Showing posts with label Illegal Occupation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illegal Occupation. Show all posts

November 14, 2009

Beggars' Belief

The Farmers' Resistance Movement on Iejima Island, Okinawa

November 14, 2009

The first American invasion of Iejima occurred on April 16th, 1945. U.S. Army accounts chronicle in meticulous detail the vicious battle for this small island, situated three miles west of Okinawa Hontou. One thousand troops aboard eighty landing craft stormed Iejima’s eastern beaches, meeting heavy resistance from dug-in Japanese defenders. In the following five days of bloodshed, two thousand Imperial Army soldiers were killed, together with one and a half thousand civilians. Three hundred Americans lost their lives, including Ernie Pyle - the combat correspondent famous for putting a human face to World War Two.

The second U.S. invasion came a decade later. It is barely documented by American historians, but to those who were living on the island, it wrought almost as much distress. On March 11th, 1955, with Okinawa under United States administration, landing craft came ashore once again on the beaches of Iejima. Their mission: to expropriate two-thirds of the island in readiness for the construction of an air-to-surface bombing range. This time, the Army only brought three hundred soldiers, but they assumed these would be sufficient - their new enemies were the island’s unarmed peanut and tobacco farmers, and the only shelters they had were the houses they’d constructed in the years since the end of the war.

The Americans made quick progress across the south of the island. They dragged families from their houses, burned down the buildings and bulldozed the smoldering ruins. Those who protested were assaulted and arrested, then sent to the regional capital for prosecution. When one family pled for their home to be spared because their six-year old daughter was seriously-ill in bed, soldiers carried the terrified child from the house and dumped her outside the doors of the island clinic. A herd of goats that impeded the Americans’ advance was let loose from its enclosure and slaughtered by rifle fire. After the entire village had been leveled, Army officers veneered the invasion with a thin layer of legitimacy - at gun-point, they forced fistfuls of military script into the hands of the farmers, then twisted their faces towards a camera and took pictures to send to Headquarters as proof of the islanders’ acquiescence.

“The Americans weren’t the only ones taking photographs that day,” explains Shoko Jahana, “The farmers realized that if they wanted the world to understand what they were going through, they needed their proof, too.” Jahana is a white-haired woman in her late sixties with a smile that instantly wipes twenty years from her full-moon face. She works as the caretaker of the Nuchidou Takara no Ie ( “Treasure House of Life Itself” ) - the Iejima museum dedicated to the farmers’ ongoing struggle to retrieve their land from the American military. The museum consists of a pair of ramshackle buildings, located very close to the shoreline where the Americans landed in 1955. Now the beach is home to a Japanese holiday resort, and as we speak, our conversation is punctuated by the shouts of Tokyo holidaymakers, the slap and drone of jet skis.

Jahana shows me the farmers’ photographs of the destruction from March 1955 - empty monochrome scenes of charred land and blackened bricks of coral. Some of the pictures are blurred as though the camera is trying to focus on where the houses used to be. “Shoko Ahagon was one of the farmers whose home was destroyed that day. He went on to organize the islanders in their struggle against the bombing range. People call him the Gandhi of Okinawa.”

Jahana points to a large colour photograph on the wall. A sun-wrinkled man smiles serenely from beneath the brim of a straw hat. Think a slimmer Cesar Chavez with thickly-hooded eyes that glimmer with intelligent compassion. Jahana tells me he gave lectures on the movement to visiting parties of schoolchildren right up until his death in 2002. He was 101 years old.

As she speaks, there’s a gentle knock on the door and an elderly woman enters, carrying a small convenience store bag. When she sees that Jahana is busy talking to me, she bows and sets the bag carefully on the side of her desk. It’s full of earthy cylinders pushing against the white plastic and I remember, earlier at the port, seeing the island’s famous peanuts for sale, alongside dusty bricks of black sugar and tangles of bright pink dragon fruit.

“Ahagon-sensei established the Treasure House in 1984,” Jahana continues, “He wanted to create a permanent exhibit of what went on here after the Americans came ashore in 1955. I’ll ask my assistant to show you around the main museum.” A younger woman in her forties comes in. Jahana lifts the plastic bag from the desk, but when she passes it to her assistant, its sides split open. A dozen rusty bullets clatter to the floor. I jump but neither woman bats an eyelid as they bend and scoop them back up.

The assistant walks me from the reception to the exhibition hall at the rear of the property. When she slides open the doors, I’m struck by a hot blast of air, the smell of second-hand clothes mixed with used book stores. Inside, the museum is a mélange of memorabilia from the past fifty years. American parachutes hang next to musty protest banners. Old newspaper articles line the walls alongside dozens of photographs taken by the farmers to record their struggle. Just in front of the doorway, there’s a massive mound of rusting metal - shell casings and missile fins, grenades and rockets. The assistant kneels down and adds the bullets to the heap. Her action wakes a small white gecko and it scuttles across the deadly pile, finding shelter in a half-blown mortar round.

“Within days of leveling the farmers’ houses, the Americans had completed construction of their bombing range. They marked huge bull’s eye targets with white sand trucked in from the beaches. The explosions went on day and night. Those shells are just a selection of the things they fired. Farmers still come across them now and bring them here for our collection.”

When I ask her what happened to the displaced villagers, she points to a photo of a row of tents. “The Americans had promised them building materials and they were good to their word.” She gives me a sad smile. “The cement they gave had already hardened to concrete in its bags. The boards were rotten and the nails long corroded spikes that couldn’t be used for anything.” One picture shows a family of fifteen packed into a small, open-sided tent. “The villagers quickly fell sick with dehydration, sunstroke and skin diseases.”

Along with the poor-quality building supplies, the American Army offered the farmers financial compensation. Realizing that any acceptance of the money would be interpreted as their assent to the seizure of their land, they refused. With no other means to support themselves, Ahagon and the villagers decided to throw themselves on the mercy of their fellow Okinawans. She shows me a letter they wrote to explain their actions. “There is no way for [us] to live except to beg. Begging is shameful, to be sure, but taking land by military force and causing us to beg is especially shameful.”

On July 21st 1955, the villagers boarded a ferry to Okinawa Hontou. Calling themselves the “March of Beggars”, over the next seven months, they made their way from Kunigami in the north to Itoman almost seventy miles to the south. In every town they passed, the villagers met with the local people and told them of their struggle. Throughout their walk, they were greeted with warm welcomes and sympathy. Even the poorest villages gave them food and shelter for the night. The assistant shows me the photos the farmers exchanged as thanks to the people who supported them. The men stare proudly at the camera - their trousers are patched and threadbare, but their shirts are starched clean white. The women try to hold their smiles while stopping the children from squirming from their knees.

The reception of the authorities stood in stark contrast to the hospitality encountered from ordinary people. Both Okinawan politicians and academics alike ignored Iejima’s farmers’ pleas for assistance. Many of these officials only retained their jobs with the mercurial support of the American administration and they feared dismissal. When the islanders confronted the U.S. High Commission, General James Moore played the Red card and claimed the farmers were uneducated dupes who were being manipulated by communist agitators. An Air Force spokesman called the problem “a petty dispute” - inconsequential in light of the practice bombings which were ensuring security “both for the Free World and for [Okinawan] people.”

After seven months on the road, the March of Beggars finally returned home to Iejima in February, 1956. They found their situation no better than when they had left; the leaking tents still stood and they continued to be denied access to the fields upon which they’d depended for their livelihoods. Bombings and jet plane strafings went on day and night, wearing down already tattered nerves and making rest impossible.

“When the farmers attempted to send word of their predicament to the main Japanese islands, their letters were intercepted by the American military,” explains the assistant. “They didn’t want the world to know what they were doing here.” Some letters, however, did make it through the cordon of censors, and when the Japanese media reported news of the farmers’ struggle, the people of the main islands rallied to their help. School students, homemakers, businessmen - even imprisoned war criminals - started sending care packages to Iejima. They flooded the islanders with powdered milk and sugar, rice and canned fish, notebooks, textbooks and pens. The boxes are on display at the museum. Many of them are addressed simply “To the brave farmers of Iejima.”

No matter how small the parcel, each one was rewarded with a handwritten banner of appreciation and a photograph from the islanders. Upon receiving a massive package from far-off Hokkaido, the entire village gathered to witness the opening of the thirty-one crates. Even the sick and elderly got out of bed to see the gifts from the snowbound northern island. The sign the villagers penned still hangs in the museum today - “To the coal miners of Kushiro, We who live in this southern country thank you very warmly.”

