In the News    
In the News: April-May 2010


News and commentary provided by UMHLTF are for the convenience of our visitors and do not all necessarily reflect the views and goals of United Methodists' Holy Land Task Force.

Church Leaders' Letter to Congress, Oct 2012

US Preparing for a post-Israel Middle East?

From 2011:

News - Jan 2011

News - Feb 2011

News - March 2011

From 2010:
News - April/May 2010

News - June/July 2010

New - Aug/Sept 2010


A Summer of Hope

by Warren Clark
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace
May 21, 2010

Peace talks led by Senator George Mitchell are underway again between Israel and Palestinians.  The Obama administration has shown it will not tolerate actions by either side that would derail the talks again.  So far the administration has shown extraordinary courage and cool, working to keep diversions in check and to keep all parties focused on the job at hand.

The March 9 Israeli announcement about housing in East Jerusalem during the visit of Vice President Biden was followed March 12 by a conversation between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu in which the State Department spokesman said, "The Secretary [said she]could not understand how this happened...".  And she "made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate … they are committed … to the peace process".

Publicly questioning Israel's commitment to peace is very strong diplomatic language indeed. The next week a Washington meeting between the President and the Prime Minister ended without any statement, suggesting differences remained.

Easter and Passover were followed by public posturing by various parties, but peace talks under Mitchell finally did start on May 9.  Despite denials, the key element of the resumption is the de facto suspension of new Israeli construction activity in East Jerusalem, a necessary step to bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table.   The State Department issued a statement saying Israel had pledged no construction for two years in the east Jerusalem neighborhood that was the subject of the controversy March 9, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had pledged to work against incitement of any sort.   Israeli officials have denied there had been a decision to suspend construction in East Jerusalem, but that in fact is the case for now.
The same day the State Department issued a stern warning against any action by either party that could derail the talks again. "If either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue."  In other words, the U.S. is determined that the talks will go forward and will not allow either side to undermine them.

This is unprecedented.  The United States has changed the game.  No longer will talks go on while Israeli expansion continues into Palestinian lands, and any Palestinian incitement or other acts that could undermine confidence will not be tolerated.   The United States is now actively involved in seeking an agreement rather than leaving the two sides to their own devices.

There are timelines attached to these talks. Both Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell said early this year they expected to reach an agreement in two years.  Two years is probably the maximum time possible that pressures for Israeli expansion can be contained without an agreement.   It also coincides with the end of the current Obama administration.

There is an interim deadline of September 10.   That is the date when the suspension of Israeli construction in the West Bank is scheduled to expire.  It is also the date that the "proximity" talks led by Mitchell are expected to end, to be followed by direct negotiations.  This will put pressure on the Palestinians to be sure there is enough progress in negotiations by that time to put pressure on Israel to continue the talks and continue the construction suspension.

The second round of talks led by Mitchell took place this week.  Progress has been reported, including a Palestinian offer to increase the amount of land along the 1967 border that could be swapped.
Hold your breath.   With so much at stake it promises to be an interesting diplomatic summer.

Al Jazeera
May 14, 2010

Pope decries Israel separation wall

Pope Benedict told Palestinians that they have a right to a sovereign homeland [AFP]

Pope Benedict XVI has called the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank a symbol of "stalemate", during a tour of the occupied Palestinian territory.

The pontiff was speaking at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, as part of his first trip to the West Bank.

"Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached - the wall," he said on Wednesday.
"How we earnestly pray for an end to the hostilities that have caused this wall to be built."

Call for understanding

The pope said that "great courage" is required in order to bring mutual mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians to an end.

"There has to be a willingness to take bold and imaginative initiatives towards reconciliation," he said.

"If each insists on prior concessions from the other, the result can only be stalemate."
The pope said he understood the frustration felt by Palestinian refugees.
"Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian state remain unfulfilled.

"Instead you find yourselves trapped ... in a spiral of violence, of attack and counter-attack, retaliation and continual destruction. The whole world is longing for this spiral to be broken, for peace to put an end to the constant fighting."

'Right to homeland'
The pontiff earlier told Palestinians in Bethlehem's Manger Square that he believes they have the right to a sovereign Palestinian homeland.

"Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders," the pope said.

He called on the Palestinians to resist any temptation to resort to acts of violence in what is being seen as his strongest public support yet for Palestinian statehood.
"I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian territories today," he said.

"Do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts."

