“It’s very difficult when a democratic country has to confront an illegal terroristic group. Whatever we do is being photographed,” said Israeli president, Shimon Peres, after the war on Gaza, throughout which foreign journalists were prevented from photographing what Israel was doing.

Life in Gaza is not ‘back to normal’

“Only aerial photographs of the Gaza Strip will make it possible to show and to comprehend the extent of the destruction,” a number of Western civilians said this week. They added: “But there isn’t a chance that Israel will allow anyone to come with a light plane and do aerial photography.”

The talk of aerial photography reveals the frustration felt by everyone who has managed to come here. The frustration derives from the conclusion that the real dimensions of the Israeli attack on Gaza are not being fully comprehended in the West and in Israel. They go beyond the physical destruction, beyond the numbers of the dead and the wounded, beyond the deadly encounter between a bomb dropped from an F-16 and the hollow concrete and gravel house in the Yibneh refugee camp in Rafah. Three siblings aged 4 to 12 were killed there. Parents and two sisters were injured. The mother – who was nursing her infant daughter and heard and saw the bomb rushing towards them – is in a state of shock. She stares out at the world from her hospital bed in Egypt, and does not speak. The physical injuries can be treated.

Volunteer doctors, architects who specialize in the rehabilitation of disaster zones, jurists whose aspirations reach into international courts for the investigation of war crimes, Red Cross teams, international human rights organization investigators with battle experience behind them, directors of government and independent development agencies, which transfer funds from development budgets to budgets for rehabilitation and rescue: All of them – not only journalists – are flooding the Strip, taking notes, taking pictures, exchanging information, documenting and carefully cataloguing what are emerging as patterns, phenomena that repeat themselves: shelling and bombing of buildings and enterprises that have no connection to the Hamas infrastructure – politically or militarily, the prevention of the evacuation of wounded, unfamiliar kinds of injuries, vandalism in homes that became Israel Defense Forces positions, destruction of agricultural areas and, above all, families – almost in their entirety – that were killed in their homes or as they tried to flee from the approaching tanks. This is the hardest work of documentation.

People have their own ways of trying to characterize their personal disaster: People whose homes or small businesses have been destroyed in the shelling and bombardments, though no one in their family was killed, say: “My damage is nothing,” as though embarrassed. [continued…]

Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland

Gaza’s 1.5 million people are facing a food crisis as a result of the destruction of great areas of farmland during the Israeli invasion.

According to the World Food Programme, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.

Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, the World Food Programme’s country director, said: “We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north – where the farming was most intensive – may not be exploitable again. It looks to me like a disaster.” [continued…]

Israel denies Gaza access to clean water

Israel has refused to allow a French-made water purification system into Gaza amid a drinking water crisis in the Palestinian strip.

The French Foreign Ministry said Friday that Tel Aviv had blocked the entry of a much-needed water purification station into Gaza and had forced its repatriation.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eric Chevallier said the move has sparked an outcry in the Elysée, prompting it to summon the Israeli ambassador to Paris to explain why the system was denied access. [continued…]

Report: Hamas agrees to year-long Gaza truce starting Thursday

Hamas has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a year-long truce with Israel in Gaza starting on Thursday, Al-Arabiya TV Sunday quoted sources in the Islamist militant group as saying.

A Hamas delegation is expected to arrive in Cairo on Monday in order to give the group’s final answer to the initiative.

The official spokesman for Egypt’s foreign ministry, Hossam Zaki, refused to confirm or deny the report on the Dubai-based Arabic satellite television station. [continued…]

Barak, Livni row bitterly over Gaza truce deal with Hamas

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rowed bitterly during Sunday’s cabinet meeting over Israel’s response to an Egyptian-brokered deal for a year-long truce with Hamas in Gaza.

Barak, the Labor chairman, spoke in favor of agreeing to the deal, while Livni, the Kadima chairwoman, held that Israel should reject it.

Livni attacked Barak for maintaining a far too conciliatory position toward Hamas that “reconciles itself with the Hamas regime and wants to reach understandings with it.” [continued…]

Rockets hit Israel, Prime Minister Olmert vows ‘disproportionate’ response

Israel has vowed a ‘disproportionate’ response after Palestinian militants fired upto four Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.

According to the Israeli media one rocket landed close to two kindergartens but casualties or damage were reported in any of the strikes. [continued…]

“I want to understand why did they fight rockets against us? What for? There was not any siege against Gaza.”
Shimon Peres speaking at Davos.

After Israeli invasion, Gaza farmers still back rocket attacks

Some time before dawn on Saturday, Palestinian militants apparently crept through northern Gaza Strip farmland ravaged by Israeli tanks, set up their rudimentary rocket launcher in Mahmoud al Attar’s potato patch and fled for safety long before the Qassam rocket smashed harmlessly in a field in southern Israel.

Attar was frustrated Saturday morning when he discovered the small metal launcher in his fields. Although Attar didn’t want militants using his land as a launching pad, the 42-year-old farmer said he still supports the attacks.

