Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Red Sea - Dead Sea canal

The agreement for the two seas Canal connecting the Red and Dead Sea was summed up best by Israeli water minister Silvan Shalam who jubilantly described it following the December 9 signing ceremony at the World Bank headquarters as "a historic agreement that realises ... the dream of (founder of modern Zionism Theodore) Herzl."

The canal was another strategic triumph for Israel's conniving diplomacy even after the project was reduced to about one-tenth of its original size due to serious economic and environmental concerns raised by the World Bank.

The Zionist-envisioned project was repackaged and sponsored by Jordan as a must to save the Dead Sea, and building a large desalination plant providing each Israel and Jordan with eight billion to 13 billion gallons of fresh water annually.

According to Israeli and international environmentalists, Israeli government's policies of over pumping from the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River - serving Jewish only colonies - was the main cause for the loss of nearly 30 per cents of the Dead Sea's mass in the last 50 years.

Herzl's repackaged vision includes articles tacitly granting Israel exclusive water rights in the supposedly shared Sea of Galilee and Jordan River's water. For the tri-party agreement empowers Israel to transfer close to 13 billion gallons of fresh water from those bodies to Jordan and to sell the state of Palestine 8bn gallons of drinking water at preferential prices.

Even more cynical is for the state of Palestine to purchase water from Israel -mind you at a special discount - while Israel continues to expropriate West Bank's water aquifers for the benefit of illegal Jewish-only colonies for free.

In addition to political concerns, environmentalists have warned that introducing new water composition from the Red sea brings a host of new invasive photosynthetic organisms which could lead to drastic negative consequences affecting the unique natural system of the Dead Sea.

Unlikely to solve the Dead Sea environmental degradation, international and Israeli environmentalists have alternatively suggested that "the reestablishment of the Jordan River to its natural state was a better solution to the decline of the Dead Sea than the proposed canal."

While it would receive roughly half of the desalinated water from the project, the 100 miles brine pipeline will run exclusively through Jordanian territories to circumvent objections by Israeli environmental groups.

Lacking proper environmental oversight, a credible rupture in the high saline pipeline - running along known active earthquake fault - would cause irreparable damage for a main source of Jordan's fresh groundwater in Wadi Araba.

Being the only party with positive return and no potential risks, the agreement provides Israel a free safety net to escape responsibility for the Dead Sea's environmental calamity while realising an old Zionist strategic military vision adding a natural water course on Israel's eastern borders. Economically, this project places Israeli water companies in a unique position to gain the most in building the waterway, associated desalination and power generation plants.

Jordan, on the other hand, is taking the biggest long term risk since a probable structural failure in the Canal system would lead to an incurable disaster for both the agriculture and ecosystem in the Jordanian valley.

In purchasing Israeli water, Palestine is sanctioning Israel's theft of its water aquifers from occupied West Bank, while allowing Israel to continue syphoning the only lifeline for the Dead Sea. More


Monday, December 30, 2013

Sweeping the sand out of the desert: From Verwoerd to Prawer

The Prawer-Begin Plan was shelved. But the idea that you can forcefully transfer an indigenous population and determine where it can legally reside – looks and smells like a plan pulled from the dusty drawer of Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of Apartheid South Africa. And that didn’t work out so well.

Sadly, it was too early to celebrate the downfall of the Prawer-Begin Plan. The victory of suspending the Knesset vote following the the “day of rage” protests on November 30 was short lived. The dark threatening cloud of ethnic cleansing still hovers over the Negev’s Bedouin population. Nevertheless, Prawer’s suspension was the culmination of a grassroots mobilization that took months, years actually, to climax and grab public attention. It was an historical achievement.

The good news is that for the first time, the Jewish Israeli public woke up to the sound of a clear, well articulated and well organized Bedouin-led resistance movement.

The bad news is that it was immediately perceived, particularly by Israeli liberals, as ingratitude and a failure to comply with what the government successfully framed as the most enlightened, generous and historically fair settlement of land disputes in the Negev. Liberman and fellow Jewish supremacists naturally opposed the plan from the very beginning, considering it too generous and predicting its demise from the outset. But it is more interesting to look a closer look at the “enlightened” expressions of disappointment about the Bedouin protests. It is the liberal state of mind that will likely eventually provide the moral justification for forced removals in the near future. Meirav Arlosoroff’s analysis in Haaretz immediately following the day of rage is a case in point.

What is the difference between massive confiscations of Arab land for Jewish settlements in the 1950s and the Prawer Plan today? There’s no difference, according to Arlosoroff. Prawer follows the well-known formula of confiscation, state control over population distribution and forced removals. However, whereas in the 1950s the welfare of Jews was the government’s main concern, today’s plan has only the Bedouin in mind. They better take the hand that reaches out to them, from a government that is finally willing and ready to invest, develop and save them from their backwardness. Arlosoroff is tuned to and emphatic to the Bedouins’ plight: they have a long memory and the wounds of the 1950s are still open, but their resistance is irrational.

Why not leave “dark spots of degradation, backwardness, crime and poverty” when you can actually profit from resettlement? She wonders.

Had the Bedouin read Haaretz, they would have by now recognized the benefits of upgrade-and-exit strategies. Small Bedouin settlements, much like small start-up companies, are for the most part unsustainable. They have to merge or disappear. From her neoliberal standpoint, Prawer’s population-merger plan only makes sense.

But the fact is that the story Arlosoroff tells Haaretz readers about the benevolent government of Israel is simply a lie.

