Israel plans expulsion of some 60,000 Bedouin Palestinians

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has drawn attention to plans by the Israeli government to expel 27,000 Bedouin Palestinians who currently live in what is known as ‘Area C’ of the West Bank.

The Civil Administration (CA) is planning to expel the Bedouin communities living in Area C in the West Bank, transferring some 27,000 persons from their homes. In the first phase, planned as early as January 2012, some 20 communities, comprising 2,300 persons, will be forcibly transferred to a site near the Abu Dis refuse dump, east of Jerusalem.

Area C, making up around 60 percent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is where most Israeli colonisation is concentrated, e.g. the largest settlements, military training zones, etc. (For more information on Area C see these UN reports from August 2011 and August 2010).

Palestinians who live in Area C have long faced severe discrimination under Israeli military rule, particularly when it comes to issues of housing. For example, a UN survey in 2008 found that 94 percent of building permit applications by Palestinians were denied by the Israeli occupation authorities.

Meanwhile, it was only a month ago that the Israeli cabinet approved a plan for the Negev that means the forcible relocation of around 30,000 Bedouin Palestinian citizens.

As I wrote at the time, this ‘transfer’ plan is directly linked to efforts to ‘Judaize’ the Negev: as Ramat Negev Regional Council mayor Shmuel Rifman put it, if the Israeli government does not “finalise the Bedouin settlement it will be very hard to enhance Jewish settlement in the Negev”.

In the West Bank, the same logic is at work. UN OCHA have also just released a factsheet on the displacement of Bedouin near Jerusalem in which they note:

The Bedouin’s current homes are located in an area that holds strategic significance for further expansion of Israeli settlements.

Thus in the de facto one state that exists between the Mediterranean  Sea and Jordan River, Israeli authorities are currently planning mass expulsions of around 60,000 Palestinians, specifically in order to free up more territory for Jewish settlement. The Nakba never finished.

( / Ben White / 11.10.2011)

US aid freeze designed to further punish Palestinians

Amid the drama of the Palestinian statehood bid, the United States Congress has voted to freeze up to $200 million in aid that USAID, the State Department’s international development agency, would normally use to support programs designed to improve the Palestinian private sector as well as the domestic investment environment. A program dedicated to improving Palestinian health services is also in jeopardy.

Despite the diversity of the programs affected, the common theme of the freeze is the disruption of activities that might reinforce the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) drive for statehood. In fact, the project proposals for USAID’s economic development sector, especially the Investment Climate Improvement (ICI) program, clearly list Palestinian World Trade Organization (WTO) membership as an essential motivator for financial reform. Essentially, until the PA decided to pursue its statehood bid, the United States not only accepted the Palestinian desire for joining the WTO but actively promoted it.

As the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, makes the rounds of major international agencies and organizations to ask for Palestinian membership, withholding aid takes on an added level of significance.

In recent days, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has agreed to allow existing members to vote on the admission of Palestine as a member. Hillary Clinton sharply responded that the admission of Palestine could lead to a cut in US support to UNESCO as a whole, as the US’ funding currently accounts for 22 percent of the Paris-based organization’s budget (“Clinton: UNESCO should think again before granting Palestinian membership”, Haaretz, 6 October 2011).

It would seem that while the US has publicly committed itself to vetoing the PA’s efforts at the UN Security Council, President Barack Obama and the State Department are frantically working behind the scenes to ensure that such a politically disastrous step is not necessary. Yet, in unabashedly pushing its resolutely pro-Israeli agenda, the United States increasingly appears both arrogant and clueless.

Who is this aid freeze designed to punish?

Within this context, Congress’ decision to withhold assistance from the PA fits with the US’ perpetually increasing favoritism of Israel but it also raises many questions. Given that cutting off foreign assistance to a recipient country is at least in theory a drastic step reserved for pariah states that harm their own people, which behavior is the Congressional aid freeze designed to punish?

