Hussam Khader freed from 15 months in Israeli Administrative Detention

Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader and activist from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, was freed today from 15 months’ Administrative Detention in Israel.

His lawyer, Jawad Bulous, who was appointed by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society headed by Qaddoura Fares, said that he had gone to Megiddo Prison in the morning to make sure that there would be no surprises. He said he left when he was sure — as sure as possible — that Hussam “will be sleeping in his own home tonight”.

Bulous explained that when Hussam had made his appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem in June, after one year in Administrative Detention, the military courts had already decided to give a three-month extension, which the State Prosecutor wanted to be extended to six months. According to Bulous, the Supreme Court panel of judges who heard Hussam’s appeal had denied the six-month extension — barring, as usual, any “new discoveries” by the security forces.

As there was nothing new, Hussam had to be freed, Bulous said. And, suddenly, finally, he was free.

Do Hamas members + supporters have human, civil rights in the West Bank?

The answer is obvious, but the question is not rhetorical.

There has been a great deal [well, ok, an unusual amount] of mobilization at official levels concerning the Israeli military’s detention of Aziz Dweik [see our earlier post here] at Jaba’a Checkpoint last Thursday.

UPDATE: On Tuesday 24 January, Aziz Dweik was sentenced at Ofer Military Court to six months’ Administrative Detention. That means neither substantial accusations nor evidence is made known to the accused or to his/her lawyer [nothing beyond “being a threat to security of the area”]. The Israeli Security services just ask to speak to the Israeli military judge in a private session, and that is that. Since there are no charges and no evidence, no defense is possible, in such circumstances….

UPDATE: Also on Thursday 24 January, Israeli troops entered Ramallah — Area A, and the de facto capital of the West-bank based Palestinian Authority — to arrest yet one more Palestinian MP affiliated with Hamas, AbdulJabber Fuqara. Israeli reports citing Palestinian sources say that his wife reports that Israeli troops also confiscated papers at Fuqara’s home Thursday morning [no doubt, quite early, in the dark, before dawn, when the rest of the area is sleeping, these operations are almost always carried out] …

Administrative Detention is one of the major violations of human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Nearly 300 Palestinians [some 26 or 27 of them, currently about 10 percent of the total, are Palestinian members of the non-functioning Legislative Council who were elected on a Hamas-affiliated political party list].

As the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR, based in Gaza, but no affiliate of Hamas] has reported, Dweik’s car was stopped at 20h30 at night, after work,  as he was on his way home from Ramallah to Hebron. That means that Dweik had driven on the road that passes around Qalandia Checkpoint, and going out through Jaba’a checkpoint on the lane that is normally not checked by soldiers. 

The lane in the direction Dweik was travelling heads out towards the roads [shared with thousands of settlers and the relatively few internationals who work in Ramallah and elsewhere in the northern West Bank] which lead to the Maale Adumim traffic circle, then through congested and garbage-strewn Abu Dis and Eizariyya [Bethany] before passing the infamous Wadi Nar [hellfire] road going south to Bethlehem and then to Hebron.

Jaba’a Checkpoint is on the feeder road that is next to Jaba’a village, facing Road 60 which brings settlers and Palestinians from the northern West Bank.  It is just across from the traffic circle outside the Jewish settlement of Adam.  Passing through this traffic circle is the only way for Palestinian ID holders in Palestinian cars to get from the north to the south of the West Bank.  [There is also heavy settler traffic on the roads between Adam traffic circle and the Hizmeh Checkpoint at the entry to Jerusalem via the settlement of Pisgat Zeev, which the Palestinian cars — which are not allowed to enter Jerusalem either through Qalandia Checkpoint or through Hizmeh Checkpoint, must circumvent to take a more circuitous route to Maale Adumim traffic circle before continuing south. … so the term “Apartheid Road” system is not completely accurate, and is usually determined by the Checkpoint regime rather than by any other type of enforcement.]

Dweik was reportedly blindfolded and handcuffed, and eventually taken to Ofer prison — which is not even a one-star hotel — where he is apparently still being interrogated. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported Sunday night, here, that:

    “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Sunday for the release of Abdel Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who was detained by the IDF last Thursday. ‘I’m not convinced that Dweik had committed any crime’, Abbas told a Russian TV station”.

