Obama

February 11, 2011

EDITOR: The final stage of the revolution seems to be here!

In another facile speech, Mubarak has clarified beyond any doubt, that he is not in touch with reality. Omar Suleiman, his sidekick and servile deputy, is not much more connected either. Both seem to think that they can spout more lies and get the demonstrators home, and continue with their corrupt regime, by promising democracy by September. The Egyptian people know – it is now or never!

Meanwhile, on the farm in Washington, the animals are in disarray… not quite decided if they prefer democracy to ‘stability’ they keep swivelling like a weather-vane gone out of control. It seems that Obama is listening to both sides, and keeps changing his mind on a daily basis. Two things are now clear:

1. The US administration is not well-informed (they don’t seem to have Al Jazeera on the White House channels…) and is not clear about what is happening in Egypt. This may sound incredible, but there is no other expalnation to their bizarre switching of policy.

2. The US administration is also not clear and have not decided what they want out of this situation – do they prefer to see the dictator continue and choke the Egyptian people, or do they risk allowing democracy in Egypt to develop? The choice is difficult for a governemnt which has supported dictators and and brutal occupations as far as memory goes, and not just in the Middle East. Do they want ‘stability’, or do they want to foment unrest and be the arbiter?

This situation is most dangerous for the whole Middle East, now moving at enormous speed to modernise and democratise, after decades of corrupt and brutal regimes. In the end, the US seems just as confused as Mubarak about the direction of events.

Mubarak got the chair, the Egyptain people got the power, by Carlos Latuff

BREAKING NEWS!

Protesters outraged over Mubarak address, vow to continue revolution: Ahram online

Ahram Online, Friday 11 Feb 2011

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir sq and downtown Cairo this evening to celebrate what they believed was the imminant stepping down by President Hosny Mubarak were dumbfounded, then outraged as Mubarak finally addressed the nation on TV. Though Mubarak concluded his address by announcing the transfer of his powers to the vice president, he repeatedly asserted in the course of the address that he will remain in power until the end of his term in September.
Chanting “down with Mubarak”, “down with the regime”, the protesters vowed to mainting their occupation of Tahrir sq and their demonstrations until they bring Mubarak and his regime down, once and for all. They expect to bring millions to the streets in Cairo and across the nation in tomorrow’s Friday of Decision protest.

Egypt: A new wave of workers strikes and sit-ins: Ahram Online

Mass protests demanding change have triggered a fresh wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins across the country Wednesday, spotlighting long-ignored economic demands
Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

Workers in Cairo joined thousands of state employees on strike Thursday in spreading labor unrest that has pumped further strength and momentum into Egypt’s wave of anti-government protests. Writing in Arabic on placard center-left reads “Increase basic pay” and on placard center-right “End of work pension: 60 months. Infection risk pay: 100 percent. Rule No. 48 replacing rule No. 47.” (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Related
Five Suez Canal companies workers go on strike, no major disruptions witnessed yet

Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt

Steel and Canal shipyard workers strike in Suez continues
Following the “Million Man” demonstrations and mass strikes that escalated across Egypt on Tuesday, a new wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins also spread on Wednesday.
Ahram Online has been receiving continuous reports of strikes breaking out in both public and private companies across the country, many of which are still being confirmed. At the time of publishing, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) had confirmed the following:

More than 2000 workers started a strike in Helwan’s silk factories and circulated the office of the company’s chairman demanding his exclusion.

Thousands of workers have started a strike in Helwan’s coke factories demanding higher wages and full-time contracts.

In Mahala’s Spinning and Weaving factory, hundreds started a sit-in in front of the administration building.

In Kafr El-Zaiat hospital, 1500 nurses started a sit-in demanding their late wages.

Four hundred workers in Suez’s Egypt National Steel Factory started an open strike demanding higher wages.

In Menoufeia, more than 750 of Schweppes factory workers started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

More than 800 of the spinning and weaving workers in Menoufeia started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

In Cairo, 200 workers from the General Committee for Drug Supervision started a sit-in demanding full time contracts and higher wages.

Apart from the demands calling for democratic reforms that have triggered Egypt’s mass protests, social and economic needs have been at the core of the country’s political unrest in recent years.

Although a 2010 court ruling demanded that a new minimum wage be set, the government promised to set a minimum of only LE400 per month (about $70), allowing tensions to soar.

Catapulting, by Carlos Latuff

Egypt’s Mubarak refuses to quit: BBC

President Mubarak addressed the nation in a television broadcastContinue reading the main story
Egypt Unrest

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak has said he will stay in office and transfer all power only after September’s presidential election.

His comments in a national TV address confounded earlier reports that he was preparing to stand down immediately.

Mr Mubarak said he would delegate some powers to Vice-President Omar Suleiman, but the details of this remain unclear.

Thousands of anti-government protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square reacted angrily to his announcement.

There were chants of “Down with Mubarak”, and protesters waved their shoes in disgust. Thousands were reported to be heading towards the presidential palace some distance away.

The BBC’s Paul Adams, in Tahrir Square, said the mood contrasted dramatically with the celebratory, almost party atmosphere that existed in the hours running up to President Mubarak’s televised address.

Mr Mubarak had previously pledged not to stand in September’s poll, and said he would stay on to oversee a process of constitutional change.

Negotiations between the government and opposition groups have made little progress, with protesters disillusioned at plans for reform put forward by Mr Mubarak’s government.

Continue reading the main story
At the scene

Yolande Knell
BBC News, Tahrir Square, Cairo
This was the third time that President Mubarak has disappointed anti-government protesters since this uprising began by refusing to step down.

At the same time as he said on state television that he felt “pain in my heart for what I hear from some of my countrymen”, huge crowds of Egyptians were yelling “Be gone” and waving their shoes in dismay.

Mr Mubarak did try to reach out to young people, praising them and promising that the blood of their “martyrs” would “not go down the drain”. He restated his commitments to constitutional reforms and a peaceful transition of power in September’s election. He mentioned handing some powers to his vice-president, crucially without expanding on this point.

Some parts of this speech were condescending, with the president addressing Egyptians as “a father to his children”. He also answered rumours he had left the country by stating: “I will not separate from the soil until I am buried beneath it.”

Anger looks set to increase with more demonstrations already planned to follow Friday prayers. Many people chanted “tomorrow, tomorrow” as they left Tahrir Square.

The Egyptian ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, suggested Vice President Suleiman was now the “de facto head of state” following Mr Mubarak’s speech, but this has not been confirmed.

In his address, Mr Mubarak said: “I express a commitment to carry on and protect the constitution and the people and transfer power to whomever is elected next September in free and transparent elections.”

Directly addressing protesters “in Tahrir Square and beyond” in what he said was “a speech from the heart”, Mr Mubarak, 82, said: “I am not embarrassed to listen to the youth of my country and to respond to them.”

He apologised to the families of protesters killed in clashes with the security forces in recent weeks, and said those responsible for their deaths would be punished.

Mr Mubarak added that the country’s emergency laws would only be lifted when conditions were right, and said he would ignore “diktats from abroad”.

He also appeared to call for the end of protests against his 30-year rule that began on 25 January.

“Egypt has gone through difficult times and we cannot allow these to carry on,” he said. “The damage to our economy will lead to a situation in which the youth calling for reform will be the first to be affected.”

‘Go home’
Mr Suleiman, speaking after Mr Mubarak’s address, said the protests had had an effect, and a process of constitutional change would now go ahead.

He added that President Mubarak had empowered him to preserve security and stability in Egypt, and restore normality – and he urged the protesters to return home.

“Youth of Egypt: go back home, back to work, the nation needs you to develop, to create. Don’t listen to radio and TV, whose aim is to tarnish Egypt,” he said.

Activist Mustafa Naggar, responding to the leadership’s statements, said: “The street is fed up with Mubarak. If Mubarak leaves the country, he will help to calm the crisis. If he continues, he will lead Egyptians into chaos.

“Plans for tomorrow stand. We will march in the millions to Tahrir Square and other locations.”

Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the United Nations atomic watchdog, tweeted: “Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now.”

Among the first reaction from the US – a key ally of Egypt – was a statement from Senator John McCain, in which he described President Mubarak’s announcement that he will remain in power as “deeply unfortunate and troubling”.

He added: “The voices of the Egyptian people are growing louder and more unified, and they are not demanding partial transfers of power or minor adjustments to the current government.”

US President Barack Obama has convened a meeting with his national security team at the White House following President Mubarak’s speech. The US government had in recent days stepped up its call for the protesters’ concerns to be addressed.

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Baroness Ashton, said: “The time for change is now. President Mubarak has not yet opened the way to faster and deeper reforms.

“We will pay close attention to the response by the Egyptian people in the coming hours and days.”

Earlier, the secretary-general of the Mr Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, had said the right thing for the president to do would be to step aside – and that he did not expect Mr Mubarak to be president on Friday.

At the same time, Egypt’s military announced it was standing ready to “protect the nation”. State news agency Mena reported that the high council of the armed forces was in continuous session “to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people”.

Defiant Mubarak refuses to resign: Al Jazeera online

Egyptian president vows to remain in office until his term ends in September, and not bow down to ‘foreign pressure’.

Hosni Mubarak, the embattled Egyptian president, has refused to step down from his post, saying that he will not bow to “foreign pressure” in a televised address to the nation on Thursday evening.

Putting to rest widespread speculations that he will quit, Mubarak announced that he was delegating some authorities to his new vice-president, Omar Suleiman, a close confidante.

In a much anticipated speech, Mubarak said he had put into place a framework that would lead to the amendment of six constitutional articles (including articles 77, 88, 93 and 189, and the annulment of article 179).

“I can not and will not accept to be dictated orders from outside, no matter what the source is,” Mubarak said.

He said he was addressing his people with a “speech from the heart”.

