Almost 11 million Palestinians in this world

According to an SMS received this morning (from the Jerusalem Media Communications Center, or JMCC), the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that there are now 10.9 million Palestinians in this world — 4 million live in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the SMS says, and 1.25 million live inside Israel (or, 5.25 million living between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea) …

{Israel Radio reported some months ago [in September] that “On the eve of the Jewish New Year, the Jewish Agency reports that the world Jewish population stands at some 13.2 million people — of them 5.4 million people who live in Israel.  The Jewish population in the United States stands at 5.3 million Jews.  The European Jewish population totals some 1.15 million — of which about half live in France. The Jewish Agency statistics are based on the research of Hebrew University demographer Professor Sergio Della Pergola”.

UPDATE: LATER TODAY, IT WAS REPORTED THAT THE ISRAELI CENTRAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS HAD REVEALED:  “Israel has 7.5 million residents, including 5.7 million Jews (75.4 percent of the population) and 1.5 million Arabs (20.3 percent of the population) [n.b., this must include Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem…]. The remaining 319,000 residents are made up of Christians and followers of other religions”  [n.b., this figure must also include Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem…].  This was reported by Haaretz here. The Jerusalem Post wrote that “In terms of ethnic divisions, Israel’s Jews now make up 75.4% of the population, or 5,664,000 people; Arabs consist of 20.3%, or 1,526,000 citizens; and the remaining 4.3% (319,000) are those registered as ‘others’ by the Interior Ministry”.   This JPost version can be viewed here.}

UPDATE: While Israel reports a rather steady annual population growth rate (combining immigration with natural growth, or births) of 1.8 percent, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says that the Palestinian population is growing at a rate of 2.9 percent, according to this report published on 2 January on YNet’s website here.

Iain Scobbie on Israeli settlements in West Bank

As settlers continue to take revenge from Palestinians for the murder of an Israeli settler in the West Bank near Nablus last Thursday, after which the Israeli Defense Forces shot three Palestinian men who are members of the Fatah movement headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, tensions continue among Palestinians about the measures taken. The implications will echo through the weeks ahead.

On the question of the status of the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, I just came upon an interesting opinion piece by international law expert Iain Scobbie (coauthor of “The Israel-Palestine Conflict in International Law: Territorial Issues“), published in the Los Angeles Times on 16 December.

Here are some excerpts:
“…since its inception, Israel has never claimed legal title to all of the territory of the former British Mandate of Palestine. On the contrary, it has repeatedly denied such a claim in official statements and acts. On May 22, 1948, soon after Israel’s declaration of independence, the country’s representative to the U.N. Security Council stated that its territory was ‘the area outlined in the map appended to the resolution of 29 November 1947, as constituting the area assigned to the Jewish state’ — namely that area accorded to the nascent Israel by the U.N. Partition Plan contained in General Assembly Resolution 181. This did not include the West Bank. The same view was consistently expressed by Israeli courts. In 1950, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled, ‘The territory of the state of Israel does not coincide with all the territory under the former mandate’. Israel thus refused to be seen as the successor state to the Palestinian mandate. Accordingly, it refused to accede to treaties that bound the mandate and refused to pay the public debt that Palestine owed to Britain. How then can there be a right of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, territory to which Israel itself has never made legal claim? … Article 49 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits the transfer of parts of a state’s population into territory it occupies] prohibits any and all population transfers from the occupying power to occupied territory. In 2004 [in its Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Construction of a Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory], the International Court of Justice unanimously found that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory breached Article 49 … Israel knew soon after the Six-Day War in 1967 that settlements in the occupied territory were illegal. As Gershom Gorenberg recounts in his book, ‘The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of Settlements‘, Theodor Meron, then legal advisor to Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs and a distinguished international lawyer specializing in the law of armed conflict and human rights, advised the Israeli government in September 1967 that settlements in the newly occupied territory were prohibited by Article 49.  The fundamental point about settlements, then, is not that they obstruct diplomacy — which they do — but rather that they are illegal. Occupied territory is not under the sovereignty of the occupant. It cannot treat the territory it occupies as it sees fit. An occupant’s powers are circumscribed by international law, which unequivocally prohibits the settlement of part of its population, whether forcible or voluntary, in that territory. While this prohibition arises from Article 49, Article 1 requires parties not merely to respect the terms of the convention in their own conduct but also to ensure that others do. All states are party to the Geneva Conventions, therefore all states have the duty to ensure that Israel’s illegal policy of creating settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ceases without further delay”.

This opinion piece can be read in full here.

Of course, Israel does not view the territory in question as “occupied” — and thus rejects much of this occupation. In the legal memo written by Theodore Meron, to which Scobbie refers above, the oPt (occupied Palestinian territory) is referred to as “administered”…

Scobbie provides a link to an English-language translation of Meron’s legal memo, here.

PA, again, is victim…

What upset the Palestinian Authority officials after the IDF raids on Nablus in which three “suspected” or “wanted” Palestinian men, all members of President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, were shot in what not only Palestinians but also some Israelis (such as the human rights organization B’Tselem) say were “extrajudicial killings”?

Haaretz tells us that “The PA on Saturday complained to the U.S. that during the raid Israel had unjustly invaded area A, for whose security the Palestinians are solely responsible. The PA demanded that the Americans voice their own position on the matter. Over the weekend, the Palestinians also protested to the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, that IDF soldiers had entered area A in Nablus and had not allowed PA security forces to arrest the wanted men”. This was contained in a Haaretz article that can be read in full here.

What is “area A”? It is one of three designations assigned, during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of the Oslo Accords, of the occupied Palestinian West Bank territory. Area A, which as Haaretz reported is supposed to be under full Palestinian security control, is actually under as much Israeli control as Areas B (supposedly joint control) and Area C.

The Israeli Minister of Defense (currently, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak) rules the West Bank. Decision about the deployment of any Palestinian forces, in any part of the West Bank whatsoever, including Area A, is decided by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

Israeli security and military forces make regular — daily and nightly — incursions into Area A of the West Bank. Does the PA protest?

For example, as Ma’an News Agency reported today, “Israeli forces detained nine ‘wanted’ Palestinians during overnight operations in the West Bank, the military said. A military official said two people were arrested in Qalandiya south of Ramallah, one in Biddu also south of Ramallah, two in Surif near Hebron, and four in Beit Awwa southwest of Hebron”. These places are all in Area A. The Ma’an report is posted here.

