Dear Friends,

With luck this will reach you.  Lots to read—9 items specifically.  Some of them are also in the final item, ‘Today in Palestine.’  However, since its reports are from the 9th, and the ones below are for the 10th, in some instances, the report below is more up to date than ones in ‘Today in Palestine.’

Item 1 starts off with Amira Hass angrily denouncing Israeli racism and the major institutions which do and say nothing against it.

Item 2 is an informative piece about the Jewish National Fund, which steals from elderly Holocaust survivors as well as from Palestinians, and with the blessings of all Israeli governments.

Item 3 is brief, announcing the death of a boy in Gaza.  You learn more in ‘Today in Palestine’ about what happened when an Israeli shell hit his house.  A family destroyed.  True, militants in Gaza have been shooting missiles at Israeli communities, but who expected Palestinians to take Israel’s poundings without reacting?

Item 4 informs us that a Palestinian who demonstrated yesterday died of wounds suffered when a tear gas canister shot by a soldier at high speed from a short distance hit him (Mustafa Tamimi) in his eye.

Item 5 tells us that Newt Gingrich in his campaign to be the Republican candidate for the presidency is either totally ignorant or totally mendacious.  True, the Ottomans ruled Palestine for about 400 years, and the Brits after them for some 20 or so years.  But also true that during the Ottoman period as also prior to it, the land was called Palestine from at least as early as the Crusades.  Many villages in this land extend back centuries.  To say that there was no Palestine or Palestinians is reminiscent of Golda Meir, who claimed that ‘there was no such thing as Palestinians.’  Both are wrong, and, Gingrich, additionally, is an opportunist.

Item 6 is the Palestinian response to Gingrich.

Item 7 refers to the 2nd group of prisoners that Israel promised to release in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s release.  The 2nd group was to have consisted of political prisoners.  But according to this news item, it will consist of petty car thieves and the like, and, moreover, of prisoners whose prison terms  were in any case almost at an end.  If Netanyahu indeed goes through with this instead of what was anticipated by the Palestinians, then I would guess that the next ‘prisoner exchange’ will be much tougher, whenever that occurs, as it will some day.  There may also be other unpleasant results.  Well, December 18th is almost here.  So we shall soon enough know.

In item 8 Uri Avnery, a “veteran Israeli activist (to say the least), and who is 88 or 89 years old warns against ‘neo-fascist legislation.’

Item 9 is ‘Today in Palestine.’

Lots of reading, but much worthwhile stuff.

All the best,



1.      Haaretz

December 9, 2011

In Israel, ‘fascist’ is not a rude word

The silence of Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorial institutes to the recent rash of anti-democratic legislation is deafening.

By Amira Hass

Hillary Clinton had not yet finished voicing her concern about what is happening in Israel before that industrious Knesset member from the Likud, Danny Danon, started rattling off another version of the list of bills about loyalty to the state (which have meanwhile been dropped ): “Every certificate issued by the state will oblige [the recipient] to sign a document with a clause declaring loyalty to the State of Israel.”

An explanation was offered by Arutz Sheva, the settlers’ news website: No declaration – then no driver’s license, no identity card, no passport. Speaking to Razi Barka’i on Army Radio, Danon explained that this was indeed not enough for – watch out! – “the total solution.” Even Barka’i almost choked at the phrase.

For one optimistic moment it was possible to think that Danon does not make distinctions on the basis of religion or nationality. “There are many people who act against the State that protects them,” he said. “Anyone who is not faithful to the State should not be a citizen.” That is to say, even kosher Jews whose loyalty is in doubt. However, a second later he clarified his intention: “The data about crime make it clear without any doubt that the Arabs in Israel treat the laws of the country with contempt. They have much higher crime rates than any other segment of the population.”

It is not important what this bill teaches us about Danon as a person – that he did not study history, for example, or that he did but he knows very well that in fascist regimes the State is above all else; or that as an experienced demagogue he knows just how close a connection there is between the level of discrimination against a certain ethnic group and the claims about crime among its members.

The media, dizzy from these bills that make Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter look like amateurs, has stopped noticing the difference between an old bill and an amended one. Since the current bill is targetted at Arabs, it is not causing a stir. But what about the Jewish History departments at the universities, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial institute, or the museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot? Their silence is no different from the general disregard of the issue, but it is deafening.

Danon’s latest bill is nauseatingly similar to bills from other eras. It is dangerous to simply dismiss it with “anyway, it won’t be passed.” After all, the system works as follows: Someone presents a bill that mutilates some basic values. His colleagues object and then present the same bill with a different wrapping. This is a division of labor between political allies.

