Israel military court rejects appeal for jailed cartoonist

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal to release jailed Palestinian cartoonist Muhammad Sabanah, a lawyer from the Palestinian Prisoners Society said.

A judge at Ofer military court ordered Sabanah to be detained for a further eight days to continue interrogations, Jawad Boulous told Ma’an.

The judge said that new elements in the case, namely the arrest of Sabanah’s brother last week, necessitated further interrogation.

Boulous told Ma’an that Sabanah was brought to Ofer court from Jalameh detention center, where he had been held in solitary confinement.

Israeli forces detained Sabanah, 30, at the Allenby Bridge crossing between Jordan and the West Bank on Feb. 16, without providing any explanation.

Sabanah’s brother, Thamaer, was arrested on March 6 from his home near Jenin. Israeli soldiers also confiscated his laptop and cell phone, his wife told Ma’an.

Sabanah’s cartoons are widespread in the Arab world. He is well-known for his criticism through his cartoons, which focus mainly on the Palestinian people’s problems and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Israel forces ‘order 15 families to leave homes’

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Monday ordered 15 families to evacuate their homes in the southern West Bank and said the area was a “closed military zone,” a resident facing eviction said.

Abed Shalalda said 15 families from his tribe were told they would be evicted from their homes in al-Ganoub, east of Sair, by force if they did not leave within days.

The families live in caves and ancient stone dwellings in an area with fruit trees and water wells. Shalalda said all the residents had land ownership deeds.

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Over 85 percent Palestinians fled Syria’s Yarmouk camp: UNRWA

Palestinian women, who had been living at Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, wait outside the Lebanese immigration authority to have their papers stamped at the Lebanese-Syrian border, in al-Masnaa Dec. 18, 2012.

More than 85 percent of Palestinians living in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp have been displaced due to the violence that has gripped the country for the past two years, said the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“Out of 150,000 Palestinians living in Yarmouk, 130,000 have been displaced,” Filippo Grandi said during a press conference in New York Monday. “Only 20,000 [Palestinians] remain and are trapped in the area amid fighting between the opposition and government forces.”

He said that it has become extremely difficult to reach those in the camp, adding security is the main obstacle.

Another concern was that many Palestinians do not have many options as to where they can flee.

“Unlike Syrians, they have limited options. Jordan has stated it does not want more Palestinian refugees. They took about 5,000 and now have a population of about 2 million Palestinians,” Grandi said during the conference entitled Palestine Refugees in a Turbulent Middle East – A Forgotten Population. “One way open to Palestinians for escape is to [flee] to Lebanon, where life for Palestinian refugees is already difficultm, also where 32,000 have fled.”

The U.N. official also said small Palestinian groups have been taking sides in the Syrian conflict, however, he added: “The majority of the population wants to be left out of it.”

Grandi called for more Arab aid and said that UNRWA continues to work Syria.

“We have the advantage of 3,700 staff members providing services to refugees,” he said. “We have lost five and 10 are missing… we do not know their whereabouts.”

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Fair trade helps Palestinian farmers stay on their land

Palestinian goods are slowly starting to gain access to global markets.

There are many varieties of olive oil available to the British shopper at the local supermarket, but one stands out from the rest. It’s not just the fair trade symbol that marks it as distinctive; it’s also the rarely seen description on its label: “Produced and Bottled in Palestine.”

This bottle of olive oil has had a difficult journey. From the farms and olive groves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the shelves of a UK supermarket, such Palestinian goods, and the farmers who produce them, face hardship at every stage of the manufacturing and exporting process. And while Israel has ready access to foreign markets, Palestinian farmers often struggle to make a viable living from their crops.

Through the fair trade initiative, however, Palestinian goods are slowly starting to gain access to global markets.

Fair trade, thought up in the 1980s as a way of supporting producers in developing countries, now provides a decent price and a sustainable income to thousands of smallholders worldwide.

The initiative reached Palestine in 2004, as a group of Palestinian farmers, exporters and cooperatives came together in Jenin to form the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA), with the aim of establishing global trade links and providing a stable income for farmers suffering the impact of occupation. Despite a struggling economy, Israeli movement restrictions and shrinking farmland, farmers were able to start selling their produce overseas for a fair price.

Palestinian olive oil was first awarded the fair trade mark in 2009, and is now distributed to more than 17 countries around the world, including the UK, by companies such as Equal Exchange and Zaytoun.

