The Palestinian Hunger Strike

A week ago today, a dramatic development took place in Israel/Palestine, almost unnoticed in the UK’s mainstream media. To mark Palestinian Prisoners’ Day on April 17th, 1200 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike in protest against the worsening conditions of their confinement. This is specially significant because it follows closely on two prisoner hunger strikes, that of the “administrative detainees” (the euphemism for people imprisoned without trial) Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, both of whom achieved significant concessions from the Israeli authorities, albeit almost at the cost of their lives. A further two administrative detainees, Bilal Diab and Tha’ir Khekhle, have now passed nearly 50 days of their strike—human beings can rarely survive more than 70 days without food. The situation is very well described in this post (now a week old) on +972 magazine.

There is a demonstration this Saturday in Edinburgh in solidarity with the prisoners. SJJP stands in support of their action. But a much bigger confrontation is now coming down the line; given the determination shown by the first four prisoners it seems likely that within thirty days or so, many hundreds of prisoners will be nearing death. It’s hard to see how the Israeli prison authorities will withstand their demands, but the prisoners will need all the support we can give them.

Yom haShoah

I went to the Holocaust Memorial Service in Princes Street Gardens on Thursday. As every year, this short service provided a moving contrast between the events it commemorates and its surroundings, an island of peace in the midst of the city. The sound of the trains passing along the line to Waverley a few metres away both connect us to the present and remind us of the grim role that the seemingly innocuous train played in the past. The participation of the Lord Provost reminds us how that, for all the problems, how solidly this society backs diversity and our participation in it.

From these thoughts, sombre but also comforting, it’s a shock—but, unfortunately, no surprise—to read this withering piece from Adam Keller of Gush Shalom, listing a few of the evictions and demolitions taking place on Yom haShoah by officers who, after following their painful orders, return home in time to listen to the sombre speeches of Israeli politicians and generals commemorating the Holocaust. Naturally, their version of “never again” involves a pre-emptive attack on Iran; what could follow more naturally? Keller skewers this hypocrisy with painful accuracy.

Malcolm Rifkind at the Edinburgh Literary Jewish Society

Sir Malcolm Rifkind came to talk to “The Lit” last Sunday about the Arab Spring. Given that he and I are rather far apart on the political spectrum, I enjoyed his talk very much and found surprisingly little to disagree with. I thought his cautiously enthusiastic assessment of the the Arab Spring was sensible. He played down fears of Islamic extremism, and saw the movements for democracy in a positive light. He was even able, as the local hero of the Hebrew Congregation, to get away with a quite unflattering comparison between Netanyahu and Salim Fayed (the Palestinian prime minister), and slipped in his opinion that the settlements are a (or the) major obstacle to a settlement that Israel itself desperately needs. So far, so uncontroversial. In fact, I think he may be taken as a representative of Foreign Office conventional wisdom, which makes his views on Iran all the more frightening.

Asked about Iran, he hedged his answer quite carefully. He first explained his understanding of the Iranian government’s intentions: that they want to be nuclear-ready: that is, stopping short of actual weapons production, but ready to produce weapons at short notice. His view was that the first decision that “we” should make is whether “we” would want to tolerate this situation. In case the answer is no and other pressures such as sanctions have failed to prevent it, his next question was “Is the military option viable?” He pictured an attack on Iran as needing to last several days in order to destroy its many widespread and well-protected nuclear facilities, a campaign which in his view would be beyond the capabilities of the IDF and would require American participation. For him, the important question is the military viability of such an attack; he showed little concern about coping with Iranian retaliation of various kinds.

Afterwards I took up with him the question of the morality of planning a pre-emptive attack on Iran. He wasn’t very concerned about this either; his calculations are all of a very practical kind. Although he did use the well-worn argument about nuclear-armed fanatics (Ahmedinejad), it wasn’t with much enthusiasm. His primary—and I believe genuine—concern was to do with a regional arms race. He believes that Iran’s accession to the nuclear club would be rapidly followed by Saudi Arabia’s and probably Turkey’s; with Pakistan already in possession and many other states in the region having the resources and ability to join, this is indeed a terrifying prospect. So I repeated a question he had been asked earlier: What about a nuclear-free Middle East region?

