Adnan’s Victory

Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

A PALESTINIAN village, somewhere in the West Bank.

In the middle of the night, banging on the door and shouts in Arabic: “Israeli army. Open up!”

Somebody – most often the mother – opens the door. The heavily armed soldiers rush in and drag the victim out of bed. They throw him to the floor in full view of his wife and children (or parents and siblings), blindfold and handcuff him behind his back, and drag him to a jeep. The victim may be 15 or 70 years old or any age in between.

Continue reading

A Palestinian Spring; When?

Sami Jamil Jadallah
Sami Jamil Jadallah

Sami Jamil Jadallah

One would think that out of all the countries and people, albeit “invented” in the Middle East, the Palestinians would be leading the way to a full Arab Spring, Fall, Summer and Winter until the armed and colonial Jewish Occupation comes to an end. Surprisingly, this has not been the case.

More surprising is the fact that after meeting in Cairo a couple of weeks ago, Palestinian leadership, both Fatah and Hamas, had talks of holding elections! As if the elections of a government in the service of a Jewish Occupation is the most pressing issue at hand for Palestinians—more pressing than ending the Jewish Occupation.

The Oslo Accords, an outcome of the so-called ‘peace process’ not only killed any chance at ending the longest military and colonial occupation in modern times—it also killed and snuffed out the First Palestinian Intifada, truly the first Arab Spring. Continue reading

The method in Netanyahu’s madness

Jonathan Cook

Israel rules out non-violence

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

It was an Arab legislator who made the most telling comment to the Israeli parliament last week as it passed the boycott law, which outlaws calls to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied territories. Ahmed Tibi asked: “What is a peace activist or Palestinian allowed to do to oppose the occupation? Is there anything you agree to?”

The boycott law is the latest in a series of ever-more draconian laws being introduced by the far-right. The legislation’s goal is to intimidate those Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, who have yet to bow down before the majority-rule mob.

Look out in the coming days and weeks for a bill to block the work of Israeli human rights organisations trying to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from abuses by the Israeli army and settlers; and a draft law investing a parliamentary committee, headed by the far-right, with the power to veto appointments to the supreme court. The court is the only, and already enfeebled, bulwark against the right’s absolute ascendancy.

The boycott law, backed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, marks a watershed in this legislative assault in two respects.

First, it knocks out the keystone of any democratic system: the right to free speech. The new law makes it illegal for Israelis and Palestinians to advocate a non-violent political programme — boycott — to counter the ever-growing power of the half a million Jewish settlers living on stolen Palestinian land.

As the Israeli commentator Gideon Levy observed, the floodgates are now open: “Tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for an end to the occupation [or for] brotherhood between Jews and Arabs.”

Equally of concern is that the law creates a new type of civil, rather than criminal, offence. The state will not be initiating prosecutions. Instead, the job of enforcing the boycott law is being outsourced to the settlers and their lawyers. Anyone backing a boycott can be sued for compensation by the settlers themselves, who — again uniquely — need not prove they suffered actual harm.

Under this law, opponents of the occupation will not even be dignified with jail sentences and the chance to become prisoners of conscience. Rather, they will be quietly bankrupted in private actions, their assets seized either to cover legal costs or as punitive damages.

Human rights lawyers point out that there is no law like this anywhere in the democratic world. Even Eyal Yinon, the naturally conservative legal adviser to the parliament, assessed the law’s aim as stopping a “discussion that has been at the heart of political debate in Israel for more than 40 years”. But more than half of Israelis back it, with only 31 per cent opposed.

The delusional, self-pitying worldview that spawned the boycott law was neatly illustrated this month in a short video “ad” that is supported, and possibly financed, by Israel’s hasbara, or propaganda, ministry. Fittingly, it is set in a psychiatrist’s office.

A young, traumatised woman deciphers the images concealed in the famous Rorschach test. As she is shown the ink-splodges, her panic and anger grow. Gradually, we come to realise, she represents vulnerable modern Israel, abandoned by friends and still in profound shock at the attack on her navy’s commandos by the “terrorist” passengers aboard last year’s aid flotilla to Gaza.

Immune to reality — that the ships were trying to break Israel’s punitive siege of Gaza, that the commandos illegally boarded the ships in international waters, and that they shot dead nine activists execution-style — Miss Israel tearfully recounts that the world is “forever trying to torment and harm [us] for no reason”. Finally she storms out, saying: “What do you want – for [Israel] to disappear off the map?”

