Three Israeli settlers in the West Bank murdered, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza punished

The Guardian reports: Israeli jets and helicopters launched dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight on Monday, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The air strikes, ostensibly in response to an ongoing barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, came after the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, vowed the militant Islamist group Hamas, blamed by Israel for the kidnapping, would “pay a heavy price”.

The United Nations human rights office urged on Tuesday all Israelis and Palestinians to exercise “maximum restraint” as the tension across Israel and occupied Palestinian territory escalated.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, who also had US citizenship, went missing while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank on 12 June.

Their bodies were found by soldiers and volunteers in a valley covered with stones and brush on Monday afternoon.

The air strikes, which struck 34 locations in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip that Israel says were associated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, came as troops on the West Bank killed an 18 year-old Palestinian during a raid in Jenin. Israeli authorities claim the teenager was a Hamas member who threw an explosive device at Israeli soldiers.

In Hebron, meanwhile, it was reported that the Israeli military had blown up the houses of two Hamas members named by Israel as suspects in the abduction Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisheh – the first punitive house demolitions since Israel halted the practice in 2005. The two men disappeared from their homes shortly after the abduction and have not been arrested.

Sheera Frenkel reports: Israeli intelligence officials… remained divided over whether Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha…had direct ties to Hamas. The Qawasmeh family, one of the better-known families in Hebron, had recently distanced itself from Hamas.

“What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation,” one Israeli officer, based in the West Bank, told BuzzFeed earlier this month.

In Hebron, local residents who knew the families of the suspects expressed doubt that Hamas was responsible, especially after the Hamas’ senior leadership distanced itself from the kidnapping.

“That family, the Qawasmehs, often acted without the knowledge or signing-off of the senior Hamas leadership,” said Mahmoud Zabir, a Palestinian resident of Hebron who knows the family well. “They were considered troublemakers, even by Hamas.”

Shlomi Eldar adds: Each time Hamas had reached an understanding with Israel about a cease-fire or tahadiyeh (period of calm), at least one member of the family has been responsible for planning or initiating a suicide attack, and any understandings with Israel, achieved after considerable effort, were suddenly laid waste. If there is a single family throughout the PA territories whose actions can be blamed for Israel’s assassination of the political leadership of Hamas, it is the Qawasmeh family of Hebron.

As Alex Kane notes, while Isreal conducted its #BringBackOurBoys campaign, it already had strong evidence that the teens were already dead but through a media gag order, kept that information secret.

It was a bid to exploit the uncertainty about the youths and strike a blow against Hamas and the unity deal the Islamist movement struck with Fatah. In the process of the Israeli operation across the occupied West Bank, hundreds were arrested, at least five Palestinians were killed and the economy — especially Hebron’s — took a big hit.

Ma’an reports: Hamas is not interested in any confrontation with Israel, but if a confrontation is imposed, the movement is ready, says a spokesman of the Islamist movement.

Sami Abu Zuhri told Ma’an that “Hamas isn’t a superpower (ready) to fight a war against Israel, harming our people.”

Asked about the disappearance and killing of three Israeli teenagers, Abu Zuhri said there was only an Israeli version of the story which the occupation is trying to employ against Hamas and the Palestinian people.

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Calls to class far-right Jewish settlers as terrorists after Israeli soldiers attacked

The Guardian reports: Calls are mounting for hardline Jewish settlers to be classified as terrorists after a spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and Israel, and threats of violence towards Israeli soldiers.

Last week, the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both argued that rightwing extremists should be classified as terrorists following attacks on soldiers at the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

And on Friday, the Israeli prize laureate author Amos Oz described the hardline Jewish settlers that carry out so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians as neo-Nazis.

“Our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the support of numerous nationalist or even racist legislators, as well as rabbis who give them what is in my view pseudo-religious justification,” the 75-year-old said at an event in Tel Aviv.

It is not the first time that politicians and public figures in Israel have called for the branding of rightwing settlers as terrorists, but recent events have coalesced into something of a perfect storm. [Continue reading...]

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Video: The Israeli army’s war against children in the West Bank

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Chase Madar: The folly of arming Israel

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.”  And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?

Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace.  In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion.  Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles.  At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January.  And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.

Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support.  The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid.  Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S.  Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington.  In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse

Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

[Read more...]

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Children of the occupation: growing up in Palestine

f13-iconHarriet Sherwood reports: The rough track is an unmarked turning across a primeval landscape of rock and sand under a vast cobalt sky. Our Jeep bounces between boulders and dust-covered gorse bushes before beginning a bone-jolting descent from the high ridge into a deep valley. An Israeli army camp comes into view, then the tiny village of Jinba: two buildings, a few tents, a scattering of animal pens. A pair of military helicopters clatter overhead. The air smells of sheep.

