Unmistakably, Qalandia Checkpoint

On Fridays in Ramadan, the month of fasting and spiritual activities, the Israeli military makes special arrangements for Palestinians living on the “other” side of The Wall, who seek and who long to go for prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the major holy sites for Muslims worldwide, which has special significance during the month of Ramadan.

In recent years, because of the pushing and shoving that the arrangements always entail, there have been special entrances created separating women from men before even getting into the checkpoint zone.

Every year the arrangements are slightly different. There are no longer Israeli soldiers on horseback riding into the crowds of Palestinians desperate to get through to Jerusalem. The last use of tear gas fired into the fasting worshippers was two years ago. But they arrangements haven’t come near the point of removing altogether the difficulties, stress, uncertainties and humiliation of having to go through the ordeal of struggling to deal with the crowd and conditions to pass through this military checkpoint into an unknown [the Jerusalem area, cut off by The Wall and Israeli military checkpoints for more than a decade] — all while fasting [including not drinking even water] in the high sun and heat of summer.

Here are some photos published here by the privately-owned Maan News Agency in Bethlehem.  The photos are in a group of shots taken  by Mohamad Torokman /Ammar Awad of Reuters:
Qalandia Checkpoint - special entrance for women on 2nd Friday in Ramadan - Maan images photos by Reuters

Anxiety on women's faces as they reach the point where they must pass through the first row of soldiers at Qalandia Checkpoint on the second Friday in Ramadan 2012 - Maan images photos by Reuters

This second Friday of Ramadan, the Israeli women [veteran observers of the checkpoint scene, and Jewish] from Machsom Watch were there, as were observers from the World Council of Churches’ Eccumenical Accompaniement Program in Palestine + Israel, EAPPI.

But, for the first time, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was absent from the scene — following the Israeli Government’s recent decision to question their activities, and their staff, as we have previously reported here.

The Israeli campaign is working.

    UPDATE: Meanwhile, Phil Weiss, founder of the Mondoweiss blog, wrote yesterday: “I flew into Ben Guiron from Newark and my flight was mostly Jewish… The shuttle I rode into Jerusalem had ten passengers, mostly American Jews, two binational Israeli American girls, a Christian tourist and an international aid type. This last passenger was dropped at Qalandiya checkpoint to go on to Ramallah. ‘Is this a hospital?’ the orthodox girl in the front row asked. A reminder that the Palestinian reality is sealed off from Israelis, and also that Qalandiya is a vast bureaucratic complex in benign disguise, a border crossing that keeps the subject population Over There. ‘A lot of the Arabs throw rocks, that is why they put this up’, an older Jew who fought in the 48 war explained to his wife as we passed along the wall … I have been through Qalandiya twice in the last day and cannot convey what a dreary oppressive experience this is. Long lines of people made to walk in a wide muddy circle past the neverending re-arranged concrete walls, one of which has Fuck You as an eloquent graffiti. The soldiers stand at huge concrete cubes that the bulldozers have placed just so, a couple-hips’-width apart, and stop us at three points on our way in. Women and men are separated, in a fashion that has ghoulish echoes of the worst moments of Jewish history … While in the Old City, in the Ramadan crowds that inch packed and dangerous toward the mosque, there are always men at the side spraying water on as you walk by. Tossing it from bottles, spraying it with sprayers, to cool you down. A lovely gesture of community, in which I am included…” Phil posted this here

.

The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Charm offensive? Israeli PM Netanyahu gives interview to journalists from three Turkish newspapers

As the regional situation continues to be extremely tense, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today met with journalists from three Turkish newspapers: Hurriyet, Zaman and HaberTurk. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met the three journalists.

It was a surprise.

On Twitter, Zaman journalist @MahirZeynalov that his newpaper’s correspondent reported that “the Turkish flag was displayed during the interview, in a hall where Israeli cabinet meets”.

Hours later, the Israeli media was almost unanimously reporting that Israel was on the verge of reestablishing relations with Turkey.

But, it was Turkey who lowered the level of its relations with Israel, because Israel has not apologized for the deaths of nine men aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was boarded by Israeli commandos at the end of May 2010.

