Briefing Paper October 2011

The grumpy diplomats of the rogue state

Ilan Pappe The Electronic Intifada 22/07/11

The real reason for Israeli diplomats’ headaches.

The Israeli ambassador to Spain, Raphael Schutz, has just finished his term in Madrid. In an op-ed in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition he summarized what he termed as a very dismal stay and seemed genuinely relieved to leave.

This kind of complaint now seems to be the standard farewell letter of all Israeli ambassadors in Western Europe. Schutz was preceded by the Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, on his way to his new posting at the United Nations in New York, complaining very much in the same tone about his inability to speak in campuses in the United Kingdom and whining about the overall hostile atmosphere. Before him the ambassador in Dublin expressed similar relief when he ended his term in office in Ireland.

All three grumblers were pathetic but the last one from Spain topped them all. Like his colleagues in Dublin and in London he blamed his dismal time on local and ancient anti-Semitism. His two friends in the other capitals were very vague about the source of the new anti-Semitism as both in British and Irish history it is difficult to single out, after medieval times, a particular period of anti-Semitism.

But the ambassador in Madrid without any hesitation laid the blame for his trials and tribulations on the fifteenth century Spanish Inquisition. Thus the people of Spain (his article was entitled “Why the Spanish hate us”) are anti-Israeli because they are either unable to accept their responsibility for the Inquisition or they still endorse it by other means in our times.

This idea that young Spaniards should be moved by atrocities committed more than 500 years ago and not by criminal policies that take place today, or the notion that one could single out the Spanish Inquisition as sole explanation for the wide public support for the Palestinian cause in Spain, can only be articulated by desperate Israeli diplomats who have long ago lost the moral battle in Europe.

But this new complaint — and I am confident that there are more to come — exposes something far more important. The civil society struggle in support of Palestinian rights in key European countries has been successful. With few resources, sometimes dependent on the work of very small groups of committed individuals, and aided lately by its biggest asset — the present government of Israel – this campaign has indeed made life quite hellish for every Israeli diplomat in that part of the world.

So, when we come and assess what is ahead of us, we who have been active in the West are entitled to a short moment of satisfaction at a job well done.

The three grumpy ambassadors are also right in sensing that not only has Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip come under attack, but also the very racist nature of the Jewish state has galvanized decent and conscientious citizens — many of them Jewish — around the campaign for peace and justice in Palestine.

Outside the realm of occupation and the daily reality of oppression all over Israel and Palestine, one can see more clearly that history’s greatest lesson will eventually reveal itself in Palestine as well: evil regimes do not survive forever and democracy, equality and peace will reach the Holy Land, as it will the rest of the Arab world.

But before this happens we have to extricate ourselves from the politicians’ grip on our lives. In particular, we should not be misled by the power game of politicians. The move to declare Palestine, within 22 percent of its original being, as an independent state at the UN is a charade whether it succeeds or not.

A voluntary Palestinian appeal to the international community to recognize Palestine as a West Bank enclave and with a fraction of the Palestinian people in it, may intimidate a Likud-led Israeli government, but it does not constitute a defining moment in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. It would either be a non-event or merely provide the Israelis a pretext for further annexation and dispossession.

This is another gambit in the power game politicians play which has led us nowhere. When Palestinians solve the issue of representation and the international community exposes Israel for what it is — namely the only racist country in the Middle East — then politics and reality can fuse again.

And slowly and surely we will be able to put back the pieces and create the jigsaw of reconciliation and truth. This must be based on the twofold recognition that a solution has to include all the Palestinians (in the occupied territories, in exile and inside Israel) and has to be based on the construction of a new regime for the whole land of historical Palestine, offering equality and prosperity for all the people who live there now or were expelled from it by force in the last 63 years of Israel’s existence.

The obvious discomfort the three diplomats felt and expressed is not due to any cold shoulder shown to them in local foreign ministries or governments. And therefore, while many Europeans can make their lives miserable, their respective governments can still look the other way.

Whether it is financial desperation and external Israeli and American pressure that bought Greece’s collaboration against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla or it is the power of intimidation that silences even progressive newspapers like the Guardian in the West, Israel’s immunity is still granted despite its diplomats’ misery.

This is why we should ensure that not only Israeli ambassadors feel uncomfortable in European capitals, but also all those who support them or are too afraid to confront Israel and hold it to account.

