March 9, 2011

EDITOR: World public not fooled by its own corrupt rulers

The BBC survey below has confirmed again that people everywhere are not as stupid as their leaders take them to be. With Israel being one of the most popular countries with warmongering leaders of the west, it is interesting that people when asked, place it where it belongs, with the odious and brutal regimes of North Korea and Iran. A good place for the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’… and they also claim this is an .improvement on last year’!

Israel’s popularity climbs in annual BBC poll, but overall global impression is still negative:

Haaretz

22 out of 27 different countries that took part in the survey leaned toward a negative view of Israel – giving it an overall 49-percent negative rating.

Israel is one of the least popular countries in the world, right down there with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan – this, according to a new BBC World Service Country Rating poll carried out between December 2010 and February this year and released yesterday.

As part of the poll, 28,619 participants from 27 different countries were presented with a list of 16 countries and the EU, and asked the following question about each one: “Please tell me if you think each of the following countries is having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world.” The possible responses were: “mainly positive,” “mainly negative,” “depends” and “neutral.”

The result was that 22 out of 27 countries leaned toward a negative view of Israel – giving it an overall 49 percent negative rating. Only 21 percent rated Israel as having a mainly positive influence. The margin of error per country ranges from 2.8 percent to 4.9 percent.

Overall, the order of popularity of the countries ranked in the poll, which was carried out for the BBC by international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, was: Germany, the UK, Japan, Canada, France, U.S., Brazil, China, South Africa, India, South Korea, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. The three countries less popular than Israel – Pakistan, North Korea and Iran – had 17% and 16% percent positive ratings, respectively, and more than 55% of those polled expressed a negative attitude toward those states.

Israelis did not take part in the poll as participants. The participant countries with the most uniformly negative opinion of Israel were Egypt (where only a meager 5 percent rated Israel favorably ), Turkey and Indonesia. The countries which had the most positive view of Israel were the U.S. (with 43% expressing a positive view of Israel ), Russia (where the ratio was 35 percent positive to 27 percent negative ), Ghana (32 percent to 27 percent ) and India (21 percent to 18 percent ). China was the only country in which support for Israel grew – by 10% – but it remained at a ratio of 40 percent to 48 percent.

Believe it or not, these results mark a slight improvement for Israel over last year, when it garnered just a 19 percent positive assessment overall. According to the poll, positive views of Israel increased by 2 percent while negative views remained mostly same as in 2010.

Interestingly, this improvement was not reflected in either U.S. or British views of Israel. In the U.S., while positive ratings of Israel remained stable in the poll since 2010 at about 43 percent, many more Americans chose to rate Israel negatively in 2011, marking a 10 percent increase in the past year, from 31 percent to 41 percent. In Britain, the negative rating went from 50 percent to 66 percent.

Negative perceptions of Israel also grew stronger in Canada, Indonesia, Australia, Portugal, Spain and Kenya. The U.S., meanwhile, improved its standing for the fourth year running, but lagged behind Canada, the EU, Japan, France and Brazil. It received negative responses mainly from Muslim states such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt. In other changes this year, Brazil made the biggest gains, jumping from 40 percent to 49 percent in terms of being viewed favorably, while South Africa, which hosted the World Cup in 2010, also improved its status, going from a 35 percent to a 42 percent favorable rating.

The BBC poll – Israel as Satan’s bastard child: Haaretz

By Bradley Burston
A BBC World Service-commissioned poll released this week proves, if nothing else, that the nature of the question pollsters ask will determine the answers they receive.

It also suggested, without having to say so explicitly, that Israel is the bastard child of Satan, the troublemaking twin of its arch-nemesis Iran.

The poll, a survey of more than 28,000 people in 27 countries, asked respondents to rate 12 countries – Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the USA, Venezuela, and the European Union – as having a positive or negative influence.

Who, in other words, is a bad influence? Who’s the kid down the block you want your kids to play with, and who’s the one – for whatever reason, behavior, stigma, cooties – you want your precious one to avoid.

Significantly, the poll was taken beginning in November, when the memory of the second Lebanon war, bitter, bloody, and high in civilian casualties, was fresh.

According to the BBC, the survey “gave respondents a list of 12 countries and asked whether they had a ‘mostly positive or mostly negative influence in the world. “The country with the highest number of mostly negative responses overall is Israel (56% negative, 17% positive), followed by Iran (54% negative 18% positive), the United States (51% negative, 30% positive), and North Korea (48% negative, 19% positive).”

Wait, there’s more.

“Israel also stands out for having the largest number of countries (23 of 27) viewing it negatively. Iran is regarded unfavorably in 21 countries, the United States and North Korea in 20.”

One suspects that somewhere in the BBC’s august headquarters in London, the poll elicited more than one thin smile of satisfaction.

After all, this is the same news organization accused by an internal inquiry less than a year ago of painting too rosy a picture of Israel.

No further inquiry needed.

For the record, the kids down the block to encourage your kids to cultivate are Canadian. A total of 54 percent said they viewed Canada positively and 14 percent negatively, followed by Japan and France.

“It appears that people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the use or pursuit of military power,” said pollster Steven Kull, who directed the survey. “This includes Israel and the US, who have recently used military force, and North Korea and Iran, who are perceived as trying to develop nuclear weapons.

“Countries that relate to the world primarily through soft power, like Japan, France, and the EU in general, tend to be viewed positively,” he added.

