Sunday, May 27, 2007

It's better to be orphans

By Gideon Levy

Once again we are being hit by a wave of desire for "a strong man."
From every direction, from the left and right, voices that miss former
prime minister Ariel Sharon are being heard, like voices of longing for
a father who has departed. "If Sharon were here the war in Lebanon
would have ended differently," and "Sharon would have put an end to the
Qassams a long time ago."

Let it be said at once: Being orphaned in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's
shadow is better than the fatherliness of the mythical leader. Hamas
should be profoundly grateful to Sharon, thanks to whom it now controls
Gaza. Hezbollah, too, would be ungrateful if it did not thank the man
who led to its firm footing in Lebanon, and here in Israel Sderot owes
that man for the Qassams that are landing on its head. Those who now
miss Sharon are longing for the brute force and bullying that led us to
the brink. Israel is nostalgic for its most dangerous leader, for the
person who caused it more damage than anyone else.

During his six years as prime minister Sharon wiped out the last chance for the
existence of a Palestinian partner. Sharon's Israel waged war on the
Palestinian Liberation Organization, and instead of a secular movement
that believes in compromises we received a fanatical Islamic
leadership, just as the first Lebanon war gave rise to Hezbollah. Whom
do we have to thank for this? Sharon.

Under Sharon's leadership the Israel Defense Forces destroyed all the institutions of
the new and fragile Palestinian regime, from the police headquarters in
various places to the welfare offices. As for Yasser Arafat, the only
person who was able to forge a historic compromise, we eliminated him
as a leader, and no one in Israel asked what would rise on the ruins of
the PLO and who would come after Arafat. We have locked up Marwan
Barghouti, a promising potential leader, for many years, together with
a long list of political activists who talked about peace. We have also
denied Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the most moderate of the
Palestinian leaders, any chance of gaining control, and we are not
letting him present even the slightest achievement to his suffering

Sharon is responsible for all of this. Under him,
Israel spoke only the language of force, and of military and
engineering operations, from Defensive Shield to the separation fence.
After that, Sharon landed the much-praised disengagement on us. While
ignoring in a racist and lordly way the existence of the Palestinian
people in the Gaza Strip, which has its needs and desires, and ignoring
its leadership, Sharon pulled the IDF and Jewish settlements out of
Gaza without any agreement or hope for the future, only to allow Israel
to continue to control the West Bank. We destroyed everything and we
left the Gaza Strip behind lock and bolt, imprisoned as it had never
been before.

And it is no wonder that imprisoned and hungry
people, who have no exit, have turned to anarchy and violence. The
experiment with humans has succeeded: They have indeed begun to run
amok in their huge cage. Hamas came into power - this too was no
surprise - and the world imposed a cruel economic boycott on the
Palestinian Authority, with Israel's encouragement, even when the unity
government arose. The civil war and the Qassams were not long in
coming. These are just the appetizer. And what did we expect? And what
did Sharon intend when he replaced one occupation with another?

If, heaven forbid, Sharon were now in a position of leadership, the IDF
would already have invaded Gaza, just as it invaded Jenin and Nablus
and sowed killing and destruction there. The firing of the Qassams
might have ceased for a while, just as has happened with the terror
attacks from the West Bank. But on the ruins, reinforced by poverty and
despair, a new form of violent resistance would have arisen. Sharon, a
real man, would also have totally destroyed the last remnants of the
Palestinian unity government, and even then no one would have asked
what would come in its stead. It isn't that we aren't acting like
bullies now as well, kidnapping an education minister in the middle of
the night and bombing money changers. But Olmert has refrained from
going all the way in Sharon's path. How pleasant it is, relatively and
temporarily, to be orphans in his lap.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lost in Lebanon Podcast Available!

This week on Crossing The Line, conservative estimates put the number of dead and injured at well over 100 in he Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli; thousands are fleeing their homes, and a humanitarian crisis that already is unbearable grows worse. Today we’ll get two reports on the current crisis in Lebanon.

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.

Twilight Zone / Cry, the beloved country

By Gideon Levy

PRETORIA, South Africa - It was like being in the movies. Only there
would you see an inert photo suddenly come to life. We were standing at
the memorial museum in Soweto, next to a photo of a dead boy with other
children around him, and our guide Antoinette was telling us about it.
Antoinette said that the young girl in the picture was her.

photo is at the entrance of the museum, built to commemorate the
blacks' struggle against apartheid, which began here. Across the way is
Nelson Mandela's tiny hut, nearby is the house of Desmond Tutu and down
the street is the present home of Winnie Mandela.

The picture
was stunningly familiar to us. We were four: MK Ran Cohen (Meretz);
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations; Diana
Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO; and myself. We were all
making the same associations: Hector is Mohammed al-Dura; the white
soldiers shooting at children are us.

The passage of time was
evident with Antoinette. The teenager in the picture was now a woman in
her late forties. Her brother would have been 44, but a bullet from the
rifle of a white policeman deprived him of the chance to witness the
miracle of how the cruel racist regime collapsed.

It was
another UN conference about peace with the Palestinians, but this time
it was being held in a particularly "loaded" location. We were only two
Israelis there, but the calling cards I collected were quite varied:
Arab and African ambassadors, the previous Egyptian foreign minister,
representatives of Muslim countries and diplomats posted in Pretoria.
The Syrian ambassador smiled and did not offer his card; the Libyan
ambassador did the same. But they listened to us attentively.

new regime has been good for South Africa; no Palestinian refugee camp
looks nearly as attractive as Soweto 2007. But not far away is a
shantytown called Alexandra and the sights there are worse than in any
Palestinian refugee camp we've seen. This is where South African blacks
who haven't been able to pull themselves out of poverty live, together
with refugees from neighboring Zimbabwe.

