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(New York Times)
JUAN GONZALEZ: NATO is admitting for the first time Libyan civilians were killed and injured during its seven-month bombing campaign that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. NATO made the acknowledgment after a New York Times investigation revealed at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by the bombing raids. The New York Times reports the victims include at least 29 women or children, who often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit. Others were killed when NATO warplanes bombed ambulance crews and civilians who were attempting to aid the wounded from earlier strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite NATO’s acknowledgment of civilian deaths, the alliance is saying it does not have the capacity or intention of investigating the deadly strikes on civilians. Unlike in Afghanistan, NATO has not expressed condolences or given small payments to victims or their families.  Overall, NATO destroyed more than 5,900 military targets and carried out 9,700 strikes during the seven-month bombing campaign.

New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt co-wrote the investigation with C.J. Chivers.

ERIC SCHMITT: the principal findings was that initially NATO had said, and the Secretary General of NATO had said, that throughout the seven-month air campaign, they knew of no confirmed civilian casualties on the ground as a result of NATO air strikes. What our investigation has shown that there were at least a dozen or so instances where there were air strikes that caused civilian casualties.  This is a relatively small number in the overall number, as you said, 9,700 strike sorties that were carried out, but still significant enough that there were somewhere between 40 and 70 civilian deaths. And that’s just what we know of. Of course, we only saw a small sampling of the strike sites that may have been affected, so the death toll is probably much larger.

C.J. CHIVERS: NATO has withheld details on most of the errors and labored to portray its role in the war as all but flawless. Until this month, it insisted it had not confirmed the killing or wounding of a single civilian.

ERIC SCHMITT: Well, here’s the problem with the Secretary General’s statement, and it was a statement that was repeated over and over again by NATO officials throughout the campaign: "We have no information of confirmed casualties." Well, the problem is that NATO and the U.S. did not have any boots on the ground, at least none that they’ve acknowledged, and so until they had such boots on the ground that they could conduct their own investigation, they were not going to acknowledge any kind of error, even though, of course, there were times, air strikes, where the pro-Gaddafi regime came out and claimed casualties for strikes. These were dismissed as propaganda. The question now is, what will be done about it? NATO has not committed to going in on the ground to investigate these strikes, as they’ve done in places, as you noted, in Afghanistan. They’re essentially waiting for the Libyan government to invite them in to do this. So far, the Libyans are preoccupied with setting up their new government and dealing with other challenges, apparently, to do this.
And as a result of our story, I was told just yesterday by the NATO spokesman, for instance, that they are now working to gather information on unexploded ordnance. These are essentially duds, bombs that were dropped but didn’t go off, that pose a real threat to civilians, including children. NATO is now trying to track those—because the pilots knew when their bombs didn’t explode—track them, figure out where they are, and get that information to the Libyan government so they can get it out to their people. I’m told that NATO will try and get that information to the Libyan government by the end of January.

Happy Christmas, O prisoners of the Little Town of Bethlehem
(Stu littlewood, Salem-News.com 12/22/11)
additional article:
It's the right moment for churches to pay attention to Israel's occupation
(James Wall, Electronic Intifada 12/23/11)

The Kairos Palestine Document calls on churches to pay attention to Israel’s occupation.
Below is combined excerpt;
Dore Stein added to wording of last paragraph.


At this rate, there will soon be no Christians left in the land where Christianity was born...

While carving the turkey for your family and merrily quaffing mulled wine ‘midst happy laughter, remember that the romantic Little Town of Bethlehem at the centre of our childhood Christmases is now “an immense prison” in the words of Michel Sabbah, former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and entirely surrounded by Israel’s 8-metre separation wall bristling with machine-gun towers.  The  citizens of Bethlehem are cut off from their capital Jerusalem, only six miles away, the rest of the West Bank and the whole world.

Consider that the United Nations designated Jerusalem and Bethlehem a protected international zone under UN administration. Israeli rule was not to be permitted.  Consider also that when Palestine was under British mandate Christians accounted for 20 per cent of the population and how 63 years of terror, illegal occupation, dispossession, interference and economic wrecking tactics have whittled their numbers down to less than 2 per cent.  Consider that, at this rate, there will soon be no Christians left in the land where Christianity was born… thanks to the cowardice and inaction of political leaders.
 
As usual, many Palestinians in Bethlehem and the other cities and villages throughout occupied Palestine will be unable to reunite with their families or celebrate Christmas at their holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem due to Israeli-imposed travel restrictions.

American politicians function within a bipartisan political operation which accepts and promotes the “Israel is a permanent victim” narrative. The large majority of Americans have accepted this narrative as the only available reality. This obscures the political reality that Israel serves as an important part of the American empire, which seeks to control the people of the Middle East through military power and political deceit.  The invasion of Iraq and the agitation for war against Iran are recent examples of this power and deceit.

In the New Year civil society must resolve to speak out and acknowledge that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is unjust, immoral, illegal and destructive.  It is time to fight the wall of ignorance that endorses Palestinian suffering. At a time of Arab Spring and Occupy Wall St. it is essential that attention be paid to the conduct of the governments in Israel and in the United States, who are the two military powers who have the power to maintain or end Palestinian suffering.

Tunisian Town Marks Anniversary
of Revolution (Al Jazeera, 12/17/11)
companion article:
The fuse for "Arab Spring" uprisings was lit on December 17, 2010 when Mohammed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, set himself on fire after police confiscated his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart.  His death took the lid off simmering anger about poverty, joblessness, corruption and repression and was the trigger for what is the most widespread series of popular protests in the Arab world since the anti-colonisation movements of the 50s and 60s.  Protests erupted across Tunisia, forcing President Ben Ali to flee the country less than a month later.  Tunisia's revolution inspired other Arabs to rise up against entrenched authoritarian rulers.

Tens of thousands packed Sidi Bouzid's town square to celebrate the first anniversary of Tunisia's revolution in the place where it began and a giant statue of Mohamed Bouazizi was unveiled.  However, democratic change in Tunisia has yet to ease poverty and high unemployment, and have triggered rioting.  In Sidi Bouzid, most are still waiting for the change for which they risked their lives when they took to the streets that day. 

Many of the people of Sidi Bouzid appear frustrated that their struggle has been reduced to the story of  one man, rather than a collective uprising during which 219 Tunisians lost their lives and many hundreds more suffered crippling injuries.  Much of this anger has been directed at the Bouazizi family. Manoubia, Mohammed's mother, has been honoured at events in New York, Paris, Doha and Istanbul.  "My son was the spark of the revolution," she stated on the eve of the anniversary. "He spread it across the country, it rocked the Arab world, and then reached the rest of the world. I am proud of him and of all the martyrs."  In Sidi Bouzid, however, she is less welcome. By April, the family had left the town to live in the upscale suburb of La Marsa, in Tunis, saying that the jealousy and rumours had just become too much.

Fadhla Zawadi, a 27-year-old activist, said "December 17 isn't an anniversary but a starting point," arguing that people in the marginalised town have yet to see any economic or social benefits from their uprising, and that it is too early for celebrations.  He acknowledges that since the uprising, people have been able to participate in the country’s October election, and that they now have freedom of speech.  (Tunisia's revolution has brought democratic freedoms for the first time since independence from France in 1956.)   Yet nothing, Fadhla says, has been done to solve their most pressing problems of socio-economic marginalisation.  "The basis of freedom is to eat and the right to work," he said.

Nabila Abidi, an unemployed university graduate from Sidi Bouzid stated "Only jobs can restore our dignity."  Another resident, Mansour Amamou said "The new government must understand the message well and take care of us and improve our conditions.  If not, the revolution will return."

For Handouni Nader, a union activist who participated in the uprising from that very first protest a year ago, the attacks against Bouazizi’s legacy are a distraction from the real issues.  Nader said the underlying issues of unemployment, underdevelopment and corruption are as bad as they were before the uprising.  "Nothing has changed in Sidi Bouzid, everyone feels let down," the 36-year-old said. "This government must understand these things, and go beyond rhetoric to action."

Tunisia's first democratically elected government was appointed just days before the anniversary, after nearly a year of successive, highly contested, interim governments.

Ultimately the mood throughout Tunisia will hinge on whether the people can finally share in the fruits of what was the collective rising up of a nation.

Gingrich Calls Palestinians
an "Invented" People

(Al Jazeera, 12/10/11)
(NY Times, 12/9/11)
Click for Video Excerpt
Combined excerpt from NY Times and Al Jazeera:

Newt Gingrich called Palestinians an “invented” people who could have chosen to live elsewhere and the current stalled peace process “delusional.”

The former House of Representatives speaker, who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential race, made the remarks in an interview with the US Jewish Channel broadcaster released on Friday.

Asked whether he considers himself a Zionist, he answered: "I believe that the Jewish people have the right to a state ... Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century. I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community.  And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now
since the 1940s, and it's tragic."

“What he’s saying is far to the right of the democratically elected Likud leadership of the State
of Israel, not to mention established U.S. policy for decades,” said David Harris, chief executive of the National Jewish Democratic Council, an American Jewish group. “This is as clear a demonstration as one needs that he’s not ready for prime time.”

Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment in 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule. Israel, founded amid the 1948 Arab-Israel war, took shape along the lines of a 1947 UN plan for ethnic partition of the then-British ruled territory of Palestine which Arabs rejected.  More than 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their lands by Zionist armed groups in 1948, in an episode Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or "catastrophe".

Gingrich also sharply criticised US President Barack Obama's approach to Middle East diplomacy, saying that it was "so out of touch with reality that it would be like taking your child to the zoo and explaining that a lion was a bunny rabbit.  If I'm even-handed between a civilian democracy that obeys the rule of law and a group of terrorists that are firing missiles every day, that's not even-handed, that's favouring the terrorists."

He also said the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, share an
"enormous desire to destroy Israel".  “You have Abbas who says in the United Nations, ‘We do
not necessarily concede Israel’s right to exist,’” Mr. Gingrich said.  “So you have to start with this question ‘Who are you making peace with?’” he added.

President Mahmoud Abbas has long forsworn violence against Israel as a means to secure an independent state. The Palestinian Authority, which rules the occupied West Bank, formally recognises Israel's right to exist.

Mr. Abbas, who unsuccessfully sought to have a Palestinian state admitted as a member of the United Nations in September, said in his speech at the time that he favored peace talks. In a statement read on his behalf last month at the United Nations, he said, “We do not want and we do not seek to delegitimize Israel by applying for membership in the United Nations, but to delegitimize its settlement activities and the seizure of our occupied lands.”

Gingrich's comments drew a swift rebuke from a spokesman for the American Task Force on Palestine, Hussein Ibish, who said: "There was no Israel and no such thing as an "Israeli people" before 1948.  "So the idea that Palestinians are 'an invented people' while Israelis somehow are not
is historically indefensible and inaccurate.

"Such statements seem to merely reflect deep historical ignorance and an irrational hostility towards Palestinian identity and nationalism."

Sabri Saidam, adviser to the Palestinian president said "Let me ask Newt Gingrich if he would ever entertain the thought of addressing Indian Americans by saying that they never existed, that they
were the invention of a separate nation, would that be tolerated?"

"Let's also reverse the statement; let's put ourselves in "the shoe of Jews who are listening now. Would they ever accept such statements being made about them?"
Saidam said, "I think it's time that America rejects such statements and closes the door to such horrendous and unacceptable statements."

Media in the eye of the storm as revolutions sweep the Arab world
(Reporters Without Borders [RSF] 12/1/11)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is the largest press freedom organization in the world, with over 120 correspondents across the globe. Founded in 1985, RSF has been working to protect and defend journalists for nearly 30 years.   Excerpt from RSF report:

A year after the start of democratic uprisings in the Arab world, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) takes stock of censorship and violations of free speech during the “Arab Spring”. Journalists, especially photographers, have paid a heavy price.  Eleven media workers have been killed in the performance of their duty, among them several internationally known photojournalists. However, most of the victims were local journalists.

In its report "Upheaval in the Arab World; Media as key witnesses and political pawns", RSF takes a look at the methods used by the authorities to strangle the flow of information during the popular uprisings in six countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen).

The political processes at work are far from over, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Syria.

In each of the six countries RSF has compiled figures before and after January 14, 2011 in the following categories: journalists assaulted,
citizens jailed for opinions expressed, and
media organizations attacked and websites censored.

The media played a critical role in these revolutions, reporting on the protests and their suppression, and maintaining momentum. In most cases new media such as Facebook
and Twitter were used to spread information, as a substitute for a traditional press at the beck and call of the ruling powers. Despite the variability of its coverage, especially in Bahrain,
Al-Jazeera played an important part in allowing
opposition voices to be heard.

Ruling authorities have tried to impose total censorship, with media staff, bloggers and netizens bearing the cost of brutal and murderous repression. Every country developed
its own ways of blocking or inhibiting the flow of information, such as Internet monitoring, cutting off access to the Internet and mobile phone networks, jamming satellite television stations, seizure of newspapers, assaults and arrests of media
workers, bloggers and Internet users, kidnappings and murders, expulsions of foreign reporters, visa refusals, etc.