And this is where the rubber hits the road. His realistic view is that it’s futile to call for a nuclear-free region while Israel is known to be in possession of probably 400 warheads. And that Israel can’t be expected to give up her weapons in the absence of a general peace agreement. And, as he had replied earlier, that’s not going to happen while it is prevented by (among other things) the settlements issue. How does that sit with another remark of his that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not the central problem of the region? Well, the British government is currently following Sir Malcolm’s logic in preparing for a military adventure whose immorality and catastrophic consequences will exceed those of the Iraqi disaster. And that road is being followed because Israel’s unrelenting grip over the Palestinians cannot, it seems, ever be challenged.

The BBC “reports” on Iran

I have just listened to a report on the BBC Radio 4 programme The World At One, “discussing” the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan today. This is what I wrote:

I wish to complain about the coverage of Roshan assassination. I think it’s extraordinary that the only coverage that WATO provided of this murder of a civilian should be with a representative (Danny Yatom, ex-chief of Mossad) of the security establishment that very likely killed him. Is it now normal practice for the BBC to cover all murders by means of an extensive interview with the murderer, “questioning” him with gentle prompts from time to time to help him explore his self-justification? Or is this only to be reserved for murders committed by our prospective allies in a forthcoming pre-emptive war?

I regret missing out the word “dishonest” to describe Yatom’s justification of this crime (which I should also have described as “terrorism”, in line with the common use of this term to describe political assassinations of people we don’t like).

There is an Israeli/Palestinian relevance to this issue that goes beyond Israel’s probable involvement. I’ll explain it in a further post later.

Update (13th January)
The BBC (in the person of Mark Madden from the complaints department) have replied to my complaint as follows:

Thank you for contacting us about ‘The World at One’ broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 January.

I understand you feel coverage of the recent assassination of an Iranian scientist was biased as the only interviewee was a spokesman for Mossad, who you feel were responsible.

Impartiality is the cornerstone of all our news and current affairs output and we ensure all our correspondents and production teams are aware of this to help us deliver fair and balanced coverage for all the stories we report. Mr. Yatom retired from Mossad many years ago, indeed he left the job in protest at an assassination policy and does not support such actions. The perpetrators of this assassination have not been identified.

It is not always possible or practical to reflect all the different opinions on a subject within individual programmes. Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends in their subject area. The BBC does not seek to denigrate any view, nor to promote any view. It seeks rather to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience. Among other evidence, audience research indicates widespread confidence in the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting.

Aside from the standard dissembling over the alleged involvement of Mossad (if this wasn’t taken for granted, why interview Yatom at such length about this particular incident?), and about balance (Mr. Madden obviously hasn’t been reading the Glasgow University Media Group’s quantitative evaluation of their “balance”) this reply contains such an extraordinarily bold lie (or total misunderstanding) as to totally discredit anything else in it. The idea that Yatom resigned in protest at an assassination policy is surreal in its inaccuracy: he was forced to resign as the result of the spectacular failure of a 1997 assassination attempt which he himself planned and oversaw. The climax of this fiasco was his public flight to Jordan carrying the antidote for the poison that his own agents had administered! The intended victim was Khaled Mashaal, now chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau.

As for the idea that Danny Yatom does not support assassinations, we have a relatively recent update of his opinions from this 2010 interview with Al Jazeera:

Al Jazeera: So Mossad carries out extra-judicial assassinations?
Yatom: The way I will refer to it is that whoever deals with terror should not enjoy any immunity.

Is Mark Madden’s reply an indicator of the BBC’s grasp of history and personality in the Middle East? If so, I want my licence fee back!