These packages, though substantial, were not enough to sustain the villagers forever. As the 1950s progressed, with no financial aid from the government or the military, many of the islanders were forced to support themselves in an increasingly desperate manner. Where once they harvested tobacco and sweet potatoes, now they scavenged the fringes of the bombing range for scraps of military metal. They collected chunks of shrapnel and bullet casings, and sold them to traders for a few yen a kilogram. From time to time, they’d come across a whole bomb that had failed to explode. The farmers would drag it away and defuse it themselves with a plumber’s wrench and a length of steel pipe. In this manner, they taught themselves to become bomb disposal technicians as expert as any found in modern armies. But for these men - like their professional counterparts - sometimes their luck ran out. Between 1956 and 1963, a dozen islanders were killed or wounded while collecting or dismantling American ordinance. Photos on the walls show farmers with their arms torn off and their faces sheered away - combat pictures from an island purportedly at peace.

“In the early 1960s,” says the assistant walking me down the room, “one of the farmers stumbled across a piece of scrap far too precious to sell.” She gestures towards a long white tube with four tell-tale fins. “He found it sticking out of his field one day. He hid it in his shed while the Americans searched high and low.”

I can well understand the military’s eagerness to retrieve this particular missile. I recognize it almost immediately from another story I’ve been covering about Okinawa. In December 1965, some hundred and fifty miles north of Iejima, the USS Ticonderoga ran into rough seas. A Sky Hawk jet that was on the ship’s deck slipped its cables and tumbled into the ocean. The accident would not have been particularly newsworthy if it hadn’t been for the payload it was carrying: a one megaton hydrogen bomb. The Japanese constitution prohibits nuclear weapons in its waters, and it was only when the device started to leak in 1989, that a nervous Pentagon confessed to Tokyo about the missing bomb.

The assistant must have noticed the panic on my face. “Don’t worry, it’s just a dummy one they used for practice runs.” It looks so real that this does little to allay my fears. Nearby a cicada ticks Geiger-like. “You can touch it if you want,” she offers. I take two steps back and she laughs.

Back in the reception, Jahana tells me of the successes achieved by Ahagon and the islanders. Thanks to their demonstrations throughout the 1960s and a concerted publicity campaign (including three books and a documentary), the bombings stopped and the range was closed down. Many of the farmers were able to recover the fields that were stolen in 1955.

Jahana takes a map of Iejima from her desk drawer. The western portion is marked off by a red dotted line. “Today, the American military controls a third of the island. The Marines have a training area where they still conduct parachute drops. A few years ago, some of their jumpers went astray and landed in a tobacco field. They wondered why the farmer was so angry. They’d only crushed a few tobacco plants - perhaps a carton of cigarettes’ worth. They don’t know what these people have had to put up with over the past fifty years. They have no idea of the sufferings they’ve been through.”

Before I head back to the port, I ask Jahana if she’s hopeful the Americans will change their policy and return the rest of the land. She smiles wryly. “Ahagon-sensei had a saying he often quoted. ‘Even the most evil beasts and devils are not beyond redemption. They might become human one day. All they need to be shown is the error of their ways.’ Ahagon-sensei believed this very strongly. That’s why he built this museum and that’s why it will be here until the day the farmers get back their land.”

Jon Mitchell is a Welsh-born writer, currently working at Tokyo Institute of Technology. He can be reached at:

Medic among two hurt by live fire in Nil'in

14/11/2009 17:21

Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israeli forces used live fire on Palestinian demonstrators protesting Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Nil'in on Friday, activists said and the military confirmed.

Rumors had been circulating that the Israelis would respond more harshly than usual due to the activists' success in pulling down a section of the wall at the Qalandiya military checkpoint a week earlier.

"These rumors were confirmed," said Ibraheem Amera, coordinator of the Nil'in popular committee. "A huge army of Israeli soldiers was awaiting [protesters] and immediately started [to] fire huge amounts of tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and also live ammunition."

Amera said the popular committee had warned protesters to be extra cautious on Friday, because he believed a "decision was made by the Israeli military, because in Nil'in the wall has been taken down twice already by the people, and after the fall of the wall in Qalandiya, the Israeli military is afraid that the 'Nil'in falling wall virus' will start to spread throughout the whole West Bank."

Two Palestinians, including a medic, were reportedly injured, according to a statement from the committee, after Israeli forces made an incursion through fields from three different sides, closing in on a group of around 100 demonstrators. "The army was shooting live ammunition from a distance of less than three meters... and two people sustained minor injuries from grazing shots."

A witness said one soldier ran up to a Palestinian Red Crescent Society media, "grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the ground, then the soldier started beating him. The volunteer sustained no serious injuries, except for some bruises."

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that soldiers fired .22 calibre rounds, but insisted that they were used within the army's rules of engagement, and only when protesters turned violent. She pointed out that a soldier was lightly injured by rocks that she said were thrown by protesters.

Protests continue throughout West Bank

In the nearby village of Bil'in, residents gathered at a large demonstration called by the popular committee in honor of the death of Yasser Arafat. They were joined by international and Israeli activists, as well as a group of members and supporters of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) and a delegation of members of the Palestinian People's Party.

The protest was led by Israeli Knesset Member Mohammed Baraka, the front's general secretary. One international activist was injured and dozens suffered tear-gas inhalation when Israeli forces opened fire. Protesters expressed solidarity with Baraka, who will stand on trial in next week as a result of his participation in one of the demonstrations in 2005.

Demonstrators wore t-shirts with a slogan commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, "From Berlin to Bil'in, The Wall Shall Fall." They also chanted slogans against the Israeli wall.

An international activist from the United States was also injured, the popular committee said.

In Al-Mas'ara, a village near Bethlehem, residents gathered raised Palestinian flags and banners demanding that farmers be allowed to access their lands to pick olives. As they have every Friday for the past three years, protesters were intercepted by Israeli soldiers who had set up a barbed-wire fence at the entrance to the village, effectively cutting off the villagers' access to their lands.

Demonstrators chanted against "the discriminatory policies of the occupation and reminded [them] that only this morning, farmers who were picking olives on their lands in the surrounding villagers were harassed by settlers while Israeli soldiers stood by," the local popular committee said in a statement.

In Arabic and English, protestors asked the soldiers to reconsider their occupations and join the Palestinian, Israeli and international civilians "on this side [of the wall] who abide by the international human rights and who work together for just peace."

Protestors attempted to remove the barb wire and continue their march towards their lands and the site of the wall, including one who managed to get by. "A woman from the village asked the Israeli soldiers what they were doing here in her village and pushed them out of her way, succeeding in continuing her walk towards Um Salamoneh, defiantly carrying the Palestinian flag," the statement said.

November 13, 2009

Jewish settlers destroy over 80 olive trees south of Nablus

13/11/2009 - 12:26 PM
file photo: olive trees set on fire by Jewish settlers

NABLUS, (PIC)-- A number of Jewish settlers on Thursday attacked and destroyed olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers in the village of Burin to the south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Local sources in the village said that settlers from the nearby Yitshar Jewish settlement cut down 81 olive trees in a stretch of land owned by Palestinian citizen Akram Imran.

Many Palestinian villagers cultivate their fields as they have done for thousands of years, and depend on land as their main and sometimes sole source of income and the frequent settler's attacks on farms and farmers are part of the overall Israeli occupation policy of "spirit(ing) the penniless population across the border," as the founder of Zionism envisaged.

Obama, Hatoyama and Okinawa

Yes We Can (But We Won't)

Naha, Okinawa
November 13, 2009

Walking distance from the US Consulate in Okinawa is a Starbucks coffee shop. My wife and I sometimes go there, because they let you sit at the tables and work, so long as you sometimes order coffee. When Kevin Maher was US Consul, he also used to come in from time to time. Once, when he was sitting right next to us, we heard him apparently ingratiating himself with a young Okinawan girl, in his reasonably good (though somewhat whining) Japanese: “I have no friends at all here. People put up signs saying, ‘Maher go home’”. And the girl responding dutifully, “Oh, you poor thing!”

Maher was a Bush neocon appointee, well known for his arrogance and rudeness toward the Okinawan people. Last year when the US military insisted on its alleged right to land a shipload of GIs on the small Okinawan island of Ishigaki for “recreation”, Maher sailed in on the ship with them and made the local newspapers by shouting “Baka yaro!” (roughly, “you idiots!”) at the local demonstrators. This from a career diplomat. Not long after that he got into the papers again when, at the same Starbucks, an Okinawan customer walked up to his table and dumped a cup of hot coffee in his lap, shouting “Go Home! or words to that effect.

