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March 24, 2011

EDITOR: Israelis are rattled by the Arab Spring

Yes, they are very disturbed by the swift changes around them. Isrselis find it difficult to get used to the new democracies being born all around them, but they are not disturbed enough to think afresh about their own mission, which remains unchaged: agressive, brital colonialism, intent on dispossesing and opressing the Palestinians, as well as keeping up the level of agression against the other Arab countries. Until they are able to see themselves as the rest of the world is now starting to do, they stand no chance of real, just peace. At the moment it still looks as if they are both unwilling and unable to do so.

Israel can say farewell to peace: Haaretz

The occupation is even more dangerous than it was. The settlements are even more delusional than they were. The status quo has become a firetrap, and all the familiar ways of escaping it have been blocked.
By Ari Shavit
Say farewell to peace with Syria. Those who believe, like the writer of these lines, in the necessity of the Golan-for-peace formula cannot close their eyes to what is happening.

With the great Arab revolt threatening his regime, there is no chance that President Bashar Assad will choose the path of peace. With the Syrian masses rebelling against him, there is no chance that Assad will gamble on peace.

The Assad of 2011 lacks the legitimacy to negotiate for peace. The Assad of 2011 lacks the minimal maneuvering room needed to make peace. Even if he wanted peace when he was young, it’s too late now. There’s no chance that the Syrian dictator will carry out a Sadat-like peace move in the next year or two.

Say farewell to peace with Palestine. Those who believe, like the writer of these lines, in the necessity of the two-state solution cannot close their eyes to what is happening.

With the great Arab revolt sweeping up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, there is no chance that he will pay the price needed to reach peace. With the Arab masses thronging the streets, Abbas cannot tell three million Palestinian refugees that he has forged a compromise on the right of return. With the Arab nations seething, Abbas cannot tell them he has compromised on Jerusalem.

The Abbas of 2011 lacks the legitimacy to make peace. The Abbas of 2011 lacks the minimal maneuvering room needed to make peace. Even if Abbas wanted peace, it’s too late now. There’s no chance that the moderate Palestinian leader will carry out a Sadat-like peace move in the next year or two.

Say farewell to a quiet environment. Even those who enjoy the quiet cannot close their eyes to what is happening. The great Arab revolt has yet to reach the occupied territories for three reasons: the trauma of Hamas’ rise in the Gaza Strip, the economic prosperity fostered by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the expectation that a Palestinian state will be established in September.

But the tide can’t be held off forever. Sooner or later, the Arab revolt will reach the territories. When the expectation of a Palestinian state blows up in September, economic prosperity will not stave off a political tsunami.

It’s impossible to know whether the scenario will be that of Tunisia, Egypt or the first intifada. But in any event, the quiet we have enjoyed is now being shattered. A torrent of rebellion will strike Israel.

Say farewell to everything you thought until January 2011. The Middle East has been transformed, root and branch. This is a new, fluid, revolutionary reality. There is no longer any foundation for a solid peace like that with Egypt. There are no longer any strong forces for peace like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates. There are no longer any potential peace partners like Assad and Mahmoud Abbas.

On the other hand, there is also no longer any option of deploying force against the rebellious masses. The occupation is even more dangerous than it was. The settlements are even more delusional than they were. The status quo has become a firetrap, and all the familiar ways of escaping it have been blocked.

U.S. President Barack Obama bears a share of the responsibility for this new situation. When he decided to play an active role in ousting Egypt’s president, he didn’t realize that as a result of this move, he would be forced within a month to fire Tomahawk missiles at Libya. He didn’t understand that he was undermining the old Middle Eastern order without creating a new one. He didn’t understand that he was dooming Israeli-Syrian peace and Israeli-Palestinian peace and endangering Israeli-Egyptian peace.

It could be that Obama acted correctly. Perhaps he will be remembered in the end as the great liberator of the Arab peoples. Nonetheless, the U.S. president must acknowledge the consequences of his actions. He must realize that this new historical situation requires a new diplomatic paradigm. What was right in 2010 is no longer correct in 2011.

This means that Obama must reject the false dichotomy of total impasse or total peace. He must reject the dichotomy of historic reconciliation or corrupting occupation. Instead, he must propose a new type of diplomatic path based on a partial Israeli withdrawal and the strengthening of Fayyad. In order to stop the Cairo revolution from setting Jerusalem on fire, Obama must urgently forge a third way.

University of Johannesburg Makes History: UJ Senate Decides to Sever Links with Israeli Apartheid: PACBI

Occupied Ramallah, March 23, 2011

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), representing a wide spectrum in the Palestinian academy, salutes our South African colleagues at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) for their principled support for the cause of justice in Palestine by upholding the 29 September 2010 UJ Senate resolution to sever its links with BGU [1].  The UJ press release notes that:

In a protracted and spirited debate, the Senate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) today voted to allow its formal relationship with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel to lapse on 1 April 2011. [2]

The Senate’s decision is a commendable step in the direction of ending relations with Israeli institutions implicated in apartheid policies and in supporting the occupation.  This decision is guaranteed to resound around the globe! The real victory also lies in the intensive mobilization and awareness-raising effort by key activists and academics in South Africa that indicated beyond any doubt the groundswell of support for Palestinian rights in the country and that played a key role in the UJ Senate vote.

