mardi 31 mars 2009

Défendons la liberté de la presse et la liberté d’expression !

Je vous écris un peu dans l’urgence ce soir, mais je pense réellement qu’il faut que chacun d’entre nous se sente concerné par l’affaire AlterInfo car elle pourrait arriver à chacun de ceux qui tiennent un blog ou un site. Ce que je défends ce soir, c’est la liberté d’expression et de la presse et ce n’est pas rien ! C’est même ce qui me semble le principal pilier d’une démocratie digne de ce nom!
Ce nouveau coup porté au directeur d’AlterInfo fait partie à n’en point douter, du vaste projet d’intimidation du gouvernement et de tous ceux qui ont leurs entrées à l’Elysée pour museler la presse indépendante et les sites d’information alternatifs présents sur le Net. Rappelons-nous le discours du premier Ministre François Fillon lors du dîner du CRIF ; il disait en substance : « Nous devons veiller à ce que les nouvelles technologies ne deviennent pas, à leur tour, le canal de la haine. » Or, faire une analyse de ce qui s’est passé à Gaza et dénoncer les vingt-deux jours d’infamie qu’ont subis les Palestiniens, c’était dans la bouche de Mr Prasquier et de Mr Fillon le parfait exemple de ce que peut être une terrible incitation à la haine !... N’oublions pas non plus, que ce mercredi 01 avril Pierre Haski (directeur de la publication de Rue89) et Augustin Scalbert (journaliste spécialiste des médias) seront entendus par la police judiciaire, le même jour que deux autres journalistes de France3 au sujet de à l'affaire de la vidéo de « Sarkozy off » sur FR3.
Le procès qui aura lieu après demain à Mulhouse semble se présenter assez mal pour Monsieur Zeynel Cekici, Président de l’association Alter Info et directeur de publication de l’agence de presse associative du même nom. En effet, se conformant à l’avis de son avocat, Mr Cekici ne devait pas être présent à l’audience or, aujourd’hui, des policiers se sont présentés à une adresse qu’ils pensaient être la sienne(il s’agissait en fait de l’adresse de ses parents) afin d’exécuter un mandat d’amener. Ordre a en effet été donné de le faire comparaître comme mis en examen soumis à un ordre d’amener : il sera mis entre deux gendarmes lors de son procès qui doit commencer à 8h30 ce jeudi 02 avril à Mulhouse ; cette manière de procéder nous amène à penser que la justice a la ferme intention d’en découdre avec lui ; elle doit en faire un exemple à tout prix pour tous ceux qui oseraient s’aventurer sur un terrain, que ni le CRIF ni Mr Sarkozy ne peuvent tolérer !
Monsieur Zeynel Cekici, comparaît devant la justice correctionnelle de Mulhouse qui doit statuer sur une accusation de culpabilité pour le chef d’accusation d'« antisémitisme » ou encore d’ « incitation à la haine raciale ». Motif de cette comparution:le site a reproduit un article intitulé « l’impérialisme du capital juif » disponible depuis plusieurs années sur le Net. Rappelons que cet article n’était pas une nouveauté sur Internet et que Mr Cekici n’en était aucunement l’auteur. Nous nous demandons comment la reproduction d’un article déjà disponible sur le Net peut constituer une raison suffisante pour que de façon inattendue, la machine judiciaire s’emballe de la sorte contre le site AlterInfo traînant ainsi, tel un criminel, son directeur de publication devant un tribunal?
Ce soir nous sommes très inquiets pour la suite de ce procès et nous estimons que tout un chacun qui en a les moyens se doit d’agir pour défendre Mr Cekici. Que tous ceux qui le peuvent fassent le déplacement à Mulhouse et pour les autres et bien qu’ils fassent des papiers de protestations sur leur blog ou sur leur site. Il est intolérable que dans notre pays la liberté d’informer soit de plus en plus menacée. Nous ne le répèterons jamais assez, la liberté d’expression est un droit universellement reconnu ; elle a trouvé dans l’article 19 de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme de 1948 son expression la plus catégorique : « 1- Tout individu a droit à la liberté d’opinion et d’expression. 2- Ce qui implique le droit de ne pas être inquiété pour ses opinions et celui de chercher, de recevoir et de répandre, sans considérations de frontières, les informations et les idées par quelque moyen que ce soit. » Même si cette affirmation vigoureuse est mitigée par le paragraphe 3 du même article 19 qui déclare que : « L’exercice des droits définis au paragraphe 2 de cet article implique des devoirs et des responsabilités spéciales. Il peut donc être soumis à certaines restrictions, mais qui ne seront autres que celles définies par la loi et nécessaires : (a) au respect des droits et de la réputation d’autrui ; (b) à la sauvegarde de la sécurité nationale ou de l’ordre public, ou de la santé et de la moralité publique. » Nous ajoutons en outre que la liberté d’expression fait partie de ces droits qui bénéficient de garanties très fortes, notamment constitutionnelles, dans l’ensemble des pays démocratiques dont la France auxquelles il faut adjoindre les différentes conventions internationales réaffirmant elles aussi ce principe fondateur de l’exercice démocratique. Et contrairement aux « droits-créances », tels que le droit au travail, à la santé, à l’éducation qui représentent des « droits à », qui supposent une intervention active de l’Etat, les « droits libertés », dont le droit à la liberté d’expression, s’accommodent d’une régulation étatique minimale.
Qu’on nous explique alors ce qui motive le procès du directeur de publication d’AlterInfo puisque la dite publication incriminée n’a pas été sanctionnée par des magistrats avant lors de ses précédentes reproductions sur le Net français? Faut-il voir la ferme volonté des autorités françaises de s’en prendre uniquement au site AlterInfo parce qu’il dérange beaucoup, voire trop, la « bien pensance » qui devrait avoir cours dans notre pays et en particulier après les insoutenables massacres de Gaza. Il est incontestable que le site AlterInfo a été une tribune qui a permis à bon nombre d’auteurs, et pas des moindres, de s’exprimer sur cette tragédie et on peut gager qu’un grand nombre de ces articles n’ont pas été du tout appréciés, ni par le pouvoir politique de notre pays ni par les organisations telles que le CRIF ; tous deux ayant manifesté avec la plus grande force un soutien inconditionnel à Israël et à Tsahal lors de l'opération Plomb durci…
Nous sommes donc convaincus que le pouvoir politique veut faire un exemple de ce procès et que l’article incriminé n’est qu’un prétexte fallacieux ; le but de la manœuvre étant de créer un climat de peur chez tous ceux qui ont pris la mauvaise habitude de s’exprimer par le biais de l’Internet sur des sujets auxquels il ne saurait être question d’avoir un avis autre que celui émis par « ceux qui font la France... »
C’est pourquoi je demande à tous ceux qui considèrent que ce procès est une grave menace pour l’avenir de la liberté d’expression de le dénoncer aussi vigoureusement que possible. Demain ce sera peut-être nous qui ne pourrons plus ni écrire nos opinions, ni diffuser les articles qui nous semblent pertinents sur nos blogs et sur nos sites ! Nelly LEBOUCHER

Je rappelle le jour et l’heure du procès : jeudi 02 avril 2009 à 8h30 heures au Tribunal de Mulhouse.

A Perfect Moral Catastrophe: Just War Philosophy and the Israeli Attack on Gaza

Paru sur le site Tikkun.org dans sa version courte
L'intégralité de l'article peut-être consultée sur le lien suivant:
http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/mar09_slater

by Jerome Slater

Note: A longer version of this article, expanded to include, among other related issues, a discussion of the actions of Hamas in light of just war theory, has also been posted to our website. Click here to view/download that version (in PDF format) or Click here to view that version in a Flash Flipbook format. It has been extensively footnoted, so please read it before responding to this article, especially if your concern is the nature of the supporting evidence for Jerome Slater's statements. The author of the response to this article did not have access to the longer piece, which was not finished when this issue went to press.

Even strong critics of the Israeli attack on Gaza have generally prefaced their criticism by saying, in essence, "of course Israel has every right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks, but its methods are disproportionate." Or, as it is sometimes put, "no country can ignore attacks on its territory and citizens."

There are two problems with these arguments. The first is that calling Israel's attack on Gaza "disproportionate" falls well short of revealing the full dimensions of its behavior: the Israeli way of war-including in most of its previous wars, not just in Gaza-is worse than merely "disproportional," or even "indiscriminate." Second, a nation does not have a "right" of self-defense if attacks on its soil are triggered by-or are acts of resistance against-its own aggression, colonialism, occupation, or repression.

Jus ad Bellum, or the Justice of Going to War

The analysis and argument of this article will be based on just war philosophy, the dominant Western framework for moral discussions of war. The central principles of just war philosophy are jus ad bellum-the justice of going to war-and jus in bello, or just methods of warfare. The most important of the jus ad bellum constraints are that states must have a just cause for going to war, that war must be a last resort, and that the war must have a high enough probability of success (in attaining a just cause) to offset the inevitable devastation of war.

Further, even if all the jus ad bellum criteria are met, a state must not resort to morally unacceptable methods. The three major constraints within jus in bello are proportionality, meaning that there are limits to the amount of force that is morally allowable, even for a just cause; distinction, meaning that every effort must be made to distinguish between soldiers and civilians; and noncombatant immunity, meaning that there may never be deliberate attacks on civilians. The Israeli attack on Gaza violated every one of these principles.

Just Cause and the Israeli Attack

Begin with just cause: did Israel have a moral right to go to war against Hamas in order to end its rocket attacks aimed at the Israeli population? The standard argument of those who believe that Israel was merely exercising its right of self-defense is that in 2005 Israel ended its occupation of Gaza, allowing the Gazans to peacefully govern themselves and develop their economy, but was met with continued terrorist attacks whose purpose was to destroy the state of Israel.

No part of this argument can withstand serious analysis. First, it is widely argued in Israel that the real purpose of Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of the Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005 was to ease the overall burden of the occupation on Israel rather than on the Palestinians, and to allow Israel to consolidate its occupation of the West Bank-which is far larger, more economically productive, and contains more invaluable water aquifers than Gaza-as well as its occupation of East Jerusalem, which is religiously and symbolically important to both sides.

In any case, there was no true end to the Israeli occupation even of Gaza, for Israeli forces retained control over Gaza's borders, coastline, and airspace; continued to wield overwhelming power over its economy and external trade; continued to control Gaza's telecommunications, water, and electricity networks; and reserved the right to launch incursions at will-which, of course, it has done. As a 2004 Human Rights Watch report put it, "The removal of settlers and most military forces will not end Israel's control over Gaza.... Israel plans to reconfigure its occupation of the territory, but it will remain an occupying power."

Moreover, even if Israel had genuinely withdrawn from Gaza and also ended all other means of repressing Gaza's residents, that hardly would have met the need of the Palestinians as a whole for a viable independent state of their own. The Palestinians living in Gaza are not a separate nation from those living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; to believe otherwise is the equivalent of believing that if in the 1770s the British had withdrawn from New Jersey but continued to occupy New York, the residents of New Jersey would no longer have the right to take up arms in support of American independence.