Despite Israel’s punishing 22-day Gaza Strip offensive designed to cripple Hamas and bring rocket attacks to a complete halt, Al-Attar and some of his neighbors said they see no better way for Palestinians to fight back.

“We don’t agree about launching the rockets and we are not launching the rockets,” Attar said after discovering the rocket launcher in his field. “But it’s the only way for us to express our frustration.” [continued…]

“Hamas has turned Gaza, Gaza schools and mosques, all universities into centers of detention, interrogation and torture,” said the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, while endorsing Israel’s partnership with the torture-using Fatah-run Palestinian Authority.

Torturers of the West Bank

The horrific torture of hundreds of people by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank is being funded by British taxpayers.

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found that the forces responsible get £20million a year from the UK.

The victims – some left maimed – are rounded up for alleged involvement with the militant Islamic group Hamas, yet many have nothing to do with it.

They are targeted because the Fatah party, which runs the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority (PA) on the West Bank, is the bitter rival of Hamas, which controls the war-torn Gaza strip.

Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) gave £76million in all to the PA last year for ‘security sector reform’ and fostering the rule of law.

About £3million goes directly to the PA police. Another £17million pays the salaries of the PA’s array of security organisations – including the Presidential Guard intelligence service and the feared Preventive Security Organisation.

Not only are PA forces carrying out torture, the authority ignores judges’ orders to release political detainees. Last month at least 30 journalists, teachers and students were arrested – as the crackdown on Hamas was praised by a senior Israeli defence official as a necessary ‘iron fist policy’. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Both Fatah and Hamas have been accused of human rights violations, but while Shimon Peres condemns Hamas he is happy to endorse a Fatah-run Palestinian Authority that serves Israel’s interests and uses torture.

Hamas is accused of turning its weapons on rivals in Gaza

Despite the destruction caused by Israel’s 22-day assault, Hamas still runs the Gaza Strip. The militant Islamist group has put uniformed police back on the streets, deployed bulldozers to remove the rubble and distributed compensation to war victims.

The sinister side of Hamas also is re-emerging.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it had credible reports that Hamas operatives killed six members of Fatah, Hamas’s secular Palestinian rival, in Gaza in recent weeks. Another 35 were shot in the knees or beaten, the group said. [continued…]

Is an Israeli Jewish sense of victimization perpetuating the conflict with Palestinians?

A new study of Jewish Israelis shows that most accept the ‘official version’ of the history of the conflict with the Palestinians. Is it any wonder, then, that the same public also buys the establishment explanation of the operation in Gaza?

A pioneering research study dealing with Israeli Jews’ memory of the conflict with the Arabs, from its inception to the present, came into the world together with the war in Gaza. The sweeping support for Operation Cast Lead confirmed the main diagnosis that arises from the study, conducted by Daniel Bar-Tal, one of the world’s leading political psychologists, and Rafi Nets-Zehngut, a doctoral student: Israeli Jews’ consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering. The fighting in Gaza dashed the little hope Bar-Tal had left – that this public would exchange the drums of war for the cooing of doves.

“Most of the nation retains a simplistic collective memory of the conflict, a black-and-white memory that portrays us in a very positive light and the Arabs in a very negative one,” says the professor from Tel Aviv University. This memory, along with the ethos of the conflict and collective emotions such as fear, hatred and anger, turns into a psycho-social infrastructure of the kind experienced by nations that have been involved in a long-term violent conflict. This infrastructure gives rise to the culture of conflict in which we and the Palestinians are deeply immersed, fanning the flames and preventing progress toward peace. Bar-Tal claims that in such a situation, it is hard even to imagine a possibility that the two nations will be capable of overcoming the psychological obstacles without outside help. [continued…]

Secret Israeli database reveals full extent of illegal settlement

Just four years ago, the defense establishment decided to carry out a seemingly elementary task: establish a comprehensive database on the settlements. Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel, aide to then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, was put in charge of the project. For over two years, Spiegel and his staff, who all signed a special confidentiality agreement, went about systematically collecting data, primarily from the Civil Administration.

One of the main reasons for this effort was the need to have credible and accessible information at the ready to contend with legal actions brought by Palestinian residents, human rights organizations and leftist movements challenging the legality of construction in the settlements and the use of private lands to establish or expand them. The painstakingly amassed data was labeled political dynamite.

The defense establishment, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, steadfastly refused to publicize the figures, arguing, for one thing, that publication could endanger state security or harm Israel’s foreign relations. Someone who is liable to be particularly interested in the data collected by Spiegel is George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, who came to Israel this week for his first visit since his appointment. It was Mitchell who authored the 2001 report that led to the formulation of the road map, which established a parallel between halting terror and halting construction in the settlements.

The official database, the most comprehensive one of its kind ever compiled in Israel about the territories, was recently obtained by Haaretz. Here, for the first time, information the state has been hiding for years is revealed. An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements – about 75 percent – construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police
stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents. [continued…]

(Updated: Haaretz provides a link to the database but the content is in Hebrew. Mondoweiss provides a useful Google Map that shows how extensive the settlement land grabs are.)