Mubarak said that he is “totally committed to fulfilling all the promises” that he has earlier made regarding constitutional and political reform.

“I have laid down a vision … to exit the current crisis, and to realise the demands voiced by the youth and citizens … without undermining the constitution in a manner that ensures the stability of our society,” he said.

Mubarak said he had “initiated a very constructive national dialogue … and this dialogue has yielded preliminary agreement in stances and views”.

A state of emergency, which has been in place since Mubarak took power 30 years ago, remains in place, though the president promised to lift it as some unspecified point in the future.

“I will remain adamant to shoulder my responsibility, protecting the constitution and safeguarding the interests of Egyptians [until the next elections].

“This is the oath I have taken before God and the nation, and I will continue to keep this oath,” he said.

Mubarak said the current “moment was not against my personality, against Hosni Mubarak”, and concluded by saying that he would not leave Egyptian soil until he was “buried under it”.

Mubarak’s comments were not well-received by hundreds of thousands gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square and in other cities, who erupted into angry chants against him. Pro-democracy protesters had been expecting Mubarak to resign, and their mood of celebration quickly turned to extreme anger as they heard the president’s speech.

Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Liberation Square said the “mood completely altered as the president progressed with his speech”, with protesters expressing “frustration and anger” at him.

Hundreds took off their shoes and waved them angrily at a screen showing Mubarak’s speech, shouting “Leave, leave!”

Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition figure and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, responded to the speech by saying “Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now”, on the microblogging website Twitter.

‘Go back home’

Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, addressed the nation in a televised address shortly after Mubarak’s speech, and called on protesters to “go back home” and “go back to work”.

”]He said he had been delegated by the president “the responsibilities to safeguard the stability of Egypt, to safeguard its … assets … to restore peace and security to the Egyptian public, and to restore the normal way of life”.

He said that a process of dialogue with the opposition had yielded positive results, and that “a roadmap has been laid down to achieve the majority of demands”.

The vice-president said that steps had to be taken to “safeguard the revolution of the youth”, but also called for protesters to “join hands” with the government, rather than risk “chaos”.

He told Egyptians “not [to] listen to satellite television stations, whose main purpose is to fuel sedition and to drive a wedge among people”.

Army meeting

Earlier, the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces had met to discuss the ongoing protests against Mubarak’s government.

In a statement entitled ‘Communique Number One’, televised on state television, the army said it had convened the meeting response to the current political turmoil, and that it would continue to convene such meetings.

Thurday’s meeting was chaired by Mohamed Tantawi, the defence minister, rather than Mubarak, who, as president, would normally have headed the meeting.

“Based on the responsibility of the armed forces and its commitment to protect the people and its keenness to protect the nation… and in support of the legitimate demands of the people [the army] will continue meeting on a continuous basis to examine measures to be taken to protect the nation and its gains and the ambitions of the great Egyptian people,” the statement.

Tens of thousands poured into Tahrir Square after the army statement was televised. Thousands also gathered in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, our correspondent there said.

Earlier, Hassan al-Roweni, an Egyptian army commander, told protesters in the square that “everything you want will be realised”.

Hassam Badrawi, the secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), told the BBC and Channel 4 News earlier on that he expected Mubarak to hand over his powers to Omar Suleiman, the vice-president during his address.

“I think the right thing to do now is to take the action that would satisfy … protesters,” Badrawi told BBC television in a live interview.

Ahmed Shafiq, the country’s prime minister, also told the BBC that the president may step down on Thursday evening, and that the situation would be “clarified soon”. He told the Reuters news agency, however, that Mubarak remained in control, and that “everything is still in the hands of the president”.

However, Anas el-Fekky, Egypt’s information minister, denied all reports of Mubarak resigning from early in the day.

“The president is still in power and he is not stepping down,” el-Fekky told Reuters. “The president is not stepping down and everything you heard in the media is a rumour.”

Mubarak met with Suleiman, the vice-president, at the presidential palace ahead of his address.

Protesters expected resignation

Mahmoud Zaher, a retired general in the Egyptian army, told Al Jazeera earlier in the day that Mubarak’s absence from the army meeting was a “clear and strong indication that [Mubarak] is no longer present”, implying that the Egyptian president was not playing a role in governance any longer.

”]Protesters had earlier responded to statements from political leaders as indicating that they had been successful in their key demand of wanting Mubarak to step down.

Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has played a key role in helping protesters get organised, said on the microblogging site Twitter on Thursday evening: “Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians.”

Ahead of the speech, Jacky Rowland, our correspondent in Tahrir Square, described the atmosphere as “electric”, with “standing room only” in the central Cairo area. She said that thousands gathered there were “celebrating a victory which has been anticipated, rather than actually achieved”.

In Alexandria, Jamal ElShayyal, our correspondent, said the atmosphere turned “from joyous to now furious” as Mubarak completed his speech.

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February 10, 2011

EDITOR: The real alliance in the Middle East

It is clear for all to see the real Middle Eastern Alliance – US, Saudi Arabia, Mubarak and Israel, all actively supported by the PA! If this is what Obama meant by ‘change’ in his Cairo speech afgter his inauguration, it is really solid – support for undemocratic and dictatorial regimes everywhere. From supporting ‘change in 2010, Obama moved to supporting ‘stability’ in 2011. What a swift and impressive change… It seems that not only is the US and its ‘progressive’ president supporting dictatorial and undemocratic regimes, but also supporting theior torture machine… This is of course not new – the US has done so for over a century.

The Egyptian people will defeat this unholy alliance, even if it takes much longer to get rid of the dictator. After his ousting, he can obviously go to sit in Riad on his billions, unless brought to justice, as he should be.

‘Saudi king told Obama he’d fund Mubarak if U.S. halted Egypt aid’: Haaretz

Abdullah warned U.S. president that withdrawing $1.5 billion in annual aid would humiliate Mubarak, according to Britain’s The Times.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told U.S. President Barack Obama that his country would prop up Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak if the United States withdrew its aid program, The Times said on Thursday.

U.S. President Barack Obama shaking hands with Saudi King Abdullah at a bilateral meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 3, 2009. Photo by: AP

Abdullah told Obama not to humiliate Mubarak, who is under pressure from protesters to quit immediately, in a telephone call on January 29, the newspaper said, citing a senior source in Riyadh.

Obama’s administration has wavered between support for Egypt in Washington’s conflict with militant Islam and backing for Egyptians who have been protesting for weeks to demand Mubarak and his government quit.

The United States has long nurtured its alliance with key ally Egypt, giving billions of dollars in aid as it seeks to influence affairs in a region whose autocratic rulers are struggling to contain social discontent.

The United States has stopped short of endorsing calls for Mubarak, 82, to leave office immediately. He said last week he would step down in September when an election is due.

On January 28, the White House said the United States would review $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt. Officials later said no such review was planned currently.

Celebrities and artists show support for people’s revolution: Ahram online

The majority of celebrities and artists have shown solidarity with ordinary citizens in the 25 January revolution, while others want to wait until the next elections
Menna Taher and Wael Eskandar, Wednesday 9 Feb 2011
Protester on top of a pole in Tahrir square waving the Egyptian flag
Artists have been actively involved in the people’s revolution which began on 25 January, two weeks ago. The involvement of celebrities has had an impact on the revolution, as the revolution will have an impact on the future work of those celebrities.

A statement was issued by several artists, poets, intellectuals and writers ordering President Mubarak to step down immediately.

The statement affirmed that Mubarak is responsible for the problems that Egypt has faced for the past thirty years and for the stagnation of economic life in Egypt, which has made many suffer, especially those who rely on their daily income. He is also responsible for the massive bloodshed witnessed in the past weeks by the police and NDP thugs.

The statement received over 200 signatures, including the signatures of actors Khaled Abol Naga, Asser Yassin, who have been active in the protests, as well as filmmakers Mohamed Khan, Dawood Abdel Sayed, Ali Badrakhan, Yousry Nasrallah, Mohamed Diab and Kamla Abou Zikry.

Visual artists Mohamed Abla also signed on behalf of the artists of the Cairo atelier. Abla appeared on El Ashera Massan, the talk show hosted by Mona El Shazly and spoke about Ahmed Bassiouny the artist, who died during the violent protests on 28 January (the Friday of Anger).

Bassiouny, a visual artist and a martyr of the uprising, was hit by a police car and died of a rupture in his heart and left lung.

Abla commented on the current cultural scene and how it destroys the dreams of youth and criticised the ministry of culture by saying that money gushes like torrents in the ministry, yet it restrains art. “Ahmed dreamt that Egyptian art would be known on an international level,” he said.

Khaled Abol Naga was interviewed on BBC and called for President Mubarak to step down after having himself experienced police brutality with gunfire during the protests.

Amr Waked is outspoken about the desire for change using peaceful means. He has been present in Tahrir square calling for the president to step down.

Other celebrities present in Tahrir constantly are Ahmed Abdallah, Ahmed Maher, Basma, Yosra El Lozy and Asser Yassin, as well as Mohamed Diab the director of the award winning Egyptian film, 678.

The composer Ammar El Sherei has also taken part in the protests and defended them strongly when he went on El Ashera Masaan with Mona El Shazly, and criticised Safwat El Sherif. After joining in the protest on Friday, he had a stroke and is currently in hospital.

Another initiation was a Facebook post by the independent filmmaker Mohamed Al Assiouty suggesting civil disobedience by refraining from paying bills and taxes.

Some artists were brutally beaten by the police, have died or are still missing. Amr Salama was beaten on Tuesday 25 January and published a post on Facebook two days later relaying a detailed account of what happened to him.

Ziad Bakir, the artist and graphic designer of the Opera House, is missing since 28 January.

Some big budget actors and producers have shown their support for the regime, including Ghada Abdel Razek, Ahmad El Sakka and El Sobky. They were seen at Mostafa Mahmoud square in Mohandessin, chanting pro-Mubarak slogans on Tuesday night after the president’s speech when he declared he will not run for president in the September elections and would look into amendments in articles 76 and 77.

