Nabil Shaath: Israel must stop all settlement activities including in Jerusalem — without loopholes

The recent Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem was very important, and the results were “good, but not excellent”, Shaath said. “You can’t get excellent results with a 20-year hiatus (from the last general conference)”. Shaath said “it was not really a coup d’etat … and not an indicator there was a revolt, but an indication of the need to rejeuvenate using the wisdom of the older members”. He noted that “probably the average age of the Central Committee members dropped from 63 to 57 — we’re talking about very experienced people”.

Shaath revealed that “there is a planned trip to Gaza soon of some of the new Fatah Central Committee members, including me — but as Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) said, [this should not be a one-time event, and] the Central Committee should be in and out of Gaza all the time”. This trip could even be before the end of Ramadan, Shaath said.

And, Shaath said, there will be a big Palestinian delegation at the UN General Assembly high-level debate in mid-September, and “we will be moving on all fronts, making efforts to get the American government, Europe, Russia, China, and Japan” to put pressure on Israel in order to bring about a “categorical stop to all Israeli settlement activities [in Palestinian land seized in 1967], including in Jerusalem” — and “without any loopholes”.

“We are not going to consider any limited settlement freeze, or any nuanced cessation, or any regional implementation — i.e., excluding Jerusalem”, Shaath said.

Shaath said that he was in complete agreement with the article by Akiva Eldar published in Haaretz today, in which Eldar wrote “If there is any truth in the reports that came out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Europe – that the United States agreed Israel can go on building in East Jerusalem – the headlines should have read ‘Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process’.”

Eldar also wrote that “During the negotiations with Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Palestinians agreed to exchange the territory of the settlements that are adjacent to the eastern side of the Green Line with territory on the western side of the line. On the other hand, the sensitive issue of sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and the city’s holy sites, as well as the fate of a quarter-million Palestinians who were ‘annexed’ unilaterally into the State of Israel (as permanent residents) remains in dispute. The American position has been and remains that East Jerusalem is occupied territory whose future will be decided in negotiations between the two sides. Like the other countries of the world, and the UN Security Council, the United States has never recognized Israel’s decision to annex 64.4 square kilometers of the West Bank and join them to the 6.5 square kilometers that were part of Jerusalem’s administrative authority under Jordanian rule … We think that if we say ‘united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel’ frequently enough, the world will get used to the fact that this territory is ours (the semantics have led to a report on the Voice of Israel on the rise of Israeli exports to ‘Judea and Samaria’). It has not happened yet, and that is a good thing. Two U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, did not approve the resolution passed by Congress in 1995, declaring that ‘unified Jerusalem’ is the capital of Israel. They stated that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will undermine the chances for a permanent resolution to the conflict, and thus harm the national security of the United States. Unfortunately, both turned a blind eye to construction in the West Bank settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods that Israel defines as ‘East Jerusalem’.”

Eldar said in his article that during Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, “In July 1997 he decided to stop construction at a Jewish site in the heart of the neighborhood Ras al-Amud, and to evacuate the families who moved in … The head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Ami Ayalon, warned the prime minister in a report that Jewish construction in the neighborhood would stir riots in the territories. Since the current Palestinian leadership has renounced violence, it is possible that an American acquiescence to the continued Jewish penetration into Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem will pass peacefully. However, a substantive change of such magnitude in the U.S. position regarding a national/religious issue that is so explosive would cause the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, among other efforts, to crash and burn … We must hope that the news that Obama has backtracked on East Jerusalem is merely the wishful thinking of opponents to a compromise that come from the western part of the city”. This Akiva Eldar article can be viewed in full on the Haaretz website here.

[However, settlement expansion is continuing in Ras al-Amud today. The former police station — which has now been moved to the E-1 area at the beginning of the year, despite Israeli assurances to former U.S. Secretary of State lin mid-2008 that the move was in the far distant future — has been prepared for demolition, with the windows and doors removed, a Palestinian resident of the area said. And there is evidence of preparation to expand the “Maale Zeitim” settlement housing. “Then, the two areas will be joined”, this man said — and his house would be surrounded. “I am now convinced that the Israelis see no future with Palestinians in this land”. ]

Shaath, in his remarks to members of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) at a briefing today at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, said that “Abu Mazen is ready for these negotiations and is not putting precondition, but he is calling on the Israeli government to avoid “a repetition of its shameful way, as [former Prime Minister Ehud Barak] did in 1999, when he renegotiated agreements previously made by Netanyahu then he did the same thing concerning Syria first in Shepardstown and then in Geneva, and then also to the Palestinians at Camp David”.

