The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Worth reading

Instead of working toward revealing the truth behind the recent death of an anti-fence demonstrator the IDF is reaching into its bag of lies.

By Gideon Levy

Jawaher Abu Ramah died young. She stood facing the demonstrators against the separation fence in her village, inhaled very large quantities of the gas that Israel Defense Forces soldiers fired that day, collapsed and died several hours later at a Ramallah hospital.

bilin - Hamadi Abu Rahmah - January 6 2011

A protest against the separation fence in Bil’in in 2009. Jawaher Abu Rahmah can be seen in the second row in a black and white shirt.

Photo by: Hamadi Abu Rahmah

These are definitive facts. The IDF should have immediately issued a statement expressing sorrow for the death of the demonstrator, and said it would investigate the excessive means used for dispersing demonstrations at Bil’in, which had killed Bassem, Jawaher’s brother, for no reason. He was hit by a gas canister fired directly at his chest two and a half years ago.

So, the IDF began with the spreading of lies, making up facts and spinning tales, originating with officers who did not dare identify themselves. Following the investigation into Jawaher’s death, it is also necessary to investigate how the army dares to distort in this way. Perhaps it will disturb Israeli society more than the death of a demonstrator.

It started with the first announcement of the IDF spokesman who spoke of an “illegal demonstration.” Illegal, Avi Benayahu? Stealing land for the construction of enormous settlements and the enrichment of questionable developers is legal; the defense establishment’s continuously ignoring the High Court decision that the fence route needs to be changed is legal; the killing of Bassem is legal; and only the demonstration is illegal. Why is it illegal? Are the Palestinians and the anti-occupation activists not entitled to demonstrate? What demonstrations can be more legitimate than peasants protesting against the theft of their lands – demonstrations that resulted in the High Court ruling? How could the Palestinians demonstrate legally? And why are the IDF and the police capable of dispersing the demonstrations of wild and violent settlers without deaths and only the dispersal of Palestinian demonstrations becomes – not for the first time – fatal?

But that was not enough. The day after Jawaher was killed, the IDF began disseminating lies. It’s not clear why the army chose to embark on this campaign since a day after Jawaher’s death IDF soldiers intentionally killed a youth carrying a bottle at the Bik’ot crossing, but that did not stir any outburst. The IDF left little that it did not disseminate about poor Jawaher. It was said that she died at home in peace, and not in hospital. Oops, it was proved that she died in hospital. When the IDF learned that this trick did not succeed, it came up with other stories, a bag full of lies. Jawaher was not at the demonstration. There are no photos of her. She was there, observing from about 100 meters, and was choked by the smoke.

Another lie from the bag of the IDF: Jawaher had cancer, not just any cancer, but leukemia. She stood at the demonstration and suddenly collapsed and died of leukemia. Where did they pull that from? Perhaps because her father died of leukemia five years ago. Blood? Through its propagandists in the media, the IDF said that the funeral was “strange,” that her face was “covered” and that her body was covered in a “blood-soaked” shroud (perhaps she cut her wrists? ). No one saw the shroud, nor the covered face – only God knows their importance, but whatever. It’s enough that the IDF says leukemia and bloody shroud for the army or right-wing analysts to raid the media and spread their tales.

Jawaher watched the demonstration, inhaled gas, collapsed, was taken, in serious condition, by ambulance, to the hospital and died there the next day. As far as anyone knows, she did not suffer from leukemia. She had complained of vertigo, and the doctor diagnosed an ear infection. There was no autopsy, and the inventions on her medical past only desecrated the honor of the dead and her family. Even if she was taking medicine, as the IDF disseminated, did she not die as a result of inhaling gas?

It’s good to know that the death of Jawaher is on the IDF’s conscience. That is how it should be. All 21 Palestinian anti-fence demonstrators who were killed over the years, and with them dozens activists who were injured, including an American student who lost her eye during the summer, should also be on its conscience. But the way to deal with a troubled conscience needs to be through the exposure of the truth, not through lies. For the attention of the new IDF spokesman: The IDF is not a propaganda ministry of an authoritarian regime.


