Saturday, 29 December 2007
Israeli "Defense" Minister Ehud Barak is definitely the most dangerous politician in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad can only dream of having the powers – political and military, conventional and non-conventional – that Barak already possesses. Netanyahu and other far-right Israeli politicians say what they think and are earmarked as extremists, so they are under permanent scrutiny. Barak is more extreme than Netanyahu, but he's an extremist in disguise.
The person who destroyed the Oslo Process and initiated the second Intifada, the person who demolished the Israeli peace camp from within, by spreading legends about a "generous offer" rejected by the Palestinian, by persuading the Israelis that he "unmasked" Arafat and that there was no Palestinian partner – this person still calls himself "the leader of the Israeli peace camp." That's one of Barak's most dangerous traits: his inherent untruthfulness, his presenting himself as the very opposite of what he actually is.
Barak hasn't changed. As Yedioth Ahronoth announced just a few months ago ("Labor Leader More Right-Wing Than Netanyahu," Aug. 10, 2007), Barak described the renewal of the peace talks as "a fantasy," said "there is no difference between Hamas and Fatah"; promised "I will not remove roadblocks in the West Bank"; and repeated his old mantra, "there is no chance for a settlement with the Palestinians."
Indeed, Barak opposed the Annapolis Summit all along. His opposition turned into reserved support just a few weeks before, when it became clear the meeting would be nothing but a photo-op. On top of it, to make sure nothing comes out of the newly launched process, Barak repeatedly calls to resume peace negotiations with Syria, simultaneously with the Palestinian track. A characteristic Barakian trick: urging to resume peace talks with Syria enables Barak to boost his false reputation as a man of peace even as he knowingly works to sabotage any prospect of peace. In an official report written under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, recently obtained and published in Hebrew by Ha'aretz (Dec. 13, 2007), Barak's bureau chief wrote that resuming negotiations with Syria had led to extreme distrust and stiffening on the Palestinian side, and, on top of it, that the Israeli team had been unable to manage negotiations on both fronts simultaneously. In other words, resuming negotiations with Syria is a tested measure to make sure the Palestinian track doesn't work, and Barak is playing this dirty card for the second time.
Barak promised to quit the coalition with Olmert after the publication of the Winograd Commission final report, which is likely to blame Olmert for the failed war in Lebanon in summer 2006. He has now hinted, through his "aides," that he won't keep his promise (Barak never speaks to the media; he sends his "aides" to hint at his intentions, so that no one can hold him responsible for anything he actually says). It is quite likely that Barak's perverse logic leads him to plan his return to the prime minister's office by way of a "small" war. Once Olmert is officially discredited for the failed Lebanon war, Barak as defense minister can hope to take all the credit for a new, successful war – a big operation in Gaza ("drawing nearer all the time," as Barak tirelessly repeats), a war on Syria, a strike on Iran, or a combination of all these. Such a war would also be an excellent pretext to break his promise to exit the coalition: after all, it would be "irresponsible" to quit when a war is imminent.
Barak knows all too well how to get Israel into a war, even behind the government's back if needed: after all, it was young Maj. Gen. Barak who in the early 1980s recommended to his superiors in the army to use deception in order to allure the Israeli government and public into a war in Lebanon.
Rwanda Is Richer
Much of the foreign news in the popular media falls under "infotainment": "Man Bites Dog," "Host Eats Guest," "Woman Dry-Cleans Cat." Recently this kind of reporting – in both style and contents – is applied ever more often to the Gaza Strip, a region under effective Israeli control, just an hour's ride from Tel Aviv. We are informed about the price of a pack of cigarettes in besieged Gaza – more than $15 – while 63 percent of Gaza residents live on less than $2.50 a day, beating the poverty rate of Rwanda. We watch an amused television report about a soft-drink producer in the Strip, who, unable to get CO2-gas, found an original way to produce soda pop using some other, available gas. Or about a dramatic rise in the prices of donkeys, since there is no gasoline for cars, and how the transport of goods is done by animals. Great pictures: The soft-drink producer proudly showing his chemical invention, shaking off allegations it may cause cancer. A starving Gazan donkey auctioned for $60, $75, $100, the seller saying he cannot afford to feed it. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh congratulating his people on the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha, admitting there are no lambs to sacrifice in the starving Strip.
Hermetically under siege, after decades of occupation and years of Intifada in which Israel destroyed the little infrastructure that the Strip ever had, following many months of total embargo on everything except basic food products, which brought the economy to a halt, with daily invasions of Israeli tanks and extra-judicial killings by Israeli airplanes, and now with gasoline supplies cut and electricity supply to be reduced soon, the Gaza Strip (1.5 million people, 80 percent refugees) is no longer the world's biggest open-air prison. It's a huge laboratory for human experimentation, run by the Israeli army.
Some of these reports came together with the "good news" about the international community promising to give more than $7 billion to the Palestinian Authority over the next three years. Some Israeli commentators described the promised sum as the biggest amount ever given to any leader anywhere, though it is significantly smaller than the American military support given to the regional power, Israel, in any given three years. Others quickly calculated that every Palestinian family would "earn" about a $1,000 a month, if the sum were to be divided equally; but, they added triumphantly, we all know that most of it would get to the corrupt pockets of the Fatah leadership and not to the poor guy selling his donkey in Gaza. Dramatic sigh of despair and self-righteousness: once again, the Palestinians are to blame for their own plight. No one bothers to take the thought a step forward – for example, to wonder why Israel is so anxious to keep alive the corrupt Fatah leadership, even after it lost the support of its own people and was overthrown in Gaza, precisely because of its inherent corruption.
