Thursday, 28 June 2007
Israel launches Gaza raids
At least nine Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip.
13 Palestinians killed, 2 Israeli soldiers wounded as Army invades Gaza
Wednesday June 27, 2007 16:20
Wisam Afifeh - IMEMC News
At least 13 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday when the Israeli army invaded the region and attacked two neighborhoods.
Israeli military sources said two troopers sustained serious wounds in clashes with the Palestinian fighters.
The Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip come one day after a four-way summit in Egypt in which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met. The summit was meant, according to Egyptian officials, who called for the summit to boost Abbas and his emergency government.
On Wednesday afternoon invading Israeli Tanks shelled houses located Al-Shija’iyeh area in eastern Gaza, the shilling killed three Palestinians. Medical sources identified the three as Khalil Ijha, Sami Manasra, and Yousef Manassra.
So far the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza strip that started Wednesday morning has calmed the lives of 13 Palestinians among them one child and left 40 injured among them seven in critical conditions.
There Has Never Been a True Left in Israel
Oren Ben Dor
It is unethical to blame Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem for events in Gaza. At the heart of the factional violence in Gaza and the political crisis in the Palestinian leadership lies the constant marginalization of a voice which poses an ethical challenge to an uncritically accepted presumption. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, initial reactions to the situation have used it to further marginalize this voice.
The presumption challenged is that it is morally acceptable to have a state whose legal structures assign preferential stake to all those who pass some test of Jewishness. It is not surprising that the Israeli right wing rejects this challenge. But why is the message also rejected by those Israelis, and their Western supporters, who claim to be concerned about human rights?
It is true that some Israeli left wingers refer to the post-1967 occupation as an apartheid regime. There are good reasons for such comparison with the old South African system. In the Occupied Territories, Palestinians are subject to arbitrary military regulations, while Israeli settlers are governed by Israeli law. It is no accident that the barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank is called by Israelis the "gader hafrada". Like the Afrikaans word "apartheid", the Hebrew word "hafrada" means "separation". The Israeli barrier separates Jewish settlements from Palestinian villages, usually also separating those villages from their farmland.
But the apartheid label should not be restricted to the post-1967 occupation. There is a more fundamental form of apartheid, of which the occupation is but a manifestation.
Apartheid in historic Palestine originated, and has persisted, in the ideology of creating a state in which Jews would be separated from non-Jews in terms of their stake in the political community. It was an apartheid mentality that nourished the desire of establishing and maintaining a state with a Jewish demographic majority and character. The well-planned ethnic cleansing, in 1948, of 750000 indigenous people was apartheid practice par excellence. It is apartheid which prevents the expelled and their descendants from returning: this apartheid denies residence to expellees from my former home district, the Galilee, but grants it, not just to Israeli-born Jews like me, but to Jews all over the world. It is apartheid law that creates a wall of discrimination between Jewish and Arab citizens of the Israeli state. It is an Apartheid mentality that prompts some Israeli Jews to view their Arab fellow-citizens as a "demographic threat".
When "Israel's right to exist" is used as a litmus test for moderation and pragmatism, the subtext is that it is reasonable for apartheid practices which are at the core of the state as currently constituted to be allowed to continue. Thus, those who mouth this mantra, and those who try to limit the apartheid label to "the occupation", are complicit with the apartheid inside pre-1967 Israel.
Tough questions need asking. Does not moral condemnation directed against the post-1967 occupation and its apartheid practices both conceal, and thus entrench, the apartheid mentality that lies at the core of the Israeli state? Is the argument merely about the boundaries of the area in which apartheid can have free play, or should criticism be directed at such practices wherever they exist?
If Israel demolished the concrete wall and withdrew to its exact pre-1967 limits, would the self-described Israeli left-wingers agitate against the continuance of apartheid inside those borders? If not, what makes apartheid inside the pre-1967 borders acceptable? If the notion of Jewish statehood necessitates apartheid, why is this not subject to the same challenge as South African apartheid? These are questions that ought to be canvassed among the Israeli "left".
The truth is that there has virtually never been any real "left" in Israel. So-called left-wing Israelis share their right-wing compatriots' support for the state ideology.
Any moral condemnation which restricts its ambit to the post-1967 occupation is at best simplistic, at worst misleading. By focusing on "the occupation", it serves to entrench the apartheid ideology which is central to the essence of the Israeli state.
The economic and diplomatic boycott imposed on the elected Hamas government, which has resulted in the recent violence in Gaza, was intended to force it to accept Israeli apartheid. Only when the world is ready to call by its true name the premise upon which Israeli statehood is based, will it not take violence to advance a morally coherent and credible criticism of Israel.
The denial of this core apartheid, of which the Gaza violence is a symptom, must stop. We should say it loud and clear. The apartheid system which lies at the core of Israeli statehood should be dismantled. It is unethical to rationalize the apartheid notion of a Jewish state. It is not consistent to be a friend of Israel, thereby endorsing its apartheid-based statehood, while criticising its apartheid practices in the Occupied Territories. Apartheid should have no sanctuary in any future vision of two states for historic Palestine.
Only when this realization sinks in will it be possible to envision a stable political solution--a single state over all historic Palestine-- in which redress can be made for past injustices and equal citizenship provided for all, Arabs and Jews.
Oren Ben-Dor teaches legal and political philosophy at the School of Law, University of Southampton, UK. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Contrary to the many claims that the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip represents the failure of US and Israeli policies in Palestine, the violent civil infighting that has dominated the Gaza Strip over much of the last year and a half and that led directly to the Hamas coup of June 2007, marks yet another major foreign policy victory for the occupiers. Hamas will never be allowed to remain in power in Gaza so we must fear for the future of that tiny, desperately overcrowded strip of land and its 1.4 million inhabitants; additionally, Abbas in order to maintain his role as "Good Guy"- will have to accede to the dictates of Israel and the United States or suffer the same fate as his predecessor, Yassir Arafat.
Western nations are standing by in silence as the deadly siege of Gaza and the dismemberment of the West Bank continue unabated. What we are witnessing in full view each day are unprecedented steps taken by the world's only superpower and its favorite client state, Israel, to ensure the death of a nation. While friction between the two key political factions in the occupied Palestinian territories has long undermined the smooth functioning of internal affairs, it was the direct, cynical involvement of US and Israeli policy-makers in these affairs that guaranteed the breakdown of internal stability and paved the way for the Hamas "coup" in Gaza.
Media reports have been careful to leave out important facts leading up to the coup such as that Hamas was the legitimate, democratically elected ruling party in the Palestinian territories following the January 2006 Palestine Legislative Council elections; that it was the US-Israeli dismissal of those election results that fueled the civil infighting between Hamas and Fatah; that obvious US backing of Fatah against Hamas helped create popular mistrust of Fatah increasing Hamas' popularity in Gaza and leading directly to Hamas' takeover of the Fatah military apparatus in the Gaza Strip. In other words, there were real and understandable reasons for the coup. But in the end, Hamas' seizure of the power it should have had in the first place ends up serving the interests not only of Mahmoud Abbas and the warlord Muhammad Dahlan.
It also provides the perfect opportunity for US-Israeli policy in the region to move forward with even fewer objections, if that is possible to imagine, than have heretofore been made. Who will stand up for a "terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel"? The line has been beaten into our heads with every mention of the word "Hamas" for years. We should not expect a change in the behavior of the American public or of other western audiences until, when Israel is mentioned, we immediately say to ourselves, "a terrorist state that seeks the destruction of Palestine." Seeks and is succeeding in it.
The West Chooses Fatah, But Palestinians Don't
In the west, there's a huge sense of relief. The Hamas-led government that has been causing everyone so much trouble has been isolated in Gaza, and a new government has been appointed in the West Bank by the "moderate," peace-loving Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
So why then do Palestinians not share in the relief? Well, for one thing, the old government had been democratically elected; now it has been dismissed out of hand by presidential fiat. There's also the fact that the new prime minister appointed by Abbas--Salam Fayyad--has the support of the West, but his election list won only 2% of the votes in the same election that swept Hamas to victory. Fayyad and Abbas have the support of Israel, but it is no secret that they lack the backing of their own people.
There is a reason the people threw out Abbas' Fatah party in last year's election. Palestinians see the leading Fatah politicians as unimaginative, self-serving and corrupt, satisfied with the emoluments of power.
Worse yet, Palestinians came to realize that the so-called peace process championed by Abbas (and by Yasser Arafat before him) had led to the permanent institutionalization--rather than the termination--of Israel's 4-decade-old military occupation of their land. Why should they feel otherwise? There are today twice as many settlers in the occupied territories as there were when Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat first shook hands in the White House Rose Garden. Israel has divided the West Bank into besieged cantons, worked diligently to increase the number of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem (while stripping Palestinian Jerusalemites of their residency rights in the city) and turned Gaza into a virtual prison.
People voted for Hamas last year not because they approved of the party's sloganeering, not because they wanted to live in an Islamic state, not because they support attacks on Israeli civilians, but because Hamas was untainted by Fatah's complacency and corruption, untainted by its willingness to continue pandering to Israel. Fatah leaders were viewed as mere policemen of the perpetual occupation, and the Palestinian Authority had willingly taken on the role of administering the population on behalf of the Israelis. Hamas offered an alternative.
Here in the U.S., Hamas is routinely demonized, known primarily for its attacks on civilians. Depictions of Hamas portray its "rejectionism" as an end in itself rather than as a refusal to go along with a political process that has proved catastrophic for Palestinians on the ground.
Has Hamas done unspeakable things? Yes, but so has Fatah, and so too has Israel (on a much larger scale). There are no saints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians, frankly, see a lot of hypocrisy in the West's anti-Hamas stance. Since last year's election, for example, the West has denied aid to the Hamas government, arguing, among other things, that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. But that's absurd; after all, Israel does not recognize Palestine either. Hamas is accused of not abiding by previous agreements. But Israel's suspension of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority, and its refusal to implement a Gaza-West Bank road link agreement brokered by the U.S. in November 2005, are practical, rather than merely rhetorical, violations of previous agreements, causing infinitely more damage to ordinary people. Hamas is accused of mixing religion and politics, but no one has explained why its version of that mixture is any worse than Israel's--or why a Jewish state is acceptable but a Muslim one is not.
