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News from Palestine: The Palestinian village erased from the map

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  • Zafar Khan
    The Palestinian village erased from the map: Demolition of Makhul shows how Israelis are transforming the Jordan Valley, despite international condemnation Ben
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2013
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      The Palestinian village erased from the map: Demolition of Makhul shows how Israelis are transforming the Jordan Valley, despite international condemnation
      Ben Lynfield meets those losing their homes - and a way of life
      BEN LYNFIELD MAKHUL THURSDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 2013

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-palestinian-village-erased-from-the-map-demolition-of-makhul-shows-how-israelis-are-transforming-the-jordan-valley-despite-international-condemnation-8842323.html

      Burhan Bisharat lost his home last week to an Israeli army bulldozer, but he retains the Palestinian ethos of hospitality, pressing his interviewer to drink more tea as he recounts how he has slept amid the ruins of the dwellings and sheep pens of this tiny village demolished by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank.

      ‘’Living on the ground with no cover is hard,’’ says the 40-year-old father of eight who, like a dozen other men from Makhul, has been sleeping out in the open because the army blocked them from pitching tents after the demolition.

      Israeli defence ministry officials say the demolition of Makhul was a necessary law enforcement measure against unlicensed construction and stress that the Israeli Supreme Court last month rejected a petition against the demolition orders.

      But human rights groups are condemning the demolitions. They say the army’s barring of EU and Red Cross efforts to supply relief tents marks a dangerous precedent and grave breach of international humanitarian law. After criticism of Israel by the EU over the weekend, on Tuesday Israel’s high court of justice indicated the army went too far in stopping relief aid. It issued a temporary injunction specifying that the military cannot evict residents during the next two weeks, something that will enable Mr Bisharat and others to pitch tents there at least for that period, according to their lawyer.

      On Tuesday, a scorching summer day, Makhul’s men – they had sent their families to other villages – crowded under the only tree in sight for shade, watched by a Israeli soldiers lest they attempt to rebuild shelter for themselves or their sheep. At night, when temperatures fell, they lit a fire, sounding more worried about the wellbeing of their flocks than themselves. “This weather is very bad for the newborn sheep. I have six newborns, and heat during the daytime and coldness at night can harm the sheep. If the situation continues, it is very threatening, even tragic,” Mr Bisharat said.

      On 16 September the army destroyed Makhul at 5am, ordering residents to vacate so that the bulldozers could demolish the corrugated-metal dwellings and animal sheds. Some residents trace their presence at the site to before Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, though Israeli officials said most had dwellings in other locales and lived there just part of the year.

      The remnants of the demolition were visible on the hillside on Tuesday, piles of scrap that had been the ramshackle homes for just over a hundred people, from nine families, according to their lawyer, Tawfik Jabarin.

      The injunction will prevent the army from acting against tents for the next two weeks; then a court session will be held on the matter, Mr Jabarin says.

      In the meantime, Makhul will continue to be a microcosm of Israeli efforts to impose what is seen as its illegal transformation of the strategic and fertile Jordan Valley, which comprises more than a quarter of the West Bank, from a Palestinian to an Israeli area. Rights groups and the Palestinian Authority charge that this is being done by advantaging settlers and trying to cause Palestinians to move elsewhere. Israel denies the latter charge.

      Mr Bisharat and others in Makhul, who rent land owned by Palestinian landowners, are being forced to pay the price for the transformation.

      “I rent 7,000 sq m,” says Mr Bisharat. “We plant our land with wheat, barley, lentils and other grains. We produce milk, cheese, butter, eggs and meat. This is our style of life and we are not going to change it.” Ahmad Bani Odeh, a 75-year-old man with white stubble, says: ‘’Since 1967 I have been living here. I have a hundred sheep. Where will I go? I am here, I remain here and, God willing, I will die here.’’

      Guy Inbar, an Israeli defence ministry official, says the dwellings that made up Makhul were illegally built and that their destruction was an act of law enforcement that came four years after demolition notices were first issued. But rights groups say it is virtually impossible to get Israeli building permits due to discriminatory planning practices.

      Human Rights Watch representative Bill Van Esveld said the interdiction of tents needed by Makhul residents to stay on the land amounted to a forced transfer of the population in the occupied territory, a violation of the Geneva Convention. ‘’All the criteria appear to be met for this to be considered forcible transfer, which is a war crime,’’ he said. Foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson denied there was any violation of international law.

      Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman of B’tselem, the Israeli human rights group, said before the high court’s intervention that a dangerous precedent was being set: “One of the worrying aspects of Makhul is that it is the first time in the Jordan Valley that authorities demolished all structures without allowing the community to at least rebuild some structures for shelter.”

      Arif Daraghmeh, head of a council of 13 small villages in the northern Jordan Valley including Makhul, says that about 10 of the area’s 450 Palestinian families leave every year “because of the Israeli policies including demolitions, taking our water resources and stealing our land”.

      ‘“The idea is to empty this area of Arabs and build more settlements and army camps,” he said.

      But David Elhayani, chairman of the council representing 21 settlements in the Jordan Valley, denied there is any effort to reduce the Arab population. On the contrary, he said, he knew of plans to build a new town for Arabs on public land in the valley. Mr Elhayani says there is a lot of room for more settlers to come, especially in the northern Jordan Valley, the area where Makhul was located. He claims: “There are no Palestinian villages there.”
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Access denied: Phone politics in Palestine
      Networks in the Occupied Territories can only provide 2G services because Israel restricts bandwidth.
      Samuel Nelson Gilbert Last Modified: 22 Sep 2013 11:18

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/09/20139171334748594.html

      Ramallah, Occupied West Bank - Smartphones are ubiquitous in Ramallah. All over the city people tap away at their screens as familiar ringtones add to the din of the crowds on the streets.

      "This is a tech hungry place," said Omar, a phone shop owner. "People want to be connected to news, politics, culture and to each other. Connectivity here is key."

      But Palestinians are spending hundreds of dollars on the latest smartphones that cannot do what they're built for: The West Bank's two service providers, Jawwaland Kuwait-based Wataniya, cannot provide fast 3G mobile data services because of Israel's refusal to grant the Palestinian Authority sufficient bandwidth.

      Ammar Aker, the chief executive of Jawwal, said this has left Palestinians in a bygone era. "We are stuck with 2G even as telecom companies throughout the Middle East prepare to launch 4G capabilities."

      2G technology dates back to 1991 - the age of brick-sized phones with batteries lasting 20 minutes. While 3G is many thousands of times faster than its predecessor, it is itself a technology more than a decade old.

      According to a WikiLeaks report, Israel's policy has forced many Palestinians to switch to Israeli carriers servicing the growing settler population.

      "National sentiment can only go so far," Aker said. "Mobile data is very important and people need to be connected to the Internet everywhere. Israel withholding frequency is killing our ability to introduce new products and new services in Palestine. We lose millions of dollars every year because of this."

      Samer, a Palestinian engineer, summed up the dilemma: "I don't want to use an Israeli SIM, but my job requires me to email while I'm on the road. So what can I do?"

      'Drop in the bucket'

      Fayez Husseini, CEO of Wataniya, said provisions in the Oslo Accords signed 20 years ago cover Palestinians' right to faster communications.

      "Israel deals with frequency and spectrum like it's a scarce resource. We are guaranteed part of it under the Oslo Accords, but they control it like they do water. If they decide it's enough for Palestinians to take one shower a month, or drink once a day, they have that control. And when it comes to frequency, they give us almost nothing … a drop in the bucket.

      "Israel has 60 megahertz and is getting ready to launch 4G. All I need is 10 megahertz to deliver good quality 3G services. They have it to spare and still they won't give us even close to that."

      Israel's Minister of Communications Gilad Erdan was unavailable for comment on the country's policy.

      The political dimensions of smartphone frequency in the West Bank were brought to attention earlier this year during a visit to the region by US President Barack Obama. He was greeted with posters saying, "Dear Barack Obama: Don't bring your smartphone to Ramallah. You won't have mobile access to the Internet. We have no 3G in Palestine!"

      3G is only one of the problems mobile users face in the West Bank. Since the separation of Palestine into areas A, B and C under the Oslo Accords, area C has been under full Israeli control, and Palestinians are denied access to its development and resources.

      The absence of Jawwal and Wataniya towers in this area means that service is spotty or non-existent between Palestinian cities, creating a difficult situation for both providers.



