Pope Francis gives Palestinians boost of support

Pope Francis & Mahmoud Abbas.jpg (8929 bytes)Photo caption: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis hug each other as Francis arrives at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, May 25, 2014.

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis delivered a powerful boost of support to the Palestinians during a Holy Land pilgrimage Sunday, May 25, repeatedly backing their statehood aspirations, praying solemnly at Israel’s controversial separation barrier and calling the stalemate in peace efforts “unacceptable.” On the second day of a three-day swing through the region, the pope arrived in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, before heading to Israel for the final leg of his visit.

While Francis mingled warmly with his Israeli hosts, his trip to Bethlehem included the day’s most powerful images as he expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinians. “I am with you,” he told a group of Palestinian children at a stop in Bethlehem’s Deheishe refugee camp. He also held a private lunch with five Palestinian families who say they have been harmed by Israeli policies.

Even the pope’s arrival in Bethlehem — by helicopter straight from Jordan — carried important symbolic significance. Past papal visits to the West Bank have come through Israel, which captured the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Jubilant Palestinians cheered Francis as he arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, shouting “Viva al-Baba!” or “Long live the pope!” Giant Palestinian flags in red, white, green and black and the Vatican’s yellow-and-white flags decorated the square, which is home to the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Standing alongside Abbas at a welcome ceremony, Francis said both sides needed to make sacrifices to create two states with internationally recognized borders, based on mutual security and rights for everyone. He urged both sides to refrain from any actions that would derail peace.

Palestinian officials hailed Francis’ reference to Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.” He pointedly called Abbas a “man of peace.

In his remarks, Abbas voiced his concerns about the recent breakdown in peace efforts and lamented the difficult conditions facing the Palestinians. Abbas said he would welcome papal intervention. “We welcome any initiative from you to make peace a reality in the Holy Land,” he said.

Francis’ arrival came weeks after the latest round of U.S.-backed peace talks collapsed. During nine months of negotiations, no meaningful progress was made, and there are no signs of talks resuming anytime soon.

After the meeting, the pope’s open-roof vehicle stopped at a section of Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, an armed, 26-foot-tall concrete wall which encircles Bethlehem on three sides. Francis stood up, put a hand on the wall, bowed his head and said a short prayer alongside a section on which “Free Palestine” is scribbled in graffiti.

Israel claims the structure is a security measure. The Palestinians say security is an excuse for illegally annexing their territory and hindering access to their land and jobs.

In an unscripted move, Francis issued a surprise joint invitation for Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to come to the Vatican to pray for peace together. “I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer,” he said. The offices of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents quickly confirmed their acceptance, with the Palestinians saying the meeting would take place June 6.

Peres, a 90-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, holds a largely ceremonial position, and the Vatican meeting will be largely symbolic. But he nonetheless risks upsetting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the move. Netanyahu has expressed anger with politicians that have reached out to Abbas at a time when the Palestinian leader is reconciling with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group.

In the spiritual highlight of his visit, the pope late Sunday went to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, to pray with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Their meeting marked the 50th anniversary of a similar meeting between their predecessors that ended a 900-year rift.

On Monday, May 26, Francis flew to Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, where he was warmly greeted by an honor guard with trumpets blaring. The country’s top officials lined up to shake his hand as he walked a red carpet.

In his remarks Francis condemned the Holocaust as the “enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink” and later visited Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

The pope also lamented the dire state of Mideast peace efforts, saying the holy city of Jerusalem “remains deeply troubled.” He called for a “just and lasting solution” so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace. He said Israel deserves peace and security “within internationally recognized borders,” while the Palestinians have a “right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement in their own homeland.

In the run-up to Francis arrival, Israel experienced a string of vandalism attacks on churches and Vatican properties, presumably by Jewish extremists. Francis made no mention of those incidents but expressed hope that “this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting and absolutizing the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent towards those of others.”

– edited from The Associated Press, May 25, 2014
PeaceMeal, May/June 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israeli actors refuse to star in West Bank performance

Three Israeli stage actors have refused to perform in a play staged at a new theater in the large Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel to protest Israel’s policy of settlements in the Palestinian territory. The cast members, employees of the Cameri and Beit Lessin theaters, will be replaced by understudies for the performances of the acclaimed play “Best Friends.”