The video — released under the banner “Stop the provocation against Israel” — was part of a campaign to discredit the recent follow-up flotilla from Greece. The aid mission was abandoned after Greek authorities, under Israeli pressure, refused to let the convoy sail for Gaza.

Israel’s siege mentality asserted itself again days later as international activists staged another show of solidarity — this one nicknamed the “flytilla”. Hundreds tried to fly to Israel on the same day, declaring their intention to travel to the West Bank. The goal was to highlight that Israel both controls and severely restricts access to the occupied territories and to Palestinians.

Proving precisely the protesters’ point, Israel threatened airlines with retaliation if they carried the activists and it massed hundreds of soldiers at Ben Gurion airport to greet arrivals. Some 150 peaceful protesters who reached Israel were arrested moments after landing.

Echoing the deranged sentiments of the woman in the video, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the various flotillas as “denying Israel’s right to exist” and a threat to its security.

In reality, however, the surge in flotilla activity reflects not an attack on Israel but a growing appreciation by international groups that Israel is successfully sealing off from the world the small areas of the occupied territories left to Palestinians. The flotillas are a rebellion against the Palestinians’ rapid ghettoisation.

Although Netanyahu’s comments sound delusional, there may be a method to the madness of measures like the boycott law and the hysterical overreaction to the flotillas.

These initiatives, as Tibi points out, leave no room for non-violent opposition to the occupation. Arundhati Roy, the award-winning Indian writer, has noted that non-violence is essentially “a piece of theatre. [It] needs an audience. What can you do when you have no audience?”

Netanyahu and the Israeli right understand this point. They are carefully dismantling every platform on which dissident Israelis, Palestinians and international activists hope to stage their protests. They are making it impossible to organise joint peaceful and non-violent resistance, whether in the form of boycotts or solidarity visits. The only way being left open is violence.

Is this what the Israeli right wants, believing both that it will confirm to Israelis’ their paranoid fantasies as well as offering a justification to the world for entrenching the occupation?

Netanyahu appears to believe that, by generating the very terror he claims to be trying to defeat, he can safeguard the legitimacy of the Jewish state — and destroy any hope of a Palestinian state being created.

Jonathan Cook won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

  • The author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline. More Articles by Jonathan Cook.

The struggle continues in and out of “detention facilities”

Mazin Qumsiyeh

Mazin Qumsiyeh, 13 July, 2011

Below is the press release we issued today and below it is a letter from a Palestinian woman to the solidarity activists.  We have been up with little sleep over the past 4 days.  Each day required dealing with hundreds of issues and overcoming many obstacles.  Today for example with three events (Beit Sahour, Aida then Checkpoint 300, and Al-Walaja) required dealing with a lot of obstacles including a number of friction points with the Israeli army and attempting to get around their blocks.  But the one image that sticks in my mind is the sight of the children at Aida Refugee Camp playing in front of Al-Rowwad center with the international volunteers.  The sight was priceless.

 

As Israel tried to keep people apart and disconnected, our human bonds grew amazingly stronger and Israel was exposed for what it really is.  Humanity won, Zionism lost.  Tomorrow (Monday), the family of Rachel Corrie (a young solidarity activist who was murdered by Israeli troops will hold a press conference in Jerusalem.  See http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/blog/2011/07/10/corrie-family-and-legal-team-to-hold-press-conference-monday-july-11-at-american-colony-hotel-jerusalem I hope a lot of people attend it and highlight the issues of Israel harassing, jailing,  attacking and killing solidarity activists.

 

The words of Vittorio kept flashing through my mind all day: stay human.  The last few days, humanity shone and had to rise-up to the challenge of facing inhumanity, repression, and fascism.  Stay human indeed.

Mazin

———-

“Welcome to Palestine” Press Release #5

Israeli authorities set stringent conditions for release of “Welcome to Palestine” prisoners. The large majority of international visitors are still incarcerated under brutal conditions, begin a hunger strike in Israeli jail

 

Bethlehem, July 10, 2011.  Over 120 internationals attempting to visit Palestine were arrested and are still being illegally detained in two Israeli detention centers, in Ramle and in Beer Al-Saba’ (Beersheva). These friends of Palestine, among which there are minors and elderly persons with medical conditions, have been and are being mistreated and subjected to unnecessary brutality.

