Wishing you all a “Happy Easter” may be slightly premature since it is only Thursday and Easter is still a few days away, but this is the Holy Land, and the excitement in anticipation of Easter is already rising here. As one local friend put it, “We already know what’s going to happen, so why wait?” Tonight there will be big family “barbecues” where lamb is cooked over a grill in celebration of the Last Supper. Tomorrow will be Al Juma al Mukadas, Holy Friday or Sad Friday. Pilgrims from around the world will begin walking the Via Doloroas, the Way of the Cross, at around 6:30 in the morning. Many other religious rites and traditions will be manifested in remembrance of Christ’s last days on earth. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre will be packed full of people paying homage and visiting the site of
The important thing is not the where or when, but that He is not there! He is risen!
To be honest, in the past I have always tried to avoid Jerusalem during Holy Week where I find that too many internationals crowding the streets and demonstrating their religious fervor to be very distracting. I don’t need to walk the Via Dolorosa yet again in order to remember what happened at each station. I don’t need to be jammed into the hot and smoky basilica with thousands of other people to remember that Christ died for my sins. I need only to remember that he is not in that tomb anymore. I prefer to spend the time worshipping with the smaller local congregations in one of the towns or villages in the Galilee where Jesus spent his life, where He learned from the elders in the community, where He taught His revolutionary message that we are all chosen by God, where He
continues to live among the people, where I can feel His presence, not the crush of international pilgrims.
This year I will be hosting some visitors during Holy Week, so escaping to the Galilee will not be an option for me. Instead it will be a good reminder for me of the blessing that I have in being able to live and work in a place where so many only dream of visiting. I can forgive the sometimes outrageous outpouring of religious enthusiasm. I can even forgive the pushing and shoving as people press to get close enough to rub their hands on the “holy stones,” most of which were imported from Italy. I will even attend the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday and watch the sun come up from behind the mountains in Jordan as I do every morning when I eat breakfast on the balcony of my apartment. And I will give thanks, as I do every day, that because Jesus is no longer in the tomb, He is beside me now and always. I don’t need to have a special day of the year set aside to be reminded of that or to celebrate that. I celebrate that every day when I see the sun rise.
One does not need to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection. One does not even need to do it on one special day. In fact, a common question here is “When do you celebrate Easter?” since we have two Easter Sundays, one for the Eastern or Oriental churches and one for Western or Occidental churches depending on which calendar is used. To me, the day does not matter. Where and when we celebrate the Risen Lord should be something that is on-going. It is an event that carries a message that should not be limited to one day of the year or a particular place on Earth. All around the world people will be celebrating that Jesus rose from the
grave and has conquered death. But will these same people remember to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the oppressed lift their heads with dignity and freedom? You don’t need to be in the Holy Land or “walk where Jesus walked” to do that. You don’t need to light candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to know God’s grace. You need only to love your neighbor as Jesus loves you, as God loves you. He is present now and always. Perhaps it would be better to remember that every day is an Easter day. A celebration is a fine way to remember that Christ is risen. But as we celebrate and remember His resurrection, let us also remember His message and do the work He expects us to do the other days of the year.
Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Al Messiah Kam! Hakan Kam!
Janet Lahr Lewis
Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel
January 26, 2012
This is the checkpoint I pass
through to get to and from my office in Bethlehem from my home just on
the other side of the checkpoint in Beit Zafafa.
What evil idea will they come up with next?
New Israeli search method at West Bank checkpoint worries Palestinians
to eyewitness reports, Israeli police officers have begun searching
Palestinian vehicles at a Bethlehem checkpoint through use of
By Amira Hass
January 25, 2012
Israel Police have
begun implementing a new method of searching Palestinian vehicles
through use of nausea-inducing chemicals at a Bethlehem checkpoint,
international aid workers have reported.
Since December, Israeli police officers have introduced what they call a sophisticated method of tracking explosive materials.
Palestinian workers at the Bethlehem checkpoint.
