Israeli War Crimes: Israel Chokes 1.5mln Gazans For Soldier: UN
- Israel Chokes 1.5mln Gazans For Soldier
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
NEW YORK – The top UN humanitarian official is venting anger on Israel for maintaining a crippling siege on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of a captured soldier.
“Obviously we’ve called for the release of Cpl Shalit, and that he should be treated in accordance to the Geneva conventions,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said, the BBC News Online reported Friday, March 12.
“But the link between that and the fate of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza does not seem to us a reasonable one.”
Shalit, now 23, was captured by Palestinian resistance fighters in a cross-border attack in June 2006.
Israel links the lifting of the crippling siege, imposed on Gaza after Hamas was voted to power in 2006, to the soldier’s release.
The Palestinians stipulate the soldier’s release for setting free some of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
“We continue to call for the relaxation of this blockade on Gaza and the entry of goods in a normal way, to allow reconstruction and to allow the Gazans to live something more like a normal life,” Holmes said.
The choking blockade has badly deteriorated the living conditions in the impoverished seaside enclave.
The situation worsened after Israel launched a three-week deadly onslaught on Gaza in December 2008, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The offensive wrecked havoc on the infrastructure of the densely-populated enclave, leaving some 20,000 homes and thousands other buildings in ruins.
“What people in Gaza want to see is the opening of the crossings, not only for goods, but for people, because they are living in a large open-air prison,” Holmes said.
“They feel very frustrated, they feel very despairing, they feel their future is extremely limited.”
The UN official blasted Israel over non-stop settlement activities, which nip the peace efforts in the bud.
“The settlements have been illegal since those territories have been occupied in 1967, and that's been a very consistent position of the United Nations, but also virtually all of the international community,” Holmes said.
“They're illegal and should be stopped and they've always been regarded as an obstacle to peace.”
Israel's continued expansion of settlements is one of the biggest obstacles to the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls by US President Barack Obama to freeze settlement building to help resume peace talks.
On Tuesday, the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,600 new settler homes in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem), drawing international criticism.
The Israeli group Ir Amim revealed Thursday that the Israeli government is planning 50,000 settlement units in Al-Quds, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
“The continuing settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank has been part of the problems of the continuing creation of facts on the ground,” said Holmes.
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
“I mean it's not just the settlements, but the route the barrier has taken - all the different restrictions on the use of roads, which exist and the closures, which exist in the West Bank and elsewhere,” said Holmes.
“It's all that that creates this problem of a reality on the ground, which is difficult to square with the solution everybody's aiming at.”
Israel pursues settlement growth
Israel has been expanding illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land for decade, and it is now emerging just how far-reaching this policy is.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Jerusalem housing committee is planning to build another 50,000 Jewish homes in occupied East Jerusalem to join the hundreds of thousands already there or in progress.
That includes 3,000 housing units in Gilo, 1,500 apartments in Har Homa and another 1,500 in the settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev.
Thousands more have been planned at Givat Hamatos, and the settlement of Ramot, while hundreds more are in the works in Armon Hanetziv, as well as Neveh Yaakov.
Israel seals off occupied West Bank
Israel has imposed a full closure of the occupied Palestinian territory of West Bank for 48 hours.
Ehud Barak, the defence minister, made the move on Friday amid reports about the possibility of fresh protests by Palestinians around the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem after Friday prayers.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, in Jerusalem, said that there had been some skirmishes around Jerusalem's Old City.
"We heard from police that there was some Palestinians throwing rocks and they tried to calm the situation by using the least amount of force necessary, they told us," Tadros said.
"But generally the situation here has remained calm."
Hundreds of men under the age of 50 were prevented from entering al-Aqsa mosque on Friday, she said.
Israel maintains it is a necessary step to protect its citizens from attack.
US family seeks Israeli damages
Poll: Half of Israeli high schoolers oppose equal rights for Arabs
Nearly half of Israel's high school students do not believe that Israeli-Arabs are entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel, according to the results of a new survey released yesterday. The same poll revealed that more than half the students would deny Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset.
The survey, which was administered to teenagers at various Israeli high schools, also found that close to half of all respondents - 48 percent - said that they would refuse orders to evacuate outposts and settlements in the Palestinian territories.
Nearly one-third - 31 percent - said they would refuse military service beyond the Green Line.
The complete results of the poll will be presented today during an academic discussion hosted jointly by Tel Aviv University's School of Education and the Citizens' Empowerment Center in Israel. The symposium will focus on various aspects of civic education in the country.
"Jewish youth have not internalized basic democratic values," said Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, one of the conference organizers.
The poll was commissioned last month by Maagar Mochot, an Israeli research institution, under the supervision of Prof. Yitzhak Katz. It took a sampling of 536 Jewish and Arab respondents between the ages of 15-18.
The survey sought to gauge youth attitudes toward the State of Israel; their perspective on new immigrants and the state's Arab citizens; and their political stances.
The results paint a picture of youth leaning toward political philosophies that fall outside the mainstream.
In response to the question of whether Arab citizens should be granted rights equal to that of Jews, 49.5 percent answered in the negative. The issue highlighted the deep fault lines separating religious and secular youths, with 82 percent of religious students saying they opposed equal rights for Arabs while just 39 percent of secular students echoed that sentiment.
