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Deporting Gandhi from Palestine

The Israeli government's recent announcement of Army order No. 1,650 was just the latest act of provocation in a series of calculated measures to derail any possible resumption of peace negotiations. Under this new draconian measure, anyone who doesn't have a "permit" to be in the West Bank is to be considered an "infiltrator" and subject to expulsion or risk up to seven years in jail.

Expulsions and deportations are not something new for the Israeli military administrative system which was established in 1969, shortly after the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War. At the time, the Israeli military was given the legal power to expel "infiltrators" without trial for various unspecified "security reasons."

Two particular Palestinian communities will be impacted by order No. 1,650: Palestinians with Gaza residencies and Palestinians with East Jerusalem residencies, as well as foreign-born residents of the West Bank. But many Palestinian and Israeli experts believe that it's the foreigners living amongst Palestinians who are the real target of the Netanyahu government. Many believe that this is part of an ongoing Israeli effort to silence dissent and crack down on international solidarity members and activists who travel to Palestinian areas to support protests and rallies, often bringing with them the eyes of the outside world.

Now that Israel has almost completed its "Separation Wall", it wants to build a "Wall of Silence" and control the flow of information and limit the presence of foreign-born eyewitnesses on the ground. The question is, why now?

 

A "White Intifada" has begun to take hold in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Every Thursday and Friday, Palestinian peace activists, accompanied by members of the Israeli Peace Now movement, as well as international supporters, gather to demonstrate against what they term as Israel's "Apartheid Wall" and land and home confiscations in the villages of Bil'in, Naalin, and the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Volunteers from B'Tselem( the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), document by video suspected violations of human rights by members of the security forces during those protests.

Two months ago, I witnessed a Friday demonstration in Sheikh Jarah where settlers tried to provoke peaceful demonstrators by harassing and spitting on them while Israeli Police and border patrol units watched from across the street. I was impressed by the demonstrators' calm and unfazed demeanor. Similarly, at the villages of Bil'in and Naalin, peaceful demonstrators have been brutally beaten and arrested by the Israeli army. Nevertheless, more keep coming back every week.

In February a Czech volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement was taken in the night from her house in Ramallah and deported by Israeli forces. This new order will give a blanket legal cover to the Israeli police and army to instantly deport foreign activists and aid workers spotted at demonstrations. Last December, at another demonstration I covered at Erez (Gaza-Israel Crossing), Israeli police did not engage the peaceful demonstrators who gathered calling for an end of the siege on Gaza. Instead, policemen were busy videotaping those who showed up, especially foreign nationals. Interestingly enough my Israeli Press Card was indefinitely delayed for renewal after my coverage of that story, but that's another subject on its own.

For years I've been hearing the popular question usually posed by Americans, "Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?"

During the past two trips that I've made to the Palestinian territories and Israel, I think that I discovered him/her in the eyes of the many peaceful demonstrators against the Israeli occupation. Nonviolent resistance could be the biggest threat to Israel's ability to justify it's continued military aggression and occupation of Palestinian lands. Order No. 1,650 is to neutralize the movement by deporting Gandhi.

 

Article first published on the Huffington Post
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Israel: Occupation or Apartheid?

The dreaded "A-Word" has once again made its way into Israeli media, not by a leftist "self-hating Jew", but by a prominent Israeli politician, the Minister of Defense, who is a decorated soldier and a former prime minister as well. "A" is for Apartheid.

 

An awful word that evokes awful memories, presumably left behind in the annals of history in places such as Soweto and Cape Town. A word that has invited rage, insults, and attacks against a former US president who received a Nobel Peace Prize.

 

This past Tuesday, however, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that if Israel does not achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians, it will have to become a binational state or be an undemocratic apartheid one if it remains as it is.

 

"The simple truth is, if there is one state" including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, "it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. ... if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state," Barak said at the Herzliya Conference north of Tel Aviv.

 

Though rarely used by Israeli leaders in connection to the Palestinians, the term "apartheid" is becoming more common to describe the current reality on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

 

More than two years ago, on the anniversary of the 1947 UN partition plan that would have divided British mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of this same scenario. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Ehud Olmert said Israel was "finished" if it forced the Palestinians into a struggle for equal rights.

 

If the two-state solution collapsed, he said, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished".

 

But veteran Israeli journalist David Michaelis believes that a South African-style apartheid system has already emerged due to Israel's prolonged occupation of Palestinian territories.

 

"What Ehud Barak intended to do is to send a stark warning that Israel is heading towards a binational situation; however, we are already in a binational situation, and an apartheid system that's working very well for the Israeli military and government."

