Israel’s right of self defense

Daniel Levy writes: Israeli self-defense does not include the right to (again) kill hundreds of Gazan civilians, to bomb hospitals or even to warn people to evacuate buildings when there is nowhere for them to go. The Israeli government’s attempt to a priori blame Hamas for all losses and thereby absolve itself of responsibility for casualties cannot be accepted.

Take a step back from this latest escalation. Most Gazans are refugees, their roots lie in the war and expulsion of 1948. From 1967 they lived under direct Israeli occupation and under blockade ever since, almost for the past decade.

Israel is not offering Gazans “quiet for quiet.” When Hamas ceases to fire, when it is “quiet,” Israel returns to normality, but Gazans remain cut off from the world, denied the most basic daily freedoms we take for granted.

Step further back to the West Bank, where the Palestinian strategic alternative to Hamas is pursued. The Fatah movement of President Abbas recognizes Israel, pursues peaceful negotiations and security cooperation. That is met with entrenched Israeli control, ever-expanding settlements, and Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities at will.

So what would you do under such circumstances? Perhaps start by not denying another people’s rights in perpetuity, including the right to self-determination.

George Bisharat notes: [S]elf-defense cannot be claimed by a state that initiates violence, as Israel did in its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting more than 400, searching 2,200 homes and other sites, and killing at least nine Palestinians. There is no evidence that the terrible murders of three Israeli youths that Israel claimed as justification for the crackdown were anything other than private criminal acts that do not trigger a nation’s right of self-defense (were an American citizen, or even a Drug Enforcement Administration agent killed by drug traffickers on our border with Mexico, that would not entitle us to bomb Mexico City).

Hamas and other groups began to intensify rocket fire only after Israel’s provocation. Prior to that, Hamas had proved itself a reliable partner for calm along the Gaza border, withholding rocket fire for nearly two years and largely curbing attacks by other groups.

Israel is also apparently violating the principle of distinction, that requires armies to attack only military targets. By attacking civilian officials and Hamas political figures in their homes, and striking hospitals, water and sewage lines, and other civilian infrastructure, Israel has abandoned distinction. Unsurprisingly, 75 percent of Palestinian victims have been civilians.

Ghada Ageel writes: [W]hile states have the right to defend themselves, so do people under occupation. Despite the Israeli claim that it no longer occupies Gaza, Israel effectively controls the strip – particularly the air and sea – and, in conjunction with Egypt, the borders, too.

When Israel demands that Palestinians flee their homes, is it not legitimate self-defense to say Israel did this once before and will pass through my neighborhood over my dead body?

Seventy percent of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees. We are in Gaza because Israel expelled over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, including my grandmother and grandfather and both my parents from Beit Daras.

With over 600 Palestinians killed in the current assault, most of them civilians, a far-reaching cease-fire is now needed.

Hamas can hold a cease-fire just as it did in November 2012. The real question is whether Israel will give up its brutal control of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, allowing people to move and export products to grow our economy, and live with a semblance of freedom from occupation after years of Israeli siege and subjugation.

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Iraqi leader Maliki loses backing of Sistani and Iran for new term

The Wall Street Journal reports: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is losing political support for his bid for a third term from core backers, including the country’s Shiite religious establishment and ally Iran, say Iraqi officials.

The shift, officials said, is prompting members of the premier’s own alliance to reconsider their support and dimming the prospect of his stay in power.

In recent days, high-level delegations of Iranian military officials and diplomats held a flurry of meetings in Baghdad and the Shiite religious capital Najaf, where they were told that Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has lost the confidence of all but his most loyal inner circle, Iraqi officials with knowledge of the meetings said.

One Iraqi official briefed on the meetings said Iranian representatives signaled during their visit that Tehran has “really started to lean away from Maliki as a candidate.”

Also critically, Mr. Maliki’s bid to stay in office has, say prominent Shiite politicians, run into opposition from Iraq’s top Shiite spiritual authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has become central to the grinding talks between political blocs to form a government. [Continue reading...]

