Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dangerous weapons in dangerous people’s hands.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009, 7:12 pm Amman Time |
Not two ways about it

Israeli settlers are going on the rampage, burning mosques, Palestinian houses and lands. They are ostensibly protesting the temporary and partial settlement construction freeze that the Israeli government ordered last month. In reality, they are laying down the “price tag” - as graffiti sprayed in a vandalised mosque near Salfit put it - that any Israeli government will have to pay if action is taken against settlements.

And action urgently needs to be taken, otherwise the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and with it the stability of the region and beyond, will be held hostage to extreme right-wing Jewish settlers, a wholly irrational breed of people.

Anyone who claims divine entitlement to earthly property harbours unstable thoughts that can only lead to bad things. So what about settlers who truly believe God gave them the land of Palestine?

Not only are they not dissuaded by their government, they are enticed into occupied territories with cheaper housing and tax breaks, and given licence to carry arms. Dangerous weapons in dangerous people’s hands.

So, the Israeli government is facing a significant problem of its own making.

The settlement project was always a mistake. When it turned messianic, it became a major mistake. But it is a mistake that Israel needs to rectify, no ifs and buts.

Israel must not be let off the hook on this one. It is Israel’s responsibility, and Israel’s alone, to disarm the fringe settlers and remove them from occupied territories before we witness a repeat of Baruch Goldstein, or worse.

There are, of course, many settlers who are there simply for the economic advantage of living in occupied land. These are easier to deal with because if they went to occupied territories for economic, rather than ideological, reasons they, presumably, can be tempted away again with similar incentives. Again, this is a problem Israel needs to solve.

What must not happen is that Palestinians be asked to solve the problem, either by accepting to give up land to the settlers or by bearing the brunt of the unleashed rage of these armed and dangerous extremists.

The world needs to make very clear to Israel that its settlers have to be reined in and muzzled. And while doing that, it should also insist on a proper settlement construction freeze rather than the sham that Israel is trying to appease its settlers with.

13 December 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Palestinian Christians issue theological call for an end to Israeli occupation

Palestinian Christians issue theological call for an end to Israeli occupation

By agency reporter
11 Dec 2009

A group of Palestinian Christians representing a variety of churches and church-related organisations have issued an animated, prayerful and strongly theological call for an end to occupation of Palestine by Israel.

The call, issued at a meeting in Bethlehem on 11 December 2009, comes at a time when many Palestinians believe they have reached a dead end. It raises questions to the international community, political leaders in the region, and the churches worldwide about their contribution to the Palestinian people's pursuit of freedom. Even in the midst of "our catastrophe" the call is described as a word of faith, hope and love.

Referred to as The Kairos Palestine Document, the call echoes a similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanise churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid.

The authors of the Kairos Palestine Document, among them Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have raised the challenge of the urgency for peace with justice to religious and political leaders in Palestinian and the Israeli society, international community, and to "our Christian brothers and sisters in the churches" around the world. They believe that current efforts in the Middle East are confined to managing the crisis rather than finding pertinent and long term solutions.

Expressing their pain, the signatories of the call decry the emptiness of the promises and pronouncements about peace in the region. They remind the world about the separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, the blockade of Gaza, how Israeli settlements ravage their land, the humiliation at military checkpoints, the restrictions of religious liberty and controlled access to holy places, the plight of refugees awaiting their right of return, prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons and Israel's blatant disregard of international law, as well as the paralysis of the international community in the face of this tragedy.

Rejecting Israeli justifications for their actions as being in self-defence, they unambiguously state that if there were no occupation, "there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity."

They argue: "God created us not to engage in strife and conflict but together build up the land in love and mutual respect. Our land has a universal mission, and the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only." They reject any use of the Bible to legitimise or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice.

Declaring the occupation of Palestinian land as a sin against God and humanity, they steadfastly adhere to the signs of hope such as "local centres of theology" and "numerous meetings for inter-religious dialogue", recognising that these signs provide hope to the resistance of the occupation. The logic of peaceful resistance is seen to be as much a right as a duty, as it has the potential to hasten the time of reconciliation.

Asserting that this is a moment demanding repentance for past actions, either for using hatred as an instrument of resistance or the willingness to be indifferent and absorbed by faulty theological positions, the group calls on the international community and Palestinians for steadfastness in this time of trial. "Come and see [so we can make known to you] the truth of our reality", they appeal.

