Israel deploys Iron Dome — a missile intercept system of missiles — in Beersheva

The Israeli military today deployed the “Iron Dome” missile defense shield in Beersheva (in Israel’s Negev Desert) today.

It will use missiles to shoot down incoming missiles…

UPDATE: Nine days later, on 4 April, the IDF announced it was deplo yinga second Iron Dome battery, to protect the Israeli coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Remember Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” proposal? Reagan apparently had an oversimplified yet exaggerated understanding of a space-based proposal involving satellites to shoot down large intercontinental missiles (or other threats) during the cold war. His proposal was, at the time, a game-changer. But, it lead to China’s fears about “Space War” — fears that the U.S. still refuses to address.

[Today, no doubt by purest coincidence, Israel and Russia signed a space cooperation agreement in Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem — just a few days after Netanyahu himself made a brief visit to Russia. A media statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office said that “Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkovitz. Russian Ambassador to Israel Pyotr Stegny, the directors of the respective space agencies, and space experts from both countries also attended the signing. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the combination of Russia’s developed industry and Israel’s developed, focused and sophisticated industry would provide major benefits to both countries, and added that today’s agreement reflects the impressive development in bilateral relations”. The agreement is to enhance “cooperation between the Israeli and Russian space agencies in the fields of space research, observation, navigation, medicine and biology in space, research in advanced materials and launchings”.]

UPDATE: On Thursday 31 March, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the deployment was “part of an operational experiment that will last for the next several weeks”. According to a report in Haaretz, here, “The defense minister warned that ‘this is not a 100 percent solution, and we will not be able to deploy it [Iron Dome] in all the necessary locations by tomorrow’. He continued, saying ‘it will take several years and significant expense to prepare ourselves, but it is our intent to do everything necessary to become operational”. According to Haaretz, the defense minister said he expected that “in the future a superior missile defense system will be put in place, including Magic Wand, the interception system for medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as the Arrow and Arrow II, which are interceptor missiles”.

Haaretz reported today here that “The IDF said the system should begin operating on Sunday afternoon, but has described the step as an ‘operational experiment’, saying the deployment of the Iron Dome and beginning its actual use will take some time … The Israeli-developed system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and is supposed to shoot them down within seconds of their launch. Security officials said the new barrage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and public pressure had led the military to deploy the system, which is still being fine-tuned. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss operational decisions”.

Haaretz noted that “The components of the battery – which include launchers, a radar, the control system and monitor – were each placed a few kilometers from one another on desert terrain, as soldiers from the Israel Air Force air defense unit began configuring the system”

The Haaretz article referred to it as a “200 million dollar system” — but it is probably more. The U.S. paid for a substantial part. UPDATE: the US paid $205 million dollars in addition to its annual $3 billion contribution to Israel’s defensive superiority. The Iron Dome system cost quite a bit more, and each of the intercept missiles reportedly costs the IDF some $50,000.

See CNN here — this report also suggests that Israel will eventually have a total of ten Iron Shield batteries. This article also notes that “The Obama administration is helping Israel enhance its security systems, in part, to address Israeli fears that the establishment of a Palestinian state would create a safe launching pad for rocket attacks”.

Continue reading Israel deploys Iron Dome — a missile intercept system of missiles — in Beersheva

Israeli Court orders Gaza Power Plant's Abu Sisi to stay in jail seven more days

Haarez’s Yossi Melman reported tonight that a Petah Tikvah court judge has ordered that Gaza Power Plant’s Deputy Director of Operations, Dirar Abu Sisi, to remain in jail another seven days (at least) — at the request of the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet – responsible for intelligence about internal security in Israel) and the Israeli Police.

Melman wrote that “The extension of Abu Sisi’s remand was made possible after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein granted the security service special permission to issue the request. Weinstein’s permission is necessary in any case of a request to extend the remand beyond 30 days”.

Melman added: “At the request of the Shin Bet security service and the State Prosecutor’s Office, a comprehensive gag order was issued at the time of Abu Sisi’s arrest, around a month ago. About 10 days ago the order was modified to permit the publication in Israel of details already reported in the foreign media”. Melman’s report in Haaretz can be read in full here.