'Plight' of refugees
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from the West Bank, said the pope's visit to Bethlehem and his drive by the Israeli separation wall was very significant to many Palestinians.

"The fact that he recognized that wall by its name and said that it was unfortunate to see these walls being erected at a time when boundaries were being eliminated, was certainly a very welcome comment by the pope."

She said many Palestinians wanted the pope to speak to their "plight as a people".
"What [they] wanted was a recognition of their plight as refugees wanting to return to their homes that they were expelled from in 1948, in line with international law.

"They got a lot of what they wanted, but not as clear as they would have hoped for, but certainly much better than was expected earlier."

Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian leader of the political faction Hamas, had called on the pope to visit Gaza to see what he described as "the real holocaust against the Palestinian people".
In 2008, Israel launched a three-week assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,300 people and destroying much of the impoverished area's infrastructure.

Gaza, however, is not on the itinerary for the pope's week-long pilgrimage to the region.


See our Action Alert to oppose this alarming new military order
for the Occupied Territories 
take action>>
IDF order will enable mass deportation
from West Bank

A new IDF order aimed at preventing infiltration is going into effect,
may affect thousands of Palestinians.  

By Amira Hass

April 11, 2010

A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years.

When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders liable to be severely punished.

Given the security authorities' actions over the past decade, the first Palestinians likely to be targeted under the new rules will be those whose ID cards bear home addresses in the Gaza Strip - people born in Gaza and their West Bank-born children - or those born in the West Bank or abroad who for various reasons lost their residency status. Also likely to be targeted are foreign-born spouses of Palestinians.

Until now, Israeli civil courts have occasionally prevented the expulsion of these three groups from the West Bank. The new order, however, puts them under the sole jurisdiction of Israeli military courts.

The new order defines anyone who enters the West Bank illegally as an infiltrator, as well as "a person who is present in the area and does not lawfully hold a permit." The order takes the original 1969 definition of infiltrator to the extreme, as the term originally applied only to those illegally staying in Israel after having passed through countries then classified as enemy states - Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

The order's language is both general and ambiguous, stipulating that the term infiltrator will also be applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, citizens of countries with which Israel has friendly ties (such as the United States) and Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jewish. All this depends on the judgment of Israel Defense Forces commanders in the field.

The Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual was the first Israeli human rights to issue warnings against the order, signed six months ago by then-commander of IDF forces in Judea and Samaria Area Gadi Shamni.

Two weeks ago, Hamoked director Dalia Kerstein sent GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi a request to delay the order, given "the dramatic change it causes in relation to the human rights of a tremendous number of people."

According to the provisions, "a person is presumed to be an infiltrator if he is present in the area without a document or permit which attest to his lawful presence in the area without reasonable justification." Such documentation, it says, must be "issued by the commander of IDF forces in the Judea and Samaria area or someone acting on his behalf."

The instructions, however, are unclear over whether the permits referred to are those currently in force, or also refer to new permits that military commanders might issue in the future. The provision are also unclear about the status of bearers of West Bank residency cards, and disregards the existence of the Palestinian Authority and the agreements Israel signed with it and the PLO.

The order stipulates that if a commander discovers that an infiltrator has recently entered a given area, he "may order his deportation before 72 hours elapse from the time he is served the written deportation order, provided the infiltrator is deported to the country or area from whence he infiltrated."

The order also allows for criminal proceedings against suspected infiltrators that could produce sentences of up to seven years. Individuals able to prove that they entered the West Bank legally but without permission to remain there will also be tried, on charges carrying a maximum sentence of three years. (According to current Israeli law, illegal residents typically receive one-year sentences.)

The new provision also allow the IDF commander in the area to require that the infiltrator pay for the cost of his own detention, custody and expulsion, up to a total of NIS 7,500.

The fear that Palestinians with Gaza addresses will be the first to be targeted by this order is based on measures that Israel has taken in recent years to curtail their right to live, work, study or even visit the West Bank. These measures violated the Oslo Accords.

According to a decision by the West Bank commander that was not backed by military legislation, since 2007, Palestinians with Gaza addresses must request a permit to stay in the West Bank. Since 2000, they have been defined as illegal sojourners if they have Gaza addresses, as if they were citizens of a foreign state. Many of them have been deported to Gaza, including those born in the West Bank.

Currently, Palestinians need special permits to enter areas near the separation fence, even if their homes are there, and Palestinians have long been barred from the Jordan Valley without special authorization. Until 2009, East Jerusalemites needed permission to enter Area A, territory under full PA control.

