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The Gaza conflict may have only lasted 22 days but its impact was one that has had far reaching consequences around the world. Not only did it lead to the ground-breaking Goldstone Report, hailed by many as the first real international attempt to hold Israel accountable for its actions in the region, but it also inflamed passionate public emotions and discourse across the globe. A rash of protests, marches, rallies and demonstrations against the Israeli aggression could be found in countries from Spain to America, and London was no exception. Within hours of the first Israeli air strikes against the civilian Gazan population, anti-war groups and other interested parties had arranged what was to be the first of many demonstrations, vigils and protests.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Arabs and non-Arabs, took to the streets to voice their horror and united opposition to the Israeli bombardment of the most populated region in the world.

However, many young protesters are now beginning to pay the price for their opposition to that conflict. Yesterday and today, 29th and 30th October 2009, many of those who took part in the London demonstrations were hauled before the West London Magistrates Court in Hammersmith. This included demonstrators who protested in the events on Sunday 28th December and Monday 29th December, both outside the Israeli embassy as well as the 3rd and 10th January.

Those young people, many of whom were attending their first ever demonstration, faced very severe consequences for their roles in that December/January opposition to the Israeli offensive.

As a result of the protests, primarily of the 3rd and 10th January, in the last two days alone 69 people have been charged with criminal offences. The primary charge, which applied to 61 out of the 69 cases were for violent disorder. Of all of the arrests made, judging from the names alone, almost all were young Muslim men.

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Gaza thirsts as sewage crisis mounts

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Gaza’s aquifer and only natural freshwater source is “in danger of collapse,” the UN is warning.

Engineers have long been battling to keep the densely populated strip’s water and sewage system limping along.

But in September the UN Environment Programme warned that damage to the underground aquifer – due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, conflict, and years of overuse and underinvestment – could take centuries to reverse if it is not halted now. Monther Shoblak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipality Water Utility, sniffs the air at the Beit Lahia water treatment plant and smiles.

“I’m happy when I smell sewage,” he jokes, “it means the turbines are working.”

Propellers are agitating the frothy sludge in one of the lagoons, aerating it to help bacteria digest it.

He says the machinery sometimes falls silent during the power cuts that plague most of Gaza.

But the mirror-smooth pond next to it is a perpetual concern.

The plant is handling twice its capacity and is only able to partially treat the sewage.

Lagoons designed to allow treated clean water to infiltrate through Gaza’s sandy soil back down into the aquifer are instead funnelling sewage straight back into the groundwater

In addition, with several years of drought and the digging of hundreds of illegal, unregulated wells, the UN Environmental Programme says at least three times more water is extracted than is replenished each year.

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Gaza we are Coming

A moving docu-thriller.

In August 2008, two wooden Greek ships laden with 44 activists from 17 different countries managed something no other vessel had in 41 years and broke the marine blockade that Israel has unilaterally imposed in Gaza, in contravention of international law.

The mission was the brainchild of the Free Gaza Movement, founded in 2006, who realised that the only realistic way of breaking through the blockade was via the sea.

However the project was fraught with delays and risks from the outset and in the words of Paul Larudee from the group: “This project died a thousand deaths and every time it was about to die someone, somebody new, stepped forward to save the project.”

The last such person was Vangelis Pissias, a Greek who was touched by the Palestinian issue during his youth in Egypt and provided the boats for the group to undertake the mission to Gaza.

All involved were aware of the perilous nature of the mission. Previous attempts have been thwarted and boats even exploded. Activists have also been found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Gaza, We Are Coming, is a special documentary that charts the history of the project to break the blockade of Gaza by sea.

It explores the motives of those involved including the ordinary Greeks who volunteered to participate in this dangerous but successful operation.

It also recounts how the boats were built secretly in Greek shipyards, the logistics involved, the attempts to thwart the mission and why it was laden with such historical importance and pressure to succeed.

Lunch with the FT: Daniel Barenboim

The music in Barenboim’s life never stops but in the West-Eastern Divan, named after a collection of Goethe poems evoking western awareness of eastern culture, it shares the limelight with political activism. He sees the orchestra as a model for dialogue in the Middle East – an example of how to break the wall of hatred between peoples. Its members are drawn not just from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but also Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran. They share accommodation, food, transport and music desks.

Barenboim himself has taken Palestinian citizenship, a move that, along with his attempts to play Wagner in Israel and his groundbreaking West Bank concert with the Divan in 2005, incenses many fellow Jews. His activism has also been criticised by Palestinians, who argue that dialogue is counterproductive until Israel acknowledges basic Palestinian rights.

