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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Katyusha from Lebanon hits northern Israel; IDF retaliates

Last update - 14:05 21/02/2009       
Katyusha from Lebanon hits northern Israel; IDF retaliates
By Jack Khoury and Eli Ashkenazi, Haaretz Correspondents, and Reuters
A Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Saturday, lightly wounding two people, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Another three people were treated for shock, and a house was damaged.
In Beirut, a Lebanese security source said Israel had responded by firing at least six artillery shells into southern Lebanon.
The IDF Spokesperson Office said Israel held the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army accountable.
The rocket exploded a few meters from a house, where a 20-year-old was lightly injured in her sleep.
"Shattered glass was scattered all over the house," her father said. "Not a single window pane remained intact."
The leader of the local council said that the incident came "out of the blue."
Because of the stormy weather, he said, some people thought that the explosion was a thunder.
The Lebanese source, asking not to be identified, said: "Two rockets were fired from the area of Mansouri, south of Tyre, towards the direction of Israel."
"One of these rockets landed (within Lebanese territory). The other rocket's location has not been determined," said the source.
No one claimed responsibility for the rocket firing.
A statement from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's office said Lebanon was committed to implementing UN Security Council resolution 1701 which ended a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006.
He said the attack threatened the area's stability and condemned Israel's artillery fire.
"Prime Minister Siniora (said) the rockets launched from the south threaten security and stability in this region and are a violation of resolution 1701, and these issues are rejected, condemned and denounced... Israeli artillery (fire is an) inexcusable violation of Lebanese sovereignty," the statement said.
The militant Hezbollah group has a large rocket arsenal but is not believed to have used them against Israel since their 2006 war.
Last month, during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, three Katyusha rockets were fired at northern Israel within a week, hitting Nahariya and Kiryat Shmona.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Yemenite Jews get to Israel in clandestine rescure

Last update - 00:25 20/02/2009       
Jewish Yemenite family arrives in Israel after secret rescue
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and the Associated Press
A small group of Yemenite Jews arrived in Israel on Thursday in a covert operation carried out by the Jewish Agency.
The Agency's Spokesman Michael Jankelowitz refused to say how the 10 people were rescued, citing security concerns, but said they had been threatened by al-Qaida.
The Ben Yisrael family was extricated from the city of Raida, after suffering from anti-Semitic attacks and repeated death threats.
A few weeks ago, a grenade was thrown into the courtyard of the family's home in Raida, possibly by al Qaida-affiliated extremists.

Said Ben Yisrael, who heads the Raida Jewish community, and his family are due to take up Israeli citizenship upon their arrival. They will be taken to Beit Shemesh, accompanied by a Jewish Agency team.
There are approximately 280 Jews left today In Yemen, 230 of whom live in Raida in the Omran province, and another 50 Jews live in the capital city of Sana'a.
Yemenite Jews have the special protection of the President of Yemen Ali Abdallah Salah. In recent years, however, anti-Semitic attacks against Jews have spiralled out of control.
The tension reached a boiling point last December, when Moshe Yaish Nahari, father of 9, was murdered by a Muslim extremist.
Threats against Jews in Yemen have escalated following Israel's recent three-week offensive in Gaza.
Director General of the Jewish Agency, Moshe Vigdor, said that the Jewish Agency is closely following the situation of the community in Yemen and promises to help in any way possible.
Director-General of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah and Absorption Department Eli Cohen said that the Jewish Agency strives to ensure the safety of community members and that it is working to bring to Israel quickly most of the Jews in Yemen who wish to immigrate. The new immigrants will receive special assistance from the Jewish Agency, including a grant of 40,000 shekels per family.

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Palestinians fire mortar shells, Qassam

 Last update - 12:41 20/02/2009    
Gaza militants fire 10 mortar shells, Qassam rocket at Negev
By Haaretz Service
Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Friday fired 10 mortar shells and a Qassam rocket at the western Negev, causing no casualties.
Israel Defense Forces troops operating in the Kissufim area identified the explosions and opened fire in the direction of the launchers across the border.
The strikes came amid an apparent stalemate in Gaza Strip truce negotiations, following Israel's demand that a cease-fire be linked to the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Defense official Amos Gilad, who has been negotiating with Egyptian mediators over the truce, reportedly canceled his trip to Egypt on Friday, according to the Arabic daily Al-Hayat.
Five Qassams exploded in open areas of the western Negev on Thursday, three in the evening and two in the morning.
In response to the morning attack, Israel Air Force warplanes bombed six smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, the army said.
There were no reports of casualties, but the attack did cause secondary blasts, according to the Israel Defense Forces, which indicated that explosives were hit in the air strike.
The strikes took place about 30 kilometers from where a group of U.S. lawmakers was visiting.
Earlier Thursday, the IDF hit a Palestinian militant attempting to plant a bomb on the Israel-Gaza border, lightly wounding him.

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Iran may have enough low grade enriched uraniam for one bomb

The speculations in the article below about Iranian nuclear capabilities are somewhat meaningless becase the percentage of enrichment of the low level enriched uranium is not stated, and the type of bomb is not stated and the critical mass needed to make such a bomb is not stated. Low-enriched uranium (LEU) Uranium that contains the isotope uranium 235 in a concentration of less than 20% and greater than 0.7%. That's a big range. If we are talking about 20% uranium, then 1 metric ton, which is what the Iranians have, is enough for quite a large number of bombs. A primitive "gun" type bomb requires about 50 KG of highly enriched U235, an implosion device probably needs about 10-15 KG or even less. It is likely that this is 5% LEU and that the assumption is that the Iranians will be making a primitive gun type bomb for which about 50KG would be required, but there is no reason to make that assumption. It is likely that Iran had the requisite LEU a while ago, but they would have to refine it further if they wanted to make a real bomb, and they would need an explosion mechanism and a delivery mechanism.
Last update - 18:51 20/02/2009       
U.S. analysts: Iran may have enough uranium for one nuke
By Reuters
U.S. analysts have said an increase in Iran's reported stockpile of low-enriched uranium means the Islamic Republic could have enough of the material to make a nuclear bomb. An International Atomic Energy Agency report on Thursday showed an increase in the stockpile since November to 1,010 kg.
Even then, the technical steps needed to "weaponize" enrichment would probably take two to five years.
Meanwhile, diplomats said on Friday Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it had enriched and United Nations nuclear inspectors are working with Tehran to ensure such a significant gap does not recur.
The IAEA believes the discrepancy was a technical mistake rather than subterfuge, but the matter is important given concerns, denied by Tehran, that it is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
New figures in the report revealed that Iran had under-reported how much LEU it had amassed, raising new questions about the ability of the restricted inspectors' mission in Iran to keep track of Iranian nuclear advances.
The report said the 1,010 kg was based on an additional 171 kg from new production on top of 839 kg of previous output which inspectors had verified in November. But the last IAEA report at that time put the amount at 630 kg, based on Iran's estimate.
Diplomats familiar with the matter said the IAEA had concluded the discrepancy was due to faulty estimates that can arise from complexities in the phased enrichment process, not to any maneuver to divert LEU out of sight.
The report stressed that all nuclear material at Iran's underground Natanz enrichment plant, except for some waste and samples, was under regular IAEA containment and surveillance.
But the diplomats said the verified LEU figure was based on an inventory check that inspectors perform only once a year.
In theory, this means there is a risk that any smuggling of enriched uranium out of Natanz for use at a secret site might not be noticed for some time.
UN inspectors are discussing with Iran how to improve its operating records to prevent any repeat of such large differences in accounting in future, the diplomats said.
"This doesn't mean nuclear safeguards aren't working. But the IAEA will have to do the inventories more often as the amounts increase," said David Albright, a senior non-proliferation analyst in Washington.
"All this reinforces the point that if Iran does divert material, it doesn't mean the IAEA knows right away. This could be delayed a number of weeks, particularly if Iran stalls on allowing them into the plant," he told Reuters.
"The [broader issue] is that Iran has crippled the IAEA's ability to detect undeclared activities."
Iran says it wants a nuclear fuel industry solely to meet growing electricity demand and has promised to preserve IAEA monitoring of its two declared uranium production centres.
But it has severely curbed IAEA movements since being hit with UN sanctions - which it calls illegal - for refusing to suspend enrichment and failing to open up to an IAEA inquiry into allegations of past atom bomb research.
It now bars IAEA access to plants developing new centrifuges and other enrichment machinery, and to a heavy-water reactor under construction. This means inspectors cannot verify that no parallel, military-oriented work is under way in Iran.

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Netanyahu aims for national unity

Netanyahu aims for national unity

By Ron Kampeas · February 20, 2009
(JTA) -- Israeli President Shimon Peres invited Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government.
After hearing from Peres Friday, Netanyahu, who leads the Likud Party, immediately invited Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party, and Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party, to form a national unity government.
Such a government would help Netanyahu hew to a centrist foreign policy and sustain peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians.
Barak and Livni have said they favor going into the opposition.
Kadima scored the most seats, 28, in the Feb. 10 elections, but Netanyahu has the backing of enough right-wing parties to surpass the 60 seat mark and create a governing coalition.

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Media war against Israel: Blind eye turned to Israel's plight

Blind eye turned to Israel's plight

Fri, Feb 20, 2009

OPINION:Much of the criticism of Israel's recent offensive against Hamas is based on a biased reading of the actual conflict, writes ZION EVRONY

TWO FEATURES stand out in Proinsias De Rossa's anti-Israel tirade disguised as an account of his visit to the Gaza Strip (Opinion, Irish Times, February 18th). One is the venom of his prejudice against Israel. Otherwise why begin his report with an allegation of graffiti-writing misbehaviour by a single soldier?

Following a string of uncorroborated charges against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), we must read to the 16th paragraph before we find a formulaic mention of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and of Cpl Gilad Shalit, detained for years.

De Rossa seems willing to accept uncritically everything he is told by "politicians" and other interested parties in Gaza, despite the long history of outright falsehoods issued by Palestinian propagandists. So, too, does he accept without question the claims of Palestinian civilians, despite the inconsistency and misinformation found by media watchdogs.

The second feature is his almost comic naivety regarding Hamas. Has he not read its Islamist 1988 charter? Can he really know so little of this terrorist organisation, and its institutionalisation of Sharia law in December, as to believe it is about to allow Gazans the "freedom to follow their own gods" when it has made life almost impossible for Christians there? De Rossa's piece is the latest example of a type of Middle East narrative that abandons any attempt at impartiality and instead seeks to demonise one party to the conflict, Israel, while absolving the other of any responsibility.

The fact is the IDF made every effort possible to avoid civilian casualties, using hundreds of thousands of leaflets, phone calls and radio broadcasts to warn of impending attacks, and aborting missions where civilians were in the line of fire. However, in any war, accidents are unavoidable and regrettable. The fact half of the Israeli soldiers killed were victims of friendly fire demonstrates this.

Nevertheless, overall responsibility for civilian casualties must be placed where it belongs: on the cruel and cynical Hamas "human shield" tactic. Objective reports now accept many civilians were deliberately placed in harm's way or killed in crossfire initiated by Hamas or hurt in houses and other buildings Hamas had booby-trapped. Ignoring Hamas's responsibility for these civilian deaths only encourages Hamas to use this technique.

Regarding the reported numbers of civilian casualties, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (Camera) has pointed out that in the statistics supplied by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), males 15 or older – the age category of Hamas fighters – are three times more numerous among casualties than in the population as a whole, raising the suspicion the PCHR has misclassified Hamas fighters as civilians. The identities of 880 of those killed confirms 580 belonged to Hamas and other terrorist groups, against fewer than 300 non-combatants. That said, the death of even one innocent civilian is a tragedy. Like all Israelis, I am pained by the deaths of civilians, and Israel's leaders have expressed deep sorrow over all innocent casualties.

There is also the allegation the IDF committed war crimes in Gaza. The IDF scrutinises its operational activities; uniquely among armies, it is subject to oversight by both governmental and judicial authorities, including the Supreme Court. So far, no official body has presented any evidence of war crimes committed by Israel; rather, such claims have been based on rumour, half-truths and unconfirmed allegations. As time passes, more and more evidence is emerging that these charges are false.

For example, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jacob Kellenberger, told the New York Times on January 14th that no evidence had been found for the oft-repeated story of illegal use of phosphorus by Israel.

And it was alleged that, on January 6th, Israeli fire had killed 43 civilians sheltering at a UN school in Jabaliya. An investigation by an independent Canadian journalist found the school was never hit – a fact now acknowledged by the UN – and nobody was killed in the school compound. Moreover, those killed were on the street outside and totalled 12, of whom nine were Hamas who had fired mortars at Israeli troops. By contrast, it is certain Hamas – by murdering hundreds of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings, targeting nearly a million with rockets and mortars, using the people of Gaza as human shields and killing Fatah opponents – has repeatedly committed war crimes.

Another part of the anti-Israel narrative is the claim Israel's response to Hamas rocket attacks, while justified in principle, was disproportionate. Despite all the political and media comments, I have yet to hear a single suggestion as to what a "proportionate" response, or a realistic alternative strategy, might have been to combat Hamas attacks.

Should Israel have behaved like Hamas and launched one rocket/mortar at Gaza for each of the 8,000 launched at southern Israel over eight years? It would be very difficult to argue against this on proportionality grounds, yet, can anybody doubt that such indiscriminate fire would have caused much larger numbers of deaths among Gaza civilians? Under international law and state practice, proportionality is not a matter of equality of numbers but a requirement that the force used does not excessively endanger civilians when eliminating a specific target.

It should be emphasised that Israel's low casualty figures, despite the thousands of dangerous rockets, result from the measures it takes to protect its citizens. In contrast, Hamas deliberately exposes Gazans to death and injury, not only by placing munitions dumps and rocket-launching sites in or adjacent to civilian buildings, but also by preventing – at gunpoint – civilians leaving targeted areas after Israel sent warnings.

De Rossa claims to see a growing European consensus that non-engagement with Hamas is a mistake, and that Hamas "need to know precisely what is required of them".