Blood on the tracks

Gideon Levy Ha’aretz 22/07/11

Ibrahim Sirhan bled to death after being shot by Israeli soldiers last week in al-Fari’a, a refugee camp near Nablus that can’t escape its tortured past.

The many signs of blood tell the story. First you see the stains: Large, dark bloodstains on the ground in the alley, one stain after another, where Ibrahim Sirhan was shot and wounded as he started to run. The stains give way to a trail of blood, a long, narrow strip of drops of blood, continuing unbroken for dozens of meters, winding through the alleys. Here he tried to escape while he still had energy?(and blood?). Afterward, another large, viscous stain is visible – this is where he collapsed – followed immediately by signs of dragging, where blood is smeared along the narrow road, marking the place where two girls came to his rescue in the dead of night. And finally, the last drops of blood, at the spot where a camp resident, Abu Nidal, lifted him up and carried him into his home.

This is how we followed the final journey of Ibrahim Sirhan, from the al-Fari’a refugee camp near Nablus, who last Wednesday night ran in fear of the soldiers who instructed him to stop. The soldiers were standing next to the camp’s butcher shop, in the place where a donkey now stands. Sirhan and his cousin, Osama, were on the way to their grandfather’s house after early-morning prayers at the mosque. As they passed the Adam Beauty Salon, soldiers suddenly called out to them to stop. Osama stopped and was arrested; Ibrahim ran for his life, though it’s not clear why. The soldiers apparently fired one bullet, which struck him in both legs and ruptured the arteries. He kept on running, leaving behind this trail of blood, until he collapsed in one of the alleys, bleeding to death. He was 21.

The soldiers gave chase in the wake of the bloodstains and apprehended him, close to death, in one of the houses of the neighbourhood. Why did they use live ammunition? Why shoot a young man who is not even wanted? And why, in this period of quiet, is it still necessary to raid these refugee camps in the middle of the night? These are questions no one will answer. The IDF Spokesman does his duty by releasing the usual short, standard response: “The investigative unit of the Military Police is conducting an inquiry into the matter, following which the findings will be transmitted to the Military Advocate General’s Office for perusal and his opinion.”

Al-Fari’a is a remote refugee camp which lies northeast of Nablus. Some 7,000 refugees live amid the garbage-strewn streets; it’s one of the most dilapidated and destitute of the West Bank camps. The homes seem to be heaped in jumbles, with unfinished extensions jutting out from cube-like structures, gray and dense, the buildings abutting one other, one of them painted red. In the center of the camp is a spectacular British fortress made of stone, which during the occupation years was the notorious Israeli-run al-Fari’a prison and is now a Palestinian community center.

A row of white-plastered cypress trees lines the courtyard of the former prison, the office walls are covered in green paint?(thanks to donations from Sweden?). The pastoral scene cannot cover the terrible past of this place. In every room which was formerly a detention cell, a Palestinian manager now sits with a phone – some of the community center staff were jailed here in the past. Our two escorts – Atef Abu Rob, a regional field-worker for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and Omar Abu Hasan, a camp activist – were also jailed here in the late 1980s, in the room which is now occupied by the director of the community center.

They take us to the rear wing of the prison, which hasn’t been renovated – the wing where the Shin Bet security service conducted interrogations and perpetrated torture. Anyone who wants to know how the Shin Bet interrogated Palestinian detainees, how they tortured them and with what appalling instruments they pressured them to become collaborators, is invited to visit this place.

Words are inadequate. The sights are straight out of Abu Ghraib, where Iraqi prisoners were tortured by members of the U.S. army. Here, in the courtyard, is where Abu Rob was tied to the wall and, bound and blindfolded, spent nine successive days, with two one-minute toilet breaks a day. Here are the solitary confinement cells, excruciatingly narrow; here the concrete cubes on which the lucky prisoners were made to stay for days and nights at a time, bound hand and foot, two of them on each cube, back to back, in rain and sun. Here are the isolation rooms, the “asfurs,” and here, in a tiny hut in the inner courtyard, under a pine tree, is where those being interrogated were tied to a hook by their hands for protracted periods, until they agreed to talk.

You don’t need reports, commissions of inquiry or testimonies. It’s enough to visit this place in order to understand what was perpetrated here and the crimes in which Israel’s finest were implicated here until a few years ago. They are still among us, their conscience apparently none the worse for wear.

A Palestinian flag flaps in the wind. On the wall of a neglected soccer field next to the prison, someone has scrawled “Free words in a free world” and “The right of return never loses its validity.” There are also photographs of four of the camp’s martyrs, who were killed on one day in the summer of 2007.

