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Gaza Updates – Suffering & Injustice Continues

Many thousands of people are still homeless after Israel’s attack on Gaza. Dwellings for rent are scarce as hen’s teeth, rents are soaring, as are prices for even rudimentary bedding.

Some 4,000 homes were destroyed and about 17,000 badly damaged, according to a recent UN Gaza flash appeal. Some 50,000 people took shelter in UNRWA (UN agency for Palestinian refugees) facilities during the height of the conflict and tens of thousands have been staying in very cramped conditions with family and friends.

No’oman (who declined to give his family name) told IRIN he, his two wives and 10 children were given five minutes to evacuate their home in Neusarat on 8 January. His 16-year-old cousin was killed in the attack which completely destroyed his home.

“Our family lost everything – furniture, two cars, more than $500,000,” said No’oman, who reckoned his home was targeted because his brother works with Islamic Jihad.

Hamas has given the family $2,000 as emergency relief compensation.

The family has taken shelter in a nearby unfinished building. The bare-bones structure lacks heating or a decent water supply.

Mattresses, blankets and plastic sheeting are hard to find in Gaza and have gone up in price. Thin mats can be found for 200 shekels (about $200); tents are not available, according to local residents.

“Hamas is providing quick relief for those whose homes were destroyed – between $500 and $2,000 per household,” Hamas political leader Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings, told IRIN. “And food assistance, like sugar, oil and blankets.”

UN agencies like UNRWA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as international aid organisations like CARE, are looking to buy building materials and emergency relief items on the local market, but say they are unavailable.

“We have allowed humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza. The question is about goods that might have dual uses, like fertilizer which can be used to manufacture explosives,” deputy spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Andy David told IRIN by telephone.

And cement is somehow linked with explosives?

“I found an apartment for the family for $180 per month, which is expensive,” said Ahmed, now sleeping in his car. “I can’t find a mattress – I am looking for blankets, but so far all I have is glass and a cooking gas cylinder.”

Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesperson, said there was no longer anyone living in UNRWA schools or facilities and that 8,000 people had been relocated to apartments with monthly rent assistance from UNRWA. He also confirmed that hundreds of tents had been distributed.

In the north of Gaza, farmers and activists are being shot at by the Israeli military. The mainstream media are remarkably blind to the many acts of attrition committed by Israel since its declaration of a ‘unilateral’ truce, yet when a puny militant rocket lands in Israel damaging a car, the story dominates the news, and Israel retaliates with devastating air strikes.

This report is from the brave volunteers of ISM.

Israeli soldiers again opened fire on Palestinian farmers and international Human Rights Workers (HRWs) on Thursday 5th February, as they attempted to harvest parsley in agricultural land near the Green Line.

Returning to farm-land of Al Faraheen village, in the Abassan Jedida area, east of Khan Younis, where soldiers had opened fire on Tuesday 3rd February, farmers and HRWs were able to harvest the parsley crop for only half an hour, before soldiers again began to shoot. A number of shots were fired into the air, before the soldiers started to aim in the direction of the farmers and international accompaniment. Bullets were heard to whiz past, close to people’s heads.

This behaviour on the part of the Israeli soldiers was an almost exact repeat of their response to the presence of the farmers and internationals, in the same area of farm-land, two days before. On the Tuesday, however, the group was able to harvest for two hours before soldiers began to shoot. Whilst farmers had hoped to be able to wait-out the shooting, in order to continue harvesting, it quickly
became clear that the situation was too dangerous for that to be possible.

The farmers of Al Faraheen are particularly aware of the level of danger they face when entering farm lands that are within 1 km of the Green Line – after watching their friend and colleague, 27 year old Anwar Il Ibrim, from neighbouring Benesela, killed by a bullet to the neck while he was picking parsely in the same area, just one week before.

Ma’an is reporting that moves to a truce are proceeding and are likely to be concluded with the existing Israeli government after the election. The new government won’t be installed till 6 weeks or so after the election

Israel is continuing its collective punishment of the Gazan people by disallowing the transportation of cement through the borders.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian source said that Hamas and other factions will most likely agree on a truce on Monday.

Raffi Eitan, Israeli Minister of Pensioner Affairs, stated Sunday that a prisoner-swap deal could be conducted within the coming weeks.

Eitan, who is currently in charge of evaluating the demands of Hamas regarding the release of 1400 detainees, said that a swap deal could be concluded before a new coalition government is formed in Israel.

In an interview with the Israeli Army Radio, Eitan said that there is a strong possibility that such a deal will be concluded with Hamas by the current Israeli government.

“By experience, we know that forming a new government could take up to six weeks”, Eitan added.

Furthermore, Israeli online daily, Haaretz, reported that according to Egyptian sources, Hamas agreed to the Israeli demand of linking the issue of fully opening border terminals with the issue of releasing Shalit.

Haaretz added that this issue allowed further progress towards declaring a ceasefire by connecting a full opening of the border terminals with the release of Shalit.

Yet, the Egyptian sources said that it remains unclear when a breakthrough would be achieved.

Haaretz reported that Egypt is promoting a plan which includes opening the crossing to function 80% of their capacity when a ceasefire deal is reached.

But Israel is still demanding to ban certain materials from entering the Gaza Strip; this includes cement and iron among other materials. Banning the entry of cement and Iron would prevent rebuilding thousands of homes and facilities destroyed during Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

Israel said that an agreement on cement and other materials would only be allowed reached after the release of Shalit, thus linking the fate of thousands of homeless residents with this issue, and placing further pressure on Hamas to accept the Israeli stance.

