Israel releases flotilla prisoners

This video from Israel is called Tel Aviv peace Demonstration 5th june 2010 (flotilla event).

From DPA news agency:

Israel to release activists detained after flotilla raid

Tue, 01 Jun 2010 20:40:57 GMT

Tel Aviv – Israel decided late Tuesday to release an estimated 600 activists detained in a naval commando raid on a six-ship flotilla bearing aid to the Gaza Strip.

The process was to start at night and would be completed in 48 hours, a government spokesman said following a meeting of cabinet ministers.

Israel earlier Tuesday deported about 50 pro-Palestinian activists, who were taken to Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv. Another 610 who refused to identify themselves, were being held in a prison in southern Israel.

The identities and nationalities of the nine people killed when Israeli soldiers battled it out with activists on board the largest ship in the flotilla early Monday, remained undisclosed.

The assault on the flotilla unleased a wave of condemnation against Israel, but on Tuesday Israeli leaders remained unapologetic and defiant.

This being “unapologetic and defiant” showed itself in blaming the unarmed activists on the ships, rather than the heavily armed Israeli commandos, for the bloodshed. The Israeli government and its supporters have repeated again and again that supposedly, the people on the ships were not really peace activists and tried to murder the Israeli soldiers. If you really believe that as a government, then it might be expected that you put the murder suspects on trial.

Why, then, set people whom you accuse of murder free without any charges? Because people in Israel are “Gandhi like” and forgive even their supposedly worst enemies? Well, people like that exist, also in Israel, but not in the present Rightist Israeli government coalition.

Very much more likely is that releasing the prisoners proves that the Rightist Netanyahu coalition in Israel does not believe its own propaganda about supposedly violent flotilla people.

Israeli forces detain journalists aboard humanitarian flotilla: here.

US Rep. Barney Frank: As a Jew I’m ashamed over treatment of Palestinians: here.

Fistfights broke out yesterday in the Israeli parliament (Knesset), when MK Hanin Zoabi, an Arab woman who had been on the aid flotilla to Gaza tried to speak: here.

From Al Jazeera:

Turkey holds activists’ funerals

Turkish forensic experts have confirmed that the nine activists killed during the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid flotilla were shot with guns.

Eight were Turks and one a US national of Turkish origin, the Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday as funerals got under way in Istanbul.

The remaining activists, including some who were injured in the Israeli raid, landed in the Turkish city early on Thursday.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who reported from the ship before the raid, was also sent to Turkey after being released by the Israelis.

He said that he witnessed some of the killings, and confirmed that at least “one person was shot through the top of the head from [the helicopter] above.”

Our correspondent was on the top deck when the ship was attacked and said that within a few minutes of seeing the Israeli helicopters, there were shots being fired from above.

Activists killed

Turkish victims

Ibrahim Bilgen
Ali Haydar Bengi
Cevdet Kiliçlar
Çetin Topçuoglu
Necdet Yildirim
Fahri Yaldiz
Cengiz Songür
Cengiz Akyüz

US victim

Furkan Dogan

“The first shots [coming from Israeli boats at sea] were tear gas, sounds grenades and rubber coated steel bullets. Live shots came five minutes after that. There was definitely live fire from the air and from the sea as well.”

He confirmed that some passengers took apart some of the ship’s railing bars to defend themselves as they saw the Israeli soldiers approaching.

“After the shooting and the first deaths, people put up white flags and signs in English and Hebrew. An Israeli [on the ship] asked the soldiers to take away the injured, but they did not and the injured died on the ship.”

Under Scrutiny, IDF Retracts Claims About Flotilla’s Al Qaeda Links: here.

From British daily The Morning Star:

On Wednesday Tel Aviv claimed that it had released all the activists who travelled aboard the six-ship flotilla.

But four Israeli Arab human rights workers who had been on the vessels were still in an Israeli prison yesterday.

Free Gaza Movement (FGM) board director Lubna Masarwa, Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, International Advocacy Programme for the Arab Association for Human Rights director Mohammed Zeidan and Sheik Hamed abu Dabis, the head of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, will be held until at least June 8.

According to FGM, the four activists face “multiple serious criminal offences for their participation in a peaceful voyage to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.”

Until Palestine has its own ‘legitimized’ state within its internationally recognized borders, the Shadow will remain; by Margaret Atwood: here.

An ex-Israeli navy soldier on the flotilla: here.

THE Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said on Thursday 3 June that there were still missing people from the convoy that was detained by Israel when carrying aid to Gaza: here.

The attack by the Israeli military in general received the support of the majority of the Israeli public. This is not a shock because also the Gaza War (2009) and the Lebanon War (2006) received similar backing. However the difference is that the minority opposed to the attack on the Flotilla is much larger and, even better far more politically active in opposing the government: here.

Israel journalist union backs international calls for Gaza flotilla inquiry: here.

Spat or not, Turkey still using Israeli tech in attacks on Kurdish PKK rebels: here.

Jerusalem’s Gay Pride marches in face of religious extremists: here.

Christians United for Israel Linked with “Demon-Blasting” Church: here.

18 thoughts on “Israel releases flotilla prisoners

  1. Press Release
    June 3, 2010

    Weekend demonstrations will call for an international investigation, for letting the “Rachel Corrie” through to Gaza and a general lifting of the siege – as well as calling for a complete end to the 43 years’ old occupation.

    “The government is drowning us all – we must strive for peace!”

    For several weeks the peace movement in Israel has been organizing to mark June 5, the 43rd anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Demonstrations and rallies were planned – some in cooperation with Palestinian groups – calling for an end to the occupation.

    Following the lethal takeover of the Gaza relief flotilla, the focus changed. As now planned, a central role will be given to the call for an international investigation of the killings on the sea – as the organizers place no confidence in the ability of Israel’s military authorities to look into their own deeds and possible misdeeds. The demonstrators will also call upon the government to allow the Irish aid ship “Rachel Corrie”, now en route on the Mediterranean, to reach the port of Gaza, and in general to lift the siege of Gaza. As long as the Gaza Strip is under siege, it still remains under a de-facto Israeli occupation, and the naval commando attack on the Turkish aid ship in effect expanded the occupation from Gaza deep into sea.

    The Gush Shalom movement cooperates with the rest of the Israeli peace camp in organizing and mobilizing supporters for these demonstrations.

    Contact: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson 03-5565804 or 045-2340749


    1) On Friday, June 4, at 11:00 am, a convoy of Israeli activists will depart from Makabim Junction and move along Highway 443 which bisects the West Bank. South of the highway, they will join with Palestinians for a march and a rally at the village of New Beit Nuba (adjacent to Beit Lycia) at 12:30. Expected speakers include former MK Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, MK Haneen Zoubi who participated in the Gaza flotilla rally, Mustafa Barghouti, Maher Re’naem, Minister for the Fence in the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Legislature Members Kaes Abdul Karim (Abu Leyla) and Mahmoud Al – ‘Alul. In addition to the general issues of the occupation and the siege on Gaza, the action will take up the issue of Highway 443, from which Palestinian traffic is in practice still excluded despite the Supreme Court;s ruling, as well as of the villages of Yalu, Emaus and Beit Nuba in the Latrun enclave, which were destroyed by Israel immediately after the conquest in 1967. Many of their displaced inhabitants will participate in the demonstration

    Contact: Jonathan 054-6327736; Yusef (Arabic, English) 059-8464054, 054-5571328, Eilat Maoz (Hebrew, English) 050-8575729

    2) March and rally in Tel Aviv, Saturday June 5. The march will leave at 19:00 from the Rabin Square (corner of Frishman) and culminate with a rally at the Museum Plaza on 20:00. This is intended as a mass demonstration protesting the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman Government’s dangerous escalation of regional violence, as well as marking 43 years of occupation. The main slogan would be “The Government is drowning all of us – we must strive for peace.” The rally’s manifesto read: “It’s time to return to sanity and save our society from ruin. Without a solution of two states for two peoples and two capitals in Jerusalem, the whole region’s future is in doubt.” The organizations co-sponsoring the demonstration include Gush Shalom,
    the Hadash Communists, Combatants for Peace, Meretz, Physicians for Human Rights, Peace Now and Banki.

    Contact: Yoni 054-7276587

    3) A special demonstration of the Women in Black at Paris Square in central Jerusalem, Friday June 4 at 13:00. The Women in Black movement is holding a regular weekly vigil at this square, since the time of the first Intifada, call for an end to the occupation. On the occupation anniversary, the movement invites other peace groups throughout the country – women and men, Jews and Arabs – to join in.

    Contact: Gila Svirsky 02-6725293 / 0523-334986


  2. From: Edith Lutz
    Date: Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 8:05 AM

    Press Release

    Jewish Boat to Gaza is sailing soon

    In a harbour in the Mediterranean a small vessel is waiting for a special mission. She will be sailing to Gaza during the second half of July. In order to avoid sabotage, the exact date and name of the port of departure will be announced only shortly before her launch.

    “Our purpose is to call an end to the siege of Gaza, to this illegal collective punishment of the whole civilian population. Our boat is small, so our donations can only be symbolic: we are taking school bags, filled with donations from German school children, musical instruments and art materials“, says Kate Leiterer, one of the organizers. „For the medical services we are taking essential medicines and small medical equipment, and for the fishermen we are taking nets and tackle. We are liaising with the medical, educational and mental health services in Gaza.“

    ”In attacking the Freedom Flotilla, Israel has once again demonstrated to the world a heinous brutality. But I know that there are very many Israelis who compassionately and bravely campaign for a just peace. With broadcasting journalists from mainstream television programmes accompanying our boat, Israel will have a great chance to show the world that there is another way, a way of courage rather than fear, a way of hope rather than hate”, says Edith Lutz, organizer and passenger on the ”Jewish boat”.

    The ”Jüdische Stimme” (‚Jewish Voice’ for a Just Peace in the Near East), along with her friends of EJJP (European Jews for a Just Peace in the Near East) and Jews for Justice For Palestinians (UK) are sending a call to the leaders of the world: help Israel find her way back to reason, to a sense of humanity and a life without fear. ”Jewish Voice” expects the political leaders of Israel and the world to guarantee a safe passage for the small vessel to Gaza, thus helping to form a bridge towards peace.

    Edith Lutz, EJJP-Germany +15204519740
    Kate Katzenstein-Leiterer, EJJP- Germany +1629660472472
    Glyn Secker, Jews for Justice For Palestinians (UK) +7917098599


  3. “The Government Is Drowning Us All”

    Uri Avnery attacked by rightist thugs

    A disaster was averted yesterday (June 5) at Tel-Aviv’s Museum Square, when rightists threw a smoke grenade into the middle of the protest rally, obviously hoping for a panic to break out and cause the protesters to trample on each other. But the demonstrators remained calm, nobody started to run and just a small space in the middle of the crowd remained empty. The speaker did not stop talking even when the cloud of smoke reached the stage. The audience included many children.

    Half an hour later, a dozen rightist thugs attacked Gush Shalom’s 86 year old Uri Avnery, when he was on his way from the rally in the company of his wife, Rachel, Adam Keller and his wife Beate Siversmidt. Avnery had just entered a taxi, when a dozen rightist thugs attacked him and tried to drag him out of the car. At the critical moment, the police arrived and made it possible for the car to leave. Gush spokesman Adam Keller said: “These cowards did not dare to attack us when we were many, but they were heroes when they caught Avnery alone.”

