Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A November 2007 report by The International Committee of the Red Cross details the denial of dignity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in words and pictures:
One particularly tragic story tells of a Palestinian family who had to watch a wildfire destroy their farmlands and orchards because a gate separating them from their property was "not scheduled to open." We were woken up by the light of the flames. We ran out and saw that our olive trees were burning. The fire birgade could not reach the fields because the gate was closed. Our fields are behind the West Bank Barrier and we cannot access them every day, so we could not clean the land properly. That evening we could do nothing but watch our trees burn, because the gate was closed."
Indignities such as this one do not create an atmosphere for a just and lasting peace.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Gene Stolzfus is the former director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, now retired.
Tue 2007-11-27
This week negotiations are to take place in Annapolis, MD to once again set in motion a final settlement for Israel and Palestine. Annapolis, just outside of Washington DC is the home of the United States College that trains professional Naval officers. In keeping with a long tradition of high profile mediation/negotiation events, this one is named for the place it occurs. Sixty years ago this week the newly formed United Nations voted to establish a divided land of Israel and Palestine on what was formerly the Palestinian outpost of the Ottoman and later British Empires.

I am not overwhelmed with hope that this will achieve more than Oslo, Camp David and other grand handshakes and shadowy attempts to end the conflict.Secretary of State Rice has scurried about trying to collect co-participants who can sign on to the conference and its scripted outcome. No one is using the term peace very often because of the constellation of seemingly intractable issues - Jerusalem, a 700 metre wall (twice as high as the Berlin wall) built largely in what Palestinians believe to be their territory, more than five hundred Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, millions of Palestinian refugees resulting from the UN decision 60 years ago, Israeli settlements distributed strategically to aid its continuing military presence, conflicting understandings about water rights. These are generally the same issues that were in play at the end of the unsuccessful Clinton Administration's efforts seven years ago. The Palestinians were blamed for that failure. In the real world neither Israel nor Palestine can compromise significantly over any of these without risking a political firestorm from their own constituents.

On my first trip to Hebron 17 years ago I walked among Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the region where King David, my childhood hero, launched his insurgency against King Saul. The energy of hatred was in the air. My guide Zoughbi Zoughbi, then of the Middle East Council of Churches, wanted us to talk to the people. We couldn't find anyone in the newly formed Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron to talk to us. As I left Hebron, from the window of the van I admired grape vineyards dating back centuries, many now destroyed by West Bank occupiers. I remembered David, the state he built and I reflected on the temptations and contradictions of centralized authority.

I wasn't introduced to the lessons and troubles of statehood in the Sunday School class where I learned to revere David.Unlike the strong man David, the three key political leaders at Annapolis are weak, probably nearing the end of their reigns. Bush, the partial mediator (as a opposed to an impartial and neutral mediator) has just over a year left in his Presidential term. The Israeli government of Ehud Olmert is holding on in the wake of the disappointing outcome of its most recent war in Lebanon. The democratically elected, Saudi supported Hamas in Gaza is cut off from the Fatah ruled West Bank and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas who leads Palestine to the negotiations.

In Israel, people hold tightly to the vision for and gains of a secure homeland as the answer to persecution and holocaust. The split in Palestinian politics is welcomed by Israel. With limited trust in the non impartial mediator, and a Middle East now skewed by disaster in Iraq, people in the region and the international community do not expect a great break through. Both principal players, Israel and Palestine, rely on the energy of victim hood that runs deep.

Sometimes people just get exhausted from war. Soldiers tire of insulting and victimizing innocent people. People get tired of being insulted. Anger gets frozen into a permanent state of hatred. People even get tired of hating. Tactics that once brought temporary relief or the thrill of victory no longer work. Strategists run out of new strategies. Whole populations or significant parts thereof turn silent, depressed. Social sickness takes a toll on generations who have burrowed themselves into narrow rigid strategies.

The West including Christians once turned its back on the reality of persecution of Jews in Europe and now is often blind to the suffering its ways have brought to Arab and Muslim lands. The interplay of western guilt and regional victim hood alone cannot provide the basic energy to sustain life or war.Wars sometimes end because people get tired of fighting. Exhaustion from generations of roadblocks creates anger that is turned on their families, communities, principalities or national leaders.

Big powers grow tired of paying for the war or using their inherent limits of political capital to make things come out in their interest. Negotiations for autonomy, two state or one state solutions come and go, but the conditions that challenge the balance of justice persist. But tired, weakened actors sometimes do things that strong confident or revolutionary personalities would not imagine possible. Let us remember that Sadat's breakthrough visit to Jerusalem thirty years ago or Ghandhi's triumphs over Empire were based on the collective strength of tired and weakened populations.

"Peace is the collective responsibility of all of us" said my long time Palestinian friend Zoughbi Zoughbi, activist, mediator, and now Bethlehem based politician who recently spoke in Winnipeg, Canada. I know that there are people world wide who are praying for a noble surprise. But in case there is no surprise, let us watch this moment for the inward awakenings that may be coaxed to consciousness within each of us who are skeptics, and doubt the word, the conditions, and the intentions of those who are persuaded to come to Annapolis.

Collective responsibility means that we are all players.As players we have earned the right to understand that wholeness in life need not be curtailed nor subverted permanently by the language of guilt, holocaust and the legacy of two thousand years of separation from Jewish cousins. As players who are susceptible to popularized notions of terrorism we can acknowledge that minority fundamentalist militant Islam received crucial support from the US in the 1980s for its start among the Taliban when it became a frontline member of the crusade to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And, we can honestly acknowledge that the Israeli Labour government`s support for Hamas in order to weaken Arafat's PLO in the same time period, gave a crucial boost to radical Islam, expressed in Hamas.

Collective responsibility means that those of us in the private world seize every opportunity to honestly observe and demythologize the political and religious superstitions like "Muslims are terrorists" or "Jews will never be satisfied or feel secure". These ideas run rampant in the larger culture and even may be reflected this holiday season of peace when families gather for food and conversation unless we challenge them.

This is a call to action, but a call must recognize our own tiredness with the thought that fairness continues to be swallowed up in the geography of apartheid. As we learn to function out of the better angels within us and allow our anger to be dissolved into thoughtful strategies that overcome the stalemate, we may find a way together. Some of us will use words. Some of us will use the artistry of the streets. Some of us will listen with the strength of imagination. Some of us will organize across the boundaries so evident among the representatives in Annapolis.

We will not be misled by unrealistic expectations of Annapolis. But we will be open to the surprises that the Spirit who also is resident in our world wants to show us. We will be ready to join with the Spirit.
- Gene Stolzfus

Monday, November 19, 2007

How to Get Out?

by Uri Avnery

THE ANNAPOLIS conference is a joke. Though not in the least funny.

Like quite a lot of political initiatives, this one too, according to all the indications, started more or less by accident. George Bush was due to make a speech. He was looking for a theme that would give it some substance. Something that would divert attention away from his fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. Something simple, optimistic, easy to swallow.

Somehow, the idea of a "meeting" of leaders to promote the Israeli-Palestinian "process" came up. An international meeting is always nice - it looks good on television, it provides plenty of photo-opportunities, it radiates optimism. We meet, ergo we exist.

So Bush voiced the idea: a "meeting" for the promotion of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Without any preceding strategic planning, any careful preparations, anything much at all.