“First in many ways”

According to Cathi Pawson, co-founder of Zaytoun, gaining fair trade certification for Palestinian products took a lot of time and paperwork. “Fair trade olives and oil were a ‘first’ in many ways,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “They were the world’s first fair trade olives and oil, Palestine’s first fair trade product, and the first fair trade product from a conflict zone.

“Farmers needed first to understand and appreciate the value of certification to their business — the process involves a lot of paperwork and extra training, and the certifying bodies were dealing with a new culture — farmer cooperatives work in a different way to those in Africa or South America, for example.”

Several Palestinian products now carry the fair trade mark, including dates, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, couscous and jars of the herb blend zaatar. Approximately 1,700 West Bank farmers and producers are now part of the initiative.

One of these farmers, Odeh al-Qadi, 47, from Mazarea al-Noubani in the northern West Bank, traveled to the UK recently as part of Fairtrade Fortnight. “Without fair trade, Palestinian companies and farmers wouldn’t have access to global markets,” al-Qadi told The Electronic Intifada during an event in the English county of Sussex.

“Israelis control exporting, and they gave us very, very low prices, so it wasn’t worth going through. We didn’t get the prices we deserved. That’s why fair trade is really important, bringing our products to new markets.”

Before becoming part of the fair trade movement, al-Qadi was considering abandoning his farmland, as the price of olive oil became too low to provide a viable income. Then he was approached by Nasser Abu Farha, the director of Canaan Fair Trade, an organization based in the West Bank city of Jenin.

“Double the market price”

“He offered us double the market price,” said al-Qadi. “When he offered that, the farmers were really excited that we would sell our olive oil for a good price. Instead of abandoning the land, I started to care for it, and my production increased.”

The land of Palestine has been cultivated for millennia, and agriculture has long been an essential part of Palestinian life. According to the Fairtrade Foundation in London, Palestine is “the original cultivator of olive oil,” and today olive trees are still grown and harvested using ancient traditional methods.

“We have inherited land for hundreds, thousands of years,” said al-Qadi. “We have olive trees we call Rumi trees that existed since the Roman Empire, 2,000, even 3,000-year-old trees.”

Al-Qadi is assisted on his farm by his wife, two sons, three daughters and his 93-year-old mother. “The land has been inherited from father to son, son to grandson,” he added. “We have an Arabic saying that says, ‘They planted so that we eat, and we plant so that they eat.’”

But since the expulsion of thousands of Palestinian farmers from their land in the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing ahead of Israel’s establishment in 1948 and the military occupation of the West Bank since 1967, tending to the land has become increasingly challenging.

“The face of Palestinian farming has changed significantly as a result of the occupation,” said Pawson. “Access to crops year-round is restricted by settler-only roads, by the wall, bycheckpoints and by intimidation and threatening behavior from illegal settlers. Not only harvesting, but essential pruning, weeding, irrigation and terrace maintenance are severely impacted by this.”

“We face multiple challenges,” al-Qadi explained. “But the biggest problem all Palestinian farmers face is not having access to water resources. We cannot build our own wells under our own land to get our own water, because the Israelis close it down for us, we can’t get permits.”

Israel’s wall in the West Bank is one of the most visual signs of the occupation’s impact on Palestinian farming. Stretching for almost 700 kilometers (435 miles) in and around the West Bank, the wall separates many farmers from their crops. Throughout the West Bank, thousands of olive trees lie, untended, on the “wrong” side of the wall.

“The wall goes through the land of Palestine, separating land from farmers, farmers from land, and making accessing our land difficult,” said al-Qadi. “The Israelis control the land.”

“There are 7.6 million olive trees in Palestine. Over 2.1 million are inaccessible to Palestinian farmers. That’s completely lost income,” said Manal Abdallah, promotions and media manager of Canaan Fair Trade, who also traveled to the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight. “If Palestinian farmers had access to water resources and all the trees, they could easily double their production.”

Confiscation threat

Though production is limited, fair trade can bring much-needed stability to farmers facing the daily difficulties of occupation.

“Because of the occupation, land confiscation is a constant threat for the olive farmers and access to their olive trees can be very difficult,” said Senga Gall, managing director of Equal Exchange, a UK distributor of fair trade goods. “Due to these restrictions a large part of the country’s olive harvest goes unsold each year. Fair trade helps provide a route to market and can offer much needed pre-finance during harvest time.”

