A looming disaster

It’s extraordinary how little attention the situation in the OT is getting just now. The Guardian carried a story entitled Gaza on the Brink of Implosion yesterday, but overall no-one seems to know or care what is going on as Israel, the US, and the EU impose a harsh collective punishment on the Palestinians because of the way they voted. An MEPs’ delegation to Israel-Palestine has denounced EU policy as likely to turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

There is at least now an online petition which you can sign to help build conciousness of the situation–I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it will itself do much to change policy. For a little more work, you can have a little more influence by writing to your MEPs (this page will tell you how to contact them). In London, two Conservative MEPs have been supportive!–who knows what the Scottish MEPs might say if we lobbied them effectively?

A Terrible EU Decision

Gush Shalom have issued a “Call to Europe” to stop the blockade on the Palestinian government. And European Jews for a Just Peace have written to the European Union:

President Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission
Rue de la Loi 200
1049 Brussels
Belgium

Amsterdam, April 10 2006

Dear President Barroso,

It is with great dismay, shock and concern that we note the proposed cutting of aid from the European Union to the Palestinian population. This amounts to a collective punishment meted out to approximately 3,500,000 Palestinians. Forcing people to go hungry is not an acceptable tool of international diplomacy. Yet that is exactly what this policy amounts to.

The Karni checkpoint has been closed for goods, leaving the people of Gaza without basic staples. At the same time Gazan fishermen are being denied access to fishing grounds prevented from catching fish, in grounds defined by international agreement as Palestinian, by the Israeli navy. The Israeli Army’s repeated shelling of the Gaza Strip has killed children as young as five years old.

In addition, one Israeli bank, the Bank Hapoalim, has now stopped the transfer of money to the Palestinian territories. If others follow suit, there will be no way of transferring funds to organizations and even family members from abroad because all funds must go through Israeli correspondent banks.

These are measures enacted against a population many of whom are already forced to live as recipients of charity from abroad because of the Israeli occupation. A people is being starved and humiliated. They are losing their property and being put in ghettos erected by the State of Israel, with its wall and settlements. Despite these being illegal, punitive measures such as those now proposed against the Palestinians have not even been considered against Israel. Indeed, any call whatsoever for divestment, boycott – or even for compliance with the EU’s own trade association agreement rules – are dismissed as unconstructive. We must ask then, how is this decision to cut aid a constructive one?

The European Union – among others – cannot demand democratic elections and then proceed to punish people because they do not like the result. Hamas has taken no anti-Israeli action since their election victory. Indeed, Hamas has taken no action against Israel for over a year.

This policy risks catastrophe, first and foremost for the Palestinians. It is bound to lead to more violence for Israelis as well. A people – not a government – frustrated and humiliated as the Palestinians are being will react with anger. Is it possible that the European Union is not aware of this?

Both as Jews and as European citizens to whom the EU is ultimately responsible, we urge in the strongest possible terms that this decision is reconsidered to prevent further violence. This policy cannot but bring more tragedy to both peoples living in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Yours sincerely,
Dror Feiler, Chairman, and
Dan Judelson, secretary

for the EJJP Executive Committee

We should follow this up with letters to our own representatives, although goodness knows how long it will take, or how much pressure, to overturn a decision by the Council of Ministers. An online petition is being started. Meanwhile Palestinian children are starving. Chag sameach!

Convergence and Convenience

Amira Hass writes in Ha’aretz about the end result of imprisoning an entire people behind walls, fences and checkpoints:

The convergence plan, which coagulates the violence of occupation in densely populated Palestinian areas, will bring forth and intensify three types of Palestinian rage: national rage due to the sabotage of the Palestinian project for a state, development and independence; economic rage of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their land, property and livelihood to the Jews who prosper on the other side of the barbed wire; and religious rage, of those who turn for solace to the Koran and Allah, where they can find explanations stating that’s the way Jews are.

Anyone will recognise the truth of this who takes the trouble to acquaint themselves with the barest facts about conditions under the occupation. So why does Israel press on towards this disaster?

A Just Peace

Ismail Haniyeh, the new Palestinian Prime Minister and a Hamas leader, discusses the demand on Hamas to recognise Israel in today’s Guardian.

The US and EU have been calling for Hamas to disarm and recognise the state of Israel, or lose foreign aide, since Hamas was elected in the Palestinian elections in January. However, Haniyeh notes that no demands have been made of the Israeli government to recognise Palestinian rights in the lead-up to the Israeli elections:

‘But we have not heard a single demand of the Israeli parties that took part in this week’s elections, though some advocate the complete removal of the Palestinians from their lands. Even Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party, whose Likud forebears frustrated every effort by the PLO to negotiate a peace settlement, campaigned on a programme that defies UN security council resolutions. His unilateralism is a violation of international law. Nevertheless no one, not even the Quartet – whose proposals for a settlement he continues to disregard, as his predecessor Ariel Sharon did – has dared ask anything of him.’

