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The Rabbi Who Renounced Zionism May 26, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Human Rights, Religion, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: personally I can do without religion, which I believe for the most part has been a violent and destructive force in human history (including today, especially including today).  Nonetheless, minorities of religious Jews, Catholics, Protestants (including even some Evangelicals), Muslims, Hindus, etc. have fought for justice and human rights and against the hypocrisy withing their own ranks.  They are to be embraced.

 

 

BY ELI MASSEY, In These Times (no date available)

In 2014, Rabbi Brant Rosen resigned his post at the Jewish Reconstructinist Congregation in Evanston.  III., after serving for over 15 years.  His Palestinian solidarity work had become a divisive issue within the community.  Rosen was not always an advocate for Palestinian human rights – he started a blog in 2006, Shalom Rav, in which he chronicled his growing disillusionment with much of the Jewish community’s blind support for the state of Israel.  His painful and public reckoning with Zionism unfolded in the midst of the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, code-named Operation Cast Lead.

In July 2015, Rabbi Rosen founded Tzedek Chicago, a non-Zionist and social justice-focused synagogue, where he serves as rabbi.  (Full disclosure: I’m a congregant.) He also serves as the Midwest regional director for the American Friends Service Committee.

In These Times sat down with Rosen to discuss Tzedek Chicago, Israel and Palestine.

What led you to become an advocate for Palestinian rights?

It was gradual.  Israel had always been a part of my life, and I identified-if I had to put a label on it-as a liberal Zionist.

I, like many Jews, identified with the Zionist narrative.  It’s a very powerful, intoxicating, redemptive story: These people who have been hounded for centuries around the world finally find a way to make it back to their ancestral homeland and liberate themselves.

But there were also, along the way, nagging voices.  I did a good job of keeping those voices locked away and never really following them to their conclusion.

I always wondered about this business of creating a Jewish state when there are so many people who are not Jewish in this land-and how to create a state that was predicated on the identity of one people in a place that historically has been multi-ethnic, multi-religious.

And the whole issue of demographics: Liberal Zionists talk a great deal about what’s called the “demographic problem”: In order to create a Jewish state, you need a demographic majority of Jews.  Back in the day, I used words like “demographic threat” [in reference to the growth in Israel’s Arab population] to advocate for the importance of a two-state solution.  When the two-state solution was still a very edgy thing to be advocating for, it was very, very liberal to talk about it in those terms. But every once in a while I’d think, “They’re a demographic threat, because they’re not Jewish?” As an American, if I called another people a “demographic threat” to the national integrity of my country, that would just be racist.  Those were the kinds of things I would entertain for a while but never completely unpack.

Was there a moment when you “wiped the slumber from your eyes,” so to speak?

It was a gradual process.  I can trace important milestones.  The first important one was the 1982 Lebanon War and Sabra and Shatila massacre.  I remember thinking, “This is Israel’s My Lai.” That was the first time that my romantic Zionist ideals developed cracks.  The Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo peace process and seeing what happened in the wake of Oslo-and the creation of the separation wall, the blockade on Gaza-was when it started to crumble.

Then the final breaking point was in 2008 and 2009 with Operation Cast Lead.  By this point, I had been a congregational rabbi for a little over 10 years, so it became very complicated for me to break with this Zionist narrative, which is so cherished still in liberal Jewish circles.  Operation Cast Lead was where I finally said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Why do you think that so many Jews who are otherwise progressive ignore Israel’s violations of human rights?

In the circles I travel, it’s called the “PEP phenomenon.”

Progressive Except Palestine.

Yes.  That phenomenon is where the struggle for the soul of the Jewish community is taking place right now.

I know that because I’ve been living in that nexus point almost my entire life. For liberal Jews, largely, it goes back to the Zionist narrative, which is a sacred narrative, for Jews who don’t consider themselves religious. It’s a redemptive story, emerges out of the ashes of one of the worst catastrophes in Jewish history, but in human history. The legacy of the Holocaust still looms large in the psyches even young Jews today. The trauma still lingers, and in many ways, it’s exploited by the Jewish community. A lot it boils down to fear.

On Dec. 28, 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, you posted on your blog, “We good liberal Jews are ready to protest oppression and human-rights abuse anywhere in the world, but are all too willing to give Israel a pass. It’s a fascinating double standard, and … I’ve been just as responsible as anyone else for perpetrating it. So no more rationalizations.” You then add: “There, I’ve said it. Now what do I do?” Seven years later, do you have an answer for yourself?

Almost immediately, many people reached out to me. People in the Palestine solidarity movement, but also people in an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, some of whom were members of my congregation and were patiently waiting for me to come around on this issue. They gave me a Jewish community where I realized I could engage in Palestine solidarity work and be a truly progressive Jew on all issues and still have a Jewish institutional, spiritual home. Jewish Voice for Peace then has grown by leaps and bounds.

Describe what Tzedek Chicago is and how it came to be.

I left my congregation because of the circumstance that I’ve described. I didn’t have any intention of starting a new congregation when I left. Shortly after that, I started my full-time job with the American Friends Service Committee. But it became clear to my wife and me that we didn’t have a Jewish spiritual community. A number of us-including some who left the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation when I left because of the pain of the breakup, and others I knew who, because of this issue, didn’t have a congregation where they could feel completely at home – would get together in a havurah, an informal participatory group, mostly for Shabbat dinners. A group of them approached me with the idea of starting a new congregation that was predicated on values of justice and values of human rights and universal democracy, and not predicated on nationalism and Zionism and such. I became very excited about creating a new kind of Jewish congregation that was predicated on the social justice values that are deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition and are not attested to in most Jewish congregations.

What has the response been from the wider Jewish community?

The response to Tzedek Chicago exceeded what even I was hoping for. When we had our High Holiday services in September 2015, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up averaging about 300 people for all of the services. It was clear there is a deep thirst for a community like this.

Israel is at the heart of Jewish communal life for many people.

If we shift the focus of Judaism away from Israel or take Israel out of the equation entirely, what fills this space?

A venerable, centuries-long spiritual tradition that looks at the entire world as our home, the entire diaspora as our One that is predicated on values of justice and decency and morality, being able to find God wherever we live, and seeing all people as created in the divine image, as the Torah teaches us. One of the things Zionism was to colonize the Jewish religion itself. It eclipsed that incredibly beautiful and profound Jewish notion which saw the world as our home.

God isn’t geographically specific to only Israel or Jerusalem or the temple. We bear witness to an ancient truth that is still very relevant in the world today – more than relevant, essential. Universalism is central to our core values and our congregation. And that is a problem for many Jews, too. There’s a strand of Judaism that is very parochial and tribal. It looks at the outside world with suspicion and looks at the Jewish cornmunity as the be-all and end-all. Our future is predicated on finding common cause with all people, particularly those who are oppressed.

Talk of ‘Third Intifada’ Rises as West Bank Tensions Boil June 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: today the Presbyterian Church in the United States voted to divest from three major corporations that supply settlements in Israeli Occupied territories.

 

Bombing of Gaza continues and aggressive raids by the IDF result in two Palestinian deaths overnight

– Jon Queally, staff writer

The mother of Mohammed Dudin, a 14-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli troops in overnight clashes in Dura, weeps during his funeral in the village south of the West Bank city of Hebron on June 20, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

As the death toll rises and clashes mount between Palestinian communities and Israel security forces, the conditions for a widespread street uprising—or intifada—are again taking shape in the occupied West Bank.

Two Palestinians, a teenager and a young man, were killed in separate incidents overnight as violence escalated in the occupied territories with Israeli military units continuing a week of aggressive raids in response to three missing Israeli teenagers who are believed kidnapped.

The Israeli government has said the three missing Israeli teenagers—Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankel—were kidnapped by Hamas, but Hamas leaders deny involvement.

Leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that Israel is now using the teenagers’ disappearance as “a pretext to impose tough punishment against [the Palestinian] people” living in the West Bank and Gaza.

As the Ma’an news agency reports:

Israeli forces shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian boy after clashes erupted early Friday morning during a raid on the southern West Bank village of Dura, near Hebron.

Local sources told Ma’an that Mahmoud Jihad Muhammad Dudeen was struck by live bullets in the chest before being taken to Hebron Governmental Hospital, where he was shortly pronounced dead.

The local sources said Israeli forces opened fire directly on Mahmoud during the clashes which occurred in the Haninia neighborhood of Dura.

The clashes broke out after Israeli forces stormed the village in a dawn raid and began conducting home raids. In response, local youths threw rocks at the soldiers.

Later, Ma’an reported on the second incident which took the life of 22-year-old Mustafa Hosni Aslan, who shot in the head by IDF forces during an IDF raid on the Qalandiya refugee camp south of Ramallah. Three others were also seriously wounded by gunfire.

As seemingly isolated incident now spirals, a not unfamiliar phrase is now creeping back into the fold: Third Intifada.

