top priority. Rates were up last year to a record 3.4 million visitors, two thirds of them Christians. The government has set a target of 5 million visitors by 2015.

Israel can’t stop Palestinian independence: Haaretz

The ‘diplomatic holding action’ that Israel is conducting has enjoyed partial success, but the world is gradually becoming accustomed to the idea that Palestine will join the family of nations this summer.

By Aluf Benn
They will go out into Jerusalem’s summer heat and march down Saladin Street toward the Old City walls. Fifty Palestinians, then 100, then 200 and 1,000 and 10,000. Marching and shouting “Istiqlal,” independence. Not because they support Ehud Barak’s new party, Atzmaut (the Hebrew word for independence ), but to get Israel out of the territories beyond the Green Line and establish a Palestinian state there. Just like the demonstrators in Tunisia got rid of Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.

How will Israel react? Will it shoot the demonstrators and kill them before cameras from all over the world? A public relations disaster. Will it jail thousands for holding an unauthorized demonstration? Not practical. Will it blame the Palestinian Authority? Irrelevant. And what if the demonstrators keep marching, day after day, supported by international sympathy and all the international news media?
This scenario, which researchers Shaul Mishal and Doron Mazza call the White Intifada, may come to pass in August or September, as the target date the Palestinians have set for declaring an independent state approaches. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are outflanking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The combined maneuver they launched – building the institutions of statehood while also obtaining international recognition – is isolating Israel, making it appear like a country that rejects peace and insists on retaining the settlements.

The world is gradually becoming accustomed to the idea that Palestine will join the family of nations this summer. That is what U.S. President Barack Obama promised in his address to the most recent United Nations General Assembly. That is what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised in her address to the Saban Forum (a Palestinian state, achieved through negotiations, is inevitable, she said ). That is what the Latin American states have promised, and now also Russia, a member of the international Quartet of Middle East peace-makers and a permanent member of the Security Council. Without negotiations, there will be internationalization.

The higher the Palestinians’ expectations are, the deeper their disappointment will be come September when independence hasn’t yet arrived. After a prior target date for a permanent settlement was missed, on September 13, 2000, the intifada broke out two and a half weeks later. This time, the Palestinians have prepared international support in advance, and if they are wise, they will refrain from blowing up buses and focus on street protests like those in Bil’in – but in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s counterclaim, that the Palestinians are to blame for the failure of the negotiations, has been received with skepticism. Abbas is telling everyone that he gave Netanyahu a detailed peace proposal addressing all the core issues, but the prime minister did not respond. And worldwide, they believe him.

The “diplomatic holding action” that Israel is conducting against Palestinian recognition has enjoyed partial success: Both the U.S. Congress and the European Union expressed their opposition to a unilateral declaration of independence. But Israel’s position is eroding with every new country that recognizes Palestine in the 1967 borders.

Netanyahu has responded by hunkering down. He drove the rebellious Labor Party ministers out of his government, opting instead for a right-wing coalition to show “steadfast determination” in the face of international pressure.

The ridiculous spin from his bureau, accusing the ousted ministers of responsibility for the diplomatic impasse, is exaggerated even by the standards of Netanyahu and his advisers. Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman, failed politicians who lost everything when they hesitated to leave the government, are the ones who thwarted peace? Not Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlement construction and talk about borders?

Now, Netanyahu has several options in his effort to foil Palestinian independence, but all are terrible. It is too late to present a diplomatic program that could convince anyone in the world while still enjoying the support of his right-wing coalition.

He could strike Iran, or call early elections. In both cases, the risks are enormous and the problem would only be delayed. He could undermine Abbas’ rule with retaliatory moves, first and foremost a deal that would free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for releasing Hamas operatives to the West Bank. That would hurt the PA, but would also endanger Israel. Or he could recognize a Palestinian state in the existing borders, separate from it as much as possible and offer to negotiate.

The approaching summer will bring an exceptionally complex political challenge for Netanyahu. He will need all the talent for stratagems that he and Barak displayed in breaking up Labor if he is to outflank Abbas in turn and avoid a confrontation with the Palestinians. If he leaves the initiative to them, he will have to face their independence march in Jerusalem.

EDITOR: The Dry Cleaners are almost ready…

The Turkel commission, the special Chinese Laundry appointed by Netanyahu after the murder on nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara, is almost ready to spout its nonsense… don’t hold your breath.