I am a secular humanist, and I personally find religiously identified political movements--and states--unappealing, to say the least.
But let's be honest. Hamas did not run into Western opposition because of its Islamic ideology but because of its opposition to (and resistance to) the Israeli occupation.
A genuine peace based on the two-state solution would require an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of a territorially contiguous, truly independent Palestinian state.
But that is not happening. Fatah seems to have given up, its leaders preferring to rest comfortably with the power they already have. Ironically, it is Hamas that is taking the stands that would be prerequisites for a true two-state peace plan: refusing to go along with the permanent breakup of Palestine and not accepting the sacrifice of control over borders, airspace, water, taxes and even the population registry to Israel.
Embracing the "moderation" of Abbas allows the Palestinian Authority to resume servicing the occupation on Israel's behalf, for now. In the long run, though, the two-state solution is finished because Fatah is either unable or unwilling to stop the ongoing dismemberment of the territory once intended for a Palestinian state.
The only realistic choice remaining will be the one between a single democratic, secular state offering equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians--or permanent apartheid.
Saree Makdisi, a professor of English at UCLA.
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
An Interview with Hedy Epstein:
Hedy decided to visit Palestine in 2003. She returned terribly shocked with what she had seen there, women and children defenceless, Palestinians locked up into ghettos, an entire people brutalized.
She had learned to love the people that she met, and was determined to tell the world of the injustices she had seen. Palestinians were being dispossessed of their land, removed from the homes that they had lived in for centuries. Nothing that anyone has done, no protests that have been made, has made Israel stop its treatment of the Palestinians. In fact, it has become worse every time Hedy has returned.
So, she is joining other human rights advocates who are sailing to Gaza on the boat, FREE GAZA to demand justice for the Palestinians, and a correction of 60 years of oppression by the Israelis.
Jonathan Cook - June 27, 2007
The boycott by Israel and the international community of the Palestinian Authority finally blew up in their faces with Hamas' recent bloody takeover of Gaza. Or so argues Gideon Levy, one of the saner voices still to be found in Israel. "Starving, drying up, and blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken political movements. On the contrary… Reality has refuted the chorus of experts and commentators who preached [on] behalf of the boycott policy. This daft notion that it is possible to topple an elected government by applying pressure on a helpless population suffered a complete failure."
But has Levy got it wrong? The faces of Israeli and American politicians, including Ehud Olmert and George Bush, appear soot-free. On the contrary. Over the past fortnight they have been looking and sounding even more smug than usual.
The problem with Levy's analysis is that it assumes that Israel and the U.S. wanted sanctions to bring about the fall of Hamas, either by giving Fatah the upper hand so that it could deal a knockout blow to the Palestinian government, or by inciting ordinary Palestinians to rise up and demand that their earlier electoral decision be reversed and Fatah reinstalled. In short, Levy, like most observers, assumes that the policy was designed to enforce regime change.
But what if that was not the point of the sanctions? And if so, what goals were Israel and the U.S. pursuing?
The parallels between Iraq and Gaza may be instructive. After all, Iraq is the West's only other recent experiment in imposing sanctions to starve a nation. And we all know where it led: to an even deeper entrenchment of Saddam Hussein's rule.
Let Gaza live
Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz - Sunday, 24 June 2007
Here is a success story: Israel and the West imposed a boycott on the Palestinian Authority with the aim of weakening Hamas, and a year and a half later this brilliant policy has yielded its fruits: Hamas has become stronger. If there is a lesson from the fiasco in Gaza, here it is: Starving, drying up and blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken political movements. On the contrary.
Twilight Zone / 'Like chickens in a cage'
Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz - Friday, 22 June 2007
Ran HaCohen - June 26, 2007
Five years after His Highness G.W. Bush – president of the United States of America, czar of Afghanistan, emperor of Iraq, democratizer of the Middle East, etc., etc. – launched his "Road Map for Peace in the Middle East," announcing a Palestinian state by 2005, the Israeli public has a new pastime. The public discussion in Israel now revolves around "Three states for two peoples?": that is, should the Jewish state use the Hamas coup in Gaza to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and deal with two Palestinian states, or should Israel keep the two districts connected? Roughly, the right wing supports the former track – based on arguments like "divide and rule," "two states are easier to manipulate than one," etc. – whereas the left wing tends to the latter option, remembering Israel's obligation in the Oslo accords to treat the two districts as one political entity and airing arguments like "one enemy is better than two," "two states would compete with each other in hatred," etc.
An amazing discussion indeed. Never mind the fact that the Strip and the West Bank have actually been separated by Israel for years, forcing even the Palestinian parliament resort to video conferences as the only way to "convene." What's appalling about this discussion is that just as the Palestinians are as far as ever from having an independent state, Israelis indulge in a fantasy in which such a state already exists, perhaps even two of them. Indeed, when the gods want to destroy a nation, they make it blind first.
Back to Reality
Obviously, there is no Palestinian state, and there may never be one (or two). The Gaza Strip is "an independent state" just like any prison cell is: a hermetically sealed cage, overpopulated by 1.3 million people; no sea port or airport; no control over its own borders, waters, or airspace; even its population database, not to mention water, food, electricity, gasoline, and medical equipment, are all strictly controlled by Israel.
And as for the West Bank, it's enough to look at its recent map prepared by the UN to understand why no Palestinian state can emerge there: notice how the small area was pulverized into numerous tiny cages for humans, separated by Israeli settlements, fences, roadblocks, and checkpoints. Cages for non-Jewish humans only, mind you; Jews move around freely in their (whose?) land.
How Things Changed
What is Israel – backed as always by the U.S. – up to? The media once again celebrates Peace. Olmert is extremely serious, Israeli analysts say. Some suggest he is now strong enough to make peace, others claim he is so weak that peace is his only survival strategy; who cares why, as long as he is portrayed as a man of peace.
In a matter of days, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned from an unreliable foe to a precious friend. All of a sudden the boycott against the Palestinians was lifted, Israel unfroze Palestinian tax money, and Abu Mazen was promised a generous package of Israeli gestures and invited to a leaders' summit.
And why does Abbas suddenly deserve all that? As a reward for his most impressive success: namely, losing Gaza to Hamas forces. Fatah's defeat in Gaza was allegedly unexpected; Israel and the U.S. wanted to help Abu Mazen but their aid came too little or to late, and Israel finally realized that it was time to save the Palestinian non-Islamist national movement by making peace with its moderate leader. And we are supposed to believe all that.
Let me suggest another option. Fatah's defeat in Gaza was all but foreseeable; ask any analyst, or consult last year's election results. Israel/U.S. didn't do anything to help Abbas survive there, simply because they couldn't care less: a Hamas-controlled Gaza is much easier to portray as a terrorist nest, freeing Israel of any obligation to its colony and letting it perish strangulated, as Israeli fascist minister Avigdor Lieberman, and some American voices too, now openly suggest.
Apparently, the only one truly shocked by Fatah's defeat in Gaza is Fatah itself. Having lost the last general elections, and having now been violently ousted by Hamas, the small Fatah elite finally faces the hatred it earned among Palestinians in almost a decade and a half of corrupt rule. Fourteen years in which the Palestinians have been progressively caged and strangulated by walls and checkpoints, by unemployment and poverty, while a small group of PLO officials moved around freely in luxurious cars thanks to their VIP cards issued by Israel.
Facing this popular animosity, Abu Mazen and his elite are now scared to death. They followed, if not experienced themselves, the atrocities of Hamas in Gaza. And they know their popularity in the West Bank is not much higher. The Fatah elite is literally fighting for its life.
Time to Make Friends
We have seen this situation before, in the early 1990s. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yassir Arafat just as the latter was about to end his career as an irrelevant old leader enjoying a good life in Tunisian exile. Arafat was fighting for his survival; Israel knew it very well. Leaders just about to be forgotten, or, as in Abbas' case, just about to be thrown out of the window of the 15th floor, are excellent partners for colonialist regimes. Listen carefully to what Zakaria Zbeidi, Fatah military chief in Jenin, told Zvi Yehezkeli of Israel's TV Channel 10 June 24: "We'll be your South Lebanon Army, just help us." The SLA was a Lebanese militia, financed, equipped, and trained by Israel, that served the Israeli occupation up to Israel's withdrawal in the year 2000, when most of its officers sought refuge in Israel lest they face trial (or worse) for their defection and high treason. That's precisely what Israel is looking for in the West Bank: a ruthless, weak, and hated partner, fighting against its own people for survival and relying on Israel rather than facing it.
What Israel Offers
Take a close look at the list of "gestures" offered to Abu Mazen. At first, removal of roadblocks was considered: bolstering Abu Mazen by giving relief and hope to the desperate Palestinian street and showing Israel's peaceful intentions. It took Israel just a couple of days to change its mind: no removal of roadblocks ("Army Objects," of course: Ha'aretz, June 25). What does Israel offer? Here's the list:
* "Release of PA funds collected by Israel," so that Fatah can buy weapons and pay its supporters.
* Continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip," paid for by the international community of course, not by the Israeli occupier, to prevent embarrassing pictures of hunger.
* "Reissuing VIP cards to Palestinians and expanding the permits to Palestinian businessmen wishing to cross into Israel" – that is, more bonuses for the co-opted elite.
* "Allowing the transfer of armored cars to the Fatah forces in the West Bank" – no need to explain.
* "Renewed security cooperation in the West Bank" – between Israel and the Palestinian militia loyal to it.
* "Resumption of the work of the combined security committee – Israel, Egypt, PA, U.S. – particularly in efforts to curtail arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip from Sinai," to make sure only the right Palestinian militia gets weapons.
Not a single measure, then, to improve the everyday life of millions of impoverished Palestinians strangled by walls and roadblocks, exposed to the Israeli army and settlers' terror. All these measures have just one objective in common: strengthening the Fatah militia and enabling it to crush any opposition. Fatah's hysteria should now turn it into an Israeli proxy, dependent on Israel to survive, serving Israel's interests, and using ever more violence against the Palestinian opposition, which happened to win the democratic elections. Forget removal of roadblocks, let alone of outposts and settlements; forget work permits in Israel; forget freedom, of movement or otherwise; forget a Palestinian state. The occupation is here to stay.