In his election campaign Obama made no promises to the Okinawans (politicians don’t make promises to people with no vote), but many Okinawans, like many people all around the world, including in the US, allowed their hopes to be roused by that most-marvelously-ambivalent-of-all-possible-slogans, “change.” Very soon after the election the news came in that Maher, far from being canned or given a desk job, had been promoted to the position of Director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs. So far as the Obama Administration is concerned, “Change” doesn’t apply to Okinawa. The face that Obama has turned toward Japan as a whole is that of Maher.

But if Obama made no promises to Okinawa, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) did. In its recent campaign, one of its public promises was to put an end to the plan to build a new US Marine Corps heliport on the sea off the town of Henoko, in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.

Some background: in 1995 three US GIs kidnapped and gang raped an elementary school girl here. This event triggered an explosion of pent-up resentment against the US military bases in Okinawa. An all-Okinawa rally was held that drew some 60,000 people, a significant percentage of the prefecture’s 1.2 million population. The US and Japan decided they needed to do something, and what they came up with was to promise to shut down the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, which is located smack in the middle of heavily populated Ginowan City, on the condition that it would be relocated offshore from the less-populated town of Henoko in the north.

This launched a powerful opposition struggle that continues today. Residents of Henoko oppose the new base because it will destroy the sea that has always been their livelihood. Especially old folks remember that it was the sea that kept them alive, gave them food, during the Battle of Okinawa and after. Ecologists point out that the planned location of the heliport is right in the middle of the northernmost habitat of the rare sea mammal, the dugong, and that construction will probably contribute to that animal’s extinction. Women from Ginowan, where the base is now, have traveled to Henoko and gone door to door, not to try to persuade people there to accept the base, but to warn them of its dangers: explosive aircraft noise, accidents, pollution, crimes by GIs, etc. – all the things they have been bearing in Ginowan for so long. And most Okinawans, including those directly affected neither by the removal of the old base nor by the construction of the new one, are enraged by the idea that the US and Japan think they can pacify them by simply moving a base from one part of Okinawa to another.

Protest has been fierce and sustained. People from Henoko have been holding a daily sit-in at the Henoko fishing port; recently they celebrated their 2000th day of consecutive sit-in. Under the leadership of Henoko resident Higashionna Takuma, a team of sea kayakers was trained that has been nonviolently harassing the construction surveyors who come in to measure and test the sea bottom, and have delayed the project by many months and possibly years (and possibly forever). A court case was filed in San Francisco (Okinawa Dugong et. al. vs. Rumsfeld) arguing that the construction plan violates US laws requiring the protection of cultural properties in US construction projects overseas; in 2005 the judge handed down a favorable decision, but there has been no hint that this has affected US policy. In election results, in referenda, in opinion poll after opinion poll, Okinawans have made clear that they want this base out of their territory entirely.

It is true that the movement is divided on how to put their demand. The anti-war purists insist that the movement should make no statement whatsoever as to where the base should go: they say that it is wrong to relieve their suffering by imposing it on someone else, and that anyway as pacifists they should demand the base should not be moved, but abolished. A second group sees the issue not only as one of peace, but also of anti-colonialism. They point out that the bases are in Japan because of the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty, which was negotiated in Tokyo without consulting Okinawa (when it was first signed Okinawa was still under US military rule). Most Japanese today seem comfortable with that treaty (the movement against it, once strong, has dwindled to almost nothing), and their comfort is made possible largely by the fact that 75 per cent of the US bases authorized under that treaty are located in tiny Okinawa, which comprises a mere 0.6 per cent of Japanese territory. They argue, if the Japanese people want US bases in their land, as their lack of opposition to the Security Treaty seems to indicate, isn’t it fair to locate those bases near the homes of the people who want them, rather than the homes of those who don’t’? (Imagine, if you can, the US government making a treaty with some foreign government to allow their bases on American soil, and then putting 75 per cent of those bases in Puerto Rico.) Another option that is talked about is Guam, which is, at least formally, US territory. But Okinawans who see themselves as a colonized people see Guam’s Chamorros as another colonized people, and argue that it would be far better to send the base to Okinawa’s colonizer, Japan.

Until a few years ago the option to move the base to Japan was almost a taboo subject, mainly because mentioning it would make mainland Japanese upset and angry, and saying that one [was] opposed it would elicit from them warm praises for one’s generosity. But more recently the taboo has been breached, and the option has become part of the public debate. And once the taboo was lifted, it turned out to have very wide support among Okinawans. So in the recent national election, the DSP made the removal of Futenma base [to] some site outside of Okinawa, either to the mainland or outside of Japan altogether, and the cancellation of the Henoko project, a campaign promise. In return for this they got electoral support from Okinawa that was crucial to their takeover of the national government.

The question now is whether they will have the backbone to keep this promise.

From even before the DPJ’s election victory, the US has been putting pressure on it to break that promise. Before the election, when the DPJ victory was seen to be a sure thing, Secretary of State Clinton came to Japan and with the lame-duck reactionary prime minister Aso Taro signed something called the Guam Agreement, a redundant instrument that was aimed at binding the incoming Japanese Government to the policies decided by the outgoing one: the Futenma base would be moved to Henoko, some troops would be moved to Guam, the Japanese Government would pay for the move, etc.; all stuff already decided. Then when Secretary of Defense Gates came to Tokyo in October, after the Hatoyama government came to power, he was pointedly rude, violating rules of diplomatic protocol (refusing to go to a dinner party held in his honor, etc.) and made as clear as he could that the Obama Administration will accept “no change” in its Okinawa policy. Either the Marine Air Station is moved to Henoko, or else it stays in Futenma, and that’s it.

With this, the Hatoyama Government has started to waffle. Defense Secretary Okada has begun explaining that there is a difference between a “public promise” and “what one says during an election campaign,” and people are beginning to wonder if the metamorphosis if the DPJ into an ordinary establishment party has already begun. After the election, Under Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell said at a symposium (one can imagine the benevolent smile on his face) that the US will not be much harmed by the new Japanese Government, and that “a certain degree of independence” on the part of Japan should be welcomed. A useful slip: it means that in his view the previous Japanese Governments had not even that much. We’ll soon see if the new administration can do any better. As I write this, Obama is on his way to Tokyo. For the last three days one of the local Okinawan papers has had an English language page filled with appeals to Obama to understand Okinawa’s very special situation, and to give up the Henoko base plan. It would be wise for him to do so. For whether or not the US puts on a tough performance, or whether or not the Japanese government waffles, the Henoko residents will fight against the base as long as it takes.

Douglas Lummis is a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy. Lummis can be reached at

November 11, 2009

Settlers 'stone' school children

By Phoebe Greenwood in Hebron, West Bank

Twaneh School in Hebron has seen some improvements since former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair paid it a visit as UN Middle East envoy last year.

The track leading from the school to the new main road joining Jerusalem to Israeli settlements on the south eastern slopes of Palestine is now paved. There are two new school rooms being built where pupils will be taught up to Grade 9, rather than having to leave after Grade 4. They now have a playground.

But for the 32 children who live in Tuba and Magher Al Abeed, Palestinian villages encircled by three Israeli settlements, getting to school remains problematic.

Frequent attacks by Israeli settlers on children from these villages as they make their way to and from school have pushed Israel to take the exceptional step of providing them a daily military escort.

Ali, 12, has been coming to Twaneh School for six years, and is among those who wait for the military attachment: "The soldiers are okay, they don't give us a hard time. It's just the settlers - whenever we walk by the settlements or past their land, they try to attack us.

"Sometimes they chase us with their horses, ride them at us and try to use them to hurt us. The horses are so fast we can't get away. It's very frightening. But they don't harass us nearly so much when the military are there."

Patrol not reliable

Unfortunately, the patrol is not always reliable. Last Monday, Ali and the other children waited as they do every morning at 7am for their Israeli escorts but they didn't come. Eventually, they decided to walk the long way, a 12km detour around the settlements, which took them two hours.

In the afternoon, the children waited again for the patrol they expected to collect them at 12:30pm. At 3pm they gave up waiting and set off on the 12km hike for the second time that day, arriving home after dark. On Tuesday, the children waited and when the escort failed to arrive, they simply went home, too exhausted to face the two-hour walk once again.

