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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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Look Who's Missing from Washington

On Thursday President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed an arms control treaty hailed by the White House as a big step forward "to reset relations with Russia", as well as for the US president's broader nuclear agenda. The treaty, signed at a ceremony in a ballroom in Prague, reduces the number of strategic nuclear warheads each side can deploy to 1,550, along with cuts in launchers and new verification procedures.

"This day demonstrates the determination of the US and Russia - the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons - to pursue responsible global leadership," President Obama said.

But let's not kid ourselves and celebrate, there will be enough nuclear firepower left on each side to devastate the world many times over.

"Nuclear weapons are not simply an issue for the United States and Russia," Mr. Obama continued to say. "A nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is a danger to people everywhere, from Moscow to New York, from the cities of Europe to South Asia."

In other words, with the more immediate concern being attempts by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to acquire nuclear weapons, the remaining 10 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal becomes a significant concern. Significant in that it is in the hands of countries half of which are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as India, Pakistan North Korea, and Israel.

This upcoming Monday and Tuesday, President Obama will also meet with leaders of more than 40 countries with the expectation of issuing a joint statement on the challenges and importance of nuclear security. He hopes to bring everyone to agree on a common "work plan" for cracking down on the illicit trade of nuclear material. Of course we know that Iran, which will be absent from the summit, will top the agenda.

But it's not only Ahmadinejad who will be missed at the summit on nuclear security; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled his visit to the US.

According to Israeli media sources, PM Netanyahu made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal. "Presumed" that is because Israel has never confirmed or denied that it possesses atomic weapons.

"The prime minister has decided to cancel his trip to Washington to attend the nuclear conference next week, after learning that some countries including Egypt and Turkey plan to say Israel must sign the NPT", Reuters news agency quoted a senior Israeli official as saying. Israel's Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor will take Netanyahu's place in the nuclear summit.

Mr. Netanyahu's cancelled visit to Washington comes at a time when relations between Israel and the US have hit rock bottom.

One hundred and eighty-nine countries, including all Arab states, are party to the NPT. Only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not.

In late March, during a closed-door session, the Arab League called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and a review of the 1970 NPT in order to create a definitive plan for eliminating nuclear weapons. They also called on the UN to declare the Middle East as a nuclear-weapons-free region.

Interestingly enough, the similarities between Iran's and Israel's desire for nuclear dominance can be seen in Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claim that Iran is developing its nuclear program for "peaceful purposes." That assertion brings to mind David Ben-Gurion's own statement in December of 1960. When U-2 spy planes identified Dimona as an Israeli nuclear site, Ben-Gurion claimed that it was only a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."

 

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Call it "Elections in Sudan"

The Iraqi elections are over but failed to produce a clear winner. While former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi narrowly finished first in the poll, it might take weeks before we find out if he'll be able to build the coalition needed to achieve the magic number of 163 seats in the Iraqi Parliament in order to form a government. But there is another election soon to take place in Sudan, and let me start by predicting the results: current President Omar el-Bashir will be elected for another term.

Opposition parties from the south have been calling for a delay of the elections, the first multiparty ones to be held since 1986, and threatening a boycott due to concerns over security and possible rigging. However, al-Bashir -- who is running for office again despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur -- has been campaigning all over the country and insisting the elections be held as scheduled.

 

At a recent rally held at Damazin in the Blue Nile state, al-Bashir lashed out

at a coalition of opposition parties who have been calling for a temporary delay of the elections.

"Holding elections in Sudan is a national obligation that should be fulfilled... we don't have options in this respect. If they took the right to oppose the elections, we do have the same right to reject the referendum in the south."

Al-Bashir also threatened to kick out election monitors, and cancel a referendum on independence for the south should opposition parties boycott April 11-13 elections.

Meanwhile, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) announced on Wednesday that its candidate, Yasir Arman, would boycott the April poll because of electoral irregularities and the continuing conflict in the country's western Darfur region. A concern echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Conditions in Sudan are not yet conducive for a free, fair and credible election," Georgette Gagnon, HRW's Africa director, said last week. "Unless there is a dramatic improvement in the situation, it's unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote freely for leaders of their choice."

According to HRW, the problems in Darfur and repression of political opponents are major obstacles to a free and fair vote.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group accused the government in Khartoum of using flawed census figures to draft unfair election laws and skew electoral districts in favor of the ruling National Congress Party. Also, the U.S.-based Carter Center, which has been allowed to observe the process, has suggested that Sudan postpone the vote to ensure that it can be properly administered by the National Election Commission.

Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest rebel group in Sudan's western Darfur region, also joined the call on for a delay of the elections.

"These elections are based mainly on false senses, especially in Darfur. Masses of populations ... will be excluded from the elections," He continued to describe the elections as a "theatrical act" on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.

But al-Bashir remains unfazed. He has been campaigning diligently, appearing in different regions wearing different costumes. Last year he defied the International Criminal Court which issued an arrest warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Darfur. In a few days, he'll parade victorious in Khartoum; just another scene, from another act.

 

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Iraq: Elections But No Stability

With close to 90% of the votes tallied in Iraq's parliamentary elections, the coalition headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken a slim lead over the bloc led by his main challenger, Iyad Allawi. A day ago, it was the latter.

