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    Masked perpetrators harass Palestinians, steal donkey By Mijal Grinberg http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/727894.html Three masked individuals crept into a
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 19, 2006
      Masked perpetrators harass Palestinians, steal donkey
      By Mijal Grinberg

      Three masked individuals crept into a Palestinian village near the
      southern Hebron Hills on Saturday morning, threw stones at residents
      and stole a donkey, residents of the village of Um Tuba said.

      Police arrived at the scene and requested that the owner of the stolen
      donkey file a complaint at the Kiryat Arba police station.

      Over the past few months, settlers from Moan have repeatedly harassed
      Um Tuba children on their way to and from school. The children are
      forced to pass on Maon property to get to school in the village of
      Al-Tawani, south of the settlement.

      Israel Defense Forces soldiers or police have had to provide escorts
      to protect the children from the settlers.

      About a month ago, dozens of settlers ambushed a military vehicle
      escorting the children. They threw stones and bottles, and one settler
      set his dog on the children.

      Four of the children and two soldiers were wounded in the attack.


      Another 9 Palestinians including two school children are murdered by
      Zionist terrorists

      Source- Haaretz Correspondents,13 June, 2006: GAZA - Nine
      Palestinians, including two schoolchildren, were killed Tuesday when
      Israel Air Force aircraft fired two missiles in Gaza City at the
      vehicle of an Islamic Jihad crew heading to fire rockets at Israel.
      The Israel Defense Forces said that the militants were on their way to
      fire Katyusha rockets, which have a longer range than the homemade
      Qassam rockets usually fired from Gaza. Seven of the dead were
      civilians, two were Islamic Jihad activists. One missile failed to hit
      the crew's vehicle as it drove in the heavily populated Zeitoun
      neighborhood, but the second missile struck its target. Palestinian
      witnesses said the second missile came two minutes after the first,
      after a crowd had begun to gather around the scene of the attack.
      Witnesses said they saw rockets in the wreckage of the yellow van hit
      in the strike.

      Shrapnel from a missile apparently flew into an adjacent house,
      causing casualties among children playing inside.
      "There was an attack on a car that was heading to fire rockets at
      Israel," an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said in Tel Aviv. One of
      the militants was Hamoud Wadiya, Islamic Jihad's top rocket launcher.
      The group identified the other militant as Shawki Sayklia. Among the
      dead were two members of the same family, a father and son. Also
      killed were three medical employees on their way to tend to the
      wounded from an earlier explosion. Hekmat Mughrabi, tears streaming
      down her face and her veil soaked with blood, said her 30-year-old
      son, Ashraf, and a 13-year-old family member died when one of the
      missiles hit the curb outside her home. She and her son were chatting
      on her bed when they heard the boom of the first missile. The young
      man ran to the door of the house after the initial explosion, seeking
      to calm down the family's children, who had been on the rooftop making
      paper kites during their summer vacation.

      "He was shouting to the kids, 'Don't be afraid, don't be afraid'," and
      hadn't even finished his sentence when the second missile hit, she
      said. "My son died in my arms." Shrapnel from the blast flew into the
      house, wounding several other family members, she added. Outside her
      house, dozens of people surrounded Wadiya's mangled yellow van, whose
      interior was a jumble of twisted metal and shredded upholstery. A man
      wailed beside the van as people propped him up by the arms. A white
      slipper lay in a pool of blood on the ground. Palestinian Information
      Minister Yousef Rizka, of Hamas, condemned what he called "the
      continuous series of Israeli massacres of our Palestinian people." "I
      call on the international community to immediately intervene to
      protect the Palestinian people from the increasing aggression of the
      Israeli occupation army, which will definitely provoke a response that
      will engage the entire region," said Rizka. "What happened today is a
      brutal massacre committed against innocent civilians and fighters from
      our group," said Kader Abib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza speaking
      to protesters outside a hospital morgue. "The Zionist enemy insists on
      shedding Palestinian blood and we insist on going ahead with our Jihad
      and resistance. God willing the resistance groups... will have a harsh
      response. All options are open for us." Khalid al-Baach, another
      senior Jihad official, said Israel was "exploiting the war between
      Fatah and Hamas in order to weaken and attack the Palestinian people."

      Doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital found it difficult to work with the
      large number of casualties, and some were being treated on the
      bloodied floor. Ambulances screamed toward Shifa carrying dead and
      wounded. One medical worker yelled out "he's dead" as teams removed a
      victim from the ambulance. At the hospital's morgue, where the bodies
      were brought, angry women shouted, "Death to Israel, Death to the
      occupation!" Outside the morgue, an Islamic Jihad militant fired his
      rifle in a show of anger. Other gunmen vowed revenge. One went inside
      the morgue, put his hands on one of the bodies, and then smeared their
      blood on his rifle. Angry crowds burned tires near the site where one
      of the IAF missiles hit.Reports of an explosion minutes later in the
      nearby town of Jabalya turned out to be a prank, Palestinians said.


      Hamas calls for probe into arms transfer to Abbas
      Khaled Abu Toameh
      Jun. 18, 2006

      Hamas on Saturday called on the Palestinian Legislative Council to
      launch an investigation into the transfer of rifles and ammunition to
      forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,
      charging that the move was intended to trigger civil war among the

      About 1,000 M-16 rifles and large amounts of ammunition were
      transferred last week from Jordan to Abbas's security forces, a move
      that Israel authorized to help Abbas and his Fatah party in their
      confrontation with Hamas.

      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the decision last week in London,
      causing senior PA officials in Ramallah to express outrage with Israel
      for going public on the issue.

      "The Israeli government should not have published this," protested one
      official. "This is an extremely sensitive issue and the Palestinians
      street will now think that Israel is arming us so that we could fight
      Hamas. This makes us look like collaborators."

      Another official told The Jerusalem Post that there was "nothing
      unusual" with the transfer of weapons to the PA.

      "Under the terms of the Oslo Accords and other agreements signed with
      Israel, the Palestinian Authority is entitled to bring light weapons
      for the security forces," he said. "This is not the first time that
      rifles and ammunition have been transferred from Jordan or Egypt."

      Although the transfer of the weapons was completed on Wednesday night,
      Abbas and his top aides have publicly denied knowing anything about
      the deal. On a visit to Nablus Thursday, Abbas accused Israel of lying
      and insisted that no weapons had been sent to his security forces.

      But Hamas officials said on Saturday that Abbas's loyalists in the
      West Bank and Gaza Strip had received three trucks loaded with rifles
      and ammunition. They said the shipment, which included 3,000 M-16
      rifles and three million bullets, was delivered to Abbas's office in
      Ramallah and Gaza City.

      "We call on the Palestinian Legislative Council to launch an immediate
      investigation into this matter," said a statement issued by the Hamas
      leadership in the Gaza Strip. "We want to know the nature and type of
      the weapons, why they are needed, and the party that paid for the
      rifles and bullets."

      The statement, which is seen as an indication of growing tensions
      between Fatah and Hamas, noted that the decision to supply Abbas's
      loyalists with weapons came at a time when the Palestinians were
      suffering "under the yoke of financial siege and starvation."

      Hinting that Israel and the US were behind the move, Hamas urged the
      PLC to look into the "size of American and Israeli intervention in the
      internal affairs of the Palestinians. We strongly condemn the exposed
      American-Zionist conspiracy to spark dissension among our people by
      arming and financing one side under the pretext of arming the
      presidential guard."

      Hamas also accused unnamed Arab countries of being part of the alleged
      conspiracy, calling on the Palestinians to work toward thwarting any
      attempt to trigger civil war.

      The latest charges came despite reports that Hamas and Fatah were
      close to reaching an agreement on ending their dispute.

      PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that he expected an
      agreement with Abbas as early as this week.

      "The dialogue has achieved significant results," he said. "I expect an
      agreement within the next few days."

      Haniyeh did not elaborate, but sources close to Hamas said they had
      good reason to believe that Abbas would cancel his decision to hold a
      referendum over a controversial document drafted by some Palestinian
      prisoners. In return, Hamas would agree to the establishment of a
      national unity government that would bring together several factions,
      including Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.


      In Palestine, a War on Children
      by John Pilger

      Arthur Miller wrote, "Few of us can easily surrender our belief that
      society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost
      its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And
      so the evidence has to be internally denied."

      Miller's truth was a glimpsed reality on television on June 9 when
      Israeli warships fired on families picnicking on a Gaza beach, killing
      seven people, including three children and three generations. What
      that represents is a final solution, agreed by the United States and
      Israel, to the problem of the Palestinians. While the Israelis fire
      missiles at Palestinian picnickers and homes in Gaza and the West
      Bank, the two governments are to starve them. The victims will be
      mostly children.

      This was approved on May 23 by the U.S. House of Representatives,
      which voted 361-37 to cut off aid to non-government organizations that
      run a lifeline to occupied Palestine. Israel is withholding
      Palestinian revenues and tax receipts amounting to $60 million a
      month. Such collective punishment, identified as a crime against
      humanity in the Geneva Conventions, evokes the Nazis' strangulation of
      the Warsaw ghetto and the American economic siege of Iraq in the
      1990s. If the perpetrators have lost their minds, as Miller suggested,
      they appear to understand their barbarism and display their cynicism.
      "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet," joked Dov Weisglass,
      an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

      This is the price Palestinians must pay for their democratic elections
      in January. The majority voted for the "wrong" party, Hamas, which the
      U.S. and Israel, with their inimitable penchant for
      pot-calling-the-kettle-black, describe as terrorist. However,
      terrorism is not the reason for starving the Palestinians, whose prime
      minister, Ismail Haniyeh, had reaffirmed Hamas's commitment to
      recognize the Jewish state, proposing only that Israel obey
      international law and respect the borders of 1967. Israel has refused
      because, with its apartheid wall under construction, its intention is
      clear: to take over more and more of Palestine, encircling whole
      villages and eventually Jerusalem.

      The reason Israel fears Hamas is that Hamas is unlikely to be a
      trusted collaborator in subjugating its own people on Israel's behalf.
      Indeed, the vote for Hamas was actually a vote for peace. Palestinians
      were fed up with the failures and corruption of the Arafat era.
      According to the former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter
      Center verified the Hamas electoral victory, "public opinion polls
      show that 80 percent of Palestinians want a peace agreement with Israel."

      How ironic this is, considering that the rise of Hamas was due in no
      small part to the secret support it received from Israel, which, with
      the U.S. and Britain, wanted Islamists to undermine secular Arabism
      and its "moderate"
      dreams of freedom. Hamas refused to play this Machiavellian game and
      in the face of Israeli assaults maintained a cease-fire for 18 months.
      The objective of the Israeli attack on the beach at Gaza was clearly
      to sabotage the cease-fire. This is a time-honored tactic.

      Now, state terror in the form of a medieval siege is to be applied to
      the most vulnerable. For the Palestinians, a war against their
      children is hardly new. A 2004 field study published in the British
      Medical Journal reported that, in the previous four years, "Two-thirds
      of the 621 children … killed [by the Israelis] at checkpoints … on the
      way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in
      over half the cases to the head, neck, and chest – the sniper's
      wound." A quarter of Palestinian infants under the age of five are
      acutely or chronically malnourished. The Israeli wall "will isolate 97
      primary health clinics and 11 hospitals from the populations they serve."

