Thursday, May 26, 2011

Netanyahu Misled US Congress about European Observers at Rafah Crossing

If Israel wants a say in passage via Rafah, it should permit passage between Gaza and the West Bank, writes Gisha director, Sarah Bashi, in today's guest post about Gaza's southern border being opened by Egypt through post-Mubarak legislation. Gisha is an Israeli NGO, an acronym which stands for Center for Freedom of Movement.

Gisha welcomes the announcement that Egypt will expand the ability of Gaza residents to travel abroad via Rafah Crossing, which has become Gaza's gateway to the world, in light of Israel's closure of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and restrictions on travel via Erez Crossing. Gisha notes the need also to permit passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, recognized by Israel as a single territorial unit whose integrity is the basis for a two-state solution.

Since the capture of an Israeli soldier in June 2006, Israel has vetoed the implementation of the U.S.-brokered 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which gave Israel security supervision over Rafah Crossing in exchange for a commitment to permit access between Gaza and the West Bank. If Israel wants a say concerning passage via Rafah, it should implement its commitment to allow Palestinians to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

The Egyptian commitment concerning Rafah includes longer operating hours, no numerical limit on passengers, and visa-free travel, except for men aged 18-40. Crossing for Palestinians is expected to continue to be limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry. The expansion does not appear to include passage of goods, which are restricted to the Israeli-controlled crossings and subject to prohibitions on construction materials and export.

Background – Netanyahu Mislead Congress.

Since Israel closed Gaza's airspace and territorial waters and all but closed Erez Crossing to Palestinians, Rafah Crossing has become the gateway to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinian residents of Gaza. Crossing via Erez (on the border between Gaza and Israel) is limited to "extraordinary humanitarian cases, especially urgent medical cases", preventing Palestinians from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.

Rafah Crossing was operated according to the U.S.-brokered Agreement on Movement and Access until June 2006, when Israel announced its suspension following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment before the U.S. Congress that in Rafah, "the European observers evaporated overnight" failed to note that the "evaporation" was ordered by Israel, which refused to allow the EU border mission observers to reach their post and has objected to the implementation of the agreement ever since. The EU observers have been waiting in their hotel in Ashkelon for the last five years, waiting for Israeli permission to return to Rafah.

Rafah remained mostly closed from June 2006 to June 2010, when Egypt opened it in the wake of the flotilla incident for limited categories including holders of foreign passports or visas and those seeking medical attention in Egypt. Between June 2010 and January 2011, 19,000 people per month on average crossed Rafah in both directions, 47% of the number of people who crossed monthly in the first half of 2006. Crossing for Palestinians is limited to those listed in the Israeli-controlled population registry.
(Many files were destroyed in aerial assaults during Operation Cast Lead.)Since the 2005 "disengagement", goods have not been permitted to pass via Rafah, except for humanitarian assistance which Egypt occasionally permits through Rafah.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Behold- Facts on the Ground

The BBC covers the latest diplomatic kerfuffle between Barack (no, the American one!) and Bibi here. Hat tip to the Beeb for the current West Bank map, which unfortunately does not show how one could make a passageway or linked border to Gaza. Any suggestions? And is it fair for all the security buffer zones to extend into non-Israeli land? Friendly neighbours should split the difference and have a DMZ of shared land.I'd like to see a West Bank map with precise borders. Here's an excerpt from the Beeb's piece:

Bibi Netanyahu: "While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible.

"They do not take into account certain demographic changes on the ground that have taken place over the last 44 years."

Netanyahu insisted he valued Mr Obama's efforts, saying: "Israel wants peace, I want peace."

Giza recaps the problems of access for Gazans in their latest release, called "Gaza Reels". Hat tip to Nitin Sawhney for the link.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tel Aviv Pole-sitter Challenges Blaine

The latest high profile endurance stunt in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square is not overly ambitious, given a historic view. True, Israeli illusionist Hezi Dean wants to outdo Brooklyn's Trump-financed endurance artist, David Blaine, and be hailed as a Hebrew Houdini. So Hezi Dean was cranked up on a 27 meter high tower in Tel Aviv yesterday morning and aims to remain there with no food until Thursday evening, for a total of 35 hours. He plans to jump off into a stack of cardboard boxes to break his fall.