Less than a kilometer
separates the impoverished Alexandra from a fancy Johannesburg
neighborhood called Sandton. There, behind the electric fences and
personal bodyguards, hide the city's wealthy - many of them Jews and a
good number former Israelis. On Shabbat we ate cholent. On Friday night
we dined with a former Israeli from Nahalal. We drove to Alexandra with
a guy who originally hails from Tivon, who has been here for 30 years
and owns a huge agricultural enterprise that employs 1,800 black
workers earning $2 an hour.

It's impossible not to admire what has occurred in this battered land since the yoke
of white tyranny was lifted.

Not in his name

the conference luncheon, Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa's minister for
intelligence services, hurried over to grab a seat next to us. Kasrils,
a Jew, had never been to Israel (where he has relatives) until his
visit to the territories earlier in the month, when he invited
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to his country. He then made
his first, quick trip to Tel Aviv, saw Rabin Square and ate fish in
Jaffa. "It was the most pleasant evening I had," he acknowledges.

Segev once wrote that he is "a guy I wouldn't choose to be stuck in an
elevator with," but I would be glad to get stuck with Ronnie Kasrils,
inside or outside an elevator. He is a Jew in conflict with his people,
perhaps also with his identity - a courageous freedom fighter and
communist, who joined the oppressed race in its struggle, was exiled
from his country for 27 years and is now a minister.

A son of
Lithuanian Jews, who had a bar mitzvah and belonged to Jewish youth
movements, Kasrils is one of the most fascinating characters to come
out of the local Jewish community - which now thoroughly denounces him.
He brandishes his Jewishness openly, perhaps defiantly, even when he
recently made an official visit to Iran and Syria. He once founded a
movement called "Not in My Name," to underscore his disassociation from
the injustices committed by Israel in the territories. Ronnie Kasrils
hates the Israeli occupation.

When we talked he said the
Israeli occupation is worse than apartheid: The whites never shelled
the black neighborhoods with tanks and artillery.

Just like the pogroms

this warm, outgoing 69-year-old has any personal security protection,
it is invisible. We sat in a vacant room in a building on the
University of Pretoria campus and talked. "You're an Israeli and I'm a
South African," he emphasized immediately, as if to negate any common
identity. "I'm confident that the circle will be closed one day and
people will understand that I'm not anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli ... It
really pains me as a Jew that in this country such hostility has
developed toward Israel, because of its treatment of the Palestinians

"When we saw on television the drama going on in your
country, the oppressive pictures of the methods you use toward the
Palestinians, the uprooting of trees, the tanks entering Jenin, and the
old woman weeping over the demolition of her house and crying 'The
Jews, the Jews' - it's just like what my grandmother used to tell me
about the pogroms: The Cossacks are coming, the Cossacks are coming.
I'm trying to say: It's not the Jews, it's Zionisms that's doing this.
So I decided to get up and say something. I found this in the Jewish
tradition: to open your mouth, in the name of conscience.

man who greeted me when I returned to South Africa after the years of
exile was Rabbi Cyril Harris ... He gave me a red skullcap with a
dedication: to the freedom fighter. When I started to express criticism
of Israel, I thought that the Jews would denounce Ariel Sharon, but
then I found out that I was naive. I was stunned to see that the Jewish
community here didn't care who was in power in Israel and how extreme
the policy was against the Palestinians ... They would blindly support
any government. Rabbi Harris became my enemy. He called me a fringe Jew
and my response was: We were the only ones who stood up against
apartheid and now we're the minority against the injustice.

I visited the territories I also passed through Israel and I saw the
forests that cover the remnants of the Palestinian villages. As a
former forestry minister, this was especially striking to me. I also
went into a few settlements. It was insane. Young Americans spat on the
flag that was on my car. The occupation reminds me of the darkest days
of apartheid, but we never saw tanks and planes firing at a civilian
population. It's a monstrousness I'd never seen before. The wall you
built, the checkpoints and the roads for Jews only - it turns the
stomach, even for someone who grew up under apartheid. It's a hundred
times worse.

"We know from our experience that oppression
motivates resistance and that the more savage the oppression, the
harsher the resistance. At a certain point in time you think that the
oppression is working, and that you're controlling the other people,
imprisoning its leaders and its activists, but the resistance will
triumph in the end.

"We saw the entrance to Qalqilyah, the
wall, the people standing hours in line at the checkpoints. It's a
beautiful country, I love its landscapes, but I know that it's big
enough to contain more people. Israel has developed very impressively,
but how much more impressive it would be if you brought about a just
solution ... I don't care if it's two states or one - it's up to you,
the Israelis and the Palestinians, to decide.

"I had coffee
with the commander of the Erez checkpoint. It reminded me of the
central prison in Pretoria, a place I've visited many times. And it was
so awful to go through this thing in order to get to Gaza. At first I
said that I don't want to speak with the man at the checkpoint, but
then I decided that was foolish. The Israelis were actually very nice
to me.