      The study described "a man in a now fenced-in village near Qalqilya
      [who] approached the gate with his seriously ill daughter in his arms
      and begged the soldiers on duty to let him pass so that he could take
      her to hospital. The soldiers refused."

      Gaza, now sealed like an open prison and terrorized by the sonic boom
      of Israeli fighter aircraft, has a population of which almost half is
      under 15. Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who heads a children's
      community health project, told me, "The statistic I personally find
      unbearable is that 99.4 percent of the children we studied suffer
      trauma … 99.2 percent had their homes bombarded; 97.5 percent were
      exposed to tear gas; 96.6 percent witnessed shooting; a third saw
      family members or neighbors injured or killed."

      These children suffer unrelenting nightmares and "night terrors" and
      the dichotomy of having to cope with these conditions. On the one
      hand, they dream about becoming doctors and nurses "so they can help
      others"; on the other, this is then overtaken by an apocalyptic vision
      of themselves as the next generation of suicide bombers. They
      experience this invariably after attacks by the Israelis. For some
      boys, their heroes are no longer football players, but a confusion of
      Palestinian "martyrs" and even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers
      are the strongest and have Apache gunships."

      That these children are now to be punished further may be beyond human
      comprehension, but there is a logic. Over the years, the Palestinians
      have avoided falling into the abyss of an all-out civil war, knowing
      this is what the Israelis want. Destroying their elected government
      while attempting to build a parallel administration around the
      collusive Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, may well produce, as
      the Oxford academic Karma Nabulsi wrote, "a Hobbesian vision of an
      anarchic society … ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious
      ideologues and broken into ethnic and religious tribalism, and
      co-opted collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today: that is what
      [Ariel Sharon] had in store for us."

      The struggle in Palestine is an American war, waged from America's
      most heavily armed foreign military base, Israel. In the West, we are
      conditioned not to think of the Israeli-Palestinian "conflict" in
      those terms, just as we are conditioned to think of the Israelis as
      victims, not illegal and brutal occupiers. This is not to
      underestimate the ruthless initiatives of the Israeli state, but
      without F-16s and Apaches and billions of American taxpayers' dollars,
      Israel would have made peace with the Palestinians long ago. Since the
      Second World War, the U.S. has given Israel some $140 billion, much of
      it as armaments. According to the Congressional Research Service, the
      same "aid" budget was to include $28 million "to help [Palestinian]
      children deal with the current conflict situation" and to provide
      "basic first aid." That has now been vetoed.

      Karma Nabulsi's comparison with Iraq is apposite, for the same
      "policy" applies there. The capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a
      wonderful media event: what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called
      "action as propaganda," and having little bearing on reality. The
      Americans and those who act as their bullhorn have their demon – even
      a video game of his house being blown up. The truth is that Zarqawi
      was largely their creation. His apparent killing serves an important
      propaganda purpose, distracting us in the west from the American goal
      of converting Iraq, like Palestine, into a powerless society of ethnic
      and religious tribalism. Death squads, formed and trained by veterans
      of the CIA's "counterinsurgency" in central America, are critical to
      this. The Special Police Commandos, a CIA creation led by former
      senior intelligence officers in Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, are
      perhaps the most brutal. The Zarqawi killing and the myths about his
      importance also deflect from routine massacres by U.S. soldiers, such
      as the one at Haditha. Even the puppet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
      complains that murderous behavior of U.S. troops is "a daily
      occurrence." As I learned in Vietnam, a form of serial killing, then
      known officially as "body count," is the way the Americans fight their
      colonial wars.

      This is known as "pacification." The asymmetry of a pacified Iraq and
      a pacified Palestine is clear. As in Palestine, the war in Iraq is
      against civilians, mostly children. According to UNICEF, Iraq once had
      one of the highest indicators for the well-being of children. Today, a
      quarter of children between the ages of six months and five years
      suffer acute or chronic malnutrition, worse than during the years of
      sanctions. Poverty and disease have risen with each day of the occupation.

      In April, in British-occupied Basra, the European aid agency Saving
      Children from War reported: "The mortality of young children had
      increased by 30 percent compared with the Saddam Hussein era." They
      die because the hospitals have no ventilators and the water supply,
      which the British were meant to have fixed, is more polluted than
      ever. Children fall victim to unexploded U.S. and British cluster
      bombs. They play in areas contaminated by depleted uranium; by
      contrast, British army survey teams venture there only in full-body
      radiation suits, face masks, and gloves. Unlike the children they came
      to "liberate," British troops are given what the Ministry of Defense
      calls "full biological testing."

      Was Arthur Miller right? Do we "internally deny" all this, or do we
      listen to distant voices? On my last trip to Palestine, I was
      rewarded, on leaving Gaza, with a spectacle of Palestinian flags
      fluttering from inside the walled compounds. Children are responsible
      for this. No one tells them to do it. They make flagpoles out of
      sticks tied together, and one or two climb on to a wall and hold the
      flag between them, silently. They do it, believing they will tell the


      16 June 2006

      Trócaire's local partner in Jerusalem is appealing
      urgently for over 1.5 million euro to help Palestinians
      scrape by as salaries at the Palestinian Authority,
      which provides jobs for more than 150,000 people, go
      unpaid. The salaries have been frozen since Hamas won
      the January elections, prompting Israel and
      international donors to withhold funds destined for the
      new government. Those government employees directly or
      indirectly support a quarter of the entire Palestinian
      population of 1.3 million people. Other international
      organisations and donors also halted direct funding of
      the Palestinian Authority. About 40 per cent of
      children in Gaza already suffer from malnutrition
      because of the area's absolute poverty.


      "Birthright" kicks out young Jew for planning to hear views of others
      by Sierra
      June 5, 2006

      Statement by accepted trip participant Birthright Israel removed from
      trip because she planned to travel to the West Bank with Birthright

      My name is Sierra. I signed up with Birthright Israel to learn about
      my background and to develop a deeper understanding of my ancestry and
      heritage. But I was removed from Birthright Israel's trip because of
      their opposition to my planned tour with Birthright Unplugged, an
      educational group touring the West Bank.

      I'm biracial and grew up in a multicultural environment at home with
      my parents. My mom is African-American and my father is
      European-American Jewish. I am sensitive to cultural conflict and my
      particular vantage point has shown me through my life and my community
      that building bridges across such conflict is possible.

      I want to travel to Israel to learn about and increase my connection
      to Jewish culture and religion. I was very much looking forward to
      this trip with Birthright Israel. I was excited to take advantage of
      the fantastic opportunity provided by Birthright Israel and committed
      to participating fully in all their

      activities and learning from these experiences during their ten day tour.

      I also want to learn about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I know
      that there's a human rights issue going on in Israel/Palestine, a
      conflict with people suffering on both sides. I don't want any
      organization or the media to tell me what to think; I want to see for
      myself and learn from different perspectives. Participating in
      Birthright Unplugged's upcoming tour will provide me with this

      Israel/Palestine has always seemed like an inaccessible place to me,
      both because of the historic
      violence and because of an almost otherworldly nature that the region
      has due to its religious and spiritual importance.
      Over the past few years I've had a couple close friends go and come
      back, and they've made me realize that it's a real place; it has
      layers and is not only accessible, but is a phenomenal region of the
      world. I was excited to partake in my first trip and still hope that I
      can go.

      Wednesday morning, May 31st, I received a phone call from Tel Aviv
      with Avi Green, the director of Israel Outdoors, on the other line.
      Israel Outdoors is the trip organizer contracted by Birthright Israel
      for the trip that I joined. He called me bearing "unfortunate news."
      According to Mr. Green, it wasn't meant to be a value judgment on
      Birthright Unplugged, but I must be removed from the pending
      Birthright Israel trip due to my anticipated participation with the
      Birthright Unplugged tour. When I asked if my removal was caused by an
      email sent to Birthright Israel, informing them of my planned trip
      with Birthright Unplugged, he said that he was not able to discuss
      that topic.

      I asked him about the trip waiver form that I signed. It didn't refer
      to the West Bank or Birthright
      Unplugged; in fact it stated that the decision to extend my plane
      ticket and participate in another
      program is mine:

      "Furthermore, and without derogating from the above, you understand
      that should you decide to extend your ticket and remain in Israel
      longer, or should you participate in a program which goes beyond the
      days in which BRI participates financially, the decision to do so is
      yours, and the said extension is in no way part of the program for
      which any funding or assistance was provided by BRI and/or by BRI

      Mr. Green said that Birthright Israel is a serious organization and
      mustn't be taken trivially. I continue to agree with him and my
      actions and intentions are very serious. I was excited and looking
      forward to learning about Israeli and Jewish culture from Birthright
      Israel, just as I am excited and looking forward to learning about the
      Palestinian and Israeli conflict with Birthright Unplugged. I simply
      want to learn about the conflict and learn about Israel. I do not
      believe this is mutually exclusive or a reason to remove me from
      Birthright Israel's trip. I hope that I can continue my plans to
      participate with Birthright Unplugged's tour and fulfill my dream to
      learn about my Jewish ancestry and learn about the Israeli/Palestinian

      " I was devasted to find out that Birthright Israel removed me from
      their tour group. They misunderstood an e-mail that was sent to them,
      which included my plans to travel with Birthright Israel and
      Birthright Unplugged. They made their decision without clarifying
      the information by asking me about it. I was committed and excited to
      learn about Israel by participating in Birthright Israel's trip.

      Birthright Israel removes participant because she also planned to take
      an educational trip to the West Bank with Birthright Unplugged.
      Birthright Unplugged Press Release | June 1, 2006

      Birthright Israel removes participant because she also planned to take
      an educational trip to the West Bank. On May 31, 2006, one week before
      Sierra's planned departure for Tel Aviv, she received a call from
      Birthright Israel trip organizers telling her she was no longer
      welcome on their free 10-day tour of Israel. The reason: she planned
      to join the 6-day Birthright Unplugged trip through the West Bank
      after the first trip was finished.

      Sierra's stated goal was to go to the region to learn from both
      Israelis and Palestinians about the situation there.
      Birthright Unplugged offers opportunities for mostly young Jewish
      North Americans to meet Palestinians and learn about daily life under
      occupation. The trip takes participants through Palestinian cities,
      villages, and refugee camps, and organizes formal and informal
      meetings with a variety of Palestinians and Israelis.

      According to Birthright Unplugged co-founder Hannah Mermelstein, "We
      started this program to put trip participants in conversation with
      Palestinian civil society, to learn firsthand about the situation in
      Israel/Palestine, and to use their knowledge to make positive change
      in the world. By denying Sierra the opportunity to have this
      educational experience, Birthright Israel is further proving the need
      for our existence."

      Since 2000, Birthright Israel has sent 100,000 Jewish people, ages
      18-26, on free trips to Israel. Participants are encouraged to extend
      their tickets beyond the dates of their Birthright Israel trip, which
      is exactly what Sierra intended to do. Apparently, any desire to meet
      Palestinians living under occupation is reason to disqualify one from
      Birthright Israel's trip.

      Jewish individuals have already stepped forward and offered to
      contribute towards the purchase of a plane ticket for Sierra in the
      hopes that she can still participate in Birthright Unplugged and in
      order to send a message to Birthright Israel that the quest for
      knowledge is a value held by many Jewish people.

