List of violent incidents and abuse of Palestinians by settlers around the settlement in the a-Ras neighborhood, March-September 2007

The following list is partial and does not reflect the actual scope of the violence and abuse suffered by residents of a-Ras and surrounding areas. Yet, the list gives a picture of the ongoing violence by settlers that is carried out under the protection of the security forces posted permanently in the area.

21 March: Settlers spit at Palestinian passersby .

22 March: From the windows of the settlement’s building, settlers throw refuse at passersby .

23 March: Settlers assault a Palestinian woman passing in front of the settlement .

24 March: Three youths from the settlement attack a Palestinian. The police then arrest the Palestinian, contending that he struck the settlers. The police stated that the settlers had filed a complaint against him .

24 March: Settlers throw stones at a Palestinian child. Border Police stop the Palestinian child, claiming that he threw stones. No measures are taken against the settlers who threw stones .

25 March: In the evening, settlers urinate from the windows of the building onto the street .

30 March: A group of settlers who passed by the settlement throw stones at a Palestinian-owned shop, while two army jeeps were present at the scene. The shopkeeper asks the soldiers to intervene, but they do nothing. The officer in one of the jeeps orders the shopkeeper to remain inside his shop. Police officer who passed by in a jeep does not intervene, despite the calls of the shopkeeper .

1 April: Soldiers throw bottles of urine at Palestinians .

2 April: Soldiers throw bottles of urine at Palestinians .

3 April: Soldiers throw bottles of urine at Palestinians .

4 April : In the late afternoon, three soldiers, about eighteen years old, leave the new settlement and grab a four-year-old Palestinian child, who a day before had been hit in the shoulder by a stone thrown by settlers from the settlement. His cousin sees what is happening and the sides start yelling at each other. A soldier stationed in the settlement building sees the incident and orders the cousin to go into his house, but does nothing to stop the assault .

14 April: All day long, a large group of settlers stand by the settlement building and prevent Palestinians from moving along the street. The settlers swear at them and threaten them. Soldiers and police are present throughout the day and do nothing .

18 April: Young settler women block Palestinians children from using the road leading from the wadi to the checkpoint .

19 April: Young settler women block Palestinians children from using the road leading from the wadi to the checkpoint .

19 April: In the afternoon, two men and two women come out of the settlement building and attack Palestinian women and children .

19 April: Settlers, (one of them armed) prevent a Palestinian resident to pass near the settlement building (the way to his home) the settlers order the Palestinian to bypass the structure and not go near it .

25 April: A settler beats a Palestinian woman who passed along the road by the new settlement .

28 April: In the late afternoon, settlers throw stones from the building at a Palestinian walking in the street .

1 May: In the morning, settlers throw stones from the building at a Palestinian walking in the street .

2 May: In the late afternoon, settlers about fifteen years old throw stones at Palestinian passersby. They then go outside and beat a Palestinian woman walking on the road .

2 May: A settler tries to enter the mosque next to the new settlement during prayers. A Border Police officer forces him away and they get into a tussle and a verbal battle. Other settlers come out of the building and attack the soldiers who had detained the settler. Soldiers order Palestinians to leave and go home. This was the third time, residents said, that that settler had tried to enter the mosque .

5 May: Some five settler children stand, in the late afternoon, under the new settlement and throw stones at a Palestinian house. An adult settler stands alongside them. Soldiers pass by in a jeep (license number 611154), and, despite calls for help, refuse to intervene .

9 May : In the evening, two youths throw stones from the roof of the settlement building at an adjacent Palestinian house while the occupants, small children among them, are outside. The father calls to Border Police officers at the checkpoint to come, but to no avail. Also, police officers who pass by in a jeep (license number 22448) do nothing to enforce the law. Settlers break into the patio of the house, swear at the occupants and harass them. A Border Police officer at the checkpoint ignores another call for him to intervene. One of the settlers spit at one of the family and strike him. The stone throwing and swearing by the settlers continues for a few hours .

10 May: Before evening, four settlers, two adults and two youths, throw stones and glass bottles at a nearby Palestinian house. Two members of the family in the house call to the soldiers at the checkpoint for help, but they reply, “Shut up and go home.” The stone throwing continues for about half an hour .

