Archive for July, 2009

Israel: West Bank settlers call tourists to the rescue

Und noch so ein charmanter Politiker.
West Bank settlers call tourists to the rescue

By Patrick Moser – 4 days ago

ROSH TZURIM, West Bank (AFP) — This year’s cherry festival was a roaring success, drawing thousands of people who enjoyed grilled kosher sausages and right-wing ideology in the emblematic Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

A band belted out its stuff as clowns entertained the wee ones and families gorged themselves on the plump cherries of the Rosh Tzurim kibbutz, one of the communities in Gush Etzion, just south of Jerusalem.

Food stalls and other small businesses did brisk trade, but the fest was about more than just fun and money.

Local tourism authorities hope such events will help boost support for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are seen as a major hurdle in peace efforts with the Palestinians and have come under increasing US pressure.

“The goal is to make people discover Eretz Israel,” says organiser Yoram Bitane, using the Hebrew words for Land of Israel, favoured by right-wingers to describe not only present-day Israel but also the Palestinian territories to which they claim a divine right.

“We want to make Israelis who have a negative idea of settlements come here and see for themselves,” says Bitane, whose PR company promotes several Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“We want people to know what they’re talking about when making decisions on whether to give away a part of the territory or not.”

Bitane has no doubt what that decision should be.

“I am Israeli, Jewish and a believer. I live here, this is my house, my land. No discussion.”

He is also convinced tourism is a perfect tool to draw support and believes that if Israel had done more to attract visitors to Gaza at the time, it would not have needed to pull out its troops and settlers from the Palestinian territory in 2005.

After all, even former US president Jimmy Carter admitted he could not imagine Gush Etzion would ever be handed over to Palestinians.

Carter stunned the settler community which had long hated him for his opposition to settlements and whom they consider as pro-Palestinian, when he made the comment during a visit earlier this month to the bloc of settlements just south of Jerusalem.

“One can only wonder what President (Barack) Obama would feel if he actually saw for himself, rather than rely on hearsay,” says Allan Novetsky as he watches his grandchildren, perched high up trees, picking cherries.

Novetsky, who moved to Jerusalem from Chicago three years ago, says he regularly takes family trips to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“We treat the country as a whole. We want to show presence throughout the country.”

He points out he never feels the need to carry a weapon on such trips.

“It’s as safe as any street in New York, probably safer,” he says. A few metres (yards) away, two soldiers, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, amble through the orchard, stopping every now and then to eat some cherries.

Late last year, the Yesha Council, the main settlers’ organisation, launched a major drive to attract tourism under the motto: “Judea and Samaria, the story of every Jew.”

The campaign aims at promoting not only tourism in the West Bank — which most Israelis refer to as Judea and Samaria — but also the concept that Jews have had a God-given right to the land since Biblical times.

More than 280,000 Israelis live in some 120 settlements that criss-cross the West Bank and that are generally off-limits to Palestinians.

The international community considers the settlements illegal. Israel rejects this, and its right-wing government has dismissed calls for a freeze of all construction activity.

Authorities did demolish a few shacks in tiny outposts that were set up without authorisation, but right-wing activists immediately started rebuilding and pledged to erect more wildcat settlements.

The outposts have drawn much controversy but also hundreds of tourists, most of them intent on showing solidarity.

“The aim is to bring as many Jews as possible to the region, so they can see up close the type of danger that people face,” says Tomer Tzanani, who runs outpost tours in an armoured bus twice a month.

Asked what Palestinians thought of the tours, Tzanani admitted: “I have no idea. We never come into contact with them.”

Many settlers are convinced the Palestinians are the intruders in the West Bank, not the Jews.

The land of the Jews, says Bitane, “is not just this small bit they want to give us, but the whole of Greater Israel.”

That he says includes the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, when it also captured Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai peninsula

“We need the Golan. People need it to spend their vacations,” says Bitane as loudspeakers blare out James Brown’s signature tune “I feel good”.