Poignantly, they conclude: "in the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God's goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here 'a new land' and 'a new human being', capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters."

The authors of the Kairos Palestine Document are:

• Patriarch Michel Sabbah
• Bishop Dr Munib Younan
• Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna
• Rev Dr Jamal Khader
• Rev Dr Rafiq Khoury
• Rev Dr Mitri Raheb
• Rev Dr Naim Ateek
• Rev. Dr Yohana Katanacho
• Rev Fr Fadi Diab
• Dr Jiries Khoury
• Ms Sider Daibes
• Ms Nora Kort
• Ms Lucy Thaljieh
• Mr Nidal Abu Zulof
• Mr Yusef Daher
• Mr Rifat Kassis - coordinator of the initiative

Israel bars Gaza woman from West Bank university

Israel bars Gaza woman from West Bank university

* Student kept from finishing degree weeks before graduation

* Israeli court backs military despite no security charges

* Case highlights Gaza's continued isolation

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, Dec 10 (Reuters) - A chance arrest at an Israeli checkpoint has dashed the hopes of Gaza woman of graduating along with the rest of her class this month from a Palestinian university in the occupied West Bank.

Israel deported Berlanty Azzam, 22, to blockaded coastal Gaza in late October, after blindfolding and handcuffing her following her arrest at a checkpoint in the West Bank, territory where Israel says she was residing illegally.

Her case has spotlighted the plight of many of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians, largely prevented from leaving the barbed-wire enclosed Hamas-ruled territory except for a medical emergency or through a rarely open crossing with Egypt.

An Israeli high court ruling on Wednesday upheld the military's decision, confirming Berlanty could not leave Gaza, not even for the three weeks left before her planned graduation from a Vatican-sponsored university in the West Bank.

"It's the worst feeling of injustice I've ever felt," Berlanty told Reuters in an interview. "Is it a crime that young people from Gaza want an education?"

Israel has not charged her of involvement in militancy, or of posing any particular security risk to the Jewish state, she added. Berlanty's Israeli lawyers said she has never been accused of any security offences.

A member of a minority Christian population in Gaza, Berlanty enrolled in Bethlehem University in 2005 for an undergraduate degree in business administration.

Israel stopped her in a car in October at a checkpoint in the West Bank, when she said she was on her way back to the Bethlehem campus from a job interview nearby.

Soldiers dropped her off at the Erez crossing to Gaza late the next night. "It was so embarrassing. All I had were my clothes on my back, and no degree," Berlanty said.

An Israeli military statement said that Berlanty had been sent back to Gaza because a check of her documents showed she was "residing in the West Bank illegally".

It did not accuse Berlanty of involvement with militants, but said "students from Gaza residing in the West Bank illegally have on more than one occasion engaged in terrorism, thus constituting a significant security threat."

In its ruling, the Israeli court upheld the military's view that a permit Berlanty had to visit the West Bank four years ago had expired, and that Israel does not at this time permit Palestinians from Gaza to attend universities in the West Bank.

Israel adopted the policy in 2000 when an uprising, in which hundreds of Israelis were killed in suicide bombings and shootings, erupted over failed peace talks.

Thousands of Palestinians were also killed in the uprising in a series of Israeli military raids against militants.

Israel further tightened restrictions on travel from Gaza after Hamas seized control in 2007, an Islamist group that refuses to recognise or negotiate peace with the Jewish state.

Universities in the West Bank, where Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement holds sway, offer a greater variety of courses, and the territory has better job opportunities than impovershed Gaza.

Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli rights group that represented Berlanty in court, argued Israel should judge Gazans seeking entry permits particularly for academic study, on an individual rather than a collective basis.

"If you have security concerns, then run a security check. If there are no claims, then let him or her travel," Bashi said.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Shana)

For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit

My letter to the LATimes RE CAMERA's "Israeli settlements are more than legitimate, Critics may assail them on other grounds, but ..."

