John Dugard is in Gaza to investigate possible war crimes

According to a report published yesterday (Friday) by Ma’an News Agency, John Dugard — the former Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (who has since been replaced by Richard Falk) — is in Gaza as part of a human rights fact-finding mission sponsored by the Arab League at the invitation of the Palestinian Centre [yes, it uses British spelling] for Human Rights.
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U.S. wants change in Durban anti-racism document

The U.S. has announced that it will not participate in further preparations for a follow-up conference against racism — UNLESS there are changes in the document being prepared for the conference.

You can bet that there will now be more feverish activity around the world to try to change the document in a way that the U.S. will like. If that happens, it might even be possible that Israel would eventually participate …
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Hamas, Fatah + Palestinian Factions agree to try to form one government

After the first day of full meetings in Cairo today on national reconciliation, the main Palestinian factions — including hitherto bitter rivals Hamas and Fatah — said they had reached agreement in principle on a new government.

There is not yet agreement on what kind of new government it should be.
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Released Guantanamo detainee accuses U.S. and U.K. and Morocco of torture

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born refugee with British residency, was released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba — and put on a chartered plane heading to a British military base in the early morning today.

He is being accompanied on the flight “by officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter-terrorism Command, a uniformed police escort team and a doctor”, but is not expected to be detained once he arrives in the U.K., according to a report by The Times of London. He will reportedly report regularly to U.K. police and will be kept under surveillance, but will be able to live at home. At one time he was accused — perhaps without sufficient basis, it now appears — of working with others [including Jose Padilla] while in Pakistan on the construction of an “improvised radioactive bomb” or a “dirty bomb” that would be detonated in the U.S.

Arrested at Karachi airport Pakistan on 10 April 2002 while attempting to fly out using a fake or false passport — he said his had been lost — Mohamed has since “been held in US custody for a total of eight years”, according to the report in The Times published here — first in Pakistan, then taken in extraordinary rendition to Morocco, Afghanistan, and, finally, September 2004, in Guantanamo.

His detention was never reviewed by a court or tribunal.
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Amnesty International calls for arms embargo against Israel and all Palestinian militant groups

In a report embargoed until 12:01 am on 23 February, Amnesty International said there should be no more business as usual, after the three-week Israeli Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza — and years of rocket, mortar and missile attacks from Gaza upon neighboring areas of Israel.

“We urge the UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are found to ensure that munitions and other military equipment are not used to commit serious violations of international law,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Director for the Middle East, in a statement issued on Sunday but embargoed until just after midnight on Monday.

His statement added:“In addition all states should suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of human rights violations … To a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers’ money … As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart.

Smart called for an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel.

In a press release announcing their new report, Amnesty said that “Even before the three-week conflict, those who armed the two sides will have been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by the parties. They must take some responsibility for the violations perpetrated with the weapons they have supplied and should immediately cease further transfers”.
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Baladi vegetables from Wadi Fukhin, a Palestinian village southwest of Bethlehem

This article appeared in Haaretz about the pleasures of baladi [or, authentic home grown from the countryside] vegetables from a Palestinian West Bank village near Bethlehem.

Of note: the vegetables have to be smuggled past checkpoints to get to Jerusalem.

Sometimes, they are confiscated.

Without further comment, here is an excerpt from the Haaretz story:
Since the village was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, its farmlands have been shrinking. This was a natural process through the generations, as in the feudal estates of medieval times, when the laws of inheritance reduced the area received by each family head. In the 20th century the problem was compounded by complex geopolitical developments.

The Israeli army captured the village at the end of the War of Independence in 1948 and it became part of Jordan in the armistice agreements. In 1953, the villagers fled to refugee camps after an Israeli reprisal raid. For 20 years, they would sneak back to their fields to continue working them, until the Israeli government allowed some of them to return to their land – occupied by Israel following the 1967 war.

Since the end of the 1980s, 9,000 of the farmers’ 12,000 dunams (4 dunams = 1 acre) have been appropriated by Israel in order to build the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city-settlement of Betar Ilit.

The intensive construction of the city’s neighborhoods not only brutally wounded the natural ridgeline; it also hemmed in the vanishing valley from its eastern side and is blocking the natural runoff of rainwater to the village springs, which are, as a result, gradually drying up.

Only by adhering to ancient village traditions has Wadi Fukhin (population: 1,200) been able to preserve the enviable patterns of working the land that the whole world is now trying to emulate. This is small-scale agriculture, using ancient seeds of fruits and vegetables indigenous to the region, chemical-free. The traditional fertilizer was and remains the organic compost of goat droppings – most of the fellahin were in any case too poor to buy any other fertilizer.

The Friends of the Earth organization, which took the village under its wing in genuine admiration of the undeclared and vanishing nature reserve, taught the villagers additional techniques of ecological and organic farming. Those who love the earth are easily persuaded to keep it clean; some of the villagers have become true zealots not only of traditional farming, but also of “modern” organic methods.

The village’s vegetables were long famed in the markets of Hebron and Jerusalem, and fetched very high prices. But the only market currently open to produce from the village is in Bethlehem, where, the farmers complain, prices are lower.

The villagers could make a living from the burgeoning market for organic produce in Israel, but a checkpoint blocks their way…
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Israel has no intention of entering into a formal cease-fire agreement with Hamas

It is not really clear — at least not to me — what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is up to.

Yesterday, at a meeting he convened of Israel’s “security cabinet”, he got agreement to put at the top of the Israeli government’s priorities the release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized in a cross-border raid in June 2006 and is believed to be held, still, somewhere in Gaza.

Hamas has said over and over again that Shalit will be released only if Israel frees many of those on a list of about 1400 Palestinian prisoners Hamas has specified. It was recently reported (just around the time of the cease-fires after the recent 22-day IDF military operation in Gaza), that Israel might be ready to free about 1000 Palestinians — the most generous offer to date.

But, Hamas has always insisted not just on quantity, but on its own specifically-named choices.

On Wednesday, Olmert apparently blithely ignored this fact — and got the security cabinet to approve his own list.
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Annapolis process did not work, says UN Special Middle East Coordinator

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, told the UN Security Council today that “the inconclusive results of last year’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and unmet Road Map obligations, especially regarding settlements” are realities that must be faced — and “squarely addressed”.

Of course, the Serry statement was balanced. Carefully balanced.

But there were several particularly sharp messages.
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All in a day's work

Don’t say you didn’t know.

This information has been published elsewhere, and I’m going to post it here.

You know.

In the West Bank, over the last 24 hours or so, nearly 80 Palestinians have been detained, and whisked off to God-knows-where for interrogation. They were detained in raids, frightening — terrifying — military raids. Their families and neighbors were terrified. Their homes were damaged. These raids are an almost-nightly occurrence in the West Bank, but the numbers involved here are larger than usual.

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