"PEACE" "PROCESS"

“Rejectionist front”: Maariv details Netanyahu’s refusal to directly negotiate with PA

Netanyahu

As Israel’s diplomatic position erodes and the Palestinian Authority’s campaign for the unilateral recognition of a state in the 1967 borders gains ground, the demand for “direct negotiations” has become a central talking point of  Israeli government spokespeople. Here’s the latest example, from a January 2 Associated Press report:

He [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] said he was ready to sit with Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, for “continuous direct one-on-one negotiations until white smoke is wafting,” an allusion to the Vatican’s custom for announcing a new pope.

“If Abu Mazen agrees to my proposal of directly discussing all the core issues, we will know very quickly if we can reach an agreement,” he said.

This morning’s [January 3] Maariv questions the sincerity of this proposal [full translation at the bottom of this post]:

In the past weeks, Israeli representatives, including Netanyahu, have repeatedly rejected official documents that their Palestinian counterparts have tried to submit to them, with details of the Palestinian positions on all the core issues.  The Israeli representatives are completely unwilling to discuss, read or touch these documents, not to speak of submitting an equivalent Israeli document with the Israeli positions…This completely contradicts the Israeli position, according to which everything is open for negotiation, and Netanyahu is willing to talk about all the core issues and go into a room with Abu Mazen in order to come out of it with an arrangement.  If this is the case, there is no reason for the Israelis not to willingly accept a review of the Palestinian positions in order to present counter-papers that will make it possible to start bridging the gaps.

Of the examples cited by diplomatic affairs analyst Ben Caspit, one is unambiguously ”direct”:

in a meeting that was held between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, in the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.  It has now become apparent that in this meeting, Abu Mazen brought an official Palestinian document for Netanyahu, consisting of two printed pages, with the proposed Palestinian solution on the two issues that the sides were supposed to discuss at the first stage: Security arrangements and borders.  Netanyahu refused to read or discuss the document.  Abu Mazen is said to have left the document at the Prime Minister’s Residence (so that Netanyahu could read it later).

Another, more recent, incident reveals something of the motivation for the Israeli rejections [emphasis mine]:

in the latest meeting that was held between the two negotiators, Dr. Saeb Erekat from the Palestinian side and Attorney Yitzhak Molcho from the Israeli side.  The meeting was held in Washington a few weeks ago, in the presence of the American mediators.  During the meeting, Erekat surprised Molcho, took an official booklet out of his briefcase bearing the logo of the Palestinian Authority and tried to hand it to Molcho.  When the Israeli inquired as to the content of the booklet, Erekat said that this was, in effect, the detailed and updated Palestinian peace plan, with the detailed Palestinian positions on all the core issues.  Molcho refused to take the booklet or examine it.  According to sources who are informed about what took place there, he said to Erekat, and to the Americans, that he could not touch the Palestinian booklet, read it or take it, because as soon as he would do so, “the government will fall.”

—-

Rejectionist front

Ben Caspit, Maariv, January 3 2010 [front-page; Hebrew original here]

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that he was willing to discuss all the core issues with Abu Mazen in closed meetings, and said that if he were to go into the room with the Palestinian leader he would sit down and discuss all the issues with him “until white smoke rises.”  Ma’ariv has found that in reality, the situation is the complete opposite: In the past weeks, Israeli representatives, including Netanyahu, have repeatedly rejected official documents that their Palestinian counterparts have tried to submit to them, with details of the Palestinian positions on all the core issues.  The Israeli representatives are completely unwilling to discuss, read or touch these documents, not to speak of submitting an equivalent Israeli document with the Israeli positions.