The public discourse in Israel does love questions – but only of the kind posed by President Shimon Peres last week: "There's not a single Israeli settler or soldier in Gaza now, so why do they shoot at us?" Yes, why do they?
This year nineteen thousand Jews immigrated to Israel. That's a drop of nearly 9.3 per cent from 2006. And it's a fall of nearly 30 percent since the year 2000.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin looks at why fewer Jews are choosing to make Israel their home.
Tel Aviv 27-12-2007
Critical Mass against the Occupation and for resistance to the Apartheid roads.
The opportunity to practice our freedom compels us to join the struggle of those who are unable to move without restraint.
This action demonstrates a freedom that can not be utilized by people living an hour away from Tel-Aviv!
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Kevin Rudd will go to the Middle East, including Israel, during this term.
Mr Rudd made this commitment to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who rang him offering congratulations on Wednesday night.
Mr Olmert, who called the Prime Minister at home, was particularly interested to inquire about the success of the new Labor MP for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, who is married to a cousin of Mr Olmert.
Mr Rudd and Mr Olmert discussed the Middle East peace talks and Mr Rudd wished Mr Olmert every success.
They also discussed getting together at some international event.
Olmert joins growing list of overseas callers
Paul Maley, The Australian, December 7, 2007
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has joined the growing list of world leaders to congratulate Kevin Rudd on his recent win.
Mr Olmert called the Labor leader on Wednesday night and the two had a 10-minute phone call.
It is understood the conversation covered the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks conducted in the US city of Annapolis.
Mr Rudd's office last night confirmed Mr Olmert had phoned but refused to discuss the details of the call.
However, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy said Mr Rudd had expressed support for the talks and pledged to visit Israel at some point during his first term, as part of a broader trip to the Middle East.
The spokesman said the tone of the phone call was positive.
Mr Rudd twice visited Israel as Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, first in 2003 and again in 2004.
The last time an Australian prime minister visited Israel was in 2000, when John Howard was invited by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.
It is understood the two men also discussed Eden Monaro MP Mike Kelly, whose wife, Shelley is Mr Olmert's cousin.
The Australian understands Mr Olmert also phoned Mr Kelly to congratulate him on his victory over former special minister of state, Liberal MP Gary Nairn.
Sydney Peace Prize row
PM - Monday, 3 November , 2003 18:38:00
Reporter: Nick Grimm
MARK COLVIN: Who'd have thought that the awarding of a peace prize could create so much hostility and in so many places? The row over plans to award the Sydney Peace Prize to the Palestinian activist, Hanan Ashrawi, has now widened to the Australian military.
A senior Australian army officer in Iraq wrote to the New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, pleading with him not to proceed with the award.
It was supposed to be a private letter, but it was leaked to the media, and it's raised questions about the military's relationship to politics, and about whether the Colonel was right in linking Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nick Grimm compiled this report.
MIKE KELLY: And people have to realise that if they're arguing against this legislation, they're arguing in favour of the maintenance of this archaic status quo.
NICK GRIMM: That's the voice of military lawyer, Colonel Mike Kelly, three years ago when he was a plain old lieutenant colonel in charge of the Australian Defence Forces Military Law Centre.
In those days, he was well known to the Canberra press gallery, as he helped to argue the merits of the Federal Government's controversial Defence Legislation Amendment Bill. At the time, it was being opposed by the Opposition parties because it opened the way for the military to be sent in against striking workers, or, it was argued, for troops to open fire on civilian protestors.
MIKE KELLY: We're in fact attempting to fix that problem.
NICK GRIMM: Now, Colonel Kelly is back in the news, apparently most unwillingly. He's currently serving in Baghdad as a senior adviser to Coalition forces. A highly regarded expert in military law, until now Mike Kelly has been noted for his writings on the legal aspects of peacekeeping operations.
But it was a letter he sent to New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, urging him to reconsider plans to award the Sydney Peace Prize this week, to the Palestinian activist Dr Hanan Ashrawi, that has brought the Colonel back into the spotlight.
Sections of that letter leaked to the media are as follows:
EXCERPT OF LETTER: It is precisely these kinds of legitimising actions that have encouraged the terrorism that I and my colleagues in the Coalition forces are engaged in fighting.
I am well aware, having studied and been involved in the counter-terrorist effort over 16 years that people like Hanan Ashwari are paraded before the Western media as a voice of reason, while out of the corner of their mouths establishing the basis for the slaughter of the innocents in a cynical, calculated, malevolent method of operating that completely dupes naïve Westerners.
You have to have spent time in this part of the world to appreciate what I am saying, but I would suggest that you credit my opinion as based on bitter experience. It would be hard to explain to a soldier here who has just lost both legs in a terrorist attack, why an Australian State Premier, supposedly an ally in this war, has been in effect, comforting the enemy.
NICK GRIMM: According to the Australian Defence Force, Mike Kelly is not interested in speaking to the media, and he's said to be angry that what was sent as a "private letter" has been leaked.