A petition urging UJ to sever links with BGU remarkably gathered more than 400 signatures of academics from all academic institutions in South Africa, including 9 vice chancellors and deputy vice chancellors. The petition was also supported by main trade unions in the country, including COSATU and NEHAWU.[3]  Moreover, there was unprecedented mainstream media attention, in South Africa as well as internationally, to the facts of BGU’s complicity and the heavy moral burden placed on the shoulders of South African institutions, in particular, to end all forms of cooperation with any Israeli institution practicing apartheid.  In the end, views favorable to justice and upholding international law gained wide coverage and won the day.

PACBI warmly salutes all those who worked on and who endorsed the campaign to cut links with BGU. This precedent-setting initiative, endorsed by prominent leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Barney Pityana, and Kader Asmal, does not mince words in calling for severing links with BGU; furthermore, it implies a termination of collaboration with all Israeli institutions complicit in violations of international law.

Archbishop Tutu defended the call to sever links with complicit Israeli institutions saying “It can never be business as usual. Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice.” [4] Reiterating his unwavering support for the Palestinian-led global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, he eloquently adds:

Together with the peace-loving peoples of this Earth, I condemn any form of violence – but surely we must recognize that people caged in, starved and stripped of their essential material and political rights must resist their Pharaoh? Surely resistance also makes us human? Palestinians have chosen, like we did, the nonviolent tools of boycott, divestment and sanctions. [5]

This decision cannot but be viewed as a triumph for the logic of academic boycott against Israel’s complicit academy, as consistently reflected in the positions of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) as well as PACBI and its partners worldwide, including in South Africa. It is, indeed, a significant step in the direction of holding Israeli institutions accountable for their collusion in maintaining the state’s occupation, colonization and apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. As former South African cabinet minister and ANC leader Ronnie Kasrils wrote in the Guardian, “Israeli universities are not being targeted for boycott because of their ethnic or religious identity, but because of their complicity in the Israeli system of apartheid.” [6]

BGU as an institution is as guilty of complicity in the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies as any other academic institution in Israel; nothing can make any “environmental” or “purely scientific” project it conducts with UJ morally acceptable until it comprehensively and verifiably ends this complicity. When science is used to cover up grave violations of human rights and international law, it forfeits any claim to “sanctity” and loses its moral raison d’etre. The culpability of the entire institution in violations of international law and human rights cannot be washed away by narrowing the focus or diverting attention only to details of the project with UJ.
As Archbishop Tutu said:

In the past few years, we have been watching with delight UJ’s transformation from the Rand Afrikaans University, with all its scientific achievements but also ugly ideological commitments. We look forward to an ongoing principled transformation. [7]

A post-apartheid South African university that is in the process of transforming itself to a truly democratic institution has proven that it cannot possibly complete this necessary transformation while maintaining a partnership with an apartheid institution elsewhere. We sincerely salute UJ for completely severing its institutional links with BGU and look towards other universities around the world to be inspired by this historic precedent by ending their own links with Israeli institutions complicit in violating international law and all basic tenants of human rights.  We further call on all conscientious people in academies around the world to follow the path of UJ, adopt BDS as a comprehensive tool to end crimes against the Palestinian people, and call on their institutions to sever institutional ties with the Israeli academy.

IAF strikes Gaza as rocket and mortar fire against Israel persists: Haaretz

Hamas officials in the coastal territory report at least three Israeli air strikes, on smuggling tunnels and training camps; some 5 mortars, 2 Qassams hit Israel by Thursday morning.

The Israel Air Force struck targets in the Gaza Strip before dawn on Thursday, as Palestinian militants persisted in volleying rockets and mortar shells across the border into southern Israel.

Approximately five mortar shells and two Qassam rockets struck Israeli territory overnight, and another rocket was fired at the Ashkelon coast on Thursday morning. The barrage came after militants fired about a dozen rockets and mortars into the western Negev on Wednesday, and dozens more in the days prior.

The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip said early Thursday that the Israeli strikes had targeted smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, as well as one of its training camps inside the Strip

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson confirmed an air operation, calling it a response to the rockets fired at southern Israel over the last few days.
One of the strikes hit a power transformer, causing blackouts in the area, Gaza witnesses said. Medical workers reported no casualties.

Palestinian police in the Gaza Strip reported that another strike hit an abandoned rocket launcher in the northern part of the territory, also causing no casualties.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that attack, as well, saying aircraft struck “a group of terrorists preparing to launch rockets at Israeli territory.”

Militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday fired two Grad-type Katyusha rocket at the southern city of Be’er Sheva and another at Ashdod and a barrage of mortar shells on the western Negev; another Grad was fired from Gaza before dawn on Wednesday.

