Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Off the wall: Israeli security barrier rerouted

Israeli authorities have agreed to dismantle and reroute part of the separation barrier near Qalqilya. But will they follow through? BBC reports:

Israel's defense ministry has said it will dismantle a section of the West Bank barrier, improving Palestinians' access to some of their farm land.

The Israeli supreme court ruled in 2006 that the route should be altered, but no alternative path was agreed.

But farmers in Jayyus village say the new proposed route is a "disaster" and still cuts off much of their land.

Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent attacks from the West Bank, but critics see its route as a land grab.

The defence ministry said on Monday it had told the Supreme Court it would revise the route in the area, near the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya.

In its 2006 ruling, the court criticised the government for taking into consideration expansion plans for the nearby Jewish settlement of Tzufin, rather than just security concerns, in determining the barrier's route.

According to the Council for Peace and Security, an Israeli security think tank that proposed an alternative route similar to the revised route, the cost of dismantling the existing section will be US $14.5m.

It said the defence ministry had previously resisted the proposed changes, citing "inferior" security provision among its reasons.

Correspondents say that while the government's decision to heed the court's ruling is significant, there is no indication that actual work to re-route the barrier is imminent.

Sharif Omar, a farmer from Jayyus village, told the BBC News Website said that the new route would return about 2,600 dunums (260 hectares) of land to the village side of the barrier, but farmers would still have to cross it reach a further 6,000 dunums (600 hectares) and several key wells.

Currently the villagers have to obtain special permits to cross the barrier to reach their land through gates which are only open at certain times of day. Mr Omar said it was unclear whether there would be a gate in the re-routed section.

"Ninety percent of the village population works in agriculture - if we lose our land we will be beggars," he said.

The supreme court must still rule on the alternative route to be used - the villagers want the barrier to follow the Green Line, which marks the boundary that separates Israel from the West Bank.

Israel began building the West Bank barrier in 2002.

It has been widely criticised internationally for looping into Palestinian areas around Israeli settlements, rather than following the Green Line.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier is illegal where it cuts into the West Bank and called for it to be pulled down.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Massive Weapons of Construction

Lately I've been cursing the traffic delays from all the heavy construction. It's relentless. Jerusalem is pretty much in upheaval. At the hottest and busiest time of the year, the city fathers are widening the sidewalk and narrowing the lanes on King David Street. (I wondered who runs the cement concession; streets are dug up and then re-dug, and someone must be profiting.)
Today, I was coming back from my dentist appointment and took a shortcut through the YMCA carpark (It's across the street from the King David Hotel, where British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife had just left and Barack Obama is due to check in tonight.) Timing is everything, they say. Just ten minutes later, chaos broke out.

Once again a Palestinian construction worker --aren't they all?---let loose against the traffic in the heat of a Jerusalem afternoon. After he rammed a bus and passing cars with his bulldozer, armed civilians shot him dead. One car driver was seriously hurt, and at least ten other people were injured, including a scuffed up little baby.

This must be some kind of copy-cat attack, inspired by coverage of the bulldozer driver rampage on July 3rd. Several militant groups came forward to claim credit for what the government described as a terror attack. As a tactic, it's terrifying to be sure to be chased and smashed by heavy equipment. It doesn't seem overly organized.
Do Anti-zionist groups watch cult 70s horror movies like Killdozer for inspiration?

Phlegmatic Israelis are still out on the streets...but what's the alternative? The area is buzzing with helicopters and ambulances now. I just hope that no mid-air crashes are caused. Am going out to see and will update this later.

Israelity bites.

Reuters reports:

"The first thing I saw is that he tried to smash the head of a passerby with the (bulldozer's) shovel. Then he zigzagged down the street, smashing into cars," said eyewitness Moshe Feiglin.

Witness Moshe Shimshi said the driver, who was wearing a large, white skullcap commonly worn by religious Muslims, slammed into the side of the bus, then sped away and went for a car.

"He didn't yell anything, he just kept ramming into cars," Shimshi said.

