IOF troops raid Beit Kahel, supress demonstrations in Ma’sara and Bilin

Al-Khalil, (PIC)– A number of Palestinians were injured in confrontations with invading IOF troops in the village of Beit Kahel to the north west of al-Khalil.

Sources in the village said that a number of young people suffered breathing difficulty as a result of breathing teargas fired by IOF troops at worshipers after they finished the Friday prayers.

The sources said that the clashes with IOF took place as a result of provocations by the invading IOF troops which raided the village as worshippers were coming out of mosques after the Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, a photo-journalist and dozens of protesters suffered breathing difficulties as a result of breathing teargas used by the IOF during its suppression of the weekly anti-wall demonstration which was this week under the motto “We are all martyr Mustafa al-Tamimi.”
IOF troops fired rubber coated bullets at protestors, in addition to their use of teargas and stun grenades when the march reached the land of Abu Laimoun near the wall. Photojournalist Rateb Abu Rahmah (20 years) and dozens of protesters suffered serious breathing difficulties.

In the village of al-Ma’sara, the IOF also suppressed the weekly anti-wall anti-settlement demonstration which also was dedicated to martyr Mustafa al-Tamimi from the village of Nabi Saleh who was killed by the IOF a couple of days ago.

Spokesman for the popular committee to resist the wall and settlement in Bethlehem Muhammad Bteijeh said that the IOF troops supressed the demonstration and prevented demonstrators from reaching the site of the apartheid wall.

( / 16.12.2011)

Morality & Ethics in Islam (SOCIAL TIES, SOCIETY)

Self Development


The word “morality” comes from the Latin word moralitas meaning “manner, character, and proper behavior”. Morality generally refers to a code of conduct, that an individual, group or society hold as authoritative, in distinguishing right from wrong. Such an ideal code of conduct is often espoused in preference to other alternatives.

Islam as a comprehensive way of life encompasses a complete moral system that is an important aspect of its world-view. We live in an age where good and evil are often looked at as relative concepts. Islam however, holds that moral positions are not relative, and instead, defines a universal standard by which actions may be deemed moral or immoral.

Islam’s moral system is striking in that it not only defines morality, but also guides the human race in how to achieve it, at both an individual as well as a collective level.

Basic Principles in Islamic Morality

The Islamic moral system stems from its primary creed of belief in One God as the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Islam considers the human race to be a part of God’s creation, and as His subjects.

From an Islamic perspective, the purpose of human life is to worship God, by leading this worldly life in harmony with the Divine Will, and thereby achieve peace in this world, and everlasting success in the life of the hereafter. Muslims look to the Glorious Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet as their moral guides.

The Glorious Qur’an says:

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.” [Al-Qur’an 2:177]

This verse underscores the Islamic belief that righteousness and piety is based, before all else on a true and sincere faith. The key to virtue and good conduct is a strong relation with God, who sees all, at all times and everywhere. He knows the secrets of the hearts and the intentions behind all actions. Therefore, Islam enjoins moral behavior in all circumstances; God is aware of each one when no one else is. It may be possible to deceive the world, but it’s not possible to deceive the Creator.

The love and continuous awareness of God and the Day of Judgment enables man to be moral in conduct and sincere in intentions, with devotion and dedication.

The Glorious Qur’an also says:

Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which He hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge. [Al-Qur’an 7:33]

It is interesting that the Qur’an refers to “sins and trespasses against truth or reason”. It is an indication of God’s blessing to every human being, of an innate moral sense. Such a moral sense, when uncorrupted by family or society, is what leads people to commendable acts of virtue. Islam aims to enhance and amplify the moral sense in every human being and adorn the individual’s character with the noblest of virtues.

The Islamic moral principles therefore, appeal naturally to the human intellect, while elevating the pursuit of morality to the level of worship. This is because Islam holds every action that is done with the goal of attaining of God’s pleasure to be worship.

Morality and the individual

The guiding principle for the behavior of a Muslim is what the Qur’an refers to as Al `Amal Assalih or virtuous deeds. This term covers all deeds, not just the outward acts of worship.

Some of the most primary character traits expected of a Muslim are piety, humility and a profound sense of accountability to God. A Muslim is expected to be humble before God and with other people. Islam also enjoins upon every Muslim to exercise control of their passions and desires.

Islam warns against vanity and excessive attachment to the ephemeral pleasures of this world. While it is easy to allow the material world to fill our hearts, Islam calls upon human beings to keep God in their hearts and to use the material world in moderation and in accordance with God’s guidance. The Glorious Qur’an says:

“The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, but only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart” [Al-Quran: 26:88-89]

Charity is one of the most commendable acts in Islam. In fact, Zakah, the annual charity that is obligatory on every Muslim who has accrued wealth above a certain level, is one of the pillars of Islam.

Gratitude in prosperity, patience in adversity, and the courage to uphold the truth, even when inconvenient to oneself, are just some of the qualities that every Muslim is encouraged to cultivate.