 

Five years ago David Michaelis and I jointly interviewed Palestinians and Israelis about the prospect of a binational state. Most Palestinians we spoke to then were thinking of independence and most Israelis were thinking of separation. At the time, the Israeli government was frantically building the Separation Wall, and only a handful of Israelis entertained the idea of binational coexistence. One such person we interviewed who predicted what Ehud Barak is currently cautioning of was Meron Benvenisti, a former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem.

 

Benvenisti has recently published an elaborate article in Ha'aretz chronicling how Israel became a de facto binational regime.

 

"The attempt to mark the settlements, and the settlers, as the major impediment to peace is a convenient alibi, obfuscating the involvement of the entire Israeli body politic in maintaining and expanding the regime of coercion and discrimination in the occupied territories, and benefiting from it," he argued.

 

According to him, the violent events of the (second) intifada brought the Jewish-Israeli public to a crossroads in relation to their neighbors-enemies. Benvenisti argues that Israeli-Jews turned their backs on the Palestinians, erasing them from their consciousness and imprisoning them behind impenetrable walls, and became willing to congregate in a ghetto and pray that the Mediterranean might dry up or a bridge be built to connect them with Europe.

"This mentality is manifested in two, recently constructed, architectural monuments whose symbolism transcends their functional value: The gigantic Separation Wall and the colossal Ben Gurion air terminal. The former is meant to hide the Palestinians and erase them from Israeli consciousness and the latter serves as an escape gateway."

David Michaelis concurs and believes that most Israelis prefer to live in denial and avoid the subject of apartheid.

 

"The peace process is a misnomer, and the word occupation is misleading because it's really about systematic control."

 

How long can Israelis live in this denial and pretend that apartheid-like conditions do not exist?

 

Well you've heard the expression, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..."

 

Article first published on the Huffington Post

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Gaza: Forsaken but Not Forgotten

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Border- They came in buses and cars from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Galilee: Palestinians, Israelis, and few international activists. They waved Palestinian flags and carried banners chanting in Arabic and Hebrew: "Break the Siege," "Set Gaza Free," and "Down with Netanyahu and Mubarak."

"Welcome to Erez Crossing Point," the sign reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The ultimate irony, as no one is allowed to cross in or out except for a lucky few, such as diplomats and aid workers, or the unlucky ones who suffer from terminal illnesses. The rest of the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants remain caged in like animals in the largest open air prison on earth, called Gaza.

Eighty-six international activists were allowed to enter the Strip last night from Egypt through Rafah. We were told that they too, accompanied by hundreds of Gazans, were chanting and waving on the other side of the border, but we could not see or hear them. Between them and us were a few hundred meters, a wall, a steel gate, and armed Israeli soldiers.

More than a thousand activists from around 40 countries remained in Cairo after the Egyptian government declined them entry due to the "sensitive situation" in the Palestinian territory. When was it not a "sensitive situation" in Palestine?

Several of their members were forcibly detained in hotels around Cairo, as well as violently forced into pens in Tahrir Square by Egyptian police and security forces.

The scene in Erez was like something from a movie set: chanters to the left of the gate, reporters to the right, and the Israeli Police and Border Patrol in the middle. There were no scuffles or confrontations, except for an argument between a Palestinian from Jaffa and Bedouin manning the "Free Gilad Shalit" tent.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" yells the Palestinian, who called him a "house Arab." A shouting match ensues, and the reporters, along with their cameramen shove and elbow their way to capture the scene.

Last year, I covered the war from the same vantage point. Journalists were prevented entry into Gaza by the Israeli military. I returned that evening to East Jerusalem where Palestinians huddled around television screens to watch the carnage in Gaza. On New Years Day, I awoke with a news hangover. Israeli jets were pounding Gaza for the sixth continuous day, and the Israeli military was building up its forces along the border in preparation for a ground incursion. I can still hear the sound of the jets screeching above.

The prison gate opens momentarily, and an old Palestinian man is being pushed on a wheelchair past the border guards for treatment at al-Makased Hospital in East Jerusalem. I ask before the pack of reporters attack him, "Hajj, how is Gaza?"

"It's like hell," he answers.

 

Originally published on the Huffington Post

 
 

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Palestine 1001 Nights

"Hamas is negotiating with Israel": this is what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas confidently said to a BBC-Arabic reporter in an exclusive interview. How does he know? Abbas asserted that there are "no secrets in Israel."

If things could only be this simple in the Middle East, Mr. Abbas would have known from the get-go that the Oslo Accords were a disaster for the Palestinians, Bush's Road Map for Peace was just another road to nowhere, the Annapolis Peace Conference was dead on arrival, and Obama's promises for "change" do not mean squat when it comes to Israel.

The president of the Palestinian Authority added that the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January will be postponed and that he would not seek a second term as president. Abbas looked frustrated...he looked like a beaten man.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government in recent days has been scrambling for yet another distraction to offer the beleaguered Palestinian Authority president: an interim accord that would include a Palestinian state with provisional borders. This way he'll have a quasi-state with temporary borders to show for all the endless negotiations. What a brilliant idea!