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Israel: Housing Minister: Spread of Arab population must be stopped

Das ist ja richtig charmant und verständlich: diese Araber verbreiten sich mal wieder wie die … Die jetzige israelische Regierung scheint bisweilen so richtig ehrlich zu sein..

Last update – 21:30 02/07/2009
Housing Minister: Spread of Arab population must be stopped
By Guy Lieberman, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Shas, Israel news, Arab 
Housing Minister Ariel Atias on Thursday warned against the spread of Arab population into various parts of Israel, saying that preventing this phenomenon was no less than a national responsibility.

“I see [it] as a national duty to prevent the spread of a population that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel,” Atias told a conference of the Israel Bar Association, which focused on a reforming Israel’s Land Administration.

The Shas minister referred to Harish, a housing project built for the Haredi community in northern Israel, saying that the Arab population from the nearby Wadi Ara was spreading into the Harish area.

Atias went on to address the issue of the Galilee, saying that “if we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don’t think that it is appropriate [for them] to live together.”

“Look at what happened in Acre,” Atias continued, referring to violent protests that broke out on the Eve of Yom Kippur last year over Jewish-Arab tensions in the mixed town.

“The mayor of Acre visited me yesterday for three hours and asked me how his town could be saved,” Atias said. “He told me ‘bring a bunch of Haredis and we’ll save the city, even if I lose my political standing.’ He told me that Arabs are living in Jewish buildings and running them out.”

Atias argued that lands should be marketed to each sector separately, in order to create segregation, not just between Jews and Arabs but also between other sectors, such as ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. “There is a severe housing crisis among the young ultra-Orthodox couples, and in the general population. I, as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, don’t think that religious Jews should have to live in the same neighborhood as secular couples, so as to avoid unnecessary friction. And since some 5,000 to 6,000 religious couples get married every year, a problem arises because they require a certain kind of community life that goes along with their lifestyle.”

The housing minister went on to say that the problem stemmed from faulty handling of land within the Land Administration and the Housing Ministry, among other reasons. “Today there is a serious housing crisis facing all the young couples in Israel, in part because of the limited appropriation of land in recent years in the Lands Administration and the Housing Ministry, and also due to faulty decision making which resulted from the high turnover of ministers over the last decade ? 8 ministers have held the office of Housing minister in the last decade and the Land Administration wasn?t under the ministry’s authority for part of the time.”

According to Atias, the solution he is spearheading is to flood the market with available land for housing construction. Atias explained that a team of planners has already begun working on the project. “I plan to market large amounts of land to the Arab population in the Galilee in order to solve their problems, as well as land for secular and religious Jews,” he said.

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Hi-tech system to seal Saudi border

Hi-tech system to seal Saudi border

Saudi Arabia is concerned about escalating violence and sectarian fighting in Iraq [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has signed a deal with Eads, the European defence and aerospace group, to build a hi-tech security system along its land and sea borders.

The $2.8bn scheme is aimed at curbing people, weapons and drugs smuggling across 9,000km of the Gulf state’s frontiers.

The surveillance system includes radar facilities, coastal detection centres, telecommunications networks and reconnaissance aircraft.

Brigadier General Mansour al-Turki, an interior ministry spokesman, said the project “will help our performance at the border so we will be able to minimise the ability of terrorists and criminals to take advantage of the borders to smuggle people, weapons and drugs”.

Top priority

It follows a deal made in March between Eads and Al Rashid, its Saudi Arabian partner, to install a razor-wire fence, thermal imaging and radar equipment along the country’s 900km border with Iraq.

“This deal covers the rest of the border. It involves much technology, radar, camera systems,” a Saudi official said.

Eads said the planned security system will “ensure border coverage is visible and managed at the sector level, whilst simultaneously providing situational awareness at the regional and national level”.

The border project was first envisaged in the 1990s in the wake of the first Gulf War to secure Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq with physical fencing and high-tech monitoring.