Morality and Society

For an individual as well as a society, morality is one of the fundamental sources of strength, just as immorality is one of the main causes of decline. While respecting the rights of the individual within a broad Islamic framework, Islam is also concerned with the moral health of the society.

Thus, everything that leads to the welfare of the individual and the society is morally good in Islam, and whatever is harmful is morally bad.

Given its importance to a healthy and just society, Islam supports morality and matters that lead to the enhancement of morality, and stands in the way of corruption and matters that lead to the spreading of corruption. The injunctions and prohibitions in Islam are to be seen in this light


Morality in Islam addresses every aspect of a Muslim’s life, from greetings to international relations. It is universal in its scope and in its applicability.

A Muslim is expected to not only be virtuous, but to also enjoin virtue. He/She must not only refrain from evil and vice, but must also actively engage in asking people to eschew them. In other words, they must not only be morally healthy, but must also contribute to the moral health of society as a whole.

The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) summarized the conduct of a Muslim when he said: “My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or in public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich, to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right.”

( / 16.12.2011)

Obama: No administration has done more for Israel than mine

President Obama told a Jewish audience today that his commitment to Israel’s safety is “unshakeable,” and that no presidential administration has done more to protect Israel from its enemies.”Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise,” Obama told the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism. “It is a fact.”

Obama, under criticism from Republicans over Israel policy, reassured a friendly audience that “we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” He also told the Jewish group, “rest assured, we will take no options off the table.”

As our colleague Aamer Madhani wrote earlier, Republicans are hoping to pick off some of Obama’s Jewish support in next year’s presidential election, enough “to make a difference in several swing states.”

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have accused Obama of practicing “appeasement” when it comes to policies regarding Israel and its Arab neighbors in the Middle East.

In his speech to the Union for Reform Judaism, Obama said he remains committed to the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, but not at the expense of Israel’s security.

His administration has worked hard to prevent international forums to “de-legitimize” Israel, Obama said, whether it’s the United Nations or an environmental conference in South Africa.

“That’s what friends and allies do for each other,” Obama said. “So don’t let anybody else tell you a different story … We have been there and we will continue to be there.”

( / 16.12.2011)

Revisiting the rules of war in Israel and Palestine

An Israeli soldier arrests a 12-year-old Palestinian youth
TEL AVIV, Israel (IRIN) — In the wake of increased violence between the Israeli army and fighters in the Gaza Strip, Israeli threats of a second large-scale attack on the occupied Palestinian territory raise pressing questions of international humanitarian law:

How can civilians be better protected during urban warfare? And does IHL need to be amended given the increasingly blurred line between civilians and combatants, especially in places like Gaza?

Israeli military officials argue that many humanitarian rules are ill-suited to fighting militants in the densely populated Gaza Strip and say the current reality there makes a revision of IHL necessary.

“International law is not the embodiment of morality,” Israeli philosopher Asa Kasher, who wrote an early version of the army’s code of conduct, said at a recent conference in Tel Aviv, aimed at finding answers to some of the challenges urban warfare poses to military practices in the field. “We need different rules that apply to our army facing terrorists in densely populated areas.”

This position is strongly disputed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, charged with monitoring the compliance of warring parties with IHL. It says the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war also apply to asymmetric conflicts in urban settings.

With Israeli military officials saying an attack similar to the 23-day Operation Cast Lead, which killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in 2008-9, is inevitable, the question is increasingly relevant.

“There is no doubt that fighting in Gaza will come, probably earlier than we think. And each time it will be more difficult,” Dan Harel, former IDF deputy chief of staff, said during the conference.

His remarks coincided with a recent flare-up in violence in Gaza, as Israeli air strikes killed at least one civilian and wounded several others in early December, while militants in Gaza fired several rockets into Israeli territory.

What defines ‘direct participation’? 

While international law prohibits the targeting of civilians, Harel defended Israel’s past military ventures in Gaza, pointing to the challenges posed by fighting in dense urban areas.

“How can we differentiate between groups of civilians and combatants on a packed street, especially when combatants don’t wear uniforms? How do we avoid killing civilians in urban areas, when Hamas militants hide among them?” he asked during the conference, hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies.

Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip, has denied accusations that it has used civilians as human shields; and the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes, found no evidence of civilians being forced by Hamas to remain in areas under attack.

Knut Dörmann, head of the ICRC legal division in Geneva, said any use of so-called “human shields” would be a war crime under IHL. But voluntary human shields can only be considered direct participants in warfare “if they pose a physical obstacle to a military operation,” he said.

This notion, he acknowledged, is subject to continuous debate. Neither the Geneva Conventions nor their Additional Protocols provide a clear definition of what represents direct participation in armed hostilities. But according to the ICRC’s interpretation of IHL, direct participation involves an act likely to inflict harm or affect military operations; there must be a direct causal link between the act and the harm likely to result; and the act must be specifically designed to directly cause the harm in support of a party to the conflict and to the detriment of another.

