Monthly Archives: December 2012
Go-go-go, PLO! What is holding you back?
This Christmas the Palestinian embassy in London sent out a particularly pathetic message.
Headed “Palestine mulling ICC if UN takes no action on settlements”, it warned that if the UN Security Council didn’t act against Israeli settlements Palestine would “consider complaining to the International Criminal Court [ICC], an option made available by Palestine’s admission as a non-member state to the UN in November”.
What is there to mull? In all the years since 1967 what action has the Security Council taken to halt Israel’s illegal settlements? Even now, does it show any sign of doing so?
By action we mean, of course, deeds not woolly words. We mean sanctions and the implementing of all those UN resolutions ordering the Israelis back behind their pre-1967 lines.
…while the PLO sits back, still mulling, Palestinians can expect the Israelis to establish more “irreversible” facts on the ground designed to make the occupation permanent.
Taking Israel’s crimes to the ICC is hardly something that still needs mulling over. It has been impatiently anticipated. The court has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by nationals of a state party or on the territory of a state party since 1 July 2002, the date the Rome Statute came into effect. Palestinians have a huge backlog of business to do there.
Charges were surely prepared long ago, ready for submission the minute the door to justice swung open. Palestine declared its voluntary acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2009, but was unable to pursue legal remedies until the question of whether it could be regarded as a “state” in accordance with Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute was resolved.
In April this year the ICC general prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, finally declared that the General Assembly of the UN first needed to accept Palestine as an observer state. “As soon as this is done we can proceed.”
Well, it’s done. But while the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sits back, still mulling, Palestinians can expect the Israelis to establish more ‘irreversible’ facts on the ground designed to make the occupation permanent.
Rotten to the core
On Christmas Day of all days, and in Bethlehem of all places, Israel was still making war on Palestinian civilians. According to the Palestinian Monitoring Group, in its “Daily Situation Report” posted on the website of the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, the Israelis chose Christmas Day to raid Wadi Al-Nies village, located in Bethlehem and therefore on Palestinian territory, and to serve demolition orders on 20 homes. That’s the sort of low-down, despicable behaviour that should have been broadcast around the Western (Christian) world. Why wasn’t it?
And what is this Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD)? It was set up in 1994 in Gaza to follow up on the implementation of the Interim Agreement signed between Israel and the PLO. Initially headed by Mahmoud Abbas before he became Palestinian president, the NAD was taken over in 2003 by Saeb Erekat, another loser and probably the most unsuccessful chief negotiator on the planet.
The NAD’s offices in Gaza and Ramallah between them are supposed to cover Israeli affairs, Israel’s violations of signed agreements, Israel’s illegal settlement policies, Palestinian refugees, the Interim Agreements and the preparation of Palestinian positions for Permanent Status talks with Israel. The Ramallah office includes a research unit and a public relations unit.
At the outset the NAD asked the British government for technical assistance in preparing for Permanent Status talks. The UK Department for International Development agreed to provide “highly professional legal, policy and communications advice to the NAD and Palestinian negotiators”. The resultant Negotiations Support Project has two main departments: Legal and Policy, and Communications. The Legal and Policy Department’s job is to strengthen and refine existing Palestinian negotiation positions, develop new positions where none existed, and contribute to interim initiatives intended to lead both sides out of stalemate or minimize the continuing damage inflicted by Israel while negotiations are stalled. This department provides a host of advice on the various issues involved.
The Communications Department, for its part, “aims to explain and increase support for the Palestinian positions on Permanent Status issues and interim initiatives, to mobilize local and international civil society organizations to undertake advocacy on behalf of those positions, and to overcome misperceptions held by the Israeli public concerning Palestinian goals and intentions towards Israel”. In essence the department publicizes and explains the Palestinian case in order to confront and balance out misleading narratives from the other side.
The enemy within
The PLO explains very little, doesn’t even try to mobilize international civil society, and lets Israel run propaganda rings round it.
How could the Palestinians possibly go wrong with all that expertise and communications firepower behind them? Yet none of these noble tasks ever seems to get done. The PLO explains very little, doesn’t even try to mobilize international civil society, and lets Israel run propaganda rings round it.
“The Department achieves its goals,” says the NAD,
through a range of communications activities such as providing briefings to international journalists, parliamentarians and representatives of civil society; facilitating their access to the PLO leadership; providing communications advice to that leadership; publishing fact sheets, maps and newsletters on key topics; maintaining the website of the NAD; lobbying editorial boards of international media organizations to ensure accurate reporting; building an email distribution list for NAD materials, and undertaking outreach activities in the United States, Europe and Israel.
Goals? What goals have been achieved? Why claim all this political or diplomatic activity when there is none? Has any writer or journalist here been given access to the PLO’s leadership? Was the BBC’s editorial board ever lobbied to ensure accurate reporting? And where are Palestinian spokespeople, fluent in English, to be found in the West, especially at short notice? All the department has succeeded in doing is dumbing down the PLO’s entire operations and making sure it achieves nothing. Perhaps that was its true aim.
I know what you’re thinking: They’re blowing smoke in our eyes. How can a government like Britain’s, packed with Zionist pimps and sworn to support the Zionist regime even to the extent of providing a safe haven for its bloodiest war criminals and fraudsters, be relied on to give “highly professional legal, policy and communications advice” to the NAD and Palestinian negotiators jn their struggle against the Zionist oppressor?
Unless, of course, the name of the game is to scupper all hopes of a fully independent Palestinian state. In which case the Negotiations Support Project has been a howling success.
…is the Negotiations Support Project the rotten core, where Whitehall provides cover for agents of Israel to scheme and plot with Palestine’s quislings? And is it from here that British foreign policy in the Middle East is hatched, embroidered and spun into the mouths of Hague, Cameron and Burt?
It would be interesting to know exactly what advice the British government has been giving the PLO and the NAD for the last 18 years. I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out. We do know, however, that since 1994 things have gone from bad to worse for the Palestinians on the legal, policy and communications fronts.
So is the Negotiations Support Project the rotten core, where Whitehall provides cover for agents of Israel to scheme and plot with Palestine’s quislings? And is it from here that British foreign policy in the Middle East is hatched, embroidered and spun into the mouths of Hague, Cameron and Burt?
The PLO had miserably failed to chalk up any gains in Palestine’s national interest until a month ago when it appears to have momentarily defied Britain’s “highly professional” advice and applied – and received – an upgrade in status at the UN. Perhaps the quislings felt this was such an obvious and easy move forward that, for the sake of appearances, they couldn’t put it off any longer. The British government (and who will ever forget this?) could not bring itself to vote for the modest step so necessary to bring the Palestinian people closer to their legitimate aspirations.
One might have hoped that Britain, which is largely responsible for the mess and is guilty of betraying the Arabs these last 95 years, would wish to make amends. But no. All we hear from Whitehall is the tiresome mantra that Palestinians must resume discredited peace talks before all else, a path that everyone knows only leads up a blind alley and wastes even more time while Israel, which clearly doesn’t want peace, is allowed to continue with its land theft and colonization. The world sees only too well that Britain stands on the wrong side of law and justice.
So, in 2013, what should the Palestinians’ New Year resolution be?