Israel to issue ‘flotilla report’: Al Jazeera online

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Contrary to UN report, Israeli-appointed commission is widely expected to exonerate military of wrongdoing in the raid.

The commission questioned several high-ranking Israeli officials, but was not given access to individual soldiers  [EPA]
An Israeli-appointed commission said to be probing Israel’s deadly raid on a flotilla of ships carrying aid to the besieged Gaza strip in May last year is expected to submit its findings on Sunday.

The report, addressed to the Israeli prime minister and representing the findings of the Israeli-government commissioned panel, is widely expected to exonerate the country’s military of any wrongdoing, and will be simultaneously submitted to a UN panel investigating the incident.

However, such findings would contradict a UN-backed report issued last year.

In September, a UN-appointed panel concluded that Israeli forces showed “incredible violence” during and after the raid on the flotilla that left eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American killed.

The UN probe added that  there was “clear evidence to support prosecutions” against Israel for “wilful killing” and torture committed when its troops stormed the aid flotilla last May.

Israel’s military response to the flotilla “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality” and violated international law “including international humanitarian and human rights law,” the three-member panel 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.”

The commando raid on the group of aid ships prompting international criticism of Israel’s actions and soured relations with several countries, particularly Turkey.

Pro-Israel commission

Israel established its own commission of inquiry after rejecting criticism that its troops had acted with excessive force in the raid.

On Sunday, media reports indicated that the commission’s first report was expected to clear the military of any wrongdoing, finding that Israeli commandos had shot in self-defence after being attacked by aid activists upon boarding their ships.

The commission is also expected to uphold the legality of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which it imposed in June 2006 after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas  fighters.

At least two of the commission’s members openly defended Israel’s actions during the raid while questioning some witnesses, particularly Israeli Arabs and human rights group representatives, according to the Jerusalem Post.

According to a commission spokesman, in addition to examining the legality of the blockade, the first report also provides an assessment “of the actions taken by the [Israeli army] to enforce the naval blockade” and “an examination of the actions taken by the organisers of the flotilla and its participants and their identity”.

The inquiry commission, headed by Yaakov Turkel, a former supreme court judge, is also reportedly examining several other aspects of the raid, and is expected to release a second report at an as yet unspecified date.

That report is expected to look at the mechanisms available for complaints about the raid.

High-ranking officials

The commission has heard testimony from high-ranking Israeli officials, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, and General Gabi Ashkenazi, the army chief.

Giving testimony last year, Barak termed the flotilla a “planned provocation”. He said that top officials had suspected that the aid convoy’s organisers were “preparing for an armed conflict to embarrass Israel”.

“We regret any loss of life,” he said, “but we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently.”

The commission also heard the testimony of several people who were on board the aid ships.

None of the soldiers who carried out the raid were authorised to provide their testimony. The commission was only authorised to speak to the army chief or Major-General Giora Eiland, who carried out the military’s own investigation into the incident, on matters relating to the military’s response.

Commission members were authorised to submit questions to individual soldiers who participated in the raid only through a military committee.

Other members of the commission include Shbati Rosenne, an international legal expert, retired Major-General Amos Horev, Miguel Deutch, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, Reuven Merhav, a former director-general of the foreign ministry.

Rosenne, who was 93-years-old, died on September 21 last year, while hearings were ongoing, and was not replaced.

The panel also had two foreign observers, Brigadier General Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, who were allowed to participate fully in the commission’s activities, but were not allowed to vote on decisions.

Report on deadly Gaza flotilla raid set for release: Haaretz

First part of Turkel Committee report to be published on Sunday afternoon; Israel to launch international public relations campaign about the findings.

The Turkel Committee investigating Israel’s botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza last May will publish the first part of its report on Sunday afternoon.

Simultaneously, an English translation of the 300-page document will be submitted to the UN panel that is probing the incident. That panel, chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, includes both Israeli and Turkish representatives.

Turkey has already submitted its report on the raid to the UN panel; it blames the incident, in which nine Turks were killed, entirely on Israel. Israel has long argued that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked by the passengers, but the UN panel has been awaiting the Turkel Committee’s report before drawing any conclusions of its own.

It will now review both reports and then draft its conclusions.

Israel also plans to launch an international public relations campaign about the Turkel report’s findings. It is not clear how the ongoing strike by Foreign Ministry personnel will affect the campaign, which the Prime Minister’s Office is coordinating.