Photo by: Daniel Bar-On
with Israeli license plates, usually residents of Jerusalem or foreign
residents are allowed to pass through the checkpoint. Cars traveling to
Jerusalem are often asked by Border Police soldiers to park their car in
a side lot with eight parking spaces near the checkpoint. Once parked,
the passengers are asked to roll up all windows, apart from that of the
driver – and exit the vehicle. Two tubes are then connected to the
vehicle – one is connected to an air pump, the other, which passes
through a tiny filter, is attached to the vehicle. A policeman with a
stopwatch flicks the air pump switch.
to Palestinians, police officers who carried out the search refused to
describe the procedure. An official in the Israel Police told Haaretz
that it is an approved procedure, and another police source said there
is no use of any chemicals, but would not expand on the new search
A foreign resident who works at an international
organization and must pass through the checkpoint several times a week
told Haaretz that the tube is left connected for approximately 10
minutes. Afterward, the filter is removed and taken to a nearby
building. The worker says she was under the impression that some kind of
chemical was disseminated into the vehicle, as she and another
passenger began feeling nauseous and suffered from headaches several
days afterwards. The worker has informed her country’s embassy.
a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, whose car also underwent the
same procedure, told Haaretz that he did not feel a thing, and that the
police officers added that it was “only oxygen” being pumped into the
Israel Police officially responded to the inquiry by saying
that “as the force entrusted to protect the country’s citizens and
their quality of life, it must conduct arbitrary, rudimentary checks
through use of sophisticated technological means, all the while
alleviating the experience of those being checked.”
three months ago, the police used bomb-sniffing dogs at the checkpoint.
One man who passes through the checkpoint regularly told Haaretz that
the security forces have a tendency to switch methods.
January 24, 2012
Important new book to share with your friends!
Highlights are mine.
The evangelist lobby
Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict by Craig Neilson
January 23, 2012
Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict (2011).
We asked Craig Nielsen to tell us about his new book, and the following is an excerpt from the introduction of
Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict (Foundation University Press (2011).
Christian Zionism, the belief that the current Zionist state of Israel is an unambiguous portent of the imminent return of Christ, is said to be the largest growing cult in America. With some 70 million Christian evangelicals in the U.S. (a large proportion subscribing to Christian Zionist beliefs), unconditional support of Israel on religious grounds translates into massive lobbying power in a country where the "religious right" has seen itself as the leaders in a fight against the infidels of secularism, Islam, socialism and any one else in their way.
Yet few, if any, scholarly Christian theologians support this view. It is a belief advanced mostly by powerful TV evangelists and lobby groups. The average "garden variety" Christian has little to arm themselves against the deluge of almost hysterical demands on Christians that they must support the Zionists' absolute entitlement to their colonialist project in the Holy Land with its dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs.
Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict informs Bible-believing Christians with clear and easily understood reasons why Christian Zionism is nothing short of outright heresy. The book has taken inspiration from the resistance to Zionism from Orthodox Jews as well as arguments from Christian theologians over the centuries showing that both Old and New Testaments of the Christian and Jewish scriptures provide no comfort for Christian Zionist dogma. The book shows that the idea that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a basically religious conflict is false; the conflict finds its roots in European Zionist colonialism and western indifference to real democracy in the Middle East.
January 24, 2012
The Palestinian children – alone and bewildered – in Israel's Al Jalame jail
Special report: Israel's military justice system is accused of mistreating Palestinian children arrested for throwing stones
Harriett Sherwood in the West Bank
The Guardian (UK)
January 22, 2012
The room is barely wider than the thin, dirty mattress that covers the floor. Behind a low concrete wall is a squat toilet, the stench from which has no escape in the windowless room. The rough concrete walls deter idle leaning; the constant overhead light inhibits sleep. The delivery of food through a low slit in the door is the only way of marking time, dividing day from night.
This is Cell 36, deep within Al Jalame prison in northern Israel. It is one of a handful of cells where Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks. One 16-year-old claimed that he had been kept in Cell 36 for 65 days.
The only escape is to the interrogation room where children are shackled, by hands and feet, to a chair while being questioned, sometimes for hours.
Most are accused of throwing stones at soldiers or settlers; some, of flinging molotov cocktails; a few, of more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons. They are also pumped for information about the activities and sympathies of their classmates, relatives and neighbours.
At the beginning, nearly all deny the accusations. Most say they are threatened; some report physical violence. Verbal abuse – "You're a dog, a son of a whore" – is common. Many are exhausted from sleep deprivation. Day after day they are fettered to the chair, then returned to solitary confinement. In the end, many sign confessions that they later say were coerced.
These claims and descriptions come from affidavits given by minors to an international human rights organisation and from interviews conducted by the Guardian. Other cells in Al Jalame and Petah Tikva prisons are also used for solitary confinement, but Cell 36 is the one cited most often in these testimonies.
Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers each year, mostly accused of throwing stones. Since 2008, Defence for Children International (DCI) has collected sworn testimonies from 426 minors detained in Israel's military justice system.