 

For example, Dr. Hikmat Al-Sabty, 57, of Rostock, Germany, is being denied needed medication that is in his suitcase; this was reported to his wife by the German Embassy in Tel Aviv, but his wife has not been allowed to speak with him directly.  All of those detained have stated repeatedly that they are non-violent and want only to accept the invitation to visit together with Palestinian friends in the program “Welcome to Palestine.”

 

The Israeli authorities released two older German men from prison yesterday, but only on condition that they sign an Israeli legal document that was presented to them only in Hebrew and English. One of the two men came to Bethlehem.  He is uncertain of the full contents of the Israeli paper he signed because his English is not good, and he was unable to first consult with his attorney in Israel before signing the paper: the Israeli authorities yesterday made attorney access to prisoners very difficult, and large number of those detained can only be seen by their attorneys today and tomorrow.

 

The German man now in Palestine believes that he has agreed in writing not to go to Ramallah, Jenin, and certain other Palestinian cities, but that the Israeli authorities have allowed that he to go to “tourist” areas in the West Bank.  Because he is still uncertain of the full content of the Israeli document he signed, he prefers not to give his name at this time.  The Israeli authorities refused, in violation of international law, to give him a copy of the paper he signed.  His attorney is seeking to obtain a copy of the document he signed from the Israeli authorities.

 

We received a letter from the Belgian group in Bersheeva prison, who state that they began a hunger strike last night.  In the letter, the Belgians demand, on behalf of all the prisoners, to have contact their families and with their attorneys.  They demand an international investigation into the behavior of airline companies and Israeli officials.  They also demand to be able to have contact with each other in the Israeli prison.  For example, because the French and Belgian men and women are separated in the prison, the men do not know whether the women are also aware of the hunger strike.  It is believed that the French men have joined the hunger strike.  According to the Germans who were released, the German men and women there are also participating in the hunger strike, but the men and women are not allowed to speak with each other.

 

Those few international guests who were able to reach Bethlehem on Friday were invited by their Palestinian hosts to go to either to a demonstration in Qalandia at noon or else to attend a gathering in Bilin at 11 am, from which they then joined Palestinian friends in Nebi Saleh. There Israeli soldiers prevented the bus-loads of passengers and local Palestinians and Israeli supporters from holding a peaceful demonstration.  The Israeli forces shot stun grenades and at least two kinds of tear gas canisters at them. The nearby agricultural fields were set ablaze by these tear-gas canisters.   The Israeli forces illegally detained — kidnapped — four peace activists, including three Israeli citizens and one Brazilian.   Several participants were injured.

 

Events planned continued.  Today, there was a gathering in Beit Sahour in front of the Greek Orthodox Church, an event at Aida Refugee Camp and an event in Al-Walaja.
Media Contacts:

GENERAL: info@palestinejn.org

JERUSALEM: Sergio Yahni, sergioyahni@gmail.com, +972(0)526375032

BETHLEHEM: Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, mazin@qumsiyeh.org, +972(0)598939532

FRANCE:  Nicolas Shahshahani, bienvenuepalestine@orange.fr

GERMANY: Sophia Deeg,  sophia_deeg@yahoo.de, +49(0)88 007761,

+49(0)1799878414

UK: Sofiah MacLeod, secretary@scottishpsc.org.uk,+44(0)7931 200 36100,

+44(0)131 620 0052

USA: Karin Pally, myizzy@gmail.com or kpally@earthlink.net, +1 310-399-1921

International Media Coordination: Elsa Rassbach +49 (0) 30 326 01540 or +49 (0) 170 738 1450 Skype: elsarassbach

 

Please stay informed through our websites:

- http://palestinianspring.palestinejn.org
- http://welcometopalestinenews.blogspot.com/
- http://ahlanfefalasteen.blogspot.com/
- http://bienvenueenpalestinepresse.blogspot.com/

 

Netanyahu Panics When Folks Like Kathy Kelly Come to Visit Palestine by Sea or By Air

http://wallwritings.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/netanyahu-panics-when-folks-like-kathy-kelly-come-to-visit-palestine-by-sea-or-by-air/

 

A letter from a Palestinian woman to the supporters of Palestine.