As the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk recently argued, the PA, regardless of one’s perspective on the desirability of a two-state solution, is exercising a legitimate right to declare its statehood at the UN (“Reflections on the Abbas statehood speech,” Al Jazeera English, 4 October 2011).

In this context, the behavior of the United States Congress reflects the institution’s deep-rooted bias against Palestinians, which the largest pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has carefully cultivated and reinforced through domestic lobbying and fully-funded trips to the region. Indeed, the Congressional members behind the push to freeze aid are all known for their ties to the controversial group, as reported in the Huffington Post (“AIPAC’s democrats demand cutting Palestinian aid,” 3 October 2011).

In many ways, the United States, which continues to see itself as a global diplomatic leader despite its heavily damaged international — and especially regional — reputation, is shamelessly acting like a schoolyard bully.

Further highlighting the absurdity of the Congressional move, the cuts come during a time of economic crisis both within Palestine and the United States; and Congress has just affirmed that it will not even consider cutting its funding to the Israeli government. Yet, blindly promoting Israeli security means that US funding and military assistance is directly implicated in the occupation of Palestine — including an extensive list of human rights abuses as well as regular Palestinian civilian injuries and casualties at the hands of Israeli forces armed to the teeth with US-made weapons.

On an annual basis, the already heavily indebted US sends $3 billion to Israel. Israel also benefits from a 10-year $30 billion aid package from the time of George W Bush’s presidency, which Obama agreed to continue immediately after becoming president. And Congress has just decided to decrease the overall budget allocated to foreign aid without reducing this sizeable funding to what the UN classifies as the world’s 15th most developed country, following France and ahead of many countries of the European Union. Such contradictions in US policy speak for themselves.

Under President Obama, who came to office in a furor of hope, the one constant is that justice for Palestinians does not figure among the US’ priorities. Indeed, diplomatic efforts have focused overwhelmingly on how to remove the “Palestinian question” from the international agenda rather than on repairing the damage inflicted by decades of colonialism, neocolonialism, and occupation.

Reasons for optimism amid political theatrics

Yet, the aid freeze combined with the US’s general approach to the UN bid has led to some promising developments on the ground.

Even before Congress announced its decision, university-aged Palestinian activists began to make their sentiments about the US known at a meeting for the USAID-funded Sharek Youth Forum, calling for an end to US funding of the organization and, significantly, presenting an increasingly united front against the agenda-setting role of USAID. According to one of protest’s organizers, an activist with Herak Shababi (a youth movement that sprang up as a part of the larger 15 March movement), those involved were moved to action at the Forum because, while they object to the structure of the aid system as a whole, USAID’s desire to influence the political dialogue of young people is “particularly provocative in the context of the Palestinian struggle for justice.”

Virtually all participants also object to USAID’s “terrorism clause,” which requires all of the organization’s aid recipients to affirm that they will not fund or take part in terrorist activities, given that the United States considers one of Palestine’s leading political parties, Hamas, to be a terrorist organization.

Most recently, Palestinian students assembled outside a Ramallah-based establishment hosting American employees of USAID to protest the freeze itself. In a telling display of domestic sentiments, students participating in the action declared “Yes we can — boycott America!” The fact that Palestinians themselves are beginning to unite around this issue is promising for domestic political activism as a whole.

While Fatah, the party in control of the PA, has coolly asserted that Arab donors would cover any deficit that results from missing US funds, the PA should take the opportunity to institute internal reforms to reduce the government’s extraordinary dependence on foreign aid. That is what a government that represents the best interests of the Palestinian people would and should do.

( / 11.10.2011)

‘Palestijnse leiders Barghouti en Saadat vrij’

Israël laat de Palestijnse leiders Marwan Barghouti en Ahmet Saadat vrij. Ze maken deel uit van een gevangenenruil, waarbij de Palestijnen de Israëlische militair Gilad Shalit vrijlaten. Dat meldden Palestijnse bronnen vanavond.

Israël ontkent echter dat Barghouti en Saadat op vrije voeten komen. ‘Ze worden niet vrijgelaten’, zei directeur Yoram Cohem van de Israëlische inlichtingendienst Shin Bet.