The Cameri said in a statement that it respects the political views of its employees. “The theater does not force its actors to perform in Ariel. Those who are not interested are replaced by their colleagues. The Cameri Theater chose to allow its actors to exercise their freedom of expression and follow their conscience,” the statement said.

The Israeli cultural center in Ariel was built with more than $10 million in public funds and inaugurated in November 2010. Some 60 Israeli theater professionals signed a petition in advance of its opening saying that they would not perform there. Attacks from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, and many others were swift and intense. More than 150 leading Israeli academics and authors and another 150 American and British television and film professionals came to their defense, including scores of recipients of the Academy Award and other major U.S. acting honors

It was the first time such mainstream figures had publicly opposed the Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law and constitute one of the main impediments to a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

– edited from The Jewish Daily Forward, Dec. 26, 2013, and Jewish Voice for Peace.org
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel seeks interim deal with distrustful Palestinians

JERUSALEM – Reaching a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is unrealistic at the current time and the sides should instead pursue an interim arrangement. That assessment was delivered by Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid on May 19, just days before the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

With the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on many key issues seemingly unbridgeable, pursuing a Palestinian state with temporary borders has emerged as an option in recent months, particularly among Israelis searching for a way out of the status quo. American officials confirmed in March that an interim arrangement, while not their preference, was one of the ideas being explored.

However, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nimr Hamad, gave Lapid’s proposal a cool reception. “We have heard this idea before and rejected it simply because we know the intention of Israel is to continue building on Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank,” he said. “The most important thing for us” is to agree on the final borders between Israel and a future Palestine, he added.

At the heart of the current 4-year impasse in peace talks is the issue of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territory. The Palestinians have refused to negotiate, saying that continued Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a sign of bad faith. The Palestinians claim both areas and the Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, for their future state.

More than half a million Israelis have settled in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since Israel captured the areas, along with the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. In September 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the construction of 1,100 new settlement homes on land in the West Bank that Israel annexed by military force. The Israeli army has demolished many Palestinian homes to expand their settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

It is estimated that some 27,000 Palestinian structures have been demolished in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967, including 2,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. Settlements and related infrastructure (including Israeli-only roads, army bases, the fortified separation wall, closed military zones, and checkpoints) cover approximately 42 percent of the West Bank.

In October 2012, Netanyahu vowed to build 800 new apartments and a military college in East Jerusalem, despite objections from Palestinians who claim the territory for the capital of their hoped-for state. A top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promptly accused Netanyahu of deliberately destroying the peace process and the two-state solution.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama publicly called for the borders prevailing before the 1967 war to be the starting point for talks to settle the conflict, the first time a United States president had explicitly taken that position. The stance was significant because it indicated the U.S. explicitly backed the view that Israeli settlement construction outside those borders would have to be reversed — or compensated for by exchanges of territory.

“The Palestinians must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential in a sovereign and contiguous state,” Mr. Obama said. He also called for a “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces” from the Palestinian territories and borders.

Secretary of State Kerry recently won support from Arab leaders for a comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never clearly spelled out his intentions for Israel’s final borders, but he rejects a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Hence, the Palestinians fear an interim deal that falls short of their hopes will become permanent.

The issues of Jerusalem and final borders are just some of the explosive core issues that must be resolved. The Palestinians also demand the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, whose families lost property in what is now Israel. Israel rejects this out of hand, saying a mass influx would spell the end of Israel as a country with a Jewish majority.

Further clouding the picture is the status of Gaza. Israel withdrew from the area in 2005, but two years later the Islamic militant group Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel, seized control from Abbas’s forces. That internal Palestinian division, with Hamas in Gaza and Abbas governing in the West Bank, is another serious obstacle to implementing any peace deal.

– edited from The Associated Press and Institute for Middle East Understanding
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Young Israelis held in brutal attack on Arabs

Isabel Kershner

JERUSALEM – Seven Israeli teenagers were in custody, accused of what a police official and several witnesses described as an attempted lynching of several Palestinian youths on August 16, laying bare the undercurrent of tension in this ethnically mixed but politically divided city. A 15-year-old suspect told reporters, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab. If it was up to me, I’d have murdered him.”