The Prawer plan looks and smells like it was just taken out of Hendrik Verwoerd’s dusty drawer. Verwoerd, the infamous “architect” of apartheid, conceived the idea of forcefully moving populations to government-built designated areas. The idea that the government determines where an entire population can legally reside, delimiting “for its development” a restricted area, and considered legitimate only by a hostile authorities but not by those living under its thumb, is truly a relic of a dark era.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela, it’s worthwhile remembering how this grand apartheid experiment in systematic domestic ethnic cleansing actually ended. It was a catastrophe, and not only for the population; as far as policy makers are concerned it was a grand planning failure as well. According to some estimates, around 8 million people became internal refugees of apartheid, to this day populating some of the largest shanty towns in the world. No tourist arriving at Cape Town International Airport can miss the ubiquitous and huge “squatters camps” along the main highway. The Prawer Plan, in whatever new incarnation it reappears, will doubtlessly have similar results. More


Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Bride and Boom!”

We’re Number One... In Obliterating Wedding Parties By Tom Engelhardt

The headline -- “Bride and Boom!” -- was spectacular, if you think killing people in distant lands is a blast and a half. Of course, you have to imagine that smirk line in giant black letters with a monstrous exclamation point covering most of the bottom third of the front page of the Murdoch-owned New York Post. The reference was to a caravan of vehicles on its way to or from a wedding in Yemen that was eviscerated, evidently by a U.S. drone via one of those “surgical” strikes of which Washington is so proud. As one report put it, “Scorched vehicles and body parts were left scattered on the road.”

It goes without saying that such a headline could only be applied to assumedly dangerous foreigners -- “terror” or “al-Qaeda suspects” -- in distant lands whose deaths carry a certain quotient of weirdness and even amusement with them. Try to imagine the equivalent for the Newtown massacre the day after Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began killing children and teachers. Since even the New York Post wouldn’t do such a thing, let’s posit that the Yemen Post did, that playing off the phrase “head of the class,” their headline was: “Dead of the Class!” (with that same giant exclamation point). It would be sacrilege. The media would descend. The tastelessness of Arabs would be denounced all the way up to the White House. You’d hear about the callousness of foreigners for days.

And were a wedding party to be obliterated on a highway anywhere in America on the way to, say, a rehearsal dinner, whatever the cause, it would be a 24/7 tragedy. Our lives would be filled with news of it. Count on that.

But a bunch of Arabs in a country few in the U.S. had ever heard of before we started sending in the drones? No such luck, so if you’re a Murdoch tabloid, it’s open season, no consequences guaranteed. As it happens, “Bride and Boom!” isn’t even an original. It turns out to be a stock Post headline. Google it and you’ll find that, since 9/11, the paper has used it at least twice before last week, and never for the good guys: once in 2005, for “the first bomb-making husband and wife,” two Palestinian newlyweds arrested by the Israelis; and once in 2007, for a story about a “bride,” decked out in a “princess-style wedding gown,” with her “groom.” Their car was stopped at a checkpoint in Iraq by our Iraqis, and both of them turned out to be male “terrorists” in a “nutty nuptial party.” Ba-boom!

As it happened, the article by Andy Soltis accompanying the Post headline last week began quite inaccurately. “A U.S. drone strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Yemen,” went the first line, “took out an unlikely target on Thursday -- a wedding party heading to the festivities.”

Soltis can, however, be forgiven his ignorance. In this country, no one bothers to count up wedding parties wiped out by U.S. air power. If they did, Soltis would have known that the accurate line, given the history of U.S. war-making since December 2001 when the first party of Afghan wedding revelers was wiped out (only two women surviving), would have been: “A U.S. drone... took out a likely target.”

After all, by the count of TomDispatch, this is at least the eighth wedding party reported wiped out, totally or in part, since the Afghan War began and it extends the extermination of wedding celebrants from the air to a third country -- six destroyed in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and now the first in Yemen. And in all those years, reporters covering these “incidents” never seem to notice that similar events had occurred previously. Sometimes whole wedding parties were slaughtered, sometimes just the bride or groom’s parties were hit. Estimated total dead from the eight incidents: almost 300 Afghans, Iraqis, and Yemenis. And keep in mind that, in these years, weddings haven’t been the only rites hit. U.S. air power has struck gatherings ranging from funerals to a baby-naming ceremony. More


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Death on the US-Mexican border: the killings America chooses to ignore

On 28 May 28 2010, 42-year-old Anastacio Hernandez Rojas was detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents while attempting to enter California from Mexico, at the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego. Hernandez Rojas had previously spent 25 years living as an undocumented immigrant north of the border, where he worked as a swimming pool plasterer and fathered five American-born children.

That evening, he was in the process of being deported back into Mexico when he was handcuffed and hog-tied on the tarmac close to the border, and surrounded by more than a dozen CBP agents and Border Patrol officers, who kicked and beat him until several of his ribs were broken. As he pleaded for help, one officer reportedly yanked down the Mexican’s trousers and shocked him with a taser gun at least five times. All told, the attack went on for almost half an hour. Hernandez Rojas was admitted to hospital, where, three days later, he died of his injuries.

San Ysidro is the busiest border crossing on Earth, so there were numerous eyewitnesses to the incident, several of whom recorded the violent scene on their phones.

Their videos undermine the official report, which claimed that Hernandez Rojas was hostile and combative. The San Diego medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, but the US attorney decided that the CBP response had been “appropriate”.

