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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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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Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders highlights split among Jewish Democrats

The New York Times reports: It was the sort of question — Does Israel have a right to defend itself as it sees fit? — that had often caused candidates, especially those with designs on winning a primary in New York, to produce paeans to the strength of the Israeli-American relationship and a stream of pro-Israel orthodoxy.

But Senator Bernie Sanders dug in.

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,” Mr. Sanders said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, amid cheers from the crowd at Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn. He added: “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Jewish Democrats, like the rest of the party, have been struggling for years over the appropriate level of criticism when it comes to Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. But that debate burst onto a big national stage this week thanks to Mr. Sanders, the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in history.

Mr. Sanders’s comments, in the de facto capital of Jewish American politics, buoyed the liberal and increasingly vocal Democrats who believe that a frank discussion within the party has been muzzled by an older, more conservative Jewish leadership that is suspicious of criticism of Israel. [Continue reading…]

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Why did Bernie Sanders suspend a staffer for speaking the truth about Israel-Palestine when he has done the same?

Ali Gharib writes: During Thursday night’s heated Democratic debate in Brooklyn, Senator Bernie Sanders came out firing on Israel. A candidate who initially sought, seemingly at all costs, to avoid foreign policy altogether finally spoke out on the most politically charged issue of global affairs in Washington — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and he took it by the horns.

That’s why it was so disappointing that, only a few hours earlier, the Sanders campaign suspended one of its young staffers, Simone Zimmerman, who served only briefly as its Jewish outreach coordinator. (Disclosure: I edited Zimmerman at a blog where I worked in 2013, and we have remained friends.) Zimmerman’s sin was to call the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “asshole,” adding “Fuck you, Bibi,” using his nickname, for good measure, in a Facebook post last winter, when she was all of 24 years old.

At the time, Netanyahu was coming to Washington to marshal support against the Iran nuclear deal, claiming to speak on the behalf of all “Jewish People” everywhere, not just Israelis. Zimmerman, who has been deeply involved for years in Jewish and liberal pro-Israel activism — often critical, though it may be — took umbrage at the notion, resulting in her expletive-laden post on social media. Within half a day, Zimmerman edited the Facebook post to remove the curses — mentioning in a comment that she did so to “reflect the seriousness with which I take this issue” — but not soon enough. Someone had screen-captured the original text, and lay in waiting for more than a year to leak it to the McCarthyite smear artists at the right-wing Washington Free Beacon (one only needs to scan the post, where liberal Zionist groups are derided as anti-Israel, to see what ideologues this lot are).

Then the pressure came. [Continue reading…]

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Sanders campaign’s new Jewish outreach director is outspoken Israel critic

The Times of Israel reports: Simone Zimmerman, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s newly hired national Jewish outreach coordinator, is quite familiar with the American Jewish establishment.

She is used to fighting against it.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Zimmerman was one of the leaders of a group of young Jews that held regular protest vigils outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reading the names of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the conflict.

She opposes Israel’s occupation, wants Hillel to allow participation by groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, is against Jewish federation funding for Israeli projects in the West Bank and wrote favorably of the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS group, to get “international corporations to stop profiting off human rights abuses.” (The Anti-Defamation League has called JVP one of America’s top 10 anti-Israel groups.) [Continue reading…]

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Sanders: ‘You can’t just be concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.’

Think Progress reports: Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out on Sunday against Israel’s military response during the 2014 war with Gaza, calling the country’s actions “disproportionate.”

Sanders, who is the first Jewish candidate in U.S. history to win a major presidential primary, discussed the seven-week armed conflict between Israeli and Gazan forces during a taped interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. The 2014 conflict, which was sparked after Hamas forces in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,130 Palestinians — 70 percent of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel, which lost 65 soldiers and 3 civilians in the fighting, claims only 50 percent of Palestinians killed were civilians. [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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Soldier’s shooting of Palestinian sets off uproar in Israel

The Associated Press reports: Amateur video appearing to show an Israeli soldier killing an already wounded Palestinian attacker sparked uproar in Israel on Sunday, reflecting the deep divisions in the country following six months of violence.

As the Israeli military pressed on with an investigation, nationalistic politicians accused the army of abandoning the soldier, while political doves bemoaned the erosion of the nation’s morals. Palestinians, meanwhile, said the shooting proved their claims that Israel is guilty of using excessive force and carrying out extrajudicial killings.

The shooting took place last Thursday in Hebron, the volatile West Bank city that has been a focal point of the latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The military said two Palestinians stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier before troops shot and killed the pair. [Continue reading…]

Human Rights Watch reports: The B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the video, Imad Abu Shamsiyyeh, told Human Rights Watch in a phone interview that Israeli forces had threatened him both at the scene and later, when he went to give a statement to the military. A few minutes after he filmed the shooting from the roof of a nearby building, he said, “more journalists gathered on the roof, and the Israeli soldiers noticed us. They pointed their guns at us and screamed at us to get down. Soldiers came into the building and told the [owner] not to allow people there or the family would pay the price.”

