“An Israeli government statement said: ‘The hope is to strengthen the Gaza economy. The civilians in Gaza, like the Israelis, are victims of the authoritarian Hamas regime that brutally oppresses the people of Gaza and targets Israeli civilians on our side of the frontier.’” [item 1a, Guardian]
“The purpose of the decision is to try to alleviate the strife of the population in Gaza, who is subjected to the oppressive Hamas regime, a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office read.” [item 1b Haaretz]
The sentiment cited above is fallacious to an extreme. Not that I support fundamentalist organizations, be they Jewish, Muslim, or other. But (a) to equate Israelis with Gazans in any way is mendacious to a T. Besides, both statements make Hamas the culprit when in fact it is Israel with its air, land, sea blockade—not to mention Israel’s horrendous attack on Gaza December 2008-January 2009, and all the attacks prior to that time that killed many innocent civilians, including children–that is harming the people of Gaza. Moreover, while the quotes above would seem to make the easing of restrictions occur from Israel’s good will, in fact it results (as the reports below also state) from pressure exerted on Israel.
Of the 5 items below, the initial one reports that Israel is easing its restrictions on Gaza. However, 1a, the Guardian report, omits details showing that Israel is who decides what enters, what exits, to whom, and who will inspect, etc. 1b, the Haaretz report does indicate these, which show the extent to which Israel will continue to control what exits Gaza and what enters. Israel, in other words, will continue to control Gaza’s fate.
Item 2 is Gisha’s response to Israel’s decision to ‘ease’ restrictions.
Item 3 is a brief report of the discomfort that a young Israeli fencer experienced when ostracized by pro-Palestinian protesters objecting to an Israeli participating in the meet. I feel sorry for the youngster, but believe that more and more Israelis who participate in events abroad will be facing like measures. The world—at least at the grassroots level–is finally waking up to what Israel is, and its ambassadors will feel the brunt of the displeasure.
Brief item 4 reports that while authorities at BG airport allow a Habad to have a religious booth to proffer its services, the authorities deny a joint Palestinian-Israeli peace group to have a booth plying co-existence.
Item 5 reports that some Israeli rabbis object to the letter signed by 40 or so rabbis decreeing that Jews must not rent or sell to Arabs and other non-Jews. My first thought yesterday when I read the letter that was signed by so significant a number of rabbis was ‘what if Christian, Muslim, or Hindu clergy in the United States or other country should decree not to rent or sell to Jews, what would be the reaction here?’ Of course there would be an immediate nearly universal cry of ‘Anti-Semitism.’ The decree of the 40 rabbis is indeed Islamophobia as well as phobia of all things not Jewish. In plain language, it is racism, and should be condemned for what it is without comparing it to ‘what if . . ..’ The two reports of 5a and 5b complement each other, which is why I included both.
All the best,
1a. The Guardian
8 December 2010
Israel to allow exports from Gaza Strip to boost local businesses Government says decision to end trade ban on products such as furniture and textiles aimed at strengthening Gaza economy
Workers at a secondhand market in Gaza City, where businesses have been devastated by the blockade. Photograph: Antonio Olmos Israel is to allow exports from the Gaza Strip in a move to help businesses devastated by the blockade imposed on the territory in June 2007.
The security cabinet approved the move today after increasing demands for action by the international community in recent months.
The loosening of the exports moratorium will happen in two phases, according to an Israeli official.
The first – which will begin immediately but be implemented in stages – will cover agricultural products, furniture, textiles and ceramics. No details were given on the second phase.
There will be no change to the ban on allowing construction materials to enter Gaza freely. Thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged in the war almost two years ago have not been rebuilt or repaired due to the scarcity of building materials, which Israel argues could be used by militant groups for military purposes.
Since Israel eased its embargo on consumer goods six months ago under international pressure following the deadly assault on an aid flotilla trying to reach Gaza, the export ban has prevented significant recovery of local factories and small businesses.
Only limited cargoes of strawberries and flowers destined for Europe have been allowed to leave Gaza.
An Israeli government statement said: “The hope is to strengthen the Gaza economy. The civilians in Gaza, like the Israelis, are victims of the authoritarian Hamas regime that brutally oppresses the people of Gaza and targets Israeli civilians on our side of the frontier.”
Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East Quartet of the EU, US, UN and Russia, welcomed today’s move.
“Allowing exports … will help strengthen the legitimate private sector and alleviate some of the hardship faced by local businessmen,” Blair said. “There is, of course, still much more to do for the people of Gaza, not least in the area of construction, water and power.”
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also welcomed the move but said the true test would be in its implementation.
“Recovery will be a slow process,” the group said, pointing out that “in the past, even while allowing import and export, Israel placed arbitrary restrictions that impaired trade”.
It described Israeli control over Gaza’s borders as “collective punishment of the population”.
Omar Shaban, a Gazan economist, said the move to allow exports was “major progress”, adding: “For the economy to operate, we need two-way trading. This will complete the circle.”
December 08, 2010
Israel allows Gaza exports to West Bank and abroad
Security cabinet approves move in bid to ease the lives of the population in Gaza; government believes ‘steps will have positive impact on Israel’s international stance.’
The security cabinet approved Wednesday to significantly increase exports of goods from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and abroad.
The purpose of the decision is to try to alleviate the strife of the population in Gaza, who is subjected to the oppressive Hamas regime, a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office read.
Cabinet ministers were presented with data on economic growth in the Gaza Strip, which is expected to continue until the end of 2010.
The ministers were notified that in the last few months, the cabinet approved seventy-eight projects in Gaza sponsored by international organizations and foreign countries in the fields of health, infrastructure, water, sewage, housing, and education.
The cabinet announcement also stipulated that following Israel’s efforts to better the economic situation of the population in Gaza, Israel demands that the international community continue its boycott on the Hamas regime and carry on taking steps to prevent Hamas from attaining missiles.
“Arming Hamas is against international law, harms the interests of the population in Gaza, and it will harm Israel’s ability to continue easing and bettering the economic situation in Gaza,” the announcement said.
The export, which will occur through the Kerem Shalom crossing point in southern Gaza, will include three types of goods: furniture, farming products and light industry products.
The export from Gaza to foreign countries will be unrestricted, while exports to the West Bank will be for specific projects with coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
Additionally, PA inspectors will begin to work in the Keren Shalom crossing, and oversee the collection of import taxes and the export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank.
This would mark the first return of Palestinian Authority officials to the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover in June 2007.
2. Gisha response to Cabinet announcement allowing limited Gaza “export”
Gisha expresses hope that today’s Israeli Cabinet decision will be a harbinger of removing the restrictions on the transfer of civilian goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, in order to allow its residents to engage in dignified, productive work.
We are concerned by reports that Israel will continue to prevent residents of Gaza from marketing products to private, unaffiliated buyers in the West Bank, as well as to merchants in Israel – with no apparent security justification. We recall that until Israel blocked the outgoing traffic of goods from Gaza in 2007, Israeli merchants and manufacturers would buy goods from factories in Gaza and market them in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad, to the mutual financial benefit of both Israeli and Palestinian workers.
The Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Israel are part of a single “customs envelope” (Hebrew) controlled by Israel, which sets the tariff and VAT rates in all three areas. Marketing goods from Gaza to the West Bank and Israel is therefore not “export” but rather trade that, under international law, can only be restricted for security reasons. That trade is critical to economic recovery for the 1.5 million people in Gaza whose ability to transfer goods is controlled by Israel.
We note that since 2007, Israel has closed three out of four of Gaza’s commercial crossings, creating pressure on the Kerem Shalom crossing, whose capacity is limited. Israel is currently suppressing demand for space at Kerem Shalom by banning the entrance of construction materials and the exit of outbound goods, with limited exceptions. Prior to these restrictions, each day on average, 433 trucks would enter Gaza, and 70 trucks of outbound goods would exit. In contrast, since June 2007, Israel has permitted just 274 truckloads of outbound goods in total, for a daily average of one-third of a truck.
Despite promises to enable the transfer of construction materials for international organizations asking to rebuild the Gaza Strip, since the “easing” in July 2010, Israel allowed the transfer of just 149 truckloads of construction materials (gravel, steel, and cement) on average per month, in comparison to over 5,000 trucks with these materials per month prior to June 2007 (approximately 3% of need). Israel has approved just 7% of UNRWA’s plan for rebuilding and reconstructing Gaza, and even for these approved projects, permission to transfer the building materials is delayed.