The driver then headed for cars waiting at a red light "and rammed into them with all his might," he added.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Al-Qaeda in Jerusalem? Alarming arrests

Hebrew U seems a highly unlikely campus for an Al-Qaeda cell, but apparently the Shin Bet security swooped in and arrested half a dozen Arab students there who allegedly were surfing Al-Q linked websites and uploading cell-phone snaps of the landing pad where President Bush's chopper was supposed to touch down earlier this year. Other charges are that these Islamic radicals were setting up a Jerusalem-based Al Qaeda cell and the vague "attempts to solicit for a terrorist group." Could these bored guys have just been messaging and macho-posturing online?
Is joking about shooting down President Bush's helicopter punishable by rendition and an open-ended stint in Gitmo?

According to Ynet news, the suspects are:

Ibrahim Nashef, 22, of Tayibe, a physics and computer sciences student at the Hebrew University; Muhammas Najem, 24, of Nazareth, a chemistry student at the Hebrew University; Yusef Sumarin, 21, of the Jerusalem village of Beit Hanina; Anas Shawiki, 21, of the Jerusalem town of Jabel Mukaber; Kamal Abu Kwaider, 22, of Jerusalem's Old City; and Ahmed Shawiki, 21, of the Jerusalem town of Shuafat.

All the suspects were charged with membership in a terror organization. Some of them will be tried for aiding the enemy at a time of war, possessing propaganda material in favor of a terror organization, soliciting and attempting to solicit others to join a terror organization.

According to the indictments filed against them Friday, the six used to meet at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

It's a bit alarming how scanty the evidence seems to be for these recent arrests. A gag order was lifted today, and little is known except for what the security agency has press-released. One wonders if this is just a belts-and-braces overkill in the run-up to candidat Barack Obama's visit next week. There is no indication of any funding from Saudi or the Gulf for these students. So the extent of vague "Al-Qaeda links" are a mystery. Is it the Islamic connection? Card-carrying al-Qaeda do not exist. And although a couple of anti-Western thugs in Gaza have blown up internet cafes and Christian bookshops, so far there has not been a single direct link between Palestinians and the feared urban Jihadis who once trained in in Afghanistan. (Best to keep it that way, I agree.)
There were also a couple of Bedouin boys who were picked up last month for allegedly pointing out online some high-value targets such as the Tel Aviv international airport and the swanky Azrieli cylinder, triangle, and square high rises downtown (knowledge which was not exactly top-secret.)

Frankly, these round-ups smack of thought police. One of the most heartening aspects of life in Israel is its lively free-ranging discussions, but this freedom apparently does not extend to Arab Israelis or Palestinian residents in Jerusalem.
Israelity bites.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shalom, Eric Silver (1935-2008)

While the soldiers' politically charged funerals were taking place up north, most senior journalists gathered at their colleague Eric Silver's graveside in Jerusalem. The prominent British correspondent died on Tuesday night from pancreatic cancer. At 73, he was still an active freelancer and he and his wife Bridget contributed to Jerusalem's literati scene. Silver was an imposing reporter of the old school, hastening to the scene to witness events himself. He was known for his quick mind, rich prose, and dry wit and was an inspiration to the younger press corps.

The British, Israeli and Indian press displayed his obituary prominently. Silver could claim the best-ever bureau street address for an analyst. Where better to base oneself than on the "Street of the Prophets"? Patrick Coburn wrote a fine tribute in the Independent to the Insightful Anglo-Israeli Journalist.

This excerpt comes from one fond friend in the Jerusalem Post:

Silver was particularly attached to his charming, memento-filled home, located in a historic building on Jerusalem's Rehov Hanevi'im, originally built and inhabited by the 19th century pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt - even after a terrorist inadvertently detonated his explosives belt outside the front door, blowing out the windows of their bedroom and, as Silver would note to visitors, sending the terrorist's head flying into an adjacent courtyard.

