Apologise for flotilla deaths or I go to Gaza, Turkish PM tells Israel

ISTANBUL // In announcing his intention to visit the Gaza Strip, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has raised the stakes in an ongoing crisis with Israel, observers say.

Quoting unnamed foreign ministry sources in Ankara, the Turkish daily Radikal reported yesterday that Turkish diplomats had told their Israeli counterparts they expected an Israeli apology for the death of nine Turkish activists during a raid on a flotilla of ships carrying aid for Gaza last year by July 27.

That day, a panel of the United Nations is expected to publish its report on the Israeli raid. In case Israel does not issue an apology before that date, Turkish-Israeli relations could sink even deeper into crisis, Radikal said. “If Israel apologises, [Mr Erdogan’s] Gaza trip will not take place,” the paper reported. There was no official comment on the newspaper story.

Mr Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that he intended to visit the Gaza Strip after a visit to Egypt, which is expected to take place next month. He said the Turkish foreign ministry was looking into arranging the Gaza trip.

Celalettin Yavuz, the deputy director of the Turkish Centre for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, a think tank in Ankara, said Mr Erdogan’s announcement stood for a new, tougher style of foreign policy. By entering Gaza from Egypt, Mr Erdogan would in effect break the Israeli blockade of the area, Mr Yavuz said by telephone yesterday.

“Either Israel apologises by July 27 and Erdogan will not go to Gaza via Israel, or Israel does not apologise, and then tensions will rise further,” Mr Yavuz said. “It is too early to tell what will happen.”

He said Mr Erdogan’s government had concluded that Turkey’s foreign-policy approach of recent years, which sought to address international problems like the Cyprus conflict with “goodwill”, had failed to produce tangible results. That is why Mr Erdogan had started to follow a tougher line.

Earlier this week, the Turkish prime minister ruled out further Turkish concessions to overcome the division of Cyprus, even though the conflict on the Mediterranean island has slowed down Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Mr Erdogan also said Turkey would freeze relations with the EU during the second half of next year, when the Greek republic of Cyprus will hold the bloc’s rotating presidency. Last week, Mr Erdogan refused to meet Stefan Fule, the EU’s enlargement commissioner.

In the case of Israel, Mr Erdogan was aware that a confrontational style benefited him both domestically and among many governments in the Middle East, Mr Yavuz said. “Every now and then, he plays this card.” But too much public pressure on Israel carried the risk of making an Israeli apology less likely, Mr Yavuz added.


Mr Erdogan’s announcement of his planned visit to Gaza came at a time when Turkish diplomats were expressing optimism about a solution of the row.

“I would be surprised if there were no apologies since both sides have the political will to resolve this crisis,” ambassador Ozdem Sanberk, a Turkish member of the UN panel probing the Israeli raid, said earlier this week, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency. “We are heading toward a solution probably toward the end of the month.”

Israeli officials, including the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have said publicly that Israel will not apologise. But Israeli officials also acknowledge that upgrading relations with Ankara was a high diplomatic priority and that Israel would benefit from a return to the close ties the countries had before a series of crises that started with Israel’s military operation in Gaza in late 2008.

Turkey showed its willingness to improve ties with Israel by putting pressure on a controversial aid organisation in Istanbul not to take part in this year’s second Gaza flotilla. As a result, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or IHH, pulled out of the project last month.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces intercepted a French ship heading for Gaza. Fifteen passengers, along with an Israeli journalist, on board the Dignity Al Karama were arrested and were to be deported yesterday.

Sabine Hadad, a spokeswoman for Israel’s immigration service, confirmed that the 15 passengers, including 11 French citizens and others from Sweden, Canada and Greece, would be sent home.

“The 15 passengers were interviewed on Tuesday evening by our services and have voluntarily agreed to sign a document saying that they are ready to leave in 72 hours,” Ms Hadad told Agence France-Presse.

(www.thenational.ae / 21.07.2011)

It sure looks and smells like apartheid

The Israeli parliament’s vote last week making it a crime to support any boycott of Israel, including products from Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands, has rightly generated considerable debate about what this means for Israel, Zionism and Israelis.

The complex and larger-than-life tale of the modern state of Israel has always been seen by its two very different faces around the world. For Jews and many others, Israel has been about a vibrant nationalism miraculously reborn from the horrors of the European Holocaust and centuries of discrimination and subjugation of Jews by white Christian Europeans and Russians. For most Palestinians and Arabs, Israel has been about a predatory and malicious combination of colonialism and racism, the creation of an exclusionary ethnic state on land that was taken from others, with Jews having a higher quality of personal and national rights that the indigenous Arabs.