Academic claims Israeli school textbooks contain bias

Harriet Sherwood The Observer 7/08/11

Nurit Peled-Elhanan of Hebrew University says textbooks depict Palestinians as ‘terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers’

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, mother and political radical, summons up an image of rows of Jewish schoolchildren, bent over their books, learning about their neighbours, the Palestinians. But, she says, they are never referred to as Palestinians unless the context is terrorism. They are called Arabs. “The Arab with a camel, in an Ali Baba dress. They describe them as vile and deviant and criminal, people who don’t pay taxes, people who live off the state, people who don’t want to develop,” she says. “The only representation is as refugees, primitive farmers and terrorists. You never see a Palestinian child or doctor or teacher or engineer or modern farmer.”

Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the content of Israeli school books for the past five years, and her account, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, is to be published in the UK this month. She describes what she found as racism– but, more than that, a racism that prepares young Israelis for their compulsory military service.”People don’t really know what their children are reading in textbooks,” she said. “One question that bothers many people is how do you explain the cruel behaviour of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, an indifference to human suffering, the inflicting of suffering. People ask how can these nice Jewish boys and girls become monsters once they put on a uniform. I think the major reason for that is education. So I wanted to see how school books represent Palestinians.”

In “hundreds and hundreds” of books, she claims she did not find one photograph that depicted an Arab as a “normal person”. The most important finding in the books she studied – all authorised by the ministry of education – concerned the historical narrative of events in 1948, the year in which Israel fought a war to establish itself as an independent state, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the ensuing conflict.

The killing of Palestinians is depicted as something that was necessary for the survival of the nascent Jewish state, she claims. “It’s not that the massacres are denied, they are represented in Israeli school books as something that in the long run was good for the Jewish state. For example, Deir Yassin [a pre-1948 Palestinian village close to Jerusalem] was a terrible slaughter by Israeli soldiers. In school books, they tell you that this massacre initiated the massive flight of Arabs from Israel and enabled the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. So it was for the best. Maybe it was unfortunate, but in the long run the consequences for us were good.”

Children, she says, grow up to serve in the army and internalise the message that Palestinians are “people whose life is dispensable with impunity. And not only that, but people whose number has to be diminished.”

Peled-Elhanan approaches her subject from a radical political background. She is the daughter of a famous general, Matti Peled, who became convinced that Israel’s future lay in a dignified peace with the Palestinians. After leaving the army, he became active in the peace movement. In the 1980s, he designed a poster promoting a peaceful settlement to the conflict, which featured his small grandchild, Peled-Elhanan’s only daughter, Smadar.

The message was that all children deserved a better future. Then, in 1997, at the age of 13, Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber while shopping in Jerusalem. Peled-Elhanan declines to talk about her daughter’s death apart from once or twice referring to “the tragedy”. At the time, she said that it would strengthen her belief that, without a settlement to the conflict and peaceful coexistence with Palestinians, more children would die. “Terrorist attacks like this are the direct consequence of the oppression, slavery, humiliation and state of siege imposed on the Palestinians,” she told TV reporters in the aftermath of Smadar’s death.

Her radical views have exacted a professional cost. “University professors stopped inviting me to conferences. And when I do speak, the most common reaction is, ‘you are anti-Zionist’.” Anybody who challenges the dominant narrative in today’s Israel, she says, is similarly accused.

She hopes her book will be published in Hebrew, but is resigned to it being dismissed by many in the political mainstream. Asked if Palestinian school books also reflect a certain dogma, Peled-Elhanan claims that they distinguish between Zionists and Jews. “They make this distinction all the time. They are against Zionists, not against Jews.” But she concedes that teaching about the Holocaust in Palestinian schools is “a problem, an issue”. “Some [Palestinian] teachers refuse to teach the Holocaust as long as Israelis don’t teach the Nakba [the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948].”

Perhaps not surprisingly for someone of such radical views, Peled-Elhanan is deeply pessimistic about her country’s future. Change, she says, will only come “when the Americans stop providing us with $1m a day to maintain this regime of occupation and racism and supremacy”. She said that within Israel, “I only see the path to fascism. You have 5.5 million Palestinians controlled by Israel who live in a horrible apartheid with no civil and no human rights. And you have the other half who are Jews who are also losing their rights by the minute,” she says, in reference to a series of attempts to restrict Israelis’ right to protest and criticise their government.