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Democracy Now: Gideon Levy and Nathan Thrall talk about Israel’s assault on Gaza

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U.S. rejects Israel’s request to lift flights ban

The Washington Post reports: The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday afternoon ordered U.S. carriers to stop flying to or from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, prohibiting them from traveling through Israel’s largest airport after a rocket landed nearby.

Airlines were banned from flying to Tel Aviv for a 24-hour period beginning on Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. The FAA said it will issue additional guidance by the end of that period.

This prohibition came after a rocket landed about a mile away from the airport, the FAA said.

“The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing [the notice],” the agency said in a statement. “The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation.” [Continue reading...]

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‘Israeli Defense Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize’

Granted, when Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, addressed the Christians United for Israel Summit in Washington on Tuesday, he would have been warmly received whatever he said. Indeed, had he gone on stage and simply let out one long mellifluous fart, he would surely have won extended applause from such an uncritical audience.

Nevertheless, when claiming that the Israeli army should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for its “unimaginable restraint” in Gaza, Dermer was not just speaking to his evangelical friends — he was addressing and insulting all Americans.

Sure, ever since Barack Obama was prematurely awarded the prize it has been a tarnished honor, but this refrain that Israel exercising restraint as it kills hundreds of civilians, including more than a hundred children, is an effort to make people doubt what they are through news reports and social media being shown many times a day.

The Israelis like Dermer, with unimaginable conceit, are saying: don’t believe your own eyes; listen to our message of peace because really, unless you’re an Israeli, you couldn’t possibly understand what’s happening in our neighborhood.

What this conceit amounts to is self-deification and a conviction in the god-like authority of ones own beliefs.

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U.S. airlines determine it’s not safe to operate flights to Israel

Adam Chandler: The Associated Press is reporting that Delta has decided to indefinitely suspend all of its flights to Israel amid rocket fire from Gaza upon the nearby Tel Aviv area and, most recently, the area surrounding Israel’s lone international airport.

Delta Air Lines is canceling all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.


The precedent set by Delta’s decision could potentially cripple Israel’s economy.


Throughout decades of peace negotiations, the greatest fear about an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank was that it would place its only international airport in the crosshairs of rocket fire. But in the past two weeks, Hamas has unveiled rockets capable of firing greater distances, allowing it to target cities once unfathomable to Israeli security forces, including its largest city, Tel Aviv. [Continue reading...]

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Israel is in no mood for a ceasefire

Larry Derfner writes: Late last night (Monday), I was driving home from work and listening to the talk show hosted by Jojo Abutbul, who is sort of an old-time folk hero in this country – a Mizrahi Jew with down-to-earth wisdom. An Israeli common man. He speaks mainly to an older, Likud-oriented Mizrahi crowd, which is still very reflective of Israeli mainstream views, and is disproportionately represented in Sderot and some of the other towns near the Gaza border that have taken the brunt of Hamas’ rockets. Jojo Abutbul and his callers are an important voice in Israeli public opinion, especially now, during the war. They’re thought to be on the right wing of the mainstream.

They were speaking after a day in which seven Israeli soldiers had been killed, and a family of 26 had been killed in Gaza. The first tragedy overhung everything they said; the second was not mentioned. And the phrase that kept being repeated was, “Finish the job.” Abutbul said, “It hurts me, the number of soldiers who have fallen. But I think I’ll be able to withstand any number if they finish the job. But if even one soldier meets his fate and they don’t finish the job, then I’m going to find this impossible to take.”

I thought, well, that’s an “authentic” Israeli voice today, but it’s not the only one, and it’s probably somewhere to the right of the center of gravity. I still believed there were a lot of Israelis who are saying “enough” – not just left-wingers but centrist Israelis who cannot take anymore Israeli soldiers getting killed and want the fighting to end now. This, after all, is supposed to be a basic truth about the Israeli political mentality – that they won’t stand for large numbers of casualties in war. And seven soldiers were killed yesterday, and 13 the day before, and now 27 Israelis have been killed all told. This morning the news is that a soldier is missing in action, which means a whole agonizing bargaining ordeal again.