RE: Israeli settlements are more than legitimate, Critics may assail them on other grounds, but no one can deny that they are legal. In fact, the 1922 Mandate for Palestine encourages them.,0,5212003.story

Dear Editor,

Israeli settlements and other such investments in institutionalized bigotry are a huge and obvious obstacle to peace- and shame on all Zionists for choosing to usurp Palestinian land, rights and peace at every opportunity, on both sides of that monstrous Israeli made Apartheid-security wall:

"While the international community is committed to the goal of establishing two states, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, it is difficult to imagine how that outcome can be achieved in light of the systematic settlement activity and violations of basic human rights afflicting the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The impact of this urban settlement activity, conducted with seeming impunity, is manifold and acute." Jerusalem: City of Dispossession- Speech by Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of UNRWA and on International Human Rights Day

Anne Selden Annab

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jerusalem: City of Dispossession- Speech by Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of UNRWA and on International Human Rights Day

Jerusalem: City of Dispossession

Jerusalem, 10 December, 2009

Full text of speech delivered on the occasion of the last official visit to Jerusalem by Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of UNRWA and on International Human Rights Day

Today we mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a high water mark of international resolve to make the full enjoyment of human rights a living reality for all mankind. The noble aspirations of this document bring with them obligations on states, obligations which are universal and whose solemn injunctions lie beyond the reach of any particular jurisdictions.

It is, therefore, fitting that on my last official visit to Jerusalem as UNRWA Commissioner General, and on International Human Rights Day, I should come to the Sheikh Jarrah, where the failure of the international community to fulfill the promise of the Universal Declaration is so acutely felt and where the pain and ugliness of dispossession and occupation are so tragically in evidence.

I have said before that "Palestine" is a metaphor for dispossession and that dispossession, along with displacement, is a key feature of the Palestinian experience, indeed of Palestinian identity. This derives not only from the initial dispossession and displacement of the Palestine refugees in 1948, but more from the fact that 61 years later they and their descendents remain in forced exile, struggling to maintain their very presence on the remnants of their homeland.

East Jerusalem holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people, not least because it is the place, one day, they intend to establish the capital of their own state. While the international community is committed to the goal of establishing two states, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, it is difficult to imagine how that outcome can be achieved in light of the systematic settlement activity and violations of basic human rights afflicting the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The impact of this urban settlement activity, conducted with seeming impunity, is manifold and acute. The juxtaposition of two cultures, as exists in the building behind me, with its accompanying violence and tension, destroys the communal atmosphere that has evolved over decades.

One of the most noteworthy cases looms large over hundreds of Palestine refugees at this moment, in this very place. Since the mid-1950s, a community of 28 Palestine refugee families has been living in Sheikh Jarrah, following their forced displacement from homes and lands in Palestine in 1948, including from West Jerusalem. They found their way here as part of a unique housing scheme developed between the Jordanian government and UNRWA in 1954. Its aim was to help them become self-sufficient in preparation for the day when, along with hundreds of thousands of other Palestine refugees, a durable solution to their collective plight would be realized.

To date, four of the 28 families have lost their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, affecting over 55 people, including 20 children. At present a further eight families are under direct threat of forced eviction, having been served with orders to vacate their homes, potentially affecting as many as another 120 people. In all incidents, settlers have taken over, with the protection and assistance of the Israeli authorities. But the numbers don’t convey to the human suffering and trauma that has been the hallmark of these forced evictions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are told that these evictions in Sheikh Jarrah are the result of a dispute involving competing property claims between Palestinians and Israelis, that it is in essence a private matter being dealt with by local courts. The United Nations rejects Israel’s claims that these cases are a matter for municipal authorities and domestic courts. Such acts are in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.

As the Secretary-General stated last week, the United Nations is "dismayed" at the continuation of demolitions, evictions and the installing of settlers. UNRWA calls upon the Israeli authorities to reinstate all Palestine refugee families that have been displaced or forcibly evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and asks that the dignity, rights and freedoms of these people be protected at all times.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On International Human Rights day, I would also like to highlight the plight of one of the most disadvantaged groups in this region, the Bedouins of the West Bank. As the occupying power, Israel remains responsible for ensuring that the basic needs of the occupied population are met. But many refugee Bedouin and herding communities originally displaced from their traditional lands in 1948 are experiencing multiple counts of displacement from Area C, as they are forcibly moved from their homes, most noticeably in the Greater Jerusalem envelope, the Jordan Valley and from areas close to settlements and the wall.

