Israeli settlement building tenders hit record high

Reuters: Israel set a 10-year record last year for the number of tenders it issued for construction in settlements on occupied land in the Palestinian territories, the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said on Monday.

In a report published as Benjamin Netanyahu is running a close race for re-election on March 17, Peace Now blamed Israel’s settlement housing plans for scuttling U.S.-brokered peace talks that collapsed in April.

The report said the invitations to bid for building contracts in the settlements had tripled since 2013 on average compared to the 2009-2013 period of Netanyahu’s previous administration.

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Merry Christmas from Bethlehem Ghetto

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Netanyahu years continue surge in illegal settlements

The Associated Press reports: The population of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank has continued to surge during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s years in office, growing at more than twice the pace of Israel’s overall population, according to newly obtained official figures.

Settlement growth also was strong beyond Israel’s separation barrier, seen by many as the basis for a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

The figures reflect Netanyahu’s continued support for settlement construction, even while repeatedly stating his commitment to the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace agreement. They also could be a topic of discussion as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Netanyahu and European officials this week over a promised U.N. Security Council proposal dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Continue reading…]

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Subcontracting repression in the West Bank and Gaza

Sabrien Amrov and Alaa Tartir write: Jerusalem is aflame with what the Israeli writer Uri Avnery has called an “intifada of individuals,” as outbreaks of deadly violence have followed what began with Palestinian protests over fears of encroachment by Jewish extremists on the site in the Old City known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Five Israelis were killed last week in an attack on a synagogue. Palestinian citizens of Israel, meanwhile, are in turmoil over the Nov. 8 police shooting in northern Israel of a 22-year-old protester, which was caught on videotape.

Yet the occupied West Bank shows no signs of an uprising, and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that there will be no third intifada. Under Mr. Abbas’s increasingly authoritarian rule, this guarantee is based largely on the authority’s close security collaboration with Israel.

The Palestinian security forces were created under the Oslo Accords, ostensibly to support the Palestinian state-building project. Initially, those forces were understood by the population to exist for its defense. During the second intifada in 2002, Palestinian security forces confronted the Israeli Army using their light weapons. Israel responded by largely destroying the Palestinian Authority’s security infrastructure. [Continue reading…]

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This is not yet an intifada, Palestinians say

Philip Weiss reports: Palestinians across East Jerusalem say that the violence that is shaking Jerusalem is not an intifada — yet. It is an unorganized Palestinian response to Israeli aggressive actions, including the visits by religious Jews to the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount in the Old City. But it is not an uprising all over Palestine, as a third intifada would be.

That could begin in the blink of an eye. “Before you will open your eyes– it is a third intifada and bigger than the first and the second,” said Said Radi abu Snad, 75, a man whose house has six times been demolished in Silwan.

I interviewed two dozen Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods over the last week, and many said that they hope for another intifada. “During the first intifada my shop was only open three hours a day,” a Palestinian businessman who wished to be anonymous explained to me. “But I am crying for those days. We need a third intifada to end the occupation.” He said even businessmen feel they have nothing to lose because Israel has so encircled Jerusalem with checkpoints and Jewish settlements that the Palestinian economy is choked.

A second businessman entered his store and shook his head at the idea. “An intifada will makes things worse. It won’t end the occupation.”

It may be more accurate to describe the violence of the last three months as Benjamin Netanyahu’s intifada. The Israeli prime minister has escalated violent tensions again and again. He encouraged Jewish revenge for the three Israeli teens’ abduction and murders in June, creating fear across East Jerusalem; he conducted raids across the West Bank in June and July before escalating a conflict with Gaza leading to the massacres of hundreds; and lately he has encouraged far-right Jewish zealots to assert their claims at the Al Aqsa mosque and used Palestinian children’s stone-throwing in East Jerusalem to clamp down on those neighborhoods.

“People are willing to do anything because they are losing the hope. I think it could be worse than first intifada,” says Jawad Siyam, an activist against the occupation in Silwan who has been arrested many times. “The Israelis will not take a step back. They will keep attacking Al Aqsa.” [Continue reading…]

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Is it time to admit that Israeli settlements are here to stay?

Dimi Reider writes: [O]ver 8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population already lives beyond the Green Line, the armistice line separating Israel from the territories it occupied in 1967. Those who do not live there have family, friends and relatives who do.

As a result, the view of settlements as a crazed project by religious fanatics dragging with them reluctant Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is increasingly out of date. Key posts in the IDF and in other branches of government are occupied by settlers, and the settlements themselves appear ever more normal to the Israeli eye.

