Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Ben-Dor - Academic Boycott is Needed

Oren Ben-Dor, originally from Israel, is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

Academic Freedom in Israel is Central to Resolving the Conflict
To Create It, an Academic Boycott is Needed

I write as an ex-Israeli, who happens to be a British academic. I write because experience has taught my conscience the harm that results from silencing free historical debate, the danger inherent in not letting the Other's voice challenge national heroic myths. All my education in Israel was one sided, treating the Other as the enemy, the murderers, the rioters, the terrorists -- without alluding, in any way, to their pains and longings. For my teachers and, as a result, for me also, for many years, Zionism was beyond reproach; it was a return to the promised land as a result of persecution, it was draining the swamps, it was building a state based on Jewish genius.

The Holocaust, in which half of my own family was murdered, provided a continuous supply of blinding collective memory -- a memory of victim-hood, and as a result, a source of self-righteousness, much, much self-righteousness. The Holocaust (in Hebrew, "ha-Shoah" - the catastrophe) has always had the monopoly on memory in Israel, leaving no room for al-Naqba (Arabic, "the catastrophe"), the price that the Palestinians paid for the creation of the state. For my teachers, and for me, the 750,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 were bitter enemies defeated in a war, not human beings with feelings, memories, lost lands and shattered self-respect.

I write this article because, shockingly, the denial and marginalisation of the Other's story is continuing to this day in Israeli academic institutions. I write as an attempt to make a first step to denounce my association with this denial, to denounce my previous self. But I do not write just as a means to quickly remedy my bad conscience -- knowing the powers of collective memory and collective denial, I acknowledge that there is no quick fix for that.

Instead, I write to make two urgent points which are germane to the upcoming debate on the AUT boycott of Israeli universities. First, overcoming naqba-denial in the Israeli academy is central to resolving the conflict in Palestine. Second as an academic of Israeli origin, I know that an academic boycott is needed to create the academic freedom which is needed to overcome naqba-denial.

Naqba-denial in the Israeli academy
Changes, especially those which require mirroring, have to come about organically. The vicious circle that mirroring has to transcend, that of victim-hood and hatred on both sides, has to be dissolved from within, rather than lifted with a dramatic flourish by the external logic of crime and punishment. And that is precisely why something has to be done about the denial and marginalisation of the naqba in the Israeli academy. The organic change that Israel so desperately needs cannot happen until the Other's story is heard.

It should be noted that Dr. Ilan Pappe of Haifa University has called for a general boycott of Israeli academic institutions -- his call was incorrectly paraphrased and narrowed in the reasoning provided by the promoters of the AUT boycott motion dealing with Haifa University. As I understand Pappe, his boycott call relates to the way in which the Israeli academy silences and marginalises, directly and indirectly, any attempt to discuss the crimes of Zionism in Palestine. As I understand him, Pappe seeks a boycott of all those Israeli institutions that silence this debate.

Pappe protests against the censorship imposed by the dominant Zionist voice in Israel, as manifested in the highly stagnant and uncritical academic platform which hinders any possibility of debating, not to say rectifying, the crimes of Zionism.

With very few honourable exceptions, of which Pappe is one, those academics who consider themselves part of the Israeli left are part and parcel of the Zionist voice which silences the Palestinian story. The Israeli left has always been against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. There is no denial of that occupation either in the Israeli academy or in Israel generally; there are many "peace activists" who call for its end. But it is important to see that the Israeli Zionist left silences the Other's story by limiting the problem to "the 1967 occupation". Once the problem is limited like this, these lefties can assume the role of "innocents" who are unjustly targeted by a boycott whose promoters seek to open the Israeli academy to the bigger story. These Zionist lefties have good reason to be anxious -- they are themselves the very sophisticated obstacle to the debate that Pappe wants to generate, but cannot, in the nationalistic academy, namely the debate about Zionism. The debate, if successful in Israel, would open to question the authenticity of the Israeli left.

It is not the occupation of the 1967 territories which is the point of the debate that the Israeli academy smothers and marginalizes. Instead, the big issue is the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the pre-1967 occupation which displaced the indigenous population in the process of establishing a state based on a dominant religion and ethnicity. All those "lefties" who now call for the academic boycott to be lifted (surprise, surprise ...) and call themselves supporters of the Palestinian cause are themselves captives of the Zionist holy cow whose tenets they wish not, and are unable as yet, to question.

Creating academic freedom: the need for a boycott
An academic debate silenced by active, or passive, nationalism is evidence of smothered academic freedom. This is clear, not only from Haifa University's treatment of Pappe and his few colleagues, but also from the inability of an important debate to take off in Israeli academic circles. The dominant paradigms of debate are well guarded -- in order to keep the totality of the Zionist occupation of Palestine out of the discussion. Only a well-informed and firm external boycott will change this pathological academic complicity in keeping the Zionist question in the cupboard.

But why a boycott against all Israeli academics? Are they not innocent people who merely advance knowledge? Should we mix neutral academic activity with political debate? The answer is that Israeli academics are all accomplices to the smothering, delegitimizing and marginalising of debate by their institutions. By not raising their voices against their corrupt institutions, they betray the ideals that should guide them as academics. The official responses, by Haifa University, to the AUT boycott resolution show the lack of internal readiness and confirm exactly why outside pressure is necessary. Deep internal fetters, well embedded in the Israeli collective memory, will not allow the start of an academic debate that would result in the shattering of these inhibitions.

These Israeli inhibitions are disappointing, but the resultant need for external pressure must be recognised. Given this, the abstract, detached institutional responses from some leading British universities are also disappointing and play into the hands of the Zionist lobby. (Dare one say that related inhibitions, derived from a different, albeit related, collective memory, are at work here?) Criticism of the boycott is couched in terms of the need for academic freedom. How ironic it is that academic freedom, the very factor which is absent from the Israeli academy, the very factor whose creation provides a powerful motivation for the boycott, is the one whose pretended existence is used by critics of the boycott, including British institutions.

A general boycott
Moving away, but only for a moment, from the issue of naqba-denial in the academy, there are arguably very good reasons for a general boycott of Israel, in such areas as trade, sports and so on. Here, parallels with South Africa are not out of place. Such a boycott is separate from one directed against naqba-denial in the Israeli academy. When academics are included in a general boycott, it is as a result of their belonging to a population which is boycotted because its various activities nourish a criminal state. Unlike the silence about the larger issue of Zionist culpability for the naqba, there in an extensive internal debate among Israelis about the occupation of the lands conquered in 1967. This has reached a stage where a general boycott on Israel would help to stop the occupation and the many crimes and Human Rights infringements that result from it.

It's not just the occupation, it's the naqba
But from the Palestinians' point of view, an end to the 1967 occupation would not raise the real issue. Again, the opportunity of silencing the real issue will surely be seized by Israelis in their withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Any boycott must make sure that the world does not let Israel off the hook if it just ends the 1967 occupation. The boycott must also demand that the issue of the right of return of refugees to Israel is not allowed to slip away. No one is entitled to dispose of individual Palestinian rights in this matter or to forcibly transmute these rights into compensation. The refugee problem is a Zionist crime, an Israeli crime and, as such, Israelis must face it -- whatever consequences its just redress may have for the makeup of the country.

A word of caution
But, in using a boycott to force Israelis to accept the Palestinian right of return, caution is necessary. Unlike the case of the 1967 occupation, it would be naive for a boycott to demand an immediate resolution of the refugee problem. Israel (and some so-called "moderate" Palestinians, dare I day) must be made to face the refugee issue. But Israel must also be allowed the time to deal internally with it. Caution is needed, because this is the point where the Zionist nerve is really sensitive.

At present it would be a mistake to declare a boycott explicitly against Zionism. Israelis are not yet ready to respond to a boycott phrased as such. If anything, a boycott "against Zionism" would play into the hands of those who are adept at manipulating the Israeli sense of victim-hood and would be very likely to make Zionist sentiment stronger. Holding a mirror to the face of Israelis, exposing to them the unconscious preservation of their racism must be done slowly if it is to achieve the desired end -- the gradual recognition that "a Jewish and democratic state" is an oxymoron, a recognition which, one hopes, will cause the gradual withering away of the Jewish state in favour of genuine co-existence. This process, which also involves Israeli society meditating on the relations between Zionism and Jewish Being, will take time. Indeed, the Palestinians also need time to overcome their nationalism intensified by the victim-hood and hatred that has resulted from the actual and symbolic oppression and domination they have suffered.

It was the excommunicated Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza who had, as one of his main principles the idea of "caution". The "how" is as important as the "what". The case of Israel is unique, perhaps, in its history, in its denials and complexes. An ill-phrased boycott will not allow the internal process to occur and this means bloodshed.