Although fair trade has allowed production to increase in many cases, Palestinian organizations still face the challenge of exporting their produce overseas. Delays caused by Israel often mean that stock cannot be reliably delivered. The Fairtrade Foundation has reported that as little as one-third of the 15,000 tons of oil olive produced in Palestine each year is exported.

“We have had problems with meeting demand in the past,” said Pawson. “The occupation means it is difficult to get things from the UK to Palestine quickly and reliably, such as new labels for oil bottles.”

“Although on paper the export route is now a tried and tested one, at any time the arrival of goods to port by a specified date may be delayed by ‘security checks,’” she added.

Due to travel restrictions, Palestinian goods leaving the West Bank must be unloaded at Israeli checkpoints, thoroughly checked and then reloaded onto Israeli vehicles on the other side. According to Oxfam, this process often adds significant delays and costs for producers, as well as compromising the quality of the goods.

“Sometimes the trucks wait for 15-20 hours to cross a checkpoint,” Rebecca Wynn, Oxfam’s Media Coordinator for the Middle East, told The Electronic Intifada. “[This] can seriously affect the quality of the olive oil through deterioration in direct sunlight. Often the bottles are damaged and oil leaks.”

“Excessive time delays, increased transport, labor and equipment costs, security checks, lack of access to proper storage facilities and damage which occurs during handling reduce the competitiveness of Palestinian agricultural produce and introduce high levels of unpredictability in terms of quality and delivery times,” Wynn added.

“Restriction of movement makes life, farming, in Palestine much more challenging than in other countries, in addition to difficulties of exporting and not having access to markets. Everything is more difficult because of the occupation,” said Odeh al-Qadi.

Exporting from the West Bank is difficult, but for producers in Gaza, the Israeli blockade has made foreign markets inaccessible. Products from Gaza used to be exported as part of the fair trade scheme, but this has been impossible since the blockade began in 2006.

“We were proud to sell Gazan maftoul [couscous], but the lockdown of Gaza makes this now impossible,” said Pawson. “Zaytoun now imports solely from the West Bank.”

“Economic resistance”

By providing a stable income and investing in the community, the fair trade initiative has meant that farmers such as al-Qadi have been enabled to stay on their land. For many, even the act of remaining is an act of resistance.

“Fair trade gives us a fair price that allows us to stay on this land and gain an income from our production,” said al-Qadi. “Instead of abandoning our land, now we are producing and investing in it.”

“For me fair trade not only helps to give farmers access to markets, it helps them in a way resist occupation,” said Manal Abdallah. “The occupiers want to uproot us from our land. They want to frustrate the Palestinians and make their lives so miserable that they leave.”

“But when they are able to invest and gain income, they are able to stay and produce from this land,” she added. “And in a way, that’s resisting occupation in a peaceful way, a sort of economic resistance.”

Through the extra income al-Qadi gained by selling his oil for a fairer price, he was able to build a bigger house for his family and send his son to university. On top of this, the fair trade premium, a sum paid to producers for investment in social development projects, allowed members of cooperatives to invest in their local community.

“Last year with the premium we were able to buy farming tools for all the farmers on the land, and it also contributed to building a new mosque in the village.”

Solidarity

While Palestinian goods are still relatively new to the mass market, they are becoming increasingly available in supermarkets. Through fair trade, consumers around the globe are able to show solidarity with Palestinian farmers.

“We stock Palestinian goods because our mission has always been to support some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged small farmers in the world and provide market access for their products in the UK,” said Senga Gall of Equal Exchange. “When we speak to the farmers in Palestine, it is not only the sales and financial support which makes the difference but the sense of solidarity and support that they receive from the fair trade community.”

“Time and again when we visit Palestine, and take new visitors with us, our visitors ask the farmers, ‘What can we do to help?’” said Pawson. “The farmers always respond, ‘Tell our story. Don’t leave us isolated. Take what you have seen and heard and experienced back to your friends and families.’”

“It is very important for the people here in the UK or other parts of the world to buy Palestinian olive oil,” al-Qadi told his audience in Sussex.

“I respect and appreciate every single penny spent buying this olive oil, helping the farmers in Palestine to stay on their land, regardless of the challenges and difficult situation we live in. You supporting us means we are able to stay on the land and live in dignity.”

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Palestinian refugees in greater need of relief as Syrian crisis escalates, warns UN official

UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi.

11 March 2013 – Amid rising deaths among the Palestinian refugee population in Syria and funding shortfalls for humanitarian assistance in the war-torn country, a senior United Nations official today urged international donors to step up their financial support for relief efforts in what he described as “a messy, violent and tragic war for the civilian population.”

