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July 8, 2010

U.S. Praise for Israeli “Restraint”

9,000 request to participate in Flotilla 2


BRUSSELS – The Brussels-based European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza said that there has been a large turnout for Freedom Flotilla 2, in terms of activists requesting to participate, and in terms of the number of ships.

The campaign, which was one of the founders of the Freedom Flotilla coalition, in a press statement on Monday, boasted that the new flotilla has a few surprises in store for Israeli occupation, one of which is that seven of the ships scheduled to participate in the flotilla are from European counties.

The European campaign added that it received around nine thousand requests forms from sympathizers from around the world since opening registration to participate in the second Freedom Flotilla, which is expected to set sail into the Gaza Strip within a few weeks, despite Israel’s May 31st raid against the first Freedom Flotilla, which left nine dead, others injured, and properties confiscated and damaged.

The first Freedom Flotilla carried 750 activists from more than 40 countries, including 44 Arab and European government and political officials, including ten Algerian MPs, more than 10,000 tons of medical supplies, building materials, and timber, and 100 ready-made houses in support of the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the Israeli war on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. The ships also carried 500 electric vehicles for the use of the disabled, especially since the recent war left nearly 600 disabled in Gaza.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, independent MP Jamal al-Khudari, Chairman of the Popular Committee against the Siege, has confirmed that the Zionist entity has publically announced that it will ease the aggravated siege on Gaza, without any mention of ending the root of the crisis.

Khudari, in a press release on Monday, noted that ending the blockade would require a series of measures on the ground, the most important of which would be to completely open commercial crossings to allow the flow of goods, and to put an end to the “restricted lists” policy, underlining that Gaza is need of all the supplies it was deprived of since the institution of the blockade four years ago.

He noted that the Zionist entity was still closing all Gaza commercial crossings except the crossing point at Kerem Abu Salem, the absorptive capacity of which is small when compared to the Strip’s needs, the biggest proof that the broadcasted ease of the siege is merely an attempt to ease international pressure.

Preparations by European, Arab, and Islamic parties for new ships headed for the Gaza Strip are well underway, Khudari confirmed, adding that scheduled departures will soon be announced.


Exposed: The truth about Israel’s land grab in the West Bank

A Jewish settler hangs the Israeli flag over a vacated building in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur AFP/GETTY IMAGES

As President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet, a report reveals 42 per cent of territory is controlled by settlers

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem and David Usborne

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jewish settlers, who claim a divine right to the whole of Israel, now control more than 42 per cent of the occupied West Bank, representing a powerful obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state, a new report has revealed.

The jurisdiction of some 200 settlements, illegal under international law, cover much more of the occupied Palestinian territory than previously thought. And a large section of the land has been seized from private Palestinian landowners in defiance even of an Israeli supreme court ruling, the report said, a finding which sits uncomfortably with Israeli claims that it builds only on state land.

Drawing on official Israeli military maps and population statistics, the leading Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, compiled the new findings, which were released just as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, arrived in Washington to try to heal a gaping rift with US President Barack Obama over the issue of settlements.
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“The settlement enterprise has been characterised, since its inception, by an instrumental, cynical, and even criminal approach to international law, local legislation, Israeli military orders, and Israeli law, which has enabled the continuous pilfering of land from Palestinians in the West Bank,” the report concluded.

Mr Obama’s demand for a freeze on illegal building has caused months of friction between his administration and the Israeli government. But the US president, facing mid-term elections in November, appeared eager to end the dispute with Israel yesterday.

He said the country was making “real progress” on improving conditions in the Gaza Strip and was serious about achieving peace.

The two men made a joint public appearance, carefully choreographed to convey mutual ease and friendship.

When Mr Netanyahu last visited the White House, in March, US anger at his refusal to end construction meant the Israeli premier was denied a joint appearance with Mr Obama before the cameras. This time the photo-op was granted and the two men afterwards shared a meal – although not a state dinner but a working lunch.

“Reports about the demise of the special US-Israel relationship aren’t premature, there are just flat wrong,” Mr Netanyahu said, in response to a reporter’s question about the perceived tensions. Playing to the same script, Mr Obama said that the “bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable”.

