Monday, July 31, 2006

"If You Haven't Left, You're Hezbollah"

By Dahr Jamail

SIDON, Lebanon, Jul 30th

The Israeli attack on Qana has taken the biggest toll of the war, but it is only one of countless lethal attacks on civilians in Lebanon. Large numbers fled the south after Israelis dropped leaflets warning of attacks. Others have been unable to leave, often because they have not found the means.

The Israelis have taken that to mean that they are therefore Hezbollah. Israeli justice minister Haim Ramon announced on Israeli army radioThursday that "all those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah." Justifying the collective punishment of people in southern Lebanon,Ramon added, "In order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should beflattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops move in."

This policy explains the large number of wounded in the hospitals of Sidon in the south. Wounded people from southern Lebanon narrate countless instances of indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli military.

Thirty-six-year-old Khuder Gazali, an ambulance driver whose arm was blown off by an Israeli rocket, told IPS that his ambulance was hit while trying to rescue civilians whose home had just been bombed. "Last Sunday people came to us and asked us to go help some people after their home was bombed by the Israelis," he said from his bed in Hamoudi Hospital in Sidon, the largest in southern Lebanon. "We found one of them, without his legs, lying in a garden, so we tried to take him to the nearest hospital."

On way to the hospital an Israeli Apache helicopter hit his ambulance with a rocket, severely injuring him and the four people in the back ofthe vehicle, he said."So then another ambulance tried to reach us to rescue us, but it too was bombed by an Apache, killing everyone inside it," he said. "Then it was a third ambulance which finally managed to rescue us."Khuder, who had shrapnel wounds all over his body, said "this is a crime, and I want people in the west to know the Israelis do not differentiate between innocent people and fighters. They are committing acts of evil.. They are attacking civilians, and they are criminals."

At Labib Medical Centre in Sidon, countless survivors of Israeli bombardment had similar stories to tell. Sixteen-year-old Ibrahim al-Hama told IPS that he and his friends were hit by an Israeli bomb while they were swimming in a river near avillage north of Tyre. "Two of my friends were killed, along with a woman," said al-Hama. "Why did they bomb us?"

In an adjacent room, a man whose wife and two small children were recovering from wounds suffered in Israeli bombing told IPS that they had left their village near the border because the bombings had become fierce, and the Israeli military had dropped leaflets ordering them tol eave. "We ran out of food, and the children were hungry, so they left with my wife and her sister in a car which followed a Red Crescent ambulance,while another car took the two other sisters of my wife," he said. "They reached Kafra village, and an F-16 bombed the car with my wife's two sisters. They are dead."

Such killings have been common throughout the south. On July 23, a family left their village after Israelis dropped leaflets ordering them out. Their car carried a white flag, but was still bombed by an Israeli plane. Three in the car were killed. The same day, three of 19 passengers in a van heading away from the southern village Tiri were killed when it was bombed by an Israeli plane. A 43-year-old man from Durish Zhair village south of Tyre lay at the Labib Medical Centre with multiple shrapnel wounds and half his body blackened by fire."Please tell them to stop using white phosphorous," he said. "The Israelis must stop these attacks. Do not allow the Israelis to continue murdering us." He and his family were bombed in their home.

Zhair said his family were scattered in hospitals and refugee centres in Sidon and Beirut. But in the hospital hallway outside his room, head nurse of the hospital Gemma Sayer said "all of his family is dead. We cannot tell him yet because he is so badly injured." United Nations forces have been targeted again by the Israelis.

Two soldiers with the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon were wounded after their observation post was damaged in an Israeli air strike. Last week, an Israeli missile killed four UN observers; an attack that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as "apparently deliberate."Thousands of angry protestors stormed the UN building in Beirut Sunday after at least 34 children and 20 adults were killed inside a shelter targeted by an Israeli air strike in the southern town Qana.

As Israeli military drones buzzed over the capital city, smoke was seen rising from the building as UN troops struggled to control the crowds. Efforts to evacuate the wounded in Qana have been hindered because roads around the town have been destroyed by air strikes.

The Israeli military refused to take responsibility for the Qana deaths, because they said Hezbollah had used the village to launch rockets. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud told reporters Sunday that the Qana attack was a "disgrace" and that there was no chance for peace talks until an immediate ceasefire was called. "Israel's leaders think of nothing but destruction, they do not think of peace."Prime Minister Fuad Siniora described the bombing in Qana as a "war crime."

At least 600 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 51 Israelis havebeen killed since the conflict began.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gaza Watch #6: Soldiers shoot dead 5 in Gaza


The Jordan Times 28 July 2006

GAZA (Reuters) -- Israeli soldiers killed four civilians inGaza on Thursday, Palestinian medical workers said, while police at a checkpoint in south Jerusalem killed a Palestinian who shot at them. Israel's offensive into the Gaza Strip to recover a captured soldier and end cross-border rocket attacks has largely been overshadowed by fighting against Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon, but shows no sign of slackening.

Those who died on Thursday included a 75-year-old woman, whose house was hit by a missile or shell. Medical workers said another two civilians, aged 16 and 23, were killed in an air strike. A male civilian died from his wounds from a tank shell. The army said the air strikes targeted groups of fighters, including some who fired an anti-tank missile at troops.

A spokeswoman said the military did not fire at civilians intentionally and was constantly warning them to evacuate areas where fighters were present. Meanwhile in south Jerusalem, Israeli border police killed a Palestinian gunman who shot at them at a checkpoint. Two Israeli officers were taken to hospital.

At least 149 Palestinians, around half of them fighters, have been killed in the month long assault on Gaza. Wednesday's death toll of 24 was the highest since Israeli troops returned to the territory in late June, less than a year after they had withdrawn following a 38-year occupation. Tanks and troops pushed into northeastern Gaza, a stronghold of fighters firing rockets into Israel, early on Wednesday and have remained.

At least 12 of the 24 killed on Wednesday were fighters. Fighters have kept up attacks with homemade rockets despite the Israeli offensive. Israel has rejected demands for a prisoner exchange by the fighters who captured Corporal Gilad Shalit in a border raid on June 25.

Some of the fighters came from the armed wing of the governing Hamas Islamist group. The Hamas armed wing dismissed comments from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during a visit to Rome on Thursday, suggesting a solution could be imminent to the case of the captured soldier. "Nothing has changed in the case of the Israeli soldier," said Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Izz Deen Qassam Brigades."The file remains in the hands of the resistance factions and not in the hands of any politician even if that politician is Abu Mazen," Abu Ubaida said, using Abbas's nickname.

Abbas had spoken to reporters in Rome after talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi." I told the prime minister that as far as the question of the abducted Israeli soldier is concerned efforts are undergoing continuously that lead us to believe that the solution will be imminent," he said through an interpreter. "I hope the soldier is in good health and that he can soon return to his family. I would like to remind you that there are 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails and we hope that they too can return to their families," he said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas' remarks had been misinterpreted. "I do not think that the president meant to say that the release was imminent," Erekat told CNN television. "Efforts are being exerted but I wouldn't jump to any premature conclusions at this stage."

The offensive has put pressure on the Hamas-led government, which was already struggling under a cripplingUS-led aid embargo, designed to force the group to recognise Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept past peace deals.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Protectors of the City: An Interview with Rabbi Dovid Weiss

In March of this year, I went back to my second home in Palestine. While I was there the Israeli elections were taking place. On the morning of the elections I walked around Jerusalem and decided to head over to West Jerusalem to see what was going on. I didn’t plan on doing any specific article on the elections, simply because I wasn’t sure if I could find an angle that would be unique. That all changed as I walked towards Zion’s Square. I came across a small group of protestors holding signs saying things like; “This is the land of Palestine” “Resist Zionism”, “Zionism is a sin.” None of this was unusual. I know plenty of Israeli Jews and Arabs who would protest official Israeli policy. But these weren’t the usual secular Israelis that I would expect, nor were they Palestinian Israelis protesting their second class citizenship, not even reformed Jews from a group like Rabbis for Human Rights, these were Ultra-Orthodox Jews

When I saw them, I had to do a double take. What the…? I approached the group cautiously and looked on from a distance. People passed by looking on quizzically, some nodding as if to say they supported the group; others staring on perplexed (just like me), and still others who wasted no time in showing their disgust by spitting in their direction. Yet these men, young and old stood at their station protesting in the spirit of non-violence.

I walked up to an older gentleman and asked him what was going on. He explained that they were members of Neturei Karta and that they were a group that was against Zionism and the formation of the State of Israel on Palestinian land.

We talked a bit more and then I realized that I needed to get going, but I wanted to talk with someone from his group to do an interview. I asked if they had a group in the United States and he said they had and mentioned Rabbi Dovid Weiss the director of Neturei Karta in the US. The following is an interview that I conducted with Rabbi Dovid Weiss via telephone, to inquire more about this organization.

Christopher Brown: Could you speak about the organization and how it was founded?

Rabbi Dovid Weiss: Yes, before the name Neturei Karta was given, people who followed the ideology of Zionism started coming up to Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century. And the Jewish community felt very threatened by this very new ideology that was contrary to the Torah, the Jewish belief and they started to try and build a fortification against this influx that was trying to breach the wall of Judaism. And they formed a God fearing community and they had some Rabbis who started in the 1910s and 1920s and they had different names for the organization. Then in 1930 they say it started.

They use to hang on the walls, paste on the walls of old Jerusalem signs with declarations against the movement of Zionism. And on one of those signs was a copy of the passage in the Talmud which says; That some wise men came into the city and they asked the inhabitants of the city; ‘Who are your protectors?’ And they pointed to the soldiers and to Rabbis. And the wise men said that these were the ‘The destroyers of the city.’ The protectors of the city are the wise men and the scholars; The Neturei Karta. The Protectors of the city, are the wise men and the scholars.