On Thursday, in response to the IDF raids and threats to expel Hamas members from the West Bank, a senior member of the political faction Salah Bardawil, reportedly said, “We are capable of igniting a third Intifada and this is our irrevocable right. It will go off when enough pressure is exerted on the Palestinian people.”

Conjured mostly in the Israeli press, the idea that the ongoing raids could spark a large-scale uprising among Palestinians in the West Bank is not far-fetched.

However, as Middle East expert and researcher Samer Badawi, writing at the  +972 website observes: “If Israel is hoping to provoke Hamas into launching a barrage of rockets from Gaza, the tactic has so far not worked.”

So far, nearly 300 Palestinians in the West Bank have been arrested as part of the IDF’s crackdown began earlier this week. With the level of violence and tensions within Palestinian communities escalating, new talk is emerging of the possibility of a Third Intifada.

Israel’s air force has also continued to bomb targets in the Gaza Strip, with strikes overnight resulting in injuries to the civilians population in the sealed-off enclave, including children.

According to Haaretz: “Sources in Gaza report that six people, including four children, were lightly wounded by shrapnel resulting from an IAF strike. The airstrike targeted several storage facilities, which according to Palestinian sources served civilian purposes.”

Offering analysis of the overall situation that has resulted from the alleged kidnapping of the young Israeli settlers, Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and former professor at Princeton University, says that recent events should not be viewed without the full context of the ongoing occupation in West Bank.

“It is a basic strategic recipe: If you take away hope for a political solution, you have to expect a spike in violence,” argues Kuttab. “Add to this formula a hunger strike by over 100 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial, that has lasted almost two months without a single attempt to negotiate or hear the prisoners’ demands and you have trouble.”

He continues:

Search for the missing Israelis is useless if it does not include a serious attempt to address the underlying causes of the violence that is the result of a sense of helplessness and despair.

As Palestinian areas enter the 48th year under a foreign military occupation that has along with it a colonial settler campaign, one should not be surprised by violent acts here and there.

The sooner all parties reflect on the larger lessons of this act the sooner we can begin the process of moving towards independence for Palestinians and security for Israelis.

____________________________________

Ariel Sharon: Serial war criminal, mass murderer January 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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The true legacy of a virulent anti-Arab racist

JANUARY 12, 2014

Ariel Sharon: mass murderer

“Ariel Sharon: Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85,” read the headline in the January 12 issue of the New York Times. The Washington Post called Sharon “a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history” who “sought to become the architect of a peaceful future,” accompanied by a most kindly and grandfatherly photo. USA Today: “controversial and iconic.” And on and on in all the U.S. corporate media.

Most of the world knows better, and none know better than the Palestinian and Lebanese people, thousands of whom were victims of this serial war criminal. Sharon’s career was built on massacres–from Qibya in 1953, to Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to Jenin in 2002.

A virulent anti-Arab racist, Sharon had a long and bloody history of murder and repression against the Palestinian people. In the early 1950s, he commanded Unit 101, a special forces company that carried out massacres against Palestinian exiles in Gaza and Jordan.

Despite having conquered 78 percent of Palestine in the 1948 war, Israel’s leaders were far from satisfied.  As has been extensively documented by many Israeli as well as Palestinian historians, Israel sought to provoke a “Second Round” in the early 1950s, in order to take over the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule, Gaza, and more.

A main Israeli tactic was called “retaliation.” In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland from Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres.

For diplomatic and public relations purposes, it was extremely important to Israel to be seen as victim rather than aggressor. This remains true down to the present.

“Retaliation” was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest.

On Oct. 14, 1953, Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked Qibya, a small, undefended village inside the West Bank, and massacred 69 people, many of them burned alive inside their homes. Unit 101 suffered no casualties. It was an atrocity sanctioned at the top and carried out for political ends.

The Qibya raid drew worldwide condemnation, and Jordan, much militarily weaker than Israel, did not respond as the Israeli leaders had hoped. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza would have to wait until 1967.

Sabra  and Shatila massacres

Following the 1967 war of conquest, Sharon was the military governor of Gaza, renowned for extreme brutality in carrying out a policy of systematic torture and assassination of Palestinians resisting occupation.
Sharon is most notorious for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As Israel’s defense minister, Sharon organized and led, with full U.S. backing, the massive assault on Lebanon. For three months in the summer of 1982, Israeli bombers, supplied by the U.S., relentlessly pounded Beirut and other cities and towns, killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Lebanon had no air defense system.

The stated objective of the invasion was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees–those driven from their homeland to make way for the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants–living in Lebanon. Altogether, more than seven million Palestinians today live in exile.

After three months of bombing, the central PLO leadership agreed to evacuate its fighters from Lebanon. As part of the cease-fire agreement requiring them to leave, the remaining Palestinian civilian population was to be placed under international protection.

Sharon, however, publicly stated that 2,000 “terrorists” remained in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In reality, those remaining in the camps were almost all children, women and elderly men. Virtually all of the young men had been evacuated.

Israeli tanks surrounded the camps in violation of the cease-fire agreement. Then, on Sept. 16, 1982, with the full knowledge and consent of Sharon and the Israeli occupiers then in control of the area, Lebanese Phalangist militias were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut.

The fascist Phalange—open admirers of Adolf Hitler who took their name from Franco’s party in Spain—were Israel’s closest allies in Lebanon. The Phalangists wore Israeli-supplied uniforms and carried Israeli-supplied weapons.
For three days, they rampaged through the Palestinian camps, torturing, raping and murdering. Many of the victims were disemboweled or decapitated. No one was spared—neither the very old nor the very young. By the end, more than 1,900 Palestinian children, women and men lay dead.

Though overwhelming evidence showed that Sharon and other Israeli commanders had sent the fascists into the undefended camps, a 1983 Israeli court of inquiry found Sharon only “indirectly responsible” for the massacre. One might think that even “indirect” responsibility for the butchering of nearly two thousand people would mean at least an end to the guilty individual’s political career. But not in apartheid Israel.
While Sharon was forced to resign from the Israeli cabinet following the court of inquiry, he continued to be a key political actor and came back as a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

Al-Aqsa Intifada and Sharon’s election as prime minister

On September 28, 2000, Sharon staged another famous provocation, “visiting” the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Muslim holy site. While proclaiming his “right” to travel anywhere in Jerusalem, the hated killer did not venture out alone. Instead, he was accompanied by 1,500 armed police. Even so, hundreds of Palestinians fought back, marking the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada or uprising, which would continue for many years.

Five months later, in February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister. In March 2002, the Israeli military carried out a massive operation in the West Bank and Gaza seeking to suppress the intifada. Among the most brutal attacks was one on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Over several days, using militarized bulldozers along with heavy weapons, the Israel military demolished much of the camp, burying many people alive.

The same year, Sharon began building the apartheid wall through the West Bank confiscating still more Palestinian land.

Sharon: The imaginary “peacemaker”

The false claim that Sharon turned into a “man of peace” hinges on his decision to withdraw military bases and the small, non-viable Israeli settlements from inside Gaza. And while Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the withdrawal, Israel continued to keep Gaza surrounded and blockaded.

Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, while denounced by some fascist settlers, was based on a determination to secure even more control of the West Bank
In a July 21, 2000 interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became prime minister, Sharon called for Israel to “retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided…under full Israeli sovereignty.” This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war.

“Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones—in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel.”
Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. “Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them…will remain under full Israeli control,” Sharon continued. “Judea and Samaria” is the Israeli settlers’ name for the West Bank.

“Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees’ predicament.”

“As a vital existential need, Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank]…The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel’s water resources.”

The Palestinian “state” that Sharon proposed was one that would be unlike any other country in the world. It would not control its own resources including water, or its airspace, or even its own borders, and would be a defenseless entity smack up against one of the world’s most highly militarized states.

False headlines notwithstanding, Sharon will go down in history not as any kind of imagined peacemaker, but instead as the blood-stained and racist mass murderer that he was.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

The Einstein Letter at 65 December 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 12/5/2013 at 12:48:38

On Dec. 4, 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and 26 others had a letter published in the New York Times warning about the then new “Herut” Party in Israel that was beginning a major fund raising drive in the United States.  Herut has since morphed into the Likud, which runs the government now and has been the dominant party in Israel for over 35 years.

einstein_1921_by_f_schmutzer_wikicommons-jpg_51895_20131202-196

(image by Wikicommons)

The letter pulled no punches.   It described the party as “a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist  parties.”  Realize this was just 3 years after World War II and you see the power of the accusation.  It explains that the party was based on the former “Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.”  It warned Americans to avoid the tour of party leader Menachem Begin (and later Israeli prime minister) so as not to support “Fascism” in Israel.  The letter writers warned that the party pretended to stand for freedom and democracy, but “until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state.”  The letter explained that the party in its actions was “terrorist” and related its part in the massacre of hundreds that spring in Deir Yassin and its beatings and shooting of Jews in Palestine that stood in its way.