These two competing narratives have played out for the past century. The miracle of vibrant Jewish nationalism and impressive statehood, on the one hand, and the criminality of Zionist colonialism and racism, on the other, are impossible to reconcile. Yet reconcile them we must – or at least Zionists and their supporters must – if we are ever to approach any possibility of a negotiated peace that allows Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs to live a normal and peaceful life in the Middle East. The anti-boycott law that has been approved in Israel will provide new ammunition for those who see Israel and Zionism as intemperate racists, or even, as some Israeli critics have said, fascists.

The basic issue is not whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, to criticize Israeli policies and to support a boycott of Israel. It is not about whether the Arabs should formally recognize Israel as “a Jewish state,” or whether Israel is a vibrant democracy that can teach some lessons to the surrounding Arabs. The issue is simply whether Israel and Zionism are above the law of humankind that attempts to maintain peace and security among peoples by enforcing certain principles of justice and order.

The new Israeli law has generated widespread anger and contempt because it essentially says that Israel and Zionism are above the law, and cannot be held accountable, criticized or challenged through boycotts and sanctions in the same manner that the world sanctions other states that engage in immoral or criminal activity. In other words Israel and Zionism can do anything they wish – including criminal colonialism – without accountability or review, regardless of existing legal or ethical constraints that apply to all other people and states.

The various boycotts of Israel have not hurt it very much in material or political terms. They have been symbolic acts that Israel has seemed able to withstand quite easily. So why have Israelis reacted so fiercely, and with such official parliamentary zealotry, through this anti-boycott law? I suspect it is because the sustained boycott effort threatens to place Israel dangerously close to the singularly distasteful place in modern history once occupied by apartheid-era South Africa. When American mainstream churches, British academics, European labor movements, Norwegian investment funds and other respectable institutions around the world formally boycott Israel because of its apartheid-like policies in the occupied Arab territories, and some Israeli officials think twice about traveling abroad for fear of being indicted, a boycott suddenly takes on a much more menacing tone.

Israel is responding with hysterical overkill as it finds itself increasingly assaulted politically by boycott pressures because of the deeper moral challenge that boycotts represent: the de-legitimization of the Israeli state that modern Zionist has created. The real threat to Israel is not what others are doing to it, but what Israel is doing to itself – through its criminal policies of territorial colonization, its persistent assault on Palestinians everywhere, its refusal to negotiate a reasonable peace agreement that acknowledges the Palestinians’ historical rights in the land, and, above all, by claiming for itself greater legal, national and moral rights than it is willing to concede to the Palestinians.

So when the supreme Zionist law-making institution representing the Jewish people – in the wake of the divine mandate passed on to humankind via the law-giver Moses – decrees that Israeli actions cannot be challenged on legal, political or ethical grounds, or opposed through boycotts or sanctions, many observers and victims of Zionism naturally react by thinking that this particular duck sure looks like apartheid, it smells like apartheid, and it feels like apartheid.

If the Israeli parliament takes such actions that rekindle the Zionism-is-racism debate, which is precisely what is happening, then one has to add sheer stupidity to Israel’s catalogue of shortcomings. Moses must be uncomfortable in his grave in view of the great divine message he carried to the Jewish people and all of humankind in Deuteronomy 16:20, namely to “pursue justice and only justice.”

(www.dailystar.com.lb / 21.07.2011)

US steps up pressure against Syria

26 April 2011

The Obama administration announced Monday that it is pursuing possible sanctions against the Syrian government. The move corresponds with steps by European powers to pass a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the crackdown on opposition protests in the country.

These twin actions mark a shift toward stepped-up pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, as Western powers seek to exploit unrest and mass protests in Syria to advance their own interests in the region. The Financial Times commented that the US move “heralds a likely shift by Western governments toward increasing pressure on Damascus.”

Government repression against demonstrations in Syria continued on Monday. Syrian troops were sent to the southern city of Dara’a, a center of the anti-Assad opposition. Dozens were reportedly killed, adding to the death toll from the past few days of over 100, and more than 300 since protests began in March.

While there has been considerable unease within both US and Israeli ruling circles over the regional instability that would likely accompany “regime change” in Syria, the protests are also seen as an opportunity to pressure, and possibly unseat, a key ally of Iran in the region.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the US was considering “targeted sanctions” as part of “a range of possible options” against Syria. The government is reportedly drawing up an executive order that would include freezing assets of senior officials and banning their travel to the US.

On Sunday, independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, no doubt expressing sentiments among a broader layer of the US political establishment, called for “getting tough” on the Assad government, including imposing sanctions and a UN arms embargo and organizing support for opponents of the Syrian regime.