 

I would like to talk to you as the voice of the thousands of Palestinians who appreciate what you are doing. You who have a great commitment to human rights and who actually act upon your beliefs. You risk your life to both witness and tell the truth of what you see. You are a group of people who understand what is happening in the holy land and have decided to dedicate your time, money and energy to the issue. You demonstrate that religion nor race is important when it comes to standing up for the rights human beings. And every step you take justice and humanity wins.

 

I want you to trust that your actions are making a difference and changing the violence we see here in our land. Your solidarity is helping fuel our non violent fight. Palestinians face many kinds of violence and torture, however, being ignored is the worst punishment of all. Those who refuse to hear and see us are just as bad as those who occupy us. Those who stand in solidarity with us send a strong message of humanity and are helping us to overcome our suffering. In the middle of all this crisis, your help puts a smile on our face. From this smile you will always be welcome in our hearts even if you are unable to enter our land.

 

Your solidarity reminds the world that we are all one human family and that we Palestinians are still part of it. Please do not give up. Even if your boats do not make it to the shores of Gaza or if your planes refuse to fly, the unseen effects are still huge.

 

I want to say thank you for all that your work involves. Thank you for booking your tickets, taking time off from work, leaving your loved ones, and for all of the other small things, I am truly grateful.

 

Please continue to be with us, hand in hand, in our non-violent struggle. We need to reach the end of the path of occupation and your presence on this journey is crucial, we cannot make it alone.

 

I hope one day to share a coffee with you in my home or in yours, for when this day comes we will have reached our freedom.

 

Hekmat Bessiso

Gazan living in Ramallah

 

Mazin Qumsiyeh

A bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home

http://qumsiyeh.org

http://palestinejn.org

http://pcr.ps

http://IMEMC.or

http://www.alrowwad-acts.ps

De-constructing the “construction boom”

UNRWA's construction project in Khan Yunis, October 2010. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

Gisha, 4 April 2011

Early last week, the Israeli Army Spokesperson’s Unit announced “widespread construction” in the Gaza Strip after the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories approved 121 projects funded by international organizations. According to the report, following the approval, the Gaza economy was expected “to be bolstered”.
This is a positive step, but unfortunately there’s nothing new about the news. The projects had already been approved over the course of the last year and in fact, the last time a new project was approved was in early February. Besides, the total value of the approved projects represents only 20% of the budget for projects planned by UNDP and UNRWA alone.
Leaving aside the recurring declarations of approval of the same projects, construction is proceeding at a snail’s pace because Israel operates only a single crossing into the Gaza Strip – Kerem Shalom – through which all goods are transferred, leaving little room for building materials. The average amount of “banned” construction materials (steel, cement and gravel) that Israel allowed into the Gaza Strip each month between October 2010 and February 2011 was 20,000 tons, which is just 7.6% of the average monthly amount (264,000 tons) brought into Gaza before the closure, from January to May 2007.
The Israeli security establishment has admitted (Hebrew) that the shortage of building materials impedes reconstruction in Gaza but claims that it restricts the transfer of these materials because Hamas can use them for military purposes, such as the building of bunkers and tunnels. For this reason, Israel operates a cumbersome bureaucratic system which, among other things, creates painstaking documentation and monitoring requirements for international organizations bringing in goods for their projects, as if we were talking about enriched uranium and not cement to lay the foundation of a school.
UNRWA's construction project in Khan Yunis, October 2010. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

UNRWA's construction project in Khan Yunis, October 2010. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

But even this cumbersome system doesn’t ensure Israel control over the transfer and use of building materials in the Gaza Strip. According to a UN report, from October 2010 to February 2011, 98,000 tons of steel, cement and gravel were transferred through the tunnels without Israeli supervision – five times the amount transferred through the crossings during that same period.
Aside from the ineffectiveness of Israel’s restrictions in preventing Hamas’s access to building materials, this number illustrates just how great the demand for building materials is in the Gaza Strip compared to the limited supply Israel allows in through the crossings. The near-monopoly of the tunnel industry over the import of building materials, created as a result of Israel’s construction materials policy, allows the local government to appear more effective than international organizations in the construction of vital buildings. The local government uses materials from the tunnels, while the regulations of most international organizations prevent them from doing so.