"What is Zionism to me? When I was 10 years old, it
meant security and a national home for the Jews. I waved the Israeli
flag at my bar mitzvah and I was very proud of my Judaism. The first
book I received for my bar mitzvah was 'The Revolt,' by Menachem Begin.
My biggest hero was Asher Ginsberg, Ahad Ha'am ... Later on I started
reading not only Herzl, but also [historians] Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris
and Tom Segev, and I came to see 1948 in a different light. I
understood that it was an ethnic cleansing.

"South Africa
changed me and strengthened my South African identity. And then I began
to understand that the main problem of Zionism is the exclusivity of
the establishment of a national home and the concept of the chosen
people. Very soon I started to oppose it. The establishment of a
national home for Jews alone seemed to me like a parallel of apartheid.
The apartheid leaders also spoke about a chosen people. In 1961, prime
minister Hendrik Verwoerd said that Israel is like South Africa. That
opened my eyes. For many years we were also aware of the military
cooperation between Israel and South Africa - a joint offensive naval
force, missile boats, the Cheetah planes and the big secret of the
nuclear weapons. Prime minister Johannes Vorster, who had a declared
Nazi past, received a hero's welcome from you. This added to my
feelings regarding Israel.

"I am very conscious of the
Holocaust and of anti-Semitism, but my experience here leads me to one
conclusion: that all forms of racism must be fought by means of a
common struggle. I have a dream: That you will change your outlook, as
happened here, and that change will come. When politicians reach
agreements, it's amazing how fast ordinary folks can come to a change
in thinking. Change the leadership and the economic conditions and
you'll see how easy the change is."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Palestinian Pinochet Making His Move?

By Tony Karon

15 May 2007

There's something a little misleading in the media reports
that routinely describe the fighting in Gaza as pitting Hamas
against Fatah forces or security personnel "loyal to President
Mahmoud Abbas." That characterization suggests somehow that
this catastrophic civil war that has killed more than 25
Palestinians since Sunday is a showdown between Abbas and the
Hamas leadership -- which simply isn't true, although such a
showdown would certainly conform to the desires of those
running the White House Middle East policy.

The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the
breakdown of the Palestinian unity government and provoked the
latest fighting may profess fealty to President Abbas, but
it's not from him that they get their orders. The leader to
whom they answer is Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza warlord who has
long been Washington's anointed favorite to play the role of a
Palestinian Pinochet. And while Dahlan is formally subordinate
to Abbas, whom he supposedly serves as National Security
Adviser, nobody believes that Dahlan answers to Abbas -- in
fact, it was suggested at the time that Abbas appointed Dahlan
only under pressure from Washington, which was irked by the
Palestinian Authority president's decision to join a unity
government with Hamas.

If Dahlan takes orders from anyone at all, it's certainly not
from Abbas. Abbas has long recognized the democratic
legitimacy and popularity of Hamas, and embraced the reality
that no peace process is possible unless the Islamists are
given the place in the Palestinian power structure that their
popular support necessitates. He has always favored
negotiation and cooperation with Hamas -- much to the
exasperation of the Bush Administration, and also of the Fatah
warlords whose power of patronage was threatened by the Hamas
election victory -- and could see the logic of the unity
government proposed by the Saudis even when Washington
couldn't. Indeed, as the indispensable Robert Malley and
Hussein Agha note, nothing has hurt Abbas's political standing
as much as the misguided efforts of Washington to boost his
standing in the hope of undermining the elected Hamas

Needless to say, only an Administration as deluded about its
ability to reorder Arab political realities in line with its
own fantasies -- and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of
Arab life and of Arab democracy, empty sloganizing
notwithstanding -- as the current one has proved to be could
imagine that the Palestinians could be starved, battered and
manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved political
leadership. Yet, that's exactly what the U.S. has attempted to
do ever since Hamas won the last Palestinian election,
imposing a financial and economic chokehold on an already
distressed population, pouring money and arms into the forces
under Dahlan's control, and eventually adapting itself to
funnel monies only through Abbas, as if casting in him in the
role of a kind of Quisling-provider would somehow burnish his
appeal among Palestinian voters. (As I said, their contempt
for Arab intelligence knows no bounds. )

But while the hapless Abbas is little more than a reluctant
passenger in Washington's strategy -- and will, I still
believe, repair to his former exile lodgings in Qatar in the
not too distant future -- Mohammed Dahlan is its point man, the
warlord who commands the troops and who has been spoiling for
a fight with Hamas since they had the temerity to trounce his
organization at the polls on home turf.

Dahlan's ambitions clearly coincided with plans drawn up by
White House Middle East policy chief, Elliot Abrams -- a
veteran of the Reagan Administration's Central American dirty
wars -- to arm and train Fatah loyalists to prepare them to
topple the Hamas government. If Mahmoud Abbas has been
reluctant to embrace the confrontational policy promoted by
the White House, Dahlan has no such qualms. And given that
Abbas has no political base of his own, he is dependent
entirely on Washington and Dahlan.

Seeing the disastrous implications of the U.S. policy, the
Saudis appeared to have put the kibosh on Abrams' coup plan by
drawing Abbas into a unity government with Hamas. And as Mark
Perry at Conflict Forum detailed in an excellent analysis
Dahlan was just about the only thing that the U.S. had going
for it in terms of resisting the move towards a unity
government. Although his fretting and sulking in Mecca
couldn't prevent the deal, the U.S. appears to have helped him
fight back afterwards by ensuring that he was appointed
national security adviser, a move calculated to provoke Hamas,
whose leaders tend to view Dahlan as little more than a
torturer and a de facto enforcer for Israel.