It is worth noting that actors Mona Zaki and Ahmed Helmy supported Mubarak after the speech but later changed their position after the violent events that took place the following day. They have been spotted in Tahrir square giving out food to protesters.

A group was set up on Facebook entitled ‘The Blacklist of 25 January’ which includes numerous celebrities that have opposed the 25 January pro-democratic protests.

The Middle East does not need stability: Haaretz

This so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies.
By Gideon Levy
When a tank enters a residential neighborhood, sows fear and destruction, and the local kids throw stones at it, what is this called? “Disturbing the peace.” And what do you call the detention of those stone-throwers, allowing the tank to continue on its way without any more trouble? “Restoring order.”

That is how we have shaped our disgustingly laundered language to serve our one and only narrative; how we would describe to ourselves the misleading reality in which we live. Meanwhile, tanks are no longer entering residential areas; order is somehow being maintained in the territories without them. The occupier oppresses, the occupied people overcome their instincts and their struggle, and good order is maintained – for now. Stability.

Egypt also suddenly dared to “disturb the peace.” Its people, who have had enough of the country’s corrupt government and the tyrannical silencing of their voices, have taken to the streets. Riots. The Western world, including Israel, has tensed in the face of this great danger – the stability in the Middle East is about to be undermined.

Indeed, that stability should be undermined. The stability in the region, something which Westerners and Israeli have come to yearn, merely means perpetuating the status quo. That situation might be good for Israel and the West, but it is very bad for the millions of people who have had to pay the price. Maintaining Mideast stability means perpetuating the intolerable situation by which some 2.5 million Palestinians exist without any rights under the heel of Israeli rule; and another few million Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 are living in camps in Arab countries, where they also lack any rights, hope, livelihood and dignity.

This so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies. In stable Saudi Arabia, the women are regarded as the lowest of the low; in stable Syria, any sign of opposition is repressed; in stable Jordan and Morocco, the apple of the eye of the West and Israel, people are frightened to utter a word of criticism against their kings, even in casual coffee-shop conversations.

The yearned-for stability in the Middle East includes millions of poor and ignorant people in Egypt, while the ruling families celebrate with their billions in capital. It includes regimes, the bulk of whose budgets are scandalously channeled to the military, endlessly and unnecessarily arming themselves to preserve the regime – at the expense of education, health care, development and welfare. The stability entails rule that passes from father to son (and not just in the region’s monarchies ) and false elections in which only representatives of the ruling parties are allowed to run.

It involves unnecessary, worthless wars, civil wars and wars between countries in which the people give their blood because of the whims and megalomanic urges of their rulers. It represses free thought, self-determination and the struggle for freedom. It consists of weakness, lack of growth and development, lack of opportunity for achievement and almost nonexistent benefits for the masses, whose situation is frightfully stable. In their poverty and oppression, they are stable.

A region rich in natural and human resources, which could have thrived at least as much as the Far East, has been standing stable for decades. After Africa, it is the most backward place in the world.

That is the stability we apparently want to preserve; the stability that the United States always wants to preserve; the stability that Europe wants to preserve. Any undermining of this stability is considered disturbing the peace – and that is bad according to our definition.

But let us remember that when Israel was established, this signified a huge disturbance to the region – one that greatly undermined its stability and posed the greatest danger; but it was a just disturbance, to us and to the West. Now the time has come to disturb the peace some more, to undermine the worthless stability in which the Middle East is living.

The peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process. The United States and Europe stuttered at first, but quickly came to their senses. They also finally realized that the region’s stability is not only unjust, it is misleading: It will be undermined in the end. When the tank invades our lives, stones must be thrown at it; the infuriating stability of the Middle East must be wiped out.

Workers to continue Egypt strikes: Al Jazeera online

Thousands of doctors are among those expected to join workers’ strike as anti-Mubarak demonstration enters its 17th day.

Egyptian labour unions held nationwide strikes for a second day, adding momentum to the pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.

The move comes as the demonstrations calling for President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate ouster enters its 17th day.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Cairo, said about 5,000 doctors and medical students were expected to come out on Thursday.

Lawyers, public transport workers and the artists syndicate were also among those who joined the strikes, Al Jazeera correspondents reported.

“It’s certainly increasing the pressure on the government here. I think it’s worth making the distinction that the strikes going on are more of an economic nature, they are not necessarily jumping on the bandwagon of the protesters in Tahrir Square,” Dekker said.

“Many of them are not actually calling for the president to step down, but fighting for better wages, for better working conditions.”

Our correspondents reported that around 20,000 factory workers had stayed away from work across Egypt on Wednesday.

“[Strikers] were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state,” Shirine Tadros, reported from Cairo.

Some workers were also calling for Mubarak to step down, she said.

Culture minister quits

Meanwhile, Gaber Asfour, the recently appointed culture minister, resigned from Mubarak’s cabinet on Wednesday for health reasons, a member of his family told Reuters.

But the website of Egypt’s main daily newspaper Al-Ahram said Asfour, a writer, was under pressure from literary colleagues over the post.

Asfour was sworn in following the start of the protests on January 31, and believed it would be a national unity government, al-Ahram said.

Determined protesters continue to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country’s helm since 1981, steps down.

Protesters with blankets gathered outside the parliament building in Cairo on Wednesday, with no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators had put up a sign that read: “Closed until the fall of the regime”.

There was also a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

Our correspondent said an internet campaign is currently on to mobilise expatriates to return and support the uprising.

Protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”, Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo. “This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

Meanwhile, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, were reportedly released over the past two days.

Our correspondent said that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest.

Human Rights Watch said the death toll has reached 302 since January 28. However, Egypt’s health ministry denied the figures, saying official statistics would be released shortly.

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February 2, 2011

BREAKING NEWS!!!

Clashes rage in Tahrir Square: Al Jazeera online

At least one dead and hundreds injured as pro-Mubarak supporters attack protesters seeking his ouster in central Cairo.

Clashes have broken out between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Protesters from both sides threw stones at each other in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of ongoing opposition demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak for the past nine days

The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and another 400 injured in Wednesday’s violence.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from the scene, said clashes were still raging and that petrol bombs were being hurled.

Earlier, witnesses said the military allowed thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters, armed with sticks and knives, to enter the square. Opposition groups said Mubarak had sent in thugs to suppress anti-government protests.

One of our correspondents said the army seemed to be standing by and facilitating the clashes. Latest reports suggest that the centre of the square is still in control of the protesters, despite the pro-Mubarak supporters gaining ground.

‘Absolute mayhem’

Witnesses also said that pro-Mubarak supporters were dragging away protesters they had managed to grab and handing them over to security forces.

Salma Eltarzi, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera there were hundreds of wounded people.

“There are no ambulances in sight, and all we are using is Dettol,” she said. “We are all so scared.”

Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square.

She described a scene of “absolute mayhem”, as protesters first began to flood into the clinic.

“People are coming in with multiple wounds. All kinds of contusions. We had one guy who needed stitches in two places on his face. Some have broken bones.”

Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera correspondent said men on horseback and camels had ploughed into the crowds, as army personnel stood by.

At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming down their faces.

One of them was dragged away unconscious, with large blood stains on the ground at the site of the clash.

The worst of the fighting was just outside the world famous Egyptian Museum, which was targeted by looters last week.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent added that several a group of pro-government protesters took over army vehicles. They also took control of a nearby building and used the rooftop to throw concrete blocks, stones, and other objects.

Soldiers surrounding the square took cover from flying stones, and the windows of at least one army truck were broken. Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.

Many of the pro-Mubarak supporters raised slogans like “Thirty Years of Stability, Nine Days of Anarchy”.

Al Jazeera’s online producer in Cairo said rocks were continously being thrown from both sides. He said that though the army had put up barricades around the square, they let the pro-Mubarak supporters through.

“The people on horses are pro-Mubarak supporters, they are a very angry crowd looking for anyone working for Al Jazeera and for Americans. They are trying to get on the other side of the army tanks to get to the anti-Mubarak supporters. More and more pro-Mubarak supporters are coming in.”

Violence

Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, said that security guards have also been seen amongst the pro-Mubarak supporters, and it may be a precursor to the feared riot police arriving on the scene.

Dutton added that a journalist with the Al-Arabiya channel was stabbed during the clashes.

Fighting took place around army tanks deployed around the square, with stones bouncing off the armoured vehicles.

Several groups were involved in fist fights, and some were using clubs.  The opposition also said many among the pro-Mubarak crowd were policemen in plain clothes.

“But we will not leave … Everybody stay put”

Khalil, anti-government protester

“Members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square,” three opposition groups said in a statement.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, accused Mubarak of resorting to scare tactics. Opposition groups have reportedly also seized police identification cards amongst the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

“I’m extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts,” ElBaradei said.

“My fear is that it will turn into a bloodbath,” he added, calling the pro-Mubarak supporters a “bunch of thugs”.

But according to state television, the minister of interior denied that plain clothes police had joined pro-Mubarak demonstrations.

Elbaradei has also urged the army to intervene.

“I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives,” he told Al Jazeera, adding he said it should intervene “today” and not remain neutral.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, told Al Jazeera that the clashes look to be orchestrated.

“It is not the first time the Mubarak government has provoked clashes to quell protests, but if it truly is orchestrated, this is a cynical and bloody approach,” she said.

“The army look to be not intervening at all, and the question remains as to whether they have been ordered not to step in.”

The army has told state television that citizens should arrest those who have stolen military clothing, and to hand them over.

Determined protesters

Despite the clashes, anti-government protesters seeking Mubarak’s immediate resignation said they would not give up until Mubarak steps down.