But with increased worries over infiltration into the country by anti-government and al Qaeda operatives, and a rise in illegal immigration from around the region, the Saudi interior ministry expanded the scope of the programme to fence and electronically monitor all the country’s borders.

Securing the 1,300km border with Yemen is also a top priority after militants announced in January the creation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In April, Saudi officials discovered a cave in the remote Saudi mountains near the Yemeni border which they said was a way station for militants.

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Gaza aid boat passengers still in Israeli custody
Gaza aid boat passengers still in Israeli custody

By Aron Heller
The Associated Press
Friday, July 3, 2009 12:22 PM

JERUSALEM — Most members of a group of foreign peace activists seized at sea by the Israeli navy remained in custody Friday, three days after their failed attempt to run Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, relatives and supporters said.

In the latest attempt by activists to break a crippling two-year blockade of Gaza, a group called the Free Gaza Movement sent the ship loaded with humanitarian supplies and 21 activists and crew from Cyprus.

The Israeli navy intercepted the ship Tuesday after it ignored repeated messages saying it would not be allowed to enter Gaza waters and ordering it to turn back.

Among those still being held Friday were former U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, said Sandra Law, mother of detained British activist Alex Harrison.

Law, speaking to The Associated Press from her London home, said her daughter was being held together with other women from the group at Ramle jail, near Ben-Gurion airport. She said she spoke briefly to her daughter on Friday.

“The conditions (in the jail) aren’t great, but they’re certainly not as bad as they could be,” Law said. “They’re in good spirits. … Alex is very upbeat.”

She said the planned deportation of the activists may have been delayed by their refusal to sign legal documents in Hebrew, which they do not understand.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that those who signed an undertaking to return home voluntarily could be released immediately and repatriated on the first available flight.

He said the law demanded that those who refused that option must be held for 72 hours before being served a compulsory deportation order.

He said if they choose not to fight that order in local courts they could be deported Saturday night or Sunday. He did not know exactly how many group members remained jailed Friday.

The Free Gaza Movement said several Bahrainis among the group were released after the intervention of that country’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Others on the passenger list included a Jordanian correspondent for Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera and his Yemeni cameraman as well as a Palestinian human rights activist. There were also activists from the United States, Britain, Ireland and Denmark.

A military statement issued on Tuesday said Israeli naval personnel boarded their small vessel without any shots being fired. It was ordered to the Israeli port of Ashdod and impounded.

The Free Gaza Movement has organized five boat trips to Gaza since August 2008, defying a blockade imposed by Israel when the militant group Hamas seized control of the territory from its Palestinian rivals in June 2007.

Two other attempts were stopped by Israeli warships during Israel’s three-week war in the territory in December and January. Nobody on board was harmed.

An Israeli news site reported Friday that the Defense Ministry had recommended a slight easing of the Gaza blockade as a goodwill gesture toward the Palestinians to spur talks to free a captive soldier.

Israel has linked the opening of its border with Gaza to the release of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas militants for three years. Hamas has been pushing for a deal to trade him for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

An unsourced report on YNet, the Web site of the Yediot Ahronot daily, said that under the draft proposal Israel would increase supplies of meat, fish, coffee, tea, soups and canned goods into Gaza ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins in August, to promote a deal for Schalit.

Israel would also renew shipments of fuel, clothing, kitchenware and hens as part of the package.

YNet said the proposal, drafted by defense officials, awaits the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The Defense Ministry would not comment on the report.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Palestinians demanded a complete end to the blockade.

“The siege must be lifted and all the crossings have to be open and life to get back to normal in the Gaza Strip,” he told reporters outside a Gaza mosque after Friday prayers.