Let me make clear that it is not a justification of terrorism to acknowledge that there are indeed double standards at work. As long as both the Israeli government and the Palestinian government keep waiting for the other to recognise the other and cease all acts of violence, no progress will be made — everything will carry on spiralling downwards as before. One does not have to agree with Hamas to acknowledge this.

‘This is a good time for peace-making – if the world wants peace.’

Peace that does not recognise the basic rights of Israelis and Palestinians is not a just peace, and as such is not viable. We have seen over the last several decades that demanding recognition of the state of Israel and Hamas’s unilateral disarmament, without incentive for Hamas to comply, is not effective. We have seen that terrorist attacks and demands that Israel stop the occupation, without guarantee of security is not effective.

So the next step? Try something different.

Israeli elections

As expected, Kadima won the elections yesterday, making Olmert the new Prime Minister. The margin of victory was less than predicted, however, with Kadima winning only 28 of 120 seats (99% of votes have been counted) and the turnout of 63.2% was the lowest in Israel’s history.

Yesterday, the Palestinians also voted to confirm Ismail Haniya as the leader of the next Palestinian government.

So we’ll see what happens next.

And for a recent run up of the Gaza food shortage, see here, here, and here.

Palestinian Elections

As I am sure you have all heard already, Palestinian elections took place on Wednesday: Hamas won 74 seats, and Fatah won 45.

Despite global surprise at the results and the initial message from many governments that this result marks a death in the peace process, I think there is reason for optimism here.

Firstly, there has not been a peace process or a genuine attempt at negotiation for a while now — it is fair to say that real negotiation has not taken place since the 2001, when talks at Taba with Ehud Barak broke down. Consequently, it simply makes no sense to say that the peace process dies with this election.

Secondly, as Gideon Levy and Jewish Voice for Peace point out, the results indicate a democratic election, and moreover: one that took place peacefully. Nearly 80% of Palestinians voted. A fair election with such a high turnout in occupied territory is a success. It would be absurd and hypocritical for the Israeli and US governments, that pride themselves on their democracy, to refuse to recognise a democratically elected Palestinian leader. Guess what: the problem with a democracy is that sometimes, people you don’t like win.

But what does this support for Hamas indicate? Not a widespread support for terrorism, as Netanyahu would like to believe. Fatah has been unable to produce results for Palestinians. But in addition to its militant wing, Hamas also provides social services such as food and healthcare to Palestinians who do not support Hamas’s ideology. Hamas delivers, Fatah has not. Suicide bombings are despicable acts, but only Hamas has the ability to stop them. The current Israeli policy of force has not resulted in decreasing terrorist attacks — the only way to decrease them is to involve Hamas in the negotiations.

As Levy points out:

‘A peace deal with Hamas will be a lot more stable and viable than any agreement we sign with the PLO, if Hamas were to oppose it. Hamas can make concessions where Fatah would never dare. In any case, the Hamas that forms the government won’t be the Hamas that sends suicide bombers. The comparison to international terror organizations is also nonsense: Hamas is a movement fighting for limited national goals. If Israel were to reach out to the extremists among its enemies, then maybe it can reach a real agreement that would put an end to the tumor of the occupation and the curse of terror.

To that end, both sides, Israel and Hamas, must free themselves of the slogans of the past. Those who pose preconditions, like disarming Hamas, will miss the chance. It is impossible to expect that Hamas will disarm, just as it is impossible to expect that Israel would disarm. In Palestinian eyes, Hamas’ weapons are meant to fight the occupation, and, as is well-known, the occupation is not over. Practically, and indeed morally, the armed are armed if they are equipped with F-16s or Qassam launchers. If Israel were to commit to an end to killing Hamas operatives, there is reason to assume that Hamas would agree, at least for a while, to lay down its arms. The months of tahadiyeh proved that, even when Israel did not cease its own fire. In the coming months, the risk of terror attacks will be further reduced: A movement that wants to consolidate its regime and win international recognition will not be busy with terror. Nor will it allow Islamic Jihad to steal the show.