All the things Israelis were warned about if the fighting went on too long – international outrage over the scenes of Palestinian civilians being slaughtered, large numbers of Israelis being killed, soldiers being captured – have now happened. I would expect that a lot of people, not just leftists, would be echoing the world by calling for a ceasefire right now.

Then this morning I picked up a copy of Yedioth Ahronoth, the “newspaper of the nation,” what I consider to be the clearest window there is into Israeli society. The front-page commentary is by Yuval Diskin, the former Shin Bet chief and conscience-ridden star of “The Gatekeepers,” the incessant critic of Netanyahu’s hardline policies – and the title of his commentary is “Don’t Stop Yet.” [Continue reading...]

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Israel, not Hamas, orchestrated the latest conflict in Gaza

Musa al-Gharbi writes: In the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the dominant discourse is that the Palestinian militants provoked the hostilities — while Israel, as President Barack Obama affirmed last week, is acting in legitimate self-defense. Many have attempted to problematize this narrative, for instance by arguing that Israel, as an occupying power, does not have a legitimate legal or moral claim to self-defense. Others have argued that rockets fired by Hamas do not constitute an existential crisis for Israel or its citizens and certainly did not warrant the killing of more than 500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including women and children.

While these are all valid and important points, the broader narrative remains largely unchallenged: Hamas began firing rockets at Israel first, triggering Israel’s latest military incursion. This is not true. In fact, far from acting in self-defense, the crisis is the result of deliberate actions by Israel over the last few weeks — first to stir up anti-Arab sentiment among the Israeli population and then to provoke Hamas into open conflict.

The current escalation began with the abduction of three teenage Israeli settlers from the West Bank. The fact that the three were settlers is an important detail that is often passed over far too quickly or overlooked altogether. The settlements, what they represent and how the settlers interact with the Palestinian population form a critical part of the episode’s context.

After the kidnapping, for more than two weeks Israeli authorities put on a show of looking for the missing settlers — the whole time whipping up anti-Arab sentiment, raising hopes of a recovery and marginalizing voices of dissent. When the abductees were found murdered, the Israeli public was outraged and demanded vengeance. Shortly after the funerals for the youths, another group of Israeli settlers beat and burned to death a 16-year-old Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. This incident was followed by a brutal assault on Tariq Khdeir, a 15-year-old U.S. citizen and cousin of Mohammed’s by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). [Continue reading...]

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Israel’s war on the children of Gaza

In an operation billed as having “pinpoint accuracy,” 25% of the casualties have been children.

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ISIS thwarts Syrian government forces on two fronts

McClatchy reports: Syrian government troops failed on two fronts Monday to reverse gains by fighters loyal to the Islamic State, a sign that the insurgents who’ve captured half of Iraq are capable of battling Syria’s government as well.

Anti-government activists said 14 government troops were killed in battles for two villages outside the east Syrian city of Deir el Zour. The Syrian army fared no better in an attempt to recapture the Shaer gas field near in the ancient city of Palmyra, losing six soldiers and failing to dislodge the Islamic State fighters.

The clash in Deir el Zour was the latest sign that the Islamic State, which had frontally attacked the regime only once before _ in the desert near Homs _ is prepared to fight it as the opportunity arises. A member of the Islamist movement told McClatchy that it intends to remove the regime of President Bashar Assad from Deir el Zour province altogether.

The latest confrontation began Friday when the Islamic State, which now controls more than 35 percent of Syria, ordered the last remnant of U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army troops in the province to leave the towns of Ayyash and Ien Al Bujuma’a. This created a temporary power vacuum that government forces attempted to fill by setting up checkpoints around the towns.

The Islamic State launched an attack Saturday that ended with it seizing the two towns and killing 14 government soldiers and three officers.

Activists said regime troops apparently were trying to advance toward Ayyash in a bid to protect military depots in a neighboring area of Badyat Ayyash, said to contain the third biggest depots for weapons and ammunition in Syria. [Continue reading...]