At the end of this track in the southern West Bank, 12-year-old Nawal Jabarin lives in a cave. She was born in the gloom beneath its low, jagged roof, as were two of her brothers, and her father a generation earlier. Along the rock-strewn track that connects Jinba to the nearest paved road, Nawal’s mother gave birth to another baby, unable to reach hospital in time; on the same stretch of flattened earth, Nawal’s father was beaten by Israeli settlers in front of the terrified child.

The cave and an adjacent tent are home to 18 people: Nawal’s father, his two wives and 15 children. The family’s 200 sheep are penned outside. An ancient generator that runs on costly diesel provides power for a maximum of three hours a day. Water is fetched from village wells, or delivered by tractor at up to 20 times the cost of piped water. During the winter, bitter winds sweep across the desert landscape, slicing through the tent and forcing the whole family to crowd into the cave for warmth. “In winter, we are stacked on top of one another,” Nawal tells me.

She rarely leaves the village. “I used to ride in my father’s car. But the settlers stopped us. They beat my father before my eyes, cursing, using foul language. They took our things and threw them out of the car.”

Even home is not safe. “The soldiers come in [the cave] to search. I don’t know what they’re looking for,” she says. “Sometimes they open the pens and let the sheep out. In Ramadan, they came and took my brothers. I saw the soldiers beat them with the heel of their guns. They forced us to leave the cave.”

Despite the hardships of her life, Nawal is happy. “This is my homeland, this is where I want to be. It’s hard here, but I like my home and the land and the sheep.” But, she adds, “I will be even happier if we are allowed to stay.”

Nawal is one of a second generation of Palestinians to be born into occupation. Her birth came 34 years after Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the six-day war. Military law was imposed on the Palestinian population, and soon afterwards Israel began to build colonies on occupied land under military protection. East Jerusalem was annexed in a move declared illegal under international law. [Continue reading...]

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One night at a Palestinian land reclamation party

f13-iconDylan Collins reports: We moved off the road and into a large palm grove, walking towards the chants and whistles we heard through the trees. “Fuck, it feels like I’m walking on dinosaur bones,” shouted a friend as we tromped through a graveyard of dead palm branches and into the village of Ein Hijleh.

The wrecked stone structures we arrived at, remnants of Palestinian homes, were occupied by hundreds of Palestinians and a handful of international activists. The protest was coordinated by members of Melh al-Ard – Arabic for “Salt of the Earth” – a newly established direct action collective who have taken it upon themselves to revive the destroyed village. It’s the first step in a series of actions opposing Israel’s growing colonisation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land at large.

The catalyst for the demonstration was the ongoing “peace” process led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the specifics of his plan are unknown, the general outline is clear; it would allow Israel to maintain a significant military presence – complete with US-funded drones and surveillance equipment – in the Jordan Valley for the next ten years, supposedly to quash any “destabilising” security situation. Unsurprisingly, Kerry isn’t too popular among the crowd of protesters.

“Negotiations under Kerry are a joke,” said Ahmad Nasser, an activist from the Ramallah area. “How can the US, who provide Israel with over $3 billion (£1.8 billion) a year in military aid, be trusted?”

As Obama’s Easter Island-faced colleague blindly marches the two countries down the aisle towards a wedding that will never be consummated, groups like Melh al-Ard are taking matters into their own hands. [Continue reading...]

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Qaeda-linked group says takes foothold in West Bank, members killed

Reuters reports: An al Qaeda-linked group said three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week were its members, and that their presence there showed that the Islamist network had taken root in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Al Qaeda has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority that administers the area last week denied an Israeli report the men were linked to the organisation.

“By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence,” said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors’ Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.

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Palestinian villages subject to Israeli mock raids not told they are exercises

The Guardian reports: Palestinian civilians are being embroiled in Israeli military training, including mock arrests, raids on private homes and incursions into villages, without being told they are involved in army exercises.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defended the training exercises following complaints from an Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, about two separate drills held earlier this year. In the first, a large number of troops in full combat gear spread out in a small Palestinian village for several hours, causing alarm and fear among its population. In the second, about 15 armed soldiers raided the house of a family while they were finishing their evening meal during Ramadan. In neither case were residents told that it was a training exercise.

The Palestinians caught up in training drills are not informed in advance that an arrest or raid is an exercise. According to the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, civilians with no connection with militant activity are usually selected for such exercises. “We used houses, streets, people like cardboard practice targets,” said one. [Continue reading...]