Every bill creates an atmosphere and makes the public more used to accepting mutilation as something legitimate. It has an immediate effect on behavior in the streets, and trains yet another new group of schoolchildren to think that the word “fascist” is not a rude word. Every bill of this kind touches the red line and the line continues to become blurred. Another few bills and the red line will be completely obliterated.

Danon’s bill about loyalty, no matter how embryonic it may be, is not an exercise in Political Science. It is motivated by obvious, material interests. The bill fits in with existing official claims which present the democratic struggle for civic equality as a threat to the peace and security of “the state” – in other words, the hegemonic class, the Jews. Danon and his colleagues are constantly upgrading the conscious mechanism – racism – which seeks excuses for the privileged status that the Jewish immigrants have created for themselves, while dispossessing and discriminating against the indigenous people of this land, the Palestinians.

Racism develops in order to reinforce and expand excess rights – over ownership of the land (which was, and is still being, stolen from the Palestinians ), higher water consumption, high-quality construction, allowances from the state revenue, social services, chances of finding work and studies, and salary gaps. That is why a bill of this kind stands a good chance. The Jews will profit from it.

2.      Haaretz

December 09, 2011

Seeing the forest and the trees: The untold story of the Jewish National Fund

Revelations from JNF minutes: billions of shekels hoarded in its coffers, millions wasted on legal conflicts, trees planted on disputed land. Not to mention the fate of Holocaust victims’ assets.

By Uri Blau

A Jew purchased an apartment in Carmiel, on Jewish National Fund ‏(JNF‏) land. No problem. Twenty years go by and Mohammed who lives in Dir al-Assad … comes to buy an apartment.”

This may sound like the some sort of ethnic joke, but that’s how JNF world chairman, Effie Stenzler, a member of the Labor Party, chose to speak recently before the members of his board.

“The Jews sells him the apartment for a tidy sum,” Stenzler continues. “He goes to the Israel Lands Administration ‏(ILA‏) and says, ‘I’m Mohammed. I want you to register this apartment in the Tabu [Government Lands Registry Office] in my name.’ They say to him, ‘Wait a minute − you’re an Arab, we can’t do that because it’s written that JNF doesn’t sell to Arabs, doesn’t lease to Arabs.’ And then there was the trick that worked until 2004, and according to this trick the ILA, without telling anyone … took land registered in the name of JNF, transferred it to another building and then registered that building in JNF’s name … But then an Arab came to that building and then they had to do it again …”

The tale of “Mohammed and the Apartment” is quoted from the minutes of the JNF board meeting in July. The organization claims that the quote “is part of a description of a very complicated bureaucratic problem created by the ILA in regard to the registration of apartments. After discussions with the attorney general and the court, the solution to the problem was found and JNF has been acting accordingly.”

Thus, JNF transfers to the ILA property on which there are buildings where Arabs have purchased apartments, and receive other land in return. Specifically, the records of that July meeting show that each year, three or four such property exchanges are carried out, and that some 25 have been made since the arrangement was formulated in 2008.

Lately, JNF has been busy dealing with numerous legal and personal disputes.

Founded 110 years ago following a decision by the fifth Zionist Congress, with the aim of acquiring lands for Jews in Palestine, the organization has in recent times been identified more with forests and forestation − to the point where many see it as a “green” organization.

Hundreds of pages of court records, a flood of correspondence between lawyers and arguments involving JNF board members have been devoted in the last two years to deciding who will control this body, which oversees 13 percent of state lands ‏(2.5 million dunams, or 625,000 acres‏) and is not subject to oversight by the state comptroller or the treasury.

Battling over ‘treasure’

Following a delay that was agreed upon last Thursday among all parties involved, the JNF General Assembly ‏(whose composition is identical to that of the Zionist General Council, with 192 members‏) will on January 4, 2012 elect 37 members of the organization’s board, from which the chairman will be selected. After that, perhaps, the legal sagas that have overshadowed JNF’s operations for the past year and a half will come to an end, and it will become clear whether chairman Stenzler ‏(who has served for the past five and a half years‏) will be reelected or if he will be replaced by former Laborite Prof. Shimon Sheetrit, now affiliated with Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut faction.

