"It's a tragedy"

Four Israeli settlers were ambushed, shot and killed — apparently at close range — Tuesday evening, while driving to their homes in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, near the large and well-fortified settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, outside Hebron.

The deaths occurred on Road 60, just after 7:30 in the evening, at a time when Muslim Palestinians were breaking their fast on the 20th day of sacred month of Ramadan — a month of introspection, calm, and prayer when fighting and conflict is normally supposed to be suspended, according to Islamic tradition.

Yet, Hamas spokespersons in Gaza suggested that such an attack could be considered justifiable, while Palestinian officials in Washington for important meetings immediately pinned the blame squarely on Hamas.

Asked to comment, on the eve of meetings that will convene in Washington at U.S. invitation to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that were broken off at the start of Israel’s massive 3-week military operation against Hamas in Gaza, the U.S. State Department’s P.J. Crowley responded by saying that “anytime one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy. We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred”.

Tonight, the nearby Palestinian village of Bani Naim has been completely closed off by the Israeli Army.

Ma’an News Agency reported from Bethlehem that a previously unknown group calling itself the Al-Haq (“Rights”) Brigades claimed the attack, and said it was in response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to return to negotiations with Israel.

There is a large variety of agents provocateurs who might be motivated to carry out such an attack.

Israeli police reports suggest that the victims — a married couple with six children and one grandchild, another woman who also leaves behind a bereaved child, and a young man — were shot at from a car driving alongside their vehicle, then finished off at close range.

UPDATE: Hours after Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said the attack shows the failure of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation [despite the fact that the PA has no security role on Road 60, which is under total Israel control], PA security forces rounded up dozens of Hamas supporters across the West Bank (particularly in Hebron). And spokespersons for the West Bank settler group, Yesha — which is as opposed as Hamas (if not more) to the U.S. invitation to restart direct negotiations in Washington this week — announced that they will begin building all over the West Bank at 6pm on Wednesday evening. At least two of the four victims of this attack were settler movement activists. Earlier, Israel’s Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak vowed to “extract a price” for the attack — his choice of words echoing the settler “price tag” policy of retaliating with attacks on Palestinians and their property for any Israeli government action against West Bank Jewish settlements.

UPDATE ADD: By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff, and news agencies, reported that “Palestinian security forces carried out one of the largest waves of arrests in the history of the West Bank following Tuesday’s shooting attack near Hebron, in which four Israelis were killed, a Palestinian source said on Wednesday. According to the source, more than 300 people identified with Hamas have been arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces since the attack. This can be read in full here.

UPDATE TWO: The White House issued a statement last night blaming Hamas for the attack, saying that “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice”.

UPDATE TWO ADD: At the start of a two-day event in Washington intended to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, U.S. President Obama himself said: “we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist attacks. And so the message should go out to Hamas and everyone else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us.”

Quote of the day – (6th in our series)

Haaretz (with an input from Reuters) reported today that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told journalists in Ramallah on Monday that it was important to know “What kind of state does Mr. Netanyahu have in mind when he says ‘Palestinian state? … I think this is a most fundamental question and I believe, without wishing to really prejudge what will happen in the next few days, the next few weeks, we are approaching that moment of reckoning … Some questions really need to be answered … There is not really a whole lot of time to waste”. Fayyad’s remarks are posted here.

Perhaps not wishing to give it any more attention — or perhaps wanting to avoid certain uproar — Fayyad apparently did not want to ask another important question — which European diplomats here in the region say must also be asked, and that is, what do Israeli leaders mean by the “Jewish State” that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, as recently as Sunday, the Palestinians must recognize.

Background: UN General Assembly Resolution 181, passed in November 1947 in response to a British request for a solution to the Palestine Mandate, conferred by the League of Nations, called for the establishment of two states: one Jewish and one Arab. This resolution is the basis for both the 14-15 May 1948 proclamation of the State of Israel, and for the November 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State in his 14 reservations on the U.S.-sponsored Road Map of 2003. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State just before the start of the Annapolis process of negotiations launched in November 2007. Olmert’s successor, Benyamin Netanyahu, periodically repeats the same demand — but has occasionally modified his phrasing to call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as “the State of the Jewish People”.

