Monday, February 26, 2007

Israeli Army Invades Nablus

(Nablus) Amin Abu Wardeh
Monday, 26 February 2007

For the second consecutive day Israeli forces are invading the
northern West Bank's Nablus with continued raids and attacks on
residents and their homes. The Israelis killed a 41 year old man and
injured his son.

Eyewitnesses said that Israeli forces were firing at homes in order
to warn residents against aiding members of the armed resistance. The
Red Crescent reports that Israeli forces would not allow its crews in
to assist the injured.

The Director of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees,
Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, reports that Israeli forces are restricting
movement throughout the region, particularly when trying to bring
food and medical supplies to residents.

Universities, schools and kindergartens have been closed since Sunday
morning. The Director of Education cited the Israeli-imposed curfew,
and told PNN that Israeli forces are "shelling anything that moves."

Israeli forces stormed the Sanabil TV studios, confiscated its
contents and arrested the owner on Monday. That station has been the
target of numerous attacks in the past, with Israeli forces accusing
it of having links to Fateh's armed resistance wing, Al Aqsa
Brigades. The Palestinian Journalists Union issued a condemnation
last night against Israeli attacks on journalists.

During yesterday's invasion, Israeli forces overtook the radio waves
and made announcements warning residents against coming to the Old
City or putting their lives in mortal danger due to an ongoing
Israeli military operation. The Israelis also declared curfew
throughout the city and overtook a number of tall buildings for
sniper and observation posts.

This morning Israeli forces surrounded two buildings and open heavy
fire with bulldozers waiting. Soldiers shouted for all residents to
surrender themselves. An Israeli military spokesperson says the
invasion is against those on its "wanted" list. Israeli forces
arrested 16 Palestinians from throughout the city and took them to
unknown locations at dawn this morning.

Members of the armed resistance issued a statement Monday pointing
out that the armed resistance is merely an excuse, as is the notion
of "security." Israeli invasions do not stop, whether or not they
resist, and land confiscation and destruction, including of Al Aqsa
Mosque, continues when there is no resistance at all. Therefore, the
statement read, the armed resistance will do what it can to ward off attacks.

The bulldozers destroyed a home in the Old City this morning under
the pretext that a "wanted" man was there. Nablus' Old City is one of
the most ancient in the world and is severely damaged after years of assaults.

Palestinian security sources report Monday that dozens of houses in
the Old City neighborhoods of Yasmina, Aqaba and others are being
targeted. Israeli soldiers are forcing residents to gather in a
single room in each of the houses and are holding the families at
gunpoint. No one is allowed to move.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Cultural Connection

Zionism and the United States


Not long ago, I met Eyal Naveh, an Israeli historian, who explains that the United States has been the "model" for the Israeli state and society. He claims that the US was first a model for the Zionist pioneers, then for the founders of the state of Israel. Like the US, Israel was to be an entirely new country created in a savage, untamed land peopled only by savages. Like the US, Israel would be unique in its democratic institutions, its multicultural society and its modernity. Israel would also, like the US, apply the most advanced technology in the resolution of existential problems and towards the achievement of a high standard of living.

I agree with Naveh that the US influence over the Zionist enterprise is important. What is less understood is how Israel has become a model for the US. Recently the work of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has raised the question of how Israel, through the Zionist lobby in the US, has perhaps come to exercise a virtually direct control over US policy in the Middle East. This is an important debate in which others, such as Noam Chomsky and Bill and Kathleen Christison have made important contributions. In this debate, in my opinion, the cultural connections between Zionism and the United States should not be minimized.

Because the state of Israel was created in part under the inspiration of the US ­ the frontier society forged in North America ­ images of the US have come to constitute an essential element of the vision that many Americans have of Israel and Palestine. In great part, the US understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves an image of the US itself, an image first projected onto the Zionist settlements, and then onto the state of Israel. This is a process of "image transfer" which began long before the recognition of the state of Israel in 1948 and the substitution of US authority in the region for that of Great Britain.

The US presence, or involvement, in Israeli and Palestinian affairs was prepared long in advance of any concern for the "peace process". This US involvement has been not only the initiative of individual presidents-whatever their motivations-but an emotional commitment generated by a sense of identification. Identification between the American experience and the Zionist-Israeli experience was prepared by the refraction of a certain image of the United States through the prism of Zionist propaganda and colonization in Palestine. In the history of the United States in relation to Israel, this refracted image is both the means and the end (the objective) in the process of ideological formation.

How did the historical experience of the United States help shape the image of Palestine? How did the "New Jerusalem" contribute to a change in the vision of the "old Jerusalem"?

A first connection is between an understanding of the Jewish Diaspora and the Protestant-puritan Diaspora of the seventeenth century. Despite deep currents of anti-Semitism, the parallel between John Winthrop leading the brave Puritans to the Promised Land and Moses leading the children of Israel back to the Holy Land has been regularly exploited in (what is today) the United States. For example, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the official seal of the United States could depict the "Children of Israel" following a pillar light sent by God.

The associations envisioned by Jefferson are eloquent: the notion of a chosen people-the Elect-to whom providence has assigned a spiritual mission linked to the conquest of a particular land. All this provides the basis for an affinity that is, in fact, more than elective-it is divine. More specifically, both chosen peoples were, ultimately, "people without a land" called upon to colonize "a land without a people".

When we speak of the colonizers, of America and Palestine, it is logical to forget the indigenous inhabitants of both places, for it was the land that was colonized--not the people living on it. The importance of the American Indians and the Palestinians comes from the fact that they have figured as obstacles to the fulfillment of the missions in question. Both groups have, in different ways, been characterized as lower forms of civilization slowing the march of progress. Both peoples have been described as savage and cruel.

