Gaza Digest Archive 09

Gaza Digest 114, 7/3/09

News Clips: Israeli forces forcibly evicted two extended Palestinian families from their houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem early in the morning on Sunday, and the move was immediately condemned by the U.N. and the U.K., as settlers moved quickly into the vacated homes; Thousands of Israelis turned out in Tel Aviv on Sunday to protest an attack on the previous day in which a masked gunman opened fire inside a gay and lesbian youth center, killing two people and wounding 15; Israeli Police on Sunday recommended that the state prosecution indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, witness harassment and obstruction of justice; Recent revelations about foreign government funding for local NGOs involved in political activity (such as Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, B'Tselem and Machsom Watch) have triggered discussions by senior Israeli officials about the possibility of making such aid illegal, The Jerusalem Post has learned; Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshal says the Islamic militant group is ready to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, according to an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday; Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza at the beginning of the year was a "proportional response" to attacks by the Islamist group, the Foreign Ministry said in a defense brief on Operation Cast Lead released Thursday intended to pre-empt two U.N. reports due within the next week.

1. Really clear article from the Electronic Intifada about the growing strength of the BDS movement by Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and Sid Shniad, a co-chair of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.

“United for Freedom & Universal Justice,” Omar Barghouti and Sid Shniad, The Electronic Intifada, 7/31/09

For several decades, the world has watched in frustration as the crisis in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories deepened. Confused by the details of what is alleged to be a highly complicated situation and loathe to be attacked for criticizing Israel lest they be vilified as anti-Semites, people who would otherwise be expected to play an active role in striving for an end to Israel's occupation, colonization and system of discrimination, in accordance with international law have chosen to focus their attention elsewhere.

In recent years, however, this state of affairs has begun to change dramatically as a growing number of activists and intellectuals -- including members of the Jewish communities in the West, who could once be counted upon by Israel to be either unquestioning supporters or silent in their acquiescence to its actions -- have begun to find their voice on this matter.

The fact that Israel's decades-old oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine defies the fundamental notions of justice and respect of the rule of law has informed this gradual transformation of people of conscience advocating social justice everywhere. The most recent scenes of Israeli jets and heavy armor mounting savage attacks on defenseless civilian populations first in Lebanon in 2006, and then in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 -- compounded a growing perception among international civil society of Israel as a pariah state that is flouting international law and basic human rights with utter impunity.

There is a growing understanding of the fundamental issues that drive the crisis: the occupation of Palestinian land by Zionist Jews claiming a right to do so by virtue of an alleged historical-Biblical entitlement; the expulsion of masses of Palestinians from their homeland -- first by Zionist militias and, later, the state of Israel -- at the time of Israel's establishment; the legalized and institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the ongoing military occupation and colonization of Palestinian and other Arab lands conquered in 1967.

As a result, a long-overdue determination has arisen in the ranks of civil society around the world, a determination to take concrete steps to generate tactics and strategies to bring a satisfactory resolution to this ongoing crisis by addressing its root causes. One of the most important manifestations of this new determination is the rise of an international movement endorsing the nonviolent, morally-consistent, universalist strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel to compel it to comply with international law and human rights principles. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa was one of the key inspirations behind this fast spreading movement.

As expected, the prevailing Zionist response to this development has been a vitriolic denunciation of the individuals and organizations involved and a sustained attempt to bully them into silence. This usually involves an ascription of anti-Semitism as the motive for such action. In April of this year, however, when Independent Jewish Voices Canada joined the growing number of organizations endorsing BDS to promote a just peace based on international law, the Zionist establishment chose to ignore the development -- presumably because the fact that it was Jews endorsing the strategy strongly challenged the false notion of a monolithic Jewish voice in support of Zionism and Israel. From the Zionists' perspective, engaging IJV on the subject would focus increased attention on the underlying substantive issues and neutralize their most powerful tools: brow beating and intimidation.

2. From the Alternative Information Center—U.N. and international aid agencies, worried about the new school year about to start in Gaza, decry and call for the immediate lifting of the blockade.

“U.N. and International Aid Agencies Fear Gaza Educational System Unprepared for New School Year, Call for Immediate Opening of Borders,” The Alternative Information Center, 7/30/09

Excerpt: The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, representing UN aid agencies in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), represented by at least 25 NGOs, today demand full and unfettered access into and out of Gaza in particular to restore the Gazan educational system.

During the 23 days of Israel's operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza, 18 schools were completely destroyed and at least 280 were damaged. Today, one month before the start of the new school year, more than six months after the ceasefires, none of these schools have been properly rebuilt or rehabilitated due to lack of construction materials. Since the imposition of the blockade, students have faced chronic shortages of educational supplies including textbooks, paper and uniforms, though we acknowledge the recent moves to allow textbooks, uniforms, and stationary into Gaza. These are welcome first steps.  However, the quantities, kinds and predictability of goods being permitted into Gaza are still far below what is required for normal life.  Even prior to “Cast Lead” the education system was already under severe duress due to the two year blockade that has caused a crisis of “human dignity” in Gaza.

The right to learn and be educated is a fundamental child right that is uniquely central to every child's ability to realize his or her potential - and by extension, that of their communities and countries. In the context of protracted conflict and occupation, safe schools also offer an unparalleled means of restoring a sense of normalcy and hope for children and their families. Despite the extraordinary odds stacked against them, going to school and becoming educated remains the single most cherished priority among Palestinian children. The continuing blockade on Gaza jeopardizes this fundamental child right, along with the remarkable progress in education that has been achieved thus far.

“The blockade has caused untold suffering to children in Gaza, who face another academic year in terrible conditions”, said Philippe Lazzarini, acting Humanitarian Coordinator of oPt.

Together with the communities we serve, the United Nations and non-governmental humanitarian organizations working in oPt collectively call for immediate steps to end the blockade, as is required by international humanitarian and human rights law. We call on the Government of Israel to urgently facilitate entry of construction materials and supplies for schools in the coming weeks, and to ensure that students, teachers and trainers can freely exit and enter Gaza to continue learning.

3. An article from IRIN (the U.N. Humanitarian News and Information Agency) about children swimming in raw sewage on the shores of Gaza.

“Gaza: Swimming in Sewage,” IRIN News Agency, 8/2/09

Excerpt: Less than 50m from a black, barrel-sized pipe pouring raw sewage directly into the sea, children are playing in the waves.

The pipe runs from one of three main sewage pumping stations in Gaza, with multiple outlets into the sea. The water authority in the Gaza Strip has been unable to import the parts necessary for the maintenance and repairs at water and sewage pumping stations since Israel imposed its two-year long blockade of the territory, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza.

“We know there is sewage in the water, but the borders are closed and we can't travel,” said Mariam Al-Halu, who brought her two sons to swim. With scorching temperatures and intermittent electricity, many Gazans seek refuge from the heat in the polluted waters, residents say.

According to a July 2009 report (not available online) on the quality of Gaza's seawater by the World Health Organization (WHO), seawater samples collected monthly from April to June by the public health laboratory in Gaza were polluted with faecal bacteria, specifically coliforms and streptococcus .

4. Three-minute clip from Ayman Moyheldin of Al-Jazeera of a recent mass wedding of 450 couples in Gaza. Great visuals and interesting analysis.

“Hamas Organizes Mass Wedding in Gaza,” Ayman Mohyeldin, Al-Jazeera, 8/2/09



Gaza Digest 113, 7/30/09

News Clips: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen a project for the construction of some 900 apartments in East Jerusalem, Channel 10 television reported late Wednesday; In reaction to a recent report by Breaking the Silence, containing testimonies of Israeli soldiers, discussing possible Israeli military violations of international law during the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, it was reported that Israeli government officials have been pressuring their Dutch and British counterparts to cut off their funding to the organization; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones in Jerusalem Wednesday evening, for a private meeting on Israeli-Palestinian peace process, during which Netanyahu told Jones that Israel would not fully open the Gaza border crossings until captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was released; A statement released jointly by five “left-leaning, pro-Israel organizations” Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Meretz USA and J Street says that "issues of borders and sovereignty related to Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations in the context of a regional, comprehensive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict" and "unilateral actions that inflame tensions, impair negotiations and make the ultimate resolution of issues surrounding Jerusalem more difficult are unhelpful and should be avoided at this particularly sensitive moment."

1. This article from Haaretz posits that the “glamour” of the Gaza assault has resulted in an uptick in the number of young recruits requesting placement in combat units.

“IDF: More recruits request combat service since Gaza war,” Anshil Pfeffer, Haaretz, 7/29/09

Since the beginning of 2009, the Israel Defense Forces have seen a sharp increase in the number of recruits interested in joining combat units, IDF data shows. The IDF attributes this trend to the massive media exposure the combat units received during Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter.

The data, however, also shows a slight decline in the popularity of the less "glamorous" field units.

Infantry units continue to draw most high school students eligible for combat service, as 45 percent of potential recruits said they wanted to serve in one of the infantry brigades.

In total, 71.5 percent of new recruits specified they wanted to join a field unit, representing a 4 percent increase over figures recorded in 2008.

The Golani Brigade retains its place as the most sought after among the infantry units, with an average of 4.8 recruits asking to serve in the brigade for every available space. Givati ranks second among the infantry brigades, with 4 recruits for each available slot, followed by the Nahal Brigade with 2.5 recruits per slot.

2. Reuters reports that Israel will allow some cement into Gaza.

“As US wades in, Israel to let Gaza get some cement,” Dan Williams, Reuters, 7/29/09

Excerpt: Israel will allow some cement into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction, officials said on Wednesday, signalling flexibility on a blockade as Washington intensified efforts to broker peacemaking with the Palestinians.

After Hamas Islamists seized Gaza in 2007, Israel curbed imports that it said could be used to make arms or bunkers. The lack of cement and steel has been especially felt since Israel's December-January offensive, which devastated the coastal strip.

Though the West shuns Hamas, Gaza's deepening privation and isolation have hindered the U.S.-led campaign to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is locked in a power-struggle with the Islamists.

The announcement that cement would be admitted for three Gazan projects coincided with a visit to Israel by U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones. He follows closely on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior U.S. envoy George Mitchell.

After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Mitchell said he saw "good progress". Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are trying to bridge a rift over Jewish settlements on West Bank land Palestinians want for a state.

One Israeli official said that Defence Minister Ehud Barak gave his approval in principle to the cement imports before this week's influx of American officials, but added: "Shall I say the timing of this publication isn't good? Of course it's good."

3. Short blog post by Phil Weiss on Mondoweiss gives the translation for a Hebrew poster that Peace Now has put up around Jerusalem in commemoration of the holiday of Tisha B'av. Weiss says the translation of the poster comes from Ynet.

“Settlements have turned us into ‘the loathsome scum among nations,' prophetic Peace Now poster cries,” Philip Weiss on July 29, 2009

Excerpt: "For this I mourn," the poster continues," for the settlements that were built in the heart of Palestinian territory and that keep peace and quiet from our land. For the settlements that were built, with or without permit, and that turn us into the loathsome scum among the nations.

"For the outposts that were built by deception and by turning blind eyes. For Jerusalem, the joy of the land, that has been turned into a city of strife and quarrel. For the continued investment and construction in the settlements, that will ultimately lead to one state for two people – and thus put an end to the Zionist enterprise."

4. Ma'an News Agency reports on the demolition order given for electric pylons built in the West Bank after Tony Blair assured Palestinian government officials that they would be permitted. NOT.

“Blair gives construction go ahead; Israel issues demolition orders,” Ma'an News Agency, 7/29/09

Israeli forces delivered demolition orders for electricity pylons under construction in the village of At-Tuwani, located in the South Hebron hills on Tuesday.

Four months earlier Quartet Envoy Tony Blair promised villagers that he had oral permission from the Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO) for a “go-ahead” with the project. On 25 May, just two months after Blair's visit, Israeli forces ordered a “halt work” on the structures, according to the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) observing Israeli action in the area. The move usually precedes demolition orders.

CPT said Head of the At-Tuwani Village Council Saber Hreini wrote to Blair on 26 May, requesting written permission for the electricity work to continue.

The group said Hreini received no response from the Quartet representative.

A spokesman for Blair said that the Office of the Quartet Representative is still “working at all levels” to secure the Israeli permits needed for the electrical project.

Gaza Digest 112, 7/29/09

News Clips: Far-right activists distributed fliers to fresh draftees at the Israel Defense Forces induction center in Tel Hashomer on Tuesday urging them not to confide in their commanders and to refrain from cooperating with investigators if they physically abuse Palestinians in the territories; Israeli settler groups have set up 11 new outposts in the occupied West Bank, in a direct rebuttal of mounting US calls to freeze settlement activity; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the top U.S. Mideast envoy said they made progress Tuesday on their dispute over West Bank settlements, but offered no sign of a breakthrough at a meeting in Jerusalem; Hundreds of extremist Israeli right-wingers marched in Jerusalem on Tuesday at night while chanting slogans against the US president, Barrack Obama, and US Middle East Envoy, George Mitchell, for their Middle East policies.

1. This long and detailed article from ZMag by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe (who now teaches in the U.K.) covers the early days of the Zionist movement, the creation of the state of Israel, which he says grew increasingly militarized until it became “an army with a state,” and ends with suggestions for how to demilitarize Israel both ideologically and literally. He makes a cogent argument for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) towards the end of the piece.

Disarm Israel: A Utopia or a Vision for Peace, Ilan Pappe, ZSpace, 7/28/09

Excerpt: This qualitative change in public opinion and mood is visible in other Western countries; needless to say that in the vast world this has the been the case for  years now. Similar mood prevailed at the hey day of Apartheid in South Africa. The reality there, then, and the reality in Palestine,  now, prods decent people, either as individuals or as members of organizations, to voice their outrage against the continued oppression, colonization, ethnic cleansing and starvation in Palestine. They are looking for ways of showing their protest and some even hope to convince their governments to change their old policy of indifference and inaction in the face of the continued destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians. Many among them are Jews, as these atrocities are done in their name according to the logic of the Zionist ideology, and quite a few among them are veterans of previous civil struggles in this country for similar causes all over the world. They are not confined any more to one political party and they come from all walks of life.

So far the British government, and the other Western governments, are not moved. They was also passive when the anti-apartheid movement in Britain demanded of its government  to impose sanctions on South Africa. It took several decades for that activism from below to reach the political top. It takes longer in the case of Palestine: guilt about the Holocaust, distorted historical narratives and contemporary misrepresentation of Israel as a democracy seeking peace and the Palestinians as eternal Islamic terrorists blocked the flow of the popular impulse. But it is beginning to find its way and presence, despite the continued accusation of any such demand as being anti-Semitic and the demonization of Islam and Arabs. The third sector, that important link between civilians and government agencies, has shown us the way. One trade union after the other, one professional group after the other, have all sent recently a clear message: enough is enough. It is done in the name of decency, human morality and basic civil commitment not to remain idle in the face of atrocities of the kind Israel has and still is committing against the Palestinian people.

The validity of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions option is a first step in triggering a process of disarming Israel from its lethal ideology and its practical and real arms.  Boycotts and outside pressure have never been attempted in the case of Israel, a state that wishes to be included in the civilised democratic world. Israel has indeed enjoyed such a status since its creation in 1948 and, therefore, succeeded in fending off the many United Nations' resolutions that condemned its policies and, moreover, managed to obtain a preferential status in the European Union. Israeli academia's elevated position in the global scholarly community epitomises this western support for Israel as the ‘only democracy' in the Middle East. Shielded by this particular support for academia, and other cultural media, the Israeli army and security services can go on, and will go on, demolishing houses, expelling families, abusing citizens and killing, almost every day, children and women without being accountable regionally and globally for their crimes.

Military and financial support to Israel is significant in enabling the Jewish state to pursue the policies it does. Any possible measure of decreasing such aid is most welcome in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East. But the cultural image in Israel feeds the political decision in the west to support unconditionally the Israeli destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians. The message that will be directed specifically against those who represent offiiccally the Israeli culture (spearhead by the state's academic institutes which have been particularly culpable in sustaining the oppression since 1948 and the occupation since 1967), can be a start for a successful campaign for disarming the state from its ideological constraints(as similar acts at the time had activated the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa).

2.  A piece by Jonathan Cook from The Electronic Intifada covers the controversy surrounding a recent Israeli Education Department edict that Palestinian children in Israel, who are in segregated schools, must learn the Israeli national anthem.

“Palestinians in Israel forced to study Zionist anthem,” Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 7/28/09

Excerpt: A leading Arab educator in Israel has denounced the decision of Gideon Saar, the education minister, to require schools to study the Israeli national anthem.

Officials announced last week that they were sending out special "national anthem kits" to 8,000 schools, including those in the separate Arab education system, in time for the start of the new academic year in September.

The kits have been designed to be suitable for all age groups and for use across the curriculum, from civics and history classes to music and literature lessons.

The anthem, known as Hatikva, or The Hope, has long been unpopular with Israel's Palestinian minority because its lyrics refer only to a Jewish historical connection to the land.

Saar's initiative is widely seen among Israel's 1.3 million Palestinian citizens as a further indication of the rising nationalistic tide sweeping policymakers.

Last week the ministry also announced that textbooks recently issued to Arab schoolchildren would have expunged the word "nakba," or catastrophe, to describe the Palestinians' dispossession at Israel's founding in 1948.

Hala Espanioly, who chairs the education committee of the Arab minority's supreme political body, the Higher Follow-Up Committee, told the Israeli news website Ynet: "If there is an attempt to force the Hatikva anthem on Arab schools and Arab pupils, it will be akin to a kind of attempted rape of their identity."

The issue of the national anthem, based on a 120-year-old poem by Naftali Hertz Imber and an ancient folk melody, has been a running sore between Israel's Jewish and Arab populations for decades.

Arab citizens are unhappy with its heavily Zionist lyrics, which speak of how the "soul of a Jew yearns" to return to Zion, as well as referring to "The hope of two thousand years, To be a free nation in our land."

In 2005 some legislators were outraged when an Israeli parliamentary committee considered, among possible constitution changes, revising the anthem's lyrics from "the soul of a Jew'" to "the soul of an Israeli." The change was not approved.

3. Rather depressing piece from The Electronic Intifada about abuses of human rights by Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“Fatah, Hamas rule increasingly authoritarian,” Mel Frykberg, The Electronic Intifada, 7/28/09

Excerpt: What remains of Palestinian civil rights is rapidly being eroded by the dictatorial Palestinian governments that respectively control the divided Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian civilians are paying the price as the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Fatah-affiliated and western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, continue to target their political opponents as part of their bitter power struggle.

"We don't have a police state here in Palestine. We have two police states. One in Gaza and one in the West Bank," says Rabie Latifah from the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq.

"The abuse of Palestinian civilians by both Fatah and Hamas security forces has become systematic and is no longer the exception to the rule," Latifah told IPS.

Mysterious bomb blasts, assassinations by masked gunmen, detainees denied access to their lawyers, torture and death in detention, the random arrest of critical journalists, and the banning of peaceful demonstrations are but a few of the human rights violations sweeping the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

While armed men are being arrested, politically motivated arrest campaigns are also targeting citizens suspected of merely sympathizing with the opposition.

"We have endured over 40 years of occupation and human rights abuses by the Israelis, and now we are doing it to ourselves," says Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

Gaza Digest 111, 7/28/09

News Clips: A delegation of eight US congressmen and women entered the Gaza Strip on Monday morning through the Erez crossing point between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip; U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday he was still working on a deal with Israel to halt West Bank settlement activity so peace talks can resume; At least seven Palestinians were killed overnight when fuel exploded in a smuggling tunnel beneath the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials in Gaza said on Monday;

1. As a counter-point to yesterday's upbeat piece by Bronner and Kershner from the New York Times, the International Crisis Group published a study about the settlements that paints a much grimmer picture.

“Israel's Religious Right and the Question of Settlements: Middle East Report N°89,” International Crisis Group, 7/20/09

Excerpt: The effort to settle in the occupied territories once was led by secular Zionists. No more. Today, the settlement issue is being quickly transformed by the shifting dynamics of the religious right. Tens of thousands of national-religious Jews populate the settlements; they enjoy political, logistical and other forms of support from hundreds of thousands inside Israel proper. In addition, an equal if not larger number of ultra-orthodox who initially shared little of the national-religious outlook, gradually have been gravitating toward their view; many among them are now settlers. Together, the national-religious and ultra-orthodox carry weight far in excess of their numbers. They occupy key positions in the military, the government and the education and legal sectors, as well as various layers of the bureaucracy. They help shape decision-making and provide a support base for religious militants, thereby strengthening the struggle against future territorial withdrawals from both within and without state institutions.
The religious right believes it has time on its side. Its two principal camps – the national-religious and ultra-orthodox – boast the country's highest birth rates. They have doubled their population in West Bank settlements in a decade. They are rising up military ranks. Their political parties traditionally play important roles within ruling government coalitions. Many – in the leadership and among the grassroots – are preparing the ground for the next battle over settlements and territorial withdrawal, animated by a deeply rooted conviction in the rightness of their cause. Treating every confrontation – however insignificant the apparent stake – as a test of wills, religious militants have responded to the demolition of plyboard huts with revenge strikes on Palestinians, stoning their cars, burning their crops, cutting their trees and occasionally opening fire. Mainstream religious leaders for the most part appear powerless to condemn, let alone tamp down the violence.

2. Excellent piece by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on Mondoweiss about a screening of a new documentary about Rachel Corrie and the controversy around its screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

‘Rachel' screening in San Francisco shows a growing movement tired of being censored about Israel,” Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Mondoweiss, 7/27/09

Excerpt: The fact that the vast majority of people in the crowd at the Castro Theatre would not let the Voice of Israel representative speak his mind without interruption reflects growing frustration with the use of pubic slander, character assassination, cancellation of speakers, firing of faculty and demand for resignations by the so-called defenders of Israel. Since when are people with views that differ from AIPAC, for instance, invited into mainstream circles to speak for five minutes before a pro-Israel speech or film? The representative of Voice of Israel was not there to dialogue. Only to chastise. The crowd refused to be chastised. When the impassioned proponent of Israel mentioned JVP and AFSC in order to condemn them as virulent anti-Semites, the crowd burst into cheers and applause to honor them instead.

The crowd at the Castro represents a growing movement of individuals and groups who believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can never be achieved without addressing and redressing the issue of Palestinian human rights. Resistance is sometimes rowdy. Naturally, the side of privilege and status quo demand politeness from resisters in order to maintain decorum. Well, politeness isn't always the best way to go in a situation where you have never been given a voice in the first place. While I am a proponent of compassionate listening, I learned from people of color that interrupting the language of hatred and racism also has a place.

3. In The Nation, Robert Dreyfuss writes about the current negotiations between members of the Obama Administration and the Israeli government. (Hillary Clinton is noticeably absent from the scene.)

“Real Peace—or a Mirage?” Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, 7/27/09

Excerpt: One way to keep Bibi Netanyahu from making trouble is to keep him so busy meeting US envoys and diplomats that he doesn't have time for anything else. That appears to be President Obama's strategy this week, since Netanyahu will be meeting with a veritable avalanche of Americans, including: George Mitchell, the US special envoy; Jim Jones, Obama's national security adviser; Robert Gates, the holdover secretary of defense who is showing no signs that he intends to go away; and Dennis Ross, the neocon-linked NSC official whose actual job remains ever vague.

Unless this is a covert effort to push Israeli hotel prices higher during the tourist season, the goal of the US effort seems to be to prepare Israel for what may, in fact, be a serious effort by the United States to resolve the Palestine conflict. There've been rumors floating that Obama may be thinking about proposing the outlines of a comprehensive US peace plan as early as this September. If so, it would be a plan that goes far beyond the nasty dispute over Jewish "settlements" -- i.e., massive, concrete and asphalt cities being built in the environs of Jerusalem and around the West Bank -- to include the elements of a final status agreement.

Or, on the other hand, Obama can do what AIPAC wants, namely, to continue to call for endless negotiations between the two sides.

It's been known for many years, or decades, what that might look like: the establishment of state called Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, within borders slightly modified from the 1967 lines acceptable to both sides, with Palestine's capital in now-occupied East Jerusalem, an accord on Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homeland, etc.

A question is: what sort of guarantees will Obama promise Israel to get them to feel more secure? General Jones, the former NATO commander, is an advocate for stationing US and/or NATO troops in between Israel and Palestine, not as a fighting force but as observers and guarantors. Presumably, though Israel would insist that Palestine be "demilitarized," General Dayton and his US team of military advisers, who've been working closely with Jordan and the Palestinians, would accelerate their efforts to create Palestinian army and police units. There's talk about a formal US security guarantee for Israel, though what form that would take isn't clear. And some, including pro-Israel neocons in the United States, have proposed bringing Israel into NATO. Last week, Hillary Clinton proposed what sounded like a "nuclear umbrella" over Israel and the Arab states as a guarantee against an acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, and there's no doubt that the US will provide assurances to Israel about Iran. (In fact, however, the threat from Iran is wildly hyped by Israel and its allies, and there is much less there than meets the eye.)

4. Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein is currently in Gaza and posting his reports to Mondoweiss.

“Hope lives in Gaza despite siege, desperation and anger,” Antony Loewenstein, Mondoweiss, 7/26/09

Excerpt: While the devastation, desperation and anger permeates every level of existence here and the siege is the topic of every second conversation, hope lives. Although many have said they would love to leave and go somewhere else, there's a spark of proud survival. It is clear that the Palestinians here are victims of an insane experiment that aims to overthrow Hamas but in fact only strengthens the hatred towards Israel. I'm hearing it every day. Dislike of Jews has only been occasionally expressed. Rampant homophobia is sadly common. In the main, this is not a religious conflict. I even heard from my hotel tonight, situated right on Gaza's beach promenade, a Hamas wedding with a DJ and cheesy, Western pop music. Sometimes, dancing comes before faith.

The streets, alleys and laneways are cluttered, dusty, often smelly and crowded. Cracked windshields can't be replaced because the right size of glass is unavailable. Criss-crossing the Strip in countless battered cars, I've met drivers who live on a few shekels per ride. Yesterday I tried to give one younger man my change as a tip, but he insisted I take back the less than two shekels. It was humbling from a man who soon after was stopped and verbally abused by a Hamas policeman.


Gaza Digest 110, 7/27/09

News Clips: U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell arrived in Israel Sunday and met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak as part of an ongoing effort to reach an agreement on construction in the settlements; There are now more than 300,000 residents living in Jewish West Bank settlements, according to a Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration report covering the first half of 2009; On July 26th a group of settlers led by Arie King took over a Palestinian house in Sheikh Jarrah to which they where given custody of in a very controversial decision of the Israeli court—while trying to prevent the settlers from taking over the house and demolishing it, 11 activists (three Palestinians, seven internationals and one Israeli) where arrested.

1. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is reported in Haaretz to be writing a defense brief as a pre-emptive response to the two U.N. reports on Operation Cast Lead that are expected from the U.N. later this summer.

“Israel prepares 'defense brief' ahead of UN Gaza reports,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 7/27/09

Excerpt: A group of legal experts from the Foreign Ministry is writing a defense brief for the government in advance of two harsh reports on Operation Cast Lead expected to be released soon.

The ministry's defense brief is expected to be finished in a week or two, ahead of two United Nations reports that are expected to be highly critical of the extent of civilian injuries in the Gaza Strip during the operation.

A draft of the two reports is expected to be given to Israel around the end of August, before they are officially presented to the Human Rights Council in mid-September.

Sources in Israel believe that the release of the UN reports could lead to legal action against Israel in one of the two international courts in The Hague.

2. According to Reuters, UNWRA denied reports that its director John Ging had fled Gaza because of death threats by Hamas.

“U.N. agency denies boss fled Gaza death threat,” John Hamilton, Reuters, 7/24/09

Excerpt: The main United Nations agency supplying aid to the Palestinians strongly denied an Israeli newspaper report on Friday that its director had fled Gaza after death threats from the enclave's Islamist rulers.

The assertion that John Ging fled after threats from Hamas because he refused to hand over millions of dollars in aid funds was completely baseless and "entirely false", said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency UNRWA.

"At no stage has Mr Ging ever fled Gaza and any suggestion that Hamas has any control or influence over UNRWA aid is as baseless as the absurdity about John Ging, (whose) track record in the face of previous threats and attack is a matter of public record," he said in a statement.

3. This article from the front page of today's New York Times posits that the Haredi (Orthodox) communities in two West Bank settlements don't have a strong ideological commitment to their current locations and might be amenable to a deal.

“In Two West Bank Settlements, Sign of Hope for a Deal,” Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, The New York Times, 7/27/09

Excerpt: Seen from afar, this fast-growing settlement embodies everything that the Obama administration wants to address through its demand for a freeze on settlement building: it sits on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and, with 45,000 residents and 60 births a week, it is the largest and fastest-growing Jewish community in the West Bank.

If, as is widely believed abroad, “natural growth” by Israeli settlers is blocking the creation of a viable Palestinian state, this community should show why.

But appearances are deceiving. Modiin Illit and its sister community, Beitar Illit, are entirely ultra-Orthodox, a world apart, one of strict religious observance and study. They offer surprising potential for compromise.

Unlike settlers who believe they are continuing the historic Zionist mission of reclaiming the Jewish homeland, most ultra-Orthodox do not consider themselves settlers or Zionists and express no commitment to being in the West Bank, so their growth in these settlement towns, situated just inside the pre-1967 boundary, could be redirected westward to within Israel.

4. Another article from Ethan Bronner in the Times about a change in tactics by Hamas—for the moment they are opting for cultural resistance over armed resistance.

“Hamas Switches from Rockets to Public Relations,” Ethan Bronner, New York Times, 7/24/09

Excerpt: Seven months after Israel started a fierce three-week military campaign here to stop rockets from being fired on its southern communities, Hamas has suspended its use of rockets and shifted focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations.

The aim is to build what leaders here call a “culture of resistance,” the topic of a recent two-day conference. In recent days, a play has been staged, a movie premiered, an art exhibit mounted, a book of poems published and a television series begun, most of it state-sponsored and all focused on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. There are plans for a documentary competition.

“Armed resistance is still important and legitimate, but we have a new emphasis on cultural resistance,” noted Ayman Taha, a Hamas leader and former fighter. “The current situation required a stoppage of rockets. After the war, the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break.”

Mr. Taha and others say that the military has replaced field commanders and restructured itself as it learns lessons from the war. The decision to suspend the use of the short-range Qassam rockets that for years have flown into Israel, often dozens a day, has been partly the result of popular pressure. Increasingly, people here are questioning the value of the rockets, not because they hit civilians but because they are seen as relatively ineffective.


Gaza Digest 109, 7/24/09

News Clips: The White House on Thursday brushed aside any suggestion that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama was planning to exert economic pressure on Israel to halt West Bank settlement construction; The U.S. administration has issued a stiff warning to Israel not to build in the area known as E-1, which lies between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim--any change in the status quo in E-1 would be "extremely damaging," even "corrosive," the message said: Israel's Arrow II missile defense system, which is partly underwritten by U.S. tax dollars, was tested at a U.S. range off the California coast early Thursday morning but problems prevented the launch of the system's interceptor, the U.S. Pentagon said; Israel does not expect the United States to limit use of loan guarantees despite a dispute with Washington over building in East Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Thursday.

1. Bernard Avishai argues in Haaretz that rather than pushing for a settlement freeze, the Obama Administration should help broker an agreement over borders for a two-state solution.

“Give Us a Border,” Bernard Avishai, Haaretz, 7/24/09

Excerpt: Clearly, the issue here is not a settlement freeze. The freeze has become a proxy for the larger question of where to locate an internationally recognized border between two states. Why, then, should Obama fight - with little chance of success - over a symbol and defer the fight over what is symbolized, which will eventually require a hard line from America and the world anyway?

Consider another approach, that taken in Geneva. The fact that large settlements are immovable means the June 4, 1967, border is not feasible, but the principle of defining a border on the basis of June 4 certainly is. America needs to offer support, and fast, for a 1:1 land swap to insure that territories allotted to Israel and Palestine are equivalent in area to what existed on June 4. It should appoint a Quartet commission, answerable to Senator Mitchell, to suggest a map. Palestine is not Israel's internal affair, nor will Palestinians ever accept the border envisioned by Netanyahu. Only a new "international" map will reconcile the Arab League peace initiative with the difficulties of moving settlers back into Israel.

Sketching a border will bring obvious immediate benefits, such as helping government officials, businesspeople and others on both sides to plan and invest. But it will also help prepare the ground to evacuate those who must ultimately be moved. This will take years, just like moderating Hamas by rehabilitating the Palestinian Authority will take years. The Israel Defense Forces and the police could never muster enough manpower to simply move these settlers by force - anyway, many IDF officers sympathize with settlement.

2. This article by Hedva Isschar recounts the difficult employment—and unemployment—conditions for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

“Not Only in Tunnels, Not Only in Gaza,” Hedva Isschar, Hagada Hasmalit (translated into English and re-published by the Alternative Information Center), 7/23/09

In a shocking report published earlier this month about children employed in Gaza tunnels, Anwar, a 15 year old boy from Gaza, relates how he has been made redundant following destruction by the Israeli air force of the tunnel in which he worked. Approximately half of the 16,000 Palestinians who work in tunnels in Gaza, the aforementioned report contends, are youth and children. They work at difficult and dangerous physical labor for about NIS 10 each hour. Many of them suffer from fears and are addicted to pain killers. Anwar is now unemployed, but it appears he hopes to return to his dangerous work and not to school. Anwar told the journalist that “school is pointless.” The boy is smart. What is the point of studying when your economic horizon is limited to employment in tunnels? And how can you study when your family's economic survival depends on you?

A report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) about the situation of Palestinian workers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, published in May of this year, determines that every worker in Gaza supports approximately 8.8 people. This is the bad news. The “good” news is that in the West Bank each worker supports only 4.4 people, on average. These workers have still not been told how the planned economic peace will look for them, but they know only too well the economic reality in which they live under occupation, which from the onset has subsumed the Palestinian economy to the needs of Israel.

According to data of the World Bank, the per capita gross national product in the West Bank is US$487. The level of official unemployment is approaching 20%. In the industrial and agricultural areas of settlements we find approximately 26,000 Palestinian workers, women and men, including approximately 2,000 minors. A majority of the youth and children work in fields and orchards in the Jordan Valley. Some of them replace their fathers and uncles who worked in Israel or in the settlements until their work permits were annulled for various reasons, which are never explained. According to the ILO, the employment level of those 15 and older in the West Bank was a bit more than 34% at the end of 2008. However, more than half of the young people from the age of high school to 29 do not work and do not study. The ILO describes this phenomenon as a ‘waste of precious manpower”.

3. James Besser writes in The Jewish Week about the recent convention of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a pro-Israel evangelical group, and CUFI's support of the Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank. (You can go here  to see the Rapture Ready video by Max Blumenthal mentioned in Besser's piece.)

“Christians United for…Settlements?” James Besser, The Jewish Week, 7/23/09

From the beginning, CUFI has embraced the Israeli settlers movement in a way no major Jewish group has.

CUFI conventions have a highly visible and still growing settlers presence; at an AIPAC policy conference, you'd be hard pressed to find any identifiable representative of a settler organization or community, certainly none on the official program.

This week CUFI's John Hagee, in a public message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he backs “Israel's sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit and not yield to the pressure of the United States government.”

That's a formulation you won't hear any major American Jewish pro-Israel group use.  They agree on the “sovereign” part, they'll rally their troops to fight “pressure” on the Jewish state and they might even talk positively but carefully about “natural growth,”  but they'll do everything possible to avoid using the term “settlements” or give the appearance that they support leaving them on the West Bank.

There are many Christians at any CUFI event who believe that God gave all the land to the Jews – meaning Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israel proper.  Only a very small proportion of American Jews share that belief, and it's not the policy of any major Jewish group.

One wonders: if CUFI is, indeed, the largest pro-Israel group in the nation in terms of membership, and if it is winning growing acceptance among the Jewish pro-Israel leadership,   how might that impact a broader pro-Israel movement that has generally regarded the issue of settlements and settlers as too radioactive to touch?  How might that influence a movement that has regarded supporting settlements as a losing issue, both with politicians and the public?

Gaza Digest 108, 7/23/09

News Clips: Israel will remove from school textbooks an Arabic term (nakba) that describes its creation in 1948 as a "catastrophe", the Education Ministry said on Wednesday; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel has no intention of dismantling the West Bank separation fence (also known as the apartheid wall or the annexation barrier) which he called "a critical component of Israel's security"; A group of Israeli rabbis, headed by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, have sent a letter to U.S. rabbis and the President's Conference, urging them to exert political leverage in Israel's favor, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday; Relations between the Obama administration and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue to worsen over Israel's refusal to halt new construction in Jewish settlements, but as the Obama administration continues to press for a freeze to all new units, real estate agents are reporting a rush by Israeli Jews to buy apartments both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank; On Tuesday, 21 July 2009, a wedding party of the Dahlan family in Khan Younis in Gaza was attacked when an explosive device exploded in the area and 61 civilians were injured.

1. This week, CODEPINK announced the launch of its Stolen Beauty AHAVA boycott campaign. I penned a piece that is posted on the Pink Tank, and yesterday was posted on Common Dreams and Altnernet. If you feel inspired, please go to these sites and make comments so we can generate some buzz for our Stolen Beauty campaign.

“Stolen Beauty: The Struggle for a Just Peace in the Middle East Coming to a Store Near You,” Nancy Kricorian, 7/22/09, Common Dreams & Alternet

Excerpt: As the dust settled on the destroyed homes, schools and lives in the aftermath of Israel's assault on Gaza earlier this year, mainstream human rights groups from Amnesty International to Physicians for Human Rights/Israel issued reports condemning Israel's attack and alleging that the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The staff of CODEPINK Women for Peace re-opened a discussion of what we could do about Israel's flagrant flouting of international law and the brutality of the ongoing blockade of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank and the home demolitions in East Jerusalem. We decided to revisit the idea of a boycott against Israeli products—a boycott that was having more difficulty gaining traction here in the United States than in Europe. But the best way to end an occupation is to make it unprofitable, and one of the best peaceful ways to make something unprofitable is to organize a boycott.

2. As a direct response to the rising power of J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group, a new group called Z Street has been born, as reported in the Palestine Chronicle.

“Z Street: The New Zionist Extremist Group,” Stephen Lendman, The Palestine Chronicle, 7/22/09

On July 6, co-founders Lori Lowenthal Marcus and Allyson Rowen Taylor announced: "Z Street is launched, Will end J Street Treason."

Continuing they said: "welcome to Z street! No more appeasement, no more negotiating with terrorists, no more enabling cowards who fear offending more than they fear another Holocaust. Z STREET is for those who are willing not only to support - but to defend - Israel, the Jewish State."

Never mind that no nation threatens Israel nor has for decades. It's a regional superpower - nuclearized and defended by the world's fourth most powerful military, armed with the latest state-of-the-art weapons and technology, and not reluctant to use them.

Its only adversaries are self-made and are needed to justify oppression, a culture of violence, an ethnocracy, exclusivity, privilege, and Jewish exceptionalism over others deemed inferior, legitimate enemies, and terrorists.

Zionism is corrosive, destructive, racist, extremist, undemocratic and hateful.

-- it claims Jewish supremacy, specialness and uniqueness as God's "chosen people;"

-- espouses violence, not peaceful coexistence;

-- confrontation over diplomacy;

-- strength through militarism, intimidation, and naked aggression;

-- is what Joel Kovel calls "a machine for the manufacture of human rights abuses" led by real terrorists posing as democrats;

-- what others say is repugnant, indefensible, destructive and malignant; and

-- what author Alan Hart calls "the real enemy of the Jews;"

-- an ideology contemptuous of Judaism's moral values and ethical principles;

-- the driving force behind a re-awakened anti-Semitism; and

-- a monster that's consuming its host and threatening humanity.

That's what Z Street supports.

Its Founders Have Disturbing Resumes

Based in Philadelphia, Lori Lowenthal Marcus writes about Israel and the Middle East for media outlets like the pro-Israeli American Thinker. She's also affiliated with the extremist Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

From Los Angeles, Allyson Rowen Taylor is associate director of the 2001-founded Stand With Us, a pro-Israeli front group calling itself:

-- "an international education organization that ensures that Israel's side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers, conferences, missions to Israel, and thousands of pages of Internet resources."

In other words, it's a pro-Israeli mouthpiece promoting Zionist extremism at the expense of truth and an equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

3. In Haaretz, Amira Hass gives her analysis of the recent Breaking the Silence report on Israeli Defense Forces testimonies about what happened in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

“The IDF Price Tag,” Amira Hass, Haaretz, 7/23/09

Excerpt: Something in the soldiers' testimonies published by the organization Breaking the Silence last week must be scaring the Israel Defense Forces. Otherwise, its battery of spokespeople - official and unofficial - would not be taking part in such a violent campaign to silence it.

Our media is independent. It isn't the delegitimization campaign that has caused it to be dismissive of these testimonies. Unlike the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead has been relegated to the archaeology department as far as public interest goes, because the number of Israelis killed was low. Even without the lobbying of the IDF Spokesman's Office, the media did not intend to waste much energy on these testimonies.

Breaking the Silence managed to reach soldiers who were not selected by the army, and to speak to them despite their commanders' strict prohibition against divulging details of the operation outside the military complex. However, the IDF can still be proud of its ability to impose discipline. Not one of the soldiers interviewed contacted the organization on their own. Of the thousands of soldiers whom Breaking the Silence and its volunteers contacted, only a few dozen agreed to talk. The interviewees, incidentally, think the military onslaught was justified but their consciences were bothered by a number of phenomena. All of them participated in the ground offensive. Not one was a pilot or someone who by pressing a button released missiles from unmanned aircraft, though most of the killing and destruction was caused from the air.

Breaking the Silence's policy is to publish cases about which two or more soldiers from the same unit have given evidence. They have other testimonies about far graver incidents, but these have not been corroborated. So in the booklet published last week there are only a few testimonies about killings of civilians that could have been prevented without a doubt.

The silencing and slander campaign is directed at the members of Breaking the Silence, but its aim is different. The mudslinging is the IDF's price tag, like the fires that outpost inhabitants set in Palestinian fields. The settlers are warning the authorities against an attempt to evacuate them, and the IDF is warning soldiers who have not yet defied the order to remain silent. It is doing this to make it harder for Breaking the Silence to continue carrying out its moral obligation to talk with soldiers and paint a complete picture of the attack - the picture Israel is trying to blur at any price.

Truths ultimately come out in a society like ours, but time is a critical factor. Testimony published five years from now is not the same as testimony published today, when Palestinian and foreign human rights activists are preparing lawsuits abroad against top government and military officials for violating international law and worse.

The current booklet documents the "lighter" things - relatively. The testimonies taken down and published by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the international commission of inquiry, the foreign press and Haaretz include far graver cases.

The testimonies in the booklet prove again and again the reliability of the testimony by Palestinians. And vice versa: The Palestinian affidavits prove the authenticity of the soldiers' statements.


Gaza Digest 107, 7/22/09

News Clips: Former U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee plans to broadcast his weekend show on Fox News from the site of a disputed Israeli construction project in East Jerusalem, a New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind has told Haaretz; The Israeli police's Shai District, which is responsible for the West Bank, has set up a special dedicated command to handle preparations for a large-scale evacuation of illegal settlement outposts; Israel is planning to remove 23 "illegal outposts" from the West Bank in the course of a single day in response to mounting US demands that it halt all settlement activity, it was reported today; Jewish settlements in the West Bank get significantly bigger slice of Israeli government financial help than municipalities in Israel itself, according to a study published on Tuesday; Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Tuesday that Israel had an "indisputable" right to build anywhere in Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, following international calls on Israel to halt construction in the disputed area; U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell is calling an "utter fabrication" a claim by Elliott Abrams, a former Bush administration official, that he "reportedly" plans to retire by the end of the year, according to a State Department official who spoke to Foreign Policy on Mitchell's behalf;

1. An undercover army of Israeli Jewish young people is being mobilized to help Brand Israel promote a positive image on the internet, according to this report by Jonathan Cook from Countercurrents.

“Twitterers Paid to Spread Israeli Propaganda,” Jonathan Cook,, 7/21/09

Excerpt: The passionate support for Israel expressed on talkback sections of websites, internet chat forums, blogs, Twitters and Facebook may not be all that it seems. 

Israel's foreign ministry is reported to be establishing a special undercover team of paid workers whose job it will be to surf the internet 24 hours a day spreading positive news about Israel.

Internet-savvy Israeli youngsters, mainly recent graduates and demobilised soldiers with language skills, are being recruited to pose as ordinary surfers while they provide the government's line on the Middle East conflict. 

“To all intents and purposes the internet is a theatre in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we must be active in that theatre, otherwise we will lose,” said Ilan Shturman, who is responsible for the project. 

The existence of an “internet warfare team” came to light when it was included in this year's foreign ministry budget.

About $150,000 has been set aside for the first stage of development, with increased funding expected next year. 

The team will fall under the authority of a large department already dealing with what Israelis term “hasbara”, officially translated as “public explanation” but more usually meaning propaganda. That includes not only government public relations work but more secretive dealings the ministry has with a battery of private organisations and initiatives that promote Israel's image in print, on TV and online.

In an interview this month with the Calcalist, an Israeli business newspaper, Mr Shturman, the deputy director of the ministry's hasbara department, admitted his team would be working undercover. 

“Our people will not say: ‘Hello, I am from the hasbara department of the Israeli foreign ministry and I want to tell you the following.' Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis,” he said. “They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the foreign ministry developed.”

2. More land expropriation as Israel prepares to declare the Dead Sea Shore in the Palestinian West Bank as “state land,” according to this report from Agence France Presse.

“Israel to declare Dead Sea shore state land: Peace Now,” Agence France Presse, 7/21/09

Excerpt: The Israeli government has decided to register as state property West Bank land that has emerged as a result of Dead Sea shrinkage, an anti-settlement group said on Tuesday.

"Israeli authorities have announced that they intend to declare as state land some 138,600 dunums (34,650 acres) that has appeared along the Dead Sea in the occupied West Bank due to the drop in the water level," Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now group told AFP.

The government published its decision in the Arabic-language press on June 28 and the public has 45 days from that date to file any objections. The land is located along the shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank.

The group said that based on public announcements, the amount of land involved may go beyond the shoreline that has been exposed as a result of the drop in the sea's water level, an estimated metre (yard) every year.

"It would appear that the primary purpose of registering this area as 'state land' is to prevent Palestinian use of the land or any Palestinian assertion of ownership over it," the group said in a statement.

3. Prime Minister Netanyahu's claim that Jerusalem is an “open city” where Palestinians can purchase homes in West Jerusalem while Jewish Israelis move into East Jerusalem is debunked by this report from Haaretz.

“Most Arabs can't buy most homes in West Jerusalem,” Nir Hasson, 7/21/09

Excerpt: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed this week that Jerusalem is an "open city" that permits all its inhabitants, Jewish and Palestinian, to purchase homes in both its eastern and western parts.

"Our policy is that Jerusalem residents can purchase apartments anywhere in the city. There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city, and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city's east," Netanyahu said in response to the U.S. request to halt a Jewish construction project in East Jerusalem.

An examination by Haaretz, however, presented a rather different situation on the ground. According to Israel Lands Administration rules, residents of East Jerusalem cannot take ownership of the vast majority of Jerusalem homes.

When an Israeli citizen purchases an apartment or house, ownership of the land remains with the ILA, which leases it to the purchaser for a period of 49 years, enabling the registration of the home ("tabu"). Article 19 of the ILA lease specifies that a foreign national cannot lease - much less own - ILA land.

Attorney Yael Azoulay, of Zeev and Naomi Weil Lawyers and Notary Office, explains that if a foreign national purchases an apartment they must show the ILA proof of eligibility to immigrate to Israel in accordance with the Law of Return. Non-Jewish foreigners cannot purchase apartments. This group includes Palestinians from the east of the city, who have Israeli identity cards but are residents rather than citizens of Israel.

4. And finally, an article from The Electronic Intifada about the boom in settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank.

“Settlers expand in West Bank,” Mel Frykberg, The Electronic Intifada, 7/21/09

Excerpt: While settlement construction booms and the number of settlers in Beitar and its outposts continues to swell, Palestinians in Wadi Fuqin are forbidden by the Israeli authorities from building new homes, or enlarging current ones to accommodate new generations.

IPS accompanied Palestinian Authority (PA) agricultural ministry officials on a tour of Bethlehem and surrounding villages to assess first-hand the shrinking land available to Palestinians as settlement expansion in the West Bank accelerates.

"We are facing a disaster," says PA Agriculture Minister Dr Ismail Da'iq. "We are losing land at an unprecedented rate due to Israeli settlement expansion and its closed military zones."

"In order to combat this continual land theft we have launched a project which aims to plant five million trees on land in the Bethlehem governorate over the next five years," Da'iq told IPS. "We hope this will make it harder for Israel to expropriate our land, but this is not a guarantee."

Indeed, on way from Ramallah to Bethlehem this IPS correspondent saw several dozen Palestinian trees that had been sawed off just above ground level by the Israeli authorities.

Under the 1993 Oslo accords, 66 percent of the Bethlehem governorate was designated as part of Area C of the West Bank, which falls under complete Israeli jurisdiction in regard to planning and construction.

"The PA made a mistake by agreeing to this during Oslo, but it is one we hope to rectify. We are determined that there will be no resumption of peace talks until Israel freezes all settlement activity in the West Bank," Da'iq told IPS.

Gaza Digest 106, 7/21/09

News Clips: The Israeli government is considering confiscating privately-owned Palestinian land near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, contrary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pledge during his Bar-Ilan speech not to take such actions; US Mideast envoy George Mitchell may want to leave his negotiator position at the end of 2009 because of ‘professional differences' with Hillary Clinton and his displeasure at the appointment of Dennis Ross as a Special Advisor on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams said in an editorial published by the National Review on Monday; The United States believes that unilateral moves on the part of either Israel or the Palestinians could prejudice the result of final status negotiations, the State Department said on Monday, in response to questions about a conflict between the U.S. and Israel over new construction of housing for Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem (more on this topic below); Israeli settlers on horseback set fire on Monday to at least 1,500 Palestinian-owned olive trees in the West Bank as others stoned cars after security forces a few hours before had razed a number of structures built in unauthorized outposts in the West Bank; An Israeli Cabinet committee approved a new bill that prohibits state funding for activities that mark the Palestinian Nakba, or the Catastrophe, which takes place on Israel's Independence Day and is marked as a day of mourning by Palestinians.

1. Last week (Gaza Digest 102, 7/13/09) I reported on an Israeli Cellcom ad that created a stir because it showed IDF soldiers happily kicking a ball back and forth over the annexation wall (best locution yet!) with unseen Palestinians. You can see the ad here. And today some Palestinians from Bilin posted on YouTube their brilliant response to the ad, which includes footage from this past Friday's weekly protest at the annexation barrier.

2. Last Thursday, the U.S. State Department voiced its objections to a proposed plan to build 20 apartments for Israeli Jews in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. This article from Haaretz details Netanhayu's reponse, as well as the U.S. position that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory whose disposition will be part of a final settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Excerpt: The United States views East Jerusalem as no different than an illegal West Bank outpost with regard to its demand for a freeze on settlement construction, American sources have informed both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This clarification came in the context of a growing crisis in U.S.-Israel relations over the planned construction of some 20 apartments for Jews in the Shepherd Hotel, in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The U.S. has demanded that the project be halted, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet meeting Sunday that "Israel will not agree to edicts of this kind in East Jerusalem."

"United Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel, and our sovereignty over the city is not subject to appeal," he continued. "Our policy is that Jerusalem residents can purchase apartments anywhere in the city. This has been the policy of all Israeli governments. There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city, and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city's east. This is the policy of an open city."

Saying that Israel could not accept Jews being forbidden to live in anywhere in Jerusalem, Netanyahu added: "I can imagine what would happen if someone proposed that Jews could not live or buy in certain neighborhoods of London, New York, Paris or Rome. A huge international outcry would surely ensue. It is even more impossible to agree to such an edict in East Jerusalem."

3. Prime Minister Netanyahu has actually uttered the words “two states for two peoples,” but the Israeli right is uncharacteristically silent about this betrayal because no one believes that Netanyahu is doing anything more than parroting phrases he has no intention of working towards. Isabel Kershner outlines the situation in this article from the New York Times.

“Netanhyahu's Talk of Peace Finds Few True Believers,” Isabel Kershner, 7/20/09

Escerpt: Mr. Netanyahu has been explicit, though, about his conditions for a deal. He says the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Palestinian negotiators reject such recognition, contending it would preclude the demand of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants for the right of return to their former homes, and be detrimental to the status of Israel's Arab minority.

Mr. Netanyahu adds that the problem of the refugees has to be resolved outside the borders of Israel and that Israel will only accept defensible borders, and he wants international guarantees that any Palestinian state will be fully demilitarized.

To that his aides have lately added that there is currently no Palestinian partner who can deliver the essential conditions for statehood as outlined by Mr. Netanyahu, or who is capable of making the historic compromise necessary for a final peace deal.

It is a familiar refrain: For years, leaders from the Likud Party refused to negotiate on grounds that Yasir Arafat, the strongman of Palestinian nationalism who many Israelis viewed as a dictatorial terrorist, was no partner for peace. Now his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian president who has shunned violence against Israelis, is held in disregard for being domestically weak.

The Israeli leaders note that Mr. Abbas does not control Gaza, which was taken over by his Hamas rivals two years ago. They add that it is doubtful how much he controls what they call Judea and Samaria, the biblical name for the West Bank, and say that if the Israeli Army were to leave the area it could turn into another “Hamastan.”

Mr. Netanyahu's string of conditions for a Palestinian state do seem to have ameliorated opposition from the Israeli right.

In the past, “Israeli discourse on diplomacy has chiefly addressed the Palestinian need for a state but did not establish parallel Israeli rights,” said Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a research institute, and a former ambassador who has long been close to Mr. Netanyahu.

The prime minister, he said, “tried to correct that asymmetry” by publicly defining fundamental Israeli interests for the first time.

But Mr. Netanyahu's father, Benzion Netanyahu, the 100-year-old historian and staunch right-wing ideologue, told Israel's Channel 2 News on July 8 that his son had set conditions he knew the Palestinians would never be able to accept.

4. Al-Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reports on a thriving business of Israeli Jewish guided tours to the settlements in the West Bank. The video clip is only three minutes long and is posted on YouTube.

“Settlement Tourism Takes Root in West Bank,” Ayman Mohyeldin, Al-Jazeera, 7/16/09

Excerpt: Thousands of tourists visiting the Middle East each year have plenty of reasons to travel to the region. But for a small minority the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a draw, prompting enterprising tour operators to take people on guided tours of the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Gaza Digest 105, 7/17/09

News Clips: Israeli warships opened fire on the shores of the Gaza Strip on Friday morning, scaring Palestinian fishermen, but no damage or injuries were reported; Representatives of an anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect paid a brief visit to the Gaza Strip on Thursday on a solidarity mission with the area's militantly anti-Israel Hamas leaders; While the military has attacked the credibility of soldiers' testimonies regarding Operation Cast Lead, including the latest report from Breaking the Silence, it has failed to open a single serious investigation into events detailed by Palestinian witnesses to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem; A freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank could help restart the peace process in the region, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Thursday; Palestinian militants fired a Qassam rocket from the northern Gaza Strip into Southern Israel Thursday evening, but no injuries were reported; The Palestinian Authority ordered the closure of Al-Jazeera television in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday for airing "false" information in a broadcast that reported on conspiracy allegations that Palestinian Authority President Abbas had been involved in the death of Yasser Arafat; In Gaza, Hamas "condemned" the closure of Al-Jazeera, saying in a statement that the move was "further proof of the scale of violations committed against the media on the part of the government in Ramallah"; The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) has been denied access to clients detained by the Internal Security Service (ISS) of the Government in Gaza.

1. The Washington Post revealed that former U.S. senior diplomat Thomas Pickering met with Hamas leaders in Switzerland last month. U.S. officials claim the meeting happened without official government approval and they only learned about it after the fact. While the U.S. is pushing hard for a negotiated settlement in the region, there is, as the Post puts it, “no clear plan for how to address the presence of an organization that won 2006 Palestinian legislative elections but does not recognize Israel and remains committed to armed insurrection against the Jewish state.”

“Ex-U.S. Diplomat Talks With Hamas,” Howard Schneider and Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post, 7/16/09

Excerpt: A recent lull in rocket fire and other attacks, coupled with Meshal's speech and a visit to Gaza by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, has led to speculation that Hamas is trying to earn a place at the negotiating table. Others argue that the group is simply pausing to rearm and will never accept the conditions laid out by the United States and others -- including a renunciation of violence and acceptance of earlier Palestinian agreements acknowledging Israel.

Yuval Diskin, head of Israel's internal security organization, Shin Bet, said at a closed briefing in May that he saw practically no chance of a political compromise and that Israel would ultimately have to overthrow Hamas in Gaza, according to an account of his comments provided by someone who attended the briefing.

Meshal's speech, delivered from Damascus, the Syrian capital, was considered an overture to Obama. "The purpose of the speech was to convince the West that Hamas is a partner for dialogue," retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, director of the Israeli-Palestinian Relations Program at Tel Aviv University, wrote in a recent paper. "The speech will make it easier for elements in Western Europe and within Obama's administration that support dialogue with Hamas to advance their position."

But U.S. and Israeli officials say they see little substantive change in Meshal's position. Meshal and other Hamas officials have said that hostilities might end for a decade or more through an extended truce, but that they are not interested in reconciling with Israel over the long term.

"There is a recognition that Israel exists," said Omar Abdel-Razeq, who was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council from Hamas in 2006 and was recently released from Israeli prison. "The recognition of its right to exist is another matter. I don't think time lies on the Israeli side. What if the balance of power shifts?"

2. This article by Jonathan Cook from The Electronic Intifada examines the West Bank town of Jenin as the model of “economic peace” that Netanyahu is holding out to the Palestinians. With a bridge that connects the town to Israel now open 7 days a week and 24-hours a day, the Israeli government is encouraging Israeli Palestinians to go shopping in Jenin on the weekends (when Israeli Jewish stores are closed for Shabbat).

“Israel offers Palestinians day shoppers, not statehood,” Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 7/15/09

Excerpt: If few of Jenin's inhabitants question the financial benefits of Israel's more liberal policy, there is a widespread belief that "economic peace" is being tailor-made for Israel's benefit in much the same manner as the rebuilt camp.

"If Netanyahu thinks we'll be satisfied with a few more Israeli shoppers, he's kidding himself," said Mohammed Larool, a melon seller. "Our rights as a nation are more important than my selling a few extra melons."

Khaled Hamour, 26, who runs the Mankal restaurant in Jenin, said the prosperity felt by businesses was relative. "Things have been so dire here that just a little relief feels like a major change."

But "as long as the settlements are still here, our farmers are being shot at, and we have no control over our borders, then economic peace is hollow."

Shir Hever, an Israeli economist based in Jerusalem, said he was skeptical Jenin's industrial park would ever open, or that the fruits of economic peace would be more than temporary.

"Netanyahu has no long-term plan for peace," he said. "This is a delaying tactic and an attempt to improve Israel's image internationally without making significant concessions."

He added: "There is also a political message for Jenin and the rest of the West Bank in this policy. It says: remember you're lucky not to be in the same situation as Gaza. Don't resist or you'll end up like them."

3. This article from the Jerusalem Post details the use of undercover cops, disguised as Palestinian protestors, at the anti-wall demonstrations in Nil'in.

“Undercover Cops Used in Fence Protest,” Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, 7/15/09

Excerpt:  Last Friday, officers from the [IDF] Border Police's elite YAMAS undercover unit disguised themselves as Palestinians and stood among a crowd of demonstrators from Nil'in who were protesting against the construction of the security fence nearby.

In a video posted on the Web site of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), three Palestinians wearing shirts over their heads to cover their faces are seen using a metal cutter to dismantle part of the chain-linked security barrier.

Suddenly, two other demonstrators approach, pull out guns and knock two of the Palestinian demonstrators to the ground. The crowd realizes that the so-called demonstrators are actually undercover policemen and begins hurling rocks at them. The policemen are then seen firing several shots into the air before herding away the two captured demonstrators.

Sources in the Central Command confirmed on Tuesday that undercover YAMAS border policemen were used to help suppress the demonstrators at Nil'in as part of the IDF's increasing efforts to prevent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and security forces.

Gaza Digest 104, 7/15/09

News Clips: On Tuesday witnesses said that Israeli tanks rolled into farm lands in Bit Hanon town in Northern Gaza and opened fire at residents' homes, then bulldozers destroyed nearby fields; The American Jewish The Orthodox Union says it is "deeply troubled" by President Obama's desire to play an "evenhanded" role in the Middle East; Yisrael Katz, Israel's new right-wing minister of transport, has revealed a plan to change the names of more than 2,500 road signs, doing away with Arabic place names and replacing them with simple translations of Hebrew names in a move that has stirred up accusations of “ethnic cleansing” of road signage; Israeli authorities on Tuesday refused to allow more than a dozen French diplomats entry into the Gaza Strip as part of an Israeli protest over the fact that Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is still captive in the Gaza Strip without basic rights; A Leonard Cohen concert planned in Ramallah on the West Bank in September has been cancelled by its hosts who felt the Ramallah appearance was a hollow attempt to balance his planned Tel Aviv performance in the face of calls for Cohen to join the cultural boycott of Israel;

1. While a recent Amnesty International report on the Gaza assault found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as “human shields,” as had been claimed by the Israeli government, this piece from The Independent reports that the IDF used Palestinian civilians as human shields and gives other damning details from a new document released by Breaking the Silence. Coverage of Breaking the Silence's report has been wide, with articles from Agence France Presse, The Associated Press, Reuters, and The Toronto Star, among others.

“Israeli soldiers reveal the brutal truth of Gaza attack,” Donald McIntyre, The Independent, 7/15/09

Excerpt: The first eye-witness accounts of the war by serving Israeli reservists and conscripts describes the Israeli use of Palestinian civilians as "human shields". They detail the killing of at least two civilians, the vandalism, looting and wholesale destruction of Palestinian houses, the use of deadly white phosphorus, bellicose religious advice from army rabbis and what another battalion commander described to his troops as "insane firepower with artillery and air force". The reports amount to the most formidable challenge by Israelis since the Gaza war to the military's own considered view that it conducted the operation according to international law and made "an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists whilst doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians".

They are contained in testimonies from about 30 soldiers that were collected by Breaking the Silence, an army veterans organisation that seeks to "expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the occupied territories". Although the organisation has collected hundreds of testimonies from ex-soldiers before, this is the first time that it has done so from serving soldiers so soon after the events they describe.  

2. A long, elegantly written and wry commentary by Saree Makdisi, professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, from Al-Ahram Weekly. If you have the time, you should read the entire piece. I've excerpted a few representative paragraphs.

“Commentary: Take it or leave it,” Saree Makdisi, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 9-15 09

Excerpt: What Netanyahu was saying to any Palestinians foolish enough to accept his terms is that if they want to stick a flag in their archipelago of little impoverished islands of territory and call it a state, they can go right ahead.

But for them to get even that far, they must first, he now says, recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This is a new Israeli demand (it first came up during the build-up to the doomed Annapolis summit in November 2007), the latest in a sequence of such demands going back to the 1970s. First the Palestinians had to renounce terrorism; then they had to recognise Israel; then they had to rewrite their national charter; then they had to tear the charter up; then they had to say -- again, louder -- that they recognise Israel's right to exist; then they had to end all resistance to four decades of brutal military occupation. Tzipi Livni, Israel's previous foreign minister, even said that the Palestinians had to learn to purge the word Nakba (referring to the catastrophe of 1948) from their vocabulary if they wanted to have a state. The one thing that Palestinians have not formally been asked to do is to say that they are terribly sorry for having dared to resist the occupation in the first place -- and no doubt that demand is on the way as well.

In return, Israel has had to commit to nothing other than a few vague and craftily-worded -- and endlessly deferrable -- promises. And it has carried out (at its own pace and according to its own terms) a few tactical redeployments of troops and colonists (from a grand total of 18 per cent of the West Bank, at the very peak of Oslo). Some of those redeployments have actually, as in Gaza, made the process of dominating and controlling the Palestinians that much easier (Israel could never have subjected the people of Gaza to the indiscriminate violence it rained on them day and night in late 2008 and early 2009 had the Jewish colonists there remained in place).

3. From the German newspaper Der Spiegel, an article about a move to put customs duties on products made in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Another way to make occupation less profitable and thereby less attractive.

“Will EU Penalize Exports from Israeli Settlements?” Von Ralf Beste and Christoph Schult, Der Spiegel, 7/14/09

Excerpt: Is Europe really willing to express its aversion to Israeli settlements in the West Bank by slapping customs duties on products made in them? A tax court in Hamburg might soon provide an answer to this touchy issue.

As the largest Israeli settlement in the Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank, Maale Adumim is home to 40,000 people. Bulldozers are clearing lots for new houses on its outskirts. Its population is growing by the week and, in recent years, it has grown faster than any other settlement.

On the edge of the settlement's industrial zone, there is a factory operated by a company called Soda-Club. The steel gate is painted blue and green to match the company's curvy, modern-looking logo. A camera records the movements of anyone approaching the gate. The plant produces tabletop devices that add carbonation to flat water, like the ones used in many German kitchens. And for those who prefer a sweeter taste, there's also syrup coming out of Maale Adumim.

Journalists are not welcome to visit Soda-Club. As Marketing Director Asaf Snear claims on the telephone, it's to protect against industrial espionage.

But there's another reason behind this aversion to media attention: Soda-Club's products are at the center of a legal dispute with Germany that could significantly intensify the already heated debate over Israel's settlement policy.

The Hamburg Finance Court must now decide whether Soda-Club devices made in Maale Adumim can be imported into the European Union duty-free, like all other Israeli industrial products. Brussels doesn't want the company's products to fall into this category because they are manufactured in Israeli settlements located in the occupied territories.

The real question revolves around whether Maale Adumim is part of Israel. The EU has not formally recognized Israel's claim to Maale Adumim and other settlements. But, in practice, it has done little to stand in the way of Israeli settlement activities.

But that could now change. The Hamburg court has consulted with the European Court of Justice about obtaining a "preliminary ruling" that would settle the issue in a binding manner for all 27 EU member states. The decision is expected to come down in the coming months. If the court decides that a customs duty can be assessed, it will be tantamount to handing down a decision against Israel's settlement policy. The delicate question at hand is whether Germany and the EU should accept how Israel handles the occupied territories or should wield their sharpest sword -- economic sanction.

Gaza Digest 103, 7/14/09

News Clips: Palestinian bulldozers and construction vehicles began removing the rubble of the “Saraya” security compound in Gaza on Monday, more than six months after Israeli warplanes leveled it; Palestinian sources said Sunday that the Egyptian authorities are preventing a new humanitarian aid convoy, Viva Palestina US, from reaching the Gaza Strip, but the members of the convoy are hoping to reach their destination by Wednesday; The Dead Sea has made the list of candidates for the new "Seven Natural Wonders of the World" Friday, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed earlier in the week to support the initiative;
1. In an editorial in Haaretz about a new eco-friendly school being built, without impossible to procure legal permits, by the Jahalin Bedouin tribe with the help of an Italian NGO (Vento di Terra/Wind of the Earth) in the West Bank, Amira Hass compares the Israeli Jewish worldview to that of whites under South African apartheid and during the time of slavery in the United States. You can read more about the school project on Jezebel.

“Israeli Jewish Worldview Justifies West Bank Inequality,” Amira Hass, Haaretz, 7/13/09

Excerpt: The root of the problem is not the illegality of the settlements and outposts, but the Israeli Jewish worldview that sanctifies inequality. In other words, what is naturally befitting for the Jews ought to be denied the Palestinians. What is painful and lacking for the Jews is not a problem for the Palestinians. The official talk of two states conceals the prevailing reality of one state, from the river to the sea, a state that embraces the South African ideology of "separate but unequal development of the races." All on the same strip of land, all under the rule of the same government.

The Jews' natural growth and their right to enclose balconies on territories that Israel conquered in 1967 have been the subject of discussions between its top officials and world leaders. The Bedouin exercising their right to educate their children under humane conditions in a place they have lived for the last 61 years has come to be considered a violation of the law.

The law is determined by man and reflects the current balance of power, either on a global or local scale. Equality, on the other hand, is a human attribute. Throughout history, this attribute has become clearer thanks to never-ending social struggles. Their success - either full or partial - influences the laws.

There once was a law that forbade black slaves from learning to read and write. There were also criminals who broke the law by studying and teaching. Anyone who issues the order to raze a school for Bedouin, approves the order or carries it out aligns himself with the thinkers, jurists, and law enforcement officials of the slavery regime.