The BBC poll coincides with a Gallup survey of Americans’ attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians, as detailed by Shmuel Rosner in his current blog. As he notes, the poll shows sympathy for the Palestinian side rebounding, reaching its highest level since 1989.

In Jerusalem, a morning radio news report of the BBC poll noted that “Israel invests only $35 million a year for hazbara [loosely, political public relations], and even that budget was cut recently by 5 percent.

Perhaps more telling was the musical frame for the report – an old song whose lyrics go “The whole world is against us.”

The whole world is against us

It’s a very old tune

Which our forefathers taught us

To croon and also to dance to.

BBC Poll Report: Globescan

Most people believe Israel and Iran have a mainly negative influence in the world with almost as many saying the same about North Korea and the United States, according to a BBC World Service poll of 28,000 people across 27 countries.

People were asked to rate 12 countries—Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the USA, Venezuela, and the European Union—as having a positive or negative influence.

Canada, Japan, the European Union, and France were judged most positively. Britain, China and India received more positive than negative evaluations while Russia was viewed slightly more negatively than positively. Opinions about Venezuela were evenly divided.

(Details of the evaluations of the United States were released separately by the BBC on 23 January).

The BBC has been tracking opinions about countries influence in the world over three years (2005–2007). During that time most ratings have remained relatively stable. There has been improvement in the case of India, a slight decline in views about Britain and a significant fall in positive evaluations of the United States. Russia, China, and France also lost ground over the period, mainly between 2005 and 2006.

Steven Kull, Director of PIPA, commented: “It appears that people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the use or pursuit of military power. This includes Israel and the US, who have recently used military force, and North Korea and Iran, who are perceived as trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

“Countries that relate to the world primarily through soft power, like Japan, France, and the EU in general, tend to be viewed positively,” he added.

GlobeScan president Doug Miller said: “India is the only country that has significantly improved its global stature in the past year, and is now even with China. Britain, while slipping a bit since 2005, appears to be avoiding the steep decline that its war partner, the US, is suffering. And it is fascinating that Chavez’s Venezuela seems to be appealing to as many people as it is displeasing.”

The poll was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated the fieldwork between November 2006 and January 2007. Each country’s rating is based on half-samples.

calls for a reconciliation in Palestine, by Carlos Latuff

Hardliner to head Israel’s National Security Council: Ahram Online

Israeli Prime Minister appoints well-known hardliner to head the Israeli cabinet’s National Security Council
AFP , Wednesday 9 Mar 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday he was appointing Yaakov Amidror, a hawkish former general, to head the National Security Council (NSC).

“Amidror does not hesitate to express his professional opinion. He is extremely knowledgeable and very experienced in the fields of military, security and strategic issues,” a statement from Netanyahu’s bureau said.

The appointment of Amidror as a key player within Netanyahu’s inner circle of advisers is an indicator that it is unlikely the Israeli premier is planning any far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians to reinvigorate the stalled peace talks.

Amidror is a reserve major general who formerly headed the Israel Defence Forces’ research and assessment division and is considered a military hawk.

He opposed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and has in recent years called for the reoccupation of entire areas of the coastal enclave.

The appointment comes just days after Israeli press reports suggested Netanyahu was planning a new political initiative which would see the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders as a way to restart stalled peace talks.

Direct talks broke down just weeks after they were relaunched on September 2 when Israel refused to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Israel builds on land it wants for a future state. The statement said Amidror will replace outgoing NSC chair Uzi Arad following a handover period. Arad, who announced he was stepping down in February, has said he plans to return to academia.

Israel’s National Security Council, created in 1999, includes 20 advisers from various backgrounds who are charged with drafting reports on potential government security policy but lacks any decision-making power.

World looks at Israel as it looked at Apartheid-era South Africa: Haaretz

The world is not interested in Israel’s housing and bureaucratic problems, or in the achievements of its students in mathematics. The world is looking at how the only democracy in the Middle East conducts itself in the occupied territories.
By Niva Lanir
Whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses “a supertanker against the bureaucracy,” as he calls it, to alleviate the housing shortage, a no-fly zone for supertankers already exists. It exists whether his idea crashes in the Knesset debates on housing reforms, or flies high above the railway line that’s supposed to be extended to Irbid in Jordan – in the East, where there are no procedures or bureaucracy.

Here is its description, from an article in these pages earlier this (“Gilad Farm has been sacrificed,” Karni Eldad, March 6 ): “At age 15, they expelled Elisaf Orbach from his home in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. He was paid a small amount of compensation and went to Samaria, to build a small, 90-square-meter house to meet his needs until he gets married and has children.” Despite the sad continuation – “With his hands bound, on the way to the police van, Orbach heard a tractor destroying his house, five years after his house in the Gaza Strip had been leveled” – I clicked “Like.”

The concepts and the division of labor did that to me: expulsion and settling. A small house and a comfortable future, and even a twist in the plot: The forces of evil (police, army, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ) gang up on Elisaf and his friends and destroy all that good. And the Palestinians? In this story there are no Palestinians. Go see another movie.