The Jerusalem Post’s well-informed military correspondent Yaakov Katz reported today that “The IDF raid in Nablus on Saturday, during which the three murderers of Rabbi Meir Chai were killed, appears on the surface to be just another military operation in the West Bank. It was, however, much more, and resonated widely at Sunday’s cabinet meeting in Jerusalem due to the identities of two of the terrorists and the ongoing negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit. One of the terrorists was Raed Sarkaji, a known Tanzim operative, who was released in January 2009 from an Israeli prison after serving a seven-year sentence on terror charges. Another was Anan Subuh, an Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades operative who had received a pardon from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) as part of the 2007 deal, under which 400 Fatah terrorists handed in their weapons, promised to cease their terror activity and in return were assured that the IDF would stop hunting them. The timing could not have been better for the opponents to the Schalit deal, who have long argued that the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would mean more terrorist attacks against Israel. Sarkaji and Subuh are proof of this. This does not mean that all Palestinians released from jail return to engage in terror activity or that the fugitive deal is a failure. On the contrary, the fugitive deal is considered a success since out of the 400, only a handful returned to terror and most of them have already been re-arrested. As a safeguard from all of this, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is demanding that the hard-core prisoners, slated to be released in a swap with Hamas, be exiled either to Gaza or overseas, but will not be allowed back to the West Bank. While the intelligence on the identity and location of the three suspects was obtained by the Shin Bet, the IDF had the option to transfer the information to the Palestinian Authority and ask it to carry out the arrests on its behalf. In December 2007, for example, the IDF allowed the PA to arrest two gunmen who shot and killed two off-duty IDF soldiers as they were hiking near Hebron. The two are still being held in a Hebron prison. Behind the IDF’s decision to carry out the operation on its own – a move that raised the ire of the Obama administration – was an understanding that the settlers in the West Bank would view a PA operation to capture the three as the final act of betrayal. After freezing settlement construction [n.b., for ten month’s only, one of which has already gone by] and ousting the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the hesder arrangement with the IDF, the Netanyahu government – the settlers would have said – is leaving our security in the hands of the Palestinians. In addition, there was the possibility that due to their affiliation with Fatah – the ruling party in the West Bank – the three might have been let off the hook by the PA. This was a chance Israel was not prepared to take”… This insight into Israeli political and military strategy is posted here.

However, despite the IDF “clean-up” operation, the PA is continuing to “investigate” the killing of the Israeli settler, Rabbi Hai, last Thursday. Ali Waked has reported in YNet today that “The Palestinian Authority has arrested a Palestinian who was allegedly involved in last Thursday’s shooting attack, which left Rabbi Meir Hai killed. Ynet has learned that the Palestinian military intelligence arrested the suspect, who is considered a close friend of the three cell members. A Palestinian security official confirmed the arrest in a conversation with Ynet, but refused to say whether the man is suspected of being personally involved in the attack or whether he was arrested as part of the PA’s efforts to prevent a response to the assassination of the three Fatah cell members in Nablus on Saturday. The PA continued its efforts over the past day to calm the Fatah members and security officials who fear that the Nablus assassination marks the end of the truce with Israel and a return to the pursuit of wanted Palestinians. The Palestinians fear that those who were pardoned by Israel will continue to be pursued. The last Palestinian detainee is also included in the list of Palestinians pardoned by Israel”. This report is published today on the YNet site here.

There was more than a suggestion in media reports since Saturday’s IDF action in Nablus that the PA is blaming Hamas for the attack that resulted in the death of the Israeli settler from Shavei Shomron.

What else is really going on here, beneath the surface, as the Fatah-Hamas rivalry continues to play out, the Shalit deal may be coming to a climax, and the U.S. is preparing to make a new effort to get the Palestinian Authority back to the “peace talks” with Israel, a year after they were cut off during the IDF’s massive military operation in Gaza?

West Bank occupation: Nablus area Israeli settler shot, three Palestinian men killed in retaliation

An Israeli settler living in the Israeli settlement of Shavei Shomron deep in the West Bank, territory occupied by Israel in June 1967 (and claimed by the Palestine Liberation Organization for the future Palestinian state) was shot and killed on Thursday while driving on a road near where he has made his home.

The next day, Israeli settlers from Shavei Shomron reportedly carried out revenge attacks against Palestinian greenhouses and property west of Nablus.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority reportedly rounded up and interrogated some 120-150 Palestinian “suspects”, and began an “investigation”.

According to a report on YNet, the English-language website of Israel’s largest-circulation Hebrew-language daily newspaper, “A Palestinian security source told Ynet Friday that many of the detainees being interrogated by Palestinian forces are car thieves, as the PA was attempting to locate the person or persons who sold the shooters the car used to commit the attack. Israel has permitted the Palestinian forces deployed in the area of Nablus to continue their activity beyond regular hours in order to allow them to continue their search unhindered. Under normal circumstances, PA security forces work until the early evening hours … The source added that the PA was skeptical regarding announcements by al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Fatah’s military wing, and the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, al-Quds Brigades, both of which claim responsibility for the attack. ‘We are focusing on intelligence for now, in order to get to anyone who can provide information on the vehicle trade and especially stolen vehicles’, he said. ‘This was probably the result of cooperation between criminal elements and elements interested in destabilizing security, which is nearly perfect in the West Bank’.”  This report can be read in full here.

Then, at dawn on Saturday, Israeli forces were sent to the Nablus homes of three Palestinian men who Israel later accused of being responsible for the killing.  All three Palestinian men — members of the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — were killed on the spot.

Palestinian Fatah member Qaddura Fares told Al-Jazeera TV in Nablus a few hours later that if Israel had evidence against these three men, they should have been arrested and tried, but not killed.  Fares is a member of what is known as the “Young Fatah” movement, and is widely respected despite his failure to win a seat on the Fatah Central Committee during elections at the movement’s tightly-controlled general conference in Bethlehem last August that aimed to consolidate the control of President Abbas (Abu Mazen).

On Sunday, a day after the IDF raids that killed the three Fatah men, “The police forensics lab determined that one of the rifles seized from the Palestinian terrorists who were killed in Nablus Saturday was used in last week’s murder of Jewish settler Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai in the West Bank. The M-16 rifle, which belonged to Tanzim member Anan Sabah, was found to be compatible with the bullet hells found at the scene of Hai’s murder. Sabah had been released from an Israeli prison as part of the amnesty deal with the Palestinian Authority in 2007, in which Israel agreed not to hunt down Palestinian gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms. ‘No two weapons leave the same indentation on the ammunition’, a police official said Sunday. The lab test results are admissible in court”.  This can be found on the Israeli website YNet here .

Family members of the three dead Palestinian men made angry criticisms of the Palestinian Authority which is also headed by Abbas, based in the West Bank’s de facto capital city, Ramallah.  The families were not alone in their anger.