No, Shaath said, what should be done is either you finish up previous business and go on to a new stage, or any efforts will be “as fruitless as everything since Camp David”, and there would be another nine years without any progress or results.

However, Shaath said, Netanyahu’s current offer “to restart negotiations ‘without preconditions’ is a horrible thing, because it means starting anew again” — which he said the Palestinians were unwilling to do.

The election of Barack Obama to replace George W. Bush has brought “hope for a fresh re-start to the peace process”, Shaath said,

“We want Obama to come with a clear sentence repeating what is in the Road Map and in the Annapolis Declaration: ‘there should be absolutely no settlement activity, including natural growth, and this does not allow continuing what is already under construction’,” Shaath said.

But, he said, “to bank on the fact that violence has been defeated is very stupid”.

The Mitchell report blamed Israeli settlement activity and the resulting violence, for the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, Shaath said, and “it’s ridiculous to go on with talks now … while the land is vanishing every day”.

Shaath said that “We would [only] accept a temporary freeze if it is related to the signing and implementation of a peace agreement that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border with some minor negotiated swaps”.

“This is the policy of the new Fatah Central Committee, of the new Executive Committee of the PLO, it is in the political program agreed at the Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, and this is the policy of the entire Palestinian people”, Shaath told the journalists.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the regular meeting of the Israeli government on Sunday, as reported in the cabinet communique, that “On the diplomatic issue, my meeting with [former Senator] Mitchell, contrary to the rumors, stories and reports that I am not responsible for, but I am responsible for what I am telling you now, there are no agreements or decisions; there is an attempt to bridge between the two goals that we would like to hold to and maintain simultaneously: The first is to launch a peace process, a diplomatic process
between us and the Palestinians that will – of course – also include the Arab countries. The second as to do with our desire to see to the minimal existential needs of the settler public. As to this, there are all sorts of attempts to reach an understanding and reduce gaps but we are not there yet.”

Everything we know about Al-Qaeda may be untrue – if based on torture

The Washington Post, in an article published on Saturday, reported that “previously unpublicized details about the transformation, in 2005-2006, of the man known to U.S. officials as [Khalid Sheik Mohammed ] KSM  [was transformed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda.  This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques … enduring the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency’s secret prisons” before the transformation.

But, what he provided in the first year of his detention (2003-2004) was untrue: ” ‘KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete’, according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.   The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general’s report and other documents released this week indicate.   Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again … Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.  ‘During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time’, he said … After his capture, Mohammed first told his captors what he calculated they already knew.  ‘KSM almost immediately following his capture in March 2003 elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow airport’, according to a document released by the CIA on Monday that summarizes the intelligence provided by Mohammed. The agency thinks he assumed that Ramzi Binalshibh, a Sept. 11 conspirator captured in September 2002, had already divulged the plan”.

So, what reason is there to think that what he told CIA and other personnel in 2005-2006 about Al-Qaeda is true?

Here is the reasoning given in the Washington Post story:  “One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure. ‘Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them’, said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified.  ‘After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, “I was tortured into cooperating” ‘.'”

Or, he was tortured into lying … and inventing and making up stories …

We previously discussed the reports that KSM and other alleged High Value Detainees implicated each other after being tortured, here and here.

The Washington Post report adds that “One former agency official recalled that Mohammed was once asked to write a summary of his knowledge about al-Qaeda’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist group had explored buying either an intact nuclear weapon or key components such as enriched uranium, although there is no evidence of significant progress on that front. ‘He wrote us an essay’ on al-Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions, the official said. ‘Not all of it was accurate, but it was quite extensive’. Mohammed was an unparalleled source in deciphering al-Qaeda’s strategic doctrine, key operatives and likely targets, the summary said, including describing in ‘considerable detail the traits and profiles’ that al-Qaeda sought in Western operatives and how the terrorist organization might conduct surveillance in the United States. Mohammed was moved to the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006, and his loquaciousness is now largely confined to occasional appearances before a military commission. Back in his 86-square-foot cell at the secret Camp 7 at Guantanamo, he spends most of his waking hours in prayer, according to a source familiar with his confinement who spoke on the condition of anonymity”.