These groups are sinking deeper into food insecurity and abject poverty as grazing land continues to shrink and access to natural resources is severely restricted by the occupying power. Administrative demolition, forced evictions, collapsing livelihoods, poverty and settler harassment represent the key triggers to displacement for Area C herding communities and their already stretched coping mechanisms are reaching their limits. Their full rights must be respected as a matter of urgency.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have already referred to home demolitions, which the UN condemns. According to OCHA, this year alone, over 1,200 Palestinians have been displaced or affected as a result of demolitions of both residential and non-residential property in Area C and Jerusalem. Over half of these have been children.

The revocation of residency rights is also being used against the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem. According to press reports, last year set an all-time record for the number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who were stripped of residency rights by the Israeli Interior Ministry. Altogether, the ministry revoked the residency of 4,577 East Jerusalemites in 2008 - 21 times the average of the previous 40 years.


I conclude where I began, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The opening sentence of its preamble reminds us that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the prolonged dispossession and exile of the Palestine refugees. While their dispossession and displacement continues into the fourth generation we would do well to recall that the very same General Assembly which passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, passed resolution 194 the very next day, resolving that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."

On this day, and in this place, I wish to remind the international community of the unfinished business in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere in the West Bank. The dispossessed, the displaced must see their losses acknowledged, their injustices addressed. Peace is possible, but only if we insist on our universal humanity.

A Palestinian boy from a Kurd family, who were evicted from a disputed house last week, is held by his father as UNRWA commissioner Karen Abu Zayd, not seen, talks to the press in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009. Abu Zayd called on Israel Thursday to return Palestinians evicted from an east Jerusalem neighborhood to their homes. 'UNRWA calls upon the Israeli authorities to reinstate all Palestine refugee families that have been displaced or forcibly evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and asks that the dignity, rights and freedoms of these people be protected at all times,' Abu Zayd said. (AP Photo/ Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Text of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech: "Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting."

Text of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech

The text of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, delivered Thursday in Oslo, Norway, as provided by the White House:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations — total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations — an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize — America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts, the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies and failed states have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In todays wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. Kings lifes work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitlers armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaidas leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the worlds sole military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people's children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates — and weakens — those who dont.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait — a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we dont, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention — no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

Americas commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries — and other friends and allies — demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali — we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant — the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed Americas commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior — for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure — and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russias nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma — there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point — the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nations development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please, choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither Americas interests — nor the worlds — are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — and condemnation without discussion — can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolutions horrors, Nixons meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Pauls engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagans efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights — it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more — and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination, an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are, to understand that we all basically want the same things, that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities — their race, their tribe and, perhaps most powerfully, their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint — no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of ones own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith — for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their faith in human progress — must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naive, if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago: "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of mans present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

So let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees hes outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Human Rights Day 2009: Israel continues to deny basic rights to Palestinians

Israel Continues to Deny Palestinians’ Fundamental Human Rights

[RAMALLAH, 9 December 2009] - On 10 December, the world observes the 61st International Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN General Assembly. This year, International Human Rights Day will focus on non-discrimination, a right enshrined in, inter alia, Article 1 of the UDHR:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

However, 61 years after the adoption of the UDHR, Israel continues to pursue clearly discriminatory policies and practices and the violation of Palestinians’ human rights have persisted, and escalated.

Israel’s persistent human rights violations would not be possible without the complicity or support of the international community. As recently illustrated by the events surrounding the Goldstone Report, States’ tacit consent or active efforts serve to undermine the fundamental premise of the UDHR: that human rights apply equally and universally. Influential States – who claim to promote and safeguard human rights – either grant Israel impunity or prioritise a ‘peace process’ based on political considerations, while disregarding justice, accountability and the rule of law. The UDHR itself recalls that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

This year began with Israel’s devastating 23-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, (‘Operation Cast Lead’). This military offensive resulted in the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilian, and the devastation of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure. To date, Gaza continues to suffer a humanitarian crisis due to Israel’s unrelenting illegal blockade, which has, inter alia, rendered reconstruction – and thus recovery – impossible. This collective punishment indiscriminately affects all of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants, compounding an already dire human rights situation. Those most vulnerable include refugees, women, children and the elderly.