Nine Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student, were killed during an Israeli commando boarding of the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010. The Mavi Marmara was en route to Gaza as part of a Freedom Flotilla that intended to “break the siege on Gaza”, almost 1.5 years after Israel declared a formal naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has continued to insist that Israel must apologize for the deaths, and must also offer compensation to the families of the men who were killed during the botched boarding.

It is not yet known what effort Netanyahu or Lieberman might have made, during their separate meetings with the three Turkish journalists, in the direction of meeting either or Turkey’s demands.

But, apparently no apology was offered.

UPDATE: Today’s Zaman has reported here that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that Turkey and Israel are looking for ways to normalize political relations, saying, ‘We want to restore relations with Turkey’. As the crisis in Syria aggravates and instability in the region looms, Israel has started to send warm messages, the first of which came from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week, to Turkey in an effort to mend significantly damaged diplomatic relations. Relations between the two countries have been strained since 2010, when Israeli troops killed nine civilians of Turkish origin in cold blood during a raid of the Mavi Marmara vessel in international waters as it headed to the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid supplies”.

Today’s Zaman also reported that “As another indication of importance Israel attaches to restoring political relations with Turkey, Netanyahu received Turkish journalists in the same room where Israel’s National Security Cabinet meets. And in the back, behind Netanyahu both Israeli and Turkish flags stood”. The newspaper politely avoided making any comparison with Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel by summoning Israeli media to the Foreign Ministry and then explaining, in Hebrew, while the Turkish diplomat was in the room, that the chair on which he had been offered a seat was lower than the chair Ayalon was using.

    UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported here that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Monday with a delegation of eight senior Turkish print journalists the Foreign Ministry brought to Israel in an attempt to “break the ice” with Turkey’s public. The delegation, representing such leading Turkish newspapers as Hurriyet, Zaman and Haber Turk, met with Netanyahu a day after meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman”. According to the JPost eport, the encounter was organized by Israel’s reduced embassy in Turkey; there were 8 Turkish journalists invited; and it was the first time in more than two years that Turkish journalists have met with Israel’s “senior leadership”. The JPost reported that an Israeli “diplomatic official said the delegation was invited because Israel was interested in reaching out to the Turkish public and letting it know that relations between the two countries were important to Jerusalem”.

Today’s Zaman noted, in its report, that “A high-level Israeli official’s comment on the present situation in the region was revealing as to why Israel finds it necessary to mend ties with Turkey: ‘Now that the circumstances and interests have changed. We need to get positioned accordingly’.”

There were months of Israeli-Turkish negotiations about an apology, which fell apart.

We reported a year ago, here that Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats” and Turkey’s representative to the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, which came up with the UN’s Palmer Report, said in an interview published on 19 July 2011 in Today’s Zaman that “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

Sanberk gave the interview after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York at the beginning of July 2011. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

In fact, as the negotiations over an apology continued, the publication of the UN Report was delayed until it was actually leaked, in an precipitous action, by the New York Times on 1 September.

Sanberk noted last July that in the negotiations over an apology Israel “repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

The situation appears to be the same today.

Sanberk also expressed disagreement with the then-draft conclusions of the UN Palmer Commission’s Report on the grounds of whether or not Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal and legtimate, or not — because “we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”. Sanberk also said that “even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

Now, Today’s Zaman has just reported that: “According to the high-level official, the two countries have been trying to find a magical formula to mend the bilateral ties, but as of yet the efforts remain fruitless. Noting that they are open to proposals from third parties regarding the magical formula, ‘The formula needs to not only appeal to both countries but it should also not harm the dignity of either country’, the official remarked. The Israeli official repeated their standard version of the Mavi Marmara incident, maintaining that the incident also led to trauma in Israel, but he is of the opinion that it is important for the two countries to get over the trauma at this point”.

However, on 1 September 2011 there was an under-reported apology of sorts offered, in what was presented as an unofficial way — but it didn’t do the job, As we reported at the time, here, the former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] told journalists at a hastily-organized briefing for journalists at the Misheknot Shaananim center in Jerusalem: “Yes, we are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry”.