Monday, 25 June 2007
Having sacked Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and dissolved his democratically-elected government, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas has now installed Salam Fayyad as the new Prime Minister, to the clear delight of the West. Mutual accusations are hurled by Abbas and Haniyeh that the other side launched a coup against the legitimate authority. Nevertheless, now a fresh line of grave Palestinian faces has lined up before the cameras as Fayyad's new "emergency government" is sworn in. That the new PA has virtually no power in the West Bank, and none at all in Gaza, is the first glaring problem with this pageantry. (Bitter jokes about a 'two-state solution' consisting of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have circulated.)
An international community worried by the 'coup' accusation might endorse the Fayyad government as the seemingly correct position. But the 'coup' claim stumbles over a basic problem -- that Abbas's appointing a new prime minister was itself entirely illegal. The new 'emergency government' is illegal, too. According to the Basic Law of Palestine (as amended in 2003), which serves as the constitution of the PA, Abbas can do neither of these things. Nor can the new 'emergency government' claim any democratic mandate. This means that Abbas and the Fayyad government are ruling by decree, outside the framework of the Basic Law. So on what basis is that government supposed to govern -- and on what basis are foreign governments supposed to deal with it?
According to the Basic Law, Abbas has violated a whole stream of Articles as well as the spirit of its checks and balances, which were designed during the Arafat era partly to limit the power of the presidency. With full US and Israel support (if not their insistence), Abbas has baldly trashed numerous provisions of the Basic Law, including:
The President can sack his Prime Minister (Article 45) but he cannot legally appoint a new Prime Minister that does not represent the majority party (i.e., Hamas).
In the event that a President sacks the PM, the Government is considered to have resigned (Article 83), but the serving Cabinet (here, the Hamas-led Cabinet) is supposed to govern until a new Cabinet is confirmed by the Legislative Council (Article 78).
Only the Legislative Council can confirm the new PM and Cabinet and the new officials cannot take their oaths (Article 67) or assume their duties (Article 79) until this is done. We might now look for the Fayyad government to go to the Legislative Council for post hoc approval, but if the Legislative Council cannot vote for lack of a quorum -- because too many of its members are in jail or refuse to participate -- then the Cabinet cannot be legally confirmed. The Basic Law provides no remedy for conditions where the Legislative Council cannot vote to confirm the Cabinet or the actions of the President.
The President can rule by degree during emergencies (Article 43) but the Legislative Council must approve all these decrees at its first meeting.
The President cannot suspend the Legislative Council during a state of emergency (Article 113).
The President has no power to call early elections, either.
The Basic Law has no provision whatsoever for an "emergency government."
What does this mean for the PA? It is no longer the same animal. The Fayyad government is the step-child of an extra-legal process with no democratic mandate. The whole manoeuvre is not precisely a palace coup, but it is something like it.
What does this mean for the world? Foreign governments now confront one of the most unwelcome events in international diplomacy -- the sudden transformation of a government into a different kind of government. As in any revolution or coup, diplomatic recognition of Salam Fayyad's "emergency Government" as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people must now be reassessed. For example, by what authority does the "emergency government" act in the name of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? What capacities and responsibilities does the "emergency government" now have? On what legal and political bases are diplomatic relations to be sustained?
We must admit that these are legal but also political questions. The PA is the invention of the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords (it was supposed to serve for a period "not exceeding five years").
But the Basic Law was developed later, to confirm and ensure its democratic character. This set of laws represented a Palestinian state-building measure, providing a start-up framework for Palestinian democracy in anticipation (or at least affirmation) of eventual Palestinian statehood.
Hence the Basic Law refers in its introduction to the 1995 Oslo 2 accord but also invokes the Palestinian people as its ultimate political authority (Article 2: "... the people are the source of power ..."). Governments may therefore attempt to justify sustaining relations with the new Fayyad government out of solidarity with the Palestinian national effort -- albeit one in crisis.
Still, in attempting this, foreign governments now face dubious and perplexing options:
They could suspend diplomatic relations with the Fayyad government, on grounds that it is illegal, and deal with the elected Haniyeh government. But this might cripple their communication with Ramallah at a critical time and put them at odds with the US and Israel.
They could sustain diplomatic relations with the Fayyad government, accepting its claim that the Hamas government launched a coup, but they would then be endorsing a government that is violating its own laws and has itself effectively pulled a coup.
They could accept the new Fayyad government on condition that it now obey other provisions of the Basic Law, such as gaining Legislative Council approval and/or calling new elections. But the Basic Law doesn't allow the Cabinet to call new elections and this new Cabinet doesn't have any legal standing to govern anyway. (It's also hard to see how new national elections could be held when the Haniyeh government refuses to recognize the new Cabinet and conditions in both territories are so contrary to free and fair elections.)
They could pull a classic diplomatic side-step by calling the situation a temporary constitutional crisis and maintaining relations with both sides, but this tactic will quickly bog down because present events look more like the complete collapse of the Basic Law and its framework.
Facing this mess, they could do a back-step: suspend formal diplomatic relations but maintain communication with both sides, pending further developments, but what about those formal agreements (exchange, trade, security, diplomatic representation) they may have signed with the PA? Which side is truly representative and to whom are they accountable?
There are other legalistic maneuvers they could try, such as treating the PA under terms established by the Oslo Accords or the Gaza-Jericho agreement of 1994. But none of those documents provide for a prime minister or any of the procedures being acted out in Ramallah.
In short, the diplomatic landscape is now in utter disarray. The Fayyad Government has no democratic mandate, is not operating by the very rules that establish its democratic legitimacy, and so is only a facsimile of the 'government' with which many of the world's states established diplomatic relations. It does not help that the United States, an obedient Europe, and legless Arab states have trotted up to anoint it as the sole legitimate authority. Nor does it help to pretend that Hamas -- a broad movement with popular legitimacy -- will simply disappear through decrees from Abbas and some nice political theatre.
It is not clear how long this flimsy diplomatic pretense can hold up to scrutiny by a skeptical world. Nor is it clear what political costs foreign governments will have to absorb if they try to play along with it -- especially when the now-traumatized Palestinian people, in the territories and in Diaspora, begin protesting their government's being hijacked by anti-democratic figureheads for Israeli and US agendas. Being targeted as supporting this pantomime government was not the goal of those governments who recognized the PA to support the Palestinian people. As UN official Alvaro De Soto put it in his eloquent 'End of Mission Report' this May, 'It may be better to be the one who raises questions about the Emperor's new clothes than to be ridiculed as the naked Emperor oneself.'
Virginia Tilley is a US citizen now working in Pretoria, South Africa. She can be reached at vtilley AT mweb DOT co DOT za.
BY TOPIC: Key Events: Civil War in Palestine?
The Gaza Strip is a little bit more than two percent of Palestine. This small detail is never mentioned whenever the Strip is in the news nor has it been mentioned in the present Western media coverage of the dramatic events unfolding in Gaza in the last few weeks. Indeed it is such a small part of the country that it never existed as a separate region in the past. Gaza's history before the Zionization of Palestine was not unique and it was always connected administratively and politically to the rest of Palestine. It was until 1948 for all intents and purposes an integral and natural part of the country. As one of Palestine’s principal land and sea gates to the world, it tended to develop a more flexible and cosmopolitan way of life; not dissimilar to other gateways societies in the Eastern Mediterranean in the modern era. This location near the sea and on the Via Maris to Egypt and Lebanon brought with it prosperity and stability until this life was disrupted and nearly destroyed by the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
In between 1948 and 1967, Gaza became a huge refugee camp restricted severely by the respective Israeli and Egyptian policies: both states disallowed any movement out of the Strip. Living conditions were already harsh then as the victims of the 1948 Israeli politics of dispossession doubled the number of the inhabitants who lived there for centuries. On the eve of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the catastrophic nature of this enforced demographic transformation was evident all over the Strip. This once pastoral coastal part of southern Palesine became within two decades one of the world's densest areas of habitation; without any adequate economic infrastructure to support it.
The first twenty years of Israeli occupation at least allowed some movement outside an area that was closed off as a war zone in the years 1948 to 1967. Tens of thousand of Palestinians were permitted to join the Israeli labor market as unskilled and underpaid workers. The price Israel demanded for this slavery market was a total surrender of any national struggle or agenda. When this was not complied with -- the 'gift' of laborers' movement was denied and abolished. All these years leading to the Oslo accord in 1993 were marked by an Israeli attempt to construct the Strip as an enclave, which the Peace Camp hoped would be either autonomous or part of Egypt and the Nationalist camp wished to include in the Greater Eretz Israel they dreamed of establishing instead of Palestine.
The Oslo agreement enabled the Israelis to reaffirm the Strip's status as a separate geo-political entity -- not just outside of Palestine as a whole, but also cut apart from the West Bank.
Ostensibly, both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were under the Palestinian Authority but any human movement between them depended on Israel's good will; a rare Israeli trait and which almost disappeared when Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in 1996. Moreover, Israel held, as it still does today, the water and electricity infrastructure. Since 1993 it used, or rather abused, this possession in order to ensure on the one hand the well-being of the Jewish settler community there and on the other in order to blackmail the Palestinian population into submission and surrender. The people of the Gaza Strip thus vacillated in the last sixty years between being internees, hostages or prisoners in an impossible human space.
It is within this historical context that we should view the violence raging today in Gaza and reject the reference to the events there as a campaign in the 'war against terror,' an instance of Islamic revivalism, a further proof for al-Qadia’s expansionism, a seditious Iranian penetration into this part of the world or another arena in the dreaded Clash of Civilizations (I picked here only few out of many frequent adjectives used in the Western media for describing the present crisis in Gaza). The origins of the mini civil war in Gaza lie elsewhere. The recent history of the Strip, 60 years of dispossession, occupation and imprisonment produced inevitably internal violence such as we are witnessing today as it produced other unpleasant features of life lived under such impossible conditions. In fact, it would be fair to say that the violence, and in particular the internal violence, is far less than one would have expected given the economic and social conditions created by the genocidal Israeli policies in the last six years.