The most striking case took place in the latest meeting that was held between the two negotiators, Dr. Saeb Erekat from the Palestinian side and Attorney Yitzhak Molcho from the Israeli side.  The meeting was held in Washington a few weeks ago, in the presence of the American mediators.  During the meeting, Erekat surprised Molcho, took an official booklet out of his briefcase bearing the logo of the Palestinian Authority and tried to hand it to Molcho.  When the Israeli inquired as to the content of the booklet, Erekat said that this was, in effect, the detailed and updated Palestinian peace plan, with the detailed Palestinian positions on all the core issues.  Molcho refused to take the booklet or examine it.  According to sources who are informed about what took place there, he said to Erekat, and to the Americans, that he could not touch the Palestinian booklet, read it or take it, because as soon as he would do so, “the government will fall.”

The second case took place in a meeting that was held between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, in the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.  It has now become apparent that in this meeting, Abu Mazen brought an official Palestinian document for Netanyahu, consisting of two printed pages, with the proposed Palestinian solution on the two issues that the sides were supposed to discuss at the first stage: Security arrangements and borders.  Netanyahu refused to read or discuss the document.  Abu Mazen is said to have left the document at the Prime Minister’s Residence (so that Netanyahu could read it later).

The various Palestinian documents that are offered to the Israelis from time to time (there are additional examples besides those listed here), also include Palestinian consent to the presence of a “third party” in the Jordan Valley for a long period after the signing of the agreement.  The Palestinians intend to consent to an American or European military presence, or [a force belonging to] NATO or any other party that is acceptable to Israel, in order to guard the crossings, but as stated above, the Israeli side is completely unwilling to open these documents and discuss the issues.

This completely contradicts the Israeli position, according to which everything is open for negotiation, and Netanyahu is willing to talk about all the core issues and go into a room with Abu Mazen in order to come out of it with an arrangement.  If this is the case, there is no reason for the Israelis not to willingly accept a review of the Palestinian positions in order to present counter-papers that will make it possible to start bridging the gaps.  It appears that the statements made by Netanyahu and his associates are completely devoid of content, and what is closer to the truth is what was said by Yitzhak Molcho in the meeting with Erekat: “As soon as I touch this, the government will fall.”  Incidentally, both sides, Erekat and Molcho, agreed to deny the incident and erase it from the protocol if asked about it, but its existence was cross-checked with many sources.  MK Ahmed Tibi also hinted to this in statements he recently made on the Knesset podium.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau stated: “The report is incorrect.”


From the Jerusalem Post comics page

In what some in the IDF are banking on as the key to preventing another Goldstone Report, the IDF this week wrapped up its first-ever training course for a new military post aimed at helping Israel minimize harm to civilians during future operations in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Called “Population Coordination Officer,” the positions will be mostly held by reservists with the rank of captain or major. The week-long course was held at the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) school inside the Tzrifin Base near Rishon Lezion.


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According to the commander of the school, Lt.- Col. Hatib Mansour, if such officers had been deployed inside IDF battalions during Operation Cast Lead two years ago, the criticism against Israel might not have been as severe.

Following the operation, Israel came under unprecedented criticism, culminating in the United Nations-mandated Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“If there would have been officers like these in the battalions, I cannot say that there would not have been a Goldstone Report, but it would have spared some of the problems and minimized the damage to Israel afterwards,” he said.

The decision to establish the new post was made by COGAT, which will oversee the course, as well as the IDF Ground Forces Command, which needed to institute the organic change to the combat units.

During the course, the officers were taught how to assist battalion and brigade commanders in planning operations while taking into consideration the effect these operations will have on the civilian population.

“If a field commander needs to conquer a city or a neighborhood, our officer will be there to explain what the sensitive targets are in the area of operations and what to look out for,” Mansour explained.

“We are adding the humanitarian side, like which road needs to be kept open so civilians can evacuate if needed.”



Creating the pretext for an attack – but will it work?

If the Hariri tribunal indict several Hezbollah operatives, as expected, the militant group could use an escalation against Israel to divert the political storm.

By Avi Issacharoff

It is not clear in which direction Lebanon is heading: Is it a country on the verge of collapse? Is it heading toward a civil war? A war against Israel? Or is it just facing another political crisis that too will pass?

