A winning formula – withhold salaries in the West Bank to pay for damaged homes in Gaza?

There’s something unclear here.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has generously offered — or maybe even actually sent — millions of dollars or shekels or whatever to Gaza to “compensate” people whose homes have been damaged or destroyed in the recent 22-day IDF Operation Cast Lead, designed to stop rocket firing from Gaza onto Israel.

But, the border crossings are closed into Gaza — pending the successful outcome of Egyptian-led negotiations with Israel — so no reconstruction materials are allowed into Gaza. The tunnels, of course, are still operating, despite regular IDF and sometimes even Egyptian attacks — making them a very risky business.

The crossings will not be opened (or, will not be fully opened, depending on the report) until the successful conclusion of Egyptian-led negotiations between Israel (whose Prime Minister staunchly denies negotiating with Hamas) and Hamas. Prime Minister Olmert has now said that the crossings will not be opened (or, fully opened), until the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured just outside the Gaza border in June 2006 and who is believed to be still held somewhere in Gaza.
Continue reading “A winning formula – withhold salaries in the West Bank to pay for damaged homes in Gaza?”

Israeli Defense Forces internal investigation questions scale of home destruction in Gaza offensive

Haaretz has reported today that an Israeli Defense Forces internal investigation has pointed out that it is difficult to justify the scale of the destruction of Palestinian homes and factories in Gaza during last month’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December to 18 January, with a ground invasion launched on 3 January).
Continue reading “Israeli Defense Forces internal investigation questions scale of home destruction in Gaza offensive”

U.S. Army guard at Guantanamo speaks out about abuse of detainees

A former guard at the detention facilities in the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba has given a rare interview to the Associated Press describing abusive treatment of prisoners who were detained in Afghanistan and other parts of the world after the 9/11 attacks (on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington), and then transferred to the isolated and off-shore detention facility.

On the suspicion that they might have belonged to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, these men — and some boys — found themselves classified as “illegal combattants”, a new legal status invented by the Bush administration as part of its open-ended “war on terror”, and facing indefinite imprisonment in a legal limbo.

The AP said that the interview with Pvt. Brandon Neely — one of the first by a former guard describing abuses at Guantanamo — recounted “a litany of cruel treatment by his fellow soldiers, including beatings and humiliations he said were intended only to deliver physical or psychological pain”.

U.S. Army prison specialist Neely, 28, told the AP that “The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong”.

Newly-inaugurated U.S. President Barak Obama promised before his election that one of his first acts in office would be to close the Guantanamo detention facilities. He has recently ordered their shut-down within a year.
Continue reading “U.S. Army guard at Guantanamo speaks out about abuse of detainees”

Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"

What more is there to say than this?

Apparently, there is only “little risk” to the international space station — not no risk, just a little one.

Remember the fuss about space debris when China deliberately shot down one of its “weather” satellites (apparently to try to focus attention on China’s belief that it is urgent to negotiate a new disarmament treaty? [See our earlier posts here, and here.]
Continue reading “Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"”

Tough love: Flowers from Gaza – first exports Israel allows in a year

The IDF has announced that it is allowing the export — apparently to Europe only — of 25,000 flowers from Gaza.

These flowers are the first exports allowed from Gaza in more than a year…

Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Maan News Agency reported that the flower exports — carnations, it seems — were permitted “at the request of the Dutch government. According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the flowers will leave through the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal on Friday and arrive in Europe in time for Valentine’s Day”. Last year, Ma’an noted, many flower farmers destroyed their crops in protest of Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip and their inability to ship their blooms, Maan said, while this year some 60 flower farms did not plant any crops, “having received no guarantees that their products would reach the market”. The Ma’an report can be read in full here.

Amazing that there are 25,000 flowers which survived the three-week IDF Operation Cast Lead. Flashback: On the desk of the Director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, there were two stacked cardboard trays that held small boxes of strawberries, packed in plastic boxes, with printed labels — as if ready for export to Europe. Most of the fruit has apparently already been distributed. But there were a few boxes of bright scarlet berries still left in the cartons on his desk. He was heading to Friday prayers, he said, and didn’t have time to talk to journalists.
Continue reading “Tough love: Flowers from Gaza – first exports Israel allows in a year”

At least, Livni did not lose

It is a tremendous relief that Tzipi Livni was not trounced in this vote.

