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.



Israel is blind to the Arab revolution: The Guardian

Israel’s view of the Arab uprising reflects ideas of itself as a liberal bastion in a sea of backwardness
Aluf Benn
Tel Aviv at sunset. Israeli ministers prefer to close their eyes to the reality of change around the region. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP
Even in its third month, the Arab revolution fails to resonate positively in Israel. The Israeli news media devote a lot of space to dramatic events in the region, but our self-centered political discourse remains the same. It cannot see beyond the recent escalation across the Gaza border, or the approaching possibility of a Palestinian declaration of statehood in September. Israel’s leaders are missing the old order in the Arab world, sensing only trouble in the unfolding and perhaps inevitable change.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Ehud Barak, and the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, have all reacted to the Arab revolution by reciting long-held positions. Netanyahu has warned of an “Iran next door” scenario in Egypt, pledging to fence off Israel’s peaceful borders with Egypt and Jordan. Asked by CNN’s Piers Morgan if he was sad to see Hosni Mubarak go, Netanyahu admitted that he was.

No serious political figure in Israel has reached out to the revolutionaries, celebrating their achievement or suggesting we need to know them better since they might share values and ambitions with secular, liberal Israelis. Barak, Israel’s top strategic mind, was kind enough to tell Sky News last weekend that “in the long run, the shakeup in the Arab world is a positive and promising phenomenon”. But the long run is an accumulation of short runs, in which Barak warns of “irresponsible popular opinion”. And Livni, the peace process champion, published an article in the Washington Post calling for a western-imposed “code for new democracies”.

There are obvious reasons for Israel’s timidity towards the uprising in the Arab streets. Israel’s foreign policy is focused on survival in an unfriendly neighbourhood, and favours the status quo. The collapsing dictatorships, residing on the same status quo, provided its necessary “stability”. In his earlier days Netanyahu preached for regional democracy as the cornerstone of peace, but from the PM’s office he sees things differently, praising democracy in principle while warning of its perils in practice. “Those leaderships,” said Barak this month, “as much as they were unaccepted by their peoples, they were very responsible on regional stability … They’re much more comfortable [to us] than the peoples or the streets in the same countries.”

Following decades of “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, Israel’s foreign policy establishment developed an instinctive fear of Arab public opinion. Mubarak was not always friendly, but he watched Israel’s back when it fought wars on its eastern and northern fronts. Even adversaries like Syria’s Assad regime have been predictable, and not prone to risky adventures. Dealing with open societies could be much more complicated than assessing an autocrat and his bunch of cronies.

But there’s a deeper motive underlying the Israeli attitude. They see their country as a western bastion, a modern democracy that is unfortunately surrounded by less developed nations. Reflecting this, Barak coined the phrase “a villa in the jungle” to describe Israel’s regional stance; recently he updated it to “an oasis fortress in the desert”.

Beyond eating hummus in local Arab restaurants, the wider Middle Eastern culture is largely shunned by Israeli Jewish society. Arabic is not mandatory in Israeli Hebrew schools, and those who bother to learn the neighbours’ language want to spend their military service in the intelligence corps. Otherwise Arabic is hardly a career-booster.

Israelis are so arrogant and ignorant about their vicinity that whenever we make comparisons, the benchmarks are always the US, western Europe, or countries of the OECD. It’s never Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority or even Dubai.

The western self-perception affects political views, too. Mainstream support for the peace process saw it as a means of pleasing the west, rather than integrating in the east. Netanyahu and Barak treat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a nuisance in Israel’s relations with the US, not as a moral or legal issue that Israel needs to resolve on its merits. So much so that Netanyahu considers launching a new peace policy during a visit to Capitol Hill, rather than at home.

This attitude leads to a policy of self-isolation from neighbouring societies, along with complaints about western “ungratefulness” over Israel raising the lonely flag of liberal democracy in a sea of backwardness. That explains the narrow Israeli opinion of the Arab revolution, ranging from indifference to anxiety, if not rejection. Changes, schmanges, let us roll down the blinds and look westwards. After all, sunsets are way more beautiful and romantic than sunrises.

Jerusalem bomb: Benjamin Netanyahu in security pledge: BBC

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the BBC Israeli police were looking for one suspect

Israel’s prime minister has pledged to act “vigorously and responsibly” to restore security after a bomb exploded at a bus stop in central Jerusalem.

One person was killed and more than 30 others were injured after the blast at a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem.

The city suffered a spate of bus bombings by Palestinian militants between 2000 and 2004 but attacks had stopped in recent years.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the attackers had sought to try the country’s will.

“They are trying to test our resolve… [but we] have an iron will to defend the state and its citizens,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

“We will act vigorously, responsibly and prudently in order to maintain the quiet and the security that have prevailed here over the past two years.”

Mr Netanyahu delayed a scheduled trip to Moscow – where he is due to hold talks with the Russian leadership – by several hours to meet defence and security officials after the blast.

US President Barack Obama condemned the Jerusalem attack “as well as the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza in recent days”.

