U.S. feels ‘overwhelming frustration’ with Israeli government, says Biden

Reuters reports: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged “overwhelming frustration” with the Israeli government and said the systemic expansion of Jewish settlements was moving Israel toward a dangerous “one-state reality” and in the wrong direction.

Addressing the J Street lobby group in Washington, Biden said despite disagreements with Israel over settlements or the Iran nuclear deal, the United States had an obligation to push Israel toward a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only ultimate solution, a two-state solution, while at the same time be an absolute guarantor of their security,” Biden said. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel reports: The United States on Monday objected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Golan Heights will forever remain under Israeli control, reiterating that it does not recognize the Jewish state’s claims to the strategic plateau.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel.

“The US position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli convicted of Palestinian murder that helped trigger 2014 war

AFP reports: The Israeli ringleader in the beating and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been convicted of his murder.

Yosef Haim Ben David, 31, was found in November to have led the assault, but a verdict was delayed after his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he suffered from mental illness.

The court ruling on Tuesday said that Ben David “was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime”.

A sentencing hearing has been set for 3 May.

The family of the teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, welcomed the decision but said they hoped judges followed through with a life sentence for Ben David.

At the hearing Mohammed’s mother wore a heart-shaped pendant containing an image of her son wearing a baseball cap, and his father said the decision “should have been made a long time ago”.

“We knew that he wasn’t mad,” Hussein Abu Khdeir told Agence France-Presse. “It was all a big lie to get off from the crime which he carried out. Even if they sentence him for life, this will never bring Mohammed back again. Our hearts are wounded from what happened.”

In February, a court sentenced Ben David’s two young Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, which was part of a spiral of violence in the run-up to the 2014 Gaza war. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu vows that Israel will never give up Golan Heights

The Washington Post reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday to declare that Israel will retain full control of the mountainous plateau forever and will never return the strategic highlands to neighboring Syria.

As talks on the future of Syria are underway in Geneva, Netanyahu convened a symbolic meeting of his cabinet on a mountaintop in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.

In a lead-up to the Geneva talks, representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signaled that they wanted the discussions to include a possible return of the region.

Netanyahu was having none of it.

“The time has come after 40 years for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain forever under Israeli sovereignty,” he said.

Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, he added, “the border will not change.” [Continue reading…]

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One Palestinian village’s death by a thousand cuts

Joseph Dana writes: My first visit to the village of Al Walaja in 2009 was little more than an afterthought. Having spent most of the day in Bethlehem monitoring Israeli settlement encroachment around the hilltop city, a friend suggested we stop by Al Walaja on our way back to Jerusalem. A non-violent protest movement was taking shape in the village.

Al Walaja sits above a neatly terraced hillside, close to Jerusalem’s southern edge. From the verandas of village homes, you can see Malha Mall and Teddy football stadium, home to the ultranationalist Beitar Jerusalem team. Over the past decade, the Israeli military has aggressively pushed for the creation of its separation barrier on Al Walaja’s border as part of a larger plan to remove Palestinian villages from the Jerusalem municipality.

The pattern is simple: put the village on the West Bank side of the wall, declare a new city boundary, and get rid of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Al Walaja is unique given its proximity to both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The plans for the barrier, which have been partially carried out, effectively turn Al Walaja into an open-air prison by encircling the village with an eight-metre high concrete wall and a series of fences. Last week, Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by soldiers, entered the village under the cover of darkness and destroyed three homes for “lacking building permits”. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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With demolitions, Israel tightens squeeze on West Bank Palestinians

Reuters reports: In the past three months, the Israeli military has more than tripled its demolitions of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank, United Nations’ figures show, raising alarm among diplomats and human rights groups over what they regard as a sustained violation of international law.

Figures collated by the U.N.’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), which operates in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, show that from an average of 50 demolitions a month in 2012-2015, the average has risen to 165 a month since January, with 235 demolitions in February alone.

The Israeli military, which has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war, says it carries out the demolitions because the structures are illegal: they were either built without a permit, in a closed military area or firing zone, or violate other planning and zoning restrictions.

The U.N. and rights groups point out that permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to acquire, that firing zones are often declared but seldom used, and that many planning restrictions date from the British Mandate in the 1930s.

“It is a very marked and worrying increase,” said Catherine Cook, an OCHA official based in Jerusalem who closely monitors the demolitions, describing the situation as the worst since the U.N. body started collecting figures in 2009.

“The hardest hit are Bedouin and Palestinian farming communities who are at risk of forcible transfer, which is a clear violation of international law.” [Continue reading…]

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Companies are leaving the West Bank as international boycott campaign gains ground

Vice News reports: For the past 28 years, the Israeli cosmetics giant Ahava has manufactured its line of Dead Sea mud-based skincare products in a settlement located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But this month, the company announced it would build a new facility 10 miles to the south, just across the internationally recognized border separating Israel proper from the Palestinian territory.

Though the company did not link the move to political pressure, instead citing “expanding production needs due the success in marketing Ahava products around the world,” it has long been targeted by activists who protest Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, which much of the international community regards as illegally occupied.