The letter writers had a warning for labor leaders.   “Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions.”

It concluded by explaining that the signers felt they had to send the letter because “the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin’s efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.”

While very progressive on the whole the letter is not above criticism.   In criticizing the followers of Herut the letter says, “They have reclaimed no land, built no settlements, and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity.”   We know full well now about the settlements built by the Zionist “Left” generally built on land taken from Palestinians and almost universally restricted to “Jews only”.

Ten years ago I interviewed Columbia professor and social critic Seymour Melman(pp. 5-7) who then was one of the last surviving signers of the letter.  He said the letter was largely composed by Zelig S. Harris and members of a group of Zionists that supported a “bi-nationalist” country. (At the time it was also called anti-state Zionism.) Einstein was friendly to the group.

I asked Melman about the effect of the letter. He said it “torpedoed much of their PR activity” and led to the cancellation by a major speaker at the Carnegie Hall event, John F. Kennedy.

When asked to talk about the Likud, the successor to the Herut, Melman said it had the “unmistakable stamp of a fascist party”.  He said, “Israel is not fascist, but the Likud is fascist.”

Certainly Israel is not fascist in the old mold with one dictator ruling for life.  It’s closer to the apartheid model of South Africa with the privileged “race” being allowed to vote for a multi-party parliament.  Yet to the victims the racism and violence of modern Zionism the distinctions are hardly important

Some of the newest outrages

Five teenagers face charges of attempted murder for throwing stones at cars and could be imprisoned for life

Israeli forces swept into the home of Muhammad al-Majid seeking to arrest him.  The youth is four years old.  In the same article on the Electronic Intifada it was noted that Muslim Odeh had been arrested 10 times and physically abused by Israeli occupation forces.  Odeh is 12 years old.

The Israelis and the Egyptian regime have been smashing up the tunnels from Egypt that have provided the Gaza Strip with fuel.  The result is the only power plant on the Strip has closed.  The sewage plant closed and in some areas raw sewage water has leaked into streets and paths.  Recently the lack of fuel has caused all the garbage trucks in the Strip to stop running.   A Gaza school teacher said, “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubbish now litter Gaza’s streets,”

On November 28 Nour Afaneh , suffering from pneumonia, died in an ambulance on her way to a hospital in Ramallah.  The ambulance had tried to get through the “Container” checkpoint near Bethlehem, but found it closed.. She was 14 years old.    Israel has several hundred permanent and temporary checkpoints separating one part of Palestinian populated areas from another part of Palestinian area.

There were race riots against black Africans in Tel Aviv in May 2012.  As a result Israel has built a new wall along its Egyptian border to keep out all Africans seeking asylum.  As a result the number of Africans making it into Israel in the start of 2013   has declined 99%  over the number in the same part of 2012.   As of July 1,000 Eritreans were being kept in a detention center in a desert and are being sent back to Eritrea.

Even though they are Israeli citizens some 40,000 to 70,000 will be thrown off their land in the Negev through the Prawer plan now pending in the Israeli parliament.  35 “unrecognized” Arab villages are to be destroyed to be replaced by Jewish-only settlements. (There were wide scale protests in Israel and in other countries the last weekend in November)

In July 2011 the Israeli Knesset made it illegal for an Israeli to call for Israeli goods to be boycotted and gave those supposedly affected easy ways to sue those calling for boycott.

There was a brave column by Gideon Levy in an Israeli paper on November 30th  of this year saying the case of Iran shows that sanctions do work and explaining there was no reason to limit boycotts to settlement products in the West Bank.   He could be sued.

Things were bad enough under the apartheid building Israeli Labour party.  Thirty-five years rule of Israel by a “fascist” party have made the situation for worse and far more naked in the amount of open racism.

Postscript: For those who want to fight the Prawer Plan see the campaign being mounted by J ewish Voice for Peace (jewishvoiceforpeace.org)

“They’re Experts at Turning Blood into Money” July 20, 2013

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June 22, 2013 by Matthew Vickery, http://whatsleftoftheleft.com/2013/06/22/theyre-experts-at-turning-blood-into-money/

I was back in Nabi Salih yesterday, a rural village of around 500 in the beautiful Palestinian hills north of Ramallah, which has been touted as the place where a Palestinian Third Intifada could start due to the Israeli army’s unbelievably harsh policy with the village. This is a village that copes with daily incursions by the Israeli army; where villagers have been killed in the last two years during non-violent protests against the occupation and the settlement of Halamish that has stolen their water supply (with the backing of the army); where young adults are imprisoned on no charges through the ‘administrative detention’ law; where young children are taken from their homes in the middle of the night, to be threatened and humiliated by an army which has only one purpose, to keep any form of civil disobedience quashed.

Tear gas on the hillside of Nabi Salih

Tear gas on the hillside of Nabi Salih

My presence in Nabi Salih yesterday was to join the weekly Friday protest march against the daily battle of Israeli occupation. I could write pages and pages about the copious amounts of tear gas fired at us; or the use of ‘rubber coated’ steel bullets that were fired at protesters, leaving everyone scrambling to get down for cover; the villager targeted directly with live ammunition; the medic targeted and hit in the head with a sound grenade;  the journalist beaten up by soldiers; or the olive grove (a vital source of income) set on fire by the army. However the information on this use of force, this horrific use of force on unarmed protesters week in, week out, in Nabi Salih and other villagers like Bil’in, Nil’lin and Qaddam, is already readily available, there exists pages and pages describing this force and its effects on Palestinian protesters, yet it seems that barely anyone wants to know.

Instead while sheltering in a villagers home after the army started stalking the internal roads of the village looking for individuals to target, I started speaking to an Israeli activist, who, despite it being illegal for anyone who holds an Israeli passport to be in Area A of the West Bank, was compelled to stand side-by-side with the villagers of Nabi Salih in their struggle.

It was what she said about the Israeli government during this conversation however that struck me: “they’re experts at turning blood into money.”

As someone who is well aware of the majority society discourse in Israel and who has come across it frequently, it is a rarity to get an Israeli-Jewish citizen who criticises the State for its dealings with the occupied Palestinian population, never mind someone willing to come out with a statement that is so strong, and would be regarded as traitorous by Israeli majority society. But she is completely correct.

At almost every protest I have been to, including yesterdays, there have always been rumours about a new form of ammunition/gas/water cannon/sound grenade, and so on. Why? Well, these protests are the Israeli army’s testing ground, they know it and Palestinians know it. Over the years new weapons have been tested out on Palestinians in the West Bank, often tried out at these non-violent protests. In essence these protests are perfect; they provide unarmed live targets, which keep coming back week in, week out, allowing the latest Israeli innovations in military technology to be tested.  This technology is then honed, improved, and then marketed to companies and countries around the world, with an invisible – but known – ‘Tested in the West Bank’ sticker. The injuries and deaths caused to Palestinians are just part and parcel of this process, or furthermore, proof of the working capability of these latest innovations.

But what can Palestinians do. If they don’t protest, even the hope that something could change in the future will begin to wane, the army will just continue what it does currently, and settlers from illegal Israeli settlements like Halamish will just grow bolder in what they feel they can take from, and do to, their suppressed Palestinian neighbours. However if they do protest they are part of this process, while also risking injury and at times death, all while practicing modes of civil disobedience that are deemed as good and correct the world over.

Sometimes resistance is symbolic, but at least it is still resistance; yet it pains me to see this exploited so heavily, not just for land, or to reinforce military occupation, but also for profit.

The Israeli government and the Israeli army have become, in the words of one rare, yet shining example of hope within this conflict, “experts at turning blood into money”.

I struggle to think of a sadder reality of national expertise.

(NB: I hope to write something in the next couple of weeks about Israeli-Jewish left-wing activists who go against the grain in their support of Palestinian self-determination and human rights, often at great detriment to themselves. These individuals are in my opinion the unsung heroes of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and I have been blessed to have worked and protested with them in the past. I have also been lucky that some individuals have opened up to me about their personal situations regarding this, hopefully I will put something together soon)

The Occupation That Time Forgot September 23, 2011

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Thursday 22 September 2011
by: Sandy Tolan, TomDispatch                 | Op-Ed

I’m reminded of how Chinese premier Zhou EnLai supposedly answered a question in 1972 about the significance of the French Revolution. “Too early to tell,” was his reputed reply; and though he may never have said it, how true it is that the major events of our world carom through history in ways that remain unpredictable even hundreds of years later.  How then to arrive at an assessment of the Arab Spring — and now far harsher Summer and Fall — of 2011, other than to say that it has proven monumental?

