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by Akram Baker

After almost three weeks of brutal bombing, it is time to call a spade a spade. The unprecedented Israeli offensive in Gaza, which is offensive in every way, has nothing to do with Hamas, primitive rockets, Mahmoud Abbas or a little town in southern Israel. It also has little to do with the upcoming Israeli elections. All of these bit players are sideshows in the face of Israel’s true, multi-pronged strategy: the denial of Palestinian independence.

Tony Clifton, Newsweek Magazine’s then-Beirut correspondent, wrote in his heart-breaking book about the Israel siege of Beirut in 1982, “God Cried”, that he had come to the conclusion that the systematic destruction of the Lebanese capital one hot summer 27 years ago had nothing to do with “destroying the PLO infrastructure of terror” and was nothing but an elaborate and deadly diversionary action. He claimed that it was all done to divert the world’s attention from Israel’s determined thrust to settle and colonize the West Bank and pre-empt any kind of two-state settlement based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

His words, written over a quarter of a century ago, have proved to be prescient. Like clockwork, Israel could be relied on to do two things when it felt that something could obstruct its grand design: increase settlement activity and wage a war against whoever was out of favor at the moment. In 1982, 1987, and 2002 it was the PLO/Fateh/Palestinian Authority who were the bogeymen. During the so called “peace years” between 1995-2000, settlements in the West Bank doubled in size and grew at a rate previously unseen. Now, it is Hamas’ turn.

The repercussions of this strategy are and will be disastrous for the region and the world at large. But the question which begs to be asked is, “why now?” Any sort of peace deal seems extremely remote so what is the hurry? One reason: Barack Obama.

The assault on the Palestinian coastal strip can only be carried out, like all the others were, with the clear acquiescence of the United States. George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan, has given the Israelis carte blanche to do whatever they please, to the detriment of all, Israel included. Olmert, Livni and Barak are just not sure what the man from Illinois will do. But they are fairly certain that he won’t risk vital US national security interests to please the Jewish lobby or the pathetically subservient Congress. While the president-elect’s statements have calmed many Jewish Americans, the cabal in Tel Aviv is acutely aware that Barack Obama is like nothing they have seen before. And that worries them.

Unlike most recent US presidents, he is not beholden to the Jewish lobby and other special interests. He represents hope, change and a new, rational way of thinking. And if there is anything that worries the Middle East powers that be (the corrupt Arab regimes very much included), it is hope and change. Hence, the wanton bombardment of an already miserable Gaza. If the situation wasn’t so tragic, it would be farcical. The lame attempts, slavishly parroted by much of the world’s press, by Israel’s mouthpieces to put Hamas’ AK-47s on a par with one of the most powerful and well equipped militaries in the world is simply preposterous. Israel is killing Palestinians, most of them innocent civilians, at a rate of 100 to one. The fact that all of this is ridiculously disproportionate is only topped by the way the Bushies seem to be more Israeli than Ariel Sharon.

Israel, which has drifted steadily to the right of Augusto Pinochet over the past 30 years, was in a panic. Livni and Barak found themselves confronted with the great unknown, completely unsure how it would affect their dismal electoral chances and the disgraced Olmert was willing to do just about anything to divert attention from his corrupt and scandal-ridden present. So they did what they know best: create facts on the ground. They are doing their utmost to box the soon-to-be president into a corner where he loses himself in the distractions of the moment. Barack Obama’s brilliant victory was solidly based on sticking to his core message while translating that message into real support via one hell of a team. He is not easily distracted or led astray. But Bush has left him a country in such dire economic straights that he truly has his hands busy even before he takes the oath on January 20. And no matter what any Palestinian may say, he has wisely held his counsel regarding Gaza for he realizes he has nothing to gain and much to lose. Yet, herein lies the opportunity.

Out of the death and destruction wreaked by the Israeli army, air force, and navy on Gaza, Barack Obama can make the ruins bloom. By breaking the paradigm of procedure over substance, by insisting on serving US national interests (as opposed to Israel’s), and by leading his national security team with a crystal clear vision that doesn’t allow for the support of either corrupt Arab regimes or the Israeli occupation, he has a chance, by sheer force of will, to alter history in a lasting manner. I am quite confident that he will find a receptive audience around the world, once he holds his own against the sure to be toxic and concerted attacks of his detractors.

