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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Israel spraying toxins over Palestinian crops in Gaza

Al Jazeera reports: On January 7, a low-flying agricultural aircraft sprayed herbicides on to Palestinian farmlands along the eastern border, eradicating or damaging up to 162 hectares of crops and farmland along the Israeli border fence.

“Herbicides are sprayed in high concentrations. Thus, they remain embedded in the soil, and then find their way to the water basin. This constitutes a real hazard for the population,” said Anwar Abu Assi, manager of the chemical laboratory at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The sprayed areas belong to Israel’s unilaterally imposed and poorly delineated “buffer” or “no-go zone”.

The zone, which amounts to an estimated 17 percent of the entire territory of the Gaza Strip and a third of its agricultural lands, erodes into the Strip’s most vital and fertile soils. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS in Gaza

Sarah Helm writes: In a house in Rafah, at the southern edge of Gaza, I met Sheikh Omar Hams, fifty-one years old, a slender figure dressed in a simple white robe and seated on a mattress on the floor. Hams is director of the Ibn Baz Islamic Institute, based in Rafah, where it also runs a bakery and charity outlets. His mission, he says, is to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad and to give bread and other aid to the homeless and the poor.

Hams is a Salafist sheikh. “A Salaf means an original ancestor—one of those who lived close to the Prophet and observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words literally,” he explains. The sheikh teaches his students how to return to those ways, and they in turn spread the word. Unlike many Salafis, who abhor any rational argument about the literal meaning of the Koran, Hams is open to at least some debate. And though sometimes willing to support violent jihad, he accepts that violence is often not justified, preferring instead to secure a return to original Islam through the use of prayer, study, and preaching.

Pulling his legs underneath him, the sheikh prepares for questions on how the Prophet might have viewed the methods of Daesh (ISIS) — also Salafists — and on the battle to contain its influence across the world, most particularly here in Gaza.

Since 2007 Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza, albeit under Israeli rule — a rule implemented nowadays by means of a military and naval blockade by air, land, and sea, which is described by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, as “a collective penalty against the people of Gaza.” Hamas is itself an Islamist resistance movement, with a resistance “army” called al-Qassam, but Hamas members are seen as infidels by ISIS since they place the nationalist battle for a Palestinian state before the campaign for a caliphate. Hamas’s willingness to negotiate with Israel and to agree to a cease-fire last summer was seen by ISIS as the latest demonstration of its collaboration. ISIS supporters inside Gaza have shown their opposition and tried to break the cease-fire by firing rockets into Israel, thereby angering Hamas and risking heavy Israeli retaliation. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza journalist says he was tortured in Hamas jail

The Associated Press reports: Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul frequently writes about the hardships of life in the Gaza Strip, and is one of the few voices willing to publicly criticize the rule of the Islamic Hamas movement.

But after nine days in jail, al-Aloul says he won’t be writing about politics anymore. He said a painful experience that included beatings and being forced to sit uncomfortably in a tiny chair has made him a “new man” and that he will now focus on less controversial topics like sports, food, literature and fashion.

“I’ve decided not to talk about the general situation anymore,” al-Aloul said in an interview at his home Tuesday, a day after he was released. “The experience I went through was very difficult.”

Al-Aloul’s experience is part of a crackdown by Hamas at a time when the continuing miseries of life in Gaza appear to be driving its population toward more open dissent. Critics have grown bolder on social media sites, and attempts by Hamas to impose new taxes have triggered rare public protests. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey sees no normalization of Israel ties without end to Gaza blockade

Reuters reports: Turkey sees no normalization in ties with Israel unless its conditions for ending the Gaza blockade and compensation for the deaths of 10 Turkish activists in 2010 are met, a presidential spokesman said on Monday.

Relations between Turkey and Israel soured when the activists were killed in a raid by Israeli commandos on a Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara, which was trying to breach the blockade.

Expectations of a breakthrough were intensified after senior officials met this month to try to repair ties. The talks have raised hopes of progress in negotiations to import Israeli natural gas, particularly since Turkey’s relationship with major energy producer Russia has worsened over Syria.

But comments from Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin suggest Turkey may be trying to play tough in the negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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Egyptian border guards gun down unarmed Palestinian man trying to escape from Gaza

The New York Times reports: Something drove Ishaq Khalil Hassan, 28, into the Mediterranean last week, to walk naked in the shallow surf, to attempt what has become all but impossible for Palestinians: an escape from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials insisted that Mr. Hassan, who tried to wade across the border into Egypt on Thursday, was mentally ill. His family said he was sane, but desperate — he had been trying all year, unsuccessfully, to legally enter Egypt for medical treatment for an old injury.

“Ishaq thought that Egyptians will be like Europeans, who deal with Syrians and welcome them,” said his brother, Ibrahim Hassan.

But as soon as Mr. Hassan crossed the frontier, Egyptian border guards opened fire, spraying the sea with bullets while ignoring a Palestinian guard who whistled and frantically gestured with his hands that Mr. Hassan had mental problems. A video that captured the shooting made at least one thing clear: Mr. Hassan appeared to pose no immediate threat to anyone. [Continue reading…]

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Did Erdogan give up Gaza in return for Israeli gas?

Kadri Gursel writes: Days before Israeli media broke the news of a preliminary Turkish-Israeli deal to normalize ties, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had thrown a signal flare of impending moves to settle the Mavi Marmara crisis between the two countries.