SJJP statement on the conviction of Paul Donnachie

Scottish Jews for a Just Peace notes with concern the outcome of the case against the St Andrews’ student Paul Donnachie in relation to the alleged complaint of Acting in a Racially Aggravated Manner against a fellow student Chanan Roziel Reitblat (contrary to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 Section 50A). It would appear that Paul Donnachie’s protest was directed not against Chanan Reitblat as a Jew or indeed as a person, but against the political view that he espoused. We condemn the way that the Sheriff’s decision confuses the legitimate right to criticise the State of Israel with racism, and conflates Jewishness with support for Israel.

We are concerned that the Sheriff did not allow Jewish witnesses for the defence to be called to give evidence regarding the crucial distinction between Zionism – a political position of support for a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine – and Jewishness – a person’s religion or ethnicity.

Jews (religious or not religious) may or may not be Zionists, and even those who support the idea of a Jewish state may be critical of its government. Like any other group of people, Jews have a wide range of political opinion and to imply that Jewishness coincides with support for Israel is to make a racist assumption. The Israeli state is a political entity and does not act on behalf of Jews as a whole. For very many Jews the idea that they should be automatically associated with the Israeli state is deeply worrying, not just because it is inaccurate, but also because it is potentially dangerous. The Israeli government does not act in our name and we are not responsible for its actions.

Criticism of the political concept of basing a state around a single religious or ethnic group or of the actions of the Israeli state is wholly legitimate; and the ability to criticise a political position or a national government is a basic freedom that must be guarded tenaciously.

The Palestinian Gandhis

I’m currently at Limmud (huge conference on Jewish learning and culture) , which is a mixed experience for a Palestinian sympathiser. There’s plenty of discussion on Israel/Palestine, some of it indeed with Palestinians; today I listened to Walid Salem speak on Palestinian narratives to an audience whose numbers I thought encouraging until I heard the questions at the end. The high point of the day for me was a screening of Budrus, which I very strongly recommend if you get a chance to see it. It’s a brilliantly assembled documentary that follows the struggle, almost exclusively non-violent, to persuade the Occupation authorities to change the route of the Separation Wall so that the villagers of Budrus would not be left destitute of the livelihood provided by their olive trees. (This screening was also well attended, by an audience that was clearly shocked by the reality of occupation as shown in the film.)

The Budrus struggle was ultimately successful and gave a lot of encouragement to other non-violent resistance against the Occupation. At the end of that film, and more markedly since then, the authorities have been stepping up their violence and repression against activists. The indispensable Jerry Haber (the Magnes Zionist) documents this trend and points to the case of Abdallah Abu Rahmah. This report (in the Jerusalem Post, of all papers) is a first-class account of the court hearing in which Rahmah was sent back to prison on the completion of his one-year sentence for leading a demonstration that the army had labelled “illegal”. Although Franz Kafka’s byline is missing from the report, there is no mistaking his handiwork: Rahmah is currently serving time awaiting the military prosecutor’s appeal against the clemency of his original sentence. And the appeal could take up to two year to present… As Jerry Haber says, “Where are the ‘Palestinian Gandhis’? In Israeli jails – for acting according to their principles of non-violence.”

[UPDATE, 19th March 2011]: Press release from Friends of Freedom and Justice Bilin:

After much delay, Abu Rahmah who was supposed to have already been released yesterday, was finally released from the Ofer Military Prison this evening. He was received by hundreds who waited for him at the prison’s gate.

Abu Rahmah, who during his trial was declared a human rights defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International, vowed to continue struggling against the Occupation, despite his unjust imprisonment and the six-months suspended sentence still imposed on him. He said, “On my release, I have no intention to go back home and sit there idly. In fact, by imprisoning me they have silenced me long enough. Our cause is just, it is one striving for freedom and equality, and I intend to continue fighting for it just as I have before”.

Press Release on the Jewish Boat to Gaza

This went to the Scottish newspapers (Herald, Dundee Courier) today (we sent a similar letter to the Scotsman):

Jewish Boat to Gaza boarded by Israeli forces and taken toward Ashdod port – press release issued 28 September, 2010

(This boat is cosponsored by the British Organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians and has been actively supported by SJJP)

The Irene, a boat carrying nine passengers and aid for Gaza’s population has been taken over by the Israeli navy and denied access to Gaza.