Here’s another result of the inhumane border blockages – UNWRA may suspend aid delivery due to a lack of plastic bags.

The distribution by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency may end Monday because there are not enough plastic bags to hand out the food, a UNRWA spokesman told the Jerusalem Post.

The shortage is caused by a restriction on imports of raw materials into Gaza out of fear they will be stolen by Hamas. The pellets used to manufacture the bags are on the restricted list.

According to Press TV, republished in Palestinian Pundit, ICC lawyers intending to investigate Israeli war crimes, have been prevented by Egypt, for now at least, from entering Gaza.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) set up the committee. Four French and Norwegian lawyers comprise the committee. The ICC had earlier started preliminary analysis into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza war.

French and Norwegian lawyers from Amnesty International on Thursday had attempted to enter the impoverished Palestinian sliver through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as B’Tselem, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, have filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The criminal case is expected to focus on the Israeli atrocities, including charges of using disproportionate force, white phosphorous bombs and depleted uranium in the densely populated area.

The group intended to collect evidence and testimonials on “Operation Cast Lead” which killed over 1,300 Palestinian and wounded nearly 5,500 others, a large number of them women and children. The evidence was to be submitted to the International Court before Sunday, February 8th.

Egyptian authorities, however, prevented the four member group from crossing the border, arguing that for now only displaced Palestinians can enter the territory thought the crossing.

Free Gaza activist Theresa McDermott has turned up in an Israeli dungeon.

Scottish activist Theresa McDermott has been found in Ramleh prison four days after she was “disappeared” by the Israel government after being forcibly removed from a seaborne Lebanese aid mission to Gaza. In early February Theresa responded to a call for support from internationals from the organizers of a Lebanese humanitarian aid voyage to Gaza aboard the Togo flagged ship, Tali. Theresa was one of only 9 passengers aboard the cargo ship on February 4, 2009 when Israeli gunboats intercepted it, boarded and forced the ship to Ashdod port in Israel.

All the passengers and crew aboard were released on Thursday, February 5 except Theresa. Between Thursday evening and Sunday morning there was no word about Theresa’s whereabouts except several false stories saying that “Britons” had departed to London. Finally on Sunday, Theresa was able to call her brother John in Scotland to say she was in Ramleh prison in Israel.

According to Al Jazeera journalist Salam Khodr, when the ship was boarded, the passengers were beaten and kicked by Israeli soldiers before being removed from the ship.

No information has been provided by Israeli officials about why Theresa has been detained, what the charges are if any and why her detention was concealed. When the British Consulate in Israel was contacted for assistance in finding Theresa, staff refused to help locate Theresa saying they couldn’t provide assistance to a UK citizen unless she personally requested it. Members of the Scottish Parliament including Pauline McNeil and Hugh O’Donnell, who were part of a fall delegation to Gaza aboard the Free Gaza boat, Dignity, are working with the British government to ensure that Theresa receives the protection and assistance to which she is entitled.

Theresa went to Gaza with the first Free Gaza boats in August and returned with the ship Dignity for a second voyage. She is a respected, long time human rights activist who has worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine as well as with Free Gaza. At home in Scotland she works for the Post Office. The Israelis found only medical and other humanitarian aid on the Tali but refused to return the ship. The status of its humanitarian cargo is unknown.

Other snippets:

Israel war leaves crude graffiti in Gazan homes

Hamas is going all out to secure international recognition of Palestine’s unique position as a nation of occupied, oppressed people yearning for a state.

Instead of offering a hudna with the Occupier, Marshouk wants only a tahdia – a period of calm.

Hamas regards its offer as a Tahdia, an Arabic word indicating non-aggression in a stand-off, usually described as a “calm”. A longer-term Hudna, or ceasefire, would be withheld until a peace agreement that would see Israel withdraw from Palestinian territory.

“Israel owns the West Bank and Gaza Strip right now but if it withdrew from these and let the Palestinians have access to Jerusalem, we would turn our face to rebuild our lives and live alongside as in other parts of the world,” said Mr Marzouk.

Two strands of indirect negotiations with Israel have converged. One arrangement would allow the rebuilding of shattered parts of the Gaza Strip in return for an end to rocket attacks. Another deal would see the release of a captured Israel soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas are proving to be skilful negotiators – capitalising on Israel’s abysmal stature in the world, an increase in Hamas popularity throughout Palestine and the advent of George Mitchell, for whom it appears they have respect. Holding out for an end to the occupation is the just, appropriate tactic and hopefully timing is right to achieve it.

“History has shown that you have to take by force your rights from Israel,” said Mr Marzouk. “You can’t make peace unless you make Israel pay the price of occupation. It’s the only strategy.”

Ultimately Hamas is waiting for President Barack Obama and his regional envoy George Mitchell to abandon what it describes as George W Bush’s “with us or against us” approach, probably after the new Israeli government emerges after Tuesday’s election.

“George Mitchell is a unique American, the first official to make a report calling on Israel stop the settlements,” said Mr Marzouk. “He made peace in Ireland by allowing the Republicans to hold their dream while dealing with a different reality on the ground.”

Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy, recently declared that direct negotiations with Hamas are inevitable but Mr Mitchell has insisted the US boycott will continue.

But Hamas senses its moment has come and is emboldened enough to claim its covert discussions with the West occur more frequently than in most alliances. “We talk to many official and unofficial agencies, sometimes two or three daily,” he said. “They choose to keep the dialogue secret and we respect that, after all we can’t say we are a normal country or a normal state party.”

Secret communications with Hamas which should have averted a wasteful, criminal war against the Gazan people had not Israel’s insane warmongers already planned their massacre several months prior are revealed by Gershon Baskin.