This image, at its worst racist and genocidal, at its best paternalistic, is well documented as it concerns Native Americans. As regards non-Jewish Palestinians, there is less documentation and more controversy. The rise of cultural prejudice and even racism concerning the non-Christian and Jewish populations of the Middle and Near East is not a popular subject in the West. The ideas presented in, for example, Edward Saïd's Orientalism, or in Martin Bernal's Black Athena, are in no way flattering to Western culture or to Western people in general.

The history of this negative form of "Orientalism" is being written today. I, for one, have attempted to elucidate how an already prejudiced perception of Palestinians was sharpened in the 1920s by Zionist spokespersons. Over a period of several years, religious designations, or territorial designations, ceased to be used in reference to non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. By the mid-1920s, only two parties in conflict were referred to-the "Jews" and the "Arabs". A concurrent tendency existed to refer to both groups as "races". I call this the "racializing of ethnicity". Although the vogue of racializing social terminology was abandoned (in most informed circles) after the outbreak of World War II, the cultural prejudices have persisted.

The development of a more exclusionary terminology used to designate the undesirable populations is certainly one characteristic of colonization. In order to preserve their own dignity, the colonizers are morally constrained to denigrate the human obstacles to the accomplishment of their project. Comparison of the two colonial experiences reveals how one borrowed from another, and vice-versa.

The history of the British colonies in North America, and then the history of the United States throughout the nineteenth century is that of continuous colonization. The religious and economic motives typical of the seventeenth century continued to inspire settlers until the "closing" of the Frontier in the 1890s. What appear as the real novelty of the nineteenth century were the various utopian experiments in communal living. Hundreds of socialistic communities were established throughout the United States during the nineteenth century. To our day, such initiatives continue as part of the social and cultural landscape.

The Zionist settlements in Palestine combined all these same motivations. Not only were the Zionist colonies of different types, they sometimes-as in the case of the Kibbutzim-united in themselves religious Puritanism and secular socialistic modernity. This was a phenomenon appealing to United-Statesians reared on frontier myths, such as the idea of cultural-spiritual regeneration through a confrontation with adversity and violence.

The "closing" of the US frontier in the early 1890s, accompanied by the rapid development of a mythologized literature and cinema concerning the Western hero, certainly facilitated support for the Zionist project. The idea of pioneers struggling to establish themselves in a hostile environment was romantic, and familiar.

Related to the settlement of frontiers by hardy pioneers, another affinity between Americans is the development and application of new agricultural techniques. "Making the desert bloom" was a powerful slogan and image for both emergent national cultures. US botanical technology, such as new plant varieties, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers, contributed to the success of Jewish settlements in Palestine. Going from the Great American Desert to Palestine was more than a symbolic transfer of images. In addition, in both cases, it involved a denial of the agricultural achievements of the indigenous inhabitants.

Another affinity between the creations of the American and Israeli "nations" is the demographic importance of immigration. Both populations are considered the product of disparate "waves" of new immigrants and their assimilation into a "New World" culture including a new language seen as deriving from those existing (although "American" cannot be said to be as innovative as modern "Hebrew"). The interconnection of American and Zionist immigration has meant the projection of an image of the United States onto the Zionist project. This projection has been assisted by 1) the idea of immigration as the means of recomposing or regenerating a population and, 2) the fact that so many Jews from Russia, Poland and elsewhere immigrated to the United States. Jewish immigrants in the US were prone to support emigration to Palestine. (In the latter half of the twentieth century, a significant number of their descendants immigrated to Israel.)

Other factors in the development of support for Zionism in the United States include a Christian education tending to reinforce revulsion for the "loss" of the Holy Land to Islam. The Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages tended to be particularly celebrated in the US towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Anti-Semitism also encouraged acceptance of the Zionist project in Palestine. Those who resented their presence viewed favorably the transfer of Jews to a relatively desolate part of the world. This factor intensified after World War II when the Jewish refugees became an embarrassment to Western governments, even though anti-Semitism was declining.

Such are some of the cultural affinities and conditions that have contributed to the orientation of US policies relative to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In some significant ways, US nationalism is linked to, or seen as having affinities with Jewish nationalism as represented first by the Zionist movement and then by the Israeli state. It is why Israel is not seen in the United States as an alien culture in the Middle East, but rather as an extension of American historical experience. It is perhaps in this cultural-ontological sense that Israel is the "51st state" (and not primarily because of the extensive economic, financial and military ties).

For all of these reasons, the rhetoric of nationalism in the Israel-Palestine conflict tends to reinforce established cultural values, values stemming from American historical experience. It is also why, in the United States, many people find it difficult to take seriously Palestinian claims, just as they could not take seriously the claims of the "Indian Nations". The similarities, in any case, are striking. One century later, the Palestinian resistance to colonization and ethnic cleansing is being dealt with in much the same ways as that of the Indians: forced evacuation, concentration in "reservations" (which could be called "Bantustans" or "autonomous territories"), periodic massacre and racist humiliations.

Consider, in the above light, how differently Israeli and Palestinian leadership must be perceived. On the one hand, there have been Israeli leaders like Golda Meir and Benjamin Netanyahu, Americans or American-educated, speaking faultless "American". On the other hand, the Palestinian leaders most often have an alien aspect; not to speak of the late Yassir Arafat, with his colorful headdress and his strange uniform of dubious origin. The cultivated descendants of brave Western-like pioneers make a singular contrast with the Palestinians.

The analogies and metaphors are there, underlying a US policy conceiving of "peace" mostly in terms of acquiescence or accommodation to the image and interests of the United States projected onto the Israeli state, an Israeli state considered by US policy makers to be a model for the Middle East in general.

