‘Al Jazeera’ examines Jewish constellation of lobby elites, and marginalized ‘universalists’

Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara has an excellent piece up at Al Jazeera about the Israel lobby titled, “Palestine as an exclusively Jewish issue in the US: Are Palestinians only relevant by what they mean to Israel…?” Bishara’s target is the monopolization of the issue of Palestinian rights by US Jewish organizations, in which the debate runs the gamut from J Street to AIPAC, one flavor of Israel support versus another.

Bishara’s piece is frank and calm about the power of Jews inside the establishment– “to their credit,” he says–while emphasizing that not all Jews are on board with Israel. Again I’d ask, how many American mainstream publications are anatomizing our establishment in this manner, let alone giving a microphone to anti-Zionists?

Here’s the beginning of his piece, liberal Zionists versus conservative ones:

A Jewish-Jewish debate has heated up in recent years in the United States with new critical voices of Israel taking centre stage….

But confining the US debate on Palestine and the Arab world to a mere intra-Zionist debate is counterproductive. It’s narrowly defining and largely dictating the larger debate over US policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It renders the Palestinians relevant only by what they mean to Israel, not for who they are or how they are related to the larger Arab or Muslim worlds.

Bishara relates the American Jewish rise to the power of the lobby:

Instead of migrating [to Israel, American Jews post '67] provided indispensable support, financial, political and even strategic.

To their credit – the estimated 4 million Jews, who emigrated to North America from Europe between 1860 and 1960, and their descendants have emerged as powerful and influential actors throughout the American establishment, and hence their position carried huge weight over their main issue of interest, Israel/Palestine.

Here’s his interesting claim that only two times has an American nationalist perspective interrupted the Israel lobby view in D.C. He writes that Washington has become ever more responsive “to domestic Jewish influence.”

The only two exceptions to this rule came first in 1991 when the George Bush administration insisted that Israel freeze all settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to convene the international conference for peace. And in 2010, when General David Petraeus reportedly warned that the Palestinian issue was “fomenting anti-American sentiment due to the perception of US favouritism towards Israel”.

Bishara says the battle between “organized American Jewish elites” is fed by growing embarrassment by Israel’s behavior:

The US turn to the left and Israel’s further turn to the right after the 2008 elections, have polarised the organised American Jewish elites and put pressure on moderate Jewish voices to be openly critical of Israel and distance themselves from the extremist policies of the Netanyahu government.

The new split has reinvigorated the political debate between these Jewish moderates who demand that Israel end its occupation and its illegal settlement construction in order to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the radicals, who demand that the Palestinians embrace Israel as a “Jewish state” and relinquish their rights over Jerusalem and Palestinian right of return, even before a final negotiated settlement is reached.

Bishara breaks away from the elite duality to notice the rise of Jewish progressives like the ones at Jewish Voice for Peace:

But it’s the secularist Jews who don’t necessarily identify themselves as Jewish per se, that have adopted the most uncompromising and moral position on Palestinian rights.

Agree with them or not, these courageous “universalists” identify with the Palestinians as victims of dispossession and oppression, unconditionally. They see the cause of Palestine as an extension of the struggle for freedom from colonialism and war.

Their compass is truly universal and their prism is ethical not ethnic.

But they remain a minority on the margins of the US establishment and outside the influential Jewish organisations.

Bishara hastens to assure us that he doesn’t count Jews; but he concludes that the Jewish presence in the Establishment, for instance Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross as negotiators for peace, has played a role in preventing a solution.

The result is an utter failure of two decades of peace process and a diminished US credibility in the Middle East.

Soon after failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000, I remember reading that Palestinians, like other Arabs before them, felt that the US delegation was divided between Labourites and Likudniks, in reference to Israel’s own centrist and rightist political parties.

Indeed, one keen observer went as far as noting that while the US delegations mediating the first Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt were all Christians with the exception of then US Ambassador to Israel, the later Camp David Summit with the Palestinians in 2000 featured a US delegation that was compromised of only Jewish friends of Israel with the exception of President Bill Clinton.

This piece accepts the profound and unsettling core difficulty of any honest discussion of the Israel lobby– that it’s a theory of Jewish influence. Conservative Jewish influence, I say; but that’s what we’re talking about inasmuch as Zionists have had a hammerlock on US policy in the Middle East. This is why I insist on carrying on a Jewish discussion as part of my work even when folks say I’m narcissistic. We’re not about to see an end to the Jewish presence in the American elite, or for that matter an end to American elites. I see a need to transform that Jewish presence, to embrace Palestinian human rights the same way we support civil rights here. And it’s happening, Jewish life is changing, and Al Jazeera reports it.

Top News: US Clears Egypt for Military Assistance

The Obama administration said Tuesday it has certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel and therefore qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance. Secretary of State John Kerry informed Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, of the decision in a telephone call, crediting the Egyptian government with sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Top News: US Clears Egypt for Military Assistance

The Obama administration said Tuesday it has certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel and therefore qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance. Secretary of State John Kerry informed Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, of the decision in a telephone call, crediting the Egyptian government with sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Top News: US Clears Egypt for Military Assistance

The Obama administration said Tuesday it has certified that Egypt is upholding its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel and therefore qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance. Secretary of State John Kerry informed Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, of the decision in a telephone call, crediting the Egyptian government with sustaining its strategic relationship with the United States and fulfilling its obligations to Israel, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

‘There is no ‘Palestine Exception’ to free speech rights’: Northeastern overturns Students for Justice in Palestine suspension



Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has announced that the University is backing off of its decision to suspend the student organization until January 2015.  “This is a victory for freedom of expression on campus,” said SJP leader Tori Porell who thanked SJP supporters.  “Weeks of protests, picket lines, petitions, phone calls, and emails appear to have paid off and SJP will be operational next semester,” Porell said.  “This is also a victory for the national student movement for justice in Palestine.”

(Image: NEUSJP Flickr)

(Image: NEUSJP Flickr)

Although the news came in a letter from university Vice President Laura Wankel, which nominally rejected SJP’s appeal of its suspension, the letter effectively stated the university’s agreement to abandon the suspension if SJP agreed to take certain mutually agreed steps. SJP leader Tori Porell said, “Of course, we disagree with the administration’s statement that the earlier decision to suspend SJP was appropriate and we believe this is largely a face-saving statement.”  She noted, “SJP is happy to work cooperatively with Associate Dean Bob Jose, one of the conditions the university is imposing – and, frankly, we were insisting upon – to plan our upcoming programs addressing important social justice issues.”

Porell also criticized the university’s decision to impose probation on SJP for the fall semester as a condition for lifting the suspension.  “We are willing to live with being on probation for one semester, although that is objectionable and most likely also a way to appease those groups calling on the university to censor SJP.”  “It is absolutely essential that SJP has a voice on campus and that our rights are not restricted by outside groups enforcing the status quo on Israel-Palestine,” she said.  Another SJP leader, Max Geller, commented, “I am glad that SJP can resume its educational mission. This is a victory for every SJP chapter in the country and one that will reverberate around the world, since people in many countries had criticized Northeastern for suspending SJP.”

SJP leaders are setting to work immediately to plan a new series of events and a renewed presence on campus, invigorated by the gains in membership and attention made during the suspension.

The lawyers from the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild who have been assisting SJP will continue to monitor the university’s treatment of SJP. “SJP’s reinstatement is a victory for freedom of expression which is a crucial aspect to any quality university,” said ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch.

What happened to SJP at Northeastern is just one part of the larger assault on speech supporting Palestinian rights in this country,” said Radhika Sainath, staff attorney with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and co-operating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “There is no ‘Palestine Exception’ to free speech rights and the First Amendment.”