Over the course of 2009 existing illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land have expanded and new settlements have been established. The confiscation and annexation of Palestinian land has continued unabated, and intensified in East Jerusalem. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Annexation Wall is a violation of Israel’s obligations under international law. However, construction continues, and approximately 58 percent of the Annexation Wall has been completed to date. When finished, 85 percent of the 723km long Wall will stand on Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

Forcible transfers of Palestinians and an increase of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees are a consequence of the aforementioned Israeli policies and practices in the OPT. Almost 70 percent of the Palestinian people are forcibly displaced persons who have remained without access to durable solutions and reparations.

As a result of Israel’s systematic discrimination, occupation and colonisation, the Palestinian people have faced increased violations of, inter alia, their right to life, their right to housing and property, their right not to be subjected to torture or cruel and inhuman punishment or treatment, their right to free movement, their right to return, and their right to an effective judicial remedy. At the core of these violations is the denial of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

The systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights cannot be allowed to continue any longer. As the international community celebrates International Human Rights Day, we as Palestinian non-governmental organisations, remind the Member States of the United Nations to uphold their pledge “to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, as enshrined in the UDHR.

Human rights violations will continue as long as Israel is granted the ability to act as a State above the law. The international community must make tangible efforts to combat impunity, and uphold victims’ rights, this includes implementation of the Goldstone Report’s recommendations, and the 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Wall by the International Court of Justice. International pressure must also be put on Israel to respect the territorial integrity of the OPT, including East Jerusalem, end illegal confiscation and annexation of Palestinian land, dismantle illegal Israeli settlements, and provide reparation to Palestinian victims, including refugees and IDPs. Ultimately, Israel’s occupation, which is the root-cause of Israeli human rights violations, must cease as demanded by international law.

Without human rights and the rule of law there can be no justice, without justice there can be no peace.

* Al-Haq * Al-Mezan * Al-Dameer * Arab Association for Human Rights * Badil * Addameer * DCI-Palestine * ENSAN Center * Jerusalem Legal Aid Center *Palestine Solidarity Committee – South Africa * Palestinian Centre for Human Rights * Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies * Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling
An artist paints a Palestinian flag, part of a larger mural in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip ahead of Human Rights Day Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. Human Rights Day will be marked Dec. 10. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My letter to the Guardian RE Peace must begin with the plight of Palestine's refugees by UNWRA's Karen AbuZayd

RE: Peace must begin with the plight of Palestine's refugees, Sixty years after the UN moved to address the fate of the dispossessed, we need to accept that the injustice endures by Karen AbuZayd

Dear Sir,

"Let us confound the cynics. Let us create alternative realities to disarm those who favour violence. I call on the peacemakers to acknowledge, in their rhetoric and their policies, the need to address Palestinian dispossession." !!
THANK YOU for publishing UNWRA's eloquently articulate Karen AbuZayd's most recent essay concerning the very real plight of the Palestinians and the importance of shaping a just and lasting peace in the Middle East: A serous peace for all the people- and a reasonable peace where every child and every home and every story counts. A pervasive peace that steps beyond the narrow confines of demographic statistics and religious rhetoric to embrace all of humankind as equal partners in the quest for dignity and decency- and security.... a Golden Rule Peace illuminated and guided by full respect for basic human rights on all sides of every border.

Anne Selden Annab

My letter to the San Fran Chronicle RE Israeli concession is no concession at all by Yousef Munayyer

A group of Palestinian girls pause for a picture as they play in an alley of Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp northwest of Amman, Jordan, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

RE: Israeli concession is no concession at all by Yousef Munayyer

Dear Editor,

The longer that cynics and extremists on both sides are able to drag out the process of the Israel/Palestine conflict the more that Israel is easily able to usurp more and more land- impoverishing and displacing even more Palestinians. Yes there is much to complain about, and there are at least a thousand and one opinions on what Palestinians and Israelis must do... but right now there is a huge global push to make a just and lasting peace in the Middle East a reality. That effort and that reality deserve respect and support- and so do international law and basic human rights.

UNWRA's retiring Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd states in her recent article in the Guardian Peace must begin with the plight of Palestine's refugees, Sixty years after the UN moved to address the fate of the dispossessed, we need to accept that the injustice endures : "As forced displacements continue across the West Bank, as Palestinians are evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, I ask a simple question: Is it not time for those engaged in the peace process to muster the will and the courage to address the Palestine refugee question?"