Was that an attempt at satisfying Turkey’s requirement of an apology?

The timing and purpose of the press briefing that day would otherwise seem…vague. It was only afterwards that journalists there realized the New York Times was about to publish the leaked UN Palmer report. But Israeli officials knew in advance.

Halutz appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man [who also had a military rank].

But, in response to a question about whether it was an apology, Halutz seemed to back off a bit, qualifying his words: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent … The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”.

Halutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and said he had made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, he is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War. After retirement, he dabbled briefly in business before joining, in early 2011, the opposition Kadima party, which he has since left.

Halutz spoke in the briefing about his close ties with his counterparts in the Turkish military during his period as ID Chief of Staff.

But, as Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal notes, in Israel Halutz is remembered for other reasons: “When asked what he feels when he drops a multi-ton bomb on a Palestinian building in Gaza [after this powerful explosion killed more than a dozen members of a family in an effort to eliminate one man], his response was ‘a bump in my plane’. For the general public, he’s known for having found the time on the morning of the second Lebanon War to protect his savings in his bank account, based on his advance knowledge of what was about to happen. His historic role is having replaced Ya’alon as chief of staff at the request of Sharon, because Ya’alon had misgivings about the disengagement from Gaza, while Halutz was ready to carry it out”…

Schenker added that though Halutz was “one of the trio of leaders, together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz who are perceived in Israel to be responsible for ‘the failure’ of the Second Lebanon War, he was the first to pay the price with his position — particularly since he was the only one of the three considered to have security expertise”.

The way that the Halutz press conference was so hastily arranged last 1 September suggests something and somebody other than Halutz by himself was behind it. The timing — just hours before an early version of the UN Palmer report on the Mavi Marmara boarding was leaked to the New York Times — suggests it was a deliberate attempt either at damage control or at altering the course of reaction. Halutz was accompanied by a PR escort [who was also a serving IDF officer, though not in uniform in that PR function]. And, an official of Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs was also present, unusually — and this person appeared to be functioning in that event as a journalist, and asked a question that led to Halutz saying: “We’re sorry, we’re very sorry”.

Halutz himself, who chain-smoked nervously after the briefing, then raced all the way up several flights of steep stone steps, taking two at a time, with his PR escort bounding up a few steps behind Halutz.

The UN report, released a few hours later, made pointed criticism about the use of force, and resistance, during the Israeli naval interception — which, the report notes, took place 72 nautical miles off the coast, well outside of Israeli territorial waters [or Gaza’s maritime space]:

“Israel´s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable … Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance…[and]…The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent…”
“Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded…”
“The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel…”

In its report on the meeting with Netanyahu yesterday, Today’s Zaman noted that “Deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel, which earlier enjoyed rather good relations at all levels, started at the end of 2008 when Israel, which was on the verge of concluding a peace agreement with Syria, with Turkey acting as the mediator, suddenly bombarded the Gaza Strip in a devastating assault, eliminating all hopes for peace with Syria. Turkey probably felt deceived at the time and had the impression that its efforts to bring about peace were not given due respect by Israel. Then came the Davos summit in Switzerland in January 2009, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against Shimon Peres for bombarding Gaza and walked out of the forum. Then in May 2010 came the raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara that led to the death of nine Turkish civilians”.

[It should be noted that Israel was raising alarms about the Freedom Flotilla being a “terrorist” threat against Israel’s interests — and its blockade of Gaza — for months before the Flotilla set sail for Gaza, before the Israeli commandos descended from hovering helicopters onto the decks of the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish men were then killed… which Turkish officials have said cannot be forgotten.]

[Exhibit A] Israel Government Press Office [GPO] claimed "Rules" in December — now, what?

Exhibit A – an email from the Israeli Government Press Office [GPO] dated 13 December 2011, apparently sent on instructions from then-Director Oren Hellman [it was apparently one of his last days in office, before he left for a new job at the Israel Electric Company], about bloggers being journalists and getting “GPO Cards”.

Most journalists who read this emailed press release understood it to mean that bloggers will henceforth get GPO Cards.