Pro-Mubarak supporters came riding on camels and horses [Al Jazeera/online producer]
Khalil, in his 60s and holding a stick, blamed Mubarak supporters and undercover security for the clashes.

“But we will not leave,” he told Reuters. “Everybody stay put.”

Mohammed el-Belgaty, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera the “peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square have been turned into chaos”.

“The speech delivered by President Mubarak was very provocative as he used very sentimental words.

“Since morning, hundreds of these paid thugs started to demonstrate pretending to be supporting the President. Now they came to charge inside Tahrir Square armed with batons, sticks and some knives.

“Mubarak is asking the people to choose between him or chaos.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s clashes, supporters of the president staged a number of rallies around Cairo, saying Mubarak represented stability amid growing insecurity, and calling those who want his departure “traitors.”

“Yes to Mubarak, to protect stability,” read one banner in a crowd of 500 gathered near state television headquarters, about 1km from Tahrir Square.

A witness said organisers were paying people $17, to take part in the pro-Mubarak rally, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Other pro-Mubarak demonstrations occurred in the Mohandeseen district, as well as near Ramses Square.

EDITOR: The Dictator totters at last!

Now the that the US president has abandoned his pet, it seems the Egyptian tyrant is loosing some of his venom, but non of his self-deceit. While he now ‘agrees to to stand again’ in September, it is clear that this malignant politician will have to leave now, rather than to torment the Egyptians for another period of madness.

Last night, in a mad scramble to stick to his seat, he even sent a rent-a-crowd to chant “we want Mubarak” at Tahrir Square, as if this was going to fool anyone… He is definitely on his way out now.

Hosni Mubarak vows to stand down at next election – but not now: The Guardian

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement that he will serve out remaining term immediately rejected by angry crowds

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak said: ‘I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Egypt’s embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, last night bowed to the pressure of millions of people massing on the streets, pledging to step down at the next election and pave the way for a new leader of the Arab world’s largest country.

But Barack Obama, who effectively withdrew US support for the leader of its key Arab ally in a day of fast moving developments, gave an equivocal welcome to the speech by saying that “change must begin now” while praising the “passion and dignity” of the demonstrators in the streets as an inspiration.

Mubarak said he would not be a candidate for a seventh term but would remain in power to oversee reform and guarantee stability – a position that was immediately rejected by angry crowds and promised yet more drama in Egypt’s extraordinary crisis.

“In the few months remaining in my current term I will work towards ensuring a peaceful transition of power,” Mubarak said. “I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history” – a clear reference to the fate of Tunisia’s president who fled into exile last month.

Looking grave as he spoke on state TV in front of the presidential seal, Mubarak attacked those responsible for protests that had been “manipulated by political forces”, caused mayhem and chaos and endangered the “stability of the nation”.

In a defiant, finger-wagging performance the 82-year-old said he was always going to quit in September – ” a position he had never made public until now.

Opposition leaders had already warned throughout a dramatic eighth day of mass protests that only Mubarak’s immediate departure would satisfy them.

The Egyptian leader made his announcement after meeting a White House special envoy who conveyed the message that Washington had in effect withdrawn US support for the man who had been the linchpin of its Middle East strategy.

The White House declined to reveal details of the message conveyed by the envoy, Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Cairo who is close to Mubarak other than to say he urged him not to seek re-election. But after the Egyptian leader’s speech, Obama spoke to Mubarak for 30 minutes and then made a statement at the White House in which he praised the protesters and called for the transition of power to begin immediately.

But the US president did not explicitly call for Mubarak to resign immediately, leaving open the possibility of Washington accepting the Egyptian leader overseeing the transition in the face of unprecedented protests and an insistence by opposition leaders that they would not negotiate while Mubarak remains in power.

“What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” said Obama.

“Furthermore the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair.”

But in Washington and Cairo there were questions over the Obama administration’s position with some Americanpoliticians, such as John Kerry, chairman of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee, saying Mubarak must resign immediately.

Certainly many Egyptians want that. “May it be tonight, oh God,” chanted the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as they waited to hear the historic speech.

Mubarak’s statement came at the end of a day that saw epic protests. Millions of people rallied across the country.

“Illegitimate,” chanted the vast crowds choking Tahrir Square. “He [Mubarak] will leave, we will not leave,” went another slogan, in a festive atmosphere that belied the tense stalemate that has emerged between the people and the regime over an extraordinary 48 hours.

With the army standing by its landmark pledge not to use force against demonstrators, Mubarak faced an intense and co-ordinated US campaign to persuade him and the powerful Egyptian military to effect “an orderly transition”.

But as troops barricaded the presidential palace with barbed wire, Egypt’s fractured opposition rallied together to reject any talks with the ruling National Democratic party on political reform, insisting the president must stand down before any dialogue can get under way.

On Monday, Mubarak ordered his new vice-president and intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to begin a dialogue with opposition groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. “Omar Suleiman approached us, and we have rejected his approaches,” Essam el-Arian, a Brotherhood spokesman, told the Guardian. “As long as Mubarak delays his departure, these protests will remain and they will only get bigger.”

Mohammed ElBaradei, 68, the former UN nuclear weapons inspector who has been nominated to lead any negotiations, met protesters and the US ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, insisting afterwards that no talks were possible while the president remained in power.

“I hope to see Egypt peaceful and that’s going to require as a first step the departure of President Mubarak,” he told al-Arabiya TV. “If President Mubarak leaves then everything else will progress correctly.”Mass protests were reported across Egypt, including in Alexandria, Suez and many other cities.

Underlining the regional impact of the crisis, the Jordanian prime minister was sacked after weeks of protests over price rises and unemployment and inspired by events in Tunisia and now Egypt.

The Foreign Office said in a statement last night: “We have been clear in public, and with President Mubarak and his government in private, about the need for a transition to a broader-based government that will produce real, visible and comprehensive change.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said a charter flight would be sent to Cairo to bring Britons back but they would have to pay £300 for the service.

Hiding behind the tanks, by Carlos Latuff

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January 30, 2011

EDITOR: Egypt’s revolution affecting all around

Despite the still unclear results of the Egyptian mass movement towards ridding the country of its dictator and his corrupt regime, the momentous events sent waves of terror towards Israel and the other corrupt Arab regimes surrounding it.  With Rafah being the single, fragile gateway into and out of Gaza, this is a difficult time for Palestinians there, who, like most of us, are wishing success to the marchers in Egyptian cities, who share with them the need and urge for freedom and democracy.

Concern mounts in Gaza as Egypt shuts down its shared border: Haaretz

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad says Egyptian counterparts indicated the crossing could remain closed for several days.

There was widespread concern in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Egypt decided to shut down the Rafah border crossing until further notice amid growing unrest.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it was officially informed by Egyptian security officials that the Rafah crossing would be closed.

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad said they had been in contact with their Egyptian counterparts and indicated that the crossing could remain closed for several days.

The Interior Ministry in Gaza said in a press statement Saturday that it had redeployed dozens of security personnel to guard the border, to prevent any infiltration of Palestinians from the coastal enclave into Egypt.

Salah al-Bardaweel, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said there was so far no official Hamas position on the turmoil in Egypt.

“All what we hope is to see calm and stability are back in Egypt and that the Egyptian people choose their representatives freely and democratically,” said al-Bardaweel.

In a Gaza city cafe, a group of young men expressed concerns over the situation in Egypt. Mohamed al-Shawa said, “We depend on Egypt in so many things in our life, and Egypt has been always our gate for the outside world … we are afraid that Egyptian fuel would be cut off.”

Ahmed Abu Sido, another young Gazan, said: “If the regime in Egypt collapses, I believe that all Arab regimes will follow.”

‘Don’t take our girls …’: Al Jazeera online

Jewish-Palestinian couples in Israel face increasing pressure as racism becomes more open.

”]Not long after religious nationalists held a rally in Bat Yam under the banner of “Jewish girls for the Jewish people,” a group of rabbis’ wives published a letter urging Jewish women not to date Arab men.

Jewish-Palestinian couples remain uncommon in Israel. But both the rally and letter point towards the difficulties faced by such couples, even those from liberal backgrounds.

Rona, a young professional Jewish woman in her early thirties who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, has kept her relationship with a Palestinian man a secret from most of her relatives for almost four years.

While her parents know and have met Rona’s boyfriend, Rona says that she is at a point where she is “actively lying” to the rest of her family.

“I don’t know how to articulate how they’d react, “Rona says. “I think that my aunt and uncle know that there is someone … and they definitely know that he’s Arab. But it’s more about my grandmother and her sisters and the older generation. It’s like if [I] were to bring home a mass murderer.”

She laughs nervously and continues.

“It just doesn’t happen. It’s like: ‘Bring home somebody who is a total loser, but don’t bring home an Arab.'”

Rona describes her parents’ political views as “moving more left but kind of traditional,” adding, “my mum always says that she thinks that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 was a mistake and that [Israel] should have returned the territories.”

Still, Rona did not tell her parents about her relationship right away.

“There was a period of time I was hiding it for convenience’s sake. I just wanted to enjoy my life and not be harassed.”

When she did talk to her parents about her boyfriend, who is a non-practicing Muslim, they sidestepped the issue of his race, focusing instead on “cultural differences”.

“I was like, ‘What are you saying? That he’s going to come home one day and want me to put on a hijab? Do you know what the cultural differences are?'” Rona recalls. “So I took immediate offense to this concept. I thought it was racist from the get go.”

Her parents also objected to the relationship because “it would be so difficult for us to live here together,” Rona says, due to the widespread discrimination they would face.

She describes the first time her parents met her boyfriend as “awkward”.

“I think it was actually their first personal interaction with an Arab, other than [those working in] stores and restaurants. I think it was a very emotional encounter for them. They liked him and my mum said he seemed like an amazing guy.”

Still, Rona’s mother insisted that she not put herself “in that kind of a situation”.