After the military's two-day absence, Twaneh School's Headmaster Mahmoud Makhamreh contacted the Ministry of Education who in turn called the Palestinian Authority who spoke to the Israeli authorities. On Wednesday, the patrol turned up to take the kids to school.

Makhamreh sees a clear difference in the pupils who travel with the military: "The kids who are escorted are weaker in their ability to study- their communication skills are poor and they don't mix well with other children.

"They are full of fear, they feel insecure. I can see it in their behaviour: Whenever the patrol is late, they become nervous, afraid that it won't turn up and they will have to walk home unprotected.

"Quite a few have dropped out because of the difficulties they face getting here, particularly the girls. Last year three dropped out, this year one: four in total since 2008."

Ali, 12, a pupil at Twaneh school in the occupied West Bank. [SAVE THE CHILDREN]
According to new research published by Save the Children UK this week, Palestinian families living in areas like Hebron that the UN identifies as ‘high risk' in the West Bank and Gaza are poorer, less protected and more vulnerable than anywhere else in the occupied Palestinian territory.

At least half of those living in these areas who spoke to the charity said they have been forced from their homes at least once since 2000, the last major period of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Salam Kanaan, Save the Children UK's country director in the occupied Palestinian territory, states: "Without a secure future, the lives of Palestinian children living in high risk areas like the Hebron district are blighted. The daily struggle for basics like food, water and their physical safety has left children depressed and traumatised.

"Conditions in these areas make life so intolerable that many families are driven from their homes, leaving them even poorer and more vulnerable.

"These children need help and protection from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities as well as the international humanitarian community. Families need relief from the unrelenting pressures they face so they can raise their children."

Hurt by stones

Now he is 12, Ali says he worries less for himself than he does his little brother Mahmoud, 10, who walks to school with him: "We older kids always look out for the younger ones, try to protect them. When I was younger, in first and second grade, I was so scared of being beaten that I didn't want to come to school.

"Most of the kids I walk home with have been hurt by stones. We all have bruises on our legs from where rocks have hit us. Last year, one girl was sent to hospital because a stone hit her face and she was badly injured; she was 12 then.

"Of course, if I get hurt I'll tell my parents. I also tell them I'm afraid. They tell me that we need to stick together and never walk away from the military patrol truck."

While the military patrol has stemmed the attacks, it has done little to lessen the impact of the occupation on Hebron's children. Like the playground, the extra classroom and the paved road, this precaution is a cosmetic treatment for the deep wounds of conflict.

Twaneh School has had a demolition order on it since 1999. Headmaster Makhmareh says Israeli peace activists have championed their case in the courts and the demolition has been delayed, but it could still be carried out at any time.

The children, however, continue to walk to school, carrying on life almost as normal. Ali explains that he has little choice: ‘They throw stones at us because they want us to leave this area. But I will never leave here, I was born here. I belong to this land."

Phoebe Greenwood works for Save the Children UK, a global children's charity.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


November 10, 2009

The sun sets on Oslo "peace" process

By Stephen M. Walt | November 10, 2009

Two eminent mainstream journalists -- Tom Friedman and Joe Klein -- recently called for United States to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the grounds that Palestinians were too divided to make a deal and the Israelis were not interested in one. Friedman couldn't bring himself to draw the logical conclusion -- if the United States truly going to "disengage," that also means cutting off its economic and military assistance -- but Klein did.

I have a certain sympathy for this position (and even wrote similar things myself before I wised up), but there are two problems with this specific idea. The first is that it is a meaningless prescription: There's no way to cut the aid package (or even put a hold on it, which is what Klein recommends) so long as Congress is in hock to AIPAC and the other groups in the status quo lobby. And unless I've missed something, I doubt groups like J Street would support it either.

Friedman and Klein's statements do convey how discourse in the United States is changing, but the specific recommendation they offer here is a non-starter. Remember: we are dealing with a Congress that just voted to condemn the Goldstone Report by a vote of 344-24. The aid package may be indirectly subsidizing the settlements and threatening Israel’s future as a Jewish majority state, but a supine House and Senate will still sign the annual check.

The second problem, I fear, is that it is too little, too late. Having dithered, delayed and dissembled ever since the Oslo Accords -- while the number of settlers more than doubled -- we are about to face an entirely different problem. The sun is now setting on the "two-state solution" -- if it is not already well below the horizon -- and pretty soon everyone will have to admit that they are sitting around in the dark and pretending they see daylight.

Be careful what you wish for. Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton's mission to train reliable and professional Palestinian security forces will end, and Israel will once again have full responsibility for some 5.2 million Palestinian Arabs under its control. And the issue will gradually shift from the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- which was the central idea behind the Oslo process and the subsequent "Road Map" -- to a struggle for civil and political rights within an Israel that controls all of mandate Palestine. And on what basis could the United States oppose such a campaign, without explicitly betraying its own core values?

In this regard, it was telling that Martin Indyk -- a key figure in the lobby and far from a harsh critic of Israeli policy -- is quoted in the Times saying "more than likely, we are entering a new era." I think he's right, and he sounds worried. He should be, because the Obama administration isn't remotely ready for it.

Germany's sovereignty restricted by US and allies?

The former head of the West German Military Intelligence has issued a book revealing secret details of a 1949 US-German treaty, alleging America and its allies have been deliberately suppressing the nations sovereignty.

Taliban fighters display ‘US weapons’: video

Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage showing the Taliban in Afghanistan displaying what appears to be US weapons.

The fighters say they seized the arms cache from two US outposts in eastern Nuristan province.

Days after the alleged assault, the US military pulled out its troops from the area.

Al Jazerera’s Jonah Hull reports.

Vast majority of Gaza children suffer PTSD symptoms

Aditya Ganapathiraju, The Electronic Intifada, 9 November 2009

A recent report found that 91.4 percent of children in the Gaza Strip suffer moderate to severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

More than 40 years of Israeli military occupation have had a devastating impact on Palestinians in Gaza. Air strikes, artillery shelling, ground invasions, jet flybys and other acts of violence have all led to an epidemic of suffering among Gaza's most vulnerable inhabitants. The most recent studies indicate that the vast majority of Gaza's children exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Soon after the Israeli winter assault, a group of scholars at the University of Washington discussed different aspects of the situation in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Dr. Evan Kanter, a UW School of Medicine professor and the current president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, delivered a somber talk describing the mental health situation among Gaza's population. The numbers he cited described a staggering level of psychological trauma.

Dr. Kanter described studies that revealed 62 percent of Gaza's inhabitants reported having a family member injured or killed, 67 percent saw injured or dead strangers and 83 percent had witnessed shootings.

According to Dr. Kanter, in a study of high school-aged children from southern refugee camps in Rafah and Khan Younis, 69 percent of the children showed symptoms of PTSD, 40 percent showed signs of moderate or severe depression, and a staggering 95 percent exhibited severe anxiety. Meanwhile, 75 percent showed limited or no ability to cope with their trauma. All of this was before the last Israeli invasion.

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and whom Dr. Kanter described as a "medical hero" working under seemingly impossible conditions, has produced "some of the best research in the world on the impact of war on civilian populations." In a 2002 interview he said that 54 percent of children in Gaza had symptoms of PTSD, along with 30 percent of adults. The hardest hit were young ones who had their homes bulldozed or who lost loved ones like their mothers, he said. Again, these figures were obtained well before conditions dramatically deteriorated.

Gaza's population is overwhelmingly young. About 45 percent of the population are 14 years old or younger and roughly 60 percent are 19 years and younger. The long-term effects of constant violence and PTSD on such a young population are incalculable.

A recent study by international researchers and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme entitled "War on Gaza survey study" reveals more worrying figures. Of a representative sample of children in Gaza, more than 95 percent experienced artillery shelling in their area or sonic booms of low-flying jets. Moreover, 94 percent recalled seeing mutilated corpses on TV and 93 percent witnessed the effects of aerial bombardments on the ground. More than 70 percent of children in Gaza said they lacked water, food and electricity during the most recent attacks, and a similar percentage said they had to flee to safety during the recent attacks.

In addition, 98.7 percent of the traumatized children reported that they did not feel safe in their homes. More than 95 percent of the children felt that they were unable to protect themselves or their family members, causing a feeling of utter powerlessness that is compounded by a sense of loss over unfulfilled lives.

A whole generation is being lost to the horrors of large-scale military violence and a brutal occupation. In front of many distraught members in the audience, Dr. Kanter described a study that showed that witnessing severe military violence results in more aggression and antisocial behavior among children, along with the "enjoyment of aggression." There are similar studies among Israeli children who witness violent attacks.