Consider the extent of Israeli repression, as it repeatedly has been described by the most important international human rights organizations; by western media, including even the New York Times (which typically downplays Israeli repression); and above all by Israeli human rights organizations, academics, journalists and newspapers, and even by disillusioned former Israeli politicians, military men, and intelligence officials.

The killings. According to studies by the United Nations and Israeli as well as international human rights organizations, from 2006 through the end of 2008, Israel killed about 1,000 Palestinians, up to half of them civilians and as many as a quarter of them children. During the recent rampage in Gaza, Israel killed more than 1,300 Palestinians-two-thirds of them civilians by the Israeli army's own analysis (Haaretz, January 25, 2009).
Beyond the outright killings, surely by now it is obvious that Israel has followed a deliberate policy of collective punishment and impoverishment of the Gazan people, the clear purpose of which is to intimidate them and induce them to turn away not only from Hamas terrorism, but from all forms of resistance to Israeli control, including nonviolence. As Yitzhak Laor, the Israeli poet, author, and political columnist recently wrote: "If they launch a missile, we destroy families, neighborhoods, streets, towns.... If they protest peacefully, we fire tear gas at them."

Economic warfare. In carrying out what has been widely termed the siege of Gaza, since 2006 Israel has regularly blocked Gazan trade and commerce with the outside world; bombed and shelled Gazan factories, farms, and olive orchards; and destroyed Gaza's main power plant. Consequently, even before the latest attacks the economy of Gaza was on the verge of collapse, unemployment ranged from 45 percent to 60 percent, 80 percent of Gazans were estimated to be below international poverty lines (according to a number of studies, among the worst such figures in the world), and malnutrition was rampant, even if outright starvation was averted by a small stream of Israeli food supplies and extensive outside assistance.
One can only imagine how much worse this already intolerable situation has become in the aftermath of the recent attacks: roads, bridges, factories, agricultural lands, and the electrical system were destroyed or badly damaged. Further, about 4,000 homes were destroyed, 21,000 damaged, and 100,000 people left homeless (New York Times, January 25, 2009).

Destruction of Palestinian government. In its recent attacks on Gaza, the Israeli forces have repeated their deliberate and extensive 2002 attacks on the governing institutions of Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority in the West Bank: the Gazan parliament, the main government ministries, and nearly all police stations were reduced to rubble.
Destruction of public and private health systems. As in the earlier attacks in the West Bank, Israel cut off supplies of desperately needed medicines and equipment. It also struck hospitals and ambulances. Moreover, the attacks on the Gazan electrical system have resulted in even greater devastation to the sewage system, food production and distribution systems, and even of supplies of drinking water.
Destruction of Palestinian education. Both in the West Bank earlier and in the recent Gazan attacks, Israel has deliberately attacked many Palestinian schools and universities, and in other ways made normal education impossible. According to one United Nations study, the combined effect of direct attacks on schools and universities, widespread malnutrition, and the consequences of all the other Israeli forms of repression has resulted in "the collapse of the education system in Gaza."
For all of these reasons, the Israeli attack on Gaza cannot be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, for its main purpose, as Henry Siegman has put it, is "to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza's population."

Last Resort

Nonetheless, for the sake of analysis let us suppose that Israel really had withdrawn not only from Gaza but also from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Let us suppose, further, that it had truly ended its occupation and repression, and therefore had earned a genuine right of self-defense against Hamas attacks. Even in these (purely hypothetical) circumstances, Israel would still not have had the moral right to attack Gaza unless it also had met the last resort criterion.

The last resort principle requires that every reasonable effort to seek a political solution must be tried before going to war. Israel also failed this test, for it made no attempt at negotiations before attacking Gaza, despite a number of indications that Hamas was becoming increasingly amenable to a reasonable political settlement.

If so, Hamas would be following in the footsteps of Arafat's PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and those of many other radical movements that became much more moderate when they had countries to run. Beginning in the 1980s, the PLO gradually but steadily moved away from its early ideological and uncompromising rejection of the existence of Israel and effectively abandoned its dream of creating a Palestinian state in all the historic land of Palestine. Today, no one doubts that the goal of the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor and the West Bank prime minister, is limited to the creation of a small state in the 23 percent that remained of Palestine after the 1948 war, living in coexistence with its far more powerful Jewish neighbor.

Granted, there are no guarantees that Hamas will duplicate the evolution of the PLO, for it has remained committed-at least verbally-to its anti-Semitic founding ideology and 1988 charter, which explicitly states that it is a religious obligation to eliminate Israel and the Jews from the Islamic holy land. It is clear that there are internal divisions within Hamas-particularly between the relatively more moderate Hamas officials in Gaza, led by Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas officials in exile, led by Khaled Meshal-over the extent to which this ideology must give way to practical realities.

A Political Settlement with Hamas?

Regardless of the divisions within the organization, by 2006 there were a number of indications of emerging Hamas flexibility, even among the hard-liners. In January 2006 Hamas published its official platform for the upcoming Gazan elections; it included no language calling for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in all of Palestine. To be sure, the apparent change in Hamas's position was ambiguous, for it continued to proclaim that it did not reject any means, "including armed resistance" if that was necessary to "end the occupation" and "establish a state whose capital is Jerusalem."

As Israeli analysts noted, the Hamas platform did not specify whether such a state would be limited to the West Bank and Gaza and did not clarify whether "the occupation" to be ended referred only to the post-1967 Israeli expansion or to the entire Jewish state. Even so, the very ambiguity greatly differed from earlier Hamas extremism and even suggested that the operational, if not the ideological, goals of Hamas now might not substantially differ from those of Abbas and other Palestinian moderates.

Moreover, the Hamas leaders were surely aware that they won the 2006 Gaza parliamentary elections not because of their ideology but despite it: as Henry Siegman has pointed out, post-election polls showed that 73 percent of the Gazan population favored a peace deal with Israel and a two-state solution. As nearly all observers agreed, Hamas won because the Gazan people were tired of Fatah's incompetence and corruption.

It has now been revealed that, after the elections, Haniyeh, the new Gazan prime minister, sent a written message to George Bush offering a truce for many years in exchange for a compromise political settlement; the Bush administration did not reply to this and additional overtures (Haaretz, Nov. 10, 2008). Soon after that, Hamas began to go public with its new position. For example, in May 2006, Haniyeh told Haaretz that the Hamas government would agree to a long-term truce with Israel if it withdrew to the 1967 lines. Shortly afterward, a joint statement of senior Hamas and Fatah members who were imprisoned in Israel went further; the highly important and prestigious "Prisoners' Declaration" cleared up previous ambiguities by calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state "in all the lands occupied in 1967," and would employ armed resistance only in those territories (Haaretz, May 11, 2006; emphasis added). In an even more significant indication that Hamas was moving towards Mahmoud Abbas's position, in March 2007 Hamas and the Palestinian Authority formed a national unity government to negotiate with Israel; Hamas officials stated at the time that they agreed that Abbas should play the leading role in such negotiations.

Israel and its ally the United States ignored all these overtures, or contemptuously dismissed them as "tricks." Nonetheless, throughout 2008 Hamas's political position continued to evolve; even Meshal publicly announced his support for a ten-year "truce" if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.

It is undeniable that the Hamas position still contains a number of ambiguities and inconsistencies. First, it calls only for a truce rather than a permanent settlement-but sometimes suggests that the truce can be extended indefinitely. Second, sometimes Hamas officials say that they accept Israel as a "fact" but will "never recognize its legitimacy"; on other occasions they strongly imply that their formal position has no practical importance and could eventually change. One day a Hamas official sounds particularly conciliatory, and the next day other officials back away. Sometimes Hamas stresses its commitment to the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, perhaps the most difficult obstacle to a permanent settlement, but at other times it downplays the issue. And so on.

Yet, the general direction is clear, and in historic terms the evolution has been rapid. A number of factors account for this evolution, including the realities of governing, especially when most Gazans continue to favor an end to the conflict and a two-state solution; the fact that most Arab governments today-particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and probably Syria, the most important of the Arab states-also support a compromise settlement solution and fear Islamic fundamentalism; the economic sanctions imposed by Israel, the United States, and European countries after the Hamas takeover of Gaza; and, no doubt, the unending Israeli assassinations and other attacks.

For these reasons, many Israeli analysts today-including past and present intelligence and other government officials-now argue that the Hamas evolution is meaningful and that the organization-unlike al Qaeda-is becoming a movement fighting for limited national goals rather than uncompromising religious ones. Some have even suggested that Hamas's anti-Semitism just might have something to do with the decades of Israeli occupation and repression rather than being simply an a priori and immutable product of religious fanaticism.

In the final analysis, the key point is that the only way to resolve the ambiguities is through negotiations with Hamas-no serious peace proposal requires Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories until a reasonable and enforceable political settlement is reached. That the Israeli government has refused to take this obvious path of exploring Hamas's true intentions strongly suggests that it is Israel at least as much as Hamas that is unwilling or (for domestic reasons) unable to accept a genuine two-state solution.

A Cease-Fire

Even if a political settlement with Hamas-for whatever reason-is presently out of reach, Israel could have come closer to meeting the principle that force is justified only as a last resort had it not ignored a number of Hamas cease-fire proposals as well as complied, in good faith, with several recent cease-fires that were either negotiated or unilaterally proclaimed by Hamas. Thus, contrary to the widespread view that it was unprovoked Hamas rocket attacks that gave Israel no choice but to attack Gaza, the chronological evidence overwhelmingly shows that Israel was primarily responsible for the continuation of the violence.

According to ex-Mossad Chief Ephraim Halevy, in 1997 King Hussein of Jordan conveyed to Israel an offer from Khaled Meshal, the chief Hamas leader, to reach an understanding on a cease-fire to last thirty years. Israel not only ignored the offer, but a few days later, Israeli operatives also tried to assassinate Meshal in Jordan.
According to Matti Steinberg, former head adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Shin Bet (Israel's internal security agency), Hamas refrained from attacking civilians inside Israel until Baruch Goldstein's February 1994 murder of twenty-nine Palestinians in a Hebron mosque. When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin refused to withdraw the settlers from Hebron in the aftermath of the massacre, Hamas then retaliated with suicide bombings of its own.
Sporadic terrorist attacks on Israel in the ensuing years typically followed Israeli undercover operations that killed Hamas members or other militants, and often civilian bystanders, as well. Beginning in February 2005, Hamas unilaterally declared a cease-fire; while Israel then temporarily suspended its assassinations in Gaza, it continued to target Islamic Jihad activists inside the West Bank, who then retaliated with rocket attacks.
In January 2006, Israel assassinated a senior Hamas leader; however, Hamas did not retaliate and continued to press for a far-ranging, long-term cease-fire, during which it would not only take no violent actions against Israel but would also prevent other Palestinian organizations from doing so.
In November 2006, following an Israeli artillery attack in which a shell struck several homes, killing 19 people, most of them women and children, Hamas retaliated with an attempted suicide bombing in Israel, its first such attack in nearly two years. Following that, however, in the next year there were few attacks inside Israel, whether by Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Nonetheless, throughout 2007 Israel continued its assassination attacks on militants inside Gaza, killing more than 100 Palestinians, many of them civilian bystanders, including women and children. There were a few retaliatory rocket attacks, but only three Israelis were killed, the lowest number since 2000.
In April 2008, Meshal stated that Hamas was ready to stop attacking civilians if Israel did the same, and in early June a new six-month truce went into effect. During the next few months there were few if any Hamas rocket attacks; although there were several Islamic Jihad retaliatory attacks in response to Israeli military actions in Gaza or the West Bank, they resulted in few casualties. A Haaretz correspondent wrote: "Hamas leaders have spoken out vehemently and unequivocally against the rocket fire and ... [have] even threatened those who violate the lull with arrest."
In September and October, there were two Islamic Jihad rocket attacks but none from Hamas. Nonetheless, Israel greatly tightened its siege of Gaza, sharply limiting the movement of food supplies, medicines, fuel, and repair parts for water and sewage systems; moreover, six Hamas men were killed in a November 5 Israeli raid on a Gazan tunnel. Following that attack, Hamas fired rockets into southern Israel and announced it would no longer abide by the latest cease-fire agreement when that pact expired in December but would be prepared to negotiate a new one if Israel agreed to ease its siege. Israel refused, but even so, no Israelis were killed until after the full-scale Israeli attack on Gaza that began on December 27, 2008.
In short, Israel has had many opportunities to bring about a negotiated end to missile or other terrorist attacks from Gaza, if that had been its true goal. However, the evidence makes it apparent that its underlying purpose is to destroy all resistance to its continued occupation of the West Bank and external control over Gaza. Using both economic siege and military force as its weapons, Israel has repeatedly provoked Palestinian terrorist retaliation.