2. Monday, July 13 was International day of solidarity with East Jerusalem residents facing eviction or demolition of their homes, and there were events in the USA, the UK, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Ireland, France, Spain, Denmark, Holland and Egypt. Here is a report from the Chicago banner drops via the International Solidarity Movement. Here is a detailed article from the Palestine Monitor about the different “kinds” of home demolitions and some individual stories of people whose homes were destroyed.

“ Chicago activists drop 88 banners across city protesting Israeli eviction and demolition of Palestinian homes,” International Solidarity Movement, 7/13/09

Excerpt: Monday, July 13th 2009, 5am: In perhaps the largest campaign of its kind in Chicago's history, over a dozen activists dropped 88 banners across Chicagoland this morning decrying Israel's policies of evicting or destroying Palestinian homes. Each banner represents one of 88 Palestinian homes in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that have received demolition orders from Israeli authorities.

Today's banners were dropped as part of an international day of action on July 13th in solidarity with Palestinian families facing house evictions or demolition in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. In addition to Chicago, demonstrations and actions are planned for San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Glasgow, and Jerusalem.

Chicago's action saw banners being hung from highway overpasses, bridges, and from the roofs of buildings. Some of the banners read, “End the occupation of Palestine,” or “From Chicago to Palestine, communities are facing eviction,” and call for onlookers to “Support. Resist. Fight.”

3. This news brief from Ma'an about a speech Netanyahu gave on Sunday provides a clear and succinct description of the notion of “the right of return” and why Palestinians won't accede to the demand that they recognize a “Jewish state.”

“ Netanyahu: Palestnian Refugees Must Never Return to Their Homes,” Ma'an News Agency, 7/13/09

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinians to give up the right of return to their homes in what is now Israel as a precondition for a future peace deal.

Speaking on Sunday evening at a ceremony marking the 105th anniversary of the death of Zionist leader Theodore Herzl, Netanyahu said "They [Palestinians] must abandon their demand to settle the descendents of Palestinian refugees in Israel and gradually 'eat away' at the State of Israel after a peace agreement is signed," according to Israel's Ynet news website.

In 1948, Jewish and Israeli forces expelled more than 726,000 Palestinians from their homes in the land on which the Israeli state was declared, according to United Nations figures. Today, Palestine refugees and their descendants are some 5.5 million people.

The Palestinian leadership currently refuses to negotiate with Netanyahu's right wing government because he refuses to order a halt to construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and rejects the notion of a fully sovereign Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has also demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” an indirect way of foreclosing the right of return, since Israel asserts that its Jewish nature is based on a Jewish majority, a situation that by definition prohibits the refugees' return.

The Israeli leader repeated this demand on Sunday. "The Jewish state is the key to our existence and the key to achieving peace with our neighbors," he was quoted as saying.

Palestinians argue that the right of return is both a collective and individual right, which, even if Palestinian and Israeli negotiators take it up, cannot legally be forfeited on the behalf of the individual refugees.

4. And finally, a report from Haaretz on a meeting that President Obama held on Monday with Jewish American leaders. In addition to groups listed in the final paragraph, leaders from J Street and Americans for Peace Now were also present.

“Obama to U.S. Jewish leaders: Israel must engage in self-reflection,” Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters, 7/14/09

Excerpt: U.S. President Barack Obama met with 15 American Jewish leaders at the White House for the first time on Monday. The president and the Jewish officials huddled for talks aimed at clearing the air following allegations that his administration was taking a tough line with Israel over settlement activity.

At the meeting, Obama told the leaders that he wants to help Israel overcome its demographic problem by reaching an agreement on a two-state solution, but that in order to do so, Israel would need "to engage in serious self-reflection."

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama told the leaders that "the door to dialogue is open. If the Iranians do not walk through it, however, we will have to see how we proceed. But it would be a mistake to talk now about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it."

One of the participants at the meeting asked the president to take a lower profile regarding the public differences between his administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the United States' demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction activity in the West Bank.

"This situation is not helpful," he told the president, who rejected the request, saying that during the eight years of the Bush administration, such disagreements were never made public but that such an approach was not helpful in advancing the peace process.

Obama added that there is a narrow window of opportunity for advancing the peace process and that he plans to speak openly and honestly with Israel - "a true friend of the U.S." - just as he did with the Arab nations in his speech at Cairo University in June.

Among the groups attending the meeting were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Orthodox Union, the United Jewish Communities, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which is led by long-time Obama acquaintance Alan Solow, who requested the meeting.

Gaza Digest 102, 7/13/09

News Clips: Britain has slapped a partial arms embargo on Israel, refusing to supply replacement parts and other equipment for Sa'ar 4.5 gunships because they participated in Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year; At a lecture in London Saturday, The European Union's policy chief, Javier Solana, said the United Nations should recognize a Palestinian state even if no agreement is reached with Israel; Chances for peace in the Middle East are better than at any time in the past 15 years, but Israeli settlements remain an obstacle, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday; Israel is preparing mass deportations of non-Jewish asylum seekers and migrant workers in the coming months, deportations to include thousands of small children born in Israel and who know no other home.

1. In the last issue of the digest, I included an article from the Jewish Weekly News that described this report by the Israel Project, but on Friday there was an additional report in NEWSWEEK, plus a PDF of the study itself.

“ Chosen Words: A pollster's recommendations on How to Sell Americans on the Idea of Israeli Settlements,” Dan Ephron, Newsweek, 7/10/09

Excerpt: How do you sell the American public on the idea that Israel has the right to maintain or even expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank? Be positive. Turn the issue away from settlements and toward peace. Invoke ethnic cleansing.
Those are three of the recommendations made by Frank Luntz, a political consultant and pollster, in an internal study he wrote for the Washington-based group The Israel Project (TIP) on effective ways to talk to Americans about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The 117-page study, titled The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was commissioned by the nonprofit group, which aims to promote Israel's side of the story, and leaked to NEWSWEEK. It includes chapters with such titles as "How to Talk About Palestinian Self Government and Prosperity" and "The Language of Tackling a Nuclear Iran."
The report is strewn with bolded examples of "Words That Work" and "Words That Don't Work," alongside rhetorical tips such as "Don't talk about religion" and "No matter what you're asked, bridge to a productive pro-Israel message." Taken together, the 18 chapters offer a fascinating look at the way Israel and its supporters try to shape the public debate in their favor.

One line of argument that Luntz says actually harms the cause is Israel's policy of restricting Arab housing construction in East Jerusalem: "The arguments about demolishing Palestinian homes because they are not within the Jerusalem building code tested SO badly that we are not even going to dignify them with a Word's That Don't Work box. Americans hate their own local planning boards for telling them where they can and can't put swimming pools or build fences. You don't need to import that animosity into your own credibility issues. Worse yet, talking about 'violations of building codes' when a TV station is showing the removal of a house that looks older than the modern state of Israel is simply catastrophic."

2. And you can check out the Orwellian 2009 Global Language Dictionary created by The Israel Project (TIP) yourself. Thanks to Mondoweiss for uploading the text into an easily readable online format.

The Israel Project's (TIP) 2009 Global Language Dictionary

3. A new and appalling Israeli Cellcom advertisement that features IDF soldiers playing soccer with unseen Palestinians on the other side of the “apartheid wall” has caused a stir in Israel and in the blogosphere, as reported by Reuters. You can see the ad here.

“Israel Cell Phone Firm's Wall Gag Fails to Amuse,” Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Alastair Macdonald, Reuters, 7/12/09

Excerpt: A television advert for an Israeli cellphone firm showing soldiers playing soccer over the West Bank barrier has sparked cries of bad taste and prompted Arab lawmakers on Sunday to demand it be taken off air.

The jaunty commercial for Israel's biggest mobile phone company Cellcom makes light of Palestinian suffering and shows how far Israelis fail to understand their neighbors, critics said. The company stood by the ad, however.

It shows a ball falling on an Israeli army jeep from the far side of a towering wall. A game ensues, back and forth with the unseen Palestinians after a soldier dials up "reinforcements," including two smiling women in uniform, to come and play.

The advertisement made by McCann Erickson, part of U.S. Interpublic Group, ends with the upbeat voiceover: "After all, what are we all after? Just a little fun."

Since the ad went out last week -- as Palestinians marked the fifth anniversary of a World Court ruling that Israel's walls and fences in the West Bank were illegal -- some Israelis have taken to blogs and social networking sites to voice dismay.

"Aside from being a great contender for the 'creepiest ads of all time', this one-minute ad says a lot about how mainstream Israel likes to see itself and the Palestinians," journalist Dimi Reider wrote in a blog which concluded most of his fellow Israelis did not understand Palestinians' rage at the barrier.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel's parliament, said he had written to Cellcom demanding it pull the ad: "The barrier separates families and prevents children from reaching schools and clinics," he told Reuters. "Yet the advertisement presents the barrier as though it were just a garden fence in Tel Aviv."


Few Palestinians watch the Israeli stations where the advert aired but there was outrage among liberal Israelis on the Web.

A Hebrew-language Facebook group called "I too got nauseous watching the new Cellcom ad" had signed up 218 members. They demanded "take this racist commercial off the air immediately."

Israeli blogger Ami Kaufman told Reuters: "We see Israeli soldiers playing with ... the people that they are incarcerating behind the wall. But the most grotesque, most disturbing part of this ad is the fact that the Palestinians basically aren't seen ... They're like monsters or aliens ... This is the alienation that Israeli society feels toward the Palestinian people."

Noam Sheizaf, another Israeli journalist and blogger, said it distorted reality: "In reality, if a Palestinian comes close to the fence to return a football ... he is likely to get shot."

4. Detailed and insightful article from Haaretz by Amos Harel, who has been writing about and observing the Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank for nearly twelve years, discussing the Obama Administration's opposition to “outposts” in the West Bank and the situation on the ground in the settlements and outposts. What is a settlement? What is an outpost? When the “final status” is presumably negotiated, which will be evacuated and which allowed to remain?

“Settlers are encountering their first real opponent – Obama,” Amos Harel, Haaretz, 7/10/09

Excerpt: During the 16 years since the Oslo process began, the number of Israelis living east of the Green Line (pre-Six-Day War border) increased from 110,000 to about 300,000 (not including East Jerusalem). The number of building starts in the West Bank in 2008 was 40 percent greater than during the previous year. And this, it must be remembered, happened under prime minister Ehud Olmert, who sold Israelis a fabricated reality in which at any given moment, he was within a hair's breadth from a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians - an agreement in whose wake there would no longer be any need in the struggle for every hilltop.

Taking over the private property of someone who belongs to the neighboring people is a common phenomenon in the West Bank, even in recent years. We aren't talking here about things that happened back in 1948. It is possible, of course, to describe these moves as a necessary part of the life-and-death struggle between the two peoples, in the name of which nearly all means are justified.

One of the most obvious things learned from every visit is the extent to which things are done in a planned way, to this day. It is hard to miss the destroyed terraces in the settlement of Adam or the sight of the sewage flowing from Psagot, not far from the Binyamin regional council building, straight into the wadi that runs to the adjacent Palestinian town of El Bireh. But in those very same settlements live upstanding citizens, who would not cheat the grocer of 10 agorot and who would go out in the middle of the night to help a neighbor stuck on a dark road. In the outposts live scores of officers in the career army and the reserves, who serve in elite units and win citations for their courage. At the same time, according to the official state data, many of them have built their dream homes, a modest mobile home or a more luxurious villa, on land that has been stolen from someone else by force.

5. Finally, a report from Fox News from the weekly protest at the apartheid wall in Nilin that comes via Mondweiss. Adam Horowitz comments: “Okay, so it's not the best reporting. It gets a number of crucial facts wrong, and everyone seems much more concerned about how the reporter smells than anything else, but isn't it still a sign of progress? Bil'in is becoming such a well known story even Fox News is there. And factual mistakes aside - doesn't the real story still come through?”

Gaza Digest 101, 7/10/09

News Clips: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the Nazi term 'Judenrein' (cleansed of Jews) in a recent meeting with the German foreign minister to condemn the Palestinian demand that West Bank settlements be removed, a confidant of the premier has said; Reuters reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to U.S. President Obama's senior aides Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod as 'self-hating Jews'; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accused Israel on Thursday of sabotaging at the last minute a deal that would have seen captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed from Hamas captivity in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel; All 21 members of the Spirit of Humanity who had been held by Israel for attempting to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza have been released; Officials in Europe apologized to Israel's Ambassador to the EU Ron Kuriel following a flurry of anger at the Israeli Foreign Ministry following a statement on the problems Israeli settlements create for Palestinians in the West Bank; The United States denied a report that it would allow the completion of 2,500 housing units in the West Bank as part of a compromise on settlements; U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Israel to tear down the West Bank security fence Wednesday in Jerusalem on the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice decision that the barrier, made up of fencing with barbed wire, concrete blocks and electronic sensors, is illegal and a violation of Palestinian rights;

1. Received this link to an article in the New Jersey Jewish News from Jewish Peace News.  The author, Doug Bloomfield, who is a former chief lobbyist for AIPAC, describes advice for pro-Israel activists from a manual by The Israel Project (TIP), a right-wing lobbying group. One of the talking points they recommend is to call the removal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank “ethnic cleansing,” or as Mr. Netanyahu so succinctly put it in the clip above ‘Judenrein.'

“Change the Policy or Change the Subject?” Douglas M. Bloomfeld, New Jersey Jewish News, 7/9/09

Excerpt: Instead of defending settlements, go on the attack, advises TIP, a Washington-based group that seeks to enhance Israel's image among journalists and policy makers.
According to Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now, former Amb. Zalman Shoval, a close advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a Washington appearance last month that no Israeli government should be expected to engage in ethnic cleansing against its own citizens, i.e., settlers.
Similarly, TIP says the “best argument” for settlements is this: Since Arabs citizens of Israel “enjoy equal rights,” telling Jews they can't live in the Palestinian state “is a racist idea.” (Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said this week that Jews would be welcome to live in the Palestinian state and enjoy the same rights Israeli Arabs enjoy in Israel.)

2. And here is a video, via Haaretz, of some settlers at work attacking Peace Now Activists who were in the West Bank to document new construction in the settlements.

WATCH: Settlers Attack Peace Now Activists,” Haaretz, 7/8/09

Excerpt: The footage, originally broadcast on Channel 2 Television and posted online by Peace Now, shows a security guard at the Dolev settlement snatching and destroying the TV crew's camera equipment and later attacking the activists' car with rocks.

3. July 9th marked the five-year anniversary of the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel's “security fence” in and around the West Bank was illegal. Here is a three-minute video report by Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin on Palestinians trapped by the illegal separation wall.

“Israel's Illegal Wall Traps Palestinians,” Ayman Mohyeldin, Al-Jazeera, 7/9/09

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Israel to comply with an international court ruling and dismantle its separation barrier through occupied Palestinian land.

Five years ago, the International Court of Justice ruled that the barrier was illegal and should be taken down, but Israel continues to ignore international demands.

4. Really interesting editorial from Ali Abunimah on The Electronic Intifada in which he analyzes a recent speech by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.

“Hamas' choice: Recognition or resistance in the age of Obama,” Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 7/6/09

Excerpt: Meshal's speech confirms Hamas' long-term shift away from Islamist rhetoric toward mainstream Palestinian nationalist discourse. It indicates that Hamas is highly sensitive to international and Palestinian public opinion and is aware that Palestinians need to build real international solidarity as part of a strategy to level the glaring power imbalance with Israel. But it is not prepared to seek recognition at any price. All this has implications for the movement's message and methods.

This leaves the field open for an urgent debate among Palestinians about what that future vision should be and what role resistance in all its legitimate forms should play. No group of leaders, whether from Hamas or any other organization, could or should carry the burden of restoring Palestinian rights by itself. Hamas, like other Palestinian organizations, can only be a guardian of fundamental rights to the extent that it is embedded in a broader movement mobilized in Palestine and globally to defend those rights.

And if Hamas' potential interlocutors are sincerely seeking ways to recognize the democratic mandate of the movement without trying to force it to forfeit its legitimacy, there are precedents. South Africa's African National Congress and the Irish Republican Army were both able to take part in successful political negotiations that got their respective countries out of disastrous political and military stalemates without being required to submit to unacceptable preconditions. That took a measure of leadership, foresight and political courage by others that has been notably absent in international dealings with Hamas.

5. Jewish Fast for Gaza

Announcing Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza.

See below for the press release about the project, which is already attracting increasing numbers of supporters, including many rabbis. Click the link above to visit the website and sign up yourself…


Seeking “to end the Jewish community's silence over Israel's collective punishment in Gaza,” an ad-hoc group of American rabbis has called for a communal fast. Known as Ta'anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, this new initiative will organize a series of monthly fasts beginning on July 16.

The project was initiated by a group of thirteen rabbis representing a spectrum of American Jewish denominations. The group's website explains the religious meaning of the campaign: “In Jewish tradition a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and a call to repentance. In this spirit, Ta'anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is a collective act of conscience initiated by an ad hoc group of rabbis, Jews, people of faith, and all concerned with (this) ongoing crisis…”

The fast has four goals: to call for a lifting of the blockade, to provide humanitarian and developmental aid to the people of Gaza, to call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations with Hamas in order to end the blockade, and to encourage the American government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The water-only fast will take place every third Thursday of the month, from sunrise to sunset. In addition to signing on to the fast statement, participants have been asked to donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a relief campaign that combats malnutrition among Gazan preschool children.

Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, Israel has imposed a blockade that has severely restricted Gaza's ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed and it suffers from high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition.

“Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people in Gaza amounts to nothing less than collective punishment. While we condemn Hamas' targeting of Israeli civilians, it is immoral to punish an entire population for the actions of a few,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, who serves Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL. “This blockade has only served to further oppress an already thoroughly oppressed people. As Jews and as human beings of conscience, we cannot stand idly by.”

“We've been enormously encouraged by the initial response we've received from the Jewish community thus far,” said fast organizer Rabbi Brian Walt, former Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, who noted that the initiative has signed up numerous supporters prior to the launch of the project. “We truly believe this effort is giving voice to a significant number of people who been looking for a Jewish voice of conscience on this issue.”

Gaza Digest 100, 7/8/09

News Clips: Israel has protested to the European Union over a critical report on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, summoning the bloc's envoy to tell him the statement ignored security concerns; Approximately 100 Israeli soldiers attacked the West Bank village of Bil'in at 3 A.M on 7 July, arresting two young men and marking almost two weeks of nightly raids by the Israeli military; Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held captive in Gaza by Hamas militants, is in good condition, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Tuesday; The United Nations team charged with examining whether Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip during their war earlier this year has nearly concluded its probe, but says it is too early to determine a final verdict; U.S. President Barack Obama earlier Tuesday rebuffed suggestions that Washington had given Israel a green light to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, in an interview with CNN; Israeli leaders have not asked the United States for approval to attack Iran for fear Washington will turn them down, according to a news report in the Washington Times.

1. In its continuing efforts to accrue bad press and undermine its multi-milllion dollar “Re-brand Israel” campaign, the Israeli government has refused entry to Gaza to a group of European doctors on a humanitarian mission, according to this report in the Guardian.

“Israel Criticized for Thwarting Medical Mission to Palestinian Territories,” Vikram Dodd, 7/7/09

Excerpt: Israel was yesterday criticised after it refused to allow a group of doctors on a humanitarian mission organised by the French government to enter Gaza.

The team, including three British medics, was turned back by Israeli border guards on Sunday and Monday. They say their mission is purely humanitarian, aimed to helping those in medical need, and some of whom were left injured and in need of surgery after Israel's attack on Gaza earlier this year.

One of the Britons refused entry to Gaza, Sonia Robbins, who is a reconstructive plastic surgeon, said: "I don't know why we are being refused permission to enter.

"The consequences are that patients will not be operated on, children will have to wait until next time for surgery, and that won't happen until six months time.

"I think it is unacceptable to refuse a humanitarian mission."

The team had tried to enter through the Erez crossing. Robbins said she had been allowed to work in Gaza before. She said the team of nine medics were concentrating on surgery to the upper limbs, and that their papers to gain entry into Gaza were all in order. She added the border guards had been courteous as they refused the medical team permission to enter Gaza, where as well as treating the injured, they would help teach Palestinian doctors.

2. IRIN (Humanitarian News and Analysis from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reports on a summer athletics program in Gaza that is part of a coordinated effort to help kids overcome the lingering trauma from last winter's military assault.

“OPT: Games Help Relieve Stress, Trauma for Gaza Refugee Children,” IRIN, 7/8/09

Excerpt: Summer Games organized by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) at 152 camp locations throughout the Gaza Strip are helping many children get over the trauma of the 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January 2009.

The camps are mostly at UNRWA schools, and each location hosts an average of 200 campers who attend for two-week sessions. The participants - children of Palestinian refugees living in Gaza - are aged 6-15.

“There is a large turnout. Over 240,000 children are participating this year,” Karen Koning AbuZayd, director of UNRWA, told IRIN from Beach Camp in Gaza City as campers splashed in the sea behind her. There are 25 beachfront camp locations.

“[The Games] give the children the opportunity to express themselves freely for the first week, and then there is more formality in the second week of the session,” said AbuZayd.

Campers engage in sports, theatre projects, arts and crafts, and cultural activities like Dabka (traditional Palestinian dance) run by 5,000 camp counsellors hired under UNRWA's job creation programme, said UNRWA officer Stephanie Fox in Gaza.

The eight-week programme is also generating income for 500 families via the production of camp T-shirts, hats and sneakers, otherwise not available in Gaza due to border closures.

“We want to ensure those children living in the most vulnerable areas, which tend to be the border areas in the north and the east, have the opportunity to attend the camps,” said Fox. “Having the space and chance to play in a safe environment is a stress reliever.”

3. The Alternative Information Center reports on the Palestinian Authority's refusal to participate in a push for the Dead Sea's inclusion in the New 7 Wonders Campaign.

“Palestinian Authority Boycotts Inclusion of the Dead Sea in the New 7 Wonders Campaign Due to Settler Involvement,” The Alternative Information Center, 7/6/09

In 2001, Canadian filmmaker Bernard Weber began the New7Wonders Campaign to promote the preservation of the world's natural and man-made wonders. Every year the New7Wonders Foundation hosts an international contest to raise awareness about seven places of natural and created beauty, and to encourage environmental awareness. At first glance, the Dead Sea seems an ideal entry for the contest. It is the deepest salt lake in the world, and in desperate need of environmentally friendly attention. Thus, the contest is a prime opportunity to raise awareness about its preservation while promoting eco-friendly tourism.

The catch is that to enter cites that lie along more than one border into the contest, all adjacent countries must form an Official Supporting Committee. While Israel and Jordan have created committees in support of the Dead Sea entry, the Palestinian Authority has not. The reason for their abstention is simple: the Israeli committee is working in coordination with councilmen from settler communities in the West Bank. And rather than support the continued appropriation of their own land, the Palestinian Authority has instead decided to make a political statement against occupation.

Defending her decision not to form a committee, Tourism Minister Khouloud Douaibes announced that the Palestinian Authority would not support the Dead Sea entry due to the Israeli committee's collaboration “with settler councilmen on occupied land [which] contravenes international law,” Haaretz reports.

While conservation of the Dead Sea is important, there is an irony in preserving a body of water where no humans live, while doing nothing to preserve the land on which Palestinians reside, nor preventing its illegal confiscation. It is true that environmentally friendly tourism can be a powerful way of generating local income and international interest about a threatened area, but this should not take place with no reference to the larger political context. In the case of the New7Wonders Campaign, promoting the Dead Sea could mean giving credence and support to illegal settlers, therefore harming the very people increased tourism is meant to benefit.

But perhaps the greatest irony of the Dead Sea disagreement is that the theme of the New7Wonders Campaign is “Our Heritage, Our Future.” In paradoxical contrast to this motto, the Israeli committee's involvement with the Megilot Regional Council, which resides over settlements, means it would be promoting a cite of joint Israeli-Palestinian heritage, but with the future and wellbeing of only one people in mind.

Still, the Palestinian Authority's decision to boycott the New7Wonders Campaign is relevant to the wider struggle for Palestinian sovereignty and human rights. The PA Ministry of Tourism's conscientious and legal objection to supporting the Megilot Regional Council effectively forced the Israeli committee to examine their relationship with settlers. It also sent a clear message to Israel: efforts to preserve joint Israeli-Palestinian heritage must be politically and socially responsible, and must take into account both people's futures. The Palestinian Authority's success points to how boycott can be used as a tool in the future to draw public attention to issues of social justice, and to hold governments accountable when they breach international law.

Gaza Digest 99, 7/7/09

News Clips: The UN Fact-finding Commission, headed by Richard Goldstone, held hearings on Monday in Geneva, similar to a previous hearing held in the Gaza Strip last week; Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Monday questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that he was merely paying lip service to the idea because of pressure from the world; Vice President Joe Biden's statement that Israel can decide on its own whether to strike Iran's nuclear sites should not be construed as an American "green light" for such an action, the State Department said on Monday; First-time home buyers can receive a bigger mortgage if they move to West Bank settlements such as Itamar and Eilon Moreh than to the Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry Web site; In a harshly worded statement released on Monday, the European Commission said that the expropriation of fertile land in the West Bank for Israeli settlements, roads that serve settlers only and West Bank checkpoints help constrain Palestinian economic growth and make the Palestinian government more dependent on aid, forcing European taxpayers to cover the costs of Palestinian dependence.

1. Last Thursday Ariel Atias, the Israeli housing minister and member of the right-wing Shas Party, speaking at an Israeli Bar Association Meeting, said that he thought that Jews and Arabs in Israel should not “mix” and should be kept “separated,” and that stopping the spread of the Arab population in Israel was a “national duty.” This article by Jonathan Cook from The Electronic Intifada details Atias's plans.

“Minister Calls for Jewish Takeover of Arab Areas of Israel,” Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 7/6/09

Excerpt: Israel's housing minister called for strict segregation between the country's Jewish and Arab populations last week as he unveiled plans to move large numbers of fundamentalist religious Jews to Israel's north to prevent what he described as an "Arab takeover" of the region.

Ariel Atias said he considered it a "national mission" to bring ultra-Orthodox Jews -- or Haredim, distinctive for their formal black and white clothing -- into Arab areas, and announced that he would also create the north's first exclusively Haredi town.

The new settlement drive, according to Atias, is intended to revive previous failed efforts by the state to "Judaize," or create a Jewish majority in, the country's heavily Arab north.

Analysts say the announcement is a disturbing indication that the Haredim, who have traditionally been hostile to Zionism because of their strict reading of the Bible, are rapidly being recruited to the Judaization project in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Atias, of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, is drawing on a model already successfully developed over the past decade in the West Bank, where the Haredim, the group with the highest birth rate in Israel, have been encouraged to move into separate settlements that have rapidly eaten into large chunks of Palestinian territory.

Several mayors of northern cities in Israel have appealed to Atias to help them "save" the Jewishness of their communities in a similar manner by recruiting Haredim to swell the numbers of Jews in the north.

Atias revealed his new drive on Thursday as he spoke at an Israeli Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv to discuss land reform plans. He told the delegates: "We can all be bleeding hearts, but I think it is unsuitable [for Jews and Arabs] to live together."

His priority, he said, was to prevent the "spread" of Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of the country's population and are mostly restricted to their own overcrowded communities in two northern regions, the Galilee and Wadi Ara.

Referring to the Galilee, where Arab citizens are a small majority of the population, he said: "If we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there."

2. A report from the Christian Science Monitor about the continuing negotiations between the U.S. and Israel over the U.S.'s call for a halt to settlement expansion.

“U.S.-Israel Looking for a Way to Resolve Settlements Dispute,” Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, 7/6/09

Excerpt: "It's my sense that the US is not letting up," says Yossi Alpher, the coeditor of Israeli-Palestinian online opinion journal "The pressure has got the Netanyahu government squirming, bargaining for a way out," he said, adding that he sees signs of Israel backing down.

Mr. Alpher said that if the US is able to convince its Arab allies to make a normalization gesture to Israel as a quid pro quo, it could help Netanyahu present the talks as a diplomatic victory even before the start of peace talks.

Indeed, Netanyahu is coming under increasing criticism at home over the peace process. Israeli Television Channel 2 news reported that the prime minister is facing a group of about 12 lawmakers from within his own party who have signed a letter against his endorsement of a two-state solution.

The focus on the settlement issue is helping the US to recast itself as a more neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said one former Israeli diplomat. But the elusiveness of a deal on settlements could be a preview of the difficulties that are likely to arise if the sides ever resume peace negotiations.

"The talks with Mitchell look to me like technical talks," says Alon Liel, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign ministry. "They don't look to me as talks on the implementation of the Obama vision of two states. This is only beginning of the beginning."

3. Bradley Burston writes in a Haaretz about racism in Israel, which he argues makes the Jewish state look bad.

“This is What's Wrong with a Jewish State,” Bradley Burston, Haaretz, 7/6/09

Excerpt: There is no little irony in the circumstance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state - or, in its more recent form, "the national state of the Jewish People" - as a central tool in efforts to stave off peace talks and deflect demands for a settlement freeze.

Never, thanks to his government, has the concept of a Jewish state looked worse.

The undercurrent of racism in Israel's election campaign earlier was merely the herald of a series of ensuing legislative moves and official declarations which have soiled the concept of a Jewish state to a nadir that Israel's worst, most energetic enemies have never managed to approach.

But overtly anti-Israeli Arab legislation and bills aimed at curbing Arab freedom of expression were just the beginning. The outpouring of hatred has become an equal-opportunity sewer.

Unabashed, despicable racist attitudes directed at a black president of the United States have spewed forth from such quarters as radical settlers and immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Inevitably, fellow Jews in Israel have become targets of the hatred as well. In Jerusalem, Jews who presume to be the among the most devout of all adherents to Judaism, think nothing of attacking fellow Jews on the Sabbath with cinder blocks and glass bottles - all in protest over the opening of a parking lot.


Gaza Digest 98, 7/6/09

News Clips: Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet on Monday with U.S. special Mideast envoy George Mitchell in an effort to reach a compromise on calls for an Israeli settlement freeze and to seek ways to promote regional peace; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the Obama administration would not stand in Israel's way should the latter chooses to take military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat; Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday said that Jews would enjoy freedom and full civil rights in a future Palestinian state, according to a report in the Aspen Daily News; At around noon on July 5, EST, a phone call, from a verifiable source, was received by a member of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's camp indicating that the American prisoners taken from the Free Gaza Movement boat last week and being held by Israel have been moved to a detainment facility closer to the Ben Gurion Airport; Three of the six UK nationals detained by Israel for attempting to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip will be deported on Monday, according to a statement from the Free Gaza Movement; Large crowds assembled on Friday at the funeral procession for 17-year-old girl, Hiyam Abu ‘Ayash, killed by Israeli shelling in central Gaza late on Thursday night.

1. Long, detailed article from the Guardian's Sunday Observer by Peter Beaumont about Gaza six months after the assault. Beaumont does follow-up interviews with three women he had met in late January 2009. There is also an audio slideshow by Beaumont, photographer Antonio Olmos, and Jim Powell.

“A Life in Ruins,” Peter Beaumont, The Observer, 7/5/09

Excerpt: On my return, I scour Gaza for evidence that anything has changed for the better in the months since the war ended. But houses and other buildings destroyed during the conflict remain as hollowed-out and dusty monuments to violence. In places, some owners have experimented with repairing buildings with an adobe made of mud and straw baked in the sun. But it is a very temporary solution.

In the office of Dr Ibrahim Radwan, the man appointed by the Hamas government to record the damage done in Israel's three-week war, I jot down the numbers that describe what happened. Some 3,800 homes and businesses badly damaged in one way or another - although he admits this includes some damaged in previous Israeli attacks. In addition, 80 government buildings were hit. Radwan has his own categories to describe the degrees of destruction, but after a week driving around Gaza, the damage conforms to its own types. The big metal walls of the workshops on Salahadeen Road, where the heaviest fighting took place, now leak light through hundreds of bullet perforations; other walls are splashed with the shrapnel of missiles fired from drones; blocks of flats hit by artillery fire show scorched holes. And across the north of the Gaza Strip stand the weird igloos of the bomb-flattened houses.

There are changes that I do register in the six months since the war ended. The bodies of dead animals have been removed and cleared away; the ruins have been sifted for human remains. It has expunged the odour of decay that was once tangy with the chemical flavour of explosives and spent phosphorous. The tangled remnants of an orange grove I drove past every day, tipped over and torn by military bull-dozers, has disappeared, razed for firewood.

And without concrete and steel, aluminium and glass, without tiles for roofs and cladding for stairs and bathrooms - all prevented from entering Gaza by Israel's continuing economic blockade - no rebuilding has begun. For those who suffered most, the war continues.

2. Most of the Free Gaza Movement activists who were arrested (or kidnapped, depending on what language you want to use) by Israeli forces last Tuesday while their boat was in international waters are still being held, although there was one report that Cynthia McKinney had been put on an airplane late Sunday and others would be deported on Monday. Al-Jazeera posted this report and a related video, including an audio interview with Irish peace activist and Nobel prize-winner Mairead Maguire.

Gaza Activists Still in Israeli Jail,” Al-Jazeera, 7/5/09

A number of foreign activists are still in detention in a Tel Aviv jail four days after the Israeli navy stopped their boat as they attempted to reach the Gaza Strip.

Mairead Maguire, a Nobel peace prize winner, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the activists had agreed to remain in detention until Israel agreed to free all of the activists.

"We said that we were abducted as a group ... and that we would not leave until everyone left and we were happy that all our equipment had been returned," she said.

Israeli sailors boarded the Spirit of Humanity, a Greek-registered vessel, on Tuesday off the coast of Gaza and seized those on board.

"They forcibly boarded the ship, detained all our passengers and illegally took them to Israel against their will. This is a kidnapping. This is the act of piracy at sea," Ramzi Kyzia, an activist from the Free Gaza Movement, told a news conference in Cyprus.

"The Israeli navy made the choice to come out and intercept us and forcibly board us and kidnap 21 international human rights workers and journalists."

The activists, who were carrying humanitarian supplies, had set off from Cyprus in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which prevents many basic supplies reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians in the territory. 

Among those detained with Maguire were Cynthia McKinney, a US congresswoman, and two Al Jazeera journalists.

Yigal Palmor, the Israeli foreign minister, had said that those who signed an undertaking to return home voluntarily could be released immediately and repatriated on the first available flight.

3. An article about Israeli abuse of Palestinian child prisoners from, miraculously enough, TIME Magazine.

“Does Israel Mistreat Palestinian child prisoners?” Tim McGirk, TIME, 6/30/09

Excerpt: Walid's story is hardly unusual, judging from a report on the Israeli military-justice system in the West Bank compiled by the Palestine office of the Geneva-based Defense for Children International, which works closely with the U.N. and European states. Human-rights groups in Israel and elsewhere have also condemned the punishment meted out to Palestinian children by Israeli military justice. Most onerous, says Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human-rights group B'Tselem, is that inside the territories, the Israeli military deems any Palestinian who is 16 years and older as an adult, while inside Israel, the U.S. and most other countries, adulthood is reached at age 18.

The report states that "the ill-treatment and torture" of Palestinian child prisoners "appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized, suggesting complicity at all levels of the political and military chain of command." The group's director, Rifaat Kassis, says the number of child arrests rose sharply in the past six months, possibly because of a crackdown on Palestinian protests in the West Bank in the aftermath of Israel's military offensive in Gaza.

Gaza Digest 97, 7/2/09

News Clips: Israel will not impose a complete halt on settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land as demanded by the United States, a senior official said Thursday; The twenty-one international human rights activists who were aboard the Free Gaza Movement boat and were detained by Israel on Tuesday will be deported; the Israeli government has approved the construction of 50 new homes in a West Bank settlement and announced plans to expropriate more Palestinian land; The Israeli High Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered the Israel Defense Forces to press stronger charges than “improper conduct” against a commanding officer over the shooting of a bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainee in the West Bank; Thousands of people this week signed a petition in support of the Israeli president of the World Medical Association, following a campaign to impeach him from the world ethical body for alleged complicity in torturing Palestinians.

1. From the Associated Press, Amnesty International released a report yesterday on human rights abuses during the Gaza offensive, accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

“Israel, Hamas Both Guilty of War Crimes--Amnesty,” Associated Press via Times Online, 7/2/09

Excerpt: Israeli and Palestinian troops both committed war crimes in the recent war in Gaza, Amnesty International has claimed in the first in-depth human rights report on the war.

Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by high precision artillery, while others were shot at close range, the report said. It also described rocket fire attacks by Gaza's militant Hamas rulers against Israeli towns as war crimes.

The organisation called on Israel publicly to pledge not to use artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas, and urged Hamas to stop its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

Amnesty, which first accused Israel of war crimes shortly after the fighting ended on January 18, said "disturbing questions" remain about why high-precision weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles "killed so many children and other civilians."

The group also deplored Israel's use of less precise artillery shells and highly incendiary white phosphorous in densely populated areas. It accused Israeli forces of using Palestinians as "human shields" and frequently blocking civilians from receiving medical care and humanitarian aid.

The pattern of Israeli attacks and the high number of civilian casualties "showed elements of reckless conduct, disregard for civilian lives and property and a consistent failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects," Amnesty charged.

2. A report from The Electronic Intifada describes an increase in the use and misuse of the narcotic painkiller Tramadol in Gaza.

“Drug Addiction on the Rise in Besieged Gaza,” Erin Cunningham, The Electronic Intifada, 7/1/09

Excerpt: Looking to escape years of war, searing poverty and an unrelenting economic blockade, medical officials in the Gaza Strip say residents have developed a serious addiction to the narcotic painkiller Tramadol.

The embattled enclave's borders have been hermetically sealed by both Israel and Egypt for two years, and an Israeli military assault last winter killed some 1,500 Gazans.

Gaza has the world's highest unemployment rate -- at 45 percent, according to the United Nations -- and 75 percent of its inhabitants feel unsafe or insecure, a recent UN survey found.

Rumors of Tramadol's mood-enhancing properties, and its easy availability over the counter have consequently turned thousands of desperate Gazans to the comfort of the tiny pills over the past two years.

Used medically to treat moderate to severe pain, Tramadol is a synthetic opioid related to morphine -- and more distantly to the highly addictive heroin.

While altering a user's perception of pain, its side effects include mild euphoria, sexual stamina and general feelings of relaxation. It also alleviates symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"People in Gaza are in a constant state of panic," says Dr. Abdel Aziz Mousa Thabet, clinical psychiatrist and senior researcher at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP). "Their trauma is ongoing -- with war and the siege -- they need to feel like they have control of their lives."

But the opiate-like painkiller, also marketed globally under the brand name Tramal, brings both physical and mental dependence, according to health officials, and can be extremely dangerous if used recreationally in high doses or without medical supervision.

Neither the Hamas-run government nor local health non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have official figures of just how many Gaza residents take the drug, but say its use is perilously widespread.

3. From Common Dreams, the letter The Yes Men sent to the Jerusalem International Film Festival withdrawing their film.

“For Once, the Yes Men Say No,” Andy Bichelbaum & Mike Bonnano, Common Dreams, 7/1/09

Excerpt: We regret to say that we have taken the hard decision to withdraw our film, "The Yes Men Fix the World," from the Jerusalem Film Festival in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

This decision does not come easily, as we realize that the festival opposes the policies of the State of Israel, and we have no wish to punish progressives who deplore the state-sponsored violence committed in their name.

This decision does not come easily, as we feel a strong affinity with many people in Israel, sharing with them our Jewish roots, as well as the trauma of the Holocaust, in which both our grandfathers died. Andy lived in Jerusalem for a year long ago, can still get by in Hebrew, and counts several friends there. And Mike has always wanted to connect with the roots of his culture.

But despite all our feelings, we cannot abandon our mission as activists. In the 1980s, there was a call from the people of South Africa to artists and others to boycott that regime, and it helped end apartheid there. Today, there is a clear call for a boycott from Palestinian civil society. Obeying it is our only hope, as filmmakers and activists, of helping put pressure on the Israeli government to comply with international law.

It is painful to do this. But it is even more painful to hear Israeli policies described as "fascist" - not just from the ill-informed and the clueless, not just from the usual anti-semitic morons, but from well-informed Jewish activists within Israel. They know what they're talking about, and it's painful to think that they could be right.

As we're sure you know and deplore, the Israeli government has recently authorized the construction of new units in an illegal West Bank outpost - one that is illegal even according to Israeli law. On Monday, nine Palestinians were injured as Israeli authorities demolished their East Jerusalem home. Tuesday, the Israeli navy stopped a ship from delivering medicine, toys, and other humanitarian relief to Gaza, and detained over twenty foreign peace activists, including a Nobel Peace laureate. Meanwhile, a UN commission was in Gaza investigating much worse abuses committed early this year.

Whatever words are applied to such actions, our film mustn't help lend an aura of normalcy to a state that makes these decisions. For us, that's the bottom line.

4. Interesting interview with Naomi Klein from Haaretz in which she talks more about the BDS Movement, her participation in it, and, later in the article, about the Durban II Conference on racism.

“Naomi Klein: Oppose the State, Not the People,” Yotam Feldman, Haaretz, 7/1/09

Excerpt: Klein, who supports an economic and cultural boycott of Israel as pressure to end the occupation in the territories, thought long and hard about publishing her book in Hebrew, as well as visiting Israel. She finally decided to issue the book with Andalus Publishing, which specializes in Arabic literature, and to contribute her royalties to the press. Klein and Andalus publisher Yael Lerer carefully planned Klein's itinerary in Israel to avoid the impression that she supports institutions connected to the State of Israel and the Israeli economy.

"It certainly would have been a lot easier not to have come to Israel, and I wouldn't have come had the Palestinian Boycott National Committee asked me not to," said Klein in an interview before her arrival, at her Toronto home. "But I went to them with a proposal for the way I wanted to visit Israel and they were very open to it. It is important to me not to boycott Israelis but rather to boycott the normalization of Israel and the conflict."

So why did you decide to come nevertheless?

"First of all, I deal in communications. It's my profession and my passion and I naturally rebel against any kind of cutting off of channels of dialogue. I think that one of the most powerful tools of those who oppose the boycott is the argument that it is a boycott of Israelis. It's true that some academics won't agree to accept an article by an Israeli for publication in a journal. There aren't many of them, and they make stupid decisions. This is not what the boycott committee has called for. The decision isn't to boycott Israel but rather to oppose official relationships with Israeli institutions."

Gaza Digest 96, 6/30/09

News Clips: Hamas official says captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was lost track of during major bombings of Gaza, and they are not sure he is alive; Activists with the Free Gaza Movement, among them former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, sailing to Gaza with humanitarian aid said they had been intercepted by an Israeli gunboat on Tuesday and their navigating instruments jammed, but the Israeli military said it was just monitoring the aid ship while it was in international waters; Palestinian officials involved in Hamas-Fateh reconciliation talks hosted and mediated by Egypt reported that a progress was reached on the political prisoners file and other important files, and that finalizing the points of agreement would be conducted Tuesday; Twenty-nine civilians, including eight children, were killed in several missile strikes by Israeli drones in Gaza in December and January, according to a report released on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.

1. Beautiful and inspiring letter from Israeli human rights activist Ezra Nawi from the Nation. If you haven't already, please sign the Jewish Voice for Peace letter for Ezra and make a donation to his cause.

“Israel's Man of Conscience,” Ezra Nawi, The Nation, 6/29/09

My name is Ezra Nawi. I am a Jewish citizen of Israel.

Excerpt: I will be sentenced on the first of July after being found guilty of assaulting two police officers in 2007 while struggling against the demolition of a Palestinian house in Um El Hir, located in the southern part of the West Bank.

Of course the policemen who accused me of assaulting them are lying. Indeed, lying has become common within the Israeli police force, military and among the Jewish settlers.

After close to 140,000 letters were sent to Israeli officials in support of my activities in the occupied West Bank, the Ministry of Justice responded that I "provoke local residents."

This response reflects the culture of deceit that has taken over all official discourse relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

After all, was I the one who poisoned and destroyed Palestinian water wells?

Was I the one who beat young Palestinian children?

Did I hit the elderly?

Did I poison the Palestinian residents' sheep?

Did I demolish homes and destroy tractors?

Did I block roads and restrict movement?

Was I the one who prevented people from connecting their homes to running water and electricity?

Did I forbid Palestinians from building homes?

Over the past eight years, I have seen with my own two eyes hundreds of abuses such as these and exposed them to the public--therefore I am considered a provocateur. I can only say that I am proud to be a provoker.

2. Art Young on ZNET starts with a description of AIPAC's response to the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) Movement, and then proceeds with an excellent overview of the movement and its various components around the world.

“Pro-Israel Lobby Alarmed by Growth of Boycott, Divestment Movement,” Art Young, ZNET, 6/29/09

Excerpt: The movement to call Israel to account for its crimes against the Palestinian people is growing, it is "invading the mainstream discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel." It could eventually threaten the existence of the Jewish state by undermining the support it receives from its strongest backer, the U. S. government.
That was the message of alarm delivered by the Executive Director of the American Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Howard Kohr, to the AIPAC Policy Conference on May 3.


AIPAC's call to arms is a grudging recognition of these initial successes of the movement and, above all, of its potential. It is evident that supporters of the Jewish-only Israeli state - be they official lobbyists, powerful government figures, or others - intend to redouble their efforts to smear the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and to suppress public debate of Israel's crimes. Supporters of the rights of Palestinians are responding by uniting with others to defend the right to free speech on these issues and by reaching out to win new support for the boycott-Israel campaign.

3. Gazans are living in despair and poverty, according to a Red Cross Report released on Monday and reported in Haaretz.

“Red Cross: Israel trapping 1.5m Gazans in despair,” Haaretz Service, 6/29/09

Excerpt: The Red Cross released a damning report Monday on the effects of the Israel-led blockade on the Gaza Strip, describing the 2-year-old measure as having trapped the coastal territory's 1.5 million residents "in despair."

The international humanitarian organization lamented the fact that the blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of Gaza two years ago, was impeding reconstruction efforts after Israel's offensive in the Strip at the beginning of the year.

"Gaza neighborhoods particularly hard hit by the Israeli strikes will continue to look like the epicenter of a massive earthquake unless vast quantities of cement, steel and other building materials are allowed into the territory for reconstruction," the report said.

According to the Red Cross, Gaza's poverty is directly linked to the blockade that is "strangling" the local economy.

4. From the annals of daily humiliation and arbitrary meanness, a report from Amira Hass in Haaretz on a privately run checkpoint not allowing Palestinian day workers to bring their lunches with them to work.

“Privately run checkpoint stops Palestinians with 'too much food',” Amira Hass, Haaretz, 6/29/09

A West Bank checkpoint managed by a private security company is not allowing Palestinians to pass through with large water bottles and some food items, Haaretz has learned.

MachsomWatch discovered the policy, which Palestinian workers confirmed to Haaretz.

The Defense Ministry stated in response that non-commercial quantities of food were not being limited. It made no reference to the issue of water.

The checkpoint, Sha'ar Efraim, is south of Tul Karm, and is managed for the Defense Ministry by the private security company Modi'in Ezrahi. The company stops Palestinian workers from passing through the checkpoint with the following items: Large bottles of frozen water, large bottles of soft drinks, home-cooked food, coffee, tea and the spice zaatar. The security company also dictates the quantity of items allowed: Five pitas, one container of hummus and canned tuna, one small bottle or can of beverage, one or two slices of cheese, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and 5 to 10 olives. Workers are also not allowed to carry cooking utensils and work tools.

MachsomWatch told Haaretz that Sunday, a 32-year-old construction worker from Tul Karm, who is employed in Hadera, was not allowed to carry his lunch bag through the checkpoint. The bag contained six pitas, 2 cans of cream cheese, one kilogram of sugar in a plastic bag, and a salad, also in a plastic bag.

The typical Palestinian laborer in Israel has a 12-hour workday, including travel time and checkpoint delays. Many leave home as early as 2 A.M. in order to wait in line at the checkpoint; tardiness to work often results in immediate dismissal. Workers return home around 5 P.M. The wait at the checkpoint can take one to two hours in each direction, if not longer.

The food quantities allowed by Modi'in Ezrahi do not meet the daily dietary needs of the workers, and they prefer not to buy food at the considerably more expensive Israeli stores.

Gaza Digest 95, 6/29/09

News Clips: Six months after Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip, 1.5 million Palestinians remain trapped in rising poverty, unable to rebuild their lives, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday; Defense Minister Ehud Barak was set to head to the United States Monday in a bid to end a quarrel with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration over Israel's refusal to completely halt West Bank settlement construction; In a gesture acknowledging international pressure from the Global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement for him to cancel his concert in Israel, music legend Leonard Cohen will perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah two days after his September 24 performance in Israel; The Hamas official in charge of negotiations over abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit said Sunday that there was no truth in the recent flurry of reports over a breakthrough in the talks; The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has accused the Israeli security forces of deliberately shackling Palestinian prisoners in a painful and dangerous manner, amounting to a form of torture.

1. This article from the Guardian describes the U.N. hearings that were held on Saturday and Sunday and, in an unusual move, were broadcast live. You can also see a brief report on the hearings—with some footage—from Al Jazeera.

U.N. Public Hearing in Gaza Broadcasts Accounts of War Victims,” Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, 6/28/09

Excerpt: The UN has held an unprecedented public hearing in Gaza to broadcast live witness accounts from Palestinians who described seeing their relatives killed and injured during Israel's January war.

One after another, they detailed Israeli rocket strikes and artillery shelling near a mosque, a UN school and on several homes across Gaza during the three-week war. The two-day hearing is part of an inquiry by the UN human rights council into the war led by the respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone.

Israel has refused entry for the inquiry team, accusing the UN council of an anti-Israel bias even though Goldstone himself is Jewish. But another round of hearings will be held in Geneva next week, for which some Israeli witnesses are expected to be flown in. They may include residents of Sderot, near Gaza, which has suffered repeated Palestinian rocket attacks.

"The purpose of the public hearings in Gaza and Geneva is to show the faces and broadcast the voices of victims – all of the victims," Goldstone said last week. He had sat on South Africa's constitutional court after the fall of apartheid and was a chief prosecutor on the UN criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Yesterday's public hearing was the first in a UN fact-finding mission, though there is little chance it will lead to prosecutions. Up to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the war.

2. From the Washington Post, a piece describing how Americans are supporting the illegal settlements in the West Bank, with suggestions for possible remedies.

“Want to Stop Israeli Settlements? Start With Americans,” Ronit Avni, The Washington Post, 6/26/09

Excerpt: Evangelical Christians in the United States also support the settlements, raising millions of dollars for them, according to a recent National Public Radio report. The Colorado-based Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, for example, encourages churches and ministries to connect with "the pioneers of Biblical Israel" through the "adopt-a-settlement program." Sondra Oster Baras, director of the organization's Israeli office, estimates that more than half of the West Bank settlements receive direct or indirect support from Christians, according to the NPR report.

A handful of wealthy businessmen, including American casino magnate Irving Moskowitz, are widely reported to have donated to groups such as the Brooklyn-based not-for-profit Hebron Fund, which raises money to support residents in the West Bank city of Hebron. According to the donation page on its Web site, the organization aims to "keep Hebron Jewish for the Jewish people." Friends of Itamar, also based in Brooklyn, engages in domestic, tax-deductible fundraising for the West Bank settlement of Itamar. All this comes at the expense of the U.S. government, which loses tax revenue by allowing these groups to operate as not-for-profit entities.

Not all support for the settlements comes through charitable organizations. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that in 2007, the settler organization Amana held "housing fairs" in New York and New Jersey to encourage American Jews to buy property in the West Bank. According to the Jewish Voice and Opinion, a self-described "politically conservative Jewish publication" in New Jersey, approximately 250 people attended and as many as 10 properties were slated for purchase.

Last year the Palestinian village of Bil'in filed suit in Canada against two Quebec-based companies that built and sold residential units in a West Bank settlement. The case is still pending, but it demonstrates that people are beginning to pay attention to non-Israeli influences on settlement growth.

If the courts can't find a way to dissuade settlement expansion, perhaps the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control should intervene. The U.S. government has already designated Kahane's movement a foreign terrorist organization for reasons unrelated to settlement financing, but in doing so, it has prohibited U.S. citizens from providing financial support to this group.

3. As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement picks up steam, Common Dreams posted an Agence France Presse article about Naomi Klein's call for a boycott of Israel while she was attending the weekly protest against the wall in Bi'lin.

“Author Naomi Klein Calls for Boycott of Israel,” Agence France Press via Common Dreams, 6/26/09

Excerpt: Bestselling author Naomi Klein on Friday took her call for a boycott of Israel to the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where she witnessed Israeli forces clashing with protesters.

"It's a boycott of Israeli institutions, it's a boycott of the Israeli economy," the Canadian writer told journalists as she joined a weekly demonstration against Israel's controversial separation wall.

"Boycott is a tactic . . . we're trying to create a dynamic which was the dynamic that ultimately ended apartheid in South Africa," said Klein, the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

"It's an extraordinarily important part of Israel's identity to be able to have the illusion of Western normalcy," the Canadian writer and activist said.

"When that is threatened, when the rock concerts don't come, when the symphonies don't come, when a film you really want to see doesn't play at the Jerusalem film festival . . . then it starts to threaten the very idea of what the Israeli state is."

She briefly joined about 200 villagers and foreign activists protesting the barrier which Israel says it needs to prevent attacks, but which Palestinians say aims at grabbing their land and undermining the viability of their promised state.

She then watched from a safe distance as the protesters reached the fence, where Israeli forces fired teargas and some youths responded by throwing stones at the army.

"This apartheid, this is absolutely a system of segregation," Klein said adding that Israeli troops would never crack down as violently against Jewish protesters.

She pointed out that her visit coincided with court hearings in Quebec in a case where the villagers of Bilin are suing two Canadian companies, accusing them of illegally building and selling homes to Israelis on land that belongs to the village.
The plaintiffs claim that by building in the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, near Bilin, Green Park International and Green Mount International are in violation of international laws that prohibit an occupying power from transferring some of its population to the lands it occupies.

4. Aside from its annoying title, this is a good article from The New York Times about Israeli human rights activist Ezra Nawi. You can learn more about Ezra and how to support his cause by going here.

“Unlikely Ally for Residents of West Bank,” Ethan Bronner, The New York Times, 6/28/09

Excerpt: Ezra Nawi was in his element. Behind the wheel of his well-worn jeep one recent Saturday morning, working two cellphones in Arabic as he bounded through the terraced hills and hardscrabble villages near Hebron, he was greeted warmly by Palestinians near and far.

Watching him call for an ambulance for a resident and check on the progress of a Palestinian school being built without an Israeli permit, you might have thought him a clan chief. Then noticing the two Israeli Army jeeps trailing him, you might have pegged him as an Israeli occupation official handling Palestinian matters.

But Mr. Nawi is neither. It is perhaps best to think of him as the Robin Hood of the South Hebron hills, an Israeli Jew helping poor locals who love him, and thwarting settlers and soldiers who view him with contempt. Those army jeeps were not watching over him. They were stalking him.

Since the Israeli left lost so much popular appeal after the violent Palestinian uprising of 2000 and the Hamas electoral victory three years ago, its activists tend to be a rarefied bunch — professors of Latin or Sanskrit, and translators of medieval poetry. Mr. Nawi, however, is a plumber. And unlike the intellectuals of European origin with whom he spends most Saturdays, he is from an Iraqi Jewish family.

“My mother gave birth to me in Jerusalem when she was 14,” said Mr. Nawi, who is 57 and one of five siblings. “So my grandmother raised me. And she spoke to me in Arabic.”

His family has trouble understanding his priorities. His mother says she thinks he is wasting his time. And many Israelis, when told of his work, wonder why he is not helping his own. Mr. Nawi has an answer.

“I don't consider my work political,” he said between phone calls as he drove. “I don't have a solution to this dispute. I just know that what is going on here is wrong. This is not about ideology. It is about decency.”

5. Finally, this article from Haaretz about an IDF soldier who refused to serve with his brigade unless allegations of its unnecessary violence against Palestinians in the West Bank were investigated.

“Second IDF soldier refuses to serve over violence towards Palestinians,” Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, 6/28/09

Excerpt: A second IDF soldier has refused to continue following orders unless his complaints of violence toward Palestinians are investigated, Haaretz has learned. As with another infantry man from the same brigade - who was sentenced to 30 days in military prison last week after refusing to participate in his unit's operations in the territories - the second soldier, who can only be identified as A., came to his decision following a raid by the brigade's Haruv battalion in the village of Kifl Hares in the West Bank on March 26.

A. told his friends that soldiers from the platoon acted with unusual violence toward the residents of the village. "We were sent to look for firearms, but didn't find any weapons," the soldier said. "So we confiscated kitchen knives. But what I was most shocked about was the looting. One soldier took 20 shekels. Soldiers went into homes and looked for stuff to steal."

A. also told of an assault on a mentally handicapped civilian. "He was just shouting at soldiers but then one soldier decided to attack him, so they beat the hell out of him - riffle butt to the head".

A. informed his commanders he will no longer participate in battalion activities, after which he was not court-martialed, but was transferred to guard and kitchen duty. A. then left for home - to be arrested and so to attract greater attention to his claims. He was sentenced to 17 days of detention for absenteeism by battalion commander Lt. Col. Ilan Dikstein, and upon completing the sentence was reassigned to maintenance works in a rear base of the brigade.

The battalion is already being investigated by the Military Police following earlier reports in the media about its conduct.

Gaza Digest 93, 6/12/09

News Clips: Nearly six of every 10 Israelis think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resist U.S. demands to completely freeze construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, according to a new poll released Friday; Former US President Jimmy Carter said on Thursday that there can be no Palestinian-Israeli peace unless Hamas is directly involved; Palestinian security forces arrested 36 Hamas supporters, many of them professors and students, the Islamic militant group said Thursday, signaling a widening crackdown by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Israel's Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not believe in a two-state solution; The Israeli mayor of Jerusalem who campaigned on the promise to “create more housing for Jews in East Jerusalem” issued home demolitions against another 160 Palestinians;

1. An article from The Electronic Intifada about the paucity of medical supplies and qualified surgeons in Gaza.

Excerpt: After listing the urgently needed equipment and medical supplies Dr. Tatter explains that "We have enough for maybe five operations." He adds that in the past it took a month to get even basic supplies and solutions.

However, in spite of the difficult circumstances, what is really lacking are the actual cardiac surgeons necessary for heart procedures. "We have the hospital and the equipment need for the procedures. We do have a shortage of some instruments and solutions used in the surgery but we could do a small number of operations today if we had the doctors."

"We would like to send doctors outside for specialist training, but because of the closed borders it's impossible," says Dr. Tatter. The problem, he says, is that it is not easy to simply train others. "It requires specialists to do the training."

Roughly 10 years ago, surgeons were coming to Gaza from different countries, staying on to provide training and/or operations. Today, the Israeli siege, supported by Egypt has made it near impossible for visiting doctors to enter Gaza, no matter how badly they are needed.

From 4 May to 22 May, a group of visiting medical specialists attempted to enter Gaza via the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing. Three medical professionals, two from London's Hammersmith Hospital, waited nearly one month for permission to enter Gaza, to establish a cardiac surgery unit at Shifa Hospital and to provide some of the vitally-needed training to doctors and medical students.

2. A COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) official explains to Haaretz writers Feldman & Blau the at best Orwellian reasoning behind the restrictions on imports into Gaza and the Israeli government's insistence that there is no food crisis in Gaza.

The policy is not fixed, but continually subject to change, explains a COGAT official. Thus, about two months ago, the COGAT officials allowed pumpkins and carrots into Gaza, reversing a ban that had been in place for many months. The entry of "delicacies" such as cherries, kiwi, green almonds, pomegranates and chocolate is expressly prohibited. As is halvah, too, most of the time. Sources involved in COGAT's work say that those at the highest levels, including acting coordinator Amos Gilad, monitor the food brought into Gaza on a daily basis and personally approve the entry of any kind of fruit, vegetable or processed food product requested by the Palestinians. At one of the unit's meetings, Colonel Oded Iterman, a COGAT officer, explained the policy as follows: "We don't want Gilad Shalit's captors to be munching Bamba [a popular Israeli snack food] right over his head."

The "Red Lines" document explains: "In order to make basic living in Gaza possible, the deputy defense minister approved the entry into the Gaza Strip of 106 trucks with humanitarian products, 77 of which are basic food products. The entry of wheat and animal feed was also permitted via the aggregates conveyor belt outside the Karni terminal."

After four pages filled with detailed charts of the number of grams and calories of every type of food to be permitted for consumption by Gaza residents (broken down by gender and age), comes this recommendation: "It is necessary to deal with the international community and the Palestinian Health Ministry to provide nutritional supplements (only some of the flour in Gaza is enriched) and to provide education about proper nutrition." Printed in large letters at the end of the document is this admonition: "The stability of the humanitarian effort is critical for the prevention of the development of malnutrition."

These quantities allow a very slim margin for error or mishaps. Moreover, COGAT's analysis is statistically accurate only on condition that there is an equal division of the minimum supplies that are allowed in. "This analysis does not take distribution in the field into consideration," says the "Red Lines" document. A COGAT official says that he assumes that food distribution within Gaza is not equal. If some are receiving more, others are necessarily receiving less than the required minimum. So it is hard to reconcile this information with the claims of the defense minister and COGAT officers that there is no real food shortage in Gaza.

3. GISHA released a brief report with statistics about the effects of the Gaza blockade. Below is just the first list.

June 2007- June 2009 Crossings Closed; Supplies Restricted
Þ     Percentage of goods permitted to enter Gaza, relative to demand: 25% (approximately 2,500 truckloads/month instead of 10,400/month prior to June 2007).
Þ     Supplies of industrial diesel permitted to enter Gaza, relative to need: 63% (2.2 million liters/week rather than the 3.5 million liters/week needed to generate electricity).
Þ     Average length of power outages in Gaza: five hours per day.
Þ     Current number of people without access to running water in Gaza: 28,000.

4. And finally, a scathing piece from Gideon Levy in Haaretz about the current state of political discourse in Israel.

Excerpt: So let's take a look at what's happening in our country after U.S. President Barack Obama's speech. A historic speech like his was supposed to make waves in Israel, stimulate discussion and spark debate. And here is what has happened: Our own Barak, Defense Minister Ehud, who used to be considered at least as brilliant as Obama, told Etgar Keret in an interview with Haaretz yesterday: "Where does the [Palestinian nation] live? In a cage? A jail? A swimming pool?" And Barak's own answer to this question: "It lives in its country."

After the prime minister's top diplomatic adviser determined that two states is a childish solution, along comes another statesman and determines that we're all children. Stupid children, it must be said, to whom you can sell any bit of nonsense, including all the nonsense in that interview.

The Palestinians, who cannot travel from one village to another without permission from Israel, who have no basic human rights and who have been trampled underfoot, humiliated and imprisoned without any sign of sovereignty, are already living as a free people in their country. If the defense minister really thinks so, then there is grave cause for concern: Mr. Security is deranged and has lost touch with reality. If he doesn't think so, then he's messing with us. Which is worse?

In yesterday's Haaretz there is also an interview by Klil Zisapel with President Shimon Peres. Out of respect for his name and status we will not quote here all the nonsense he had to say about concealing the Nakba - the Palestinians' catastrophe of 1948. We shall only mention that he replied to the question with the sentence: "Nanotechnology existed in the days of Moses." Apparently Obama's speech did make waves. Now Peres, too, is a nano-statesman. Another small businessman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, is working to change the law so he will be able to revoke Israeli Arabs' citizenship. A representative of the oppressed classes, he also says that millions of shekels should be allocated to settlements in the territories which, he says, have been suffering "discrimination" for many years. Neither Yeruham nor Rahat, neither Bnei Brak nor Sakhnin - Efrat, of all places.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation has proposed a law: three years in prison for commemorating the Nakba. Communities in the Segev Bloc in the Galilee are demanding a loyalty oath to Zionism as a condition for living there. And what's next on the slippery slope?

Ze'ev Braude, a Jewish settler in the West Bank who shot Palestinians in view of the cameras, will not be put on trial; the prosecution's justifications are convoluted. National Union MK David Rotem and Yisrael Beiteinu MK Uri Ariel, members of nationalist-racist parties, both of them residents of settlements the United States and the world call illegitimate, are the Knesset's representatives on the committee for selecting judges.

An attempted attack by Palestinians on horseback, or maybe muleback, is depicted in the media as a prevented mega-terror attack, a consequence of the smuggling of sophisticated and advanced Iranian weaponry through the tunnels, which we are being told about in horror day and night.

Gaza Digest 93, 6/11/09

News Clips: Palestinian fighters fired shots at Israeli forces at the northern Gaza border on Thursday morning and Israeli troops responded to the incident with the shooting of mortar shells; Clashes erupted Wednesday as massive forces of Israeli soldiers and border police descended on the Al-Bustan neighborhood in Jerusalelm to serve nearly a hundred demolition notices to home owners of the Old City suburb of Silwan village; US President Barack Obama's envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, a day after he told Israeli officials that Washington will not back away from demands for a settlement freeze; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend the United Nations General Assembly opening session in New York this coming September because Netanyahu decided that Israel would be better served if he appeared to present Jerusalem's diplomatic positions instead of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is thought of in international circles as an extremist.

1. This report about a speech by Ehud Barak earlier this week comes from the Maan News Agency. Barak outlined three possible scenarios for Israel's future: 1. two states for two peoples; 2. a bi-national state that is not Jewish (unthinkable for him); or 3. an apartheid regime. Only one and three are truly possibly in his mind, and he proposes that Netanyahu accept the first choice.

Excerpt: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the notion of an independent Palestinian state on Wednesday.

"The current government was formed with the commitment to respect the deals reached by preceding governments," Barak told public radio, according to AFP.

The remarks come ahead of a much-hyped speech in which Netanyahu says he will lay down his policy on peace negotiations. The speech will be delivered on Sunday.

According to Barak, Israel's prior commitments include "the roadmap which clearly states that the conflict must be resolved on the principle of two states for two peoples," said the head of the center-left Labor party, the most moderate member of Netanyahu's otherwise right-wing government, as quoted by AFP.

"If such a solution fails,” said the former prime minister, “there will be only one political entity from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean - the state of Israel.

"Under such a scenario,” he continued, “if the Palestinians have the right to vote, it will no longer be a Jewish state, but a bi-national state. And if they don't have the right to vote, it will be an apartheid regime."

2. A seven-minute video from the Guardian about the difficulty many desperately ill Gazans face in obtaining permission to enter Israel for treatment. As one man said of his son, “He was given a choice between collaborating and dying, and he chose to die.”

Excerpt: With the lack of medical services in Gaza, critically ill patients must travel into Israel for treatment. Many are asked to collaborate with Israeli intelligence services before they receive aid. It has been alleged that if they refuse to become informers they are refused medical treatment.

3. This is an interesting analysis by Jason Horowitz that has an alternative title on the New York Observer's web site (“Obama and The New York Zionists”).

Excerpt: Barack Obama is changing what it means to be a pro-Israel politician in America.

That much is obvious from the unusually thoughtful, nuanced and varied reactions by officials in New York—the world capital of Israel-boosterism—to his criticisms of the Netanyahu government's settlement policies.

“I think Obama feels that this type of shock therapy will have an effect on Netanyahu and also cause some American Jews to rally to his side,” said Representative Pete King, a staunchly pro-Israel Republican who said he is willing, for now, to go along with the president on the settlement issue. “If he continues to take this hard a line, I think you will see a split.”

A more vigorous debate among American friends of Israel is precisely what Mr. Obama had in mind at least as far back as February 2008, when he told Jewish voters in Cleveland, “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”

He added, “One of the things that struck me when I went to Israel was how much more open the debate was around these issues in Israel than they are sometimes here in the United States.”

Since becoming president, he has resolutely set about making here more like there.

Last month, he and Secretary of State Clinton, who was unwavering in her support of Israeli government policy as a senator from New York, caused Israeli officials and supporters to shudder when she said Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.”

Gaza Digest 91, 6/10/09

News Clips: A United Nations investigation into human-rights abuses during Israel's recent military operation in the Gaza Strip is unlikely to result in any convictions as no court holds clear jurisdiction for prosecution and because the effort has been hampered by Israeli refusals to cooperate and the presence of Hamas security during witness interviews, Judge Richard Goldstone said on Tuesday; Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been pressuring U.S. President Barack Obama to set a two-year deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and threatening to rescind the Arab peace initiative, Egyptian sources said Tuesday; Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon said during an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (founded by former AIPAC  researcher Mary Indyk) that the realization of the US' plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within two years may lead to the establishment of "Hamastan in the West Bank.”