      " Birthright Israel does not have a monopoly on Jewish people's
      relationship to Israel/Palestine," said Mermelstein. "As hard as they
      try, they will never be able to stop people from pursuing knowledge
      and breaking down walls and barriers."

      1) Call Birthright Israel and tell them what you think about their
      attempt to stop people from learning firsthand about the situation in
      Israel/Palestine. Birthright Israel phone number: 888-99-ISRAEL
      (994-7723). Israel Outdoors program (the specific program Sierra
      planned to go on): 800-566-4611.

      2) Support Sierra to come on Birthright Unplugged. Now that she is not
      going on a Birthright Israel trip, she needs to raise the money for a
      plane ticket if she wants to join our Unplugged trip. We want to send
      a message to Birthright Israel that they can't stop people from
      learning. Please contact us ASAP at info@... if
      you are interested in sending a donation to help buy Sierra a plane
      ticket, and let us know how much you are able to give.

      3) Donate to Birthright Unplugged to support our important work at a
      time like this! As walls and barriers continue to go up, we are more
      committed than ever to continue our work and cross those barriers. To
      send a tax-deductible donation to Birthright Unplugged, please make
      checks out to the Gandhian Foundation, with a notation in the memo
      line for "Birthright Unplugged", and send to Birthright Unplugged, 18
      Northview Drive, Glenside, PA 19038. (If you don't need a tax
      deduction you are welcome to make checks out directly to Birthright

      Birthright Unplugged, info @ birthrightunplugged.org.


      Crossing the Green Line: Birthright nixes woman with West Bank plans
      By Chanan Tigay
      New York
      June 6, 2005

      A Birthright Unplugged tour views Israel's security barrier.
      This week, the birthright israel program is celebrating the 100,000th
      participant on its free, 10-day trips to Israel. But one person who'd
      hoped to be among the thousands of young Jewish adults joining this
      summer's festivities won't be.

      That's because the woman, a 26-year-old resident of California, was
      dropped from the program last week when birthright officials learned
      that after participating in their program, she planned to join another
      group in a trip through the Palestinian territories.

      Birthright is standing unapologetically behind its decision on the
      woman, Sierra, who has denied interview requests and asked that her
      last name not be used.

      Its program is meant to build Jewish identity, officials say, and if
      participants are using the trip for other purposes, birthright
      reserves the right to turn them away.

      But a co-founder of Birthright Unplugged — the name of the program in
      the Palestinian territories, a clear dig at the birthright israel
      brand — says that by denying Sierra a ticket to Israel, birthright
      simply confirms the need for alternative programs.

      But while Birthright Unplugged launched a campaign to call attention
      to the incident, here's the kicker: birthright learned about the
      woman's plans from her mother, who — apparently out of concern for her
      daughter's safety in the Mideast — forwarded them an e-mail in which
      her daughter details her itinerary and explains that if birthright
      israel learned of her plans, she would be dropped from its upcoming trip.

      The spat highlights some complex questions with which birthright must
      contend: how to keep out those it does not see as its target audience
      while remaining open enough to meet its goals; and whether or not
      keeping out people like Sierra, who was seeking to explore the
      political issues in Israel as well as her Jewish identity, is the most
      effective way of furthering the program's goals.

      Since birthright's goal is to bring as many young Jewish adults to
      Israel as money will allow, as few applicants as possible are turned
      away, officials say.

      This means that some who aren't birthright's target audience can slip
      through the cracks, including non-Jews and those who have previously
      taken part in a peer trip to Israel. Had birthright not been contacted
      by this young woman's mother, its officials say, they'd never have
      known of her plans.

      "This is the best possible policy that we decided to endorse, bearing
      in mind the need to be loyal to our partners and the goals that they
      set for us," said Gideon Mark, national director of marketing for the
      birthright israel program.

      These goals, he said, include strengthening participants' Jewish
      identities, their relationship with the State of Israel and Jewish
      solidarity worldwide.

      Of Birthright Unplugged, he said: "Theirs is a tiny organization which
      tries to build on a very successful brand, taking part of its name,
      trying to teach potential participants in Taglit-birthright israel how
      to go to meet with Palestinians with a generous gift funded by the
      Jewish people. And when Taglit-birthright israel does not cooperate,
      then they go to the public and complain."

      But Birthright Unplugged — which says it has hosted just more than 20
      young Jews on its programs since its first trip last summer, and
      expects to bring an additional 15 or 16 this summer — denies the charge.

      "We started this program to put trip participants in conversation with
      Palestinian civil society, to learn firsthand about the situation in
      Israel/Palestine, and to use their knowledge to make positive change
      in the world," said Hannah Mermelstein, co-founder of Unplugged.

      "By denying Sierra the opportunity to have this educational
      experience, birthright israel is further proving the need for our

      Birthright Unplugged takes young Jewish adults through the West Bank
      to "try to get people to understand what it means to live under
      occupation," Mermelstein said. Some of those who've taken part in
      Unplugged have previously been on birthright israel trips, she added;
      others have taken part while on their year abroad in college, or while
      visiting Israel with their families.

      The program also takes young Palestinians living in refugee camps to
      their ancestral homes in Israel.

      The group's name, Mermelstein acknowledged, is a reference to
      birthright israel, but also refers to something larger.

      "We are against this concept of a Jewish birthright to this place,"
      said the Boston-based Mermelstein.
      "We're not afraid of people going on birthright israel, seeing what
      they have to say and then coming and seeing what we're showing them on
      our trip," she said. "It seems like birthright israel is afraid of
      having people see things that would put into question the perspective
      they're trying to give their participants, or provide information that
      isn't controlled by birthright israel."

      The group is funded largely by private donations from American Jews,
      Mermelstein said, and recently received a grant from the Sparkplug
      Foundation, which funds startup projects and innovations in music,
      education and community organizing.

      Birthright israel officials say that its programs are not political,
      and that it employs no ideological litmus test for participants. When
      politics are discussed, they say, its bent has to do with individual
      tour guides rather than with any official birthright policy.

      Other programs in Israel explore political issues with their
      participants. The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, for example,
      runs an entire "political week" as part of its five-week programs,
      during which participants meet with political leaders from the right
      and the left; Palestinians and Israelis; Arab and Jewish members of
      the Knesset.

      "We try to have not too far right and not too far left, because it
      gets a little crazy and nonrepresentative," said Rabbi Shimon Felix,
      the program's executive director.

      Still, Felix said, if his program were just 10 days, like birthright,
      rather than five weeks, "I probably would not do the politics."

      "It would be doing a disservice to the issues to squeeze that into a
      half day of a 10-day trip," he said.

      At least several birthright participants have gone on from the program
      to work with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement in
      the territories. Birthright did not know in advance of their plans.
      Although birthright participants are interviewed before they're
      granted a spot, there is no uniform roster of questions, and
      information about post-trip plans is not always solicited, officials said.
      Bronfman fellows have landed in the Palestinian territories following
      the program, Felix said. But as for how the program would respond if
      it knew in advance that a potential participant was planning to head
      to the territories, he said, "We would have to think long and hard
      about it. We don't have a policy. I don't think it's ever come up."

      For her part, Sierra, the child of an African-American mother and a
      Jewish father, said she had planned to take part fully in both
      programs in hopes of learning about "a conflict with people suffering
      on both sides."

      "I simply want to learn about the conflict and learn about Israel,"
      she said in a statement passed on to JTA by Mermelstein. "I do not
      believe this is mutually exclusive or a reason to remove me from
      birthright israel's trip. I hope that I can continue my plans to
      participate with Birthright Unplugged's tour and fulfill my dream to
      learn about my Jewish ancestry and learn about the Israeli-Palestinian

      Birthright Unplugged has launched a campaign among its supporters to
      fund a new ticket so that Sierra can still fly to the Middle East this

      A Palestinian child puts a flag in the controversial security wall in
      the West Bank town of Qalqiliya.


      Come, See Palestine! Upstart tours of Palestine are challenging fully
      paid "See Israel" holidays in a battle for the hearts and minds of
      young American Jews

      By Rachel Shabi
      June 5, 2006

      A Palestinian child puts a flag in the controversial security wall in
      the West Bank town of Qalqiliya. The fight is on for the hearts of
      young Jewish Americans. The battlefield is Israel and Palestine. It's
      a hopelessly unequal battle -- one side has considerably more clout
      and cash and, currently, appeal. But this struggle hits the core of
      what it means to be an American Jew in a modern political context.

      This summer, record numbers of young Jewish Americans will travel to
      Israel -- despite concern over security. Most of them will arrive
      courtesy of pro-Israel

      -- despite concern over security. Most of them will arrive courtesy of
      pro-Israel organizations that seek to reconnect Diaspora Jews to
      Judaism and Israel. They will be on a free tour of the Jewish state,
      presented to them as a gift, their "birthright."

      But others will travel with Palestine solidarity campaigners who hold
      that being both American and Jewish (as are nearly 6 million U.S.
      citizens) brings with it a responsibility to at the very least
      understand the Palestinian position. They'll visit the West Bank and
      witness firsthand the effects of the occupation in Palestine. These
      latter tours are still in infancy but word about them is rapidly
      spreading through American campuses and Jewish networks. So, two camps
      with diametrically opposed intentions are targeting exactly the same
      audience of young American Jewry. And the cutting-edge cool tool on
      both sides of the terrain is a holiday. Well, of sorts.

      The context is about six years old. Having identified Diaspora Jews as
      being hopelessly lapsed and in danger of intermarrying into
      extinction, two New Yorkers, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman,
      founded Taglit-birthright israel. Billionaire Bronfman inherited the
      Canadian Seagram's liquor empire while Steinhardt made a small fortune
      as a Wall Street wizard. The latter, a self-proclaimed atheist, is
      nonetheless worried that Judaism is in danger of becoming obsolete.
      Both feature high up on a list of Israel's most generous philanthropists.

      " The vision is to ensure the continued existence of the Jewish people
      because of the very high rate of assimilation," says Gidi Mark,
      Taglit's director of marketing. He admits that what might appear to be
      a severe stance against multiculturalism is a "bold and ambitious
      plan." But he believes it has "changed dramatically the attitude of
      Jewish young adults to Israel." Taglit offers Diaspora Jews between
      the ages of 18 and 26 a free, 10-day tour of Israel, their
      "birthright" or "homeland" country, courtesy of the Israeli
      government, United Jewish Communities and private philanthropists.
      Since 2000, Taglit has taken 100,000 young Jews, 75 percent of whom
      are North American, to Israel. That's an impressive figure, although
      one Israeli academic has noted that young American Jews might equally
      be interested in a free trip to the Bahamas.

      But the Taglit organization is indeed a success story. Prior to it,
      around 1,500 Jews of the same cohort would come to the country each
      year. Now around 22,000 visit Israel annually on Taglit trips; places
      fill up rapidly and waiting lists are at bursting point. And these
      trips achieve what they set out to do. They are, says Mark, "the most
      effective Jewish educational project in the world." That's measured by
      polls that question former birthrighters on their feelings of
      connection to the Israeli state; those strong feelings don't diminish
      even six years after Taglit trips.

