April 2, 2011

EDITOR: BDS is high on the cultural agenda

As the campaign against Israel’s continued occupation and its atrocities is strengthening, the issue of cultural boycott is coming to the fore in many contexts. Below is a piece by Gillian Slovo, going some way towards suggesting there is a place for sucha boycott ion the case of Palestine, but not quite going the whole way. As president of PEN, she is somewhat limited in the positions she may adopt, I reckon.

Should writers heed calls for boycotts?: The Guardian

‘Calls for cultural boycotts pose a special challenge for me. After all, I am a product of my South African heritage’
At last weekend’s PEN International conference on writers in prison, a Sri Lankan journalist, Lokeesan Appuththurai, described how, during the Sri Lankan government’s 2009 onslaught against the Tamils, the only safe way to get a report out was to switch on your mobile phone, rapidly type and send – and then, just as rapidly, switch off. And there was one other essential precaution to take if you wanted to stay alive: you had to make sure to keep on the move. If you didn’t, the Sri Lankan military would use your mobile signal to fix your coordinates and bomb you. “We don’t need a writers in prison committee in Sri Lanka,” Appuththurai ended his speech, “because in my country they don’t put writers in prison. They just kill them.”

No wonder then, that Sri Lanka’s Galle literary festival has come under scrutiny. A recent call by the French-based organisation Reporters Sans Frontières to boycott this year’s festival was signed by a list of high-profile names that included Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Tariq Ali. The festival, they said, gave “legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech”.

The festival organisers were quick to rebut this charge. Theirs was a private initiative, they said, privately funded, and, rather than suppressing speech, it provided a forum for discussion. The opening session of this year’s festival, titled After Shock, was a debate about the legacy of civil wars, including Sri Lanka’s. The festival organisers seemed to have won the argument: among the invitees from all over the world, South Africa’s Damon Galgut was the lone boycotter.

Calls for cultural boycotts such as this one pose a special challenge for me. I am, after all, the new president of English PEN, whose work is focused not only on the defence of persecuted writers but also on the expansion of cultural engagement. At the same time I am a product of my South African heritage and of an early political engagement framed by the boycotts that helped to bring down the apartheid regime.

I lived through so many years of boycotting South Africa that I had to train myself out of the habit of rejecting Outspan oranges. And it wasn’t only South African goods we shunned. There was rugby and cricket, with the worldwide Stop the Tour protests that hit sports-mad white South Africa where it really hurt. And there were cultural boycotts that saw actors refusing to play on segregated stages, writers refusing to go on tour, and academics refusing inter-university collaborations. When, at his inauguration as president, Nelson Mandela articulated his country’s relief that it would no longer be the “skunk” of the world, it was a sign that these boycotts had, in their own small way, helped to make the change.

So I was uneasy during a recent Radio 4 Front Row programme, when I was booked to discuss the issue of cultural engagement and boycott with the Sri Lankan writer and artist Roma Tearne. Ours was the most sisterly of debates. We started out on the Galle Festival, with Tearne arguing that, although she wouldn’t stop writers from going, she would never go herself because there would be no space for open discussion. I, who had been to Galle the previous year, countered with my experience of an audience – albeit an elite audience, as is the case for most literary festivals – that was ravenous to talk politics and, in particular, to talk Sri Lankan politics. And then, inevitably, our conversation turned to Ian McEwan.

McEwan had recently been awarded the Jerusalem prize, given to writers whose work deals with themes of individual freedom in society. Like Margaret Atwood, who had previously ignored appeals not to accept the Dan David prize that was given by Tel Aviv University, McEwan refused calls to boycott his prize, choosing instead to weave into his acceptance speech an acknowledgment of the injustice of the evictions, demolitions and purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and to donate money to an organisation that brings together Israeli and Palestinian former fighters.

As we discussed McEwan’s decision, Tearne and I switched sides. She supported McEwan’s decision and I demurred. To my mind, accepting a prize from Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, who has presided over the evictions, demolitions and compulsory purchases that McEwan condemned, risked normalising these policies. McEwan had struck a blow for freedom of expression, and yet, if that expression is used by others to justify the unjustifiable, how free then is it?

Tearne and I are not the only ones to puzzle over the complexities of the issue. As they walked me to the lift, the show’s producers said they’d had trouble finding writers to discuss the subject on air, not only because writers never like criticising other writers, but because many of us find ourselves pulled in conflicting directions. The call for the Galle boycott, for example, gained strength during the Jaipur literary festival. Yet if Galle is to be boycotted because of the Sri Lankan government’s abuse of human rights, then do India’s actions in Kashmir make Jaipur a suitable case for boycott? Does the exploitation of workers in Dubai make its film festival a no-go area? Does Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq mean that England’s many literary events should be shunned? A week tomorrow I will be debating the issue with Rachel Holmes and Romesh Gunesekera during PEN’s Free the Word festival in London.