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Iraq’s waterless Christians: The campaign to expel a religion

Bloomberg reports: Qaraqosh is one of the last refuges in northern Iraq for Christians fleeing persecution by the militants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, who swept into the region in June. A historic Christian city of 50,000 about 19 miles southeast of Mosul, Qaraqosh is under the formidable protection of the well-armed Peshmerga—the Kurdish fighters whose autonomous region disputes the area with both ISIL and the Iraqi central government based in Baghdad. Now, in a further effort to oust Christians from land they have inhabited for two millennia, the Islamic militants have begun turning off a precious utility: water.

Since taking Mosul on June 10, ISIL militants have squeezed Qaraqosh and nearby Christian villages by blocking the pipes that connect the communities with the Tigris river. Without a sufficient number of deep wells to fill the gap, the city must have water trucked in, at huge cost, from Kurdish-controlled areas just 15 miles away. Since ISIL took over key refineries in northern Iraq, the price of fuel has spiked across the region. The parched residents of Qaraqosh must pay about $10 every other day to fill up emergency water tanks, no small sum in this economically depressed part of Iraq. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt: Morsi supporters jailed for 25 years for protesting without a permit

Al Ahram reports: A court in Minya has sentenced three supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to 25 years in prison for protesting without a permit.

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Obama’s foreign policy and the future of the Middle East

Speaking in Washington DC on Monday afternoon, Chas Freeman said: In April, our four-decade-long effort to broker a secure and accepted place for a Jewish state in the Middle East sputtered to a disgraceful end. In the tragicomic final phase of the so-called “peace process,” instead of mediating, the United States negotiated with Israel about the terms of Palestinian capitulation, not with the Palestinians about self-determination. The U.S. effort to broker peace for Israel is now not just dead but so putrid it can’t be shown at a wake. Israel didn’t believe in it, so it killed it. May it rest in peace.

From the outset, Israel used the “peace process” as a distraction while it created facts on the ground in the form of illegal settlements. Israeli expansionism and related policies have now made Israel’s peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians– and, thus, with Israel’s Arab neighbors – impossible. The United States created the moral hazard that enabled Israel to put itself in this ultimately untenable position. Forty years of one-sided American diplomacy aimed at achieving regional and international acceptance for Israel have thus perversely produced the very opposite – increasing international isolation and opprobrium for the Jewish state.

We will now “cover Israel’s back” at the United Nations as its ongoing maltreatment and intermittent muggings of its captive Arab population complete its international delegitimization and ostracism. We will pay a heavy political price for this stand globally, in the Middle East, and very likely in escalating terrorism against Americans abroad and at home. It may satisfy our sense of honor. But it more closely resembles assisted suicide than a strategy for the survival of Israel and our own position in the Middle East. [Continue reading...]

Freeman spoke at the Middle East Policy Council, preceded by Kenneth Pollack, Paul Pillar, and Amin Tarzi — the 77th Capitol Hill Conference can be viewed here.

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Why Egypt wants Israel’s assault on Gaza to continue

The Economist: The Israelis reckoned it would be cleverer to get Egypt to handle Hamas, knowing that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s new president, also dislikes it intensely. The terms of the ceasefire offered through Egypt’s offices amounted virtually to a surrender by Hamas. “It was a trap,” says a European diplomat who still meets Hamas. “Hamas knows that Sisi wants to strangle the movement even more than Israel does.” Since Egypt’s generals overthrew Mr Sisi’s predecessor, Muhammad Morsi, last year, they have closed most of the tunnels under the border with Gaza which served as a lifeline, carrying basic goods as well as arms into the strip. Mr Sisi seems content to see Hamas thrashed.

Steven Cook writes: Depending on whom one asks, Egypt’s failure so far to mediate a cease-fire is either a function of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s perfidy or incompetence, or Egypt’s diminished status among Muslim countries. But there’s another explanation: The Egyptians seem to believe that a continuation of the fighting — for now — best serves their interests. Given the intense anti-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Hamas propaganda to which Egyptians have been subjected and upon which Sisi’s legitimacy in part rests, the violence in Gaza serves both his political interests and his overall goals.