As a member of the European Parliament, he must be aware the position of the EU, in common with that of the other members of the quartet (the UN, US and Russian Federation) is that a place at the negotiating table is available to Hamas if it complies with three simple conditions: recognition of Israel, renunciation of terrorism and respect for previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.

His argument fails to appreciate the Hamas charter, which stipulates no one may agree "until the Day of Resurrection" to any settlement other than a single Islamic state in place of Israel, labels all peace conferences "a waste of time" and makes jihad against Israel a religious duty binding on every Muslim.

Asking Israel to engage in dialogue with such a movement is going far beyond what was asked of the British and Irish governments in peace process. To enter formal talks, Sinn Féin/IRA had to sign up to the Mitchell principles, the first of which was the use of "exclusively peaceful means" to resolve political issues. Any negotiations with a Hamas that refused to renounce terrorism would have only one item on the agenda: Israel's destruction.

Engaging with Hamas would grant legitimacy to that terrorist organisation, and be disastrous for the Palestinians. Not only would this constitute a serious blow to the two-state solution championed by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community, but the rise of Hamas would doom Palestinians to a future ruled by jihad, religious extremism and the edicts of Sharia.

Zion Evrony is ambassador of Israel to Ireland

© 2009 The Irish Times

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Independent Deliberately Misleads on European Hamas talks

The headline in the Independent reads:
And the first sentence leads with "European nations have opened a direct dialogue with Hamas as the US intensifies the search for Middle East peace under Barack Obama." This would suggest that a foreign minister or two had visited Hamas.
As it turns out, it is not the whole continent of Europe or even an official delegation. It is still fairly alarming:
In the first meeting of its kind, two French senators travelled to Damascus two weeks ago to meet the leader of the Palestinian Islamist faction, Khaled Meshal, The Independent has learned. Two British MPs met three weeks ago in Beirut with the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan. "Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think," said a senior European diplomat. "It is the beginning of something new – although we are not negotiating."
Mr Hamdan said yesterday that since the end of last year, MPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European nations, which he declined to identify, had consulted with Hamas representatives.

"They believe they made a mistake by blacklisting Hamas," he said, referring to the EU decision in 2003 to add the political wing of the movement to its list of terrorist organisations. "Now they know they have to talk to Hamas."
Mr. Hamdan and the Independent think it is a mistake. The Independent goes on to quote further Hamas propaganda regarding these meetings. The Independent then let's the air out of the bag:
But Middle East analysts play down expectations that EU – or US policy – regarding Hamas is about to change.
So there is really nothing much to all the talk. But then the Independent states, amazingly enough:
Two major uncertainties remain: the approach of the Obama administration and the contours of the future Israeli government which could be led by the hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu.
For the Independent, there is no problem regarding the Hamas charter or its avowed ambition to annihilate every Jew on earth, except those sheltered by the Gharkad tree of course This is not a consideration, nor will  Hamas be required to understake to try to make peace with Israel. What can you expect from a newspaper that featured a cartoon of a baby eating Jew?

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Mitchell: Will not prejudge settlements issue; much changed since his 2001 report

Mitchell thinks that things change in the Middle East. The pyramids are still here, and the Palestinians still refuse to give up right of return. But they've probably got a new coffee machine at the King David Hotel bar.
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- George Mitchell told Jewish leaders he would not "pre-judge" the settlement issue.
Mitchell in an on-the-record conference call Thursday morning briefed the leaders on his work thus far as Middle East special envoy.
Just two days before he leaves for his second trip to the region as envoy, Mitchell said settlements were "an important issue, but not the only issue," according to a participant on the call. The former senator said that while Palestinian and other Arab leaders bring up settlements in every conversation, he will not pre-judge the issue.
Mitchell stressed that economic development for the Palestinians must be in unison with diplomatic efforts in the region and that final-status talks must be considered when embarking on earlier-stage discussions. He compared the process to building a house in that the first floor may be built before the second, but one must have a conception of the entire house before building.
The envoy also noted that divisions among the Palestinians made dialogue more difficult.
Mitchell said he was struck while reading the "Mitchell Report" on the region he wrote eight years ago how much has changed in that time. For instance, he said, Iran was not mentioned in that document, but the country was brought up in the "first sentence" of his initial meetings with every leader in the region, according to another participant on the call.
Mitchell said that reports in the Israeli press about the U.S. government trying to influence the formation of the Israeli government were incorrect and that the Obama administration is not in any way trying to encourage any particular outcome of coalition talks. And he emphasized that the United States was committed to maintaining Israel's "qualitative" military edge in the region.
Mitchell also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be attending the March 2 Gaza Donors Conference in Cairo, which would mark her first visit to the region as secretary.
The conference call was the second this week by the White House with Jewish leaders. A call Monday focused on the Obama administration's decision to take part in a preparatory meeting for the Durban II conference.

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Israel is no longer "a people dwelling alone

Podeh argues that Israeli actions must take into account the reactions of Arab states, who now have some relations with Israel. That is true, but Arab state actions must equally take into account the needs of Israel, otherwise it is pointless. For example, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund Hamas. Did they consider that they are not "a people dwelling along?"
  Elie Podeh

The image associated with Israel's society and leaders since its founding in 1948 is the biblical "a people dwelling alone". The siege mentality has been internalized through a variety of socializing agents.

The sense of alone-ness has of course not been a fiction; it is grounded to a considerable extent in historic precedents and a reality of Arab hostility that at times has deteriorated into war. The siege was formally broken when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. Jordan too signed a peace agreement in 1994, while the PLO and Israel signed a series of agreements during the 1990s. During this period, Israel also developed ties with the countries of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (particularly Morocco, Oman and Qatar), even though formal agreements were not signed.

While the emergence of peace agreements did not constitute acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, it did signal a change in the rules of the game and recognition of Israel as a player in the Middle East system. No longer was Israel a negative unifying force in the Arab world; now it was also a factor inducing divisions.

Still, at times of war or tension between Israel and any Arab actor, Israel has reverted to the familiar pose of "a people dwelling alone". The existence of a collective Arab identity and of an Arab commitment, however vague, to the Palestinian issue, has usually generated rhetorical if not operative Arab unity. This was the case in the First Lebanon War (1982) and the outbreak of both intifadas (1987 and 2000). Egypt and Jordan recalled their ambassadors, reduced their ties to the bare minimum and publicly expressed a clear anti-Israel stand.

The Second Lebanon War and the recent war in Gaza represent a change in Arab state behavior toward Israel. In fact, early signs of this change were evident following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and additional Arab states took the side of the West--and indirectly Israel's side--in the resultant first Gulf war (1991).

A more significant change took place when Israel launched a war against Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006: Egypt and Saudi Arabia did not hesitate to openly criticize that organization's irresponsible behavior and blame it for the damage inflicted on Lebanon in the course of the war. Like Israel, they too recognized in Hizballah a dangerous actor that sought to strengthen the status of Iran and the Shi'ites in the region at the expense of the Sunni states. A tacit alliance was created between Israel and certain Arab states, dubbed "moderate", that reflected shared interests. Yet the longer the war dragged on and the more evidence of damage in Lebanon accumulated, the more the "moderate" leaders were obliged to square their position with that of the Arab consensus--as expressed in the clear anti-Israel language of Arab League resolutions and in other international fora.

In the recent Gaza war, Israel found itself in an even more comfortable situation: on the same side as Egypt. Hamas was perceived as a threat to both countries: if Israel was threatened by Palestinian terrorism, Egypt was threatened by the possible aggrandizement of radical Islamic actors who challenge its regime stability. Then too, Egypt and Israel--like additional Sunni states in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan--view Hamas as a tool to strengthen Tehran's position and that of the Shi'ites in the Arab world. Precisely because Hamas, unlike Hizballah, is Sunni, it draws even greater Arab anger for "collaborating" with Shi'ite Iran. Moreover, both the Egyptians and the Saudis resent Hamas having embarrassed the two leading Arab states in the course of long and fruitless negotiations they shepherded between it and Fateh (the Mecca agreement of 2007; the Cairo talks of 2008).

Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in the course of the war in Gaza testifies to the two countries' overlapping interests when it comes to Hamas. This phenomenon, while reflecting to some extent the Arab world's weakness, demonstrates to an even greater extent that the Arab world is behaving like a more "normal" system, in accordance more with interests than with ideologies and identity politics. That this behavior was repeated in both Lebanon and Gaza indicates that this is no chance occurrence.

Of course, we must qualify this optimistic picture with reference to the damage caused by Israel in Gaza. Qatar closed the Israeli trade mission in Doha, Mauritania withdrew its ambassador, relations with Turkey were damaged and Arab society as a whole was angered by the killing in Gaza. Yet beyond these reactions, some of which are reversible, it is important to note that not every Arab-Israel dispute generates automatic Arab unity and isolates Israel regionally. This insight is important insofar as the struggle against regional radical actors will continue during periods of calm as well.

Thus there exists an infrastructure of shared interests that can enable Israel, openly or clandestinely, to advance peace initiatives with Arab actors. The Arab peace initiative, which will again be deliberated at next month's Arab summit in Qatar, affords an excellent opportunity to renew the Israel-Arab dialogue that was halted by the war in Gaza.- Published 12/2/2009 ©

Prof. Elie Podeh chairs the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Israeli AG considers putting Arab MK Barakeh (Hadash) on trial

Interestingly, Barakeh would not be tried for political offences, but for physical violence.
Indictment will be submitted after hearing on MK Mohammad Barakeh's alleged disturbances during protests. During one protest, he allegedly slapped police officer, and in another, attacked passerby
Aviad Glickman
Published:  02.19.09, 13:31 / Israel News
Another politician is on the way to court. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Thursday notified  Hadash Chairman Knesset Member Mohammad Barakeh that he is considering issuing an indictment against him that will include three criminal charges for alleged disturbances during protest demonstrations in recent years.
The decision was made after the attorney general held discussions with the State Prosecutor's Office, the deputy state prosecutor, and the police, who were on the cases. The said cases only recently reached the attorney general's office due to scheduling difficulties between Barakeh and the police.
The first charge refers to a demonstration held in the village of Bilin on April 28, 2008 when MK Barakeh allegedly attacked a soldier in the Masada Brigade while the soldier was leading an arrested protestor to the police patrol car. In this incident, Barakeh may stand trial for assaulting a military official.
In the second incident, which took place next to Carmel Market in Tel Aviv in August 2006, Barakeh allegedly slapped a police officer, threatening him and cursing him. In this incident, the charge being considered is insulting a public official.

The third incident refers to a demonstration held in Rabin Square in July 2006 when MK Barakeh allegedly attacked a passerby who made a comment to Uri Avneri, who participated in the demonstration. For this, the charge being considered is assault and battery.

Before a final decision is made as to whether an indictment will be issued, a hearing will be held before the attorney general. For the hearing, the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor's Office will submit evidence it has collected while working on the case.

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US Congressman visit Gaza

Of the two congressmen going to Gaza, Brian Baird is evidently a good friend of Israel (see here). Keith Ellison is not.  
Last update - 12:33 19/02/2009       
U.S. lawmakers make rare visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza
By The Associated Press
Two U.S. lawmakers traveled to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Thursday, the first congressional delegation to enter the area since the Islamic militant group took power nearly two years ago.
The Democratic congressmen, Brian Baird of Washington and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, were in Gaza early Thursday, the U.S. consulate said.
Consulate spokeswoman Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm said the lawmakers would meet with United Nations officials. There were no plans to meet with Hamas, which the U.S. shuns as a terrorist group.
Visits by U.S. officials to Gaza have been rare since Palestinian militants blew up an American diplomatic convoy in October 2003, killing three people, and no American representatives have gone since Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006. The group violently seized control of Gaza the following year.
Since taking office last month, President Barack Obama has repeatedly said he hopes to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world. As the first Muslim member of Congress, Ellison could play a key role in that mission. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The visit comes in the wake of a fierce Israel Defense Forces offensive last month. The three-week operation, launched to end years of Palestinian rocket attacks, killed some 1,300 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. 13 Israelis were also killed in the hostilities.
Several U.N. facilities, including a large warehouse at the organization's Gaza headquarters, were heavily damaged. The U.N. has been trying to raise emergency funds to meet what it says are dire humanitarian needs in Gaza following the offensive.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he had no knowledge of the lawmakers' Gaza visit.

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House of Lords: BBC must release Balen report

The House of Lords has ruled that the BBC must release the Balen report to the public. The report evidently shows systematic BBC bias against Israel  BBC had previously won a verdict that determined that it had no obligation to release the report. The House of Lords overruled the verdict. BBC will no doubt continue to try to suppress the Balen report, spending large sums of the monies of the British public in order to prevent that public from getting fair news reporting.
February 12, 2009

Information Tribunal has jurisdiction over BBC as public authority

House of Lords
Published February 12, 2009
British Broadcasting Corporation v Sugar and Another
Before Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Baroness Hale of Richmond and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
Speeches February 11, 2009

The British Broadcasting Corporation was a public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which meant that all requests for information were subject to the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner and, on appeal, the Information Tribunal, even if the information requested was held for the purposes of art, journalism or literature.

The House of Lords so held by a majority (Lord Hoffmann and Lady Hale dissenting) in allowing an appeal by the appellant, Steven Sugar, against the dismissal by the Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Buxton and Lord Justice Lloyd and Sir Paul Kennedy) ([2008] 1 WLR 2289) of Mr Sugar's appeal from Mr Justice Davis, in the Administrative Court of the Queen's Bench Division (The Times May 22, 2007; [2007] 1 WLR 2583) who allowed an appeal by the first respondent, the BBC, from a decision of the Information Tribunal (Mr John Angel, chairman, Mr Henry Fitzhugh and Mr John Randall) promulgated on August 29, 2006, that it had jurisdiction to reach a decision on whether the second respondent, the Information Commissioner, had been correct to rule that the BBC was not a public authority in respect of Mr Sugar's request for information.

Mr Tim Eicke, Mr David Craig and Mr Siddharth Dhar for Mr Sugar; Ms Monica Carss-Frisk, QC and Ms Kate Gallafent for the BBC; the Information Commissioner did not appear and was not represented.