Well, they could dump the useless Negotiations Support Project and stop letting Britain’s “highly professional” advice cloud their judgement. They could start relying on their own good sense, though whether their leaders have any is another matter.
For next Christmas, says President Abbas in his Yuletide message, Palestine wishes to “experience the timeless message of love, justice and peace that the prince of peace brought to Palestine and humanity more than 2,000 years ago, not just hope for its realization”.
How very commendable. But given his track record and the duplicity of his advisers, how is he going to achieve that?
Meanwhile, the thought that Palestine is being closely advised by the very country that has been shafting it for 95 years is freakin’ bizarre, no?
An off-the-record New Year conversation with President Obama
By Alan Hart
Question: Mr President, I’d like to begin this conversation with a quote from a recent article by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times. He wrote: “The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth.” If you were free to speak your mind to Israel, I mean Israel’s Jews, what would be your message?
Answer: I would tell them that no president, including this one, can save them from the policies and actions of their own leaders.
Q: What is it in particular that you think they need to be “saved” from?
A: [The president smiled] The short answer is Netanyahu, those to the right of him and the Zionist colonial ideology they represent. The long answer has to take account of this fact: if Israel continues on its present course, gobbling up more and more of the land and water resources of the occupied West Bank, there will come a time when the Palestinians of Greater Israel will outnumber its Jews. They and their leaders will then have a choice of three options.
Q: What are they?
A: One is for the Jewish minority of Greater Israel to rule the Palestinian Arab majority by repression. That would create a full-blown version of apartheid, similar to the old South African system but far worse than it.
Q: What you think the consequences of that would be?
A: As happened in South Africa’s case, the world, governments as well as peoples, would eventually say to Greater Israel “Enough is enough”, and it would be subjected to sanctions applied globally.
Q: Are you suggesting that in this scenario you can see a day coming when America, even America, would become part of a global effort to sanction apartheid Greater Israel?
A: Yes. I think there would come a time when a majority of Americans were outraged enough to insist that Congress and their president acted.
Q: Is your assumption that the imposition of global sanctions (or even a credible threat of them) would bring a majority of Israeli Jews to their senses and cause them to insist that their leaders seriously addressed the Palestinian claim and need for justice?
A: It is not an assumption. It’s a hope.
Q: But there could be a downside, Mr President. Sanctions could be counter-productive. They could have the effect of reinforcing in the minds of brainwashed Israeli Jews the belief that they had no choice but to tell the world to go to hell and do whatever they thought was necessary to maintain their iron grip on Palestine that became Israel.
A: That’s a possibility.
Q: What is another option for an Israel determined to stay on its present course?
A: Simply stated it is to defuse the ticking demographic time-bomb of occupation by creating a pretext for a final round of ethnic cleansing, to drive the Palestinians off the West Bank into Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.
Q: Israel’s leaders are the masters at creating pretexts to justify aggression of all kinds, but what kind of pretext could possibly be presented as justification for a final ethnic cleansing?
A: That’s not something I wish to speculate about.
Q: Then let me run this thought past you: half a dozen Israeli agents pose as Palestinian terrorists. In cities up and down and across the state they plant bombs which kill dozens perhaps even scores of Israeli Jews. That would be enough to trigger a final ethnic cleansing and mobilize support for it.
A: It could happen like that.
Q: What do you think the consequences of a final Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine could be?
A: The answer has to begin with recognition of the fact that what we are witnessing in the world today, provoked by Israel’s policies and actions in defiance of international law, is a rising, global tide of anti-Israelism. The danger, as a former director of Israeli Military Intelligence warned more than 20 years ago, is that what starts out as anti-Israelism could be transformed into classical anti-Semitism, leading to another great turning against Jews everywhere, including here in America.
Q: Mr President, there are some people who believe that is precisely the outcome Zionism’s in-Israel leaders want because it would cause many North American and European Jews to flee to Israel for protection and, also, would justify in the minds of Zionism’s in-Israel leaders anything and everything they did to obtain and maintain an Israel that was big enough to be a refuge of last resort for all Jews.
A: There is enough evidence in history to make a case for that point of view. But I want to add that a final Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine could create great and grave dangers for the whole world, not only for Jews. It would propel Arab and wider Muslim hurt, humiliation and anger to new high levels, and that could only be good recruitment news for the proponents of violent Islamic fundamentalism.
Q: Could that make a “clash of civilizations”, Judeo-Christian versus Islamic, more likely than not?
A: I don’t know.
Q: What is the third option for Greater Israel?
A: To formally annex all of the West Bank and then declare and mean that it wanted the enlarged state to be truly democratic with equal rights, including voting rights, for all its citizens. Sounds good in theory but it’s never going to happen in that way because there would come a time when Zionism would be voted out of existence by the Palestinian Arab majority. Zionism is never going to put itself out of business by its own actions.
Q: We have not spoken about a two-state solution which would see, in exchange for real peace, Israel ending its occupation of the West Bank and lifting its siege of the Gaza Strip to create the space for a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem its capital or an undivided Jerusalem the capital of two states.
A: There is no point in talking about a viable two-state solution because it has long been dead. Today there are more than half a million illegal Jewish settlers in permanent residence on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and that number is rising on an almost daily basis. It’s possible that for a real peace some of them would accept compensation and agree to be relocated in an Israel back to its borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 war, but many of them would fight to prevent an enforced evacuation, and that would trigger a Jewish civil war. As Shimon Peres said to you in 1980, no Israeli prime minister is going down in history as the one who gave the order to the Jewish army to shoot Jews out of the West Bank, their Judea and Samaria. It isn’t going to happen.
Q: Mr President, the conclusion invited by our conversation to this point is that it’s too late. The Zionist – not Jewish – state has become a monster beyond control and the Israel-Palestine conflict can only end in catastrophe for all. Do you see any reason for clinging to the hope that it could be otherwise, that peace with justice for the Palestinians is still possible?
A: Yes, I do see reason for hope if we put it in terms of justice for the Palestinians and peace with security for all. But for the hope I see to become reality, it’s the occupied and oppressed Palestinians, not me, who must take the lead. Let me now explain precisely what I mean. The only possible peaceful solution is one state with equal rights for all. The process to bring this about has to begin, must begin, with the Palestinians dissolving the Palestine Authority and handing full responsibility for the occupation back to Israel, then leading a global campaign for equal rights for all in the one state. I’ve said that Zionism will never accept one state for all because it would mean the end of Zionism, but here’s the question. What, really, is most important for most Israeli Jews? Is it their wellbeing and security or commitment to an ideology, Zionism, which offers only Jewish domination and no hope of peace with security for them?
Q: I can see where you’re going with this line of thinking. You believe that if the Palestinians could convince a majority of Israeli Jews that their security would be absolutely guaranteed in one state for all, that could be a game changer?
A: That is more or less what I believe and here’s why. If a majority of Israeli Jews were convinced that they could and would have a secure and prosperous future in one state with equal rights for all, there has to be a possibility that they would tell their hardcore Zionist leaders that their time was up and that what was needed was a new vision. As to what that new vision could be, I’ll quote to you, Mr Hart, your own words on the subject. You have written and said this: “The Jews, generally speaking are the intellectual elite of the Western civilization. The Palestinians are by far the intellectual elite of the Arab world. What they could do together in peace and partnership is the stuff that dreams are made of. They could change the region for the better and, by so doing, give new hope and inspiration to the whole world.”