He urged all parties to do “everything in their power” to prevent further violence and civilian casualties.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said such attacks were “unacceptable”.

Shattered windows

Witnesses said the force of the blast – which officials said originated in a suitcase left on the pavement near the bus stop – shook buildings over a wide area.

At the scene
Wyre Davies
BBC News, Jerusalem
The explosion happened right in the heart of west Jerusalem – a city that has, for many years, been relatively peaceful.

The target was the No. 74 bus – its windscreen blown out by the force of the blast. There was shrapnel damage everywhere. But, unlike previous incidents, police say this was not a suicide bombing and there is now an urgent manhunt going on for someone who, according to police, left a device at the bus stop and then ran away.

Dozens of paramedics and emergency vehicles were quickly at the scene – treating more than 30 wounded people.

Such a bomb attack in Jerusalem may not have happened for many years, but it comes at a time of increased tension in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Political leaders, Israeli and Palestinian, have condemned the upsurge in violence but many observers say these are tense moments and more violence may be inevitable.

Motti Bukchin, a volunteer with the Israeli emergency service Zaka, said he and his colleagues were in a meeting nearby when they heard the blast.

“When we arrived at the site of the attack we saw two women lying in huge pools of blood on the pavement. We began resuscitation immediately and were soon joined by other medical personnel. The two women were evacuated to hospital in serious to critical condition,” he said.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the BBC they were searching for a suspect and a vehicle believed to have been used in planting the bomb.

Jerusalem was hit by a series of bombings – mostly targeting buses and restaurants – during the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000. However, the attacks have stopped in recent years. Jerusalem last experienced a bus bombing in 2004.

The latest attacks comes amid heightened tension in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC’s Jon Donnison, in Gaza, says none of the militant factions there has said it was involved in the Jerusalem attack.

But an Islamic Jihad leader said a Palestinian attack would be a “natural response” to this week’s Israeli strikes in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Israeli military aircraft launched strikes east of Gaza City after Palestinian militants fired two rockets into southern Israel.

Islamic Jihad said it had carried out the rocket attacks in reprisal for the killing of eight Palestinians near Gaza City on Tuesday. Four of those killed were members of one family, two of them were children.

Hamas government spokesman Taher Nono has refused to comment on the Jerusalem explosion.

However, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the bombing, calling it “a terrorist attack”.

Syria unrest: Troops ‘kill 10 protesters in Deraa’: BBC

There were protests after the funerals of those killed in an overnight raid

At least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded after Syrian police opened fire on people protesting against the deaths of anti-government demonstrators in Deraa, witnesses say.

Hundreds of youths from nearby villages were shot at when they tried to march into the centre of the southern city.

A Syrian human rights activist told the BBC that at least 37 had died.

Troops also reportedly shot at people attending the funerals of six people killed in a raid on a mosque overnight.

Before the violence on Wednesday afternoon, at least 12 people had been killed in clashes with the security forces in the southern city.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for a “transparent investigation” and for those responsible to be held accountable.

The US state department has said it is “deeply concerned by the Syrian government’s use of violence, intimidation and arbitrary arrests to hinder the ability of its people to freely exercise their universal rights”.

The latest violence in Deraa on began early on Wednesday.

At the scene
Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Deraa
Journalists were not allowed access to the area near al-Omari mosque – the main gathering place in central Deraa.

The rest of the city appeared to be deserted, except for a heavy security presence.

As we were leaving, we saw a long convoy of army vehicles and soldiers heading towards the city.

A crowd of government supporters was also going towards Deraa, shouting pro-regime slogans. There were hundreds of them in cars and on motorcycles.

Witnesses said security forces opened fire on protesters in the late afternoon. There were reports of casualties, which have been difficult to verify.

Hundreds of people had gathered in the streets around the Omari mosque – a focal point for anti-government protests since Friday – to prevent security forces personnel deployed in the old quarter from storming it.

Witnesses said that shortly after midnight, the local power supply was cut and police began to fire live ammunition and tear gas at the protesters.

One human rights activist told BBC Arabic that there was a “massacre” of “innocent, defenceless and peaceful citizens, who are staging peaceful sit-ins, and who don’t even have stones to defend themselves with”.

Syrian state TV said an armed gang was operating from the mosque and showed what it said were weapons and ammunition stored there. It also alleged that the gang had “kidnapped children and used them as human shields”.

It said security forces had killed four members of the gang.

Later, witnesses told the Associated Press that the body of a 12-year-old girl had been found, that a man was shot dead at a funeral of one of those killed outside the mosque, and that four bodies were seen near the offices of a security agency. The reports could not be confirmed.

“You didn’t know where the bullets were coming from. No one could carry away any of the fallen” – Deraa witness
Then in the afternoon, hundreds of young people from the nearby villages of Inkhil, Jasim, Khirbet Ghazaleh and al-Harrah, gathered on the northern outskirts of Deraa and tried to march towards the city centre.

A witness told the BBC that at least 10 people were killed when police intercepted the crowd and opened fire, while a human rights activist sent the BBC a list of the names of 37 people who had died. The BBC could not verify the figures.