My talks with the Hamas leader in Europe focused on two main issues: convening a secret direct back channel and linking the prisoner exchange for Schalit’s release to the renewal of the cease-fire and the ending of the economic siege on Gaza. For about two years Hamas has rejected the linking of the prisoner exchange with the cease-fire and the end of the siege. Since, however, this was the initial position of Hamas immediately following the abduction of Schalit, as was communicated to me some three weeks after the abduction – a call for a cease-fire, opening the borders and the prisoner exchange – I appealed to the Hamas leader to go back to the original demands, but to include an agreement to bypass the Egyptian mediators through a direct secret back channel.

I returned to Israel and 10 days before the war broke out I wrote to Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that Hamas was willing to open a direct secret back channel for a package deal that would include the renewal of the cease-fire, the ending of the economic siege and the prisoner exchange for the release of Schalit. I further indicated that Hamas would be willing to implement the agreement on Rafah which included the stationing of Palestinian Authority personnel loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas in Rafah and a return of the European monitors. I communicated the same message to Noam Schalit and asked him to make sure that Ofer Dekel, who is charged with the Schalit file by the government, received the Hamas “offer.”

I waited for a response from one of the people who received my letter.

Nothing. No response. When the war broke out I understood that the decision to go to war had already been taken and that the government preferred to teach Hamas a lesson rather than negotiate a new cease-fire and the release of Schalit. I understood that the leaders believed that they could bring about a regime change in Gaza, even if this was not the stated goal of the war. Why would we negotiate with Hamas if we expected to bring about the fall of Hamas?

OVER THE PAST DAYS the media has been filled with reports that there is a new breakthrough in the talks for the release of Schalit: “Hamas is willing to link the end of the economic siege with the release of Schalit.” When I read this I said to myself – enough lies and spins.

What did this war achieve? What has changed? Has Israel gained its military deterrence? Has Israel changed the security reality in the South? Is Gilad Schalit at home? Has Hamas reduced its basic demands for the release of Schalit? No, no and no! Israel is negotiating now for exactly what could have been achieved without going to war. Israel spent $1 billion on the war, caused some $2 billion worth of damage in Gaza, more than 1000 people have been killed, thousands of lives have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived through weeks of terror; millions of Palestinians suffered the bombardment of their towns, cities and refugee camps – what is the result? More hatred, more extremism and more support for fanatics and their ideas – on both sides of the Gaza border.

If the transition government of Olmert does bring Schalit home before the new government is formed, it will pay the exact price that it could have paid nearly 950 days ago. The price then was as unreasonable as it is today; the problem is that there is simply no other way of bringing Gilad home. Hamas has not changed its price. The war in Gaza did not create any positive developments. It has not changed the price. It has not enabled a new breakthrough. It has weakened the moderate leadership of Abbas. It has weakened the moderates in Gaza. It did not achieve the goals that our leaders hoped it would.

The war was supported by 94 percent of Israelis because they really believed it was a “war of no choice.” Lies, lies and lies. There was a choice. That choice was made – our leaders preferred war regardless of the cost. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We won’t talk with Hamas. They don’t recognize our right to exist, and we don’t recognize that they were elected in democratic elections. Instead we hit them first and then we talk. We planned the war rather than planning how to avoid the war. That is the doctrine of the government. Now we can talk with Hamas? Isn’t that what the government is doing today?

Perhaps the talks are not direct, but we are negotiating with Hamas.
The agreement that will be reached will be exactly what I proposed to Olmert, Barak and Livni 10 days before the war began.

More background information on the dispossession of the people of Palestine by the Zionist enterprise, by Stephen Lendman in his article, “A Short History of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict: Past Is Prologue”.

Al Jazeera offers a stellar interview with senior Hamas political leader Mahmoud al-Zahar who favours truce with Israel.

My attendance, along with a delegation of senior [Hamas] figures, reflects the real desire of Hamas’s leadership inside and outside the Palestinian territories to end this crisis by upholding the truce in a way that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people. To give them back their rights in rebuilding what the occupation has demolished via a ceasefire.

Al Jazeera: Is it believed such a truce would be for the benefit of the Palestinian people and Hamas and to lift the siege imposed on the Strip?

Zahar: Absolutely. Our project is not “armed action”. The “armed action” is a part of the resistance.

We have repeatedly explained the concept of resistance. The resistance is, first rejection of the occupation and the injustice, the resistance is rejection of abuse of rights. This idea led to [the emergence] of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, under this name, before it fired a single bullet at the Jews.

Therefore, we want to continue the comprehensive programme of the resistance. But we also want to give ourselves a chance to rebuild what the occupation has demolished – as long as the Israeli side will stop its aggression against the Palestinian people.

Those who view Hamas as an enemy to Egypt are wrong. Those who believe that Hamas may be dangerous to the national security of any Arab state are wrong.

Al Jazeera: Do you view your movement as a resistance group or as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood group?

Zahar: This is not the issue. Syria has very good relations with Hamas, but terrible relations with the Muslim Brotherhood group. More than 24,000 people were killed in 1982 by the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood group.

It is wrong to be confined by a particular experience.

The Iron Wall – Illegal Israeli Settlement Growth in Palestine

From Haaretz, we find that a secret database has been revealed which details the extent of illegal Israeli settlements and how they were created and nurtured with the support of successive Israeli governments.

Just four years ago, the defense establishment decided to carry out a seemingly elementary task: establish a comprehensive database on the settlements. Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel, aide to then defense minister Shaul Mofaz, was put in charge of the project. For over two years, Spiegel and his staff, who all signed a special confidentiality agreement, went about systematically collecting data, primarily from the Civil Administration.