The Washington Post report can be read in full here .

Palestinian Police deploy up to Qalandia checkpoint for first Friday in Ramadan

For the first time in years, or perhaps ever, Palestinian traffic policemen were allowed to deploy up to the concrete barriers at the entry to the main Qalandia checkpoint today,
which Israeli officials refer to as a “border crossing”, on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

It was a real departure on the first Friday in Ramadan 2009, as thousands of Palestinian men and women and children endured heat and serial military checks in order to be able to go to pray during this special month at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

(The lunar calendar used by Muslims means that the month of Ramadan starts about 11 days earlier every year. Roughly every 36 years, Ramadan rotates through the hottest and longest days of summer.)

One sunny Palestinian traffic policeman helping pedestrians cross through the constant flow of cars and vans said that the deployment had been done in coordination with the Israeli military, and that for now the Palestinian deployment would be just for Fridays during Ramadan, at least for now. “We hope we can come every Friday, and then every day, and that we can also go into Jerusalem to pray”. He said that he is now 34 years old, and according to current Israeli policy, he will not be free to pray in Jerusalem for another 16 years. He said he came from the Old City of Nablus, and that he was one of between 20-24 Palestinian traffic policemen selected for the special task. “Ukhti” (My sister), he called to beckon one woman to cross the street.

“We are here”, he explained, “but without guns”. However, he said, they did not really need guns, because “many people tell us it’s a great day, and it’s good, that they finally see us on the street here. Some drivers even stopped in surprise”, he reported.

Another Palestinian traffic policeman said that there were about 15 Palestinian policemen on duty at Qalandia. Palestinian security cars were lined up and parked just at the entrance into the Qalandia perimeter — an extremely rare sight.

Precisely because there has been no civilian traffic control allowed anywhere near the Israeli military, Qalandia checkpoint has, until now, been the the site of frequent traffic snarls and intimidating traffic congestion where cars have to fight to advance every single centimeter.
The aggressive young beggars that operate in the areas where cars waiting to pass through Qalandia add another layer of misery and stress for the trapped motorists.

For the four Fridays in Ramadan, vehicular traffic has been banned from just after midnight until 3 pm in the afternoon.

Palestinian mini-vans and buses were surprisingly organized, and dispatchers with neon-green vests and megaphones urged the stream of Palestinians onto transport into Jerusalem. The prayer-goers would face at least one other military check at Damascus Gate in the Old City Wall. It was later reported that five Palestinians were arrested, a few for “carrying knives” and one for being from Gaza but not having a permit.

This year, like last year, only men over 50 years old, and only women over 45 years old, are eligible for entry into Jerusalem for the Friday prayers during Ramadan, a holy month which commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an. For the entire month of Ramadan, adults fast completely (and do not even drink water) from two hours before sunrise until sundown. The idea is to give the body a rest, and to develop solidarity with the poor who are often not able to eat and drink as they need.

Men between 45 and 50 may apply for special permits issued for the four Fridays in Ramadan, and women between 30 and 45 were also eligible to apply — but UN officials said that all the Palestinians all had to be married to qualify for the special permits. Apparently, children under 12 could accompany their parents.

Despite the noticeably better Israeli organization implemented by the Israeli military authorities at Qalandia, there were far fewer Palestinians trying to pass through Qalandia today than during the first Friday of Ramadan last year. “Where are the thousands of Palestinians who cannot get into Jerusalem and who ususally come to protest?”, asked one woman from the Israeli organization Machsom Watch. One Palestinian policeman said that it was only the first Friday of Ramadan, and predicted that the numbers would increase in the coming weeks. However, a UN official noted that the fourth Friday of Ramadan this year coincides with a major Jewish holiday, and predicted that Palestinian traffic into Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank would be reduced to a trickle.

According to a tally from the observers with the Ecumenical Accompaniers program (EAPPI) of the World Council of Churches, just over 16,000 Palestinians passed through Qalandia going into Jerusalem between 0600 and 1130 in the morning.  Last year, EAPPI said that 36,000 Palestinians passed through Qalandia in more-or-less the same time period, between 0600 and 1200.

