IDF reportedly laid new minefields in Golan ahead of Sunday demonstrations

Internationally recognised as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Currently under Israeli civil administration. Claimed by Syria.

Internationally recognised as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Currently under Israeli civil administration. Claimed by Syria.

Internationally recognised as Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Currently under Israeli civil administration. Claimed by Syria.

Marian Houk, 8 June 2011

There were several Israeli media reports published yesterday (in English) and today (in Hebrew) that the IDF has, in recent weeks, laid new minefields in the Golan — as part of the military preparations against continuing demonstrations at the “border”.

According to these reports, new minefields were laid in the weeks between the May 15 Nakba Day demonstrations [marking the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians in the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948] and the June 5 demonstrations held on Sunday [to mark the 1967 war and the start of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan].

On May 15, Israeli officials were surprised by an infiltration of Palestinians and their supporters who managed to cross the lines and enter the Golan town of Majdal Shams. One of these infiltrators even managed to get as far as Yaffa, the birthplace and home town of his parents, where he went for a meal, looked around, and then turned himself in to Israeli police.

The Syrian Golan Heights was occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war — and annexed by Israel in 1980, a move that UN members said was “null and void”.

The well-informed Defense Correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz, wrote in an article published last night [06/06/2011 22:01] that “In general, the army was pleased with the way it handled the protests on Sunday … In the weeks before, the IDF prepared extensively, laying down new minefields, digging trenches and installing new barbed-wire fences … At least eight of the dead, IDF sources said on Monday, were killed by mines that exploded after the protesters threw Molotov cocktails in fields near the border, causing their premature detonation”. This was posted here.

Laying new minefields in the Golan raises serious questions — including whether proper notification was made, particularly to the Syrian authorities (also to the UN, which has peacekeeping missions there).

It also raises questions about whether such military measures — normally intended to address grave dangers and prevent invasions — are also intended as the Israeli response to protest demonstrations and civilian infiltration.

An earlier report in the JPost yesterday written jointly by Yaakov Lappin and Herb Keinon [published 06/06/2011 00:56] had this account: “Early on Sunday morning, Palestinians from the suburbs of Damascus had been bused to area across from Majdal Shams, and to the abandoned Syrian-border town of Kuneitra. They massed at the border without interference from Syrian troops … Soon after arriving in the Majdal Shams area, some 150 activists broke away from their fellows and descended a steep hill on the Syrian side, advancing toward the Israeli border. IDF soldiers shouted warnings in Arabic via loudspeakers asking the Palestinians to refrain from trying to cross the frontier, adding that those who did so would endanger their lives. The activists ignored the calls, crossed the Syrian border fence and made their way toward an Israeli forward-border fence erected by IDF engineers in recent weeks, entering a mined zone. ‘When the demonstrators continued toward the Israeli fence, shots were fired at their lower bodies. We know of 12 injuries’, an IDF spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post at noon. Meanwhile, at Kuneitra to the south, a second infiltration attempt was under way. Between 200 and 300 demonstrators gathered in Kuneitra, and climbed on the roof of an abandoned cinema, from where they began throwing rocks at Israeli security personnel. Four land mines exploded on the Syrian side of the border, after the rioters threw gasoline bombs, which exploded in a field, starting a fire that then set off the mines. The IDF did not know how many infiltrators were hurt by the explosions. Throughout the pitched battles, paramedics on the Syrian side of the border asked that the IDF grant them cease-fires to clear the wounded. The army agreed to the request,but then saw activists exploiting the quiet to try and cut the border fence, bringing the truce to an end”. This report is published here.

A short while later [06/06/2011 01:46] Yaakov Lappin wrote in the JPost that “The IDF’s well-planned and cool-headed response to the new threat of flooding the nation’s borders with civilian rioters sent a firm message to hostile neighbors on Sunday that Israel takes its sovereignty seriously. The chaotic scenes of May 15, when Syrian-Palestinian ‘Nakba’ activists managed to cross into Israel, with one man even making it as far south as Tel Aviv, jolted the IDF’s Northern Command to fortify the northern border with a second barbed-wire perimeter and new lookout positions, and to position senior commanders on the ground, who could quickly respond to developments and issue new orders. This time around, although fewer activists turned up on the border, the situation could still have gone out of control and resulted in a far higher casualty count had the IDF not implemented several lessons from last month. The IDF concentrated forces in the right areas this time, near Majdal Shams and Kuneitra, and no one in the army was surprised when reports from Syria, which said that the mass marches set for Sunday had been canceled, proved to be false”. This was published here.

Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz today that “Four battalions are now spending their energy preparing for future border incidents. The 36th Division is meant to be trained for war, rather than border patrols – on what was until recently Israel’s quietest border. If the situation continues, the IDF will need to redeploy and possibly even create new Border Police units.
An initial inquiry found the IDF only fired several dozen sniper bullets at the protesters. A senior officer told Haaretz that only those who actively tried to uproot or cut the fence were targeted. The army also said that the IDF had nothing to do with the deaths of at least eight protesters who were killed when demonstrators rolled burning tires and threw Molotov cocktails onto a minefield on the Syrian side of the border, setting off several mines. But these explanations defending the Israeli troops’ activities, offered by the prime minister and defense minister, will have limited impact. Patience in the West for such incidents is beginning to wear thin. The only reason such incidents don’t have greater ramifications is because they occur against the backdrop of the Syrian regime relentlessly butchering its opponents. But Israel will find it very difficult to come out looking good from further clashes between unarmed civilians and soldiers, if the number of casualties increases”. This is published here.

