Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace with Palestinians

Karl Vick, Time, September 2, 2010

Jerusalem Heli and Eli sell condos on Exodus Street, a name that evokes a certain historical hardship in a neighborhood that suggests none at all, the ingathering of the Jews having entered a whole new realm here. The talk in the little office is of interest rates and panoramic sea views from handsomely appointed properties selling on the Ashdod waterfront for half what people are asked to pay in Tel Aviv, 18 miles (29 km) to the north. And sell they do, hand over fist never mind the rockets that fly out of Gaza, 14 miles (22.5 km) to the south. Even when the Qassams fell, we continued to sell! says Heli Itach, slapping a palm on the office desk. The skull on her designer shirt is made of sequins spelling out Love Kills Slowly. What the people see on the TV there is not true here, she says. I sold, this week, 12 apartments. You’re not client, I tell you the truth.

The truth? In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. Theyre otherwise engaged; theyre making money; theyre enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on. (See pictures of 60 years of Israel.)

Now observing 2 years without a single suicide bombing on their territory, with the economy robust and with souls a trifle weary of having to handle big elemental thoughts, the Israeli public prefers to explore such satisfactions as might be available from the private sphere, in a land first imagined as a utopia. Listen to me, says Eli Bengozi, born in Soviet Georgia and for 40 years an Israeli. Peace? Forget about it. Theyll never have peace. Remember Clinton gave 99% to Arafat, and instead of them fighting for 1%, what? Intifadeh. (See TIMEs photo-essay Palestinian Day of Rage.)

But wait. Deep down (you can almost hear the outside world ask), dont Israelis know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity? Well, not exactly. Asked in a March poll to name the most urgent problem facing Israel, just 8% of Israeli Jews cited the conflict with Palestinians, putting it fifth behind education, crime, national security and poverty. Israeli Arabs placed peace first, but among Jews here, the issue that President Obama calls critical for the world just doesnt seem critical.

Another whack for the desk. The people, Heli says, dont believe. Eli searches for a word. People in Israel are indifferent, he decides. They don’t care if there’s going to be war. They don’t care if there’s going to be peace. They don’t care. They live in the day.

Copyright © 2010 Time Inc

Hamas, the IRA and Us

ALI ABUNIMAH, The New York Times, August 28, 2010

(Chicago) GEORGE J. MITCHELL, the United States Middle East envoy, tried to counter low expectations for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by harking back to his experience as a mediator in Northern Ireland.

At an Aug. 20 news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announcing the talks that will begin this week, Mr. Mitchell reminded journalists that during difficult negotiations in Northern Ireland, “We had about 700 days of failure and one day of success” — the day in 1998 that the Belfast Agreement instituting power-sharing between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists was signed.

Mr. Mitchell’s comparison is misleading at best. Success in the Irish talks was the result not just of determination and time, but also a very different United States approach to diplomacy.
The conflict in Northern Ireland had been intractable for decades. Unionists backed by the British government saw any political compromise with Irish nationalists as a danger, one that would lead to a united Ireland in which a Catholic majority would dominate minority Protestant unionists. The British government also refused to deal with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, despite its significant electoral mandate, because of its close ties to the Irish Republican Army, which had carried out violent acts in the United Kingdom.

A parallel can be seen with the American refusal to speak to the Palestinian party Hamas, which decisively won elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. Asked what role Hamas would have in the renewed talks, Mr. Mitchell answered with one word: “None.” No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the I.R.A.

The United States insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?
As for violence, Hamas has inflicted a fraction of the harm on Israeli civilians that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians. If violence disqualifies Hamas, surely much greater violence should disqualify the Israelis?

It was only by breaking with one-sided demands that Mr. Mitchell was able to help bring peace to Northern Ireland. In 1994, for instance, Mr. Mitchell, then a Democratic senator from Maine, urged President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — to grant a United States visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader. Mr. Mitchell later wrote that he believed the visa would enable Mr. Adams “to persuade the I.R.A. to declare a cease-fire, and permit Sinn Fein to enter into inclusive political negotiations.” As mediator, Mr. Mitchell insisted that a cease-fire apply to all parties equally, not just to the I.R.A.

Both the Irish and Middle Eastern conflicts figure prominently in American domestic politics — yet both have played out in very different ways. The United States allowed the Irish-American lobby to help steer policy toward the weaker side: the Irish government in Dublin and Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties in the north. At times, the United States put intense pressure on the British government, leveling the field so that negotiations could result in an agreement with broad support. By contrast, the American government let the Israel lobby shift the balance of United States support toward the stronger of the two parties: Israel.

This disparity has not gone unnoticed by those with firsthand knowledge of the Irish talks. In a 2009 letter to The Times of London, several British and Irish negotiators, including John Hume, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the Belfast Agreement, criticized the one-sided demands imposed solely on Hamas. “Engaging Hamas,” the negotiators wrote, “does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement.”

The resumption of peace talks without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlements is another significant victory for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government. It allows Israel to pose as a willing peacemaker while carrying on with business as usual.

As for Mr. Mitchell, since he was appointed Middle East envoy, he has so far enjoyed almost 600 days of failure. As long as the United States maintains the same hopeless approach, he can expect many more.
Ali Abunimah is the author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.”

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Israeli rabbi remarks on Palestinians deeply offensive: US

Agence France Presse, 29 Aug 2010

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Sunday condemned as deeply offensive remarks by an influential Israeli rabbi who said he hoped Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas would vanish from our world.

We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.

These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.
Ovadia, who heads a religious party in Israel’s ruling coalition, expressed hope in his weekly sermon Saturday that all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world.
“May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel”, he said.