The South African cultural boycott didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was called for by the African National Congress, which represented the majority of South Africans, and it ran alongside a United Nations condemnation of apartheid, a worldwide protest movement and economic sanctions. That, it seems to me, is the way to go. It is easy enough to embarrass a writer – many of us feel keenly the injustices around us – into making a grand gesture. Better perhaps to campaign effectively for real change . This might include putting pressure on global companies to make it more difficult for a government such as that in Sri Lanka to use mobile phone signals to kill its opponents.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Supports UA NMM Divestment Campaign, Mock Wall: Nomoredeaths

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Dear University of Arizona Community,

I am writing today to express my wholehearted support of the students in No Más Muertes/No More Deaths humanitarian/migrant-rights group and their institutional statement advocating divestment or business severance from the Caterpillar and Motorola corporations.  I appreciate their insistence for your school to terminate this relationship on the grounds of these companies providing military-style technology and assistance to U.S. forces committing systematic abuses in Arizona and nationwide.  I also think it is important that the students are highlighting these same companies that provide similar technology and assistance for Israel to use in its illegal military occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands.

When an immigrant is criminalized in Arizona or elsewhere in the U.S. for not having the right papers as he tries to make a living, I stand with him.  When a Palestinian man stands for hours at an Israeli military checkpoint in order to get to his job and make a living, I stand with him.  And I ask you to stand with me, with them, as the students are at the threshold of a new movement that seeks justice by withdrawing support for injustice.

I am not speaking from an ivory tower.  Degradation and humiliation of innocent people harassed over their “legal” status and documentation was prevalent throughout the reign of Apartheid. We lived it—police waking an individual up in the middle of the night and hauling him/her off to jail for not having his/her documents on hand while s/he slept.  The fact that they were in his/her nightstand near the bed was not good enough.

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who, through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.  Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to and earnest gratitude for your school, the University of Arizona, for its role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid.

The same issue of equality is what motivates the students’ divestment movement today, linking the issues of immigrant/indigenous rights in the U.S. and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  The movement students are leading in Arizona to better the conditions there and in Palestine is politically refreshing and should be an inspiration to us all.

It was with immense joy that I learned of the massive mock apartheid wall the students erected through your campus to bring these issues to the forefront.  The students cleverly label their mock border wall “Concrete Connections” to symbolize the intersection of interests that guide U.S. policy in militarized Arizona and in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

I was reminded of how similarly touched I was when I visited American campuses like yours in the 1980s and saw students creating mock shanty towns and demonstrating in the baking sun to protest the brutal conditions of Apartheid.  Is my hope that the creative action by the students will inspire a new movement of mock walls dividing campuses across the U.S. to show how the militarized border not only runs along Arizona and the Southwestern region but everywhere in the United States where communities of immigrants, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are raided, abused or exploited.  Such demonstrations can also show that in every corner of the United States sits the potential to help end the Israeli occupation by withdrawing U.S. funding and support which makes it possible.

The abuses faced by people in Arizona and in Palestine are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them.  It is no more wrong to call out the U.S. governments—at the federal and Arizona state levels—for their abuses in Arizona and throughout the country than it was to call out the Apartheid regime for its abuses.  Nor is it wrong to single out Israel for its abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory as it was to single out the Apartheid regime for its abuses.

I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, the students are on the right track and are doing the right thing.  They are doing the moral thing.  They are doing that which is incumbent on them as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.

With these truths and principles in mind, I join with the students in No Más Muertes and implore your school to divest any form of business investment, whether stocks, bonds, or other business agreements, from companies such as Caterpillar and Motorola, as a symbolic gesture of non-participation in conditions and practices that are abominable.  To those who wrongly accuse us of unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity.

It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli and U.S./AZ governments, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians—for migrant, indigenous, and all peoples regardless of immigration status; a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute, including national citizenship.  Students are helping to pave that path to a just peace and they deserve your support.  I encourage you to stand firm on the side of what is right.

God bless you.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Cape Town, South Africa)


Goldstone: Claims of Israel’s Gaza war crimes should be reconsidered: Haaretz

Writing in a Washington Post column, former head of the Gaza war fact-finding commission slams anti-Israel UN bias, says Jerusalem went to ‘significant’ lengths to investigate itself.

Charges mounted against Israel in the Goldstone Report, including those of alleged war crimes and intentionally targeting civilians, would have been modified had Israel cooperated with the United Nations’ fact-finding commission, the head of the commission former jurist Richard Goldstone said on Friday.

Writing in a Washington Post Column published on Friday, Goldstone noted Israeli efforts to investigate wrongdoings by soldiers and commanders during the Gaza war, saying that war crime allegations against Israel would have been influenced by the evidence provided by such probes.

“We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report,” Goldstone wrote, adding: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

The former South African jurist said that while “Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”

While Israel has shown to probe itself  “to a significant dgree” over Gaza war actions, Goldstone writes, Hamas, who has been in control of the coastal enclave since 2007, “has done nothing.”

The former jurist also criticizes the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias, saying that he had hoped that the report could “begin a new era of evenhandedness at the UN Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.”

“Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations,” Goldstone added, saying that his report “found evidence of potential war crimes and ‘possibly crimes against humanity’ by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”

“That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The UN Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms,” Goldstone said.
Goldstone also urged the UN’s rights body to condemn a recent stabbing attack at the West Bank settlement of Itamar, saying that “the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.”

“Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies,” Goldstone concluded in his Washington Post column, saying that “ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict.”

“Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war,” he added.

EDITOR: The War Criminal Speaks Out…

Now Peres, someone responsible for more blood spilt in the Middle East than most, is speaking on democracy, freedom, and the new Middle east… It will be a mistake to read these words as being against the mainstream of Israeli paranoia about the Arab Spring; instead, one shoulsd see them as a cynical move bya wily operator, adept at joioning the train as it moves on, and more sensitive to European sensibilities than most other Israeli politicians. Peres is a amster of this genre – saying to everyone what they wish to hear, and meaning nothing. Realising how damaging is Israel’s total rejection of the Arab Spring, Peres is trying to balance the picture, lying through his teeth.

Shimon Peres welcomes Arab uprisings: The Guardian

Israeli president says events in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries represent an opportunity for Israel and the Palestinians

Shimon Peres’s sentiments represent a new direction for the Israeli establishment. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, has welcomed “the winds of change” blowing through the Middle East and said events in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries represent an opportunity for Israel and the Palestinians.

Peres’s sentiments represent a new direction for the Israeli establishment, which has monitored the rise of popular movements and fall of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East with trepidation rather than excitement.

In an article written for the Guardian, Peres hails the technological developments that have given greater emphasis to science rather than land, which has empowered younger generations and left their elders behind. He described the upheavals as a “clash of generations rather than a clash of civilisations”.

Peres, 87, took the largely ceremonial role of president in 2007 but he has served twice as prime minister and won the Nobel peace prize. He first served in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in 1959, was instrumental in building up Israel’s military capabilities and is considered the father of Israel’s nuclear programme.

Pointing out that modern technology has enabled the creation of wealth without large amounts of territory, as was necessary in the past, he writes: “The older generation had greater respect for land than science. But we live in an age when science, more than soil, has become the provider of growth and abundance. Living just on the land creates loneliness in an age of globality.”

Peres’s article could be seen as an encouragement to some of his compatriots to give up their obsession with land and realise the need to release it for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many Israelis are reluctant to give up territory conquered in 1967 from Syria and Jordan in exchange for peace.

The changes in the Middle East highlight that Israel cannot be an island of affluence in a sea of poverty, he noted. “Improvements in our neighbours’ lives mean improvements to the neighbourhood in which we live,” he wrote.

The events in the Middle East highlighted the need for Palestinians and Israelis to achieve a peace agreement as soon as possible. “Peace is needed and can be achieved by direct negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Jordan, and can happen with the Palestinians. The gap between ourselves and the Palestinians is more psychological than material,” he wrote.

Peres’s comments are at odds with the feelings of other parts of the Israeli government who say that the fall of President Hosni Mubarak was “a disaster” for Israel and hope that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will remain in power out of fear of the alternative. Earlier this week Israeli officials told the Guardian that they believe that recent changes in the Middle East create strategic problems for Israel.

A major part of the Israeli government’s international perspective is guided by Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, who is considered to be much further to the right than Peres.

We in Israel welcome the Arab spring: The Guardian

Unlike Hamas and Hezbollah, the young want peace and progress in our region

Shimon Peres

The Middle East has to make a historic choice: to join the new global age of democratic peace and liberal economy, or to stay clinging to its history of closed societies and autocracy.

A great revolt has been initiated by young people and women, to gain freedom, bread and hope. Israel is watching with great expectation. These events are both unprecedented and unplanned.

The internet, Facebook and Twitter have created mass communications and social spaces that regimes cannot control. These developments allowed young people to compare notes with their contemporaries in other countries, and to see clearly how their own governments wasted wealth and time to enhance their own power while ignoring the needs of their people. It opened their eyes.

The upheaval we see today in our region is driven by a clash of generations rather than a clash of civilisations. The older generation had greater respect for land than science. But we live in an age when science, more than soil, has become the provider of growth and abundance. Living just on the land creates loneliness in an age of globality.

Israel is an example of that today: technology and not territory are the drivers of wealth. We have shown that with a small piece of land, little water and no oil, it is possible to create a thriving economy and a sustainable democracy.

Israel welcomes the wind of change, and sees a window of opportunity. Democratic and science-based economies by nature desire peace. Israel does not want to be an island of affluence in an ocean of poverty. Improvements in our neighbours’ lives mean improvements to the neighbourhood in which we live.

Israelis understand that this is no less true of the Palestinians. That is why successive Israeli governments have given their full support to the efforts of Palestinians in the West Bank to build their own economy, their own institutions, and their own security forces. Economic growth in the West Bank is now close to 10% annually. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians see the tangible fruit of this co-operation. Knowledge, freedom and peace are inseparable.