The first part of the report will discuss the legality of Israel’s blockade on Gaza and of its efforts to enforce the blockade, including the flotilla raid. It will also analyze the identity and goals of the flotilla’s organizers and passengers. It is expected to conclude that the raid did not violate international law, and that the soldiers indeed opened fire in self-defense.

The panel’s two foreign observers, Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, have both signed off on the report’s conclusions.

The report’s second part, to be submitted in another few months, will discuss Israel’s mechanisms for investigating suspected violations of international law, as well as the government decision-making process ahead of the raid.

Incurring the veto: Al Ahram Weekly

Washington will likely veto any Palestinian resolution at the UN — that’s why it should be put, writes Graham Usher
Arab ambassadors at the United Nations say they intend to submit a resolution to the Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, part of a new Palestinian-led strategy that seeks to build an international coalition to end the occupation and recognise a Palestinian state.

The strategy has borne fruit. In the last month seven Latin American countries have recognised Palestine “on the 1967 borders”. Norway says it will do the same if there is no meaningful peace process by September, the month when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) hopes to table a Security Council resolution calling on the world to recognise a Palestinian state.

At the UN there are upwards of 100 states willing to co-sponsor the settlements resolution. A source says of the 15 SC members he expects 14 to support the motion, including China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa.

No other issue that commands a greater international consensus. Yet — nearly two months after the PLO UN mission began consultations — it’s still not clear when or even if the resolution will be voted on.

Much depends on “the reaction of one important member of the SC,” says a diplomat.

The United States opposes the motion. “New York is not the place to resolve the long- standing conflict and outstanding issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians”, said US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on 10 January.

US rejectionism has been steeled by a House of Representatives voice vote last month calling on the president to veto any Palestinian attempt effort to seek international recognition of a state.

US diplomats won’t discuss the settlements resolution. Domestically on the ropes, the Obama administration clearly fears the wrath of a Republican-controlled Congress far more than the damage a veto would inflict on allies like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Ramallah Palestinian Authority, all of which back the settlements resolution and have called on the US not to obstruct it. “The Americans will veto — it’s 90 per cent sure,” says a source.

That leaves the PA between two rocks. The turn to the UN has been compelled not only because Israeli colonisation in the occupied territories, especially East Jerusalem, is fast reaching a point of no return. It’s also because the UNSC is the only body that could force Israeli compliance now that US has abandoned its call to freeze settlement activities as a condition for negotiations.

“We believe the adoption of the SC resolution would send the appropriate message to Israel so that we can go back to negotiations,” said Riad Mansour, PLO observer at the UN. However, the Palestinians want “the Americans on board”, he says.

Those goals are in contradiction. On 16 January the US asked the PLO to withdraw the resolution. Saeb Ereikat — chief Palestinian negotiator — refused: “we will not come near concessions that are devoid of dignity,” he said.

Many Palestinians welcome the refusal. Polls show most against a bilateral process under exclusive US tutelage that in the last 20 years has made “the occupied territories a semi- permanent Israeli domain”, says Palestinian analyst Rashid Khalidi.

The return to international fora like the UNSC would not reverse this reality. But it would recast the Palestinian issue as a national liberation struggle against occupation on the bases of international law and UN resolutions (rather, as is current, as a dialogue between Tel Aviv and Washington over Israel’s security needs).

It would also bolster efforts at Palestinian national reconciliation, since no power (aside from Israel) has been more inimical to Hamas- Fatah rapprochement than Washington.

Finally UNSC resolutions — because they carry the force of international law — would help parliaments, civic organisations and individuals sanction Israel for its settlement policies.

“By moving from the bilateral approach… to a multilateral approach that allows the international community to take up its responsibility of ending the occupation, perhaps Palestinians will achieve their freedom,” hopes Ghassan Khatib, a former PA spokesman.

The decision to table a UNSC resolution on settlements suggests “internationalisation” is now the PLO’s strategy. Yet the Palestinians hankering after American support also implies they seek less the end of US tutelage than an effort to revive it: grandstanding on unilateralism to persuade Obama to submit new “parameters” for a peace process. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has alluded to such a tactic in the past.

He should be careful what he wishes for. Two years into Obama’s term it’s clear he will submit no “parameter” that has not been cleared with the Netanyahu government. And Netanyahu’s parameters are known: no Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem; a blockade on Gaza; and an interim arrangement in the West Bank of indefinite duration. Such an “end-state” will do nothing to alter the balance of power in the occupied territories. It will only deepen and perpetuate Israel’s rule.