Crowley pointed out that the remarks did not reflect the view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due in Washington this week for direct peace talks with Abbas.

The talks will be the first face-to-face discussions since December 2008, when the Palestinians broke off negotiations over a deadly Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat condemned the remarks as an incitement to genocide, and urged the Israeli government to do more about peace and stop spreading hatred.

Netanyahu’s office dismissed the comments in a statement that said the government wants peace with the Palestinians.

Yosef’s comments do not reflect the views of Benjamin Netanyahu or of his government which seeks a peace settlement with the Palestinians, it said.

According to Shas MP Nissim Zeev, whose party has 11 seats in the 120-member parliament, Yosef was trying to express the wish taken from Jewish holy texts that God would eliminate the enemies of Israel to clear the way for peace.

In the past, Shass’ powerful mentor, a Baghdad-born rabbi now in his late 80s, has referred to Arabs and Palestinians as snakes and vipers who were swarming like ants.

He has made similar remarks about non-observant Jews, including former prime minister Ariel Sharon, whom he called cruel and evil for his plan to evict settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

In the late 1980s, however, Yosef came out in support of a territorial compromise with the Palestinians.

Copyright © 2010 Agence France Presse

ADL explains why Foxman lobbied against imams Auschwitz trip

    O you who believe, stand up firmly for justice as witnesses to Almighty God. (Holy Quran, al-Nisa The Women 4:135)

    We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews. We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics. We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction.

    –Statement by American imams and Muslim leaders

Justin Elliott, Salon, Aug 23, 2010

Earlier this month eight American imams and Muslim leaders took a trip to the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps accompanied by the Obama Administrations envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, and its official representative to the Muslim world, Rashad Hussein. At the end of the emotional trip, the imams released a joint statement (.pdf) condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

It all seemed like a perfectly good idea, which is why some were surprised that Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League which counts Holocaust education and battling anti-Semitisim as core missions actually lobbied against the participation of U.S. officials in the trip.

(The ADL also came under intense criticism recently when Foxman spoke out against the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero.)

Foxmans opposition to the Auschwitz trip was first reported by Laura Rozen of Politico earlier this month:

    Organizers of the trip say they were dismayed that the Anti-Defamation Leagues Abe Foxman lobbied U.S. officials against participating. They also say the Investigative Projects Steve Emerson, author of American Jihad, lobbied against the trip, arguing that one of the imams planning to participate had made Holocaust denial statements a decade ago.

Foxman didnt respond to Rozens requests for comment, but the ADLgave a statement to Salon today confirming that Foxman lobbied against the participation of the Obama officials.

Mr. Foxman raised the question of the appropriateness of the State Departments special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism to accompany individually and privately sponsored trips, the statement says. Given that there are many places in the world where anti-Semitism remains a problem, we believe that her leadership role in fighting anti-Semitism is best done government to government.
That refers to Rosenthal, the State Department official, whose grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. Given that the trip resulted in such a strong statement, in which Muslim leaders from around the U.S. publicly denounced anti-Semitism in the strongest terms, the trip organizers saw it as a major success.

One person familiar with the trip told Salon that Foxman called both Rosenthal and the White House to object. When it went forward anyway, he went beyond objecting to the participation of the U.S. officials and called a Polish rabbi who had a scheduled meeting with the imams and asked the rabbi not to see the group, the person said.

Below is the ADLs statement in full and the imams statement below that:

    Mr. Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League are not opposed to imams visiting Auschwitz. Indeed, we are delighted a group of imams recently visited two camps in which the Nazis implemented their final solution for the extermination of European Jewry. We are hopeful that through this experience the imams can now help educate Muslims in America and abroad about the horrors of the Holocaust, its lessons for today and the perniciousness of Holocaust denial.

    Mr. Foxman raised the question of the appropriateness of the State Departments special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism to accompany individually and privately sponsored trips. Given that there are many places in the world where anti-Semitism remains a problem, we believe that her leadership role in fighting anti-Semitism is best done government to government.

And the imams:

    O you who believe, stand up firmly for justice as witnesses to Almighty God. (Holy Quran, al-Nisa The Women 4:135)

    On August 7-11, 2010, we the undersigned Muslim American faith and community leaders visited Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps where we witnessed firsthand the historical injustice of the Holocaust.

    We met survivors who, several decades later, vividly and bravely shared their horrific experience of discrimination, suffering, and loss. We saw the many chilling places where men, women and children were systematically and brutally murdered by the millions because of their faith, race, disability and political affiliation.

    In Islam, the destruction of one innocent life is like the destruction of the whole of humanity and the saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity (Holy Quran, al-Maidah the Tablespread 5:32). While entire communities perished by the many millions, we know that righteous Muslims from Bosnia, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Albania saved many Jews from brutal repression, torture and senseless destruction.

    We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews.

    We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics.

    We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction.

    We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.

    Together, we pledge to make real the commitment of never again and to stand united against injustice wherever it may be found in the world today.

      •Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, Islamic Society of Orange County, CA and chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America
      •Imam Muhamad Maged, All-Dulles-Area Muslim Society, Dulles, Virginia and Vice President of the Islamic Society of North America
      •Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith Community Services, Washington, D.C.
      •Imam Suhaib Webb, Muslim Community Association, Santa Clara, CA
      •Ms. Laila Muhammad, daughter of the late Imam W.D. Muhammad of Chicago, IL
      •Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, Dean of Academics for the Al Maghrib Institute, New Haven, CT
      •Imam Syed Naqvi, Director of the Islamic Information Center in Washington, DC
      •Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, Muslim Chaplain, Duke University

Maia – MECA’s Gaza Water Project

We ask you to help us give the gift of
Clean WATER for Rafah’s Children

Children at the Tuyor Al-Jena Kindergarten in Rafah were excited to receive a Maia Project water desalination and filtration system provided by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in memory of MRSCP member Ken Coffeen.