LORD PHILLIPS said that the 2000 Act provided for a general right of access to information held by public authorities. That right was subject to exceptions. The Act made provision for its enforcement by the Information Commissioner and for a right of appeal from a decision of the commissioner to the Information Tribunal.

Schedule 1 to the Act listed the public authorities to which the Act applied. A small number of those were listed in respect only of certain specified information. One of those was the BBC, which was listed as "The British Broadcasting Corporation in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature".

The BBC held a report that it had commissioned in respect of its coverage of the Middle East, the Balen Report. Mr Sugar asked the BBC to provide him with a copy of that report.

The BBC contended that it held the report for the purposes of journalism and not as a public authority and that, in consequence, the Act had no application. His Lordship would call the issue of whether or not the BBC held the report for journalistic purposes "the journalism issue".

Mr Sugar challenged the BBC's response before the commissioner. The commissioner upheld the BBC's contention. Mr Sugar appealed to the tribunal. The BBC argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction. The tribunal held that it had jurisdiction and purported to exercise it by reversing the commissioner's decision on the journalism issue.

The BBC then brought, simultaneously, an appeal under the provisions of the Act and a claim for judicial review. The claim succeeded; the judge held that the commissioner had determined that he had no jurisdiction. He had made no decision that was susceptible to an appeal to the tribunal under the Act. The tribunal had acted without jurisdiction and its decision could not stand. His Lordship would describe the issue of whether the tribunal had jurisdiction as "the jurisdiction issue".

Schedule 1 was lengthy. Some public authorities were listed generically, others individually. Out of approximately 500 names in the list originally scheduled to the Act, nine were qualified by reference to the class of information held, of which one was the BBC. His Lordship would refer to that class of public authorities as "hybrid authorities". The information held by them in their capacity as public authorities would be described as "public information". The other information held by them would be described as "excluded information".

Section 1 of Part I of the Act applied whenever a request for information was made to a public authority, whatever the nature of the information sought, whether the public authority held the information or not and, in the case of a hybrid authority, whether the information was public or excluded.

When a request for information was specifically made under the Act to a hybrid authority it was axiomatic that the maker of the request was making it to the hybrid authority in its capacity as a public authority. That was because the obligations under the Act only applied to public authorities.

So far as Mr Sugar was concerned, the terms of his letter of request made it quite clear that he was asserting that the BBC owed him a duty to provide the Balen Report in its capacity as a holder of public documents. He was well aware that the BBC would be under no duty to provide him with the information if it did not hold it as a public document and thus in its capacity as a public authority.

It followed that, on the facts of the case, it was quite wrong to treat Mr Sugar as having made a request to the BBC other than in its capacity as a public authority simply because of the nature of the information that he was requesting.

The response given by the BBC was more detailed than necessary if, as it claimed, the Balen Report was excluded information. On that premise, the response more than satisfied the BBC's obligation under section 1 to confirm or deny whether or not it held information of the description specified in the request.

The issue raised by Mr Sugar was, however, whether that premise was correct. That was an issue that he was entitled to raise by his complaint to the commissioner under section 50 and the commissioner had jurisdiction to entertain that complaint.

The issue that the commissioner was asked to resolve by Mr Sugar by his letter of complaint was whether the BBC was correct to contend that the Balen Report was held for the purpose of journalism.

The commissioner decided that question. He found that the BBC was not under an obligation to release the contents of the report. That was a decision that Mr Sugar was entitled to challenge before the tribunal, provided that the commissioner had conveyed it to him in a decision notice.

Section 50 of the Act did not prescribe the form of a decision notice. His Lordship considered that that phrase simply described a letter setting out the commissioner's decision. That was precisely the letter that the commissioner wrote to Mr Sugar.

For those reasons the tribunal had jurisdiction to make the decision that it did and the appeal would be allowed. It followed that the governing decision on the journalism issue was that of the tribunal, and that the only possible appeal from that decision lay to the High Court on a point of law.

The judge had, of course, already ruled on the journalism issue, but he approached that issue as one raised in a judicial review challenge by Mr Sugar of the commissioner's decision on the point. He asked himself whether the decision of the commissioner was a lawful and rational one, properly open to him on the material before him.

That was not the test that he should have applied had he concluded, as he should have done, that the tribunal's decision was made with jurisdiction and that the BBC's only right to challenge it was on the ground that it was wrong in law. It followed that the result of allowing this appeal would be to restore the tribunal's decision.

Lord Hope and Lord Neuberger delivered concurring opinions. Lord Hoffmann and Lady Hale delivered dissenting opinions.

Solicitors: Ms Sarah Jones, White City; Forsters LL

Continued (Permanent Link)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wording Israel out of existence - the language of Israel 'criticism."

It is not the first time, of course, that people have noted the importance of language in the Middle East conflict. See for example Middle East: What's in a Word? and also the important interview with Georges Sarfaty: Linguistics of Anti-Zionism - Georges Sarfati Interview where he demonstrated how language is used to delegitimize Israel, Zionism and Jews.
Anti-Semitism in British Media
This article is noteworthy for having appeared in, of all places, The Independent - not known for its kindness to people of the Mosaic persuasion. Of course, when demonstrators chant, "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas" and carry signs that say "I hate juice" (so as not to be accused of racism!) when synagogues and Jewish medical centers are attacked, it can hardly be claimed that anti-Semitism is below the surface. It is right out there in the open, as it has been for several years.
The Independent itself has made more than one signal contribution to British anti-Semitism, with covers like the one shown at right (see Anti-Semitism in Britain: Maybe they did win, after all!) and the lovely drawing of the baby-eating Jew, Ariel Sharon, shown below. at left. Perhaps the burning synagogues and the changts of "Jews to the Gas" have awakened some dormant and vestigial sense of decency even in the editors of the Independent.
Anti-Semitism in British Media
Emotions have run high over recent events in Gaza. And in this impassioned and searching essay, our writer argues that just below the surface runs a vicious strain of ancient prejudice
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
I was once in Melbourne when bush fires were raging 20 or 30 miles north of the city. Even from that distance you could smell the burning. Fine fragments of ash, like slivers of charcoal confetti, covered the pavements. The very air was charred. It has been the same here these past couple of months with the fighting in Gaza. Only the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred. And I don't mean the hatred of the warring parties for each other. I mean the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.
A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.
But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, "criticism" of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing othodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don't say that self-pityingly. As always with dictatorships of the mind, the worst harmed are not the ones not listened to, but the ones not listening. So leave them to it, has essentially been my philosophy. A life spent singing anti-Zionist carols in the company of Ken Livingstone and George Galloway is its own punishment.
Related articles
    * Israel links Gaza deal to soldier's release
But responses to the fighting in Gaza have been such as to drive even the most quiescent of English Jews – whether quiescent because we have learnt to expect nothing else, or because we are desperate to avoid trouble, or because we have our own frustrations with Israel to deal with – out of our usual stoical reserve. Some things cannot any longer go unchallenged.
My first challenge is implicit in the phrase "the fighting in Gaza", which more justly describes the event than the words "Massacre" and "Slaughter" which anti-Israel demonstrators carry on their placards. This is not a linguistic ploy on my part to play down the horror of Gaza or to minimise the loss of life. In an article in this newspaper last week, Robert Fisk argued that "a Palestinian woman and her child are as worthy of life as a Jewish woman and her child on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz". I am not sure who he was arguing with, but it certainly isn't me.
I do not differentiate between the worth of lives and no more wish to harm or see harmed the hair of a single Palestinian than do those who make cause, here in safe cosy old easy-come easy-go England, with Hamas. Indeed, given Hamas's record of violence to its own people – read the latest report from Amnesty if you doubt it – it's possible I wish to harm the hair of a single Palestinian less. But that might be rhetoric in which case I apologise for it.
Rhetoric is precisely what has warped report and analysis these past months, and in the process made life fraught for most English Jews who, like me, do not differentiate between the worth of Jewish and Palestinian lives, though the imputation – loud and clear in a new hate-fuelled little chamber-piece by Caryl Churchill – is that Jews do. "Massacre" and "Slaughter" are rhetorical terms. They determine the issue before it can begin to be discussed. Are you for massacre or are you not? When did you stop slaughtering your wife?
I watched demonstrators approach members of the public with their petitions. "Do you want an end to the slaughter in Gaza?" What were those approached expected to reply? – "No, I want it to continue unabated." If "Massacre" presumes indiscriminate, "Slaughter" presumes innocence. There is no dodging the second of those. In Gaza the innocent have suffered unbearably. But it is in the nature of modern war, where soldiers no longer toss grenades at one another from their trenches, that the innocent pay.
Live television pictures of civilian fatalities rightly distress and anger us. Similar pictures of the damage this country did to the innocent of Berlin would have distressed and angered us no less. The outrage we feel does credit to our humanity, but says nothing about the justice of a particular war. Insist that all wars are too cruel ever to be called just, argue that any discharge of weapons in the vicinity of the innocent is murderous, and you will meet no resistance from me; but you will have in the same breath to implicate Hamas who make a virtue of endangering their own civilian population, and who, as everyone knows but many choose to discount, have been firing rockets into Israeli towns for years.
The inefficiency of those rockets, landing God knows where and upon God knows whom, is often cited to minimise the offence. As though murderous intention can be mitigated by the obsolescence of the weaponry. In fact the inefficiency only exacerbates the crime. How much more indiscriminate can you be than to lob unstable rockets into civilian areas and hope for a hit? Massacre manqué, we might call it – slaughter in all but a good aim. And this not from some disaffected group we might liken to the IRA, but the legitimately elected government of Gaza.
If it is a war crime for one government to fire on civilians, it is a war crime for another. But when a protester joined a demonstration at Sheffield University recently, calling on both sides to desist, her placard was seized and trampled underfoot, while the young in their liberation scarves and embryo compassion looked on and said not one word.
And Israel? Well, speaking on BBC television at the height of the fighting, Richard Kemp, former commander of British Troops in Afghanistan and a senior military adviser to the British government, said the following: "I don't think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare where any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of civilians than the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) is doing today in Gaza." A judgement I can no more corroborate than those who think very differently can disprove.
Right or wrong, it was a contribution to the argument from someone who is more informed on military matters than most of us, but did it make a blind bit of difference to the tone of popular execration? It did not. When it comes to Israel we hear no good, see no good, speak no good. We turn our backsides to what we do not want to know about and bury it in distaste, like our own ordure. We did it and go on doing it with all official contestation of the mortality figures provided by Hamas. We do it with Hamas's own private executions and their policy of deploying human shields. We do it with the sotto voce admission by the UN that "a clerical error" caused it to mis-describe the bombing of that UN school which at the time was all the proof we needed of Israel's savagery. It now turns out that Israel did not bomb the school at all. But there's no emotional mileage in a correction. The libel sticks, the retraction goes unnoticed.
But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is criticism of Israel, pure and simple.
A laughably benign locution, "criticism", for what is in fact – what has in recent years become – a desire to word a country not just out of the commonwealth of nations but out of physical existence altogether. Richard Ingrams daydreams of the time when Israel will no longer be, an after-dinner sleep which is more than an old man's idle prophesying. It is for him a consummation devoutly to be wished. This week Bruce Anderson also looked to such a time, but in his case with profound regret. Israel has missed and goes on missing chances to be magnanimous, he argued, as no victor has ever been before. That's a high expectation, but I am in sympathy with it, and it is an expectation in line with what Israel's greatest writers and peace campaigners – Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman – have been saying for years. Though it is interesting that not a one of those believed such magnanimity included allowing Hamas's rockets to go on falling unhindered into Israel.
Was not the original withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantling of the rightly detested settlements a sufficient signal of peaceful intent, and a sufficient opportunity for it to be reciprocated? Magnanimity is by definition unilateral, but it takes two for it to be more than a suicidal gesture. And the question has to be asked whether a Jewish state, however magnanimous and conciliatory, will ever be accepted in the Middle East.
But my argument is not with the Palestinians or even with Hamas. People in the thick of it pursue their own agenda as best they can. But what's our agenda? What do we, in the cosy safety of tolerant old England, think we are doing when we call the Israelis Nazis and liken Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto? Do those who blithely make these comparisons know anything whereof they speak?
In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don't mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw.
Given the number of besieged and battered cities there have been in however many thousands of years of pitiless warfare there is only one explanation for this invocation of Warsaw before any of those – it is to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief. Its aim is a sort of retrospective retribution, cancelling out all debts of guilt and sorrow. It is as though, by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday.
Berating Jews with their own history, disinheriting them of pity, as though pity is negotiable or has a sell-by date, is the latest species of Holocaust denial, infinitely more subtle than the David Irving version with its clunking body counts and quibbles over gas-chamber capability and chimney sizes. Instead of saying the Holocaust didn't happen, the modern sophisticated denier accepts the event in all its terrible enormity, only to accuse the Jews of trying to profit from it, either in the form of moral blackmail or downright territorial theft. According to this thinking, the Jews have betrayed the Holocaust and become unworthy of it, the true heirs to their suffering being the Palestinians. Thus, here and there throughout the world this year, Holocaust day was temporarily annulled or boycotted on account of Gaza, dead Jews being found guilty of the sins of live ones.
Anti-Semitism? Absolutely not. It is "criticism" of Israel, pure and simple. A number of variations on the above sophistical nastiness have been fermenting in the more febrile of our campuses for some time. One particularly popular version, pseudo-scientific in tone, understands Zionism as a political form given to a psychological condition – Jews visiting upon others the traumas suffered by themselves, with Israel figuring as the torture room in which they do it. This is is pretty well the thesis of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children, an audacious 10-minute encapsulation of Israel's moral collapse – the audacity residing in its ignorance or its dishonesty – currently playing at the Royal Court. The play is conceived in the form of a family roundelay, with different voices chiming in with suggestions as to the best way to bring up, protect, inform, and ultimately inflame into animality an unseen child in each of the chosen seven periods of contemporary Jewish history. It begins with the Holocaust, partly to establish the playwright's sympathetic bona fides ("Tell her not to come out even if she hears shouting"), partly to explain what has befallen Palestine, because no sooner are the Jews out of the hell of Hitler's Europe than they are constructing a parallel hell for Palestinians.
Anyone with scant knowledge of the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations – that is to say, judging from what they chant, the majority of anti-Israel demonstrators – would assume from this that Jews descended on the country as from a clear blue sky; that they had no prior association with the land other than in religious fantasy and through some scarce remembered genealogical affiliation: "Tell her it's the land God gave us/... Tell her her great great great great lots of greats grandad lived there" – the latter line garnering much knowing laughter in the theatre the night I was there, by virtue of the predatiousness lurking behind the childlike vagueness.
You cannot of course tell the whole story of anywhere in 10 minutes, but then why would you want to unless you conceive it to be simple and one-sided? The staccato form of the piece – every line beginning "Tell her" or "Don't tell her" – is skilfully contrived to suggest a people not just forever fraught and frightened but forever covert and deceitful. Nothing is true. Boasts are denials and denials are boasts. Everything is mediated through the desire to put the best face, first on fear, then on devious appropriation, and finally on evil.
That being the case, it is hard to be certain what the playwright knows and what she doesn't, what she, in her turn, means deliberately to twist or just unthinkingly helps herself to from the poor box of leftist propaganda. The overall impression, nonetheless, is of a narrative slavishly in line with the familiar rhetoric, making little or nothing of the Jews' unbroken connection with the country going back to the Arab conquest more than a thousand years before, the piety felt for the land, the respect for its non-Jewish inhabitants (their rights must "be guarded and honoured punctiliously," Ben Gurion wrote in 1918), the waves of idealistic immigration which long predated the post-Holocaust influx with its twisted psychology, and the hopes of peaceful co-existence, for the tragic dashing of which Arab countries in their own obduracy and intolerance bear no less responsibility.
Quite simply, in this wantonly inflammatory piece, the Jews drop in on somewhere they have no right to be, despise, conquer, and at last revel in the spilling of Palestinian blood. There is a one-line equivocal mention of a suicide bomber, and ditto of rockets, both compromised by the "Tell her" device, otherwise no Arab lifts a finger against a Jew. "Tell her about Jerusalem," but no one tells her, for example, that the Jewish population of East Jersusalem was expelled at about the time our survivors turn up, that it was cleansed from the city and its sacred places desecrated or destroyed. Only in the crazed brains of Israelis can the motives for any of their subsequent actions be found.
Thus lie follows lie, omission follows omission, until, in the tenth and final minute, we have a stage populated by monsters who kill babies by design – "Tell her we killed the babies by mistake," one says, meaning don't tell her what we really did – who laugh when they see a dead Palestinian policeman ("Tell her they're animals... Tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out"), who consider themselves the "chosen people", and who admit to feeling happy when they see Palestinian "children covered in blood".
Anti-Semitic? No, no. Just criticism of Israel.
Only imagine this as Seven Muslim Children and we know that the Royal Court would never have had the courage or the foolhardiness to stage it. I say that with no malice towards Muslims. I do not approve of censorship but I admire their unwillingness to be traduced. It would seem that we Jews, however, for all our ingrained brutality – we English Jews at least – are considered a soft touch. You can say what you like about us, safe in the knowledge that while we slaughter babies and laugh at murdered policemen ("Tell her we're the iron fist now") we will squeak no louder than a mouse when we are abused.
Caryl Churchill will argue that her play is about Israelis not Jews, but once you venture on to "chosen people" territory – feeding all the ancient prejudice against that miscomprehended phrase – once you repeat in another form the medieval blood-libel of Jews rejoicing in the murder of little children, you have crossed over. This is the old stuff. Jew-hating pure and simple – Jew-hating which the haters don't even recognise in themselves, so acculturated is it – the Jew-hating which many of us have always suspected was the only explanation for the disgust that contorts and disfigures faces when the mere word Israel crops up in conversation. So for that we are grateful. At last that mystery is solved and that lie finally nailed. No, you don't have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are.
If one could simply leave them to it one would. It's a hell of its own making, hating Jews for a living. Only think of the company you must keep. But these things are catching. Take Michael Billington's somnolent review of the play in the Guardian. I would imagine that any accusation of anti-Semitism would horrify Michael Billington. And I certainly don't make it. But if you wanted an example of how language itself can sleepwalk the most innocent towards racism, then here it is. "Churchill shows us," he writes, "how Jewish children are bred to believe in the 'otherness' of Palestinians..."
It is not just the adopted elision of Israeli children into Jewish children that is alarming, or the unquestioning acceptance of Caryl Churchill's offered insider knowledge of Israeli child-rearing, what's most chilling is that lazy use of the word "bred", so rich in eugenic and bestial connotations, but inadvertently slipped back into the conversation now, as truth. Fact: Jews breed children in order to deny Palestinians their humanity. Watching another play in the same week, Billington complains about its manipulation of racial stereotypes. He doesn't, you see, even notice the inconsistency.
And so it happens. Without one's being aware of it, it happens. A gradual habituation to the language of loathing. Passed from the culpable to the unwary and back again. And soon, before you know it...
Not here, though. Not in cosy old lazy old easy-come easy-go Eng