Power struggles among politicians, who enjoy the support of military outfits, is indeed a nasty business that victimizes the society as a whole. Part of what goes on in Gaza is such a struggle between politicians who were democratically elected and those who still find it hard to accept the verdict of the public. But this is hardly the main struggle. What unfolds in Gaza is a battleground between America's and Israel's local proxies -- most of whom are unintentionally such proxies but none the less they dance to Israel's tune -- and those who oppose it. The opposition that now took over Gaza did it alas in a way that one would find very hard to condone or cheer. It is not the Hamas' Palestinian vision that is worrying, but rather the means it has chosen to achieve it that we hope would not be rooted or repeated. To its credit one should openly say that the means used by Hamas are part of an arsenal that enabled it in the past to be the only active force that at least tried to stop the total destruction of Palestine; the way it is used now is less credible and hopefully temporary.
But one cannot condemn the means if one does not offer an alternative. Standing idle while the American-Israeli vision of strangling the Strip to death, cleansing half of the West bank from its indigenous population and threatening the rest of the Palestinians -- inside Israel and in the other parts of the West Bank -- with transfer, is not an option. It is tantamount to "decent" people’s silence during the Holocaust.
We should not tire from mentioning the alternative in the 21st century: BDS -- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- as an emergency measure -- far more effective and far less violent -- in opposing the present destruction of Palestine. And at the same time talk openly, convincingly and efficiently, of creating the geography of peace. A geography in which abnormal phenomena such as the imprisonment of small portion of the land would disappear. There will be no more, in the vision we should push forward, a human prison camp called the Gaza strip where some armed inmates are easily pitted against each other by a callous warden. Instead that area would return to be an organic part of an Eastern Mediterranean country that has always offered the best as a meeting point between East and West.
Never before, in the light of the Gaza tragedy, has the twofold strategy of BDS and a one state solution, shined so clearly as the only alternative forward. If any of us are members in Palestine solidarity groups, Arab-Jewish dialogue circles or part of civil society's effort to bring peace and reconciliation to Palestine -- this is a time to put aside all the false strategies of coexistence, road maps and two states solutions. They have been and still are sweet music to the ears of the Israeli demolition team that threatens to destroy what is left of Palestine. Beware especially of Diet Zionists or Cloest Zionists, who recently joined the campaign, in Britain and elsewhere against the BDS effort. Like those enlightened pundits who used liberal organs in the United Kingdom, such as The Guardian, to explain to us at length how dangerous is the proposed academic boycott on Israel. They have never expended so much time, energy or words on the occupation itself as they did in the service of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. UNISON, Britain’s large public service trade union, must not be deterred by this backlash and it should follow these brave academics who endorsed the debate on the boycott, as should Europe as a whole: not only for the sake of Palestine and Israel, but also if it wishes to bring a closure to the Holocaust chapter in its history.
And a final small portion of food for thought. There are quite a few Jewish mothers and wives in the Gaza Strip -- some sources within Gaza say up to 2000 -- married to local Palestinians and parents to their children. There are many more Jewish women who married Palestinians in the Palestine countryside. An act of desegregation that both political elites find difficult to admit, digest or acknowledge. If despite the colonization, occupation, genocidal policies and dispossession such harmonies of love and affection were possible, imagine what could happen if these criminal policies and ideologies would disappear. When the Wall of Apartheid is removed and the electric fences of Zionism dismantled -- Gaza will become once more a symbol of Fernand Braudel's coastal society, able to fuse different cultural horizons and offer a space for new life instead of the war zone it has become in the last sixty years.
Many of the Palestinian members face heavy travel restrictions, while Israelis are often prevented from visiting many parts of the West Bank. Bassam Aramin is one of the Palestinian members who never made it to the meeting. His home town of Anata is cut off from the rest of the Palestinian Territories by army checkpoints and the separation wall.
BASSAM ARAMIN, (Translation): We need walls and bridges of love, peace and coexistence, not walls of racial separation.
June 19th, 2007
'We'll kill you and castrate you,' threatened an IDF soldier in a phone call to a left-wing activist who takes part in controversial protests against army checkpoints.
Soldier now facing court martial
Tensions between IDF troops and left-wing activists who hold demonstrations at military checkpoints in the West Bank may culminate in an extended arrest of an IDF soldier.
The soldier, frustrated with the activists who routinely interfere with the operations at the checkpoint, decided to take matters into his own hands.
The soldier reportedly made seven phone calls to one of the activists, cursing him and telling him to stay away from the village where the soldier and his unit were operating.
The caller identified himself as "the soldier from Susia (an Israeli settlement located south of Hebron)," and repeatedly cursed the activist.
The activist filed a formal complaint about the harassment and the military prosecution, in a rare move, decided to charge the soldier at the Jaffa Military Court.
If convicted, the soldier will be marked as a criminal felon, even after he is discharged.
According to the charges the soldier told the activist: "When you come to the village of Tawana (a Palestinian village near Hebron) we will kill you, castrate you and take you down."
Following the complaint a military police investigation was launched. Due to the severity of the case the military prosecution decided taking disciplinary action against the soldier would not suffice and a court martial was recommended.
The decision was met with surprise by the military advocacy. "This is a very strange indictment, this is not a case of serial or continuing harassment but rather a phone call that only lasted several minutes," said a military defense attorney.
"The circumstances surrounding the soldier's actions are centered around the unhinged behavior of the left-wing activist against IDF soldiers, including an attempt to run over a soldier and members of his unit at one of the military's checkpoints," he said.
The soldier's defense team said it would try to convince the military prosecution to revert to a disciplinary proceeding.
Experts who reviewed the case noted that the activists is well known to the Hebron police and he has been labeled as an extremist who frequently lodges complaints against IDF soldiers and provokes conflicts between Jewish and Palestinian residents.
Just several weeks ago the clash between IDF troops and leftists in the area came to blows when reserve soldiers were documented hitting activists who were rioting near a checkpoint. No soldiers were prosecuted after that incident and the Head of the Central Command ordered the soldiers and their commanders keep their posts.
Beryl Rule - Monday, June 4, 2007
Although “a grandmother in her mid-70’s” no longer conjures up an image of shawls and rocking-chairs, it is not likely to evoke the picture of a woman putting herself at risk in a West Bank hotspot. But if Mary Baxter happens to be the grandmother under discussion, that second image is the accurate one. The clergy widow and retired applied statistics professor has spent a total of 12 months in Hebron during the last three years, acting as a human rights observer and trying to shield Palestinian children from intimidation by hostile Israeli settlers.
Mary’s first visit to Israel was in 1977, for an ecology conference. Returning with her husband on a clergy tour 10 years later she was disturbed to see that churches had been boarded up, Christians moved out, and there were threatening groups of Israeli youths roaming the streets.
During her husband’s period as a locum in Damascus, the following year, they were horrified to see on television that Palestinians were being bashed by rifle butts. Their awareness of problems increased when the then Bishop of Jerusalem said he wanted Australian nurses for the hospitals, because they could serve as independent witnesses against the violence being done to Palestinians.
After her husband’s death Mary continued to take a close interest in the sufferings of the Palestinian people and to try to find an organization which could help her to return to Israel. A sermon by Archdeacon Barry Smith, her parish priest, triggered the decision to go anyway. So in 2004, armed only with an AngliCORD brief to visit some Anglican Hospitals, she set off.
“I visited the hospitals and the David Penman Medical Centre, and I also attended three demonstrations against Israel’s security barrier in Budrus and Beit Awwa, but I realised I was too old for demonstrations – I wasn’t quick enough over the rough ground!” Mary admitted, adding that speed is essential when you are running from tear gas and rubber bullets!
Accordingly, when she returned in September 2005, she had a different role: as a volunteer human rights observer with International Solidarity, a non-violent organization, in the Israeli controlled section of Hebron. The Palestinian population there is 3,500; Jewish settlers number 500, but they are “passionate and aggressive”, Mary explained, and protected by the troops.
Palestinian children on their way to and from school are frequently harassed by the settlers, and the Israeli soldiers ignore their plight. Mary has made it her particular brief to try to make friends with the soldiers and ask for help when the children are being threatened. She personally accompanies children – although she is not supposed to do this – if no other protection is forthcoming.
“I come out of my house when the children are going to school, at seven in the morning, and again from one to two in the afternoon, when they are going home. Settler women and children throw stones at them and push them, and won’t let them past. It’s very traumatic for the Palestinian kids, and if I walk with them the settlers complain to the soldiers about me. These young soldiers – 18 and 19 year olds – are in Hebron for three months at a time to protect the settlers. They often have nothing to do and are very bored, and they hate it. They like to talk. I have worked with young men all my life and I like them. They remind me of the engineering students I taught; I can relate to them and see the kid inside the uniform. I treat them like grand-children. Most Internationals come and go but I have been around the longest, so I am known. I had the last batch of soldiers co-operating really well. And I can get away with more than others because of my age. I have come between a soldier and an elderly Palestinian man he was about to hit – but I was only able to do this because I liked the soldier as well as the old man.
“You have to use your judgement. It can be dangerous. When I see a group of young fundamentalist men out looking for trouble I watch them like a hawk, and make for a soldier if they approach. One of those groups smashed a bottle into a Swedish girl’s face.”Mary herself has been spat at by settlers, verbally abused and had rocks thrown at her.
Currently in Melbourne, she hopes to return to Hebron in July.“I know what I am doing is just a drop in the bucket,” she admitted, “but I see it as being able, every day, to give some hope to a small group of people.”
But why Hebron, we asked? After all, the world is full of good causes, many of them much closer to home.
For Mary, the answer to that is simple.
“God said to go there,” she replied, “and it feels so right.”
Sunday, 24 June 2007
Conal Urquhart reports from Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, where moves to discuss an academic boycott of Israel have been welcomed.
Lisa Taraki, dean of graduate studies at Bir Zeit University, is puzzled by the uproar caused by the University and College Union's decision to discuss a boycott of Israeli academics.
"There has been a great hue and cry about the academic freedom of Israelis as if the academic freedom of Palestinians is of no consequence. The Israelis are not interested in academic freedom, they are interested in the protection of their own privileges," she said.
She has taught at the institution for 30 years and cannot remember a time when Israel did anything but try to suppress Palestinian education.
"We have been under siege for more than 30 years. In spite of this we have managed to build a credible institution," she said.
Bir Zeit was founded as a girls' school in 1924, but started offering degrees 50 years later. The university's students became regular protesters against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the small peaceful countryside campus was often showered with stones and sprayed with tear gas as the army tried to crack down on peaceful dissent.
