Friday, December 10, 2010

ISRAEL: Rabbinical ruling sparks controversy, racism charges

December 9, 2010 | 10:01 pm

When the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, with a large ultra-Orthodox population, banned renting apartments to migrant workers and moved to evict those already living there, it met with mild public objection. When the municipal rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, warned against renting apartments to Arab students in town, again, the response was limited....READ MORE

It's 62 years since the UN passed a resolution on the rights of Palestinian refugees – rights Israel must recognise for peace

The returning issue of Palestine's refugees

It's 62 years since the UN passed a resolution on the rights of Palestinian refugees – rights Israel must recognise for peace

Before his murder in 1948, Lord Folke Bernadotte, the first UN mediator to the Arab-Israeli conflict, stated: "It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent [Palestinian] victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine." Lord Bernadotte paid for his candour with his life as Jewish militants assassinated him under the direction of Yitzhak Shamir, the man who would later become prime minister of Israel.

Less than three months after his death, as the war of 1948 ground to a close, and nearly three-quarters of the entire indigenous Palestinian population had been displaced by Israeli forces, the UN passed general assembly resolution 194, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and to be awarded compensation for their losses.

On Saturday, 62 years will have passed without this historic resolution being implemented despite being upheld by the UN with nearly universal consensus ever since. In fact, Israel's own admission as a member to the United Nations was contingent on its adherence to the principles of UNGA 194, something it proceeded to disregard once membership was granted.

Contrary to what Israeli political figures would like the world to believe, the issue of Palestinian refugees is not an academic matter, the solution of which is somehow rendered moot by the passage of time and by the creation of Israeli "facts on the ground." Palestinian displacement continues to this day through the revocation of residency cards, land confiscation, home demolitions and evictions. At the same time, Israel has barred Palestinians displaced between 1947 and 1949, and again in 1967, from returning to their homes or receiving restitution for their lost property, making Palestinian refugees the oldest and largest refugee community in the world today....READ MORE

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A narrow road to Palestinian freedom

"Those who denounce the state-building effort and the Palestinian Authority’s activities generally as “collaboration” fail to understand the way in which that project inevitably leads to confrontations with the occupation that force moral and political clarity..."

Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad (R) sees first hand a newly inaugurated road that was partially dug-up and destroyed by the Israeli army in Qarawat Bani Hassan on November 30. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

A narrow road to Palestinian freedom
Hussein Ibish, December 7, 2010

A narrow road near the small West Bank village of Qarawat Bani Hassan is now the implausible epicenter of the Palestinian drive for freedom and independence. At first glance, the two-kilometer stretch is remote and of little practical significance, since it does not lead to any major hub and has no strategic value. But it is, quite literally, the frontline of the Palestinian state and institution-building program being led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The road’s significance comes from two crucial political facts. First, it is located in Area C, constituting 60 percent of the West Bank that the interim Oslo Accords, which were supposed to last for only five years between 1993 and 1998, designated to remain under full Israeli control. And second, the paving of the road was organized and paid for by the Palestinian Authority under the state-building rubric.

Consequently, and citing their alleged prerogatives in Area C, the Israeli authorities have destroyed the paved asphalt. Both Fayyad and local villagers have vowed to repave it time and again, and the Palestinian Authority has already allocated funds to do just that.

This road, in its own small, understated way is the first major practical embodiment of the long-term political and strategic logic of the Palestinian state and institution-building program, and a modest, quiet demonstration of how that that project inevitably leads to powerful challenges to the occupation.

The state-building program confronts Israel with a simple question about not only Areas A and B, but C as well: Is this land going to be part of the Palestinian state or is it part of Israel? If it is part of Israel, what’s the point of even discussing a two-state solution? But, if it is ultimately going to be part of a Palestinian state, how can that state ever be created if Palestinian infrastructure, development and institution-building are actively thwarted by the occupation? Who will create this state if not the Palestinians, and how can they if they are physically prevented from doing so by the Israeli military?