There is a growing water crisis in Palestine that affects the health of virtually every adult and child. In the Gaza Strip, poor sanitation and over-extraction have polluted the limited water supply. Israeli military attacks and the blockade have prevented repairs to water infrastructure. Water to Gaza is restricted and often too expensive for families to purchase from a safe source.

On July 28, 2010 the UN General Assembly declared that “Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.”

The MAIA (Arabic for water) project began when children at a UN school in Gaza were given the opportunity to choose the one thing they wanted most for their school. They chose clean drinking water!

The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project has joined with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) to provide water filter systems for schools in Rafah. We first raised $1,995 to install a filter for the Tuyor Al-Jena (Birds of Paradise) kindergarten, where children are now enjoying clean, safe water.

We next collected $13,700 for a second and much larger filter system at the UN Girl’s Elementary school in the Rafah Refugee Camp. This donation on June 7, 2011 helped supply 1,800 young girls with a very basic human right; something children and parents in Wisconsin take for granted.

Our current goal is to collect $11,500 to provide clean water to the Al-Shuka Preparatory Girl’s School in Rafah, with an attendance of 1,187 students. The total raised as of 4/30/12 is $6,890 or 60%.

Please help us provide clean, safe water for Rafah’s children. To donate please make checks to MRSCP, write WATER on the memo line and mail to:

    PO Box 55371
    Madison, WI 53705

If you wish to honor a friend or family member please include a note with their printed name and address. We will send a card to them to acknowledge your donation. As a 501(c)(3) organization all contributions to MRSCP are tax-deductible.

You may also donate on-line at the Madison-Rafah Maia Project page at MECA.

Pictures of the many Maia project filter installations can be seen here.

As always, thanks for your support.

Break the Silence Mural Project

mural, olympia, palestine

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2010

THE RACHEL Corrie Foundation and Break the Silence Mural Project unveiled the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural on May 8 at Labor Temple building, in downtown Olympia, WA. The mural tells a tale of two cities linked through tragedy: Olympia, WA, where Rachel Corrie grew up and attended Evergreen State College, and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine, where she was killed in 2003—crushed by an Israeli army Caterpillar. It is also the tale of people working together for a better world. The mural features an enormous olive tree with more than 150 leaves representing issues of environmental justice, racism, colonialism, rights of indigenous peoples, and anti-war movements.

The mural uses technology to include artists from Palestine who are forbidden to travel. Viewers can use a cell phone to call and listen to the creator of each leaf talk about its meaning and theme. For more information visit <www.olympiarafahmural.org>.

—Delinda C. Hanley

Madison Area Peace Coalition: Flotilla attack shows need to end Gaza siege

Madison Area Peace Coalition, Cap Times, Jun 13, 2010

The Madison peace community condemns the Israeli murder of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31. Nineteen-year-old U.S. citizen Furkan Dogan was among the slain. Other unarmed activists, including American and Israeli citizens, were illegally arrested in international waters. Though the activists’ ship flew the flag of NATO member and erstwhile Israeli friend Turkey, the Israeli soldiers were undeterred. These brutal crimes against a peaceful flotilla of humanitarian aid vessels were acts of state piracy on the high seas.

While pretending to end its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has subjected the population of Gaza to an illegal blockade for the past three years because it does not approve of the democratically elected Palestinian government. In January 2009 Israel inflicted a brutal, punitive assault on Gaza, killing 1,400 civilians. Numerous Israeli war crimes during this attack, including the use of white phosphorus munitions in civilian areas, are carefully documented in the United Nations Goldstone Report.

The prolonged Israeli siege prevents Gaza’s civilians from getting enough food and medicine for their daily needs and the necessary supplies to rebuild their devastated economy. Biscuits, chocolate, fishing line, seeds, toys, musical instruments and dozens of other household items are prohibited under the blockade. Even Gaza’s sewage system cannot be rebuilt due to a shortage of cement.

Amnesty International reports that 90-95 percent of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for consumption. According to the U.N., 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals were damaged or destroyed during the war. Without building materials like cement and glass, the vast majority of the destroyed health infrastructure has not been rebuilt. The U.N. has also found that “over 60 percent of households are now food insecure, threatening the health and well-being of children, women and men.”

In an effort to provide nonmilitary supplies to the besieged Palestinian population, nine peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara were brutally gunned down. The humanitarian supplies from all six vessels in the flotilla have been impounded by Israel. Just days later, a seventh ship, the Irish vessel Rachel Corrie, was similarly boarded, its passengers kidnapped and its humanitarian contents seized, although thankfully without further loss of life. Other planned relief voyages can expect the same treatment unless the U.S. demands a change in Israeli policy.

Israel often acts like a rogue state, completely untethered to the norms of humane behavior. Lands that had been farmed for a hundred generations by Palestinian Arabs were ethnically cleansed in 1948-49 to make way for Israeli settlers. The 43-year occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, exacerbated by the relentless expansion of settlements and the daily humiliations suffered by Palestinians, is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. This same resolution “affirms the necessity for guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways.”

Given the unprecedented scope and inhumanity of the suffering inflicted on European Jews only 70 years ago, it is not surprising that Israelis have said “Never again!” and resolved to react with vengeful wrath against any perceived threat to their safety. Ironically, this unyielding attitude has been used to inflict profound suffering on the Palestinian population and has increased the danger to the security of Israelis.