Peace is needed and can be achieved by direct negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Jordan, and can happen with the Palestinians. The gap between ourselves and the Palestinians is more psychological than material.

Bringing an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians may help the young Arab generation to realise their aspirations. Israel is more than willing to offer our experience in building a modern economy in spite of limited resources to the whole region. We seek only the acceptance from our neighbours and the opportunity to play a full role in the life of the region.

Israel was born under the British mandate. We learned from the British what democracy means, and how it behaves in a time of danger, war and terror. We thank Britain for introducing freedom and respect of human rights both in normal and demanding circumstances. It was a great lesson and a necessary one for a country such as Israel, which has been attacked seven times in the 63 years of its existence without compromising democracy and without giving up our quest for peace.

However, there are other forces in our region that want to resist the spread of these values. They are ready to abuse democratic institutions to gain power, but without the commitment to maintain the integrity of those institutions once they are in power. Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, are representatives of these forces.

Those reactionary forces, that would hijack their countries back down the path of radicalism, are also the enemies of peace with Israel. That is why we hope our neighbours will choose to join the family of democratic nations.

The extreme right turned Israel into an anachronism: Haaretz

Unlike Europe, where the right has significantly grown but is still not in power, in this country the racists, the extreme and clerical right is the government, with only a vacuum opposing it.
By Zeev Sternhell
Slowly but surely Israel is acquiring the status of an anachronistic entity. The legislation that passed in the Knesset that dark night last week, which makes ethnic inequality a legal norm, has no parallel in democratic countries because it contradicts the very essence of democracy. In terms of the principle on which it is based, institutionalized discrimination against the non-Jewish population takes us back to the early days, when Israel’s Arab citizens were under a military government.

This had a far-reaching effect on Israeli society. Aside from the desire of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the ruling elite not to limit their freedom of action, it was the ethnic and institutionalized discrimination that rendered impossible the writing of a constitution. In that way the Israelis, who for the first time became citizens in their own country, learned that independence did not require equality and democracy did not include respecting human rights.

In the year after Israel canceled its military government in Arab areas, the great disaster of the Six-Day War took place, and a military government was established in the territories. Over time, with the settlements, a colonial regime has been created that does not even try to conceal its nature. At a time when all Western countries have stopped ruling over other nations, Israel is creating a colony for itself, and even transferring the norms that reign in the occupied territories across the borders into the state itself.

Does the West have any such anachronism? The settlement colonialism is the main reason today, usually the only one, for the opposition, sometimes bordering on hatred, that Israel arouses among much of the Western intelligentsia. It’s not the enemies of Zionism and the anti-Semites who are delegitimizing Israel, but Israel itself, with its own two hands.

Although the extreme right has become stronger in Europe too, and the last word has yet to be said, racists don’t rule there, and they are considered a repugnant minority not only to the left, but to a substantial part of the liberal right as well. In this country, however, the extreme and clerical right is the government, with only a vacuum opposing it.

The disgraceful flight from a confrontation with the right in the Knesset will not soon be forgotten, and the center’s moral bankruptcy will be recorded as a disgrace. The greatest enemies of democracy and the sources of fascism’s strength have always been not the radical right’s independent power, but the opportunism, conformism and cowardice of the center.

And what would we say if in a Catholic country in Western Europe, the church leaders controlled political parties and dictated entire chunks of national policy? How would we react to the sight of a party leader and important government minister kissing the hand of a robe-wearing cardinal and running to carry out his instructions in the public arena? And how would we accept the news that to attain one of the most important positions in the country − chief of the Shin Bet security service − the clergy’s consent was required?

Of course, such sights would generate scorn and disgust, but in this country we have long gotten used to the fact that the settlement rabbis’ “halakhic rulings” can openly reject the rule of law and the state’s authority, and the hilltop youth are allowed to declare de facto autonomy in the areas they control. We have also gotten use to figures like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and MK David Rotem, the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, whose ilk in Europe are part of a history many people are ashamed of. It’s sad to see how one of the great hopes of the 20th century has become an anachronism before our eyes.

UN resolutions; only applicable to support our interests: The Independent

By Jody McIntyre
UN security resolution 1973.  UN security resolution 1973.  UN security resolution 1973. Now it makes it legal for us to arm the Libyan ‘rebels’, the same ‘rebels’ that were working for Gaddafi a few weeks ago, the same Gaddafi it was OK for us to arm a couple of months before that, the same Gaddafi who was our number one enemy a few years before that. His crime?  Nationalising the oil of his country.

Did I miss the point at which the United States and United Kingdom began paying attention to UN resolutions?  Did we all forget about the State of Israel, which violates UN resolutions as if it’s a fun game?  UN resolution affirming the right of return for Palestinian refugees – ignored.  UN resolution deploring Israel’s changing of the status of Jerusalem – ignored.  UN resolution deciding that Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights is null and void – ignored.  UN resolution demanding that Israel stops attacking Lebanon – ignored.  UN resolution calling on Israel not to deport Palestinians and strongly requesting it to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention – ignored.  UN resolution urging Israel to comply with UN decisions – ignored.