And this they hung up, basically referring to the Zionists who came in with their militant movement and so forth. And then afterwards the ones who were very vocal from the religious community, the ones who stood out more against Zionism were called the Neturei Karta. It is an Aramaic word and comes from the Talmud, which was written in Aramaic.

CB: Why do you feel that the Jewish community is threatened by Zionism?

RDW: Simply it really is the antithesis, the diametric opposite of what Judaism is. Judaism is a religion of thousands of years. We know the forefathers; Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and that the Jews made a bond with God on Mount Siani to watch the Torah, to uphold the Torah. And Zionism was started a mere hundred years ago in the 1890s; they came and they decided to transform the whole concept of spirituality of God; they decided to make this into a new thing into a nationality of national aspirations, of materialism, to have a piece of land, a proud nation amongst nations, and to transform spirituality into materialism into a nationalistic goal a political goal.

And this is the diametric opposite of what Judaism is. It was opposed by all the Rabbinical authorities. And who were the fathers of this ideology? Who were the ones who came up with this plan? Theodore Herzel and his friends. People who are far removed from the observance of the Torah, they detested the religion, they loathed religion and they really wanted to transform or uproot Judaism spirituality of the Jewish people. Then they decided that they have to have land to form it and they first went to Uganda and to different lands that would be practical. But then they realized that they won’t have a Jewish following, so they picked the land of Palestine to form their state. And in so doing they breached a few oaths that God put the Jewish people under because the destruction of the temple we were expressly commanded by God, we are forbidden, to make any attempt to return to a sovereignty to have our own kingdom our own entity because we are in exile by God. What we are suppose to do as a Jewish people is wait patiently until God sees fit, and then there will be a metaphysical change in the World and all humanity together will go up and serve one God. So we yearn to eventually return to the land of Palestine but not as us ourselves, without human intervention, without fighting the World.

Taking over a whole land, fighting other people, militants going in there against the will of the Palestinians and taking over their land; this is totally forbidden according to the Torah and we were warned that there will be catastrophic results.

Taking over a whole land, fighting other people, militants going in there against the will of the Palestinians and taking over their land; this is totally forbidden according to the Torah and we were warned that there will be catastrophic results.

In the Torah we are forbidden to have a State even if it were to be uninhabited and desolate it would be forbidden because of the banishment by God. We are forbidden to have our own entity. And this compounds the problem and the transgression of the Torah because it was an inhabited land and the Palestinian people living there, we as a Jewish people are suppose to emulate God. Just as God is compassionate we should be compassionate. That’s what Judaism is all about, being a nation of priests and a Godly nation. And here Zionism is doing the opposite of thou shall not steal, thou shall not kill. Zionism is oppressing a people, subjugating them expelling them, banishing them from their land of their parents. You see, this is all contrary to the Torah, all forbidden and Judaism is in opposition.

When Zionism started it started in Europe. Vienna was where Theodore Herzel came from. Basil, Switzerland was where they made the first Zionist congress in 1890s. And so they came up and they picked Palestine. And all of a sudden they started moving into Palestine with the idea to take over the land and create a state.

And the Jewish community in Palestine at the time was a God-fearing community, living door by door with the Muslim and Arab neighbors. And all of a sudden they realized here are a bunch on non-religious Jews coming in here, with a terrible plan of nationality. So they started speaking up, and they formed the groups against the Zionists. And till this day we have hundreds of thousands of Jews still loyal to the Torah who will never accept Zionism and the cause of over fifty years of bloodshed and killing of Jews, and Arabs and what is going on today in Lebanon, and claiming the Torah and using it to establish a Jewish state and using that to legitimize their terrible, evil, misguided, political movement.

CB: Your organization has members who live in Palestine/Israel, how are you viewed by those in the State of Israel as well as in Palestine?

RDW: Many of the people today just want to live their lives in peace and unfortunately the majority of Jews are non-religious, and live to have peace, and want to have peace, their not that much into Zionism. How they look at religious Jews is the question in a certain manner, you know they just threw away the yoke of the Torah and as long as they are not disturbed in their lifestyle they don’t care neither here nor there.

Some of them look at this as a very good issue because it speaks up to the rights of Palestinians and many of them are human rights supporters, which shows that there are many Jewish supporters who share that view, on the other hand there are Jews who are opposed to the hundreds of thousands of us, and we are viewed as the traitors to the Jewish people.

Unfortunately they have been conned into believing that Zionism is part of Judaism, which is exactly what the forefathers of Zionism wanted. That they supposedly went to Palestine, representing God’s will in Judaism and so forth and they conned the Jews; and unfortunately Evangelical Christians throughout the World are saying; “This is God’s wish that the children of Israel should have a land.” And unfortunately many Jewish people bought into that and they’ve been fooled by the ignorance of the teachings of the Torah. Unfortunately many Jews are unlearned in the teachings of the Torah and they have not learned the teachings of the Torah properly and they look at these Jews (Neturei Karta) as traitors in a manner.

But its so varied because many Jews who really are in opposition to whole ideology of Zionism and yet they joined the government because it is the defacto ruling power in the Holy Land. And they feel that they have to have representation, just like the Palestinians need representations. Right now the religious community is very split. There is a very large anti-Zionist feeling. Our colleagues in Palestine won’t participate in any way, they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the State. And then there are others who many years ago made the decision to have representation in the State, because they were dying from hunger and thirst, because the Israelis were controlling all the money and so forth, so they have to have representation. At the same time, that group, groups like the Shas Party and large vocal groups who are part of the government, they don’t send their children to the army. And they don’t have Israeli flags on their school buildings and so forth because in essence, they are also in opposition to Zionism. They're Rabbis, from the inception of Zionism, were our Rabbis. We shared the same Rabbis we were all in opposition to the State of Israel, to the concept of Zionism before it was created they were in opposition. Unfortunately, these guys made a compromise and joined. But they won’t send their children to the army, and won’t have Israeli flags.

CB: What eventually happened to those Rabbis who joined?

RDW: Now unfortunately today, they have fallen prey to Zionist propaganda as our Rabbis foresaw. That’s why they warned them not to take, money not to the join the government, because they’ve bought into different issues by the Zionist governments. And so they bought into the ‘fear factor’ where the Zionists tell the World that; The Arabs want to kill every Jew. And that they hate everybody who’s not Muslim. So the Jews are mortified. Their fear is total that the Arabs are going to come in and murder every Jew and throw them into the sea as the Zionist keep on saying.

So that fear brought into position that they don’t want to return the land, not because they appreciate the State of Israel. In fact, if the State of Israel were to be abolished this moment and Jews weren’t to be killed they wouldn’t shed a tear, they would celebrate together with us. Because this is the teachings of the Torah. The Torah is clearly in total contradiction to the concept of Zionism.

CB: Since the second Intifada there have been members of the Knesset who have called for the heads of Israelis who would speak out in support of equal rights for Palestinians. With the views that your organization espouses, I would imagine that these threats are magnified within the whole of the Zionist community could talk about this?

RDW: It’s a sad history. As soon as the Zionist movement came into power, our Rabbis rose up in opposition. And we might say that the first well known Jewish martyr was well connected with western governments and the western world. He was a diplomat from, I believe Denmark. His name was Israel de Hahn and he moved up to Palestine at first he chose to be a Zionist but then became a repentant Jew, and then he realized that the religious leaders were in opposition, and he said to the religious leaders: “Look your voice is not getting heard” and he’s a diplomat a distinguished scholar from Europe, he’ll get them connected with the European leaders. And that is what he set forth to do.

And the first thing he did was to arrange a meeting with the King of Trans Jordan, King Abdullah with the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. So when the Zionists realized what he was up to the Haganah, their terrorist group, they murdered him in cold-blood, and it’s in their documentation the Zionist court documentation.

Now since then and up until today, the Jewish people who have stood up in opposition you can go to our website at and see pictures of Jewish people being constantly beaten because we make demonstrations. We are non-violent, we don’t carry arms, and still our people are beaten and put into prison because we stand up in opposition to Zionism. And it is ongoing up until today, you can see pictures of this, and the World doesn’t know.

CB: Why is that?

RDW: Why? Just as they have beaten us we have, hundreds, thousand, some times hundreds of thousands of Jews who stand up in opposition. And many many more would be demonstrating if it wouldn’t be for this intimidation of Zionism.

In the same way when we speak up, many people are fearful of speaking up. The same way the press is intimidated not to report the fact there are Jews who are anti-Zionists. Case in point; I was just in Toronto this past week and there were a lot of demonstrations of thousands of people against the Israeli consulate and marching in other areas of Canada. And in the papers in Canada there was not one word mentioned of this even though it should be something of an interest to have a group of Orthodox Rabbis standing together with the Lebanese and Palestinian people and the Muslim people on the platform, we couldn’t be missed, and most of the papers didn’t even mention the fact that there was this demonstration, which was unbelievable.

And this is the sad history of over fifty years of what’s going on. The Zionists are very efficient. They have something called AIPAC which is involved in the intimidation of politicians. So the politicians are fearful to speak up against Zionism. And the greatest crime is, if you were to speak up and say that there are Orthodox Jews who are opposed to the Jewish State this would undermine their legitimacy.

They are very careful not to let these things get reported. If it does, they immediately attack the newspapers and reporters. When we want to speak at universities, the heads of universities are called and the board is called not to allow us to speak, and it goes on and it’s a very sad fact of what the Zionist do. They intimidate. They intimidate people to be fearful of speaking up.

So people think that they are the legitimate voice of the Jewish community and the Jewish State. And they think that it is a religious conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. And this is a tragedy because it is not a religious conflict. We as Jews, as practicing Jews, have been living side by side in all the Muslim countries amongst the Arab peoples. We have no problem. The problem is purely political since the creation of this movement, Zionism, which became ultimately the State of Israel.