12 May : Three minors and an adult female settler assault, in the afternoon, two Palestinian women who were crossing the checkpoint. The minors throw stones and bottles, and the settler woman assaults them with a rubber hose and with her hands. In response to a request for help by one of the Palestinian women, a soldier at the checkpoint says he is there only to protect the settlers and that he is not interested in what they do. The police refuse to come to the scene and demand that the complainant go to the station to file a complaint .

13 May: Before evening, three minors throw stones at Palestinians in the yard of their house .

8 June: At night, four young men from the settlement throw stones at a nearby house .

9 June: In the afternoon, two young men from the settlement try to knock a Palestinian man who was about eighty years old off his donkey .

11 June: In the afternoon, six youths from the settlement throw stones and eggs from the roof at Palestinian women standing near a neighboring house. Calls for help to a soldier at the checkpoint, to a police jeep, and a Border Police jeep that pass by are to no avail .

14 June : In the morning, five minors from the settlement harass Palestinians who pass by on the street, steal a barrel of vegetables and throw them into the trash .

15 June : Before evening, two settlers assault a local Palestinian, kicking and beating him. The incident takes place in front of two army officers .

6 July: A few youths from the settlement assault, before noon, a Palestinian six-year-old child who passes by on the street. Two of the assailants, who are on the road under the settlement building, also throw glass bottles. The settlers also throw stones at a Palestinian in his sixties, who is walking with crutches, hitting him in the chest. He is taken to hospital. The incident occurs in front of Border Police officers at the checkpoint. One of the policemen admits that he saw the old man being hit, and claims that he is forbidden to talk with the settlers, and that he is only there to protect them .

17-23 July: A group of children from the settlement throw stones and grab the clothes of Palestinians passing through the checkpoint. Adult settlers and soldiers standing there do nothing to stop the abuse .

5 August : In the evening, settlers throw stones at nearby houses and at Palestinians standing at the checkpoint. They also smash the window of a Palestinian car. Soldiers do nothing to prevent the stone throwing .

6 August: In the evening, settler children throw stones at a Palestinian woman passing through the checkpoint .

9 August : In the evening, settlers throw glass bottles at small Palestinian children passing by .

12 August: In the afternoon, settler children throw stones at Palestinians passing by. In the afternoon, settler children again throw stones. An adult settler standing by them curses at Palestinians and instructs the children to put things in the middle of the road to prevent their passage .

15 August: In the afternoon, settlers throw stones at Palestinians passing by .

19 August: A settler throws stones at a Palestinian who passes nearby .

20 August: In late afternoon, settlers throw stones and assault Palestinian workers who come to a nearby house and unload construction materials. The settlers try to prevent the truck from reaching the site and from unloading the materials .

22 August : Settler minors throw stones at Palestinian children passing by in the street .

23 August : At night, two settler women leave the settlement building and go into a Palestinian’s yard. When the Palestinian homeowner calls out that they are trespassing, the women throw stones at her and at the house .

1 September: Near midnight, two settlers throw stones at an adjacent house .

3 September : Four settler youths – three boys and one girl – enter the yard of a Palestinian house next to the settlement. When a member of the Palestinian family say they are not allowed to cross, the settlers throw stones at him .

Ref: B´Tselem

Jena: Take Your Nooses down

John Mellencamp, always one to keep up on the news, was inspired to write this tune in August after he heard about the travesty of justice involving six African-American teenagers in a small Louisiana town. Read more in Peter Rothberg’s Take Action blog.

Read/See More:
jena-legalizing-black-murder-of-whites-from-one-white-supremacy-perspective

jena-6-politics-in-black-and-white

black-nooses-hanging-from-the-white-tree/

The Real Al Gore

Line up some of the more notorious Nobel Peace Prize recipients, such as Kissinger, and if you had to identify the biggest killer of all it was probably Norman Borlaug, one of the architects of the Green Revolution, which unleashed displacement, malnutrition and death across the Third World. If the Kyoto Accords were ever implemented, and they never will be, the net impact on greenhouse gases–99.72 percent of them natural in origin–would be imperceptible, but the devastation to Third World economies and life expectancies would rival that caused by Borlaug’s seed strains.