1. A new study from the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa makes the claims that Israel is practicing apartheid and colonialism. You can read an account of the report and download the PDF of the study via The Electronic Intifada.

Excerpt: The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has released a report confirming that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The HSRC commissioned an international team of scholars and practitioners of international public law from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Israel and the West Bank to conduct this study. The resulting 300-page report, titled "Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel's practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law," represents 15 months of research and constitutes an exhaustive review of Israel's practices in the OPT according to definitions of colonialism and apartheid provided by international law. The project was suggested originally by the January 2007 report by eminent South African jurist John Dugard, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council, when he indicated that Israeli practices had assumed characteristics of colonialism and apartheid.

Regarding colonialism, the team found that Israel's policy and practices violate the prohibition on colonialism which the international community developed in the 1960s in response to the great decolonization struggles in Africa and Asia. Israel's policy is demonstrably to fragment the West Bank and annex part of it permanently to Israel, which is the hallmark of colonialism. Israel has appropriated land and water in the OPT, merged the Palestinian economy with Israel's economy, and imposed a system of domination over Palestinians to ensure their subjugation to these measures. Through these measures, Israel has denied the indigenous population the right to self-determination and indicated clear intention to assume sovereignty over portions of its land and natural resources. Permanent annexation of territory in this fashion is the hallmark of colonialism.

Regarding apartheid, the team found that Israel's laws and policies in the OPT fit the definition of apartheid in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Israeli law conveys privileges to Jewish settlers and disadvantages Palestinians in the same territory on the basis of their respective identities, which function in this case as racialized identities in the sense provided by international law. Israel's practices are corollary to five of the six "inhuman acts" listed by the Convention. A policy of apartheid is especially indicated by Israel's demarcation of geographic "reserves" in the West Bank, to which Palestinian residence is confined and which Palestinians cannot leave without a permit. The system is very similar to the policy of "Grand Apartheid" in Apartheid South Africa, in which black South Africans were confined to black Homelands delineated by the South African government, while white South Africans enjoyed freedom of movement and full civil rights in the rest of the country.

2. As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign picks up steam, this article from The Guardian discusses legal claims against supermarkets selling products with misleading labeling.

Excerpt: Retailers including UK supermarkets may be at risk of prosecution for misleading consumers by selling goods from the Palestinian Territories under the label "West Bank", lawyers have warned.

Fruit, wine and cosmetics originating from illegal Israeli settlements are among the goods that lawyers representing Palestinian interests argue are regularly being wrongly labelled, so that buyers might conclude they are actually produced by Palestinians. In a separate issue, they say illegal settlements are also wrongly benefiting from preferential trade agreements with Israel, which are meant only for goods from inside its pre-1967 borders.

"The use of the expression 'West Bank' may in many cases fail to give the consumer the full picture," said barrister Kieron Beal from Matrix Chambers. He added that in other cases, "where goods have come from the occupied Palestinian Territories they should not be labelled as having their place of origin as Israel".

The warnings come as government proposals for implementing new EU rules on product labelling, which make it illegal to deceive consumers, are expected within a month. Departments including the Office of Fair Trading, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have been grappling with the issue. Under UK law it is already illegal to present food products in a way which is "likely to mislead", while European rules include strict measures requiring accurate "country of origin" information to be given.

Concerns about consumers being misled have been compounded by claims that Israeli exporters have benefited from preferential trading terms that allow goods from inside Israel's pre-1967 borders exemption from import duties.

3. Brand Israel is a marketing effort that was launched about a year ago to “re-brand” Israel and improve its image around the world. Unfortunately, the assault on Gaza was a huge setback for an already uphill campaign. In an article from the early days of the project in Moment Mag (, we learn that “Focus groups have shown that positive Israel branding will be an uphill battle in Europe, where ‘there's a lot more resistance and lack of goodwill and an overall dislike. It will be a challenge to change the image there without changing policy,' [Boaz] Mourad [a pro-bono marketing advisor to the Israeli Defense Ministry] says.” This article from Haaretz reports that the head of the Brand Israel Project blames the Arabs for Israel's bad press.

Arab public relations efforts in Europe and the United States have cast Israelis in an inaccurate light, a top Israeli public relations official said on Tuesday.

"The Arabs, our adversaries, have succeeded in doing to us what 'Borat' did for Kazakhstan", Ido Aharoni told the Knesset Defense and Security Committee on Tuesday, referring to the 2006 Sacha Baron Cohen film in which Cohen portrayed a Kazakh filmmaker touring the United States.

Aharoni, head of the Brand Israel project, said Arab public relations measures "have created an image [for Israelis] whose connection to reality is very weak."

Aharoni's comments mirrored those made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said "we [Israel] cannot advance successful diplomacy if we don't change the way we are viewed."

Lieberman added that Israel's public image is the most serious diplomatic problem facing the country.

Gaza Digest 91, 6/9/09

News Clips: Under pressure from pro-Palestine campaigners, the French company Veolia is poised to withdraw from the controversial Jerusalem Light Rail project that links the city center to illegal West Bank settlements; Seventy-three Palestinian children left the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing on Monday morning en route to Poland where they will receive trauma counseling for the affects of the recent Israeli war; United States President Barack Obama wants "immediate" talks between the Palestinians and Israel to forge a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement, U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Monday; Interior Minister Eli Yishai has begun to make good on a pledge to exploit all the resources of his ministry, "its branches and its influences over local government" to expand settlements in the territories; Under mounting American pressure to define his intentions regarding peace efforts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Sunday that he would make a major policy speech next week mapping out the government's “principles for achieving peace and security'; El Al passengers have received maps of Israel marking out a "separation wall" along the West Bank, but the Foreign Ministry has asked the airline to change the classification to "security fence.”

1. Report from Haaretz on an upcoming meeting by Israeli defense officials to discuss Gaza Blockade, with this beautiful mention of the action at the border by CODEPINK & The Coalition of Women for Peace: “At the Erez crossing, an American-Israeli feminist delegation and left-wing activists dressed like clowns held a rally Sunday to protest the ban on toys entering Gaza.”

Excerpt: Israeli security officials are expected to meet this week to discuss easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, following U.S. President Barack Obama's recent criticism of the "continuing humanitarian crisis" there.

So far, Israel has made do with weak promises to reconsider its policy, but Obama's Cairo speech Thursday - in which he said the blockade devastates Palestinian families and does not serve Israel's security interests - may push Jerusalem to take action.

The Defense Ministry department responsible for coordinating government activities in the territories began assessing the closure two weeks ago to determine whether to advocate any changes.

The top Israel Defense Forces officers involved in the assessment are due to explain their positions to Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week. The matter is slated to be discussed by the cabinet at a later stage.

Although Israel has reduced the amount and type of goods entering Gaza, Palestinians are still receiving medicine and medical equipment, gas and food. However, Israel still bans "dual-use" goods - those it classifies as potentially enabling terror activities - such as construction materials.

2. Report from Reuters about the dismal prospects of Tony Blair's sewage treatment project in Gaza because of the blockade. (Would just like to point out that Hamas had won a free and fair election that preceded "the violent take-over.”)

Excerpt: Middle East envoy Tony Blair's signature project in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip could collapse because of Israeli restrictions on bringing in equipment, an internal World Bank memo obtained by Reuters said.

The $75 million (110 million pound) north Gaza sewage treatment project was the centrepiece of an economic package spearheaded by the former prime minister to try to boost Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

In a June 4 memo to donors, the World Bank said Israel has prevented delivery of critical equipment to the project since March.

The equipment included pipes, cement and spare parts.

Attempts to hire building contractors failed last year.

"No bid was submitted as the bidders did not want to run into the security risk in Gaza," the World Bank said. "The failure of attracting bidders in the second round will be devastative to the project."

International donors and Gaza residents view the sewage project as urgent. In 2007, a flood of raw sewage from a plant in north Gaza killed several people.

But like other Western-backed infrastructure projects in the territory, Blair's have suffered lengthy delays because of an Israeli-led blockade which was tightened after Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

3. And an article from the IMEMC about the Israeli Army's destruction of water infrastructure in a village near Hebron.

Excerpt: The Israeli army has been trying to take out water and electric systems of the small village Baqua, north of the Southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday morning. Around 5 people sustained injuries as they tried to stop the Israeli army from demolishing their water wells. Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) was arrested for trying to obstruct the military.

The Israeli army arrived at the village around six in the morning, bringing three cranes, four bulldozers and numerous back-up and support vehicles.

A local witness from the Christian Peacemaker Team told IMEMC that the army had been targeting four different sites in the area. It is known that at least six water wells were demolished by the Israeli army. Two wells are expected to have been destroyed, as the Israeli machinery has been seen at the location of the wells.

Irrigation pipes have been confiscated by the military and at least one electric tower has been taken down.

Villagers that tried to stop the destruction of their property sustained injuries as they were beaten by soldiers.

Gaza Digest 90, 6/8/09

News Clips: Four Palestinian fighters were killed along the Gaza border by Israeli soldiers on Monday; Israeli security officials are expected to meet this week to discuss easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, following U.S. President Barack Obama's recent criticism of the "continuing humanitarian crisis" there; Senior U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy George Mitchell, say they might propose immediate talks on setting Israel's border along the West Bank; Israel will be forced to acknowledge the necessity of a future Palestinian state because there are no signs that the Obama administration will yield on this issue, an Israeli diplomatic source told Israel Radio on Saturday; United States President Barack Obama on Friday postponed moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by an additional six months, Israel Radio reported; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed on Friday reports that Israel and the Bush administration had an understanding under which Israel could keep expanding settlements on the West Bank; Israeli forces killed a demonstrator named Yousef Akil Srour, aged 36, with live ammunition in the West Bank village of Ni'lin during the weekly non-violent protest against the Wall; Meanwhile, five demonstrators were injured in confrontations with security forces in the anti-wall rally in Bil'in; South African Judge Richard Goldstone, the head of a United Nations team investigating possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the Gaza war, said Thursday he had been shocked by the scale of the destruction in the Palestinian areas; The team also announced Thursday that it will hold public hearings with the war's victims later this month in Gaza and Geneva.

1. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza has collected evidence of Israeli War Crimes during Operation Cast Lead and plans to file lawsuits in Spain, as reported by Haaretz.

Palestinian lawyers have prepared 936 lawsuits against Israel over alleged war crimes committed during its three-week offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza has recorded the cases, the magazine said, which include alleged incidents of children shot at close range, women burned by white phosphorus shells and entire families buried under their houses.

According to Der Spiegel, the center hopes to try the cases in Spain's National Court in Madrid, where a lawsuit was filed in January against senior Israeli officials over the 2002 killing of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh.

"Winning a case, just one, would be enough," Iyad al-Alami, the head of the center, was quoted as saying. "Then I would retire immediately, because I would have achieved everything."

2. As the analyses of Obama's speech last week in Cairo keep pouring forth, thought it was worth sharing this one from Noam Chomsky via Alternet.

Excerpt: Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive U.S. support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal "separation wall" (including the primary water supplies of the region), as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the east.

Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic and sociopolitical life.

Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel's successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

3. From The American Prospect comes this article about West Bank settlement expansion.

Excerpt: Settlement homes aren't quite the giveaways they were a few years ago. But they are still cheap, subsidized housing that continues to draw Israelis to move to the West Bank. In 2007, the last year for which there are official figures, the settlement population (not including annexed East Jerusalem) grew by 14,500 people. Of that growth, 37 percent was due to veteran Israelis or new immigrants moving to occupied territory. The "natural growth" argument is intended to cover up the continued, state-backed effort to encourage this migration.

The same official figures show over twice the rate of natural increase in the settlements than in Israel as a whole. Yes, the settler population is younger, meaning more women of childbearing age, and yes, much of it is Orthodox and puts a high value on large families. But people express their values more when the material conditions allow them to. Inexpensive housing makes it easier for younger couples to start having children and for families to be larger. That's especially true of the kind of housing available in many settlements: small, inexpensive homes that couples can buy when they don't have a lot of money, expecting to expand them later. The construction style is meant to "entice" people to come to settlements, as a realtor told me. Inside Israel such homes aren't available, she said. Put differently, even natural growth is unnaturally high in settlements. A construction freeze threatens that pattern.

Netanyahu and his partners don't want any of this to stop. They want settlements to keep growing, in order to block an Israeli withdrawal and a two-state solution. Obama wants a freeze as the first step toward a solution. The natural-growth argument is worse than a distraction; it's a scam. Let the buyer beware.

4. As the crippling blockade on building materials (and books, crayons, pumpkins, musical instruments, toys, paper, light bulbs…) for Gaza continues, IRIN reports on a school for handicapped children that is being built with clay.

Excerpt: Local Palestinian NGO Mercy Association for Children began building a school for handicapped children in Gaza City on 24 May to test a recently developed method using clay blocks, salt and rubble - with the source material coming mainly from the hundreds of buildings demolished during the Israeli offensive (27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009).

Fourteen construction workers on the 5,000 square metre building site in the Shujayah neighbourhood of the city haul buckets of clay for moulding into large blocks from which the structure, with its domed ceiling, will be made.

“If the school, upon completion, proves structurally sound we will move forward with other construction projects in Gaza,” said lead engineer Maher Batroukh of the Mercy Association for Children. “The school is the first building of its kind in Gaza.”

The three-storey school, occupying about 1,025 square metres, will contain no steel, cement or concrete, said Batroukh.

The US$190,000 project is being funded by the Kuwaiti charity Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, and will take at least six months to complete, according to Mercy Association for Children project manager Muna Abu Shareh.

5. And finally, a report from The Guardian about fraudulent tunnel investment schemes that are robbing some in Gaza of their savings.

Excerpt: At first the tunnels emerged as smuggling routes; then they became the vital lifeline for a Gaza under economic siege by Israel. But many people who invested in the tunnels now see them quite differently - as a source of ruination.

The tunnel schemes were advertised as opportunities for doubling and trebling money by unscrupulous figures linked to powerful businessmen in Gaza and, allegedly, to senior officials in Hamas, but have instead led to huge losses for ordinary residents of the Strip.

According to Hamas's economics minister, Ziad al-Zaza, whose office is investigating the issue, some $100m has been taken fraudulently from would-be entrepreneurs. Others suggest the figure could be closer to $500m.

There have been many brutal phases in Gazan history, culminating in the Israeli invasion at the turn of the year, which laid waste much of the Strip's fragile infrastructure. But the hitherto untold story of the great Gazan tunnel scam is notable for being self-inflicted and, therefore, particularly depressing for a beleaguered population.

As Omar Shaban, an analyst from a local thinktank, says: "The harm done to Gaza goes well beyond the savings lost in the investment schemes. The tunnels distort Gaza's social structure. They destroy the values that a state requires to function. In fact, they present no values that people can believe in."

Gaza Digest 89, 6/5/09

News Clips: A team charged with leading the UN's fact-finding mission over alleged Israeli war crimes departed Gaza on Friday, according to a border spokesperson; On Thursday, the Palestinian Government Workers Union, the Health Workers Union and the Teachers Union issued a press release welcoming the Cairo speech of the US president, Barack Obama, especially his statements on the two-state solution, rejecting settlements, and calling for ending the Palestinian suffering; Israeli settlers established a new illegal West Bank outpost on Thursday, dedicating it partly to US President Barack Obama; Major projects and investments spearheaded by Middle East envoy Tony Blair and Western powers to promote economic growth in the Palestinian territories have had little effect, the World Bank said on Thursday because Israeli restrictions on the Palestinians are holding up many of the projects; At around 9 am on Thursday, six Palestinian fishermen were abducted by the Israeli Navy whilst fishing in Palestinian territorial waters.

1. Reports about Israeli, Palestinian, American and Arab responses to Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday are all over the papers, the Internet and the airwaves. The general review is “mixed positive,” as they say in Variety. This piece by Ali Abunimah from the Electronic Intifada is more negative than most, but since the idea of a “one-state solution” is not given any airtime in the mainstream press, I thought it was an important one to highlight.

Excerpt: Some people are prepared to give Obama a pass for all this because he is at last talking tough on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. In Cairo, he said: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

These carefully chosen words focus only on continued construction, not on the existence of the settlements themselves; they are entirely compatible with the peace process industry consensus that existing settlements will remain where they are for ever. This raises the question of where Obama thinks he is going. He summarized Palestinians' "legitimate aspirations" as being the establishment of a "state." This has become a convenient slogan to that is supposed to replace for Palestinians their pursuit of rights and justice that the proposed state actually denies. Obama is already on record opposing Palestinian refugees' right to return home, and has never supported the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to live free from racist and religious incitement, persecution and practices fanned by Israel's highest office holders and written into its laws.

He may have more determination than his predecessor but he remains committed to an unworkable two-state "vision" aimed not at restoring Palestinian rights, but preserving Israel as an enclave of Israeli Jewish privilege. It is a dead end.

There was one sentence in his speech I cheered for and which he should heed: "Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail."

2. Oxfam issued a report on Wednesday about the situation in Gaza with recommendations for action. This coverage of the report comes from the Alternative Information Center.

Excerpt: In June 2009 the blockade on the Gaza Strip enters its third year. The intense closure policy, coupled with the government of Israel's recent military operation ‘Cast Lead', has had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of one and a half million Gazans, pushing them further into poverty and aid dependency.

Parties to the conflict and the international community have, to varying degrees, prioritised their own political objectives over people's rights and needs, leaving Gazans sitting on the ruins of their homes. By attempting to isolate Hamas, the government of Israel and key international donor governments and institutions have in fact isolated the people of Gaza, thereby reducing chances of securing a peaceful, just and durable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The current situation cannot be allowed to persist. Israeli, Palestinian and world leaders must abide by their respective legal obligations to take concrete actions to end the collective punishment of Gazan civilians by securing the full and immediate opening of all the Gaza crossings.

3. Interesting analysis from Jonathan Cook on the Electronic Intifada of the varying media reports on the numbers of settlers in the West Bank.

Excerpt: There are about half a million Jews living illegally on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Give or take the odd few thousand (Israel is slow to update its figures), there are nearly 300,000 settlers in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

Sounds simple. So what is to be made of this fairly typical line from a report issued by AFP last week: "More than 280,000 settlers currently live in settlements dotted throughout the Palestinian territory that Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War"?

Or this from AP: "The US considers the settlements -- home to nearly 300,000 Israelis -- obstacles to peace because they are built on captured territory the Palestinians claim for a future state"?

Where are the missing 200,000 settlers?

The answer is that they are to be found in East Jerusalem, which increasingly means for agency reporters that they are not considered settlers at all.

In many reports, East Jerusalem's settler population is left out of the equation. But even when the news agencies do note the number of settlers there, they are invariably referenced separately from those in the West Bank or described simply as "Jews."

Worse, this misleading approach has had a trickle-down effect. Major newspapers' own staff make the same basic errors.

Thus, The New York Times blithely reported last week that the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had made a "brusque call on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank."

In reality, she had said that the US president wanted "to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions." The implication was that the White House wants a freeze on all settlements, including in East Jerusalem.

This is not linguistic nitpicking.

Israel's attempt to differentiate between the status of the West Bank and that of East Jerusalem, even though these adjacent territories are equally Palestinian and were both captured by Israel in 1967, lies at the heart of the conflict and its resolution.

Israel's official position, accepted by its politicians of the left and right, is that in 1967 Israel "unified" Jerusalem by annexing its eastern, Palestinian half, and made the city the "eternal capital of the Jewish state."

Gaza Digest 88, 6/4/09

News Clips: In an effort to facilitate unfettered movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday removed two roadblocks in the Ramallah area, and the army said it would man an additional West Bank checkpoint around the clock so as to permit Palestinian passage 24 hours a day; An update on the aforementioned announcement—on Wednesday United Nations officials found that Israel did not dismantle two West Bank military checkpoints as promised; The Israel Defense Forces has declared the area around the West Bank city of Nablus a closed military zone, in order to prevent left-wing activists, including and especially the women from Machsom Watch, from entering the area; Right-wing Israeli Jewish activists outside the American Consulate in Jerusalem protested Obama administration statements regarding Jewish settlements; Also Wednesday, left-wing groups, including Meretz, Hadash, Gush Shalom and others, announced that they were holding a peace rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv; in a move sure to infuriate the Obama Adminstration, Israel's Interior Ministry on Tuesday approved a plan to build a new hotel in eastern Jerusalem that would entail demolishing a Palestinian open-air market and kindergarten; in his speech in Cairo Thursday morning, U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's strong backing for a Palestinian state, highlighting his administration's commitment to follow through on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

1. Our very own Medea Benjamin, who was in Gaza until Tuesday and is now in Cairo and will soon head to Israel to try to enter Gaza again, wrote this stirring piece that was on The Electronic Intifada and then picked up by a number of other online news digests and blogs. Medea left Gaza carrying with her a letter to Obama from Hamas. (Can already envision the nasty e-mails coming into our staff e-mail accounts in response to that bit of news.)

Excerpt: Obama won great support from the American people during the presidential campaign when he said that America must talk to its adversaries, without preconditions. But his administration now puts ridiculous conditions on talking to Hamas: It must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous international agreements. Israel, on the other hand, does not have to recognize Palestine, renounce violence or abide by past agreements. Putting preconditions on just one side of the conflict makes it impossible to move a peace process forward.

While Obama prepares for his trip to the Middle East, more than 150 people -- mostly Americans -- are trying to enter war-torn Gaza through both the Egyptian and Israeli borders. Organized under the umbrella of the peace group CODEPINK, this is the largest group of Americans to travel to Gaza since the siege began.

The delegations, invited by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), are bringing medicines, toys, school supplies and playground building materials. An estimated 1,346 Gazan children were left without one or more of their parents as a result of the Israeli assault and the majority were left traumatized and depressed.

That's why the peace group CODEPINK has launched an international petition calling on Obama to visit Gaza and see for himself the devastation and deprivation that continues to plague the region's 1.5 million people almost six months after the invasion. Just this week, Obama tacked a new stop to his upcoming Middle Eastern visit: Saudi Arabia. If he can make room for a private dinner with the King, then surely he can find the time to go to Gaza. Isn't it more important for Obama to visit a region where 1,400 people have recently been killed and thousands of homes, schools and mosques destroyed? Isn't it more important for him to see how the Israelis are using the yearly $3 billion in military aid from US taxpayers?

Obama should take the opportunity, during this visit to Egypt next week, to visit Gaza. He should express his condolences for the loss of so many innocent lives, call for a lifting of the inhumane siege that continues to imprison an entire population, and support an investigation of how US military funds to Israel are being spent.

2. Great interview with Amira Hass from Democracy Now.

 Excerpt: The actions of the Israeli army during its twenty-two-day assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year are back in the spotlight with the arrival of a United Nations delegation in Gaza this Monday. The fifteen-member team will be investigating possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel's military assault. It's headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, who was the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel opposes the investigation and denied the delegation visas, forcing them to enter Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing.

3. An answer to the piece I posted yesterday from Politico about complaints in Congress about Obama's stance on the settlements, this article from Haaretz says that American Jews are not so happy about Netanyahu's stubbornness about the issue.

For the first time in America's decades of jousting with Israel over West Bank settlements, an American president seems to have succeeded in isolating the settlements issue and disconnecting it from other elements of support for Israel.

It is a disentanglement now seen most clearly in Congress, which in the past served as Israel's stronghold against administration pressure on the issue. But when Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu came to Capitol Hill for a May 18 meeting after being pressed by President Obama to freeze the expansion of West Bank settlements, he was "stunned," Netanyahu aides said, to hear what seemed like a well-coordinated attack against his stand on settlements. The criticism came from congressional leaders, key lawmakers dealing with foreign relations and even from a group of Jewish members.

They included Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee; California Democrat Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and California Rep. Henry Waxman, a senior Democrat.

The Jewish lawmakers among them believed "it was their responsibility to make him [Netanyahu] very, very aware of the concerns of the administration and Congress," said a congressional aide briefed on the meeting. The aide, who declined to be identified, stressed that despite the argument on settlement issues, members of Congress remained fully supportive of Israel on all other issues, including the need to deal with Iran and the concern over Hamas and Hezbollah's activity.

In their meetings, according to the congressional aide, lawmakers rejected Netanyahu's call for Palestinian reciprocity on terrorism as a precondition and kept pressing him on the need to stop building in settlements.

Another staffer on Capitol Hill however, stressed that the heated atmosphere should not be interpreted as a sign of a breakdown in relations. "Jewish members," the staffer said, "express their views very freely" when meeting with Israeli leaders, and did so with Netanyhau's predecessors as well.

The Israeli prime minister also found little support for his position on settlements from the organized Jewish community. Jewish communal groups have largely remained silent and did not spring to Netanyahu's defense.

"Even the most conservative institutions of Jewish American life don't want to go to war over settlement policy," said David Twersky, who was until recently the senior adviser on international affairs at the American Jewish Congress. "They might say the administration is making too much of a big deal of it, but they will not argue that Jews have the right to settle all parts of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel]."

4. This profile from the New York Times of an eighteen-year-old Palestinian named Shehade Shelaldeh who runs a stringed instrument repair shop in Ramallah also describes a music program, Al Kamandjati (The Violinist) that offers training to Palestinian children in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and Southern Lebanon. You can read more about Al Kamandjati here

Excerpt: In a place all too familiar with the sounds of gunfire, military vehicles and explosions, he said, “Al Kamandjati taught us to hear music.”

The center, and Mr. Shelaldeh's acquisition of a trade born in the workshops of 17th-century Italy, are part of a recently kindled interest in classical music, both Western and Oriental, in the occupied territories. Parents, students and teachers here say it comes from the realization that culture is an effective assertion of national identity, particularly at a moment when the prospects for a Palestinian state seem to be receding. It is also a way to give idle young people something to focus on.


Toward the end of his eight years at the conservatory, Mr. Aburedwan decided to establish a music school in his hometown. He rounded up donations of money and instruments, invited colleagues to the area for workshops and pushed for the renovation of a building in Ramallah's old town. Al Kamandjati opened in January 2006. Operating on a shoestring budget of about $400,000 a year, it now has about 400 students studying both Western and Oriental instruments.

“I want these children to achieve something,” Mr. Aburedwan said. “That's my dream, that they have a way of expression, a way of living. I want these kids to participate in the building of a Palestinian cultural future.”

Gaza Digest 87, 6/3/09

News Clips: Hamas officials met with the UN fact-finding team, headed by South African Justice Richard Goldstone, on Monday night at the end of the first day of the team's field visit to Gaza; Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak began a round of meetings with top U.S. officials, including an unscheduled meeting with President Obama, on Monday in a bid to head off an increasingly sharp dispute between the United States and Israel over the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory; On the eve of a visit to the Middle East and Europe, President Obama on Tuesday played down a dispute with Israel over his demand for a suspension of further Jewish settlement in the West Bank but reiterated his call for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians that Israel's hawkish leaders have not accepted; United States President Barack Obama is dispatching his envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to Israel early next week in order to hear official responses to U.S. demands for a halt to West Bank settlement building; United States President Barack Obama intends to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu four to six weeks to provide an "updated position" regarding construction in West Bank settlements and the two-state principle; Some 70% of Israeli-Arab villages in northern Israel have no access to safe rooms or bomb shelters, and 25% do not have emergency sirens, according to a report released Tuesday by the Israeli-Arab rights group "Mubadarah".

1. Okay friends, this article from Politico about members of Congress pushing back on Obama's tough love for Israel is your clarion call to action! After you read this post, please get on the phone to your member of Congress (if you don't have the number handy, call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or 800-839-5276 and ask to be connected to your rep's office) to say that you support President Obama's call for a settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. If you are a supporter of a two-state solution or if you just want to keep the pressure on for a settlement freeze, you can go one step further and sign Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) pledge “We've Got Your Back, Mr. President”

Excerpt: “There's a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who said he'd heard complaints from constituents during the congressional recess. “I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism.”

 “I don't think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who said he thinks there's “room for compromise.”

“I have to hear specifically from the administration exactly how they define their terms and is there room for defining the terms,” he said, referring to the terms “settlement” and “natural growth.”

And Republicans have been more sharply critical of the pressure on Israel.

“It's misguided. Behind that pressure is the assumption that somehow resolving the so-called settlements will somehow lead to the ultimate goal” of disarming Iran, said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip. “A backward assumption is being made that if we deal with the Israel-Palestine question, somehow all the problems in the Middle East will be solved,” he said.

So far, anyway, Obama isn't backing down. He told National Public Radio Monday that he believes the U.S. must be “honest” with Israel about how the situation in the region needs to improve. He also renewed his call for a freeze on all Israeli settlements, and said the Palestinians must do more to improve security.

"I don't think we have to change strong support for Israel," Obama said. "We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace. And that's going to require, from my view, a two-state solution."

"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region."

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC last week got the signatures of 329 members of Congress, including key figures in both parties, on a letter calling on the administration to work “closely and privately” with Israel — in contrast to the current public pressure.

2. A slideshow with photos by Rina Castelnuovo about Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank from the New York Times. This should motivate you to make those calls if the article above didn't. You can also see the related New York Times article entitled “Israel and U.S. Can't Close Split on Settlements” by Isabel Kershner.

Excerpt: Extremist settlers rioted on Monday in various parts of the northern West Bank. They were protesting the Israeli government's recent actions against some tiny outposts, including their possible evacuation. The settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in about 120 settlements, which much of the world considers a violation of international law, as well as in dozens of outposts erected without official Israeli authorization. Several Palestinians were wounded during the riots. Six Israeli settlers and a rightist member of Parliament were arrested and later released. If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation's overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank, according to unpublished official data provided to The New York Times.

3. A blog post from The Nation by Roan Carey, who is with the CODEPINK delegations in Gaza.

Excerpt: How would you feel if you found out that an American school, paid for with your tax dollars, was bombed and completely destroyed by a US ally? This happened in Gaza just a few months ago, during Israel's now-infamous Operation Cast Lead.

I've been touring Gaza for the past three days as part of a Code Pink delegation, and the concrete rubble and twisted rebar of the American International School in Gaza is just one of the many horrifying images we've seen on this trip. The school, which taught American progressive values to Palestinian kids in grades K-12, was bombed by US-supplied Israeli F-16s in early January. The Israelis claimed, without supplying evidence, that Hamas fighters had fired rockets from the school. Now several hundred kids have not only lost the school they dearly loved; they have been given a very different lesson in American values, one no doubt unintended by the school's founders and teachers.

The people of Gaza suffered immensely from the Israeli assault, which not only killed some 1,400 and injured 5,000 but destroyed or heavily damaged mosques, schools, hospitals, universities, and industrial and other business establishments, in addition to thousands of private homes. Dr. Marwan Sultan, who practices at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, told me his hospital was so damaged they had to send all patients to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City--which was itself damaged. The bombing of one school in Beit Lahiya killed about forty kids and injured a hundred, Sultan told me. He saw scenes of death and mutilation that still give him nightmares. Thousands are living in tent cities all over the Strip, and the entire population of Gaza is being strangled to this day by a blockade that is choking off any possibility of reconstruction or recovery.

Make no mistake about it: the blockade, directly enforced by Israel and Egypt but conspired in by their superpower patron in Washington, is a continuing act of war against an entire civilian population of 1.5 million, a form of collective punishment and a crime against humanity. John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which officially invited Code Pink to come to Gaza, told our delegation that billions in aid had been promised in the wake of Israel's massacre, but so far nothing had arrived. Our delegation, he said, is the first concrete action of solidarity with an oppressed, long-suffering population. Four months after a devastating conflict, he added, the siege continues. "The first thing we need to see is the opening up of crossing points and an end to collective punishment because of the political failures and security problems created by a few." It's a matter of life and death, he said, "and we're running out of time…. The people of Gaza are asking for help, justice and the rule of law."

4.  From Jason Ditz of comes this brief report about the new “buffer zone” along the borders of Gaza that keep farmers from their land.

Last week, the Israeli government dropped exploding boxes full of leaflets across the Gaza Strip, informing the Gazans that if they came within 300 meters of the border they would be shot. The leaflets damaged several buildings and injured a child, but the real harm is yet to come.

According to the United Nations, the 300-meter buffer has cut the Gazans off from 30 percent of the strip's arable land. “The war increased the amount of land destroyed, particularly in the border areas, and the farmers can't replant anything because it's too dangerous,” according to one UN official. “The Israeli soldiers, they shoot at everything - dogs, sheep. They are very tense.”

The Israeli invasion of the strip earlier this year caused thousands of civilian casualties and damaged a significant portion of the strip's buildings. Israel has barred reconstruction materials from the strip, and has severely limited the sorts of food allowed in. At one point they barred all pasta from entering Gaza.

Since the war, Israel has shot several Palestinian farmers for tending fields near the border fence. The region's Hamas government says that the strip is capable of producing enough watermelons and onions to nearly satisfy domestic food demand, though it is unclear if these projections accounted for losing such a significant portion of farmland.

Gaza Digest 86, 6/2/09

News Clips: More than three-quarters of the House of Representatives signed an AIPAC-backed letter spearheaded by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to President Obama on Middle East peace; Britain's University and College Union voted overwhelmingly to support a boycott of Israeli universities and academics at its annual meeting last week, but the vote was declared invalid after union attorneys said the resolution could trigger legal action; The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is considering a series of symbolic measures to force Israel to halt all construction in West Bank settlements, including possibly dropping the U.S.' near uniform support of Israel in the United Nations and withholding its usual veto on resolutions critical of Israel; Hours after this report from the New York Times came a statement from Robert Wood of the State Department saying that the U.S. will maintain its support of Israel in the United Nations; in an interview with NPR President Obama suggested that the United States' special relationship with Israel requires some “tough love”; Washington is furious over the Israeli Interior Ministry's anticipated approval of a plan to build a new hotel in East Jerusalem, just 100 meters from the Old City's walls and requiring the demolition of a wholesale market and a kindergarten.

1. According to this report from Reuters via Haaretz, PM Netanyahu is considering easing the blockade on Gaza to allow some building materials in for Western-funded projects.

Excerpt: "Instead of having a list of what can go in, is it possible to have a list of what can't go in?" one official quoted Netanyahu as asking.

In addition to banning certain items, Israel now limits which types of authorized goods can go in on a day-to-day basis. Israeli and Western officials said it was unclear when any changes would be made and how long they might last.

Israeli and Western officials briefed on the deliberations say Netanyahu was reassessing whether the blockade was weakening Hamas as intended.

"We have to find the right balance between improving the lot of the innocent civilian population and, at the same time, not doing anything to strengthen Hamas," an Israeli official quoted the prime minister as telling his cabinet on Sunday.

U.S., European and international envoys have sought to convince Netanyahu that Israeli restrictions were bolstering Hamas, instead of weakening it, by forcing Gaza's 1.5 million residents to rely on smuggling tunnels, which the Islamists control, for many basic goods.

2. Under International Human Rights Law an occupying power is responsible for the maintenance of infrastructure, health, education, quality of life, shelter and public works of the territory it occupies. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, international donors are basically underwriting many aspects of the Israeli Occupation. So, for example, the U.S. pays for and provides the military hardware and weaponry used to destroy the infrastructure in Gaza, and then donates money to the Palestinians to repair the damage these very weapons have wrought. This article from Reuters describes a cash flow crisis for the Palestinian Authority as it awaits the money promised by international donors. The economic and physical stranglehold Israel has on the West Bank and Gaza has reduced the Palestinians to depending upon the charity of the world.

Excerpt: The Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far received only a fraction of the $1.5 billion in donor assistance needed to meet its budget in 2009, the IMF said on Monday.

The budgetary aid received by Palestinians over the past five months totals $328 million, less than 55 percent of the amount needed to pay monthly expenditures, a senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official told reporters.

To offset the shortfall in donor funds, Abbas's Palestinian Authority has been forced to borrow from private banks, but the authority is close to reaching its borrowing limit, said Oussama Kanaan, IMF representative in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Kanaan did not give a figure.

But Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in a statement following Monday's cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said that his government had taken out $350 million worth of bank loans to meet its obligations.

He said the Palestinian Authority faced a "suffocating financial crisis," but that he would still be able to pay public workers by June 7 thanks to the bank lending.

Kanaan said the Palestinian Authority could face a "serious liquidity crisis" unless donors increased their budget support to at least $120 million per month.

3. Israeli Jewish settlers are using the courts to try to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem according to this report from Reuters via the Washington Post.

Israeli settlers are waging court battles to evict dozens of Palestinians from homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, a move threatening to widen Israel's rift with U.S. President Barack Obama over settlements.

They are trying to reclaim plots of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which they say were owned by Jews before Israel's creation in 1948. They have already won property rights to six Arab homes, whose residents were subsequently evicted.

Palestinians and an Israeli rights group say settlers are trying to evict a further 27 Arab families from 28 buildings.

"Stop ethnic cleansing," reads a sign erected outside the home of Maher Hanun, a 51-year-old father of three, who faces a July 19 deadline to evacuate the structure in Sheikh Jarrah, near the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

Such acts could cloud Israel's relations with its main ally, the United States.

Obama, who is to address the Muslim world in a speech in Egypt Thursday, renewed a call for a halt to settlement activity during talks last week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Settlers have moved into six Arab buildings in Sheikh Jarrah, home to consulates and trendy restaurants. Armed men guard the buildings where settlers have hoisted Israeli flags to assert Jewish dominance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to accept limits on building of Jewish enclaves within Jerusalem, including the Arab east. He has also rebuffed U.S. calls for a full settlement freeze in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas has said Arab East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state he wants to establish alongside Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and considers the whole city as its "united and eternal" capital, a claim that has not won international recognition.

Gaza Digest 85, 6/1/09

News Clips: The Israeli ministerial legislative committee rejected on Sunday a bill stating that those who wish to retain Israeli citizenship would have to declare their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state; Three policemen from a force loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and Fatah leader, were killed Saturday when they tried to arrest militants from the Islamist movement Hamas in the city of Qalqilya, and two Hamas fighters were killed, along with the owner of the house in which they were sheltering; Senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet reiterated Sunday that the government has rejected a U.S. demand to halt all activity in West Bank settlements, despite strongly-worded demands from the Obama administration to do so; Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet on Sunday that he felt that there was no crisis in the Gaza Strip, and said during a security briefing, “There is no hunger or crisis in Gaza”; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in his trip to Moscow this week, will try to balance out Israel's overriding reliance on American diplomatic, financial and military support by strengthening its ties to Russia; Dr Richard Goldstone and his UN fact finding mission investigating violations of international law have entered Gaza thru Rafah; Israeli settlers angered by the dismantlement of their “outpost” assaulted Palestinian workers, injuring six of them, at the Qedumim crossroads between the cities of Nablus and Qalqiliya, in the northern West Bank early on Monday morning.

1. From the Washington Post comes this amazing compendium of statements by U.S. presidents about illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories followed by the number of Israeli Jewish settlers at the time the statements were made. This is why the U.S. has to do more than talk—there have to be actions to accompany the words. How about conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel on the immediate halt to settlement expansion, home demolitions in the East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza?

"Our position on the settlements is very clear. We do not think they are legal, and they are obviously an impediment to peace."
-- President Jimmy Carter, April 12, 1980
Total settlement population: 61,500
"The immediate adoption of a settlements freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel."
-- President Ronald Reagan, Sept. 1, 1982
Total settlement population (1983): 106,595
"My position is that the foreign policy of the United States says we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. And I will conduct that policy as if it's firm, which it is."
-- President George H.W. Bush, March 3, 1999
Total settlement population: 227,500

2. This piece from Znet by Ramzy Barzoud (author and editor of Palestine Chronicle) compares Netanyahu's visit to D.C. during the Clinton Administration to his visit last week, arguing that American rhetoric has stayed the same but the situation for Palestinians has degenerated. He also points out that the Obama's best intentions can and probably will be undermined by cowardly Congress members afraid to have AIPAC turn on them. This makes our phone calls to Congress all the more important—and makes it equally important for us to support groups like J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) as counterbalances to AIPAC baleful influence.

Following his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu made a visit to the US Congress, where he conferred with the "great friends of Israel". On his visit to Capitol Hill, he met House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner. The Israeli leader also met members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Jewish legislators. He was given the same exceptional treatment enjoying by other Israeli leaders. Committee chairman Senator John Kerry was "encouraged by a number of things" Netanyahu had said. Following meeting with Congressional leaders, Netanyahu observed, as if breaking some unexpected news: there is "an American consensus" regarding "the special relationship we have between Israel and the United States". 

The game is on. Netanyahu will once again try to overwhelm the President of the United States by rallying the Congress behind him in preparation for any possible confrontation with Obama's administration. Obama, on the other hand, will attempt, however bashfully, to assert a new direction in US foreign policy - through tempting Israel by embracing harsher Iran policies and pressuring the Arabs to normalize with the Jewish state in exchange for Israel's mere promise of moving the peace process forward. 

In 1996, Netanyahu spoke of the immediate danger facing Israel, in reference to Iraq. Now Iraq - which had no weapons of mass destruction, after all - is no longer an "existential threat" to the state of Israel.

And now the Israeli leader has set his sights on Iran. "The challenge is the potential arming of Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities. That is a great danger to all of us. We have to do this in tandem. I was very encouraged to learn that this is the American policy. We're going to try to do it together, because if we do it together we'll get a lot further, a lot faster."

It might not take thirteen more years before Netanyahu's wishes come true, before getting a lot further, a lot faster, i.e. unleashing a war against Iran. But mark my words, Netanyahu, as well as those before him, as well as those after him, have no intentions of making peace with the Palestinians. He is simply waving a carrot before Obama to get what Israel wants, an attack on Iran. It's as simple as that. 

If Obama hesitates in confronting the new Israeli agenda, and if the Congress continues to treat Israel's security obsessions as top American priorities, there is no telling what the Middle East will look like the next time Netanyahu arrives in Washington to meet the new American president.

3. This piece from Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, from The Nation argues that Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” is a non-starter for peace negotiations. Abunimah, is the author of the book “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.”

Netanyahu did add one obstacle, however, when he came to Washington. In accord with his anticipated strategy of delay, he insisted that Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state" as a condition of any peace agreement. Obama seemingly endorsed this demand when he said, "It is in US national security interests to assure that Israel's security as an independent Jewish state is maintained."

Israel has pressed this demand with increasing fervor because Palestinians are on the verge of becoming the majority population in the territory it controls. Israel wants to ensure that any two-state solution--something that looks increasingly doubtful even to proponents--retains a Jewish majority. This explains the state's longstanding opposition, in defiance of international humanitarian law, to the return of Palestinian refugees who were expelled or fled from homes in what is now Israel.

But can Israel's demand be justified? A useful lens to examine its claim is the fundamental legal principle that there is no right without a remedy. If Israel has a "right to exist as a Jewish state," then what can it legitimately do if Palestinians living under its control "violate" this right by having "too many" non-Jewish babies? Can Israel expel non-Jews, fine them, strip them of citizenship or limit the number of children they can have? It is impossible to think of a "remedy" that does not do outrageous violence to universal human rights principles.

What if we apply Israel's claim to the United States? Because of the rapid growth of the Latino population in the past decade, Texas and California no longer have white majorities. Could either state declare that it has "a right to exist as a white-majority state" and take steps to limit the rights of non-whites? Could the United States declare itself officially a Christian nation and force Jews, Muslims or Hindus to pledge allegiance to a flag that bears a cross? While such measures may appeal to a tiny number of extremists, they would be unthinkable to anyone upholding twenty-first-century constitutional principles.

But Israeli leaders propose precisely such odious measures.

Already, Israel bans its citizens who marry non-citizen Palestinians from living in the country--a measure human rights activists have compared with the anti-miscegenation laws that once existed in Virginia and other states. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has long advocated that the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel be "transferred" from the country in order to maintain its Jewish majority.

Recently, Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party has sponsored or supported several bills aimed at further curtailing the rights of non-Jews. One requires all citizens, including Palestinian Muslims and Christians, to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. Another proposes to punish anyone who commemorates the Nakba (the name Palestinians give to their forced dispossession in the months before and after the state of Israel was established) with up to three years in prison. Ironically, Lieberman is an immigrant who moved to Israel from Moldova three decades ago, while the people he seeks to expel and silence have lived on the land since long before May 1948.

And as Obama continues to remind us of America's "shared values" with Israel, another proposed bill passed its first reading in the Knesset this week. According to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, the law would prescribe "one year in prison for anyone speaking against Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state"--making it a thought crime to advocate that Israel should be a democratic, nonracial state of all its citizens.

It would be sad indeed if the first African-American president of the United States were to defend in Israel exactly the kind of institutionalized bigotry the civil rights movement defeated in this country, a victory that made his election possible.

Gaza Digest 84, 5/29/09

News Clips: Increasingly fractious relations between the US and Israel hit a low unseen in nearly two decades today after the Jewish state rejected President Obama's demand for an end to settlement construction in the West Bank and Washington threatened to "press the point"; IN its annual report, Amnesty International has accused Israel of repeatedly violating the rules of armed conflict during its recent offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip; On Thursday Israeli commandos assassinated Abed al-Majid Dudin, 45, a senior Hamas militant in the West Bank who was wanted in connection with suicide attacks launched against Israel; Israeli police shut down a Palestinian theater in East Jerusalem on Thursday, forcing foreign writers taking part in an international literature festival to move elsewhere for the second time in a week; Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, met with the U.S President, Barack Obama, at the White House on Thursday, and told him that the Road Map Peace Plan and the Arab peace Initiative should be implemented by Israel without any changes.

1.  Phillip Weiss, who is in Gaza with the CODEPINK New York delegation, posted this wonderful piece on his MONDOWEISS Blog.

“Gaza is Alive,” Phillip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 5/28/09

Excerpt: I remember during the Gaza slaughter that some tried to stop commentators from comparing Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto. Now I am here and I find the analogy helpful. In the Warsaw ghetto, and in slavery in the south, or in Jim Crow 100 years later--in any of these historical episodes of persecution that had a racist component--it wasn't as if the victimized people laid down and died. No, the blacks of the south created a rich culture on whatever terms were afforded to them. And the books my mother gave me of the Warsaw ghetto conveyed the treasure of Jewish life and culture that persisted even under the most humiliating circumstances. So in Gaza, with Israeli jeeps creeping up one border and gunboats cruising along the other, and bomb craters everywhere, and no one allowed to pursue their dreams, Palestinians are still leading engaged, serious, and even at-time joyous lives. Last night I watched the European Cup finals with about 100 of them in a crowded restaurant. The cruelty of the fact that a global festival that calls on talent from across the world is in no real way open to the people in the place was lost for an hour or two amid the shouts for Messi and Barcelona.

2. This piece from Ethan Bronner in the New York Times describes the other side of life in Gaza—the “levels of deprivation short of catastrophe.”

Excerpt: For many Israelis, Gaza is a symbol of all that is wrong with Palestinian sovereignty, which they view increasingly as an opportunity for anti-Israel forces, notably Iran, to get within rocket range. Unless a way can be found to tie Gaza back to the West Bank politically and geographically while mitigating Israeli fears, a Palestinian state seems further away than ever.

That leaves Gaza suspended in a state of misery that defies easy categorization. It is, of course, crowded and poor but it is better off than nearly all of Africa as well as parts of Asia. There is no acute malnutrition, and infant mortality rates compare with those in Egypt and Jordan, according to Mahmoud Daher of the World Health Organization here.

This is because although Israel and Egypt have shut the borders for the past three years in an effort to squeeze Hamas, Israel rations aid daily, allowing in about 100 trucks of food and medicine. Military officers in Tel Aviv count the calories to avoid a disaster. And the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees runs schools and medical clinics that are clean and efficient.

But there are many levels of deprivation short of catastrophe, and Gaza inhabits most of them. It has almost nothing of a functioning economy apart from basic commerce and farming. Education has declined terribly; medical care is declining.

There are tens of thousands of educated and ambitious people here, teachers, engineers, translators, business managers, who have nothing to do but grow frustrated. They cannot practice their professions and they cannot leave. They collect welfare and smoke in cafes. A United Nations survey shows a spike in domestic violence.

Many people say they have started to take a small capsule known as Tramal, the commercial name for an opiate-like painkiller that increases sexual desire and a sense of control. Hamas has recently warned of imprisonment for those who traffic in and take the drug.

Yet the pills arrive, along with clothing, furniture and cigarettes, through the hundreds of tunnels punched into the desert at the southern border town of Rafah by rough-edged entrepreneurs who pay the Hamas authorities a tax on the goods.

Similar tunnels also serve as conduits for arms. Israel periodically bombs those in hopes of weakening Hamas, which says it will never recognize Israel and will reserve the right to use violence against it until it leaves all the land it won in the 1967 war. After that, there would be a 10-year truce while the next steps are contemplated, although the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel in any borders.

3. In a report from The Guardian, Rory McCarthy cites a World Bank study about use and control of scarce water resources in the West Bank. I'll bet you can already guess who is getting the best deal in this situation.

Excerpt: A deepening drought in the Middle East is aggravating a dispute over water resources after the World Bank found that Israel is taking four times as much water as the Palestinians from a vital shared aquifer.

The region faces a fifth consecutive year of drought this summer, but the World Bank report found huge disparities in water use between Israelis and Palestinians, although both share the mountain aquifer that runs the length of the occupied West Bank. Palestinians have access to only a fifth of the water supply, while Israel, which controls the area, takes the rest, the bank said.

Israelis use 240 cubic metres of water a person each year, against 75 cubic metres for West Bank Palestinians and 125 for Gazans, the bank said. Increasingly, West Bank Palestinians must rely on water bought from the Israeli national water company, Mekorot.

In some areas of the West Bank, Palestinians are surviving on as little as 10 to 15 litres a person each day, which is at or below humanitarian disaster response levels recommended to avoid epidemics. In Gaza, where Palestinians rely on an aquifer that has become increasingly saline and polluted, the situation is worse. Only 5%-10% of the available water is clean enough to drink.

The World Bank report, published last month, provoked sharp criticism from Israel, which disputed the figures and the scale of the problem on the Palestinian side. But others have welcomed the study and its findings.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli head of Friends of the Earth Middle East, said there was a clear failure to meet basic water needs for both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Israelis were taking "the lion's share".

4. Forty lonely protesters marched in Tel Aviv to decry the latest assault on free speech and democracy in Israel. Al-Jazeera reports on two new laws that are making their way through the legislative process in the Knesset—one that would make calling for the end of Israel as “a Jewish state” a crime, and one that would criminalize the commemoration of the Nakba (the Catastrophe), which is what Palestinians call the process of dispossession and ethnic cleansing that resulted from the founding of the state of Israel.

Excerpt: The Israeli parliament has passed a preliminary reading of a bill that would mandate the imprisonment of anyone who calls for the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

The bill was passed on Wednesday by the Knesset with the support of 47 members, or MKs. Thirty-four MKs opposed and one abstained, the daily said. Sponsored by Zevulun Orlev, an Israel Beiteinu MK, the bill stipulates one-year imprisonment of any person who makes "such public statement".

The bill is part of two draft laws proposed by the Israel Beiteinu. The first is the Loyalty Oath Law that obliges all Palestinian Israelis to pledge allegiance to the Jewish identity of the state. The second is the Nakba Law, which bans commemoration of the 1948 dispossession of the Palestinians as a result of the creation of Israel.

Israel Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, grew to be Israel's third largest political party in the February election, reflecting a shift to the right by the Israeli public.

Aljazeera's senior political analyst Lamis Andoni said the two bills would jeopardise the rights of Palestinian Israelis.

"The two bills, if finally ratified, would punish Palestinian Israelis, and delegitimise their existence inside Israel," she said. "It is considered a prelude to the expulsion of the Palestinian Arabs as advocated by many Israeli leaders."

The Meretz Party, several Knesset members of the Labour Party and even three Likud members have opposed the principle of both bills. The bill has to pass three votes and a committee review before taking effect as legislation.

Gaza Digest 83, 5/28/09

News Clips: US President Barack Obama has made it clear to Israel he wants no "natural growth exceptions" to his call for a freeze in West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday; After months of non-violent resistance to the imposition of an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of those worn in the Guantanamo Detention Facility, Palestinian political prisoners in sections one and four of the Israeli Jelboa Prison have been told they will be allowed to wear the brown uniform of former days; The Israeli army demolished two illegal settlement outposts installed by extremist far-right wing Jewish settlers, members of a Yeshiva School from Kiryat Arba' illegal settlement, in the southern West Bank city of Hebron; Tristan Anderson, who was critically wounded by a high-velocity tear gas canister fired at his head by Israeli forces in March, has been moved from the intensive care unit of the Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv into a Rehabilitation Center at the hospital; An Israeli soldier who stole a credit card from a Palestinian home during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza returned the money with interest.

1. The one place where Gazans have a sense of openness—even though Palestinian fishing boats are restricted in how far from shore they can go and fisherman are often subject to harassment and arrest—is the sea. This article by Peter Beaumont in The Guardian describes a day at the beach near Gaza City. (Paul Park, a New York photographer who is in Gaza now with one of the CODEPINK delegations, posted a note to his Facebook profile expressing amazement at the boys he saw surfing on the beach at Gaza City.)

The Gaza Strip, so recently pounded by artillery and bombs and tanks, is circumscribed by visible and invisible lines of menace, forbidden boundaries that for most Palestinians amputate the possibility of what lies beyond, policed by automatic weapons, observation balloons and armoured vehicles.

In reality, as an airdrop of leaflets warned residents earlier this week after a bombing attempt on the border, the real, solid frontier is irrelevant, bordered as it is by a 300-metre-deep "death zone" that Palestinians have been told they may not approach.

On its coastal littoral, Gaza's limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships.

For the most part, however, the horizons are stiflingly closed and shrunken. They comprise the few metres that can be observed from a window or a balcony, from a door across a busy street. Vistas marked for most by concrete walls and concrete roofs and neighbours' windows.

On a dirty stretch of beach by Gaza City's harbour, Jasser Abu Libda, 44, sits under a beach umbrella with his family. Children are changing out of their wet clothes in a makeshift tent made out of white canvas.

Around his family are segments of polystyrene, tan globes of pungent horse dung, bags and plastic bottles. "It is the only place where you can come for cheap entertainment and breathe good air," says Jasser. "Gaza is so crowded."

2. This report from IRIN details the difficulties of the banking system in Gaza under the crippling Israeli blockade.

Excerpt: "The banking system in Gaza is on the verge of collapse because there is not enough physical cash," the EC's Berger said. "Our projects cannot receive the necessary cash."

Israel agreed to allow NIS 50 million to enter per month, but Gaza requires a minimum of NIS 100 million per month, said Berger.

"Cash enters [Gaza] usually once per month via the Erez crossing for PA employees from Ramallah," Israeli Defense Ministry spokesperson Shlomo Dror told IRIN. "We let money enter for international organizations and UN agencies if we know exactly where it is going; otherwise we can't be sure that cash entering Gaza does not go into the hands of Hamas."

When Hamas took over in Gaza, Israeli banks decided not to have a relationship with Gaza banks, because Hamas is considered a "terrorist organization," said Dror.

"If Hamas acts like a terror organization, we [Israel] will not assist or coordinate with their government," said Dror.

The Hamas government has assumed financial responsibility for the public school system, civil defense, public hospitals and 54 primary healthcare clinics in Gaza.

"We are also facing this liquidity issue. The UN Development Programme [UNDP] is implementing a payment system for non-refugees whose homes were damaged or destroyed during Israel's last military operation," said UNDP program officer Husam Toubil in Gaza.

"We have dispersed $20 million in cash assistance and need to disperse $6.3 million more, but there is a delay because the banks do not have enough cash," he said.

3. A cogent argument from Amjad Barham, head of the council of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, in The Guardian about the call for a boycott of Israeli Universities.

Excerpt: It is the duty of civil society to shoulder the moral responsibility of isolating Israel in the international arena through various forms of boycott and sanctions to compel it to obey international law and respect Palestinian rights.

It is well documented that Israeli academic institutions are deeply complicit in Israel's colonial and racist policies against the Palestinian people. Not only do Israeli universities and research institutions co-operate closely with the security-military establishment through research and other academic activities, they have never dissociated themselves from the occupation regime, despite the more than four decades of the systematic stifling of Palestinian education.

Israeli universities have never condemned the entrenched and institutionalised system of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel within the Israeli polity, society and even the academy.

Israel and its supporters have argued that the Palestinian call for institutional boycott infringes the universal principle of academic freedom. Palestinians find this argument biased and hypocritical – not to mention based on false premises.

The privileging of academic freedom above more basic human rights conflicts with the very idea of universal human rights, as it assigns far more importance to the academic freedom of a sector of Israeli society than to the fundamental rights of all Palestinians to live in freedom and dignity. Is upholding the academic freedom – in our view, the privileges – of Israeli academics a loftier aim than defending the freedom of an entire people living under a brutal and illegal occupation?

Gaza Digest 82, 5/26/09

News Clips: The Israeli Air Force (IAF) dropped leaflets throughout Gaza, warning Palestinians not to approach the fence between Gaza and Israel at a distance of less than 300 meters (984 feet), while saying “the Israeli army will operate against all those who approach the fence, due to the threat that they pose to the civilians of the State of Israel”; Israel is planning to offer dismantling 26 illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank in exchange for American approval that Israel keeps all of its settlements and expands the existing settlement blocs though all settlements are illegal under the international law; El Al Israel Airlines revenues dropped 26% in the three months to March as the economic crisis and fighting in the Gaza Strip hit passenger numbers, though costs fell along with fuel prices; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Monday his refusal to resume peace negotiations with Israel until West Bank settlement activity is stopped.

1. Really interesting, if demoralizing, article by Lisa Goldman in the Columbia Journalism Review, about Israeli press coverage during Operation Cast Lead and after. Israeli journalists (and Israeli citizens in general) have been barred from entering Gaza since the 2006 elections that brought Hamas into power, which is part of what allowed for a 90% approval rating for Operation Cast Lead among Jewish Israelis. The press bowed to criticism of the coverage of the “Second Lebanon War” and more or less muzzled its criticism of Cast Lead—although the reporters interviewed by Goldman didn't seem to need much self-censorship. They appear to have agreed with the government's line on Gaza.

Excerpt: Alon Ben-David was one of the few Israeli reporters to ask critical questions about the army's leadership and performance during the Second Lebanon War. But he did not dispute the IDF's ban on media coverage of the Gaza war. “There was just way too much access during the Lebanon war,” he said. “The army was too exposed, in real time. And I think we journalists also had a reaction to the over-exposure that we caused. I don't think the army is obligated to allow reporters into a battlefield situation.” Like every Israeli reporter I spoke with, Ben-David was focused completely on covering the war while it was going on; he had not had time to notice anything that was not directly connected to his job. So he was only vaguely aware that the ministry of defense had defied a Supreme Court order in refusing to allow the foreign media into Gaza; and, like his colleagues, he was not troubled by the issue because the ruling did not apply to the Israeli media, which was and is still forbidden by law from entering Gaza.
Many Israelis believe the IDF's claim that it failed to secure a decisive victory in Lebanon because it refrained, for humanitarian reasons, from using sufficient force. Given that Hamas had already been “sold” as a genuine existential threat, there was a popular sense of satisfaction when the IDF used massive force in Gaza—as if people were finally ridding themselves of an excessively delicate sensibility that was unsuited to the brutal realities of the Middle East.
Ethan Bronner described a telling wartime conversation with an Israeli colleague and friend. “He said he really didn't care about the foreign press being prevented from entering Gaza,” recounted Bronner. “So I said ‘but what if the army is doing bad stuff in Gaza?'” Raising his eyebrows to indicate astonishment, Bronner continued, “And my colleague just answered, ‘I trust them.' But why would he trust them? The whole nature of our business is not to trust anyone!”

2. Three CODEPINK delegations to Gaza via Egypt—a student delegation, a 15-person New York group including journalist Phillip Weiss, and a Canadian delegation including—have entered via the Rafah Crossing. You can read about their trip on Phillip Weiss's MONDOWEISS Blog, Pam Rasmussen's blog, and via the PINK TANK. Another delegation will be arriving in Cairo at the end of the week, and another one will be hoping to enter Gaza via Israel will arrive next week.

Before permission was granted for passage through Rafah, this report appeared in the Toronto Star about the CODEPINK group waiting in Cairo.

Excerpt: Nine Canadian peace activists were again barred from entering the Gaza Strip from neighbouring Egypt yesterday, along with a shipment of medical supplies and children's toys they hope to deliver to the territory's long-suffering people.

It was the third day in a row the Canadians had been turned back by Egyptian border guards stationed at Rafah, on the border between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Gaza.

"It's a struggle each day," delegation leader Sandra Ruch said from the Egyptian town of El-Arish near the border. "We've already lost three days of our itinerary."

Allied with a U.S. peace group called CodePink, the Canadians are part of a larger international initiative aimed at drawing world attention to the plight of Gaza's 1.5 million people, most of whom depend on international relief to survive.

Israel controls two of Gaza's land borders as well as its access to the sea and has imposed a partial economic blockade for several years. The Israelis tightened the blockade considerably after the militant Islamist group Hamas took power nearly two years ago.

Egypt also shares a border with Gaza, with one crossing point. The Egyptians mostly keep that border closed, too. "If we don't get in, we're going to demonstrate in downtown Cairo," said Pam Rasmussen, CodePink's international coordinator. "We want the Israeli government and the Egyptian government to know we're not going to leave them alone."

3. The vehicles in the European “HOPE” Convoy were allowed to passage via Rafah on Monday night, but many of its members were barred from entering.

Excerpt: A European convoy carrying medical supplies finally entered the Gaza Strip on Monday evening through the Rafah border crossing after waiting for more than 24 hours.

Egypt agreed to allow just 22 members of the hundred-person Hope for Gaza convoy to enter the Gaza Strip, according to Rami Abdo, convoy's UK-based coordinator.

“All forty medium size trucks entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing after agreement with the Egyptian authorities to allow only 22 solidarity activists out of one hundred to accompany the aid convoy,” said Abdo.

The rest of the anti-siege convoy members decided to return to Europe after Egypt pressured them to leave the Rafah border area adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

Gaza Digest 81, 5/25/09

News Clips: Public commemoration of Israel's independence as a day of mourning could become a crime subject to prison penalty, should a bill approved on Sunday by a ministerial panel be brought to the Knesset and cabinet for vote; Organizers of the “Hope” aid convoy decided to return to Europe after the Egyptian Authorities denied the convoy access to the Gaza Strip, and after pressuring the participants into leaving the Rafah border terminal between Gaza and Egypt; Despite strong objections from the Israeli Committee of University Heads, individual academics and the human rights organization Gisha, the Israeli High Court of Justice on Monday accepted the army's non-security related criteria for granting Palestinian post-graduate students permits to enter Israel to study at Israeli universities; French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday that establishing a state for the Palestinian people is a 'legitimate right'.

1. The Alternative Information Center reports that over the weekend Israeli Police shut down the Palestine Festival of Literature in East Jerusalem.  The 2nd Annual Festival is happening across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem—because Palestinian movement is severely restricted by Israeli authorities, the international writers are travelling to various venues to speak and read as a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Excerpt: Israeli police officers forcefully closed the Palestine National Theater in East Jerusalem on Saturday, 23 May, where an event of the Second Annual Palestine Festival of Literature event was scheduled to be held. The festival included the participation of 17 internationally-known literary figures and an audience of local and international participants.

Among the guests at Saturday's event were Pride & Prejudice (2005) movie screen-writer Deborah Moggach; Swedish writer Henning Mankell, accompanied by his wife Eva Bergman (daughter of world-wide notable film director Ingmar Bergman); Australian writer Carmen Callil (founder of Virago press); Claire Messud (long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for the novel The Emperor's Children); Kenyan-Canadian writer M. G. Vassanji, author of The Assassin's Song and holder of the Commonwealth First Book Prize; and Booker Prize short-listed authors Abdulrazak Gurnah and Ahdaf Soueif.

The police forced all the literary figures and participants to leave the theater.

This move came as a direct order from the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, currently serving as a member of the Knesset for the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.  The decision to stop the event was justified as falling under the scope of the “Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture” activities— an initiative undertaken by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which annually awards this title to what are considered outstanding cities of Arab culture. Due to the current Israeli government's vision of Jerusalem as a capital of one nation, Israel strictly prohibits any of these events from being conducted in the city.

However, this festival is not directly connected to the “Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture” celebrations and is actually a sequel to last year's International Festival of Literature, which included the visits of international literary figures to different parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for literature auditions and poetry recitals. Among the patrons who have supported the starting of the festival last year were acclaimed South African writer Chinua Achebe, (the late) Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Irish Nobel prize laureate, Seamus Heaney, and (the late) British playwright, actor and screen-writer Harold Pinter.

2. From the Palestine Monitor comes this unsigned personal essay about restrictions making it almost impossible for Palestinians to access Dead Sea beaches on weekends or holidays.

Excerpt: When the weather starts to warm up in the West Bank, everyone heads to the public pools or the Dead Sea. Although the Dead Sea is technically inside the West Bank, it is still occupied by the Israelis—so when Palestinians want to go to the only beaches available to them it can be more difficult that you would imagine.

Despite the fact that all the beaches on the southern half of the Dead Sea are in sovereign Israeli territory, Israel is still trying to claim the entire Western shore for their own use—by barring Palestinian access to their own areas.

They do this by setting up checkpoints ahead of the public beaches. On holidays or weekends it is nearly impossible for a Palestinian to pass through these checkpoints—“for security reasons.” However, the real reason is that the Israeli-run beaches and concession stands do not want Palestinians at their beaches.

3. Josh Ruebner, the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, penned an essay, published by the Detroit Free Press, in which he argues that it is time for the U.S. to stop providing massive military aid to Israel without conditions and stipulations to insure that U.S. made and subsidized weapons are not being to commit human rights violations and in contravention of U.S. and international law.

Excerpt: If, after reviewing the impact of Israel's misuse of US weapons, the President and Congress cannot find the political will to sanction Israel for its violations of the Arms Export Control Act and prohibit future arms transfers as is required by law, then there are still steps that the US government should take to ensure that any future transfers are not used to commit human rights abuses but instead to promote US policy goals. For example, previous US loan guarantees to Israel have stipulated that funds cannot be used to support Israeli activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Conditioning US military aid to Israel in the same way would prevent these weapons from being used to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.

As President Obama has stated, "We can't sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars, on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists or interest groups. We simply can't afford it." In regard to US aid to Israel, this is true as much from a budgetary standpoint as it is from a moral one.

Gaza Digest 80, 5/22/09

News Clips: The Israeli army reported on Friday morning that its soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians near the Kerem Shalom (Karem Abu Salem) Crossing, in the Gaza Strip; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday that all of Jerusalem would always remain under Israeli sovereignty, in comments likely to spark consternation among Palestinians who hope to make the city the capital of a future state; Israeli police broke up an unauthorized settler outpost in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, bulldozing makeshift cabins, in what was widely seen as a gesture towards U.S. President Obama; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a hard line against settlement construction in the territories Wednesday, including a call to freeze building for natural growth.

1. Voice of America reports that The U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Gaza, lead by Judge Richard Goldstone, is headed to the region to begin its work despite Israeli objections.

Excerpt: The U.N.'s Richard Goldstone says Israel has not responded to his request to enter the country and cross into Gaza for his investigation of Israel's offensive against Hamas rulers.

Speaking in Geneva Wednesday, he said his four-member team hopes to visit the southern Israeli town of Sderot, before crossing into Gaza. But, he says the team will enter Gaza through Egypt if necessary.

Israel objects to the mission because, in its view, it is based on a biased mandate.

The 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council initially instructed the investigators to examine accusations of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. It later broadened the mission's scope to look at the actions of both sides in the war.

Goldstone says he also has decided to hold public hearings in which witnesses will testify about the conflict. He says the hearings will be held in Geneva if it is not possible to locate them in the region.

It will be the first time a U.N. human rights investigation conducts such public hearings. The hearings will be modeled on inquiries Goldstone conducted in post-apartheid South Africa, where he served as a judge.

Goldstone, who is from South Africa, says his team must submit its report by August 4. The other investigators include British law professor Christine Chinkin, retired Irish army colonel Desmond Travers and Pakistani human rights advocate Hina Jilani.

2. A delegation of British MP's that has issued a report (with recommendations for action) following on their recent trip to Gaza, as covered by an unsigned piece from the Alternative Information Center.

Excerpt: A delegation from the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group (BPAPPG) visited Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in the immediate aftermath of “Operation Cast Lead”, to assess the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Territories. Their subsequent findings include a call for crossings into and out of Gaza to be opened and for a rigorous international inquiry into allegations of war crimes. The MPs also note international efforts to prevent the supply of arms into Gaza. The MPs call for this to be supplemented by a prohibition on the sale of arms and military equipment to Israel in response to its own record of attacks on Gaza and elsewhere.

Says Labor  Party MP Richard Burden, ‘The images of our visit remain clear in my mind – an entire village raised to the ground and its many residents now living in tents. Of 1.5 million people imprisoned in their own land and reliant on outside aid for essential food, medical supplies and even the cement they need to rebuild their shattered homes. There has to be accountability for what has happened.