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hamas rejects Israeli terms for Gaza truce

This was precisely what should have been expected. The reasons for the incessant rumors about a Gaza truce deal are unclear, but they could never have any foundation in reality, especially since the new Israeli government could not be expected to endorse a deal made by the outgoing government. For its part, the outgoing government must reckon that any deal made with Hamas must go sour. There is no reason for the Olmert government to make itself the scapegoat for whatever horrors will develop in the future. Each government can have its own special mess, all to itself.
Last update - 17:09 18/02/2009       
Hamas rejects Israel's terms for Gaza truce
By Haaretz Service
The Palestinian movement Hamas vehemently rejected on Wednesday Israel's cabinet decision earlier in the day not to open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip until Hamas agrees to release abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier's freedom.
Hamas on Wednesday accused Israel of trying to torpedo a cease-fire agreement between them with last minute demands. "Hamas vehemently rejects Israel's conditions," said a statement issued by the Islamist organization, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said "there is no link between the two issues. Israel is being hard-headed and is piling up hindrances and erecting obstacles in the path of the Egyptian [mediation] efforts," Army Radio reported.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's security cabinet agreed after meeting for more than four hours that "it would be inconceivable" for Israel to accept an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire calling for reopening border crossings to more than limited humanitarian aid without Shalit's release," Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit told Israel Radio.
The cabinet convened an emergency session to discuss a possible prisoner exchange with Hamas which could see hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Shalit.
"The crossings are open and will remain open to humanitarian aid," said Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev. But, he said, Israel has decided that "any further widening will be dependent first on the release of Gilad Shalit."
Regev said the security cabinet discussed the number of prisoners Israel would be willing to swap for Shalit, but he declined to disclose any of the figures or names.
"The ministers understand full well the sort of price that releasing Gilad Shalit will require and I believe they are
supportive," he said, adding that Amos Gilad, an Israeli envoy, was expected to return to Cairo shortly to continue the talks.
Regev said prior to the meeting that the cabinet was also expected to reach a decision on the terms of a long-term truce in Gaza after Israel's 22-day offensive there last month.
The Campaign for the Release of Gilad Shalit responded to the cabinet's announcement by saying they were satisfied by the intentions, but still waiting to see the final outcome of the decision.
"The declaration released by the government cabinet meeting, was merely that - a declaration. We, as the campaign of friends supporting Gilad Shalit, are satisfied by the declaration made by the government of Israel led by Ehud Olmert, which has yet to secure the release of Gilad," they said in a statement.
"After two-and-a-half years of declarations, time has come for action. The Israeli government is obliged to take advantage of the opportunity created after Operation Cast Lead, to return Gilad Shalit to his family. We would like to emphasize that there may not be another opportunity, and there won't remain anyone to rescue."
On Tuesday, Olmert reiterated that Shalit must be freed as the top priority of any truce deal with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.
"We will negotiate his release first, and only then will we be willing to discuss things like the Gaza crossings and rebuilding the [Gaza] Strip," Olmert said Tuesday during a tour of Jerusalem. Israel and Egypt clamped a blockade on Gaza after Hamas overran the crowded coastal territory in 2007, allowing in only humanitarian supplies.
In Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal accused Israel of adding in a new condition at the last minute in an attempt to thwart Egyptian efforts to reach a truce.
"There can be no truce unless the [Gaza] blockade is lifted and the crossings are opened. The truce issue should not be linked to the issue of prisoner Shalit," Meshal told reporters in Damascus after meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
Olmert indicated that negotiations might take weeks. His term will end soon, when a new prime minister takes over. "Even if Shalit's case cannot be resolved while I am in office, the foundations we built will facilitate his release," he said.
Hamas wants hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Shalit. Some prisoners were convicted of participating in or planning some of the bloodiest Palestinian terror attacks against Israel.
Israel has had a policy of not freeing prisoners directly involved in deadly attacks, but the principle has been eroded in recent years.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israeli elections: Monitoring fraaud in the Arab sector

I always say "Vote early. Vote often"

'An Arab Tried to Vote Eight Times, Wearing Different Keffiyehs'

by Gil Ronen

( An Arab tried to vote eight times, and others attempted to corrupt voting booth monitors and youths voting with other people's identification cards in last week's Knesset election.

Religious Jewish election monitors fanned out in Arab polling stations throughout Israel on Election Day, February 10. It was the second national election in which religious monitors made use of the parties' right to send monitors to polling stations in order to supervise the Arab sector. Their activity is estimated to have prevented vote fraud on a massive scale.

About 200 monitors took part in the project this year in 120 Arab sector polling stations. All of the monitors hailed from the national religious camp – even the ones who had been sent by the hareidi religious United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party.

"Some of the polling stations in which we were present had a six percent voting rate, while ones which we could not reach had 60 percent rates," said Michel David, a project organizer. "Reach your own conclusions."

David said that on average, polling stations where religious monitors were present had voting rates of 30 percent – about half of the average rate in unmonitored Arab polling stations. The explanation, he says, is simple: Arabs stuff the ballots whenever this is possible for them, thus skewing election results to the Left and Arab parties.

The polling supervision project is a brainchild of Michael Fuah of Likud's Jewish Leadership faction. Likud's MK Michael Eitan was instrumental in hiring buses to transport the monitors to and from the stations.

Handing out ID cards, cash
"In many places where the monitors were active, the actual voting was less than 30 percent, and then the Arabs tried to 'reach the quota' of 60 percent, David said. "They were even willing to add a few Likud votes into the mix so that our guys would remain silent, but we refused and foiled the scheme."

In one station, a person stood outside the voting booth and gave money, as well as a blue ID card to whoever entered. A complaint was filed to the police.

The record for multiple votes by one person was in a village in central Israel, where an Arab tried to vote eight times by entering the booth with eight different keffiyehs on his head. The monitors prevented the fraud.

At another station, the chairman waited until the monitor went outside for a minute. He then added fake votes to the voter book and stuffed some empty envelopes into the ballot box. Later, during the vote count, he filled the envelopes with Kadima voting slips.

Near Rahat in the Negev, a large number of men arrived, accompanied by veil-wearing women. Only their eyes showed, and they refused to answer questions from the observers who suspected that some of them had already voted.

An 18-year-old with six children
A young woman who looked like 18 years old presented an ID card that belonged to a 50-year-old woman with more than six children. The monitor prevented her from voting. In some places, the monitors complained to the station supervisors, who were Jewish, but the supervisors refused to take action against the Arabs and said "this is the tradition here." Complaints were filed against those supervisors.

In another place, a Jewish supervisor was coaxed into leaving the booth during the vote count and was replaced by an Arab.

The monitors had praise for the police, who were present in relatively large numbers in most stations.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Baroness Deech on Gaza War