PTSD, Dr. Kanter explained, is an "engine that perpetuates violent conflict." It leads to three characteristic symptoms. First, individuals re-experience the traumatic events in the form of the nightmares, debilitating flashbacks and terrifying memories that haunt individuals for years afterwards. Second, other individuals may develop avoidance symptoms in which they become isolated and emotionally numb, deadened to the world around them. Third, individuals have symptoms of hyper arousal, which may lead to excessive anger, insomnia, self-destructive behavior and a hyper-vigilant state of mind. Other maladies like poor social functioning, depression, suicidal thoughts, a lack of trust and family violence are all associated with PTSD.

The most recent study, "Trauma, grief and PTSD in Palestinian children victims for war on Gaza" by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, revealed that in the aftermath of the winter assault on Gaza, an unbelievable 91.4 percent of children in Gaza displayed symptoms of moderate to very severe PTSD. Meanwhile, only about one percent of the children showed no signs of PTSD.

The outlook for children in Gaza suffering from these symptoms is not optimistic. Whereas soldiers who experience traumatic events in a war zone can return home to relative calm and seek treatment, the people of Gaza continue to be held in what one Israeli human rights group labeled the "largest prison on Earth"-- a methodically "de-developed" island isolated from the rest of the world.

One of the most distressing prospects for peace are studies of similar war-torn populations like Kosovo and Afghanistan that showed that military violence often leads to widespread feelings of hatred and the simmering urge for revenge. One can easily predict the future consequences of a large number of young people exposed to this level of trauma.

In an op-ed published during Israel's winter invasion Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj warned that "Palestinian children in the first intifada 20 years ago threw stones at Israeli tanks trying to wrest freedom from Israeli military occupation. Some of those children grew up to become suicide bombers in the second intifada 10 years later. It does not take much to imagine the serious changes that will befall today's children."

"The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us," Harvard political economist Sara Roy warned in July. Many share Roy's feeling that "what looms is no less than the loss of entire generation of Palestinians," which she fears may have occurred already.

This will be the enduring legacy of the Israeli occupation.

Aditya Ganapathiraju is a student, independent writer and local organizer. He lives in the Seattle area and works on Palestine and other social justice issues.

Israel to bulldoze Jerusalem women's organization

09/11/2009 21:53

Jerusalem – Ma’an – Israeli municipality staff delivered a notice to demolish the Women's Society office in the Old City of Jerusalem, accusing the organization of 100 square meters of unlicensed construction.

Wafa'a At-Taweel, executive officer of the Women's Society, stated that the organization provides a range of services to women and children in the field of rehabilitation and culture, further explaining that it remains the sole society offering such services in the area. Founded in 2009, At-Taweel emphasized that the demolition of the organization's office will harm its ongoing programs and activities.

The women’s organization is located in the Al-Magharbeh neighborhood south of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,

The Israeli municipality delivered 17 demolition notices in the Al-Bustan, Ein Al-Luzeh and Al-Yaman neighborhoods in Silwan, also in East Jerusalem on Sunday. Around 100 Palestinian houses are already slated for demolition in the same area.

Israeli authorities most often issue demolition orders citing a lack of construction permits. Palestinians in Jerusalem say that such permits are nearly impossible to obtain from the Israeli-controlled Municipality of Jerusalem, which administers both West Jerusalem and occupied East Jerusalem.

November 09, 2009

West Bank rabbi: Jews can kill Gentiles who threaten Israel

Israeli settlers from the Yitzhar settlement watch after a Palestinian olive tree field was set ablaze by a group of Jewish settlers on June 19, 2008 in the West Bank village of Burin.

(AFP Getty Images)


Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel.

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, who heads the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement, wrote in his book "The King's Torah" that even babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the nation.

Shapiro based the majority of his teachings on passages quoted from the Bible, to which he adds his opinions and beliefs.
"It is permissable to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation," he wrote, adding: "If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments - because we care about the commandments - there is nothing wrong with the murder."

Several prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Yithak Ginzburg and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, have recommended the book to their students and followers.

Japanese FM Rules Out Base Deal During Obama Visit

Massive Protests Against US Base on Okinawa

by Jason Ditz, November 08, 2009

Though the rising dispute over US military bases in Okinawa has been a hot subject for Japanese foreign policy, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada says that his government will not finalize any deals during President Obama’s visit later this week.

US bases (red) on Okinawa

Tensions have been rising between Japan and the United States since Japan’s Democratic Party (DPJ) took power in August, the first major regime change the nation has seen since World War 2. The DPJ ran on the basis of ending US dictation of Japanese foreign policy, and called for a renegotiation of the Okinawa base deal.

But the US has absolutely ruled out any renegotiations, and has demanded the new government accept the deals the previous government signed, even though the unpopularity of those deals was in no small way responsible for the DPJ’s election. The US has grown impatient with the delay, and Japan has threatened to oust them entirely from Okinawa.

Which it seems may suit the Okinawans just fine, as an estimated 21,000 organized a massive protest along the beach calling for the removal of the US Marine base. Okinawans have complained that since the US occupation, they have been asked to bear an inordinate amount of responsibility for housing American forces, and the crime and pollution they bring with them.


November 08, 2009

The New Yorker Mucks Up Gaza

by Bruce Wolman on November 7, 2009

The New Yorker sent Lawrence Wright, its Pulitzer Prize winning staff writer, over to Israel and Gaza to report on "What really happened during the Israeli attacks?" I’m not sure what the reason was for the question mark, unless it was a hint not to take what’s written as what really happened. Wright’s letter from Gaza is disappointing, but then it could have been worse. Had Jeffrey Goldberg remained on The New Yorker’s staff, he would most certainly have been the one David Remnick sent over for this assignment. We can all imagine how Jeffrey’s piece would have read.

After giving a second read to Wright’s letter, I couldn’t quite understand my deep initial antipathy. But then I noticed that the first seventy paragraphs or so are only a preamble to the last twenty in which Wright finally addresses the actual Gaza invasion. By the time this reader reached the supposed subject of the piece, he was already zoned out from Wright’s jaded history and observations. Perhaps this is the only way a New York-based weekly magazine can get away with discussing possible Israeli war crimes – by first providing a great deal of background information in conformance with the basic Hasbara narratives of the conflict.

Wright attempts to present a timeline of what happened leading up to the Gaza invasion. He starts back in June 2006, six months after Hamas had won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. According to Wright, a "moment of promise" in the "opportunity for peace" culminated in bloodshed June 24, 2006, when Hamas commandos killed two Israeli soldiers and captured a third from a Merkava tank–teenaged Gilad Shalit. In retaliation, the Israelis over the next months arrested 64 senior Palestinian officials and killed over 400 Gazans, including 88 children, and turned Gaza upside down looking for their missing soldier.

Left unexplained is why Wright believes that on June 24th peace still had a moment of promise. He suggests that Hamas’ goal in capturing Shalit was to put a halt to the peace initiatives. Apparently Hamas’ stated goal – to negotiate for some of the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners – is not sufficient to explain the Hamas attack. Wright also refers to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza settlements as if it was an Israeli peace overture. He writes,

"From the Israeli perspective, at least, the Gaza problem was supposed to have been solved in August, 2005, when Ariel Sharon, then the Prime Minister, closed down the Jewish settlements on the Strip and withdrew Israeli forces. The international community and the Israeli left wing applauded the move. But, almost immediately, mortar and rocket attacks from the Strip multiplied."

As Shlomo Ben-Ami and others have noted, Ariel Sharon conceived of the unilateral withdrawal of the settlers and Israeli forces from Gaza as a means to avoid further peace initiatives and demands for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, not as a stimulus to the peace process. Wright is correct about the international community’s approval–if by "international community" he follows the US State Department meaning, i.e., any ad-hoc collection of countries expressing (either willingly or by pressure) public agreement with a United States position. The Israeli left wing did applaud, if by left-wing one includes Israelis such as Ari Shavit, Ha’aretz’s own version of Tom Friedman and one of Wright’s sources. But moderate leftists and peace negotiators such as Shlomo Ben-Ami and Yosi Beilin warned from the time of Sharon’s announcement that a unilateral, as opposed to a negotiated, withdrawal would lead to negative consequences for the peace process and quite likely an acceleration of violence. Ben-Ami in his 2006 book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace predicted rather accurately what has happened in the aftermath.