Regarding this victory for Northeastern SJP, and student, as well as Palestine speech rights in general, Attorney Lamis Deek of the National Lawyers Guild said: “We believe this is an unprecedented victory made by the Northeastern University students who, with meager resources, have faced down an internationally sponsored repression movement, The students of Northeastern must proudly own the progress they have made in protecting the rights to free speech and equal protection for all students and all Americans. Equally important, we must recognize students’ role, through this victory, in protecting the rights of Palestinians in the US and globally from the violent narrative that vilifies them and criminalizes their basic demands to live in dignity and freedom.  It is no exaggeration to say this is a victory for all people, one for which we should all be grateful.”

John Kerry and the Pope set to face off with Jewish Knight Templars on the Temple Mount

Israeli Housing Minister and settler advocate Uri Ariel visiting the Temple Mount. (Photo: Michal Fattal via Haaretz)

Israeli Housing Minister and settler advocate Uri Ariel visiting the Temple Mount. (Photo: Michal Fattal via Haaretz)

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

This is the week that supposedly spells the end of the peace process or its end. My money is on a continuation that has no real substance or direction.

What’s the alternative?

With Passover and Easter over, Secretary Kerry can return to the Middle East crisis. This, after dealing so successfully with crisis in the Ukraine. With Pope Francis arriving in Israel-Palestine soon the (un)holy nature of the conflict can once again be emphasized. Will Kerry and the Pope work hand in hand?

Did you notice the increased activity by our very own Jewish Knight Templars on the Temple Mount during Passover? Amazing how Crusaders can wear (religious) coats of many colors. When you think of the Jewish Crusaders and then think of Israel and its great super power partner, America, you know the Crusader tradition is alive and well.

The ominous Palestinian threat, taking Israel to various international tribunals or, perhaps even more serious, allowing the Palestinian Authority to collapse, is on the table this week. But since some years ago, Joseph Massad, that intrepid take-no-prisoners Palestinian commentator, compared the Palestinian Authority to the Jewish Councils of Europe that presided over the Jewish ghettos during the Nazi era, would we really miss the grand old PA?

Collaboration is a tricky issue. Jewish commentators should take a deep breath before sharing their views. But Massad is always worth listening to. Would it be better if the Palestinian version of the Jewish Councils just packed their bags and fled?

Having been protected from its own people by American-trained Palestinian police in close contact with Israel’s security apparatus, withdrawing that protection would make it dangerous for Palestinian political elites. This may be why President Abbas has already agreed to an American-led NATO occupation of a Palestinian state if that state, however truncated and ghettoized, ever came into existence.

Palestinian prisoner release is another item Jewish commentators should think twice before offering an opinion. But what does swapping Palestinian prisoners for increased Israeli settlements do in the long run for the Palestinian national cause?

The possibility that the American Jewish spy, Jonathan Pollard, might be released is another interesting possibility being bandied about. Sad to say, Pollard, a slimy character if there ever was one, has become a hero of sorts in certain Israeli circles. The issue isn’t so much the question of dual loyalty – an American spying for Israel – as it is testimony to the devolution of Jewish life.

So is this week meaningful, portending a turning point? Or is does it promise to be more of the same charade?

How irresponsible of all parties – America, Israel and the Palestinian Authority – to pretend a turning point when they know it is a charade. So many lives hang in the balance. But, then, collapse, is heavy. Make no mistake – the casualties can come fast and furious.

Is this what our Jewish Knight Templars are about – shock troops for the coming apocalypse? Or is John Kerry enabling an apocalypse under the peace process rubric.

Apocalypse – disaster, catastrophe, destruction.

Call it want you want. Even call it a peace process. Palestine is already experiencing all of the above.

Is it about to get worse?

Registration of Jews and other human beings

Flyer from Donetsk

Flyer from Donetsk

Phil has reported on the recent incident in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where flyers were distributed in the vicinity of the local synagogue warning Jews to register with the local authorities.  The flyers purportedly were authored by pro-Russian forces seeking to take control of the city, but their authenticity has been doubted from the outset.

It seems certain that there was no actual effort to require registration of the Jews of Donetsk.  The flyers may well have been a hoax perpetrated by pro-Ukrainians trying to make the Russian contingent appear anti-Semitic to counter genuine allegations of anti-Semitism among the new regime in Kiev.

No one knows for sure who is responsible, but condemnations have been pouring in from all corners.  Phil’s post quotes John Kerry’s outrage, which appears to treat the flyers as genuine, and Abe Foxman’s, which expresses skepticism over their origin.  The Chief Rabbi of Donetsk condemned the flyers as a frightening hoax but wants the community to move on.  Most recently, Ukrainian PM Yatsenyuk has weighed in, vowing to bring to justice the “bastards” responsible.  One thing all public figures agree on is that it would be “beyond unacceptable” and “grotesque,” in Kerry’s words, to actually require registration of Jews, thereby establishing a basis for treating Jewish citizens differently from non-Jewish ones.

Contrast this uproar with the recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court upholding the requirement that Israeli citizens could not identify themselves as having “Israeli” nationality for the country’s population registry.  A group of Israelis had petitioned merely for the option of choosing such a nationality that would not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, and the Court rejected their claim.  Israel will continue to require its citizens to register as Jewish or one of several other non-Jewish categories, just as it has been doing for more than 65 years.

Are the situations comparable?  I think so.  In both cases, there is an attempt to distinguish groups of citizens from each other on the basis of their ancestry or ethnic identity.  Such distinctions can only be meaningful if the different groups are treated differently.  The Ukrainian registration plan, if it had been genuine, would be designed to identify Jews in the population for some sort of special (mis)treatment.  The Israeli insistence on identifying its citizens as Jewish or not has the mirror-image motivation of granting privileges and status to Jews over non-Jews.  In both cases, there is an effort to treat citizens differently, based upon characteristics of birth, in a manner that would be deemed unthinkable in the U.S.

It may be true that there is an emotional reaction to an Eastern European policy that is reminiscent of the first signs of anti-Jewish hostility in the 1930’s – singling Jews out for a nefarious purpose.  But the actual registration of Jews in Ukraine, while deeply troubling, would not be significantly different from Israel’s legal requirement that is deemed an inherent part of its existence as a Jewish State.

There are, of course, two enormous differences between the Ukrainian and Israeli registration requirements.  First, the former is entirely fictional, and in fact eerily similar to the 2006 hoax that Iran’s Jews would be required to wear a yellow star on their clothing.  It seems that any suggestion of virulent anti-Semitism, no matter how implausible or bizarre, and especially if it occurs in an enemy du jour like Iran or Russia/Ukraine, is eagerly believed as confirmation that Jew-hating lurks just underneath the surface.  The second difference is that the Ukraine hoax has ignited an international furor, while Israel’s longstanding policy of differentiating between its citizens barely draws a yawn.

Palestinian youth fulfill their ‘right of return’ to the destroyed village of Iqrit


Palestinians from the destroyed village of Iqrit celebrate Easter int he town’s only remaining building, the hilltop church, April 21, 2014. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Amir Ashkar lives in a village that was destroyed six decades ago with the exception of a hilltop church where he sleeps and a cemetery where his relatives are interred. Those structures are the only two fully operational spaces in this town with no permanent homes, a little electricity from solar panels, an outdoor shower and just two toilets. Still, Iqrit, located at the northern tip of Israel within eyeshot of Lebanon, is home to Amir and 19 other youth.

“It’s not a struggle to go back home because we all go back home in the end,” said Amir, a 19-year-old cafe worker who spent most of his upbringing in the town of Kafr Yassif. “So what we are trying to make here is to make a living, and to go back living, not just with death,” he continued.

We spoke to Amir during an Easter celebration where hundreds of Palestinians from Iqrit and nearby towns gathered to celebrate the holiday. One Christian Palestinian even braved illegal entry from the West Bank. But the festivities were short-lived. On Wednesday morning two days after the Easter mass, debkah, and concert—the Israeli green patrol arrived and demolished the stage and uprooted plants. “Today the Israeli Authorities arrived to Iqrith and destroyed all the trees, the herbs, the stage we built for the event on Monday,” said Shadia Sbait from the Iqrit Community Association. “The police also destroyed and even took part of the youth beds.”