When the victim’s widow filed a wrongful death suit, her attorney Eugene Iredale asked to view the footage from the CBP’s own closed-circuit cameras. “There are video cameras throughout the facility,” Iredale recently told the Arizona Republic.

“But somehow, the video cameras weren’t turned on, or they were facing the other way. I could say something cynical, but I don’t need to.”

The Hernandez Rojas case is one of many detailed in a lengthy investigative report by the Republic, published this week, which found that since 2005 Border Patrol agents and CBP officers have killed some 42 people along the length of the US-Mexican border, without facing any public consequences, and in spite of numerous appeals made directly to the Obama administration by campaigners, the victim’s families and the Mexican government.

Roberto Lovato, the co-founder of Presente, a Latino advocacy group based in California, told The Independent, “The case of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas is emblematic of a disease that runs to the cold heart of the Obama administration’s immigration policy. The administration’s silence before the killing of innocents is enabling the Border Patrol to continue to kill and abuse with utter impunity. This is an agency that refuses to be accountable to anyone.”

Last year in Nogales, near the border with Arizona, 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot 10 times by Border Patrol agents firing through the border fence from the US side. The official report suggested the teenager had been throwing rocks at his killers, a claim that eyewitnesses refuted. According to the Republic, incidents in which people do throw rocks at Border Patrol agents are routinely resolved with the use of non-lethal deterrents, including pepper spray. Yet “rockings” have also led to eight killings by Border Patrol agents since 2010.

Observers say these troubling statistics stem from a 2007 decision by the Bush administration to double the ranks of the US Border Patrol. Within five years, the force swelled from 11,000 to more than 21,000 agents. To attract such numbers, the agency reportedly took on recruits with minimal qualifications, made only cursory background checks, and relaxed its training regime. Thus almost half of the heavily armed force are relatively inexperienced.

John Carlos Frey, an investigative reporter who has covered the US-Mexican border for around 10 years, said he knew of hundreds of examples of brutality perpetrated by the Border Patrol, ranging from verbal abuse to torture to murder. “I don’t consider what happened to Anastacio Hernandez Rojas to be an isolated incident,” Frey said.

“There is a culture of brutality within the US Border Patrol. It’s a federal agency, and it falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, which gives its agents a cloak of protection. They basically get to do whatever they want and claim they’re protecting the country.”

In September, the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report on the use of force by CBP, which served only to highlight the agency’s lack of transparency: the inspectors were unable to fully investigate hundreds of cases, because the CBP doesn’t track the allegations of excessive force made against it. Last year, 16 members of Congress wrote to the then Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to demand a full investigation into Hernandez Rojas’s death. A federal grand jury investigation followed, but none of the officers involved has been charged. More



Monday, December 23, 2013

Snowden made the right call when he fled the U.S.

Daniel Ellsberg is the author of “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” He was charged in 1971 under the Espionage Act as well as for theft and conspiracy for copying the Pentagon Papers. The trial was dismissed in 1973 after evidence of government misconduct, including illegal wiretapping, was introduced in court.

Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.

After the New York Times had been enjoined from publishing the Pentagon Papers — , the first prior restraint on a newspaper in U.S. history — and I had given another copy to The Post (which would also be enjoined), I went underground with my wife, Patricia, for 13 days. My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging — with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.”

Yet when I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before, I was released on personal recognizance bond the same day. Later, when my charges were increased from the original three counts to 12, carrying a possible 115-year sentence, my bond was increased to $50,000. But for the whole two years I was under indictment, I was free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures. I was, after all, part of a movement against an ongoing war. Helping to end that war was my preeminent concern. I couldn’t have done that abroad, and leaving the country never entered my mind.

There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today, let alone that a trial could be terminated by the revelation of White House actions against a defendant that were clearly criminal in Richard Nixon’s era — and figured in his resignation in the face of impeachment — but are today all regarded as legal (including an attempt to “incapacitate me totally”).

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.

In my case, my authorized access in the Pentagon and the Rand Corp. to top-secret documents — which became known as the Pentagon Papers after I disclosed them — taught me that Congress and the American people had been lied to by successive presidentsand dragged into a hopelessly stalemated war that was illegitimate from the start.

Snowden’s dismay came through access to even more highly classified documents — some of which he has now selected to make public — originating in the National Security Agency (NSA). He found that he was working for a surveillance organization whose all-consuming intent, he told the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, was “on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.”

It was, in effect, a global expansion of the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security in the Stalinist “German Democratic Republic,” whose goal was “to know everything.” But the cellphones, fiber-optic cables, personal computers and Internet traffic the NSA accesses did not exist in the Stasi’s heyday.

As Snowden told the Guardian, “This country is worth dying for.” And, if necessary, going to prison for — for life.

But Snowden’s contribution to the noble cause of restoring the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution is in his documents. It depends in no way on his reputation or estimates of his character or motives — still less, on his presence in a courtroom arguing the current charges, or his living the rest of his life in prison. Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.

I hope that he finds a haven, as safe as possible from kidnapping or assassination by U.S. Special Operations forces, preferably where he can speak freely.

What he has given us is our best chance — if we respond to his information and his challenge — to rescue ourselves from out-of-control surveillance that shifts all practical power to the executive branch and its intelligence agencies: a United Stasi of America. More


Friday, December 20, 2013

UN rapporteur accuses Israel of "genocidal intentions"

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has claimed that "Israel is slouching towards nothing less than a Palestinian holocaust" in his comments about the abuse of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Maariv newspaper reported that Professor Falk has accused Israel of "genocidal intentions" towards the Palestinians. The legal expert was speaking to Russia's RT television.