However, today, Amir Mizroch [@Amirmizroch], editor of the English-language edition of Israel Hayom, reported on Twitter that he’s just received a letter from the Israel GPO saying that “Blogging for Newspaper not journalism”, and denying a GPO Cards to his newspaper’s bloggers.

This is July.

Last December, the GPO appeared to have a very different position, which they announced publicly:

**************************

From: ???? ??????
Date: 2011/12/13
Subject: BLOGGERS TO RECEIVE GPO CARDS
To: “gponews@netvision.net.il”

State of Israel
Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Government Press Office

BLOGGERS TO RECEIVE GPO CARDS

“The Advisory Committee on Evaluating the Criteria for Issuing Government Press Office (GPO) Cards this morning (Tuesday), 13.12.11, submitted its recommendations to Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, Public Diplomacy, Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Ronen Plot and GPO Director Oren Helman.

The Committee recommended unifying the various types of cards issued by the GPO under the single heading “GPO Card” which would serve all those engaged in media professions.

In light of the Committee’s recommendations, it was proposed to expand the content of the substantive definitions of media and the list of media professions and positions in order to adapt them to recent changes and developments in the field. The new definitions include media professions and means such as bloggers and niche portals.

The new definitions created by the Committee will make things easier for documentary film makers who, due to the nature of their work, do not operate under a permanent professional roof. Similarly, the Committee lifted various restrictions that prevented the issuing of GPO cards, such as scope of output, the requirement to distinguish between managing directors and editors, and the need that those applying for GPO cards be engaged in media work full-time.

Committee Chairwoman retired Judge Sara Frisch said that, “The positions and the comments that were brought before the Committee strengthened the need, in my view and that of my colleagues, to change the rules and broaden the definitions of media vis-à-vis the issuing of GPO cards according to the rules. The Committee’s recommendations were formulated such that the criteria for issuing GPO cards will be as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, while maintaining their effective benefit and preventing the excessive issuing of the cards, which would be liable to harm journalists’ work itself.”

Minister Yuli Edelstein said that, “At a time when claims are being raised about shutting people up, reducing freedom of the press and interference, the Committee’s recommendations are genuinely good news in expanding pluralism and reducing the room for consideration by the issuing authority regarding the issuing of press credentials. The Committee’s recommendations give expression to the undeniable changes vis-à-vis the development of the new media and questions of what is a newspaper and who is a journalist. We are in a new era which finds expression in the recommendations of the Committee.”

GPO Director Oren Helman said that, “I ascribe great importance to the Committee’s recommendations and the opening of the ranks so as to allow a younger generation of journalists to receive access to events and to the sources of government information, due to their being included in the eligibility for GPO cards. This is a genuine reform in the work of the GPO, which will lead to media pluralism and the strengthening of a very important democratic value – freedom of the press and media openness. The new structure of rules recommended by the Committee gives a genuine response to the technological challenges and developments being dealt with by the GPO.”

GPO Director Helman added that, “Defining in legislation the definition of who is a journalist would be bad for democracy and bad for journalism. We must avoid the possibility of influencing content via the definition of who is a journalist.”

The Committee’s recommendations were formulated with the consent of most Committee members – Shalom Kital, Yossi Ahimeir, Niv Calderon and Samir Darwish – except for a minority opinion by Committee member Dr. Amit Lavie-Dinur, which is included in the Committee report”.

Why is Israel taking on OCHA?

It’s strange that, as Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz on 15 July, Israel is now taking on UN OCHA — the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    Ravid’s story reported that “The Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces are considering imposing sanctions against a UN agency in the West Bank and Gaza following allegations that agency employees have engaged in illegal activity such as illegal construction. As senior officials in Jerusalem put it, Israel wants to ‘reassess’ the role in the West Bank of the agency, the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The two options under consideration are limiting the issuing of visas to OCHA employees and rescinding work and travel permits to local residents who work for OCHA”.