The gag order was modified by the Petah Tikvah court in response to a petition from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Abu Sisi was in Ukraine since 18 January in connection with his application for citizenship, filed by his wife, a Ukranian citizen. A month later, he was grabbed while on a train to Kiev, and flown to Israel by men he said identified themselves as agents of Mossad, Israel’s external spy service, He told an Israeli lawyer representing the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) that he was denied access to a lawyer for his first 14 days in Israel, and then for another 11 days.

No charges have yet been filed against Abu Sisi.

UPDATE: Richard Silverstein, who broke the story about Abu Sisi’s kidnapping/extradition from Ukraine to Israel, wrote here that Abu Sisi’s attorney, Smardar Ben Natan, told him that “The state came today with a request to extend the detention in additional 8 days, this was supported by an approval of the senior state attorney, Shay Nitzan, and with the explanation that the prosecution went through the evidence material and asked for 8 additional actions in order to complete the investigation. We argued that if the state does not have enough evidence after 34 days of interrogation, where they should have had evidence to justify the outrageous arrest even before [it occurred], Derar should be released and returned to Ukraine. They were trying to justify the arrest by making him confess [to their] accusations. The court allowed the detention until next Thursday. Derar looked very tired and complained that he can’t stand it anymore and that they are just repeating the same questions over and over again, and trying to break him”.

Silverstein himself asks: “So let’s say Dirar is the worst you can conceive. If you want to kidnap him and render him to Israel wouldn’t you have a case against him before doing so? In what kind of legal system do you arrest someone before having such a case built, and then attempt to figure out what to charge him with based on what he tells you during interrogation? And let’s say he tells you something new you didn’t know during interrogation. Surely, you can file a basic charge and then amplify it with what you learn later. The fact that they have refused to file any charge at all is outrageous. The fact that they come and demand an extension is equally outrageous”.

In a later post, here, Silverstein adds: “It’s unusual in the Israeli legal system for a security suspect to be held longer than 30 days without filing charges. They’ve had Abusisi for 34 days. After that amount of time they still have eight areas in which the top government lawyer says he needs better evidence to prosecute. What’s wrong with this picture? The attorney general has also told Shabak that there is a wide gap between the claims levelled against the kidnapped Gaza engineer and the evidence he’s seen. This does not sound like a happy prosecutor”.

UPDATE: Ben Natan, the attorney for Abu Sisi, told CNN that “I hope that he will be released after these eight days. I expect that after these days, the prosecution might present an indictment. We plan to argue against the future indictment saying that the circumstances of this person’s arrest give him the defense of abusive process,” his lawyer added.

She also told CNN that Abu Sisi “is very exhausted after what he has been through. He sees the interrogation as meant to break his spirit and make him confess things that he did not commit. He was not part of Hamas leadership. He was holding a civil position in the power plant of the Gaza strip and this interrogation is trying to portray him as something that he is not”.

The CNN report, published here, added that “just why the Palestinian engineer was being held and what charges the Israeli government intends to bring against him remain unclear. So far, not even his lawyers have been granted access to the results of his interrogation, they say. ‘We know about the suspicions only generally. The material from the interrogation is still not being disclosed to us and there is a gag order over that, too’, Ben-Natan said after the Gazan engineer appeared in court on Thursday…His lawyer also argued that should it emerge that Israeli intelligence abducted Abu Sisi from the Ukraine, they will have many questions to answer to as their acts will have been in contradiction of international law and treaties between the Ukraine and Israel. ‘There is an extradition convention between the Ukraine and Israel. The European extradition convention applies and both states are party to it and the procedure which was going on in this case was contrary to that convention and to international law’, said Ben-Natan”.

Bomb explodes at central Jerusalem bus stop

Just when everybody’s nerves are stretched as taut as they could be, the terrible news arrived this afternoon about a blast at a bus stop in central West Jerusalem, near the central bus station, the International Convention Center, and then entrance to Jerusalem from the highway to Tel Aviv.

The cause turned out, after initial investigation, to have been a device packed with about 2-kilograms of explosives — and shrapnel, or ball bearings, apparently to cause maximum personal injuries — that was placed in a shopping trolly left beside a bus stop. It exploded when two buses were approaching, and a people waiting for the busses as well as those already on them were injured.