The academic boycott is needed to kick-start the process
Final resolution of the crisis in Palestine requires Israelis to face up to their responsibility for the Palestinian naqba. It is primarily, if not exclusively, in the Israeli academy that the necessary debate must start. But for this to happen, academic freedom to debate naqba-denial and the Zionist question must not merely be "allowed" or "granted". For academic freedom to be properly discharged, for it to be worth anything, much more is needed. Bearing in mind that, at present, the debate about Zionism and the Naqba is highly disadvantaged in the uncritical Israeli psyche, the active legitimation, facilitation, care for growth and flourishing of such a debate should be seen as a duty incumbent upon the Israeli academy and its academics. In other words, this debate must be allowed an equal opportunity and competition in the marketplace of ideas in Israel and, for that, active assistance will be needed to compensate for its current disadvantage in that market. The Israeli academy must allocate specific resources and opportunities for the debate to take off. But anyone who is willing to face facts can see, from Haifa University's treatment of Ilan Pappe and those he has sought to defend, that, without external pressure, these conditions will not be met. If there were no other reason, that alone would be sufficient reason for the academic boycott.The academic boycott is not simply another facet of a general boycott. It is much more important than that. The academic boycott is central to starting the process of Israeli self-examination that is a core prerequisite to a resolution of the conflict.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing Has Made a Two-State Solution Impossible

Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (E/15/05)

An international human rights group warns that a two-state solution to the 57 year Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been made a practical impossibility due to Israel's continuing expropriation of Palestinian property and denying Palestinian refugees the right to recover their original homes and lands.

This is one of the main conclusions of "Ruling Palestine: A History of the Legally Sanctioned Jewish-Israeli Seizure of Land and Housing in Palestine", a new report released by the independent Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. It reveals in stark detail how Zionist leaders, and later successive Israeli Governments, manipulated key Ottoman and British laws and the Israeli legal system to dispossess Palestinians of their land and property. The report clearly documents how Israel has built a domestic legal framework which seeks to legitimize what are clearly discriminatory land and housing policies.

Here are some excerpts from
Al-Awda's Press Release

"In the last few years, Israel has again used its domestic law - backed with military might - to illegally expropriate large amounts of remaining Palestinian lands and property. In so doing, it has violated numerous international standards. Despite almost universal condemnation by the international community, Israel continues to carry out discriminatory land, housing and property policies and practices which make a sustainable and just peace a practical impossibility", Leckie added.

The report illustrates that, even if a final settlement could be negotiated, a viable Palestinian state would hardly be feasible, given the shortage of available land and infrastructure and the lack of territorial contiguity. These problems are compounded by the ubiquitous and disruptive presence of hundreds of strategically located Jewish settlements, especially in the West Bank, the territorial stranglehold on annexed East Jerusalem and the splitting of the West Bank into unconnected northern and southern enclaves. Under the controversial E-1 Plan, the huge Ma'ale Adumim settlement is to be expanded and integrated into 'Metropolitan Jerusalem'. This will set the seal on Israel's isolation and control of East Jerusalem and drive a wedge into the Palestinian heartland, creating an uninterrupted Israeli corridor from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea.

Leckie warned, "This new study concludes that what little remains of the Palestinian homeland is disappearing in front of our eyes - it's as if Israel is deliberately erasing it from the map".

"COHRE and BADIL proudly work with a range of Israelis who have begun the painful task of acknowledging the history of land rights abuses by Israel and resultant Palestinian dispossession. As with the end of all enduring conflicts, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will only be possible when ordinary Israelis acknowledge past wrongs, embrace the process of reconciliation and overcome their fear of their historic neighbors. We look forward to the day when both sides move beyond the current impasse of 'us vs. them' towards a mutual and equitable future where the rights of both peoples are respected in full", Leckie said.


Birzeit University Faculty Poll: two thirds say NO to joint projects

Thanks to Omar Barghouti for forwarding this.

In a poll conducted by the Birzeit University Union of Faculty and Employees in May of 2005, approximately two thirds of the University’s academics, researchers and administrative staff objected to joint Palestinian-Israeli academic cooperation projects. The poll shows that a large majority believes that such projects benefit the Israeli side far more than the Palestinian side. Most staff members polled also believe that such projects harm Palestinian interests.

A representative sample of 188 staff members (excluding a non response-rate of 4.8%) participated in this study. Participants were chosen systematically (every third name) from a complete list of personnel organized in alphabetical order. Volunteer University students completed the fieldwork -- after receiving adequate training -- during the first part of May 2005. The results of this survey are generalizable to all those working at the University.

Summary of Results

Percentage distribution of responses to poll questions


Joint projects serve the Palestinian people
18 Agree
57 Disagree
24 Do Not Know

Joint projects serve the Israeli side and not the Palestinian one
62 Agree
15 Disagree
22 Do Not Know

Joint projects harm the Palestinian cause under the prevailing circumstances
65 Agree
15 Disagree
20 Do Not Know

Joint projects require national legitimization
72 Agree
15 Disagree
13 Do Not Know

Joint projects contradict the principles of boycott adopted by Palestinians, Arabs and international academics
81 Agree
9 Disagree
10 Do Not Know

I object in principle to such cooperation as it harms Palestinian national interests
62 Agree
28 Disagree
9 Do Not Know

Nearly four decades of Israeli military occupation have resulted in the systematic destruction of Palestinian higher education, including the capacity for scientific research. In view of this, the often well-funded joint projects may be seen by some Palestinian academics as the imperfect alternative in a resource-starved environment. Indeed, most of this poll’s respondents thought that those who engage in such joint projects do so with financial incentives as their main motive.

This poll’s findings underline the need to directly invest in Palestinian academic and scientific capacity building, rather than in joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that serve Israeli interests far more than Palestinian interests. A direct investment would not only respect the autonomy of Palestinian academic institutions, but would also support these institutions in developing, producing scientific research and serving their communities to the best of their abilities. Conditioning support to Palestinians on partnership with Israelis only perpetuates the colonial relationship of oppressor and oppressed. Ultimately, international groups and institutions wishing to support the Palestinian academy cannot but call for the end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land, the root cause of de-development, misery and social suffering in Palestine.


Muhammad Abuzeid President, Birzeit University Union of Faculty and Employees

Friday, May 20, 2005


quick info for navigators!

My favourite blogger, Umkahlil just made me discover a very excellent Iraq blog, Free Iraq. Anti Zionist Notes is back! And he offers us a great link to a hilarious parody of the scriptsheets Campus Zionist papers pass around. Screamer in the Matrix is a blog with thoughtful posts that have me reflecting for hours. Definitely worth a visit if you haven't yet found it. Recidivist Journals is a fantastic blog that combines fun and information. Andrew at has just set up a new aggregator, in addition to some radio shows and all sorts of other ways to really take advantage of all the communication services available to Internet. Do check it out.

Richard from Tikun Olam has set up a brand spanking new Israel Palestine Forum. It's a Bulletin Board Forum, in real time, so it promises to be more immediate than most of what we're used to. Sign up and join in the discussions.


The electoral rise of Hamas: a challenge for Fatah and Israel

From Radio Nederland, printed in One World

commentary by RN Middle East editor Bertus Hendriks, 11 May 2005

The Hamas movement scored well in last Thursday's Palestinian municipal elections, a surprising and worrying development not only for the governing Fatah party. Israel's Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom has said his country should not pull out of the Gaza Strip if Hamas wins the coming parliamentary elections in July.

The results of the elections follow a trend which was already seen in the preceding municipal elections held in December 2004 and in January this year. Hamas, it would appear, can count on the support of roughly one third of the Palestinian electorate, making it a key player in the field of Palestinian politics. On this basis, It can look forward with confidence to the parliamentary elections on 17 July.

Meanwhile, the necessary degree of panic reigns within the ranks of Fatah. Its reputation has been severely tarnished by the corruption that is rife within the Palestinian Authority and the slow progress of the reforms promised by President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not yet been able to end the lawlessness of the rival Fatah militias. Hamas, on the other hand, has gained a reputation for being an honest and hardworking movement, whose many charitable institutions actually make life easier for people in need.

Many of Fatah's current parliamentary representatives therefore fear the possibility of losing their seat and have been calling for the elections to be postponed or for changes to the electoral law. In this way, they hope to stall the onward march of Hamas, or at least limit the electoral gains it seems likely to make. There is, however, one crucial problem inasmuch as Mr Abbas made a deal on this issue with Hamas in exchange for the movement's backing for a ceasefire with Israel. And that ceasefire is essential to his ability to get the peace process moving once again.

So, as things stand now, the July elections are to go ahead as planned and will probably see Hamas make a dramatic entrance in parliament. If that does occur, it will take some getting used to, not only for Fatah but also for Hamas itself. After all, you can't participate in the political process and, at the same time, continue an armed fight as if you have nothing to do with that same political process.

In such an event, it will be Israel that faces the biggest challenge. Israel has - with the backing of the US - continually demanded that democratic reforms be carried out before it talks to the Palestinians. True democracy, however, cannot be stage-managed, nor does it produce made-to-measure negotiating partners.

Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom has now called on the Palestinian Authority to prevent Hamas from taking part in the elections, and has been accused by the Palestinians of flagrant intervention in their domestic affairs. They also say his threat not to withdraw from Gaza in the event of a Hamas victory is an excuse, for he has been opposed to the plan from the very beginning. Meanwhile, Israel's Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say the Gaza withdrawal will go ahead, come what may.