Stealing land and illegal construction, evacuating a few buildings and rebuilding them, the state’s report to the High Court of Justice that by the end of the year it would evacuate all outposts built on private Palestinian land – all this is not new. These events repeat themselves like the periodic table. And yet, who would have believed that Netanyahu would get stuck in his second term in the construction business, of all things: freezing construction in the territories, the real-estate bubble, the housing shortage and the sky-rocketing prices. And who would have believed that the housing shortage, of all things, would threaten his coalition?

A few days ago he was still acknowledging that the U.S. veto at the United Nations showed that Israel’s status was in trouble. So to reduce political pressure, he sent up a trial balloon by talking to the media about a second Bar-Ilan speech on the peace process. The trial had not yet begun, Shas was already threatening to join in a no-confidence motion, and along came another trial balloon: the National Housing Commissions. Give that man a supertanker and he’ll leap the bureaucratic hurdles.

If the Hebrew children’s book “The Story of Five Balloons” had been written about Benjamin, the number of his balloons and their colors would have doubled, if not tripled, over the years. And that’s how many would have burst. Netanyahu, to his credit or discredit, is still able to create news from a non-item and extricate himself from crises. But another day is waiting. The sun will rise from the region where supertankers do not fly – the territories. The occupation.

On the day this week when the BBC released a survey ranking Israel at the bottom of a list of countries by popularity, Britain announced that it had upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status in London. With this came, apparently coincidently, interviews with our ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, who is on his way to the United Nations. “After the fall of apartheid and the the Communist bloc in Europe,” he told radio and television journalist Yaron Dekel, “Israel is meeting the need of the British, the Spanish and the Scandinavians to be against.”

Here’s the problem: The world is not interested in Israel’s housing and bureaucratic problems, or in the achievements of its students in mathematics. The world is looking at how the only democracy in the Middle East conducts itself in the occupied territories. It’s looking at events in Bil’in and Sheikh Jarrah, at the olive trees that are uprooted, and at the checkpoints. It’s looking at the settlers who are shooting and setting fires, and at their leaders, MK Michael Ben-Ari, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, bullying their way through Jaffa and Umm al-Fahm.

The world is looking at Israel as it looked at South Africa during apartheid. And the world that doesn’t know what Bar-Ilan 2 is will eventually find out. That’s not unpleasant, it’s terrible.

Jonathan Cook: Netanyahu’s illusory peace plan: IOA

By Jonathan Cook, www.jkcook.net – 9 March 2011

Israel cornered on every front

Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisers conceded last week that the Israeli prime minister is more downcast than they have ever seen him. The reason for his gloominess is to be found in Israel’s diplomatic and strategic standing, which some analysts suggest is at its lowest ebb in living memory.

Netanyahu’s concern was evident at a recent cabinet meeting, when he was reported to have angrily pounded the table. “We are in a very difficult international arena,” the Haaretz newspaper quoted him telling ministers who wanted to step up settlement-building. “I suggest we all be cautious.”

A global survey for Britain’s BBC published on Monday will have only reinforced that assessment: Israel was rated among the least popular countries, with just 21 per cent seeing it in a positive light.

A belated realisation by Netanyahu that he has exhausted international goodwill almost certainly explains — if mounting rumours from his office are to be believed — his mysterious change of tack on the peace process.

After refusing last year to continue a partial freeze on settlement-building, a Palestinian pre-requisite for talks, he is reportedly preparing to lay out an initiative for the phased creation of a Palestinian state.

Such a move would reflect the Israeli prime minister’s belated recognition that Israel is facing trouble on almost every front.

The most obvious is a rapidly deteriorating political and military environment in the region. As upheaval spreads across the Middle East, Israel is anxiously scouring the neighbourhood for potential allies.

Unwisely, Israel has already sacrificed its long-standing friendship with Turkey. With the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, Netanyahu can probably no longer rely on Egyptian leaders for help in containing Hamas in Gaza. Israel’s nemesis in Lebanon, the Shia militia Hizbullah, has strengthened its grip on power. And given the popular mood, Jordan cannot afford to be seen aiding Israel.

Things are no better in the global arena. According to the Israeli media, Washington is squarely blaming Netanyahu for the recent collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians.

It is also holding him responsible for subsequent developments, particularly a Palestinian resolution presented to the United Nations Security Council last month condemning Israeli settlements. The White House was forced to eat its own words on the issue of settlements by vetoing the resolution.

The timing of the US veto could not have been more embarrassing for President Barack Obama. He was forced to side publicly with Israel against the Palestinians at a time when the US desperately wants to calm tensions in the Middle East.

Over the weekend, reports suggested that Netanyahu had been further warned by US officials that any peace plan he announces must be “dramatic”.

Then, there are the prime minister’s problems with Europe. Netanyahu was apparently shaken by the response of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, when he called to chastise her for joining Britain and France in backing the Palestinian resolution at the UN. Instead of apologising, she is reported to have berated him for his intransigence in the peace process.

Traditionally, Germany has been Israel’s most accommodating European ally.

The loss of European support, combined with US anger, may signal difficulties ahead for Israel with the Quartet, the international group also comprising Russia and the United Nations that oversees the peace process.

The Quartet’s principals are due to hold a session next week. Netanyahu’s officials are said to be worried that, in the absence of progress, the Quartet may lean towards an existing peace plan along the lines of the Arab League’s long-standing proposal, based on Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

In addition, Israel’s already strained relations with the Palestinian Authority are likely to deteriorate further in coming months. The PA has been trying to shore up its legitimacy since the so-called Palestine Papers were leaked in January, revealing that its negotiators agreed to large concessions in peace talks.