      "From Ramallah to Jericho, if you’re using our line, you get disconnected multiple times," said Aker. "These areas are full of settlements and we are not allowed to place any antenna close to settlements."

      Israel retains complete control over all Palestinian trade and borders. Both mobile networks experience delays in receiving clearing equipment, such as transmitters, into the West Bank.

      "For Israel, acquiring transmitters takes 10 days to two weeks. For us? Eight months to two years," said Aker.

      This situation is worse in Gaza, Aker said. "Up until 2010, we couldn't send a single screw to Gaza. Our network was facing problems, and we could not fix it."

      Power cuts of up to eight hours a day and high fuel costs add to the problems.

      "The closing of the tunnels by Egypt has only made it worse," Aker said. "Now every single Jawwal tower in Gaza has its own separate generator. The cost is huge. Tell me of another place in the world that has to cope with these problems."

      Illegal business

      Back to the West Bank, and despite it being illegal under Oslo for Israeli phone companies to operate on Palestinian land, up to 30 percent of Palestinian mobile users have Israeli SIMs, and use networks servicing the settlements.

      That illegal business hurts the native networks and, according to the World Bank, loses the Palestinian Authority $100 million a year in licences and revenue.

      It is another example of Israel denying Palestinian development, says Said Haifa, a professor of economics at Birzeit University.

      "This has nothing to do with Israeli security," he said. "Restrictions on frequency and infrastructural development on area C is consistent with decades of Israeli policies of denying all forms of development for more than 60 percent of Palestine."

      According to a report published by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem and the Palestine Ministry of National Economy, it is Israeli policy to control Palestinian markets and resources.

      "Israeli restrictions prevent Palestinians from accessing much of their land and from exploiting most of their natural resources: They isolate the Palestinians from global markets, and fragment their territory into small, badly connected ‘cantons'."

      As much as mobile phones expose the asymmetrical economic relations between Israel and Palestine, they also expose the physical reality in the West Bank of disconnection. Mobile services, much like walls, guard towers and Israeli bypass roads, mark the settlement geography of the West Bank and the boundaries of Israeli control.

      Critics say an infrastructure of annexation and separation is being set up, and nowhere is the "Bantustan" nature of the Palestine "State" more apparent than the poor mobile phone services.

      "Connectivity is everything today. And here, everything - our land, our families, our nation and even our voices - are being disconnected ... or in this case dropped," said the mobile phone salesman Omar.
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      The water is running out in Gaza: Humanitarian catastrophe looms as territory's only aquifer fails
      REUTERS SUNDAY 30 JUNE 2013

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-water-is-running-out-in-gaza-humanitarian-catastrophe-looms-as-territorys-only-aquifer-fails-8679987.html

      The Gaza Strip, a tiny wedge of land jammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea, is heading inexorably into a water crisis that the United Nations says could make the Palestinian enclave uninhabitable in just a few years.

      With 90 to 95 per cent of the territory's only aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater, neighbourhood desalination facilities and their public taps are a lifesaver for some of Gaza's 1.6 million residents. But these small-scale projects provide water for only about 20 per cent of the population, forcing many more residents in the impoverished territory to buy bottled water at a premium. The UN estimates that more than 80 per cent of Gazans buy their drinking water. "Families are paying as much as a third of their household income for water," said June Kunugi, a special representative of the UN children's fund Unicef.

      The Gaza Strip, governed by the Islamist group Hamas and in a permanent state of tension with Israel, is not the only place in the Middle East facing water woes. A Nasa study of satellite data released this year showed that between 2003 and 2009 the region lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – equivalent to the amount in the Dead Sea – making a bad situation much worse.

      But the situation in Gaza is particularly acute, with the UN warning that its sole aquifer might be unusable by 2016, with the damage potentially irreversible by 2020. Between 5 and 10 per cent only of the aquifer's water is safe to drink, but even this can mix with poor-quality water during distribution, making it good only for washing.

      "The tap water from the municipality is not fit to drink, and my husband is a kidney patient," said Sahar Moussa, a mother of three, who lives in a cramped, ramshackle house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border. She spends 45 shekels (£8.20) each month – a large sum for most Palestinians in the area – to buy filtered water that she stores in a 500L plastic tank.

      Further complicating the issue is Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which activists say has prevented the import of materials needed for repairs on water and waste facilities. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas, which is opposed to the existence of the Jewish state.