However, a Hamas election victory could pose another problem. If it does manage to gain the backing of a third of the electorate and take part in the political process, it will no longer be possible to make the movement out to be nothing more than a terrorist organisation which should be disbanded before it is possible to talk about peace, as Mr Sharon has always maintained.

In the event of a Hamas victory, Mr Sharon will probably announce once again - just as he did when Yasser Arafat was still alive - that he does not have a negotiating partner. Then he will press ahead with the unilateral creation of faits accomplis, such as expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, until there's nothing left to negotiate.

Ironically enough, that would mean the end of the two-state solution which Hamas, too, has always vehemently opposed.

© Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Italian Parliament approves military agreement with Israel

Thanks to Insegna del Veltro for sending this to Al-Awda Italia. I'm translating part of it, the entire text is attached here in Italian for my Italian readers to note which parliamentarians voted and how they voted.
NB: La versione completa in italiano segue. C'è anche una valutazione politica della posizione di Fassino che trovo molto interessante.

The Parliament has approved a memorandum of military agreement with Israel. The left thinks about it and votes against it.

Just a quarter of an hour: that's how long the Chamber of Deputies took the day before yesterday to approve a law n. 5592 for the ratification and execution of the Memorandum of Agreement between Italy and Israel regarding cooperation in
the military and defence sector. A quarter of an hour to render excecutive that which the Foreign Affairs Minister Gianfranco Fini, and the Defence Minister Antonio Martino, have defined as "a precise political commitment assumed by the Italian government regarding cooperation with the State of Israel in the field of defence": a Five Year Accord (that can however be automatically renewed) that includes the exchange of armaments, the organisation of the armed forces, the formation and training of military personnel, research and development in the military field. A quarter of an hour to make it that Italian High Technology can be secretly utlised to potentiate the Israeli nuclear forces (which do not adhere to the Non Proliferation Act) and to render the arms used by the Israeli army in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 even more lethal; to vanify Law 185 on the control of arms sales, given that it will not be possible to control the nature and destination of the armaments produced and exported in the limits of the accord.

The Law passed with 178 in favour, 139 contrary and 4 abstentions. The opposition has made a pass ahead in comparison with the Senate, where the Memorandum of Agreement was approved last 2 February with 170 in favour, 18 contrary and 4 abstentions. That was thanks to the fact that the groups DS, l'Ulivo, Margherita, DL, (centre-left parties) were sided with the centre-right.

Ora l'Italia sostiene l'oppressione dei palestinesi

Il parlamento ha approvato il memorandum d'intesa militare con Israele. La sinistra ci ripensa e vota contro


Appena un quarto d'ora: questo è il tempo che la camera ha impiegato l'altroieri per approvare il disegno di legge n. 5592 per la ratifica ed esecuzione del Memorandum d'intesa italo-israeliano in materia di cooperazione nel settore militare e della difesa. Un quarto d'ora per rendere esecutivo quello che i ministri degli esteri, Gianfranco Fini, e della difesa, Antonio Martino, hanno definito «un preciso impegno politico assunto dal governo italiano in materia di cooperazione con lo stato d'Israele nel campo della difesa»: un accordo quadro quinquennale (che però può essere rinnovato automaticamente) che comprende l'interscambio di materiale di armamento, l'organizzazione delle forze armate, la formazione e l'addestramento del personale militare, la ricerca e sviluppo in campo militare. Un quarto d'ora per far sì che alte tecnologie italiane possano essere segretamente utilizzate per potenziare le forze nucleari di Israele (che non aderisce al Trattato di non-proliferazione) e per rendere ancora più letali le armi usate dall'esercito israeliano nei territori palestinesi occupati dal 1967; per vanificare la legge 185 sul controllo del commercio di armi, dato che non sarà possibile controllare la natura e destinazione degli armamenti prodotti ed esportati nel quadro dell'accordo.

Il disegno di legge è passato con 178 favorevoli, 139 contrari e quattro astenuti. L'opposizione ha compiuto un passo avanti rispetto al senato, dove il memorandum d'intesa era stato approvato il 2 febbraio con 170 favorevoli, 18 contrari e quattro astenuti. Ciò grazie al fatto che i gruppi Democratici di sinistra-L'Ulivo e Margherita-DL-L'Ulivo si erano schierati con il centro-destra. Alla camera hanno invece votato contro, insieme a Rifondazione comunista, Comunisti italiani e Verdi (già oppostisi in senato). Le argomentazioni contrarie sono state esposte da Ramon Mantovani (Rc), Laura Cima (Verdi-L'Unione), Sergio Mattarella (Margherita DL-L'Ulivo), Valdo Spini (Democratici di sinistra-L'Ulivo). In rappresentanza del governo di centro-destra ha parlato Margherita Boniver, sottosegretario di stato per gli affari esteri. Dato lo sfavorevole rapporto numerico, l'opposizione si è vista respingere perfino un ordine del giorno che impegnava il governo a presentare una relazione annuale sulle attività progettate e realizzate nel quadro dell'accordo.

Nonostante ciò, va sottolineato, è stato lanciato un significativo segnale politico al governo Berlusconi. Non si può però dire che il centro-sinistra abbia imboccato in politica estera una via realmente alternativa rispetto a quella del centro-destra. È vero che il gruppo Democratici di sinistra-L'Ulivo ha ribaltato in questo caso la posizione assunta al senato. Ma è anche vero che autorevoli esponenti del gruppo hanno fatto in modo di non votare: tra questi Luciano Violante (presidente, ufficialmente assente perché «in missione»), Famiano Crucianelli, Marco Minniti, Umberto Ranieri, Livia Turco, Piero Fassino.

Forse il segretario nazionale dei Ds, Piero Fassino, aveva cose più importanti da fare. Ma può darsi anche che si sia volutamente sottratto al voto in previsione dell'annunciato viaggio in Israele insieme a Prodi e Veltroni, durante il quale dovrebbe incontrare il primo ministro Ariel Sharon. Se questi gli chiederà come ha votato sull'accordo militare Italia-Israele, potrà sempre dire: io non c'ero

Sunday, May 15, 2005


The Oil of Nassiriya – Peacekeeping and Business

This document was from an investigative report from RAI News 24, “In the Name of Oil” by Sigfrido Ranucci. I’m translating the article on this televised report from La Repubblica. It was in the print version and is now longer on line.

Peacekeeping and business: and investigative report from RAI News 24 goes to the origins of the Italian mission in Iraq, “Antica Babilonia” and the oil of Nassiriya. In a dossier of the government written six months before the war the Iraqi province had been indicated as a strategic location for Italy.

Italian soldiers at Nassiriya

ROME – We are in Iraq for the oil. Certainly for humanitarian purposes and to safeguard the immense archaeological patrimony of that country – as the name of the mission “Antica Babilonia” is not a random choice – but the black gold plays a part, oh how it plays a part. The investigative report of Sigfrido Ranucci, broadcast today on (satellite) RAI News 24, with documents at hand, tries to demonstrate this fact. It’s not accidental that our soldiers are positioned at Nassirya and not elsewhere, because the capital of the Shiite province of Dhi Qar was precisely the place where they had been sent. Why? Because we knew how wealthy in oil that zone is. Largely desert, but literally floating on a sea of that most precious liquid that moves the world.

An old agreement between Saddam and ENI (National Oil Co.), which dates form the second half of the 90s, for the extraction of a consistent oilfield (2.5-3 billion barrels) in the zone of Nassiriya is enough to at least bring about some suspicions. As well as the doubt that has insinuated in the study commissioned by the Ministry for Productive Activities, six months prior to the outbreak of the war, to Professor Giuseppe Cassano, docent of Economic Statistics at the University of Teramo. A dossier in which there is the confirmation that we must not let the occasion slip by in case of war and to be based at Nassiriya, “If we don’t want to lose,” Cassano writes, “a 300 billion dollar deal”. So, what is the problem? many might ask. At the end of the day what’s wrong with having taken part in such a costly and risky mission, that something comes to us in the end? Safeguard “also” the success of our oil business, suggests the undersecretary of Productive Activities Cosimo Ventucci, interviewed by Ranucci, is an “intelligent” choice.

Sure, it would have been enough to admit it, this is the thesis of Ranucci, and to respond to the Parliamentary interrogations about it without hiding behind bland formulas. To admit that in reality the reason of oil was much more important that the humanitarian ones: “I tired to busy myself with reconstruction projects,” denounced Marco Calamai, who had been working with the Governor of Nassiriya for a period of time, “but the reconstruction never really took off. America exported democracy in words, but in effect they have impeded that it grows from the base”. Our military police have in the meantime escorted barrels of oil and done surveillance of oil wells. And the terrorist strike of Nassiriya, as the correspondent from the paper Il Sole 24 Ore, Claudio Gatti had written the day after the strike, it wasn’t directed against our military contingent, but against ENI.