Rona says that she has not felt any racism coming from her boyfriend’s family. But, because of the political situation, there are moments when she feels a divide between them.

She was living with her boyfriend when Operation Cast Lead began in December, 2008. Her boyfriend’s mother, whose sister lives in the Gaza Strip, happened to be visiting when the war began.

“We were watching the news and they were showing the first strikes, the air attack,” Rona recalls. “His mum was screaming and crying and cursing the army and the Israelis and the Jews and everyone and I was standing there like ‘I don’t know what to do.’ On the one hand, I wanted to show her that I care. On the other, does she now want an Israeli Jew to put her arm around her? But I did.”

History of mixed marriages

Although Israel’s religious nationalists have only recently spoken against such relationships, they are far from new. Jews and Arabs have been falling in love in Palestine for as long as both have been there.
Iris Agmon, a professor in Ben Gurion University’s department of Middle East studies, says: “In the Ottoman sharia court records one can find women whose nicknames hint to the fact that they are converted Muslims.” And some of these women were probably Jewish.

After Ottoman rule ended, the British mandate also saw such couples. Deborah Bernstein, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of sociology and anthropology, says that although there is no “systematic documentation or even discussion of the subject … it is clear that such a phenomena did exist”. She found family stories of these couples while researching her Hebrew-language book about women in mandatory Tel Aviv.

Bernstein also discovered “archival welfare documents,” pointing to such relationships. “For example, [one referred to] a [Jewish] woman leaving her husband and children and going to live with an Arab man.”

In most cases, Bernstein says, Jewish women converted to Islam before marrying their Arab partner. She believes that a majority of these couples left Israel when it was established in 1948.

Bernstein did not come across any examples of Jewish men marrying Christian Arab or Muslim Arab women.

Bernstein adds that the Jewish community was “very strongly opposed” to “mixed marriages”.

“This was the case in [Jewish immigrants’] countries of origin,” Bernstein says, explaining that the opposition to mixed marriages took on an “additional national element” in Israel.

But, sometimes, protests against such relationships ran the other way – leaving a lasting impact on generations to come.

The Palestinian grandson of such a marriage lives in a neighbouring Arab country. According to Jewish religious law, he is not Jewish. While, technically, many of his cousins are Jewish, they do not know it – their grandmother’s conversion is a strictly-guarded secret, shared with only a few members of the family.

Segregation

Because it remains an extremely sensitive issue for both communities, a number of Jewish-Palestinian couples declined my requests for interviews. Several are so concerned about family reactions, they have not told their parents about their Jewish or Arab partner.

But Alex and Salma are lucky. Alex is the son of Jewish Israeli leftists. Salma is a young Palestinian woman whose Communist parents raised her and her four sisters with only a nod to their Christian roots. Because their families are so progressive, Alex says, their relationship is “relatively simple”.

“The first song I learned to sing was shir l’shalom [song for peace]. We’ve gone to demonstrations since I was a toddler. So I was always on the left,” he explains, “but I never knew any Palestinians.”

Alex’s comment points to the deep divisions in Israeli society that make Jewish-Palestinian relationships so unlikely.

“[Society] is built in a way that doesn’t help relationships,” Salma says. “Everything is segregated. The educational systems are separated … People don’t meet. And if they do meet, they meet under unusual circumstances, like at a demonstration.”

Even though both Alex and Salma grew up in liberal homes, the two were no exception – it was activism that brought them together.

And it helps keep them together. Most of their friends hold similar political views, providing a buffer from the rest of Israeli society.

“You know, we sort of chose our lives,” Salma says. “I can’t be friends with racist people so it’s easy to avoid. But I think if we would have gone out to more parties we would have faced more problems.”

Still, things are only “relatively simple”.

Alex recalls running into a friend from school who made a racist and obscene remark about his relationship with Salma. And one of Salma’s closest childhood friends stopped speaking to her when she joined a Jewish-Arab group that advocates for a bi-national solution to the conflict.

“I think it comes out more than that,” Alex adds.

Salma nods and begins to explain: “I have one sister who got married last summer. She knows Alex and his family very well, so she wanted to invite [them] …”

She pauses and, a bit like an old married couple, Alex picks up the thread and continues: “And the oldest sister says, ‘What are you going to invite all of your Zionist friends?'”

There is a flicker of hurt on Alex’s face as he remembers. “Now, this comes out of nowhere. I refused [mandatory military service],” Alex says. “I’m definitely not a Zionist. I refused and my parents aren’t Zionists.”

Alex emphasises that he maintains a warm relationship with Salma’s oldest sister and that her remark came during an emotional argument. But, Alex says, the incident pointed to something that “can’t be completely erased … that the relationship can’t be normalised. It always has to be politically justified.”

What do such tensions say about Israeli society?

“Nothing good,” Alex answers.

The couple is also concerned about the recent outbreak of open racism in Israel.

“I think the hatred is becoming more and more explicit,” Salma says, pointing to the rally in Bat Yam and the rabbis’ wives’ letter as two examples. “It’s ‘don’t take our girls’ ….”

Israeli Arab who spied for Hezbollah jailed for nine years: Haaretz

Ameer Makhoul was detained by the Shin Bet and police anti-terror units last May; struck plea bargain with prosecution.

Ameer Makhoul at court

The Haifa District Court on Sunday sentenced Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant organization.

Makhoul’s lawyers struck a plea bargain with the prosecution in October 2010, in which they asked for a reduced sentence of seven years, while the prosecution asked for 10 years – the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

The verdict stated that Makhoul handed intelligence to a Hezbollah agent on Shin Bet installations in the Haifa region and on Mossad offices in the center of the country. He also attempted, the verdict said, to pass on information about a military base and sought details about the residence of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.

Makhoul, director general of the charity Ittijah (Union of Arab Community-Based Associations), was detained by the Shin Bet security services and police anti-terror units on May 6, along with fellow Israeli Arab activist Omar Saeed.

Saeed struck a plea bargain in August, under which he will be charged with working for an illegal organization, a crime that carries a punishment of several months’ jail-time.

Upon his arrest, Makhoul was kept from meeting with a lawyer or speaking with his family for nearly two weeks, during which he confessed to the accusations. His lawyers later claimed the confession was coerced. They were finally allowed access to Makhoul only after threatening to boycott a hearing.

Makhoul, a veteran activist well-known among Arab charities and NGOs, was a regular participant in conferences on discrimination in Israel and abroad and has been a virulent critic of government policy.

Europe’s failure on Middle East peace: The Guardian CiF

Attempts to reconcile policy contradictions have prevented the EU from mounting an alternative foreign policy to that of the US

Many have questioned why the European Union failed to provide an independent view to that of the United States on Middle East policy during the last decade. It is not a simple question to answer. Partly, the EU failed to assert its voice because, at the beginning of the decade, it was scrambling to contain the impact of inflating US hubris, fuelled by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Partly, it was also a simple reflection of most European politicians’ dependency on Washington. But the release of the Palestine Papers provides another answer.

They show how Tony Blair in particular had so undercut the political space that there was effectively no room for it. In a secret policy switch in 2003, he tied the UK and EU security policy into a major American counter-insurgency (Coin) “surge” in Palestine.

It was an initiative that would bear a heavy political cost for the EU in 2006, and for years to come, when Hamas won parliamentary elections by a large majority. The EU’s claims for democracy have rung hollow ever since. Blair’s “surge” also left the EU exposed as hypocrites: on a political level, for example, the EU might talk about its policy of fostering reconciliation between Palestinian factions, but at the security plane, and in other ways, it was pursuing the polar opposite objectives.

In 2003, US efforts to marginalise Yasser Arafat by leeching away his presidential powers into the embrace of the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, collapsed. Arafat dismissed Abbas as PM. This was a blow to the US policy which – even then – was focused on creating a “de-Fatah-ised” Palestinian Authority. George Bush complained to Blair bitterly about Abbas’s dismissal: the Europeans still were “dancing around Arafat” – leaving the US to “do the heavy lifting” with the Israelis. Europeans were not pulling their weight in the “war on terror”, Bush concluded.

Blair’s Coin surge was his response to Bush. The Palestine Papers reveal “a security drive” with the objective of

“degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists: Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and the al-Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships’ communications and command and control capabilities, the detention of key middle-ranking officers, and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources held within the occupied territories. US and – informally – UK monitors would report both to Israel and to the Quartet. We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures.”
The papers also show how the project ballooned: a huge investment in training and infrastructure of the security services, building prisons to accommodate the possible introduction of internment for Hamas members, the establishment of the Dayton military battalions to confront Hamas, the planning to depose Hamas in Gaza, the targeted assassination of Hamas leaders. Even the international Quartet was engaged to work with Arab states’ intelligence services in order to disrupt Hamas’s sources of financing.

The “surge” sucked in everything: aid, economic assistance, institution-building – all were reoriented towards the counter-insurgency project. Ultimately, the Palestinian state-building project, and the Coin surge, were to become one.

Against this counter-insurgency background it is not surprising that Hamas’s victory in the 2006 polls only prompted a further increase in European “off-balance sheet” assistance to the EU/US-made security sector. At a political level the Europeans were attempting to keep an independent voice, the Palestine Papers show, when EU envoy Marc Otte spoke with Saeb Erekat two months after the Hamas election.

Otte: EU has to deal with the reality of a Hamas-led government … In this respect, EU position is different from the US.
Erekat: How is this position different?
Otte: US wants to see a Hamas government fail. The EU will encourage Hamas to change and will try to make things work as much as possible.
Inevitably, the EU’s actions spoke louder than Otte’s words. The EU had endorsed the Quartet conditions for engagement with Hamas – conditions that the UN representative at the time told the UN secretary general were hurdles raised precisely in order to prevent Hamas from meeting them, rather than as guidelines intended to open the path for diplomatic solutions. Soon after, British and American intelligence services were preparing a “soft” coup to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.