Israeli officials later reported that 90,000 Muslims were at the Friday prayers (the exact same figure as last year) up on the Haram as-Sharif plateau on which Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are both built. Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who are legal residents of Israel, and Israel’s own Arab/Palestinian citizens had free access to Al-Aqsa. (The Haram as-Sharif plateau has a reported capacity of 300,000).

Sleep deprivation is torture

One of the documents on interrogation techniques released this week in Washington [[see our previous post here ]] was an internal CIA report that, as AP says, describes “two instances in 2007 in which the CIA was allowed to exceed the guidelines set by Bush administration lawyers allowing prisoners to be kept awake for up to four days”.

It specifies that “CIA operatives used severe sleep deprivation tactics against a terror detainee in late 2007, keeping him awake for six straight days with permission from government lawyers”.

According to the AP story, “The first episode occurred in August 2007, when interrogators were given permission from the Office of Legal Counsel to keep an unidentified detainee awake for five days, a U.S. government official confirmed … According to the documents, the sleep-deprived prisoner was kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above heart level. He wore diapers, allowing interrogators to keep him chained continuously without bathroom breaks. [[One has to ask who, if anyone, changed his diapers? Wearing soiled diapers for even one full causes serious skin burns from the ammonia in urine …]] The second incident occurred in November 2007. After again asking permission from Justice lawyers to keep a detainee awake an extra day, interrogators pressed to extend the treatment for another 24 hours, depriving the prisoner of sleep for six straight days. It is unclear from the documents whether the two incidents involved the same detainee. CIA spokesman George Little would not provide the identity of the prisoner referred to in the document … According to the documents, the prisoner was monitored by closed-circuit television. If he started to fall asleep, the chains jerking on his arms would wake him up. If a prisoner’s leg swelled — a condition known as edema, which can cause blood clots and stroke — interrogators could chain him to a low, unbalanced stool or on the floor with arms outstretched“.

Continue reading Sleep deprivation is torture

Torture – an unforgivable crime

John Sifton has just written in The Daily Beast that in the “Bush-era documents about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program”, just released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice, “it’s difficult to know what they say: Many key sections of the most important documents contain heavy redactions”.

Nevertheless, Sifton, says. “There are some striking new pieces of information. One of the most important parts of the report comes not with grisly details of waterboarding or the program’s excesses with power drills or threats of rape, but confirmations and new revelations about White House involvement in approving the expansion of the CIA interrogation program in the summer of 2003…”

Continue reading Torture – an unforgivable crime

Death threats in Dahiet al-Bariid

Today, the first day of Ramadan, I found writing (again) on my car — two lines written large in the dust that accumulated overnight on the windshield of the car I rent. The lines contained the word/name “Allah”, and looking like a verse from the Qur’an or a saying from the Hadith. I was in a hurry, didn’t pay attention, and cleaned it off, so I could drive to my appointments in Ramallah.

What I didn’t notice, until later in the day, were the words that had been also been written in English on the window on the driver’s side: “WE WILL KILL YOU SO GO FROM HERE“.

H1Ni – "Swine Flu" – quickly becomes dominant virus strain at all outbreak sites

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Swine Flu — the H1N1 virus — as a “pandemic”.

A WHO “Call to Action” published a week ago stated that the pandemic is spreading rapidly, but its future evolution cannot be predicted. It advised governments to “plan for an additional 30 percent buffer stock of medical supplies to treat pneumonia such as paracetamol, antibiotics, and oxygen, at the outpatient and inpatient levels” and to “Inform and educate the community about home-care of symptoms of non-severe influenza-like illness including diarrhoea and dehydratation”. This Call to Action can be viewed here.

Most cases in which there have been deaths have been in North and South America, according to this WHO graphic:

WHO graphic

The map shows no fatalities in Russia, or in Alaska.  Is this due to the fact that this is the summer season in the northern hemisphere?

