Major success for the anti-settlements campaign: Multilock to close West Bank factory

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

Maariv and the financial paper The Marker report that the Israeli company Multilock is leaving the West Bank because of human rights organizations’ pressure. The locks company will move from the Barkan industrial zone, located on the road to Ariel, to a site in the town of Yavne.

This is from Maariv (translation by Israel News Today):

About two years ago, Assa Abloy, the giant Swedish lock manufacturer which owns Multilock, announced its decision to close the factory in Barkan and relocate it within the boundaries of the Green Line.  The company’s public announcement came after human rights organizations and the Church of Sweden, whose representatives visited Barkan, issued a sharply-worded report warning the company’s management that Assa Abloy and its managers were liable to be personally persecuted for violating the international law that forbids building settlements on occupied territory.  After a few days, Assa Abloy announced that it had instructed Multilock to close the factory.

(…)

The Barkan industrial zone has about 120 Israeli factories of various sizes, and Multilock is not the only company that has encountered political trouble due to the location of its factories.  The international company Unilever faces a similar problem to that of Assa Abloy, because the Beigel Beigel factory, which it owns, is located in the Barkan industrial zone.

Unilever tried to sell its share of the factory (51%) for about two years unsuccessfully.  The sale attempts were also politically motivated, following criticism and boycott threats against Unilever.  Two months ago, Unilever announced that it was purchasing the share of the Beigel family in the company (49%) in order to move the factory to inside the Green Line.

The Barkan Wines company also left the Barkan industrial zone for similar reason at the beginning of the decade.  It wanted to expand its exports and therefore moved its activity to Kibbutz Hulda, which is located within the Green Line.


Ynet: “US showing signs of despair from Netanyahu”

Posted: November 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

More than a week passed since PM Benjamin Netanyahu got back from Washington, and still there is no deal on the settlements moratorium. Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s political correspondent, quotes an Israeli source:

“The Americans are showing signs of despair from Netanyahu. They don’t understand what he wants.”

An Israeli minister who is a member of the security cabinet (a decision-making forum within the government) says:

“The negotiations continue, but there are disagreements about some clauses in the document. There are talks with the United States, but things are moving slowly.”

Another cabinet minister adds that “Netanyahu apparently got himself in a mess with these talks. There is no document on the understandings [between Washington and Jerusalem], and it’s not clear when would the cabinet vote. The United States goes on a holiday, which would slow things even further… [However] delays do not mean that Netanyahu will not be able to pass the [settlements] freeze in the Cabinet.”

An American source told Ynet that “the administration is confused. They don’t understand what is it that Netanyahu want.”

It should be remembered that Netanyahu has the authority to fire any minister who opposes his policies, so the PM shouldn’t have any problems getting a decision he wants passed in the cabinet. It won’t be a first time: in 2004 Ariel Sharon fired Uzi Landau, a minister in his government that opposed the pullout from Gaza.

Netanyahu doesn’t prolong the settlements moratorium because that’s his choice, not because he can’t.


Why isn’t Netanyahu promoting the new deal on the settlements?

Posted: November 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , | 18 Comments »

An e-mail I got from an American friend (based in Tel Aviv) in response to my last post makes a noteworthy observation:

An interesting element here is the way American papers are saying Netanyahu agreed to push for a settlement freeze while Israeli media has him, somewhat indifferently, just bringing the American proposals to his cabinet. The difference sounds subtle but it’s not. I haven’t seen a word about Netanyahu arguing before the cabinet why the deal is worthwhile and should be approved. It sounds to me like he told Clinton he’d push, but back in Israel he’s letting his deputies trash a proposal he didn’t want in the first place.

I’m not in Israel right now, so I don’t hear everything that’s being said by the Israeli media, but that’s the impression I’m getting too: Netanyahu is getting credit in the US for agreeing to the new deal, while in Israel he is not going publicly in favor of it. In fact, since the “process” started, Netanyahu hasn’t really prepared the Israeli public for concessions – on the contrary, he is constantly declaring that “the Palestinians are not ready,” thus moving the Israeli public opinion to the right and making future concessions even harder to imagine.

Also worth reading is Mitchell Plitnick take on the new offer. According to Mitchell, since Israel was offered even more by Dennis Ross recently, seeing the new deal as a major setback is “much ado about nothing.” Read his post here.


New deal on moratorium: This administration’s worst move yet?

Posted: November 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

With the new deal, the US might have given up all leverage over Jerusalem for the next two years, agreed to construction in Jerusalem (and ultimately, the rest of the West Bank), and seems to get nothing in return

Like that women in a townhall meeting before the midterms, I am exhausted of defending President Barack Obama. As if the last year wasn’t bad enough, the new deal Netanyahu was offered in exchange for a limited-Jerusalem-excluded-90-days-only moratorium, seems like the administration’s worst move ever.