One of the main reasons for this effort was the need to have credible and accessible information at the ready to contend with legal actions brought by Palestinian residents, human rights organizations and leftist movements challenging the legality of construction in the settlements and the use of private lands to establish or expand them. The painstakingly amassed data was labeled political dynamite.

The defense establishment, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, steadfastly refused to publicize the figures, arguing, for one thing, that publication could endanger state security or harm Israel’s foreign relations. Someone who is liable to be particularly interested in the data collected by Spiegel is George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, who came to Israel this week for his first visit since his appointment. It was Mitchell who authored the 2001 report that led to the formulation of the road map, which established a parallel between halting terror and halting construction in the settlements.

The official database, the most comprehensive one of its kind ever compiled in Israel about the territories, was recently obtained by Haaretz. Here, for the first time, information the state has been hiding for years is revealed. An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements – about 75 percent – construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police
stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents.

Click here to view the secret Defense Ministry database on illegal construction in the territories. It should be noted that the information is given in Hebrew

The data, it should be stressed, do not refer only to the illegal outposts (information about which was included in the well-known report authored by attorney Talia Sasson and published in March 2005), but to the very heart of the settlement enterprise. Among them are veteran ideological settlements like Alon Shvut (established in 1970 and currently home to 3,291 residents, including Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun); Ofra (established in 1975, home to 2,708 residents, including
former Yesha Council spokesman Yehoshua Mor Yosef and media personalities Uri Elitzur and Hagai Segal); and Beit El (established in 1977, population 5,308, including Hagai Ben-Artzi, brother of Sara Netanyahu). Also included are large settlements founded primarily for economic motives, such as the city of Modi’in Illit (established in 1990 and now home to 36,282 people), or Givat Ze’ev outside Jerusalem (founded in 1983, population 11,139), and smaller settlements such as Nokdim near Herodion (established in 1982, population 851, including MK Avigdor Lieberman).

The information contained in the database does not conform to the state’s official position, as presented, for instance, on the Foreign Ministry Web site, which states: “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.” Since in many of the settlements, it was the government itself, primarily through the Ministry of Construction and Housing, that was responsible for construction, and since many of the building violations involve infrastructure, roads, public buildings and so on, the official data also demonstrate government responsibility for the unrestrained planning and lack of enforcement of regulations in the territories. The extent of building violations also attests to the poor functioning of
the Civil Administration, the body in charge of permits and supervision of construction in the territories.

According to the 2008 data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 290,000 Jews live in the 120 official settlements and dozens of outposts established throughout the West Bank over the past 41 years.

“Nothing was done in hiding,” says Pinchas Wallerstein, director-general of the Yesha Council of settlements and a leading figure in the settlement project. “I’m not familiar with any [building] plans that were not the initiative of the Israeli government.” He says that if the owners of private land upon which settlements are built were to complain and the court were to accept their complaint, then the structures would have to be moved somewhere else. “This has been the Yesha
Council’s position for the past years,” he says.

You’d never know it from touring several of the settlements in which massive construction has taken place on private Palestinian lands. Entire neighborhoods built without permits or on private lands are inseparable parts of the settlements. The sense of dissonance only intensifies when you find that municipal offices, police and fire stations were also built upon and currently operate on lands that belong to Palestinians.

On Misheknot Haro’im Street in the Kochav Yaakov settlement, a young mother is carrying her two children home. “I’ve lived here for six years,” she says, sounding surprised when told that her entire neighborhood was built upon private Palestinian land. “I know that there’s some small area in the community that is in dispute, but I never heard that this is private land.” Would she have built her home on this land had she known this from the start? “No,” she answers. “I wouldn’t have kicked anyone out of his home.”

Not far away, at the settlement’s large and unkempt trailer site, which is also built on private land, a young newlywed couple is walking to the bus stop: 21-year-old Aharon and his 19-year-old wife, Elisheva. They speak nearly perfect Hebrew despite having grown up in the United States and having settled permanently in Israel just a few months ago, after Aharon completed his army service in the ultra-Orthodox Nahal unit. Now he is studying computers at Machon Lev in Jerusalem. Asked why they chose to live here of all places, they list three reasons: It’s close to Jerusalem, it’s cheap and it’s in the territories. In that order.

The couple pay their rent, NIS 550 a month, to the settlement secretariat. As new immigrants, they are still exempt from having to pay the arnona municipal tax. Aharon doesn’t look upset when he hears that his trailer sits on private land. It doesn’t really interest him. “I don’t care what the state says, the Torah says that the entire Land of Israel is ours.” And what will happen if they’re told to move to non-private land? “We’ll move,” he says without hesitation.

A complicated problem
Even today, more than two years after concluding his official role, Baruch Spiegel remains loyal to the establishment. In a conversation, he notes several times that he signed a confidentiality agreement and so is not willing to go into the details of the work for which he was responsible. He was appointed by Shaul Mofaz to handle several issues about which Israel had given a commitment to the United States, including improving conditions for Palestinians whose lives were adversely affected by the separation fence, and supervision of IDF soldiers at the checkpoints.

Two years ago, Haaretz reporter Amos Harel revealed that the main task given Spiegel was to establish and maintain an up-to-date database on the settlement enterprise. This was after it became apparent that the United States, as well as Peace Now’s settlement monitoring team, was in possession of much more precise information about settlement construction than was the defense establishment, which up to then had relied mostly on information collected by Civil Administration inspectors. The old database had many gaps in it, which was largely a consequence of the establishment preferring not to know exactly what was going on in this area.