Today meanwhile, Bob Carr attacked the officer who he's dismissed as "clanking around in colonel's regalia".
BOB CARR: Since he very kindly sent it to the media and it was publicised in The Australian on Saturday, I have confirmed that it's been received in the office. But it is very, very wrong for someone wearing the uniform of his country, serving all Australians to find time to shoot off an intervention in Australian politics.
NICK GRIMM: The Defence Force says Colonel Kelly's views are his own and not those of the Department. A Spokesman told PM his letter does not contravene any defence instructions to its personnel and that no action will be taken against him.
Certainly, it's not matter for a court martial, but whether it was wise, is open for judgment.
NEIL JAMES: Well, the position of the Australian Defence Association is that we're somewhat surprised to see something like this appear in the media.
NICK GRIMM: Neil James is from the Australian Defence Association.
NEIL JAMES: I think the fact the letter's become public is obviously somewhat of an embarrassment. The other way of looking at the question is, is there would appear to be a somewhat tenuous connection between the peace prize being awarded to Dr Ashwari and the ensuing controversy, and Coalition operations in Iraq.
NICK GRIMM: So, Neil James in the light of that, are you surprised this letter was written in the first place?
NEIL JAMES: I'm somewhat surprised that an officer of Colonel Kelly's experience wrote a letter like this.
NICK GRIMM: But the views expressed in Colonel Kelly's letter aren't so far off the mark, according to Justice Marcus Einfeld, who has also publicly criticised the choice of Hanan Ashrawi.
MARCUS EINFELD: The problem with Dr Ashwari is that she hides under an ostensibly peace agenda, with eloquence and considerable intellect, a proposal or series of proposals that far from creating peace would in fact create war.
NICK GRIMM: Let's get it straight though, you're not actually arguing that the prize shouldn't go to a Palestinian, per se?
MARCUS EINFELD: Absolutely not. I know… I've worked with and know well a significant number of Palestinians who have made and are still making major efforts to bring about peace and an end to the senseless killing that is taking place on both sides.
NICK GRIMM: But Bob Carr says Dr Ashwari's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict will make her a worthy recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize when he awards it to her in the New South Wales Parliament, on Thursday.
MARK COLVIN: Nick Grimm reporting.
Tel Aviv, Israel, 29/11/2007
Life-sized posters of Palestinian refugees expelled from the village of al-Ras al-Ahmar, now residents at Ein al-Hilwa refugee camp in Lebanon, were brought to Rotchild Ave in Tel Aviv on the 29th of November 2007, to commemorate 60 years of the UN's Partition Plan.
Gregory Levey, Salon.com, December 13, 2007
On Nov. 26, the U.S. State Department got hit with an unexpected barrage of phone calls. The Coordinating Council on Jerusalem, a new coalition of American groups with hard-line views on Israel, was on the line -- all of the lines. Or so the group said two days later in a press release, proudly proclaiming that with 10,000 calls in less than 48 hours it had managed to overload the State Department's voice-mail system. The group was making known its opposition to any Israeli concessions on dividing Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians -- an issue that was swirling around the Bush administration's peace summit taking place in Annapolis, Md.
The new coalition's dubious achievement wasn't much noticed by the media, and perhaps isn't in itself important, but it was a sign of battles to come in the year ahead, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders struggle to move forward with any real progress after Annapolis. Although most appraisals of the conference were reservedly positive -- after all, at least the two sides were talking seriously again after a seven-year drought -- the event also opened a can of worms.
On the eve of Annapolis, the new right-wing coalition's representatives directly lobbied a top Bush official with their concerns about the summit. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took notice and seemed threatened by their potential to obstruct progress -- leveling some harsh words just before the Annapolis conference apparently directed at the coalition.
Annapolis was only the beginning of a renewed series of high-level negotiations, and the joint Israeli-Palestinian statement read by President Bush at the event was purposefully vague so as to avoid angering either leader's constituents or allies. Anyone reading between the lines, however, could see that the most explosive issue of all, dividing Jerusalem, had reemerged. The new coalition of religious groups seeks to use the incendiary Jerusalem question to scuttle any of the progress promised by Annapolis. Its efforts also threaten to cause painful rifts among American Jews, and perhaps shake up some pro-Israel political alliances.
Although the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the new high-level negotiations, some of AIPAC's major donors and allies are involved with the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem. The coalition is also being aided in its efforts by evangelical Christian groups and supported by figures such as G. Gordon Liddy. It is directed by an influential former fundraiser for George W. Bush, Jeff Ballabon.
Ballabon is a Washington lobbyist who served as a major fundraiser for the 2004 Bush reelection campaign and was the architect of a strategy that has sought to bring Orthodox Jews into the Republican fold, in an effort to balance the overwhelmingly Democratic voting habits of mainstream American Jews. Just before the conference in Annapolis, Ballabon, along with Christian leaders and representatives of various Orthodox groups, met with Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, to make sure their point of view, and the force of their commitment, were understood by the administration. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hadley reportedly assured them that, for the time being, the issue of Jerusalem was in fact not on the negotiating table.