      Birthright trips to Israel are many-flavored -- there are
      trek-focused, religious, secular or graduate and professional
      varieties. It's a packed schedule, socializing is a key component and
      sleep-deprivation is a given. Traveling in groups of 40 in
      security-escorted buses, birthrighters might take in the Dead Sea, Tel
      Aviv nightlife, a trip to Masada or a kibbutz visit. But the
      essentials are the same. All trips in some way cover modern Israel,
      Zionism and the Holocaust; all have Israeli escorts. And absolutely
      non-negotiable is a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem -- the
      remains of the second Jewish temple and therefore the holy of holies
      for Judaism.

      Posters to the Taglit Web site enthuse about the birthright trip as a
      life-changing experience that showed them the "gift of being Jewish"
      and led them to conclude, as one trip alumini writes, "Wherever I
      stand, I stand with Israel." They speak of the emotional charge and
      the effects on young Americans just beginning to define their own
      identity; for many, it is their first trip abroad.

      But some former birthrighters say that there's no such thing as a free
      holiday. They question whether Taglit may be pushing them a little too
      hard to have a profound experience, particularly at the Wailing Wall.
      "Our tour leader got everyone to close their eyes and put their hands
      on the shoulders of the person in front of them," says one tripper.
      "He walked us all in a line to a spot where we could get a high-up
      view of the wall. Then he said something like, 'Your ancestors were
      praying towards this wall for generations.' And you open your eyes and
      there it is ... and there are tears streaming down everyone's faces."

      One 25-year-old graduate student from Chicago describes the last day
      of the trip, on a Tel Aviv beach. "It's a really hot day and one guy
      from our trip runs into the water, and the sea's beautiful, at a
      perfect temperature for swimming and he says, 'OK, OK, I'm a Zionist!'
      It's facetiously said, but also ironic because that's exactly what
      [tour leaders] want." This graduate is still with the young Jewish
      woman he met while on the trip last summer. The matchmaking element is
      a key component of birthright trips, say past participants. After all,
      the idea is to stem the assimilation tendencies of Diaspora Jews.

      What worries critics, however, is not the "I love being Jewish"
      outcome of a trip to Israel but the underpinning political goals of
      Taglit. Susan, a 27-year-old Seattle student, took the Taglit tour
      last year. She was struck, she says, by "the levels of Zionism" and
      the prevalence of anti-Palestinian comments during her trip, organized
      through the University of Washington (campuses often coordinate
      birthright trips). She didn't like the tour leader expressing his view
      as universal truth while leaving out facts that supported the
      Palestinian side.

      The Taglit tour might encourage tears at the Wailing Wall, but the
      8-meter-high, concrete separation wall snaking through the West Bank
      is rarely mentioned. When it is, says Susan, the context is
      dismissive. "At one point I saw what looked like the [separation] wall
      in the distance and asked our guide about it," she says. "The guide
      gave a very terse response about how, yes, that was the wall and, see
      everyone, the Palestinians are trying to drive 'us' from 'our land'
      and so we must keep 'them' out." Taglit trips do not go beyond the
      Green Line marking the internationally recognized border between
      Israel and Palestine. According to one former birthrighter, the Green
      Line was not even marked on the map he was given on the tour.

      The Taglit trip, one former participant says, does a good job of
      "tugging at one's Jewish heartstrings," and then seeks to equate being
      Jewish with the need for Israel to "protect us and all the Jews."
      According to Susan, her attempts to redress the pro-Israel slant were
      not welcome. Group discussions were zealously facilitated and stuck to
      a narrow script that excluded any conversations about how participants
      felt about Israeli policy.

      Aaron took the trip in December 2004 when he was 22; he's now back in
      Canada where he lives and works in community radio. He believes Taglit
      aims to encourage pro-Israel activism overseas. His trip leaders, he
      says, "kept emphasizing how much we could do to help on campus at
      universities." He adds: "This point was driven a lot: that Israel is
      suffering from constant insecurity and a state of war against them,
      and the way we can prevent that is to try and promote Israel's good
      image back home."

      Taglit bats off any accusations of having a political agenda. "I don't
      think it's political for Jews to support Israel," says Mark. "It
      should be an integral part of every Jew's identity." Mark draws a
      distinction between supporting Israel and supporting Israel's
      policies. He adds that Taglit trips incorporate organizers and
      speakers from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. As to why
      Taglit trips don't go to the West Bank, he first cites the security
      issue and then says, "We feel that people first of all should feel
      strong about their own identity and then know about other ethnic groups."

      For those who want a different experience of the region, there's now
      an altogether different sort of trip on offer. Last year, around 30
      young Jewish Americans took the first Birthright Unplugged trips to
      the West Bank. "It changed my world," says Jessy Tolkan, 26, a
      political consultant from Washington, D.C., who was on one of the
      Unplugged trips last year. "Everything I had learned as a Jewish
      person prior to the trip was turned totally upside down."

      If Taglit trips gloss over the Palestinian experience, Unplugged trips
      live it. Traveling on Palestinian transport and staying in Palestinian
      homes, participants experience for themselves the difficulties of life
      under occupation. "We are offering an opportunity for Jewish people to
      be exposed to a narrative and life experience that they would rarely
      encounter," says Hanna Mermelstein, an American Jew who co-founded the
      project with Dunya Alwan, an American-Iraqi of Muslim and Jewish
      descent. Both are members of the International Women's Peace Service,
      which supports the nonviolent Palestinian struggle against the Israeli
      occupation. An architect by training, Alwan became involved in social
      justice work prior to the first Gulf War, and by 2002 was engaged in
      human rights and education work in Palestine. Mermelstein has a degree
      in international and intercultural studies, women's studies, and peace
      studies; she turned her energies to the Israel-Palestine conflict
      during the second intifada.

      The two women met in Palestine in 2003. They both led various
      international delegations in the West Bank. As a result of those
      experiences, they identified a need to set up opportunities for Jews
      who cannot otherwise visit the area or are simply too afraid to. The
      conflict in Israel and Palestine has many distortions, one of which is
      the perception that Jews are not welcome in the territories. "We
      planned the itinerary with Palestinians and asked them, 'Look, do you
      want American Jews to come here?' They said, 'Yes, these are exactly
      the people we want to come to our communities.'"

      Starting with an orientation meeting in Jerusalem, Unplugged goes to
      Bethlehem and nearby Deheishe refugee camp, Hebron, Ramallah, the
      northern region of Salfit, and finally a destroyed Palestinian village
      on the Israel side of the Green Line. (The trips cost $350 excluding
      travel to Israel.) "Mostly, it just takes you to places and you see
      things with your own eyes, things that are self-evident and require no
      explanation whatsoever," says one former Unplugged participant. It's
      enough, he adds, just to see the effect of the separation wall and
      countless checkpoints on daily Palestinian life. Many Unplugged
      participants take the trip directly after a Taglit tour of Israel and
      recommend doing so. Of course, at this point, with less than 100
      participants, the Unplugged Tour's impact on young Jews is only a
      footstep compared to the stampede of the established Taglit tour.

      To Taglit leaders, the birthright trips have had some unwanted
      consequences. Some participants have used the trips to either
      "birthleft" or "desert," as they put it. Trippers ranging from a
      handful to hundreds, depending on whom you ask, have crossed the Green
      Line into the Occupied Territories after the Israel trip, to work with
      the International Solidarity Movement. This organization defines
      itself as "a Palestinian organization committed to resisting the
      Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using non-violent,
      direct-action methods and principles." ISM delivers food and medicine
      to houses under curfew, supporting demonstrations -- currently against
      the separation wall -- and documenting violations of human rights. In
      March 2003, an American activist with ISM was killed by an Israeli
      bulldozer while trying to protect a home from demolition in the Gaza
      strip. The Israeli government accuses it of supporting terrorism and
      often refuses entry to its volunteers.

      Jacob Rosenblum, a 22-year-old from Portland, Ore., traveled with
      Taglit in 2004. "I wasn't there for the birthright trip," he says. "It
      was just my vehicle to get to Israel and Palestine. After the trip, he
      participated in ISM training and volunteered in Nablus, Tulkarem and
      Qalqilya. Similarly, says Aaron, the Canadian radio worker, "My plan
      all along was to spend two months in the West Bank with the ISM."
      While in the West Bank, he tried "to do as much independent radio
      journalism as possible," while also involved with "general ISM things
      like accompanying farmers who face settler harassment and delivering
      bread and medicine to people under curfew." Lora Gordon, 24, from
      Chicago, didn't plan on taking such a course of action after her
      Taglit trip in 2002. But she ended up spending 10 months working with
      ISM in the then heavily invaded Gaza strip, engaging in media work,
      staying with families whose homes were threatened with demolition, and
      teaching English to high school students.

      Taglit is not too thrilled with these developments, mainly because it
      funds the ISM volunteers' travel to Israel. "It is taking advantage of
      the Jewish money that sends people to Israel, exploiting this money to
      promote an agenda which is not the agenda of the people who funded
      Taglit," says Mark. Potential candidates who are discovered to have a
      "hidden agenda" are not allowed onto the trips.

      But "birthlefters" have no qualms over misused money. They say the
      idea of a blanket Jewish birthright to Israel is fundamentally flawed,
      given that countless Diaspora Palestinians are accorded no such right.
      "Billions of dollars are used to give free trips to American kids and
      if the Israel government funds it then that comes through the U.S.,
      people's tax dollars," says Gordon. She sees anti-occupation work as a
      good use of that money. Others point out that in the P.R. battle
      between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, the former has huge
      resources while the latter "has to do bake sales to fund our next
      event." Moreover, says Gordon, "If Birthright is going to weed people
      out according to politics, then it's not really about Judaism
      anymore." And yet this emerging dynamic, between Birthright and those
      who seek to counter it or provide alternatives, is precisely about
      Judaism. It comes up time and again when speaking to birthlefters who
      say that, prior to visiting the region, they felt unable to find a
      voice in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Raised on Jewish Sunday school
      and years of Jewish summer camp, Jessy Tolkan says, "I purposefully
      stayed away from the Israel-Palestine argument, unable to reconcile
      myself with being a pro-Israeli Jew and also a left-wing person."
      After seeing the situation on the ground in Palestine, she says she
      felt "sad and angry that I had been lied to by the Jewish community
      that I was and continue to be proud of." Until that point, she says,
      she had been "using a different framework to view the Israel-Palestine
      conflict that I use to view everything else in the world."

      Many of those who traveled in both regions say they left with a deeper
      connection to Judaism, challenging one very sacred cow: that a loyal
      relationship to Israel is fundamentally a part of Jewish identity.
      Gordon speaks of discovering the "joyful way of being Jewish, that
      Shabbat can mean dancing on the roof and singing songs and having a
      wonderful communal meal and then having a day working on your inner
      self." Jacob Rosenblum says he returned from Israel and the
      territories more committed to Judaism and engaged with more moderate
      Jewish political groups. "I got really into claiming Judaism as my own
      and finding the religious parts and practice that really speak to me
      as a political activist," he says.

      return to top

      An Expedition into the Occupied Palestinian Territories
      By Thorsten Schmitz | Suddeutsche Zeitung (A German Daily Newspaper) |
      April 24, 2006 | Download the PDF

      return to top

      Flap over young Jews' visits to Holy Land
      After free trips to Israel, some activists stay on in the Middle East
      - to work for the Palestinian cause.
      By Matt Bradley | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor |
      March 9, 2006

      Jessica, an American Jew, at a protest of Israeli policies toward
      Palestinians in 2004.
      About 10,000 young Jews from 29 countries will enjoy a generous gift
      this winter: a vacation to Israel - with the Israeli government and
      Jewish philanthropies picking up the tab for transportation, food, and

      Those who fund the trips say the opportunity to experience Israel is
      the birthright of every Jew. But to donors' chagrin, handfuls of young
      activists have used the trips in recent years to volunteer for
      pro-Palestinian organizations in the West Bank - some of which
      directly oppose the Israeli government and Zionist ideology.