Khaled Abu Toameh reported in the Jerusalem Post that “Some even claimed that the killing of the three Fatah operatives was carried out thanks to information provided by PA security forces in Nablus … Husam Khader, a top Fatah operative from the nearby Balata refugee camp, said many Palestinians were convinced that PA security services were involved, directly or indirectly, in the pre-dawn Nablus raid.   Many Palestinians were also ‘very angry because of continued security coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF’, he said.  Khader said Palestinians were also wondering why the PA security forces had disappeared from the streets of the city before and during the IDF operation … Yusef Farhat, a spokesman for Hamas, said that Abbas’s security forces tipped off Israel about the identity and whereabouts of the three Fatah men”.  This article is posted here.


President Abbas did not make any official statement. [He may or may not be travelling (though the Presidential Security was in evidence out on the streets of Ramallah on Saturday).] Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh issued a statement saying that this development shows that Israel is not interested in peace.

Thousands of Palestinians accompanied the bodies (two were escorted from Nablus’ main Rafidiya hospital) to the cemetery for burial late Saturday morning.  Fatah called for a three-day period of morning, and almost all shopkeepers closed and shuttered their stores.  Even the businesses and the cinema in the vaunted new multi-story Nablus mall — touted as a symbol of Palestinian success under Israeli “leniency” in the West Bank as opposed to its tightened blockade of the Gaza Strip — were closed.

At the official condolences site set up at the Worker’s Center in downtown Nablus, men filed in to shake hands with a long receiving line of other men, then went inside to sit on plastic chairs for a few minutes, before filing out again. It was all very formal and rigid, illustrating the political dimension of the results of the IDF raids. Only the presence of two young pre-teen boys, distraught and crying, with red faces, showed the human cost.

Maan photo of Fayyad in Nablus to offer condolences

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza, later issued a statement saying that “Israeli undercover units extra-judicially executed 3 members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (the armed wing of Fatah movement) in Nablus.  The three victims in Nablus had been granted amnesty, in coordination with the Palestinian National Authority, and had been allowed to freely move and live normally.  Israeli occupation forces claimed that undercover unit fired at the three victims ‘as they refused to surrender’.  However, investigations conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) conclude that the three victims were executed in cold blood”.

According to its report, PCHR says that “In the West Bank, at approximately 02:00 on Saturday, 26 December 2009, Israeli occupation forces, including undercover units, moved into Nablus.  They positioned themselves near al-Nasser Mosque in the old town, where they surrounded and opened fire at a house belonging to the family of Ra’ed ‘Abdul Jabbar Mohammed al-Sarkaji, 40.  Using megaphones, they ordered al-Sarkaji out of the house.  As soon as he opened the door, Israeli troops opened fired at himHe was hit by a gunshot to the forehead and fell down.  Soon after, Israeli occupation forces fired at him from a very close range.  He was killed by 6 gunshots to the head, the chest, the left forearm, the pelvis and the left leg.  His wife, 32-year-old Tahani Farouq Ja’ara, was wounded by shrapnel to the leg.   At the same time, other Israeli units besieged a house belonging to the family of Ghassan Fat’hi Abu Sharekh, 38, near Qaderi fish market in the old town.  Through megaphones they ordered residents of the house to get out.  All the inhabitants left the building, Ghassan was the last to leave.  Once he appeared, Israeli occupation forces opened fire at him.  He was killed by 7 gunshots to the neck, the chest, the abdomen, the back and the left leg.   At approximately 02:30, Israeli occupation forces besieged Sobeh 5-storey apartment building in Kshaika Street in Ras al-‘Ein neighborhood in the southeast of Nablus .  They called through megaphones on ‘Anan Suleiman Mustafa Sobeh, 36, who lives on the second floor to get out and surrender to them.  They opened fire at the building.  At approximately 08:00, Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the area, and residents of the area found ‘Anan’s body on the roof of a car washing yard near the building. He was hit by several gunshots to the chest, the right shoulder, the neck and the lower jaw”.

The PCHR statement condemned “the policy of extra-judicial executions adopted by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian activists, and asserts that this policy serves to increase tension in the region and threatens the lives of Palestinian civilians”.   It also called “upon the international community to immediately intervene to stop such crimes, and calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to fulfill their obligation under article 1 of the Convention to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances”, and “to search for and prosecute those who are responsible for perpetrating grave breaches of the Convention”.

A U.S. official in  Washington made a phone call to an Israeli official on Saturday evening to ask what had happened, according to a report in the Israeli media.  [CORRECTION: Haaretz reported that Haaretz reported that it was told by a senior U.S. official that “We talked to both sides in order to get full information about what happened … We expressed our concern and encouraged both sides to continue their security cooperation”.]

At the start of the weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu stated: “I would like to commend the ISA and the IDF for the quick operation against the cell that murdered Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai.  Our policy against terrorism is clear.  We will continue to respond aggressively – against any attack on Israeli citizens and against any firing of rockets or missiles at Israeli territory”.  [N.B., the firing of rockets or missiles refers to attacks coming from Gaza, not the West Bank…]

During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu reportedly said that “one of the assassinated had been freed from an Israeli prison, highlighting the risks of the prisoner swap deal Israel is negotiating in a bid to free Gilad Shalit”.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that “Meir Hai, a 40-year-old teacher and father of seven, was killed when militants opened fire at his car car on the road between Shavei Shomron and the nearby settlement Einav in the West Bank.  He was alone in his car.  An IDF officer said that in the past week a roadblock had been removed on the road Hai was driving on, about 150 meters from where he was shot. The roadblock, known as the barrels roadblock, monitored traffic around Nablus in the direction of Tul Karm, the officer said.  The perpetrators are believed to have fled through where the roadblock used to be, to the village of Asira al-Shamaliyah. Over the past year, the number of terror attacks in the West Bank has dramatically decreased thanks mainly to the Shin Bet security service and IDF.  However, IDF officials say attempts to carry out terror attacks continue, especially those perpetrated by local individuals working alone”. This Haaretz article is published here.

Al-Jazeera reported on its website that “The Israeli military has said that the three men shot dead in Nablus were behind the killing of an Israeli settler on a West Bank road on Thursday.  It said a ballistic analysis showed that weapons found in the house of Anan Tzubach, one of the dead, were used to murder Meir Avshalom Hai, the settler … Family members of the three men said the troops entered without warning and killed all three in cold blood, insisting none had resisted arrest.  The Israeli military confirmed that none of them fired any shots at its soldiers and said only one of them was armed”.  This Al-Jazeera report can be viewed here.