Some interesting fissures have begun to crop up along with the new coalition. A few weeks before the Annapolis meeting, a congressional letter requesting increased aid for the Palestinian Authority -- which would help it meet some of its obligations toward achieving peace -- was endorsed by AIPAC, surprising many in Washington lobbying circles. (The Israeli government had not opposed the aid.) That decision earned AIPAC a sharp rebuke by one of its most important donors, billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who said, "If someone is going to jump off a bridge, it is incumbent upon their friends to dissuade them." Adelson, reportedly the third richest person in the United States and a prominent donor to the Republican Party, is also a major donor to the Zionist Organization of America, a group that, although lacking anything near the clout that AIPAC wields, is still influential among Middle East hawks in the GOP. And it is a core member of the new Coordinating Council. The national president of ZOA, Mort Klein, told Salon in an interview that "Israel should not be willing to give away any part of Jerusalem to another entity, just as the U.S. wouldn't give away any part of Washington." He added, "Jerusalem is mentioned 700 times in our holy book. It's not mentioned even once in the Quran."
ZOA has been active for a long time, but has never gotten the kind of political attention enjoyed by AIPAC and other more mainstream groups, or by the Christian evangelical groups pushing hawkish Middle East polices who have joined the Coordinating Council. What has changed is that the obstructionist agenda of the ZOA and the evangelical groups is now being aided by the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish member organizations of the newly formed coalition -- many of which have, prior to now, stayed aloof from international politics.
Agudath Israel, for example, an umbrella organization of ultra-Orthodox American Jews and a member group of the Coordinating Council, recently broke its long-held rule of not delving into Middle East politics by speaking out against the division of Jerusalem. The Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in the United States, also recently broke its tradition of supporting the policies of the Israeli government, issuing a press release that sharply criticized Olmert's statements at Annapolis because he "did not explicitly resist Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas' claim to a piece of Jerusalem."
That a successful peace deal would necessitate some sharing of Jerusalem is at this point essentially a given in the eyes of most political leaders. It has been floated subtly by Prime Minister Olmert's Cabinet allies, is quite clearly supported by many in the State Department and is thought of as an absolute minimum for agreement by Abbas.
To Orthodox Jews, however, Jerusalem is a red line (just as it is to their opposites on the Muslim side). Any perceived threat to sole ownership of the holy city summons dangerous levels of emotion and energy, even from those who would not normally pause from their prayers and everyday lives to wade into the swamp of Middle East politics. It is these thousands of Americans, normally not involved in Middle East discourse, that may give the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem the strength and potential to be a real obstacle to peace in the year to come.
These stirrings stateside have not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. In response to the lobbying intended to preempt any talk of dividing Jerusalem, Olmert stated, "Israel is sovereign to decide on any issue regarding Israel." The message was that Jerusalem is an issue to be determined by Israel itself, and not by its hard-line American cheerleaders.
To be sure, the views of this new American coalition of religious right-wingers don't come anywhere near representing the consensus of American Jewry or of Israel's mainstream supporters in the United States -- whose views, unlike those of the CCJ, don't generally turn on Scripture but rather on issues of peace and security. Still, the vigor with which these actors have recently entered the debate, and the determined efforts with which they will likely proceed over the next year, aren't going to make anything easy for those striving for a Middle East accord of any kind.
The Annapolis conference may have been a start, but it has also unleashed a zealotry on U.S. shores that may once again help demonstrate how nearly impossible achieving Middle East peace could really be.
Al Jazeera English - December 17, 2007
Ninety international donors have begun a one-day meeting in Paris to pledge funds to help lift the Palestinian economy and underpin the Middle East peace talks.
But is mobilising financial and political support for the Palestinian Authority enough to stop the worsening economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?
The economic well-being of the Palestinians is widely seen as an essential pre-condition for the building of a viable and successful Palestinian state.
We explore the Paris conference and its chances of success, especially as the situation in the Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate.
The development plan presented by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, has won the support of the World Bank, but it relies on the gradual shift to development projects under a scenario that has Israel easing restrictions and enabling the private sector to recover. Can the Paris conference kickstart this process?
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
It is difficult to overstate the lost opportunity that last week's Annapolis conference represents.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had agreed to all of Israel's preconditions for negotiations by dissolving the Palestinian government of national unity, closing down more than 100 Hamas affiliated charities and sending Palestinian security forces into Nablus to liquidate the resistance cells that have held out against the Israeli army for the last seven years.
Having demonstrated his commitment to Israel's security, he needed to secure a reciprocal commitment from Israel that he can present to his people as a vindication of his policies. The peace conference at Annapolis, he was at pains to emphasise, had to produce a clear statement of principles on the core issues of the conflict (Jerusalem, borders, water and refugees) within clearly defined timeframes.
Instead he was forced to settle for an empty statement that heralded "a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition" and declared that both sides intended to reach an agreement before the end of 2008.
As with every other peace conference of the last 15 years, the statement bears little relation to reality.
In 2005 ambassadors representing 25 European nations with missions in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv submitted a joint report that Israel is deliberately violating both its obligations under the Roadmap for Peace and international law by working to make a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Specifically, the report warned that the completion of Israel's "Separation Barrier" and the new E1 settlement bloc in the centre of the West Bank would "complete the isolation of East Jerusalem - the political, commercial and infrastructural centre of Palestinian life".