Probability of Success

Just war philosophy prohibits the use of force unless the probability of success is sufficiently high as to offset the destructiveness of war. Israel's attack also fails this principle.

Even if Israel's purpose had been only to end terrorist attacks, the war was unlikely to achieve that purpose so long as Israel continued its occupation policies and various forms of oppression in the Palestinian territories, for it was clear that Hamas (let alone Islamic Jihad) would not indefinitely refrain from resisting or retaliating with whatever weapons they had at their disposal. That Israel would not be able to destroy Hamas's military capabilities nor its will to use them was predicted in advance by a number of Israeli analysts, and the predictions are already coming true: only a relatively small number of Hamas fighters were killed during the war, the tunnels are being rapidly rebuilt, the Shin Bet has warned the Israeli cabinet that Hamas plans to resume its arms smuggling into Gaza within a few months, and rockets are again falling on Israel.

The Israeli attack also failed to attain its deeper purpose, the destruction of Hamas or at least the undermining of its support among the Gazan population. Many Israeli as well as U.S. news stories have pointed to indications that the hatred engendered by the devastation of Gaza has led to more, not less, Palestinian popular support for Hamas. Indeed, the history of previous Israeli attacks against Arab populations intended to undermine their support for militant movements has already demonstrated the futility, let alone the immorality, of such behavior: the rise of Hezbollah was the direct consequence of the massive 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and Hamas was created after Israel repressed the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.

Even more importantly, it was perfectly predictable that the devastating attack on Gaza would greatly intensify the hatred of Israel in the Arab world as a whole and undermine the moderate Arab governments that support a compromise peace settlement. Already Turkey, long Israel's most important ally in the Arab world, is changing its stance; King Hussein of Jordan is distancing himself; and Mubarak in Egypt is under severe domestic pressures. Consequently, even if Israel had destroyed Hamas, the Arab battle against Israel almost certainly would have been transferred from inside Palestine to Arab militant groups or even states that are beyond the effective reach of the Jewish state. Thus, in the absence of a settlement acceptable to the Palestinians, including Hamas, sooner or later there are likely to be far greater terrorist attacks on Israeli cities, whether from inside or outside Palestine.
In short, in terms of Israel's long-term security, the attack on Gaza could not have been a greater failure: "One more victory like this," said ancient Greece's King Pyrrhus after his armies defeated the Romans in a particularly bloody war, "and we are ruined."

Jus in Bello, or Just Conduct of War

Just wars must not only have a just purpose and meet the other conditions or constraints already discussed, but also must be fought justly, according to the principles of proportionality, distinction, and noncombatant immunity.

Proportionality

The proportionality principle, or constraint, requires that even in a just war, the military measures that are employed must in some sense be proportional to what is at stake. The application of this criterion in many cases is difficult, ambiguous, and a matter of judgment over which reasonable people may disagree; in particular, it would be absurd to believe that the proportionality principle prohibits the victims of an armed attack from inflicting more military casualties on the aggressor than it has suffered itself.

The Israeli attack on Gaza, however, is not one of the difficult cases, in the first instance because in its conflict with Hamas it has been more the aggressor than the victim. In any case, as already noted, even the liberal commentators who accept the idea that Israel was only defending itself agree that its methods were disproportional; the sheer scale of the Israeli attacks on Gaza makes that an easy judgment to reach. From early 2005 until the Israel invasion at the end of December 2008, eight Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian attacks, while during that same period over 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. As noted earlier, in the war itself the Israelis killed over 1,300 Palestinians and inflicted vast economic and property damage. The Israelis suffered almost no property damage and lost three civilians and thirteen soldiers.

Distinction

The Israeli attack on Gaza was an even greater and more obvious violation of the principle of distinction. According to that principle, soldiers are morally required to make every effort to distinguish military from civilian targets before they attack. To be sure, in some circumstances some unintended but unavoidable harm to noncombatants ("collateral damage") may be acceptable, but only so long as the military value of the target is high, the harm to civilians and their infrastructures is relatively low, and the attacking military forces are willing to accept casualties of their own in order to keep that collateral damage as low as possible. As with the principle of proportionality, then, judgment and the rule of reason are required, and there may be close cases.

Once again, however, the Israeli attack was not one of them; indeed, high Israeli military officials openly admitted that they paid no attention to either proportionality or discrimination. Several months before the war, a leading Israeli general told the Haaretz military correspondent that in the next war the army was planning to violate both rules: "We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.... Efforts to hurt [rocket] launch capabilities are secondary" (Haaretz, October 5, 2008).

And so they did. On January 7 Haaretz reported that a senior Israeli officer told journalists that the war was causing a great deal of damage to the Palestinian civilian infrastructure, saying: "It will take many years in order to restore this area ... when we suspect that a fighter is hiding in a house, we shoot it with a missile and then with two tank shells, and then a bulldozer hits the wall. It causes damage but it prevents the loss of life among soldiers." (Note: suspicion is sufficient cause for attack, and even when the target is a single Hamas fighter.)

Finally, it bears repeating that if you don't have a just cause, you are not morally allowed to attack even the other side's soldiers, let alone its civilians.

Noncombatant Immunity and the Israeli Way of War

The last jus ad bellum principle is noncombatant immunity, and it is even stronger than the principles of proportionality and discrimination, for it categorically prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians, regardless of circumstances. Israel has repeatedly violated this rule throughout its history-so much so that systematically attacking crucial civilian infrastructures, and often civilians directly, can be said to be the Israeli way of war.

Thanks to the work of Israeli, Palestinian, and independent historians, there is no serious doubt that during the 1947-1948 war of independence, Israeli forces sometimes deliberately attacked civilians in order to drive many if not most Arabs out of the areas designated by the United Nations partition plan for the Jewish state. That, of course, is what created the refugee issue that still plagues the conflict: the historical consensus is that most of the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled into neighboring Arab countries did not do so "voluntarily" (as the Israeli mythology has it), but either because they were driven out or fled in understandable fear that they would be killed if they didn't.

Subsequently, on a number of occasions Israel has attacked Arab-that is, not just Palestinian-civilians and their infrastructures, in order to intimidate them, or to punish them for their alleged support of Israel's enemies, or in an effort to induce them to turn against their own governments or internal militant organizations. The most obvious examples, well-documented and often cited in Israel, were the attacks on Jordanian villages in the 1950s; the use of massive airpower against Egyptian cities during the 1970-73 "War of Attrition"; and in the air and ground force power employed in a number of attacks against Lebanon in the 1970s, in 1982 (when at least 10,000 Lebanese civilians were killed), in 1996, and in 2006, when an estimated 900 civilians were killed.

In all of these cases, as has been repeatedly documented in great detail by historians, journalists, and international as well as Israeli human rights organizations, much of the civilian destruction was not merely the consequence of the use of massive and inherently indiscriminate firepower, but deliberate. Space does not allow for the dozens of supporting citations, but here are just two of them-and not from "leftists," journalists, international organizations, or human rights groups, but from pillars of the Israeli establishment:

In July 2006 Yossi Alpher, a former deputy head of the Mossad and now a prominent centrist political commentator, wrote: "Some of the humanitarian suffering in Gaza and Lebanon is a deliberate act on Israel's part ... it is intended to generate mass public pressure on the respective governments to force the Islamic militants to release three IDF soldiers snatched from Israeli territory and end rocket attacks."
Even before the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, Moshe Arens, a high-ranking Likud official and well-known hard-line rightist, a former ambassador to the United States in the Menachem Begin government, the foreign minister in the Yitzhak Shamir government, and a three-time defense minister in Likud governments since the 1980s, wrote the following: "The ‘leverage' theory-which holds that the destruction of enemy infrastructure and attacks on the enemy's civilian population will produce pressure on decision makers to cease their attacks against Israeli civilians- ... did not work in Lebanon, and it certainly does not work in Gaza. Quite the contrary, it only increases the support that the terrorists receive from the civilian population.... [Such measures are] ... counterproductive, [and are] impermissible by our moral standards."
Where Do We Go From Here?

Palestinian rockets and suicide bombings are the consequence of over forty years of continued Israeli occupation, repression, killing, destruction of governmental, societal, and educational institutions and infrastructures, and the deliberate impoverishment and humiliation of the Palestinian people. Consequently, Israel is not engaged in "self-defense" when it uses force to crush resistance to its repression, even when the form of resistance-terrorist attacks intended to kill civilians-is itself morally wrong.

Moreover, Israel has refused to end its siege of Gaza, has broken a series of cease-fires with Hamas, and has refused even to explore Hamas's offers for a long-term settlement. Worse, Israel's punitive attacks on Palestinian civilian targets, as well as on other Arab peoples in the past, are not merely disproportionate or even indiscriminate-they amount to state terrorism.

How can Israel, a state founded not only to ensure the survival of the Jewish people but also to serve as a moral exemplar to the world-"a light unto the nations"-have gone so wrong? The explanation is clear enough: the Israelis genuinely see themselves as victims, determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent a "new Holocaust" at the hands of the Palestinians and their Arab supporters.

That explains how the Israelis see the world, but it doesn't follow that that's the way the world really is, for most Palestinians and the most important Arab states support the international consensus two-state solution that is entirely consistent with-indeed is a sine qua non for-genuine Israeli security: the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and armed forces and the creation of a largely demilitarized Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital. (To be sure, there continues to be ambiguity over the refugee issue. Officially, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas continue to insist that the refugees must have the right to return to their former homes and villages in Israel; however, there have been numerous indications that in the context of an overall settlement, most Palestinians would agree to separate the principle of return from its practical implementation.)

What if the Guarantees Fail?