The secular-religious gap was also present when students were faced with the question of whether Arabs should be eligible to run for office in the Knesset. While 82 percent of those with religious tendencies answered in the negative, 47 percent of secular teens agreed. In total, 56 percent said Arabs should be denied this right altogether.
The survey also delved into the issue of military service and following orders that are deemed politically divisive.
While an overwhelming majority (91 percent) expressed a desire to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, 48 percent said they would not obey an order to evacuate outposts and settlements in the West Bank.
Here, too, researchers note the religious nexus. Of those who would refuse evacuation orders, 81 percent categorize themselves as religious as opposed to 36 percent who are secular.
"This poll shows findings which place a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth," said an Education Ministry official.
The survey, which also revealed that a relatively high number of youth plan on voting and that democracy is still the preferred system of government, indicates "a gap between the consensus on formal democracy and the principles of essential democracy, which forbid the denial of rights to the Arab population," the official said.
"The differences in positions between secular and religious youth, which are only growing sharper from a demographic standpoint, need to be of concern to all of us because this will be the face of the state in another 20-30 years," said Bar-Tal. "There is a combination of fundamentalism, nationalism, and racism in the worldview of religious youth."
US: Israel undermining peace effort
Israel approves more construction in West Bank settlement
Approval to build 112 new flats in Beitar Illit comes despite Israeli government's partial curbs on settlement construction
The Israeli defence ministry today authorised further construction in a Jewish settlement on the occupied West Bank.
The decision came prior to the arrival in Israel of the US vice-president, Joe Biden, who is expected to announce a new round of indirect peace talks.
Approval for 112 new flats in Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement near Bethlehem, was given despite a 10-month partial curb on settlement construction announced by the Israeli government under heavy US pressure in November.
The decision to approve the building work appeared to be an attempt to appease members of Israel's rightwing coalition government. It was greeted with dismay by Palestinian officials.
George Mitchell, the US special envoy, has spent months attempting to get Israelis and Palestinians to restart negotiations, and was hoping a new round of indirect "proximity" talks would begin today.
"If the Israeli government wants to sabotage Mitchell's efforts by taking such steps, let's talk to Mitchell about maybe not doing this if the price is so high," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said.
For many months, Palestinian officials resisted any return to negotiations with Israel, saying all settlement construction should first be halted in line with the obligations of the US "road map" of 2003.
All settlements on occupied territory are illegal under international law.
Israel to build more settler homes
Israel delays Silwan demolition
Jerusalem's mayor has decided to put off his plans for redeveloping the district of Silwan that would have seen many Palestinian homes demolished in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood.
Nir Barkat's decision came after Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, asked him to allow more time "for efforts to reach an understanding with the residents".
"The prime minister asked me to speak and negotiate with the residents," Barkat told reporters on Tuesday.
"I of course agreed, and I am delaying submitting the programme to the planning committee while we continue to talk to residents," he said.
Barkat had intended to announce the building of a new park in the Silwan neighbourhood outside the Old City known as al-Bustan to its mostly Arab residents.
But Netanyahu warned that, while the city should do as it sees fit, going ahead with the project now would serve "interest groups that want to cause disputes and show Israel in a distorted light at home and abroad."
Jerusalem mayor unveils demolition plan
Israeli prime minister tells mayor to delay redevelopment and hold discussions with the Palestinian residents under threat
Jerusalem's mayor today unveiled a sweeping plan for an area of East Jerusalem that would see at least 22 Palestinian homes demolished to make way for a public park and tourist site.
But in a sign of the criticism the plan has already brought, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told the mayor to delay demolitions and hold more discussions with the Palestinian residents of the area.
Nir Barkat, the mayor, said Palestinians who lost their homes would be offered homes in the area, but it is not clear who would pay for the new houses.
"The plan is for the benefit of the residents," he said. "We have to make sure the plan is successful because the alternatives are much, much worse."
The proposal centres on an area called Bustan, part of Silwan in East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City. There are 88 Palestinian homes on a site which the municipality says is an open area: none of the homes have planning permission and all have demolition orders against them.
Jerusalem, unholy fault lines
The recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem does not bode well for future co-existence in the city, let alone between two peoples. In fact, it could usher a new cycle of confrontation with far reaching regional consequences.
Every decade over the last half a century, Zionist/Israeli and Palestinian confrontations have shifted from one front to another drawing new fault lines of hatred and violence in the region.
In the 1960s, confrontation continued across the Jordan river before moving to Lebanon in the late 1970s, ending with the 1982 invasion by Israel.
Israel then pursued the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world, leading to the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada in the occupied West Bank and subsequent tension in the 1990s in the shadow of the failed 'peace process', before shifting to the blockaded Gaza Strip over the last decade.
Will the next decade of tension centre on Jerusalem along religious, national and colonial fault lines?
Worse, will Jerusalem's fault lines extend beyond the occupied city into the greater Middle East region and indeed the world? After all, no other Palestinian-Arab issue fuels as much emotion and fires so much anger in the Arab and Muslim world than Al Quds or Jerusalem.
Israel's cost-benefit calculation