More ominously still, the ambassadors noted that the demolition of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem and its discriminatory policies concerning Palestinian residence in the city are "almost certainly" intended "to reduce the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, while exerting efforts to boost the number of Israelis living in the city."
The former Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, once boasted that his strategy for peace negotiations was to drag them out for ten years, by which time Israel's annexation of the West Bank would have become an accomplished fact. Since his retirement, every Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" has taken place against a backdrop of Jewish settlement expansion.
Recently the Israeli NGO, Peace Now, reported that this year Israel has already built 762 settler housing units in the West Bank and had 602 under construction. On Tuesday the Israeli government announced its intention to expand the Har Homa settlement overlooking Bethlehem by 307 new homes.
Rather than confronting Israel over its colonisation of Palestinian land, the Bush administration has chosen to embrace Tony Blair's program of promoting Palestinian economic development, while ignoring Israel's deepening occupation.
The contradictions of such a policy are obvious. Factories throughout the Gaza Strip have been forced to close due to Israel's five month blockade, giving rise to an unemployment rate of 50%. According to the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights, hospitals in Gaza are being forced to operate without essential medicines, medical equipment, electricity and even such basics as toilet paper and cleaning materials.
This month the UN noted the emergence of a new generation of Palestinian refugees who had been separated from their lands by the "Separation Barrier" that Israel is building through the West Bank. Last week, the UN Relief and Works Agency warned that Israel's tightening of movement restrictions throughout the Occupied Territories could lead to a threefold increase in the cost of providing food aid to Palestinians.
In their recently published book on the Israel Lobby, the American professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt hypothesise that pro-Israeli advocates have so thoroughly infiltrated the American body politic that the US government is no longer capable of recognising its national interests in the Middle East. On Friday Israeli diplomats demanded that the US withdraw a resolution to the UN Security Council endorsing the Annapolis summit on the grounds that the UN is insufficiently pro-Israeli to be involved in the peace process. The resolution was promptly withdrawn.
Since the invasion of Iraq, Israel's advocates around the world have relentlessly lobbied for a "pre-emptive" attack on Iran to stifle the country's alleged WMD program. Before such an attack could take place, America would wish to secure as much Arab support as possible by creating the impression of progress on a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This, regrettably, has become the primary function of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process".
Peace is the absence of violence. In the Middle East the term "peace process" has become a euphemism for normalising the violent dispossession of an occupied population.
This year the entire Arab world restated its offer to fully normalise relations with Israel in return for its withdrawal form the Occupied Territories. At a time when the West's standing in the Middle East is already compromised by its refusal to recognise the outcome of last year's Palestinian elections, the United States will gain nothing from fighting a war with Iran to uphold Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.
Michael Shaik is the public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Antony Loewenstein is journalist and co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.
Monday, 10 December 2007
British graffiti artist Banksy is trying to bring cheer and boost tourism in Bethlehem this Christmas with a series of subversive murals in the town revered as Jesus's birthplace.
The elusive street artist has painted six provocative new images - including a dove of peace strapped with a bulletproof vest and a young girl with pigtails frisking an Israeli soldier - on buildings around the West Bank town.
Banksy, who has achieved cult status for his edgy satirical images, has also converted a fast food shop opposite Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity into an art gallery showing work by artists from the Palestinian territories and abroad.
The artist's images have fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars in auctions and his customers include Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.
But Banksy keeps his real identity secret and almost never gives interviews.
Other artists exhibiting in Bethlehem say they hope the show will draw attention to life in the occupied West Bank and help forge links between local and international artists.
"It's important for people to come to Bethlehem and actually see what's happening rather than just doing the usual art collector thing and making a deal over the phone," British artist Peter Kennard told Reuters.
Bethlehem residents say military checkpoints and Israel's West Bank barrier, which cuts into Palestinian land, is stifling tourism and damaging Bethlehem's economy.
Banksy made headlines in 2005 by painting a series of playful images on the Palestinian side of the barrier, which Israel says it built to keep out suicide bombers.
The new images are more eye-catching.
Pilgrims arriving in Bethlehem for Christmas will see a huge mural of a dove on the side of a house riddled with bullet holes. The dove faces an Israeli military watchtower and is wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Around the corner, one of Banksy's trademark stencilled rats is pictured poised with a catapult aimed at another watchtower.
At the exhibition, he is showing a sculpture of a Christmas cherub with a rock piercing its stomach and blood frothing from the wound.
All pieces at the exhibition will be sold to the highest bidder and the proceeds donated to local charities.
Ironic or offensive?
The irony behind one mural of an Israeli soldier asking a donkey for his identity papers has been lost on some locals, who find it offensive.
But Salem Salman, who runs a souvenir shop opposite, thinks it is funny, and makes a neat political point.
"I like it," said Mr Salman, who sells Virgin Mary miniatures to pilgrims on daytrips from Jerusalem.
"It describes the situation here, the occupation. It shows how the Israeli soldiers treat us like animals."
Yesterday in parliament
Wednesday December 5, 2007
Notorious graffiti artist Banksy received the stamp of approval from the establishment after his latest work was praised by MPs. Banksy recently targeted the Holy Land with a series of stencilled works on the security wall in Bethlehem.
Veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman (Manchester Gorton) tabled a motion saying that his depictions were a far more accurate portrayal of life in the Holy Land than the images presented by the Israeli government.
