Friday, 29 February 2008

Australian government continues its love affair with Israel

Sonja Karkar, Women for Palestine, 28 February 2008
Well, so much for our new government taking an even-handed position on Israel/Palestine. Before our politicians even warmed their seats in the new parliamentary sittings, the Australian Prime Minister announced that he will lead a parliamentary motion to honour Israel on 12 March acknowledging Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The Opposition Leader will second the motion. Then, celebrations will take place at a reception in the Mural Hall of Parliament House.

If Palestinians and their supporters had any hopes of a sympathetic hearing from the new Rudd government on the multiple human rights abuses being perpetrated by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, those hopes are now well and truly dashed.

This year marks 60 years of Palestinian dispossession and displacement and a savage, relentless occupation that is smothering the lifeblood of the Palestinians while Israel celebrates its ill-gotten gains. Palestinians are starving in Gaza. Palestinians are being sold out in the West Bank. Palestinians are dying. Their very existence is under threat. It is as simple and as awful as that.

Every Australian ought to be asking why our Prime Minister and the parliament feel so humiliatingly obligated to Israel that they must go to these lengths to show their friendship with a foreign country that consistently violates international law, United Nations resolutions and human rights conventions? If supporting the Palestinian cause is too much to ask, then refusing to single Israel out for any kind of recognition would at least be sensitive to the Palestinians living here. The Palestinians were never asked if they would agree to the foreign imperial division of their country. Most had their family homes and lands taken from them by Zionist forces ruthlessly pushing for a Greater Israel not intended by the 1947 United Nations Partition of Palestine. All suffer indescribable pain knowing that many of their people live a hellish existence under Israel’s occupation. It is on this human wreckage of Palestinian lives that Israel celebrates its independence, honoured so gratuitously by our government.

Such demonstrations of affection are not new. Our former Prime Minister John Howard had already fostered this extraordinary bond when he declared Australia as Israel’s closest friend. Many of his ministers followed suit and none was more accommodating than former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer when he said that he wore Israel as “a badge of honour” even as Israel’s war planes decimated the Lebanese landscape in 2006

True to form, Israel has rewarded its friends with facile honours. John Howard received two in one year. He was awarded the Jerusalem Prize from the World Zionist Organisation and he had a forest named after him in the Negev by the Jewish National Fund, which specialises in acquiring property for “the purpose of settling Jews on such lands.” These lands are the subject of legal proceedings brought by the now displaced indigenous Bedouins of the Negev who are being “moved out” for the exclusive benefit of Jews worldwide who want to live in Israel. Although these Bedouins live in what is now called Israel, 45 of their villages are not recognised by the Israeli government and have never received even the most basic amenities.

All this falls hard on the heels of the new Prime Minister’s moving apology to our own indigenous people and raises many questions about the sincerity of that momentous gesture. The similarity between the grievous losses suffered by both peoples – the Aborigines and the Palestinians – is not fanciful. Both peoples have been the hapless victims of the great white colonial enterprise and in both cases, it would have succeeded brilliantly, if these people would have just disappeared. But it is not so easy to kill off people and their dreams.

There are some 11 million Palestinians worldwide whose collective memory is seared with the narrative of their people who fled in terror during Israel’s 1948 purge of Palestine. About two-thirds of the Palestinian population never saw their homes again. Many still have the keys to their front doors, the deeds to their properties and lands, the photos of happier moments, and the endless familiar memories of smells and sounds unfaded by time. Around 7.2 million refugees are languishing today in refugee camps waiting to return home and to receive compensation for the calculated decimation of their society – one that had successfully developed culturally and economically over centuries, despite four hundred years under Ottoman rule.

Palestine was not a land without people as Israel’s mythmakers have tried to promote, particularly through the emotive Hollywood film “Exodus”. Palestine was, in fact, populated by successful citizen merchants and officials who added an economically vibrant dimension to the essentially peasant population who were actively engaged in working the land. Not only did Palestinians own land, but even where there was no legal title, the land was considered as belonging to the Palestinians through their history of land use and uninterrupted possession.

All the recent posturings by Israel’s supporters, to show Israel as a first world country in the forefront of science and technology and the cutting edge of the arts in order to gain legitimacy with Western countries, might resonate with our politicians, but it does not with people who know Israel’s atrocious human rights record. More and more people are beginning to wake up as intrepid journalists report a far from rosy picture in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet, these are still lone voices in our Australian media and not enough to reach the wider population. For decades, Israel has won the battle for the hearts and minds of people, despite the official reports of every human rights organisation – from Amnesty International to Israel’s B’Tselem – documenting in graphic detail Israel’s litany of human rights abuses. Most are gathering dust, but they provide more than enough evidence to challenge the appropriateness of aligning ourselves with Israel. And there are stirrings in our churches, universities, the legal fraternity, social justice groups and in the consciences of people generally, to reach out to the Palestinians.