By the narrowest of leads — the Israeli election commission now gives Livni’s Kadima Party 28 seats while the next highest party has 27, and some votes are still not counted — she seems to have “won” the most votes in yesterday’s election.

Or, at least she did not lose — as had been widely predicted.

Yet, there is still a chance she may not get to form the next government. If the apparent runner-up in the election, Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu’s Likud Party, is able to demonstrate to Israel’s State President Shimon Peres that he can put together a coalition government of parties from the right, that would pose a real dilemma.

Would Peres give Livni a first shot, anyway?

But, then again, why should much of the world be so absorbed by these elections — and all the attendant exotic minutiae of the Israeli political scene?

The only reason is the real concern to know if there is any reasonable chance to see a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Livni’s placement in the polls suggest that Israel’s voters have not rejected continuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians, despite the heady anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian atmosphere that has only thickened with the national feelings of justification for the recent military attacks in Gaza, angrily oblivious of strong international criticism.

Her enormously unattractive behavior during Israel’s recent 22-day military invasion of Gaza — threatening more and worse — turned many potential supporters from Israel’s “left” against her, even as most pre-election predictions indicated a victorious Israeli “right”.

Continue reading “At least, Livni did not lose”

Election day in Israel – a country more polarized than ever, and a total closure of the West Bank

It is raining here — and in this dry region, rain is always viewed as a sign of good luck. This year, it is drier than ever, and water levels have reached critical lows.

Yet, by contrast, the Associated Press is reporting the rain as an excuse for what may well be a record low voter turn-out — rather than the widespread disillusionment and disdain for the choices that I have found among a number of Israeli voters.
Continue reading “Election day in Israel – a country more polarized than ever, and a total closure of the West Bank”

New report says UNRWA should promote "normalization", end refugee status for Palestinians

With impeccable timing, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has published a polemical new paper — vainly described one of the few (if not the only) “dispassionate examination” [in English] — by an American former legal adviser of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Near East refugees.
Continue reading “New report says UNRWA should promote "normalization", end refugee status for Palestinians”

"America will not torture"

Among the things U.S. Vice President said at the Munich security conference is this: “America will not torture”.

The Politico blog reported that Biden said in Munich: “We will uphold the rights of those we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay” … In return for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, as the administration has promised to do within a year, he said, the United States will ask other countries to accept the transfer of prisoners now held in the facility. While some European government have promised to consider the ideas, none has yet committed itself to accepting transfers of prisoners now at Guantanamo”. This can be read in full here.

One year is way too long — the special detention facilities at Guantanamo should be closed down now.

The most unforgivable actions of George W. Bush’s recently-departed administration were the introduction of “legalized” torture and the opening of special detention facilitiies to hold those unfortunate enough to have been put in the new and indeterminate category of “illegal combattants” — including at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba — as well as the vile and evil policy of secret rendition that allowed the movement of suspected “illegal combattants” into and out of secret facilities around the world, as well as into Guantanamo.

UPDATE: A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT — The New York Times wrote scathingly in an editorial on 10 February that “The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law. On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by the new attorney general, Eric Holder, appeared before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners. Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred. Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court. Even judges on the panel seemed surprised by the administration’s decision to go forward instead of requesting a delay to reconsider the government’s position and, perhaps, file new briefs.  The argument is that the very subject matter of the suit is a state secret so sensitive that it cannot be discussed in court, and it is no more persuasive now than it was when the Bush team pioneered it. For one thing, there is ample public information available about the C.I.A.’s rendition, detention and coercive interrogation programs. The fact that some of the evidence might be legitimately excluded on national security grounds need not preclude the case from being tried, and allowing the judge to make that determination. More fundamentally, the Obama administration should not be invoking state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture. President Obama has taken some important steps to repair Mr. Bush’s damaging legacy — issuing executive orders to prohibit torture, shut secret prisons overseas and direct closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It would have been good if he and Mr. Holder had shown the same determination in that federal court, rather than defending the indefensible”.   This NYTimes editorial is posted on the web here.