The Bidu-Qatanna village bloc, in Ramallah District, suffers from a severe water shortage, as do many other areas in the Occupied Territories . Mekorot, the Israeli water company, supplies only one-half of the water consumed by the 50,000 villagers of this area. To meet the rest of their water needs, the villagers have to buy water from private suppliers at a much higher price and store it in unsanitary conditions. As a result, the residents are forced to consume poor-quality water and use it in small quantities. Meanwhile, the 3,000 settlers in the nearby settlement of Har Adar receive an unlimited amount of water, which comes from the same reservoir. (September 2007).
Manchester, England — When the political scandal that is dominating Britain's front pages broke last week, the man at the center of it, David Abrahams, was at a charity dinner in London for Israel's Technion Institute of Technology.
Abrahams, a British real estate magnate, is one of the leading British donors to Jewish and Israeli causes, but on Sunday, November 25, all eyes were on his donations to the Labor Party. Earlier that day, The Mail on Sunday first reported that Abrahams had secretly funneled political donations through much less wealthy intermediaries. Abrahams had turned a small-time construction worker named Ray Ruddick into the third-largest donor to Britain's governing party.
When asked about the scandal before the Technion event, Abrahams told the Forward that his method of donation was linked to being taught "that you do things on the quiet and don't make a song and dance of it," adding, "This is my own ethos, influenced by my Jewish background."
Abrahams's explanations have not placated critics, and the scandal has since gone on to consume much of the top ranks of the Labor Party. Last Monday, the party's general secretary, Peter Watt, resigned, admitting he knew about the arrangement.
For Britain's Jewish community, the scandal has implications that are similarly broad. Further reporting has indicated that one of the key players on the receiving end of Abrahams's donation was also a prominent Jewish philanthropist and communal leader.
"There is wide concern in this story, and clearly there is a potential for it to turn against us," Jon Benjamin, chief executive of Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Forward. "We have been there before." The Board of Deputies is an umbrella group for British Jewish organizations.
As Benjamin suggested, this is only the latest Labor Party scandal to involve major Jewish communal leaders. Last year, Tony Blair's envoy to the Middle East, Michael Levy, came under criminal investigation for allegedly trading peerages for donations and for breaching a law that says donations of more than 5,000 pounds (roughly $10,000) must be declared. The investigation ended in the summer, and Levy faced no charges.
The current scandal, nicknamed Donorgate, was kicked off by evidence that Abrahams had circumvented laws designed to ensure transparency in political funding. In addition to the 200,000 pounds ($400,000) that was given to the Labor Party by an employee at one of Abraham's construction firms, three more intermediaries were outed, including Abrahams's secretary. The donations added up to 600,000 pounds, slightly more than $1.2 million.
Labor Party officials initially denied knowing about Abrahams's unorthodox methods of giving, but evidence has since emerged that Abrahams was in close contact with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's election campaign adviser, Jon Mendelsohn, who also happens to be the ex-chairman of the lobby group Labor Friends of Israel.
Brown acknowledged that the donations broke transparency laws and promised that the party would pay them back, but Mendelsohn and Abrahams have been sniping at each other through the press.
The problem for British Jewry is that this scandal involves not merely characters who happen to be Jewish, but rather two men who are key communal players and strong advocates for Israel.
Mendelsohn, said to be one of the most connected power brokers in Parliament, is former head of the Union of Jewish Students and of the Holocaust Educational Trust, among other organizations.
Abrahams has been a vice chairman of the Jewish Labor Movement and a board member of the Trade Union Friends of Israel. He is a member of St. John's Wood Synagogue, a prosperous London congregation considered the jewel in the crown of the Orthodox Union's British equivalent, the United Synagogue.
Abrahams released a statement Sunday saying he was placed next to Mendelsohn at dinner in London on April 25.
"I told him," Abrahams said in his statement, "that I regularly donated to the party and I described how it was done through intermediaries for the purposes of anonymity, to which he replied, 'That sounds like a good idea.'"
Mendelsohn has hit back, releasing his own statement, saying: "This latest statement is fictional and completely untrue. I will be cooperating fully with the police in their investigation."
The tension between the two men has its roots in their time together in Labor Friends of Israel. When Mendelsohn became head of the organization in 2002, he reportedly threw Abrahams off the executive board.
Already, reporters have been looking at other Jewish roots of the current scandal. The Daily Telegraph reported fears that Abrahams "may himself have been a conduit for another mystery benefactor." The newspaper outlined some Israel connections and pointed out that last year Abrahams was photographed with the Israeli ambassador to London.
Within the Jewish community, Abrahams is known for his friendships with Israeli politicians. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during Olmert's recent visit to Britain.
Andrew Dismore, a Labor Member of Parliament who represents a heavily Jewish London constituency, told The Jewish Chronicle that people are "looking for links to Jewish interests and evidence of a Jewish conspiracy. The press are turning every stone to find one."
BBC - Profile: David Abrahams
Jewish Chronicle defends its coverage of David Abrahams
Haroon Siddique and agencies, Guardian Unlimited, Friday December 7, 2007
The editor of the Jewish Chronicle today insisted that his paper had run an accurate record of its interview with David Abrahams about his donations to the Labour party, after the property developer's spokesman claimed he had been "misrepresented". An interview in today's Jewish Chronicle quotes Abrahams as saying he did not want to be identified because he "didn't want Jewish money and the Labour party being put together".