Now is the time to reach out to Hamas, which is desperate for international, and particularly American, recognition, and knows that such recognition goes through Israel. If Israel were to be friendly toward Hamas, it could benefit. Not that Hamas will all at once give up its extremist demands and its unrealistic dreams, but it will know, as some of its leaders have already declared, to set them aside if it serves their interests. Israel, which in any case did not speak with Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, now has an opportunity for surprise. Instead of wasting more years with rejectionism, at the end of which we’ll sit down with Hamas in any case, let us reach out now to this extremist group, which was democratically elected. Israel has nothing to lose from such an approach. We’ve already seen the achievements of the hand that assassinates and demolishes, uproots and jails, we’ve already seen those policies fulfilled in front of our eyes: Hamas won the elections.’

Yep.

Never forget

Today is Holocaust memorial day, the anniversary of liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Throughout my childhood, the phrases repeated on Holocaust memorial (or its equivalent, Yom HaShoah) were one person can make a difference, and we will never forget.

Too often the Holocaust is presented as a Jewish issue. It is imperative that we not forget that it is not only Jews who were targeted systematically for extermination, but also Gypsies, trade unionists, Communists, political opponents, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, LGBT people, and Black Germans; and besides these, there were many East European civilians and Russian prisoners of war casualties. It is necessary to remember that the Holocaust was a an atrocity committed against humanity, and not only against Jews.

The truth is that we have a global responsibility for other human beings. The Holocaust was not an event only in Jewish history, or European history, but an event in global history. We cannot abdicate responsibility for human rights abuses world-wide, simply because as individuals we are not directly responsible for them. It’s not enough to vote against racist parties in elections, it’s not enough to be a non-racist individual.

While we think about the events of sixty years ago, we must not allow ourselves to believe that such crimes against humanity are a thing of the past. By all means, talk about the past, talk about the present and the future, but talk msut translate into action. So light a candle, remember the dead and the survivors, but also do something for all the people to whom genocide is not a shadow of the past but a terrifying reality — start a petition, write to elected officials, distribute leaflets, do whatever you do, but do something. And never forget that genocide and ethnic cleansing and will happen again, is happening in many parts of the world, and will continue to happen if people remain silent.

On Apathy

Check out this excellent Haaretz editorial which condemns the Israeli apathy towards Palestinians’ human rights.

‘Cases of abuse of Palestinians, whether by soldiers or by settlers, have stopped making headlines in the press or eliciting shock. Nor do investigations of these incidents appear to be serious, and complaints are ignored until the story is either published in the media or dealt with by one of the human rights organizations active in the territories. This growing apathy can perhaps be attributed to the continuous satisfaction felt over the disengagement from Gaza, following which Israelis feel that the occupation is about to end. But, meanwhile, the occupation is continuing in all its severity, with all the abuses that have characterized it throughout the years.’

And it’s true. We hear about the Israelis who are shot or blown up or injured; but we hear very little about Palestinians. We talk endlessly about Israeli security, and protecting Isreali civilians, but not Palestinian security or Palestinian civilians.

‘The prime minister, Knesset members and ministers have not made their voices heard, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is in charge of preventing all the incidents and abuses described here, has not even bothered to explain what he has done to correct even a fraction of this injustice.’

Aside from the fact that such apathy is downright disgusting and embarassing, how can we talk about the rights of Israelis to leave in a state of security, unless Palestinians also have that right? How can we hope for the situation to improve, if we do not address Palestinian human rights?

What is perhaps most striking about the editorial is the responses it has had online. When I read the article, there were something in the order of 430 responses posted, expressing a spectrum of views. Perhaps the most interesting is the fourth one, by Mark Kato:

‘Shawara`s fate is illustrative of how the cycle of hate, violence and death is perpetuated. How many of Shawara`s nine children will become suicide bombers or fighters as a result of this despicable act? And, if any or all of them seek and take revenge on Israelis, justified by “collective guilt,” how many of the families of their victims will seek and mete out revenge against Palestinians, also justified by “collective guilt?”

It does not take deep insight to recognise that it is this pernicious cycle of hatred and violence that must end before there is any hope of achieving a real and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.’

If any improvement is to take place, if any progress is to be made, it must begin with recognition of human rights — Palestinian and Israeli — and with recognition of the fact that moral atrocities are being committed against Palestinians and Israelis.

Such recognition is often attacked as “justifying” terrorism. It is absolutely nothing of the sort. Terroirsm is an atrocity. In no way is it a justification of terrorism to say that the Israelis government and IDF is also committing despicable acts agaisnt Palestinians, however. And those acts do nothing to end the violence or change the situation — they only further it. It is utterly counterproductive to declare that the responsibility for beginning the peace process lies entirely with Palestinians.

EU Reports on Israel

The EU has decided not to publish a report on East Jerusalem because of the Israeli elections coming up.