This column was submitted by the Madison Area Peace Coalition.

Opening Rafah crossing as lifeline for Gaza poses dilemma for Egypt

President Hosni Mubarak caught between Arab solidarity and pragmatic approach to Israel, his country’s neighbours

Palestinians carry their luggage to the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Photograph: Eyad Baba/AP

Jack Shenker, The Guardian, 2 June 2010

Rafah — From the donkey carts trundling down near empty roads in the afternoon heat, you would never have guessed this patch of land lay at the centre of a diplomatic storm. Nor did the row of bored looking customs officers sipping tea in the shade give any indication that their work commands global attention. But the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza has long been a place where rhetoric and reality rarely meet eye to eye.

Less than 24 hours after Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, effectively promised to break Israel’s siege of Gaza by opening the Rafah crossing indefinitely, today’s developments were no exception.

The trickle of Gazans who crossed into Egypt spoke volumes about the predicament Mubarak finds himself in after Israel’s deadly assault on the Free Gaza flotilla.

Caught between the need to appease growing public anger at Israel’s actions and the necessity of maintaining his close relationship with the Jewish state on the other – a friendship which opens the door to more than $2bn of American aid annually, money on which many analysts believe Mubarak’s unpopular regime depends upon for survival – the Egyptian government has found itself incapable of living up to its own hype.

“No one is optimistic that this will lead to any kind of permanent solution,” said a UN official making his way from Egypt to Gaza. “The border has been opened for political purposes alone. Such an opening is critical for humanitarian reasons, but it won’t last.”

At times the activity at the crossing was so slow it was difficult to discern whether the border had really opened. Several aid trucks made it into Gaza during the morning including some carrying power generators from the Egyptian Red Crescent, and hundreds of Gazans who had been staying in Egypt returned home. But there was hardly any traffic, human or cargo, in the other direction.

Officials said no more than three busloads of passengers had crossed into Egypt by early evening, leaving an estimated 3,000 Gazans waiting on the other side. Some blamed bureaucratic delays on the Gazan side, where Hamas officials were reportedly trying to implement a system of prioritising who should be allowed to cross first. Others said Egyptian intransigence was at fault.

Most of those who reached Egypt were in need of medical attention, but a few had more cheerful reasons for the trip. One couple were en route to their daughter’s wedding in Dubai and were overjoyed at having navigated their way through the maze of officials and security checks. “There are many buses backed up on the other side filled with people who want to come through,” said the father of the bride. “We were lucky to make it.”

But the lucky ones were few and far between. Mostly the arrivals hall remained desolate, in contrast to the departures lounge which was periodically flooded with Gazans returning from Egypt.

Theoretically, the Rafah terminal open two days a week to allow Gaza residents on the Egyptian side of the border to cross back over, but the buzz around today’s events fuelled an increase in the numbers of those travelling. Many had taken the opportunity to stock up on supplies in preparation for their return to a space where items such as coriander and A4 paper are blockaded by the Israelis.

Ramzi, a grocer from Jabalia, was clutching two new bicycles as he made his way through the crowds. “I was over in Egypt visiting my father who’s in hospital there, and I thought I’d pick up some presents,” he grinned sheepishly. Trolleys laden with mattresses, flat-screen TVs, air conditioners and refrigerators all made their way towards buses waiting to ferry passengers across no man’s land to Palestinian territory. “Any product you can dream of, you’ll find it here,” said one Egyptian customs officer, gesturing towards a queue of Gazans.

Not everyone could join the import bandwagon. Seham Muhammad Hamdani, a mother of two from Gaza who lives in the Egypt, had rushed to the border in the hope of seeing her son and daughter for the first time in 13 years; they live on the other side of the crossing. Due to apparent irregularities in her paperwork, she has been unable to travel to her homeland for more than a decade, while her children are not allowed to leave it. But the Egyptian guards once again turned her away today . “It’s the end of hope,” she said. “It’s up to Mubarak now to resolve our plight.”

Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla sparks international outrage

Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla of vessels crewed by pro-Palestinian activists

An Israeli naval vessel patrols beside one of six ships bound for Gaza in the Mediterranean SeaAn Israeli naval vessel patrols beside one of six ships bound for Gaza. Photograph: Reuters

Robert Booth, The Guardian, 31 May 2010

They came by sea and air, shattering the peace of a Mediterranean night. Shortly after 4.30am yesterday, in international waters, the elite Flotilla 13 unit of the Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla crewed by an alliance of pro-Palestinian activists who had combined to deliver 10,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza.

In a blitz of military strength, masked commandos rapelled on to the Turkish ship’s deck from a helicopter and boarded from the side by fast attack launch. They were armed with guns, stun grenades and tear gas. Assault craft drenched their target in dazzling light and used booming tannoys to warn the ship’s passengers to halt their mission or face Israel taking “all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade”.

The activists from as many as 50 different countries stood little chance in the face of such a show of strength. But if Israel had been hoping to benefit from the cover of darkness by attacking at night, they did not reckon on the presence of a network of on-board video cameras recording their opening moves.

Turkish television footage showed how one by one as the commandos descended by ropes to the deck they were ambushed by waiting passengers armed with what appeared to be metal bars, sticks and in one case, a table. The reception for two commandos descending from a helicopter was brutal – the first was battered to the ground and heavily beaten and the second, landing seconds later, was assaulted by a man with a bar and forced to retreat into a doorway before fighting back out.

Whether these were the first blows struck in an incident that ended with the deaths of at least nine people and the injury of at least 50, is disputed. Those on board, including a reporter for Al Jazeera, said the Israelis fired on the boat before boarding. Israel said it opened fire after its commandos were attacked by activists wielding knives, clubs and pistols wrested from its soldiers. It was impossible yesterday to verify either account.