He said the media had proved him to be right in trying to keep his name out of the limelight by printing allegations of a "Jewish conspiracy" in relation to the donations. The cash gifts were made through agents and not registered in Abrahams' name with the Electoral Commission, as required under party funding law.
David Abrahams hints at frequent meetings with PM
Nick Allen, Paul Stokes and Richard Edwards
The Telegraph, 30/11/2007
It emerged yesterday he is a provincial vice-chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, serves on the board of the Trade Union Friends of Israel, and was among communal leaders who met the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, during his recent visit to Britain.
He was also the northern convenor of the Labour Friends of Israel and, in 1991, was elected to the LFI national executive. It is likely that it was at LFI where he first met Jon Mendelsohn, Labour's chief fundraiser, who became its director in 2002.
The shadowy role of Labour Friends of Israel
Such lobbyists and their back-room influence should make us very uneasy
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 03 December 2007
I rang some of my Jewish friends who support LFI and are well acquainted with Abrahams and Mendelsohn. Two have known both professionally for some time and others have personal relationships with these men. I felt their unease as we talked about this latest unsavoury New Labour scandal. Some of these contacts confirm that Abrahams and Mendelsohn fell out at a dramatic LFI meeting when Abrahams wanted the group to make contact with a particular Palestinian organisation and Mendelsohn vehemently disagreed.
OK. Internal strife among campaigners is part of the deal, and Palestine, as we know, divides Jewish opinion the whole world over. Such things happen all the time when communal champions gather. It happens within Palestinian forums too. But LFI is not only an activist network. It enviably attracts the support of top parliamentarians, almost all prime ministers for a start. Its fringe meetings are packed because, on the platform, they can guarantee the biggest names from the political parties.
George Monbiot - The Guardian -Tuesday, November 20, 2007
George Bush and Gordon Brown are right: there should be no nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The risk of a nuclear conflagration could be greater there than anywhere else. Any nation developing them should expect a firm diplomatic response. So when will they impose sanctions on Israel?
Like them, I believe that Iran is trying to acquire the bomb. I also believe it should be discouraged, by a combination of economic pressure and bribery, from doing so (a military response would, of course, be disastrous). I believe that Bush and Brown - who maintain their nuclear arsenals in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty - are in no position to lecture anyone else. But if, as Bush claims, the proliferation of such weapons "would be a dangerous threat to world peace", why does neither man mention the fact that Israel, according to a secret briefing by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, possesses between 60 and 80 of them?
Officially, the Israeli government maintains a position of "nuclear ambiguity": neither confirming nor denying its possession of nuclear weapons. But everyone who has studied the issue knows that this is a formula with a simple purpose: to give the United States an excuse to keep breaking its own laws, which forbid it to grant aid to a country with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction.
The fiction of ambiguity is fiercely guarded. In 1986, when the nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu handed photographs of Israel's bomb factory to the Sunday Times, he was lured from Britain to Rome, drugged and kidnapped by Mossad agents, tried in secret, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He served 12 of them in solitary confinement and was banged up again - for six months - soon after he was released.
However, in December last year, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, accidentally let slip that Israel, like "America, France and Russia", had nuclear weapons. Opposition politicians were furious. They attacked Olmert for "a lack of caution bordering on irresponsibility". But US aid continues to flow without impediment.
As the fascinating papers released last year by the National Security Archive show, the US government was aware in 1968 that Israel was developing a nuclear device (what it didn't know is that the first one had already been built by then). The contrast to the efforts now being made to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb could scarcely be starker.
At first, US diplomats urged Washington to make its sale of 50 F4 Phantom jets conditional on Israel's abandonment of its nuclear programme. As a note sent from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to the secretary of state in October 1968 reveals, the order would make the US "the principal supplier of Israel's military needs" for the first time. In return, it should require "commitments that would make it more difficult for Israel to take the critical decision to go nuclear". Such pressure, the memo suggested, was urgently required: France had just delivered the first of a consignment of medium range missiles, and Israel intended to equip them with nuclear warheads.
Twenty days later, on November 4 1968, when the assistant defence secretary met Yitzhak Rabin (then the Israeli ambassador to Washington), Rabin "did not dispute in any way our information on Israel's nuclear or missile capability". He simply refused to discuss it. Four days after that, Rabin announced that the proposal was "completely unacceptable to us". On November 27, Lyndon Johnson's administration accepted Israel's assurance that "it will not be the first power in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons".
As the memos show, US officials knew that this assurance had been broken even before it was made. A record of a phone conversation between Henry Kissinger and another official in July 1969 reveals that Richard Nixon was "very leery of cutting off the Phantoms", despite Israel's blatant disregard of the agreement. The deal went ahead, and from then on the US administration sought to bamboozle its own officials in order to defend Israel's lie. In August 1969, US officials were sent to "inspect" Israel's Dimona nuclear plant. But a memo from the state department reveals that "the US government is not prepared to support a 'real' inspection effort in which the team members can feel authorised to ask directly pertinent questions and/or insist on being allowed to look at records, logs, materials and the like. The team has in many subtle ways been cautioned to avoid controversy, 'be gentlemen' and not take issue with the obvious will of the hosts".