The Palestinians are all over the place in their responses, and even inconsistent (as if this had not already been done by the PLO leadership and endorsed by the Palestine National Council in 1988). Whatever position they choose, it is universally expressed with great frustration and anger. “We don’t care what Israel calls itself”, the current Palestinian leadership has said. Other Palestinians insist that any endorsement of this formula is tantamount to agreeing to future as well as past ethnic cleansing: the expulsion of Israeli-Arab-Palestinians from “the triangle” of Arab cities in Israel’s Galilee region next to the upper West Bank, and — of course — acceptance of Israel’s refusal to envisage the return of any but a tiny few of those Palestinians (and their descendants) who fled or were forced to flee fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel. Still others respond as if this demand can be treated as some kind of bargaining chip, to be dealt with after the establishment of a real Palestinian state…

What is going on here?

USAID just doesn’t know what to do with its money?

It could partly build a new school (it could build maybe one-fourth of a new school) with what it has agreed to spend in giving the Israeli team of the “Geneva Initiative” — not a deprived or unconnected group of people — to film certain leading Palestinian Authority personages telling an Israeli audience that they are “partners” to make peace.

One of the first of these USAID spots finished and released features Saeb Erekat, who says to the camera: “Shalom to you in Israel … I know that we have disappointed you … I am your partner. Are you mine?” This can be viewed on the site of the Geneva Initiative’s Israeli team here.

The promo spots are being released just days before the hoped-for relaunch of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were broken off in late December 2008, as the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Now, USAID does not have any programs in Israel (which is a developed country) — though (for security reasons) its growing West Bank-and-Gaza program is located in an oceanfront highrise office Tel Aviv (and its officials can only travel to the West Bank with a vastly-expensive and armor-plated American escort).

Nonetheless, it is the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative — headquartered in another high-rise office in Tel Aviv where former Prime Ministers have maintained offices — which asked for, and got, funding to produce this media campaign ahead of this week’s Washington meetings.

The justification for it is unclear.

USAID’s website states that “The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds programs that help people living in the West Bank and Gaza lead healthier and more productive lives. Since 1994, Palestinians have received more than $2.9 billion in U.S. economic assistance via USAID projects – more than from any other donor country” — this is posted here.

Of course, people living in the West Bank and Gaza could reasonably be expected to lead “healthier and more productive lives” if the Israeli direct and indirect military occupation is ended — and through negotiations, as the principals all now say they prefer.

But, this media campaign leaves a lot of questions open, including these, which I addressed earlier today to USAID:
“Could you please help me understand how it is, and why, USAID funded the Geneva Initiative (Israeli team’s) request to make promo spots intended to air on Israeli television in which some prominent PA figures appear?

“Was it a difficult decision for this arm of the U.S. government to back the Geneva Initiative (about which, if I am not mistaken, the U.S. government previously felt somewhat more neutral)?

“Can I also ask what was the amount of the USAID backing for this request? (YNet apparently reported in Hebrew that it was $250,000, but in English YNet referred to “millions of shekels”)…

“Has the Palestinian Peace Coalition (the Geneva Initiative’s Palestinian team) made a similar or parallel request, and if so is USAID planning to fund it, too?

And, I also asked: “In addition, can I ask what is the amount allocated for USAID’s current billboard campaign in Ramallah, praising USAID projects?”

I am waiting for a response…

Meanwhile, some background: the Geneva Initiative was announced as an effort by “civil society” in October 2003, and signed — in Geneva — in a ceremony in December 2003, for which the Swiss government flew in a planeload each of Israeli and Palestinian supporters just for the event, then flew them all back to the region. The document was discussed, or negotiated, primarily between Israeli politician Yossi Beilin (drafted on his behalf primarily by Daniel Levy, now writing and think-taking in Washington) and Palestinian politico Yasser Abed Rabbo (with considerable drafting done by a then-aide to Abu Mazen, Ghaith al-Omary, who is now also in Washington with the American Task Force on Palestine). The main innovation of the Geneva Initiative was to stipulate that any exchange of territory in the context of a final deal should be done on a 1:1 basis. The Geneva Initiative was denounced by many Palestinians for being so understanding of Israeli refusal to imagine the return of any but a handful at most of the millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered in neighboring Arab states and around the world. One of the main questions at the time was whether Yasser Arafat approved or not. Though it was unstated, Arafat’s tacit backing was evident. The discrete talks that produced the Geneva Intiative were hosted by a sympathetic professor at the University of Geneva, and funded by his wealthy Swiss banker father. The Swiss Foreign Ministry found the initiative appealing and offered diplomatic, financial, and logistic backing — and then were shocked by the sharply negative reaction of the Israeli government, whose main objection seemed to have been that it was not officially informed of the initiative in advance.