Another witness told the Reuters news agency that dozens of bodies had reportedly been taken to the Tafas hospital outside the city.

“You didn’t know where the bullets were coming from. No one could carry away any of the fallen,” one person said.

A video posted on YouTube purportedly from Deraa showed people taking cover in a street amid the sound of heavy gunfire, carrying several badly wounded and dead men.

Wounded arrived at the city’s hospitals after the clashes on Wednesday afternoon
Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the BBC: “We’ve received conflicting information on the number of dead and wounded.”

“But YouTube videos surfaced later on Wednesday, which showed at least four bodies lying on the street and other protesters struggling to pull these bodies off the street.

“We’ve showed that footage to people from Deraa who are currently in Damascus and they said it was definitely Deraa. They recognised the street, and we’re not aware of any other casualties that happened on that street other than today.”

In the evening, parents were seen crying in the streets and loudspeakers from mosques around the city called on those whose relatives had died to go to clinics to collect the bodies, according to Reuters.

There were also snipers deployed on rooftops.

The BBC’s Lina Sinjab says she saw about 20 military lorries full of armed soldiers heading towards Deraa on the road from Damascus.

The BBC’s Lina Sinjab is one of the few journalists to reach Deraa
The pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported that two security forces personnel were killed in the clashes, and that weapons were being smuggled into Deraa from Jordan, whose border is not far to the south.

It also accused BBC Arabic of broadcasting “provocative news”.

Meanwhile, reports say the authorities have released six women protesters arrested last Wednesday after a peaceful protest outside the interior ministry in Damascus calling for the release of political prisoners.

Although the demonstrators have not demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, the unrest is the most serious challenge to his rule since he succeeded his father 11 years ago.

Our correspondent says the events are unprecedented in recent Syrian history, and the unrest is certainly making the government very worried.

Syria has been ruled under emergency laws since 1963.

The Palestinian narrative has won: Haaretz

When the Knesset approves legislation banning the Nakba commemoration, it seems surreal. Yet, there is also something good in this commotion. At least, there’s no denial of the Nakba.
By Oudeh Basharat
When the teacher asked us first-graders in Kfar Yafia what we do on Independence Day – it’s “day” in the uninspired Jewish term, “holiday” in the imaginative Arab language – I answered excitedly: We go to Ma’alul.

Ma’alul is my parents’ village, whose residents were uprooted in 1948. Indeed, it was a holiday, when the military administration, in its generosity, loosened its grip a little and turned a blind eye to the crowds “celebrating” Independence Day on the ruins of the villages from which they had been uprooted.

At the time I, the refugee, felt privileged. I told my friends how we visited a church and a mosque, strolled along the paths, and how we gathered by the fountain.

Do you hold gatherings here as well, they asked. No, I said with spiritual elation. In Ma’alul the gatherings are more beautiful. How does Bertolt Brecht put it – in the homeland, even the voice sounds clearer.

Today, more than 40 years later, my daughter Hala is in first grade and feels the same sense of privilege. She, too, has Ma’alul.

They didn’t use the word “nakba” then. The popular expression was “al hajij” (forced migration ), and was enough to raise a storm of emotions – a mixture of sadness, loss, anger, helplessness, compassion and yearning. The poet Salem Jubran said: “As the mother loves her disabled son…I will love you my homeland.”

What would we have done in their place, I always ask myself. The challenge they faced was so great, I answer myself – beyond their capability to grasp, not to speak of dealing with it.

The term “Nakba” sounds like a natural disaster and still provokes debate. Those who object to it say what happened was not a natural disaster. That’s true. But what counts is that the event is seen as a disaster of proportions beyond anything human beings are capable of generating.

So when the Knesset approves legislation banning the Nakba commemoration, it seems surreal. The Nakba is an ongoing event. No solution has been found for the refugee problem; the Arab population is discriminated against; senior cabinet ministers are threatening a sequel to the Nakba and Prime Minister Netanyahu defined the demographic issue, i.e. the Arabs’ presence in their homeland, as the gravest problem.

Yet, there is also something good in this commotion. At least, there’s no denial of the Nakba. Nobody claims the whole thing is a fairy-tale. The Palestinian narrative has won. The narrative that in ’48 a people was exiled, by force, from its land, has been seared into Israeli and global consciousness. A vibrant, lively nation lived in Palestine, and a brutal act severed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. They were brutally and mercilessly thrown into the desert of doom and oblivion.

Instead of conducting a discourse, the Gadhafi-like types here – the Liebermans and their kind – are threatening a massive bombardment “house by house, zanga-zanga” of every good part in Israeli society. They won’t rest until they destroy any memory of the word “Nakba.” They will use this opportunity to eliminate every trace of democracy as well.

What gives us room for optimism is that this running amok has awakened Israeli public opinion against the murky fascistic wave. Perhaps this absurd law will provoke a dialogue about the events that took place in 1948, as a way to reconcile the two peoples. Avoiding such a dialogue will only add to the conflagration, for the surest way to get stuck in an entanglement is to ignore it.


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