She dismisses the Israeli left as always small and timid, but especially now. “There has never been a real left in this country.” She believes that the education system helps to perpetuate an unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable state. “Everything they do, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they are fed in all kinds of ways, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions.”

Israel uses “primitive, racist” policies against Palestinian prisoners

Mel Frykberg The Electronic Intifada 11/08/11

Ramallah (IPS) – “I’m sick with worry about my daughter,” Yehiya al-Shalabi says. “I’m afraid of what they are doing to her. She has done nothing to deserve this. If they have anything against her why don’t they bring her to trial?” Hana al-Shalabi, Yehiya’s 27-year-old daughter, has been languishing in Israeli administrative detention for more than two years. She is the longest serving Palestinian female political prisoner in administrative detention. According to her lawyer, the young woman from Jenin in the northern West Bank does not know why Israeli soldiers arrested her several years ago. She also does not know how long they will keep her in jail or what they will charge her with.

Shalabi, like nearly 200 other Palestinian prisoners, is being held in Hasharon prison. A senior Israeli military officer has just renewed the administrative detention order against her for the fourth time. Israel’s “administrative detention” policy states that Palestinian political prisoners can be held for six months without trial or charges being brought against them. The detention order can be renewed every six months.

According to the official narrative, the policy of administrative detention is used by the Israeli military when they have “classified and secret” information against Palestinian prisoners. Both the prisoner and their lawyer are forbidden from seeing the classified information, and therefore are unable to challenge accusations or to question those who made the accusations. The administrative detention policy is used when Israeli authorities have “secret witnesses” such as Palestinian informants, or has obtained intelligence in a clandestine manner which would not stand up in an Israeli civilian court but are par for the course in Israeli military courts.

No fair trial

“It’s a primitive and racist way to hold a trial and no civilized country in the world uses such methods. Needless to say Israel’s legal system could never do this to an Israeli Jew. Even the Israeli settlers who carry out acts of terror against Palestinians in the West Bank are not treated in this manner,” Qadura Fares, the president of the Palestinian Society Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, said. “Administrative detainees are not given a fair trial. Basically the Israeli military prosecutor and the military judge are in agreement. It is very rare for a judge to disagree with the military prosecutor,” Fares says.

The soldiers came for Hana al-Shalabi in the middle of the night over two years ago. “They ransacked the house and assaulted me when I tried to stop them from taking my daughter away,” Yehiya al-Shalabi said. “My daughter had finished her studies and was engaged to get married. She was very diligent and stayed home most of the time except for when she helped tend our agricultural crops. She had no social life outside and wasn’t political in any way.” However, Israeli special forces assassinated Hana’s 24-year-old brother several years ago after they accused him of being a member of Islamic Jihad, Yehiya said. “They had shot and wounded him. He phoned us, as he lay badly injured on the ground. But before he could finish the call the death squad moved in and shot him at close range, several times in the head and in the eye.”

The conditions in administrative detention are harsh, just as they are for all Palestinian prisoners.

Confessions through coercion

“Confessions are coerced through physical and verbal humiliation, torture, emotional blackmail such as bringing in elderly or sick relatives who are held as hostages until the prisoner confesses,” Fares said.

Imani Nafa, aged 47, spent ten years in an Israeli jail as a young woman, from 1987 to 1997 during the first Palestinian intifada. Nafa had everything going for her. She had finished university and was working as a nurse. But, she became politically involved and had planned to carry out a shooting and bombing attack against Israeli soldiers. Nafa was caught and kept in a filthy, cramped cell with no window. Fluorescent lights were kept on permanently, causing sensory deprivation and the inability to distinguish between day and night.

“I was beaten and held in stress positions while handcuffed for several days, unable to move. I was deprived of sleep and when the interrogation finished I was forced to drink from the drain in my cell and eat mouldy food,” Nafa said. “I was told that if I worked with them to spy on other prisoners I would be freed, but if I refused to do so I would be imprisoned for a very long time and harshly treated.”

‘Prisoners’ of Israeli airspace

Alaa Tartir Maan News 12/08/2011

I never thought it was possible to be in prison in the sky. I always thought that prisons needed to be on the ground. I also never thought that the prison could move and even fly: I always believed that cells needed to be rooted in the ground.

On a recent journey from Ramallah to London — of course through the compulsory Amman route as the West Bank is not allowed an airport — I experienced a new form of Israeli detention, this time in Israeli airspace.