What is certainly true is that shortly after the assault, all communications with the flotilla were blocked. Mobile phones, satellite phones and internet access all went down, making it all but impossible to glean any account from the passengers about what had happened, beyond the few minutes that were captured on film. Israel’s version of events became the only one available in any detail.

The Guardian has attempted to piece together the story from electronic communications from the flotilla, video footage taken on board, interviews with the flotilla organisers, reports from journalists on board the Mavi Marmara, reports from journalists embedded with the Israeli military and statements from the Israelis.

During Sunday on the journey from Cyprus towards Gaza, the trip had been progressing well, with spirits high among the pro-Palestinian activists, according to messages received from the flotilla at the Cyprus base of Free Gaza, one of the campaign groups behind the mission.

“They were excited because they knew they were on their way,” Greta Berlin, a Free Gaza activist in Cyprus who was in frequent contact, said. “We would get little messages saying ‘we are on a Mediterranean cruise, it is really quite lovely’. There was no feeling until around midnight that anyone was in any danger.”

Little did they know that three hours earlier than that, at around 9pm, three Israeli naval craft had left the northern Israeli port of Haifa to intercept them. The plan was for Israel’s elite Flotilla 13 unit to disembark on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop, said Israeli journalist, Ron Ben Yishai, who was embedded with the Israeli military.

By around 11pm Israel’s taskforce was alongside the flotilla of six vessels and one of the navy ships broadcast a warning to the flotilla not to approach Gaza.

“If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” the message said, according to a recording later broadcast on Israeli radio.

Then around midnight the flotilla co-ordinators appeared to become worried and Lubna Masarwa, a Palestinian Israeli on board the Marmara issued a series of urgent messages via Twitter.

“We didn’t expect them now,” she said. “We thought they will arrive at the morning, please stay in touch with the other boats … People here put there life jackets [sic], everybody preparing here. We are in international waters … Three boats are coming, not two, Three Israeli boats, we are 78 mile from Israel … Two Israeli ships coming toward us … they contact the ship asked who we are and disappeared, getting close to the ship we can see them.”

The Free Gaza campaign was worried enough to issue “a call to the world from the people on the boats”. “This flotilla is bringing supplies the people of Gaza and are being met by military force,” it said.

Over the next few hours as the Israeli ships circled, the flotilla issued a series of brief messages through their spot locator, a telecommunications device which charted their progress on a web site.

“This is a HELP message,” it said at 12.30am. “We have been contacted by the Israelis but are still fine, don’t worry.”

Shortly afterwards another states: “Challenger 2 [one of the boats] contacted by Israeli Defence Force radio A/O approached by IDF ships”, and another: “Going ahead”. Three more “OK” signals between 1.30am and 2.30am were then replaced at 4.30am by a red exclamation mark stating: “Last position before IDF attack. 04:30 GMT, Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727” – around 70 miles from the coast of northern Israel and 90 miles from Gaza.

The assault had been under way for at least 30 minutes, according to Dr Arafat Madi, one of the European organisers of the convoy who spoke to the activists by satellite phone shortly afterwards.

“The Israelis took the phones from us as we were talking,” he said. “We heard from them that the Israeli army attacked all the ships at once with hundreds of soldiers.”

He said the Greek captain of one of the smaller vessels, the 8000, had been shot and two others were injured. But he had no information about injuries on the other vessels and said they were struggling to get any information from the Israelis to give to worried families of the activists.

Video footage of the assault on the Mavi Marmara showed at least half a dozen armed and masked commandos gathering themselves on the bow deck of the ship, apparently having been helicoptered on.

During the assault, which began in earnest 40 miles from the coast, several journalists continued to broadcast from the aft deck, sharing a microphone in a relay as they broadcast to the world.

Reporting for Press TV, an Iranian state-run channel, one said: “We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades. We have navy ships on every side and helicopters ahead. We are being attacked on every side.”

Activists on the ship were shown on video mustering at the top of a flight of stairs, armed with makeshift weapons. The ship’s captain could be heard speaking over the tannoy, urging them to give up: “Please, all the brothers, go back to your cabin and sit on your seats. Stop your resistance. They are using live ammunition. We can’t protect ourselves.”

Over the noise of gunfire, Jamal Elshayyal, reporting for Al Jazeera, said two passengers had been killed. He claimed a white flag of surrender had been raised on board “after Israeli commandos descended upon the ship from a helicopter as well as surrounding it on all sides [in boats].” He continued: “Despite the white flag being raised, the Israeli army is still shooting, still firing live munitions.”

Shortly afterwards the broadcasts stopped and all internet and satellite phone connections were lost.

The Israeli military had been surprised by the resistance they met, according to an account by Ben Yishai. He said the commandos were carrying paintball rifles. He said they were equipped with handguns but were only authorised to use them in life-threatening situations.

“The navy commandos were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters,” he wrote on the Ynet News website. “The rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandos who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter.”

He claimed activists stole a handgun from one commando and threw him 30 feet over a rail, causing serious head injuries. Only after this were commandos authorised to use live ammunition and then shot at activists’ legs, he said. He added that passengers pounded soldiers’ hands as they tried to climb on board.

Footage from inside the ship, broadcast on Turkish television, showed the impact of the battle. A woman carried a bloodstained stretcher, men were shown bleeding from wounds, people moved about tending the injured. People were stretched out on the floor and it was not clear if they were alive or dead.