But the revelations in the B’Tselem report suggest that despite Mr Netanyahu’s stated desire for peace, his policy on settlements remains a dangerous obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and therefore to a durable peace.

They cast an uncompromising spotlight on Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories that have long drawn international criticism for establishing “facts on the ground” hampering the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

While most of the Jewish settlement activity is concentrated in 1 per cent of the West Bank, settler councils have in fact fenced off or earmarked massive tracts of land, comprising some 42 per cent of the West Bank, B’Tselem said.

And despite the outlawing by Israel of settlement expansion on private Palestinian land, settlers have seized 21 per cent of land that Israel recognises is privately-owned.

B’Tselem alleged that Israel had devised an extensive system of loopholes to requisition Palestinian land.

At the same time, Israel has built bypass roads, erected new checkpoints, and taken control of scarce water resources to the benefit of the settlers. The measures have effectively created Palestinian enclaves within the West Bank, the report said.

Under international law, any Jewish settlements built on occupied territory are illegal. These include all the settlements in the West Bank, and thousands of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated sector of the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. The international community still regards East Jerusalem as occupied territory. Despite firm commitments from successive Israeli governments to dismantle illegal outposts built after 2001 and to cease expansion of the settlements, Israel has provided millions of dollars worth of incentives to encourage poorer families to move into the West Bank. Some 300,000 settlers live in the West Bank.

Settlers immediately attacked the report, claiming it was timed as a spoiler to the Washington meeting.

In Washington, no concrete breakthroughs were announced but Mr Obama said that he believed the Israeli leader was ready to move towards direct talks with the Palestinians. Indirect talks began earlier this year, mediated by special US envoy George Mitchell.

Mr Netanyahu showed signs of responding to the pressure. “Peace is the best option for all of us and I think we have a unique opportunity to do it,” he said. “If we work together with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region and to the world.”

The Palestinians continue to refuse direct talks with Israel while new settlement construction is allowed. Settlement activity continues in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians aim to include in a new state.

With US-Israel ties already frayed, Mr Netanyahu postponed a visit to the White House last month in the aftermath of Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla trying to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza.

For Mr Obama, the danger is clear that any long-lasting record of animosity towards Israel could translate into lost votes at the mid-term elections.


Welcomed with caution

Syria is host to the third largest number of refugees in the world, and the greatest number in the Arab world. Will that situation last, asks Bassel Oudat in Damascus

A decade ago, the UN General Assembly chose 20 June to mark World Refugee Day. On that day we are encouraged to focus on the problems and issues of refugees and others internally displaced in their home countries. According to statistics from the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, Syria is first among Arab country and number three worldwide — following Iran and Pakistan — in terms of hosting refugees. At present it accounts for six per cent of the world’s refugees, mostly Palestinians and Iraqis, but also from Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia. In fact, 10 per cent of Syria’s population are refugees.

Ten years after opening its doors to Arab refugees, especially Palestinians and Iraqis, these communities have noticeably grown in number inside Syria, putting strain on those providing them with assistance. Over the years, especially during tough times, these communities have been a burden on the Syrian government in terms of assimilating them and meeting their basic needs.

The first wave of refugees to Syria was in 1948 after the creation of the State of Israel, when hundreds of thousands left or were forced to leave Palestine. Syria received 85,000 Palestinian refugees at the time, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). This was followed by several waves of refugees after the 1967 war, bloating the number of Palestinians in Syria to more than 450,000.

Syria was also host to tens of thousands of the Iraqi opposition who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Starting in 2003, after Saddam’s regime was toppled, Syria became the destination of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees who were either fleeing the US war and unsafe conditions in Iraq or fleeing persecution and arbitrary detention.

Over the past few decades, several thousand refugees from a variety of other Arab states have entered Syria, including Sudan and Somalia. A few hundred Afghanis and Ahwaz from Iran also sought refuge in Syria, bringing the number of refugees to nearly two million. The problems of Arab refugees in Syria are directly connected to their home countries, and their numbers fluctuate depending on security conditions back home. Palestinian refugees, for example, are directly linked to Arab-Israeli peace and inter-Palestinian relations. As for Iraqi refugees, their situation depends on the security situation in Iraq and political conflicts amongst Iraqis.