Spiegel’s database contains written information backed up by aerial photos and layers of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data that includes information on the status of the land and the official boundaries of each settlement. “The work took two and a half years,” says Spiegel. “It was done in order to check the status of the settlements and the outposts and to achieve the greatest possible accuracy in terms of the database: the land status, the legal status, the sector boundaries, the city building plan, government decisions, lands whose ownership is unclear. It was full-time, professional work done with a professional team of legal experts, planning people, GIS experts. And I hope that this work continues, because it
is very vital. One has to know what’s going on there and make decisions accordingly.”

Who is keeping track of all of this now?

“I suppose it’s the Civil Administration.”

Why was there no database like this before your appointment?

“I don’t know how much of a focus there was on doing it.”

Why do you think the state is not publicizing the data?

“It’s a sensitive and complex subject and there are all kinds of considerations, political and security-related. There were questions about the public’s right to know, the freedom of information law. You should ask the officials in charge.”

What are the sensitive matters?

“It’s no secret that there are violations, that there are problems having to do with land. It’s a complicated problem.”

Is there also a problem for the country’s image?

“I didn’t concern myself with image. I was engaged in Sisyphean work to ensure that, first of all, they’ll know what exists and what’s legal and what’s not legal and what the degree of illegality is, whether it involves the takeover of private Palestinian land or something in the process of obtaining proper building permits. Our job was to do the meticulous work of going over all the settlements and outposts that existed then – We found what we found and passed it on.”

Do you think that this information should be published?

“I think they’ve already decided to publish the simpler part, concerning areas of jurisdiction. There are things that are more sensitive. It’s no secret that there are problems, and it’s impossible to do something illegal and say that it’s legal. I can’t elaborate, because I’m still bound to maintain confidentiality.”

Dror Etkes, formerly the coordinator of Peace Now’s settlement monitoring project and currently director of the Land Advocacy Project for the Yesh Din organization, says, “The government’s ongoing refusal to reveal this material on the pretext of security reasons is yet another striking example of the way in which the state exploits its authority to reduce the information at the citizens’ disposal, when they wish to formulate intelligent positions based on facts rather than lies and half-truths.”

Following the initial exposure of the material, the Movement for Freedom of Information and Peace Now requested that the Defense Ministry publish the database, in accordance with the Freedom of Information law. The Defense Ministry refused. “This is a computerized database that includes detailed information, in different cross-sections, regarding the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria,” the Defense Ministry said in response. “The material was collected by the defense establishment for its purposes and includes sensitive information. The ministry was asked to allow a review of the material in accordance with the Freedom of Information law, and after consideration of the request, decided not to hand over the material. The matter is pending and is the subject of a petition before the Administrative Affairs Court in Tel Aviv.”

Ofra, Elon Moreh, Beit El

The database surveys settlement after settlement alphabetically. For each entry, it notes the source of the settlement’s name and the form of settlement there (urban community, local council, moshav, kibbutz, etc.); its organizational affiliation (Herut, Amana, Takam, etc.), the number of inhabitants, pertinent government decisions, the official bodies to which the land was given, the status of the land upon which the settlement was built (state land, private Palestinian or Jewish land, etc.), a survey of the illegal outposts built in proximity to the settlement and to what extent the valid building plans have been executed. Beneath each entry, highlighted in red, is information on the extent of construction that has been carried out without permission and its exact location in the settlement.

Among all the revelations in the official data, it’s quite fascinating to see what was written about Ofra, a veteran Gush Emunim settlement. According to a recent B’tselem report, most of the settlement’s developed area sits on private Palestinian land and therefore falls into the category of an illegal outpost that is supposed to be evacuated. The Yesha Council responded to the B’tselem report, saying that the “facts” in it are “completely baseless and designed to present a false picture. The inhabitants of Ofra are careful to respect the rights of the Arab landowners, with whom they reached an agreement regarding the construction of the neighborhoods as well as an agreement that enables the private landowners to continue to work their lands.”

But the information in the database about Ofra leaves no room for doubt: “The settlement does not conform to valid building plans. A majority of the construction in the community is on registered private lands without any legal basis whatsoever and no possibility of [converting the land to non-private use].” The database also gives a detailed description of where construction was carried out in Ofra without permits: “The original part of the settlement: [this includes] more than 200 permanent residential structures, agricultural structures, public structures, lots, roads and orchards in the old section of the settlement (in regard to which Plan 221 was submitted, but not advanced due to a problem of ownership).” After mentioning 75 trailers and temporary shelters in two groups within the old settlement, the database mentions the Ramat Zvi neighborhood, south of the original settlement: “There are about 200 permanent structures as well as lots being developed for additional permanent construction, all trespassing on private lands.” Yesha Council chairman Danny Dayan responds: “I am not familiar with that data.”

Another place where the data reveals illegal construction is Elon Moreh, one of the most famous settlements in the territories. In June 1979, several residents of the village of Rujib, southeast of Nablus, petitioned the High Court, asking it to annul the appropriation order for 5,000 dunams of land in their possession, that had been designated for the construction of the settlement. In court, the government argued, as it did regularly at the time, that the construction of the settlement was required for military needs, and therefore the appropriation orders were legal. But in a statement on behalf of the petitioners, former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev asserted that, “In my best professional judgment, Elon Moreh does not contribute to Israel’s security.”