In Syria, the government of  President Bashar Al-Assad is increasingly isolated internationally. According to the report of the international commission of inquiry on Syria, published on 28 November, more than 3,500 people have been killed since the uprising began there in March. The U.N.'s top human rights official Navi Pillay puts the number at 4000 dead.

The RSF report covers the period from 17 December 2010* to 17 November 2011, but also includes more recent events in Egypt. The figures cited are conservative since it
has not been possible to compile an exhaustive list of abuses.

* 12/17/11 is the date a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set fire to himself in the town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia igniting a wave of popular anger against the security forces and providing the spark  for the Arab Spring.

Entire FSB report is here.

Seymour Hersh: Propaganda Used Ahead of Iraq War is Now Being Reused over Iran's Nuke Program (Democracy Now 11/21/11)
Seymour Hersh. is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine.  He's been reporting on Iran and the bomb for the last decade.  His latest piece is  Iran and the IAEA, (11/18/11).
Excerpt by Seymour Hersh:  (full articles in above links)

I don’t know if you want to call it a "psychosis," but it’s some sort of a fantasy land being built up here, as it was with Iraq, the same sort of no lessons learned.  In fact, the latest (IAEA; International Atomic Energy Agency) report that everybody’s so agog about also says that, once again, we find no evidence that Iran has diverted any uranium that it’s enriching.

What you have is, in '04, ’05, ’06, ’07, even until the end of their term in office, Cheney kept on having the Joint Special Operations Force Command, JSOC— send teams inside Iran. They would work with various dissident groups—the Azeris, the Kurds, even Jundallah, which is a very fanatic Sunni opposition group—and they would do everything they could to try and find evidence of an undeclared underground facility. We monitored everything. We have incredible surveillance. In those days, what we did then, we can even do better now.  They found nothing. Nothing. No evidence of any weaponization. In other words, no evidence of a facility to build the bomb. They have facilities to enrich, but not separate facilities for building a bomb. This is simply a fact.  The big change was, in the last few weeks, the IAEA came out with a new report. And it’s not a scientific report, it’s a political document.

This new report has nothing new in it. This isn’t me talking. I talked to former inspectors. They’re different voices than you read in the New York Times and the Washington Post. There are other people that don’t get reported who are much more skeptical of this report, and you just don’t see it in the (mainstream) coverage...

The way it works, over the years a report will show up that will turn out to be spurious, turn out to be propaganda, whether started by us or a European intelligence agency—it’s not clear. This all happened, if you remember the Ahmed Chalabi stuff, during the buildup to the war in [Iraq], all about the great arsenals that existed inside [Iraq]. The same sort of propaganda is being used now.

And what you have is some sort of a hysteria that we had over Iraq that’s coming up again in Iran. And as far as sanctions are concerned, you know, excuse me, we’ve been sanctioning Cuba for 60 years, and Castro is still there. Sanctions are not going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you compare the Obama administration to the Bush administration when it comes to Iran?

SEYMOUR HERSH:  Same—a little less bellicose, but the same thing.  I have every reason to believe that, unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama really is worried about an attack. He doesn’t want to see the Israelis bomb Iran. That’s the kind of talk we’ve been getting in the press lately.

What makes me nervous is Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu, are together on this. They’re not always together on many things. They both agree, and that’s worrisome because, again, it’s a political issue there. The country is moving quickly to the right, Israel is, obviously.
 
But the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, has been vehement about the foolishness of attempting to go after Iran, on the grounds that it’s not clear what they have. They’re certainly far away from a bomb. Israel has been saying for 20 years they’re six months away from making a bomb.

If you asked Israelis in the intelligence business — and there are many — "Do you really think, if they got a bomb—they would hit Tel Aviv?" and the answer was, "Do you think they’re crazy? We would incinerate them. Of course not. They’ve been around 2,000 years. That’s not going to happen."

There’s an element rationality in the Israeli intelligence community that’s not being expressed by the political leadership. It’s the same madness we have here.

I think there’s a very serious chance the Iranians would certainly give us the kind of inspections we want, in return for a little love—an end to sanctions and a respect that they insist that they want to get from us. And it’s not happening from this administration.

Opinion/Editorial: Why is an Israeli soldier worth more than a Palestinian child?
(Dana Halawa, The Electronic Intifida 11/8/11)

Dana Halawa is a 20 year old American-Palestinian medical student at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Jordan.
Excerpt:
(whole statement linked in headline above)
In every article I’ve read referring to Gilad Shalit by his name and the 1,027 Palestinians being released in exchange as a number or as “militants,” the journalist has forgotten to mention that Shalit was an armed and trained soldier that was “kidnapped” from a military occupation vehicle, that the majority of Palestinian prisoners never engaged in military or criminal acts against Israel, and were only accused of resistance to the Israeli military occupation. They have conveniently left out the numerous Palestinian children abducted from their homes and taken far away, usually denied even visits from their parents or lawyers.

As of the latest figures recorded by Defence for Children International Palestine Section, as of October 2011, 164 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old  are behind bars, including 35 aged between 12 and 15 years old Child detainees (link to report by B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories).  Not one Palestinian child detainee in Israeli jails was released during the prisoner swap last month.  Many are being held without trial or conviction, while others are — often falsely — convicted of throwing rocks at Israeli tanks occupying their land and demolishing their homes.
Key Facts Forgotten
Israel has arrested more than 650,000 Palestinians, a number equal to about 20 percent of the population, since the occupation of the West Bank began in 1967. We tend to forget that Israel is occupying Palestine when we speak of the two. Palestinians are killed and arrested every day under the pretext of “protecting Israeli security.” Palestinians are kidnapped from their homes and stand trial in Israeli courts, where even Palestinian witnesses have no right to testify, while others are jailed, without trial or charge, under “administrative detention”.
Robbed of Childhood
Twelve-year-old Palestinian boys are robbed of their innocence and childhood behind bars. Sixteen-year-old Palestinian children are tried as adults by Israel, even though the legal age under international and even Israeli law (for Israelis) is 18. Mothers and sisters are arrested and convicted of terrorism for standing up to the occupation. Children are forced to grow up without parents. Men are convicted and sentenced to as many as 36 life sentences for resisting their genocide. In total, 1,027 will be freed while 5,000 remain captive.

I pray for the remaining 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli custody, and many more currently being arrested to fill the cells being emptied of 1,027 prisoners.

The Mixing of Politics and Art; A Personal Statement by Ross Daly
(orig. August 2011)

Ross Daly may be my favorite all-time Tangents artist. He also founded The Musical Workshop "Labyrinth" in 1982 with the goal of initiating young people, primarily, into a creative approach to
traditional musical idioms from various parts of the world. Recently an uncomfortable situation emerged that is the subject of this weeks' Gaza Corner.
 Ross Daly Statement
Excerpt:
(whole statement linked in headline above)

"Recently, the Musical Workshop Labyrinth encountered a problem which we had never before encountered. This year we invited a young and exceptionally talented oud player from Cairo to come and teach a seminar centered on the Arabic oud. When he realized  in his class would be 3 students from Israel, he promptly informed us that he did not wish to teach students from this country. He explained to me that he had nothing against them personally, but it was a political issue which, for him, bore quite considerable significance. 
I stressed that, for us, music is a medium for bringing people together despite whatever other differences they might have between themselves, and that in any conflict situation, the inevitable propaganda which demonizes "the other" is invariably facilitated by the absence of personal contact. Unfortunately he had a different point of view which did not allow for such exceptions.
Two of the Israeli students did actually approach the Egyptian oud teacher and they initiated a discussion with him which was conducted in a peaceful and civil manner on both sides. Regrettably, it did not bring about any substantial change of position.
Now it is necessary to analyze the significance of these events so as to be able to clearly express a coherent policy which we will implement in the future if such a situation should arise again.
Many people have stated that they felt that the mixing of music and politics was unacceptable. Others however felt that this position was a bit too simple and that there is indeed shared ground between music and politics.
I think it is important we recognize that artists are full-fledged members of our society with all of the responsibilities and challenges of other citizens and that, if an artist should so choose, the use of art as a means of making a political statement is clearly supported as legitimate by a very sizable and historically long tradition of artists from all of the world's peoples who have significantly influenced human civilization through their brave and often controversial acts of conscience.  Perhaps rather than banishing art from the real world of action and interaction to a utopian netherworld of spineless neutrality, we should look at
what could be an overriding tenet of the involvement of art in politics.

If we look at examples of political statements made by artists, we can see a pattern which clearly emerges. Artists are ultimately advocating greater inclusion for greater numbers of people in the intellectual and spiritual freedom for which they themselves are amongst the world's pioneers and foremost advocates.
In our own situation it is not so difficult for me to understand and actually sympathize with a young man who cannot bring himself to offer that which is dearest to his heart to those who he perceives to have done the greatest harm to his own people. However, even though I do sympathize with him, I am obliged by my conscience to disagree with his position, not however because he is committing what many perceive to be the "sin" of mingling politics with art. In fact, here at the Musical Workshop Labyrinth, the quintessence of all of our activities is not actually art, it's education. Art (specifically music) is that which is taught, but the center of all of our activities is education. Under no circumstances should education, the free movement and unconditional sharing of ideas, or knowledge in the service of the spiritual elevation of humankind, be in any way hindered by political considerations or sensitivities of any nature. 
It will always be the policy of the Musical Workshop Labyrinth in any future incident of this nature, that all teachers here will be obliged to accept on equal terms and with absolutely no discrimination of any kind students of all races, religions, nationalities, and genders."

Closure of Gaza Must Be Lifted as Shalit's Pretext Diminished
(Editorial by Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] 10/13/11) 

Excerpt:
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) welcomes the prisoner swap deal between the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).  1,027 Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by the Palestinian resistance for more than five years. Under this deal, all 27 female prisoners as well as 300 children will be released from Israeli prisons. The deal includes two phases; the first one will be completed within a week, during which Shalit will be released in exchange for the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, including 279 prisoners serving life sentences and the 27 female prisoners. The second phase will be completed within two months, during which 550 Palestinian prisoners will be released, but the IOF determines the conditions under which they will be released. Under the deal, 203 Palestinian prisoners will be deported; 40 of whom will be exiled overseas and 163 expelled to the Gaza Strip. PCHR expresses reservations on deporting the Palestinian prisoners and is concerned over this decision,
as it is considered forced migration in violation of international law.

 
With the completion of this swap deal, over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners will remain
detained under cruel and degrading conditions. In the past five years, their detention conditions have deteriorated in an unprecedented manner following the capture of Shalit.  Such cruel conditions include denial of family visits for Gazan prisoners; prevention of hundreds of families from visiting their imprisoned sons in the West Bank; naked body searches; night raids; solitary confinement; and medical negligence. Two weeks ago, hundreds of prisoners began an open-ended hunger strike protesting against additional punitive measures that had been taken against them by the Israeli prisons administration. The prisons administration responded to the hunger strike by imposing even more punitive measures, including the transfer of a large number of them to other prisons; confiscating salt which maintains the salt balance in the prisoners' bodies, due to which these prisoners’ health conditions have seriously deteriorated; confiscating electrical appliances; and attacks on the prisoners' rooms and firing tear gas inside them.


PCHR is gravely concerned over the continued deterioration of prisoners' conditions inside the Israeli prisons. PCHR calls upon the international community to exert pressure on the IOF to release more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, who have been detained in the
Israeli prisons so far, to treat them humanely in conformity with  international law and to refrain from the punitive measures they have imposed on prisoners for more than five
years now.


On the other hand, PCHR reminds that the Israeli closure imposed on the Gaza Strip in
June 2006 was a direct result of the attack carried out by the Palestinian resistance in Gaza on 25 June 2006, in which Shalit was captured. Later, IOF tightened the closure in an unprecedented manner, including closing all border crossings designated for the movement of persons and commercial purposes. Those collective punitive measures have
a destructive impact on all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip.


Thus, with the ending of Shalit's case and the end of the pretext used by the IOF to maintain the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, PCHR calls for immediately lifting of the closure and an end to all collective punitive measures imposed on the civilian population. Additionally, PCHR calls upon the international community to intervene in
order to end the suffering of the Palestinian civilians and lift the closure of the Gaza Strip.


FBI Account of Iran 'Terror Plot' Suggests Sting Operation
(Gareth Porter, Antiwar.com 10/14/11)

U.S. Move to Block Palestine in UNESCO Doomed to Fail
(IPS 10/7/11)

Despite a slim chance of diplomatic victory, the United States is leading a mostly Western attempt to block Palestinian membership in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

excerpt:

The 193-member General Conference, UNESCO's policy-making body, is expected to ratify Palestine's membership during its weeklong session beginning Oct. 25. The application was approved by the agency's 58-member executive board earlier in the week.

But the administration of President Barack Obama is lobbying heavily, under pressure from Israel and pro-Israeli members of Congress and senators, to stall the Palestinian membership - even threatening to cut off funds to the Paris-based U.N. agency if it recognises the political legitimacy of Palestine.

Asked Palestine's chances of clearing the U.S. political hurdle, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka's ambassador to France and permanent delegate to UNESCO, told IPS, "Here in Paris, the Palestinians feel their chances are good, because the General Conference is widely representative of the world, of global opinion - although the world's most powerful
establishment will probably throw its
considerable weight on the scales to prevent a decision."

