Tag Archives: settlements

Warped politics: Robert Gates says Israel is “ungrateful,” but Obama will still veto Palestine UN bid

Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in Bloomberg shows exactly how the Israel lobby has warped the U.S. political system.  The lobby has such a stranglehold on U.S. policy towards Israel that a Secretary of Defense’s distaste for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means nothing to the Obama administration’s polices on Israel.

Goldberg reports:

It was Robert M. Gates, the now-retired secretary of defense, who seemed most upset with Netanyahu. In a meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee held not long before his retirement this summer, Gates coldly laid out the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security — access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems, high-level intelligence sharing — and then stated bluntly that the U.S. has received nothing in return, particularly with regard to the peace process.

Senior administration officials told me that Gates argued to the president directly that Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank. According to these sources, Gates’s analysis met with no resistance from other members of the committee.

Gates has expressed his frustration with Netanyahu’s government before. Last year, when Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel was marred by an announcement of plans to build new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, Gates told several people that if he had been Biden, he would have returned to Washington immediately and told the prime minister to call Obama when he was serious about negotiations.

Gates’s frustration also stems from squabbling with Netanyahu over U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies. In an encounter in Israel in March, according to U.S. and Israeli sources, Netanyahu lectured Gates at length on the possible dangers posed to Israel by such sales, as well as by Turkey and other regional U.S. allies. Gates, a veteran intelligence officer, resented Netanyahu’s tone, and reminded him that the sales were organized in consultation with Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

Yet the U.S. relationship with the country that so displeases sectors of the U.S. establishment will not change one bit.  Instead, the Obama administration will defend Israel full tilt later this month when the Palestinian Authority goes to the United Nations to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state.

Why is this?  It’s simple:  President Obama needs to be re-elected in 2012, and needs pro-Israel money and support.  And while Gates is part of the military establishment, the larger military industry that profits from the Israeli occupation will certainly not be pushing back against Obama’s full-throated support for Israel.  The only way to describe a political system like this is warped.

Israel’s apartheid policing

This article originally appeared on the blog Waging Nonviolence.

Israeli activists are hoping for a “million strong” march for social justice next weekend in protest of the high cost-of-living there and neoliberal economic policies. And while those demonstrations will likely shut down normal life in Israeli cities, there is little chance that the Israeli police will use tear gas or Qrubber bullets on the protesters. But over the weekend, the Israeli military met a peaceful protest at the Qalandia checkpoint calling for free Palestinian access to Jerusalem with excessive force. This is no surprise.

Whatever the issue—water allocation, permits for building, income levels—there exists massive inequalities between Jews and Palestinians as a result of Israeli policies. Israel privileges the Jewish residents it governs and systematically excludes and marginalizes the Palestinians under its control.

The Israeli police’s response to the outbreak of the July 14 social justice movement across the state exposes one more separate and unequal facet of Israeli policy: how the state responds to unarmed protests. Israeli Jewish protesters angry about the cost of living do not pose as big of a threat to the Israeli establishment as those who explicitly challenge the occupation and Israel’s system of racial discrimination. That much is clear when comparing security forces’ response to the different types of protests that occur between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

“Israelis are very hospitable to nonviolent protests by Jews. So I wouldn’t say that the police were too tough on the protesters, especially when you consider what’s going on in the West Bank,” Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf said in a recent interview on Israel’s social justice movement.

The burgeoning protest movement across Israel has held a succession of massive rallies that have brought hundreds of thousands into the street. While there have been some arrests for shutting down roads, Israeli Jewish protesters, who make up the vast majority of those participating in the J14 movement, have been quickly released. Tent encampments across Israel remain untouched for the most part.

Even within Israel, there are illustrations of the Israeli government’s ethnicity and political-based policing. The tent encampment that has arguably suffered the most from police harassment has been the one in South Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, where African asylum-seekers and Ethiopian-Israelis have joined in. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, officers in uniform, accompanied by non-identified civilians, demolished an encampment there July 24, telling the protesters, “you brought Sudanese here.” And there has been different treatment reserved for those arrestees who are veteran Israeli activists in the joint struggle against the occupation.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian unarmed struggle continues to be brutally repressed. Weekly military incursions into Palestinian villages resisting settlements or the separation barrier continue to be a common occurrence, and unarmed protests continue to face down the Israeli military’s might.