© 2009 The Associated Press

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Israel Boycott, For Once, the Yes Men Say No
Published on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by

For Once, the Yes Men Say No

by Andy Bichlbaum & Mike Bonanno

The Yes Men, co-directors of the new award-winning documentary film The Yes Men Fix the World, have decided to withdraw their film from the Jerusalem International Film Festival, in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign:

Dear Friends at the Jerusalem Film Festival,

We regret to say that we have taken the hard decision to withdraw our film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” from the Jerusalem Film Festival in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (
This decision does not come easily, as we realize that the festival opposes the policies of the State of Israel, and we have no wish to punish progressives who deplore the state-sponsored violence committed in their name.
This decision does not come easily, as we feel a strong affinity with many people in Israel, sharing with them our Jewish roots, as well as the trauma of the Holocaust, in which both our grandfathers died. Andy lived in Jerusalem for a year long ago, can still get by in Hebrew, and counts several friends there. And Mike has always wanted to connect with the roots of his culture.
But despite all our feelings, we cannot abandon our mission as activists. In the 1980s, there was a call from the people of South Africa to artists and others to boycott that regime, and it helped end apartheid there. Today, there is a clear call for a boycott from Palestinian civil society. Obeying it is our only hope, as filmmakers and activists, of helping put pressure on the Israeli government to comply with international law.
It is painful to do this. But it is even more painful to hear Israeli policies described as “fascist” – not just from the ill-informed and the clueless, not just from the usual anti-semitic morons, but from well-informed Jewish activists within Israel. They know what they’re talking about, and it’s painful to think that they could be right.
As we’re sure you know and deplore, the Israeli government has recently authorized the construction of new units in an illegal West Bank outpost – one that is illegal even according to Israeli law. On Monday, nine Palestinians were injured as Israeli authorities demolished their East Jerusalem home. Tuesday, the Israeli navy stopped a ship from delivering medicine, toys, and other humanitarian relief to Gaza, and detained over twenty foreign peace activists, including a Nobel Peace laureate. Meanwhile, a UN commission was in Gaza investigating much worse abuses committed early this year.
Whatever words are applied to such actions, our film mustn’t help lend an aura of normalcy to a state that makes these decisions. For us, that’s the bottom line.
There is certainly another way to do things in Israel/Palestine, and that is what we must fight for, however feeble our means. As for our film, there is another way for it to be seen in Israel… and in Palestine, so that the people most in need of comic relief, who would never have been able to see it at the Jerusalem Film Festival anyhow, will be able to see it too. Within the next few months, we will make this happen.
To those who want to see our film, savlanut and sabir (patience)! And for all the rest of us, a little LESS patience, please.
L’shanah haba’ah beyerushalayim,
Andy and Mike
The Yes Men

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Catholic college excludes Muslim woman who refused to remove veil

Catholic college excludes Muslim woman who refused to remove veil

Two pupils and their teacher were ordered to remove their face veils before they could make an official visit to a Roman Catholic school. The party were from an Islamic school in Great Harwood, Lancs and were visiting St Mary’s College in nearby Blackburn, which was staging its annual open day.

The two schoolgirls agreed to take off their niqab veils. However, their teacher refused and was taken into an office at the sixth form college and told she would not be allowed on the premises.

St Mary’s College yesterday defended the move, claiming that staff had requested that the trio remove the traditional Islamic veils because they are against the school’s dress policy.

Its principal Kevin McMahon said: “At the start of one of our ‘taster days’ for prospective students last week, some visitors did arrive wearing the veil. When the policy was explained to them, all except one were willing to remove it. This lady – a member of staff at the school – refused, and opted to leave the premises.”

Daily Telegraph, 30 June 2009

See also the Times, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

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How Israel’s naval blockade denies Gazans food, aid

from the June 30, 2009 edition –

How Israel’s naval blockade denies Gazans food, aid

A boat carrying foreign activists and three tons of medical supplies was rerouted Tuesday. Meanwhile, the fishing industry – a key source of jobs and protein – has been crippled.

By Mel Frykberg | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
Ramallah, West Bank

Bringing fresh attention to its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israel on Tuesday turned back a boat attempting to deliver three tons of medical supplies to Gazans.