Anne Selden Annab
Peace must begin with the plight of Palestine's refugees

EU: Jerusalem Should Be Shared Capital

EU: Jerusalem Should Be Shared Capital

The European Union says Jerusalem should be the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Jerusalem, disputed, Gilo, Neighborhood
Photo: VOA: Jewish settlements in Jerusalem

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The European Union says Jerusalem should be the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Tuesday issued a statement saying it would not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders. Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized.

Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be their future capital.

But Tuesday's EU statement did not require that disputed east Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state. There was a furor in Israel last week when an Israeli newspaper reported that such a line was in a draft version of the statement.

Palestinian officials welcomed Tuesday's EU statement. Israel's Foreign Ministry said the European foreign ministers ignored the Palestinians' refusal to return to peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says peace talks cannot resume until Israel halts settlement activity in occupied territories.

The EU ministers also called on the Israelis and Palestinians to revive negotiations in an effort to reach a two-state solution.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"...will return" by Ismail Shammout

We need a Golden Rule Peace for Israel and Palestine

Creating facts in the mind By Karen AbuZayd
Creating facts in the mind

By Karen AbuZayd

Sixty years ago today the United Nations General Assembly voted into existence a temporary body known as UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA’s task was to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the dispossession of some three quarters of a million Palestine refugees forced by the 1948 Middle East war to abandon their homes and flee their ancestral lands. Just two decades later, the Six-Day War generated another spasm of violence and forced displacement, culminating in the occupation of Palestinian territory. Today, anguished exile remains the lot of Palestinians and Palestine refugees. The occupation of Palestinian land persists, there is no Palestinian state and the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which Palestinians are entitled under international law do not exist.

The occupation, now over 40 years old, becomes more entrenched with every infringement of human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian territory. Political actors hold in their hands the power to redress the travesties Palestinians endure. Yet, the approach has been, at best, to equivocate over the minutiae of the occupation - a checkpoint here, a bag of cement there - or, at worst, to look the other way, to acquiesce in or even support the measures causing Palestinian suffering.

From my perspective as the head of the agency mandated to assist and protect Palestine refugees, it is particularly vexing that the prevailing approach fails - or refuses - to accord the refugee issue the attention it deserves. Over 60 years, dispossession has faded from the focus of peace efforts. The heart of where peace should begin is absent from the international agenda, pushed aside as one of the “final status” issues, one which belongs to a later stage of the negotiation process.

As forced displacements continue across the West Bank, as Palestinians are evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, I ask a simple question: Is it not time for those engaged in the peace process to muster the will and the courage to address the Palestine refugee question?

On this regrettable 60th anniversary of the agency which I shall leave in less than one month, I wish to refocus the debate on the displaced and dispossessed, to put the refugees at the centre of peace-making efforts. Make no mistake, not a single conflict of contemporary times has been resolved, no durable peace achieved unless and until the voices of the victims of those conflicts were heard, their losses acknowledged and redress found to injustices they experience. The precedents of recent peace-making efforts and the methodology of contemporary conflict resolution affirm that giving high priority to resolving dispossession and the plight of refugees is a necessity, an international obligation and a humanitarian imperative.

The Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is uniquely complex. Among its myriad dimensions that require attention, the unresolved refugee issue is one of those most profoundly linked to the uncertainties of the regional situation and to the persistence of the conflict. Addressing it is, therefore, a sine qua non for making progress towards a negotiated solution. Failing to engage with the refugee issue and consciously shunting it to one side has served only to disavow the refugees’ significance as a constituency with a prominent stake in delivering and sustaining peace. This has left many with a dangerous cynicism about the peace process, thus strengthening the hands of those who argue against peace itself. I refuse, however, to conclude my time in office on a pessimistic note. Instead, I urge that we take steps to engage the marginalised. Let us confound the cynics. Let us create alternative realities to disarm those who favour violence.

I call on the peace makers to acknowledge, in their rhetoric and their policies, the need to address Palestinian dispossession. Let symbolism and rhetoric give way to substance. On the 60th anniversary of UNRWA, I call on the international community and the parties to the conflict to acknowledge the 60-year-old injustice as a first step towards addressing the consequences of that injustice. Let us build facts in the mind to create facts of a just and durable peace on the ground.