That's why Bush did not go into any details: no clear aim, no agenda, no location, no date, no list of invitees. Just an ethereal meeting. This fact by itself testifies to the lack of seriousness of the entire enterprise.

This may shock people who have never seen close up how politics are actually conducted. It is hard to accept the intolerable lightness with which decisions are often made, the irresponsibility of leaders and the arbitrary way important processes are set in motion.

FROM THE MOMENT this idea was launched, it could not be called back. The President has spoken, the initiative starts on its way. As the saying goes: One fool throws a stone into the water, a dozen wise men cannot retrieve it.

Once the "meeting" had been announced, it became an important enterprise. The experts of all parties started to work frantically on the undefined event, each trying to steer it in the direction which would benefit them the most.

Bush and Condoleezza Rice want an impressive event, to prove that the United States is vigorously promoting peace and democracy, and that they can succeed where the great Henry Kissinger failed. Jimmy Carter failed to turn the Israeli-Egyptian peace into an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Bill Clinton failed at Camp David. If Bush succeeds where all his illustrious predecessors have failed, won't that show who is the greatest of them all?

Ehud Olmert urgently needs a resounding political achievement in order to blur the memory of his dismal failure in the Second Lebanon War and to extricate himself from the dozen or so criminal investigations for corruption that are pursuing him. His ambition knows no bounds: he wants to be photographed shaking the hand of the King of Saudi Arabia. A feat no Israeli prime minister before him has achieved.

Mahmoud Abbas wants to show Hamas and the rebellious factions in his own Fatah movement that he can succeed where the great Yasser Arafat failed - to be accepted among the world's leaders as an equal partner.

This could, therefore, become a great, almost historic conference, if …

IF ALL these hopes were something more than pipedreams. None of them has any substance. For one simple reason: no one of the three partners has any capital at his disposal.

Bush is bankrupt. In order to succeed at Annapolis, he would have to exert intense pressure on Israel, to compel it to take the necessary steps: agree to the establishment of a real Palestinian state, give up East Jerusalem, restore the Green Line border (with some small swaps of territory), find an agreed-upon compromise formula for the refugee issue.

But Bush is quite unable to exert the slightest pressure on Israel, even if he wanted to. In the US, the election season has already begun, and the two big parties are bulwarks standing in the way of any pressure on Israel. The Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished.

Olmert is in an even weaker position. His coalition still survives only because there is no alternative in the present Knesset. It includes elements that in any other country would be called fascist (For historical reasons, Israelis don't like to use this term). He is prevented by his partners from making any compromise, however tiny - even if he wanted to reach an agreement.

This week, the Knesset adopted a bill that requires a two-thirds majority for any change of the borders of Greater Jerusalem. This means that Olmert cannot even give up one of the outlying Palestinian villages that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967. He is also prevented from even approaching the 'core issues" of the conflict.

Mahmoud Abbas cannot move away from the conditions laid down by Yasser Arafat (the 3rd anniversary of whose death was commemorated this week). If he strays from the straight and narrow, he will fall. He has already lost the Gaza Strip, and can lose the West Bank, too. On the other side, if he threatens violence, he will lose all he has got: the favor of Bush and the cooperation of the Israeli security forces.

The three poker players are going to sit down together, pretending to start the game, while none of them has a cent to put on the table.

THE MAJESTIC mountain seems to be getting smaller and smaller by the minute. It's against the laws of nature: the closer we get to it, the smaller it seems. What looked to many like a veritable Mt. Everest first turned into an ordinary mountain, then into a hill, and now it hardly looks like an anthill. And even that is shrinking, too.

First the participants were to deal with the "core issues". Then it was announced that a weighty declaration of intentions was to be adopted. Then a mere collection of empty phrases was proposed. Now even that is in doubt.

Not one of the three leaders is still dreaming of an achievement. All they hope for now is to minimize the damage - but how to get out of a situation like this?

As usual, our side is the most creative at this task. After all, we are experts in building roadblocks, walls and fences. This week, an obstacle larger then the Great Wall of China appeared.

Ehud Olmert demanded that, before any negotiations, the Palestinians "recognize Israel as a Jewish state". He was followed by his coalition partner, the ultra-right Avigdor Liberman, who proposed staying away from Annapolis altogether if the Palestinians do not fulfill this demand in advance.

Let's examine this condition for a moment:
The Palestinians are not required to recognize the state of Israel. After all, they have already done so in the Oslo agreement - in spite of the fact that Israel has yet to recognize the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own based on the Green Line borders.

No, the government of Israel demands much more: the Palestinians must now recognize Israel as a "Jewish state".

Does the USA demand to be recognized as a "Christian" or "Anglo-Saxon state"? Did Stalin demand that the US recognize the Soviet Union as a "Communist state"? Does Poland demand to be recognized as a "Catholic state", or Pakistan as an "Islamic state"? Is there any precedent at all for a state to demand the recognition of its domestic regime?

The demand is ridiculous per se. But this can easily be shown by analysis ad absurdum.

What is a "Jewish state"? That has never been spelled out. Is it a state with a majority of Jewish citizens? Is it "the state of the Jewish people" - meaning the Jews from Brooklyn, Paris and Moscow? Is it "a state belonging to the Jewish religion" - and if so, does it belong to secular Jews as well? Or perhaps it belongs only to Jews under the Law of Return - i.e. those with a Jewish mother who have not converted to another religion?

These questions have not been decided. Are the Palestinians required to recognize something that is the subject of debate in Israel itself?

According to the official doctrine, Israel is a "Jewish and democratic state". What should the Palestinians do if, according to democratic principles, some day my opinion prevails and Israel becomes an "Israeli state" that belongs to all its citizens - and to them alone? (After all, the US belongs to all its citizens, including Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, not to mention "Native-Americans".)

The sting is, of course, that this formula is quite unacceptable to Palestinians because it would hurt the million and a half Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The definition "Jewish state" turns them automatically into - at best - second class citizens. If Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues were to accede to this demand, they would be sticking a knife in the backs of their own relatives.

Olmert & Co. know this, of course. They are not posing this demand in order to get it accepted. They pose it in order that it not be accepted. By this ploy they hope to avoid any obligation to start meaningful negotiations.

Moreover, according to the deceased Road Map, which all parties pretend to accept, Israel must dismantle all settlements set up after March, 2000, and freeze all the others. Olmert is quite unable to do that. At the same time, Mahmoud Abbas must destroy the "terror infrastructure". Abbas can't do that either - as long as there is no independent Palestinian state with an elected government.

I imagine Bush tossing and turning in his bed at night, cursing the speechwriter who put this miserable sentence into his mouth. On their way to heaven, his curses must be mingling with those of Olmert and Abbas.

WHEN THE leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine were about to sign the Declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, the document was not ready. Sitting in front of the cameras and history, they had to sign on an empty page. I am afraid that something like that will happen in Annapolis.