Iran will soon pose N-threat, says Israel

Israel’s ambassador to Australia has described his country’s military offensives in Gaza as a “preintroduction” to tackling the military threat posed by a nuclear-equipped Iran.

Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem told a meeting of Sydney’s Jewish community yesterday that he expected Iran would soon pose a major nuclear threat.

Seven News reporter Sarah Cummings reported that after telling a camera operator to turn off his camera, Mr Rotem told those gathered he expected Iran to stockpile enough uranium over the next 14 months to “be at the point of no return”.

“(He said) the country’s recent military offensives were a preintroduction to the challenge Israel expects from a nuclear-equipped Iran within a year,” Cummings said. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The prefix “pre-” seems to be in vogue among Israelis right now. Here we have a “preintroduction” and in Davos a few days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu described Iran as being governed by a “pre-medieval” regime. (Is this in contrast to Israel’s medieval regime?)

The idea that the assault on Gaza is a “preintroduction” to going after Iran fits in with the Hamas-as-Iran-proxy narrative, but that’s about as far as the reasoning can be stretched. Political rhetoric at the height of an election campaign provides scope for all sorts of flights of the imagination but I seriously doubt that the IAF feels any better prepared to bomb Iran after so many “practice runs” over Gaza.

The only sense in which this war has been preparatory is in as much as it has successfully intoxicated Israelis with war fever. If Israel is now “ready” to take on Iran, it’s probably ready in the same way as a would-be bank robber might be geared up after snorting a line of speed.

When the power of will far exceeds military capabilities and politicians feel driven to meet popular expectations that they have consistently fueled, then a lethal dynamic has been set in motion.

What will Obama do when Israel votes ‘no’ again?

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founding father of the Revisionist wing of the Zionist movement, from which Likud emerged, argued that the state of Israel could be created and maintained only by a military defeat of the Palestinian Arabs, and protected by an “iron wall of Jewish bayonets”. When the Palestinians had lost all hope of reversing their dispossession, they would eventually accept Israel’s terms for peace. The inheritors of Mr Jabotinsky’s legacy are Mr Netanyahu and Mr Sharon, each of whom, as prime minister, kept his portrait on the wall of their office.

Asked in 2001 if he could offer Israelis any hope of living in peace, Mr Sharon answered: “In another 10 or 15 years the Arab world will have less ability to strike at Israel than it has today. That is because Israel will be a country with a flourishing economy, whereas the Arab world may be on the decline… time is not working against us and therefore it is important to achieve solutions that will take place across a lengthy period.” Deferring, delaying, playing for time was all part of the game, because time, Mr Sharon believed, was on Israel’s side. Likud rejectionism is, in fact, the mirror image of that political current within Hamas that believes military attrition will ultimately break the adversary’s will.

The election of a rejectionist government in Israel will place a question mark over President Obama’s efforts to restart the peace process. Until now, US policy has been designed for a dead man – Yitzhak Rabin, the murdered Israeli leader who signed the Oslo Accords. It was during Mr Rabin’s time that the Clinton administration adopted the approach of allowing the Israeli government to determine the direction, content and timing of the peace process. But for most of the past decade, the party of Mr Rabin has been an ineffective loyal opposition, and it may be marginalised even further on February 10. Israel, quite simply, is not going to choose voluntarily to implement a viable two-state solution. [continued…]

Study: U.S. Jewry’s willingness to strengthen Israel ties very low

Although American Jews and Israelis share a strong and mutual feeling of solidarity, U.S. coreligionists have a very low willingness to strengthen the relationship, according to a new study on the subject.

The Jewish Peoplehood research, whose findings will be presented on Tuesday at the Herzliya Conference, relies on questionnaires by some 3,000 Israelis and American Jews. Asked about the degree to which they feel connected to a Jewish brotherhood, both groups gave a similar answer which yielded an average score of 68 out of 100.

But the research also shows that Americans possess a drastically lower level of willingness than the Israelis’ when it comes to strengthening the bond. While Israelis ranked 66, the Americans’ average score was 32. “The emotional attachment that U.S. Jews have to Israel does not translate itself into willingness to act to strengthen this bond,” the research states. [continued…]

Waltz with Bashir, Part 1

As a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, Ari Folman took part in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and was on duty in Beirut during the notorious massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Just a week ago, Waltz with Bashir, the animated documentary film Folman directed in which he explores his own nightmarish, half-suppressed memories of that period, was given its first underground screening in Lebanon — not far, in fact, from Hezbollah headquarters in southern Beirut — though the film is officially banned in that country. It has also been screened in Palestinian Ramallah and is reportedly soon to be shown in the Arab Gulf states. It has already won six Israeli Academy Awards, best foreign film at the Golden Globes, and is now nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film. [continued…]

Waltz with Bashir, Part 2

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