And the UN is there…
The UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) has been in Jerusalem since 1948.
The UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) have been in Syria since 1974, and has a logistical (provisions) base in Israel.
And the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been in south Lebanon since 1976 (also with a logistical base in Israel.
See UNTSO deployment map.

Here is the UN description of the UNDOF mandate: “From its numerous positions and through patrolling, UNDOF supervises the area of separation and intervenes whenever any military personnel enter or try to operate therein. This is accomplished using permanently manned positions and observation posts, foot and mobile patrols operating at irregular intervals by day and night, and closes contact and liaison with the host nations. On each side of the area of separation there is an area of limitation with three zones; a zone of 0 to 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) from the area of separation, a zone of 10 (6.21 miles) to 20 kilometres (12.43 miles) from the area of separation, and a zone of 20 (12.43 miles) to 25 kilometres (15.53 miles) from the area of separation. UNDOF inspects these areas every two weeks in order to ascertain that the agreed limitations in armaments and forces are being observed within these areas of limitation. UNDOF assists the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in facilitating the passage of mail, goods, and persons through the area of separation during special crossing events. Within the integral medical resources of UNDOF, medical treatment is provided to the local population on request. In UNDOF’s area of operation, especially in the area of separation, minefields continue to pose a threat to UNDOF personnel and local inhabitants. In consultation with the Syrian authorities, UNDOF instituted a minefield security and maintenance programme in the area of separation to identify and mark all minefields. UNDOF also supports activities to promote mine awareness among the civilian population“. This is posted here.

UNTSO is located in Government House, Jerusalem, a former British headquarters during the Mandate period. The UN website says: “Set up in May 1948, UNTSO was the first ever peacekeeping operation established by the United Nations. Since then, UNTSO military observers have remained in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region to fulfill their respective mandates“. This is posted here. Another web page says that “In the Middle East, groups of UNTSO military observers are today attached to the peacekeeping forces in the area: the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). A group of observers remains in Sinai to maintain a United Nations presence in that peninsula. Currently, UNTSO maintains its headquarters in Jerusalem with its liaison offices in Beirut (Lebanon), Ismailia (Egypt) and Damascus (Syria)”, and this is posted here.

Marian Houk PASSIA 2004

In the photo below, taken at a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem in July 2004, Marian Houk is the woman wearing the sort-of-orange-colored eyeglasses. Photo courtesy of PASSIA:

Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.

Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Amira Hass interviews Jonathan Pollak

Jonathan Pollak (Photo: Active Stills, http://www.activestills.org)

Marian Houk, 30 Dec 2010

Jonathan Pollak, the Israeli anti-occupation activist who has just been sentenced to three months in jail for participating in a demonstration against tightened IDF-administered sanctions that affect over 1.5 million people in the closed Gaza Strip, has spoken to Haaretz’s Amira Hass about his conviction, and his convictions.

The interview is published today, here.

Pollak was told to report to jail on 11 January to begin the sentence. Like many people who imagine the possibility of going to jail, he thinks he will be able to pass the time usefully by reading. But, asked by Amira if he were afraid of prison, he replied “Yes. I’m not yet sure of what, but I am”.

He was given a suspended jail sentence earlier, stemming from a demonstration against the construction of The Wall in the West Bank (which the International Court of Justice said was illegal, in a ruling on 9 July 2004).

Now, he has been ordered to serve the two sentences, simultaneously.

It is not known yet if he will appeal…

Pollak told Amira Hass that he was arrested “in the middle of our cycling route, on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. I was in the midst of the crowd. Two plainclothes policemen who know me and I know them approached me and took me off my bike. They said something to me like: “We told you if you raised your head, we would cut it off,” and took me to a police van. The rest of the cyclists continued without any interference. No one else was arrested”.

The prosecutor apparently asked for a six-month jail term, plus a fine, arguing that the demonstration was “illegal”. Pollak commented: “I am not a jurist but to the best of my knowledge, the police orders demand a permit for a demonstration in which more than 50 people participate. The prosecutor, who is a policewoman, is supposed to know that. We were about 40 people”.

But, he told Amira Hass, he would, personally, not have asked for a permit even if more activists had gathered, “Because I don’t believe that when you are demonstrating against a regime, the regime is the one that has to approve the demonstration”.

The demonstration that is sending Pollak — and only Pollak — to jail took place in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just days after the Israeli Supreme Court decided on 28 January against a petition brought by GISHA and a group of nine Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations who asked the Court to stop IDF-administered deliberately tightened sanctions against the entire population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government had issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 that the Gaza Strip — ruled solely by Hamas after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — had become an “enemy entity”, or “hostile territory”.

The Israeli government gave the Israeli mililtary the sole and entire responsibility for deciding on and administering the regime of deliberate sanctions, which the military announced would be tightened on a regular basis. These sanctions went into effect at the end of October 2007, and the military said that fuel and electricity supplies would be reduced by an additional 15 percent each month. The Supreme Court allowed the fuel reductions to continue, but stopped the reductions in electricity until its decision on 28 January 2008, when they were allowed to go ahead. (However, after a brief trial, the Israeli military apparently realized that the electricity cuts could not be stopped so easily, and without greater damage).