And then all of them will head back to their respective homes, heaving a heartfelt sigh of relief.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

International Survey of Boycotts, Divestment Actions, and Sanctions

The Palestine Israel Action Group of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting has developed an extensive Survey of Approaches to Ethical Economic Engagement taken by religious and secular organizations worldwide on behalf of Palestinian human rights. This on-going review covers churches and church councils, Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations, labor unions, NGOs, associations of doctors, lawyers, journalists, colleges and universities, governmental and political organizations, and actions of individuals. Approaches range from gentle persuasion through discussion, education, letter writing, and informational meetings, to active opposition and refusal to cooperate with violence and oppression.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Time for Real Peace Negotiations

Facing Hamas and Hezbollah
from the November 19, 2007 issue of The Nation

One sunny morning in September 1993 I sat on the White House lawn, watching bemused as American political notables lined up for a "grip and grin" photo with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. For twenty-five years previously--and until just days before that morning's signing of the Oslo Accord--Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization had been judged by the US government to bea "foreign terrorist organization." On Capitol Hill and in most of the mainstream media, the excoriation of Arafat and the PLO had beenlong-lasting and virulent. But now, here were scores of Congressional leaders and media bigwigs lining up to be part of the new pro-Oslozeitgeist.What made the difference was that the Israeli government had shifted its stance. When that shift was made public, virtually the entire US political class turned on a dime. Today two very significant forces in the MiddleEast--Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon--are in nearly the same position the PLO was locked into before the early 1990s. Indeed, this time the United States is more directly participating in hostile actions against the current "untouchables" than it ever was against the pre-Oslo PLO. AfterHamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, the BushAdministration orchestrated a harsh boycott of the new Hamas-led government,which left Washington's "pro-democracy" stance in the Middle East in tatters. Then in summer 2006, when Israeli airplanes and artillery were trying to wipe Hezbollah--and much of Lebanon's national infrastructure--off the map, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked overtime to prevent the Security Council from calling a cease-fire.Our country's diplomacy has been held hostage to Israel's preference to fight rather than engage with these two significant movements. But the United States has its own extremely pressing interests in the Middle East. Key among these are the need to find a way to withdraw from Iraq and radically de-escalate tensions with Iran in order to minimize US losses and lethal disorder in the region. There are many close links between thePersian Gulf and the Arab-Israeli theater. As the Baker-Hamilton report of last year rightly noted, if Washington wants to avoid catastrophe in Iraq, it must be prepared to undertake a vigorous and effective push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Recently, the Bush Administration has attempted to look as if it is doing something on this issue. Bush and Rice are trying to organize a November summit in Annapolis to be attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Administration is also hoping for high-level representation from theArab states, especially Saudi Arabia. But Washington has deliberately excluded Hamas. Indeed, the current moves are intended to weaken Hamas,which is often portrayed as merely a tool of an irredeemably hostile Iran. Hamas and Hezbollah have both been on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations for many years. After 9/11, that designation became even more constricting as the Administration threw huge new resources into attacking the financing and propaganda/information mechanisms of a range of Islamist groups it had designated as targets in the "war on terror." The launching of this new concept completely blurred the distinction between those groups that, like Al Qaeda, aptly fit the description of "rootless cosmopolitans" and those that, like Hamas and Hezbollah, are deeply rooted within stable national communities to which they provide real services and to which they hold themselves accountable. During the wave of decolonizations that occurred in the three decades after 1945, nearly all the decolonizing governments ended up negotiating the transition with leaders of movements that for years had been excluded from political participation (and usually also ruthlessly repressed and attacked)on the grounds that they were "terrorists." In the more recent past, the successful peace processes in South Africa and Northern Ireland started in earnest only when the ruling governments agreed to talk with opposition groups previously designated as terrorists. In both cases, the only criteria for inclusion were that participants agree to a cease-fire and participate in elections. The movements concerned--the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies in South Africa, and Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland--were notably not required, as a prerequisite for the inclusion of the political wing in negotiations, either to disarm or tochange their founding platforms in any way. South Africa's Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) took part in the talks without being required to change their simple platform of "One [white] settler, one bullet."In Palestine, Hamas participated peacefully, in good faith and with notable success, in the 2006 elections. From early 2005 onward it had, along with the other big Palestinian organization, Fatah, adhered to a unilateral cessation of attacks against Israel--which was not, alas, reciprocated by Israel. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has participated peacefully and skillfully in every national election since 1992, most recently winning fourteen seats out of 128 in summer 2005. (The party's support in the country is greater than those numbers suggest. The numbers of seats available to the Lebanese Shiites who form its main base is artificially small.) Hezbollah members have been ministers in Lebanese governments. Regarding its readiness and ability to observe a cease-fire, more than fifteen years have passed since Hezbollah used its weapons against any other authentically Lebanese movement. In addition, from 1996 to July 2006 it maintained its side of cease-fires negotiated indirectly with Israel. Hezbollah contravened the cease-fire regime by infiltrating Israel and capturing two Israeli soldiers in the summer of 2006 (Israel had also contravened it, numerous times). In response, Israel launched a massive retaliation, attacking not only Hezbollah-related targets but major elements of the country's civilian infrastructure. At the time, as in the similar assault Israel undertook in 1996, Israeli leaders said publicly that their goal was to turn the people and government of Lebanon against Hezbollah. As in 1996, the attempt backfired, and Israel ended up having to negotiate an end to hostilities on terms that fell far short of its original goals.Indeed, Hezbollah possibly emerged from the war stronger than it had been before the hostilities. The organization and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, gained prestige all over the Arab world, including among many Sunni Arabs. The August 2006 cease-fire has remained remarkably durable ever since. At this point, both Hamas and Hezbollah have shown by their actions that (1)they are capable of winning and holding the allegiance of a substantial portion of their national communities, as demonstrated in free and fair elections; and (2) they are willing to enter into cease-fires with Israel and are capable of exerting the internal discipline required to abide by them. If the Middle East were South Africa or Northern Ireland, we would conclude that they have more than met the conditions for inclusion in peace talks. But when Israel is involved, the US political class continues to make the extraordinary and unrealistic demands that before these organizations can be included in any political process they must completely disarm, both physically and ideologically--just like the PLO before them. (No parallel demand is placed on Israel.) Meanwhile, pending these organizations' complete compliance with the demands, nearly all US politicians hew to the position that it is quite all right to join with Israel in inflicting harsh,in many cases lethal, collective punishment on the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, and in using covert intervention in Lebanon to whittle away at Hezbollah's power there.What actions have either of these organizations ever taken against the United States and its interests? In the case of Hamas, none. Yes, it is true that US citizens visiting or living in Israel were killed or maimed during the suicide-bombing campaigns Hamas launched against Israel in the 1990s.But those Americans were not targeted because of their US citizenship, any more than Palestinian-Americans harmed by Israel's actions in the West Bankor Gaza were targeted because of their US citizenship. At the rhetorical level, meanwhile, Hamas's leaders--like their confreres, the leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood--are at pains to point out that they have no grievance against the American people. They firmly dissociated themselves from the 9/11 attacks--both at the time and since. But the Hamas leaders do ask why so many US politicians of both parties continue to be so one-sided in their support of Israel and so strongly biased against the Palestinians. One Hamas parliamentarian I interviewed in Ramallah last yearargued that Americans should be glad to deal with Hamas, because "we are the moderates in the Islamist movement." Hezbollah's case is a little more complex. The party was created in 1985 through the amalgamation of a number of armed resistance networks that grew up in opposition to the Israeli occupation of their country. (If there hadbeen no 1982 Israeli invasion, there would be no Hezbollah today.) Before 1985 some of the pre-Hezbollah networks included people who, judging that the United States had supported Israel's invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and1982 and Israel's proxy forces within Lebanon--and determined to end what they considered a hostile US military presence in their country--chose to punish the United States. In 1983-84 those networks used car and truck bombs in lethal attacks against the US Embassy (twice), against the barracks housing US Marines serving in a US-led peacekeeping force and against other US targets in Lebanon. When Hezbollah was formed, it focused its armed operations much more tightly on opposing Israeli occupation forces rather than against US or other Western targets there. At the rhetorical level, Hezbollah to this day holds to a clearly recognizable anti-imperialist position that sees the United States as "the heir to the Old Imperialism"and sees Israel as part of what it considers a US imperial plan in the Middle East. But it has not done anything to operationalize that analysis by attacking US targets either inside or outside Lebanon. There have been some allegations that Hezbollah has sent military advisers to train anti-US militias in Iraq, but these reports have never been confirmed (and given that Hezbollah's closest links in Iraq are with organizations affiliated with the government installed by the United States, they have a general implausibility). Like the leaders of Hamas, the leaders of Hezbollah also sharply dissociated themselves from the 9/11 attacks.No aspect of Hamas's or Hezbollah's current policies should prevent Washington from dealing with either organization. Remember that when South Africa's apartheid government agreed to talk with the ANC, the PAC and other armed anti-apartheid groups, these groups were still--up to the time the negotiation-related cease-fire went into effect--actively targeting government installations and, in the case of the PAC, white citizens throughout the country. The same was true in the Northern Ireland talks and in all the negotiations over preceding decades that led to the freeing of scores of Third World countries from the shackles of colonialism. Contrary to what many American commentators seem to believe, sitting down to negotiate with another party does not indicate agreement with it but merely a pragmatic recognition that it is a force that must be engaged in the search for a solution. It should be noted that in Iraq the United States has now started to deal directly with tribal and political groups that were until recently involved in the guerrilla resistance against the US occupation.American negotiators should seek forums within which they can engagere presentatives of Hamas and Hezbollah--along with other relevant parties such as Syria--so that all these players can energetically probe exactly how to resolve the remaining strands of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a way that is fair to everyone and gives all sides a path to a peaceful future. This is not a pipe dream. As long as Washington refuses to do this, the search for peace in the Middle East will be fruitless, because no sustainable peace can be built in defiance of the millions of Palestinians and Lebanese who support these two movements.The strong bias that Washington has shown toward Israel for some four decades has served our country poorly. It continues to weaken US interests in the Middle East and far, far beyond. There are no signs that the Bush Administration's current round of coercive Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy will lead to an agreement more sturdy or sustainable than previous partial and unsuccessful agreements. If the United States is incapable of maintaining a fair-minded position in Israeli-Arab diplomacy, it should give up its dominant role. The United Nations could then take over, instead of acting as a junior partner in a US-led "Quartet" of powers, as at present.But whoever leads the peace-brokering will have to realize there can be no peace in the Middle East without somehow including Hezbollah and Hamas in the process.