      With no streams or rivers to speak of, Gaza has historically relied almost exclusively on its coastal aquifer, which receives some 50 to 60 million cubic metres of refill each year thanks to rainfall and run-off from the Hebron hills to the east. But the needs of Gaza's rapidly growing population, as well as those of the nearby Israeli farmers, means an estimated 160 million cubic metres of water is drawn from the compromised aquifer each year. As the levels sink, seawater seeps in from the nearby Mediterranean. This saline pollution is made worse by untreated waste, with 90,000 cubic metres of raw sewage allowed to flow into the shallow sea waters each day from Gaza, according to UN data.

      Even with the aquifer, regular running tap water is a luxury unknown to many Gazans. People living across the territory say that during the summer months water might spurt out of their taps every other day, and the pressure is often so low that those living on upper floors might see just a trickle.

      Many families have opted to drill private wells drawing from water deep underground. Authorisation is required but rigid restrictions mean that most households dig their wells in secret. Hired labourers erect large plastic sheets to try to hide their work from prying neighbours. "As you can see, this is like a crime scene," said a 45-year-old father of six, who gave his name as Abu Mohammed. A clothes merchant from Gaza city, he paid his clandestine, seven-strong crew £2,300 to drill a well and came across water at a depth of 48 metres. "We begin the work after sunset and... cover the sound of digging with music," he said. A senior Israeli security official estimates that as many as 6,000 wells have been sunk in Gaza, many without authorisation.

      While Israel shares the polluted aquifer, which stretches all the way to Caesarea, about 37 miles north of Tel Aviv, the problem is less acute than in Gaza which is downstream. In addition, Israel can access water from the Sea of Galilee and the mountain aquifer that also spans the West Bank.

      As Gaza borders the sea, the obvious answer is desalination. Gaza already hosts 18 small plants, one treating seawater, the others water from brackish wells – most of them supplied by Unicef and Oxfam.

      The Palestinian Water Authority has started work on two new seawater desalination plants and is planning a third, larger facility, which is designed to produce 55 million cubic metres of water a year. But with funding for the $450m (£295m) project still uncertain, construction is not due to start until 2017. By that time, cash-strapped Gaza may not have enough electricity available to power the energy-intensive plants. The UN estimates that Gaza needs an additional 100 megawatts of production capacity even before the big water facility is built.

      Israel is trying to drum up aid for Gaza, the senior security official said, alarmed at the prospect of a looming water catastrophe and possible humanitarian crisis on its doorstep. "We have talked to everyone we know in the international community because 1.4 million people will be without water in a few years," he said, asking not to be named because of the issue's sensitivity. He said Israel, a leader in the desalination industry, was helping to train a few Gazans in the latest water technology, which the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) confirmed.

      Rebhi El Sheikh, deputy chairman of the PWA, has called on international donors to help fund energy, water and sewage projects, warning of disaster if nothing happens. "A small investment is needed to avoid a bigger one, and it is a humanitarian issue that has nothing to do with politics or security," he said.

      Water wars

      Water scarcity has become a growing problem in the Middle East, East Africa and the US.

      Although the Middle East has experienced water scarcity for quite some time, Jay Famiglietti, principal investigator of a recently published Nasa study, has said that there was an "alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently has the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India". With tensions already high in this region, water scarcity could become another cause of conflict.

      Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the driest regions in the world. East Africa, in particular the Nile River basin, has seen conflict rise over who controls fresh water supplies. Due to limited resources, the Sudanese civil war between 1983 and 2005 became a struggle over territory which in turn led to conflicts over water supplies. The impact on the population and irrigation of the country would be substantial. After 22 years of fighting, 400,000 people were killed and 2.5 million were displaced from their homes.

      Water cleanliness is an issue that is having considerable impact on sub-Saharan Africa. According to the charity WaterAid, 16.4 million people in Kenya and 43.4 million people in Ethiopia don't have access to safe water.

      The US is also facing significant strain on fresh-water supplies. According to WaterSense, a partnership program of the US Environmental Protection Agency: "Nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or state-wide water shortages" this year, "even under non-drought conditions".

      Water scarcity was recently addressed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who warned that by 2030 nearly half the world's population could be facing a scarcity of water, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent.