The police said that scores of Jewish youths were involved in the attack in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square, leaving 17-year-old Jamal Julani unconscious and hospitalized. Two of the suspects were girls, the youngest 13, adding to the soul-searching and acknowledgment that the poisoned political environment around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected the moral compass of youths growing up within it.

Hundreds of bystanders watched the mob beating, the police said — and no one intervened. The beating came on the same day that a Palestinian taxi in the West Bank was firebombed, apparently by Jewish extremists, though there have been no arrests. The two episodes, along with a new report by the U.S. State Department labeling attacks by Jews on Palestinians as terrorism, have opened a stark national conversation about racism, violence and how Israeli society could have come to this point.

“There appears to be a worryingly high level of tolerance — whether explicit or implicit — for such despicable acts of violence,” The Jerusalem Post editorialized. “A clear distinction must be made between legitimate acts of self-defense aimed at protecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and pointless, immoral acts of violence.”

In the popular Yediot Aharonot newspaper, a commentator asked of the 13-year-old suspect, “Where on earth does a bar-mitzvah-age child find so much evil in himself?” The article said parents should be held responsible. But on Channel 1 news, Nimrod Aloni, the head of the Institute for Educational Thought at a Tel Aviv teachers college, said, “This cannot just be an expression of something he has heard at home.”

“This is directly tied to national fundamentalism that is the same as the rhetoric of neo-Nazis, Taliban and K.K.K.,” Mr. Aloni said. “This comes from an entire culture that has been escalating toward an open and blunt language based on us being the chosen people who are allowed to do whatever we like.”

The police said Thursday’s beating of Mr. Julani, who regained consciousness in the hospital four days later, resulted from a brawl after a girl in a crowd of Israeli youths complained that she had been harassed by an Arab. A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said the girl had spurred the crowd to seek vengeance, though her lawyer denied that. The crowd then arbitrarily focused on Mr. Julani and his friends, Mr. Rosenfeld said, beating Mr. Julani until he lost consciousness.

One floor above Mr. Julani in the Hadassah University Hospital lay the driver whose taxi was hit by a firebomb outside the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin. He and his five passengers, all members of the Abu Jayada family from the West Bank village of Nahalin, suffered burns; one remained in intensive care.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned the firebombing of the taxi and promised the Palestinian leadership that all efforts would be made to arrest the perpetrators. A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, Mark Regev, said of the beating, “We unequivocally condemn racist violence and urge the police and law enforcement community to act expeditiously to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Gavriel Salomon, a professor of educational psychology at Haifa University, told Israel Radio that the attacks could be attributed to increasing racism in Israeli society, increased levels of violence in general, and an atmosphere of “legitimacy.” He said, “Suddenly it’s not so terrible to burn Arabs inside a taxi.”

Jerusalem is home to about 500,000 Jews and some 300,000 Palestinians, who mostly coexist peacefully though with a constant undertone of political and religious tension. Most of the Palestinians, who chose not to be Israeli citizens but carry Jerusalem residency cards, live in the eastern sector of the city that was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move that is internationally considered to be illegal. The Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem, which contains Jewish holy sites as well as Muslim and Christian shrines, be the capital of a future state.

The western side bears small monuments to the suicide bombings that killed scores here on buses and in cafes after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. In some of the tenser predominantly Arab neighborhoods, Israeli cars and buses are frequently stoned.

While the Jewish and Arab residents of the city mingle freely in the parks and shopping malls of West Jerusalem, there is less and less meaningful interaction between the two populations, other than some at workplaces.

Mr. Julani’s relatives said they were not involved in politics and, when asked about the future of their city, seemed at a loss for answers. His father, Subhi Julani, 50, who works in construction, said he had many Jewish friends, including employers. He said of his son, who is a student and also does home renovations for a Jewish boss, “Jamal is lucky; we are lucky that he is still among us.”

– edited from The New York Times, August 20, 2012
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israeli ex-intel chief slams Netanyahu’s stance on Iran

The former head of Israel’s internal security agency said on April 27 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exaggerated the effectiveness of a military strike against Iran. Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet, said that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had their judgment clouded by “messianic feelings” and should not be trusted on their Iran policy. Diskin warned that a strike against Iran might actually accelerate the country’s nuclear program.