      The small movement has some in the Jewish community wondering whether
      the Taglit-birthright Israel program is being hijacked. But as the
      Holocaust shifts from memory to history, it also points to efforts of
      young diasporal Jews to define their own ideologies, symbols, and
      institutions within a religious tradition that has long been at the
      forefront of social change. "They have the right to explore" all sides
      of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but not using the money given "to
      explore certain values," says Allyson Taylor, with the American Jewish
      Congress's Western Region.

      "You have the right to buy a movie ticket, but do you sneak into
      another theater to see a different movie?" While some American Jews
      say the issue is much ado about nothing, others see a premeditated
      attempt to defraud the Israeli government and Zionist advocacy groups.
      Some young Jewish leftists, meanwhile, say volunteering in the
      occupied territories is in keeping with the goals of Taglit-birthright
      Israel: It is an essential part of their Israel experience.

      "For me, being a Jewish person means supporting social justice. For
      me, being Jewish doesn't mean supporting Israel," says Jessica, who
      traveled to Israel with Shorashim, a Birthright travel organizer,
      during the summer of 2004. "The lessons of the Holocaust and the
      lessons of Jewish history mean we need to stand up for people's
      rights. Otherwise, who's going to stand up for us?" Jessica asked that
      her last name not be used so as not to jeopardize her work on behalf
      of Palestinians.

      Since Taglit-birthright Israel's inception in 1999, it has provided
      10-day trips for some 88,000 young people - any Jew aged 18 to 26 who
      has never been to Israel with a guided group. The goal, say
      organizers, is to strengthen the commitment of a new generation of
      Jews to the world's only Jewish state. As for the number who volunteer
      for pro-Palestinian activist organizations while abroad, some say only
      half a dozen while others cite growing ranks of activists trained to
      exploit the program's generosity.

      Taglit-birthright Israel declined to comment for this article.

      Among pro-Palestinian organizations aided by non-Israeli Jewish
      activists - including an unknown number of former Taglit-birthright
      volunteers - is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The
      organization, according to its website, is "committed to resisting the
      Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action
      methods and principles." The Israeli government, though, accuses it of
      supporting terrorism. Since the group's founding in 2001, several
      activists have been killed or injured while participating in ISM
      protests and nonviolent resistance efforts.

      "If you go to an organization like ISM, which clearly advocates
      suicide bombers and things like that, I would say it's not a very
      honest way of using this program," says Meir Shlomo, Israel's consul
      general to New England.

      ISM advocates an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian
      territories, says cofounder Huwaida Arraf. But members deny that ISM
      endorses violence or supports political terror. Beyond that, says Ms.
      Arraf, ISM does not specifically encourage its Jewish volunteers,
      which she estimates make up about 25 percent of the group's staff, to
      travel for free via Taglit-birthright.
      "Birthright Israel does nothing to expose these students to the
      occupation that the Palestinians are living through," says Arraf. "To
      ... take the initiative to see more than what the Birthright
      organizers want them to see - we guarantee their lives will be changed."

      Last summer, this reaction to the Taglit-birthright program became
      more institutionalized. Birthright Unplugged, a group that gives
      guided tours of the West Bank, offers "an educational project that
      primarily seeks to expose young Jewish people to the realities of
      Palestinian life under occupation," its website states. By design, the
      six-day Unplugged tours coincide with Taglit-birthright Israel's
      programs. Geographically, chronologically, and ideologically,
      Birthright Unplugged picks up where Taglit-birthright leaves off.

      Last year Taglit-birthright Israel filed a "cease and desist"
      complaint for trademark infringement against Birthright Unplugged and
      charged it with "unfair competition." A lawsuit is pending.

      For the many Taglit-birthright participants who don't volunteer in the
      West Bank, their peers' actions can elicit feelings of betrayal.
      Catherine Heffernan, a Birthright participant who attended Shorashim
      with Jessica in 2004, felt outraged. "Whatever respect I ever had for
      you and your beliefs is gone," she fired off in an e-mail last summer
      after learning how Jessica had spent her remaining time in Israel.

      But even Ms. Heffernan, who considers herself a "peaceful Zionist,"
      says Judaism is what has informed Jessica's misguided struggle for
      social justice. "Jessica ... [has] a desire to see justice done in the
      region, and that is something [she has] learned through [her]
      Judaism," says Heffernan. "It seems that it is very politically savvy
      to be anti-Israel, and Israel has a lot of problems. I don't think
      that should mean joining an organization that hurts Israel."

      return to top


      Birthright Unplugged's March 2006 Communique

      Dear Birthright Unplugged friends and supporters,

      We are writing to you because we have successfully completed our
      second season of Birthright Unplugged trips!

      This winter we again took two groups of mostly young, Jewish North
      American people on 6-day trips into the West Bank, in order for them
      to have a firsthand experience of Palestinian daily life under
      occupation. This is our Unplugged trip. We are also proud to let you
      know about our Re-plugged trip, a new program that we began this
      winter, in which we take children from Palestinian refugee camps on
      two-day trips to Jerusalem and their holy sites, to the sea, to stay
      with Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to visit the villages that
      their grandparents fled in 1948. The children documented their trips
      with digital cameras and audio recorders, and the experience
      culminated in a celebration and exhibit in Dheisheh refugee camp.

      Without exception, the Jewish North American participants on our
      Unplugged trips continue to be deeply moved by their experiences.
      Most have told us that it has been a life-changing journey and even a
      turning point for them. One of the most wrenching sights we witnessed
      was a rural Palestinian family completely surrounded by Israeli walls
      and fences. Our participants were also profoundly affected by seeing
      settler attacks perpetrated by teenage girls against Palestinian
      shop-owners, neighborhood residents, and human rights workers.

      The program for each Unplugged group was similar, but as always, the
      functioning of the occupation and the composition of the groups
      provided for distinct experiences. This was reflected in the groups'
      daily discussions as well as in our closing dinner, during which the
      participants evaluated the program and thought about how to engage in
      the future with the issues they encountered over the week.
      Participants' commitments for the coming months include: inviting a
      speaker from our trip to give a talk at a university in Israel;
      hosting house parties, film screenings, photography exhibits,
      concerts, and Shabbat dinners related to Palestine; developing a fund
      for Jewish people to support Palestinian organizations; integrating
      new knowledge into Sunday school curricula at synagogues; doing
      outreach and media interviews for Birthright Unplugged; being present
      where tough questions about Israel/Palestine need to be asked and
      asking them; getting involved in community groups at home; and
      continuing to learn about the issues brought up during the trip.

      Our Re-plugged trips with children living in a West Bank refugee camp
      complement our Unplugged trips described above. As Jewish people, the
      participants on our Unplugged trips have an open invitation by the
      Israeli government to move to a nation that has been superimposed on
      the lands of displaced people. These displaced people, Palestinian
      refugees, are denied their internationally recognized right to return
      to their land. Strict movement restrictions require Palestinians to
      obtain permits for themselves and their cars if they want to move from
      place to place. Most Palestinian people do not have these permits and
      are unable to enter Israel, which for refugees means they cannot even
      visit the villages they were expelled from in 1948. Israel controls
      Palestinian movement through the ID card system, which begins at age
      16 for Palestinian people. Until that age, children are able to move
      with fewer constraints, but rarely do because their parents,
      grandparents, and older siblings are unable to do so. This is where
      we come in. As internationals with foreign passports, we can move
      with relative freedom, and we can escort the children our of their
      refugee camp in the West Bank, through checkpoints, and to the places
      they always talk about but are rarely able to visit.

      We ran two Re-plugged trips, one for 8 girls and one for 8 boys. Some
      of the most moving experiences we had with the children included their
      first sight of the sea, discovering their ancestral villages and
      connecting with the land, and seeing their community come together to
      share and celebrate during the exhibit.

      You can see the chrildren's photo exhibition at:
      our photos of their journey at:

      The girls' trip was first, and we had not emphasized the importance of
      bringing towels and changes of clothing. When we arrived at the sea,
      the girls ran straight into the water, despite the mid-January
      weather. They played, danced, and ran around for an hour or two, and
      came out of the water soaking wet. At this point, they realized they
      would have to share towels, and many of the girls had to wear pajamas
      for the rest of the day, not having any dry clothes.

      The host families they met later, through the Yaffa-based Palestinian
      organization Al-Rabita, took good care of them and their wet clothes.
      Many of the children do not know Palestinian people who live inside
      Israel, and vice versa, since Israeli travel restrictions prevent West
      Bank Palestinians from entering Israel and Israeli citizens from
      entering Areas "A" (or urban centers) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
      The experience was moving for both parties, and the kids invited
      their host families to the exhibit in Dheisheh two weeks later.

      Most profound for all the children was experiencing the villages they
      have heard their grandparents talk about since they were born. The
      boys ran around picking flowers and plants for each other, rolling
      around on the land, and kissing the earth they have never touched
      before. The girls dressed in traditional embroidered dresses in
      preparation for the visit. In one village, they climbed the minaret
      of the mosque that still stands amidst a newly built Jewish Israeli
      community, its prayer space now filled with trash. In another
      village, they ran up a hillside to find the remains of their
      grandparents' houses, old water wells, and olive and fig trees
      probably planted by their ancestors. Their exuberance at discovering
      these things turned into a kind of hysteria as they laughed and<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
    • World View
      Letter from Palestine Written by : anonymous 2006-07-02 http://bridgenews.org/news/062006/palestinletter/newsitem_view Morning came and we found that 90 of the
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 4, 2006
        Letter from Palestine
        Written by : anonymous

        Morning came and we found that 90 of the nation's best men were
        captured by Israel from their homes in the night. Our mayor, who was
        released from four years in prison just a month ago. Someone for whom
        I have the utmost respect and admiration, as do his people here,
        political allies and opponents alike. And our vice mayor, too. The
        last time I talked with him, earlier this week, he was struggling a
        lot with chronic back pain. I wonder where they are now. If they have
        been fed today, or tortured. If they will sleep on beds tonight, or
        not at all. If they will be home tomorrow. If we will never see some
        of them again alive.

        It's the first time Palestinians have captured an Israeli soldier in a
        long time; families of prisoners have begged the resistance not to
        release him until there is a prisoner exchange no matter what the
        consequences to the community—being well acquainted with the suffering
        that implies.