A first step in damage limitation was the resolution at the UN denouncing the settlements. More such moves are likely. Most ominous for Israel would be a PA decision to carry out its threat to declare statehood unilaterally at the UN in September. In that vein, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Saturday that he expected an independent Palestinian state to become a permanent member of the UN.

The other prospect facing the PA — of collapse or being swept away by street protests — would be even more disastrous. With the PA gone, Israel would be forced to directly reoccupy the West Bank at great financial cost and damage to its international image. Palestinians could be expected to launch a civil rights campaign demanding full rights, including the vote, alongside Israelis.

It is doubtless this scenario that prompted Netanyahu into uncharacteristic comments last week about the danger facing Israel of sharing a single “binational state” with the Palestinians, calling it “disastrous for Israel”. Such warnings have been the stock-in-trade not of the Greater Israel camp, of which Netanyahu is a leading member, but of his political opponents on the Zionist left as they justify pursuing variants of the two-state solution.

Netanyahu reportedly intends to unveil his peace plan during a visit to Washington, currently due in May. But on Monday Ehud Barak, his defence minister, added to the pressure by warning that May was too late. “This is the time to take risks in order to prevent international isolation,” he told Israel Radio.

But, assuming Netanyahu does offer a peace plan, will it be too little, too late?

Few Israeli analysts appear to believe that Netanyahu has had a real change of heart.

“At this point it’s all spin designed to fend off pressures,” Yossi Alpher, a former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, wrote for the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue website Bitterlemons. “The object of the exercise is to gain a day, or a week, or a month, before having to come up with some sort of new spin.”

Indications are that Netanyahu will propose a miserly interim formula for a demilitarised Palestinian state in temporary borders. The Jerusalem Post reported that in talks with Abbas late last year Netanyahu demanded that Israel hold on to 40 per cent of the West Bank for the forseeable future.

His comments on Tuesday that Israel’s “defence line” was the Jordan Valley, a large swath of the West Bank, that Israel could not afford to give up suggest he is not preparing to compromise on his hardline positions.

His plan accords with a similar interim scheme put forward by Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s far-right foreign minister and chief political rival on the right.

Palestinians insist on a deal on permanent borders, saying Israel would use anything less as an opportunity to grab more land in the West Bank. At the weekend Abbas reiterated his refusal to accept a temporary arrangement.

Herb Keinon, an analyst for the rightwing Jerusalem Post, observed that there was “little expectation” from Netanyahu that the Palestinians would accept his deal. The government hoped instead, he said, that it would “pre-empt world recognition of a Palestinian state” inside the 1967 borders.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

The Israeli occupation echoes from Cairo: Haaretz

The author is reminded that the Palestinians are under occupation when almost all Egyptians refuse to meet with her because she writes for an Israeli newspaper.
By Amira Hass
While In Cairo, I finally found out that Israel is an occupying state. This is thanks to all those people who refused to meet with an Israeli journalist. In this way, my three-week stay in revolutionary Cairo turned into an adventure of seek bypass routes, and not without a great deal of professional frustration.

Some refused to meet on principle; they can be divided into two categories. The first group is comprised of those who reject the very existence of the State of Israel and believe that meeting with an Israeli (Jewish ) citizen signifies some kind of acceptance of or consent to its existence. When Israel remains something abstract and does not consist of people who are real and diverse, it’s easier to view it as a Crusader castle deserving of only one fate.

A telephone call with someone who I believe belongs to this first category, went something like this: Me: “Hello, I received your telephone number from the journalist, X.” He: “Please, I’m at your disposal.” Me: “My name is so and so, I have been living in Ramallah for the past X years and I write for the newspaper Haaretz.” He: “No, I don’t deal with the Zionist entity.”

He was polite but determined. And he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Some members of the latter were surprised by the very fact that I’d asked a third party to set up a meeting between us. ) He obviously could not have guessed that his name would eventually appear in full on these pages, in a translation of an article written by Bernard Henri-Levy.

Of course, the glass also has a full half – a Jew is boycotted only if he is of the “entity-an” species. I wonder whether an Egyptian would be permitted to be interviewed by a Palestinian journalist who is a citizen of Israel and writes for Haaretz. Or does the very fact that he writes for this paper make him “entity-an”?

The people of the second category object to any kind of normalized relations with Israelis in order for them to understand that the Egyptians do not accept Israel’s belligerent presence in the region as self-evident. The emphasis here is on “belligerent,” not “presence.” They think that by rejecting any contact with Israeli citizens, the latter will realize that their rule over the Palestinians – and everything that entails – is not normal: land grabs; the siege on Gaza; shelling, killing and injuring civilians; the refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the existence of the Palestinian refugees.

This position implies self-imposed restriction on entering the Holy Land through any border crossing controlled by Israel. Thus the boycott actually targets Palestinians, too. After 2005, and particularly after 2007, entry into Gaza became “kosher,” leaving the crossing restrictions only to the decision of the Egyptian authorities. The boycott therefore generates a theoretical knowledge of the situation over here. But the occupation policy is comprised of endless intolerable details. If the Egyptians were aware of them, I believe their explanations about the built-in obscenity would have only improved.