With the creation of Israel this is where the impediment to peace is, because it is a political thing which is falsely using the Torah to legitimize what they are doing. And they are constantly on-guard to make certain that they should be referred to as ‘The Jewish State.’ And anyone in opposition would be considered and labeled an anti-Semite. And therefore cowering and intimidating people into not speaking up against them, and literally beating and intimidating the Jews who try to speak up against them, their voices are not heard, and this is what is going on today.

The fact in Lebanon they are, supposedly, fighting terrorism, and terrorists who simply don’t want people to live in peace. When in truth, they are the root cause of the suffering and the endless river of bloodshed that has happened for the Jews, The Palestinians, and the Lebanese for well over fifty years now. And tragedy upon tragedy has occurred because they are using the name of God, and causing so much harm uprooting religion from the Jewish people, their spirituality, and the lives of so many different human beings. This is against God and we must stand up and be vocal and let the World know the truth. That the World would not be afraid to stand up and call it what it is; an illegitimate, evil movement, it’s purely a racist movement against people and it should be stopped in its tracks.

And that would bring peace and that would bring true harmony that we had before Zionism. Contrary to what Zionism wants to portray we weren’t living in constant conflict with the Muslims and Arabs this is totally false. You can ask any old Arabs and Jews and they can talk about the best of times when they had strong relations with each other.

Once Zionism has been put on the side, you will see that we can once again live in harmony.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gaza Watch #5: Israeli soldiers use civilians as human shields in Beit Hanun

B'Tselem 21

July 2006

B'Tselem's initial investigation indicates that, during an incursion by Israeli forces into Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip, on 17 July 2006, soldiers seized control of two buildings in the town and used residents as human shields.

After seizing control of the buildings, the soldiers held six residents, two of them minors, on the staircases of the two buildings, at the entrance to rooms in which the soldiers positioned themselves, for some twelve hours. During this time, there were intense exchanges of gunfire between the soldiers and armed Palestinians. The soldiers also demanded that one of the occupants walk in front of them during a search of all the apartments in one of the buildings, after which they released her.

International humanitarian law forbids using civilians as human shields by placing them next to soldiers or next to military facilities, with the intention of gaining immunity from attack, or by forcing the civilians to carryout dangerous military assignments.

B'Tselem has demanded that the Judge Advocate General immediately order a Military Police investigation into the matter and prosecute the soldiers responsible for the action.

Chronology of the Events

In the IDF's Operation Summer Rains in the Gaza Strip following the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, engineer, artillery, and infantry forces made an incursion into Beit Hanun, a town of some 32,000 people in the northern Gaza Strip, early in the morning on 17 July. According to the IDF Spokesperson, during the incursion, "IDF struck approximately twenty armed terrorists." The announcement added that, "Forces also carried out engineering work to harm terror organizations' infrastructure and hamper their activity, and arrested a number of wanted men... During searches, forces discovered three Kalashnikov rifles, a carbine, a pistol, and ammunition."

Around 6:00 A.M., troops in armored personnel carriers and bulldozers drove up to two adjacent four-story buildings in the middle of the town, near the al-Nasser mosque. The bulldozers destroyed the concrete wall around each building and then destroyed one of the external walls on the ground floor of each of the buildings. The extended Kafarneh family lives on the bottom three floors of one of the buildings. On the fourth floor are the offices of the Ramatan Palestinian News Agency. The 'Ali family lives inthe other building.

Part of the force, twelve soldiers in the estimate of one of the witnesses, burst into the Kafarneh building through the area where the wall was destroyed, firing stun grenades as they entered. At the time, there were 25 people in the building, including 11 children. Some of those present were from the 'Ali family who left the adjacent building when the military entered Beit Hanun. The soldiers called all the residents to gather in the living room on the ground floor, and then searched them. Threatening the occupants with his weapon, one of the soldiers ordered 'Aza Kafarneh, a 43-year old woman, to accompany him to search each of the floors in the building and to open the doors of each of the rooms. At the end of the search, the soldiers ordered all the occupants, except for three, to leave the building. As they left, there was a heavy exchange of gunfire between IDF soldiers and Palestinians. In her testimony to B'Tselem, 'Aza Kafarneh related that, in light of the situation, she requested the soldier to let them remain in the building, but the soldiers refused. "We had to lay flat on the ground and crawl to the neighbor's house..."

The three who were kept in the building were two of her sons, Hazem, 14, and Qusay, 16, and her nephew, Khaled, 23. The three were taken to the staircase, at the entrance to the third-floor apartment, where the soldiers were located. The three sat there until around 8:00 P.M, about 45 minutes before the soldiers left the building. During this time, soldiers inside and outside the building were engaged in exchanges of gunfire with armed Palestinians. The staircase was not in the direct line of gunfire. Just before the end of the incident, the soldiers ordered the three to go downstairs, in front of them, to the entrance of the building.

At the same time (around 6:00 AM), other members of the military force had seized control of the building in which the 'Ali family lives. The only people in the building were the mother, 'Ayesha, 60, and her three sons, Hazem, 29, Tareq, 25, and 'Emad, 41. 'Ayesha 'Ali was taken into an interior room on the ground floor, where she stayed with her hands tied until the end of the events.

The soldiers ordered her three sons to undress and then searched them. The soldiers then cuffed their hands behind their back and blindfolded them. According to the testimony of Hazem, the soldiers tightened the cuffs intentionally so as to hurt them. One of the soldiers kicked him in the chest after he complained about the pain. However, when his hands began to swell and bleed from the cuffs, another soldier put a new pair of cuffs on his hands.

' Emad, who serves in the Palestinian police force, handed over his personal weapon at the beginning of the events, in response to the soldiers' demand. Another member of the family who also serves in a Palestinian police unit wasnot present at the time. Soldiers searched for his weapon, but they did not find it. During the search, the soldiers broke a lot of the family's furniture and caused great destruction in some of the apartments.

Following the search, one of the soldiers took Hazem's cell phone and called four persons whose numbers were in the phone's memory. The soldier told each of them: "If you want Hazem, Tareq, and 'Emad released, bring your weapons." According to Hazem's testimony, the four persons work with him at Ramatan and were selected at random; none of them have any weapons.

Around 8:00 A.M., the three men were taken to the staircase next to the third-floor apartment, where the soldiers were gathered. The three remained on the stairs, their hands cuffed behind their back and their eyes covered, until 8:45 P.M., when the soldiers left the building. At a certain point, one of the brothers, Tareq, moved a bit, and a soldier hit him in the chest and threatened to kill him. While they sat there, an intense exchange of gunfire took place between soldiers in the building and armed Palestinians outside. In contrast to the situation in the other building, many bullets entered the staircase area via the window and struck the wall, above the heads of the three occupants. One of the brothers, 'Emad, was taken by the soldiers at the end of the incident and remains in Israeli detention.

During the events, 'Aza Kafarneh was in contact with B'Tselem and asked the organization to help attain the release of her family members who were being held by the soldiers. A B'Tselem staff member, Najib Abu Rokaya, called the IDF's District Coordination Office in the Gaza Strip and warned them about the incident. The soldier on the other end of the phone referred Abu Rokaya to the DCO's legal advisor, Captain Haim Sharbit. After Abu Rokaya spoke with him, Sharbit said that he could do nothing about the matter because "we are not familiar with the incident."

Legal Background

The testimonies taken by B'Tselem indicate that the Israeli soldiers who took over the buildings used the occupants as human shields. They placed civilians on the staircase, next to the rooms where the soldiers were located, with the intention of deterring the armed Palestinians from attacking the building and/or so that the civilians would be located between the soldiers and the armed Palestinians, should the latter manage to penetrate the building and try to shoot them. The soldiers used one of the occupants to open the doors of the apartments, apparently out of fear that other persons were hiding there and would open fire when the door was opened.

International humanitarian law, which states the rules applying in armed conflicts, requires the sides to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and to protect the lives and dignity of civilians. The Fourth Geneva Convention, in Article 27, states that civilians who find themselves in the hands of one of the parties are "entitled, in all circumstances, to respect... They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof..."

Article 28 of the Convention expressly prohibits the use of civilians as human shields by placing them alongside soldiers or military facilities, with the hope of attaining immunity from attack. The official commentary of the Convention refers to this practice, which was common in the Second World War as "cruel and barbaric." The Convention, in Articles 31 and 51, also prohibits the use of physical or moral coercion on civilians or forcing them to carry out military tasks.

Despite these prohibitions, for a long period of time following the outbreak of the second intifada, particularly during Operation Defensive Shield, in April 2002, the IDF systematically used Palestinian civilians as human shields, forcing them to carry out military actions which threatened their lives. It was not until a High Court petition was filed by Israeli human rights organizations opposing such action, in May 2002, that the IDF issued a general order prohibiting the use ofPalestinians as "a means of 'human shield' against gunfire or attacks by the Palestinian side.'" Following this order, the use of this practice declined sharply. However, according to IDF interpretation, assistance by Palestinians, with their consent, in warning a wanted person hiding in a certain location is not deemed use of a human shield. However, this practice was also outlawed following the ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice that this practice is inconsistent with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Clearly, then, the IDF's treatment of the Palestinian occupants in the two Beit Hanun buildings flagrantly breached fundamental rules of international humanitarian law, as well as IDF regulations. B'Tselem wrote to the military's Judge Advocate General and demanded that he immediately order a Military Police investigation regarding this incident, and that he prosecute all those responsible for these illegal acts.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Middle East Debate

The Middle East debate

By Ali Abunimah

The Sunday Business Post (Ireland) 23 July 2006

Lacking in political and moral legitimacy, Israel existsonly due to the constant exercising of brute force and American-supplied weapons technology, writes Ali Abunimah.