Perhaps all that can or should be said is that history’s surprises have their joys (as well as horrors), and that the young people who propelled the Arab Spring, toppling some regional autocrats and tyrants, challenging others, and leaving still others shaken, offered genuine hope (Yes, We Can!) in a region where it had been a scarce commodity.  Their many and complex uprisings and serial demonstrations have clearly destabilized significant parts of the Middle East that had been in a kind of deadly stasis.  Who knows what will shake out from it all?  At this early date, however, one of the losers from these cascading events seems to be the ever more right-wing government of Israel which — as its autocratic allies in the region totter or fall — has been left in a state of growing isolation and anxiety.

The Arab Spring has evidently even offered a kind of confused and bedraggled hope to a Palestinian not-exactly-state, the Palestinian Authority, about as powerless as an entity could be, which is heading this week for the U.N. to do it’s-not-quite-clear-what.  Its decision signals, at least, the utter bankruptcy of the former “road map” to peace in the region — there are no roads, only checkpoints and obstacles, and as for maps, the Israelis control them.  The zombie-style “negotiations” Washington has long been brokering in the region are now officially dead, no matter how many diplomats rush from one capital to another.

If it weren’t so grim, the uproar over such a non-power essentially pleading with the U.N. for membership when it controls next to nothing on the ground, and the scurrying around of everyone from Tony Blair to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to speak of the threats of the anxious Israelis to withhold money and tear up the Oslo Accords, of the U.S. Congress to withhold yet more money, and of Republican presidential candidates accusing the Obama administration of “appeasement” or worse would be the material for the Middle Eastern equivalent of a bedroom farce.

Journalist Sandy Tolan, author of a moving book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, is just back from the West Bank.  As he makes clear, by anyone’s measure the Israelis are winning the war of and on the land.  And yet symbols do matter — and so, in the end, may the kind of isolation the Israelis could, one day, find themselves in, especially in a destabilizing region with potential surprises in store, some predictable, some not faintly so. Tom

It’s the Occupation, Stupid:
The State to Which the UN May Grant Membership Is Disappearing
By Sandy Tolan

It’s the show that time and the world forgot. It’s called the Occupation and it’s now in its 45th year. Playing on a landscape about the size of Delaware, it remains largely hidden from view, while Middle Eastern headlines from elsewhere seize the day.  Diplomats shuttle back and forth from Washington and Brussels to Middle Eastern capitals; the Israeli-Turkish alliance ruptures amid bold declarations from the Turkish prime minister; crowds storm the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, while Israeli ambassadors flee the Egyptian capital and Amman, the Jordanian one; and of course, there’s the headliner, the show-stopper of the moment, the Palestinian Authority’s campaign for statehood in the United Nations, which will prompt an Obama administration veto in the Security Council.

But whatever the Turks, Egyptians, or Americans do, whatever symbolic satisfaction the Palestinian Authority may get at the U.N., there’s always the Occupation and there — take it from someone just back from a summer living in the West Bank — Israel isn’t losing.  It’s winning the battle, at least the one that means the most to Palestinians and Israelis, the one for control over every square foot of ground.  Inch by inch, meter by meter, Israel’s expansion project in the West Bank and Jerusalem is, in fact, gaining momentum, ensuring that the “nation” that the U.N. might grant membership will be each day a little smaller, a little less viable, a little less there.

How to Disappear a Land

On my many drives from West Bank city to West Bank city, from Ramallah to Jenin, Abu Dis to Jericho, Bethlehem to Hebron, I’d play a little game: Could I travel for an entire minute without seeing physical evidence of the occupation?  Occasionally — say, when riding through a narrow passage between hills — it was possible.  But not often.  Nearly every panoramic vista, every turn in the highway revealed a Jewish settlement, an Israeli army checkpoint, a military watchtower, a looming concrete wall, a barbed-wire fence with signs announcing another restricted area, or a cluster of army jeeps stopping cars and inspecting young men for their documents.

The ill-fated Oslo “peace process” that emerged from the Oslo Accords of 1993 not only failed to prevent such expansion, it effectively sanctioned it.  Since then, the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has nearly tripled to more than 300,000 — and that figure doesn’t include the more than 200,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.

The Oslo Accords, ratified by both the Palestinians and the Israelis, divided the West Bank into three zones — A, B, and C.  At the time, they were imagined by the Palestinian Authority as a temporary way station on the road to an independent state.  They are, however, still in effect today.  The de facto Israeli strategy has been and remains to give Palestinians relative freedom in Area A, around the West Bank’s cities, while locking down “Area C” — 60% of the West Bank — for the use of the Jewish settlements and for what are called “restricted military areas.”  (Area B is essentially a kind of grey zone between the other two.)  From this strategy come the thousands of demolitions of “illegal” housing and the regular arrests of villagers who simply try to build improvements to their homes.  Restrictions are strictly enforced and violations dealt with harshly.

When I visited the South Hebron Hills in late 2009, for example, villagers were not even allowed to smooth out a virtually impassable dirt road so that their children wouldn’t have to walk two to three miles to school every day. Na’im al-Adarah, from the village of At-Tuwani, paid the price for transporting those kids to the school “illegally.” A few weeks after my visit, he was arrested and his red Toyota pickup seized and destroyed by Israeli soldiers.  He didn’t bother complaining to the Palestinian Authority — the same people now going to the U.N. to declare a Palestinian state — because they have no control over what happens in Area C.

The only time he’d seen a Palestinian official, al-Adarah told me, was when he and other villagers drove to Ramallah to bring one to the area.  (The man from the Palestinian Authority refused to come on his own.) “He said this is the first time he knew that this land [in Area C] is ours.  A minister like him is surprised that we have these areas?  I told him, ‘How can a minister like you not know this?  You’re the minister of local government!’

“It was like he didn’t know what was happening in his own country,” added al-Adarah.  “We’re forgotten, unfortunately.”

The Israeli strategy of control also explains, strategically speaking, the “need” for the network of checkpoints; the looming separation barrier (known to Israelis as the “security fence” and to Palestinians as the “apartheid wall”) that divides Israel from the West Bank (and sometimes West Bankers from each other); the repeated evictions of Palestinians from residential areas like Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem; the systematic revoking of Jerusalem IDs once held by thousands of Palestinians who were born in the Holy City; and the labyrinthine travel restrictions which keep so many Palestinians locked in their West Bank enclaves.

While Israel justifies most of these measures in terms of national security, it’s clear enough that the larger goal behind them is to incrementally take and hold ever more of the land.  The separation barrier, for example, has put 10% of the West Bank’s land on the Israeli side — a case of “annexation in the guise of security,” according to the respected Israeli human rights group, B’tselem.

Taken together, these measures amount to the solution that the Israeli government seeks, one revealed in a series of maps drawn up by Israeli politicians, cartographers, and military men over recent years that show Palestine broken into isolated islands (often compared to South African apartheid-era “bantustans”) on only about 40% of the West Bank.  At the outset of Oslo, Palestinians believed they had made a historic compromise, agreeing to a state on 22% of historic Palestine — that is, the West Bank and Gaza.  The reality now is a kind of “ten percent solution,” a rump statelet without sovereignty, freedom of movement, or control of its own land, air, or water. Palestinians cannot even drill a well to tap into the vast aquifer beneath their feet.

Living Amid Checkpoints, Roadblocks, and Night Raids

Almost always overlooked in assessments of this ruinous “no-state solution” is the human toll it takes on the occupied. More than on any of my dozen previous journeys there, I came away from this trip to Palestine with a sense of the psychic damage the military occupation has inflicted on every Palestinian.  None, no matter how warm-hearted or resilient, escape its effects.

“The soldier pointed to my violin case.  He said, ‘What’s that?'” 13-year-old Alá Shelaldeh, who lives in old Ramallah, told me.  She is a student at Al Kamandjati (Arabic for “the violinist”), a music school in her neighborhood (which will be a focus of my next book). She was recalling a time three years earlier when a van she was in, full of young musicians, was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near Nablus. They were coming back from a concert.  “I told him, ‘It’s a violin.’  He told me to get out of the van and show him.”  Alá stepped onto the roadside, unzipped her case, and displayed the instrument for the soldier.  “Play something,” he insisted.  Alá played “Hilwadeen” (Beautiful Girl), the song made famous by the Lebanese star Fayrouz.  It was a typical moment in Palestine, and one she has yet to, and may never, forget.

It is impossible, of course, to calculate the long-term emotional damage of such encounters on children and adults alike, including on the Israeli soldiers, who are not immune to their own actions.

Humiliation at checkpoints is a basic fact of West Bank Palestinian life.  Everyone, even children, has his or her story to tell of helplessness, fear, and rage while waiting for a teenaged soldier to decide whether or not they can pass.  It has become so normal that some kids have no idea the rest of the world doesn’t live like this. “I thought the whole world was like us — they are occupied, they have soldiers,” remembered Alá’s older brother, Shehade, now 20.