    The incident took place when the more than 10 thousand demonstrators were dispersing, after marching through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest against the attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

    Not only was this one of the largest peace demonstrations for a long time, but also the first time that all parts of the Israeli peace camp – from Gush Shalom and Hadash to Peace Now and Meretz – did unite for common action

    The main slogan was “The Government Is Drowning All of Us” and “We must Row towards Peace!” – alluding to the attack on the flotilla. The protesters called in unison “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!”

    The demonstrators assembled at Rabin Square and marched to Museum Square, where the protest rally was held. Originally, this was planned as a demonstration against the occupation on its 43th anniversary, and for peace based on “Two States for Two Peoples” and “Jerusalem – Capital of the Two States”, but recent events turned it mainly into a protest against the attack on the flotilla.

    One of the new sights was the great number of national flags, which were flown alongside the red flags of Hadash, the green flags of Meretz and the two-flag emblems of Gush Shalom. Many peace activists have decided that the national flag should no longer be left to the rightists.

    “The violence of the rightists is a direct result of the brainwashing, which has been going on throughout the last week,” Avnery commented. “A huge propaganda machine has incited the public in order to cover up the terrible mistakes made by our political and military leadership, mistakes which are becoming worse from day to day.”

    Video of the demonstration:


  4. Press Release 14/06/2010

    “This is a cover-up commission, toothless and powerless. Even had it wanted to, it can’t probe the real issues. International friends of Dore Gold won’t bite”

    Gush Shalom to appeal to the Supreme Court about the appointment of the Tirkel Commission, which is supposed to investigate the Gaza flotilla raid

    The Gush Shalom movement intends to petition the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, challenging the validity of the Netanyahu Government’s decision to establish the Tirkel Commission which is supposed to probe the lethal raid on the Gaza Flottila two weeks ago. The commission’s terms of reference exclude in advance all the main points which should be investigated.

    It is no coincidence that the government refrained from taking the judicial highway which Israeli law makes available for exactly such cases: appointing a truly independent Commission of Inquiry whose members are appointed by the President of the Supreme Court and which is free of governmental interference. Such a commission may have uncovered facts, or come to conclusions, which would have proven uncomfortable to the government. Such a danger does not exist with the tame commission with which Netanyahu and his ministers came up.

    The Tirkel Commission’s terms of reference do not include looking into the decision-making process which led to bloodshed on the high seas, to the killing of nine people whose purpose had been to reach Gaza rather than clash with Israeli soldiers, to blackening Israel’s image throughout the world and to the complete shattering of the alliance with Turkey which had been a cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy since the days of Ben Gurion. It is guaranteed in advance that those responsible for all this will not be touched, since the commission is not at all empowered to look into their doings.

    Nor will the commission be able to look seriously into what actually happened on board the boats during these fateful moments. The commission is specifically and explicitly excluded from calling any soldier or officer to testify. It must place a blind trust in the army’s own investigation of its own doings, which is carried on secretly and whose pre-selected results will be presented to the commission. And it is highly unlikely that the commission would hear and seriously consider the eye-witness testimonies of the boat’s Turkish, European and American passengers, whom the State of Israel already branded as “terrorists”.

    It is clear in advance that the Tirkel Commission would not conduct the investigation which needs to be undertaken. The commission was established primarily as a desperate attempt to placate international public opinion, but it is very difficult to believe that this goal would be achieved, or that a report clearing the government of Israel from all blame and fault would gain much credibility in the world.

    To get a semblance of international respectability, two international observers were attached to the commission. It should be noted that one of them – David Trimble, Protestant Unionist leader from North Ireland – expressed his allegiance just two weeks ago by joining a “Friends of Israel” group established by Netanyahu loyalist Dore Gold. In addition, Trimble is a veteran member of the
    Henry Jackson Society, an international organization linked with the American “neo conservative” circles and which advocates the “spreading of democracy” by way of military incursions and invasions. At Trimble’s side, this society’s membership includes such people as Richard Perle, who under the Bush Administration was among the main initiators of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as William Kristol who is the main neo-conservative ideologue.

    The other international observer on the commission is Ken Watkin, retired Canadian Army general and until recently Judge Advocate General. Watkin’s name is associated with a sensational affair in Canada, regarding cases of Canadian forces in Afghanistan transferring dozens of prisoners to the custody of the Afghan government’s security service – where they were tortured and some extrajudicially executed. Watkin refused to testify to the Canadian Parliament regarding the advice he had given to the military commanders on this issue, arguing that there existed between him and the Canadian government a privileged attorney–client relathionship. This behavior does not bode well for Watkin ‘s willingness or ability to participate in exposing facts which might prove embarassing to the Government of Israel.

    In short, it is unlikely that the “kosher certificate” provided by these “international observers” to the commission would greatly enhance the credibility given to its conclusions.

    Contact: Uri Avnery 0505-306440 or Adam Keller 054-2340749


  5. Press release June 20, 2010

    Tomorrow June 21, Tel-Aviv school principal to face Knesset Committee over his outspoken views against the occupation. The following article, translated from Ynet speaks for itself

    How I was summoned to the Knesset/ by Ram Cohen

    On Monday, June 21, I am to appear before the Knesset Education Committee and the Minister of Education, Mr. Gideon Saar, following my unequivocal words to my students, condemning the 43 year-old occupation and rule over the life of the Palestinian people.

    A school principal should have a clear and unequivocal moral position about any subject and issue on the agenda of Israeli society. A principal is not an educational clerk. A principal must have, for example, something to say about the deportation of the children of migrant workers, trafficking in women, the separation fence, the withdrawal from Gaza, minimum wage law, settlers attacking Palestinian villagers to exact a `price tag`, the removal of Arabs from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the siege on Gaza, corruption in government, or the relations of religion and state.

    Full text:


  6. Press Release June 21, 2009

    Gush Shalom: It is a pity that the government did not take this small positive step at its own initiative

    “It took the killing of nine people at sea and the blackening of Israel’s name throughout the world to make the government decide to stop interfering with what the people of Gaza may or may not eat. It apparently would have been too much to expect from PM Netanyahu and his ministers to have taken even such a small positive step at their own initiative – not to be dragged to implementing it by massive external pressure” says the Gush Shalom movement.

    “It would, however, be wrong to assume that the government’s decision, taken at last, will be the end of the matter. Israeli control over the entry and exit of people and goods from the Gaza Strip is a continuation of the occupation by other means. It would certainly be welcome to see that from now on more trucks will enter the Gaza Strip, loaded with a greater variety of ommodities, and that the Gazans’ hard lives will be a bit alleviated. But basically, it is an unsustainable situation that it is the government of Israel which has the power to decide whether trucks would enter Gaza and what goods may be loaded on them. There is an absolute worldwide consensus that the solution for our region is a complete end of the now 43-year old occupation and the establishing of a free and sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. This certainly includes an end to Israeli control over the entry to Gaza by land, sea and air, which is a continuation of the occupation.

    Under the Oslo Accords, Israel undertook not only to facilitate but to actively promote the creation in Gaza of a deep water port, through which Palestinians could freely import and export in accordance with their economic needs. Israeli warships which continue to blockade the shores of Gaza and make dire threats at any approaching boat are a continuation of the occupation. The European Union proposed an arrangement which would prevent weapons being smuggled on board Gaza-bound boats – a proposal which the Hamas-led Palestinian government is willing to consider but which the government of Israel rejected out of hand. The Palestinian International Airport near Rafah, which was established as part of the Oslo Accords, lies desolate with its runaways ruined following the visit of Israeli bulldozers. That also is a continuation of the occupation. Furthermore, the State of Israel has undertaken a binding obligation to treat the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, and to facilitate safe passage between the two areas. In practice, soldiers on the West Bank are instructed to treat any Gazan they find there as an “illegal immigrant” to be deported. The government of Israel is doing all in its power to separate and disconnect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and makes use of various military and diplomatic means to sabotage any attempt of reconciliation and compromise between the rival Palestinian governments located in Ramallah and in Gaza. These are futile and dangerous policies, severely damaging to Israel’s own future prospects. It is in the supreme interest of us all is to put an end to Israeli occupation and rule, direct and indirect, over the Palestinians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the occupation which perpetuates the conflict, the hatred and bloodshed, and there is a no chance to end the conflict without ending the occupation.

    Being unable to initiate a courageous move to end the occupation, the current government of Israel is doomed to be exposed to mounting global pressure, and to be dragged forward, step by reluctant step.

    Contact: Adam Keller, Gush Shalom Spokesperson +972-(0)3-5565804 or +972-(0)54-2340749


  7. Violence ‘would be Lebanon’s fault’

    Israel: Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that his government will hold Lebanon accountable if Tel Aviv responds to a blockade-busting Gaza aid ship with a repeat performance of the murderous Mavi Marmara raid.

    On Sunday Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi announced that the aid ship Julia has been granted permission to sail from Tripoli to Gaza via Cyprus.

    Mr Barak responded by saying that the mission could spark “friction that could lead to violence” for which Tel Aviv would “hold the government of Lebanon responsible.”


  8. Gush Shalom press release 29/06/10

    Tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, the Supreme Court will hear our appeal to dismantle the Tirkel Committee and replace it with a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

    Uri Avnery: “Even if the United States government was convinced to agree to a powerless, meaningless investigation, we as Israeli citizen concerned for the future of our country absolutely don’t agree.”

    Tomorrow, Wednesday June 30, at 9am Judges Naor, Meltzer and Dantziger of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hear the appeal of the Gush Shalom movement to dismantle the “Tirkel Committee” and replace it with a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, independent of the government and fully empowered to investigate the circumstances of the Israeli Navy takeover of the Gaza Flotilla. The appeal is signed on behalf of Gush Shalom by former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, and the movement’s spokesperson Adam Keller. It i represented by lawyers Gaby Laski, Lymor Goldstein and Neri Ramati.

    The main argument in the state’s answer, presented to the Supreme Court, is that the government has an unlimited power to decide whether or not to investigate a certain event at all, in whose hands to place the investigation and what powers to give the investigators, and that in the past the Supreme Court rejected appeals seeking to impose on the government the creation of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

    The state also described to the court at great length the negotiations conducted between the government of Israel and the government of the U.S. Initially, the U.S. tended to support an International Commission of Inquiry under auspices of the U.N., but eventually came to endorse the creation of the “Tirkel Committee” in Israel. To underscore this point the State went as far as presenting to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem as an exhibit, the statement issued by the White House spokesperson on this subject, as well as the full text of a TV interview by the American Ambassador to the U.N.

    “The Sate’s answer exposes the main purpose for which the Tirkel Commission was formed: not the wish to investigate what really happened on the boat and how nine of its passengers came to be killed, but the intention to appease at the cheapest price the world governments and public opinion, and especially the government of the U.S.” says Uri Avnery. “The U.S. government has its own considerations, having to do with worldwide strategic interests and possibly also with internal American considerations of elections due in November.

    “We, as Israeli citizens who act to improve the society and the country in which we live, have a supreme interest of our own: to have a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances of a grave political and military fiasco, which caused preventable bloodshed, which severely hurt Israel’s position in the world and whose long-term implications might be felt in many years to come. Only a thorough and truly independent investigation has the chance to prevent similar fiascos from recurring – if not worse ones. With all due respect to the U.S. government, it has no authority to forgo on behalf of the citizens of Israel an investigation which is vital to ensure proper public norms in the State of Israel.