UNESCO membership approval requires two-thirds majority vote.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican Congresswoman from Florida and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned that any decision to upgrade the Palestinian mission's status by UNESCO or by any other U.N. agency "will lead to a cutoff of U.S. funds to that entity."

Currently the United States pays about 22 percent of the UNESCO's regular budget of
just over 300 million dollars annually.  These "assessed contributions" by member states are mandatory and based on each country's capacity to pay.


Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, told IPS the United States is already out of step with the rest of the world, and will be even more so if it goes ahead with this threat.

"Outside the bubble of unreality which is American-Israeli official discourse on Palestine,
no one can fathom why the policy of the United States is so at odds with its stated principles of support for the self-determination of peoples
and for Palestinian statehood," Khalidi said.

Dr. Jayatilleka stated UNESCO has been, is and seeks to remain the hub of education, of ideas, of culture, of ethics, of philosophy, of humanism and of higher values within the international system, he said.

Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted Palestine's
application for full membership in the United Nations.


But the United States has threatened to veto the resolution if it comes up before the 15-member Security Council.

In such an event, it is likely that Palestine will seek enhanced observer status in the 193-member General Assembly, which requires only a simple majority.

But support for Palestine is so strong that it may end up getting an overwhelming majority - far beyond the simple majority needed.

Aid Blackmail in Palestine 
AJE, Rachel Shabi [opinion piece], 10/6/11)


U.S. Congress Makes Palestinians Pay for Seeking UN Recognition
(Independent UK 10/1/11)

Abbas is punished by $200 million cut in aid from U.S.

UK newspaper breaks story.

American media silent on news
as of Oct 1.*

*Finally on Oct 7
NPR's Morning Edition (text link) produced a story (audio link)
about the impact of the $200 mm aid cut. 

Click for full Independent UK Editorial

The United States Congress has blocked nearly $200m in aid for the Palestinians, threatening projects such as food aid, health care, and support for efforts to build a functioning state.
The decision to delay the payments runs counter to the wishes of the Obama administration and reflects Congressional anger at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's so far unrealised pursuit of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and statehood recognition at the UN.


"Heavy-handed threats to cut aid to the Palestinians if Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a bid for UN statehood were bad enough. That the US Congress is now putting such bullying tactics into practice is shameful. 

Just days after Mr Abbas lodged his application at the UN, Congress is blocking $200m worth of aid to the impoverished region. The move should be universally condemned.
 
The most compelling argument is one of common decency. While $200m may be chicken feed in the context of Washington's multi-billion-dollar aid budget, such sums go a long way in the impoverished Palestinian territories. The funding block will hit a string of vital state-building efforts – from the supplies for the World Food Programme, to teacher training schemes, to major infrastructure projects.

If the quality of life of ordinary Palestinians is not sufficient reason for censure, there is also a broader issue of regional stability. Anything which stirs up frustrations by undermining public services or, worse, which directly jeopardises the funding of the security services is playing with fire. And not just for the Palestinians. Any increase in lawlessness in the West Bank has an immediate impact on Israel.

Members of Congress may fail to grasp the impact of their actions, but the point is not lost on either the White House or the Israeli establishment. The US President has so far distanced himself from the aid issue; and earlier in the summer no less a figure than the Israeli Prime Minister urged congressional supporters not to block aid to the Palestinians."

Palestinian Kids' Art Deemed Unsuitable For Children
(NPR, 9/24/11)

An exhibit of children's art from Palestine was supposed to open today (Sat, 9/24)  at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA), but the show was canceled. Museum officials say community members raised concerns about whether the art, depicting scenes of Israeli-Palestinian violence, was appropriate for children.

Excerpt from NPR Transcript:

Richard Gonzales: The exhibit of drawings and paintings was created by Palestinian children who had witnessed the fighting during the Gaza conflict aka Operation Cast Lead.

Gonzales: There are 50 drawings in all. Lubin says her group worked for six months to bring the pictures to the United States and arrange their showing at the Museum of Children's Art, or MOCHA, in Oakland. The exhibit is called "A Child's View of Gaza."

Barbara Lubin: (Director Middle East Children's Alliance [MECA] which organized the exhibition)

Kids were encouraged to draw their feelings and what they had witnessed. And, you know, a lot of the pictures are very painful and very graphic because what they lived through was painful and graphic.

Gonzales: But what is art to some is propaganda to others.

Rabbi Douglas Kahn: First of all, we believe that the content of the exhibit, which is intended for children was extreme, was violent and it defamed an entire ethnic and religious group - both Israelis and Jews.

Gonzales: That's Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council. As Kahn speaks, he points to a photo of the one of the pictures. It shows the boot of an Israeli soldier, draped with the Israeli flag stomping on a Palestinian flag.

Kahn: There's no attempt to provide a picture of the suffering on both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side in the conflict.

Dore note:
Operation Cast Lead
(12/27/08-1/18/09) resulted in approx 1400 Gazans killed, the majority civilians, and 13 Israels killed, 4 by "friendly fire" fire.

Kahn: This is a biased, one-sided perspective that was being organized by an advocacy organization; that really was trying to take advantage of the goodwill of this children's Museum.

Gonzales: Kahn and other Jewish leaders registered their concerns with museum officials who apparently agreed. Two weeks ago, Barbara Lubin got a phone call from museum officials saying the show, which had been approved and was scheduled to open today, would in fact be cancelled.

Barbara Lubin: We were really, really shocked.

Gonzales: Shocked, in part, says Lubin, because seven years ago the museum showed a similar exhibit of art from Iraqi children. MOCHA officials were unavailable for an interview. The museum has been caught off guard by the controversy. It is typically a place where parents can leave their kids to finger-paint and enjoy arts education classes.

Museum board member, Randolph Belle said the museum would work with the sponsors of the Palestinian kids' art exhibit to re-schedule the show. 

How Music Can Heal the Israel-Turkey Rift
(Daniel  Ben Tal; Israel21C.org, 9/13/11)


Israeli guitarist Itamar Erez, who performs with Turkey's best-known musician, says music can help heal the rift between the two countries.
Music, he says, can be a bridge between the two societies. "This is not a cliché. Music is truly a language that cuts straight to the heart. I don't think it's my role to get involved in politics. I don't understand the politicians. The people I do understand. I have many friends in Turkey, and respect their culture. They are very similar to Israelis in many ways. They also have a lot of pride."

A week after virtuoso Israeli guitarist Itamar Erez returned home in late August from a concert tour of Turkey alongside Turkey's leading name in world music, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, diplomatic ties between the two countries hit an all-time nadir.

"I feel very frustrated," Erez tells Israel21c. "So much cultural interchange will now suffer."

He has performed in Turkey dozens of times in recent years, "and never encountered a single problem until this year. I have always felt welcome there. The extremist organizations try to create chaos -- this does not reflect the mood of the majority of the Turkish people."

Erez wants to help heal the wounds.

"I want to organize an event that will bring Israeli and Turkish people together," he says. "One idea is an evening in Israel featuring Israeli musicians in favor of friendship. The other idea is to try to arrange something with Turkish musicians -- either bring them here or play together in Turkey, but I know this will be very difficult."

In June, Erez's Adama Ensemble was forced to cancel a performance at Akbank Sanat Jazz Days Festival in Istanbul after the festival management received threats from various sources. Erez was attacked via his Facebook page.

"After that concert was canceled, I received lots of supportive emails and Facebook posts expressing sorrow over the cancellation," he says.
Erez's fertile musical relationship with Tekbilek began with a nonchalant comment by percussionist Shlomo Deshet, who mentioned to his friend that the Turkish musician was looking for a guitarist.
"I sent him some of my music, then we met in London -- we had 10 minutes to go over the music before rushing to a BBC studio to record live -- just me and Omar. After that I slowly became part of his ensemble.

During Ramadan in August 2011, the duo gave three concerts in Istanbul. "I've also played in private events where Omar participated. In one such event, a traditional wedding in Ankara three months after the flotilla, [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan was sitting 10 meters from me. I told Omar that maybe it's best not to introduce me as an Israeli. When he did, there were two seconds of complete silence, followed by extremely warm applause. Then Mr. Erdogan came on the stage and shook my hand. I thought it was a nice gesture -- he didn't have to do it."

911's Forgotten Victims
(AJE Opinion by Imran Khan, 9/8/11)

As I watch and read what feels like acres of print and hours of broadcast material in the run-up to the 10 year anniversary of those horrific attacks, the headlines say it all. "9/11's innocents".  "The Unsung heroes". The list could go on.

However, the effects of 9/11 have been felt most acutely not in the West, but on the dusty alleyways of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Daily bombings, murderous intent and religious rhetoric have turned the events of that fateful Tuesday into a horrific reality.

Throughout my years of reporting from the frontlines of the so-called "War On Terror" -from the streets of London to the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and beyond - I have felt the disconnect between how the West feels and how the East feels.

The tragedy of the July 2005 bombings in London saw a massive outpouring of grief, and anger. Western politicians very eloquently articulated the feelings of their constituents and rightly so, in times of grief we look to them to do exactly that.

Yet for those innocent victims in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians of all hues remain silent. In all of those countries the blood continues to spill daily on our television screens.

I shouldn't be surprised. The media dominates from the West. It's the West that has the money, and therefore the power. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are, for many people, far off places. Places that harbour terrorists, that play a double game by taking Western aid, while sheltering those that would do them harm. It's an argument I have heard in the halls of Westminster, in Washington.

Yet the one brutal fact remains ignored by many: More people have died In Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan as result of Western intervention than died on 9/11.

Now a tragedy is a tragedy is a tragedy. No one's blood is worth more or less. Yet, as I read and listen to the anniversary speeches and editorials I can only be disheartened at what is in front of me - that Western lives are worth more.

In the weeks, months and years after 9/11 I found myself in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wound up in Iraq. I saw people get on with their lives in the early days of both wars, not really understanding how long America's action would last, but hoping it would pass quickly. I wonder what those people would think now, and in my more reflective moments how many of then have witnessed death or mourn the passing of loved ones - perhaps as result of a drone strike gone astray, or even a raid that went wrong as a result of bad intelligence.

My problem comes when we forget those who have sacrificed their lives for a cause that they have little to do with.

Across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq I witnessed countless suicide bombings, a few that were too close for comfort. I have spoken to families ripped apart by US drone strikes that killed civilians. To mothers who have lost children when late at night American and British troops kicked down doors looking for terrorists. All of these incidents and people I met left one lasting impression - the tragic waste of human life.

What angers me even more is the empty platitudes Western governments give to those who die in the line of fire. How many times have we heard US presidents praise the security services of Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan? Praise the sacrifices they have made? Yet no apology on the loss of innocents who die every day.

I'd like to think that somewhere, someone will mention those Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghans that have also died alongside the victims in America.

Gaza Corner Headlines for 9/03/11:
(click on each story for full article)


Combined Excerpts:
A long-awaited United Nations review of Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-based flotilla in which  in which eight Turkish nationals and an American man of Turkish descent died when the vessel was stormed by Israeli commandos found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and appropriate. However, the report called the force “excessive and unreasonable,” saying that the loss of life was unacceptable and that the Israeli military’s later treatment of passengers was abusive.

The Report was completed months ago but its publication was delayed as Turkey and Israel sought to reconcile their deteriorating relationship. Both said they believed that the report, which was intended to help mend relations, would instead make reconciliation harder.

Turkey is particularly upset by the conclusion that Israel’s naval blockade is in keeping with international law and that its forces have the right to stop Gaza-bound ships in international waters, which is what happened in the 2010 episode. That conclusion oversteps the mandate of the four-member panel appointed by the United Nations secretary general and is at odds with other United Nations decisions, Turkey argued.

The report noted that the panel did not have the power to compel testimony or demand documents, but instead had to rely on information provided by Israel and Turkey. Therefore, its conclusions cannot be considered definitive in either fact or law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he believed that apologizing would demoralize Israeli citizens and broadcast a message of weakness.

The United Nations investigationwas led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand. He was aided by Álvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia and George Bush's favorite Latin American leader, along with one representative from Israel and another from Turkey.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated all military agreements had been suspended, and Turkey will bolster its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.  Turkey has been an important customer for Israel’s defense industries in the past, and an important partner for military and intelligence cooperation at many levels.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey insisted Israel has to end its naval blockade of Gaza as Turkey does not recognise the blockade as legal.  Foreign Minister Davutoglu said Turkey would take the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Turkey once ranked as Israel’s closest strategic ally in the Muslim world, but ties began to fray with an Israeli military operation in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
The most recent deterioration in relations with Turkey has compounded Israel’s regional woes from the Arab Spring, which has redrawn the geopolitical landscape along Israel’s borders. Earlier this year, the revolution in Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak, once a crucial ally, while the bloody and unpredictable crackdown on dissent in Syria has raised yet more questions about regional stability.
Mr. Davutoglu said Friday that Israel had failed to grasp the consequences of “gigantic changes in the Middle East region.”