All of these questions lead to the most important one Israel has to ask itself, one on which there is no clarity or consensus whatsoever among Israeli leaders: What is their vision of the future in the occupied Palestinian territories? In other words, what do they intend to do with this land and the millions of stateless noncitizens who live there? What is it that Israel ultimately wants? ...READ MORE

The Elders condemn Israeli military efforts to keep prominent Palestinian activist in jail | The Elders

Abu Rahmah has served twelve months imprisonment for incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations. He was cleared of two further charges of stone-throwing and arms possession. The ‘arms’ he had collected were spent tear-gas canisters and bullet casings used by the Israeli armed forces against him and his fellow demonstrators.

The Elders have warned in the past that efforts to stifle peaceful protest will not serve the cause of peace, and that Abu Rahmah and his fellow activists deserve full support.

We should support non-violent protest, not criminalise it. Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu call for the release of Palestinian demonstrator Abu Rahmah:
The Elders condemn Israeli military efforts to keep prominent Palestinian activist in jail | The Elders

Monday, December 6, 2010

Salam Fayyad on Building Palestine
The Arab American Institute
Monday December 06, 2010

Salam Fayyad on Building Palestine

Posted by AAI at 9:34 am

"Why I'm Building Palestine"
Soon, the only obstacle in our way will be the occupation itself.

By Salam Fayyad, Foreign Policy

When we launched our state-building plan for Palestine in August 2009, many dismissed it as an exercise in eggheadedness, extraordinary optimism, a dream. But here we are, feeling exceptionally, extremely validated by the scorecard so far: We have completed more than 1,500 projects, including the establishment of dozens of new schools, clinics, and housing projects and the construction of new roads throughout Palestine. Read More.

There is Nothing 'Divine' About Haifa's Fire By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

It is always disappointing when politicians refuse to see further than the tips of their noses. Unfortunately, this is the case far too often here in Palestine. The effects of this tunnel vision are ridiculous in the best case scenario, extremely damaging in the worst. One such case of short-sightedness came from Hamas' deposed leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh on December 5. While he led a Muslim prayer for rain in a local mosque, Haniyeh decided to offer his take on the enormous brushfires, which have been raging through the Carmel forest in Haifa since December 2, quipping that they were "divine strikes from God for what Israel has done" [presumably to the Palestinians].

What prompted Haniyeh to make such a ridiculous and frankly, damaging statement is incomprehensible. For one, it is not diplomatic in the least, especially for a man who claims to be a high ranking official and who has shown a level of political pragmatism on more than one occasion. Second, it is not logical, because according to this rationale, every calamity that befalls the Palestinians is presumably a similar "divine strike" for what we have done.

Most of all, however, it is short-sighted in that Haniyeh seems to forget that the luscious green forests of Al Carmel were once Palestine and continue to remain so in the hearts of pretty much every Palestinian. A fire that scorches the earth, no matter where, is detrimental to all humankind, regardless of who inhabits the land at that particular moment. Over 40 lives were lost, tens of thousands of people (including Palestinians living inside Israel) were evacuated from their homes and 12,500 acres (50,000 dunams) of greenery were reduced to ashes. Even Turkey, which has been at loggerheads with Israel ever since the Mavi Marmara fiasco in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens, offered its help in putting out the fire. Palestinian firefighters also joined the battle against the blaze, crossing the Green Line into Israel.

"We were received respectfully. After all, we're dealing with a humanitarian crisis which knows no borders," said Bethlehem's Civil Defense Chief Ibrahim Ayish, who said he and his team wanted to join forces with Israeli and international teams in order to "protect the environment and nature."

As a Palestinian, the fire in the Carmel mountain region of Haifa was devastating to watch, especially since it took place in such a cherished city. While it's true that Haifa was captured in the 1948 War and has been known to the world as an Israeli city ever since, this does not negate the fact that Haifa was once home to a Palestinian population, the overwhelming majority of who became refugees following their exile.