 

Gaza residents whose homes were destroyed during Operation "Cast Lead" build new homes with aid provided by Islamic charities. The construction materials entered via the tunnels, December 2010. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

Gaza residents whose homes were destroyed during Operation "Cast Lead" build new homes with aid provided by Islamic charities. The construction materials entered via the tunnels, December 2010. Photo: Mohammed Azaiza, Gisha

Gaza’s economy has grown 9% in the last year from the place to which it had sunk post-war and during three years of nearly hermetic closure, but the gross domestic product is still 20% less than it was in 2005. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund released ahead of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting this coming Wednesday, one of the measures needed for a meaningful recovery of the economy is the lifting of restrictions on the private sector, including the ban on the transfer of building materials.
It can be assumed that some of the building materials brought in through the tunnels are being put to military use, just as it can be assumed that such use is being made of some civilian infrastructure and other basic products. Yet, Israel does not define electricity, computers or telephones as dual use products and allows them into the Gaza Strip. Is banning building materials for the private sector and preventing construction of vital buildings really necessary, especially considering that construction materials are flowing through the tunnels to whoever is willing to pay the price?
Goods  Needs Vs. Supply  13/3/11 - 9/4/11

Goods Needs Vs. Supply 13/3/11 - 9/4/11

Industrial Fuel  Needs Vs. Supply  13/3/11 - 9/4/11

Industrial Fuel Needs Vs. Supply 13/3/11 - 9/4/11

Celebrating Palestinian Child Day 2011

 

Palestinian Child Day falls annually on April 5th. This is an annual event for the Palestinian community to celebrate their children and to call for action on issues and concerns affecting them.

Watch a TV spot made to mark this year’s Palestinian Child Day:

- There are 2,150,000 children in the occupied Palestinian territory.
- Every year approximately 700 Palestinian children from the West Bank are prosecuted in Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.
- There are about 800,000 children in Gaza; the majority of them have never traveled outside of Gaza.
- The Separation Wall dividing the West Bank from Jerusalem denies thousands of Palestinian children the right to the city.

Arabic version

Findings:

- Results of a baseline survey conducted by Save the Children Sweden and East Jerusalem-YMCA indicated that all adult ex-detainees and 90.6% of child ex-detainees suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Moreover, ex-detainee children in general were at higher risk, in comparison with a standardized sample, for all symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including introversive and thought problems, anxiety/depression, and withdrawal, while adult ex detaineeswere at high risk of mental disorders in comparison with a non patient sample.

- Results indicated that 65.2% of younger ex-detainees suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.

- Younger child ex-detainees (15 years of age) suffer from more severe trauma due to their separation from their families at such a critical age. Results indicate that intervention was very much affective in reducing the PTSD symptoms of beneficiaries.

- The majority of ex-detainee children and adults mentioned face family, social, financial and emotional difficulties after their release. Family dynamics worsen after the child’s release, parents become more overprotective and authoritarian, and children become less communicative, more nervous and unable to stand by their family limits. Parents were bothered by their children’s mood and behaviour and mostly bothered by the child’s performance at school/work. Interestingly, social behaviour was the most satisfying area, which may indicate a better social functioning than other demanding functioning areas. In general, the data indicates high parenting stress due to the parents’ preoccupation with their own life issues, like health, work, and mood problems.

The Post–trauma rehabilitation of ex-detainee children programme aims at facilitating the re-integration process of child ex-detainees into their community through enhancing their educational and vocational lives through providing educational vocational support.

 

From Save The Children Sweden website

Shooting Children ’Will Continue’ In Gaza’s Buffer Zone

Kids participate in the culture of resistance that Gaza has witnessed for 6 decades.

Palestine Monitor, 6 October 2010

New research from Defence for Children International (DCI) shows that Gazan children are routinely fired upon if they stray too close to the border fence. They have documented 10 cases since May, of which six took place beyond Israel’s stated exclusion zone of 300m. Many more are expected in the coming weeks.

Khaled I, 16, used to collect gravel in the industrial zone by the fence. On July 31, 600m from the border, he was shot in the thigh with a 250mm calibre bullet that hit an artery and hospitalised him for 15 days. “They (Israeli soldiers) saw us every day and knew very well we were gravel collectors”, Khalid told DCI. He says he will not return to work, even though “gravel collection is good because construction materials are banned from entering Gaza”.