Their statements show a pattern of night-time arrests, hands bound with plastic ties, blindfolding, physical and verbal abuse, and threats. About 9% of all those giving affidavits say they were kept in solitary confinement, although there has been a marked increase to 22% in the past six months.
Few parents are told where their children have been taken. Minors are rarely questioned in the presence of a parent, and rarely see a lawyer before or during initial interrogation. Most are detained inside Israel, making family visits very difficult.
Human rights organisations say these patterns of treatment – which are corroborated by a separate study, No Minor Matter, conducted by an Israeli group, B'Tselem – violate the international convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has ratified, and the fourth Geneva convention.
Most children maintain they are innocent of the crimes of which they are accused, despite confessions and guilty pleas, said Gerard Horton of DCI. But, he added, guilt or innocence was not an issue with regard to their treatment.
"We're not saying offences aren't committed – we're saying children have legal rights. Regardless of what they're accused of, they should not be arrested in the middle of the night in terrifying raids, they should not be painfully tied up and blindfolded sometimes for hours on end, they should be informed of the right to silence and they should be entitled to have a parent present during questioning."
Mohammad Shabrawi from the West Bank town of Tulkarm was arrested last January, aged 16, at about 2.30am. "Four soldiers entered my bedroom and said you must come with us. They didn't say why, they didn't tell me or my parents anything," he told the Guardian.
Handcuffed with a plastic tie and blindfolded, he thinks he was first taken to an Israeli settlement, where he was made to kneel – still cuffed and blindfolded – for an hour on an asphalt road in the freezing dead of night. A second journey ended at about 8am at Al Jalame detention centre, also known as Kishon prison, amid fields close to the Nazareth to Haifa road.
After a routine medical check, Shabrawi was taken to Cell 36. He spent 17 days in solitary, apart from interrogations, there and in a similar cell, No 37, he said. "I was lonely, frightened all the time and I needed someone to talk with. I was choked from being alone. I was desperate to meet anyone, speak to anyone … I was so bored that when I was out [of the cell] and saw the police, they were talking in Hebrew and I don't speak Hebrew, but I was nodding as though I understood. I was desperate to speak."
During interrogation, he was shackled. "They cursed me and threatened to arrest my family if I didn't confess," he said. He first saw a lawyer 20 days after his arrest, he said, and was charged after 25 days. "They accused me of many things," he said, adding that none of them were true.
Eventually Shabrawi confessed to membership of a banned organisation and was sentenced to 45 days. Since his release, he said, he was "now afraid of the army, afraid of being arrested." His mother said he had become withdrawn.
Ezz ad-Deen Ali Qadi from Ramallah, who was 17 when he was arrested last January, described similar treatment during arrest and detention. He says he was held in solitary confinement at Al Jalame for 17 days in cells 36, 37 and 38.
"I would start repeating the interrogators' questions to myself, asking myself is it true what they are accusing me of," he told the Guardian. "You feel the pressure of the cell. Then you think about your family, and you feel you are going to lose your future. You are under huge stress."
His treatment during questioning depended on the mood of his interrogators, he said. "If he is in a good mood, sometimes he allows you to sit on a chair without handcuffs. Or he may force you to sit on a small chair with an iron hoop behind it. Then he attaches your hands to the ring, and your legs to the chair legs. Sometimes you stay like that for four hours. It is painful.
"Sometimes they make fun of you. They ask if you want water, and if you say yes they bring it, but then the interrogator drinks it."
Ali Qadi did not see his parents during the 51 days he was detained before trial, he said, and was only allowed to see a lawyer after 10 days. He was accused of throwing stones and planning military operations, and after confessing was sentenced to six months in prison.The Guardian has affidavits from five other juveniles who said they were detained in solitary confinement in Al Jalame and Petah Tikva. All confessed after interrogation.
"Solitary confinement breaks the spirit of a child," said Horton. "Children say that after a week or so of this treatment, they confess simply to get out of the cell."
The Israeli security agency (ISA) – also known as Shin Bet – told the Guardian: "No one questioned, including minors, is kept alone in a cell as a punitive measure or in order to obtain a confession."
The Israeli prison service did not respond to a specific question about solitary confinement, saying only "the incarceration of prisoners…is subject to legal examination".
Juvenile detainees also allege harsh interrogation methods. The Guardian interviewed the father of a minor serving a 23-month term for throwing rocks at vehicles. Ali Odwan, from Azzun, said his son Yahir, who was 14 when he was arrested, was given electric shocks by a Taser while under interrogation.