One 59-year-old (unidentified, so far) woman died of injuries (to the chest, apparently) while on the operating table, as doctors were working to save her life. A few of the other wounded are in serious condition. Many of the others are listed as moderate. The total is now somewhere between 39 and 51 injured.

Police said it had been a terror attack, and were said to be looking for one male suspect who was seen leaving the shopping trolley. Checkpoints were set up at various points in Jerusalem and around the country, but no arrests have been announced.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who had already convened a meeting of his security cabinet to deal with the cycle of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, added the Jerusalem bombing to the agenda. He said later that “”The government, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israeli public has an iron will to defend the country and its citizens … Israel will act firmly [decisively], responsibly and wisely [intelligently] to preserve the quiet and security that prevailed here over the past two years … We have established a clear policy regarding security issues – a resolute reaction to every attempt to hurt our citizens and systematic, resolute preventative steps against terror”, according to a report in Haaretz here.

Haaretz has posted a timeline of terror attacks in Jerusalem, here.

Meanwhile, Gaza's agony sharpens and deepens – UPDATED

What is the worth, the value, of assigning blame here? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t stop anything.

This weekend, Hamas went crazy, and Israel too.

There. Now, what?

It’s simply no longer possible to say who went crazy first, or who went crazy more. This discussion is sickening.

Israel attacked and killed people in Gaza on Friday. It announced on Sunday that one of the dead included a senior Hamas commander.

This is perhaps the explanation for why Hamas went crazy on Saturday morning — suddenly firing about 50 mortars into the Israeli perphery in about 15 minutes (is this possible?) — and taking responsibility for the act.

Then, it continued. There was more.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced that 7 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza into Israel that day — making a total of 60 projectiles fired from Gaza since the weekend, it said.

IDF attacks on Gaza — retaliation, prevention, whatever — killed some 10 Palestinians, including a number of what the IDF admitted were “uninvolved civilians”, mostly kids, and injured some 40 more. The IDF offered medical care to the wounded — a clear sign that something had gone badly wrong, and that Israel was recognizing some responsibility. And the IDF announced it was starting an investigation. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed regret, “but”…

Continue reading Meanwhile, Gaza's agony sharpens and deepens – UPDATED

Court today: Gaza Power Plant's Dirar Abu Sisi will be held two more days

The Petah Tikva Court that last week ordered a partial lifting of the gag order that prohibited publication in Israel of news about the imprisonment — in Israel — of Gaza Power Plant’s Deputy Director of Operations, Dirar Abu Sisi, ordered today that he be held for (at least) another two days.

The hearing was closed to the media, according to Israel’s YNet news website.

Abu Sisi was reportedly grabbed while travelling on a train in the Ukraine on 18-19 February and subsequently transferred in Mossad custody and in in rather short order to Israel.

YNet reported here that Abu Sisi’s two lawyers, Smadar Ben-Natan and Tal Linoi, Dirar Abu Sisi’s attorneys “claim he is in poor physical and mental condition, but is cooperating with investigators”, and they said “the engineer told them that he was forcibly removed from his train compartment and brought handcuffed and hooded to an apartment. He said at least six Israeli agents interrogated him before flying him to Israel”.

The YNet report added that “much of the remaining details surrounding the case remain under a gag order”.

Abu Sisi has not yet been charged with anything, though he has been held by force, at first partially incommunicado for some two weeks, under constant lengthy interrogations. He has been in Shikma Prison in Ashkelon for almost two weeks, and may have been in a Shin Bet facility near Petah Tikva for the first two weeks he has been in Israel.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cook has reported that “One of his Israeli lawyers, Smadar Ben Nathan, who met him for the first time at the court hearing on Sunday to lift the gag order, said she believed Israel had carried out the operation based on false information. She called the abduction a ‘miscalculation’, saying interrogators had dropped their original line of questioning. She said the gag order meant she could not discuss the case further”.