That gravel collection, which yields $0.80 per bucket and $10 per day, is seen as attractive is testament to the continued deprivation in the strip. Despite a slight relaxation of the Israeli embargo on allowing goods to enter Gaza, construction materials remain for the most part banned. If the current rate of 30 trucks per week continues, the UN estimate “Gaza will return to its pre-war position in 2045”. While large numbers of Gazans continue to live and work in bombed-out buildings, the demand for materials from any source will continue, keeping teenagers busy in the dangerous fields by the border. Khalid saw “hundreds” of collectors at work the day he was shot.

In May 2009, the Israeli army dropped thousands of pamphlets over Gaza warning that anyone who entered areas within 300m of the fence would be endangering their life. To date, this limit has never been marked. This unilateral decision was a huge advance on the Oslo agreement of 50m, and to this was added a ‘high risk’ zone extending up to 1.5km. There have been documented shootings even beyond this distance. DCI have questioned the legal legitimacy of such sweeping, de facto land closure, most strongly where it has precedence over international humanitarian law that expressly forbids the deliberate targeting of civilians.


The Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that the zone was predominantly arable land, essential for local farmers. By their figures, 35% of land with potential for cultivation falls within these areas. Crop production has followed a steep decline in recent years, as many farmers are unwilling to risk fire through tending their land. On the other side, the 20 nautical miles reserved for fishing in Oslo has been slashed to three since 2007, depriving the market of its other staple resource. Between January and April, at least ten fishermen were shot by the navy.

“Unless Israel alter orders on the border, or there is economic change we will continue to see these incidents”, said a senior DCI source. Their priority is to reduce the number of shootings rather than to hold those responsible to account. “Since Goldstone there have been two convictions (over Cast Lead), two soldiers for using a child as a human shield and one for a stolen credit card, and that was after amazing international pressure”, the source said, indicating the futility of attempting to make Israeli soldiers accountable.

In the watchtowers along the border, remote-controlled weapons that soldiers compare to Playstation controllers have enabled them to open fire easily and casually. The authorisation procedure takes under two minutes. A 21-year old soldier in the control room famously told Haaretz “its very alluring to be the one to do this”. The frequency with which donkeys and domestic animals are gunned down inside the fence speaks eloquently of that allure.

For families scratching a living in war-torn Gaza, the potential income from the border zone is often too important to pass up. Their children must play the game and hope that soldiers are merciful.

Learn more about the problems of children in Gaza from DCI Palestine http://www.dci-pal.org/english/home.cfm

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, July 31 2010

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.

permlink: http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1280589635

Israel’s new ‘video game’ executions

Sentry Tech

Jonathan Cook in Nazareth, 12 July 2010
Soldiers kill by remote control

Sentry Tech

Sentry Tech

It is called Spot and Shoot. Operators sit in front of a TV monitor from which they can control the action with a PlayStation-style joystick.

The aim: to kill terrorists.

Played by: young women serving in the Israeli army.

Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people — Palestinians in Gaza — who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.

The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza.

The system is one of the latest “remote killing” devices developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments company, the former weapons research division of the Israeli army and now a separate governmental firm.

According to Giora Katz, Rafael’s vice-president, remote-controlled military hardware such as Spot and Shoot is the face of the future. He expects that within a decade at least a third of the machines used by the Israeli army to control land, air and sea will be unmanned.

The demand for such devices, the Israeli army admits, has been partly fuelled by a combination of declining recruitment levels and a population less ready to risk death in combat.

Oren Berebbi, head of its technology branch, recently told an American newspaper: “We’re trying to get to unmanned vehicles everywhere on the battlefield … We can do more and more missions without putting a soldier at risk.”

Rapid progress with the technology has raised alarm at the United Nations. Philip Alston, its special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, warned last month of the danger that a “PlayStation mentality to killing” could quickly emerge.

According to analysts, however, Israel is unlikely to turn its back on hardware that it has been at the forefront of developing – using the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially Gaza, as testing laboratories.

Remotely controlled weapons systems are in high demand from repressive regimes and the burgeoning homeland security industries around the globe.

“These systems are still in the early stages of development but there is a large and growing market for them,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and defence analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The Spot and Shoot system — officially known as Sentry Tech — has mostly attracted attention in Israel because it is operated by 19- and 20-year-old female soldiers, making it the Israeli army’s only weapons system operated exclusively by women.