So, the question is, why did Abbas have to say this to a Russian TV station [through its local correspondent in Jerusalem?], and not on Palestinian TV? Would that have been called incitement?

No one of the usual sources has raised a cry against the wave of Hamas detentions that has been going on through the past year.

If someone is a political opponent, or even if someone is labelled as being linked to a “terrorist” organization, does that mean they have no human or civil rights? Of course it does not. But, in the West Bank under occupation, it is only too easy to deprive people of the few rights that might be available to them…

The PA itself has detained Hamas members [both sides are supposed to have released “political” prisoners as part of the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but this has not happened after two deadlines have passed, and in general the PA has said it has no “political” prisoners, only those who have committed security offenses or common crimes…]

The PA has also fired Hamas-affiliated governmental employees, including dozens of school teachers — yet Hamas members dominate many of the local municipal councils, and there is a Hamas mayor a “moderate” one] in the large northern West Bank city of Nablus.

There has been some talk about Dweik’s arrest really being motivated by Israel’s aim to block his plan to convene an imminent meeting of the dormant Palestine Legislative Council [PLC]. But Israeli arrests of Hamas members of the PLC have been going on for several years … and it is not clear why Israel would be more concerned about this now, unless it is a way to foil Hamas-Fatah reconcilation efforts.

The reconvening of the PLC s also understood to be a matter of concern to Abbas advisers, who known that the minute the PLC is convened, it may do something like decide to repeal several years of executive decisions that Abbas has been able to issue in the lack of a viable PLC. So, it became a vicious circle: so many Hamas members were in jail it was impossible to convene the necessary quorum, and even if it were to become possible, no one really wanted to deal with the unforseeable consequences.

The Khaled Abu Toameh article in the JPost also reported that Abbas said, about Dweik’s detention:

    “ ‘Frankly, this is an arbitrary detention and it’s completely illegal’, Abbas said, noting that Dweik, a top Hamas political figure in the West Bank, had been arrested a number of times in the past. The PA, meanwhile, presented Israel with a letter demanding the release of Dweik and 23 Palestinian legislators, most of whom belong to Hamas. A Palestinian official told AFP that chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat delivered the letter to Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho during their fourth meeting in Amman over the weekend. The PA also demanded the release of some 130 Palestinians who were jailed before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. In addition, the PA is demanding the release of top Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in terror attacks against Israelis; and Ahmed Sa’dat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – the group behind the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001. Among the Hamas legislators who are held in Israeli prison are Mahmoud Ramahi; Ahmed Haj; Ayman Daraghmeh; Nayef Rajoub; Fadel Hamdan; Mohammed Tal; Omar Abdel Razek; Mohammed Abu Teir; Mohammed Natsheh; Mohammed Abu Gehisha; Hassan Yousef; Azzam Salhab; Hatem Kafisha; Azzam Salhab; Nizar Ramadan; and Samir Qady”.

This list, if exhaustive, neatly leaves out Hussam Khader, a Fatah activist from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus who was once part of the group known as “young Fatah” [which included Marwan Barghouthi as well as Qaddoura Fares, a long-time prisoner held by Israel in an earlier period who has since actively supported the Geneva Initiative of civil society working to advance a peace treaty and who now heads the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoner’s Society].

Khader has confronted and challenged the Fatah leadership for years, famously including Mahmoud Abbas during the Sixth Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem in August 2009 — and has been considered inconvenient despite [or perhaps because of] his popular appeal.

Khader was re-arrested in a 2am raid on his home on June 2, and has been held in Israel’s Megiddo Prison, north of the West Bank, since an Israeli military judge confirmed a 6-month sentence of Administrative Detention in June, which was renewed in December at the request of the Israeli Security Services [then cut in half, to 3 months, upon the appeal of his Palestinian-Prisoner-Society lawyer Jawad Bulous, who has offices in the Galilee and in East Jerusalem]. Both in June, and again in December, the Israeli military judge did express some scepticism about the lack of concrete charges — publicly, as is usual in cases where Administrative Detention is applied to Palestinians under military law — the charges are only listed as “being a threat to safety and security in the region”. But, both times, the Israeli military judge did give in to the demands of Israeli Security Services.