The writer is commissioner general, United Nations Relief and Works Agency. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times

8 December 2009

Berlin Wall

Dec 4 / 690 Photos
RNPS IMAGES OF THE YEAR 2009 MEA - A Palestinian demonstrator ...

Israel's Settlement Beast By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

Date posted: December 07, 2009
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

It's a mildly comforting scene for Palestinians to see Jewish settlers clash with the Israeli government. In Palestinian terms this is a battle between bad and really bad and it brings us a smidgen of delight when we see the two sides butt heads. Of course, this is an infantile sentiment, given that in the larger picture of things, their bickering really has nothing to do with us. Nonetheless, it is strangely satisfying.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent decision to declare a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank has drawn the ire of settlers across the board, even though the declaration in its current form is hardly threatening to them or their homes. The freeze does not include the following: settlement construction already underway, east Jerusalem, or public buildings such as schools and synagogues. Neither is private building included in the government decision. Which, it goes without saying, leaves a lot of wiggle room for these cancerous growths to continue to spread.

Still, the decision has not sat well at all with Israel's settler population which has proceeded to one, scramble to construct as many structures as humanely possible and two, fight their government inspectors tooth and nail whenever they come to ensure that Netanyahu's decision is being implemented.

Of course, the Palestinians have not been saved from the settlers' wrath, as is customary. Since the decision, settlers throughout the West Bank have attacked nearby Palestinian populations, pelting their cars with stones, setting fire to their trees and physically attacking them near their homes. Jewish settlers are a constant plague to Palestinians in the West Bank, not only because they are living on their land and have deprived many of them of their livelihood and security, but because settler vigilantism is a constant threat. Palestinian cars have been burned, olive trees uprooted, men, women and children attacked and livestock stolen by belligerent settlers who operate more or less with impunity while the Israeli army turns a convenient blind eye to their acts of violence.

However, it is interesting to watch as the Israeli government locks horns with its settler population after so many years of appeasement. Frankly, they deserve it.

For years, we have heard how the majority of mainstream Israelis oppose the settlements, or at least don't care if they stay or go. This is understandable given the amount of money, manpower and military might have gone into sustaining these illegal colonies, not to mention the bad rap Israel gets internationally for its settlement policies. However, contrary to logic, which dictates that Israel should forsake settlements for the larger goal of peace and to abide by its own people's wishes, settlements and settlers have expanded and multiplied in exponential proportions since Israel's occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Today the settler population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is approximately half a million people.

The question is why? Why have all the consecutive Israeli governments allowed, or worse yet encouraged, settlement expansion, well knowing that international law deems them illegal and illegitimate and that in any negotiations, settlements are right there at the top of the "need to go" list? The answer is simple. Israel has expansionist goals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, unlike in the Gaza Strip where it was willing to relinquish Jewish settlements there under the guise of "sacrificing for peace." Israel has no intention of relinquishing the entire West Bank and certainly not all of east Jerusalem in any final settlement with the Palestinians, and the best way to ensure that is through its settlement policy. Creating facts on the ground that involve real people with real lives is a surefire way of adding a tangible human aspect to the conflict and thus scoring more political points.

The only problem is that in forwarding these expansionist goals, Israel's governments have created a beast. Settlers have been allowed to indulge their extremist ideology that espouses the insane notion that the entire land of Palestine was promised to them by God and that they therefore have a carte blanche to do as they please. The fact that Israel's military establishment and its political institutions have funded and sustained these settlements, provided protection for its settlers and defended their existence in international arenas has only strengthened this extremist ideology among this population. Even Israelis who moved to settlements for economic purposes rather than ideological ones ultimately believe it is their right to be there. No consideration is given to the usurped land on which their homes are built.

Israel's coddling of its settler population now means it is having a hard time reining them in. The most extremist settlers who scamper to take over West Bank hilltops before any settlement freeze or evacuation, have vowed to resist any moves from government inspectors, and a mass settler demonstration against the freeze is scheduled for December 9. From the settlers' point of view, this is not unreasonable. For all these years, they have lived on occupied land unhindered. Now, some wet- behind-the-ears US President is dictating to Israelis where they can or cannot live?