But Dahlan appears to have made his move when it came to
integrating the Palestinian Authority security forces
(currently dominated by Fatah) by drawing in Hamas fighters
and subjecting the forces to the control of a politically
neutral interior minister. Dahlan simply refused, and set off
the current confrontations by ordering his men out onto the
street last weekend without any authorization from the
government of which he is supposedly a part.

The new provocation appears consistent with a revised U.S.
plan, reported on by Mark Perry and Paul Woodward, that
emphasized the urgency of toppling the unity government. They
suggest the plan emanates from Abrams, who they say is
operating at cross purposes with Condi Rice's efforts to
appease the Arab moderate regimes by reviving some form of
peace process. They note, for example, that Jewish American
sources have told the Forward and Haaretz that Abrams recently
briefed Jewish Republicans and made clear to them that Rice's
efforts were merely a symbolic exercise aimed at showing Arab
allies that the U.S. was "doing something," but that President
Bush would ensure that nothing would come of them, in the
sense that Israel would not be required to make any

Whatever the precise breakdown within the Bush Administration,
it's plain that Dahlan, like Pinochet a quarter century, would
not move onto a path of confrontation with an elected
government unless he believed he had the sanction of powerful
forces abroad to do so. If does move to turn the current
street battle into a frontal assault on the unity government,
chances are it will be because he got a green light from
somewhere -- and certainly not from Mahmoud Abbas.

But the confrontation under way has assumed a momentum of its
own, and it may now be beyond the capability of the
Palestinian leadership as a whole to contain it. If that
proves true, the petulance that has substituted for policy in
the Bush Administration's response to the 2006 Palestinian
election will have succeeded in turning Gaza into Mogadishu.
But it may be too much to expect the Administration capable of
anything different -- after all, they're still busy turning
Mogadishu into Mogadishu all over again.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

U.S. pressing Israel to bolster pro-Abbas forces in Gaza

By Aluf Benn

20 May 2007

The United States is pressing Israel to help bolster security
forces in the Gaza Strip that are loyal to Palestinian
Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Major General Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator,
recently discussed the function of the pro-Abbas Presidential
Guard and National Security forces with senior Israeli

The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and
deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip
and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the
security situation.

Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni
crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF's
assessment, that Abbas' forces had performed well despite
their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas
force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in
the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen
the pro-Abbas forces.

A 470-strong Presidential Guard force, which had trained in
Egypt, returned to Gaza last Tuesday via the Rafah crossing.
Defense establishment sources said there was no need to
coordinate the force's entry with Israel as the men were

The defense establishment is undecided about helping to
bolster the pro-Abbas forces and enabling Abbas to pay their
wages. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main
advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists.

"The idea is to change the balance, which so far has leaned in
Hamas' favor. Well-trained [pro-Abbas] forces could help tip
the balance," Sneh told The Washington Post.

"We don't give them operative orders, that's Abbas' business,"
he added.

Defense officials rejected the IDF's evaluation that Abbas and
his forces had lost the battle for control of the Gaza Strip
and there was no point in helping them. The officials said the
IDF was prejudiced against Fatah and its troops' capability,
and that their evaluations were not based on a thorough
examination of the battles.

However, there is also a controversy in the U.S. about the
situation in the PA. Senior White House officials say Abbas'
failure to handle the situation and his keeping away from Gaza
reflect his inadequacy.

The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over
Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip.
"Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their
Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in
weapons," an IDF source said.

The source said that senior defense officers identified with
Fatah have taken their families out of the Gaza Strip for fear
Hamas would harm them.

The head of the research division of Military Intelligence,
Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, on Friday told the diplomatic
corps that the Hamas modus operandi in Gaza was identical to
that developed by Hezbollah in South Lebanon. "Hamas is taking
over Fatah and Abbas' properties and equipment that the
international community is bringing into Gaza," he said in an
intelligence briefing at the Dan Hotel.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Catastrophe Podcast Available!

This week on Crossing The Line, I continue with Pt.2 of my conversation with Israeli academic and activist Ilan Pappe.

Also this week, Professor Norman G. Finkelstein of DePaul University a noted academic scholar on Israel/Palestine, is being attacked by his old nemesis Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School regarding his attempts at tenure at DePaul. I'll speak to attorney Frank Menetrez who published an article regarding the long simmering fued between the two men and the danger of academic freedom on university campuses.

Then later, we'll hear from Aljazeera correspondent Laila el-Haddad about the current situation in the Gaza Strip in light of the 59th anniversary of al-Nakba "The Catastrophe"

And, as always, our weekly commentary by Mumia abu-Jamal.

Fatah Troops Enter Gaza With Israeli Assent

Hundreds Were Trained in Egypt Under U.S.-Backed Program to
Counter Hamas

By Scott Wilson

The Washington Post
18 May 2007

JERUSALEM, May 17 -- Israel this week allowed the Palestinian
party Fatah to bring into the Gaza Strip as many as 500 fresh
troops trained under a U.S.-coordinated program to counter
Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that won Palestinian
parliamentary elections last year. Fighting between Hamas and
Fatah has left about 45 Palestinians dead since Sunday.