      Zander Swinburne
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Palestinian prime minister quits two weeks into job
      Rami Hamdallah offers resignation following apparent dispute over powers with President Mahmoud Abbas
      Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
      theguardian.com, Thursday 20 June 2013 16.31 BST

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/20/palestinian-prime-minister-quits-rami-hamdallah
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Hamdallah: Resolving the Issue of Refugees is Top Priority of Palestinian Leadership
      Print Email Details Published on Friday, 27 September 2013 11:05

      http://english.pnn.ps/index.php/national/5798-hamdallah-resolving-the-issue-of-refugees-is-top-priority-of-palestinian-leadership

      Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah praised the role of the United Nations, especially its Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for their consistent commitment to provide assistance, relief and protection for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian Government Media Center said in a press release Friday.

      He also stressed on the fact that the issue of refugees is one of the highest priorities of the Palestinian leadership and key issues for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the achievement of a lasting and complete peace in the region.

      Rami Hamdallah said, "Until a just and lasting solution to the of Palestinian refugees is achieved, on the basis of the international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including the 194 General Assembly Resolution, which confirms refugees' rights to return to their homes to live in peace and get fair compensation, the political, financial and moral support of UNRWA remains essential."

      Prime Minister emphasized that the constant difficulties and the needs of refugees are still obvious. "We are witnessing the grave conditions they are going through in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territories," he said. Hamdallah appealed to the international community to uphold its obligations according to international humanitarian law to assist and protect refugees, particularly in Syria.

      Representatives of donor countries, during their meetings with the Prime Minister yesterday, confirmed their continued support to the Palestinian government to enable it to carry out its duties, and condemned the continuous construction in settlements, and deprivation of Palestinians of their rights in the so-called "C" areas. They also welcomed the participation of the Palestinian Prime Minister in this important conference, thanking him for his commitment to institutional building and human rights principles.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      The return to Iqrit
      Descendants of those expelled from one Palestinian village during the creation of Israel are trying to reclaim the land.
      Jonathan Cook Last Modified: 09 Jun 2013 12:58

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/20136811252772542.html

      Iqrit, Israel - A dream long nurtured by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians made refugees during the establishment of the state of Israel has become a concrete reality at a small makeshift camp atop a windswept hill.

      A dozen young men have set up the camp at a site in the Upper Galilee from which their grandparents were expelled more than six decades ago.

      Today, all that remains of the village of Iqrit, close to Israel's border with Lebanon, is a Catholic church on the hill's brow. But in 1948, the village was home to 600 Christian Palestinians.

      Walaa Sbeit, one of the camp's leaders, said the group had been inspired by a vision of rebuilding their village.

      "We never lost the connection to this place," he said. "Every summer we hold a summer school here for the children to learn about the village and their past. And once a month the villagers hold a service at the church. For us, this was always our real home."

      The nakba

      In 1948, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from more than 400 villages as the new state of Israel was declared on a large part of their homeland - an event known to Palestinians as the nakba, or "catastrophe". The refugees - mostly descendants of those driven from their homes - now number around five million, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

      Nearly all the emptied villages were later destroyed by the Israeli army to prevent the inhabitants, and the generations which would follow them, from ever returning home.

      "Until we moved in, the only way back to our village was in a coffin," said Sbeit, a 26-year-old music teacher in Haifa, 50km away. "We have the right to bury our dead in the village cemetery, but not to rebuild the homes that were taken from us."

      Sbeit and his friends have been staying at Iqrit in shifts since August, living in an improvised annex to the church that houses a sitting area and kitchen.

      They have tin shacks nearby serving as a toilet and shower, and two donkeys. Saplings they planted and a chicken coop were destroyed by the police, Sbeit added, as he perched on the edge of one of the outdoor beds the group have been using since the winter rains ended.

      The villagers of Iqrit belong to Israel's minority of 1.4 million Palestinian citizens, a quarter of whom were displaced from their orginal homes in 1948. Today, the Palestinian minority live in more than 100 Palestinian communities that survived the Israeli army's advance.

      A practical plan

      Sbeit and his companions are at the forefront of a movement among the refugees inside Israel to turn the right of return from an what has sounded like an increasingly empty slogan into a practical plan of action.