"When you target a group, an ethnic group and inflict this kind of punishment upon them, you are in effect nurturing a kind of criminal intention that is genocidal," Falk is reported to have told RT.

Not surprisingly, the UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories came under fierce attack by Israeli and pro-Israel officials. A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said that Falk is "renowned" for what he called "his extremist and crazy anti-Israeli" positions.

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird, a well-known supporter of Israel despite its appalling human rights record and obvious contempt for international law, revealed that his country has called for Professor Falk to be removed from his post by the UN. He described his statements as "outrageous and anti-Semitic", which is rather strange, given Falk's Jewish background. More


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bedouin rise up against Israel eviction plan

Rahat, Israel - Those passing by Al Araqib may call it a shanty town, but to Sheikh Siah Altori it is a home he says he is prepared to die for.

After a reported 62 separate demolitions by state authorities, the remains of the Bedouin community, off the road from Rahat to Be'er Sheva, consists of several portable buildings, and a clutch of shacks and animal pens clinging to a hillside in the north of Israel's Negev Desert.

Portions of the village's lands have been designated to be planted with a state-sponsored forest. Al Araqib is one of the Bedouin communities known as an "unrecognised village", which receive no state services such as electricity, water or sanitation. As many as 200,000 Bedouin live in the Negev, an area comprising 60 percent of Israel's territory. Under a government proposal known as the Prawer-Begin Plan, $340m has been allocated for land and monetary compensation to move up to 40,000 of the Bedouin into state-sponsored townships.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 30 cilties - in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as well as in other countries - to protest the Prawer-Begin Plan.

At Hura, a town in the northern Negev, more than 500 protesters gathered peacefully until youth began throwing stones and police used water cannon, horses and stun grenades to disperse the demonstration. Clashes continued throughout the night as the highway from Be'er Sheva to the Dead Sea was blocked with burning barricades and scores of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

Earlier, Bedouin were joined by busloads of supporters to voice opposition to the Begin-Prawer Plan. While the Israeli government maintains that the policy will ensure its Bedouin population receive access to basic services and economic opportunities, critics see the plan as an attempt to displace and threaten an indigenous way of life.

Refusing to leave

Although many people have left Al Araqib over the years due to the demolitions, those remaining are adamant on staying.

Sheikh Siah, along with family and supporters, has maintained the protest tent since his release from prison on Thursday. He was arrested after rebuilding his tent following its demolition on November 20, and was released on condition that he would not return to Al Araqib.

"My grandfather was born in Al Araqib, my father was born there and I was born there - and so were my children," the now-elderly sheikh said from his protest tent outside the Rahat police station. "I am staying in Al Araqib - alive or dead. It is better to live with dignity than to leave. We are Arabs, Palestinians, Bedouins and Israeli citizens. If the State of Israel likes it or not, we are going to stay."

I don't believe this government gives justice.

- Sheikh Siah, Bedouin activist

A court will rule on his case in early December and if unsuccessful, Sheikh Siah said he would pursue other legal actions. "I believe in the justice of the courts - if not in Israel than in international courts - but I don't believe this government gives justice," he said."We need a normal village at Al Araqib and to have agricultural opportunities."

In July, Navi Pillay, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern that the Prawer-Begin plan might threaten Bedouin culture. "If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development," she said at the time.

Amos Gvirtz, one of the many Jewish Israelis supporting the Bedouin at Hura's demonstration, described the plans as "racist" and said the majority of Israelis did not understand the issues facing the Negev's Bedouins. "It's like a wall we have to break through," he said."A lot of people don't even know about the Bedouins' issues.Removing people from their villages is removing their human rights and we are legalising the theft of their land."

Khalil Alamour, a Bedouin from Al Sira, whose community is subject to demolition orders, said he hoped his village would receive official state recognition. "We want recognition and to stay in our village in order to maintain our culture, lifestyle and the link with our land," he said."Seven generations of our family have lived in the same place since the Ottoman times, and it is only the Israeli government that is narrowing the space we have."

One the protest organisers, Amir Abokweder, said he was proud at the mobilisation of supporters across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "It gives a sense of justification to receive this support and confidence for us to continue the struggle to halt the process," he said.

Abokweder, from the unrecognised village of Al Zarnoug, added that violent acts at the demonstration was a result of people feeling disenfranchised. "People behaved in this way because they feel like nobody is listening to them," he said.

Gradual recognition?

Ami Tesler, deputy head of the Headquarters of the Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin, the Israeli government office responsible for implementing the Prawer-Begin Plan, said in one month the government would present a map recognising 17 of the unrecognised villages and reveal the sites for at least 10 new villages.

The new villages will be planned with the Bedouin and will have places for sheep and access to agriculture but with roads, electricity and water.

- Ami Tesler, Headquarters of the Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin

"What we are trying to do - as quickly as possible - is build two or three successful villages to be a model for success," he said. "The new villages will be planned with the Bedouin and will have places for sheep and access to agriculture but with roads, electricity and water."

Economic development is the major focus of the policy, according to Tesler. "The goal of all of it is to bring the Bedouin, in 20-30 years from now, to a better future," he said."Education is the most important part of it and will enable them to find work and live a modern life."

He recognised that mistakes had been made in the past when planning Bedouin villages, but he expressed confidence that the new plan would balance the needs of the communities and the state. "If they are large concentrations we realise we can't move them, so we will make them normal villages," he added."The idea is to give fair compensation in land and money."

