Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)


June 8, 2010

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

June 1, 2010

Update on the Gaza Flotilla

Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.

In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.

Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating

“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”

Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)

May 25, 2010

An Update on Negotiations

As George Mitchell has returned fruitless from the first round of proximity talks, prospects for success of the four month long project have already dwindled.  A bleak atmosphere of cynicism surrounds Israel and the West Bank, as both Jews and Palestinians believe the talks will be exercises in futility.

The proximity talks seemed doomed from the beginning.  The spirit of negotiations was  dampened  months ago, when in March Netanyahu  announced the building of 1,600 new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement, and President Abbas retaliated by announcing that negotiations with Israel would not take place unless there was a freeze on settlement building.  However, the subsequent scolding and cajoling by the U.S. resulted in both men decreasing the intensity of their agendas, for the sake of possible negotiations. (more…)

May 18, 2010

Nonviolence: a feasible strategy?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.” But can nonviolence be the answer to the contentious issue of occupation in the West Bank?

Over the past few months, a grassroots boycott of settlement-produced goods has gripped Palestinians in the West Bank.  The boycott has recently become more organized, with volunteers (mostly students) campaigning door-to-door, distributing brochures, and burning settlement-products.  So far, the boycott of over one thousand products has resulted in the destruction of $5 million worth of settlement products.  It is estimated that $200 million worth of settlement goods are sold in the West Bank each year, which is a small portion of to Israel’s $200 billion GDP.  Although the economic effects of the boycott have been relatively minimal, it is the social and political effects that are crucial. (more…)

February 11, 2010

Martyr Iconography

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Gaza,Hamas,Iran,Lebanon,Palestinian politics,West Bank — Kimberly Doyle @ 12:52 pm

“Faces on the walls – martyrs freshly emerging from life and the printing presses, a death which is a remake of itself. One martyr replacing the face of another, taking his place on the wall, until displaced by yet another or by rain.” Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, accurately captured the culture of martyrdom and the phenomenon of martyr iconography in his book Memory for Forgetfulness. He understood how these images can create a vicious cycle of violence.

Martyrs exist throughout the world, but their images are increasingly used in places of crisis, and especially in the Middle East, to reflect social changes, shape society, and prolong violence. In the West Bank, Gaza, and the refugee camps in Lebanon the walls and streets are plastered with the faces of martyrs killed in the struggle against Israel. Posters, billboards, signs, and hand-painted murals with the images or names of martyrs are constant visual reminders of the struggle. On television, videos of martyrs pronouncing their last words fill the airspace. And in houses, pictures of heroic martyrs line the walls and children collect cards with the stats of martyrs, like baseball cards. Martyr iconography in these areas symbolizes the resistance struggle and the opposition to the current situation.

In Iran martyrs are national icons, symbolizing the struggles of the Islamic Revolution. On a wall near Tehran University there is a painting of a twelve-year-old boy, Hussein Fahmideh, who blew himself up in front of an Iraqi tank during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. And this image, according to a former professor of mine, was plastered on billboards and inscribed into history books throughout the nation. Fahmideh became a symbol of the new Islamic Republic and was immortalized as a hero. His struggle was emblematic of the greater struggle of the new Iranian government and his death was a sacrifice for this cause. In Iran martyrs are not symbolic of resistance or opposition, but of the hardships faced by the Islamic Republic. (more…)

January 28, 2010

Ramallah rally for Palestinian prisoners

Filed under: Palestinian politics,West Bank — Katya Reed @ 2:54 pm

~ From Katya Reed in Ramallah

Yesterday as I was walking home from Ramallah’s big produce market, I watched huge crowds pour into Manara Square waving Palestinian flags and placards with pictures of Palestinian prisoners.

AFP estimated that 500 people turned out for that rally, which was held to demand that the release of Palestinian prisoners be part of any peace deal with Israel.  Rallies were held throughout the West Bank on January 27,  which is newly recognized by PM Fayyad’s cabinet as the official day for solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners.  Many held signs of Marwan Barghouti and other prominent prisoners, while others held framed photos of imprisoned members of their family.

AFP reports on their interview at the rally with one of the organizers:

“This demonstration is part of a series of events organised to further the prisoners issue in any future political negotiations,” Palestinian prisoner affairs minister Issa Qaraqaa told AFP.

“The prisoners issue must be a main issue on the agenda of any negotiations.”

There are currently some 7,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 34 women and 310 minors, according to the Palestinian Authority.”


January 24, 2010

Palestinian parliamentary elections, four years on

Filed under: Palestinian politics,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 2:49 pm

Tomorrow will be the fourth anniversary of those historic PA parliamentary elections of 2006 in which Hamas won 74 or 75 of the 128 seats. The whole story of PA ‘democracy’ since then has been a deep, deep tragedy… and our U.S. governments, under both Pres. G.W. Bush and Pres. Barack Obama, have played a profoundly anti-democratic role in suppressing the results of those elections.

Palestinians themselves are currently pondering the implications, under the PA’s constitution, of the fact that now, not only the term of the PA’s elected-in-2005 president, Mahmoud Abbas, but also its Legislative Council (PLC), has expired. And there have been some signs that the US-backed and US-trained Palestinian security forces supposedly overseen by Abbas have been taking the opportunity to launch new sweeps against Hamas’s many supporters in the West Bank.

I see that the excellent thinkers at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights are currently arguing that before there are any new Palestinian elections, the two main political movements– Fateh and Hamas– need to conclude a serious reconciliation. Their argument seems quite sound.

But it will be hard for the two movements to reconcile, given the many hard feelings between diehards within them.  The U.S. government has, sadly, played a terrible role in exacerbating those differences throughout the whole of the past four years and continuing until today. (So, too, have both Israel and Egypt.)


December 15, 2009

Mass incarceration, Gaza, Kenya: Why Obama should care

Filed under: American attitudes,Human rights,Palestinian politics — Helena Cobban @ 11:08 am

In the long history of colonialism there is nothing new in the practice of a colonial regime imposing conditions of very brutal mass incarceration on whole segments of the indigenous population and then manipulating those conditions to try to squeeze compliance or acquiescence from the indigenes. See, for example, the very imperfect– but nonetheless revealing– account of two Palestinian brothers now living apart, in the West Bank and Gaza, that won front-page billing in today’s WaPo.

Undertaking the mass incarceration of whole communities and then manipulating its conditions is, basically, what the Israeli government has been doing in the occupied territories for many years now.  It’s been doing it with both the brutal siege it has maintained on the whole population of Gaza, and the system of movement controls it maintains in the West Bank, that’s dominated by gates and checkpoints between Palestinian areas that are opened and closed at the whim only of the quite unaccountable occupying power.

Small wonder that so many people have judged that those areas of the occupied territories that have not already been land-grabbed by the settlers constitute a “series of open-air prisons” for the Palestinians.

Pres. Barack Obama should be well aware of this situation. He should care deeply about it. (And he should, of course, be using all the instruments of U.S. national power to bring Israel’s very lengthy occupation of these territories to a complete end.)

But here’s why Pres. Obama, of all people, should care about this situation: Because his own paternal grandfather was, according to news reports out of London last year, one of the hundreds of thousands of anti-colonial activists in Kenya who in the late 1940s and 1950s were shut up by the British colonial authorities in a series of very brutal mass-incarceration encampments called “The Pipeline.”

Reporters for the London Times wrote about Hussein Onyango Obama’s experiences in the British-ruled Kenya of those years that,


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