In an interview with the UN News Centre, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA), Filippo Grandi, warned that providing access and resources to the 500,000 Palestinian refugees trapped in Syria were among the “most urgent” priorities but could only be achieved with appropriate financing from the international community.

“This is very urgent and important for all of us on the ground,” Mr. Grandi said, adding that it was also incumbent on the international community and the Security Council “to find agreement on how to put an end to this violence.”

“Otherwise,” he added, “the suffering will skyrocket and with it the enormous needs of these populations in distress.”

As the fighting in Syria continues to escalate, the Palestinian refugee population there has come under increasing threat. Twelve Palestinian refugees were killed by heavy weaponry on 7 February in the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk; five of them were members of the same family.

Following that incident, UNRWA cautioned that the Palestinian refugees were unable to move around safely and faced severe restrictions on movement owing to escalating threats from shelling and armed clashes, exacerbating vulnerabilities that existed prior to the Syrian conflict.

“The Palestinian refugees have been affected just like everybody else,” admitted Mr. Grandi, “but I would not hesitate to say that today all of them are in need.”

One constant that UNRWA has encountered since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began over 20 months ago has been the slow trickle of funding needed to prop up the on-the-ground relief efforts, particularly as the Agency’s tasks have shifted from developmental assistance to more immediate emergency aid.

According to statistics released by UNRWA earlier this year, most of the Palestinian refugees in Syria now rely on the Agency as their sole means of support. Several UNRWA schools in the country are currently acting as a last place of refuge for 9,000 people, while tens of thousands languish under harsh conditions in neighbouring countries. Moreover, some 20,000 people have fled to the over-crowded refugee camps of Lebanon.

Mr. Grandi noted that out of the $1.5 billion UN-wide humanitarian appeal put out in January, $90 million were, in fact, destined for UNRWA’s relief efforts over the next six months. Nevertheless, he cautioned that more funding would be needed in order to maintain crucial humanitarian assistance work.

“I estimate that between contributions made and pledges and other broader pledges, we are about halfway through,” he stated. “Compared to others we are not doing so badly, but we still need the other half to continue our emergency activities.”

With jobs steadily disappearing across Syria and food becoming increasingly scarce, UNRWA’s role in assisting the Palestinians trapped in Syria has slowly evolved from providing regular services – ranging from education to health needs – to bringing emergency services to a population trapped by a destructive and overwhelming conflict.

As a result, the UNRWA chief pointed out that regular services were now being substituted with emergency ones such as distributing cash, food supplies, and medical aid to the beleaguered refugee population.

“Unfortunately and increasingly, our aid is turning from the more developmental aid that we do normally to humanitarian assistance. And the challenges are those that affect everybody – insecurity and insufficient resources, but insecurity in particular.”

At a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York later in the day, Mr. Grandi followed up his earlier appeals lamenting that the increasing violence had hampered humanitarian access to the refugees. He further noted that, unlike Syrian nationals, Palestinians had so-called “limited flight options” as neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, had capped their admittance numbers to the Palestinian refugee population.

“The challenges are to continue to provide the services that we provide to the half a million plus people – keep schools open, keep health centres running, keep assistance to the poor going,” he continued.

“That’s an increasing challenge in a situation of growing insecurity, lack of access, and other problems that affect everybody’s humanitarian action in Syria.”

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Israeli forces incursion east of Gaza

 

Israeli occupation forces (IOF) mounting a number of armored vehicles and escorting bulldozers advanced east of Juhr Al-Deek to the south east of Gaza city on Monday. 

 

 Israeli forces incursion east of Gaza

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) – Israeli occupation forces (IOF) mounting a number of armored vehicles and escorting bulldozers advanced east of Juhr Al-Deek to the south east of Gaza city on Monday.
Local and security sources said that the IOF army vehicles advanced 200 meters from the border fence.
The sources told the PIC reporter that the bulldozers leveled land in the area while the vehicles combed its vicinity.
(Source / 11.03.2013)

Lebanon says world must shoulder Syrian refugee burden

BEIRUT (Reuters) — President Michel Suleiman called on Monday for international action to help Lebanon cope with a deluge of refugees from the war in neighboring Syria which he said threatened to set his volatile country ablaze.

In an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace overlooking Beirut – and just 25 miles from the Syrian-Lebanese border – Suleiman compared Syria’s civil war to a conflagration breaking out next door.