Ms Taraki said that until the 1990s, the university was regularly closed by military order. "Bir Zeit was always a target for the army.
"There would be a demonstration against the occupation, the army would come and there would be clashes. They would close the university, for a few weeks, a few months and on one occasion four years. The president was exiled for 19 years because the army accused him of inciting students," she said.
"When the university was closed we did our best to continue. We held classes in Ramallah and Jerusalem. Thousands of students were arrested or put under town arrest or house arrest. So we would try and teach them in their homes or towns. For some, degrees took 10 years to complete."
Bir Zeit sits on a hill above terraced valleys full of olive trees, outside Ramallah. It is much smaller than its Israeli counterparts but it has a similar buzz on its public spaces as students move between lectures or eat lunch in the sun.
The air of normality is deceptive. Many students have to spend more than half their day travelling to ensure they do not miss classes, and at every checkpoint there is the possibility, particularly for male students, that they will be randomly arrested.
"I have postgraduate students from Hebron. They leave their homes at 8am to get here in time for a 2pm class. The class finishes at 5pm and they get home around 10pm. The journey should only be one hour each way," said Ms Taraki.
Undergraduates stay close to the university if they can, which adds an extra financial burden, but most students are restricted to going to the university closest to them. Students from Gaza are banned from going to the West Bank although there are many subjects that are not taught at Gazan universities.
"Bir Zeit used to have a very diverse student body with students from all over the West Bank and Gaza. Now most students come from the immediate area. This means the national character of the university is compromised. We do not want it be a local institution," said Ms Taraki.
The restriction on movement means that universities cannot act as cultural centres as the majority of the population do not have the time and freedom to travel from one city to the next to hear a lecture or see a film. Even short journeys of 40 minutes require a special permit from the Israeli army, which can take hours to acquire.
As a result of the wars of 1948 and 1967 and 40 years of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, there is a large Palestinian diaspora all over the world. Many of the buildings in these areas were funded by expatriate Palestinians and the diaspora is a potential pool of students and teachers for Bir Zeit.
However, Israel is reluctant to allow expatriate Palestinians to return if only for a short time.
Many are denied entry at the airport, while others are restricted to a three-month tourist visa, which can only be renewed by leaving and re-entering Israel - at which point they could be denied entry.
An annual course at Bir Zeit for expatriate Palestinians in Palestinian culture and Arabic is normally attended by only half the students who subscribed for the course because of Israeli border restrictions.
Omar Qassis, a 22-year-old sociology student, said that the main problem for him was movement and the threat of arrest.
"Thirteen of my friends have been arrested. I was locked up for ten days after I was arrested at a checkpoint on the way to my final exams in 2005. I was told I was a suspect but nothing else," he said. "On the fourth day, I was brought to court where the judge was told they had nothing against me but they wanted to detain me while they continued their checks. I was then released on the tenth day but I had missed my exams and had to do another term."
The idea of a boycott of Israeli institutions is broadly supported by Palestinians, who are grateful that people in the international community are taking an interest in their plight.
Mira Dabit, 22, a student of psychology and sociology, said: "Everything else has failed. United Nations resolutions. Negotiation. A boycott is a last resort but it gets people talking about our situation and gives the world a chance to find out what is going on."
Ms Taraki has little time for the complaints from her Israeli counterparts about the prospect of a boycott. "Where have these presidents been for the last three decades when our academic freedom has been trampled on every day? The claim that Israeli academics are at the forefront of disputing government policy is very hollow indeed. There has been a handful of academics who have supported the Palestinians but only a handful," she said.
The main benefit of a boycott is not that it will provide equality of suffering but that it will provoke debate, she says.
"We are hopeful that during this year of discussion we will be able to speak at British universities and explain how we have been boycotted and besieged for the last 30 years," said Ms Taraki.
Thursday, 21 June 2007
The Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, joins host Jeffrey Callison in studio today to talk about life in Bethlehem and the West Bank, and Middle East politics.
O, little town
Bethlehem began life as a walled citadel, and will end as a prison town. Beside it looms Israeli Jerusalem, which has redrawn its boundaries constantly since the occupation. As far as Israel is concerned, Jerusalem's borders now encompass all the settlements surrounding the city of Bethlehem.
As an ex-deputy Mayor of Jerusalem has said, the expansion was planned according to Talmudic law which states that a city is defined by sightlines: if a collection of buildings can be seen from another point, then each constitutes a part of the same city. By grabbing the orchards of Bethlehem, Jerusalem has doubled and trebled in size over the past two decades, like a concrete amoeba, whose pseudopodia absorb and digest everything they encircle.
Well, the conspiracy is unfolding before your eyes now. It is unfolding in Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Do you really need more evidence of a US-Saudi-Israeli conspiracy in the Middle East region? You look at Palestine and you see a reference to a Palestinian "civil war" as it is being called.
People used to say that in Palestine it is very unlikely to have a Palestine civil war because the Palestinians have harbored a strong aversion to internecine battles and strife. But that is not true: collaborationist Palestinians have been killing other Palestinians, and dragging other factions into civil war, since at least the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt. The collaborationists were then represented by the Nashashibis and the Hashemites of Jordan. And one should remember that Fath under Arafat was always more willing to fight other Palestinians than to fight Israel. Fath under Arafat fought other Palestinian organizations prior to Black September in Jordan, and then did the same in Lebanon.
But what is new today is that the entire Palestinian leadership of theFath movement was eliminated (assassinated by Israel and its allies), and a new leadership was installed by the US and Israel (with the support of client Arab regimes). We have never had in the history of Palestinian struggle a more open collaborationist regime in Palestine. And it is openly aligned with Israel and the US: this is unprecedented. I mean, even under the Village Leagues and the notorious Muhammad `Ali Al-Ja`bari: there were those silly denials of collaboration, and the Palestinians made sure that those attempts don't go very far. Not anymore.
And you see press reports to Salam Fayyad as "independent". Independent? Who brought this World Bank official to Palestine? Who forced him on Yasir Arafat? The Palestinian people? His own popularity or popular base? He is as much an independent as much as Mr. Bush is a "uniter not a divider."
And the characters in this saga are just almost fictional. Yesterday, the official statement or Ottoman Faraman (it was really drafted and read as a far a man) by Mahmoud Abbas was read by none other than Tayyib`Abdur-Rahim. Are you kidding me? He was dressed in a fancy suit, but this is `Abdur-Rahim. We knew him from his days in Lebanon. He was known as Abu At-Tayyib: he was in charge of Force 17. Force 17 was responsible under Arafat of dirty tricks and dirty fighting and dirty murders. That was its mission. And to have this same man yesterday speak on "constitutional matters" was laughable.
But less laughable than Condoleezza Rice offering opinions on the proper constitutional procedures in Palestine. Don't get me wrong: I have never been a fan of Hamas: not of its ideology and not of its practices. I also believe that, like Fath, they seem to be better fighters against other Palestinians than against Israeli occupation soldiers. That has to be observed. And Hamas has the blood of innocent Palestinians on its hands--not as much as Fath gangs, but still.
Yet, this crisis and the clashes are without a doubt the responsibility of the Dahlan gangs. They basically refused to accept the democratic results of the last parliamentary elections (under occupation): they just--under instruction from Israel and US--would not allow Hamas to rule. They were arming and building armed gangs to take on Hamas and whoever was willing to defy Israel and US dictates.
But the US and Israel (along with the Arab clients) did not know that no matter how much money and weapons they dump in the lap of Dahlan gangs, these fighters lack the cause or doctrine to make them effective as a fighting force. The last time Dahlan held a public rally in Gaza, he surrounded himself with kids and women because he could not trust what should have been his own constituency.
There are lessons of what happened in Gaza for Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere: in terms of the arming of Sunni tribes and Shi`ite gangs in Iraq, and the arming of the Hariri forces in Lebanon. These will not fight, and would crumble at the first clash.
The Bush Doctrine is deep trouble, make no mistake about it. But then again: how foolish was the decision by Hamas to run in the elections and to accept to rule? They basically foolishly assumed that there was a true democracy in Palestine when it is under occupation? (The same may apply to the same calculations of Hizbullah when they joined the Sanyurah government).
The Saudi media--without a sense of irony--are now resorting to equating Hamas with Taliban and Al-Qa`idah: as if what works in New York City can really work in the Arab world. They think that they can really convince Arab public opinion that they (House of Saud and its allies) represent a secular alternative?
And please, don't give me that line that Fath is "a secular organization." We know Fath well, and know that Arafat was guilty of arming and financing fanatical religious groups since his days in Lebanon: just like what Arab regimes and Israel (and US) have done.
Khalid Mish`al today responded to that allegation in his press conference by denying that Hamas plans to impose a religious order. Don't get me wrong: both Hamas and Hizbullah tried to do that in years past before they realized that they can't continue to grow if they did not change. Neither the Lebanese nor the Palestinians would put up with a religious order. Both are sinful people, thankfully.
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
A Sydney council's decision to form a sister city relationship with Bethlehem has outraged members of the Jewish community.
They say the move is akin to supporting terrorism.
Marrickville Council, in Sydney's inner west, has had an in-principle agreement since 2001 with the Palestinian city believed by some Christian scholars to have been the birthplace of Jesus Christ, although others say it was not.
The agreement is due to be formally ratified at a council meeting next Tuesday.
Councillor Sam Iskandar said the city had been chosen as a symbol of love, peace and harmony, but the Jewish community say it is anything but.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said Bethlehem Council was controlled by members of the terrorist organisations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which support the killing of Jews.
A delegation from Bethlehem Council is due to visit Sydney in late August to sign the agreement and hold discussions with Marrickville Council.
Mr Alhadeff said this could give a platform for Hamas members to spread anti-Jewish propaganda.
"A Bethlehem delegation could include Hamas members," he said.
"This means an international guest could address a public meeting hosted by this council and call for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews."
Mr Alhadeff is also concerned that funds provided by Marrickville Council could end up in Hamas coffers, supporting terrorist activity.
He said the council should choose a politically neutral middle-eastern city to foster relations with.
"If councils like Marrickville wanted to get involved and promote peace and reconciliation why not choose an Arab Israeli town, so it's not a partisan position?" Mr Alhadeff said.
