Sunday, 20 April 2008

Israel to build 100 settlement homes, including in West Bank

Israel to build 100 settlement homes, including in West Bank
Laurie Copans in Jerusalem, Associated Press, 18 April 2008

The Israeli government revealed plans Friday to build 100 homes in two Jewish settlements — one of them deep in the West Bank — in violation of its pledge to freeze settlement expansion.

Palestinian officials said the new construction in the settlements of Ariel and Elkana is undermining U.S.-backed efforts to reach a peace deal by the end of 2008.

Since a U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference in November, Israel has announced several new building projects in areas of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians for their future state. However, Friday's announcement marked the first time the Israeli government approved construction deep in the West Bank.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new construction apparently is part of ongoing negotiations between the Israeli government and Jewish settler leaders. Approval for the 100 homes came in return for the recent voluntary evacuation of two small unauthorized settlement outposts, the official said.

The construction bids were published in an advertisement by the Israeli Housing Ministry in the daily Haaretz. Housing Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

"This undermines our efforts to make 2008 the year of peace," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Under a U.S.-backed peace plan, Israel is required to dismantle dozens of illegal outposts and halt construction in established settlements. Under the same plan, the Palestinians are required to rein in and disarm militants.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper in an interview published Friday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is aware of Israel's position that it will continue to build in settlement blocs. Several of those blocs are close to Israel, but Ariel and Elkana are deep inside the West Bank.

Recent Israeli construction in Jerusalem prompted Abbas to briefly call off the peace talks. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as a future capital but Israel annexed the sector of the city to its capital after capturing it in 1967.

Also Friday, Israel sealed the West Bank and Gaza for the duration of the weeklong Jewish Passover holiday, which begins at sundown Saturday. Holiday closures are routine, and bar most Palestinians from entering Israel.

In a West Bank raid, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian militant leader, Hani al-Kabi, in the Balata refugee camp next to the city of Nablus.

Al-Kabi had fled a Palestinian jail a month ago, violating the conditions of a deal with Israel that would have granted him amnesty. An Islamic Jihad militant was seriously wounded in the same raid, medics said.

The Palestinian Authority wants Israel to halt such raids in areas where Palestinian security forces are seeking to establish control, particularly around Nablus. The Israeli military says Palestinian forces are not doing enough to rein in militants.

Still, Palestinian security forces will be able to reopen 20 police stations in rural areas of the West Bank for the first time in eight years of fighting. About 500 Palestinian police officers will deploy in West Bank villages, said Peter Lerner, an Israeli military official. Overall security control in these areas will remain in Israeli hands, but Palestinians will have presence to enforce the law.

Also Friday, a Reuters photographer was injured in the leg by a rubber-coated steel pellet fired by Israeli troops trying to break up a weekly protest against the construction of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank, witnesses said. The Israeli military had no comment.

On Wednesday, a cameraman with Reuters was among 21 Palestinians killed in the bloodiest day in Gaza in more than a month.

Egyptian efforts to mediate a Gaza cease-fire and a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas are bogged down.

A prominent Hamas official said Friday that Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants two years ago, will not be released until hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are freed.

"Gilad will not see the light, will not see his mother, will not see his father, God willing, as long as our heroic prisoners do not see their families, in their houses," Mushir al-Masri said in a speech.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai said he wants to meet with Hamas to try to win Shalit's release and has asked former President Jimmy Carter to help arrange an encounter.

Yishai was the only Israeli Cabinet minister to meet Carter when he visited Israel and the Palestinians territories earlier this week. He said Friday if he does meet with Hamas, he would not discuss Israel-Gaza fighting to avoid violating the government ban on negotiating with the militants.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Israel plans 100 houses in West Bank settlements

Israel plans 100 houses in West Bank settlements
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, The Guardian, Friday April 18 2008

Israel's housing ministry announced plans today to build 100 new homes in two settlements in the occupied West Bank, drawing swift criticism from Palestinian officials.

In an advertisement in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the ministry invited construction companies to bid for the rights to build 48 homes in Ariel, a major settlement, and 52 homes in a smaller settlement called Elkana.

It was the first time since peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians began last November that the Israeli government had announced construction in settlements so deep inside the West Bank.

The talks are based on the US road map to peace, which requires Israel to freeze all settlement activity and to withdraw from some of its furthest outposts in the West Bank.

However, in a wide-ranging interview with an Israeli newspaper today, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, repeated his plans to continue construction within the major settlement blocs, despite the on-going talks.

Previous construction tenders have been issued for homes in settlements in east Jerusalem since the peace talks started.

More than 400,000 people live in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which most of the international community regards as illegal.

"We condemn these plans and resolutions, which really undermine the peace process," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. He said the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, would raise the settlement expansion in talks with the US president, George Bush, in Washington next week.

In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Olmert insisted the peace talks were "serious negotiations" but he also defended the construction plans.

"It was clear from day one, both to Abu Mazen and to Bush and Rice, that in the population centres, the areas mentioned by Bush in his letter from April 2004, construction would continue," Olmert told the paper. "I didn't do this because someone applied pressure. I say today too: Beitar will be built, the Etzion bloc will be built, they will build in Pisgat Ze'ev and in the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. It is completely clear that in any future arrangement, these areas will remain in Israel's hands."

Beitar Illit and the Etzion bloc are major settlements south of Jerusalem and Pisgat Ze'ev is a settlement in north-east Jerusalem. The letter written by Bush to Israel's then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has proved controversial because in it the US president suggested that in a future agreement Israel could hold onto some unnamed major settlements in the West Bank even though this is bitterly disputed by the Palestinians.