The Israeli real estate bubble, which has fueled a rising gap between prices within the Green Line are those outside it, makes the dismantling and evacuating of settlements seem all the more unlikely.

So how will the settlements affect the direction the peace process takes?

The reality is that the settlements — Israeli-only communities, often wedged deep in Palestinian territory – make the chances of a genuinely independent Palestinian state in the foreseeable future virtually non-existent.

This does not mean that peace, along with Palestinian political rights, is necessarily ruled out. There remains the possibility of one-state solution. [Continue reading…]

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Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people

Ahmed Yousef, senior political adviser to the former Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, writes: It really doesn’t matter what political party you belong to in Palestine because every single one has first to deal with Israeli occupation, settlements, theft and expropriation before it can begin to campaign about public policy on jobs, healthcare and the economy. Despite this stark reality, the question I have faced most frequently since returning to Gaza in 2006 is this: does the Hamas charter, which contains passages deemed offensive to Jewish people, truly represent the movement’s vision and political goals? Diplomats, journalists, academics, parliamentarians and politicians from numerous nations have empathised with Palestinians; yet they all seem to struggle with this document.

The question is understandable given how frequently much of the foreign media refers to it. The reality, however, is that one would be hard pressed to find any member of Hamas who is fully versed in the content of the charter – a treatise that was actually never universally endorsed by the movement. Earnest students of Palestine should consider the context. This was a text written in the early days of the first intifada. Our youth rebelling against the Israeli occupiers needed a rallying cry – a written expression of their resolve. The charter was designed to be that inspirational document and it was never intended to be the governing instrument, the guiding principle or the political vision of the movement. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian rift reopens as Abbas blames Hamas for bombings

Reuters reports: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday accused his Islamist Hamas rivals of carrying out a series of bombings against officials loyal to him in Gaza last week, in a move sure to harm already floundering unity efforts.

A series of small explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of officials from Abbas’s Fatah movement on Friday, causing minor damage but no injuries.

A bomb also demolished a stage erected to commemorate the 10th anniversary of former president and Fatah leader Yasser Arafat’s death, leading to the event being canceled.

“Who committed this crime? The leadership of the Hamas movement did, and it’s responsible!” Abbas roared to applause at a Fatah rally for Arafat in Ramallah, his seat of government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [Continue reading…]

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Israel moves to extend law to West Bank settlers

Al Jazeera reports: An Israeli ministerial committee has approved a proposed bill that would ensure the wholesale application of Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a move sponsored by politicians who want Israel to annex part of the territory

The bill needs to be submitted to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for voting and must pass three readings before becoming law.

However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians that collapsed in April, said she would appeal against the decision, effectively putting parliamentary ratification on indefinite hold, the Reuters news agency reported on Sunday.

Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank are currently formally subject to military rule.

However, the area’s 350,000 settlers are effectively under the jurisdiction of civilian courts in Israel because parliament has already applied a clutch of laws, primarily criminal and tax laws and military conscription, to them.

At present, to ensure that other Israeli laws are binding on settlers in the West Bank, the military commander there has to transpose them, at his discretion, into military regulations.

The new draft bill would make it mandatory for the commander to issue, within 45 days of a law’s passage in parliament, an identically-phrased military order, effectively ensuring that all ratified legislation also applies to settlers.

According to the new bill, Israelis living in the occupied West Bank will be under Israeli law, while Palestinians who live in the same areas would remain under military rule. [Continue reading…]

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How the ‘peace process’ sustains the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Nathan Thrall writes: In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,150 Palestinians and 72 Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli-Palestinian violence, as well as from the U.S.’s desire to calm a roiling region, including by helping Arab allies justify pro-American stances to their publics. This was why the 1991 Madrid talks occurred during the first Palestinian intifada and immediately following Arab support of the United States in the 1991 Gulf War. It was why President George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map for Middle East Peace was drafted during the second intifada and as the U.S. assembled a coalition for the 2003 Iraq War. And it is why the United States may soon seek to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, following sharply increased Israeli-Palestinian confrontation not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and after Israel’s actions in Gaza were given both tacit and overt support by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.

Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, facilitating the supply of construction materials, and offering to begin working in Gaza with the new Palestinian government formed in June. [Continue reading…]

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Veterans of elite Israeli intel unit refuse reserve duty, citing mistreatment of Palestinians

The New York Times reports: Denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under occupation, a group of veterans from an elite, secretive military intelligence unit have declared they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” in required reserve duty because of what they called “our moral duty to act.”