Diskin’s comments came as he addressed the Majdi Forum, a local group meeting to discuss politics. He said, “My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war.” Diskin’s remarks echoed the sentiments of Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, the Mossad. Last summer, Dagan called the idea of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities “stupid.”

Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said in April that he did not believe Iran would develop nuclear weapons after all the economic and diplomatic pressure placed on it. Gantz told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken... I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.”

Defense Minister Barak responded that Iran’s leadership was “not rational in the Western sense of the word.”

On April 25, Netanyahu told CNN that sanctions “are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy,” but that “they haven’t rolled back the Iranian program — or even stopped it — by one iota.”

– edited from GlobalPost, April 28, 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel’s religious extremists abuse children and women

While Muslim extremists in the Middle East have gotten a lot of press, Jewish extremists have not. But the sectarian violence of ultra-Orthodox jews toward other religious and secular jews is making headlines in Israel.

A shy, bespectacled second-grader, 8-year-old Naama Margolese, is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school in the city of Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.” Her plight has drawn new attention to the simmering issue of religious coercion in Israel, and the increasing brazenness of extremists in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

“When I walk to school in the morning, I used to get a tummy ache because I was so scared ... that they were going to stand and start yelling and spitting,” the pale, blue-eyed girl said softly in an interview. “They were scary. They don’t want us to go to the school.”

 The school that Naama attends is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants. Naama’s mother, Hadassa Margolese, is a 30-year-old, Chicago-born Orthodox Jew who covers her hair and wears long sleeves and a long skirt. She said, “It shouldn’t matter what I look like. Someone should be allowed to walk around in sleeveless shirts and pants and not be harassed.”

The ultra-Orthodox consider the school, which moved to its present site at the beginning of the school year, an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of black-hatted men jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, claiming their very presence is a provocation. Parents take turns escorting their daughters onto school property to protect them. The parents, too, have been cursed and spat upon.

Beit Shemesh has long experienced friction between the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about half the city’s population of 100,000, and other modern Orthodox and secular Jews. Naama’s case has been especially shocking because of her young age and because she attends a religious school and dresses with long sleeves and a skirt. Extremists, however, consider even that outfit, standard in mainstream Jewish religious schools, to be immodest.

After a local TV channel reported about the school and interviewed Naama’s family, a national uproar ensued. The televised images of Naama sobbing as she walked to school shocked many Israelis, elicited statements of outrage from the country’s leadership, and sparked a demonstration of several thousand people in her support.

Parliamentary opposition leader Tsipi Livni said in an address at the rally, “We are struggling over Israel’s character, not only in Beit Shemesh and not only over the exclusion of women, but against all the extremists who have come out of the woodwork to try and impose their world view on us.” Some protesters held signs that read “We won’t become another Tehran,” alluding to Iran’s Islamic republic where most women are forced to cover their heads in public.

Beit Shemesh’s growing ultra-Orthodox population has erected street signs calling for the separation of sexes on the sidewalks, dispatched “modesty patrols” to enforce a chaste female appearance, and hurled stones at offenders and outsiders. Walls of the neighborhood are plastered with signs exhorting women to dress modestly in closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts.

Some bus lines in religious neighborhoods nationwide are already segregated, with women sitting in the back of vehicles. Under Israeli law, they do not have to move to the rear but risk verbal and physical abuse from male passengers for refusing to do so.

The abuse and segregation of women in Israel in ultra-Orthodox areas is nothing new, and critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye. Police have traditionally been reluctant to enter their communities.

Though numbering only 10 percent of Israel’s mostly Jewish population of 7.7 million, the ultra-Orthodox wield political clout in a country where no one party has ever won a parliamentary majority and coalition governments have always ruled.

