Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields in Gaza

The Israeli soldiers outside Majdi Abed Rabbo’s home were after the three Hamas fighters holed up next door, and they wanted Abed Rabbo to be their point man.

For the next 24 hours, Abed Rabbo said, the soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk through the battle zone to see whether the militants were dead or alive.

Abed Rabbo wasn’t alone. Eight other residents in this northern Gaza Strip neighborhood told McClatchy in separate interviews that Israeli soldiers had conscripted them to check homes for booby traps, to smash holes in the walls of houses so that soldiers could use them as escape routes or to try to pull dead Palestinian militants from the rubble.

Conscripting Palestinians during the recent fighting in Gaza would appear to violate not only international law, but also Israel’s court-imposed ban on using civilians as human shields. [continued…]

Avigdor Lieberman said to be ex-member of banned radical Kach movement

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was once a member of the outlawed far-right party Kach, the movement’s former secretary general revealed on Tuesday.

Yossi Dayan said he issued Lieberman, a prime ministerial candidate whose current electoral campaign against Israeli Arabs has provoked outrage, with a party membership card when he was still a new immigrant to Israel.

“I don’t recall to what extent he was active in the movement, but if he denies [this], I am ready to testify in any forum that Lieberman was indeed a member for a short amount of time,” said Dayan.

Kach was banned from running for the Knesset in 1988 for inciting to racism. [continued…]

From Gaza to Jerusalem: the impact of war on the Israeli election

Out of Gaza and across the border to the sound of rocket fire.

A handful of hours later I am at the Hebrew University for a lecture by Gershon Baskin, one of Israel’s most prominent peace activists, who is describing his attempts to open a channel of communication between Israel’s leaders and Hamas.

It’s a strange and sudden quantum shift – from the ruins, anxiety and stench of war to normality, calm and mannered debate. What it entails is a journey from one ethos of conflict, the Palestinian one still raw, edgy and angry from the recent violence, to an Israeli one, expressed – most obviously for most – in the harsh rhetoric of political contest.

In a bare room littered with bean bags and exposed piping, less than a dozen students sit patiently to listen to Baskin’s account. The meeting has been organised by a group called It Is No Legend. It is an ironic play on a quote from Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism: “If you will it, it is no legend”.

Herzl meant the will to bring about the foundation of Israel. Among this group it signifies the will to peace and coexistence with Palestinian Arabs.

I know Baskin via his articles and his emails. The story he tells to the students is largely unreported: one of the hidden tales that Israel’s government would like to gloss over.

In meetings with Hamas figures, arranged through texts, calls and emails, Baskin established a kind of one-way channel of communication to the office of Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert. It was the offer of a means of negotiation that Olmert and his government emphatically rejected. [continued…]

Irish FM hints EU may need to be flexible on Hamas

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has hinted during a visit to the Middle East that some sort of engagement with Hamas may have to feature in future EU policy on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Mr Martin told reporters in Damascus yesterday that several key regional players had made representations to the EU since the end of last month’s conflict in Gaza.

“What was clear … was the request to Europe to be flexible in terms of how one approaches what emerges from this process … not to be absolutist,” the Minister said.

While stressing that the current EU position on Hamas calls for it to renounce violence and recognise the state of Israel before any engagement occurs, Mr Martin spoke of the possibility of a “flexibility of mindset” towards the aim of “getting practical work done on the ground, in terms of rebuilding Gaza”. [continued…]

Google map of Israeli settlements from leaked database

The “Spiegel settlement database” is already creating waves in Israel. Israeli NGO Yesh Din has announced they will use the database to help Palestinians sue Israel for reparations and the removal of settlements from privately owned land.

To help get the word out, Mondo reader Jamie Dyer has used the information in the translated excerpts of the database to create this Google map. “Making the map helped me to see the strategic placement of these settlements. The hilltops are being systematically taken in a sort of inversion of the topography of justice,” Dyer writes. [continued…]

Turkish snub changes Middle East game

There are different ways of looking at the Justice and Democratic Party, or AKP, which rules Turkey
. Militant secularists and Kemalists allege it is a Trojan horse of Salafists whose members masquerade as democrats. Others say the AKP is so extremely moderate that it might get ostracized as infidel if it were transplanted to Iran or Afghanistan.

But it appears there could be a third way – looking at the AKP as a progeny of the 30-year-old Iranian revolution. At least, that is how Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri thinks. He is one of Iran’s senior clerics, used to be a speaker of the Majlis (parliament) and now holds the exalted position of advisor to Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Nouri explained last Sunday, “When Iranians talked of ‘exporting’ their revolution, they did not mean manufacturing something and then exporting it to other countries by trucks or ships; rather, they meant transmitting the message of their revolution and conveying its doctrine.” Nouri said he felt inspired to claim the AKP as a fine legacy of the Iranian revolution by the fact it is in Turkey that the “most beautiful demonstrations on the Gaza issue” were held in recent weeks.