For the final Supreme Court Hearing on the matter, on 28 January 2008, two Palestinians from Gaza who had agreed to testify to the Israeli Court and who had been issued permits to come to Jerusalem to testify, were held up that morning at Erez checkpoint until just before the Supreme Court hearing had adjourned. One of the men was from the Gaza Power Plant, the other was from the Coastal Municipalities Water Society. When they were finally allowed through, they jumped into a waiting taxi and raced to Jerusalem, but arrived after the hearing had completely ended…

The Israeli military was allowed to do whatever it decided in Gaza, without any independent governmental oversight or any other civilian supervision of the IDF-administered sanctions that were applied against 1.5 million people in Gaza.

The absurdity and cruelty of the situation was evident, but difficult to monitor precisely, as the military kept all details until very recently — after the Flotilla Fiasco on 31 May. when 8 Turkish men and one Turkish-American high school student were killed in the Israeli naval boarding at sea of the Mavi Marmara.

In any case, GISHA’s petition argued that such sanctions were collective punishment. But the Supreme Court allowed them to go ahead, on the sole condition that the Israeli military must take care to ensure that no “humanitarian crisis” should ensue.

There was no definition given by the Court of what constitutes a “humanitarian crisis”, but many people believe that one certainly exists in Gaza — one which was exacerbated by the massive IDF attack on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

In his discussion with Amira Hass, Pollak explained: “I don’t know what other option there is in so extreme a situation, in which four million people are being kept under a military regime without democratic rights by a country that is interested in presenting a democratic image. In a situation where there is a blockade and collective punishment of 1.5 million people, can one hesitate at all whether to hold a very minimalist protest in Tel Aviv? It seems to me part of the duty of a human being, the least we can do. The question is not why I need all this mess but why so few people join in”.

Pollak, 28 years old, has been a member of the Israeli group, Anarchists against The Wall, and is now on the coordinating committee of the Palestinian-led Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Marian Houk PASSIA 2004

In the photo below, taken at a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem in July 2004, Marian Houk is the woman wearing the sort-of-orange-colored eyeglasses. Photo courtesy of PASSIA:

Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.

Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak sentenced to two concurrent three-month prison terms for protesting Gaza sanctions + Palestinian occupation

Jonathan Pollak (Photo: Active Stills, http://www.activestills.org)

Marian Houk, 28 Dec 2010

Jonathan Pollak (Photo: Active Stills, http://www.activestills.org)

Jonathan Pollak (Photo: Active Stills, http://www.activestills.org)

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack was sentenced today in a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to serve two, concurrent, three-month prison terms for protesting the Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza and the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Pollak’s jail term is to start on 11 January.

An earlier three-month prison sentence was imposed on Pollak for protesting the construction of The Wall (or “separation barrier”) in the West Bank, was suspended.

Pollak second conviction was for his part in riding a bicycle in a “Critical Mass” protest in Tel Aviv on 31 January 2008 — just two days after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it would allow a series of tightening Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza, imposed after the Israeli Government issued a declaration on 19 September 2007 [three months after the Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip] that Gaza was “hostile territory” or an “enemy entity”. A coalition of Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups led by GISHA petitioned the Supreme Court against the imposition of the tightening sanctions. But, the Supreme Court ruled on 28 January 2008 that the military could go ahead with its plan, as long as it did not allow a “humanitarian crisis” to develop. [The concept of “humanitarian crisis” was not defined…]

Today, the Tel Aviv judge imposed a second three-month term and activated the first one, but ruled that Pollak would serve them simultaneously.

Pollak was the only one of thirty activists riding bicycles in the protest that day who was arrested — though his conviction was apparently on the grounds of “illegal assembly”.

A report sent by email said that “During the protest, Pollak was arrested by plain-clothes police who recognized him from previous protests and because, as claimed in court, they assumed he was the organizer and figurehead of the event. The protest was allowed to continue undisturbed after Pollak’s arrest and ended with no further incidents or detentions. The arrest and consequent indictment appears to be the result of police vindictiveness, rather than of Pollak’s behavior at the time of the event; Pollak was but one in a group of protesters who behaved exactly like him, yet he was the only one to be singled out. Moreover, environmental Critical Mass events take place in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but have never been met with such a response. Other protests, which have caused far more sever obstruction of traffic (e.g. the motorcade protest of thousands of motorcycles) did not result in arrests, and surely did not lead to the filing of criminal charges and imprisonment”.

The email also reported that Attorney Gaby Lasky, Pollak’s lawyer, noted: “The police not only singled out Pollak from a crowd of people who all did exactly as he did, but also singled out the entire protest for no reason other than its political alignment. Similar events regularly take place in Tel Aviv without police intervention, let alone arrests and indictments.”

In a statement made to the court just prior to sentencing passed, Pollak said:

“Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offence. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legally vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.

As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day’s events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza’s inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel’s control over the Palestinians.

His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police’s conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.

The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society’s privileged sons.

I am not surprised by the Court’s decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person’s right to protest.

Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.

I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation”.

Pollak, who has been active with Anarchists Against the Wall, is also a member of the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee. Information about the sentencing, and Pollak’s statement, was sent via email by fellow activist Joseph Dana (Ibn Ezra).