The boat is flying a British flag and its passengers include citizens of the US, the UK, Germany and Israel. Two journalists are also on board.

Last contact with the boat’s captain, Glyn Secker, was at 0937 GMT, when their path had been cut off by a Destroyer. Recent reports from other news sources indicated that the boat has been surrounded and boarded. At this point they were less than 20 miles from Gaza’s shore. Since then all phones went dead.

The occupied Gaza Strip’s territorial waters end 12 nautical miles from shore, but the Israeli blockade is enforced at 20 miles from shore.

Israeli attorney Smadar Ben Natan who is representing the passengers has asked to see her clients immediately.

Local group “Physicians for Human Rights-Israel” has asked for permission to send an independent doctor to visit the passengers immediately, after hearing from organizers that at least one passenger suffers from serious chronic health problems and is in need of medical care.

Speaking from London, a member of the organizing group, Richard Kuper of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, has condemned the Israeli army’s apparent action and said that this boat and its fate are a symbol of the chances for peace in the region. The way it is being treated by Israeli authorities indicates that they have no real intentions of reaching peace, he said. He called for worldwide support for the boat and its message of protest against the siege of Gaza and the occupation.

This tiny vessel is sailing under a British flag and is carrying a cargo of symbolic aid for the trapped people of Gaza–children’s toys and text books, musical instruments, water coolers, nets for Gaza’s fishermen.

All bar one of the people on board are Jewish. Two are British citizens, one is German, one American and the rest are Israeli. Two are very elderly and frail–one was taken as a baby as a refugee from Germany in the late 1930s while another survived the war in a horrific Rumanian ghetto and then emigrated to the new Israeli state. Yet another passenger is a leading member of the highly respected Jewish/Palestinian reconciliation group, the Bereaved Families Forum, which brings together people from both communities who have lost close relatives in the conflict.

The organisers have chosen to locate the mission on such a very small boat in order to emphasise the symbolic nature of the journey. In addition, from the outset, they made it clear that passengers and crew would not engage in any physical confrontation and would not present the Israelis with any reason to use physical force. These principles have been strictly observed.

They are now extremely concerned for the well being and safety of all on board, and are asking the British Government:

  • to provide full consular support to the British citizens on board–Glyn Secker, retired social worker and the Jewish captain, and Vishal Vishvanath, who is a photojournalist;
  • to urge the Israeli Government to release everyone as soon as the boat reaches dry land;
  • to make it clear that Her Majesty’s Government supports the message of the boat, passengers and crew; that the siege of Gaza should be lifted and Israel should engage in genuine negotiations with all the elected representatives of the Palestinian people so as to achieve a just and lasting peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

Raja Shehadeh

Raja Shehadeh, author of Strangers in the House and Palestinian Walks, spoke at the Edinburgh Book Festival at the launch of his new book A Rift in Time, in which he follows his great uncle’s flight from the Ottoman police during the First World War. Shehadeh was an extremely engaging speaker, not at all polarising but clearly very committed, and “politics” didn’t appear in the talk until the very end, in answer to a clumsy question about identifying and encouraging Jews who support Palestinian rights. Shehadeh’s answer was very simple: “I‘m not at all surprised that Jews support Palestinian rights; it seems completely natural to me”. How encouraging to encounter such positive expectations! I’m really looking forward to the book.

SJJP condemns Israeli attack on Gaza relief flotilla

SJJP today issued the following statement:

Scottish Jews for a Just Peace join with thousands across Scotland and the world in condemning Israel’s brutal attack in international waters on the international aid convoy that was headed for Gaza. Despite Israel’s cynical attempts to control the news, this can only be understood as a massacre committed by Israeli forces This international convoy was carrying vital aid to the besieged people of Gaza. It included thousands of pounds worth of medicines, clothes, toys and building materials donated by people across the world, including citizens of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. The goods being carried by the ships are all things that the Israeli government has denied the people of Gaza in a collective punishment that has turned the Gaza Strip into a giant prison camp. The flotilla is the result of international outrage at what is happening and included 800 politicians and activists from 40 countries, including 25 EU Parliamentarians. We hope that this flagrant attack will bring the Israeli government the condemnation it deserves, including from within Israel itself.