“When there is a fire next to your house, you have to assume that it will spread and you have to try to stop it reaching you,” Suleiman, a former army chief elected president as part of a peace deal to end sectarian clashes in Beirut in 2008.

Suleiman said the presence of a million Syrians alongside an existing Palestinian refugee population meant that a quarter of his tiny Mediterranean nation’s population were now refugees.

“Those numbers are more than the capacity of any country to bear,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of material help and relief – the geographic and demographic capacity is saturated and the problems resulting from this massive number affect us socially, economically and on security.”

Lebanon says it is now hosting 1 million Syrians, one third of them officially registered as refugees fleeing a conflict which has killed 70,000 people, according to the United Nations. The remainder are mostly guest workers and their families.

They live among a nation of 4 million, a quarter of the size of Switzerland, which fought a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and whose sectarian fault-lines between Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims have been exacerbated by the fighting in Syria.

Suleiman called for an international conference to find ways for other countries to absorb the refugees, along the lines of a 1979 Geneva Convention in which Western nations agreed to settle tens of thousands of “boat people” who fled the war in Vietnam.

“The world should think about how to alleviate this burden from Lebanon…. For humanitarian reasons we cannot turn back any refugee who is hungry, wounded, frightened or persecuted,” he said. “But what to do if there is an epidemic or hunger?”

“The Syrian refugees should be distributed (to other countries),” Suleiman said.

Danger to Lebanon

Sporadic violence has shaken Lebanon since the Syrian uprising erupted nearly two years ago.

Dozens of people have been killed in street fighting in the northern city of Tripoli between a Sunni Muslim majority – which strongly supports the Syrian rebels battling President Bashar Assad – and a minority from Assad’s own Alawite sect.

In October a top security official, whose investigations had implicated Syrian authorities in an alleged plot to set off explosives in Lebanon, was killed by a Beirut car bomb. The assassination triggered Sunni protests across the country.

“There is a danger. We have to keep extinguishing the fire,” said Suleiman, a Maronite Christian. “The fire extinguisher should always be in our hands.”

“There is an ongoing war, but Syria won’t be divided or partitioned. It would be a catastrophe for all the region, but it won’t happen,” the Lebanese leader said, calling for a concerted push by world powers to end the crisis.

“They should find a political solution. It is imperative that they have an international conference because the damage of what is happening will not be confined to Syria, but will hurt all major powers.

“Europe, Russia and the United States and major powers should agree on a solution and should impose it on Arabs and on the Syrians,” he declared.

International divisions have paralyzed UN Security Council action to halt the Syrian conflict. Russia and China have blocked three resolutions backed by Western and some Arab states aimed at putting pressure on Assad to stop the bloodshed.

“I am very worried about the situation,” Suleiman said. “We are working to prevent the explosion. Nobody has any excuse to avoid their responsibilities.

“Those who benefit from the existing situation have no right to subject the country to a problem,” he said, apparently referring to Syria’s local partisans including Hezbollah and its allies, who dominate Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government.

Queried on how long he believed Assad could stay in power, the 64-year-old Suleiman was circumspect. “More than a month,” he said. Asked if it could be years, he said: “Maybe.”

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in West Bank, Jerusalem

An Israeli police officer falls, engulfed in flames after Palestinian protesters threw firebombs during clashes after Friday prayers at a compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City March 8, 2013. Israeli police fired stun grenades to disperse Palestinian worshippers who had thrown rocks and firebombs at them after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, police said. REUTERS/Mostafa Alkharouf

(Reuters) – Clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank and at a holy site in Jerusalem on Friday as tensions rose just weeks before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Trouble broke out after the funeral in the West Bank of Palestinian who died of wounds on Thursday after being shot by Israeli soldiers during a confrontation two weeks ago.

More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony but afterwards a group of about 100 mourners threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, a military spokeswoman said. 䀀 In Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli police fired stun grenades at Palestinian worshippers who threw rocks and firebombs at them after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Dozens of officers in riot gear entered the politically sensitive area, one of Islam’s holiest sites, to break up a crowd of several hundred protesters.

Palestinian medical workers said about 35 protesters were injured at the plaza, none seriously. A number of policemen were slightly hurt, a police spokesman said.

As well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, the plaza houses the golden Dome of the Rock shrine, which marks the spot from which Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.