For these US policymakers, it is not only a question of propagandistic manipulation, of the conscious deception of the public. The metaphors and analogies founded upon the special affinities between the US and the state of Israel are rather rooted in the social and cultural histories of both their societies and politics. If hypocrisy and bad faith are integral to political behavior, in the service of collective interests as much as in the service of individual designs, it is to be expected that such self-deception should be pronounced in, on the one hand, the critical, early phases of nation-state-making and, on the other hand, during the construction of an imperial presence in the Middle East.

Larry Portis is a professor of American studies at the University of Montpellier, France and a founding member of Americans for Peace and Justice in Montpellier. He can be contacted at

Saturday, February 24, 2007

El Hajj Malik El Shabaaz Podcast Available!

This past week marked the 42 year anniversary of the assassination of "Our own Black Shinning Prince" . Though his death has left a void in our activist family, his spirit and words live on. This week on Crossing The Line we replay one of El Hajj Malik El Shabaaz's most famous speeches; Message To The Grassroots. The insight he speaks of in the speech are as relevant today as it was when the words came fresh from his mouth over forty years ago. Please continue to spread the word about this podcast program to all those you feel would benefit. I appreciate all the comments you all have given!

Monday, February 19, 2007

For the P.A. and Mahmoud Abbas, a Bad Day on Capitol Hill

By Nathan Guttman

16 February 2007

Washington - If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas wanted to get a feel for just how upset Congress is
over his decision to form a coalition government with
Hamas, he should have caught Rep. Gary Ackerman’s opening
comments Wednesday at the meeting of the Middle East
subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ackerman, the New York Democrat who chairs the
subcommittee, had been a leading proponent on Capitol Hill
of the position that the United States should be doing
more to back Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas.

Not anymore.

“What has Abu Mazen done to strengthen himself? He’s
capitulated to Hamas,” Ackerman said. “The Mecca Accord
neither strengthens him nor helps the cause of peace…. We
now have what Secretary Rice once said we could not
accept: a Palestinian Authority with one foot in terror
and one foot in democracy.”

Ackerman concluded that Abbas “has gutted his own

Ackerman’s attack on the Mecca accords set the tone for
the rest of the meeting. The ranking Republican on the
subcommittee, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, asked how
Congress could be expected to support funding for the P.A.
when Abbas sides with Hamas. Other lawmakers followed a
similar line, urging the administration to continue
insisting that the new Palestinian government recognize
Israel and to avoid linking the situation in Iraq to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In just one session, the Democratic-led subcommittee made
it clear that at least on issues regarding the Palestinian
conflict, it stands to the right of the Bush

The three experts invited to testify — Martin Indyk, a
former American ambassador to Israel; David Makovsky,
director of the Middle East Peace program of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Daniel
Pipes, of the hawkish Middle East Forum – were critical of
the new Palestinian national unity government. Indyk tried
to find a silver lining that would enable the renewal of
the peace process, Makovsky called on the administration
to re-examine its relations with the Saudis in light of
the Mecca agreement and Pipes said that there was never
any peace process with the Palestinian to start with.

M.J. Rosenberg of the dovish Israel Policy Forum
criticized the inclusion of Pipes in an e-mail he sent to
his group’s supporters. He called Pipes a “crank” whose
constant refrain is that “the Palestinians are bad people
with whom negotiations are impossible” and slammed the
failure to invite any Arab Americans to testify. Indyk,
Makovsky and Pipes are all Jewish and have worked for
pro-Israel groups.

The rough day for the Palestinians on Capitol Hill did not
end in the committee room. As the Middle East subcommittee
was wrapping up its discussion, in the adjacent office
building the inaugural event of the Congressional Israel
Allies Caucus was beginning. The new caucus, co-chaired by
Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York and Republican
Rep. Dave Weldon of Florida, is a sister organization to a
similar caucus in the Israeli Knesset that promotes ties
between Israeli lawmakers and Christian supporters of
Israel around the world. Israeli lawmaker Benny Elon, who
heads the Knesset caucus, was the guest of honor at the
event and spoke of the Bible as the bridge between Jews
and Christians. Elon, who belongs to the right-wing Ichud
Leumi party, is a proponent of encouraging Arabs to leave
Israel and the territories.

At the event, Engel called on the administration and
Congress to “be resolute in supporting no negotiations and
no financial assistance to the Palestinians until they
accept the three conditions.” Engel, who represents a
district that is about 15% to 20% Jewish, with many
Orthodox families, praised the Bush administration as
being “a big supporter of Israel.”

With only 16 members — at least as of Wednesday — the new
caucus is focusing on two issues: the Palestinians and
Iran. Pro-Israel bills and resolutions relating to these
issues easily gain the support of at least 300 House
members in any vote, so it is difficult to gauge the new
caucus’s importance. Indeed, only two reporters attended
its inaugural press conference, with the empty seats in
the room filled by pro-Israel activists. Weldon, however,
said that caucus membership could “double, triple and
quadruple,” adding that no one approached by him or by
Engel had refused to join.

But for advocates of the Palestinian cause and those who
think the White House should be backing Abbas in his
struggles with Hamas, it was not Ackerman or Engel, but
rather a third New York Democrat, who dealt them the most
severe blow.

Rep. Nita Lowey, who chairs the foreign operations
subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee,
decided to put a hold on an $86 million aid request aimed
at strengthening armed forces under Abbas’s control. The
decision to put the money on hold was made even before the
Mecca agreement was signed. Now, in the wake of the
Palestinian deal, the hold is gaining support of other
members of Congress, including Ackerman and other members
of his subcommittee, who want to receive more information
from the administration before giving approval to the
transfer the funds.

The proposed funding is intended to bolster Palestinian
forces loyal to Abbas in order to help him maintain calm
in Gaza and confront challenges from Hamas forces.

A senior Bush administration official told the Forward
Wednesday that even though the atmosphere on the Hill does
not currently seem conducive to securing the aid, the
White House is not pulling back the notice on providing
the funds. “Is there still a need to have the good guys
empowered? Of course there is,” said the official.
“Nothing has changed on the ground.”