It is believed, however, that Hussam Khader was questioned about his contacts with Hamas — particularly during visits to Lebanon and to Syria in 2010, during which time he believed he acted with the blessing of Mahmoud Abbas, as part of efforts to bring about Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

So, why has Mahmoud Abbas not mentioned Hussam Khader’s detention?

Hussam Khader: extension of continued Administrative Detention halved under appeal to Israeli Military Court

An Israeli military judge in Ofer Military Prison/Court has halved the extension of Hussam Khader’s sentence of Administrative Detention — a victory of sorts.

So, instead of serving a second 6-month [renewable] sentence of Administrative Detention in an Israeli jail,  as determined two weeks ago in Ofer, the Israeli military judge reduced Hussam Khader’s present term to just 3 months [December, January + February].

One has to ask, however, why Hussam Khader is now serving any time at all…

According to news reports and to Hussam Khader’s family, this was done as a result of an appeal filed by his lawyer, Jawad Bulous.  Bulous, who has offices in East Jerusalem as well as in his home town in Israel’s Galilee,  has been retained by the Palestinian Prisoners Society or Club, headed by Qaddura Fares in Ramallah.

Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader and activist from the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, who was born in 1961, was taken from home and his terrified family in a 2am raid on 2 June this year.

This one-hour night raid on 2 June was unusual because it was conducted by massive numbers of armed Israeli forces operating in near-total SILENCE — which we reported on earlier, here,

It was Hussam Khader’s 25th arrest by Israeli military forces in the last 35 years.

Hussam was also deported by Israeli forces, once, dumped onto Lebanese soil, during the First Intifada, and returned five years later as the Oslo Accords went into effect.

He was imprisoned for six years during the Second Intifada —  when he was a member [elected in 1999 balloting] of the Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] set up under the Oslo Accords — on charges of  somehow funnelling Iranian funding to Fatah militants,  which he denied.  After interrogation during a near-legendary 45-day period of sleep deprivation in 2003,  and further months of  extended interrogations,  Hussam says he accepted a plea bargain to end the torture and possibly reduce the time he would be separated from his family.  He later said he was told by Israeli officials that the dossier that was used to convict him was compiled by Palestinian Authority or PA Security officials.

He was sentenced to serve six years in Israeli jail.  He was released a year early, in September 2008, for “good behavior”.

Because he was in jail during the 2006 PLC elections,  Hussam has not been an elected MP in recent years, but continues his political campaigning.

He is most known for opposing PA “corruption” — and was defeated when he ran for membership in the Fatah Central Committee in the movement’s Sixth General Conference [the first in 18 years] in Bethlehem in August 2009.   There was a clash in the Conference’s supposedly closed-to-the-press opening session, when Hussam rose from his seat in the audience to ask Mahmoud Abbas, who was presiding, about various matters.

Abbas interrupted Hussam and told him to “sit down and shut up”.

I asked Hussam in the Peace Center Bethlehem’s Manger Square [opposite Nativity Church] set up for media during the Fatah Sixth Conference, what he did.  “I sat down and shut up”, he told me.  Why did you do that, I asked?  “Out of respect”, he answered.

But, he then went out of the conference and up to Manger Square, where he gave serial interviews to every television camera and crew set up on the site, and then moved to the print media seated inside the Peace Center…

Hussam also told me, a few days later, that his greatest regret was the price his family had paid — and he said he had promised them, when he was released from Israeli jail the previous September, that he would make up to each of them for the five years without them during his imprisonment.

He lost the election in  the Sixth Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, but did not leave Fatah.  He worked for months, years, to repair some of his relations with the Fatah leadership and, despite his contacts with members of other Palestinian groups including Hamas, he strongly backed the Abbas-appointed PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

As Fatah-Hamas reconciliation contacts continued in the spring of this year, Hussam Khader made headlines in the Palestinian and international media, with statements expressing hope for national unity combined with scepticism, but always urging that Salam Fayyad be kept in office in any transitional technocratic government.