In a letter sent Thursday night to their commanders as well as Israel’s prime minister and army chief, 43 veterans of the clandestine Unit 8200 complained that Israel made “no distinction between Palestinians who are and are not involved in violence” and that information collected “harms innocent people.” Intelligence “is used for political persecution,” they wrote, which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The letter, revealed Friday in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper as well as The Guardian in Britain, echoes similar periodic protests by reservists over the years, including a group of 27 pilots who refused to participate in what Israel calls targeted assassinations, and 13 members of the vaunted commando unit known as Sayeret Matkal, both in 2003. But it is the first public collective refusal by intelligence officers rather that combat troops. Unit 8200 has a special role in Israeli society as a coveted pipeline to its high-technology industry.

“After our service we started seeing a more complex picture of a nondemocratic, oppressive regime that controls the lives of millions of people,” said one of the group’s organizers, a 32-year-old sergeant major who was on active duty from 2001 to 2005. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military prohibits Unit 8200 members from being publicly identified. [Continue reading…]

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Britain ‘deplores’ Israel decision to seize West Bank land

Reuters reports: The British government said on Monday it deplored an Israeli decision to appropriate a large swathe of land inside the occupied West Bank, saying the move would seriously damage Israel’s international reputation.

On Sunday, Israel announced the appropriation of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group said was the biggest such claim in 30 years.

“The UK deplores the Israeli government’s expropriation of 988 acres (1.54 square miles) of land around the settlement of Etzion,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement which echoed U.S. calls to reverse the decision.

“This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build on the ceasefire in Gaza. It will do serious damage to Israel’s standing in the international community.”

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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U.S. urges Israel to reverse planned West Bank land appropriation

Reuters reports: The United States sees Israel’s announcement on Sunday of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts and urges the Israeli government to reverse the decision, a State Department official said.

Israel laid claim to nearly a thousand acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” the U.S. official said. “ This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.” [Continue reading…]

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Desmond Tutu — My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine.

If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens … as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation. [Continue reading…]

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The occupation is a political problem needing a political solution — not a humanitarian band-aid

Taghreed al-Khodary, former Gaza correspondent for the New York Times, said in an interview: Ending the siege is not a “Hamas demand.” It is the people’s demand. Gaza is still under occupation — it is an open jail. Israel always says, “We withdrew, we gave them land to control…” I am always shocked when I hear this line repeated by someone on CNN. The borders are completely controlled by Israel, the sea is completely controlled by Israel. The airspace is completely controlled by Israel. The crossings are completely controlled by Israel, aside from one crossing, controlled by Egypt—and this is now closed as well.

My father had cancer. Because he knew people, he managed to go to Israel to get treatment, but most others cannot. When he died two months ago while getting his cancer treatment in Israel, only my mother was allowed by Israel to join him. None of his daughters or brothers were permitted to join him. Imagine dying far away from your loved ones…the occupation is cruel.

What is happening in Gaza and throughout the occupied territories is not primarily a humanitarian issue, although there are devastating humanitarian side effects: It is a political issue. Focusing only on the humanitarian issues is a pretext not to have to come up with a long-term political solution.

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To end violence, end the occupation

Charlie Rose in conversation with Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Khaled Elgindy, Rula Jebreal and Yousef Munayyer. Starts at 15 minutes 40 seconds.

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Palestinian Authority tries to prevent uprising in West Bank

Ahmad Azem reports: It should be noted that young Palestinians have started to develop a new type of confrontation in the villages near the settlements, or at checkpoints. They are starting to cut off roads and prevent Israeli vehicles from passing while the Israeli army watches from afar. Al-Monitor has witnessed such events in the village of Al-Eizariya, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Yet at times, the army would directly intervene as it did in Beit Hanina and Shuafat. This raises the question: To what extent will this situation develop?

The lack of traditional confrontations with the occupation forces led to the idea of holding mass rallies outside the areas under the PA’s influence, such as the protests that took place near Ofer prison, west of Ramallah, or the Laylat al-Qadr march on July 24 at an Israeli checkpoint in Qalandiya. The protest that was known under the name of the “48,000 march” reflected the will to gather 48,000 demonstrators — which is an unprecedented number of protesters — in reference to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948.

Those who called for the march are young people affiliated with the Fatah movement, but they took action on their own without any official endorsement. This was made clear by one of the organizers in his speech at al-Manara, the main square of the city, where Al-Monitor was present a few days before the march was held. “This march has nothing to do with the leaderships,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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