An internationalist approach — backed by popular protest and sanctions — would, slightly, tilt the balance back in favour of a people struggling against an illegal occupation and the immense national and international forces that support them.

But for that strategy to be taken seriously “the Palestinians must make themselves independent of that power which is the main prop of Israel and its occupation,” says Khalidi.

Independence is a hard road. Few polities are as dependent on American political, economic and military beneficence as the Ramallah Palestinian Authority. But incurring a US veto — and exposing which is the real rejectionist in the Arab-Israeli conflict — would be a good place to start.

Erekat: Lieberman’s reported map of Palestinian state is a ‘joke’: Haaretz

Speaking with Army Radio, chief PA negotiator urges a return to peace talks, adding that a Palestinian state is coming, and there’s nothing Israeli can do about it.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s drafting of the map of a provisional Palestinian State is an “invention and a joke,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Army Radio on Sunday, following a Haaretz report earlier in the day.

On Sunday, Haaretz quoted a senior Foreign Ministry official as saying that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had drafted a map of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, which would essentially “freeze the existing situation in the territories, with minor changes.”

The purpose of such a map, the official told Haaretz, was to show that Israel is genuinely interested in progress toward peace, and to force the Palestinians to say whether they really want a state.

Commenting on the Haaretz report, Erekat told Army Radio that it was an “invention and a joke,” also referring to recent comments by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who warned of the possibility of another civil uprising if the deadlocked peace talks continued.

“He did not threaten [Israel] with a new intifada, but instead said that he aimed to continue negotiations, and if September arrives and no solution would be in sight, we cannot just continue ‘business as usual,'” Erekat said.

The chief PA negotiator stressed the point further, saying that “there was no threat on our part. We want consenting peace talks and not unilateral moves,” he said, adding that if Israelis “look to the future they could see the Palestinian state coming, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Speaking with Haaretz, the Foreign Ministry official said Lieberman indicated that Israel must take the diplomatic initiative by proposing a Palestinian state in provisional borders.

This would preempt international recognition of such a state in the 1967 borders, reduce international pressure on Israel and transfer at least part of the state to the Palestinians.

“After a Palestinian state has been established in provisional borders, it would be possible to resume diplomatic negotiations and maybe reach agreements on transferring additional territory to the Palestinian state,” the official said.

Lieberman has briefed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the project but has not yet shown him the map. Lieberman, the source said, believes that the more time passes, the more people will come around to the idea that the goal for now should be an interim agreement with the Palestinians.

Erekat on Lieberman plan: No partial state: YNet

Chief negotiator rejects FM’s plan for Palestinian state on 50% of West Bank land, says it proves Israel doesn’t want peace
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat rebuffed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s plan for a Palestinian state in provisional borders in order to block international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Speaking to Ynet on Sunday, Erekat said a “Palestinian state is coming; this is the reality and Israel should be the first country to recognize this. I don’t think Lieberman is interested in reaching an agreement, because a partial arrangement is not the solution. The Palestinian state will not be established on only 50% of the West Bank’s land.”

With US-brokered peace talks at a standstill, Israel has been alarmed in the past two months by a string of recognitions of a Palestinian state by Latin American states, including Brazil and Argentina.

Erekat told Ynet he believes Lieberman’s plan represents Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position as well. “The Israel government is not headed towards peace, because it is not interested in peace, and this plan is proof of that.”

The Palestinian negotiator also issued a statement saying, “Lieberman’s plan came after the Israelis felt embarrassed and isolated by the international community, which has gradually supported the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. This is why they are trying to turn the ball over to the Palestinian and Arab side.”

On Friday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed that during George W. Bush’s presidency Israel and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement according to which Israel would recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, but Israel dodged the former American leader’s efforts to implement the understandings.

In an interview with Arab television network Al-Jazeera, Abbas said Israel had also agreed that a Palestinian state would be established within the 1967 borders.

The Palestinian leader said the collapse of peace negotiations between Israel and the PA could have led to a “popular uprising” or a “Palestinian revolt,” but ruled out the possibility of a military conflict with Israel.

Witness for Gaza’s victims of conflict – audio slideshow: The Observer

Photographer Kai Wiedenhöfer talks about his compelling photographs documenting the damage left after Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2009, published in The Book of Destruction.