It was an unpleasant experience, as passengers were forbidden from fulfilling basic human needs such as using the toilet, receiving food or water, or moving between seats to chat with friends. I am fully aware that the denial of these basic human needs does not compare with the everyday violations of human rights that the Palestinians suffer on the ground due to the Israeli occupation, or with other violations of human rights in the wider region.

It may even seem ironic or silly to raise such issues in the context of the Arab Spring, while Syrian civilians are being killed and as thousands of Israelis demand social justice from their own unjust system. But, while traveling, I was puzzled by a simple question: How many people from all over the world are imprisoned everyday in Israeli airspace?

On an Easyjet flight to Amman in June, around 45 minutes before landing, the pilot asked all passengers to remain seated and not to leave their seats. Initially, I thought we had arrived early but this conclusion proved to be naive. The crew manager started shouting: “Sit down … sit down now … you are not allowed to move … sit down.” The flight attendant shouted so urgently and with such anger that I thought there was a potential terrorist trying to hijack the plane.

The potential terrorist turned out to be a four-year-old boy who desperately needed the toilet. His mother and father begged the crew manager to let him go, to no avail. The boy messed his pants and (excuse me readers for this fact) the remaining passengers were forced to endure the smell of the boy’s weapon” which was not fatal but certainly unhygienic.

Several days ago I learned the reason for this scenario: Israeli security concerns.

On my flight back to London, I sat in the front row opposite the crew manager. Early on in the flight, the pilot announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now entering Israeli airspace and due to security requirements, all passengers must remain seated with their seat belts fastened until a further notice.” I looked at the crew manager at that point and said: “I am in an urgent need to use the toilet, can I please use it?” “Sorry sir, this is not allowed at the moment, please wait and hold it.” I tried again, and she refused once again. When I asked why, she told me “Due to the rules and regulations.” I asked which “rules and regulations,” and after some hesitation, she said she truly didn’t know but “We have been told that if any passenger moves that will be a threat to the Israeli security.”

Gaza teenager shot dead

Said Khatib AFP 16/08/2011

The forces identified a hit

Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian teenager near the central Gaza Strip city of Deir Al-Balah late Tuesday, medical officials reported. Medics said the Palestinian, who was not identified, suffered “more than 10” gunshots to the head and upper body after soldiers east of the Al-Masdar area opened fire.

Gaza health ministry official Adham Abu Salmiya told Ma’an that an ambulance crew transferred the teenager’s body to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza. An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma’an that “IDF forces opened fire at a suspect approaching the security fence. The forces identified a hit,” the official said.

The teenager had approached the border east of the refugee camp of Maghazi in central Gaza, Agence France-Presse quoted Palestinian witnesses as saying. Earlier, Abu Salmiya said Israeli airstrikes killed one man and injured seven others in the central and southern Gaza Strip, in what the army called retaliation for a rocket attack hours before.

Disappointment at the United Nations

Prof. Richard Falk (UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in theOccupied Palestinian Territories) 09/09 2011

The Palmer Report on the Flotilla Incident of 31 May 2010

When the UN Secretary General announced on 2 August 2010 that a Panel of Inquiry had been established to investigate the Israeli attacks of 31 May on the Mavi Marmara and five other ships carrying humanitarian aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza there was widespread hope that international law would be vindicated and the Israelis would finally be held accountable. With the release of the report this past week these hopes have been largely dashed as the report failed to address the central international law issues in a credible and satisfactory manner. Turkey, not surprisingly, responded strongly that it was not prepared to live with the central finding of the 105 page report to the effect that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is lawful and could be enforced by Israel against a humanitarian mission even in international waters.

Perhaps this outcome should not be surprising. The Panel as appointed was woefully ill-equipped to render an authoritative result. Geoffrey Palmer, the Chair of the Panel, although respected as the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and as an environmental law professor, was not particularly knowledgeable about either the international law of the sea or the law of war. And incredibly, the only other independent member of the Panel was Alvaro Uribe, the former President of Colombia, with no professional credentials relevant to the issues under consideration, and notorious both for his horrible human rights record while holding office and forging intimate ties with Israel by way of arms purchases and diplomatic cooperation that was acknowledged by ‘The Light Unto The Nations’ award given by the American Jewish Committee that should have been sufficient by itself to cast doubt on his suitability for this appointment. His presence on the panel compromised the integrity of the process, and made one wonder how could such an appointment can be explained, let alone justified. The remaining two members were designated by the governments of Israel and Turkey, and not surprisingly appended partisan dissents to those portions of the report that criticized the position taken by their respective governments. Another limitation of the report was that the Panel was constrained by its terms of reference that prohibited reliance on any materials other than presented in the two national reports submitted by the contending governments. With these considerations in mind, we can only wonder why the Secretary General would have established a framework so ill-equipped to reach findings that would put the controversy to rest, which it has certainly not done.

