Thursday, January 27, 2005

Updates on Palestine

I found this BBC article very disturbing about Mahmoud Abbas’s move in Gaza: “Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has sent bulldozers to demolish buildings put up illegally in Gaza City in the start of a crackdown on lawlessness. Many buildings have been illegally built on public land by militants, security men and unlicensed traders. About 200 Palestinian policemen were on the streets to protect the bulldozers…The demolition of hundreds of buildings erected without permits in Gaza City is likely to be seen as a step towards Mr Abbas' election promise to restore the rule of law in Palestinian territories. Orders to remove such structures were largely ignored in the "state of chaos" of the last years of Yasser Arafat's leadership, municipal police official Musa Alian told the Reuters news agency. “We are now beginning a new era in which law must be respected and all government lands returned," he said. A string of cafes, shops and security men's kiosks on Gaza City's beach road were the first to be bulldozed, prompting calls by their owners for compensation.” Surely there may have been a more diplomatic way of handling this situation so that the people wouldn’t be left stranded all of a sudden.

Read about dilemmas facing conservative Jews in Israel in an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor called The rise of Israel’s pious warriors: “In the Bible they have the same problem," says principal Moshe Hager, retelling the story of one of King David's generals who ignored an order to put down a rebellion and was executed for it. "We are speaking about these problems all the time." When Mr. Hager's pupils are drafted into the army later this year, they may well find themselves caught in a firestorm that pits faith against fidelity to the army. If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon orders the military to carry out the withdrawal, it will be challenged by the rulings of some revered rabbis who say that observant soldiers must disobey a directive to dismantle settlements. As recently as a decade ago, the predicament would have affected a tiny fraction of Israel's combat soldiers. But with the success of prep schools like Beit Yatir, there's been a dramatic increase in the percentage of religious soldiers taking up frontline assignments and joining the officer corps…"According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to relinquish territories," says Asher Ben Yosef, a reserve soldier who signed the petition. "Maybe I will go to jail ... but I'll be happy that I did something on behalf of the land of Israel." An army spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, predicts the number of right-wing dissenters would be "marginal." But in a sign that it may be worried about a rash of insubordination, the army said Tuesday that it plans to disband units made up exclusively of graduates of special "hesder" yeshivas - programs that allow observant soldiers to serve in segregated religious units for a shortened tour of duty. The army denies any correlation. Some soldiers admit that they're on the fence. Yossi Hazan, a 34-year-old rabbi and reserve paratrooper, says he instructs pupils at Beit Yatir because instilling an appreciation of the biblical land and Torah helps make better soldiers. An evacuation order, however, would trigger a dilemma between his allegiance to the military and a desire to avoid an internecine conflict.”

The controversy regarding Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University continues which is quite unfortunate because it is an attack on academic freedom at a time when it is crucial. From Haaretz: “Columbia University President Lee Bollinger informed Israel's consul general in New York, Arie Meckel, on Wednesday that a university-sponsored conference, "Revisiting the Middle East Peace Process," scheduled to have taken place on Thursday, was postponed indefinitely. The conference was postponed due to heavy pressure by Jewish groups, who claim the motives for hosting the conference were questionable. The groups said the university decided to hold the conference a month ahead of the publication of a report on a wave of recent complaints targeting Arab faculty members and their attitude toward Jewish students. "Holding the conference while a committee is still investigating complaints against the university is an obvious ploy to divert attention from the severity of the allegations," the head of a Jewish organization in New York said…Israel's Ambassador the United States Danny Ayalon, who was supposed to participate in the conference said he would boycott the meeting. Also set to speak were former consul general Alon Pinkas, columnist Tom Segev, Professor Rashid Khalidi, Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Nabil Ismae Fahmy, and Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs William Burns. At the heart of the controversy were a series of complaints were made by Jewish students, who claim that certain professors in the university's Middle Eastern Studies department hold clearly anti-Israel positions and discriminate against students who try to present different positions. The conference was being organized by Columbia University's Center for International Conflict Resolution, of which former senator George Mitchell is a Senior Fellow. Sources in the Israeli Embassy in Washington said Tuesday that Ayalon's decision not to participate in the event was made after consultations with the heads of the Jewish community in the United States, "due to Jewish students' claims of intimidation by university staff."