In response, Israel has established the Peres Centre for Peace in Australia which is endeavouring to project an image of Israel as peacemaker. Rather than the usual rounds of dialogue and conflict resolution, it is being done on a populist level through sporting activities and culture. The Centre has already persuaded the Australian Football League (AFL) to include a friendly team of Israelis and Palestinians in their 18-team line up for this year’s AFL International Cup. In this way, Israel hopes to normalise its image with the Australian public, and through a handful of players, show its willingness to work towards peace - something it has been unwilling to do at the negotiating table.

However, Israeli tanks and soldiers are still shelling Gaza, and Israel is further tightening its siege on this tiny sliver of land with a population almost at bursting point The recent smashing of the wall with hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians swarming into Egypt to look for food and other basic necessities gave the world a glimpse into the misery of their lives. And, in the West Bank, Israel is increasing – not decreasing as it promised to do in the most recent peace negotiations - the number of checkpoints that totally suffocate the ordinary daily movement of another burgeoning population.

The surest sign though of Israel’s real intentions, is its blatant disregard of international law and all requests to stop its illegal settlement project that is literally turning thousands of Palestinians on to the streets – homeless and stateless and forced to rely on the world’s pitiful humanitarian aid that can never bring them economic or political independence.

As conditions deteriorate for the Palestinians, and the words “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” begin to enter mainstream consciousness after being given voice by former US President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Tutu, Israel is employing new public relations strategies to secure its legitimacy in the global community. In Australia, where sport dominates so much of our cultural life and social interaction, using sport as a vehicle for peace is a powerful image. This latest venture by The Peres Centre - named after one of the more notorious Zionist architects of Palestinian ethnic cleansing – is already bedazzling the AFL administrators with the idea of people crossing all boundaries “for the simple love of the game” - a notion that would never be entertained by a government at war with an enemy state and one that has been rejected when political pressure through sports’ boycotts is deemed necessary to stop countries behaving oppressively. Nowhere else was this so effective than in South Africa’s anti-Apartheid struggle.

There is no excuse for our leaders in politics and business to buy into this scam when they know that some 4 million Palestinians are being denied justice and basic human rights under Israel’s illegal military occupation, with no sign of reprieve. If it were not for the West’s craven politicians indecently rushing to join Israel’s circus, Israel would long ago have had to find a solution to give justice and dignity back to the Palestinians.

Regrettably, our leaders will continue to pursue their self-serving policies until ordinary, decent people force them to accept that our common humanity is worth more than the lucrative deals that bring such enormous profits to the multinational corporations, and from which many governments benefit. It is by no means impossible. Just as people brought down the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the people can bring down the ethnically divisive Zionist regime in Israel as well. This is why the word “apartheid” so rattles Israel’s supporters.

But, we have a long way to go, especially when governments insist on continuing their love affairs with Israel. In the meantime, al-Nakba – the Palestinian catastrophe of dispossession and displacement – is being accelerated. This crime against humanity is what needs to be acknowledged in our Parliament and not a motion honouring Israel. The Australian “fair go” that our Prime Minister so fondly embraces, has never sounded so hollow or sunk so low.

UN Humanitarian Monitor, January 2008

This monthly report by UN oPt agencies, monitors the humanitarian situation including access, in various sectors such as health, protection and education using both measurable humanitarian indicators and verified field observations.

For more information please contact Khulood Badawi 054 44 84 632

United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mac House
P.O.Box 38712
Tel:++ 972-2-5829962/5853

A joint UN Agencies Gaza Strip Humanitarian Fact Sheet, January 2008

Key Observations:

· In January, 80 Palestinians were killed in direct conflict. 82 Palestinians and 9 Israelis were injured

· 1.1 million Gazans receive food assistance from WFP and UNRWA- however, only 84,000 receive 100 per cent of their daily calorific needs. The rest rely on the commercial market to supplement their diet. Fresh and frozen meat, frozen fish and vegetables are not regularly available in shops.

· Ministry of Health (MoH) facilities: 80 of the 416 essential drugs (19.2%) and 186 of the 596 essential medical supplies (31.2%) were at zero availability in January due to the lack of financial resources. These drugs include first-line pediatric antibiotics and oncology drugs needed by 135 patients.