 – edited from The Associated Press and Reuters, Dec. 27, 2011
PeaceMeal, March/April 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israel to bar UN team from investigating Jewish settlements

JERUSALEM — Israel cut working relations with the U. N. Human Rights Council on March 26 and will bar a U.N. team from entering Israel or the West Bank for a planned investi-gation of illegal Jewish settlements. Israel accuses the council of having a pronounced anti-Israel bias because of what it says is its disproportionate focus on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Israeli leaders have been in an uproar over the council’s recent adoption of a resolution condemning Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and its decision to send a fact-finding mission to investigate.

“It means that we’re not going to work with them,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “We’re not going to let them carry out any kind of mission for the Human Rights Council, including this probe.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki was not surprised by the Israeli move. “Israel never cooperated with all fact finding missions that were sent and established by the U.N. to investigate the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians,” he said after meeting his Danish counterpart in Copenhagen. Much of the international community sees settlement construction on occupied lands the Palestinians seek for a future state as a major impediment to peacemaking, and has pressured Israel to freeze it.

Israel has moved 500,000 Israelis to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since capturing the areas, along with Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, though it still controls access by air, sea and land, except for a crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

The Palestinians say continued settlement expansion pre-empts the outcome of negotiations. Israel, which refuses to halt construction, says the fate of settlements and the related issue of the final borders of a Jewish and a Palestinian state must be determined through negotiations, not demands.

Israel’s own Supreme Court has ruled that the Jewish settlement outpost of Migron in the West Bank is illegal and must be dismantled by August. The court rejected an agreement between the state and residents of Migron that would have prevented Israel from having to remove the settlement.

Israel has had uneasy relations with the U.N. for decades, in large part because of the pro-Palestinian majority in the General Assembly, though the United States has used its veto power multiple times to block anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council. Israel halted its marginal funding to UNESCO last fall after the U.N. cultural agency recognized Palestine as a member.

Relations with the U.N. were especially acrimonious over a U.N.-commissioned report led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who is Jewish, on Israel’s military invasion of Gaza three years ago. Armed with American-made F-16s, Apache helicopters, tanks and bulldozers, Israel launched a blistering offensive in Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian militants firing thousands of unguided, homemade rockets into southern Israel over an eight-year period. The Goldstone report found evidence that both Israeli and Palestinian actions amounted to war crimes, but it was more harshly critical of Israel. The Israeli assault destroyed some 5,000 homes, as well as government ministries, police stations, courts, prisons, mosques and a university. The 22-day war left 13 Israelis dead and 1,434 Palestinians.

– edited from The Associated Press, March 26, 2012
PeaceMeal, March/April 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. defunds UNESCO after vote to admit Palestine

After the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization overwhelmingly voted on October 31 to admit Palestine as a full member, the Obama administration immediately defunded UNESCO by withholding its $60 million dues payment, thereby depriving the organization of 22 percent of its budget. Because of the big hole in its 2011 budget created by the loss of U.S. funding, UNESCO suspended new programs.

The Obama administration based its decision on a 1994 U.S. law that requires financial ties to be cut with any U.N. agency that grants the Palestinians full membership. That law is a double-edged sword for the United States. It would apply equally to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which plays a key role in monitoring nuclear proliferation in states like Iran, and the World Health Organization, where the U.S. and other countries intensively coordinate international efforts to deal with public health threats.

And under U.N. rules, membership into the World Intellectual Property Organization would now be more or less automatic, if the Palestinians pursue it. The WIPO has been strongly supported by the United States, seeking to curb piracy of U..S movies and software.

Palestinian leaders said they would slowly and methodically seek to enter other U.N. agencies. And the U.S. State Department said it wants to continue to work with UNESCO, even as it cuts funding — all of which puts the United States in a bind. The Obama administration is expected to reach out to Congress to find a way both to continue to funding UNESCO and give the U.S. government flexibility if Palestine is recognized as a member by other, more important U.N. organizations.

The success of such an appeal is doubtful. A number of pro-Israel congressmen and congresswomen have publicly backed the cut-off of aid and called for further steps to punish the U.N. for the voting patterns of its members and the Palestinians for seeking membership. Kay Granger (R) of Texas, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, said in a letter that she will seek to cut off aid to the Palestinians if they seek to join more U.N. bodies and implied that more U.N. funding could be cut as well. And Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a scathing statement calling UNESCO’s action “anti-Israel and anti-peace.”