Amir is part of a group of young people whose forebears come from Iqrit and have enacted on their own terms the aspiration of many Palestinians: the right of return to villages leveled by Israel in the 1940s and 50s. Sitting cross-legged while pulling from a cigarette, Amir said he too would be buried in Iqrit’s cemetery. In the meantime he conducts his life similarly to any other Palestinian citizen of Israel, with the anomaly of living off of the grid under constant Israeli surveillance. In fact, during our visit a drone flew overhead, eventually nose diving not far from where Amir’s grandfather once lived. “People tried to build houses, they demolished. We tried to make even a chicken coop, and they demolished it. We planted trees, they took the trees out,” he told us.

Night-stays in Iqrit began for Amir during an annual summer camp put together by older members of the community. “In the summer camp we said, ‘shit we want to stay living here together,’” said Walaa Sbait, 27, a drama teacher and another returnee of Iqrit (and the nephew of Shadia Sbait). “We imagined when we started having this 18-year experience, of moving back.”  The youth first began to set up a permanent camp in Iqrit in August 2012.

Walaa noted Iqrit is still accessible by a dirt road and nothing has been constructed on top of it. He said this was Israel’s “war mistake” in their effort to remove Palestinians permanently from the village. “There is an ‘advantage’ for us as displaced people,” he continued.

Iqrit is a rather unique village in that it hasn’t been re-made into something else by the Jewish state. There are only a handful of the some 570 villages destroyed around the time of Israel’s declaration of independence that are not built over today with new Israeli-Jewish localities, or covered by forestry projects of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). In fact, one ridge in Iqrit where houses used to be is overgrown with the JNF’s iconic conifer trees, which stick out like of marker for demolished Palestinian life because they are generally much taller, and a darker shade green than indigenous trees.

Easter celebration in Iqrit. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Easter celebration in Iqrit. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Others originally from Iqrit refer to Amir, Walaa and the other camping youth as the “third generation,” as they are the third generation reared after the entire community was displaced. In November 1948, six months after Israel was officially established, troops arrived to Iqrit, which had put up no resistance during the fighting that broke out from 1947-1949. The Israeli military expelled most of its 490 residents to another Galilee village named Rame. Told they could return in two weeks, Israeli officials instead declared Iqrit a closed military zone. (The Israel Defense Forces did the same to other villages near the Lebanon border.)

The residents, by then Israeli citizens, wanted to return to Iqrit, and appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court—the first legal volley in a decades-long struggle waged within Israel. And in 1951, the judges ruled that Iqrit’s residents should be allowed to return. But on Christmas Eve in 1951, that dream was extinguished. The Israeli Air Force bombed most of Iqrit, though they left the church and cemetery alone.

Amir’s family founded the village around 270 years ago. His 85-year-old grandfather Marrouf, who took us on a winding trek through Iqrit’s ancestral lands, has been present for much of the village’s recent, fraught history.

Marrouf Ashkar has witnessed much of Iqrit's recent history. (Photo: Alex Kane)

Marrouf Ashkar has witnessed much of Iqrit’s recent history. (Photo: Alex Kane)

“I remember every piece,” he said of his destroyed village just before launching down a steep slope from the church to where his house used to stand, with impressive agility. “How can I reach my house!” he laughed before tall grasses that cover the old paths. And if it weren’t for the grass, grazing cows from the nearby Israeli-Jewish town of Shomra would pose a problem.

The cows wore down the remaining foundations with their weighty tread. Until the 1970s a military order deemed Iqrit a closed zone. Marrouf and those of his generation lament that while they were kept away during that time, a rancher from Shomra was able to use the landscape for his cows without being hassled by Israeli authorities.

“When the military government ended [in 1966] we again went to the court to open the church for religious purposes,” said Marrouf, who helped fix up the building. Today the walls look fresh and the ancient stones are reinforced with concrete. He showed us the different wild flowers he used to dye Easter eggs with days before, and a sapling that replaced an unearthed fig tree. Until he was 19, Marrouf farmed tobacco in Iqrit. Today he teaches his grandson and the other youngsters about every inch of history tucked under bushes and shrubs.

Cemetery in Iqrit. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Cemetery in Iqrit. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Iqrit has had almost continuous inhabitation for over 2000 years and archeological sites are dispersed throughout. And like Amir, Maarouf also stays over night in Iqrit. Last week he slept there two nights. When it rained, he just covered his head with a newspaper and took off for one of his walks.

Marrouf’s instruction to the third generation has forged a deep bond between the earth and the 20 youth who live in Iqrit today. Amir and Walaa, though they work in cities far away, have no intention of leaving for an apartment in Haifa, or really any fixed structure, which would be more comfortable. “This is the dream,” said Walaa before rushing back to the post-mass concert. “My dream is to live here so I can die here. A complete return; a full set.”

Israeli settlers release wild boars on Palestinian farmland to destroy crops

Photo of wild boars in Salfit from 2010 (Photo: Ma'an)

Photo of wild boars in Salfit from 2010 (Photo: Ma’an)

Israeli settlers release wild pigs on Palestinian farms
IMEMC 21 Apr by Chris Carlson — Palestinian farmers in the Salfit district appealed all to Palestinian and international bodies to stop the continued destruction of their crops caused by the Israeli pigs [wild boars] in the district. Farmers said, “We have encountered heavy losses in our wheat and barley crops, where the pigs destroyed them completely.” They added, “We tried to get rid of the pigs with all available ways but we have failed,” pointing out that the only way is to shoot them; which is difficult due to the miltary’s monitoring towers and checkpoints in the area. Furthermore, according to Al Ray, Palestinian researcher Khaled Maali explained that the settlers found launching wild pigs toward the Palestinian farmlands was the best effective way to fight the Palestinian farmers without significant cost. Maali pointed out that the occupation prevents the Palestinians from shooting the pigs, whereas it permits settlers to kill the pigs when they reach their colonial settlements.

Land, property theft & destruction / Ethnic cleansing / Restrictions on movement

Palestinian wedding under international will
TUBAS (WAFA) 20 Apr — In any part of the Middle East, Sadeq Subeih’s wedding day would have been just very normal, but with an international intervention, this young Palestinian man’s wedding became more as an international battle. Sadeq, 27, is one of dozens of people who live in Al-‘Aqaba, a village located on the northeastern West Bank hillsides and has been the focus of media coverage in light of the Israeli army repeated threats to demolish it. Standing in front of a small apartment recently built with the help of an international safety network headed by a US NGO, the youth, few hours before his wedding, explains how hundreds of internationals contributed to building his house. Sadeq is one of 30 people whose houses are being reconstructed through the Rebuilding Alliance headed by US activist Donna Baranski, with the help of local residents. “Everything is almost done. The house is built, and tomorrow my wife and I will spend our first days there,” said Saqed. Al-‘Aqaba, surrounded by rocky mountains and encircled by valleys and Israeli checkpoints, was evacuated of its original residents in 1967 when the Israel forces attacked it and expelled them out. Nevertheless, a decade ago, some of them started to return and reconstruct their houses while still under the ongoing threat of being demolished by Israeli forces. Therefore, when Sadeq’s family sought to build a house for their son to live in after getting married, they encountered a lot of risks. Nonetheless, an international intervention led by Baranski made that possible. The Rebuilding Alliance, under international support, seeks to impose new facts on the ground in Area  C, under full Israeli control, by reconstructing houses of people who were expelled in 1967.