In its report from September 2010, the International Monetary Fund noted that unless the restrictions on export to markets outside Gaza, including Israel, are removed, and unless the ban on construction materials is removed, there will be no significant economic recovery.
Click here for our post on the “export” of strawberries and flowers.
For an information sheet on the changes in the closure policy since the June 2010 cabinet decision, see: Unraveling the Closure of Gaza.
December 08, 2010
Palestinian protest disrupts fencing event in Spain
Pro-Palestinian protestors interrupt junior fencing competition in Burgos, chanting anti-Israeli slogans. ‘I was shaking the whole competition, it was very scary,’ Israeli teen athlete Irina Levin says
The Junior Fencing World Cup in Burgos, Spain turned into a political arena this past weekend when 12 pro-Palestinian protestors stormed the bleachers during a match between Israel and Spain, shouting anti-Israeli slogans and wielding anti-Israel signs.
The protestors yelled “Killers of Palestinians” at the young fencers, and their signs called for a boycott of Israel.
“It was very scary,” said Israeli coach Yaakov Brusovnick, whose trainee Irina Levin was competing when the protest broke out. “They tried to destroy the competition and started to descend towards the area of the match, while Irina was in the track closest to the bleachers.”
Brusovnick, a veteran coach who has several fencing titles under his belt, has never experienced a similar event. “I have been coaching in Israel for two years, and it’s the first time that this has happened,” he said. “The judge immediately stopped the match, and different coaches from different countries began to confront the protestors in an attempt to remove them from the hall.”
‘They had fire in their eyes’
Two days later, 17-year-old Levin still sounded distraught while trying to recap the event in a phone interview. “I was in the middle of the match in the first level when I heard someone shouting ‘Israel, Israel,'” she told Ynet. “I asked myself, who came to cheer for me? Suddenly I turn my head and see a giant Palestinian flag, and people waving signs.”
Levin added that the team has undergone safety training and was told to keep their distance, and yet the incident was unexpected.
“There was a Star of David on my suit, and everything was directed at me and at Israel,” she continued. “I immediately stopped the fight and the judge didn’t know how to react. The Spanish rival’s coach went up and tore their sign, and ran away because they wanted to attack him. I was shaking during the entire competition and everyone tried to calm me down.”
Levin said that police officers secured the hall for the duration of the competition following the incident, but even with their presence she was still afraid.
“I was looking around me all the time, I was very scared,” she said. “You don’t know if they will come back, or if they will come to my hotel. It really scared me. They had fire in their eyes.”
December 08, 2010
Peace group denied permission to operate Chabad-like stand at Ben-Gurion airport
Artists Without Walls wanted to set up stand managed by Jews and Arabs ‘who would be open to dialogue with passengers about coexistence.’
The Israel Airports Authority rejected on Tuesday a request by a joint Palestinian-Israeli peace group to open a stand at the passenger terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport like the one operated by the Chabad movement.
Eitan Heller, the Israeli representative of Artists Without Walls, wrote a letter to Israel Airports Authority CEO Kobi Mor saying the group had a specific place in mind for the stand which would “serve free coffee and be managed by Jews and Arabs, who would be open to dialogue with passengers about coexistence and tolerance.”
Heller said that on his frequent trips abroad he has noticed the presence of the Chabad stand, where passersby are asked to put on phylacteries.
Heller said he has nothing against Chabad, which does good work around the world. “But I cannot understand why a specific religious group has its own stand in an open area in an international air terminal,” he said. “This is a phenomenon I have not experienced anywhere else in the world.”
In rejecting the request, the airport manager, Shmuel Kandel, said that Chabad provides a service to “religious consumers and travelers who want to avail themselves of this service.” He noted that in a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Movement for Progressive Judaism, the court did not override the IAA’s right to designate to Chabad an area for the use travelers. Kandel ended his letter by saying that Chabad “is aware of its obligation not to approach passengers, and airport inspectors make sure this is the case.”
5a. The Independent,
8 December 2010
Israeli moderates outraged as rabbis target non-Jews
Over 40 prominent Israeli rabbis – some of them public servants – yesterday targeted the country’s million-plus Arab minority with a religious edict warning their congregations not to rent property to non-Jews.