Cook added that “Ben Nathan said her client had lost a great deal of weight and his health was deteriorating after more than a month incommunicado. His family is concerned that he is being tortured. Although the Mossad is suspected of carrying out many assassinations on foreign soil — including a hit on a Hamas leader, Mahmoud al Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel last year — there are few examples of it seizing individuals in foreign countries to bring them to trial. Ben Nathan said she could identify only two similar cases: Israeli agents captured the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960, and smuggled Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear whisteblower, out of Italy in 1986. Victor Kattan, an international law expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, said Israel had broken several human rights laws in seizing him rather than invoking treaty agreements between the Ukraine and Israel and requesting his extradition”. This article can be read in full here, or here.

PCHR lawyer sees Gaza Power Plant's Dirar Abu Sisi in Ashkelon Prison

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported today that a PCHR-retained lawyer met Derar Abu Sisi, the kidnapped Gaza Power Plant’s Director of Operations, yesterday for the first time in an Israeli prison in Ashkelon.

The PCHR said that Abu Sisi was kidnapped by Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, on 18 or 19 February, while he was in the Ukraine — where his Ukrainian wife was applying for citizenship on his behalf. He was then brought to Israel.

This kidnapping, or rendition, is especially strange because AbuSisi apparently intended to leave Gaza anyway.

Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that three men (two in uniform) grabbed him on train in he was taking to Kiev in Ukraine. He was bundled into a car and driven, handcuffed and hooded, to Kiev, where he was taken to an apartment and questioned by six more men who introduced themselves as Mossad.

In short order, Abu Sisi told PCHR’s lawyer, he was “put on a flight” that he said lasted 4 to 5 hours, then transferred to another 1-hour flight — and when it landed, he was told he was in Israel.

The PCHR account of its conversation with Abu Sisi is published on its website, here.

According to PCHR, “Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that he was denied contact with a lawyer for fourteen days. This denial was extended for another eleven days. He said that he was placed under intensive interrogations and that he was denied his legal rights. It should be noted that the Israeli security authorities imposed a media blackout regarding the kidnapping of Abu Sisi and prevented lawyers from visiting him to check on his health and provide legal assistance during the second period … PCHR has concerns over the deterioration of Abu Sisi’s health and notes that he has cholelithiasis and he takes blood thinning medicines. He is experiencing serious psychological problems after going into long and continued investigation session”.

Eyad (Iyad) Alami, Director of PCHR’s Legal Aid Unit, reached Monday evening in Gaza by phone, said that an Israeli lawyer had gone to Askelon Prison on PCHR’s behalf (he noted that Abu Sisi might have seen other lawyers previously). Alami said he could not add anything at this time beyond what was contained in the PCHR statement — other than to say that Abu Sisi had not yet been charged with anything, and could now either be charged or released. In any case, Alami said, PCHR will be following the case.

The Israeli media reported yesterday that a court order had partly removed a gag order banning publication of information on this case. The remainder of the gag order remains for another 30 days…

UPDATE: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) was the Israeli human rights organization which went to court to get the gag order lifted. Ronit Sela, ACRI spokesperson, said that their petition was filed on 9 March, some 13 days before the Judge ordered the partial lifting of the gag order — but, she noted, the Judge’s order does not even mention Dirar Abu Sisi by name, but instead refers to him only as “the suspect”. Sela said that ACRI has not been in touch with Abu Sisi personally, and that the appeal to the court is a principled action ACRI takes whenever it learns of a gag order, to ensure that a person does not simply disappear. A former reporter herself, Sela says that journalists usually become aware of gag orders only by the absence of mention in the Israeli press about something or someone (this would necessarily also involve some kind of tip, or tip-off). “I’ve been at ACRI for three years, and in that time we’ve handled at least four cases”, Sela said…

Continue reading PCHR lawyer sees Gaza Power Plant's Dirar Abu Sisi in Ashkelon Prison

Quote of the Day – 15th in our series: from Netanyahu's interview with CNN

In a silly but revealing interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made several noteworthy quotes.

The choice, for our Quote of the Day series, however, will go to his remarks explicitly saying that “several Palestinian terrorists” are responsible — though no one has yet been charged, much less tried or convicted — for the bloody murders, a week ago, of five members of a Israeli settler family in their home in the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank, not far from Nablus.