Following Saturday's protests, which included additional clashes in Haifa and Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying the government would not tolerate such disturbances.

"Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave," the statement read. "We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev."


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

As Bedouin villages are destroyed, so too are hopes for Palestinian peace deal

As United States envoys shuttle back and forth in search of a peace formula to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a matter supposedly settled decades ago is smouldering back into life.

In what was billed as a “day of rage” last month, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against a plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin from their ancestral lands inside Israel, in the Negev.

The clashes were the worst between Israeli police and the country’s large Palestinian minority since the outbreak of the second intifada 13 years ago, with police using batons, stun grenades, water cannon and arrests to deter future protests.

Things are only likely to get more heated. The so-called Prawer Plan, being hurried through parliament, will authorise the destruction of more than 30 Bedouin villages, forcibly relocating the inhabitants to deprived, overcrowded townships. Built decades ago, these urban reservations languish at the bottom of every social and economic index.

Bedouin leaders, who were ignored in the plan’s drafting, say they will oppose it to the bitter end. The villages, though treated as illegal by the state, are the last places where the Bedouin cling to their land and a traditional pastoral life.

But the Israeli government is equally insistent that the Bedouin must be “concentrated” – a revealing term employed by Benny Begin, a former minister who helped to formulate the plan. In the place of the villages, a handful of Jewish towns will be erected.

The stakes are high, not least because Israel views this battle as a continuation of the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued last week that the fight over the Negev proves “nothing has changed since the days of the tower and stockade” – a reference to heavily fortified outposts the Zionists aggressively built in the 1930s to evict Palestinians from the land they had farmed for centuries.

These outposts later became land-hungry farming communities that gave the Jewish state its territorial backbone.

Mr Lieberman’s view reflects that of the government: “We are fighting for the lands of the Jewish people, against those who intentionally try to rob and seize them.”

The labelling of the Bedouin as “squatters” and “trespassers” reveals much about the intractability of the wider conflict – and why the Americans have no hope of ending it as long as they seek solutions that address only the injustices caused by the occupation that began in 1967.

In truth, both Israel and the Palestinians understand that the war of 1948 never really finished.

Suhad Bishara, a lawyer specialising in Israeli land issues, has called the Prawer Plan a “second nakba”, in reference to the catastrophic events of 1948 that stripped the Palestinians of their homeland.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to conceive of its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens – however peaceable – as just as alien and threatening to its interests as the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The roots of the Prawer Plan can be traced to one of Zionism’s earliest principles: “Judaisation”. There are cities across Israel, including Upper Nazareth, Karmiel and Migdal Haemek, founded as Judaisation communities next to large Palestinian populations with the official goal of “making the land Jewish”.

Judaisation’s faulty premise, in the pre-state years, was the fantasy that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Its sinister flip side was the cheery injunction to Zionism’s pioneers to “make the desert bloom”, chiefly by driving out Palestinians.

Nowadays, the term “Judaisation”, with its unpleasant overtones, has been discarded in favour of “development”.

There is even a minister for “developing the Negev and the Galilee” – Israel’s two areas with large concentrations of Palestinians. But officials are interested only in Jewish development.

Last week, in the wake of the clashes, the Israeli Haaretz daily published leaked documents showing that the World Zionist Organisation – an unofficial arm of the government – has been quietly reviving the Judaisation programme in the Galilee.

In an effort to bring another 100,000 Jews to the region, several new towns are to be built, for Jews only, dispersed as widely as possible in contravention of Israel’s own national master plan, which requires denser building inside existing communities to protect scarce land resources.

All this generosity towards Israel’s Jewish population is at the expense of the country’s Palestinian citizens. They have not been allowed a single new community since Israel’s founding more than six decades ago. And the new Jewish towns, as Arab mayors complained last week, are being built intentionally to box them in.

For officials, the renewed Judaisation drive is about asserting “Israeli sovereignty” and “strengthening our hold” over the Galilee, as if the current inhabitants – Israeli citizens who are Palestinian – were a group of hostile foreigners. Haaretz more honestly characterised the policy as “racism”.

Judaisation casts the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in zero-sum terms, and thereby makes it unresolvable. In considering its Palestinian citizens, Israel speaks not of integration, or even assimilation, but of their enduring status as a “fifth column” and the Jewish state’s “Achilles heel”.

That is because, were principles of justice and equality ever to be enforced, Palestinians in Israel could serve as a gateway by which millions of exiled Palestinians might find their way back home.

With the policy of Judaisation revoked, the Palestinian minority could end the conflict without violence simply by pulling down the scaffolding of racist laws that have blocked any return for the Palestinians since their expulsion 65 years ago.

This is why Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands as part of the current peace negotiations that the Palestinians sanctify the Judaisation principle by recognising Israel as a Jewish state. It is also why the talks are doomed to failure. More

Jonathan Cook is an independent journalist based in Nazareth


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Democratic politics became a puppet show

There’s a good article from George Monbiot today, highlighting the obvious but usually unmentionable point that the British (and American) political system has been entirely captured by the corporations. They really run the country, with the politicians simply fronting the show.

Jnathan Cook

Implicitly echoing Russell Brand’s point about the futility of voting, Monbiot notes that Britain’s Labour party is now just another party of capital, making the British political system a mirror of the US one:

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown purged the party of any residue of opposition to corporations and the people who run them. That’s what New Labour was all about. Now opposition MPs stare mutely as their powers are given away to a system of offshore arbitration panels run by corporate lawyers.