SJJP members will be joining the demonstrations across Scotland today protesting against the Israeli action.

How the Settlements Grow

I don’t normally just link to other people’s posts, but I couldn’t pass this up. If you have ever wondered where the land comes from for the illegal settlements, this video will help you understand, though it won’t make you any happier. It’s ten minutes long, and well worth watching. If you don’t have ten minutes to spare, here is the original Real News Network post, which has a transcript and a speaker bio (video there begins with a short donations appeal).

Antonine Friendship Link

I went to Falkirk last night (yes, it’s an exciting life in SJJP) to speak at a meeting of the Antonine Friendship Link. To quote from their website:

Falkirk was chosen as our venue because of the proximity of the remains of the Antonine Wall, a Roman wall which once crossed Scotland – a wall whose remains demonstrates the futility of military occupation and wall building.

The AFL have established links with Jayyous, and by lucky chance last night’s meeting was in fact attended by a family from Jayyous. They had asked me to speak about SJJP and my personal perspective rather than about the situation in Israel/Palestine (just as well; I’m sure many people in the room were more knowledgeable than me). I described how solidarity with Palestinians has gradually gained momentum amongst Jewish people during the last decade or so. There was a lot of interest and sympathy in the room (and I was quite successful in turning away attempts to fit me into some kind of heroic resister’s mould, pretty ridiculous to anyone who knows me). I’m starting to get an impression of many small grass-roots groups, scattered across Scotland, working inconspicuously to build links and support Palestinian communities. Someone suggested to me recently that the historic ties of the Scottish churches with “The Holy Land” lies behind a lot of this—certainly, one always sees church people (usually Church of Scotland) at these events.

Mohammad Othman released

Mohammad Othman and Jamal Juma’, the coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign, have been released from prison, after spending respectively four and one month in administrative detention. No charges were made against either man. Amnesty International recognised them as prisoners of conscience, detained for their political opposition to the Wall.

Update: Showing how effective individual campaigns can be, the American campaign group Jewish Voice for Peace say:

Thanks to you, we generated over 10,000 emails to US President Obama, and over 2,200 emails to the US Consulate in East Jerusalem complaining about the arbitrary detention of Mohammad Othman. You helped up flood the US State Department with phone calls as well.

They quote Stop The Wall at length (as I should have done) about Jamal’s release, which obviously rings true for Mohammad Othman too:

Jamal Juma’, the coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign has been released yesterday evening after a month long detention in Israeli jails. He had been called for interrogation and then arrested on December 16. Yesterday, the military court decided for Jamal’s release.

Like for the other Palestinian human rights defenders in Israeli jails, there was never a case in the courtroom. Not a single charge has been put forth. The reason for his arrest was purely political – an attempt to crush Stop the Wall and the popular committees against the Wall. Therefore, the reasons for his release are also outside the courtroom: The impressive support of international civil society has moved governments and used the media to an extent that made his imprisonment too uncomfortable.

This international solidarity has given our popular struggle against the Wall further strength. We are deeply thankful for all the efforts.

Yet, the latest arrests and continuous repression show that we have not yet defeated the Israeli policy as such, as Israel remains determined to silence Palestinian human rights defenders by all means.

We therefore need to ensure that the campaign for the freedom of all anti-wall activists and Palestinian political prisoners continues to grow. We have to combine our energies to ensure that the root cause – the Wall – will be torn down and the occupation will be brought to an end.

Fun at the expense of the JC

I don’t normally reproduce other people’s postings, but this appeared on the JustPeaceUK mailing list where most people won’t see it, and I couldn’t resist:

I am beginning to think those people are right who say the amount of antisemitism in Britain is exaggerated. I always used to suspect them of downplaying a serious issue, but lately I have been reading the Jewish Chronicle and seeing how hard pressed it is for news.