Abu Shamsiyyeh said that after B’Tselem shared the video with military investigators, the military asked him to give a statement. During questioning at a military office in Hebron, Abu Shamsiyyeh said he felt the interrogator was trying to intimidate him to make him say that he had not filmed the video:

He told me, ‘How will you benefit from this video? It got a lot of publicity. Your name is known to everyone. Who is going to protect you and your family from right-wing Israelis? Remember you live in [Tel Rumeida], surrounded by Israeli settlers, who will be able to protect you there?’ I felt that I was being threatened. They took the original footage from me.

Abu Shamsiyyeh said he had received two phone calls on March 24 from a Hebrew-speaker, calling from a private number, but did not understand what was said. “I feel in danger and my children are afraid,” Abu Shamsiyyeh told Human Rights Watch. “I’m not letting them out of the house. I’m afraid of walking in the street.” [Continue reading…]

Anshel Pfeffer writes: It was a moment made for television. Abed Fatah al-Sharif could be seen lying on the ground in Hebron, after he and a friend had been shot while trying to stab Israeli soldiers. Still moving, 21­-year-old Sharif lay there without receiving medical attention for several minutes, until a helmeted Israeli soldier, in the presence of his officers, walked up and shot him in the head.

Just like that – what looks like a summary execution in the middle of the day, on camera.

You would have expected the killing of Sharif to be headline news around the world, not only an internal debate over the battlefield morals of the Israel Defense Forces, as it has in the last four days. The IDF Spokesman Unit was prepared for a media onslaught, notified in advance through operational channels of the incident.

By the time the footage, taken by a field worker of human rights NGO B’Tselem, landed in the journalists’ inboxes, a statement had already been prepared announcing that the soldier had been arrested and his actions, which were contrary to “the IDF’s values,” were under criminal investigation. It took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few hours but eventually he came out with a similar statement, distancing the IDF and its values from what was seen on the screen.

But as far as the foreign media was concerned, they need not have bothered. The foreign correspondents stationed in Israel dutifully filed their reports, but in a week in which Europe was still in shock from the devastating Brussels attacks their story barely had a chance. Add to the continent’s news agenda that day the conviction in The Hague of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of genocide and the American media’s preoccupation with Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency as well as with their current president, Barack Obama, watching baseball in Cuba and doing the tango in Argentina, while trying to get as far as possible from the Middle East.

When the officials in charge of Israel’s global PR saw on Friday the daily summaries of the previous 24 hours in the world media, they heaved a sigh of relief. With the exception of Al Jazeera, the Hebron killing didn’t feature prominently on any of the main news channels, in the news bulletins of major networks or on the front pages of influential newspapers. It was relegated deep in to the inside pages and low down on the websites’ home pages.

“My report got quite a lot of clicks” said one reporter for a top news-site. ”But it didn’t make it into our top-ten news stories. There was just way too much happening elsewhere.” And if the media isn’t interested, then foreign politicians and diplomats won’t be making much of a fuss either. Perhaps even if it hadn’t taken place on a such a heavy news day we may have been surprised at the relatively low level of international media interest. After all, the global audience has become inured in the last three years to much more distressing images of ISIS beheadings, immolations and explosions of prisoners.

The improved professionalism in recent years of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s foreign media branch also played a role. They didn’t try to duck the issue or stonewall the reporters. Any hint of a cover up would probably have generated a few more headlines. But then after all, the world has also grown sick of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hardly expects better of us anymore.

Some Israelis are certainly happy that the world has more burning issues to deal with and may even be experiencing a feeling of schadenfreude that this time the Europeans have too many dead bodies of their own to be interested in those here. Not only is such an attitude ugly and callous, but Israelis may find that living in one of the areas where the world media has lost interest in its cruelties is not such a great a thing, even if the coverage is sometimes biased and disproportional.

A world which is no longer shocked by Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians probably won’t be that excited when the cruelty goes the other way either. [Continue reading…]

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Bernie Sanders outlines his Middle East policy

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Netanyahu’s toxic embrace with Israel

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Nicola Abé reports: Even though this new wave of violence has been underway since October, Netanyahu has been unable to do anything about it or bring peace to his country. Some would argue that his record is disastrous, and that the tense situation would harm his popularity, but the opposite has been true. Last year, Netanyahu expanded his power even further, simply claiming a number of ministries for himself. Now, in addition to being prime minister, he is also foreign minister, economy minister, communication minister and regional development minister. He has installed allies in the media, in the police force and in the judiciary. It’s as if Netanyahu is in a toxic embrace with his country.