Israel wants us to believe that its wholesale destruction of Lebanon and killing to date of nearly 400 civilians is about the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah.

This focus on the "latest incident" is designed to obscure what truly lies at the heart of this ongoing conflict: Israel's violent takeover of Palestine.

Palestinians, expelled from their country in 1948, hadcontinued their struggle against Israel from Lebanon. In1982, Israel invaded that country in an attempt to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation, killing tens of thousands of civilians. On that occasion, Israel's official pretext was a failed assassination attempt against its London ambassador.

Rather than ending resistance, Israel laid the seeds forwhat we see today.

The mostly Shia villagers in southern Lebanon who bore the brunt of Israel's 1982 invasion are the core constituency of Hezbollah, founded in 1983 to resist Israel's occupation.

The fighting in Lebanon, and to the south in Gaza, aredirectly related to Israel's origins, and the regional violence will only spiral until there is a just solution to the Palestine question.

Israel was established in 1948 as an explicitly ''Jewish state'' in a country whose overwhelming majority population at the time was not Jewish and had no desire to live under such a government. Such a project could only generate enormous resistance.

Because of this, Israel has never gained legitimacy among the people who paid the price for its creation.

Lacking such legitimacy, Israel exists only by the constant exercise of brute force - first to expel the majority of Palestinians, to prevent the return of refugees and, after 1967, to settle as many of its Jewish citizens as it could in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Zionist leaders hoped that the transformation of Palestine from a multicultural, multi-religious society into one ruled exclusively by and for Jews would have been completed by now, with the Palestinians merely a distant memory.

Instead, Israel created a catastrophe.

Today because of their determination not to be driven from what remains of their land, and due to their higher birthrate, Palestinians are once again becoming the majority population. Their struggle draws support across the Arab world, including from groups like Hezbollah.

For the first time since the 1948 expulsions accompanying Israel's foundation, Jews no longer form the absolute majority in the territory they control.

Israeli and Palestinian official statistics count 5.3million Jews living in Israel-Palestine and 5.6 million non-Jews (this does not include millions more Palestinian refugees outside the country).

Israeli leaders understand what this means. Prime minister Ehud Olmert said in 2003: "We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say 'There is no place for two states between the [River] Jordan and the[Mediterranean] sea. All we want is the right to vote'. The day they get it, we [Israeli Jews] will lose everything."

Olmert added: "I shudder to think that liberal Jewish organisations that shouldered the burden of struggle against apartheid in South Africa will lead the struggle against us."

The internationally-endorsed solution for the dilemma is a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 so that Palestinians can establish a state in these areas, which amount to just 22 per cent of the original homeland.

Unfortunately, Israel used the years of the peace process, not to begin to end its occupation, but to entrench it -doubling the number of settlers in the West Bank. While it pulled 8,000 settlers out of Gaza last year, former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres explained on the BBC in August: "We are disengaging from Gaza because of demography."

Israel hoped that, distracted by the pulling out of a few settlers, the world would not notice its continued military control of Gaza, as well as its annexation wall and the massive expansion of Jews-only colonies through out the West Bank.

Israel's full-scale assault on Lebanon and its round-the-clock bombardment of Gaza have nothing to do with the recent attacks on its army.

The indiscriminate killing of civilians can only be understood as an attempt to put fear back into the Arabs, in a desperate effort to maintain Israel as a Jewish-dominated garrison state surrounded by concrete walls.

But groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which emerged as a direct response to the brutality of decades of Israeli occupation, and an absence of principled international intervention, represent a generation no longer cowed by Israel's US-supplied missiles and jets.

FW de Klerk, the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, calculated when he took office that the white government could retain power for many years, but only at the cost of inflicting enormous casualties.

Both he and Nelson Mandela concluded that nothing could be gained from further bloodshed and that the time had come to negotiate the peaceful end of apartheid.

Looking back on the apartheid regime's long history of violence, de Klerk wrote in his memoirs: "There is no evidence that the assassination of opponents had the slightest effect on the final outcome of the struggle, other than causing further personal suffering and bitterness."

It is only by ending their claims of superior rights and power that Israeli Jews, like white South Africans, will gain the legitimacy and acceptance from people in Lebanon, Palestine and across the Middle East that cannot be won with violence.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, and author of the forthcoming book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

U.S. Arming of Israel: How U.S. Weapons Manufacturers Profit From Middle East Conflict

Much has been made of the Syrian and Iranian origin of weaponry used by Hezbollah but there has been little discussion of where Israel's weapons come from. A new report by the World Policy Institute examines how the United States provides billions of dollars of military aid to Israel each year and how their current arsenal is composed of U.S made equipment. The report is titled "U.S Military Assistance and Arms Transfers to Israel".

AMY GOODMAN: One of the authors of the report joins us now, Frida Berrigan. She’s Senior Research Associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell us what are the weapons being used? Did you also look at where the weapons that Hezbollah is using comes from?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Sure. Almost all of the weapons used by Israel are from the United States. There might be a couple French fighter planes that they’re using, but its F-16s made in Fort Worth, Texas; its Apache helicopters; its Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles; it’s all from the United States. So you have this real disconnect between an overemphasis on the supply by Iran and Syria of Hezbollah's weapons and no discussion of the fact that all of the Israeli arsenal is from the United States, and that that is in contravention to U.S. law. to the Arms Export Control Act, which says that U.S.-origin weapons are only to be used for self-defense and for internal security.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your report indicates that Israel has always been the largest recipient of military aid from the United States, but that that’s actually increased since 2001?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: We’re looking at incredible increases in U.S. military aid and weapons sales to Israel. Military aid stands at about $3 billion a year. That’s about $500 for every Israeli citizen that the United States provides on an annual basis. And then, weapons sales, most recently, since the Bush administration came into power, we’re looking at $6.3 billion worth of weaponry sold to Israel.

Israel's relationship with the United States is unique in a number of ways. And one of those ways is that essentially the United States provides 20% of the Israeli military budget on an annual basis, and then about 70% of that money that is given from the United States, from U.S. taxpayers, to Israel is then spent on weapons from Lockheed Martin and Boeing and Raytheon. Most other countries don't have that sort of cash relationship, where they go straight to U.S. corporations with U.S. money to buy weapons that are then used in the Occupied Territories and against Lebanon.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of leverage does the U.S. money, the U.S. aid for Israel provide?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Well, when you’re talking about 20% of the Israeli military budget, you’re talking about a huge fulcrum of leverage, right? The United States could today say, you know, “This incursion into Lebanon, the killing of civilians, the bombing in Gaza, all of this is not internal security, all of this is not self-defense, and we’re cutting it off.” And they could cut it off tomorrow. And that would essentially not only send an incredibly strong message to the Israeli military, but it would remove the tools of the occupation, the tools of the bloodshed and the suffering that’s happening in Lebanon and in Gaza.

It was interesting to sort of place the very weak statements that have come from the administration -- “Oh, there should be” -- you know, they have said things, like “They should practice restraint,” and stuff like that. Meanwhile, just on the 14th, the United States decided to sell $120 million worth of jet fuel to the Israeli military. The little notice that announced the sale from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said, “This fuel will be used to promote peace and security in the region.” And then, meanwhile, you have jets strafing villages, bombing civilians, taking out bridges, destroying water treatment plants. So the United States could decide and would have a very strong case and a historic precedent for deciding to cut military aid.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the precedent?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: In 1981, the last time there was a full-on invasion by the Israeli government into Lebanon, the Reagan administration cut military aid and froze weapons sales to Israel, while it did an investigation of whether or not the weapons were being used for self-defensive and internal security purposes. So for ten weeks in 1981, nothing went into Israel. Now, at the end of that ten weeks, they said, “Oh, well, you could argue ’til eternity about what constitutes defensive use of weapons.” But under the Reagan administration, while Alexander Hague was the Secretary of State, we did cut off weapons sales and military aid. And we certainly haven't done that since. And when we look at how the conflict and the war continues to unfold with so many civilians being killed and this bare use of force and power by the Israeli military, it seems like it’s time to explore that option again.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that’s gotten a lot of attention in recent days have been the missiles fired by Hezbollah into Israel. But I see by your report that to some degree the Hezbollah missiles might also almost be seen as a self-defense measure, because you have here a thousand Redeye missiles that Israel has, surface-to-air missiles, 400 Stinger man-portable air defense missiles, 444 Harpoon missiles. So Israel has quite an extensive missile arsenal of its own.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, we’re talking about one of the strongest militaries in the world going up against basically the defenseless Lebanese, and then a, you know, not very well armed Hezbollah. There was an article in the newspaper yesterday that quoted Israeli defense officials, who said, “Maybe 900 Hezbollah missiles have hit Israeli territory.” That’s 900 missiles, and probably 30 Israeli civilians have been killed. So they’re obviously not very effective weapons. They do get weapons from Syria, from Iran. They manufacture their own weapons. But --

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the New York Times quoting the Fajr-3 from Syria?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, yeah. There was an article in the Times, I think on Monday, about Iranian missiles being used by Hezbollah, and they pulled Syria in, too, because Syria was producing an Iranian model missile and then had transferred it to Hezbollah. So, but the missiles haven't been very effective, and they can’t -- the range is between 30 and 45 miles.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about, Frida Berrigan, the U.S. government supporting the Israeli government and military. But this kind of weapons relationship also is a great boon to the U.S. weapons manufacturers. Can you talk about the relationship the U.S. has with these weapons manufacturers and name them?

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Sure. Well, the largest weapons manufacturer in this country is Lockheed Martin. It’s based in Texas. And it manufactures the F-16 fighter plane, all manner of missiles. It manufactures the C-130, which is a huge transport plane. It’s the biggest weapons manufacturer in the world.