Another group expected to be particularly harmed by the new rules are Palestinians who moved to the West Bank under family reunification provisions, which Israel stopped granting for several years.

In 2007, amid a number of Hamoked petitions and as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, tens of thousands of people received Palestinian residency cards. The PA distributed the cards, but Israel had exclusive control over who could receive them. Thousands of Palestinians, however, remained classified as "illegal sojourners," including many who are not citizens of any other country.

The new order is the latest step by the Israeli government in recent years to require permits that limit the freedom of movement and residency previously conferred by Palestinian ID cards. The new regulations are particularly sweeping, allowing for criminal measures and the mass expulsion of people from their homes.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response, "The amendments to the order on preventing infiltration, signed by GOC Central Command, were issued as part of a series of manifests, orders and appointments in Judea and Samaria, in Hebrew and Arabic as required, and will be posted in the offices of the Civil Administration and military courts' defense attorneys in Judea and Samaria. The IDF is ready to implement the order, which is not intended to apply to Israelis, but to illegal sojourners in Judea and Samaria."


From Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:

Obama’s Patience With Israel Finally Cracks 

By Rachelle Marshall
April 2010

[At the illegal settlement of Gush Etzion, next to the biblical Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Jewish settlers demonstrate on March 20, 2010 against U.S. opposition to Israel’s continued expansion of settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Musa Al-Shaer)] At the illegal settlement of Gush Etzion, next to the biblical Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Jewish settlers demonstrate on March 20, 2010 against U.S. opposition to Israel’s continued expansion of settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (AFP Photo/Musa Al-Shaer)

ISRAEL’S first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, stated the Zionist dream in 1937 when he said, “The boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people, and no external factor will be able to limit them.” Ben-Gurion told the Zionist Executive Committee that “After the formation of a large army...we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is moving steadily to fulfill that dream. Unlike some of his predecessors, he has made no pretense of seeking a peace that would satisfy the Palestinians. He has obstructed Washington’s attempts to bring the two sides together, and tightened Israel’s hold on all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

When Palestinians refused to take part any longer in talks that went nowhere, President Barack Obama came up with yet another plan to lure them back. This time the process is called “proximity talks,” during which the two sides will remain apart while special Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell shuttles between them. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reluctantly agreed to take part.

The Israelis lost no time booby-trapping the proposal. As Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Jerusalem on March 9, Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes in Arab East Jerusalem and 112 in the illegal West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit. Biden, who was blindsided by the news, condemned “the substance and timing of the announcement,” and Israeli officials hurriedly expressed regret—but only for the poor timing. A government spokesman made it clear that Israel would never relinquish its claim to all of Jerusalem.

But to Biden, Israel can do no wrong. Ignoring the slap delivered by the Israelis, the next day he asserted in a speech at Tel Aviv University America’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” When Netanyahu assured him that construction of the new units might not take place for a year, the vice president hailed the statement, saying it would give peace negotiators more time to work out an agreement. The Palestinians were not as forgiving. The day after Biden left, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Abbas would take no part in peace talks until Israel abandoned its plan to build the 1,600 new homes.

Unlike his vice president, Obama refused to turn the other cheek. Shortly after Biden returned to Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu and told him he had harmed “the bilateral relationship.” David Axelrod, Obama’s closest adviser, called Israel’s announcement “destructive” and an “affront.” Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael B. Oren, was summoned to the State Department, where he undoubtedly heard even tougher language.

The old relationship had definitely chilled. Obama demanded in blunt terms that Israel cancel the building project, and grant major concessions to the Palestinians, such as releasing prisoners and returning more West Bank land. Instead of complying, Netanyahu insisted the construction of new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem was not a matter for negotiation and “would not hurt the Palestinians.” In fact, of course, such construction takes land from a future Palestinian state, cuts off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, and prevents Arab neighborhoods from expanding.

Meanwhile Israel quietly took action against peaceful protestors by closing off the village of Bil’in to Israeli and international peace activists on Fridays. The order will prevent outsiders from taking part in the weekly protests at the wall that splits the West Bank village in two, in effect allowing Israeli police to fire at will at nonviolent Palestinians, away from the eyes of foreigners.