      Although Iqrit's 80 homes are long gone, a residents' committee is due to publish a master plan for the village in the summer, showing how it would be possible to build a modern community of 450 homes, including a school, for the villagers-in-exile, who today number 1,500.

      The plan has been drawn up by a professional planner from the Technion, Israel's leading technical university.

      Iqrit's refugees are also involved in a pilot project to work out the practicalities of implementing the right of return, understanding the legal, technical and psychological problems facing the refugees.

      "This really is a historic moment for the Palestinian community," said Mohammed Zeidan, head of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association, which has been helping to organise the project. "For the first time, we are acting rather than just talking.

      "The villagers are not waiting for Israel to respond to their grievance, they are actively showing Israel what the return would look like."

      Broken promises

      It is not entirely surprising that Iqrit should be leading the way on the refugee issue.

      Iqrit's inhabitants were neither expelled nor forced into flight, as happened in most other villages. They surrendered in November 1948.

      According to 70-year-old Lutfallah Atallah, the villagers agreed to leave Iqrit after receiving a promise that they would be allowed to return when the army had completed its operations in the area. Shortly afterwards their village was declared a closed military area.

      "We were put in army vehicles and driven to the village of Rama, and told we would be allowed to return within 15 days," said Atallah. "We're still waiting."

      Israel does not deny that the promise was made, and the villagers' right to return was backed by the country's supreme court in 1951. Six months later, the army blew up the houses in a move designed to stop the ruling being enforced.

      Shadia Sbeit, coordinator for the Iqrit residents' committee, said that in the early 1990s, under growing pressure to honour its pledge to the villagers, a government panel agreed to set aside a small area for Iqrit to be rebuilt. The deal fell through when the prime minister of the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated.

      A later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, decided in 2002 that the promise to the villagers of Iqrit and another village, Biram, could not be implemented because it would set a precedent for the return of other refugees and threaten Israel's Jewish majority.

      Zeidan called that reasoning "nonsensical".

      "The refugees from Iqrit are all Israeli citizens," he said. "Letting them back will not make Israel any less 'Jewish'."

      Ethnic cleansing?

      The villagers' push to recreate Iqrit comes as Israel's treatment of the refugees from 1948 is under renewed scrutiny, particularly in relation to the circumstances in which the refugees abandoned their homes - and whether Israel's leaders ordered a program of ethnic cleansing.

      Documents recently unearthed by an Israeli researcher, Shay Hazkani, confirm suspicions that a historical claim Israel has used as its chief justification for denying the refugees' right of return to their homes was invented by Israeli officials.

      The files, located in the state archives, reveal that David Ben Gurion, Israel's prime minister in 1948 and for many years afterwards, set up a research unit in the early 1960s to try to prove that Arab leaders had ordered the Palestinian villagers to leave.

      Israel's move was a response to growing pressure from the United States president of the time, John F Kennedy, that it allow several hundred thousand refugees to return to their lands.

      According to Nur Masalha, author of several books on Palestinian refugees, Ben Gurion believed Israel would win greater international acceptance of its rejectionist stance if it could show that the villagers left under orders from neighbouring Arab leaders, rather than because of mass expulsions.

      Other documents have shown that the Israeli army physically expelled Palestinians from at least 120 villages, while in most other cases the inhabitants fled in terror as their village - or neighbouring ones - were attacked.

      Minutes of a meeting in 1961 reveal Ben Gurion telling defence officials that Israel must prove the refugees left "of their own free will, because they were told the country would soon be conquered and [that] 'you will return to be its lord and masters and not just return to your homes'".

      Israeli scholars were recruited to produce a report making Israel's case at the UN. They were given access to secret documents, including those captured from British and Arab sources, most of which were subsequently burnt.

      The director of the unit, Rony Gabbay, conceded to the Israeli newspaper Haraetz in an interview in May that there was no evidence for the claims made in the report Israel later published.

      "There was no mention [in the archives] of the local Arab leaders urging the Arabs to flee, that they 'pushed them', as we claimed in our hasbara [propaganda]. I saw nothing like that."

      Israel has been equally embarrassed by other recent disclosures that have challenged its version of the 1948 war.

      Earlier this year, an Israeli magazine published a lengthy interview with Yerachmiel Kahanovich, a former soldier, who admitted he had helped to engineer expulsions from two Palestinian cities, Lod and Ramle, in 1948, shooting shells into a mosque where people had sought sanctuary. He and other soldiers then executed refugees as they fled.