But Mr Iskandar, who chairs the council's community services committee, said the proposal for Bethlehem to be a sister city had come from residents and had been unanimously passed.
"It was chosen because it was the city which symbolised love and peace and harmony," he said.
"We look at this relationship between Marrickville and Bethlehem to be a very good relationship between the two communities, and we want to send a message that people can work with people and they can have good relations ... and that is the spirit of the sister city movement."
Mr Iskandar denied the council would provide any funds to Bethlehem Council as part of the arrangement.
"It's very cheap propaganda to say this, because the council will not give money to other councils," he said.
"The relationship is not really about supporting Hamas or Islamic Jihad - we are not about politics."
Mr Iskandar said the council would be open to developing a sister city relationship with an Israeli city, if that was what the Marrickville community wanted.
He said the council hoped the relationship with Bethlehem would in some small way aid the peace process in the region.
"We would like, if we can with our very humble contribution, to help the peace coming back to the Middle East and in particular to that city," he said.
© 2007 AAP
Podcast, Crossing the Line, 13 June 2007
This week on Crossing The Line: June 8th marks 40 years of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Host Chris Brown speaks with two women; Samira Khoury whose family was displaced on this day in the West Bank and Nadia Hijab a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.
Brown also speaks with noted author and activist Phyllis Bennis about the continuing human rights violations of the Israeli occupation army onto Palestinian land. Bennis talks about the current situation and violence in Gaza, "In the current crisis the US [is] playing a clear role fomenting civil war, hoping for civil war, arming one side of the what they see as potential combatants in the civil war.
So we have the US providing in the last batch 40 million dollars worth of military equipment of various sorts to the Fatah security forces in claiming to be under the command of Abu Mazen -- the Palestinian president -- but in fact answerable to a major Fatah leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Dahlan. It's a very difficult scenario that the Palestinians themselves are fighting and the US is doing everything possible to exacerbate the situation."
Listen Now [MP3 - 30.9 MB, 33:45 min]
by Silvia Cattori - June 7, 2007
Greta Berlin, 66 years old, is a businesswoman from Los Angeles, CA. She is the mother of two Palestinian-American children and has been to the occupied territories twice in the past four years with the International Solidarity Movement. She is also a member of Women in Black Los Angeles.
She is one of many other people, who have organized an unusual project, sailing a boat to Gaza. They intend to challenge Israel's claim that they no longer occupy Gaza. Talking to her, she explains why she and the other courageous people are going.
Silvia: Your mission states," We tried to enter Palestine by ground. We tried to enter by air. Now we are going to go by sea."1 This is an exceptional attempt. Why Gaza in particular? And why go by boat in one of the most patrolled places in the world?
Greta Berlin: Israel says that Gaza is no longer occupied. Well, if that's true, then we have every right to visit. The truth is that Israel controls every entrance into Gaza, and the population is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Internationals can no longer go through the border with Egypt, and, of course, the Eretz border with Israel is closed to almost everyone.
So, 50 to 80 of us, men and women, will begin our journey in Cyprus toward the end of this summer. Many of us are over 50, and we come from all over the world Palestinians, Israelis, Australians, Greeks, Americans, English, Spanish, Italians, just to name a few we will embark on a boat called FREE GAZA. One of the passengers, Hedy Epstein, is a holocaust survivor, and two or three Palestinians are Nakba survivors.
Many of us have also been stopped from entering the occupied territories, because we have gone before to non-violently bear witness to what Israel does to the Palestinians.
Silvia Cattori: This departure coincides with the time The Exodus left Marseille for Palestine sixty years ago on July 27, 1947. It had 4500 Jewish refugees on board. Is your trip meant to coincide with that departure in l947?
Greta Berlin: It's merely a coincidence. The reason we're leaving in the summer of 2007 is because it's the second anniversary of Israel's 'alleged withdrawal' from Gaza. Since then, Gaza is ever more besieged, and the people are living in much worse conditions. We intend to draw the attention of the world to the terrible lack of human and civil rights for the Palestinians.
Silvia Cattori: To enter the waters of Gaza is not going to be so simple. Do you really believe the Israeli navy will let you in?
Greta Berlin: Israel has no right to prevent us from going. So we're going. International law says that we have the right to visit Gaza. Remember, in July 2005, when Israel told the entire world that Gaza was no longer occupied? If it's no longer occupied, why shouldn't we go?
Let the Israeli authorities prove that it's no longer occupied by allowing us to enter. This voyage is an attempt to challenge Israel's own words. We've been invited by many NGO's to come and visit their facilities and clinics. Why should Israel have the right to deny us those visits?
Let me repeat. We must do everything we can to bring to the world's attention to the fact that Israel's military blockade is causing the death of the people of Gaza. We clearly know this trip will be difficult, but we're determined. We can either complain about the inertia of the international community, or we can do something to make them sit up and pay attention. If those of us who have already seen the gravity of the situation do nothing about it, then what kind of credibility will we have with the occupied Palestinians?
We've planned this trip for a long time, carefully thinking out the best way to show our support. We discussed the possibility of going to support of the right of return for the Palestinians of 1948. Should our journey be a statement about the 60 years of occupation? But we decided it's of utmost importance that we challenge Israel's claim that Gaza is no longer occupied, that its people are free.
According to international law, the waters of Gaza for all 40 kilometers of its coast belong to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to control those waters. Even the Oslo agreements state that the coast of Gaza belongs to the people who live there.
Silvia Cattori: What do you want to prove?
Greta Berlin: We want to prove that Israel and the United States are starving the people of Gaza for democratically electing Hamas. We're hoping to call on the conscience of the world, "Wake up. You can't turn away from the crimes of Israel. You can't close your eyes any longer to the slow-motion genocide of the Palestinians.
It's important to show that Israel has lied; Gaza has never been free. Israeli warships still fire on the fishermen, killing many of them over the past two years. What did these men ever do except fish for their families? What kind of evil would make Israel fire on men who had the right to fish in their own waters?
Silvia Cattori: Do you seriously believe that you can face the military might of Israel?
Greta Berlin: We're going to try. Our mission is to go to Gaza. Of course, we assume that we'll be stopped. However, we're going to insist that we have the legal and moral right to go. And, we have enough media on board to tell the story of what will happen; so let them try to stop us.
They'll report that Israel's 'freedom for Gaza' is a complete hoax, The territory is still occupied and its people terrorized every day.
Silvia Cattori: Is your mission more for political reasons then?
Greta Berlin: Yes. Gaza has the right to be free. Our objective is not to take food or medicine, although we are going to have both on board. Like any people, the people of Gaza want to be able to travel, to trade, to work in peace, and to have the right to control their own destinies.
They should have the right to fly out of their airport that Israel destroyed five years ago, and they should have the right to fish in their sea.
Of course, the humanitarian catastrophe is important, but it's vitally important for the people to be free. The international community must step up and help them reestablish the internal structures to build their society. But out mission is to put Israel, the United States, the EU on notice that they bear responsibility for the welfare of 1.4 million people.
Silvia Cattori: This is a great project that you are all launching.
Greta Berlin: The Palestinians have never received anything with all these 'so-called' peace plans. Every international effort has failed. Part of our desire is to counter the misinformation that has been out there for almost 60 years in favor of Israel instead of the true story of the Palestinian's dispossession.
The world can't wait any longer for Israel to decide when to come to the peace table.
Even the NGO's aren't able to tell the true story for fear of losing international support. More than 65 UN resolutions have tried to bring Israel to account; yet the US has vetoed these resolutions every time. For 60 years the Palestinians have waited for justice. How much longer must they pay the price for what Europe did to the Jews? How much longer will the international community turn away and say, "We didn't see, we didn't know."
Silvia Cattori: Do you hope that other boats and other captains will join you?
Greta Berlin: Any person who has a boat, anyone who wants to join our breaking the siege is welcome. The more boats that join us, the better our chances are that we will be heard.
Silvia Cattori: Don't you all need a certain amount of courage to launch such a project?
Greta Berlin: I think that if Hedy Epstein at 82 and Mary Hughes at 73 and so many others in their 70s and 80s can make this trip, so can I. I don't think any of us think we are brave; I think we are determined to have the voices of the Palestinians heard, and if we can help, we have to. We can't turn away as Israel bombs women and children every day.
Silvia Cattori: Why do you care so much for the plight of the Palestinians?
Greta Berlin: When I lived in Chicago, Illinois I married a Palestinian refugee from l948. That's when I began to learn the truth about Israel's ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in order to establish a Jewish state. As I became more involved in the 60s and 70s, a group called the Jewish Defence League threatened by two small children, saying they would kill them if we continued to work for justice for the Palestinians.
For almost 20 years I left the struggle, raising the children and working on my career. I wasn't going to jeopardize their safety for a cause I supported.
In 1997, with my children grown and gone, I started to write letters and advocate again. I couldn't believe that almost 20 years had passed, and the situation for the Palestinians was worse by the day. On September 29, 2000, Mohammed Al Dura, a little 12-year-old boy in Gaza was murdered by an Israeli sniper. Someone just happened to catch the killing on video. I was appalled and returned.
When Rachel Corrie was crushed to death in March, 2003 and Tom Hurndall was shot through the head several days later; both human rights workers with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, I made a commitment to go to the occupied territories to see for myself what Israel was doing to a people it occupies.
Silvia Cattori: Isn't the ISM considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel?
Greta Berlin: Actually, no. Those of us who have volunteered for the ISM are peaceful and believe in nonviolently demonstrating against the occupation. The only terrorism that I witnessed in the five months I was there in 2003 and 2005 was the Israeli military violence against us and the illegal settler violence against the Palestinians and those of us who were trying to protect them. I was shot in the leg by a rubber-coated steel bullet while protesting against that dreadful wall Israel is building. And I, like hundreds of peace activists, have had tear gas and sound bombs thrown at me in Bil'in. While escorting Palestinian children to school in Hebron, settler children threw rocks at us, wounding me in the hand and the thigh.
Almost everyone on board this boat has been beaten, shot, or tear-gassed by the Israeli military. Many of us have been arrested for protecting women and children. Israeli authorities know that we aren't connected in any way to any terrorist organization.