This report comes just days after reports that Major-General Nitzan Alon of the IDF Central Command signed a new order authorizing the Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Oz Immigration enforcement unit to go anywhere it wants in the West Bank to seize international “infiltrators” who may have overstayed a tourist visa, or working “illegally” there. Those detained will be brought into Israel, and taken to holding facilities pending their deportation. This order contradicting previous explicit Israeli court decisions that the Oz unit should not function in Area A of the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority [PA] is supposed to have some control.

That military order came just days after the publication of the Levy Report, commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, which argued that the West Bank was not occupied, because Israel has claims on [large] parts of the territory. The Levy Report urged annexation of the areas of Israeli interest.

Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor wrote a Letter to UN Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos on July 10 stating that “since the beginning of OCHA’s operations in the PA, 12 years ago, it’s presence was never officially established”. Prosor added that Israel so far “has received only 1 statement that addresses OCHA’s actions + staff — a letter from 2004. The situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has changed considerably since then, and we therefore believe there is a need to review OCHA’s role in light of the current situation”.

This is strange, because the UN OCHA headquarters is prominently situated in the UN’s MAC House in Jerusalem, a landmark building located right next to where the Mandelbaum Gate used be, which allowed the only passage between east and west Jerusalem from 1948 until 1967.

    UPDATE: Israeli human rights Attorney Michael Sfard wrote in Haaretz on July 25 that “OCHA coordinates activities undertaken by dozens of international humanitarian organizations and relief agencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These organizations feed the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, help create employment opportunities and, more than anything, rebuild the destruction left behind by Israel each time it launches one of its military operations. In recent years, OCHA’s work has focused on humanitarian matters and the work of international organizations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank’s Area ‘C’, where Israel retains civil administrative powers. In both places, Israel pursues planning policies aimed at choking off Palestinian life and reducing its presence as much as possible so these areas can be used for Israeli purposes. International aid organizations impede the fulfillment of this goal, since their basis of action is humanitarian need (such as providing tents, water and electricity), and they regularly supply what the Israel Defense Forces take away. Thus they make it possible for Palestinians to remain on their lands.

    “OCHA does not operate on the ground. It is a coordinating and reporting agency. Its work is considered exemplary, owing partly to its precise, comprehensive reports that are disseminated to the diplomatic community. Such success, accompanied by efforts undertaken by some of the aid organizations to effect deep change, change that would remove the crying need for humanitarian assistance or, put differently, that would alter the discriminatory, abusive policies of the Civil Administration is precisely what has upset Israeli officials such as Prosor…

    “Alongside Prosor’s letter to the UN, in recent weeks various employees of foreign aid organizations have been summoned to meetings with the Civil Administration’s coordination office. During these meetings, they have been required to relay details about their work. They have been told their activity is illegal and that they could be prosecuted. Many organizations have faced a regime of red tape after submitting requests for work visa for members of their staff. When they tried to clarify why visas are withheld, they received complaints and threats, as though the continuation of their work was in doubt. Underlying Israel’s threats to the community of international aid organizations in the territories is the demand that they refrain from the conferral of assistance that helps local populations remain where they are, on their lands. There is a real risk that humanitarian aid workers will be expelled by the government of Israel”.

On July 10, the same day Ambassador Prosor wrote his letter in New York, OCHA had taken journalists on a media tour of The Wall [my term, not OCHA’s]. The OCHA invitation was for a “Media Briefing and a Field Visit demonstrating the humanitarian impact of the Barrier”. The field visit was to “Palestinian communities affected by the Barrier in the Gush Etzion area — in fact, not far from the South Hebron Hills.

Then, there’s also the Israeli grievance over a Tweet by an OCHA staff member [@KholoudBadawi, an Israeli citizen] saying Israel was responsible for the death of another child in Gaza, and giving a more recent date for the 2006 death of a child in Gaza.

There was some suggestion that it is OCHA’s work in Area C of the West Bank [Israeli civil + security control, where most Israeli settlements are located] is what’s bothering Israel.

Ravid reported in Haaretz that a “senior Israeli official said OCHA had promoted several projects in Area C without Israeli approval including illegal construction. Senior officers from the office of Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, asked OCHA’s director in Israel to immediately halt the illegal activities, but nothing has changed”.