This article can be found on the web at

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Voice of Sanity

Jewish Voice for Peace, July 29, 2007

Congress is once again showing its remarkable ability to misunderstand the Middle East and to be more narrow-minded in its decisions regarding Arab states than even Israeli hawks.At issue now is a Middle East arms package that the Bush Administration plans to put into the next appropriations bill. It involves a 10-year commitment to do the following:

*provide $3 billion per year in military aid to Israel
* provide $1.3 billion per year in military aid to Egypt
* sell some $20 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf states, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

One should keep in mind that the US and Israel also work together to develop other defense systems, which often amount to additional American support for Israel, though this relationship is much more mutual than is often portrayed.The American strategy of flooding the Middle East with weapons, small and large, has already had the effect of greatly increasing the instability of the region. This new wave of arms supplies, crafted to maintain Israel's military superiority while simultaneously enabling America's Arab allies to strengthen their ability to stand up to increasing Iranian influence in the region, is certain to have similarly destabilizing results. That is not to say that the arms deal won't accomplish the goals outlined above, but that accomplishment will come along with other, unintended results.

Principled, or even thoughtful, opposition to such a strategy would be welcome. A credible alternative that does not endanger Israel or other US interests might mean:

* Israel is held accountable to its past commitments to the US upon which its aid is predicated (that it is to be used only for defense, that American weapons are not to be used against civilians) and that such aid is dependent on Israel's removing settlements and freezing all construction in the West Bank;
* engaging Iran in diplomacy, along with Saudi Arabia;
* that the US adhere to its own regulations that arms supplies be conditioned on adherence to human rights norms;
* that the US commits to supporting the security of all allied states that adhere to such regulations;
* that Iran, the US and the Arab states come together to work for a resolution to the crisis in Iraq;
* and that substantive negotiations begin for the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, encompassing all areas under conflict, including the Golan heights and the Sheba'a Farms.

These measures could be aimed at allaying the concerns over Saudi and Gulf states' acquisition of arms. Stabilizing the governments through enhanced human rights protections would greatly diminish the threat of those governments falling and the weapons ending up in the hands of parties who might use them against Israel, which is a fear in Congress.

But all of this is beside the point--Israel's own Prime Minister has already accepted the idea of the US selling these arms to the Arab states. One would expect Congress, then, to follow his lead.Instead, what we get is Congressional saber-rattling that is positioned solidly to the right of the majority of Israeli political parties. There is no questioning of Israel's reception of aid, and even of it increasing, despite the fact that the enhancement of aid is specifically meant to offset the arms sales to the Arab states. Instead, there is blind opposition from key Democrats in Congress only to sales to Saudi Arabia, based on objections to the Saudi's stance on Iraq, and their attempt to re-unify the Palestinian factions.

The short-sightedness of this opposition is hard to overstate.Congressional understanding of the Middle East is limited. They hear from "experts" largely supplied by only one side in the discussion, be they from AIPAC or the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). There are always, of course, lobbying efforts supporting failed hard-line policies, but the educational efforts are just as important. The need for an alternative in Washington couldn't be more clear.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"A completely avoidable crisis"

Oxfam condemns the caging of Gaza
Press Release

25 June 2007

International agency Oxfam today condemned aid blockade of Gaza that is leaving 1.3 million people are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Oxfam called on all actors in the conflict to ensure that urgently needed food, medicine and water supplies are allowed in immediately.

The call comes as Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet today in Egypt. Oxfam is demanding that the reopening of Gaza's borders is placed at the top of the agenda so that essential supplies can get through. If not, the region's economy and basic services such as health and water systems will collapse.

Jeremy Hobbs Director of Oxfam International said:
"The international community is closing its eyes to its humanitarian obligations and allowing the suffering to intensify. Aid is being drip-fed across the border. The entrapment of Gaza is completely unacceptable. We urge the key players to resolve what has been a completely avoidable crisis."

According to the UN there are just days until food supplies will run out, fuel is scarce and essential medicines are also critically low. At least 100 trucks a day need to be going into Gaza to meet peoples essential needs, instead just 20 trucks are permitted to go in each day.