In an entirely cynical way, what could be better from where Sisi sits? The Israelis are battering Hamas at little or no cost to Egypt. In the midst of the maelstrom, the new president, statesman-like, proposed a cease-fire. If the combatants accept it, he wins. If they reject it, as Hamas did — it offered them very little — Sisi also wins.

Rather than making Sisi look impotent, Hamas’s rejection of his July 14 cease-fire has only reinforced the Egyptian, Israeli, and American narrative about the organization’s intransigence. The Egyptians appear to be calculating, rightly or wrongly, that aligning with Israel will serve their broader goals by bringing Hamas to heel, improving security in the Sinai, and diminishing the role of other regional actors. In other words, Sisi is seeking to accomplish without a cease-fire what Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi accomplished with a cessation of hostilities.

Sisi’s strategy, of course, could backfire. Mubarak tried something similar during the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon — supporting the operation with the belief that the mighty IDF would deal a blow to Hezbollah, only to be exposed politically when the Israelis underperformed and killed a large number of Lebanese civilians in the process. Confronted with an increasingly hostile press and inflamed public opinion — posters lauding Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became common around Cairo — Mubarak was forced to dispatch his son, Gamal, and a planeload of regime courtiers to Beirut in a lame effort to demonstrate Egypt’s support for the Lebanese people.

A similar dynamic might alter Sisi’s calculations on Gaza. Egyptian officials may have whipped up anti-Hamas sentiment in their effort to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood, but this does not diminish the solidarity many Egyptians feel for the Palestinians.

It may be that Egyptians have come to loathe the Brotherhood, but they hate Israel more. As Operation Protective Edge widens and more civilians are killed, Sisi’s collusion with Israel may become politically untenable. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. helps fund destruction and reconstruction of Gaza

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The ‘terror tunnels’: Another Israeli self-fulfilling prophecy

Larry Derfner writes: Here is the current, ostensibly airtight rationale for whatever the IDF chooses to do in Gaza: armed Hamas militats are coming up out of tunnels that start in Gaza and end not far from kibbutz and moshav communities on the Israeli side. So if the IDF doesn’t go as far into Gaza as necessary to destroy the last of these underground passages, sooner or later Hamas will succeed in carrying out “catastrophic” terror attacks, as Netanyahu puts it. The army has stopped several of them since Thursday night’s ground invasion of the Strip; today (Monday) soldiers were wounded in Israeli territory stopping another one.

An unnamed IDF commander put the case very well to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea:

The IDF’s war to wipe out the threat from the tunnels is not an aggressive operation. It’s a preemptive attack, a completely defensive operation. … Imagine if someone in Hamas makes the decision to send out on some dark night, by surprise, teams of commandos through all the tunnels, and they go on a killing spree in the communities near the Gazan border. …

It’s true that many soldiers [13 – L.D.] were killed tonight. It’s likely that more will be killed. But think of the alternative. How could we look kibbutz or moshav members near Gaza in the eye if a commando unit were to infiltrate and kill dozens of their people? Now that we know the tunnels are there, we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing about them.

It sounds entirely reasonable – Hamas is using tunnels to try to kill Israelis on Israeli territory, so the IDF has to go into Hamas’ territory and wipe out those tunnels. And it might be reasonable – if there were no other way Israel could avoid being attacked through those tunnels. It might be reasonable if Israel wasn’t choking Gaza and the West Bank for 47 years. It might be reasonable if Israel hadn’t provoked the war that led to these underground attacks (after a year-and-a-half in which Hamas not only didn’t lift a finger at Israel, but also reined in, to varying degrees, rocket attacks by other Gazan armed groups). Going after the “terror tunnels,” even at the cost of Gazan and Israeli lives, might be reasonable if Israel wasn’t rejecting any cease-fire terms that would allow the 1.8 million people of Gaza to breathe for once. [Continue reading...]