Gaza Corner Headlines for 8/20/11:
(click on each story for full article)


Iran story details:

Iran has sentenced two American hikers detained in the Islamic republic to eight years in prison on charges of "illegal entry" and "espionage", reported Iran's state television website.
"According to an informed source with the judiciary, Shane Bauer... and... Josh Fattal, the two detained American citizens, have been each sentenced to three years in prison for illegal entry to the Islamic Republic of Iran," the website reported on Saturday.

It also stated that the two have separately been "sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage for the American intelligence agency".

The report added that "the case of Sarah Shourd, who has been freed on bail is still open".

The lawyer for the Americans, Masoud Shafii, told international news agancies he had not been informed of any decision since the trial ended on July 31.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar explained the State Department's worries:

"Top US officials say that they are very concerned because they have no access to the prisoners, and they have no recent assessment of their mental health and their physical health. They don't know what conditions they're being kept in. As you know, the US and Iran don't have any type of relations."

The two Americans have 20 days to appeal the sentence.

Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of Political Science at Tehran University, told Al Jazeera:
"We mustn't rush to any hasty conclusions because their lawyer has about two weeks’ time to launch an appeal on behalf of the accused. And there is a possibility; there is a chance that the appeal court may actually quash the sentence."
Bauer and Fattal, both 28, were arrested along with Shourd, 32, on the unmarked border between Iran and Iraq on July 31, 2009. The three claimed they were hiking in Iraq's northern province of Kurdistan when they innocently strayed into Iran.

They had earlier pleaded not guilty to spying charges. Shourd is being tried in absentia. She returned to the United States after being freed on humanitarian and medical grounds in September, paying a bail of around $500,000.

This slaughter will end only when words of condemnation are acted on
(Independent UK, by Robert Fisk,  8/9/11)
Dictator of Damascus will continue his bloody reign
 until he is stopped

Fisk opinion piece excerpt:

The trouble is that everyone has been running out of patience with Syria since the spring, and no one has done more than turn up the rhetoric as the statistics of innocent dead ticked up from 500 to 1,000, to more than 2,000.
 And of course the absence of journalists inside Syria means that the full story is not known. Syrian television has shown gunmen among demonstrators in Hama, while nightly I watch Syrian state television recording the funerals of dozens – now perhaps 300 – soldiers. Who killed them? Who are the gunmen? YouTube is a dodgy witness to history but there can be little doubt that, faced with state violence on such a scale, civilians have armed themselves to protect their families, to take revenge on the regime, to keep the Syrian militias out of their cities.

And the Assad family, cynical as it is, enacting legislative reform while killing those who might benefit from the new laws, fully understands the hypocrisy of the Arab and European reaction to the Syrian bloodbath. Had Messrs Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama stopped short after they saved Benghazi – had they reined in their juvenile enthusiasm for destroying Gaddafi – they may have had the spittle (I use Sir Thomas More's word for courage) and the munitions to destroy some of Assad's 8,000 tanks. That massive fleet of armour, one should add, was paid for by the Syrian people in order to be protect Syria from Israel – not to protect the regime from the Syrians themselves.

William Hague – he who once childishly believed Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela – has been waffling on about how little the West can do to stop Assad. This is rubbish. Britain's RAF bases in Cyprus are infinitely closer to Syria than to Libya. Had we prevented the bloodbath in Benghazi and left the Libyans to their civil war, we might have found a public opinion strong enough to stomach an assault on the Assad legions. But no, Libya has oil, Syria has little and – despite all the roaring from the Arabs – most of the dictators, in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in the rest of the Middle East, would still prefer a "reformed" Assad to freedom, dignity and liberty for his people. The Israelis don't want regime change in Damascus. Do the Americans?

You only have to compare Obama's reaction to the massacre in Norway and to the infinitely larger blood-shedding in Syria. Obama described how the Norwegian killings "broke his heart". Yet the slaughter of far more innocents in Syria merely elicits the idea that the United States can live without Assad if he goes. There are plenty of Breiviks among the Syrian Shabiha murderers in Syria – but no Western leaders to mourn their handiwork. Bashar Assad knows this.

Assad is almost certainly doomed. But he's more like Macbeth, "in blood stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go'er". .

Could solving the water crisis in Israel and Palestine also help resolve the entrenched occupation and conflict?
(AJE, by Arwa Aburawa,  7/29/11)
Around three weeks ago on a late Tuesday morning, Israeli soldiers armed with a truck and a digger entered the Palestinian village of Amniyr and destroyed nine water tanks. One week later, Israeli forces demolished water wells and water pumps in the villages of Al-Nasaryah, Al-Akrabanyah and Beit Hassan in the Jordan Valley. In Bethlehem, a severe water shortage have led to riots in refugee camps.

Palestinians insist that the Israeli occupation means that they are consistently denied their water rights which is why they have to live on 50 litres of water a day while Israeli settlers enjoy the luxury of 280 litres. Water is at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but commentators are now insisting that shared water problems could help motivate joint action and better cooperation between both sides, which could in turn help end the conflict.

"It's a shame that water is being used as a form of collective punishment when it could be used to build trust and to help each side recognise that the other is a human being with water rights," says Nader Al-Khateeb, the Palestinian director of the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).

"We should be using water as a tool for peace and to bridge the gap of confidence in the region - not to create a water crisis," he adds. As part of his work with FoEME - which also operates in Israel and Jordan - Al-Khateeb says he has already witnessed the success of co-operative water projects. Over the past ten years, the FoEME "Good Water Neighbors" initiative has brought together 29 cross-border communities to encourage them to work together to resolve shared water problems.

Co-operative work on water issues has also been able to tackle wider political aspects of the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian village of Wadi Fuqin and Israeli community of Tzur Hassadeh who worked together to tackle water issues in 2010 but also came together to stop the separation wall from being built between their communities. "Till this day that wall hasn't been built which shows that working together on water can build real trust between individuals and presents a model where everyone benefits."

Under the Oslo agreement, Israel did recognise the water rights of Palestinians, but this failed to translate into fair policies. Today, Israel over-extracts water from underground aquifers located in the West Bank for its own citizens and also sells back some of the water to water-short Palestinians at a high price. Water development projects in Palestine face cumbersome Israeli bureaucratic restrictions and delays which mean that more than 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank remain unconnected to a water network and 95 per cent of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption due to high levels of pollution.

This systematic denial of water rights by Israel also hinders the Palestinian economy. Water remains one of the five issues up for debate to reach a final peace agreement alongside the status of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and the Israeli settlements.

The disparity of the water situation in Palestine is nowhere more apparent than in the illegal Israeli settlements of the West Bank - where settlers enjoy water on tap whilst Palestinians struggle to pay for water from tanks.

Whether community projects, political lobbying or a focus on Palestinian water independence is the way forward, it is clear that action is needed to rectify the scale of the water inequality between Israel and Palestine.
For the first time in 43 years, members of the 'U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in Occupied Territories' gained entry into Gaza
(IPS, by Thalif Deen,  7/29/11)
U.N. Rights Committee Breaks 43-Year Israeli Taboo on Gaza
 
When the United Nations General Assembly created a three member special committee to investigate Israeli human rights violations in occupied territories back in December 1968, the committee was barred from entering any of the occupied territories.

But geopolitics in the region has dramatically changed the political climate - much to the chagrin of the Israelis.

For the first time in 43 years, members of the 'U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in Occupied Territories' gained entry into Gaza last week, through Egypt which has ousted its Israeli-friendly president, Hosni Mubarak.

The new Egyptian government facilitated the visit via the border crossing at Rafah, breaking the longstanding Israeli taboo.

In a critical
report
released Friday, the committee expressed dismay at Israel's "continuing disregard of its obligations under international law".

"Unfortunately, what we found [in Gaza] was that the oppressive restrictions imposed on Gaza by Israel have the effect of collectively punishing the population," it said.

With around 35 percent of Gaza's land area excluded from agriculture due to Israel's vague buffer zone along the border, and its fishing areas limited to only three nautical miles from the coast (85 percent of fisheries), the people of Gaza could hardly feed themselves, much less revive a decimated economy through exports, the committee said.

"We were alarmed by allegations that Israel enforces these policies employing live fire, including in some instances against children and the elderly," said the committee.

Israel's continuing blockade of Gaza contravenes the human rights of the people of Gaza and international humanitarian law and standards, said Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona, permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the U.N. and chair of the committee.

"It is oppressive and diminishes the lives of the people of Gaza and must be ended now," he declared.

In its report, the committee said it listened to victims, witnesses and U.N. officials who underlined the dire impact on human rights of the Israeli blockade.

Homes, schools and other infrastructure that were destroyed by Israeli attacks in December 2008 and January 2009 could not be rebuilt due to restrictions on the import of building material.

Beyond the homes, schools and businesses that were destroyed, there is an urgent need for water treatment facilities, roads, sewage treatment and the restoration of power, it said.

For many of Gaza's children, life is difficult and the future is hopeless, the committee pointed out, referring to testimony concerning worrying health, psychological and social problems, increasing school dropout rates, and an increasing incidence of child labour.

"We hope the government of Israel will seriously consider the potential consequences of a generation of Gazan children being raised in an environment of near-total deprivation and a lack of opportunities to lead a productive and hopeful life," it said.

Witnesses and officials reported that Palestinian children's access to education is being impeded through, among other things, restrictions on freedom of movement, constraints on access due to the security wall, a lack of schools especially in East Jerusalem and Gaza, and threats and actual violence by Israeli settlers.

The committee said its attention was drawn to the large number of children detained, and in this regard, a range of practices of serious concern, including harsh interrogation techniques, torture, and expulsion from their villages.

The committee also underlined its deep concern regarding reports that Israeli security forces are raiding Palestinian homes in the middle of the night to detain children, allegedly as young as seven years old.

Rapping the revolution (Foreign Policy, 7/22/11)
Above article includes an interview with  21-year-old Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor, better known as El General whose fiery rap is credited as the soundtrack of theTunisian revolution.  El General has become something like the hoodied bard of the Arab Spring.
combined excerpts from above articles:
As hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the region to fight against decades of despotic rule under sclerotic regimes, El General is just one in an emerging cadre of wordsmiths who've produced impassioned revolution soundtracks. The power of his message landed him a spot on TIME magazine's 2011 Most Influential People list. Just a few months earlier, the soft-spoken rapper from the sleepy port city of Sfax, south of Tunis, was almost completely off the rap radar.

There is nothing new about Arab hip-hop. Scholars point to its nexus in Moroccan youth political dissent manifested in the vibrant cultural movement known as Nayda, which means "get up on your feet," or "wake up" in Darija, the Arab dialect spoken in the Maghreb. Next-door in Algeria, famous (and banned) rapper Rabah started rapping during the civil war in 1994 with his group Le Micro Brise le Silence (LBS), "The Microphone Breaks the Silence."

But there is no denying the outpour of creative, intensely politicized hip-hop that has accompanied the Arab uprisings.

El General's invective "Rais Lebled," is credited with galvanizing Tunisia's youth to put an end to 23 years of tight-fisted rule. And as Tunisia's uprisings gathered momentum in December, El General recorded "Tounes Bladna" (Tunisia, Our Country) that brought 30 plain-clothes officers to his home at 5 a.m. on January 6, dragging him off to the Ministry of Interior in Tunis where he was handcuffed to a chair for 3 days of intense interrogation.

El General: "The Tunisian revolution can be explained in one sentence: Ben Ali left. But did anyone else? There's a shadow government. We don't know who these people are running the country now. Nothing has changed. All young people are jobless. We need a new revolution. We will protest again, we will take to the streets if we do not see change."

Over in Libya rebel fighter Jaad Jumaa Hashmi cranks up the volume on his pickup truck’s stereo when he heads into battle against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
A musician himself, he looks for inspiration from a growing cadre of amateur rappers whose powerful songs have helped define the revolution.  The music captures the anger and frustration young Libyans feel at decades of repressive rule under Gadhafi.  “It captures the youths’ quest for freedom and a decent life and gives us motivation,” Hashmi said.

The freewheeling rap scene developing in rebe; stronghold Benghazi indicates how much has changed in eastern Libya in the past two months. Speaking out against Gadhafi before the rebellion used to mean prison and maybe even death. And rap, like other forms of Western culture, was despised by Gadhafi, who burned foreign musical instruments and books after he seized power in 1969.

The group Revolution Beat on the song
"17 February"
sing “Gadhafi, open your eyes wide and you will see that the Libyan people just broke through the fear barrier,” a reference to the so-called “Day of Rage” when protesters took to the streets in several towns and clashed with security forces.

Death in the West Bank:
The brutal murder of a young Palestinian woman  helped change the law over so-called 'honour' killings.
excerpt:
After the discovery of Aya Baradiya's body more than a year after the 20-year-old university student went missing, her uncle confessed to Palestinian police, claiming it was an "honor" killing. Widespread protests against such crimes, led by students and women's organisations, erupted. In response, the Palestinian president last month scrapped historic laws that permitted leniency for the perpetrators of so-called "honor" killings.