He may have gone slightly overboard by claiming that even the Turkish army “which had certain records, has changed now”. All the same, the point is well taken that “things have changed” in Turkey, as Nouri put it, which is what the avalanche of popular support for Hamas in its battle with Israel showed. [continued…]

Turkey still ready to seek Mideast peace

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday his government remains committed to mediating a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians despite an angry public exchange last week with Israel’s president.

Erdogan also said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had phoned him on Monday to ask him to continue Turkey’s role as a Middle East mediator. [continued…]

A coup for Maliki and a secular Iraq

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who seemed weak and isolated a year ago, appears to have won a sweeping victory in the Iraqi provincial elections that will strengthen his hold on central government. For the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to preliminary results, Iraqi voters chose secular and nationalist parties over their religious rivals.

Mr Maliki’s Dawa party is predicted to emerge at the top of the poll in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq’s two largest cities, as well as in most of the overwhelmingly Shia south of Iraq. The largest Shia party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), hitherto one of the main powerbrokers in the country, suffered heavy losses in all the provinces where it has been in charge for the past four years. “According to initial information, Maliki’s list has come first in Basra with 50 per cent of the vote. Ours took 20 per cent,” said Furat al-Sheraa, the head of ISCI in Basra.

The outcome of the election, which will probably be repeated in the parliamentary elections in December, marks a sea-change in Iraqi politics, with both the Shia and Sunni communities punishing the religious parties which flourished after the US occupation in 2003. The results are a clear endorsement of Mr Maliki who has managed to displace the militia of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, negotiated the withdrawal of 142,000 US troops during the next three years and confronted the Kurds. By stressing his nationalist credentials and success in improving security, Mr Maliki has gained the allegiance of the majority Shia community. [continued…]

Generals seek to reverse Obama withdrawal decision

Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn’t convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama’s decision to override Petraeus’s recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama’s decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, “Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama.” [continued…]

The looming crisis at the Pentagon

Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment — and that’s to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal constraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency. We face a double crisis at the Pentagon: we can no longer afford the pretense of being the Earth’s sole superpower, and we cannot afford to perpetuate a system in which the military-industrial complex makes its fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons. [continued…]

When globalisation goes into reverse

The world that Davos Man created is slipping into reverse. International trade and investment is falling and protectionist barriers are on the rise. Economies are shrinking and unemployment is growing.

The symptoms of deglobalisation are all around us. Last week, it was reported that global air cargo traffic in December 2008 was down 22.6 per cent compared with December 2007. Abhisit Vejjajiva, prime minister of Thailand, told the forum that tourist receipts in his country had fallen by about 20 per cent year-on-year, in line with the general decline in international travel (and stripping out the effects of the temporary closure of Bangkok airport). In the US and Europe, governments are scrambling to bail out not just banks but also car companies. But, as the European Union has long acknowledged, “state aid” to national industrial champions is a form of protectionism. [continued…]

Delusional in Davos

“Everything has to change in order for everything to stay the same,” wrote the Italian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his famous novel The Leopard. The novel is set in 19th-century Sicily, but Lampedusa could just as easily have been describing the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos.

You notice it more in the corridors and the cafes of this exclusive Swiss hamlet rather than in onstage debates. Publicly, the discourse is all about the dangers of “false market assumptions” and the now-infamous “financial engineering.” (I seem to remember it being called “financial innovation” last year.) But offstage, top bankers, private equity bosses, and hedge fund stars keep chitchatting and socializing, just as if banks had not had $1 trillion write-downs, the financial markets had not lost $25 trillion, and up to 30 million jobs were not at risk around the world.

To achieve this state of mind, any human being probably needs to construct a formidable mental shield. A survey I personally conducted at Davos this year of 60 top central bankers, financial market regulators, fund managers, and industry opinion-makers gives an idea of what this shield looks like.

When participants were asked whether they think they have done something in their career which “might have contributed, even in a minor way, to the financial crisis,” 63.5 percent opted for a clear “no”; 31.5 percent went for a “yes,” often adding in the same breath that nobody in the industry can honestly claim otherwise; and 5 percent said “maybe.”

The “yes” people were then asked to explain what triggered their wrong decisions. They had three options: “too much optimism” (68.7 percent), “I felt I had to keep dancing while the music was playing” (31.3 percent), or “greed” (0 percent).

David Rubenstein, cofounder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, expressed surprise at the results. “How strange,” he said. “I thought 100 percent of them would say they had nothing to do with it.” [continued…]

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