On the other hand, Iraq is the true safe if oil on our planet. With quantities that according to Benito Livigni, former manager of the American Gulf Oil Company, and later of ENI, are said to be superior to those of Saudi Arabia: “According to one estimate, the reserves of Iraq should total up to 400 billion barrels of oil, and not the 116 which has always been used. In the country there are vast desert zones which are not exploited”. (13 May 2005)


Ilan Pappe - Fortress Israel

From the London Review of Books LRB
Vol. 27 No. 10 dated 19 May 2005

The right of the Palestinian refugees expelled in the 1948 war to return home was acknowledged by the UN General Assembly in December 1948. It is a right anchored in international law and in accordance with notions of universal justice. More surprisingly perhaps, it also makes sense in terms of realpolitik: unless Israel agrees to repatriate the refugees, all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict are bound to fail, as became clear in 2000 when the Oslo initiative broke down over this issue. Yet only a handful of Jews in Israel are willing to support it, in part because mos tIsraeli Jews deny that ethnic cleansing was carried out in 1948 by Israel.

The aim of the Zionist project has always been to construct and then defend a Western/'white' fortress in the Arab/'dark' world. At the heart of the refusal to allow Palestinians the right to return is the fear of Jewish Israelis that they will eventually be outnumbered by Arabs in Israel. This prospect arouses such strong feelings that Israelis seem not to care that their actions are condemned throughout the world; the Jewish propensity to seek atonement has been replaced by pious arrogance and self-righteousness. Their position is not unlike that of the Crusaders when they realised that the Kingdom of Jerusalem they had built in the Holy Land was merely an island in a hostile Islamic world. Or that of the white settlers in Africa, whose enclaves have disappeared more recently, their pretence of being another local tribe shattered.

In or around 1922, a group of Jewish colonialists from Eastern Europe managed - thanks in large part to the assistance they received from the British Empire - to construct the basis for an enclave in Palestine. In that year and the next, the borders of Palestine as a future Jewish state were delineated. The colonialists dreamed of massive Jewish immigration to strengthen their hold. But the Holocaust reduced the number of 'white' Jews and, disappointingly from a Zionist point of view, those who survived preferred America, or even perfidious Europe itself, to Palestine.

Reluctantly, the Eastern European leadership allowed a million Arab Jews into the enclave. They were put through a process of de-Arabisation, whichhas been well documented in post-Zionist and Mizrachi scholarship. This was seen as a success and the presence of a small Palestinian minority inside Israel did not dispel the illusion that the enclave was well constructed and rested on a solid base - even if the price had been the dispossession and uprooting of the indigenous population and the takeover of 78 per cent of its land.

The Arab world, and the Palestinian national movement, were resilient enough to make it clear that they would not be reconciled to the Israeli enclave. In 1967, the two sides clashed and the Zionist project extended its territorial grasp, taking over the whole of Palestine, along with parts of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Victory produced an appetite for more territory. In1982, southern Lebanon was added to the mini-empire, compensating for theloss of the Sinai, which was returned to Egypt in 1979. An expansionistpolicy was thought necessary to protect the enclave.

Since 2000 the Jewish state has ceased to expand; it has actually become smaller by withdrawing from Lebanon. Successive governments have even shown a willingness to negotiate withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, as Israel's leaders have come to believe that land isn't its most important asset. Other things now seem more valuable: in particular, nuclear capability, unconditional American support and a strong army. A Zionist pragmatism has re-emerged which believes it possible to limit Israel to 90 per cent of Palestine, provided the territory is circled by electric fences and visible, as well as invisible, walls. A minority of fanatics has refused to agree to this concession of territory, and there has even been talk of 'civil war'. This is a charade, however: the vast majority of the public supports the 'commonsensical' policy of disengagement from Gaza.

So the final stage of the construction of the fortress, in which high wallsa re built around an agreed enclave, with some international - and even regional - consent, could be approaching. But what is going to happen inside the walls? Not much, if you believe the main newspapers here. There are threats from within the fortress, but they can be overcome. True, non-Jews have arrived from the former Soviet Union, but at least they are 'whites', and so can be welcomed inside. Immigrant guest workers, none of them Jewish,will either be deported or stay on as modern slaves; in any case they are not Arabs and so do not constitute a 'demographic problem': the phrase used by those Israelis who support the expulsion of more Palestinians from Israel, and the title of many academic conferences, including one to be held at my own university this month - the professors and state officials who will attend openly endorse a strategy of further ethnic cleansing. Arab Jews are not seen as a danger to the purity of the enclave because they have been successfully de-Arabised: it is assumed that the few among them who dare to trace their roots in the Arab world do not constitute a real threat to the Zionist consensus.

It is clear why no paid-up Zionist can raise the possibility of negotiating the right of more 'Arabs' to return to the Jewish state, even if this were a means to end the conflict. The refusal to entertain the return is nonetheless bizarre - if, that is, one is even slightly removed from the Zionist perception of reality, given that Israel has already ceased to be a state with a Jewish majority, thanks to the influx of Christians from Eastern Europe, the increasing number of guest workers and the fact that secular Jews can in only one sense be regarded as 'Jewish'. It is less bewildering when one realises that the primary goal is actually to keep the state 'white' (the black Jews who came from Ethiopia live in poor areas and are scarcely visible). What matters in the eyes of both left and right in Israel is that the gates are kept closed, and the walls high, to ward off an'Arab' invasion of the Jewish fortress.

Israeli governments have failed in their attempts both to encourage further Jewish immigration and to increase Jewish birth-rates within the state. And they haven't found a solution to the conflict that would bring about a reduction in the number of 'Arabs' in Israel. All their solutions would, on the contrary, lead to an increase (since they regard Greater Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the large bloc of settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel). The Palestinian birthrate is three times as high as that of the Jews, and you don't need to be an expert in demography to understand what this means. Moreover, while the proposals for ending the conflict put forward by the Sharon-Peres government - with the silent endorsement of the Zionist left - may satisfy some Arab regimes, such as those in Egypt and Jordan, they will not be enough for those countries' civil societies, politicised by radical Islam. The American goal of 'democratising' the Middle East - as currently pursued by its troops in Iraq - somehow doesn't make life inside the 'white' fortress any less anxious. Levels of violence are still high and the standard of living of the majority is constantly dropping. These concerns are not dealt with: they are almost as low on the national agenda as the environment and women's rights. What matters is that we - I include myself, since I come from a German Jewish family - constitute a majority of 'whites' on our enlightened island in a sea of 'blacks'.

Rejecting the Palestinian refugees' right of return is tantamount to making an unconditional pledge to defend the 'white' enclave. This stance is particularly popular among Sephardic Jews, who were originally part of theArab world but have since learned that membership of 'white' society requires a process of Hishtakenezut - of 'becoming an Ashkenazi'. Today they are the 'white' island's most vociferous supporters, although very few of them, especially among those who come from North Africa, will findt hemselves leading the comfortable lives enjoyed by their Ashkenazi counterparts. However strenuously they de-Arabise themselves, they will sooner or later come up against a glass ceiling.

Most important, the Zionist belief in Fortress Israel guarantees the perpetuation of the conflict with the Palestinians, their Arab neighbours and Muslim societies as far away as South-East Asia. But it isn't only cultural solidarity and religious affinity which will eventually ensure that formidable Arab and Islamic energies are pulled into the struggle against Israel: all the developing world's frustration and all its desire for liberation will some day be channelled into the rescue of Palestine.

The intimate relationship between Jews and Palestinians which has developed over these troubled years, both inside and outside Israel, and the composite nature of those sections of Jewish society in Israel that have allowed themselves to be shaped by circumstances rather than by human engineering, promise reconciliation despite the years of apartheid, expulsion and oppression. But the window of opportunity will stay open only for a while.

If the last post colonial European enclave in the Arab world does notwillingly transform itself into a civic and democratic state, it will become a country full of anger, its features distorted by the wish for retribution, by chauvinism and religious fanaticism. If this happens, it will be almost impossible to demand, or expect, moderation from the Palestinians. It may come eventually, but given what we have seen in other Arab lands liberated by armed struggle, the chances that it will be sooner rather than later are slim.

Those of us who support the Palestinian right of return believe that the window of opportunity has not yet been closed. There is still an almost unbelievable gap between the weight of Israeli oppression and the fragility of Palestinian vengefulness. But how long we will be able to benefit from this gap is hard to tell. Not very long, I fear, and unless we get some help from the outside world, worse is to come.

Ilan Pappe teaches political science at Haifa University, and is the head ofthe Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Israel. A History ofModern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples was published by Cambridge in 2003.

Monday, May 9, 2005


On being an art restorer-Palestine solidarity activist

To earn my living, I am an art restorer. I think that in a lot of ways, being in this field has effected the way I think about a lot of things and that there are some analogies to be made between art restoration and Palestinian Solidarity activities such as awareness work and projects leading towards a solution.