Under a 1960 Jordanian penal code, part of which still applies in the West Bank, which Jordan ruled between 1948 and 1967, perpetrators of such crimes are treated with leniency as they are deemed to have mitigating circumstances. The maximum sentence is six months, according to police. A clause in a 1936 British Mandate law, still in effect in Gaza, also allows for leniency in the punishment of "honour" killings.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but it is thought there are around 20 such crimes in the West Bank and Gaza each year. Women who have been raped or molested, or are victims of incest, are considered to have stained a family's reputation. Such acts of violation are rarely admitted by the victim's family.

Following the discovery of Aya's remains, 20,000 people attended her funeral. There were protests against the "honour" killing laws at Hebron university, and Aya was commemorated as a "martyr".

During a live Palestinian television programme on Aya's case, a government official called in to say President Mahmoud Abbas was watching and intended to change the law. Abbas, who later met with Aya's family, signed the decree in May.

Pressure for a change in the law had been building before Aya's death. "The Palestinian women's movement has been struggling for many years on so-called 'honour' killings," says Amal Khreishe of the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development. Her organisation submitted a petition signed by 8,000 women to the president's office this March demanding new legislation.

"We sent a message to the president that this is the time to cancel the articles in the penal law which encourage people to kill women and ignore the human rights and dignity of women," says Khreishe. She welcomes the president's move, but says it is a small step and "more political will is needed to enhance gender equality".

Israel clamps down on fly-in protest (AJE 7/9/11)

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists have been blacklisted in Europe or deported from Tel Aviv airport.
 
Israeli police have arrested six pro-Palestinian activists and detained about 120 others participating in a fly-in protest at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.  The arrested activists, all Israeli citizens, timed their demonstration to coincide with the anticipated arrival of hundreds of others hoping to travel to Palestine in a show of solidarity that some have dubbed the "flytilla," a reference to the flotilla of aid ships that were recently blocked from sailing to Gaza. Many were taken for interrogation and passport checks, and the mobile phone network inside the area of the terminal where the plane arrived appeared to be disabled. Organisers of the "flytilla," - officially called the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign - had said up to 800 activists were expected to fly into Ben Gurion airport in a peaceful mission to visit Palestinian families.
 
Israeli security provided airlines and foreign security agencies with a list of 342 "unwanted people," hoping they would be turned back at European airports.  At least 200 activists were halted in Europe by Friday evening. Israeli authorities said they largely managed to pre-empt the campaign by foreign activists - most of them from France - who are demonstrating for the right of access to the West Bank.  Officials also managed to prevent Israeli activists from meeting the incoming activists at the airport. 

Concerned by the growing number of confrontations with media-savvy activists and the international criticism that has often ensued, Israel has taken measures to avoid a clash this time by preventing protesters from reaching the country altogether.  According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, police and intelligence units followed social networks used by the groups organising the protest.

Laura Durkay, an American pro-Palestinian activist, said "What we want is to get into Palestine, but if that's not going to happen, then the longer we stay here the more then media will keep paying attention to our story. We want to show how the Israeli government treats people trying to travel to Palestine." 

In a statement, the organisers of the "flytilla" campaign condemned the Israeli pressure on airlines and threatened legal action.  "We call on all airline companies not to accept such provocative, blackmailing and illegal actions by the Israeli government," it said.  "Visitors travelling between countries have rights under international law and bilateral travel agreements," it added. "Those who had reservations cancelled will exercise their right of protest including bringing legal cases in their own countries."

Gaza Flotilla II
This is a fluid story: check AJE live blog and freedomflotilla website for late breaking flotilla news.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: 
The Man Who Would Be King

Excerpts from above articles:

In the five years since taking office, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has consolidated a dangerous amount of power. Now, his citizens are angry and his opponents scheme. But is it too late?"

He has the potential to be a dictator," said Iraqi scholar Faleh Jabar. "It's my biggest fear, because that would destroy our democracy," which formed a central justification for the war in the first place.

"We've seen Maliki move with masterful precision to control the army, then the intelligence services, and then secure a tighter and tighter grip over the civilian arms of state," said Iraq expert Toby Dodge. "These aren't the actions of a decentralizing democrat. These are the actions of a man who wants to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands."

Maliki has engineered a broad campaign of press censorship and intimidation... Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused him of operating secret prisons in which Sunni suspects have been tortured.

Since late January, demonstrators have begun taking to the streets by the hundreds, then thousands in Badhdad modeled after the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. Grievances include failure to provide even basic services such as less than five hours of electricity per day, unemployment, and though suicide attacks and roadside bombs have subsided since the hellish days of 2006 and 2007, unpredictable explosions still blew apart lives and families.

While Maliki claimed protests would weaken Iraq's so called democracy, what they have done is expose it as a sham. The March 2010 elections might have been free and fair, but after Maliki's reshuffling of the military, he now had so few checks on his power that nobody could stop his security forces' draconian tactics.

The government has lashed out against both protesters and journalists with shocking violence. In the two weeks following Badhdad's Day of Rage, not only were more than two dozen protesters killed, but nine other media organization offices were raided, 33 journalists arrested, and 12 reporters beaten by security forces.

On 8 April, several thousand Iraqi armed forces launched a major military rain on the Ashraf  refugee camp killing 36 unarmed and defenceless men and women and injuring hundreds more. Several dozen residents were deliberately run over with military vehicles in an attack described by Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as a “massacre”. Despite widespread international condemnation including by the UN human rights chief and the US State Department, no meaningful action has as of yet been taken to prevent further such attacks.

On May 26th, Rep. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) announced his intention of conducting a hearing into the April 8th massacre at Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq where 35 unarmed civilians were killed and scores more injured during an attack by Iraqi soldiers. Mr. Rohrabacher’s  request for delegation access to the site was denied by the U.S. State Department and the Iraqi government.

Iraqi scholar Faleh Jabar concludes "Iraq's challenge is even bigger than building democracy. It's about reversing what happened over the past four years," And that's beyond a tall order.

This final note:

In 2009, the Guardian UK characterized Maliki's rule as authoritarian. Maliki responded by suing the British newspaper for nearly a million dollars and seeking to close its Baghdad bureau.

Maliki's centralization of power may have been essential in an atmosphere of civil war. But those conditions have now changed; Maliki has not.

Morocco announces proposed reforms;
Pro-Democracy activists claim not enough and call for demonstrations
(AJE, 6/18/11)
For original story click here
Morocco's king has announced a series of proposed changes to the country's constitution, including amendments that would strip him of some of his political powers.

Analyst Nabila Ramdani, said the king's move was an attempt to defuse popular anger in the country. "There are bleak socio-economic conditions in Morocco, as well as a lack of fundamental human rights, and he is trying to avoid an expression of the anger we have seen on the streets of many Arab countries," she said. "There is also a gap between how the world views Morocco, and the largely dismissed internal problems of illiteracy, corruption, and unemployment."

Morocco's youth-based February 20 Movement "The plan as proposed by the king does not respond to our demands for a true separation of powers. We will protest peacefully on Sunday against this plan."

King Mohammed, 47, who in 1999 took over the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty from his father, currently holds virtually all power in the Muslim north African country, and he is also its top religious authority as the Commander of the Faithful.

The proposals, to be put to a referendum on July 1, devolve many of the king's powers to the prime minister and parliament.  Morocco has long had a parliamentary system with dozens of parties, but they remain weak and many are beholden to the king and his advisers.

According to Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui, the king's cousin and a researcher at Stanford University, the reforms follow the same pattern as previous ones, with the king dictating the terms to docile political parties.

"This scenario of a mock discussion among the same players as always, and a happy ending seems a foregone conclusion," he wrote in the French daily Liberation. "Constitutional amendments that are 'good enough' will come out and be approved by referendum and the international community. This will give the regime some credibility for reform so that it can dismiss the demonstrators in the street as 'undemocratic.'"
Syrian troops lay siege to northern town (AJE, 6/11/11)

Video: casualties, and crops and livestock torched
Syrians pour onto Turkish border (HDN, 6/10/11)
 
Combined excerpts from above stories:
Tanks and troops sealed Jisr al-Shughur, raising fears of imminent assault. Syrian state television blamed “armed terrorist gangs” as it ran images of the “massacres” in Jisr al-Shughour, which it said had resulted in the deaths of 120 police and troops Monday.

Opposition activists say the deaths resulted from a mutiny by troops who refused orders to crack down on protesters.

President Bashar al-Assad sent heavy armour, including tanks and thousands of troops, to the region to crush a nearly three-month uprising against his family's 40-year rule.

Rights groups say the crackdown has killed at least 1,300 civilians since March.

A Syrian refugee from a village near the Turkish border said “Right now they are laying waste to the village. They are burning the fields and attacking [people’s] homes without any regard for women and children. Those who can run away are making it to the Turkish border.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Syria of perpetrating an “atrocity” against anti-regime protesters.

About 4,000 Syrians have fled into neighbouring Turkey.  Lebanon, Syria's neighbour to the west, has already absorbed about 5,000 refugees,

Former Mossad chief warns against attacking Iran (Independent, UK, Catrina Stewart, 6/04/11)

Meir Dagan, a former chief of Israel's vaunted Mossad intelligence agency, has issued a stinging rebuke of Israeli policies on Iran and the Palestinians, warning that Israel risks sliding headlong into a major regional conflict.

That such a wake-up call should come from Mr Dagan, a hardliner credited with masterminding some of Israel's most daring operations, reflects a deep unease felt by some of the security elite over Israel's growing isolation.

Better known for his discretion than for speaking out, Mr Dagan made a rare appeal to the country's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to take the initiative in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians, and warned him against launching an attack on Iran that would encourage Tehran to press forward with its atomic programme.

"The war won't be against Iran, but will be a regional war," Mr Dagan said in an address to students at Tel Aviv University. "I recommend that the Prime Minister decide not to attack."

The unguarded remarks unleashed a deluge of criticism from top officials, who accused the former spy of undermining the threat of deterrence. Mr Netanyahu has identified Iran's nuclear ambitions as a threat to Israel, and has repeatedly demanded tougher sanctions backed by military action as a last resort.

But Mr Dagan, later talking privately to reporters, suggested Israel's leaders might act recklessly if backed into a corner by Palestinian efforts to seek membership of the UN in September and isolate Israel diplomatically.

In a recent speech addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Netanyahu failed to present any new ideas, rehashing instead a list of security demands necessary for any deal.

"There needs to be an Israeli peace initiative," Mr Dagan said. "If we don't offer things and don't take the initiative, we might be put in a corner. Given the choice between put in a corner or taking the initiative, initiative is better."

He suggested Israel adopt a discarded Saudi initiative of peace with the Arab world in return for withdrawing from territories Israel captured in 1967.

Egypt opens Rafah border permanently
(Aljazeera, 5/25/11,Update 5/28/11) 
Excerpt: 
Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing, easing a four-year blockade on the Gaza Strip. It will be open from 9am to 9pm every day except Fridays and holidays. However, it will not be a full opening as there will be some sort of conditions on exit. AJE Gaza correspondent Nicole Johnston stated "It will allow basically all women to leave Gaza, also children under the age of 18 years will be allowed to leave as well as men over the age of 40 years. However, those between the age of 18 and 40 years will require Egyptian visa," she said.

The decision is a sharp departure from the policies of former president Hosni Mubarak, who had restricted the movement of people and goods through the Egyptian-Gaza border.
AJE's Cairo correspondent said "one of the military's first and important announcements was to abide by all international agreements that the previous government had committed to...particularly that the Rafah border had to be under the supervision of European monitors. "

"One of biggest problem for Gazans besides shortage of food and supplies has been the psychological impact of not allowing 1.5m people to move freely, there's no doubt if the border is opened freely for all, there’s going to be a massive influx of Palestinians who would want to get out for the first time since the seize was put in place."

A year ago Israel significantly eased its restrictions on cargo entering Gaza, but it still severely limits entry and exit of Gazans through its northern crossing into Israel.

Gazans have circumvented the blockade by operating hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the 15km Gaza-Egypt border. The tunnels have been used to bring in all manner of products, as well as people.  Israel charges Hamas has used the tunnels to import weapons, including rockets that can reach main population centres in Israel's centre.

The crossing has been mostly closed, in line with an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, since 2007 when Hamas seized control of the coastal territory.

Haaretz Editorial (May 13 ,2011)

Excerpt:

The covert deportation of West Bank residents in order to increase the number of Jews in the West Bank, is an example of the occupation’s rotten fruit.

From the occupation beginning in 1967 to the day after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians by stripping them of their residency rights. This was revealed in an official document drawn up by the Israel Defense Forces’ West Bank headquarters, published by Haaretz on May 18.

The procedure, enforced on Palestinian West Bank residents who traveled abroad, led to the stripping of 140,000 of them of their residency rights. Israel registered these people as NLRs − no longer residents − a special status that does not allow them to return to their homes. The document makes no mention of the number of Gaza Strip residents who traveled abroad for studies or work and were permanently banished from the region by the same procedure. Since the second intifada broke out, the people exiled between 1967 and 1994 have been prohibited from visiting their homes, even as tourists.

The sweeping denial of residency status from tens of thousands of Palestinians and deporting them from their homeland in this way cannot be anything but an illegitimate demographic policy and a grave violation of international law. It’s a policy whose sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population in the territories.