The Silvers were among the most gracious hosts (and guests) in Jerusalem's Anglo-Israel social community, especially in the dinners and parties they enjoyed throwing in the apartment's garden courtyard

Grisly Swap a humiliaton, just tears and tension

Thousands of mourners turned out for the military funerals of the two returned IDF recruits, Goldwasser and Regev, whose capture sparked the Second Lebanese war in 2006. Listed as Missing in Action for two years, the youths came back in coffins. Furious Israelis denounced this capitulation to Nasrullah. There's no compelling reason to keep kidnapped combatants alive if the other side gets five live ones and 200 dead comrades back in bits. So yesterday was a day of humiliation, writes Robert Fisk in the Independent.

Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

For the Americans who have supported the democratically elected Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, it was a day of hopelessness. For Mr Siniora himself, along with the President and all the surviving ex-prime ministers and presidents of Lebanon, and the leader of the Druze community and the country's MPs and Muslim religious leaders, and bishops and higher civil servants, and the heads of all the security services – along, of course, with the UN's representative – were at Beirut airport to grovel before the five prisoners whom Hizbollah had freed from Israel. They were flown north by the Lebanese army's own helicopters.

As for Hizbollah, they staged a mighty pageant of leaping cavalry horses and massed bands and dabkeh dances as Lebanon's Shia imams and their invited Sunni sheikhs and Druze notables sweated in their heavy robes throughout the day's 37C temperatures on the border. But the Israelis, it seemed, were in no hurry. Well aware that Hizbollah had constructed a theatrical homecoming for both the living and the dead, they delayed the first 12 coffins for five hours and then the five living prisoners for another four hours. By this time, the camouflage-clad horse riders – including a long-haired Che Guevara lookalike – and their green-clothed mounts had long finished cantering and the dabkeh dancers had run out of breath and the bagpiper – yes, a real, moaning bagpiper – had run out of puff and even the white-scarved honour guard was wilting in the heat. Their discomfort was exquisite.

And there was a certain sleight of hand in all this. Mr Nasrallah had promised to retrieve the bodies of Palestinian "martyrs", and they included the remains of 19-year-old Dalal Moghraby, which were supposedly stacked on the first lorry to cross the border yesterday. She was the girl who led 11 Palestinian and Lebanese gunmen in an attack on the Israeli coast road north of Tel Aviv. Cornered by the Lebanese army, she decided to fight it out. Thirty-six people died and a surviving videotape shows an Israeli agent, a certain Ehud Barak – yes, the man who is now Israel's Defence Minister – firing shots into her body and dragging her across a road. Mr Barak was one of the Israeli cabinet members who voted for the return of her corpse yesterday. But the Palestinians, it turned out, did not want their dead returned to Lebanon. Dalal Moghraby's mother Amina Ismail, for example, wished her remains to lie where she was buried in Israel – the land which she and millions of other refugees still regard as part of Palestine. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command said it wanted its dead "martyrs" to remain on "Palestinian land" as they would have wished, and asked Hizbollah to exclude them from the returning corpses. No such luck. For Hizbollah had other ideas and – with the agreement of the Israelis, of course – brought them back to the land of their exile.

History lay piled in layers yesterday: a long-ago murder in Israel and the release of the killer who now, courtesy of the Israeli prison system, speaks fluent Hebrew and English; the body of a Palestinian girl whose killings on the Tel Aviv coast road provoked Israel's first invasion of Lebanon in 1978 (total dead about 2,000) as surely as Hizbollah's capture of two soldiers prompted the bloodbath of Israel's revenge (total dead about 1,200). But what would this matter to Mr Nasrallah in his hour of final triumph?

Once more, despite Hizbollah's capture of west Beirut earlier this year and the gun battles that broke out across Lebanon (total dead 65), he has recaptured his old popularity as the only man with the only army to stand up to Israel's legions. And there will most assuredly be another war. By the roadside south of Tyre yesterday, there was a huge poster of an Israeli warship struck by a Hizbollah missile in 2006, burning fiercely. "And more to come," the caption announced, archly.

I found Hizbollah's exhausted cavalry clopping north, their wilting riders – including Che – lolling in their saddles, the tired horses veering across the road. So this was what the war was all about.