House of Lords debates
Friday, 6 February 2009
My Lord, I recently heard a speech by President Peres of Israel. He said that if we look back 50 years, who would have imagined then that the Soviet Empire would have ended, that the South African system of apartheid would have been dismantled and Mandela would have become president, that the Berlin Wall would have come down and that there would be a black president of America? He said that we should look forward 50 years from now in the same spirit. I want to start on that optimistic note because I believe that if we wait that long—no doubt beyond our lifetimes—there will be change for the better. I want to emphasise that because inevitably much of my speech will be rather gloomy.
No one can accuse this House of not focusing on the distressing situation in Gaza. In the past 12 months, there have been 161 Questions and Statements about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinians compared with, for example, 33 on Sri Lanka and 24 on Tibet. I mention Sri Lanka in particular because noble Lords will be aware that recently there was a well attended protest in Parliament Square about the terrible attacks on the Tamils, the hospitals under siege, the killing of 70,000 people and the many more thousands who are trapped and displaced from their homes. This has attracted little opprobrium and no calls for the obliteration of Sri Lanka or talk of its brutalisation.
I raise that because I am interested in the particular focus on the Middle East that is expressed in this country. Part of the reason is that the war in Gaza has not been seen in perspective, but only as a minute fragment of what is, in truth, a larger picture. There is a wider war, of which Israel and Gaza are figureheads, and there is also a civil war. The talk about what is proportionate—I prefer the word "necessary"—has to be seen in the context of a response to an attack from Hamas designed not just to launch rockets at Israel—5,000 rockets deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians and schoolchildren at 7.45 in the morning—but to end the state of Israel.
Hamas has vowed to have an Islamic state over Gaza, the West Bank and Israel as part of a wider Islamic empire. Israel has a 20 per cent Arab population, but not one Jew is to be allowed to live in this Islamic state. We can well imagine the fate planned for the millions of Israelis were this to come about. The response from Israel was, if anything, as restrained as it possibly could be. We should recall the detailed precautions taken by the Israeli army to avoid wherever possible harm to civilians, bearing in mind the use of mosques, schools and hospitals, as has been referred to earlier today.
The charges of "disproportionate" were not made in relation to other wars that we have recently experienced; Kosovo, Georgia, Iraq or even Afghanistan, where people have died in their thousands. In fact, there has been some praise for the restraint that Israel has shown in trying to avoid civilian casualties. There is also a civil war in Gaza, which makes the prospects of peace unrealistic. The military dictatorship there did nothing to protect its own subjects, but took the opportunity of war to eliminate many of its Fatah political opponents. Other noble Lords have referred to the very cruel details of this. Even the Palestinian Authority's President Abbas said:
"Hamas has taken risks with the blood of Palestinians, with their fate and dreams and aspirations for an independent Palestinian state".
The wider war is one of destruction of Israel, and those who criticise Israel's attack on Gaza must realise that they are unwittingly giving succour to that plan.
Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas all share that same aim of destroying Israel entirely and, indeed, Hamas has thanked Iran for its support in the Gaza war. As others have mentioned, the result has been that Jews all over the world have suffered for this. The attacks on Jews that have taken place here in the UK and elsewhere illustrate my theme of a wider war. It is Jews and synagogues in London and Venezuela, in universities, to their shame, and streets, that are attacked, with Gaza as the excuse, not Israelis. It is not Jews who see all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism; it is some of the critics of Israel who vent their displeasure on Jews in general. The hatred of Israel, and sometimes Jews, is almost unique in international politics.
Then there is the propaganda war. I urge noble Lords not to believe all that they read in the newspapers about damage and killings in Gaza. We do not have the evidence. I cite just one case. The tragic killing of the three daughters of the respected Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish now seems to have been by Gazan rockets, not Israeli fire, according to the post-mortem examination of the fragments of their bodies.
On the humanitarian front, of course, it is exacerbated, because Hamas wanted civilian deaths to increase its worldwide exposure and sympathy. Humanitarian aid is another area where the wrong and pessimistic view has been taken. I noted with interest and approval that the BBC refused to screen the advertisement for aid and that it was backed by its own NUJ branch of journalists. It is not so good to hear talk of a Zionist lobby and Jews mugging protests and stemming disquiet in the United States, when you consider the very small numbers that there are. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has a huge budget. We do not yet know what happened to the millions that Arafat salted away and took to his death. We note the failure of other Arab countries to come to the aid of their brothers. The oil revenue of the Gulf states in 2008 was $562 billion; in Saudi Arabia it was $260 billion—one day's oil revenue would work a miracle for the West Bank and Gaza, but this is not forthcoming.
On the humanitarian front, Israel's Supreme Court in the past few days, a court known for its robustness, has examined the application of the Geneva conventions on humanitarian law and found them not to have been breached. Other Arab countries have not only not helped but have literally turned their backs on the Palestinians, as one can read regarding Syria in the report in the Times today.
What of the future? Gaza could have had a future. Every Israeli soldier and civilian was removed from there. Everything was ready for the Gazans a few years ago to start a new period of economic development. There was no blockade, and it remains true that Egypt could open its crossing if it wanted to. It does not, of course, because it no more wants an Iranian state on its borders than Israel does. Instead the rockets and the tunnels came, and the sad destruction of the very greenhouses where flowers and fruit were grown and could have continued to be grown.
What can the UK do? It can support Egypt, which is acting very well in this crisis, albeit for its own reasons of survival. It can help block Hamas from smuggling more arms by sea. It can press for the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been a hostage in Gaza for two and a half years with no access to the Red Cross or any other international agency. It can persuade Hamas to change the charter and remove mention of destruction. Above all, your Lordships should lend your voices to the end of the demonisation of Israel and to calm down the surging anti-Semitism. Your Lordships should recognise the need of Israel to exist and its legitimacy. It is no more arriviste in the Middle East than the other 22 Arab states to be found there. There can be no further removal of six million Jews from the Middle East. We must do nothing to feed the hatred that surrounds this issue and we must do everything to look to the future.

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The coming debacle in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has ruined the armies of several empires - and perhaps the empires themselves. In recent times, first the British, and then the Soviets, met disaster there. President Karzai, once touted by the Bush administration as symbolic of a model to be followed in nation building is a evidently a crook of the first order, as well as a fanatical religious reactionary. The state is run on revenues from opium, which also enrich various officials and cronies. Islamic Sharia law is enforced draconically. Not long ago, vigorous international protests were required to save a convert to Christianity from a sentence of execution. There are no good guys in Afghanistan. Only bandits and crooks and fanatics all competing with each other. The enemy of the worst fanatical crook is another fanatical crook. There is no local regime to back. Money poured into rehabilitation will vanish. Attempts to impose unjust regimes on the people will fail.  
In Pakistan, the situation is just barely better. There is a democratic government, besieged by Islamists and beset by India. Its leaders are murdered on a pretty regular basis, and its writ doesn't run to the border areas with Afghanistan.
Barack Obama proposes to save both countries. What would it really take to do that, and is it at all possible?
Obama's war
Peter Goodspeed,  National Post  Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Twenty years ago last Sunday, General Boris Gromov drove the last Soviet armoured personnel carrier out of Afghanistan, crossing a bridge over the Amu Darya River into Soviet Uzbekistan.
Greeted with kisses and garlanded with bouquets of carnations, he, nevertheless, was a symbol of abject defeat. After nine years of vicious fighting, in which up to 110,000 Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan, killing a million Afghans and losing 15,000 soldiers themselves in the process, the badly demoralized Soviet army abandoned the country to another decade of civil war and chaos.
Now, fears are growing that the United States and NATO may be making exactly the same sort of mistakes as the Soviets.
Seven years after U.S. and allied troops drove the Taliban from power, Afghanistan is ensnared in an increasingly violent insurgency that threatens both Kabul and nuclear-armed Pakistan. The country is threatened by new waves of suicide attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations of key Kabul-appointed officials.
Operating from safe havens across the border in Pakistan, the Taliban occupy 72% of the country and run shadow governments and courts that challenge local officials.
Riddled with corruption, poverty and despair, Afghanistan has deteriorated into a "narco-state" that provides 90% of the world's illegal opium.
Like the Soviets before them, the United States and NATO control Afghanistan's cities but are unable to maintain a decisive presence in the hinterland.
"There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan," says Zamir Kabulov, Russia's current ambassador to Kabul.
"They have already repeated all our mistakes. Now, they are making mistakes of their own," says Mr. Kabulov, who was the KGB station chief in Kabul during the Soviet occupation.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants to change that. He has vowed to make Afghanistan the centerpiece of his foreign policy, declaring it "the central front in the war on terror."
Promising "a robust military effort," he is preparing to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, while insisting the United States and its allies need to reassess their strategy.
Unable to win a decisive military victory or to withdraw abruptly without facing potentially catastrophic consequences, Mr. Obama is determined to overhaul U.S. policy in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan completely before a crucial NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, in April.
If Iraq was known as "Bush's War," Afghanistan is definitely about to become "Obama's War." It could come to define Mr. Obama's presidency.
"The window of opportunity for expansive nation building in Afghanistan has closed," says Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa. "Deteriorating security conditions and declining public support for the international mission require a more focused, modest set of goals.
"The situation has become urgent. More NATO troops are certainly needed, but the deployment of additional forces will not, in itself reverse the slide toward defeat. A new approach is needed to the mission."
Two weeks ago, as he testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared previous U.S. goals for Afghanistan were "overly ambitious" and "too broad and too far into the future."
"If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose," he said.
Since Mr. Obama won the presidential election in November, Washington has been swamped with experts undertaking reviews aimed at changing the trajectory of the Afghan war. Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Army General David Petraeus, head of Central Command, and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all conducting their own reviews. This week the White House appointed Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, to chair an inter-agency policy review committee to assess all work on Afghanistan.
So far, there seems to be a consensus view that the war in Afghanistan suffered from a lack of resources and manpower as a result of the U.S.'s pre-occupation with the war in Iraq.
But there is also a growing disenchantment in Washington with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Once the darling of the West, he is no longer assured of the unwavering support he enjoyed from former U.S. president George W. Bush. During the presidential election, Mr. Obama criticized Mr. Karzai's government as being unreliable and ineffective, saying it "had not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan."
Before he was appointed special envoy, Mr. Holbrooke wrote a withering criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the Septemebr issue of Foreign Affairs magazine in which he bluntly claimed Afghanistan's "central government has shown that it is simply not up to the job."
"As the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth," Mr. Holbrooke said. "It will last a long time - longer than the United States' longest war to date, the 14-year conflict [1961-1975] in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government."
A long series of well-placed leaks and snubs have left little doubt that the relationship with Mr. Karzai has soured. Last October, a leaked U.S. intellignece report identified Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan President's half-brother, as a major drug trafficker. Senior U.S. officials repeatedly express doubts over Mr. Karzai's ability or willingness to rein in corruption, to improve law and order and to confront warlords who exploit a thriving opium trade.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote recently in the Washington Post, "Afghan leadership is not some distant aspiration – it's something that we need as soon as possible and on which we must insist. The basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it's too little good governance."
If Afghans were given a government that deserved their loyalty and trust "the oxygen will be sucked away from the insurgency," he predicted.
"Nothing will sap the insurgency's power as effectively over the long term as a positive, tangible alternative to Taliban rule that is based on physical security, the provision of basic services and accountable, non-predatory governance," says a recent policy brief by the Center for New American Security, a Washington think-tank with close ties to the Obama White House.
For now, Mr. Karzai seems bent on further alienating his Western allies.When he opened parliament on Jan. 23, he delivered a blistering speech that attacked the conduct of the U.S.-led war, complaining Washington and NATO undermine his government by ignoring its authority and overlooking corruption and waste in their own aid programs. He also criticized U.S. and NATO military tactics, claiming air strikes were killing too many civilians.
Recently, Mr. Karzai sent U.S. and NATO officials a document outling possible new rules of engagement in  which Afghan officials would control where and how foreign troops were deployed. Mr. Karzai is demanding co-ordination at "the highest level" on the use of air strikes and wants to stop having allied troops search Afghan homes or arrest Afghans.
The move may be a calculated election ploy to bolster Mr. Karzai's chances in presidential elections that were recently rescheduled for Aug. 20. But it could set the Afghan president on a collision course with Washington as Mr. Obama prepares to order a "surge" of three new combat brigades into Afghanistan starting this spring.
While a lack of progress in Afghanistan threatens to undermine Western support for the NATO mission there, experts agree military operations need to be beefed up to reverse the Taliban's recent gains, but they stress the ultimate solution lies in creating a viable, long-term Afghan alternative to the Taliban.
"We need to get back to basics," says J. Alexander Their of the United States Institute of Peace. "Establish security, create a conducive regional environment, build basic governmental legitimacy, engage the citizenry, create economic opportunity - these are the building blocks of a virtuous cycle that will broaden opportunity for ordinary Afghans while narrowing the space for insurgents."
National Post

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An Islamic Taliban Republic - in Pakistan?

Militias look to create 'shariah state,' author says
National Post  Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A Swat Valley delegation meets yesterday with Pakistani government officials in Peshawar to discuss the introduction of Islamic law.Ali Imam, Reuters
Richard Holbrooke, the new U. S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently went to ground zero in the U. S.-led jihadist war. As heavily armed CIA Predator drones patrolled the skies above Pakistan's troubled tribal areas hunting for al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the former Wall Street investment banker and Balkan peacemaker launched his own fact-finding mission, huddling with presidents, prime ministers, soldiers and spies.
While he insisted he was there to listen and not to lecture, Mr. Holbrooke was really searching for ways to salvage U. S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Seven years after a U. S. invasion drove Afghanistan's Taliban from power and dislodged al-Qaeda's leaders, the war against terrorism and Islamist radicalism seems to have fizzled in the barren border lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Former U. S. President George W. Bush's "War on Terror" has come to resemble a deadly game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey rather than a well-planned military campaign. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, Afghanistan is in danger of sliding back into chaos and civil war, and instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan has provided the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a haven and the support they need to regroup.
In a television interview a little over a week ago, Pakistani President Ali Zardari acknowledged the Taliban was present "in huge amounts" of the country and Pakistani forces were "fighting for the survival of Pakistan."
"Pakistan is at the centre of a gathering firestorm engulfing south and central Asia in the most volatile confrontation since 9/11," warned Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani analyst who wrote the best-selling book Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
The West's failure to crush the Taliban and rehabilitate Afghanistan has resulted in a spreading contagion that now threatens the entire region as Pakistan has become the global centre for terrorism.
"Last year, Pakistani Taliban militias developed their own political agenda-- to Talibanize northern Pakistan and create a new 'shariah state' -- that would lead to the balkanization of Pakistan," Mr. Rashid said.
"The Pakistani Taliban now control all seven tribal agencies that make up the autonomous region bordering Afghanistan called the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)," he added. "They have spread across the North West Frontier Province through brutal terror tactics and threaten large towns. Poised on the borders of Punjab, the largest province, they are joined by Punjabi and Kashmiri extremist groups."
Mr. Holbrooke didn't have to look far for evidence of Pakistan's dangerous vulnerability and the threat it poses to the rest of the world.
During his last day in Pakistan, before travelling to Afghanistan, Taliban terrorists simultaneously stormed three government compounds in Kabul in a Mumbai-style terror attack that left 26 people dead. Within hours of the assault, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amnrullah Saleh, said the terror plot was hatched in Pakistan and the attackers had "sent three messages to Pakistan, calling for the blessings of their mastermind" before launching their suicide attacks.
Earlier, Mr. Holbrooke was in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, as he travelled by helicopter to some of Pakistan's battle-scarred tribal territories. While he was there, a local provincial politician was assassinated with a car bomb in Peshawar and a policeman was killed in a Taliban rocket attack on a police station in North Waziristan.
A day earlier, Pakistani Taliban militants released a graphic video of the beheading of a Polish engineer, Piotr Stanczak, who had been abducted in September. The same day, terrorists in North Waziristan killed a local man who they accused of being a U. S. spy and dumped his body by a road.
In recent weeks Taliban insurgents have cut off supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan by attacking supply routes through the Khyber Pass.
In the nearby Swat Valley, 3,000 Taliban militants have run circles around a 12,000-man Pakistani army division and bombed or burned 185 schools in addition to destroying 25 bridges.
Pakistan's military has been unable even to jam the FM radio station the Swat Valley militants use to co-ordinate their attacks and spread hatred against Pakistan's government.
Just 150 kiliometres from Pakistan's capital, the Swat Valley extremists regularly stage public lashings of "sinners" and have just issued a list of 43 people, primarily government officials, who are "wanted" for crimes punishable under Sharia law.
"The failure to bring peace and to restore a modicum of stability to the FATA will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world," warned Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region."
But as Pakistan flirts with becoming a full-fledged failed state, fears are growing its nuclear-armed military may not have the ability or the will to control the situation.
Ill-equipped for fighting a domestic counter-insurgency instead of a conventional war, Pakistan has repeatedly been unable to provide proper security for its own or other high ranking officials. Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated a little over a year ago, in spite of numerous threats; the biggest hotel in Islamabad, near the Pakistani presidential compound, was destroyed in a car bombing; a U. S. embassy official was attacked in Peshawar; Afghanistan's ambassador designate was kidnapped and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' top official in Pakistan, John Solecki, was abducted earlier this month in Quetta in Baluchistan.
U. S. President Barack Obama has said he intends to treat the growing security crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single issue. He has said he is determined to step up military attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists on both sides of the border.
But to do that, U. S. policy will have to focus on supporting Pakistan's fledgling democracy, while both demanding more from Pakistan's military and doing more to prepare Pakistan to fight a counter-insurgency.
As a first step, the U. S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun reviewing a massive new development assistance program for Pakistan that includes $1.5-billion annually in aid focused on developing Pakistan's tribal areas over the next five years.
At the same time, Pakistan's military is pushing Washington for more military aid, asking for attack helicopters, night vision goggles and radio jamming equipment.
In return, Washington will likely demand Pakistan adopt a more coherent strategy for fighting the Taliban and routing out al-Qaeda.
Mr. Holbrooke can also be expected to try and defuse tensions between India and Pakistan in the hopes a form of detente between South Asia's two nuclear powers will allow Pakistan's military to focus on the terrorists along its western border instead of on its traditional enemy in the east.
Before he became Mr. Obama's special envoy, Mr. Holbrooke wrote a guest column for the Washington Post in which he flatly declared "the most critical fact about the war in Afghanistan [is that] it cannot be won as long as the border areas in Pakistan are havens for the Taliban and al-Qaeda."