EU standing in the region has suffered from the contradiction of maintaining one line in public, while its security policies were facing in another direction entirely. Thus, we have the EU “talking the talk” of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas while “walking the walk” of disruption, detention, seizing finances, and destroying the capabilities of one of the two factions.

Thus we have EU “talking the talk” of aid for Palestinians, while “walking the walk” of tying that aid to the objectives of the US security project; we have the EU “talking the talk” of Palestinian state-building, while Palestinian institutions are dispersed to external control; we have the EU “talking the talk” of democracy, while it colludes with a system of government exercised through unaccountable decree, and parliament is prevented from exercising any function.

This catalogue of attempts to reconcile an internal policy contradiction has pre-empted the EU from mounting any effective foreign policy alternative to that of the US on the “peace process”, and has eaten away its standing in the region. The legacy of Blair’s 2003 surge has been a highly costly one, as the Palestine Papers well illustrate.

• This article appeared first on al-Jazeera. Copyright reserved.

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January 28, 2011

Gaza protests accuse Palestinian Authority of betrayal in talks with Israel: The Guardian

Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair calls for Palestinians to ignore row over leaked papers and ‘get on with making peace’

Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters in Gaza have staged a demonstration against the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority dominated by Fatah. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Gaza venting their anger at Palestinian negotiators for offering big concessions in peace talks. Meanwhile, Tony Blair accused those behind this week’s leak of documents of wanting to inflict serious damage on the peace process.

About 3,000 joined a rally organised by Hamas in support of anti-government protests in Egypt. But speeches and the shouts of the crowd focused on the leaked Palestinian papers and fierce criticism of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Thousands of pages of Palestinian documents covering more than a decade of negotiations with Israel and the US were obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared exclusively with the Guardian.

The papers revealed that Palestinian negotiators were willing to go much further in offering concessions than their people realised.

In Gaza City the crowd of mostly young men chanted slogans against Fatah, the party that dominates the authority and is Hamas’s bitter rival. “The concept of Palestine is not for sale,” they shouted, before vowing loyalty to Hamas and promising never to relinquish Palestine’s claims to its land and holy sites.

Mahmoud Saleen, 21, said: “We are here to deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority that they must come back to Palestinian ideas and reject the policies of American and Israel.

“We are against the political arrests in Ramallah and against the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Yusef Salam, 20, said the leaders of the authority “are not from our own blood, they belong to the enemy more than they do to us. We hope there will be a revolution in the West Bank to relieve the Palestinian people from the people in power now.”

Blair, the envoy of the Middle East peace quartet, said the release of the confidential documents prepared by Palestinian negotiators had been “destabilising”. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he urged the Palestinians to ignore the damage and press ahead with the drive for peace.

Asked how much damage the leaks had caused, Blair told Today: “I think it’s hard to tell right now, but its intention was to be extremely damaging.”

“I think we’ve just got to be big enough and strong enough to say, OK, whatever al-Jazeera are putting out, we’re going to get on with making peace.”

Palestinians preventing Middle East peace deal, says Israeli deputy PM

Moshe Ya'alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP

: The Guardian

Moshe Ya’alon says Israel is ‘fed up of giving and giving’ while Palestinians refuse to recognise Jewish nation state

Moshe Ya’alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP
An agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not happen in the next “one or two years”, Israel’s deputy prime minister said today, blaming the Palestinians for the lack of progress.

“We’re fed up with giving and giving and giving, and not getting any real substance [in return],” said Moshe Ya’alon, the minister of strategic affairs, after this week’s leak of secret documents on the peace talks. He dismissed the extensive concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, revealed in the documents, saying they were insignificant compared to the “core of the conflict – our right to exist”.

The Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” was preventing a peace settlement, he said. The issue was the most important at stake in negotiations. “We are not ready to discuss territory without recognition of the Jewish state … We’re not ready to start with issues in which we give [ground] and do not get anything.”

Ya’alon, a member of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a former military chief of staff, said that without recognition, the Israelis could not “solve the conflict, we have to manage it”.

The issue of refugees was central to the question of recognition, said Ya’alon. Palestinians saw the occupation as beginning in 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel, he said, rather than in 1967, and wrongly believed they could return to Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Acre. “Our position is not even one refugee is going to be settled in Israel. If you open the door, you open the door.”

Managing the conflict meant working with the Palestinian leadership on economic reform and security. Ya’alon urged Palestinian political leaders to re-educate a new generation in a “culture of peace, coexistence and reconciliation”.

Further disclosures about negotiations between the two sides are expected this weekend with the serialisation of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. In the last year of his premiership, Olmert offered a deal to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, covering borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

According to a preview in today’s Yedioth, Olmert says in his memoirs: “Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallised and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day. For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders

“Abu Mazen said that he could not decide and that he needed time. I told him that he was making an historic mistake. ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving [the conflict].'”

The deal was never signed. The Palestinians later claimed that an agreement struck with a lame duck Israeli prime minister would have been worthless.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, today named an American and a Briton in connection with the leak of the documents. He said the Palestinian Authority wanted to question Clayton Swisher, a former state department official and now a reporter for al-Jazeera, and Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer. An unnamed French national was also being sought, he said.

Palestinian killed after settlers open fire in West Bank village: Haaretz

Incident comes only a day after police confirmed Palestinian reports saying that a Palestinian youth was shot to death by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

One Palestinians youth was killed and another wounded early Friday after settlers reportedly opened fire at a village north of the West Bank city of Hebron, only a day after a Palestinian youth was shot and killed by an unidentified Israeli citizen near Nablus.

According to preliminary Palestinian reports, the incident occurred after dozens of settlers from the settlement of Bat Ayin descended on the village of Khirbet Safa in the early morning hours and confronted some of the locals.

The confrontations reportedly resulted in the setters opening fire at the crowd, leaving one Palestinian lightly wounded and another in critical condition. The two were evacuated to a hospital in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, where one of them, a 17-year-old succumbed to his wounds.

The settlers, however, claimed that a group traveling nearby was fired upon, adding that others came to their rescue. Preliminary reports said it took police and Israel Defense Forces units over half an hour to arrive at the area.

Commenting on the fatal incident, Kiryat Arba’s council chief Malachi Levinger reiterated claims that the settlers were attacked while hiking in the area, and emphasized what he called as the “right of Jews to travel their country.”

“We call upon the IDF and the police to aid the defense of this right and to seek the guilty parties within the rioters not within the travelers who acted in self defense,” Levinger added.

On Thursday, police confirmed Palestinians reports claiming that a Palestinian who was shot to death near Nablus earlier in the day was shot by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

Palestinian eyewitnesses said that 18-year-old Fadi Kaddous was shot to death by a settler after clashes broke out between the shooter and a group of rock-throwing Palestinians.

A nearby security camera apparently captured grainy images of the shooting and confirmed that the shooter had Israeli features.

The camera footage showed the group of Palestinians attacking a man with rocks. The man responded by firing a gun in the air, which failed to deter his attackers. The man fired again, this time in the direction of the Palestinians. The video supposedly shows the bullet entering and exiting the shoulder-chest region of one of the attackers; it is being further studied by ballistics experts.

Police also investigated the group of three Palestinian villagers who reported the incident. The group had at first said that armed settlers attacked them but further on in the investigation changed their testimony. The police are currently searching for the unidentified shooter. Click here to continue reading “January 28, 2011″ »

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January 26, 2011

EDITOR: Palestine Papers continue to sting both Israel and the PA, as well as the US and UK

Today we learn that bot MI6 and the CIA have worked tirelessly to get rid of the Hamas movement for a decade, assisting Israel and the PA in their various attempts to thwart Hamas as the leading force in Palestinian politics. What the result of their effort was we all remember well – the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections six years ago, and the strt of the longest ever blockade of over a million and a half people, mostly refugees, in what has become the largest open air concentration camp on earth.

Palestinians will be pleased to learn that their ‘leaders’ in Ramallah were discussing the extra judiicial murder of a number of Palestinian activists, some who have indeed been murdered eventually. What emerges from those meetings is the great intimacy between the sides, as well as the deep contempt in which the very leadership of the PA is held by Israel and the US; on the one hand, they make use of them, on the other, they really despise them. Not an atypical colonial scenario, and one Franz Fanon wrote well about over fifty years ago.

Then it gets even better – the South American option of resettling the refugees is now blown open, shocking people in those countries as well as the refugees themselves. This will run and run.

The besieged leadership in Ramallah, has in the meantime flipped a number of times, in the time-honoured fashion so beloved of the Israeli leadership… it seems that by working closely together for many years, some of the Israeli methods have rubbed off, and adopted by the Palestinian democrats… First, like the IDF always does in such cases, they called the papers a ‘pack of lies’ and dubbed Al Jazeera as “Zionist’, then today comes the admission that the papers are indeed genuine, and the PA is looking for the culprit who leaked them… The problem for them is not that Al Jazeera are zionist, but that they themselves emerge from this round of the revelations as ardent Zionists…

It is clear that we will soon learn of arrest and trioal of Palestinian ‘traitors’ who leaked the papers, in the tradition beloved of Middle Eastern regimes. Israel has done the same in the case of Anat Kamm, for example. Whoever tells the truth will pay dearly, no doubt. However, should not the corrupt leaders in Ramallah be worried about the wind blowing East from Tunis, already affecting Egypt? The hot Khamsin is almost due, coming normally around March, and blowing for fifty days, supposedly, hence its name. This time, the Khamsin has come early, and the corrupt leaders might do better than trying top continue lying, torturing and silencing their populations. Maybe they are better looking for a nice place in Saudi Arabia?

Well, this Khamsin might even blow that far.