In an earlier legal round between the two in October, Stenzler earned a victory − on points, at least − when Judge Avraham Yaakov of the Petah Tikva District Court ruled that Sheetrit and other Atzmaut representatives, including Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, had to resign from their faction-related positions in the World Zionist Congress ‏(the body above JNF‏) because they had originally been appointed to these positions as representatives of Labor.

For his part, Sheetrit has been concerned that Stenzler’s reelection as JNF chair is assured, and that he, Sheetrit, will not be eligible to run at all.

In any event, to understand what sort of “treasure” this battle has revolved around, it is instructive to return to the July 2010 and February 2011 JNF board meetings, at which David Lazarus, director of the organization’s financial division, spoke of JNF’s general financial situation. In recent years, JNF has had an annual budget of NIS 650 million; half of that is designated to pay salaries, administrative expenses and so on, and the rest is for other activities. The data indicate that even though in 2009 there was a decrease in donations to JNF ‏(NIS 96 million, compared to NIS 112 million the previous year‏), its financial situation was excellent, since its income far exceeds its expenditures.

Thus, for instance, in 2009, JNF had income totaling NIS 1.133 billion, the vast majority from land holdings, compared to NIS 972 million in 2008 − meaning a surplus in the organization’s coffers of hundreds of millions of shekels per year. The total value of JNF lands is estimated at NIS 6.2 billion; the ILA administers more than half of these properties; its subsidiary, Himanuta, administers the rest.

“The income and moderate expenses have created what JNF calls a ‘budget reserve.’ The reserve should amount to something like NIS 2 billion,” said Avraham Duvdevani, then co-chairman and currently chairman of the WZO, said in September 2010. “This is a well-kept secret,” he told the members of the JNF board, “and it must be preserved with maximum secrecy, otherwise the government will covet this money and we have experience with this already from the past.” ‏(The secret leaked out shortly afterward nonetheless, and was reported upon by Shuki Sadeh in a January 2011 report in TheMarker‏).

Board member Moshe Yogev proposed at that meeting that JNF “take [the reserve], before it’s taken from us, to build the fence with Egypt.”

Among the organization’s fears were the ability to fulfill future financial commitments: In 2008, these commitments totaled NIS 1.971 billion, and a year later they had crossed the NIS 2-billion mark. Stenzler sought to reassure the board and promised to guard the coffers.

“The subject of the reserve is something that needs to be closely watched, that’s true,” he said, “but we also must remember that we promised employees their pension rights with what we called a ‘floating charge’ ‏(shi’abud tzaf‏). This ensures both the JNF’s future and the future of the workers’ pensions, because this is insured and secure money.”

Indeed, it appears that JNF has trouble parting with funds that have accumulated in its coffers, even if these are assets that belong to Holocaust victims and their descendants.

‘JNF foot-dragging’

“I am writing to request that you personally intervene immediately and put an end to JNF’s foot-dragging in regard to complying with the directives of the Law on Holocaust Victims’ Assets.”

These words were written by Yaron Jacobs, head of the Company for the Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets ‏(known by the Hebrew name Hashava‏), in January to Stenzler, whose organization holds tens of millions of shekels worth of such assets. Later in the letter, Jacobs’ language was more pointed: Since 2006, he wrote, “Hashava has systematically maintained contact with JNF on various matters with the aim of upholding the law and obtaining the Holocaust victims’ assets currently held by JNF … Unfortunately, despite the pleasant atmosphere at most of the meetings … satisfactory progress was not made in solving these problems and in returning all of the assets to the company.”

Jacobs stressed also that “JNF is holding a lot of funds that belong to victims, in a manner that runs counter to the law’s instructions. This situation is intolerable and requires an immediate solution.”

Unfortunately, he added, “JNF is not in any hurry. The restoration of the assets is occurring very slowly, with various obstacles being placed in the company’s way, in an appropriate manner.”

By contrast, he explained, for the victims’ descendants, time is racing by, as many of them are elderly themselves. Jacobs also explained that assets for which descendants are not found are supposed to be used to help Holocaust survivors, and “if we are unable to obtain the assets in the near future, there will no longer be anyone to help.”

Jacobs was complaining about the failure to transfer NIS 67 million, equivalent to the value of 57 plots of land belonging to victims, which JNF transferred to the ILA in the past. He noted that some in the JNF wanted to transfer the value of the lands according to their worth at the time of purchase − i.e., before the founding of the state − and not according to their present value, which is 10 times higher. He said the company finds itself receiving from the JNF “offers that are low and inexplicable.”

Jacobs also wrote that the JNF had a debt of NIS 12 million to the company, and that “on this subject too all kinds of unworthy ‘compromise’ or bargaining proposals have been made.”