Ahava is not alone — a number of companies have chosen to abandon their operations in the West Bank, according to a new report by the Israeli anti-occupation group Gush Shalom that was compiled from publicly available information and published as a wiki-entry.

Twenty years ago, Gush Shalom drew up a list of Israeli companies doing business across the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank that has been a sticking point in negotiations over a future Palestinian state. As of March, between 20 and 30 percent of those companies are no longer operating there. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu demands Israeli apartheid posters be removed from London Underground

The Guardian reports: The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has asked the UK government to remove hundreds of flyposters on London Underground trains put up by pro-Palestinian activists which claim that his country’s policies amount to apartheid.

The posters, designed to look like genuine adverts, were pasted on tube trains by London Palestine Action as part of this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Political leaders in Jerusalem and Jewish organisations in the UK condemned the posters.

Netanyahu asked Israel’s foreign ministry director, Dore Gold, to raise the matter with British government officials while on a trip to London. “I asked him to demand from the British government that the posters be removed,” he told parliamentary colleagues, according to reports in the Israeli media. [Continue reading…]

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Israel feels the heat of U.S., EU and U.N. criticism

Reuters reports: The United States, European Union and the United Nations have issued unusually stern criticism of Israel, provoking a sharp response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raising Palestinians’ hopes of steps against their neighbor.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday described Israel’s settlements as “provocative acts” that raised questions about its commitment to a two-state solution, nearly 50 years after occupying lands the Palestinians seek for a state.

Ban also laid some of the blame for four months of stabbings and car rammings by Palestinians at Israel’s door, saying “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism”.

Netanyahu’s response was quick and furious. Ban’s remarks “give a tailwind to terrorism”, he said, and ignore the fact “Palestinian murderers do not want to build a state”. [Continue reading…]

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A visit to the world of segregation where Jews are on top

Philip Weiss writes: On my first night in an Israeli settlement, David served chicken soup left over from Sabbath and told me an unsettling story about the birth of Israel. His great uncle had escaped Europe to come to a Jewish kibbutz called Ein Harod. On the next hill was a Palestinian village. When hostilities broke out between Jews and Palestinians in 1948, the Jews went up to the village and announced that the next day they were bringing bulldozers to level the place, the people should leave. The next day they went back and were surprised to find that the Palestinians had all fled– fearing a massacre like the one that took place in Deir Yassin. The Jews then leveled the village and used the stones to build a stadium in their kibbutz. David said his uncle had told this story “with a twinkle in his eye.”

David was not the only settler to tell me stories of the Nakba. And the meaning was clear: A previous generation of Zionists had done terrible things to Palestinians in order to build the state of Israel. Now David and the other settlers were taking that same project– Zionism, the renewal of the Jewish people in their land—to the next part of the land of Israel. And they were doing so without destroying Palestinian villages, as their socialist predecessors had done.

The settlers told me that the great political development of the last year or two is that the Tel Aviv elite now concede that the settlers are never leaving. The elites give lip service to a Palestinian state because the world wants to hear that. But few in Jewish Israeli society even want that to happen; it would tear the country apart. [Continue reading…]

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‘Death to Christians, enemies of Israel’ — Hebrew graffiti defacing Jerusalem monastery

Dormition_Abbey

Reuters reports: Israel ordered a high-priority police investigation on Sunday into anti-Christian messages scrawled in Hebrew on the walls and doors of a Jerusalem monastery, saying they marked an assault on religious harmony.

“Idols will be extirpated” – a line lifted from the Jewish prayer service – and “Christians Go to Hell” were among graffiti left outside the Dormition Abbey with felt-tip pens. The varying handwriting suggested several vandals had been involved.

The Benedictine monastery, on Mount Zion in the Old City, is near a site where many Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper as well as a tomb revered as the last resting place of the biblical King David and which draws many Jewish worshippers.

“We will not let anyone undermine religious coexistence in Israel,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement, adding that police would put a high priority on “nabbing those who carried out this despicable act”.

Israel has been struggling with a spate of hate crimes by suspected Jewish ultra-nationalists targeting Christian sites as well as Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel: “Despite promises by the government, these incidents continue to happen,” Wadia Abu Nasser, the executive director of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land, railed Sunday morning. “If we were to actually count all of these incidents, they’d be in the hundreds.

“We have limited resources at our disposal. It’s the state’s responsibility to not only apprehend these perpetrators, but to make the necessary changes in the education system to educate against this sort of thing,” he told Army Radio. [Continue reading…]

Ynet adds: “The inscriptions are not only against Jesus the Messiah, but also call to slaughter the Christians and send them to hell! How long will these acts of vandalism continue?” the church said.

“This is the area of our convent, which until today is not monitored by police cameras, although this has been promised to us in the summer of 2013 by the Israeli security authorities after the cars of the monastery were badly damaged and several hate graffiti were discovered.”