Incitement – cont'd

Now, at last, at long last, the U.S. government has spoken out, and called incitement, “incitement”.

And it was on a Sunday, too, a day on which Washington is normally quiet.

The U.S. went further, and said that the remarks made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in a sermon in a Jerusalem synagogue over the weekend (and reported after Shabbat, overnight on Sunday, by Israel Army Radio), were also “inflammatory” [a word used by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office to describe the comments several hours after criticism of Yosef’s words intensified] , and “deeply offensive”.

In a statement from Washington — apparently issued because there was a clear and urgent need, in advance of meetings the U.S. has convened for 1 + 2 September to relaunch direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that the Palestinians called off at the end of December 2008, as Israel began a massive three-week military attack on Gaza — U.S Assistant Secretary of State, spokesperson for Hillary Rodham Clinton, said: “We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. We note the Israeli statement that the Rabbi’s comments do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister. These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace. As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it”.

Hours earlier, the Jerusalem Post reported that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from inflammatory comments made by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef over the weekend in which he wished a plague on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people. [Yosef apparently wished that Abbas would “disappear from the earth”, or die; see our previous post here.] A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Yosef’s comments ‘don’t represent the views of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government. Israel entered into negotiations out of a desire to progress with the Palestinians toward an agreement that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two nations’.” This Israeli reaction — correcting an earlier position, in which Netanyahu didn’t have much to say about Yosef’s comments, was posted here.

Yosef, who was born in 1920 in Iraq, was brought by his family to Jerusalem in 1924. [He apparently worked as a Rabbi in Egypt from 1947 until about 1949 or 1950 — during the most intense phase of the conflict surrounding the creation of the State of Israel, and during the war waged against Israel by neighboring countries, including Egypt.]

Renowned for his Talmudic scholarship and his innovative interpretation, Yosef became Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and was later elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. Now, he is said to be the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, one of the major haredi (ultra-orthodox and more) religious parties seated in the Israeli following February 2009 Israeli national elections.

Shas leader, Eli Yishai, who now heads the powerful Israeli Interior Ministry in what has been called Israel’s most right-wing government ever, put together by Netanyahu after the last elections, said earlier Sunday that the party stood by Yosef’s remarks.

Yosef reportedly holds an ambivalent attitude towards Zionism. One of Yosef’s sons is reportedly about to be elected as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (representing the Sephardic or Mizrahi Jewish community, those from Arab countries), in a complicated religio-political trade-off [in which, one of those who have been described as “religious Zionist” Rabbis will be simultaneously elected as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem (representing those with views and traditions developed from centuries of living in Europe), and this deal has been described as an effort “to lessen haredi influence” in rabbinical and religious issues]. See here for this report.

Shas, incidentally, is one of the main opponents of continuing Israel’s supposed (and in any case only partial) settlement freeze beyond its 26 September expiry date. Palestinian President Abbas has said that if there is continued settlement construction, negotiations will be meaningless.

Was it convenient that Yosef spoke in such an inflammatory way at this juncture? Will the outcry over Yosef’s remarks make it easier, now, for Netanyahu to argue for the extension that the U.S. is pushing for?

Incitement

The fact that he is old is no excuse.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said, in a sermon at a synagogue in Jerusalem this weekend, a few days before last-ditch efforts to hold Israeli-Palestinian direct talks in Washington, that “Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] and all these evil people should perish from this world … God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians”. His remarks were reported on Israeli Army Radio [the most popular radio station in Israel] overnight.

As media reports indicate, this is not the first time that Yosef has said some truly shocking things.

It goes to show, among other things, that the brazen ugliness of hate-filled incitement is not a one-sided phenomena in this conflict.

But, supporters of Israel are by far the most vociferous in denouncing any instances of Palestinian bad behavior they can find.
They also make periodic demands that all errors be corrected before any engagement in any peace process.