Oxfam's partner, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) who operate the Beit Lahia Sewage Works fear that the works could burst swamping up to 10,000 in sewage and contaminate the water supplies of 300,000, creating a public health crisis. The CMWU has been waiting for over three months for $500,000 worth of equipment. There are only 10 days of chlorine supplies left and people may soon have to start to drink contaminated water.
Hobbs added:

"Withholding aid as a political weapon is bringing untold suffering to an entire population. This shames the international community. Water equipment has been waiting at Gaza's border for more than three months. These sanctions must cease immediately."

Oxfam is concerned that talks today in Sharm el Sheik will ignore the dire humanitarian needs of people in Gaza. It calls on Prime Minister Olmert to lift the blockade immediately and for Palestinian authorities to ensure that public service workers and humanitarian agencies can distribute urgently needed materials.

Western donors, together with the Palestinian authorities, must ensure that both emergency and development aid are allocated impartially throughout the Occupied Territories, on the basis of need, and are not used as a political tool. To do otherwise will further exacerbate partisan rivalry, to the detriment of the lives of ordinary Palestinians and to Israel's long-term security.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Follow the Money

In this article, Naomi Klein points out one of the reasons that the Israel Palestine conflict is so intractable: war can be extremely profitable, both for individual enterprises and for countries. Israel is not unique in this of course. Eisenhower famously described in 1960 how the military-industrial complex had begun to exert its "total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual" on every aspect of US society. And a project of the International Peace Academy ("Greed and Grievance" edited by Mats Berdal and David M. Matone) shows how economic agendas on both sides can, at times, perpetuate conflicts in impoverished nations while masquerading as struggles for freedom, dignity, or human rights.

Gaza: Not Just a Prison, a Laboratory
by Naomi Klein
From "The Nation" June 15, 2007

Gaza in the hands of Hamas, with masked militants sitting in the president's chair; the West Bank on the edge; Israeli army camps hastily assembled in the Golan Heights; a spy satellite over Iran and Syria; war with Hezbollah a hair trigger away; a scandal-plagued political class facing a total loss of public faith.

At a glance, things aren't going well for Israel. But here's a puzzle: why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates nearing China's?

Thomas Friedman recently offered his theory in the New York Times. Israel "nurtures and rewards individual imagination," and so its people are constantly spawning ingenious high-tech start-ups - no matter what messes their politicians are making. After perusing class projects by students in engineering and computer science at Ben Gurion University,
Friedman made one of his famous fake-sense pronouncements: Israel "had discovered oil." This oil, apparently, is located in the minds of Israel's "young innovators and venture capitalists," who are too busy making megadeals with Google to be held back by politics.

Here's another theory: Israel's economy isn't booming despite the political chaos that devours the headlines, but because of it. This phase of development dates back to the mid-nineties, when Israel was in the vanguard of the information revolution - the most tech-dependent economy in the world. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Israel's economy was devastated, facing its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack
and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners.

Within three years, large parts of Israel's tech economy had been radically repurposed. Put in Friedmanesque terms: Israel went from inventing the networking tools of the "flat world" to selling fences to an apartheid planet. Many of the country's most successful entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, surrounded by furious enemies, as a kind of twenty-four-hour-a-day showroom-a living example of how to enjoy relative safety amid constant war. And the reason Israel is now enjoying supergrowth is that those
companies are busily exporting that model to the world.

Discussions of Israel's military trade usually focus on the flow of weapons into the country-US-made Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy homes in the West Bank and British companies supplying parts for F-16s. Overlooked is Israel's huge and expanding export business. Israel now
sends $1.2 billion in "defense" products to the United States-up dramatically from $270 million in 1999. In 2006 Israel exported $3.4 billion in defense products-well over a billion more than it received in US military aid. That makes Israel the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world, overtaking Britain.

Much of this growth has been in the so-called "homeland security" sector. Before 9/11 homeland security barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2 billion-an increase of 20 percent. The key products and services are high-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems - precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock-in the occupied territories.
And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn't threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the "global war on terror."

It's no coincidence that the class projects at Ben Gurion that so impressed Friedman have names like "Innovative Covariance Matrix for Point Target Detection in Hyperspectral Images" and "Algorithms for Obstacle Detection and Avoidance." Thirty homeland security companies were launched in Israel in the past six months alone, thanks in large
part to lavish government subsidies that have transformed the Israeli army and the country's universities into incubators for security and weapons start-ups (something to keep in mind in the debates about the academic boycott).

Next week, the most established of these companies will travel to Europe for the Paris Air Show, the arms industry's equivalent of Fashion Week. One of the Israeli companies exhibiting is Suspect Detection Systems (SDS), which will be showcasing its Cogito1002, a white, sci-fi-looking security kiosk that asks air travelers to answer a series of computer-generated questions, tailored to their country of
origin, while they hold their hand on a "biofeedback" sensor. The device reads the body's reactions to the questions and certain responses flag the passenger as "suspect."
Like hundreds of other Israeli security start-ups, SDS boasts that it was founded by veterans of Israel's secret police and that its products were road-tested on Palestinians. Not only has the company tried out the biofeedback terminals at a West Bank checkpoint, it claims the "concept is supported and enhanced by knowledge acquired and assimilated from the analysis of thousands of case studies related to
suicide bombers in Israel."

Another star of the Paris Air Show will be Israeli defense giant Elbit, which plans to showcase its Hermes 450 and 900 unmanned air vehicles. As recently as May, according to press reports, Israel used the drones on bombing missions in Gaza. Once tested in the territories, they are exported abroad: the Hermes has already been used at the Arizona-Mexico
border; Cogito1002 terminals are being auditioned at an unnamed US airport; and Elbit, one of the companies behind Israel's "security barrier," has partnered with Boeing to construct the Department of Homeland Security's $2.5 billion "virtual" border fence around the United States.

Since Israel began its policy of sealing off the occupied territories with checkpoints and walls, human rights activists have often compared Gaza and the West Bank to open-air prisons. But in researching the explosion of Israel's homeland security sector, a topic I explore in greater detail in a forthcoming book (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), it strikes me that they are something else too: laboratories where the terrifying tools of our security states are being field-tested. Palestinians - whether living in the West Bank or what the Israeli politicians are already calling "Hamasistan" -- are no longer just targets. They are guinea pigs.

So in a way Friedman is right: Israel has struck oil. But the oil isn't the imagination of its techie entrepreneurs. The oil is the war on terror, the state of constant fear that creates a bottomless global demand for devices that watch, listen, contain and target "suspects." And fear, it turns out, is the ultimate renewable resource.

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which will be published in September.Visit Naomi's website at

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Disgraceful, but nothing new

By Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz, January, 25, 2007

Last week, Israel's Channel 10 aired a short video clip that had been filmed in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, in which Jewish settler Yifat Alkobi can be seen roughly pushing and cursing her neighbors, members of the Palestinian Abu Aisha family. A few months ago B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, gave the Abu-Aishas a camera in order to document what was happening near their home, and they now have many video clips of a similar nature.

What is interesting about this particular one is that the pushing and cursing took place while a few meters away Israel Defense Forces soldiers observed the incident without lifting a finger.Nobody was particularly exercised by these images, and that included Alkobi herself, who was called in for an interrogation and did not even show up.