      "Sometimes we had to shoot one or two, and then the rest got the message and left on their own. You need to understand: if you didn’t destroy the Arab's home, he will always want to come back. When there is no home, no village, there is nowhere to return," he told Yedioth Hakibbutz.

      In addition, Israeli historian Tom Segev publicised in March the minutes of a cabinet meeting from September 1948, a few weeks before Iqrit was captured.

      According to the transcript, part of which is redacted, Ben Gurion believed efforts to provoke a renewal of hostilities could be used as a pretext to expel the 100,000 Palestinians still residing in the Galilee, designated part of the Arab state in an earlier United Nations partition plan.

      "If war breaks out throughout the entire country, this would be advantageous for us as far as the Galilee is concerned because … we could empty the Galilee completely," he told his ministers.

      The statement comes close to suggesting that Ben Gurion planned the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians inside the expanded borders of the new state of Israel, a claim long and vehemently denied by Israeli officials.

      That interpretation was supported the same month by Derek Penslar, the first professor of Israel studies at Oxford University, who told Britain's Jewish Chronicle newspaper that Israel had committed "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians during the nakba.

      Back in Iqrit, Walaa Sbeit pointed to a cluster of houses in the distance, just visible over the border in Lebanon, a country hosting more than 400,000 Palestinians in its refugee camps.

      The justice of the refugees' cause should never have been in doubt, he said.

      "It is long past the time when the world should have corrected the wrong that was done to us," said Sbeit. "Now we are acting for ourselves."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Palestinian plight hits UEFA spotlight
      Decision to host high-profile event in Israel has fuelled criticism of European football's governing body.
      Jonathan Cook Last Modified: 04 Jun 2013 12:25

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/201364114012747876.html
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      Al-Nakba
      Series on the Palestinian 'catastrophe' of 1948 that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures.
      Special series Last Modified: 29 May 2013 06:36

      http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

      “The Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries ago….”

      So begins this four-part series on the ‘nakba’, meaning the ‘catastrophe’, about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel.

      This sweeping history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon’s attempted advance into Palestine to check British expansion and his appeal to the Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.

      The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century and the ongoing ‘nakba’ on the ground.

      Arab, Israeli and Western intellectuals, historians and eye-witnesses provide the central narrative which is accompanied by archive material and documents, many only recently released for the first time.

      Editor's note: Since first running on Al Jazeera Arabic in 2008, this series has won Arab and international awards and has been well received at festivals throughout the world.

      [VIDEO]

      For Palestinians, 1948 marks the 'Nakba' or the 'catastrophe', when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes.

      But for Israelis, the same year marks the creation of their own state.

      This series attempts to present an understanding of the events of the past that are still shaping the present.

      This story starts in 1799, outside the walls of Acre in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, when an army under Napoleon Bonaparte besieged the city. It was all part of a campaign to defeat the Ottomans and establish a French presence in the region.

      In search of allies, Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. He called on the Jews to ‘rise up’ against what he called their oppressors.

      Napoleon’s appeal was widely publicised. But he was ultimately defeated. In Acre today, the only memory of him is a statue atop a hill overlooking the city.

      Yet Napoleon’s project for a Jewish homeland in the region under a colonial protectorate did not die, 40 years later, the plan was revived but by the British.
      ...
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      Google’s Palestinian Home Page Recognizes ‘Palestine’
      By JODI RUDOREN
      Published: May 3, 2013

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/world/middleeast/googles-palestinian-home-page-recognizes-palestine.html?_r=1&

      Five months after the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to a nonmember observer state, Google has followed suit, labeling its local home page “Palestine” instead of the “Palestinian territories.” The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority began using “State of Palestine” on official documents immediately after the Nov. 29 United Nations vote, and urged international organizations to do the same. A Google spokesman said Friday that the company was making the change “across all our products.” Sabri Saadat, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called the move a step in the right direction, but Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, voiced displeasure. “It has no diplomatic or political significance,” Mr. Palmor told an Israeli news Web site on Friday. “Precisely because Google is not the U.N. or any international diplomatic
      institution, this begs the question of whether there is room for any political stance on controversial issues.”
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