    “The respectable people who have been gathered into the Tirkel Committee cannot carry out such a thorough investigation even if they want to, because the government has not given them the needed authority. I in no way share the absolute trust which the State representatives give to the internal investigation by the armed forces of their own deeds, whose results will be given ready-made to the Tirkel Committee without its members having any way of independently checking them. The rule which the State asks the Supreme Court Judges to endorse, that the investigation of soldiers about their acts in the field should be carried out solely through the debriefing carried out by the army itself and that statements made during debriefing should not at all be passed to anyone outside the armed forces, is a dangerous erosion of the principal of civilian control over the armed forces, a cornerstone of any democratic regime.

    “In Article 16 of its answer to the court the State claims that only passengers of the Mavi Marmara were hurt by the takeover of the boats by Israeli troops. This assertion is in complete contradiction to many testimonies, published all over the world, about brutal behavior of the troops also to passengers of the other boats, though luckily not coming to the point of fatalities. Moreover, the very fact of the State already presenting factual assertions on a subject in which the Committee is supposed to investigate and present conclusions testifies to the State not taking seriously the investigation which is supposed to be conducted.

    “The mandate given to the Tirkel Committee by the government included among other things the task of investigating and reporting on the identity and the activities of the Flotilla organizers and participants. In practice, the Committee is active for more than a week already, and there is no mention of any intention to contact the Flotilla organizers and participants and hear their testimonies. The Committee has not offered to Flotilla participants the option to come and testify in Israel while having immunity from arrest by the police – and indeed the Committee has no authority to offer such immunity. Nor did the Committee announce any intention to go abroad and there hear the testimonies of the Flotilla organizers and participants – and also here the Committee was not at all given the authority to go abroad and collect testimonies outside the boundaries of Israel. All this gives rise to the strong suspicion that the Committee intends to discuss the identity and activity of the Flotilla activists, reach conclusions and publish a report about them – without hearing a single testimony from the people concerned themselves. Such a procedure denies in advance any credibility to a report which the Committee would eventually publish on this subject.


    Uri Avnery +972-50-5396440

    Adv. Gaby Lasky +972-54-4418988

    Adam Keller +972-54-2340749


  9. Israeli diplomats pay dispute continues

    In a dispute over pay and conditions, diplomats have started wearing jeans and sandals to work, foreign ministry officials have said.

    Diplomatic staff are demanding wages on par with their colleagues at the defence and intelligence agencies. According to the BBC, the strike could disrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming trip to the US.

    The workers’ pay committee has urged employees at Israel’s Washington embassy not to make arrangements for his visit in July, local reports say.

    According to the committee, foreign ministry staff are paid half of what defence ministry staff and members of the intelligence community who serve abroad receive, for the same amount of work.

    The dispute—now entering its sixth month—is becoming increasingly public, said the BBC.

    Several employees of the foreign ministry have abandoned the normal suit-and-tie dress code, and were coming to work in jeans and sandals, an official told the BBC on condition of anonymity.

    The partial strike has also extended to the foreign ministry’s visitors’ department, which is in charge of rolling out the red carpet for foreign dignitaries, the official said.

    On June 28, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was forced to welcome visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov without the customary ceremony because no one had organised one, the AFP reported.


  10. New rabbi powers anger mainstream

    Israel: Extremist rabbis could see their powers increased after a parliamentary committee approved a Bill on Monday giving the country’s Orthodox rabbinate exclusive control over conversions to Judaism.

    Conversion is a highly sensitive issue for Jews of all denominations and the new law has angered mainstream Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.

    The Bill has to pass three rounds of voting before becoming law, a process expected to last months.


  11. Uri Avnery


    A Parliamentary Mob

    WHEN I was first elected to the Knesset, I was appalled at what I found. I discovered that, with rare exceptions, the intellectual level of the debates was close to zero. They consisted mainly of strings of clichés of the most commonplace variety. During most of the debates, the plenum was almost empty. Most participants spoke vulgar Hebrew. When voting, many members had no idea what they were voting for or against, they just followed the party whip.

    That was 1967, when the Knesset included members like Levy Eshkol and Pinchas Sapir, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Yohanan Bader, Meir Yaari and Yaakov Chazan, for whom today streets, highroads and neighborhoods are named.

    In comparison to the present Knesset, that Knesset now looks like Plato?s Academy.


    WHAT FRIGHTENED me more than anything else was the readiness of members to enact irresponsible laws for the sake of fleeting popularity, especially at times of mass hysteria. One of my first Knesset initiatives was to submit a bill which would have created a second chamber, a kind of Senate, composed of outstanding personalities, with the power to hold up the enactment of new laws and compel the Knesset to reconsider them after an interval. This, I hoped, would prevent laws being hastily adopted in an atmosphere of excitement.

    The bill was not considered seriously, neither by the Knesset nor by the general public. The Knesset almost unanimously voted it down. (After some years, several of the members told me that they regretted their vote.) The newspapers nicknamed the proposed chamber “the House of Lords” and ridiculed it. Haaretz devoted a whole page of cartoons to the proposal, depicting me in the garb of a British peer.

    So there is no brake. The production of irresponsible laws, most of them racist and anti-democratic, is booming. The more the government itself is turning into an assembly of political hacks, the more the likelihood of its preventing such legislation is diminishing. The present government, the largest, basest and most despised in Israel?s history, is cooperating with the Knesset members who submit such bills, and even initiating them itself.

    The only remaining obstacle to this recklessness is the Supreme Court. In the absence of a written constitution, it has taken upon itself the power to annul scandalous laws that violate democracy and human rights. But the Supreme Court itself is beleaguered by rightists who want to destroy it, and is moving with great caution. It intervenes only in the most extreme cases.

    Thus a paradoxical situation has arisen: parliament, the highest expression of democracy, is itself now posing a dire threat to Israeli democracy.


    THE MAN who personifies this phenomenon more than anyone else is MK Michael Ben-Ari of the “National Union” faction, the heir of Meir Kahane, whose organization “Kach” (“Thus”) was outlawed many years ago because of its openly fascist character.

    Kahane himself was elected to the Knesset only once. The reaction of the other members was unequivocal: whenever he rose to speak, almost all the other members left the hall. The rabbi had to make his speeches before a handful of ultra-right colleagues.

    A few weeks ago I visited the present Knesset for the first time since its election. I went there to listen to a debate about a subject that concerns me too: the decision of the Palestinian Authority to boycott the products of the settlements, a dozen years after Gush Shalom started this boycott. I spent some hours in the building, and from hour to hour my revulsion deepened.

    The main cause was a circumstance I had not been aware of: MK Ben-Ari, the disciple and admirer of Kahane, holds sway there. Not only is he not an isolated outsider on the fringe of parliamentary life, as his mentor had been, but on the contrary, he is at the center. I saw the members of almost all other factions crowding around him in the members? cafeteria and listening to his perorations with rapt attention in the plenum. No doubt can remain that Kahanism ? the Israeli version of fascism ? has moved from the margin to center stage.


    Recently, the country witnessed a scene that looked like something from the parliament of South Korea or Japan.

    On the Knesset speaker?s rostrum stood MK Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction and tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm. One of the male members shouted at her, in a typical mixture of racism and sexism: “Go to Gaza and see what they will do to a 41 year old unmarried woman!”

    One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between the two MKs. While Haneen Zoabi belongs to a family whose roots in the Nazareth area go back centuries, perhaps to the time of Jesus, Anastasia Michaeli was born in (then) Leningrad. She was elected “Miss St. Petersburg” and then became a fashion model, married an Israeli, converted to Judaism, immigrated to Israel at age 24 but sticks to her very Russian first name. She has given birth to eight children. She may be a candidate for the Israeli Sarah Palin, who, after all, was also once a beauty queen..

    As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult. Nothing but some half-hearted protest from the Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, and a Meretz member, Chaim Oron.

    In all the 61 years of its existence, the Knesset had not seen such a sight. Within a minute the sovereign assembly turned into a parliamentary lynch mob.

    One does not have to support the ideology of Balad to respect the impressive personality of Haneen Zoabi. She speaks fluently and persuasively, has degrees from two Israeli universities, fights for the rights of women within the Israeli-Arab community and is the first female member of an Arab party in the Knesset. Israeli democracy could be proud of her. She belongs to a large Arab extended family. The brother of her grandfather was the mayor of Nazareth, one uncle was a deputy minister and another a Supreme Court judge. (Indeed, on my first day in the Knesset I proposed that another member of the Zoabi family be elected as Speaker.)

    This week, the Knesset decided by a large majority to adopt a proposal by Michael Ben-Ari, supported by Likud and Kadima members, to strip Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges. Even before, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had asked the Legal Advisor to the Government for approval of his plan to strip Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship on the grounds of treason. One of the Knesset members shouted at her: “You have no place in the Israeli Knesset! You have no right to hold an Israeli identity card!”

    On the very same day, the Knesset took action against the founder of Zoabi?s party, Azmi Bishara. In a preliminary hearing, it approved a bill ? this one, too, supported by both Likud and Kadima members ? aimed at denying Bishara his pension, which is due after his resignation from the Knesset. (He is staying abroad, after being threatened with an indictment for espionage.)

    The proud parents of these initiatives, which enjoy massive support from Likud, Kadima, Lieberman?s party and all the religious factions, do not hide their intention to expel all the Arabs from parliament and establish at long last a pure Jewish Knesset. The latest decisions of the Knesset are but parts of a prolonged campaign, which gives birth almost every week to new initiatives from publicity-hungry members, who know that the more racist and anti-democratic their bills are, the more popular they will be with their electorate.

    Such was this weeks Knesset decision to condition the acquisition of citizenship on the candidate?s swearing allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, thus demanding that Arabs (especially foreign Arab spouses of Arab citizens) subscribe to the Zionist ideology. The equivalent would be the demand that new American citizens swear allegiance to the USA as a “white Anglo-Saxon protestant state”.

    There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel?s citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether.


    THIS TENDENCY is connected with the ongoing attack on the status of the Arabs in East Jerusalem.

    This week I was present at the hearing in Jerusalem?s magistrates court on the detention of Muhammed Abu Ter, one of the four Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem. The hearing was held in a tiny room, which can seat only about a dozen spectators. I succeeded only with great difficulty in getting in.

    After they were elected in democratic elections, in conformity with Israel?s explicit obligation under the Oslo agreement to allow the Arabs in East Jerusalem to take part, the government announced that their “permanent resident” status had been revoked.

    What does that mean? When Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem in 1967, the government did not dream of conferring citizenship on the inhabitants, which would have significantly increased the percentage of Arab voters in Israel. Neither did they invent a new status for them. Lacking other alternatives, the inhabitants became “permanent residents”, a status devised for foreigners who wish to stay in Israel. The Minister of the Interior has the right to revoke this status and deport such people to their countries of origin.

    Clearly, this definition of “permanent residents” should not apply to the inhabitants of East Jerusalem. They and their forefathers were born there, they have no other citizenship and no other place of residence. The revoking of their status turns them into politically homeless people without protection of any kind.