Speaking to journalists on a flight back from Turkmenistan on Dec. 13, Erdogan broke with his usual hostile rhetoric against Israel, saying that “Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is vital for the region” and that normalizing ties would be “to the benefit of the whole region.” He then reiterated his three conditions for reconciliation: first, an Israeli apology for the killing of 10 Turks, including one with US citizenship, in the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara ferry on May 31, 2010, as it sailed in international waters in the Mediterranean with 590 activists aboard, mostly Turks, seeking to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip; second, the payment of compensation to the families of the victims; and third, the lifting of Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza.

Four days later, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, “Israel and Turkey have reached understanding on the outlines of a reconciliation agreement that would put an end to the long crisis in relations between the two countries and normalize ties.” [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza’s Khuzaa caravans, families fear another winter

Al Jazeera reports: As cold, late-autumn rain poured down on the Gaza Strip last month, Yousef al-Najjar watched as his makeshift home sunk deeper into the mud, its thin laminate floors cracking.

Intended as a temporary solution for residents made homeless by Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, the static caravans of Khuzaa – a cluster of around 70 tin-sheet homes on the town’s outskirts, paid for by donor nations such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are scarcely equipped for another winter. Najjar fears that cold temperatures and increased rainfall will make the homes unliveable.

“We live in a horrible situation,” Najjar, a 47-year-old father of three, told Al Jazeera. “This area of Khuzaa is lower than the rest. When it rains, the water settles here.”

“The [caravans] aren’t insulated, and over time, they have shifted,” he added. “The outside air comes in, then it gets hotter or colder depending on the season. We are provided heaters, but they aren’t effective. Last year, we tried to build fires inside the caravan, but we stopped. We know it’s not safe. What if we fell asleep and it caught fire?” [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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American donors funding West Bank settlements

Mitchell Plitnick writes: A great deal of support for Israeli settlements comes from the United States in the form of tax-deductible contributions from private donors. The Obama administration, like all administrations before it, opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and considers it an obstacle to peace. Yet, at the same time, the United States government effectively incentivizes support for the settlements by allowing American charities to disburse millions of tax-deductible dollars in support for them.

This problem has not gone unnoticed, even though it continues unimpeded at this point. The Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, is publishing a series of reports and data uncovered by journalist Uri Blau detailing the extent of private American support for the settlements.

This investigation by Blau pushes forward efforts that a number of US-based groups have made in the past. Most recently, T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brought attention to this issue by filing a complaint against one such group, Honenu, in New York. Earlier in 2015, the group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of The Hebron Fund, which directly supports the flashpoint Israeli settlement in that Palestinian city. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli army unit storms hospital and kills Palestinian

Al Jazeera reports: An elite Israeli military force that operates undercover stormed the al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron and shot dead a 27-year-old Palestinian, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

Abdullah al-Shalaldeh was killed by five rounds fired early Thursday after 21 members of the elite unit – known as Mustaarabin – barged into the hospital room of his cousin, Azzam al-Shalaldeh, a ministry statement said.

The commandos wanted to question Azzam – who required surgery after earlier being shot by Israeli security forces – and his cousin tried to prevent them from doing so when the Israelis opened fire. [Continue reading…]

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Lynch mob: Majority of Jewish Israelis want terror suspects killed on the spot even if they no longer pose a threat

972mag.org reports: Over half of Jewish Israelis (53 percent) believe that a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack “should be killed on the spot, even if he has been apprehended and no longer poses a threat,” a new survey shows.

The poll, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute at the end of October, quizzed Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel on their attitudes toward the current wave of violence sweeping the country.

Respondents were questioned on a range of topics, including their attitudes to punishing perpetrators of terrorist attacks; their level of anxiety over the current situation; and possible underlying causes for the present escalation. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s descent into jingoistic ‘orgies of feeling’

Neve Gordon writes:  I first understood that something had changed when I received a message to one of my WhatsApp groups saying “Gordon’s girlfriend.” This was followed by the snuff video of police officers shooting Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, a 30-year-old Palestinian mother from Nazareth. In the video, Asraa is surrounded by Israeli soldiers who are all aiming automatic rifles at her while she sobs and cries out. She clearly poses no threat whatsoever to those around her, and yet suddenly a police officer nonchalantly walks toward her, aims, and shoots, three times. Asraa falls to the ground, while someone in the crowd shouts, “Daughter of a whore!”

The video went viral, and, like so many Jewish Israeli viewers, the person who sent it to my WhatsApp group obviously found the violence amusing. I watched the disturbing footage several times before answering, “This is what woman hunting looks like.”

Two weeks later, an Israeli state prosecutor admitted that Asraa had had no intention of stabbing anyone, but he also added that the policeman who had gunned her down would not be charged. The message to the security forces was unequivocal: Shoot, no questions asked.

The snuff video of Fadi Alon from Jerusalem was even more horrific, and not only because Fadi was murdered by a police officer as he was trying to flee an angry mob, while Asraa was only wounded, but because the mob surrounding Fadi was caught on film taunting the police officers. They are heard demanding an extrajudicial execution while accusing the security forces of being spineless. Watching the police succumb to the mob, I understood for the first time what it must have meant to be in the Roman Colosseum in the midst of the madding crowd.

And, yet, the current situation in Israel is very different. Unlike ancient Rome, in Israel events are framed by a melodramatic political script that thrives on what Elisabeth Anker, following Nietzsche, calls orgies of feeling. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Gaza is still occupied

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We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel

Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl write: The West Bank is increasingly treated as part of Israel, with the green line demarcating the occupied territories erased from many maps. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared recently that control over the West Bank is “not a matter of political debate. It is a basic fact of modern Zionism.”

This “basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective: Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.

As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies. Not only is European support for Israel waning, but also U.S. public opinion — once seemingly rock solid — has begun to shift as well, especially among millennials. International pariah status is hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival. [Continue reading…]

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