For me, a key litmus test in truth telling on the situation in Gaza is how a report handles the takeover of the Strip by Hamas. If the narrative doesn’t refer to the Bush-Rice-Abrams backing (most likely even initiating) of Mohammed Dahlan’s Gaza coup attempt, which preceded the Hamas preemptive counter-coup, then it is seriously remiss. It is amazing to what extent the mainstream media continues to ignore David Rose’s well-sourced report on the US role in Dahlan’s power play, which appeared in Vanity Fair.

Wright does state that "Fatah refused to step aside and let Hamas govern." He mentions the "large demonstrations by both factions in the West Bank and Gaza, along with kidnappings, gun battles, and assassinations." And he even refers to the peace accord between Fatah and Hamas arranged by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But he fails to inform that the United States opposed the Saudi accord, and subverted it by conspiring with Dahlan in his attempt to organize a putsch. Unfortunately, for the United States, Israel, Fatah and Dahlan, Hamas routed Dahlan’s forces.

Wright’s treatment of Gaza is mostly nasty (quite a contrast with this site’s reporting from Gaza last spring). Here is the tenor: The Israelis would like to ignore Gaza and forget it even exists (after 36 years of insisting they had to place settlers there). The West Bankers want to distance themselves from their poor relatives. Egypt’s only goal is to make sure Gaza remains Israel’s problem. A Saudi with a drink in his hand tells Israel to get the bombing right this time.

We are informed Gaza ran out of allies before the invasion. While this may be mostly true if one considers only the corrupt rulers and elites of the Arab countries, and the GWOT leaders of Europe and the United States [Global War on Terror], for the Arab and Muslim populations across the globe empathy with Gaza is one of the few political stances they all hold in common. Gaza can only be kept friendless by the application of authoritarian repression and Western interference.

According to Wright, "the territory has long had the highest concentration of poverty, extremism, and hopelessness in the region." There is nothing there for the children to do, yet the Gazans love nothing more than to fuck and have more kids. (One man tells Wright that Gazans love to procreate.)The movie theaters are shut down. Little music can be heard. Sports facilities have been destroyed. Sharia law is being introduced.

Wright goes through a litany of Hamas social policies of which he obviously disapproves. This is a subject worthy of discussion, and I share some of his concerns, but what do these policies have to do with what really happened in the Israeli attacks? Many of the same criticisms can be made of the social practices in the ultra-orthodox towns of Israel, but would that help to explain the Gaza invasion? Saudi Arabian society is far more repressive than Hamas’ Gaza. Still this hardly provokes New Yorker writers to suggest we invade Saudi Arabia.

Apparently Wright didn’t find any Gazans with something positive to say about Hamas. Gazans not in Hamas are worried. "The whole place is becoming a mosque," complains one female reporter. A native Gazan businessman says he feels like "a refugee in my own country" since the Hamas takeover. An economist tells Wright that "Secular people are punished. The future is frightening."

He devotes six paragraphs to a visit with a cell sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, a faction which Hamas has acted against. The complaints from these Jihadists are the opposite of the previous quoted Gazans. “We thought Hamas was going to apply Islamic law here, but they are not.” He [the leader of the Jihadi coalition] spoke of the “fancy restaurants on the beach” and said that Hamas tolerated uncovered women there. “They have a much more moderate way of life, and we cannot deal with that.” Well, which is it in Gaza?

Wright provides the obligational presentation of the more outrageous clauses in the Hamas Charter, and says that the charter "has come to embody the fear that many Israelis hold about the Palestinians." Yet, he fails to report that Israel was not very fearful of the Charter at the time of Hamas’ founding in 1987. In fact, the Israeli government initially aided Hamas and supported its growth, calculating that the Islamists would be a useful tool to reduce the strengths of the more secular Fatah and PLO.

Ari Shavit is given space to recall 2002 and his experience visiting a bombed cafe in Jerusalem. Since Gaza and Hamas are the current evil-doers, we only hear about Hamas attacks and Gazan celebrations of the Moment Cafe bombing. The fact that all the Palestinian factions were involved in suicide bombings at that time is no longer relevant, as Fatah and the West Bankers are currently the good Palestinians.

Wright asserts, "The Hamas [suicide bombing] attacks derailed the peace process initiated by the Oslo accords and hardened many Israelis against the Palestinian cause." Which is to say: The failed negotiations, Sharon’s provocative march on the Temple Mount, the Israeli massive overuse of force to quell the initial outbreaks of the Second Intifada (before any suicide bombings I might add), and the election of right-wing tough guy Sharon evidently had no causal relationship to the Palestinian attacks or the derailment of the peace process. In fact, and it is hard to believe Wright doesn’t know this, the peace process died with the elections of Ariel Sharon and George Bush. The violence that followed was in response to the violence. It developed its own momentum divorced from the failed peace process. It was an escalating tit-for-tat.

Gaza is sui generis from Wright’s perspective, as if God instead of resting on the seventh day, fooled around for a few hours and built himself an anti-Eden and called it Gaza. I began to see Gaza as, I suspect, many Gazans do: a floating island, a dystopian Atlantis, drifting farther away from contact with any other society. Wright offers a very concise take on the origins of Gaza and mucks it up for some unrevealed reason. He correctly asserts that Gaza was part of Britain’s mandate over Palestine, but then goes on to say that the Brits "considered Gaza res nullius — nobody’s property." I spent quite some time Googling round to find out the source of Wright’s claim here without result. No reference to Britain specifically considering Gaza res nullius came up.

Curiously, the legal concept of res nullius is often introduced by certain Israeli supporters and legal experts, especially the Commentary and David Horowitz crowd, in order to claim that Israel is not illegally occupying the territories. But they claim that all the territories – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – not just Gaza are res nullius. The majority of international legal experts dispute that res nullius applies to the occupied territories.

During the 1948 war, Palestinian refugees did flee to the Gaza Strip. When the armistice lines were drawn, Gaza was under the control of the Egyptians. After the 1967 war, control switched to the Israelis. But Wright goes further and claims "Israel and Egypt agreed to try to set up a Palestinian entity that would rule Gaza, but it was clear that neither party wanted responsibility for the Strip, so it remained in limbo, little more than a notional part of a Palestinian entity that might never come into existence." The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Agreement called for a resolution of the Palestinian issue. From the time the Arab League recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, Gaza was considered an integral part of the Palestinian territories even by Egypt. This was reaffirmed in the Oslo accords. So it’s unclear to me why Wright would seek to portray Gaza as a "notional part of a Palestinian entity". Of course, for the Israelis a hived-off Gaza lessens the current demographic threat and it would like nothing better then to declare Gaza an orphan, and an unloved one at that.

There are other inaccuracies which leads one to wonder how familiar Wright is with his subject matter. For example, he has Salam Fayyad, the current Prime Minister as a Fatah loyalist, when in fact Fayyad is an independent. In the last Palestinian election he ran for the Legislature on the list of a small party he organized with Hanan Ashrawi.

He notes splits within Fatah’s leadership, but ignores the ‘radical’ Meshal’s recent statements indicating Hamas’ willingness to accept a state based on the 1967 borders.

Wright repeats an excuse Israel gives for the timing of the Gaza attack, that Hamas was introducing GRAD rockets into Gaza. Yet, he must know that Israel has not shut down the tunnel smuggling and, if Israeli’s claims about the GRADs are true, GRADs are obviously still being stockpiled.

More seriously, Wright wrongly interprets Israeli tactics:

The Israeli military adopted painstaking efforts to spare civilian lives in Gaza. Two and a half million leaflets were dropped into areas that were about to come under attack, urging noncombatants to “move to city centers.” But Gaza is essentially a cage, and the city centers also came under attack. Intelligence officers called residents whose houses were going to be targeted, urging them to flee. The Air Force dropped “roof knockers”—small, noisemaking shells—on top of some houses to warn the residents to escape before the next, real bomb fell on them.

Israel may claim it drops leaflets and makes calls to spare civilian lives, but obviously if that is the case, it never investigates how these tactics work in practice. With no safe place to go, with attacks on anything that moves, with bombings shifting from one locale to another, Israeli warnings only increase civilian panic. Why flee your home if you don’t know whether you will be safe out in the open, and there is no place to flee to? Or whether the school or refugee center you reach will be the next target. Had Israel been serious about protecting civilians, then it would have opened its borders and let the non-combatant Palestinians flee from the war zone as international law demands. But Israel would not countenance Palestinian refugees on its territory, so it could only urge that they even more tightly concentrate themselves in the Gaza urban areas, which the Israelis eventually ended up attacking anyway.