There have been an increasing number of reports of late hinting at Hezbollah’s preparations for a war against Israel. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam reported on Wednesday that the Shi’ite organization has completed its preparations for a war against Israel, including the construction of an extensive network of tunnels throughout the whole of Lebanon.

The report comes amidst the threat of an escalation against Israel when the findings of the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – the father of current Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri – are published in the near future.

According to the report, Hezbollah has completed equipping its arsenal of missiles and weapons and finished building its defensive network against a possible Israeli attack. The network stretches from the length of the Lebanon’s coast to the country’s mountainous eastern region.

According to the same report, the decision whether to go to war or to preserve the quiet is in Hezbollah’s hands.

Although one should not get too worked up over reports like this, it should be of interest to the Israeli public and security establishment.

According to the Kuwaiti report, Hezbollah’s preparations for an Israeli attack include booby-trapped tunnels equipped with sensors and mines.

“Hezbollah is preparing for confrontations with Israeli soldiers [in the tunnels],” the report said.

According to the report, Israeli soldiers have trained against tunnel models based on the tunnels in Tora Bora, Afghanistan but the tunnels constructed by Hezbollah in Lebanon differ from the Tora Bora tunnels. The report said that the training undergone by Israeli soldiers would not aid them against Hezbollah due to the differing nature of the tunnels.

Likewise, Hamas has reportedly dug tunnels between Rafah and Gaza City of a similar nature to the Hezbollah tunnels.

The Hariri tribunal is expected in the coming days to indict Hezbollah operatives for the assassination and various publications in Lebanon and the Arab world have touched on the possibility of a war against Israel.

Last week, the Lebanese newspaper ad-Diyar reported that the tribal would make its indictments today. But that report was denied by the Lebanese foreign ministry and it is still not clear when the tribunal will publish its conclusions.

Saad Hariri, who met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this week, said France would stand by the findings of the tribunal, in an attempt to signal to Hezbollah and other political actors in Lebanon that the tribunal’s findings would be released despite efforts to end the crisis in country.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Syria, in an effort to end the crisis and avoid a civil war in Lebanon, are trying to delay the publication of the findings of the tribunal and also attempting to determine how the various political Lebanese political factions will respond to the findings.

Meanwhile, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Wednesday began meetings with representatives of various organizations and groups in Lebanon in order to bring about the renewal of government activities. The government has been paralyzed because of the tribunal issue.

Hezbollah, which has the power to veto government decisions, had demanded that the Lebanese government freeze financial aid provided to the tribunal. Hariri refused to freeze the funding, leading to paralysis of government activity.

The bottom line is that there does not yet appear to be a light at the end of the Lebanese tunnel. It seems that the danger of a civil war hangs over the country in light of the upcoming publication of the tribunal’s conclusions.

The question is what Hezbollah will do until then and whether it will use an escalation against Israel in order to deflect the political storm within Lebanon. And as can be seen from both the Israeli and Hezbollah sides, another violent Israel-Hezbollah confrontation would make the Second Lebanon War of 2006 look like child’s play in comparison.


New abridged pocket dictionary of Hebrew language consists of four entries: Jew, Goyim, Anti-semite, Holocaust.

A bill sponsored by MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima ) and seven other Knesset members proposes to ban residents of East Jerusalem from serving as tour guides in the city, potentially putting hundreds out of work. Ezra, who said he was temporarily freezing work on the bill so as not to damage the negotiations with Palestinians, said in the introduction to the bill he believed Palestinian residents of Jerusalem should not be certified guides because they did not represent Israel’s national interest well enough “and in an appropriate manner.”