Dorothy Parvaz: Syria's Secret prisons (AJE  5/18/11)

Parvaz recounts her experiences while detained in Syria and Iran. Excerpt:
Welcome to mini-Guantanamo; perhaps one of many in Syria where protesters and bystanders alike have been swept up in the wide net cast by an increasingly paranoid government since the start of anti-government protests several weeks ago.

My American passport, complete with its Al Jazeera sponsored visa, sealed the deal. The agents couldn't seem to agree what I was, or which was worse: an American spy for Israel, or an Al Jazeera reporter – both were pretty much on a par.

Most of the our days were spent listening to the sounds of young men being brutally interrogated – sometimes tied up in stress positions until it sounded like their bones were cracking.

 I was dragged, kicking and screaming, onto a flight bound for Tehran (I'd entered Syria with an Iranian passport). Call it a strange brand of extraordinary rendition, if you will. The Syrian authorities had alleged to the Iranians that I was a spy – a charge that can carry a death penalty in Iran.

Fortunately, in my case, the facts were borne out. On May 18 I was released.  Although I have written critically of some of Iran's policies, I was treated with respect, courtesy and care thoughout my detention there.

Fatah and Hamas Reconciliation
(Al Jazeera 4/27/11)
Excerpts also from: Guardian UK and PalestinianNote Blog

Fatah, the Palestinian political organisation, has reached an agreement with its rival Hamas that covers all points of contention, including forming a transitional government, security arrangements and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to allow Hamas to join it. A general election would take place within a year.

The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas came about in part thanks to the efforts of Egypt's post-Mubarak government. No fewer than five Israeli delegations were dispatched in the space of a few weeks in an effort to ward off any unity deal.

The news came as a surprise to many, most of all to Netanyahu who gave Mahmoud Abbas a choice: "The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both," he said. Netanyahu forgetting that Mahmoud Abbas has been knocking on the doors of Israel and begging for peace with or without Hamas for over 20 years and there was one answer, the Jewish Occupation and expansion of Jewish settlement colonies more important than peace with the Palestinians.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst: " Abbas has lost his patron in Egypt, Mubarak, and Hamas is more or less facing almost similar trouble now, with Bashar Al-Assad [Syria's president] facing his own trouble in Damascus." Most of Hamas's leadership is based in Damascus.

Saree Makdisi, a Palestinian scholar at the Univ of CA: "...with the U.S. keeping a distance, Israel not delivering the goods on the peace process and the settlements, it was time for Palestinians to come together."

Both organizations are afraid its leadership may face the same fate of both Hosni Mubarak and Bashar Al-Assad, and pre-empted all of this with a quick announcement of reconciliation.

With pro-reconciliation demonstrations bringing thousands to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank in mid-March, and a fresh push on the ground to reanimate the long-dysfunctional Palestinian National Council as a forum of national unification, the political climate was pushing both factions in one direction – and this week's announcement is the result.

Hypocrisy and Doublespeak in the Arab Spring
(Mark Levine opinion piece ; Aljazeera 4/22/11)
Arming Libyan rebels while supporting the intensifying repression in Bahrain (or Palestine, or Saudi Arabia, or other vital strategic partners) creates a level of hypocrisy and doublespeak that sows confusion among governments and protesters alike across the region.

Secretary of State Clinton spoke of the hypocrisy of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and al-Qaeda in their denunciations of violence in one country while endorsing it in their own situations.
She seemed not to notice that the crimes which she found so objectionable – beating, detaining, and even killing protesters and innocent civilians – are routinely committed by American allies, from Bahrain to Israel.

Clinton lamented that the region is "overly dependent on oil exports and stunted by corruption," that its countries are less industrialised in 2007 than in 1970 and are bedevilled by "growing poverty...while a small elite has increasingly concentrated control of the region's land and wealth in their hands". What she doesn't acknowledge is that this situation is in good measure the natural outcome of decades of US and European imposed policies.

The doublespeak and hypocrisy could very soon come to haunt the Syrian democracy movement. Reports that the US has given aid to pro-democracy protesters could easily be used to justify even harsher government repression against pro-democracy activists.

More broadly, the hypocrisy and linguistic contortions in which Western leaders are forced to engage cheapens their discourse and weakens not merely its rhetorical power, but the positive impact it could and should be having at this crucial moment.

Perhaps most upsetting, Clinton congratulated herself on supporting women; yet she was silent about the case of Zainab al-Khawaja, the wife and daughter of prominent Bahraini human rights activists jailed by the government, who is now hospitalised with a low pulse and acute pain after days of a hunger strike.

UC Hastings Law School pulls sponsorship and blocks welcoming speech by dean at conference which focused on using courts to promote Palestinians' rights. Hastings faculty condemns violation of academic freedom.
(SF Chronicle, Bob Egelko 4/13/11)

The conference, titled "
Litigating Palestine," took place at the San Francisco campus March 25 and 26. The 13 speakers - four of them Jewish, according to a school official - discussed legal issues and court cases involving Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, protests, consumer boycotts and related topics.

The event, approved by Hastings' faculty, had listed the school's foundation as a co-sponsor along with the Trans-Arab Research Institute.

But at the last minute as a result of complaints by various Jewish organizations including the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, decided to "take all steps necessary to remove the UC Hastings name and brand" from the conference. Jewish Community Relations Council,

Executive Director Rabbi Doug Kahn, said the conference was one sided and "an anti-Israel political organizing conference using law as a weapon." The board also dropped plans for a welcoming speech by Frank Wu, the school's dean and chancellor.

Wu issued a statement the next day saying Hastings understands that the topic "prompts strong feeings on all sides," but believes that convening such gatherings is "among our responsibilities as an academic institution."

The board's cancellation of Wu's address "interfered in the academic freedom of our institution," said the conference organizer, George Bisharat, a Hastings professor. Bisharat said opponents had wrongly accused the conference of "Israeli-bashing" and were also off base in arguing that the event was biased because none of the speakers supported Israel's conservative government. The purpose was to train lawyers in defending Palestinian rights, not to debate whether those rights exist, he said.

"If you had a conference on Holocaust reparation cases, you wouldn't include Holocaust deniers," Bisharat said. "One of the key premises of the conference was that lawful and peaceful means of resolving disputes ought to be encouraged."

Basil Plastiras, president of Hastings' fundraising foundation, which had been listed as co-sponsor, said the school has hosted many conferences on litigating human-rights cases in foreign countries and never found it necessary to include "balancing" comments from representatives of those countries.

The directors' action dismayed Hastings' faculty. Nearly all of its tenured professors signed a letter to the board last week saying that academic freedom includes providing forums for controversial topics.

"100% Jewish, 100% Palestinian" actor/director/political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis murdered outside Freedom Theater he ran in a refugee camp in West Bank city of Jenin (audio: The World 4/7/11)

Actor-Director's Death felt by Israelis, Palestinians
(Click link for text + audio fr
All Things Considered , 4/8/11)


Mer-Khamis was born to an Israeli Jewish mother and Palestinian Christian father. His life's work used art to teach Israelis and Palestinians about each other, and encourage Palestinian resistance through his Freedom Theatre in Jenin.

A school children's play in Jenin is one of the opening scenes in the movie that made Mer Khamis both a political and artistic icon. The movie, called Arna's Children, follows his mother, whom Mer Khamis described as a controversial figure."In 1989, my mother started a project in the refugee camp of Jenin," he narrates in the film. "The aim of this project was to educate and support the children of the camp."
It's a look at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and its first students in the 1990s. He follows their lives in the ensuing years. Many have died violently — some as fighters or suicide bombers — during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
The refugee camp in Jenin was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during that conflict and the base for many of the fiercest militant groups. It was from among their ranks that Mer Khamis and his mother found many of their future thespians.

Several suspects have been arrested since the shooting, one of them a well-know member of a conservative Islamist group that opposed the theater and tried to burn it down several times.
Nabil al-Ra'ee, one of the Freedom Theatre's directors, says that conservative Muslims were angered that Mer Khamis allowed men and women to appear on stage together, and that students were exposed to what he called "progressive ideology" in plays such as Animal Farm.
After Thursday's ceremony in Jenin, the mourners marched through the twisting alleyways of the refugee camp. They played Mer Khamis's favorite songs from a car speaker. Songs about a Palestinian state, about peace and about art.
It was what Mer Khamis would have wanted, they said. One last chance to reach out to the community.

J Street Stirs Debate on Being Pro-Israel (Ethan Bronnner, NYtimes 3/24/11)
Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founder: “We should work through our differences with respect, vibrant discussion and open dialogue,” he told (Israels' Knesset) legislators. “It only weakens Israel and the Jewish people to make differences of opinion into something greater and to accuse those who criticize Israeli policy of being anti-Israel or worse.”

David Gilo, who is the chairman of J Street, said in the hearing that the contract that had long existed between Israel and Jews abroad — one of unconditional support — was expiring and a new one was being drafted. He argued that the new contract was good not only for those abroad but for Israel as well, since it would bring into the fold those who would otherwise be alienated. “The new contract cannot be based on unilateral dictation of what is right, who is right and who is wrong,” he said. “Only agreement on common values and a genuine attempt to understand where each party comes from can reinstate an Israeli-American Jewish partnership.”

Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at Hebrew University who did not attend the hearing, said J Street was in a problematic position because “it is very difficult to be an advocacy group while criticizing the subject of your advocacy. It is difficult to say we are the greatest supporters of Israel but on every issue that arises we are on the other side.”
He added that the extreme right in Israel had always insisted that criticism of Israeli policy was unpatriotic. Now, the extreme right has more power than ever in the country’s history, he said, giving its views a greater platform.
Mr. Danon, the Likud chairman of the committee holding the hearing, said he would put to a vote in the coming two weeks a resolution calling J Street pro-Palestinian, asking it to “purge from its ranks” anti-Zionist elements and urging Israeli government officials to refrain from contact with it.

Gaza Corner profiles young Palestinian kanun virtuoso Ali Amr who journeyed from Ramallah (West Bank) to Boston's Berkelee School of Music
Qanun virtuoso Ali Amr was born in 1991 in Morocco and moved to Ramallah at the age of 6. A talented musician from early on, world renowned Palestinian oudist/violinist Simon Shaheen recognized his talent at the age of 10. Ali attended the Edward Said Conservatory in Ramallah for 11 years, graduating in 2007. In 2009 he became only the second Palestinian student and the youngest ever admitted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

How do you think growing up in the middle of conflict affected your music?
(excerpted from above link)

The war, it's the worst thing anyone can have, in all aspects. It made me see and feel things that I wouldn't if I were in any other place. Music was my support through it all. I was really influenced by war to create music, and by music to fight against war. My family and the whole community could not leave their homes for more than a month. Every time our frustration increased, music comforted us. Music gave me a space where I could translate anger into music, hunger into music, and fear into music. As I was improvising the machine guns continued my melody. Music helped me absorb the scenes of violence and torture, and gave me a space where I could translate negatives into positives.  I got used to not having a normal life.
Now I enjoy every second of my life as a Berklee student. Along with learning, I'm also representing Palestine. Being a good musician who is able to help people—I represent that Palestinians are a helpful, giving people. We want to overcome war and find peace. Music is peace.

Youtube video link to the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Band featuring Ali Amr (qanun) and Sarpay Ozcagatay (flute). Composition is "Al Qantara" written by Simon Shaheen.
Journalists Under Attack in Libya; Two Killed, At Least 10 Others Missing  and More Than 50 Other Anti-Press Attacks including Arrests and Assaults (CPJ: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Earlier today (March 19) Mohammed Nabbous, the founder of Libya AlHurra TV, which has been hosting a livestream from Benghazi, was killed while reporting on the attacks from the pro-Gaddafi forces.  He leaves behind a pregnant wife. CNN touching tribute here.

Listen to chilling audio of Mohammed Nabbous' final broadcast amid intense machine gun fire when he was killed reportedly from sniper fire.

CPJ's deputy director
Robert Mahoney stated "Al-Jazeera has been subjected to sustained invective by pro-Qaddafi forces for its coverage of the Libyan conflict."Wadah Khanfar, the director-general of Al-Jazeera, said on the air that the attack on the station's journalists came after "an unprecedented campaign of incitement by the Libyan regime" on Al-Jazeera and its staff.

Foreign journalists have been hampered by pro-Qaddafi forces since fighting began in February, and one foreign correspondent remains in detention. Libyan Foreign Ministry in Tripoli acknowledged that Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a correspondent for London's Guardian newspaper, was in state custody, the newspaper reported Thursday.
Four New York Times reporters who were detaned by Pro Ghadaffi forces have been promised safe return by Ghadafi's son. Also, at least three local journalists have gone missing after contributing to Al-Jazeera's coverage from Libya.

Since Libya's political unrest erupted last month, CPJ has documented more than 40 attacks on the press. They include 25 detentions, five assaults, two attacks on news facilities. At least six local journalists are unaccounted for as of today. Numerous journalists have also reported the confiscation of equipment.