‘The military attacks on Gaza may have now ceased but its people's suffering continues with a crippling blockade that has been going on for over two years. Common humanity demands we do all we can to bring this to an end.

‘Over the years ordinary Israelis have also suffered from this ongoing conflict. We are convinced that the international community must step up its efforts to achieve the lasting and just peace that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve.'

3. In a piece from Haaretz with the subtitle “Settlers are a fig leaf for Israel's land grab in West Bank,” Dana and Zonsein, who are activists with the grassroots movement Ta'ayush and maintain a blog about their peace work, report on the stealth process of settlement building, with an illegal outpost called Hilltop 26 as a case in point.

“Birth of a settlement,” Joseph Dana and Mairav Zonszein, Haaretz, 5/22/09

Excerpt: On May 8, after weeks of being repeatedly evacuated by the IDF upon arrival at the hilltop, Ta'ayush activists and Palestinians residents of the area constructed a protest structure there. Our logic was that if our presence there is illegal and requires our removal, the settlers' presence is also illegal and they, too, should be forced to leave. However, despite the IDF and police instructing all people in the area to evacuate within three minutes, no settlers were actually forced to leave. Our day of peaceful protest ended with our being physically assaulted by settlers, and with eight Israeli members of Ta'ayush detained for violating the "closed military zone" order. The settlers were not arrested, despite clear videotaped evidence of them assaulting the peace activists as well as attempting to burn our structure to the ground.

Since we broke no laws and posed no threat of violence, the only logical explanation is that the IDF was trying to prevent us from observing and documenting illegal settlement expansion.

The IDF and Israeli government have clearly made a decision to actively support the outpost of Hilltop 26. While it is still a small structure, the time-honored pattern of land grabs is clear: It starts with a clubhouse, then a mobile home and pretty soon the settlers will have built a house equipped with running water and gas. Hilltop 26 is only one example of the 100 or so outposts of this kind throughout the West Bank.

The settler movement is not as strong as it is portrayed in the Israeli and international media. Without the active and passive support of both the government and the armed forces, the settlers' efforts would be rendered useless. Without it being possible to freely document and expose these matters, Israel's government will continue to use the image of the settlers as a cover for its own overt policy of support for settlement creation and maintenance in the West Bank.

Gaza Digest 79, 5/20/09

News Clips: A Qassam rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip exploded in the yard of a western Negev home on Tuesday; this past weekend more than 900 churches in the United States participated in a Christian Zionist organization's event entitled "Christians United for Israel Sunday" honoring Israel during which church members were encouraged to sign "Israel's Pledge" stating that the Jewish people "have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel" and that Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorism; The United Nation's watchdog on torture has criticized Israel for refusing to allow inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics as "Israel's Guantanamo Bay", and demanded to know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating; late Tuesday Israeli warplanes bombed smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, with five reported wounded; United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she had made clear to visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel must cease its settlement activity in the West Bank; PA President Abbas swore in a new interim caretaker government in the West Bank, eliciting objections from both his own party (Fatah) and Hamas.

1. While Netanyahu and Obama were meeting in the White House, the Zogby brothers were blocks away discussing a recent poll on American attitudes towards Israel. Robet Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation, paints an optimistic picture of what the numbers mean.

Obama, being the cautious soul that he is, isn't likely to force a showdown, at least not anytime soon. But his meeting with Netanyahu today showed clearly that he isn't backing down to Netanyahu's bluster and fear-mongering over Iran.

It also shows that the vaunted Israel lobby is in a pickle. American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Obama, with 76 percent of US Jews voting Democratic in 2008. "American Jews are mostly in the peace camp," says John Zogby. That means the opposition to Obama will come first and foremost from the ultra-right wing of the Israel lobby, such as the allies of Likud, the Zionist Organization of America, and hard-line neoconservatives, along with their allies on the Christian right and among the Republican Party's right, including most of its congressional wing.

But middle-of-the-road, moderate, and especially liberal Jews are likely to back Obama. That's a dynamic that can isolate AIPAC, the central player in the Israel lobby. If it plays its cards wrong, AIPAC might find itself cut off from its base among pro-Israeli American Jews. So far, AIPAC -- and Netanyahu -- are hoping that they can stall Obama's Middle East peace plan until something, anything, erupts to derail it. But I think Obama is determined to press ahead.

2. A press advisory from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights about last week's U.N. Committee on Torture's report on Israel.

Excerpts: On 14 May, 2009, the United Nations Committee Against Torture published its concluding observations on Israel's fourth periodic report. While the State of Israel was preparing its submission, other elements of the Occupying Power's administration were, inter alia, reinforcing the siege on the Gaza Strip, solidifying the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, expanding illegal settlement activities in the West Bank, and preparing for Operation ‘Cast Lead', the 23 day military offensive on the Gaza Strip…

The reality of life in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) highlights the duplicity of the Israeli authorities. While engaging in superficial efforts intended to appease the international community and convey compliance with international standards, the State of Israel continues to callously and systematically violate the fundamental principles of IHL and international human rights law…

PCHR note that the crimes documented in the Committee Against Torture's report, and the countless other crimes committed by IOF, cannot be carried out without impunity. This impunity is granted on two levels: first, by the complicity of Israel's judicial system, and second, by the silence and deference of the international community.

It is not enough that these crimes are documented in reports and forgotten, as happened recently following the Secretary General of the United Nations shameful reaction to the Board of Inquiry's report into incidents in the Gaza Strip. If the rule of law is to be upheld, and innocent civilians protected, then the law must be enforced.

The International Community cannot continue to allow Israel to act as a State above the law. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Committee Against Torture's report is the fact that the majority of the recommendations issued in its 2001 report remain outstanding. In the intervening years, the only change has been the addition of further Israeli violations.

PCHR affirm that if the culture of impunity which permits the continued commission of these crimes is to be combated, effective action on the part of the international community is required. The EU-Israeli Association Agreement cannot be upgraded in the face of systematic human rights abuses. Independent investigations must be conducted so that those responsible for war crimes are held accountable.

It is Palestinian civilians who suffer the consequences of the international community's inaction.

3. And what can be done about Israel's acting as a state above the law? Michael Warshawski of the Alternative Information Center suggests Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions.

The state of Israel has put itself outside international law, outside the community of civilized countries, and as such must be treated as an outcast state. This has been the case for decades, but today no one can ignore it anymore. Boycotting normal relationships with Israel is a matter of international public health, as was the case toward South Africa before the fall of the apartheid regime. Boycott includes all fields: diplomatic, economic, financial, sports, culture, academic. The accumulated effect of a variety of BDS initiatives will be felt in Israel quicker than what many skeptical individuals are claiming, for Israel is extremely dependent on the world and its citizens sensitive to their public image abroad.

In the framework of the BDS campaign, a question has been raised: “what about organizations and individuals who clearly and openly oppose Israeli colonialism? Should there be exceptions in the boycott policy?” Concerning this issue, one can learn from the South African example: the African National Congress knew how to separate friends and friendly organizations from the rest, but without necessarily making it a stated policy, preferring a pragmatic, case-by-case, approach. One thing for sure: it would be wrong to come to the BDS campaign with the open demand “make a statement taking my organization out of the boycott list.” Let the campaign decide, through its own ways and rhythms, according to the needs of the campaign itself, its unity and internal coherence.

Though there is great importance to building an alliance and cooperation with the progressive Israelis who unconditionally endorse the BDS campaign and unambiguously reject normalization, it is up to the Palestinian (and Arab) national movement and the BDS campaign to decide if and when to publicly announce where the boycott policy will not apply. Having on many occasions been treated differently than other Israeli activists and organizations, I have learnt one important lesson: not everything has to be stated loud and clear, and sometimes constructive ambiguity can help make good politics.

Gaza Digest 78, 5/19/09

News Clips: Egypt told rival Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo that the country will reopen its border with the Gaza Strip if the two sides can reach a reconciliation agreement, participants in the discussions said Sunday; Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a joint security force in the Gaza Strip; Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama for a discussion amid divisions over Middle East peacemaking and Iran's nuclear ambitions; Israel has begun constructing a new settlement called Maskiot in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years despite Western calls for Israel to halt its settlement activity; Netanyahu meets on Tuesday with House and Senate leaders and a group of Jewish lawmakers who are expected to question him on his “peace plans.”

1. Check out the three different reports on the meeting between Obama & Netanyahu in Washington yesterday: Al-Jazeera, New York Times & Haaretz. I'm tempted to offer sarcastic commentary, but I think the excerpts speak for themselves.

“Obama and Netanyahu differ in talks,” Al-Jazeera, 5/18/09

Excerpt: Israel's prime minister has refused to commit to an independent Palestinian state during talks with Barack Obama, the US president, at the White House. 

Binyamin Netanyahu told Obama that he wanted the Palestinians to govern themselves, but steered clear of explicitly endorsing the two-state solution set out in the so-called "road map".

He said that Israel was "ready" to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, which stalled during the 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, but he attached conditions to any new process.

"If we resume negotiations then I think the Palestinians will have to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself," he said.

"If those conditions are met, I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side-by-side."

“Obama Meets with Israeli Prime Minister,” New York Times, Brian Knowlton, 5/18/09

Excerpt: The body language between the men, who had met before but not since taking office this year, seemed good. Mr. Netanyahu called Mr. Obama “a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel.” And Mr. Obama said that the Israeli leader was “in a position to achieve the security objectives of Israel but also bring about historic peace, and I'm confident that he's going to seize this moment.”

“Obama: U.S. backs Palestinian statehood, no Iran deadline,” Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, 5/18/09

Excerpt (quotation from Netanyahu): "In regard to the settlements, we decided that this is something that needs to be implemented through commitments on both sides," Netanyahu added. "Israel has dismantled settlements and the Palestinians were supposed to dismantle terror infrastructure. In Gaza, we dismantled settlements and got huge terror infrastructure in return."

"The issue of [captive Israel Defense Forces soldier] Gilad Shalit was also raised, as did the situation in Gaza," Netanyahu continued. "We know that Hamas is continuing its efforts to arm itself and it is a real threat. We tried to find a balance between not harming the civilian population [in Gaza] and limiting Hamas' ability to smuggle weapons much more lethal than anything we've known in the past. I explained this to the president, that it isn't easy. We talked about it quite a bit."

2. From the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) Blog called The Mideast Pulse comes this brief analysis of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting by IPF's Director of Policy Analysis.

You want to know what Prime Minister Netanyahu is up to?. Here it is, from the New York Times on June 27, 1992. The Likud prime minister then was Yitzhak Shamir who had just been defeated by Yitzhak Rabin.

"Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted in a published interview today as saying he wanted to drag out peace talks with the Palestinians for a decade while vastly increasing the number of Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories.

"Had he held on to his office instead of being defeated this week in Israel's national election, Mr. Shamir reportedly said, ' I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people" in the West Bank.' "

Shamir, of course, is one of Netanyahu's heroes and mentors. Sixteen years later, he has the same strategy Shamir did. He says he will negotiate but he will not commit himself to Palestinian statehood.

The only questions are (1) why would the Palestinians negotiate on that basis and (2) why would an American President press them to participate in such a charade.

The answers. They won't. And he won't.

3. This unsigned piece from the Palestine Monitor gives an overview of the aftereffects of the assault on Gaza, including crumbling infrastructure and mental health problems, and the effects of the ongoing blockade on food security, health and other aspects of daily life. Gaza continues to be a vast open-air prison where the entire population is being subjected to collective punishment.

Excerpt: Water is one major issue. Essential infrastructure which keeps the water sanitized and pumps it to each house has been damaged by Israeli shelling. It could be repaired, but spare parts are not allowed through the blockade; and those factories inside the Gaza Strip that produced spare parts have either run out of material or been damaged.

Essential parts necessary for repairing basic infrastructure do not count as humanitarian aid and therefore may not be allowed into Gaza. Without electricity, water cannot be pumped from the wells. And even the water that is available is contaminated because the Israeli military shelled the sewage treatment plant.

This has caused a massive sanitation crisis leading to the creation of ‘sewage lagoons' that sometimes flood, and other times runs straight into the sea because there is nothing the Gazans can do to repair their sanitation infrastructure.

Food security is another major issue for the Gazan population. After the war, 80% of Gazans were dependent on food aid, as opposed to 63% in 2006. Because of the blockade and subsequent low food supply, the prices of basic food items are more expensive now than before the attacks.

Since December 2008, the price of pepper per kilo doubled, onions increased 33%, and chicken increased 43%. The decimation of agricultural land, cattle, and sheep farms during the war are some of the main factors that contributed to Gaza's current food insecurity.

They cannot produce the same amount of food they could before the war, and even less is allowed in through the blockade. Even fishermen in Gaza cannot bring in as much fish as before because the fishing limit is now 3 miles from shore instead of 6 miles.

Food supplies account for 79% of imported commodities in Gaza, followed by hygiene and cleaning supplies. In March, several new items were allowed into the Gaza Strip that the Israelis had not allowed in since October 2008—tea, yeast, salt, potato chips, soap, and shampoo.

Gaza Digest 77, 5/17/09

News Clips: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party wants to make it illegal for Palestinian citizens of Israel to commemorate the anniversary of "the Catastrophe" or Nakba, when in 1948 some 700,000 Arabs lost their homes in the war that led to the establishment of the state of Israel; On Friday Pope Benedict XVI visited Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the lost stop of his Middle East tour; At his airport departure, the Pope told Peres and Netahyahu that the separation Wall was 'one of the saddest sights during my visit'; The fifth round of Palestinian unity talks started in Cairo Saturday in what many see as a final attempt to overcome the remaining obstacles preventing governmental unity between the West Bank and Gaza; the West Bank was locked down Friday, May 15 as Palestinians commemorated the 61st anniversary of the Nakba; U.S. Senator John Kerry on Friday said the window of opportunity for a two-state solution was closing.

1. Interesting and balanced analysis from Helene Cooper in the New York Times of Obama's personal history and his first moves as President with regard to Israel and Palestine in advance of his upcoming separate meetings with Netanyahu, Abbas and Mubarak.

Excerpt: “This is a piece of the cloud that's hovering over this meeting: is this man different?” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator at the State Department and the author of “The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.” “The fact that he's African-American. The fact that his middle name is Hussein. The fact that the world for him is not black or white, that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not black and white, there is gray, and in that gray lies the ability of this president to understand the needs and requirements of Palestinians. Is that on Benjamin Netanyahu's mind? There's no question that that's there.”

Mr. Obama's past suggests why, four months into his presidency, the answer to the question remains elusive. His first book, “Dreams From My Father,” delves deeply into matters of race and nationality and the need to belong somewhere, issues that permeate the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in the book Mr. Obama does not address specifically how he views Israel and the plight of the Palestinians.

As a state senator in Chicago, Mr. Obama cultivated friendships with Arab-Americans, including Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American scholar and a critic of Israel. Mr. Obama and Mr. Khalidi had many dinners together, friends said, in which they discussed Palestinian issues.

During the 1990s, Mr. Obama also attended tributes to Arab-Americans, where he often seemed “empathetic” to the cause of Palestinians, said Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist in Chicago.

This contrasts with the more “tabula rasa” image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that many of Mr. Obama's predecessors brought to their presidencies — a blank slate that was then shaped by the strong alliance with Israel that is a fixture of politics in the United States, many Middle East experts say.

2. In this article from Haaretz, Amira Hass details the items forbidden entry to Gaza by Israeli authorities, including “fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses…”  Hard to imagine what kind of security concern crayons, books or musical instruments might pose.

Excerpt: Israel allows only food, medicine and detergent into the Gaza Strip. Thousands of items, including vital products for everyday activity, are forbidden.

Altogether only 30 to 40 select commercial items are now allowed into the Gaza Strip, compared to 4,000 that had been approved before the closure Israel imposed on Gaza following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, according to merchants and human rights activists.

The number of items changes according to what is determined by The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. COGAT has refused the PA representative's request for an updated list of the items permitted into Gaza in writing, and passes the information only via the telephone.

Gaza merchants are forbidden to import canned goods, plastic sheeting, toys and books, although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other aid organizations are permitted to bring them into the strip.

The few items merchants are allowed to trade in are divided into three categories: food, medicine and detergent. Everything else is forbidden - including building materials (which are necessary to rehabilitate Gaza's ruins and rebuild its infrastructure), electric appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, spare machine and car parts, fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses and animals. Many of the banned products are imported through the tunnels and can be found in Gaza's markets.

3. The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights released a press advisory about its new report on children killed during the assault on Gaza. If you go to the site, you can read the advisory and then download the 70-page English-language pdf of the report. The report uses 13 families as case studies of what happened, has a section also on wounded children, and another on the psychological impact of the offensive. There is an appendix at that end lists the names, ages, genders, and date of death of all the children who were killed.

Excerpt: The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is publishing War Crimes Against Children in response to the unprecedented number of children killed by Israeli forces in its latest operation; a total of 313 children under the age of eighteen. Containing numerous eye witness testimonies, the report brings to light Israel's widespread targeting of unarmed civilians, including children, throughout the offensive.

‘Operation Cast Lead' was the biggest Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip in nearly 42 years of occupation. 1,414 Palestinians were killed, and PCHR investigations have found the overwhelming majority, 83 per cent, were civilians. One of the cases in the report is that of 18 month old Farah al-Helu, who was killed on 4 January. The al-Helu family had been told to evacuate their house in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza, but while they were attempting to flee, Israeli soldiers opened fire on them. Farah was shot in the stomach and bled to death two hours later.

War Crimes Against Children exposes the abject failure of Israeli authorities to uphold international humanitarian law, which provides protection for children in armed conflict and the lack of adequate precautions taken to distinguish between civilians and military targets. The report also details indiscriminate shelling of homes and schools where internally displaced people were sheltering, the psychological impact of the offensive, and the alarming scale of physical injuries inflicted on young people.

“We are calling for an independent full-scale investigation into all documented attacks on civilians during the offensive,” said Raji Sourani, director of PCHR. “Israel must be held fully accountable for the crimes it has perpetrated against Gaza's civilian population, including alleged war crimes against children. We cannot allow the lives of these children to just be statistics in the history books of the Middle East.”

4. Al-Jazeera aired a 3-minute video story of a two-year-old Gazan boy who was born with two holes in his heart, a situation that could have been rectified by surgery if he had been allowed to leave Gaza for the procedure. WARNING: This video is heart breaking.

Firas Mazloom was born in Gaza just as Israel started its siege on the impoverished Palestinian territory two years ago. Like others in Gaza, Israeli restrictions prevented him from getting the medical treatment he needed. Al Jazeera's Casey Kauffman reports on the race against time to save two-year-old Firas.

Gaza Digest 76, 5/14/09

News Clips: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to his Bethlehem residence early on Wednesday evening, shortly after the pontiff left a local refugee camp; Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday branded the West Bank separation fence as a symbol of "stalemate" between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a "spiral of violence"; U.S. President Barack Obama sent a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that Israel not surprise the U.S. with an Israeli military operation against Iran.

1. This piece about the failure of Ban Ki-Moon to release the full preliminary report or to order a further investigation into Israeli Crimes in Gaza is by Hasan Abu Nimah, former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. It first appeared in The Jordan was republished on The Electronic Intifada with the author's permission.

“Covering up Israel's Gaza crimes with UN help,” Hasan Abu Nimah, The Electronic Intifada, 5/13/09

Excerpt: In the absence of any credible explanation for stopping even the 15 members of the Security Council from officially seeing the full report the presumption must be that Ban is engaging in a cover-up to protect Israel and therefore his own job. Equally puzzling is the acquiescence of the Security Council to this scandal. It is known that Ban's action has been prompted, or fully approved by three permanent members. Why did the 12 others keep quiet?

In Gaza, there are numerous, credible and mounting allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including testimonies published in the Israeli media from Israeli soldiers themselves. The ongoing blockade preventing the movement of basic supplies and people in and out of an occupied territory is a prima facie breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unlike other alleged war crimes in other parts of the world, the evidence is all there requiring little effort to find, including numerous statements from Israeli leaders showing that they had the motivation and intent to harm civilians as an act of punishment or revenge.

Yet once again, when it comes to Israel, UN officials actively collude in protecting the perpetrators. How could an investigation of an aggression which involved severe war crimes, deliberate attacks on civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, usage of banned weapons, attacks on UN installations, siege and deprivation be quietly shelved upon the discretion of the secretary-general alone?

The answer may be simple, but alarmingly revealing; the office of the secretary-general carries with it so much prestige, privilege and material reward, it seems not many can resist the temptation of holding on to the job at any price even if that price is paid in innocent people's blood. The hunger for a second term requires so much obsequiousness and opportunism that the holder of this position becomes a burden rather than an asset, an obstacle to the UN functioning effectively.

It is not only Palestinians who are the victims of such outrageous and immoral actions, but the last vestiges of credibility of the UN itself. I hold -- as do most Palestinians -- enormous admiration and respect for the work of UNRWA and its personnel who remained under Israeli bombardment in Gaza risking their lives along with the communities they serve. These UN personnel also deserve better; they too are betrayed by the cowardice of those above them.

2. Also from The Electronic Intifada is a report on hunger in Gaza—otherwise known as “food insecurity.” The misery of this situation is compounded by the fact that is it so clearly and purposefully designed by the Israeli government as a means of collective punishment. Here is a brilliant quotation from a Guardian editorial a few months ago: “When, in 2006, Israel limited commercial shipments of food to Gaza, Dov Weisglass, a senior government adviser, explained the aim was to put ‘Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger.”

Excerpt: Umm Abdullah cannot remember the last time she was able to feed meat to her eight children. She does know that for the past week the single meal she cooked for them each day consisted only of lentils. And that on one day, she had received aid coupons from the United Nations, which she subsequently sold to buy tomatoes and eggplant at the local market.

Umm Abdullah is a 42-year-old dressmaker and hails from Jabaliya, a cramped refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. Stories like hers are commonplace across the Gaza Strip, where years of sanctions, siege and now war have battered the territory's economy and put many essentials out of reach for the majority of the population.

"We live day to day, nothing more," says Umm Abdullah, who made less than three dollars in profit over the last three days. "If we can eat once a day, that is good enough for us."

While the prices of food and other goods have cooled off from the record highs they hit during Israel's three-week assault, the World Food Program (WFP) reports that a number of items, many of them basic, remain more expensive for Gaza's residents than they were before the attacks.

Sugar, rice, onion, cucumber, tomato, lemon, pepper, chicken, meat, fish and garlic were all more expensive for Gaza's residents in March 2009 than they were in December 2008, the WFP says.

The price of pepper per kilogram doubled, while the cost of onions jumped 33 percent. Fresh chicken is now 43 percent more expensive than before the attacks, a result of the destruction of a number of poultry farms across Gaza throughout the assault.

The decimation of wide swathes of agricultural land, as well as cattle and sheep farms, has added to Gaza's growing food insecurity.

But the war only intensified an already dire humanitarian situation, economists say, which has its roots in Israel's economic siege that hermetically sealed Gaza's borders in June 2007.

The shortage of all but "essential" goods and a flow of only a trickle of fuel have sent prices of food and other products skyrocketing over the past two years, making them unaffordable to many households in the Gaza Strip.

3. Barak Ravid reports in Haaretz on an internal struggle between the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry about allowing free access of food and humanitarian aid into Gaza. Ravid predicts that in a meeting with Obama next week, Netanyahu will promise to remove restrictions on food. Hard not to grind one's teeth at his generosity.

Excerpt: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to promise during his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday that Israel will remove all restrictions to the movement of foodstuffs into the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, four senior European Union officials sent a letter to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, calling on them to immediately and permanently open the crossings into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian aid.

Several days prior to the end of the Olmert administration, a decision was made to allow food to be delivered to the Gaza Strip without restrictions. The move came despite serious differences between the position of the Foreign and Defense ministries, and a series of embarrassing confrontations between Israel, on the one hand, and the U.S. and the European Union on the other. Even though a decision was made to allow the food to cross into Gaza, the defense establishment has not yet implemented it.

The issue of humanitarian aid transfers to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip was one of the issues that the Netanyahu administration sought to resolve prior to the prime minister's visit to the United States. A discussion is scheduled to take place this week nd a final decision will be made.

Gaza Digest 75, 5/13/09

News Clips: The U.N. Security Council on Monday called for "urgent efforts" to create a separate Palestinian state and achieve an overall Mideast peace settlement; President Barack Obama will give a speech to the Muslim world from Egypt on June 4; The United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon said on Tuesday that the Israel Defense Forces has handed over data on cluster bombs fired during the 2006 war with the militant Hezbollah group; Pope Benedict XVI called on Wednesday for a sovereign Palestinian homeland after arriving in Bethlehem at the start of a one-day visit to the West Bank; he also expressed sympathy for the suffering in Gaza and said he prayed for an end to the blockade.

1. PBS's Frontline ran an amazing and scary piece this past Sunday about radical Israeli settlers near Hebron, and “an organized Jewish underground” that has been assassinating Palestinians. “The Arabs will have to get the hell out…” The clip is only 8 minutes long—and worth a watch. Really chilling.

VIEW: Some riveting video from our investigation into Israel's small, but dangerous, extremist settlers movement whose long-term agenda is a war against the secular Israeli state itself.

Their vision: Restore the Kingdom of Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. At the heart of their strategy: More Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the expulsion of all Arabs from Jewish land. Settler population in the West Bank is roughly 285,000; overall settlement growth in '08 was 69 percent higher than in '07.

2. Amira Hass, who has been reporting for Haaretz for many years from both the West Bank and Gaza, was arrested on Tuesday as she entered Israel from Gaza. She had violated the law against “residing in an enemy state.”

Israel Police on Tuesday detained Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass upon her exit from the Gaza Strip, where she had been living and reporting over the last few months.

Hass was arrested and taken in for questioning immediately after crossing the border, for violating a law which forbids residence in an enemy state. She was released on bail after promising not to enter the Gaza Strip over the next 30 days.

Hass is the first Israeli journalist to enter the Gaza Strip in more than two years, since the Israel Defense Forces issued an entry ban following the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in a 2006 cross-border raid by Palestinian militants.

Last December, Hass was arrested by soldiers at the Erez Checkpoint as she tried to cross into Israel after having entered the Gaza Strip aboard a ship run by peace activists from Europe.

Upon discovering that she had no permit to be in Gaza, the soldiers transferred her to the Sderot police.

When questioned, Hass pointed out that no one had stopped her from entering the Strip, which she did for work purposes.

Hass was released then under restriction, and Nahmani said her case would be sent to court.

Israel Press Council chairwoman Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice, commented then that even journalists are subject to the law and the council cannot defend a reporter who breaks the law. Instead, she said, local journalists ought to petition the High Court of Justice against the army's order.

3. And here is Amira's most recent piece from Haaretz—a scathing account of the benefits and profits of living in a continual state of war.

Excerpt: The security industry is an important export branch - weapons, ammunition and refinements that are tested daily in Gaza and the West Bank. The Oslo process - negotiations that were never meant to end - allowed Israel to shake off its status as occupying power (obligated to the welfare of the occupied people) and treat the Palestinian territories as independent entities. That is, to use weapons and ammunition at a magnitude Israel could not have otherwise used on the Palestinians after 1967. Protecting the settlements requires constant development of security, surveillance and deterrence equipment such as fences, roadblocks, electronic surveillance, cameras and robots. These are security's cutting edge in the developed world, and serve banks, companies and luxury neighborhoods next to shantytowns and ethnic enclaves where rebellions must be suppressed.

The collective Israeli creativity in security is fertilized by a state of constant friction between most Israelis and a population defined as hostile. A state of combat over a low flame, and sometimes over a high one, brings together a variety of Israeli temperaments: rambos, computer wizards, people with gifted hands, inventors. Under peace, their chances of meeting would be greatly reduced.

Gaza Digest 74, 5/12/09

News Clips: Pope Benedict XVI called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel Monday, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at easing strains between the Vatican and Jews; Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Mubarak in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik Monday morning after greeting Pope Benedict XVI at Ben Gurion International Airport upon his arrival in Israel; Israel granted permits to 93 Palestinian Christians to leave Gaza to attend a papal mass in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, and turned down applications for more than 400 others, a church official in Gaza said on Monday; Sheikh Taiseer Tamimi, Chief Islamic Justice, started his speech in front of the Pope, Benedict XVI, by confirming that Jerusalem is the capital of the future Palestinian state, and by slamming the Israeli violations against the Palestinians and their holy places; when the Sheikh's words were translated, the Pope left the conference.

1. The other day I posted several pieces about the East Jerusalem land grab, including a rather mealy-mouthed one by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner from the New York Times. Phillip Weiss on his Mondoweiss blog goes after the Times for more or less laundering out of the story the right-wing settler movement that is at work with the government in the scheme to take over East Jerusalem.

Excerpt: Well, Sunday's New York Times has the same story, but in a much-milder form: Parks Fortify Israel's Claim to Jerusalem. The headline is, of course, grotesque. And the piece puts off the idea that settler groups have played a part in the planning till the 21st paragraph.

While it is true that the article (which is written by two reporters who are married to Israelis), contains sharp and prominent criticism of the plans, generally the piece devolves into on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand consideration of the two sides in the matter, as if an enlightened American publication should be giving such a platform to religious expansionist groups.

2. From The Electronic Intifada comes this report on the lasting psychological effects of the winter assault on Gaza.

Excerpt: Amidst all this, the psychological effects of the attack are less apparent, but the preliminary findings of an ongoing survey being conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) suggest that few people, if any, are left unscarred.

In a sample of 374 children studied, more than 73 percent thought they were going to die during the violence. Almost 68 percent of them -- all aged between six and 16 -- fear that a similar attack will come again, and 41 percent expressed a strong desire for revenge.

Of the parents examined by mental health professionals as part of the same study, 59 percent of fathers and 75 percent of mothers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Among the symptoms detected were that over 59 percent of these adults were anxious about death, that half of them feared heart attacks, and about 15 percent feared contracting cancer because of exposure to weapons such as white phosphorous.

Meanwhile, 82 percent of parents observed that their children have been behaving aggressively since the attack, and 52 percent reported that their children had emotional problems.

"Everybody lost something in this war," GCMHP spokesman Husam al-Nounou told IPS. "Some lost friends and relations, some lost parts of their bodies. Others lost property and money; others a feeling of security and protection. It was a very cruel feeling. I've never felt so near to death as during that period. There was no place to where we could escape."

3. This report from IRIN (Humanitarian News from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) describes the functioning (or mal-functioning) of the one border crossing used for passage of commercial and humanitarian goods from Israel into Gaza.

Excerpt: A small crossing without the facilities to allow large numbers of trucks to enter, Kerem Shalom lies inside Israel, 3km from the Gazan town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

The only people authorised by Israel to physically access Kerem Shalom are employees of Shaiber Company, a private Gaza company with permission from Israel to access Kerem Shalom to retrieve imports. The company declined to comment.

The Gaza authorities cannot access Kerem Shalom. Israeli truck drivers dump pallets of goods in an open area and withdraw, and then Palestinian truck drivers from Gaza enter and retrieve the goods, according to senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad and Gaza traders.

Israeli authorities say they are using Kerem Shalom after closing the much larger and better equipped Karni crossing because of Palestinian attacks on Karni - which left several Israeli soldiers dead - several years ago.

“The lack of imports has halted over 90 percent of Gaza industries and created massive shortages of food and basic supplies,” said Hamas's Hamad , who failed to mention the dozens of illegal tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, which however, provide only limited supplies due in part to a clampdown by the Egyptian authorities and damage by Israeli security forces .

“Medical supplies have priority [to enter Gaza], and secondly is food from international organisations. There is a government decision not to allow a humanitarian crisis to occur in Gaza,” said Israeli spokesman Dror, adding: “The Palestinians come to us with requests [for certain imports to be allowed in] and we determine if it's necessary - like in the case of animal feed, we permitted it to enter, although it is not absolutely necessary.”

“The Israeli authorities allow 80-110 trucks per day to enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom,” according to Hamad, though prior to June 2007, when Hamas won elections in Gaza, about 475 trucks entered Gaza from Israel daily, according to OCHA.

Gaza Digest 73, 5/11/09

News Clips: A two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians could diminish the existential threat posed by Iran, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones said in an interview aired on the network ABC on Sunday; Israeli police and intelligence forces early on Monday morning raided and shut down in advance a Palestinian Media Center as Pope Benedict on Monday began the most delicate part of his first trip to the Middle East, landing in Israel for a five-day tour that will take him to Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories.

1. In an opinion piece from Haaretz, Gideon Levy outlines the Israeli government's response to accusations of war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza—first the denial, then the moral outrage, blaming those who have made the accusations of Anti-Semitism.

Excerpt: But the truth cries out even from the collapsed and perforated rubble of what was once a home: The soldiers who were in Gaza know, as do their friends, that something terrible happened there - just as those who served in the West Bank know. Ask your sons; they know the truth - the truth is sitting in your own home. And ask the friends of your sons, and the sons of your friends - they know. Many of them are brainwashed, and for now are keeping mum. Israel is holding back the tide of reports and investigations, and putting its head in the sand of propaganda and victimization, but in the end the truth will emerge.

Even the excuse "everyone does it" will not do any good, as it does no good for a driver caught speeding. The Americans kill more? The French slaughtered more? That may do for the Foreign Ministry's automatic statements. We deserve more, we deserve the full truth - what exactly our soldiers did in our name, each of our names, on the streets of Gaza, imprisoned and bleeding for the 22 days of a useless war.

2. The Times of London published an interview with Jordan's King Abdullah in which the king outlines the peace plan he discussed with President Obama. It is being touted as the “57-state solution.”

Excerpt: America is putting the final touches to a hugely ambitious peace plan for the Middle East, aimed at ending more than 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Arabs, according to Jordan's King Abdullah, who is helping to bring the parties together.

The Obama Administration is pushing for a comprehensive peace agreement that would include settling Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and its territorial disputes with Syria and Lebanon, King Abdullah II told The Times. Failure to reach agreement at this critical juncture would draw the world into a new Middle East war next year. “If we delay our peace negotiations, then there is going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months,” the King said.

Details of the plan are likely to be thrashed out in a series of diplomatic moves this month. Chief among them is President Obama's meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, in Washington a week today. The initiative could form the centrepiece for Mr Obama's much-anticipated address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4. A peace conference could then take place involving all the parties as early as July or August. Such an ambitious project has not been attempted since 1991, when George Bush senior's Administration assembled all the parties for a peace conference in Madrid.

“What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese,” said the King, who hatched the plan with Mr Obama in Washington last month. He added that, if Mr Obama did not make good his promise for peace, then his credibility would evaporate overnight.

3. This piece on ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem by Executive Editor Bill Fletcher, Jr. comes via Znet.

The current trick of the Israeli government is to move against Palestinian residents by claiming that the Palestinians are living in homes that show no proof of a legal building permit. What is perverse about this is that the Israelis are not talking about housing built in the last several years or even housing built since the June 1967 war. They are discussing housing that has been occupied by Palestinians in many cases for decades! In fact, according to the Washington Post [May 2, 2009] the dispute even involves searching through archives from the time of the Ottoman Empire (which ended when World War I ended in 1918) in order to prove ownership.

The Israeli government, of course, denies that they have any intent to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population. How could they, of course, given that they are supposed to be the model of democracy in the Middle East??!! The reality is that what the Israeli government has been conducting in East Jerusalem is part of the larger Israeli strategy in its Occupation of the Palestinian territories: drive the Palestinians from the best lands and replace them with Israeli settlers. Insofar as the world does nothing, the Israeli government behaves much as my dog did; it moves further and further in, increasing the intensity and scope of their destructive behavior.

It should surprise no one that the Israelis are attempting to remove the Palestinian population from Jerusalem. This has been consistent since the June 1967 war. The extent of the projected removal - 60,000 people - should, however, outrage any democratic minded person. Irrespective of one's stand on the history of the development of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians, the fact of the matter is that the Israeli government continues to violate international law and precedent without having to fear any sort of international sanctions.

The proposed removal of 60,000 Palestinians increases the relevance and timeliness of discussions regarding the need to develop a movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions aimed at undermining the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since it seems obvious that most governments, including but not limited to the US government, are unwilling to take steps to insist upon justice for the Palestinians, then pressure needs to be brought about by squeezing corporations and governments that are complicit in the criminal activities of the Israeli government.

Gaza Digest 72, 5/10/09

News Clips: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights; International human rights experts examining alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip said on Friday they planned to visit the region soon to investigate whether Israel and Hamas abided by international law during Operation Cast Lead;

1. Following are three posts about the Israeli government's plans for East Jerusalem and the organized resistance to what Palestinians and Israeli peace activists perceive as an unprincipled land grab. The first is an open letter from the Pope written by the Coalition from Jerusalem, the second is an AP story, and the third is from the New York Times.


“Coalition for Jerusalem's Letter to Pope Benedict XVI,” 5/8/09

Excerpt: Your visit to the Holy Land your Holiness comes, at a time when the indigenous people of this land, both Muslims and Christians are suffering under an extremely brutal military occupation. A great injustice has smothered this land over sixty years and the people, the victims, are still suffering its ramifications today. Israel's continuing military occupation of Palestinian territories since1967, has furthered this injustice by separating and isolating, discriminating against, killing, incarcerating, prohibiting the movement and access to the Holy places for prayer, blockading, starving and denying medical treatment of millions of Palestinians.
Over 3.5 million Palestinians are still living in refugee camps, waiting with patient desperation for the implementation of their human, ethical and moral right to return to their homes.

In this context, the Palestinians welcome your Holiness to the Holy Land hopeful that your visit will bring with it the justice and peace the Palestinians have been longing for; they have endured and dearly sacrificed in order to achieve the just peace.

Your Holiness, You will pray in Jerusalem, the City Holy to the three monotheistic religions and a source of spirituality for millions more. As a result of Israel's systematic policies that aim to turn Jerusalem into a Jewish capital of the Jewish State, Jerusalem is today rendered an isolated city though it is the home of over three hundred thousand Palestinians. These numbers and the high growth rate among the Christian and Muslim population of the city endangers the demographics and tries to ensure the maintenance of a Jewish majority. This in turn means that crimes of a routine nature like home demolitions, land and property confiscation, evictions, revocation of residency rights, high taxations, etc. are daily practices committed by Israel against the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Jerusalem today, and under the eyes and full knowledge of the International Community is witnessing yet another wave of Israel's ethnic cleansing crimes that continue since 1948.

The Israeli government is seeking to establish dominance over East Jerusalem via new “green spaces” and “national heritage sites. Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, a leftist Israeli group that opposes Jewish settlement in Palestinian areas and supports a two-state solution, contends that the plan aimed to create “an ideological tourist park that will determine Jewish dominance in the area.”


“Group says Israel plan to cement hold on Jerusalem,” Matti Friedman, AP via Miami Herald, 5/10/09

An Israeli government plan to develop parks, hiking trails and tourist sites in east Jerusalem will permanently change the landscape of the contested city and cement Israel's hold there, an Israeli group charged in a report released Sunday ahead of the pope's visit to the city.

The government has undertaken an ambitious eight-year plan that will dramatically alter the "holy basin" - the sensitive area in and around the Old City that is home to sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, according to the Israeli group, Ir Amim, which works for coexistence in Jerusalem.

The government has largely kept the plan secret, not soliciting input from the city's Christians and Muslims or opening it to objections from the public, the group charges.

"It's being done in a way that is opaque, with no public knowledge, without coordination with the churches or with the Muslim Waqf, in the precise opposite of transparent terms," Daniel Seidemann, the Israeli attorney who founded Ir Amim, said Sunday. The Waqf is the custodian of Islamic holy sites in the city.

The park plan could destabilize Jerusalem and is "an act of colossal irresponsibility," Seidemann said.


“Parks Fortify Israel's Claim to Jerusalem,” Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, New York Times, 5/10/09

Excerpt: Israel is quietly carrying out a $100 million, multiyear development plan in some of the most significant religious and national heritage sites just outside the walled Old City here as part of an effort to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as its capital.

The plan, parts of which have been outsourced to a private group that is simultaneously buying up Palestinian property for Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, has drawn almost no public or international scrutiny. However, certain elements related to it — the threatened destruction of unauthorized Palestinian housing in the redevelopment areas, for example — have brought widespread condemnation.

But as Pope Benedict XVI prepares to visit Christian sites here this week and as the Obama administration promotes a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital, Israeli activity in the area, known as the holy basin — land both inside and just outside the Old City — will be cause for growing concern and friction.

“Everything Israel does now will be highly contentious,” said Robert H. Serry, the United Nations special Middle East coordinator, on a recent tour of East Jerusalem. He warned the Israeli authorities “not to take actions that could pour oil on the fire.”

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, however, that it will push ahead harder than ever in these efforts. Interior Minister Eli Yishai said last week of the activity in one core area: “I intend to act on this issue with full strength. This is the land of our sovereignty. Jewish settlement there is our right.”

As part of the plan, former garbage dumps and once derelict wastelands are being cleared and turned into lush gardens and parks, now already accessible to visitors who can walk along new footpaths and take in the majestic views, along with new signs and displays that point out significant points of Jewish history.

The parts of the city that are being developed were captured in the 1967 Middle East war, but their annexation by Israel was never recognized abroad. At the same time, there is a battle for historical legitimacy. As part of the effort, archaeologists are finding indisputable evidence of ancient Jewish life here. Yet Palestinian officials and institutions tend to dismiss the finds as part of an effort to build a Zionist history here.

2.  Because of the blockade, cement and other building materials are almost impossible to find in Gaza, but this article from The Electronic Intifada describes new homes that are being built with mud bricks (mud, straw, sand & water). Have to love the resourcefulness.

Excerpt: Building earthen structures like bread ovens and small animal pens is a technique many Palestinians are familiar with, but extending the method to houses isn't a notion that has taken hold in Gaza.

Jihad al-Shaar got the idea from his travels in Asia and the Middle East. "I traveled in Bangladesh, India, Yemen, Turkey ... they all use some similar technique of building houses from earth. All you need is clay, sand and some straw." These he mixed with water, and poured into brick moulds that were left in the sun to dry for three days. Good enough to build a fine house with.

While some Gaza residents speak of shame at the way life has "gone backwards" with the siege -- using cooking oil in cars, wood fires for cooking, and horse and donkey carts for transportation -- Shaar is proud of his clay home.

"In the winter it is warm, and in the summer it will be cool. There's no problem with leaking, and this type of house will last a lifetime," he says. "And it was cheap to build. A house this size made of cement would cost around $16,000 at least. This one, because it was made with simple, local materials cost just $3,000."

Prior to Israel's crippling siege on Gaza cement would have cost 20 shekels (about $5) a bag. Now, with cement among the many banned items, what does make it into Gaza through tunnels under the Egypt border costs ten times as much.

The $3,000 Shaar spent was mostly on support metal and on the flakes of straw used in the mud bricks as a strengthening agent. The metal bits, formerly just over 1,000 shekels a ton, are now quadrupled in price, which contribute to making an otherwise cheap building process still somewhat pricey.

Straw abounds, but due to the siege it is more often used as animal fodder, rendering it more precious and driving the price up. Clay and sand, found all over Gaza, must still be transported to the building site.

Compared to a cement home, the mud homes Shaar has designed and taught others to build are nonetheless the most practical and immediate solution.

Nidal Eid, 35, has seven children and has been renting a home in the Rafah region since his house was bulldozed by the Israeli army four years ago. Larger than Shaar's and still in its nascent form, Eid's home will take another two weeks to complete, he estimates, and will cost roughly $4,000.

"It's going to be fantastic," Eid said, adding mud mortar and new bricks to the waist-high wall he has already completed. "We make about 1,000 bricks every three days."

Gaza Digest 71, 5/8/09

News Clips: Senior officials in Jerusalem expressed concern recently over the sharp decline in the coordination between Israel and the United States on security and state affairs since President Barack Obama's entered the White House and especially since the formation of Israel's new government; Pope Benedict is set to arrive in Israel on Monday for a visit that is already fraught with controversy; Middle East envoy Tony Blair said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would remove a toxic barrier between the West and Islamic nations and help deal with the nuclear threat from Iran; On Wednesday, legislators from Israeli Palestinian parties blasted as racist and dangerous a plan by the country's right-wing interior minister to rescind the citizenships of four Palestinians suspected of involvement in anti-Israel activities.

1. In a long and detailed press release posted by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PHCR), a coalition of Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations (including Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Al Mezan, Gisha, and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions), Israel's legal obligations as an occupying power are outlined. The groups call on international donors who have pledged to assist with the rebuilding of Gaza to pressure the Israeli government to comply with its obligations.

Excerpt: As human rights organisations we are calling for international donors to demand specific, concrete assurances from the State of Israel. These assurances, and the political will necessary to ensure their compliance, must form an integral part of international assistance to the Palestinian people. As the responsible party, Israel must accept the consequences of its actions. As illustrated herein, the State of Israel is subject to explicit legal obligations: it bears the responsibility for reconstructing and maintaining the Gaza Strip. Bank rolling the occupation without demanding an end to its violations of international law, is equivalent to tacit complicity on the part of the international community

Reconstruction aid must be accompanied by strict conditions and assurances from the State of Israel. Otherwise, the taxpayers of the international community will continue to support an endless cycle of aid-destruction-aid-reconstruction. The Palestinian people will continue to suffer at the hands of a brutal and illegal occupation.

We further note that, Israel's primary responsibility notwithstanding, international reconstruction materials must not be procured in Israel. The State of Israel must not profit from its illegal actions, and the destruction it has wrought.

International assistance is most appropriate at the political level. It has become increasingly evident that international aid alone cannot resolve the conflict. In order to facilitate long-term development and recovery, political will and political action are required. All potential avenues that accord with humanitarian and human rights law must be pursued in order to ensure the State of Israel's compliance with international law. We call on the taxpayers of the international community to pressurise their governments, to lobby on behalf of the Palestinian people, and to ensure that their money is no longer wasted by governments willing to fund a school but not willing to take action in response to that school's destruction, or to ensure that the cement necessarily for its reconstruction is permitted to enter Gaza.

International aid is currently being used to finance the consequences of an illegal occupation, and the accompanying serious violations of IHL and international human rights law.

2. Gideon Levy editorializes in Haaretz that Shimon Peres's new role as spokesperson for the Netanyahu government is beneath the President's dignity.

Excerpt: Peres was elected president of the state, not the government. Netanyahu and Lieberman haven't yet taken the tiniest step toward peace, but Peres has already turned them into Peace Now activists. It's hard to tell if anyone in the world is buying this abominable, tainted merchandise that Peres is trying to sell, but meanwhile he is abusing his office. This is not what he was chosen for. He must not end his long career like this, as the pathetic government spokesman, the most inferior post he has served since being appointed Defense Ministry director-general two generations ago.

Cancel the new Information and Diaspora Ministry, let the new foreign minister go, and we may as well shut down the information departments at Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu - we have a new propaganda minister. We've had better and worse presidents, but we've never had a president who served as government propagandist. Now we do: Shimon Peres has appointed himself to the unworthy task. Since the new government formed - the most right-wing government in Israel's history - the (seemingly) left-wing (former) peace man has become its public relations agent.

3. The case of Israeli non-violent human rights activist Ezra Nawi was reported in the Guardian, including a video of the incident for which he was arrested. To send a letter of support for him to the Israeli Embassy you can go to the Alternative Information Center for details.

Excerpt: Without international intervention, Israeli human rights activist Ezra Nawi will most likely be sent to jail.

Nawi is not a typical rights activist. A member of Ta'ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership he is a Jewish Israeli of Iraqi descent who speaks fluent Arabic. He is a gay man in his fifties and a plumber by trade. Perhaps because he himself comes from the margins, he empathises with others who have been marginalised – often violently.

His "crime" was trying to stop a military bulldozer from destroying the homes of Palestinian Bedouins from Um El Hir in the South Hebron region. These Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation for almost 42 years; they still live without electricity, running water and other basic services and are continuously harassed by Jewish settlers and the military – two groups that have united to expropriate Palestinian land and that clearly have received the government's blessing to do so.

Gaza Digest 70, 5/7/09

News Clips: On Wednesday Israel's Air Force struck three Gaza smuggling tunnels after a Kassam rocket and at least six mortar shells struck southern Israel; The London-based al-Quds al-Arabi reported Wednesday that the moderate Arab nations are making amendments to the 2002 Saudi peace plan at the request of President Obama and that some of the changes involve the demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees; President Shimon Peres said on Wednesday that Israel would never apologize for its military offensive on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, calling a damning United Nations report on its conduct there "unfair and one-sided”; The Israeli military occupation around Bethlehem is severely restricting its growth, undermining its economy and compromising its future, according to a UN report; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday instructed defense officials to transfer NIS 50 million to banks in the Gaza Strip in order to help pay Palestinian Authority salaries.

1. With all the dire reports coming out of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, I was happy to run across this article posted on “This Week in Palestine” that came to them via the Palestinian Businesswomen's Association ( It tells the story of several Palestinian women who, with the help of micro-loans and their own ingenuity, have set up profitable small businesses.

Excerpt: A variety of resources linked to loans are available for women who want to establish or expand their income-generating projects - specially tailored one-on-one counselling, business management training, consultancy field visits, and skill-enhancement courses carefully designed to empower and encourage economic independence.

Nuha, a Palestinian mother of ten, used to scrape together change from her household allowance to buy pieces of copper. Her spare time and nights were dedicated to diligently etching designs on the pieces of copper. She would then incorporate these pieces into office supplies, furniture, and other knick-knacks. In 2005, Nuha took her first loan. There was a demand for her work; and her meagre savings weren't enough to buy the raw materials that she needed. Now, a little over four years later, Nuha is her family's sole source of income. She works hard, but her children are all in school, and her eldest daughter has even completed university (Nuha herself only has an elementary school education). She has a small shop adjacent to her home and cooperates with suppliers. Nuha has also participated in local and regional exhibitions, where she has displayed her work.

2. And this photo essay on the way the Separation Wall is being used as a place for artistic and self-expression is an upbeat angle on a usually dismal fact of Palestinian life. It also has information on and a photo of the Longest Letter, the Dutch/Palestinian collaboration to spray paint on the wall an open letter by South African Muslim scholar Farid Esack.

Excerpt: With 700 kilometers length, the tall and long Apartheid Wall that isolates the West Bank and its residents from the rest of the world has become a free space to express opinions and convey messages.

They can run from the sublime,

“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”
Bobby Sands, Northern Ireland

to the ridiculous.

“Believe in the power of underwear”

3. From the Free Gaza Movement site comes this inspiring report of a European aid convoy headed by sea to Gaza.

Excerpt: The climax to the Seventh Palestinians in Europe conference was the launch of the long anticipated ‘Hope for Gaza convoy' The convoy moved to Genoa and is now in the Mediterranean carried by a shipping boat.

The convoy is destined for the Gaza Strip and carries provisions for the education and medical sectors, specifically for Palestinians with special needs - those who were handicapped by the major Israeli attacks of December and January.

Through a chorus of cheers and tears the convoy of a dozen well-equipped ambulances and some 30 trucks loaded with medical and humanitarian supplies set sail on a cargo ship from Genoa along with human rights volunteers, European parliamentarians, and journalists.

Gaza Digest 69, 5/6/09

News Clips: At the AIPAC Convention on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Israel has to work for a two state-solution -- you're not going to like my saying this -- but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement ... and access to economic opportunity”; Also at the AIPAC conference Senator John Kerry echoed Biden in calling for a settlement freeze and greater freedom of movement for Palestinians; Khaled Meshal said in an interview with the NY Times that Hamas had halted firing rockets into Israel and was seeking a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; On Tuesday the Palestinian Authority ministry of prisoners and ex-prisoners' affairs in Gaza accused the Israeli occupation authorities of kidnapping 345 Palestinian citizens, including 40 minors during the month of April 2009.

1. The U.N. yesterday released part of a report on Israeli actions against U.N. properties in Gaza during the recent military assault. Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press account about the report and the Israeli Government's response.

Excerpt: The U.N. chief on Tuesday accused Israel of lying about attacks on United Nations schools and other facilities during the Gaza military campaign—including one reported to have killed more than 40 people - and formally demanded compensation.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a U.N. investigation found conclusively that Israeli weaponry—some containing white phosphorus—was "the indisputed cause" of attacks on several schools, a health clinic and the world body's Gaza headquarters.
Israel denies that it intentionally struck the compounds, and says it was forced to act against militants using the buildings and other civilian areas for cover. Israel said the material its government presented to the U.N. was largely ignored in the final report, which it called "biased."
Ban said he commissioned the investigation to look at "the nine most serious incidents."
The first of 11 recommendations calls for the U.N. to seek "formal acknowledgment by the government of Israel that its public statements alleging that Palestinians fired" from within the U.N.'s school in Jabalia on Jan. 6 and within the U.N.'s field office compound on Jan. 15 "were untrue and are regretted."
Another says the U.N. should "take appropriate action to seek accountability and pursue claims to secure reparation or reimbursement for all expenses incurred and payment made by the United Nations" because of deaths and injuries involving U.N. personnel and property.

2. Stephen R. Shalom, who teaches political science at William Paterson University in New Jersey, posted on ZNet an interesting analysis of the recent assault on Gaza in the light of the geopolitics and history of the region.

Excerpt: When Hamas won the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006, it was obvious why Israel would oppose them: They were much less likely to sell out Palestinian national interests -- out of both conviction and a lack of corruption. And Washington too wanted Palestinians to be led by those who had said "uncle," not advocates of "fanatical nationalism."

Why does the United States care about some localized Palestinian fanatics? For the past several years, the country that has most stood in the way of U.S. domination of the Middle East has been Iran. Going to war with Iran would be a disaster from any point of view, but that doesn't mean that policymakers don't want to intimidate and threaten Tehran.

That's why the United States has been engaged in all sorts of measures short, of direct military action, to try to destabilize Iran -- why even Barack Obama, an advocate of talking to all countries, says he keeps the military option on the table.

But as long as Iran has allies -- Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine -- any military strike on Iran would leave Israel vulnerable to retaliation, thus lessening the intimidation factor. And that's why Washington supported Israel's war against Hizbollah in 2006: making sure, as they did with Gaza, that no UN resolution would interfere with teaching Hizbollah a lesson.

It turned out that the attempt to teach Hizbollah a lesson was a failure, but not for want of trying on the part of Israel and the Bush administration. By defeating Iran's allies, Israel and the United States hope to make Iran more subject to intimidation.

In Gaza, the attempt to unseat Hamas began with economic sanctions. When these failed, Israel and the United States went to plan B: supporting a military coup against Hamas in Gaza. The U.S. role in this is now well documented.[11] 

But the coup failed, and led in fact to Hamas seizing full power in Gaza. Israel, with U.S. backing, then enacted a crippling blockade. That too failed to reduce support for Hamas. Now we have this latest barbarous Israeli attack on Gaza.

3. This piece by Erin Cunningham on the Electronic Intifada details the dire environmental situation in Gaza following almost two years of a blockade and the pulverizing air assault the Strip was subjected to in December and January.

Excerpt: During the assault, Israeli bombs hit the already fragile sewage and water treatment systems, causing drinking water and raw sewage to mix across some of the most populated areas of Gaza.

Tank shells hit the strip's largest wastewater plant in the Sheikh Aljeen area of Gaza City, sending sewage cascading directly into neighborhoods, farms and into the sea.

Forty percent of the rooftop water tanks in Khan Younis were damaged or destroyed, and four water wells were destroyed completely in Gaza City, Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya, according to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) cluster group that works under OCHA.

"After the war, the major impact is being felt in the northern areas of Gaza, where most of the water networks were destroyed," says Najla Shawa, WASH's information manager in Gaza. "In Khan Younis as well, only 30 percent of the governorate is being served by a sewage network."

Ten million more liters of raw sewage is now being dumped into the Mediterranean Sea each day than was prior to the war, WASH says, posing a threat to coastal marine life and Gaza's fisheries.

Israeli missiles also targeted factories in urban-residential and rural areas, releasing potentially toxic chemicals into both the air and soil. The piles of rubble that continue to mark Gaza's landscape are said to contain large quantities of asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fiber used commonly in construction.

"The demolition waste created by the latest hostilities potentially contain hazardous materials such as asbestos," a representative of the UNEP's Post-Conflict and Disaster Management branch told IPS on telephone from Geneva. "High levels of exposure to asbestos have been linked to lung cancer."

Over 20,000 buildings and 5,000 homes were destroyed, according to local authorities. Some 600,000 metric tons of rubble has yet to be cleared as a result of the siege, with much of the debris having been bulldozed into the soil by Israeli tanks.

Gaza's soil will also be affected in the long-term by Israel's use of white phosphorus shells throughout the war, says Sameera Rifai, representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

"The soil of the agricultural land is now polluted by the weapons the Israelis used, particularly white phosphorus," Rifai told IPS.

Gaza Digest 68, 5/5/09

News Clips: A new United Nations report to be released on Tuesday criticizes Israel for deliberately attacking U.N. installations during the Gaza campaign; Eyewitnesses reported that Israeli troops on Monday morning set fire to Palestinian-owned meadows of wheat and barley in Juhr Addik, in the southeastern Gaza Strip; According to a poll sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, 66% of Israeli Jews support military action aimed at destroying Iran's nuclear facilities; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reported that Israel's Shin Beth internal security service has increased its interrogations of people seeking to leave Hamas-run Gaza for medical treatment, setting the providing of information as a pre-condition for permission to travel; Dozens of Israeli settlers chopped town Palestinians' olive and fig trees in the village of Sinjil, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday.

1. First up for today is a shout-out to my audacious CODEPINK friends and sisters in D.C. who interrupted Shimon Peres's speech at the AIPAC conference yesterday with a FREE GAZA message. Other signs included, “Want Peace? End the Occupation,” and “No Money for War Crimes.” Media coverage of the action included a post on Phil Weiss's Mondoweiss blog (including an amazing photo of Desiree standing on a table), a report on Al-Jazeera (with a great photo of Tighe's banner), and two paragraphs in an article from the Jerusalem Post.

Excerpt: His speech was briefly disrupted by three protesters, including a young woman shouting, "What about the children you killed in Gaza?" and a man who yelled, "End the siege of Gaza!"

Security guards hustled them outside and tried to cover their mouths so that people waiting to enter the convention hall wouldn't hear them. Inside the packed room, the audience rose in an extended standing ovation to drown out their shouts.

2. Jerusalem's Mayor announced a master plan for the city that would create more green spaces and give “more building permits” to Arab residents, but Palestinians decried what they claimed was an attempt to cement Israeli hold over East Jerusalem. Here is a report from Reuters, as well as an analysis from the Palestinian Authority's Ma'an News Agency.

Excerpt: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat outlined a plan on Monday to give many more building permits to Arab residents, but a Palestinian official dismissed it as an Israeli ruse to cement its hold on the city.

Barkat said in a statement he had devised what he called the city's first "master plan" in 50 years to allow the construction of some 23,550 housing units in eastern Jerusalem, a part of the city where mostly Arabs live, by 2030.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day Warand annexed it as part of its capital, in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be capital of a future Palestinian state.

More than 30 percent of 740,000 people living in Jerusalem are Arab, and most of the remainder are Jews, many of whom live in the city's Western sector.

Barkat's Palestinian-appointed counterpart, Jerusalem Governor Adnan al-Husseini, who has no real powers in the Israeli-controlled municipality, rejected the plan as insufficient to meet minimal housing needs.

"This will not solve the problems for Palestinians in Jerusalem. It will cement Israel's grip on the city and will force more [Palestinian] people out," Husseini told Reuters.


Excerpt: Mayor for the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality hopes to make “Jerusalem the greenest city in Israel,” largely at the expenses of Palestinian residents.

Jerusalem municipal Mayor Nir Barkat revealed his “master plan” for the city on Monday, which includes the ominous pledge for the “Development of eastern Jerusalem,” where most of the Palestinian population lives.

Also of concern to Palestinian residents is his intention to create five new metropolitan parks, particularly given the current demolition orders on nearly 100 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood of the city to make way for the construction of green space.

Equally distressing is the issue of Israeli “Conservation and preservation of historic buildings,” since this often means the judization of Islamic or ancient historic sites.

In his explanation of “Developing Eastern Jerusalem,” Barakat said “An additional 13,550 housing units will be made available for construction for the residents of eastern Jerusalem,” which means the expansion of illegal East Jerusalem Israeli settlements. These settlements will be constructed on the land Palestinians will establish their capital city on under the Road Map and Arab Peace Initiative.

3. Gideon Levy writes in Haaretz about the recent arrests of the New Profile activists and what this means about Israeli democracy.

Excerpt: Yitzhak Laor, our best protest poet, may soon face arrest. On Independence Day eve he published a poem in Haaretz's literary supplement with the lines: "Perhaps shame prevents me from getting up to embrace my son / And warning him of those who want to enlist him." Arresting Laor for having written such lines may sound like fiction, but something similar has already happened. Last week nine activists from New Profile, a feminist-pacifist organization formed in 1998 that aims to demilitarize Israeli society, were arrested on suspicion of incitement and assisting draft dodgers. The police raided their homes and confiscated their computers. The military advocate general requested the raid, the attorney general obliged and the police carried it out.

The public reacted to the raid with typical indifference; it came just as we were busy enjoying the cheesy Independence Day holiday, complete with songs of self-praise about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. But a democracy that raids the homes of political activists is no democracy. Democracies are tested by how they treat the fringes of society.

Locking up three and a half million Palestinians in the occupied territories and denying them basic human rights has already undermined Israel's pretentions of democracy, but now dangerous cracks are appearing in our Jews-only democracy. They aren't new - they first appeared in the early years of independence - and now they're back. Those who make light of the recent arrests may soon find themselves dealing with a new regime instead of New Profile.

New Profile is a legally registered association that believes it's possible to live in a state that "doesn't consist of soldiers." That's its right, perhaps even its duty. "We do not encourage, incite or preach in favor of draft dodging," Smadar Ben-Natan, the organization's lawyer, wrote in a letter to the deputy attorney general after the raid. "We offer a stage where ideological questions concerning objections to serving in the army [are raised], and offer information and support to anyone interested."

Gaza Digest 67, 5/3/09

News Clips: President Barack Obama will meet President Shimon Peres on Tuesday at the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday; Federal prosecutors moved Friday to dismiss espionage-related charges against two former AIPAC lobbyists accused of disclosing classified U.S. defense information; Starting this past Friday, Palestinian workers will now have to use 13 computerized crossings that record the identity and timing of the people crossing from the West Bank into Israel and will not be allowed to stay over night unless given special permission; The Israeli Air Force on Saturday bombarded three smuggling tunnels in the Gaza-Egypt border town of Rafah, killing two Palestinians, just hours after Palestinians in Gaza launched two Qassam rockets at the western Negev; Michael Oren, a New York-born and Princeton-educated historian and commentator on Middle East affairs has been chosen Israel's next ambassador to Washington; Israel's media freedom ranking (as determined by Freedom House in D.C.) has been downgraded from "free" to "partly free," the first time the Jewish State has lost its status as the only Middle Eastern nation with a "free" press, and The Palestinian Authority and Libya received the least favorable ratings among the many Middle Eastern nations, to receive the "not free" rank.

1. Voice of America reports that the members of the U.N. Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission to Gaza will be meeting in Geneva this week to set the agenda and plan the itinerary for their upcoming trip.

Excerpt: UN investigators begin a weeklong meeting in Geneva Monday in preparation for a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and Israel. The experts are going to the region to look into allegations of war crimes and other human rights abuses during Israel's military offensive in Gaza at the end of last year.

The four-member team of experts is led by Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge and former International War Crimes Prosecutor.  UN Spokesman Rolando Gomez says the team has received assurances from both Israel and Palestine that the mission can go ahead.

"The idea is for them to springboard from here off to the region. Again, I cannot specify when they intend to do, what day, in other words, they plan to leave. But, the idea is for them to meet here, at least through Friday. And, then-well the intention of the meeting next week is obviously to make an itinerary, make a plan, set up appointments and then, of course to get tickets, visas, etc. These are all the things that they will be doing next week."

2. Shulamit Aloni, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1928, is a former Knesset member and currently a peace and human rights activist. This opinion she penned in Haaretz is deeply despairing about the road that has been taken since 1970 that has made second-class citizens of Israelis who are not Jews and has made the theft of Palestinian land an everyday occurrence.

Excerpt: In 1970 it was decided that in Israel religion and nationality are one and the same (that is why we are not listed in the Population Registry as Israelis, but as Jews). In 1992 it was determined in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty that Israel is a "Jewish state." There is no mention in this law of the promise that appears in the state's formative document, the Declaration of Independence, to the effect that "The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex." The Knesset ratified the law nonetheless.

And so there is a "Jewish state" and no "equality of rights." Therefore some observers emphasize that the Jewish state is not "a state of all its citizens." Is there really a democracy that is not a state of all its citizens? After all, Jews living today in democratic countries enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

Democracy exists in the State of Israel today only in the formal sense: There are parties and elections and a good judicial system. But there is also an omnipotent army that ignores legal decisions that restrict the theft of land owned and held by people who have been living under occupation for the past 42 years. And since 1992, as we mentioned, we also have the definition "Jewish state," which means an ethnocracy - the rule of an ethnic religious community that strictly determines the ethnic origin of its citizens according to maternal lineage. And as far as other religions are concerned, disrespect for them is already a tradition, since we have learned: "Only you are considered human beings, whereas the gentiles are like donkeys."

From here it is clear that we and our moral army are exempt from concerns for the Palestinians living in Israel, and this is even more true of those living under occupation. On the other hand, it is perfectly all right to steal their land because these are "state lands" that belong to the State of Israel and its Jews.

That is the case even though we have not annexed the West Bank and have not granted citizenship to its inhabitants, who under Jordanian rule were Jordanian citizens. The State of Israel has penned them in, which makes it easy to confiscate their land for the benefit of its settlers.

And important and respected rabbis, who are educating an entire generation, have ruled that the whole country is ours and the Palestinians should share the fate of Amalek, the ancient tribe the Israelites were commanded to eradicate. At a time when a "just war" is taking place, racism is rife and robbery is called "return of property."

3. Nadia Hijab on the Agence Global site describes the impact of the growing Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Movement.

Excerpt: The US protests are part of a growing global movement that has taken international law into its own hands because governments have not. And, especially since the attacks on Gaza, the boycotts have been biting. There are three reasons why.

First, boycotts enable ordinary citizens to take direct action. For instance, the New York group Adalah decided to target diamond merchant Lev Leviev, whose profits are plowed into colonizing the West Bank. During the Christmas season, they sing carols with the words creatively altered to urge shoppers to boycott his Madison Avenue store.

The British group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine teamed up with Adalah NY and others to exert public pressure on the British government regarding Leviev. The British Embassy in Tel Aviv recently cancelled plans to rent premises from Leviev's company Africa-Israel.

There are other results. Activists in Britain have targeted the supermarket chain Tesco to stop the sales of Israeli goods produced in settlements. In a video of one such action -- over 38,000 YouTube views to date -- Welsh activists load up a trolley with settlement products and push it out of the shop without paying.

All the while, they calmly explain to the camera just what they are doing and why. They talk away as they pour red paint over the produce, and as British Bobbies quietly lead them away to a police van.

The result of such consumer boycotts? A fifth of Israeli producers have reported a drop in demand since the assault on Gaza, particularly in Britain and Scandinavia.

The second reason boycotts are more effective is the visible role of Jewish human rights advocates, making it harder for Israel to argue that these actions are anti-Semitic.

For example, British architect Abe Hayeem, an Iraqi Jew, describes in a passionate column in The Guardian exactly how Leviev tramples on Palestinian rights, and warns Israeli architects involved in settlements that they will be held to account by their international peers.

In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace has led an ongoing campaign to stop Caterpillar from selling bulldozers to Israel, which militarizes them and uses them in home demolitions and building the separation wall.

The third, key, reason for the growing success of this global movement is the determined leadership of Palestinian civil society. The spark was lit at the world conference against racism in Durban in 2001. In 2004, Palestinian civil society launched an academic and cultural boycott that is having an impact.

4. This article by Sarah Irving from The Electronic Intifada documents the difficult, exploitative and sometime abusive conditions that Palestinian women in the West Bank experience while working in Israeli settlements. 

Excerpt: The problem of huge residential settlements such as Ma'ale Adumim, Ariel and Har Homa, confiscating West Bank land, displacing local people and taking up water resources, is well documented. But not all are aware of settlements such as Barkan and Mishor Adumim which are industrial areas, housing factories manufacturing products as diverse as gas masks, bedding, toiletries or sweets, and providing services such as the large-scale laundries which clean the Israeli army's dirty clothes and bedding. Other economic settlements in the Jordan Valley take up Palestinian land and water to grow fruit and vegetables for export, mainly to Europe, through companies such as Agrexco.