Civilians lose the right to protection against direct attack for the duration of each specific act that amounts to direct participation in hostilities, and in case of doubt as to whether they are combatants, must be presumed to be protected against direct attack until their status can be determined, the ICRC said.

Complex application of IHL 

But the application of IHL in the context of the conflict between Israel and Gaza is highly complex because it does not fall easily into defined categories of international and non-international armed conflict.

Despite an absence of Israeli troops on the ground, the ICRC considers Gaza an occupied territory because Israel has retained a considerable degree of control over it, including over its territorial waters, airspace and land borders. Still, Israel’s obligations under IHL in Gaza are very limited, because it does not have any permanent presence inside the Gaza Strip.

“There is a nexus between the scope of Israel’s control and its legal responsibilities — where there is control, there is responsibility,” Tel Aviv-based ICRC legal adviser Eitan Diamond said. For instance, running the education system of the population may be the occupier’s obligation, but because Israel does not have any permanent presence in Gaza, it is not able and therefore not required to do so. Still, Israel has to ensure that the population’s basic needs, such as food, water and medical supplies, are met.

But the situation is complicated still further. Any occupation invokes the category of international armed conflict, and yet this occupation is a result of a historical armed conflict between Israel and Egypt, which no longer exists. Hamas is not a party to that armed conflict, but rather a new conflict that would normally be considered a non-international armed conflict. But because of the ongoing occupation, the rules on international armed conflict continue to apply.


However, Palestinian militants captured by Israel are not considered prisoners of war — entitled to special protection — because they are not state actors.

“But this doesn’t leave them in a legal vacuum,” Diamond said, because they still qualify for protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.

As Article 4 of that convention states: “Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.”

“While there are some who dispute that Gaza is occupied, the West Bank is undisputedly occupied territory,” Diamond explained, “and since the West Bank and Gaza Strip are recognized to be one territorial unit, Gazans held by Israel are clearly persons in the hands of an Occupying Power.”

Though Palestinian militants can legally be the target of attack while participating in hostilities, they should be protected as civilians when captured because the threat they pose is neutralized by detention.

“The fact that they participate in hostilities is significant only during hostilities,” Diamond said. Once they are detained, they are entitled to all the protections laid out in the Fourth Geneva Convention, including humane treatment, contact with family, and assistance from the ICRC.

‘Transnational asymmetric warfare’

Furthermore, even when a militant is identified as a legitimate target, other factors must be considered.

“You can’t just proceed with the killing” in all cases, Dörmann told the conference in Tel Aviv. Following the principle of proportionality, the potential loss of life would have to be weighed against a concrete and direct military advantage, especially in densely populated areas like Gaza, where military targets are often in the midst of residential areas.

Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israeli military intelligence
This does not sit well with the Israeli philosopher Kasher, who has been explicitly frank about his contempt of current IHL. He, like some others at the conference, questioned why Israel should have more responsibilities towards what he perceived as the “enemy’s civilians” than towards its own soldiers.

“IHL only cares about civilians, not about soldiers, and this is immoral,” Kasher said.

For the former chief of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin, the ethical norms of IHL do not fit Israel’s operations in Gaza.

“If we need moral rules,” Yadlin said, “we have to adapt them to Israeli circumstances. Commanders are facing too many dilemmas when taking decisions on the ground.”

All the more reason, Dörmann said, that commanders must know the legal rules thoroughly in order to apply them in the field. “Every soldier’s knowledge of IHL is essential.”

Israel is a party to the Geneva Conventions, but has not ratified the protocols for the protection of victims of armed conflict. However, it is widely accepted that these rules are customary international law, and therefore applicable in all conflicts.

A joint research project by the INSS and Tel Aviv University is currently investigating how IHL might be amended, a very difficult move given that a separate international treaty would be necessary. “We try to make international law suitable for the fight against what we call transnational asymmetric warfare”, Yehuda Ben Meir, principal research fellow at the INSS, explained.

‘Some reflection must begin’

However, the ICRC’s Dörmann said such a step would be dangerous. Instead of adapting laws to asymmetric warfare, existing regulations should be reinforced and strengthened, he said.

“Otherwise we will find ourselves in a downward spiral of disrespect for IHL.”

Making the rules more suitable for regular armies would only force militants to change their tactics, which would in turn result in another undercut of IHL by the state army, he warned.

In preparation for upcoming challenges, the ICRC strongly recommended that the Israeli army learn from its past experiences in Operation Cast Lead, which saw 1,387 Palestinians killed, around half of whom did not take part in hostilities.

Civilians could be better protected through effective warning ahead of an attack, he said.

He also raised concerns over the use of specific weapons in residential areas, like white phosphorus, used by Israel during the ground phase of the operation. Originally used as a smoke screen to hide movement, white phosphorus is increasingly used as an offensive weapon, because it can cause serious burns or even death.

“Some reflection must begin over the use of artillery and mortars in populated areas, and especially the use of white phosphorus,” Dörmann said.