Lockheed Martin and the Israeli military recently went into business together, co-producing a version of the F-16 fighter plane called the Sufa, which means “storm” in Hebrew. It’s built partially outside of Tel Aviv, and then the final work is done in Ft. Worth, Texas. It’s a $4 billion deal with the Israeli military. For the first time, an Israeli military company is contributing in its manufacturing the avionics of the plane. So there’s this -- it’s almost this supranational relationship between Lockheed Martin and the Israeli defense industry. It’s a kind of relationship that weapons corporations in this country would like to see with other countries, where they work directly with -- they sort of transcend government and work directly with the manufacturers of weapons in other countries.

Another major corporation -- you mentioned the missiles -- is Raytheon, which is based in Massachusetts. They manufacture the Tomahawk missile, the Sidewinder, a number of other high-tech missiles that Israel has in its arsenal. These missiles have very sophisticated targeting components -- heat-seeking, they’re interfaced with GPS for very targeted attacks.
Boeing is another major corporation. They manufacture all sorts of planes: the F-18 fighter plane, the F-14. So you have maybe ten weapons corporations in this country that have a stake in -- essentially in Israel using its military arsenal so that it can be replenished again. And the great thing about this relationship with Israel is, Israel doesn’t have to pay for it itself. It comes directly from U.S. taxpayers in the form of foreign military financing, which is transferred to Israel, and then turns right back around and goes to Lockheed Martin or Raytheon.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And as we can see by the votes in Congress this week, both in the House and Senate, supporting the current military actions of Israel, there doesn't seem to be much opposition in Congress to this kind of a continued arms support from the United States for Israel.

FRIDA BERRIGAN: Right, yeah. You have complete silence, and worse than silence from the U.S. Congress. So there's got to be some way to go around Congress and hold the defense corporations, these military corporations, directly responsible for what their hardware and software is doing in Lebanon and Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Frida Berrigan, I want to thank you for being with us, of the World Policy Institute, just out with its report.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gaza Watch #4: With focus on Lebanon, Israelis keep hitting Gaza

Army threatens to hit homes used to store arms

The Daily Star 21 July 2006

Thursday pursued its air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, where it has killed nearly 100 people in three weeks, and warned civilians that every home storing weaponry was now a target. "The life of all those who are holding military equipment and ammunition in their homes is in danger and they should leave the premises for their safety and that of their families," warned Israeli leaflets dropped on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Army "will strike and destroy all sites and buildings housing ammunition and military materiel." Though similar leaflets have been dropped on Gaza before, it was the most explicit warning that civilians' homes could be directly targeted. A spokeswoman said the army had "specific information some houses are storing weapons" in Gaza. "Palestinian terrorist organizations have been using the civilian population as human shields," she claimed. "We're warning the civilian population because we don't want them to get hurt ... to stay away from such houses and stay away from terrorists," she said.

An Israeli air strike killed one militant as he was preparing to launch an anti-tank rocket at Israeli troops in the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, an army spokesman said. Israeli troops, who have been operating in the camp since Wednesday, earlier shot dead another Palestinian gunman.

On Wednesday, Israeli troops killed 15 Palestinians, including seven civilians, in clashes in Gaza and the occupied West Bank in one of the worst days of violence since Israel launched an offensive to free an abducted soldier.Troops also detained several Palestinian security men during Wednesday's operation in Nablus, an Israeli military source said.

Israeli bulldozers then tore down a building there used by the Hamas-led Interior Ministry. About 60 Palestinians, including 10 children, were also wounded in the clashes in densely populated central Gaza Wednesday, medics said.

The Israeli campaign in the impoverished Gaza Strip has already killed 97 Palestinians. But one of the militant groups involved in the raid that seized the Israeli solidier said the Jewish state's campaign was a failure. "The soldier is still missing ... And the rockets are continuing to strike. They [Israel] will pay a dear price for killing our civilians and fighters," said Abu Mujahed, a Popular Resistance Committees spokesman.

Israeli tanks Thursday were still positioned on the edge of Maghazi camp, said local Palestinian security sources. Two make shift rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip exploded in Israel's southern desert town of Sderot Thursday, causing some material damage but no casualties, the army said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya has accused Israel of trying to "completely reshape" the Middle East through its offensives. But appeals for Israeli restraint have fallen on deaf ears and the US, Israel's main ally, vetoed a UN resolution urging Israel to stop the offensive.

The humanitarian situation of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza has badly deteriorated since the West suspended direct aid to the democratically-elected government, plunging the territory deeper into financial crisis. - Agencies

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A message to Black folk

Note: From time to time I have posted about the need for Black folk to get active in the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. This is still an active part of my life. Below is a commentary by Bruce Dixon, editor of The Black Commentator. Please diseminate to all of your friends, but in particular people of color who need to have their voices heard to build opposition against the occupation and the coflict in Lebanon.

Imagine, if you will, a modern apartheid state with first, second and eleventh class citizens, all required to carry identification specifying their ethnic origin. First class citizens are obliged to serve in the armed forces, kept on ready reserve status until in their forties, and accorded an impressive array of housing, medical, social security, educational and related benefits denied all others.

Second class citizens are exempted from military service and from a number of the benefits accorded citizens of the first class. They are issued identity documents and license plates that allow them to be profiled by police at a distance. Second class citizens may not own land in much of the country and marriages between them and first class citizens are not recognized by the state. Second class citizens are sometimes arrested without trial and police torture, while frowned upon and occasionally apologized for, commonly occurs.

Citizens of the eleventh class, really not citizens at all, have no rights citizens of the first class or their government are bound to respect. Their residence is forbidden in nearly nine-tenths of the country, all of which they used to own. The areas left to them are cut up into smaller and smaller portions weekly, by high walls, free fire zones and hundreds of checkpoints manned by the army of the first class citizens, so that none can travel a dozen miles in any direction to work, school, shopping, a job, a farm, a business or a hospital without several long waits, humiliating searches and often arbitrary denials of the right to pass or to return. Posh residential settlements for the first class citizens with protecting gun towers and military bases are built with government funds and foreign aid on what used to be the villages and farms and pastures of the eleventh class citizens. The settlers are allotted generous additional housing and other subsidies, allowed to carry weapons and use deadly force with impunity against the former inhabitants, and are connected with the rest of first class territory by a network of of first-class citizen only roads.

Citizens of the eleventh class are routinely arrested, tortured, and held indefinitely without trial. Political activism among them is equated to “terrorism” and the state discourages such activity by means including but not limited to the kidnapping of suspects and relatives of suspects, demolition of their family homes, and extralegal assassination, sometimes at the hands of a death squad, or at others times by lobbing missiles or five hundred pound bombs into sleeping apartment blocks or noonday traffic. Passports are not issued to these citizens, and those who take advantage of scarce opportunities to study or work abroad are denied re-entry.

The apartheid state in question is, of course, Israel. Its first class citizens are Israeli Jews, the majority of them of European or sometimes American origin. The second class citizens are Israeli Arabs, who enjoy significant but limited rights under the law including token representation in the Knesset. The eleventh class citizens are not citizens at all. They are Palestinians. One expects to be able to say that Palestinians live in Palestine and are governed by Palestinians, but the truth is something different. The areas in which Palestinians may inhabit have shrunk nearly every year since the Nakba, their name for the wave of mass deportations, murders, the dispossession, destruction and exile of whole Arab towns, cities and regions that attended the 1948 founding of the state of Israel. As the whole world, except for the US public knows, Palestinians have lived under military occupation, without land, without rights, without hope, for nearly sixty years now.

The difference between life inside and outside the US corporate media bubble is extraordinarily clear on this question. US authorities subsidize the state of Israel to the tune of at least six billion per year, and corporate media take great pains to protect US citizens from news of actual human and legal conditions their tax dollars pay for. The ugly and racist realities of Israeli society and life under Israeli occupation are rarely discussed anywhere most consumers of media might find them. It is nearly taboo in mainstream US print and broadcast media to apply the words racist or apartheid to the state of Israel or its policies, or to call its control at the point of a gun of millions of non-citizens what it is, namely the longest standing military occupation in the world today. In the US media, and on the lips of every administration since Harry Truman's Israel is “a democracy”, whatever that word has come to mean.

Though news stories in the US talk about autonomous “Palestinian areas” allegedly controlled by Palestinian authorities, often referring to Gaza and the West Bank by name, actual maps displaying the geographic boundaries of the so-called Palestinian controlled areas are rarely seen by American viewers, let alone maps comparing the size of Palestinian areas year to year, or showing the steady encroachment upon Arab land and water resources year to year by Israeli settlements, military outposts, Israeli-only roads, free fire zones and Israel's wall. The massive and militarized apartheid wall, as the rest of the world calls it, is termed a “separation barrier” or a “separation fence” in the US media, an understandable precaution against hordes of terroristic former owners of the land who lurk just outside.

Still, when you Google the terms Israel + apartheid, you get 5.5 million hits. A lot of somebodies somewhere are making the connection without the help of CNN, ABC or Fox News.

The parallels with apartheid South Africa are many and striking. Like its earlier apartheid cousin, Israel menaces all its neighbors with an impressive array of nukes and the largest military establishment in the region. As Noam Chomsky observed back in 2004:

”Not discussed, in the US at least, is the threat from West Asia. Israel's nuclear capacities, supplemented with other WMD, are regarded as "dangerous in the extreme" by the former head of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Gen. Lee Butler, not only because of the threat they pose but also because they stimulate proliferation in response. The Bush administration is now enhancing that threat. Israeli military analysts allege that its air and armored forces are larger and technologically more advanced than those of any NATO power (apart from the US), not because this small country is powerful in itself, but because it serves virtually as an offshore US military base and high tech center. The US is now sending Israel over 100 of its most advanced jet bombers, F16I's, advertised very clearly as capable of flying to Iran and back, and as an updated version of the F16s that Israel used to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981....”