Only a visit to the actual place reveals just how abnormal the situation is. For example, a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem is not allowed to travel to Jerusalem – a distance of five minutes away; a farmer from Hebron is prohibited from digging a cistern; a woman from the West Bank can only visit her family in Gaza if someone dies.

The Palestinians hunger for personal, cultural and other ties with Arabs from neighboring countries. Not all of the Palestinians can afford to travel abroad. Some feel they have become an indirect target of the boycott of Israel by Egyptian artists, intellectuals, writers and academics; and some of them support this boycott even if they suffer from it. The debate over whether the boycott of any Israeli would lead Israelis to comprehend the belligerence of their state does not fit within the inches allotted to this column.

The strength of rumors

A third group of Egyptians who refused to meet me are those whom, under other circumstances, would not have declined my request. Do not be mistaken: their bellies are full with contempt of Israel’s policies, and they do not approve of normalizing relations with Israel as long as it adheres to its policies.

In the past, their anti-normalization stand excluded the exchange of information and opinions, and allowed for encounters with certain Israelis. (I am grateful to those who did agree to meet and be interviewed, whether or not on condition of anonymity. )

Right from the first days of the uprising, deposed President Hosni Mubarak and his aides tried to incriminate it by claiming that foreign elements – such as Hamas, Iran, Israel, the West – were meddling. This sharpened everyone’s sense of caution. Of the flags flying in the square, none belonged to any particular political currents: neither red nor green. Millions of people participated in the formulation of an unwritten instruction: We will not give the hated regime any pretext to present the revolution as the work of non-Egyptian elements.

Everyone is aware of how destructive rumors and fabricated stories can be, no matter what their source. Those who are partner to the new political formations which are mushrooming these days are afraid of what future political rivals may say – that they favor normalization, they they are breaking the boycott, that they do not oppose the Israeli occupation. The proof? They met with so-and-so.

To my surprise, someone suggested on the phone that we meet at a gathering of workers, whose place in this revolution has been largely overlooked by the Western media. I was delighted, but I had to confirm that he knew exactly who I was. When he did, I heard a note of panic in his voice. He apologized, said it was nothing personal, but that the situation was very sensitive. I understood. I’m the last person who would want the Egyptian workers’ movement to be accused of normalizing the occupation.

The workers’ movement has a much more urgent mission: to explain that the workers cannot allow themselves the luxury of deferring their demands. After all, a monthly wage of 280 Egyptian pounds ($47.50 ) or even 430 or 1,100 pounds, is just not normal.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics: ‘Construction in West Bank settlements quadrupled since end of temporary freeze’: Haaretz

6 MARCH 2011
Since the end of the settlement moratorium five months ago, the construction rate in West Bank neighborhoods has quadrupled, data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed Saturday.

According to the data, over 114 housing units that settlers started building during the 10-month settlement freeze have been completed, as well as over 1,175 housing units which were started before the temporary moratorium.

The data also reveals that construction of over 427 housing units has begun since October 2010.

The Central Bureau of Statistics noted, however, that the data is based on partial information, and that there has also been a dramatic rise in illegal construction in West Bank outposts that has not been officially documented.

The data does not include caravans and tents that are often placed in illegal outposts to settle the land.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on hold since Israel’s 10-month freeze on new settlements expired at the end of September 2010.

Women fight for rights in post-Mubarak Egypt: The Electronic Intifada

Basma Atassi,  9 March 2011

Egyptian women were at the forefront of the protests to oust Hosni Mubarak. (Matthew Cassel)

CAIRO (IPS/Al Jazeera) – Marwa Sharaf el-Din, an Egyptian law PhD candidate at Oxford University, spent part of International Women’s Day in Tahrir Square to perform Zajal, a popular traditional form of Arabic poetry.

“Do I have to be broken to be an oriental woman; do I have to always say ‘yes’ to be an Egyptian woman?” her satirical poem reads.

Music bands and other performers were to showcase their talents in front of thousands who planned to march to Tahrir Square to mark International Women’s Day, which takes place every year on 8 March.

“Unlike the confrontational protests we had … to topple the regime, this protest is more of a celebratory one. We want to celebrate the achievements we have accomplished so far in Egypt,” Sharaf el-Din says.

“What we also want to do in today’s rallies is remind the government that women make up half of the country, that we should be part of the decision-making in the new Egypt, that we can’t go backwards.”

A step back

This week has been a very disappointing one for women and women’s rights activists across Egypt — when just one woman was included into the newly sworn-in cabinet. Essam Sharaf, Egypt’s new prime minister, has instead announced the creation of a committee that deals with the advancement of women, formed under the supervision of the cabinet.

“I appreciate the prime minister’s acknowledgement of women’s role but I do not agree that this is the solution. I highly doubt this newly created committee will have any power,” says Sharaf el-Din.

Aalam Wassef, an online activist who has long campaigned for women’s rights, says this new arrangement is “condescending to women.”

“It’s like saying you women can have your little committee while we men do the serious business.”

Wassef was to be present in Tahrir Square to distribute 10,000 flyers calling for gender equality that he and his friends have printed using their own money. They also planned to distribue thousands of stickers that read: “Sally was martyred for both of us;” “My sister has the right to wear what she pleases;” “I am a provider and a caretaker, where am I from the social protection system.”

Laila Mustafa, a veiled woman in her 40s, came across Wassef on Tahrir Square and offered help. She took 1,000 banners to distribute them among her neighbors in Boulaq al-Dakroor, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cairo.