Israel denies PLO official entry to Gaza via Erez
GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti has been denied a permit to the Gaza Strip via the Erez crossing, a PLO official said Monday. PLO Executive Committee member Jamil Shehada told Ma‘an that Israel rejected Barghouti’s application for a permit to enter Gaza, where he intends to travel as a member of a delegation to discuss national reconciliation. Shehada said the delegation would travel to Gaza via Egypt if necessary.

Palestinians challenge movement restrictions in marathon
BETHLEHEM, occupied West Bank (Mintpress) 22 Apr by Patrick O. Strickland — Regretting that she did not participate in the first Palestine Marathon in 2013, Diala Isid trained for the past nine months for this year’s run. On April 11, more than 3,000 participants from 39 countries ran in the 2014 Palestine Marathon, the second annual running competition in the West Bank city of Bethlehem … “It is an amazing experience to run for my right to movement,” Isid, a 23-year-old architect from Bethlehem, told MintPress News. Isid finished the half-marathon in just two hours and 37 minutes. The runners started outside Bethlehem’s historic Nativity Church, where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born, according to Christian tradition. From there, they trekked through the streets of Bethlehem and passed refugee camps on the outskirts of the city, running for a stretch against Israel’s West Bank barrier. A number of Israeli military areas and Jewish-only settlements — which most of the international community condemns as illegal — weave around the holy city, dividing it from neighboring towns and villages. “I didn’t participate in the marathon just for myself,” Isid said. “I did it to tell the world the Palestinian story, which we believe is different… to tell that world that as a woman living under occupation in Palestine, I cannot go the shortest route home from work because there are three checkpoints.”

Officials: Israel forces raid Aqsa, assault worshipers
JERUSALEM (Ma‘an) 22 Apr — Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque compound on Tuesday and assaulted several Palestinian worshipers, officials from the ministry of Islamic endowments told Ma‘an. Palestinian worshipers in the compound chanted religious slogans at a group of around 30 right-wing Jews who had entered the area via the Moroccan Gate. Israeli forces raided the compound following the incident and physically assaulted several worshipers, ministry officials said. The right-wing group was escorted out of the area by Israeli forces without completing their tour. Earlier, a right-wing Jewish extremist tried to enter the compound by claiming he was a foreign tourist. Israeli police checked the man’s documents and prevented him from entering after discovering he was Israeli, ministry officials added.

Police continue to impose restrictions on Palestinians while allowing settlers to storm Al Aqsa
IMEMC 21 Apr by Chris Carlson –  Groups of Settlers, on Monday, raided the al-Aqsa Mosque through Bab al-Magharbeh (Mughrabi gate), under the protection of Israeli police … Yesterday, the Israeli court in Jerusalem issued exile orders against a number of Jerusalemites, for varying periods. Reported to be exiled are Izzideen al-Shaloudi, Malik al-Showaiki, Mohammed Romman and student Muhannad Atieya. The exile was imposed for a period of one week, with a third party guarantee. Also exiled from the mosque was Ali Abu Sheikha, for 45 days, and 12 days from the old city of Jerusalem. Abu Sheikha was released on a NIS 3,000 personal bail.

Jordan: Israel’s actions on Temple Mount violate peace treaty
Haaretz 22 Apr — Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Daniel Nevo was summoned Monday by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry following violent clashes between Israeli police forces and Palestinian youths on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Sunday. The Jordanian ministry conveyed the Hashemite Kingdom’s protest of Israel’s so-called violations and break-ins against the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, and told the ambassador that Israel’s actions in the holy site pose a violation of the peace treaty between the countries, and “constitute and extreme insult to bilateral relations,” the Jordanian news agency Petra reported. In its talk with the Israeli ambassador, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry accused Israel of assaulting Muslim worshippers and allowing Jewish extremists in the holy site, Petra reported. Ambassador Nevo said he will convey the Jordanian message on Monday. Tensions on the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif, or “the Noble Sanctuary,” have increased recently, with barely a day passing without any incident in recent months.

Jordan to safeguard Al-Aqsa in coordination with Palestine
IMEMC 21 Apr by Chris Carlson — Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, said on Monday that Jordan will take the necessary steps to protect the Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to the Jordan News Agency (PETRA). Palestinian News & Info Agency WAFA reports that, according to Al-Momani, intensive efforts and consultations are taking place to “emphasize the Kingdom’s firm stance against the Israeli violations in Al-Aqsa Mosque.” “Under the directive of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has instructed the Embassy of Jordan in Israel to take steps to ensure the safety of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the protection of the worshipers therein,” quoted PETRA Al-Mamoni as saying. Al-Mamoni said intensive discussion with the State of Palestine is underway to study practical measure that will ensure the protection of Palestinians in Jerusalem, deter and prevent Israel from implementing its rejected plan to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque and halt the Israeli soldiers’ continued attacks against Palestinian worshipers, the agency reported. “These steps will be taken with the support of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation as well as a number of European Union countries.”

Israel to turn a Muslim holy place to Christian (photos)
Occupied Jerusalem (ALRAY) 22 Apr  – The Israeli government represented by Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeks to transfer the sovereignty over the Maqam of the Prophet Dawud from the occupied Jerusalem to the Vatican during the Pope’s visit to the holy land in the end of May, according to a Jewish organization. So-called ‘Headquarter to Save Tomb of Dawud’ reported that Netanyahu’s government will take the decision secretly, but now the conflict will [rise] to the surface since Jewish will not give up easily their control over the site for the sake of Christians.” Jerusalem figures warned of violating the sanctity of Maqam of Dawud, which is considered a pure Islamic Waqf, as well as trying to create turbulence between Muslims and Christians. Maqam of the Prophet Dawud is one of the Islamic, archaeological and historical places. It is a large architectural complex that consists of several buildings, halls, in addition to a number of mosques dating back to the period of Umayyad, Mamluk and Ottoman. It is located in a very important strategic place on a high hill in Jerusalem, surrounded by many buildings where members of the Jerusalemite family, al-Dajani, lived before 1948. The Maqam is exposed to continuous Israeli assaults in an attempt to obliterate its Islamic and historical features. The Israeli occupation transferred its first mosque, located on the ground floor, into a synagogue. This is believed to be the tomb of the Prophet Dawud (upon him be peace) who was the father of the Prophet Sulaiman (upon him be peace). Some historians believe that this is not his tomb but a ‘maqam’, to mark the place where he once stayed.

Violence / Raids / Attacks / Suppression of protests / Illegal arrests

2 injured as Israeli forces disperse prisoner release celebration
JERUSALEM (Ma‘an) 22 Apr — Israeli forces injured two Palestinians and detained one in the Old City of Jerusalem as they dispersed a prisoner release celebration, witnesses said. Locals told Ma‘an that crowds gathered in the al-Suwwana neighborhood to celebrate the release of Omar Shalabi from Israeli prison. Soldiers fired stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets, attacking others with clubs, witnesses said. One young man was hit in the head by a rubber-coated steel bullet and was taken to al-Maqasid hospital. Another Palestinian man was also injured and one was detained, locals said, without elaborating. Omar Shalabi, 22, was released Tuesday morning after spending a year in Israeli custody.