At the same time, he acknowledged, it might be more
difficult at this juncture to convince Congress that the
aid is needed.

“This is just another reason for the Palestinians to
clarify exactly where their new government stands,” the
official said.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Israel Can Do What It Wants": The Stark Truth From Ilan Pappe

This week on Crossing The Line, with the recent singing of a unit government deal between rival groups Hamas and Fatah, what does this mean for Palestinians and Israelis on the ground. I’ll speak to Professor Ilan Pappe a noted historian and author. Then later in the podcast, our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal and The WAR’S TOLL compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of The Stand Independent News Service, all of this and more coming up.

The House Negro Speaks; Just Like Every Other Tepid Democrat!

Obama will soon make the case that he'll be as strong on
Israel as anyone

By Shmuel Rosner

16 February 2007

My weekend column for the Hebrew print edition is a
lengthy piece on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois). Most
Israelis don't know him, and my editors thought he was
enough of a political phenomenon to make him worth writing
about, even at this early stage of the campaign. Most of
the piece was not translated into English, as much of the
material in it will not be of any value to American
readers who have gotten more than their fair share of
Obamania in the last couple of months. The only part of it
that's worth presenting here is the section on Obama and
Israel. (You can read a news story on Obama's comments
about Israel here.)

I've written about Obama and Israel before, in the context
of The Israel Factor project. My goal at the time was to
try to explain why this bright, charismatic, viable
candidate was not getting high marks from our Israel
Factor panelists: What is it about Obama that makes them
uncomfortable about his possible future attitude toward

If you don't know someone, then you don't trust him. And
"if you don't trust someone, you try to be careful with
him," one panelist told me. It's "the unknown factor,"
another one explained. "What kind of constituency does he
bring with him, and how will they influence his

"We need more time to trust him," a panelist told me.
"Voting for Israel a couple of times doesn't constitute
enough of a track record on which to make a more favorable
judgment." Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, who knows
Obama from their days at Harvard, made a similar argument
this week in his blog: The short political life of Obama
hasn't "provide[d] many opportunities for a new politician
to establish the kind of record that longer-serving
officeholders have built up over time."

Obama has not been deaf to such suspicions. And now that
he is not just a "possible candidate" but an officially
declared one, he will try to fix these perceptions.
"Israelis want more than anything to live in peace with
their neighbors, but Israel also has real - and very
dangerous - enemies," were Obama's words to Haaretz. "My
view is that the United States' special relationship with
Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search
for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while
also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies
sworn to its destruction."

In my 60-minute interview with him last week, Obama was
not shy about explaining why a viable peace has not yet
been achieved. Like all the other major Democratic
candidates, he will be a strong advocate for American
involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nonetheless, he said he is yet to see - "particularly in
the Palestinian community - "leaders who have both the
will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy
to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any
agreement that might be reached with the Israelis."
Talking about the current prospects for an agreement,
Obama said that under the existing conditions, "I think
we're not going to see much progress."

But this is just the short version of the policy Obama
will be officially presenting soon. This week I was told
that while the venue has yet to be selected, the Jerusalem
Center for Public Affairs conference in Washington at the
end of February is one possibility. There's also a chance
that he will make his comments on Israel at a Washington
rally calling for the release of the abducted Israeli
soldiers or while speaking to a group of Chicago Jews. One
thing is quite clear: It will happen in the next two to
three weeks.

I asked about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC) convention in March and was told that he will
speak there too, but wants to have another speech sooner.
Obama doesn't want to wait such a long time - not when he
is running a campaign in which he will need the support of
many people who care deeply about Israel. (Oh, let's just
say it: Jewish voters are major donors to the Democratic
Party and its nominees.) He also wants to make sure that
people will hear him, and him alone. After all, Obama will
not be the only candidate speaking and getting attention
at the AIPAC conference.

On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Dan Shapiro, a senior
adviser to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), was saying
goodbye to the job he has held for six years. He is as
knowledgeable as anyone on Israel and the Middle East, and
apart from the "real" job he got himself now, he has
joined Obama's campaign as an adviser on issues related to
Mideast policy.

I spoke to Shapiro about Obama and his views earlier this
week, and I asked him to highlight for me the differences
between Obama and the current Bush policy regarding
Israel. The first difference, he said, will be a greater
emphasis on the need for constant engagement by the U.S.
Obama will tell you that Bush wasted some long years
without investing in diplomacy. You can either agree with
him on that or not, but this has become the Democratic
party line. All candidates condemn Bush for the hands-off

A second possible difference will involve the question of
whether to talk to Syria. Obama believes that America
should talk to the Assad regime, so it's hard envisioning
him objecting to an Israeli-Syrian dialogue. And then
there's the question of Iran - the most important of them

A Washingtonian familiar with the Obama campaign reminded
me that Obama is the anti-war candidate, and thus will
have some maneuvering to do on Iran. He will probably warn
of a possible deterioration in relations that could lead
to an unintentional war, but by the same token he can also
be expected to agree that Iran should not be allowed to
acquire nuclear weapons and that no U.S. president should
take any of the options off the table.

This will be a position similar to those of other
Democratic candidates. Some might say that it's a
problematic position when it comes to the real world -
what if talks with Tehran do not provide an agreement that
can actually prevent a nuclear Iran - but nevertheless,
it's a good one politically. It sounds anti-war enough for
the Democratic Party at large, and anti-Iran enough for
those who really understand the significance of the issue
at hand.

All these policy points will not even wait for the
promised speech. A position paper outlining Obama's views
is in the making, and will be distributed to as many
Jewish voters as possible.

Will he be able to win over these voters?

After talking to people about him all week, I can tell you
this: They very much want to be persuaded that Obama
should win their backing, as they all understand the
excitement and enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy and
the importance of Obama's adding his voice to the camp of
Israel supporters.