    The state lawyers argued in court that with the cancellation of his “permanent resident” status, Abu Ter has become an “illegal person” whose refusal to leave the city warrants unlimited detention.

    (A few hours earlier, the Supreme Court dealt with our petition concerning the investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident. We won a partial, but significant, victory: for the first time in its history, the Supreme Court agreed to interfere in a matter concerning a commission of inquiry. The court decided that if the commission requires the testimony of military officers and the government tries to prevent this, the court will intervene.)


    IF SOME people are trying to delude themselves into believing that the parliamentary mob will harm “only Arabs”, they are vastly mistaken. The only question is: who is next in line?

    This week, the Knesset gave the first reading to a bill to impose heavy penalties on any Israeli who advocates a boycott on Israel, in general, and on economic enterprises, universities and other Israeli institutions, including settlements, in particular. Any such institution will be entitled to an indemnity of 5000 dollars from every supporter of the boycott.

    A call for boycott is a democratic means of expression. I object very much to a general boycott on Israel, but (following Voltaire) am ready to fight for everybody?s right to call for such a boycott. The real aim of the bill is, of course, to protect the settlements: it is designed to deter those who call for a boycott of the products of the settlements which exist on occupied land outside the borders of the state. This includes me and my friends.

    Since the foundation of Israel, it has never stopped boasting of being the “Only Democracy in the Middle East”. This is the jewel in the crown of Israeli propaganda. The Knesset is the symbol of this democracy.

    It seems that the parliamentary mob, which has taken over the Knesset, is determined to destroy this image once and for all, so that Israel will find its proper place somewhere between Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.



  12. Uri Avnery

    Rosemary’s Baby

    SINCE I witnessed the rise of the Nazis during my childhood in Germany, my nose always tickles when it smells something fascist, even when the odor is still faint.

    When the debate about the “one-state solution” began, my nose tickled.

    Have you gone mad, I told my nose, this time you are dead wrong. This is a plan of the Left. It is being put forward by leftists of undoubted credentials, the greatest idealists in Israel and abroad, even certified Marxists.

    But my nose insisted. It continued to tickle.

    Now it appears that the nose was right, after all.


    THIS IS not the first time that a kosher leftist plan leads towards extreme rightist consequences.

    That happened, for example, to the ugliest symbol of the occupation: the Separation Wall. It was invented by the Left.

    When the “terrorist” attacks multiplied, leftist politicians, headed by Haim Ramon, offered a miracle-solution to the problem: an impassable obstacle between Israel and the occupied territories. They argued that it would stop the attacks without recourse to brutal actions in the West Bank.

    The Right opposed the idea vehemently. To them it was a conspiracy to fix the borders of the state and promote the two-state solution, which they saw (and still see) as an existential threat to their designs.

    But suddenly the Right changed its tune. They realized that the wall offered a wonderful opportunity to annex large tracts of West Bank land and turn them over to the settlers. And that is what happened: the wall/fence was not put up along the Green Line, but cuts deep into the West Bank. It takes away large areas of land from the Palestinian villages.

    Nowadays leftists are demonstrating every week against the wall, the right is sending soldiers to shoot at them, and the two-state solution has been set back.


    NOW THE rightists have discovered the one-state solution. My nose is tickling.

    One of the first was Moshe Arens, former Minister of Defense. Arens is an extreme rightist, a fanatical Likud member. He started to talk about one state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, in which the Palestinians would be granted full rights, including citizenship and the vote.

    I rubbed my eyes. Is this the same Arens? What has happened to him? But this apparent mystery has a simple solution.

    Arens and his companions are faced with a mathematical problem that seems insoluble: turning the triangle into a circle.

    Their aim has three sides: (a) a Jewish state, (b) the whole of Eretz Israel, and (c) democracy. How to combine these three sides into one harmonious circle?

    Between the sea and the river there now live about 6.5 million Jews and 3.9 million Palestinians – a proportion of 59% Jews to 41% Palestinians (including the inhabitants of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Arab citizens of Israel.) This number does not include, of course, the millions of Palestinian refugees who are living outside the country.)

    Several “experts” have tried to dispute these numbers, but respected statisticians, including Israelis, accept them with tiny changes here and there.

    The proportion, alas, is rapidly changing in favor of the Palestinians. The Palestinian population is doubling every 18 years. Even taking into account the natural increase of the Jewish population in Israel and the potential immigration in the foreseeable future, one can predict with almost mathematical precision when the Palestinians will constitute the majority between the Jordan and the sea. It’s a matter of years rather than decades.

    The inescapable conclusion: one can reconcile between any two of the three aspirations, but not all three at once: (a) a Jewish state in the entire country cannot be democratic, (b) a democratic state in the entire country cannot be Jewish, and (c) a Jewish and democratic state cannot include the entire Eretz Israel.

    Simple. Logical. One does not have to be Moshe Arens, an engineer by profession, to see this. Therefore the Right is looking for another logic that would allow the creation of a Jewish and democratic state in the entire country.


    LAST WEEK Haaretz published a stunning sensation: prominent personalities of the extreme Right – indeed, some of the most extreme – accept the solution of one-state from the sea to the river. They speak about a state in which the Palestinians will be full citizens.

    The rightists quoted in Noam Sheizaf’s article do not hide their reasons for adopting this line: they want to obstruct the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, which would mean the end of the settlement enterprise and the evacuation of scores of settlements and outposts throughout the West Bank. They also want to put an end to the growing international pressure for the two-state solution.

    Among some leftists in the world, who advocate the one-state solution, the news was greeted with great joy. They pour scorn on the Israeli peace camp (leftists enjoy nothing more than deriding other leftists) and heap praise on the Israeli Right. What magnanimity! What readiness to break out of the box and adopt their opponents’ ideals! Only the Right will make peace!

    But if these good people would read the texts, they would discover that it ain’t necessarily so. To be precise, it’s the very opposite.


    ALL OF the six rightists quoted in the article are united on a number of points which deserve consideration.

    First: all of them exclude the Gaza Strip from the proposed solution. Gaza will no longer be a part of the country. Thus, the number of Palestinians will be reduced by 1.5 million, improving the menacing demographic balance. (True, in the Oslo agreement, Israel recognized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one integral territory, but the rightists consider the Oslo agreement anyhow as the tainted product of leftist traitors.)

    Second: the one state will, of course, be a Jewish state.

    Third: the annexation of the West Bank will take place at once, so that the building of settlements can go on undisturbed. In a Greater Israel, the settlement enterprise cannot be limited.

    Fourth: There is no way to grant citizenship to all Palestinian forthwith.

    The author of the article summarizes their positions thus: “a process that will take from about a decade to a generation, and at its conclusion the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but the state will remain, in its symbols and spirit, Jewish…This is not a vision of ‘a state belonging to all its citizens’ and not ‘Isratine’ with a flag combining the crescent and the Star of David. The one state still means Jewish sovereignty.”


    IT IS worthwhile to listen well to the explanations provided by the initiators themselves (emphasis added by me):

    Uri Elitsur, former director general of the Judea and Samaria Council (the leadership of the settlers, known as “Yesha”): “I speak of a Jewish state which is the state of the Jewish people, and in which there will exist an Arab minority.”

    Hanan Porat, a founder of Gush Emunim (the religious settlers’ leadership, and the man who called upon the Jews to rejoice after the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron): “I am against the automatic citizenship proposed by Uri Elitsur, which is naïve and could lead to grievous consequences. I propose the application of Israeli law to the territories in stages, first in the areas in which there is (already) a Jewish majority, and within a time-span of a decade to a generation in all the territories.”

    Porat proposes dividing the Palestinians into three categories: (a) Those who want an Arab state and are ready to realize this by terrorism and struggle against the state – they have no place in Eretz Israel. Meaning: they will be expelled. (b) Those resigned to their place and to Jewish sovereignty, but not ready to take part in the state and fulfill all their obligations towards it – they will have full human rights, but no political representation in the institutions of the state. (c) Those who declare that they will be loyal to the state and swear allegiance to it – they will be granted full citizenship. (They will, of course, be a small minority.)

    Tzipi Hutubeli, a Member of Parliament on the extreme fringe of Likud: “On the political horizon there must be citizenship for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria…That will happen gradually …This process must take place over a long time, perhaps even a generation, in the course of which the situation on the ground will be stabilized and the symbols of the Jewish state and its character will be anchored in law…The question mark hovering over Judea and Samaria will be removed…First comes my deep belief in our right over Eretz Israel. Shiloh and Bet-El (in the West Bank) are for me the land of our ancestors in the full meaning of the term…At this moment we speak about conferring citizenship in Judea and Samaria, not in Gaza. Let it be clear: I do not recognize political rights of Palestinians over Eretz Israel…Between the sea and the Jordan there is room for one state, a Jewish state.”

    Moshe Arens: “The integration of the Arab population (inside Israel) into Israeli society is a prior condition, and only afterwards can one speak about citizenship for Palestinians in the territories.” Meaning: Arens proposes focusing on the integration of the Arab citizens of Israel – something that has not happened in the last 62 years – and only afterwards thinking about the question of citizenship for the West Bank population.

    Emily Amrussi, a settler who organizes meetings between the settlers and the Palestinians of the neighboring villages: “Don’t describe me as one pushing for the ‘one state’. In the end we may arrive there, but we are still very far from there. Let’s talk first about one country…We don’t talk about citizenship, but in terms like relations between neighbors… First let them become my good neighbors, and then we shall give them rights…In the far future, it will be necessary to move towards citizenship for everybody.”

    Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset: “The country cannot be divided…I oppose the idea of a state belonging to all its citizens or a bi-national state and am thinking about arrangements of joint sovereignty in Judea and Samaria under the Jewish state, even a regime of two parliaments, Jewish and Arab…Judea and Samaria will be a co-dominion, held jointly…But these are things that take time…Stop waving demography in my face.”


    THE REGIME described here is not an apartheid state, but something much worse: a Jewish state in which the Jewish majority will decide if at all, and when, to confer citizenship on some of the Arabs. The words that come up again and again – “perhaps within a generation” – are by nature very imprecise, and not by accident.

    But most important: there is a thunderous silence about the mother of all questions: what will happen when the Palestinians become the majority in the One State? That is not a question of “if”, but of “when”: there is not the slightest doubt that this will happen, not “within a generation”, but long before.

    This thunderous silence speaks for itself. People who do not know Israel may believe that the rightists are ready to accept such a situation. Only a very naive person can expect a repetition of what happened in South Africa, when the whites (a small minority) handed power over to the blacks (the large majority) without bloodshed.

    We said above that it is impossible to “turn the triangle into a circle”. But the truth is that there is one way: ethnic cleansing. The Jewish state can fill all the space between the sea and the Jordan and still be democratic – if there are no Palestinians there.

    Ethnic cleansing can be carried out dramatically (as in this country in 1948 and in Kosovo in 1998) or in a quiet and systematic way, by dozens of sophisticated methods, as is happening now in East Jerusalem. But there cannot be the slightest doubt that this is the final stage of the one-state vision of the rightists. The first stage will be an effort to fill the entire country with settlements, and to demolish any chance of implementing the two-state solution, which is the only realistic basis for peace.

    In Roman Polanski’s movie “Rosemary’s Baby”, a nice young woman gives birth to a nice baby, which turns out to be the son of Satan. The attractive leftist vision of the one-state solution may grow up into a rightist monster.