The letter, which provoked immediate protests from civil rights activists, left-wingers and Arab politicians, is the latest in a series of moves by elements of both the secular and religious Israeli right which have helped to inflame mounting inter-ethnic tensions over the last two years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night condemned the letter, which cites ancient Jewish sages who held that living with gentiles can lead to “sacrilege”. Many of the signatories were publicly-funded municipal chief rabbis.
Although the letter’s main purpose appears to be to exclude Arab Israeli citizens – of whom there are over one million – from Jewish-owned property, it could also be aimed at preventing the letting of accommodation to around 30,000 Africans – asylum-seekers as well as economic migrants – the government estimates have entered the country since 2006.
The move escalates a row which had already blown up over a similar edict issued by the chief rabbi in the ultra-orthodox-dominated northern Israeli town of Safed. The ruling led to posters and leaflets denouncing holocaust survivor Eli Tzavieli for letting a room to three Bedouin students. Defending the letter, to be published in synagogues and religious journals, one signatory, Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod, told Army Radio: “The Land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel.” Another signatory, Chief Rabbi Mordechai Nagari from the Maale Adumim settlement, told Reuters: “If you allow Arabs into Jewish neighbourhoods, you are asking for feuds to ensue.”
Mr Netanyahu said last night the state of Israel “totally rejects” the call made in the letter, which reportedly refers to property values as well as to sacred texts purporting to justify the edict.
Saying that it was opposed to the “fundamental and Jewish values which we hold dear”, the Prime Minister added: “How would we feel as Jews if people were to make a similar call abroad in relation to Jews?” Among those denouncing the rabbis’ move was Yona Yahav, the mayor of Haifa, the northern port city long known for relatively harmonious relations between Jewish residents and a substantial Arab population. “This is sacrilege,” said Mr Yahav. “It spreads hatred and divisions among the people with whom we have decided to share our lives.”
Before Mr Netanyahu’s remarks last night, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri) called on him to “condemn the incitement expressed by the rabbis and take disciplinary action against those employed by the state”. Acri, along with Labour minorities minister Avishai Braverman, have already called for the removal or suspension of the Safed chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu.
Rabbi David Rosen, the inter-faith adviser to Israel’s chief rabbinate, described the rabbis’ action as “disturbing”, but said he did not think that the majority of the country’s rabbis would agree.
Arab parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi, deputy chairman of the Knesset, said the signatories needed an “intensive course in Jewish history” and should all be tried for “incitement to racism”.
December 08, 2010
Leading Haredi rabbi refuses to endorse letter forbidding the rental of homes to Arabs
“What if there was a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews?” asks Rabbi Steinman.
Although the authors of the rabbinical edict forbidding the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews managed to collect the signatures of 39 leading rabbis around the country, they failed to enlist a leading Haredi rabbi, chair of the Degel Hatorah Council of Sages, Aaron Leib Steinman.
Steinman refused an audience with Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu this week, when the latter arrived to pray at the former’s courtyard in an attempt to convince the Bnei Brak spiritual leader to sign the letter instructing Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs or any other non-Jews.
A source that was present at the scene said, “As soon as Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu introduced himself, Rabbi Steinman, who knew why he was being approached, said ‘I won’t sign,’ and immediately left the room.” Steinman, who is 96 years old, then discussed the right-wing initiative with members of his inner circle.
One of Steinman’s confidants related the rabbi’s words to Haaretz: “They are making a fierce nationalistic statement. We will not irritate others, that is not the Haredi way. There are things that should not be done; what if there would be a similar call in Berlin against renting properties to Jews? Where is the public conscience? What will this do to Jews around the world? We must act responsibly.”
Some Zionist rabbis also refused to sign the edict. Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi and revered Zionist Torah adjudicator Yaakov Ariel said, “The former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, already adjudicated that, despite the Biblical prohibition ‘Thou shalt not give them respite,’ in a democratic state you cannot discriminate between citizens. What’s more, it will cause discrimination against Jews in other countries.”
Maale Gilboa Yeshiva head Rabbi Yehuda Gilad said in response to the rabbis’ letter on Tuesday, “This ruling is a serious distortion of the Torah, and contradicts basic human morality.”
Gilad continued, “We can only imagine what would be [Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s] reaction if he would hear of a case outside of Israel where the authorities forbade the rental of homes to Jews.”