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Iran: Obama is going full speed in neutral

The New US Administration: Confusion and Indecision on Iran

INSS Insight No. 95, February 18, 2009
Landau, Emily B.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama indicated his willingness to engage with Iran over the nuclear issue without preconditions; in other statements he maintained that he would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. The urgency of the Iranian nuclear challenge – emphasized by Iran's steady progress not only on uranium enrichment but on missile development as well – means that the Obama administration will have to move beyond general guidelines and make a concentrated effort to consolidate its policy on Iran as quickly as possible. And yet, one month into his presidency, Obama's advisors are saying that this is likely to take weeks if not months to achieve. Not only does the administration seem in no hurry to address this pressing foreign policy challenge, but statements that are emerging in the meantime are underscoring a message of confusion and indecision.

In discussing his approach to Iran in an interview one week into his presidency, President Obama repeated the image that he had offered in his inaugural speech of an outstretched US hand of diplomacy to countries like Iran, if they agree to "unclench their fist." In other words, this is an offer of engagement on condition that Iran soften its policies. But is Obama referring to the nuclear issue?

Taken together with later statements, there is a growing sense that Obama is actually attaching more importance to initiating dialogue with Iran than to resolving the nuclear crisis. The idea that the US must engage Iran directly was originally promoted in the immediate context of the need to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions, but for Obama this original objective appears less and less at the forefront. In fact, repairing relations with Iran is sounding more like the primary aim, whereas discussing the US's displeasure with Iran's nuclear activities is relegated to one of the points on the agenda of prospective talks. In his first White House press conference on February 9 Obama said that his national security team is reviewing Iran policy and looking for areas where he can have constructive dialogue with Iran so that they can begin to engage. The New York Times pointed out that while Obama noted that support for terrorist organizations is unacceptable and that nuclear development would spark further destabilizing proliferation in the Middle East, he did not repeat campaign statements that he would never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or the capability to build one.

Obama gives the impression that he wants to be both soft and tough on Iran at the same time, but this is not likely to work. Moreover, the most urgent order of business with regard to Iran is the nuclear crisis and finding the most effective way to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear state. In this sense, beyond the image of an extended hand, what does Obama have in mind in for Iran? More importantly, what is the nature of the (un)clenched fist, and at what point will this accompanying condition to the extended hand come into play in the overall process of trying to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state?

Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton have in recent weeks been a little clearer on this issue. From statements issued by these officials, the unclenched fist seems to refer at least to Iran halting its uranium enrichment activities. Clinton clarified this point when she attempted to reassure European allies that the US did not intend to abandon previous multilateral efforts with regard to Iran. She noted that "President Obama has signaled his intention to support tough and direct diplomacy with Iran, but if Tehran does not comply with UN Security Council and IAEA mandates, there must be consequences." In his address to the Munich Security Conference, Biden made a statement in the same vein, adding that Iran must abandon not only its nuclear ambitions, but its support for terrorism as well.

But even if there is some measure of clarity regarding what Iran must do to unclench its fist, there is still the thorny issue of timing. In this regard, neither Clinton nor Biden provides any direction: they both mention that the US will be tough if Iran doesn't comply with certain conditions, but say nothing about the more precise mechanics of implementing the conditionality. Will the US enter negotiations and then assess Iran's degree of cooperation, or will it insist on indications of a changed Iranian attitude before entering negotiations? When will the US get tough? These crucial questions remain unanswered.

Because Obama insists on an approach that is different from the Bush administration, anything sounding like a "precondition" to dialogue will probably not be embraced, even though Clinton's promise to uphold previous multilateral efforts seems to imply continued adherence to the precondition that Iran cease uranium enrichment activities. After all, the Europeans have been as clear on this point as the US since the summer of 2006. If the new administration is in fact tending toward the "wait and see" approach, this could have dire consequences for any negotiation with Iran: while it may sound reasonable to first demonstrate accommodation – the outstretched hand – and then move to harsh measures only if Iran leaves no choice, in practice this will be very difficult to pull off. Once the sides become engaged in dialogue, making the call that "Iran is not serious" is not as easy as it might sound. Iran is very adept at going through the motions of dialogue, including sporadic indications of a more cooperative attitude, in order to buy time for its nuclear program but with no intention of actually moving toward a deal. In this way, "wait and see" negotiations can actually help Iran achieve its goal.

In dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, attention must also be directed to Iran's calculations, and in particular to the sobering reality that Iran has no rational reason for being any more willing to negotiate seriously with the US today than it was when negotiating with the EU-3 in the past. The only factor that might change Iran's calculation is if it begins to feel very uncomfortable with the status quo, and this is where pressure comes into the equation. The toughness that the US needs to demonstrate should not be understood as an alternative to dialogue, rather as a step toward more effective engagement with Iran on the nuclear issue. The logical sequence for those facing Iran is first to create tremendous pressure – through strong sanctions and other financial measures as well as credible threats and indications of a willingness to apply military measures – and then begin negotiations. A much less confident Iran is likely to be much more amenable to actually reaching a deal.

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Obama and Durban II

Given both who he is, and what he represents, Barak Obama had almost no option at all other than to attempt to save the Durban conference on Racism. If there was ever a moral imperative, this was it.
Obama's high-risk engagement at 'Durban II'
Feb. 16, 2009

Gerald Steinberg , THE JERUSALEM POST

The Obama Administration's decision to jump into the preparations for the UN's Durban Review Conference, scheduled for Geneva in April 2009, is a bold but also a risky move. Beyond the specific results in this case, the results will set the tone for relations with Iran, the challenge of radical Islam, chances for progress in George Mitchell's peace efforts, and the policy based on engagement and dialogue.

Iran, Cuba, Libya, the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and other paragons of human rights have used this framework for antisemitism and to demonize Israel, advance Holocaust denial and make a mockery of human rights. They have also attempted to legislate against free speech, using allegations of "Islamophobia" to block criticism of extremism and violence. Canada and Israel have lost hope and pulled out, and some European officials have spoken about not participating, but are now waiting for the results of the US policy.

If the Americans succeed in reversing this agenda in the brief time that remains, it would mark a major success and set the stage for restoring US influence and values. Proponents of engagement argue that the Obama Administration can help steer this UN conference so that it actually focuses on discrimination against minorities around the world, and is not another platform for anti-Israel obsession.

Alternatively, if this strategy fails, and the text remains poisonous, an American-led walkout with the 27 members of the European Union and some others would delegitimize the Durban process.

HOWEVER, IF Washington hesitates and compromises, allowing the OIC and like-minded NGOs to control the agenda, the participation of the world's democracies will do immense damage. It will amplify the impact of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, including the NGO Forum which used terms like "apartheid" and "racism" to isolate Israel.

Using the Durban strategy, Palestinians launched terror attacks with the knowledge that the Israeli responses would be condemned as "war crimes", which, in turn, would justify boycotts on the South African model. Instead of negotiations based on acceptance of Israel, the goal of annihilation was reinforced. In parallel, Durban has advanced the radical Islamist agenda, justifying violent attacks against critics, and further narrowing free speech, including in Europe. The preparations for the April 2009 conference all point to the same agenda.

In parallel, the obstacles to hopes of reversing the course of the Review Conference were highlighted by the exploitation of human rights rhetoric, double standards, and legal processes initiated against Israeli officials in Spain and elsewhere, stemming from the IDF's Gaza operation. NGO superpowers such as Human Rights, Amnesty International, Paris-based FIDH, and Oxfam, along with Palestinian NGOs (such as PCHR, which is funded by European governments), Libyan-backed groups, and many others are central in this form of deadly warfare, and will be active in Geneva.

With such high stakes, the failure to defeat the Durban strategy will intensify hatred, and carry a major cost for the Obama Administration's policy of dialogue and engagement with opponents. In 2001, the American and Israeli delegations went to Durban expecting that reason and decency would prevail; but when this proved futile, their walkout came too late. To avoid a repetition, the US needs to show moral leadership and, if necessary, readiness to admit that dialogue has failed.

The writer chairs the Political Science department at Bar Ilan University, and is Executive Director of NGO Monitor.

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Israel's Gaza war in Dutch state-funded media

Israel's Gaza war in Dutch state-funded media

During Operation Cast Lead, the recent Israel war with Hamas, the Israel facts group monitored the reporting methods of the most important state-funded Dutch news show, "NOS Journal."  We watched and analyzed the prime-time news show at 8 p.m. throughout the war and beyond.  We checked the reports regarding the footage, language and omissions. We compared the reports of NOS with its own journalistic code, which obliges it to provide impartial and independent news and to allow the right of response. We also compared the reports with the ARD reports in Germany (both NOS and ARD are state-funded, comparable with Channel 1 in Israel) and with Israeli reporting on the war by Channel 10 and Channel 1. We found a pattern of omission, distortion and manipulation.  We found that NOS Journal omits and distorts the facts and manipulates the opinion of the Dutch public beyond belief. This is a summary of the original report which was published in the Dutch language: Verslag rapport over de NOS.


We divided the report into chapters with the following content:


Facts and lies; terminology toward Israel and terminology toward the Palestinians; use of footage and assembling of the pictures in reports; omissions and repeating themes.


Here are some examples of our findings.


The outbreak of the war, which actually started on December 19 before the beginning of operation Cast Lead last year, was not covered. The 19 rockets on the south of Israel on December 19 as well as those exploding on the following days were not reported by NOS. Only the 60 rockets on December 24 found their way into the Dutch news show, but NOS found an explanation for them. According to NOS they were the Hamas answer to the Israeli "offensive" on December 23.  In fact Israel responded that day to a Hamas attack on the Gaza border in which three Hamas terrorists were killed. For NOS the Hamas rockets on December 24 were less important than the Christmas preparations in Bethlehem. NOS reporter Sander Van Hoorn was in Bethlehem to talk a little about the improved situation there, but a lot about the Israeli occupation and aggression. He reminded his viewers about the siege of the Church of the Nativity by Israel in 2003, after some wanted Palestinian terrorists had fled into the church, though without mentioning the Palestinian hijacking of the church; the hostages they took and the desecration of the church. Nor did he mention the transfer of control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority by Israel in the week before Christmas. In fact he told Dutch viewers that the occupation in Bethlehem was still in full swing.


When  Cast Lead began on December 17 he reported the action as a desperate act of Israel which was motivated by the forthcoming elections. Two days later, Van Hoorn was reporting on the closed military zone at the Gaza border. He ridiculed the Israeli security measure. He said it was ridiculous because the rockets were fired at Sderot a few miles from the spot he was standing (he omitted that he knew about the sniper attacks on the border). He suggested a different reason for the ban: "Israel did not want nosey parkers."


The pictures shown by NOS in the Journal were mainly the coverage by Ramattan TV, the local Arab broadcaster in Gaza. The footage released by the IAF was never shown in the NOS journal, because according to NOS, Israel was carpet bombing Gaza. There was no shortage of expressions by the NOS reporters depicting Israel as a brutal aggressor, nor was there a shortage of coverage of the dead and wounded in Gaza. In fact 90 percent of all footage dealt with the suffering of the Gaza population.  The Israeli front was finally discovered on December 31, when all Dutchmen are busy with New Year celebrations and do not watch the news. On January 6, NOS invited a Middle East "expert" to the studio, who explained that the Hamas rockets were a punishment for the occupation and said that the ban on entering Gaza was meant to keep reporters away from the "dirty business" in which Israel was involved in Gaza. January 6 was also the day the incident took place at the UN school in Gaza in which, according to NOS, 40 civilians died. An hour before the Journal was aired, we sent the editor of NOS an e-mail in which we alerted him to the IDF version of the incident (Hamas was firing mortar shells from the street next to the school, to which the IDF responded). In the 8 p.m. news there was no mention of the IDF version nor was there one in the 10 p.m. Journal . The NOS reported that Israel was firing at UN schools and kept sticking to that, even after we asked them to correct the error.