Ezra’s bill has so far won the endorsement of MKs Uri Ariel (National Union ), Carmel Shama and Danny Danon (Likud ), Avraham Michaeli (Shas ), Nachman Shai and Otniel Schneller (Kadima ), as well as Ilan Ghilon (Meretz ). Ghilon later withdrew his signature, with his aides citing a misunderstanding.

saar - Alon Ron - August 31 2010

Education Minister Gideon Saar

Photo by: Alon Ron

The bill proposes that a guide leading a group of over 11 people, or traveling in more than one vehicle, must be a citizen of Israel. Most Arab residents of East Jerusalem have residency status but not citizenship, and so would be banned from guiding a majority of the tourist groups.

“Israel has valuable tourism sites,” the text of the proposed bill reads. “Oftentimes there are disagreements on the manner of the presentation of these sites historically, religiously, culturally and more. The city of Jerusalem, with its many historic sites, is an example of a site about which there are such disagreements. Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have ‘dual loyalty,’ since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority.

“These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel,” the bill suggests.

Samir Bahbah, chairman of the association of East Jerusalem tour guides, told Haaretz there are some 300 Palestinian guides holding certification from Israel’s Tourism Ministry. All of them could become the target of the bill.

Ezra decided to suspend work on the bill for the meantime, out of concern for the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. “The problem is a problem,” Ezra said, “It’s clear to me there are tour guides hostile to the State of Israel and to Jerusalem. They are also the cheapest. But I don’t want to hurt the talks and I will not be promoting the bill in the near future.”

The Jerusalem NGO Ir Amim, which works to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence in the capital, slammed the bill yesterday, saying: “We know all too well which states attach state-sponsored guides to foreign tourists. This bill is just another one bringing us closer to this kind of state. This is not only a dangerous political clampdown, but a desperate economic blow to the tourism resource, possibly the only resource still available to East Jerusalemites.”


New Gallup poll shows that 16 of Abraham Foxman’s 37 chins supports a Palestinian state while 20 oppose (one abstained).

Anti-Defamation League head says “pipe dream” of declaring statehood without making concessions or sacrifices must be given up.

So said Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Tuesday night.

Foxman, who has been a close adviser to American presidents on Israel and other issues for decades, said immediate action was needed by Obama in light of reports that the Palestinians were considering declaring a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The declaration, Foxman added, might be supported by the European Union and United Nations.

“I am frustrated by the silence and hesitancy of the [Obama] administration on Palestinian talk of unilaterally declaring a state. Now is the time to send a message to the Palestinians and Middle Eastern and European nations that the US will not tolerate and sanction this, because if it doesn’t send that message, it will undermine Israel’s feeling that the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority will be conducted in good faith.”

Foxman added that now was the ideal time to make this clear to the Palestinians, because Obama had demonstrated he would continue to single out Israel publicly on settlements – as in his September 23 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Foxman noted that State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declined to address the matter in a recent press conference.

“It needs to be made clear to the Palestinians that they have to give up this pipe dream that their Arab and Europeans friends will give them a state without them having them to make concessions or sacrifices,” said Foxman.


In an important new development in the peace process, American Jewish leaders declare that universe belongs to Jewish people, but willing to make “painful concessions” on Pluto.

JERUSALEM – The U.N.’s Mideast envoy on Thursday criticized Israel’s renewed building in West Bank settlements in response to an Associated Press investigation.

The AP report showed that Israel has begun building at least 544 apartments since a 10-month halt on new housing starts in the settlements expired late last month. Palestinians charge that construction in the settlements is aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the issue has brought recently renewed U.S.-brokered peace talks to a standstill.

Also Thursday, world Jewish leaders broke with the past and demanded an active role in deciding Israel-Palestinian peace issues, singling out the fate of the holy city of Jerusalem.

In a statement, U.N. envoy Robert Serry called the AP settlement report “alarming.” He said settlement construction is “illegal under international law” and “will only further undermine trust.”

Despite intense U.S. pressure, Israel has so far refused to renew the construction curbs, saying the settlement issue should be addressed in negotiations.

Israel also drew criticism Thursday from former President Jimmy Carter, who is visiting Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

After touring east Jerusalem flashpoints where Jewish settlers have moved in to houses after Palestinians were evicted, Carter expressed outrage.