There is a group of international observers in the city, called TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), and they published an announcement to the effect that the film contained nothing new. "For years we have been publishing information about harassment, damage to property, destruction of buildings, stone throwing and the breaking of windows, carried out by the settlers against the Arab residents, and in the past we have often turned to the IDF and to the police, and nothing happened," said the observers. Their reports are sent to the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and the governments of the six countries that sent the observers (Norway, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Turkey).

B'Tselem also hastened to warn about turning Alkobi into a scapegoat; the fact is that responsibility for what happens in Hebron belongs to all the Israeli governments that have allowed and continue to allow such disgraceful sights to take place.The statistics are familiar. Of the thousands of Arabs who lived in the part of Hebron under Israeli control (according to the agreement of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu), few remain.

The Abu Aisha family of Tel Rumeida lives in a house that has been dubbed the "cage house" because of the bars surrounding it, which are meant to protect it from harassment by the settlers. The other isolated Arab families who have remained in the area near the settlers tend to hide in a similar manner. In other words, the Hebron settlers have succeeded in getting rid of almost all of their Arab neighbors, something the IDF and the police have done nothing to prevent, which means they are in effect helping the settlers.

The Israeli right, which supports the Hebron settlers, has long since slid down the slippery slope of racism. In a meeting in Jerusalem recently, a senior (Jewish) police officer who has left the service told guests from abroad how he had to deal with settlers in the Arab neighborhoods of the city who refuse to obey Arab policemen. "You are Arabs, and we don't talk to you. Bring a Jewish policeman," they say. The guests from Canada were shocked. One of them, a senior official in the Canadian government, said that anyone daring to make such a remark in Canada would be immediately thrown into prison. Here it passes quietly.

Not all the settlers are like those in Hebron. There are also settlers who are trying to build neighborly relations with the Arabs. Both groups defend themselves against claims of dispossession and racism, saying that this has been the situation in the Land of Israel since the beginning of the Zionist settlement enterprise. Tel Aviv was not built only on sands either, and everywhere in the country, from Dan to Be'er Sheva, Arabs were expelled and dispossessed. So what do people want from them?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

It's the little things that make an Occupation

The Israeli government claims that Israel's security requires the matrix of control shown on this map. But even if that were true, Palestinians who have to put up with the "little things" -- the interminable wait at check points, the random curfews, the targetting of children throwing stones, the armed incursions, the house demolitions -- will not be controlled forever. Israel was meant to be a place of refuge, a safe space for Jews in a hostile world. But imposing military and economic control over a captive population has achieved nothing but the hardening of hearts.
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This despicable "looking on from the side"

Looking on from the side, from Belsen to Gaza
By John Pilger, January 17, 2007

Amira Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944." [She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking," she wrote. "This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking on from the side'."

A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. "Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run and no space to hide," wrote the senior UN relief official, Jan Egeland, and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people "living in a cage", cut off by land, sea and air, with no reliable power and little water and tortured by hunger and disease and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.

Egeland and Eliasson wrote this four months ago as an attempt to break the silence in Europe whose obedient alliance with the United States and Israel has sought to reverse the democratic result that brought Hamas to power in last year's Palestinian elections. The horror in Gaza has since been compounded; a family of 18 has died beneath a 500-pound American/Israeli bomb; unarmed women have been mown down at point-blank range.

Dr David Halpin, one of the few Britons to break what he calls "this medieval siege", reported the killing of 57 children by artillery, rockets and small arms and was shown evidence that civilians are Israel's true targets, as in Lebanon last summer. A friend in Gaza, Dr Mona El-Farra, emailed: "I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms [a collective punishment by the Israeli air force] and artillery on my 13-year-old daughter. At night, she shivers with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. I try to make her feel safe, but when the bombs sound I flinch and scream .

"When I was last in Gaza, Dr Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist, showed me the results of a remarkable survey. "The statistic I personally find unbearable," he said, "is that 99.4 per cent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to trauma you see why: 99.2 per cent of their homes were bombarded; 97.5 per cent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 per cent witnessed shootings; 95.8 per cent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed." Dr Dahlan invited me to sit in on one of his clinics. There were 30 children, all of them traumatized. He gave each pencil and paper and asked them to draw. They drew pictures of grotesque acts of terror and of women streaming tears.

The excuse for the latest Israeli terror was the capture last June of an Israeli soldier, a member of an illegal occupation, by the Palestinian resistance. This was news. The kidnapping a few days earlier by Israel of two Palestinians - two of thousands taken over the years - was not news.

An historian and two foreign journalists have reported the truth about Gaza. All three are Israelis. They are frequently called traitors.

The historian Ilan Pappe has documented that "the genocidal policy [in Gaza] is not formulated in a vacuum" but part of Zionism's deliberate, historic ethnic cleansing.

Gideon Levy and Amira Hass are reporters on the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. In November, Levy described how the people of Gaza were beginning to starve to death . "there are thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment . the shadows of human beings roam the ruins . they only know the [Israeli army] will return and what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions."

Amira Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944." [She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking," she wrote. "This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking on from the side'."

"Looking on from the side" is what those of us do who are cowed into silence by the threat of being called anti-Semitic.

Looking from the side is what too many western Jews do, while those Jews who honour the humane traditions of Judaism and say, "Not in our name!" are abused as "self-despising".

Looking on from the side is what almost the entire US Congress does, in thrall to or intimidated by a vicious Zionist "lobby'.

Looking on from the side is what "even-handed" journalists do as they excuse the lawlessness that is the source of Israeli atrocities and suppress the historic shifts in the Palestinian resistance, such as the implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas.

The people of Gaza cry out for better.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

News From Ramallah

Occupation magazine - Life under occupation

The IDF and my daughter`s hamburger
by Sam Bahour Email Fri, 05 Jan 2007

Dear friends,I wanted to write this last night but was exhausted from playing umpteen hands of the card game UNO with my 6 year old daughter, Nadine. Why this card frenzy, especially given I hate playing cards? Well, we were in the center of Ramallah yesterday afternoon, at 3:40pm when the almighty Israeli military decided, again, that it was time to wreak havoc on our city. I should not really complain since what happened in Ramallah yesterday happens across the West Bank and Gaza regularly. Nevertheless, I will make an issue about it and urge every Palestinian, in every city, to make an issue about every Israeli infraction on our lives.

Yesterday I was extremely busy all day and had a dinner appointment with a serious venture capitalist in Jerusalem in the evening, so I agreed with my wife and girls that since I would not be home all day and night, that I`d pick them up at 3:30 sharp and we would go for a late lunch. We haven`t been out much given all of the infighting lately so my girls were thrilled. I rushed home at 3:30 to pick them up and found my daughters dressed to kill. To them, this was a serious outing after a long holiday break which was spent mostly at home. The restaurant they had as first choice was closed due to the holidays, so they reverted to their favorite popular place, Angelo`s Pizzeria, for those that know it. Angelo`s Pizzeria is on the main street in Ramallah, a few hundred meters from Lion`s Circle, the smack middle of town where you saw on the the news Israeli bulldozers destroying cars last night.