At 15, he was invited to Italy.  “It was a shock for me to see this life.  You can go very, very far, and no checkpoint.  You see the land very, very far, and no wall.  I was so happy, and at the same time sad, you know?  Because we don’t have this freedom in my country.”

At age 12, Shehade had seen his cousin shot dead by soldiers during the second intifada, which erupted in late 2001 after Israel’s then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon paid a provocative visit to holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Clashes erupted as youths hurled stones at soldiers. Israeli troops responded with live fire, killing some 250 Palestinians (compared to 29 Israeli deaths) in the first two months of the intifada. The next year, Palestinian factions launched waves of suicide bombings in Israel.

One day in 2002, Shehade recalled, with Ramallah again fully occupied by the Israeli army, the young cousins broke a military curfew in order to buy bread.  A shot rang out near a corner market; Shehade watched his cousin fall.  This summer Shehada showed me the gruesome pictures — blood flowing from a 12-year-old’s mouth and ears — taken moments after the shooting in 2002.

Nine years later, Ramallah, a supposedly sovereign enclave, is often considered an oasis in a desert of occupation.  Its streets and markets are choked with shoppers, and its many trendy restaurants rival fine European eateries.  The vibrancy and upscale feel of many parts of the city give you a sense that — much as Palestinians are loathe to admit it – this, and not East Jerusalem, is the emerging Palestinian capital.

Many Ramallah streets are indeed lined with government ministries and foreign consulates.  (Just don’t call them embassies!)  But much of this apparent freedom and quasi-sovereignty is illusory.  In the West Bank, travel without hard-to-get permits is often limited to narrow corridors of land, like the one between Ramallah and Nablus, where the Israeli military has, for now, abandoned its checkpoints and roadblocks.  Even in Ramallah — part of the theoretically sovereign Area A — night incursions by Israeli soldiers are common.

“It was December 2009, the 16th I think, at 2:15, 2:30 in the morning,” recalled Celine Dagher, a French citizen of Lebanese descent. Her Palestinian husband, Ramzi Aburedwan, founder of Al Kamandjati, where both of them work, was then abroad.  “I was awakened by a sound,” she told me.  She emerged to find the front door of their flat jammed partway open and kept that way by a small security bar of the sort you find in hotel rooms.

Celine thought burglars were trying to break in and so yelled at them in Arabic to go away.  Then she peered through the six-inch opening and spotted 10 Israeli soldiers in the hallway.  They told her to stand back, and within seconds had blown the door off its hinges.  Entering the apartment, they pointed their automatic rifles at her.  A Palestinian informant stood near them silently, a black woolen mask pulled over his face to ensure his anonymity.

The commander began to interrogate her. “My name, with whom I live, starting to ask me about the neighbors.” Celine flashed her French passport and pleaded with them not to wake up her six-month-old, Hussein, sleeping in the next room. “I was praying that he would just stay asleep.” She told the commander, “I just go from my house to my work, from work to my house.”  She didn’t really know her neighbors, she said.

As it happened, the soldiers had blown off the door of the wrong flat.  They would remove four more doors in the building that night, Celine recalled, before finding their suspect: her 17-year-old next door neighbor.  “They stood questioning him for maybe 20 minutes, and then they took him.  And I think he’s still in jail.  His father is already in jail.”

According to Israeli Prison Services statistics cited by B’tselem, more than 5,300 Palestinians were in Israeli prisons in July 2011.  Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, an estimated 650,000 to 700,000 Palestinians have reportedly been jailed by Israel.  By one calculation, that represents 40% of the adult-male Palestinian population.  Almost no family has been untouched by the Israeli prison system.

Celine stared through the blinds at the street below, where some 15 jeeps and other military vehicles were parked.  Finally, they left with their lights out and so quietly that she couldn’t even hear their engines.  When the flat was silent again, she couldn’t sleep.  “I was very afraid.”  A neighbor came upstairs to sit with her until the morning.

Stories like these — and they are legion — accumulate, creating the outlines of what could be called a culture of occupation.  They give context to a remark by Saleh Abdel-Jawad, dean of the law school at Birzeit University near Ramallah: “I don’t remember a happy day since 1967,” he told me.  Stunned, I asked him why specifically that was so.  “Because,” he replied, “you can’t go to Jerusalem to pray.  And it’s only 15 kilometers away.  And you have your memories there.”

He added, “Since 17 years I was unable to go to the sea. We are not allowed to go. And my daughter married five years ago and we were unable to do a marriage ceremony for her.” Israel would not grant a visa to Saleh’s Egyptian son-in-law so that he could enter the West Bank.  “How to do a marriage without the groom?”

A Musical Intifada

An old schoolmate of mine and now a Middle East scholar living in Paris points out that Palestinians are not just victims, but actors in their own narrative.  In other words, he insists, they, too, bear responsibility for their circumstances — not all of this rests on the shoulders of the occupiers.  True enough.

As an apt example, consider the morally and strategically bankrupt tactic of suicide bombings, carried out from 2001 to 2004 by several Palestinian factions as a response to Israeli attacks during the second intifada. That disastrous strategy gave cover to all manner of Israeli retaliation, including the building of the separation barrier.  (The near disappearance of the suicide attacks has been due far less to the wall — after all, it isn’t even finished yet — than to a decision on the part of all the Palestinian factions to reject the tactic itself.)

So, yes, Palestinians are also “actors” in creating their own circumstances, but Israel remains the sole regional nuclear power, the state with one of the strongest armies in the world, and the occupying force — and that is the determining fact in the West Bank.  Today, for some Palestinians living under the 44-year occupation simply remaining on the land is a kind of moral victory.  This summer, I started hearing a new slogan: “Existence is resistance.” If you remain on the land, then the game isn’t over.  And if you can bring attention to the occupation, while you remain in place, so much the better.

In June, Alá Shelaldeh, the 13-year-old violinist, brought her instrument to the wall at Qalandia, once a mere checkpoint separating Ramallah and Jerusalem, and now essentially an international border crossing with its mass of concrete, steel bars, and gun turrets.  The transformation of Qalandia — and its long, cage-like corridors and multiple seven-foot-high turnstiles through which only the lucky few with permits may cross to Jerusalem — is perhaps the most powerful symbol of Israel’s determination not to share the Holy City.

Alá and her fellow musicians in the Al Kamandjati Youth Orchestra came to play Mozart and Bizet in front of the Israeli soldiers, on the other side of Qalandia’s steel bars.  Their purpose was to confront the occupation through music, essentially to assert: we’re here.  The children and their teachers emerged from their bus, quickly set up their music stands, and began to play.  Within moments, the sound of Mozart’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major filled the terminal.

Palestinians stopped and stared.  Smiles broke out.  People came closer, pulling out cell phones and snapping photos, or just stood there, surrounding the youth orchestra, transfixed by this musical intifada.  The musicians and soldiers were separated by a long row of blue horizontal bars.  As the music played on, a grim barrier of confinement was momentarily transformed into a space of assertive joy. “It was,” Alá would say later, “the greatest concert of my life.”

As the Mozart symphony built — Allegro, Andante, Minuet, and the Allegro last movement — some of the soldiers started to take notice.  By the time the orchestra launched into Georges Bizet’s Dance Boheme from Carmen #2, several soldiers appeared, looking out through the bars. For the briefest of moments, it was hard to tell who was on the inside, looking out, and who was on the outside, looking in.

If existence is resistance, if children can confront their occupiers with a musical intifada, then there’s still space, in the year of the Arab Spring, for something unexpected and transformative to happen.  After all, South African apartheid collapsed, and without a bloody revolution. The Berlin Wall fell quickly, completely, unexpectedly.  And with China, India, Turkey and Brazil on the rise, the United States, its power waning, will not be able to remain Israel’s protector forever. Eventually, perhaps, the world will assert the obvious: the status quo is unacceptable.

For the moment, whatever happens in the coming weeks at the U.N., and in the West Bank in the aftermath, isn’t it time for the world’s focus to shift to what is actually happening on the ground?  After all, it’s the occupation, stupid.

Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows.  Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).

Published on Monday, May 30, 2011 by The Independent/UK

  by  Robert Fisk

This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)

President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)

 

While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”

And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.

Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.

Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.

The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.

Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.

But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.

Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?

One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.

There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.

Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?

And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.

Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.

Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.

But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.

Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).

But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.

© 2011 The Independent

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Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

The Unmaking of the Palestinian Nation March 16, 2010

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Published on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 by Salon.comby Juan Cole

On March 10, I posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build 1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it did.

The tiff between the U.S. and Israel is less important that the worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the Palestinians as well. There is talk of a third Intifada or Palestinian uprising.

As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past century.

 

Andrew Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site, which set off a lot of thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, but shed very little light.

The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I. (The Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia.)

But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence of President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas about self-determination, Britain and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman territories into simple colonies. The League of Nations awarded them “Mandates.” Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.The League of Nations Covenant spelled out what a Class A Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was

Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to ‘render administrative advice and assistance” to these peoples in preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless prisoners in colonial cantons).