“The suffering here under occupation and the deprivations of people in Gaza are evidence of the improper policies of the government of Israel,” he said. “We will continue to work on a peaceful solution where the Israelis will withdraw from east Jerusalem, and let this be the capital of a Palestinian state.”

Later, as Carter was being driven through east Jerusalem, a car driven by a Palestinian entered the motorcade, Israeli police said. The convoy halted, and armed guards took the Palestinian driver for questioning.

Palestinians demand control over east Jerusalem, with its key holy sites in the Old City, as part of any peace accord.

While world Jewish groups reflect the full range of political outlooks, many oppose concessions over Jerusalem’s holy sites as a matter of principle, regardless of the political or military price Israel might have to pay for standing firm. Past Israeli governments have offered concessions over Jerusalem, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not.

On Thursday a conference of international Jewish leaders demanded a say in deciding Jerusalem’s fate — a major change from the past.

“Jerusalem belongs to the entire Jewish people, and all Jews in the world should have a right to participate in the decision making on the future of Jerusalem,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“Issues such as security and defense rest only with the people of Israel and the government of Israel, but I think Jerusalem is different … I want the Jewish people to be involved in the discussion on the future of Jerusalem because it is our future as well.”

For decades, Diaspora Jews have given almost automatic support to Israel’s government in most issues affecting the nation, providing financial and political backing but leaving the final choices to Israel’s elected leaders.

Also, most Jews abroad have accepted the notion that only Israelis, who endure the daily rigors of life in Israel, pay its taxes and serve in its military, should be granted the right to decide its future.

Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on Hoenlein’s remarks.

Dan Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and an activist in dovish Israeli groups, said Israel is likely to resist calls like Hoenlein’s for an active role in decision-making.

“I don’t gather there is much interest at all in having world Jewish opinion actually have a vote,” he said. “I think some of the Diaspora Jews would like more than just to express their opinion, and that’s where the gap still is.”

Zeev Bielski, a lawmaker from the centrist Kadima Party and former chairman of the Jewish Agency, said Israel should welcome the involvement of caring Diaspora Jews like Hoenlein.

“If we are a Jewish state, we should accept the wishes of Jewish leaders to be involved, but only to a certain point,” he said. “Obviously, there are some issues that only the citizens of Israel can decide.”


New Knesset Bill Requires Citizens to Pledge Loyalty to Arsonist State

FARATA’A, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Thick black smoke billows from the olive grove under the gaze of Israeli soldiers as Palestinian farmers use branches to try to beat out the fires lit by Jewish settlers.

It’s olive harvest time in the occupied West Bank.

The firebombers swooped down from Havat Gilad, a wildcat Jewish settlement unauthorised even by the Israeli government.

Encircled by barbed wire, the makeshift dwellings glower down on the surrounding Palestinian olive plantations from a hilltop in the northern West Bank.

“We were gathering the olives when the settlers arrived. One of them started a fire,” says olive grower Shaher Tawil.

He points to a bearded man wearing a T-shirt and a Jewish kippa or skullcap, now safely behind an Israeli military barrier.

“When we saw the flames, we called the fire service but the soldiers wouldn’t let them come any closer to prevent clashes with the settlers,” the old man says.

The young Israeli conscripts, visibly embarrassed and restricted by their uniforms in the oppressive midday heat, finally let the fire-truck through after about an hour, by which time the flames have already been well-fanned by the wind.

At last the fires are put out, as again the soldiers look on.

Tawil says that last week settlers from Havat Gilad harvested the fruit of 800 trees belonging to his family.

“Every year they steal our olives and burn our trees,” he says.

The Havat Gilad settlers are among the most hardline in the West Bank and believe they have a God-given right to land they know by its Biblical name of Samaria.

For them, the villagers in whose midst they have set up home are not “Palestinians” with a right to a state alongside Israel but “Arabs” who are interlopers on Biblical Jewish land.

The settlers are wont to quote a saying by one of their spiritual and ideological gurus, the late rabbi Mordechai Elyahu.