        Everyone went about their business today, wedding processions in the
        streets, families eating icecream and watermelon in the sticky heat.
        Some with the heavy numb shock of loved ones vanished suddenly, shock
        without surprise; they expected that the price that has been paid, and
        paid, and paid, for keeping one's spirit from being broken, must be
        paid again. Myself, I couldn't keep from crying from time to time,
        although for me it is just a very small taste of the shock, seeing two
        good men that I know a little, powerful in their community with the
        power the community has entrusted them with, suddenly made helpless,
        pieces of meat for Israeli intelligence officers somewhere to enjoy,
        and knowing that if I knew them more, if I knew others, the sense of
        anger and sorrow and disbelief would be multiplied. I know that for
        the people around me these tears formed years and years ago. The anger
        and sorrow and loss and disbelief have happened too many times to
        count, but it does not diminish, to the world it is one more added to
        a large number, for each mother and sister and wife it is an
        unconsolable agony, an irreplaceable loss, an unimaginable theft, a
        violation of a family, a marriage, that might never be able to recover
        from the traumas and abuses that are being suffered, will be suffered
        in the days ahead.

        Israel has over 10,000 Palestinian hostages, hundreds of them
        children, and slaughters Palestinians of any age on a daily basis.
        When Palestinians take 2 Israeli hostages and kill two soldiers,
        Israeli bombs Gaza. Bombs out the power stations, the water
        reticulation; no electricity, no water, bridges blasted severing
        cities from each other. Gaza Strip, the most densely populated area on
        earth on account of Israel using it as a specially designed human
        garbage can where refugees are disposed off and hermetically sealed
        off from the rest of the world. Brilliant, but unsuccessful. If you
        treat humans as garbage and they know that they are humans and not
        garbage, they will not quietly disappear. You will never sleep safe at
        night. You will never have the right to sleep safe at night. May you
        never sleep safe at night.

        A young woman in my neighborhood asked, can you believe Israel
        kidnapped most of our government last night? Imagine waking up to hear
        that Palestinian forces had kidnapped 90 Israeli government leaders.
        It's hard to imagine that Israel would leave one house standing, one
        person uninjured.

        Imagine if Palestinians had the military capacity to punish Israel
        on a comparable scale for every two hostages it takes and two it
        kills. Imagine if Americans, and Europeans, valued the blood of
        Palestinians and Iraqis as much as their own blood. Imagine if the
        nations of the world used their armies to protect the lives of the
        innocent and bring to justice thieving, raping, murdering states.

        A couple days ago I sat with someone I know, who was taken hostage
        last night. He explained part of Hamas' interpretation of the Qur'an
        as follows: there are three kinds of people that Muslims have to deal
        with. 1) Those who treat you with respect. In this case, it is a crime
        against God to treat them with anything but respect, kindness, and
        hospitality. In other words, if a Jew wanted to immigrate to Palestine
        with full respect for the people here, wishing to become a member of
        Palestinian society, he should be welcomed. 2) Then there are those
        who do not respect you, and oppose you. You have no obligation to
        extend hospitality to them. 3) Then there are those who have no
        respect for your humanity, your property or your religion, they take
        power over your land and your lives, destroy your land and kill your
        people. In this case you have an obligation to fight against them to
        protect your land and your people. If they kill your people, you can
        kill their people.

        Today I visited with another friend who thinks he may be captured
        tonight; so many of his friends were captured last night. He said,
        Israel doesn't care too much about the lives of the Israeli hostages,
        in the past there were cases of them killing the hostages themselves
        by indiscriminate bombing of communities. But Israel has been waiting
        since Hamas' election for Hamas' first military operation, and so they
        knew this massive attack on the community would come, sooner or later.
        Even though different groups have participated in the Palestinian
        military operations in the past few days, all of Israel's targets are
        Hamas leaders. Israel wants to see Hamas destroyed, Europe and America
        want to see Hamas destroyed, and Abu Mazen seems to be trying his best
        to join them. Many of those arrested were among the Hamas members that
        Israel exiled to the no mans land between Israel and Lebanon, a decade

        He told me some of his friend's stories from those three terrible
        years, living in tents through snowy winters. He talked about the warm
        spirit that thrived in the tents during freezing months. He told of
        how hungry men went to an apricot orchard and couldn't find the owner,
        so they took some fruit and then tied some money in a handkerchief to
        the tree. When the owner found it, he tracked them down, and said to
        them, with tears coming down his face, what kind of men are you,
        starving and rejected by the world, who have such principles that you
        will not even take fruit that you find on a tree. I give you my fruit,
        I give you my orchards!

        I felt the poverty of being from the West, where the media can say
        nothing about these men except to endlessly regurgitate simpleminded
        slander… of those captured I know just a few names, and little of
        their stories. For anyone here, each of these names represents a rich
        story, decades of struggles, of suffering, heroism, years of prison,
        of pain, of courage, of trying again, of hopes betrayed, of
        disappointment and endurance that continues forward to find new hope.
        We had this conversation over lunch in his daughter's home. She and
        her husband were active with Hamas and he was seized by Israel and
        killed in prison, leaving her with their three small children. Don't
        forget, it is America that gives Israel everything it needs to do this
        to us, she said. When we left, she and her three boys kissed him over
        and over, not knowing if tomorrow they will wake up to hear that her
        dad, their grandpa, has become a prisoner.

        This week I spent with a French student, an orphan of war in
        Bangladesh, who is doing research on women's views of dignity. Dignity
        is a word thrown around a lot in international law but without
        definition; people have a "right to dignity" but since no one knows
        what it is, when it comes right down to it violations of this right
        cannot be prosecuted. I helped her interview dozens of women this
        week, from Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, poor and wealthy, educated and
        illiterate, young and old. We would sit down with strangers and as
        soon as dignity, al karame, was mentioned, the room burst into life
        with passionate opinions, terrible stories, and incredibly brave and
        inspiring statements. Here are some of the things I heard about dignity.

        There is no dignity in Palestine; we face humiliation at checkpoints,
        restriction from visiting our families or going to school, soldiers in
        our homes during the night, prison… Israel's war is first of all
        against our dignity which Israel attacks from every angle and with
        every means possible, because if it can succeed in destroying our
        dignity, we will not be able to resist anymore. There is tremendous
        dignity in Palestine; perhaps more than anywhere else in the world,
        because the occupation with all its mechanisms for humiliation makes
        us aware of our dignity; the more they try to destroy our dignity the
        stronger our dignity becomes; they are getting the opposite results
        that they want. There are two kinds of dignity: one that you get from
        others, when you are treated with dignity, the other comes from inside
        of you, from what you know about who you really are before God, and no
        one has the power to take this away from you unless you let them. Even
        if as women we are captured by Israel, stripped naked and raped in the
        prisons, if we resist every attack upon our dignity it will not be
        lost. A woman was told at a checkpoint to remove her scarf. She
        refused, and the soldier showed her a metal rod and said he would
        drive it through her eyes if she did not take it off. You can have
        your eyes, or you can have your dignity. She refused. He drove it
        through her eyes. She survived, but she is blind. And she did not lose
        her dignity. A friend of the Prophet Mohammad, a woman, was tied to
        the ground by a man who made her choose between her dignity or her
        life. The only thing she was able to do was to spit in his face, and
        she did. He killed her. But he did not destroy her dignity.

        Arab people have a great source of dignity from the rich and deep
        history of our culture. But now all Arab lands are captive and only in
        Iraq and Palestine are we free within ourselves, because we do not
        accept the enslavement that is forced upon us; our resistance gives us
        great dignity.

        We get our dignity from our land. It is our life. As long as we are
        in our land, no matter how much we suffer, we will have our dignity.
        If they succeed in expelling us to Jordan, our dignity will be lost
        forever. I have my family's olive trees. Every year I used to have
        precious olive oil from my own trees that I could give generously to
        my friends and neighbors. Now Israel has killed half of my trees and
        imprisoned the rest. These trees are like my own children. It is a
        terrible, terrible sorrow and shame for me each day to know that I am
        powerless to help them. Now, when we need olive oil for ourselves, we
        have to go to the store and buy it. But I was one who could generously
        give olive oil to my friends and relatives.

        We get our dignity from Islam, as women, and as human beings. In our
        culture, before Islam, women were just seen as property, baby girls
        could be buried alive. We see women in many parts of the world who
        have no dignity. Islam has given us our full rights as women in every
        sense, and full equality with every other human being. In the Qur'an
        God says that he has given the same dignity to every human being—it
        does not depend on whether you are male or female, or whether you are
        Muslim or from another religion, each of us has the same worth.

        What do you expect and hope for in the future?

        Things will get much, much worse. It is written that we will suffer
        like this until near the end.

        Our hope comes from knowing that Jesus will come back and will remove
        all injustice from the earth, and at last the race of mankind will be
        free to live in peace and equality.

        What do you believe should be the political outcome for Palestine?

        If only they would all go back where they came from, we could live in
        peace in our homes and land again.

        We can never live with them; if someone has killed your children, can
        you accept them as a neighbor?

        We already live with them, of course we can in the future.

        We cannot live with them, we must have a state, and they must have a
        state. About all the refugees who have their homes and lands in
        Israel, I don't know……..

        We can live with them in one state, the refugees must be given back
        their homes and their land.

        If we have an Islamic state on all of Palestine, it is the only way we
        will be able to live together, us and them, because Islam is the only
        system where equality between people of different religions is protected

        Do you think negotiations or armed struggle is the best strategy at
        this time?

        Of course, if we could get our rights back without violence, that
        would be the best way. If negotiations ever worked, then we should use
        that instead of armed struggle, but they have never produced anything.
        We have to keep fighting to protect our land and our community. How
        could it be right to do nothing when daily they are attacking our
        lives and our land?

        As a woman would you participate in armed struggle?

        I admire women who do, but I myself don't think I'm capable of it. My
        contribution is to study and be a good mother to my children.

        No, I don't think women should carry weapons.

        Yes! It would be a great honor to fight for my country!

        Yes! How I wish we had the chance to be trained as soldiers like all
        the Israeli women are. I am not married yet, but I hope that one day I
        will have a son who will give his life for our country to be free.
        The Americans, Europeans and Israelis place more value on the blood of
        their dogs and cats than they do on the blood of Palestinians. None of
        us can ever forget the sight of little Huda screaming for her father
        on the beach of Gaza, throwing herself on the sand next to his dead
        body over and over. No one in the world has expressed their outrage,
        or even sorrow, to us about these atrocities against us. They care
        deeply about the Mundial, and Huda's agony is an interruption, a
        distraction, from the soccer score. Our blood is so, so cheap to the
        world, and Israeli blood is so valuable. They do not see our humanity
        at all.

        How do you find your sense of your own humanity, when all the world is
        telling you your life, your death, your blood is worthless?

        When it comes down to that, we know that God sees us, even if we are
        suffering in an Israeli torture chamber and no one in our family knows
        if where we are or if we are alive or dead, we know that God sees us
        and knows our value, our humanity. We belong to him, and in that is
        our worth, and our hope, our fates are in his hands and our lives are
        very precious to him, no matter how worthless they are to our brothers
        and sisters in the human race, and in the end, that is what matters.
        We know who we are. Our lives, our deaths, our suffering, our hopes,
        our disappointment, are not insignificant. Yesterday I met a new
        appointee from the German government in Jerusalem, a young guy with an
        American accent. He was happy that Hamas and Fatah had agreed on the
        Prisoners' Document. Great, we've gotten Hamas to recognize Israel, he
        said. Now we just have to get them to renounce armed struggle, and
        then get rid of these ideas of an Islamic state. The problem is when
        we bring democracy to the middle east, we always have to deal with the
        challenge of making sure there is a secular state when so many people
        want an Islamic state. (Jewish states, apparently, are just dandy.)
        What these Palestinians just don't understand, he said, is that armed
        struggle won't get them anywhere. Haven't they learned anything, after
        all these years? It's really hurting their image in the international
        community. Well, I said sarcastically, since you understand this so
        well, and none of the Palestinians have been able to grasp it, maybe
        you should explain it to them then. Oh, I am, every Palestinian I
        meet, he said with sincerity.