With such an attitude, it is relatively easy to be

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New directive hampers entry of Arabs, Palestinians into Gaza

By Amira Hass

13 February 2007

Israeli Arabs, West Bank residents and Palestinian
residents of East Jerusalem face tougher border control
regulations at the Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border
in light of a new directive requiring Israeli citizens to
present a passport or a laissez-passer when seeking to
enter the Gaza Strip.

The new directive, effective February 1, adds weight to
Israel's declaration that Gaza is no longer an occupied

One of the implications of this directive, however, is
that East Jerusalem residents living mostly in the Gaza
Strip now run the risk of losing their Israeli

A group of some 800 to 1,000 Israeli Arab citizens married
to Gazans are required to renew their stay permits in the
Strip every month. Jerusalem residents belonging to this
group are required to undergo a prolonged bureaucratic
procedure with the Civil Administration and the Interior

According to the Center for the Defense of the Individual,
the law stipulates that Palestinian East Jerusalem
residents whose permanent place of resident is not
Jerusalem must lose their Israeli citizenship.

The Center says the state should have announced an
adaptation period that would allow Israeli citizens
entering Gaza to prepare the documentation required by the
new directives.

In the past two weeks the Center interceded on behalf of a
few Israeli citizens who were not allowed to enter Gaza
without their passports.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Sabine Hadad told Haaretz
there is "no blanket decision and that we make decisions
on a case-to-case basis." Arab women with Israeli
citizenship who are married to Gazans have expressed their
fear of losing their citizenship, but Hadad says in
response that "one cannot lose one's Israeli citizenship

The experience of those women contradicts Hadad's
statement to Haaretz that "no date has been set for
barring the entry into the Gaza Strip without a passport.
If and when such a directive is put in place, we will
ensure it is advertised on the media."

At this point, West Bank and Gaza residents are exempt
from presenting their passports at the crossing and use
permits issued by the Civil Administration, under a
directive that took effect in 1991.

The vast majority of Israelis affected by the new
directive are Israeli Arabs and residents of East
Jerusalem who do not have Israeli citizenship. Most of
these have relatives in the Gaza Strip.

According to Gisha, the Center for the Legal Protection of
the Freedom of Movememnt, a West Bank resident who works
in the Gaza Strip was required to present a passport in
addition to the laissez-passer in his possession. This
incident shows the bureaucratic indeterminacy that
pervades border control authorities.

Hadad clarified that, "West Bank residents are required to
coordinate their entry [into Gaza] with the Army, their
entry is not related to the Interior Ministry."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Olmert: We neither accept nor reject Mecca deal

By Gideon Alon

12 February 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday softened Israel's
stance on the "Mecca agreement" for a Palestinian unity
government. Last week, the government had said the
agreement was unacceptable. Yesterday, however, Olmert
told the cabinet that "at this stage, Israel neither
rejects nor accepts the agreement. Like the international
community, we are studying what was achieved in the
agreement, what it says and the basis of the consensus."

Olmert's decision to stop criticizing the accord stemmed
from the Quartet's announcement that it continues to
demand that any Palestinian government abide by the
conditions it laid down last year: recognizing Israel,
renouncing terror and accepting previous
Israeli-Palestinian agreements, as well as the road map.
In light of this statement by the Quartet, whose members
include the U.S., European Union, United Nations and
Russia, Olmert opted to lower the profile of his response,
so as not to appear rejectionist.

Olmert also told the cabinet that since the Palestinian
unity government has not yet actually been formed, there
is no reason not to attend next week's tripartite summit
with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice.

The prime minister spoke yesterday with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel and told her that as a first step, the new
Palestinian government should be required to release
kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Germany holds the EU's
rotating presidency, and EU foreign ministers will meet
today to discuss the Mecca agreement.

Olmert also called Russian President Vladimir Putin
yesterday, and told the cabinet that Putin had promised to
toe the Quartet line.

Major General Amos Yadlin, head of Military Intelligence,
told the cabinet that Hamas was the big winner from the
Mecca agreement, since the deal enables the Islamic
movement to retain control of the Palestinian government
without giving up its ideology.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The U.S. is Playing Checkers: An Interview with Dahr Jamail

This week on a special Crossing The Line, I'll speak to Dahr Jamail an independent, award-winning journalist about the ongoing war in Iraq and the broader implications the conflict has on Palestine and the region in general. Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal and The War's Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of the Stand Independent News Service, all this and more coming up.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Muslim protests as Israel digs at holy site

By Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

The Guardian
7 February 2007

Israeli archaeologists began digging up a stone ramp near
the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City yesterday,
bringing immediate protests from Palestinians and
condemnation from the king of Jordan.

The work is the first stage in a scheme to build a new,
raised walkway up to the site, which is known as the Haram
al-Sharif to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews. Next to
the walkway is the Western Wall, which dates from the time
of the Second Temple and is the holiest site in Judaism.

Israeli archaeologists say the work is necessary on safety
grounds, but Muslim leaders fear damage to the foundations
of the site.

Archaeological work in Jerusalem's Old City is frequently
contentious and has triggered violence in the past.

The second intifada erupted after the then Israeli prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, walked on to the Haram al-Sharif
in 2000.

Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority are also
excavating at three places to the south-west corner of the
site in what is now the Jerusalem Archaeological Park,
where engineers plan to install a series of pylons to
support the proposed new walkway.

Dozens of armed police stood guard yesterday as two
mechanical diggers began taking up the stone ramp. Large
numbers of police kept Palestinian men under the age of 45
away from the site, but there were at least three protests
elsewhere in Jerusalem.

King Abdullah of Jordan, whose family has custodianship of
the Muslim shrines, condemned the work as a "blatant
violation" and a "dangerous escalation".