Ma’an News Aency reported that “Director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus Ghassan Hamdan told Ma’an that three Palestinian homes were besieged in the raid. He confirmed that Sukarji was shot in the head and chest ‘before the very eyes of his wife’. While the second man, Abu Sharkh, was removed from his home and shot outside … The home of Anan Subih in Ras El’ein was the third targeted location, where troops reportedly opened fire randomly on the building before entering. According to the Israeli military, ‘When he was killed, Annan Tzubach [Subih] was armed with a handgun and hiding two M16 assault rifles, an additional handgun, and ammunition’. The same statement, however, noted ‘During an attempt to arrest him tonight [Saturday], Annan was killed after an exchange of fire with the IDF while he was found in a hiding place along with weapons and ammunition’. Eyewitnesses described to Ma’an the siege launched on Ksheikiyya street in the Ras El’ein neighborhood where Anan Subih lives. Subih was an officer in the Palestinian Authority preventive security services in Nablus [N.B., other reports suggested that Subih was waiting to enter the Preventive Security Forces] . ‘Dozens of Israeli soldiers ransacked Anan’s home at 3:00am firing gunshots and grenades, causing a fire to break out in the next dor warehouse for plastic chairs. The soldiers [entered the building] demanding Anan, and when we told them he was at work with the security forces the soldiers evacuated all nine families who live in the building. We were gathered at the nearby home of the Al-‘Amoudi family’, Anan’s brother Nidal told Ma’an. Witnesses added that Israeli forces did not allow Palestinian fire fighters to access the area and put out the blaze”. This Ma’an report is published here.

The New York Times team in the region reported that “[IDF] Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for Israel’s Central Command, which controls the West Bank, said that its forces had spent the past two days looking for the killers of the settler, Rabbi Meir Hai, a 45-year-old teacher and father of seven, who was shot dead on Thursday as he drove near his home in the settlement of Shavei Shomron. The information gathered, he said, led them to three men in the city of Nablus early Saturday. Troops in jeeps descended on their homes and in each case, he said, the suspect was asked to give himself up. None did so, and all were shot dead. All three, he added, had been involved in anti-Israel violence in the past through activities in the Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a militia associated with the Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. One of them, Annan Sleiman Moustafa Tsubakh, 36, was hiding with two assault rifles, two handguns and ammunition in a crawl space in his house when the Israeli troops found him. Major Lerner said that the three were the killers of Rabbi Hai and that they acted as an isolated cell rather than as part of some larger organization. Asked if the Israelis had coordinated with the Palestinian security forces that had been patrolling West Bank cities for a year and a half, he said no, that the army’s job was first and foremost to protect Israeli civilians. Ghassan Katib, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said Palestinian security had been investigating the killing when the Israelis interfered. ‘This is what they do’, he said. ‘They kill people and then claim they were responsible. Our security forces had begun an investigation into the killing but the Israelis did not coordinate with us’.” The NYTimes report can be read in full here.

The Israeli website YNet reported that military sources “noted that despite the PA forces’ commendable conduct, the IDF had no choice but to independently act on apprehending the three persons responsible for the attack.  All three were killed by the IDF during military activity in Nablus Saturday morning.  IDF rejected Palestinian claims according to which there was no reason to kill the three.  The sources further noted that some 120 suspects have been detained by the Palestinian security establishment since the attack on Thursday, in an attempt to apprehend the responsible terrorist cell.  The fourth suspect reportedly turned himself in to the authorities prior to the Saturday military operation.  ‘They acted with determination, but alongside that we have the responsibility to act against whoever executed the attack and settle the score with them’, said a senior officer with the Central Command.  The defense establishment is investigating why the three, who are considered fairly mature, decided to execute the attack themselves, and why they acted so shortly after being released from the Israeli prison. A possible tie to Hezbollah was also being investigated.  The military activity became possible with the help of Shin Bet intelligence.  It began at 3 am Saturday and was carried out under the command of Shomron Brigade Commander Colonel Itzik Bar, who dispatched forces from the Duvdevan Unit and Kfir Brigade’s Nachshon Battalion to all three locations where the suspects were reportedly hiding.   ‘It was important to act correspondingly, because we believed there was a connection between all three suspects’, explained the senior officer.  The fact that the terrorists are not young, said the officer, indicated they have an extensive background in terrorist activities, as well as experience and knowledge.  ‘They acted in order to cover their tracks. The risk level in this operation was high because the three had access to weapons and would not hesitate to use them’, he said.  The military activity at the first two locations, where Raghsan Abu Sharah and Raed a-Sarkaji lived, was fairly short.  The two refused to leave their houses, and continued hiding inside even after IDF
forces used different methods including shots in the air in order to make the two surrender.  Abu Sharah sent his wife out to face the soldiers, but did not agree to step out himself.  ‘There are clear directives in these situations’, explained the senior officer, ‘after they refused to leave their houses and surrender, we entered. They continued hiding and endangering our soldiers, which made the shooting imperative’In the third location, where Anan Sabah was staying, the activity lasted a few hours, and included the firing of an antitank missile toward the house, in an attempt to force the suspect out. When we approached (to Anan Sabah), he Yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ a few times and refused to step out.  There were also weapons in the house. The fact that no soldier was injured in the incident shows that we did not act too aggressively and that everything was done properly despite the extremely complex and dangerous mission,” he said.  Colonel Itzik Bar, which commanded the activity, also headed a 2004 operation, in which Abu Sharah’s brother, who was the former leader of the Tanzim in Nablus, was killed”.  This report can be read in full here.

Another YNet report said that “IDF Shomron Brigade Commander Colonel Itzik Bar arrived Saturday night at the settlement of Shavei Shomron, where locals spoke of their sense of insecurity since the army removed roadblocks from roads throughout the West Bank as a gesture to the Palestinians”. here. An earlier version of this same YNet story reported that “Amidst increasing tensions between settlers and the defense establishment of the settlement construction freeze, the Yesha Council on Saturday expressed its satisfaction with the IDF’s swift retaliation against the Palestinians who executed the lethal shooting attack in the West Bank on Thursday, which left Meir Avshalom Hai of the Shavei Shomron settlement dead. However, the settlers also warned against the IDF’s removal of roadblocks, which they say facilitate the execution of terror attacks. At the end of Shabbat, some 120 Shavei Shomron residents, together with activists from the Samaria Settlers Committee gathered at the scene of the attack and protested against the removal of roadblocks. ‘We must prevent the next murder and close this roadblock again. If the government acts negligently and does not close it again, we will do it ourselves’, the settlers said … The council also conveyed a hint of a warning about the consequences a deal for the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit might have. ‘The murderers were released prisoners who returned to terror, and the State of Israel would be wise to internalize the necessary lessons’. Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said the removal of roadblocks in the regional allowing Palestinian movement prepared the ground for the murder. ‘It has been proven once again that when the IDF is allowed to fight terror, it can crush it. Had the roadblocks not been removed, the murder, and the need to strike the terrorists, would have been prevented. I demand the prime minister put an end to this security negligence and immediately close the barriers which were removed in order to prevent more murders and attacks’.” This article can be found here.