Father of photographer critically wounded at West Bank protest: ‘This is life under occupation’
Mondoweiss 21 Apr by Claire Neble Matsunami — 21 year old Mohammad Basman Yasin was critically wounded by Israeli forces while working as a volunteer photographer with B’tselem, documenting the demonstration in Bitunya on Friday 4 April. The demonstration took place near Ofer prison, protesting against the Israeli government’s failure to release the latest round of prisoners, whose release was one of the conditions for the now evaporating peace talks. Protesters attempting to pray when soldiers began to shoot tear gas at them and clashes erupted.  Mohammad was over 100 meters away from the demonstrators, preparing to leave, when he was shot twice from the right side.  One bullet sliced across his nose, the other hit him in the waist. He was holding his camera and was wearing a gas mask and bright yellow shirt with PRESS emblazoned on it.  The bullet that grazed his face was a .22 caliber bullet.  It left a deep gash in his nose, and in an interview his father pointed out that the shooter was likely aiming at Mohammad’s head.  He noted that every time Mohammad looks in the mirror, he will have to see the scar across his nose, a reminder that “They were aiming for his head.  They were trying to kill him.” … According to the International Solidarity Movement, at the protest where Mohammad was shot, at least 13 others were seriously wounded.  Of the 13, six were wounded by .22 caliber bullets. (An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma’an News that the result of the clashes was Israeli forces “lightly injuring” five people.). More troublesome is that the bullet that hit Mohammad hit him in the side.  This bullet was a ‘dum dum’ or expanding bullet, which flattens upon impact to create a larger wound and inflict greater damage.  The bullet fragmented into his abdomen, breaking several ribs.  Doctors retrieved one piece of the bullet from his right kidney, but there are still fragments lodged throughout his abdomen. The use of “dum dum” bullets is considered a war crime by the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 8(2)(b)(xix)).

Dozens hurt from tear gas as Israeli forces raid Nablus village
NABLUS (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Over 35 Palestinians suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation late Monday after Israeli forces raided a Nablus-area village, a local official said. Qais Awwad, head of the joint services council in southern Nablus, told Ma‘an that clashes broke out in the village of ‘Awarta after several Israeli military jeeps entered the area. Palestinian youths threw stones and Israeli forces fired tear gas and stun grenades, Awwad said. More than 10 people, including three children and a woman, were taken to National Hospital in Nablus for treatment, he added.

Israeli forces shoot tear gas into houses in ‘Awarta village
‘AWARTA, Occupied Palestine (ISM, Nablus Team) 20 Apr — On the 20th of April, five Israeli jeeps entered the village of ‘Awarta. The Israeli forces broke into four houses and shot several tear gas and stun grenades inside the houses, leaving several families with no other alternative than to sleep elsewhere until the tear gas clouds dispersed, which could take weeks.The Israeli soldiers beat several people and broke furniture during this event. A 26-year-old Palestinian was violently arrested and detained for two hours with no reason given.Two days later, Israeli soldiers once again entered houses in ‘Awarta and shot several tear gas grenades inside. 20 Palestinians, including children, were taken to the hospital due to large amounts of tear gas inhalation. Palestinians from ‘Awarta state that vandalism of their property and violence from the Israeli soldiers is not uncommon, but this exact approach from the soldiers seems somewhat planned. “They just come and shoot, and then they leave” said a Palestinian after having his house filled with tear gas, used stun grenades covering the floor.

Two children injured by Israeli fire near Bethlehem
IMEMC by Saed Bannoura — Tuesday at dawn, April 22 — Several Israeli military jeeps invaded Teqoua‘ [or Tuqu‘] village, in the West Bank district of Bethlehem, and fired [tear] gas bombs at a number of houses, wounding two children after their house caught fire. Eyewitnesses said that soldiers invaded the village, and fired several gas bombs and concussion grenades, despite the fact that there were no clashes between local youth and the invading soldiers. Resident Mohammad al-Badan told the Radio Bethlehem 2000 that gas bombs were fired into the home of Samir Ali al-Badan [which] caught fire, and that two of his children were treated for smoke inhalation resulting from the fire. The parents of the two wounded children are performing pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Mohammad added.

Khan-al-Luban: Israeli army attack
KHAN AL-LUBAN, Occupied Palestine (ISM, Nablus Team) 20 Apr — On Monday 21 April 2014 two International Women’s Peace Service [IWPS] volunteers were playing uno [a card game] outside with two children of the Abu Jamal family in Khan al-Luban, close to the Nablus-Ramallah road. Their elder brother Jimmy was plastering the bathroom and their mother was inside doing house chores. IWPS and ISM volunteers have kept a permanent presence in Khan al-Luban this past week, as the family has been the target of attacks by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers from the surrounding illegal settlements. The family has been especially worried since the father,was arrested last Wednesday. Their fears proved to be well founded. Below is the eyewitness account by IWPS volunteers of yesterday’s events: … After the soldiers began shouting at the mother and her child, Jimmy came out to the roof area, no longer able to stay hidden. He told the soldiers that they were on his family’s property and that they should stop yelling at his mother and younger brothers. The soldiers became belligerent and hit him with their hands. They then attempted to handcuff Jimmy, and dragged him partway across the roof; by that time the cuffs were fully on. At that point they knocked him down and hit him on the head with the back of a rifle. Jimmy was unconscious from that time on and appeared to convulse slightly. They continued to beat him after he collapsed. We all yelled at them that he needed an ambulance and the mother attempted to get one; she also called the neighbours on the phone. Some passing cars pulled over and three Palestinian men came to try to help the family. The soldiers responded by throwing a stun grenade.

Israeli forces deny shepherds’ access to their village
HEBRON (WAFA) 22 Apr – Israeli forces on Tuesday prevented shepherds from entering the village of Um al-Khair to the east of Yatta in Hebron district, said Rateb Jubur, of the anti-settlement committee. He said army forces prevented the shepherds from returning home to their village after grazing their livestock.

Over 1,000 protest ‘price tag’ attacks in Umm al-Fahm
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Over 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel in Umm al-Fahm protested Monday against “price tag” attacks after a mosque in the town was vandalized by suspected Jewish extremists days before. Protesters closed Route 65 and Israeli police were heavily deployed in the area, Palestinian member of the Knesset Taleb al-Sana told Ma‘an. Al-Sana said Israel “should arrest members of the ‘price tag’ gang and prosecute them as a terrorist organization.” “However, we are faced with carelessness and recklessness by the ministry of internal security, as the price tag gang has legitimacy in the government,” he added. Two other Palestinian MKs attended the protest — Muhammad Baraka and Raed Salah, al-Sana said. Suspected Jewish extremists set fire to a mosque and sprayed racist graffiti in the town on Friday.

In Bethlehem raid, ‘Israel and the Palestinian Authority are together’
BETHLEHEM (Electronic Intifada) 22 Apr by Dan Cohen — The seamless coordination between the Israeli military and Palestinian Authority forces was on open display during a recent raid on the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. On Friday, 14 March, around 7pm, the Israeli Border Police assaulted the city from the military compound at the site of Rachel’s Tomb. The police spokesperson has been unreachable for comment. The assault took place on the final evening of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference, which was organized by Palestinian Christians to educate the global church about the reality of injustice faced by those living under occupation. The conference hosted more than 600 attendees, and was labeled a “serious long-term threat by Israeli security” by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to Israel Today.  I arrived after the assault had begun. International tourists looked on from their hotel lobbies as tear gas filled the air. A curious few ventured outside during moments of calm …  Though the Israeli assault was rather ordinary for demonstrations in the West Bank, the concluding events put the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority’s coordination with the Israeli military on open display … At 7:50pm, the Israeli commander ordered the police to withdraw into the military compound. Within one minute of the gate closing, a Palestinian Authority security forces vehicle arrived on the scene and a commander stepped out. He paced around the area directly in front of the Israeli sniper tower. Standing just a few meters away from him, I watched him speak on a cell phone. I then looked up to the sniper tower and saw an Israeli policeman on a cell phone. The PA commander then took the phone away from his face to look at the screen, as if the connection was interrupted. I looked to the Israeli policeman in the tower who made the same motion with his phone. The PA commander then smiled and waved to the Israeli policeman. A teenage demonstrator ran up the street and threw rocks at the sniper tower. This is typically met with violence from the Israeli military. Instead, the PA commander corralled the stone thrower and forced him back down the street … Minutes later, additional PA forces arrived in trucks and pushed the demonstrators back, effectively ending the demonstration.