Michael Lerner has asked, in effect, a reasonable question: suppose the international guarantees fail and Hamas reverts to fanaticism and continues its struggle to destroy Israel? As he has suggested, Israelis fear that, even if Hamas temporarily welcomes a truce or cease-fire, the group's real position is, "We'll wait ‘til we have adequate military power, and then we'll use that power to wipe out Israel."

The likelihood that this could happen is extremely small. First, there is growing agreement in Israel, Palestine, Europe, and the Arab world that international peacekeeping forces should be sent to the region to back a political settlement. More importantly, once a settlement is reached, Israel, America, Europe, and the neighboring Arab states would have at their disposal an enormous range of carrots and sticks to ensure continued compliance. In that context, the vast majority of the Palestinian people would surely oppose fanatical irredentism, for their lives in every way would be transformed by a compromise settlement that already has their strong support (between 60 percent and 70 percent in recent polls), and who would stand to lose everything from lunatic attacks on Israel that had no chance of success.

Still, suppose the worst does occur, however unlikely. In such a circumstance, Israel would truly have the right of self-defense and would have no other choice but to take whatever steps were necessary to ensure its well-being, indeed its survival. Long before Islamic fundamentalists in Palestine could become a serious military threat, the Israelis would surely-and rightly-move against them with irresistible force even, if necessary, by reoccupying the Palestinian territories, ending the experiment of Palestinian statehood, and permanently destroying the fanatic organizations. Moreover, in such circumstances the international community, including most of the Arab world, would explicitly or tacitly accept that Israel genuinely would have the need and the right to take definitive military action. Not that the attitudes of other states, in those circumstances, would matter much: it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the international community can't stop even illegitimate Israeli attacks.

Morality aside, it is hard to understand what Israelis think will be the long-term consequences if they continue to occupy or otherwise repress the Palestinian people. Given the continuing spread of Islamic fundamentalism, the intensified hatred of Israel, and the likely prospect that terrorist fanatics will one day come into possession of biological or nuclear weapons, the probable outcome is all too easy to predict. In that light, the continuing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians is not merely immoral, it is-no other words will do-almost unfathomably stupid. Israeli leaders are endangering not only themselves but also this country, if not the entire world.

Jerome Slater is the University Research Scholar at SUNY/Buffalo. He writes regularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other foreign policy issues for professional journals, and is the author of many articles in Tikkun.

New mayor looks to Diaspora to revitalize Jerusalem

Paru sur le site The Canadian Jewish News le 26 mars 2009

By DINA KRAFT, JTA

JERUSALEM — Hanging over his desk, Nir Barkat keeps a large framed photograph of himself running the Jerusalem half-marathon. The city’s new mayor is quick to remind a visitor he also runs full marathons.
That’s good: He’s going to need the perseverance of a long-distance runner to pull off his ambitious plan to save Jerusalem.

Though Israel’s capital and one of the world’s oldest and most revered cities, Jerusalem is also the poorest city in Israel, with high housing prices, a shrinking non-Orthodox population and a dwindling middle class.

In an interview with JTA at his office atop the municipal building, Barkat expounded on his plans to revitalize Jerusalem.

Boyish looking at 49, Barkat cuts an earnest figure in a charcoal gray suit, sky blue Oxford shirt and no tie. The former paratrooper, who made millions in high-tech, has been in office for three months after defeating veteran haredi politician Meir Porush and others.

Secular and modern Orthodox Jerusalemites greeted his election with great hope, thinking Barkat might be able to lift the city from its current rut. (Most Arab residents boycotted the election, as they do most years, in protest against Israeli sovereignty over the city.)

Barkat will be travelling to the United States, where he hopes to reach out to American Jews and make them partners in revitalizing Jerusalem. To use his language, he sees them as “shareholders” in the city.

“I know there is not one Jew who does not care about the future of Jerusalem, and what I propose is a partnership,” he said.

Barkat’s plan is to create special economic zones in Jerusalem that are focused on culture, life sciences and tourism. He will make his pitch in visits to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco and Florida.

Barkat is hoping Diaspora Jews will be investment partners in joint business ventures. For example, he says, Jews in Los Angeles might invest in Jerusalem’s fledgling film industry, and biotech engineers in Boston might invest in biotech in a city that hosts Hadassah Hospital and the prestigious Hebrew University.

The global financial crisis is no deterrent, he says.

“I believe in the short term, it will be more of a challenge because people have less than they had in the past or less than they want, but I’m not talking about short term,” Barkat told JTA. “I want to build relationships. It’s the way we do business together.”

As part of the mayor’s campaign to develop the city, Barkat was recently named honorary chair of the Jerusalem Foundation, the non-profit organization founded by former mayor Teddy Kollek in 1967 dedicated to the physical enhancement of the city and to social and educational enhancement of its people.

Barkat and the foundation have committed themselves to working together in co-operation to further strengthen the capital of Israel. He closed down the New Jerusalem Foundation, an initiative of Ehud Olmert when Olmert was mayor of the city, whose mission overlapped with the older, more recognized foundation established by Kollek. In doing so Barkat sent a clear message to philanthropists around the world in support of the Jerusalem Foundation and its central role in the city’s rejuvenation and development.

But Barkat’s direct, unabashed approach towards his work has raised the ire of some observers. He tussled verbally with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month over his plan to demolish some 80 Arab houses in the neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City, to make way for an archeological park. Clinton called his plan “unhelpful” and a violation of peace efforts, while Barkat dismissed the criticism as based on “disinformation.”

The dispute is one of Barkat’s first tests as mayor.

The neighbourhood slated for demolition is comprised of houses built illegally by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem on land that had been set aside 20 years ago as open green space for an archeological garden.

Under three previous city administrations the houses were never removed, but recently the development plans for a park were revived.

Critics of the plan claim the issue is about politics. Not only will it displace some 1,000 Arab residents, they say, but it’s part of a wider, ideologically motivated plan to secure the future of a united, Jewish Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Barkat, who favours settling Jews in Silwan – several dozen families have moved into the largely Arab area in recent years – rejects such criticism and says the people who live there will be relocated.

“If you have a group of people trying to plan housing in Central Park, what do you think Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg would do?” Barkat asked rhetorically. “And this park has more importance than Central Park because of its historical significance.”

As for the relationship between the municipal and national governments, Barkat said he foresees a good working relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff when Netanyahu becomes prime minister.

“I know the people, and I believe they want to develop and improve Jerusalem,” the mayor said. “There is good chemistry.”

Barkat hopes the new government will provide a stimulus package for the city, which previous governments have promised but never delivered.

To keep the young and middle class in Jerusalem, Barkat is hoping his economic cluster zones will bear fruit and that more jobs in high-tech, life sciences, tourism and culture will keep people in Jerusalem.

“When you make Jerusalem a special economic zone, it will start raining on everyone, and with more jobs, the city comes out of its poverty,” Barkat said.

He has also called for construction of more affordable housing, not just the luxury projects aimed at Diaspora Jewish buyers with money who have been predominant in recent years. Barkat wants the absentee Diaspora homeowners to rent their apartments inexpensively to local university students.

“You own an apartment, you subsidize students, help the economy and decrease the price of other apartments,” he said with his trademark smile. “It’s a classic win-win.”

–With files from The CJN

Lien:http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16565&Itemid=86

30 mars, Journée de la Terre : contre la dépossession des Palestiniens

Paru sur le site Association France Palestine Solidarité le 29 mars 2009

Par AFPS

Une continuité de l’Histoire à laquelle il est temps de mettre un terme. C’était en 1976 sur les terres palestiniennes de ce qui est devenu l’Etat d’Israël. En commémorant les évènements du « Jour de la Terre » de ce 30 mars 1976, les Palestiniens ne font pas seulement acte d’histoire. Ils disent aussi sa continuité. Celle de la stratégie israélienne de confiscation et d’annexion de leur terre. Et celle de la résistance palestinienne.
Après l’expulsion violente et la dépossession massive de 1948, les confiscations des terres de Palestiniens ayant réussi à rester dans le territoire devenu israélien se sont poursuivies.

Février 1976, le gouvernement veut exproprier plus de 2000 hectares surtout en Galilée. Les Palestiniens d’Israël refusent et manifestent le 30 mars. La répression est violente : six morts palestiniens. Depuis, le 30 mars est la Journée de la Terre.

Alors que les Palestiniens d’Israël continuent à subir une discrimination multiforme la politique d’accaparement de la terre de Palestine continue dans une logique israélienne à double facette : l’annexion, et la séparation. C’est la colonisation de refoulement organisée depuis le début par le mouvement sioniste : un maximum de terres (et d’eau) avec un minimum de Palestiniens.

Jérusalem et ses environs sont une cible privilégiée. Un rapport de diplomates européens en date du 9 mars 2009, qui n’est toujours pas rendu public (comme le rapport de novembre 2005 ) par la diplomatie européenne officielle, souligne les grandes lignes et les dangers de cette politique : confiscations des terres pour la construction de nouvelles colonies et l’extension de celles qui existent, comme pour la construction du mur d’annexion, démolition de 400 maisons depuis 2004, régime restrictif de permis de résidence comme d’accès à la ville, poursuite de la fermeture des institutions palestiniennes…

Tout cela, rappelle le rapport, a des conséquences humanitaires, sociales, économiques, politiques et religieuses, affaiblit la communauté palestinienne à Jérusalem-Est, en entrave le développement, sépare un peu plus la ville du reste de la Cisjordanie, parachève son annexion… La construction de colonies dans et autour de Jérusalem-Est continue à un rythme rapide, contrairement aux obligations du droit international et de la feuille de route, réaffirmées à Annapolis fin 2007. Depuis Annapolis, 3.000 « unités d’habitations »ont été mises en chantier dans les colonies de Jérusalem-Est !

Sur un total d’environ 470.000 colons, tous illégaux, en Palestine occupée, 190.000 sont installés à Jérusalem-Est (colonies de Pisgat Ze’ev, Har Homa, Gilo… et jusqu’au sein des quartiers palestiniens de la vieille ville) et 96.000 autour de la ville, notamment dans la grosse colonie de Ma’ale Adumim qui s’étend presque jusque Jéricho, coupant en deux la Cisjordanie. De nouvelles routes et le tramway illégal de Jérusalem-est construit par des entreprises françaises créent une continuité territoriale entre ces colonies et Israël.

La vallée du Jourdain est aussi une cible privilégiée : colonisation, confiscations de terres, accès à l’eau impossible, destructions de maisons et restrictions militaires drastiques qui y tuent peu à peu toute vie économique et provoquent le départ forcé des Palestiniens. C’est une véritable annexion rampante de cette vallée, qui représente 1/3 de la Cisjordanie, sans protestation ou sanction de la communauté internationale !

En toute impunité les dirigeants israéliens mettent en oeuvre la stratégie explicitée par Dov Weisglass, conseiller d’Ariel Sharon en 2005, au moment de l’évacuation des colons de Gaza et du redéploiement de l’armée israélienne autour de la bande de Gaza assiégée : plomber dans le « formol » toute négociation pour annexer l’essentiel de la Cisjordanie réduite à des micro-enclaves encerclées par les colonies, les routes des colons, le Mur, les 600 barrages militaires. Cet apartheid ne peut être ignoré par les chancelleries ! La séparation entre la Cisjordanie et la bande de Gaza, toujours sous blocus après 22 jours de bombardements meurtriers et destructeurs, participe de cette stratégie.