That was not so long ago. What is 62-plus years in the collective memory of a nation? Haifa and its green forests of Al Carmel are still vivid in the minds of those who once lived there and called the seaside city their home. The sight of its beautiful trees going up in flames and the earth beneath it scorched to black ashes is something that transcends all political realities. And this is why it is so difficult to understand why anyone would rejoice at such a large scale brushfire, regardless of the bitter political enmity between both sides. It is unsettling to hear any Palestinian, much less a prominent Hamas figure making such cutting statements. We have not learned to rise above, not by a long shot.

If this were an isolated incident in Palestinian politics, we could possibly brush it off as bad judgment. But we have all heard the instances of name calling between our leaders, Hamas and Fateh in particular. They have all failed to see the big picture – in the case of Hamas and Fateh, the picture being the overall goal of the Palestinians to liberate themselves from Israeli occupation. In the case of Haniyeh's so-called "divine intervention" he failed to see that any damage to our Mother Earth is a loss for all, especially when the patch in question is part of what was once our beloved Palestine.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for us Palestinians looking at the tragedy from afar is to see it for exactly that: a tragedy of colossal proportions. The Palestinian Authority seems to have embraced that concept despite the bad blood between it and Israel's government, not hesitating to send out reinforcements to extinguish the blaze. This is how we should all think. Anyone who thinks or says anything less is in no position to be a leader.

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


An independent, democratic and sovereign Palestinian state, which grants Palestinians their basic rights, preserves their dignity, and enjoys international recognition and respect.

Palestinian firefighters on Sunday joined their colleagues battling a massive wildfire dispatch reinforcements in fight against Israel blaze

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- More Palestinian firefighters on Sunday joined their colleagues battling a massive wildfire that killed several dozen Israelis and sparked an unprecedented global response.

Bethlehem's civil defense chief Ibrahim Ayish told Ma'an that 21 men from the West Bank and four fully equipped fire engines were assisting Israeli and international forces trying to control the blaze near Haifa.

The latest civil defense unit to depart the West Bank left at 4 a.m. and arrived at northern Israel five hours later, Ayish said.

"We're working alongside the Israeli team, which knows the area very well," he says. "We were received respectfully. After all, we're dealing with a humanitarian crisis which knows no borders.

"Neither walls nor checkpoints will stop us."

Centered in Carmel, south and east of Haifa, the fire is the biggest inferno in Israel's 62-year history. So far, it has taken 41 lives and forced more than 17,000 people to flee their homes.

Police have arrested two youths from the Druze Israeli village of Isfiya on suspicion of starting the fire "through negligence" by leaving behind burning embers after a family picnic.

The blaze has so far ravaged at least 5,000 hectares of land and five million trees in the pine-covered hills known locally as "little Switzerland."

The three Palestinian units work in a zone made up of local and international ground units as well as aircraft, which are playing the largest role. Field crews control the small fires.

How does commander Ayish feel about the unusual mission? "Proud to participate in the humanitarian work of firefighting," he said, defining it as "the work of protecting the environment and nature."

Ayish expects the job to take another 24 hours. Unfortunately, he said, vast areas have turned to dust.

He said the orders came directly from President Mahmoud Abbas.

In Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday telephoned the president to express his gratitude to the Palestinian Authority for its assistance to Israel's exhausted front.

Abbas, speaking with the premier for the first time since peace talks broke down in September, responded that "in such a situation, the Palestinian people will not hesitate to offer humanitarian support."

The PA stands ready to offer any additional assistance as needed, Abbas' office affirmed.

In Gaza City, the Prime Minister of the Gaza government Ismail Haniyeh told reporters "those fires are divine strikes for what they [Israel] did," the German Press Agency reported.

Haniyeh made the statement as he joined emergency prayers asking for rain to end a long dry season in the Palestinian territories.

The spiritual leader of Israel's religious Shas party also blamed divine retribution.

"Fires only happen in a place where Shabbat is desecrated," Rabbi Obadia Yosef said in his weekly sermon, according to The Jerusalem Post. "Homes were ruined ... entire neighborhoods wiped out, and it is not arbitrary. It is all divine providence," he said.