The first rocket struck to hit Be’er Sheva hit a street in the middle of a residential area, damaging buildings including a synagogue. A piece of shrapnel penetrated a nearby third-floor apartment upon impact, lightly wounding one man. The second hit an open area in the city. A number of people were treated for shock in both incidents.

An Israel Air Force craft retaliated for the attack on Ashdod overnight on Wednesday, and struck Gaza again shortly after the second rocket hit Be’er Sheva. The Israel Defense Forces said the squad responsible for launching the rocket was hit.

Israel Police do not believe that the deadly Jerusalem bombing on Wednesday was connected to the increase in rocket fire on the south.

Gaza Strip residents seek to join the ‘Arab spring’: BBC

By Jon Donnison
BBC News, Gaza City

As a wave of pro-democracy protests sweep the region, both sides in Palestinian politics are facing calls to reconcile

As a wave of pro-democracy protests sweep the region, both sides in Palestinian politics are facing calls to reconcile

Gazans will often tell you they are a rare breed. Tough and resilient are two qualities sometimes attributed.

A friend of mine’s cat recently leapt from the tenth floor of a tower block in Gaza City, yet emerged with just a few grazes and a bit of a limp. It was a Gazan cat, I was told.

On Saturday afternoon, I witnessed toughness and resilience shown by two young Gazan women who had been trying to demonstrate in one of the main squares in Gaza city.

They were part of a small protest calling for political unity between Hamas, who are in power in Gaza, and Fatah, who run parts of the West Bank.

As they were surrounded by Hamas security officers wielding thick wooden batons and hurling abuse, the two slight young women remained firm, refusing to move.

Eventually, they were beaten by female Hamas officers, thrown into a police pick-up truck and driven away. It is not known what has happened to them.

A little earlier, one of my colleagues saw a young man being set upon and heavily beaten with sticks by up to 10 Hamas officers. The man was also arrested.

Hamas officials said the young people did not a have a permit to demonstrate and that the protest was illegal.

There was a strange atmosphere of menace and intimidation in the square. As many people simply went about their Saturday afternoon shopping, journalists and human rights workers tried to blend into the crowd, aware that anyone who raised a camera would have it taken away from them.

Later, armed men who said they were from Hamas’s internal security forces raided the offices of the Reuters news agency as well as CNN and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

At the Reuters office, one journalist was beaten on the arm with an iron bar. Another was threatened with being thrown out of the window from the ninth floor.

The men smashed a television and other equipment and confiscated a camera. It was later returned.

Other news agencies have reported that their journalists have been arrested and attacked by police this week as they tried to cover pro-unity demonstrations.

The Hamas interior ministry has since condemned the attacks on journalists and said some of those involved have been arrested.

Opportunity for change
The demonstrators in Gaza say they have been inspired by the uprisings elsewhere in the region. You sense they see an opportunity to try and make a change.

They are calling for an end to the division between Hamas and its secular rival, Fatah.

For four years, Palestinians have been politically and geographically divided. The split happened a year after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006.

Fierce fighting between the two factions in June 2007 led to Fatah being forced from Gaza.

Palestinian political leaders say they are listening to these calls for unity. Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is from the Fatah faction, accepted a Hamas invitation to visit Gaza within days to meet with Hamas leaders.

Hamas initially welcomed the move, but both sides now seem to be attaching conditions to the visit. It seems unlikely it will happen this week, if at all.

Many Palestinians see the lack of unity as a distraction from their main priority, their struggle to end Israel’s continuing occupation.

But so far here the popular protests have been relatively small-scale compared to elsewhere in the region.

The largest occurred on 15 March when more than 10,000 young Gazans took to the streets.

Hamas initially allowed that demonstration to happen. But in the evening, it was broken up with force, Hamas police again using batons to disperse the crowds.

Some protesters reported being beaten and even stabbed by Hamas security forces.

Hamas support
The question for the demonstrators here to be what next.

At the moment, their protests seem a little disjointed and disorganised. How far are they prepared to go? At the moment, not as far as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain or Syria.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 students again gathered at the main campus of al-Azhar University in Gaza City.

This time, the police left them alone and remained outside the university gates. The university is regarded as a Fatah institution.

On one side of the campus, young women in a vibrant range of coloured headscarves and bling sunglasses chanted for unity.

On the other side, young men rode on each other’s shoulders, waving Palestinian flags.

The students did not demonstrate outside the campus, fearing this would receive a hostile response.

Hamas seems uncertain how to handle the protests. Publicly, some of the party’s leaders say they back the calls for unity. But on the ground, security forces and police are sending a different message.

The Islamic movement continues to have a large support base in Gaza. When it organises its own rallies, tens of thousands of people sometimes attend.

At the moment, many of the demonstrators say they are non-political and not anti-Hamas.

But that could change if the authorities continue to use force to suppress any future protests.

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