· 829 patients have been denied access to specialized treatment in Egyptian hospitals due to the closure of Rafah border crossing since 9 June

· Four sewage pumping stations in Gaza City and the north of Gaza flooded when pumps failed because of lack of fuel and/or spare parts.

· Similar problems prevented the treatment of sewage which was released into the sea at the rate of 40 million liters per day starting 18 January

For more information please contact Khulood Badawi 054 44 84 632

United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mac House
P.O.Box 38712
Tel:++ 972-2-5829962/5853

Six-month-old baby killed by Israeli attacks

February 28, 2008

Israel's prime minister is vowing to make Hamas pay what he calls a "heavy price" for Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.

More than 20 Palestinians have been killed in attacks since Wednesday, including Hamas fighters, civilians and children.

In Gaza City, one of those killed was a six month old baby.

Ashraf Amritti reports on a family grieving for the youngest casualty of Israeli airstrikes.


Israeli missiles silence baby's laughter in Gaza
Sami Abu Salem writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 28 February 2008
The innocent laughter of six-month-old baby Mohammed al-Bor'i stopped forever on Wednesday night when shrapnel from an Israeli missile and rubble struck the infant in the head, minutes after he enjoyed his last meal.

"The baby sucked milk, he was playing with his mother; I was reading a book when a rocket hit the Ministry of Interior," said Nasser al-Bor'i, the baby's father.

With the first missile, the electricity was cut and darkness filled the ill-fated house. Stones and pieces of the asbestos ceiling fell onto the head of the laughing child. The explosions continued as two other missiles hit the building.

"I looked for my baby in the darkness between the rubble; I did not know where he was. When he cried once I followed the direction of his voice," Nasser al-Bor'i said. "My hands touched my baby who was breathing hard; I felt warm liquid on my two hands and realized that he was wounded."

Al-Bor'i carried his son to the nearby Shifa Hospital as the blood streamed from his tiny head. In the hospital, al-Bor'i became hysterical when he realized that his only child had been killed.

Tears poured from al-Bor'i's eyes when he saw Mohammed's shoes. "After five years of treatment for sterility, [my wife and] I had a baby. I can't imagine that I lost him in a second."

Toys, a plastic bike, a crib and clothes were covered by the heap of rubble inside Mohammed's bedroom. Cutout magazine pictures of laughing babies decorated the walls, a sad reminder of the joy lost in the strike.

Mohammed's mother sufered shock and fell unconscious when she realized that the child had died. She laid on a hospital bed while her baby was in the morgue. On Thursday morning she cried when she returned home from the hospital to see Mohammed's empty crib.

Mohammed al-Bor'i was not the only child to be killed in the series of Israeli air strikes across the Gaza strip on Wednesday. In the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabalia, three other children, Anas al-Manama, 10, Bilal Hijazi, 11, and Mohammed Hamada, 11, were also killed in an Israeli air strike, Palestinian medical sources reported.

At least 19 Palestinian civilians and militants were killed and dozens wounded by the continuing Israeli air strikes on Gaza in the last two days.

Sami Abu Salem lives in Jabalia Refugee Camp and works as an English news and features writer at the Palestine News Agency (WAFA). He has also worked at the International Press Center of the Palestinian Authority State Information Service, and works as a freelance writer for local newspapers, focusing on literature and arts. This article was originally published by Ramattan News Agency and is republished with the author's permission.

Related Links
BY TOPIC: Israel declares Gaza "enemy entity" (19 September 2007)

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The False Rhetoric of the "True Israelis" Campaign and Counter-Campaign

Uri Ya’acobi-Keller - Alternative Information Center (AIC) - Sunday, 24 February 2008
Several months ago, the Israeli media evoked yet another one of its mass panic attacks when publishing “worrying statistics” regarding the high number of “draft-dodgers” — Israelis who evade military service in various ways. A few weeks later I, as a conscientious objector who had been to prison to avoid military service, was invited to the panel of the popular political debate show “Politika” to discuss this. It was clear to me that I was invited simply in order to fill the role of “bad boy” — to say a few unconventional words and then be the target for the attacks of the rest of the panel. I was not wrong in my prediction. The show’s panel, clearly set up in accordance with the Israeli political mainstream, was full of old, male, retired military officers who were simply too detached from the Israeli reality to relate to what I was trying to say in the very little time I was given: that it is a disgrace to expect the young to die for a state that had long ago ceased to give them anything in return. States, I was trying to tell them, are there to serve the people and not vice versa. That was something they dismissed altogether, and my words had no impact; their discussion then focused on what is the best way to force people to serve the state.