Promoting a concept he called “courageous restraint”, Stanley McChrystal offered these words of advice to Israelis at the conference, based on his experience as the former commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

“Limiting fire power might put soldiers more at risk. That is a correct argument,” he told the conference in Tel Aviv. “But it was necessary to protect civilians on a long term … [and] because the perception of our conduct among the people in Afghanistan became so important.”

For Israel, perception also plays a big role during conflict in the Gaza Strip, the ICRC’s Diamond said.

“This conflict wages on well beyond the battlefield, with each party investing considerable effort in a struggle for legitimacy. If you are seen to violate the rules, you can’t maintain legitimacy.”

( / 16.12.2011)

Syria’s civil war is bigger than Syria itself

By Jim Hoagland,


It is the Arab Earthquake. Not “spring,” not “wave of reform,” not even “awakening” can describe the systemic upheaval that has engulfed Syria, where other Arab nations actively press for the overthrow of the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad. Let us call an earthquake an earthquake.

Assad’s government “has become a killing machine,” says Turki bin Faisal of Saudi Arabia, one of the kingdom’s most senior princes, a former chief of intelligence, ex-ambassador to Washington and a man not given to bombast. “The killing has to stop. . . . This kind of leadership is unacceptable. Change in Syria is now inevitable.”

Turki made these remarks at the World Policy Conference, a gathering of officials and experts organized last weekend in the Austrian capital by IFRI, a leading French think tank.

Syria’s burgeoning civil war involves forces and stakes that reach far beyond that country. Unlike the upheaval that ousted entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and (it seems) Yemen, the outcome in Syria will shift the balance of power in a larger civil war within Islam that has raged for three decades. The Syrian aftermath will be more momentous and even more uncertain than its recent predecessors, Arab leaders have suddenly understood.

Sickened by the slaughter and feeling personally betrayed by Assad, the Sunni-dominated countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula have another motive in their determined push for regime change in Damascus. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others in the Arab League have reached the point of no return in their larger struggle with the revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran, Syria’s most important foreign ally.

“Iran is a paper tiger, but it has steel claws,” Turki added. The Saudi prince was referring not only to Syria but also to the heavily armed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and the Palestinian movement Hamas, which have aligned themselves with the radical Shiites who seized power in Tehran in 1979 and set out to export their revolution throughout the Muslim world.

They as well as Damascus are now the targets of a Sunni counterrevolution that has reached critical mass as Iran continues to be accused of working on a nuclear weapon and as U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, a Shiite-majority nation that will increasingly be subject to Iranian influence and ambition.

Russia, too, appears to invest larger meaning in the Syrian conflict. “Vladimir Putin scores the Libya result as a win for the West and thus a defeat for Russia,” says a European ambassador who monitors intelligence reporting on the Kremlin. “He is determined that Syria will not make this a trend, and Russia will oppose collective action against Assad wherever it can.”

Putin’s return to a zero-sum calculus reminiscent of the Cold War has cast a heavy shadow over secret, informal talks among the United States, Britain and France and those with the leading Sunni countries on hastening Assad’s downfall. So out of deference to Russian sensitivities, these talks have steered clear of any discussion of the kind of coordinated NATO intervention that occurred in Libya. But diplomatic sources report that there is an active exchange of intelligence and tentative discussion of some form of joint operations, as well as an intensifying common effort to help Syria’s emerging opposition forces become more organized and effective.

Speaking a day after Turki at the Vienna meeting, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed the prince’s prediction about the Assad regime: “It is doomed. . . . It is going to disappear, in a few weeks.”

I doubt that Assad pays much attention to this gathering consensus. Certainly his father, Hafez, whom I interviewed three times, would have dismissed it and continued the bloodletting until his opponents were eliminated. Hafez Assad believed that his Alawite clan would be committing suicide if it yielded power to the country’s Sunni majority.

But he possessed survival skills that few other humans, including his son, command. And he lived in a different time. Hearing a Saudi prince and an Israeli defense minister give essentially the same analysis in a public gathering of an Arab dictator’s looming demise is a new experience for me. When I pressed him on why the previously spineless Arab League has taken the lead in applying international condemnation and punishment to one of its members, Barak’s answer contained rays of hope, currently a rare commodity in the Middle East:

“In the Arab world today you cannot just kill 4,000 people and pretend it did not happen or that people will forget it. People will know it and will not accept it.”

Imagine that.

( / 16.12.2011)

Gingrich, Israel and the Palestinians


What a bizarre lot these Republican aspirants for the US presidency are!

What a sorry bunch of ignoramuses and downright crazies. Or, at best, what a bunch of cheats and cynics! (With the possible exception of the good doctor Ron Paul)”.

Is this the best a great and proud nation can produce? How frightening the thought that one of them may actually become the most powerful person in the world, with a finger on the biggest nuclear button!