Even this ill-conceived panel did not altogether endorse Israeli behavior on 31 May. They found that Israel used excessive force and seemed responsible for the deaths of the nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, instructing Israel to pay compensation and issue a statement of regret. In other words the Palmer Report seems to fault seriously the manner by which the Israeli enforced the blockade, but unfortunately upheld the underlying legality of both the blockade and the right of enforcement, and that is the rub. Such a conclusion contradicted the earlier finding of a more expert panel established by the Human Rights Council, as well as rejected the overwhelming consensus that had been expressed by qualified international law specialists on these core issues.

While the Panel delayed the report several times to give diplomacy a chance to resolve the contested issues, Israel and Turkey could never quite reach closure. There were intriguing reports along the way that unpublicized discussions between representatives of the two governments had reached a compromise agreement on the basis of Israel’s readiness to offer Turkey a formal apology and to compensate the families of those killed as well as those wounded during the attack, but when the time for announcing such a resolution of this conflict, Israel backed away. In particular, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seemed unwilling to take the last step, claiming that it would demoralize the citizenry of Israel and signal weakness to Israel’s enemies in the region. More cynical observers believed that the Israeli refusal to resolve the conflict was a reflection of domestic politics, especially Netanyahu’s rivalry with the extremist Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who was forever accusing Netanyahu of being a wimpy leader and made no secret of his own ambition to be the next Israeli head of state. Whatever the true mix of reasons, the diplomatic track failed, despite cheerleading from Washington that made no secret of its view that resolving this conflict had become a high priority for American foreign policy. And so the Palmer Report assumed a greater role than might have been anticipated. After the feverish diplomatic efforts failed, the Palmer panel seemed to offer the last chance for the parties to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution based on the application of the international law and resulting recommendations that would delimit what must be done to overcome any violations that had taken place during the attack on the flotilla.

But to be satisfactory, the report had to interpret the legal issues in a reasonable and responsible manner. This meant, above all else, that the underlying blockade imposed more than four years ago on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza was unlawful, and should be immediately lifted. On this basis, the enforcement by way of the 31 May attacks were unlawful, an offense aggravated by being the gross interference with freedom of navigation on the high seas, and further aggravated by producing nine deaths among the humanitarian workers and peace activists on the Mavi Marmara and by Israeli harassing and abusive behavior toward the rest of the passengers. Such conclusions should have been ‘no brainers’ for the panel, so obvious were these determinations from the perspective of international law as to leave little room for reasonable doubt. But this was not to be, and the report as written is a step backward from the fundamental effort of international law to limit permissible uses of international force to situations of established defensive necessity, and even then, to ensure that the scale of force employed, was proportional and respectful of civilian innocence. It is a further step back to the extent that it purports to allow a state to enforce on the high seas a blockade, condemned around the world for its cruelty and damaging impact on civilian mental and physical health, a blockade that has deliberately deprived the people of Gaza of the necessities of life as well as locked them into a crowded and impoverished space that has been mercilessly attacked with modern weaponry from time to time.

Given these stark realities it is little wonder that the Turkish Government reacted with anger and disclosed their resolve to proceed in a manner that expresses not only its sense of law and justice, but also reflects Turkish efforts in recent years to base regional relations on principles of fairness and mutual respect. The Turkish Foreign Minister, realizing that the results reached by the Palmer Panel were unacceptable, formulated his own Plan B. This consisted of responses not only to the report, but to the failure of Israel to act benignly on its own by offering a formal apology and setting up adequate compensation arrangements. Israel had more than a year to meet these minimal Turkish demands, and showed its unwillingness to do so. As Mr. Davutoglu made clear this Turkish response was not intended to produce an encounter with Israel, but to put the relations between the countries back on ‘the right track.’ I believe that this is the correct approach under the circumstances as it takes international law seriously, and rests policy on issues of principle and prudence rather than opts for geopolitical opportunism. As Davutoglu said plainly, “The time has come for Israel to pay a price for its illegal action. The price, first of all, is being deprived of Turkey’s friendship.”