Netanyahu apparently reached an understanding with Washington that the building freeze would not apply to Jerusalem, and that no further moratorium would be sought following the 90-day period.

(…)

In exchange for a freeze extension, the US would object to international attempts to force a diplomatic agreement on Israel in the UN and in other global forums, while utilizing the American veto power in the UN Security Council.

According to the proposal, the US would also boost its resistance to the de-legitimization campaign against Israel and to attempts by Arab states to deprive Israel’s right to self-defense [what's that? key words for Goldstone? for the Nuclear program?].

Moreover, the US Administration would ask Congress to approve the sale of another 20 advanced fighter jets to Israel worth some $3 billion. This would supplement a comprehensive future Israeli-American security agreement, to be signed alongside a peace deal, in the aims of addressing Israel’s security needs in any future treaty.

The F-35 Jets deal is not the big news here. Sooner or later, the US would have sold the plans to Israel, if only to help Lockheed Martin, who seems to be having troubles selling its new toys to the rest of the world.

The diplomatic assurances are much more troubling. By promising an automatic veto against any international move or any unilateral attempt by the Palestinians do declare independence, the Administration gave up any leverage over Jerusalem in 2011. And since 2012 is elections year, one can say that Netanyahu got a Carte Blanch from Obama and Clinton for the rest of his term.

Furthermore, the administration promised not to demand any more moratoriums, and to exclude Jerusalem from the current one. In other words, the White House agreed not to oppose construction in the settlements starting from January 2011, and to accept all construction in East Jerusalem right now. This is, by itself, a terrible move.

What did the Americans get in return? And what did the Palestinians get? apparently, nothing. The negotiations might resume, but it’s hard to believe that any breakthrough will be reached in the next couple of months. The two sides are simply too far from each other on every key issue. My guess: the Palestinians would end up abandoning the talks or refusing some “generous offer” by Netanyahu. Once more they will be accused of missing their best opportunities. Camp David 2000, all over again.

Nothing is certain, of course. The administration might have gotten some backroom promises from Nettanyahu regarding the upcoming talks. The Israeli Right can try to oppose the new moratorium. In the longer run, the Palestinians could always shut down the PA and put Israel in an impossible position (many people think this could be their best move). But in all these developments, the administration will depend on others. Unless team Obama has a diplomatic plan it wants to impose on both sides, it seems that the White House has played its hand – and lost.


US media more exited about peace talks than Israelis and Palestinians themselves

Posted: September 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Take a look at today’s front pages shown here. The one on the Left is Yedioth Ahronoth’s, Israel’s leading tabloid. On the right is the American NY Post.

yedioth vs. nypost

Yedioth’s top story reads “wave of terrorism”, referring to the two shooting attacks carried out by Hamas militants against settlers in the last 48 hours. On the bottom and on the right side of the page there are health, sports and other magazine stories. The only reference to the peace process is the quote in small print, on the top of the page. It reads: “Netanyahu: I came for an historic compromise.”

The place, the size and the coloring of Netanyahu’s words put his speech in its proper context. But if you get your news from the Post (and let’s hope you don’t), you might actually believe history can be made here.

maariv

This is Maariv, another Israeli tabloid: the front page combines the story of the West Bank attacks and their aftermath, the attempts by settlers to renew construction in the territories and the diplomatic process. The talks themselves don’t get the top story, not even a central image, like they do in the New York Times, shown below. Again, the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media. Bizarre, to say the least.

NY_NYT

As part of a research for a story I’m working on, I recently went through the archives of Maariv and Yedioth from 1993-1994, the years the Oslo accord was negotiated and signed. Entire papers, not just the front pages, dealt with the talks. The same goes for the days of the Camp David summit in 2000. Today on the other hand, nobody in the Middle East really cares about the diplomatic process, and I actually wonder how many even know we might be “one year from a final agreement,” as the White House puts it.

It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The NRP is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades.

The NY Times editorial declared that with optimism and conviction, the talks might lead to an agreement and the administration asked the parties not to give in to cynicism. But the diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big.

The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu-Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing.

As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades. I have a lot of criticism for the way the Israeli media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this time they got it right: for now, this round of talks is a farce.

UPDATE: The Israeli media finally joined the party. Friday’s top story is the summit in Washington, though most pundits remain very skeptic regarding the chances that the talks will have a meaningful result.

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I will be working and writing from New York in the next three months.


Brecht in the West Bank: Israel’s major theaters going to the settlements

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: culture, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.

According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beersheba theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host Tel Aviv’s Cameri theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht

Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”

Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:

To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene degrade (…) we had murders who talk about spiritualism, Arms dealers who play the piano and Military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel's mayor] Ron Nachman?

But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.

It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” Chairman of Jerusalem’s Chan theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take side in the political question.”

Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved this last one.


Ashton Kutcher visited settlements as guest of local settlers and rightwing group

Posted: August 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments »
Ashton Kutcher on his visit to the settlement of Efrat

Ashton Kutcher on his visit to the settlement of Efrat

More details on Ashton Kutcher’s visit(s) to the West Bank this week were published today by the Israeli media.

Apparently Kutcher didn’t only visit Hebron and Jushua’s grave near Nablus on Sunday, but also stopped yesterday at Gush Etzion (south of Bethlehem), were he received a guided tour on the history of Jewish settlements in the region and had lunch.

According to a report by Maariv [Hebrew], The visit was initiated and organized by the Israeli branch of the American Orthodox Union (OU). OU Israel, which receives funds for its activities from the municipality of Gush Etzion settlements [Hebrew], was credited for the photos Maariv and walla.co.il published from Kutcher’s visit to the settlements.

Journalist and culture critic Dafna Lustig, who called Kutcher “a jerk” on her twitter account following his West bank visit, wrote today on walla.co.il [Hebrew] that “Kutcher demonstrated one of the most blind, ignorant and insensitive acts a guest to Israel can do.”

If we assume Ashton Kutcher knew the story of the city of Hebron before the visit, then, like many others, he must believe that the occupation is legitimate and therefore does not have a problem taking this side side on the political map… [But if] Kutcher thinks Hebron is a legitimate tourist attraction just because he is not familiar with its history, than his visit is far more infuriating: we’re not in Beverly Hills and our problems won’t be concealed with the help of Botox. It’s the duty of every person, and certainly one who is so famous, to know where he is going (…) and if he doesn’t know and didn’t bother to find out, than I stand behind what I wrote on Twitter: he is simply a jerk.


Ashton Kutcher visits occupied Hebron and Nablus as Israeli guest, wearing an army hat?!

Posted: August 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

Actor Ashton Kutcher, another one of Hollywood’s Kabbalah casualties, had come to visit Israel as a guest of the Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv. On Saturday night Kutcher even partied in the birthday party of the Center’s founder, Rabbi Shraga Berg.

Yesterday, Kutcher took his spiritual trip one step too far: he went with his Israeli hosts to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the so-called “Joshua’s Grave” in a Palestinian village called Kafel-Hareth, near Nablus. At the grave, he was greeted by Colonel Avi Gil, commander of the Ephraim Brigade, who presented him with the brigade’s baseball hat.

The Ephraim Brigade is in charge of the Palestinian cities of Tul Karem and Kalkiliah, and the area east of them.

In the picture below, published on the Israeli news site walla.co.il [Hebrew], you can see Kutcher wearing the brigade’s hat yesterday evening, during a basketball game of the Israeli national team in Tel Aviv (more pics here). The caption at the bottom of the article says that Kutcher is “looking looks like an overly enthusiastic Birthright kid“.

Ashton kutcher with army hat (photo: berni ardov/walla.co.il)

Ashton Kutcher with army hat (photo: berni ardov/walla.co.il)

I wonder if Ashton Kutcher knows what poor judgment he demonstrated yesterday. Both Nablus and Hebron are well within the occupied territories. For more than 40 years now, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in these cities have no political or civil rights, can’t travel, work or study freely, and are tried in Israeli military courts under British colonial laws. The area of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is particularly nasty. Entire streets are forbidden to Palestinians, kept only for the use of a tiny and radical settlers’ community, which frequently harass and abuse the Arab residents.

Did anyone tell Ashton Kutcher that in 1994 a Jewish Terrorist named Baruch Goldstien (another resident of Jewish Hebron) opened fire on the Arabs praying there, killing 29 and wounding more than a hundred? Does Kutcher understand that coming to Hebron to pray with the Jewish community there is like riding into a black neighborhood in Alabama, 1950, with a KKK group? Does he realize that going to Nablus with an army hat is seen in the same way as going there on a Tank?

I don’t oppose the right of Jews to pray anywhere, just as I think Arabs should have this right (most of the Palestinian population is forbidden from entering their holy sites in Jerusalem), but context is everything, and right now the context in the West Bank is that of the occupation and the settlements.

If Ashton Kutcher wanted so badly to visit these holy places, he should have done it as a guest of the Palestinians. I’m sure they would have been happy to host him. But then he might have faced a different problem: the Israeli tendency to prevent foreigners from entering the occupied territories on the Palestinian’s invitation.

UPDATE: on Monday, Kutcher had another visit to the West bank, this time as a guest of the settlers themselves.


Bedouin village al-Arakib destroyed again, police to sue cost of evacuation from residents

Posted: August 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

the ruins of al Arakiv (photo: activestills.org)

The Bedouin village al-Arakib, in the northern Negev, was destroyed again today. Hundreds of policemen blocked the access to the village, removed the residents from the temporary homes they constructed, and razed the place with bulldozers.