Since Blair, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics.

There’s even a rare dig at the liberal media – in this case, the BBC – for conspiring in this charade.

That the words corporate power seldom feature in the corporate press is not altogether surprising. It’s more disturbing to see those parts of the media that are not owned by Rupert Murdoch or Lord Rothermere acting as if they are.

For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.

This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power – those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.

Monbiot’s basic assumption here is questionable. He suggests that those media not owned by proprietors like Murdoch are not part of the corporate press. The implication is that the BBC is only acting as if it is owned by a corporation, when in fact it isn’t. There is a further implication that the Guardian – Monbiot’s employer – is not only not owned by a corporation but that it also doesn’t behave as if it is.

The reality is that the trusts overseeing the BBC and the Guardian are simply foils to distract us from the fact that they are as much embedded in the corporate world as the Murdoch-owned media. More


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Palestinian villages as "props" in Israel's military training

A cemetery; usually a place for loss and remembrance; grief and commemoration. However in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, a cemetery is also a place for military training.

The bodies that fill the graves are Palestinians; the soldiers partaking in the military training are Israelis serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This is the image captured on video by activists from Israeli human rights group Yesh Din just over a week ago.

In the Muslim cemetery the Israeli soldiers were simulating the breakup of a demonstration. Some were dressed as Palestinian protestors, whilst an armed unit was charged with dispersing the demonstration. The armed soldiers fanned out across the cemetery, weaving through graves as they made their way to break-up the "mock" peaceful protest.

"We were shocked to discover last week that training was taking place in a cemetery in Hebron, in blunt disregard of the sensitivities of local civilians," said Yesh Din attorney Emily Schaeffer. "I find it hard to believe that the IDF would hold training of this type in a Jewish cemetery, or in any Jewish neighborhood in the West Bank or within Israel."

The incident in the Hebron cemetery is part of the ongoing recruitment of Palestinian villages and homes for IDF military training. Under the auspices of "training," IDF soldiers can invade Palestinian villages, without informing the residents, and with no "legal obstacles".

The legality of training inside Palestinian villages is anchored in the principles of "belligerent occupation," Military Advocate Generals deputy prosecutor for the IDF's operational affairs, Major Harel Weinberg concluded last week, in a document written in response to a complaint filed by Yesh Din. The complaint was filed following a series of similar training incidents involving Palestinian villages.

"The military commander is obliged to maintain security and public order in the Judea and Samaria Region (Israel's name for the occupied West Bank). In order to maintain the capability of the IDF forces to carry out this mission, the IDF is forced to hold exercises, sometimes in populated areas," read the document.

Still, Weinberg wrote that troops taking part in such training were required to "avoid putting the population at risk, damaging their property or causing unreasonable disturbance to their daily routine."

An Israeli soldier who is now a member of "Breaking the Silence", an organization of veteran IDF soldiers working to expose the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories, commented in response to Weinberg's response:

"How can an entire army battalion pass through a village without disrupting its inhabitants' daily routine? How can we train for days near a civilian population without causing damage to their property? How can we train with live bullets while ensuring that no one will be injured?"

"Imagine a massive amount of infantry troops all around, with explosions shaking the earth under your feet. Tanks and attack helicopters open fire as soldiers run through the village setting off stun grenades. There's a lot of noise. It is important to note that at no point did I stop for a second to think about the fact that we were training around villages where regular people live their daily lives."

In 1972, a pro-Palestine Israeli media outlet, the soldier said that Palestinians were "little more than props" to some Israeli soldiers:

"I heard testimonies about soldiers who trained by breaking into homes on which there was no suspicious intelligence information. They would force the entire family in one room, search the house, and leave. I learned about how the army's canine unit would train by searching random cars that simply want to pass through a checkpoint (soldiers would hide explosives in the car and let the dogs turn rummage through the whole car until they find them).

I learned about detaining innocent people – what we called a "mock arrest" – who have no idea where we came from or what we wanted from them, and then suddenly releasing them."

Included in the numerous incidents that prompted Yesh Din to file a complaint was the simulation of a "mock" attack on the village of Imatin in May, where around 100 armed soldiers spread out amongst the homes. The practice assault on a house using specialized equipment during the Muslim holy holiday of Ramadan and while the family were sitting in the garden and some members were still inside the house.

In 2012, three brothers were shot, one later died, after apprehending agents from the Israeli undercover unit "Duvdevan" whom they had mistaken for thieves. The agents were conducting an infiltration practice drill. More


Israel’s gains from the death of Arafat cannot be ignored

It seems there are still plenty of parties who would prefer that the death of the long-time Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continues to be treated as a mystery rather than as an assassination.

Yasser Arafat

It is hard, however, to avoid drawing the logical conclusion from the finding last week by Swiss scientists that the Palestinian leader’s body contained high levels of a radioactive isotope, polonium-210. An inconclusive and much more limited study by a Russian team published immediately after the Swiss announcement also suggests Arafat died from poisoning.

It is time to state the obvious: Arafat was killed. And suspicion falls squarely on Israel.

Israel alone had the means, track record, stated intention and motive. Without Israel’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, it may be impossible to secure a conviction in a court of law, but there should be evidence enough to convict Israel in the court of world opinion.