Although clear statistics are rare, between 35,000 and 40,000 Palestinians probably work in such settlements, possibly rising above this during some agricultural seasons. Again seasonally, up to half of these are women. According to Daoud Hamoudi of the Stop The Wall campaign, economic conditions for Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley also mean that the rate of child labor there is increasing. Because the lack of schools in the valley makes education expensive, said Hamoudi, most children selected for school are boys, leaving girls to work in the fields.

Stop The Wall, however, claims one small victory, having succeeded in 2007 in obtaining permission for the first school to be built in the Jordan Valley in 40 years. It will mainly provide education for women and girls.


The women who work in Israeli settlements -- whether in agriculture or industry -- suffer terribly from the criticism their jobs attract. Despite the desperate situations of many, with sick husbands or parents and no other means of support, they face opprobrium from their own society for supporting the settlement system.

"I can't get a job in the village," said Dalal in Salfit. There is little paid work available in the area. Moreover, when she and the other women were sacked by Royalife and tried to set up their own sewing operation the Palestinian middleman who supply Royalife with local labor threatened to torch their factory.

"This subcontractor, he is from Hares village and he is well-known as a collaborator with Israeli security," said Kav LaOved's Salwa Alinat. "He is taking it very personally that these women are acting against his word, and he is a subcontractor for other factories where workers are also starting to demand their rights, so he is fighting very aggressively."

Despite the lack of other options and the family's dependence on their income, Umm Raed says that her daughters are both thinking of leaving their jobs. "Women who work in settlements don't get married easily," she reported. Women from Jericho, working at Mishor Adumim settlement, also married late -- in some cases too late to be able to have children. But, said Umm Raed, "We need every shekel."

Gaza Digest 66, 5/1/09

News Clips: The Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Gaza reported on Wednesday that unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip reached 65%, and that poverty rates are now 80%, due to the ongoing Israeli-led siege and repeated assaults; The United Nations is demanding that Israel freeze all pending demolition orders against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem; Palestinian sources in the southern West Bank city of Hebron reported on Thursday at night that a group of extremist Israeli settlers of Beit Ein settlement attacked a number of homes in Safa village, near the city; A Kassam rocket fired from Gaza landed near a kibbutz in southern Israel on Thursday evening, and no injuries or damage were reported; Police say they have arrested seven Arab Israelis who plotted bomb attacks and kidnappings of Jews in retaliation for Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza.

1. In response to recent remarks by Hillary Clinton about Gaza in which she downplayed the effects of the blockade, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Divison penned an open letter

Excerpt: The civilians affected by Israel's blockade include Gaza's 750,000 children. The Israeli offensive destroyed seven schools in northern Gaza and damaged 157 others, according to OCHA; meaningful repairs cannot be made unless Israel permits building materials to enter Gaza. According to UNRWA, 14 percent of water samples in Gaza are contaminated, and the number of cases of children under three years old with acute diarrhea passed the "alert" level in March. More than 22,000 children in Gaza still have no access to piped water.

The needs of the war-wounded and the chronically ill are also of notable concern. As of April 21, the UN reported that 65 "essential drug items" were still out of stock at Gaza's Central Drug Store, including medicines for chronic diseases. In February, Human Rights Watch interviewed a double-amputee who suffered "phantom pain" from his missing legs; his cousin, a pharmacist, said he needed pain medication that was not available.

On average, 132 trucks with goods entered Gaza each day in March, one-quarter of them with humanitarian aid. This marks an improvement of 17 percent from February, but remains far below the 475 daily trucks that entered Gaza prior to Hamas's takeover in June 2007. According to recent news reports, hundreds of truckloads worth of aid are "rotting" on the Egyptian side of the border.

The humanitarian aid and reconstruction material entering Gaza is far from enough, and US pressure is needed to ensure that Israel meets its obligations under international law, and that Egypt assists humanitarian deliveries to a civilian population in need.

Madame Secretary, the civilians of Gaza are suffering as a consequence of Israel's crippling blockade.  Rather than minimizing their suffering, we hope you will use your influence to press Israel to end its blockade, and that your public comments will reflect this concern.

2. In response to the news that Leonard Cohen is scheduled to perform a Peace Concert in Israel in September 09, a group of Israeli peace activists have sent him an open letter asking him to cancel.

Excerpt: Israel is facing one of its most immoral historical moments. Its ruthless, criminal bashing of the Palestinians has been met with little international criticism or curbing. The silence of most of the world's governments continues to embolden successive Israeli governments to commit more violent acts. Israel has violated numerous international laws, but so far for Israeli Jews life in Israel goes on as if nothing happened. Indeed, your people, Cohen, have built "a new Dachau, And call it love, Security, Jewish culture," as you have so perceptively put it yourself in "Questions for Shomrim," but only a few voices have been raised against these injustices.

It is left for us, citizens of the world, to condemn Israeli atrocities and crimes against humanity. Dissociating ourselves from Israel's brutal policies is the only nonviolent way now to avoid becoming complicit in the killing, the wounding and the maiming, and the robbing of Palestinians. Faced with all this and more, Palestinians are calling on all people to support their struggle for their basic rights. Unfortunately, recognizing Palestinian rights will require a fundamental shift in Israeli society. We suspect that this change will be achieved only via external pressure. The least that one can do in such a situation is not act as if it is business as usual. We see our society becoming more and more calloused and racist and given your longstanding, vocal commitment to justice, we cannot envision you cooperating with continued Israeli defiance of justice and morality; we cannot envision you playing a part in the Israeli charade of self-righteousness. We appeal to you to add your voice to those brave people the world over who boycott Israel. We urge you to cancel your planned performance in Israel.

3. William Robinson, a (Jewish) sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is being investigated for having sent out an e-mail to students in which he compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, met with university administrators to push for an investigation. In the meantime, Robinson is being supported by the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB who are circulating a petition on his behalf. Signatories of the petition include Noam Chomsky.

Excerpt: The uproar centers around an e-mail message that Mr. Robinson sent on January 19 to students in his "Sociology of Globalization" class. In it, he accused Israel of war crimes for its military actions in Gaza, and forwarded juxtaposed photographs of what he called "Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians." He argued that "Gaza is Israel's Warsaw" and characterized Israel as a state "founded on the negation" of the Palestinian people.

On February 9, Cynthia Silverman, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Santa Barbara office, sent Mr. Robinson a letter saying her organization had received complaints about his e-mail message. Her letter—copied to the campus's chancellor, Henry T. Yang, and the university system's president, Mark G. Yudof—called the professor's comparison of Israelis and Nazis "offensive" and the views he presented in his e-mail message "intimidating to students."


The Anti-Defamation League's calls for Santa Barbara to investigate Mr. Robinson is not its only current effort to challenge campus relationships with critics of Israel. The group also is protesting decisions by Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to have Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal critic of Israel, speak at their commencements this year.

Gaza Digest 65, 4/30/09

News Clips: Two Palestinians were killed when a tunnel collapsed under the Gaza-Egypt border near the city of Rafah early on Thursday morning; Seven Israeli Jewish activists with New Profile, a member group of the Coalition of Women for Peace, were arrested and released on Sunday, although their confiscated computers were retained by the police as evidence; Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas ended a fourth round of reconciliation talks without success, but agreed to meet for another round before a May 15 deadline for a unity accord; In a televised interview on Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities may not be the “best solution”; Because of the ongoing blockade, the government in Gaza is investigating whether the rubble of bombed buildings can be ground up and re-constituted into a cement substitute that can be used in reconstruction.

1. Simon Tisdall's commentary from The Guardian on a projected coming conflict between Obama and Netanyahu outlines several possible outcomes.

Excerpt: While current differences are unlikely fundamentally to alter the US-Israel alliance, they bode ill for the Palestinian cause and for avoiding another Middle East war, this time involving Iran. American columnist Jim Hoagland predicts the Netanyahu encounter will be Obama's "toughest meeting yet" with a foreign leader and may determine war-or-peace choices.

The US opening to Iran has "stirred doubts in Israel's heterogeneous government about Obama's commitment to Israel's security, as Netanyahu defines it. These misgivings create a queasiness between the two allies that cannot be publicly discussed," Hoagland wrote in the Washington Post.

The "nightmare scenario" for Obama was that Israel, at odds with Washington and fearing an existential threat, would unilaterally attack Iranian nuclear facilities, as its leaders have previously threatened to do. Subsequent, severe Iranian and Muslim world retaliation against Israel would leave Obama with no choice but to rally unconditionally to Netanyahu's side. His "change diplomacy" would be in ruins, his hopes of a wider Middle East peace subverted and dashed.

2. This personal essay by Haider Eid, Associate Professor in Cultural Studies at Al-Aqsa University-Palestine, about an attempt to cross out of Gaza at Rafah gives a small taste of the misery involved for Gazans who try to leave for medical, educational or family reasons. 

Excerpt: The situation that the tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children faced at the Rafah border crossing this week was inhumane and unconscionable. Nothing can justify this. Most rushed to Rafah Crossing in as short a time as I did with similar stories of frenzied activity and hope. More than 3,500 of them are terminally ill patients in urgent need of medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals. Others hold residency permits in other countries and have been trapped in Gaza for at least a year. Some are academics and students, traveling abroad to attend conferences or further their studies.

So, instead of giving them a chance to do these very ordinary things: go to a hospital, study, go to a conference or work, go back to other homes and other loved ones, the failure to open the Rafah Crossing, instead, increased their misery. Many of them spent three sleepless nights hoping to be allowed to cross into Egypt. Like me, many fainted, or suffered from dehydration and sun stroke. The failure to open Rafah Crossing reminded them of their imprisonment and their lack of human rights; it reminded them that they move at the whim of others and it reminded them that the siege of the Gaza Strip has still not been broken.

3. The tide is slowly turning in U.S. media coverage of Palestine. TIME Magazine has a report about three small Palestinian sisters—Jinan (6), Dania (4) and Noor (2)—who, with the help of the Red Cross, make an arduous trek from their West Bank Village to the prison in Israel where there father is held. The oldest one asks, "Mommy, why does Daddy have to sleep on the Israeli side?" And her mother, Salam Nazal, who can not accompany them because she is on an Israeli security watch list for inscrutable reasons, replies: "Because that's where the best Palestinian men go to sleep, and your father is one of them."

Excerpt: Two hours later, the bus arrives at the high walls of Chattah-Gilboa prison. Nearly a thousand Palestinians have been waiting up to five hours, in shrinking shade, for the 45 minutes they will spend speaking with their relatives on a telephone from behind thick glass. The glass has small holes that allow the prisoners to touch fingertips with their visitors. Jinan and Dania climb the metal bars of the turnstile as if it were a piece of playground equipment. A buzzer blares and a light over the turnstile flashes from red to green. A guard calls out a few names, and the eager crowd pushes Jinan and her sisters aside.

Another hour will pass before the girls are let in. By then, Noor is hot and cranky, in tears, crying for her distant mother. Their pretty pink and green clothes are smeared with dirt. I had volunteered to escort them inside, but the prison wardens refuse. Instead, a veiled young woman with pale-gray eyes agrees to escort them into the visiting room.

That morning, their mother had shown the girls a photo of their jailed father so that the younger ones would recognize him. It shows a solemn, heavy-set man in a training suit of the Spanish soccer team Real Madrid. "He's been memorizing the Koran. That, and lifting weights," Salam told me. Jinan assumes her responsibility, and grabs the hands of her two sisters. They vanish inside the prison, scared but eager, leaving me to wonder whether Jinan will remember any of the many earnest and loving messages entrusted to her by Salam to pass on to their imprisoned husband and father.

With so many Palestinians still locked up in Israel, demands for prisoner releases remain at the center of most Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations. Those behind bars are a lost generation of Palestinians, and it's a safe bet that their children, like Jinan and her sisters, will inherit their parents' bitterness toward Israel.

4. This report about a panel discussion on settlement trends from the Alternative Information Center outlines the challenges posed by settlement expansion to any equitable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but still offers a glimmer of hope that a two-state solution might be possible. The speakers were Daniel Seidemann, the founder and legal advisor of Ir Amim, a non-profit dedicated to an equitable, stable and sustainable Jerusalem, and Hagit Efron, Director of Settlement Watch for Peace Now, an organization that calls for Palestinian self-determination and a return to pre-1967 borders. 

Excerpt: According to the two speakers, the repercussions of the continued settlement expansion are potentially devastating to any kind of sustainable peace in the area. The E-1 settlement—the area between the Ma'ale Adumim settlement and Jerusalem—is one of the most obvious examples of expansion that would sabotage any kind of legitimate final status plan. The continued construction of E-1 would cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, and dissect the West Bank into two halves, leaving the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible. In response to a comment that proposed connecting the two halves via highways, Seidemann's response was total contempt, arguing that a state would not be able to survive via “umbilical cords.”

Gaza Digest 64, 4/28/09

News Clips: Israel imposed a strict lockdown—including thousands of additional soldiers and police, more roadblocks and border terminal closings—on East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the already blockaded Gaza for Israeli Memorial Day (Tuesday) and Independence Day (Wednesday, also recognized by Palestinians as Nakba Day); Peace Now reported that Israel has taken a step towards expanding the large Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, a move Palestinians warn will leave their future state unviable and further isolate its future capital, East Jerusalem; PA head Mahmoud Abbas said he would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and further said, “"It is not my job to give a description of the state. Name yourself the Hebrew Socialist Republic - it is none of my business"; The settlement council of Elon Moreh settlement, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, decided that except for loading and unloading goods and stuffs, Palestinians and Arabs will not be allowed into the settlement.

1. Recently Roger Cohen has been taking a lot of flack for his recent nuanced commentaries on Israel and Palestine in the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. This piece from the Times describes the change in Hillary Clinton's position with regard to the conflict. 

Excerpt: The criticism of the center-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come from an unlikely source: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She's transitioned with aplomb from the calculation of her interests that she made as a senator from New York to a cool assessment of U.S. interests. These do not always coincide with Israel's.

I hear that Clinton was shocked by what she saw on her visit last month to the West Bank. This is not surprising. The transition from Israel's first-world hustle-bustle to the donkeys, carts and idle people beyond the separation wall is brutal. If Clinton cares about one thing, it's human suffering.

In fact, you don't so much drive into the Palestinian territories these days as sink into them. Everything, except the Jewish settlers' cars on fenced settlers-only highways, slows down. The buzz of business gives way to the clunking of hammers.

The whole desolate West Bank scene is punctuated with garrison-like settlements on hilltops. If you're looking for a primer on colonialism, this is not a bad place to start.

Most Israelis never see this, unless they're in the army. Clinton witnessed it. She was, I understand, troubled by the humiliation around her.

Now, she has warned Netanyahu to get off “the sidelines” with respect to Palestinian peace efforts. Remember that the Israeli prime minister and his right-wing Likud party have still not accepted even the theory of a two-state solution.

In House testimony last week, Clinton said: “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-à-vis Iran, it can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand.”

2. This inspiring report from The Guardian on the weekly non-violent protests in Bil'in—where Basem Abu Rahmeh was killed by a projectile tear-gas canister on April 17 and where Tristan Andersen was hit in the head with a canister last month—describes the strategy of non-violent resistance being used by Palestinian demonstrators and the increasingly violent response from the Israeli soldiers who police them. 

Excerpt: Some of those older men are influential. Ahmad al-Khatib, 32, was once a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a prominent militant group, and was jailed for a year for transporting weapons. Now he is committed to non-violence, even objecting to the stone throwers.

"I don't apologise for what I did, but I'm not going back to it," he said. "We are an occupied nation according to international law and we have the right to resist, though that doesn't mean I support suicide bombers. But I don't want to resist all my life."

He argues that a non-violent strategy brings fewer Palestinian casualties. "I have no problem dying to get back my land, but I'd say to hell with my land if it just brought back our martyr who died last week. The life of a human being is more important than the land itself."

Often the most sensitive issue for the villagers has not been whether to take up arms, but whether to accept in their midst so many foreigners, and in particular so many Israeli demonstrators. Ahmad al-Khatib said it was the "most disputed question" and that many feared the Israelis were spying on them until they saw they, too, were being injured and arrested.

One of the first Israelis to join the Bil'in protest in its earliest days was Jonathan Pollack, 27, an activist and member of Anarchists Against the Wall who lives in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv. Although they warmly welcome him now, it was tense at first. "I'm still not one of their own and I don't pretend to be," he said.

Unlike most other joint peace initiatives, in this case the Israelis are in the minority and in the background. "I think it is very important that the struggle is Palestinian-led and that the colonial power relations are knowingly reversed," said Pollack.

3. And the non-violent protests in Bi'lin appear to be having an impact. In the Jerusalem Post, it was reported that the state has proposed a new route for the Wall that won't take as much land away from the village as originally planned.

Excerpt: It took the death of a Palestinian at Bil'in last week and the threat of another contempt of court petition to the High Court of Justice, but the state has finally come up with a new proposal for the route of the West Bank security barrier that apparently complies with the original court decision of 19 months ago, attorney Michael Sfard said on Sunday.
Last week, the state submitted a new proposal to the High Court to change the original route of the fence in the area of Modi'in Illit, which was proposed by the Defense Ministry and rejected by the court on September 4, 2007.

Now, Sfard told The Jerusalem Post, the ministry has come up with a new route that gives Bil'in villagers back 700 of the 1,700 dunams, or 170 hectares, that were set to be located on the "Israeli side" of the barrier in the original proposal.

Israel has said the route of the barrier was determined by security considerations only. But in the case of Bil'in, as was true regarding several other sections, the route was originally determined to allow for the construction of a new neighborhood, called East Matityahu, in the urban haredi settlement of Modi'in Illit.

4. U.S. Reps. Brian Baird of Washington and Keith Ellison of Minnesota penned this excellent op-ed for the Seattle Times. On Phillip Weiss's Mondoweiss, Weiss quotes Jeff Blankfort who points out that while Baird and Ellison have written a generally laudable piece in their description of the money the U.S. has given the Palestinian Authority, no mention is made of the billions of aid and weaponry the U.S. has supplied to Israel. 

We are convinced that the strategy in Gaza and ongoing policies in the West Bank are counterproductive to the cause of justice and lasting peace for all concerned.

In our judgment, pursuing extremists with overwhelming air power in one of the most densely populated areas in the world — with no means for civilians to escape — ensures the devastation that has occurred in Gaza. The extremist targets may have been hit, but so too were essential civilian services and any means of economic self-sufficiency. Palestinian families and businesses now lack the resources to rebuild their homes and businesses because they cannot get essential building materials such as glass or concrete. The consequence is that Hamas has not been visibly or demonstrably weakened but, ironically, moderate voices in the region have.

Beyond Gaza, a less dramatic but counterproductive strategy is taking place in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority leaders have recognized the right of Israel to exist, have been fighting the corruption of prior regimes, and have maintained law and order throughout the recent Gaza assaults.

Despite these efforts, the economy of the West Bank is crippled by more than 600 imposed checkpoints. Palestinians must endure long and humiliating searches on a daily basis. even essential medical professionals and critically ill patients are forced to take circuitous and costly detours.

Meanwhile, despite commitments to the contrary, Israeli settlements continue to expand throughout the West Bank.

Repeatedly we were asked by moderate Palestinians and others in the Islamic world: What is the reward for moderation and peace?

It is too often overlooked that the United States has given billions of dollars in aid, including hundreds of millions last year, to help the Palestinian people and move the peace process forward. President Obama has taken even more positive strides with his call to President Abbas, his delivery of $20.3 million in emergency aid this past January, and the appointment of special envoy George Mitchell. Furthermore, the president's fiscal year 2009 supplemental appropriations request contains $800 million in assistance for the Palestinian Authority and Gaza.

With the election of a new administration in Israel, the United States should exercise leadership to ensure immediate and lasting changes that move the region toward lasting peace. Because our own security and integrity are at stake, U.S. aid should be linked to these changes.

Gaza Digest 63, 4/27/09

News Clips: Jordanian King Abdullah II on Sunday urged President Barack Obama to take
a more forceful role in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, warning of a new Middle East war unless significant progress is made over the next 18 months; An Israeli woman was arrested when she attempted to visit her Palestinian husband's family in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday because under Israeli law, Israeli citizens are prohibited from entering Area A of the West Bank, which includes most of the Palestinian population centers; The Israeli army will impose a comprehensive closure on the West Bank and Gaza from midnight on Monday to midnight on Wednesday for Israel's Independence Day; An Iranian vessel alleged to be carrying weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area.

1. This piece by Amira Hass from, a weekly e-zine that presents Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describes the broad outlines of the process by which Israel has succeeded in physically and morally separating the Palestinians of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to the detriment of all. 

The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel's military superiority. In view of the violent rivalry between the two main movements competing for the upper hand in the Palestinian mock-government, it's easy to forget the effort Israel invested in separating families, economies, cultures and societies between the two parts of the Palestinian state "in the making". All that remained was for the Palestinians, aided by geography, to crown the split with their dual regime.


The devious unilateral Israeli disengagement of 2005 perpetuated a process that commenced in 1991: Gaza and the West Bank fall under different types of administration, with Israel cleverly presenting Gaza as an independent entity no longer under occupation. In the last Palestinian elections, Hamas proved more persuasive than Fateh when it attributed the Palestinian "victory" and the Israeli withdrawal to itself and its armed struggle and promised that "Jerusalem is next". There followed Hamas' takeover of the Gaza security forces in June 2007 and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' directive to tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority employees to boycott their places of work in the Strip.

In the recent Palestinian unity talks, the substantive questions have not been asked: Has the public in the West Bank and Gaza given up on the link between the two parts occupied in 1967 until the distant realization of the dream of one state? Will the Palestinian leaderships be taken to account by the people for the assistance they gave Israel in severing the two territories? Is the link to the Arab and Muslim worlds more vital for Hamas than the link with the West Bank? Are ceremonial international standing and the perks of senior officialdom more important to the PA and the PLO than the population of Gaza?

The answers must also come from the Israelis, and particularly those who claim to support peace. Prior to Hamas' election victory in 2006, the PA's center of rule was in Gaza. That didn't hinder Israel from perfecting the conditions of separation and severance that turned the Strip into the detention camp it is today while Israeli peaceniks in their multitudes sat on their hands. Even if a miracle happens in Cairo and the Palestinians unite, the government of Israel will not willingly forego its greatest achievement: severing Gaza from the West Bank. This achievement, which will only stoke the fires of a bloody conflict, is the disaster of both peoples.

2. From IRIN (humanitarian news and analysis, a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) comes this report of a new UN household survey from Gaza

Excerpt: The UN Inter-Agency Gender Task Force (IAGTF), a mechanism for integrating gender concerns into UN policies and programmes, on 23 April published the results of a household survey on the needs and perceptions of men and women in the aftermath of Israel's recent 23-day military offensive in Gaza.

The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 1,100 adult men and women across the Gaza Strip in the first week of March 2009. IAGTF is led by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Psychological trauma was consistently rated as a main concern by respondents regardless of gender, region, or social group, and psychosocial services were deemed to be a critical need, like food and water, according to the survey.

“We have to help ourselves recover from the images and memories of the war,” said Iptihal, (she declined to giver her family name), aged 24, a public relations officer for a heritage organisation in Gaza City. “Counselling is not readily available; we only have one psychiatric hospital, and it is not socially acceptable to seek psychological treatment.”

Iptihal said she was most affected by her inability to help others near her who had suffered and died.

3. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PHCR) released a report on Saturday about violence in the Occupied Territories during 2008. According the Saed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center, the PCHR claimed that 2008 was the bloodiest year for Palestinians since 1948. The report details violent incidents between Palestinian factions as well as by the Israeli Defense Forces (know in the Occupied Territories as the Israeli Occupation Forces). 

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) based in Gaza, issued a report on Saturday revealing that the year 2008 was the bloodiest year for the Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948. It included violations and attacks inflicted during internal clashes, and during Israeli offensives against the Palestinians.

PCHR director, Dr. Raji Sourani, stated that the Palestinian government in Ramallah, and the government in Gaza, carried out sharp violation that harmed the people and violated rights instead of serving them.

Dr. Sourani added that the Palestinian factions are obliged to find a solution to end internal divisions before they cause a new catastrophe or a Nakba due to the ongoing violations, chaos and insecurity.

The PCHR said that the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli forces and the settlers in 2008 is 868, 820 (94.5%) of them were killed in the Gaza Strip, and 48 (5.5%) were killed in the West Bank.

The Center added that 414 of the slain Palestinian (47.6%) were civilians, and were killed in situations that did not pose any threat to the lives of Israeli troops.

Dr. Sourani further said that in 2008, Israeli soldiers kidnapped during repeated invasions 2433 Palestinians in the West Bank and 68 in the Gaza Strip. More than 9000 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel.

Israeli Soldiers and settlers carried repeated attacks against Palestinian lands and homes in the West Bank, while the army also expropriated more Palestinian lands for settlement construction and expansion and for the construction of the Annexation Wall.

The PCHR reported that in 2008, Israeli soldiers destroyed 216 homes in the Palestinian territories, including 107 in the West Bank and 109 in the Gaza Strip.

Referring to internal Palestinian violations and unrest, the PCHR stated that 143 Palestinians, including 25 children and 13 women, were killed by Palestinian gunmen, and 411 Palestinians were injured. Two more residents were killed in cases of weapons misuse.

26 Palestinians, including two children, were killed and 170, including 20 children and seven women, were injured by members of the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The PCHR stated that excessive use of force by the security forces was the biggest violation to human rights last year.

Most of the violations took place during political arrests carried out by security forces in the Gaza and the West Bank. (Hamas-controlled security forces operate in Gaza, and Fatah-controlled security forces operate in the West Bank).

Gaza Digest 62, 4/26/09

News Clips: Hamas and Fatah representatives said they hoped for reconciliation in a new round of inter-Palestinian dialogue, which started on Sunday in Cairo; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nominee for ambassador to the US has called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and dismantlement of settlements to help establish peace with the Palestinians (but his plan would likely include the expulsion of Palestinians living inside Israel proper); the Department of External Medical Treatment in Gaza, taken over by Hamas officials in March, has been handed back to the Palestinian Authority after a failed attempt to secure treatment for patients outside Gaza; On Saturday a 22-year-old Palestinian man was electrocuted by cables he had rigged for light and power in a Gaza smuggling tunnel, bringing the number of tunnel accident fatalities this year to 12; At least 25 people were injured by tear gas and rubber bullets fired by Israel Defense Forces soldiers during demonstrations against the Wall in the West Bank on Friday, and 13 soldiers were reported lightly wounded by stone-throwing; Jordan's King Abdullah said on Friday Israel must choose between integrating into the region or remaining isolated, and warned that delaying a two-state solution would be disastrous for Israelis and Palestinians.

1. Amira Hass writing for Haaretz investigates the bombing of the American International School in Gaza. The sad final sentence from the father of a school security guard who was killed: “As soon as we rebuild, the Israelis will come back and destroy everything."

Excerpt: The Israel Defense Forces knows very well why, on January 3, at somewhere between 3:30 and 3:45 A.M., an Israel Air Force pilot bombed and destroyed the American International School, in the northern Gaza Strip.

"The American college in the area of Beit Lahiya was being used as a rocket-launching site, as well as a munitions storage dump," the IDF Spokesman told Haaretz in a written statement. "Therefore, it was a legitimate terrorist target."

Beyond the fact that the "college" is a school for children in grades 1-12, it's already far too late to try and prove a negative. Suffice to say that Ribhi Salem, a mathematician by training who has been the administrative director of the school since it began operating in 1999, was flabbergasted when he heard the charges of the IDF. According to him, no rockets or Qassams were ever fired from the school grounds. The school's building takes up three of the 36 dunams comprising the campus. Sure, rockets were sometimes fired from the surrounding hothouses and fields; but never from the school's property. Hamas had promised Salem that none of its armed fighters would enter the school.

And as for serving as a munitions dump? "That's the most ridiculous thing I have heard," says Salem. If that were the case, he points out, wouldn't there have been secondary explosions? Wouldn't a fire have broken out?"

And one other thing, he says, using the logic he shared with Senator John Kerry. The night before the attack, Salem Abu Qleiq, one of the school's guards, asked whether his wife and three children could come live in the school compound. "I told him I'd think about it and let him know in the morning." Abu Qleiq was one of six guards who worked in shifts 24/7; the security personnel were required to report anything out of the ordinary and call the police if necessary. If anyone had forced the school to allow ammunition to be stored there, would the 24-year old security guard - now dead - have considered the place a safe haven for him and his family? "I thank God I did not give my permission right away," Salem shudders.

It will cost $7.12 million to rebuild the school, $5.5 million for the structures alone. Like the thousands of buildings destroyed by the IDF in the Gaza Strip, there is nothing special about the piles of rubble that remain. Similarly, there is no reason to clear away this or the other debris, as long as Israel does not permit construction materials to enter the Strip. But it reflects the stories, contradictions, casualties and potential that characterize the reality of life in Gaza. When the Gazans say that "Israel is wreaking havoc precisely on those who are not Hamas," the case of the American School is one of many examples - and an especially ironic one, at that.

2. This report from Yasmin Khan on The Electronic Intifada should serve as an inspiration to us here in the States. As the biggest supplier of military hardware to Israel, the U.S. government (with our taxes) is complicit in Israel's flouting of international law. 

Excerpt: It came as no surprise to campaigners in the United Kingdom to hear the British Foreign Minister David Miliband reveal this week that components supplied by Britain were "almost certainly" used by Israel in its recent military assault on Gaza. Despite Israel's continued human rights abuses, the UK government has licensed millions of pounds' worth of military equipment to Israel over the last few years including components for tanks and combat aircraft, in direct conflict with its own arms policy.

The British government's announcement that it will be reviewing arms sales to Israel in light of the atrocities committed in Gaza earlier this year was, however, surprising. The move represents a real victory for the Stop Arming Israel coalition, which began its campaign for a two-way arms embargo against Israel during its invasion of Lebanon in July 2006 and serves as a potent example of public pressure forcing governments to review their policies towards Israel.

3. Great report from Berkeley native Norah Barrows-Friedman (who currently lives in the West Bank) about the development of permaculture in a West Bank village. Includes information on the water and land war being waged by Israel against the Palestinians, but the resilience and ingenuity of the Palestinian farmers—with help from outside experts—is heartening. 

Excerpt: Farmers at Bustan Qaraaqa say that over 70 different species of native plants are being propagated and rooted throughout this wadi (Arabic for desert valley). Tiny sprigs of ricinus and pale green thyme reach for the sky in their little pots made from the bottoms of plastic juice bottles. Sage and mint grow in soil-filled car tires, and almond and apricot saplings nurture wildflowers at the base of their skinny trunks. Permaculture is not a tidy, clean-cut way of farming. Instead, plants and trees are packed in all together, grouped by need for certain nutrients, sun or shade, The term "weeds" does not apply; permaculture insists that every plant has its place and can offer something beneficial to the landscape. In the nursery at Bustan Qaraaqa, long, thick blades of wild grass protect new sprouts from the blazing sun.

Across the Green Line, Israeli agri-business flourishes and Israelis enjoy unrestricted access to land and water resources. Water grids and sophisticated irrigation provide an abundance of crops and full swimming pools during the summer. Even illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank enjoy these privileges, while Palestinians in surrounding villages and refugee camps struggle with a fraction of the water supply.

According to a report published this week by the World Bank, the average Israeli receives access to four times as much water as the average Palestinian, resulting in what it calls a "near catastrophe" for the Palestinian Authority's current water system.

The green fields of vegetable and fruit crops in Israel are fed from water aquifers and the Jordan river as settlements across the West Bank are deliberately placed on top of the most fertile land and the biggest underground water tables. On the other hand, Palestinian farms, villages, towns and refugee camps (all of which are restricted from accessing the same water tables and the Jordan river) must then rely on rainwater-catching tubs on top of roofs and beside homes -- a meager source of water especially in the hot summer months.

Gaza Digest 61, 4/23/09

News Clips: 1. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the United States would refuse to deal with or fund a Palestinian government that included Hamas unless it met three international conditions. "We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel and agrees to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority," Clinton told the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee; 2. US officials say the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians have been invited for talks in Washington in a new push for Middle East peace—but one at a time and not all together; 3. The first Hamas-licensed bank in the Gaza Strip has opened for business, a move that could help Palestinians in the territory bypass a financial blockade imposed by Israel and its Western allies; 4. Israel demolished a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem on Wednesday; 5. After a yeshiva teacher complained, The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum fired docent Itamar Shapira for comparing the trauma of Jewish Holocaust survivors with the trauma experienced by the Palestinian people during the Nakba.

1. In response to a report issued by the IDF claiming that Palestinian civilian deaths during the offensive against Gaza were minimal and an “operational malfunction”, several leftist and human rights groups in Israel have demanded an independent investigation, according to the Middle East Media Center. In a statement unlikely to convince anyone outside of Israel beyond the members of AIPAC, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said ( that the IDF report of its own ethical actions proved that Israel still had the “most moral army in the world.”  (An additional account of the call for an independent investigation via McClatchy can be found in the Miami Herald.

Israeli Groups Demand External Investigation of Gaza Offensive

Escerpt: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B'Tselem, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din, Physicians of Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture, issued a joint release saying that the army considered killing civilians as rare accidents, while data collected by human rights groups in Israel showed that many Palestinians were killed due to the army's indiscriminate policy during the war.

The Human Rights groups demanded an external investigation and added that if the army claims that it did not violate the international law in Gaza, then why Israel is rejecting to cooperate with the UN investigation team led by Judge Richard Goldstone from South Africa.

Goldstone is demanding a probe into the Israeli violations and violations carried out by Hamas in Gaza.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) based in Gaza said that it is concern at the recent Israeli statements rejecting cooperation with the independent investigation committee mandated by the United Nation.

“The investigation is led by Justice Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Both tribunals were established by the United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The independent fact finding mission is mandated to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law, related to the recent 23 day Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip”, the PCHR reported.

Israeli soldiers killed during over 1414 Palestinians during the offensive against Gaza. 1177 (83%) were noncombatants, the PCHR said.
1. The report below from IRIN highlights the terrible effect that Israel and Egypt's blockade of Gaza is having on the long-terms health of its children.

2. IRIN issued a report on the worsening food security and health situations in Gaza following “Operation Cast Lead.” Reading these dire statistics has inspired me to set up a meeting with my congressman's office—the U.S. government must exert pressure to end the unconscionable blockade. 

Excerpt: Rising poverty, unemployment and food insecurity in Gaza, compounded by the recent 23-day Israeli offensive, have increased the threat of child malnutrition, say UN agencies, health ministry officials and healthcare NGOs in Gaza.

UN World Health Organization (WHO) officials are concerned by the warning signs, including rising malnutrition indicators - like increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children - and continuing high rates of anaemia among children and pregnant women.


The amount of affordable fresh fruit and protein on the Gaza market has been significantly reduced due to the closures, according to OCHA. “The last shipment of livestock entered Gaza on 31 October 2008, and since the Hamas takeover in June 2007 livestock imports have been severely restricted,” said OCHA field officer Hamada al-Bayari in Gaza.

The director of all 56 primary healthcare centres run by the health ministry in Gaza, Fouad Issawi, said cases of stunting and anaemia increased in 2008 and 2009. Since 2007 the amount of anti-anaemia drugs - like ferrous carbonate (with vitamin C) and folic acid - required by primary health clinics had increased dramatically, he said.

“There was a rise in anaemia amongst children in our centres in 2008 and [this is] continuing,” said Adnan al-Wahaidi, director of Ard al-Insan Benevolent Association in Gaza, the main healthcare NGO supporting an estimated 16,000 undernourished children.

“Women with children who are underweight or wasting have been coming to the centres in greater numbers over the last few months; many of their husbands died during the recent conflict or are unemployed.”

3. Agency France Presse covers a press conference held in East Jerusalem by Nobel peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. The home demolitions continue in East Jerusalem, as the land appropriations continue in the West Bank, and the Palestinians are forced into ever shrinking enclaves.

Excerpt: Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire on Tuesday accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" policies in annexed east Jerusalem, where the municipality plans to tear down almost 90 Arab homes.

"I believe the Israeli government is carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians here in east Jerusalem," said Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel prize for her efforts at reaching a peaceful solution to the violence in Northern Ireland.

"I believe the Israeli government policies are against international law, against human rights, against the dignity of the Palestinian people," she said at a news conference.

It was held in a protest tent erected by residents of east Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood where 88 Arab homes are under demolition orders.

The Israeli authorities say the houses were built or extended without the necessary construction permits. Palestinians say the planned demolitions aim at forcing them out of east Jerusalem.

If the demolition orders are carried out 1,500 people would be left homeless in one of the largest forced evictions since Israel occupied mostly Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it.

Gaza Digest 60, 4/22/09

News Clips: British lawyers attempting to build a war crimes case against Israel have been blocked from entering the Gaza Strip because the U.K. Foreign Office has refused to support their work; Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday his opposition to an Arab peace initiative stemmed from its demand for a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel proper; President Barack Obama said the United States wants to see concrete measures and goodwill gestures towards a peace process from Israel and the Palestinians; Federal prosecutors reportedly are considering dropping classified information leak charges against two former AIPAC staffers; Four Palestinians were injured following the explosion of an artillery shell dud left behind by the IDF in the neighborhood of Zeitoun in the eastern part of Gaza City; The government of the United Kingdom says they will review all of their weapons exports to Israel due to Israel's excessive use of force during the war against the Gaza Strip.

1. The Guardian reports the results of a new poll done by the One Voice Movement that shows most Palestinians and Israeli Jews would accept a two-state solution. (I know One Voice from their work here in New York City—they were a part of the curriculum on Israel-Palestine in my daughter's 7th grade current events study. They are a grassroots movement whose leadership is primarily drawn from Kadima on the Israeli Jewish side and Fatah on the Palestinian side.) 

Excerpt: A majority of both Palestinians and Israelis are willing to accept a two-state solution, according to a poll from the international grassroots movement One Voice.

Based on public opinion research methods used in Northern Ireland, 500 interviews were completed in Israel and 600 in the West Bank and Gaza immediately following the Gaza war and the Israeli elections.

Each side was asked which problems they thought were "very significant" and what the solutions might be.

The results indicate that 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis are willing to accept a two-state solution on an option range from "tolerable" to "essential", while 59% of Palestinians and 66% of Israelis find a single bi-national state "unacceptable".

The poll comes as it emerged Barack Obama is to invite Israeli, ­Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to the White House within the next two months in a fresh push for Middle East peace. Obama, speaking at the White House yesterday, said there was a need to try to rise above the cynicism about prospects for peace.

The results of today's poll imply that mainstream Israeli and Palestinian populations have yet to acknowledge the significant priorities and fears on the other side.

The top item for Palestinians is the establishment of an independent sovereign state at 97%, followed by the rights of refugees at 95% and agreement on the future of Jerusalem at 94%.

For Israelis the top item is security at 77%, followed by an agreement on the future of Jerusalem at 68% and rights to natural resources at 62%.

An analysis of the poll by One Voice says: "It is absolutely essential that the issues at the top of these two lists get dealt with in any peace agreement or it is unlikely that that agreement will last. This means Palestinians need to be aware of and address the 'Security of Israel' problem that comes in 12th on the Palestinian list, and that Israelis need to be aware of and address the cluster of issues at the top of the Palestinian list."

2. Agence France Presse (via Haaretz) reported that lawyers in Norway would file criminal charges against Israeli government and military officials on Wednesday (a later update said the charges had been filed). Similar charges filed by Spanish lawyers were dropped after intense pressure and lobbying by the Israeli government. 

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Tzipi Livni may face war crimes charges in Norway over their role in Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza, AFP reported Tuesday.

The news agency said six Norwegian lawyers announced plans Tuesday to accuse the pair, as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and seven senior Israel Defense Forces officers, of the crimes.

The lawyers, who planned to file their complaint with Norway's chief prosecutor on Wednesday, were quoted as saying they would also call for the arrest and extradition of the Israeli leaders.

Under the Norwegian penal code, courts may hear cases involving war crimes and other major violations of human rights.

The lawyers released a statement quoted by AFP accusing Israel of "massive terrorist attacks" in the Gaza Strip from December 27 last year to January 25, killing civilians, illegally using weapons against civilian targets and deliberately attacking hospitals and medical staff.

3. In this commentary from Haaretz, Gideon Levy starts by arguing that the Holocaust and the Occupation cannot be compared to each other—the Holocaust and the Nazis “could not and should not be compared to any other inhumane behaviors.” Then he proceeds to refer to images, behaviors and attitudes current today in Israel that “should ring some bells.”

Excerpt: The Israeli occupation is both brutal and cruel. Israel in 2009 is beginning to resemble 1930s Germany more and more. The dehumanization process Palestinians experience, encouraged by the media and executed by the IDF, brings to mind horrific images.

Anyone facing the barbed-wire fences surrounding Qalqilya, for example, cannot help but think of a concentration camp. A concentration camp - not an extermination camp. The person who smeared graffiti on the separation wall calling Abu Dis a ghetto, as it severed by an 8-meter high concrete wall, did so with good reason.

The racism exhibited toward Israeli Arab, wherever they may go, should also stir profound concern. Arab students are unable to rent apartments in Jewish cities and a Ramat Aviv grocery shop owner has said that quite a few of the upscale neighborhood's residents refuse to have Arab employees deliver their groceries. That too should ring some bells.

Arabs were fired from Israel Railways, essentially because of their ethnic affiliation, and others struggle to be accepted into government positions, for the same reason. So-called selections - yes, that's the name for it - prevents young Arabs from entering city night clubs. Security checkups in Ben-Gurion Airport, which separates people according to their ethnicity, and the checkups based on someone's accent, are sickening.

There are more than a few IDF orders and Knesset laws that if translated to German, would certainly cause alarm. The demand to require Arab citizens to pass a loyalty test would have sounded horrible in German. Also, the prevalent claims that Israel's problems could have been solved had we only barricaded the Palestinians behind fences or borders are just as horrifying.

The term "demographic threat" should sound familiar to the Holocaust generation, to subsequent generations, as should the discussion - shameful in its accepted legitimacy, - of how to deal with this apparent "threat." The citizenship law should have, as they say in English, "rang a few bells."

Gaza Digest 59, 4/21/09

News Clips: Israel allowed grain, commercial goods, and fuel into the besieged Gaza Strip on Monday; Egypt announced the Rafah crossing would stay open Monday and Tuesday; A speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durban II conference in Geneva in which he called Israel a racist state and accused it of perpetrating genocide against the Palestinians was vile and fed racial hatred but did not preclude U.S.-Iranian diplomatic contacts, the United States said on Monday; Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday documenting a pattern since late December 2008 of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maimings by shooting, and extrajudicial executions by alleged members of Hamas security forces.

1. While all eyes are on Durban II in Geneva, and the spectacle of Ahmadinejad's speech, the walk-out and their reverberations, the situation in Gaza remains dismal. Here is a report about a press advisory from Oxfam and 22 other aid agencies decrying the continued blockade, which makes it impossible for Gazans to rebuild, both literally and metaphorically, their lives. 

Excerpt: A coalition of international aid agencies today warned that tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless and without basic services such as piped drinking water three months after the 18 January ceasefire.

The agencies, including Oxfam International, CARE West Bank and Gaza, War Child Holland and Medical Aid for Palestinians-UK, also called on the international community—and the European Union in particular which in the coming weeks will consider strengthening ties with Israel—to do more than pay lip service to the needs of the people of Gaza whose lives were torn apart during the three-week military operation.

“If the EU does not put the brakes on the process to strengthen ties with Israel, it will be sending a dangerous signal to the world that maintaining a destructive policy of closure is acceptable,” said Martha Myers, Country Director of CARE West Bank and Gaza.

“Gaza's industry, including the agricultural sector, has almost completely collapsed and reconstruction has proved a near impossible task.  Operation Cast Lead destroyed Gaza's economy which was already severely weakened after months of blockade.  It makes no sense to continue depriving ordinary people the opportunity to earn a living and support their families.  The crossings must be opened now to allow the normal flow of commerce.  If they are not, the people of Gaza simply will not recover,”  added Myers.

Reconstruction in Gaza is severely constrained. Materials such as cement and reinforced steel rods are still being denied entry by Israel.  This means that the 20,000 families—or at least 140,000 people—whose homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable as a result of the conflict are unable to rebuild their lives.  Many are living in tents and in makeshift shelters constructed with salvaged bricks and plastic sheeting, with no end in sight.

Furthermore, some 35,000 people still do not have access to piped water or safe sewage disposal.  And, three months on, there are still damaged schools, universities, health clinics, hospitals and other parts of the civilian infrastructure that have not been repaired. Most food items and some medicines have been allowed in through the single crossing of Kerem Shalom, but entry remains erratic and many medicines remain out of stock in Gaza.

“There has been zero progress in allowing construction materials in to help people rebuild their lives.   This is unacceptable, full stop.  World leaders must take practical steps to fully open the crossings and exert as much pressure on Israel and all parties to ensure that families can finally see a light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel.  A drip-feed of food aid and medicines is simply not enough,” said John Prideaux-Brune, country director for Oxfam GB in Jerusalem.

2. Another press advisory, this one from the International Campaign of Solidarity with the Palestinian Fishermen, about support for Gazan fisherman who are attacked and harassed by the Israeli Navy (in defiance of International Law) on a daily basis as they attempt to ply their trade and provide some protein to the people of Gaza. 

Excerpt: Ten civil and humanitarian institutions in cooperation with the Palestinian international campaign to break the siege said Monday that they embarked on preparing an international campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian fishermen to pressure all official parties around the world into stopping Israeli violations in Gaza waters.

In a news conference, the institutions called for taking actions at all levels to stop Israel from violating the rights of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza and for organizing campaigns all over the world to expose these infringements.

The institutions stressed the need for making laws regulating fishing operations and securing fish resources and the marine environment in Gaza.

They also pointed to the importance of updating fishing boats and ports in Gaza, calling for the establishment of specialized workshops to repair and maintain fishing equipment and finding a mechanism to support the fishermen financially.

In another context, the ministry of agriculture said Tuesday in a press release that the story of the fishing boat explosion near the Gaza coast is an Israeli fabrication to redouble and justify attacks on Palestinian fishermen.

The ministry added that Palestinian eyewitness reported that the boat was not booby-trapped, but it was targeted by an Israeli gunboat leading to its explosion.

It noted that the Israeli military navy stepped up recently its attacks on Gaza fishermen at sea, where they kidnapped many of them and threatened to target their fishing boats if they did not cooperate and work as agents for Israel.

Gaza Digest 58, 4/20/09

News Clips: Several hundred demonstrators rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the IDF's killing of a Palestinian activist in the West Bank town of Ni'lin Friday; Netanyahu, who was planning to visit the United States in order to participate in the AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) meeting, reportedly asked the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, to represent Israel instead; Bowing to U.S. pressure, Netanyahu announced this weekend that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is no longer a pre-condition for peace talks; An Israeli Defense Force song-and-dance troupe is to perform in London at a show to commemorate the founding of Israel, provoking anger among groups that campaign for the rights of Palestinians.

1. Commentary from Gideon Levy of Haaretz about the terrible situation in Gaza three months after the Israeli assault. Now that the killing is over, the world appears to have forgotten the people of Gaza, who are living amidst rubble and still suffering under a crippling blockade. 

Excerpt: Gaza is besieged. There are no building materials. Israel and the world are setting conditions, the Palestinians are incapable of forming a unity government, as is needed, the money and concrete are nowhere to be seen and the Abu-Aun family continues to live in a tent. Even the $900 million promised by the United States is stuck in the cash register. It's doubtful whether it will ever be taken out. America's word.

It's exactly three months since the much-talked-about war, and Gaza is once again forgotten. Israel has never taken an interest in the welfare of its victims. Now the world has forgotten, too. Two weeks with hardly a Qassam rocket has taken Gaza completely off the agenda. If the Gazans don't hurry up and resume firing, nobody will take an interest in their welfare again. Although not new, this is an especially grievous and saddening message liable to spark the next cycle of violence. And then it will be certain they won't get aid because they will be shooting.

Somebody must assume responsibility for the fate of the Abu-Aun family and other victims like them. If they had been injured in an earthquake, the world probably would have helped them recover long ago. Even Israel would have quickly dispatched aid convoys from ZAKA, Magen David Adom, even the IDF. But the Abu-Aun family was not injured by a natural disaster, but by hands and flesh and blood, made in Israel, and not for the first time. The response: no compensation, no aid, no rehabilitation. Israel and the world are too preoccupied to rebuild Gaza. They have become speechless. Gaza, remember?

From the ruins of the Abu-Aun family sprouts a new desperation. It will be more bitter than its predecessor. A decent family of eight has been destroyed, physically and psychologically, and the world stands aloof. We should not expect Israel to compensate its victims or rebuild the ruins it caused, even though this would clearly be in its interest, not to mention its moral obligation, a topic not even talked about.

The world once again has to clean up Israel's mess. But Israel is setting more and more political conditions for providing emergency humanitarian aid, empty excuses to leave Gaza in ruins and not offer aid that Gaza deserves and desperately needs. Gaza has once again been left to its own devices, the Abu-Aun family has been left in its tent, and when the hostilities resume we will be told once again about the cruelty and brutality of ... the Palestinians.

2. Below are three pieces about the death of Basem Abu Rahme, an unarmed Palestinian activist who was hit in the chest with a tear gas canister at the weekly protest against the wall in the West Bank town of Bil'in on Friday. The first from Haaretz quotes army sources that claim the Palestinian protesters were “violent,” the second from Richard Silverstein's blog Tikun Olam includes a YouTube clip that shows small children at the head of the protest march, and the last is a commentary from the Palestine Monitor about the youth of Palestine being buried in the “graveyards of their villages.”

“IDF: Protester's death likely due to unauthorized fire,” Anshel Pfeffer and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents and AP, 4/19/09

Israel Defense Forces sources said Saturday a tear gas canister that killed a Palestinian demonstrator Friday at a protest against the West Bank separation fence was likely fired in violation of orders. Bassem Abu Rahmeh, 31, was killed during a protest in the West Bank village of Bil'in, a flash point for confrontations between soldiers and anti-fence protesters.


The Bil'in shooting occurred during a protest during which around 100 demonstrators hurled stones at soldiers and tried to destroy the fence, army sources said. Abu Rahmeh sustained severe chest injuries and was transferred to a Ramallah hospital, where he died of his injuries.

IDF officials who investigated the incident found the Armored Corps soldier who fired the canister apparently aimed directly at Abu Rahmeh from a distance of a mere few dozen meters. The IDF said Saturday that troops opened fire to disperse a violent, three-hour protest that was taking place in a closed military zone.

“IDF Soldier Killed Palestinian with ‘Unauthorized' Fire,” Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 4/18/09

Exerpt: So what was this soldier's real sin? He was caught on camera doing what all of his comrades do in the same situations. Every demonstrator knows that the IDF uses the tear gas canisters as a weapon rather than for crowd dispersal. Every demonstrator knows that the IDF fires the canisters directly at them. This is not a single incident involving a single misdeed. This is a systemic issue involving the IDF deliberately stepping over the line and seeing how much it can get away with before someone with half a conscience pushes back.

What particularly distresses me about virtually all the media reports on this incident is that they dutifully report the IDF lie that the tear gas was shot in the midst of a violent rock-throwing demonstration. But no reports refer to the YouTube video footage which clearly testifies to the IDF lie. Some reports like this one don't even acknowledge the witnesses claim that there was no provocation for the attack and no stone throwing to which the IDF was responding. So in effect the world media is giving the IDF half a bye on this when they have no excuse for doing so. Why are the only ones calling this what it really is bloggers? What are reporters afraid of?

This is murder. Just so I can give a hand to my more timid brethren in the fourth estate…it's spelled M-U-R-D-E-R.  Call it what it is. Note that in the longer YouTube video which I feature here thanks to reader Orgo, there isn't a hint of violence or stone-throwing from the demonstrators. Further, AFTER the IDF has fired the fatal shot, a soldier says to one the demonstrators in a threatening tone: “You want more gas?” This is heinous, wanton disregard for human life.

“'Our peaceful towns should no longer be the graveyard of our youth,'” press advisory from the Palestinian National Initiative, Palestine Monitor, 4/17/09

Excerpt: MP Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, The Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative expressed shock “For four years, the residents of Bi'lin have been peacefully resisting the building of the Apartheid Wall, every single Friday.”

“This represents the Palestinian commitment to non-violence principles and their steadfastness. Palestinian and International youths are peacefully struggling, but our towns where such demonstrations take place can no longer be the graveyards of our youths,” Barghouthi said.

“By constantly defying non-violence and responding with an overwhelming use of force, the Israeli army is aiming to provoke Palestinian violence and launch the aggression circle,” he added firmly.

In similar incidents this year, the Israeli army killed 4 Palestinian children and teenagers in the nearby village of Ni'lim, as well as critically injuring an American peace activist. “Most of the time, our people are hit with prohibited live-bullets or rubber-coated bullets being shot at a too close range, or lately by high velocity gas canister such as today. This is beyond every international rules,” said Dr. Barghouthi.

MP Barghouthi called on the International community to consider today's incident as an ‘ultimate wake up call'. “It is urgent to pressure the Israeli right-wing government to stop the daily aggression on our people and youths.”

Gaza Digest 57, 4/19/09

News Clips: The London Times online edition reported on Saturday that the Israel Defense Force was making preparations to be able to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran's nuclear facilities within days of being given the go-ahead by Israel's government; Two Israeli police officers were injured on Saturday when a Palestinian driver deliberately ran them down at a checkpoint near a Jewish settlement outside Jerusalem; An unarmed Palestinian protestor named Basem Ibrahim Abu Rahma was killed Friday when he was shot at close range by a high velocity tear gas canister at the weekly demonstration against the Wall in Bil'in; Egypt opened its border with the Gaza Strip on Saturday for two days to allow passage to a number of humanitarian cases; Congressional Quarterly is reporting that President Obama is requesting that Congress amend a law that would end the flow of US aid to the Palestinian Authority if a Fatah-Hamas power sharing arrangement is established; The topic of Israel-Palestine has been deliberately eliminated from the official program of Durban II conference on racism, structured by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR), and all side events on Israel-Palestine have been cancelled; the U.S. and Australia will not attend Durban II because of concerns about anti-Israel and anti-Western language in the meeting's final document.

1. This is in the WOW category: George Mitchell said this weekend that as far as the U.S. is concerned Palestinians need not recognize Israel as a Jewish state before peace talks can start

Excerpt: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for renewing peace talks is unacceptable to the United States, the State Department said during special envoy George Mitchell's visits over the weekend to Ramallah and Cairo.

The State Department released statements saying that the United States would continue to promote a two-state solution. In Ramallah, Mitchell met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell's talks also seem to indicate that the United States does not accept Netanyahu's position that the renewal of negotiations should be postponed until the Iranian nuclear threat is removed.

2. Another WOW, and about Rahm Emanuel. Sounding a note of optimism about the Obama Adminstration's plans for Israel/Palestine, Richard Silverstein quotes from an article from Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that explains why AIPAC may have something to worry about. After the horror of the Gaza Assault and the arrival of the Obama Administration, have we reached a tipping point in U.S. policy? (You can read another account of the Yediot Achronot article from MJ Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum here)

Excerpt: H/t to M.J. Rosenberg for noting one of the most amazing newspaper reports coming out of Israel in months, if not several years.  Yediot Achronot reports (quotations are taken from a translation not available online and supplied by Benor Consulting) that Rahm Emanuel astonishingly promised a major American Jewish leader that Barack Obama will see the creation of a Palestinian state before the end of his first term:

‘Israel recently received reports about a conversation that Emanuel held with a Jewish leader in Washington. In the course of that conversation the White House chief-of-staff said: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn't matter to us at all who is prime minister.” Emanuel…is of the opinion that aggressive action needs to be taken in order to force Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement and “to move onto the next issue,” as a Washington official put it.'

‘The Obama administration has been sending clear messages lately that President Obama has no intention of waiting two years until Netanyahu crystallizes a vision on the future negotiations with the Palestinians. Senior American officials said that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni already established an outline solution that has been accepted by the international community.'

I have been waiting 40 years to see a president do what needs to be done regarding Israeli intransigence and unwillingness to negotiate an end to the conflict. While an unsourced report in an Israeli newspaper is not the most credible source, if even half of this Yediot report is true Obama will be the president of my dreams, at least regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Also interesting is a U.S. linkage between resolving the Iranian nuclear issue and removing Israeli settlers and settlements from the West Bank:

‘Senior US administration officials are fully aware of the linkage that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have created between Israeli willingness to make advances on the Palestinian track and their expectations of the Americans to address the Iranian threat, and senior American officials have begun to talk about “Bushehr for Yitzhar.” Namely, if you want us to help you defuse the Iranian threat, including the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, get ready to evacuate settlements in the West Bank, with Yitzhar considered to be a token of an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory.'

While I'm in favor of using any leverage available to bring Israel to negotiate an end to this conflict, I'm not so sure that tying two such disparate issues as Iran's nuclear capability and Israeli settlements together is wise. What if the U.S. fails to secure Iranian agreement to end its nuclear program? What if whatever agreement the U.S. does reach with Iran doesn't satisfy Israel? There are too many ways to weasel out of this one I'm afraid.  This reeks of a Bibi-Barack devised trick.

If the following portion of the story is correct, then Obama is truly throwing caution to the winds and breaking from previous presidential traditions in regards to relations with the Israeli prime minister:

‘Meanwhile, US administration officials informed Netanyahu that President Obama will not be able to meet with him in early May, while the AIPAC conference is held in Washington. The meeting between the new Israeli premier and the president of the United States is perceived in Israel as a sign that the formation process of the new government has been completed and as a salutation by Israel's close friend. Netanyahu had hoped to capitalize on the opportunity and to meet with Obama during the annual AIPAC conference, but the Americans informed the Israelis that Obama was not going to be “in town.” That being the case, the inclination among Netanyahu's aides is to cancel his trip to attend the AIPAC conference and to try to secure a date for a meeting with Obama later in May.'

‘Sources in Washington said that the Obama administration would not continue the tradition that developed during the Bush administration of hosting Israeli premiers many times during the year, sometimes with just a phone call's advance notice.'

No more Mr. Nice Guy, says Barack. All right,  I say!  When an Israeli prime minister comes to town for the annual Aipac conference just after his election, it's the equivalent of a debutante's coming out party. That's why the symbolism of a presidential meeting is so important to the new Israeli leader. Saying there will be no such meeting is more than a slap in the face. It's a bucket of cold water thrown over one's head. It's a sign that there's a new sheriff in town and he won't be laying low like the last one did.

I note also that the Israelis haven't even secured any date to meet Obama. In other words, the president is leaving him high and dry. To not have a new prime minister attend the national Aipac conference will be a huge blow not just to Bibi, but to Aipac as well. The group prides itself as being the major power broker and liaison between American Jewry, and Israel's and America's political leadership. Obama is deliberately depriving them of their traditional role. There must be much gnashing of teeth in Aipac's offices today.

3. Amos Harel in Haaretz in May of 2008 described the new IDF policy that was called “The Dahiyan Doctrine.” In this article from IPS, it is argued that the application of this military doctrine, which seems to be in direct contravention of international human rights law and laws of war, in Gaza was decided upon long before the assault began in the end of December.

Excerpt: A description of the doctrine appeared for the first time in an interview with IDF Commander of the northern troops Gadi Eizencout in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Oct. 3, 2008.

In this interview Eizencout confirms the willingness of the Israeli army to apply a military strategy based on display of power and indiscriminate targeting of civilians and non-military sites. "What happened to the Dahiyah neighbourhood of Beirut in 2006 will happen to each village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force and inflict huge damage and destruction. In our mind, these are not civilian villages but army bases...the next war must be decided quickly, aggressively, and without seeking international approval."

And further: "this is not a recommendation, this is a plan and it has already been approved."

This military doctrine was later confirmed by two other strategists. Colonel Gabriel Siboni wrote a report published Oct. 2, 2008 by the independent military think thank 'Institute for National Security Studies' (INSS) in Tel Aviv in which he said: "With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy's actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes."

Another report from INSS, written by Major-General Giora Eiland, goes a step further. He argues that Israel was fighting the wrong enemy (Hizbullah) during the second Lebanon war, and in the next war should target the government and civilian infrastructure.

In an article on Ynet, an influential Israeli news site, IDF Major-General Eiland argues: "The only good thing that happened in the last war was the relative damage caused to Lebanon's population. The destruction of thousands of homes of 'innocents' preserved some of Israel's deterrent power."

"It transpires that there was no intention to comply with basic principles of international humanitarian law, such as the principle of distinction or the obligation to use appropriate precautions before launching an attack," says Azarov. "The soldiers' testimonies are what unequivocally exemplifies the fact that this was the overarching goal of the whole war - it was systematic and based on policy decisions, and it would therefore be extremely difficult to base the claim that certain actions were a mere coincidence."

4. There are 53,000 orphans in Gaza, and Al-Jazeera's Ayman Moyheldin reports from Gaza on how they are faring since the Israeli assault. Watch the video here.

Excerpt: At least 83 children lost both parents and 2,200 lost at least one during Israel's recent war on Gaza.

Among them, are the Bashir brothers, whose mother, father and eldest brother were killed in front of their eyes.

While entitled to nearly $2,600 in assistance from the deposed government in Gaza, getting that money has been a challenge.

Gaza Digest 56, 4/17/09

News Clips: On Thursday U.S. Envoy George Mitchell reiterated Washington's support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in talks with the Israeli president and foreign minister; on Friday a Palestinian man was killed after trying to attack residents of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank with a knife, the Israeli army reported; Egypt's Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, will be holding a meeting with the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, during his visit to Israel next Wednesday.

1. Haaretz reported that Israel's prime minister has told U.S. Envoy George Mitchell that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" before it will discuss establishing an independent Palestinian state. This morning I received Mazin Qumsiyeh's Human Rights newsletter (see his site for more of his writing), in which he explains a Palestinian perspective on this demand. Qumsiyeh is Professor at Bethlehem University. He previously served on the faculty of University of Tennessee, Duke and Yale Universities.  He served on the board/steering/executive committees of a number of groups including Peace Action Education Fund, the US Campaign to End the Occupation, the Palestinian American Congress, Association for One Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, and He is now president of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People.

Excerpt: We now know how Nothingyahoo (Netanyahu) intends to pursue the classic Israeli policy of engaging in endless "Peace Talks" without the intention of reaching any peace based on International law.  He says to US envoy George Mitchell that his government wants the Palestinians to agree to recognize Israel not just as a state but as “A JEWISH STATE” before beginning to discuss the possibility of a two-state solution.  This is like South Africa under apartheid insisting that the ANC recognize South Africa as a White State before beginning to discuss the possibility of giving the blacks a state (a Bantustan).  Even without complying with International law and allowing the Palestinian refugees to return, there are 20-25% of the population in Israel who are not Jewish and are already targeted (Israel's foreign minister who came from abroad and has no connection to the land wants to get rid of the natives).  If there is a definition of Chutzpah then this notion of recognizing a racist “Jewish state” as precondition even for talks is it. Unfortunately, this is only made possible by the lack of a Palestinian coherent strategy to face the regional and International challenges including outright attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause.  Instead, the struggle between Hamas and Fateh have now become a defacto struggle between leadership of two prisoner factions for leadership of prison blocks (Gaza and the five cantons in the West Bank) and the struggle for freedom has receded to lower priority if not outright ignored.

2. This opinion piece from last month from the L.A. Times last month by Saree Makdisi, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, further outlines while the Israel demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel's “right to exist” is an Orwellian proposition.

Excerpt: 'AS SOON AS certain topics are raised," George Orwell once wrote, "the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse." Such a combination of vagueness and sheer incompetence in language, Orwell warned, leads to political conformity.

No issue better illustrates Orwell's point than coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States. Consider, for example, the editorial in The Times on Feb. 9 demanding that the Palestinians "recognize Israel" and its "right to exist." This is a common enough sentiment — even a cliche. Yet many observers (most recently the international lawyer John Whitbeck) have pointed out that this proposition, assiduously propagated by Israel's advocates and uncritically reiterated by American politicians and journalists, is — at best — utterly nonsensical.

First, the formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).

Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?

For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?

If none of these questions are easy to answer, why are such demands being made of the Palestinians? And why is nothing demanded of Israel in turn?

3. As reported yesterday in Haaretz, an activist/artistic collaboration between a South African scholar, a Dutch group and Palestinians protesting what Palestinians call “the racial segregation wall” in the West Bank is scheduled to take place on May 10th.  You can read the text by Farid Esack that will be spray painted on the wall here. You can also pay for having your own message sprayed on the wall and then have a digital photo of the message sent to you. 

Excerpt: The separation barrier will receive its largest piece of graffiti yet when Dutch and Palestinian activists scrawl on it a 2,000-word letter by a South African scholar arguing that "Israeli apartheid" is "far more brutal" than Pretoria's was.

The letter by Farid Esack will be put on the eastern face of the wall this week by activists belonging to Sendamessage - a Dutch group that collects money over the Internet for painting messages to protest against the barrier Israel is building along the West Bank.

According to Israel, the barrier is designed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out, but Palestinians say it juts into their land. The letter, to be sprayed in a single line against a white-paint background, is expected to take up over 2,500 meters of concrete beginning near Ramallah.

"Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation?" Esack writes to Palestinian readers. "In your land, we are seeing something far more brutal, relentless and inhuman than what we have ever seen under apartheid."

In another segment, he writes: "The apartheid police never used kids as shields ... nor did the apartheid army ever use gunships and bombs against largely civilian targets."

Esack is a Muslim writer and political activist appointed by Nelson Mandela to preside as gender equity commissioner. His text, which deplores Israel's "targeted killings of those who dare to resist," does not mention Hamas' anti-Semitic ideology, the Palestinians' firing of rockets on Israeli civilians or suicide bombings.

"We chose this letter because it holds no provocation, but is a balanced and academic text, not cheap propaganda," the Dutch site's operator and concept designer, Justus van Oel, told Haaretz.

"We do not contest that the wall is protecting Israelis from attacks. But it's a short-term solution. Apartheid can never be a long-term solution," said van Oel, who works in part as a communications consultant.

Gaza Digest 55, 4/16/09

News Clips: Jerusalem is on high alert Thursday as Israeli settlers threaten to storm Al Aqsa Mosque, and The Palestine Liberation Organization, religious and cultural institutions and NGOs have issued calls to Palestinians to fill the Muslim holy site in protection; The United States envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell was due to arrive in Israel Wednesday on the second leg of his Middle East trip; On Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired a Qassam rocket into the western Negev, ending a 2-week lull in cross-border rocket fire, but no injuries or property damage were reported; Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday that his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, is not welcome in Egypt.

1. In a press advisory from earlier this week, Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. and the European Union to support the U.N. inquiry into Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Excerpt: Israel and the Hamas authorities in Gaza should cooperate fully with the United Nations fact-finding mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, to investigate allegations of serious violations of the laws of war in Gaza and southern Israel, Human Rights Watch said today. In letters to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and 27 European Union foreign ministers, Human Rights Watch called on them to endorse the Goldstone investigation and to urge Israel and Hamas to cooperate.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for an independent and impartial international investigation into allegations of such violations by all parties to the recent Gaza conflict. On April 3, 2009, the president of the UN Human Rights Council announced that Goldstone will lead the council's fact-finding mission with precisely this mandate.

"We have strongly criticized the Human Rights Council in the past for its exclusive focus on Israeli rights violations, but Justice Goldstone is committed to an independent and impartial investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups alike," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "He has the experience and proven commitment to ensure that this inquiry will demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality."

Goldstone is the former chief prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and a member of the Human Rights Watch board. In his remarks to the media on April 3 accepting this appointment, he said that the mission would look at "all human rights and international humanitarian law rights violations committed both in Israel and in Gaza and in the Occupied Territory."

2. The day after the Human Rights Watch call, it was reported by the Associated Press that Israel was “unlikely” to assist in the war crimes probe headed by Justice Richard Godlstone.

Excerpt: Israel is "very unlikely" to cooperate with a UN agency's probe into whether Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in the recent Gaza war, a government official said Wednesday.

Hamas, meanwhile, said it is ready to work with the investigators, to be led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who served as chief UN prosecutor of war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

International and local human rights groups have said there is strong suspicion both sides violated the rules of war in three weeks of fighting early this year that followed years of cross-border conflict.

The groups have said Gaza's Hamas rulers should be investigated for firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and for allegedly using Gaza civilians as human shields during the fighting that ended Jan. 18.

Investigators must also look at the Israeli military's practices, such as firing imprecise artillery and white phosphorous shells in densely populated Gaza, the groups have said.