Palestine Papers Part 3

Palestinian negotiator rejects claims of back door deals with Israel: The Guardian

PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says leaked documents show how passionately Palestinians want peace

• Saeb Erekat: Papers are a distraction from the real issue

Saeb Erekat says the leaked papers show how far Palestinians are willing to go to reach a settlement. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has described the leak of confidential memos documenting a decade of Middle East peace talks as a “slander campaign” and insisted that no single concession will be agreed without a comprehensive agreement with Israel, whose colonisation of Palestinian land is the “only constant”.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Erekat rebuffs accusations that he has been involved in “backdoor dealings” with Israel, but fails to repeat his previous claim that the documents – obtained by Al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian – are “a pack of lies”.

He says the lesson that should be drawn from the documents is that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

“What should be taken from these documents is that Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection on the other end,” he writes. “Conventional wisdom, supported by the press, has allowed Israel to promote the idea that it has always lacked a partner. If it has not been before, it should now be painfully obvious that the very opposite is true. It is Palestinians who have lacked, and who continue to lack, a serious partner for peace.”

He underlines that any solution agreed in negotiations must pass a Palestinian national referendum – though the documents reveal him admitting that it will not be possible to hold a vote outside the West Bank and Gaza, which would leave millions of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon unable to take part.

Evidence from the papers shows Palestinian negotiators agreed privately in 2008 to let Israel annex all but one of the settlements built illegally in East Jerusalem and accepted the return of a symbolic number of 10,000 refugees to Israel. “Nothing would be agreed,” Erekat writes, “until everything is agreed”.

The papers also show the PLO working closely with Israeli security forces to target Hamas and other militants.

Publication of the Palestine papers has generated angry reactions from Palestinians, especially the PLO’s Islamist rival Hamas, which advocates armed resistance and will only negotiate with Israel on a long-term ceasefire.

The latest revelations show Tony Blair, envoy for the Quartet, was perceived by PA officials to have a pro-Israel stance and to advocate “an apartheid-like approach to dealing with the occupied West Bank”. A spokesman for Blair said today: “There has been real change on the ground as a result of Tony Blair’s efforts. The economy is now flourishing in the West Bank with double digit growth and falling unemployment. Palestinians are now able to move in the West Bank in ways impossible when Tony Blair started pushing for changes in the access and movement regime.”

Other papers describe how the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, tried to persuade a Palestinian businessman to contribute millions of dollars to a radio station for the Iranian opposition after the country’s presidential elections in 2009.

Abbas’s move was cited by Erekat in a meeting with the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell as evidence of the PA’s support for US goals in the region, especially its attempts to counter the influence of Iran, which finances Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

PA stonewalled the Goldstone vote: Al Jazeera online

PA, with US encouragement, delayed a UN vote on the Goldstone Report into war crimes committed during Israel’s Gaza war.

”]

The Palestine Papers reveal the conversations between US and PA officials in the days before the vote [EPA]
On October 2, 2009, the UN Human Rights Council was widely expected to pass a resolution supporting the Goldstone Report, the UN’s probe of war crimes committed during Israel’s war in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

The Council instead agreed to delay a vote on the report until March 2010, following major reservations expressed by the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Israel.

A UNHRC endorsement of the report would have brought Israeli officials one step closer to prosecution before a war crimes tribunal, an event many Palestinians were anxious to see.

But, as The Palestine Papers reveal, the Palestinian Authority apparently sacrificed a potential victory for Palestinian victims in exchange for favorable assurances on negotiations from the United States and, they hoped, from Israel.

Quid pro quo

The Goldstone Report, formally known as the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, was released in mid-September 2009 amid calls for a review of Israel’s wartime practices. The probe was led by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge; it identified war crimes committed overwhelmingly by Israeli forces, but also by Hamas, during Israel’s war on Gaza.

Both the United States and Israel were outspoken in their criticism of the report, claiming that any UN endorsement would endanger the peace process and future Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has already admitted that the PA asked for the postponement; he said at the time it was to secure more international support before the vote.

“Since we felt we would not be able to gather enough support we asked for the postponement,” Abbas said in October 2009. “We wanted to reach mechanisms that would ensure the implementation of the decision and punish the perpetrators of crimes against our people.”

What The Palestine Papers demonstrate is that, in the weeks preceding the vote, the United States apparently urged the PA to stall the report as a means of restarting negotiations with Israel.

At a September 24, 2009 meeting between Saeb Erekat, George Mitchell and David Hale, the latter informed Erekat that “Our intention is to move quickly to relaunch negotiations. We are wrapping up an agreement on a package with Israel, and including other parties.”

Erekat resisted, saying “I simply cannot afford to go into a process that is bound to fail. I am trying to defend my existence and way of life.” Mitchell informs Erekat that President Barack Obama’s “attitude was consistent: we need to proceed to negotiations; delay will not be beneficial to anyone.”

During the same meeting, the U.S. also stressed to the PA that it was actively engaged in supporting the PA through other means. Mitchell informs Erekat, “I’ve devoted half my time over the last several months to things like getting you support (for example with Kuwait), not just financial. We will stay the course on this.”

At end of the meeting, Mitchell invites Erekat to Washington, D.C., on the day before the UNHRC was due to vote on the Goldstone report. “Regarding coming to DC next week…you should come next Friday,” Mitchell said. Erekat resisted, countering, “That does not give us enough time to go back and consult…”

The Palestine Papers further divulge that during the exact time of the crucial UNHRC vote, Erekat was in Washington, D.C. seeking more guarantees from the United States.

During a meeting at the U.S. State Department with Mitchell and Hale, on October 1, 2009, Mitchell reiterated to Erekat not only the U.S.’s commitment to a new round of talks, but also U.S. willingness to take a more active role on behalf of the Palestinians.

Mitchell said the U.S. would “explicitly repeat its position on Jerusalem (non-recognition of Israeli annexation and related actions; demolitions, evictions etc.) In such a situation, with negotiations going on, if [Israel] make a provocative announcement, the US has the leverage to state that this undermines the process, and that Israel is acting in bad faith in the negotiations.”

Erekat further bared not only the PA’s reliance on the United States, but the PA’s desperation to get back to the negotiation table. Erekat informs Mitchell that “peace through negotiations is a strategic choice… Our whole future depends on it, and we are counting on the US to help us… Another failure will be devastating.”

The following day, on October 2, 2009- while President Abbas was in New York pushing to postpone the vote on Goldstone – Erekat again met with Senator Mitchell. This time, Erekat appeared to use the expected international backlash to the vote deferral as a bargaining chip in proving their commitment to peace talks.

“I did not come here to complain, but to try to help move forward,” Erekat told Mitchell. “Many people strongly objected to [Abu Mazen] going to NYC and me coming to Washington.”

Mitchell continued building a case to Erekat and the PA on why all parties should move quickly to negotiations. “For 60 years, the choices open to the Palestinian people have become less and less attractive,” Mitchell said. “The circumstance under which they live worse and worse…..Believe me it is the best time.”

Erekat, meanwhile, only seemed to further push Palestinian priorities behind those of even Israel. “We find ourselves in the eye of the storm,” Erekat lamented to Mitchell. “We pray every day that Israel will come to the point where they realize that a Palestinian state on the [1967] border is in their interest…That’s why we are frustrated. We want to help the Israelis.”

At the very same meeting, Senator Mitchell presented Erekat with a document containing language that, if agreed to, would nullify one of the PA’s few weapons – the chance to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes in Gaza at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The U.S. language stated:

“The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere.”

Erekat, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority accepted the language and simultaneously agreed to call for a deferral of the UNHRC vote. Unsurprisingly, this decision was met by outrage, as Palestinians and Arab nations condemned the PA leadership for kowtowing yet again to American and Israeli pressure.

Israel leaked the PA’s support for the resolution deferral on the day before the UNHRC vote was to take place. Erekat, undoubtedly caught off-guard, was outspoken in his complaints weeks later to the U.S. on what he perceived as unfair Israeli tactics. In a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones on October 21, 2009, Erekat revealed:

“Then came Goldstone and all hell broke loose. You know the first public response to the Goldstone thing came from Lieberman, who said Abu Mazen agreed to postpone the vote because the Israelis threatened to release the “tapes” showing him coordinating the attack on Gaza with Israel. Then there was the report that he did it for Wataniya, which they said is owned by his two sons.”

Jones, however, was quick to assure Erekat that the PA’s efforts would not go unnoticed. “And thank you for what you did a couple weeks ago,” Jones told Erekat. “It was very courageous.”

That same day, Erekat also met with Mitchell, and wasted no time in asking for the U.S. to deliver on its previous promises.

Erekat: When can you give me something, a document or a package, so I can take it to [Abu Mazen], so we can study it in good faith?

Mitchell: Much of what I read is not controversial…

For the United States, and unfortunately for the PA, it was simply business as usual.

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January 23, 2011

EDITOR: Two years to the end of the Gaza Carnage

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

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

Bil’in 21.1.2011- Free Jonathan Pollak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants you? You look like a monkey. Mikhal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I returned the ticket. And you? Anee

Maybe they will let her perform in Gaza. Raymond

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

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

Fuck you who wants you here anyway? Sharon

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

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

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

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

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January 21, 2011

EDITOR: The western hypocrisy

The whole world seems to know and care about ONE Israeli soldier caught by Hamas in Gaza few years ago. None of those humanists actually knows or cares at all about the many Palestinian political prisoners – more than 10,000 of them – who are languishing in Israeli jails for many years. One Israeli Jew is obviously more important than ten thousand Palestinians.

Palestinian protesters block France FM from entering Gaza: Haaretz

Demonstrators say infuriated over comments by Michele Alliot-Marie in support of Gilad Shalit; member of Alliot-Marie’s entourage hit in the head.

Hamas security officer trying to clear the way for French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's convoy to enter the Gaza Strip, January 21, 2011. Photo by: Reuters

A crowd of furious Palestinian protesters have tried to block the French foreign minister on her way into the Gaza Strip, jumping on her vehicle and lying on the road.