On Sunday, as YNet subsequently reported, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will insist that terrorists not return to action in the field as part of the prisoner swap deal for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. ‘As of now, there is no deal, and it is not at all clear if there will be a deal. It is clear that if we reach a practical proposal, I will bring it to the cabinet. But we still are not there and I don’t know if we will be’, Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday. The PM linked Saturday’s killing of three al-Aqsa Brigades gunmen who were behind last week’s shooting death of settler Meir Avshalom Hai to the prisoner swap negotiations. According to him, ‘One of the cell terrorist cell members who were killed had been released from Israeli prison. This is precisely the consideration standing against the Shalit deal … We will not agree to expose our citizens to terror’, Netanyahu said”. This YNet report is posted here.

So, the events in and around the once-proud but now much-diminished Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus — once a regional financial capital — have become convenient arguments of the Israeli right against the prisoner exchange deal being negotiated with Hamas, and against any lessening of the oppressive checkpoint regime in the West Bank …

Ma’an News Agency reported that “According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the attack follows the first week since the beginning of 2009 that Israeli military and security activities throughout the West Bank ended with no Palestinian casualties”. This was published here.

It is also worth putting this situation into context: the West Bank has been under a belligerent military occupation by Israel for over 42 years — since the June 1967 Mideast wart. Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered violations of the Geneva Convention [which somehow saw occupations as lasting, at most, one year…], as well as other provisions of international law. The First Palestinian Intifada against the Israeli occupation broke out in December 1987. Almost year later, on 15 November 1988, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat proposed (and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Palestine National Council approved) the creation of a Palestinian state on the territory Israel occupied in June 1967 (meaning the West Bank, including East Jerusalem — and its Old City with extremely important religious sites — and the Gaza Strip). The Madrid Peace Conference convened in 1999 failed to make progress toward ending the occupation or the Intifada. The Oslo process that began with an exchange of diplomatic recognition between Israel and the PLO in September 1993 resulted in the creation of a Palestinian Authority that was supposed to exercise a temporary autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza [Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem was excluded], during negotiations that were to last five years. It was never stated, but it was certainly assumed by the Palestinians, that the result of those negotiations would be a state in five years’ time (that is, by 1999). The Road Map adopted by the Quartet of Middle East negotiations in 2003 (to defuse the Second Palestinian Intifada that started in September 2009 and threatened the region while the U.S. wanted to focus on eliminating the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq) suggested the formation of a Palestinian State by 2005. The Annapolis process launched in the final year of the administration of George W. Bush was aimed at the creation of a Palestinian State by the end of 2008. After his inauguration as new U.S. President in January 2009, Barack Obama made a big splash by trying to insist on a freeze of Israeli settlements, as a way to re-start direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that the Palestinians broke off after the start of a massive Israeli military operation against Gaza that began a year ago today.  But, the Defense Minister of Israel still rules the West Bank. And, the current Israeli government has only just barely decided to implement a temporary ten-month settlement “freeze” — except in Jerusalem (meaning the unilaterally-expanded Greater Jerusalem municipal area that includes some 60 square kilometers of land that was part of the West Bank until 4 June 1967 — after which, officials say, they will begin to build again… leaving less and less room for hope that there could ever be any viable Palestinian state.

Everyone awaiting prisoner exchange while Israeli PM orders negotiations to continue

Yes, free Gilad Shalit — for God’s sake, for his (Gilad Shalit’s) sake, for the sake of the people of Gaza …

At the same time, free Palestinian prisoners, too. The fate of some 1,000 to 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is also now under discussion, according to various media reports. There are currently about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners + detainees in Israeli custody, at least 300 of whom are women. They should be released — all of them — but not at the cost of accepting exile or deportation. Deportation, as we wrote here yesterday, is a violation of the Road Map, which was written a year after the deportation of 29 Palestinian men who had taken refuge in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Their deportations (some to Gaza and the rest to Europe) were supposed to last only a year and were “voluntary” — though under pressure even from then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat, in order to end the Israeli Army invasion of Bethlehem and siege of one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Seven years later, almost all of the deportees are still in exile. Luckily for them, none was killed during last winter’s IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Haaretz reported today that “A German mediator arrived in the Gaza Strip earlier Tuesday with Israel’s response to Hamas’ offer to free Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Israel gave mediators its response late Monday, after marathon talks were held at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. No further details were immediately available. The top-level meetings ended shortly after midnight Monday without an announcement of a decision over whether the forum of seven, comprising Netanyahu and six other senior cabinet ministers, had decided to accept or reject Hamas’ offer [sic !] … The forum of seven convened after nightfall Monday for the fifth consecutive meeting on the issue over the last two days in a frenzy of activity that suggested a deal could be close. The group was divided, however, with some ministers opposed freeing Palestinians convicted in fatal attacks, arguing they could kill again. After more than four hours of talks, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying only that instructions were given to the negotiating team about the continuation of efforts to bring Shalit home safe and sound”.

This same article also reports that “Israel would like to see most of the Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank, especially those considered the most dangerous, expelled to the Gaza Strip or abroad”. This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

This is a terrible proposal — and it is a violation of the Road Map that members of the Quartet should not countenance, even if these deportations are depicted as “voluntary”.

Haaretz’s Gideon Levy wrote, in a separate article published today, that “Whether Israel decides to sign the deal or not, it will not change anything except the personal fate of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners. This is the only issue on the agenda, not Israel’s security or its sovereignty. The dilemma is razor sharp – do we or do we not want to see Shalit home; alive or dead, to be or not to be, that is the only question. This is why the government must decide in favor of the deal. It’s difficult to demand that the Israelis occupied with Shalit’s captivity show consideration for the Palestinians’ feelings as well. But they should do so, or at least try. Hundreds of prisoners have been locked up for years in dire conditions, some – those from Gaza – have been imprisoned for years with no family visits, not a phone call home. And not all of them have blood on their hands. At least the possibility of their release should have raised compassion in our hearts as well, as groundless and shrill as this may sound to the obtuse Israeli ear. It is no coincidence that only the Palestinian prisoners’ families have expressed hope for Shalit’s release, beside the hope for their own sons’ release. How distressing that we hear no similar sentiment from anyone on our side, not even the Shalit family. But Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners are not alone. Seven million Israelis and three and a half million Palestinians have been imprisoned for 42 years in a dark cave due to the curse of occupation … In view of the huge (and appropriate) sensitivity and concern demonstrated by Israeli society for one man’s life and liberty, it’s time to think of applying similar sensitivity, determination, involvement and caring in regard to the fate of 10 million Israelis and Palestinians. True, they see the light of day, but their future is cloaked in darkness”. This Gideon Levy article can be read in full here.