"I visited my son in jail. I saw marks from electric shocks on both his arms, they were visible from behind the glass. I asked him if it was from electric shocks, he just nodded. He was afraid someone was listening," Odwan said.
DCI has affidavits from three minors accused of throwing stones who claim they were given electric shocks under interrogation in 2010.
Another Azzun youngster, Sameer Saher, was 13 when he was arrested at 2am. "A soldier held me upside down and took me to a window and said: 'I want to throw you from the window.' They beat me on the legs, stomach, face," he said.
His interrogators accused him of stone-throwing and demanded the names of friends who had also thrown stones. He was released without charge about 17 hours after his arrest. Now, he said, he has difficulty sleeping for fear "they will come at night and arrest me".
In response to questions about alleged ill-treatment, including electric shocks, the ISA said: "The claims that Palestinian minors were subject to interrogation techniques that include beatings, prolonged periods in handcuffs, threats, kicks, verbal abuse, humiliation, isolation and prevention of sleep are utterly baseless … Investigators act in accordance with the law and unequivocal guidelines which forbid such actions."
The Guardian has also seen rare audiovisual recordings of the interrogations of two boys, aged 14 and 15, from the village of Nabi Saleh, the scene of weekly protests against nearby settlers. Both are visibly exhausted after being arrested in the middle of the night. Their interrogations, which begin at about 9.30am, last four and five hours.
Neither is told of their legal right to remain silent, and both are repeatedly asked leading questions, including whether named people have incited them to throw stones. At one point, as one boy rests his head on the table, the interrogator flicks at him, shouting: "Lift your head, you." During the other boy's interrogation, one questioner repeatedly slams a clenched fist into his own palm in a threatening gesture. The boy breaks down in tears, saying he was due to take an exam at school that morning. "They're going to fail me, I'm going to lose the year," he sobs.
In neither case was a lawyer present during their interrogation.
Israeli military law has been applied in the West Bank since Israel occupied the territory more than 44 years ago. Since then, more than 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained under military orders.
Under military order 1651, the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years, and children under the age of 14 face a maximum of six months in prison.
However, children aged 14 and 15 could, in theory, be sentenced up to 20 years for throwing an object at a moving vehicle with the intent to harm. In practice, most sentences range between two weeks and 10 months, according to DCI.
In September 2009, a special juvenile military court was established. It sits at Ofer, a military prison outside Jerusalem, twice a week. Minors are brought into court in leg shackles and handcuffs, wearing brown prison uniforms. The proceedings are in Hebrew with intermittent translation provided by Arabic-speaking soldiers.
The Israeli prison service told the Guardian that the use of restraints in public places was permitted in cases where "there is reasonable concern that the prisoner will escape, cause damage to property or body, or will damage evidence or try to dispose of evidence".
The Guardian witnessed a case this month in which two boys, aged 15 and 17, admitted entering Israel illegally, throwing molotov cocktails and stones, starting a fire which caused extensive damage, and vandalising property. The prosecution asked for a sentence to reflect the defendants' "nationalistic motives" and to act as a deterrent.
The older boy was sentenced to 33 months in jail; the younger one, 26 months. Both were sentenced to an additional 24 months suspended and were fined 10,000 shekels (£1,700). Failure to pay the fine would mean an additional 10 months in prison.
Several British parliamentary delegations have witnessed child hearings at Ofer over the past year. Alf Dubs reported back to the House of Lords last May, saying: "We saw a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old, one of them in tears, both looking absolutely bewildered … I do not believe this process of humiliation represents justice. I believe that the way in which these young people are treated is in itself an obstacle to the achievement by Israel of a peaceful relationship with the Palestinian people."
Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, who witnessed the trial of a shackled 14-year-old at Ofer last month, found the experience distressing. "In five minutes he had been found guilty of stone-throwing and was sentenced to nine months. It was shocking to see a child being put through this process. It's difficult to see how a [political] solution can be reached when young people are being treated in this manner. They end up with very little hope for their future and very angry about their treatment."
Horton said a guilty plea was "the quickest way to get out of the system". If the children say their confession was coerced, "that provides them with a legal defence – but because they're denied bail they will remain in detention longer than if they had simply pleaded guilty".
An expert opinion written by Graciela Carmon, a child psychiatrist and member of Physicians for Human Rights, in May 2011, said that children were particularly vulnerable to providing a false confession under coercion.
"Although some detainees understand that providing a confession, despite their innocence, will have negative repercussions in the future, they nevertheless confess as the immediate mental and/or physical anguish they feel overrides the future implications, whatever they may be."