I could understand editor Stephen Pollard getting upset because some passing bloke on a bike shouted “dirty Jew” at him as he came out of shul, but whereas in my childhood years such incidents were not out of the ordinary,and might have been dealt with by shoving the bloke off his bike, Mr.Pollard thought it was news, and what’s more, required searching for an explanation. He figured the cyclist must have been reading some criticisms of Israel, (by Jewish writers), in the London Review of Books. There’s a deduction for you.

This week I see the JC headlined an “attack” on a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter in Glasgow for the Celtic match. I was relieved to then read that police said a man was arrested for brandishing a weapon during a confrontation between two groups of men in a Glasgow pub, and said no one had been hurt. All the same, I am sure violence and threats are exceedingly rare in Glasgow pubs, and rival football fans normally embrace in friendship and sing each other’s songs,so perhaps this was an antisemitic incident, and may, as the JC seems to suggest, have had something to do with people waving Palestinian flags at the game. The JC quotes outraged Celtic fans, who of course have never waved flags at football matches before. Still, it is reassuring to know this was the nearest thing the JC could find to a serious incident.

Worse, perhaps, was the evidence the JC was able to report of antisemitism at a pro-Palestinian carol concert. I thought they must have heard a speech or interpreted the words of the alternative carols carefully, but no, it seems that another anonymous person in the street (did he arrive on a bike?), confronted by those charming people from the Zionist Federation outside, made some anti-Jewish remarks.

You may say that is an obvious news story, but it takes a keen ear and journalistic instinct or skills to spot things like that. I mean, how many times have you heard people coming out of a Zionist event or Israel property fair giving you their opinion on Palestinians and Arabs, and what should be done to them, or tell you that “you should have died in Auschwitz”? OK, you may have told your friends about it, but I bet you didn’t rush to write it up as a news story, let alone manage to get it on the JC front-page.

I once stood on a picket across the road from an Ilford shul where an obnoxious Israeli general was speaking for Jerusalem Day. An Asian woman in shalwar and khemis crossed the road, nothing to do with our demonstration, and one of the shul security people jeered “She must be one of your lot!”, as though this was the most insulting wit he could think of. I remarked about his ignorance, but it never occurred to me to write up the incident as showing what sort of people were at the shul event (though the general had spoken of Palestinians as “cockroaches”).

It takes aptitude, training, and knowing the policy of your paper. If some of us had been sent to get a story about the mayor attending a gay party we’d probably have come back to the Standard office saying we could not get his comments because he was pissed and insulted us and the paper. A skilled man got the insults on tape, and the story ran and ran.

The voice of Anglo-Jewry is almost as good. Not that Stephen Pollard is taken in by false allegations of antisemitism. When a Polish right-wing politician says there’s no need to apologise for a massacre of Jews because Jews did not apologise for Bolshevism, others tried to make something of this, but Stephen Pollard rejected the accusations, pointing out that Mr.Kaminski was not only leader of the Conservative group at Brussels, but a declared friend of Israel.

So short of shouting insults at Mr.Pollard as he goes past on a bike, he is certified kosher. All hail Stephen Pollard, he know’s what what and what’s not!

Open letter to Gordon Brown on the Goldstone report

The Times yesterday published, as a full-page advertisement, an open letter to the Prime Minister supporting the Goldstone Report and regretting “your Government’s failure to endorse the Report and its recommendations at the United Nations General Assembly”. It was signed by more than 500 British Jews – a lot of work went into gathering so many signatures in just a few days. Several SJJP signatories were among the letter’s supporters, and SJJP itself was a sponsor of the initiative. You can read the text of the letter and see the signatures on the JfJfP blog.

Scottish Parliament motion on Mohammed Othman

Mohammad Othman is a human rights activist and a volunteer with the grassroots “Stop the Wall Campaign”. On 22 September 2009, Mohammad arrived at the Allenby Bridge Crossing. He was returning home, to the West Bank, via Jordan, from his travels in Norway where he attended several speaking events and advocacy meetings. He was taken into administrative custody where he remains despite never having been charged and no specific allegations made against him. Note that he is a human rights activist who is not suspected of any violence. The current administrative detention order expires on December 22/23, but even if he is released then, he will have spent three months in detention without any due process – a clear message of intimidation to Palestinians contemplating non-violent activism against the occupation.