The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion that the Negev Desert was ’empty’ and should not have been shown in the first map. But it wasn’t and isn’t empty; Palestinian Bedouin live there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training. The Mandate of Palestine also had a charge to allow for the establishment of a ‘homeland’ in Palestine for Jews (because of the 1917 Balfour Declaration), but nobody among League of Nations officialdom at that time imagined it would be a whole and competing territorial state. There was no prospect of more than a few tens of thousands of Jews settling in Palestine, as of the mid-1920s. (They are shown in white on the first map, refuting those who mysteriously complained that the maps alternated between showing sovereignty and showing population.) As late as the 1939 British White Paper, British officials imagined that the Mandate would emerge as an independent Palestinian state within 10 years.

In 1851, there had been 327,000 Palestinians (yes, the word “Filistin” was current then) and other non-Jews, and only 13,000 Jews. In 1925, after decades of determined Jewish immigration, there were a little over 100,000 Jews, and there were 765,000 mostly Palestinian non-Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. For historical demography of this area, see Justin McCarthy’s painstaking calculations; it is not true, as sometimes is claimed, that we cannot know anything about population figures in this region. See also his journal article, reprinted at this site. The Palestinian population grew because of rapid population growth, not in-migration, which was minor. The common allegation that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority at some point in the 19th century is meaningless. Jerusalem was a small town in 1851, and many pious or indigent elderly Jews from Eastern Europe and elsewhere retired there because of charities that would support them. In 1851, Jews were only about 4 percent of the population of the territory that became the British Mandate of Palestine some 70 years later. And, there had been few adherents of Judaism, just a few thousand, from the time most Jews in Palestine adopted Christianity and Islam in the first millennium CE all the way until the 20th century. In the British Mandate of Palestine, the district of Jerusalem was largely Palestinian.

The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s impelled massive Jewish emigration to Palestine, so by 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews there amid over a million Palestinians.

The second map shows the United Nations partition plan of 1947, which awarded Jews (who only then owned about 6 percent of Palestinian land) a substantial state alongside a much reduced Palestine. Although apologists for the Zionist movement say that the Zionists accepted this partition plan and the Arabs rejected it, that is not entirely true. Zionist leader David Ben Gurion noted in his diary when Israel was established that when the U.S. had been formed, no document set out its territorial extent, implying that the same was true of Israel. We know that Ben Gurion was an Israeli expansionist who fully intended to annex more land to Israel, and by 1956 he attempted to add the Sinai and would have liked southern Lebanon. So the Zionist “acceptance” of the UN partition plan did not mean very much beyond a happiness that their initial starting point was much better than their actual land ownership had given them any right to expect.

The third map shows the status quo after the Israeli-Palestinian civil war of 1947-1948. It is not true that the entire Arab League attacked the Jewish community in Palestine or later Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. As Avi Shlaim has shown, Jordan had made an understanding with the Zionist leadership that it would grab the West Bank, and its troops did not mount a campaign in the territory awarded to Israel by the UN. Egypt grabbed Gaza and then tried to grab the Negev Desert, with a few thousand badly trained and equipped troops, but was defeated by the nascent Israeli army. Few other Arab states sent any significant number of troops. The total number of troops on the Arab side actually on the ground was about equal to those of the Zionist forces, and the Zionists had more esprit de corps and better weaponry.

The final map shows the situation today, which springs from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and then the decision of the Israelis to colonize the West Bank intensively (a process that is illegal in the law of war concerning occupied populations).

There is nothing inaccurate about the maps at all, historically. Goldberg maintained that the Palestinians’ “original sin” was rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan. But since Ben Gurion and other expansionists went on to grab more territory later in history, it is not clear that the Palestinians could have avoided being occupied even if they had given away willingly so much of their country in 1947. The first original sin was the contradictory and feckless pledge by the British to sponsor Jewish immigration into their Mandate in Palestine, which they wickedly and fantastically promised would never inconvenience the Palestinians in any way. It was the same kind of original sin as the French policy of sponsoring a million colons in French Algeria, or the French attempt to create a Christian-dominated Lebanon where the Christians would be privileged by French policy. The second original sin was the refusal of the United States to allow Jews to immigrate in the 1930s and early 1940s, which forced them to go to Palestine to escape the monstrous, mass-murdering Nazis.

The map attracted so much ire and controversy not because it is inaccurate but because it clearly shows what has been done to the Palestinians, which the League of Nations had recognized as not far from achieving statehood in its Covenant. Their statehood and their territory has been taken from them, and they have been left stateless, without citizenship and therefore without basic civil and human rights. The map makes it easy to see this process. The map had to be stigmatized and made taboo. But even if that marginalization of an image could be accomplished, the squalid reality of Palestinian statelessness would remain, and the children of Gaza would still be being malnourished by the deliberate Israeli policy of blockading civilians. The map just points to a powerful reality; banishing the map does not change that reality.

Goldberg, according to Spencer Ackerman, says that he will stop replying to Andrew Sullivan, for which Ackerman is grateful, since, he implies, Goldberg is a propagandistic hack who loves to promote wars on flimsy pretenses. Matthew Yglesias also has some fun at Goldberg’s expense.

People like Goldberg never tell us what they expect to happen to the Palestinians in the near and medium future. They don’t seem to understand that the status quo is untenable. They are like militant ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand while lashing out with their hind talons at anyone who stares clear-eyed at the problem, characterizing us as bigots. As if that old calumny has any purchase for anyone who knows something serious about the actual views of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, more bigoted persons than whom would be difficult to find. Indeed, some of Israel’s current problems with Brazil come out of Lieberman’s visit there last summer; I was in Rio then and remember the distaste with which the multi-cultural, multi-racial Brazilians viewed Lieberman, whom some openly called a racist.

© 2010 Salon.com

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His most recent book Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) has just been published. He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

Israel’s death squads: A soldiers story March 1, 2009

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Sunday, 1 March 2009, www.indeendent.co.uk

 

A former member of an Israeli assassination squad has broken his silence for the first time. He spoke to Donald Macintyre.

The Israeli military’s policy of targeted killings has been described from the inside for the first time. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, and in his testimony to an ex-soldiers’ organisation, Breaking the Silence, a former member of an assassination squad has told of his role in a botched ambush that killed two Palestinian bystanders, as well as the two militants targeted.

 

The operation, which took place a little over eight years ago, at the start of the present intifada, or uprising, left the former sharpshooter with psychological scars. To this day he has not told his parents of his participation in what he called “the first face-to-face assassination of the intifada”.

As the uprising unfolded, targeted assassinations became a regularly used weapon in the armoury of the Israel military, especially in Gaza, where arrests would later become less easy than in the West Bank. The highest-profile were those of Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2005, and of Said Siyam in the most recent offensive. But the targeting of lower-level militants, like the one killed in the operation described by the former soldier, became sufficiently common to attract little comment.

The incident described by the ex-soldier appears almost trivial by comparison with so much that has happened since in Gaza, culminating in more than 1,200 Palestinian casualties inflicted by Operation Cast Lead this January. It might have been forgotten by all except those directly affected, if it had not been for the highly unusual account of it he gave to Breaking the Silence, which has collected testimony from hundreds of former troops concerned about what they saw and did – including abuses of Palestinians – during their service in the occupied territories.

That account, expanded on in an interview with the IoS, and broadly corroborated by another soldier’s testimony to Breaking the Silence, directly challenges elements of the military’s official version at the time, while casting new light on the tactic of targeted assassination by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). So do comments by the father of one of the Palestinians killed, and one who survived, also traced by the IoS.

Our source cannot be identified by name, not least because by finally deciding to talk about what happened, he could theoretically be charged abroad for his direct role in an assassination of the sort most Western countries regard as a grave breach of international law. From a good home, and now integrated into civilian life in the Tel Aviv area, the former soldier is about 30. Intelligent and articulate, and with a detailed memory of many aspects, he is scrupulous in admitting his recall of other points may be defective.

The former conscript said his special unit had trained for an assassination, but was then told it would be an arrest operation. They would fire only if the targeted man had weapons in his car. “We were pretty bombed it was going to be an arrest. We wanted to kill,” he said. The unit then went south to Gaza and took up position. It was 22 November 2000.

The squad’s main target was a Palestinian militant called Jamal Abdel Razeq. He was in the passenger seat of a black Hyundai being driven north towards Khan Younis by his comrade, Awni Dhuheir. Both men were wholly unaware of the trap that was waiting for him near the Morag junction. This section of the main Salahadin north-south road in Gaza went straight past a Jewish settlement. Razeq was used to seeing an armoured personnel carrier (APC) beside the road, but he had no idea that its regular crew had been replaced by men from an elite air force special unit, including at least two highly trained sharpshooters.