After a radio message asking the small ferry to turn back was ignored, the Israeli Navy boarded the boat and redirected the vessel to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Reuters quoted a police source as saying that the activists aboard, members of the US-based Free Gaza movement, would “likely be deported.”

“Yesterday evening the Israeli Navy contacted the boat while at sea clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gaza coastal waters because of security risks in the area, and the existing naval blockade,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that humanitarian aid would be sent to Gaza “subject to authorization.”

The naval blockade – part of a wider Israeli effort to seal off the tiny coastal strip controlled by the Islamist militant group Hamas – not only prevents such shipments, it is also devastating a key Gazan industry and source of food: fishing.

Citing security concerns and fears of arms smuggling, Israel has progressively tightened the blockade over the past 15 years. Once a thriving enterprise, Gaza’s fishing industry is now on the verge of collapse. Fishermen are cut off from the heavily populated shoals, and have seen total revenue drop by half in less than a decade.

“We are witnessing a huge crisis where the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen, associated laborers, and their dependents have been decimated by Israel’s blockade and closure,” says Erminio Sacco of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Following the Oslo peace accords, signed in 1994 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel permitted the fishermen to go 20 nautical miles (NM) out to sea.

This was restricted to 12 NM in 2002, after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.

This area was further limited to the current 3 NM when the Islamic movement Hamas wrested control of Gaza after an intense fight with its rival Fatah led to a collapse of a unity government headed by Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Those fishermen who go further out risk being arrested, shot, and killed, or having their boats destroyed or confiscated. However, human rights organizations have reported that fishermen have been attacked even within the 3-NM zone.

Click here to read about fisherman Mohammed Hassuna, who says he and his crew were recently surrounded by Israeli Navy boats, shot at, forced to strip, and swim in frigid water to the Navy gunboat, where they were handcuffed, blindfolded, and their feet chained.

Catch dropped by two-thirds since 2007

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel’s restrictions undermined the sardine season, which started in March and peaked in mid-April.

The bulk of sardines are located beyond six NM, with the UN estimating that a distance of 12-15 NM off Gaza is the minimum required to access the larger shoals of fish for maximum economic benefit. Shoals closer to shore have been depleted and unable to replenish themselves.

“During March 2007, 248 metric tons of fish were caught. In March 2008 this figure dropped to 121 tons and in March this year, the catch was only 89 tons,” says Mr. Sacco.

A total annual catch of 2,700 tons was caught in 2008, down from nearly 4,000 tons in 1999, according to Gaza’s General Syndicate of Marine Fishers.

OCHA states that at the end of the 1990s, Gaza’s fishing industry was worth about $10 million annually. This represented approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian economy.

Nezar Ayyash, from Gaza’s fishing syndicate, which has 3,500 registered fishermen, says this figure was halved between 2001 and 2006.

“It has become too expensive for many fishermen to take the bigger boats out to sea, so only some smaller boats venture out,” says Sacco.

The cost of one fishing trip can vary between $125 and $625, depending on the size of the vessel, nets, and crew; many fishermen cannot cover these costs.

Fishing employed 45,000 Gazans

About 45,000 Gazans once worked in fishing and its associated industries, including repairs, onshore support, or as merchants.

With Gazans having an average family size of seven, the fishing industry used to help support many times more of Gaza’s 1.4 million residents. It also supplemented a diet critically short of animal protein.

Gaza faces chronic unemployment, poverty, and malnutrition in part as a result of Israel’s blockade, which now allows only food and medicine – but not as much as aid workers say is necessary to sustain the population. Everything from pasta to catheters have been turned back, frustrating aid workers who have been unable to obtain a list of permitted items. A ban on steel and cement, which Israel says can be used to fortify tunnels along the Gaza border that are used for smuggling, has prevented many Gazans from rebuilding after the war, with some resorting to mud bricks for their homes.

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