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Walking Palestine

The Guardian reports: Mohammed Atari heaved the rock into position, its painted red and white sign marking a seven-mile trail across wheat fields, olive groves and gentle stony hills in the north of the West Bank. “When we started marking walking trails, people were suspicious,” he said. They feared the markers signified a new Israeli settlement or military zone.”

Walking for pleasure is a concept unfamiliar to most Palestinians. But over the past five years, hikers – mainly foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists, but also locals – have become a more common sight in the West Bank. Their hikes range from the rolling lush hills and valleys of the north to the dramatic arid desert landscape of the south.

This week sees the publication of Walking Palestine, a guide to 25 walks, the fruits of a four-year project by a Dutch diplomat, Stefan Szepesi. It details tracks, paths and dirt roads; supplies maps and information on historical sites, wildlife and natural attractions; and provides practical details on local guides, parking, public transport, restaurants and places to stay.
Map – Walking in Palestine, Jenin Walking in Jenin.

Szepesi began walking in the West Bank soon after arriving to work for the EU; he later moved over to the Middle East Quartet. The outings were born of a need to escape the intensity of Jerusalem, but also a desire to get to know Palestinians and their land in a more intimate way than he could from the confines of a diplomatic mission headquarters.

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Israel breaking settlement records, says Peace Now

Reuters reports: Israel’s government broke all its settlement-building records in 2011, diminishing prospects for establishing a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s anti-settlement activist group “Peace Now” said Tuesday.

The group’s annual report on building in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank – land the Palestinians want for a future state along with the Gaza Strip – showed that despite international calls to halt construction, thousands of new homes were being built.

“In 2011 (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu broke his government’s building records and turned it into a very fruitful year for the settlers and a very sad one for the citizens of Israel,” Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer said.

“At the current rate of building we will lose the chance for a two-state solution.

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Israeli democracy should be replaced by Jewish law, settler leader says

Haaretz reports: Israeli democracy must be dismantled and in its place a halakhic state, based on Jewish law, should be established, says settler leader Benny Katzover in an interview to a a messianic journal of Chabad.

In an interview with Beit Mashiach, the journal of the messianic faction of the Chabad Movement with ties to settlers, Katzover says that “the main role of Israeli democracy now is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its role, and it must disassemble and give way to Judaism. All leads toward recognition that there is no other way but to place Judaism at the center, above all else, and this is the answer to every situation.”

Earlier in the interview Katzover commented on the campaign against the exclusion of women, saying that his group had information of the pending campaign.

“Our activists are linked to all the networks of the left, and we knew they were planning an incitement campaign. This is just another wave of incitement, targeting the hilltop youth and the Haredi community. The leftist activists prepare well-timed campaigns against anything which smells of holiness, and their aim is twofold: political, to undermine the government and score points among the public, and to strike at all the fundamentals of Jewish faith.

“In Jewish faith, the Land of Israel is central… The media campaigns over insignificant issues in order to undermine Jewish identity. I think there can be cooperation between the Haredim and the religious [national] communities. Incitement against us stems from the same anti-Jewish root which seeks to uproot everything,” Katzover said in the interview.

Since 2008 Katzover has headed the Committee of Samaria Settlers, an NGO which has fought against the freeze of settlement construction and the razing of outposts. Katzover believes that Jews should stay in the territories even after they are evacuated. He is well respected among the hilltop youth because of his views. His ideological line has been gaining popularity among settlers since the evacuation of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip.

Katzover was one of the first leaders of the settler movement, joining Gush Emunim, and then the nucleus of Elon Moreh, which was established in Samaria in 1979.

“I think that Israeli democracy, under its current structure, is in constant conflict with its Jewish identity, and in recent years, every time it bends its Jewish identity backwards. This structure of democracy has only one mission: to dismantle,” he told Haaretz.

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Jewish extremists engaged in 228 attacks on Israeli security forces and dozens of arson attacks on mosques in 2011

Haaretz reports: Israel Police has been unsuccessful in running its agents in the West Bank, a senior police officer said Thursday, adding that officers have been struggling to gather evidence on crimes committed by right-wing activists.

Haim Rahamim, head of the investigations and intelligence wing of the Judea and Samaria District in the West Bank, made the statement during a discussion at the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on law enforcement in the territories.

Rahamim told the committee that over the past year 228 incidents of attacks by right-wing activists on security forces were recorded – not including verbal threats – and that dozens of mosques were set alight. He added that 65 indictments were served against rightist activists on charges of assault and vandalism.

“Ten people were arrested, but they were not indicted so they were released,” said Rahamim. “We have a problem with gathering evidence due to the location of where the crimes are committed.”