The Palestinian NGO working to support the release of Palestinan prisoners, Ad-Dameer, has just released a new report, and in an email announcing its publication, Ad-Dameer says that “Israel still holds 330 Palestinian political prisoners who were arrested before 13 September 1993, the cutoff date for arrests that determined which prisoners would be eligible for inclusion in subsequent releases. Approximately 95 of these political prisoners have spent more than 20 consecutive years in Israeli prisons. Today, Israel holds a total of more than 7,120 Palestinian detainees. What’s more, large numbers of Palestinians are still arrested by Israel on a weekly basis. The Israeli military judicial system imposed on the occupied territory, criminalizes every aspect of Palestinian life and continues to de-politicize Palestinian national aspirations. In policy and in practice, Palestinian activities against the military occupation are never deemed ‘political’ by Israel – and acts that would or could constitute ‘political offenses’ have never been defined”.

Ad-Dameer says, further, that “In a negotiated peace settlement, amnesties are often a necessary condition for putting an end to a conflict. Prisoners often play a central role in post-conflict politics and can be instrumental in addressing past grievances and in seeking justice and reconciliation. Israeli authorities however, have remained unwilling to explore a shift in discourse regarding the identification of ‘political offenses’ or to even acknowledge Palestinian political motivations. To the contrary, those whom in any other post-conflict situation would become partners in peace are still considered ‘security’, rather than ‘political’ detainees. Moreover, Israeli legislation and court decisions have long enabled the State to hold detainees as ‘bargaining chips’, held for their potential value in hostage or political negotiations, disregarding their status as political actors and denying them fundamental human rights protections. Addameer contends that Israel has systematically failed to act in accordance with many of its obligations under the Oslo Accords and related Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, particularly in regards to prisoner releases. Instead, Israel treats the issue as a public relations opportunity and a means to achieve political gains. Working within such constraints, the Palestinian leadership has been forced to negotiate with the Israeli government over the numbers of prisoners included in releases, and has failed to develop a strategy to challenge the military courts system in the OPT that defines all Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation as ‘security offences’.”

Just to illustrate one of the points Ad-Dameer made, here is a selection of news reports here over the past three days:

(A) Israeli forces seize 9 in night raids – Published by Ma’an News Agency on 22/12/2009 at 11:50: “Israeli forces detained nine Palestinians during overnight raids in the West Bank, the military reported on Tuesday … A military spokesman said that one person was detained in the town of Anabta, east of Tulkarem, three from Beit Duqqu, southwest of Ramallah, and five from Al-Arrub Refugee Camp, north of Hebron. The other detainees were not immediately identified. The military spokesman said they were arrested because they were ‘wanted’, and were taken for interrogation”. This was posted here.

(B) IDF arrests 4 wanted Palestinians in West Bank – Published by the Jerusalem Post on Dec 21, 2009 6:14 | Updated Dec 21, 2009 8:04: “IDF forces arrested four wanted Palestinians in the West Bank overnight Monday.  The detainees were transferred for interrogation”. This was posted here.  Ma’an News Agency’s version was: “A military representative said one ‘wanted’ person was detained from the village of Jalbun, east of Jenin, one from Ramallah, and two from Beit Ummar, north of Hebron. Residents of Jalbun, a village adjacent to the Israeli separation wall, said soldiers entered the village in several vehicles and then surrounded the house of Yousef Abu Al-Rab, 32, a school teacher. The troops searched the house before taking Abu Al-Rab to an unknown location. The sources added that the Israeli soldiers threw stun grenades during the operation … In Beit Ummar, Palestinians also confirmed that two young men were arrested after soldiers stormed their houses. Muhammad Sa’id Abu Ayyash, 24, and Muntaser Ibrahim Ibreighith, 19, were both detained during the operation, according to Muhammad Awad, the spokesman of the Palestine Solidarity Project. He added that soldiers assaulted the men and their families during the raid”. This was posted here.

(C) And, on Saturday [19/12/2009 (updated) 20/12/2009 19:15], Ma’an News Agency reported that: “A Palestinian from the Salfit and a second from the Hebron district were detained by Israeli forces, the information office of the Palestinian police said Saturday. The men were identified as 22-year-old Izzat Suleiman from the village of Marda near Salfit, detained by Israeli soldiers as he passed through the Huwwara checkpoint, which separates the northern from the central West Bank. He was taken to an unknown location.  The second detention came during a raid on Ithna village south of Hebron, where soldiers detained 33-year-old Ziad Al-Masri. He was also taken to an unknown location”.  This was posted here.

DEPORTATION is a violation of the Road Map

Deportation — which Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are still trying to make a condition for the release of certain Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, in exchange for IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinians since the end of June 2006 — is a violation of the Road Map.

The Road Map was written — and endorsed by the UN Security Council — in 2003, after deportation was devised as the solution to the exit of Palestinian gunmen and other Palestinians who had sought refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during an Israeli raid which became an extended seige.

The deportation of those 29 or so Palestinian men was thought to be for a period of one year, but they are almost all still in exile seven years later, some in Gaza (they survived last winter’s IDF military onslaught), and others in Europe. Those Palestinian men were pressured or persuaded to accept the deportation agreement that had been negotiated — and thus, it became a “voluntary” deportation.

But, since the adoption of the Road Map, which both the Palestinians and the Israelis (despite the 14 reservations listed separately by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) have accepted, deportation (voluntary or not) has become a violation of the terms of the Road Map — just as much as is the requirement to maintain a settlement freeze.

It’s right up there at the start of Phase I.

Under the heading “Security”, the Road Map says that: the “GOI [Government of Israel] takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet work plan”…

The Road Map, which can be read in a number of places including on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Road Map introduces itself as “a performance-based and goal-driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution-building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet [the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia]. The destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005 … A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below. The Quartet will assist and facilitate implementation of the plan, starting in Phase I, including direct discussions between the parties as required. The plan establishes a realistic timeline for implementation. However, as a performance-based plan, progress will require and depend upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations outlined below”.

One year ago today, Hamas ended cease-fire with Israel

On 18 December 2008, Hamas made an official statement ending its unofficial cease-fire with Israel.