The Jerusalem Post reported here that “The Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the {Palestinian] Territories [or COGAT], Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, has called on Israeli officials to act as harshly as they can against OCHA’s illegal activity, during conversations he has held on the matter with the Foreign Ministry”.

COGAT spokesman Guy Inbar complained to Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency that OCHA is providing assistance to Palestinians after demolitions of structures that the Israeli Military’s Civil Administration in the West Bank has decided were built in an illegal way. “OCHA gives them tents and by that is doing illegal work, without seeking Israeli permission”, Inbar said. He cited recent demolitions in the South Hebron Hills. This is published here.

Still, if this is the grievance, it’s strange that Israel, with computer records of all entries + all military permits, now asking for “list of OCHA staff + local employees”.

The Letter from Israel’s Ambassador to UN Ron Prosor also asks for “full name, job description and location” of all OCHA staff + local employees.

Attorney Michel Sfard said, in his opinion article in Haaretz, that all this amounts to “a campaign of government intimidation directed against international humanitarian aid organizations”.

In the heat of the day, the garden of the American Colony Hotel in [East] Jerusalem

This photo was taken by the talented Ahmad Nimer, from Nablus and working in Ramallah, who had a permit to visit Jerusalem for the day, for the first time in 12 years.

The photo, posted here shows the garden of the American Colony Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, bordering Wadi Joz, in [East] Jerusalem:

The garden of the American Colony Hotel - photo by Ahmad Nimer

On the 8th Anniversary of the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion of The Wall – Israel is openly discussing annexation of the West Bank

Today is the 8th anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion of the Wall — declaring it illegal, and noting that the West Bank [including East Jerusalem] is under an Israeli military occupation.

The Wall is being extended in the Jerusalem area, particularly around Atarot [which Ehud Olmert reportedly offered to Mahmoud Abbas, along with Qalandia Airport, in September 2008].

Israel is also rushing to complete another wall on its border with Egypt, and is contemplating other walls on the northern border as well…and Israel’s current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyanu has apparently asked a committee, another committee, to study the possibility of a wall along the Jordan River…

Also today, on this 8th anniversary, Israeli media have reported that an Israeli committee headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court judge Edmond Levy, and appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to investigate the legality of building settlement outposts in the West Bank, determined that construction in the occupied territory is not illegal — because, it says,  the West Bank is not occupied.

It is indisputably true that, as the New York Times says the Levy Report argues, “the outposts now deemed unauthorized were established with the knowledge and encouragement of Israel’s most senior government echelons”. The Levy Committee therefore concluded that “this amounted to ‘implied agreement’.” [i.e. = implied agreement of the Israeli government and/or its senior officials]. The NYTimes piece is published here.

Continue reading “On the 8th Anniversary of the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion of The Wall – Israel is openly discussing annexation of the West Bank”

Should the UN protect Palestinians [It won't]

It was reported this morning here that the Palestinian Authority [PA] Foreign Ministry urges the UN to protect Palestinians — from “Israeli settlement building and aggression”.

He may have a point, especially in light of two excellent pieces of reporting today by Chaim Levinson in Haaretz, the most disturbing of which, published here reveals Israeli “plans to start compiling land registry records of assets controlled by settlers [in the West Bank]…[to] bypass regular tabu land-listing processes”, which, Levinson writes, “appears designed to prevent Palestinians from appealing the validity of the ownership listings”.

Among other things, this seems to suggest a slide towards extension of Israeli civil law in the West Bank — or at least the outline of a new Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank, which has been hinted by officials and others with increasing frequency in recent months. Some will say, though, that “creeping annexation” is nothing new.

Levinson’s other piece, as complex as the subject matter itself, is published here, and reports that “Residents of the condemned West Bank outpost of Migron have appealed the High Court to stay the demolition of the settlement’s illegal structures on Tuesday, claiming that they had recently purchased the land on which the homes were built. However, a preliminary inspection of the purported sale reveals that the Palestinian whom the settlers claim sold them the land passed away in 2011, one year before the alleged transaction”. This has happened before, but there appear to be several new twists in this case.