The book is published by Steidl/Fondation Carmignac Getion in June. The Book of Destruction exhibition is at The Mosaic Rooms, London, from 28 January to 6 June

To view, use link above

Kai Wiedenhöfer’s The Book of Destruction: Gaza – One year After the 2009 War: The Observer

Mosaic Rooms, London
Peter Beaumont
Sunday 23 January 2011
Jamila al-Habash, a 16-year-old student from the Tufah neighborhood in Gaza city was hit by a missile while playing on the roof of her house on 4 January 2009. One of her sisters and a cousin were killed in the same attack. The photograph is from the exhibition and book (published by Steidl) ‘The Book of Destruction’ by Kai Wiedenhofer.
When The Book of Destruction, Kai Wiedenhöfer’s exhibition of photographs documenting the consequences of Israel’s war against Gaza, opened at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris late last year, two men wearing ski masks and motorcycle helmets tried to storm the building to damage the exhibits. An umbrella group of Jewish organisations in France accused him of “virulently anti-Israel views”. Others on the internet charged him with “fanning the flames of antisemitism”.

The award-winning Wiedenhöfer, whose exhibition moves to London this week, is not unaccustomed to such charges and finds them ridiculous. They first emerged in 2005 during discussions with Berlin’s municipal authorities for a project – which never saw the light of day – involving affixing giant prints of Israel’s West Bank separation wall on to what remains of the Berlin Wall. During talks, a local politician informed him that the panoramic images in his book, Wall, which were to be used for the project, were “antisemitic photography”.

“I asked him to define antisemitic photography,” says Wiedenhöfer. “He replied that I had pictures in the book that showed Israeli soldiers being violent against Palestinians.”

Sitting in his bare Berlin apartment, Wiedenhöfer is suddenly animated and goes to fetch a copy from his bookshelf. “I know every picture in this book. There is not a single image of an Israeli laying a thumb on a Palestinian. So I said, ‘Show me!'” Wiedenhöfer flicks through the pages. “This is the only image of violence in the whole book – it’s an Israeli soldier removing Israeli peace protesters.”

Wiedenhöfer’s pictures are controversial because his three books – Perfect Peace, detailing Palestinian life between the two intifadas, Wall and now The Book of Destruction – focus almost exclusively on the Palestinian experience. Self-employed and funded often by grants, he is free from the requirement of television and print media to tell both sides of the story with equal weight, instead photographing what interests him, which has rankled deeply with some of Israel’s supporters.

Here, I believe, a disclosure is in order. I have known Wiedenhöfer, who was born in 1966 in a village near Stuttgart, for almost a decade. We first met and travelled together when covering Israel’s 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, dodging tanks in Bethlehem. Wiedenhöfer borrowed the title for his current exhibition from an article written by myself and my Observer colleague, photographer Antonio Olmos, about a list we came across of all of Gaza’s damaged buildings, a document we called “the book of destruction”.

Wiedenhöfer’s dedication, even in a profession that requires such discipline, is extraordinary. I recall running into him in Jerusalem almost five years ago when he was working on Wall. He was staying in a filthy, cell-like single-room dwelling owned by a monk, scattered with crucifixes and empty whisky bottles (the monk’s, not the teetotal Wiedenhöfer’s) because it meant he could come and go as he pleased and he wanted to capture the morning light. He took me on one of his early-morning outings, wandering beneath watchtowers full of armed soldiers to study how the light fell on concrete at different times, scrambling up ridges to find new viewpoints of the concrete barrier snaking among the hills and observe the pattern of daily life flowing around it.

If Wall was about separation, Wiedenhöfer’s new book and exhibition, funded by the Fondation Carmignac Gestion, is unquestionably about violence, documenting in almost unbearable detail the damage left after Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2009. Unpeopled images of ruined buildings, photographed with an architectural precision, are contrasted with portraits of equally ruined people with truncated limbs and scarred bodies. His human subjects look into the camera, seated in their own homes: women and children; the family of fighters and civilians – all displaying bewildering variations of traumatic amputation and burns.

The photographs of the ruined buildings supply their own taxonomy of the consequences of different explosive forces: houses brought down by mines rendered into bristling igloos of concrete; buildings pierced and burned by shells; walls perforated by gunfire. The result is a body of work that is anti-sensational but shocking in the directness with which it engages with violence.