Al-Arakib was destroyed for the first time last week, only to be rebuilt later by residents and volunteers in the following days. According to news site Ynet, 10 temporary structures were constructed in al-Arakib in the past week. They were all destroyed today.

Arab Knesset member Taleb El-Sana (Raam-Taal) fainted after being removed by force from one of the homes. He was evacuated to a hospital in nearby Beersheba.

Al-Arakib spokesman and local resident Dr. Awad Abu-Farikh told Ynet that

“The black-clad special unit forces are the true face of (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman’s democracy. This operation is the first step in the uprooting of many villages. We shall return to our villages, build our homes and not leave this place”.

Israeli police announced that it will sue the village for the cost of its evacuation. the cost of last week’s operation alone was estimated at 2 million Shekels (500,000 USD).

The village of al-Arakib stands near the place of the historical al-Arakiv, which was built around the turn of the 19th century, when most of the Bedouin population of the Negev (Israel’s southern desert) abandoned nomadic life and settled in small villages. In this post [Hebrew] you can see the ruins of the old al-Arakib, which like many other Arab settlements, was destroyed between 1948 and 1951. Since then, the people of al-Arakib have been trying to regain access to their lands.

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One of the comments to my previous post on al-Arakib referred to the fact that the Bedouin settlement was declared illegal in Israeli court, and this is the reason for its evacuation. I have a couple of points concerning this matter:

(a) The Israeli government is applying its laws in a very selective way. Just a few weeks ago, the government decided to back a law that would recognize the Jewish farms that were built illegally in the Negev during the last decade. At the same time, the state would not recognize more then 40 Bedouin villages, who are sitting on the same land for decades – many of them before the state was born. The state also refuses to evacuate the West Bank’s Jewish outposts that Israel itself views as illegal (not to be confused with the vast majority of so-called “legal” settlements). So the logic here is very simple: in all regions of “disputed” land, Jews are encouraged to settle and grab as much land as they can, while Arabs are being pushed away.

(b) Regarding the rule of law itself: Israel has introduced in the 50′s a whole set of laws that would make it impossible for many none Jews to have legal claim for lands, even if it was recognized as their own before the state of Israel was born. Any person who didn’t have legal documentation of his land and/or was temporarily displaced in the war of 1948 and the years to follow lost his rights to the land. This is part of what made the people of al-Arakib “invaders” to their own home. So it’s not only a question of government policy: the entire legal system on the issue of land ownership distorted and discriminating.

For further reading, I recommend this excellent post by Eyal Niv, explaining how Israel is pushing the Bedouin population from their lands.


The New York Times visits South Mount Hebron

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments »

If all opinion makers visited the hills South of Hebron – like NYT’s Nicholas Kristof just did – the occupation would end in a few months.

Hebron city, with a community of extreme settlers in its heart, is bad enough, but South Mount Hebron is even worse. The Palestinians there are as poor as you can find in the West Bank, many of them leaving in caves, and the settlers – many of them from the so-called ‘illigal outposts’ – are as violent as they come. In recent years, the army started escorting the Palestinian kids on their long march to school, because the settlers threw stones at them. You can see it on this video:

10 years ago I did a one month reserve service in South Mount Hebron. Even then, before the second Intifada, the army handed these so called “illegal” settlements all the protection and help they needed in their effort to push the Palestinians out of the area. Soldiers escorted Jewish farmers when they herd their sheep on the tiny Palestinian fields; when fights or riots broke the Jews always went unpunished, while Palestinians were harassed, arrested and sometimes deported to Hebron city. Since then, the settlements grew and the situation of the Palestinians deteriorated.

I served in most areas in the West Bank and Gaza, and the settlers I talked to in South Hebron were by far the most racists I’ve ever met. Some of them were from the US and South Africa; many held an image of a biblical fight between Jewish and Palestinians shepherds, while others saw this as the new Wild West. One head of a family suggested I leave my gun at the base and treat the Palestinians with a whip. “You’ll gain more respect this way,” he said. Most Israelis will resent such statements, and the hills’ settlers have a very bad public image, yet what matter in South Mount Hebron is that the entire system is on the settlers side.

When we finished our term in the area, I told my CO that I would not serve in the occupied territory anymore (as readers of the blog know, I broke this promise last year).

As for the Time’s Nicolas Kristof, his visit to South Hebron lead him to a conclusion that is not often heard on American MSM (my Italic):

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.

Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”

It’s fair to acknowledge that there are double standards in the Middle East, with particular scrutiny on Israeli abuses. After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.

None of that changes the ugly truth that our ally, Israel, is using American military support to maintain an occupation that is both oppressive and unjust.

You can read regular reports on the situation in South Hebron on Jeseph Dana’s blog.