Several times Wright repeats the Israeli mantra that no country would accept the rocket firing on its citizens that Israel has experienced. He even quotes Obama in Israel last year, “No country would accept missiles landing on the heads of its citizens. If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.” The twelve thousand rockets and mortars fired into Israel between 2000 and 2008 are noted, but the context is missing. This is partially correct, but not very illuminating.

By hewing to the Israeli narrative, Wright is unable to see the truth, that both sides are locked into a strategic race for deterrence against the other. "Collective punishment" applied to civilians, aka terror when the other side is employing it, is the means by which Israel seeks to maintain deterrence, and hence control, of the Palestinians. In response Hamas has attempted to establish its own deterrence vis-a-vis Israel with guerrilla actions, terror attacks, suicide bombings (a tactic which turned out to be a failure and counterproductive), and more recently, inaccurate rocket attacks.

In military and think-tank circles Israel is fairly open about its application of collective punishment. Indeed, civilian death tolls have never led to Israeli second thoughts. Gaza worked, they will say. Less obvious and accepted is the notion that the Palestinians are also in their own way also seeking a deterrent capability. (During the Second Intifada the Palestinians overplayed their hand and went beyond deterrence in the way they accelerated the suicide bombings, deluding themselves for a brief period of time into thinking these tactics were so successful they could achieve parity with Israel by their use. Instead the carnage provoked a ferocious Israeli reaction and the Israelis crushed the Palestinian uprising. Hamas has since returned to searching for a way to establish a level of deterrence. Fatah has abandoned the armed route, but has gained nothing with the Israelis. Whether Fatah will remain passive remains to be seen.)

Being the far superior power, Israel has determined the rules of the conflict. Hamas and the Palestinians respond. Seen in the context of a mutual game of deterrence, Hamas’ strategy and tactical maneuverings are rational, even if the acts themselves are immoral. We are not simply seeing the bloodthirsty cravings of extremists or the primitive urges for revenge as Wright implies.

Basically Israel is satisfied with the status quo. The Palestinians want to upend that status quo – aiming for one state or two states – i.e., some end to the occupation. To deter Palestinian violence against the current order, Israel enforces a limited but still severe collective punishment on the Palestinian civilian population as the price for its militants’ activities. Moreover, the Israelis expect the Palestinian population to blame the militants for the Israeli punishment, and eventually to demand that the militants stop their attacks on the Israelis. Hamas knows it cannot defeat Israel militarily, but it also cannot let Israel pay no price for the continuation of the status quo.

Firing rockets is a signal to the Israelis that the Palestinians will not just passively (or non-violently) accept the current situation. The wild inaccuracy of Palestinian rockets is intentional. The rockets cause psychological angst for Israeli civilians and a political problem for the Israeli government, but they don’t kill many Israelis. If the rockets were more effective at killing, the Israelis would retaliate with overwhelming force. The intensity of the rocket firings is gauged to keep Israeli cost-benefit calculations for an escalated response or a full invasion below the threshold. Hence, it is inaccurate to say that Hamas wants to kill as many Israelis as possible. If that was the aim, they would choose other tactics.

Once Israel refused to lift the blockade on Gaza during the cease fire, Hamas had no choice but to up the ante. Their people were approaching destitution, just as Israel intended. Hamas needed to try and force Israel to negotiate an amelioration of the blockade, even if the odds of success were against them. To renew the ceasefire with the blockade still in full force would have irreparably eroded support for Hamas.

Armed with this analysis we can reject one of Wright’s conclusion. He writes,

"They also underscore the biases that had taken root in each camp: the Israeli belief that Hamas terrorists and the Gazan people were one and the same; the Gazan tendency to support any act of resistance against the Israelis, no matter how self-defeating it might be."

While the majority of Israelis probably do see Hamas and the Gazan people as one and the same, Gazans have been much more circumspect about supporting "any act of resistance." If one examines Palestinian polling since the Oslo accords, you will see that Palestinians’ approval of suicide bombings and other acts of violence have varied greatly over the period. As their situation has only worsened, Gazans in their desperation have been willing for all kinds of strategies to be tried, both violent and non-violent. All have been self-defeating. Until Wright and the Israelis can demonstrate to the Gazans an alternative other than surrender, Wright should be more careful in his judgements.

Wright’s letter from Gaza is not completely one-sided, but neither does it answer the question posed.

Mofaz blames Netanyahu, offers new illusive peace plan

Press TV - November 8, 2009 18:50:19 GMT

A prominent Israeli lawmaker describes Benjamin Netanyahu as a prime minister without an effective plan on the 'peace process.'

Shaul Mofaz, deputy opposition leader in the Israeli Knesset and a former 'military commander, presented another controversial 'peace plan' on Sunday after consulting with President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"The government and the prime minister have no plan,” Mofaz told a Tel Aviv press conference. “We have been waiting, but there is no path and there won't be. In six months, the prime minister has done nothing to change things. A prime minister without a diplomatic horizon harms the ability of Israel to achieve security and stability. As a former chief of general staff and defense minister, I can tell you that this is dangerous."

"Israel is seen as an insubordinate element, opposing a solution to the Palestinian conflict,” said the Kadima Member of the Knesset, quoted by the Jerusalem Post. “The time has come to make decisions. As a candidate to lead the country, I felt I had to present a plan. A leader cannot sit quietly while the prime minister is not presenting a vision for the future.”

His plan claims immediate "conditional negotiations" with the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the formation of a 'demilitarized Palestinian state' with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank and Gaza that, according to the illusive plan, would recognize Israel within a year.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, however, ruled out any prospective negotiations with the Israelis. “Hamas will not negotiate with Israel,” he said. “We do not believe in engaging with the occupation, or in talks that would beautify its face in the eyes of the world.”

Under what Mofaz portrays as some sort of an innovative plan, there would be no need for a halt in Israel's settlement activity in the remaining 40 percent of the occupied West Bank and "no settlement will be evacuated". This part of his plan is in sharp contrast with Palestinians' demand for a complete freeze in the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands before resuming peace talks.

According to his plan, key issues like the fate of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, and borders would be decided 'later.'

Video: Israeli separation barrier cuts family from village

November 8, 2009 - Al-Jazeera

Hani Amer, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Mas'ha, must pass through padlocks, fences and two gates to get from his home on one side to any other part of town.

Israel's separation barrier has cut off Amer's home from those of his neighbours and the view of his village has been replaced by the wall.

Israel says it built the wall to protect its citizens from Palestinian attacks, but Amer, who lives on the same side as Israeli settlers in the West Bank, says it is his family that needs protection.

Nicole Johnston reports.

Israeli forces shell northern Gaza

08/11/2009 16:09

Gaza – Ma’an – Israeli shells landed in an open area in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday, causing panic but no injuries, witnesses said.

Residents of the area said three shells landed in the Abu Safieyah area east of the city of Jabaliya. The residents added that the shelling was apparently unprovoked.

One Palestinian living in the area told Ma’an, "The shelling caused fear among the residents who live in these agricultural areas that their houses could be hit by these shells."

An Israeli military spokesperson confirmed that Israeli soldiers fired mortars at what they believed to be the source of rockets fired into Israeli territory. The military said they were still investigating whether rockets were indeed fired across the border.

IOF troops open fire at farmers in northern Gaza
07/11/2009 - 03:47 PM

GAZA, (PIC)-- Israeli occupation forces (IOF) opened heavy machine gun fire at Palestinian farmers while tending to their lands north of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, local sources reported.

A source in the area told Quds Press that the IOF soldiers fired an artillery shell then opened machineguns at the farmers east of Jabaliya in northern Gaza Strip.

Farmers were forced to abandon their lands due to the heavy gunfire that was coupled with intensified flights for IOF warplanes.

A number of Palestinian citizens were wounded on Friday night when the IOF troops fired a projectile at them east of Gaza city.

Germans press for removal of US nuclear weapons in Europe

By Julian Borger
November 6, 2009

Pressure is growing within Nato for the removal of the remaining US nuclear weapons on European soil, and for a new doctrine for the alliance that would depend less on nuclear deterrence.

The initiative is being driven by the new German government coalition, which has called for the removal of American nuclear weapons on its territory as part of a Nato strategic rethink.

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, the driving force behind the new policy, raised the issue during talks in Washington today with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Earlier this week, Westerwelle assured the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that Germany would consult its allies on the removal of the estimated 20 nuclear weapons left on its soil.

The Germans have backing from the Belgians and Dutch. The new Norwegian government also called for a debate within Nato, as it revises its basic doctrine, known as the strategic concept, due to be completed in the first half of next year.