Q: If the occupied and oppressed Palestinians took the lead in the way you have suggested and seriously got down to the business of seeking to convince Israel’s Jews that they would have a secure and prosperous future in one state for all, would there come a time when you would endorse the one state call?
A: Yes, and now I’ll be completely frank with you. If the occupied and oppressed Palestinians put every possible effort into trying to convince Israel’s Jews that they could and would have a secure and prosperous future in one state for all, my task in helping to bring it about would be assisted by the support of many if not most American Jews. You probably don’t need me to tell you that a growing number of American Jews, more of them each day, are silently concerned, even alarmed, by what Israel has become. They are aware that the anti-Israelism being provoked by Zionism could be transformed into classical anti-Semitism.
Q: You mean that more and more Americans are beginning to understand that it’s not in their own best interests to go on supporting Israel right or wrong?
A: I am saying more than that. I’m saying that if a majority of American Jews were convinced that Israel’s Jews could and would have a secure and prosperous future in one state for all, they would become involved in the game-changing process.
Q: The implication of what you are saying is that the days of the Zionist lobby calling the shots for American policy on all matters to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict could be numbered.
A: Yes. And the sooner the day comes when an American president can work with Congress to put America’s own interests first instead of having them subservient to Israel’s interests, the better it will be for all of us.
Q: Could that happen during your second term?
A: I would like to think so but I can’t be sure.
Q: A last thought for now, Mr President. Are we being naive when we entertain the thought that Israel’s brainwashed Jews might have their minds opened to reason by changing circumstances?
A: Only time will tell.
At that point I woke up. With the approach of the New Year I was only dreaming that I had an off-the-record conversation with President Obama.
Here is part of an Associated Press announcement appearing in US papers on 20 December 2012: “Declaring the time for action overdue, President Obama promised on Wednesday [19 December] to send Congress broad proposals in January for tightening gun laws and curbing violence after last week’s schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.”
The issue of violence goes far beyond the Newtown Connecticut incident, of course, and its ubiquity, on the streets as well as in the schools, is what has moved Obama to finally act. One can speculate about why violence in the United States, here represented by assaults using guns, is so widespread. Certainly, there is a cultural aspect to it.
America’s frontier mentality
Back in 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner wrote a famous essay about the “closing of the American frontier”. He commented that having been a frontier society since the first settlers arrived from Europe, a frontier mentality became a seminal aspect of the American character. Though Turner tied this culturally embedded mentality to the impulse for both personal liberty and national territorial expansion, there is another aspect of the frontier that may well be its most lasting contribution to US culture.
Too many, Americans see themselves as exceptional: blessed by God, expert practitioners of free enterprise and the people who really know what freedom and rights are all about. And, in the process of using power to demonstrate this exceptional status, both as individuals and as a nation, they consistently make a bloody mess.
Historically what is life on a frontier like? It is usually unsettled, without the secure rule of law. In the case of the United State, the frontier was a semi-militarized place with an enemy just over the horizon, violence common and guns for just about every settler. Out of this environment grew the perverse ideal of power and freedom embodied in the “rugged individual” who uses force (coming literally out of the barrel of a gun) to tame an “uncivilized” world and thereby obtain what he needs and protect what he has. That heritage might partly explain why, out of a population (as of 2011) of 311,591,91, there are an estimated 270,000,000 firearms in the hands of the civilian population.
Gun culture was an integral part of the frontier culture and, for many Americans, is still symbolic of their personal liberty. But in the end the gun is only a device through which to wield power and it is power that Americans aspire to above all. It is their “manifest destiny”. Too many, Americans see themselves as exceptional: blessed by God, expert practitioners of free enterprise and the people who really know what freedom and rights are all about. And, in the process of using power to demonstrate this exceptional status, both as individuals and as a nation, they consistently make a bloody mess.
Here in the United States guns kill about 17,000 people a year, of which about 3,000 are children. That is horrid enough, but the real picture is actually much worse. The domestic death toll caused by America’s civilian propensity to act out moments of power through violence is but a pittance compared to the carnage the US produces through the projection of military and other forms of force abroad. Using guns, mechanized weapons and chemical agents in Vietnam the United States demonstrated its power and managed to kill anywhere between 500,000 to 2,000,000 civilians. It is not possible to know how many of these were children, but the number must run at least into the tens of thousands.
In Iraq, the US developed a new official weapon that has proved particularly fatal to children. This is the weapon of sanctions. Such sanctions demonstrate that the US has the power to manipulate most of the world’s economy to the detriment of it’s enemies. In the case of Iraq, sanctions functioned as a sort of economic Agent Orange. They defoliated that country’s societal infrastructure over a 13-year period. Sanctions were imposed in 1990 as a consequence of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and maintained after the conclusion of the first Gulf War. As a consequence of these sanctions, important medicines, vital repair parts for water purification and sewage systems and other necessary items were not allowed to be imported into Iraq. The deaths of some 350,000 Iraqi children (the low-end estimated number), most under five years of age, can be directly or indirectly tied to this sanctions regime. The sanctions were only removed in 2003 when the US invaded the country.
Then came the weapons-related deaths as a result of the second Gulf War (2003 to 2011) launched on false pretences by the George W. Bush administration. Realistic estimates range from 600,000 to one million additional Iraqi deaths (adults and children) in this stage of operations.
The latest target
Now there are reports that Washington is once more, through the weapon of sanctions, creating the conditions for the deaths of the young and vulnerable. This time the target is Iran. According to Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, US sanctions are starting to affect the health of innocent Iranian citizens. Iran’s ability to purchase some medicines and hospital equipment has been impaired by US sanctions and people have already died as a result.
Nonetheless, American lawmakers such as Robert Menendez (Democrat, New Jersey) have successfully sponsored even more sanctions on Iran. “It seems to me we have to completely exhaust all the tools in our sanctions arsenal, and do so quickly, before Iran finds a way to navigate out of its current crisis,” Menendez said.
Why is Menendez and his fellows in Congress doing this? Because of some alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme? No. The Iran sanctions, growing slowly in intensity, predate that concern. Since the fall of the Shah in 1979 Washington has conceived of Iran as an enemy and therefore a legitimate target against which to demonstrate our power. It is reasonable to assume that Menendez knows what such policies means in human terms. But, like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright referring to the disastrous consequences of the Iraq sanctions, he seems to believe that the horror of it all is worth it.
Many Americans are dismayed, as they surely should be, by the domestic massacres of their children. These are the deaths closest to home and the ones they are forced to face up to due to media attention. They are also confused about what to do because, for so many, guns and freedom are synonymous. All the other instances of violence – the nightly murders in poor districts of cities and towns across the nation, the piled up bodies of adults and children in places like Vietnam and Iraq – are largely hidden from the citizenry. And certainly the consequences for the average of citizen of Iran of the US government acting out in a powerful way, will be kept remote enough so as to avoid all empathy.
Whether Americans are paying attention or not, their government, their elected officials, continue to make sure that the US remains out and about across the globe, projecting the nation’s power via guns and sanctions, and thereby helping to lower the world’s burgeoning population in the most negative of all possible ways.