“I finished distributing all the banners and today I am coming to the square. I do not want to make demands for women. I just want to show presence,” Mustafa said. “Today’s demonstration is a good opportunity to show the government that we exist.”

Picking their battles

Throughout the uprising, women were at the forefront of the street protests.

However, they have largely kept quiet about their gender rights in a country where they have faced rampant discrimination and received little legal protection against widespread violence and sexual abuse.

They were careful not to display any intention of wanting to advance one group’s rights over those of another.

“We did not speak of our gender rights during these protests because it was not the right time. We spoke for the political and social rights of all Egyptians. If we were to campaign for our rights as women in parallel with the revolution’s national goal, that would have been called political opportunism,” says Hala Kamal, an assistant professor at Cairo University and a member of the Women in Memory Forum.

But only days into the post-Mubarak era, many women’s rights activists have begun to feel suspicious that the national umbrella they rallied under, whose slogan was democracy, equality and freedom for all Egyptians, may be leaving them out.

Their disillusionment began when no women were selected by the military council to be among the ten-member constitutional committee responsible for making constitutional revisions.

Another disheartening setback that raises questions about the future of women’s rights in Egypt is the return of sexual harassment to the streets.

Returning from the front lines

While the protests have been hailed for being harassment-free in a society infamous for widespread sexual harassment, Engy Gozlan, who works with HarassMap, an initiative that enables women to report sexual harassment via SMS, says sexual harassment incidents have returned to their pre-protests level. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of Egyptian women have encountered sexual harassment.

Fears that the condition of Egyptian women could return to “normal” after the uprising appear legitimate. After all, there have been several cases in history of uprisings that prove that “women can be used in a revolution and then told ‘thank you, you can go back home,'” Wassef says.

Thus while the widespread participation of Egyptian women in the uprising can be considered “one more step towards women’s empowerment, it should not hold expectations,” says Marina Ottaway, the director of Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East program.

Reflecting on the Algerian national liberation struggle in the 1960s, Ottaway says: “Frantz Fanon, [one of the most influential writers on the Algerian struggle at the time], has argued that the war of independence has changed the relations between men and women and enhanced the participation of women in the public sphere.

“But as soon as the war ended and the revolutionary fervor was over, the old gender roles were reinstated. Old customs proved to be very entrenched and hard to change.”

Moreover, Joost Hiltermann, who wrote extensively about Palestinian women’s movements during the first Palestinian intifada which begun in the late 1980s, observed in 1991 that “despite women’s activism, their social and political position in society has essentially remained the same.”

Hiltermann, who is now the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director, says: “It is usually the case that during a national crisis, women play a very active political and social role because everyone is on the barricade. But, when the crisis is over, women return to their original roles.”

From this perspective, Amal Abdel Hadi of the New Women Association in Egypt says that the recent marginalization of Egyptian women following the uprising is an embodiment of a patriarchal society that is difficult to change.

“This is the default. This is what people were born into and this is how they work. No one wants to make an effort. No one believes in the cause of gender equality.”

Exercising suffrage

Meanwhile, women’s rights activist Hala Kamal is calling on people to look through the lens of Egypt’s own history and reflect on the 1919 Egyptian uprising, which was characterized by the wide and unusual participation of women.

“The outcome of that uprising was incredible progress for women. It led to the establishment of the Egyptian Women Union in the 1920s and the pressure of new women movements increased through out the 1930s and ’40s,” Kamal said.

“So I am very optimistic that this revolution, which, unlike the 1919 revolution, already includes well-established women’s rights organizations, will be positive for women’s rights.”

She also argues that women’s participation in building the future of Egypt has already started widening.

“Even the conservative discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood is now talking about including women in their Consultative Council. Keep in mind that I am talking about the most conservative party in Egypt.”

On the all-male constitutional committee, Kamal believes it does not provide adequate insight into the future of women’s participation.

“The committee was formed with the specific task of amending articles related to elections and which do not address any gender issue. Also keep in mind that the people who formed this committee are the military, an institution that is already insensitive to gender issues.”

She says that women’s rights organizations should instead shift their focus to gaining representation in the upcoming general committees that will be formed in the coming weeks to change the whole constitution.

“This presents an opportunity for women to be part of devising new gender-sensitive legislation,” Engy Gozlan says.

Women’s coalitions are pushing for 30 percent representation in these general committees. But for their efforts to be successful, Nevine Ebeid, a women’s rights activist, says: “Women need to wake up now.”

“We are still within the revolutionary fervor. The toppling of the regime is done, the changing of the government is done. This is the time for distributing the booty and women should be strongly present for that.”

“If we do not push hard for our rights and lobby for our representation, our situation may regress to even [worse] than it was before the revolution.”

With the dust of the uprising still unsettled, women’s rights activists are well aware that, over the coming weeks, they will have to seize the moment and fight the battle for representation one institution at a time.

Their success or failure may set the course for how the women’s rights scene will look like over the next decade.

Cancer care crisis in Gaza: Ma’an News

GAZA CITY (IRIN) — The cancer started in Fatima Hassami’s breast before spreading to her bones, leading to multiple fractures in her left leg and constant pain for the 70-year-old.

“]“I feel so sorry for my mother,” her daughter Ahlan Hassami said. “Every time she complains, I suffer with her.”