His letter said that JNF had been seeking to charge handling fees for the transferred funds, and to receive from the company and victims’ descendants a commitment not to sue JNF for assets that it would be transferring.

Stenzler reported on the letter at the JNF board meeting in February, according to the minutes. “So far, JNF has transferred NIS 99 million to Hashava,” he said. “In addition, JNF has transferred another 141 plots of land to the company.”

Stenzler noted that Hashava had a new director general at that time, and that the latter had sent a letter “in which he says that JNF still has to transfer funds and so on, in a tone that I didn’t like very much, to put it mildly, because JNF, the members of the board − we were the first ones to say that the funds should be transferred. Moreover, all of the directors general who dealt with him always noted the fact that JNF was ready to go above and beyond the letter of the law with them … Therefore I did not like the style of this letter.”

The fact that only about half of JNF’s annual budget is designated for its activities did not deter board member Nissan Chilik from cynically remarking, “We have to understand [Hashava]: They need the money because they waste four times as much in administration than they actually return.”

However, not everyone present liked this attitude. Board member Reuven Shalom proposed “making a distinction between what we need to give, and their [Hashava’s conduct. We need to give what the Holocaust survivors deserve, and they need to behave properly.”

Chilik: “But they should have used more delicate language.”

Shalom: “We are not a commercial body or something like that. We are a body of the Jewish people … the approach has to be a ‘public’ one.”

Avraham Roth, a founder of Hashava and its chairman until 2008, says JNF was among the first to cooperate with the company, and he describes the transfer of funds and assets on its part since then as “reasonable.” When asked if its conduct went beyond the letter of the law, as Stenzler said, he says: “No, in accordance with it.”

Still, Roth adds, “The fact that things still aren’t settled with the JNF six years after the law was passed is quite unbelievable. It’s inconceivable that the JNF is still holding property of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The survivors are dying, the heirs are getting to the end of their lives, and they have all the time in the world.”

A source that is knowledgeable about the issue says Jacobs’ letter in January appears to have “done the job,” because in recent months the parties have returned to negotiations and “significant progress toward a solution” has begun.

JNF says in response that, “As soon as the matter [concerning Hashava] reached the desk of the JNF chairman, Effie Stenzler personally got involved in handling it, in full cooperation with the company and with the company director general, Yaron Jacobs. JNF was a leader in this realm, and deserves a medal for the way it acted with the company … when, for example, it transferred close to NIS 100 million in funds and property for survivors and over 100 assets worth a lot of money. This massive process is now nearing its end.”

On transparency

Stenzler declared firmly at the September 2010 meeting: “It is incumbent upon us for the organization to be completely transparent,”

However, it seems that when it comes to internal organizational affairs as well, this transparency is not always total. For example, at the February meeting, board member Yigal Yasinov, who is considered Stenzler’s rival, said: “I do not regularly receive emails … [or regular] mail. I didn’t even receive an invitation to the last board meeting, I didn’t get the agenda for today’s meeting and I know there are other letters that didn’t go out … I want to get all the material from the past four months, because I did not receive it. I did not receive protocols, or any other mail at all. Invitations to ceremonies I do receive … I get only mail which is unimportant, all the junk mail.”

It seems that Stenzler himself is not always keen on media transparency − as regards, for example, one of the more sensitive JNF activities: planting trees on lands in the south, whose ownership is a matter of dispute with the Bedouin population. This mostly concerns land in the area of Al-Arakib, a village north of Be’er Sheva that has been destroyed numerous times in clashes with police and property inspectors, because its inhabitants refuse to be evicted and claim ownership of the land.

In May, after telling the board about the extensive media coverage of the affair abroad and the number of emails he receives as a result, Stenzler added: “I must thank the spokespeople, our media people, our public relations people, who are doing everything to see that this matter doesn’t develop in the local media … In the media in Israel it hasn’t [yet] made any waves, thank goodness.”

About the matter itself, he said: “This is an area that we are taking so that others, neither Jews nor non-Jews, will take it − not Bedouin or anyone else.”

In August last year, according to minutes of a meeting, he explained: “We have learned from our experience in recent years that wherever there is a tree planted it is almost impossible to seize control of the land … Not for nothing did the ILA agree to increase the budget, because it understands that JNF helps to keep property.”