        And what is that dazzling offer that Europe will extend, if
        Palestinians promise to sit on their hands and open their mouths? In
        exchange for your dignity, what? Maybe longlife, lifelong food
        rations? Maybe the chance to clean toilets in Israel, and the dream
        that your grandchildren could do the same?

        I have not been here too long, but it is long enough to be sure of one
        thing: It is the Europeans, the Israelis, and the Americans who fail
        to grasp the central truth, after all these decades of trying to
        finetune the catastrophe they have engineered in Palestine: these
        women and men and children, who carry their heads so high, know who
        they are. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives, but they are not
        prepared to sacrifice their dignity. While the world discusses the
        moral or strategic aspects of armed resistance, there is no confusion
        about these issues here. Undefended, dignity—and the land—would be
        lost, and death would be better. With or without your permission, they
        will continue to fight.

        this letter was received by NECDP, New England Committee toi Defend


        by Michael A. Hoffman II
        June 26, 2006

        What's all this about a "kidnapped" Israeli soldier? When Palestinians
        are abducted by Israelis the US media terms it an "apprehension" and
        describe the Palestinian victims as having been "taken into custody."
        There is no international alarm or outcry.

        Every time a Palestinian father or brother is spirited to an Israeli
        concentration camp the operation is never, under any circumstances,
        described as a kidnapping, but rather in terms of a legitimate police
        action by legitimate authorities: "seizure, arrest, apprehension,

        But when Palestinians apprehend an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit,
        suddenly we have a "terrorist kidnapping" on our hands and the
        Palestinian people are threatened by the Israelis with collective
        punishment and mass murder.

        Whenever an Israeli killer -- or potential killer -- is made a
        prisoner of war by the Palestinian resistance that is one less state
        terrorist available to shoot their children in the head.

        It is absolutely incumbent upon the Palestinians, however, to treat
        the Israeli combatant they have taken into custody better than
        Israelis treat Palestinians, and Americans treat Muslims at Abu Ghraib
        and Gitmo. The Israeli soldier must be treated humanely, according to
        the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. The failure to do so causes
        the Palestinians to descend to the level of the Israelis and the
        regime of George W. Bush.

        The Talmudic racism inherent in this latest incident is palpable. The
        lesson here is that no one on earth has the right to arrest a Judaic
        soldier. His person is sacred and inviolable. But the Israelis may do
        whatever they like to disposable Palestinian Amalekites: put them in
        concentration camps, shoot them and their children in the head, or
        blow their religious leaders out of wheelchairs with missiles.

        Judaism exempts itself from the rules it demands for everyone else.


        Palestinians in Gaza have

        NO lights
        NO refrigeration
        NO food
        NO cooking
        NO baking
        NO cooling fans
        NO water (pumped by electricity)
        NO Drinking WATER (pumped by electricity)
        NO sewage (pumped by electricity)
        NO communication IN or OUT
        NO radio
        NO Internet
        NO email
        NO gasoline
        NO cooking oil
        NO work

        Most critical of all is NO DRINKING WATER. Sitting ducks for 6
        months minimum - what will people of Gaza do?

        Just as importantly, what will we do?


        Israel's Appalling Bombing in Gaza

        Starving in the Dark

        On the excuse of rescuing one kidnapped soldier, Israeli is now
        bombing the Gaza Strip and is poised to re-invade. It has also
        arrested a third of the Palestinian parliament, wrecking even its
        fragile illusion of capacity and reducing the already-empty vessel of
        the Palestinian Authority into broken shards.

        In the shambles, Palestinians may be observing one bitter pill of
        compensation: vicious angling by Fatah to reclaim control of
        Palestinian national politics and its rivalry with Hamas are now
        rendered obsolete. Even the dogged international community cannot
        maintain its dogged pretense that the PA is actually capable of
        any governance at all. The demise of the disastrous Oslo model,
        Israel's device to ensure its final dismemberment of Palestinian land
        and its fatal cooptation of the Palestinian national movement, may
        finally be at hand. Perhaps Palestinian unity again has a chance.

        But no one knows what will replace the PA. It is therefore not
        surprising that this transformed diplomatic landscape is absorbing the
        principal attention of an anxious international community.

        Nevertheless, politics should not be the greatest international
        concern. For over in Gaza, one appalling act must now eclipse all
        thoughts of "road maps" or "mutual gestures": on Wednesday, Israeli
        war planes repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza's only power
        plant. About 700,000 of Gaza's 1.3 million people now have no
        electricity, and word is that power cannot be restored for six months.

        It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that
        are monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No
        lights, no refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer
        heat. No going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel's
        impending military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions
        shake the cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are
        doubtless wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: smashing
        windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults,
        old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing
        with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding
        of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops
        (for the few who have them), and so no way to get news of how long
        this nightmare might go on.

        But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the
        refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people
        cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas.
        When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking.
        No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread ­ the staples
        Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is
        no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)

        And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no
        water. Gaza's public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps,
        too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the
        electricity is out for at least six months.

        The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage,
        due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli
        settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be
        drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by
        electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled
        before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And
        people will soon have neither.

        Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera
        breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely
        packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and
        clinics aren't functioning, either, because there is no electricity.

        Finally, people can't leave. None of the neighboring countries have
        resources to absorb a million desperate and impoverished refugees:
        logistically and politically, the flood would entirely destabilize
        Egypt, for example. But Palestinians in Gaza can't seek sanctuary with
        their relatives in the West Bank, either, because they can't get out
        of Gaza to get there. They can't even go over the border into Egypt
        and around through Jordan, because Israel will no longer allow people
        with Gaza identification cards to enter the West Bank. In any case,
        a cordon of Palestinian police are blocking people from trying to
        scramble over the Egyptian border--and war refugees have tried,
        through a hole blown open by militants, clutching packages and children.

        In short, over a million civilians are now trapped, hunkered in their
        homes listening to Israeli shells, while facing the awful prospect,
        within days or weeks, of having to give toxic water to their children
        that may consign them to quick but agonizing deaths.

        One woman near the Rafah border, taking care of her nephews, spoke to
        BBC: "If I am frightened in front of them I think they will die of
        fear." If the international community does nothing, her children may
        soon die anyway.

        The astonishing scale of this humanitarian situation is indeed matched
        only by the deafening drizzle of international reaction. "Of course it
        is understandable that [the Israelis] would want to go after those who
        kidnapped their soldier," says Kofi Anan (while the Palestinian
        population cowers in the dark listening to thundering explosions
        demolish their society), "but it has to be done in such a way that
        civilian populations are not made to suffer." Even as Israel bombs
        smash Gaza's roadways, the G-8 stands up on its hind-legs to intone,
        "We call on Israel to exercise utmost restraint in the current
        crisis." How about the Russians, now angling for position in the new
        "Great Game" of the Middle East?

        "The right and duty of the government of Israel to defend the lives
        and security of its citizens are beyond doubt," says Russia's foreign
        ministry, as though poor Corporal Shalit warrants any of this mayhem,
        "But this should not be done at the cost of many lives and the lives
        of many Palestinian civilians, by massive military strikes with heavy
        consequences for the civilian population."

        And what says noble Europe, proud font of human rights conventions,
        architects of the misión civilizatrice? "The EU remains deeply
        concerned," mumbles the mighty defenders of humanitarian law, "about
        the worsening security and humanitarian developments." Seemingly soggy
        phrases like "deeply concerned" are diplomatic code for "We are
        seriously unhappy." But under these circumstances, "remains deeply
        concerned" suggests that this staggering crime is just one more
        sobering moment in the failed "road map."

        Diplomatic bubbles of unreality in the Middle East are the norm rather
        than the exception, but at some point the international community must
        face the very unwelcome fact that it needs to change gear. A country
        that claims kinship among the western democracies of Europe is
        behaving like a murderous rogue regime, using any excuse to reduce
        over a million people to utter human misery and even mass death.
        Plastering Corporal Shalit's face over this policy is no more
        convincing that South African newspapers emblazoning the picture of
        one poor murdered white doctor over their coverage of the 1976 Soweto

        Israel has done many things argued to be war crimes: mass house
        demolitions, closing whole cities for weeks, indefinite "preventative"
        detentions, massive land confiscation, the razing of thousands of
        square miles of Palestinian olive groves and agriculture, systematic
        physical and mental torture of prisoners, extrajudicial killings,
        aerial bombardment of civilian areas, collective punishment of every
        description in defiance of the Geneva Conventions--not to mention the
        general humiliation and ruin of the indigenous people under its
        military control. But destroying the only power source for a trapped
        and defenseless civilian population is an unprecedented step toward
        barbarity. It reeks, ironically, of the Warsaw Ghetto. As we flutter
        our hands about tectonic political change, we must take pause: in the
        eyes of history, what is happening in Gaza may come to eclipse them all.

        Dr. Virginia Tilley is a professor of political science, currently
        working in South Africa. She can be reached at tilley @ hws.edu.


        In Gaza, Seeking Shelter From Israeli Fire
        Missile Strikes Set Interior Ministry Ablaze
        By Scott Wilson
        Washington Post Foreign Service
        Friday, June 30, 2006; A23

        BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip, June 29 -- Fatin Shabaat left home here
        Thursday with her three hip-high children, looking for safety from a
        slow-moving Israeli military assault launched to free a 19-year-old
        soldier being held by Palestinian gunmen.

        Israeli artillery batteries lobbed shells around this farming
        community in the Gaza Strip's northeastern corner throughout the day,
        after leaflets dropped from the sky warned residents to remain clear
        of Israeli military operations. Shells whistled overhead, slamming
        into the fields and dunes where Palestinian gunmen regularly fire
        crude rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot, a white smudge along a
        ridgeline three miles away.

        Although she never received one of the written warnings, Shabaat
        clutched her children, ages 2, 3 and 4, and headed to her father's
        home in the town center, far from the dirt paths that have served in
        the past as routes for Israeli tanks. An Israeli airstrike had already
        left her without electricity, along with about 700,000 other residents
        of the strip, and artillery shells were falling close to her back yard.

        "This is only going to get worse," said Shabaat, 25, who despite the
        impending clash favors keeping the Israeli soldier captive until at
        least some Palestinian prisoners are released from Israeli jails. "We
        will not get anything otherwise. And they are going to invade anyway.
        This soldier is just an excuse."

        Shabaat's grim prognosis regarding the crisis over the captured
        Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was echoed in the West Bank, where
        the Israeli military arrested more than 60 officials from the
        governing Hamas movement in a pre-dawn sweep. The detainees included
        two dozen members of parliament and nine cabinet ministers, more than
        a third of the Hamas cabinet.