In both of them, I feel myself faced with a “disaster situation” that must be resolved. One can never turn back time, so making a 500 year old painting look like it just came out of the maestro’s bottega isn’t even an option. One can’t recreate the conditions prior to the Zionist settlement of Palestine either. We are forced to take off from where we now are. In restoring old masters’ paintings, one has to in some way work on two fronts: one has to salvage the salvageable, preventing that new or further damage can occur if the object is left in its present condition; and one has to present a final aesthetic unity of the surface, so that anyone who looks at it can appreciate the “readability” of the painting (the form), and if they are sensitive, can also capture the meaning (the content). With Israel-Palestine the focus has to be on bringing about events that can make the desperate conditions cease, so that the proper mechanisms can begin to act that will work on amending the situation of injustice and violence. Acts such as boycotts, demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall, support of prisoners and IDF refusniks, health and education emergency aid and many other things can help stop the damage, while at the same time, rendering the public more aware of the severe injustice which is happening against the Palestinians. This is vital in order to influence the public to pressure their governments into withdrawing economic, military or moral support to the nation which is aggressively threatening the very existence of the Palestinians through transfer (deportation), harassment, land appropriation, economic strangulation, imprisonment and torture.

In my field, there are a lot of rules to follow in order to do a job which is know as being “a regola d’arte”, in other words, following stringent criteria of reversibility, compatibility and visibility, with the retouching visible under certain conditions of luminosity. The non-professional, untrained eye of persons looking at this painting isn’t supposed to sense that it was restored, but if one gets really close, is instructed on the telltale clues of restoration, if they have access to chemical analysis or if they are armed with an ultraviolet light, they can see all of the parts that were not original. Most of the work of a restorer is done “behind the scenes”.

A painting is not only cleaned and retouched, often it is consolidated, given a new lining, a new stretcher is built. At times, its dimensions must be modified, and there are always surprises that come to the fore once it enters into the laboratory. Sometimes it is disinfested if there are damages from insects, and most of the time one is working more often with a scalpel and syringe in hand than with palette and brushes. At least 75% of the work involves things that aren’t visible to the eye, because they aren’t located on the painted surface.

The same can be said for activist work. The writing campaigns at all levels, from letters to representatives and editors, letters of solidarity to prisoners and academics under pressure, to writing articles, books, opinion pieces and research projects such as the beautiful Palestine Atlas by Salman Abu Sitta are all useful and important. Translating, diffusing and publicising information is time consuming, but necessary so as to involve as many people as possible, not just those who read English. Standing at the Checkpoints and witnessing the acts of the soldiers, organising, participating in, or publicising conferences, demonstrations, and round tables are other tasks which entail a lot of work that is done behind the scenes. Most people don’t really want to know all the information. They want it on a plate, and with the multiplicity of resources shouting out for attention, they can hardly be blamed. Unfortunately, the Zionists have the antennas and satellite dishes. We’ve only got megaphones. But there are many of us, and all of us doing our part can make the difference, create the landslide. We have to dedicate a great amounts of time to activism on an individual basis, communicating and working. It’s fatiguing sometimes, but we have to join our voices so that they become one that drowns out the static coming from the Zionists.

In art restoration, one has to bear in mind the final location of the artwork. If it got damaged because of its position, one has to create new conditions, or restore the old ones. One has to determine the lighting exposition if at all possible, because the type of final varnish used is dependent upon adapting to spaces such as churches which are usually poorly illuminated. If you don’t foresee in some way the position of view, you risk throwing away months of work with a glossy varnish where a matte one would be more appropriate.

One of the most difficult aspects of restoration is that one has to see with the eyes of the future, but think with the mind simultaneously in the present and the past. The former is purely technical, in that the paints applied are of two sorts, temperas and guaches which are opaque and change colour completely once they dry and then change again, once they are varnished; and varnish colours, which are transparent and must be applied in brushstrokes which gradually reproduce the colour and the opacity of the painting. Sometimes, to reproduce a colour to fill in the gaps, one applies up to 20 brushstrokes in a single centimetre. So, while one is working, one NEVER sees the final colour as it will be, one never gets the big picture, one works in fragments. It involves a lot of guesswork due to precedent experience of trial and error and a good dose of faith. Once the painting is varnished, if the retouches were done well, you see that, and if they weren’t done well, you see that as well, and must correct them. At times, one can work for months on a painting, hoping that it was going well, but not going to get verification until much later. If one is lucky, the corrections are minimal, if one is unlucky, usually due to lighting conditions while one is working, which are variable, even seasonal, depending on how the clouds cover the sky, affecting the lighting conditions of the laboratory and how much one must depend upon artificial lighting. Natural lighting is the best to capture the sfumatures of antique paintings, but that is hardly possible most of the time.

In the same way, in Palestinian solidarity work, one has to think with the mind open to the future, to foresee the possible situations which will come to pass. That means attempting to have a very clear vision of the current situation, and how things got where they are. Sometimes the acts that one supports “seem” to be “wrong”, only because they can’t be verified in the present, but only imagined for the future. But, these acts are actually the appropriate ones, that in the final stage will prove their correctness. There is a necessity to think creatively, proactively and with the mind poised towards the future, and not be blinded by the “now”, which might look wrong, but in essence, may not be. An act like an academic boycott of Israeli universities may be incomprehensible to many, but patiently, we have to have faith and explain that it is the correct strategy, given the precedent of South Africa and the collapse of the Apartheid system due to pressure of this sort.

If one reasons with a criterion such as “the goal is ending the occupation” and another with “only two States can guarantee autonomy for both peoples” and yet another, “the Single State alone is the solution given the facts on the ground”, each will direct their focus on achieving that which they are convinced will guarantee the best “final” status, and more than that, one operates based on the analysis made of the accumulated facts. This leads to the inevitable situation that everyone reasons with their own brain, and not collectively. One may be influenced by others, by personal situations and parental or ideological affiliations, but at the end of the day, one follows the principals that one is convinced is reflecting reality and their sense of justice the most. That means, each person works independently.

The down side, is that at times means that well-intentioned activists are working against one another. It is sad, but it is simply the way it is. There is almost no way to accommodate the various positions for the final status issue. So, many settle for projects that do not take the final status into account. This is fine, as long as it does not impede a fair and just final resolution. Telling Palestinians to lower their demands has been the time honoured system of the Right, but now it has been adopted by the Left. While it might work in the (very) short term, in the long term, it will bring about only disaster. For if Rights are indeed Rights, they aren’t arbitrary. They can’t be exchanged, renounced or considered to be of marginal importance. They are rather of CENTRAL importance, and if this is not the commitment of activists, perhaps they might reflect upon if they are really doing favours to Palestinians in asking them to request less than they would ask for themselves and their families.

There is a speedy way to retouch oil paintings, and that is to use oil colours. They are neither transparent nor opaque. They usually have the same consistency of the original painting, and the wet colour is the same as the dry and varnished colours. They are also more workable than the other two types, because their drying rate is compatible with a day’s work. It would seem to be the perfect solution to the problem. But, unfortunately, it isn’t. Within 50 years, once the processes of oxidation and polymerisation begin, which range from 30 to 70 years, those colours will stand out like a coffee stain on a white tablecloth. They will jump out as being evident retouches, because they do not remain light and air stable as the other colours do. The short cut would immediately look perfect, even better than new in a way, while I, as a restorer may receive great kudos (knowing that I fudged), it inevitably causes a future serious aesthetic damage to the painting, and while I may never have to answer for it, it will eventually demand a new restoration. Any serious restorer has ethics and refuses to work that way.

So, shortcuts which only take into account temporary, immediate needs, such as, remodelling the Apartheid Wall so that it cuts a little less into Palestinian territory, rather than to work upon the implementation of the ruling of the International Court, that this Wall is to be brought down, are temporary solutions that resolve nothing at all, if not sometime in the future actually exacerbating the situation. Summits which are all about the support of a conditioned truce or hudna without effectively guaranteeing that they be respected bilaterally is not a solution either. Guaranteeing funding for the Palestinian Authority to develop is important, but without insisting that they become truly democratic and foresee and implement universal voting for ALL Palestinians, citizens of the PA, refugees, exiles or students or workers living abroad, and a COMMITMENT of all foreign nations to collaborate in the process, will be a temporary remedy, and by no means a cure. We as activists should see the long term as much as we can, and not settle for temporary situations which do nothing more than complicate an already bad situation.

Every restoration is a “trauma” for the painting. It must undergo heat, pressure, humidity, movement, application of glues, varnishes, stuccos and resins, stripping of old linings, mounting onto new stretchers and other things which put it in a high risk condition. So, the avoidance of frequent restoration is one of the goals of a good job. I HAVE to care about what will happen to the painting after it leaves my hands, even if I may never see it again. I have a moral obligation to do so. I freely chose this line of work, and know that it carries a heavy responsibility, both in the present and in the future. It is a very stressful line of work, even if one must remain steady, calm and controlled for hours on end, the opposite of how one may be feeling within. If you make a serious mistake, given the delicacy of the work, the amount of chemicals and the difficulty of the procedures, there is no way to correct it, and that is a personal responsibility that you alone must make. The necessary operations must be done though, and you can’t delegate them to anyone else.