[More than a year after Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” parents and children still live in tents, as Israel continues to prevent construction materials from entering the besieged Gaza Strip. (Photo courtesy Gretta Duisenberg)] More than a year after Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” parents and children still live in tents, as Israel continues to prevent construction materials from entering the besieged Gaza Strip. (Photo courtesy Gretta Duisenberg)

And chances are they will. Four Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli fire within 24 hours on March 21, two of them cousins who witnesses said were working on their family’s land near Nablus when they were shot by settlers. President Abbas quickly condemned what he called “The Israeli escalation and the killing of Palestinians on a daily basis,” saying it was “the response of the Israeli government to the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the Americans.” Nevertheless, U.S. envoy Mitchell was in Jerusalem the same day assuring the Israelis that “our commitment to Israel is unshakable and enduring.”

The Israelis may be reluctant to offend an American president, but they know that any threat to punish Israel is certain to raise a storm of protest in the U.S. At least two dozen members of Congress objected to Obama’s scolding of Israel, and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League claimed to be “shocked and stunned.” According to pro-Israel zealots, when Israel thumbs its nose at the president while pocketing billions of dollars a year in U.S. aid, it is the president who is at fault.

Israel also has miffed the Europeans. The murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official, was intended to be a routine operation by Mossad, which since the early 1970s has gotten away with at least 40 assassinations in Athens, Beirut, Rome, and several other cities. The latest action revealed Mossad agents to be bunglers as well as murderers.

The scenario that played out in a Dubai hotel room this past January could have come from a paperback thriller. The agents entered Mabhouh’s bedroom, injected him with a paralyzing drug, suffocated him with a pillow, smoothed away any signs of struggle, and even relatched the door when they left. But the fabled Mossad was no match for the Dubai police, which produced a 27-minute video showing the faces of 26 of the conspirators, many of them wearing obviously fake beards and wigs.

Because the suspects carried false British, French, Irish, German and Australian passports using the names of Israelis with dual citizenship in those countries, they had engaged in identity theft, a crime that goes to the heart of any security system. The British regarded it as so serious an offense that they expelled an Israeli diplomat and warned British travelers to Israel that their identity details might be at risk. Washington made no comment on either the killing or Israel’s use of fraudulent passports.

In fact, the degree of America’s involvement is one of the major mysteries of the affair. Two of the suspects were admitted to the U.S. shortly after the killing, and 14 of them carried credit cards issued by U.S.-based banks, MetaBank in Storm Lake, Iowa, and Payoneer in New York (see story p. 18). The State Department, which frequently denies visas to Palestinian peace activists, unaccountably failed to question Israelis traveling on false passports.

Netanyahu again showed his disregard for world opinion when in late February he announced a $100 million plan to rehabilitate 150 “Zionist heritage sites,” at least two of them in occupied Palestine. Since the list includes Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, where Abraham and Sara are buried, he in effect asserted Israel’s sole sovereignty over places sacred to Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews. ”People must be familiar with their homeland,” Netanyahu said. “This is what we will instill in this and coming generations, to the glory of the Jewish people.” To those with long memories, the statement was chillingly similar to the Nazis’ association of “land” with “blood.”

Netanyahu’s claim that the tombs of Abraham, Rachel and other biblical figures were the sole legacy of the Jews also seemed designed to infuriate Palestinians, since it came on the 16th anniversary of the massacre by a Jewish settler from Brooklyn, Baruch Goldstein, of 29 Muslim worshippers as they prayed at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Israeli peace activist Uri Avneri called it “nothing but an expropriation and a blatant provocation.”

Given Israel’s history of obstruction, Palestinians have every reason to believe that the proximity talks will do no more than take up time while the Israelis continue to build settlements. This time, however, Obama is insisting that the talks deal with substantive issues rather than procedures. He must now define the goal: either an independent Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or a single state in which Israelis and Palestinians live as equal ctizens.

It is even more important that Obama face up to Congress and the Israel lobby and announce what he will do to assure Israel’s acceptance of such an agenda and its ultimate outcome. On the line is his credibility in the Arab world, as well as what may be the last chance for peace. Meanwhile, the specter hanging over the proceedings will be the thousands of young Palestinians growing up with no hope of a future, and the pro-Israel extremists who prefer continued bloodshed to a just peace. It is a volatile mix that inflames anger in the region and increases the danger of terrorist attacks in the U.S.

[Next part omitted: Afghanistan Has Its Own Interests]

Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Mill Valley, CA. A member of A Jewish Voice for Peace, she writes frequently on the Middle East.