But Israel is terrified that we come back to our countries and tell the truth of what happens to an occupied people. That's what they really fearthe truth.
We are all committed to going to Gaza. And we are eagerly awaiting the support of all progressive people to join with us2. Even if we don't land, we will have tried, and we will have told the world the situation. I believe that all of the people on the boat feel the same way. We know what the obstacles are. And this is not the only voyage. We will continue to return as part of a strategy of bringing the truth of Israel's occupation to the world.
Silvia Cattori: What do you hope to do once you reach Gaza?
Greta Berlin: We're going fishing. Come, join us, bring your fishing poles.
South Africa's largest trade union federation will launch a campaign against "the Israeli occupation of Arab lands" this week, demanding that Pretoria impose a boycott on all Israeli goods and break diplomatic relations. South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, who is Jewish, told Haaretz that he actively supported the initiative - which contradicts the policy of his own cabinet.
The president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Willy Madisha, announced the launching of the campaign last week in Johannesburg, calling on the government to cease all diplomatic relations with Israel after its attacks on Palestinian leaders.
"The best way to have Israel comply with United Nations resolutions is to pressure it by a diplomatic boycott such as the one imposed on apartheid South Africa," Madisha said. Cosatu belongs to a recently-formed coalition of organizations operating under the banner "End The Occupation."
Kasrils' anti-Israeli organization Not In My Name belongs to the coalition working toward an embargo on Israel. This runs contrary to South Africa's official stance, and to President Thabo Mbeki's decision to strengthen trade ties with Israel. Mbeki, who heads the ANC ruling party, even appeared as a guest at Israel's Independence Day celebrations in Durban last month.
Kasrils, a member of the ANC, told Haaretz that his support for severing all ties with Israel was not in opposition to his cabinet's policy. "Cosatu is an ANC ally in the coalition against the Israeli occupation. Most elements of this coalition call for boycotting Israel, although the ANC does not," he said.
"We respect their right to encourage people to boycott Israeli goods. As a South African consumer I personally will not purchase Israeli goods until Israel changes its present policy regarding the Palestinians."
Cosatu's spokesman, Patrick Craven, said Kasrils was involved in directing the campaign for imposing a political and economic embargo on Israel. "This is intended to include the diamond trade," he added.
Craven acknowledged that his organization's primary objectives did not pertain to the Middle East, noting that while Cosatu's main goal was improving the material conditions of its 1.8 million members, "it could not stand idly by as Israel perpetrated atrocities in Palestine." Adding that he anticipated "some short-term damage" to South Africa's economy following the boycott, Carven said the damage was "vastly outweighed by the importance of stopping injustice."
The campaign that Cosatu has helped mount will begin Friday, with sermons in South Africa's mosques on "the plight of the Palestinian people". The Christian organizations of the coalition will begin addressing the issue in churches Sunday.
The organizers intend to picket across South Africa next week, including a picket by members of parliament and a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg. The ANC ruling party has called for a parliamentary debate on "Israeli occupation."
Campaign activists will also hold pickets outside selected stores selling Israeli goods. The events will culminate in mass marches and rallies on Saturday, June 9, both in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
My favourite speech was my Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti. Barghouti was the reason why I went from quiet sympathy to relatively active support for the Palestinian cause. He was visiting Australia in 2001 or 2002 and spoke at Gerard Henderson's right wing Sydney Institute. With courage and professionalism he explained just how bad the occupation was for the Palestinians. I still remember the way a few audience members jumped up and heckled him, only to be met by his quite fearless yet unthreatening face.
Ellis Sharp: Thousands marched through central London this afternoon in the capital's biggest ever pro-Palestinian protest, given particular topicality in view of the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war. Not that you'd know it from the BBC, which seems to have completely blanked the protest. It was a very much bigger march than the two previous ones I've been on. The organisers put the turn-out at 20,000 and I'm prepared to believe this is not an exaggeration, having watched the entire procession go past.
The march went from Lincoln's Inn Fields, down Kingsway, the long way round Aldwych and along The Strand to Trafalgar Square.
Here's some pics.
George Galloway's speech at the Enough Occupation rally in London 9th June 2007.
Jonathan Cook - June 5, 2007
The second Palestinian intifada has been crushed. The 700km wall is sealing the occupied population of the West Bank into a series of prisons. The "demographic timebomb" -- the fear that Palestinians, through higher birth rates, will soon outnumber Jews in the Holy Land and that Israel's continuing rule over them risks being compared to apartheid -- has been safely defused through the disengagment from Gaza and its 1.4 million inhabitants. On the fortieth anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel's security establishment is quietly satisfied with its successes.
But like a shark whose physiology requires that, to stay alive, it never sleeps or stops moving, Israel must remain restless, constantly reinventing itself and its policies to ensure its ethnic project does not lose legitimacy, even as it devours the Palestinian homeland. By keeping a step ahead of the analysts and worldwide opinion, Israel creates facts on the ground that cement its supremacist and expansionist agenda.
So, with these achievements under its belt, where next for the Jewish state?
I have been arguing for some time that Israel's ultimate goal is to create an ethnic fortress, a Jewish space in expanded borders from which all Palestinians -- including its 1.2 million Palestinian citizens -- will be excluded. That was the purpose of the Gaza disengagement and it is also the point of the wall snaking through the West Bank, effectively annexing to Israel what little is left of a potential Palestinian state.
It should therefore be no surprise that we are witnessing the first moves in Israel's next phase of conquest of the Palestinians. With the 3.7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories caged inside their ghettos, unable to protest their treatment behind fences and walls, the turn has come of Israel's Palestinian citizens.
These citizens, today nearly a fifth of Israel's population, are the legacy of an oversight by the country's Jewish leaders during the ethnic cleansing campaign of the 1948 war. Ever since Israel has been pondering what to do with them. There was a brief debate in the state's first years about whether they should be converted to Judaism and assimilated, or whether they should be marginalised and eventually expelled. The latter view, favoured by the country's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, dominated. The question has been when and how to do the deed.
The time now finally appears to be upon us, and the crushing of these more than one million unwanted citizens currently inside the walls of the fortress -- the Achilles' heel of the Jewish state -- is likely to be just as ruthless as that of the Palestinians under occupation.
In my recent book Blood and Religion, I charted the preparations for this crackdown. Israel has been secretly devising a land swap scheme that would force up to a quarter of a million Palestinian citizens (but hardly any territory) into the Palestinian ghetoes being crafted next door -- in return Israel will annex swaths of the West Bank on which the illegal Jewish settlements sit. The Bedouin in the Negev are being reclassified as trespassers on state land so that they can be treated as guest workers rather than citizens. And lawyers in the Justice Ministry are toiling over a loyalty scheme to deal with the remaining Palestinians: pledge an oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state (that is, one in which you are not wanted) or face being stripped of your rights and possibly expelled.
There will be no resistance to these moves from Israel's Jewish public. Opinion polls consistently show that two-thirds of Israeli Jews support "transfer" of the country's Palestinian population. With a veneer of legality added to the ethnic cleansing, the Jewish consensus will be almost complete.
But these measures cannot be implemented until an important first battle has been waged and won in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. One of Israel's gurus of the so-called "demographic threat", Arnon Sofer, a professor at Haifa University, has explained the problem posed by the presence of a growing number of Palestinian voters: "In their hands lies the power to determine the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] or to decide who is a Jew In another few years, they will be able to decide whether the state of Israel should continue to be a Jewish-Zionist state."
The warning signs about how Israel might defend itself from this "threat" have been clear for some time. In Silencing Dissent, a report published in 2002 by the Human Rights Association based in Nazareth, the treatment of Israel's 10 Palestinian Knesset members was documented: over the previous two years, nine had been assaulted by the security services, some on several occasions, and seven hospitalised. The report also found that the state had launched 25 investigations of the 10 MKs in the same period.
All this abuse was reserved for the representatives of a community the Israeli general Moshe Dayan once referred to as "the quietest minority in the world".
But the state's violence towards, and intimidation of, Palestinian Knesset members -- until now largely the reflex actions of officials offended by the presence of legislators refusing to bow before the principles of Zionism and privileges for Jews -- is entering a new, more dangerous phase.
The problem for Israel is that for the past two decades Palestinian legislators have been entering the Knesset not as members of Zionist parties, as was the case for many decades, but as representatives of independent Palestinian parties. (A state claiming to be Jewish and democratic has to make some concessions to its own propaganda, after all.)
The result has been the emergence of an unexpected political platform: the demand for Israel's constitutional reform. Palestinian political parties have been calling for Israel's transformation from a Jewish state into a "state of all its citizens" -- or what the rest of us would call a liberal democracy.
The figurehead for this political struggle has been the legislator Azmi Bishara. A former philosophy professor, Bishara has been running rings around Jewish politicians in the Knesset for more than a decade, as well as exposing to outsiders the sham of Israel's self-definition as a "Jewish and democratic" state.
Even more worryingly he has also been making an increasingly convincing case to his constituency of 1.2 million Palestinian citizens that, rather than challenging the hundreds of forms of discrimination they face one law at a time, they should confront the system that props up the discrimination: the Jewish state itself. He has started to persuade a growing number that they will never enjoy equality with Jews as long as they live in ethnic state.
Bishara's campaign for a state of all its citizens has faced an uphill struggle. Palestinian citizens spent the first two decades after Israel's creation living under martial law, a time during which their identity, history and memories were all but crushed. Even today the minority has no control over its educational curriculum, which is set by officials charged with promoting Zionism, and its schools are effectively run by the secret police, the Shin Bet, through a network of collaborators among the teachers and pupils.
Given this climate, it may not be surprising that in a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute 75 per cent of Palestinian citizens said they would support the drafting of a constitution defining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state (Israel currently has no constitution). Interestingly, however, what concerned commentators was the survey's small print: only a third of the respondents felt strongly about their position compared to more than half of those questioned in a similar survey three years ago. Also, 72 per cent of Palestinian citizens believed the principle of "equality" should be prominently featured in such a constitution.
These shifts of opinion are at least partly a result of Bishara's political work. He has been trying to persuade Israel's Palestinian minority -- most of whom, whatever the spin tells us, have had little practical experience of participating in a democracy other than casting a vote -- that it is impossible for a Jewish state to enshrine equality in its laws. Israel's nearest thing to a Bill of Rights, the Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity, intentionally does not mention equality anywhere in its text.