Since before he even left his home in Rafah that morning, Shin Bet – the Israeli intelligence service – had been monitoring Razeq’s every move with uncanny accuracy, thanks to a running commentary from the mobile phones of two Palestinian collaborators, including one of his own uncles. The man who was to kill him says he was “amazed” at the detail relayed to the unit commander from Shin Bet: “How much coffee he had in his glass, when he was leaving. They knew he had a driver [and] … they said they had weapons in the trunk, not in the car. For 20 minutes we knew it was going to be a simple arrest because they had no weapons in the car.”

But then, he says, the orders suddenly changed. “They said he had one minute to arrive, and then we got an order that it was going to be an assassination after all.” He thinks it came from a war room set up for the operation and his impression was that “all the big chiefs were there”, including a brigadier general.

The two militants would still have suspected nothing as they approached the junction, even when a big Israel Defence Forces (IDF) supply truck lumbered out of a side turning to cut them off. They would have had no way of knowing the truck was full of armed soldiers, waiting for this moment. A 4×4 was deployed by the road, only in case “something really wrong” happened.

But something did go wrong: the truck moved out too soon, and blocked not only the militants in their black Hyundai, but the white Mercedes taxi in front of them. It was carrying Sami Abu Laban, 29, a baker, and Na’el Al Leddawi, 22, a student. They were on their way from Rafah to Khan Younis to try to buy some scarce diesel to fire the bread ovens.

As the critical moment approached, the sharpshooter said he began to shake from the waist down. “What happens now is I’m waiting for the car to come and I am losing control of my legs. I have an M16 with digicom [special sharpshooter sights]. It was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. I felt completely concentrated. So the seconds are counted down, then we started seeing the cars, and we see that two cars are coming, not one. There was a first car very close to the following one and when the truck came in, it came in a bit early, and both cars were stopped.Everything stopped. They gave us two seconds and they said, ‘Shoot. Fire.'” Who gave the order, and to whom? “The unit commander … to everybody. Everybody heard ‘Fire’.”

The target, Razeq, was in the passenger seat, closest to the APC. “I have no doubt I see him in the scope. I start shooting. Everyone starts shooting, and I lose control. I shoot for one or two seconds. I counted afterwards – shot 11 bullets in his head. I could have shot one shot and that’s it. It was five seconds of firing.

“I look through the scope, see half of his head. I have no reason to shoot 11 bullets. I think maybe from the fear, maybe to cope with all the things that are happening, I just continue shooting.”

As far as he can recall, the order to fire was not specific to the sharpshooters in the APC. He cannot know for certain if the troops in the truck thought wrongly that some of the fire was directed at them from the cars. But he says that after he stopped “the firing gets even worse. I think the people in the truck started to panic. They’re firing and one of the cars starts driving and the commander says, ‘Stop, stop, stop, stop!’ It takes a few seconds to completely stop and what I see afterwards is that both cars are full of holes. The first car, too, which was there by coincidence.”

Razeq and Dhuheir, the militants, were dead. So were Abu Laban and Al Leddawi. Miraculously, the driver of the taxi, Nahed Fuju, was unscathed. The sharpshooter can remember only one of the four bodies lying on the ground. “I was shocked by that body. It was like a sack. It was full of flies. And they asked who shot the first car [the Mercedes] and nobody answered. I think everybody was confused. It was clear that it had been a screw-up and nobody was admitting [it].” But the commander did not hold a formal debriefing until the unit returned to its main base.

“The commander came in and said, ‘Congratulations. We got a phone call from the Prime Minister and from the Minister of Defence and the chief of staff. They all congratulated us. We succeeded perfectly in our mission. Thank you.’ And from that point on, I understood that they were very happy.” He says the only discussion was over the real risk there had been of soldiers’ casualties from friendly fire in the shoot-out, in which at least one of the IDF’s own vehicles was hit by ricocheting bullets, and at the end of which at least one soldier even got out of the 4×4 and fired at an inert body on the ground.

Saying his impression was “they wanted the press or the Palestinians to know they were raising a step in our fight”, he adds: “The feeling was of a big success and I waited for a debriefing that would ask all these questions, that would show some regret for some failure, but it didn’t happen. The only thing that I felt is that the commanders knew that it was a very big political success for them.”

The incident immediately caused something of a stir. Mohammed Dahlan, then head of the Fatah-run Preventative Security in Gaza, called it a “barbaric assassination”. The account given at the time to the press by Brigadier General Yair Naveh, in charge of IDF forces in Gaza, was that it had been intended as an arrest operation, but that sensing something amiss, Razeq had pulled out a Kalashnikov rifle and attempted to open fire at the Israeli forces, at which point the troops shot at his vehicle. While Razeq was the main target, it was claimed, the two victims in the taxi were were also Fatah activists “with ties to Razeq”.

Mr Al Leddawi said last week that his son’s presence was a tragic accident of timing and that the family had never heard of the other two men. “It was all by coincidence that they were there,” he said. “We have nothing do with the resistance in this family.” Beyond saying that he had received “not a shekel” in compensation, the taxi driver, Mr Fuju, did not want to talk to us in Rafah last week. “You want to interview me so the Israelis can bomb my house?”

The Israeli military said in response to detailed queries about the incident and the discrepancies between its account at the time and that of Palestinians, and now the ex-soldier, that it takes “human rights violations very seriously” but “regrets that Breaking the Silence does not provide it with details or testimony of the incidents it alleges in order to allow for a thorough investigation”. It added that “these soldiers and commanders did not approach senior commanders … with their complaints during their service.”

Our revelations in brief: Secret unit on a mission to kill

The Independent on Sunday has obtained an account which, for the first time, details service in one of the Israeli military’s assassination squads.

A former conscript has told the IoS and an ex-soldiers’ organisation of his part in an ambush that went wrong, accidentally killing two men as well as the two militants targeted.

The ex-soldier, a trained sharpshooter, says he fired 11 bullets into the head of the militant whose death had been ordered by his superiors. The squad was initially told it was going on an arrest mission, but was then ordered on a minute’s notice to shoot to kill.

Instead of the flaws in the operation being discussed afterwards, the squad was told it had “succeeded perfectly” and had been congratulated by the Prime Minister and chief of staff.

The former soldier, who was psychologically scarred by the incident, has never told his parents what happened.

Leading Israeli Scholar Avi Shlaim: Israel Committing “State Terror” in Gaza Attack, Preventing Peace January 14, 2009

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Democracynow! January 14, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli assault on Gaza is entering its nineteenth day, with no end in sight. Israeli warplanes are continuing their bombardment, launching over sixty air strikes overnight. Meanwhile, Israeli troops have edged closer to the heart of the densely populated Gaza City and are engaged in street fighting with militants.

 

Since Israel’s offensive began on December 27th, nearly 1,000 Palestinians have been killed. More than 4,400 have been injured, and an estimated 90,000 have fled their homes. Thirteen Israelis have died over the same period, ten of them soldiers, including four by so-called “friendly” fire.

 

As the war continues, humanitarian concerns are mounting. The chief UN aid official for Gaza, John Ging, has appealed to the international community to protect Gaza’s civilians, calling it a “test of our humanity”.

 

Meanwhile, a UN watch group has accused Israel of showing a “manifest disrespect” for the protection of children in Gaza. According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, more than 40 percent of those killed in Gaza are women and children.

 

On Tuesday, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Gaza and said what he saw was shocking. ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said, “It is unacceptable to see so many wounded people. Their lives must be spared and the security of those who care for them guaranteed.”

 

Despite a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the military operation will continue.

 

Our next guest is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Arab-Israel conflict. Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. He is now a professor of international relations at Oxford University. In an article in The Guardian newspaper of London, he says he has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. But he says its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions. Professor Avi Shlaim is the author of a number of books, most notably The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. His latest book is Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace. Avi Shlaim joins us today from Oxford University in Britain.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

AVI SHLAIM: Thank you. I’m happy to be on your program in these very sad times.

AMY GOODMAN: As you look at what’s happening in Gaza from your vantage point, well, many miles away in Britain, can you talk about the kind of trajectory your evaluation has taken, where you started in your thoughts about Israel and where you are now?

AVI SHLAIM: As you mentioned, I did national service in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. And in those days, Israel was a small state surrounded by enemies, and the nation was united in face of the surrounding Arab states. We all felt total commitment to the state of Israel and to the defense of the state of Israel. The Israeli army is called the Israel Defense Forces, and it was true to its name.

But 1967, the war of June 1967, was a major turning point in the history of Israel and the history of the region. In the course of the war, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan and Sinai from Egypt. After the war, Israel started building civilian territories in the occupied territories in violation of international law. So Israel became a colonial power and an imperial power.