Guidelines sent out today by the World Heath Organization (WHO) in Geneva on the use of antivirals state that “In areas where the virus is circulating widely in the community, clinicians seeing patients with influenza-like illness should assume that the pandemic virus is the cause. Treatment decisions should not wait for laboratory confirmation of H1N1 infection.  This recommendation is supported by reports, from all outbreak sites, that the H1N1 virus rapidly becomes the dominant strain

Continue reading H1Ni – "Swine Flu" – quickly becomes dominant virus strain at all outbreak sites

Israeli forces reportedly protect Palestinian President and PM in West Bank

It’s bad enough that the convoys of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, careen around the cities in the West Bank at 150 kilometers per hour, and that their security forces are posted every ten meters on the routes they are planning to take, and that they stop traffic coming anywhere near these convoys for many minutes on end, sometimes causing massive traffic jams that take an hour or more to untangle in the hot, hot midday sun.

It’s even worse that the Palestinian security forces guarding these two official’s routes are sometimes way-too-trigger-happy. One case in point – the shootout over parking spaces in Bethlehem during the 6th Fatah General Conference. Another recent case-in-point – the shooting of a young man in Ramallah who came too close to the convoy of Abbas’ aide Tayeb Abdul Rahim.

Now, it is reported, in Haaretz today, that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are guarded by Israel’s Shin Bet security service on some of their trips around the West Bank. According to an agreement between Israel and the PA, a team from the Shin Bet’s VIP security unit accompanies Abbas and Fayyad whenever they are in Area C, meaning that part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control according to the Oslo accords. On Tuesday, for instance, Fayyad visited several villages near Nablus to inaugurate new wells. Because the trip going back and forth between Area C and Area B (where Israel has security control but the PA is in charge of civilian matters), Fayyad’s convoy also included an Israel Police patrol car, representatives of Israel’s Civil Administration and a jeep full of Shin Bet bodyguards. These guards were responsible for Fayyad’s security in Area C, while his Palestinian bodyguards – members of the PA’s Presidential Guard – took over in Area B. Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz that the security procedures for guarding Abbas and Fayyad on their trips through the West Bank stem from Israel’s desire to avoid having armed Palestinian guards open fire in Area C should their charges come under attack … The security Israel provides for Abbas and Fayyad is meant to prevent either of two possible scenarios. One is an assassination attempt by Palestinian extremists, such as the Hamas cell that was recently arrested for allegedly planning an attack on Abbas. The other is an assassination attempt by right-wing Israeli extremists. Fayyad’s spokesman, Jamal Zakut, declined to comment on this report. However, both Palestinian security sources and the Shin Bet confirmed it. ‘The Shin Bet guards the Palestinian Authority president and the PA prime minister according to regulations, and in full, orderly coordination with all the security services’, the Shin Bet said.”

The Haaretz article added that the Shin Bet is “responsible for round-the-clock protection of only seven [Israeli] people defined as ‘symbols of the state”: the prime minister, the president, the defense minister, the foreign minister, the Knesset speaker, the leader of the opposition and the president of the Supreme Court … All other senior officials are guarded by their offices’ own security guards rather than by the Shin Bet”. This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

This evening, Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported that “Israel does not provide protection for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, spokesman for the Palestinian Security Services Adnan Ad-Dameri said Thursday … ‘This news is not true’, Ad-Dameri said over the phone, ‘the Israeli media says so to misrepresent and to harm the status of the Palestinian Authority’. He assured Israel has “nothing to do with the security of the Palestinian President.” This report can be read in full here.

Who do you believe – the Shin Bet when it says it provided protection for the Palestinian President and Prime Minister, or the spokesman for the Palestinian Security Services, who denies it???

Fatah fallout continues

Nabil Amr, who was spokesman for the Fatah Sixth General Conference held in Bethlehem from 4-14 August (more or less),has just resigned his posts as Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt and to the Arab League whose headquarters in Cairo, and also as head of the Fatah satellite television channel, Filastina, that he started in recent months with a reported budget of $500,000. Amr left the Conference before it ended (it was originally scheduled to last only three days) for previously-scheduled medical treatment.

Amr was shot in the summer of 2004 by unknown gunmen while standing on the balcony of his home in Ramallah, after remarks he made in a television interview in which he criticized then-leader Yasser Arafat. As a result, his leg had to be amputated during his emergency hospitalization in Jordan, and he subsequently was treated in Germany as well.

Amr, a former journalist, was a member of Fatah’s outgoing Revolutionary Council who ran for election to the Central Committee but lost.

So far, Amr has not given any explanation for his resignations from all his current posts.

He announced his reported resignation from Cairo, according to a report by Bathlehem-based Ma’an News Agency published here, and said he was returning to Ramallah, and would make his formal farwell from the Egyptian capital later.