The US is “not doing anywhere enough to support the freedom fighters in Syria and to oppose Assad,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” interview show.

Lieberman pointed to the real motivations of any US action, declaring that Syria “has tremendous strategic significance for the region.” He noted that the Assad regime is “the only Arab ally that Iran has,” adding that it “helps Iran in so much evil that it does, being the major support of Hamas [in Palestine] and Hezbollah [in Lebanon].”

Bashar al-Assad and his family, Lieberman concluded, are “enemies of the United States.” In the same interview Lieberman called for targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family for assassination. “Everything that Gaddafi was doing in Libya” Assad is doing in Syria, the senator said.

The Guardian newspaper reported that US sanctions would be aimed at putting pressure on the UK and the other European powers to impose their own sanctions. Sanctions imposed by Washington are “mainly symbolic, as the US has long had stringent measures in place against Syria and has little trade with the country,” the newspaper noted. “Sanctions by European countries, with whom Syria has extensive trade, would have more impact and several members of the Syrian government have assets in Europe.”

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal are circulating a draft statement within the UN Security Council condemning the state violence. According to a UN diplomat cited by the Guardian, the resolution will be scheduled for a vote within the next day or two.

The Western powers now increasing pressure on Syria are pursuing a bloody and criminal operation in Libya. They have been virtually silent on the comparable suppression of opposition in the Gulf monarchy of Bahrain, a key US ally and oil producer with close ties to Saudi Arabia. (See “Human rights groups condemn repression in Bahrain”)

Syria’s strategic significance for US imperialism lies not so much in its natural resources—one of the major factors behind the US-European war in Libya—but its location. It borders several key countries in the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. Syria has repeatedly clashed with Israel and in 2007 was targeted by an Israeli air raid against an alleged nuclear facility.

The US has long sought to manipulate political developments in Syria. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the US State Department has been secretly funding Syrian opposition parties and groups. The aim is to weaken the Assad government, pressuring it to end ties with Iran and eventually replacing it with a government more amenable to US and Israeli interests.

The machinations of the US and the European powers underscore the danger that, in the absence of revolutionary leadership and an independent political movement of the working class, popular opposition in Syria, as in Libya, will be misdirected and exploited to advance the reactionary interests of imperialism.

(www.wsws.org / 21.07.2011)

Netanyahu: US, Israel one and the same

Israel’s prime minister has addressed the pro-Israeli Christians’ annual gathering in Washington, calling the United States and Israel one and the same.

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke via video link to Christians United For Israel (CUFI), which gathered in their thousands to reassert allegiance to Tel Aviv, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on Wednesday.

“When you support Israel, you don’t have to choose between your interests and your values; you get both,” he told the mostly-evangelical Christians in the gathering.

“Our enemies think that we are you, and that you are us. And you know something? They are absolutely right,” he said.

The US and Israel have each considered the other as its most strategic ally.

Washington has invariably stonewalled the United Nations’ actions against Tel Aviv. It also provides Tel Aviv with USD 3 billion in military aid each year.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren also addressed the attendees and admired the CUFI’s backing of Israel.

He compared the US support of Israel with British military officer Orde Wingate’s training of Jewish paramilitary units before Israel’s 1948 occupation of the Palestinian land.

The military action, after which Israel proclaimed existence, forced 711,000 Palestinians to leave their homeland. The number of Palestinian refugees is put at over 4.6 million, according to 2008 estimates.

In 1967 and during what became to be known as the Six-Day War, Tel Aviv went on to occupy and later annex the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East al-Quds and Gaza Strip in a move not recognized by international laws.

Israel carried out a so-called withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, but has been keeping the coastal sliver under recurrent attacks. An all-scale Israeli offensive on Gaza at the turn of 2009 killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

(www.presstv.ir / 21.07.2011)

Gazans fear more Israeli offensive

Residents in the besieged Gaza Strip fear that Israel might escalate attacks on the impoverished enclave when Palestinians request statehood at the United Nations in September.

“I think the Israelis will not stay calm against what is going to happen in September. They are going to take more actions. They might turn it into violent attacks on Gaza. They might commit a new genocide against the Palestinians in September or afterward,” said a Gaza resident.

In the latest attack carried out on Wednesday, Israeli jet aircraft launched strikes on open areas east and south of Gaza, causing damage to nearby houses in the targeted zone, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Israeli army officials claimed that the airstrikes were in response to “rockets fired from Gaza.”

On Sunday, an Israeli navy vessel targeted the members of the Civil Peace Service aboard the Oliva boat which monitors human rights conditions of fishermen in Gaza.