The politicians who initiate these murderous policies may hardly know, in any fully analysed way, why they do so. But they know it feels culturally comfortable to persist. They have their superficial ideological conviction that there must be an evil enemy to fight and, in juxtaposition to that enemy, they are always the good guys. Many also have the simplistic notion that gun ownership is as vital to the individual citizen’s freedom as military power is to the nation’s liberty. Just as the individual American believes he owns that semi-automatic rifle to protect home and hearth, so his national leaders cherish (and overfund) the national arsenal. They have power and they will use it. They believe, probably sincerely, that they are still on the frontier protecting their homestead from the uncivilized.
Israel tries to ban non-Jewish celebrations
By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority.
Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic time bomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”.
But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?
This issue first came to public attention two years ago when it was revealed that Shimon Gapso, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, had banned Christmas trees from all public buildings in his northern Israeli city.
Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish. As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city. (Shimon Gapso, Jewish Mayor of Upper Galilee)
“Upper Nazareth is a Jewish town and all its symbols are Jewish,” Gapso said. “As long as I hold office, no non-Jewish symbol will be presented in the city.”
The decision reflected in part his concern that Upper Nazareth, built in the 1950s as the centrepiece of the Israeli government’s “Judaization of the Galilee” programme, was failing dismally in its mission.
Far from “swallowing up” the historic Palestinian city of Nazareth next door, as officials had intended, Upper Nazareth became over time a magnet for wealthier Nazarenes who could no longer find a place to build a home in their own city. That was because almost all Nazareth’s available green space had been confiscated for the benefit of Upper Nazareth.
Instead Nazarenes, many of them Palestinian Christians, have been buying homes in Upper Nazareth from Jews – often immigrants from the former Soviet Union – desperate to leave the Arab-dominated Galilee and head to the country’s centre, to be nearer Tel Aviv.
The exodus of Jews and influx of Palestinians have led the government to secretly designate Upper Nazareth as a “mixed city”, much to the embarrassment of Gapso. The mayor is a stalwart ally of far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman and regularly expresses virulently anti-Arab views, including recently calling Nazarenes “Israel-hating residents whose place is in Gaza” and their city “a nest of terror in the heart of the Galilee”.
Although neither Gapso nor the government has published census figures to clarify the city’s current demographic balance, most estimates suggest that at least a fifth of Upper Nazareth’s residents are Palestinian. The city’s council chamber also now includes Palestinian representatives.
Christmas trees “offensive to Jewish eyes”
But Gapso is not alone in his trenchant opposition to making even the most cursory nod towards multiculturalism. The city’s chief rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, has refused to countenance a single Christmas tree in Upper Nazareth, arguing that it would be “offensive to Jewish eyes”.
That view, it seems, reflects the official position of the country’s rabbinate. In so far as they are able, the rabbis have sought to ban Christmas celebrations in public buildings, including in the hundreds of hotels across the country.
A recent report in the Haaretz newspaper, on an Israeli Jew who grows Christmas trees commercially, noted in passing: “Hotels – under threat of losing kashrut certificates – are prohibited by the rabbinate from decking their halls in boughs of holly or, heaven forbid, putting up even the smallest of small sparkly Christmas tree in the corner of the lobby.”
In other words, the rabbinate has been quietly terrorizing Israeli hotel owners into ignoring Christmas by threatening to use its powers to put them out of business. Denying a hotel its kashrut (kosher) certificate would lose it most of its Israeli and foreign Jewish clientele.
Few mayors or rabbis find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to go public with their views on the dangers of Christmas decorations. In Israel, segregation between Jews and Palestinians is almost complete. Even most of the handful of mixed cities are really Jewish cities with slum-like ghettoes of Palestinians living on the periphery.
Apart from Upper Nazareth, the only other “mixed” place where Palestinian Christians are to be found in significant numbers is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Haifa is often referred to as Israel’s most multicultural and tolerant city, a title for which it faces very little competition.
Non-Jewish New Year celebrations “seriously forbidden”
It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals. (Letter from Haifa rabbinate)
But the image hides a dirtier reality. A recent letter from Haifa’s rabbinate came to light in which the city’s hotels and events halls were reminded that they must not host New Year’s parties at the end of this month (the Jewish New Year happens at a different time of year). The hotels and halls were warned that they would be denied their kashrut licences if they did so.
“It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals,” the letter states.
After the letter was publicized on Facebook, Haifa’s mayor, Yona Yahav, moved into damage limitation mode, overruling the city’s rabbinical council on 23 December and insisting that parties would be allowed to go ahead. Whether Yahav has the power to enforce his decision on the notoriously independent-minded rabbinical authorities is still uncertain.
But what is clear is that there is plenty of religious intolerance verging on hatred being quietly exercised against non-Jews, mostly behind the scenes so as not to disturb Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” image or outrage the millions of Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year.
Empowered, emboldened, but what is the PLO doing with its new UN status?
The Palestinian embassy in London has just issued a press release under the heading “Pressing need to halt Israel’s illegal settlement colonization campaign via political, legal, and diplomatic means”.
It complains about Israel’s “flagrant disrespect of international law” in announcing, the day after the UN upgraded Palestine’s status, a further 3,000 illegal settlement units in Palestinian East Jerusalem.
“It is time that political, economic and legal means are used so that Israel bears its responsibility for its violations and obstruction of peace efforts,” says Ambassador Manuel Hassassian. He wants the British government and the European Union to ban Israeli settlement products and bar Israeli extremist settlers. “This is the only way to halt Israel’s illegal settlement campaign, salvage the two-state solution and revive the peace process.”
What’s more, he urges the British public to:
- Write to their MPs outlining Israel’s illegal settlement expansion activities which are a breach of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitute war crimes.
- Ask their MPs to call for a ban on import of settlement products into the UK.
- Contact the Foreign Office.
- Inform the embassy of any responses.
There has been a “pressing need” to halt Israel’s illegal settlement-building ever since the Allon Plan of 1967. But the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) did remarkably little over the years to use the channels open to it until last month when it finally got around to applying for – and getting – non-member observer status at the UN.
One hoped that President Mahmoud Abbas would waste no time in signing up to the Rome Statute and joining the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice in order to lay long-overdue charges against Israel for its illegal occupation, blockade, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Why is the newly-empowered Palestine, fresh from its victory, still asking us to do the donkey-work? One hoped that President Mahmoud Abbas would waste no time in signing up to the Rome Statute and joining the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice in order to lay long-overdue charges against Israel for its illegal occupation, blockade, war crimes and crimes against humanity. First among the many legal options, surely, is to cut the endless whining and apply for an injunction against further settlement construction.
True, reports are circulating that Palestinian officials talk of filing war crimes charges and encouraging the international community to impose sanctions. But there may be a long wait before this Zionist-corrupted British government suspends trade with the thugs it repeatedly pledges to support and persuades its EU partners to do the same.
What if those 138 nations adopted BDS?
Now that access to the proper UN legal machinery is available for Palestinians, it is ridiculous to claim that EU and other sanctions are “the only way” to halt Israel’s illegal settlement campaign and salvage the two-state solution. Did 138 nations vote to upgrade Palestine’s UN status for nothing?