At the same meeting, board member Yitzhak Krichevsky offered another idea for how to deal with the problem: “Go to Sinai and see how Egypt took over the Bedouin,” he suggested. “There is no democracy there. We’re playing in the courts, with democracy. Go to Sinai. You won’t see a single Bedouin around there.”

But there are other voices making themselves heard in JNF as well. At the meeting in May, board member Alon Tal said that the affair is “a very serious public relations failure by the JNF … The pictures of JNF foresters and other pictures that were publicized of tractors demolishing buildings are what stick with people, and the JNF appears to be a partner to a crime. Our representatives abroad didn’t know how to answer these charges and lost the battle over our reputation in Australia, the United States and other places.”

Another member, Or Karsin, spoke in even stronger terms: “I will say what I think, even if it might sound like Don Quixote,” she said, explaining that she didn’t feel right that “people are being put up against trees … Placing trees in a position of war versus an Israeli population, citizens of the State of Israel, is a very serious thing, and it is very difficult to see these pictures and hear these voices.”

JNF said in response that this article has been based on “a collection of partial documents and partial truths that present a distorted and false picture. In regard to Al-Arakib, JNF is acting solely in accordance with the court decisions, and what the chairman meant by his remarks is that it is good that the media in Israel is not influenced by the world campaign that is fed by lies against Israel and against JNF, and that the media in Israel is behaving responsibly, and sees and knows that not a single tree was planted in the area in question.”

3.      Ynet

December 9, 2011

Breaking News

    Gaza officials: Boy hit in IAF strike dies of his wounds

Medical officials in the Gaza Strip reported that a 12-year-old boy who was critically injured in an IAF strike overnight died of his wounds. The boy’s father was killed in the strike, and other members of the family were injured. (Elior Levy)

4.       Haaretz

December 10, 2011

Palestinian demonstrator killed by IDF in West Bank protest

Mustafa Tamimi, 28, died of his wounds after being hit by a teargas canister fired by Israeli security forces in the village of Nabi Saleh.

By Nir Hasson and The Associated Press

Activists say a Palestinian protester who was injured by Israel forces has died of his wounds.

Israeli pro-Palestinian activist Jonathan Pollack says the 28-year-old protester, Mustafa Tamimi, died in an Israeli hospital Saturday from severe brain damage. Tamimi’s relative Mahmoud Tamimi also confirmed his death.

Protesters say Tamimi was hit in the face Friday with a gas canister fired by Israeli forces in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. An Israeli military spokeswoman said they are investigating the incident.

Palestinians have held weekly demonstrations there for the past few years to protest Jewish settler activity in the area.

The Israeli rights group Btselem says Tamimi is the 20th person to be killed at similar West Bank demonstrations over the past eight years.

Tamimi was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva on Friday, where he died from his wounds on Saturday.

5.       Guardian

10 December 2011

Newt Gingrich declares the Palestinians an ‘invented’ people.

[This is a dangerous man. He is mendacious and opportunist. D]

The US Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has declared that the Palestinians are an “invented” people who want to destroy Israel. [sounds like Golda Meir, who declared that ‘there is no thing as Palestinians.’  But both Gingrich and Meir merely show their ignorance.  Even under Ottoman rule, the area was called Palestine, as it had been from at least as early as the Crusades. And the people who lived here were called Palestinians. D]

The Jewish Channel, a cable TV station, posted online its interview with the former US House speaker, who has risen to the top of Republican nomination candidates to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

Gingrich differed from official US policy that respects the Palestinians as a people deserving of their own state based on negotiations with Israel. “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire” until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic,” he said.

Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment as 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule.

Modern-day Israel, founded amid the 1948 Arab-Israel war, took shape along the lines of a 1947 UN plan for ethnic partition of the then-British ruled territory of Palestine. Arabs rejected the division.

Gingrich and other Republican candidates are seeking to attract Jewish support by vowing to bolster US ties with Israel if elected.

Gingrich said the Hamas militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the the governing Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, represented “an enormous desire to destroy Israel”.

The US government has sought to encourage the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel but regards Hamas as a terrorist group.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, opposes violence against Israel as a means to secure an independent state, pinning his hopes first on negotiations and more recently on a unilateral bid for statehood via the United Nations.

Gingrich said he would be willing to consider granting clemency to Jonathan Jay Pollard, who has been serving life since 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel. Successive US presidents have refused Israel’s requests to free him.

“If we can get to a point where I’m satisfied that there’s no national security threat, and if he’s in fact served within the range of people who’ve had a similar problem, then I’d be inclined to consider clemency,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich sharply criticised the Obama administration’s approach to Middle East diplomacy, saying it was “so out of touch with reality that it would be like taking your child to the zoo and explaining that a lion was a bunny rabbit”.