        [Early Friday morning, Israeli military aircraft fired missiles at the
        Interior Ministry headquarters in Gaza City, setting the building
        ablaze. An army spokesman said the ministry, headed by Saed Siyam of
        Hamas, was being used "for the planning and carrying out of terrorist
        activities." Siyam's office was struck directly.

        [Israeli airstrikes also hit several other targets Friday, including
        the headquarters of a new Interior Ministry militia dominated by Hamas
        members and a building that military officials said was used by
        al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Fatah party's armed wing. Missiles also
        struck roads in the north and south of the strip, some landing near a
        key bridge that had already been hit this week. There were no
        immediate reports of injuries.]

        Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government holds Hamas
        responsible for Shalit's capture, which occurred Sunday during an
        attack on an army post just outside Gaza's southeastern corner that
        left two soldiers dead. The radical Islamic movement's armed wing was
        involved in the attack and is one of three groups demanding the
        release of 421 Palestinian women and minors in Israeli prisons in
        exchange for information about Shalit's welfare.

        Israel has arrested elected members of the Palestinian legislature
        before, but never as many as it did Thursday.

        Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the
        detained Hamas officials would be either charged and brought to trial
        or released in the days ahead. He said plans to arrest Hamas officials
        for belonging to what Israel designates a terrorist organization had
        been in the works since Hamas's armed wing ended a 15-month cease-fire
        with Israel after the June 9 explosion on a Gaza beach that killed
        seven members of a Palestinian family.

        Regev denied speculation that the Hamas legislators would be offered
        in exchange for Shalit's freedom. "Hamas's involvement in terrorism is
        the reason for these arrests, nothing more," he said.

        But Palestinian political analysts said they believed the arrests were
        timed to undermine a rare political agreement reached this week by
        leaders of the two leading Palestinian political movements, Fatah and

        The two parties have been at odds since Hamas's electoral victory in
        January over how to respond to the international economic sanctions
        that have choked off most of the government's funds. The United States
        and European Union also designate Hamas a terrorist organization, a
        classification that led to a freeze of most foreign aid.

        Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the secular
        Fatah movement, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas agreed in
        principle this week to a unified political program that would usher in
        a national unity government in the weeks ahead and endorse the
        creation of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East
        Jerusalem, territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

        Since it was founded nearly two decades ago, Hamas has called for an
        Islamic state across a far larger territory that includes Israel.
        Abbas and others had hoped the shift in Hamas's position would
        persuade Israel to revive peace talks, which have been dormant for
        more than five years.

        "I don't think that, at a time ministers are in prison, a national
        unity government with Fatah can be established," said Ali Jarbawi, a
        political science professor at Beir Zeit University in the West Bank.
        "It won't have legitimacy with Palestinian public opinion. What Israel
        did through these arrests is interfere in a process that would
        stabilize internal Palestinian relations, thus allowing it to continue
        to claim that there is no Palestinian partner" for peace talks.

        This town, which has been under the arc of Israeli military fire for
        months, readied itself in small ways Thursday for what many of its
        30,000 residents feared was an imminent assault. But Israeli Defense
        Minister Amir Peretz later postponed a ground incursion into Beit
        Hanoun, which had been scheduled to begin Thursday evening, after
        Egyptian diplomats requested more time to negotiate Shalit's release.

        A senior Israeli military official said Peretz did so after signs that
        Khaled Mashal, Hamas's political leader in exile, could be softening
        his position. Israeli officials and Egyptian diplomats say Mashal, who
        lives in the Syrian capital of Damascus, has been the most important
        voice inside the organization opposing Shalit's release.

        "If he would change his mind and come around, he really has a lot of
        influence," the senior military official said. "We will try to wait as
        long as we can if we feel pressure is being put on him. We are not in
        a hurry."

        But the official also said the operation here was not only about
        freeing Shalit but also about "weakening the Hamas government" and
        ending rocket fire into southern Israel. In that sense, the official
        said, Shalit's release through diplomacy may not be enough to
        guarantee "our strategy of making sure they know that there will be a
        very high price to pay for future kidnappings."

        Before the operation was suspended, some residents here decamped to
        stay with relatives, while others prepared to retreat. Some accused
        Israel of using the capture of one soldier -- at a time when the
        Israeli government holds 8,503 Palestinians in prison -- to stage an
        attack that would do little to free him.

        Others fired rockets toward Israel. Two of the missiles traced white
        contour trails against the blue sky during a brief lull in the Israeli
        artillery barrage.

        "We have a plan to withdraw if the Israelis attack," said Hamada
        Abdullah Hamada, 31, a sergeant with the Palestinian national forces
        who was manning a makeshift outpost between the town and the Gaza border.

        From the five shipping containers that formed the post, Hamada could
        see flatbed trucks moving Israeli tanks along the border. The two
        rockets rose from behind a nearby agricultural school a quarter-mile
        from Hamada's concrete pillbox, and Israeli guns answered minutes
        later with steady, thumping fire.

        Pointing to the tank movements, Hamada said: "Even before the soldier
        was kidnapped, the Israelis were doing this. They will come in."

        Special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this


        Economic Boycott of the Palestinian Government

        The Price of Not Talking to Hamas
        Bettina Marx

        The situation in Palestine is deteriorating dramatically. However, not
        only Hamas is to be blamed but the EU and other international donors
        as well – their attempt to sideline Hamas has fuelled the current
        crisis. A commentary by Bettina Marx.

        B. Marx: "The lack of prospects is radicalising people." - Thousands
        of civil servants haven't received salaries in nearly four months

        The picture was highly symbolic. After several weeks of boycott, corn
        was finally delivered again to the Gaza Strip from Israel in mid-May.
        Through a hole in the thick concrete wall at Checkpoint Karni, a thin
        stream of corn grains was transported on a conveyor belt and then
        loaded onto a truck on the Palestinian side of the border.

        Karni is the only place where goods are exchanged between Israel and
        the Gaza Strip. Palestinians were handed the food and commodities they
        urgently need as though they were prisoners who get their meals
        through a flap in the door to their cell.

        The election victory of Hamas has led to economic sanctions with
        devastating consequences for the Palestinian territories. From the end
        of January to mid-May, the border was completely closed on seventy
        days. Thanks to international pressure, it was open on a few days, but
        only few goods were delivered to the Gaza Strip on those occasions.

        Direct dependency on the funds

        Sometimes, only five trucks were dealt with; on better days, 150. The
        norm would be 400. The consequences have been dramatic. Sometimes, the
        territories with the world's highest birth rate even lacked milk and
        baby food.

        The European Union and other international donors have stopped
        transferring funds, thus exacerbating the crisis. Salaries that were
        normally covered with money from the EU can no longer be paid. Some
        165,000 public officials – teachers, bureaucrats, doctors, security
        forces – directly depend on these funds. And they are the ones who
        feed their families.

        Normally, these salaries provide a living to some 1.5 million

        Fierce power struggle with the Islamists

        Poverty is getting worse. The lack of prospects is radicalising people
        and fostering anarchy. Many are disgruntled, if not desperate.
        Followers of the Fatah Movement, which lost the elections for
        Parliament, refuse to accept their defeat. They feel that the
        international boycott is supporting their cause, and they are engaging
        in a fierce power struggle with the Islamists. Violence is escalating,
        sometimes to a point resembling civil war, especially in the Gaza Strip.

        The Hamas government faces an intractable dilemma. It is being called
        on to dismiss its election platform and anti-Israeli ideology –
        without talks, without anything in return. Moreover, it is expected to
        maintain peace and order in the Palestinian territories and prevent
        terrorist and missile attacks on Israel.

        At the same time, it has lost the means of doing so. It is neither
        able to set up loyal security forces of its own, nor to pay the police
        recruited by the previous government. Government head Ismail Haniye
        and his ministers cannot even leave the Gaza Strip to make their
        presence felt on the West Bank.

        Demand for democratic institutions

        The Middle East Quartet has proposed that limited financial aid be
        reinstituted but given directly to the people, not to the government.
        However, that approach will not solve the problem. Should funds be
        channelled through Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian
        National Authority (PNA), on the other hand, things will again be as
        they were in the days of Yassir Arafat.

        The late PLO leader and first PNA president paid those loyal to him as
        he saw fit, funnelling funds to undisclosed recipients – including

        For years, Israel and the international community have demanded that
        Palestinians set up democratic institutions, create the post of a
        prime minister, and hold elections. Palestinians have now fulfilled
        all of these demands. They have elected a government they hope will
        deliver more than the corrupt Fatah leadership did.

        Instead of punishing Palestinians for doing so and thus driving them
        into the arms of extremist groups, one should contact the new
        government immediately, offer support, and encourage it to start
        negotiations with Israel. After all, if one does not talk with Hamas
        today, one will eventually have to deal with Al Quida terrorism.

        Dr. Bettina Marx works as a correspondent for German Public Radio
        (ARD) in Tel Aviv.


        American Muslims for Palestine

        Action Alert

        Call your Congressman and the White House and demand an end to Israeli
        military operations in the Gaza Strip.



        WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS LINE: 202-456-1111

        WHITE HOUSE SWITCHBOARD: 202-456-1414

        WHITE HOUSE FAX: 202-456-2461

        Talking Points:

        The Israeli Army once again is amassing in large numbers for an
        operation against Gaza¹s defenseless civilian population. Far from
        being in response to the holding of a solider beginning on June 25th,
        the Israeli Military has been conducting daily bombardment on Gaza the
        result of which the killing of 50 civilians this month alone including
        members of a whole family enjoying a day at the beach.

        The US should send a clear message to the Israelis and the
        Palestinians that all human lives are equal and both parties should
        act with utmost restraint and take needed measures to ensure the
        safety and well-being of all civilians.

        We call on Congress, the White House and State Department to remind
        Israel of its obligation as the top recipient of US foreign aid, which
        should be directed at peaceful means and not at escalating the tension
        in the region.

        We call of the US Congress and Administration to fulfill their
        obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention and ensure the safety and
        security of persons under occupation. The US as a contracting party is
        responsible and should act in accordance to bring an end to violations
        of the 4th Geneva convention including the collective punishment
        visited on Gaza¹s civilian population by the Israeli army.

        We call on Congress, the White House and the State Department to
        demand Israel¹s adherence to the guidelines governing the use of US
        made weapons provided at tax-payers expense. It is the law of this
        land that no US made weapons provided to a foreign government be used
        in offensive military operations or targeting civilian population,
        both of which have been violated regularly by Israel. Uphold US law
        and demand Israel¹s compliance.

        Israel¹s military actions supported by US funding and weapons only
        increases the level of mistrust and continue the loss of US standing
        across the Arab and Muslim World. The US should not have a double
        standard in the conduct of its foreign policy and should heed the
        results of the most recent Pew research, ³THE GREAT DIVIDE: HOW
        WESTERNERS AND MUSLIMS VIEW EACH OTHER.² (www.pewglobal.org
        <http://www.pewglobal.org/> )

        We call for the immediate end of all military operations and embarking
        on a diplomatic approach governed by the rich body of international
        law and existing UN resolutions.

        Congress and Senate e-mails contacts:


        Enter your state¹s name to get the list of representatives and senators.

        WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS LINE: 202-456-1111
        WHITE HOUSE SWITCHBOARD: 202-456-1414
        WHITE HOUSE FAX: 202-456-2461



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