Israel had access to polonium from its nuclear reactor in Dimona, and has a long record of carrying out political assassinations, some ostentatious and others covert, often using hard-to-trace chemical agents. There is also plenty of evidence that Israel wanted Arafat “removed”. In January 2002, Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s military chief of staff, was caught on a microphone whispering to Israel’s then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, about Arafat: “We have to get rid of him.”

With the Palestinian leader holed up for more than two years in his battered compound in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks, the debate in the Israel government centred on whether he should be exiled or killed.

In September 2003, the cabinet even issued a warning that Israel would “remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing”. The then-deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, clarified that killing Arafat was “one of the options”.

What stayed Israel’s hand – and fuelled its equivocal tone – was Washington’s adamant opposition. After these threats, Colin Powell, the US former secretary of state, warned that a move against Arafat would trigger “rage throughout the Arab world”.

By April 2004, however, Mr Sharon declared he was no longer obligated by his earlier commitment to George Bush not to “harm Arafat physically”. “I am released from that pledge,” he said. The White House too indicated a weakening of its stance: an unnamed spokesman responded feebly that the US “opposed any such action”.

So what about motive? How did Israel gain from “removing” Arafat? To understand Israel’s thinking, one needs to return to another debate raging at that time, among Palestinians.

The Palestinian leadership was split into two camps, centred on Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, then Arafat’s heir apparent. The pair had starkly divergent strategies for dealing with Israel.

In Arafat’s view, Israel had reneged on commitments it made in the Oslo accords. He was therefore loath to invest exclusively in the peace process. He wanted a twin strategy: keeping open channels for talks while maintaining the option of armed resistance to pressure Israel. For this reason, he kept a tight personal grip on the Palestinian security forces.

Mr Abbas, on the other hand, believed that armed resistance was a gift to Israel, delegitimising the Palestinian struggle. He wanted to focus exclusively on negotiations and state-building, hoping to exert indirect pressure on Israel by proving to the international community that the Palestinians could be trusted with statehood. His priority was cooperating closely with the US and Israel in security matters. More


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stealing a Nation

'Stealing A Nation' is an extraordinary film about the plight of the Chagos Islands, whose indigenous population was secretly and brutally expelled by British Governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for an American military base.

The tragedy, which falls within the remit of the International Criminal Court as "a crime against humanity", is told by Islanders who were dumped in the slums of Mauritius and by British officials who left behind a damning trail of Foreign Office documents.

Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands in the Indian Ocean, many with roots back to the late 18th century. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life. The islands were, and still are, a British crown colony. In the 1960s, the government of Harold Wilson struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over the main island of Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the surrounding islands be "swept" and "sanitized". Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress and in breach of the United Nations Charter, the British Government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population.

After demonstrating on the streets of Mauritius in 1982, the exiled islanders were given the derisory compensation of less than £3,000 per person by the British government. In the film, former inhabitants Rita Bancoult and Charlesia Alexis tell of how, in accepting the money, they were tricked into signing away their right to return home: "It was entirely improper, unethical, dictatorial to have the Chagossian put their thumbprint on an English legal, drafted document, where the Chagossian, who doesn’t read, know or speak any English, let alone any legal English, is made to renounce basically all his rights as a human being."

Today, the main island of Diego Garcia is America's largest military base in the world, outside the US. There are more than 4,000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station. The Pentagon calls it an "indispensable platform" for policing the world. It was used as a launch pad for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The truth about the removal of the Chagossians and the Whitehall conspiracy to deny there was an indigenous population did not emerge for another twenty years, when files were unearthed at the Public Record Office, in Kew, by the historian Mark Curtis, John Pilger and lawyers for the former inhabitants of the coral archipelago, who were campaigning for a return to their homeland.

John Pilger first become aware of the plight of the Chagossians in 1982, during the Falklands War: "It was pointed out to me that Britain had sent a fleet to go and save two thousand Falkland Islanders at the other end of the world while two thousand British citizens in islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean had been expelled by British governments and the only difference was that one lot were white and the others were black. The other difference was that the United States wanted the Chagos Islands - and especially Diego Garcia - as a major base. So nothing was said, which tells us something about the ruthlessness of governments, especially imperial governments."

In June 2004, shortly before Stealing a Nation’s television screening, the British Government had issued an order-in-council, a royal decree using archaic powers invested in the Queen, bypassing Parliament and the High Court, to ban the Islanders from ever returning home. "The Queen rubber-stamps what in many cases politicians know they can’t get away with democratically," said Pilger. "Dictators do this, but without the quaint ritual."

In May 2006, the High Court finally ruled that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland. However, in the summer of 2008, David Miliband and the Foreign Office began another appeal, to the Law Lords, against the High Court’s judgements. They found in favour of the Government.

In April 2010, the British Government established a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands. Several months later, WikiLeaks published a US Embassy diplomatic cable from 2009 which read as follows: "Establishing a marine reserve might indeed, as the FCO's [Colin] Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory]."

In the film, John Pilger concludes: "Why do we continue to allow our governments to treat people in small countries as either useful or expendable? Why do we accept specious reasons for the unacceptable? The High Court issued one of the most damning indictments of a British government. It said the secret expulsion of the Chagos Islanders was wrong. That judgement must be upheld and the people of a group of beautiful, once peaceful islands must be helped to go home and compensated fully and without delay for their suffering. Anything less diminishes the rest of us."

'Stealing A Nation' was a Granada production for ITV. It was first broadcast on ITV1, 6 October 2004. Directors: John Pilger and Chris Martin. Producer: Chris Martin.