    International labor report’s omissions reveal pro-Israel bias
    Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 23 July 2010

    “While Palestinian workers, whether inside Israel or in Israeli settlements in the West bank, are not properly represented by the Histadrut, Palestinian trade unions are also barred from offering them practical help.”

    Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip attempt queue at a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya as they attempt to reach their jobs in Israel. (Khaleel Reash/MaanImages)

    Every June, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) releases its Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights. According to a press release that accompanied the 2010 publication (which reports on events in 2009), “the Middle East remains among the regions of the world where union rights are least protected.” The report describes repression meted out to Palestinian workers and trade unionists by both the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian factions. But ITUC’s omissions and brevity both disguise the complexity of life for Palestinian workers, and reveal some of the union confederation’s own biases.

    The most violent repression of Palestinian trade union activities came, as in previous years, from the Israeli military. A May Day march of around 250 persons in Bethlehem was stopped by Israeli soldiers who fired sound grenades and tear gas canisters directly into the crowd, injuring demonstrators. Three workers and a journalist were arrested, according to the ITUC. Another march, in East Jerusalem, which was deliberately kept low-key by its organizers from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions was also broken up. And in July of last year, Israeli soldiers surrounded and raided the Biddya home of Palestinian Workers Union head and Fatah campaigner Yasser Taha, detaining him for questioning as a “wanted activist.”

    Among other events outlined in the 2010 Survey was the strike held by 16,000 workers with UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees and one of the largest employers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, calling for the reinstatement of 312 West Bank colleagues fired for violating the organization’s “non-partisan” policy. UNRWA workers also went on strike to demand pay increases in line with Palestinian Authority (PA) staff and UN employees elsewhere in the world. Public sector workers in both the West Bank and Gaza had multiple disputes with both the PA and Hamas authorities over late payment of wages, mainly due to Israel’s withholding of revenues owed.

    In September 2009, rising tensions between the PA and transport, education and health unions over late payment of overtime and transport costs culminated in the Health Ministry sacking Osama al-Najjar, head of the health professionals union, and a colleague. Al-Najjar had publicly accused the Ministry of “targeting union activities” and avoiding dialogue. During a radio interview, PA Health Minister Fathi Abu Moghli referred to the ensuing strike by health workers as “illegal.” Union leaders demanded an urgent meeting with appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

    In Gaza, meanwhile, the ITUC described conditions for trade unionists as “extremely difficult,” commenting that the exercise of freedom of association or collective bargaining was simply not possible, partly because trade union membership tended to be bound up in ongoing clashes between Hamas and Fatah. In 2008, Al-Jazeera reported Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) claims that its offices in Gaza had been seized by Hamas authorities and when staff refused to negotiate over their future role, several were subjected to assassination attempts and other harassment. Hamas spokesmen have made similar counter-claims against the largely Fatah-linked PGFTU in the West Bank.

    According to Khaled Hroub, author of Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, the association of trade unions with specific political factions is deep-rooted. “Initially, Hamas’ interest in trade unions stemmed from a Muslim Brotherhood culture that focuses on these institutions as hubs of cultivating support and popularity,” Hroub explained in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. “Hamas’ activism in trade unions is more political than professional — using unions as political platforms for higher goals. This doesn’t mean that Hamas-led unions have been entirely political, but what I mean is that the main impetus was driven by finding venues to express their political [and resistance] views.”

    The ITUC’s has publically rejected Hamas, which it declared at its June 2010 congress in Canada as “extremist” and blamed for inciting the winter 2008-09 assault on Gaza through its rocket attacks on southern Israel. While he does not share that assessment, Hroub does agree with the confederation’s analysis that Hamas has dealt severely with trade unions which are not affiliated to it.

    “Once in power, Hamas became the regime that put these unions under check and heat if they raise the ceiling of criticism against the Hamas status quo,” Hroub said. “Those unions that remained outside Hamas control in Gaza are subjected to harsh measures that are almost identical to those imposed on Hamas-controlled unions by the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s and until the 2006 elections.”

    The Islamic trade unions with which Hamas works are almost entirely rejected by both the Ramallah-based Democracy & Workers Rights Center (DWRC), an explicitly non-affiliated labor rights organization which has campaigned against perceived inaction and corruption amongst the established trade unions, as well as by the PGFTU.

    Salwa Alinat works with the Israeli labor rights nongovernmental organization Kav LaOved (Workers’ Hotline), supporting Palestinian workers employed in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. She describes a similar situation there to the one in Gaza outlined by Khaled Hroub. She reports that “in the past, the trade unions have not been interested in dealing with the workers. There are two or three trade unions divided according to political lines, and they are not really in contact with the workers, so there are problems of trust. To join a trade union, until recently, was a political act, like joining a party. It’s not like in the West where a trade union is something that looks after a worker’s interests.”

    The political nature of trade unions also means that even if employers do not discriminate against workers as trade union members per se, they may discriminate against them on the basis of their political affiliations. This is a widespread problem, according to several reports by the DWRC.

    As well as infringements of trade union rights by Palestinian employers and by the Israeli military and Palestinian faction authorities within the West Bank and Gaza, the ITUC’s Israel report also raises the issue of discrimination against Palestinian workers in Israel and in Israeli settlements. Here, the shortcomings of ITUC’s approach become apparent. The confederation has been accused of bias towards the Histadrut, literally the “General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel,” an ITUC member alongside the PGFTU. This accusation is likely to gain ground with the June 2010 appointment of Histadrut head Ofer Eini as an ITUC vice-president and executive member.

    ITUC’s report on conditions for Palestinian workers in Israel — whether citizens of Israel or West Bank laborers working with or without permits in Israel — does acknowledge that “Palestinian workers in Israel, even with permits, are hounded by the authorities and are often subject to abuse, illegal detentions and deportations while Israeli Arabs [Palestinian citizens in Israel] are subject to extensive employment-related discrimination.”

    The ITUC admits that “Palestinians who work in Israel enjoy freedom of association [but] they may not elect or be elected to trade union leadership bodies,” apparently referring to West Bank Palestinians working in Israel; the report seems to differentiate between these and Palestinian citizens of Israel by using the term “Israeli Arabs.” The ITUC report also notes that in November 2009 the Histadrut amended its constitution to allow migrant workers, brought to Israel in large numbers, mainly from southeast Asia to work in the domestic service and agricultural sectors, to join the union with “equal rights.” According to the ITUC, this explicitly does include Palestinian workers from the West Bank or Gaza working within Israel.

    In 2008, the Histadrut finally started to repay union dues which since 1970 it had been docking from the pay of every Palestinian employee of an Israeli employer, claiming that half of this income would be handed to the PGFTU. This was the outcome of an agreement reached in 1995, but the 2008 move has remained controversial after it was used by Israeli sympathizers to argue against boycott calls.

    The Progressive Labour Action Front, linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, issued a statement noting that “the Histadrut is engaging, as part of the world Zionist movement, in an international campaign designed to undermine international labor support for the Palestinian people and to oppose the Palestinian and international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. As part of this campaign, the Histadrut issued a statement on ‘peace and cooperation’ posted on the [ITUC] website on 11 September 2009.”

    The ITUC also reported specific abuses by Israeli employers of Palestinian workers in West Bank settlements. These included the sacking and suspension of Jahleen Bedouin workers at the Maaleh Adumim municipality after they went on strike demanding to be allowed to attend Friday prayers, and the illegally low pay, lack of medical benefits and threats of violence against mainly women workers in a textile factory at Barkan, near Ariel settlement. The report notes that “The situation of these workers is exacerbated by the fact that often Israeli authorities abandon the Palestinian workers to their employers by not inspecting their working conditions, especially in the West Bank settlements.”

    Although it engages with accusations of discrimination by settlement-based companies, ITUC’s report neglects to mention the steady increase in discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. The sacking of several dozen Palestinian employees by Israel Railways in March 2009, for instance, comes well within the report’s remit, but is ignored.

    Israel Railways told Israeli newspaper Haaretz at the time of the sackings that “it would employ only army veterans in the positions these employees held.” The sackings became a high-profile story in Israel after Israel Railways was forced by Tel Aviv Labor Court to postpone the sackings, and then changed its story to claim that mistakes by the employees had caused the changes in recruitment policy. This is part of a growing trend of excluding Arab workers because Palestinian citizens of Israel do not serve in the Israeli army, which anecdotal evidence suggests stretches from informal employment such as restaurant jobs to major national corporations.

    While Palestinian workers, whether inside Israel or in Israeli settlements in the West bank, are not properly represented by the Histadrut, Palestinian trade unions are also barred from offering them practical help.

    Wael Natheef, general secretary of the Jericho branch of the PGFTU and a member of the union’s executive committee, told The Electronic Intifada: “As trade unionists we often cannot do anything. The settlements are forbidden to us and we cannot go to the Israeli courts.”

    Unions are also hampered by small budgets because of their low membership rates, which have been used as an argument against their grassroots legitimacy. As a result, legal cases brought by Palestinian settlement workers against Israeli factories, such as Royalife in Barkan and Soda Club in Mishor Adumim, have often been dependent on support from Israeli organizations such as Kav LaOved.

    “We established this branch [of the PGFTU] in 1993 after the Oslo agreement,” says Natheef. “We worked as unionists before then, but underground, because you had to get permission from the Israeli authorities at Beit El to hold a meeting or organize something. After Oslo we rented this building and continued, but it is still very difficult.”

    Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine. Her first book, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs co-authored with Sharyn Lock, was published in January 2010.


  14. Uri Avnery

    All Quiet on the Eastern Front

    PEOPLE ENDOWED with sensitive political ears were startled this week by two words, which, so it seemed, escaped from the mouth of Binyamin Netanyahu by accident: “Eastern front”.

    Once upon a time these words were part of the everyday vocabulary of the occupation. In recent years they have been gathering dust in the political junkyard.

    THE VERBAL couple “Eastern front” was born after the Six-day War. It served to buttress the strategic doctrine that the Jordan River is Israel?s “security border”.

    The theory: there is a possibility for three Arab armies ? those of Iraq, Syria and Jordan ? to gather east of the Jordan, cross the river and endanger the existence of Israel. We must stop them before they enter the country. Therefore, the Jordan Valley must serve as a permanent base for the Israeli army, our troops must stay there.

    This was a doubtful theory to start with. In order to take part in such an offensive, the Iraqi army would have to assemble, cross the desert and deploy in Jordan, a lengthy and complex logistical operation that would give the Israeli army ample time to hit the Iraqis long before they reached the bank of the Jordan. As for the Syrians, it would be much easier for them to attack Israel on the Golan Heights than to move their army south and attack from the east. And Jordan has always been a secret ? but loyal ? partner of Israel (except for the short episode of the Six-day War.)

    In recent years, the theory has become manifestly ridiculous. The Americans have invaded Iraq and defeated and disbanded Saddam Hussein?s glorious army, which turned out to be a paper tiger. The Kingdom of Jordan has signed an official peace treaty with Israel. Syria is using every opportunity to demonstrate its longing for peace, if Israel would only return the Golan Heights. In short, Israel has nothing to fear from its Eastern neighbors.

    True, situations can change. Regimes change, alliances change. But it is impossible to imagine a situation in which three terrifying armies cross the Jordan into Canaan, like the children of Israel in the Biblical story.