"These measures will only create an atmosphere that will
not at all help in the success of efforts being undertaken
to restore the peace process," he said.

At the site, Dr Gideon Avni, director of excavations and
surveys at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said there
would be no damage to the mosques or the site. "The claims
about damage to the stability of the Temple Mount we
believe are baseless because we are working only outside
the walls of the Temple Mount in a very limited area," he

The work was first planned after a storm three years ago
damaged the stone ramp leading up to the Mugrabi gate of
the holy site, an entrance generally used by tourists. An
engineering survey declared the ramp unsafe and a
temporary, wooden walkway was built next to it on stilts.
Eventually the wooden structure will be removed and
replaced by the new 100 metre-long raised walkway.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Wars and Scandals

The Fatal Kiss


It sounds like a promo for a second rate soap opera: a 21- year old woman appears with a much older celebrity, who grabs her, forces a kiss on her and pushes his tongue into her mouth.

This scene has been occupying the attention of the Israeli public for months now, more than any other topic, except perhaps the allegation that the President of the State sexually assaulted several of his employees. The war and its consequences have been pushed aside.

The interest stems, of course, from the identity of kisser and kissee: Haim Ramon was at the time Minister of Justice and a central figure in the government; the young woman, who was identified only as H., was a lieutenant in the office of the "military secretary" of the Prime Minister, an important military-political liaison point. The fatal encounter took place at the Prime Minister's office, shortly before a cabinet meeting.

This week, three judges--two female, one male--unanimously found Ramon guilty of an indecent act. It seems that the prosecution will not call for the maximum penalty--three years in prison--but the political career of Ramon has, so it seems, come to an end.

This might have been nothing more than a juicy piece of gossip, except for one small detail, which has hardly been mentioned: the fateful kiss took place in the room adjacent to that where a cabinet meeting was due to start, and in which it was decided to start the war in Lebanon.

A short time before that, the Chief-of-Staff, Dan Halutz, also found the time and energy for an un-warlike act: he called his broker and instructed him to sell his shares.

The background must be remembered: a few hours earlier, Hizbullah fighters had crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers. Two soldiers had been killed during the operation, and six more died in pursuit of the captors. Obviously the cabinet was about to decide upon a military operation in which many soldiers and civilians, Israeli and Lebanese, would lose their lives. Yet the supreme commander of the army was handling his shares and a prominent minister was handling a female soldier.

* * *

IN THE course of the 1948 war, I wrote reports of the battles from the point of view of a simple soldier. After the war, when I was collecting these reports for a book, it crossed my mind that it would be interesting to add a description of the war as seen from the point of view of the commander, who had made the decisions that affected our fate.

I approached my brigade chief, a commander highly admired by all of us, and he gave me a detailed description of the campaigns. Before my eyes, a different war unfolded. True, the place names and the battles were the same, but there was no similarity between our war, the war in which the fighters' main concern was to survive from day to day, and the war of the high command, which moved figures on the board in an intricate game of chess with the enemy commanders. The difference between the two levels fascinated me. Perhaps it was that which helped to make the book, "In the Fields of the Philistines, 1948", into a run-away bestseller.

All the great writers who wrote about war--from Leo Tolstoy ("War and Peace") to Erich Maria Remarque ("All Quiet on the Western Front") and Norman Mailer ("The Naked and the Dead") highlighted this huge difference. The soldier crawls through the thorns, sinks into the mud and cowers in his foxhole; the commanders move arrows on the map.

For the simple soldier, and even more so for the civilian, it is difficult to penetrate the mental world of a general who decides upon an operation, knowing that there will be so and so many "casualties", dead and wounded. But after all, that is his profession: to weigh the gains of a move against the expected losses. He receives the order to capture Hill 246 and works out a plan, which he expects will cost the lives of a hundred or so of his soldiers. While he is calculating, those hundred soldiers are horsing around, talking with their parents on the phone, trying to catch some sleep.

* * *

I AM not writing this in a philosophical or literary mood, but in order to draw attention to the unbearable lightness with which politicians and generals decide on starting a war. The shares of Halutz and the kiss of Ramon are but symptoms of this phenomenon.

The day before yesterday, Ehud Olmert appeared before the Board of Inquiry (which he had appointed himself) and described how his cabinet
decided to start the Second Lebanon War. The testimony is being kept secret, but it may be assumed that Olmert did not forget to express his condolences to the bereaved families and his hopes for the speedy recovery of the wounded. But did any of his ministers really weigh the price of the operation in human lives--on our side and on the other? Did the Chief-of-Staff, who had just disposed of his shares, raise the subject? Was the Minister of Justice, who had just enjoyed a little adventure with consequences he could not dream of, in an appropriately serious mood?

This is not a uniquely Israeli problem. Did George W. Bush and his clique of Neo-Conservatives really consider the casualties, when they decided to invade Iraq? Let's ignore for a moment the lies they spread, the fabricated stories about "weapons of mass destruction", the imaginary connections between Saddam and Osama and all the other falsehoods and deceptions. Let's concentrate only on the two real aims of the war (which we exposed at the time): (a) to get their hands on the oil of Iraq and the entire region, including the Caspian, and (b) to place an American garrison in the heart of the Middle East.

If Bush had to face a Board of Inquiry in Washington DC as Olmert did in Tel-Aviv, he would certainly be asked some questions (which this column asked in real time): Did you consider how many soldiers and civilians would be killed and wounded? What led you to think that the invading army would be received with showers of flowers? Why did you believe that the Air Force would determine the issue so that the ground forces would have to play only a minor role? Did you imagine that the planned little war would still be going on three years and more later? Did you take into consideration that the Iraqi state would be blown to pieces and that the three peoples living there would soon be at each other's throats? Did you expect that the war would strengthen Iran's position in the Middle East? In short, did you have any idea at all of the place that you were about to invade?