Nearly all the cases documented by DCI ended in a guilty plea and about three-quarters of the convicted minors were transferred to prisons inside Israel. This contravenes article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention, which requires children and adults in occupied territories to be detained within the territory.
The Israeli defence forces (IDF), responsible for arrests in the West Bank and the military judicial system said last month that the military judicial system was "underpinned by a commitment to ensure the rights of the accused, judicial impartiality and an emphasis on practising international legal norms in incredibly dangerous and complex situations".
The ISA said its employees acted in accordance with the law, and detainees were given the full rights for which they were eligible, including the right to legal counsel and visits by the Red Cross. "The ISA categorically denies all claims with regard to the interrogation of minors. In fact, the complete opposite is true – the ISA guidelines grant minors special protections needed because of their age."
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told the Guardian: "If detainees believe they have been mistreated, especially in the case of minors … it's very important that these people, or people representing them, come forward and raise these issues. The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors."
Stone-throwing, he added, was a dangerous activity that had resulted in the deaths of an Israeli father and his infant son last year.
"Rock-throwing, throwing molotov cocktails and other forms of violence is unacceptable, and the security authorities have to bring it to an end when it happens."
Human rights groups are concerned about the long-term impact of detention on Palestinian minors. Some children initially exhibit a degree of bravado, believing it to be a rite of passage, said Horton. "But when you sit with them for an hour or so, under this veneer of bravado are children who are fairly traumatised." Many of them, he said, never want to see another soldier or go near a checkpoint. Does he think the system works as a deterrent? "Yes, I think it does."
According to Nader Abu Amsha, the director of the YMCA in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, which runs a rehabilitation programme for juveniles, "families think that when the child is released, it's the end of the problem. We tell them this is the beginning".
Following detention many children exhibit symptoms of trauma: nightmares, mistrust of others, fear of the future, feelings of helplessness and worthlessness, obsessive compulsive behaviour, bedwetting, aggression, withdrawal and lack of motivation.
The Israeli authorities should consider the long-term effects, said Abu Amsha. "They don't give attention to how this might continue the vicious cycle of violence, of how this might increase hatred. These children come out of this process with a lot of anger. Some of them feel the need for revenge.
"You see children who are totally broken. It's painful to see the pain of these children, to see how much they are squeezed by the Israeli system."
From Janet on December 1, 2011
UN marks 'day of solidarity' with Palestinian people
A boy hangs the Palestinian flag in front of Israeli soldiers during a
demonstration against Israel's illegal separation barrier in the West Bank
town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.(MaanImages/file)
(Ma'an) -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that a
Palestinian state was "long overdue," in a statement to mark the
International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
need to resolve this conflict has taken on greater urgency with the
historic transformations taking place across the region," Ban said.
UN chief said that a solution to the conflict must end the Israeli
occupation that began in 1967 and establish two states with Jerusalem as
a shared capital.
A just solution must also be found for the millions of Palestinian refugees in the region, the statement added.
praised the accomplishments of the Palestinian Authority, noting that
the West Bank government is "institutionally ready to assume the
responsibilities of statehood."
He called on both sides to return
to direct negotiations, while describing Israeli settlement activity in
East Jerusalem and the West Bank as a "major obstacle" to peace.
rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian
territory Richard Falk condemned the ongoing denial of Palestinian
rights as a result of the Israeli occupation.
"Every year, on
this International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we are
reminded of Israeli authorities’ invidious schemes to permanently empty
Palestine of Palestinians.
"This prolonged human catastrophe must be brought to an end once and for all," a statement said.
official Hanan Ashrawi stressed the historical significance of the day,
noting that UN resolution 181, which called for the division of
Palestine, allotted 55 percent of land to a Jewish minority "at the
expense" of the Palestinian majority.
“For sixty-four years, the
Palestinian people have been subjected to an apartheid-like regime and
prevented from proclaiming their rights to person and property.
in the face of this grave historical injustice, the Palestinians
continue to rise up to preserve their identity and presence on
Palestinian land," she said.
Ashrawi called on all UN member
states to acknowledge Israel's systematic violation of human rights and
international law and hold the country accountable for its actions.
occasion exemplifies the vital importance for the Quartet and the
international community to act in solidarity with the Palestinians and
support our peaceful diplomatic efforts to achieve an independent
Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its
The United Nations partition plan for Palestine, or UN resolution 181, was adopted by the General Assembly on Nov. 29 1947.