The Domition Abbey further complained of “aggressive gathering with loud music and chanting by Jewish right-wing radicals in our immediate neighborhood in the area of the Tomb of David” almost every weekend for the past three years. [Continue reading…]

In 2011, I posted a collection of articles under the headline, “Being spat at remains part of life for Christians in Jerusalem.” This included reports from Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and The Forward. Attacks on Christians were described by Eric J Greenberg in 2004 as what has been “Jerusalem’s dirty little secret for decades.”

Last month I received a message from a reader claiming that these incidents are being used “as a stick to beat all Jews,” to which I responded:

In none of the reports cited — all reports made by Jewish journalists — is the behavior of “young Jewish bigots” in Jerusalem portrayed as representative of Jews as a whole. At the same time, this phenomenon doesn’t sound like something that deserves being ignored — especially if the Jerusalem Post reports that the attacks on Christians are not rare but are in fact “habitual.”

Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, says:

“We will show zero tolerance to whomever harms the democratic foundations of Israel and its freedom of religion and we will apprehend those who carried out this heinous act.”

How can anyone take seriously this claim that the Israeli government has “zero tolerance” for these types of attacks on religious freedom when it has been clearly documented that they have been going on for decades?

This isn’t just a domestic political issue for Israel, or reason for Israeli leaders and business owners to be concerned about the impact on tourism.

If a blind eye has been turned towards these hate crimes, it most likely also includes that of American Christian Zionists who are more closely aligned with right-wing Israelis than they are with fellow Christians in the Holy Land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Christians United for Israel “to be a vital part of Israel’s national security.”

I guess for CUFI and Netanyahu, the latest anti-Christian incident in Jerusalem will be a cause for little more than mild and fleeting embarrassment.

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Israel faces new brand of terrorism, this time from young settlers

The New York Times reports: To hear his father tell it, Mordechai Meyer, 18, a high school dropout, has spent the past few years camping out with his teenage friends in the rolling hills around Jewish outposts like this one in the northern West Bank. They want “to live simply, to build their own things and to commune with God,” said the father, Gedalia Meyer.

But Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, says the younger Mr. Meyer belongs to a Jewish terrorist network, some of whose members have been charged with grave crimes, including the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his parents in the West Bank village of Duma. The two suspects in that case also spent time in these hills.

The existence of the network, known as the Revolt for the title of its manifesto, became known about six months ago, after the arrest of several suspected members. This latest manifestation of Jewish terrorism is the creation of young extremists rebelling against what they view as the inertia of the Israeli establishment, and it has fermented in lawless outposts like Baladim, a tiny encampment outside Maale Shlomo, and Geulat Zion to the north. [Continue reading…]

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Israel warns Brazil faces diplomatic downgrade unless it accepts settler as ambassador

Reuters reports: Brazil’s reluctance to accept an Israeli ambassador who is a West Bank settler has led to a standoff with Israel now warning it could downgrade diplomatic relations.

The appointment four months ago of Dani Dayan, a former head of the Jewish settlement movement, did not go down well with Brazil’s left-leaning government, which has supported Palestinian statehood in recent years.

Most world powers deem the Jewish settlements illegal.

Israel’s previous ambassador, Reda Mansour, left Brasilia last week and the Israeli government said on Sunday Brazil risked degrading bilateral relations if Dayan were not allowed to succeed him. [Continue reading…]

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Why is the U.S. subsidizing Israeli settlements?

Uri Blau writes: An office chair is positioned on the top of Dagan Hill, on the outskirts of Efrat, a thriving West Bank settlement. Someone must like to sit here and take in the changing landscape. Once-bare mountains are losing their shape, carved up by new roads and villas for a growing population of Jewish settlers.

Nadia Matar, one pillar of this community, should be happy. Twenty years ago, as she struggled to make a life on this hill, the success of her mission seemed improbable, if not impossible. Now, from the top of the windy peak, the fruits of her victory are apparent. Yet Matar, founder and leader of the pro-settlement nonprofit Women in Green, doesn’t sound cheerful when I call to ask about the funding of her organization. “Choose which side are you on,” she tells me in Hebrew, “ours, or the enemies who try to destroy us.”

Many from Israel’s far right and the settlers’ community condemn the Obama administration as that “other” side. They should know better: While one American hand opposes development of settlements, the other keeps feeding it. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli killings and raids make for a dark Christmas at Bethlehem refugee camp

The National reports: This Christmas season in Bethlehem, death, depression and anger are in the air at Aida refugee camp, three kilometres from Nativity Church.

Aida, wedged between Israel’s West Bank separation barrier and an army checkpoint, has been a major flashpoint of clashes during the two-and-a-half-month-old wave of violence known in the Palestinian media as the haba shaabiya or popular rising.

At least 126 Palestinians and 19 Israelis have been killed since the beginning of October, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Five of the Palestinian dead were from the Bethlehem area and two from Aida camp, including Abdul Rahman Shadi Obeidallah, 13, who camp residents say was killed by a sniper on October 5 as he stood in the street with friends. [Continue reading…]

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