Marian Houk PASSIA 2004

In the photo below, taken at a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem in July 2004, Marian Houk is the woman wearing the sort-of-orange-colored eyeglasses. Photo courtesy of PASSIA:

Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.

Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister says Israel will break ties to UNESCO over vote on holy sites, then statement is retracted

Palestine, Hebron, Cave of the Patriarchs from the south. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Marian Houk, 3 Nov 2010

Palestine, Hebron, Cave of the Patriarchs from the south. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Palestine, Hebron, Cave of the Patriarchs from the south. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Haaretz is reporting tonight that Israel will “reduce cooperation” with UNESCO after a vote in Paris last week concerning two heritage sites Israel has claimed for its own — Rachel’s Tomb at the entrance to Bethlehem, and the immensely important Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

The Haaretz account said: “Referring to the [Bethlehem] structure as the ‘Bilal bin Rabah Mosque/Rachel’s Tomb’, UNESCO’s board voted 44 to one [the U.S.], with 12 abstentions, to reaffirm that the site was ‘an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories and that any unilateral action by the Israeli authorities is to be considered a violation of international law’.” The Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Neither site was controlled by of the State of Israel at its founding in May 1948. Both Bethlehem and Hebron are part of the West Bank, which was under Jordanian occupation and administration from May 1948 until the June 1967 “Six-Day” war, when Israeli forces conquered the West Bank, and have been in control ever since.

There is a mosque [Bilal bin Rabah] next to Rachel’s Tomb — and it is now virtually inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli security measures, including construction of The Wall.

The Ibrahimi Mosque [which contains the Cave of the Patriarchs] is under Israeli military control, and there is a forced sharing that — particularly since the February 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at dawn prayer by an American-born Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein, from nearby Kirya Arba — sometimes does deprive Muslims of access, as happened during a major Jewish festival this past weekend.

All religious sites under Israeli administration are supposed to be accessible to members of all faiths, according to the Oslo Accords. But security measures trump the Olso Accords.

Earlier today, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, that “relations with UNESCO would not be restored until it retracted its statement last week that two ancient biblical sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb – were an integral part of the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territories. Ayalon said that the Palestinian Authority was behind the statement, which he added, was issued by the automatic Arab majority on the UNESCO board. It is another attempt by the PA to delegitimize Israel, he said”. This is reported here.

YNet reported that Ayalon told the Knesset: “We should see the organization’s call to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb from the list of Israel’s national sites as part of Palestinian escalation in international organizations … Israel rejects all five of UNESCO’s decisions and has no intention of cooperating with the organization … We’ve decided to suspend our cooperation with UNESCO in these fields, and with regards to previous decisions”. This is posted here

However, Haaretz reported, “Israel’s reaction was not quite as serious as it first appeared. Ayalon’s spokeswoman said that Israel would cut off relations with UNESCO altogether – but shortly after said that the announcement had been made in error and retracted the statement”.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denounced the UNESCO vote as “absurd”, in a statement that said: “The attempt to detach the people of Israel from its heritage is absurd. If the places where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish nation are buried, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rachel some 4,000 years ago are not part of the Jewish heritage then what is?”

These statements specifically refer to the sites as “part of the Jewish heritage”, while other statements have said they are part of “the cradle of Jewish history”, rather than specifically as “religious sites” [such as synagogues].

A Jerusalem Post editorial published yesterday said that “UNESCO, the United Nations body in charge of preserving historical sites, went too far this time. There is a lot of chutzpah in this post-modernist era of ‘deconstruction’ and ‘revision’. Warmly cherished religious faiths and customs are reduced to ‘false consciousness’. Nations with their own unique ethnicity and proud traditions become ‘imagined communities’. Foundational histories are reduced to nothing more than subjective ‘narratives’. But even in this radically relativistic intellectual atmosphere, the latest UNESCO decision stands out. For this was a particularly blatant attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land of Israel … The move is seen in some quarters as a response to Israel’s decision in February to include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb on a list of national heritage sites that would receive additional funding for refurbishing and for the development of educational tours”. This JPost editorial can be read in full here

The JPost editorial stated that “Jordan denied Israel the ‘free access to the Holy Places [including the Kotel – the Western Wall] and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives’ stipulated in the April 1949 Armistice”, and said that “Israel has done a better job at maintaining equitable access to religious [emphasis added] sites for all faiths”…

Marian Houk PASSIA 2004

In the photo below, taken at a roundtable discussion in Jerusalem in July 2004, Marian Houk is the woman wearing the sort-of-orange-colored eyeglasses. Photo courtesy of PASSIA:

Marian Houk, a writer, reporter, journalist and analyst with long experience at the United Nations — in New York and in Geneva and more — as well as with the Middle East. She has reported on, and for a time also worked for, the United Nations. She is a former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY (1986), and is currently based in Jerusalem.

Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site.

Why was the victim trying to cross The Wall?

Izz al-Din Qawezba's Family

Marian Houk, UN-Truth.com – 4 Oct 2010

This photo, published on YNet this afternoon, shows the widow and children left behind:

Izz al-Din Qawezba's Family

Izz al-Din Qawezba's Family

Izz al-Din Qawezba [Qawazbeh], 35, of Hebron, a father of five, was killed by an Israeli Border Policeman early on Sunday morning not far from French Hill, or Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus area, after he had scaled The Wall in the Jerusalem area and was trying to make a run for it, to get to work inside Israel. He had a family to support.