The Syrian government has dealt with the issue of refugees in a special way, taking into consideration national bonds and humanitarian conditions on the one hand and political interests on the other. Meanwhile, Syria’s security apparatus closely monitors the movements of all refugees within its borders.

Palestinian refugees are prohibited from acquiring the Syrian nationality in order to uphold Palestinian identity. Around 25 per cent of these refugees live in 10 official refugee camps, while another 25 per cent reside in three unofficial camps that Syrian security forces are in charge of guarding. The remaining 50 per cent of refugees live in various Syrian cities. Palestinian refugees have the right to attend government schools and universities for free, and are entitled to free healthcare in government hospitals. They are permitted to work in both the public and private sectors, and become civil servants. They perform their military service with the Palestine Liberation Army, in liaison with the Syrian armed forces. They are allowed to own one residence, but no agricultural land. Altogether, they have almost all the rights of Syrian citizens, including holding senior government posts other than political positions. Damascus has also given them permanent residency without the need for renewal, as well as special passports making Syria their guarantor while travelling abroad.

The Iraqis, on the other hand, are allowed to own property and invest in the economy, but they are not given permanent residency and they are required to renew their stay every three months and in some exceptional cases once a year. Iraqi students can attended Syrian schools for free, and are eligible for free healthcare in government hospitals. However, they need work permits for employment. The UNHCR has opened special offices to assist them in all aspects of life. In fact, the UNHCR opened the largest refugee camp in the world in Duma in eastern Damascus.

Syria is also responsible for ensuring the proper infrastructure is in place to support two million transient residents. Consequently, it has endured electricity and water shortages as a result of large numbers of Iraqis arriving over a short period of time. Meanwhile, the education and job sectors have suffered from an overload of large numbers of unexpected beneficiaries.

While Syria’s rationale for taking in Arab refugees who have suffered from wars is rooted in humanitarian and Arab nationalist reasoning, Damascus has tried to reap some political gains from this. It wants to become a regional powerhouse with influence on issues pertaining to these refugees. On the Palestinian issue, it has become a main player, especially that the leaders of most political and military Palestinian factions chose to set up shop in Damascus. These include the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and general leadership, and later Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian resistance groups. Most of these groups, with the exception of the PLO, closely coordinate their political and public policies with Damascus.

Syria has rejected US pressure to expel the leadership of Palestinian resistance groups from its land, insisting that their media, political and social work in Syria is part of their expression of the ambitions of the Palestinian refugee community. Syria has also hosted leading figures from Iraq’s Baath Party that oppose the US occupation of Iraq and the incumbent Iraqi regime. Also, a large number of Iraqi tribal elders and senior officers from the dissolved Iraqi armed forces were allowed to continue their activities in Syria, and remain politically coordinated with Damascus once they returned to Iraq to participate in the political process there.

Today, Syria has influential allies inside Iraq, and has vehemently refused to hand over to the incumbent Baghdad government any members of the Iraqi Baath Party or leaders of the former Iraqi army that are accused of plotting military operations inside Iraq.

No doubt, Syria has carried the burden of hosting two million Arab refugees and has given some of them rights that they would not receive in any other country. It welcomed them with open arms and did not force them to leave, despite their large volume that has strained the Syrian economy and living conditions.

The return of the Palestinian refugees from Syria to Palestine has become a complicated issue, and their case represents an uphill struggle towards any possible solution. The same is true of Iraqi refugees, some who have been in Syria for seven years. The Syrian burden continues to grow, and although Syrian hospitality has been extended, this does not mean that Damascus may not change its posture towards them. This is especially true if their continued presence threatens Syria’s national security.


Opinion: Torpedoing the Lebanon Flotilla

William Cook
July 1, 2010

By: William A. Cook

Ten days ago I left California to join other U.S. citizens on the Lebanese Boat Brigade—the first such effort to penetrate Israel’s blockade of Gaza since the deadly attack on the Freedom Flotilla May 31. I joined other Americans—Jeff K and Noel I from Boston, Ron D from Maui, Bill S from South Carolina, and Sister Pat C from Wisconsin—enticed by an announcement from the Council for the National Interest and the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign to bring women, journalists and writers to this latest effort to break the siege of Gaza now in its 3rd year.