    Moreover, the idea of a ground attack, like the Nazi blitzkrieg in World War II, belongs to history. In any future war, long-range missiles will play a dominant role. One could imagine the Israeli soldiers in the Jordan valley reclining on deckchairs and observing the missiles flying over their heads in both directions.

    So how did this silly idea gain new life?

    IT MAY be useful to go 43 years back in time, in order to understand how this bogeyman was born.

    Only six weeks after the Six-day War, the “Allon plan” was launched. Yigal Allon, then Minister of Labor, submitted it to the government. It was not adopted officially, but it did exercise a major influence on the Israeli leadership.

    No authorized map of the plan was ever published, but the main points became known. Allon proposed to annex to Israel the Jordan Valley and the western shore of the Dead Sea. What was left of the West Bank would become enclaves surrounded by Israeli territory, except for a narrow corridor near Jericho which would connect the West Bank with the Jordanian kingdom. Allon also proposed annexing to Israel certain areas in the West Bank, the North of Sinai (“the Rafah Opening”) and the South of the Gaza Strip (“the Katif Bloc?).

    He did not care whether the West Bank would be returned to Jordan or became a separate Palestinian entity. Once I attacked him from the Knesset rostrum and accused him of obstructing the establishment of the Palestinian state, which I advocated, and when I returned to my seat, he sent me a note: “I am for a Palestinian state in the West Bank. So how am I less of a dove than you?”

    The plan was put forward as a military imperative, but its motives were quite different.

    In those days I met with Allon fairly regularly, so I had the opportunity to follow his line of thought. He had been one of the outstanding commanders of the 1948 war and was considered a military expert, but above all he was a leading member of the Kibbutz movement, which at the time exercised a lot of influence in the country.

    Immediately after the seizure of the West Bank, the people of the Kibbutz movement spread out across the ground, looking for areas that would be suitable for intensive modern agriculture. Naturally, they were attracted to the Jordan Valley. From their point of view, this was an ideal place for new kibbutzim. It has plenty of water, the terrain is flat and eminently suited to modern agricultural machinery. And, most important, it was sparsely populated. All these advantages were lacking in other West Bank regions: their population was dense, the topography mountainous and the water scarce.

    In my opinion, the entire Allon plan was a fruit of agricultural greed, and the military theory was nothing but an expedient security pretext. And, indeed, the immediate result was the setting up of a great number of kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative villages) in the valley.

    Years passed before the limits of the Allon Plan were burst open and settlements were established all over the West Bank.

    THE ALLON PLAN gave birth to the bogeyman of the “Eastern Front”? and since then it has terrorized those who seek peace. Like a ghost, it comes and goes, materializes and vanishes, once in one form, once in another.

    Ariel Sharon demanded the annexation of the “widened valley”. The valley itself, a part of the Great Syrian-African Rift Valley, is 120 km long (from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea) but only about 15 km wide. Sharon demanded almost obsessively the addition to it of the “back of the mountain”, meaning the eastern slope of the central West Bank mountain range, which would have widened it substantially.

    When Sharon adopted the Separation Wall project, it was supposed to separate the West Bank not only from Israel proper, but also from the Jordan Valley. This would have enabled what was called the “Allon Plan plus”. The wall would have encircled the entire West Bank, without the Jericho corridor. This plan has not been implemented to date, both because of international opposition and because of lack of funds.

    Since the Oslo agreement, almost all successive Israeli governments have insisted that the Jordan Valley must remain in Israeli hands in any future peace agreement. This demand appeared in many guises: sometimes the words were “security border”, sometimes “warning stations”, sometimes “military installations”, sometimes “long-term lease”, depending on the creative talents of successive Prime Ministers. The common denominator: the valley should remain under Israeli control.

    NOW COMES Netanyahu and resurrects the verbal duo “Eastern Front”.

    What Eastern Front? What threats are there from our eastern neighbors? Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is Hafez al-Assad? Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad going to send the armored columns of the Revolutionary Guards rolling towards the Jordan crossings?

    Well, it goes like this: the Americans are going to leave Iraq some day. Then a new Saddam Hussein will arise, this time a Shiite, and ally himself with Shiite Iran and the treacherous Turks, and how can you rely on the Jordanian king who abhors Netanyahu? Terrible stuff may happen if we don?t keep watch on the bank of the Jordan!

    This is manifestly ludicrous. So what is the real aim?

    The entire world is now busy with the American demand for starting “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One might be tempted to think that world peace depends on turning the “proximity talks” into “direct talks”. Never have so many words of sanctimonious hypocrisy been poured out on such a trivial subject.

    The “proximity talks” have been going on for several months now. It would be wrong to say that their results have been close to zero. They were zero. Absolute zero. So what will happen if the two parties sit together in one room? One can predict with absolute certainty: Another zero. In the absence of an American determination to impose a solution, there will be no solution.

    So why does Barack Obama insist? There is one explanation: throughout the Middle East, his policies have failed. He is in urgent need of an impressive achievement. He promised to leave Iraq, and the situation there makes it impossible. The war in Afghanistan is going from bad to worse, a general leaves and a general arrives, and victory is further away than ever. One can already imagine the last American climbing into the last helicopter on the roof of the American embassy in Kabul.

    Remains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here, too, Obama is facing failure. He hoped to achieve much without investing anything at all, and was easily defeated by the Israel lobby. To hide the shame, he needs something that can be presented to the ignorant public as a great American victory. The renewal of “direct talks” is meant to be such a victory.

    Netanyahu, on his part, is quite satisfied with the situation as it is. Israel is calling for direct talks, the Palestinians refuse. Israel is extending its hand for peace, the Palestinians turn away. Mahmoud Abbas demands that Israel extend the freeze on the settlements and declares in advance that the negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders.

    But the Americans are exerting tremendous pressure on Abbas, and Netanyahu fears that Abbas will give in. Therefore he declares that he cannot freeze the settlements, because in that case – God forbid! ? his coalition would disintegrate. And if that does not suffice, here comes the Eastern Front. The Israeli government is giving notice to the Palestinians that it will not give up the Jordan Valley.

    In order to emphasize the point, Netanyahu has started to remove the remaining Palestinian population in the valley, a few thousand. Villages are being eradicated, starting this week with Farasiya, where all the dwellings and the water installations were destroyed. This is ethnic cleansing pure and simple, much like the similar operation now going on against the Bedouins in the Negev.

    What Netanyahu is saying, in so many words, is: Abbas should think twice before he enters “direct talks”.

    THE JORDAN Valley descends to the lowest point on the surface of the earth, the Dead Sea, 400 meters below mean sea level.

    The revival of the Eastern Front may indicate the lowest point of Netanyahu?s policy, with the intent of putting to death once and for all any remaining chance for peace.



  15. Is Israel singled out – and why?

    By Adam Keller

    The Other Israel – August 1, 2010

    Googling for “Israel singled out” + “anti-Semitism” would immediately get you many thousands of results. All over the world, supporters of the policies enacted by the government of Israel are busily churning out article after article, repeating with minor variations the same message – Israel is being unfairly singled out, harshly criticized for the kind of acts which others are allowed to get away with, and the motive is anti-Semitism.

    In a way, this is a second line of defense. There had been a time when this kind of people took the line that Israel can do no wrong. That it is an utterly wonderful place, little short of an utopia, a vibrant democracy and the only one in the Middle East, the home of tireless and dauntless pioneers who made the desert bloom. But this way of looking at things had become increasingly difficult to sustain. There have been too many unsavory TV footages of Israeli soldiers broadcast into every home around the globe, too many nasty revelations, quite a few of them by Israel’s own dissident citizens…

    It is far easier to freely admit that Israel is not blameless, that some of its actions and policies do deserve criticism – but as a matter of fact, “everybody does it”. Many others all over the world also violate human rights and/or international law, others discriminate against ethnic or religious minorities, others launch military offensives which claim the lives of innocent civilians. Muslims, it is quite true, have been killed by other Muslims as well as by Israel. So, why pick on Israel, specifically? Why, if not out of anti-Semitism? “Anti-Israelism is the New anti-Semitism”, period.

    True, as far as formal international diplomacy is concerned, it is easy to show that – if Israel is singled out at all – it is singled out for a rather lenient treatment.

    Should Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir land in any European country, he is bound to be arrested by the local police and extradited to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to stand trial for the misdeeds of his army, and of militias backed by his army; in Darfur. Binyamin Netanyahu need fear nothing of the kind. When private groups attempted to start criminal proceedings against Israeli civil or military officials, the governments of Belgium and Spain enacted legislation to make this impossible, and the British government is about to follow suit.

    Iran is facing increasingly tough international sanctions – and increasingly vocal threats of war – for its attempts to produce a nuclear bomb. Israel faced nothing of the kind for its own highly successful enterprise in the same field. (Instead, the Government of Germany provided to Israel, free of charge, several submarines so modified that nuclear-tipped missiles could be installed on them and create a “second-strike capacity”.

    Many countries violate human rights in one way or another – but few have the consistent backing a Permanent Member in the UN Security Council. Most proposed resolutions condemning acts by the government of Israel get aborted by the US veto. And even when a resolution gets past this barrier (invariably, after having been considerably watered down), the Government of Israel can (and often does) ignore it brazenly and with complete impunity. Non-compliance by Israel would never entail a second Security Council Resolution, and a third and fourth and a fifth each tougher than its predecessor – such as heralded the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and eventually the end of Saddam’s own life.

    Still, even if baseless when directed at diplomats and ministers and heads of state, the charge of “singling out Israel” cannot be dismissed out of hand when much of civil society in the world today is concerned. It is a fact – which can be easily proven statistically – that there are intellectuals and university lecturers who write more articles condemning Israeli actions than they write against comparable actions in other countries. It is an easily proven fact that a considerable number of activist groups, and student organizations, and militant trade unionists, and a host of others, are busy passing sharply worded resolutions, and holding protests, and sometimes calling for a boycott against Israel – while falling short of acting as vehemently against each and every culpable country around the world.

    For the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Nathan Sharansky and Ben Dror Yemini, this is a clear and sufficient proof of anti-Semitism. The proper course for a genuine upholder and defender of Human Rights should be to compile a full and comprehensive list of all violators (Amnesty International used to be a fairly reliable source for such, except that nowadays Amnesty has also become stained with “singling out Israel”). Then, a rota of pickets should be set up in front of all relevant embassies, with the Israeli one visited for three-quarters of an hour every third Monday, and anyone overstaying this quota by more than ten minutes would stand condemned as an anti-Semite (or a self-hater if a Jew oneself, or a traitor if an Israeli citizen, or all three combined…)

    In practice, of course, the government of Israel and its adherents are well aware that public campaigns, to achieve any result, must be focused on a specific issue – which necessarily means that somebody in “singled out”. To cite one prominent example, the eminently successful worldwide campaign of the 1970’s and 1980’s, conducted under the slogan “Let My People Go!” was based on singling out the Soviet Union as against all other countries violating the Human Rights of their citizens; and on singling out Soviet Jews as against all other oppressed Soviet citizens; and singling out Soviet Jews wanting to leave their country as against those wanting to stay and have their rights respected at home; and on singling out Soviet Jews wanting to go to Israel as against those wanting to go somewhere else (the latter were the target of a particularly vituperative campaign…).