A recent reporting trip I took through both occupied Palestine and Israel demonstrated these disparities starkly.

The West Bank village of Nabi Saleh has been resisting the expropriation of a nearby spring by the Halamish settlement at great cost. Eyad Tamimi, a popular committee activist in Nabi Saleh, told me that everyone in the village has been or knows someone who has been arrested by the Israeli military. Sixty of those who have been wounded by the Israel Defense Forces during the demonstrations are children.

“The Israeli government and military thinks Nabi Saleh is a virus, and they want to crush it before it spreads,” says Bashir Tamimi, another member of the popular committee in Nabi Saleh, which organizes the weekly Friday protests.

Recently, activists in Nabi Saleh set up their own tent in the village, mirroring Israel’s protests, and carried it during a protest “to tell the Israeli protest movement that their demands for social justice must include implementing the rights of Palestinians.” It was shot at and destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces.

The day after I visited Nabi Saleh, I found myself in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ein Kerem. An environmental-themed tent encampment had been set up there. Israelis milled around, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and played acoustic guitar. Jarringly, there was no indication that just a short drive away, there existed another protest movement that was being brutally repressed.

It is clear that the “virus” of Nabi Saleh that challenges the Israeli occupation will not spread to Israel’s social justice movement. There is a strong aversion in the tent protests to connect social justice to the occupation.

And so the apartheid policing that the Israeli security forces practice will continue unabated so long as Israel’s housing protesters do not challenge the marginalization of the Palestinians they live so close to. This will surely be on display on September 3, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis will march without fear of injury the day after weekly protests in the West Bank are met with the Israeli military’s excessive force.

Palestinian non-violent protesters “knock on Jerusalem doors”

Yesterday, Palestinians protested against Israeli policies that deny Palestinians free access to Jerusalem.  While the number of demonstrators was not large–over 200 participated at the Qalandia demonstration, according to Palestinian blogger Jalal Abukhater–Israeli forces still used excessive force on the protesters.  The Los Angeles Times covers the demonstration here.  Meanwhile, two days ago I wrote a preview of the demonstrations and the movement behind it for +972 Magazine:

Sitting outside a Tamimi family house in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on a recent August evening, the conversation shifted from discussion of the previous Friday’s nonviolent protest to planned demonstrations for Friday, August 26. On normal Fridays in Nabi Saleh—if you can call it normal—residents of the village along with Israeli and international supporters attempt to march to a nearby spring that has been expropriated by the settlers of Halamish, whose red-tiled roofs and identical suburban houses overlook the village outside of Ramallah.  The nonviolent protests are, without fail, met with extreme violence by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); some 30% of the population has been wounded since the demonstrations started, 60 of them children.

But the conversation that evening moved on to talk of a new campaign beginning on August 26.  The shift in conversation was a precursor to the shift in focus, energy and activism planned for tomorrow.

Calling their campaign the “Olive Revolution,” a coalition of popular committees—Nabi Saleh’s included—and youth groups in the West Bank have planned mass demonstrations for tomorrow to take place at the “four doors” of Jerusalem.  “We state that Jerusalem will remain the jewel of the Arabs and capital of our future country. Jerusalem is the symbol of our pride and our national dignity [and] that’s why we are going to knock on its doors by popular demonstrations and non-violent activities,” a recent statement by the “Olive Revolution” group reads.

Instead of the weekly protests in different West Bank villages, the popular committees and other activists are combining forces.  The protests are planned to take place at the Qalandia checkpoint, the separation barrier in Biddu, Shuafat and the southern gate at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.  The four areas highlight places where checkpoints and the separation barrier have cut off unimpeded Palestinian access to Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian life.  And while access to Jerusalem has been made difficult to near impossible by Israeli policies, illegal Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem have easy access to what Israel calls its eternal and undivided “capital.”