The line is clear: US security lies in a safe and secure Israel and Israel’s security lies in peace and not in blatant militarism and occupation. More than that, Israel’s future is directly tied to the freedom of the Palestinian people. A real friend of Israel would do well to make sure they understand that. – 15/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org

Akram Baker is an independent Palestinian political analyst. He is co-president of the Arab Western Summit of Skills, a platform for Arab professionals dedicated to reform and development in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Free Palestine

What is happening in Gaza is beyond anything imaginable and not a day goes by when I am not filled with despair for the people trying to survive this horrific genocide. And in the UK I feel so powerless to help especially when our media doesn’t cover the events impartially but instead allow time for Israeli commentators to try to brainwash us into thinking Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Do we forget the wise words: “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.”

There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who are standing up for what is right and we are marching as much as we can to show our support for the Palestinian people.  We know that the Palestinian spirit will win this war, and the tragedy is that so many children, women and men have lost their lives to prove this and continue to die today.

On 8 June ‘08, two settlers tried unsuccessfully to drive shepherds off Palestinian land near Khirbet Susiya. After they left, the shepherds called relatives for reinforcement, fearing an attack. Among those who came was Muna a-Nawaj’ah, with a video camera she received from B’Tselem. Ten minutes later, she filmed four masked men armed with clubs approaching the family and attacking one of the shepherds. They then severely beat other members of the family.

In January 2007, B’Tselem launched “Shooting Back”, a video advocacy project focusing on the Occupied Territories. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights.

Agrexco are a 50% state owned Israeli company who export fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs from Israel and the occupied territories. Agrexco are one of the three biggest Israeli companies exporting from occupied Palestine and account for 70% of exports of fresh produce from the occupied territories. Agrexco operate under the Carmel, Jaffa and Coral brand names. Their products are bought by all major British supermarkets as well as small stores. Britain is an important market for Agrexco accounting for 60% of their imports to Europe.

It is likely that Agrexco often mislabel their settlement produce as made in Israel when it is in fact made on occupied Palestinian land. Thousands of Palestinians are employed in packing houses on Israeli settlements packing goods to be exported by Carmel Agrexco. These packing houses are often on land which has been forcibly taken from their communities Palestinian workers may be paid as little as 30 shekels (4 pounds) a day and have no sick pay, holiday pay, rights to unionise or contracts. Children are often employed on these settlements.

These workers are compelled to work for the settlements because of the complete strangulation of Palestinian agriculture by the Israeli occupation. Many settlement workers have called on the international community to boycott and campaign against Carmel Agrexco.

During the Summer Carmel Agrexco import large quantities of oranges, lemons, Galia melons, grapefruit, grapes and strawberries into the UK as well as luxury products like dragonfruit. Cherry tomatoes and peppers are also imported in large quantities during July and August. Here are some ideas of what you could do:

In the beginning of April we put out a new booklet of testimonies that document the daily life in Hebron through the eyes of 39 soldiers who served in the city between the years 2005-2007. The booklet shows yet again that life in the Occupied Territories has not improved in the past years, but is actually steadily deteriorating. Breaking the Silence again calls Israeli Society to take responsibility for what is happening in its name by its sons and daughters.
The tours to Hebron are continuing at full force. Over the last couple of weeks, we are witnessing attempts by Hebron settlers, and consequently of the Hebron police to stop the tours to Hebron. These attempts include physical attacks by the settlers towards the tour guides, and forcing the tours out of the city in various dubious “legal” methods. The attempt to hide the realities of the Occupation from the general public, and specifically those who are more critical to the Occupation is illegitimate in any society which upholds democratic values.

Testimony from the new booklet

Name: ***
Rank: ***
Unit: ***

And the cameras inside Hebron itself?
The police has them, as far as I know at *** Just surveillance of what goes on around there. And the army has them, it goes to *** They have monitors there.

Monitors at the war-room?
Yes, incredible stuff.

And the footage, where does that go?
Nowhere, it stays in the computers. In case there’s any incident… There’s closed-circuit television, cameras everywhere… Like in “The Truman Show”, which are controlled by joystick and zoom and… really state-of-the-art. All the films are kept on the computer.
Poor quality. That’s it. So in those films I saw all kinds of assaults. And breaking in to houses and assaulting people.

Breaking into settler homes?
No, settlers breaking into Arab homes.

Okay, what did you see?
You see them… you see really well. Breaking windows and all. Breaking, kicking and…

So what you see is settlers banging on doors, breaking into houses, you see soldiers standing around nearby and not doing a thing?
No. After a while soldiers come along beacuse they are alerted, and usually do nothing. Maybe catch them… Stop the… Cut the power.