 

Fatima is among 15 cancer patients currently admitted to the oncology ward at Ash-Shifa Hospital, the largest such facility in Gaza. But the hospital, according to Ziad Khazander, head of the oncology department, has no medicine to treat cases like Hassami’s.

“She needs medication to strengthen her bones,” he told IRIN. “There’s a treatment available but we haven’t had the necessary drug here at Shifa for six months now.

“She has a spinal cord compression, which requires urgent radiotherapy. But because her bones are so weak and she already has multiple fractures it’s impossible to move her.”

Gaza is suffering chronic shortages of painkillers, surgical equipment and critical drugs, including for chemotherapy, due to delays in the approval of drugs bound for Gaza by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and restrictions imposed by Israel’s blockade.

Radiotherapy is not available at all, according to medical sources. As a result, most cancer patients in Gaza have to be referred abroad for treatment, but this process can be costly, time-consuming and bureaucratic.

From a list of 460 essential drugs, Gaza’s health ministry medical store is currently missing 170 items, said the store’s director Mohamed Zemili. While the shortage has affected all departments in Gaza’s hospitals, oncology is among the hardest hit:

“For instance, we are currently missing a drug used to strengthen the bones of cancer patients,” Zemili said. “We haven’t had this for three to four months. We’re also missing painkillers. Without these drugs, patients are suffering greatly.”

According to Gaza’s health ministry, 1,523 cancer patients were referred through Egypt or Israel in 2010, of whom 165 were children.

Security concerns

The Israeli authorities say the transfer of medical supplies to the occupied Palestinian territory depends on requests from Gaza and is largely unimpeded, except when there are security concerns.

“All of the medical supply we transfer to Gaza is based on requests from Gaza and approval from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah,” Major Guy Inbar, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories, told IRIN.

“Israel only becomes involved when there is a security issue,” he added. “There are some drugs that have a dual use and can be used for terror activities. These, we will only allow to enter with international organizations. There is also some medical equipment, such as MRI and X-Ray machines, which can be used for terror.

“In 2010, 18,000 people and their companions passed from Gaza through Israel to receive medical treatment – 80 percent of applications were permitted to enter.”

The cost of hospital treatment outside Gaza is covered by the Palestinian Authority but travel, food and accommodation costs for anyone accompanying a patient, are not.

Security concerns also mean that anyone from Gaza accompanying a patient referred for treatment in an Israeli hospital cannot leave the hospital grounds during their stay. They are obliged to buy food from the hospitals’ shops and cafes. Yet, some courses of treatment require patients – and their companions – to stay in hospital for up to six months.

With more than 40 percent unemployment in Gaza, these costs can be crippling. As a result, some of the 100 cancer patients referred out of Gaza every month, Khazander said, could not afford treatment.

Costly treatment abroad

Wafer Abu Habel, 43, who has ovarian cancer, is in the room next to Hassami at Ash-Shifa. Before the February unrest in Egypt, Abu Habel had crossed into that country for a treatment to correct a fistula that had resulted from a particularly aggressive tumor.

Now she was back in hospital in Gaza within days of her return, with diarrhea and pain. “We spent two and a half months in Egypt,” her mother Sobhaya Abu Habel said.

“We had to rent a flat and go back and forth from the hospital. The flat alone cost US$1,000 a month. We are both widows. I had to borrow the money from friends to pay for all this. We had a very tough time — it was so expensive we struggled to buy food.”

Gaza, she believes, could offer equally good treatment. “It is just that they don’t have the facilities here or the medication,” she said. “They have good intentions but they don’t have the means to treat us.”

Khazander said his ward had struggled to provide adequate treatment despite the blockade. “Circumstances here were better before the blockade — we were able to administer chemotherapy,” he explained. “We have seen an increase in mortality rates here because cancer patients are not receiving the right treatment, and they develop complications.”

Israel’s historic loss: Al Ahram Weekly

The Arab revolutions spreading across the region are a death knell to Israel, Israeli analysts agree, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Palestinians inspect a house damaged following an Israeli airstrike in the Bureij refugee camp, Gaza

With great secrecy, Isaac Molho — special envoy of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — spent an entire week communicating with senior administration and congress officials in Washington, to deliberate joint coordination on the positions of Israel and Obama’s administration regarding the democracy revolutions sweeping the Arab world. Although he did not reveal what was reached in talks, a pressing question poses itself in Washington and Tel Aviv about the impact of the Arab revolutions on relations between the two sides. Will these revolutions strengthen ties or weaken them?

According to heated debate in Israel on the matter, the answer to this question varies. Some believe that the revolutions in the Arab world that have toppled or weakened tyrannical regimes that cooperated with the US and the West means that Israel’s value as a US strategic ally has risen significantly, because these developments have irrevocably proven that the US no longer has a stable ally who can be relied upon to protect US interests in the region except Israel.

Israel’s former defence minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer asserted that after the ouster of president Mubarak’s regime, which was considered the closest US ally in the region and the most willing to serve Israeli interests, other Arab regimes that are allies of the US cannot be trusted, such as Jordan, the Gulf States and Morocco.