The High Court, relying on this statement and the statements of the original core group of settlers of Elon Moreh, who also argued that this was not a temporary settlement established for security purposes, but a permanent settlement, instructed the IDF to evacuate the settlement and return the lands to their owners. The immediate consequence of the ruling was to find an alternative site for construction of the settlement, on lands previously defined as “state lands.” Following this ruling, Israel stopped officially using military injunctions in the territories for the purpose of establishing new settlements.

The lands that were originally taken for the purpose of building Elon Moreh were returned to their Palestinian owners, but according to the database, also in the new site where the settlement was built, called Har Kabir, “most of the construction was done without approved, detailed plans, and some of the construction involved trespassing on private lands. As for the state lands in the settlement, a detailed plan, no. 107/1, was prepared and published on 16/7/99, but has yet to go into effect.”

The Shomron regional council, which includes Elon Moreh, said in response: “All the neighborhoods in the settlement were planned, and some were also built, by the State of Israel through the Housing Ministry. The residents of Elon Moreh did not trespass at all and any allegation of this kind is also false. The State of Israel is tasked with promoting and approving the building plans in the settlement, as everywhere else in the country, and as for the plans that supposedly have yet to receive final validity, just like many other communities throughout Israel, where the processes continue for decades, this does not delay the plans, even if the planning is not complete or being done in tandem.”

Beit El, another veteran settlement, was also, according to the database, established “on private lands seized for military purposes (In fact, the settlement was expanded on private lands, by means of trespassing in the northern section of the settlement) and on state lands that were appropriated during the Jordanian period (the Maoz Tzur neighborhood in the south of the settlement).”

According to the official data, construction in Beit El in the absence of approved plans includes the council office buildings and the “northern neighborhood (Beit El Bet) that was built for the most part on private lands. The neighborhood comprises widespread construction, public buildings and new ring roads (about 80 permanent buildings and trailers); the northeastern neighborhood (between Jabal Artis and the old part of the settlement) includes about 20 permanent residential buildings, public buildings (including a school building), 40 trailers and an industrial zone (10 industrial buildings). The entire compound is located on private land and has no plan attached.”

Moshe Rosenbaum, head of the Beit El local council, responds: “Unfortunately, you are cooperating with the worst of Israel’s enemies and causing tremendous damage to the whole country.”

‘One giant bluff’

Ron Nahman, mayor of Ariel, was re-elected to a sixth term in the last elections. Nahman is a long-time resident of the territories and runs a fascinating heterogeneous city. Between a visit to the trailer site where evacuees from Netzarim are housed and a stop at a shop that sells pork and other non-kosher products, mostly to the city’s large Russian population, Nahman complains about the halting of construction in his city and about his battles with the Civil
Administration over every building permit.

Ariel College, Nahman’s pride and joy, is also mentioned in the database: “The area upon which Ariel College was built was not regulated in terms of planning.” It further explains that the institution sits on two separate plots and the new plan has not yet been discussed. Nahman confirms this, but says the planning issue was recently resolved.

When told that dozens of settlements include construction on private lands, he is not surprised. “That’s possible,” he says. The fact that in three-quarters of the settlements, there has been construction that deviates from the approved plans doesn’t surprise him either. “All the complaints should be directed at the government, not at us,” he says. “As for the small and communal settlements, they were planned by the Housing Ministry’s Rural Building Administration. The larger communities are planned by the ministry’s district offices. It’s all the government. Sometimes the Housing Ministry is responsible for budgetary construction, which is construction out of the state budget. In the Build Your Own Home program, the state pays a share of the development costs and the rest is paid for by the individual. All of these things are one giant bluff. Am I the one who planned the settlements? It was Sharon, Peres, Rabin, Golda, Dayan.”

The database provides information attesting to a failure to adhere to planning guidelines in the territories. For example, an attempt to determine the status of the land of the Argaman settlement in the Jordan Rift Valley found that “the community was apparently established on the basis of an appropriation order from 1968 that was not located.” About Mevo Horon, the database says: “The settlement was built without a government decision on lands that are mostly private within a closed area in the Latrun enclave (Area Yod). There was an allocation
for the area to the WZO from 1995, which was issued as in a deviation from authority, apparently on the basis of a political directive.” In the Tekoa settlement, trailers were leased to the IDF “and installed contrary to the area’s designation according to a detailed plan? and some also deviate from the boundaries of the plan.”

Most of the territories of the West Bank have not been annexed to Israel, and therefore regulations for the establishment and construction of communities there differ from those that apply within Israel proper. The Sasson report, which dealt with the illegal outposts, was based in part on data collected by Spiegel, and listed the criteria necessary for the establishment of a new settlement in the territories:
1. The Israeli government issued a decision to establish the settlement
2. The settlement has a defined jurisdictional area
3. The settlement has a detailed, approved outline plan
4. The settlement lies on state land or on land that was purchased by Israelis and registered under their name in the Land Registry.

According to the database, the state gave the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and/or the Construction and Housing Ministry authorization to plan and build on most of the territories upon which the settlements were constructed. These bodies allocated the land to those who eventually carried out the actual construction of the settlement: Sometimes it was the Settlement Division of the WZO and other times it was the Construction and Housing Ministry itself, sometimes through the Rural Building Administration. In several cases, settlements were built by Amana, the Gush Emunim settlement arm. Another body cited in the database as having received allocations and being responsible for construction in some of the settlements is Gush Emunim’s Settler National Fund.

Talmud Torah
@Text: Regular schools and religious schools (Talmudei Torah) have also been built on Palestinian lands. According to the database, in the southern part of the Ateret settlement, “15 structures were built outside of state lands, which are used for the Kinor David yeshiva. There are also new ring roads and a special security area that is illegal.” Kinor David is the name of a “yeshiva high school with a musical framework.” The sign at the entrance says the yeshiva was built by the Amana settlement movement, the Mateh Binyamin local council and the
WZO settlement division.