Le nouveau gouvernement israélien veut intensifier cette politique. Il allie le Likoud, le parti d’extrême droite d’Avigdor Lieberman et le parti travailliste d’Ehud Barak. Il prévoit notamment la construction de 3000 nouvelles habitations coloniales, bureaux et hôtels sur les terres dites « zone E1 » pour assurer la continuité entre la colonie de Ma’ale Adumim et Jérusalem et couper la Cisjordanie en deux.

Avigdor Lieberman traduit crûment la vision des dirigeants israéliens de séparation des populations. Il prône le transfert des Palestiniens d’Israël et revendique une obligation de loyauté à l’Etat (à l’automne 2000, douze Palestiniens d’Israël ont été tués lors de la répression d’une manifestation de solidarité avec l’Intifada). Que le transfert ne soit pas à l’ordre du jour officiel n’empêche pas d’en ancrer le principe auprès d’une bonne partie de l’opinion israélienne juive. Le 24 mars 2009, moins d’une semaine avant la commémoration du « Jour de la Terre », des manifestants israéliens d’extrême droite ont même été autorisés à marcher vers Oum-el-Fahem, une ville palestinienne en Israël, comme une nouvelle provocation. Des centaines de manifestants, Palestiniens d’Israël et militants de la gauche anticolonialiste, ont organisé ensemble une contre-manifestation.

Depuis 1976 la capacité de révolte des Palestiniens est intacte devant les violations de leurs droits et du droit international par Israël.

On ne peut plus autoriser l’impunité d’Israël. La responsabilité de la France et celle de l’Europe sont en la matière engagées.

Paris, Bureau national de l’Afps, 29 mars 2009

Lien de l'article: http://www.google.fr/search?hl=fr&q=30+mars%2C+Journ%C3%A9e+de+la+Terre+%3A+contre+la+d%C3%A9possession+des+Palestiniens&btnG=Recherche+Google&meta=&rlz=1W1GGLL_fr&aq=f&oq=

Durban II draft resolution drops Israel

Paru sur le site The Canadian Jewish News le 26 mars 2009

By JTA

JERUSALEM — Specific criticism of Israel has been dropped from a draft resolution prepared for a United Nations-sponsored anti-racism conference.
The new draft resolution for the Durban II conference, the followup to the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, is to be distributed to government ministers this week. It does not single out Israel for criticism but still speaks of concern about negative stereotyping of religions. It also does not include a provision backed by Muslim countries that criticizes “defamation of religion.”

The new draft, obtained by JTA, comes amid recent threats from the European Union, Germany and Australia to boycott the Durban Review Conference to be held April 20 to 24, unless the resolution is more balanced and avoids the high level of anti-Israel sentiment associated with the first Durban anti-racism conference.

Israel and Canada already have said they will not attend the conference. The United States and Italy also have said they will not attend unless the resolution is more balanced.

The original resolution singled out Israel as having racist policies and called it an occupying power. The draft also included five paragraphs devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The elimination of references to Israel and other specific countries, and the striking of the “defamation of religion” passage do meet some of the Barak Obama administration’s conditions for participation in the conference laid out in late February. But the new text reaffirms the concluding document of the first Durban conference, which singled out the “plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.”

“A significant effort has been made to clean up the text, but problems remain, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said on a Jewish Community Relations Council of New York conference call Tuesday afternoon.

Neuer said, however, that the changes would likely make it easier for some countries that had been considering boycotting to make the decision to participate.

Lien: http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16564&Itemid=86

Remembering “Land Day,” Palestinians honour dead from 1976 clashes with Israeli army

Paru sur le site therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com le 30 mars 2009

KOENIG REPORT/MEMORANDUM
By Jonathan Cook in Arrabeh - 30 March 2009

Jonathan Cook looks at the events that culminated in the murder of Arab citizens of Israel who were protesting against the theft of their land in 1976 – events that are marked by Land Day.

Palestinians across the Middle East were due to commemorate Land Day today, marking the anniversary of clashes in 1976 in which six unarmed Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army as it tried to break up a general strike.

Although Land Day is one of the most important anniversaries in the Palestinian calendar, sometimes referred to as the Palestinians’ national day, the historical event it marks is little spoken of and rarely studied.

“Maybe its significance is surprising given the magnitude of other events in Palestinian history,” said Hatim Kanaaneh, 71, a doctor, who witnessed the military invasion of his village.

“But what makes Land Day resonate with Palestinians everywhere is that it was the first time Palestinians inside Israel stood together and successfully resisted Israel’s goal of confiscating their land.”

The confrontation took place between the army and a group usually referred to as “Israeli Arabs”, the small minority of Palestinians who managed to remain in their homes during the 1948 war that led to the founding of Israel. Today they number 1.2 million, or nearly one-fifth of Israel’s population.

“We were given citizenship by Israel, but have always been treated as an enemy, perceived of as a threat to the state’s Jewishness,” said Dr Kanaaneh, who last year published his memoir, A Doctor in Galilee, which offers a rare account in English of Palestinian life inside Israel during the Land Day period.

In 1976, Dr Kanaaneh, having completed his medical studies at Harvard University in the United States, was the only physician in Arrabeh.

Israel crushed organized political activity among Israel’s Palestinian citizens between 1948 and 1966, Dr Kanaaneh said. Nonetheless, popular frustration had mounted as the state expropriated privately owned Palestinian land to build new communities for Jewish citizens, many of them recent immigrants.

During military rule, historians have noted, vast swathes of land were taken from Palestinians, both from refugees in exile and from Israel’s own Arab citizens. Jews had bought only 6 per cent of Palestine by the time of the 1948 war, but today the state has nationalized 93 per cent of Israel’s territory.

“Government policy was explicitly to make the land Jewish – or Judaize it, as it was called,” Dr Kanaaneh said.

The announcement in the mid-1970s of the confiscation of a further 2,000 hectares led to the creation of a new body, the National Committee for the Defence of Arab Lands, which provided a more assertive political leadership.

The minority’s decision to strike, Dr Kanaaneh said, shocked the Israeli authorities, which were not used to challenges to official policy. “Both sides understood the significance of the strike. For the first time we were acting as a national minority, and Israel was very sensitive to anything that suggested we had a national identity or a unified agenda, especially over a key resource like land.”

Although the strike was strictly observed by Palestinians throughout Israel, the focus of the protest were three villages in the central Galilee that faced the loss of a large area of prime agricultural land: Arrabeh, Sakhnin and Deir Hanna.

The prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and his defence minster, Shimon Peres, acted on the eve of the strike.

“What was surprising was that they didn’t send in the police, as you’d expect when dealing with citizens of a country, but the army,” Dr Kanaaneh said.

The government’s original plan, he said, was to break the strike and force employees to go to work, but when villagers began throwing stones, the army imposed a curfew.

“When a neighbour called me to attend to his wife who had gone into labour, I walked out of my house towards an armoured vehicle waving my stethoscope,” Dr Kanaaneh said. “A soldier aimed his rifle straight at me and I hurried back inside.”

Ahmed Khalaila, who was 18 and living in Sakhnin, remembered being woken early by loudspeakers. “Soldiers were calling out that we must not leave the house … We couldn’t even look out of the windows,” he said.

When a neighbour stepped outside her house, she was shot and injured, Mr Khalaila said. He and his older brother, Khader, tried to help the woman. When they were about 50 metres from her, Khader was shot in the head.

“He was still breathing and we hoped he could be saved, but there were checkpoints at all the entrances to the village. We knew no ambulance would be coming for him.”

Eventually the family managed to get him into a car and drove towards the nearest hospital. Held at a checkpoint, Mr Khalaila said, the family watched as Khader bled to death as he lay across his younger brother’s legs on the back seat. Khader was 24 and recently married.

No one ever came to investigate what had happened, or offered the family compensation. “It was as if a bird had died,” he said. “No one was interested; no questions were asked in the parliament. Nothing.”

As well as the six deaths, hundreds more Palestinians were injured and sweeping arrests were made of political activists.

Dr Kanaaneh said the stiff resistance mounted by the villagers eventually forced the government to revoke the expropriation order.

Victory, however, was far from clear cut. The next year, Ariel Sharon, as agriculture minister, announced a programme of new Jewish settlements called “lookouts” in the Galilee “to prevent control of state lands by foreigners”, meaning Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. The three villages were surrounded by the lookout communities, which came to be known collectively as Misgav regional council.

“They were intended to be agricultural communities, but Land Day stopped that,” Dr Kanaaneh said. “Instead they became small bedroom communities, and much of the land we defended was passed to Misgav’s jurisdiction.

“Today the owners of the land pay taxes to the regional council rather than their own municipalities, and Misgav can decide, if it wants, to try to confiscate the land again. We may have got our land back, but it is not really in our hands.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Palestine : le voyage d’une balle un film réalisé par Ossama Qashoo

Paru sur le site Agora vox le 30 mars 2009

Ressentir les instants de vie, accompagner l’ami dans la mort en prolongeant son image. Le réalisateur Ossama Qashoo a saisi sur le vif la balle d’un fusil israélien percutant un adolescent palestinien qui refusait de se soumettre au couvre-feu imposé par l’armée d’occupation.

Ce n’est pas pour exhiber la mort en direct que ce jeune réalisateur palestinien a filmé le corps de Hazza Shadid emporté par les secours mais bien pour consacrer la vie de son ami et figurer l’existence de tout un peuple. Les images de ce document ont une puissance d’effroi incroyable ; porté par le souffle haletant du réalisateur, le visage de ce gamin agonisant ne nous quitte pas.

Loin du cadavre fixé par la photo, le film d’Ossama Qashoo fait le récit de la déportation de la vie. Le réalisateur filme la mort qui vient pour que nous la regardions prendre ce jeune garçon. Une seule balle tirée contre des gamins qui jetaient des pierres sur des véhicules blindés est en train de tuer la vie.

Eloigné du travail photographique qui conduit le plus souvent à une forme de personnalisation, de transposition individuelle chez le spectateur, le documentaire d’Ossama Qashoo refuse l’imaginaire, l’illusion pernicieuse pour donner à voir la réalité de la Palestine au travers de ce destin perforé par une seule balle.

Laurent Monserrat

UNREPORTED WORLD: ISRAEL'S WILD WEST PART 1 OF 2 and 2 TO 2

Ceci est un reportage qui date de juin 2007

On the West Bank, where a quarter-of-a-million Israelis live cheek-by-jowl with over two million Palestinians, ideologically driven Israeli settlers are exploiting political weaknesses to take back settlements the Israeli government expelled them from only two years before.

Israel's government is in disarray after its failed Lebanon venture. The Palestinian authority is tearing itself apart in Gaza. On the West Bank, where a quarter-of-a-million Israelis live cheek-by-jowl with over two million Palestinians, ideologically driven Israeli settlers are exploiting these political weaknesses to take back settlements the Israeli government expelled them from only two years before and are expanding into new areas.