The feats of an ascetic Syrian Christian saint, Symeon the Stylite the Elder, were far more impressive! Symeon lived and prayed for 37 YEARS - not hours- on a small platform perched atop a 15 meter high pillar near Aleppo--way back in the third century. Shepherd boys sometimes scrambled up with hunks of bread,cheese,and sips of water. And Symeon, a true pillar of his community, inspired many imitators to sit on a pedestal too. He still holds the Guinness World Record for longest pole sit. For Blaine and Dean, he's a tough act to follow.

Tensions between US Words and Actions in Obama's MidEast Policy Speech

President Barack Obama's Middle East policy speech today has been dissected before it's been digested. Such is the 24 hour news cycle. Today's guest post from FireDogLake highlights the focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially interesting because Bibi is there in the wings.

Obama stated clearly that the United States will reject the planned proposal for Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. [Here's the relevant outtake from the speech]:

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist. 
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. 
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

This is an explicit endorsement of the 1967 borders, and it does tell Israel that they basically won’t have a Jewish state if they stick to intransigence. But the rejection of the UN General Assembly vote seems to me a missed opportunity to increase that pressure. A unified Palestinian state has little negotiating power other than international acceptance. They’ve been brutalized under occupation (and Obama used that word, too) for 44 years, and basic dignity demands that they seek a solution in an international venue if one cannot come from negotiation. The intention is not solely to embarrass the opposition, but to uplift themselves.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Israeli preschool lesson: Who wants to kill us?

It’s nice to think Israel’s hard-won self-determination ensured Jewish children can grow up without fear and xenophobia.

Yeah, right.

Here is a photo taken this week at a preschool in the Tel-Aviv satellite city of Holon:

Translation, from the top:

“Who wants to kill us?

Pharaoh | Greeks | Haman | Nazis | Arabs

↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

What do we need?


Do note that all Arabs (national group) and Greeks (in reference to assimilationist policies of the Seleucid empire) are equated to Nazis (murderous ideology). And of course, Pharaoh and Haman, the semi-mythological baddies of yore, to drive home to children under six years of age that persecution of us Jews is eternal.

Happy Independence Day.

Hat tip to +972 and journalist Dimi Reider for this guest post. Indoctrination for the nation through introductory xenophobia!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Holocaust survivor Epstein disses AIPAC

The unsinkable Hedy Epstein, pictured above on an aid flotilla to Gaza, is a survivor.

I fear AIPAC’s ability to move US policy in dangerous directions. AIPAC does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people. It helps to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war and this year will be no different from last year as it keeps up a steady drumbeat calling for war against Iran, writes Hedy Epstein

AIPAC pretends to speak for all Jews, but it certainly does not speak for me or other members of the Jewish community in this country who are committed to equal rights for all and are aware that American interventionism is likely to bring further disaster and chaos to the Middle East.

Israel, of course, would not be able to carry out its war crimes against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza without the United States — and our $3 billion in military aid — permitting it to do so. At 86 years old, I use every ounce of my energy to educate the American public about the need to stop supporting the abuses committed by the Israeli government and military against the Palestinian people. Sometimes there are people who try to shout me down and scream that I am a self-hating Jew, but most of the time the audience is receptive to hear from someone who survived the Holocaust and now works to free the Palestinians from Israeli oppression.

The vicious discrimination brought to bear against Palestinians in the occupied territories deserves no applause from members of Congress attending the AIPAC conference. Instead, they should raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories.

Hedy Epstein is a Holocaust survivor, who writes and travels extensively to speak about social justice causes and Middle Eastern affairs. She will be participating in Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington, DC from 21-24 May 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East (