Apparently BBC is also having issues with Israel – from The Guardian: “Israel is poised to expel a senior BBC journalist it accuses of criminal defiance of censorship laws over an interview with the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Simon Wilson, deputy chief of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau, has been unable to return to Israel since the beginning of the year, when his work permit expired. The government says no new visa will be issued until Wilson agrees to sign a letter acknowledging that he deliberately defied Israeli law, apologising and promising that it will not happen again. BBC sources say that the corporation is unwilling to agree to such a move, in which case Wilson will be barred from Israel indefinitely. Although the dispute arose out of a BBC interview with Mr Vanunu last year, it reflects the increasingly troubled relationship between the corporation and the Israeli government which has led Ariel Sharon's administration to break off cooperation at times and his ministers to refuse to appear on BBC programmes. It is highly unusual for Israel to expel journalists from established news organisations, but an official said the prime minister's office was particularly angered at the "conspiratorial" actions of the BBC Jerusalem bureau. Wilson was acting bureau chief when a private production company with a BBC contract interviewed the whistleblower last year on his release after 18 years in prison. Although Mr Vanunu is barred from talking to the foreign press, he has spoken to dozens of reporters. Israel says the issue is the failure to abide by censorship laws.”

Also from Electronic Intifada: “The World Jewish Congress has launched a campaign for the adoption of a General Assembly resolution condemning anti-Semitism and is circulating a petition asking for support and financial donations.[1] On the face of it, the proposal seems worthwhile and non-controversial: who could possibly object to a statement against anti-Semitism? On closer inspection, however, several questions arise…the World Jewish Congress and other proponents of the idea have made it clear that they want a "stand-alone" resolution, with its own follow-up machinery. At a seminar on anti-Semitism held at the United Nations in June 2004, Edgar Bronfman of WJC complained that no UN official was responsible for combating rising anti-Semitism, and called on the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative and issue annual reports.[7] Underpinning the proposal for separate treatment are arguments that anti-Semitism is "a virus" that has survived since antiquity and combines all other group hatreds, and is "no longer political, social, religious or ethnic - [but] existential, metaphysical"[8]; "a plague of a different kind that does not conform to the norms and boundaries of other types of hate."[9] However, recent statements by these organizations show an interesting conceptual evolution that betrays a very political agenda. In the mid-1990s, at the height of the Oslo peace process, the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations in a submission to the special rapporteur on racism defined anti-Semitism as "an irrational hatred of the Jewish people...[resulting in] violence against Jews and Jewish institutions", without mentioning either Zionism or Israel.[10] But recently, against the background of the second Intifada, Sharon's re-invasion of the occupied territories, and the events of 9/11, new formulations are presented which increasingly conflate Jews, Zionism, the state of Israel, the policies of its government, and by extension, the Bush administration's "war on terror". In this perspective, criticism of the Israeli government's occupation policies is seen as an attack against the state, which translates into an attack against Zionism, which in turn translates into an attack against all Jews rooted in timeless anti-Semitism - and thus lends support to the objectives of radical Islam.[11] It is probably not a coincidence that the State Department's report on anti-Semitism includes "demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders" along with "hatred toward Jews" in its definition.[12]… Since the invasion of Jenin by the Israeli army in 2002, abuse has been heaped on the two most senior UN officials in Gaza, Terje Roed Larsen (UN coordinator for the peace process) and Peter Hansen (head of UNRWA) for having dared to criticize the destruction and civilian casualties.[17] Larsen was quietly moved to a different assignment some months ago. Hansen, under renewed attack both by conservative Jewish organizations and in the US Congress after condemning house demolitions and the killing of children in Gaza, did not have his contract renewed despite his desire to stay on.[18] Additionally, in recent months calls have been made for the dismissal of John Dugard, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied territories, and Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur on the right to food, for unfairness to Israel in their examination of the plight of Palestinians living under occupation. Dugard, a well-known South African lawyer, was excoriated for making a comparison with apartheid, and Ziegler for asking Caterpillar to stop selling its bulldozers to the Israeli military (thus raising the specter of much-feared divestment campaigns).[18]. These examples show that the concern about anti-Semitism as a form of religious and ethnic intolerance (which could be combated by using existing international mechanisms), has transmogrified into an all-out campaign by conservative Jewish organizations to reject any criticism of the Israeli government and ultimately even to change the fundamental principles that still govern the international approach to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”