I could say the same for activist work. Once you KNOW, you are morally obligated to take a stand. Once you take a stand, a sense of ethics forces you to act. Even if that entails trauma, stress, mental hardship. You will be open to insult from all sides of the spectrum. Your personal life will be greatly affected by all of this, there is a personal cost to it, as it makes demands of you in a new way each day, and there is always the frustration of never knowing if all that work, time, effort, pain will have any effect at all.

All change is trauma. The Chinese ideogram for Chaos is also the same one for Growth. We can’t help but grow and change, and that brings chaos. There is no escaping this simple fact. There will be trauma for all the persons living in Israel and Palestine with the changes that we prospect. Some of them will welcome the temporary trauma as necessary, just as the art restorer who loves his painting and respects it must make it undergo trauma that puts it at risk of survival. Others will dedicate their life’s blood to preventing these changes, because they too believe in what they are fighting for. One has to have faith, nerves of steel and a lot of love. And most of all, you can’t delegate it to anyone else. Once you know you can do something, you feel obligated to do something.

Sunday, May 8, 2005


Russians hold hundreds of Chechen civilians hostage during Beslan standoff

Peace Reporter, a wonderful Italian site published this in Italian several weeks ago. I mentioned it here, but at last, the English translation directly from the website is available, and I reprint it below. Please visit the site to read all the reportages on Chechnya and other war zones.

Chechnya - 26.4.2005
Hostage Retaliation

Enrico Piovesani

While the world focused on the school in Beslan where Basayev terrorists had been holding hundreds hostage for two days, far from the cameras in Chechnya another drama was unfolding. One that so far hasn’t received any news coverage. The Russian armed forces that have occupied the breakaway republic for years were executing a classic counterstrike. They took hundreds of Chechen civilians hostage—men, women, children, and elderly—and held them in a military base at the gates of Grozny using the same methods as the Beslan captors. The big difference is that the latter were terrorists while the former serve in the army of a civilized nation, Russia, that claims to be democratic. The Russian government probably had a hostage exchange in mind, but events soon took their own course. We spoke with a Chechen women in Grozny who had been the victim of the secret operation along with her husband. She found the courage to speak out only now, seven months after the events took place. Her name and identity will remain hidden. More than once the Russian secret service FSB has threatened to kill her if she ever talks about what happened. “That week my husband and I were following what was happening in Beslan on TV and we were very worried. Like so many of my friends, my heart went out to those kids. I’m a mother too. And Chechen women know all too well what Russian soldiers are capable of.”

“It was the morning of September 3, the day the special forces opened fire in Beslan. It was before dawn, around 5am. A Tabletka pulled up in front of our house (editorial note: Tabletka means “pill” and describes the pill-shaped transports used by the FSB in Chechnya). Soldiers with guns broke in—they were wearing battle fatigues and balaclavas—and took us away without explanation. Fortunately my daughters were staying with relatives. After a short drive we arrived at the military base in Khankhala. I was terrified. Everyone knows about that place and no one gets out alive. I was shocked to see that dozens of trucks like ours were coming in at the same time, loaded with civilians who’d been arrested.”

“They grouped us all together and held us at gunpoint. There were more than 200 people—92 women and 20 children including babies, some of them only a few months old. No one told us why we were there. The only talking they did was to insult us. Then some of us noticed a bunch of trucks and transport helicopters. We started thinking maybe they were going to take us to Beslan to use as human shields so they could attack the school. The children were crying, terrified, but their moms weren’t much help because they couldn’t stop crying either. Then they separated us. They put the women and children in a big army tent where they continued to hold us at gunpoint. Our husbands, sons, and brothers were blindfolded and had their hands and feet bound. My husband told me later that they were forced to kneel for hours. The soldiers took them away one by one to a small room where they were interrogated, beaten and tortured.”
“That evening the women asked for food and water for the kids. But the soldiers just insulted us and told us to keep quiet. The children were crying—they had to go the bathroom. The soldiers came with us and kept the guns pointed at us like we were criminals. When night came we begged the soldiers for blankets for the smallest children. They gave us two for everyone.”

“No one slept. I was so worried about my husband because I had a pretty good idea what they were doing with the men. And we were afraid that something even worse would happen to us. As I looked around during that long night I realized that women from Mashkhadov’s family were there with us too.”

“The next day, September 4, we kept asking why we were there, but they wouldn’t say anything. Early that afternoon they got us all together and forced us to sign a statement saying we would never take legal action against the Russian armed forces and that we would never say a word about this to anyone. Then they started up the helicopters and made us board. The helicopters got louder and louder and the blades were kicking up wind. We were certain the time had come for them to take us to Beslan just like we’d feared. None of us had any idea the drama at the school had already come to its tragic conclusion the day before. Our helicopter took off with the rest of them, but instead of heading west it went north. They brought us back home. We couldn’t believe it.”

“That evening I saw what had happened in Beslan and I stayed in the house, crying in front of the television set. I spent all night crying, for those poor kids and also just trying to vent all the stress that’d been building up in me. The threatening phone calls started the next day along with intimidating visits from FSB agents. They knew that I work for a human rights organization and were afraid I’d use my contacts to let people know what happened. I didn’t—I was too scared. But I never quit doing my job exposing the crimes and human rights violations perpetrated against my people by the Russian armed forces.”

“As a precaution, that day I stopped living in my house and I sleep someplace different every night. On March 1, I went to visit my parents in their village. Army tanks rolled in that night with dozens of soldiers. They carried out a “zaciska”—a raid. They roughed up some of the men and took about ten of them away for no reason. I hid. When they left I said goodbye to my parents and took off. I’ll never be safe in Chechnya. No one ever will in this country.”


Aggressors at Bi'lin were Israeli undercover cops

Video uncovers undercover agents from IMEMC.

In a Jerusalem press conference, Israeli leftist groups who took part in the Belein village demonstration on April 28, presented a video that shows undercover soldiers throwing stones from the protesters' side to provoke violence.

Elan Frenkel (AIC), Uri Avnery (Gush Shalom), Yonathan Pollack (Anarchists Against the Wall) and MK Gamal Zahalkeh (Balad) took part in the conference.

Speakers accused Israeli security forces with preparing in advance a trap for the demonstrators for the purposes of trying out new methods and new weapons.

They affirmed that the sole incidents of violence against the security forces came from the undercover agents, who are believed to belong to the Israeli Prison Service, disguised as Arabs. It was pointed out that the Prison Service admitted the next day that its agents had indeed thrown the stones, and that this is their way of merging in the crowd.

During the conference, a documentary was shown. The film shows clearly that the security forces shot many dozens of gas grenades at the demonstrators without any provocation. The demonstrators were not violent at any stage.

In particular, the film shows how the undercover agents, who look in the beginning like ordinary demonstrators, suddenly take off their masks, don police caps and draw revolvers, using ferocious violence to arrest the persons next to them, for no apparent reasons.

The films can be viewed on the Gush Shalom website


Israeli college offers outpost housing in West Bank

An Israeli university deep inside the West Bank is offering students accommodation at two Jewish outposts built on occupied Palestinian land.

The first institution of its kind in a Jewish colony, the College of Judea and Samaria will require some students to live at two "wildcat" outposts.

According to its
website on Thursday, the illegal colonies of Nofei Nehemia and Rehelim - a few kilometres outside the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel - will provide cheap accommodation.

Nofei Nehemia offers three-room caravans to religious and married students at a cost of $147 per month while Rehelim provides singles, young couples and families caravans among its religious community for $80 per person per month.

The new university, about 20km inside the internationally recognised Palestinian border with Israel, has provoked a storm of protest from the Palestinian public.

A university spokesman told on Thursday that he would not comment on accommodation at unauthorised outposts because he did not accept that they were illegal.

However, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei described the university project on Tuesday - and the extension of Israel's security barrier in the West Bank - as "extremely dangerous moves". Several demonstrations have already taken place.

full article here


Route 181 - a film to see

This film is getting viewed in a few cineforums here in Italy, and I have heard it is also on DVD. Here is a review I found of the first segment. (It is a three part documentary very worth seeing).

Film Review: Route 181-Fragments of a Journey to Palestine-IsraelPart I – The South By Sonia Nettnin

ROUTE 181 is a cinematic journey through Palestine-Israel. Directors Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan trace a route based on the theoretical line presented in Resolution 181 (United Nations, 1947).

They filmed the documentary in three parts and the third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival showed the entire series.

They begin in Hanania (formerly Nabis Yunis), where Chinese construction workers build Israeli settlements. The Israeli government will not hire Arab workers because of suicide bombings. However, Israeli-Arabs, who are Bedouins, monitor the construction.

Alongside the highway is a billboard in Hebrew that says: “Wave the Flag and Make the Dream Come True.” As Khleifi and Sivan interview people, they come across an archaeological site. The house belonged to a sheik and his bones are in it. Throughout their expedition, history arises in many ways.

In Masmiye/Re’im Junction, a Jewish woman confesses: “I hope they don’t take my shop, it belonged to an Arab.”