During a state trip last fall, Netanyahu’s official plane flew through heavy, dark clouds, with the fasten seatbelt sign on. Just as the aircraft entered severe turbulence, Netanyahu appeared in the rear section of the aircraft, where the journalists sat. He wanted to give a background talk at that very moment. He had a full 12 hours to speak, but he only chose to do so a few minutes prior to landing.

As a hurricane-like storm brewed, the journalists clung to their seats. It was the middle of the night in Jerusalem and Netanyahu spoke with them about Syria and Iraq. He had dark circles under his eyes and unkempt hair. His words essentially amounted to nothing.

The plane swayed back and forth. His press spokesman then pulled at his sleeve, trying to get him to sit down. The aircraft hit an air pocket, but Netanyahu didn’t flinch. This was and is his message. He stages politics as a never-ending dance at the brink of an abyss — in which he constantly remains in control. This catastrophic backdrop allows Netanyahu to appear both as victim and savior. He turns everything into an existential question, because he derives his power from the existential.

“The survival mode is in the Israeli DNA,” says journalist Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of the country’s biggest daily newspapers. He has followed Netanyahu for years. “He plays the type who holds the dam together.” [Continue reading…]

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American graduate student killed in stabbing rampage near Tel Aviv

The New York Times reports: A Palestinian on a stabbing rampage on Tuesday along a coastal promenade near Tel Aviv killed an American combat veteran who was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.

The attacks occurred along a popular seaside boulevard in Jaffa, about a mile away from where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was meeting with a former president of Israel, Shimon Peres.

The stabbing attacks, carried out over 20 minutes, came just after Mr. Biden arrived for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday.

The American was identified as Taylor Force, 28, a first-year M.B.A. student at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt, the university said in a statement. He was one of 29 students from the graduate school on a trip to Israel to learn about global entrepreneurship, according to a news release from Vanderbilt. The rest of the students, as well as the four faculty and staff members that accompanied them, were safe, it said. [Continue reading…]

Last October, following a knife attack on an Israeli policeman by a 19-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Ali, Peter Beaumont wrote: How violence plays out in conflict –the weapons used, how attacks are executed and organised and who takes part and against what targets – are indicative of more than simply the act of killing or attempted killing. While the first Palestinian intifada was defined in the popular imagination as the “stone-throwing intifada” and the second as a conflict of suicide bombings and gun attacks, the new surge in violence has been so closely associated with knife attacks that on social media some have dubbed it the “knife intifada”.

At the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem where Ali lived, three burned-out, overturned cars – part of a recent barricade – lie facing the Israeli police at the checkpoint in the wall that seals off the camp. The house where Ali’s male relatives are sitting in mourning is deep within the camp’s narrow lanes. They have not yet received his body for burial. His uncles, Assad Mohammed Ali and Mahmoud, tell a story familiar to those who have done these rounds of questioning before. Their nephew, they say, was a popular and happy youth. He had no problems – except he was angry at the Israeli occupation, and in particular at Israeli actions around the flashpoint religious site of the al-Aqsa mosque. So far, so familiar.

“We have a new generation,” another relative standing on a stairs above the uncles interjects, unwilling to be identified. “They are smart and clever. They can’t sustain the humiliation. They think: if you are going to kill us in the end, we should attack first. You have to understand that this generation is well educated. It is well informed and globalised. They can’t be fooled, like we were fooled in the old days. They have their own way of finding out what is going on. Social media and the internet are educating them.”

Asked about why this episode is different from the first and second intifadas, in the weapons of choice and the organisation or lack of it, Assad Mohammed Ali says: “This is a pure intifada. It is pure because it is about individuals’ personal motivation. They are the ones who sparked it.” The other uncle adds: “The last ones were political. This is not political; it is spontaneous.”

Assad Mohammed Ali adds that, confronted with what has been happening at al-Aqsa – with the fatal shootings of Palestinian teenagers – “kids started carrying knives” and his nephew was among them. He suggests a widespread and fatalistic anticipation of death. “When a person thinks death may be imposed, then he wants to die in a heroic way.” He mentions two men from the camp who were killed last year. “The new generation wants to try and imitate them.” [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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Trump: I’ll be ‘neutral’ on Israel and Palestine

The Hill reports: GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to pick sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“You know, I don’t want to get into it,” he told hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski during a MSNBC town hall in Charleston, S.C.

“If I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying to you [my choice] and the other side now says, ‘We don’t want Trump involved,'” the real estyate mogul said of potentially winning the presidency and then brokering a lasting peace deal.
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” the billionaire added. “I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable.

“You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is — I don’t think that helps.” [Continue reading…]

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