Then, just under a month after a reconcilation agreement was signed by Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Politbureau Chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo [on 4 May this year], Hussam was rearrested in the eerie and terrifying silent night raid on his home.

He was held in the IDF military base in Huwwara for over a week, then transferred to the Israeli military court in Salem.  Weeks later, with his two teenage daughters and his just-teenage son in Court, and while Hussam was waiting in a nearby room without seeing his children — and even without being brought in to face the Judge — he was sentenced to six months of Administrative Detention.

Administrative Detention is a phenomena of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory since June 1967.  In Administrative Detention cases, the evidence and even the precise charges against the Palestinian accused are kept secret — making any defense completely impossible.

In cases of Administrative Detention, the only information given to the Palestinian accused, and to his or her lawyer[s], are that they are believed to be “threats to peace and security in the area”…

Meantime, it is interesting to note that Hussam Khader was not allowed to travel, in the first year following his release from Israeli jail in September 2008.  He was not informed about any restrictions on his activities after his release [on “good behavior”], so he was shocked and outraged when he was stopped at Allenby Bridge when he tried to depart to address a conference in Germany to which he had been invited.

Somehow, and apparently without much further information being officially communicated to him, Hussam tried again to leave [in late 2010? ] to attend conferences in Lebanon and Syria.  There was no problem.  He was not stopped.  He went, and he came back, safely and without any problem, on two separate occasions.

It appeared that this travel may have been eased because he was going with the blessing of — and perhaps as an envoy of — Mahmoud Abbas…

The first trip was in the Summer of 2010, to a Conference in Damascus. The second trip was in November 2010, to a meeting in Lebanon on Palestinian refugees.

Hussam was thrilled, overjoyed, at the apparent restoration of his freedom — at least, to the extent possible under occupation.

Now, however, it appears that the reason for his terrifying re-arrest in June 2011 — and for the seven months he has now spent mostly in Israel’s Megiddo Prison north of the West Bank — are contacts he had with other attendees at and around these conferences, including with members of Hamas, many months earlier.

These contacts were not secret. Hussam talked about them publicly.

It seems that Hussam Khader may have been jailed, since June [a month after Mahmoud Abbas signed the Palestinian reconciliation agreement with Khaled Meshaal in Cairo], because of these contacts which were somehow approved by Mahmoud Abbas …

If these contacts were a security threat to Israel, there is no doubt that such a long time would have passed before any Israeli action.

This suggests that it is not Israel which feels Hussam is a “security threat”…

And, so far, no one in the Palestinian leadership — particularly, not Mahmoud Abbas — has said anything about Hussam Khader’s Administrative Detention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE [30 DECEMBER]: IN A TELEPHONE INTERVIEW, HUSAM KHADER JUST SAID THAT HE NEVER SPOKE TO KHALED ABU TOAMEH, AND NEVER SAID THE REMARKS ATTRIBUTED TO HIM IN THIS JERUSALEM POST ARTICLE…

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

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

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

Maan photo of Fayyad in Nablus to offer condolences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sari Nusseibeh is surprise candidate for Fatah Central Committee

In a surprise move (rumored a week ago by Fatah activists in Jerusalem), Sari Nusseibeh has thrown his hat into the ring of Palestinian high politics, and is running as a candidate for Fatah’s Central Committee.

Nusseibeh is regarded as a master politician, and the move as highly tactical.

He has also been denounced for what is generally called political “moderation” — though longer explanation would be required to describe exactly what that means in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and internal Palestinian politics. He retreated tactically for years into his work of building up Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University, now behind The Wall in Abu Dis; he formerly taught philosophy at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

But, for those who want to ensure Fatah’s appeal to the “international community”, Nusseibeh would be an important choice.

If this Fatah Conference is an “Abu Mazen show” — as many delegates and media observers claim — then Sari Nusseibeh’s candidacy can be seen as a result of effective back-room lobbying. It is unlikely that he would have nominated himself without prior assurances of big support from Abu Mazen.