Those retired officers were representatives of the generation and rhetoric that still dominate the Israeli political scene, elevating the values of military service and sacrifice for the state. Although they still dominate, they have lost contact with the current Israeli reality. These retired officers could not perceive that times have changed, that people are not going to be content with dying in exchange for the mumbling of a few nationalistic slogans.

That mindset has more recently appeared with the “A True Israeli Doesn’t Evade the Draft” posters that have popped up on buses all around Israel. This campaign for shaming draft-dodgers was initiated by a number of public relations offices, without a doubt determined to get more publicity for themselves by doing something “right” and patriotic. With the CEOs and directors of many companies in Israel coming directly from the Israeli military’s high officer roster, it is even likely they were successful in that. However, this campaign also has the smell of wealthy, detached people who have little to do with what’s happening on the ground and have no understanding of the large part of the public who evade the military draft. If anything, this campaign is a pathetic attempt to win an already lost battle. But then again, its real goal is probably not to influence the public, but gain prestige for a few PR offices.

Accompanying the posters, an “A True Israeli Doesn’t Evade the Draft” video clip has also been released, showing a theoretically typical Israeli situation (although it takes place in India) in which the draft-dodger tries to hide his “problematic” past and is then shamed when discovered.

This campaign was so disconnected from the Israeli reality that it actually succeeded in angering a few people; enough angry people to produce a counter video clip.

The counter clip, “A True Israeli Doesn't Evade the Truth,” describes common reasons for which people choose to evade the draft: “What goes on in Hebron,” the soldiers’ neglect by the military and the state’s neglect of its citizenry. Of these, only the first has the slightest hint that wanting or not wanting to serve in the military may have anything to do with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. This attempt by the clip’s makers to dodge the sensitive issue of the occupation is regrettable, but is not its biggest problem.

The name of the clip and its slogan, “A True Israeli Doesn’t Evade the Truth,” is a variation on the “A True Israeli Doesn’t Evade the Draft” campaign. Thus, it still refers potential draft dodgers to what, supposedly, is most important to them, their nationality. Being a “true Israeli,” according to this, is the fundamental core of any good citizen’s aspirations. Both video clips use the same logic and the same underlying assumption: You need to be a “True Israeli.”

But “Israeli” is not a definition of which to be proud. “Israeli” is a definition of someone’s contingent place of birth, place of residence or citizenship, and very commonly all three. It is merely a geographical reference point, any reference to it as something that has importance above that stinks of nationalistic rhetoric. From the rightwing mainstream of Israel, which clings to the glorious past, when it sometimes seems as if everyone queued enthusiastically for the chance to die for the glory of Israel and the Jewish state, this is expected. However, coming from left-leaning, self proclaimed “civil society” activists, this is disappointing, even if it is only to mimic the rival campaign’s words.

In the end, “True Israelis” are indeed the patriotic, old-style-pioneer-like creatures who would never even consider evading the draft. “True Israelis” are people willing to conquer and kill for this very definition, for the land, name, flag and prestige of their “True Israel.” I, for one, have no wish to be a “True Israeli.”


Uri Ya’acobi-Keller is a conscientious objector and assistant researcher in the “Economy of the Occupation” project of the Alternative Information Center.


Another counter-clip:
True Israelis Do Not Ask Questions - re: shitty propaganda
True Israelis Do Not Ask Questions about occupation, about sexism, about militarism, about nationalism, about racism, about context, about history - response to shitty propaganda

West Bank farms fall to Israeli bulldozers

The Age, February 23, 2008
The farmers of Beit Ula spent two years preparing their new groves of fruit, nut and olive trees, clearing rocks, building stone terraces and digging deep cisterns to catch the scarce rain.

The Israeli army destroyed it all in less than a day.

"We heard they were here at 6.30 in the morning, when it was still dark," said Sami al-Adam, one of eight farmers whose terraces were bulldozed on January 15.

"There must have been dozens of soldiers with jeep and bulldozers, and they brought a lot of Filipino workers, or maybe they were Thai, who pulled up the trees and cut them and buried them so we wouldn't be able to plant them again."

When the soldiers and police left the site, in the low hills on the West Bank's border with Israel, 6.4 hectares of trees and terraces had been uprooted and bulldozed. The concrete cisterns were broken open and choked with rubble. Two years' work and an investment of more than 100,000 euros ($160,000) had gone to waste.

The Israeli military department that controls the occupied West Bank, confusingly called "the Civil Administration", said it demolished the terraces because they were built illegally on state land belonging to Israel.