6, Washington Post

December 10, 2011

Palestinians react with dismay to Gingrich calling them ‘invented’ people

By Associated Press

JERUSALEM — A slew of Palestinian officials reacted with dismay Saturday to Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s statement that the Palestinians are an “invented” people.

The Jewish Channel, a U.S. cable TV network, released excerpts of the interview on Friday in which the former House speaker said Palestinians were not a people because they never had a state and because they were part of the Ottoman Empire before the British mandate and Israel’s creation.

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state — (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places,” Gingrich said, according to a video excerpt posted online.

The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, demanded Gingrich “review history.”

“From the beginning, our people have been determined to stay on their land,” Fayyad said in comments carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. “This, certainly, is denying historical truths.”

Gingrich’s statements struck at the heart of Palestinian sensitivities about the righteousness of their national struggle.

Palestinians never had their own state — they were ruled by the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, like most of the Arab world. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the aftermath of World War I, the British, then a global colonial power, took control of the area, then known as British Mandate Palestine.

During that time, Jews, Muslims and Christians living on the land were identified as “Palestinian.”

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Gingrich had “lost touch with reality.” She said his statements were “a cheap way to win (the) pro-Israel vote.”

A spokesman for the militant Hamas rulers of the Palestinian Gaza Strip called Gingrich’s statements “shameful and disgraceful.”

“These statements … show genuine hostility toward Palestinians,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Palestinians bristle at the implication that they were generic Arabs with no specific attachment to the land that Zionist Jews coveted. Using the word “Palestinians” is a way for them to emphasize their claims.

Palestinians are culturally Arabs — they speak Arabic and their culture is broadly shared by other Arabs who live in the eastern Mediterranean.

But they, for the most part, identify themselves as Palestinians, just as the Lebanese, Jordanians and Syrians also identify themselves with a specific national identity.

For Palestinians, their identity was hewed over decades of fighting against another nationalist struggle over the same land — that of Zionist Jews.

During the war surrounding the Jewish state’s creation in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled, or were forced to flee their homes.

Newt’s reasoning was popular in the decades following Israel’s creation, although that argument has since fallen out of favor among mainstream Israelis.

Israeli spokespeople were not immediately available for comment on the Jewish Sabbath.

7.      Independent Friday, 09 December 2011

Israel to free ‘car thieves’ in second part of exchange

Catrina Stewart

Israel is to release a second batch of Palestinian prisoners this month as part of an exchange deal for the recently freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but may largely exclude political prisoners from the swap.

Such a decision would deal a humiliating blow to the moderate Palestinian leadership, which had hoped to secure the release of high-profile political prisoners who were part of Fatah, the party of President Mahmoud Abbas, as reward for pursuing a policy of peace.

In October, Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in two phases in exchange for Mr Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza by its Islamist rulers, Hamas, for more than five years. Hundreds of security prisoners, many of them members of Hamas, were released in the first tranche, a deal that bolstered the militant movement and was hailed as a victory for the language of force.

But hopes that the second tranche would include Fatah prisoners serving life terms appeared dashed following reports in Israeli newspapers that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will instead release mainly petty criminals or those with little time left to serve.

“We will release car thieves, [and] not make any gestures to [President] Abbas,” an Israeli government official was quoted by The Jerusalem Post newspaper as saying. The paper said that the deal was expected to go ahead on 18 December. The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment.

The plight of prisoners convicted of security-related offences mainly committed during the Second Intifada remains one of the most emotive issues for Palestinians, who regard those people as prisoners of war. Many are serving multiple life sentences with little prospect of release in their lifetime.

Israeli defence officials have urged Mr Netanyahu to make concessions to Mr Abbas, arguing that a weakened Palestinian leader will not be able keep a lid on growing frustration at a fruitless peace process that has gone nowhere in nearly 20 years of talks and has stalled the past three years.


December 9, 2011

Veteran Israeli activist warns against ‘neo-fascist’ legislation

8.      Uri Avnery, whose Haolam Hazeh magazine was the target of past anti-libel legislation, says the current ‘anti-democratic’ wave of bills will affect all levels of society, and the media aren’t doing much to help the situation

By Ofra Edelman

When Israel’s so-called Libel Law was passed in 1965, Uri Avnery, editor of the weekly Haolam Hazeh, declared war from the pages of his decidedly left-leaning magazine.