And it this withdrawal of friendship is not just symbolic. Turkey has downgraded diplomatic representation, expelling the Israeli ambassador and maintaining relations at the measly level of second secretary. Beyond this all forms of military cooperation are suspended, and Turkey indicated that it will strengthen its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. As well, Turkey has indicated its intention to initiate action within the General Assembly to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice as to the legality of the blockade. What is sadly evident is that Israeli internal politics have become so belligerent and militarist that the political leaders in the country are hamstrung, unable to take a foreign policy initiative that is manifestly in their national interest. For Israel to lose Turkey’s friendship is second only to losing America’s support, and coupled with the more democratic-driven policies of the Arab Spring, this alienation of Ankara is a major setback for Israel’s future in the region.

What is more, the Turkish refusal to swallow the findings of the Palmer Report is an admirable posture that is bound to be popular throughout the Middle East and beyond. At a time when some of Turkey’s earlier diplomatic initiatives have run into difficulties, most evidently in Syria, this stand on behalf of the victimized population of Gaza represents a rare display of placing values above interests. The people of Gaza are weak, abused, and vulnerable. In contrast, Israel is a military powerhouse, prospering, a valuable trading partner for Turkey, and in the background the United States is ready to pay a pretty penny if it could induce a rapprochement, thereby avoiding the awkwardness of dealing with this breakdown between its two most significant strategic partners in the Middle East. We should also keep in mind that the passengers on these flotilla ships were mainly idealists, seeking non-violently to overcome a humanitarian ordeal that the UN and the interplay of national governments had been unable and unwilling to address for several years. This initiative by civil society activists deserved the support and solidarity of the world, not a slap on the wrist by being chastened by the Palmer report’s view that their action were irresponsible and provocative.

Israel has managed up to now to avoid paying the price for defying international law. For decades it has been building unlawful settlements in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has used excessive violence and relied on state terror on numerous occasions in dealing with Palestinian resistance, and has subjected the people of Gaza to sustained and extreme forms of collective punishment. It attacked villages and neighbourhood of Beirut mercilessly in 2006, launched its massive campaign from land, sea, and air for three weeks at the end of 2008 against a defenceless Gaza, and then shocked world opinion with its violence against the Mavi Marmara in its night-time attack in 2010. It should have been made to pay the price long ago for this pattern of defying international law, above all by the United Nations. If Turkey sustains its position it will finally send a message to Tel Aviv that the wellbeing and security of Israel in the future will depend on a change of course in its relation to both the Palestinians and its regional neighbours. The days of flaunting international law and fundamental human rights are no longer policy options for Israel without a downside. Turkey is dramatically demonstrating that there can be a decided downside to Israeli flagrant lawlessness.

No exit

Gideon Levy Ha’aretz 09/09/11

Trivia questions: What country prevents doctors from traveling abroad to take part in international medical conferences? What government prevents a person from visiting daughters and grandchildren who live in another country? Under which regime is a person prevented from traveling abroad for medical treatment? Where does a resident need a permit to travel abroad? Where is he chased back home from the border station in humiliation, with no explanation? And finally, which regime arbitrarily tosses a pediatrician in jail for two months, with no trial and no explanation?

North Korea? Yes. Iran? Maybe. Syria? Possibly. Hamas is also trying to do so now. And where else? In Israel. This is the story of Dr. Haitham Shehadeh, a Hebron pediatrician and neonatal specialist.

Dr. Shehadeh didn’t want his story to be publicized at first. “I’m no hero,’ he explained with a bashful smile. All he wanted last week, for the Eid el Fitr holiday, was to be able to visit his daughters and grandchildren, who live in Jordan, and to undergo his periodic medical checkups there. It seems trivial – but not under the Israeli occupation.

About two months ago he tried to go to Jordan, He told the border officials that he planned to be away for just two or three days, because he had to get back to his clinic. Perhaps this would satisfy them. He also explained that his wife intended to stay longer, “because that’s our tradition, that the mother stays with the daughter, to help her after the birth,” and this also sounds like an apology. He told the border officials that his daughter suffers from high blood pressure; perhaps this would make it easier to leave. He also had a letter that was faxed to him from Istishari Hospital, where his daughter was. But it was all to no avail – he was brusquely turned back from the Allenby Bridge without any explanation. Now he carries a thick case full of documents with plenty of evidence about the purposes of his visit – the daughters, the grandchildren, the medical checkups, and he’s hoping for the best. But the form he submitted to the authorities a month ago has yet to receive a response.