Israeli forces detain man, clash with locals in Jenin district
JENIN (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Israeli forces overnight detained two Palestinians in the Jenin district overnight, security sources and an army spokesman said. Palestinian security sources told Ma‘an that Muhammad Tariq al-Saadi was detained after Israeli soldiers raided his house in Jenin refugee camp. Locals added that Israeli forces ransacked their houses in Jenin and the nearby village of Ya‘bad.
An Israeli army spokesman said the army conducted “routine activity” in Yaabad, without elaborating. In Jenin refugee camp, he said Israeli forces arrested two Palestinians overnight. Soldiers arrived at the camp to make an overnight arrest, and “a riot erupted,” the spokesman said. He said Palestinians hurled stones and “improvised explosive devices,” in addition to firing live bullets at Israeli soldiers. Soldiers responded by arresting “a second Palestinian” and using “riot dispersal means.” No injuries on either side were reported

Israeli soldiers assault Palestinian man, make overnight arrests
NABLUS (Ma‘an) 22 Apr — A young Palestinian man was hospitalized early Tuesday after being physically assaulted by Israeli soldiers in the northern West Bank, an official said. Palestinian Authority official Ghassan Daghlas told Ma‘an that Israeli troops “brutally attacked 20-year-old Jamal Khalid Daraghmah” in the village of al-Lubban al-Sharqiya south of Nablus. Daraghmah was taken to Rafedia Hospital in Nablus, where medics described his wounds as moderate. Israeli forces also arrested 50-year-old Amjad Daraghmah in the same village.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops raided the village of Tura north of Jenin and detained 19-year-old Mahmoud Hilal Rafiq Zeid after ransacking his home, Palestinian security sources said.
Two Palestinians in the Hebron-area town of Beit Ummar were also detained, a local spokesman said. Popular committee spokesman Muhammad Ayyad Awad said that Israeli soldiers ransacked several houses in the area before detaining 20-year-old Muatazz Ahmad Murshid Awad and 21-year-old Yousef Suleiman Abu Ayyash. Awad said that 14 young men from Beit Ummar have been detained since the beginning of April, including six under the age of 18.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said three Palestinians were detained overnight — one in ‘Arura north of Ramallah, one in in Deir Abu Masha‘l northwest of Ramallah, and one in Beit Ur.

Israeli forces detain 17 Palestinians in overnight West Bank raids
NABLUS (Ma‘an) 23 Apr — Israeli forces arrested 17 Palestinians across the West Bank in overnight raids, an official and an army spokeswoman said Wednesday. Palestinian official Ghassan Daghlas told Ma‘an that several Israeli military vehicles entered the village of Burqa near Nablus and detained six young men. Daghlas said Israeli troops ransacked homes and arrested Izzat Sayf, Umran Sayf, Amin Tayseer Salah, Abd al-Hakim Sayf, Majid Hijja, and Baraa Jihad Abu Omar. An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma’an that the army arrested 17 Palestinians overnight — two in Burqin west of Jenin, six in Burqa, three others near Nablus, one in Qalqiliya, one in Beit Ummar, one in al-Ibadiya near Bethlehem, one in Dura, and two in villages near Hebron.

Gaza under double blockade

Israeli airstrikes target central Gaza Strip
GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Israel launched several airstrikes on the central Gaza Strip on Monday, injuring two people, Hamas said in a statement. Gaza’s Ministry of Interior said Israeli warplanes targeted a security facility in the al-Nuseirat refugee camp, injuring two security officers. Another airstrike hit a nearby livestock farm, causing material damage but no injuries, while a third strike targeted an open area in Deir al-Balah. Israeli warplanes also struck a target in Khan Younis, the ministry said … Earlier, seven rockets fired from Gaza landed in southern Israel.  An anti-tank missile was also fired at Israeli soldiers patrolling a border area in the southern Gaza Strip, a spokesman said, with no reports of injuries or damage. No group in Gaza has claimed responsibility for firing the rockets. Although Hamas — which runs the Gaza Strip — and Israel have maintained a fragile ceasefire since Nov. 2012, militant groups in the besieged Palestinian coastal enclave frequently launch rockets into Israel. The majority of these attacks, which primarily involve homemade projectiles, land harmlessly in open areas across southern Israel.

Fighters fire shell at Israeli military vehicle in central Gaza
IMEMC/Agencies 21 Apr — Palestinian fighters fired a shell at an Israeli military vehicle, across the border east of Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza. Eyewitnesses said the army fired dozens of rounds of live ammunition and used smokescreens to withdraw from the area. They added that a number of army vehicles later rushed to the scene and initiated a search campaign. Soldiers also fired several shells into nearby Palestinian lands, causing them to catch fire. In related news, Israeli military sources have reported, on Sunday evening, April 20, 2014, that an explosive charge detonated near an Israeli military vehicle driving across the border fence, in southern Gaza.  The sources said the explosion did not cause injuries or damage to the vehicle, and that the army initiated a search campaign in the area. Furthermore, Israeli sources said Palestinian fighters fired five shells into the Shear Hangev settlement bloc in the Western Negev, causing no damage or injuries.

Israel to keep Kerem Shalom crossing closed on Tuesday
GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Israel will keep the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza closed on Tuesday, a Palestinian official said. Nathmi Mhanna, director of the Palestinian Authority’s department of border crossings, told Ma‘an that for “security reasons,” only fuel would be allowed through the crossing on Tuesday. The crossing was closed Friday and Saturday as usual, in addition to Sunday and Monday for Passover.

Gaza IT industry bypasses economic crisis
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (Al-Monitor) 21 Apr by Hazem Balousha — Despite the high unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip, IT freelancing and outsourcing to foreign companies is insulating the industry from the siege and economic crisis. The recession that has prevailed in the Gaza Strip for several years has prompted IT and communication firms, most of which are run by young people, to outsource their work. This has limited the impact of the economic blockade on these firms, as opposed to other sectors … During the past few years, many IT workers have started working remotely. Many have established enterprises that deal with companies in the Gulf, with designers and programmers working in offices in Gaza and committed to set working hours.


Palestinian prisoners ready for mass hunger strike
Electronic Intifada 22 Apr by Joe Catron — Nearly two hundred Palestinian administrative detainees, held indefinitely without charge or trial on Israeli military court orders, have announced plans to launch a mass hunger strike for their freedom this Thursday. The news came as demonstrations across Palestine and events worldwide commemorated the 40th annual Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Thousands marched from an exhibition at Saraya square, the former site of Israel’s Gaza central prison, to rally outside the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Gaza office. After the demonstrations, Ibrahim Baroud, freed from Israeli captivity a year ago, spoke with The Electronic Intifada at his home in the northern Gaza Strip’s Jabaliya refugee camp.  Among hundreds of thousands of former Palestinian prisoners in the Gaza Strip, Baroud is notable not only because of his 27-year detention, which makes him one of the longest-held Palestinians, but also because of his mother’s efforts during his absence. In 1995, nine years after her son’s capture by Israeli forces, Ghalia — also known as Um Ibrahim — held a sit-in at the courtyard of the International Committee of the Red Cross office with Handoumeh Wishah, or Um Jaber, who had four sons in prison at the time. Initially small, their presence persisted week after week, year after year, persevering through political transitions and military offensives, and growing into the core of prisoner support activities in Gaza. The sit-ins have now become a local focus of political unity.

Solidarity / BDS

Israeli state water company loses Portugal deal and faces global protests
BDS Movement 21 Apr by Palestinian BDS Nat’l Committee — * Announcement follows similar decisions by authorities in Argentina and Netherlands  * Actions against Mekorot held across 12 countries — Lisbon’s water company EPAL has announced that it terminated a technology exchange deal with Israeli state water company Mekorot following protests over Mekorot’s role in Israel’s ‘water apartheid’ over Palestinians. Portuguese MPs and campaign groups had argued that the deal amounted to support for Mekorot’s role in the theft of Palestinian water. Mekorot, who lost out on a $170m contract with Argentinian authorities earlier this year following similar protests, illegally appropriates Palestinian water, diverting it to illegal Israeli settlements and towns inside Israel.  The state owned company is the key body responsible for implementing discriminatory water polices that Amnesty International has accused Israel implementing “as a means of expulsion”….