Only a few days ago Agent Cameron renewed his loyal pledge: “We said we’d resist calls for boycotts on Israel and yes – we are going to keep on working with Israel, doing business with Israel, trading with Israel.”
And earlier this month Agent Hague was saying that European trade sanctions against Israel were not an option. “I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union … about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach.”
Before telling us what we must do, Mr Ambassador, let’s see evidence of what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO are doing, if anything, after their heady success at the UN three weeks ago.
Even news that South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, has adopted BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) as official policy is unlikely to push Hague and Cameron into making a humiliating U-turn and shafting their best friends in all the world. But if those 138 nations could be persuaded to similarly embrace BDS, who knows, it might do the trick.
Meanwhile, when asked what steps the British government was taking to promote compliance with obligations under international law in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Alistair Burt (Foreign Office minister for Middle East affairs) gave Parliament this soppy reply:
We repeatedly call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law and have a regular dialogue with Israel on legal issues relating to the occupation, including settlements and the treatment of prisoners, including Palestinian children in military custody.
We have consistently condemned Israel’s announcements to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem… We look to the government of Israel to take all necessary steps to prevent settlement construction.
And when Jeremy Corbyn asked what steps were being taken to make sure Israeli settlements are excluded from all EU and UK agreements with Israel, Burt replied that UK and EU guidelines do not currently differentiate between products from Israel or from the occupied Palestinian territories. He said the EU Foreign Affairs Council was working on measures to ensure that settlement produce does not enter the EU duty-free, under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, and that EU-wide guidelines are issued to make sure that settlement products are not incorrectly labelled as Israeli produce. But there are currently “no plans for EU or domestic legislation on this issue”.
Another MP asked what advice the government was giving UK companies which do business with Israeli settlements, and was told: “International law does not impose obligations on corporations, and for a company to operate in Israeli settlements is not, per se, contrary to UK law. So we do not provide advice or guidelines to UK companies who operate, or are considering operating, in Israeli settlements.”
So much for “dialogue”
The ball is now in the PLO’s court. Before telling us what we must do, Mr Ambassador, let’s see evidence of what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO are doing, if anything, after their heady success at the UN three weeks ago.
Here was a chance for the Palestinian leadership to show us what they’re really made of. But it seems they’re stuck in the same old time-wasting groove.
Obama’s Hagel test
By Alan Hart
By all accounts President Obama wants to nominate Chuck Hagel, the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon as secretary of defence, but a coalition led by the Zionist lobby is mounting a smear campaign against Hagel.
Why? It hopes to persuade Obama that he would be foolish to nominate Hagel because he is unlikely to be confirmed by a Senate in which many members are content to do Zionism’s bidding in order to protect their own backs.
I’ll get to what it is about Hegel’s record that troubles and even frightens the Zionist lobby in a moment, but first can we, please, get the terminology right. Almost everybody who speaks and writes about the Israel-Palestine conflict does not get it right. And that creates an obstacle to understanding.
Getting the terminology right
The monster that controls Congress and ties any president’s hands on policy for dealing with Israel-Palestine is not the “Jewish lobby” and not the “Israel lobby.”
It is wrong to describe it as the Jewish lobby for two reasons.
One is that such a description implies that it represents and speaks for all Jews. It most certainly does not.
The most accurate long description of the Zionist lobby would be that it is composed of those of all faiths and none who give and demand unconditional support for the Zionist (not Jewish) state of Israel right or wrong.
The other is that it’s not only Jews who make up the lobby. Another key element of it is composed of the “Bring on Armageddon” Christian fundamentalists.
It is wrong to describe it as the Israel lobby because such a description implies that it represents and speaks for all of Israel’s Jews and the nearly one quarter of its citizens who are Arabs. It most certainly does not.
The most accurate long description of the Zionist lobby would be that it is composed of those of all faiths and none who give and demand unconditional support for the Zionist (not Jewish) state of Israel right or wrong. In my view the most practical short form of that is Zionist lobby. (Some call it the “Likud lobby”. There was a case for doing so in the past, but today there are emerging fascist forces in Israel even further to the right than Likud, and the Zionist lobby speaks for them, too.)
Even the term “pro-Israel” is an obstacle to understanding. When it is used without qualification, as it almost always is, it can mean either pro an Israel inside its borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 war, or pro an Israel in occupation of the West Bank (in defiance of international law) and laying siege to the Gaza Strip. Politicians who declare themselves to be “pro-Israel” should be asked which Israel they are pro.
An American senator, not an Israeli senator
So what is it about Hagel’s views that put him today at the temporary top of the Zionist lobby’s verbal hit-list?
First and foremost is his often stated view that the duty of the president and Congress is to put America’s own best interests first and not allow them to become subservient to Israel’s interests. He is firmly on the record with the statement: “I am an American senator, not an Israeli senator.”
In 2007 he informed the Arab American Institute that he had dropped his bid for the presidency because a pro-Israel donor had told him that if he wanted funding his support for Israel should be “automatic”.
What is so objectionable about [the] view that the duty of the president and Congress is to put America’s own best interests first and not allow them to become subservient to Israel’s interests?
A year later in a book by Aaron David Miller he was correctly quoted as saying “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.” That enraged and still enrages the Zionist lobby and all who do its bidding, including Arizona Senator John McCain who, thank goodness, didn’t make it to the White House when he ran against Obama.
McCain actually said: “I know of no Jewish lobby. I know there is strong support for Israel but I know of no Jewish lobby. I hope he [Hagel] will identify who that is.”
McCain wasn’t challenging Hagel’s imprecise terminology. He was asserting that there is no lobby organized by some Jewish Americans who give and demand unconditional support for all of Greater Israel’s policies and actions.
If Hagel is nominated for the post of secretary of defence, I think he would be well advised to respond to McCain’s challenge during his confirmation hearing. And I would have him do it with something like these words:
I was in error when I said the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people. That was an imprecise use of language on my part. I should have said the Zionist lobby intimidates a lot of people… Are you really saying, Senator McCain, that you know of no Zionist lobby which intimidates very many members of Congress and our presidents?
I also have a question for those, including some here today, who are seeking to demonize me. What is so objectionable about my stated view that the duty of the president and Congress is to put America’s own best interests first and not allow them to become subservient to Israel’s interests?
Hagel’s other past sins include his call for the US to engage with Hamas and his stated view that there is no military solution to Iran’s nuclear problem. (I can almost hear America’s military chiefs saying behind closed doors: “That’s the man we want and need as our political master.”)
In its efforts to demonize Hagel the Zionist lobby and its associates are not having things all their own away.
Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state in the Republican administration of George W. Bush, said he didn’t think the attacks on Hagel were fair. He went on:
I’ve known him quite closely for the last 15 years and I’ve never heard him utter any anti-Semitic statement. If he used the term “ewish lobby”, that’s a poor choice of words and I’m sure he’ll speak for himself on that… I happen to know the guy. He’s not owned by anybody, he happens to think for himself, and this apparently causes some fear in some cases. He’s got an unerring bullshit sensor, he’s got real stones [I presume that means balls in British-English]and he doesn’t mind telling you what his opinion is, which will stand him in very good stead in the Pentagon if the president nominates him.