Libya: Urgent Priority Must Be Given to Doctors and Medical Materials (2/25+26/11)
     Since the onset of violent clashes in Libya on February 17, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been trying to position emergency personnel and supplies into the country by any means possible, including by land and air. Despite the urgent need for medical assistance in Libya, an MSF team carrying medical supplies, including kits for treating war-related injuries, has been blocked for two days at the Tunisian border. Another MSF team had reached Tripoli by airplane but was denied entry to the country and had to turn back.
     Two trucks managed to cross from Egypt into Libya yesterday loaded with drugs and medical supplies and have arrived in Benghazi. The team visited three medical facilities: Al Jalaa Hospital, Al Hawari Hospital, and Benghazi Medical Centre (BMC). Each of them is well equipped and have managed to deal with the numbers of wounded people and medical needs. However, they are facing some shortages of medical material and drugs—dressings for wounds, sutures, anesthesia drugs, and external fixators. MSF will provide the needed materials to the BMC. They will also train the local teams in the management of mass casualties so they will be prepared in case of new clashes.Today (the 26th), the MSF team is assessing two additional health facilities in Benghazi and is making contacts in order to continue medical assessments further west in the country.
     Travel by road to the capital, Tripoli, where medical needs are estimated to be immense, is said to be almost impossible for now due to insecurity. Continually updated MSF info here and above info also taken from this article:
MSF Completes First Medical Evaluation of Medical Facilities in Benghazi

Syria: A Kingdon of Silence (Al Jazeera  2/09/11)
Excerpt:  
Authoritarian rule, corruption and economic hardship are characteristics Syria share with both Egypt and Tunisia. However, factors such as a relatively popular, young  president and religious diversity make an uprising in the country unlikely. Also people in Syria are more afraid of the government and the security forces than they were in Egypt.
The proximity to Iraq, another ethnically and religiously diverse country, is believed to play a major role in Syria's reluctance for political change. About a million Iraqi refugees have come to Syria since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraqi refugees are a cautionary tale for Syrians. They have seen what happens when regime change goes wrong. They don't trust democracy.

 

      Excerpt:
And then there is the latest fright word, the Muslim Brotherhood. You would never know it from Halevi, but the Brotherhood is non-violent, has always opposed al-Qaeda, and condemned 9/11 and other acts of international terrorism.
Yes, they are an Islamic organization which would prefer an Egypt based on Islamic law, much as the Shas party - a significant part of Israel's ruling coalition - pushes for an Israel based on its extreme interpretation of Torah.
Halevi (and other lobby types) may want the Muslim Brotherhood to be terrorists but, sadly for them, that is not true. And, besides, the January 25 revolution is not a Muslim Brotherhood revolution. They support it - almost all Egyptians do - but that does not make it theirs. Nor do they claim otherwise.
The bottom line: I am happy for the Egyptian people, but I am sad for Israel - not because it is genuinely threatened by this revolution but because Israel's leaders seem determined to turn the revolution against them.


Palestine Papers article that links to several articles and to the document archive itself.
(Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, 2/02/11)

The Palestine Papers were released by Al Jazeera and the Guardian UK on January 23. These 1600 documents, dated from 1999 to 2010, including minutes, reports, emails, maps and presentations, constitute the largest leak and the deepest insight into the failed "peace process" ever.
Israelis discover a new love for Mubarak
(Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service, 2/4/11)
Egypt's State Media continues to resort to fear mongering and conspiracy theories by delivering xenophobic and divisive messages blaming the peoples' uprising on Al Jazeera, the Muslim Brotherhood and foreign agents from Hamas, Hezbollah and also the United States and even Israel. However, Israel is one of Mubarak's biggest fans.
The above linked article includes quotes from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that underscore his fear of losing Mubarak. Echoing  American right wing commentators and politicians,
Netanyahu warned that what had happened in Iran in 1979 could happen in Egypt: “Our real fear is of a situation that could develop – and which has already developed in several countries, including Iran itself – repressive regimes of radical Islam.” (Playing the fear of Islam game, has been a handy tactic for Mubarak to secure billions in American military aid.)
Netanyahu also declared, “The basis of our stability, our future and for maintaining peace or widening it, particularly in unstable times – this basis lies in bolstering Israel’s might.”

And in a surprising twist, earlier today
at the Munich Security conference Obama's special envoy for Egypt Frank Wisner appeared to contradict the U.S. administration's stance by
stating "We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward.
The president must stay in office to steer those changes," Frank Wisner told the Munich Security Conference.

Peace Now at Tel Aviv Rally: Lieberman Threat Greater Than Iran (Haaretz, 1/15/11)
Protesters in Tel Aviv carry signs with slogans such as 'Danger! End of Democracy Ahead' in response to Lieberman's call to investigate funding sources of Israeli human rights groups.
Knesset to Investigate Left Wingers
(Blog by'liberal Zionist' Liam Getreu)

Excerpt:
Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer deemed the move “another step on the path toward wiping out democracy in Israel” and as a blatant attempt to persecute critics of Israeli policy.
The New Israel Fund said the Knesset’s approval “proves how much the stature of Israeli democracy has deteriorated – even in the house of legislators.”
“Democracy cannot function properly without freedom of expression, freedom to sound criticism of the system, and active human rights groups,” said the NIF.
“The political persecution of human rights group causes great damage to Israel across the world, and that is precisely what will lead to the delegitimization [of Israel] and the representation of it as a McCarthyite state in which a witch hunt is taking place,” added the NIF.
“Such behavior, particularly within the walls of Israel’s parliament, will harm our stance in the world and distance us precisely from the democracies that still support us and want in our favor.”
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel called the legislation “authoritarian, immoral and illegitimate”, adding that it mourns the “slow but sure death” of democratic values in Israel.
  
Member of Silwan Neighborhood Committee Banished from Jerusalem on Day of Planned Eviction and Installment of New Settlement (12/26/10)
Excerpt:

Adnan Gheith, a member of the Al-Bustan Neighborhood Committee was officially notified of an order expelling him from Jerusalem. The order is not part of a judicial process, does not include charges and is based on secret material. This affirms Silwan's residents fears that the expulsion order against Gheith is aimed at pacifying legitimate protest, political activity and grassroots activism.
In view of the brutal tactics of repression employed by police against the community in the service of the Elad organization and the Silwan settlers, it is clear that Adnan Gheith’s expulsion constitutes an experimental exercise of power on part of the Israeli Police, the Shin Bet and the Israeli Army, intended to prepare the ground for massive home demolitions in the al-Bustan neighborhood and for a deepening Jewish settlement in Silwan.
It would seem as if the Israeli government is now turning to unconstitutional and undemocratic means in the face of Palestinian and international pressure to end settlement in East Jerusalem.
                     Read full article including background information
The 31st Right Livelihood Award, aka The Alternative Nobel, was awarded to Four Human Rights Activists including Dr. Ruchama Marton Founder and President of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR Israel)
Dr. Ruchama Marton Acceptance Speech Excerpt:
(click above link for entire speech)

We are  as resolute in our action and advocacy for ending the occupation, in our struggle for the right to health of Palestinians living under occupation.
Recently there is growing denunciation of members of our Human Rights community as traitors. Our demand for true equality and our alternative world view to the militaristic approach in education and policy making are the root cause for that denunciation. The attack is multi-layered; it comes via legislation, the media, right wing academics and NGOs.
Today, when different NGOs are being delegitimized, especially those advocating human rights for Palestinians under occupation, or striving to achieve a more inclusive society, doctors might be hesitant to join us. The State becomes more and more ethnocentric, and democratic values are compromised. Yet, this is exactly the time when more doctors are needed to make our voice louder, stronger. Because medicine and health are a powerful way to address the dangerous trend we are facing.
We live in a society that chooses to live a life of deception: believing that Israelis are the only victims; that the long occupation is necessary for security; that we are a true democracy with no racism or xenophobia, no apartheid regime.
Because health is used by the regime as a means of controlling its citizens, of undocumented people and Palestinians under occupation, it is through the right to health that we can best struggle against such control.
Let us join voices and be heard loud and clear. For Silence is the language of complicity, but speaking out is the language of change.
Dr. Ruchama Marton
Founder and President of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR Israel) Alternative Nobel Acceptance Speech (12/6/10)

The Carmel wild fire is burning all illusions In Israel
...its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country's infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens. Max Blumenthal, Electronic Intifada 12/6/10

Israeli firefighters have complained for years of undersized crews, outdated equipment and minimal supplies. While Israel has a highly sophisticated air force, its firefighting force of 1,400 doesn't have a single plane. It ran out of flame retardants on the first day of the blaze.
AP, 12/5/10

Turkey joined the fight against the fire and Turkish planes were seen scattering powdery white flame retardant over the smoky hills...Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the help did not mean ties would return to normal and that his country still expected an apology and compensation for the (flotilla) victims.  Hurriyet Daily News, 12/3/10

NGO Monitor Smears Electronic Intifada, Tries to Cut Funding
"NGO Monitor was captured perfectly in The Forward by liberal jewish thinker Leonard Fine who said it was 'an organization that believes that the best way to defend Israel is to condemn anyone who criticizes it.' But now, no longer satisfied with its McCarthyite efforts to not just condemn, but actually take down respected human rights organizations, it is seeking to stop critical funding of the Electronic Intifada, a key media source for information and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."(Cecilie Surasky, Muzzlewatch, 12/4/10)
Muzzlewatch tracks efforts to stifle open debate about US-Israeli foreign policy.
Israel urged to repossess settlers' homes in East Jerusalem
Israeli jurists are trying to forge a legal solution based on a 1999 legal opinion by former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz who stated land belonging to Irwin Moskowitz, the patron of East Jerusalem settlers, may be confiscated to prevent the construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the heart of a Palestinian one. It could also be confiscated to preserve public order and avoid damage to Israel.
"Every Jew without exception who lived in this neighborhood in 1948 was compensated with properties on the western side. So the whole story is nonsense," Former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair said, referring to settler associations seeking to resettle Jews in formerly Jewish-owned properties in East Jerusalem. "This is another reason we must accept the results of the War of Independence, otherwise there is no chance of a peace agreement."
Avner Inbar, a leader of Sheik Jarrah Solidarity Movement, said "...Israel is discriminating against the Palestinians and is doing everything to evict and dispossess them."

Haaretz 11/12/10

Hip-Hop takes on the Evil Empire; Hip-Hop as Global Resistance
In my travels throughout the Middle East I encountered a hip-hop reborn...A popular hip hop crew I met in Gaza was DARG (Da Arabian Revolutionary Guys), who had been unable to tour abroad since the illegal blockade began. The blockade, which has long kept necessary supplies from reaching the people of Gaza, was also designed to keep the people of Gaza from exporting their story to the world. Hip-hop has presented itself to Arab youth as one of the few tools available to them to remind the western world, in its own language, that they are still here, and that they will not be silenced.           
Huffington Post by activist and filmmaker Iara Lee 7/27/10

Just Who is Misguided
by Matthew Taylor (Jewish Voice for Peace [JVP] )

Disaffected with the mainstream American leadership's "Israel: Right or wrong" attitude, the participants at JVP's gathering, the Young Jewish Leadership Institute, outlined a vision for engagement with the Israel/Palestine problem. "We won't buy the logic that slaughter means safety," the group wrote in its declaration, which is posted at youngjewishproud.org...as highly educated Jews who've personally witnessed the brutality of the occupation, we feel a moral obligation to take action. We young Jews won't back down, our numbers are growing, and we will win. Israel will change its cruel, self-destructive behavior. We won't rest until Israelis and Palestinians live together in true equality, safety and mutual respect.
Haaretz  11/12/10
Riots Grip East Jerusalem  by Mel Frykberg
Rioting has continued for the 5th consecutive day in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan .
In an all too familiar scenario a growing number of unarmed Palestinians have been shot dead by armed Israelis in situations that critics and human rights organisations argue are questionable at best and deliberate executions at worst.
he Jerusalem municipality has demolished many Palestinian homes. The planned demolition of dozens more homes, the eviction of many Palestinian residents, and the pending eviction of hundreds more to make way for illegal Jewish settlements and a Jewish theme park has led to a time-bomb waiting to explode. 
IPS News 9/27/10

Most Detailed and Straight Talking Eyewitness Account of Gaza Flotilla Raid
On May 31, former U.S. Marine Kenneth O'Keefe was aboard the Mavi Marmara in the Free Gaza flotilla. He witnessed the passengers' preparations for the takeover by Israel troops and the violence that followed that resulted in nine dead.
A must read for anyone interested.  Haaretz 9/24/10

Does U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine Uphold  American Values? Report of Mock Congressional Hearing Prepared by the American Friends  Services Committee   Mondoweiss.net 9/310
AFSC is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace programs and humanitarian service.

The question was not only to consider whether U.S. policy is in our interests, but also whether that policy in fact upholds American values. The hearing brought together experts to tell the seldom-heard stories from Israel-Palestine. Their testimonies raised critical questions about U.S. policy and its role in supporting the actions of the Israeli government. The three topics addressed were: Property Rights, Freedom of Movement, and Military Aid and Armaments. If you click here, a 29 page pdf file can be accessed as well as a video of the hearing.

Israel Planning to Attack Hezbollah Arms Depots in Syria  Haaretz 8/28/10
The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reports that Israel is preparing to strike Hezbollah targets in Syria. The Al Rai report said that the situation on the Israel-Syria border is tense and that Syria could respond immediately to any Israeli attack and not demonstrate the restraint that it did after the Israeli Air Force bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in the fall of 2007.