The reasoning behind this brilliant idea is that it would remove contentious issues that have prevented an agreement in the past, such as the Palestinian refugee issue and Jerusalem, from the negotiating table. No big deal, really!

This is starting to sound like another chapter from One Thousand and One Nights.

In another development, the Israeli government has recently approved the construction of 900 new housing units in Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood built on lands captured by Israel in 1967. The announcement has caused an uproar in the international community and has drawn sharp criticism and "dismay" from the White House.

And yet another brilliant idea: according to the Jerusalem Post, in an attempt to lure the PA back to the negotiating table, in private discussions, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear he was prepared for a moratorium on new settlement construction, as long as it did not include Jerusalem and did not preclude construction of public buildings needed for normal life in the settlements.

Translated, this means construction will continue as usual in E. Jerusalem along with expanding current Israeli settlements.

Meanwhile, with all this happening, media reports have been surfacing that a final deal has been reached for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Some Arab media outlets have been reporting that Shalit might be released as early as the Muslim Eid holiday in exchange for 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Should this happen, it will be a major victory for Hamas and another blow to Abbas.

Last month Hamas handed Israel a video of Shalit in exchange for 20 female Palestinian prisoners, something that was widely seen as a major victory for the organization by many Palestinians.

According to a poll published in Haaretz, 57 percent of Israelis support the idea of talking with Hamas. The poll was taken in the wake of a statement by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who last week unveiled a plan that includes negotiations with Hamas and an interim Palestinian state on 60 percent of the West Bank in a year.

"If Hamas would be elected and would want to negotiate and accept the Quartet's conditions, from that moment, it is no longer Hamas," said Mr. Mofaz. He also added: "Responsible leadership in Israel would sit with those who changed their agenda."

So if Hamas is no longer Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority is no longer an authority, what options do the Palestinians have?

To be continued on another night...

 

**This article was published on the Huffington Post

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Israel-Turkey: No TV Drama

It's amazing what a little controversy can do to the ratings of a mediocre television show: it drives them up through the roof. And that's exactly what happened to what used to be a "barely-watched" Turkish drama series called Ayrilik: a love story that develops between the lead characters during Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" on the Gaza Strip. The show, which airs on Turkey's state-owned TRT television, depicts Israeli soldiers murdering innocent Palestinian civilians. One particular segment showed images of Israeli soldiers shooting a smiling young girl in the chest, steamrolling a tank through a crowded street and lining up a firing squad to shoot at a group of Palestinians.

 

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Ayrilik's producer owes some gratitude and thanks to Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has recently complained to the Turkish government over its airing when he said on Wednesday that, "broadcasting this series is incitement of the most severe kind, and it is done under government sponsorship." Since then the show has been making headlines in both Turkish and global media, drawing more audience to TRT television and curiosity-seekers to YouTube to watch clips of the show.

This is not the first time a Turkish drama has caused a buzz in the Middle East. Last year a cheesy series called Noor (light) became a phenomenon when it captured an audience of 85 million viewers when it aired its last episode. The show's popularity increased when some Muslim Imams accused it of violating Islamic values and the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa against watching it.

The saga between Israel and Turkey is not about a television drama, although in reality it has unfolded like one ever since the rise of the Justice and Development Party in 2002. Turkey's ties with Israel have been deteriorating rapidly since Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter, which left hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead. However, tensions between the two allies hit a peak after Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stormed out of a conference during the Davos summit this year where he confronted Israel's President Shimon Peres over the Palestinian civilian casualties during its offensive on Gaza. Wagging his finger at Peres, an emotional Erdogan accused him of "murdering children on beaches" -- an outburst that made Erdogan a hero in the Arab world.

Adding more fuel to the fire, Turkey has recently banned Israel from an international air exercise in protest against its actions in Gaza, then announced that it will hold military exercises with its nemesis Syria. The announcement came after officials from Ankara and Damascus held the first meeting of a new co-operation council in the Syrian city of Aleppo aimed at ending years of tension between the two neighbors.

For decades Turkey has been looking to the West. It has been eager to please the United States, Europe, and NATO. It has been obsessed with membership to the EU, though snubbed thus far. What's more interesting is the fact that the Turkish military, which usually determines the country's strategic path, even when it goes against the will of the people, is keeping mum about the political decision which could signal a major shift in Turkey's future alliances.

For decades, Turkey has been Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world. It was the second Muslim majority country (after Iran) to recognize the State of Israel. The Islamic Revolution ended Iran's ties with Israel, and although Turkey's ties with Israel will not be severed, they have been permanently damaged.

 

Article first published in the Huffington Post.

 
 

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