Another who has come to Hagel’s defence is Brent Scowcroft, the former air force general and Republican national security adviser. He said:
Senator Hagel is one of the most well-respected and thoughtful voices on both foreign and domestic policy. At an uncertain time in America – with a significant debt burden, a polarized Congress and a host of challenges facing the international community, I am confident Senator Hagel will provide a vibrant, no-nonsense voice of logic and leadership to the United States.
Obama’s decision, expected very soon, about whether or not to nominate Hagel will give us the first significant indication since his re-election of whether or not he is going to continue to dance to Zionism’s tune or, as Hagel might put it, continue to be intimidated by its lobby.
Why the Washington Post killed the story of Murdoch’s bid to buy the US presidency
Carl Bernstein, of “All the President’s Men” fame, has a revealing commentary in the Guardian today, though revealing not entirely in a way he appears to understand. Bernstein highlights a story first disclosed earlier this month in the Washington Post by his former journalistic partner Bob Woodward that media mogul Rupert Murdoch tried to “buy the US presidency”.
A taped conversation shows that in early 2011 Murdoch sent Roger Ailes, the boss of his most important US media outlet, Fox News, to Afghanistan to persuade General David Petraeus, former commander of US forces, to run against Barack Obama as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Murdoch promised to bankroll Petraeus’s campaign and commit Fox News to provide the general with wall-to-wall support.
Murdoch’s efforts to put his own man in the White House failed because Petraeus decided he did not want to run for office. “Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran,” Petraeus says in the recording, “but I won’t … but if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer.”
The pair [journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward] presumably expected the story [Murdoch’s attempt to buy the US presidency] to prompt congressional hearings into Murdoch’s misuse of power, parallel to investigations in the UK that have revealed Murdoch’s control of politicians and the police there.
Bernstein is rightly appalled not just by this full-frontal attack on democracy but also by the fact that the Washington Post failed to splash with their world exclusive. Instead they buried it inside the paper’s lifestyle section, presenting it as what the section editor called “a buzzy media story that … didn’t have the broader import” that would justify a better showing in the paper.
In line with the Washington Post, most other major US news outlets either ignored the story or downplayed its significance.
We can probably assume that Bernstein wrote his piece at the bidding of Woodward, as a covert way for him to express his outrage at his newspaper’s wholesale failure to use the story to generate a much-deserved political scandal. The pair presumably expected the story to prompt congressional hearings into Murdoch’s misuse of power, parallel to investigations in the UK that have revealed Murdoch’s control of politicians and the police there.
As Bernstein observes: “The Murdoch story – his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic – is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal.”
What Bernstein cannot understand is why his media masters don’t see things the way he does. He reserves his greatest dismay for “the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.”
But in truth neither of Bernstein’s explanations for this failure is convincing.
A far more likely reason for the US media’s aversion to the story is that it poses a danger to the Matrix-like wall of static interference generated by precisely the same media that successfully conceals the all-too-cosy relationship between the corporations (that own the media) and the country’s politicians.
…the story reveals the charade of that electoral game, one in which powerful corporate elites manipulate the system through money and the media they own to restrict voters’ choice to two almost-identical candidates. Those candidates hold the same views on 80 per cent of the issues.
The Petraeus story is disturbing to the media precisely because it tears away the façade of US democratic politics, an image carefully honed to persuade the American electorate that it chooses its presidents and ultimately decides the direction of the country’s political future.
Instead, the story reveals the charade of that electoral game, one in which powerful corporate elites manipulate the system through money and the media they own to restrict voters’ choice to two almost-identical candidates. Those candidates hold the same views on 80 per cent of the issues. Even where their policies differ, most of the differences are quickly ironed out behind the scenes by the power elites through the pressure they exert on the White House via lobby groups, the media and Wall Street.
The significance of Woodward’s story is not that it proves Rupert Murdoch is a danger to democracy but rather that it reveals the absolute domination of the US political system by the global corporations that control what we hear and see. Those corporations include, of course, the owners of the Washington Post.
The saddest irony is that the journalists who work within the corporate media are incapable of seeing outside the parameters set for them by their media masters. And that includes even the most accomplished practitioners of the trade: Woodward and Bernstein.
By Jamal Kanj
I’m writing from Finland this week, where the omnipresence of snowflakes and festive Christmas lights heralds another year celebrating the birth of Jesus.
In parallel, the descendants of the Messiah in Palestine are marking another year of abominable Israeli occupation.
Indulged with indifference towards the collective sorrow cloaking the hearts of native Christians in the Holy Land, the West turns another leaf, rejoicing the birth of the prince of peace.
However, in present-day Palestine, Jesus is no longer a prince and peace remains a phantom.
If Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were to venture on their historic journey to Bethlehem today, they would have to navigate roads reserved for foreign settlers, overcome military checkpoints and scale high walls to get there.
If Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary were to venture on their historic journey to Bethlehem today, they would have to navigate roads reserved for foreign settlers, overcome military checkpoints and scale high walls to get there.
More than 2,000 years ago they fled Herod the Great, “King of the Jews”, to save their baby.
Nowadays, Palestinian Christians are fleeing descendants of the King of Khazar – an aspiring flat copy of Herod – who has Polish pedigree and was christened Benjamin Mileikowsky.
He later became known as Binyamin Netanyahu, the current Israeli prime minister whose main political ally is the Moldovan Evet Lvovich Liberman – Avigdor Lieberman.
According to Israeli human rights groups, the year 2012 has witnessed a portentous increase in religious hate crimes directed towards historical Christian monasteries, churches and graveyards.
The most recent was a week ago, when suspected Jewish extremists (Price Tag) associated with Israel’s settlement movement defiled the Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem with graffiti.
In July, elected Israeli member of parliament Michael Ben Ari desecrated the Christian Bible on camera, calling it a “despicable book” belonging “in history’s trash can” and blaming it for “the murder of millions of Jews” in Europe.
Earlier in the year, the CBS News show “60 Minutes” aired a compelling programme on Palestinian Christians in the holy land. Before the broadcast, the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, contacted the head of CBS News in an attempt to quash the report.
In an uncommon gesture, CBS afforded the ambassador a unique opportunity to rebut the story before it was aired.
Veteran reporter Bob Simon told the diplomat in an interview before the broadcast: “I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.”
Oren pompously responded: “There’s a first time for everything.”
If your country is so good to Christians, why don’t you allow me, my family and thousands of Palestinian Christians to return to our home? (Palestinian Christian activist, Philip Farah, challenging Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michel Oren)
The ambassador pre-empted the show in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, but instead of addressing Israel’s mistreatment of Christians, Oren blamed Muslims for oppressing and massacring “Christian communities throughout the Middle East”, claiming that Christianity was “thriving” in Israel.
Responding to Oren’s assertions, 80 native Christian leaders denounced his bid to blame Christians’ hardship on Muslims as “shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community”.
As for the “thriving” Christian community in Israel, they explained that the growth was attributable to a large number of “Russian Christians whom Israel was unable to distinguish from Jewish immigrants pouring into the country after the fall of the Soviet Union”.
A native Christian activist, Philip Farah, challenged Ambassador Oren: “If your country is so good to Christians, why don’t you allow me, my family and thousands of Palestinian Christians to return to our home?”