Granted, there had been provocation (from both sides…)…

But, this Hamas statement opened the door wide to what happened nine days later — the launch of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza, which lasted three awful weeks, and from which the people of Gaza have not yet recovered.

Sahrawi activist returned to Laayoune last night

After voluntarily checking herself into the hospital on Thursday morning, Haidar was allowed to return home to Laayoune in the Western Sahara Thursday evening.

The BBC reported Today that “It now appears that frantic multi-country talks were under way to seek a resolution … [but ] details of how a deal was finally reached were not known … The Spanish foreign ministry said only that it was the result of a co-ordinated effort between Spain, France and the US to persuade Morocco that it would be ‘preferable’ to allow Mrs Haidar back to Western Sahara. A spokesperson told the BBC no conditions were attached and Spain had issued ‘salvoconducto‘ (safe-conduct) documents to make travel possible …The independence activist launched her very public protest after the Moroccan authorities confiscated her passport and denied her entry to Laayoune, in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. She had refused to declare her nationality as Moroccan on an official form – as usual – but this time she was expelled from the territory”.

The Financial Times reported that Morocco relented, after international diplomacy went into high gear. Unfortunately, as so often happens when diplomacy goes into high gear, it was at the expense of a political concession: “Earlier this week, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, called for accelerated negotiations to help save Ms Haidar’s life. Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, helped broker a deal with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to allow Ms Haidar’s return. As part of the agreement, both France and Spain – Morocco’s most important European allies – have issued conciliatory official statements recognising the de facto application of Moroccan law in the Western Sahara until the conflict is resolved. Human rights activists believe that western governments are cynically ignoring the legitimate demands of Sahrawis to protect their commercial and strategic interests (which include countering the influence of both China and al-Qaeda in Africa) through their relations with Morocco”.

The FT said that “Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who advises on international affairs and admires Ms Haidar, has blamed Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, for inadvertently encouraging the Moroccan authorities to crack down on Sahrawi activists when she praised the country’s human rights record and its plans for the Western Sahara in an interview before her recent visit to Morocco … Mr Ross, who advises Polisario, said in an e-mailed message to the media on Thursday shortly before Ms Haidar returned home to El Ayoun that her plight was ‘the real price of the EU’s cosying-up to Morocco, including negotiating an enhanced partnership with the EU, and paying Morocco for EU boats illegally to fish the Western Saharan waters’.”

As the FT explained: “Morocco annexed the Western Sahara as Spain abandoned it in 1975, and the territory is sometimes called Africa’s last remaining colony. The Polisario Front, based in neighbouring Algeria, waged a guerrilla war for independence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire deal that provided for a referendum. But the vote has yet to be held and Morocco says that the most it will grant is autonomy … According to Mr Ross, seven other Sahrawi activists face military trials for treason and could be sentenced to death if found guilty”. This FT story can be read in full here.

In an interesting article signed by AHMED T.B., showing artful reporting combining praise and constructive criticism (plus, of course the facts) in an difficult and tendentious atmosphere, posted on the MoroccoBoard website, the author writes: “Morocco’s actions against Haider gave credence to her claims of abuse against the Sahrawi; claims that were partially discredited on account of the fact that she lived in Morocco and was free of her movement and expression. The United States, France, and the Arab governments (minus Algeria,) thus far, bask in a stolid insularity. Could Morocco have handled Haidar’s issue internally? Absolutely yes! She is, after all, Moroccan. The removal of a Moroccan’s citizenship is by Royal decree (there are exceptions and Haidar’s case is not one.) That authority is not delegated to the King’s prosecutor. The Moroccan legal system has established a set procedure to be adhered to. A Moroccan cannot just surrender her passport, and renounce her citizenship, nor should the government deprive a Moroccan of her citizenship without due process. If Aminatou Haidar decided to submit a request to the King to forfeit her Moroccan citizenship, and such request was approved, only then could she be handed over to MINURSO officials for transport to the refugee camps in Tindouf. The Aminatou Haider incident exposes the flaws of Morocco’s policies and the inefficiency of its security posture vis-à-vis its Southern Provinces. Perhaps emboldened by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expressed commitment to support Morocco’s agenda (after all, Christopher Ross is a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer,) Mohammed VI, in his speech commemorating the 34th anniversary of the “Green March,” delivered a stern message to the Sahrawis signaling that the democratic process afterglow had waned. The King presented the Sahrawi population with an ultimatum a la George W. Bush – ‘you are either patriots or traitors’. The execution of his directives was immediate. Security forces rounded up dozens of activists accusing them of providing material and/or ideological support to the Polisario Front; they reinforced their presence in southern cities and the routes connecting them. If Haider is indeed a subversive member of the Polisario, as Morocco’s Foreign Minister Taeib Fassi-Fihri claimed today in Brussels, the Moroccan authorities should have arrested her, presented their evidence, and tried her. Much like Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane, Yahdih Ettarouzi, Saleh Labihi, Dakja Lashgar, Rachid Sghir and Ali Salem Tamek, all arrested on October 8th in Casablanca, Haider was known to Morocco’s intelligence services since 1987 when she was ‘disappeared’ for four years for joining a local underground pro-polisario support group. After the passing of Hassan II and seizing on the permissiveness of the transitional spirit that characterized Mohammed VI’s political outlook then, Haider overtly campaigned for the independence of ‘Western Sahara’. When riots broke out in El Aayoun in 2005, she was, once again, arrested and detained for seven months. Morocco’s counterintelligence office had an opportunity to launch an offensive intelligence operation to deny Algeria the initiative. Haider and other Sahrawi dissenters could have been recruited as sources considering their tremendous placement and access allowing them to answer some of Morocco’s priority intelligence requirements. Granted that they lacked the motivation to support what they regard as a colonizer, but the Moroccan government should have embraced them, involved them in the political process and provided them with a controlled venue to express their frustrations. From an intelligence perspective, Aminatou Haider is an utter failure. It is clear that Morocco’s strategy, as it stands, is counterintuitive. The King’s rigid approach will greatly compromise Morocco’s long-run political prospect and tax its security forces by driving the opposition underground forcing it to devise a stealth modus operandi and making it suitable for exploitation by foreign intelligence services and terrorist organizations. A calibrated strategy with depth and forethought would seek to foster an environment of debate and a culture of transparency that does not revolve around passionate rallies of mindless patriotism. Instead of threats, the government should bring arguments to the fore. Instead of echoing gauzy statements to cover up its mistakes, it should take responsibility”. This posting can be read in full
here. [Its website says that “Morocco Board News Service is the Moroccan American Community News source for American-North African Affairs. Its content is distributed to Moroccan Americans, to general market media and to a broad range of the general Public. The topics are not usually covered by the English language media. MoroccoBoard reaches a new audience with a new focus. It is a podium for different voices and opinions; it sheds the light on America’s relation with Morocco and North Africa“.]