Already the hysteria about anthropogenic global warming stoked by Al Gore and the Big Lie gang writing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s press releases has done enormous damage to vital environmental cleanup, sidetracking attention and money from work on sewers, toxic waste sites, filthy smokestacks–not to mention the vast disaster of agricultural pollution. Two other consequences of the hysteria will be deadly. Biofuels will steal the meals of the Third World poor and put them in First World gas tanks. Nuclear power is the hysteria’s prime beneficiary. As Peter Montague describes it in our current CounterPunch newsletter, “The long-awaited and much-advertised ‘nuclear renaissance’ actually got under way this fall.” NRG Energy, a New Jersey company, applied for a license to build two nuclear power plants in Bay City, Texas–the first formal application for such a license in thirty years.

NRG can confidently await the green light for two reasons. Using the fakery over the supposed effects of man-made greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, the nuclear industry successfully lobbied to pass the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which provides four different kinds of subsidies for atomic power plants. The other shoe promptly dropped with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s sweeping revision of its procedures, drastically attenuating the approval process for new plants. As nuclear plants start to sprout like toadstools across the landscape, it is certainly appropriate to lay a large measure of the blame on Al Gore, who has been a shill for the nuclear industry ever since he came of age as a political harlot for the Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory in his home state of Tennessee.

For a Man of Peace, Gore has plenty of blood on his CV. Looking back through the 1980s, we find that on every relevant issue, whether it was supporting the contras or Reagan’s bombing of Libya in 1986, shilling for the Pentagon’s latest weapons systems, voting for nerve gas or backing the Reagan/Bush position on NATO deployments in Europe, Gore’s hawkishness was unflagging. In the course of his career he voted for the neutron bomb, the B-2 bomber, the Trident II missile, the MX missile and the Midgetman. He also backed the mini-Star Wars plan. The defense contractors always loved Al, the same way the nuclear plant manufacturers do today.

When it came to Bush Senior’s attack on Iraq, Gore’s antics astounded even his hardened colleagues in the Senate as they debated the war resolution. Of course he had long since decided to vote aye on war, having been a hardliner on Iraq since 1988. But on January 12, 1991, he spun out his supposed travails in coming to this decision in prime-time posturing, speaking of his “heavy burden of conscience” and the lonely weeks “questioning, probing, searching for the truth.” Saddam, he proclaimed, “has more troops than Hitler did in the early years of World War II.” In the New York Times he wrote, “We can no more look forward to a constructive long-term relationship with Saddam Hussein than we could hope to housebreak a cobra” and that the Iraqi dictator is not “an acceptable part of the landscape.”

In Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign Gore was told to earn his keep with constant pummeling of George Bush Senior for having been soft on Saddam. Gore duly crisscrossed the country yoking Saddam and Bush in fervid denunciation. “The cover-up of Bush’s arming of Saddam was,” Gore shouted, “bigger than Watergate ever was.”

In January 1993 Vice President-elect Gore announced that there could never be normal relations with Iraq so long as Saddam remained in power. He reiterated the call for a coup, if not by the Iraqi military then by the CIA. Vice President Gore was then given authority in the Clinton Administration for Iraq policy. In this capacity he presided over the sanctions that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children. The mid-1990s saw Gore as a major voice urging NATO’s bombing of the Serbs. In his 2000 presidential campaign he publicly distanced himself from the Clinton Administration on Iraq policy, reiterating that Saddam had to fall and pledging support for Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

On May 27, 2000, Gore laid out his foreign policy and military strategy in a commencement speech at West Point. It was a neocon manifesto. He said he would pursue a more robust form of Clintonism, highlighted by quicker interventions, less diplomacy and more firepower against the “rogue states…that represent the emerging threat to our country.” He called this approach “forward engagement,” a phrase redolent of his fellow Peace Prize winner Kissinger’s “constructive engagement,” which meant backing brutes like Suharto, Somoza and Pinochet.

Gore also denounced George W. Bush’s recent call for deep cuts in the US nuclear arsenal, cuts that Bush said the United States should consider making on its own. “Nuclear unilateralism will hinder, rather than help, arms control,” Gore said. “Reductions alone don’t guarantee stability…. If you’re not careful, you could have a reduction of missiles and a more dangerous world.”

Spoken like a Peace Prize winner!

Ref: Free republic

Corporations Versus Democracy

The most important issue to young people in the 2008 campaign is one that no presidential candidate will discuss. In fact, even touching on this subject is taboo for anyone with aspirations to Congress or the White House. Anyone who has the temerity to mention this political third rail will almost certainly lose the campaign.

The issue is the curtailing of corporate power, and as long as corporations continue to finance major candidates, it will remain unspoken. No one running for office wants to be blacklisted by corporate lobbyists in Washington.

Corporations Versus Democracy

Ned Resnikoff

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Editor’s Note: Ned Resnikoff is one of five finalists in The Nation’s 2007 Student Writing Contest. Read more about the competition on StudentNation.com.

The most important issue to young people in the 2008 campaign is one that no presidential candidate will discuss. In fact, even touching on this subject is taboo for anyone with aspirations to Congress or the White House. Anyone who has the temerity to mention this political third rail will almost certainly lose the campaign.

The issue is the curtailing of corporate power, and as long as corporations continue to finance major candidates, it will remain unspoken. No one running for office wants to be blacklisted by corporate lobbyists in Washington.

That’s a shame, because this issue is connected to almost every other problem facing America today. As long as corporations have no incentive to avoid polluting, we will continue to poison this planet at an alarming rate, and as long as corporate lobbyists hold an inordinate amount of influence in Washington, there will be no substantive solutions to problems like income inequality or our woefully inadequate healthcare system.

The unchecked power of American corporations does not just affect America, either. It is our corporations that are exploiting developing nations by employing their people at low wages in inhuman working conditions. The environment, obviously, is a global issue. And while some may scoff at the idea of the United States waging war for economic reasons, it is difficult to ignore the mounting evidence that we invaded Iraq, at least in part, to bring profit to American oil companies and defense contractors. What country is next? Iran?

If presidential candidates were willing to treat unchecked corporate power as an actual problem, we might be able to begin considering solutions. At a start, the regulations already in place to curtail corporate power could be enforced again.

More drastic measures need to be taken as well. I would start by changing the legal definition of a corporation. Currently, a corporation is legally defined as a human being, and therefore it possesses all the liberties that go along with being a member of the human race.

That definition is clearly absurd–a corporation is little more than a profit-making machine formed by a loose collective of human beings. It is not entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, or any other amendment of the Constitution for that matter.

Public financing of campaigns is also a central part of reducing corporate power in America. While public financing’s detractors argue that it is fundamentally undemocratic, it will in fact bring America closer to the democratic ideal we purport to hold so dear.

There is much about the current campaign model that is fundamentally undemocratic, but nowhere is that more true than in the field of campaign finance. It is virtually impossible to run for Congress or the White House without becoming a corporate-sponsored candidate, and corporate-sponsored candidates act more on behalf of the corporations that pay to put them in office than the actual human beings that vote for them.

Public campaign finance will fix this by leveling the playing field and ensuring that candidates are selected based on their ability to present their case, not how much money they can raise from GE or Bechtel.

Additional regulation on corporations is also a must. While this includes environmental statutes, something that nobody seems to be discussing is how to regulate corporate America’s human rights abuses abroad. In other words, if Nike is abusing workers in Indonesia, what can we in the United States do to make sure that ceases?

One possible solution is economic sanctions against our own corporations. America is a massive market, and many of the worst violators of human rights are based here, although their factories may be abroad. Why not close off the American market to these companies unless they adhere to some sort of international human rights standard?

One could argue that we have a moral obligation to do something like this, but it is not entirely without its own material rewards. This is a national security issue–to many developing nations, these corporations are the face of the United States, and the more people they abuse around the world, the worse the international perception of us becomes and the more potential terrorists and anti-American sentiment we breed.

In a campaign that is more about fundraising than real issues, unchecked corporate power is the elephant in the room. We cannot rely on the candidates to raise the issue–rather, we must raise awareness among Americans in the hopes that they will force the candidates to acknowledge this central problem in our democracy.

Ref: the Nation by Ned Resnikoff

A Different Sort of War on Terror

On March 20, 2003, despite the protests of the world, the United States invaded Iraq as part of the “war on terror.” The US government declared that it was necessary to start a pre-emptive war because Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction, which could eventually be used against our country. So, four years later, what have we accomplished?

No weapons of mass destruction have been found. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and more than 3,000 American soldiers have died. There has been a dramatic increase in anti-American sentiment throughout the world. Our goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East has faded as Iraq has erupted into civil war. Thus far, the war has cost us more than $400 billion. Though we have removed Saddam from power and ended his tyrannical reign, this has come at an enormous cost.

I present you with a hypothetical alternative. What if we fought a different sort of war on terror, one without guns or bombs and without bloodshed? What if we could go back in time, and instead of spending $400 billion on war, we spent it on peace? Imagine if we used $400 billion to fight global poverty and hunger, research cures for diseases like HIV/AIDS and provide vaccinations for people in need. What if we spent money for prosthetic devices for children in war-ravaged countries who would otherwise be unable to work? If we increased the amount of foreign aid we gave to the world by fivefold, how would we be viewed? Would a Muslim fanatic rise up against the United States if our money was helping to feed his family? Would anti-American sentiment be so strong if we were the protectors of the world?

I believe that if we fought a different sort of war on terror, we would come far closer to winning that war than we will on the path we are following today. Currently, the United States gives the second-lowest percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid. What if the United States was the world leader in giving to foreign aid? How would we be viewed?

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 800 million people in the world are “hungry and undernourished.” If there was an annual increase of $24 billion in aid per year, this figure would be cut in half by 2015. Furthermore, if we invested this money to fight world hunger, it would significantly boost the world economy, since millions of additional people would be able to work and produce for the world. Imagine if the United States led the fight against world hunger.

About 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. In order to effectively fight the spread of this devastating disease, it is estimated that $10 billion per year is needed. What if the United States provided the majority or even all of that $10 billion per year? What would the world think of us?

Out of the 130 million children born each year, 30 million do not receive vaccines for preventable diseases. Every year, 3 million children die from preventable diseases because they are not vaccinated. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that approximately $2.8 billion is needed to provide vaccinations for every child in developing countries. So, what if the United States contributed this money to save millions of children worldwide? Would the “terrorists” find this unacceptable?

It is time for us to realize that the powerful governments of the world possess the resources to make great strides for the causes of humanity. We must continue to question why our government and the governments of other wealthy nations continually fail to meet the goals of foreign aid, even though these goals are not extraordinary or unattainable. The goals listed above would require only a fraction of the $400 billion the United States has spent on the Iraq quagmire.

Instead, the United States has used this money to start a war in which multiple new enemies appear for every one that is destroyed. If we had utilized our resources fully, perhaps we could have peacefully reduced the size of the enemy rather than violently increased it. The United States possesses more money than any other country in the world, and therefore the greatest capacity to help others. If we recognized this, played it to our advantage and used diplomacy instead of warfare, perhaps we could create a better world. Our government’s purse is full, but its heart is empty. If generosity to other human beings–regardless of their nationality–became a more prevalent virtue in our society, someday in the future we might be able to solve the world’s most urgent problems.

Ref: the Nation by Jason Kaye

The Cinema of Terror

the kingdom

About halfway through Gavin Hood’s new film Rendition, something occurs that vaguely resembles a laugh line. When the sociopathic CIA director (Meryl Streep) calls up the agent (Jake Gyllenhaal) assigned to observe his first secret interrogation in North Africa, she interrupts him smoking a hookah in a belly-dancing club. Perhaps feeling bolder than he would during working hours, he tells her that the rather aggressive methods aren’t working. “You’re new to this aren’t you?” she asks the young lad. “This is my first torture,” he deadpans. The audience tittered–one of those vaguely knowing chuckles tinged with nervousness and rounded out with the relief of hearing a thing called by its proper name.

Rendition is the story of Egyptian-born chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahami (Omar Metwally), who has lived in the United States on a green card for twenty years. Anwar is married to a very pregnant Isabella (Reese Witherspoon, who takes chin-trembling to heights not seen since Clare Danes in My So-Called Life), and the two already have one very adorable small boy. Suspicious calls related to a bombing where the CIA lost an agent have been traced to Anwar’s cellphone, leading to his arrest while returning home from a business trip to South Africa. Isabella, unable to get any answers and frantic with grief, lobbies her college sweetheart-turned-Senate aide (Peter Sarsgaard) for help finding the obviously innocent Anwar. Alan Arkin has a small role as a senator who does not feel overwhelmingly compelled to help.

Like The Kingdom, which was released in September, Rendition tells parallel stories of an American and an Arab family. Anwar’s interrogator, Abasi Fawal (Yigal Naor), is the father of the teenage Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who is entangled in a romance with a strong-jawed, handsome jihadi boy (and is herself no slouch in the trembling department). If it seems like another ensemble picture of interlocking lives brought together on one fateful day, well, it is. But there’s also a twist that changes the picture somewhat at the end. It’s a movie that holds you–even the shlocky music can’t detract from the power of its images and the drama of the story.

As in The Kingdom, it’s the Arab family in Rendition that ultimately endures tragedy. Both films flirt with turning into an altar for white catharsis, but given the rarity of images of Arabs in the American mainstream, they ought to be recommended for at least humanizing these characters. Of course, audiences are not so comfortable with “Arabs–they’re just like us!” thinking, which means that Isabella and Anwar’s relationship can never move into the bedroom. Their love is familial love–as opposed to that of Gyllenhaal, who seems to receive his North African girlfriend when he picks up his badge at headquarters.

A touch of colonial entitlement notwithstanding, Gyllenhaal is clearly the cipher that Hood, who won an Oscar for the South African drama Tsotsi, uses to send the movie’s moral message. He is the one whom white audiences identify with, standing a few feet away from the waterboarding, the hooding, the electrocutions, deciding what is wrong and what he can do. Being a moral compass isn’t such a bad thing. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner had Katharine Houghton, Dead Man Walking Susan Sarandon, Twelve Angry Men Henry Fonda and Brokeback Mountain had… Gyllenhaal. (Jake Gyllenhaal–this generation’s Sidney Poitier? The jury is deliberating!) While the movie sticks him with some cringe-worthy wooden lines in defense of law and order, he at least gets to quote The Merchant of Venice: “I fear you speak upon the rack, where men enforced do speak anything.”

The real star is Metwally. He howls, convulses and bleeds–eyes giant and terrified and desperate. His is the body the movie writes its message on, a message that is more visceral than political. The only President Hood mentions by name is Clinton (as in, “Rendition started under Clinton and expanded after 9/11”). The images of Metwally’s suffering are not gratuitously violent. You’ll find worse in any of the torture-shock horror movies that have flooded the theaters lately. But the potent images of his suffering overwhelm the “debate” that Rendition pretends to have, a tit-for-tat that is largely pro forma. Streep smirks and struts, but she’s too extreme a villain, with boilerplate dialogue taken straight from 24 about sacrificing one for the protection of all. And although Arkin argues that Anwar’s isn’t the “watertight” case he’s willing to stake his career on, the film makes clear that such a case could never exist since the government will always find a scrap of “evidence” to justify detention.

Brian DePalma’s Redacted (which opens on November 16) also tells a story designed to provoke outrage about US crimes in the “war on terror.” A fictionalized account of the US soldiers who raped a teenage girl in Samara, it is told from the perspective of a soldier’s video diary, a conveniently located surveillance camera, a French documentary, Internet video and so forth. DePalma has claimed the film is about “information” and “perspective,” but it’s no Rashomon. Each view makes the very same point. And if Rendition seems too much like Hollywood finger-wagging for your tastes, steer very far clear of Redacted. It is less a series of moving images than a hard, spiked bludgeon coming out from the screen and smacking you square on the head for a long ninety minutes.

Rendition never resolves the question of how the suspicious calls wound up traced to Anwar’s phone. It leaves hanging the image of one of Fawal’s other victims–a jihadi youth. Audiences will surely find it easy to want fairness for a fine upstanding family man like Anwar El-Ibrahimi. But how easily will the desire to fight for justice for terrorists come to them? Without justice for terrorists, the film almost has the courage to say, there will be justice for no one.

Never Never Land

AFTER HAMAS was elected, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) attempted to cooperate with it. This led Israel to claim there was no one to talk to. After Hamas took over Gaza, however, Abbas officially dismissed its government and set up a Fatah version in the West Bank. Israel’s excuse had evaporated. Instead, PM Ehud Olmert and Abbas presented the new situation as a window of opportunity.

The window is fake. The mere possession of a common foe will not suffice to bring about the changes that would have to occur, and the bold steps that would have to be taken, in order for Olmert and Abbas to achieve sustainable peace.

At the initiative of US President George W. Bush, the two sides are slated to take part in an international conference on the Middle East. This is due to occur in Washington in November. According to Aluf Benn in Haaretz (September 12, 2007), the conference will provide the setting for a joint declaration by Olmert and Abbas, followed by supportive speeches from the other participants, as yet unknown. The Olmert-Abbas statement, to be formulated in advance, is supposed to serve as a basis for future negotiations.

t is a dangerous thing to hold a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Failure does not lead back to Square One. Failure underlines the gap between the sides, and across it leaps the spark of conflagration. That is what happened after the failure of Camp David in July 2000. The result was the Second Intifada.

We have little else to expect this time. The three main players—Bush, Olmert and Abbas—are all lame ducks, each in his way.

We start with Bush. His chief problem in the Arab arena is Saudi Arabia. Despite the historical alliance between the US and the Saudi monarchy, the interests of the two don’t always coincide. (At Camp David in July 2000, the Saudis and the Egyptians refused to endorse the emerging agreement, and without their support Yasser Arafat could not sign.) Saudi Arabia is not happy, to say the least, with American policy in the region. In its view, the war in Iraq was a big mistake: by overthrowing Saddam, Bush weakened the region’s Sunnis against Iran. On the Palestinian question, the Saudi position is very different from Jordan’s and Egypt’s. While these two blame Hamas alone for the Gaza coup, the Saudis believe that Fatah also bears responsibility. Saudi anger is directed at both for violating the Mecca Accord of February this year, which the Saudis initiated, hosted and mediated. It, they think, would have enabled the two sides to coexist in peace, and it could have been the lever of a united Arab position toward a political solution. If Saudi Arabia absents itself from the Washington conference, this will signal its refusal to join the effort to isolate Hamas. The Saudi absence will give Hamas legitimacy, undermining Western efforts against it.

That is one reason, no doubt, why Abbas visited Saudi Arabia on September 11. He told his hosts that his condition for a new agreement with Hamas is a return to the pre-coup situation and a reaffirmation of the Mecca Accord. The Hamas leaders are also courting the Saudis. They too want a reaffirmation of the agreement, but interpreted as they see fit.

he second lame duck at the conference in November will be Ehud Olmert. Legally he could run again: the lameness is de facto. Since the Lebanon War of 2006, his popularity has been stuck below 10%. The Winograd Committee investigating the war was expected to force his ouster, but its final report has been postponed. He is also the focus of corruption inquiries that could place him under indictment. So weak a leader cannot make peace. Any conceivable accord with the Palestinians will arouse fierce internal opposition, but Olmert lacks the kind of standing he would need in order to face it down. He is no Ariel Sharon.

It is said that Olmert has been talking with Abbas about a declaration of principles for a permanent solution. A number of hypothetical versions have been floating about, among them the idea that the Separation Barrier will form the boundary between the two states. In exchange for the lands that the fence has swallowed, the Palestinians will be compensated with Israeli lands—in the Negev perhaps, or in the form of a corridor linking the West Bank and Gaza. The settlements west of the fence will come under Israel’s sovereignty, while those that lie deep in Palestinian territory will be evacuated. The last is easily said, but it is hard to picture Olmert pulling kids off settlement rooftops today. The settlers of “Judea and Samaria,” as they call the West Bank, are a different breed from those of Gaza.

If Olmert were to try dismantling settlements, it is doubtful that his government could survive. Politically he depends on the right-of-center coalition he has built. Its 78 Knesset members (out of 120) include 12 from the ultra-orthodox Shas and 11 from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (“Israel Our Home”). Any agreement that Abbas might accept would almost certainly drive these 23 from the coalition, leaving 55. Olmert would then have to rely on the 5 Meretz seats and the 10 Arab. Ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, no Israeli PM wants to depend on Arab votes. Even disregarding his unpopularity, then—or his legal problems—Olmert would lack the political clout to push an agreement through. Beyond that, there is the question of whether he would want to. He voted, we recall, against Oslo.

For all these reasons, Olmert remains deliberately vague about possible Israeli concessions. He also knows that his partner is much too weak to carry out the Palestinian side of a future accord. Why then go to a conference? Here a new kind of political creativity comes into play: let’s make a “political horizon” or “shelf agreement,” which won’t go into effect until Abbas has gained a monopoly of force in the West Bank and Gaza. The credit for this pipe dream goes to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will chair the November conference, and Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Welcome to Never Never Land.

he third duck is Abbas. He has declared that he will not run again for the presidency, which makes him officially lame, but his problem lies deeper. Abbas continues to be Number 2 long after Number 1 is gone. Even Arafat, with his reputation and charisma, could maintain a semblance of Palestinian unity only by going with the flow. Such a task is far beyond Abbas.

At the moment, oddly, help for Abbas comes less from the West than from Hamas, which has recently succeeded in making itself hateful to a great many Palestinians. Before the coup, there were mosques in Gaza that were mainly attended by Hamas and others that were mainly attended by Fatah. The Hamas mosques had Hamas-inclined preachers (imams), and the Fatah mosques had Fatah-inclined ones. Toward the end of August, Hamas replaced the Fatah-inclined imams with others more to its liking. The Fatah members went to Friday noon prayers and heard diatribes against the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank. As a result, they decided to conduct their prayer meetings outdoors. In this they were backed by the Palestinian Left and secular organizations. Hamas has forbidden outdoor prayer, sending its forces to break up the assemblies with sticks and gunfire. The image of Muslims keeping Muslims from prayer is not endearing to Palestinians. The coalition of Fatah and its supporters called for a general strike on September 10. Although not complete, it made an impact.

The growing revulsion against Hamas, however, will not suffice to turn the tide for Abbas. If he doesn’t come back from the conference in November with concrete gains —which Olmert, we have seen, cannot afford to give him—he might well resign. He could attempt, of course, to make amends with Hamas, but this would again nullify him as a partner in American and Israeli eyes. The cards, in short, are stacked against Abbas whichever way he plays the game.

The cards, it would appear, are stacked against all. “I raise my eyes to the hills,” sang the Psalmist. “From where shall my help come?”

ot, certainly, from the fourth player, Hamas. This organization continues to behave without a realistic strategy. In taking over the Gaza Strip, both in the fact and in method, it acted recklessly. It permits its own militia, as well as the Islamic Jihad, to shoot Qassam rockets into Israel, thereby presenting itself as a power to be reckoned with. But Hamas sans Fatah has nowhere to go. In the unity government, as long as Hamas shackled Fatah to its charter, there was no political horizon—there could be no talk, for instance, of an international conference. But Fatah at least gave Hamas a much needed measure of legitimacy. Upon kicking Fatah out of Gaza, Hamas hamstrung itself. Its isolation has increased. The economic blockade has become hermetic. Even in the Arab world, there is growing disappointment. We may cite one instance among many, this from Abdullah Iskandar, writing on September 10 in the pro-Saudi Al-Hayat:

“Hamas has failed in the issue that is closest to its goals, i.e. attracting people to its ideology. It has probably become blind to anything but the force of its armed men in dealing with the many growing and complex problems it faces, which culminated in the boycott of its mosques by Palestinian factions and civil society institutions…

“When Hamas justifies its practices by speaking of Law, it only states an imagined law that rejects pluralism, coexistence and opposition; a law that stipulates the treatment of factions and parties as rogue bodies that should be persecuted. Some have even compared these practices with those of the Israeli occupier’s when Israel was still present in the Strip.

“Hamas has failed in politics, as it has failed in management and in dealing with people. It has failed in presenting a sound model of its Islamic project. The movement has lost its soul.”

From where then will help come? This much is certain as well: not from Never Never Land. Fourteen years ago at Oslo, the US and Israel ignored the wider picture, seeing in a weakened PLO a window of opportunity. The result of negotiating with the weak is a weak agreement. Now, once again, they reach for a broken reed.

Soon Israel will celebrate its sixtieth year. These have been sixty years of short-sighted bullying. Its lack of willingness to reach a territorial compromise—to pay the price that Arab recognition requires—leads the region each time into deeper strife. The failure of Oslo brought Hamas to power. Now Hamas has become a significant factor. The political arena has become more complicated and more dangerous. The price remains what it has always been.

Ref: Challenge Magazine by Roni Ben Efrat