More information on the Free Mohammed Othman blog.

Update: press release from Dr. Bill Wilson, SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, 1st December 2009

Israel’s attempt to silence human rights activist condemned in Scottish Parliament

Dr Bill Wilson, an SNP MSP for the West of Scotland, today lodged a second motion condemning Israel’s detention of human rights activist, Mohammad Othman, who recently had his administrative detention extended by a military court.

Dr Wilson said: “It’s easy to despair at Israel’s continued abuse of human rights on multiple fronts, and its determined attempts to shut down even peaceful voices of dissent such as that of Mohammad Othman, who was locked up after returning from a campaigning trip to Norway and is effectively facing indefinite unlawful detention. However, despair will not solve the problem, and it’s not the response of the many brave people – Palestinian, Israeli and of other nationalities – using peaceful means to fight the human rights abuses of the oppressive Israeli regime.

“This sort of behaviour on Israel’s part – flouting international norms of due legal process and civil liberties, such as those outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – can only make peace in Israel and Palestine more remote.

“For the sake of all in the region, I urge Israel to respect human rights and international obligations and norms, and to release Mohammad Othman, or, if there is any credible evidence that he is guilty of any serious offence, to offer him a speedy and fair trial.”

Settlement News

An early-day motion proposed by Phyllis Starkey on settlement goods labelling will actually be discussed in Parliament on 2nd December:

That this House endorses the call by President Obama for a full and complete freeze on all Israeli settlement building in occupied territories, including natural growth; notes that all settlements including outposts are explicitly illegal under international law and exist in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions; further notes that they are a major obstacle to peace and a meaningful two state solution which includes a viable, independent sovereign Palestinian state; and welcomes the Government’s call for such a total freeze on settlement activity and urges the Government to do all in its power to bring this about.

Please ask your MP to attend the debate and vote the (the right way!) on this important issue. makes it easy to locate your MP and send a message to him or her.

In other news, the Israeli government has announced a settlement freeze. This sounds like a very positive development, but the devil will be in the details; for example, Peace Now observes that 800 foundations have been laid in anticipation of the announcement of a freeze like this, which applies only to new starts, not to building already underway. The Peace Now posting cautiously welcoming the freeze also promises to monitor its implementation; although Peace Now has been politically insignificant for many years, monitoring settlement development has been their one strong suit.


Uri Avnery, in his assessment, doesn’t think we need to wait for the results of monitoring.

It has no real content. Building “public structures” will go on (about 300 new ones were approved just this week). Building will be continued in housing projects whose foundations have already been laid (at least 3000 apartments in the West Bank). And, most importantly: there will be absolutely no limitation to Jewish building activity in East Jerusalem, where building continues frantically in half a dozen locations in the heart of the Arab part of the city. And, besides, the suspension will last only for 10 months. Then, Begin promised, construction will be resumed in full swing.

That would not have appeased the settlers, if they did not know what every Israeli knows: that it is all phony. Building will continue everywhere, with the officials cooperating on the quiet and the army closing its eyes. It will be claimed that building permits had already been issued, that the foundations had already been laid. (In many places extra foundations have indeed been laid, just in case.) That’s the way it was in the past, under the governments of Labor and Kadima, and that’s the way it will continue now. This week it became known that in the whole of the West Bank, just 14 (fourteen!) government inspectors are supervising all building activity.

Update 2:

The British government has responded to (and commented implicitly) on Israel’s announcement. In his response, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said:

Britain continues to call for a full settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including so-called ‘natural growth’, in accordance with the responsibilities set for both sides in the 2003 Roadmap. Settlements are illegal.

What does Israel have against a Palestinian stadium?

If you want a single example of why occupation is wrong and counterproductive, even when not a single life or livelihood is threatened, read this story by Amira Hass of how the IDF is forcing the demolition of a football stadium near Ramallah, even though plans for it were approved nearly thirty years ago and have never been revoked. This is the same cat-and-mouse game played by the Civil Administration that has resulted in the loss of thousands of Palestinian homes during the Oslo process.