“It’s either go to the Knesset or go to jail,” he wrote. As in any other war, he added, “this editorial staff has operated as a journalistic commando squad for 15 years, with commando techniques, in the spirit of commandos. Now, we are being compelled to act as political commandos. We will make our way into the electoral system as commandos. We will operate as commandos in the Knesset.”

Avnery, who was born in Germany in 1923, decided to run for a Knesset seat in the hope he could win diplomatic immunity for both himself and his magazine against libel suits.

“The Libel Law … has been passed because Haolam Hazeh threatens the regime’s existence,” he wrote. “If they are saying that there is no room in one country for both this regime and Haolam Hazeh, and thus we have to liquidate Haolam Hazeh, then we have to reply: Correct, there is no room in one country for this regime and for Haolam Hazeh, so we have to liquidate this regime. And we are going to liquidate it.”

Sitting in the living room of his home in Tel Aviv this week, Avnery shared his recollections of that time.

“The law was adopted on the final day of the Fifth Knesset, in the summer of 1965, and the press, the media in general, woke up to the matter only at the last minute,” he says. “They did not take it seriously. Nobody thought that such a thing could even pass.”

Avnery recalls that he “had decided beforehand that if this law passed, I would form a party to run for Knesset. We listened to the news and when it became clear that the Knesset had adopted the defamation law, I said, that’s it, I’m going to the Knesset. We launched a war against the law.”

The 1965 statute, which has been changed to some extent over the years by legislative amendments, toughened the demands placed on media outlets that are sued for defamation: It required them to prove conclusively that their publication of certain information served the public interest. It expanded the definitions of libel, mentioning the specific position-holders in the media who would be held responsible for acts of defamation. This section of the law specifically named the “head of the editorial staff,” a position that Avnery says existed at the time only at Haolam Hazeh.

The clause made Avnery think the law was directed at his publication, and that it was the latest in a series of attempts to silence him. These included an ad boycott of Haolam Hazeh by the state and the Histadrut labor federation; complaints against the weekly, which sometimes published nude photographs of women, based on obscenity laws; and physical assaults on staff members.

In elections to the Sixth Knesset, Avnery mustered about 14,000 votes, enough to pass the threshold and gain a seat for himself.

‘Competition of insanity’

“Lethal,” is how Avnery describes the current amendment to the bill drafted by MKs Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) and Yariv Levin (Likud), which would broaden the scope of compensation set in the 1965 law from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000 without need to prove damage.

Avnery says the threat of monetary damages can be much more damning to journalism than the threat of jail.

“Everyone has an editor and the editor has a publisher and the publisher has an owner,” he says. “What this means is that no one will publish a story that has even the slightest doubt. Please don’t think I am against defamation laws. Absolutely, the press can be reckless, just like every other body. Democratic defamation laws are not improper – on the contrary,” he adds. “Yet on the other hand, the more esteemed and exalted you are, the weaker the defamation laws should be. Anyone who wants to change that legislation always claims he is doing it for the little guy. But his true intentions are always aimed at the big guys. No one cares what happens to the little guy.”

Avnery says the new law is part what he calls a “neo-fascist anti-democratic” wave of legislation meant to stifle dissent.

In your opinion, what is this wave of legislation stemming from?

“Today, before the Likud primary, it is intended to draw attention. After all, what is the object of a Knesset member? I say this from experience: From the moment a Knesset member is elected, he has one objective in life – to be reelected – and he dedicates four years to that end. That is why he needs to get into the media, and that is why, short of killing his own mother, he is willing to do anything and everything.

“A person comes, tries to have a totally insane legislative bill passed, while his sole objective is to get a headline the next day, with a big photo of him. Haaretz comes out the next day, giving him a quarter-page with a dazzling picture – and, hey, you are encouraging him to do it. Another MK sees that and thinks: Why, I’ll propose something even more monstrous … So there is this sort of competition of insanity, of gluttony.”

But if a newspaper didn’t report on such a legislative bill, you would scream bloody murder, that it failed to fill its function.

“However, it is also possible to run the story in a different, not so grandiose, manner. Not with a flattering photo. The obligation to report exists, but not to award a prize to someone. This is how a suicidal media operates.

“Subconsciously, the normal reader is influenced not only by what is written, but also by the intensiveness of the emotion invested in the article. Is this thing good, or is it not very nice, or is it something terrible and tragic that serves those who would destroy Israel? What I am missing here is a moral emotionalism, condemning these new laws.”