Flotilla 13

Flotilla 13, the Israeli naval commando unit that intercepted the Gaza Freedom flotilla, is one of the country’s elite military formations, with rigorous selection and training procedures and a reputation for ruthless efficiency. It is known to have been involved in numerous clandestine seaborne operations, including many raids on neighbouring Lebanon. It works closely with the Mossad secret service.

It was also involved in a curious foreshadowing of the Gaza incident in February 1988, when Flotilla 13 is reported to have sabotaged an attempt by the PLO to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees by sailing a ship to an Israeli port, forcing Israel either to sink it or board it or let it land the refugees. The night before the vessel, al-Awda (“The Return”) was due to sail, it was blown up and sunk in Limassol harbour, Cyprus — with no loss of life or political embarrassment.

In recent years the naval commando force has played a key role in intercepting arms shipments from Iran and Syria to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Flotilla 13 is often compared to the US Navy Seals and Britain’s Special Boat Service.

Ian Black

Did UW-Madison campus Hillel ‘freak out’?

Hard questions were asked about speaker’s views toward Israel

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, May 6, 2010

Steve Horn admits he was drawn to bringing in a Palestinian speaker to a campus-based celebration of Israel in part because he “didn’t want to be part of propaganda.”

Horn, a UW-Madison junior majoring in political science and legal studies, is a member of Kavanah, a liberal-leaning student group that operates under the auspices of the UW’s Hillel Foundation. Hillel, serving the campus Jewish community, sponsored a weeklong series of events in mid-April to celebrate Israel’s independence; Horn was a member of the event’s planning committee.

In late March, Horn was approached about sponsoring an appearance by Jad Isaac, a Palestinian academic from Bethlehem. Isaac, whom the Quakers were bringing to Chicago for other events, agreed to come to Madison on April 21 to give a talk at the UW about water rights in the West Bank.

“He’s a well-known scholar on environmental issues in Israel and Palestine,” says Horn. “I was pretty excited.”

Horn approached Hillel about providing a room for the event and using money earmarked for Kavanah to cover some costs. An April 8 email from a Hillel staffer to Horn suggests it’s a done deal, asking what equipment is needed and mentioning an agreement to pay for Isaac’s hotel room.

On April 12, Horn was summoned by Hillel to a “crucial meeting,” where he says he was peppered with questions about Isaac’s views. The next morning, Horn got an email from Inbal Unger, Hillel’s director of Jewish student life, itemizing “the details I would need to know in order to proceed with this program.”

Among these was whether Isaac’s talk would include “any pro-Israel points” and “positive” things about Israel. The email asked: “Does he support Israel’s right to exist?” and “Does he believe in a two-state solution?” It also wondered whether Isaac might feel “unease” to appear as part of a celebration of Israel’s independence.

Horn emailed these questions to his contact with the Quakers in Chicago. “Hillel is freaking out a bit about Jad coming,” he related. “I apologize for their paranoia.” He says the contact tried talking to Hillel, to no avail.

Greg Steinberger, Hillel’s executive director, agrees some “hard questions” were asked about Isaac’s visit but says the main concerns came from other members of Kavanah, who in the end “stepped away from the program Steve planned in their name.”

David Meshoulam, a board member at Kavanah, and group president Eric Salitsky confirm this. “This event was handled poorly from the beginning,” says Meshoulam. “There was a lot of miscommunication.”

In the end, a compromise was struck to have the Quakers sponsor Isaac’s speech and for Kavanah to book a room in the Humanities Building, where he spoke to about 20 people. Hillel also let the group use some of its funds to take Isaac to dinner, but did not pay for his hotel or other event costs.

“I didn’t hear that anyone’s voice was stifled,” says Meshoulam, adding that Kavanah members “feel comfortable in openly criticizing Israel. It’s how we position ourselves within Hillel.” The real concern was whether the speech should be part of the larger celebration: “If Jad had come on a different week, none of this would have happened.”

But Horn, an opinion writer at the Badger Herald, says this and similar dustups show that Hillel “doesn’t allow open and honest dialogue on the Israel-Palestine issue to take place within its walls. Every time a proposal is brought forth that involves a critique of Israeli policies, hysteria unfolds.” He says such concerns don’t arise when speakers are aggressively pro-Israel.

Jennifer Loewenstein, a local activist and faculty associate in the UW’s Middle East Studies Program, agrees, calling Hillel’s list of questions akin to a “loyalty oath.” She finds it quite distasteful: “Here we are on a university campus and academic freedom is bypassed when it comes to this organization [Hillel].”

Steinberger rebuts this, saying Hillel has sponsored speakers critical of Israel. “There’s a very pluralistic debate that happens here,” he says. “We’re wide open to a whole variety of opinions, including critics of Israel.”

Cecil Findley, March 12, 1930 — April 13, 2010

Cecil and Helen Findley at Fighting BobFest

Cecil Findley
Public adviser, endorser and defender
during the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project debate

From the Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice

We say goodbye to two dear friends of the Network who both fought tirelessly for peace and justice. We remember their work in the shape of favorite quotes: Nan Cheney, a founder of the Network, quoted Mother Jones: “Mourn them… and fight like hell for the living,” while Cecil Findley, former WNPJ Treasurer and Vice Chair, used Amos 5:24 as his favorite text: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

From the Winfield Daily Courier, April 14, 2010

MADISON, Wis. — William “Cecil” Findley, 80, of Madison, Wis., formerly of Winfield, Kansas passed away peacefully on April 13, 2010, at his home at Oakwood Village in Madison.

Services will be 7 p.m. Monday at the First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI 53703. A fellowship time will immediately follow the service.