We congregated at the Royal Garden Hotel in Beirut while others gathered in other places, two large groups intentionally brought to weaken Israel’s resolve to assert force—the first a large contingent of women from many lands including nuns to board a ship renamed Mariam for the Mother of God, carrying as well medical supplies and toys, the second a group of journalists without borders to accompany a cargo ship, the Julia, loaded with construction materials.

Each came determined to express solidarity with the people of Gaza who have suffered more than 62 years of occupation, oppression, siege and destruction by the Israeli state and the Congress of the U.S—a battalion of abuses fittingly described as “crimes against humanity.”

I will not speak for the others, American or foreign, but I will mark in passing the sense of futility they feel as Americans for their government’s complicity in Israel’s blatant and calculated destruction of the people of Palestine.

For years, certainly since the Presidency of George W. Bush, these Americans have attempted to condemn and to distance themselves from the crimes committed by their representatives, including their belief that the election of Barak Obama would offer change—yet change does not happen. Consequently, varying organizations, agencies and individuals have joined forces to confront the illegality of these two nations by using international waters to break the blockade of Gaza.

Needless to say, Israel and its Congressional Knesset in Washington have determined to stop the freedom flotillas from reaching Gaza or impacting their illegal siege of this strip of land where they have imposed collective punishment against the people. The interception of Turkey’s boat, Mamara, and the killing of 9 citizens of that NATO nation by Israeli naval commandoes breaks the governing principles of NATO’s obligations to its members, a virtual act of war, even as it breaks international law governing attacks at sea.

But Israel and the U.S. act with impunity in our name. Hence the need to take active measures to stop such unilateral betrayal of the agreements we have formed as a people with member states of the United Nations. The disaster resulting from the attack on the Mamara follows six decades of Israeli atrocities against the indigenous people of Palestine including a terrorist war against the authorized British government during the Mandate Period, the massacre at Deir Yassin and 27 subsequent massacres that caused the obliteration of 418 towns and villages, the ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes to refugee camps where they continue to live in poverty without rights of citizenship abandoned by the governments of the world, the subsequent invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982 and the slaughter at the Sabra Chatila refugee camp, one of the most brutal and savage massacres orchestrated by Israel through its mercenaries, and more recently the 2006 invasion of Lebanon capped by a return to the massacre of the Qana orphanage, the Christmas destruction of Gaza in 2008/9 and now its wanton attacks against international citizens on international waters.

How can anyone with a conscience allow such behavior to continue? I began this series on the Boat Brigade referring to Wagner’s Das Rheingold and its major theme—acquisition of power and wealth by repudiation of human love, the denial of sympathy or compassion for one’s fellow man, the creation of a people willing to forego all morals and principles to achieve ultimate power, the soulless human without conscience or remorse, the walking dead. There is an unfortunate consequence to such acceptance of a life lived for self and the acquisition of gold—a life lived in isolation from all others because success necessitates lies, deceit and manipulation if one is to defeat all others, an alienation from warmth and true concern that gives substance to spirit as opposed to pocketbook.

It is a life of self-imposed fear that another, especially fear of associates that are accomplices in this quest for the coins of greed and the trappings of power, will deceive and destroy their comrades to further their ends. It is a vicious cycle of psychotic siege mentality that grows as the coldness of the heart grows until every waking moment heightens the realization that all find repugnance in the acts that give purpose to those who repudiate natural love. Such is the present state of Israel.

Faced as they are with the world against them, Israel and the United States turn to devices of control to prevent the confrontations the freedom flotilla represent. Having lost once again acceptance of their brutal attack on the Mamara, they have found it necessary to link any who join such a flotilla to terrorist groups, enemies of the state of Israel and, therefore, enemy combatants which legitimizes in their distorted minds their right to engage and kill such people as if they were militarily threatening the state of Israel.