The demonstrations are all part of a strategy that Bashir Tamimi, a popular committee organizer in Nabi Saleh, hopes will “smash the occupation” in order to “have our freedom.”  In addition to highlighting the lack of Palestinian access to Jerusalem, the “Olive Revolution” also wants to draw attention to the religious restrictions the separation barrier and checkpoints place on Muslims who want to pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most holy sites.  According to the group’s website, “four famous Islamic scholars will come” and participate in the protests.

The “last Friday of Ramadan is the holiest time of Ramadan, and the Palestinian people used to go to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque at that time and now most of them will not go, so we want to pray and nonviolently demonstrate at the four doors of Jerusalem,” Ayed Morrar, an “Olive Revolution” organizer and leading popular committee activist in Budrus, said in an interview at the Fatah Central Committee office in Ramallah.  Morrar provided more details on the planned campaign during the interview.

Read the whole piece here.

West Bank village under siege faces live-ammo, arrests and concussion grenades at nonviolent demo

The West Bank village of Beit Ommar has had a tough August, withstanding frequent Israeli military raids that see soldiers shoot tear-gas into residential areas and arrest Palestinian minors.  Last Saturday, the month got even tougher for activists resisting illegal Israeli settlements and land confiscation. 

The Israeli military repressed the Beit Ommar popular committee’s most recent demonstration on August 20.  The Israel Defense Forces fired live ammunition and concussion grenades, arrested five people, and broke the arm of a member of the committee before they detained him. 

(Watch video of the demonstration here):

The demonstrators, who protest weekly, were attempting to attempting to access Beit Ommar’s land near the settlement of Karmei Tzur and were also expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza, which until last night has been under a sustained air assault by the Israeli Air Force. 

The Ma’an News Agency reported on the Beit Ommar protest:

Israeli forces on Saturday used live ammunition to disperse a demonstration against land confiscation in Beit Ummar near Hebron, local officials said.

Popular committee spokesman Younis Arar said soldiers stormed the rally as demonstrators marched toward the illegal Karmi Zur settlement, built on Palestinian-owned land.

Arar said it was the first time Israeli troops used live bullets at the weekly protest in Beit Ummar. He added that forces assaulted several protesters.

Yousef Abu Marya, a popular committee member in Beit Ommar, was “brutally beaten” and had his arm broken by Israeli soldiers, according to the Palestine Solidarity Project, a Beit Ommar-based Palestinian-led direct action group.  Last week, while I was reporting from Beit Ommar, Abu Marya told me the Israeli military broke his arm two times before, in May and July of this year

According to an international activist with the Palestine Solidarity Project, the IDF refused to let Abu Marya see a doctor for at least eight hours. 

Beit Ommar’s recent troubles did not begin on Saturday, though.  As I reported for +972 Magazine last week, the IDF has raided the village of 16,000 five times during August:

A spate of Israeli army raids at night and arrests of young Palestinians have occurred since the beginning of August, shattering any hope for calm during Ramadan.  While Israeli military incursions into Beit Ommar are common, residents and activists say that the number of raids and arrests that have occurred in August is particularly high.  There have been five occasions this month in which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have invaded the village, three of them that have occurred this past week—and the month is not even half over.

Witnesses to the raids and local activists say that the Israeli army has been shooting tear gas, sound bombs and flares into residential areas—in some cases causing injuries—and have arrested fifteen young Palestinians under the age of eighteen this month.  A landmark B’Tselem report recently released highlighted how common the arrest of minors is in the occupied territories…

The Israeli army’s repression in the village has not been limited to night raids, though. For the first time during the month of Ramadan, Beit Ommar residents and Israeli and international activists held a demonstration August 13, protesting land confiscation and the nearby settlement of Karmei Tzur.  At the demonstration, IDF soldiers repeatedly pushed back Palestinian residents of Beit Ommar attempting to access their land near the settlement, which was declared a closed military zone.  Beit Ommar is surrounded by six settlements, of which Karmei Tzur is one.