In a preliminary investigation, the Border Policeman said the shooting had been “accidental”.

Israel rounds up thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank each year found working or trying to seek work in Israel.

The West Bank is under Israeli military occupation — and this puts a responsibility on Israel for the well-being of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. [The Palestinian Authority, set up by agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, has only limited authority in only part of the West Bank. It is dependent on donor funding and on revenue for customs taxes collected and dispersed by Israel.]

About 20,000 West Bank Palestinians have permits to work inside Israel. An estimated 20,000 more are working inside Israeli Jewish settlements inside the West Bank, though the Palestinian Authority has declared that this must stop. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 more Palestinians are working without permits — and their wages are lower than those who have permits. Israeli employers who hire Palestinians without permits are also liable for fines, but many do so because of the lower wage they can pay.

The Associated Press group reported today, after this killing, that “A workers’ rights group said thousands sneak into Israel every day in search of jobs. The victim’s cousin, Mohammed, 22, said his relative was shot from close range and without provocation. He said about 100 workers from villages near the West Bank city of Hebron climb over the separation barrier at a particular spot once a week, head for jobs on Israeli construction sites and return to their villages for the weekend. ‘We climb on each other’s shoulders to the top of the wall, and we tie the rope, then descend to the other side’, Kawazbeh said. ‘We usually choose (Saturday) midnight, because there are no soldiers and security. We move to a nearby place, a hill, where we stay until the morning’, then travel by bus and on foot for several more hours to various construction sites … Israeli police said the Palestinians trying to enter Sunday ignored police orders to stop and fled. But an officer caught up with Kawazbeh. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said he was shot after trying to grab the officer’s gun, but it wasn’t clear whether the officer fired or his gun discharged accidentally. The cousin denied that Kawazbeh tried to grab the gun. West Bank Palestinians must obtain special permits to enter Israel. The number of permits plummeted during the years of the uprising. Although the number has increased in recent years, many are still turned away. Those without permits sometimes try to sneak in, though the separation barrier has made such crossings more difficult”. This is reported here.

Sabra + Shatila massacre – 28 years ago today

Memorial in Sabra, South Beirut (Wiki Commons)

Marian Houk, 17 Sept 2010

Memorial in Sabra, South Beirut (Wiki Commons)

Memorial in Sabra, South Beirut (Wiki Commons)

It was, indeed, “one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century” …

Franklin Lamb wrote in an article published in The Daily Star [Lebanon] yesterday that “The untreated psychic wounds are still open. Accountability, justice and basic civil rights for the survivors are still denied”.

Lamb writes in that article, and in an earlier one we reported on yesterday here, that the massacre in the refugee camp took place from 16 to 18 September, 1982.

But, he says in both of these pieces that there is evidence of a continuing massacre of camp residents the next day, on 19 September, which took place in the Cite Sportive, where people who had been rounded up from inside the camp had been transported.

According to Lamb, a number of journalists “concur that more slaughter was done during the 24 hour period after 8 am Saturday [18 September], the hour the Israeli Kahan Commission, which declined to interview any Palestinians, ruled that the Israelis had stopped all the killing”. This Daily Star article is posted here.

The slaughter of unarmed Palestinian (and some Lebanese) residents of the refugee camp is blamed on the Lebanese Forces.

Israeli Army officers were stationed on rooftops overlooking the camp. The Israeli forces are accused of assisting their then-allies, the Lebanese Forces, by cordoning off the camp — and of not intervening to stop what some of them saw — and heard — was happening inside the camp 28 years ago this weekend.

Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had raced his troops north to encircle the Lebanese capital in order to end, after a nearly two-month siege, what was called a “Palestinian state-within-a-state” led by the late Yasser Arafat, who had finally agreed to be evacuated with all his fighters by sea, “under a UN umbrella”, some two weeks before the massacre.

The Palestinian refugee camps were left utterly defenseless.

An Israeli commission of inquiry found that Sharon bore “personal responsibility” for inaction during the massacre. He resigned from his post soon afterwards — but his career in Israeli politics was far from finished [Sharon succeeded Ehud Barak as Israel’s Prime Minister in early 2001].

There was, however, never any UN commission of inquiry, or special tribunal…

Today’s edition of The Daily Star reports on a seminar on the Sabra + Shatila massacre that was held yesterday in the Commodore Hotel in Beirut: “Representatives of several Lebanese and Palestinian groups along with human rights activists convened in a seminar entitled ‘Where Have the Legal Pursuits in the Sabra and Shatila Massacres Reached?‘, that was held in Le Meridian Commodore hotel in Beirut … [Lebanon’s] Information Minister Tarek Mitri, who attended on behalf of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, called for revealing the truth regarding the events during Lebanon’s bloody 1975-90 Civil War ‘but without falling in today’s disputes, a continuation of the past’s wars’. He said the memory could only be cured by ‘emphasizing historical reality through legal tools and values … along with confessions and apologies. We are interested today … to stress historical reality with its facts and documented testimonies and renew demands for examining it justly’, the minister added”. This report is posted here.

There was a long and bloody history of sectarian terror and massacres in Lebanon during the period that the Information Minister mentioned. And Palestinians — who had sought refuge in Lebanon from the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948 until the Black September suppression of Palestinian activists by King Hussein in Jordan in 1970 — were involved in some of those horrors. sometimes as victims, and at other times as victimizers.