Clearly, nobody with any influence in the US government raised these questions at the time. A foolish and power-drunk president, a rapacious vice-president and a cabal of arrogant and ignorant ideological fanatics decided upon an adventure whose end is not in sight even now. And afterwards the statesmen and strategists went to their elegant restaurants to enjoy sumptuous meals, while the 3000 US soldiers who have been killed up to now spent the day in blissful ignorance of what was going on at the highest level. The media and the senators, of course, were ecstatic.

* * *

IT'S NOT the past I am writing about, but the future.

At this moment, people in Washington and in Jerusalem are thinking about a war in Iran. Not if it should be started, but when and how.

If this is to be an American war, its consequences will be many times more grievous than the war in Iraq. Iran is a very hard nut. The Iranian people are united. They have a glorious national tradition, a highly developed national pride and a tough religious ideology. One can bomb their oil facilities, but it is a big country, not dependent on a sophisticated infrastructure, and it cannot be subdued by bombing alone. There will be no alternative to a military attack on the ground.

Bush is already preparing the war. This week he instructed his soldiers in Iraq to hunt down and kill all "Iranian agents" there. That is reminiscent of the infamous "Kommissarbefehl" of June 6, 1941, on the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in which Adolf Hitler ordered the summary execution of every captured political commissar of the Red Army. Since the commissars were uniformed soldiers, every commander who carried out the order became a war criminal.

It is quite certain that if the United States does go to war, the Iranian people will rally behind their government. They will draw the conclusion that everything their leaders told them about the West was true. The opposition, which has lately raised its head, will fall silent and disappear. The big-mouthed president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose wisdom is now being questioned by many of his own people, will turn overnight into a national hero. It will be a war of many years, and many thousands of American soldiers--not to mention Iranians--will fall.

President Bush may hesitate and pass the task over to Israel. Lately, Olmert has hinted that it was the Americans who pushed him into the Lebanon war. They believed that the Israeli army would defeat Hizbullah easily, and that this would help the American clients in Beirut. (A similar foolish calculation caused the Americans to give their blessing to Sharon's First Lebanon War in 1982.)

Nowadays, our politicians and generals speak freely about the inevitable attack on Iran. The pro-Israeli lobby in the US, both Jewish and Christian, is toiling mightily to push American public opinion in this direction. All these gentlemen and ladies, in their comfortable villas far from the prospective battlefields, yearn for a war which will cost the lives of the sons and daughters--of other people.

The advocates of the war declare that it is necessary in order to prevent a "Second Holocaust". That has already become a mantra. This week, Jacques Chirac nearly exploded it, when he expressed the self-evident: that if an Iranian nuclear bomb were launched at Israel, Israel would wipe Tehran from the face of the earth. The Iranian rulers are not mad and the "balance of terror" will do its job. But the "friends" of Israel and the USA started to pelt Chirac with verbal rocks, and he hastily retracted.

* * *

LET'S ASSUME for a moment that the Israeli Air force, with the help of the American naval forces that are now being steadily built up in the Persian Gulf, succeeds in bombing targets in Iran. What will happen then?

Iranian missiles will rain down on Tel-Aviv and Haifa. The promise of our Air Force to destroy them on the ground is worth no more than the similar promises we heard about Lebanon. In order to defend Israel, American soldiers would have to go into Iran. Israel's account would be debited with every casualty. If Israel is, God forbid, the first to use a nuclear bomb there, the shame will last forever.

The masses of the Arab--indeed the entire Muslim world, both Sunnis and Shiites, will rally around Iran. The Sunni heads of state, who are embracing Israel now in secret, will run away in panic. We shall be left alone to face the revenge that will come sooner or later. Will we be able to rely on the heirs of Bush, who may be less reckless and more inclined to listen to world public opinion, which will inevitably blame us for this whole adventure?

Iran is not a second Iraq, neither is it Hizbullah multiplied by ten. It is an entirely different story.

But is anyone here thinking about it seriously? Will the successors of the share-selling Chief-of-Staff and the tongue-pushing minister be more thoughtful? Or will they decide upon a new military adventure with the same unbearable lightness?

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Thirteen dead as Palestinian truce in tatters

By Adel Zaanoun

Agence France Presse
2 February 2007

GAZA CITY, Feb 2 2007--Thirteen Palestinians have died in
24 hours of fighting between warring factions in the Gaza
Strip, with shootings, mortar attacks and the storming of
a university torpedoing yet another truce.

Sustained clashes between Hamas and Fatah were raging
across the territory Friday on what should have been the
fourth day of a ceasefire aimed at halting the
bloodletting that has boiled over from a year-long power

Three members of the mainstream Palestinian intelligence
service, including a deputy chief commander, were killed
in fighting with Hamas militants in the Jabaliya refugee
camp, security and medical sources said.

Another four bodies were discovered on Friday and around
170 Palestinians have been wounded in violence over the
last 24 hours, said a medical source, with clashes most
concentrated on Friday in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Dozens of members of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's
presidential guard were wounded when Hamas militants and
members of a controversial "executive force" controlled by
the Islamist government fired a mortar into their training
camp in Gaza City.

"Between 40 and 50 new recruits of the presidential guard
were wounded and there are perhaps some killed," a Force
17 official told AFP.

Presidential guards had overnight stormed the Islamic
University in Gaza City, a known Hamas bastion and the
most prestigious centre of higher education in the
impoverished territory largely sealed off from the outside

Several gunmen were detained, while weapons and explosives
were confiscated during a sweep of the campus, a security
source said.

Fatah said the operation had been ordered after Hamas
militants apparently hunkered down at the university fired
mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades towards Gaza's
main presidential compound.