See our Action Alert to oppose this alarming new military order
for the Occupied Territories 
take action>>
International arrest warrants awaiting scores of top-ranking Israeli officials
by Richard Walker

American Free Press
12 April 2010

International laws are making it increasingly difficult for Israeli diplomats, intelligence officers, generals and even former top military officers to travel the globe without being arrested on international warrants. Judging by the sheer number of outstanding warrants, any Israelis deemed to have committed crimes against Palestinian civilians are now at a higher risk than ever of being seized at airports and handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The problem facing Israel has been highlighted by Interpol issuing arrest warrants for 27 Mossad agents directly involved in the recent planning and assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai. That murder came on the heels of a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes during its siege and invasion of the Gaza Strip, making it even more likely that senior military and political figures involved in that operation could someday be arrested if they visit one of the many nations that are signatories to the international court.

Israel’s problem in respect to warrants is compounded by the fact that scores of retired military and intelligence figures earn a big money representing arms dealers and security companies. Others act in an advisory capacity to armies and militia groups worldwide. Those jobs involve considerable travel. Nowadays, with increased security at ports of entry in many nations, it is difficult for anyone to get on a plane, boat or train without leaving a trace of his or her identity.

That level of security poses a risk to all those deemed to have committed crimes against humanity. For wanted Israelis, those crimes include the following: the shelling of civilian areas of Gaza; the bulldozing of Palestinian homes; unlawful arrest, interrogation, detention and torture of suspects; the political and military authorizing of phosphorus munitions against civilian neighborhoods; the wanton use of cluster bombs to contaminate farmland as happened in Lebanon and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in order to punish the population by denying people water, electricity, food, proper medical care and sewerage facilities.

Rights groups and their lawyers say there is more than sufficient evidence to show that Israel has a case to answer for in all those criminal categories.

Hidden in lawyers’ desks throughout Europe are large numbers of warrants that have been drawn up at the request of human rights’ organizations. The warrants are targeted at a wide range of Israeli figures, including serving and former Cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs, generals and military officers down to brigade level. The danger for all of those named is that, if it is learned they are visiting relatives or attending conferences outside Israel, the warrants will be dusted off.

Unfortunately, a country where no such warrant can be served is the United States because of political influence over “our” FBI. Nevertheless, Israel is well aware of the risks posed by international warrants. In the past warrants were issued in Colombia for three Israelis alleged to have trained paramilitaries who ran death squads. Colombia accused the three of having been at one time on the payroll of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Those warrants have not yet been served, just like the many warrants issued by the Russian authorities for Russian Jewish billionaires, who used their joint Israeli-Russian citizenship to find sanctuary in Israel after robbing Russia.

It is well known that Israel has an unstated policy of refusing to hand over any of its citizens. That has encouraged Jews from many countries to hide out in Israel when faced with arrest or imprisonment.

An indication of the risks facing Israel is that it almost lost one of its generals, Doron Almog, to a warrant on Sept. 10, 2005. He was on a flight to London’s Heathrow Airport when the Israeli embassy in London got a tip-off that lawyers were waiting at the airport to serve him with a warrant from the International Court, alleging he had committed war crimes by bulldozing over 50 homes in Gaza. The embassy was also told that Scotland Yard had officers standing by to arrest him. The moment Almog’s plane touched down in London, a diplomat from the embassy went on board and advised him not to leave, saying he had immunity because the plane was deemed to be Israeli territory.

Almog did as he was told and returned to Israel on the same plane less than 24 hours later. Reliable security sources accused the British authorities of tipping off the Israelis to avoid an international incident.

Rights groups and their lawyers angrily pointed out that the plane was not sovereign Israeli territory, and police officers should have taken the general from the plane by force. [No one tried a “planes are sovereign territory” argument when Australian historian Frederick Toeben was arrested at Heathrow en route to Dubai— Ed.] There was such an outcry over the issue that it is believed an arrest will be made should a similar case happen again in London.

In December 2009, an arrest warrant was issued in Britain for Tzipi Livni, who was the Israeli foreign secretary during the war in Lebanon and the invasion of Gaza. On hearing about the warrant, she canceled a planned trip to London.

Weeks earlier, one of the Israeli prime minister’s closest advisors also pulled out of a UK trip aimed at fundraising within the Jewish community.

The most worrying issue for Israel is that the UN report accusing it of war crimes in Gaza has been closely scrutinized by rights groups, who have meticulously drawn up warrants for a long list of Israeli figures.

The Iranians claim to have their own list of over 100 Israelis they say committed war crimes in Gaza. That list is believed to match one in the hands of many rights groups across Europe and in other parts of the world.

Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.