BUT LET’S concentrate on the present front-runner. (Republicans seem to change front-runners like a fastidious beau changes socks.)

It’s Newt Gingrich. Remember him? The Speaker of the House who had an extra-marital affair with an intern while at the same time leading the campaign to impeach President Bill Clinton for having an affair with an intern.

But that’s not the point. The point is that this intellectual giant – named after Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist ever – has discovered a great historical truth.

The original Newton discovered the Law of Gravity. Newton Leroy Gingrich has discovered something no less earth-shaking: there is an “invented” people around, referring to the Palestinians.

To which a humble Israeli like me might answer, in the best Hebrew slang: “Good morning, Eliyahu!”  Thus we honor people who have made a great discovery which, unfortunately, has been discovered by others long before.

* * *

FROM ITS very beginning, the Zionist movement has denied the existence of the Palestinian people. It’s an article of faith.

The reason is obvious: if there exists a Palestinian people, then the country the Zionists were about to take over was not empty. Zionism would entail an injustice of historic proportions. Being very idealistic persons, the original Zionists found a way out of this moral dilemma: they simply denied its existence. The winning slogan was “A land without a people for a people without a land.”

So who were these curious human beings they met when they came to the country? Oh, ah, well, they were just people who happened to be there, but not “a” people. Passers-by, so to speak. Later, the story goes, after we had made the desert bloom and turned an arid and neglected land into a paradise, Arabs from all over the region flocked to the country, and now they have the temerity – indeed the chutzpah – to claim that they constitute a Palestinian nation!

For many years after the founding of the State of Israel, this was the official line. Golda Meir famously exclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!”

(To which I replied in the Knesset: “Mrs. Prime Minister, perhaps you are right. Perhaps there really is no Palestinian people. But if millions of people mistakenly believe that they are a people, and behave like a people, then they are a people.”)

A huge propaganda machine – both in Israel and abroad – was employed to “prove” that there was no Palestinian people. A lady called Joan Peters wrote a book (“From Time Immemorial”) proving that the riffraff calling themselves “Palestinians” had nothing to do with Palestine. They are nothing but interlopers and impostors. The book was immensely successful – until some experts took it apart and proved that the whole edifice of conclusive proofs was utter rubbish.

I myself have spent many hundreds of hours trying to convince Israeli and foreign audiences that there is a Palestinian people and that we have to make peace with them. Until one day the State of Israel recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the “Palestinian people”, and the argument was laid to rest.

Until Newt came along and, like a later-day Jesus, raised it from the dead.

* * *

OBVIOUSLY, HE is much too busy to read books. True, he was once a teacher of history, but for many years now he has been very busy speakering the Congress, making a fortune as an “adviser” of big corporations and now trying to become president.

Otherwise, he would probably have come across a brilliant historical book by Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”, which asserts that all modern nations are invented.

Nationalism is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. When a community decides to become a nation, it has to reinvent itself. That means inventing a national past, reshuffling historical facts (and non-facts) in order to create a coherent picture of a nation existing since antiquity. Hermann the Cherusker, member of a Germanic tribe who betrayed his Roman employers, became a “national” hero. Religious refugees who landed in America and destroyed the native population became a “nation”. Members of an ethnic-religious Diaspora formed themselves into a “Jewish nation”. Many others did more or less the same.

Indeed, Newt would profit from reading a book by a Tel Aviv University professor, Shlomo Sand, a kosher Jew, whose Hebrew title speaks for itself: “When and How the Jewish People was Invented?”

Who are these Palestinians? About a hundred years ago, two young students in Istanbul, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the future Prime Minister and President (respectively) of Israel, wrote a treatise about the Palestinians. The population of this country, they said, has never changed. Only small elites were sometimes deported. The towns and villages never moved, as their names prove. Canaanites became Israelites, then Jews and Samaritans, then Christian Byzantines. With the Arab conquest, they slowly adopted the religion of Islam and the Arabic Culture. These are today’s Palestinians. I tend to agree with them.

* * *

PARROTING THE straight Zionist propaganda line – by now discarded by most Zionists – Gingrich argues that there can be no Palestinian people because there never was a Palestinian state. The people in this country were just “Arabs” under Ottoman rule.

So what? I used to hear from French colonial masters that there is no Algerian people, because there never was an Algerian state, there was never even a united country called Algeria. Any takers for this theory now?

The name “Palestine” was mentioned by a Greek historian some 2500 years ago. A “Duke of Palestine” is mentioned in the Talmud. When the Arabs conquered the country, they called it “Filastin”, as  they still do”. The Arab national movement came into being all over the Arab world, including Palestine – at the same time as the Zionist movement – and strove for independence from the Ottoman Sultan.

For centuries, Palestine was considered a part of Greater Syria (the region known in Arabic as ‘Sham’).  There was no formal distinction between Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Jordanians. But when, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the European powers divided the Arab world between them, a state called Palestine became a fact under the British Mandate, and the Arab Palestinian people established themselves as a separate nation with a national flag of their own. Many peoples in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America did the same, even without asking Gingrich for confirmation.