For the Palestinians, the freeze is nothing groundbreaking. Netanyahu has made it painfully clear to us and to his "settler brothers" that the freeze is temporary – 10 months – will not include the major settlement blocs in the West Bank and will completely exclude east Jerusalem. In practical terms, this means that once the 10 month period is over, construction may resume as usual. That is, presuming some sort of comprehensive agreement isn't reach, which is a fair assumption by the looks of it. This is hardly promising in terms of negotiating a final settlement. For us, all settlements are illegal and must be dismantled for any lasting peace to prevail. Even President Obama gets this, regardless of how hard he is willing to push for it. There is no doubt he also understands that a 10-month moratorium on construction can never be a goal in itself but rather one means to a much larger end. Still, small victories are victories nonetheless. If Israel is made to bear the wrath of the beast it created, there will be no complaints from us.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

Lebanon's Palestinians: refugees for life

Palestinian children sit on a pile of dirt at the refugee camp of Nahr Al-Bared on the outskirts of the northern Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli on December 4. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's visit to Beirut will cast the spotlight on the plight of nearly 300,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who fear they are doomed to be refugees for life. (AFP/File/Joseph Eid)

Lebanon's Palestinians: refugees for life

BEIRUT (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's visit to Beirut on Monday casts the spotlight on the plight of nearly 300,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who fear they are doomed to be refugees for life.

His brief trip comes amid renewed efforts to revive the Middle East peace process and concern in Lebanon's political circles that any deal struck on the refugee issue would be at the expense of the Lebanese.

"A permanent settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon is a real demographic, political and security threat," Farid al-Khazen, a Lebanese MP and political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told AFP.

"Yet there is pressure toward such a solution which, if implemented, would lead to war and the destruction of Lebanon," he added.

The majority of the refugees arrived in Lebanon following the creation of Israel in 1948. A second wave arrived in the 1970s after Jordan's then king Hussein kicked out the Palestine Liberation Organisation and thousands of its fighters.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) lists nearly 400,000 refugees in Lebanon.

But Lebanese and Palestinian officials say the number actually resident in Lebanon may be as low as 250,000 as UNRWA does not strike off its figures Palestinians who move to other countries.

The refugees that remain live in dire conditions in 12 camps across the country of four million inhabitants.

They rely heavily on UNRWA for educational, health and other assistance because under Lebanese law they are banned from practising most professions or from owning property.

While their presence in Lebanon was supposed to be short-lived, their chance of ever returning to their homeland has dimmed with every failed attempt to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And the glimmer of hope raised following US President Barack Obama's bid to reinvigorate the peace process has been replaced by more bitterness and cynicism as each side digs in its heels.

"The slow pace and erratic progress of the negotiations means that final status, including the refugee issue, are in effect indefinitely postponed," UNRWA commissioner Karen Abu Zayd told AFP during a recent visit to Beirut.

"I'm very concerned of the lack of attention for the refugees in the peace process."

For the Lebanese, any mention of permanently settling the Palestinians in the tiny Mediterranean country prompts an outcry and warnings that this would upset the country's confessional balance and further exacerbate political divisions.

Fresh in the minds of many is the key role the Palestinians played in Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, Israel's 1982 assault on Beirut and, more recently, the deadly 2007 battle at a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon between an Al-Qaeda-inspired group and the Lebanese army.

But specialists and human rights groups warn that unless the refugee issue is addressed, the camps, already considered breeding grounds for extremism, could one day explode.

"The situation in the camps is beyond what is humanly acceptable," said Khalil Mekkawi, former head of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee that was set up in 2005 to improve living conditions for the refugees.

"There is no hope whatsoever for people living in such misery."

Mekkawi said that although UNRWA requested 50 million dollars in 2006 to improve conditions in the camps, donors had responded with only 16 million dollars which represent "a drop in the ocean".

Souheil El-Natour, a Palestinian analyst and member of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said the refugee issue had fallen victim to Lebanon's sectarian divisions.

"The question of permanent settlement is being used as a scare tactic in Lebanese politics and this is denying the refugees their civil rights," Natour said.

Analysts warn that denying Palestinians basic rights and putting the camps off-limits to the Lebanese army allow extremist groups and outlaws to gain a foothold.

"The extremism is in large part because of the lack of a solution," Abu Zayd said. "These people are people without hope, who can't see what the future holds.

"Their plight is not only the responsibility of the Lebanese government, it's an international responsibility."