Yoram Ettinger, of Ariel Centre for Policy Research, agrees with Ben Eliezer saying that the allies the US has lost in two months remind it of what it lost over decades: the regimes of the Shah in Iran and Turkey in the past, and today those in Egypt and Tunisia. “There are real concerns that the revolution will reach Jordan and topple the regime in Amman,” wrote Ettinger in an article published in Yediot Aharonot. “If this happens, no doubt it will deal a severe blow not only to the US but even more for Israel.”

Ettinger went on to list the assistance that Israel has provided the US at critical points in history, noting that when the US was preoccupied with its war in Vietnam, Israel intervened in 1970 to prevent Syria from toppling King Hussein’s regime after he massacred the Palestinians in what is known as Black September. Ettinger also cited Israel’s role in preventing Arab countries from becoming a powerful military force since this also represents a clear benefit for the US, remarking that Israel bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a nuclear facility in northeast Syria in 2006.

However, he continued, the most valuable contribution Israel has made to the US is in the intelligence sector. Senator Dan Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who previously served as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is quoted as saying that the intelligence data that Israel provides the US is more valuable than all the intelligence coming from NATO states combined.

Ettinger revealed that Israel has played and continues to play a major role in advancing the US’s ability to confront resistance forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He specifically mentioned Israel’s contribution in providing the US army with technology and technical and intelligence assistance that has enabled the US to improve its capability to avoid roadside bombs and booby-trapped vehicles. Israel has also provided valuable assistance in the pursuit and interrogation of resistance fighters.

But Zalman Shoval, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington and a Likud leader, disagrees with Ettinger. Shoval believes that because the US quickly abandoned its ally, Mubarak, this will encourage the rest of its allies to reconsider their alliance with the US. He indicated that some leaders might turn to Iran if they feel they cannot rely on Washington in a time of crisis.

Unlike the majority of Israeli analysts, Shoval believes that the danger threatening US-Israeli relations are the Republicans, not the Democrats. He pointed out that Mike Huckabee, who might run as the Republican candidate for the presidency in the next election, has publicly said that in light of the dramatic developments in the Arab world the US must step back and stop interfering in foreign countries, and instead of spending money on ties with foreign countries it should invest it in development projects at home. Huckabee has even suggested stopping all economic and military aid to Israel.

Shoval argued that although there is a large majority in both the Republican and Democrat parties who enthusiastically support strong ties with Israel, it is not unlikely that many Americans could end up thinking like Huckabee.

The Marker, an Israeli financial newspaper, predicted that Israel would suffer an economic catastrophe after the fall of Mubarak’s regime. In an extensive report, the newspaper said that Israel would have to cut spending in many civic sectors to cover rising security costs, which will gravely undermine the economic stability of the country. The article continued that the most critical economic repercussions of the ouster of the Mubarak regime are the devaluation of the Israeli currency, the shekel, and loss of confidence in Israel’s economy.

Tsivi Leebya, an economics expert, contended that the departure of Mubarak’s regime requires Israel to reassess its security situation. As Arab regimes around Israel fall, Leebya stated, decision-makers must review their priorities. In an article published in the Hebrew version of Yediot Aharonot, he argued that post-Mubarak Israel must tighten its purse strings and rescind some measures taken to ease burdens on Israelis, such as cutting taxes, and give priority to security expenditure over social expenditure. Leebya noted that the geopolitical aftershocks of the political earthquake in Egypt require Israel to review its entire budgeting.

He continued that these developments would decrease surplus national income that at the end of last year came to $20 billion. Israel was able to avoid the negative effects of the world economic crisis and at the time the governor of Israel Bank did not hesitate to buy dollars worth 70 billion shekels to stop the devaluation of the dollar in transactions inside Israel. Leebya urged that economic policy-makers in Israel must review their priorities in the 2011-2012 budget, saying that it is not unlikely that Israel will present a surplus budget to cover the costs of security, which will certainly increase.

Yediot Aharonot reported that the Knesset would withdraw its proposal to slash fuel prices because of reports that Egyptian natural gas will no longer be exported to Israel. The newspaper predicted certain deterioration in security conditions and a drop in tourism, which is a vital source of revenue for Israel. In fact, tourism in Israel had reached unprecedentedly high levels in 2010. Developments will likely result in cancellations of hotel bookings and trips by foreign businessmen to Israel. The publication further suggested that international tourism agencies would stop signing contracts with Israeli companies.

Ari Shavit, an Israeli intellectual, stated that the revolutions taking place in the Arab world clearly indicate that the Arab genie is out of the bottle. In an article in Haaretz on 24 February, Shavit noted that the “great Arab revolutions” are proof that a new agenda will rule the Arab world, and that the Arab people are breathing freedom after liberation from the shackles of fear. He commiserated the bad luck of the US, because it lost Egypt and Tunisia after it had lost Turkey, which means the end of the Arab moderate bloc in the face of Iran.

Shavit advised Obama’s administration to win the hearts of the Arabs through military intervention in Libya, setting the precedent by which it can intervene in other areas in the future, such as Iran.

Israelis agree that democratic transformation in the Arab world will negatively affect Israel. The majority of analyses and reports in the Israeli media argue that the transformation of Arab regimes to democracies is a knockout blow to Israel, because democratic Arab regimes will be less tolerant of Israel. They would also be less willing to cooperate on security issues behind the scenes with Tel Aviv. On the other hand, dictatorships are more pragmatic and hypocritical by paying lip service to the Palestinians while brokering secret alliances with Israel.

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