The fighting deteriorated as the four sponsors of the
stalled Middle East peace process, the European Union,
Russia, United Nations and United States, were to meet in
Washington Friday in a bid to fast-track peace efforts.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to press for a
renewed push to bolster Abbas in his battle for power with
Islamist party Hamas, which won a general election last
year and which the West blacklists as a terrorist outfit.

The latest clashes flared after Hamas accused Washington
of trying to provoke a Palestinian civil war by granting
86 million dollars to bolster Fatah security forces and
claimed an Arab country had shipped arms to Fatah.

A ceasefire had come into effect on Tuesday amid
increasing international pressure on the factions to
resolve their differences and negotiate a power-sharing
agreement after months of broken talks and collapsed

Six Palestinians were killed and another 70 wounded on
Thursday, after a Hamas ambush of a presidential guard
supply convoy from Egypt left one guard dead although
Fatah flatly denied the trucks had been transporting

Hamas condemned the Fatah storming of the university and
denied that the institution had been used to hide fighters
or weapons.

"We heavily condemn this action of the presidential guard
and its acts of vandalism committed at the Islamic
University, which is an academic institution without armed
men or stashes of weapons," said spokesman Ismail Radwan.

A Fatah security source charged that two top leaders in
Hamas's executive force -- branded "illegal" by Abbas --
had been arrested but a Hamas spokesman denied the report,
saying a commander in central Gaza was detained instead.

The presidency has blamed Hamas for the latest Gaza
violence, just days after the deadliest bout of
internecine Palestinian violence in a year ended with 35
people dead as Arab diplomats battled to secure a

Fatah, moderate and secular, and Hamas, radical and
Islamist, have tried for months to form a national unity
government in the hope that Western aid payments will
resume and reverse an unprecedented economic crisis.

Hamas has steadfastly refused to accept Western conditions
that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by
past peace deals.

The political showdown turned violent after Abbas
announced in December that he would call new elections in
the hope of wresting control from Hamas.

Friday, February 02, 2007

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Interview with Anarchists Against The Wall

This week on Crossing The Line I'll speak to Jonathan Pollock of Anarchists Against The Wall about their non-violent efforts in conjunction with Palestinians in bringing about the collapse of the wall. Then later in the podcast our weekly commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal and The War's Toll compiled and read by Scott Burgwin of The Stand Independent News Service, all of this coming up.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

PM approves eastward move of section of separation barrier

By Meron Rapoport

31 January 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved the moving of the
separation barrier at least five kilometers eastward from
the Green Line in the area of Modi'in Ilit, in order to
take in the settlements of Nili and Na'aleh, according to
security sources and a brief submitted by the state to the
High Court of Justice.

The new route will create two Palestinian enclaves
containing about 20,000 people. Nili and Na'aleh together
have some 1,500 residents.

Olmert approved the change in response to pressure from
residents of the two settlements, both of which would have
been left outside the barrier, according to the route
approved by the cabinet last April. The new route will
lengthen the fence by about 12 kilometers, which will cost
an estimated NIS 120 million.

If the cabinet approves Olmert's decision, it will be the
first time part of the fence has been moved eastward after
receiving cabinet approval. Hitherto, all such changes
have moved the fence westward, toward the Green Line, the
pre-1967 border that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Nili and Na'aleh, both secular settlements, are located
some five kilometers from the Green Line. Originally, they
were supposed to be surrounded by a "double fence" ¬ one
along the Green Line and one to their east ¬ that would
have trapped five Palestinian villages, with some 17,000
residents between them. In June 2004, however, the High
Court ordered a section of the fence near Jerusalem
dismantled on the grounds that it caused disproportionate
harm to local Palestinians, and the defense establishment
feared that the court would do the same to the
Nili-Na'aleh section. It therefore proposed a new route
that eliminated the eastern fence and left Nili and
Na'aleh outside the western fence, and in April 2006, the
cabinet approved this route.

Rani Hernik, chairman of the Na'aleh local council, said
that leaders of both settlements then began intensive
lobbying in an effort to get the route changed again.
Their main argument, he said, was that both settlements
are on state land and would thus not interfere with the
Palestinians' "fabric of life," and therefore, the court
would be likely to approve a route that included them.

Colonel Danny Tirza, then the official in charge of
planning the fence's route, was the main person pushing to
include Nili and Na'aleh, Hernik said. (The Defense
Ministry subsequently removed Tirza from his position,
because of an inaccurate affidavit he submitted to the
High Court.)

Hernik said that the proposal to include the two
settlements within the fence ended up on Olmert's desk,
"and as far as I know, received his authorization."
Security sources confirmed that Olmert approved the change
in principle last November and asked the defense
establishment to prepare a formal proposal for the

And in response to a petition against the route approved
by the cabinet last April, the Justice Ministry recently
told the High Court that "a proposal to change the route
of the security fence to include the Israeli settlements
of Nili and Na'aleh and part of the road connecting the
Nili-Na'aleh Junction to Kiryat Sefer (Modi'in Ilit) is
due to be presented to the Israeli government."

Hernik said that a new road is also due to be paved, which
will connect Modi'in Ilit, Nili and Na'aleh with the
settlement of Ofarim. Palestinians will not be permitted
access to this road, but two tunnels will be built under
it to allow Palestinian traffic to transverse it.

The result is that some 17,000 Palestinians will be stuck
in an enclave bounded by the fence along the Green Line to
the west, and the road and the Nili-Na'aleh fence to the
east. Another village, with some 2,000 residents, will be
enclosed by the new fence route on three sides.

Olmert's office said in response that he has received a
proposal to connect the defenses around Nili and Na'aleh
to the barrier and is currently studying it. When he
finishes, he will bring it to the cabinet for discussion.

The Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces said
that the defense establishment "is currently engaged in
staff work to examine the various alternatives," including
proposals to encompass the two settlements with a security
fence and to protect the access road connecting them with
Kiryat Sefer.