Addendum: Last night, someone vandalized the car of my lovely friend Ana,while it was parked in Jerusalem. Spraypainted graffiti (in English) scrawled "we love hizbollah" and the name of Samir Kuntar, the cold-blooded man who had been responsible for the death of an Israeli father and his two children in 1979 and walked free yesterday.

Israelity bites.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Messiah Prequel? Gabriel Revelation tablet stirs Believers in Resurrection

Reading between the inked lines on a pair of ancient stone tablets from the east bank of the Dead Sea, scholars in Jerusalem suggest that the idea of a suffering Messiah, who would die and resurrect within three days, was in the Jewish tradition decades before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Hmmm. And so what?

This news has been picked up around the world after the New York Times ran a piece about it. They resurrected excitement about a discovery made ten years ago and now being presented speculatively to an academic conference at the Israel Museum. Many gospel-reading Christians will just shrug off the news. Hundreds of old prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled by the events of Jesus's 33 years and, as prophesised, numerous false messiahs have surfaced over the centuries.

Acc to the Scotsman,perhaps the discovery shows a link between Judaism and Christianity. (Duh. This we knew already.

The tablet's text concerns an apocalyptic vision transmitted by the archangel Gabriel and draws on Old Testament prophets Daniel, Hagai and Zachariah. Prof Knohl says he has filled in a crucial missing word, hayeh, meaning live, making a line of the text say: "In three days you shall live, I Gabriel command you."

According to the tablet, the command is addressed to "The Prince of Princes". Ada Yardeni, one of the scholars who wrote the original analysis of the tablet, says Prof Knoll's deciphering of the word hayeh was "100 per cent" accurate.

Prof Knohl is convinced that "Jesus acted according to the concepts in the tablet: that the messiah must die to bring redemption".

However, the actual evidence says
"In three days you shall ----, I Gabriel command you"
...so pick a verb, folks. Fill in the blank. This verse could be interpreted as almost anything.

The antiquities owner hwo bought the curiosity is sheepish that he hesitated before calling in experts to interpret it, he told Time magazine.

Waltz with Bashir, animated darkly

One of the most powerful war films I've ever seen is the Israeli animated documentary and psycho-thriller by Ari Folman called "Waltz with Bashir". This movie is not to be missed. It deserves all its Cannes accolades, and feels authentic and unflinching. The story tracks an IDF veteran's four-year search for his lost memory, and explores the effects of denial and post-traumatic stress syndrome on memory. The stark dream sequences reveal how a mind copes with the incomprehensible. There's a gruff charm, an 80s aesthetic and soundtrack, and the Jewish shrinks are both droll and insightful. (Click here to view the trailer.)
The back-story is the gory massacre following the assassination of Bachir Gemayel (a Christian Lebanese politician with a Che Guevara-like following). While the Israeli forces stood by, vengeance was carried out in two refugee camps, Sabra & Shatila. Some onlookers and participants apparently blocked out the atrocity and the shame, and then lived with the damage for years. It's a very personal take on the toll of a battlefield incident, rather than political dissection of a notorious mass killing. It illuminates the incident and the mental blockage.
After seeing the show in Jerusalem, Izzy overheard leftist friends complain that Forman contrived to show Israelis as somehow the victims of the first Lebanon War, and that was untenable. The point is that we all are victims of conflict in one way or another, and a better solution must be found. See this movie if you get a chance. It will make you think about war and warriors. In Hebrew, with English subtitles.

Friday, July 04, 2008

From Triumph to Torture

Israel's treatment of an award-winning young Palestinian journalist is part of a terrible pattern, writes John Pilger in the Guardian.

Two weeks ago, I presented a young Palestinian, Mohammed Omer, with the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Awarded in memory of the great US war correspondent, the prize goes to journalists who expose establishment propaganda, or "official drivel", as Gellhorn called it. Mohammed shares the prize of £5,000 with Dahr Jamail. At 24, he is the youngest winner. His citation reads: "Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless." The eldest of eight, Mohammed has seen most of his siblings killed or wounded or maimed. An Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while the family were inside, seriously injuring his mother. And yet, says a former Dutch ambassador, Jan Wijenberg, "he is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with Israel".