On January 13, NOS aired a report by Van Hoorn on the way Israeli television was covering the war. He took Channel 10 as the subject of his report, and started by saying that patriotism was the prime factor in the broadcasts of Channel 10, Israelis saw only the clean face of the war but no bloody or disturbing pictures, and this was the reason 90 percent of the Israelis did support the war. No wonder, he continued, because all the Channel 10 reporters were reporting with one leg standing in Gaza (suggesting that Israeli reporters were imbedded with IDF). In fact all Israeli channels had extensive coverage of the situation in Gaza, and repeatedly Israelis were exposed to the damage and the suffering of the population in Gaza. 


January 17, NOS reported on the live broadcast on Channel 10 in which the Palestinian doctor Abu El Aish reported on the death of his three children by what later proved to be a IDF shell. Israelis saw Channel 10 reporter Shlomi Eldar fighting against his tears when he spoke to El Aish . The Israeli reporter tried during the live broadcast to arrange help for the doctor. NOS succeeded, however, in cutting the footage in such a manner that Eldar's emotions were not in the report. The comment on these pictures and the pictures of the doctor in the hospital in Tel Aviv explained why NOS had cut the footage of Eldar. It said that only for this occasion Israel opened the border for a wounded Palestinian (a blatant lie), because of the personal relationship between Eldar and El Aish, and added that after arrival in the Israeli hospital the doctor could not count on Israeli compassion. After that, some pictures of an Israeli woman questioning the innocence of El Aish were shown.


In general, no official Israeli spokesmen found their way into the reports of NOS, no footage of the ground action or pin point strikes was aired, and the right of reply for Israel was not granted after accusations by NGOs or Palestinians. Pictures of the Israeli front lasted a few seconds and were accompanied by comments that only material damage was reported. A serious analysis of the backgrounds of the war was not provided and all acts which could have been negative for the Palestinians were omitted from the reports of NOS.


NOS was highly critical of Israeli channels and even of Al Jazeera for not conducting interviews with Israelis, while NOS itself only once aired a full interview with a Dutch speaking Israeli in Ashkelon -- "the pot calls the kettle black !"


Our report on the way NOS was dealing with its own commitment to bring impartial and factual news was published in Holland on February 16[JMH2] . It has been sent to all political parties and media outlets as well as to some bloggers in Holland. We concluded that on most points mentioned in its journalistic code, the NOS Journal was violating its own commitments. NOS only replied with a standard response to the many e-mails which were sent with requests to correct errors or to point out the facts as they were known at the time. In some cases NOS did not give any response other than a short notice acknowledging receipt of the letter..


The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Holland during January was skyrocketing. At a demonstration in Amsterdam attended by a Dutch member of parliament, scores of people shouted "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!!" A shooting attack took place on a Jewish health center.


It seems obvious what was fanning the flames which led to these incidents.


The report is published in full in Dutch on our website: Verslag rapport over de NOS  


Yochanan Visser

Israel facts Monitor group Dutch Media


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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anti-Semitism is back, bigtime

British politician, MP and author Denis MacShane is making a reputation as a firm friend of the Jewish people and a fearless fighter for what is right. He tells a depressing story. But as long as there are a few leaders like Denis MacShane, all is not lost.
Denis MacShane
The periodic crises that have shaken world capitalism in the century and a half since Marx wrote Das Kapital are marked by a common political phenomenon. It is the rise of political anti-Semitism. Attacks on Jews and Jewishness constitute the canary in the coal mine that tells us something is going seriously wrong.
Last month a 32-year-old IT worker, Michael Booksatz, was beaten up in the streets of north London by two hooded men shouting about Palestinians. Jewish students at the London School of Economics - home to many brilliant Jews who fled Hitler's Germany - are now frightened by anti-Jewish abuse from Islamist students. Graffiti such as "Kill the Jews" or "Jihad 4 Israel" appear close to synagogues in London.
The Metropolitan Police report four times as many anti-Jewish incidents in recent weeks as Islamaphobic events. The respected Community Security Trust, which records anti-Jewish attacks with scrupulous rigour, reports as many attacks on Jews - verbal, vandalism and some violent - in the first weeks of 2009 as in the first six months of last year.
As the world enters a new era of crisis, anti-Semitism is back. History, as ever, begins to repeat itself. The slumps and stock market fever expressed in Zola's novel, L'Argent, or the populist anger against Wall Street at the end of the 19th century gave rise to the virulent anti-Semitic politics witnessed in France in connection with the Dreyfus case or the takeover of Vienna by openly anti-Semitic politicians. The Great Depression gave rise to the worst expressions of anti-Semitism ever seen, namely the politics that led to the Holocaust. But even in Britain the Duke of Wellington of the time was leader of a secret anti-Jewish organisation which had the initials PJ - Perish Judah - on its letterhead.
The economic crises of the 1970s led to a marked increase in the vote for the National Front in Britain and the openly anti-Semitic BNP, its successor extreme party, is doing very well in local elections - below the radar of the national opinion polls.
The distress and upset over the terrible pictures of children killed in Israel's attacks on Hamas in Gaza have allowed anti-Israeli feelings to be more violently and vehemently expressed than ever before. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. But all anti-Semites hate the existence of a Jewish state and hiding behind code words such as anti-Zionism increases the density and viciousness of their anti-Jewish utterances.
In Italy, the streets of Milan are daubed with slogans urging Italians not to buy goods at Jewish shops - an echo of the Nazi slogan "Kauft Nicht Bei Juden". In Germany, radio phone-ins are full of accusations that the bankers accused of being responsible for the current economic crisis are Jews. In anti-Israel demonstrations in Berlin, placards stating "It was a good idea to use gas" or "I'm anti-Semitic and that's a good thing" were carried. Thus every Jew is made to feel as if they do not fully belong in the countries where they were born or the societies that they participate in.
Terrible massacres of Muslims have taken place in different parts of the world so far this century, from Kashmir to Gujarat. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Nato soldiers are accused of brutality but the men with the most blood on their hands of fellow Muslims have been Islamist ideologues. Yet there is no outrage against the perpetrators of those attacks compared with the onslaught on Israel and on Jews.
Is it unreasonable to argue that the reason that there is worldwide anger against Israel but not against other regimes or religions that carry out massacres of Muslims is because the Israelis are Jews? Has legitimate criticism and anger against Israel allowed Jew hate to become almost acceptable politics again? Add to this a world economic crisis in which it is so easy to point at the names of the swindlers and banksters that happen to be Jewish, and a new perfect storm of anti-Semitism begins to take shape.
Today in London a conference of parliamentarians from different legislatures in Europe and around the world will gather to discuss what can be done. Michael Gove, for the Conservatives, will join Labour Cabinet ministers Hazel Blears and Jim Murphy in saying it is time for the Parliaments of the democractic world to take action against anti-Semitism - especially Islamist attacks against young Jewish students on university campuses.
The Pope embraces a Holocaust-denying Winchester and Cambridge-educated bishop; slogans such as "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas" are chanted in Amsterdam;
Jews are again made to feel they are not full citizens of the countries of their birth because they refuse to support the right of Hamas and Hezbollah to use terror attacks against Israeli civilians. The canary in the coal mine seems in danger of its life once again.
Denis MacShane, MP, is a former Minister for Europe and the author of Globalising Hatred: the New Anti-Semitism (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

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Was Ahmed Qureia dismissed as PA negotiator with Israel?

Was Ahmed really dismissed as negotiator with Israel and why? Is he too soft or too tough, or is it just an internal political squabble? Or maybe it is just a rumor.
Last update - 15:07 17/02/2009       
Report: Ahmed Qureia dismissed as PA negotiator in Israel talks
By Jackie Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed Ahmed Qureia from his position as the PA's senior negotiator in talks with Israel, the pan-Arab paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Tuesday.
Abbas has shifted responsibility for the peace negotiations from Qureia, a veteran PA official, to Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative for the negotiations, the London-based paper said.
Erekat himself was said to have confirmed the report, stating that he was the chairman of the Palestinian negotiating team. But he reportedly refused to explain why Qureia was dismissed from the post.
Qureia bureau denied the report, stating no decision had yet been reached on the matter.
According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, while Abbas has not put the decision into writing, he has kept Qureia from participating in recent meetings with United States and Israeli officials.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Israel sells Green Pine radar system to South Korea

Last update - 11:15 16/02/2009       
South Korea to buy Israeli radar system in $215 million deal
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent, and Reuters
South Korea's military has decided to buy Israel's Oren Yarok (Green Pine) radar warning system, in a deal worth $215 million, according to a report in Sunday's Korea Times newspaper.
South Korea plans to install the system for operational use by 2012.
The United States and France also put in bids for the deal. The U.S., however, was only willing to sell South Korea a less advanced radar system.
The deal is one of the largest weapons sales ever between Israel and South Korea. Israel Aerospace Industries previously lost a tender to sell South Korea the Falcon radar warning system, after the U.S. pressured them to favor American companies.
Oren Yarok was developed by Elta, and is used as Israel's main warning system.
Mexico police buy Israeli air surveillance systems
Another Israeli firm, Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd., on Monday said it had won 22 million euros in contracts to supply Mexico's federal police with airborne surveillance systems.
Products sold include the Skystar 300, a blimp with on-board cameras offering 24-hour monitoring of surroundings, and the Orbiter, a miniature unmanned spy plane, Aeronautics said in a statement.

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Fragments of Heliodorus Setele sheld light on Maccabees

Last update - 13:43 16/02/2009       
Greek inscription fragments found south of Jerusalem shed light on Maccabees
By Haaretz Service
Three fragments of a Greek inscription, believed to be part of the "Heliodoros stele" were recently found at an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at the National Park of Beit Guvrin.
The Heliodoros stele, dating back to 178 B.C.E. and consisting of 23 lines inscribed in limestone, is considered one of the most important ancient inscriptions found in Israel.
Dr. Dov Gera, who studied the inscriptions, determined that the fragments were actually the lower portion of "The Heliodoros stele". This discovery confirmed the assumption that the stele originally stood in one of the temples located where Maresha- Beit Guvrin National Park stands today.
The new fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.
As published by Professors Cotton and Wörrle in 2007, this royal stone stele bears a proclamation by the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (father of Antiochus IV). The contents of the stele shed light on the Seleucid government's involvement in local temples, mentioning an individual named Olympiodoros, the appointed "overseer" of the temples in Coele Syria -- Phoenicia, including Judea.
The order of the king was sent to Heliodorus, who was probably the same person mentioned in the book of II Maccabees. According to the story in Maccabees, Heliodorus, as the representative of King Seleucus IV, tried to steal money from the Temple in Jerusalem but instead was severely beaten as a result of divine intervention.
Three years later, Seleucus IV was assassinated and was succeeded by his son Antiochus IV, who was the ruler, who according to II Maccabees, eventually issued an edict of persecution against the Jewish people and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem leading to the Maccabean Revolt.
In short, it can be determined that this royal stele originated in the city of Maresha, and adds important archaeological evidence and historical context to understanding the period leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, an event celebrated each year on the holiday of Hanukah.
Dr. Ian Stern, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority adds, "this discovery is the fruit of a joint effort on the part of the Archaeological Seminars Instititute's 'Dig for a Day' program, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the staff of the of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in the National Park of Beit Guvrin."

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Israel's National Elections - The Results

Israel's National Elections - The Results

By MK, Colette Avital
The results of Israel's national elections have astounded many in Israel and abroad.
Israelis awoke on February 11 to find that parliamentary elections had not yielded a new government, rather political gridlock : the center-left Kadima party headed by Tzipi Livni holds a one-seat lead over the rightist Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu ( 28 against 27). But the total gain of all right-wing parties – 65 out of 120 seats far outweighs those on the left, making it more likely that Netanyahu will, in the end , head the Government. In Israeli politics, not one lone vote, but the party bloc that the contestant for the premiership is capable of cobbling together,  tips the balance in the end. According to Israeli law, it is now the President's role to consult with all parties, and decide on whom to confer the task to form a coalition
Despite the lack of clarity as to who will be Israel's next Prime Minister, one thing is painfully clear : the entire left wing bloc has suffered a crushing defeat in these elections. The Israel Labor Party whose founders have achieved great things in the past, and who has led the peace-camp for many years, has dwindled down to 13 seats and is now the fourth largest party, this following  Lieberman's Israel Beitenu ( Israel our home) that got 15 seats, a far-right wing , ultranationalist party. Meretz, who had hoped to make great progress in its new "transformation" ( The New Movement- Meretz) has been cut down from 6 to a mere 3 seats, barely enough to get into Parliament.
This tremendous downfall can be explained by a remarkable upsurge of right-wing thinking, following eight years of rocket attacks on Israel, and what part of the public considers an insufficient Israeli response. Many in the south of Israel, especially the youth, bought into easy slogans such as "the Hamas can be crushed" But the sweeping downfall can be explained also by the success of the last-minute forceful, but fallacious campaign led  by Kadima that not voting for Livni ultimately means handing over the power to Netanyahu. The fear of having again a Netanyahu-led government made many Labor and Meretz voters defect at the last moment, just to stop Netanyahu.The illusion of defeating the right which the campaign created, deceived many. In fact, Livni beat the left, but was ultimately beaten by the right.
These are, indeed , some of the reasons, but not all . Both Labor and Meretz have suffered a deep crisis.  Labor's identity crisis has been the result of joining, over the past 9 years, right-wing governments; changing leaders frequently has eroded our credibility and public support.
The nature and composition of next Government will have a tremendous impact on Israel's policies, mainly on the peace process. Should Netanyahu choose ( and succeed) in forming a center-right Government, chances are that he will cooperate with the US and Europe in advancing the dialogue. Should he form the Government based on small-right wing parties holding him hostage to their demands, Netanyahu will have no choice but to increase settlement activity and stall on ay peace process that would require him to give up West Bank territory.
As to Labor, we will most probably sit in the opposition. Time has come for us to face honestly our failures, rehabilitate and rebuild ourselves  in the opposition, as a serious, responsible alternative to the right-wing that won
Colette Avital
International Secretary
Israel Labor Party.

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UNRWA GAZA school - only three noncombatants killed

The incident of Israeli shooting at the UNRWA school was without doubt one of the most significant events of Operation Cast Lead. It was claimed that IDF had fired on defenseless refugees inside the school, killing over 40 people. Belatedly, IDF proved, and the UN reluctantly agreed, that the shells fell outside the school. Now it turns out that only 12 people were killed, 9 of whom were combatants.