As Reporter Sandra Jordan and Producer Edward Watts find when a member of their own team is injured, violence in the West Bank is never far from the surface. As tensions escalate, the prospect of more widespread conflict across the West bank is growing by the day. If that happens, it'll make what's happening in Gaza look insignificant.

Jordan and Watts get an early indication of how dangerous life has become in the West Bank as they begin their journey at the Palestininan village of Bi'lin, whose land has been divided by Israel's security barrier. It's Friday, and Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are protesting against the wall.

Despite the peaceful demonstration, which takes place every Friday, Israeli soldiers decide to break it up with tear gas and rubber batons. The team's fixer, Massad Abu Toameh, is hit by a tear gas canister, sending him flying headfirst into some rocks. He's unconscious with a serious head injury and medics are forced to carry him off while the soldiers continue to fire rubber bullets at Jordan and Watts.

As the world focuses on the fighting in Gaza and political scandals in Israel, the struggle for the West Bank is intensifying. The Saudis have put a new peace deal on the table, offering Israel recognition from Arab countries in return for the end of the occupation of the West Bank.

But while the Israeli government is making the right noises to the international community, the settlers are creating facts on the ground that will make it very difficult to disentangle. The daily violence is increasing; people are dying in the West Bank and the time for talking is running out. If peace falls by the wayside, then there is a threat of all-out war.






Tsahal accusée de crimes de guerre à Gaza

Paru sur le site de l'Express.fr le 23 mars 2009

Alors que des soldats israéliens ont affirmé avoir été témoins de "crimes de guerre" durant l'offensive menée contre le Hamas dans la bande de Gaza, les demandes d'enquêtes indépendantes continuent d'affluer de toute part. Un point sur la situation, deux mois après la fin des combats dans le territoire palestinien.

Les soldats israéliens de l'Académie militaire d'Yitzhak Rabin ont jeté de l'huile sur le feu des accusations contre Tsahal.

Dans la lettre d'information de l'académie militaire en question, ils font état de bavures commises par certains de leurs collègues qui auraient, pendant l'offensive israélienne dans la bande de Gaza, tué des civils palestiniens sans défense et ne présentant aucune menace. Des exactions auxquelles ils affirment avoir assisté.

Parmi ces témoignages qui ont été repris ce jeudi par le quotidien Haaretz, figure le cas d'une mère palestinienne tuée avec ses deux enfants par un tireur d'élite israélien parce qu'elle s'était trompée de chemin en sortant de chez elle.

Dans un autre cas, une vieille femme palestinienne a été tuée alors qu'elle marchait à 100 mètres de sa maison. D'autres témoignages font également état d'exactions, d'actes de vandalisme et de destructions dans des maisons.

Deux Palestiniennes pleurent les leurs, lors de funérailles dans la bande de Gaza, le 15 janvier.
Aussitôt, des organisations israéliennes de défense des droits de l'Homme ont réclamé vendredi une "enquête indépendante" sur les "crimes de guerre" de l'armée israélienne à Gaza. L'armée, qui avait indiqué dans un premier temps ne pas être au courant des faits rapportés, a par la suite informé que deux enquêtes seraient ouvertes, en interne.

Un collectif d'une dizaine d'associations estime que cette décision est trop tardive, et qu'elle n'est par ailleurs pas objective.

Dans une lettre adressée au procureur général de l'Etat Menahem Mazouz, elles affirment que "le refus du gouvernement d'établir une commission d'enquête indépendante constitue une violation des responsabilités israéliennes au regard de la loi internationale".

Demandes d'enquêtes en masse

La polémique enflait déjà depuis plusieurs mois. Dès janvier, plusieurs demandes d'enquêtes ont été déposées, la plus récente datant du 16 mars dernier.

Un groupe de juges et de procureurs a en effet appelé ce lundi à une enquête internationale sur les "violations" des droits de l'homme commises lors de l'offensive israélienne dans la bande de Gaza.

Dans une lettre ouverte soutenue par l'organisation des droits de l'homme Amnesty International, ces experts - dont Richard Goldstone, ancien procureur général des Tribunaux pénaux internationaux pour le Rwanda et pour l'ex-Yougoslavie, et Antonio Cassese, qui fut le premier président du Tribunal pénal international pour l'ex-Yougoslavie - exigent une enquête en profondeur de l'ONU sur "toutes les violations graves du droit humanitaire international commises par toutes les parties du conflit".

Les autorités iraniennes ont pour leur part demandé le 10 mars dernier à Interpol la délivrance de 25 "avis de recherche internationale en vue d'extradition", baptisés "notices rouges", à l'encontre de dirigeants israéliens en lien avec l'offensive à Gaza.

Le 1er mars, le procureur général d'Iran, Ghorbanali Dori-Najafabadi, avait accusé les principaux dirigeants israéliens de "crimes de guerre" à Gaza, réclamant l'aide d'Interpol dans l'optique de poursuites.

Le procureur de la Cour Pénale Internationale, Luis Moreno Ocampo, lors d'une conférence de presse à la Haye.

Depuis le mois de janvier, la CPI a reçu 213 demandes d'enquêtes sur ces faits. Le 8 mars, le procureur de la Cour Pénale Internationale (CPI) Luis Moreno Ocampo envisageait de son côté de diligenter une enquête, mais expliquait qu'il se trouvait encore dans "une phase d'analyse". Bien qu'Israël ne figure pas parmi les pays signataires du Traité de Rome, à l'origine de la création de cette cour, le procureur envisageait de créer un précédent et de se baser sur le fait que l'Autorité Palestinienne, plaignante dans cette affaire, pouvait se constituer comme "Etat" et prouver que des crimes avait été commis sur son territoire.

Mi-février, l'Audience nationale espagnole avait accepté de prendre en charge le cas d'une plainte criminelle contre sept Israéliens pour crime de guerre. La loi espagnole, juridiction universelle, permet de poursuivre des étrangers pour des crimes tels que le génocide, les crimes contre l'humanité et les actes de torture perpétrés n'importe où dans le monde.

Le 26 janvier, les représentants permanents de la Ligue Arabe au Caire lançaient un appel à l'attention de l'Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies, pour "former une commission internationale d'enquête sur les crimes israéliens dans la Bande de Gaza et pour instaurer un tribunal pénal afin de juger les criminels de guerre israéliens. "

Quels "crimes de guerre"?

Sont particulièrement visés: l'usage d'obus au phosphore blanc, un produit chimique controversé, tirés au cours de l'offensive dans des zones de Gaza densément peuplées, le bombardement de bâtiments des Nations unies dont une école transformée en camp de réfugiés, ainsi que les tactiques militaires employées par Tsahal dont certaines violeraient le droit international prêtent à interrogation, selon les plaignants.

A plusieurs reprises, l'armée aurait aussi empêché des ambulanciers de récupérer des blessés. Des témoins racontent même des incidents où l'armée aurait tiré sur des ambulances. Selon des sources palestiniennes, 13 ambulanciers auraient ainsi été tués dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions.

Par ailleurs, la presse a déjà fait état de plusieurs bavures qu'aurait commises Tsahal, notamment le massacre d'une famille à Zeitoun ou encore les tirs dirigés contre le "Bateau de la Fraternité ", un navire affrété par le Comité de secours libanais vers Gaza et chargé de poches de sang, de médicaments et de vivres.

L'offensive de l'armée israélienne contre le Hamas dans la bande de Gaza, baptisée "Plomb Durci", a fait plus de 1300 morts et 5000 blessés palestiniens, selon un bilan des services médicaux palestiniens.

Parmi les morts figurent 437 enfants âgés de moins de 16 ans, 110 femmes et 123 personnes âgées, ainsi que 14 médecins et quatre journalistes. Côté israélien, dix militaires et trois civils ont été tués, selon les chiffres officiels.

Israël dénonce l'hypocrisie

Israël, mis en cause sur la scène internationale pour des "crimes de guerre", récuse à ses accusateurs le droit de lui donner des leçons de morale.

Les responsables incriminés et les dirigeants accusent le monde d'"hypocrisie", affirmant que l'armée prend bien plus soin d'éviter des "victimes collatérales" que ne le font les forces des coalitions engagées en Afghanistan et en Irak ou jadis les Russes en Tchéchénie ou l'Otan contre la Serbie.

Par ailleurs, sur ce blog, un Israélien dénonce une tentative de salir l'image de Tsahal avec des "informations non-vérifiées". Selon lui, certains des soldats qui ont témoigné reviendraient déjà sur leurs propos...

Lien:http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/monde/proche-orient/tsahal-accusee-de-crimes-de-guerre-a-gaza_748369.html?p=2

Benjamin Netanyahu récuse la création d'un Etat palestinien

A la tête d'une coalition élargie, le nouveau Premier ministre récuse la création d'un Etat palestinien. Son gouvernement doit être approuvé par la Knesset.

Benjamin Netanyahu, le chef de la droite israélienne victorieuse aux élections législatives du 10 février, présente mardi son gouvernement qui doit être approuvé par le Parlement.

Le débat à la Knesset doit commencer à 17h00 locales (14h00 GMT) par un discours de M. Netanyahu, suivi des interventions des représentants des différents partis, avant le vote et la prestation de serment dans la soirée.
Paru sur le site de L'Express.fr le 31 mars 2009

Disposant de l'appui de quelque 70 députés sur 120, le leader du parti Likoud est assuré d'obtenir la majorité requise pour former le 32e gouvernement de l'histoire d'Israël.

M. Netanyahu, qui a déjà occupé ce poste entre 1996 et 1999, a élargi sa coalition fortement marquée à droite en obtenant le ralliement du parti travailliste (gauche, 13 députés). Outre le Likoud (27 sièges), elle comprendra aussi Israël Beiteinou (extrême droite nationaliste, 15 députés), le Shass (orthodoxe sépharade, 11), le Foyer Juif (colons, 3). Les cinq élus de la Liste unifiée du judaïsme de la Torah (ultra-orthodoxe ashkénaze) devraient également le rejoindre.

Le gouvernement de M. Netanyahu devrait compter une trentaine de ministres et une demi-douzaine de vice-ministres.

Le ministère des Affaires étrangères a été promis à Avigdor Lieberman, chef d'Israël Beiteinou, la Défense au ministre sortant et N.1 travailliste, Ehud Barak, et l'Intérieur au chef du Shass, Eli Yishaï.

M. Netanyahu, 59 ans, s'est efforcé de rassurer l'opinion internationale qui craint que son gouvernement ne donne le coup de grâce à un processus de paix déjà mal en point. Il affirme vouloir mener avec l'Autorité palestinienne du président Mahmoud Abbas des négociations en vue d'une "paix économique", mais récuse la création d'un Etat palestinien aux côtés d'Israël et le gel de la colonisation juive en Cisjordanie.

Lors d'un débat parlementaire lundi, le Premier ministre sortant, Ehud Olmert, a appelé M. Netanyahu à accepter le principe de "deux Etats pour deux peuples", et la création d'un Etat palestinien aux côtés d'Israël.

L'Union européenne a pressé vendredi M. Netanyahu d'accepter cette idée, faute de quoi l'UE a menacé d'en "tirer les conséquences". Le président américain Barack Obama a lui aussi estimé que le statu quo dans le conflit israélo-palestinien était "intenable", jugeant "crucial" que l'on progresse "vers une solution à deux Etats".