The forces belong to units loyal to the elected Palestinian
Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate Fatah leader
whom the Bush administration and Israel have sought to
strengthen militarily and politically. A spokeswoman for the
European Union Border Assistance Mission at Rafah, where the
fighters crossed into Gaza from Egypt, said their entry
Tuesday was approved by Israel.

The troops' deployment illustrates the increasingly partisan
role that Israel and the Bush administration are taking in the
volatile Palestinian political situation. The effort to
fortify the armed opposition to Hamas, which the United States
and Israel categorize as a terrorist organization, follows
attempts to isolate the radical Islamic movement
internationally and cut off its sources of financial aid.

Israel on Thursday also carried out a series of airstrikes
against Hamas targets across Gaza, killing at least six
gunmen. [Additional airstrikes early Friday killed four
people, doctors in Gaza told the Associated Press.]

Fatah, the movement formerly led by Yasser Arafat, has
recognized Israel, in contrast to Hamas, whose charter calls
for the creation of a future Islamic state across territory
that now includes the Jewish state. The two Palestinian
parties -- one secular, one Islamic -- have been fighting for
control of various security services and, by extension,
political power and patronage since Hamas won democratic
elections in January 2006.

Hamas's militant brand of Islam has given it dominant
political standing in impoverished Gaza, where many of its
leaders were born or arrived as refugees, while Fatah remains
strong in the wealthier and more secular West Bank.

The Bush administration recently approved $40 million to train
the Palestinian Presidential Guard, a force of about 4,000
troops under Abbas's direct control, but both Israel and the
United States, each deeply unpopular among Arabs in the
region, have been trying to avoid the perception of taking
sides in a conflict that this week in Gaza has resembled a
nascent civil war. Many within Fatah are avowed opponents of
Israel, and any alliance with the Jewish state against the
militant movement could damage Fatah's standing among

"We're not the ones giving these forces operational orders.
That will be up to Abbas," said Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy
defense minister, asserting that Hamas's arms smuggling from
the Sinai and military training in Iran have given the
movement a battlefield advantage. "The idea is to change the
balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah.
With these well-trained forces, it will help right that

As Palestinian rocket fire into Israel continued Thursday, the
Israeli air force conducted a series of strikes across Gaza,
from which Israel withdrew in 2005 after a nearly four-decade

The airstrikes killed at least six Hamas gunmen that Israeli
officials said were involved in rocket assaults on Israeli
towns near Gaza. Among those killed was Imad Shabanah, a Hamas
military leader who Hamas officials acknowledged had taken
part in manufacturing rockets. His car was hit as it traveled
through Gaza City.

"All options for our response are open," said Fawzi Barhoum, a
Hamas spokesman in Gaza. Some Hamas military leaders said
specifically that "martyrdom operations," or suicide bombings,
could be used in retaliation for the Israeli airstrikes.

Israeli military officials said Palestinian gunmen fired at
least 17 rockets Thursday from Gaza, bringing the three-day
total to more than 80. At least seven fell Thursday in the
border town of Sderot, wounding several Israelis and damaging
a synagogue, a high school and a building inside an industrial
park, military officials said. One Israeli woman was seriously
wounded by rocket fire earlier this week, and dozens of others
have suffered light to moderate injuries or have been treated
for shock.

A small number of Israeli tanks also pushed just inside
northern Gaza, the first ground operation there this year, and
an artillery battery took up position on the border. Israeli
military officials called both deployments defensive measures.

Israel has used shelling and limited ground operations in the
past to stop Palestinian rocket fire. But the results have
never been decisive against a weapon that is cheap, highly
mobile and difficult to detect until it has been fired. The
Israeli tactics have also resulted in many Palestinian
civilian deaths.

"Hamas has essentially gone back to what we always knew they
were -- a terrorist organization acting as a government," said
Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert. "What they are trying to do is drag Israel back into
Gaza after we left every inch of it. We do not want to rule

The factional fighting cooled Thursday in the shadow of
Israel's stepped-up military operations. But Fatah gunmen
ambushed a Hamas funeral procession in Gaza, killing two men
in the crowd.

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because
they were not authorized to discuss the subject, said the
decision to allow Fatah troops into Gaza this week was based
on trying to help Abbas take control of northern Gaza. That
area is the prime launching ground for the erratic if lethal
rockets known as Qassams.

"If you look at exit scenarios for what's going on there now,
you could have a force loyal to Abbas in northern Gaza that
could be highly useful to Israel," one Israeli official said.
"But within the larger crisis you have to be careful. We don't
want to be a part of this conflict, so this is a balancing

The troops were trained by Egyptian authorities under a
program coordinated by Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, a special
U.S. envoy to the region who has been working to improve
security in Gaza and the West Bank in order to foster
Israeli-Palestinian economic alliances in the short term and
peace prospects over time.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said Dayton had not yet begun his phase of training
Fatah forces because the funding was only recently approved.
He said none of the troops who arrived in Gaza this week were
trained with U.S. funds.

Although it is under Abbas's authority, the Presidential Guard
is run by Mohammed Dahlan, a Fatah lawmaker who has worked
closely with several U.S. administrations. Abbas named Dahlan
his national security adviser after Hamas and Fatah agreed in
February to establish a power-sharing government.

The appointment infuriated Hamas leaders, who despise Dahlan
for the crackdown he carried out against them as head of the
Preventive Security branch following the 1993 Oslo accords.
Hamas opposed the agreement, which created the Palestinian

"This is a complex situation, and we clearly hear Abbas say he
wants to stop terrorism," a second Israeli official said. "But
he has not been able to extend his authority over all of

Israeli officials said the forces, whom one Israeli Defense
Ministry official called "Dayton's guys," were trained in
Egypt and numbered between 400 and 500 men.