Earth Day Network dumps SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson
Electronic Intifada 21 Apr by Ali Abunimah — … Here’s the press release from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation: Earth Day Network Cuts Ties with SodaStream After Palestinian Rights Groups Decry Greenwashing Campaign  21 April, Washington, DC — On the eve of Earth Day, groups working for Palestinian rights globally are celebrating Earth Day Network’s decision to end its partnership with SodaStream, whose main production factory is located in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Earlier this month, SodaStream, which markets its home carbonating devices as a green alternative to bottled beverages, announced the launch of an awareness-raising campaign centered around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Northeastern lifts suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine
972blog 22 Apr by Nora Barrows-Friedman — After seven weeks of sustained media attention and organizing by student activists, Northeastern University today announced that it has lifted the suspension of Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Not only will the group will be fully reinstated on 1 September, but they will have access to more funding for educational events than was available before the 7 March suspension. Northeastern SJP will be able to plan for those events immediately. The group was suspended in an unprecedented sanction by the administration after students distributed mock eviction leaflets on campus, a popular direct action many Palestine solidarity groups undertake during the annual Israeli Apartheid Week to raise awareness about Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes. The administration also launched a police investigation against and threatened two of the students involved in the mock eviction action with charges that could have led to suspension or expulsion. The threat of expulsion was rescinded after an outpouring of condemnation by Northeastern SJP activists and supporters across the US. Anti-Palestinian groups such as the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance and the Zionist Organization of America have been orchestrating campaigns against Northeastern SJP and its members for several years, demanding the university punish and suspend the group. Individuals affiliated with such extreme right-wing Zionist organizations have issued death threats against student members of Northeastern SJP. The university has still not addressed or condemned the attacks by such groups against its students.

Largest student petition in Florida’s history calls for USF divestment
BDS Movement 21 Apr — Students at the University of South Florida are leading the largest petition ever at any Florida university. The petition demands ethical investment from the university’s $391 million endowment. Over 10,000 STUDENT signatures call on the USF Foundation to divest from companies complicit in human rights violations in Palestine. “It’s appalling that our university does not have a policy requiring investment only in ethically-sound companies,” said Ahmad Saadaldin, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at USF. “This gives us students the impression that our school values profits over our duties as global citizens.” … Students have made a clear call for the USF Foundation to act today and to act immediately. The university’s endowment is “very liquid”. This means, that if USF Foundation decides, it can divest from more than 85% of its portfolio within a month.

Palestinian refugees in Syria

Official: Yarmouk residents to protest against militant groups
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 22 Apr — Residents of Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp plan to organize peaceful rallies to pressure armed groups to leave the area, a Fatah official said Tuesday. Muhammad Abu al-Qasim, a foreign relations official of the Fatah movement, told Ma‘an Tuesday that “a large number of people will march toward the bases of armed groups to force them to leave the camp.” Palestinian factions in Yarmouk have made extended efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in the Damascus-based camp, but have had no success, al-Qasim said. He said thousands of Palestinian refugees were waiting for food parcels, which have not been regularly delivered due to fighting in the camp.

Action group: Two Yarmouk refugees died yesterday, one of hunger
DAMASCUS (PIC) 22 Apr — Two Palestinian refugees from Al-Yarmouk refugee camp were proclaimed dead on Monday, the action group for the Palestinians of Syria said. According to the action group, one of the refugees named Ali Al-Ghouri died of hunger and malnutrition in Al-Yarmouk camp. Another Palestinian from the camp identified as Mohamed Shahabi died after his exposure to excruciating torture in a Syrian jail. For its part, the UNRWA said that it is unable to resume its relief efforts, which it suspended 13 days ago because of the renewed armed violence in the camp and the blockade imposed by the Syrian regime forces and their supporters from the popular front for the liberation of Palestine-general command (PFLP-GC). In another incident, the Syrian regime army launched artillery and aerial attacks on Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp on Monday.
link to

Political, other news

Israel rejects Abbas conditions for extending talks
JERUSALEM (AFP) 22 Apr –  Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Tuesday that he would extend faltering peace talks with Israel only if it agreed to conditions, including a settlement freeze, which it promptly rejected. He who makes such conditions does not want peace,” a senior Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Abbas listed his demands during a meeting with Israeli journalists at his headquarters in the West Bank just a week before a nine-month target for a peace deal. His comments came as US envoy Martin Indyk went into a new meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a bid to save the US-sponsored talks from collapse. Abbas said he would agree to an extension of negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline if Israel frees a group of prisoners as previously earmarked for release and discusses the borders of a future Palestinian state. “There must be a total freeze of settlements,” by Israel in the occupied West Bank including annexed east Jerusalem, Abbas said. “The borders between Israel and the state of Palestine must also be defined within a month, two or three,” if the talks are to be extended, he said.

Palestinians play down threat to dismantle Authority
AFP 22 Apr — The Palestinians on Tuesday played down a threat to dismantle the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which is Israel’s interlocutor, if U.S.-sponsored peace talks remain deadlocked.  “No Palestinian is speaking of an initiative to dismantle the Palestinian Authority (PA),” chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told Agence France Presse. “But Israel’s actions have annulled all the legal, political, security, economic and operational aspects of the prerogatives of the Palestinian Authority.” Palestinian negotiators had warned that they may hand responsibility for governing the occupied territories back to Israel if peace talks remain stalled, a senior Palestinian official said Sunday. He said the Palestinians had told U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk that unless Israel releases Palestinian prisoners as agreed and freezes settlement building, they could dismantle the Authority, which was set up following the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s and was intended to pave the way towards the establishment of an independent state. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki criticized the threat as “extreme” and warned that any such move would affect American aid to the Palestinians.

Palestinians renew unity bid as Israel talks stall
GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) 22 Apr — The Palestinians met Tuesday to relaunch efforts to reconcile their rival leaderships in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as US-brokered peace talks with Israel teetered on the edge of collapse. A week before a nine-month target originally set for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation arrived in Gaza City to try to revive long-stagnant unity efforts. Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior figure in president Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah party, led the team which were greeted by Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya and the movement’s deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq.

Hamas releases 10 Fatah-affiliated prisoners in goodwill gesture
[photos] GAZA CITY (Ma‘an) 21 Apr — Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip released 10 Fatah-affiliated prisoners on Monday in a goodwill gesture to promote political reconciliation, the Ministry of Interior said. The move comes as a PLO delegation is expected to arrived in Gaza to discuss reconciliation with senior Hamas officials. The Gaza ministry highlighted that the men were detained for “disturbing public order,” and not for political reasons. Gaza Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Buzm urged Fatah to take similar steps in the West Bank.

Israel to send call-up papers to Christian Arabs
JERUSALEM (AFP) 22 Apr — Israel is to start sending call-up papers to all Christian Arabs of military service age, the army said Tuesday, angering Arab lawmakers who accused the government of seeking to divide Christians from Muslims. Military service will remain voluntary for Israel’s 130,000 Christian Arabs as it is for its more than 1.3 million Muslim Arabs but only Christians will receive the call-up papers, an army spokesman said. “The IDF in coming weeks will begin to distribute to all potential Christian recruits voluntary enlistment forms,” the spokesman said. “Since the service of the Christian population in Israel is not obligatory by law, potential recruits are not required to respond to the invitation.” But commanders hope that the routine sending out of call-up papers will help boost the numbers volunteering from around 100 a year at present to 1,000, army radio reported. “Under these new arrangements, they will no longer have to submit their own enlistment request and expose themselves to potential pressure from their Christian coreligionists or from Muslims, who are overwhelmingly hostile to conscription,” the radio said. The move came just two months after parliament approved a law giving Muslim and Christian Arabs separate representation on a national employment commission and drew fire from Arab lawmakers.