Palestinian TV showing Friday prayers in Yasuf Mosque live

Yasuf Mosque, in Salfit Governorate of the northern West Bank, was attacked last week by Israeli settlers.

(The Israeli political establishment and major international players all expressed shock and denounced the attack.   It seems that attacking a mosque is worse, and taken more seriously, than attacking anything else.  Certainly there are fears that it is more inflammatory.  The U.S. and the E.U. said that the attackers should be arrested and punished.  But, so far, there have been no arrests … Nor has there been any significant popular reaction either, however.  For the Palestinians living under occupation, this seems to have been just another event in a long line of events… So what?)

However, this week, the Friday prayer in the Yasuf Mosque is being broadcast live on Palestinian TV —  last week, the Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem.  It is an even colder, grey, and wet day, as winter sets in.

This week, the security forces at the doors with guns were Palestinian, not Israelis…

And, this week, there were a few senior political officials present from various parts of the West Bank [I could recognize, from Ramallah, Azzam al-Ahmad and Tawfik Tirawi and Mustafa Barghouthi  — the Palestinian TV camera lingered for a few long and apparently significant moments on Dr. Barghouthi. who is a political independent and not a member of Fatah, and  now one of the leading political figures calling for an international boycott and sanctions against Israel as a means of resistance and pressure to end the occupation.  There was also Bassam al-Salhi,  Secretary-General of the Palestinian People’s Party (Communist or ex-Communist), and Rafiq Husseini from East Jerusalem.   My friend and colleague Nasser recognized other Palestinian Authority (the Waqf minister was reportedly present) and Fatah figures, including Hajj Ismail Jaber, as well as  Mustafa Alloul, the immdiate past Governor of Nablus who was just obliged by a Presidential decision to leave his post because of the Presidential decision adopted last August at the Fatah General Conference in Bethlehem that anyone elected to the Fatah Central Committee would have to leave all their other posts and jobs.  Nasser saw Taysir Khalid, a PFLP official from Nablus, and also figures from Hebron. It was later announced that someone was there from Gaza… though almost certainly it must have been somebody who left Gaza a couple of years ago.]

The Yasuf mosque smaller prayer hall seems almost as spare as Al-Aqsa, but there are touches of green (the columns) and perhaps a very, very light blue.   Apparently,  Yasuf Mosque’s the smaller prayer room which was not attacked — reportedly, it was only the larger prayer hall that sustained damage.

Earlier this week, one of Israel’s Chief Rabbis visited the site of the attack on the Yasuf Mosque, and said that the attack by the Jewish settlers (they may not all be Israeli citizens) was just like the Kristallnacht attack in August 1939 that marked the intensification of Nazi attempts to erase — by cruel mass persecution and murder — the German and European Jewish communities.

But the organization of this politico-religious event (it was not exactly a demonstration, but it is the first organized Palestinian political protest at what happened) does seem to indicate that attacking a mosque is considered worse, and taken more seriously, than attacking anything else…

Is it also really more inflammatory?

This politically-organized Friday prayer event at Yasuf Mosque, dominated by Fatah with a sprinkling of figures from other political movements, was a politically rigid and stultified event, lacking any spontaneity.  Everybody talks as if they’re at a political rally, as usual.  There is little from the heart, except codified anger.  [There were also no women… but the women who have succeed in the Palestinian political establishment are as stultified and rigid as the men.   Almost everyone was mature, middle-aged or more — not many young people.   Nor, of course, were there any Christians… who used to have a disproportional representation in the secular Arab nationalist resistance of previous decades.]

The formula that will inspire popular report in this cynical and exhausted environment does not yet seem to have been found.

[[After the Friday prayers, Palestinian television is airing a comedy satire program — it seems to be a version of Al Watan Ala Watar, or The Homeland on a String — that, astonishingly is a satire of the current Israeli government and official style.  It is in Arabic, but with enough Hebrew words that everybody now knows (slicha, excuse me; keen, yes; haver, friend)…  Of course, most Israelis now also use Arabic words, like yellah (let’s go, or get going), and the show makes a play on that, too.   After what appears to be a Knesset committee meeting, another scene shows an official is calling UNSG BAN Ki Moon to discuss the Goldstone Report…  “Ya zalame, forget Cana”, the official tells BAN Ki Moon.   I am not aware of any previous Palestinian political satire making fun of Israeli officialdom…  The next skit is a satire of a clueless presenter trying to present a news bulletin — and the sound goes out, just like it famously often does on Palestinian TV.  Everybody, from the presenter to the producers in the control room, are smoking like chimneys.  Everytime there is a mishap, they go to the famoust Palestinian TV political fillers.  Then, a reporter is trying to do a live standup in front of Arafat’s mausoleum at the Muqata’a in Ramallah, and the sound goes down.  The reporter talks on air non-stop: “I am not a donkey”… Then back to the presenter, who keeps on getting the name of the Chairman of the Elections Committee wrong.    “OK, I am a watermelon”, the presenter says.  When, in a live re-take, he says the Chairman of the Elections Committee is Tony Blair, the producer goes down to the set and a fist fight ensues, all on air… ]]

New EU High Representative for Foreign Policy questions worth of Quartet

Akiva Eldar has reported in Haaretz that the new European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland (who has replaced Javier Solana), said in an address to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg that “she had spoken with Israelis, Palestinians and the U.S. Secretary of State about the role the Quartet of international mediators, and that of its special envoy to the region, Tony Blair. Ashton said she had told Blair personally that, ‘The Quartet [a special group set up by the U.S., EU, UN and Russia] must demonstrate that it is worth the money, that it is capable of being reinvigorated’.” Akiva Eldar’s report can be read in full here.

One of Ashton’s predecessors in her new EU role, Chris Patten, wrote in the FT this week [as we reported earlier here] that “Sensible Europeans accept that the US, the precise terms of whose engagement have become increasingly unclear in the months since President Barack Obama’s pellucid Cairo address, has the lead role in trying to mobilise activity leading to a settlement. But that does not mean Europeans should fail to tell the US where they stand. Baroness Ashton, the new high representative for Europe’s common foreign and security policy, should encourage Washington to support the EU statement or make clear where there are differences of opinion. In particular, the importance of setting a time frame for progress should be underlined. Lady Ashton will presumably now be the EU’s sole representative in the ‘quartet’ (which used to have three EU members) – the organisation joining the US, UN, Russia and the EU in support of a peace process”.