MK David Rotem, the head of the Knesset committee, said during the discussion that he expects that the police and other law enforcement authorities will use the tools that the law gives them in order to fight against law-breakers, and to refrain from using administrative orders.

Earlier Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces announced the temporary expulsion of 12 right-wing extremists from the West Bank over suspicions they orchestrated and executed clandestine violent attacks against Palestinians.

News of the activists’ imminent expulsion came after Haaretz reported on Tuesday that the State Prosecutor’s Office intended to indict eight right-wing activists for allegedly tracking IDF activities in the region in the West Bank.

GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi ordered that 12 right-wing activists be notified of their temporary expulsion from the West Bank, for periods ranging from 3 to 9 months.

The military acted on information, according to which the youths were allegedly involved in the planning, direction, and execution of secret violent attacks against Palestinians residents of the West Bank as well as against Israelis security forces.

Sources said the information indicated that the activists actions posed a real threat to human life and a disruption of public order and peace.

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High Court says Israel can exploit West Bank resources

Haaretz reports: The High Court of Justice has authorized Israel to exploit the West Bank’s natural resources for its own economic needs by rejecting a petition against the operation of Israeli-owned quarries in the territory.

In its ruling, issued on Monday, the court adopted the state’s position: that no new Israeli-owned quarries should be established in the West Bank, but existing ones should be allowed to continue operating.

The petition was filed two years ago by the Yesh Din organization. It argued that the 10 Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank violate international law, which states that an occupier may not exploit an occupied territory’s natural resources for its own economic benefit; it may use such resources only for the benefit of the occupied people or for military purposes.

The Israeli quarries sell 94 percent of their yield to Israel and supply almost 25 percent of Israel’s total consumption of the raw materials in question. But until the petition was filed, the state had never seen any problem with this.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who wrote the ruling, began by accepting the state’s view that the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement permits the quarries to operate in their present manner until a final-status agreement is signed.

She then moved on to discuss what international law has to say, and particularly Article 55 of the Fourth Hague Convention, on which the petition was based. That article requires the occupying power to “safeguard the capital” of the occupied party’s natural resources and “administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct,” meaning the rules governing fair usage.

But Beinisch accepted the state’s position that Israel’s use of the quarries is limited and does not amount to destroying their “capital,” and hence does not violate international law. This position is bolstered, she said, by the state’s decision not to permit any new quarries to open.

Moreover, she said, it is necessary to take account of the fact that the West Bank has been under a prolonged and continuing occupation, so the territory’s economic development cannot be put on ice until the occupation ends. The quarries, she noted, supply jobs and training to a non-negligible number of Palestinians; some of their yield is sold to the Palestinians; and the royalties the quarry owners pay the state – almost NIS 30 million a year – are used by the Civil Administration in the territories to fund projects that benefit the Palestinian population.

“In this situation, it’s hard to accept the petitioner’s unequivocal assertion that the quarries’ operation does nothing to advance the [Palestinian] region, especially in light of the Israeli and Palestinian sides’ mutual economic interests and the prolonged duration” of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, she concluded.

The petition was not a total loss for Yesh Din: Both the decision not to open new quarries and the decision to allocate all the royalties to the Civil Administration were made only after it was filed.

Nevertheless, attorney Michael Sfard, who represented Yesh Din, was disappointed.

“Mining natural resources in occupied territory for the economic needs of the occupying state is looting,” he said. “The High Court’s argument, that one should relate differently to a long-term occupation, cannot legitimate economic activity like this, which harms the local residents.”

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Why anti-government Americans should be pro-Palestinian

On the right in the U.S., nothing garners political support as easily as preaching the evils of Big Government. But if someone wants to observe big government in one of its most tyrannical expressions, there’s probably no place better to go than the West Bank where Palestinians live under Israeli military rule.

Haaretz reports on the red tape that controls everyday life:

Israel’s Civil Administration issues 101 different types of permits to govern the movement of Palestinians, whether within the West Bank, between the West Bank and Israel or beyond the borders of the state, according to an agency document of which Haaretz obtained a copy.

The most common permits are those allowing Palestinians to work in Israel, or in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Over the decades, however, the permit regimen has grown into a vast, triple-digit bureaucracy.

There are separate permits for worshipers who attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and for clerics working at the site; for unspecified clergy and for church employees. Medical permits differentiate between physicians and ambulance drivers, and between “medical emergency staff” and “medical staff in the seam zone,” meaning the border between Israel and the West Bank. There is a permit for escorting a patient in an ambulance and one for simply escorting a patient.

There are separate permits for traveling to a wedding in the West Bank or traveling to a wedding in Israel, and also for going to Israel for a funeral, a work meeting, or a court hearing.