Des Browne, a former British defence minister now chairing a cross-party parliamentary group on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, argued: "These moves bring out into the open a topic which for too long has been discussed by diplomats and technocrats only. [It] makes possible a genuine debate between allies about the role of nuclear weapons in Nato strategy, as set out in the strategic concept which guides alliance generals."

The current Nato concept, written in 1999, says: "Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to Nato provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the alliance. The alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe."

It is that clause that is now under scrutiny, in a push to downgrade the role of nuclear weapons in global security. In France two former prime ministers, Alain Juppe and Michel Rocard, as well as a retired general, signed a joint letter to Le Monde newspaper calling for "the structured elimination of nuclear weapons" and arguing that France should be prepared to negotiate on its own independent deterrent.

The letter was a challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has resisted the [rhetorical] calls for eventual nuclear abolition led by Barack Obama and Gordon Brown.

There are an estimated 200 US weapons – mostly tactical – left in Europe, deployed in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Full article

November 07, 2009

Jerusalem mayor finds support for united city in Congress

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Barkat warmly received in Washington, with Congress members presenting to him legislation proposal to have US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to capital without need for president's consent

Yitzhak Benhorin
11.07.09, 08:42 / Israel News

WASHINGTON - Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat met with Democratic and Republican Congress members in Washington on Friday, and was pleased to find wall-to-wall support of the need to keep Jerusalem united.

The mayor, who is on a two-week visit to the United States and Canada, arrived at Congress accompanied by Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren. Barkat was received warmly, and learned that it is seemingly easier to run Jerusalem from the US capital than from the Israeli one.

One example of the support Barkat found for his position on Jerusalem can be found in the Senate, where a group of seven senators are working on legislation that will support maintaining a united Jerusalem.

The proposal will also include a decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by circumventing the US president's authority to hinder the decision. Barkat discussed the matter with two of the senators behind the proposal, Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl.

In the mid 1990s, Congress passed the "Jerusalem Embassy Act" stating that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem".

The act was adopted by the Senate and the House, but former US President Bill Clinton used his authority to suspend the relocation, citing national security concerns.

Former President George Bush, who vowed to relocate the embassy during his 2000 elections campaign, failed to keep his word upon entry to the White House, after his advisors outlined to him the dangers such a move could pose in the Middle East and on US embassies around the Arab and Muslim world.

The US House of Representatives presents an even more extreme version, which is being backed by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with her colleague Dan Burton.

The two presented the Jerusalem mayor with a copy of their initiative for legislation on American support of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

It is unlikely that the document, in its current form, will receive the support of the Democratic majority, since it calls for significant financial penalties against the State Department until it relocates the embassy.

Barkat was cordially received by 15 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He briefed them on his plans to open Jerusalem up to the world and enable economic development for all the city's sectors, using a business management approach.

When asked about the demolition of houses in east Jerusalem, the mayor spoke of the difficult task of running a city with the eyes of three billion people from around the world watching it.

The mayor explained that all actions were carried out according to Israeli law, and added that the scope of the demolition of houses in the east of the city was similar to that of the west.

Several injured in clashes with settlers

Nablus – Ma'an – Dozens of Israeli settlers attacked the villages of Burin and Iraq Burin south of Nablus on Saturday afternoon.

Ma'an's correspondent, reporting live from Iraq Burin village, said settlers threw rocks at Palestinians, leading to clashes.

Israeli forces responded in force, injuring a number of Palestinians, including journalists. They were identified as Abed Ar-Rahim Al-Qosini and Aref Tufaha.

Other settlers also threw rocks at Palestinians in Burin village, the correspondent said.

Afghan insurgents learn to destroy key U.S. armored vehicle

By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan have devised ways to cripple and even destroy the expensive armored vehicles that offer U.S. forces the best protection against roadside bombs by using increasingly large explosive charges and rocket-propelled grenades, according to U.S. soldiers and defense officials.

At least eight American troops have been killed this year in attacks on so-called Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, and 40 more have been wounded, said a senior U.S. military official who, like others interviewed on the issue, declined to be further identified because of the issue's sensitivity.

The insurgents' success in attacking the hulking machines, which can cost as much as $1 million each, underscores their ability to counter the advanced hardware that the U.S. military and its allies are deploying in their struggle to gain the upper hand in the war, which entered its ninth year last month.

The attacks also raise questions about how vulnerable a new, lighter MRAP, the M-ATV, which is now being shipped to Afghanistan, are to the massive explosive charges that Taliban-led insurgents have been using against its bigger cousin.

The insurgents are also hitting MRAPs with rocket-propelled grenades that can penetrate their steel armor, according to U.S troops in Afghanistan, several of whom showed McClatchy a photograph of a hole that one of the projectiles had punched in the hull of an MRAP.

The Pentagon has spent more than $26.8 billion to develop and build three versions of the largest MRAPs, totaling some 16,000 vehicles, mostly for the Army and Marine Corps, according to an August report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Another $5.4 billion is being spent to produce 5,244 M-ATVs, the smaller version that U.S. defense officials contend offers as much protection as the large models do, but is more maneuverable and better suited to Afghanistan's dirt tracks and narrow mountain roads.

"The traditional MRAP was having real problems . . . off road in Afghanistan," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "And clearly we have to do a lot of work off-road. And these new vehicles will provide our forces the ability to travel more safely off road — certainly off paved roads — than they would have been able to do with other vehicles."

Defense officials acknowledged the growing problem of successful attacks on MRAPs, and said the U.S. military is constantly developing improvements for the vehicle that include better sensors and tactics.

"It's not all about the armor. We can't build something that is impervious to everything," said Navy Capt. Jack Henzlik, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We are using a comprehensive strategy to try to provide for the protection of our forces."

The issue was the subject of a high-level meeting convened on Wednesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who made the production of MRAPs his highest priority in 2007 as U.S. troops in Iraq were suffering massive casualties from roadside bomb attacks.

The use of powerful explosive charges against MRAPs "is a problem that he (Gates) is keenly aware of, very concerned about, and is determined to make sure this building is doing everything it can to combat," Morrell said. "We have never advertised MRAPs or M-ATVs as a silver bullet for the IED (improvised explosive device) problem. This is but one element of a vast array of capabilities that we need to bring to bear to protect our forces."

However, retired Army Col. Douglas A. MacGregor, a former armored cavalry commander and combat veteran and an expert on armor warfare, said that vehicles such as the MRAP have "very limited utility" in a war against a guerrilla group such as the Taliban.

"The notion of a wheeled armored constabulary force as a prescription for a close combat situation is nonsense," he said.

U.S. troops rely on the MRAP's V-shaped hull, which is designed to deflect explosive blasts, and heavy armored plating to protect them against the landmines and IEDs that are causing most American combat deaths in Afghanistan.

October was the deadliest month for U.S. troops since the 2001 U.S. invasion. At least 59 were killed, bringing the total for the year to at least 272 dead, according to the Internet site iCasualties. At least 139 of those troops died in IED blasts, according to the Pentagon.

"Pentagon officials note that insurgents are building larger IEDs and are finding better ways to conceal them," the Congressional Research Service report said.

"The biggest question is what took them so long," said a senior Pentagon official with extensive experience with the MRAP program and familiarity with the weapons and techniques that the militants in Afghanistan have developed to "compromise" the vehicle.

The fact that the large MRAPs — which range from 7 tons to 24 tons depending on the model — often are confined to narrow mountain roads and valleys in Afghanistan has made it easier for insurgents to prepare ambushes using anti-tank mines, IEDs or rocket-propelled grenades capable of penetrating armor, the official said.

U.S. defense officials insisted that many more U.S. troops would be killed and injured in Afghanistan and in Iraq if they'd been equipped with vehicles other than MRAPs.

"KIA (killed in action) rates in particular are noticeably reduced in MRAPs," said Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, the Pentagon agency created to develop defenses against roadside bombs.

U.S. defense officials in Washington and Kabul declined to reveal the number of MRAPs that have been crippled or destroyed since the first vehicles were deployed in Afghanistan in 2003, saying they didn't want to provide the Taliban with information on the effectiveness of their tactics.

McClatchy is voluntarily withholding some U.S. soldiers' descriptions of insurgent tactics out of concern that they may not be known by all of those fighting U.S.-led forces.

The soldiers spoke out of what they said was a heightened concern about the vehicles' vulnerability to ambushes, especially on mountain roads where there's no room for the vehicles to turn around.