Alix Robinson of the Civil Peace Service told Press TV that Israeli authorities “do not like what we do because we are documenting their crimes at sea.”

Palestinians will attempt to obtain recognition of a sovereign state when the UN General Assembly meets in September. Washington and Tel Aviv remain opposed to the initiative.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has claimed that such a decision could lead to “disappointment and maybe violence” in the occupied territories and Tel Aviv might “dissolve agreements with the Palestinians.”

The Tel Aviv regime launched an all-out military offensive on the Gaza Strip at the turn of 2009. The ensuing three-week war killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including many women and children.

Israel denies some 1.5 million people in Gaza their basic rights, including the freedom of movement and their rights to appropriate living conditions, work, health and education.

(www.presstv.ir / 21.07.2011)

Egypte heeft nieuw kabinet

De Opperste Raad der Strijdkrachten, het collectief van hoge militairen dat Egypte momenteel bestuurt, heeft vandaag een nieuw Egyptisch kabinet beëdigd. Dat heeft de Egyptische staatstelevisie gemeld.

In de nieuwe regering onder leiding van premier Essam Sharaf zijn twaalf personen vervangen en twee vicepremiers toegevoegd, een inwilliging van de eis van demonstranten om de regering te zuiveren van aanhangers van de verdreven president Hosni Mubarak. Dertien kabinetsleden hebben hun baan behouden.

De spanning tussen het leger en de bevolking in Egypte neemt de laatste tijd toe. De bevolking vindt dat het leger harder moet optreden tegen leden van het oude regime, een eis die kracht wordt bijgezet door demonstranten die bivakkeren op het centrale Tahrir-plein in Caïro.

Veldmaarschalk Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, die de Opperste Raad der Strijdkrachten leidt, droeg het nieuwe kabinet donderdag op de veiligheid te herstellen, verkiezingen voor te bereiden en de strijd met corruptie aan te binden.

(www.parool.nl / 21.07.2011)

Eyewitness: Golan Heights demonstrators just wanted to return home

21 July 2011

Protesters from Syria commemorate the Nakba in the center of Majdal Shams village, occupied Golan Heights, 15 May 2011.

Israel has used lethal force against civilians in the occupied Golan Heights on two occasions in recent months. At least twenty persons were reported to have been killed in June after groups of demonstrators approached Israeli fences in the Golan. The protesters were marking the anniversary of the Naksa or “setback” — Israel’s occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian territories in 1967.

Three weeks earlier, on 15 May, three or four protesters (news reports give conflicting numbers) lost their lives when Israel attacked another demonstration in the Golan, that one commemorating the Nakba — the Arabic word used to describe the wave of ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionist forces in Palestine during the 1940s.

The bloodbath could have been even worse on that day, if it wasn’t for a medical team from the organization Golan for Development. Led by Taiseer Maray, the group’s general director, that team treated approximately 15 demonstrators who had been shot.

In this interview with The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof, Maray describes what he saw at the the historic Nakba Day demonstration, which took nearly all parties by surprise, not least of which the Israeli military. “The army was surprised, they simply could not stop the demonstrators,” Maray explains.

On the day that Palestinians commemorate the dispossession of their homeland, some actually managed to return, if only temporarily. “Some demonstrators managed to continue after they crossed the ceasefire line, to Jerusalem and to Jaffa. They were peaceful, they had no weapons. They just wanted to go back to their homes,” Maray tells The Electronic Intifada.

Adri Nieuwhof: The march to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria after the 1967 war was publicized well in advance on social media websites. Did this influence the presence of the Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights?

Taiseer Maray: People did not take the march seriously. We did not think it would happen near our village [Majdal Shams]. We were busy with our daily work. There are minefields and fences that separate the occupied Golan Heights from Syria. We did not expect Syrians and Palestinians to cross the ceasefire line. When it happened, everyone was in shock. The Israeli military were not prepared, they were surprised as well. There was no extraordinary presence [of the military] at that time.

AN: How did you learn about what was actually happening on 15 May?

TM: I was on a trip [outside of the village] with two friends from the Netherlands when the medical team of my organization called me around 12 o’clock. They warned me that the Israelis were shooting. [The medical team] were going to the ceasefire line to see if we can help. As general director and the person who is responsible for all the medical services to our communtiy, I wanted to be there.

It took me ten minutes to get to the village, Majdal Shams. I wanted to drive into the center of the village. I was shocked to see about 200 Palestinians and Syrians from the other side in the middle of the village. There are minefields. We were surprised they made it. We brought them food and water because it was hot. There was a big demonstration. People shouted they were going back to Palestine, to their villages, to their homes. Some of the people were forced out of the Golan Heights in 1967, they came back too. The demonstrators said: “we are unarmed and we want to go back peacefully to our homes in Palestine and the Golan.”Then I went to the ceasefire line.