This came as a surprise to the West Bank farmers, who brandish documents with Palestinian, Israeli and even Turkish stamps that, they say, prove their title to the land. It came as an even bigger surprise to the European Union, which provided 64,000 euros to the project as part of a program to improve "food security" for Palestinians.

European Commission spokeswoman Alex de Mauny said: "Obviously it's a disaster in human terms — these are not rich people, they are living very much on the margins — but there's the broader issue of why it happened, and how we can stop it from happening again."

A statement from the Civil Administration maintained, contrary to the EU's statement, that the Europeans had not funded the project.

According to a 2002 report by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 40% of the West Bank has been seized by Israeli military tribunals, which declare it to be "state land", re-allocating much of it to Jewish settlements.

In the case of Beit Ula, the Civil Administration says the farmers were officially informed that they were building illegally on state land in 2006 and given the statutory 45 days to appeal before the demolition notice became final.

One of the farmers, Mahmoud al-Adam, shows visitors a military form that he found under a stone on his plot in June 2006, telling him he would be evicted from 2.5 hectares of state land that he was illegally building on, and that he would be charged the demolition cost.

Such forms are the Israeli army's standard notification for house demolitions or land seizures. But there was apparently no warning to the other seven farmers, and 6.4 hectares of terrace and trees were destroyed, not 2.5 hectares.

The Civil Administration has yet to respond to the claim that most of the farmers received no legal warning or due process.

A spokesman said: "It's a routine action. It's nothing special. We do these activities every day in Judea and Samaria," using the biblical Jewish terms for the West Bank.

"We are very strict about these things. If you let one person do it unauthorised, all the others will come after him."

According to Civil Administration figures, in the seven years to September 2007 nearly 5000 demolition orders were issued against unauthorised Palestinian houses, buildings or infrastructure in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank that officially remains under full Israeli rule. Of these, 1663 were executed, or roughly a third.

In the same period, 2900 demolition orders were issued against illegal building by Jewish settlers in the area. Only 7%, or 199, were carried out.

And while the Civil Administration issued permits for 18,472 housing units for Jews in those seven years, the indigenous Palestinians were granted only 91 building permits. According to figures from the Israeli group Peace Now, 94% of the Palestinian applications were rejected, including requests to build or extend houses as well as repair roads, water pipes, wells and other infrastructure.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Hagit Ofran, a settlement monitor with Peace Now. "Settler lands are being supported by government funds and planners and so on, but often the settlers also build without permits and on state land, and when they do, nothing happens to them … But law enforcement against the Palestinians is very efficient."

The Civil Administration accuses Peace Now of distorting the truth and said the reason so few permits were granted to the 70,000 Palestinians in Area C, and so many demolitions were carried out, was that most did not apply for permits until their projects had already been condemned by military inspectors and their applications must therefore be refused.

"We assume that if they came and asked, we'd give them thousands of permits," a spokesman said.

This week also brought news of the establishment of two more Jewish settlements in the West Bank — one in the Jordan Valley and another a "new neighbourhood" of Eli, an older Jewish settlement near Nablus.

These are illegal under Israeli law and breach Israel's own loose interpretation of its promise to freeze settlements under the 2003 Road Map, and last year's Annapolis process. Yet the new settlements are guarded by the Israel Defence Forces and have already been hooked up to state water, power and road networks.

The Civil Administration told journalists any attempt to evict the settlers or demolish their structures would depend on the political leadership and on Israel's High Court.

Friday, 1 February 2008

OCHA Special Focus: Tightening Control On Economic Movement | January 2008

The West Bank has limited natural resources and its economy depends on trade and remittances from jobs in Israel.

Since the majority of the West Bank's trade is with Israel, the current closure regime is forcing many West Bankers into reliance on aid and worsening the already deteriorating socio-economic conditions.

Special Focus

For more information please contact Khulood Badawi 0544 484 632

United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mac House
P.O.Box 38712
Tel:++ 972-2-5829962/5853

Gaza Humanitarian Situation Report | 29 January 2008

Despite access to Egypt, 1.5 million Gazans still rely on Israel for all their supplies.

Since January 18, a total of 32 truckloads of goods have entered the Gaza Strip from Israel.

Israel is allowing a restricted amount of fuel to enter Gaza.

Due to limited reserves of fuel, the Gaza power plant has reduced its power output to 45 megawatts, causing power cuts of up to eight hours per day everywhere in Gaza except Rafah.

Situation reports

For more information please contact Khulood Badawi 054 44 84 632

United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Mac House
P.O.Box 38712
Tel:++ 972-2-5829962/5853