Getting Mohammed to London to receive his prize was a major diplomatic operation. Israel has perfidious control over Gaza's borders, and only with a Dutch embassy escort was he allowed out. Last Thursday, on his return journey, he was met at the Allenby Bridge crossing (to Jordan) by a Dutch official, who waited outside the Israeli building, unaware Mohammed had been seized by Shin Bet, Israel's infamous security organisation. Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"

"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'

"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was "suspected" of smuggling and "lost his balance" during a "fair" interrogation, Reuters reported yesterday.

Israeli human rights groups have documented the routine torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents with "beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation". Amnesty has long reported the widespread use of torture by Israel, whose victims emerge as mere shadows of their former selves. Some never return. Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC's Alan Johnston.

The Dutch government says it is shocked by Mohammed Omer's treatment. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: "This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life ... I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future."

While Mohammed was receiving his prize in London, the new Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Proser, was publicly complaining that many Britons no longer appreciated the uniqueness of Israel's democracy. Perhaps they do now.

If you want to sign a petition in protest of this treatment, follow this link.

On Omer's popular blog, called Rafah Today, you can see a message he managed to send to the webmaster on June 24:

"I am stuck in Jordan and Israel is not allowing me to get back home. this is frustrating. I am not sure what will happen. this is frustrating for me."

(cross posted from Feral Beast)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mayhem returns to the Streets of Jerusalem

Road rage on the roadmap to Peace? A Palestinian worker went berserk today in Jerusalem, and killed at least three people and injured dozens more by ramming his bulldozer into a couple of downtown buses and flattening private cars. Ultimately police shot the assailant in the head with an Uzi in order to halt his rampage that had scattered screaming pedestrians. He had taken the bulldozer from a building site for the light railway and headed into the traffic with a vengeance. The man reportedly lives in East Jerusalem and had his work permits in order.Security has tightened across the city, especially near the markets.

Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupolianski lamented that terrorists were constantly coming up with new ways to harm Jerusalem. This is the first public attack in nearly four years in the city, although a Jewish seminary was the scene of a serial shooting attack by a Palestinian earlier this year.

"My daughter was in the next bus, but she wasn't hurt," Lupolianski told reporters. "To our regret the attackers do not cease coming up with new ways to strike at the heart of the Jewish people here in Jerusalem."

It appears that the man, Hosam Tayseer Dawyyat, who had a criminal record, was acting alone, not as part of a terrorism plot. Predictably, a Hamas spokesman said Wednesday that the random attack was "a natural reaction to Israel's aggression," adding Hamas did not know who was behind the attack. There have been calls by Ehud Olmert to demolish his living quarters in retribution. And a little-known group in the Galilee claimed credit for the bizarre attack, but this was not corroborated.

The man who killed the bulldozer driver was Moshe Klessner, 18, who is reportedly the brother-in-law of IDF officer David Shapira. Shapira killed the Arab shooter who attacked the Mercaz Harav religious seminary, according to the Jerusalem Post. A 4-month old baby escaped serious injury and was found by police beside a flattened car; its parents have yet to be located.

Several emergency hotlines have been set following the attack:

Shaare Zedek Medical Center can be reached at 1255125.
The Jerusalem Municipality's hotline 972-2-5314600/1/2/3/4.
The Immigrant Absorption Ministry opened another hotline, offering assistance in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Amharic. Contact 1255021010.

Addendum from Agence France Press:

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told reporters the attack would not succeed in severing mostly Arab east Jerusalem from what Israel considers its "eternal, undivided" capital.

"One must remember that one third of Jerusalem are Arab citizens but all of Jerusalem is Israel's sovereign territory," he said.

"Whoever thinks that the one third of east Jerusalemites will succeed to sever part of Jerusalem and take it out of Israeli control is wrong."

Peace talks resumed between Israel and the Palestinians in November but have stalled amid violence in and around the Gaza Strip and continued Jewish settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

At least 524 people have been killed since the negotiations resumed, mostly militants in the besieged Gaza Strip, according to an AFP count.