The data regarding Michmash also make it very clear that part of the settlement was built on “private lands via trespassing.” For example, “In the center of the settlement (near the main entrance) is a trailer neighborhood that serves as a Talmud Torah and other buildings (30 trailers) on private land.”

On a winter’s afternoon, a bunch of young children were playing there, one of them wearing a shirt printed with the words “We won’t forget and we won’t
forgive.” There were no teachers in sight. A young woman in slacks, taking her baby to the doctor, stopped for a moment to chat. She moved here from Ashkelon because her husband’s parents are among the settlement’s founders. When her son is old enough for preschool, she won’t send him to the Talmud Torah. Not because it sits on private land, but just because that’s not the type of education she wants for him. “I don’t think there’s been construction on private land here,” she said. “I don’t think there ought to be, either.”

In the Psagot settlement, where there has also been a lot of construction on private land, it’s easy to discern the terracing style typical of Palestinian agriculture in the region. According to the database, in Psagot there are “agricultural structures (a winery and storehouses) to the east of the settlement, close to the grapevines cultivated by the settlement by trespassing.” During a visit here, the winery was abandoned. Its owner, Yaakov Berg, acquired land from the Israel Lands Administration near the Migron outpost and a new winery and regional visitors’ center is currently under construction there.

“The vineyards are located in Psagot,” says Berg, who is busy with the preparations for the new site. From the unfinished observation deck one can see an enormous quarry in the mountains across the way. “If I built a bathroom here without permission from the Civil Administration, within 15 minutes, a helicopter would be here and I’d be told that it was prohibited,” Berg complains. “And right here there’s an illegal Palestinian quarry that continues to operate.”

The politicians did it

Kobi Bleich, spokesperson for the Ministry of Construction and Housing: “The ministry participates in subsidizing the development costs of settlements in Priority Area A, in accordance with decisions of the Israeli government. Development works are carried out by the regional councils, and only after the ministry has ascertained that the new neighborhood is located within an approved city plan. This applies throughout Israel as well as in the areas over the Green Line. Let me emphasize that the ministry’s employees are charged with implementing the policies of the Israeli government. All of the actions in the past were
done solely in keeping with the decisions of the political echelon.”

Danny Poleg, spokesperson for the Judea and Samaria district of the Israel Police: “The issue of the construction of police facilities is the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Security, so any questions should be addressed to them.”

The Internal Security Ministry spokesman responds: “And for construction by the police is allocated by the Israel Lands Administration in coordination with the Internal Security Ministry. There is no police station in Modi’in Ilit, but a rapid response post for the local residents on land allocated by the local authority. The land in Givat Ze’ev was allocated by the local council and the police station is located within the municipality. The road to the police headquarters was built by the Housing and Construction ministry and is maintained by the local council.”

Avi Roeh, head of the Mateh Binyamin regional council (whose jurisdiction includes the settlements of Ofra, Kochav Yaakov, Ateret, Ma’aleh Michmash and Psagot): “The Mateh Binyamin regional council, like the neighboring councils in Judea and Samaria, is coping with political decisions regarding the manner of the the communities’ expansion. However, this does not remove the need for proper planning procedures in order to expand the settlements in an orderly manner and in accordance with the law.”

For its response, the WZO sent a thick booklet, a copy of which was previously sent to attorney Talia Sasson in response to her report. “Settlement in Judea and Samaria, as in Israel, has been accompanied by the preparation of regional master plans,” says the booklet. “Steering committees from various government ministries, the Civil Administration and the municipal authorities were involved in the preparation of these plans? The (settlement) department worked solely on lands that were given to it by contract from the authorities in the Civil Administration and all the lands that were allocated to it by contract were properly
allocated.”

The Civil Administration, which was first asked for a response regarding the database more than a month ago, has yet to reply.

Peace Now – Israel expanded West Bank settlements in 2008

Mitchell has his plate full – Zionist land thieving in the form of settlements and outposts accelerated more rapidly in 2008 than in 2007 according to Peace Now’s latest report.

… there were 285,800 settlers living in the West Bank as of 2008, with 1,518 new structures built in the territories last year, including 261 outposts.

Sixty-one percent of the new structures were built west of the route of the separation fence and 39% were built east of it. A quarter of the new structures east of the fence were built in outposts.

At least 1,257 new structures were built in existing settlements, including 748 permanent buildings and 509 caravans compared to 800 structures in 2007 – a 60% rise. In addition the ground was prepared for the construction of 63 new structures.

Yesha Council said in response, “Once again we thank Peace Now for allocating the money they get from the European Union towards documenting the most important Zionist enterprise of our generation – settling in Judea and Samaria.”

The Council added that “some of the data are not exactly accurate. The number of settlers today according to official data stands at over 300,000 Israelis.

“Regarding the allegations of ‘taking advantage’ of the war to pave roads, all of Israel knows who took advantage of the war to demonstrate against IDF soldiers and who sent their sons to the front line to give their soul in defense of the State.”

Meanwhile, the Yesha Council plans to welcome American Envoy George Mitchell.

On Wednesday, settlers will put on a special presentation titled “A Palestinian state will blow up in our face”, in an attempt to illustrate the “dangers establishing a Palestinian state in Judea and Samara would pose on central Israel, following the lessons learned from the disengagement, the rockets on Beersheba, Gedera and the war in the south”.

NEWSFLASH!