It would certainly be ironic if the members of the “invented” Palestinian nation were expected to ask for recognition from the members of the “invented” Jewish/Israeli nation, at the demand of a member of the “invented” American nation, a person who, by the way, is of mixed German, English, Scottish and Irish stock.

Years ago, there was short-lived controversy about Palestinian textbooks. It was argued that they were anti-Semitic and incited to murder. That was laid to rest when it became clear that all Palestinian schoolbooks were cleared by the Israeli occupation authorities, and most were inherited from the previous Jordanian regime. But Gingrich does not shrink from resurrecting this corpse, too.

All Palestinians – men, women and children – are terrorists, he asserts, and Palestinian pupils learn at school how to kill us poor and helpless Israelis. Ah, what would we do without such stout defenders as Newt? What a pity that this week a photo of him, shaking the hand of Yasser Arafat, was published.

And please don’t show him the textbooks used in some of our schools, especially the religious ones!

* * *

IS IT really a waste of time to write about such nonsense?

It may seem so, but one cannot ignore the fact that the dispenser of these inanities may be tomorrow’s President of the United States of America. Given the economic situation, that is not as unlikely as it sounds.

As for now, Gingrich is doing immense damage to the national interests of the US. At this historic juncture, the masses at all the Tahrir Squares across the Arab world are wondering about America’s attitude. Newt’s answer contributes to a new and more profound anti-Americanism.

Alas, he is not the only extreme rightist seeking to embrace Israel. Israel has lately become the Mecca of all the world’s racists. This week we were honored by the visit of the husband of Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front. A pilgrimage to the Jewish State is now a must for any aspiring fascist.

One of our ancient sages coined the phrase: “Not for nothing does the starling go to the raven. It’s because they are of the same kind”.

Thanks. But sorry. They are not of my kind.

To quote another proverb: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

( / 16.12.2011)

Gaining ground

Syria’s opposition, though fractious, is making headway against the regime



IF IT took over, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition to President Bashar Assad, would sharply alter the regional dynamic. Burhan Ghalioun, a Sorbonne professor who is its leader, says that Syria’s special relationship with Iran, its main ally, would end. Relations would also change for the worse with Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia party-cum-militia whose popularity in Syria has plummeted thanks to its support for the regime.

This may bolster the SNC’s standing with Mr Assad’s enemies abroad, especially those in the United States who see in Syria’s conflict a chance to isolate Iran and tilt the regional balance of power against it. But Mr Ghalioun’s comments did not go down well with some colleagues, who think he jumped the diplomatic gun. Nor did some rude remarks he made about the Kurds, an important minority in Syria.

Mr Ghalioun has yet to win the avuncular mediating status of his Libyan counterpart, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, now the interim president. Since Syria’s opposition is mostly Sunni Muslim, reflecting the country’s 75% Sunni make-up, he needs to win over Alawites and Christians, each about a tenth of the population, who have generally stayed loyal to Mr Assad. And he must corral the Free Syrian Army of defectors bent on toppling the regime by force.

Barely two months old, the SNC is still fragile. Many of its members, both in exile and within Syria, grumble that policies are often conjured up on the spur of the moment and are sometimes naive. Views differ within the SNC on whether to seek foreign intervention. And some SNC members think Islamists are over-represented. The enthusiasm of Turkey’s Islamist government for the SNC may account for the Islamists’ disproportionate presence in it.

The Free Syrian Army is also causing problems for the SNC. It is probably smaller and less united than its leader, Colonel Riad Asaad, says; he claims 15,000-plus men under his command. Assorted defectors have become more audacious, targeting security checkpoints and intelligence buildings. But the SNC is trying to keep the uprising peaceful and wants to bring the Free Syrian Army under tighter political control. Representatives of the council and the army recently met in Turkey and agreed to co-ordinate, with the soldiers promising to scale back their attacks. But a few days later defectors killed seven pro-government soldiers at a checkpoint in the north-western province of Idleb.

The defectors think the SNC too timid. Borderlands close to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are becoming more violent; some opposition people want outsiders to create buffer zones and humanitarian corridors. Syria’s third city, Homs, is virtually under siege. The UN now says more than 5,000 Syrians have been killed, mostly by security forces, since the upheaval began. At least 14,000 are said to be behind bars.

Wary Western diplomats describe the SNC, whether or not it can contain the Free Syrian Army, as “the best we have”, though it is far from achieving the recognition given to the National Transitional Council in Libya at an early stage in its rebellion. Turkey and France are the SNC’s keenest backers. Britain has made a former ambassador to Lebanon its special envoy to the Syrian opposition, in essence the SNC.



Western and Arab diplomats are also encouraging the SNC to co-ordinate, if not to merge, with the National Co-ordination Committee, a rival opposition group that still functions within Syria and is led by Hassan Abdul Azim and other longstanding dissidents, some of whom are wary of the Islamists within the SNC. The Arab League, with Qatar to the fore, is particularly keen to bring the two groups together.