Barenboim’s assistant has warned me that “everything is fluid” – a polite way of saying the maestro’s attitude to lunch, like that to rehearsals and performances, is a miracle of improvisation. He is talking to someone I assume to be a colleague but breaks off to acknowledge my arrival, bidding me sit on the chair next to him. “Have you met Patrice Chéreau?” he asks, indicating the distinguished French director, screenwriter and actor seated opposite. I scramble for an appropriate response, murmuring something about my first encounter with Chéreau’s work back in the 1980s.

“But what about Tristan? Did you see Tristan?” interrupts Barenboim, referring to the Wagner opera he and Chéreau produced at La Scala two years ago. Yes, I really liked it, I reply, trying to convince them I am not making up compliments for their benefit. “Why do critics always have to apologise for saying nice things?” asks Barenboim mischievously. The joke is on me but it fulfils its purpose: we all laugh. Chéreau slips away, the room clears and lunch can begin.

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The continuing Nakba

Walk down what was formerly Al-Borj Street in Haifa, Israel, and you might catch sight of an old Jerusalem-stone building with arched doorways and windows cemented-over and a large Re/Max (an international real estate franchise) banner draped across the front. The house belongs to the Kanafani family, most of whom are living in exile in Lebanon but some of whom are now living as far away from home as San Francisco.

Defined as “absentee property” under Israeli law, the house is one of thousands of properties owned by Palestinian refugees who were forced from their lands by Jewish militias or fled during the war of 1948, in what would be remembered as the Palestinian “Nakba” – the Catastrophe. The Israeli Absentee Property Law of 1950 established the Custodian of Absentee Property to safeguard these homes until a resolution would be reached regarding the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

For-sale signs have now appeared on dozens of these buildings across the state, and many have already been sold to private owners, frustrating the refugees’ legal right to recover their homes. A grave breach of international law, Israel’s sales of Palestinian homes is severing the refugees’ connection to the land – the linchpin for negotiations in their right of return to their homeland.

For displaced Palestinians, however, this phase of the Nakba is not limited to these illegal land sales by Israel. Eleven new unlawful settler outposts were established last week in the West Bank, undermining Israeli credibility in their discussions with the United States to freeze settlement expansion. Furthermore, a complete settlement freeze is unlikely as Israeli leaders claim that some construction is too far along to be halted, entitling the settlers to further entrench themselves upon Palestinian property.

Read more…

Who will save the Palestinians?

Mark LeVine in Al Jazeera:

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According to David Theo Goldberg, a South African scholar, the example of the defeat of apartheid in his country points to the importance of “de-normalising” the Israeli occupation – showing the world that its actions are not normal, and cannot be justified with claims of self-defence or security.

Instead, Palestinian terrorism, first by the PLO and later by Hamas and other groups, helped to normalise the occupation, enabling the Israeli government to transform an occupation that has always been about settlement into one premised on legitimate security needs.

Rhetoric matters too.

When during the past year Hamas leaders talked proudly of making “death an industry of the Palestinian people” and creating “human shields” composed of old people and children, or declared Jewish children everywhere to have become legitimate targets of murder (as did Hamas commander Mahmoud Zahar in a televised broadcast on January 5), the movement helped normalise the intensifying siege on Gaza, playing into deep-seated Western – and particularly American and Israeli – stereotypes of Muslim irrationality and brutality.

Indeed, such statements have long made it easier for the media, and the public, to ignore or even justify similarly racist or bigoted statements by Israeli leaders.

In this context, once the truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas in June 2008 broke down, the relaunching of Qassam rockets – even if they were in response to an Israeli provocation – normalised Israel’s massive response in the eyes of its citizens, and a large majority of Americans as well.

In this discourse, any ‘normal’ country would feel compelled to respond militarily when thousands of rockets are fired into its territory by an adversary who uses its own children as human shields while threatening to kill one’s children the world over.

That such a narrative avoids the larger context in which the Qassams were fired does not change the role played by the rockets in normalising the occupation.

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Hummus

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Hummus

2 cloves garlic—roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup water
14 oz (400g) canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)—rinsed and drained
½ cup tahini
1 teaspoon sea salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally.

Variations: If you like a spicier hummus, add a small red chili (chopped) or a pinch of cayenne pepper, or try a little cumin for a more exotic variation.

Tip: Prepare extra quantities of this hummus—it can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week and frozen for up to 3 months.

hummus

Egypt u-turn on publishing Israeli books

[T]he culture minister and abstract artist Farouk Hosni has come under some severe criticism for comments he made last year to the Egyptian parliament in which he said he would burn any Israeli books that were being held by the Alexandria library.

Mr Hosni subsequently offered his apologies.

Now the ministry is trying to put some weight behind his campaign by announcing that it will publish Arabic translations of novels by the renowned Israeli writers Amos Oz and David Grossman – for the first time.