History is in the film, but there are peoples’ versions of it also. Khleifi and Sivan interview people. They ask challenging questions.

Images of the 1947 map reflect on their car’s windshield. The camera films the rearview mirror, so the road looks endless.

They visit several Israeli Museums. Black and white photos of clashes with Egyptian forces line the walls.
“Today’s settlements displaced Arabs,” the tour guide says. “We threw them all into the Gaza Strip.”
Originally from Poland, he traveled on an illegal boat in 1938. He stresses the importance of Jewish immigrants to the area, because demographics indicate Israeli-Jews will be outnumbered in 20 years.
They reach a site that has building materials for settlements. Endless rows of bricks line a fence. Appliances, such as dishwashers and stoves, are in plastic.

The next visit is to an industrial site, where the company makes barbed wire. The man says the Israeli Army orders huge quantities of it. They use it alongside the borders and it closes off the demarcation line.
The man says the humanitarian yards have very fine blades. Then, there is industrial strength barbed wire. The rolls of barbed wire are loaded onto trailers. They look like pyramids. The man says the Israeli government spent $600 million shekels on the barbed wire, which does not include the electronic protection
Their next stop is to Nir Am Reservoir. Settlers grow avocado farms alongside it. During an interview, the tour guide at the reservoir’s museum tells the Negev Story. It deals with the UN’s vote for the land to go to the Jews.

When they ask him a sensitive question, he yells nonsense. “We chased them out and razed their villages,” he adds.

Not far away from Khan Yunes is Gaza. An electronic fence runs along the coast inland. A close-up shot of a tank shows what people see when they are in front of the barrel of a gun.

In Khan Yunes, they visit a gallery. Nearby is a white house that belonged to a sheik. The tour guide claims the gallery is “…next to the world’s biggest ghetto.”

Their exploration of the south shows that living together has several definitions. Where a person stands in relation to the fence determines life conditions and point of view.

Saturday, May 7, 2005


Belgian Doctors Bill U.S. for Treating Iraqi Girl

Thanks to Michel for forwarding this to Peacelink Italia

Dear friend,
We had a successful campaign with Hiba, an Iraqi girl that was treated in Belgium for over a year for leg wounds, caused by a cluster bomb during the U.S. invasion. Medical Aid For the Third World (MATW:, the organisation that had 2 (later 4) doctors in Baghdad before and during the war, in cooperation with SOS Iraq (, and whose reports on a daily basis can be read at Diary of 4 Belgian doctors of Medical Aid For The Third World in Baghdad, coordinated this action.

This effort received a lot of media-attention in Belgium. And we managed to explain through this case better the real situation in Iraq. Many famous sports people (Gella Van de Caveye: world and olympic champion Judo, and Kim Clijsters - tennis etc..) patronised and helped with the fundraising to pay this very expensive operation.

So this is one way to raise consciousness among the Western population for the war in Iraq, because we've sent the bill to the US embassy, as you can read underneath.

In solidarity
Dirk Adriaensens

Belgian doctors sent an Iraqi girl home on Thursday after treating her for leg wounds caused by a cluster bomb during the U.S. invasion -- and sent the 51,570 euro ($66,650) bill to the U.S. embassy.

"We haven't heard from them yet," said Bert De Belder, coordinator of the humanitarian agency Medical Aid for Third World which brought the girl to Belgium.

"I'm curious to know their reaction," he told Reuters. "We're giving them 10 days to respond ... I don't think they will pay it."

The girl, 15-year-old Hiba Kassim, smiled to reporters as she waited for her flight to Jordan to meet her father. "Thank you, Belgium," she said.

Doctors brought Kassim to Belgium last year to try to save her left ankle, seriously injured by a cluster bomb that also killed her brother in Baghdad in 2003. After five operations and weeks of physiotherapy, Kassim is able to walk again, but with a slight limp.

De Belder said he sent the bill to the U.S. embassy because international law dictated that an occupying force was responsible for the well-being of the country's people. U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment. ($1=.7737 Euro)

Full text of the letter to the US embassy underneath

Médecine pour le Tiers Monde asbl
Haachtsesteenweg 53 Chaussée de Haecht
Brussel 1210 Bruxelles
Tel. 02/209.23.60
Fax 02/209.23.51
Fortis bank account number : 001-1951388-18

To the Honorable Mr. Tom C. Korologos
US Ambassador to Belgium Embassy of the United States
Regentlaan 271000 Brussels
Brussels, 25 April 2005
Re: payment of the medical bill of Iraqi war victim Hiba Kassim

Sir: On April 6, 2003, the US Air Force dropped a cluster bomb on the Baghdad neighborhood where 13-year-old Hiba Kassim was playing with her littlebrother Yussef. The bomb killed Yussef and seriously wounded Hiba in her left leg, abdomen and right knee. Dr. Geert Van Moorter and Dr. Claire Geraets of the Belgian humanitarian NGO Medical Aid for the Third World met Hiba a few days later in Baghdad's Al Nour Hospital, where she was being treated. In July 2003 and March 2004, Dr. Van Moorter met her again during his subsequent medical missions inIraq. After several operations and extended periods of revalidation, Hiba's left leg remained seriously shortened, malformed and non-functional.

After consultation with Iraqi health professionals, Medical Aid for theThird World decided to have Hiba transferred to Belgium for specialized medical care. The conditions of war and occupation prevailing in Iraq, the degradation of the Iraqi health care system and the deteriorating economicand social situation did not allow for the treatment that Hiba Kassim needed, including major orthopedic and plastic surgical operations.

Hiba Kassim did receive these in Belgium, in the St. Luke's General Hospital in Ghent and in the Pellenberg University Hospital in Louvain. After five operations and nearly eleven months in Belgium, she can now return to her home country.

On Thursday, April 28, Dr. Geert Van Moorter will accompany Hiba to Amman and hand her over to her father, who will travel to Amman from Baghdad to fetch his daughter.

Hiba is aware of the fact that war and occupation continue to make life very hard for her family, neighbors and friends. But this young girl, who turned 15 just last week, is determined to return to her country. She intends to study hard and hopes to become a doctor and serve her people.

Hiba is also convinced of the fact that the US government is the prime responsible for her people's suffering, and the sole responsible for her own, personal suffering.

We hold the US government accountable for the serious physical and psychological harm done to Hiba Kassim. First, US troops hit Hiba with a cluster bomb, while, according to International Humanitarian Law, targeting civilians in an international armed conflict is prohibited, as is the use of cluster bombs or ammunition in civilian areas.

Second, Hiba was not able to get proper medical care, while according to the Fourth Geneva Convention(Articles 50, 55 and 56), the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the medical supplies of the population and of ensuring and maintaining the medical and hospital establishments and services in the occupied territory.

As a humanitarian agency, we decided to step in and try, to the best of our ability, to provide Hiba Kassim with the care and the opportunities that the US occupation of her country denied her. But we promised to Hiba and to the broad group of supporters and sympathizers - including Olympic medalist and multiple world and European judo champion Gella Vandecaveye - that we would send the bill to the US government.

Please find enclosed the invoice for the medical care extended to Hiba Kassim, amounting to 51,570 euro. May we respectfully call on you, Mr. Ambassador, to assure that this invoice is properly paid for by your Administration at the soonest possible time, as a token restitution of the damages inflicted upon Hiba Kassim.

Mr. Ambassador, as you have been senior counselor with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad from May to December 2003, we believe you have particular reason to take a special interest in the case of Hiba Kassim. We expect you to exert all efforts to ensure your Administration's positive reply to our request.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Bert De Belder
Managing Director
Medical Aid for the Third World
Annex: Charge invoice nr. 2005/004

Monday, May 2, 2005


There is no "Peace Process", There never was - G C Fraser

A Midnight Rant About Israel And Palestine
When were you last in Palestine? I recently asked that question of a friend ,"Of course there are flaws in the process but any peace process is better than none at all," he said. What naivete - is my response.

When I read what the media says or listen to the radio or watch television where the subject is the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and/or Peace Process, they seem to be discussing different countries than the country I recently visited. If there is 8% left of historic Palestine that would be a miracle. It is closer to 6% in terms of what the Palestinians have control over - (though during curfew you are targeted for death if you so much as look out a window and we know these curfews go on for days and weeks and sometime a month or more). Each day that passes there is less land available to Palestinians.

Are Jewish Israelis subjected to having their property taken out from under them? Have their banks been robbed and their bank accounts been taken over by Palestine??


The building of outposts and settlements progresses at record speed and it is under government support and control. In the 9 days I was there it was amazing how much progress was made in East Jerusalem and along the West Bank, Jewish-Only highways. - And the Wall is down the center of roads in East Jerusalem now - and if your house is on one side and they give you an ID for the other side - you no longer are permitted in your house and if you aren't there, physically present, under Israeli law they take it from you because you are absent. And Jewish Israelis are thrilled to get their hands on lands/property that are recently stolen. (They are not offered to non-Jews) These brand-spanking new settlements are prestige items presented by a criminal government to a compromised people.