When the demonstration was over, one Palestinian, a forty-two year old man named Sakhar Abu Marya, was arrested and taken into a military jeep.  Recounting the events later, he said that a hood was placed over his head, and that he was beaten by the soldiers. While he was interrogated, soldiers said that, while they would release him now, they would come to his house later and arrest him.  Soldiers also brought out food and soda to mock Abu Marya, who is fasting for Ramadan.  He was then dropped off at the gate of the Karmei Tzur settlement, without being charged with anything.

Dispatch from Beit Ommar: IDF raids same West Bank town 5 times in last 2 weeks

This article originally appeared in +972 Magazine.

Israeli soldiers push down Mousa and Yousef Abu Marya, Palestinian residents of Beit Ommar protesting land confiscation and illegal settlements. (PHOTO: Alex Kane)

Beit Ommar, West Bank—The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is meant to be a time for reflection and spirituality.  But for the 16,000 residents of this rural, agricultural village near Hebron in the occupied West Bank, it has been an unusually tense one.I

A spate of Israeli army raids at night and arrests of young Palestinians have occurred since the beginning of August, shattering any hope for calm during Ramadan.  While Israeli military incursions into Beit Ommar are common, residents and activists say that the number of raids and arrests that have occurred in August is particularly high.  There have been five occasions this month in which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have invaded the village, three of them that have occurred this past week—and the month is not even half over.

Witnesses to the raids and local activists say that the Israeli army has been shooting tear gas, sound bombs and flares into residential areas—in some cases causing injuries—and have arrested fifteen young Palestinians under the age of eighteen this month.  A landmark B’Tselem report recently released highlighted how common the arrest of minors is in the occupied territories.

“It just looked like a training exercise.  It just looked like they were practicing coming into town tear gassing people back and practicing flares,” said one international activist with the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP), a Beit Ommar-based Palestinian-led direct action group, when asked to describe an August 11 raid he was witness to.

One incursion, which took place on August 6, saw the IDF invade the village and disrupt a party held in a local park meant to celebrate the release of a prisoner from Beit Ommar. Five Palestinians were arrested, and some Beit Ommar residents, including women and children, were hospitalized due to tear gas inhalation, according to the PSP.  A 16-year-old Beit Ommar resident described the scene at the park similarly.

Mousa Abu Marya, a popular committee coordinator in Beit Ommar, said he thinks the high number of raids is meant to intimidate people ahead of September, when the world’s eyes will turn to Palestine as the Palestinian Authority makes a statehood bid at the United Nations.

The August 11 raid affected the Abu Marya house, with tear gas canisters hitting the residence, leaving visible marks on their driveway.  The tear-gas caused the bottom half of their house to become inhabitable for the night.

“Maybe they’re scared of September,” Abu Marya told me as we were sitting in an office at the Beit Ommar-based Center for Freedom and Justice.  “I think they want to make the soldiers ready for anything in September.”

A joint coalition of popular committees, including Beit Ommar’s, who held a popular resistance conference in mid-July drafted a statement that called September an “immense popular battle.”

September is “not the end of the road,” said Younes Arar, the executive manager of the Center for Freedom and Justice.  “But it is an important station in the Palestinian political situation.”

Meanwhile, a senior minister in the Israeli government has said that Israel may call up its reserve forces for September.  The IDF has also purchased $22 million worth of new military equipment in preparation for large-scale September protests.

The Israeli army’s repression in the village has not been limited to night raids, though. For the first time during the month of Ramadan, Beit Ommar residents and Israeli and international activists held a demonstration August 13, protesting land confiscation and the nearby settlement of Karmei Tzur.  At the demonstration, IDF soldiers repeatedly pushed back Palestinian residents of Beit Ommar attempting to access their land near the settlement, which was declared a closed military zone.  Beit Ommar is surrounded by six settlements, of which Karmei Tzur is one.