What do you mean?
Most of the cameras, if not all of them, get their power from the settlers’ houses. When they anticipate some rioting, they disconnect the… electricity.

The settlers? Disconnect the cameras, and so…
Yes. Or otherwise disrupt them, yes…

You have witnessed such things sitting at the war-room receiving end?
Sure. It happens. They don’t always know there’s another camera catching them from another direction.

Who is there actually seeing what happens in real time?
Women-soldiers monitoring screens. They have this monitoring system in which they are trained.

How many cameras are there?
About ***. Not just covering the Jewish settlements. They also cover H1 (The part of Hebron supposedly under full Palestinian control). You see, the cameras are situated inside the area of the Jewish settlement – otherwise they’d be vandalised – and cover H1 as well.

So what do they show? Anyone approaching the Jewish settlement?
Yes, anyone there.

What is done with this material?
You mean in case the settlers attack Palestinians? When I was there I know that it could not be passed on to the police…

Forbidden?
Yes. To avoid friction, perhaps. I don’t know. I have no idea what it’s like now. If something happens, say, I know that once there was this incident, I don’t know how to label it – not criminal, not insurgency, but the other way around – on the part of the settlers.

What happened?
I don’t know, *** or someone beat up one of the Arabs. Then, during the police investigation he was shown this film where he was plainly seen. Naturally he called the brigade commander right away and said that these cameras are there to protect the settlers, the Jews. Not to protect the Arabs. And this must not be misunderstood: what happened there was a criminal felony, not insurgent activity. Since then, anytime something like takes place, the army may not hand this material over to the police. And since then, no policeman has been allowed to enter the closed-circuit television monitoring room.

Policemen were not allowed into the war-room?
For a while. Until that was changed. For about a month, no policemen was allowed.

And the army was not supposed to let the police have these tapes?
Yes. I was at the war-room, a policeman came in so this woman-officer said: “I’m sorry, we have our orders from the brigade commander not to let you in here, please leave.”

Press regarding the new Breaking the Silence publication

The Independent

The Christian Science Monitor

Ynet (Leading Israeli online news site)
Opinion piece by leading Israeli journalist Yaron London

Press Regarding the tours to Hebron:
Haaretz

Soldier’s abuse towards Palestinians that reached the press:
Ynet
Breaking the Silence response here

This is an email I was sent from Annemarie Jacir, she is a Palestinian film director who shared with us her experience of being denied entry.

—– Forwarded Message —-
From: Annemarie Jacir
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 7:52:52 AM
Subject: Denied Entry

I have been looking forward to this week for months now – it was to be one of the most important moments for me – the world premiere of my feature film “milh hadha al- bahr” (Salt of this Sea) in Palestine.

The premiere was to take place in Amari Refugee camp in Ramallah, with the cast and crew, the people who helped make this film happen, who believe in it, to be in attendance. An outdoor screening and an occasion to share the completion of a project which has been the result of a five-year struggle. What made this event so special was that it is also a big celebration for us – that we received the incredible news that the film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival as an Official Selection.

As you may know, the Israeli Authorities have not allowed me to return to Palestine for 9 months now. Because of this we were not able to film a main scene of the film and in the end, the scene had to be shot in Marseille, France. My lawyer has been working now for eight months on the issue of my return home. So for the premiere of the film, I also had an invitation from the French Consulate in Jerusalem, who have been supporters of the film, and the International Art Academy of Ramallah were co-sponsoring the screening. There was nothing I was looking forward to more than finally being back in Palestine and sharing the film.

From Amman, Jordan, I took the bus to the Allenby bridge (Sheikh Hussein) in order to cross the Jordanian border and enter the West Bank. I arrived at the bridge at 10 in the morning. The Israelis held me there for six hours, during which time I was interrogated approximately five times. In the beginning I was made to wait in the main room with all the other people crossing. After some time, I was taken to another section in the back, separated from the others, and spent the remaining period of my time waiting there alone. Every now and then people would come in and out of a door, sometimes to ask me questions, sometimes just on their way somewhere else. My telephone was taken from me.

At the end, I was then taken to the general room once more and asked to sit and wait. After about 20 minutes, a woman in a blue uniform (the others wore a different uniform), came towards me with my passport in her hand and four security agents behind her. She handed me my passport and said, “The Israeli Ministry of Interior has denied you entry.” I asked if a reason was given. She said, “You spend too much time here.” I was then deported – escorted by two of the agents out of the terminal and onto a bus back to Jordan.

I got on the bus. I felt like my legs weren’t strong enough to carry me.