Female soldiers are preferred to operate remote killing devices because of a shortage of male recruits to Israel’s combat units. Young women can carry out missions without breaking the social taboo of risking their lives, said Mr Brom.

The women are supposed to identify anyone suspicious approaching the fence around Gaza and, if authorised by an officer, execute them using their joysticks.

The Israeli army, which plans to introduce the technology along Israel’s other confrontation lines, refuses to say how many Palestinians have been killed by the remotely controlled machine-guns in Gaza. According to the Israeli media, however, it is believed to be several dozen.

The system was phased-in two years ago for surveillance, but operators were only able to open fire with it more recently. The army admitted using Sentry Tech in December to kill at least two Palestinians several hundred metres inside the fence.

The Haaretz newspaper, which was given rare access to a Sentry Tech control room, quoted one soldier, Bar Keren, 20, saying: “It’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defence.”

Audio sensors on the towers mean that the women hear the shot as it kills the target. No woman, Haaretz reported, had failed the task of shooting what the army calls an “incriminated” Palestinian.

The Israeli military, which enforces a so-called “buffer zone” — an unmarked no-man’s land — inside the fence that reaches as deep as 300 metres into the tiny enclave, has been widely criticised for opening fire on civilians entering the closed zone.

In separate incidents in April, a 21-year-old Palestinian demonstrator was shot dead and a Maltese solidarity activist wounded when they took part in protests to plant a Palestinian flag in the buffer zone. The Maltese woman, Bianca Zammit, was videoing as she was hit.

It is unclear whether Spot and Shoot has been used against such demonstrations.

The Israeli army claims Sentry Tech is “revolutionary”. And that will make its marketing potential all the greater as other armies seek out innovations in “remote killing” technology.

Rafael is reported to be developing a version of Sentry Tech that will fire long-range guided missiles.

Another piece of hardware recently developed for the Israeli army is the Guardium, an armoured robot-car that can patrol territory at up to 80km per hour, navigate through cities, launch “ambushes” and shoot at targets. It now patrols the Israeli borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Its Israeli developers, G-Nius, have called it the world’s first “robot soldier”. It looks like a first-generation version of the imaginary “robot-armour” worn by soldiers in the popular recent sci-fi movie Avatar.

Rafael has produced the first unmanned naval patrol boat, the “Protector”, which has been sold to Singapore’s navy and is being heavily marketing in the US. A Rafael official, Patrick Bar-Avi, told the Israeli business daily Globes: “Navies worldwide are only now beginning to examine the possible uses of such vehicles, and the possibilities are endless.”

But Israel is most known for its role in developing “unmanned aerial vehicles” – or drones, as they have come to be known. Originally intended for spying, and first used by Israel over south Lebanon in the early 1980s, today they are increasingly being used for extrajudicial executions from thousands of feet in the sky.

In February Israel officially unveiled the 14 metre-long Heron TP drone, the largest ever. Capable of flying from Israel to Iran and carrying more than a ton of weapons, the Heron was tested by Israel in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

More than 40 countries now operate drones, many of them made in Israel, although so far only the Israeli and US armies have deployed them as remote-controlled killing machines. Israeli drones are being widely used in Afghanistan.

Smaller drones have been sold to the German, Australian, Spanish, French, Russian, Indian and Canadian armies. Brazil is expected to use the drone to provide security for the 2014 World Cup championship, and the Panamanian and Salvadoran governments want them too, ostensibly to run counter-drug operations.

Despite its diplomatic crisis with Ankara, Israel was reported last month to have completed a deal selling a fleet of 10 Herons to the Turkish army for $185 million.

  • Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi. The Author contributed this article to RamallahOnline.com

Cluster Bombs and Civilian Lives: Efficient Killing, Profits and Human Rights

1278581506cluster_bombs_mohammed_baroud

Ramzy Baroud, 8 July 2010, PalestineChronicle.com

Cluster bombs are in the news again, thanks to a recent report from Amnesty International.

The human rights agency has confirmed that 35 women and children were killed following the latest US attacks on an alleged al-Qaeda hideout in Yemen. Initially, there were attempts to bury the story, and Yemen officially denied that civilians were killed as a result of the December 17 attack on al-Majala in southern Yemen. However, it has been simply impossible to conceal what is now considered the largest loss of life in one single US attack in the country.