When the demonstration was over, one Palestinian, a forty-two year old man named Sakhar Abu Marya, was arrested and taken into a military jeep. Recounting the events later, he said that a hood was placed over his head, and that he was beaten by the soldiers. While he was interrogated, soldiers said that, while they would release him now, they would come to his house later and arrest him.  Soldiers also brought out food and soda to mock Abu Marya, who is fasting for Ramadan.  He was then dropped off at the gate of the Karmei Tzur settlement, without being charged with anything.

Will the Palestinian Authority collide with popular resistance in September?

The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state remains on track, despite heavy pressure from the U.S. and Israel.  But what has received scant attention is the possibility that the September bid may also result in a collision between popular, grassroots Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and the PA’s preferred avenues to statehood.

Following imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti’s call for mass marches ahead of the September UN gambit for a state, the Palestinian Authority echoed Barghouti’s call.

“All of us are talking about resistance and it must be every day,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in late July.   Al Jazeera English reported August 1 on the PA’s planned mass rallies:

Palestinian officials have said they will begin mass marches against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank on September 20, the eve of a largely symbolic UN vote expected to recognise their independence.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian official, said leaders hope to attract millions of people, and the protest will be the first of a prolonged effort.

He said the campaign would be called “Palestine 194″ because the Palestinians hope to become the 194th member of the UN.

“The appeal to the UN is a battle for all Palestinians, and in order to succeed, it needs millions to pour into streets,” Abed Rabbo said.

But this week, the form of the PA’s planned “resistance” became clear, and it will certainly not mark the end of coordination between PA security forces and the Israeli military, one of the most important–and disliked among Palestinians–results of the Oslo era.

Haaretz reported last Friday that:

The Palestinian Authority has ordered its security forces to prevent demonstrations planned for September from escalating into violent confrontations with Israel, especially in potential friction points like the roadblocks and settlements.

Senior Palestinian Authority figures issued the orders to the Palestinian security forces in recent weeks out of concern that there may be violent clashes between thousands of Palestinian demonstrators and Israel Defense Forces at the end of September, following a vote at the United Nations General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state

In similar messages relayed to the IDF, the PA made clear that it intended to prevent largescale violent protests which would heighten tensions and undermine security cooperation between the two sides.

Last week PA President Mahmoud Abbas called on all Palestinians to participate in non-violent marches which are part of a series of events planned by the Authority for late September. Earlier this week, the General Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, announced that plans to hold a mass rally on September 20 when UN deliberations in New York begin.

The Palestinian demonstrations are scheduled to take place in the centers of Palestinian cities – and not in locations where they may lead to friction with Israelis. Moreover, the PLO is sponsoring the events and the security forces are charged with overseeing order.

The PA, it seems, intends to coopt Palestinian resistance against the occupation. But it is highly unlikely that will fly with grassroots activists involved in the popular committees that demonstrate against the illegal separation barrier and settlements in the West Bank every week.  A confrontation between the PA and Palestinians seems likely, and is not without precedent.  As Adam Shatz pointed out in a recent piece n the London Review of Books, the PA turned back protesters who attempted to march to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus during the May 15 protests marking the Nakba.

In a statement sent to me by activists in the West Bank, a coalition of popular committees in the West Bank said July 29:

The popular committees against the wall and settlements confirms that next September is the immense popular battle for the recognition of the State of Palestine, number 194 at the UN.

The popular committees against the wall and settlements, in addition to the national committee for popular struggle and the popular struggle coordination committee,  have discussed the issue regarding the intention of the Palestinian Authority to go the UN for the recognition of the Palestinian State.

All confirmed the right of the Palestinian people to have their state fully recognized with its capital Jerusalem through going to the UN, guaranteeing holding to the Palestinian fixed rights.

The committees consider the coming September a very important phase of struggle in the history of the Palestinian cause and calls upon the Palestinian people in its all categories wherever they are to actively engage and participate in such a phase. They also calls upon the Palestinian leadership not to tie going to the UN against going back to negotiations.