“We must repent, keep Shabbat appropriately. When the People of Israel repent, God safeguards them with a wall of fire,” but not of the incinerating type, Yosef added.

US supertanker joins air war on blaze

Meanwhile, the world's biggest firefighting plane joined the international offensive, dumping tons of water and chemicals on the flames.

Despite fires sweeping hills around the northern city of Haifa for a fourth day, hopes were high that the arrival in Israel of the chartered Boeing Supertanker would finally tip the balance.

The Israeli military said that the plane's US crew had been joined by two Israeli air force pilots and a base commander, acting as liaison.

Police appealed to residents in the target area to stay indoors and shut their windows as the behemoth dropped its payload of 76,000 liters of water and flame retardant.

More than 30 firefighting aircraft were flying sorties over the forest and scrub early Sunday, Israeli media reported. The military said aircraft from Greece, Britain, Turkey, Russia and France were already in action. Switzerland, the Netherlands, Azerbaijan and Romania were due fly in assistance on Sunday.

Israeli fire service operations officer Boaz Rakia was cautiously upbeat.

"We wake up this morning to a slightly more optimistic morning," he told army radio. "It's true that there are a number of sites where the fire is still active and we are concentrating our efforts there, but generally speaking if you look at the whole area of operations, it's better, more optimistic."

Meteorologists say rain is expected Sunday night or Monday.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ATFP 2010 Winter Bazaar

In Pakistan, Christianity Earns a Death Sentence

In Pakistan, Christianity Earns a Death Sentence

By OMAR WARAICH / ISLAMABAD Omar Waraich / Islamabad Sun Dec 5, 9:40 am ET

It all began a year and a half ago, with a quarrel over a bowl of water. A group of women farm workers were suffering in the heat near a village in Pakistan's Punjab province. Aasia Noreen, an illiterate 45-year-old mother of five, offered them water, but was rebuffed. Noreen was a Christian, they said, and therefore her water was unclean - sadly, a common taunt hurled at Pakistan's beleaguered Christians. But rather than swallowing the indignity, she mounted a stout defense of her faith.

Word of the exchange swiftly filtered through the village of Ittan Wali, in Sheikhupura district. The local mullah took to his mosque's loudspeakers, exhorting his followers to take action against Noreen. In a depressingly familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and legal observers familiar with the case. As a frenzied mob pursued her, the police intervened, taking her into custody. But far from protecting her, they arrested and charged Noreen with insulting Islam and its prophet. And on Nov. 8, after enduring 18 months in prison, she was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first woman to suffer that fate. (See how WikiLeaks' disclosure fueled anti-U.S. anger in Pakistan.)

In the ensuing weeks, the case of Noreen, popularly known as Aasia Bibi, has sparked a national furor. Human rights campaigners and lawyers have denounced the sentence. Religious fundamentalist groups, usually at odds with one another, have suddenly coalesced around a campaign to defend the blasphemy law and attack its critics. One politician who called for Noreen to be pardoned now faces a fatwa for alleged apostasy. Another politician, who is trying to have the blasphemy laws amended, has been warned that she will be besieged. On television, religious scholars have disagreed among themselves over the law's merits. Divisions are also being seen within the government, with powerful figures taking opposing sides. And there has even been global outrage, with Pope Benedict XVI last week calling for Noreen's freedom.

Noreen's case has spurred the first genuine debate over some of Pakistans most controversial laws. The original blasphemy law was drawn up by the British, in the Indian Penal Code of 1860, aimed at keeping the peace among the subcontinent's sometimes fractious diversity of faiths. Not only did Pakistan inherit the laws after partition, but it added to them. In the 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's military dictatorship introduced a slew of elastically worded clauses, including a death sentence for those deemed to have defiled the sacred name of the Prophet.

Before Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986, the number has soared to 962 - including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim sect, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. Close examination of the cases reveals the laws often being invoked to settle personal vendettas, or used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities. ....READ MORE