The old South Africa bombed, strafed and invaded all its neighbors with some regularity, crippling their commerce and extracting horrific death tolls from refugee camps and other civilian targets. The last time Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon, it left 30,000 corpses.

White South Africans rightly fretted at the fact that they were a minority ruling over an unhappy majority, and concocted schemes to exile the country's black population to isolated rural reservations it called bantustans. Israeli pundits calmly discuss the demographic bomb, their name for the fact that second and eleventh class citizens, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will soon outnumber them within the borders of their supposed “Jewish state” while Israeli politicians sit in Knesset and hold ministries in successive governments openly calling for mass deportations and ethnic cleansing.

White South Africans constructed for themselves a bogus scriptural narrative in which the God of Abraham promised them somebody else's land, and brought it into modern history with the embellishment that they were holding the line for the free world against godless communism and the black menace. How similar is Israel's line that European Jews are promised the land of Muslim and Christian Arabs, and that they now hold the line for the free world against radical Islam and those ungrateful brown people?

We at BC have to believe that if the American people knew the truth about what their tax dollars pay for in Israel and what is left of Palestine, there would be a deep and widespread revulsion, similar to that occasioned by US support for apartheid in South Africa. But there are important differences between that time and this one. Though unspeakably odious, racist South African was only marginally important to US interests. By contrast, the maintenance of Israel's apartheid regime, essentially a white hi-tech and military outpost in the middle of all those brown people sitting atop a large share of the world's proven oil reserves is absolutely central to US foreign policy for the foreseeable future. The US is Israel's banker, its arms depot, and its principal diplomatic sponsor. The US is far more complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state than it ever was in South Africa.

Racism and apartheid being what they are, and our historical experience in America being what it is, African Americans have a crucial role to play. African Americans have seldom supported US imperial adventures overseas as readily as whites. Our American experience inclines us to a skeptical appraisal of our government's means and motives at home and abroad. Even though we live as much within the media bubble as white America, where images of the broken and mangled families, the incinerated homes and bombed hospitals are hard to come by, our skepticism leads us to sympathize with those who live at the sharp end of US foreign policy far more often than do our white neighbors.

Our first duty is to tell the truth to each other. We must combat among ourselves the bogus historical narratives which permit indifference to US policy in the Middle East in general, and support of Israeli apartheid in particular. The churchgoers among us urgently, publicly and repeatedly must confront and debunk the nonsense which holds that “wars and rumors of wars” are something predestined to happen in the biblical holy land for what they are – bad scripture and fake history. We need to interrupt, correct and school everyone who talks to us about a “cycle of violence” in the Holy Land, as though some raggedy fool with a suicide belt, or a few hundred fighters with small arms are or ever have been equivalent to the devastation wrought by the established gulags, checkpoints, airborne firepower, economic strangulation, house demolitions and nuclear armed might of the Israeli state. The two sides do not have access to anything like equal means of inflicting violence, and so cannot be equally culpable or equally responsible for stopping that violence.

We need to catch up with the rest of the civilized world, and talk about what we can do to emphatically withdraw our support from the apartheid state of Israel and its immoral and illegal occupation regime. The Presbyterian church, for example, has in the past considered selective divestiture from Israel and from US companies who profit from the occupation, as have the Anglicans. Both might do so again. What can our churches, our unions, our local elected officials, our young people do? What will we do?

Apartheid in South Africa eventually bit the dust mostly because the inhabitants of that country, black, brown and white resisted it, putting their bodies and lives on the line. Their resistance was aided and abetted materially, financially, politically and spiritually by people of good will the world over. Someday the sun will rise on a post-apartheid Jerusalem, one that belongs to all the people who live there of whatever origin. This is bound to happen because Palestinians as well as substantial numbers of Israeli Jews do and will continue to resist the regime. They will do what they can. What will we do?

Bruce Dixon can be contacted at

'Because This Is the Middle East'

CBS' Schieffer ignores context in Mideast crisis July 19, 2006

On July 16, CBS Face the Nation host (and CBS Evening News anchor) Bob Schieffer dedicated the entire Sunday morning news show to the Middle East conflict. In his closing editorial, he adapted a well-known fable in an attempt to explain the causes of the current conflict—or rather, the lack of causes:

"Finally today, when the war broke out in the Middle East, the first thing I thought about was the old story of the frog and the scorpion who were trying to cross a river there. The scorpion couldn't swim, the frog was lost. So the scorpion proposed a deal, 'Give me a ride on your back, and I'll show you the way.' The frog agreed, and the trip went fine until they got to the middle of the river, and then suddenly the scorpion just stung the frog. As they were sinking, the frog asked, in his dying breath, 'Why would you do that?' To which the scorpion replied, 'Because this is theMiddle East."

Lest there be any doubt about who is the frog and who is the scorpion in that parable, Schieffer went on to spell it out: "It is worth noting that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip did not kidnap that Israeli soldier and provoke all of this because the Israelis were invading Gaza. No, all this happened in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal, which was what the Palestinians supposedly wanted. But this is the Middle East. Why would fundamentalists in Gaza and Lebanon choose to provoke this war at this time? There is no real answer except this is the Middle East."

Schieffer was echoing the media’s conventional wisdom in portraying the Palestinian raid that captured the Israeli soldier as an inexplicable provocation. The New York Times, in a June 29 editorial headlined "Hamas Provokes a Fight," declared that "the responsibility for this latest escalation rests squarely with Hamas," adding that" an Israeli military response was inevitable."

The media assumption is that in withdrawing from Gaza in September 2005, Israel ended its conflict with at least that portion of Palestine and gave up, as Schieffer put it, "what the Palestinians supposedly wanted."

In reality, however, since the pullout and before the recent escalation of violence, at least 144 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli forces, often by helicopter gunships, according to a list compiled by the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. Only 31 percent of the people killed were engaged in hostile actions at the time of their deaths, and 25 percent of all those killed were minors.

From the time of the pullout until the recent upsurge in violence, according to B’tselem’s lists, no Israelis were killed by violence emanating from Gaza. Although during this period Palestinian militants launched some 1,000 crude Kasam missiles from Gaza into Israel, no fatalities resulted; at the same time, Israel fired 7,000 to 9,000 heavy artillery shells into Gaza. On June 9, just two weeks before the Hamas raid that killed two Israeli soldiers and captured a third, an apparent Israeli missile strike killed seven members of a Palestinian family picnicking on a Gaza beach, which prompted Hamas to end its 16-month-old informal ceasefire with Israel. (Though Israel has denied responsibility for the killings, a Human Rights Watch investigation strongly challenged the denial, calling the likelihood of Israel not being responsible "remote"; Human Rights Watch, 6/15/06.)

Hamas has repeatedly pointed to the Gaza beach incident as one of the central events that prompted its cross-border raid—indeed, Schieffer's own CBS Evening News has reported that claim (CBS Evening News, 6/25/06).

Even so, Schieffer seems unable to recall this recentevent (see Action Alert, 6/30/06; Hamas also points to the capture of some of its leaders by Israel as the provocation for its raid. If Israelis had every right, as Schieffer said, to respond with force to the capture of one soldier by Hamas, then how are Palestinians expected to feel about the more than 9,000 prisoners captured and held by Israel—including 342 juveniles and over 700 held without trial (Mandela Center for Human Rights,4/30/06)?

Moreover, Israel's withdrawal did not remotely give Palestinians "what they wanted. "In addition to its continued deadly attacks on Gaza, Israel has continued to control Gaza’s borders and has withheld tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue in response to Hamas' victory in democratic elections in January 2006. Israel's actions crippled the Gaza economy and prompting warnings from the U.N. of a looming humanitarian disaster (UNRWA, 7/8/06).

None of this is to say that Hamas, which has regularly ignored the distinction between military and civilian targets, does not share part of the blame for the current crisis. But to act as though Israel had been behaving as a peace-loving neighbor to Gaza until the soldier's capture is a willful rewriting of very recent history. The most Schieffer can bring himself to say about Israel is this: "Israel had every right to respond, and it did. But again, this is the Middle East, so perhaps a response may have made it all worse by giving moderate Arabs in the region an excuse to distance themselves from Israel."

Israel’s "response" has resulted in the deaths to date of at least 103 Palestinians,while no Israelis have died other than one soldier killed by friendly fire (New YorkTimes, 7/19/06). Meanwhile, Israel has also destroyed Gaza's main power plant and its water system, leaving tens of thousands of Gaza families without access to food, water and medical care (Oxfam, 7/19/06).

In Lebanon, Israel has killed over 300 people, the vast majority of them civilians, wounded over 1000 and displaced half a million (MSNBC, 7/19/06). To call such devastation an "excuse" for Arabs to "distance themselves from Israel" is a trivialization of real human suffering. Why is Bob Schieffer allowed to get away with such shallow, dismissive coverage of complicated and tragic events? Because it's the Middle East.

ACTION: Please ask Bob Schieffer to accurately report the history and currentreality of the conflict in the Middle East.

CONTACT:Bob SchiefferCBS Face the

You can also contact CBS's "Public Eye"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gaza Watch #3: Gaza under darkness

By Rami Almeghari 17 July 2006

"I have lost a total of $1,000 US dollars since the power supply has been cut, the number of my customers has decreased to minimum, I stay idle at my shop for long hours; what shall I do?" asked 31-year-old Alaa' Salahat, a local vendor of frozen foods from the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of Maghazi. He spoke of his experience while sitting in the darkness with only a kerosene lamp illuminating the worry lines in his face.

