A group of Palestinians descended from 15 of Jerusalem's oldest Arab families lodged a protest with the UN today in a fresh effort to prevent the construction of a "Museum of Tolerance" on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery.
The project, run by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, has been dogged by controversy since its launch in 2004. Islamic groups and individual Palestinians complained that the site, in west Jerusalem, was the ancient cemetery of Ma'man Allah, also known as Mamilla, which housed thousands of graves dating back hundreds of years and where even today there are still many gravestones and tombs.
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After legal battles, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in October 2008 that building could go ahead. But the Israel Antiquities Authority's chief excavator for the site, Gideon Suleimani, found the site was a cemetery in use for the past 1,000 years that "abounded with graves" and should not be open to construction without a full excavation, which never happened. He said his assessment was ignored by the court. Then late last year Frank Gehry, the celebrity architect working on the project, withdrew.
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"This tolerance museum to us is a museum of intolerance," said Dyala Husseini, who has ancestors from her family and her husband's family buried in the cemetery. "It is very inhumane, it is very humiliating and it ignores our existence as Palestinian families here in Jerusalem. Our families are here in Jerusalem and have been here for centuries," she said.
Jamal Nusseibeh said one of his ancestors, the former governor of Jerusalem Burhan al-Din al-Khazraji ibn Nusseibeh, was buried in the cemetery in 1432. "It is part of the rich fabric of Jerusalem which always has been a symbol of tolerance," he said. "The fact that anybody could wish to wipe out such a structural part of this fabric in order somehow to promote tolerance is very hard to understand."
Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, last night delivered an unusually blunt warning to his country that a failure to make peace with the Palestinians would leave either a state with no Jewish majority or an "apartheid" regime.
His stark language and the South African analogy might have been unthinkable for a senior Israeli figure only a few years ago and is a rare admission of the gravity of the deadlocked peace process.
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Barak, a former general and Israel's most decorated soldier, sought to appeal to Israelis on both right and left by saying a peace agreement with the Palestinians was the only way to secure Israel's future as a "Zionist, Jewish, democratic state".
"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," Barak said. "If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
So what if the Supreme Court rules? In Israel those decisions are just recommendations, especially if they deal with Palestinian land. In most enlightened democratic countries, saying that decisions of the courts obligate the state authorities is like stating that the sun rises in the east. But that may not be so for Israel.
Last week, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch had to state that "rulings of this court are not mere recommendations, and the state is obliged to abide by them and to execute them with the necessary speed and efficiency, according to the circumstances of the matter."
The head of the judicial system added: "In the case before us, the state took the law into its own hands." The case dates back to June 2006. The High Court of Justice at that time responded to a petition from Hamoked - the Center for the Defense of the Individual, and instructed the Defense Ministry to move the route of the separation fence near the villages of Azzun and Nabi Ilyas in the northern West Bank.
And this is not the only case where the Defense Ministry has made a mockery of court decisions relating to the route of the fence. More than two years ago, the court ordered the state to consider an alternative to the fence's route that was robbing the village of Bil'in of lands in favor of the settlement of Modi'in Ilit, and to do so "within a reasonable period of time."
In the ruling that was handed down after 15 months, Beinisch wrote that the alternative that was chosen was not in accordance with the court decision and she ordered the state to abide by it "without further delay."
Since then 10 months have elapsed, the residents of the village and their supporters have demonstrated, the police have used tear gas, and the fence is still in place.
Maskit Handel of the Association of Civil Rights In Israel recently documented no fewer than eight cases where the state was, or still is, in contempt of rulings handed down by the High Court of Justice since 2006. Among other things, she found two decisions relating to the fortification of schools in communities along the border with the Gaza Strip, three decisions instructing the state to build 245 classrooms in East Jerusalem, and a decision to stop making the granting of work permits for migrant workers dependent on their working for a single employer.
An affidavit submitted to the High Court of Justice a few weeks ago (in response to a petition) by the Defense Minister's adviser on settlement affairs, Eitan Broshi, indicates that from Ehud Barak's point of view, anything relating to Palestinian rights, and not only the high court's rulings, are nothing more than a recommendation.
Many Israeli critics of Judge Richard Goldstone, who led the UNHRC investigation into Israeli action in Gaza, have mercilessly attacked him for charging Israel with committing war crimes during the operation. They were also incensed that he accused the only democracy in the Middle East of stifling dissent and claiming that the courts helped the state do so.
The commission relied on the findings of Adalah for much of its information regarding police arrests and the conduct of the state prosecution and the courts regarding detainees. One might easily disregard the allegations of the commission and Adalah on the grounds that they are biased against Israel, were it not for the fact that the Public Defender's Office, backed by MKs across the political spectrum, made almost identical accusations.