Israel’s retaliation against Palestine was even more draconian. It suspended the monthly transfer of roughly $100 million in customs, border and some income taxes that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians and relays to their government in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority depends critically on the revenue to pay the tens of thousands of people it employs.

After four weeks and strong American and international pressure, Israel agreed to release the money due the Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “If the Palestinians return to taking unilateral steps, we will weigh again the transfer of funds.” Transfer of the funds is required under the 1994 portion of the Oslo agreement that formalized relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States has had an on again-off again relationship with UNESCO. Ronald Reagan pulled the U.S. out of UNESCO in 1984, and the country only rejoined in the fall of 2002 under George W. Bush, as his administration was courting U.N. support for the invasion of Iraq.

– edited from The Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post and The New York Times
PeaceMeal Nov/December 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Israeli troops involved in anti-Palestinian attacks

JERUSALEM – Three Israeli soldiers were arrested on December 6 for suspected involvement in a series of vandalism and arson attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. Mosques have been torched, graffiti daubed and Palestinian trees chopped down in “Price Tag” attacks, so-called because they seek to make Palestinians pay for violence against Israelis and the Jewish state pay for its occasional curbs on illegal Israeli settlement activity.

In September the Israeli army demolished three dwellings and a bathroom in the Palestinian village of Umm al Kheer in the South Hebron Hills. According to U.N. field workers at the site, the demolitions left eight adults and sixteen children homeless.

“This [has been] done many times here, and it’s catastrophic,” said a resident of the village who, due to fear of retribution from the Israeli government, wished to be referred to only as Suleiman. “The toilet doesn’t make problems for Israeli security; the tent does not make problems for Israeli security; neither does this house in which live twelve kids. How will these kids live? How will these kids sleep tonight? How can we explain the truth to these kids? Maybe these kids will grow up with fear. They must think about that.”

Umm Al Kheer is a Palestinian village built in the 1950s in an area now under Israeli occupation. It borders the Israeli settlement of Karmel established in the 1980s and considered illegal under international law. The village routinely experiences harassment from Israeli soldiers and settlers.

The demolition is part of a clear strategy to push the Palestinians away from the area around the settlement. In October 2008, the Israeli army demolished ten house-tents, leaving 60 people homeless, in order to clear the area for expansion of the Karmel settlement.

Fearing a flare-up in violence, Israel has ordered a police crackdown on the suspected far-right Jewish groups behind the attacks, which have also targeted some of Israel’s West Bank military garrisons, slashing vehicle tires and defacing property. The three soldiers were suspected of damaging both Palestinian and Israeli military property.

The arrests are a rare example of conscript troops’ involvement in the Price Tag campaign. A military spokeswoman declined to detail allegations against them because an investigation was under way. But she said they were taken into custody following the arrest by civilian police two days earlier of a woman and six girls, some of them settlers, for incidents including vandalism of Palestinian trees and army property. One of the three soldiers lived in an unauthorized settler outpost.

– edited from Reuters and Christian Peacemaker Teams
PeaceMeal Nov/December 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

United States opposes Palestine’s bid for statehood

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted his request to the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state on September 23, the General Assembly responded with a standing ovation. Absent from the cheering section were the United States and its Middle East ally, Israel.

Palestinians want to create an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The bid to win recognition of statehood by the U.N. laid bare the deep sense of Palestinian exasperation after 44 years of Israeli occupation of their territory and 20 years of nonproductive peace talks. “The time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence,” President Abbas declared.

The Obama administration has vowed to use its veto as a permanent member of the Security Council to block the Palestinian initiative, should the required 9 of the 15 Council members approve the application when it comes to a vote.

The U.S. and its allies on the Security Council plan to refer the application to a panel for further study, a process that could take months. The delay is intended to allow time to revive direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said only direct negotiations could deliver peace. But such words are cheap and shallow without actions to back them. While Israel talks about peace, its actions toward Palestine have been aimed at only one thing: domination. Israel’s illegal settlements in the Palestinian territory are one evidence of that. Netanyahu’s government has just approved the construction of 1,100 more new homes in settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, thereby revealing Israeli peace talk as a charade. And the United States enables the Israeli domination.