    The result of all these forms of singling out is that Russian has become Israel’s de-facto second language, with Russian-speakers comprising some 20% of its population (a large part of them not being recognized as Jews, and not being able to get married in Israel – but this is a subject for another article…) An unfocused general campaign , against all forms of injustice everywhere, singling out nobody, would hardly have achieved this (or any) result.

    Still, granted that focusing on a specific issue is the indispensable precondition of a successful campaign, the reason why it is particularly Israel which has become the target of such a campaign still needs to be looked at. It is my contention that the singling out of Israel for a special consideration and a treatment different from that given to anybody else is nothing new, nor has it always been directed against Israel. In fact, it has been actively initiated and promoted by Israel itself, or rather by the Zionist movement at the very inception of the project which would culminate in the creation of Israel. Zionism very specifically and explicitly asked the international community to be singled out for a very specific and very unique privilege, which was never ever granted to any other group anywhere else. Namely, the right to claim a land as its “National Home” on the basis of ancestors having lived in this land 2000 years ago.


    In 1897, when Theodore Herzl and his fellows held the First Zionist Congress in Basle, national movements have already been a regular feature on the international agenda for about a century. Zionism has taken up many of the tenets and practices of European Nationalism – in particular East European Nationalism.

    After all, many of the founders of Zionism had started out as patriotic Poles, or patriotic Magyars, or patriotic Germans, people who had wanted nothing more than to be accepted as equal citizens of the country where they lived – and who, faced with a painful and humiliating anti-Semitic rejection, recoiled into forming a national movement of their own. And naturally enough, it was modelled on the kind of nationalism they had known. And still, there was a major difference.

    It is all too common for national movements to gain widespread international sympathy for the plight of the oppressed ethnic group they seek to represent – and once gaining state power, to engage in discrimination and oppression of other groups. And it is common for national movements to make sweeping territorial claims, often based on the narrative (historical or mythical) of some ancient warrior king. The Biblical King David, whom ardent Zionists cited, was far from the first such.

    Still, the essential aim of all other national movements I ever heard of was to get control of a core area where their own ethnic group constituted the whole of the population, or at least an overwhelming majority. None but Zionists had ever put forward a claim for a country in whose entirety its ethnic group constituted at the time less than ten percent of the population, making implementation of its aspirations dependent upon a radical change of the status quo in that country.

    Many factors converged to make possible the Zionist success in getting such a claim endorsed by the international community.- utterly unique, and sharply singling out Zionism and Israel from everybody else in the world.

    There was a widespread, genuine sympathy for the persecuted Jews and horror at the Russian pogroms in the early days of Zionism, later dwarfed by the Nazi genocide. But side by side with this was the frankly racist wish to “get rid” of what were often portrayed as “the flood of East European Jewish hordes”, – and Zionism seemed to offer a convenient way of getting these “hordes” as far away as possible, out of sight and out of mind for respectable Europeans.

    Even so, it would have likely been impossible but for the fact that the land claimed by Zionists was the well-known “Holy Land”, a land whose Biblical past was widely seen as far more important than its present. For centuries, Christian pilgrims had gone there to look for the shades of the past, “to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ”. Often, they regarded present-day inhabitants of the land as an unimportant appendage, shadows fleeting through the ruins of past glory.

    Such was the mind-set of Christian Zionism which preceded and heralded the Jewish one. A mind-set which made plausible for this one specific country an idea that would have seemed the strangest of lunacies anywhere else: to turn the clock back two or three thousand years and restore the land to remote descendants of those who lived in it in past millennia. And in turn, the idea became plausible to mainstream opinion makers and decision makers in key Western countries, not all of them devout Christians themselves.

    For all that, the Zionist movement never gained an unconditional international endorsement for its demands and aspirations. Throughout his career, Herzl dreamed of gaining for Zionism an International Charter. By considerable effort and quite a bit of luck, later Zionists got two of them – both of crucial importance, but neither providing an unrestricted license to dispossess and displace the people which Zionism found in the land, who would become known as Palestinians.

    In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, His Majesty’s Government declared that it would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” – but “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Thirty years later, the United Nations at last explicitly authorized fulfillment of the Zionist dream by the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine – but with an Arab State at its side. In effect, Zionism can be seen to have signed a contract with the international community. Fair treatment of the Palestinians and respect of (at least some of) their rights as the clear condition for the recognition of its own national aspirations.

    It took very long before Zionism would be seriously accused of defaulting on its part of this deal. In 1948, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the young Israel was internationally applauded as a plucky David defeating a vicious Goliath. It is hardly remembered that at this time Zionism and the young Israel had been a progressive cause, supported worldwide by much the same kind of people who would nowadays support the Palestinians, and for much the same reason – sympathy for the underdog.

    In 1949 Israel was accepted as a member of the UN without being asked to give up the territory which was not assigned to it in the partition plan, and the Palestinian refugees were regarded mainly as a humanitarian problem to be given a humanitarian solution. The Israeli position – that what the Palestinians lost in 1948 was forfeited due to their intransigence – was generally accepted on the international arena (and is in fact still so accepted). It was only after 1967 that Israel started to be seen as a Goliath rather than a David.

    It is now 2010 – 113 years after the First Zionist Congress, 93 years after the Balfour Declaration, 63 years after the UN Partition Resolution, 43 years after the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It would be very difficult for even the most brilliant lawyer to seriously assert that the leaders of Zionism and of the State of Israel had kept their part of the deal made with the International Community. By every possible standard, the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities which existed in Palestine in 1917 have been grossly prejudiced, over and over again. The Jewish State in Palestine was created in 1948 and greatly overstepped the boundaries set for it by the United Nations, while the Arab State in Palestine is yet to come.

    And thus, to go back to the question posed at the beginning of this article: Is Israel singled out, by international civil society if not (yet?) by international diplomacy? Yes, it is. Is it unfair and biased? To my view, it is not. It is but a quite fair demand upon Israel to pay at least part of a long-overdue debt, and keep their part of a contract which Israel’s Founding Fathers solemnly signed.

    Yes, there are many countries whose conduct fully deserves condemnation – but none was given such a unique privilege as the Zionist movement was given, none had made such a binding obligation in return for being given such a privilege, and which it failed to keep.

    In recent years the State of Israel has been vociferously criticized for planting settlers in the occupied territories – which it can be argued that China is also doing in Tibet; and for killing civilians in the bombings of Gaza, which it can shown that Americans and Europeans are also doing in Iraq and Afghanistan; and for lethally raiding the Gaza Aid Flotilla, for which some apologists also tried to find various precedents and parallels. Yet Israel is singled out because it, and it alone, is in obvious default of a fundamental obligation, an obligation which was the condition for Israel coming into being in the first place.

    The plan which is now on offer – and had been on offer for quite a long time – gives Israel the possibility of settling this debt on quite comfortable conditions. The West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are to be given up and become the State of Palestine, are after all little more than 22% of what was Mandatory Palestine, and by giving them up Israel would be intentionally recognized as having at last discharged its debt and kept its obligation. But continued persistence in refusing to pay the debt – continuing it until the international balance of power has fundamentally changed, some years or decades from now – might put Israel at the risk of what happens to those who fail to pay their debts: going into liquidation.


  16. Women Take On the Orthodox
    By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

    JERUSALEM, Aug 2, 2010 (IPS) – Jerusalem is a city blessed but also cursed by its own holiness. No more so than here at ‘Ground Zero’, the religious epicentre within the walled Old City, beneath the most disputed holy site — the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary as known to Muslims, Har Habayit or the Temple Mount for Jews.

    The Western Wall is the last remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple, Judaism’s holiest site. Since Israel took control of the Old City in the 1967 Arab-Israel War, the Wall has been a symbol of national unity.

    More recently it has exposed rifts among Israeli Jews. And, threatened dissent between Israel and liberal Jewish groups in the U.S.

    An unseemly episode in this rift took place at the Wall last month. The fracas involved Israeli police, Orthodox Israelis and a group of Jewish women from Israel and the U.S. who are trying to assert their claim to a place in Judaism’s religious practices. In Orthodox Judaism, women are denied this.

    The fighting broke out when the ‘Women of the Wall’ tried to pray at the Wall with a Torah scroll, a parchment copy of the Books of the Bible, Judaism’s founding text.

    The Torah took quite a battering and Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the women’s prayer group, was detained. As she was unceremoniously bundled into a police van, she shouted, “We’re doing nothing wrong. We’re fully within the guidelines of the Supreme Court ruling. There’s absolutely no reason for me to be arrested.”

    Under pressure from Orthodox rabbis, in 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court prohibited women from reading from the Torah within the Western Wall plaza.

    However, in a bid to end the regular protests mounted by the Women of the Wall, the Court ruled they could conduct their own prayer services, including with a Torah scroll, at a more remote segment of the Wall. The area known as Robinson’s Arch is out of sight of the Orthodox worshippers.

    Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi responsible for the Wall, says the women are waging a “fanatical” political struggle. “People of all faiths and all degrees of Jewish observance are welcome here. But they’re expected to respect the feelings of those who pray here all the time, and to behave accordingly.”

    Hoffman retorts that her group was not being offensive: “We were simply singing and praying, holding the Torah on our way to Robinson’s Arch to complete our service.”

    It’s not the first time Hoffman and members of her group have been arrested for trying to pray at the Wall. In January, Hoffman was questioned, fingerprinted and threatened with a charge of having committed a felony.

    According to the Orthodox practices, women can pray at the Wall but only within a small section adjacent to the much larger space allocated men.

    ‘No women allowed here’, reads the sign at the entrance to the men’s section. Women can hear the prayer service, but not assist the men; a head-level barrier separates them.

    This battle between Orthodox rabbis and the Women of the Wall is a gender war among Jews. Know your place, say the Orthodox to the women who are challenging the rabbis’ domination of religious space.

    It is an added complication on this battleground of a potential war of religion between Judaism and Islam: In addition to sister religions fighting for rights and supremacy, now sisters are pitted against brothers of the same religion, brothers against sisters.

    “Today they say women cannot hold the Torah,” says Hoffman, “Tomorrow it will be, women cannot look at the Torah. Then it will be, women cannot be at the Wall at all. Before you know it, all Jerusalem will be segregated. That’s where we’re headed.”

    Rabbi Rabinowitz counters: “This is a place of unity, not of discord and polarisation. Let us not forget that two thousand years ago our Holy Temple was destroyed because of internal hatred and strife.”

    Communities aren’t always kind to their own members. Some are allowed in, others pushed out. Sometimes, they even try to turn dissenters into ‘the other’.

    Says Hoffman: “At a time when our enemies are working to de-legitimise the Jewish state, the message of the Israeli establishment is to de-legitimise the liberal streams within Judaism.”

    The battle of the women at the Wall reflects the way Orthodox Jews are rebuffing the challenge mounted by reformist Jewish groups.

    The liberal forms of Jewish practice advocated by Hoffman, a leader of the Reform Judaism movement in Israel, and by the Conservative Judaism Movement (with which most U.S. Jews are affiliated), have never taken root in Israel.

    Rituals are entrusted to the Orthodox, even though most Israeli Jews lead almost completely secular lives and seek out rabbis only at important rites of passage — birth, adulthood, marriage and divorce, death.