‘Based on information provided by European envoys in the Middle East, it contained “very unpleasant language” about Israel and the security barrier without referring to terrorist activities Israel invokes as the reason for its construction, said an Israel diplomat who asked not to be named.’

How exactly is one supposed to discuss the wall without using unpleasant language? It’s illegal. It is high time for the international community to be critical.

The Haaretz article also mentions an EU report on human rights:

‘Separately – and coincidentally – Monday, the EU published an annual report on the state of human rights worldwide that calls on Israel to “freeze all settlement expansion and halt the construction of the (separation) barrier inside the occupied Palestinian Territories, including in and around Jerusalem.”

[….]

The EU annual human rights report – covering the period from July 2004 to June 2005 – looks at EU efforts to combat rights violations across the globe.

While it takes aim at Israel for violating the rights of Palestinians, it also calls on the Palestinian Authority to reform its security forces so “real action can be taken against groups and individuals” who commits acts of violence against Israel and distance the PA from the “accusation of … sustaining an environment in which human rights are not respected.”‘

Edinburgh University twins with Birzeit

Last Wednesday, the Edinburgh Univeristy Students’ Association passed a motion at its annual general meeting twinning UofE with Birzeit University.

The motion condemns attacks on Palestinian education, and affiliates UofE to the Right to Education campaing at Birzeit. In practical terms, the motion aims to raise awareness of the difficulties facing Palestinian students and teachers within the National Union of Students; as well as through film felstivals and photography exhibitions in a “Right to Education” week on campus. It also provides for exchanges of students and staff where possible.

Alan Hart meeting

I went to a meeting yesterday organised by the Scottish PSC as part of its launch promotion of a book called “Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews”. It was written by Alan Hart, who was famous as a television journalist in the sixties and seventies. The book is a history of Zionism, the first of two volumes and about 600 pages long; I won’t comment on it but rather on his short presentation of it. He is obviously extremely well-informed, and by his account – which I have no reason to question – a first-hand observer of many of the historical events he describes, and a back-channel for big diplomatic initiatives at the time.

The book will make a fascinating read, but the presentation posed some problems; its big theme was the need for “a new covenant” between Jews and gentiles in which Jews would stop supporting Zionism, and gentiles would end antisemitism so as to make Jews feel safe in renouncing Israel. I couldn’t argue with the basic link between Zionism and anti-semitism, but this was much too simplistic. I also didn’t like the emphasis he put on the need to persuade Jews away from support of Israel as the main condition of changing the situation. Obviously I’m in favour of such persuasion, but that formulation means that you are giving diaspora Jewish communities responsibility for what Israel does. Various people pointed out that Israel cares much more about US government support – and also its place in the European picture – and Alan changed his position a little under questioning to the point of saying that changing diaspora opinion was an essential condition rather than the main one.

However good the book is, it won’t do much to change ideas in the Jewish community. The title alone will make sure that it gets very little consideration. If that is a loss, then it’s up to us to put its arguments in a more acceptable way.

Jacqueline Rose on Radio Scotland

Professor Jacqueline Rose was Colin Mackay’s guest on this week’s edition of A Life in Question, in which she discussed her interest in Zionism, psychoanalysis and feminism.

Identifying with the dissenting tradition within Zionism, exemplified by intellectuals such as Ahad Ha’am, Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt, she argues that their alternative vision of Zionism holds out the possiblity for Israel to transform itself.

Listen to the Programme
(RealPlayer required)

B’Tselem report on the siege of Gaza

According to a new report published by B’Tselem and HaMoked, Israel’s policy of “strangulation” has effectively cut the Gaza Strip off from the rest of the world.

The report, which documents the grave and prolonged violation of human rights resulting from Israel’s control of the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the rest of the world, concludes that:

As a result of the economic siege on Gaza, more than 77 percent of Gazans (1,033,500 people) now live below the poverty line – almost double the number before the intifada. Some 23 percent of Gazans (over 323,000 people) are in “deep poverty,” meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.

Almost all the restrictions on movement are imposed on entire categories of people, based on sweeping criteria, without checking if the individual poses a security risk, and without weighing the harm the person will suffer, or if less harmful alternatives are available. In most cases, where Israel denies a permit and human rights organizations intervene, Israel reverses its decision to avoid an embarrassing legal challenge.

Most components of the policy of strangulation are illegal under international and Israeli law.

“One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan”
(Full Report, DOC); (Full Report, PDF)

Gush Shalom on the Route of the Wall

Gush Shalom ad published in Ha’aretz, April 1 , 2005:

As if…

Sharon seems to obey the Supreme Court of Israel. The path of the Separation Wall seems to have been moved to the vicinity of the Green Line.