And I, for my part, have never questioned the legitimacy of the Zionist movement. I saw it as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nor did I ever question the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I reject, what I reject totally, absolutely and uncompromisingly, is the Zionist colonial project beyond the 1967 borders. So we have to distinguish very clearly between Israel proper, within its pre-1967 borders, and Greater Israel, which began to emerge in the aftermath of the June ‘67 war and has completely derailed the Zionist project.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, specifically talk about Gaza, how it has developed and where it is today, right now under assault by the Israeli military.

AVI SHLAIM: In a long-term historical perspective, I would begin with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. I wrote a book, which you mentioned in your introduction, called The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. It is a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. It’s a very long book, but I can summarize it for you in one sentence, that throughout its sixty years, Israel has been remarkably reluctant to engage in meaningful negotiations with its Arab opponents to resolve the dispute between them and only too ready to resort to military force in order to impose its will upon them. And the current vicious Israeli onslaught on the people of Gaza is the climax of this longstanding Israeli policy of shunning diplomacy and relying on brute military force.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to Professor Avi Shlaim. He is professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military. His latest book is called Lion of Jordan. He is one of the world’s leading scholars on the Arab-Israel conflict. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest right now is Oxford University Professor Avi Shlaim. He teaches international relations at Oxford University. He’s speaking to us from Oxford right now, leading authority in the world on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We’ve had a number of debates here on Democracy Now!, Professor Shlaim, over the past weeks about what’s happening in Gaza and those who support the Israeli military continually say that in 2005, three years ago, Israel pulled out of Gaza entirely. You have a different picture of what happened under Ariel Sharon in August of 2005. Explain how you see the withdrawal of Israeli military at that time.

AVI SHLAIM: President Bush described Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. I’ve done a great deal of archival research on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I can honestly tell you that I have never come across a single scintilla of evidence to support the view of Ariel Sharon as a man of peace. He was a man of war, a champion of violent solutions, a man who rejected totally any Palestinian right to self-determination. He was a proponent of Greater Israel, and it is in this context that I see his decision to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza in August of 2005.

The withdrawal was officially called the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. I would like to underline the word “unilateral.” Ariel Sharon was the unilateralist par excellence. The reason he decided to withdraw from Gaza was not out of any concern for the welfare of the people of Gaza or any sympathy for the Palestinians or their national aspirations, but because of the pressure exerted by Hamas, by the Islamic resistance, to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. In the end, Israel couldn’t sustain the political, diplomatic and psychological costs of maintaining its occupation in Gaza.

And let me add in parentheses that Gaza was a classic example of exploitation, of colonial exploitation in the postcolonial era. Gaza is a tiny strip of land with about one-and-a-half million Arabs, most of them—half of them refugees. It’s the most crowded piece of land on God’s earth. There were 8,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, yet the 8,000 settlers controlled 25 percent of the territory, 40 percent of the arable land, and the largest share of the desperately scarce water resources.

Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza unilaterally, not as a contribution, as he claimed, to a two-state solution. The withdrawal from Gaza took place in the context of unilateral Israeli action in what was seen as Israeli national interest. There were no negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on an overall settlement. The withdrawal from Gaza was not a prelude to further withdrawals from the other occupied territories, but a prelude to further expansion, further consolidation of Israel’s control over the West Bank. In the year after the withdrawal from Gaza, 12,000 new settlers went to live on the West Bank. So I see the withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 as part of a unilateral Israeli attempt to redraw the borders of Greater Israel and to shun any negotiations and compromise with the Palestinian Authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, Israel says the reason it has attacked Gaza is because of the rocket fire, the rockets that Hamas is firing into southern Israel.

AVI SHLAIM: This is Israeli propaganda, and it is a pack of lies. The important thing to remember is that there was a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in July of last year, and that ceasefire succeeded. So, if Israel wanted to protect its citizens—and it had every right to protect its citizens—the way to go about it was not by launching this vicious military offensive, but by observing the ceasefire.

Now, let me give you some figures, which I think are the most crucial figures in understanding this conflict. Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero. I would like to repeat these figures for the benefit of your listeners. Pre-ceasefire, 179 rockets were fired on Israel; post-ceasefire, three rockets a month. This is point number one, and it’s crucial.

And my figures are beyond dispute, because they come from the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. But after initiating this war, this particular table, neat table, which showed the success of the ceasefire, was withdrawn and replaced with another table of statistics, which is much more obscure and confusing. Israel—the Foreign Ministry withdrew these figures, because it didn’t suit the new story.

The new story said that Hamas broke the ceasefire. This is a lie. Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men.

And there is one other point that I would like to make about the ceasefire. Ever since the election of Hamas in January—I’m sorry, ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel calls Hamas “terrorist.” What is your definition of “terror”?

AVI SHLAIM: My definition of “terror” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. And by this definition, Hamas is a terrorist organization. But by the same token, Israel is practicing state terror, because it is using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes. I don’t hold a brief for Hamas. Hamas is not a paragon of virtue. Its leaders are not angels. They harm civilians indiscriminately. Killing civilians is wrong, period. That applies to Hamas, and it applies equally to the state of Israel.

But there are two points I would like to make about Hamas, and that is—the first point is that it was elected in a fair and free election in January 2006. It was an impeccable election, monitored by a number of international observers, including President Jimmy Carter. So it is not just a terrorist organization. It is a democratically elected government of the Palestinian people and the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza, as well as the West Bank.

And the second point that I would like to make is that since coming to power, Gaza has moderated its political program. Its charter is extreme. Its charter denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The charter calls for an Islamic state over the whole of historic Palestine. The charter has not been revived, but since coming to power, the leadership of Hamas has been much more pragmatic and stated that it is willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the state of Israel for twenty, thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years.

Thirdly, Hamas joined with Fatah, the rival group, the mainstream group, on the West Bank in a national unity government in the summer of 2007. That national unity government lasted only three months. Israel, with American support, helped to sabotage and to bring down that national unity government. Israel refused to deal with a Palestinian government which included Hamas within it. And shamefully, both the United States and the European Union joined in Israel in this refusal to recognize a Hamas-dominated government, and Israel withdrew tax revenues, and European Union withdrew foreign aid, in a shameful attempt to bring down a democratically elected government.

So, I do not defend Hamas, but I think that it hasn’t received a fair hearing from the international community, and Israel has done everything to sabotage it all along.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Shlaim, you say it’s done everything to sabotage it, except at the beginning, when you say it supported Hamas to weaken Fatah, which it now supports.

AVI SHLAIM: Indeed. Israel has always played the game of divide and rule. This is a very good tactic in times of war, to divide your enemies and pick them off one by one. No one can complain about that. But divide and rule isn’t a good tactic in times of peace. If your aim is to achieve peace with the Arabs, then you should want unity among the Palestinians and unity in the Arab world. But Israel continued to play this game of divide and rule.

Hamas emerged in the course of the First Intifada in the late 1980s. It is the Islamic resistance movement. The mainstream movement, Fatah, was led by Yasser Arafat. And Israel gave tacit encouragement and support to the Islamic resistance in the hope of weakening the secular nationalists led by Yasser Arafat. It was a dangerous game to play, because the end result of this game was that Hamas emerged as the strongest Palestinian political party.

And Israel helped Hamas inadvertently in another way, because Fatah signed the Oslo Accord with Israel in 1993. It expected the Oslo Accord to lead to a two-state solution. And yet, Israel, after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, reneged on the Israeli side of the deal. So, the Oslo Accord, the Oslo peace process wasn’t doomed to failure from the start. It failed because Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal. So that left the Palestinians with nothing but misery and poverty and frustration and ever-growing Israeli settlements on the land. And it was this context that led to the success of Hamas at the last elections. So Israel has a lot to explain in the rise to power of the Hamas movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, we only have a minute, but I want to ask you where you see the solution at this point. Barack Obama will be president on Tuesday in just a few days. Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State.

AVI SHLAIM: The solution—this is a political conflict, and there is no military conflict to—there is no military solution to this conflict. The only solution lies in negotiations between Israel and Hamas about all the issues involved. President-elect Obama is a very impressive man and a very intelligent man and a very fair-minded man. He hasn’t demonstrated any courage in the course of this crisis. He hasn’t taken any position. He hasn’t called for an immediate ceasefire. So the first step is an immediate ceasefire, and the next step would be negotiations between all the sides about restoring the ceasefire and then moving on to stage two, which is a political settlement to this tragic hundred-year-old conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, who said in her confirmation hearing yesterday she wouldn’t negotiate with Hamas?

AVI SHLAIM: Yes, but there are other signs from the Obama campaign that they would be willing to consider low-level, indirect contacts with Hamas. And one has to be grateful for small mercies, so small, minor, low-level contacts with Hamas could lead to a proper dialog in due course. So I remain optimistic that sanity and rationality would take over in American foreign policy after the dreadful last eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Avi Shlaim, thank you very much for being with us. Professor Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at Oxford University, served in the Israeli military—among his books, Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace—known as one of the leading authorities in the world on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Arab-Israel conflict. Among his other books, The Iron Wall.