It was the first time that Netanyahu — or any Israeli government official, for that matter — had made such a specific accusation, though in the media and among the general population, this was the immediate and enduring assumption.

Netanyahu’s explanation segues into an argument about the settlements, and about who wants peace more…

Here are the exact words, from the CNN transcript, posted :

“MORGAN: Prime Minister, there was a horrific murder of the Fogel family last week. The details of which are chilling to read. What was your reaction to that, and where are you with the investigation into the perpetrators?

NETANYAHU: This was horrific. It was savagery. I mean, several Palestinian terrorists came into the home of this Jewish family in the West Bank. They stabbed a three-month old baby girl in the heart, cut her throat. They stabbed her four-year old brother in the heart, cut him in the throat. They stabbed the father with another child and stabbed the mother and left them dying in their blood. And then I visited the family and I saw the 12-year-old girl, a sister who came home and saw this unbelievable massacre. So obviously the first response is sheer horror. And my second response was to send a message to the settlers to contain their rage and not respond because we’d have a cycle of reprisals so I asked them to – not to take the law in their own hands, not to have vigilante actions because this would – could generate a blood bath. I thought that was important to stop that. But we’re now looking for the killers. We’ll find them.

MORGAN: Are you making progress?

NETANYAHU: Some. Some. I think we’ll find them.

Continue reading Quote of the Day – 15th in our series: from Netanyahu's interview with CNN

UNSC adopts resolution authorizing protection of civilians in Libya

The UN Security Council acted overnight to authorize — some say, belatedly — international action to protection of civilians and areas of civilian population that are under threat of attack in Libya, by adopting UNSC Resolution 1973.

It began by calling for an immediate cease-fire.

The text explicitly mentions Benghazi, which is was under imminent threat (until the Libyan Foreign Minister retracted the threat after accepting the resolution’s call for a cease-fire; earlier, members of the Qaddhafi family said troops loyal to them would be in Benghazi by nightfall

France has reportedly said that military action  under this new UNSC resolution would begin within hours — see the report in The Guardian newspaper, here.

France seems to have taken the lead internationally.  It was also France which put its foot down in UN Security Council deliberations on 26 February, insisting that a provision must be included in UNSC Resolution 1970, adopted unanimously that day, to refer violence against protesters to the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

Since then, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has reportedly opened an investigation into events in Libya.

After the new resolution adopted last night, there were indications that NATO will reopen debate on its role in moves to protect civilian life and areas in Libya…

Within hours, Libyan authorities closed the country’s airspace, as Sky News reported here.

A short while later, the Libyan Foreign Minister announced a cease-fire and an end to military operations, saying that the country must obey the UNSC resolutions. He did express concern, however, that the new UNSC resolution envisaged military action against Libya. And he said that the no-fly provisions in the new UNSC resolution should not have included Libyan civilian flights.

The new resolution, in its fourth operative paragraph, ” Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council”…

Continue reading UNSC adopts resolution authorizing protection of civilians in Libya

March 18 in Ramallah's Manara Square – protesters still there

This picture — of young men cleaning up Ramallah’s central Manara Square after sunrise this Friday morning – was just Tweeted – thanks to @PalYouthVoice. which also Tweeted that some 50 people slept there overnight to maintain the vigil for political reform (starting with unity, continuing to representation) in very political Palestine:

Young Palestinians cleaning up Manara Square after sunrise on 18 March 2011

@PalYouthVoice also tweeted, late last night that, again, the Palestinian “Presidential Guard brought food the people screamed ‘we don’t want food we want to end the division’ #Mar15 #March15Ramallah”

Earlier Thursday, thôse protesters on hunger strike announced a three-day pause, or “freeze” — to see if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) really will go to Gaza to arrange “unity” between the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory (one of the positive points in the Oslo Accords is the insistence that the West Bank and Gaza are indivisible…), if not between the rival Fatah and Hamas political movements.

Nobody is taking bets on whether Abu Mazen will or will not actually go to Gaza. His aides said that he wanted this arranged in the next two to four days… But, some Palestinians noted, Abu Mazen actually only said, to the PLO Central Council on March 16, that he was “ready” to go to Gaza…

Though the hunger strike is on pause, the sit-in in Ramallah’s Manara Square will continue.