But now it becomes clear that he is building more walls, under the guise of “protecting the settlers’ roads”. One wall will be built along route 443 (the Modi’in-Jerusalem road in the occupied territories), another in the south Hebron area, along route 317 (between the Susita-Karmel settlements).

These roads cut the West Bank into pieces, in order to imprison the Palestinians in isolated pockets. Exactly as the original path of the Separation Wall, which was vetoed by the Supreme Court, was intended to do.

SHARON REMAINS SHARON

Hamas integrating into PLO

The news from Palestine this week seems to be all about Hamas and what is sometimes described as “the decision by Mahmoud Abbas to integrate Hamas into Palestinian politics” and sometimes as “Hamas’s historic compromise”. Which is it, and does it matter?

Hamas’s stated objective is to establish an Islamic state in historic Palestine. It doesn’t sound as thought there’s much possibility of compromise there. But in practice their actions vary a great deal. They have indeed used extreme violence on many occasions, but they have also been capable of much subtler responses in the context of the many ceasefires they have participated in. And they certainly can’t be ignored — they have great and growing support, especially in Gaza.

The security-first view of this situation is to say, first, that the apparent flexibility is just a front, their intentions never change, and they must be militarily destroyed. Since the IDF couldn’t do that even with its virtually unlimited firepower and ruthlessness (look at these statistics), Israel has handed the job over to Mahmoud Abbas, demanding that he “disarm” (i.e. defeat) Hamas in order to prove his good intentions. Note that Israel is demanding that the PA must succeed where she failed in this, and it must do it with a security apparatus that the IDF itself virtually destroyed in the various incursions. That’s chutzpah.

The second response to Hamas’s success is that its popularity shows that “the Arabs” support the demand to drive Israel into the sea. A lot of Hamas’s popularity is due to its welfare work and its perceived lack of corruption, but it is true that many Palestinians do see the conflict as a win-lose situation. Either we beat them, or they beat us — just as the Israel’s-security-first view has it. The problem in trying to convince them differently is that Israel offers no reward for peace: the settlement activity, the demolitions, the land confiscations associated with the Wall — all continue, and together give a very clear message that the project of appropriating and controlling the West Bank is steaming ahead. It must be pretty hard to be preaching coexistence to Palestinians just now — and indeed if a former head of Israeli military intelligence can see a new intifada coming without big changes in Israel’s attitude, it can’t be that hard to foresee.

These two responses — Hamas must be destroyed, and the Palestinians must be taught not to support it — will only take Israel further down the endless road of bloody confrontation. Hamas has to be recognised as a fact of life, encouraged in the first place by Israel as a counterweight to the PLO, and now becoming a serious political rival to PLO/Fatah. The support it gets for violence is proportionate to the hopelessness of the people. To UK observers, the parallel with the Provisional IRA is irresistible. And look at the results of the politicisation of the Republican movement in the Northern Ireland: the political crisis is far from resolved and criminal activity is still a huge problem, but massive sectarian discrimination and the resulting bloody conflict are gone forever. Israel and the Palestinians could take the same road.

But for now Israel is going the opposite way, with results that are all too easy to predict.

Abu Mazen and Hamas, from Ha’aretz
Bitter Lemons on the Transformation of Hamas – four analyses from Palestine and Israel

Gush Shalom on the disengagement crisis

Gush Shalom ad published in Ha’aretz, April 1 , 2005:

Great show

The Gush Katif settlers who are willing to leave are unable to do so. Why?

Because as of now – 115 days before the date set for the withdrawal – there is yet no one to decide upon their compensations, and no one to pay them.

On the other hand, everything is done to enable the opponents of the withdrawal to gather their forces and increase their threats.

It seems that Sharon is interested in creating as menacing an atmosphere as possible. Why?

In order to “prove” to the Americans that it is impossible to dismantle the outposts and freeze the settlements in the West Bank, as he promised President Bush.

SHARON REMAINS SHARON.

I would add: Gush says this is a show for “the Americans”. Which Americans, exactly? For the American government, whose word is law to Sharon? Or for American public opinion, which must somehow be brought around to accept the fate — decided long ago — of the West Bank?

E-1: The end of a viable Palestinian state

In this clear and concise piece in The Electronic Intifada, Jeff Halper (you know how highly I rate him) explains the significance of last week’s announcement of the settlement of E-1, the corridor connecting Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim: “it seals the fate of the Palestinian state”. The settlements to the east of Jerusalem are to be joined up into a bloc which cuts the Palestinian area in two and prevents access to Arab East Jerusalem. If (or rather when) it goes ahead, the Palestinian state can be nothing more than “a set of non-viable Indian reservations”. The map explains everything – as the maps usually do.

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