Since it took the unprecedented step of imposing sanctions against Syria last month, the league is the key to diplomacy aimed at bringing Mr Assad down. Western governments, which have steadily tightened sanctions against Mr Assad, are taking their cue from it. So far Russia and China have refused to consent to any measures in the UN Security Council similar to those that helped get rid of Muammar Qaddafi. It will be for the league to persuade them to fall into line.

( / 16.12.2011)

The daily ordeal of getting to school in Hebron

Palestinian children in Hebron are forced to pass through Israeli military checkpoints in order to get to school.

The Qurduba School in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron is once again a target for harassment by Israeli occupation forces, as new restrictions on freedom of movement bring a wave of settler attacks and soldier violence.

Established in 1984, the Qurduba School sits surrounded by five Israeli settlements on a hilltop in central Hebron. To get to school every morning, pupils between the ages of 6 and 13 — and their women teachers — must navigate a maze of checkpoints and dangerous settler-inhabited streets.

Curfews, checkpoints, land confiscation, home demolitions, army and settler harassment, and other aspects of occupation within Palestinian life in Hebron intensified after February 1994 when extremist Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, gunned down 24 Muslim worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the center of Hebron.

In the years following the massacre, the mosque was split into two parts, becoming half-mosque, half-synagogue. In 1997, the settler-populated area around the religious compound was cordoned off by Israel as H2, designating full Israeli military control, while the rest of Hebron was designated as H1, and remains under administration of thePalestinian Authority.

Since 2005, teachers with the Qudruba school coming into the Israeli-controlled H2 district from the H1 area of the Old City had secured the right, through demonstrations, to bypass the daily metal detector scans and bag inspections at the checkpoint. Instead, they were able to pass through a side gate to reach their school.

On Tuesday, 11 October, the army revoked this right for no apparent reason. “Through this special teachers-only gate,” school principal Ibtesam al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada, “we were able to reach our school easily. It took only five minutes from the checkpoint to the school. Then suddenly, we were stopped for nothing. So all the teachers refused this order, because it’s our right [to pass through].”

In response to this injustice, teachers refused to submit to inspection, and held a demonstration with more than one hundred of their students, who left their empty classrooms to join their teachers at the checkpoint. In a shocking display of brutality, Israeli soldiers sent nine children to the hospital with injuries.

Eleven-year-old Yazan Sharbati, who was injured that Tuesday, told the International Solidarity Movement that “the army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school … I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. The soldier pushed me very hard” (“Hebron school demonstrates for third day: “Without teachers there is no school,” 13 October 2011).

Protest struck a chord

The brutal repression of the 11 October checkpoint protest struck a chord in the Hebron community, and inspired an outburst of support in a city all too accustomed to violations of the right to freedom of movement. Over the next two days, community members and representatives from the Hebron governor’s office, along with the director of education in Hebron, stood in solidarity outside of the checkpoint with the students and teachers of the Qurduba School, who held the school day’s lessons outside of the checkpoint. On the third day of demonstrations, soldiers projected the high-LRAD sound cannon, nicknamed “the scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. One teacher was arrested, and five students and demonstrators were injured.

Students, teachers and demonstrators returned to the checkpoint — Checkpoint 56 — every morning for two weeks. “During this period,” said al-Jondy, “many establishments tried to help us, but we got only promises, without solutions to our problem.” Though settlers had little to do with the events, the protests also inspired many settler attacks, as Palestinian news agency WAFA reported (“Settlers, soldiers continue attacks on Hebron schools,” 20 October 2011).

Inside the Israeli settlement of Tel Rumeida, said al-Jondy, “the settlers began to warn us … that they will settle in the empty school, and keep us away.” To save the school, coveted by settlers for its strategic hilltop location, the few teachers who lived inside H2, and did not encounter the checkpoint during their commute, reopened the school, while the other 13 Qurduba School teachers kept up a daily vigil outside the checkpoint.

Eventually, when all attempts to reason with the authorities failed, the teachers began using a much longer alternate route to bypass the checkpoint every morning. “Except for the Israeli soldiers,” lamented al-Jondy, “nobody has any power. The Ministry of Education spoke with the commander, but there is no solution. The Israeli army claimed they closed the checkpoint because of security. But every day for five years the same teachers come to the checkpoint. They have their names and identity numbers. They are on a list. They are not a security threat.”

Constant physical and psychological assaults

The students and teachers of Qurduba School are no strangers to the travails of occupation. The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs!JDL [Jewish Defense League].”

The building and its inhabitants are constantly physically and psychologically assaulted by settlers and soldiers. “There were about 450 pupils in the 1980s,” said al-Jondy. “Because of the occupation, because of the settlers and the bad situation here, this number began to decrease. This year we have only 149 pupils.”

Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS) stated in a 2008 report about the situation in Hebron that the area around the school and the settlements “is often the scene of violent confrontations” between Israeli settlers and Palestinian schoolchildren. “Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children” (“Under Attack: Settler Violence Against Palestinian Children in the Occupied Territory,” November 2008 [PDF]).

Hebron has been under occupation since 1969, when the first religious settlers, who had barricaded themselves in a downtown hotel room and refused to leave, were coaxed out by the Israeli military and given the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Ten years later, the act was repeated in an abandoned hospital, and this time Israel allowed the squatters to settle in downtown Hebron.

Restrictions on Palestinian life in Hebron accelerated after the 1994 massacre, and the expulsion of Palestinians and their livelihoods from the heart of Hebron’s Old City became an institutionalized process after the area became Israeli-controlled H2 in 1997.

Now, at least 500 settlers and at least 2,000 soldiers have shut down Shuhada Street, the economic heart of both Hebron and the entire southern West Bank. The gradual takeover of Shuhada Street, beginning in the 1980s and culminating after the second intifada, has turned the once-bustling marketplace into a ghost town, and has caused the (often forced) abandonment of over 1,000 housing units and over 1,800 shops and storefronts — which now, in a cruel and ironic twist of history, are graffitied with the same Stars of David that once marred Jewish storefronts in 1930s Germany.

“Sometimes many students come to the school very late,” said al-Jondy. “When I ask them, ‘Why are you late?’ they tell me, ‘Last night I didn’t sleep, because the settlers threw empty bottles and stones at my house.’ So they come here drowsy and sleepy, and they can’t concentrate on any subjects during the day because of what happened during the night. Most of the students’ houses are close to the houses of the settlers, so they are very vulnerable .. sometimes as head teacher I come early to the school, and the settlers chase me with dogs, and I have to run from their dogs.”

The DCI-PS report cites the testimony of Raghad Hashim Younis al-Azza, a ten-year-old student of the Qurtuba School:

“About a year ago, I was going to school with my classmate Ruwand who lives on Shuhada Street. I was with my cousin Ahmad and our neighbour’s daughter, Abrar. On the road, we came across a group of settlers, about 10 of them. They were about the same age as me except two girls who were around 18 years old. The two (older) girls attacked me and hit me. They asked the boys to make a circle around me and beat me. My cousin and the neighbor’s daughter ran to the checkpoint to inform the [Israeli] soldier. When the soldier approached us, the settlers ran away. He asked me what happened. I told him everything, but he did not respond to me.”

Settlers also frequently attack the school itself. To cite one of myriad examples, Ma’an News Agency reported in November 2007 that “right wing Israeli settlers broke into the courtyard of the Qurduba school … attempted to set fire to the building … attempted to rip the doors off the building and succeeded in knocking over walls, trampling flower beds and blocking the path to the school with rocks … a group of children, armed with axes, attempted to break the water pipes that supply the school. They were urged on by their teacher” (“Israeli settlers attack girls’ school in Hebron,” 26 November 2007).

In 2008, a previous director of the Qurduba School, Reem al-Shareef, moved the school’s start time from 8:00 to 7:30am, so the students would not be harassed by the settler children as the latter headed to daily study at their yeshiva. Today, because teachers and administrators must take a long route to avoid Checkpoint 56, “it takes about 45 minutes to reach the school,” said al-Jondy, “so most of the teachers come here late. Three of the teachers have injured themselves because of the new route. One of them hurt her leg, one hurt her back.” Because teachers are late, it is harder to enforce the 7:30 start time, leaving teachers and students once again vulnerable to early morning settler attacks.

Various challenges to education

“It’s very hard to have education in H2,” explained Mohammed Abuthereim, Hebron Municipality Director of Education, referring to the Israeli settlement district of Hebron. “The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers … we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

Now that school has reopened, students and teachers are greeted with almost daily settler attacks. “In October, I filed a complaint with the Israeli police at the [nearby settlement of] Kiryat Arba, and they promised that in the future they would stop the settlers, because they don’t have the right to do these things,” al-Jondy told The Electronic Intifada. “But so far, the police have done nothing for us … [On 7 November,] the school’s guard phoned me at nine in the morning and told me there were settlers around the school, throwing empty bottles and big stones on the school and on the garden. So I quickly phoned the police, and they eventually came, but they did nothing.”

For now, the Qurduba School is pushing the Hebron municipality, as well as organizations like the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, to demand that the Israeli military ease its draconian restrictions of freedom of movement, not only for teachers but for all residents of Hebron.

In the meantime, resilience, steadfastness and hope remain the driving forces, in spite of the occupation, that keep the Qurduba School open day after day.

Badia Dwaik, a Hebron resident and the deputy coordinator of the local activism groupYouth Against Settlements, told The Electronic Intifada that the students and teachers of the Qurduba School have begun peaceful protests against the new closure policy.

“Over the years they have struggled for freedom of education and for the right to education enjoyed by all other children in the world, and this continues today,” she said. “They will not give up.”

( / 16.12.2011)