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Why John Kerry’s Israel-Palestine peace plan failed

The New Republic reports: The depth of Palestinian alienation became clear to Kerry and his team only on February 19, when the two sides met for dinner at Le Maurice Hotel in Paris — the kickoff to a three-day parley. As the Palestinians walked in the door, each American was struck with the same thought: These guys do not look like they’re in a good mood. Following dinner, Kerry met alone with Abbas while [the Palestinians' chief negotiator Saeb] Erekat and [Kerry’s envoy to the talks, Martin] Indyk spoke in a separate room. Afterward, Kerry and Indyk got in the car that would take them to their rooms at the Grande Hotel. The secretary turned to his envoy: “That was really negative.” At around the same time, Abbas, who was nursing a terrible cold, saw Erekat in the hall and told him that he was going straight to sleep. “It was a difficult meeting,” he said. “I’ll brief you tomorrow.”

The next morning, at around 7:30, Indyk called Erekat. “The secretary wants to see you,” he said. Erekat was surprised at the early time of the summons. This must be important. He put on a suit and took a cab to the Grande. When he and Indyk got to Kerry’s Louis XIII-style suite, the secretary answered the door. He was dressed casually: hotel slippers, no jacket or tie. He looked concerned. After a moment of silence, the first words came out of Kerry’s mouth. “Why is Abu Mazen so angry with me?”

Erekat responded that he hadn’t yet been briefed on the meeting, so Kerry offered to get his notes. “I barely said a word, and he started saying, ‘I cannot accept this,’” Kerry grumbled, going through some of Abbas’s red lines.

“What do you want?” Erekat said. “These are his positions. We are sick and tired of Bibi the Great. He’s taking you for a ride.”

“No one takes me for a ride!”

“He is refusing to negotiate on a map or even say 1967.”

“I’ve moved him,” Kerry said, “I’ve moved him.”

“Where?” Erekat said, raising his voice. “Show me! This is just the impression he’s giving you.”

The next month, Abbas led a Palestinian delegation to Washington. At a March 16 lunch at Kerry’s Georgetown home, the secretary asked Abbas if he’d accept delaying the fourth prisoner release by a few days. Kerry was worried that the Israelis were wavering. “No,” Abbas said. “I cannot do this.” Abbas would later describe that moment as a turning point. If the Americans can’t convince Israel to give me 26 prisoners, he thought then, how will they ever get them to give me East Jerusalem? At the meal, Erekat noticed Abbas displaying some of his telltale signs of discomfort. He was crossing his legs, looking over at him every two minutes. The index cards on which he normally took notes had been placed back in his suit pocket. Abbas was no longer interested in what was being said.

The next day at the White House, Obama tried his luck with the Palestinian leader. He reviewed the latest American proposals, some of which had been tilted in Abbas’s direction. (The document would now state categorically that there would be a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.) “Don’t quibble with this detail or that detail,” Obama said. “The occupation will end. You will get a Palestinian state. You will never have an administration as committed to that as this one.” Abbas and Erekat were not impressed.

After the meeting, the Palestinian negotiator saw Susan Rice — Abbas’s favorite member of the Obama administration — in the hall. “Susan,” he said, “I see we’ve yet to succeed in making it clear to you that we Palestinians aren’t stupid.” Rice couldn’t believe it. “You Palestinians,” she told him, “can never see the fucking big picture.” [Continue reading...]

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Second-class citizens: Israel’s Bedouin aren’t entitled to bomb shelters

Al Jazeera reports: Israel’s high court ruled Sunday that the state is not obligated to provide bomb shelters to its Bedouin citizens. The decision came after a Bedouin man was killed and his family injured when a rocket hit his encampment in southern Israel on Saturday.

The ruling was in response to a petition filed by local Bedouin and human rights organisations that asked the state to provide mobile bomb shelters to residents in the Negev Desert. About 200,000 Bedouin call Israel home, and half live in villages across the Negev Desert. [Continue reading...]

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