Israel said Friday it will construct hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before any slowdown in building, an announcement that drew harsh criticism from Washington, which demands a complete settlement freeze as a prelude to renewing Mideast peace talks.
Israeli officials painted the move as a concession to the U.S. demand because it might bring a temporary halt to other construction. But since it would also mean building the new units and finishing some 2,500 others now under construction, it looked more like defiance than acquiescence.
Israel's proposal also does not include any freeze in building in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their future capital.
Won't allow me to cut and paste, but this link takes you to a very interesting interactive map showing the growth of Israeli settlements & restrictions on land use in the West Bank over time (1967 - 2005).
Around thirty settler youths built a new hilltop settlement in the northern West Bank on Friday, and will have until the end of the Jewish Sabbath to leave the area.
Until the Sabbath ends, the Border Patrol will provide security for the outpost, named "Mitzpeh Ami".
The Israel Defense Forces had begun evacuating the outpost earlier on Friday, but only managed to remove a portion of the settlers before the sun began to set.
During the evacuation a number of the settler youths hurled stones at passing Palestinian automobiles.
Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshal says the Islamic militant group is ready to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, according to an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday.
"We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines," Meshal told the Wall Street Journal, adding "this is the national program. This is our program. This is a position we stand by and respect."
Meshal is quoted as saying that Hamas would accept international peace initiatives, saying "Hamas and other Palestinian groups are ready to cooperate with any American, international or regional effort to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end the Israeli occupation and to grant the Palestinian people their right of self-determination."
The representatives of the settler organizations have recently declared their intention to establish 11 new settlements in the territories, including some, according to media reports, on privately-owned Palestinian land. The operation is being depicted as having been inspired by the 11 tower and stockade communities in the northern Negev that were established just before Yom Kippur in 1946. This is not the first time the settlers have compared their efforts to the settlement activities that provided the foundation for the establishment of the state. There is no basis for such a comparison, which is nothing more than an act of forgery and fraud.
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The current settlement campaign, on the other hand, like the unnecessary construction in East Jerusalem, is not designed to ensure the existence of the state of the Jews, but rather to deprive the Arabs of their state in the West Bank and their capital in Arab Jerusalem. That is precisely the difference between the just Zionism of self-defense and aggressive Zionism, which is totally dismissive of the Arabs and their human rights.
According to the settlers, the Jews have the right "to settle everywhere," and the Jews of course also have needs created by "natural growth." In their opinion, do the Arabs also have the right to settle everywhere, or is any construction by Arabs illegal for one reason or another? And don't the Arabs have "natural growth"?
Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.
But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indeed, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.
The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.
There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says: we withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Some 16 civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice? It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it - but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years, and view the runway to this war dispassionately.
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Why would Israel act this way? The Israeli government wants peace, but only one imposed on its own terms, based on the acceptance of defeat by the Palestinians. It means they can keep the slabs of the West Bank on 'their' side of the wall. It means they keep the largest settlements, and control of the water supply. And it means a divided Palestine, with responsibility for Gaza hived off to Egypt, and the broken-up West Bank standing alone. Negotiations threaten this vision: they would require Israel to give up more than it wants to. But an imposed peace will be no peace at all: it will not stop the rockets or the rage. For real safety, Israel will have to talk to the people it is blockading and bombing today - and compromise with them.
For the Palestinians, Erez is a chokepoint where only a lucky few can exit from Gaza, usually for medical emergencies. Bassam al-Wahedi, 26, a tall, soft-spoken journalist, was one of them. He had gone blind in one eye because of a retinal illness, and surgery at a Jerusalem hospital was his only hope of regaining sight in that eye. Since Gaza is denied all but basic humanitarian needs under an international boycott of Hamas, many complicated surgeries are no longer done there.
His eye bandaged, al-Wahedi set off through the innards of Erez's security maze. He fumbled along tunnels, steel doors that opened and slammed as he passed along, entered a strange cylinder that fired a whoosh of air at him before he finally reached a large hall with an Israeli soldier sitting inside a bulletproof glass booth. Al-Wahedi showed his permit, explaining that he was due in surgery at 3:30 pm that afternoon.
Next, says al Wahedi, three plainclothed Israelis with pistols and walkie-talkies led him past cages with growling dogs to a room where he was strip searched and interrogated by a man who identified himself as a captain in Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency. Al-Wahedi claims that his interrogator told him in fluent Arabic: "We want you to work for us." When al-Wahedi protested, saying he had nothing to do with the militants, the Shin Bet officer allegedly replied: "We issue the
"I told him that we would talk after my operation, when I crossed back through Erez," recounts al-Wahedi. Nothing doing, replied the intelligence officer, who, according to al-Wahedi, handed him an Israeli cellphone SIM card and a phone number. "He wanted me to go back to Gaza and collaborate with them for two weeks, and if they liked what I did, I could come to Israel and have my eye operation with the best doctor in Tel Aviv."