Nixon refused to pass the minutes of the conversation he'd had with the Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, to the US ambassador to Israel, Wally Barbour. Meir and Nixon appear to have agreed that the Israeli programme could go ahead, as long as it was kept secret.
The US government has continued to protect it. Every six months, the intelligence agencies provide Congress with a report on technology acquired by foreign states that's "useful for the development or production of weapons of mass destruction". These reports discuss the programmes in India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and other nations, but not in Israel.
Whenever other states have tried to press Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the US and European governments have blocked them. Israel has also exempted itself from the biological and chemical weapons conventions.
By refusing to sign these treaties, Israel ensures it needs never be inspected. While the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspectors crawl round Iran's factories, put seals on its uranium tanks and blow the whistle when it fails to cooperate, they have no legal authority to inspect facilities in Israel. So when the Israeli government complains, as it did last week, that the head of the IAEA is "sticking his head in the sand over Iran's nuclear programme", you can only gape at its chutzpah. Israel is constantly racking up the pressure for action against Iran, aware that no powerful state will press for action against Israel.
Yes, Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad. The president is a Holocaust denier opposed to the existence of Israel. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran responded to Saddam Hussein's toxic bombardments with chemical weapons of its own. But Israel under Olmert is also a dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad. Two months ago it bombed a site in Syria (whose function is fiercely disputed). Last year, it launched a war of aggression against Lebanon. It remains in occupation of Palestinian lands. In February 2001, according to the BBC, it used chemical weapons in Gaza: 180 people were admitted to hospital with severe convulsions. Nuclear weapons in Israel's hands are surely just as dangerous as nuclear weapons in Iran's.
So when will our governments speak up? When will they acknowledge that there is already a nuclear power in the Middle East, and that it presents an existential threat to its neighbours? When will they admit that Iran is not starting a nuclear arms race, but joining one? When will they demand that the rules they impose on Iran should also apply to Israel?
Monday, 3 December 2007
One of many issues not on the agenda at Annapolis was the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
Millions of Palestinians live outside the territories since they were forced out in 1948.
Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr went to meet some of the refugees in the Shatila camp in Lebanon's capital Beirut.
November 27, 2007
One of the fundemental issues that Hamas believes will be sidelined at the Annapolis conference is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
As the conference begins Al Jazeera's David Chater looks at the forgotten refugees of Al-Jalazon Camp near Ramallah.
Statement, Various undersigned, 29 November 2007
For decades, efforts to bring about a two-state solution in historic Palestine have failed to provide justice and peace for the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish peoples, or to offer a genuine process leading towards them.
The two-state solution ignores the physical and political realities on the ground, and presumes a false parity in power and moral claims between a colonized and occupied people on the one hand and a colonizing state and military occupier on the other. It is predicated on the unjust premise that peace can be achieved by granting limited national rights to Palestinians living in the areas occupied in 1967, while denying the rights of Palestinians inside the 1948 borders and in the Diaspora. Thus, the two-state solution condemns Palestinian citizens of Israel to permanent second-class status within their homeland, in a racist state that denies their rights by enacting laws that privilege Jews constitutionally, legally, politically, socially and culturally. Moreover, the two-state solution denies Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right of return.
The two-state solution entrenches and formalizes a policy of unequal separation on a land that has become ever more integrated territorially and economically. All the international efforts to implement a two-state solution cannot conceal the fact that a Palestinian state is not viable, and that Palestinian and Israeli Jewish independence in separate states cannot resolve fundamental injustices, the acknowledgment and redress of which are at the core of any just solution.
In light of these stark realities, we affirm our commitment to a democratic solution that will offer a just, and thus enduring, peace in a single state based on the following principles:
The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national origin or current citizenship status;
Any system of government must be founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens. Power must be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all people in the diversity of their identities;
There must be just redress for the devastating effects of decades of Zionist colonization in the pre- and post-state period, including the abrogation of all laws, and ending all policies, practices and systems of military and civil control that oppress and discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion or national origin;
The recognition of the diverse character of the society, encompassing distinct religious, linguistic and cultural traditions, and national experiences;
The creation of a non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion;
The implementation of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 is a fundamental requirement for justice, and a benchmark of the respect for equality;
The creation of a transparent and nondiscriminatory immigration policy;
The recognition of the historic connections between the diverse communities inside the new, democratic state and their respective fellow communities outside;
In articulating the specific contours of such a solution, those who have been historically excluded from decision-making -- especially the Palestinian Diaspora and its refugees, and Palestinians inside Israel -- must play a central role;
The establishment of legal and institutional frameworks for justice and reconciliation.
The struggle for justice and liberation must be accompanied by a clear, compelling and moral vision of the destination -- a solution in which all people who share a belief in equality can see a future for themselves and others. We call for the widest possible discussion, research and action to advance a unitary, democratic solution and bring it to fruition.
Madrid and London, 2007
Carlos Prieto del Campo
The London One State Group
Open Bethlehem is an international campaign to save the city of Bethlehem.
Our endorsers include:
The Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Batarseh
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Cardinal McCarrick, Head of the Catholic Church in the US
President Jimmy Carter