The separation fence gave rise to an entirely new category of permits, for farmers cut off from their fields. Thus, for instance, there is a permit for a “farmer in the seam zone,” not to be confused with the permit for a “permanent farmer in the seam zone.”

Human rights organizations have challenged the permit regime on various grounds.

According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, international agencies operating in the West Bank waste an estimated 20 percent of their working days on permits from the Civil Administration – applying for them, renewing them and sorting out problems.

The checkpoint-monitoring organization Machsom Watch claims that the Shin Bet security service uses the permit regime to recruit informers. Palestinians whose permit requests are rejected “for security reasons” are often invited to meetings with Shin Bet agents, who then offer “assistance” in obtaining the desired permits in exchange for information.

Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said in response that the Civil Administration is aware of the issues raised in the article and intends to evaluate them in the coming year as part of its streamlining program.

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Israel’s emerging ‘Jewish Hezbollah’?

Mark Perry writes: Seven months ago, during the early morning hours of May 30, Jewish settlers visiting Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus in the Palestinian West Bank engaged in a shoving match with IDF soldiers deployed to protect them. Within minutes, the confrontation escalated; several soldiers were punched by Jewish worshippers and rocks rained down on the soldiers from settlers atop the tomb. A YouTube video of the incident was later circulated on the internet at the request of the IDF. The Nablus incident was among the first in a growing series of confrontations between settlers and the Israeli military — and it sent shock waves through the Israeli military establishment. Brig. General Yoav Mordechai called the settlers “irresponsible lawbreakers” and pointed out that the IDF in the West Bank was deployed to protect settlers from “terrorists.” His message was clear: the settler confrontation had placed the lives of his soldiers at risk.

Mordechai’s statement must have brought wry smiles to Palestinian villagers near Nablus, whose olive groves have been burned and mosques desecrated by the same settlers who attacked the IDF detachment. But the Joseph’s Tomb incident was only the beginning: throughout July and August, settlers from Yitzhar — a hotbed of settler extremism — forced a series of confrontations with the IDF until, in August, a stone-throwing incident pitting settlers against Palestinians threatened to get out of control, with the IDF pushing Palestinians away from the settlers in order to protect them from the violence — and not the other way around. “It was an amazing scene,” a Palestinian organizer who witnessed the incident said during a recent trip to Washington. “At one point, one of the IDF commanders turned to me and said, ‘why don’t you do us a favor and just shoot these people?’”

The settler-on-IDF confrontations have increased over the last weeks, sending ripples of concern through the Israeli establishment. While no senior Israeli elected official has yet to suggest that the program of settlement expansion needs to be rethought, the viewpoint is the subject of sotto voce reflections throughout the Jewish state. After all, the unstated goal of the national settlement enterprise is to put obstacles in the way of Palestinian national claims — not to seed a nascent and nasty internal conflict. Now, and particularly if the confrontations continue (or escalate), Israeli officials will have to ask themselves whether it is wise to continue a program that is providing the equivalent of a Palestinian fifth column. It’s not as if the Palestinians haven’t noticed. Asked about the recent settler-IDF dust-ups near Nablus, a serving Palestinian legislator waves away a question about whether or not Abu Mazen and company will return to the peace talks: “What we ought to do is sit back and watch,” he says, “while Israel starts to unravel.”

“I don’t want to exaggerate, but it’s time to call this what it is,” a veteran IDF officer noted in a recent telephone conversation on the Nablus incident. “It might be news in America, but it’s no secret in Israel. This is a very real crisis. What we have here is the birth of a state within a state. The birth of a kind of Jewish Hezbollah.” [Continue reading...]

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US-made tear gas becomes fatal ingredient of protests

Joseph Dana writes: Residents of Nabi Saleh in the West Bank have been demonstrating, each week for the past two years, against the slow encroachment on their land by Israeli settlers.

Gathering in the village centre on Friday afternoons, villagers along with Israeli and international activists attempt to march, under the watchful eye of soldiers, to a disputed agricultural spring which was confiscated recently by Israeli settlers.

Often protesters never even reach the edge of the village; crowd-control measures by the military regularly include barrages of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Palestinian villagers claim that hundreds of protesters have been injured, some seriously, in the Nabi Saleh demonstrations.

But no one had been killed there – until last week.

The death of 28-year-old Mustafa Tamimi may seem to have little in common with the more numerous deaths of protesters in Cairo over the past few days.

Indeed the demonstrations are different from each other in many ways. But in protests from Tunis to Cairo to little Nabi Saleh, the use of tear gas by authorities, and the increasing number of related fatalities, has become a common thread in recent months.

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