When the UN ‘affirmed the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, statehood and equal protections’, the US steps in to veto.  When the UN ‘condemned Israel’s air strikes and attacks in southern Lebanon and its murder of innocent civilians’, the US steps in to veto.  When the UN ‘condemned Israel’s hijacking of a Libyan passenger airplane’, the US steps in to veto.  Why is the story the same every time?  Because the State of Israel protects and furthers our colonial interests.

In the view of the US and British governments, UN resolutions are not worth the paper they are written on.  Unless, of course, they can be exploited for our own objectives.  So, when Israel has violated UN resolutions for 63 years and counting, not a word is uttered, but in Libya, not even a month had passed and we were threatening the Gaddafi regime with sanctions and air strikes.

In the case of the war on Iraq, not even the pretext of a UN resolution was deemed necessary to justify the invasion, occupation and slaughter of a million innocent people.  But now we celebrate when the International Criminal Court, an institution that the United States refuses to recognise, promises to take action against Gaddafi.  It is OK to take other regimes before the ICC for committing crimes, as long as the same principle is not applied to our own crimes!

Last night, a law was passed in the British Parliament to change the boundaries of universal jurisdiction in the UK. Since the case of General Pinochet in 1999, universal jurisdiction has allowed British citizens to bring a private prosecution against foreign nationals suspected of genocide, torture or war crimes.  But since Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to the UK after the issue of such a warrant, the British government pledged to change the law.  Now, only the Attorney General can apply for an arrest warrant to be issued.

The implication is clear; prosecution for war crimes is not dependent on the nature of the crimes or truth of the allegations, but purely on whether those committing them are our allies or not.  Don’t expect to see Bush or Blair in the ICC any time soon.

Hamas: Israel will suffer ‘consequences’ of IDF Gaza strike: Haaretz

Army says late-night strike south of the Gaza town of Khan Younis hit a terror cell planning to kidnap Israelis over the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover.

The Islamic militant group Hamas vowed vengeance against Israel in a statement Saturday, following a late-night airstrike which hit three members of the Gaza-ruling militant group.

Earlier Saturday, IDF planes attacked a cell of Palestinian militants in the south of the Gaza Strip, with Palestinian sources confirming that three men were killed in the attack.

An IDF Spokesperson stated that the three men killed in Gaza were members of a terrorist cell that was “planning to kidnap Israelis over the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover” in Israel and in the Sinai Peninsula, a popular spring tourist destination for Israelis.

A statement by the Iz a Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, identified one of those killed as one of the group’s senior commanders, vowing to strike back at Israel.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, described the strike as a crime and “serious escalation” of the recent violence, and vowed that Israel would “bear all the consequences.” The militant group also called on the U.S. to stop the flow of financial aid to Israel.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency identified the three as Isma’il Labad and his brother Abdullah from Ash-Shati’ refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, and military commander Muhammad Ad-Dayah from the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

Ad-Dayah, 33, is considered to be a top Hamas military official. As child he participated in the first intifada, later serving as the bodyguard of former Hamas chief Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Ad-Dayah also lost one of his eyes during an attempted mortar attack on a nearby settlement.

The Hamas official had already been the target of an IDF assassination attempt, when his house was bombed by Israeli jets during Operation Cast Lead in early 2009.

In recent weeks, Palestinian militants have fired rocket salvoes into the country, reaching as far as Be’er Sheva, and Israel has carried out a series of air strikes.

Despite the spike in violence along the Gaza-Israel border of late, both Israeli officials and Hamas representatives have said that they want to avoid an escalation at this time.

Why Washington is at a loss over Syria: BBC

A series of anti-government protests have been held in Syria over the past two weeks

The US seems to be scratching its head over how to handle anti-government protests in Syria, which is not an ally but is a big regional player, says the BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington.

The White House has again condemned the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria – but this time it included a line which was absent in its statement of 24 March.

The Obama administration on Friday said it applauded the “courage and dignity of the Syrian people”.

The Arab revolutions have all been different but similar, and Washington’s reaction too has followed roughly the same script but with some variations.

Apart from a constant mantra of support for universal values, statements by the White House or President Barack Obama have followed a similar crescendo pattern, starting with condemnation of the violence by governments, followed by applause for the protesters.

The next level has been determined by a calculation taking into account the size of the demonstrations, the intensity of the repression and American interests.

In Egypt, there was a call for an orderly transition when the US determined it could do without Hosni Mubarak; in Libya, there was a direct call on Muammar Gaddafi to leave when it became clear that allowing him to stay in any way posed even greater challenges than pushing him out.

In Bahrain, where Sunni rulers have faced off with Shia protesters, there have been continued calls for dialogue from an administration wary of losing what it sees as a rampart against growing Iranian influence in the region.

It’s still unclear how the wind will blow when it comes to Syria, in terms of whether the protests will continue to grow in strength and the repression become bloodier but also whether the US will eventually call for Bashar al-Assad’s departure or issue endless calls for dialogue while trying to push for internal reforms.