In 1948, Israel indiscriminately razed more than 500 Palestinian villages, including predominantly Christian towns such as Iqrit and Kufr Bir’m, to name just two.
Likewise, these days Israeli settlements and the separation wall are encroaching and confiscating land belonging to Palestinians of all persuasions.
This Christmas, new Israeli Herods abetted by Western powers are driving Christians from their land and transforming native churches into Israeli tourist attractions and grand “archaeological sites” like the Pyramids, detached from their indigenous traditions.
“Act and intervene, or nothing will change”
Peace is possible if justice is possible
My first Christmas greeting this year came all the way from Bethlehem itself, just yards from where the “big story” is supposed to have begun 2,012 years ago. My friend Jiries is a survivor of the murderous 40-day siege of the Church of the Nativity by Israeli troops in 2002.
These days, for me, Christmas has become a time to remember some of the extraordinary people I’ve met in the Holy Land.
And none is more extraordinary than the veteran Catholic priest in Gaza, Father Manuel Musallam, who hosted a visit by a small group I was with in 2007. The Gaza Strip had been under tight blockade for 18 months following Hamas’s 2006 election victory and the mood was strained to say the least.
In the church’s school assembly hall I was surprised to meet so many Muslim students. On one wall hung a huge portrait of the Pope and on the adjacent wall an equally large portrait of Yasser Arafat.
Fr Manuel whisked us off to a meeting at the House of Fatah and from there we drove to see the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, and some of his colleagues, who received us with utmost courtesy and friendship and gave straight answers to straight questions. Haniyeh and Fr Manuel declared their unity to the TV cameras afterwards, emphasizing that they were Palestinians first and Muslim or Christian second, in the struggle against a common foe.
When I got home to the UK Gaza’s health minister sent me, as he had promised to do, lists of desperately needed medical supplies and hospital equipment spares that had been blocked at the border by Israel. I forwarded these to my own government direct and via my MP, but as far as I could discover they simply ignored them.
“Our love for God is in intensive care”
The following year – and who can forget it? – the Israelis launched their horrific three-week blitzkrieg called Operation Cast Lead at Christmas-time and New Year 2008/09.
At the height of the killing spree, Fr Manuel sent this message from the smoking ruins to anyone who would listen:
Our people in Gaza … eat but remain hungry, they cry, but no one wipes their tears. There is no water, no electricity, no food, only terror and blockade… Our children are living in a state of trauma and fear. They are sick from it and for other reasons such as malnutrition, poverty and the cold… The hospitals did not have basic first aid before the war and now thousands of wounded and sick are pouring in and they are performing operations in the corridors. The situation is frightening and sad.
He added: “May Christ’s compassion revive our love for God even though it is currently in ‘intensive care’.”
A few days later he wrote:
Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless. We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.
When he retired in 2009 in failing health I remarked in an article: “I doubt if God has finished with him just yet. There’s a mountain of work to be done and good men are hard to find.”
And so it was to be. In the run-up to Christmas 2010 Fr Manuel was one of a trio of churchmen from the Holy Land touring Ireland to raise awareness of the plight of the dwindling Christian community under Israeli military occupation. Together with Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Greek Orthodox Church) and Constantine Dabbagh (Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches) he showed they were more than a match for Western politicians who fancied they knew all about the Middle East. “We need only one thing, to be protected by the world against the crimes of Israel”, was their central message.
And they made this stark plea: “Act and intervene, or nothing will change.”
Fr Manuel told Irish government ministers and their foreign affairs committee:
I was in Gaza during the war [Operation Cast Lead] and suffered with my people for 22 days. I saw with my own eyes a phosphoric bomb in the school yard. I saw people injured by these phosphoric bombs, although these bombs are forbidden. These crimes against us were ignored by all the people of the world…
What happened in Gaza was not a war. A war is a clash between soldiers, aircraft and weapons. We were victims, just victims. They destroyed Gaza. I was there and saw with my own eyes what happened. We in Gaza were treated like animals… We are not terrorists. We have not occupied Israel.
We do not want to die to liberate Palestine. We want to live to build Palestine…. We are asking the world to give the Palestinian people their rights. The question is whether peace is possible. Despite all the difficulties, the crimes and the war, we as Palestinians say peace is possible if justice is possible.
All we ask of Israel is to respect us and not treat us like animals. We also ask parliamentarians and governments across the world not to give us food aid. We do not need cookies from Israel. We do not even need to trade with Israel. All we need is to be protected. We are suffering a war that we have endured for more than 60 years.
“Be assured that Hamas will protect Christians in Gaza”
Christianity in the region had been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel, said Fr Manuel. “Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora.”
He told his listeners how he had seen the Israeli army target the Christian school in Gaza.
Five Hamas ministers visited the school after it was attacked and promised they would repair the damage… Hamas paid more than 122,000 US dollars to repair all the damage caused. Afterwards I met the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. When he embraced me he said this, and we believed it. He said: “Go to your family, but be assured that Hamas will employ weapons against Muslims to protect Christians in Gaza.” This is the reality. Christians in Palestine are not suffering persecution, because we are not considered to be a religious community, but rather the people of Palestine. We have the same rights and the same obligations.
He finished by describing how things really are.
We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink.
We want to be given more opportunity to reach Jerusalem. I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990… We want to see an end to this occupation, and please do not ask us to protect those who are occupying our territory.
Fr Manuel should have been a political leader. To improve the human condition, it seems to me, churchmen must also be politically minded and not afraid to “mix it” with the out-and-out scoundrels who infest our political institutions and cloak themselves in a national flag.
The priest’s words are all the more poignant this Christmas after yet another bloody and cowardly assault on defenceless Gazans and the continued inaction, even connivance, of some (supposedly Christian) Western powers.
My Christmas message to Palestinians in the Holy Land therefore is, pray for a miracle.
And my Christmas message to politicians in the world outside the Holy Land is this: as Fr Manuel says, peace is possible if justice is possible, so get off your fat backsides and ACT to deliver JUSTICE.
Make peace possible.
Or go pack your bags, find other employment, for you offend all decent people.
Year on year the numbers of men, women and children leaving Ethiopia for one of the Gulf states and beyond in search of work and freedom from repression is increasing.
Desperately seeking a future
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that this year around 85,000 Ethiopians left for Yemen, the hub of migration out of the Horn of Africa, lured by the often hollow prospect of earning enough money to support their family.
In the last six years about 250,000 Ethiopians have made the dangerous journey into this very poor and deeply divided country, which boasts the world’s second highest rate of chronic child malnutrition and where nearly half the population live in poverty.
But instead of jobs they sit low on the domestic workers hierarchy and, along with other African nationals, are discriminated against, not just in Yemen but throughout the Gulf region where xenophobia and racism are reflected in the region’s politics and government policies.
Most of the migrants fall in the 18-30 age group and come from rural or semi-rural parts of Ethiopia. They are typically poorly educated and many lack basic literacy. While most are driven to emigrate by poverty, about a 25 per cent are estimated to be members of opposition parties – notably the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogoden National Liberation Front – fleeing persecution by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government, which rules over what is in effect a single-party state and allows no dissent or opposition even iwithin the bounds set by the constitution.