The Goldstone Report

In case you’re not up to speed on the Goldstone report, here’s a crash course (for viewers of US TV serials: “previously in The Goldstone Saga…”). I’ve tried to stick to the brief facts. Sorry, no links – I may add some later if I get time:

  1. In April, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Gaza conflict of last winter, appointing as its head Judge Richard Goldstone, prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone renegotiated the mandate of the mission, regarding its initial formulation as being biased against Israel. Goldstone is a Zionist himself, a longstanding member of the board of the Hebrew University.
  2. The Israeli government refused to co-operate with the mission, on the grounds that the UNHRC is so biased that any report that it commissioned was bound to criticise Israel unfairly.
  3. The mission held public hearings in Gaza and Geneva during the summer. It made fields visits to Gaza and Amman, though it was not permitted by Israel to enter the West Bank.
  4. In September the fact-finding mission published its report (pdf, 575 pages). Its conclusions were severely critical of both the Israeli government and of Hamas, having found prima facie evidence of war crimes on both sides. The refusal of the Israeli government to co-operate hampered the commission in gathering evidence about possible Hamas war crimes; either for this reason, or because there was less to investigate, the section on Hamas is much shorter than the section on Israel. In its conclusions (which are wide-ranging, and include a call for the end of the Gaza blockade), the commission called on both sides to investigate possible war crimes committed during the conflict. It recommends that if after six months Israel has not proceeded with a “good faith” investigation, that the situation in Gaza should be referred to Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
  5. The Israeli government and its supporters mounted an intensive campaign to discredit the report, on various suppositional grounds: its biased mandate and unbalanced conclusions, the prejudices of its members, the lack of evidence from the Israeli government, the personal ambitions and failings of Judge Goldstone, and many others. (To show the thoroughness and success of this campaign, search in Google for “Goldstone report”; virtually every single item on the first page, apart from the report itself, will be hostile commentary).
  6. The US/Israel tactic for handling the report in the United Nations was to defer consideration for three months. At first this looked like succeeding because it was supported by the Palestinian Authority (governing the West Bank), but a storm of protest in Palestine and the wider Arab world forced Mahmoud Abbas to reverse his position. The report was accepted by the UNHRC on 15th October.

Backing by the UNHRC will give the report momentum within the United Nations, and (IMO) wider credibility in the absence of any serious refutation. The doctrine of universal jurisdiction means that senior IDF officers and some government ministers cannot now travel to many western countries, including Britain, for fear of arrest. But the report’s most weighty recommendation, referral to the International Criminal Court, will not be acted on – the US veto in the Security Council will see to that.

Amira Hass – “Lifetime Failure Award”

Amira Hass is a courageous and outspoken journalist who has lived in Gaza and the West Bank, and often writes highly perceptive pieces in Ha’aretz and elsewhere about the occupation. On Tuesday she accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. Her acceptance speech is a remarkable five minutes of video (transcript on the same page). Excerpt:

I am generally defined as a reporter on Palestinian issues. But, in fact, my reports are about the Israeli society and policies, about Domination and its intoxications. My sources are not secret documents and leaked out minutes which were taken at meetings of people with Power and in Power. My sources are the open ways by which the subjugated are being dispossessed of their equal rights as human beings.

There is still so much more to learn about Israel, about my society, and about Israeli decision makers who invent restrictions such as: Gazan students are not to study in a Palestinian university in the West Bank, some 70 km’s away from their home. Another ban: Children (above the age of 18) are not to visit their parents in Gaza, if the parents are well and healthy. If they were dying, Israeli order-abiding officials would have allowed the visit. If the children are younger than 18 – the visit would have been allowed. But, on the other hand, second degree relatives are not allowed to visit dying or healthy siblings in Gaza.

It is an intriguing philosophical question, not only journalistic.

Today she gave a longer interview on Democracy Now! (interview starts ~35mins in, transcript and audio download also).