Today, the Palestinian chief negotiator did the same, as his office informed journalists by email this afternoon. Saeb Erakat “called on the Israeli government to denounce and take appropriate action against the constant Israeli incitement and racism against Palestinians. Dr. Erakat’s call came after comments made by Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, during his weekly sermon. Yosef ‘s party, Shas, is one of the main coalition members in Netanyahu’s government. [n.b. – Shas Minister Eli Yishi now heads the Israeli Ministry of Interior…] In his sermon, Yosef declared that President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian people must ‘perish’ from this world … ‘The spiritual leader of Shas is literally calling for a genocide against Palestinians and there seems to be no response from the Israeli government’, Erekat said, adding that Yosef ‘is particularly calling for the assassination of President Abbas who within a few days will be sitting face to face with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is this how the Israeli Government prepares its public for a peace agreement?’ … [Erekat also said that] ‘This type of incitement is part of Israel’s larger policy against a Palestinian state, which also includes its illegal settlements activities, forced removals and evictions, home demolitions, water theft and separating occupied Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents. They all have the same destructive goal. We call on the international community to condemn incitement to genocide by public figures in Israel’.”

The worst, most awful show on Palestinian TV

The worst and most excruciatingly awful show on Palestinian TV is a wierd, arrogant, and embarassing nightly half-hour which has now become a part of the Ramadan post-Iftar must-watch family programming that airs every evening after the day’s fast is broken, the table has been cleared, and the formerly drooping audience its not quite yet adjusted to having some food and water in their systems.

It is called “The Cedar and the Olive Tree”.

Palestinian journalist Maher ash-Shalabi, who all winter wore a suit and a tie and held hour-long interviews with Palestinian political and “intellectual” types (a while ago, he worked for MBC), is now roaming the narrow streets of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in a short-sleeved shirt and khaki chino trousers, holding a microphone with a clean new cover embellished with the new Palestinian TV logo (one letter is graphically transformed into the shape of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, with a crescent moon on top). He walks up to men sitting on plastic chairs in alleyways, or to middle-aged women walking with with headscarves and long coats in the dusty streets (younger women, also wearing headscarves and long coats, answer the doors of their family apartments).

The journalist, an apparition from Ramallah, de facto capital city of the occupied West Bank and seat of government for the Palestinian Authority (though word must have gotten around fairly quickly that he was around), always starts by asking his interlocutors where they are from.

Most of those asked reply immediately with the names of small villages near cities like Acca or Ramla, or even from places in the West Bank. Some few are of Lebanese origin.

He then asks: “How many people are at home”? The replies indicate large families — and suggest suffering. (“There are nine people at home, nine now, but there were eleven before. [Two — the lady’s husband, and one of her sons, for example — are “martyrs”, meaning were killed in conflict.]

Does anyone in the household work? “No”, is often the reply.

Then, he asks them questions like: “Can you name five cities in Palestine?” (Just over 50% of those asked can manage to do this by themselves.) In every episode, he also asks, several times: “What is the capital of Palestine”? (The correct answer is: Al-Quds, sometimes pronounced Al-Kudus, meaning Jerusalem.)

If those being questioned manage to answer correctly, the journalist then hands over a crisp $100 (one hundred dollar) bill! $100! Sometimes, apparently just when he feels like it, or when the story he has just been told is particularly moving, he hands over two of these bills!

His attitude is patently patronizing — he is distributing largess from the donor-supported Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, to the poor Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. [They are definitely poor — a bill was passed in the Lebanese Parliament only last week, that finally allowed Palestinian refugees who have in Lebanon for over 30 years or more to be able to seek work, although they have no residency status and no official papers.]

The money comes from the Palestine Investment Fund [!].

Tonight’s episode was filmed in Beddawi refugee camp. One lady said she was from “Bared” — and the journalist quickly asks her if she was from Nahr al-Bared, which was in part destroyed during a Lebanese Army assault several years ago on militants who were said to be part of a group called “Fatah al-Islam”, which the Palestinian representative in Lebanon quickly denounced. That lady said that she and her large family were still being sheltered in a garage. “What can we do?”, she asked plaintively.