In all cases, it was called “taking revenge”…

This is the main reason why, at the Camp David talks in late July 2000 hosted by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton (involving Arafat and Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, now Israel’s Defense Minister and in complete charge of the West Bank and its 2.8 million Palestinians and some 500,000 Israeli settlers), Arafat and his delegation said that the situation of some 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be handled first, as a matter of top priority.

* Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site. She is a Member of the Online News Association, Member of the Foreign Correspondents Association (in Israel) and Marian Houk is a past President (1986) of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY

Abu Mazen scheduled at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem at 5pm

President Barack Obama watches as  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) shake hands at a trilateral meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Sept. 22, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
Marian Houk, 15 Sept 2010

So, he must already have arrive.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem — the warmth of the invitation no doubt intended to melt resistance and encourage agreement, even as the Palestinian negotiators face the realization that the will have to stay the course, whatever happens to the settlement freeze…

Laura Rozen suggests here that there is logic to the idea that Netanyahu + Abu Mazen already be scheduled to meet (perhaps also with Clinton) in another week’s time in New York, in the “margins” of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level session.

Abu Mazen’s predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, never got officially invited to Jerusalem (though it is said he was allowed to pass through, in an extremely low-key way, while en route from Ramallah to Bethlehem one time…)

Why is Abu Mazen going through with this?  For reasons that Hillary Clinton will not see, ever, while in Jerusalem or driving through the West Bank for her meeting with Abu Mazen and — of course — also with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tomorrow…

Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz today that “A peace agreement is not a contract. It requires a change of values of a kind that does not exist within the vocabulary of the democratic Jewish state, which elevates the system of double standards to a level of virtuosity.  The people of this state are incapable of imagining themselves departing from the privileges that this system confers. And who cares if the flip side of those privileges is dispossession, suppression of freedoms and the risk of regional conflagration? The day before yesterday, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi ) was interviewed on Army Radio’s morning broadcast, and argued that it was impossible to continue the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements while the Palestinians went on building and building. One cannot expect an interviewer on Army Radio or Israel Radio to surprise and ask, for example: ‘Since the principle of equality is suddenly so important to the settlement lobby, why then residents of Nablus and East Jerusalem cannot have a housing project in Haifa or live in Ashkelon or in a panoramic neighborhood in the Galilee, while residents of Haifa and kibbutz Hazorea are allowed to build in Nablus Heights or in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan? But the interviewer didn’t even correct a distortion of the facts and didn’t tell the listeners that the Palestinians cannot build at will. In the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control, known as Area C, Israel has frozen Palestinian construction for the past four decades. It can be assumed that the interviewer, despite numerous reports, is unaware of the building freeze beyond the pale of settlement allocated to the Palestinians. Natural growth only applies to Jews. In Area C, schools, kindergartens and water are only for Jews. The Mekorot Water Company’s wells in the Jordan Valley supply quantities of water to the settlements and their orchards. The water flows from the Palestinians’ land, and the pipes are fenced off. And the land is parched, because the Palestinians are not allowed to draw their own water from those pipes, as Israel imposes on them a quota which is not set to human beings’ needs. In the democratic Jewish state, within its virtual borders, it’s as clear as the sun rising in the east. If the American partner had wanted to, it would have demanded to begin evacuating the settlements, not only to continue the construction freeze. But the territory robbed by the separation barrier – Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim, Efrat in its Anglo-Saxon elegance and East Jerusalem – are all within the consensus. Whose consensus? The people of the democratic Jewish state and evangelical Christians, of course. No one thinks to ask about the consensus among the residents of Palestinian cities and villages on whose land the settlements have been built. The millions of Palestinians don’t count at all”… This ref=”Amira Hass article can be read in full here.