Lien: http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/monde/netanyahu-presente-son-gouvernement-en-israel_750482.html

Obama et Israël: les révélations du "New Yorker"

Paru sur le site du Nouvelobs.com le 30 mars 2009

Tous ceux qui s'intéressent à la politique américaine au Proche Orient doivent lire l'article de Seymour Hersh dans l'édition du "New Yorker" de cette semaine.
Grâce aux multiples sources de ce formidable journaliste, on y apprend notamment comment, avant même son entrée en fonction, l'équipe d'Obama est intervenue dans la guerre à Gaza.
"L'équipe de transition d'Obama a aidé à persuader Israël d'arrêter le bombardement de Gaza et de retirer ses troupes avant l'investiture [du nouveau président].
Mais, [en échange], l'équipe a fait aussi savoir qu'elle n'était pas opposée à la fourniture de "bombes intelligentes" supplémentaires et d'autres pièces d'artillerie high-tech qui étaient déjà livrées en grand nombre à Israël."
"C'est Jones - le général des Marines à la retraite James Jones, qui, à l'époque, avait été désigné conseiller d'Obama à la sécurité nationale - qui est venu avec cette solution et à dit à Obama: "Vous ne pouvez pas dire seulement aux Israéliens: sortez [de Gaza]," a raconté à Hersh une source bien informée.
Le "New Yorker" révèle aussi que Barack Obama a rencontré Jimmy Carter avant son investiture et qu'ils ont parlé pendant une heure du Moyen Orient.
Si tout cela se confirme, et tout porte à croire que Hersh dit la vérité, cet épisode en dit long sur la future politique d'Obama vis à vis d'Israël.
Ce sera donc de la "real politik".


Voir l'article original: The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace.
by Seymour M. Hersh
April 6, 2009

When the Israelis’ controversial twenty-two-day military campaign in Gaza ended, on January 18th, it also seemed to end the promising peace talks between Israel and Syria. The two countries had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations through intermediaries in Istanbul. Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”

At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.”

American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America’s willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

A senior Syrian official explained that Israel’s failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,* the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. “Syria is eager to engage with the West,” he said, “an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued.”

A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. “The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran’s influence,” Martin Indyk, a former American Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said. “Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don’t forget, everything in the Middle East is connected, as Obama once said.”

A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, “There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest.” A treaty between Syria and Israel “would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time.” He added, “The Syrians have been ready since the 1993 Oslo Accords to do a separate deal.” The new Administration now has to conduct “due diligence”: “Get an ambassador there, or a Presidential envoy. Talk to Bashar, and speak in specifics so you’ll know whether or not you’ve actually got what you’ve asked for. If you’re vague, don’t be surprised if it comes back to bite you.”

Many Israelis and Americans involved in the process believe that a deal on the Golan Heights could be a way to isolate Iran, one of Syria’s closest allies, and to moderate Syria’s support for Hamas and for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. There is a competing view: that Assad’s ultimate goal is not to marginalize Iran but to bring it, too, into regional talks that involve America—and perhaps Israel. In either scenario, Iran is a crucial factor motivating each side.

These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Assad in Damascus in February—his third visit since Assad took office, in 2000. “He wants to engage with the West,” Kerry said in an interview in his Senate office. “Our latest conversation gave me a much greater sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he’s willing to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights—with Americans at the table. I will encourage the Administration to take him up on it.

“Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran,” Kerry said. “But the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect negotiations with Israel with Turkey’s assistance—and over the objections of Iran.”

President Assad was full of confidence and was impatiently anticipating the new Administration in Washington when I spoke to him late last year in Damascus. Trained as an ophthalmologist, partly in London, he took over the Presidency in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez Assad, who amassed enormous personal power in thirty years of brutal rule. Bashar had not expected a life as the Syrian leader—his older brother, Basil, who was killed in an accident in 1994, had been groomed to replace their father. Bashar, thirty-four when he became President, was said to be a lesser figure than either of them. He has since consolidated his position—both by modernizing the economy and by suppressing domestic opposition—and, when we spoke, it was clear that he had come to relish the exercise of power.

Assad said that if America’s leaders “are seeking peace they have to deal with Syria and they have to deal with our rights, which is the Golan Heights.” In the Six-Day War, in 1967, Israel seized the Golan Heights, about four hundred and fifty square miles of territory that is rich in Biblical history and, crucially, in water. It includes part of the Jordan River Valley and a plateau overlooking the river which extends to Mt. Hermon, in the north. Syria was left with no access to the Sea of Galilee and the upper Jordan River. Roughly twenty thousand Israeli settlers live there, and they have built towns, vineyards, and boutique hotels in its valleys and strategic heights.

Assad said, “The land is not negotiable, and the Israelis know that we are not going to negotiate the line of 1967.” But he suggested that compromises were possible. “We only demarcate the line,” he said. “We negotiate the relations, the water, and everything else.” Many who are close to the process assume that an Israeli-Syrian settlement would include reparations for the Israelis in the Golan Heights, and, for a time, the right of access to the land. Assad said, “You discuss everything after the peace and getting your land. Not before.”

If Israel wants a settlement that goes beyond the Golan Heights, Assad said, it will have to “deal with the core issue”—the situation in the West Bank and Gaza—“and not waste time talking about who is going to send arms to Hezbollah or Hamas. Wherever you have resistance in the region, they will have armaments somehow. It is very simple.” He added, “Hezbollah is in Lebanon and Hamas is in Palestine. . . . If they want to solve the problem of Hezbollah, they have to deal with Lebanon. For Hamas, they have to deal with Gaza. For Iran, it is not part of the peace process anyway.” Assad went on, “This peace is about peace between Syria and Israel.”

In his e-mail after the Gaza war, Assad emphasized that it was more than ever “essential that the United States play a prominent and active role in the peace process.” What he needed, Assad said, was direct contact with Obama. A conference would not be enough: “It is most natural to want a meeting with President Obama.”

If the Netanyahu government is to trade land for peace, it needs to be assured of domestic political support—and help from Washington. In September, 2007, Israel destroyed what it claimed was a potential Syrian nuclear-weapons reactor during a cross-border raid, an action that won the approval of the Israeli public. (Syria insisted there was no reactor on the site.) At the time, the two countries were already laying the groundwork for the indirect negotiations. In December, 2008, Ehud Olmert, who was then Prime Minister, flew to Ankara, Turkey, and conducted more than five hours of intense talks on the return of the Golan Heights, with the mediation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was often in direct telephone contact with Bashar Assad. But Olmert’s standing was tarnished, both inside Israel, by a series of criminal investigations that led to his resignation (he has denied any wrongdoing), and outside Israel, by the Gaza war, which began days after he left Ankara.

Netanyahu’s coalition government will include, as Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Israel Beytenu Party, who has argued for a measure, aimed at Israeli-Arabs, requiring citizens to take loyalty oaths or forfeit many of their rights, and has rejected any land-for-peace agreement with Syria (though he is open to trading other territories); and, as Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader, who has consistently supported talks with Syria. Current opinion polls indicate that the majority of Israelis do not support a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Netanyahu himself—in what was widely seen as a plea for votes—declared two days before the elections that he would not return the Golan Heights.

Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who served on Israeli peace delegations in 1995 and 2001 and also as an adviser to Prime Minister Barak, said that Netanyahu “may have huge coalition problems, not least within his own Likud Party,” and that he “may have to publicly disavow any land-for-peace agreement, given his political position. Can the Syrians swallow that? If they can’t, it means that the only option left will be secret talks.” Levy added, “Barak’s appointment does not change the fundamental dynamics of the coalition, but it means that Bibi [Netanyahu] has a Defense Minister who will be on board for dealing with Syria, who wants to deal with Syria—and who also will be on board for doing it in secret.”

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, who was Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and informally advises his government on Syrian issues, argued that the war in Gaza had not changed Israel’s essential interest in a Golan Heights settlement: “Gaza is Gaza, and I say that Bashar Assad definitely wants to go ahead with the talks. And he may find a partner in Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi would prefer to make a deal with Syria rather than with the Palestinians.”

But if the talks are to proceed, Rabinovich said, “they will have to be transformed to direct negotiations.” This would require the support and involvement of the Obama Administration. Rabinovich said that he thought Obama, like Netanyahu, “after weighing the pros and cons, will see a Golan Heights settlement as being more feasible” than a deal with the Palestinians. “The talks are serious, and there is a partner.”

The former American diplomat, who is an expert on the Golan Heights, said that it would take between three and five years to evacuate Israelis living there. “During that time, if there is a party moderating the agreement—the U.S., perhaps—it would be necessary for that party to stay engaged, to make sure that the process stays on course,” he said. This factor may explain why Assad wants the U.S. involved. “The key point is that the signing of an agreement is just the beginning—and third parties are needed to reinforce the agreement.”

Obama’s Middle East strategy is still under review in the State Department and the National Security Council. The Administration has been distracted by the economic crisis, and impeded by the large number of key foreign- and domestic-policy positions yet to be filled. Obama’s appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy for Middle East diplomacy, on January 22nd, won widespread praise, but Mitchell has yet to visit Syria. Diplomatic contacts with Damascus were expanded in late February, and informal exchanges with Syria have already taken place. According to involved diplomats, the Administration’s tone was one of dialogue and respect—and not a series of demands. For negotiations to begin, the Syrians understood that Washington would no longer insist that Syria shut down the Hamas liaison office in Damascus and oust its political leader, Khaled Meshal. Syria, instead, will be asked to play a moderating role with the Hamas leadership, and urge a peaceful resolution of Hamas’s ongoing disputes with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Syrians were also told that the Obama Administration was reëvaluating the extent of Syria’s control over Hezbollah. (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)

The United States has been involved in negotiations over the Golan Heights before, notably those brokered by Bill Clinton in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in 2000. Those talks, despite their last-minute collapse over border disputes, among other issues, provided the backbone for the recent indirect negotiations. Martin Indyk, who advised Clinton at Shepherdstown, said that those talks were about “territory for peace.” Now, he said, “it’s about territory for peace and strategic realignment.”

During the long campaign for the White House, Obama often criticized Syria for its links to terrorism, its “pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” and its interference in Lebanon, where Syria had troops until 2005 and still plays a political role. (Assad dismissed the criticisms in his talk with me: “We do not bet on speeches during the campaign.”) But Obama said that he would be willing to sit down with Assad in the first year of his Presidency without preconditions. He also endorsed the Syrian peace talks with Israel. “We must never force Israel to the negotiating table, but neither should we ever block negotiations when Israel’s leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests,” he said at the annual conference, last June, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “As President, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations.”