What, in your opinion, should journalists do? Does everyone have to run for Knesset to receive immunity?

“It helps. That’s what I did.”

That’s a pretty big step to take.

“I exploited it infrequently, but when I did exploit it, I did so in full. I am in favor of personal sanctions against anyone who proposes these laws: not running a photo [of them] or anything flattering in a paper, and not allowing media interviews. This is something that should be thought of more often. It wouldn’t harm freedom of reporting, but it would make it possible to punish people.

“Nevertheless, the first thing that should have been done is to call a strike. That is clear, so that the public would begin to understand … The public only knows there is some sort of argument going on over some sort of law, it doesn’t understand and neither is it all that interested. Most certainly, it doesn’t think that it affects the public. And if the press itself is not taking measures to make it clear to the reader or the viewer that this is important or serious, why should someone else think so? The first thing that should have been done is to call a strike, as happened then.

“We have to organize a very broad front, to rescue democracy, and the front should start with the idea that the public at large doesn’t even understand why this affects it. The public thinks: So it’ll be this judge and not that judge, what’s the difference? The media? So they will be a little more careful, that would be very good, right? The nongovernmental organizations? Who even needs them? Taking money from abroad? A scandal. Social protest? Okay, it happened, now we’ve moved on. People don’t understand that it pertains to their lives, to their wages. Today’s generation in Israel never lived under a nondemocratic regime.

“Can anyone even imagine what it means to live under a regime in which if you do not sign a declaration in favor of a certain party and you are the chief physician in a brain-surgery department – the next day you are washing windows? Can anyone even imagine such a thing that journalists are being killed in the street, as is happening in Russia? … People don’t get it, they don’t make the connection.

“First, you have to explain to the public that it affects them. It’s not a matter of ‘the higher-ups’ quarreling among themselves. … It is that tomorrow the police arrest you for a crime you did not commit, and there won’t be a newspaper that will publish the story, because the papers will be banned from publicizing the arrests of individuals, and people will begin to disappear from the street and might disappear completely, as happened in Argentina … on the pretext that it protects the citizens. This affects every person in the country. It is not something abstract, not some theoretical disagreement between the parliamentarians and the judges.”

In a column that you wrote, you draw a link between present-day legislation and the collapse of the Weimar republic.

“I was nine when the Nazis came to power, and as a child in a very political household I was very much aware of what happened. Especially when the child sees what is going on, in a very visual way: the uniforms, the parades, the music. So I know how the republic fell. I was aware of it, stage by stage, one small step followed by another small step, and then the whole thing collapsed. Collapsed because the public did not understand why it was important. The public did not summon up from within the emotional strength to oppose.

“When I see the first sign, that first red light goes on for me. I wake up a little earlier than the others. Others are waking up, too, but it takes time. At the beginning they said to us: How can you make a comparison to Nazi Germany? How could you even compare the two? So it doesn’t have to be Nazi Germany, which truly was unique in human history … It doesn’t have to be Hitler – what about Mussolini? And if not Mussolini, how about Franco? Or Pinochet in Chile? Or the colonels in Greece? And if not any of these, how about Ceausescu, or Putin now? There are so many levels – from the very worst to the less worst, but each of them creates hell.”

And where are we in the hierarchal ranking you described?

“We are past the first step. We are far from the last step, but in my opinion it is the first step that determines where it will head. The barricades have fallen. Things that are not to be believed are being believed. Things that it would have been impossible to imagine are imaginable, and that is one small step, but a very decisive step. Our nerve endings are beginning to be dulled. But civil rights aren’t ‘left.’ They don’t have to do with ‘left’. Civil rights affect every individual.

“How do you impart to the common citizen that the struggle is his struggle? That the freedom of expression is his? That the High Court of Justice is his? That the democracy is his? This is where you need a public campaign the likes of which there’s never been. Ultimately, we are speaking of Israel’s future, the future of our lives. An undemocratic state won’t last, it’s as simple as that.”

Avnery paraphrases the famous poem by German pacifist Martin Niemoller, “First they came…” about public silence in the face of encroaching fascism, as describing what is happening in Israel today.

“This is one of the most profound statements,” he explains. “And you could translate it into today’s reality: First they came to destroy the court, then they came to destroy the media, then they came to destroy the NGOs, I was silent – in the end, when I will want to protest, I will not be able to, because there will not be anyone before whom I can do so … and that will be dangerous. People don’t understand.”

9.      Today in Palestine

December 9, 2011

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