She was the only one who told the journalist that she didn’t want the money he was distributing. She just wanted Palestine said, in an even tone. [But, exhibiting a practical streak nonetheless, she kept the $100 bill she had been handed…]

In the unsuccessful Camp David negotiations hosted by the U.S. then-President Bill Clinton in July 2000, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly asked Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to agree that the Palestinian refugees living without papers in poor conditions in Lebanon (about 175,000 of them, it was estimated) should be the ones whose situation would be addressed first.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were always vulnerable, but their situation became extraordinarily delicate in the late summer of 1982, after Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon pushed quickly up through the south of the country and then surrounded and laid siege to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in what he said was an effort to kill — or to expel — the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership that had regrouped there, and formed what was called a “state within a state”, following their flight from Jordan in 1970 during clashes with the Jordanian Army over raids to “liberate” Palestine by armed struggle.

Once thousands of PLO fighters were shipped out of Beirut “under a UN umbrella” into a 12-year long exile, mainly in remote desert location around the Arab world, Lebanese Christian militiamen carried out a horrific massacre of unprotected Palestinian refugees left behind, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut, while Ariel Sharon’s troops were very nearby.

None of those being interviewed on this special Palestinian TV program seem to have any words to say about those days, or about those responsible…

Nor do they complain about the lese-majeste with which they are handed $100 dollar bills by an employee of the Palestinian Authority’s official Palestinian Television, funded by an organization of elite businessmen (hand-picked by the leadership) who have little or no accountability either to the Palestinian Authority itself, or to the public, for what they decide to do with the money generated by some of the holdings that late Palestinian leader, and his then-economic adviser, were obliged to set up to comply with donor requirements for greater financial transparency and accountability…

It must be mentioned that a certain number of this program’s viewers are staunch defenders — they say they get so little information otherwise about the Palestinians in diaspora in Arab countries…and besides, they say, the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon need the money…

Today, the journalist mentioned — twice, as if it were a promotional commercial — that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has just recently decreed that any Palestinian refugee in Lebanon who has just completed secondary school may apply to the Presidency for funding for university studies, either in Lebanon, or abroad…

The journalist also instructed his cameraman to linger on the tangle of electrical wires running along the narrow alleyways of Beddawi and branching off into individual homes along the way — to illustrate the difficulty of life for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as if the same difficulties don’t exist in refugee camps in the West Bank, or even in neighborhoods of Ramallah, or in East Jerusalem…

Al-Arakib: some background via Haaretz

Haaretz has published a lengthy look into the background of the situation at one of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, Al-Arakib, that has been demolished four times in recent weeks by Israeli bulldozers protected by Israeli forces, but documented by Israeli human rights activists, as we have reported previously here.

Here are some extended excerpts from the Haaretz reportage”
“In 2006, claims were filed in court for 1,350 dunams (338 acres ) of land in the name of the late Suleiman al-Okbi and his heirs. These cases are being heard simultaneously by three judges. The biggest claim, involving about 800 dunams – three plots in the village of Arakib and two more in the Zuheilika area – is being heard before Judge Sarah Dovrat in the Be’er Sheva District Court. The claimants, headed by Nuri el-Okbi, are represented by attorney Michael Sfard. “I took this case,” Sfard explains, “because it is a classic case of the state using its overwhelming force, based on 150-year-old Ottoman laws which it interprets creatively, in order to justify dispossession and infringe the few rights of a weakened, trampled, discriminated community.”

The driving force behind the suit to reclaim the Bedouin lands is Nuri el-Okbi. He is a 68-year-old garage mechanic who was educated in Kibbutz Evron, studied auto mechanics and worked in two kibbutzim in the Negev, Shoval and Lahav, before opening a garage of his own in Lod. At the end of the 1970s, when he, like many of his Bedouin friends, realized that submissive cooperation with the state would not be productive and that there was no chance his claims to land would be honored, he established the Association for the Support and Protection of Bedouin Rights. He has since worked by various means, some of them quite creative, to stir attention and compel the state to address the protracted dispute over
Bedouin lands in the Negev.

“There are 13 million dunams of land in the Negev,” El-Okbi says. “Of that, the Bedouin claimed 800,000 dunams. As of now, the state has reached agreements with the Bedouin for 200,000 dunams, so that less than 600,000 dunams remain in dispute. But the state is creating a false impression and frightening the Israelis [i.e., Israeli Jews] into believing that the Bedouin are trying to seize control of the whole Negev. If the state will one day have to expropriate land for true public purposes, it can always do so, and justifiably. For example, a section of my land was taken for a road that connects Lehavim to Eshel Hanasi, and I did not ask the state for anything and did not interfere with the building of the road. But I will not agree to dispossession for its own sake and for nationalist reasons.”