In 2009, the White House broadcast a demand that Israel halt the building of new housing units in the West Bank, a demand ignored by Israel. But when it came to action this February, the Obama administration’s representative on the Security Council, Ambassador Susan Rice, vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements, which are in violation of international law, and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building. The 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution.

Israel’s punitive military actions against Palestine are a more egregious form of domination. In it’s December 2008 invasion of the Gaza Strip, for example, Israel unleashed U.S. funded tanks, bulldozers, helicopter gunships, jet fighters — everything but it’s nuclear weapons — against a people with small arms and crude, homemade rockets. The Israeli rampage resulted in 1,400 Palestinian deaths and 13 Israeli deaths. According to the U.N., the Israeli military campaign also left more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties and 200 schools destroyed or damaged.

A U.N. panel and three other groups that separately investigated Israel’s 22-day war in Gaza charged both Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza, with committing war crimes during the armed conflict. All investigations were more harshly critical of Israel, with a finding that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted civilians in some cases. The report of a U.N. human rights panel called Israel’s military assault on Gaza “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

Israeli soldiers who fought in the Gaza war testified that their military used Palestinians as human shields, unlawfully fired incendiary white phosphorous shells over civilian areas, and used overwhelming firepower that caused needless deaths and destruction. One said, “Fire power was insane.”

Critics of the Palestinian Authority say its strategy of negotiating peace with Israel has been a complete failure. If that failure to win statehood persists in the next few years, it will cause further damage to the credibility of the PA and possibly even cause its collapse.

Another serious problem has been the longstanding failure of the PA and Hamas to bring Gaza and the West Bank under a unified leadership. The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas did sign a landmark reconciliation pact in May, ending a four-year rift that had divided the territory envisioned for a future Palestinian state. A previous unity arrangement collapsed into civil war in June 2007, when Hamas overran the Gaza Strip in five days of fighting, leaving the Palestinian Authority of Abbas in charge only of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the new Palestinian alliance as “a mortal blow to peace and a big prize for terrorism,” plunging peace efforts deeper into uncertainty. “Israel continues to want peace and seek peace, but we can only achieve that with our neighbors that want peace,” Netanyahu said. “Those of our neighbors that seek the destruction of Israel and use terrorism are not partners to peace.”

Netanyahu was referring to the status of Hamas in Israel, the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist group. Hamas does not accept a Jewish state in an Islamic Middle East. It has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds of people, and fired thousands of unguided rockets at Israel from Gaza. Israel has retaliated with ground and air strikes into Gaza.

Even if the request for full U.N. membership were to pass, Palestinian leaders acknowledge it would have little impact on the ground. Israel is in full control of 60 percent of the West Bank territory, dominating land seen as crucial to the establishment of a viable independent state of Palestine. Israel has created walls, fences, earth barriers, checkpoints, military firing zones, and army bases, all necessary, it says, for the security of their state. Meanwhile, some 300,000 of its citizens have moved into settlements in the West Bank territory of Palestine and another 200,000 also now live in and around East Jerusalem on land formally annexed by Israel.

Palestine has already been recognized by 131 countries, including Russia. But even if its request for full U.N. membership fails, President Abbas’ forceful move in the U.N. for statehood shows that U.S. influence is declining in the region, now shaken by Arab Spring revolts and shifting alliances.

In that changed political environment, a serious change in United States policy is called for. Heretofore, President Obama has talked the talk, but he has not walked the walk. He has publicly called for peace negotiations starting with the borders prevailing before the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, the first time a United States president has explicitly taken that position. But he has taken no action to pressure Israel to accede to that position. So far, Obama has remained firmly in Netanyahu’s pocket.

Without a serious change in policy, the United States will never broker peace between the two conflicted parties. As Israel’s main ally, we are a big part of the problem. With our billions of dollars a year in military aid, we have armed Israel to the teeth and made it the strongest military power in the Middle East — so strong that the Israeli tail now wags the American dog.

As long as the United States continues to play a lopsided game of favorites, the status quo between Israel and Palestine will remain — or deteriorate.

– information from The Associated Press and Reuters, with editing and added commentary
PeaceMeal Sept/October 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)