Israeli Army's Female Recruits Denounce Treatment of Palestinians Guardian (UK) 8/22/10
A handful of former Israeli servicewomen have spoken out about their military experiences, a move that has brought accusations of betrayal and disloyalty.

Inbar Michelzon "I left the army with a ticking bomb in my belly. I felt I saw the backyard of Israel. I saw something that people don't speak about. It's almost like I know a dirty secret of a nation and I need to speak out."

Dana Golan:"It occurred to me that sometimes we're doing things that just create victims. To be a good occupier, we have to create conflict."

Israel Razes Bedouin Negev Village Again Aljazeera August 10, 2010
Eyewitness Joseph Dana, a writer and filmmaker living in Jerusalem, stated "One simply cannot imagine the scene when 200 armed combat police officers descend on a village in the desert at 05:00am (0200 GMT), while a construction crew systemically demolishes every structure leaving the residents literally in the open desert air with nothing." Background story: Electronic Intifada July 28,2010

Eight Palestinian Youths and the Crime They Didn't Commit
"When detainees are suspected of minor offenses (such as stone throwing or demonstrating ), and especially when they are minors, the length of time they are held in custody often exceeds the maximum possible prison term. Therefore, defendants often feel pressured to reach a deal with the prosecution and plead guilty, even when they are not or when the evidence is weak. But this time, the pressure evidently did not work."


Israel: We won't assist 'obsessive' UN Gaza flotilla probe  Haaretz  7/25/10
According to a senior Israeli official, the sense at the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office is that cooperating with the investigative committee would only confer legitimacy upon the UNHRC, which has consistently acted against Israel. The three-member U.N. panel is to submit its conclusions by mid-September, before which it is expected to try and visit Israel, Gaza and Turkey. In light of Jerusalem's expected decision not to cooperate with the panel, it is not thought the members will be allowed into Israel.

Foreign Press Association in Israel Condemns "Recent Policy Change" by the IDF and Border Police in Regards to Journalists Covering Events in the West Bank (Haaretz 7/17/10)
"Over the past months journalists covering these events have been harassed, arrested and attacked by the various on site forces before these forces turn their attention to the activists or demonstrators...open, unhindered coverage of news events is a widely acknowledged part of the essence of democracy.
Generally speaking this would not include smashing the face of a clearly marked photographer working for a known and accredited news organization with a stick, or for that matter aiming a stun grenade at the head of a clearly marked news photographer or summarily arresting cameramen, photographers and/or journalists."
(The latter refers to two Palestinian photojournalists injured during a protest in the southern West Bank town of Beit Umar, near Hebronon July 17.)


"Israel Imprisoned My Father for Nonviolently Resisting the Occupation" Electronic Intifada  7/16/10

Saeed Amireh writes about his father's pursuit of non-violent resistance from Nilin, occupied West Bank.
Gaza Bound Libyan Aid Ship  Haaretz 7/10/10
also Aljazeera 7/10/10
Charity organization bringing 2000 tons of aid is headed by the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

How to Win with Hamas Opinion by Bradley Buston
Haaretz 7/2/10

"It is finally time for Israel to radically revise its thinking about Hamas."

Demolitions, New Settlements in East Jerusalem Could Amount to War Crimes according to U.N. Expert  U.N. News Service 6/29/10

“This situation should be seen within the context of Israel’s persistent, systematic approach to driving Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, including by denying them permission to construct homes, declaring their homes illegal, forcibly removing families, and then destroying their homes – all to make way for Israeli settlements."

Jewish Settlers Target 'Shared Cities' Aljazeera 6/21/10

"There are 498 court cases to kick people out of  their homes. Of these all but one are against Arab families. Gentrification is being used as a means of ethnic cleansing, in effect".

Nothing short of the full lifting of Israel's blockade on Gaza would allow the territory to be rebuilt, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees said, a day after Israel said it would ease its siege.

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) video of Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations in the Middle East (6/14/10)

excerpt:
Closure imposed on the Gaza Strip constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law.
ICRC Report on Gaza Closure 6/14/10

Conclusion: "The hardship faced by Gaza's 1.5 million people cannot be addressed by providing humanitarian aid. The only sustainable solution is to lift the closure."

B'Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) Annual Report 2009-2010


Malian Bambara Guitarist Lobi Traore RIP 1961-2010


Gaza Blockade Fact Sheet (Foreign Policy 6/3/10)



Egypt: Gaza Blockade a Failure, Border Stays Open   Guardian UK 6/7/10


Israeli Military Diverts Rachel Corrie Aid Ship to Ashdod   New York Times 6/5/10


Gaza flotilla attack:  Autopsies reveal intensity of Israeli military force (Guardian UK 6/5/10)


At least 4 Palestinian flotilla passengers remain under house arrest

Free Gaza Movement board director, Lubna Masarwa, Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Mohammed Zeidan, Director of International Advocacy Programme for the Arab Association for Human Rights. and Hamed abu Dabis are facing multiple criminal offences for their participation in the Gaza humanitarian flotilla. After a full day in court they were remanded until June 8, evidence of how serious the situation is for these four human rights workers.

French Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says 16 journalists being held at Beer Sheva detention center.    (en.rsf.org 6/2/10)

Inside the Israeli PR Machine (Guardian UK 6/4/2010)

Under Scrutiny, IDF Retracts Claims About Flotilla's Al Qaeda Links (Max Blumenthal, 6/3/10)

N.Y. Times Op-eds Recycle Israeli Propaganda on the Gaza Flotilla Attack
Window into Palestine  6/4/10


Video testimony of British survivor Sarah Colborne who was on Mavi Marmara Guardian UK 6/3/10

Eye witness video from Al Jazeera correspondent Jamal Elshayyal who was on the Mavi Marmara


Excerpt:

"No doubt from what I saw live ammunition was fired before any Israeli soldier was on deck, firing (live bullets) almost indiscrimiately from a helicopter.


When the Israeli soldiers came on board, they stood outside the cabin where eveyone was gathered and people put up signs in English and Hebrew saying these people are injured  and waved white flags. An Israeli Knesset member (Haneen Zou’b) approached the soldiers saying there are injured people please come and take them but the Israelis refused. 3 hours later all 3 of those people ended up dying on the spot because no one came to take them."

Nine people - eight Turks and a US national of Turkish origin- were killed in Monday's raid on the Mavi Mamara. Turkish media estimates 15-20,000 mourners poured onto the streets around the Fatih Mosque in Istanbul. Turkish president Abdullah Gul said Israel's military raid on civilian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip has caused "irreparable" damage to his country's relations with Israel, and will "never" be forgiven.  Aljazeera.net  6/3/10


The leader of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation or, İHH, Bülent Yıldırım, said he saw Israeli soldiers shoot a photographer and an activist who had already surrendered.

"We were witnesses to premeditated murders," said Swedish historian Mattias Gardell. Hurriyet Daily News 6/3/10


15-20,000 mourn flotilla deaths in Istanbul; "Irreparable damage to relations with Israel"

Nine people - eight Turks and an American citizen  were killed in Monday's raid on the Mavi Mamara. Reports in the Turkish press identified the American as Furkan Dogan, 19, who was born in the United States before returning to Turkey with his family as a young child. The Cihan news agency reported that Mr. Dogan had one bullet in the chest and four bullets fired into his head from close range.

Turkish media estimates 15-20,000 mourners
poured onto the streets. The demonstration came as Turkish forensic experts confirmed that the nine activists had been shot dead.

Turkish president Abdullah Gul said Israel's military raid on civilian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip has caused "irreparable" damage to his country's relations with Israel, and will "never" be forgiven.  Aljazeera.net 6/3/10;  New York Times 6/3/10

Gaza Links for most up-to-date information:

Live blog coverage: Aftermath of Israel's flotilla raid via Ajazeera

Free Gaza Twitter Feed

Stream Aljazeera TV via Livestation
 
Aljazeera TV features outstanding indepth coverage. It is only available via free computer download in the U.S., as cable companies refuse to carry it.

Hurriyet Daily News (Turkish perspective)

Two article links follow - the opinion piece by Stephen Walt is an excellent read:

Israel's Latest Brutal Blunder by Stephen Walt (Foreign Policy, 5/31/10) 

Gaza Freedom flotilla carried world-renowned names and veteran activists (Guardian UK 5/31/10)

I am sickened and outraged by Israel's failure to use all peaceful means necessary to avoid the use of killing force.

Israeli IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich claims:

1)  There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (Avigdor
Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister also states this.)


2)  The flotilla activists were affiliated with Hamas, and as such, the convoy was not intended to be a humanitarian project.


3) She alleged the activists had sharp objects and clubs, and initiated light fire so the response was justified. (Her version is an activist took away a gun from a commando.)

4) She did admit that the commando raid took place outside Israeli waters.

The Israeli propaganda line denying a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is almost as offensive as folks who deny the Holocaust.

Attacking an unarmed civilian vessel in international waters is in violation of international law. The occupation and siege of Gaza is already in violation of international human rights law.

The Hamas connection asserted by Leibovich is not true.

Turkey's İHH, Humanitarian Aid Foundation, was the main organizer of the flotilla aid shipments. The Mavi Marmara ship was the target of the commando attack. The latest count is 19 killed, including 6 Turks. This is not confirmed  as Israel has refused to release details of the dead and wounded.

Of  the nearly 600 people on the Mavi Marmara, roughly 400 were Turkish citizens. Among the people on the flotilla were 1976 Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and European legislators.

Families of those attacked on Turkish aid ship devastated (Hurriyet Daily News 5/31/10)

UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Richard Falk: "It is essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts.” 5/31/10

Israel's obligations under international law
(Btselem: The Israeli Information Cente for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories)


US journalist Lori Berenson granted parole in Peru after 15 years in jail.  Sentenced to life for helping MRTA rebels, Berenson cannot leave Peru until 2015

She will be freed with her son, who was born in jail, in the next few days but cannot leave Peru until her sentence for terrorist collaboration ends in November 2015.

The politically committed former student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology pleaded not guilty to all charges but, after evidence against her had been given in secret in a non-jury trial, she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses. After an intense campaign, Berenson was retried in a civilian court in 2001 and convicted of the lesser crime of aiding a revolutionary group and her sentence reduced to 20 years.


Guardian UK 5/26/10

A Turkey-Brazil diplomatic initiative to defuse the Iran crisis caught the Obama administration off-guard, writes Ray McGovern (former CIA analyst).

The United States and Israel no longer dictate to the rest of the world how crises in the Middle East must be handled with leaders such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva displaying the audacity to ignore U.S. warnings and press ahead with diplomacy to head off a possible new war, this one over Iran.

Consortium News 5/19/10

Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel in protest at treatment of Palestinians

Singer says he acted on 'conscience', as he joins a list of performers including Gil Scot-Heron, Carlos Santana and Bono/U2.

Israeli authorities prevented the Jewish American academic Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank on May 9th to give a lecture at a Palestinian university near Ramallah. Chomsky was told that the Israeli authorities did not like his political views.

Guardian (UK) 5/18/10


ISRAELI SOLDIERS SPEAK OUT ON GAZA

"A group of soldiers who took part in Israel's assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under 'permissive' rules of engagement" according to a 7/15/09 BBC report.

"The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said civilians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence (click for full report) a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers."

ISRAEL AND IRAN

This article caught my eye: "Israel may have already started a war against Iran's nuclear program not with bunker busting bombs and cruise missiles, but with computers." (7/8/09)

Gazans 'Live In Despair' (June 29,2009 BBC article)

The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza as people "trapped in despair". In its report the Red Cross said the main cause is the two year Israeli blockade.


Six months ago Israel ended its 25 day assault on Gaza in which at least 1,100 Palestinians died.

The Red Cross says residents lack adequate shelter after homes were destroyed. Building materials, pipes and spare parts are urgently needed. Basic medicines and reliable hospital equipment are in short supply. The water supply is patchy and sanitation is at the point of collapse.

Poverty is at what the Red Cross calls an "alarming" level with large numbers of children malnourished.

A US air strike in Afghanistan killed 47 civilians, 39 of them women and children, an Afghan government investigating team says. The eight other people who died were between the ages of 14 and 18. Local people said the dead were wedding party guests. (BBC July 11,2008)

Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. Seymour Hersh (New Yorker Magazine, July 7, 2008)

Seymour Hersh Audio

Secretly shot film reveals how Mugabe stole Zimbabwe's election
Guardian (UK) July 5, 2008

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report. Guardian (UK) July 4, 2008

Time to put the brakes on biofuels - Oxfam commentary Guardian (UK) July 4, 2008

Italy's compulsory fingerprinting of Roma (Gypsy)population is reminiscent of Mussolini and Hitler.
Independent (UK) June 27, 2008
Guardian (UK) July 1, 2008
On-line Petition

Esbjorn Svensson leader of tangential jazz trio EST dies in scuba diving accident
Guardian (UK) June 17,2008


Link for band member thoughts and book of condolences

Saban Bajramovic "King of Roma Music" dies
Independent (UK) June 12, 2008
Timesonline (UK) June 23, 2008

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