Although Israel handed the Rafah crossing over to Palestinian
and Egyptian control after evacuating Gaza, it maintains the
ability to deny entry to anyone it does not want to pass
through the terminal. It frequently employs this prerogative
to prevent known members of armed Palestinian groups from
entering the strip.

Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for the E.U. Border Assistance
Mission deployed at Rafah as part of the turnover agreement,
said the men arrived in several buses. "We had been informed
they were arriving," Telleria said. "But this was coordinated
between Israel and the Palestinian government. All we did was
monitor the crossing."

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Twilight Zone / A day in the life

By Gideon Levy

We were just sitting down on the plastic chairs in the living room when the noise began. Boom after boom, volleys of gunfire. Closer, farther away, single shots and rounds of automatic fire. Occasionally, too, a brief respite. Jamal poured coffee as usual. Another cup, another cigarette. The firing continues. How are you? What's doing? But it's clear that the shooting is now very close, almost on the other side of the wall. At the Jalama checkpoint, on the way here, we hadn't noticed an ominous sign: a convoy of armored vehicles of the Israel Defense Forces was parked along the roadside. Maybe they were waiting to enter.

Air force planes above, rattling the windows and the thin walls with their sonic booms. On the street, life goes on as usual: It's midday and the children are on the way home from school, backpacks on shoulders, their mothers chatting as they wait for them in the alley, the mobile-grocery man announcing his produce via a noisy loudspeaker attached to his vehicle. The volleys of fire are growing louder and more insistent. That's life. But now it becomes clear even to Jamal Zbeidi, a veteran of suffering and struggle, that something is happening in the camp, something is happening - again.

Late the night before, too, IDF troops had entered the camp and wounded an armed young man in the leg. He managed to get away and reached the adjacent house. The neighbors dressed the wound and tried to persuade him to wait for first light, but his pain intensified and he begged to be taken to a hospital. Jamal called an ambulance. As it approached the house, an IDF Jeep that had been waiting in ambush at the corner of the street suddenly swooped in. The soldiers, who did not dare leave their armored vehicle, ordered the paramedics to turn over the wounded youngster. They bundled him into the Jeep and drove off, ordering the ambulance to drive ahead.

A short time before that, another youth was hurt in the camp and was rushed to the hospital in Nablus with a head injury, after a quarrel among children in the local Internet cafe. Meanwhile, the camp committee tried for hours to calm things down between the two families, the Shalabis and the Ararwis. People in the camp hadn't slept; another restless night, as usual.

The red telephone starts to chirp. Jamal is a member of the camp committee, and people call his mobile to find out what's going on. He too starts to call neighbors and informants. Initially, there are rumors that mistarvim - Israeli soldiers disguised as Arabs - are entrenched in one of the buildings up the road in the alley we are in, and local gunmen are firing at someone inside the house. A municipal foreman didn't come to work today, and the suspicion is that the mistarvim are holding him captive in his house, where they have been taking cover since entering in the dead of night. It's now a little after noon. Jamal says that if there really are mistarvim in that house, the IDF will send forces to extricate them.

Sounds of men breathlessly running in the street. We are glued to the barred window: Three armed men are dashing up the alley, toward the shooting. Jamal says it may be a false alarm. Amir Peretz is on Al Jazeera, on the TV set that is on day and night, without the sound. The camp's muezzin calls worshipers to come to the midday prayer. That's life. If anyone is killed, the youngsters will come to the mosque and use the loudspeaker to announce it. The shooting intensifies.

One's hands break out in a cold sweat. For someone from the outside it's very scary. The ceiling fan turns silently on its axis, dissipating the heat but not the fear. Jamal is a cool character. If it were not for his Israeli guests, he would already be out on the street. The firing is getting closer. Hani Damaj, whose home is in the eye of the storm, reports on the red phone: The word is that an IDF unit is entrenched in the house next door, that of the foreman, Abu-Imad Ghraieb, and the young men are shooting at it. Jamal asks Damaj to get back to him with more details. He reminds us that we once visited the besieged house - when Ariel Sharon was hospitalized.

Ghraieb, about 50, lives in the besieged house with his wife. They have no children. A group of youngsters runs toward the shooting, schoolbags flopping on their backs. Also making their way up the alley, but slowly, are girls in their striped school uniforms. It is very hot outside. Another phone call: Damaj confirms that the soldiers are in the house. Jamal does not let us leave; this is not the time for Israelis to walk around the camp. His children are not home: Anton is at work in a garage, Naim is doing guard duty, and the little ones, Yusuf and Hamudi, are on the way home from the school next to the new cemetery for martyrs of the second intifada. Their father is certain that they have already joined the children who are running toward the gunfire, to throw stones at the Jeeps.

A few months ago, Yusuf was wounded in the leg by a bullet. Jamal keeps his cool. He really has seen it all. With his own hands he removed numerous bodies from besieged alleys after Israel's Operation Defensive Shield five years ago. His son-in-law and two of his nephews were killed, and he was placed in administrative detention [arrest without trial] seven times.