Jewish state was proposed on 56.47 percent of Palestine with an Arab
state on 43.53 percent of the land. The resolution excluded Jerusalem,
which was to be controlled under an international trusteeship.
the time of the partition plan, 67 percent of the total population of
mandate Palestine was Arab and roughly 33 percent Jewish, according to
the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.
October 17, 2011
a follow-up article to the one I sent last week which had been
published in Ha’aretz, the Israeli paper. Please note that when they say
2,600 they mean Units, not people. Multiply that by 6 and you’ll get
the average number of people who will occupy this illegal settlement.
Israel plans new settlement of 2,600 that will isolate Arab East Jerusalem
Britain, the EU and the UN condemn Israel's decision as provocative and a further threat to the peace process
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
The Guardian (UK)
October 16, 2011
submitted plans to build the first big Jewish settlement in the
occupied territories in 25 years, in a move condemned as an
"assassination" of attempts to revive peace negotiations.
Israeli peace group, Peace Now, denounced the plan to build 2,600 homes
at Givat Hamatos on the southern edge of Jerusalem as a "game changer"
because it would virtually cut off the Arab east of the city from the
rest of the occupied West Bank.
The UN, the EU and Britain joined the
Palestinians in condemning the move as provocative at a time when the
major powers are struggling to rekindle negotiations while the
Palestinian bid for statehood is still before the UN security council.
Palestinian leadership, which has said there can be no new talks if
settlement building continues, said the plans were further evidence that
Israel "wants to destroy the peace process".
Givat Hamatos would
form a big part of the crescent of Jewish settlements which, in parallel
with the West Bank wall and fence, has increasingly isolated East
Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied territories. Israeli peace
activists say the intention is to solidify Israel's claim to all of
Jerusalem and to minimise the amount of the city ceded to an independent
Palestine. Work could begin as early as next year.
A fortnight ago,
Israel drew strong international condemnation over plans to expand an
existing settlement, Gilo, by about 1,200 homes. Meir Margalit, a
leftwing member of the Jerusalem council who holds the portfolio
overseeing the east of the city, said that the Givat Hamatos plan had
more serious implications because, not only is it much larger but, for
the first time in quarter of a century, it established a new colony.
is a big deal because this is a new settlement. It's not more houses in
an existing settlement but a new one that takes one of the last
reserves of land remaining for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem," he
said. "I don't want to be overly dramatic but this will be that last
nail in the coffin of the peace process.
"The government knows the
Palestinians cannot live with this, that settlements are the most
important issue for them. The people behind this are pyromaniacs and
terrorists because they are lighting fires all over the place that at
the end of the day will set up a new wave of terrorist attacks."
plans were submitted for approval by Israel's interior minister, Eli
Yishai, a member of the religious, rightwing Shas party. They are likely
to be backed by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is
competing with Shas for the support of Jewish settlers and rightwing
voters. Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel regards itself as free
to build anywhere it chooses within the area it defines as Jerusalem,
which cuts deeper into the West Bank since the municipal boundaries were
extended after the occupation of the east of the city began in 1967.
Hamatos would be the first major new Jewish settlement since Netanyahu
approved the construction of nearby Har Homar in 1997, during his first
term as prime minister.
The government has sought to minimise the
significance of the plans by saying they have been around for several
years and that no final decision has been taken. The proposal was
originally drafted three years ago and then put on hold. But last week,
with attention focused on the pending release of Gilat Shalit after five
years captivity in Gaza, they were quietly revived and submitted for a
60-day public comment period, a last step before a final vote on
approval. The decision will be made by the Jerusalem municipal council
where there is broad support for settlements.
The move was welcomed
by David Hershovitz, a rightwing member of the city council's planning
committee. He told the Jerusalem Post: "Givat Hamatos is a prerequisite
for massive building in Jerusalem."
Saeb Erekat, the chief
Palestinian negotiator, said the Givat Hamatos proposal "makes a mockery
of … international efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace."
Sunday, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, condemned "this
provocative step, which further encloses East Jerusalem". Catherine
Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, described the Givat Hamatos plans
as "deplorable". She said the plans undermine peace efforts by breaching
Israel's responsibility to create "an environment of trust conducive to
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said the Givat Hamatos plans are "contrary to international law".
developments in this regard have been unacceptable, particularly as
efforts are ongoing to resume negotiations," he said.
Margalit said that he believes the government is deliberately seeking to undermine attempts to revive talks.
the one side, Netanyahu says he is ready to negotiate; from the other,
the government does this and undermines any possibility of negotiations
with the Palestinians," he said.