On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged both sides to cooperate with Goldstone, who is a member of the group's board. An impartial investigation is needed since neither Hamas nor Israel seems willing to conduct a thorough probe, the group wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

3. This article describes U.K. peace activist Rod Cox's children's art project in Gaza. You can see more photos of the kids' drawings here

A picture speaks louder than a thousands words, says a U.K. peace campaigner trapped in Gaza for helping its children express the horrors they experienced in the latest Israeli offensive through artistic drawings that he plans to take global as evidence of war crimes through children's eyes.

For 63-year-old peace campaigner Rod Cox, what started as a small project to collect samples of children's drawings depicting Israeli war crimes in Gaza has ballooned into a cultural and artistic exchange project linking Palestinian school children with their British counterparts.

This drawing shows in detail Israeli soldiers targeting civilians in broad daylight
Dramatic new evidence of Israeli attacks on the people of Gaza emerged when Cox handed children in Gaza paper, pencils and crayons and asked them to express themselves and speak their minds.

Rod Cox is set to present these portraits among others as evidence of war crimes committed against Gaza civilians to the International Criminal Court, which in a ground-breaking move in the case of Darfur, used children's art as credible proof to start proceedings against Sudanese government officials accused of committing war crimes.

"Children's witness statements and explanations of what they went through is a significant and important source in a case like Gaza," said Cox.


“Palestinian children come up to me and ask why I am driving a green van. I tell them about the art project and give them markers to draw their mind on the van," said Cox. He is set on bringing the traveling exhibition to the U.K. and Europe.

School girls contribute to the war graffiti on the green van as part of traveling exhibition

He rolled into Gaza with a plain green van along with the Viva Palestina aid convoy on March 9. But when he set to leave a few days later, Egyptian authorities refused to let him take the van back through Rafah border because only medical vehicles and equipment can use it.

"It was either I go out and leave the van behind or I stay here until the British Consul figures out a way to let me get out with my belongings," Cox explained adding that he decided to wait it out since the van is part of the project of personalizing post-war Gaza for western audiences. Forfeiting it would be "a betrayal of the many Gaza children who count on me to break their isolation and take their voices beyond Gaza," he explained.

Gaza Digest 54, 4/15/09

News Clips: Hamas and Fatah spokesmen said Tuesday that inter-Palestinian unity talks will resume in Cairo on April 23; The United States envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, met with a number of Arab leaders in an effort to revive stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; The United States and Israel will hold a joint military exercise to test three missile defense systems intended to create the infrastructure for joint Israeli-American missile defense systems in the event they are needed as a result of conflict with Iran; Palestinian police said they uncovered an explosives lab in a West Bank mosque.

All three articles today focus on the impact of and responsibility for the closing of the Gaza crossings. We need to be pressuring the Obama Administration and Congress to push for the opening of the crossings. CODEPINK is currently organizing a number of delegations to Gaza that will attempt to enter the territory from both Egypt and Israel, highlighting the need for the free passage of relief aid and building supplies, not to mention people requiring medical attention.

1. This interview with Karen Abu Zayd, Commissioner General of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was published in Al-Ahram Weekly.  Abu-Zayd emphasized how crucial it is for the Gaza crossings to be opened for passage of relief supplies, building materials and other goods, echoing John Ging, UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, who said in at the U.N. in New York a few weeks ago, “Until we can get the humanitarian assistance in, in an unfettered way, we can't begin the process of recovery and reconstruction."

Excerpt: For Abu Zayd the issue is not about this or that Israeli government. It is rather about an international position -- with an Arab stance at the core of it -- that could secure the facilitation of UNRWA's job. UNRWA, Abu Zayd argued, was promised a considerably generous budget for its work, especially in Gaza after the recent Israeli war. However, if the crossings which link Israel to Gaza (and those linking Gaza to Egyptian territories) remain blocked to the passage of goods there is not much use for the money that has been pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza.

"If you have the money to buy construction material and if you cannot get this material inside Gaza then what use is this money if it cannot get citizens made homeless by the destruction of their houses during the war a roof over their heads?" Abu Zayd asked.

In the Arab summit, Abu Zayd held meetings with several senior Arab officials. The objective of her meetings was not just to get more money earmarked for the budget of UNRWA, which remains short despite the generosity of some donors. It was also to get her Arab interlocutors to contemplate taking the action necessary to get Israel to open its crossings so that assistance could flow promptly into the devastated and poverty wracked Strip. Without Arab pressure and international support the crossings would be kept closed, amplifying to impossible levels the difficulties Gazans have to endure.

When Abu Zayd told Arab officials last week that they need to provide financial assistance to cover a $200 million shortfall in a recovery project that UNRWA budgets at $345 million, she was not only making reference to the situation on the ground in Gaza. In the West Bank, "where the difficulties faced by people seem at times to be forgotten", there are also needs to be met. "Now is a special moment for more financial and political determination on the side of Arab countries to reach out to Palestinians in Gaza as well as in the West Bank," she said.

2. This report from the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) describes the tons of food and other relief supplies that are rotting in Egypt because of the closed border crossings to Gaza and the arbitrary and fluctuating rules imposed by Egypt and Israel on what is and what is not allowed in. 

Excerpt: Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of aid intended for the Gaza Strip is piling up in cities across Egypt's North Sinai region, despite recent calls from the United Nations to ease aid flow restrictions to the embattled territory in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.

Food, medicine, blankets, infant food and other supplies for Gaza's 1.5 million people, coming from governments and non-governmental agencies around the world, are being stored in warehouses, parking lots, stadiums and on airport runways across Egypt's North Sinai governorate.

Egypt shares a 14-kilometre border with Gaza that has been closed more or less permanently since the Islamist movement Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007.

Flour, pasta, sugar, coffee, chocolate, tomato sauce, lentils, date bars, juice, chickpeas, blankets, hospital beds, catheter tubes and other humanitarian- based items are all sitting in at least eight storage points in and around Al- Arish, a city in North Sinai approximately 50 kilometres from Gaza's border.

Three months after the end of the war, much of the aid has either rotted or been irreparably damaged as a result of both rain and sunshine, and Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing.

"To be honest, most of this aid will never make it to Gaza," a local government official told IPS on condition of anonymity. "A lot of the food here will have to be thrown away."

The Gaza Strip was the target of Israel's three-week Operation Cast Lead, where both the enclave's civilian population and an already decrepit infrastructure were pummelled by powerful Israeli weaponry, leaving some 1,400 dead and over 5,000 injured by the time a unilateral ceasefire was called by Israel Jan. 18.

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) head in Gaza, John Ging, told IPS last week that the stranglehold on relief efforts in the post-war period was having devastating consequences, both physical and emotional, on the strip's population.

3. A report from last month from Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) and Physicians for Human Rights Israel details the responsibility for the illegal and inhumane closing of the Gaza crossing—and the blame falls on Israel, Egypt, Hamas, Fatah, the European Union and the United States.

Excerpt: The report reveals that all parties – Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – are preventing passage between Gaza and Egypt for political reasons.
·        All the parties are denying their own accountability, while pointing an accusatory finger at the others.
·        The responsibility falls first and foremost on Israel; however, all parties involved are contributing to the systematic violation of the rights of Gaza residents.
·        The right of 1.5 million people to enter and exit the Gaza Strip is not a political issue but a fundamental human right.

Gaza Digest 53, 4/14/09

News Clips: Scores of Israeli settlers stormed the courtyard of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's old city on Monday midday while Israeli police arrested a Palestinian worshiper who was there; Mahmoud Abbas told Benjamin Netanyahu during a call to extend Passover greetings that "both sides need to work for peace”; On Sunday Egyptian and Israeli officials said that Hezbollah agents operating in Egypt were plotting to attack Israeli tourists at resorts in the Sinai Peninsula; the IDF reported that a booby-trapped Palestinian fishing boat exploded near an Israeli naval vessel (this via Jewish Telegraph Agency); The Israeli army announced that a Palestinian fishing boat in Gaza northern shore was prepared to attack Israeli naval forces and the boat was bombed by Israeli gunboats besieging Gaza (this from Palestine Telegraph).

1. From the New York Times comes this opinion piece by Paul McGeough, a correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia and the author of “Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas.” He describes a recent visit with Khalid Mishal, the supreme leader of Hamas. McGeough writes that the last time Netanyahu was Prime Minister, he ordered a Mossad assassination attempt on Mishal and this old personal enmity might have an impact on current politics. 

In our discussion last month, Mr. Mishal spoke for the first time of the challenges confronting Hamas in the post-Bush era: Barack Obama's presidential victory; Mr. Netanyahu's return; the Gaza war; and Washington's new drive for “dialogue” with Hamas's regional sponsors — Syria and Iran.

Mr. Mishal rejected the notion that Hamas could get squeezed in any nascent power plays in the region. He interpreted Washington's pitch to Syria and Iran as an admission of past errors, an acceptance that the United States had to deal with “parties that have proved themselves.”

“Hamas is not a card in anyone's hand,” he insisted. But at the same time, he warned that Washington should not seek to “isolate certain parties at the expense of other parties.”

Pressed on policy changes that Hamas might make as a gesture to any new order, Mr. Mishal argued that the organization has already shifted on several key points: “Hamas has already changed — we accepted the national accords for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, and we took part in the 2006 Palestinian elections.”

On the crucial question of rewriting the Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, he was unbending: “Not a chance.” Khalid Mishal is not Yasir Arafat — he is not looking for a Nobel Peace Prize. Among the Hamas articles of faith is a belief that in renouncing violence and in recognizing Israel's right to exist in 1993, Mr. Arafat sinned against his people. (Nonetheless, others to whom he speaks have told me that Mr. Mishal has said that “when the time comes,” Hamas will make some of the moves demanded of it by the West.)

Curiously, amid rising calls from politicians and policy makers around the world for Hamas to be given a seat at the Middle East negotiating table, Mr. Mishal made clear that he was willing to bide his time. His message is, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”

While it is impossible for many in the West to grasp the calculus in the Hamas strategy of war and terror, the movement has demonstrated that it is disciplined in holding its fire, as it did in the summer and fall of 2008. Likewise, it has proved itself capable of negotiating with Israel — albeit through third parties.

Over the long term, Hamas accepts the concept of two states in the Levant, which arguably puts Mr. Mishal's terrorist movement closer to Washington than Netanyahu is — he now proposes only “economic peace” between Jews and Palestinians.

As for finding himself at center stage with the man who ordered him killed, Mr. Mishal insisted that in the broad scheme of things, Mr. Netanyahu is just one more in a succession of prime ministers. “It's fate, God's destiny, but we can't set policy on the basis of personal grudges,” he told me.

Perhaps. But not since the personal bitterness between Mr. Arafat and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have Palestinians and Israelis faced such a leadership dynamic. Once again, personal enmity could swamp the more pressing complexities of the Middle East crisis.

2. Really interesting piece by Stephen Walt (co-author of THE ISRAEL LOBBY) from Foreign Policy. He outlines the possibly pressure points the Obama Administration could use to push the Israeli government towards the “two-state solution.”

Excerpt: Most importantly, Obama and his aides will need to reach out to Israel's supporters in the United States, and make it clear to them that pressing Israel to end the occupation is essential for Israel's long-term survival.  He will have to work with the more far-sighted elements in the pro-Israel community -- including groups like J Street, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom,  and others -- and make it perfectly clear that his administration is not selling Israel down the river.  And yes, we are also going to have to keep pressing Hamas to moderate its positions and push the Palestinian authority to create more effective governing institutions.

The key point to grasp is that using U.S. leverage on both sides--and not just one--is not an “anti-Israel” policy, if that is what it will take to make the two-state solution a reality.  It is in fact the best thing we could do for ourselves and for Israel itself.  In effect, the United States would be giving Israel a choice: it can end its self-defeating occupation of Palestinian lands, actively work for a two-state solution, and thereby remain a cherished American ally.  Or it can continue to expand the occupation and face a progressive loss of American support as well as the costly and corrupting burden of ruling millions of Palestinians by force.

Indeed, that is why many—though of course not all--Israelis would probably welcome a more active and evenhanded U.S. role. It was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said "if the two-state solution collapses, Israel will face a South-Africa style struggle for political rights." And once that happens, he warned, “the state of Israel is finished." The editor of Ha'aretz, David Landau, conveyed much the same sentiment last September when he told former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States should "rape" Israel in order to force a solution. Landau's phrase was shocking and offensive, but it underscored the sense of urgency felt within some segments of the Israeli body politic.

Indeed, I suspect it would not take much U.S. pressure to produce the necessary shift in Israel's attitudes. As the recent bipartisan statement notes, "most Israelis understand and appreciate that, at the end of the day, what really matters most for Israel's security is a relationship of trust, confidence, and friendship with the U.S." If the United States believes that a two-state solution is the best option, then it will have to convey that this “trust, confidence, and friendship” can be retained if Israel changes course, but cannot be taken for granted.

3. This report by the BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen from Gaza City has some sad statistics about what life is like in Gaza right now.

80% living on less than $2 a day
35,000 without running water
20,000 homes destroyed or damaged
80% living on less than $2 a day
10% without electricity
800 private businesses destroyed or damaged
324 factories destroyed or damaged
450,000 carnations exported since Feb, of 6m expected to be produced by late April
35% of UN OCHA flash appeal funding received
52 drugs out of stock in Gaza hospitals
Sources: UN OCHA, UNRWA, UNDP, Palestinian Federation of Industries, Palestine Trade Centre, WHO

4. A press advisory from the International Solidarity Movement asks people around the world to call an IDF District Commander to request that soldiers escort Palestinian children to school past armed settlers.

Excerpt: Of utmost concern for CPT and Operation Dove is the safe travel of Palestinian school children who walk from the nearby villages of Tuba and Magaher-al-Abeed to At-Tuwani's elementary school. These school children face a treacherous daily walk past the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'on and the illegal outpost of Havat Ma'on. For years, armed adult settlers have attacked, threatened and harassed the children along the path from Tuba to Tuwani. In 2004 the Knesset recommended that the Israeli military provide the children with an armed escort. However, since settlers constructed a gate across the road one year ago, the escort soldiers have refused to walk with the children far enough to ensure their safety.

In the past two weeks internationals working with Operation Dove and Christian Peacemaker Teams have twice witnessed settlers grazing sheep directly in the path of the children at the time they walk home from school. Because the children have been physically attacked in the past, and threatened with death by settlers earlier this school year, they are terrified by the presence of these settlers. Since an incident on March 24 in which settlers were present at the end of the children's walk home, internationals and the children have repeatedly asked the soldiers to walk with the children until they are out of danger. On April 1 settlers again came onto the land between the outpost of Havat Ma'on and the village of Tuba while the children were walking. Members of CPT and Operation Dove were present and the children ran towards them crying and very frightened.

Internationals now request that concerned people make calls to the Communications office of the Southern District Commander of the Israeli Military. It is an Israeli phone number, (country code 972) 2 996 7200. Please ask Commander BenMoha to instruct the soldiers who perform the escort of the Tuba and Magaher-al-Abeed school children to accompany the children all the way past the Ma'on chicken barns and past any settlers present. Please stress that this is particularly necessary because of the repeated presence of settlers in this area at the time of the children's walk home, and remind the commander that settlers used violence against the school children on fourteen occasions in the 07-08 school year and on two occasions during the current school year.

Gaza Digest 51, 4/9/09

News Clips: At least seventeen people were injured Wednesday in a rampage by Jewish settlers from Bat Ayin (where a teenage settler was killed last week) through the Arab village of Saffa in the Israeli-occupied West Bank; The Obama administration said Israel's demolition of the Jerusalem home of a Palestinian who rammed a car into vehicles and pedestrians last July was "unhelpful"; Over 150,000 Palestinians in Gaza (around 10 percent of the population) are struggling without tap water as a result of the damage caused to wells, pipes and waste water facilities during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January.

1. This article from Haaretz reports on recent meetings on Capitol Hill in which state department officials have been telling members of Congress to expect a confrontation with the new Israeli government. We should be primed for calling our Senators and Congress people to show our support for the “robust diplomacy” that is going to be needed. 

Excerpt: In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is readying for a possible confrontation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by briefing Democratic congressmen on the peace process and the positions of the new government in Israel regarding a two-state solution.

The Obama administration is expecting a clash with Netanyahu over his refusal to support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In recent weeks, American officials have briefed senior Democratic congressmen and prepared the ground for the possibility of disagreements with Israel over the peace process, according to information recently received. The administration's efforts are focused on President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, which now holds a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The preemptive briefing is meant to foil the possibility that Netanyahu may try to bypass the administration by rallying support in Congress.

The message that administration officials have relayed to the congressmen is that President Obama is committed to the security of Israel and intends to continue the military assistance agreement that was signed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

However, Obama considers the two-state solution central to his Middle East policy, as he reiterated during a speech in Turkey on Monday, and he intends to ask that Netanyahu fulfill all the commitments made by previous governments in Israel: accepting the principle of a Palestinian state; freezing settlement activity; evacuating illegal outposts; and providing economic and security assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

2. In the understatement of the year quoted in an article from the L.A. Times, Rep. Stephen Lynch said of Gaza, "It is problematic having the checkpoints closed.” Lynch and Rep. Bob Inglis were in Gaza, making them the third and fourth Congressmen to visit the strip since the Israeli offensive. (Senator John Kerry also made an earlier trip to Gaza.)

Excerpt: Two U.S. congressmen made a rare visit to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, meeting with aid workers and touring scenes of destruction left by Israel's military offensive.

Reps. Bob Inglis and Stephen F. Lynch pointedly avoided contact with the Hamas militant group, which rules Gaza and which the United States, European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization.

Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the world must find a way to address a "legitimate humanitarian crisis" in Gaza.

"We need to act with some urgency here. There is a humanitarian crisis going on and we can't dawdle," Lynch told the Associated Press.

Israel launched the three-week offensive in December with the aim of ending rocket fire on southern Israel by Hamas militants. Palestinian human rights groups say more than 1,400 people were killed, including more than 900 civilians. Thousands of buildings and much of Gaza's infrastructure were destroyed or damaged.

Israel says the death toll was lower, and most of those killed were Hamas militants.

Lynch said he and Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina, visited a project run by Catholic Relief Services in a heavily damaged neighborhood and a tent camp where displaced Gazans have been living since the war ended on Jan. 18. They also visited the grounds of the American International School of Gaza, a U.S.-style school the Israeli army flattened during the offensive, saying militants launched rockets from its grounds.

Lynch said the destruction in Gaza was worse than he expected.

3. In this piece from the Electronic Intifada, Eva Bartlett, an activist-journalist who came to Gaza in November 2008 on the third Free Gaza boat, reports on the difficulties faced by Palestinian farmers and agricultural worker in Gaza. 

Excerpt: "They're always shooting at us. Every day they shoot at us," says Alaa Samour, 19, pulling aside his shirt to show a scar on his shoulder. Samour said he was shot on 28 December last year by Israeli soldiers positioned along the border fence near New Abassan village, east of Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip.

"We were cutting parsley like we do almost every day, and the soldiers began shooting. We started crawling away. When I got out of the line of fire I realized my shoulder was bleeding and that I had been shot."

A month later, out of necessity, Samour was back in the fields. Like many other impoverished laborers from the Khan Younis area, Samour is employed by farmers to harvest parsley, spinach and pea crops in the fertile eastern region. He brings home 20 shekels ($5) per day of labor, his contribution to a family where the father cannot earn enough to cover their food needs.

Sayed Abu Nsereh works on the same land. Well accustomed to the firing from the Israeli soldiers at the border, Abu Nsereh explains how farmers on the field crawl to a "safe" area -- a slight depression in the field -- when the shooting begins. Lying face down, they are temporarily safe, though they must still wait for the shooting to cease and the soldiers to leave before they can leave.

The field is roughly half-way into a kilometer-wide band of land running along the Gaza side of the boundary with Israel, an area unilaterally designated by Israeli authorities as the "buffer zone," or more recently, the "no-go zone." At inception a decade ago, the "buffer zone" encompassed a 150-meters-wide stretch of land flanking the border south to north. In this region Palestinians could not walk, live or work due to what Israel described as "security reasons." It became wasted land, though extremely fertile.

At the end of Israel's three weeks of attacks on Gaza late last December through January, which left more than 1,450 dead and over 5,000 injured, many critically so, Israeli authorities declared an expansion of the "buffer zone" into what they dubbed a no-go zone, expropriating yet more land from farmers and civilians in the area.

Prior to the attacks on Gaza, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees reported that of the 175,000 dunams (42,000 acres) (one dunam is 1,000 square meters) of cultivable land in the Gaza Strip, 50,000 dunams (12,000 acres) had been damaged by the Israeli army. These are the most fertile and productive agricultural areas, the "food basket" areas, the group reports. Following the attacks on Gaza, international bodies put the amount of destroyed land much higher: 60,000-75,000 dunams of farmland they say is now damaged or unusable.

In early February, the Guardian reported on the severe hit to Gaza's agricultural sector. The article quoted representatives of the World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization as saying that anywhere from 35 percent to 60 percent of the agriculture industry was destroyed by Israel's attacks on Gaza, much of it not useable again due to the damage.

Even before the attacks, Gaza's farming sector had been seriously devastated by the crippling siege on Gaza. Whereas Gaza had been producing half of its agricultural needs, the combination of siege and warfare on Gaza has led to the "destruction of all means of life," including destroyed farmland along with hundreds of greenhouses, hundreds of wells and water pumps, and farming equipment.

The ability to produce food is vital to combating staggering malnutrition levels in the Gaza Strip, a region rendered impoverished by Israel's blockade and the consequent soaring unemployment levels. According to PARC, due to the Israeli ban on fertilizers, seeds, plastic sheeting for greenhouses, and irrigation piping, among many other things, there has been a steady regression away from qualitative and productive farming practices: now farmers are planting crops requiring less care, such as wheat and barley, in place of the diversity of vegetables formerly grown. Many, such as Jaber Abu Rjila, believe that Israel's real intention is further land annexation and control. Abu Rjila lives on a farm just under 500 meters from the border in al-Faraheen, slightly south of Abassan. He and neighbors had jointly cultivated the 300 dunams of land between his home and the border fence, growing a variety of crops including wheat, chickpeas and various greenhouse vegetables. But now, he says, he is only working on four dunams of land.

4. And finally, “Israel's Barrier,” a four-part multi-media series from National Public Radio about life on either side of The Wall. 

Excerpt: Most everything about Israel's West Bank barrier is disputed; Israelis and Palestinians disagree on its name, its route and its impact.

Israelis call it the "security barrier" or "the good fence." Many Palestinians call it "the apartheid wall" or the "racist fence."

Young conscripted Israeli soldiers guard its network of checkpoints and roadblocks and patrol its walls and fences. Palestinians regularly protest its existence with peaceful demonstrations, rocks and -- sometimes -- armed attacks. For Palestinians, much of the concrete in the barrier has become a canvas for political graffiti, satire and, on occasion, art and humor.

Israel's new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emphasized an economic peace process with the West Bank Palestinians and downplayed any talk of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs say the barrier is one of the biggest impediments to economic growth. Israelis maintain it's vital to the Jewish state's security to thwart suicide bombers.

This four-part multimedia series explores how the barrier has affected the lives of those who live there today -- profiling workers, businessmen, settlers and soldiers.

It introduces Palestinian laborers, farmers, small-business owners and school kids who, daily, have to navigate the barrier and its checkpoints to get to work and school -- and to see family and friends. It also looks at Jewish settlers who have mixed feelings about the barrier and who want to be included in the route of the controversial project. And it profiles other settlers who were left on the "wrong" side of the wall who now want to leave the West Bank -- if compensated by the government.

The series captures the realities of life along the barrier, including the struggles of the people who find good and bad in it everyday.

Gaza Digest 50, 4/8/09

News Clips: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed the transfer of $12 million to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a quarter of the amount Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's government said it needed to pay salaries; Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian driver they said had tried to attack them during the demolition of a Palestinian home in Jerusalem; Palestinian Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, whose three daughters were killed during Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize; The IDF The Home Front Command is preparing to hold the largest war preparedness exercise ever in Israeli history, scheduled to take place in about two months, in hopes of priming the populace and raising awareness of the possibility of war breaking out.

1. The Lieberman follies continue, as evidenced by this report from Haaretz.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday that Western-backed peace efforts with the Palestinians had reached a "dead end" and that Israel intended to present new ideas for diplomacy, prompting a response from the State Department re-emphasizing the American goal of establishing two states…

The State Department did not react directly to Lieberman's statements, preferring instead to reiterate Washington's commitment to a two-state solution.

"We are going to hear comments from various parties about how they assess things," State Department spokesperson Robert Wood said. "The important objective for us is to get this process back on track so that we can get to this two-state solution that we think is in the best interests of not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the United States and the rest of the world."

2. People around the world concerned about the increasing level of repression and violence used by Israel to maintain its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem watch in frustration as Israel flouts international laws of war and human rights law on a daily basis with relative impunity. After much wrangling and bullying, The Durban II Conference planners have more or less removed Israel/Palestine from the agenda, so civil society groups have planned their own conference in an attempt to hold Israel accountable, as reported by Adri Nieuwhof, a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland, on The Electronic Intifada. 

Excerpt: To ensure that Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people will be assessed, the Israel Review Conference is organized by a civil society coalition in Geneva on 18-19 April. The partners collaborating on the conference are the Palestinian BNC, the Civil Society Forum for the Durban Review Conference, the European Coordinating Committee on Palestine, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the International Coordinating Network on Palestine. Internationally renowned experts and actors for social and political justice will examine how the UN anti-racism instruments apply to Israel's policies and practices towards the Palestinian people, and develop practical recommendations on how to hold Israel accountable to international law and protect the rights of the Palestinian people.

The exclusion of a review of Israel at Durban II and the formation of the Israel Review Conference follows Israel's deadly assault on Gaza earlier this year, and questions of what international mechanisms exist to hold Israel accountable.

3. While more than 46 IDF reservists have called on Israel's attorney general to launch a criminal investigation of Haaretz's publishing the testimony of Cast Lead soldiers alleging war crimes, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that some U.S. rabbis joined Israeli human rights groups in calling for an independent investigation into the allegations

Excerpt: U.S. rabbis have called on Israel's attorney general to open an independent investigation into alleged abuses by the IDF in Gaza.

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America joined 10 Israeli human rights organizations Friday in calling for the investigation of Israeli soldiers' actions during Israel's military operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.

"While Rabbis for Human Rights appreciates the army's internal investigation into these allegations, we support our colleagues' belief that an independent investigation is the only way to clear Israel's name and to determine the veracity of the allegations," a news release stated.

The organization called for allegations of human rights violation, the use of white phosphorus gas and the number of civilians killed all to be independently investigated.

4. An informative interview from Law and Disorder Radio with Code Pink members/activists Helen Schiff and Felice Gelman, who were part of the International Women's Day delegation and gave their first hand accounts of the devastating aftermath. Among other details, Felice Gelman talked about the national gas reserves off the coast of Gaza that Israel wants to control, and Helen Schiff spoke about the bombing of desalinization plants that means children in Gaza are suffering from kidney problems because the plants aren't functioning and wells are filling with salt water. They also gave a pitch for the upcoming CODEPINK May delegations to Gaza.

Excerpt: Recently a delegation from Code Pink and other organizations brought humanitarian and emotional support to women and women organizations in Gaza. They also pressured the US, Egyptian and Israeli governments to lift the blockade against the Palestinians.  According to the United Nations Children's Fund, the Israeli attack that began on December 27 left over 1,000 dead, including 412 children and 110 women, and more than 5,000 injured which include1855 children and 795 women.

Gaza Digest 49, 4/7/09

News Clips: U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel and the West Bank in June, according to an announcement circulated among American diplomatic representations in the region; Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians will not restart peace negotiations with Israel until its new government accepts a two-state solution; Tony Blair told Israel's new prime minister that a Palestinian state is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East; The Israel Defense Forces announced Monday it was to impose a general closure on the West Bank at midnight ahead of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover.

1. Physicians for Human Rights Israel issued a new report criticizing Israeli actions in Gaza. Here is the account from Al-Jazeera.

Excerpt: Israel's army violated codes of ethics and international law during the war in Gaza by attacking medics and refusing to allow the treatment of wounded, a human rights group says.

In a report published on Monday, the group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls for an independent body to investigate the military's conduct during its 22-day war on Gaza, which ended on January 18.

The actions reflect a "demonisation of Palestinians [which] bears a heavy price for Israeli society".

In its defense, the Israeli army said it had not yet concluded its investigation, but that fighters from Gaza's ruling Hamas had fought under the cover of ambulances and medical facilities.

Among the offences listed by PHR are "attacks on medical personnel; damage to medical facilities and indiscriminate attacks on civilians not involved in the fighting".

The report further says: "Israel placed numerous obstacles in the course of the operation that impeded emergency medical evacuation of the sick and wounded and also caused families to be trapped for days without food, water and medications.

2. An amazing report from Democracy Now entitled “Land of Ruins: A Special Report on Gaza's Economy,” 4/6/09.

Excerpt: Democracy Now producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world. Despite international pledges of over 5.2 billion dollars to rebuild Gaza, in the four months since Israel"s assault, the siege has not been lifted and only one truck carrying cement and other construction materials has been allowed entry into the Gaza Strip. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories this truck, which Israel permitted in late March, was the first carrying construction materials to be granted entry since last November.

3. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is gaining steam in Europe, as evidenced by this article from the Guardian.

Excerpt: Israeli companies are feeling the impact of boycott moves in Europe, according to surveys, amid growing concern within the Israeli business sector over organised campaigns following the recent attack on Gaza.

Last week, the Israel Manufacturers Association reported that 21% of 90 local exporters who were questioned had felt a drop in demand due to boycotts, mostly from the UK and Scandinavian countries. Last month, a report from the Israel Export Institute reported that 10% of 400 polled exporters received order cancellation notices this year, because of Israel's assault on Gaza.

"There is no doubt that a red light has been switched on," Dan Katrivas, head of the foreign trade department at the Israel Manufacturers Association, told Maariv newspaper this week. "We are closely following what's happening with exporters who are running into problems with boycotts." He added that in Britain there exists "a special problem regarding the export of agricultural produce from Israel".

The problem, said Katrivas, is in part the discussion in the UK over how to label goods that come from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Last week British government officials met with food industry representatives to discuss the issue.

In recent months, the Israeli financial press has reported the impact of mounting calls to boycott goods from the Jewish state. Writing in the daily finance paper, the Marker, economics journalist Nehemia Stressler berated then trade and industry minister Eli Yishai for telling the Israeli army to "destroy one hundred homes" in Gaza for every rocket fired into Israel.

The minister, wrote Stressler, did not understand "how much the operation in Gaza is hurting the economy.”

Stressler added: "The horrific images on TV and the statements of politicians in Europe and Turkey are changing the behaviour of consumers, businessmen and potential investors. Many European consumers boycott Israeli products in practice."

4. HANG UP ON MOTO Campaign claims its first success in this release from The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel

Excerpt: Motorola has sold a controversial unit that produced bomb fuses and other equipment for the Israeli military, according to the Israeli financial newspaper Globes. The sale rids Motorola of some activities that had made it the target of a growing boycott in the US and worldwide. No explanation was offered in the media reports for the sale by Motorola Israel -- a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola -- of its unit called Government Electronics Department (GED) to the Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd.

The sale came just days after a 30 March protest in Brooklyn by The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (NYCBI) kicking off a city-wide campaign to boycott Motorola over its support for Israeli apartheid. Ryvka Bar Zohar from NYCBI commented, "We are heartened that Motorola has eliminated at least its production of bomb fuses for bombs that Israel dropped on the Palestinian and Lebanese people. But we will continue our campaign to boycott Motorola until it is clear that it has eliminated production and sale of all products used to support Israeli apartheid."

On the excellent web site WHO PROFITS (a project of the Coalition of Women for Peace) you can read more about Motorola Israel and the services and parts they provide to settlements in the West Bank.

Gaza Digest 48, 4/6/09

News Clips:     The United Nations has appointed Richard Goldstone, a Jewish judge from South Africa and a former war crimes prosecutor, to investigate offenses allegedly committed by Israeli and Palestinian fighters during Israel's war on Gaza; An Israeli teenager was killed in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank after a Palestinian assailant attacked him with an axe; Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Sunday dismissed as "completely unfounded" accounts by Israeli soldiers of wrongdoings in the recent offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

1. A press advisory from Amnesty International reported the arrival of a massive U.S. arms shipment in Israel and called on President Obama to halt further exports.

Excerpt: The new delivery to Israel of a massive consignment of US munitions, revealed by Amnesty International today, throws into question whether President Obama will act to prevent the US fuelling further Israeli attacks against civilians that may amount to war crimes, as were perpetrated in Gaza.

According to new information received by Amnesty International, the Wehr Elbe, a German cargo ship, which had been chartered and controlled by US Military Sealift Command, docked and unloaded its cargo of reportedly over 300 containers at the Israeli port of Ashdod, just 40 km north of Gaza by road. The German ship left the USA for Israel on 20 December, one week before the start of Israeli attacks on Gaza, carrying 989 containers of munitions, each of them 20 feet long with a total estimated net weight of 14,000 tons.

“Legally and morally, this US arms shipment should have been halted by the Obama administration given the extent of the evidence showing how military equipment and munitions of this kind were recently used by the Israeli forces for war crimes,” said Brian Wood. "Arms supplies in these circumstances are contrary to provisions in US law."

Asked about the Wehr Elbe, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to Amnesty International that "the unloading of the entire US munitions shipment was successfully completed at Ashdod [Israel] on 22 March”. The spokesperson said that the shipment was destined for a US pre-positioned ammunition stockpile in Israel. Under a US-Israel agreement, munitions from this stockpile may be transferred for Israeli use if necessary. Another US official told Amnesty International that they are reviewing Israel's use of US weapons during the Gaza conflict to see if Israel complied with U.S. law, but no conclusion has yet been reached.

“There is a great risk that the new munitions may be used by the Israeli military to commit further violations of international law, like the ones committed during the war in Gaza,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's arms control campaign manager. “We are urging all governments to impose an immediate and comprehensive suspension of arms to Israel, and to all Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of serious human rights violations.”

2. The U.N. called on Israel to open the borders of Gaza to humanitarian aid and other goods because of the dire situation the blockade is causing for civilians. 

Excerpt: The top United Nations aid official in the Gaza Strip urged Israel on Friday to ease restrictions on the flow of goods into the conflict-torn territory, saying they were "devastating" for the people.

"It's wholly and totally inadequate," John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said about the amount of goods Israel permits into the territory, where some 1.5 million Palestinians live.

"It's having a very devastating impact on the physical circumstances and also the mindset of people on the ground," he said.

3. In an Op Ed piece from Saturday's NY Times, George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, outlines the war crimes charges against Israel

Excerpt: CHILLING testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel's Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas's indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel's transgressions. While Israel disputes some of the soldiers' accounts, the evidence suggests that Israel committed the following six offenses:

• Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel's 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.

• Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel's winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.

• Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”

• Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.

• Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel's northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.

• Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.

4. The International Solidarity Movement reported that as a response to the killing of a 14-year-old Israeli child and the wounding of a seven-year old in a West Bank settlement by a Palestinian wielding an axe, the IDF moved into Saffa village, basically punishing the entire community for the attack. 

Excerpt: Israeli forces imposed collective punishment on the village of Saffa, following an axe attack in a nearby settlement that left a Settler child dead and another injured. At around 1:30pm, dozens of soldiers entered the village, declaring a 24-hour curfew and preventing residents from leaving their homes. Israeli authorities have said that the military operation was in response to the attack on the settler children, which occurred in the settlement of Bet Ayn, located adjacent to Saffa. However, the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits acts of collective punishment against civilian populations.

After the curfew was declared in Saffa, Israeli forces began conducting several house-to-house searches. Hundreds of men, and boys over the age of 15, were forced into the village mosque where they were questioned by Israeli intelligence officers and had their ID cards checked. At this time, at least three villagers were placed under formal arrest and taken away in army jeeps. Several of the men detained in the mosque also had parts of their identification papers confiscated by soldiers, who never returned the documents. Israeli jeeps periodically drove through Saffa and the nearby village of Beit Omar, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Dozens of Palestinian youth resisted the army incursion, at times responding to the invasion by throwing stones at the jeeps.

Gaza Digest 47, 4/2/09

News Clips: The United States and Russia on Wednesday declared that Iran has a right to pursue a civilian nuclear program, but warned that the country must abide by an international treaty and prove that its contentious efforts were of a "peaceful nature"; Representatives of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah returned to Cairo on Tuesday to resume talks on forming a "national unity" government; A Palestinian official Wednesday warned that the electricity distribution company in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse due to lack of equipment and spare parts;

1. My favorite line in this piece from The Guardian about Lieberman's first (and appalling) speech as Foreign Minister is the citing of AP's “cringing diplomats.” Can you imagine the wincing and cringing and possibly hand-wringing (okay I'm the hand-wringer) caused by sitting in a room listening to this guy?

Excerpt: Israel's new foreign minister dismayed the international community today with a rancorous analysis of the peace process and an announcement that the new government favours aggression rather than concessions to the Palestinians.

In his first speech since taking office, the rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman dismissed the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, arguing that Israeli concessions made in a bid to secure peace had all been fruitless.

"Those who want peace should prepare for war and be strong," he said. "There is no country that made concessions like Israel. Since 1967 we gave up territory that is three times the size of Israel. We showed willingness. The Oslo process started back in 1993, and to this day I have not seen that we reached peace."

Speaking to what the Associated Press describes as a roomful of "cringing diplomats", the new foreign minister said Israel was not bound by the Annapolis peace talks. These were initiated in November 2007 to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and involved around 40 countries.

"The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis; nor did [the] Knesset," said Lieberman, promising to honour only the US-initiated "road map" of 2002, which has long been in stalemate amid accusations from both sides.

Lieberman's speech is in stark contrast to remarks made by the incoming prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, who both said the new government would pursue peace on every front.

2. Already the pressure is building on the Netanyahu government, as evidenced by this article from Haaretz about EU grumbling with regard to settlements, East Jerusalem demolitions and Gaza.

Excerpt: As early as this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could face international pressure to clarify their position on the creation of a Palestinian state.

At a closed-door dinner of European Union diplomats held Friday in the Czech Republic, several senior officials said Israel must be required to present an explicit commitment accepting the principle of "two states for two peoples," and if it fails, the process of upgrading Israel-EU relations should be frozen.

At least 10 communiques from Israeli embassies in Europe arrived at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in recent days painting a difficult picture of the level of trust felt in Europe towards the Netanyahu government, particularly on diplomatic matters.

The dispatches all had the same message: The diplomats present at the dinner criticized Israel on its handling of negotiations with the Palestinians, settlement building, the destruction of homes in East Jerusalem and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Among those expressing criticism were those generally viewed as supportive of Israel, including host Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic, whose country is the current EU president. Schwarzenberg summarized the meeting by saying, "There won't be any progress in relations between Israel and the European Union until the Israeli government clarifies its stance on the creation of a Palestinian state."

3. With Obama and Medvedev proclaiming Iran's right to a “peaceful” nuclear program, this piece from Haaretz about Netanyahu's desire to attack Iran's nuclear facilities seems to indicate there will soon be a showdown between the U.S. and Israel over Iran (as well as over a “two-state solution.”)

Netanyahu is counting on Barack Obama, and on their meeting next month, where he will tell Obama that history will judge his presidency over the way he handles the Iranian nuclear program. The question is whether Netanyahu's abilities to be convincing and his sophisticated English will allow him to alter Obama's agenda: preventing Pakistan and its nuclear arms from falling into the hands of the Taliban and Al-Qaida, while trying to buy quiet from Iran. It is doubtful whether even an Israeli proposal to pull back from the Golan Heights and evacuate settlements in the West Bank will lead Obama to bomb Iran, or let Netanyahu order an attack. Israel will have to try to reach an understanding with Obama centered on dealing with Iran.

All this suggests that the rise of Netanyahu to power increases the chances of war with Iran, but the "point of no return" has not yet been crossed.

4. Meanwhile in Gaza, the blockade and the post-assault suffering continue. This report from Relief Web culled from a Save the Children Press Advisory details the problems Gazan children face.

Excerpt: Tens of thousands of children in Gaza remain at serious risk of physical and psychological harm more than two months after a cease-fire ended the 22-day conflict that began on Dec. 27, 2008, Save the Children reported today.

"Many children in Gaza are trying to survive in neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble," said Annie Foster, who is leading Save the Children's humanitarian response in Gaza.

"Children are going to sleep hungry every night, often with no bed to sleep on. Many are not able to get a decent meal or bathe properly or even have access to clean drinking water. The plight of these children is drifting off the world's radar screen at a time when they need our help now more than ever.

"The biggest obstacle to helping these children is our limited access to provide critical materials for relief and reconstruction," said Foster. "During the past month, there has been virtually no progress in improving access for humanitarian agencies.

"We are calling for full access and an end to the 19-month embargo so that the recovery and reconstruction efforts can proceed," Foster said.

Gaza Digest 46, 4/1/09

News Clips: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in late Tuesday to lead Israel's 32nd government, after cobbling together a coalition amid rising tensions within his own Likud party and with other leading political figures; Netanyahu told lawmakers Tuesday that he would work toward Mideast peace, warned of the threat of Iranian nuclear ambitions and vowed to bring abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit home; TIME Magazine on Tuesday cited high-ranking Israeli security officials as saying that dozens of Israeli jets and unmanned drones took part in the January strike on a Gaza-bound weapons convoy in Sudan.

1. In an article in the April 6th issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh proposes that a peace deal between Israel and Syria, including the return of the Golan Heights, would be a first step towards a negotiated settlement to the various conflicts in the region. He also reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney was bad-mouthing Obama to the Israelis in the weeks before the Inauguration, while the Obama Transition Team was putting pressure on Israel to halt the assault on Gaza. Cheney apparently said that Obama was “pro-Palestinian” and would “never make it to the major leagues.” The major leagues of what, one might ask? Human rights offenders? War criminals?

Excerpt: A senior White House official confirmed that the Obama transition team had been informed in advance of Carter's trip to Syria, and that Carter met with Obama shortly before the Inauguration. The two men—Obama was accompanied only by David Axelrod, the President's senior adviser, who helped arrange the meeting; and Carter by his wife, Rosalynn—discussed the Middle East for an hour. Carter declined to discuss his meeting with Obama, but he did write in an e-mail that he hoped the new President “would pursue a wide-ranging dialogue as soon as possible with the Assad government.” An understanding between Washington and Damascus, he said, “could set the stage for successful Israeli-Syrian talks.”

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President's national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can't tell the Israelis to get out.' ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney's office declined to comment.)

Syria's relationship with Iran will emerge as the crucial issue in the diplomatic reviews now under way in Washington. A settlement, the Israelis believe, would reduce Iran's regional standing and influence. “I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Bashar goes to Tehran and explains to the Supreme Leader that he wants to mediate a bilateral relationship with the United States,” the former American diplomat said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

An Israeli official acknowledged that his government had learned of “tensions between Syria and Iran in recent months.” Before Gaza, he said, there had been a noticeable change in the Syrian tone during informal contacts—“an element of openness, candor, and civility.” He cautioned, however, “You can move diplomatically with the Syrians, but you cannot ignore Syria's major role in arming Hamas and Hezbollah, or the fact that it has intimate relations with Iran, whose nuclear program is still going forward.” He added, with a smile, “No one in Israel is running out to buy a new suit for the peace ceremony on the White House lawn.”

2. In 2009 Jerusalem was designated as the yearlong capital of Arab culture, following after Damascus' playing that rotating role in 2008. Palestinian celebrations on March 21st were marred by arrests, intimidation and the confiscation of flags and banners. In an interview with the Palestine Monitor, Varsen Aghabkhian, Executive Director of the event, which included a street festival, dancing, and outdoor music, describes the challenges she faced in the planning and execution of the festivities in the face of harsh repression by the Israeli government.

Excerpt: We had no stones, no guns and no rockets. We had balloons and white flags. We stood up in front of the Israeli soldiers and their artillery. They were threatening the balloons and the clowns. It was very ridiculous, like if balloons were so scary. The world should know that: The retaliation is harsh, even when you're only armed with balloons.

In the end, some members of our administrative council were arrested but they have been all released. The message has been said very clearly by the Israelis: This is not your city. If you wish to celebrate your culture, celebrate it elsewhere. But finally, we were not surprised; this is a rhetoric that we have been hearing for the past 40 years.

3. And finally, check out this really cool interactive graphic representation of the new Israeli government, with descriptions of each of the political parties and their stances on “the peace process.” 

Gaza Digest 45, 3/31/09

News Clips: 21% of Israeli exporters have been directly affected by the boycott movement since the beginning of 2009, as reported by The Marker, a Hebrew-language economic newspaper; Some 100 Hashmira company workers, most of them Palestinians, who are currently employed in an Israel Railways project, received letters Sunday informing them that their contracts would be terminated due to the fact that they did not serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Yesterday (March 30) was Palestinian Land Day. It is the day when Palestinians around the world join their voices to protest against Israeli appropriation of Palestinian Lands.

1. As might have been predicted and as is reported in the Guardian, the IDF ended the Gaza investigation, saying that the misconduct claims were 'rumors'. In a piece from Haaretz, Amos Harel expresses, with anger and sarcasm, his admiration for the investigation. 

One would be hard-pressed not to express astonishment at the speed and efficiency demonstrated by the Military Advocate General, Brigadier-General Avichai Mendelblit, and the Military Police investigation unit in probing the "combat soldiers' testimonials affair" that took place at the Rabin pre-military training academy. The investigation into Moshe (Chico) Tamir's all-terrain vehicle accident made its way from desk-drawer to desk-drawer over the course of almost 18 months, yet the military advocate general needed just 11 days (including two Saturdays) to probe the accounts of combat soldiers in order to completely dispel the allegations.

There is something soothing in the exhaustive investigation by the military advocate general. The IDF emerges from it (and from the Gaza Strip) as pure as snow. Yet at the same time there is a disconcerting message emanating from the closure of the investigation, one which, at least according to Brig. Gen. Mendelblit, a group of combat soldiers and officers serving in some of the finest units in the IDF has proven to be nothing but a bunch of liars and exaggerating storytellers, men who have not uttered one truthful word.

2. Another report from IRIN (UN Humanitarian News & Information Service) about the aftermath of the assault on Gaza, this one focused on the situation for university students. 

Excerpt: Many university students who lost relatives or whose homes were destroyed during the recent 22-day Israeli offensive are finding it difficult to cope, according to university officials and students.

Some have been unable to register for the new semester due to lack of funds; others are still traumatized.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza said 14 of the 15 higher education institutions in the Strip (most are in and around Gaza City) were damaged by Israeli forces. Six came under direct attack.

Three colleges—al-Da'wa College for Humanities in Rafah, Gaza College for Security Sciences in Gaza City, and the Agricultural College in Beit Hanoun (part of al-Azhar University)—were destroyed, according to Al Mezan communications officer Mahmoud AbuRahma.

Six university buildings in Gaza were razed to the ground and 16 damaged. The total damage is estimated at $21.1 million, according to the Palestinian National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza.

3. This blog from Jawad Harb talks about the mothers of Gaza he works with in his capacity as a program manager of women's centers for CARE, as well as about his own wife and children and how they are coping with the aftermath of the Gaza assault.

Excerpt: Before the war, most action plans of the women's groups we work with weren't focused on psychosocial support; most were talking about income-generating projects for women such as rabbit-raising, supporting female farmers, sewing. But after the war, the priorities changed. People need an immediate response to the psychological trauma.

I'm not different from anyone else. Ziad, my six-year-old son, sleeps in my bedroom at least three days a week, and I can't tell him no. My other boys, 12 and 10, stay in my bedroom until they fall asleep, and then I carry them to bed. I check on them at night.

They don't want to do their homework like they did before; it's like pulling teeth. This is what many teachers are saying about all the children. They are absent-minded, they don't do their assignments. They want to watch the news, and find other kids to talk with.

The girls are doing better, doing their homework. But they don't talk much, still. I try to sit with them when I have time, but they are becoming silent people. They are traumatized. They don't know what to say. I try to take them outside, but we can't leave Gaza; they are surrounded by it, every day. We go walking in the city, or go out for lunch, and they can talk and smile, but then they see the destruction. We can't escape it.

There is no reconstruction. Not at all. How can people move forward, if we can't rebuild? Is Gaza going to look like it used to before? How do we remove the signs of destruction everywhere? The rubble is still everywhere. They removed some of it from the main roads, but it is everywhere.

My wife is spending more effort now with the children, trying. The boys are more violent, fighting with each other, so my wife is trying to calm them down. Sometimes my wife calls me at work to ask me to talk to them, to get them to stop fighting, because they won't listen. It is hard to keep them focused. It is more of a burden on my wife. I am working long hours now, working to meet the needs of the people affected by the conflict. There are so many.

4. Meanwhile in the West Bank, settlement expansion continues, as reported by Connie Hackbarth on the Alternative Information Center site.

Excerpt: Israeli media reports have flourished in the past week concerning Israeli plans to move forward with construction of the Mevasseret Adumim neighbourhood in the “E1 Area”, which would link between the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, further cutting East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and splitting the West Bank into two. Israeli army radio even quoted sources claiming that future Prime Minister Netanyahu has struck a secret deal with Israel Beitenu Chairperson Avigdor Liberman concerning advancement of these plans as part of the coalition government agreements.

Strong American opposition is widely credited with having prevented construction of Mevasseret Adumim to date, particularly as construction has been supported by all Israeli governments and major political parties over the past 15 years. While housing units have yet to be built in the area, Israel has invested almost NIS 200 million in the past two years in preparing infrastructure for such building. The “excuse” for establishment of the infrastructure was provided by a small Israeli police station, moved from its previous location in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Ras el Amoud to E1 in May 2008.  While the police station itself is relatively small, an extensive transportation system, including highways (some three lanes), an overpass, traffic circles, observation posts and a highway dividing barrier, was subsequently built to “service” the station.

Gaza Digest 44, 3/30/09

News Clips: The Israeli cabinet on Sunday voted in favor of imposing sanctions on Hamas prisoners held in Israel, in efforts to pressure the Islamist organization to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since June 2006; Construction activity on West Bank settlements has increased in the transition period between the February general election and the formation of the new government; Arab leaders in Qatar for the Arab League summit sent Israel an ultimatum Sunday: Accept the Saudi Peace Initiative or it will be rescinded.

1. American-Jewish tax-exempt organizations have funneled millions of dollars to settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Excerpt: There's nothing illegal about the charitable contributions to pro-settlement organizations, which are documented in filings with the Internal Revenue Service. They're similar to tax-exempt donations made to thousands of foreign organizations around the world through groups that are often described as "American friends of" the recipient.

But critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns. A search of IRS records identified 28 U.S. charitable groups that made a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007.

"This is an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves," said Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, a lobbying group that opposes settlements. "I don't know how many people, including in the U.S. government, realize the extent of private American funding to settlements. . . . Every dollar that goes to settlements makes Middle East peace that much harder to reach."

2. That Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee has filed complaints with several U.S. agencies over the contributions by “charitable” organizations to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Today, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed multiple administrative complaints with the US Department of the Treasury, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), requesting investigations into the activities of organizations claiming tax-exempt status under section 501(C)3 of the US Tax Code yet allegedly raising funds for the development of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Among other allegations, the ADC complaints allege that these organizations are using assets and income in direct violation of their addressed purpose, and to support illegal and terrorist activities abroad.

The construction of settlements in occupied territory is illegal under international humanitarian law. The use of tax-exempt status to raise funds for these types of activities is also illegal under US law. Further, it is a central part of stated US policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict that settlement expansion and construction must stop. In filing its complaints, ADC seeks to ensure that US tax laws are not being exploited, and violated, by certain organizations which are allegedly using their tax-exempt status contradictory to stated US policies on this issue.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the system of segregation roads, walls and checkpoints which surround them, continue to debilitate life for Palestinians in the occupied territory. Every American administration since the Carter Administration has been critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Most recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Israeli government initiatives to expand these settlements. More information on the challenges associated with Israeli settlement construction and detailed information on the settlement enterprise can be read in the recently-released ADC-Research Institute's issue paper on this subject.

Gaza Digest 43, 3/27/09

News Clips: Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he did not expect to come under pressure from the United States over the Middle East peace strategy of his right-leaning government; Thousands of Palestinians, including members of rival factions Fatah and Hamas, joined a funeral procession for Kamal Naji, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official who was killed in an explosion in southern Lebanon; Accounts emerged Thursday of a January attack on a convoy which killed dozens of suspected arms smugglers in Sudan by foreign aircraft, which one report said were Israeli.

1. Tonight I went to a staged reading of Caryl Churchill's SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN: A PLAY FOR GAZA at the New York Theater Workshop. After the first reading by 8 actors, playwright Tony Kushner and theater critic and journalist Alisa Solomon lead an hour-long discussion of the play. The audience was an interesting array of New Yorkers, from members of the board of the American Jewish Committee, to actor Cherry Jones, and Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi. The questions and comments were overall thoughtful and interesting, and Tony and Alisa did a great job of keeping things from descending into vitriol. After the discussion Lisa Kron read the play as a monologue—and its full force reverberated powerfully through the theater.

Kushner and Solomon have an analysis of the play and the furor surrounding its staging in London in the April 13th Issue of the Nation.

Excerpt: Israel's recent bombing and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, killed 1,417 Palestinians; thirteen Israelis were killed, five by friendly fire. Thousands of Palestinians were seriously wounded and left without adequate medical care, shelter or food. Among the Palestinian dead, more than 400 were children. In response to this devastation, Caryl Churchill wrote a play.

Churchill is one of the most important and influential playwrights living, the author of formally inventive, psychologically searing, politically and intellectually complex dramas, including Cloud Nine, Top Girls, Fen, Serious Money, Mad Forest and Far Away. To this body of work she's now added the very brief (six pages, ten minutes long in performance) and very controversial Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza. The play ran for two weeks in February at London's Royal Court Theatre and is being presented across the United States in cities such as New York (Theaters Against War and New York Theatre Workshop), Chicago (Rooms Productions), Washington (Theater J and Forum Theatre), Cambridge, Massachusetts (Cambridge Palestine Forum) and Los Angeles (Rude Guerrilla).

While some British critics greatly admired the play, which was presented by a Jewish director with a largely Jewish cast, a number of prominent British Jews denounced it as anti-Semitic. Some even accused Churchill of blood libel, of perpetrating in Seven Jewish Children the centuries-old lie, used to incite homicidal anti-Jewish violence, that Jews ritually murder non-Jewish children. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews told the Jerusalem Post that the "horrifically anti-Israel" text went "beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse."

We emphatically disagree. We think Churchill's play should be seen and discussed as widely as possible.

Though you'd never guess from the descriptions offered by its detractors, the play is dense, beautiful, elusive and intentionally indeterminate. This is not to say that the play isn't also direct and incendiary. It is. It's disturbing, it's provocative, but appropriately so, given the magnitude of the calamity it enfolds in its pages. Any play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn't arouse anger and distress has missed the point.

2. From Electronic Intifada, a UNWRA report about the increase in violence against women in Gaza since the beginning of 2009

GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Gaza, local Palestinian non-governmental organizations and mental health professionals are reporting increased incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault against women in Gaza since the beginning of 2009.

An unpublished UNIFEM survey of male and female heads of 1,100 Gaza households conducted between 28 February and 3 March indicates there was an increase in violence against women during and after the 23-day war which ended on 18 January.

"According to our staff, and through clinical observation, there was increased violence against women and children during and after the war," said public relations coordinator for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), Husam al-Nounou.

"We can attribute this to the fact that most people were exposed to traumatic incidents during the war, and one way people react to stress is to become violent."

GCMHP, which runs six clinics and treats an estimated 2,000 mental health patients a year, carried out a post-war assessment, interviewing about 3,500 Gaza residents, said al-Nounou.

"This war was extremely harsh, people felt insecure, vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, their children and their families; when people were trapped at home this increased the stress and anxiety," said al-Nounou.

3. Al-Jazeera's Mike Kirsch reports (via YouTube imbedded clip) from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where the white phosphorous used by the IDF in Gaza was manufactured.

Excerpt: Al Jazeera has tracked down the origin of the white phosphorus used by Israel in the war on Gaza. It comes from an army arsenal in a small US town called Pine Bluff, Arkansas, home to 50,000 people. Mike Kirsch travelled to Pine Bluff to discover what its residents and leaders thought of their town's role in the war on Gaza.

4. Uri Avnery writes in Counterpunch about a recent Israeli Supreme Court Decision saying that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories or in a “hostile” Arab country.

Excerpt: “The State of Israel is at war with the Palestinian people, people against people, collective against collective.” (Statement from the Supreme Court's ruling)

ONE SHOULD read this sentence several times to appreciate its full impact. This is not a phrase escaping from the mouth of a campaigning politician and disappearing with his breath, but a sentence written by cautious lawyers carefully weighing every letter.

If we are at war with “the Palestinian people”, this means that every Palestinian, wherever he or she may be, is an enemy. That includes the inhabitants of the occupied territories, the refugees scattered throughout the world as well as the Arab citizens of Israel proper. A mason in Taibeh, Israel, a farmer near Nablus in the West Bank, a policeman of the Palestinian Authority in Jenin, a Hamas fighter in Gaza, a girl in a school in the Mia Mia refugee camp near Sidon, Lebanon, a naturalized American shopkeeper in New York – “collective against collective”.

Of course, the lawyers did not invent this principle. It has been accepted for a long time in daily life, and all arms of the government act accordingly. The army averts its eyes when an “illegal” outpost is established in the West Bank on the land of Palestinians, and sends soldiers to protect the invaders. Israeli courts customarily impose harsher sentences on Arab defendants than on Jews guilty of the same offense. The soldiers of an army unit order T-shirts showing a pregnant Arab woman with a rifle trained on her belly and the words “1 shot, 2 kills” (as exposed in Haaretz this week).

Gaza Digest 42, 3/26/09

News Clips: Hamas resumed indirect negotiations with Israel aimed at exchanging abducted Israel Defense Force soldier Gilad Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails; Israel's ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday declared in an address before the Security Council that "the state of Israel is committed to the Middle East peace process”; U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the status quo of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict unsustainable, but said he was optimistic that the peace process was moving in "the right direction."

1. Here is an article by Jason Horowitz from The New York Observer that should be read as background for what is going on in the formation of a new Israeli governing coalition. Whatever Netanyahu's actual politics are, he has to at least pay lip service to a “peace process” in order not to anger (or maybe I should say annoy) the Obama Administration. He also can't risk alienating American Jewish supporters of Israel—when you have someone like Marty Peretz of the New Republic calling Avigdor Lieberman a “neo-fascist” you know you are skating on dangerous ground even among avowed hawks. 

Excerpt: Will the rise of an Israeli government led by an opponent of the peace process make it more politically acceptable in America to criticize Israel?


The fact that debate exists over Israel's policies isn't new. What may begin to change, with the advent of the second Benjamin Netanyahu era in Israel following the February election, is that the "out there" described by Mr. Foxman won't be limited to America's political margins-the Cynthia McKinneys and Jim Morans and Ron Pauls in Washington, or those Juan Coles and Stephen Walts and John Mearsheimers in the academic world, who constitute what amounts to a political niche as European-style critics of the Israeli enterprise and of what they believe to be a much-too-powerful Israel lobby in America.

(As of the evening of March 24, Israel's left-leaning Labor Party was set to join the still-forming coalition, which also includes the ultra-nationalist party of Avigdor Lieberman, whom Mr. Netanyahu has reportedly chosen to be foreign minister.)

Certainly, there are indications of a shifting posture at the very top levels of American government, beginning in Jerusalem on March 3, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed Israel to open border crossings "to address the humanitarian needs in Gaza" and again called for the fulfillment of obligations to create a "viable Palestinian state." The next day, in Ramallah, she publicly criticized Israel's plan to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes as "unhelpful" to the peace process.

It was hardly vitriolic stuff-or anything remotely indicative of any organic hostility toward the Jewish state-but in diplomatic-speak, and Clinton-diplomatic-speak no less, it represented an unmistakable change not only from the unwavering Israel-boosting of the two Bush terms but from Mrs. Clinton's four-square-behind-Israel rhetoric as a senator from New York.

One seeming counterexample to the idea of a shift in the new administration was the implosion of the president's nomination of Charles Freeman, a critic of Israel, for a key intelligence post after prominent Israel supporters, including Senator Chuck Schumer, lobbied against him. But the resulting debate over Mr. Freeman's withdrawal, not only on lefty blogs but in what lefty bloggers derisively refer to as the M.S.M., was remarkable for its explicit assessment of the limits of acceptable discussion of Middle East politics in America.

2. This article from Haaretz about Netanyahu's “commitment to peace” shows that the P.R. campaign has begun even as the settlement expansions continue.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to engage in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in an apparent bid to ease concerns that he will try to freeze past peace efforts once he takes office.

"I will negotiate with the PA for peace," the Likud leader told Israeli, Arab and foreign businesspeople at the STEP Jerusalem Wealth Management Conference.

He also said that peace is an enduring goal for all Israeli governments, and that the Palestinians must understand that his government will be a partner for peace.

Netanyahu has said in the past that instead of talking about contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the first step to a lasting peace needs to be the fostering of the Palestinians' economic situation.

At the conference, he also stressed the importance of Palestinian economic development.

The Likud leader told the conference participants that "security, prosperity and peace are all intertwined," and urged them to invest in the Palestinian economy.

"You won't be disappointed," he told the businesspeople.

As Netanyahu spoke at the conference, Army Radio reported that he had struck a secret deal with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman for highly contentious construction on West Bank land known as E1.

The move would make it difficult to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the question of permanent borders.

3. Neve Gordon wrote in the Guardian about Israel's new Foreign Minister—the charges against him, his checkered history, and more. 

Excerpt: Politics being politics, most western leaders will no doubt adopt a conciliatory position towards Lieberman, and agree to meet and discuss issues relating to foreign policy with him. Such a position can certainly be justified on the basis of Lieberman's democratic election; however much one may dislike his views, he is now the representative of the Israeli people. Those who decide to meet him can also claim that ongoing diplomacy and dialogue lead to the internalisation of international norms and thus moderate extremism.

These justifications carry weight. However, western leaders will also have to take into account that the decision to meet Lieberman will immediately be associated with the ban on Hamas, at least among people in the Middle East. In January 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in elections that were no less democratic than the recent elections in Israel. While Hamas is, in many respects, an extremist political party that espouses violence, its politicians are representatives of the Palestinian people and are seen as struggling for liberation and self-determination.

If western leaders want to be conceived as credible, they must change their policy and meet with Hamas as well. Otherwise, their decision to meet Lieberman will be rightly perceived as hypocritical and duplicit

4. Human Rights Watch issued a report on Israel's use of white phosphorous in ways that directly contravened international law. Here is an article from the Guardian outlining the claims.

Excerpt: Israel's military fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza repeatedly and indiscriminately in its three-week war, killing and injuring civilians and committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a 71-page report, the rights group said the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells in populated areas of Gaza was not incidental or accidental, but revealed "a pattern or policy of conduct".

It said the Israeli military used white phosphorus in a "deliberate or reckless" way. The report says:

• Israel was aware of the dangers of white phosphorus.

• It chose not to use alternative and less dangerous smoke shells.

• In one case, Israel even ignored repeated warnings from UN staff before hitting the main UN compound in Gaza with white phosphorus shells on 15 January.

"In Gaza, the Israeli military didn't just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops," said Fred Abrahams, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher. "It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren't in the area and safe smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died." He said senior commanders should be held to account.

Human Rights Watch called on the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to launch an international commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of violations of international law in the Gaza war by the Israeli military and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that controls Gaza.

Gaza Digest 41, 3/25/09

News Clips: Jewish extremists marched Tuesday through an Israeli-Arab town to demand residents show loyalty to Israel, setting off stone-throwing protests by Arab youths that police dispersed with stun grenades and tear gas; 28 people were wounded during clashes between police and demonstrators protesting a march by far-rightists near the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm; The public outcry is growing in Canada following the government's barring of a British lawmaker George Galloway for supporting Hamas and Hezbollah;

1. Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister-designate and leader of the Likud party, reached a coalition deal with Ehud Barak, the Labor leader. A report from Haaretz explains that many in Likud think “Bibi” sold them out; half of the Labor Knesset members were appalled by the deal as well and may leave their party. The interesting part of the accord is Netanyahu's at least stated agreement to respect international accords. My own suspicion is that this is Netanyahu's elaborate window dressing aimed at the Obama Administration and the European Union.  Labor's Barak says in the Guardian article below, “We're nobody's fig leaf,” precisely because his party is suspected of serving as such.

Excerpt: The price Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu paid to Labor in exchange for joining the coalition is tantamount to corruption, senior Likud officials said Tuesday after the Labor Party central committee voted in favor of joining the Likud-led government.

Under the coalition agreement, forged between Labor Chairman Ehud Barak and Likud leader Netanyahu early Tuesday, an administration led by Netanyahu would respect all of Israel's international agreements, a formula that includes accords envisaging Palestinian statehood.

In addition, the Labor Party was promised several ministerial posts, including that of Defense Minister, which will be retained by Barak.

"Bibi paid Labor a corrupt price. He simply sold everything in exchange for half a faction," the officials said, using Netanyahu's nickname. The officials were incensed by the fact that the Trade, Labor and Industry portfolio, which was originally slated to be given to a Likud member, was promised to Labor under the coalition deal.

“We're nobody's fig-leaf, insists Ehud Barak as Labour joins Israel's far right in coalition with Binyamin Netanyahu,” Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, 3/25/09

Excerpt: One senior Labour figure, Isaac Herzog, a minister in the outgoing cabinet, gave his support to the deal. "A far-right government could push us to the brink of catastrophe," he said. "If it was possible for a government to be formed in which we could have a truly dramatic influence over all aspects, then I would want to be there and think that my party will not be damaged as a result."

Others in the party were bitterly opposed. "They're trying to buy us off with portfolios and empty promises," said Ophir Paz-Pines, a Labour MP.

For Netanyahu, bringing Labour on board gives his government a wider base and may provide some protection against international criticism over his proposed rightwing policies, particularly towards the Palestinians. Even though he came second in last month's elections, Netanyahu was chosen to form a government because rightwing parties as a whole did well.

2. In a piece in the current issue of the London Review of Books, John Mearsheimer, co-author of the bestselling and controversial THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY, provides an analysis of the “Freeman Affair.” The “Israel Lobby,” headed by AIPAC members, may have derailed Freeman's appointment, winning the battle, but the media firestorm that followed may prove that the lobby is losing the war.

Excerpt: One of the most remarkable aspects of the Freeman affair was that the mainstream media paid it little attention – the New York Times, for example, did not run a single story dealing with Freeman until the day after he stepped down – while a fierce battle over the appointment took place in the blogosphere. Freeman's opponents used the internet to their advantage; that is where Rosen launched the campaign. But something happened there that would never have happened in the mainstream media: the lobby faced real opposition. Indeed, a vigorous, well-informed and highly regarded array of bloggers defended Freeman at every turn and would probably have carried the day had Congress not tipped the scales against them. In short, the internet enabled a serious debate in the United States about an issue involving Israel. The lobby has never had much trouble keeping the New York Times and the Washington Post in line, but it has few ways to silence critics on the internet.
When pro-Israel forces clashed with a major political figure in the past, that person usually backed off. Jimmy Carter, who was smeared by the lobby after he published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was the first prominent American to stand his ground and fight back. The lobby has been unable to silence him, and it is not for lack of trying. Freeman is following in Carter's footsteps, but with sharper elbows. After stepping down, he issued a blistering denunciation of ‘unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country' whose aim is ‘to prevent any view other than its own from being aired'. ‘There is,' he continued, ‘a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.'
Freeman's remarkable statement has shot all around the world and been read by countless individuals. This isn't good for the lobby, which would have preferred to kill Freeman's appointment without leaving any fingerprints. But Freeman will continue to speak out about Israel and the lobby, and maybe some of his natural allies inside the Beltway will eventually join him. Slowly but steadily, space is being opened up in the United States to talk honestly about Israel.

3. Amira Hass, playing Cassandra yet again, wrote a sarcastic and angry piece in Haaretz saying it was time for the IDF Chief of Staff and his colleagues to believe reports about war crimes in Gaza, especially since they were the ones who gave the orders for what transpired.

Excerpt: Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has difficulty believing the soldiers' testimonies that they intentionally harmed Palestinian civilians, because the Israel Defense Forces is a moral army, he said on Sunday.

On the other hand, he believes the soldiers because they "have no reason to lie." Then again, Ashkenazi is convinced that if what they said is true, these are isolated incidents.

Ashkenazi reacted like most Israelis - as though the reports, including those in Haaretz and Maariv, were the first about the Gaza offensive that were issued by someone other than the military spokesman or the military reporters, who rely on him for their information.