Why such darkness? Because three weeks ago, Israeli aircrafts bombarded Gaza's power plant. "This is really a very terrible situation; we are civilians - what does Israel want? This is really a collective punishment against an entire people," said Alaa'. "When I get back home each day having earned only a few shekels [Israeli currency - 5 shekels = $1 US] in my pocket, I rush to find candles to light the house for my wife. We stay idle, until our turn for electricity current comes. This 'luxury' happens no more than three nights a week," he continued. "This is a really unbearable situation that nobody on this earth can tolerate. What do the Israelis want us to do? To die, to give up, or what? However, we are steadfast. You know why we are steadfast? Because we know we have the same right to exist as the Israelis. These are our ancestors' lands, and we will remain living here - even if it is difficult, even if we don't want to stay. Because this is our land."

At this last sentence, Alaa' emphasized each word, to make sure I understood what he meant. In the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, where the same problem exists, a Palestinian mother, Taraji Qdaih, 32, said, "For a very long time, we have been calling on the world to help us get rid of the Israeli occupation,but all our appeals fall on deaf ears. The Israelis are committing massacres; from the girl Huda Ghalia's family, massacred on Beit Lahia beach a few weeks ago, to the missiles fired at us from the air by night and day. And there is not any condemnation from the world at all. Yet when an Israeli soldier has been held, all the countries want to intervene to free him without any concessions. We are always the ones blamed, we are always the ones blamed.

"Visiting the ruins of the bombed power plant brings to light the reality of Israeli shelling." Dr. Derar Abu Sasi, the plant's operations director said during a visit to his wrecked office at the base of the plant, "We only have one power plant in Gaza. Now that Israel has destroyed it, we can't produce a single megawatt, or even a kilowatt for our customers. The Israeli bombs destroyed all four main transformers, the only transformers that feed Gaza residents with electricity."

Israeli war planes have been bombarding and destroying major infrastructure in the Gaza Strip such as governmental buildings for three weeks straight - the latest was the foreign affairs ministry, hit early in the morning of Monday, July 17, for the second time in a week. Water treatment plants and greenhouses, bridges and homes, have also been the major targets of Israeli bombs in 'Operation Summer Rain,' the code name for the Israeli military invasion of Gaza that began 27 June. Israeli leaders claim that their actions across Gaza are intended at freeing an Israeli soldier who has been held by some Palestinian resistance groups for the past three weeks after he was captured in an unprecedented resistance attack on an Israeli army base south of the Gaza Strip. The United States, Israel's strategic ally, has considered Israel's ongoing attacks on Gaza Strip as 'self defense,' while the death toll amongst Palestinians since then has risen to nearly 100, with over 300 others wounded, some of them are very critical. Some of the injured have lost limbs or have been paralyzed for life.

In contrast, a sole Israeli soldier was killed in the Gaza invasion, and although Israeli forces at first blamed Palestinian resistance fighters, they later determined that the soldier had been shot by 'friendly fire.'

Rami Almeghari is currently a Senior Translator at theTranslation Department of the Gaza-based State InformationService (SIS) and former Editor in Chief of the SIS-linkedInternational Press Center's English site. He can becontacted at

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gaza Watch #2: U.S. vetoes U.N. condemnation of Israel

Associated Press13 July 2006

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States blocked an Arab-backed resolution Thursday that would have demanded Israel halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the first U.N. Security Council veto in nearly two years.

The draft, sponsored by Qatar on behalf of other Arab nations, accused Israel of a "disproportionate use offorce" that endangered Palestinian civilians, and demanded Israel withdraw its troops from Gaza.

The United States was alone in voting against the resolution. Ten of the 15 Security Council nations voted in favor, while Britain, Denmark, Peru and Slovakia abstained.The U.S. has periodically used its veto to block resolutions critical of Israel.

The last council veto, in October 2004, was cast when the United States blocked a resolution condemning another Israeli operation in Gaza.The draft was reworked repeatedly to address concerns that it was too biased against Israel.

Language was added calling for the release of an abducted soldier and urging the Palestinians to stop firing rockets at Israel. Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said it was still unacceptable because it had been overtaken by events in the region _ including the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants on Wednesday _ and was"unbalanced." "It placed demands on one side in the Middle East conflict but not the other," Bolton said. "This draft resolution would have exacerbated tensions in the region." Israel launched the operation two weeks ago in response to the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier, 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

The resolution called on Israel and the Palestinians to "take immediate steps to create the necessary condition for the resumption of negotiation and restarting the peace process." It urged all parties to help alleviate the "dire humanitarian situation" faced by Palestinians.The United States sought a text that said the Israeli actions were in direct response to rocket attacks against Israel and Shalit's capture.

Bolton said the United States remains "gravely concerned"at the escalation of the conflict and believes the best way to calm the situation is for Hamas to release Shalit. The draft also demanded Israel release the Palestinian officials it has arrested. The Palestinian observer to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, said he was disappointed with the council's "continued inability to act while innocent Palestinian civilians continue to be brutally killed by the Israeli occupying forces."Referring to past U.S. practice of vetoing similar resolutions, Mansour said the council is failing thePalestinians.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Taher al-Nunu, said the United States must bear some responsibility for Israel's attacks."The veto is a political cover for the crimes of the occupation, and regrettably, instead of putting war criminals of this government that lost its mind on trial, they are giving a political cover to carry out more of these crimes," al-Nunu said.

In a speech to the council immediately following Mansour,Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman thanked the U.S. for its "bold stand." He defended Israel's actions and put the blame for attacks against Israel squarely on Iran and Syria."What we are seeing are the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah, but they are merely the fingers of the bloodstained hands and the executioners of the twisted minds of the leaders of the world's most ominous axis of terror, Syria and Iran," he said. Eight of the last nine vetoes in the council have been cast by the United States. Of those, seven concerned the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's not all fantasy

Not long ago I went down to my local video store to check out a movie. It was a lazy Saturday and there wasn't much else to do. As I strode through the lanes of DVDs that lined the shelves I came across an action flick that caught my eye.

The movie was entitled; SOLDIER. It starred Kurt Russell and was an action flick. 'Why not' I thought to myself. I was in the mood to see senseless violence and this movie seemed to be as senseless as any other.

I popped the DVD in my machine and was soon locked into the whole plot. Not that it was any better than any other action movie out there, but because the premise really hit home.

Kurt Russell's character is a soldier in a futuristic US army. Since birth, he and others were taken from their parents (drafted I guess) and trained to be an elite fighting unit; They feel no pain, have no fear and show no emotions.

The movie shows a montage of the boys learning how to fight with knives, bare-hands, and guns. They are put through punishing physical tests; thousands of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and long runs on hot dusty roads. Those who cannot keep up are immediately executed.

In one particular telling part of the film, we witness Russell's character and his colleagues practice shooting at enemy targets. All the men are accurately and un-hesitatingly hitting their marks. The quick decision making of the men is most interesting. In one sequence, we see Russell and another soldier firing on mannequins dressed up as the enemy; at times they are hiding behind rocks, walls, and buildings trying to take cover.

Russell and the other soldiers quickly find angles and kill them with their keen target eyesight. But then, we see an enemy combatant hiding behind a civilian, the man next to Russell freezes and does not shoot; Russell, however, takes aim and shoots straight through the civilian mannequin and we see the bullets penetrate through her and hit the combatant.

The movie goes on to show these same soldiers graduating and moving on to fight in various futuristic wars; THE WAR OF THE SIX CITIES, THE RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE etc. In all these wars we see the soldiers being highly successful in dispatching the enemy. In one incident we see an enemy combatant holding a machine gun to the head of a civilian. Russell looks on coldly, aims his weapon and shoots her and the combatant as he did in the drills. The two are killed instantly and Russell moves on seeking out other targets with so much as a blink of an eye for what he has just done.

I watched this movie in worried fascination.


Well, to be honest stories like this are not that far-fetched anymore. The futuristic things that Hollywood thought up only ten or twenty years ago are now coming to pass. To be more specific, I can't help but think of what is going through the minds of commanders of the Israeli forces that allow bombs to be dropped on apartment buildings that house 'suspected' militants, but also innocent civilians, killing both in the process.

The army often makes the calim that they were unaware that civilians were in the buildings or that the millitants often hide in areas where civillian populations are. But whether or not the millitants hide behind civillians does this make what the army is doing right?

At the moment I see Gaza fitting in quite easily to the movie that I described above starring Kurt Russell. Is this what it has come down to? Are we now relying on the movies to determine what is right and wrong and who is good or bad?

I'm sure I'll get heat from some readers over my comparisons of the movie and the Israeli army, but I've lived in Palestine long enough to see the facts on the ground.

Thankfully, in the end of the film Russell's character realized that human life was worth valuing. I hope for the sake of the Gaza residents, the Israeli army will see the same thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Maureen Clare Murphy,
The Electronic Intifada, 11 July 2006

In another Israeli move designed to further isolatePalestinians from the rest of the world community, itis being reported that the Israeli army will be declaring the West Bank closed to foreign nationals.

The Gaza Strip has already been made virtually inaccessible to foreign nationals; those who wish to enter must apply to the Israeli authorities, weeks in advance, to receive elusive permits.

The effect is that the plight of the Palestinian civilian population living under Israeli occupation becomes all the more invisible to the international community.The recent trend of deportation of foreign nationals (including foreign passport-holding Palestinians) working in Palestinian civil society, studying at Palestinian universities, and those living withPalestinian family gives further cause for concern that West Bank Palestinians will no longer be allowed visitors to their open-air prison. Of course, this policy of isolation is being justified under the guise of "security."