“I wanted to make a record,” Wiedenhöfer says. “That’s all. I do not accuse Israel. If there is an accusation, it is in the record itself.” Therein lies the problem. He has come up against the increasingly prevalent desire of many within Israel and without to rule inadmissible any “record” that depicts what Israel or its defence forces do in a negative light, deploying an intellectual sleight of hand to suggest that all such criticism is designed to “delegitimise” the existence of Israel. That it is “antisemitism” of a new and sneaky kind.

The irony is that Wiedenhöfer had not intended to return to the subject of Israel and Palestine again after his books Perfect Peace and Wall. Indeed, his main interest these days is examining the nature of boundaries, particularly in areas of conflict or that have been affected by conflicts, something he is pursuing with the same single-mindedness he dedicated to documenting Palestinian life for almost two decades.

Wiedenhöfer insists that he could have done a similar study to The Book of Destruction in Afghanistan or in Iraq and that the real meaning of the book is the horrible “creativity” people use to hurt others. What really concerns him is the unwillingness of many photographers, and the media, to document the human consequences.

In part, he blames the constrained economics of the media today, which, he believes, has made many photographers take fewer risks, instead focusing on images they know will sell. “We see the same pictures all the time. A Palestinian child throwing a stone. A soldier surrounded by dust in Afghanistan. An IED exploding. But what does it show us of the true meaning of war?”

Peter Beaumont is the Observer’s foreign affairs editor. Kai Wiedenhöfer’s The Book of Destruction: Gaza – One Year After the 2009 War is at the Mosaic Rooms, London SW5, from Friday to 12 Feb; mosaicrooms.org. Funds raised through the exhibition will be used to support the individuals featured in his photographs. The book is published by Steidl/Fondation Carmignac Gestion on 6 June, £30

Two decades of secret Israeli-Palestinian accords leaked to media worldwide: Haaretz

Al-Jazeera TV begins leaking 1,600 secret documents: PA agreed to concede almost all of East Jerusalem to Israel, accept Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Al-Jazeera TV and The Guardian revealed Sunday the details of 1,600 confidential documents on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the last two decades.

The documents leaked so far mostly reveal secret concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators on the issues of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, territorial concessions, and the recognition of Israel.

According to Al-Jazeera, Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to concede almost all of East Jerusalem to Israel.

The Palestinian Authority reportedly offered in 2008 that Israel take control of all neighborhoods in Jerusalem except Har Homa, the first time in history the Palestinians made such a proposal, one that they refused to during the Camp David summit.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, also proposed in an October 2009 meeting that Jerusalem’s Old City be divided, giving Israel control over the Jewish Quarter, part of the American Quarter, and part of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Further details reveal that the Palestinian agreed that solely10,000 Palestinian refugees return to Israel as part of the Palestinian right of return, and that Erekat agreed to the Israeli demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state.

Israel is fussing over the wrong kind of land grab: Haaretz

In regards to Yoav Galant, Israeli society is troubled more by a few dozen dunams of rocky soil than hundreds of people killed for nothing.
By Gideon Levy

Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant must not become the Israel Defense Forces’ next chief of staff. Indeed, he might not become chief of staff, but for the wrong reasons. The Galant affair only proves the eclipse that has darkened Israeli society, which is upset by (relatively) small matters and ignores the truly serious ones. A few dozen dunams of rocky soil trouble it much more than hundreds of people killed for nothing. Half-truths and lies about an olive grove infuriate it more than lies that are not white about phosphorus that is. The monstrous dimensions of the commander’s palace produce a greater scandal than the monstrous destruction sown by that commander.

The preoccupation with the escape route from Estate Yoav has become our escape route from dealing with the real questions. Look how beautiful we are, we treat minor issues the same way we treat major ones. We won’t allow a person who lied about his home’s construction plans to become chief of staff. We also won’t allow an officer who who lied about an all-terrain vehicle driven by his son to be a division commander. Neither will we allow another officer, who lied about his wife’s driving, to be a division commander. We ignore their other sins.

The energetic investigations by the press, the Green Movement and Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan are praiseworthy. Our law-enforcement officials have been handling the investigations admirably. It’s good we have them. But the commander of Operation Cast Lead was never worthy of being chief of staff because of senseless killings and destruction, suspicions of war crimes, and the twisted doctrine of no casualties at any cost. He wasn’t worthy because of the senseless fear campaign before the operation about Hamas arming itself, Iranian weapons flowing through the tunnels and explosive devices awaiting the IDF everywhere. He wasn’t worthy because of the IDF’s lies and the spirit of its commanders, and even because of the false depiction of that attack as “war.” Galant cannot and must not be chief of staff.