The committees commit themselves to initiate  to work in order to develop intensive action and mobilize people to expand the struggle for recognition of a Palestinian State in the Palestinian and the international arenas using an immense popular struggle program.

Therefore, the committees call upon our Palestinian people in all their locations in Palestine and Diaspora,  the fellow Arab countries and the International arena of supporters, solidarity movements and friends  around the world to stand with us and act in their communities for the recognition of the Palestinian state to become the state number 194 in the United Nations.

Call on the International movements to mobilize with us on the 21 of September, to make the day a world wide day in support of the right of Palestian people to their own state in freedom, democracy and self determination.

While the popular committee statement expressed support for the UN bid, it is clear that popular struggle leaders are not going to simply gather in Palestinian cities and stay put, especially considering the fact that the popular struggle confronts the Israeli military head on every week.  Come September, the PA’s statehood bid could lead to a confrontation with its own people.

IDF, House Republican share goal: kill chance for Palestinian state

An important report in today’s Haaretz by Akiva Eldar further confirms the Israeli government’s intention to illegally annex strategic parts of the West Bank.  Combined with the push by a top House Republican to codify into law President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, these latest news reports mean that current efforts for the creation of a Palestinian state are futile.

Eldar reports:

The IDF Civil Administration is taking steps to increase state-ownership of West Bank lands, an internal military document reveals. The policy enables increased construction not only around settlement blocs like Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, but also in strategic areas like the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea…

The inclusion of the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and area surrounding Ariel in the “settlement blocs” whose takeover the administration is advancing, would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. In addition, the scope of land in question thwarts the possibility of exchanging areas in a peace settlement, according to the formula presented by U.S. President Barack Obama on May 19.

This is because on the western side of the Green Line there is not enough open land to compensate the Palestinians for such an extensive annexation, according to examinations carried out during previous talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel are widely acknowledged as core obstacles to a viable Palestinian state. If Ma’ale Adumim completes its long-planned E1 extension, and was then incorporated into Israel proper, the West Bank would be cut off from East Jerusalem, the presumed future capital of a Palestinian state.  Even now, though, Ma’ale Adumim constitutes an obstacle to a viable state.

And if Israel annexed the settlement of Ariel, one of the largest in the West Bank, it would permanently cut off Palestinian villages from each other, making a contiguous and viable state impossible.  Ariel severely impedes Palestinian movement, and it sits on top of one of the largest water aquifiers in the West Bank.  A 2005 “settlements in focus” issue published by Americans for Peace Now noted that Ariel “blocks Palestinian contiguity between the large Palestinian town of Salfit to the south and a group of Palestinian villages to the north, including Marda, Zaita, Jammai’n, and Hares – a strategy of ‘divide and rule’ which has played a part in the location of settlements across the West Bank.”

The IDF’s plans for the Jordan Valley, an area that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to hold onto forever, would also kill off any chance for an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.  The area is Palestine’s only link to the outside world that does not run through Israel, and contains some of the West Bank’s most fertile agricultural lands.  Israeli policy toward the Jordan Valley was highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s landmark “Separate and Unequal” report last December, which documented the “two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates” in areas under its control.

Reports that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing to enshrine Bush’s 2004 letter is just one more indication that no matter what happens in September at the United Nations, there will be push back from right-wing American politicians.  Ros-Lehtinen’s intention is to effectively make any viable Palestinian state an impossibility.  Bush’s letter to Sharon reads:

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949

The reference to “major Israeli population centers” is a nod to Israel’s insistence that it annex settlements such as Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim.  Documents leaked as part of Al Jazeera‘s publication of the “Palestine Papers” further confirms that the Bush administration pushed Israeli demands regarding these settlements onto Palestinian negotiators.

While the Obama administration has not backed Ros-Lehtinen’s demand that Bush’s letter become official U.S. policy, it has little appetite to fight for a viable state of Palestine.  The Israel lobby, along with Ros-Lehtinen and most of the U.S. Congress, have curtailed any chance that Obama would pressure Israel on issues such as Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and the Jordan Valley.