The rightist Israeli daily Maariv reports, "According to the plan, the IDF will declare the Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] closed to foreign nationals. Denying entry to ... activists has been defined as prevention of political subversion and involvement of members of the movement in acts of terrorism, and limitation of friction with Jewish settlers."However, Israel has long been denying entry to scores of internationals whether they are activists or not --a policy that has been intensified in recent months. During April, after having lived in Ramallah for a year and a half and staying on a tourist visa that I would renew every three months, I was denied entry to the West Bank from Jordan via the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge land crossing, and given no documentation to indicate why I was being turned away. On the Jordanian side of the bridge, security officials there told me that scores of international passport-holders -- Palestinian-Americans in particular-- were being denied entry into the West Bank.

I eventually managed to get back in with a one-month visa after having been issued a new passport by the US Embassy in Jordan, but was deported from the airport in Tel Aviv a month and a half later. There, I was informed that I was declared "persona non grata" as it was believed that I was trying to "illegally settle in Israel," despite that I informed them that I was living in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In any other country, staying too long on a tourist visa would be an understandable reason for deportation. However, the Palestinians have no control over their borders, and the former system that allowed foreign passport-holders working and living in the West Bank and Gaza to obtain a work permit or other special visa so they would be able to stay a prolonged time has been terminated by Israel.

Denied a hearing and any further legal recourse, I was merely given a very unofficial-looking piece of paper from the Israeli authorities as they shoved me on a plane back to Toronto. However, the document was in Hebrew, a language neither I -- nor the Canadian immigration officer I had to explain myself to once I landed -- could read.


The threat of Israeli deportation is the great existential fear that hangs over all expatriates' heads in the occupied Palestinian territories. Conversations with other expats would always lead to the recounting of recent "visa run" experiences, when we would dash to nearby Jordan or another country for a visit and then return to obtain a new three-month B-2 tourist visa.

Those working with UN agencies or major international organizations often held work permits; but for those of us recently working in Palestinian civil society, there was no known mechanism for acquiring such a permit without the backing of a major organization. And for those few brave souls who did try to forge new ground and apply for a permit as individuals, not even hiring the best of lawyers would guarantee that this would occur.In the post-Oslo Accords era, it used to be that internationals working in Palestinian civil society would be able to apply for a work permit from the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank via the Palestinian Authority as a matter of course. But this has not been the case for some time. A European friend working for a Palestinian civil society organization recently rang the Beit El/DCO checkpoint, which houses an Israeli West Bank civil administration office. She was told that to cross the checkpoint, she would need a work permit from Israel and that she should apply for one from the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs. However, the Israeli official added, "I will tell you now that it will be impossible because they will refuse you once they know you are working for an organization that is working in the territories."

Internationals working with Palestinian organizations are left with little options for entering the Israeli-controlled borders in a "legitimate" manner. Some choose to lie about what they do when asked their purpose of visit, knowing that mere mention of the word"Palestinian" would cause them to be red-flagged in the Israeli system. Optimists like myself think that when in doubt, err on the side of truth. Also, not skilled in the art of lying, I thought it a moral point to not be made to feel as though working for a respected Palestinian human rights organization was anything less than legitimate. But we all knew that our fates would be arbitrarily determined, for there is no established and transparent process for ensuring entry. Amongst expatriates living in Ramallah, there were stories of spouses of West Bank ID-carryingPalestinians who have been continuously getting the three-month B-2 tourist visa for as many as twenty years, by coming and going to Jordan several times a year. These individuals had acquired the status of legends amongst the expat community, though the precarious situation of international passport-holders(including Palestinians living in the diaspora) who marry and have families with Palestinians holding West Bank or Gaza ID cards is all too real. Thousands of Palestinian families perpetually live in fear of a family member being deported -- a worry shared by my corner shopkeeper with an American passport-holding wife who goes to Jordan and back every three months, and a friend whose American sister-in-law simply overstayed her visa for five years, knowing this would mean she could never return once she left.

Recently, this fear has been confirmed; countless families in which one or more members hold a foreign passport have found themselves fractured by the denial of entry of one of their members. Many of these are middle class families headed by diaspora Palestinians who returned to help develop their country during the post-Oslo years. As a Palestinian official who holds a European passport pointed out to me, "this is particularly symbolic since, by choosing to return to Palestine, these people represented the optimism of the Oslo years and personified the state-building project." If this trend continues, a whole segment of the Palestinian middle class may be dispersed, taking with them their business investments and entrepreneurship, leaving the Palestinian economy that much more unstable. On top of this, there are the countless numbers of Palestinians who at one point left (or were forced out from) their country and are not allowed to re-enter with the passport of their adopted country. This was the case with a colleague's European passport-holding brother, who was denied entry to the West Bank via Allenby Bridge around the same time as myself. And while he was taking me to the American embassy in Amman where I would pick up my new US passport, a taxi driver from the West Bank city of Nablus recounted how he left to work in Jordan some years ago, leaving behind his wife so she would not be separated from her family. Having lived outside the West Bank for too long, the Israeli authorities did not let him return, and so he and his wife continue to live apart.

Access is restricted even internally within the West Bank, making it difficult or impossible for many individuals from Jenin or Nablus to travel to Ramallah or Hebron and vice versa. The Israeli military controls all Palestinian movement with its hundreds of forms of movement restrictions in the West Bank and its restrictive permit system. Most Palestinians holding a green or orange West Bank or Gaza ID have not been able to access East Jerusalem, considered part of the West Bank under international law, in over ten years as they are not allowed to do so without a rarely issued Israeli permit. And these days, not even members of thePalestinian government (save President Mahmoud Abbas) are able to travel from the West Bank to Gaza, and viceversa. Palestinians are left unable to reach places of worship, education and health services, and even family members - breaking social, economic, and cultural structures. Israel imposes such policies for "security" reasons, but the terms that more accurately reflectreality are collective punishment and oppression.

These movement restrictions are becoming increasingly formalized by million dollar checkpoints-cum-terminals, suggesting that the intention is actually to strengthen Israel's grip on the occupied territories and establish"facts on the ground" to preempt a negotiated resolution to the conflict. When Israel began building its new "Atarot Crossing" terminal between Ramallah and Jerusalem where the former Qalandiya checkpoint lay, rumors began to fly that the thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites holding Israeli permanent residency cards would have to obtain permits to cross to Ramallah and the northern WestBank. Since the new terminal has been in use, this hasn't been the case (though since the beginning of this month, they not able to pass through a similar terminal at the entrance to Bethlehem), but many believe that there is no telling when such a policy could be put into place.

The permanency of the technologically sophisticated structure gives weight to such speculation. Why would so much money be invested in a temporary security measure? The same question must asked of Israel's barrier in the West Bank, the current route of which effectively annexes ten percent of the West Bank to Israel, and isolates Palestinian communities from one another.


Earlier this year, then-Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz of the new scope of impunity that Israel enjoys following last year's unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Regarding the state's illegal assassination operations in Gaza, he bragged, "there is not a single word of criticism anywhere in the world. And do you know why? Because the disengagement gave us degrees of freedom in carrying out everyday security activities, which we never had before ... The day before yesterday we carried out a targeted interception [sic] in Gaza. The day before that we did another targeted interception [sic]. Not a critical remark, not a hint of critical remark, has come from anywhere in the world.'" The international community's silence has been deafening as Israel routinely drops missiles onto Gaza-- one of the most densely populated areas of the world-- in its illegal extrajudicial assassinations, and is currently embarking on its indefinite deployment there. Of course, the civilian casualty count has been predictably high. When asked to, Israel justifies such operations as necessary to deter the launching of crude, homemade Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. But such measures are not in compliance with the legal principle of proportionality, and the daily shelling of the Gaza Strip amounts to another form of collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population. Meanwhile, Olmert has been meeting with world leaders to secure international support of his"convergence plan," the latest Israeli euphemism for unilaterally determining final-status negotiations issues. But the foundation of these unilateral plans has already been laid. With much of the Wall and the new permanent checkpoints in place or under construction, the architecture for new,Israeli-determined borders is already there.

Though not accepting the scheme hook, line and sinker,the international community is greeting this latest unilateral plan as the "only one in town," despite past affirmations that a bilateral negotiated resolution to the conflict is the only way to move forward. With the international community's boycott of the democratically elected Palestinian government, half of them currently in Israeli detention, the Palestinians are as powerless to claim their rights as ever. Worsening the situation, now that it is becoming increasingly difficult for international observers to access the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian civil society institutions will be losing invaluable conduits of advocacy to the outside world.

The international community will become all the more blind and deaf to human rights abuses and rights violations committed in the occupied Palestinian territories. While Olmert will continue to enjoy the warm company of fellow statesmen, Palestinian civilians will become increasingly isolated under Israeli occupation. What will be the effect on Palestinian society if internationals working in Palestinian civil society are not allowed to conduct their work, and Palestinians who returned to develop their country are forced to leave? With Palestinian voices largely absent from mainstream corporate media coverage of the conflict, who will be there to communicate the everyday devastation of Israeli occupation and unilateralism to the rest of the world? With a toothless international community, including consulates in Jerusalem who privilege Israel's policies over the rights and interests of their own citizens that they are meant to protect, the outlook is indeed grim.

When I sought advice from the US Embassy in Jordan after being turned away at Allenby bridge, I was told that while Israel has the right to control its borders, at a certain point the turning away of American citizens (while Israeli citizens are not kept fromentering the US) becomes "a bilateral issue." Despite this, after I was deported from the airport, the response from the US consulate in Jerusalem was that tighter restrictions on foreigners entering the West Bank was understandable given the growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah. Other Americans who have contacted the consulate have been told a similar story. However, one has a hard time believing that any sweeping policy denying international passport-holders entry is actually in the interest of safety, rather than to remove some of the most credible and able persons likely to witnesses and protest Israel's designs on the West Bank.---------------------------------------------------Bio: Arts, Music & Culture Editor of The ElectronicIntifada, Maureen Clare Murphy had spent the last yearand a half living in the West Bank city of Ramallah andworking for the Palestinian human rights organizationAl-Haq before being deported late May