But ample information was available from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, based on statements collected from hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip in January and February.


The IDF's legal advisers must have read it all. Including, perhaps, that judges who participated in investigation committees into crimes in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and East Timor want to set up a similar international committee to investigate "all the parties" in the IDF offensive on Gaza. These people have concluded that the events go beyond isolated incidents and that the problem is not only in the soldiers' conduct, but the instructions from the senior military ranks and the ministers in charge.

It's hard to believe that the chief of staff, defense minister and their aides haven't read at least some reports that were not issued by the IDF. But even if they did, why should they let on? After all, they are the ones who gave the orders.

Ashkenazi chose to look surprised, as though he were an ordinary Israeli citizen disregarding reports from parties other than the IDF, because they were based on Palestinian testimonies. Most Israelis "know" Palestinians lie, so their statements should not be taken seriously.

4. As a follow up to yesterday's report about Tristan Anderson's parents' press conference, I'm including a press advisory from the Palestinian National Initiative, which gives an account of IDF soldiers disrupting the conference, assaulting and arresting participants.

Excerpt: On Monday, during a press conference held by Tristan Anderson's parents, a woman and a journalist were beaten by the Israeli troops. 11 persons were detained including 3 foreign peace activists.

The press conference was held in a very symbolic place, known as the ‘protest tent', in Sheikh Jarrah, where the Al Kurd family has taken up residence for months after being evicted from their home.

Several journalists were reported being prevented to attend the conference. The Israeli army demanded that the event be shut down. As several refused, they assaulted the audience, beating and detaining activists, media crews and officials.

“Such a raid leaves me speechless”, condemns the Deputy. ‘But we have to stand up loud. The Anderson family has the right to tell the world what Tristan has endured and express solidarity and their indignation and feelings regarding the shooting of their son. America is a country where freedom of speech is a core value. But once entering the Israeli controlled territory, nothing prevails anymore. Israeli soldiers have no shame and this should be reported. Loudly.”

Gaza Digest 40, 3/24/09

News Clips: Israel bows to U.S. pressure, lifts food restrictions on Gaza; Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday issued an order against demolishing Israeli homes built on Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, saying that the matter must be investigated before such action is taken; Kamal Medhat, senior member of the Palestinian Fatah faction, was killed along with several body guards by a roadside bomb in southern Lebanon in what Fatah characterized as a targeted assassination; Labor and Likud representatives resumed coalition negotiations on Monday in an attempt to consolidate a ruling coalition under Likud's Netahyahu.

1. Yesterday J Street (the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American lobbying group) released a poll on Jewish-American attitudes towards Israel, Palestine, Iran and U.S. Policy in the region. Really interesting stats here

2. The Guardian reported yesterday on its four-week investigation into alleged war crimes by the IDF during the Gaza assault. You can read the article and watch the 3 videos (total of 20 minutes): one on unmanned drone attacks that targeted civilians, one on the use of 3 adolescent brothers as human shields, and one on the targeting of medical workers, hospitals and clinics.

Excerpt: The Guardian has compiled detailed evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the 23-day offensive against Gaza earlier this year, involving the use of Palestinian children as human shields, the targeting of medics and hospitals, and drone aircraft firing on civilians. 

3. The Associated Press (via Haaretz) covered a report issued by The United Nations on Monday about human rights violations during the Gaza offensive.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a group of UN human rights experts said Monday.

IDF troops ordered the boy to walk in front of soldiers being fired on in the Gaza neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa and enter buildings before them, said the UN secretary-general's envoy for protecting children in armed conflict.

Radhika Coomaraswamy said the incident on Jan. 15, after Israeli tanks had rolled into the neighborhood, was a violation of Israeli and international law.

It was included in a 43-page report published Monday, and was just one of many verified human rights atrocities during the three-week war between Israel and Hamas that ended Jan. 18, she said.

4. From the Alternative Information Center (AIC) comes this report about a press conference held by the parents of Tristan Anderson in Jerusalem.

Excerpt: Tristan Anderson, an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement, was shot in the forehead by the Israeli border police during a non-violent demonstration on March 13th in the West Bank Palestinian village of Ni'ilin. Tristan's parents, Nancy and Michael Anderson, held a press conference today (March 23) at the Alternative Information Center (AIC) in Jerusalem to demand justice for their son.

“We are scared and really just in shock,” said Mrs. Anderson with tears in her eyes. “To shoot peaceful demonstrators is horrific to us. We ask that the Israeli government publically take full responsibility for shooting our son.” To date, the Anderson family has not been contacted by any representative of the Israeli government or military, a fact that attorney Michael Sfard, who also spoke at today's press conference, described at “shameful.”

Opening the press conference was Jonathan Pollack, a well-known Israeli activist and long-time friend of Tristan. Pollack updated journalists that Tristan's condition worsened this past weekend, and following emergency surgery, he is in a medically induced coma. Immediately following the shooting, Tristan underwent two brain surgeries in which part of his right frontal lobe and shattered bone fragments were removed. “We have been hanging between hope and despair, noted Pollack. “Tristan is fighting for his life, just as he has been fighting for justice his whole life.”

5. The current In These Times print edition features a dialogue between Naomi Klein and Rabbi Arthur Waskow about BDS (Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions). Rabbi Waskow has posted the edited dialogue on the Shalom Center site

NK: I think BDS does embody the future, because it says that Palestinian lives matter deeply. The asymmetry of so much of the discussion, the uproar about Israeli universities facing a boycott and the outrage of what that would mean in terms of freedom at the same time as Palestinian schools and universities are being bombed. When we reject that double standard, we are embodying the future we want. We are embodying it with measures that are indeed punitive.

AW: But what would have happened if Hampshire College had twinned itself with the university in Gaza and a university in Ramallah and had done its best to make real-life connections??

NK: Frankly, not as much as what is going to come of this. At Hampshire College there have been absolutely fantastic exchange and dialogue of all kinds, and I don't think that it has changed the economic and political dynamics, which are what need changing.

AW: I agree that that is what needs changing, but I don't think this is the way to do it. I don't think we're going to agree on which set of tactics are best, but I guess people are going to have to make up their own minds. I do think the goal has to be nothing is going to happen unless the policy of the United States changes.

NK: I agree with that. We just have a disagreement about how we get there. I think BDS changes the dynamic, because it inserts multiple other economic powers into the equation. It would put grassroots pressure on the Obama administration that could become hard to ignore. And also pressure within Israel. I certainly agree that it will piss off Israelis, but I also think we need to acknowledge that ignoring the call is an active position towards Palestinians, it's not a passive one.

Gaza Digest 39, 3/23/09

News Clips: On Saturday Israeli police prevented Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem from holding events to mark the city's designation as "capital of Arab culture" for 2009; There has been a break in the unity talks between Palestinian factions, but they will likely resume at the end of this week; Richard Falk, The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, has said Israel's military offensive on Gaza "would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law"; The dispute between the United States and Israel over the razing of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem is intensifying and will likely become the first clash between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

1. More on the testimonies from IDF soldier about Cast Lead—the first by Peter Beaumont in the Observer with more damning details from a report by Breaking the Silence that won't be released for another month, and the second a commentary by Gideon Levy in Haaretz about the moral bankruptcy of the IDF and the impossibility of a fair internal investigation. Already the propaganda campaign to staunch and undermine the soldiers' reports has begun. 

Excerpt: Although Breaking the Silence's report is not due to be published for several months, the testimony it has received already suggests widespread abuses stemming from orders originating with the Israeli military chain of command.

"This is not a military that we recognise," said Mikhael Manekin, one of the former soldiers involved with the group. "This is in a different category to things we have seen before. We have spoken to a lot of different people who served in different places in Gaza, including officers. We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given."

Manekin described how soldiers had reported their units being specifically warned by officers not to discuss what they had seen and done in Gaza.


Excerpt: Change will not come without a major change in mindset. Until we recognize the Palestinians as human beings, just as we are, nothing will change. But then, the occupation would collapse, God forbid. In the meantime, prepare for the next war and the horrific testimonies about the most moral army in the world.

2. A week after Tristan Anderson was severely injured by the IDF in Ni'lin, several American journalists went back to the village for the regular Friday demonstration against the wall—Roane Carey for the Nation and Isabel Kershner for the New York Times. The reports made me think of Rachel Corrie's words about “the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.”

“Palestinian Revolution?” Roane Carey, The Nation, 3/20/09 

Excerpt: The courage and steadfast resistance of the people of Ni'lin, and many other West Bank villages just like it that are fighting the wall's illegal annexation of their land, is truly remarkable. Every week, for years now, West Bank Palestinians have stood up against the world's fourth-most-powerful military machine, which shows no compunction about shooting unarmed demonstrators. This grassroots resistance--organized by the villagers themselves, not Fatah or Hamas--has gotten little publicity from the world media , which seem to prefer stories about Hamas rockets and the image of Palestinians as terrorists.

The village protests against the wall are inspiring, and not just because they've continued for so long, against such daunting odds. The villagers recognize the power and revolutionary potential of mass, unarmed resistance, and the shebab with their slingshots hearken back to the first intifada of the late 1980s and the "children of the stones," when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were directly involved in the struggle against the occupation. The Israeli government knows how difficult it is to suppress that kind of mass resistance, which is why it has used such brutality and provocation against the villagers. The army wants to shut this uprising down before it spreads, and would like nothing more than for the villagers to start using guns, as the IDF is certain to win a purely military confrontation. The other inspiration of this struggle is the courage and solidarity of the Israeli and ISM activists. They risk their lives day after day, and the villagers appreciate it. I saw signs in Ni'lin praising Tristan Anderson, who, just like Rachel Corrie six years ago, was willing to sacrifice his life for Palestinian justice.

“In Village, Palestinians Face Gas with Rocks,” Isabel Kershner, New York Times, 3/21//09 

Hassan Musa, a teacher in Nilin and a member of its Popular Committee that helps guide the protests, said the section now going up would separate the village from about 625 acres of its total of 1,750 acres of land. About 60 percent of the village's population of 5,000 lives off agriculture, Mr. Musa said.

Most of the barrier is made up of a wire fence flanked by barbed wire, a trench and patrol roads. In some urban areas, particularly around Jerusalem, it takes the form of a looming concrete wall.

Here it will be a fence, and the planners say there will be agricultural gates controlled by the army to allow farmers to reach their lands on the other side.

Several large Jewish settlements have grown up around Nilin, however. The villagers and their supporters are convinced that this barrier is not about security, but about the Israeli occupation and appetite for land.

One of the last focuses of regular Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in the West Bank, Nilin has paid a price in blood. Four villagers have been shot dead here since last summer. The youngest, Ahmed Musa, Mr. Musa's nephew, was 10.

Israeli security officials say they mostly use tear gas to deter the demonstrators, and open fire only when things get out of hand. They say they use rubber bullets as well as a low-caliber live bullet that is supposed to be fired at knee level or below.

International Solidarity Movement activists describe the rocks thrown by the protesters as “symbolic,” asserting that they generally do not reach the soldiers anyway.

One border police officer was lightly wounded in the leg by a rock on Friday. An army lieutenant colonel responsible for the Nilin area, who spoke on condition of anonymity under army rules, said at least 15 soldiers had been wounded here in the past few months.

The role of the foreign volunteers is a matter of debate. Some Israelis say their presence fans the flames of violence by egging on the Palestinian protesters. The foreigners mostly observe and videotape the security forces, something the Palestinians say leads the Israelis to act with greater restraint.

At the very least the foreigners are accused of protecting the Palestinian stone-throwers, acting as a kind of human shield.

Camilla Lundqvist, another Swedish activist, said she and her colleagues were “here in solidarity with the Palestinians.” The Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation inside their own village, she said.

Gaza Digest 37, 3/20/09

News Clips: Talks between rival Palestinian factions have concluded with no agreement on the formation of a government of national unity; Israel rounded up 10 Hamas leaders, including four Hamas lawmakers, a university professor and a former Hamas deputy prime minister, in the West Bank early Thursday, two days after indirect talks between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a deal to secure Shalit's release broke down; Sixteen judges and scholars who participated in war crimes commissions on the conflicts in Darfur and Rwanda sent an open letter calling on the United Nations to investigate alleged international law violations committed during the 22-day Cast Lead offensive in Gaza.

Two days ago I didn't realize the full importance of the Haaretz expose about the Operation Cast Lead soldiers' testimonies, probably because I had read the same kinds of details about civilian killings, home wrecking and other miseries on sites such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Electronic Intifada and so naively assumed they were common knowledge. But the fact that the soldiers are speaking publicly about what their orders were—shoot to kill civilians, throw all furniture out of occupied houses, etc.—has HUGE ramifications for potential international prosecutions of the commanding officers and higher ups who were responsible for these clearly illegal policies. And in Israel, the accounts have caused an uproar because they belie the commonly held belief that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world.” Haaretz will be running more of the soldiers' accounts over the coming days.

1. In yesterday's Haaretz it was reported that in response to the expose the IDF has ordered an investigation into the civilian killings

Excerpt: Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Military Police Investigation unit to launch the probe after soldiers were quoted as telling a military cadet academy that combat troops in Gaza fired at unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property during Operation Cast Lead.

2. And in the New York Times, Ethan Bronner reports on the implications in Israel of the Haaretz expose.

Excerpt: The testimonies by soldiers, leaked to the newspapers Maariv and Haaretz, appeared in a journal published by a military preparatory course at the Oranim Academic College in the northern town of Tivon. The newspapers promised to release more such anecdotal accounts on Friday, without saying how many.

The academy's director, Dany Zamir, told Israel Radio, “Those were very harsh testimonies about unjustified shooting of civilians and destruction of property that conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that he believed such incidents to be exceptions, adding, “The Israeli Army is the most moral in the world, and I know what I'm talking about because I know what took place in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq.”

It was clear that Mr. Zamir felt that his concerns, which he had raised earlier in a letter to the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, had not been taken seriously and that was why he published the testimonies.

Since the war ended, others have raised similar questions, generating a heated debate within military circles.

“According to the code, a soldier has to do his utmost to avoid civilian casualties and that involves taking some risk,” said Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor at Hebrew University who, along with three others, rewrote the military ethics code eight years ago. “That is the question we have to struggle with. From the testimonies of these soldiers, it sounds like they didn't practice this norm.”

Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old history graduate student in Jerusalem and a military reservist, said in an interview with The New York Times that he was stunned to discover the way civilian casualties were discussed in training discussions before his tank unit entered Gaza in January. "Shoot and don't worry about the consequences,” was the message from the top commanders, he said. Speaking of a lieutenant colonel who briefed the troops, Mr. Marmor said, “His whole demeanor was extremely gung ho. This is very, very different from my usual experience. I have been doing reserve duty for 12 years, and it was always an issue how to avoid causing civilian injuries. He said in this operation we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later.”

3. Two night ago when I was watching the evening news I was surprised to see a slick advertisement for travel to Israel (promoting the site: I couldn't find the ad on YouTube, but did find an older one with a similar message

4. This fits in interestingly with an article in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner about Israel's increasing isolation after the Gaza assault and the rightward turn in the elections. The article discusses the government's attempts to improve the country's image and to “rebrand.”

Excerpt: Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades.

Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel's embassy.

Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel's actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.

The issue has not gone unnoticed here, but it has generated two distinct and somewhat contradictory reactions. On one hand, there is real concern. Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel's image through cultural and information diplomacy.

“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the ministry's deputy director general for cultural affairs. “This way you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Some Israeli officials say they believe that what the country needs is to “rebrand” itself. They say Israel spends far too much time defending actions against its enemies. By doing so, they say, the narrative is always about conflict.

“When we show Sderot, others also see Gaza,” said Ido Aharoni, manager of a rebranding team at the Foreign Ministry. “Everything is twinned when seen through the conflict. The country needs to position itself as an attractive personality, to make outsiders see it in all its reality. Instead, we are focusing on crisis management. And that is never going to get us where we need to go over the long term.”

Mr. Gilboa, the political scientist, said branding was not enough.

“We need to do much more to educate the world about our situation,” he said. Regarding the extra $2 million budgeted for this, he said: “We need 50 million. We need 100 million.”

Gaza Digest 36, 3/19/09

News Clips: Negotiations for a prisoner swap involving Gilad Shalit and 450 imprisoned Hamas members failed; an Israeli Ministerial panel called for a further clamp down on the Gaza border and to strip Palestinian prisoners of rights in the wake of failed Shalit talks; Egypt opened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip for the second time in two months to allow medical aid and Palestinians to enter the coastal territory, and will keep the crossing open until Thursday.

1. Richard Silverstein writes on his blog Tikum Olam about the injuries sustained by American Tristan Anderson and the IDF spokeperson's explanation of the use of the tear gas canister that hit him.

Excerpt: No, I don't presume that IDF spokespeople read Kafka or Joseph Heller.  But they might as well.  The gobbledy-gook that passes for PR flackery from these people simply boggles the mind.

A few days ago, at the weekly anti-Separation Wall rally in Naalin, the IDF fired high velocity tear gas canisters at a lone American who was photographing the demonstration.  Tristan Anderson, an unarmed International Solidarity Movement volunteer, not engaging in aggressive action or behavior, became yet another bloody statistic in the battle against the Israeli Occupation.  He was hit in the head, ripping a hole in his skull, exposing parts of his brain, and likely rendering him brain-damaged.  He may also lose an eye.

While four Naalin villagers have been killed by IDF and Border Police action at these rallies, this is the first time an American has been severely injured.  Palestinian blood is cheap for Israel, but American blood is more expensive.  You've got all that nasty PR in U.S. media outlets and the Obama administration is liable to take a dim view of Israeli soldiers deliberately targeting U.S. citizens with lethal force.  Coincidentally, the last American killed by the IDF was Rachel Corrie, another ISM volunteer.

2. And you can watch Democracy Now's coverage of Tristan Anderson's story from earlier this week, including a powerful audio interview with Tristan's partner Gabrielle Silverman. She says that she thinks Kristin was targeted either because the IDF thought he was Palestinian or because they were firing at random into the crowd. She also says that it is our responsibility as Americans to take action against the violent occupation of the West Bank being bankrolled by the U.S.

Democracy Now report on Tristan
Part 1

Part 2

3. This straightforward and elegantly written report about graffiti left behind in Gazan homes by Israeli soldiers is from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, part of a series of personal testimonies about the aftermath of the Gaza assault.

Excerpt: At Mos'ab Dardona's home in Jabal Al Rayes, northeast Gaza, Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions in civilian houses in the area left behind intricate drawings on the walls, some depicting soldiers urinating on toppled mosques, or devouring Palestinian villages. In the house next door, belonging to Ibrahim Dardona, soldiers left behind dozens of bags of feces in the bedrooms, despite the presence of a functioning toilet, and left crude sexual diagrams on the walls.

“The writing left by Israeli soldiers in the homes in Gaza provides an insight into the disturbing culture of hatred and racism towards Palestinians and Arabs which exists among parts of Israeli society,” says Hamdi Shaqqura, PCHR's director of democratic development. “In light of the evidence PCHR has gathered of the willful and wanton killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, this graffiti is even more disturbing.”

The thousands of people who have been unable to return to what remains of their homes after Israel's offensive are hard to count precisely. Hastily erected refugee tent camps that are unsuitable at this time of year have been largely abandoned and internally displaced people have moved in with extended family members.

Others have had to move back into their partially destroyed homes, clear up the debris and sometimes the evidence of the deaths of loved ones, and try to get on with their lives.  The Dardona families have moved back into their houses, and are torn between unwillingness to destroy evidence of the behaviour of Israeli soldiers and reluctance to endure the constant reminders of the horrors that took place here. And there are similar cases in other parts of the Gaza Strip.

4. As a counterpoint to and corroboration of the PCHR report comes this article from Haaretz about Israeli soldiers describing what they did in Gaza—and it's not the official line. It makes clear the fact that they were given general orders to shoot to kill.

Excerpt: Initial testimonies given by Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers who fought in Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip earlier this year paints a grim picture of civilian deaths, deliberate destruction of Palestinian property and lenient orders to open fire.

Dozens of combat soldiers, graduates of the Oranim pre-military institute, gathered at their alma mater last month to relate their experiences during Operation Cast Lead.

Their on-the-ground testimonies are different from the army's official statements, in which the IDF insisted its forces paid heed to high moral standards in every sector.

In one testimony, a soldier describes an incident in which an IDF sniper killed a Palestinian woman and her two children.

"There was one house with a family in it... we put them into some room. Afterward, we left the house and another company went in, and a few days after we went in there was an order to release the family. We took our positions upstairs."

"There was a sniper position on the roof and the company commander released the family and told them to take a right," said the soldier. "One mother and her two children didn't understand, and they took a left. Someone forgot to notify the sniper on the roof that the family had been released, and that it was okay, it was fine, to hold fire, and he... you can say he acted as necessary, as he was ordered to."

Gaza Digest 34, 3/16/09

News Clips: Two Israeli police officers died Sunday evening from gunshots wounds sustained while on patrol near the settlement of Masu'a, in the northern West Bank; A group of former senior American officials and one current adviser are calling on President Obama to talk with Hamas in an effort to disarm the group and persuade it to join a peaceful Palestinian government; Israel has agreed to free all 450 of the prisoners demanded by Hamas in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and the dispute now revolves around Israel's demand that some of these prisoners be deported rather than returned home; Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu was speeding up his coalition negotiations and, close to midnight Sunday, initialed an agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, which would make Avigdor Lieberman foreign minister.

1. On Friday at the weekly N'ilin demonstration against the separation wall, an American protester from Oakland was hit in the head with a tear-gas canister. There have been numerous reports of the incident and its implications—The Guardian, the New York Times, and Indy Bay reports are included here because they all take different angles. Apparently the injured man, Tristan Anderson, was a friend of many in CODEPINK in S.F./Bay Area—he was one of the Berkeley tree sitters. As of early this morning his condition was upgraded to stable from serious.

“Israelis Firing ‘Live Rounds' at West Bank Protesters,” Peter Beaumont, Guardian, 3/15/09 

Excerpt: Israeli armed forces and border police used the cover of the war against Hamas in Gaza to reintroduce the firing of .22 rifle bullets - as well as the extensive use of a new model of tear-gas canister - against unarmed demonstrators in the Occupied West Bank protesting at the building of Israel's "separation wall".

The tactics were highlighted on Friday, when a US protester, Tristan Anderson, 38, was hit in the head by one of the new extended-range gas canisters in the village of Ni'ilin, suffering an open wound in his skull and substantial brain damage. Anderson's friend, Gabrielle Silverman, claims he was struck by a canister fired from a high-velocity rifle. The Israeli military says stone-throwing "poses a threat to troops", and several officers have been injured by rocks.

American Badly Hurt in Clash With Israeli Military, New York Times/Associated Press, 3/13/09

Excerpt: An American demonstrator was critically wounded Friday in a clash between protesters and Israeli troops over Israel's West Bank separation barrier.
Peace activists with the International Solidarity Movement said Tristan Anderson, of the Oakland, Calif., area, was struck in the head with a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops. The military and the Tel Aviv hospital where Anderson was taken had no details on how he was hurt.

Tristan Anderson Critically Injured in Demonstration Against Israeli Wall, Indybay

Excerpt: Tristan is a dedicated activist and reporter who has long been committed to social and environmental justice in the U.S. and abroad in places such as Oaxaca, Iraq, and Palestine. Tristan has posted his reports to Indybay since 2001.

2. Today is the 6th Anniversary of Rachel Corrie's death. Rachel was the International Solidarity Movement volunteer who was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The article below from Haaretz  reports that bulldozer-maintenance personnel (working on these very same Caterpillar machines) are being conscripted into the IDF as reservists.

The Israel Defense Forces is planning to draft civilian bulldozer-maintenance personnel for reserve duty, marking the first time the army will be conscripting the staff of a private firm in wartime.

Although the Armament Corps is generally responsible for maintaining combat vehicles, much of the work on the Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer is being done by the company that represents Caterpillar in Israel because it is so complex. But as civilians, company staff have not been allowed onto the front lines. A deal in the works would give the maintenance staff the status of reservist soldiers, who would then be able to fix the machines during combat if necessary.

"We work with the IDF very closely," said Yossi Smira, director of Zoko Shiluvim, which owns the Israeli company that supplies the armored bulldozer. "During Operation Cast Lead and before, during the Second Lebanon War, our staff essentially volunteered, and were nearly at the front in order to care for the equipment. Sometimes they risked their lives."

The D9 undergoes major changes for use by the army, including the installation of a position for a heavy machine gun and a bulletproof cabin for the driver.

In recent years, Caterpillar has been severely criticized by pro-Palestinian groups because of the use the IDF is making of the D9. The IDF has been using the bulldozers since the mid-1980s, to pave the way for armored columns through heavily fortified areas. The bulldozers are also used to prepare protective ramparts for IDF forces inside enemy territory.

The army has made extensive use of the bulldozers in razing homes in the Gaza Strip, as it did in this winter's Operation Cast Lead, though they are deployed on all fronts. The IDF has hundreds such bulldozers in its arsenal.

3. Richard Falk, the U.N. special envoy to the occupied territories who was barred entry to Israel late last year, has written an article about Israel's War Crimes in the March issue of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Excerpt: There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks. This blockade was widely, and correctly, viewed as collective punishment in a form that violated Articles 33 and 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing the conduct of an occupying power in relation to the civilian population living under occupation. This policy was itself condemned as a crime against humanity, as well as a grave breach of international humanitarian law.

It also had resulted in serious nutritional deficiencies and widespread mental disorders on the part of the entire Gaza population, leaving it particularly vulnerable to the sort of “shock and awe” attack mounted by Israel from land, air and sea. This vulnerability was reinforced by Israel's unwillingness to allow Gaza civilians to seek safety while the tiny Strip was under such intense combat pressure. Two hundred non-Palestinian wives were allowed to leave, which underscored the criminality of locking children, women, the sick, elderly and disabled into the war zone, and showed its ethnically discriminatory character. This appears to be the first time in wartime conditions that a civilian population was denied the possibility of becoming refugees.

Gaza Digest 33, 3/13/09

News Clips: About $900 million pledged by the United States to the Palestinians will be withdrawn if the unity coalition government between Fatah and Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist; Hamas leaders issued rare criticism Thursday of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the strip, saying now is the wrong time for such attacks.

1. Updates on the story of the suit by the Al-Samouni family from Haaretz and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights explain that the case had been filed on the family's behalf by a lawyer who was not their legal representative and so has been dropped.

Excerpt: A Gaza family that lost 29 relatives to Operation Cast Lead, which also left 45 family members injured and their home destroyed, on Tuesday asked that a lawsuit that had been filed in their name for NIS 851 million be withdrawn. The lawsuit names Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as respondents.

The suit was filed in the Nazareth District Court by attorney Mohammed Fukra on behalf of the Samouni family.

However, family members told Haaretz on Tuesday that they had not signed power of attorney over to Fukra, and that they are being represented by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza.


Excerpt: The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has discovered that Mohammed Fuqara, a Palestinian lawyer residing in Israel, has filed a case in Nazareth District Court on behalf of the al-Samouni family that lost 27 of its members during the recent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.

According to media reports, Fuqara is claiming to be the legal representative of members of the Samouni family and is currently pursuing legal proceedings to seek compensation on their behalf. PCHR reiterates it is the only legal representative of the al-Samouni family, as per the power of attorney that has been granted to PCHR by the family.

PCHR acknowledges the value of attempts made by individuals or institutions to indemnify Palestinian civilians and seek compensation for material and human damages they have incurred. But the primary motivation of any such attempts must first be to investigate violations against the civilians, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to prosecute them, rather than simply to seek compensation.

Consequently, PCHR expresses its deep concern about cases being filed to seek financial compensation in the absence of simultaneous criminal investigations.

2. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights also released a press advisory with detailed casualty figures from the Gaza offensive as well as a list of recommendations for action by the international community.

Excerpt: Over the course of the 22-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, a total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed. Of these, 235 were combatants. The vast majority of the dead, however, were civilians and non-combatants: protected persons according to the principles of IHL. PCHR investigations confirm that, in total, 960 civilians lost their lives, including 288 children and 121 women. 239 police officers were also killed; the majority (235) in air strikes carried out on the first day of the attacks. The Ministry of Health has also confirmed that a total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured in the assault, including 1,606 children and 828 women.

The excessively disproportionate civilian death toll, and Israel's conduct of hostilities – including, inter alia, indiscriminate attacks, willful killing, the extensive destruction of property, target selection, the lack of precautions taken in attack, the excessive use of force, and the use of weapons such as white phosphorous in civilian areas – demand effective judicial redress. Many of the cases documented by PCHR constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and war crimes. The widespread and apparently systematic violations of customary IHL witnessed in the Gaza Strip may also amount to a crime against humanity.

3. Meanwhile in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers make nightly raids in Palestinian communities, and, as this article from Electronic Intifada describes, settlers use violence to intimidate Palestinian villagers.

Excerpt: Currently the West Bank is effectively divided into three cantons by military checkpoints and the settlements. Palestinian towns and villages are surrounded by Israeli settlements while swathes of their land have been confiscated to build settlers-only bypass roads.

While Israeli officials are furthering the facts-on-the-ground scenario through official government policies, an unofficial war between Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers over the continued land expropriation continues unabated.

"The settlers are carrying out a deliberate policy to try and drive us off our land and intimidate us into leaving so that they can take our land," said Hafez Hreini, 37, one of the villagers. Hreini's mother, 79-year-old Fatima, was left bleeding after a settler threw a rock at her head in another encounter with the settlers.

"It is very hard not to physically retaliate when you see people attack your elderly mother but I know if I had done anything back, the Israelis would have used this as an excuse to arrest me and a lot worse," Hreini told IPS. "So we are deliberately applying a policy of non-violence and we are determined to stay here and keep our land."

In 2006 the villagers lost over 100 sheep after the settlers sprayed pesticides on their grazing land. Several donkeys belonging to the village were stabbed to death. The village's water wells have also been poisoned on numerous occasions while crops have been set ablaze. The children of the village and the surrounding villages have been regularly attacked by the settlers as they try to make their way to school.

Gaza Digest 32, 3/12/09

News Clips: An anonymous U.S. Administration official told Israel Radio that despite the world financial crisis, U.S. President Barack Obama would not cut the $30 billion dollars in military aid promised to Israel over the next ten years; Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin said Wednesday he'll accept a major Dutch human rights prize by video conference after the Israeli Supreme Court banned him from traveling to the awards ceremony.

1. This article from Reuters details the seemingly arbitrary and changing restrictions that Israeli authorities are imposing on aid to Gaza, but also points out that the haggling over these items does nothing to push for a lasting peace settlement nor to gain access for construction materials and commercial goods that will be needed for rebuilding the devastated region.

Excerpt: But U.S. and Western officials complain the limited list of humanitarian goods that Israel allows into Gaza changes almost daily, creating major logistical problems for aid groups and donor governments which are unable to plan ahead.
Protests have been made to Israel via diplomatic channels, and have increased since last week's visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. and Western officials said.
"It is totally surreal," one European diplomat said of Israeli decision-making. "One day we had 600 kg (1,300 pounds) of pasta at the Kerem Shalom crossing but they said, 'Today, pasta can't go in'."
Another Western diplomat said: "It's ever-changing. One week jam is okay and the next week it's not."
In addition to soap and toilet paper, the officials cited restrictions that come and go on imports of certain types of cheeses, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

2. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hillary Clinton announced last week a new U.S. sponsored scholarship program for Palestinian students, but it remains to be seen if Israel will allow the 25 students who are awarded the “opportunity grants” to leave Gaza and the West Bank to attend American universities, or even if the U.S. will grant them visas. (If you want to make yourself heartsick, check out the reader comments posted at the end of the article.)

Excerpt: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced a new million-dollar scholarship program to help Palestinian students enroll at Palestinian and American universities.

Mrs. Clinton announced the Middle East Partnership Initiative during a visit to this Palestinian town last week. The four-year program will support about 10 scholarships each year for disadvantaged students to attend four-year courses at Palestinian universities. The program will also offer 25 “opportunity grants” to enable promising but disadvantaged young Palestinians to apply to American-accredited institutions in the United States or the Middle East, a State Department official told The Chronicle.

3. Al Jazeera reports that some surviving members of the Al Samouni family are suing Israeli government officials for the deaths of their relatives.

Excerpt: A Palestinian family is suing Ehud Olmert, Israel's outgoing prime minister, and other government officials over the deaths of their relatives during the recent assault on Gaza.

The al-Samouni family, which saw 29 of its members killed in the conflict, filed the case in Jerusalem on Tuesday, seeking $200m in damages for "criminal negligence".

More than 1,300 Palestinians died during Israel's three-week war last December and January, one-third of them children.

The al-Samounis say Israeli soldiers raided their homes in the middle of the conflict, and moved the extended family together into one house.

According to the survivors' accounts, partly corroborated by the International Red Cross and the United Nations, shells and missiles fired by the Israeli military hit the house the following day, leaving 29 people dead.

"This was a barbaric action. They said that there was resistance here, and I don't know what. But there was no resistance," Naela al-Samouni, one of the survivors, said.

4. On the website of the BBC you can see a slide show of Samouni Street with accompanying quotations from the surviving members of the al-Samouni family.

Excerpt: [16-year-old] Ahmed now lives nearby. He was passing the site where his brothers died, as well as his own destroyed home, after buying bread.

"I used to sleep here. That was my brother's bedroom," he says.

Mental health workers say he is able to talk about his experiences but not to connect them with his emotions, and may never fully recover.

"I feel I have nobody left from my family. I feel nothing is left for me in this life," he says.

5. And finally—more on the Chas Freeman debacle. Richard Silverstein talks in his blog about AIPAC's claims that they had taken no public stand on Freeman's nomination, but then Silverstein outlines some damning details on all the behind the scenes shenanigans AIPAC pulled.

Excerpt: One of the major themes of those denouncing Freeman is the supposed virulence of his supposed anti-Israel views. What they really mean is that Freeman is anti-Occupation and not anti-Israel. But when attacking the Jimmy Carters and Chas. Freemans of this world it's all too convenient to conflate Israel and the Occupation. But they are not the same.

Chas. Freeman has NEVER written or said anything “anti-Israel.” But he is opposed to Israel's POLICIES. And for Aipac and the Israel Firsters there is no difference. That's why it's so important for peace-affirming Jews to stake out territory that distinguishes clearly between Israel the nation and its woeful current crop of leaders and their abysmal policies. It is us Jews who are the true pro-Israel contingent. It is OUR view of the conflict (and that of hundreds of thousands of Israelis as well) that will bring peace between the warring peoples.

Gaza Digest 31, 3/11/09

News Clips: Interpol says it is studying a request from Iran for 25 Israeli officials to be placed on its most-wanted list over Israel's offensive in Gaza; The Israeli Supreme Court has banned Shawan Jabarin, the West Bank-based director of Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq, from travelling to the Netherlands Friday to receive the Geuzenpenning Prize on behalf of his organization; Battered by years of Palestinian rocket attacks, the southern Israeli town of Sderot opened a heavily fortified indoor playground on Tuesday that will give its traumatized children a safe place to play. And the AP wire put out a story about Alice Walker and the CODEPINK delegation to Gaza (Alice Walker: Catastrophe has Struck Gaza) that was picked up by many newspapers, among them the Chicago Tribune.

1. This interview with UNICEF's Ann Veneman is full of sad details about the state of children in the Gaza strip after the Israeli assault. 

Excerpt: Classrooms were devastated by the attacks and UNICEF has provided tents to facilitate continued learning. Education is very important to children, creating a sense of normalcy and routine.

Due to the severe damage to six PA schools in northern Gaza, 4,711 students were relocated to seven other PA schools, leading to overcrowding and double shifts. Prior to the hostilities, 151 schools out of 351 were already working in double shifts due to restrictions imposed on construction materials needed to build additional schools.

Concrete, cement and other construction materials have not been allowed into Gaza since 5 November, hindering major repairs to damaged schools, hospitals and houses, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA]. School repairs, education supplies and psychosocial support for children remain a priority in the education sector.

In the past week, 50 Early Childhood Development Kits and 57 boxes of children's toys from UNICEF were prevented from being transported to Gaza by the Israeli authorities. According to COGAT, the Israeli civil-military liaison body, the toys were not a humanitarian priority.

2. With the The Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs leading the charge (with the help of some Republican neo-cons), the “pro-Israel” lobby scored another victory—they managed to torpedo the appointment of Charles (Chas) Freeman as the new chairman of the National Intelligence Council because he had in the past expressed criticism of Israel's policies in the West Bank. I had been following the story on various blogs and sites (on Friday it was reported that Chuck Schumer was ready to throw Freeman under the bus), and saw this evening that it was too late for action. This article from Haaretz reports that Freeman withdrew his name from consideration.

Excerpt: Charles (Chas) Freeman, who was slated to be picked as the new chairman of the National Intelligence Council, withdrew his candidacy for the post on Tuesday.

The move was announced in Washington by Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence. Since news of Freeman's nomination, Jewish organizations have leveled criticism at the pick due to his history of opposition to Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories.

3. But Freeman did not go quietly—he released a statement along with his withdrawal. You can find the statement in full on Lauren Rozen's blog on Foreign Policy online

Excerpt: The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful  lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.  The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.  The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors. 

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.  I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.  It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so.  This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States. 

The outrageous agitation that followed the leak of my pending appointment will be seen by many to raise serious questions about whether the Obama administration will be able to make its own decisions about the Middle East and related issues.  I regret that my willingness to serve the new administration has ended by casting doubt on its ability to consider, let alone decide what policies might best serve the interests of the United States rather than those of a Lobby intent on enforcing the will and interests of a foreign government.

Gaza Digest 30, 3/10/09

News Clips: CODEPINK delegation arrived in Gaza in time for International Women's Day on Sunday and the Viva Palestinia convoy entered through Rafah crossing on Monday; new opinion poll showed that Hamas's popularity among Palestinians has risen sharply since Israel's three-week assault on Gaza last month; Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad submitted his resignation, which could speed the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government; Gilad Shalit's father and other protestors are camped outside Barak's residence in Jerusalem calling on him to secure Gilad's release before leaving office; The Israeli military imposed a three-day closure on the West Bank, banning Palestinians from entering Israel during Purim.

1. Interesting interview from AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development) with Eilat Maoz, one of the General Coordinators of the Coalition of Women for Peace, an Israeli organization that works for peace in Israel and Palestine.

Excerpt: EM: What is most important, I think, is to remember that the political framework - one state or two - is less important than its content. The main question is how the principles of equal citizenship, democratic participation and social justice will be manifested in whatever state or states eventually appear in the Israeli/Palestinian region. So we struggle for those very basic values – for today, tomorrow and the future years.

2. Amira Hass, who was ordered out of Gaza by Hamas in December, is back on the ground reporting there. This article from Haaretz tells the stories of several families at the eastern edge of the city of Jabalya.

Excerpt: The soldiers ordered the five people to go into one room and stay there. They let them take some food: bread, olives, oil, water. They confiscated the mobile phones when they saw Na'ama holding one: "You want to call your brother to come with Hamas, to shoot at us," said one of the soldiers. "Liar," they said a lot, as well as "shut up, you donkey," in broken Arabic. They imitated her mockingly when she said "Ya Rab" ("Oh God"). The five prisoners could not pray, as they were not allowed to clean themselves up before prayer and were forbidden to stand up. They were given two blankets, which were not enough, especially because the windows were smashed and the door was always open. A soldier always sat next to the door aiming his rifle at them. All five still have colds.

"You'll come out when we leave," was the answer given to Na'ama after she asked them to contact the Red Cross. Apparently, one soldier spoke fluent Arabic, another could speak some and others knew a phrase or two.

Was there anyone among the soldiers who was a little bit nice? "To my regret, no," Na'ama says. In a number of other houses or neighborhoods people who preferred not to flee encountered some soldiers who were somewhat courteous. In none of the other houses were people forbidden to use the toilet, but the men's hands were bound for two or three days. There are houses where the captives had no food for two or three days or no water for hours. "We don't have food either," said the soldiers in Izbet Abed Rabbo.

Soldiers broke down doors of grocery stores and helped themselves to candy and snacks. There were some who handed out candy to children; sometimes soldiers asked a child whom they forced to accompany them, as a human shield, to hand it out.

3. Meanwhile in the West Bank, settlement expansion and settler violence continue. The Alternative Information Center for Israel/Palestine released a report on settler violence for January and February. 

Excerpt: 1st of January. Near the village of Nahhaleen an Israeli Army Officer issued order n. 29-08-T for the confiscation of an area of 10 dunam. The land will be used to create a connection between the settlements of Beitar 'Ilit and Gav'ot, in the area of Kfar Etzion Settlement Bloc. According to local sources the road will cut the area of Nahhaleen village into two parts, so the farmers will need special permission to go to work on their lands on the other side of the road. Research done on the maps made by ARIJ show that the number of dunam involved in the road project will be more than 10, that is 18. These actions will isolate 4,400 dunam of the village. (source: al-Yyam newspaper, 14 January)

9 February. Near Husan village (West of Bethlehem), Ali Mahfoouz Hamamreh, 15 years old, was injured in the right leg. A settler shot at him while he was walking on the road between his village and the settlement of Beitar 'Ilit.  The child was taken to Beit Jala Hospital, where his medical conditions were defined "difficult." The AIC met the family of the child, which stated that the settlers often attack people walking on that road and the habitations of the area. The most typical attacks are firing guns and throwing of stones against homes and people.

Gaza Digest 29, 3/6/09

News Clips: Palestinian militants on Thursday evening fired a Grad rocket that struck a synagogue in the southern town of Netivot, causing light damage to the building; The Israel Air Force retaliated shortly after the attack, striking four smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip; a Palestinian bulldozer driver rammed his vehicle into a police car and an empty bus, injuring two police officers in Jerusalem, and was subsequently shot and killed; this was labeled in the Israeli press as a “terrorist attack.”

1. Things are shifting in the U.S. government's stance towards Israel and Palestine, as evidenced by this article detailing a speech Senator John Kerry made following his return from a visit to the region. This sentence gives hope: "Nothing will do more to make clear our seriousness about turning the page than demonstrating -- with actions rather than words -- that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank," Kerry said. 

Excerpt: WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Call it a three-legged stalking horse: rapid progress toward a two-state solution, penalties for settlement expansion and engagement with Syria even as it remains in Iran's sphere.

They were the key suggestions for advancing Middle East peace outlined by U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in a speech Wednesday following his visit to the region.

Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized alacrity throughout the speech.

"There is a window of opportunity that we must seize by showing, with actions more than words, that it will not just be business as usual in the Middle East," he said.

Kerry said he would detail his recommendations in a private meeting with President Obama.

2. Last night Adalah-NY and Anti-Zionist Jewish activists in NY staged a dance protest outside BAM while the Bat Sheva Dance Company performed inside. News of the planned protest made the pages of Haaretz

Excerpt: Protesters in New York were set on Thursday evening to demonstrate against an upcoming performance by the Israeli Bat Sheva dance company with a dance of their own.

The dance protest, titled Freedom Dabke vs. Batsheva Dance Company (after the traditional Eastern Mediterranean folk dance), will also feature anti-Apartheid songs, and a performance by the hip-hop artist Invincible. It was to be staged as part of a bid by pro-Palestinian groups to rally support for a boycott of the Israeli dance troupe's show at Brooklyn's Howard Gilman Opera House.

Far-left organizations this week plan to mark the "Israeli Apartheid Week" in 42 cities worldwide, and some groups have called for the protest against the performance, despite artistic director Ohad Naharin's identification with Israel's left and criticism of Israeli policy regarding Palestinians.

3. The latest issue of the respected British Medical Journal Lancet is devoted to health in the Palestinian territories. . A piece from the BBC reports the predictable Israeli government response, but the articles in Lancet make the case that, "Hope for improving health and quality of life of Palestinians will exist only once people recognise that the structural and political conditions that they endure in the occupied Palestinian territory are the key determinants of population health.” 

Excerpt: The Lancet medical journal report highlights how 10% of Palestinian children now have stunted growth.

The paper describes the healthcare system in the Palestinian territories as "fragmented and incoherent".

An Israeli government spokesperson said the Lancet had failed to seek its view, and said many Palestinians had accessed medical care in the country.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, called the report one-sided.

He said: "This is propaganda in the guise of a medical report."

Experts from Birzeit University say death rates among children and expectant mothers have failed to decline in recent years.

The plateau is in spite of good ante-natal care and high rates of child immunisation.

Dr Hanan Abdul Rahim said: "There are gaps in care. There's a low level of post-natal care and often it's not given in a timely manner.

"Mortality rates among infants and under-fives haven't declined much. This is unusual when compared with other Arab countries that used to have similar rates but have managed to bring them down.

"The trend for stunting among children is increasing, and the concern is about the long-term effects. It is caused by chronic malnutrition, and affects cognitive development and physical health.

"There are pockets in northern Gaza where the level of stunted growth reaches 30%.

"It's very important that women and children have access to quality care."

Dr Rahim's paper mentions a previously published report from the UN, which says more than 60 Palestinian women have given birth at Israeli checkpoints and 36 of their babies have died as a result.

Gaza Digest 28, 3/5/09

News Clips: Great Britain decided to cancel the transfer of its Tel Aviv embassy to a building owned by Africa-Israel (Lev Leviev's company) because of the company's role in building West Bank settlements; Israel has increased the range of goods (jams, pasta, paper) permitted into the Gaza Strip as a farewell gesture to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Israel is preventing the director general of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, from travelling to the Netherlands to accept a human rights prize.

1. I was feeling rather down about the political process unfolding in Palestine/Israel these past few days, in large part because of items 2 & 3 below, but then I read this blog post by Bernard Avishai in which he deconstructs four major statements that Hillary Clinton made in the past few days and interprets them in a positive light, saying that Netanyahu's main opposition is now based in D.C., which is precisely where it needs to be.

Excerpt: First, Clinton said that the immediate priority is to get to a cease-fire in Gaza, and she's helped raise $4.4 billion for Gaza reconstruction. She and Obama have also reportedly received a letter from Hamas through Senator Kerry, and has been quietly encouraging talks that might lead to a "unity" Palestinian government. Clinton is, appropriately, condemning the continuing missile attacks, but has also emphasized the need to get the border open. Translation: America will not support a new attack on Gaza, ostensibly for the purpose of changing the regime there.

Second, Clinton's announced that American diplomats were going to proceed to Damascus, and she's emphasized the need to create a regional alliance to counter a possible Iranian threat. Not coincidentally, while she's been in Jerusalem, President Obama's letter to Russia's Medvedev (suggesting a shelving of missile defense in return for help on Iranian nukes) was leaked. Translation: America will deal with Iran diplomatically and will not tolerate any preemptive military strike by Israel.

Third, Clinton contradicted Netanyahu's idea that an economic peace could lay the ground for a political settlement some time in the future, emphasizing (correctly,) that there can be no economic take-off in Palestine without a political settlement--also that Abbas' Palestinian Authority, weakened as it is, is peace's "partner." Translation: America will not tolerate delay in pursuing a two-state solution; that the inertia of the status quo, in effect, plays right into the hands of Hamas, on the one hand, and the settlers, on the other.

Fourth, and perhaps most daring, Clinton announced American opposition to planned house demolitions in Jerusalem as contravening Senator Mitchell's Roadmap--demolitions (as I've written about before) in Silwan. Translation: America regards East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state, and further Israeli efforts at prejudicing Arab residency in Jerusalem as incendiary.

2. In an angry and almost despairing piece in yesterday's Haaretz, Amira Hass said “the extent of the funding pledged to the Palestinian Authority by donor countries reflects the extent of their support for Israel and its policies.” 

Excerpt: Every cent paid to the Palestinians - whether for the Ramallah government's budget or medical treatment of children wounded by Israeli pilots or soldiers - lets Israel know that it can continue its efforts to force a capitulation deal on the Palestinian elite. Only by recognizing that surrender is the goal can one understand that 16 years after Oslo, no Palestinian state was established. When did Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and Tzipi Livni begin talking about two states? Only after their bulldozers and military bureaucrats crushed the realistic physical basis of a Palestinian state. And this basis is: June 4, 1967 land (including East Jerusalem), Gaza - an inseparable part of the state - and zero settlements (and that applies to Gilo and Ma'aleh Adumim).

During the 1990s it was still possible to describe donations to the Palestinians as an expression of confidence and hope in Israel's readiness to free itself of the occupation regime it had created. But not in 2009. Support for Israeli policy - this is the only way to understand the fact that other countries keep pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars meant to put out the fires set by this policy, without extinguishing the source of the blaze.

3. This piece from Electronic Intifada argues that Hamas cannot meet the preconditions set by “The Quartet” and Hillary Clinton before negotiations begin, and that by effectively sidelining Hamas Clinton has sabotaged Palestinian unity negotiations. It is a companion, in a way, to the Amira Hass piece above that points out the apparent bankruptcy of the current “peace process.”

Excerpt: For Palestinians to "renounce violence" under these conditions is to renounce the right to self-defense, something no occupied people can do. Palestinians will certainly note that while Abbas stands impotently by, neither the US nor the EU have rushed to the defense of the peaceful, unarmed Palestinians shot at daily by Israeli occupation forces as they try to protect their land from seizure in the West Bank. Nor has Abbas' renunciation of resistance helped the 1,500 residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan whose homes Israeli occupation authorities recently confirmed their intention to demolish in order to make way for a Jewish-themed park. A cessation of violence must be mutual, total and reciprocal -- something Hamas has repeatedly offered and Israel has stubbornly rejected.

While Israeli violence is tolerated or applauded, Israel's leaders are not held to any political preconditions. Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu emphatically rejects a sovereign Palestinian state and -- like his predecessors -- rejects all other Palestinian rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions. When told to stop building illegal settlements on occupied land, Israel responds simply that this is a matter for negotiation and to prove the point it revealed plans in February to add thousands of Jewish-only homes to its West Bank colonies.

Yet Quartet envoy Tony Blair, asked by Al-Jazeera International on 1 March how his masters would deal with a rejectionist Israeli government, said, "We have to work with whoever the Israeli people elect, let's test it out not just assume it won't work." Unless Palestinians are considered an inferior race, the same logic ought to apply to their elected leaders, but they were never given a chance.

It is ludicrous to demand that the stateless Palestinian people unconditionally recognize the legitimacy of the entity that dispossessed them and occupies them, that itself has no declared borders and that continues to violently expand its territory at their expense. If Palestinians are ever to recognize Israel in any form, that can only be an outcome of negotiations in which Palestinian rights are fully recognized, not a precondition for them.

During last year's US election campaign, Clinton claimed she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland during her husband's administration. Yet the conditions she now imposes on Hamas are exactly like those that the British long imposed on the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, thereby blocking peace negotiations. President Bill Clinton -- against strenuous British objections -- helped overturn these obstacles by among other things granting a US visa to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, whose party the British once demonized as Israel now demonizes Hamas. Like Tony Blair, who as British prime minister first authorized public talks with Sinn Fein, Hillary Clinton knows that the negotiations in Ireland could not have succeeded if any party had been forced to submit to the political preconditions of its adversaries.

4. And here is a beautiful micro animated film from the animation director of WALTZ WITH BASHIR that illustrates what it feels like to live in a “closed zone” like Gaza. 

Press Advisory about the film from Gisha, a human rights organization that defends the right to freedom of movement of Palestinians through legal and public advocacy. 

Excerpt: Over the past 20 months, Israel has tightened its closure of the Gaza Strip, almost completely restricting the passage of goods and people both to and from the Strip. These policies, which punish innocent civilians with the goal of exerting pressure on the Hamas government, violate Gaza residents' freedom of movement, which is a basic precondition for their ability to exercise other basic rights.

Gisha calls on the State of Israel to fully open the Gaza Strip's crossings and to allow Gaza residents the freedom of movement necessary to pursue their dreams.

Gaza Digest 27, 3/3/09

News Clips: International donors pledged $5 billion to rebuild Gaza; Israel demolished two Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem on Monday; Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel for much anticipated talks set for Tuesday; last year, despite the Israeli army's efforts to increase enlistment rates and despite compulsory national service for all 18-year-olds, 25.8 percent of 18-year-old men and 44 percent of women did not enlist, and the army expects these rates to rise in the coming years as more Orthodox young people are exempted for religious reasons; Gaza rockets hit the southern town of Ashkelon, where parents barred entrance to schools they deemed not properly fortified to protect their children.

1. The latest report about the Palestinian village of Bi'lin, which a few weeks ago marked four years of weekly non-violent protests against the Separation Wall and the encroaching settlements, details the weaponry, from tear gas to rubber bullets, which are used against the unarmed protesters.

Excerpt: Down the road in Burnat's house his wife says the soldiers come often. Their four year old daughter Manar says she is frightened at night when they break in, particularly when they “come to take Daddy.” But her plans for the future? The tiny girl with bright, excited eyes who sports a faux gold “M” around her neck says, “I want to be a doctor to help all of the injured people and the people who get sick from the gas.”

2. This is very sad piece from the BBC about the young men of Gaza who are either furious and joining armed factions or despairing of any meaningful future, or both. 

Excerpt: Dr Iyad Sarraj has worked for 30 years as a psychiatrist in Gaza and carried out numerous studies.

He says children who have seen their fathers disempowered often adopt other figures or power and authority - ultimately the militant fighter or "martyr".

Thus, he says, the generation that saw their fathers beaten by Israeli troops during the stone-throwing of the first Palestinian intifada grew up to become the suicide bombers of the second intifada.

3. According to this article by Shir Hever, Israeli businesses are beginning to feel the negative effects of the assault on Gaza as countries and corporations cut off economic ties. He cites several articles from The Marker, an Israeli magazine that covers business news.

Excerpt: On 6 February, Shuki Sadeh wrote about even more companies that have decided to boycott relations with Israel. A Turkish company demanded that Israeli companies sign a document condemning the Israeli massacre in Gaza before they can offer their services for it. Sadeh quoted Naomi Klein's recent call for boycott, the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott and Israeli organizations that support the boycott and provide information for the global BDS movement. Sadeh's article also had concerned quotes by Israeli businessmen who demanded government intervention to protect them from the growing boycott.

4. Blog coverage of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum with a panel discussion among representatives of “mainstream” pro-Israeli Jewish groups the Anti-Defamation League and the (super scary) Endowment for Middle East Truth and newcomer, J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, represented by its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Excerpt: The Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum's Sunday discussion of "How Big a Tent for Pro-Israel Advocacy?" marked the debut of a new face inside the tent. It was the first time the 10-month-old J Street, which has marketed itself as an alternative to what it feels is the more hawkish views of mainstream Jewish organizations, had been invited to participate in a conference held by one of those mainstream groups.

Ben-Ami, though, said the community can only benefit from bringing more people into the discussion, saying that young Jews are turned off when they are given just one opinion on the conflict and that Hillels and other such groups should have programs, for instance, that include both a representative from the Israeli consulate and a conscientious objector from the IDF.

"There is a very, very serious anti-israel movement" in the country and "the best answer to it is for the Jewish community to be far more open," he said. "There will be more people in our camp if we allow people to hear debate, openness, and criticism, rather than prepackaged answers."

Gaza Digest 26, 3/2/09

News Clips: A Spanish court announced a decision on Friday to go ahead with an investigation against senior Israeli officials over alleged war crimes; Secretary of State Clinton faced criticism from some Jewish Americans (such as Mort Zuckerman) for pressuring Israel to speed up the delivery of aid to Gaza; the U.S. will boycott the Durban 2 Summit on racism after having walked out of a planning session over a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism; Middle East Envoy Tony Blair visited Gaza over the weekend and urged Israel to lift the blockade; Hillary Clinton reiterated the U.S.'s firm stand on a two-state solution; U.S. pledges Gazans $300m to rebuild and Abbas government $600m but Hamas is bypassed.

1. From the Guardian—The International Criminal Court in The Hague weighs war crimes charges against Israel.

Excerpt:  The international criminal court is considering whether the Palestinian Authority is "enough like a state" for it to bring a case alleging that Israeli troops committed war crimes in the recent assault on Gaza.

The deliberations would potentially open the way to putting Israeli military commanders in the dock at The Hague over the campaign, which claimed more than 1,300 lives, and set an important precedent for the court over what cases it can hear.

2. The Chief Executive of the British Red Cross writes about the massive destruction that he witnessed during his tour of Gaza, and says that the humanitarian efforts of organizations like his will count for little without a sustainable peace. 

Excerpt: Our mandate requires us to provide aid on the basis of need, and need alone, without recourse to ideology, politics or difference. But from political actors an honest and courageous peace process is required: to stop the destruction of thousands of civilian lives and to enable people to rebuild their communities and live with dignity. We will continue to fulfill our mandate. I urge the politicians and world leaders to fulfill theirs.

3. This article from Haaretz about proposed new Israeli homes in the West Bank highlights the need for the Obama Administration to put its collective foot down about subsidizing the occupation and Israel's rush to change the “facts on the ground” (i.e. appropriating late and building settlements). 

Excerpt: A report by the Israeli left-wing NGO Peace Now released Monday says that the government is planning to build more than 73,300 new housing units in the West Bank.

Peace Now estimates that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100-percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers. The report says that some settlements, including the two largest Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, would double in size.

According to the report, approval has already been granted for the construction of 15,000 housing units, and is pending for a further 58,000 units.

The report states that 5,722 of the planned housing units are in East Jerusalem, and some 9,000 units in total have already been built.

4. A report from Al-Jazeera about a Palestinian general strike protesting land expropriation and threatened home demolitions in East Jerusalem.

Excerpt: A general strike to protest against Israel's plans to evict 1,500 Palestinians from their homes in the Silwan district of Jerusalem has paralysed much of the occupied West Bank. Shops and schools were closed and the streets were deserted as the strike was observed on Saturday.

Gaza Digest 25, 2/27/09

News Clips: Gaza militants fired two Qassam rockets into Israel on Thursday and in response, Israel Air Force jets bombed tunnels in Gaza, near the border with Egypt; George Mitchell arrived in Israel from Ankara, saying that Turkey has a unique role to play in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; In Cairo, the 12 Palestinian factions have agreed to establish five committees to address key issues for unity.

1. Yesterday I asked, “Wouldn't it be amazing to see [a call for negotiating with Hamas] in the New York Times?” A few hours later I read this article in the Times, that while not quite as bold or explicit as the London Times letter, calls for a more pragmatic approach to Hamas. 

Excerpt: The recent fighting in Gaza offered a potent reminder of the challenge Washington faces in mediating a dispute when the United States refuses to speak directly with some of the main players, including Hamas and Hezbollah, which it calls terrorist groups. Whether the United States has declined to speak with hostile groups because it considers them terrorists, or whether it slaps the terrorist label on groups it wants to sanction or marginalize, a battle over the term terrorist has become a proxy for the larger issues that divide Washington and the Arab public.

The perception gap, which grew wider when President George W. Bush declared his war on terror in 2001, was blown even further apart in Gaza, when most Arabs came away certain who the real terrorists were.

“Public opinion views what happened in Gaza as a kind of terrorism,” said Muhammad Shaker, a former Egyptian ambassador to Britain. “And on the other side, they see Hamas and other such organizations as groups who are trying to liberate their countries.”

Many here said they saw little distinction between Hamas's shooting rockets into civilian areas of Israel and Israel's shooting rockets into civilian areas of Gaza, even if Hamas militants were operating there or just hiding out.

2. An article from Znet about the only Palestinian woman in the Knesset and the toxic and racist environment she faces. 

Excerpt: Ms Zoubi said she will not be fazed. "The Knesset is always hostile to Arab Knesset members and we are well used to their racist language. Even the building shows us we are not welcome. Everywhere there are Jewish symbols - from the Star of David on the flag to the menorahs - that we as Palestinians cannot identify with."

Like other Palestinian citizens, she has watched the TV news bulletins showing Jewish legislators, even cabinet ministers, shouting down Arab legislators in the Knesset chamber and having them ejected.

The racist discourse that lies behind Knesset debates is a concern, she said. "It is frustrating and exhausting having always to be on the defensive about why I identify as a Palestinian, why I am not a Zionist, why the Jewish state is not democratic and cannot represent me, why I am entitled to citizenship. It is a Sisyphean labour."

Gaza Digest 24, 2/26/09

News Clips: A Hamas official said that a deal for the return of Gilad Shalit was quashed by the PA/Fatah because they believed it would weaken them; Israel opened some commercial border crossings yesterday morning to allow aid trucks and fuel into the territory; Clinton warned Israel that the U.S. is growing impatient with delays in allowing foreign aid into Gaza.

1. An amazing open letter from the London Times penned by former peace negotiators saying that Hamas needs to be included in peace talks. Can you imagine something like this in the New York Times? British Foreign Secretary David Millibrand echoed this opinion in an interview with Reuters 

Excerpt: We have learnt first-hand that there is no substitute for direct and sustained negotiations with all parties to a conflict, and rarely if ever a durable peace without them. Isolation only bolsters hardliners and their policies of intransigence. Engagement can strengthen pragmatic elements and their ability to strike the hard compromises needed for peace.

2. I loved this article about a women's Fair Trade Couscous cooperative in Jericho, despite the sad note about how a similar initiative in Gaza was strangled by the blockade.

Excerpt: “The women unanimously agree that since they've been working at the couscous co-op their lives have improved dramatically. For the first time "we're no longer dependent on humanitarian aid," said Abu Shrar. Not only are they now independently taking home their well-earned wages, but they are finally able to simultaneously provide opportunities once inconceivable to their children, and fix-up their run-down homes. Furthermore, their self-confidence has grown alongside their social status, which has been propped up by virtue of their fortitude, self-determination and goodwill.

3. This beautiful piece of prose from the Palestine Monitor was written by “Abu Yusuf from Occupied Palestine'; I found other articles by the same author but no biographical information.

Excerpts: In truth, Israel's real objective in Gaza was to combat the gravest threat to the Zionist narrative: the growing movement toward nonviolent resistance in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Over 1400 people, including 400 children were killed to send a message to those audacious enough to challenge the mighty with no weapons at all: there will be no peace.

The recent attacks on Gaza were an open invitation by Israel to shed blood for another decade or more – always drops of theirs in exchange for a sea of our own. They are hoping beyond hope that Palestinians will continue to agree to this horrible arrangement. They are hoping that we continue to respond with violence, even if only a little, so that they can cling to the last shred of the Davidian identity they so cherish and depend upon.

Israel knows that if we respond with marches, flags, strikes and nonviolence, rather than continuing with this vicious cycle, Palestinians will sculpt the narrative of this conflict. Israel knows that the army of peace in Palestine is more capable of destroying the racism and exceptionalism of the Zionist ideology. They know that this army enlists woman and child soldiers, young and old - so many that all of the prisons and gulags of Israel could not hold a fraction of our numbers.

They know that when we walk one million strong and unarmed to Qalandia some Friday in the near future, they will have to either kill us all or let us go on to the Holy City.

4. Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass, who lives in Ramallah, returns to Gaza and gives her scathing analysis of what was accomplished by the Israeli assault. 

Excerpt: “What the siege has done is reduce an entire society to the status of beggars, denying it nearly all productive activity, suffocating it in an open-air prison, disconnected from the rest of the world. The denial of the right to a livelihood, and the denial of freedom of movement: that is the essence of the siege, the foundation block of the separation policy. The closure policy is an assault on the human dignity of the Palestinians, and especially those in Gaza. Now, Israel has shown that the cage can also be a deathtrap.”

Gaza Digest 23, 2/25/09

News Clips: On Monday the Anti-Defamation League blasted Amnesty International as denying Israel the right to defend itself after the human rights organization urged a global freeze on arms sales to Israel; Egyptian authorities are continuing to prevent humanitarian aid from crossing at Rafah into the Gaza Strip, according to local sources, forcing aid to be re-routed through al-Auja and Kerem Abu Sallem crossings, which are controlled by Israel and where taxes are levied and many items are not allowed in; Shimon Peres expressed his consternation about European calls for dialogue with Hamas, a group he characterized as “ a murderous, extremist terror organization.”

1. I was going to try to lead off with something uplifting (see articles below about Palestinian olive oil sales and the Viva Palestina convoy), but early this morning received an article from the Berkeley Daily Planet via Jewish Peace News (JPN) about Israel's use of Gaza as a “weapons testing laboratory” that seemed to merit the top spot. The author, Conn Hallinan, is a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at and a lecturer in journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

Excerpt: The specific weapon—the GBU-39—is a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) and was developed by the U.S. Air Force, Boeing Corporation, and University of California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2000. The weapon wraps the high explosives HMX or RDX with a tungsten alloy and other metals like cobalt, nickel or iron, in a carbon fiber/epoxy container. When the bomb explodes, the container evaporates and the tungsten turns into micro-shrapnel that is extremely lethal up to about 60 feet.

Tungsten is inert, so it does not react chemically with the explosive. While a non-inert metal like aluminum would increase the blast, tungsten actually limits the explosion.

Within the weapon's range, however, it is inordinately lethal. According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in multiple amputations and “very severe fractures. The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns.”

Those who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and organ collapse. “Initially, everything seems in order … but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs,” says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. “It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles … that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically.” According to Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.

If, by some miracle, victims do survive, they are almost to certain develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat. A 2005 U.S. Department of health study found that tungsten stimulated RMS cancers even in very low doses. Out of 92 rats tested, 92 developed the cancer.

2. The Guardian reports that as a result of the Gaza assault, sales of Palestinian olive oil (recently certified as FAIR TRADE) are expected to double this year in England. 

Excerpt: In an unintended consequence of Israel's offensive in Gaza last month, sales of Palestinian olive oil in Britain are soaring, importers have said.

The devastating conflict, in which 1.300 Palestinians were killed, has prompted a surge in demand for the product in apparent sympathy for the Palestinians. Equal Exchange, a seller of Fairtrade products, reported a threefold increase sales in of olive oil from the West Bank in January compared with a year ago.

"We have run out of one-litre bottles and we expect sales to double to 400 tonnes this year compared to 2008," said Barry Murdoch, the sales director of Equal Exchange.

This story from the Guardian about Palestinian olive oil reminded me that we can be supporting Palestinian farmers and artisans with a BUYCOTT. Here in the States you can buy Fair Trade Palestinian Olive Oil from Canaan Fair Trade. You can order crafts and gift baskets from the Palestinian Arts & Crafts TrustThe Global Exchange Fair Trade Store also has a selection of Palestinian-made items.

3. Viva Palestina: Send Your Love to Gaza

The Viva Palestine convoy of over 100 donated vehicles transporting practical aid from the U.K. to Palestine crossed the Morroccan/Algerian border, which has been closed since 1994 because of political conflict but was opened briefly to allow passage of the trucks.  They spent a day resting in Algerian and will reach Tunisia on Thursday. You can see their travel route here

4. An area of East Jerusalelm called Silwan that is home to 1,500 Palestinians has been set aside for a proposed recreational park. The deputy mayor of Jerusalem says that there are as yet no firm plans to evict the Palestinians and to raze the 88 homes

Excerpt: “The dispute is part of a wider conflict over Jerusalem. Israel regards all of the city as its capital, including East Jerusalem and adjacent parts of the West Bank captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Ahead of next week's visit by new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Palestinian officials are seeking support against what they say are Israeli plans to drive Arabs from the city and cut off occupied Arab East Jerusalem from territory on which they hope to establish a Palestinian state.

Gaza Digest 22, 2/24/09

News Clips: The United States plans to pledge more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza after Israel's offensive; Hillary Clinton will reportedly visit Israel and the West Bank on March 3rd, after a March 2nd meeting in Egypt to discuss Gaza reconstruction efforts; reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas in Egypt set to begin this week are possibly upended by reports that Fatah security officials helped the Israeli Air Force pinpoint targets in Gaza using Google Earth.

1. Following on its report about Israel's misuse of U.S. weapons during the assault on Gaza, Amnesty International is calling on people to sign a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

2. Palestinian professor and activist Eid and Israeli peace activist Golan argue that the proper response to the Israeli government's policy of demographically motivated ethnic cleansing—no matter who is in the ruling coalition—is to ramp up the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Movement

Excerpt: “To counter international complicity with Israel's crimes, an intensified grass roots BDS campaign against Israeli apartheid is needed. In Apartheid-era South Africa, the BDS campaign ultimately led to the creation of a democratic, multi-racial, multi-cultural state in South Africa. Likewise, the BDS campaign against Israeli apartheid must result in a unitary state where all citizens will be treated as equals.”

3. Lucy Nusseibeh, the head of Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy (MEND), a Jerusalem-based non-governmental organization, outlines the steps needed to bring about reconciliation between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the Gaza assault and the decades-long occupation. 

Excerpt: “The levels of trauma in both Israeli and Palestinian society reinforce both these feelings - with terrible effects for the other. The emotion of fear can make morally reprehensible actions seem justifiable. The sense of victimhood tends to exclude the possibility of the victim being also a perpetrator, and to project all evil onto the other. The violence inflicted out of a sense of victimhood is perceived as justifiable self-defense even when perpetrated against a weaker party.”