I parked on the Friends Girls School road which is behind the restaurant. As soon as I exited the car I felt something was wrong. As we walked into the restaurant I looked up and could see an Israeli gunship helicopter hoovering overhead firing at some unknown target. We thought it would be safer to enter the restaurant rather than return home. The restaurant was full with most tables nervous at the sound of gunfire from overhead. The waiters, who have been through this dozens of times, visited the tables and played and joked with the kids. They knew that things were not right and went out of their way to make life normal, at least while we were their customers. The restaurant manager, a friend, came to our table and asked me for my car keys. He wanted to move my car because word came that the Israeli jeeps and armored vehicles that were operating in town were crushing cars parked on the side of the road. He found my car already in a safe spot and reassured us that this will pass soon. He knows, he has lived this reality every day for 40 years now!

We ordered a pizza and salad and Nadine insisted that Angelo`s Pizzeria has the best hamburgers in town and wanted one as well so she ordered one herself. As we sat, things outside were clearly deteriorating. I got a call on my cellular hone from my dad back in Youngstown, Ohio. He asked where we are because no one answered at home. He briefed me on the live reports he was watching about what was happening outside the restaurant door. After talking with my father, I made frequent visits to the restaurant door to view people rushing away from the city center. While I was standing at the door, a friend of mine had finished eating with his wife and 4 kids and stood at the door contemplating to leave to cross the street to his car. I kept a lookout and gave him the all clear as he rushed his family across the street to his car and he was off. At this stage, I knew it was not only military activity overhead but something very close by.

The salad showed up in no time and we enjoyed it. Then the famous hamburger followed and then our pizza. All the time my wife was trying to make phone contact with her sister who we invited to join us but never showed up. She wanted to make sure she was ok given all the shooting and commotion outside. My older daughter, Areen, was a bit nervous, wondering how we were going to get back home. We reassured her that all would be fine. In reality, we had no idea. Forty minutes later, my wife, Abeer, Areen and I had finished eating and were ready to go. Nadine, was happily, and very slowly, enjoying her world-class hamburger and fries while every so often reassuring us. ` They come, shoot, arrest, and what`s the problem? When they leave, we will go home, right dad?` `So what`s the problem?`! The problem is how can a 6 year old calmly sit through a mini-war happening outside the restaurant while enthusiastically devouring a hamburger without the slightest hint of being disturbed?

Nadine finally finished and we headed home. Luckily we were parked in the opposite direction of the shooting, so we drove the wrong way down a one way street and headed home. On the way, taxis were rushing about, driving worse than usual, shuttling people away from the center of Ramallah. When we got near our home we had to cross the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. Looking left about 200 meters away my girls yelled out that the IDF was blocking the street. I glanced and it was a mess. Jeeps all over, rocks filled the street, behind the jeeps I could see the open market was full of soldiers.

We finally got home. Turned on CNN, nothing! Switched to Jazeerah and they had live pictures of what was happening and the extent of it - another Israeli invasion into Ramallah. An undercover Israeli hit team tried to arrest someone and were exposed and came under Palestinian fire. They called in reenforcements and all the lone rangers came running (and shooting and plowing). I was contemplating with my wife if I should risk heading to Jerusalem later in the evening. We agreed to wait and see how it develops given the news reports started to say the IDF was completing their operations and leaving the city center (only to move back to their permanent position of surrounding our city).

I went to check my email and cancel a radio interview appointment with CBC that I missed because of this mess. This is when Nadine came and asked if I could accompany her to the bathroom. She never asks to be accompanied. The bathroom in our small flat is literally 1 meter from my computer and 3 meters from the living room where Abeer was watching the news and Areen was letting Grandma Sarah in Youngstown know we were all home and ok. I immediately understood and gladly accompanied Nadine and even made it a fun trip. Then I cancelled all my appointments that evening and spent the rest of the night doing exactly what Nadine asked for - to play UNO. We played alone, with Areen, as a family, and then alone again, multiple times. When bedtime came she kissed me good night and headed to her room along with her sister as usual - no escort. I felt that UNO therapy had worked. I may even claim for a new deck of UNO on my health insurance policy.

My friends, I write this not to bore you with one family`s experience during 2 hours of occupation, but rather to scream to the world that we need your help! 4 Palestinian civilians were killed last night in this attack, 20 were injured, 5 of them seriously. I have no statistics on the number of children, like Nadine, whose skin become thicker during this latest Israeli adventure. Israel has lost her way and the US is Palestinian-blind. Israel is creating yet another generation of Palestinians that are more numb to their military occupation than any other. Likewise, it is creating a generation of Israeli occupiers that see my city as the wild, wild, west. It is stripping children, Palestinian and Israeli, of their childhood. It must stop and NOW.

We need your active support:
Organize locally, at your church, community center, union, etc.
Support Jimmy Carter`s stance against Israeli Apartheid.
Read his book.
Write letters.
Visit and engage your representatives.
Demand public statements.
Sponsor a Palestinian student.
Invest in Palestine.
Request Angelo`s Pizzeria start exporting hamburgers by express mail. and most importantly, play UNO with your kids.

Braced for the 4 funerals that will start in 3 hours.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"It's fun to be free"

Twilight Zone / What are you doing for the holiday?

By Gideon LevyHaaretz 5.1.2007

"The easing of restrictions of the closure" is already at its height: Hurray, we can travel to Qalqilyah. We can even somehow m ake it to Nablus, whose houses can be seen from every window in the village. Not in our private car, it's true; they won't dream of such luxuries here. But in several taxis and on foot, from checkpoint to checkpoint. A few checkpoints, believe it or not, are even temporarily deserted. Oh, the enlightened occupation.

Incessant rain fell on the occupied West Bank this Sunday, the dark sky and freezing cold a supremely fitting backdrop to these festival days. It was the second day of the holiest of Muslim holidays, the Festival of the Sacrifice, and the last day of the accursed year 2006, during which no fewer than 683 Palestinians lost their lives, far more than the year before, which was also a bloody one. Only the new holiday clothes of the children who splashed in the mud and rain between the checkpoints, skipping from puddle to puddle, from taxi to taxi, carrying holiday gifts on the way to Grandma and Grandpa, lent a bit of joy to the scene.

The boy Akram Arman also set out, accompanied by his two young sisters on the way to their aunt in Nablus, all three dressed in new sweaters and trousers. But the soldier at the Beit Iba checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus was not in a festive mood: ID cards, he demanded. But the girls don't have ID cards yet; they are not yet 16 years old.

"So bring birth certificates," ordered the soldier, and the embarrassed and frightened children went back home to their village to get their birth certificates. Imagine: Your children go to visit their aunt in Kfar Sava on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and they're sent home rudely because they forgot their birth certificates. Happy holiday to the Arman family.

Their village, Jit, is a pretty place, high on a hill west of Nablus. The hills opposite are sown with the houses of Kedumim, a settlement that spreads from hill to hill, ever growing. There a neighborhood of trailer homes, here an antenna rising in the distance, the new Zionism celebrating its small and temporary victories. There are 2,500 residents in Jit, and half of them live by working their land. Their land? Only what is left of it. On the way to a significant portion of the lands to the west, one has to pass several checkpoints. Sometimes it's possible and sometimes it isn't.

Citizen Jemal Bakr, an English teacher in the school in the neighboring village of Sera, has to travel about 40 kilometers each day in order to get to the school, which can be seen from his window - you can stretch out your hand and touch it. Instead of traveling on the direct road to the village on the opposite hill, he has to travel via the Beit Iba checkpoint to Nablus and from there to Sera, sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes a day and a half, depending on the checkpoints. Now he is traveling to Kafr Tal to visit his sister, which is also a complex operation. Since the previous holiday, the teacher has not seen his sister-neighbor. The teacher cannot travel there in his private car, only on foot and by taxi.