UNRWA is at fault for deliberately lying about the incident. UN is at fault for not apologizing. But that is the way the game is played. IDF and the Israeli authorities must take the blame for not coming out with the correct version at the right time.

Analysis: Counted out: Belatedly, the IDF enters the life-and-death numbers game

Feb. 15, 2009

Throughout the three weeks of the Gaza fighting in Operation Cast Lead, this newspaper attempted to gather, from official Israeli sources, reliable information on the number and nature of the Palestinian dead.

It was clear that the overall death toll in the Strip - and more specifically the number of the civilian fatalities - was serving as the yardstick by which the "proportionality" of Israel's response to Kassam fire was being measured.

However, Israel was unable to provide even reasonably firm official figures for the death toll and its civilian component. Part of this inability was an inevitable consequence of the fog of a war fought in enemy territory. But part of it also stemmed from the minimal allocation of Israeli resources to the task.

In the absence of official Israeli numbers, reporters worldwide were left with firm Hamas-Gaza-supplied figures, and vague, unofficial Israeli estimates. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian figures were universally cited in news reporting of the conflict, by the international media and largely by the Israeli media, too. These figures indicated that the overwhelming majority of those killed were civilians - indications that, in turn, exacerbated hostile international attitudes to Israel among reporters, politicians and the general public in this region and far beyond.

On Sunday, four full weeks after the fighting ended, the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) was finally ready to show The Jerusalem Post its research into the fatalities - information compiled from a variety of sources, notably including Hamas's own media and other open Palestinian sources.

This research contradicts the official Hamas-Gaza government claims, in the course of the fighting and since, that most of those killed were civilians. Attempting to investigate every fatality, the CLA now has a list of names, ID numbers, occupation/affiliation and circumstances of death for most of the 1,338 Palestinians killed in the course of Operation Cast Lead. (Thirteen Israelis were killed during the fighting - 10 soldiers and three civilians.)

This dossier is not yet complete, but 1,200-plus fatalities have been identified by name, and the Post was shown the dossier that details them. Some 880 have been categorized as combatants or noncombatants, and the ratio is approximately two-to-one - the reverse of the impression created by Palestinian officials during the conflict, and a world away from the Hamas claim that just 48 of its fighters were killed.

Perhaps the most emblematic alleged distortion of the death toll relates to the deaths near the UN school in Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, on January 6. Palestinian medical officials claimed then that some 40 Palestinians, many of them women and children who had sought refuge from the fighting, were killed at the school by IDF shells. These claims sparked condemnation from the UN, widespread allegations of a "massacre" against Israel and escalated international political demands for an urgent end to the fighting.

The CLA on Sunday, however, belatedly reported that the Palestinian death toll in that incident - which, it restated, involved Israel returning fire against Hamas gunmen outside the school facility - caused an estimated 12 fatalities, nine gunmen and three noncombatants.

CLA head Col. Moshe Levi acknowledged on Sunday that all this information - on both such specific incidents as the UN school and the overall classifications of the dead - would probably be largely ignored today, since it was being made available so long after the fighting ended. But Levi explained that the IDF was not prepared to issue information unless and until it was confident of its accuracy, no matter how grievous the damage to Israel's image, and the consequent political pressures caused by the delays in contesting inaccurate facts and figures.

Levi remarked that, in future conflicts, the IDF might need to bolster the resources it allocates to establishing, in real time, facts as basic as the number and identities of the dead.

Given that compiling the dossier appears to have been the responsibility of a single officer in the CLA, some might regard this remark as something of an understatement.


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New Hamas puppet: War on the Zionists

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?
Palestinian Media Watch reports that Hamas kiddie TV has a new puppet mascot to replace the mouse, the bee and the rabbit. The new terroist mascot, a bear named Nassur, appeared Friday on Hamas TV promising to be a Jihad fighter, and declaring war on the Zionists.

Click here if you cannot see the video

Nassur: "I will join the ranks of the Izz A-Din Al-Qassam [Hamas'] Brigades. I will be a Jihad fighter with them and I will carry a rifle. Do you know why, Saraa?"
Saraa: "Why?"

Nassur: "To defend the children of Palestine, the children who were killed, the children who were wounded, the orphaned children. That's why, from this moment, I declare war on the criminal Zionists. Not only me, me and you. You are ready, right, Saraa?"
Saraa: "We are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for our homeland!"

[Al-Aqsa TV, Feb. 13, 2009]

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IDF: World duped by Hamas's false civilian death toll figures

IDF: World duped by Hamas's false civilian death toll figures

Feb. 15, 2009

Four weeks after the cessation of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF finally opened its dossier on Palestinian fatalities on Sunday for the first time, and presented to The Jerusalem Post an overview utterly at odds with the Palestinian figures that have hitherto formed the basis for assessing the conflict.

While the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose death toll figures have been widely cited, reports that 895 Gaza civilians were killed in the fighting, amounting to more than two-thirds of all fatalities, the IDF figures shown to the Post on Sunday put the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total.

The international community had been given a vastly distorted impression of the death toll because of "false reporting" by Hamas, said Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which compiled the IDF figures.

As an example of such distortion, he cited the incident near a UN school in Jabalya on January 6, in which initial Palestinian reports falsely claimed IDF shells had hit the school and killed 40 or more people, many of them civilians.

In fact, he said, 12 Palestinians were killed in the incident - nine Hamas operatives and three noncombatants. Furthermore, as had since been acknowledged by the UN, the IDF was returning fire after coming under attack, and its shells did not hit the school compound.

"From the beginning, Hamas claimed that 42 people were killed, but we could see from our surveillance that only a few stretchers were brought in to evacuate people," said Levi, adding that the CLA contacted the PA Health Ministry and asked for the names of the dead. "We were told that Hamas was hiding the number of dead."

As a consequence of the false information, he added, the IDF was considering setting up a "response team" for future conflicts whose job would be to collect information, analyze it and issue reports as rapidly as possible that refuted Hamas fabrications.

Basing its work on the official Palestinian death toll of 1,338, Levi said the CLA had now identified more than 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities. Its 200-page report lists their names, their official Palestinian Authority identity numbers, the circumstances in which they were killed and, where appropriate, the terrorist group with which they were affiliated.

The CLA said 580 of these 1,200 had been conclusively "incriminated" as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Another 300 of the 1,200 - women, children aged 15 and younger and men over the age of 65 - had been categorized as noncombatants, the CLA said.

Counted among the women, however, were female terrorists, including at least two women who tried to blow themselves up next to forces from the Givati and Paratroopers' Brigades. Also classed as noncombatants were the wives and children of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander who refused to allow his family to leave his home even after he was warned by Israel that it would be bombed.

The 320 names yet to be classified are all men; the IDF has yet complete its identification work in these cases, but estimates that two-thirds of them were terror operatives.

The CLA gave the Post the names of several fatalities who it said had been classified by the Palestinians as "medics," but who it stated were Hamas fighters, including Anas Naim, the nephew of Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim, who was killed during clashes with the IDF on January 4 in the Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood of Gaza City.

Following the clashes, the Palestinian press reported that Naim was killed and that he was a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Gaza CLA, however, produced photographs of Naim posing holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a Kalashnikov assault rifle that had been posted on a Hamas Web site.

Levi stressed that on no occasion were civilians deliberately targeted, and that every effort was made to minimize civilian casualties.

Work on the death toll list was started during Operation Cast Lead under Levi's direction. A special team was set up and led by an officer in the CLA who coordinated efforts with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and worked from statistics and information on the dead from the Hamas Health Ministry, the media in Gaza, and other Palestinian and Israeli intelligence sources.

Much controversy and confusion has surrounded the number of Palestinian noncombatants killed during Israel's three-week campaign against Hamas, with the IDF and the Shin Bet refusing to release official numbers to refute Hamas allegations. Israeli estimates were intermittently leaked to the press but not published in official press statements.


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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Raymond Ibrahim: War, Peace and Deceit in Islam

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Amnesty exposes Hamas killings of rival Palestinians

It should be obvious by now that Hamas are running a terror state in Gaza. Report after report complains that members of rival Fatah are beaten, shot in the legs, killed. Amnesty International reports:

... Hamas forces and militias in the Gaza Strip have engaged in a campaign of abductions, deliberate and unlawful killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of "collaborating" with Israel, as well as opponents and critics.

At least two dozen men have been shot dead by Hamas gunmen in this period. Scores of others have been shot in the legs, kneecapped or inflicted with other injuries intended to cause permanent disability, subjected to severe beatings which have caused multiple fractures and other injuries, or otherwise tortured or ill-treated.

The targets of Hamas' deadly campaign include former detainees accused of "collaborating" with the Israeli army who escaped from Gaza's Central Prison when it was bombed by Israeli forces on 28 December 2008, as well as former members of the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces and other activists of PA President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

The campaign began shortly after the beginning of the three-week Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008 and continued after a ceasefire took effect on 18 January 2009.

Most of the victims were abducted from their homes; they were later dumped – dead or injured – in isolated areas, or were found dead in the morgue of one of Gaza's hospitals. Some were shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment for injuries they sustained in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza's Central Prison. The perpetrators of these attacks did not conceal their weapons or keep a low profile, but, on the contrary, behaved in a carefree and confident – almost ostentatious – manner.

Among the cases investigated by Amnesty International are the deliberate killings of three brothers from the Abu 'Ashbiyeh family, 'Atef, Mohammed and Mahmoud, from Jabalia (north Gaza), who were all killed within 24 hours of escaping from Gaza's Central Prison. One of the brothers, Mahmoud, aged 24, reached the family home in the middle of the afternoon of 28 December but an hour later a group of gunmen came to the house and took him away. His body was found hours later in the morgue of Kamal 'Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya (north Gaza) with abdomen and head wounds. The following day the bodies of his two brothers, 26-year-old Mohammed and 39-year-old 'Atef, were found in the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, both with gunshot wounds in the head, chest and abdomen. The three had been in detention since March 2008 and were accused of "collaborating" with the Israeli army. They had first been held in the notorious al-Mashtal detention centre, north of Gaza City, run by the Internal Security Force (previously run by Hamas' armed militia, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades).

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In Egypt: Christian converts fear for their lives, struggle for recognition

By Christopher Landau
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, Cairo 

Mr El Gohary and his daughter fear for their lives' after converting
Maher al-Gohary has converted from Islam to Christianity. In spite of facing death threats, he's engaged in a legal battle to have his changed religion recognised on his official Egyptian documents.
We drive through the chaotic streets of Cairo to meet Mr Gohary's lawyer at a petrol station.
His client lives in hiding, and doesn't disclose his address.
He faces threats to his life - as a result of abandoning Islam for Christianity.
When we meet, in a small first floor office on an anonymous Cairo street, Maher al-Gohary is matter-of-fact about the dangers he faces.
"I am afraid. Many, many people can kill me and my daughter anytime," he says.
I asked him whether he felt these threats to his life were serious.
"Yes," he replied. "Anyone may kill us in the street."
His teenage daughter, also a Christian, sits at her father's side.
She, too, has been warned about the consequences of religious conversion.
"While I was going to school, someone stopped me and told me if my father does not go back to Islam, they will kill him and kill me," she tells me.
Legal recognition
Her father's legal challenge is a simple one.
He wants his state identification documents amended, so that his religious status is described as Christian.
Such a change would also mean his daughter could receive Christian religious education.
His lawyer, Nabil Ghobreyal, has already represented his client at several legal hearings - but no judge has yet issued a final verdict.
At the most recent, on 7 February, Mr Ghobreya believes he made a convincing case that Egyptian civil law offers no obstacles to religious conversion.
He believes the real problem is that the law is being ignored.

Who are Egypts' Christians?
Egypt has the oldest and largest Christian community in the Middle East
About 10% of Egypt's 80 million people are Christians
Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, a word derived from the Greek word Aigyptos, meaning Egypt
The Christian community is divided into: Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholics, Coptic Evangelicans (Protestants) and other minorities
They have their own pope, Pope Shenouda III, and give allegiance to him rather than to Rome
"The court should have ruled in the first session of this case to allow Mr Gohary to change his religion from Muslim to Christian," he explains.
"But the problem is that some judges rule according to their beliefs, not according to law."
Those beliefs lead some Muslims to support harsh penalties for those who abandon the Muslim faith.
Some believe that to renounce Islam - known as apostasy - should be punished by death.
But human rights lawyers in Egypt are convinced that the country's law allows for the freedom to change religion.
At the Arabic Human Rights Information Network, I met Gamal Eid, a lawyer fighting a similar case on behalf of another religious convert.
He believes that if Mr Gohary's case is successful, it could have far-reaching consequences.
"Many people in their ID are Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish - but they believe different things," he says.
"Many of them are afraid to convert officially. If that door opens - huge numbers of people will try to convert from Muslim to Christian. The law gives them this right."
Existing in secret
Egypt's Christian communities have deep roots - with many churches pre-dating Islam.
But some feel as though they have to exist in secret, or at the very least to be discreet about their activities.
At morning prayer at a Catholic church in Cairo, I come across Father Rafiq Greish.
He tells me that while his church is free to hold services when it wants, he is prevented from sharing his Christian faith as widely as he would like.
And he says that some women in his congregation, who have converted to Christianity, go to great lengths to hide their changed religious status from friends and family.
"When they go out from the church, they put their veil on again, and they go home with their veil as if a Muslim woman," he explains.
"Because she's afraid from her brothers, her father, in her work, she cannot say she was converted - and this is part of our problems."
Mr Gohary's legal challenge is being watched closely by supporters of religious freedom who believe it is under threat in many Middle Eastern countries.
Any change in the law would not necessarily improve his personal safety, but it would mean recognition for the faith he holds dear.
He told me that what he really wants is to be able to live a normal life, without fearing for his safety. And that several other countries have now offered him asylum on religious grounds.
But all he wants is to be able to stay in the place of his birth - and freely practise the religion he's chosen.

"All my hope: peace, and peace. Only peace. We don't find it in Egypt now."

Continued (Permanent Link)

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