Since this Lebanon flotilla was announced shortly after the attack on the Marmara, with openness of intent and revelation of the groups, the women’s and the journalists’, Israel has alleged over and over that this flotilla is not manned by humanists but rather by terrorists, unsubstantiated charges of guilt by association, hearsay, omission of truth and outright lies, made in order to torpedo the boats even before they sail.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the government of Israel has “linked the boat to Hizbullah,” that Yasser Kashlak, Director of the Free Palestine Movement, is “a fervent Hizbullah supporter,” that the true intentions of the organizers “remain dubious,” that the possibility exists that “terrorists or arms will be smuggled on board,” that Lebanon is an enemy country and must be treated “as if they were hostile,” that these boats “which are carrying representatives of Hizbullah and Iran” mean that Israel “reserves its rights under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the existing naval blockade” and that the presence of Samar Haji, the wife of a former Lebanese General “jailed for his part in the assassination of PM Rafiq Harari, “means a real connection with Hizbullah. None of the above is substantiated, none of it belies the true intention of the people who left their homes to participate in a direct act of civil disobedience against the state of Israel which is supported by their representatives in the Congress, and none of it provides either the U.S. or Israel with legal justification for preemptive strikes against a flotilla in international waters.

Yet as a result, the flotilla has not and cannot sail as planned, not on the 25th of June, not on the 39th, not on the 3rd or 4th of July, and perhaps never. The accusations have forced the government of Lebanon to confront Israel’s contention that it will hold Lebanon responsible for any attack Israel must take against the ships; the organizers have had to confront the allegations of complicity with terror groups even though only the U.S., Israel and Canada have alleged that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization and not a legitimate political and humanitarian organization in Lebanon or that Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization although it too is an elected party in Palestine and only prevented from acting as such by Israel and the U.S.. And, finally, the individuals who have come to Lebanon have to contend with the consequences of the delays that result from such allegations and the threats that their own representatives contend will be imposed on them if they confront Israel, the ally they have justified in its criminal behavior. That these people are professors, lawyers, doctors, journalists, students, and human rights activists who arrived with their own views regarding Israel’s illegitimate actions is irrelevant and unsought.

Clearly, the power and control that Israel imposes on Palestine, its calculated willingness to steal as much land as it can from the rightful owners, its conscienceless drive to eradicate the people, its willing use of American soldiers for its own purposes, its control of our representatives through fear and intimidation, demonstrates that it will not tolerate demonstrations against its tyranny. Yet should they succeed, they will have once again perverted the very ideals on which America was founded and the voice of the people will be buried beneath the overwhelming power that gold represents—and the human need for love and compassion for all will be made irrelevant to and subjected to those who live without human sympathy.

These are my thoughts as I leave Lebanon this Saturday, a victim of those who have no conscience, no remorse, and no soul.NWCNEWS

*Dr. William A. Cook is an activist and a writer for numerous Internet publications including Counterpunch, Pacific Free Press in British Columbia, Dissident Voice and Information Clearing House, serving as senior editor for MWC News out of Canada, and contributing editor at the Palestine Chronicle, the Atlantic Free Press in the Netherlands, and the World Prout Assembly. He also serves on the Board of the People’s Media Project, interviews on radio and TV in South Africa, Canada, Iran and the United States.


Bloggers unite for Gaza

July 09, 2010

On 9 July, we are urging bloggers to make a simple promise: “Gaza, We Will Not Forget You”.

Humanitarian aid cannot address the hardship faced by Gaza’s 1.5 million people. The only sustainable solution is to lift the closure. The blockade imposed on Gaza is about to enter its fourth year, thwarting any real chance of economic development. As Gazans endure unemployment, poverty and warfare, the quality of their health care has reached an all-time low.

Israel’s raid on the Gaza aid flotilla brought the issue to international attention. We must act now to put an end to the humanitarian crisis once and for all.

On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion condemning Israel’s infringement of the Palestinian right to self-determination and violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The ICJ explicitly affirmed the international community that the burden also falls on them not to recognise or assist the illegal situation.

This year, on 9 July 2010, remind your own government of its own obligations not to recognise or assist Israel’s violations of international law. Urge that there must be an independent and international inquiry into the attacks on the Gaza aid flotilla. And make a simple promise: “Gaza, We Will Not Forget You.”

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