It is in this light that the news about Bishara that broke in late April should be read. While he was abroad with his family, the Shin Bet announced that he would face charges of treason on his return. Under emergency regulations -- renewed by the Knesset yet again last week, and which have now been in operation for nearly 60 years -- he could be executed if found guilty. Bishara so far has chosen not to return.
Coverage of the Bishara case has concentrated on the two main charges against him, which are only vaguely known as the security services have been trying to prevent disclosure of their evidence with a gagging order. The first accusation -- for the consumption of Israel's Jewish population -- is that Bishara actively helped Hizbullah in its targeting of Israeli communities in the north during the war against Lebanon last summer.
The Shin Bet claim this after months of listening in on his phone conversations -- made possible by a change in the law in 2005 that allows the security services to bug legislators' phones. The other Palestinian MKs suspect they are being subjected to the same eavesdropping after the Attorney-General Mechahem Mazuz failed to respond to a question from one, Taleb a-Sana, on whether the Shin Bet was using this practice more widely.
Few informed observers, however, take this allegation seriously. An editorial in Israel's leading newspaper Haaretz compared Bishara's case to that of the Israeli Jewish dissident Tali Fahima, who was jailed on trumped-up charges that she translated a military plan, a piece of paper dropped by the army in the Jenin refugee camp, on behalf of a Palestinian militant, Zacharia Zbeidi, even though it was widely known that Zbeidi was himself fluent in Hebrew.
The editorial noted that it seemed likely the charge of treason against Bishara "will turn out to be a tendentious exaggeration of his telephone conversations and meetings with Lebanese and Syrian nationals, and possibly also of his expressions of support for their military activities. It seems very doubtful that MK Bishara even has access to defense-related secrets that he could sell to the enemy, and like in the Fahima case, the fact that he identified with the enemy during wartime appears to be what fueled the desire to seek and find an excuse for bringing him to trial."
Such doubts were reinforced by reports in the Israeli media that the charge of treason was based on claims that Bishara had helped Hizbullah conduct "psychological warfare through the media".
The other allegation made by the secret police has a different target audience. The Shin Bet claim that Bishara laundered money from terrorist organisations. The implication, though the specifics are unclear, is that Bishara both helped fund terror and that he squirrelled some of the money away, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, presumably for his own benefit. This is supposed to discredit him with his own constituency of Palestinian citizens.
It should be noted that none of this money has been found in extensive searches of Bishara's home and office, and the evidence is based on testimony from a far from reliable source: a family of money-changers in East Jerusalem.
This second charge closely resembles the allegations faced by the only other Palestinian of national prominence in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement and a spiritual leader of the Palestinian minority. He was arrested in 2003, originally on charges that he laundered money for the armed wing of Hamas, helping them buy guns and bombs.
As with Bishara, the Shin Bet had been bugging Salah's every phone call for many months and had supposedly accumulated mountains of evidence against him. Salah spent more than two years in jail, the judges repeatedly accepting the Shin Bet's advice that his requests for bail be refused, as this secret evidence was studied in minute detail at his lengthy trial. In the closing stages, as it became clear that the Shin Bet's case was evaporating, the prosecution announced a plea bargain. Salah agreed (possibly unwisely, but understandably after two years in jail) to admit minor charges of financial impropriety in return for his release.
To this day, Salah does not know what he did wrong. His organisation had funded social programmes for orphans, students and widows in the occupied territories and had submitted its accounts to the security services for approval. In a recent interview, Salah observed that in the new reality he and his party had discovered that it was "as if helping orphans, sick persons, widows and students had now become illegal activities in support of terrorism".
Why was Salah targeted? In the same interview, he noted that shortly before his arrest the prime minister of the day, Ariel Sharon, had called for the outlawing of the Islamic Movement, whose popularity was greatly concerning the security establishment. Sharon was worried by what he regarded as Salah's interference in Israel's crushing of Palestinian nationalism.
Sharon's concern was two-fold: the Islamic Movement was raising funds for welfare organisations in the occupied territories at the very moment Israel was trying to isolate and starve the Palestinian population there; and Salah's main campaign, "al-Aqsa is in danger", was successfully rallying Palestinians inside Israel to visit the mosques of the Noble Sanctuary in the Old City of Jersualem, the most important symbols of a future Palestinian state.
Salah believed that responsibility fell to Palestinians inside Israel to protect these holy places as Israel's closure policies and its checkpoints were preventing Muslims in the occupied territories from reaching them. Salah also suspected that Israel was using the exclusion of Palestinians under occupation from East Jerusalem to assert its own claims to sovereignty over the site, known to Jews as Temple Mount. This was where Sharon had made his inflammatory visit backed by 1,000 armed guards that triggered the intifada; and it was control of the Temple Mount, much longed for by his predecessor, Ehud Barak, that "blew up" the Camp David negotiations, as one of Barak's advisers later noted.
Salah had become a nuisance, an obstacle to Israel realising its goals in East Jersualem and possibly in the intifada, and needed to be neutralised. The trial removed him from the scene at a key moment when he might have been able to make a difference.
That now is the fate of Bishara.
Indications that the Shin Bet wanted Bishara's scalp over his campaign for Israel's reform to a state of all its citizens can be dated back to at least the start of the second intifada in 2000. That was when, as Israel prepared for a coming general election, the departing head of the Shin Bet observed: "Bishara does not recognise the right of the Jewish people to a state and he has crossed the line. The decision to disqualify him [from standing for election] has been submitted to the Attorney General." Who expressed that view? None other than Ami Ayalon, currently contesting the leadership of the Labor party and hoping to become the official head of Israel's peace camp.
In the meantime, Bishara has been put on trial twice (unnoticed the charges later fizzled out); he has been called in for police interrogations on a regular basis; he has been warned by a state commission of inquiry; and the laws concerning Knesset immunity and travel to foreign states have been changed specifically to prevent Bishara from fulfilling his parliamentary duties.
True to Ayalon's advice, Bishara and his political party, the National Democratic Assembly (NDA), were disqualified by the Central Elections Committee during the 2003 elections. The committee cited the "expert" opinion of the Shin Bet: "It is our opinion that the inclusion of the NDA in the Knesset has increased the threat inherent in the party. Evidence of this can also be found in the ideological progress from the margins of Arab society (such as a limited circle of intellectuals who dealt with these ideas theoretically) to center stage. Today these ideas [concerning a state of all its citizens] have a discernible effect on the content of political discourse and on the public 'agenda' of the Arab sector."
But on this occasion the Shin Bet failed to get its way. Bishara's disqualification was overturned on appeal by a narrow majority of the Supreme Court's justices.
The Shin Bet's fears of Bishara resurfaced with a vengeance in March this year, when the Ma'ariv newspaper reported on a closed meeting between the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and senior Shin Bet officials "concerning the issue of the Arab minority in Israel, the extent of its steadily decreasing identification with the State and the rise of subversive elements".
Ma'ariv quoted the assessment of the Shin Bet: "Particularly disturbing is the growing phenomenon of 'visionary documents' among the various elites of Israeli Arabs. At this time, there are four different visionary documents sharing the perception of Israel as a state of all citizens and not as a Jewish state. The isolationist and subversive aims presented by the elites might determine a direction that will win over the masses."
In other words, the secret police were worried that the influence of Bishara's political platform was spreading. The proof was to be found in the four recent documents cited by the Shin Bet and published by very diffrerent groups: the Democratic Constitution by the Adalah legal centre; the Ten Points by the Mossawa political lobbying group; the Future Vision by the traditionally conservative political body comprising mostly mayors known as the High Follow-Up Committee; and the Haifa Declaration, overseen by a group of academics known as Mada.
What all these documents share in common is two assumptions: first, that existing solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are based on two states and that in such an arrangement the Palestinian minority will continue living inside Israel as citizens; and second, that reforms of Israel are needed if the state is to realise equality for all citizens, as promised in its Declaration of Independence.
Nothing too subversive there, one would have thought. But that was not the view of the Shin Bet.
Following the report in Ma'ariv, the editor of a weekly Arab newspaper wrote to the Shin Bet asking for more information. Did the Shin Bet's policy not constitute an undemocratic attempt to silence the Palestinian minority and its leaders, he asked. A reply from the Shin Bet was not long in coming. The secret police had a responsibility to guard Israel "against subversive threats", it was noted. "By virtue of this responsibility, the Shin Bet is required to thwart subversive activity by elements who wish to harm the nature of the State of Israel as a democratic Jewish State -- even if they act by means of democratically provided tools -- by virtue of the principle of 'defensive democracy'.
Questioned by Israeli legal groups about this policy when it became public, the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, wrote a letter clarifying what he meant. Israel had to be protected from anyone "seeking to change the state's basic principles while abolishing its democratic character or its Jewish character". He was basing his opinion on a law passed in 2002 that charges the Shin Bet with safeguarding the country from "threats of terror, sabotage, subversion".
In other words, in the view of the Shin Bet, a Jewish and democratic state is democratic only if you are a Jew or a Zionist. If you try to use Israel's supposed democracy to challenge the privileges reserved for Jews inside a Jewish state, that same state is entitled to defend itself against you.
The extension in the future of this principle from Bishara to the other Palestinian MKs and then on to the wider Palestinian community inside Israel should not be doubted. In the wake of the Bishara case, Israel Hasson, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet and now a right-wing Knesset member, described Israel's struggle against its Palestinian citizens as "a second War of Independence" -- the war in 1948 that founded Israel by cleansing it of 80 per cent of its Palestinians.
The Shin Bet is not, admittedly, a democratic institution, even if it is operating in a supposedly democratic environment. So how do the state's more accountable officials view the Shin Bet's position? Diskin's reply had a covering letter from Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz, the country's most senior legal officer. Mazuz wrote: "The letter of the Shin Bet director was written in coordination with the attorney general and with his agreement, and the stance detailed in it is acceptable to the attorney general."
So now we know. As Israel's Palestinian politicians have long been claiming, a Jewish and democratic state is intended as a democracy for Jews only. No one else is allowed a say -- or even an opinion.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of the forthcoming "Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State" published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the University of Michigan Press. His website is http://www.jkcook.net/