The differences between Obama’s Syria policies and those of the Administration of George W. Bush have attracted relatively little attention. In December, 2006, the Iraq Study Group called for direct talks with Syria. In a speech soon afterward, Bush explained why he disagreed. “I think it would be counterproductive at this point to sit down with the Syrians, because Syria knows exactly what it takes to get better relations,” he said. The President then provided a list: stop its support for Hamas and Hezbollah; stop meddling in Lebanon; coöperate in the investigation of the murder, in 2005, of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister; and stop serving as “a transit way for suicide bombers heading into Iraq.” (The Bush Administration accused Syria of failing to monitor its long border with Iraq, and, last October, staged a raid into Syria, killing eight people, one of whom was said to be a senior Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia operative. A huge number of Iraqi refugees have also fled to Syria, straining the economy.) Bush added dismissively, “When people go sit down with Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, he walks out and holds a press conference, and says, ‘Look how important I am. People are coming to see me; people think I’m vital.’ ”

An official who served with the Bush Administration said that late last year the Administration thought it was unrealistic to engage Syria on the Golan Heights. “The Bush view was, if we support the talks, with no preconditions, what are we going to say to our supporters in Lebanon who are standing up to Hezbollah? ‘You stood up to Hezbollah’—and where are we?”

Assad noted late last year that the Bush White House did not “have to trust me, because they are not involved in peace anyway. . . .They created a lot of problems around the world and they exacerbated the situation in every hot spot [and] made the world more vulnerable to terrorism. This is the most important thing,” he said. “Nobody can say the opposite.”

As the Bush era wound down, U.S. allies were making their own openings to Syria. In mid-November, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, distressed the White House by flying to Damascus for a meeting with Assad. They agreed that Britain and Syria would establish a high-level exchange of intelligence. Vice-President Dick Cheney viewed the move by Britain—“perfidious Albion,” as he put it—as “a stab in the back,” according to a former senior intelligence official.

In his e-mail, Assad praised the diplomatic efforts of former President Jimmy Carter. “Carter is most knowledgeable about the Middle East and he does not try to dictate or give sermons,” Assad said. “He sincerely is trying to think creatively and find solutions that are outside the box.” Carter’s calls for engagement with Hamas have angered many in Israel and America. In “We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land,” published in January, Carter described Syria as “a key factor in any overall regional peace.” Last December, Carter visited Syria, and met not only with President Assad but with Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader.

A senior White House official confirmed that the Obama transition team had been informed in advance of Carter’s trip to Syria, and that Carter met with Obama shortly before the Inauguration. The two men—Obama was accompanied only by David Axelrod, the President’s senior adviser, who helped arrange the meeting; and Carter by his wife, Rosalynn—discussed the Middle East for an hour. Carter declined to discuss his meeting with Obama, but he did write in an e-mail that he hoped the new President “would pursue a wide-ranging dialogue as soon as possible with the Assad government.” An understanding between Washington and Damascus, he said, “could set the stage for successful Israeli-Syrian talks.”

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.’ ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

Syria’s relationship with Iran will emerge as the crucial issue in the diplomatic reviews now under way in Washington. A settlement, the Israelis believe, would reduce Iran’s regional standing and influence. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Bashar goes to Tehran and explains to the Supreme Leader that he wants to mediate a bilateral relationship with the United States,” the former American diplomat said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

An Israeli official acknowledged that his government had learned of “tensions between Syria and Iran in recent months.” Before Gaza, he said, there had been a noticeable change in the Syrian tone during informal contacts—“an element of openness, candor, and civility.” He cautioned, however, “You can move diplomatically with the Syrians, but you cannot ignore Syria’s major role in arming Hamas and Hezbollah, or the fact that it has intimate relations with Iran, whose nuclear program is still going forward.” He added, with a smile, “No one in Israel is running out to buy a new suit for the peace ceremony on the White House lawn.”

Martin Indyk said, “If the White House engages with Syria, it immediately puts pressure on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.” He said that he had repeatedly sought, without success, to convince the Bush Administration that it was possible to draw Syria away from Iran. In his recent memoir, “Innocent Abroad,” Indyk wrote, “There is a deep divergence between Iran and Syria, captured in the fact that at the same time as Iran’s president threatens to wipe Israel off the map, his Syrian ally is attempting to make peace with Israel. . . . Should negotiations yield a peace agreement, it would likely cause the breakup of the Iranian-Syrian axis.” When we spoke, he added, referring to Assad, “It will not be easy for him to break with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran, but he cannot get a peace deal unless he does. But, if he feels that things are moving in the Middle East, he will not want to be left behind.”

Thomas Dine, who served as the executive director of AIPAC in Washington for thirteen years, said, “You don’t have to be Kissingerian to realize that this is the way to peel the onion from Iran.” Dine went on, “Get what you can get and take one step at a time. The agenda is to get Syria to begin thinking about its relationships with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.” A Pentagon consultant said, “If we ever really took yes for an answer from Syria, the Iranians would go nuts.”

The official Syrian position toward Iran, which Assad repeated to me, is that Iran did not object to the Golan Heights talks, on the principle that any return of sovereign land was to be applauded: “They announced this publicly . . . and I went to Iran and I heard the same.” But there is some evidence that the Syrians may be, in Dine’s terms, reassessing the relationship. The senior Syrian official said that an opening to the West would bring the country increased tourism, trade, and investment, and a higher standard of living—progress that would eventually make it less reliant on Iran. If Israel then attacked Iran, he asked, “what will Syria do?” His answer was that Syria wouldn’t do more than condemn the attack. “What else could we do?”

In an interview in Berlin, Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, who has continued to closely monitor Middle Eastern affairs, argued that the Iranians would “have to make a public move” after a settlement. “Yes, they will react to an Israeli-Syria deal, because they do not want to be isolated, and do not want to lose their last ally to the West.” In other words, serious regional diplomacy could be possible.

However, Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who operated in the Middle East and later served as an adviser to the European Union and a staff member for a fact-finding committee on the Middle East headed by Mitchell, said that the new Administration should not assume that Bashar Assad could be separated easily from Iran, or persuaded to give up support for Hamas and Hezbollah. “Bashar now has enormous standing in the Arab world, and it comes from these pillars—he was among the first to oppose the American war in Iraq and his continued support for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Crooke said. “He cannot trade the Golan Heights for peace with Israel, and cut off his allies. What Syria can do is offer its good standing and credentials to lead a comprehensive regional settlement.” But, he said, “the Obama Administration is going to make it really painful for Syria. There will be no bouquets for Syria.”

He went on, “The real goal of Assad is not necessarily an agreement on the Golan but to begin to engage America and slice away the American demonization of his state.” The changed political landscape in Israel would complicate this process for the Syrians. He said, “They’re starting all these processes to break their isolation and change their strategy. It’s going to be bloody difficult for them to manage this.”

Robert Pastor, a former National Security Council official who has visited Damascus with former President Carter, similarly said that he believed the Syrians had no intention of ending their relationship with Iran. “The Syrians want bilateral talks with Washington and they also want America to be involved in their talks with Israel on the Golan Heights,” Pastor said. “They also believe their relationship with Iran could be of help to the Obama Administration. They believe they could be a bridge between Washington and Tehran.”

Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, works in an office in a well-protected, tranquil residential area of Damascus. In recent years, he has met privately with Jewish leaders and Americans. Meshal is seen by Israel as a sponsor of suicide bombers and other terrorist activity. In 1997, he survived a botched assassination-by-poisoning attempt by Israeli intelligence which Netanyahu, then the Prime Minister, had ordered. Under pressure from Jordan and the U.S., the Israelis handed over the poison’s antidote, saving Meshal’s life.

Speaking through a translator, Meshal said that he believed that the Iranians would not interfere with negotiations between Israel and Syria, although they were not enthusiastic about them. Meshal also said he doubted that Israel intended to return the Golan Heights to Syrian control. But, he said, “If we suppose that Israel is serious, we support the right of Syria to negotiate with Israel to attain its legitimate rights.”

Hamas’s presence in Damascus had, he knew, been a contentious issue in Syria’s relations with both the United States and Israel. “Bashar would never ask us to leave,” he said. “There are some who believe that Hamas would react defensively to an agreement, because of our presence in Syria. But it does not make a difference where our offices are. We are a street movement and our real power is inside Palestine, and nothing can affect that. We are confident about Bashar Assad, and we would never risk being a burden to him. . . . We can move at any time, and move lightly. The Hamas movement will not work against the interests of any other country, and any agreement can be concluded, whether we like it or not. But, also, we don’t want anyone to interfere in our affairs.”

Farouk al-Shara, the Vice-President of Syria, was, as Foreign Minister, his nation’s chief negotiator at Shepherdstown. When he was asked whether Syria’s relationship with Iran would change if the Golan Heights issue was resolved, he said, “Do you think a man only goes to bed with a woman he deeply loves?” Shara laughed, and added, “That’s my answer to your question about Iran.”

There are other impediments to a new relationship between the United States and Syria, including the still unresolved question of who killed Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, who was assassinated in February, 2005. Years of investigation have produced no criminal charges. The Bush Administration suggested that the Syrians were at least indirectly responsible for Hariri’s death—he had been a sharp critic of Syria’s involvement in Lebanon—and it wasn’t alone; Hariri’s murder exacerbated tensions between Syria and France and Saudi Arabia. But the case is clearly less important to French President Nicolas Sarkozy than it was to his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who was close to Hariri. (“This was personal for Chirac, and not political,” Joschka Fischer said.) An adviser to the Saudi government said that King Abdullah did not accept Assad’s assurances that he had nothing to do with the murder. But there has recently been a flurry of renewed diplomatic contacts between Damascus and Riyadh.

One issue that may be a casualty of an Obama rapprochement with Syria is human rights. Syrians are still being jailed for speaking out against the policies of their government. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said that Assad “has been offering fig leafs to the Americans for a long time and thinks if he makes nice in Lebanon and with Hamas and Hezbollah he will no longer be an outcast. We believe that no amount of diplomatic success will solve his internal problems.” The authorities, Whitson said, are “going after ordinary Syrians—like people chatting in cafés. Everyone is looking over their shoulder.”

Assad, in his interview with me, acknowledged, “We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward.” And he focussed on what he had to offer. He said that he had a message for Obama: Syria, as a secular state, and the United States faced a common enemy in Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism. The Bush White House, he said, had viewed the fundamentalists as groups “that you should go and chase, and then you will accomplish your mission, as Bush says. It is not that simple. How do you deal with a state of mind? You can deal with it in many different ways—except for the army.” Speaking of Obama, he said in his e-mail, “We are happy that he has said that diplomacy—and not war—is the means of conducting international policy.”

Assad’s goal in seeking to engage with America and Israel is clearly more far-reaching than merely to regain the Golan Heights. His ultimate aim appears to be to persuade Obama to abandon the Bush Administration’s strategy of aligning America with the so-called “moderate” Arab Sunni states—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan—in a coördinated front against Shiite Iran, Shiite Hezbollah, and Hamas.

“Of course, the Iranians are nervous about the talks, because they don’t fully trust the Syrians,” Itamar Rabinovich said. “But the Assad family does not believe in taking chances—they’re very hard bargainers. They will try to get what they want without breaking fully from Iran, and they will tell us and Washington, ‘It’s to your advantage not to isolate Iran.’ ” Rabinovich added, “Both Israel and the United States will insist on a change in Syria’s relationship with Iran. This can only be worked out—or not—in head-to-head talks.”

The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses.
*Correction, March 30, 2009: The name is Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, not Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, as originally stated.

Lien: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/06/090406fa_fact_hersh?printable=true