Here’s how those on hunger strike woke up on the morning of March 17th, before announcing the pause: (photo also Tweeted by PalYouthVoice)
Protesters still on hunger strike wake up in Ramallah's Manara Square on 17 March 2011 - PalYouthVoice

March 15 protests calling for Palestinian unity extend into March 16 at Ramallah's central Manara Square

The anticipated March 15 protests, called by a number of Palestinian youth groups in the West Bank and Gaza, went on for most of the day in Ramallah, and have been extended into March 16.

Some of the organizers were disappointed by the turn-out in Ramallah and various other cities in the West Bank — one said he had 40,000 confirmations on his Facebook page, while 50 of those people turned up.

Others said, ok, there were about 3,000 or so in Ramallah’s Manara Square, and this is respectable (though 7,000 to 10,000 people had been expected).

Photo courtesy of Act4Palestine – Manara Square at the height of the March 15 demonstration.

<photo 3:#Mar15 demonstration AlManarah Sq. #Ramallah #Palestine on Twitpic

This photo is posted here and a full set has been posted on Flikr and can be viewed here:

At some point, Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, a leader of the Bil’in protests against The Wall, showed up in Manara Square, just hours after being released from 16 months in jail at Ofer military prison…

One of the protest organizers said that many people said they objected to protesting for any purpose other than ending the Israeli occupation.

That means, of course, that there are a number of people in the West Bank, and particularly in Ramallah, who don’t mind the lack of unity.

The analyses are many and varied.  And — not only because it is so hard to get around in this place — it is a lot easier to just follow events online.

Ten young men who started a hunger strike in Manara Square two days before the March 15 protests continued their fast on Wednesday (they want political prisoners released in both the West Bank and in Gaza).  About 100 other demonstrators stayed with them overnight, though they were not fasting. Some of them were indignant when Palestinian security forces [actually, it was the Presidential Guard] showed up with falafel sandwiches and coke, saying this was an insult intended to provoke the group of fasters (though those fasting were fewer than ten percent of the total demonstrators). The Palestinian Security Forces were later seen pragmatically eating the rejected falafel sandwiches.

And, four members of the Fatah Central Committee [Azzam al-Ahmad, Abbas Zaki, Jamal Muheisen, and also Tayeb Abdel Rahman] also showed up at night to discuss the situation with the protesters — ultimately agreeing to support the demand for a tent to shelter them during the night. Negotiations were still continuing just before midnight about exactly where this tent could be.

[Other officials reportedly also visited Manara Square on Tuesday night… Nabil Shaath and maybe Jibril Rajoub (?)… ]

The ten hunger strikers had actually spent the two previous nights out in the open air — and it is still cold at this time of year. Palestinian Security forces also reportedly told the hunger strikers that they should leave Manara Square a few hours after midnight, because that was the time that the Israeli Army could come on patrol, and the Palestinian Security told the demonstrators that they, the Palestinians, could not protect them, the Palestinian protesters, from the Israeli patrols).

Earlier in the day, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Commitee met, and issued a statement saying that they “appreciated the efforts of the people in the street who wanted to end to division” — which protesters said they felt was a “weak statement” and “not serious”. (The statement also condemned the murder of five members of an Israeli settler family in Itamar near Nablus.)

Nevertheless, protestors were injured in Ramallah — some reportedly needing medical attention — by Palestinian Security forces in the early evening hours (apparently before the arrival of the four Fatah Central Committee members, who were sent to calm things down).

There were many more injuries and more force used at a much larger March 15 demonstration in Gaza.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA) issued a statement on March 16 saying that it is “gravely concerned by Hamas’ crackdown on the media during demonstrations in Gaza City on Tuesday. On a day ostensibly devoted to Palestinian unity, police brutally attacked photographers and cameramen, beating them, breaking equipment and confiscating photos and video footage. This is the latest in a string of chilling attacks on reporters in Gaza. We again implore the authorities to respect the basic right of freedom of the press and to let all journalists do their jobs freely and safely”. The FPA statement is posted here.