For al-Wahedi, contact with any Israeli had always been traumatic. He says that his father, an ambulance driver, was clearing away wounded Palestinians after a battle when he was shot dead by an Israeli sniper. And his 16-year-old brother was killed by a stray piece of shrapnel from an Israeli rocket attack on a passing car driven by a suspected militant.
And so, at Erez, al-Wahedi says he tore up Shin Bet's phone number. "I was angry and frustrated. I knew that if I didn't have surgery immediately, even the best surgeon couldn't fix my eye," he claims. Contacted by TIME, Shin Bet denied approaching al-Wahedi to collaborate and say that he was turned back at Erez because of his involvement in "activities dangerous to the state."
Nevertheless, the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights alleges that since last June — when Hamas took control of Gaza from its Fatah rivals loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas — at least 30 other patients seeking urgent medical help were denied passage by Shin Bet because they refused to act as informers. In the past, most collaborators worked from within Fatah, and when they were chased from Gaza last June, it was a blow to Israeli intelligence.
Yassir Abu Aayya, 37, suffering from heart troubles, told TIME he was turned back after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his militant brother. "They told me I should go back and die in Gaza," he says. If these accounts are true, say human rights activists, the withholding of medical care for non-medical reasons is a form of torture. "This violates all conventions against torture," says Miri Weingarten, spokeswoman for the Tel Aviv-based Physicians for Human Rights. Israeli authorities deny carrying out such practices at Erez and dismiss them as Palestinian propaganda.
BEIT SIRA, West Bank: Ali Abu Safia, the mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway about 100 meters away, Israeli cars whiz by.
"They took our land to build this road, and now we can't even use it," Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. "Israel says it is because of security. But it's politics."
The object of Abu Safia's contempt - Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem - has taken on special significance in the rinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, Israel's Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what is happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank, a charge that makes many Israelis recoil.
Built largely on private Palestinian land, the road was first challenged in the Supreme Court in the early 1980s when the justices, in a landmark ruling, permitted it because the army said its primary function was to serve the local Palestinians, not Israeli commuters. In recent years, in the wake of stone-throwing and several drive-by shootings, Israel has blocked access to the road to Palestinians.
This month, as some 40,000 Israeli cars - and almost no Palestinians - use it daily, the court handed down its decision, one that has engendered much legal and political hand-wringing.
"There is already a separate legal system in the territories for Israelis and Palestinians," said Limor Yehuda, who argued the case for the civil rights association on behalf of six Palestinian villages. "With the approval of separate roads, if it becomes a widespread policy, then the word for it will be 'apartheid.' "
Five Palestinians, including a one-year-old baby, have died in Gaza over the past two months after Israel rejected on security grounds or delayed their requests to cross the border for treatment in Israel or elsewhere, Physicians for Human Rights announced Thursday.
"The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) misuses and overuses security reasons for rejecting requests by Palestinians of all ages," said PHR in a press statement. "These deaths point to the urgent need for public oversight of the ISA, which has been given unlimited power in this matter. These cases, like others, are examples of the fact that the manipulative use made of 'security' by the ISA costs lives."
The amount of support being shown for Israel these days is almost embarrassing. The parade of highly-placed foreign guests and the warm reception received by Israeli statesmen abroad have not been seen for quite some time. Who hasn't come to visit lately? From the German chancellor to the leading frontrunner for the American presidency. And the secretary-general of the United Nations is on his way. A visit to Israel has become de rigueur for foreign pols. If you haven't been here, you're nowhere.
The visitors are taken, of course, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Western Wall and now to Sderot as well - the new national pilgrimage site. A few also pay a perfunctory visit to Ramallah; no one goes to the Gaza Strip, and they all have nothing but praise for Israel. Not a word of criticism on the occupation, on Israel's violent operations in the territories, on the siege and the starving - with the exception of a few vague remarks on the need for a solution. Israel squeezes the Sderot "informational" lemon for all it's worth.
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The world sees images from Gaza on television - in comparison, Sderot looks like a resort - and it draws its own conclusions. The natural sense of justice that dictates support for the freedom struggles of oppressed people such as the Tibetan dictates natural support for the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
This blind friendship enables Israel to do whatever it wants. The days have passed in which every mobile home erected in the territories and every targeted assassination were carefully considered out of fear of international criticism. That time no longer exists. Israel has a carte blanche to kill, destroy and settle. The U.S. long ago gave up the role of honest broker, and Europe is now following in its footsteps. How depressing: With friends like these, Israel almost doesn't need enemies.
(edited to show breaks in excerpts)
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