The phone rings. On the line is Khaled Abu al-Haija, a construction worker who is on a job near the besieged house. He relates that there is still traffic on the road between the camp and the city, but there is a great deal of shooting and many explosions. The Jenin version of a traffic report. A few hundred meters from here, I recall, a teenage girl, Bushra al-Wahsh, was killed in her room a few days ago while preparing for an exam.

A powerful blast. It's a roadside bomb that the youngsters planted for the army vehicles. Lately they have been greeting the IDF with gas canisters placed by the roadside. The explosions leave gaping holes in the camp road, which was rebuilt only a couple of years ago.

We tune in the local TV station, which may have more news. The headlines of the Maan news agency crawl by at the bottom of the screen: "Israeli security forces set up roadblocks at entrances to Jenin." And immediately afterward, "Israeli security forces enter Jenin camp."

Al Jazeera is reporting on the French elections. The firing goes on unabated. A minibus drops off the camp's schoolchildren at their homes, but most disappear quickly into the alley, running into the firing zone, to the only action this camp can offer them.

A call is made to Ali Samoudi, the Al Jazeera correspondent in Jenin, who is already at the scene. Panting hard, he tells me that there are already about 20 IDF vehicles next to the house and another group parked below, next to the equestrian sculpture made by a German artist from parts of wrecked ambulances, on the edge of the camp, at the entrance to the government hospital. The hospital is not operating now, because the employees haven't been paid for months. Another explosive device goes off. Samoudi says there are wounded people.

"I hope you get out safely and that we won't have anyone killed today," Jamal, our host, says matter-of-factly. Air force plane serve up another sonic boom. "That has nothing to do with it," he adds reassuringly. "If things go wrong, the Apaches [helicopters] will come. You don't play with the Apaches."

The neighbors' nine-year-old boy runs in, his face sweaty and red, a lemon in his hand. He has come from there, there are already two wounded, one of them seriously. The wail of an ambulance speeding by drowns out his words. Little Usseid says he is not afraid. "What? Me, afraid of them?" the diminutive boy exclaims. Yes, he threw stones at them. Three unarmed youngsters are moving up the hill on their ancient tractor. A taxi turns around and heads back at the sound of the shooting. When the firing intensifies again, Jamal says it's probably the end: Before the soldiers leave, they often step up the shooting, and that is the most dangerous time.

It's 1:20 P.M. Sanaa serves lunch. A tray of ground meat and peanuts on rice, with bowls of yogurt and meat alongside. "Two were wounded, one seriously," she says as she distributes the dishes, giving us a direct report from her situation room: the kitchen on the second floor. On Al Jazeera the German foreign minister is meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. A rickety van drops off a boy in the alley. Ali Samoudi reports that an IDF bulldozer has arrived.

A neighbor rushes out, screaming: He sent his son to work and now he is not there; he must have gone to the scene of the incident. A few years ago, this neighbor lost two nephews within a few days. Now, distraught over his son, he runs back and forth in the alley, grumbling and cursing. "If you see my son, tell him his father is looking for him," he shouts to someone on his mobile phone. More bursts of fire and another ambulance cruises through the alley, siren wailing. The neighbor decides to drive to the hospital, to see if his son is there, heaven forbid. He too has heard that there are wounded.

Hamudi has returned home. In his childish voice and with his captivating smile, the 11-year-old reports from the scene: They are throwing stones at the Jeeps. The word is that the soldiers tried to assassinate someone, but he opened fire and wounded a soldier. A rumor. Did you throw stones, his father asks. "No, I just stood there and watched." They both know the truth. At night, Hamudi sprints into his parents' bed whenever shots are heard, but during the day he is as brave as his older brothers.

The phone doesn't let up. On the line is Atef Abu al-Rub, a field worker from B'Tselem, the human rights organization, who wants to know what happened. Shall we eat now? It's 1:50. Who's at the door, they ask with concern. Fifteen-year-old Yusuf hasn't come home yet. Sanaa's food is wonderfully tasty, as usual in this house. Another close explosive charge goes off as we polish off a second yogurt.

A tractor that sounds like a tank makes us jump to the window with the plastic louver blinds. Two hours have passed. A Jeep carrying helmet-clad reporters speeds up the alley. Another ambulance, too; this time without a siren. Yusuf arrives, and says: "I just watched." Four children were lightly wounded by rubber bullets, he says. "Did you bring back the schoolbag?" his father asks. Yes, when he went there he placed it by the side, and now he collected it on the way back. It's after 3 now, and quiet.

Response of the IDF spokesperson:

As part of IDF operations in the area of Judea and Samaria intended to maintain the security of citizens of the State of Israel and destroy the terror infrastructure, the IDF operates in the area of the city of Jenin in order to eliminate the terror infrastructure and prevent attacks on the home front.

On the date in question, explosives were thrown and there was firing in a number of cases against IDF forces operating in Jenin, there were no injuries, the force returned fire against the sources of the shooting.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Taming The Beast: Ilan Pappe Defends a One State Solution

This week on Crossing The Line, the ongoing debate of two states vs. one state in Israel/Palestine is nothing new. However, the debate looms larger when we talk about the issue solely in the peace movement. Today I’ll present part one of a two-part conversation with noted Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.

Also this week, as Israeli incursions onto occupied lands begin to increase, we’ll find out what the true facts are on the ground from our good friend and colleague Sam Bahour in el-Bireh.