On March 15, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza issued a public appeal for an emergency meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

On March 16, Abbas told the PLO Central Committee that he was ready to travel to Gaza immediately to end the division — between Gaza and the West Bank. (He did not say between Fatah and Hamas… This certainly suggests that there has been no change in his position that what must happen is a restoration of the status quo ante, with the Ramallah-based leadership in overall charge of the Gaza Strip.)

Reports suggested that Abbas — who has not been in Gaza since the June 2007 rout, by Hamas, of Fatah/Palestinian security forces — could travel in the coming two to four days.

After the June 2007 events, Abbas convened a government meeting and declared Hamas an outlaw group.  He said that Hamas had carried out a “military coup”.  And, he then dissolved a three-month old, Saudi-brokered, “National Unity” government and formed a new “Emergency” government in the West Bank, naming Finance Minister Salam Fayyad as the new Prime Minister.  The Ramallah government revealed a group of secret documents and recordings, some of which exposed what was said to be a plot to assassinate Abbas by a huge bomb planted under the street near his house in Gaza City.

Hamas, however, continued to regard Abbas as President, though it regarded the Emergency government as illegitmate, until the five-year term for which Abbas had been elected expired in January 2009 (just after the end of the IDF’s massive Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, and a few days after Barack Obama was sworn into office in Washington).


What happened in Manara Square on 15 March was, in a way, a battle of political posters and signs, and slogans.

In th late morning, a group of men described as Fatah supporters ran into Manara Square and ripped up the signs, calling for unity, that some of the demonstrators had hung or were carrying.

In the days prior to the demonstration, one protester said, “huge billboards signed by fake and unknown youth groups” went up around Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank. [It has often been noted, on previous occasions, that President Mahmoud Abbas’ younger surviving son, Tarek Abbas, is a Director of the Sky Advertising Agency which has the capability not only to print but also to post such huge billboard signs.]

Security forces reportedly hung posters around Manara showing the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (and the late Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin). Supporters of the March 15 demonstration took down at least one of these posters and hung their own — and were then warned by Palestinian security that they had “crossed all red lines”. (They were also told that they were being warned as a kind of a friendly favor, so they could correct their mistakes…)

One of the later posters hung by the demonstrators called for elections to the approximately 600-member Palestine National Council (PNC), the main congress of the overall PLO representing all Palestinians around the world. This was apparently particularly objectionable to the Palestinian Security forces.

[There have never been real elections to the PNC, due to “conditions”. Would the Jordanians allow the Palestinians in Jordan to vote in such elections? Would the Syrians? Would the Lebanese? What about the Egyptians, Saudis, and the United Arab Emirates? So, the political factions each have an allocated number of seats which they fill through their own internal selection process which sometimes might include elections. Then the unions — students, writers, engineers, women — would choose their own representatives the same way. Christians also had an allocated number of seats. And, finally, an allocation of seats for the Palestinians who were Israeli citizens or even residents (of East Jerusalem) would always be symbolically left empty…]

Though PLO official Nabil Shaath had said before the March 15 Demonstration that the Palestinian Security Services would not attack the demonstrators, but would only protect them, those involved in organizing the demonstration say they will not be surprised if there are more forceful confrontations today.

Part of the tactic is to maintain a central focus of the protests in Manara Square (as the Egyptian protests focussed on Cairo’s Tahrir Square).

Some — but only some — of the strategizers think that if there is suppression by Palestinian Security forces, it will not necessarily be a bad thing, because what galvanized and gave real momentum to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the police repression, and the hiring of government employees and of unemployed men to act as thugs (baltagiya in the Egyptian dialect, baltajiya in the Palestinian dialect).

The number of deaths in the Egyptian protests has still not been finalized (Egyptian government officials have reportedly indicated it could be as high as 1,500.  It would be difficult to imagine the consequences if such a scenario played out in Ramallah, and in any case the leadership is clearly trying hard to maintain a strategy of co-optation rather than confrontation.

However, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go in the education of those charged with carrying out this strategy on the ground level (who the protesters are now consistently calling “thugs”)…

In the meantime, the Israeli security services and army are conducting intense investigations into the murder of five members of an Israeli family living in the settlement of Itamar in the northern West Bank, and some of the main Israeli military checkpoints into and out of Ramallah have been shut down completely at various unpredictable points in recent days.