Awards: Best Single Documentary, Royal Television Society Awards, 2005; The Chris Statuette in the Social Issues division, Chris Awards, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2003

Killing Arafat

From Wikipedia:

Polonium is a very rare element in nature because of the short half-life of all its isotopes. It is found in uranium ores at about 0.1 mg per metric ton (1 part in 1010),[43][44] which is approximately 0.2% of the abundance of radium. The amounts in the Earth's crust are not harmful. Polonium has been found in tobacco smoke from tobacco leaves grown with phosphate fertilizers.[45][46][47]

Because of the small abundance, isolation of polonium from natural sources is a very tedious process. The largest batch was extracted in the first half of the 20th century by processing 37 tonnes of residues from radium production. It contained only 40 Ci (9 mg) of polonium-210.[48] Nowadays, polonium is obtained by irradiating bismuth with high-energy neutrons or protons.[16][49]

In 1934, an experiment showed that when natural 209Bi is bombarded with neutrons, 210Bi is created, which then decays to 210Po via beta-minus decay. The final purification is done pyrochemically followed by liquid-liquid extraction techniques.[50] Polonium may now be made in milligram amounts in this procedure which uses high neutron fluxes found in nuclear reactors.[49] Only about 100 grams are produced each year, practically all of it in Russia, making polonium exceedingly rare.[51][52]

One has therefore to question how many states in the Middle East have nuclear reactors?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is the world failing Syrians?

The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly, and it estimates that more than nine million people - almost forty percent of the population - are now in need of help.

Delivery of aid has slowed and some reports suggest there has been little help for many people in need for almost a year.

The UN says the number of people displaced from their homes has risen to 6.5 million, and many are living without adequate food or access to electricity and medical supplies.

Officials of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent say their agency is able access most of the affected areas but the humanitarian aid has not been sufficient.

The figures are staggering, it’s catastrophic, the numbers continue to rise. Now when we have reached this very high figure, if we compare to the previous figures that went out in June when we were talking of about 4.2 million people displaced inside the country, it is not one event that has triggered this. It’s a continuation of conflict. It’s a continuation of the displacement that has now brought us to this horrific number.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

"It’s not difficult to get the aid in the country. The main challenge we are facing on the ground is the aid from outside, through our partners, is not enough for the need on the ground," Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, told Al Jazeera.

"Now we are estimating the number is more than 6 million people internally displaced, yet we are still receiving aid only enough for 2.5 million people to be distributed each month."

Since the unrest began in March 2011, more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed. More than two million people have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as in Iraq and Egypt.

The 15-member UN Security Council approved a statement in October, calling for increased humanitarian assistance. But it was non-binding and, speaking in October, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said it had had little impact on the ground.

"I expressed to the council my deep disappointment that the progress that we had hoped to see on the ground as a result of that statement has not happened, and as a result, what we are seeing is a deepening of the crisis, more and more people affected and, in particular, my worries [are] about the extremely brutal and violent nature of this conflict," she said.

Amos is calling on the Security Council to use its influence over those parties that can ensure the safe passage of medical personnel and supplies, the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilians, and those who can help expand critical, life-saving relief operations.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, said his country has done its part to help humanitarian aid workers on the ground - although he did admit that visas are limited, and not granted to all groups that request access.

"We are issuing too many visas to too many people. We are a sovereign nation like any other nation and we have our own reasons to deny visa to this individual or that individual. This is an integral part of our sovereignty - of any state in the United Nations," he said.

While all this was going on, the World Health Organization confirmed Syria's first outbreak of polio since 1999. At least 10 children have tested positive for polio in the eastern province of Deir az-Zor, with another 12 suffering from paralysis. More


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The REAL truth about Palestine in response to Danny Ayalon

The REAL truth about Palestine in response to Danny Ayalon


Intersstingly enough 22,000 pictures on Palestine have just surfaced in the US Library of Congress. This collection depict the country that the Zionists say did not exist! See http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=Nazareth&sp=1&co=matpc&st=gallery


Arafat was killed – just as Sharon promised

Scientists have finally produced the evidence that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, using radioactive polonium. Traces were found in Arafat’s body and the surrounding earth (i.e. after dispersion from decomposition) 18 times higher than normal.

PLO Leader Yasser Arafat

The documentation can be seen here.

Now there aren’t so many countries that have access to polonium, or to the techniques necessary for its use in a political assassination. Israel would be one of those few countries.

But hold on. Israel says it didn’t do it. Here’s spokesman Yigal Palmor:

There’s no way the Palestinians can stick this on us. It’s unreasonable and unsupported by facts.

And Dov Weisglass, adviser to Ariel Sharon, who was Israel’s PM at the time of Arafat’s death, is also adamant that Israel is not culpable.

All of which means that the threats Sharon made in April 2004, a few months before Arafat’s death, to kill the Palestinian leader were simple joshing:

I told the president [George Bush] the following. In our first meeting about three years ago, I accepted your request not to harm Arafat physically. I told him [in the most recent meeting] I understand the problems surrounding the situation, but I am released from that pledge.

The Guardian reported at the time:

Mr Arafat responded by saying he took the threat seriously, but would stand his ground. “I am not afraid of Sharon’s threats. He has a history of attempting to target me.”

Unwisely, many of us had assumed at the time that Sharon was intending to fire a missile, tank shell or sniper’s bullet into the Muqata compound in Ramallah to finish off Arafat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its track record, Israel preferred something quieter and harder to trace, as it has done so many times before. More