However, Palestinian analysts at the Bethlehem conference say that they doubt he has a reach chance among the general delegates to the conference. “He was the first person to sell out the Palestinian right of return, and he is a member of Fatah”, said one analyst, “while Fatah’s position remains that the right to return is an inalienable right of the Palestinian people”.

Nusseibeh himself did not join the active campaigning, and was not hopping from table to table or making and receiving promises at the Jacir Palace International Hotel in Bethlehem — or even at the Bethlehem Hotel where slightly less prominent delegates were staying.

I did see him walk, alone, with one colleague, out of the Terra Sancta meeting hall on Saturday afternoon, going towards a car park to leave.

Nusseibeh was appointed the PLO representative in Jerusalem following the death of Faisal Husseini in 2001, but his attempts at activism were blocked by Israel’s reprisal policy of suppressing Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem that was developed in response to Palestinian attacks upon Israelis at the start of the Second Intifada. He was arrested several times, and he was beaten several times as well, including by student Fatah activists, then withdrew into academia.

He did foray back into politics briefly in 2003 when he and the former head of the Israeli secret service (Shin Bet) Ami Ayalon (who is definitely not an adept politician) launched an initiative — which Nusseibeh, at least, still supports — called “The People’s Voice”, whose aim is to mobilize grassroots support for a two state solution with a return to 1967 borders, Jerusalem as an open city, and a right of return of Palestinian refugees to a (demilitarized) Palestinian state, and Jews having a right of return only to Israel. The “Peoples Voice” is a sort of competition for the Geneva Initiative launched by Yasser Abed Rabbo, now Secretary-General of the PLO, and Yossi Beilin, an Israeli politician who headed the left-wing Meretz Party and who served as the Minister of Justice under Ehud Barak.

In a rare meeting with journalists a year ago, sponsored by Media Central a West Jerusalem organization that tries to help reporters better cover Israel, which we reported http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/69129 here, Nusseibeh announced that he had urged visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a meeting organized by embassy officials to introduce Brown prominent Jerusalem Palestinians, to “think very seriously about stopping aid to the Palestinians”. [Nusseibeh’s wife, Lucy, is British.] The suggestion, aimed to shock but nonetheless apparently quite serious, ran at counterpurposes to Brown’s visit to the region, which was aimed in part at promoting an “economic road map” to help improve conditions for the Palestinian people living under occupation as a kind of political incentive. The British Prime Minister seemed surprised and taken aback by his suggestion, Nusseibeh said. So, he said, he was bringing his proposal to the media: “My suggestion is to stop this (the European aid)”, Nusseibeh said. “The money being donated is just being wasted”, he said: “It is just sustaining the occupation”. Nusseibeh explained that “The Israelis are happy because they do not have to pay the cost of the occupation. The Europeans are happy because they feel they are doing their part by providing economic assistance … and the Palestinians are happy because we have jobs and we feel free.”

But, Nusseibeh said, “Israel cannot have its cake and eat it, too … Israel cannot continue occupying us and having European Union funds and American dollars”.

The Fateh General Conference decided on Saturday that the first new Central Committee in 20 years will have 18 elected members, plus four Presidential appointees that will have to be gain approval by a two-thirds majority of the Central Council and also of its larger Revolutionary Council.

Voting is now expected to start on Sunday night, and continue into the early morning hours of Monday.

UPDATE: voting is now expected to start at 3 pm on Sunday, and end around midnight. Counting the results is expected to take many hours, and conference planners say the results will not be known until Tuesday morning.

There are now 103 candidates (one withdrew overnight) for the 18 seats in the Central Committee, and some 650 candidates for the Revolutionary Council.

A dramatically more relaxed and lively — even charismatic — Mahmoud Abbas was appointed party President by acclamation on Saturday afternoon, and there were outbursts of flag waving and debka dancing around the hall, despite the 65 votes against the proposal (out of more than 2000 attendees). His new style mesmerized Palestinian journalists and security men watching the scene in the Bethlehem Peace Center, which is also serving as a sort of minimalist press center, on Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.

Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported today that “The total number of participants in the conference reached 2,325, including 25 Palestinians who were deported from Bethlehem during the siege of the Nativity Church in 2002“. This report can be read in full here .

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