Smugglers masquerading under the acceptable guise of “brokers” exploit vulnerable individuals living in rural areas and having no knowledge of the wider world. Embedded within the community, they paint a picture of migration coloured by wealth and prosperity, opportunity and excitement. Accounts of horrific migration experiences are known but often ignored.
Migrants and smugglers alike are pushed to extremes, desperately trying to survive in a “dog eat dog” world that is dominated by an unjust, corrupt market economy which persecutes the poor and concentrates unlimited wealth and power in the hands of the few. It is a system in which huge corporations, banks and financial institutions of the developed nations, along with their allied governments, condition and define developing countries as they try against all odds to haul themselves out of poverty.
Hopeless journeys made in hope
Djibouti City is the first major stage in the harrowing journey to Yemen. Here or at sea all possessions –mobile phones, cash and clothes – are stolen by the smugglers, corrupt police or border guards. The journey to Djibouti’s capital is a harsh and dangerous one in which many Ethiopian migrants die of starvation, dehydration or are killed by bandits.
According to the US State Department, upon reaching Djibouti City migrant “women and girls may fall victim to domestic servitude or forced prostitution”. At Obock, the preferred crossing point into Yemen and gateway to the Gulf, the migrants “have no access to food, safe drinking water or shelter from the sun” and wait for days or weeks for favourable conditions to cross the perilous waters of the Gulf of Aden, in flimsy boats manned by vicious criminal gangs. The migrants usually come from Ethiopia by truck, although occasionally the entire journey is made on foot, over weeks through one of the hottest, most inhospitable areas in the world. Inevitably, many peril along the way.
Abduction, murder and rape
As shocking is the violent treatment migrants face. Murder, abduction and ransom demands, torture, rape and sexual abuse are the nightmares many are subjected to by criminal gangs and smugglers – all in the pursuit of 100 US dollars a month to feed and clothe their families a thousand or more kilometres away.
On arrival in Yemen men and women are separated, wives taken from husbands, daughters from fathers, brothers from sisters. Trafficking and multiple rape of women is widespread. A report by the humanitarian news service IRIN states that “the majority of the approximately 3,000 women held by smugglers in Haradh [on the border with Saudi Arabia] over the past year were raped, many of them repeatedly”.
The Danish Refugee Council relates this account from a 15-year-old boy who was captured by a gang. “They tied a rope round my legs and hung me upside down and beat me almost to death for three days. I was made to watch an Ethiopian woman being raped and an Ethiopian baby about one year old being killed.” Cases of male rape – a punishment for trying to stop the rape of a wife or sister – have also been documented.
Although deaths at the hands of smugglers have dramatically decreased, they have been replaced by abduction, the terrifying experience of the majority. With ransoms of between 100 and 300 dollars being demanded from family members who can barely feed themselves, many abductees linger on in captivity. Torture and violence at the hands of hostage takers is brutal: pulling teeth, gouging eyes, driving nails through hands and feet, cigarette burns are all reported. If ransoms are not paid, migrants are often beaten to death.
In March this year 70 Ethiopian men and women were discovered in Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate, near the border with Saudi Arabia. According to IRIN, “their captors, they said, had beaten them with pipes, burned them with cigarettes and poured liniment in their eyes, making them scream in pain”. This horrific incident came shortly after the killing of three Ethiopian men in January, shot while trying to escape from smugglers.
The ordeal of women begins in Djibouti. The Danish Refugee Council quotes an Ethiopian man recounting the sea passage when “four Yemeni smugglers were on board the boat. They raped the girls in front of us, we were not able to move or to speak, and those girls were already sold to Yemeni traffickers.” Many are abducted and held captive, sometimes for months on end. Their harrowing experiences are illustrated by the story of a 16-year-old girl from Wollo – recounted by the Danish Refugee Council – who was imprisoned for six months and repeatedly raped by gang members. Many other women report being “raped at almost every stage in their journey and stay within Yemen”. They “are often captured, kidnapped and disappear, and it is believed they are trafficked for sexual or domestic slavery”.
Yemeni government collusion
People smugglers are organized and well armed. According to the chief of police for Haradh District, which borders Saudi Arabia, where 4,000 Ethiopians currently await repatriation, “we face fierce resistance and shootouts. It’s like fighting an insurgency… As long as these people keep arriving the smugglers will keep taking them. There is nothing we can do.”
The Yemeni and Ethiopian governments have been discussing ways to present “all facilities required to return the Ethiopian refugees to their home,” said the Yemeni interior minister, without mentioning the brutal criminality taking place inside his country, the security services’ corruption and the complete lack of police activity to apprehend the smugglers, protect the migrants and end the trafficking.
The Yemeni authorities, who are shamefully complicit in the violence, are portraying Ethiopian and other migrants as the cause of and reason for the increased level of extreme criminality. In a sign that suggests possible state collusion with criminal gangs, it has been reported that Yemeni police activity “is also frequently preventing patrols along Yemen’s shores by humanitarian teams as they try to reach new arrivals before the smugglers”.
Corruption is endemic, with security officials coordinating with smugglers on the border with Saudi Arabia, “A climate of collusion and low political will to apprehend and prosecute smugglers is allowing the trade and abuse of migrants to flourish,” Reuters reports. The country is run – according to a military officer on the payroll of the smugglers to the tune of 2,000 dollars a month – “by tribes not policemen: these people are my friends.” These people are turning a bind eye to the murder, rape and the trafficking of innocent migrants seeking work to feed their families.
The right to be free and safe
The quest and heartfelt desire of the people of Ethiopia is for social justice and liberty, not migration to the Gulf or beyond. They are a deeply proud and dignified people who love the land of their birth. Overwhelmingly, they risk life and limb not in search of material wealth but to escape economic hardship and political imprisonment at the hands of a highly repressive regime that seeks total control and denies all freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution.
The political space must be opened, to allow – indeed, encourage – political and social participation and responsibility. This would cultivate an atmosphere of hope and strengthen the community. A nationwide programme to raise awareness of the dangers inherent in migration via Yemen and to the Gulf countries more broadly is an imperative responsibility of the government, which can be aided in this by international non-governmental organizations.
The non-partisan distribution of development aid – an ignored legal requirement – would be a positive step in bringing relief from extreme economic hardship and curtailing migration. Currently, grain fertilizers and food are selectively distributed by regime stooges based not on need, but on political affiliation. Ethiopia’s primary donors – the USA, Britain and the European Union – have a responsibility to ensure this is addressed, in addition to insisting that the Ethiopian government observes human rights, adheres to domestic and international law and end state repression. All such steps would build confidence in change, reducing the need to migrate.
Development that does not address humanitarian needs justly and denies the observation of basic human rights enshrined in law, pollutes the notion of change, allows state corruption to grow and confines government responsibility to the realization of targets set by international institutions seeking to maximize their returns and build political and economic models of conformity and control.
The Ethiopian government must take all necessary steps to safeguard its citizens. Appropriate consular support is essential in offering protection, advice and sanctuary to migrants, irrespective of their political affiliation or ethnicity. Urgent, sustained and coordinated efforts are needed by the affected countries to close down the criminal networks, route out corruption and safeguard migrants.
The innocent men, women and children from Ethiopia who make an impossible choice by migrating are not the villains in this ongoing human tragedy. They are the victims trapped in a terrifying nightmare.