On Friday 30th January at 10am Sydney time, Cameron Reilly of GDay World Podcasting will be organising a live Twitstream in conjunction with his show. Special guest is Antony Loewenstein, journalist, blogger and author, on the show to discuss the recent and current events in Gaza.

Visit GDay World for more information.

Israel’s Meta Plan – the Big Lies Explained, In Their Own Words

“We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return” David Ben-Gurion, in his diary, 18 July 1948, quoted in Michael Bar Zohar’s Ben-Gurion: the Armed Prophet, Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 157.

“We must define our position and lay down basic principles for a settlement. Our demands should be moderate and balanced, and appear to be reasonable. But in fact they must involve such conditions as to ensure that the enemy rejects them. Then we should manoeuvre and allow him to define his own position, and reject a settlement on the basis of a compromise position. We should then publish his demands as embodying unreasonable extremism.”
General Yehoshafat Harkabi (former head of IDF Intelligence); Maariv, 2 November 1973. Cited by David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East; third edition (2003), p.181.

Israel could not exist without certain areas: ‘Even with the latest means of fighting with which the army is equipped, we cannot defend Israel without Judea and Samaria, and without the Golan Heights.’ Rafael Eitan on on Israel Television, 11 May 1978 Eitan was found drowned in mysterious circumstances in 2004 after criticising Sharon’s plans for disengagement in Gaza, of which he said “This disengagement plan is a historical error and I can prove it.”

“We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel… Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.” Rafael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces – Gad Becker,Yediot Ahronot 13 April 1983, New York Times 14 April 1983.

“… all the Arabs will be able to do is scuttle around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle” Rafael Eitan [Israeli Chief of Staff] addressing an Israeli Knesset committee in 1983 describing the results after Israel had further multiplied its West Bank settlements. See The Times, 15 April 1983 – From Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War by Robert Fisk; footnote to Chapter 11, “Terrorists”

“You don’t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away … I prefer to advocate a more positive policy … to create, in effect, a condition that in a positive way will induce people to leave.” Ariel Sharon, quoted by David Bernstein in Forcible Removal of Arabs gaining support in Israel”, The (London) Times, August 24, 1988, page 7. Cited in Imperial Israel And The Palestinians: The Politics of Expansion, by Nur Masalha; Chapter 2, footnote 117.

“In order to prepare properly for the next campaign, one of the Israeli officers in the territories said not long ago, it’s justified and in fact essential to learn from every possible source. If the mission will be to seize a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the casbah in Nablus, and if the commander’s obligation is to try to execute the mission without casualties on either side, then he must first analyze and internalize the lessons of earlier battles – even, however shocking it may sound, even how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto.

The officer indeed succeeded in shocking others, not least because he is not alone in taking this approach. Many of his comrades agree that in order to save Israelis now, it is right to make use of knowledge that originated in that terrible war, whose victims were their kin. The Warsaw ghetto serves them only as an extreme example, not linked to the strategic dialogue that the defense establishments of Israel and Germany will hold next month.”
from “At the gates of Yassergrad ” by Amir Oren in Haaretz, January 25, 2002. [this article has disappeared from Haaretz, noticed today 12/4/11. There’s a full version here]

“Iran can never be threatened in its very existence. Israel can. Indeed, such a threat could even grow out of the current intifada. That, at least, is the pessimistic opinion of Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. ‘If it went on much longer,’ he said, ‘the Israeli government [would] lose control of the people. In campaigns like this, the anti-terror forces lose, because they don’t win, and the rebels win by not losing. I regard a total Israeli defeat as unavoidable. That will mean the collapse of the Israeli state and society. We’ll destroy ourselves.’

In this situation, he went on, more and more Israelis were coming to regard the ‘transfer’ of the Palestinians as the only salvation; resort to it was growing ‘more probable’ with each passing day. Sharon ‘wants to escalate the conflict and knows that nothing else will succeed’.

But would the world permit such ethnic cleansing? ‘That depends on who does it and how quickly it happens. We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force. Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.'” Martin van Creveld in the Guardian 21st September, 2003.

“Without lies, it would be impossible to talk about peace with the Palestinians for 36 years while at the same time seizing more and more Palestinian land. Without lies, it would be impossible to claim that there is no partner for the road map, while at the same time injecting more and more money into outposts that the road map calls for dismantling. Without lies, it would be impossible to promise ‘painful concessions’ in exchange for peace, while at the same time terming people who concluded such an agreement ‘traitors.'”
Akiva Eldar, Haaretz 24 November 2003

“it is permissible to lie for the sake of the Land of Israel.” Yitzhak Shamir, quoted by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, 24 November, 2003

“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process, and when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians. That is exactly what happened. You know, the term ‘peace process’ is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it’s the return of refugees, it’s the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen…. what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”

“[Sharon could also argue] ‘honestly’ [that the disengagement plan was] “a serious move because of which, out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place.”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass in a Haaretz interview, 6 October 2004.

Israel’s hasbara on peace proposals is dissected in Does Israeli Intelligence Lie?

FACT:

It was a condition of the 11 May 1949 UN General Assembly Resolution 273 which admitted the State of Israel to UN membership that the Israeli State accepted the continuity of the rights and claims of Palestine’s ethnic communities in and to their home territories. (This was in accordance with principles enunciated in the 1922 League of Nations administrative mandate which the UN General Assembly has no power to alter without a comprehensive and properly conducted plebiscite that includes a strong element of native party agreement.)

Israel accepted in full the conditional Resolution without which, its UN membership is invalid. Sixty years later Israel still shirks its responsibilities, hiding behind cowardly lies touted as ‘self-defence’ and bullies those who recognise its irresponsibility.