“This land is the birthright of the people of Israel. If a gentile plants a tree on my land, the tree and its fruit are mine.”

A few hours earlier, in the village of Azmut near the northern West Bank city of Nablus, a group of youths from the settlement of Elon Moreh, four kilometres (two and a half miles) away, dispersed Palestinian olive harvesters with shots in the air, witnesses said.

The settlers said they had come under attack first.

“We began the harvest at 7 am. At 9 am while we were having breakfast, they turned up with these automatic weapons,” said Pauline Marechal, a 57-year-old Frenchwoman.

“They began firing in the air. The children were screaming and crying. The settlers were chanting: ‘Out. Out’,” said Marechal, an activist with the Palestinian solidarity group, Darna, which helps villagers with the olive harvest each October.

“Every year, it’s the same thing,” she said. “They come with their ladders and their tea urns and they steal the olives.”

A report released by aid organisation Oxfam on Friday said attacks and other acts of harassment by Jewish settlers against Palestinian olive farmers “are common and often increase during the time of the harvest.”

The group said that the olive sector, “which contributes up to 100 million dollars (71.4 million euros) in yearly income for some of the poorest Palestinian communities, could bring a brighter future for the Palestinian economy, provided its full potential is realised.”

It said that about 45 percent of farmland in the West Bank and Gaza is given over to olive cultivation, with approximately 10 million trees.

The Israeli army says it does all it can to protect Palestinian olive growers. So far this year there have been no casualties at least. But neither have the police made any arrests.


Shouldn’t we redraw the borders of New York, Miami, Boston and Chicago to incorporate the Jewish neighborhoods into Israel?

JERUSALEM – Israel’s foreign minister on Sunday called for redrawing the country’s borders to exclude some Arab citizens, raising the explosive proposal just as new peace talks with the Palestinians struggle to get underway.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also rejected the foundation on which years of negotiation with the Palestinians have been based: Trading captured land for peace.

The principle guiding peace talks “must not be land for peace, but an exchange of land and people,” Lieberman told reporters before the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, or “Israel is our Home,” posted strong gains during elections last year with a message that questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens.

His solution is to redraw the border and transfer them to Palestinian rule, while also incorporating residents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israel’s borders. No one would be uprooted from their homes.

In a radio interview, Lieberman, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement, defended his proposal, saying Israeli Arab leaders do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israeli Arabs frequently identify with their Palestinian brethren in the neighboring West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lieberman has consistently questioned the loyalty of Israeli Arabs and unsuccessfully tried to enact a law that would strip citizenship from people who refused to sign a loyalty oath. The proposal was rejected by a ministerial committee.

The loyalty issue has come up again because of the refusal of Palestinian negotiators and the Arab League to endorse Israel’s demand that it be recognized as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Opponents say Israel’s demand would compromise the rights of Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s 7.6 million people, and Palestinian refugees who lost homes in the war over Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian spokesman, said Lieberman’s comments were unhelpful to peace efforts.

Lieberman “holds the second-most important position in the Israeli government. Therefore we are extremely discouraged by his remarks,” he said.

“He is looking for ways to complicate the Middle East conflict with confrontations against the Arab community,” said Jafar Farah, Director of the Moussawa advocacy center for the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel.

If Israeli Jews can’t coexist with that minority, then how can they live in peace with the region’s 400 million Arabs, he added.

Asked if Lieberman’s position reflected the government’s, official spokesman Mark Regev noted that the different parties in Netanyahu’s coalition “have different political outlooks.”

Lieberman has made such declarations before, and the prime minister, not the foreign minister, sets Israeli foreign policy. But the comments threatened to further cloud the negotiating climate at a sensitive time.

Palestinians envision the West Bank as the hub of a future state and object to any Jewish construction there. Netanyahu says a 10-month slowdown on building won’t be extended beyond its Sept. 26 expiry.

There is intense pressure from the U.S. on Israel to extend the slowdown, and at the same time, o


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