Washington seems at a loss about how to handle a potential revolution in a country which is not an ally but which presents it with both real risks and possible opportunities for regional US policies.

The US was probably hoping that Mr Assad would offer the demonstrators enough concessions to appease them when he gave an address this week.

Instead, the Syrian president stared them down, vowed to fight till the end and accused Israel and indirectly the US, of being behind the unrest.

‘Syria will change’
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the speech was a severe blow to Washington’s Syria policy so far, which has been partly based on the assumption that Syria was interested in making peace with Israel.

Washington believes this would allow it to peel Syria away from its allies in Tehran.

It’s an analysis long supported by Senator John Kerry, who last month said that if the peace process could be moved forward, Syria would have a different set of options than those it is sticking to now.

Syria, on the US state department list of state sponsors of terror, currently supports radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, is suspected of developing a covert nuclear programme and has in the past been accused of feeding the violence in Iraq by supporting a network of foreign fighters.

In the event of peace talks, said Mr Kerry in a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “my judgment is that Syria will move, Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and the economic opportunity that comes with it”.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated Washington did not see Mr Assad in the same light as his father, Hafez, who ruthlessly crushed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982 in the northern city of Hama, killing thousands.

“There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” she said.

Mrs Clinton did not say the administration agreed that Mr Assad was a reformer and American officials have repeatedly expressed deep scepticism, but she did not add any caveats to the statement, despite the fact that the Obama administration has nothing to show for its efforts to engage the Syrian president for the last two years.

“Assad is not a reformer,” said New Jersey Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman in a scathing statement on Friday.

“Anyone who thinks so is at best fooling themselves, and at worst, serving as a useful idiot to a murderous dictator and a proud sponsor of terrorism.”

Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent, this week said a new Syria strategy was needed and “urged the administration to work with members of the international community to make clear to President Assad that if he continues on the path of repression and violence, it will carry serious consequences”.

Sanctions pressure
It’s likely that Mr Assad will have his own warning about serious consequences.

In the past, whenever Syria has come under pressure, Mr Assad has highlighted the positive role his country could play in stabilising Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories as a subtle way of hinting he also had the means to sew chaos.

Some analysts have suggested the crisis in Syria is an opportunity for the US to neutralise Damascus’s ability to use those cards.

A Democratic aide on Capitol Hill said that if Mr Assad were to fall it might be a positive development because it could deprive Hezbollah and Hamas of crucial support.

Mr Tabler said Syria was not playing a positive role anyway and he dispelled the notion that the US or the international community had no leverage over Syria.

He said sanctions currently in place on Syria could be used to pressure Mr Assad and his inner circle into changing their calculations.

Poll: Young Israelis moving much farther to the right politically: Haaretz

Study shows increase in number of Jewish youths that put defining Israel as a Jewish state as a number one goal, while fewer youths recognize the importance of Israel identity as a democratic country.
Young Israelis are moving much further to the right politically, according to a survey to be released Thursday.

The study found that 60 percent of Jewish teenagers in Israel, between 15 and 18 years old, prefer “strong” leaders to the rule of law, while 70 percent say that in cases where state security and democratic values conflict, security should come first. A similar picture emerges in the 21 to 24 age group.

The comprehensive survey was conducted on behalf of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in cooperation with the Macro Center for Political Economics, by the Dahaf Institute.

According to the authors, the report shows a strengthening of Jewish-nationalist beliefs among Jewish youths, and a clear weakening of the importance given to the state’s liberal-democratic base.

Among Jewish youths, support for the definition of Israel as a Jewish state as the most important goal for the country grew from 18.1 percent in 1998 to 33.2 percent last year, the survey reports. At the same time, there has been a consistent drop in those who back the importance of Israel’s identity as a democratic country – from 26.1 percent in 1998 to 14.3 percent in 2010.

Support for Israel to eventually live in peace with its neighboring countries also fell significantly, from 28.4 percent 12 years ago to 18.2 percent last year. This is the third such survey of young people conducted by the two organizations in the past 12 years.

The study was carried out in July 2010, among a representative sample of Jewish and Arab youth. It included 1,600 participants, 800 aged 15-18 and 800 21-24, which is considered a relatively large group.

The right wing enjoyed a clear majority of support among the young people surveyed. Among Jews, the numbers stood at 57 percent and 66 percent for the two age groups respectively, while those who said they considered themselves to be left wing made up only 13 percent and 10 percent of those respondents.

The support for the right rose overall from 48 percent to 62 percent during the study’s 12-year period, while support for the left fell from 32 percent to 12 percent.

As to the possibility of peace with the Palestinians, 755 of the Jewish respondents said they do not believe negotiations will lead to peace, and most prefer that the present situation continue.

Israel must significantly increase the amount of money it spends on educating its young people about democracy, said Dr. Roby Nathanson, the director general of the Macro Center.

“There is not enough awareness about democratic values among youths,” he said. “Democracy is not just voting once every four years. It also includes values such as tolerance and consideration for minority groups, the weaker populations and those who are different [from the mainstream].”