The Bedouin brought as an expert witness Prof. Oren Yiftachel, a political geographer and town planner from Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. The state is putting forward two contradictory arguments: on the one hand that the land was mawat land [n.b. – uncultivated wasteland], and on the other that it has been expropriated. Logic says that if it was mawat it did not have to be expropriated, and if it was expropriated, perhaps it was not mawat. The main witness for the defense is Prof. Ruth Kark, an expert in historical geography and the Middle East from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The summations are scheduled for September 30. In the meantime, the Bedouin claimants have submitted a special request to call another witness on their behalf, Dr. Yitzhak (Clinton ) Bailey, an expert in Bedouin law and ways of life and the author of “Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev” (Yale University Press, 2009 ). In the meantime, Kark and Yiftachel, two learned scholars, have looked at the same maps, read the same 19th-century books by scholars and travelers to Palestine, but each offers a completely different interpretation of the material. Kark maintains that the Bedouin have no attachment to the land and that it is impossible to prove they ever did; Yiftachel says it is as clear as day that the Bedouin have owned the land for untold generations.

Oren Yiftachel did his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Perth, Australia, majoring in urban studies with reference to geography, political science and economics. He began his Ph.D. thesis – an analysis of the judaization of the Galilee – in Australia and completed it at the Technion in Haifa. In the early 1990s, Prof. Avishay Braverman [n.b. – he is now Israel’s Minister of Minority Affairs , appointed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu], who was then president of Ben-Gurion University, issued a tender for a young academic to join the university’s faculty and Yiftachel applied and won. Since then he has been involved in social issues in the Negev, such as public housing in what are known as ‘development towns’, built in the 1950s to house new immigrants; social services in Be’er Sheva and Mizrahi identity (referring to Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin ). ‘I am an involved researcher’, he says. ‘The human perspective always interests me. Gradually I got into the Bedouin issue. I believe that knowledge has to be used not only for academic publications, but also translated into something that can improve the society. The eros that moves me is the passion for change, as Herbert Marcuse said’. Yiftachel is [also] co-chair of B’Tselem, which monitors human rights in the occupied territories, and an adviser to the regional council of unrecognized (by the state) Bedouin villages. He is testifying pro bono in the El-Okbi trial.

Prof. Kark does not support a change in the situation. In other countries, too, she says, the Bedouin get no special treatment. ‘For the past five-six years I have been researching the subject of Bedouin land in the Middle East, examining how other countries address the question of their lands … According to this research there are two groups of countries. Those whose leaders are of Bedouin origin, such as Saudi Arabia, which treat the Bedouin slightly more tolerantly; and countries like Syria, which show no great tolerance for them. There is much talk today in the international community about indigenous peoples and their rights. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are mentioned in this regard. But in none of those countries do the natives have private land rights of the kind that some people want to see here. They have collective rights of fishing, hunting, use of reservations for all kinds of needs. But the Bedouin cannot be viewed as indigenous … because they have not been in the Negev since ancient times. The majority of the Bedouin have been in this country for less than 200 years. They do not originate in the Negev. The Bedouin are not defined as indigenous peoples in the other Middle Eastern countries, either, so why should it be different only in Israel? Why is it that only in Israel all the human rights fighters and activists claim that they are indigenous? There is something terribly anti-Israeli about this’ …

Continue reading “Al-Arakib: some background via Haaretz”

Palestinians tell U.S. that East Jerusalem must be included in continued Israeli settlement freeze + more

Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz overnight that the Palestinian negotiating team (meaning Sa’eb Erekat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) have “delivered to the Americans an opinion prepared by Israeli jurists. The Palestinians say this paper proves that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that the government has no authority to freeze construction on private land are unfounded”.

According to Eldar’s report, the Palestinians “expect that even after the September 26 deadline, when the 10-month moratorium ends, the United States will support their demand to continue the ban on all construction outside the Green Line, including in the settlement blocs” — and, including in East Jerusalem.

However, Israeli officials have said many times that the settlement freeze — which has been very loosely enforced — does not apply in East Jerusalem…

Continue reading “Palestinians tell U.S. that East Jerusalem must be included in continued Israeli settlement freeze + more”

Yesh Din demands investigation into IDF killing of two Palestinian teenagers — 5 months ago

Human rights group Yesh Din asked the Israeli High Court of Justice today to order the IDF Military Attorney-General to open an investigation into the killing of Mohammed Faisal Mahmoud Qawariq and Salah Mohammed Kamal Qawariq, two Palestinian 19-year old teens, who were cousins, shot to death by IDF forces five months ago while working in their families’ fields, during the plowing season, near the West Bank village of Awarta.