The national translation centre said it was translating books from 27 languages including Hebrew.

The timing of this announcement is surely no coincidence.

A spokesman for the ministry said he hoped to have an agreement signed with their English and French publishers by early July – a good two months before the Unesco decision.

However, they are still refusing to deal directly with the Israeli publishers because they say it would cause a scandal in Egypt and across the Arab world.

With a pinch of salt

A former terrorist celebrating his newfound identity as a French student

A former terrorist celebrating his newfound identity as Danny the Green

I find it a very interesting phenomenon, that Haaretz.com could boast yesterday of a minimum of four front page stories on Iran! From my humble, unscientific and distant perspective of Israeli society, and of the rather sizeable Haa’retz reading chunk of the Israeli populace, I feel I can tell so much: The protests have re-humanized Iranians to the eyes of many Israelis, and many Israeli news observers are somewhat elated by their own mind shift in this process. More interesting still is how temporary and flighty this new perception of Iran is.

The true giveaway is the rather eery editorial by Zvi Bar’el (“Which Iran would Israel bomb?”). Statements such as that “Suddenly there is an Iranian people” presumably do not express the author’s own surprise, but instead constitute an ironical enumeration of the surprises many Israelis feel with regard to the events.

Even so, this is an intriguing insight into an Israeli view of Iran. The notion that there are neither one nor two “but rather a number of Irans” is of course elementary to anyone with a vague knowledge of Iranian society and culture, yet perhaps not so in Israel. The notion that Khameini and Ahmedinejad are a monolithic projection of Iranian public opinion is ludicrous, a notion too ridiculous even to refute in a serious paper, yet we are told that “it was not the son of God who spoke on Friday, but a politician who needs to preserve his system of rule as well as his own legitimacy.” A closer observation of the Iranian elite and great parts of the middle class, may more than just surprise Israelis. To that one might add that Iran is a country whose student population is considerably more diverse in its ideological make-up than is Israel’s (it has been so for a while – this phenomenon certainly doesn’t date back to last week).

I must confess that I am heartened by the following:

“most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.”

Indeed, the riots may not have toppled anyone in Iran yet, but they have revolutionized Israeli information channels, ushering the country into journalistic normalcy (If I may, where the bloody hell does every other public get its commentary on Iran from? From the back of the label of a Mickey Mouse doll that self-destructs on a park bench?).

Now, the bombing question. Admittedly, it is far harder to bomb someone once we have acknowledged they have a human face, even if we do so to “save them from tyranny”. Once we see their face, we will also have to imagine what it looks like, singed and bleeding under a heap of rubble. But what if we haven’t seen their face? That is precisely why I felt queasy about this part:

“For goodness’ sake, who is left to bomb? Until one week ago, the path was well-lit.”

I am not quite sure what it’s supposed to mean… But I think I can distinguish one rather ill-omened implication, which I will now explore.

Let’s just assume that the “path” is “well-lit” once again (the ease with which the prospect of a tremendously barbaric operation is dismissed using such a singable term has to be one of the hallmarks of militarized cultures); let’s assume for a moment that the protests suddenly stop, that Ahmedinejad stays where he is, that the Israeli public loses interest in Iranians, and that (God forbid!) the university of Tel Aviv publishes a new poll PROVING that most Iranians are three-nippled, terrorist, anti-semites hungry for the blood of young Jewish children… Would the path then once again be “well-lit”? Let’s assume for a moment that every Iranian woman were portrayed to Israelis as that Wildersian pastiche of a human being, the domestically abused, ‘clitoridectomy-ed’, vitriol-singed wretch, both victim of and accomplice to the project of her own plight. That is presumably a far less appealing image to the Israeli public than that of the handsome, poetic, Sorosian fantasy of a student ‘democracy worker’ (I find this term rather abhorrent, but that’s just me). Unless they are that, then they are not really “of us” any longer, and do not deserve our sympathy or support. I have some serious reservations about this Walzerian notion of solidarity, the one that proclaims that I am morally obligated to help another if he or she is like me; the notion of solidarity that is exclusively directed at those whose views and habits we share (see Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’, published in 1984).

But Iranians are protesting, and Israelis are identifying with this, and whether or not we like Walzer, the moment is ripe, and a mental ‘gap year’ for Israelis in Tehran probably won’t go wasted, even if that means that they will see in Iranians what they want to see. In Bar’el’s own words, the events are “a mark that should… be seared into the minds of the West in general, and the United States and Israel in particular”. If a flighty infatuation with Iranian students is what it takes, then we might have to settle for this, and it may do more than we think to prevent Israel’s destruction of half of the Middle East. On a final note, I apologize about the excessive use of neologisms.