Jews revere the sacred compound as the site of their Biblical Temple, destroyed by Roman troops in the 1st Century.

OBAMA VISIT

Tension is rising before a visit by Obama to Jerusalem and Ramallah towards the end of the month and the possible resumption of peace talks that broke down in 2010.

A surge in violence in the occupied West Bank over the past several weeks has raised concern in Israel that a new Palestinian uprising could erupt.

The recent violence has focused around the plight of Palestinians held in Israeli jails but it largely subsided last week after Israel agreed to release two hunger-striking inmates in May and they ended their protest.

A Palestinian official said two people have died as a result of the clashes in the past few weeks.

At the West Bank funeral, Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqea told mourners that Israel’s actions would lead to more protests.

“Instead of releasing prisoners Israel is committing more crimes, the blood of martyr Mohammed will escalate resistance,” Qaraqea said.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital – territories Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and which it still controls.

Peace talks broke down over Palestinian objections to Israel expanding settlements in the occupied land territories. Most of the world considers the settlements illegal.

Israel has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions.

Predicting that Obama’s visit would fail to secure any desired results for the Palestinians, Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on his West Bank rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the more secular Fatah movement, to choose Palestinian reconciliation over peace talks with Israel.

“As Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims we must not hold hopes on such visit and we must not sell our people illusions,” he told worshippers at Friday prayers in Gaza.

“I urge (Abbas) not to fall in the trap of illusion and not to close the door to Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.

(Source / 11.03.2013)

Israel going for one million Jews in the West Bank

Despite his disappointing results at the ballot box, Netanyahu has successfully leveraged his negotiating position to create a right-wing government that is outwardly aggressive and inwardly nationalistic.

Settlers and their supporters demonstrating in Ulpana in June against the evacuation.

Settlers and their supporters demonstrating in Ulpana in June against the evacuation of several families from their homes.

The election campaign season comes to its real conclusion this week with the formation of the government and an unadulterated victory for the right. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recovered from the blow he took at the ballot box and managed to extract the maximum out of the coalition negotiations he conducted with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett. The old fox schooled the political greenhorns.

Netanyahu began the negotiations after a month of futile idling that was meant to weaken his partners’ negotiating positions: the highly publicized tiff with Bennett, the crocodile tears over separating from his Haredi former coalition partners, the offer of the Finance Ministry to Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich and the promise of renewed talks with the Palestinians to Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni. When all the political spin had settled, the dice came out in Netanyahu’s favor: Foreign and defense policy will remain in the hands of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, Lapid has been kicked over to the Finance Ministry and Habayit Hayehudi will be a junior coalition partner.

The coalition negotiations were characterized by an excessive preoccupation with minor distractions like the hatred for Sara Netanyahu, the number of ministers in the new government or the production of a Lapid victory photo without Haredim. Substantive topics like foreign or defense policies were pushed aside in the discussions, except for Netanyahu’s weekly warning about the Iranian nuclear threat and the dangerous situation in Syria. Even economic policy was pushed aside to the margins, if it was discussed at all.

Netanyahu cut his rival and partner Lapid down to size. The prime minister presented him as a vacuous politician chasing after respect and ratings, as someone who wanted to be pampered at the Foreign Ministry instead of finding out “where the money” is going in the Finance Ministry, as he frequently asked ahead of the election. At the end of last week Lapid surrendered to the pressure campaign in the media and assumed the troublesome task he had tried to shirk. He also failed in ridding the government of unnecessary ministerial portfolios like “Jerusalem” and “Diaspora Affairs.”

Now the game has ended and real life will begin.  The third Netanyahu government has one clear goal: enlarging the settlements and achieving the vision of “a million Jews living in Judea and Samaria.” This magic number will thwart the division of the land and prevent once and for all the establishment of a Palestinian state. The defense, and housing and construction ministries that are relevant to this issue will be given to Likud MK Moshe Ya’alon and Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Ariel. They won’t be assuming these positions in order to freeze settlement construction, but rather to implement the Levy report which determined that Israel was not legally-speaking an occupying power in the West Bank and the Habayit Hayehudi platform; or in other words, to gradually absorb the West Bank into Israel.

Netanyahu has used the term “the math” to explain the political difficulties that prevented him from being more flexible toward the Palestinians. That was in the previous Knesset term, when moderates like Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor were in senior government positions. In the new government, the math acts with abundant force against a compromise in the territories. The radical right wing is strengthened and united, and those who would claim Netanyahu’s mantle need the settlers’ support and will do everything in order to bribe them and make them happy.