    This battle comes at a delicate time in relations between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

    Large segments of U.S. Jewry mobilised against a conversion bill in the Knesset that would anchor in law the control by Orthodox rabbis over all conversions to Judaism in Israel.

    At the last minute, this latest fissure in a growing discord between Jews in the U.S. and Israel was averted — at least, delayed; both sides agreed to a six- month “reassessment”.

    The crisis was defused only after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that the conversion bill “could tear apart the Jewish people,” intervened.

    He charged Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency (the institution that bridges Jews abroad and Israel) with working out a compromise. “When Israel’s legitimacy is increasingly under attack, Jews must unite,” said Sharansky, a customary refrain when Israel feels in trouble.

    But Netanyahu recognises that the “trouble” goes beyond the religious rifts within Judaism. His real challenge, he knows, is how to handle the growing discomfort many Jews in the U.S. have with the broad swathe of his government’s policies — at a time when he might need their support more than ever.


  17. Israel threat to leave UN inquiry

    Israel: Tel Aviv has threatened to pull out of a UN inquiry into its deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla after the UN secretary-general denied there was any agreement to spare Israeli soldiers from being called to testify.

    After Ban Ki Moon rejected claims on Monday that he had agreed not to summon Israeli soldiers before the panel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office stated that Israel “will not co-operate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”

    Israeli officials claim that they only agreed to take part in the UN probe on the grounds that the panel would rely instead on reports from Israel’s own military inquiry.



    Jeff Halper

    August 11, 2010

    Yesterday, the day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, at 2:30 in the morning, workers sent by the Israeli authorities, protected by dozens of police, destroyed the tombstones in the last portion of the Mamilla cemetery, an historic Muslim burial ground with graves going back to the 7th Century, hitherto left untouched. The government of Israel has always been fully cognizant of the sanctity and historic significance of the site. Already in 1948, when control of the cemetery reverted to Israel, the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla “to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of [Saladin’s] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always know to protect and respect this site.” For all that, and despite (proper) Israeli outrage when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated anywhere in the world, the dismantlement of the Mamilla cemetery has been systematic. In the 1960s “Independence Park” was built over a portion of it; subsequently an urban road was built through it, major electrical cables were laid over graves and a parking lot constructed over yet another piece. Now some 1,500 Muslim graves have been cleared in several nighttime operations to make way for…..a $100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. (Ironically, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director, appeared on Fox News to express his opposition to the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, because the site of the 9/11 attack “is a cemetery.”)

    The month-long period between Netanyahu’s July 6th visit to Washington and the start of Ramadan has provided Israel with a window to “clear the table” after a frustrating hiatus on home demolitions imposed by the “old,” mildly critical Obama Administration – although there is no guarantee that Israel will not demolish during Ramadan, especially if it wants to exploit the period until the November elections, knowing that until then Obama will not overtly oppose anything it does in the Occupied Territories. In fact, the process of demolishing Palestinian homes never ceased. On June 6th, for example, a year after the demolition of more than 65 structures and the forced displacement of more than 120 people, including 66 children, nine families of Khirbet Ar Ras Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, totaling 70 people, received a new round of “evacuation orders.” A week later the Israeli High Court ordered the Civil Administration to “step up enforcement against illegal Palestinian structures” in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

    And so, on July 13th, upon Netanyahu’s return (Palestinian homes are not demolished without an OK from the Prime Minister’s Office), three homes were demolished in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, followed by three more homes in Beit Hanina. The Jerusalem Municipality also announced the planned demolition of 19 more homes in Issawiya this month. In the West Bank, the Israeli “Civil” Administration demolished 55 structures belonging to 22 Palestinian families in the Hmayer area of Al Farisiye in the northern Jordan Valley, including 22 residential tents and 30 other structures used to shelter animals and store agricultural equipment. According to the UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): “This week [July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu’s return from Washington] there was a significant increase in the number of demolitions in Area C, with at least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan Valley and the southern West Bank, including Bethlehem and Hebron districts. In 2010, at least 230 Palestinian structures have been demolished in Area C, forcibly displacing 1100 people, including 400 children. Approximately 600 others have been otherwise affected.” Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

    The demolition of homes is, of course, only a small, if painful, part of the destruction Israel wreaks daily on the Palestinian population. Over the past few weeks a violent campaign has been waged against Palestinian farmers in one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the West Bank, the Baka Valley, steadily being encroached upon by large suburbs of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in Hebron. Israel already takes 85% of the West Bank’s water for its own use, either for settlements (settlers use five times more water per capita as do Palestinians, and Ma’aleh Adumim is currently building a water park in addition to its four municipal swimming pools and the huge fountains constantly flowing in the city center) or to be pumped into Israel proper – all in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power from using the resources of an occupied territory.

    Accusing the farmers of “stealing water” – their own water – the Israel water company Mekorot, supported by the Civil Administration and the IDF, has in recent weeks destroyed dozens of wells, some of them ancient, and reservoirs used to collect rain water, which is also “illegal.” Hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have dried up as irrigation pipes have been pulled out and confiscated by the Civil Administration. Fields of tomatoes, beans, eggplants and cucumbers are dying just before they can be harvested, and the grape industry in this rich valley is threatened with destruction. “I’m watching my life dry up before my eyes,” Ata Jaber, a Palestinian farmer who has had his home demolished twice, most of whose land lies buried under the Givat Harsina neighborhood of Kiryat Arba and whose plastic drip irrigation pipes are destroyed annually by the Civil Administration just before he can harvest. “I had hoped to sell my crop for at least $2000 before Ramadan, but all is gone.”

    (You can see a BBC report on the destruction of Palestinian reservoirs on YouTube and a heart-rending scene filmed just a week ago when Ata’s cousin was arrested in front of his small child for resisting the destruction of his water system .)

    Settlements continue to be built, of course. The much-trumpeted “settlement freeze” amounted to no less than a temporary lull in construction. (Indeed, Netanyahu never used the word “freeze”; in Hebrew he refers only to a “pause.”) According to the August report of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, at least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements – meaning that the rate of construction is about half of that during the same period in an average year when there is no freeze. Given that the approval process has never been halted – the Israeli government announced the planned building of 1600 housing units in the settlements when Vice President Biden was visiting, if you recall – making up for lost time when the “freeze” ends in late September will be an easy task. According to Ha’aretz, some 2,700 housing units are waiting to be constructed.

    The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did not really end settlement construction is obvious. The American government seems ready to accept lip-service only from Israel, as against overt and brutal threats towards the Palestinians if they do not acquiesce to the charade. Palestinian negotiators revealed last week the Obama Administration threatened to cut all ties with the Palestinian Authority, political and financial, if they continued to insist on a genuine freeze on settlements or even clear parameters on what the sides will negotiate. (Netanyahu refuses to accept even the elementary principle of the 1967 borders being the basis of talks.)

    Just as destructive of any real peace process, however, is the fact that the focus on settlement freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel to create “irreversible facts on the ground” which will defeat the very process of negotiation. Even if Israel did respect a settlement freeze, there is no demand, no expectation, absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to build the Wall (the enclosing of the Shuafat refugee camp inside Jerusalem and the town of Anata is being completed in these very days, and the village of Wallajeh, some of which spills into Jerusalem, is losing its lands, ancient olive trees and homes even as we speak). Nothing is preventing Israel from continuing to impoverish and imprison the Palestinian population through its twenty-year economic “closure,” including the siege on Gaza, having reduced the Palestinian economy to ashes. Nothing stands in the way of completing a system of parallel (though not equal in size and quality) apartheid highways, big ones, going through Palestinian lands, for Israelis; narrow ones for Palestinians. Nothing keeps Israel from expelling Palestinian from their homes so that Jewish settlers can move in – on July 29th nine families living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, returning home at night from a wedding, found themselves locked out of their homes by settlers and prevented from entering by the police. (Palestinians, of course, have no legal recourse to reclaiming their properties, whole villages, towns and urban neighborhoods, farms, factories and commercial buildings, confiscated from them in 1948 and after.)

    Nothing prevents Israel from terrorizing the Palestinian population, whether by its own army or the surrogate militia founded by the US and run by the Palestinian Authority to pacify its own population, whether by settlers who shoot and beat Palestinians and burn their crops with no fear of arrest, or by undercover agents, aided by thousands of Palestinian forced to become collaborators, many simply so that their children could receive medical care or so they could have a roof over their heads; whether by expulsion or the myriad administrative constraints of an invisible yet Kafkaesque system of total control and intimidation. Nothing opposes Israel’s boycott of the Palestinian people, isolated from the world by Israeli-controlled borders, or policies that effectively boycott Palestinian schools and universities by preventing their proper functioning. And nothing, absolutely nothing, stops Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes – 24,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967, and counting.

    Perhaps this way of welcoming Ramadan comes at no surprise in terms of the Occupied Territories. It took on an entirely different cast when, on July 26th, more than 1,300 Israeli Border Police, the shock-troops of the police’s Yassam “special operations” unit and regular police, accompanied by helicopters, descended upon the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, just north of Beer-Sheva, a community within Israel inhabited by Israeli citizens. Forty-five homes were demolished, 300 people forcibly displaced. One of the most grotesque and dismaying parts of this operation was the use of Israeli Jewish high school students, volunteers with the civil guard, to remove the belongings of their fellow citizens from their homes before the demolition. Besides reports of vandalism and contempt for their victims the students were photographed lounging in the residents’ furniture in plain sight of its owners. Finally, when the bulldozers began demolishing the homes, the volunteers cheered and celebrated. Over the next week, as Israeli activists helped the residents pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes, the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Authority, the Ministry of the Interior and the “Green Patrol” of the Ministry of Agriculture (established by Ariel Sharon to prevent Bedouin “take-over” of the Negev) sent in police and bulldozers and had the village demolished twice more.

    Although al-Arakib is one of 44 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev – of which only eleven have even rudimentary education and medical services, no electricity, extremely limited access to water and none have paved roads (see – it is nevertheless populated by Israeli citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli army. While demolitions of Arab homes within Israel is not a new phenomenon – last year the Israeli government demolished three times more houses of Israeli (Arab) citizens inside Israel as it did in the Occupied Territories (the destruction of up to 8,000 homes in the Gaza invasion aside) – it signifies that the term “occupation” cannot be restricted to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (and the Golan Heights) alone. The situation of Arab citizens of Israel is almost as insecure as that of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, and their exclusion from Israeli society almost as complete. While around 1,000 cities, towns and agricultural villages have been established in Israel since 1948 exclusively for Jews, not a single new Arab settlement has been established, with the exception of seven housing projects for Bedouins in the Negev where none of the residents are allowed to farm or own animals. Indeed, regulations and zoning prohibit Palestinian citizens of Israel from living on 96% of the country’s land, which is reserved for Jews only.

    The message of the bulldozers is clear: Israel has created one bi-national entity between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which one population (the Jews) has separated itself from the other (the Arabs) and instituted a regime of permanent domination. That is precisely the definition of apartheid. And the message is delivered clearly in the weeks and days leading up to Ramadan. It is papered over with fine words. Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “We mark this important month amid attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence.” Obama and Clinton also sent their greetings to the Muslim world, Obama observing that Ramadan “remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.” Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers and other expressions of apartheid and warehousing tell a much different story.

    (Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at .)

    The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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