The fate of the teacher's father is even worse: He cannot reach his own house. Mahmoud Abu Bakr, an elderly man of 76 with a hearing aid, has not been able to go to his house for about four years. Located on the slope of the hill, an isolated house at the foot of Jit but still in the area of the village, it is on a road where the Israel Defense Forces prohibits any Palestinian traffic. On the black snaking path that descends from the village - the short route to Nablus - there is sometimes a "surprise checkpoint." Sometimes the "surprise" is a jeep that quickly descends from the IDF position on the mountain whenever a resident dares to get on the road - an unruly rebel on foot or by car. Abu Bakr, who was a refugee from Haifa, gave up his home on the slope and rented a room inside Jit. Zakaria Sada, the village human rights activist, has a letter in his pocket written in 2004, from Captain Shiran Asher, the ombudsman in the Central Command, in which the officer writes that "there is nothing to prevent traveling on the road," and "if there is a localized problem the resident should turn to the Nablus Coordination and Liaison Office to solve the problem." But this letter is already creased from having been presented to soldiers so often, and it is still impossible to travel on the road. A half-deaf old man leaning on his stick certainly cannot live in a house where there are almost always "localized problems."

A week ago, Abu Bakr did try to visit his house, but was chased away in disgrace. He is allowed to live in it, but he is not allowed to get to it.The children of the old man are scattered in the surrounding villages; two of them live in Jaffa. His grandson is now coming for a holiday visit straight from his home on Yehuda Hayamit Street, an Israeli teenager, a student in the Neve Shaanan school in the city, coming to see a different way of life. The whole family has not gathered for a holiday meal in years. Samar Sada gave up on the holiday customs and the traditional family visits this year. A pleasant man, 29, the father of three children, he makes a decent living as a warehouse worker in the Barkan industrial zone, but he doesn't have the strength for holiday visits, with the harassment and humiliation at the checkpoints. Samar is staying home this year.

A few weeks ago, the workers who cultivate the family olive grove on the slope asked him to come to the plot to show them its boundary, "to introduce them to the land" as he says in his good Hebrew, prior to the olive harvest. It was a Shabbat afternoon, and Samar drove with his neighbor and his young children to the plot, several hundred meters from the village. The trip to the olive grove passed successfully, as did the briefing of the workers, but the way back was an experience he would like to forget. A Hummer descended the hill.

"Don't you know that you're not allowed to pass here?" asked the soldier.

"Why isn't it allowed?"

"Bring me a permit."

"I went to my land, only 15 minutes. What have I done? What permit?"

"Stand at the side." They stood at the side of the road for 20 minutes.

"You're all saying that you don't know that you need a permit to travel on this road," said the soldier angrily. "

The soldier lost patience," recalls Samar, "began to shout and said to me 'Come down' to the Jit checkpoint." At the checkpoint, the soldier gave the ID cards of Samar and his neighbor to the soldiers at the checkpoint, signaling "four" to him with his fingers. Four fingers mean four hours. Four hours of delay at the checkpoint, a punishment for chutzpah, or for an unapproved trip on an unauthorized road on the way to the family olive grove. Samar, his neighbor and his two young children were thus sentenced, in an accelerated procedure, to a humiliating four hours in the car.

"How we talked, how we pleaded, what we did so he would release us after an hour. An hour is all right, but four hours?" Night began to fall, the cold began to freeze their bones, the children cried, they weren't even allowed to get out of the car. In the house in Jit, Samar's Israeli employer from Raanana, who had come to visit his employee, was waiting, but Samar was delayed. "I'm stuck here with your soldiers," Samar apologized on his cell phone. The human rights activist, Zakaria Sada, also rushed to the site, trying to use his connections, but in vain. After an hour and a half, the soldiers allowed the children go home in the car of a neighbor who had come down to the checkpoint. Even the employer from Raanana, who also came down to the checkpoint, was unable to convince the soldiers to lighten the punishment.

At 8 P.M., not a minute less than the sentence of a four-hour wait, Samar and the neighbor were released. The soldier, says Samar, even asked for a cigarette, but Samar refused.

"Next time, if you travel on the road, we'll delay you for 10 hours."

"Look brother, I don't want you to detain me even for 10 minutes. They said that during the olive harvest traveling is allowed, but with you, even when they say it's allowed, it's forbidden."

Samar lights the kerosene heater that spreads a little heat in the room, and offers sweets for the holiday. "We're imprisoned here. My children haven't left the village for four years. I haven't gone to Nablus for four months. Why should I go there? A soldier will tell me 'Bring a permit.' I have a smart card for Barkan, but if there's a soldier who has it in for Arabs, I don't know for what reason, he'll tell me 'Stop at the side.' So why should I go? I prefer to be at home, not to go out and not to encounter such things." A holiday at home.

On Saturday, Samar went to the mosque, then he visited the old and the sick in the village and returned home. His wife comes from the village of Rujeib, beyond Nablus, and she wanted to go to visit her parents, but Samar refused: "I told her: What do you want? To go out now in this cold with the children, to stop at the checkpoints? There's no chance that you'll get through without stopping. So it's better to stay home. She called them and told them she wasn't coming.

That's how a holiday is an ordinary day for us. No different from any other day. There's nothing to make it different. You want to go on a trip, you want to get to the sea, it's only from heaven that you'll be able to get to the sea. My children don't know what the sea is and what a trip is."

Only once in recent years did Samar see the sea: That was when he went to a trial on work matters in Tel Aviv, and he sneaked off to the beach in Jaffa. "I like trips, trips means being mabsut [content], not mebuas [disgusted].

It's fun to be free. But our life is permits. You go to your land and you need a permit, you go to your job and you need a permit, a life of permits. It's good that there's no checkpoint at the door to my house. My company went on a trip to the North. To the far North. As much as they talked, the boss and his wife, that we would be given a permit to join, it didn't help."

They are five Palestinian workers at a warehouse for building materials in Barkan, including Nasser, Samar's brother, who is sitting in the living room with us. Most of the workers are Israelis from Raanana and Petah Tikva.

"Believe me, we can live together. What do you think, is the soldier enjoying sitting at the checkpoint now? Nobody enjoys standing in the rain and doing something bad. Standing in the rain and asking people for documents, that's not part of life.

"Ask my son, 5 years old, what a bomb is, what soldiers are, what fear is. The child should know only how to play and to like his school. He should forget that there is life after that. Games, toys, and that's it. Let him end up with a mind that's open to life and not a mind that's blocked, blocked from fear. If you frighten a little boy, that stays in his head all his life and that becomes the basis for bad things."

What will happen in the coming year, I ask Samar several hours before our New Year's parties are set to begin.

"It won't be good. They say that in 2007 there will be a big war." Six people from the village are imprisoned in Israel, and they are thinking about them as well on this holiday. Samar and his brother Nasser are trying to name them: Abed and Nabil and Mustafa and Omar and another Abed and Ahmed, who is an illegal resident, and in effect we're all in prison, in a big prison.