The two victims were initially accused, by reports based on statements from the Army of disguising themselves as farmers, and using a pitchfork and a glass bottle to try to attack IDF forces who had stopped them.

They were akilled by ten bullets fired by IDF soldiers (seven hitting one young man and three hitting the other), “in circumstances which raise serious suspicion of a grave criminal offence”, according to Yesh Din.

A medical post-mortem examination conducted at Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus reportedly found that the IDF bullets had been fired “at very close range”.

Yesh Din attorneys Michael Sfard, Emily Schaeffer and Ido Tamari wrote in the petition that: “The details of the incident were not clarified, and there’s a risk they will never be clarified, as long as the Military Attorney-General continues to refrain from deciding on the matter … Refraining from opening a criminal investigation five months after the incident is scandalous and will damage any attempt to conduct an effective and thorough investigation”. It also opens the possibility that charges of war crimes can be brought in other countries, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, against the IDF soldiers involved, according to the Yesh Din legal team.

Even the IDF had admitted that the circumstances remain unclear, the Yesh Din lawyers noted.

The petition, filed on behalf of the families of the deceased young men, also said that the military’s failure to open an investigation, to date, is a dangerous one “which demonstrates to every IDF soldier taking part in security activities in the West Bank that there’s no need to investigate incidents which result in Palestinian deaths”.

The petition argued that “in any case of death of civilians by soldiers’ gunfire, it is mandatory to conduct a professional, immediate, independent and effective investigation. This was not done in this case”.

As a result, the Yesh Din petition stated, the Army’s inaction “conveys a message of contempt for the lives of Palestinian civilians”, and “the Petitioners feel very aggrieved by the small amount of protection the military advocacy grants completely innocent civilians hurt by the illegal use of arms in the course of a clearly civilian situation”.

Israeli military court convicts organizer of Bil'in anti-Wall demonstrations

On Tuesday, the Israeli military court in Ofer Prison, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, decided to convict Abdallah Abu Rahma, coordinator since its founding in 2005 of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil’in.

He has been held in jail since last December. He will be sentenced in September.

The Stop the Wall campaign noted that the conviction came after more than 30 hearings in the Ofer Prison military court.

The EU issued a statement on Wednesday that closely followed a Stop the Wall press release.

Issued in the name of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU statement said that “The High Representative is concerned by the conviction of 39-year-old Abdallah Abu Rahma in an Israeli military court on charges of incitement and organising and attending demonstrationsThe EU considers Abdallah Abu Rahma to be a Human Rights Defender committed to non violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil’in. The EU considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal. The High Representative is deeply concerned that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner“.

The EU statement added, in a note to Editors, that “The EU attended all court hearings in the case of Abdallah Abu Rahma”…

The Stop the Wall campaign noted, in a press release, that “Nearly 17 diplomats, consuls, and international solidarity activists were present at the hearing” on Tuesday.

The Israeli military court did not sustain other charges brought against Abu Rahma, a high school teacher in the nearby West Bank town of Bir Zeit, of throwing stones and possession of weapons.

UPDATE: On Friday 27 August, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was “deeply concerned about the conviction earlier this week of Abdallah Abu Rahmah by an Israeli military court. When I met him with my fellow Elders last year, we were very impressed by his commitment to non-violence and the wise leadership he showed. He and his fellow activists have had some success in challenging the wall that divides the people of Bil’in from their land. Israel’s attempt to crack down on this effective resistance movement by criminalizing peaceful protest is unacceptable and unjust. I urge the Israeli authorities to release Abdallah Abu Rahmah immediately and unconditionally, and to overturn his conviction.” For more information about the Eldars, and their work, see here.

The overall coordinator of the Stop the Wall campaign, Jamal Juma, a resident of East Jerusalem, was also arrested in late 2009 — but was released after weeks of detention without any charges ever being filed against him.

The Stop the Wall campaign noted in their statement today that approximately 50 Palestinian human rights defenders from d Bil’in village, west of Ramallah, have been arrested in the past year “because of their involvement and participation in activities against the construction of the wall in the village”.