Mohammad Dahlan, the former head of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in Gaza, who was successful in his campaign to win a seat on the Fatah Central Committee, has reportedly been in Cairo in recent days.

The Fatah General Conference endorsed a proposal by Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that all candidates who win elections to seats in either the Central Committee or the Revolutionary Council would have to resign from all other jobs. But the only resignation that has been announced so far is that of Tawfik Tirawi, now elected to the Central Committee, who reportedly resigned as an adviser to Abbas. It is not clear if Tirawi also resigned as head of the Palestinian training academy for security forces in Jericho.

Abbas — who is now head of the overarching Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the elected President of the Palestinian Authority as well as the newly-appointed leader of Fatah [by acclamation, in front of the television cameras suddenly called into the otherwise closed conference proceedings] now holds a concentration of political power similar to that held previously by the late Yasser Arafat.

He has just decided to call a meeting of the PLO’s 600+member Palestine National Council, or Parliament, just over a week from now. On the agenda, apparently, is a proposal to add six new members to the PLO’s Executive Committee, boosting the number of seats from 12 to 18 — one way to compensate some of those who lost in the Fatah elections.

And, Abbas still hasn’t played his other cards remaining after the elections at the Fatah 6th Conference — he can still name three members to the Central Committee, and a dozen or two members to the Revolutionary Council, subject to the approval of the Central Committee and the accord of the Revolutionary Council.

Continue reading Fatah fallout continues

Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an American-Israeli who is one of the founders of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) Organization, was arrested last week during a candlelight solidarity vigil in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, protesting the recent evictions of some 53 UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees whose homes are now occupied by Jewish settlers.

Rabbi Ascherman wrote that “I was arrested there, the 36th person to be arrested since the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (Including 2 women from the RHR staff.) The situation leaves me angry and worried, because we are talking about a serious threat to Israeli democracy. Some of the arrests were ‘justified’, even though we don’t think that the police should have been there evicting families to begin with. However, the only crime of many of those arrested was their inability to accept the injustice done to the El-Kurd, Ghawi and Hanoun families. When I decide to engage in civil disobedience I know that I am likely to get arrested. In certain tense situations, I know that things are likely to get out of control, even if nobody on either side was necessarily planning arrests. However, here the police, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect the rights at the heart of democracy, have in a very calculated way been attempting to cut short and stifle peaceful protest. Under the cover of preserving public order, their goal has been to prevent expressions of solidarity or advocacy for these Palestinian families. The courts are also complicit in this when they reward the police with restraining orders as a condition for release, making it all the more difficult to organize. What happened? The vigil was quiet and there was a heavy police presence. I was helping the police and consulting with them, in order that participants would honor the police request not to block streets. We didn’t want to give the police an excuse for stopping the vigil. After an hour at the Hanoun family’ s house , we wanted to go to the Ghawi home. A police officer told us that we could not walk down the alley taking us to the Ghawi home, and directed us to take another longer route. Neither he nor anybody else said in any fashion that we could not walk along the longer route. At that moment a few officers called me from the other side of the road. I figured that they wanted to talk to me about some detail or other, and began to cross the street. A number of officers quickly surrounded me, some pulling me by the arms and others pushing me from behind. There were regular police, border guards and at least one plains clothes officer. When I asked what was going on and what my status was, I was told that I was detained and that I would be arrested if I didn’t come with them to the police car. When I asked, ‘Why?’, it was clear from their words and their tone that they had been waiting for the opportunity to arrest me. They said that the moment that we had begun to move we were holding an unauthorized march and that I was inciting people to participate in an illegal activity. I laid down on the sidewalk, and told them that I would not resist arrest but would not cooperate. Many tactics were used to draw out my arrest and incarceration for 22.5 hours, and I was given a 7 day restraining order keeping me out of Sheikh Jarakh (The police wanted 30 days, and we would have appealed even the 7 days if we could have received a court date in time.) I won’t go into details regarding the curses and kicks I received from officers (I have lodged a complaint with the Unit for the Investigation of Police), the fact that somehow the rumor was spread among right wing prisoners that I had attacked police officers, etc., because the real story is not about me personally. It should be superfluous to say that the connection between the police account of events and what actually happened was tenuous at best”…
Continue reading Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians