Israel outraged at UN remarks urging end to Gaza blockade

Israel reacted angrily to comments made Tuesday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in which she called for an immediate end to its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which she said breached international and humanitarian law.

In a statement from her Geneva-based office, Pillay urged Israel to allow the flow of aid including food, medicines and fuel to resume, and to restore electricity and water services in the Hamas-controlled territory.

Pillay was also quoted as saying that 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months.

She also called for Israel to end airstrikes and incursions in Gaza, and for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamic group Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2006. It recently tightened the sanctions because of rocket fire at Israeli towns.

Pillay’s demands provoked an angry response from Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, who accused her of being utterly shortsighted and repeating blatant misinformation.

“Overall responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip lies with Hamas, which invests all of its resources in arms and terrorism instead of providing for the civilians that it brutally controls,” Aharon Leshno-Yaar said, adding that Palestinian groups had fired more 170 rockets and mortars at Israel during the past 10 days.

Leshno-Yaar also rejected Pillay’s claim that Israel has cut off essential supplies to Gaza.

“Electricity and water continue to flow from Israel to Gaza, and 33 trucks laden with supplies arrived in Gaza yesterday, with more waiting to enter as soon as Hamas ends its violent attacks,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel resealed border crossings with the Gaza Strip, citing continued rocket fire at its towns, despite warnings from world aid groups of looming shortages of food and fuel supplies in the coastal territory.

Israel had allowed supplies into Gaza for the first time in two weeks on Monday, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas he would not permit a humanitarian crisis to develop there.

“The crossings are shut because of ongoing rocket fire,” Peter Lerner, a defense spokesman said, referring to several barrages of rockets fired from Gaza on Monday that slammed into Israeli towns, causing no injury.

International aid groups said the supplies sent in on Monday were not enough to alleviate food shortages.

Israel has also held up fuel shipments to Gaza’s main power plant, leading to daily periodic electricity blackouts for many of 1.5 million Palestinians living in the territory.

Israel had not allowed UNRWA, a United Nations agency that aids some 750,000 refugees in Gaza, to bring in supplies since Nov. 4 during cross-border fighting in which more than a dozen Palestinian militants were killed.

Several Israelis have been lightly wounded by dozens of rockets fired by gunmen after the Israel Defense Forces raids.

Palestinians: IDF tanks roll into the southern Gaza Strip

IDF tanks forged into the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, drawing rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian militants, militant groups said, intensifying violence that has chipped away at a tenuous cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet. The June 19 truce is due to expire next month, and both sides might be trying to dictate more favorable terms in anticipation of the agreement’s renewal.

The tanks, backed by a bulldozer and military jeep, rumbled about a half a kilometer deep into the tiny seaside strip, residents and Gaza security officials said. Residents said they leveled lands along the border east of the city of Rafah. It was the first ground action in a week.

The IDF described the activity as a routine operation to uncover
explosive devices near the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.
It said two mortars were fired at troops, causing no injuries or damage.

The tanks did not respond to the Palestinian fire.

By the army’s count, militants have fired more than 140 rockets and mortars at Israel since the truce began unraveling.

At least 17 militants have been killed over the past two weeks, and Israel in an effort to squelch the rocket fire, has kept cargo crossings into Gaza clamped shut for the most part, drastically restricting vital supplies.

Both Israel and leaders of Gaza’s ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement have said they hoped the Egyptian-brokered truce could be preserved. But a small, Hamas-allied group said they consider the truce to have broken down, and Israel has threatened to hit hard if the rocket fire persists.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry accused Israel of subverting the truce.

“We call on the Palestinian factions to meet to begin an immediate re-evaluation of the calm,” spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said.

ReF: Haartez

Israel Re-brands Oppression

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There has been an ad on television recently, one featuring a young couple walking or drifting into a place of enchantment, a warm and colourful fantasy world, a kind of biblical Disneyland. Every step of their brief journey is met by people smiling warmly, moving slowly, even bowing, greeting them at each turn with Shalom!.

It is interesting that all the faces in the ad are the same kind of faces we might see in New York or London, except that here they are all bathed in glowing antique light. We see no harsh fundamentalist types cutting down someone else’s olive groves and cursing anyone, even other Jews, as interlopers. We certainly see no arrogant settlers, strutting around with machine guns, sneering at the camera.

The couple quick-cuts their way through pleasant scene after scene – images of ancient middle-eastern streets and buildings and finally a man watering a garden, back-lighted by sun so that each drop he sprays is seen like blessing making the desert bloom.

We see no check-points bristling with guns, no razor-wire, no concrete wall dwarfing Berlin’s fabled one. We see no Palestinians, indeed, no one resembling an Arab. We see no endless line-ups at check points with poor people waiting around for hours just to do the business of their lives or go to hospital. We hear no soldiers cursing and abusing them.

We see no images of the giant open-air prison that is Gaza nor the slow, inhumane siege that grips the place night and day, making it close to impossible for a million and a half souls to cloth themselves and eat and enjoy basic amenities. We certainly see no Hellfire missiles incinerating people as one did just the other day, murdering six without a hint of legality.

No, there’s the handsome young couple briefly, dreamily drifting through sunny fantasy, the woman with lovely, frizzled long red hair glowing in the sun.

That last image of the smiling man sprinkling a sun-filled patch of garden reminded me of another piece of film, an historical oddity recently brought to light.

The other film was similar in many respects despite being 70 years old and in black and white. It was done for similar purposes. It was made on the occasion of Germany’s upcoming Olympic Games in 1936, and the satanic genius of marketing, Joseph Goebbels, saw the need to reassure visitors about Germany’s treatment of the Jews.

You see, while the Holocaust was years away in 1936, and even the murders and burning and pillaging of Kristallnacht were yet two years away, there still had been a lot of ugly and brutal behavior towards Germany’s Jews, generating nasty press coverage abroad. The Nazis were concerned lest the “bad press” keep tourists away from what was planned as the most grandiose Olympics to date.

The old film offers a fantasy version of the Nazis’ treatment of German Jews. It shows a happy village of re-located Jews with people walking about and looking pleasant and doing pleasant things. In particular, there is a scene of Jews carrying huge watering cans, happily sprinkling large, lush gardens. Well, the film is inferior in quality to the 2008 film from Israel, three-quarters of a century later, but one could be excused for thinking that someone in Israel got his or her inspiration from Dr. Goebbels’ film.

But maybe not: like conditions tend to breed like ideas and actions, over and over again across nations and eras. History is regularly forgotten, its main stories re-staged with new directors and lists of characters, and rarely have I seen a more striking example than Israel’s current re-branding effort.

Now, a new ad has appeared, this one with visiting children going through a different sequence of glowing images. Gone is the woman with the red hair. A series of ads may always have been intended, but I couldn’t help thinking perhaps the ad with the beautiful red hair had been pulled because it reminded too many viewers of Rachel Corrie. She was a real visitor to Israel, a sweet-tempered, innocent young woman, and she had strawberry-blond hair, at least before she was rendered into pulp by an Israeli D-9 armored bulldozer, diverted momentarily in its work of smashing Arab homes.

That’s not the kind of image you want in your re-branding effort for sure.

Ref: Palestine Chronicle

-John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem

Bethlehem – Ma’an – Dozens of armored buses brought hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jewish worshippers to pray at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Tour buses lined the streets on the western side of the seperation wall, and roads were blocked off from Tantur to the Beit Jala (Gilo) checkpoint as hundreds of worshipers in black coats and hats gathered in the area.

The mass prayer gatherings were organized by the Mosdos Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb Institute) around the date believed to be the anniversary of Rachel’s death. The official date set by the group is 9 November, but worshipers overwhelmed the area on Saturday evening as well.

The Institute runs a Jewish religious school at the tomb, and funds a daily bullet-proof bus service that brings Jewish worshippers from Jerusalem to the tomb.

In 2003 the group lobbied the Israeli Supreme Court to have the route of the separation wall altered so that the site of Rachel’s Tomb was annexed to the western side of the wall. The petition was successful and the new route of the separation wall cut large swaths out of the Bethlehem municipal lands, ensuring Israelis access to the Tomb.

The biblical Rachel is revered as one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people, and Jewish tradition holds that she was buried by her husband Jacob in Bethlehem. The tomb is also a holy site for Muslims and Christians, and the location of the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque, which is now inaccessible to West Bank Palestinians.

Many of the area’s residents have moved to other parts of Bethlehem since Israel’s construction of the wall, and many buildings in the once vibrant neighborhood at the entrance to Bethlehem now stand empty.

Ten meter concrete walls surround Rachel’s Tomb on three sides. The walls are part of the separation wall constructed by Israel after the start of the second Indifadah. There are also sniper towers built into the wall at short intervals.

Groups such as the Rachel’s Tomb Institute and the Committee for Rachel’s Tomb, which do not recognize Palestinian claims to the site or the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a legitimate government, aim to establish a permanent, round-the-clock Jewish presence at the site to ensure that it remains under Israeli control in any future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

As the website of the Committee for Rachel’s Tomb explains, by maintaining a Jewish presence at the site, they aim to “put pressure on the Israeli government to maintain Jewish control over Rachel’s Tomb.”

Ref: Maan

World Bank: Palestinian economy could flourish if Israel eased restrictions

The Palestinian economy has “incredible potential” that could be unleashed if Israel eases restrictions on Palestinian movement, the area’s World Bank chief said Wednesday, a day after a high-level World Bank delegation inaugurated a sewage storage facility in a rare trip to Hamas-ruled Gaza.

It took three years, rather than the scheduled nine months, to build the treatment basins meant to drain a sewage lake in northern Gaza. The delays were caused by an Israeli border closure of the territory, along with frequent flare-ups of violence that have made it difficult to get construction materials into Gaza.

In a new round of fighting late Tuesday and Wednesday, Israeli forces killed six Hamas militants and Hamas unleashed a rocket barrage on Israeli border communities, jeopardizing a five-month-old cease-fire.
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Gaza has been largely cut off from the world since the Islamic militant Hamas seized control by force in June 2007. Much of the world has joined Israel’s boycott of Hamas, though international organizations have warned that the border closure causes severe hardship for Gaza’s 1.4 million residents.

Daniela Gressani, the World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, said the international community must not give up on Gaza.

“It is obviously very difficult to work under the current circumstances in Gaza. I don’t think there is an alternative to remaining engaged,” she told the Associated Press.

She said the bank would now push ahead with the second stage of the Gaza sewage project, a treatment plant. Untreated Gaza sewage is routinely pumped into the Mediterranean because the closure at times deprives Gaza of sufficient fuel to operate already overburdened treatment plants.

The delegation included senior officials of several World Bank branches, and the visit to the Palestinian territories was meant to give a boost to efforts to revive the Palestinian economy, participants said. The bank is trying to encourage investment, and on Wednesday signed a new agreement on political risk insurance.

A year ago, the international community pledged $7.7 billion (¤6 billion) in aid to the Palestinians, to be paid through 2010. The idea was to make Palestinians increasingly less dependent on aid, as the Palestinian private sector recovers from years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. However, this scenario has not become reality.

The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely because of the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel’s continued restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the West Bank.

Israel set up a network of roadblocks at the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, as a deterrent to Palestinian militants. The barriers have since become part of a complex closure regime that restricts Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank.

David Craig, head of the World Bank in the West Bank and Gaza, said the Palestinian economy is down 30 percent from 2000. He said it has “incredible potential,” comparing it to a coiled spring waiting to take off.

“What it really takes is for movement and access restrictions to be lightened up progressively, in some way that is compatible with Israel’s security so that this takeoff can occur,” he said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is doing what it can. “We have every interest in working with the Palestinians in helping to create a more healthy economic situation,” he said.

World Bank officials and Palestinian economists, meanwhile, said there is growing concern that donor countries will fall short of pledges in coming months because of the global financial crisis.

Gressani said she doesn’t expect a dramatic decline in aid to the Palestinians, but added that “I do expect it will be comparatively more difficult to get the funds mobilized, disbursed in time.”

Palestinian Planning Minister Samir Abdullah said that even if donors were to scale back, there was still a cushion because they had pledged more than the $5.6 billion the Palestinians originally requested. So far in 2008, donor countries paid $1.6 billion of support the Palestinian budget, and $150 million for development projects, in line with Palestinian needs, he said.

Abdullah said the bank’s programs will help spur the economy, along with an increase in construction, but that lifting restrictions is key. “Hopefully, we will convince the Israelis, by pressure and bringing multinational organizations here … to dismantle the closure regime that makes no sense after many months of improvement in the security situation,” he said.

Ref: Haaretz

THE RIGHT TO RETURN, A BASIC RIGHT STILL DENIED*

Palestinian refugees represent the longest suffering and largest refugee population in the world today.

• In 2005, there were approximately 7.2 million Palestinian refugees, equivalent to 74% of the entire Palestinian population which is estimated at 9.7 million worldwide.

• The breakdown of the refugee population is as follows:

During the creation of the Zionist state in 1948, approximately three quarters of a million Palestinians were forced to become refugees. Together with their descendants, more than 4.3 million of these refugees are today registered with the United Nations while over 1.7 million are not. According to The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), one-third of the registered refugees live in 59 U.N.-run camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip sections of Palestine. The majority of the rest live in and around cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and of neighboring countries.
Approximately 32,000 Palestinians also became internally displaced in the areas occupied in 1948. Today, these refugees number approximately 355,000 persons. Despite the fact that they were issued Israeli citizenship, the Zionist state has also denied these refugees their right to return to their homes or villages.
When the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, the U.N. reported that approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes. These 1967 refugees and their descendants today number about 834,000 persons.
As a result of home demolitions, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian owned-land, at least 57,000 Palestinians have become displaced in the occupied West Bank. This number includes 15,000 persons so far displaced by the construction of Israel’s Annexation/Apartheid Wall.
• The Right to Return has a solid legal basis:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 13 affirms: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [Article 5 (d)(ii)], states: “State parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination on all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of … the right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to one’s country.”
The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights [Article 12(4)], states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

Moreover, the Principle of Self Determination guarantees, inter alia, the right of ownership and domicile in one’s own country. The UN adopted this principle in 1947. In 1969 and thereafter, it was explicitly applied to the Palestinian People, including “the legality of the Peoples’ struggle for Self-Determination and Liberation”, (GAOR 2535 (xxiv), 2628 (xxv), 2672 (xxv), 2792 (xxvi)). International law demands that neither occupation nor sovereignty diminish the rights of ownership. When the Ottomans surrendered in 1920, Palestinian ownership of the land was maintained. The land and property of the refugees remains their own and they are entitled to return to it.

• In 1948, the international community felt a deep sense of responsibility for the mass dispossession, ethnic cleansing and the Zionist transfer policy that began then. United Nations Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, who was later assassinated by a Zionist terrorist hit squad, stated: “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine” (UN Doc Al 648, 1948). This remains true today as any Jew, regardless of national origin, can gain automatic citizenship while Palestinian Arabs are denied their right to return to their own homeland.

• Consistent with International Law, The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 on December 11, 1948. Paragraph 11 states: “the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”

• UN General Assembly Resolution 194 has been affirmed by the UN over 130 times since its introduction in 1948 with universal consensus except for Israel and the U.S. This resolution was further clarified by UN General Assembly Resolution 3236 which reaffirms in Subsection 2: “the inalienable right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.”

• Israel’s admission to the UN was conditional on its acceptance of UN resolutions including 194. Denying the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands is a war crime and an act of aggression which deserves action by the international community. The international community can apply sanctions on Israel until it complies with international law.

• The right of refugees to return is not only sacred and legal but also possible. Demographic studies show that 80% of Israelis live in 15 percent of the land and that the remaining 20% live on 85% of the land that belongs to the refugees. Further, of the 20%, 18% live in Palestinian cities while the remaining 2% live in kibbutzim and moshavs. By contrast, more than 6,000 refugees live per square kilometer in the Gaza Strip, while over the barbed wire their lands are practically empty. Ninety seven percent of the entire refugee population currently lives within 100 km of their homes. Fifty percent live within 40 km. While many live within sight of their homes.

• The inalienable rights of refugees are not negotiable. International law considers agreements between an occupier and the occupied to be null and void if they deprive civilians of recognized human rights including the rights to repatriation and restitution.

• The US is bound by its laws not to fund regimes that violate human rights and basic freedoms. There is no more elemental right than one’s right to his/her home and to live in his/her land. The US could use the leverage of the massive financial support it gives to the State of Israel to press for this right.

*Sources:

Ref: Al-Awada

Arab lawyer detained after refusing to remove pants during airport check

An Israeli Arab lawyer for the workers rights group Kav La’Oved was handcuffed and briefly detained by police this week when he refused to take his pants off during an airport security check. It was the second time in two months that local airport officials had asked Khalid Dukhi to remove his pants as part of a pre-flight security check.

Dukhi was flying from Tel Aviv to Eilat on Monday to provide legal assistance to Sudanese refugees working in hotels in the southern city when security officials at the Sde Dov airport asked him to remove his pants after a hand-held metal detector beeped when it was waved over them. When he said he would rather leave the airport, the officials called the police, who informed Dukhi he was under arrest, handcuffed him, and removed his pants to complete the search.

The authorities found no irregularities and released Dukhi, three hours after his flight was scheduled.

“We take a grave view of this incident, which contradicts promises made by the [Israel Airports] Authority and El Al to treat Arab citizens in an appropriate and humane manner,” said the Mossawa Israeli Arab advocacy center.

The airports authority said Dukhi was examined closely “in light of a specific alert that was revealed during the search,” and said the security officials called the police “to help them convince the passenger to be examined and refute the suspicion.” Authority officials said they did not know whether there had been a specific warning when Dukhi was searched the first time.

Police said Dukhi was released as soon as the search was completed. “Police got a call from the security officials in the Sde Dov airport, saying there was a man there who was refusing to be checked and was becoming unruly,” police said. “Patrol officers arrived at the scene and told the suspect that since he was refusing to be searched, he would have to be arrested. Since the suspect refused, the police officers arrested him, searched him, and when the search was completed, he was released on the spot.”

Ref: Haaretz

Defense Minister: Violent settlers must be punished

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday urged cabinet ministers to adopt a tougher stance on punishing West Bank settlers over violent acts against Palestinians.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Barak cited the unruly behavior of settlers who he said tended to take the law into their own hands, causing damage to Palestinian property.

The defense minister also stressed that settler attacks on Israel Police officers and Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed near settlements presented a danger to Israeli public service.

He said that of late, IDF officers have arrested a number of settler youth charged with disturbing peace.

Although the incidents have been recorded, Barak said, the offenders have rarely been brought to court or tried for their actions. Those who are brought before legal authorities are discussed with light penalties, Barak added.

Reiterating his assertion from last week’s cabinet meeting, the defense minister said that the government must create an environment in which legal authorities work together to put offenders behind bars.

He added that he has raised the issue of late with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, and asked of him to ensure that punishment be enforced accordingly in West Bank settlements.

Meanwhile, the body of a 19-year-old Palestinian shepherd was found with gunshot wounds late Saturday night near a West Bank village south of Nablus, in an attack Palestinians blamed on local settlers.

Ref: Haaretz