AN: What was the composition of the demonstrators?

TM: It was mixed. Men and women, young people and elderly, engineers, businessmen. Some spoke English. The majority was young, say from 14 up to in their twenties. Boys and girls.

AN: Were there clashes with the Israeli forces?

TM: The Israeli forces were not prepared when the demonstrators crossed the ceasefire line. The army was surprised, they simply could not stop the demonstrators. The soldiers on duty decided to open fire on the demonstrators. They could have had no instructions to shoot. … [Benjamin] Netanyahu said he gave orders to the army not to shoot. I don’t think so. The crossing by the demonstrators took only a few minutes. The ceasefire line is a space of 200 meters of fences and minefields. The army could not come fast enough to stop them. And after they crossed the line into our village, the Israelis could not differentiate between the villagers and the Palestinian and Syrian demonstrators.

AN: Demonstrators were killed and wounded that day. What did you see? How many people were killed or wounded?

TM: Two people were shot dead and 15 were wounded on our side of the line.

I saw that the two demonstrators were killed by [bullet] wounds. We treated 15 demonstrators [who were shot in] different parts of the body, in their legs, arms. Some were heavily injured with bullets in their stomach. We treated them on the spot, at the ceasefire line. Their friends took them back to the other side, inside Syria.

AN: How could the demonstrators cross the minefield without being injured by exploding mines?

TM: It is a miracle that no one was hurt. The mines were planted in 1974 and ‘75 by Israel. Every year Israel burns the vegetation to make sure that people cannot hide. … We understood the demonstrators had planned to form four rows on the other side. The people in the first row would try to cross the line first. If there would be an explosion, the second row would take over and so on. That was the strategy.

AN: What happened next?

TM: There were about a hundred Israeli army and police vehicles and ambulances surrounding the village. Thousands of our people and Palestinians were in the center of our village. The army was planning to enter the village. We talked to the army. We told them we don’t want them to come to the center and we don’t want anybody to get hurt.

We reached an agreement that the army would not enter and that we would talk to the Palestinians and Syrians to ask them to go back. After three to four hours of talking, most of the demonstrators were convinced that their political message was achieved. So they agreed to go back.

AN: How was it possible for the demonstrators to safely return?

TM: Our people stood on two sides to form a path. Our Dutch friends joined us. A few meters away there were hundreds of Israeli soldiers. That is how we protected the Palestinians and Syrians with our own bodies on their return across the ceasefire line. Majdal Shams has 10,000 inhabitants. We welcomed the demonstrators and we also protected them from an Israeli attack.

AN: Can you comment on the claims that the Syrian government orchestrated the march on Nakba Day?

TM: I believe the main thing behind it was the Arab Spring. Arab people discovered the power of the masses. If you organize in big numbers, you can be successful. Surely, Syria did not stop them, that is clear. Some demonstrators managed to continue after they crossed the ceasefire line, to Jerusalem and to Jaffa. They were peaceful, they had no weapons. They just wanted to go back to their homes. They wanted to see the homes of their families. These lines will not stop people. That was shown on Nakba Day. I think this was a message. Without having a solution for Palestinians, there will be no peace and security in the Middle East.

(The Electronic Intifada / 21.07.2011)

Recognise Palestine

Posted: 21 July 2011
In five days the UN Security Council will meet, and the world has an opportunity to embrace a new proposal that could turn the tide on decades of failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks: UN recognition of the state of Palestine.

Over 120 nations from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America have already endorsed this initiative, but Israel’s right-wing government and the US vehemently oppose it. Europe is still undecided, but a massive public push now could tip key countries to vote for this momentous opportunity to end the occupation.

US-led peace initiatives have failed for decades, while Israel has imprisoned the Palestinian people, confiscated their lands and blocked Palestine becoming a sovereign political entity. This bold new initiative could unlock the prison, but Europe must take the lead. Let’s build a massive global call for key European leaders to endorse this statehood bid now, and make clear that citizens across the world support this legitimate, non-violent, diplomatic proposal. Sign the petition and send this to everyone:

To the leaders of France, Spain, Germany, the UK and the High Representative of the EU and all UN member states:

We urge you to endorse the legitimate bid for recognition of the state of Palestine and the reaffirmation of the rights of the Palestinian people. It is time to turn the tide on decades of failed peace talks, end the occupation and move towards peace based on two states.

(www.avaaz.org / 21.07.2011)