Lapid and Livni are supposed to represent the foreign policy moderates, but they will have a tough time competing to be heard over ministers Ya’alon, Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Shamir. Lapid will be bought with trifles like the Sharing of the Civic Burden Law so that billions of shekels will continue to flow into the settlements, and Livni is too weak to have much influence.

Netanyahu’s key task will be buying some quiet on the Palestinian issue to permit the expansion of the settlements at the small price of international condemnation. He will continue with the successful ploy from his previous term: threatening an attack on Iran and Syria, which are drawing American attention. Barack Obama is busy with calming the Iranian front and preventing an eruption in and around Syria, and is ignoring Israel’s actions in the territories. This is the deal that Netanyahu will strive to achieve with Obama during their meetings next week in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has lost his drawing power at the ballot box but leveraged to his benefit the rift in the opposing camp and formed a government that is outwardly aggressive and inwardly nationalistic. He has bound to himself the ambitious Lapid and Bennett, who will make an effort to prove themselves, and left out in the cold the hungry-eyed Haredim who will seek to utilize every crack in the coalition to crawl back into government. And as a final bonus, Netanyahu lowered the expectations of the Likud’s incumbent ministers, who gave up their dreams of an office upgrade and pleaded to be allowed to stay in their old ones. Impressive results in comparison with the disappointing election campaign of the “strong” Prime Minister Netanyahu.

(Source / 11.03.2013)

“Hongeren voor gerechtigheid

Kent u Samer Issawi? Leest u zijn hartenkreet We are fighting for all Palestinians in de Britse krant The Guardian. Hij zal u raken.
Samer Issawi is vandaag 231 dagen in hongerstaking. Hij behoorde tot de meer dan 1.000 Palestijnen die in oktober 2011 vrijkwamen, in ruil voor de vrijlating van Gilad Shalit, de enige Israëli die door Palestijnen werd vastgehouden.
Kort na zijn vrijlating werd Issawi weer opgepakt, onder het voorwendsel dat hij de richtlijnen overtreden zou hebben die op zijn vrijlating van toepassing waren. Het vermeende vergrijp: hij zou zich van het bezette Oost-Jeruzalem naar een nabijgelegen Palestijns dorp, eveneens in bezet gebied, hebben verplaatst.
Toen Issawi te horen kreeg dat hij nog tientallen jaren in Israëlische gevangenschap zou moeten doorbrengen, restte hem nog maar één vorm van verzet: hongeren. Om aandacht te vragen voor zijn schrijnende situatie en het lot van andere Palestijnse hongerstakers, publiceerde ik medio februari het artikel Hongeren naar Gerechtigheid.
Het is de realiteit van militaire bezetting en totale machtsongelijkheid die zich hier manifesteert. Sinds 2000 zijn 1.100 Israëli’s door Palestijnse groepen gedood en meer dan 6.800 Palestijnen door Israël. Eén op zes, in het nadeel van de Palestijnen.
Zoveel meer Palestijnse doden, waaronder duizenden burgers, door Israëlisch geweld. Desondanks zit er geen enkele Israëli in Palestijnse gevangenschap. Als onderliggende partij zijn de Palestijnen niet bij machte om Israëli’s te vervolgen die bloed aan hun handen hebben.
Bijna 4.600 Palestijnen kwijnen onderwijl weg in Israëlische cellen, onder wie velen in administratieve detentie, zonder proces, zonder bezoekregeling, veelal zonder toegang tot een advocaat. Pure rechteloosheid.