But, it does seem absurd for the PA to be asking the UN to protect Palestinians as its security forces beat protesters brutally on Saturday and Sunday — reportedly in violation of an instruction given by the PLO Executive Committee itself. On Satuday, plainclothes men [whose existence wass later denied, despite ample photographic evidence] attacked demonstrators who were then arrested by uniformed police in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah [and then beaten some more]. See our previous post.

And, at the same time, hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank have been arrested and jailed in recent months, either by the IDF or by the PA.

The Jerusalem Post’s well-connected defense correspondent Yaakov Katz wrote a piece, just posted here which reported that “An ongoing Palestinian Authority crackdown on crime and corruption in the West Bank, including the arrest of senior security officers, is being viewed in Israel as a milestone for the PA as it imposes its rule and authority throughout the territory”.

Katz’s piece in the JPost goes on to say that “A senior IDF officer from the Central Command said the operation was yielding impressive results and was viewed as a possible ‘turning point’ for the PA as it tries to impose its authority throughout the West Bank”. Either the same or another unidentified IDF officer even reportedly told Katz that “If effective, the operation could be used by the PA as a key argument in its bid for independence and statehood by demonstrating its ability to enforce law and order and clamp down on corruption within government and security ranks”.

Then, this JPost report adds, “The Presidential Guard, a force loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, is leading the operations … While the IDF is not actively involved in the operation, it is closely following developments and has granted the PA approval to deploy additional forces in Jenin and Nablus to carry out the arrests. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has also played an assisting role in locating several Palestinian fugitives who fled from the Jenin area and returning them to PA hands”.

Now, this very same PA Security spokeman Adnan Al-Damiri — who said that no plainclothes police [despite ample photographic evidence] were involved in the repression of Saturday’s protest, and that violent individuals attacked the police and caused chaos — who was described in the JPost as “security forces spokesman Gen. Adnan Damiri” told the Israeli English-language daily that the PA arrests “would continue in order to dismantle criminal gangs in the West Bank. He said that security forces had confiscated over 100 weapons”…

According to the latest reports, the “Youth” protesters in Ramallah intend to resume their protests for a third day, later today.

Another journalist beaten in Ramallah

Does this man, who was accosted on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a nearly-empty street in central Ramallah — near his office — look armed and dangerous?

No?  Then why was he stopped by plainclothes men in broad daylight in downtown Ramallah on the fringes of a protest on Saturday, beaten, and arrested by uniformed police — then beaten again while in custody?

He was covering the demonstration and, yes, he probably was somehow involved in preparations for a protest on Saturday, held nearby, against the policies of the Palestinian leadership — yes, the same Palestinian leadership which has said that peaceful protests are allowed under the Palestinian Authority [PA].

He is also a known and recognized journalist, familiar to those in downtown Ramallah, including the Palestinian security forces.

This compilation of photos, which was posted on Twitter yesterday [Sunday] by Maath Musleh [@MaathMusleh] here. The Tweet said: PHOTO: from yesterday’s [Saturday 30 June] beating and arrest of Journalist Mohammed Jaradat #Ramallah pic.twitter.com/qCsHSEA0

Compilation of photos of beating of Palestinian journalist Mohamed Jaradat on Saturday 30 June 2012

These photos were taken on Saturday.

“Youth” protests in Ramallah continued a second night, on Sunday night, with more beatings and injuries and arrests. The privately-owned Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported here that “Journalists were also attacked for the second day in a row, the correspondent reported … Reuters photographer Saed al-Hawari was attacked and photographer Ahmad Musleh was arrested. A camera belonging to journalist Ahmad Ouda was confiscated”.

There is an account by Electronic Intifada blogger Jalal Abukhater — who says he was “forced to delete photos he took of Palestinian Authority (PA) police violently attacking a protestor in Ramallah on Sunday” — posted here:

    Abukhater [a 17-year-old student who just graduated from high school and a Jerusalem resident, whose father is a Palestinian journalist working with an international media organization] recounts on Electronic Intifada that: “After the police started pushing and beating protestors with sticks and batons, I managed to slip behind their line to be met with another line of police only a few meters behind. There, I was alone with my camera, I saw a guy lying on the ground being beaten by the police behind their line, I tried to take a picture but my camera was then confiscated. I was forced to delete all the pictures on my camera by the police, then my camera’s SD card was destroyed to pieces. The guy who was being beaten by the police managed to stand up – he was visibly bleeding – he was then slapped and dragged to the nearby police vehicle”.