Since March 7, Iraqis have been glued to their television screens looking for clues for the direction their seven-year-war ravaged country might be heading in the next few years. Similarly, residents in neighboring countries have been closely monitoring the Iraqi elections through the many satellite television networks operating in the region. After all, elections are not a daily happening in the Arab world, and a number of those countries, such as Jordan and Syria, permitted Iraqi refugees to cast votes in their territories.

 

Meanwhile, one does not have to spend a lot of time watching Iran's Arabic-speaking Al Alam TV or the Saudi-financed Al Arabia TV in order to figure out who are the regional stake holders in the Iraqi elections. At times the Iraqi elections seem to take the shape of a battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as both countries have been overtly and covertly supporting the two heavyweight contenders. Iran supports Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while Saudi Arabia has been rooting for former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Both al-Maliki and Allawi are Shiites, so why does Saudi Arabia want Allawi to win?

Al-Maliki's "cozying up" to Iran has been alarming many Arab countries. The Iraqi Prime Minister, whose Dawa Party is backed by Iran, has been flashing the sectarian card during his election campaign. With more than 500 candidates accused of links with the Ba'ath Party banned from running in the March elections, Al-Maliki's government has been accused of using the hated former regime to intimidate Sunnis in particular and opposition in general.

Iyad Allawi, although a Shiite, leads the al-Iraqiyya list, which proposes a secular agenda for the country. Many of its leading members are Sunnis or Arab nationalists who share the goal of bringing Iraq back to its Arab roots. Allawi's campaign ads have been airing on several Arab television stations, some say courtesy of Saudi Arabia.

But does this really matter to the average Iraqi citizen?

Not according to Kazem al-Dari, an Iraqi social scientist.

"What we need is stability," he says. "We've had elections before, we've tried Allawi before and now al-Maliki. Neither one brought stability and security to Iraq."

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. In 2003, the architects of the war envisioned that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would lead to the birth of a democratic Iraq. They told us that elections in Iraq would help spread democracy and liberalism across the Middle East, but this could not have been further from the truth.

The Middle East is more chaotic than ever, and the vast majority of its citizens are leaning politically towards Islamic theocracy and not liberal democracy. Iraqis are still searching for stability.

 

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Mossad's Little Helpers

Not much has been left to the imagination in the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19. The entire operation has unfolded on closed circuit television cameras in front of millions of viewers across the globe, just like an episode from a reality show. Pictures of the perpetrators, all 27 of them, have been plastered all over the web. Dubai Police Chief Dhahi Khalfan Tamim has on more than one occasion declared to the media that he was all but 100% certain that the hit on al-Mabhouh had all the markings of the Mossad on it. He recently said that his men had obtained the DNA of part of the members of the hit squad and vowed to resign from his post if this claim proves to be false.

"I challenge Israel to bring the suspects there in order to undergo a DNA test and compare them with the samples we have," he said in an interview to the UAE-based al-Khaleej newspaper.

"If it turns out that the results do not match, I will resign. You can lie about anything, but not about DNA," he added.

The Bayonet

The assassination of al-Mabhouh has thrown an unwanted spotlight on the workings of Mossad and its specially trained assassination team, known as a kidon, the Hebrew word for bayonet, something that the Israeli government had not bargained for when the approval to conduct such an operation came directly from the top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Incidentally, it was also during Mr. Netanyahu's first term as prime minister in 1997 when a kidon unit of the Mossad bungled the attempted assassination of Khalid Mish'al, the current leader of Hamas, in the streets of Amman in Jordan by injecting a mysterious poison into his ear.

The Helpers

The use of forged European passports by Mossad agents entering Dubai to assassinate al-Mabhouh has kicked up a diplomatic storm in recent days. The EU issued a strong condemnation of the stolen IDs, indirectly criticizing Israel. Israeli ambassadors in Britain, Ireland, France, Australia and Germany have been called in to discuss the issue, and Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been given an earful by many of his counterparts. But were the Israeli dual nationals whose foreign passports were allegedly forged unaware that their identities were stolen by the Mossad? Or were they acting as sayanim, the Hebrew word for helpers, whom the Mossad relies on across the globe to provide shelter, money, and logistical support... in this case identity. A sayan, singular for sayanim, must be 100% Jewish, and in many cases a dual national.

The CIA

Also, why was not a single agent out of the 27 identified to be holders of foreign passports a US passport holder?

Israel has a large number of dual-national Jewish-Americans living in the country, many of whom serve in the Israeli military and various government related jobs. Was this deliberate so as not to draw the wrath of the United States? Or was it simply that this operation was coordinated with the CIA?

The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and numerous foreign press outlets have reported that two men linked to the assassination of al-Mabhouh entered the U.S. on specific dates after the killing. According to the reports, someone using an Irish passport with the name Evan Dennings entered the U.S. on Jan. 21, and someone using a British passport with the name Roy Allan Cannon entered the U.S. on Feb. 14.

A sayan in the US?

According to Dubai's Chief of Police, the MasterCards used by some of the assassins were branded by US-based Meta Bank, but issued by another small company called Payoneer. The company specializes in prepaid debit cards that can be used as credit card alternatives for online shoppers. Payoneer, which is registered in the US, has most of its employees based in Petah Tikva, Israel and is headed by Yuval Tal, who in a 2006 Fox News interview was identified as a former member of the Israeli Special Forces. Is there a relationship between Mr. Tal and the Mossad?

Many of these questions can be easily answered by the US government, but then again the term sayan has a much broader meaning when it comes to Israel and the United States.

 

Article first published on the Huffington Post

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