Israel: New Laws Marginalize Palestinian Arab Citizens: Human Rights Watch

Measures Threaten Discrimination; Chill Freedom of Expression
MARCH 30, 2011
(Jerusalem) – Two new Israeli laws affecting Israel’s Palestinian Arab residents would promote discrimination and stifle free expression, Human Rights Watch said today. One would authorize rural, Jewish-majority communities to reject Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and other “unsuitable” applicants for residency, and the other would chill expression regarding a key moment in the history of Palestinian citizens, Human Rights Watch said.

“These laws threaten Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and others with yet more officially sanctioned discrimination,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israeli parliamentarians should be working hard to end glaring inequality, not pushing through discriminatory laws to control who can live where and to create a single government-approved view of Israel’s history.”

The Knesset passed both laws on March 23, 2011. One officially authorizes “admissions committees” in about 300 Jewish-majority communities to reject applicants for residency who do not meet vague “social suitability” criteria. The measure anchors in law a practice that has been the basis for unjustly rejecting applications by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel as well as members of socially marginalized groups such as Jews of non-European ancestry and single-parent families.

The second law would heavily fine any government-funded institution, including municipalities that provide health and education, for commemorating the “Nakba” – the Arabic term to describe the destruction of Palestinian villages and expulsion of their residents after Israel’s declaration of independence – and for expression deemed to “negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The “admissions committee” law requires anyone seeking to move to any community in the Negev and Galilee regions with fewer than 400 families to obtain approval from committees consisting of town residents, a member of the Jewish Agency or World Zionist Organization, and several others. The law empowers these committees to reject candidates who, among other things, “are ill-suited to the community’s way of life” or “might harm the community’s fabric.”

There are more than 300 such small communities in the Negev and Galilee, either small cooperative “kibbutzes” with some shared property, farming communities called “moshavs,” or small rural “community towns,” on land leased by the state. These communities already have admissions committees established under regulations of the Israel Land Authority, the state agency that leases them their land. But the committees and screening procedures had not been specifically authorized under national laws.

Although Palestinian Arabs are in the majority in the Negev and Galilee, the state has never allocated lands to allow these Israeli citizens to establish small communities there. All of the towns and communities to which the new law applies were established for and have a majority of Jewish residents.

Parliamentary statements indicate that the law’s sponsors intended it to allow majority-Jewish communities to maintain their current demographic makeup by excluding Palestinian Arab citizens, an act of discrimination on the basis of their race, ethnicity, and national origin.

One of the law’s sponsors, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, told the Knesset in December 2009 that such a law would allow towns to be “established by people who want to live with other Jews.” In a radio interview that month, Rotem said the law would codify screening procedures so that Jewish Israelis could “establish a place where everybody is an army veteran, a Yeshiva alumni, or something of that sort.”

Another sponsor, Yisrael Hasson of the Kadima party, said in December 2010 that “the bill reflects the Knesset’s commitment to work to preserve the ability to realize the Zionist dream in practice in the state of Israel” through “population dispersal,” which the government had begun “thirty years ago … [with] a string of small communities in the Galilee and Negev.”

“Realization of these goals obliged us as legislators to ensure the existence of a screening mechanism for applicants to these communities,” he said.

Late in negotiations over the law, legislators added a clause that nominally forbids committees to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality, or disability. However, the law’s exclusion criteria threaten to do exactly what is supposedly prohibited, allowing admissions committees to mask discrimination under the vague criteria that a candidate is “unsuitable” to the community’s “social characteristics,” Human Rights Watch said.

Israeli opponents of the law argued that it would effectively bolster the legal and political standing of admissions committees and allow them to bypass a previous Supreme Court ruling against discrimination in property rights. In the case that led to that ruling, a village rejected an Arab-Israeli couple because the village was established on land that Israel had leased to the Jewish Agency, which did not lease land to non-Jews. Most of the land in Israel is state-owned and leased for 49- or 98-year periods.

The couple petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2000 that allocating land to citizens solely on the basis of their religion constituted prohibited discrimination, including cases in which the state first leased land to third parties that would not then lease it to non-Jews. However, the court limited the ruling to the specific case and stated that it might not make the same ruling in unspecified “special circumstances.” The village committee then rejected the couple because they “did not fit its character.” After further legal action, the couple was able to lease the land in 2007.

The law states that each community’s unique “characteristics” will be “codified,” and that rejected candidates are entitled to an explanation. However, in a February 2011 Supreme Court hearing regarding two couples whom admission committees rejected, the petitioners argued that many small rural communities are not designed exclusively for particular social groups with unique ways of life, such as ultra-Orthodox religious communities. The chief justice stated that the town in question “does not have any unique characteristics,” and called the screening process an “invasion of privacy.” But the court has yet rule in this case.

In a petition to the Supreme Court against the new law that has yet to be ruled on, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a nongovernmental group, cited court cases brought by Palestinian Arabs and other families whom village acceptance committees rejected because they did not “socially fit.” In one case, a kibbutz justified its rejection of an Arab-Israeli couple because its admissions criteria required residents to be eligible for membership in the World Zionist Organization and to have served in the Israeli army. Few Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel perform military service.