If the civilian casualties were indeed a miscalculation on the part of the US military, there should no longer be any doubt about the fact that cluster munitions are far too dangerous a weapon to be utilized in war. And they certainly have no place whatsoever in civilian areas. The human casualties are too large to justify.

Yemen is not alone. Gaza, Lebanon and Afghanistan are also stark examples of the untold loss and suffering caused by cluster bombs. Meanwhile, the unrepentant Israeli army will not consider dropping the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas altogether. Instead it is pondering ways to make them ‘safer’. The Jerusalem Post reported on July 2 that the army “has recently carried out a series of tests with a bomblet that has a specially designed self-destruct mechanism which dramatically reduces the amount of unexploded ordnance.” During the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Israel fired millions of bomblets, mostly into South Lebanon. Aside from the immediate devastation and causalities, unexploded ordnance continues to victimize Lebanon’s civilians, most of whom are children. Dozens of lives have been lost since the end of this war.

In Gaza, the same terrible scenario was repeated between 2008 and 2009. Unlike Lebanon, however, trapped Palestinians in Gaza had nowhere to go.

Now Israel is anticipating another war with the Lebanese resistance. In preparation for this, an Israeli PR campaign is already underway. It seeks to convince public opinion that Israel is doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties. “As a result of the collateral damage and international condemnation, and ahead of a potential new conflict with Hizbullah, the IDF has decided to evaluate the M85 bomblet manufactured by the government-owned Israeli Military Industries (IMI),” the Jerusalem Post reported.

Of course, Israel’s friends, especially those who are yet to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions, will be pleased by the initial successes of the Israeli army testing. Under pressure to ratify the agreement, these countries are only too eager to offer a ‘safer’ version of current cluster bomb models. This would help not only to maintain the huge profits generated from this morally abhorrent business, it would also hopefully quell growing criticism by civil society and other world governments.

In December 2008, the United States, Russia and China, among others, sent a terrible message to the rest of the world. They refused to take part in the historic signing of the treaty that banned the production and use of cluster bombs. In a world that is plagued by war, military occupation and terrorism, the involvement of the great military powers in signing and ratifying the agreement would have signaled – if only symbolically – the willingness of these countries to spare civilians’ unjustifiable deaths and the lasting scars of war.

Fortunately, the refusal didn’t completely impede an international agreement. The incessant activism of many conscientious individuals and organizations came to fruition on December 3 and 4 in Oslo, Norway, when ninety-three countries signed a treaty banning the weapon.

Unfortunately, albeit unsurprisingly, the US, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan – a group that includes the biggest makers and users of the weapon – neither attended the Ireland negotiations of May 2008, and nor did they show any interest in signing the agreement in Oslo.

Most countries that have signed the accords are not involved in any active military conflict. They are also not in any way benefiting from the lucrative cluster munition industry.

The treaty was the outcome of intensive campaigning by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), a group of non-governmental organizations. CMC is determined to carry on with its campaigning to bring more signatories to the fold.

But without the involvement of the major producers and active users of the weapon, the Oslo ceremony remained largely symbolic. However, there is nothing symbolic about the pain and bitter losses experienced by the many victims of cluster bombs. According to the group Handicap International, a third of cluster-bomb victims are children. Equally alarming, 98 percent of the weapon’s overall victims are civilians. The group estimates that about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by cluster bombs around the world since 1965. Unlike conventional weapons, cluster bomblets survive for many years, luring little children with their attractive appearance. Children often mistake the bomblets for candy or toys.

Recently, some encouraging news emerged from the Netherlands. Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged his country’s House of Representative to ratify the Convention, which bans the production, possessions and use of such munitions. The ban leaves no room for any misguided interpretations and does not care for the Israeli army’s experimentations.

In his speech, Verhagen claimed, “Cluster munitions are unreliable and imprecise, and their use poses a grave danger to the civilian population…Years after a conflict has ended, people – especially children – can fall victim to unexploded submunition from cluster bombs.”

To date, the agreement has been signed by 106 countries and ratified by 36 – and will enter into force on August 1, despite the fact that the big players refuse to take part.

The Netherlands’ push is certainly a step in the right direction. But much more remains to be done. The onus is also on civil societies in countries that are yet to ratify the agreement or sign it in the first place. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” This holds as true in the issue of cluster bombs, as in any other where human rights are violated and ignored.

- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.