The Electonic Intifada article also provides a link to other photos of Saturday’s protest on the Facebook page, showing the action and the results, including some impressive welts and other injuries here.

UPDATE: The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, MADA, said the assault on reporter Mohamed Jaradat “who was simply doing his job is an abuse of human rights and is a serious backward step in freedom of opinion and expression”, according to a report published by Ma’an News Agency, published here today. MADA reported: “After visiting Jaradat in a Ramallah hospital, where he is still receiving treatment, MADA said the reporter noted that he was beaten at the demonstration within sight of police, by four people in civilian clothing who belong to a police unit. Jaradat said he was then taken to a police station after his camera was confiscated, where one of his attackers said: “‘He is a journalist. Take care of him'”. ‘After that they brutally attacked me, despite me showing my press identification. They took me to the upper floor and continued to beat me with a stick, causing bleeding in my nose’, Jaradat told MADA. ‘Then they arrested me, with six other people. While they beat me, I asked to see the Director of Police who is a relative of mine and he came after an hour of detention and beatings. He apologized to me and I was released’.”

Whereas a year ago these “Youth” protesters were calling to an end to the division between Fateh and Hamas [including an end to media incitement and a complete release of Palestinian political prisoners being held by each side], as well as worldwide elections to a new PLO Palestine National Council, they are now demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority and the departure of Mahmoud Abbas. One Tweet on Saturday noted that Mahmoud Abbas said he would resign the moment there were two protesters in the street against him. [Mahmoud Abbas had a track record of resigning when the going got tough, particularly under the rule of the late Yasser Arafat, see our post on the upper left hand side of the page. More recently, as he has consolidated his hold on all the reins of Palestinian power, Mahmoud Abbas has much less frequently threatened to resign — but he has, once or twice, still done so, whenever donors were not coming up with the money needed to maintain the fragile ecosystem of “rule” symbolized by PA Ministries in Ramallah + security forces now permitted to operate in major West Bank cities].

Nearly a full day after the violence shown in the photo collage above, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that the Palestinian Authority police had violated instructions not to interfere with the Saturday protest, which was called to protest the invitation to Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a in Ramallah, which was supposed to take place on Sunday, but which was cancelled on Saturday [see our previous post].

UPDATE: The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said in a statement issued on Sunday that “Palestinian journalist Muhammad Jaradat was beaten by non-uniformed individuals at the protest, who referred to themselves as members of the security forces … Jaradat was injured in his left eye and had bruising on his chest, back and other parts of his body … After the beating, he was taken to the Ramallah police station where he was kicked in front of police officers who did not intervene to protect him … the assault on Jaradat breaks the government’s stated commitment to freedom of expression. They called on police to urgently investigate and punish those involved in the attack”. This is reported here.

UPDATE: And, according to another report by Ma’an News Agency, “PA Minister of Interior Said Abu Ali said Monday he will form a committee to investigate clashes between police and protesters in Ramallah in the last two days … [and that] the Palestinian Authority will take all necessary legal and internal procedures in line with its commitment to freedom of expression and right to assembly. He called on all Palestinians to obey the law in order to avoid repetition of the events in Ramallah. Security forces spokesman Adnan Dmeiri had defended his forces on Sunday, saying fighting only broke out when protesters tried to reach the presidential headquarters, which police are required to stop as protesting there is forbidden. He said police were investigating who was behind the protest, saying the ‘agendas of those unknown movements are to create chaos and harm security and attack Palestinian police’. But the forceful reaction to the protests drew criticism from some Palestinian officials who said the police were under standing orders not to intervene”. So, the situation is again unclear and chaotic.

Continue reading “Another journalist beaten in Ramallah”