Memorials are to the Cecil R. Findley Scholarship fund at Southwestern College or to The Crossing campus ministry and student organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Activists embrace nonviolence in world’s hot spots

Josh Brollier and Sister Pat Chaffee. Photo courtesy of Phil Haslanger.

Phil Haslanger, Cap Times, Apr 1, 2010

Josh Brollier and Sister Pat Chaffee are in many ways a study in contrasts with each other and with the way most Americans live — and those contrasts make this unlikely pair thought-provoking.

Chaffee is a 72-year-old Dominican Catholic sister who lives on the edge of Lake Michigan in Racine. Brollier is a 27-year-old religiously unaffiliated peace activist who lives in the heart of Chicago.

They were in Madison recently to speak at Edgewood College and other places about their participation in January’s Gaza Freedom March — a nonviolent direct action by 1,300 people from 43 countries that was planned to protest Israel’s isolation of Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas segment of the Palestinian leadership. The protest hit an unexpected barrier — the Egyptian government refused to let the protesters approach the crossing at Rafah, the southern point in Gaza that abuts Egypt. But the international protest nevertheless highlighted the terrible conditions that exist for the people of Gaza.

It was the latest instance where Brollier and Chaffee put themselves in the midst of conflict to advocate for justice without resorting to using violence.

Brollier grew up in Tennessee in a Southern Baptist family. He says that while there have been strong religious influences on his thinking, he now embraces a more eclectic world view. “I try to take whatever truth comes my way and try to incorporate it into my life,” he said in a conversation over coffee.

Chaffee comes from more traditional Catholic roots as a nun living in a religious community, but also represents that activist strain of nun who noticed injustice in the world and feels called by her faith to act.

She noted that the motto of the Racine Dominican sisters is “committed to truth, compelled to justice,” and reflects that “I can see what Jesus did. It was always for the people who were put upon by those in power.”

She had been a teacher for most of her adult life, but in the mid-1980s, some of the other nuns in her community were getting involved in issues around the wars in Central America, and Chaffee wanted to see for herself. She spent four weeks in Nicaragua, which she called “a conversion experience” as she witnessed the huge disparities between wealth and poverty. She subsequently worked in El Salvador and Guatemala.

In 2006, she went to the West Bank, then last May to Gaza as part of a Code Pink delegation to report on conditions and deliver toys and supplies for building playgrounds.

Brollier began his journey toward nonviolent activism in college, when he was at the University of Memphis and moved into a community serving as tutors for refugees. He then spent three months in Zimbabwe in 2004, broadening his view of the world even more.

Now he lives in a community again: Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago. The group lives simply enough to not earn enough individual income to pay taxes, since they object to paying for war.

“So much desperation is caused by the policies of governments,” he said. “We need stronger action than just talking about it.” But he emphasizes that the means one chooses to change things determines the ends you get, and since violence begets violence, he works to find different ways to achieve goals.

“If we can’t see the humanity in our so-called enemies, there is not much of a crack to move forward,” he noted. He understands the skepticism people have toward nonviolent responses to the hot spots of the world, but added, “I think the alternatives have never really been tried.”

Brollier has been arrested a half-dozen times in anti-war and anti-torture protests, including one at Fort McCoy that led to a 14-day stay in the Dane County Jail. Chaffee has gone to some of the world’s most conflicted places to bring back accounts of how injustices are affecting people’s lives.

Their words and actions offer a nudge beyond the comforts of everyday life.

Phil Haslanger is pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg.

The Map: The Story of Palestinian Nationhood Thwarted

Juan Cole, Informed Comment, March 16, 2010

On March 10, I posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build 1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it did.

The tiff between the US and Israel is less important that the worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the Palestinians as well. There is talk of a third Intifada or Palestinian uprising.

As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past century.

Andrew Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site, which set off a lot of thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, but shed very little light.

The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I (the Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia).

But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence of President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas about self-determination, Britain and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman territories into mere colonies. The League of Nations awarded them “Mandates.” Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.

The League of Nations Covenant spelled out what a Class A Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was:

“Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.”

That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to ‘render administrative advice and assistance” to these peoples in preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless prisoners in colonial cantons).

The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion that the Negev Desert was ’empty’ and should not have been shown in the first map. But it wasn’t and isn’t empty; Palestinian Bedouin live there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training. The Mandate of Palestine also had a charge to allow for the establishment of a ‘homeland’ in Palestine for Jews (because of the 1917 Balfour Declaration), but nobody among League of Nations officialdom at that time imagined it would be a whole and competing territorial state. There was no prospect of more than a few tens of thousands of Jews settling in Palestine, as of the mid-1920s. (They are shown in white on the first map, refuting those who mysteriously complained that the maps alternated between showing sovereignty and showing population). As late as the 1939 British White Paper, British officials imagined that the Mandate would emerge as an independent Palestinian state within 10 years.

In 1851, there had been 327,000 Palestinians (yes, the word ‘Filistin’ was current then) and other non-Jews, and only 13,000 Jews. In 1925, after decades of determined Jewish immigration, there were a little over 100,000 Jews, and there were 765,000 mostly Palestinian non-Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. For historical demography of this area, see Justin McCarthy’s painstaking calculations; it is not true, as sometimes is claimed, that we cannot know anything about population figures in this region. See also his journal article, reprinted at this site. The Palestinian population grew because of rapid population growth, not in-migration, which was minor. The common allegation that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority at some point in the 19th century is meaningless. Jerusalem was a small town in 1851, and many pious or indigent elderly Jews from Eastern Europe and elsewhere retired there because of charities that would support them. In 1851, Jews were only about 4% of the population of the territory that became the British Mandate of Palestine some 70 years later. And, there had been few adherents of Judaism, just a few thousand, from the time most Jews in Palestine adopted Christianity and Islam in the first millennium CE all the way until the 20th century. In the British Mandate of Palestine, the district of Jerusalem was largely Palestinian.

The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s impelled massive Jewish emigration to Palestine, so by 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews there amid over a million Palestinians.

The second map shows the United Nations partition plan of 1947, which awarded Jews (who only then owned about 6% of Palestinian land) a substantial state alongside a much reduced Palestine. Although apologists for the Zionist movement say that the Zionists accepted this partition plan and the Arabs rejected it, that is not entirely true. Zionist leader David Ben Gurion noted in his diary when Israel was established that when the US had been formed, no document set out its territorial extent, implying that the same was true of Israel. We know that Ben Gurion was an Israeli expansionist who fully intended to annex more land to Israel, and by 1956 he attempted to add the Sinai and would have liked southern Lebanon. So the Zionist “acceptance” of the UN partition plan did not mean very much beyond a happiness that their initial starting point was much better than their actual land ownership had given them any right to expect.

The third map shows the status quo after the Israeli-Palestinian civil war of 1947-1948. It is not true that the entire Arab League attacked the Jewish community in Palestine or later Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. As Avi Shlaim has shown, Jordan had made an understanding with the Zionist leadership that it would grab the West Bank, and its troops did not mount a campaign in the territory awarded to Israel by the UN. Egypt grabbed Gaza and then tried to grab the Negev Desert, with a few thousand badly trained and equipped troops, but was defeated by the nascent Israeli army. Few other Arab states sent any significant number of troops. The total number of troops on the Arab side actually on the ground was about equal to those of the Zionist forces, and the Zionists had more esprit de corps and better weaponry.

The final map shows the situation today, which springs from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and then the decision of the Israelis to colonize the West Bank intensively (a process that is illegal in the law of war concerning occupied populations).

There is nothing inaccurate about the maps at all, historically. Goldberg maintained that the Palestinians’ ‘original sin’ was rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan. But since Ben Gurion and other expansionists went on to grab more territory later in history, it is not clear that the Palestinians could have avoided being occupied even if they had given away willingly so much of their country in 1947. The first original sin was the contradictory and feckless pledge by the British to sponsor Jewish immigration into their Mandate in Palestine, which they wickedly and fantastically promised would never inconvenience the Palestinians in any way. It was the same kind of original sin as the French policy of sponsoring a million colons in French Algeria, or the French attempt to create a Christian-dominated Lebanon where the Christians would be privileged by French policy. The second original sin was the refusal of the United States to allow Jews to immigrate in the 1930s and early 1940s, which forced them to go to Palestine to escape the monstrous, mass-murdering Nazis.

The map attracted so much ire and controversy not because it is inaccurate but because it clearly shows what has been done to the Palestinians, which the League of Nations had recognized as not far from achieving statehood in its Covenant. Their statehood and their territory has been taken from them, and they have been left stateless, without citizenship and therefore without basic civil and human rights. The map makes it easy to see this process. The map had to be stigmatized and made taboo. But even if that marginalization of an image could be accomplished, the squalid reality of Palestinian statelessness would remain, and the children of Gaza would still be being malnourished by the deliberate Israeli policy of blockading civilians. The map just points to a powerful reality; banishing the map does not change that reality.

Goldberg, according to Spencer Ackerman, says that he will stop replying to Andrew Sullivan, for which Ackerman is grateful, since, he implies, Goldberg is a propagandistic hack who loves to promote wars on flimsy pretenses. Matthew Yglesias also has some fun at Goldberg’s expense.

People like Goldberg never tell us what they expect to happen to the Palestinians in the near and medium future. They don’t seem to understand that the status quo is untenable. They are like militant ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand while lashing out with their hind talons at anyone who stares clear-eyed at the problem, characterizing us as bigots. As if that old calumny has any purchase for anyone who knows something serious about the actual views of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, more bigoted persons than whom would be difficult to find. Indeed, some of Israel’s current problems with Brazil come out of Lieberman’s visit there last summer; I was in Rio then and remember the distaste with which the multi-cultural, multi-racial Brazilians viewed Lieberman, whom some openly called a racist.

Netanyahu defies U.S. over Jerusalem settlement

Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, 15 March 2010

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected any curbs on Jewish settlement in and around Jerusalem, defying Washington in Israel’s deepening crisis with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.

“For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” he said in a speech in parliament, citing areas in the West Bank that Israel captured in 1967 and unilaterally annexed to the city.

The United States condemned Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new homes for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, a religious settlement within the Israeli-designated borders of Jerusalem, whose future status is at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

Israel’s announcement of the project during a visit last week by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden embarrassed the White House. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in unusually blunt remarks, called it an insult.

The Palestinians, who had just agreed to begin indirect peace talks under U.S. mediation, have said they will not go ahead unless the plan is scrapped.

Israeli media said Clinton last week demanded a reversal of the decision to build in Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu’s comments appeared to signal to Washington that he believed he had political backing at home to withstand U.S. pressure.

Israel has said construction at the site will not begin for several years.

The U.S. criticism of Israel prompted a backlash on Monday from U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel lobby groups who urged the Obama administration to tone down its rhetoric.

“If we want the Israeli government to act in a way that would be more in keeping with our objectives … it doesn’t help them to have public disparagement by the secretary of state,” Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Clinton called Netanyahu on Friday to convey unspecified demands about the Ramat Shlomo housing project as well as about demonstrating commitment to U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks, the State Department said, without elaborating.

U.S. officials said they were still waiting for Israel’s formal response.