The only question remaining is why anyone still believes that a Palestinian state is possible.

U.S. Treasury: Nothing to see on tax-exempt support for illegal settlements

Investigative journalist and author Grant Smith‘s “Israel Lobby Archive” project gets a response from a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2007, which asked for access to internal Treasury Department records on programs to stop or investigate charitable funds going to illegal Israeli settlements.  (Read the Institute for Research:  Middle East Policy statement on the response here.)

The department responded, in so many words, that they don’t do anything about it:

Unfortunately, we were unable to locate or identify any responsive records pertaining to:  Internal reports about Treasury Department investigations triggered by public revelations that U.S. charitable funds flows used are used to illegally confiscate Palestinian lands and commit crimes overseas; Meeting minutes of key Treasury Department 0fficials charged with combating money laundering conducted in Israel and the U.S. dealing with the Sasson report money laundering issues especially those with a focus on U.S. divisions of Hadassah, B’nai B’rith and other U.S. organizations managing WZO money laundering.

While the Treasury Department says it has “responsive information pertaining to Treasury Department programs designed to combat U.S. charitable money laundering to the West Bank,” the documents don’t say anything substantive on that topic.  The documents attached to the request consist of already online presidential orders, like the prohibition on transactions with organizations designated by the U.S. as “terrorist” organizations.

But the Treasury Department is doing nothing about the (at least) hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars that flow to illegal settlements on occupied land.  It is doing nothing about the New York-based Hebron Fund, which openly raises money for racist, extremist Israeli settlers who make the lives of Palestinians in Hebron hell.  It is doing nothing about Friends of the Ateret Cohanim and Friends of Ir David, who are actively engaged in the colonization of Palestinian land in occupied Jerusalem.

Nothing to see here.

‘Progressive Zionist’ group in U.S. calls for settlement boycott

The liberal Zionist organization Meretz USA is calling on American Jews and Israelis to boycott West Bank settlements.

While distancing itself from the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the statement represents a significant stand among left-leaning American Zionist groups who profess their belief in the two-state solution.

Even more significant is the fact that Meretz USA is closely linked with J Street, the liberal group that has taken great pains to distance itself from the BDS movement.  Meretz USA was a partner in J Street’s first annual conference, and the Union of Progressive Zionists, which Meretz USA helped to found, was “reorganized” as J Street U, the group’s college wing.

J Street’s official position on a boycott of settlements is more nuanced than their total rejection of the Palestinian-led BDS movement, but the organization has refused to come out in support of a settlement boycott.

The February 15 statement from Meretz USA, titled “Buy Israel–Don’t Buy Settlements (They’re not the Same)” reads:

We believe it is of great importance to actively oppose the policies of Occupation and settlement while at the same time struggling to defend Israel against those seeking its destruction.  Consequently we:

  • Support the actions of Israeli performers, directors and writers who refuse to participate in performances held in Ariel or any other settlement beyond the Green Line.
  • Support the actions of Israeli university professors who refuse to teach at or have professional ties with institutions of higher education in Ariel or any other settlement beyond the Green Line.
  • Believe that American Jews, in order to express their support for the brave Israeli citizens refusing to cooperate with settlement policy, should refuse to purchase any goods or services, including tourism services, made in or by the settlements.
  • Believe that American Jews should express their support for Israel’s continued existence within the Green Line by purchasing Israeli goods and services that are made within the Green Line.
  • Disagree with calls to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel proper (within the Green Line), which we believe are misguided and ineffective.  Such a broad set of actions amounts to a blunt punishment of all Israelis, rather than a targeted approach that focuses on the issue of settlements and Occupation, and is incapable of bringing those polices to an end.
  • Denounce the use of BDS whenever employed as a tactic to bring an end to the State of Israel.