Two days ago, Amira Hass revealed that, upon reflection, she has now come to the conclusion that it is worse to be Palestinian in [East] Jerusalem than in Gaza. She wrote in Haaretz: “I have found myself wondering which Palestinians have it the worst under the Israeli rule. For many years, I thought there was nothing worse than life in Gaza. I even argued my point with a friend, who claimed the absolute worst is to be a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship because ‘we live in the midst of the Nakba [1948 catastrophe] sites and experience the daily racism masquerading as democracy’. But for more than a year now, I have been vacillating between Gaza and Jerusalem. That is to say, I have been trying to decide which is worse – the isolation and insulation that Israel has imposed on Gaza (which includes being cut off from water sources and from the cultural, social and family ties those residents have with their People ); or the cynicism with which the decision makers continue to turn the population of East Jerusalem into welfare clients and slum dwellers, and then pride themselves of the national insurance payments they grant them. A visit to the [East Jerusalem] neighborhood of Isawiyah decided the issue. Heaps of concrete, uncollected garbage, roads that are becoming narrower due to pirate additions to buildings – forced on residents thanks to construction prohibitions and the expropriation of vacant lots – all lies in sight of the Hebrew University campus and the city’s French Hill, which are so green, spacious and civilized. And now a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has confirmed my determination. The report, titled “Unsafe space: The Israeli authorities’ failure to protect human rights amid settlements in East Jerusalem“, is based on testimonies, media reports and official documents. It highlights the loss of personal and collective security in Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, in the heart of which hostile bodies have settled over the past 30 years – settlers supported by millionaires and religious and archeological associations … The authorities who prevent Palestinians from building and developing their lands allocate vacant plots to the Jews, not only outside of the populated areas but also in their very heart. These spaces are allocated for parking or entertainment, archeological digs or construction. As these neighbors are the authorities’ darlings, confrontations are unavoidable, so the Housing and Construction Ministry provides hundreds of armed guards for the Jews at the public’s expense (some NIS 54 million in 2010 ). When [East Jerusalem] Palestinians complain to [Israeli] police about harassment [this would never happen in the West Bank], they find themselves treated like suspects. When they call the police, they feel like the officers are in no hurry to get there. And when police investigate cases in which Jews are suspected of causing bodily harm, these cases are closed swiftly. In this way, the Palestinians are left at the mercy of the aggressive, belligerent and officially sanctioned invaders. The guards, who are employed by a private company, think their position permits them to hit people, to act abusively and even to shoot. The people in whose midst these fortified complexes are sprawling are afraid to get in and out; relatives and friends think twice before coming to visit them. These complexes are also characterized by a great deal of noise – digging at archeological sites that goes on until night, and dancing and religious celebrations accompanied by anti-Arab songs… Ariel Rosenberg, the [Housing and Construction] ministry’s spokesman, firmly denies any claims that guards harass Palestinians and praises their professionalism and the instructions they receive to show restraint and forbearance. ‘In the past year’, he writes, ‘the situation in the area under discussion has significantly worsened and the guards are witness to extremely hostile activity’ … I have been able to memorize only a few Arabic adages. One I learned from one of the many villagers who was handed an expropriation order for his land. Sitting at the entrance to his home, he looked like he was attending a funeral. ‘To whom can a grain of wheat complain when the cock is the judge?’ he said, in response to my dumb question about what he planned to do”… And this Amira Hass article is posted here.

Abu Mazen: Focussed + on story

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Marian Houk, 6 Sept 2010

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) told one of the official Palestinian daily newspapers, Al-Ayyam, that in last weeks resumed “direct talks” with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyanu and company in Washington that ” ‘We clarified that [the Palestinian Authority] would not agree to continued Israeli presence, military or civil, within a future Palestinian state,” Abbas said … Abbas continued, ‘Borders is the topic most important to us, security is the topic most important to them’. He went on to explain that the issues of borders and security would be discussed first and that “right of return” of Palestinian refugees was of lower importance and would be dealt with later on in the talks”. This story is posted here.

In this account, AbuMazen seemed to be echoing some of the sentiments expressed by Fatah’s Mohammad Dahlan in an interview published yesterday in the Egyptian paper Al-Masry al-Youm, here.

In the interview, Dahlan said: “We support president Abu Mazen’s positions, and there are no differences within the Palestinian leadership over the methods to be adopted. I contributed to the Camp David negotiations, and I believe we do not need more talks as much as we need political decisions. Abu Mazen has already made historic moves, but Netanyahu is not mature enough to take another step. Rather, he is rather working to sabotage the two-state idea. That being said, we support President Abu Mazen in principle since he is representing the entire Palestinian nation. But the way the US convened for the negotiations, ignoring the EU and following conditions set by Netanyahu, represents an unhappy start. I am totally convinced that these talks will not prove fruitful, and I am sure the Palestinian people would agree with me”.

Here are some further excerpts:
Al-Masry: Netanyahu is adamant on the “Jewish identity” of Israel and on the issue of Israeli security. He has also challenged the right for return for Palestinian refugees. Can peace be realized in these circumstances?

Dahlan: “This is not peace, this is surrender. Not a single Palestinian will agree to Netanyahu’s conditions. The Israeli PM is a liar–he is not seeking peace. He will maintain his habit of ruining the peace process and will eventually bring destruction down on the whole region. As for us, we will keep adhering to our longstanding principles, spelled out by former president Yasser Arafat in 1988, which were re-emphasized at Camp David. If Netanyahu is seeking surrender, let him look for it elsewhere”.

Al-Masry: Can a disarmed Palestinian state ever emerge in this context?

Dahlan: “That’s a precondition we refuse. But at the same time, we are not seeking a state saddled with tanks and aircraft. We will invest in the Palestinian people after they endured 60 years of hardship by improving education, upgrading infrastructure, caring for the youth, developing the economy, and adopting a health system capable of handling the catastrophes wrought by the occupation. But we will not accept a state according to Netanyahu’s terms”.

Al-Masry: As for the direct talks now unfolding in Washington, what do you expect in terms of the post-negotiation stage?

Dahlan: “I do not hold high hopes for these talks. They are more like a party than a political process. We will argue again about all the same issues that we have always wrangled over. No doubt the same differences will emerge: over final statues issues, time schedules, deadlines and references for negotiations”.

The bottom line is, nonetheless: what can appear to be disparate Palestinian voices are actually all saying more or less the same things.

* Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site. She is a Member of the Online News Association, Member of the Foreign Correspondents Association (in Israel) and Marian Houk is a past President (1986) of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY

Israeli Deputy FM says military-administered sanctions on Gaza were “ineffective”

Gaza woman and Child (Sameh Habeeb, 2009)

Marian Houk, 3 Sept 2010

It appears that National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia Navarro, managed to get a big admission from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: Israel’s two-and-a-half-year-old program of military-administered punitive sanctions against Gaza was “not that effective”. The Israeli military sanctions, which were to have been progressively tightened, were unsupervised by any other government body, After consideration of a petition by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, led by GISHA, against the military sanctions policy, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to intervene, other than to instruct the military that it was not to cause a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

The military sanctions followed a determination by Israeli Government cabinet ministers in September 2007 that Gaza was a “hostile territory”, or an “enemy entity”, less than three months after a Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip.

In her radio report, aired on NPR’s All Things Considered program on August 30, 2010, Navarro reported that:

“…this summer, Israel came under heavy international pressure to ease the blockade, after an Israeli military raid on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

Mr. DANNY AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): Actions like a flotilla certainly is trying to put Israel in a no-win situation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Danny Ayalon is Israel’s deputy foreign minister. He says Israel has to keep weapons and items that could be used for military fortifications out of Gaza, which is why it retains such tight restrictions on the land and sea borders. But he acknowledged in an interview with NPR that the punishing, three-year ban on most foodstuffs and other commodities was a mistake.

Mr. AYALON: Denying different items or products into Gaza was not that effective. Hence, now we have changed the policy altogether.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But people would say that you’re – that what you’re saying now is disingenuous, that this is only in reaction to pressure put on you after the Turkish flotilla incident.

Mr. AYALON: It certainly expedited this decision, but I believe this decision would have come up anyway“.

The transcript of this NPR report is posted here.

* Marian Houk is the Editor of UN-Truth news site. She is a Member of the Online News Association, Member of the Foreign Correspondents Association (in Israel) and Marian Houk is a past President (1986) of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) at UNHQ/NY

PA gets another chance to practice “democracy”

Coat of arms of Palestine -- standard pan-Arab "Eagle of Saladin" with shield of the flag, and holding a scroll with the word filastin فلسطين (Palestine).(Wikimedia Commons)

Marian Houk, 1 Sept, 2010

Palestinian groups — mainly left-wing “factions” — are holding a demonstration now in the center of Ramallah, at Manara Square, to protest the Palestinian leadership’s decision to accept a U.S. invitation to resume direct talks with Israel today and tomorrow in Washington.

Direct talks under the U.S.-brokered Annapolis process ended when Israel launched its massive three-week military operation, Cast Lead, in Gaza at the end of December 2008 — about the time that the Annapolis process was supposed to have ended anyway, but with the successful installation of a Palestinian State…

Today’s rally gives the Palestinian Authority a second chance to show it knows how to practice “democracy”, after a demonstration a week ago ended in chaos and violence with accusations of deliberate prior security force incitement.

Sponsored by the same Palestinian groups, today’s event has attracted the attention of all the Western media based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ensuring it will surely go off perfectly, without the slightest anti-democratic misstep.

Amira Hass has an excellent report, published in Haaretz on 30 August, about last week’s fiasco in Ramallah, entitled “Who’s suppressing opposition rallies in Ramallah?”.

It, she wrote that “The organizers could sense something was wrong about half an hour before the conference began last Wednesday morning. About 60 people had been invited to what was termed a ‘national conference’ (as opposed to a ‘popular’ one, open to all ). But the hall in the Protestant Club in downtown Ramallah began to fill with hundreds of young men of similar appearance – well-developed muscles, civilian clothes and stern facial expressions. Some held what appeared to be rolled-up posters … Just to make sure, one conference organizer called another who had not yet arrived and asked, ‘What time did we call the conference for? The hall is packed’. Another PLO veteran said to a friend, ‘They have come to cause trouble’ … After some deliberations, the organizers decided to hold a press conference in the offices of the local television station, Watan, and used the walk there as an impromptu protest march against the conference’s disruption. But once they were outside, thugs grabbed cameras, beat the Watan photographer and prevented people from being interviewed (for example, by pushing photos of Abbas between the interviewee’s and the camera ). The police intervened, voices got louder and a fistfight nearly began. Eventually, everyone dispersed, but the event has been the talk of Ramallah ever since. An important figure among the conference organizers ran to Abbas’ office. ‘Have you gone mad?’ he asked. Later, spokesmen for the security services and the president’s office insisted that they had no idea who the 400 were or who sent them, that they had no connection to the disruptive demonstrators and that they respect freedom of speech. They also charged that an illegal demonstration had taken place outside the hall, that internal divisions had erupted among the conference participants and that this is what caused the uproar … But conference participants are convinced that those who took over the hall belonged to the Palestinian General Intelligence Service (the Mukhabarat ), along with a few people from the Preventive Security Service. Some recognized faces and recalled names, others had studied with some of the intruders, and some even recognized the commanders. One person identified the group as the newest class of Mukhabarat recruits, who had just finished training. ‘I was against the action, but these were the orders I received’, one of them whispered to an acquaintance. It was clear they had been instructed not to beat the conference participants. The conference organizers have no doubts that the order to disrupt the event came from Abbas’ office. But Abbas insisted that he has no idea who gave the order. ‘I don’t know which is worse’, said one participant, ‘that he gave the order or that it was given behind his back, by one of his purported well-wishers’.” This Amira Hass report can be read in full here.

Our earlier report on this is posted here.

An investigative committee has been formed, no results have been announced, but Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has expressed regret over what happened at last week’s rally.