There is no peace process. There never was. It has all been a fraud - as the building of Jewish settlements and killing and maiming of Palestinians has continued non-stop since Al Nakba in 1948. Yes, there are lulls, periods of "relative calm" which is when the worse damage occurs - kind of like the child's game of red light. You close your eyes for a few moments and see how things creep up on you. Israel is in a game called ethnic cleansing. Slow, deliberate, steady - the pressure on the Palestinians is relentless and barbaric. There are millions of Palestinians in refugee camps living in utter squalor both in and out of Palestine. They are afforded no rights commonly granted to other refugees throughout the world - Israel and its cohort America have seen to that. But there is one right that no one can deprive them - the Right of Return. They will never give that up. Never! Don't even think it. It is etched in their hearts as well in the stone of International Law.

Sure, there are still some privileged Palestinians though their fortunes are definitely on the decline. Some have wonderful and successful families and in America would socially be in the middle to upper middle class. And of course, there are wonderful, morally upright, non-racist Israeli Jews too - I have met quite a few and work closely with many in the Jewish community. - Some have negative opinions about the Zionist controlled government, much stronger than mine.

But on the whole, the Jewish community is in denial and insists that Holocaust programs are aired constantly. It is a mantra used to deflect criticism from their practices in Israel. It is entirely appropriate to counter this with what has been done to the Palestinians.

We should make a pact - like a political pact. If a Holocaust program is aired - Palestinians are automatically asked to show a program on the Al Nakba atrocities of 1948 - uncut - unedited photos of children with their guts showing and teens and moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers lying in a ditch and in open fields with limbs missing - some decapitated.

And let's be sure to include the photos of squalor and starvation in the tent cities erected for the refuges , still refugees - 57 years later. But now they live in bombed out buildings in squalor though many are back in tents - like the 25,000 made homeless in Gaza over the last few years. There are lots of photos of the dead and the dying from 1948 to 2005 - just gathering dust. It's time they were aired - publicly - in newspapers and magazines and on television - over and over and over again just like the Holocaust until someone gets the point that the Palestinians have suffered too! Their suffering has lasted nearly six decades - not less than one decade as in the Holocaust - and there have been no reparations for the Palestinians - unlike the reparations for the Jews that for the most part were made in 7 years or less from the date of the injustice.

Yes. I am criticizing the Jewish community - those that do not look squarely at what their support of Israel is really about - with one set of laws granting rights and privileges for Jews-only while brutish military rule is enforced for the others. Many Arab Israelis - though they are Israeli citizens and pay taxes - are not permitted running water, electricity, schools, medical facilities, roads - though they may in fact put up facilities - but these are un-permitted as they say and so are destroyed at the whim of Israel. For the Bedouins, they've developed the fine art of aerial spraying of insecticides such as Monsanto's Roundup. It's very effective at killing crops, livestock and people who end up with cancer if they can't find shelter fast enough.

One Arab leader in Israel (Azmi Bishara) is not allowed to speak in the Knesset (he is a silenced member) because he has been arrested for such things as arranging visits of elderly to Syria to visit relatives. In their Knesset they openly speak of non-Jews - Arabs, Bedouins as sub-human and some prestigious members refer to them as insects - great talk - Yes, I read the English version of Israeli papers. Rabbis openly speak of Jewish obligations to preemptively kill Palestinians as a moral obligation - the list of such opinions goes on and on and they back it up with actions. (This sort of criminal thinking was also prevalent in America from the early 1600s to mid-1700s. These were barbaric times when church WAS state in the colonies. As a result, Catholic, Quakers and Jews were put upon and some were tortured and killed and toward the end of the 17th century the witch trials ensued. That's why the US founding fathers believed deeply in the separation of church and state and why it is enshrined in the American constitution.)

And yes, I recognize (though some claim I don't) that there are Palestinian suicide bombings and I deeply regret the loss of any life - but Israel occupies Palestine - Palestine does not occupy Israel. This is not a fair fight. It is a 36 BILLION dollar military against sticks and stones and stolen weapons. And yes our government in America is also becoming rabid with a belief in our superiority over all else. Preemptive strikes are against international law - that is what Adolph Hitler did. That is why one popular poster in Europe is that of George Bush with a mustache like Hitler's because that is what the world increasingly thinks of the United States and the renewal of a Bush presidency - the slow march to Nazism.

Come on - let's tell it like it is - Israel's independence was not grounded in righteousness and law but rather on a preemptive strike on the native population who (according to Resolution 181 which did pass despite Arab opposition) were not to be transferred. Yet 80% of the population was driven off of 78% of their land. That is the kind of thing Hitler did - and the freshly minted Israelis said, Never Again as they inflicted a similar atrocity on an innocent people. Ethnic cleansing was justified because of their supposed rights to a land which had been Jewish when Jews were what today would be called Arabs. Abraham came out of what today is called Iraq. By today's standards, Abraham would be called an Arab. Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic and today would be called an Arab Jew. Yet the problem with Jewish-controlled Israel is that it is Arab phobic. Go figure!

"In the 3rd millennium BC the civilized settlements of Southern Babylonia, Egypt, the Middle Euphrates, Palestine and Syria were invaded by tribesmen known as the Habiru or Apiru, who can almost certainly be identified with the Arabs, (the only identifiable meaning of 'Arab' comes from abir, nomad). The invaders, who are of Semitic stocks, inhabited and developed the ancient civilizations of Sumer and Babylon. The term "Semitic" was coined from Shem, son of Noah and respected ancestor of the inhabitants of Arabia. It is believed that Arabs from Central and Southern Arabia invaded the settled lands of the Fertile Crescent and that the Hebrews that are featured in the Old Testament were Arabs and part of the population of Arabia, which also included the Israelite Hebrews under the leadership of Joshua and other tribal chieftains."

Some wonderful Israelis see through it all but by and large most go along and blame the victim, I have found. I recently wrote an article about the FFIPP (Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace) conference and the arrests of 2 Gaza students with IDs and permits in hand. They were walking in the Old City as tourists and there was no rhyme or reason for their arrest. But the heroes of the story were two professors, an Israeli American, a former IDF officer and a retired Israeli professor of Chemistry. Through a variety of tactics they were finally able to rescue the students.

I am accused of being one-sided in my writing, but I have often praised where there is a reason to praise - hoping that these exceptions to the rule set an example. However, the nasty, brutish truth is all about. One of my Israeli friends told me of IDF near his home, rifle blasting the face of a young American man who was walking Palestinian children to school so they wouldn't be killed by settlers. He and his wife also witnessed other atrocities. They risk arrest for fighting government policies and practices yet they are courageous and do whatever they feel they can do as needed. He told me that the military now has a presence in grammar schools to teach good Israeli military values! He is beginning to see the situation as hopeless - the population is so saturated with government propaganda and increasingly - to his sorrow - in some instances can be compared to the rise of Nazi Germany. Many, he claims, oppose this trend but feel powerless to stop it.

But make no mistake, Palestine is the victim - when an occasional Israeli is killed it is blow-back - the result of increased anger and frustration- even the so-called Palestinian rockets are glorified college experiments - not guided missiles like those the Israeli military uses. Israel systematically has tortured and dispossessed the Palestinians. Under international law, as an occupied people, Palestinians have a right to resist - just as Jews had a right to resist during WW II and if an occasional German civilian or Nazi got in the way - injury and death were the result. I do not like or condone any of it but I see who is doing what to whom and refuse to blame the victim. Palestinians have also learned that Israel only respects violence. It is what has brought them to this latest so-called truce.

Under American law, I believe it is both morally and legally wrong that a state "for" Jews should be handed any US money except for humanitarian purposes. There is a constitutional prohibition - the separation of church and state. If Israel encourages Jews to Israel - fine - but it is a state FOR Jews where Jews have rights and others do not. Israel is NOT a democracy. That claim is PR developed to cover up what Israel actually does to its non-Jewish citizenry. I have seen about a dozen documentaries on this issue and gone to conference after conference and heard this discussed by many Israeli scholars and NGOs - the ones who would like to change things but never will - because they are essentially without power . The government of Israel does what it will and is devoid of humanistic considerations.

Many Israelis I have listened to or spoken with have come to believe that only an external force - such as UN Peacekeepers or a world wide boycott will bring about the needed change. Many in Europe's academic world are boycotting Israeli academia and the best of Israeli scholars are begging them to do so because conditions in the country are so bad.

They blame the problems of the country not only on Jewish elitism but extreme Arab phobia with the white European Ashkenazi (WASPS - White Ashkenazi Sons of Pioneers) still very much calling the shots. Sure there are a few windows of opportunity here and there and some tokenism to shut the others up. I have been told by these brave people that if there is to be peace with the Palestinians, Israel must change from within. Israel is a country out of control, with rising poverty, violence and long-standing issues of racism and discrimination that are tearing the fabric of the society apart. If Israel can heal itself, and adopt a more humanitarian attitude that the Jewish community was once upon a time respected for - then and only then will peace be possible, because Israel will be at peace with itself.

Genevieve Cora Fraser©3-12-5

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