Finding Light in Dark Times

This article originally appeared in the latest issue of the Indypendent:

REFUSING TO BE SILENT: Soubhiya Abu Rahmah stands outside her home next to posters commemorating the deaths of her son and daughter. Bassem and Jawaher Abu Rahmah were both killed by the Israeli military while demonstrating against the separation barrier that illegally confiscates land in their village. PHOTO: Alex Kane

BIL’IN, West Bank — Tear gas burned my eyes and throat, and I ran for cov­er. Moments before, more than 15 of us from a solidarity delegation organized by American Jews for a Just Peace had been protesting Israel’s illegal separation bar­rier that confiscates Palestinian land. It was Jan. 7, a week after U.S.-made tear gas had killed Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a 36-year-old woman from the same village. Not to be deterred by Israeli military checkpoints and roadblocks around Bil’in, more than 100 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals par­ticipated in the demonstration against the barrier. Jawaher was on everyone’s minds, and demonstrators held up posters with the words “gas won’t tear us apart” written above photos of her face.


Just an hour before, I had been sitting in my hotel room in Ramallah. The landscape of Israel/Palestine, profoundly compact, bog­gles the mind. Different universes, ranging from siege and hardship to a bubble of nor­malcy and hope, exist simultaneously.

Ramallah, the effective capital of the West Bank, continues to be the exception to the Palestinian experience with its flourishing cafes and bars that cater to foreign business­men and aid workers — and the Palestinians who benefit from these travelers.

It also currently serves as the administrative capital for the Western-backed Palestinian Au­thority, which has grown into an increasingly repressive governing apparatus. Reminders of Palestinian resistance are confined to posters of the late leader Yasser Arafat.

Tel Aviv is another story. Far from Israel’s border towns near Gaza, where people are often reminded that Palestinians exist in the form of crude homemade rockets that do little damage, Israel’s capital is artificially idyllic. Israelis go about their daily lives, seemingly oblivious to the Palestinians liv­ing under the grinding boot of apartheid.


Then there’s Hebron, located in the southern West Bank, where more than 163,000 Pales­tinians are held hostage by 500 IDF-backed Israeli settlers. I stayed with a large Palestin­ian family there and witnessed what is often considered the flashpoint of the most intense of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Surrounded by extremist settlers, the family was forced to build a wall around their house to protect themselves from almost weekly attacks. One of my hosts, a woman in her 20s, told me that a few years ago a group of settlers hit her in the head with a rock, knocking her unconscious. Israeli checkpoints prevented the Palestinian ambulance from reaching her for two and a half hours. Her vision was impaired for months after the incident.

The Hebron settlers are mostly followers of the assassinated anti-Arab leader Rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated the expulsion of the Palestinians. While they are by far the most extreme (and perhaps the smallest) fac­tion of settlers, they have a disproportionate amount of Israel’s support, despite the pro­testation of many left-wing Israeli activists who consider them fascists.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieber­man, is an illegal settler who openly calls for Palestinian citizens to be transferred out of Israel. Earlier this month, the Israeli Knesset passed a McCarthyist initiative to inves­tigate leftist Israeli groups. And the docu­mented massacre of more than 1,300 Pales­tinian civilians during Israel’s 2008-09 siege has done little to deter talk of a renewed as­sault on Gaza.

Despair and heartbreak are commonplace among the Palestinians I met. And yet, in the words and actions of Palestinians like Omar Barghouti, a leader in the Palestin­ian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, there is reason for hope. It’s a sentiment echoed by Allam Jarrar, director of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society who said, “in every dark situation there is a tiny light.”

Two weeks after Jawaher’s death, I had the chance to interview her mother, Soubhi­ya. She recalled the nearly identical death of her son, Bassem, an integral part of Bil’in’s resistance to the apartheid wall. In April 2009 the IDF shot a high velocity tear-gas canister directly at Bassem’s chest.

I asked her whether she still thought it was worth protesting after two of her chil­dren died as a result. “Yes, for sure,” she answered. “When the army keeps doing this stuff, and the Israeli government steals more land, yes, for sure I support this and everybody has to do some­thing against them. We have never stopped. We will not be silent about this.”