4. Inspired by the example of Jean-Moise Braitberg who wrote an analogous open letter that was published in Le Monde, Michael & Osha Neumann ask that their grandmother's name be removed from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial because of their disgust over the Gaza Assault and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. (Michael Neumann is a philosopher and author of the clearly and persuasively argued book “The Case Against Israel.”) 

Excerpt: “Our grandmother was a victim of that very ideal of ethnic sovereignty in whose cause Israel has shed so much blood for so long.    I was among the many Jews who thought nothing of embracing that ideal, despite the sufferings it had inflicted on our own race.   It took thousands of Palestinian lives before, finally, I realized how foolish we had been.”

Gaza Digest 21, 2/23/09

News Clips: Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing for three days to allow passage of students and the ill; Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Sunday fired two mortar rounds at Israel Defense Forces soldiers near the border; Senator John Kerry agreed to carry a letter from Hamas to President Obama, and then said that Syria had offered to broker a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

1. Congressman Keith Ellison and Congressman Brian Baird issued a press advisory after they toured Gaza last week (2/19/09).

Excerpt: Inquiring about the status of relief efforts, the Congressmen learned that some aid material has been allowed in since the intensity of the attacks lessened a month ago, but much is still being blocked by the Israeli defense forces. An example of aid that has been banned by the Israeli Government includes lentils, macaroni, tomato paste, and other common food products. Basic building materials, generator fuel and parts to repair damaged water treatment equipment have also been kept out.

"If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that President Obama acted quickly to send much needed humanitarian funding to Gaza for this effort. However, the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food, and repair and reconstruction materials are unacceptable and indefensible. People; innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in" said Ellison.

2. BIG NEWS: Amnesty International calls for the U.S. to suspend military aid to Israel.

Excerpt: "As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money."

3. Meanwhile in the West Bank, land expropriation and settlement expansion continues. 

Excerpt: "Settlement activity undermines all the efforts of Arab partners committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and calls into question the seriousness of Israel's commitment to the two-state solution," the EU statement said.

An earlier article from the AP ("Israel Seizes Land for Settlement Expansion") goes into more details about the land expropriation and settlement plans.

Excerpt: Israel opened the way for possible expansion of the Efrat settlement by taking control of a nearby West Bank hill of 423 acres. The rocky plot was recently designated state land and is part of a master plan that envisions the settlement growing from 9,000 to 30,000 residents, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi said.

4. Has the window already closed on the possibility of a two-state solution? The Israeli Army uses force against non-violent protesters.

Excerpt: "For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement."

5.  Or is there still a chance for a two-state solution? This article from the Economist argues that with tough love—and the help of J Street—the U.S. may be able to escape the stranglehold of AIPAC and push for a relatively fair and balanced settlement.

Israel and the Palestinians seem stuck in a poisonous morass, as Israeli voters shift to the right. President Barack Obama has a chance of hauling them out of it.

Excerpt: "Mr Obama has many friends who passionately back the Israeli cause, not least his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The new man is also close to many young Jewish Democrats who sympathise with J Street's thesis that "tough love" is what Israel needs if it is to survive, by squeezing it into giving the Palestinians a fair deal. Many knowledgeable gloomsters think a two-state solution is too late already. Today's picture is bleak. But maybe there is a last-chance opening for a new president with a new team, new tactics, and a different set of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian backers, including Jewish ones, back home."

Gaza Digest 20, 2/20/09

News clips: As Senator John Kerry and two congressmen tour the devastated territory, 100,000 Gazans (including 56,00 children) are still homeless a month after the end of the offensive. Israel says no ceasefire deal without return of Gilad Shalit. Right-wing Netanyahu appears close to forming a government with the backing of ultra-right-wing Lieberman, although the brinksmanship continues. Israel braces for a wave of lawsuits accusing the state of human rights abuses during the Gaza offensive. In the West Bank land confiscation continues and settlements expand with little notice in the mainstream press.

1. Weekly Report from Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 12-18 Feb. 2009
This is a straightforward, almost deadpan list of human rights violations in the Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem for the past week. 

Excerpt: "IOF have imposed additional restrictions on access of international diplomats, journalists and humanitarian workers to the Gaza Strip. They have also prevented representatives of international humanitarian organizations from entering the Gaza Strip in order to assess the humanitarian situation. Health conditions in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated, and all medical facilities are being affected by chronic power shortages. The lives of premature babies continue to be at risk as they depend on medical equipment, such as incubators, that are electrically powered. Standards of living across Gaza have seriously deteriorated, whilst poverty and unemployment levels have sharply increased."

2. Caryl Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children" will be performed in the Los Angeles area by the Rude Guerilla Theatre Co., and perhaps in New York at the New York Theater Workshop. In England, the play stirs controversy and is called "anti-semitic." The play is also being called "anti-Israeli" and "pro-Palestinian."

Excerpt: "It's one of those chances to talk about something that's going on right now," said Dave Barton, the theater's artistic director. "I thought it was very poetic ... and Churchill, like most of the playwrights we do at Rude Guerrilla, is just holding up a mirror and reflecting back what's being said in society. I've heard every argument in there, from both the Jewish and the Palestinian side, and it's always the same thing, back and forth."

"Workshop May Present Play Critical of Israelis," Patrick Healey, NY Times, 2/18/09
Excerpt: "Three years after New York Theater Workshop drew protests for canceling 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie,' a play sympathetic to Palestinians, it is considering mounting a production of a new piece by Caryl Churchill, 'Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,' that at times contains images of heartless Israelis."

"Is a Play About Gaza Anti-Semitic? Read the script," Robert Mackey, NY Times (online edition), 2/18/09

Excerpt: "Some critics have charged that the 10-minute play, 'Seven Jewish Children,' by British playwright Caryl Churchill, is anti-Semitic."

3. A sad counter-point to the story about the Bard College joint program with a Palestinian university is Joel Kovel's narrative about why he was terminated from the Bard Faculty. He believes it was because of his vocal anti-Zionism and advocacy for a one-state solution for Israel/Palestine.

Gaza Digest 19, 2/17/09

Food shortages in Gaza are described as desperate. People are bartering and selling food aid for other essential items. Only 200 trucks of food aid are being allowed in a day—this is more than were allowed in during the pre-assault blockade, but the aerial bombardment and bulldozing of farmlands and food supplies have made the food security situation even more precarious. A ceasefire is apparently still being hammered out. But Israel still won't allow cement, glass and other building materials into Gaza, after having destroyed the cement and glass factories, along with many schools and homes, during the bombardment.

1. Great piece on Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions Movement on Al-Jazeera featuring the NYC Leviev demonstration. 

2. Just in case you thought Hampshire College was divesting from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, the college's office of communications released a press advisory correcting "misinformation regarding trustees' actions." It had nothing to do with Israel; it had to do with unethical business practices by these companies in general and not in any particular location that might get Alan Dershowitz and AIPAC upset.

Excerpt: "The review of the State Street fund was undertaken at the request of a sub-committee of the investment committee, to address a petition from a student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. The investment committee's decision, however, was based on the consultant's finding that the State Street fund included 200-plus companies engaged in multiple violations of the college's investment policy; the decision expressly did not pertain to a political movement or single out businesses active in a specific region or country."

3. Caryl Churchill has written an amazing, beautiful and poignant ten-minute play entitled SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN that was a response "to the current situation in Gaza." The play is being performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London between Feb. 6-21 as a benefit for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) . Tickets are free; a collection is taken at each performance.

Guardian Review of the play

Excerpt: "What she captures, in remarkably condensed poetic form, is the transition that has overtaken Israel, to the point where security has become the pretext for indiscriminate slaughter. Avoiding overt didacticism, her play becomes a heartfelt lamentation for the future generations who will themselves become victims of the attempted military suppression of Hamas. Performed by nine actors, under Dominic Cooke's brisk, clear direction, the play solves nothing, but shows theatre's power to heighten consciousness and articulate moral outrage."

You can download the PDF of the play for free and read it.  

4. This article about a joint degree program between Bard College and Al Quds was like a ray of sunshine in an exceedingly bleak sky. It offers an alternative to BDS as a way to move forward.

Excerpt: It would be hard to find two institutions of higher learning that seem more different than Bard College, an upscale, bucolic college in Dutchess County, N.Y., and Al Quds University, a struggling, sprawling Palestinian institution in and near this disputed capital.

Yet the two schools have decided to join forces in an unusual venture aimed at injecting American educational values and expertise into Palestinian society, in hopes of contributing to a future democratic State of Palestine. Although the effort has been many months in the planning, those involved say the recent war in Gaza and a political turn rightward in Israel make it more important and urgent.

Gaza Digest 18, 2/13/09

Yesterday I heard Dr. Mustafa Barghouti speak at Columbia University and the title of his talk was "The Gaza War Crime." Barghouti traveled to Gaza after the end of the Israeli assault—he wasn't allowed to use the Israeli crossings, so instead of making a 90-minute trip from his home in Ramallah to Gaza, he made a two-day trek via Jordan and Egypt through the Rafah crossing. Even though he had seen images of the destruction on Al-Jazeera, he was shocked and rendered almost speechless for four days by what he saw and the stories he heard from people as he traveled around Gaza.

The three things I took away from his talk were this: 1. There will be no solution to the conflict coming from inside Israel because the political consensus has moved towards more racism, extremism and apartheid; 2. The window is closing on the 2-state solution—and in fact it might already be closed—but this is a pivotal moment in history; and 3. The only hope is for Obama and his team to put pressure on the Israeli government and say enough is enough. So it really is up to us to push Obama and Congress in the right direction, which leads me to the first item of the day—a new campaign for Palestine and, as Barghouti would say, for Israel as well, to save Israel from its own worst impulses.

1. FIVE FOR PALESTINE: I heard about this campaign of the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights from Anna Baltzer. It's a simple concept—you commit to do five things for Palestine: 1. Learn about the campaign; 2. Sign up to join the campaign; 3. Contribute money; 4. Tell five friends about it; and 5. Contact your representative 5 times per year to push for a more equitable U.S. Policy towards Israel/Palestine. 

2. BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT, SANCTIONS (BDS): Hampshire College becomes the first college in U.S. to divest from Israeli Occupation

Hampshire College was the first U.S. educational institution to divest from companies doing business in South Africa, and a few days ago its board took the historic step of voting to divest from businesses making profits in Occupied Palestine. Hampshire deserves our congratulations and support as the threats have already started coming in.

Excerpt from Hampshire announcement: "This landmark move is a direct result of a two-year intensive campaign by the campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The group pressured Hampshire College's Board of Trustees to divest from six specific companies due to human rights concerns in occupied Palestine. Over 800 students, professors, and alumni have signed SJP's "institutional statement" calling for the divestment.

The proposal put forth by SJP was approved on Saturday, 7 Feb 2009 by the Board. By divesting from these companies, SJP believes that Hampshire has distanced itself from complicity in the illegal occupation and war crimes of Israel.

The six corporations, all of which provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza are: Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola, and Terex."

3. DEMOCRACY NOW: Amy Goodman interview Former President Jimmy Carter on the Peace Process; Palestinian doctor and lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti, and Israeli Professor Neve Gordon on the Israeli Elections
Wednesday, 2/11/09

Jimmy Carter on Mitchell's appointment as special envoy: "Well, I think that Obama has made an unprecedented move of an aggressive nature toward a peace agreement in the Middle East that escaped his predecessors in recent years. And that is, he started working on the Mideast peace problem the first day he was in office. And he's appointed an envoy who is most superbly qualified as a mediator and knows the area quite well and also is fairly balanced between Israel and its neighbors, or neutral. And that's what's required. In fact, George Mitchell has already been condemned by some of the Jewish American organizations, because he is neutral or balanced, which has not been the case with the previous envoys. I was neutral or balanced back thirty years ago when I negotiated between Sadat and Begin and brought a peace agreement. And you have to look at both sides in order to have any sort of peace proposals that have a chance to be accepted by both sides."

Neve Gordon on the election results: "I think what we see in these elections is that the whole political map has turned even further right than it was. We have to remember that Kadima, which basically won the elections by one point, most of its members were Likud members. And so, we have the Likud, and then we have the Likud II, and then we have Yisrael Beiteinu. Together, they form probably close to 80 percent of the electorate. And so, we have an extremely right-wing Knesset now. Some of the parties are with actually neo-fascist tendencies."

Mustafa Barghouti on his hopes for a new U.S. government policy towards Palestinians: "I think I feel here in Washington some new trends. First of all, there is more sensitivity to the issue of settlements. I think there is more inclination to accept our view, our point of view, that Palestinians are—should be allowed to have a national unity government, and thirdly, that we should allow Palestinian democracy to be revived. You know that Israel has slaughtered the democratic transformation in Palestine by arresting our members of parliament. And if Israel is entitled to democratic elections, then I think we, as Palestinians, are entitled to that."

Gaza Digest 17, 2/12/09

A strong showing by right-wing parties—with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, that made a loyalty oath for "Israeli Arabs" (Palestinians within Israel) a party plank, coming in third in the polls—gives little hope for a halt to the expansion of the West Bank settlements, for an end to home demolitions in East Jerusalem, or for an authentic opening of Gaza's borders. The settlements would not exist without American subsidies. The bombs that were dropped on Gaza were paid for by our tax dollars. We here in the States must redouble our efforts to support George Mitchell's mediation and to end the stranglehold a few right-wing lobbying groups have on Congress. We also need to ramp up the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Movement in the way that makes the most sense to us as individuals and as members of activist groups. More on ways to take action next time.

1. "Israel Results Dismay Palestinians," 2/12/09

Excerpt: "With hardline leaders gaining a greater say in Israeli politics, officials in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are of the view that a new Israeli government - be it under Tzipi Livni or Benyamin Netanyahu - would make little difference to the Palestinians.

'I would tell you, looking very closely at these results, the requirements of peace ... cannot be met by any form of coalition as a result of this election,' Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said."

2. RESOURCE WARS! IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PROFITS. An article with chronology and maps that argues that the assault on Gaza is part of an Israeli government plan to gain control of Gaza's offshore gas fields.

Excerpt: "The military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves.

This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline. The military occupation of Gaza is intent upon transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel in violation of international law."

3. THE STRUGGLE OF DAILY LIFE IN GAZA. While surveying the heart-rending devastation around her in Gaza and the resilience of the Palestinian people, Kathy Kelly imagines how big the tunnels into Israel would have to be if it were necessary to transport the massive armaments and tons of munitions the U.S. provides. She names the U.S. companies, such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and the weapons they supply that are used by the Israeli Defense Forces (or the Israeli Occupation Forces) against the Palestinian people. 

Excerpt: "In truth, there's no actual tunnel bringing U.S. made weapons to Israel. But the transfers of weapons and the U.S. complicity in Israel's war crimes are completely invisible to many U.S. people.

The United States is the primary source of Israel's arsenal. For more than 30 years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance and since 1985 Israel has received about 3 billion dollars, each year, in military and economic aid from the U.S. ("U.S. and Israel Up in Arms," Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 17, 2009)

So many Americans can't even see this flood of weapons, and what it means, for us, for Gaza's and Israel's children, for the world's children."

4. IT'S ALL IN A NAME. Saul Landau talks about the term terrorist and how it is differentially applied in Israel—to Hamas, which was actually funded by the Israeli government in the 1970's as a way to weaken the PLO, and not to the Irgun, the right-wing Zionist paramilitary organization responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 and the massacre of Palestinian civilians in 1948. Tzipi Livni, whose father was a member of the Irgun, has said she refuses to negotiate with terrorists, referring to Hamas. 

Excerpt: "On January 21, President Obama telephoned the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister of Israel, the President of Egypt and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, before dispatching former Senator George Mitchell to spearhead peace negotiations. He excluded Hamas leaders from his phone tree, although they had won the 2006 election to represent the people of Gaza. Obviously, Hamas has also won the label "terrorist" and, as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni proudly if not smugly assured members of the National Press Club in Washington DC, Israel would not talk with Hamas. 'We do not negotiate with terrorists," she asserted, moral indignation dripping from her words. (January 16)"


Excerpt: "Campus protests of Israel's military actions in Gaza, are growing — including in the United States. Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Rochester is claiming victory in the first "occupation" of a building at an American campus over the issue (although university officials say that the students signed up for permission to protest in a building Friday until midnight and so were there with authorization). The university and the SDS also have different versions of what both sides agreed to in order to end the protest late Friday. The SDS started its protest demanding that the university sell endowment holdings in companies that produce weapons or otherwise "profit from war"; that the university organize a day of fund raising for Gaza; that the university provide "necessary academic aid" such as computers and books to university programs in Gaza; and that a minimum of five scholarships be set up for Palestinian students."

"The Students are Revolting: The Spirit of '68 is Reawakening," Emily Dugan, The Independent, 2/8/09 

Excerpt: "Around the UK, thousands of students have occupied lecture theatres, offices and other buildings at more than 20 universities in sit-down protests. It seems that the spirit of 1968 has returned to the campus.

While it was the situation in Gaza that triggered this mass protest, the beginnings of political enthusiasm have already spread to other issues….

Among the demands of students are disinvestment in the arms trade; the promise to provide scholarships for Palestinian students; a pledge to send books and unused computers to Palestine; and to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza."

Gaza Digest 16, 2/11/09

News snippets: The Israeli election ended with both right-wing hawk Netanyahu of Likud and centrist "dove" (some dove) Livni of Kadima claiming victory in a very tight race; it may take weeks for it all to be sorted out and a new prime minister to be at the head of a new government; ultra-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party chairman Avigdor Lieberman claims he holds to the keys to forming a new government. We have our work cut out for us here in the States no matter who is in power.

1. Mothers Across the World for Gaza organized vigils in 13 cities on the 8th of February. You can read this poignant article from the Beirut Daily Star and join the FACEBOOK group

"Beirut, 13 other cities hold vigils for Gaza's martyred children," Karah Byrnes, Beirut Daily Star, 2/9/09

Excerpt: "Beirut: Hundreds of candles flickered on the seafront at Ramlet al-Baida on Sunday evening in commemoration of Gaza's fallen children. The vigil was one of 13 organized by Mothers Across the World for Gaza in cities across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and North America to mark the passage of 40 days since the first child was killed during the Israeli military's December-January offensive against the Gaza Strip."

2. Interesting and cheeky analysis of the Israeli "political center" with a discussion of what professor and blogger Avishai calls "the five tribes" of Israel (1. Ashkenazi Jews; 2. Mizrahi Jews; 3. immigrants from the former Soviet Union; 4. Right-wing settlers; and 5. "Arab" Israelis, otherwise known as Palestinians within Israel.

Excerpt: "ORDINARILY, THEN, TRIBE Three hates Four, condescends to Two, and doubts One; Two hates One, resents Three and (for different reasons) Four; One is afraid of Two, patronizes Three and hates Four; Four hates One, proselytizes Two, and is afraid of Three.  All four are afraid of Five."

3. Beautiful essay by Bargouthi about Palestinian steadfastness, or "sumud." (About the author: Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a physician, is general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative. He is a member of the Palestinian Parliament and was a presidential candidate in 2005. He is a campaigner for grassroots democracy and internal reform as well as a leading figure in the nonviolent, peaceful struggle against the occupation.) 

"We are steadfast in our cause and in our methods. We are armed with truth, justice, signs, flags and sometimes stones - nothing more. We will be marching again on Friday throughout the West Bank, and again the Friday after that, and again, and again...until we have defeated Goliath. A defeat that will finally liberate Palestinians and Israelis from the cancer of occupation and apartheid and that will open the way for our dream, where all human beings--whether they are Palestinian or Israeli--will be treated equally, with dignity and without prejudice."

4.  A chilling description of the weapons used by Israel during the assault on Gaza and the kinds of injuries they caused by two U.K. doctors who managed to get into Gaza while the invasion was in full swing. 

Excerpt: "Over the period of 27 December 2008 to the ceasefire of 18 Jan 2009, it was estimated that a million and a half tons of explosives were dropped on Gaza Strip. Gaza is 25 miles by 5 miles and home to 1.5 million people. This makes it the most crowded area in the whole world. Prior to this Gaza has been completely blockaded and starved for 50 days.  In fact since the Palestinian election Gaza has been under total or partial blockade for several years."

Gaza Digest 15, 2/10/09

News snippets: Hamas returned the aid it seized from the United National Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza last week; just to keep things tense, an Israeli far rightist will be supervising the polling in an Arab town; the IDF has "closed" the West Bank for the entirety of election day.  Election results tomorrow!

1. Interesting article about the extensive network of tunnels that make life possible in Gaza under the Israeli blockade, with speculation about why Egypt and Israel allow them to keep functioning.

"They were one of Israel's key targets during its three-week assault on Gaza. But the relentless air strikes failed to destroy the hundreds of tunnels running under the border to Egypt. Rory McCarthy goes underground to watch the everyday smuggling of boxes of women's underwear, car parts and even goats."

2. In an earlier digest, I included information on the Women for Peace Coalition's campaign Who Profits from the Israeli Occupation?, which is an extensively researched database. Today I'm posting an interview from Electronic Intifada with Dalit Baum, one of the coordinators of the project. 

Excerpt: "Now is the time to give more publicity to the database. It serves our goal of educating the Israeli public about how companies profit from the occupation of Palestine. It also offers the public a new mapping of different types of involvement in the occupation, and exposes how this involvement has permeated big parts of the Israeli economy, including big banks, major telecommunication firms, construction and transportation firms. It is not clear yet what the response will be."

3. Beautiful 6-minute clip of one man's efforts to call for government compensation for (economic rather than ideological) settlers who want to leave the West Bank but can't afford to. He has become an outcast in his community—he was fired from his job as a bus driver and is no longer allowed to sing at the community center. 

4.  "Stories Jews Were Told: Israel, Zionism and Palestine, Donna Nevel, Monthly Review, 2/7/09

Excerpt: Any discussion among American Jews of Israel and Palestine requires us to push ourselves as a community to reflect on our history and on the story many of us blindly digested; it requires us to understand that the current massacre grows out of a long history of dehumanization of a people and denial of their national rights in the land of Palestine.  Understanding that reality -- that is, re-telling the story to include the impact of Zionism on the Palestinian people -- doesn't minimize or ignore the horror of the Holocaust or our commitment to insuring that it never happens again to Jews or to anyone else.  Rather, the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust is best honored by our involvement, as Jews, in speaking the truth and participating in movements for justice that insure the right of the Palestinians and all peoples to live with dignity.

5. Chomsky Interview: Gaza and Its Aftermath. This is a long, in-depth between Noam Chomsky and Assaf Kfoury, dated 2/9/09 (interview conducted on Jan. 31st). 

Excerpt: The primary goal of the attack on Gaza was to silence any Palestinian opposition to the US-backed Israeli takeover of whatever is of value in the West Bank, while undermining the prospects for a viable two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that the US and Israel have blocked for over 30 years, in international isolation, and still do -- other facts that are scrupulously kept from the general public and unknown to the educated classes as well, with rare exceptions.  West Bank opposition has been largely controlled by Israeli violence, now with the support of collaborationist Palestinian forces trained and armed by the US and its friendly dictators: it is notable that Obama, in his few statements on the conflict, stressed Jordan's constructive role in training these forces.  But Gaza -- the other portion of what remains of Palestine -- had not yet been subdued.  In that context the destruction of Gaza and annihilation of its social and cultural institutions makes good strategic sense….

The London Financial Times reports that "rebuilding homes and fixing Gaza's broken infrastructure will depend on Israel's willingness to let in cement, bricks and machinery. Israel is adamant that it will not allow in such supplies in the near future, fearing that a speedy reconstruction of the war-ravaged strip would benefit Hamas and enhance its legitimacy." That form of savagery is also considered natural among Western elites, who have only contempt for democracy unless free elections come out "the right way." Hence Israel can continue its brutal siege, undermining the cease-fire.  A siege of course is an act of war.   

I also agree that Israel "can continue to live with an unresolved conflict." In fact, a leading principle of Zionist doctrine long before the state was established, and continuing since, has been to try to delay diplomacy while establishing "facts on the ground," to determine the contours of some eventual settlement.  That is exactly what is happening now. 

Apart from providing Palestinians with whatever relief we can, the focus of action should, as you say, be in the United States.  What are the proper tactics? For those who care about the fate of the Palestinians, the tactics will be chosen so that they work -- primarily, work to pressure the US government to depart from its rejectionist stance, so that diplomatic efforts can proceed, and Israel will withdraw to negotiated borders.

Gaza Digest 14, 2/9/09

Reports of extra-judicial killings by Hamas against "collaborators" in Gaza; racism and racist attacks on the rise in Israel (several stabbings in Jerusalem); Gaza rockets hit southern Israel and Israeli air raid hits Gaza; and the Fatah leadership is worried that the return of imprisoned Israeli soldier Galid Shalit would prompt new Palestinian elections, which Hamas would win in both Gaza and the West Bank. And the calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions continue (see below).

1. In a dear friend letter written on February 3, poet and essayist Adrienne Rich endorses the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. (I received the letter via Jewish Peace News.)

Text in full:
Last week, with initial hesitation but finally strong conviction, I endorsed the Call for a U.S. Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel ( I'd like to offer my reasons to friends, family and comrades.  I have tried in fullest conscience to think this through.

My hesitation: I profoundly believe in the visible/invisible liberatory social power of creative and intellectual boundary-crossings. I've been educated by these all my life, and by centuries-long cross-conversations about human freedom, justice and power—also, the forces that try to silence them.

As an American Jew, over almost 30 years, I've joined with other concerned Jews in various kinds of coalition-building and anti-Occupation work.   I've seen the kinds of organized efforts to stifle—in the US and elsewhere-- critiques of Israel's policies--the Occupation's denial of Palestinian humanity, destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods, the "settlements," the state's physical and psychological walls against dialogue—and the efforts to condemn any critiques as anti-Semitism.   Along with other activists and writers I've been named on right-wing "shit-lists" as "Israel-hating" or  "Jew-hating."   I have also seen attacks within American academia and media on Arab American, Muslim, Jewish scholars and teachers whose work critically explores the foundations and practices of Israeli state and society.

Until now, as a believer in boundary-crossings, I would not have endorsed a cultural and academic boycott.  But Israel's continuing, annihilative assaults in Gaza, and the one-sided rationalizations for them have driven me to re-examine my thoughts about cultural exchanges. Israel's blockading of information, compassionate aid, international witness and free cultural and scholarly expression has become extreme and morally stone-blind.  Israeli Arab parties have been banned from the elections, Israeli Jewish dissidents arrested, Israeli youth imprisoned for conscientious refusal of military service. Academic institutions are surely only relative sites of power.  But they are, in their funding and governance, implicated with state economic and military power.  And US media, institutions and official policy have gone along with all this.

To boycott a repressive military state should not mean backing away from individuals struggling against the policies of that state.  So, in continued solidarity with the Palestinian people's long resistance, and also with those Israeli activists, teachers, students, artists, writers, intellectuals, journalists, refuseniks, feminists and others who oppose the means and ends of the Occupation, I have signed my name to this call.

Adrienne Rich

2. Law Professor George Bisharat argues that if the Israeli Government is not held accountable to international law for its egregious violations of international law—for crimes perpetrated during this latest assault on Gaza, as well as during its continuing repression and dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—it is now time for civil society to take the lead. 

Excerpt: "Thus, perhaps the "court of last resort" is that of international civil society, whose tools for nonviolent enforcement include boycotts, divestment and sanctions. That route, once so effective in helping to end apartheid in Africa, offers a powerful model for those seeking justice in Israel/Palestine today. Israel is both sensitive to Western opinion and dependent on trade and would likely respond to ostracism."

3. "What We Found in Gaza: Strong Indications of Violations of the Laws of War, U.S. Law, and War Crimes Found in the Gaza Strip, National Lawyers Guild Delegation," Common Dreams, 2/8/09 

Excerpt: We have found strong indications of violations of the laws of war and possible war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip. We are particularly concerned that most of the weapons that were found used in the December 27 assault on Gaza are US-made and supplied. We believe that Israel's use of these weapons may constitute a violation of US law, and particularly the Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act.

4. "Victory for Worker Solidarity," Congress of South African Trade Unions & Palestine Solidarity Committee press advisory, 2/6/09

Excerpt: "The Congress of South African Trade Union is pleased to announce that its members, dock workers belonging to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) achieved a victory last night when they stood firm by their decision not to offload the Johanna Russ, a ship that was carrying Israeli goods to South Africa. This, despite threats to COSATU members from sections of the pro-Israeli lobby, and despite severe provocation."

5. Two video versions of a song for Gaza, "We will not go down," by Michael Heart, a relatively unknown singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. It has become an anthem for the Palestinian struggle. The first video has been viewed over 1 million times on Youtube and has been flagged as not appropriate for minors, so you have to sign in and verify your birth date to see it. 

The second one has been viewed only 3,000 times; the images are much more violent and it makes a case for a war crimes investigation, but hasn't been flagged, probably because it's beneath the radar on YouTube. 

Gaza Digest 13, 2/8/09

The U.N. suspended delivery of aid in Gaza until Hamas-commandeered food trucks are returned. Turkey and Egypt are reportedly brokering a truce deal that would lift the economic siege of Gaza, release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners (including jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti), and deliver Barak a "February surprise" in the shape of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinian militants since 2006.

1. The blockade of Gaza started soon after the failed (U.S. and Israeli instigated) Fatah coup attempt against Hamas. What many people don't know is that there was a deliberate Israeli policy to "starve" the people of Gaza—a calculation of calories meant to, in the words of Dov Weissglas, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, insure that "the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die." In April of 2008 Unicef reported that 50% of Gazan children under five were anemic and many were stunted due to lack of vitamins. After last month's military assault, which destroyed acres of farmland and crops, and under the ongoing blockade, the situation food security situation in Gaza is dire.

Below is the link to a 2006 press advisory by the AlHaq, a Palestinian Human Rights NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank, that talks in detail about the aims and effects of the blockade. 

Excerpt: "By freezing funds, lobbying against international assistance, and preventing the transfer of means to Palestinian security services, Israeli officials have stated their intention to bring the Palestinian economy to the point of starvation. Comparing these measures to "an appointment with a dietician," the Special Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, Dov Weissglas, stated that "the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die."

You can take action by signing onto a joint Jewish Voice for Peace/Just Foreign Policy letter to President Obama telling him to push for an end to the blockade. 

2. High-school students who support ultra-right Avigdor Lieberman in the upcoming elections shout "Death to the Arabs" at rallies. My husband has been calling this the Masada Complex: "Victory until death." This is a super-scary article with chilling quotations and interesting insights into the Israeli educational system.  This piece should inspire us to redouble our efforts to get Obama and Congress to push hard on the "peace process," and to put conditions on the sale of U.S. armaments to Israel (and enforce the ones that are already in place). 

Excerpt: "Outwardly they may say that Lieberman will bring about a better future," the professor adds, "but have them talk with a psychologist or with a philosopher and these mantras will implode. In a reality in which you can't honestly tell your children, 'Tomorrow will be better,' in which the realization has finally sunk in that no deal or accord is about to happen, not now or 10 years from now - they react in a hysterical, survivalist fashion. In such a situation, the commitment to humanist values can be viewed as a luxury that we as a society cannot afford."

Gideon Levy says: "Lieberman and his soldiers are borne on the tides of hatred for Arabs, hatred of democracy and the rule of law, and the stink of nationalism, racism and bloodthirstiness."

And a related article in the Guardian: "Israeli Arabs Fear Gaza Backlash as Far Right Prepares for Power Role," Peter Beaumont, Guardian, 2/8/09

3. How to explain and justify the high rate of civilian casualties in Gaza
"The philosopher who gave the IDF moral justification in Gaza," Amos Harel, Haaretz, 2/6/09 

Excerpt: When senior Israel Defense Forces officers are asked about the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, they almost all give the same answer: The use of massive force was designed to protect the lives of the soldiers, and when faced with a choice between protecting the lives of Israeli soldiers and those of enemy civilians under whose protection the Hamas terrorists are operating, the soldiers take precedence.

4. Video of a boycott action in Wales against vegetables from the West Bank 

"Early reports are coming in about individuals making it clear they will not be buying any more goods from the Occupied Territories (West Bank). In this case protesters drag such goods from a Tesco store in South Wales and render them useless, before being carted off by police."

5. ICAHD (International Committee Against Home Demolitions) has a detailed explanation of why they support the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions  (BDS) Campaign, plus a list of Jewish and Israeli organizations that support BDS. I like the fact that they use the adjectives "strategic" and "selective." 

Excerpt: After years of diplomatic and political efforts aimed at inducing Israel to end its Occupation, while watching it grow ever stronger and more permanent, ICAHD-USA supports a multi-tiered campaign of strategic, selective sanctions against Israel until the Occupation ends, i.e. a campaign targeting Israel's Occupation rather than Israel per se. We believe that in most cases merely enforcing existing laws, international as well as domestic, would render the Occupation untenable and would pull Israel back into compliance with human rights covenants. We also favor selective divestment and boycott as tools of moral and economic pressure.

Gaza Digest 12, 2/5/09

In the past few days there have been so many articles about all aspects of the Gaza situation—reports of Hamas' confiscating humanitarian aid, internecine struggles between different Palestinian factions, Israel's navy boarding an aid boat and allegedly beating passengers, details from the Hague and Spain about proposed war crimes investigations into the IDF's actions in Gaza, and Turkish pop stars offering to adopt maimed Palestinian orphans. Here is my eclectic selection (and none of the above are included).

1. ACTION ALERT: CALL CONGRESS: Support Bill for Aggressive U.S. Peacemaking

From Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice & Peace)

Suggested text of call to Congress: I am a Jewish constituent of Representative [Your Representative] from Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.† As a strong supporter of Israel, I firmly believe that†a peace agreement with the Palestinians is the country's best chance for security. I would like to urge†Representative [Your Representative]†to co-sponsor H. Res 130, applauding President Obama's selection of Senator George Mitchell as Middle East Envoy, and pledging support for Mitchell's mission.

You can read the full text of the resolution via the Peace Now web site here.

You can find the sponsor and co-sponsors here.

Call to congratulate if your rep is on the list, and call to ask him/her to sign on if your rep is NOT on the list.

2. "Let Netanyahu Win," by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 2/5/09

Excerpt: Benjamin Netanyahu will apparently be Israel's next prime minister. There is, however, something encouraging about that fact. Netanyahu's election will free Israel from the burden of deception: If he can establish a right-wing government, the veil will be lifted and the nation's true face revealed to its citizens and the rest of the world, including Arab countries. Together with the world, we will see which direction we are facing and who we really are. The masquerade that has gone on for several years will finally come to an end.

3. "A Context for Gaza," by Duncan Kennedy, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence at Harvard Law School, op-ed from the Harvard Crimson, 2/2/09. This is a clear, concise and cogent description of the history of the conflict starting with 1948 leading up to the recent assault on Gaza and an analysis of what has just occurred. The reader comments are also quite interesting.

Excerpt: Numerous observers have charged Israel with committing war crimes during the war. Without downplaying that aspect, I think it is important to understand the 1,300 Palestinian casualties, including 400 children as well as many, many women, versus 13 Israeli casualties, as typical of a particular kind of "police action" that Western colonial powers and Western "ethno-cratic settler regimes" like ours in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Serbia and particularly apartheid South Africa, have historically undertaken to convince resisting native populations that unless they stop resisting they will suffer unbearable death and deprivation. Not just in 1947 and 1948, but also in Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, Israel used similar tactics.

4. "Fearing court action, IDF begins purging officer details from documents," by Tomer Zarchin, Haaretz Correspondent, 2/5/09

Excerpt: The Israel Defense Forces has begun removing the names and details of army officers involved in Operation Cast Lead from legal documents, Haaretz has learned.

Several orders of temporary custody for Gaza detainees, submitted to the Be'er Sheva district court, had the names and military ID numbers of the signatory officers blacked out.

The censor's office issued sweeping gag orders on the names of all officers who participated in the operation, fearing their identification would expose them to legal action abroad.

5. "Israeli Army ‘Subcontracted' by Extremist Settlers," by Jonathan Cook, EC, 2/4/09

Excerpt: Extremist rabbis and their followers, bent on waging holy war against the Palestinians, are taking over the Israeli army by stealth, according to critics.

In a process one military historian has termed the rapid "theologization" of the Israeli army, there are now entire units of religious combat soldiers, many of them based in West Bank settlements. They answer to hard-line rabbis who call for the establishment of a Greater Israel that includes the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Gaza Digest 11, February 5, 2009

1. "Bibi", who is ahead in recent polls in the race to be the new prime minister, makes it clear that there will be NO two-state solution and that the settlements will be expanded under his watch.

"No Territorial Concessions to Palestinians, says Netanyahu; Land would be ‘grabbed by extremists', says Israeli opposition leader," Rory McCarthy, Guardian, 2/4/09


Israel's rightwing opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the polls before next week's parliamentary elections, warned today against giving up any occupied territory to the Palestinians, saying it would be "grabbed by extremists".

Under Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are likely to grow more rapidly, putting Israel at odds with the new US administration.

2. "The two state solution has failed." And the "three-state" solution won't work either…

Good to check in now and again with the Jerusalem Post to see what the "mainstream" in Israel is reading; this one was posted on Gaza Siege as well as on the J Post site. This column by Caroline Glick, using euphemisms like "enhanced Israeli control" and "reorganization of Palestinian society," makes the current policies of apartheid, displacement, and violent repression sound benign and humane.

"The option of continued and enhanced Israeli control is unattractive to many. But it is the only option that will provide an environment conducive to such a long-term reorganization of Palestinian society that will also safeguard Israel's own security and national well-being.

While it is vital to recognize that the failed two-state solution must be abandoned, it is equally important that it not be replaced with another failed proposition. The best way to move forward is by adopting a stabilization policy that enables Israel to secure itself while providing an opportunity for Palestinians to integrate gradually and peacefully with their Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian neighbors."

3. Urgent action call from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Act Now to Defend the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) in Gaza (Relief Agency Comes Under Attack in Congress). From looking at the language of the bill, this resolution has the fingerprints of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) all over it.

Excerpt: The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urges you to act quickly to oppose House Congressional Resolution 29 (H. Con. Res 29) which questions support for the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and alleges its support for terror organizations. H. Con. Res. 29 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. While the people of the Gaza Strip are suffering after years of occupation, blockade and weeks of war UNRWA deserves only steadfast American support and aid to alleviate the suffering in Gaza. The attempts to make UNRWA's job harder and limit funding for the organization sends the message that the United States is actively seeking the continued deprivation of the Palestinian people.

4. More on Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and the South African dockworkers' decision not to unload Israeli ships from South African political economist Patrick Bond. He also talks about the controversial remarks of a local foreign ministry official, as well as AIPAC's "stranglehold" on Congress.

"Durban for Palestine via BDS," Partick Bond, ZNet 2/5/09

Excerpt: On January 14, the Israel Lobby - especially the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) - was stupidly misnamed by SA's deputy foreign affairs minister Fatima Hajaig as "Jews" (though there are plenty of right-wing Christian zealots who fanatically support Israel's barbaric policies): "If Jewish money controls their country, you cannot expect anything else."

Though she obviously should have used the adjective "Zionist" not "Jew", Hajaig's basic point is correct. Assuming she corrects the phraseology, she should not face the threatened "hate speech" case filed by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in the SA Human Rights Commission last week.

(As a brand new foreign ministry official, Hajaig should turn her attention to reversing SA foreign policy, and now offer consistent solidarity with the oppressed, in view of Pretoria's "talk left, walk right" tendency and abominable recent record of oppression-nurture in the UN Security Council, against the Zimbabwean and Burmese peoples.)

After all, as the two leading experts on the Israel Lobby - the University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer and Harvard's Stephen Walt - pointed out in the London Review of Books, both Fortune magazine and the National Journal rated AIPAC as second most powerful lobby (behind the American Association of Retired Persons) "in the Washington 'muscle rankings'."

How did AIPAC build its muscles? Just like Hajaig says: with money. According to Mearsheimer and Walt, "Its success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. Money is critical to US elections (as the scandal over the lobbyist Jack Abramoff's shady dealings reminds us), and AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the many pro-Israel political action committees. Anyone who is seen as hostile to Israel can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to his or her political opponents."

Mearsheimer and Walt conclude, "The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress... The Lobby's influence causes trouble on several fronts. It increases the terrorist danger that all states face - including America's European allies. It has made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Gaza Digest 10, February 3, 2009

Just back from D.C. and the excellent grassroots training and lobbying day with the U.S. Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation/Interfaith Peace Builders. It was interesting to see the gleam of interest in Gillibrand's staffer's eyes when the church ladies announced that they represented the views of 400 Methodist Churches in NY State. Sorry this is a little long. NK

1. Brief and heartfelt call for equal rights and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians by Daniel Barenboim and co-signed by many illustrious writers, artists, filmmakers, actors, etc.

"Please Listen Before It is Too Late", by Daniel Barenboim, 2/26/09, New York Review of Books

For the last forty years, history has proven that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict cannot be settled by force. Every effort, every possible means and resource of imagination and reflection should now be brought into play to find a new way forward. A new initiative which allays fear and suffering, acknowledges the injustice done, and leads to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike. An initiative which demands of all sides a common responsibility: to ensure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and to ensure the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future.

2. "Remove my grandfather's name from Vad Yashem" by Jean-Moise Braitberg.

French writer and grandson of Holocaust survivors pens an open letter to Shimon Peres that is published in LE MONDE.

Commentary with English translation found here.

Excerpt: "I ask you to accede to my request, Mr. President, because what has happened in Gaza, and more generally the fate given to the Arab people of Palestine for sixty years, disqualifies Israel in my eyes as a center for the memory of the evil done to Jews and thereby to all of humanity."

And related is Professor Norman Finkelstein's pictorial commentary: "The Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors from World War II Are Doing to the Palestinians Exactly What Was Done to Them by Nazi Germany." WARNING: SOME DISTURBING GRAPHIC IMAGES. FYI, Finkelstein has been banned from entering Israel for ten years (you can read more about him here.).

2. Discussion of possible prosecution for war crimes of members of the Israeli Government and leadership of the Israeli Defense Forces by Israeli writer and peace activist Uri Avnery.

Under the Black Flag: Israeli War Crimes by Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 2/2/09

Excerpt: The things said during the war by politicians and officers make it clear that the plan had at least two aims, which might be considered war crimes: (1) To cause widespread killing and destruction, in order to "fix a price tag", "to burn into their consciousness", "to reinforce deterrence", and most of all – to get the population to rise up against Hamas and overthrow their government. Clearly this affects mainly the civilian population. (2) To avoid casualties to our army at (literally) any price by destroying any building and killing any human being in the area into which our troops were about to move, including destroying homes over the heads of their inhabitants, preventing medical teams from reaching the victims, killing people indiscriminately. In certain cases, inhabitants were warned that they must flee, but this was mainly an alibi-action: there was nowhere to flee to, and often fire was opened on people trying to escape.

3. South African dockworkers announce intention to refuse to offload a ship from Israel.

Press Advisory from the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Palestine Support Committee of South Africa

Excerpt: In a historic development for South Africa, South African dockworkers have announced their determination not to offload a ship from Israel that is scheduled to dock in Durban on Sunday, 8 February 2009. This follows the decision by Cosatu to strengthen the campaign in South Africa for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Apartheid Israel.

The pledge by Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) members in Durban reflects the commitment by South African workers to refuse to support oppression and exploitation across the globe. Last year, Durban dockworkers refused to offload a shipment of arms that had arrived from China and was destined for Zimbabwe. Now, says Satawu's General Secretary Randall Howard, the union's members are committing themselves not to handle Israeli goods.

4. Details on negotiations underway between Israeli Government and Hamas about a captured Israeli soldier and the at least partial lifting of the blockade.

Hamas: Israel offered 75% of Gaza Aid in Exchange for Shalit, Haaretz, 2/3/09

A Hamas official said Tuesday that Israel has offered to allow in 75 percent of the goods it currently bans from entering the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, according to the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency.

The remaining 25 percent are goods Israel says could be used to make weapons.

Salah al-Bardawil, a leading Hamas member in the Palestinian parliament, told the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency that his movement would be ready for a prisoner exchange with Israel starting Thursday.

He added that Hamas would, as part of a cease-fire, agree to stop firing projectiles into Israel, and said Hamas had asked for Egypt's help in convincing other factions to show restraint.

Gaza Digest 9, January 31, 2009

One last one before I head to D.C. ….

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch, "The Incendiary IDF," 1/22/09

Roth discusses Israel's "targeting" of government buildings and police stations in Gaza (illegal under international law) and its use of white phosphorous in a heavily populated civilian area, also in direct contravention of international law.

Excerpt: Such unlawful endangering of civilian life in Gaza cannot be justified by Hamas' deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on Israeli cities and towns. Illegality by one side to a conflict does not excuse illegality by the other. And as should be obvious, it is hardly in Israel's interest to degrade international law protecting civilians.

Predictably, the IDF holds Hamas wholly responsible for civilian casualties in Gaza, alleging that Hamas combatants stored weapons in mosques and fought from among civilians. Those allegations may or may not be true. Long experience, as during the 2006 war in Lebanon, shows that we must take such ritual IDF pronouncements with a grain of salt. We will not know exactly how Hamas waged the war until human rights monitors can conclude the on-the-ground investigations that they are only just beginning because of the IDF's earlier refusal to let them into Gaza.

Israelis seem dismayed that the world has not embraced the justness of its latest war in Gaza. Of course Israel is entitled to defend itself from Hamas' rocket attacks, but when it does so in violation of its duty to spare civilians, and with so massive a civilian toll, public outrage is entirely predictable. Meanwhile, the IDF does itself no favor when it resorts to censorship, PR techniques and misrepresentation rather than subject its conduct to the open and independent scrutiny that should characterize any military that is genuinely committed to respecting the laws of war.

LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS CONTRIBUTORS RESPOND TO GAZA: Tariq Ali, David Bromwich, Alastair Crooke, Conor Gearty, Eric Hobsbawm, R.W. Johnson, Rashid Khalidi, Yitzhak Laor, Yonatan Mendel, John Mearsheimer, Ilan Pappe, Gabriel Piterberg, Jacqueline Rose, Eliot Weinberger, Michael Wood

Each of the contributors approaches the problem from a slightly different angle, most of the pieces are filled with a combination of despair and fury. Below is an excerpt from Mearsheimer.

John Mearsheimer: The Gaza war is not going to change relations between Israel and the Palestinians in any meaningful way. Instead, the conflict is likely to get worse in the years ahead. Israel will build more settlements and roads in the West Bank and the Palestinians will remain locked up in a handful of impoverished enclaves in Gaza and the West Bank. The two-state solution is probably dead.

Palestinian Men Bear Trauma of War by Zeina Awad, Al Jazeera, 1/29/09


The war on Gaza has taken a heavy emotional and mental toll on the people of the Gaza Strip. Doctors say that at least half of the population need professional help to come to terms with the war.

Palestinian men have been hit especially hard. Many of them have spent the last two years struggling to find work under Israel's blockade of the territory and the horrors of the war have made things harder and more traumatic.

PCHR (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) Report: Human Rights Violations on Palestinian Medical Personnel in Gaza

Summary: According to PCHR investigations, which include statements from eye-witnesses, IOF have perpetrated crimes amounting to war crimes against medical personnel working in the Gaza Strip, in clear violation of the (1949) Fourth Geneva Convention, which affords special protection to medical personnel. Since the launch of their military offensive against the population of the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008, IOF have killed seven Palestinian medical personnel, and wounded dozens of others, whilst they were attempting to evacuate and transfer the dead and injured. IOF have launched ground, sea and air attacks targeting medical personnel and medical facilities, including ambulances, and in addition have obstructed the access of medical personnel to the dead and injured.

Gaza Digest 8, January 30, 2009

1. You can take action via J Street to counter the CAMERA (the Orwellian-named Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) pushback on Bob Simon's excellent and fair-minded West Bank report on 60-minutes.

See clip of 60-minutes piece and Take action.

2. Turkish PM Storms of the Stage at Davos in Gaza Row


Mr Erdogan was cut off as he attempted to reply to a passionate defence of Israel's actions made by Mr Peres. Earlier he spoke himself, describing Gaza as an "open-air prison".

From the AP report on the same event:


"I have know Shimon Peres for many years and I also know Erdogan. I have never seen Shimon Peres so passionate as he was today. I think he felt Israel was being attacked by so many in the international community. He felt isolated," said former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said.

"I was very sad that Ergodan left. This was an expression of how difficult this situation is."

3. How to counter the Bloomberg argument that if rockets were falling in New York from New Jersey, New York would have the right to bomb the hell out of New Jersey.

When Israel expelled Palestinians: What if it was San Diego and Tijuana instead? By Randall Kuhn, Washington Times, 1/14/09


Think about what would happen if, after expelling all of the minorities from San Diego to Tijuana and subjecting them to 40 years of brutal military occupation, we just left Tijuana, removing all the white settlers and the soldiers? Only instead of giving them their freedom, we built a 20-foot tall electrified wall around Tijuana? Not just on the sides bordering San Diego, but on all the Mexico crossings as well. What if we set up 50-foot high watchtowers with machine gun batteries, and told them that if they stood within 100 yards of this wall we would shoot them dead on sight? And four out of every five days we kept every single one of those border crossings closed, not even allowing food, clothing, or medicine to arrive. And we patrolled their air space with our state-of-the-art fighter jets but didn't allow them so much as a crop duster. And we patrolled their waters with destroyers and submarines, but didn't even allow them to fish.

4. For first time, U.S. professors call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel

By Raphael Ahren, Haaretz, 1/29/09


In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, a group of American university professors has for the first time launched a national campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America. Israeli professors are not sure yet how big of an impact the one-week-old movement will have, but started discussing the significance of and possible counteractions against the campaign.

"As educators of conscience, we have been unable to stand by and watch in silence Israel's indiscriminate assault on the Gaza Strip and its educational institutions," the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel stated in its inaugural press release last Thursday. Speaking in its mission statement of the "censorship and silencing of the Palestine question in U.S. universities, as well as U.S. society at large," the group follows the usual pattern of such boycotts, calling for "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel, such as the implementation of divestment initiatives, "similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."

And here is the campaign web site.

Plus more on the push for a boycott campaign.

Birzeit University Right to Education Campaign: Open Letter to International Academic Institutions from the R2E Campaign, 1/17/09

Gaza Digest 7, January 29, 2009

1. The times they are a-changing….

Amazing 60 minutes segment on the West Bank from earlier this week. You can watch it at the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation site, and then send a letter thanking CBS for its unprecedented (in the mainstream U.S. media) coverage of the issue.

2. The Gaza War Ended in Utter Failure for Israel, by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 1/22/09

Excerpt: Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.

The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.

3. Great interview with Kathy Kelly of the Voices for Creative Nonviolence from Democracy Now. You can listen or read the transcript.


AMY GOODMAN: Israel said the tunnels are used for weapons smuggling, and Tzipi Livni came to the US in the amidst of the attacks to get the US to vow they would stop this weapons smuggling.

KATHY KELLY: But oughtn't we just use that as a segue into understanding the extent of the United States weapon delivery to the Israeli government? I mean, the planes that were flying overhead were using aviation fuel given free of charge by the United States taxpayers. The drones that are flying overhead doing surveillance represent state-of-the-art modern technology. The amount of money the United States gives annually, $2.6 billion, to Israel—this is a delivery that doesn't even require any kind of smuggling, because the world has said, yes, the United States and Israel can collaborate, and they can beat up on Palestinian people, pounding them into the ground as much as they want, and there will be complicity.

4. "The shortcut to peace is justice."

The Shortcut to Peace by Hasan Abu Nimah, 1/28/09

Excerpt: "Should we not acknowledge -- if there is any real desire to resolve this conflict -- that the resistance did not fire rockets just because they had them, and Israel did not carry out its barbarous massacres in Gaza just because it wanted to stop them? Should we not acknowledge the indisputable truth that Hamas did not break the truce, but Israel did when it attacked across the border on 4 November killing six Palestinians? Hamas did not refuse to renew the truce -- as Abbas and Egyptian officials confirmed. All they asked was that the halt to killing be extended to the West Bank (which Israel refused) and that the starvation siege that was quietly killing Palestinians in Gaza be lifted. Have we not been all along taught that blockade is an act of aggression and that occupation legitimizes resistance?"

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished on Electronic Intifada with the author's permission.

Gaza Digest 6, January 28, 2009


Fuelling the cycle of hate: War is teaching the children of Israel and Gaza that the other side is a bloodthirsty monster, and destroying any desire for peace, by Neve Gordon and Yigal Bronner, Guardian, 1/27//09


Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: "Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?" sang the crowd. "Because all the children were gunned down!" came the answer.

Aside from its sheer barbarism, this chant reflects the widespread belief among Israeli Jews that Israel scored an impressive victory in Gaza – a victory measured, not least, by the death toll.

2. Reports on an interesting study by the authors about what kinds of language—as opposed to concrete offers—can possibly generate a settlement.

How Words Could End a War by Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges, NY Times Op-Ed, 1/25/09

As diplomats stitch together a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the most depressing feature of the conflict is the sense that future fighting is inevitable. Rational calculation suggests that neither side can win these wars. The thousands of lives and billions of dollars sacrificed in fighting demonstrate the advantages of peace and coexistence; yet still both sides opt to fight.

3. This came via Jewish Peace News. Apparently it was printed in English only and won't be published in Hebrew.

View from Ramallah/Israeli Refuseniks Confront the IDF, from Ni'lin to Tel Aviva, Jesse Rosenfeld, Haaretz, 1/21/09


Following publication of high school refusenik's open letter, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz last September launched a criminal investigation into the New Profile organization - which provides support and information for people planning on or actively refusing military service.

Haaretz reported then that the inquiry into whether the organization was guilty of "incitement to draft dodging" was launched in the wake of a February request by the military.

The "incitement to draft dodging" law has never before been investigated, but New Profile organizer Haggai Matar said the group is careful to ensure that all its work is legal.

"We are trying to offer an alternative to Israel's security discourse, to ask who's secure and whose security we are talking about," he explains. "We argue that perhaps we should talk about a different kind of security - social security, equality and security from needing."

4. Sight of a Palestinian doctor's anguish—on national TV—at the death of his daughters due to Israeli bombing has people at odds.

"Doctor's Anguish Stirs Ugly Debate Among Israelis"


Larry Derfner, an American-Israeli columnist at the Jerusalem Post, said that the truth is too painful for Israelis to accept, so some just refuse to believe that innocent civilians were killed.

"The worse it gets, the harder you have to defend it," he said. "There's too much to admit, there's too much guilt to take on."

Gaza Digest 5, January 27, 2009

1. Article from Haaretz about propaganda campaign aimed at Israeli troops

"IDF rabbinate publication during Gaza war: We will show no mercy on the cruel," 1/26/09, Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent


An overview of some of the army rabbinate's publications made available during the fighting reflects the tone of nationalist propaganda that steps blatantly into politics, sounds racist and can be interpreted as a call to challenge international law when it comes to dealing with enemy civilians.

2. Humanitarian crisis continues in Gaza…

Gaza Faces Failed Crop Harvests After the Bombardment by Israel, London Times, 1/26/09


International aid groups say that while Israel's continuing restrictions on the flow of goods and relief workers into the devastated enclave is hampering emergency efforts, the destruction of Gaza's agriculture means that harvests are likely to fail and the Strip will depend more on handouts.

3. Ethan Bronner writes about the difficulty of covering Gaza for the New York Times.

Gaza Notebook: The Bullets in My In-Box By ETHAN BRONNER, 1/25/09, NY Times

Excerpt: I have written about the Arab-Israeli conflict on and off for more than a quarter-century and have spent the past four weeks covering Israel's war in Gaza. For me, Mr. Husseini's story sums up how the two sides speak in two distinct tongues, how the very words they use mean opposite things to each other, and how the war of language can confound a reporter's attempts to narrate — or a new president's attempts to mediate — this conflict in a way both sides can accept as fair.

4. Who Profits? Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry


The Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel launches a groundbreaking new database of companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation. This online database (see: reflects an on-going grassroots investigation effort by The Coalition of Women for Peace, a leading Israeli feminist peace organization dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just peace in Israel/ Palestine (see:

Gaza Digest 4, January 26, 2009

1. Israel Destroys the American International School in Gaza

Report from CNN, with the usual explanation from Israel about WHY the school was targeted. Remarkably "balanced" for CNN.

And here is the web site for the school.

2. Israel Admits Using White Phosphorous, Jan. 24th, Report from the Times of London

Excerpt: "After weeks of denying that it used white phosphorus in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted yesterday that the weapon was deployed in its offensive.

The army's use of white phosphorus – which makes a distinctive shellburst of dozens of smoke trails – was reported first by The Times on January 5, when it was strenuously denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that initial denial. "Yes, phosphorus was used but not in any illegal manner," Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. "Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is holding an investigation concerning one specific incident."

3. And in a related press release, Amnesty International calls on Israel to identify what weapons were used in order to aid doctors in treating wounded Palestinians.

Excerpt: Saying doctors are finding new and unexplained patterns of injury among the wounded in Gaza, Amnesty International today called on the Israeli authorities to urgently disclose all weapons and munitions their forces used during military operations to prevent the loss of more lives.

"It is vital and urgent that the Israeli authorities disclose all relevant information including what weapons and munitions they used," said Donatella Rovera, who is leading Amnesty International's investigations team in Gaza. "More lives must not be lost because doctors do not know what caused their patients' injuries and what medical complications may occur. They have to be fully informed so that they can provide life-saving care."

Rovera said doctors are telling Amnesty International they are encountering new and unexplained patterns of injury among some of the Palestinians injured. "Some victims of Israeli air strikes were brought in with charred and sharply severed limbs and doctors treating them need to know what weapons were used," she said.

4. Israel Prepares Legal Defense for Gaza Officers & Soldiers, Jan. 24th

Report from the Associated Press via Yahoo News, and below from Haaretz:

Israel to Approve aid for IDF Officers Accused of Gaza War Crimes

IDF Censor Bars Naming Officers Involved in Gaza Op

As the calls for investigations into the legality of IDF actions in Gaza increase, the Israeli government has announced preparations to defend its soldiers. It has required the blurring of the faces of IDF officers and soldiers in photos and videos of the offensive. No trips to Europe for these guys….

5. Chomsky: "Obama on Israel and Palestine", January 26, 2009

Rather depressing assessment of what Obama has done and said thus far, and how they don't bode well for the future of Palestine/Israel (or Afghanistan, for that matter).

Excerpt: "Barack Obama is recognized to be a person of acute intelligence, a legal scholar, careful with his choice of words.†He deserves to be taken seriously - both what he says, and what he omits.†Particularly significant is his first substantive statement on foreign affairs, on January 22, at the State Department, when introducing George Mitchell to serve as his special envoy for Middle East peace.

Mitchell is to focus his attention on the Israel-Palestine problem, in the wake of the recent US-Israeli invasion of Gaza.†During the murderous assault, Obama remained silent apart from a few platitudes, because, he said, there is only one president - a fact that did not silence him on many other issues.†His campaign did, however, repeat his statement that ‘if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.' He was referring to Israeli children, not the hundreds of Palestinian children being butchered by US arms, about whom he could not speak, because there was only one president.

On January 22, however, the one president was Barack Obama, so he could speak freely about these matters - avoiding, however, the attack on Gaza, which had, conveniently, been called off just before the inauguration.

Obama's talk emphasized his commitment to a peaceful settlement.†He left its contours vague, apart from one specific proposal: "the Arab peace initiative," Obama said, "contains constructive elements that could help advance these efforts. †Now is the time for Arab states to act on the initiative's promise by supporting the Palestinian government under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, taking steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, and by standing up to extremism that threatens us all."

Obama is not directly falsifying the Arab League proposal, but the carefully framed deceit is instructive.

The Arab League peace proposal does indeed call for normalization of relations with Israel - in the context - repeat, in the context of a two-state settlement in terms of the longstanding international consensus, which the US and Israel have blocked for over 30 years, in international isolation, and still do.†The core of the Arab League proposal, as Obama and his Mideast advisers know very well, is its call for a peaceful political settlement in these terms, which are well-known, and recognized to be the only basis for the peaceful settlement to which Obama professes to be committed.†The omission of that crucial fact can hardly be accidental, and signals clearly that Obama envisions no departure from US rejectionism.†His call for the Arab states to act on a corollary to their proposal, while the US ignores even the existence of its central content, which is the precondition for the corollary, surpasses cynicism…"

Gaza Digest 3, January 22, 2009

1. "How Israel drowns dissent: Firefighters turned their hoses on a peaceful anti-war protester last week. Their attitude reflects a worrying shift in public opinion…", Seth Freedman.


Last week, at the height of Operation Cast Lead, a group of Israeli firemen threw their hats into the political ring, albeit in somewhat undiplomatic and uncivilised fashion. During a peaceful anti-war vigil outside a Tel Aviv air force base, several members of the fire brigade turned on one protester, drenching her relentlessly with water from their hoses, before approaching her and ordering her into the station in order to "give us all head".

2. Profound Psychological Damage in Gaza by Eve Bartlett

Bartlett, who has been in Gaza since November as part of the International Solidarity Movement, describes visiting families she knows to record their testimonies of what happened to them during the recent Israeli assault.

3. "Outcry Erupts Over Reports that Israel Used Phosphorous Arms on Gazans," Ethan Bronner, NYTimes, Jan 22, 09, with quotations from a mother whose children burned to death in front of her.

4. "IDF in Gaza: Murder in Cold Blood"

From Tikun Olam blog—description of Palestinian children shot at close range by IDF soldier

5. "Why Israel Won't Survive, " by Ali Abuminah, Jan. 19, 09

6. And a wild one from Today's New York Times: Muammar Qaddafi calls for a One-State Solution in a not entirely historically accurate op-ed. Can't wait to see the letters in response.

Gaza Digest 2, Jan. 21, 2009
More in the news at the Guardian and elsewhere about the use of white phosphorous in Gaza. The U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation will be having a two-day meeting—grassroots training followed by lobbying—in D.C. Feb.1-2. See more about it here

1. Father of the Israelie peace movement tries to break through the propaganda wall with a comparison to WWII

NEARLY SEVENTY YEARS ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called "the Red Army" held the millions of the town's inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.

2. Wouldn't it be lovely if they all met up in The Hague with Bush, Cheney & Co?

"Israeli Human Rights Activists: Arrest Olmert, Livni, and Bark for War Crimes" by Ofri Ilani, Haaretz, 1/21/09

Human rights activists have anonymously set up a web site calling for the arrest of their government's leaders for war crimes in Gaza. There are photos of and detailed charges against each of the supposed war criminals. Site in Hebrew can be found here.

3. Why we need to continue pressing for an end to the blockade.

"Gazans won't maybe die in airstrikes anymore but may still starve to death due to the ongoing siege"
Palestinian National Initiative
20 January 2009

Ramallah, 20-01-09: Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi MP, the Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, spoke out against the faulty unilateral ceasefire declared by Israel.

"What ceasefire?" he asked, "Israel is still reportedly bombarding Palestinians from the sea, and though the troops have been moving back, they are not gone and retain the permission to instigate more violence at will."

"This war and the ceasefire have not brought about a lifting of the siege on Gaza. People might not be dying by gunfire, but they may still starve to death or succumb to easily treatable ailments. This brutal siege has crippled Gaza and most importantly the children", he emphasized, referring on the siege policy that Israel has heavily imposed on the Gaza Strip for 14 months.

Studies in Gaza have revealed 'stunting' in children compared to their West Bank counterparts due to the siege. A 12-year-old child in Gaza is now about the same size as an 8-year-old in the West Bank.

According to the Deputy, "A phenomena like stunting does not occur overnight and is further proof that Israel's claims that they left Gaza 'all alone' after 2005 are utterly false."

He expressed his fear that any violence, regardless of who provokes it, would lead to the military reoccupation of the Strip.

After 24 day of attacks, at least 1,312 people have reportedly been killed (including more than 417 children and 108 women), and more than 5,340 have sustained heavy injuries, including 411 seriously wounded. The majority of the casualties are civilians and 48% are children and women.

At least 22 families were reportedly struck, killing fathers, mothers and children.

4. News and Opinion on Electronic Intifada, including piece by Joseph Massad in "Israel's Right to Defend Itself." 

5. What Israel achieved through its assault on Gaza

This time, it seems, Israel decided to ignore everything and everyone. The use of "disproportionate force" achieved the results and the desired pictures. The sights of the destruction from the heart of Gaza are shocking. The number of victims is horrifying - mainly the relative percentage of the "uninvolved." But Israel beat Hamas, Gaza and the Gazans in a manner that proved to it that it really is in charge and that it is able to go crazy if it so desires.

The pictures of the destruction, more than they were directed at the eyes of Israel's enemies, were directed at Israeli eyes. Eyes that are hungry for revenge, pride and national respect. All these are assets that we lost, in a creeping process, every time Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah or Hamas leader Khaled Meshal threatened a "revenge attack the likes of which Israel has never seen," and our hearts trembled in fear.

The freedom to go crazy, the freedom that was taken from Israel, like the freedom to feel again, even for a brief period, the existence of a real "boss" in the region, is a freedom that Israel has acquired for itself with a great deal of Palestinian blood in these three weeks, and it is also the main, if not the only asset it has as it emerges from this war.

Now, when a balance has been achieved between the size of its ego and its military power, maybe it will be able to calm down. Maybe it will be able to deal with the real core issues of the conflict rather than with its violent, neighborhood, childish images. In that sense, on Sunday, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prophesied that "this war is likely to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians closer," there was no small degree of justice to his words. Paradoxically, a strong Israel, unified and burning with a sense of justice, an Israel that circled above the bodies of its defeated rivals with the hardheartedness of a victor, is an Israel that is far more ready for peace. Perhaps more than ever.

Gaza Digest 1, Jan. 20, 2009

I didn't include the articles about evidence of the IDF's use of white phosphorous and the horrific injuries being seen in the hospitals of Gaza--check the Guardian and AlJazeera for those. Herewith: Chomsky on Gaza, Naomi Klein on BDS, Adam Shapiro of the ISM, more on the Samouni family, and a description from the UK's Stop the War Coalition of a dinner party in Jerusalem.

1. "Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009 by Noam Chomsky, Znet, January 20, 2009

Long, detailed analysis of assault on Gaza within a historical context; blazing yet controlled Chomskyan fury.

As the current US-Israel assault raged, Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained that Israel's tactics both in the current attack and in its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 are based on the sound principle of "trying to `educate' Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population." That makes sense on pragmatic grounds, as it did in Lebanon, where "the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians -- the families and employers of the militants -- to restrain Hezbollah in the future." And by similar logic, bin Laden's effort to "educate" Americans on 9/11 was highly praiseworthy, as were the Nazi attacks on Lidice and Oradour, Putin's destruction of Grozny, and other notable attempts at "education."

2. Law and Disorder radio program on Pacifica, Jan. 19, 2009

CCR Executive Director Michael Ratner speaks with Naomi Klein about the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Movement and with Adam Shapiro of the International Solidarity Movement about the situation in Gaza.

3. Follow-up article in the New York Times about the Samouni Family of Zeitoun who lost over 30 members in an Israeli attack. 

Original article about how the Samouni's were told by the IDF to move to a "safer" location, which was then shelled 24 hours later. 

4. From the Stop the War Coalition (UK)

No. 1075  20 January 2009 
Tel: 020 7278 6694 

Nearest tubes: Great Portland Street, Regents park.


The demonstration this Saturday 24 January will march to Downing Street, calling for the lifting of the Gaza blockade, an end to all arms sales to Israel and for Israel to be made to pay for its war crimes.

We will also be registering our disgust over Gordon Brown's support for Israel following its barbaric attack. The day after the massacre was ended - so as not to spoil Barack 
Obama's inauguration with pictures of phosphorous bombs dropping on UN schools in Gaza - Brown rushed off to join five other heads of government for a celebratory gala dinner at the Jerusalem home of Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert, alongside Olmert's compatriots in mass murder, defence minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

"Thank you for demonstrating your impressive support for the State of Israel", said Olmert, "This is in the supreme interest of all those who fight the forces of evil," among    whom he no doubt meant the 450 children in Gaza killed by Israel over the past three weeks.

To which Brown replied, without a sliver of irony, "The task before us is… an end to arms trafficking." Not of course the arms trafficking which makes Israel the fourth most powerful military in the world, able to use the most advanced weapons of mass slaughter to kill 1400 Palestinians and injure 6000 more.

"Through the anguish and the suffering, we can see the road toward peace," Brown added, as if all the mass death, injuries and destruction, which left Gaza looking like it had been hit by an earthquake, would in some way benefit the cause of peace.