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.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Israel, Not All Blood is the Same

The Death of Samir Dari


Almost a year and a half has passed since our friend Samir Dari was gunned down by an Israeli policeman. Samir, an Israeli resident and father of two, approached a group of policemen who had just detained his brother on a street corner not far away from his house and demanded the latter's release. There are conflicting versions about how the events unfolded, but there is no dispute about the following facts: Samir was unarmed and the policeman Shmuel Yechezkel shot him from close range in the back.

The Israeli police were quick to disseminate a fallacious version of the incident which portrayed the killing as an act of self-defense. This is a typical and almost automatic police response, one which inverts the order between victim and aggressor. When an Arab is killed, he is said to have been violent; when he is beaten up, he is said to have struck the policeman first; when he is oppressed, he is the one who is guilty.

Also typical was the lack of public interest in Samir's death. The killing of an Arab is, after all, not the kind of event that makes headlines in Israel.

The non-violent protest which Samir's friends organized in response to the killing did, however, attract attention. Israeli Jews cannot easily digest angry Arabs in the streets, and many did not hesitate to openly threaten the protesters: "An immediate and forceful response is necessary"; "A missile attack on their village is needed," were some of the responses that appeared in the local newspaper.

But now, a year and a half later, it turns out that the Israeli legal system shares the public's perception, although the way it expresses itself is less strident.

Judge Noam Solburg recently acquitted the policeman Yechezkel. Ironically, in his verdict the judge states that Samir had not threatened Yechezkel, at no point was there physical contact between Samir and the policemen on the scene, and Samir was actually moving away from the policemen when he was shot in the back. "The accused made an awful and terrible mistake," the judge concludes, adding that "The deceased was killed for no reason."

The judge, nonetheless, exonerated Yechezkel because, in his opinion, it is not beyond probable doubt that the policeman felt he was acting in self-defense. Thus, when the "mistake" is killing an Arab, no one pays the price -- except, of course, the victim, his wife and children.

Judge Solburg's verdict sends a message to Samir's family and all Arab citizens of Israel: they should not expect justice and protection from the Israeli state. While the law's role is to protect citizens and the police's responsibility is to uphold the law, often these basic truths are ignored when it comes to Arabs. Since September 2000, thirty-four Arab citizens have been killed at the hands of the police, security guards and soldiers. Nonetheless, only four indictments have been issued, and only after a vigorous public campaign. Not one of these cases has resulted in a conviction.

And yet, at times, naiveté stubbornly tries to challenge political reality. When Samir was killed, we thought it was worth demanding justice. Initially, Samir's family refused to allow an autopsy. Only after considerable pressure from friends and lawyers, who argued that without concrete evidence the policeman would walk free, did the family agree, against their religious convictions, to permit the forensic procedure. The doctor's report was unequivocal: Samir had been shot in the back from short range.

Apparently, Judge Solburg has no patience for naiveté and ensured that political reality would win the day. He did not allow the autopsy results or, in his own words, "the objective dimension" of the case to alter his verdict and thus sent a very clear message to Arab citizens of Israel that evidence is not the most important criteria for determining guilt. It will, accordingly, be no surprise if the next victim's family refuses to consent to an autopsy.

The verdict also sends a clear message to the police: "don't worry." Israeli policemen can rest assured that everything will be done to cover up violence against Arabs. If internal affairs won't do the job, then a judge, who will acquit the policeman, can be found, even when the officer is guilty of shooting a man in cold blood.

Moreover, the verdict reinforces the idea among the Jewish public that not all blood is the same. Not that this should really surprise anyone. A year and a half ago, when Samir was killed, we wrote an article for the Israeli press that ended with the following lines:

"Samir is gone. We would like to hope that someone will be courageous enough to hold the person who shot him in the back accountable. We would like to believe that this incident will begin revealing the web of lies and racism that serves to perpetuate the circle of violence. We would like to know that Samir's children will be the last ones orphaned by the violence of the secret services, police and military. But no. We won't delude ourselves."
To our great sorrow, our pessimism has not been misplaced.

Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel and can be reached at

Yigal Bronner teaches in the South Asian Department at the University of Chicago, USA and can be reached at

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Israel accused of prisoner abuse

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Palestinian taken into custody by Israeli soldiers
The groups drew on the testimony of 73 Palestinians
Human rights groups in Israel have accused the security services of routinely mistreating Palestinian detainees.

The two groups said detainees were held in appalling conditions, and were sometimes tortured.

They said the maltreatment was intended to "break the spirit" of those who were being interrogated.

Israel's justice ministry rejected the report - which was published on Sunday - as unrepresentative and inaccurate.

The report lists a number of techniques the two groups, B'Tselem and the HaMoked Centre for the Defence of the Individual, say are deployed by the Israeli Security Agency.

They range from preventing detainees from contacting their lawyers, to painful shackling to a chair, threats and intimidation, beating and sleep deprivation.

The groups drew on the testimony of 73 Palestinians detained over a six-month period.

International law

International law is clear in prohibiting ill-treatment or torture, and it allows for no extenuating circumstances.

However, the human rights groups point to a more ambiguous ruling from the Israeli High Court.

It decreed that members of the security service who abused detainees may be exempted from criminal liability, if they believed that the people they were interrogating had information about an imminent terrorist act.

The human rights campaigners also say that of more than 500 complaints about the behaviour of security service agents, not one criminal investigation has been opened.

The Ministry of Justice said the report was "fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies".

In a statement, the ministry also said that over the past few years, information obtained by security service agents - sometimes through interrogation - had saved the lives of many civilians.