Dozens of protesters surrounded Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie’s convoy and tried to block her passage through the Erez Crossing from Israel on Friday. The protesters were relatives of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.

They were angry about comments made by Alliot-Marie on Thursday in support of Gilad Shalit, an the Israel Defense Forces soldier held by Hamas militants in Gaza since 2006.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said her comments reflected a total bias toward Israel.

Hamas police eventually dispersed the protesters and allowed her through.

A member of Alliot-Marie’s entourage was hit in the head and later examined at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

On Friday afternoon, Alliot-Marie visited the southern town of Sderot.

On Thursday, Alliot-Marie met Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s parents, in Jerusalem, where she said that Shalit had “been held hostage for over four years. His complete isolation and preventing any sign of life from him is completely inhumane. We demand his immediate release.”

Shalit is a French citizen, and France “is using all its ties in the region to advance his release,” she said.

France’s role in freeing Shalit is secondary because Israel and Hamas chose the German mediator to negotiate the soldier’s release following to his success in dealing with Hezbollah, she said.

Due to the issue’s sensitivity, Alliot-Marie chose not to comment on the talks and the reports about a new deal being negotiated.

Angry protests greet French foreign minister in Gaza: The Guardian

Palestinians pelt Michèle Alliot-Marie’s car with eggs and shoes after she meets family of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit

Protesters attempt to stop the French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie’s car as she arrives in Gaza. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
Palestinian protesters mobbed the car of the French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, as she arrived in Gaza today.

Dozens of people attempted to block Alliot-Marie’s convoy and hurled eggs and shoes at her jeep. The protesters banged on the vehicle and yelled at the minister to leave Gaza, Reuters reported.

The protesters, relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, were furious over comments attributed to the minister a day earlier when she met the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier being held captive by the Islamist group Hamas.

After the meeting Israeli radio quoted Alliot-Marie as saying the continued detention of Gilad Shalit, seized by Palestinian fighters in 2006, was a “war crime”.

A spokeswoman in her entourage told Reuters: “The minister was misquoted by Israeli media over Shalit’s issue.” French reporters travelling with Alliot-Marie said the term “war crime” was actually used by Noam Shalit – Gilad Shalit’s father – and not by the minister.

In her first visit to the region since being appointed foreign minister last year, Alliot-Marie was greeted with hostility by the dozens of demonstrators brandishing photographs of their imprisoned sons and husbands.

Gazans said they were angry that Alliot-Marie had made no mention of the several thousand Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. “Get out of Gaza!” read one banner. “There is one Gilad Shalit but also 7,000 Palestinian prisoners,” said another.

Germany has tried for months to broker a deal to secure Shalit’s release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners but the sides are deadlocked over several high-profile inmates.

It has been a torrid week for Alliot-Marie. On Monday the Guardian reported that she had outraged liberals and human rights activists by proposing last week to send French security forces to Tunis to shore up the unpopular regime. Three days later the Tunisian dictator fled to Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday she was summoned to explain her remarks to the foreign affairs commission of the national assembly, the lower house of parliament, where she said her offer had been “misrepresented” and had been aimed at helping the Tunisian people, not propping up repression. She was “scandalised” that her comments had been distorted.

Alliot-Marie made a short speech to reporters on Friday saying France remained committed to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “France cares for Gaza. France will not abandon Gaza,” she told Reuters. “I stress to you France’s determination to achieve a dual goal: establishing a Palestinian state and guaranteeing the security of Israel.”

EDITOR: Ban Ki-moon discovers the settlements

As one of Israel’s strongest backers, it is interesting that Ban Ki-moon has just now discovered that settlements are illegal... he used all his powers for years to shield Israel from the implications of its many illegal acts.

UN chief: Settlements are illegal, hamper peace efforts: Haaretz

Palestinians have right to an independent state, Israel has right to live in peace within secure borders, and way must be found for Jerusalem to be capital of two states, Ban Ki-moon tells UN committee.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon slammed Israel’s refusal to halt West Bank settlement building, saying that this refusal seriously hampered peace talks with the Palestinians, AFP reported on Friday.

“Settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, contravene the Road Map obligations of Israel, undermine confidence, prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations and hamper efforts at bringing the parties back to the negotiating table,” he told a UN committee dealing with Palestinian issues on Friday.

Earlier in the week, Arab nations submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but a vote on it is not expected any time soon because of a likely U.S. veto.

The secretary-general also called for a halt to “irresponsible rhetoric” that questions a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution and incites hatred and violence.

Palestinians have the right to an independent state, Israel has a right to live in peace within secure borders, and a way must be found for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of the two states, Ban said.

Diplomats say that the point of the draft resolution condemning settlement building is to highlight Washington’s isolated position on the Security Council, show the Palestinian population that the Palestinian Authority is taking action, and to pressure Israel and the United States on the settlement issue.

Council diplomats said privately that the 15-nation panel was unlikely to take any action on the draft resolution in the near future – if at all – because of the likely veto.

It has nearly 120 co-sponsors, exclusively Arab and other non-aligned nations. UN diplomats said that the draft would probably receive 14 votes in favor and the one veto if put to an immediate vote.

The draft says that “Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to revive direct peace talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas collapsed last year after Israel failed to extend a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction.

Israel has repeatedly called for a resumption of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel first agrees to halt settlement work.

Obama must call Israeli settlements illegal: The Guardian

US support for a UN resolution on the settlements would remind Netanyahu that there are consequences for breaking the law

“To veto or not to veto?” That is the agonising question that has President Barack Obama pacing the battlements of the White House waiting to dodge the slings and arrows of outraged Aipac. Provoked by the latest demolition in East Jerusalem, no fewer than 120 countries have sponsored a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. Hillary Clinton has also condemned it as “illegitimate”, but the resolution introduces precision by terming the settlements as “illegal”.

In a country where “all politics is local”, and in the face of the economic crisis, Obama could almost be forgiven for dropping the ball in the Middle East game. But his response to the current resolution could well determine whether there is any wind left in the sails of the peace flotilla he launched with his speeches in Egypt and Turkey directed at the Muslim world.

Every other member of the UN security council agrees that settlements are illegal, including Britain and France. The international court of justice has affirmed their illegality. The US once called them illegal, then termed them unhelpful, and currently regards them as “unhelpful” and “illegitimate”. Under the road map of 2003, Israel agreed to stop them, but it has ignored the rest of the world and its best friend, the US, and continued to build. Even President Bill Clinton officially reduced the amount of US loan guarantees by the sum spent on settlements.

In the face of Binyamin Netanyahu’s defiance, so far the US response, engineered by Dennis Ross – who seems to have frozen out the official peace negotiator, George Mitchell – has been to attempt to bribe Israel with billions of dollars, free jet fighters and a free “get out of the security council” card in the form of a veto. The handsome offer was for a temporary moratorium.

Washington’s line is to ignore UN decisions and international law and say that it is up to the parties to negotiate such “permanent-status issues”. The state department itself is clearer on the issues. After years of congressional votes, it still balks at moving the US embassy to Jerusalem (which hosts not a single foreign embassy) because, regardless of eventual negotiations, Israel does not have internationally recognised title to the city.

It is as if you have caught someone stealing your car and the police decide to overlook technical issues like the law and ownership and instead tell you to negotiate with the thief to get occasional access to the back seat.

In this week’s security council debate on the resolution, deputy US ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo used theological nicety to explain Washington’s difficulty in supporting a resolution that, on the face of it, reflects US official policy. “We believe that continued settlement expansion is corrosive – not only to peace efforts and the two-state solution – but to Israel’s future itself. The fate of existing settlements is an issue that must be dealt with by the parties, along with the other permanent-status issues – but, like every US administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”

However, she added: “Permanent-status issues can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties – and not by recourse to the security council. We therefore consistently oppose attempts to take these issues to this council and will continue to do so.”

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, is usually tactfully absent during such debates, keeping her credibility by allowing deputies to intone the weaselly formulas that disguise the stark truth. Annexation and settlement building are illegal.

Of course, Obama has other problems, such as the economy and healthcare, and on the Middle East must face not only a rabidly pro-Israeli Republican party but also a majority of his own party that would sign up to a resolution declaring the moon to be made of blue cheese if the Israeli lobby demanded it.

Nonetheless, his credibility as president is at stake here. The Republicans do control the House of Representatives, and indeed the chair of the foreign affairs committee is now Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who outflanks the Israeli government on the right. (She has been trying to de-fund UNRWA, the UN’s agency that provides basic services in the occupied territories, even though the Israeli government, which would have to pay if the UN didn’t, opposes her.) But Congress cannot control the US delegation to the UN.

It is surely time for Obama “to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them”. This week, a letter landed on the White House doormat from a phalanx of foreign policy and government professionals urging him to support the resolution. He should take their advice.

The public exasperation implied by support for the security council resolution sends a signal to Netanyahu that there are indeed consequences for ignoring the advice of your best friend, let alone breaking the law. It might make the Israeli prime minister more amenable, and it would certainly send a signal to the Israeli electorate that Netanyahu had terminally alienated the White House.

It would not alienate the American electorate, not even American Jews. Those who support Netanyahu tend to be those who think the president is a foreign-born crypto-Muslim anyway. It would bring cheer to the J-Street movement, whose peacenik views more closely reflect those of most American Jews than Likud does.

And it would do more than any other single act to demonstrate respect for international law and restore the credibility of American diplomacy.

Indeed, Obama could follow up and demand the IRS check on the tax deductibility of American “charities” and foundations that bankroll settlement building, including Irving Moskowitz, who recycles the proceeds of inner-city gambling in the US to buy and demolish property in East Jerusalem, such as the Shepherd Hotel, with the conscious aim of frustrating the declared policy of every US government since 1967. Some of the money, however, he sends as donations to politicians like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

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