Pro-Israel lobby appoints first campus watchdog

Pro-Israel lobby appoints first campus watchdog
Brendan O'Keefe, The Australian, April 16, 2008

Joel Burnie, 23, the first campus co-ordinator to promote Israel and Jewish culture, doubts there is systematic academic bias against Israel.

"I'd like to do some proper investigation to see if there is a systemic problem but I do not believe there is," said Mr Burnie, a Monash University arts-law student. "(But) we need to make sure that all academic opinions are being expressed equally on campus."

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council has appointed him inaugural (part-time) student program co-ordinator for universities across the country. It's a joint venture with the US campus movement StandWithUs, which advertises itself as "the next generation of Israel advocacy".

Australian academe was a "rogues' gallery of anti-Zionists", Ted Lapkin, former AIJAC director of policy analysis, wrote in Quadrant magazine in 2006.

Asked if his role had been created to counter anti-Israel bias or anti-Semitic activity, Mr Burnie said: "This position has not been created out of an emergent necessity." Rather, he would be "an on-campus advocate for Israel and Jewish culture". "The role involves promotion of Israeli culture and promotion of Israeli speakers that may come out to Australia. It will give students access to these people so they can listen and be educated."

AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein said in a statement that the Burnie appointment represented a "serious effort to increase understanding about the Middle East at Australian universities".

"It demonstrates that AIJAC and SWU appreciate how important campuses are in shaping public opinion," he said.

SWU president Esther Renzer welcomed Mr Burnie's appointment on, saying: "When Jewish and non-Jewish students are presented with a comprehensive and balanced picture of Israel, they understand that what they might read in the newspapers, or hear on radio, or see on television, is not always true or fair."

Last year Mr Burnie was national president of the Australian Union of Jewish Students.

He said would continue the inter-faith work he did through that organisation, talking with Muslim and Christian student groups. In his five years on three campuses, he had found relations between students to be "quite healthy".

"People can interact socially; I don't think there's too much of a problem," he said.

"But we need to help students become better informed about what is a complicated situation (in the Middle East)."

Israeli leaders shun Carter

Israeli leaders shun Carter
Ed O'Loughlin, The Age, 15 April 2008

Shunned by Israeli political leaders, former US president Jimmy Carter says he will go ahead with plans to meet the leader of Hamas to promote peace in the Middle East.

Mr Carter was speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday after Israel's four most senior politicians — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu — declined to meet him. Mr Carter has also been criticised by the US State Department and all three US presidential candidates.

According to Israeli media, the leaders are angered by Mr Carter's decision to meet exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus this week. Israelis were also offended by Mr Carter's 2006 book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, in which he compared Israel's military occupation and colonisation of seized Arab territories with the policies of apartheid South Africa.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who met Mr Carter, reportedly accused him of "causing significant damage to Israel and the peace process in recent years".

In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mr Carter said he believed that for peace talks to work all parties had to be engaged.

"Hamas' position is that they are perfectly willing for (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) to represent them in all direct negotiations with the Israelis, and they also maintain that they will accept any agreement that he brokers with Israelis provided it will be submitted to the Palestinians in a referendum. Hamas is also willing to accept a mutual ceasefire with Israel," Mr Carter said.

"I do not agree with … the unwillingness to talk to someone who disagrees with you unless he agrees with all your prerequisites."

■Representatives of Lebanon and Iran have pulled out of a conference in Qatar due to Ms Livni's attendance. She is to give a speech calling for Arab support for Mr Abbas against Hamas and unity against Iran.

Reuters cameraman talks to Al Jazeera

April 17, 2008
Fadl Shanaa, who was killed by an Israeli missile on April 16, spoke to Al Jazeera in February.

He was interviewed as part of a series called 'Shoot the Messenger' that focuses on the increased dangers that journalists are facing in covering the story. He had survived an Israeli air raid in 2006.

Palestinians killed in Israeli raids into Gaza

April 16, 2008
More than 20 Palestinians have died in the Gaza Strip as Israel unleashed military strikes and troops moved into the centre of the territory.

A journalist was also killed in the attacks.

It makes 16 April one of the deadliest days in Gaza for weeks.

But army leaders say the operations were routine and aimed against fighters suspected of launching rockets into southern Israel.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from Jerusalem.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

VIDEO: Frontline USA - Lobbying for Israel

April 05, 2008

Avi Lewis examines the powerful Israeli lobby and its affects on Capitol Hill.

Part 1

Part 2

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A Settler Attack at Izhar (Burin) Checkpoint

31st March, 2008
A settler tried to run over and then attacked human rights activist at the Izhar (Burin) checkpoint. The settler gave orders to the soldiers at the checkpoint and ignored a police officer who tried to call him in for questioning. Despite witnessing the entire incidence, the soldiers who were present chose not to intervene.

Filmed by Merav Amir, Machsom Watch

Settlers attack Palestinians and Israelis at Kfar Qadum

2nd April, 2008

Settlers attack Palestinians and Israeli supporters in Kfar Qaddum. The attack took place at a Palestinian house on land which is recognized as private Palestinian land even by the Israeli army. The settlers have invaded the house and renamed the place Shvut Ami. After settlers were evacuated by the army the Palestinian owners of the
land along with Israeli supporters attempted to take hold of the house. In no time, dozens of settlers arrived and soon began attacking the Palestinians and their supporters.

After making a token effort to prevent the settlers from returning to the house the border police stood by and watched as the attacks continued. Only hours earlier the border police had about 100 troops available but when it was time to protect Palestinians from settler attack less than 10 soldiers were assigned to the place. Those present did not even make a serious attempt to carry out the stated goal of evacuating the settlers from the house.