Barghouti leidt de Fatah-beweging op de Westelijke Jordaanoever. Hij zit sinds april 2002 in een Israëlische cel wegens betrokkenheid bij de moord op vijf Israëliërs. In 2004 werd hij veroordeeld tot vijfmaal levenslang. Saadat is de leider van het Volksfront voor de Bevrijding van Palestina (PFLP). Saadat is in Israël veroordeeld tot 30 jaar celstraf wegens leiding geven aan een terroristische organisatie.

In 2008 was er ook al sprake van dat Barghouti en Saadat zouden worden geruild voor Shalit. Dat ketste echter af.

( / 11.10.2011)

Hamas: Egypt brokered Shalit deal

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A high-ranking source in Hamas said Tuesday a prisoner exchange deal with Israel has been brokered by Egypt and will be implemented by early next month.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is expected to confirm the agreement late Tuesday.

Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said Israel agreed to its terms and said Mashaal will make the announcement within hours to clarify aspects of the deal.

Officials at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office confirmed the report to local media. Netanyahu has called an emergency cabinet meeting for late Tuesday, they said.

( / 11.10.2011)

2,000 Palestinians prisoners join hunger strike against Israel prison conditions

Prisoners are mostly members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah and other Palestinian factions, except for Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which have not joined the strike at this point.

2,000 Palestinian security prisoners have joined an ongoing hunger strike against worsening conditions in Israeli prisons.

The prisoners are mostly members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fatah, and other Palestinian factions, except for Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which have not joined the strike at this point. However, several Hamas members under solitary confinement have decided to join the strike.

According to the strikers, the prison conditions have worsened since Israel Prison Service Director Aharon Franco came into office. Franco has frozen administrative leaves, and has decided to make changes in the conditions of security prisoners.

In response, the Israel Prison Service has enacted sanctions against the strikers. Prisoners who refuse to eat must undergo a daily examination by a doctor. Strikers have been denied electrical products in their cells, cannot receive family visits, or visit the prison store. The prisoners are isolated and are only allowed visits by attorneys or the Red Cross. No prisoner has needed to undergo medical treatment.

Prisoner activists have stated that in the last several days they are attempting to make contact with the strike leaders at different prisons in order to prevent collective decisions.

A lead activist that met earlier with one of the strike leaders said that the Israel Prison Service has refused to meet the demand to put an end to isolating prisoners, stating that such decisions must be made by a higher authority.

( / 11.10.2011)

Israel demolishes mosque in Jordan Valley

West Bank, (Pal Telegraph)-Israeli occupation forces early Tuesday demolished a mosque for the third time in the area of Khirbet Irza in Wadi El-Maleh, north of the Jordan Valley.

According to head of Wadi Al-Maleh village council, Aref Daraghma, more than five Israeli troops accompanied by military bulldozer demolished today at morning a 60-square-meter mosque built by Palestinian residents.

He pointed out that Israeli authorities issued a demolition order to the mosque for the third time under the pretext of being built in a prohibited area.

It is noteworthy that Israel used to demolish Muslims’ mosques in the occupied West Bank as part of its unfair plan that aims to annex the area to its settlements.

( / 11.10.2011)

Hamas Raids Journalists Syndicate Office in Gaza

RAMALLAH, October 11, 2011 (WAFA) – Hamas forces Tuesday raided the main office of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS) in Gaza City seizing computers and cell phones of staff working there after ordering them to leave the premise, according to a PJS statement.

The PJS, based in Ramallah, denounced the Hamas act describing it as a “blatant act of aggression by Hamas.”

It accused Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip since June 2007, of harassing journalists, closing down press offices and preventing entry of newspapers published in the West Bank into the Strip.

Hamas does not recognize the PJS, which held elections last year in the West Bank only after Hamas refused to allow them in Gaza as well.

Hamas has also asked foreign journalists seeking to enter Gaza to get its permission days in advance of their planned trip to the besieged enclave.

( / 11.10.2011)