Another village committee requires applicants to embrace the values in the village’s charter, including “Zionism” and “Jewish tradition.” Other communities rejected Jews of North African and Middle Eastern descent and a disabled veteran. In these cases, the parties compromised or the court ordered the committees to re-evaluate the application, with the result that the courts have not explicitly ruled the committees’ actions to be discriminatory.

In an affidavit submitted by the civil rights group, the former chairperson of one acceptance committee stated that the committee often rejected applicants on the basis of committee members’ personal preferences, and that in most cases the evaluation process merely rubber stamps a decision to reject applicants.

As originally drafted, the law would have applied to communities across Israel, but after a compromise, the final law, which passed after 2 a.m. on March 23 by 35 to 20, applies only to the Negev and Galilee regions. Longstanding Israeli policy seeks to “Judaize the Galilee,” and Israeli officials have promoted plans to encourage large-scale Jewish immigration to the Negev. In 2010, several rabbis in the Galilee, who are government officials, campaigned for Jewish Israelis not to rent apartments or sell land to Arab-Israelis; and the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a parliamentary inquiry into alleged purchases of Israeli land by “foreign governments” for the benefit of Arab-Israeli citizens. Arab citizens of Israel have sought to move into Jewish communities in part because of a lack of housing for Palestinian Arab citizens. While Israeli planning authorities have established hundreds of Jewish towns and villages, Israel has not allowed Arab citizens to establish any new towns since 1948, except for seven communities that the state planned for Bedouins from the Negev, whom the government urged to relocate from their traditional lands or forcibly evicted from them.

Since the 1990s state planning bodies have approved “expansions” for Jewish towns, rezoning adjacent agricultural lands for residential construction. An Israel Lands Authority administrative decision from 1993 granted local residents and their children “preferred access” to the newly expanded residential areas, and authorized the towns to create admissions committees to review outside applicants. By contrast, Human Rights Watch has documented cases in which Israeli planning authorities consistently rejected the petitions of Arab-Israelis to rezone “agricultural” lands for residential purposes.

In 2007 the United Nations committee that oversees states’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Israel examine the role of admissions committees, “ensure that state land is allocated without discrimination, direct or indirect,” and “assess the significance and impact of the ‘social suitability’ criterion in this regard.” Under the convention, Israel is obliged to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race or ethnic or national origin, to freedom of movement and residence, and to housing.

“Countries should seek to end the segregation and negative treatment of minority communities, yet Israel is moving in the other direction,” Whitson said. “A state that deliberately promotes the residential rights and privileges of one ethnic group while diminishing those of another is practicing illegal discrimination, pure and simple.”

The Knesset passed, 37 to 25, the law that allows the government to penalize any state-funded institution that commemorates the “Nakba,” the Arabic term meaning “catastrophe” and referring to the historic episode in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of what is now Israel fled and hundreds of villages were destroyed during the conflict after Israel declared independence in 1948. The penalty could also be imposed on an institution that “denies the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” an action the law does not define.

Palestinian Arab members of Israel’s parliament, community leaders, and civil society groups have frequently stated their view that definitions of Israel as a “Jewish state” marginalize and exclude them.

The law, formally an amendment to the Budget Principles Law, enables the finance minister to cut government funding to such institutions by three times the amount that the institution spent on the “illegal” activities. The law does not distinguish cases in which institutions spent non-government funds on such activities. The finance minister would need the approval of other budgetary officials to cut the funds.

The law does not define “institution,” but states that it applies to any state-funded entity. Entities at risk include not only municipalities, but also theaters and schools that stage plays or screen films about the Nakba or cultural organizations that hold “coexistence” activities for Jewish and Arab Israeli students to commemorate both Israel’s independence day and the “Nakba” as a form of mutual learning.

“This effort to punish the peaceful expression of opinions by Israelis who receive state funding is an insult to Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and a threat to freedom of expression,” Whitson said. “Since when does the Israeli government have the right to tell Israeli citizens what they’re not entitled to say about history?”

The Nakba law’s threefold financial penalty threatens to harm the rights of citizens – for example, by cutting federal funds that municipalities need to provide health, housing, education, and other services, Human Rights Watch said. For example, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report on Israel, local governments are responsible for providing basic social services but receive 75 percent financing from the central government to procure those services. The predictable result of the law’s severe penalties and the vagueness of the acts and institutions that could be penalized is that it will broadly chill freedom of expression by preventing various institutions from commemorating the Nakba at all, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government is telling Arab-Israeli municipalities and other institutions that if they don’t shut up about the Nakba and anything else that bureaucrats may deem anti-Israeli, they’ll have to shut down programs and services for lack of funds,” Whitson said. “Democracies shouldn’t quash expression even if it’s unpopular, and in this case, what’s unpopular to some legislators is central to the historical narrative of a million and a half citizens.”

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