Palestijnen in Israëlische gevangenschap, maart 2012 t/m januari 2013 [grafiek]
Aantal Palestijnen in Israëlische gevangenschap (bron: VN)
Wellicht hebt u gehoord over de documentaire The Gatekeepers, genomineerd voor een Oscar. In deze film, die diepe indruk op mij heeft gemaakt, doen zes voormalige chefs van de Israëlische geheime dienst een boekje open. Zij leggen bloot hoe een mededogenloos onderdrukkingsapparaat is opgezet om de Palestijnse bevolking in de gebieden die sinds 1967 door Israël worden bezet onder de duim te houden.
Enkele geïnterviewden laten doorschemeren dat zij de bezetting immoreel achten, ook al hebben ze daar zelf aan meegewerkt. Nog opzienbarender is wellicht hun gezamenlijke bevinding dat opeenvolgende Israëlische regeringen zonder politieke strategie hebben geopereerd, inclusief de regering van premier Netanyahu. Zonder strategie wil zeggen: zonder visie, zonder doel, zonder plan. Zonder bereidheid om vredeskansen aan te grijpen die zich in de afgelopen decennia hebben aangediend. Bekijk hier enkele fragmenten van de film.
In ons parlement heeft zich weer een bizar incident voorgedaan. SGP, ChristenUnie en PVV hebben een motie ingediend die de genationaliseerde SNS-bank ertoe moest dwingen te investeren in bedrijven die de Israëlische bezetting ondersteunen. Onze directeur heeft er een kraakhelder artikel over geschreven, dat ik u wil aanbevelen: Isra-reli’s in Tweede Kamer steunen Israëls bezetting van Palestina. De betreffende motie heeft gelukkig geen meerderheid behaald.
Een ander krachtig betoog waar ik u op wil wijzen is het opinieartikel Nederzettingenbeleid is pure apartheid van Prof. John Dugard, voormalig VN-Mensenrechtenrapporteur in de bezette Palestijnse gebieden en lid van onze Raad van AdviesMet verwijzing naar een recent VN-rapport vergelijkt Prof. Dugard het nederzettingenbeleid met de apartheid in Zuid-Afrika. De introductie afgelopen week van aparte buslijnen op de Westoever voor kolonisten en voor Palestijnen die naar Israël reizen, zet zijn conclusie extra kracht bij.
Tot veel droefheid stemt het overlijden van Prof. Pieter Kooijmans, voormalig minister van Buitenlandse Zaken en oud-rechter bij het Internationaal Gerechtshof. Prof. Kooijmans was een boegbeeld van onze Raad van Advies.
Bij zijn aantreden als staatssecretaris in het kabinet-Den Uyl gaf Wim Aantjes Pieter Kooijmans een bijzondere opdracht mee: “De vrede dienen; niet langs de weg van de macht, maar langs die van het recht.” Daar heeft Pieter naar gehandeld. We zullen hem zeer missen.
Ik wil besluiten met een tweetal positieve berichten. Na jarenlange aandrang van vredesactivisten heeft Unilever haar fabriek in een nederzetting gesloten, waarvan deze Nederlands-Britse multinational jarenlang eigenaar was. De Israëlische bezetting en kolonisatiepolitiek mag op geen enkele manier gesteund worden. Dat geldt ook voor bedrijven.
Het andere nieuws betreft de beslissing van de Nederlandse regering om richtlijnen uit te vaardigen die moeten voorkomen dat producten uit nederzettingen, die naar Nederland worden geëxporteerd, misleidend worden geëtiketteerd. Op veel van die producten staat nu ‘made in Israel’, terwijl ze vervaardigd zijn in een illegale nederzetting in bezet Palestijns gebied, dus buiten Israël.
In mei 2012 heeft de Europese Unie besloten de misleidende etikettering aan banden te leggen. Sindsdien is vooral veel gepraat. Het is een goede zaak dat onze regering nu de daad bij het woord voegt. Moge dat andere Europese landen inspireren hetzelfde te doen.
Beschamend is de reactie van de ChristenUnie. Die heeft aangekondigd vandaag een actie te lanceren tegen de etiketteringsrichtlijnen. Daarmee voert de ChristenUnie in wezen campagne vóór de nederzettingen, wetende dat de kolonisatie van bezet Palestijns gebied dwars ingaat tegen het internationaal recht en ernstige schendingen van mensenrechten veroorzaakt.
Mocht u daar net zo verbolgen over zijn als ik, dan kan het geen kwaad dat u Kamerlid Joël Voordewind een kritische (en respectvolle) e-mail stuurt. Hij is buitenlandwoordvoerder van de ChristenUnie en in belangrijke mate verantwoordelijk voor de extreme opstelling van deze partij. Zijn e-mailadres is: j.voordewind@tweedekamer.nl.
Hartelijke groet,

4 Home   Palestijnse jongen vindt huisdier terug onder puin [foto]

Een Palestijnse jongen laat triomfantelijk zijn witte konijn zien. Hij vond het konijn tussen de resten van zijn ouderlijk huis. Het huis werd door het Israëlische leger verwoest (bron:wijblijvenhier.nl). In de afgelopen drie jaar raakten bijna 1.500 Palestijnse kinderen dakloos door huisvernielingen of huisuitzettingen, aldus de VN.

(Source / 11.03.2013)