In 1979, Shehadeh began working in the maternity ward of the Al-Ahli government hospital in the city, which was run by the Israeli military administration. Shehadeh emphasizes this fact, as if seeking approval. Over the years, he also ran the maternity ward at Al-Muhtaseb Hospital in Hebron’s Old City, and he also has a clinic at his home, where he sees patients after hours as well. Shehadeh no longer works at the hospital, due in part to his poor health. He has high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. In recent years he traveled abroad dozens of times. He is frequently invited to international medical conferences and is a devoted father to his three daughters, who live in Jordan. His brother and sister also live there. He traveled frequently to Jordan and from there to other countries. Now he is concerned about the next conference to which he is invited, of the Middle East pediatric society, which is to be held at the UNESCO convention center in Beirut. He has already paid the $800 registration fee.

Four and a half years ago, in February 2007, Dr. Shehadeh was arrested. He was placed in administrative detention for five months, later cut down to two months – without trial, of course. He was kept in Ofer Prison and then Ketziot Prison, and never given an explanation why. But even after his release, he continued traveling abroad for conferences and family visits without any problems. Now, as he shows us his Palestinian passport and the Israeli entry and exit stamps in it, he volunteers to tell us the reason for each trip – an operation his brother had in Qatar, the birth of a grandson in Amman, and so on, as if he is obliged to provide explanations, so deeply is the occupation imprinted in him.

He contacted the human-rights organization B’Tselem and its representative in Hebron, Musa Abu-Hashhash, to ask for assistance. Then he filled out the “form regarding prevention of travel abroad.”

He wrote on the form: “Purpose of travel: medical needs/family visit/participation in a conference. I wish to know whether there is any security reason preventing me from traveling abroad.” There are two options on the form for the answer to this: “There is no security reason preventing you from traveling abroad” and “It is our intention to prevent you from traveling abroad. Your are entitled to submit your claims in this regard in a reasoned argument. You will be notified of a decision within eight weeks.”

The coordinator of government activity in the territories told Haaretz: “Dr. Haitham Shehadeh’s departure was blocked for security reasons. His application for a review of the security refusal is currently being examined by the relevant professional parties. When the review is complete, he will be informed of the decision, as required.”

Last week, Shehadeh telephoned the Palestinian liaison and coordination administration to find out if they had received any answer from the Israeli authorities. They checked on their computers and told him that no answer had arrived. He had also attached a letter from his doctor in Jordan, Dr. Ibrahim al-Hur, detailing his medical condition. He was planning to go to the Allenby Bridge this weekend, in the hope of being permitted to cross. And again he sounded apologetic: “I just want to live a quiet life now, to enjoy my children and grandchildren, and take care of myself a little bit,” and the bashful smile appears again. Last Thursday he set off for the bridge at three in the morning, and was sent back home again.

Resistance Art Calendar 2012

“Colors from Palestine” 2012 Calendar is dedicated to the memory of Mahmoud Darwish,. He was able to see what no one else can see: in life, politics, and even people, expressing his visions in a language that seems to be made only for him to write with.

Born on 13 March 1941 in Al Birweh, a village in the Galilee, Mahmoud Darwish went on to live a life that is a poignant example of how far talent and determination, combined with a precarious life, can carry an individual from a simple background into the international halls of fame. At the early age of seven, Darwish and his family were forced to flee to Lebanon to escape the ongoing massacres by the Israeli Army as it occupied Palestine and, in the process, destroyed the poet’s village (in addition to over 400 other Palestinian villages). Returning “illegally” to their country the following year, he and his family were subjected to military rule and emergency regulations of the State of Israel established over expropriated Palestinian land. They were given the status of “present-absent alien,” a status that will mark the poet from that point onwards, preventing him from ever finding his homeland, except in his language and his ever-loving audience.

SFoP can supply the calendars (which retail at $20 from Canada) as follows:

1 calendar                           £11.50 incl P&P

2 calendars                         £20.50 incl P&P

3 calendars                         £30     incl P&P

4 calendars                         £40         incl P&P

5 calendars                         £50         incl P&P

Price on application for orders greater than 5 calendars.

Details and cheque (made out to Scottish Friends of Palestine) should be sent to

Scottish Friends of Palestine

31 Tinto Road

Glasgow G43 2AL

alternatively using Paypal to

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