Supreme Court takes up status of Jerusalem
Washington (AFP) 21 Apr — The US Supreme Court Monday decided to hear the case of an American born in Jerusalem, once again taking up the sensitive issue of the status of the contested city. The justices will hear arguments in the case in the fall before deciding on the constitutionality of a 2002 law that directs the State Department to give Israel as the country of birth in passports of Americans born in Jerusalem. At the center of the struggle between the Congress and the presidency is Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002 to two American parents. His passport says “born in Jerusalem” but his parents want Israel added to the place of birth, putting them at odds with the State Department. Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, but neither the United States nor the international community recognizes the city — holy to three faiths — as such. Then president George W. Bush signed the 2002 bill into law, but he added a signed statement condemning it as unacceptable interference in the president’s powers to conduct foreign policy. (listserv) (archive)

Federal agencies express concerns about Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program

Jen Psaki

Jen Psaki

Israel has long sought to enter the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from participating countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.  Yet, Israel has not been admitted to the program because of its ongoing discrimination against Palestinian and Arab Americans. Under the terms of the program, U.S. citizens are also given the same automatic 90 day visas, a condition of the program known as reciprocity.  In a State Department press briefing on Friday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki again acknowledged Israel’s pattern of discrimination against U.S. citizens, saying “the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State both remain concerned for reciprocal visa free travel privileges for U.S. citizens due to the unequal treatment of Palestinian Americans and other Arab Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”

Psaki’s statement came in response to questions from Associated Press reporter Matt Lee concerning a recently announced working group to help ease visa restrictions for Israeli travelers.  The State Department indicated that the working group was formed in response to letters from members of Congress, which alleged that the State Department was responding disproportionally to widespread visa fraud related to the Dead Sea industries by denying visas to many young Israelis.  On March 6th Senator Charles Schumer sent a letter calling on the State Department to “end its widespread, arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourist visas.”

Although lawmakers like Senator Schumer and Representative Grace Meng have remained silent about Israel’s policy of interrogating, detaining and deporting U.S. citizens, they have been vocal in their contention that Israeli travelers suspected of visa fraud should be shown more leniency.  In similarly themed remarks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee mark-up of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, Representative Brad Sherman asserted that Arab Americans who had been denied entry by Israel were “associated with Islamic extremism,” and emphasized the need to ease U.S. visa restrictions so that Israelis could visit Disneyland, saying “when they (Israelis) want to see Mickey Mouse, they should see the real one.”

The recent letters from Senator Schumer and other lawmakers insinuated that the State Department was driving up the denial of Israeli visas in order to trigger a violation of the Visa Waiver Program’s 3% nonimmigrant visa refusal rate requirement, thus thwarting Israel’s entry into program.  In other words, members of Congress were accusing the State Department of punitively denying Israeli tourist visas and keeping Israel out of the Visa Waiver Program in order to settle a diplomatic score.

Israeli discrimination against U.S. citizens

By reiterating that Israel was discriminating against U.S. citizens, however, the State Department was clarifying that Israel is not only violating the Visa Waiver Program’s 3% nonimmigrant visa refusal rate, but also the condition that Israel provide U.S. citizens with automatic 90 day visas, known as the reciprocity requirement.  During the State Department briefing on Friday, Psaki followed her comments about Israel’s unequal treatment of U.S. citizens by emphasizing that “reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program, that hasn’t changed.”

Some U.S. lawmakers have long been aware that Israel’s discrimination against American citizens constitutes a violation of the Visa Waiver Program’s reciprocity requirement and have introduced legislation aimed at facilitating these policies.  Legislation proposed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last year, known as the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (S. 462, H.R. 938), sought to include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program but exempt it from the reciprocity requirement.  When the legislation was initially circulated last year, many members of Congress expressed opposition to including Israel in the Visa Waiver Program, albeit for a number of different reasons.  The basis for lawmakers concerns ranged from laudable opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies to racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Last June, sixteen members of Congress wrote a letter to former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren expressing concern about Israel’s discrimination against U.S. citizens.  The letter read, in part, “we are concerned that Israeli border officials are disproportionally singling out, detaining and denying entry to Arab and Muslim Americans.”  The letter also quotes the spokesperson for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who acknowledged Israel’s discriminatory policy, saying, “we expect all American citizens to be accorded the rights any other American citizen would be accorded…there are no second classes.”

In contrast to the aforementioned concerns, many Republican lawmakers worried that Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program would hinder the United States’ ability to discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel.  According to accounts from congressional staffers, a number of the senior republican lawmakers expressed their desire to preserve the United States’ ability to discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.  Many of these same lawmakers were also unpleasantly surprised to learn that Arabs comprised such a large percentage of Israel’s population.

The multifaceted opposition to Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program led to a series of heated last minute meetings on Capitol Hill before the introduction of the United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013.  The end result of lawmakers’ meetings was that the reciprocity exemption was taken out of the House bill but remained in the Senate version.

The Israel lobby vs. the U.S. intelligence community

After being delayed for a year, the House version of the bill was brought to a vote in March during AIPAC’s annual policy conference; it passed overwhelmingly.  The Senate version of the legislation has yet to be referred out of committee and Senator Boxer has announced plans to rewrite the legislation and remove the problematic exemptions from the Visa Waiver Program’s reciprocity requirement.

Representative Sherman, a major proponent of Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, has expressed his intention to reinsert the reciprocity exemption into the final piece of legislation when the House and Senate versions are reconciled in conference committee.

The AIPAC backed United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act may now be facing a new set of hurdles as reports emerge that senior U.S. intelligence officials voiced opposition to Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, citing fears that Israeli spies will use the program to gain entry to the United States.  According to a report by Roll Call, intelligence officials from a number of different agencies made their views known during a classified briefing before the House Judiciary Committee.  In recent years, current and former intelligence officials have also made it known that the “CIA considers Israel its No. 1 counterintelligence threat in the agency’s Near East Division, the group that oversees spying across the Middle East.”

Israel denies and justifies discrimination

For their part, Israeli officials have offered contradictory explanations about the treatment of U.S. citizens.  When members of Congress sent a letter expressing concern last June, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren denied that any such discrimination existed and maintained that only 142 Americans had been denied entry in the last year.  More recently, Israeli government officials claimed that it was allowed to treat Palestinian Americans differently under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

According to a report in Haaretz, senior Israeli officials recently said their government would be willing to end discrimination against Palestinian-Americans if Israel is granted entry into the Visa Waiver Program.  Given that Israel is already to required to provide U.S. citizens with equal treatment under the 1951 U.S.-Israel Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, the proposal by Israeli officials is essentially an offer to sell the United States the same car twice.

In response to questions about Israel’s justification of its policies and what actions the United States is taking to address Israel’s discrimination against U.S. citizens, a State Department spokesperson said “The U.S. government seeks equal treatment and freedom to travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity. We regularly raise this issue with the Government of Israel.”

Although the State Department’s efforts to raise the issue with Israel are a positive development, these measures have so far failed to compel Israel to end its discriminatory policies.  Simply expressing concern about Israel’s policies appears to be a wholly insufficient response considering that the United States provides $3.1 billion in taxpayer funded weapons each year and continues to expend political capital at the UN to defend Israeli policies that violate U.S. and international law.

In reality, the only serious challenge to Israel’s discriminatory policies has been the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, a source of pressure the State Department has consistently sought to malign.  The BDS movement has gained steam in recent years partly as a reaction to the unwillingness of the United States to apply real pressure on Israel to change its policies.  Ending Israel’s systemic discrimination will likely take more than perfunctory expressions of concern and private working groups, it will require robust enforcement of U.S. laws designed to protect basic human rights.