The culture of lying did not begin with Galant – neither did latching onto small things to blur what is most important. Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir, whose name is mentioned now as an example of the army’s harshness in dealing with its errant officers, was also punished for wrong and misleading reasons. As commander of the Golani Brigade, his soldiers twice shelled the market in Jenin and killed a number of children. Tamir went through a disciplinary hearing – and was cleared.

As commander of the Gaza Division he was responsible for Operation Autumn Clouds, another worthless and unnecessary killing operation in Gaza that cut short the lives of 70 Palestinians. For this, of course, he did not stand trial. Tamir was tried and punished because of an ATV. Galant is now being questioned over a house. Not over the thousands of houses destroyed for no reason under his command, but because he built himself a house under dubious circumstances.

It is enough to read the chilling probe by Haaretz’s Amira Hass about the circumstances surrounding the killing of 26 members of the Samouni family in Gaza’s Zeitun neighborhood during Operation Cast Lead (see opposite page). Read about the killing of those evacuating the wounded, the killing of someone who took a cell phone out of his pocket, of a young man who was cuffed, of people fleeing for their lives, people bleeding to death whom the soldiers did not allow to be evacuated. Above all, read about missiles fired from the air at a house that was to have been a safe place, in which the IDF killed 20 people, including women, children and babies.

Are those acts orphaned when it comes to responsibility? Are those criminal acts completely blameless? After all, there are people responsible for the conduct of the soldiers – the general in command perhaps first and foremost. And that general is of course none other than Galant. Promoting him, despite and perhaps because of his responsibility for what happened in Gaza, is a much more scandalous and audacious statement than promoting him despite the land affair.

It has now been two years since Operation Cast Lead. It stirred no self-criticism in Israel. While in world public opinion it was a fateful turning point, Israel went along its way, indifferent to reports, denying the investigations, complacent in the face of testimonies, as if these things had never happened. The chance that the commander of that attack will be appointed chief of staff, and even the chance that he will not be appointed because of his house, are the final sins in that terrible operation of sins.

Turkey: Israel’s probe of Gaza flotilla has no value or credibility: Haaretz

Israel’s Turkel Commission finds that IDF soldiers acted in self-defense during raid on Gaza-bound ship, concludes Israel’s blockade of Gaza is in accordance with international law.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected Sunday the findings of an Israeli panel of inquiry into an Israel Defense Forces raid on a Gaza-bound ship last May, dismissing the Israeli conclusions that the IDF soldiers acted in self-defense when they killed nine Turkish citizens on board the ship.

Erdogan told reporters in Ankara on Sunday that the Israeli report had “no value or credibility.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry also issued a statement in response to the Israeli inquiry and said it was “appalled and dismayed” at the findings, which cleared Israel of wrongdoing in the raid on the Turkish ship.

In the first part of its report, the Turkel Commission determined on Sunday that Israel’s three and a half year blockade of Gaza did not in fact break international law. The first part of the report focused on the legality of the blockade on Gaza and of Israeli efforts to enforce it, including the raid on the six-ship flotilla.

Turkey condemned the findings of Israel’s Turkel Commission, and said that in its own panel of inquiry it found Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and its raid on the Turkish-led Gaza flotilla in violation of international law.

Israeli naval commanders boarded the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Turkish-sponsored Gaza-bound aid flotilla, on May 31, 2010. The activists on board the boat resisted, and nine people were killed. The commission determined that the incident did not constitute an offense against international law as there were clear indications that the flotilla intended to break the naval blockade.

The report also determined that Israel had been in compliance with the formal conditions of enforcing a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, adding that Israel had also complied with the humanitarian conditions for such a blockade.

However, the report was critical of Israel’s land blockade of the coastal enclave, calling on Israel to “examine of the medical needs of the people of Gaza in order to find ways to improve the current situation.”

The commission also urged the Israeli government to examine ways to “focus its sanctions on Hamas while avoiding harm against the civilian population.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak lauded the conclusions of the probe on Sunday, saying that the report proves Israel is a law-abiding nation.

Meanwhile, Balad MK Hanin Zuabi, who took part in the flotilla, criticized the report for ignoring its most important aspect, according to her – the killing of nine Turkish citizens by IDF soldiers. She said the report  “cannot erase Israel’s reputation as a country that repeatedly breaks international law.”

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