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For those interested in keeping up with events in Palestine/Israel, there is no better digest than VTJP.

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12 December, 2008

Hebron boy sustains critical head-wound from Israeli fire
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Hebron – Ma’an – An Israeli bullet caught 14-year-old Ya’qub Al-Qasrawi in the head on Friday while the boy was standing outside his family home in Hebron. He was transferred to the Hadasah Israeli hospital in Jerusalem in critical condition. Eyewitnesses said the boy was standing in front of his home when he crumpled to the ground. Locals suspect the bullet was from the barrel of a sniper gun. According to the Israeli press Ya’qub was "throwing stones" at an Israeli military position, and was hit with a rubber coated bullet. Israeli military spokespeople indicated an investigation into the incident was underway. Ya’qub lives in the Al-Karantina neighborhood in the West Bank city of Hebron. The area is in the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled H1, and south of the four small settlements staked out in the center of the city.

Israeli soldiers, Palestinians clash in Salfit
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Nablus – Ma’an – The Israeli military invaded the northern West Bank city of Salfit on Friday, clashing with residents and firing percussion grenades and rubber-coated bullets, according to witnesses. Local residents told Ma’an that five Israeli military jeeps invaded the city center, clashing with youths who threw stones and empty bottles toward the soldiers. Soldiers responded by firing rubber-coated bullets and percussion grenades toward the residents, though no injuries or arrests were immediately reported. [end]

Israeli invasion sparks day of factional retaliations; 7 projectiles launched and 3 arrested
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces breached Gaza borders Friday morning and detained three Palestinians in the southern city of Khan Younis. Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades claimed to have fired three mortar shells at the invading forces, the Palestinian-Hizbullah claimed a second projectile launch in the afternoon, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)’s Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades reported that they shelled Kibutz Sa’d with three projectiles Friday evening. Israeli sources announced the detentions Friday afternoon, and the Al-Quds Brigades followed closely with a press release detailing their counter-attack. Similarly the Hizbullah Brigades of the Gaza Strip sent a statement claiming they launched a projectile at the Israeli crossing point Nahal Oz. The two projectiles may have been those reported by Israeli sources which said projectiles landed in the western Negev.

UNRWA struggles for permits to import musical instruments, textbooks into Gaza
Amira Hass, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Wooden handles for brooms, metal rulers for graphics classes, study books and public library books, refrigerators, musical instruments and needles. These are some of the numerous items that Israel prevents UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) from bringing into the Gaza Strip. UNRWA needs these items to operate its schools, clinics, community centers and offices. The ban, which has been in effect for several months, is not connected to Israel’s almost hermetic closing of the border crossings to the strip following the Qassam rocket fire over the past month. Since September, in the midst of the cease fire between Israel and Hamas, the UN agency has been trying in vain to obtain the Israeli authorities’ permission to bring into Gaza products that are essential to its work, UN sources told Haaretz.

Qurei: Israel wants to retain 6.8 percent of West Bank
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/13/2008
Israel has proposed to annex 6. 8 percent of the West Bank and take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Friday, speaking for the first time in detail about the yearlong US-backed negotiations that failed to produce an agreement. Israel never revealed its position on the future of Jerusalem, the most contentious issue in the negotiations, said negotiator Ahmed Qurei. His comments appeared aimed, in part, at providing a record of the Israeli position ahead of leadership changes in Israel and the United States. Israel holds elections Feb. 10, and polls suggest hardline opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu is poised to become the country’s next prime minister. Netanyahu opposes large-scale territorial concessions and has said he would not continue the negotiations in their current format.

Qurei denounces Tzipi’s statements about Palestinians living in Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Jerusalem – Ma’an – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Thursday statements were “dangerous” whether or not an election is coming, said Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei on Friday. Speaking to a room of high school teens Livni noted that Palestinians in Israel should leave to live in a Palestinian state if and when it is created. The comments were interpreted by many as intimating that Palestinians would be forcibly removed from Israel if a Palestinian state is realized. Qurei denounced the statements at a Press conference in Abu Dis after he received Norwegian Foreign Minster Raymond Johnson and a high rank delegation for a tour in the area. [end]

Gaza Strip banks to pay PA salaries by 5:00 pm Friday
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Gaza - Ma’an Exclusive - Palestinian Authority (PA) employees in the Gaza Strip will be paid their salaries by 5:00 pm on Friday. Sources within the Gaza Strip banking sector indicated that salaries delayed by the currency shortage and Israel’s refusal to allow shekel transfers into the region are now available and will be paid in full by late afternoon on Friday. Israel prevented the transfer of cash into Gaza for two months as a response to the launch of homemade projectiles and shells towards Israeli targets near Gaza by armed factions. The salaries will be available via automatic teller machines throughout the strip, according to several banks, which are closed on Fridays. Several financial institutions also noted they would be open longer hours on Saturday to accommodate an expected increase in demand for banking services.

Israel suddenly closes Karni crossing after only eight trucks unload goods
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – The Karni crossing point was suddenly closed Friday for “security reasons,” after only a fraction of the 110 trucks of goods slated for entry into the strip were permitted to unload their cargo. Head of the coordination committee responsible for goods entering Gaza Raed Fattuh said only 43 truckloads of goods were scheduled to enter the Strip through Karni on Friday, and that only eight loads actually passed into Gaza. Fattuh confirmed that another fifty truck loads entered through Karem Shalom crossing, 35kilometers south of Karni near Rafah. The goods transferred into the Strip are once again short of the actual need, and do not include any raw materials that might allow Gaza factories to start-up again. Given the current shortage of goods, Fattuh estimated that Gaza needs 600-700 truckloads of goods per day to get the standard of living up to where it was before the siege.

Emergency relief continues to filter into Gaza, UN reports
United Nations News Service, ReliefWeb 12/11/2008
A slow trickle of humanitarian aid has continued to flow into the Gaza Strip, where 1. 5 million residents are forcibly confined, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reported today. Close to 100 trucks were able to transport supplies into the impoverished region on the western flank of Israel, of which 21 were delivering provisions for humanitarian agencies. Although the fleet represented a slight increase from yesterday, the average number of trucks crossing into Gaza in October was 123 per day and in May 2007 the average was some 475 trucks a day. UNSCO also reported that some industrial fuel made it to the Gaza power station, but most of the territory is still experiencing power cuts of four to eight hours a day despite the plant’s increased output.

Joy is in short supply for Eid
Donald Macintyre, The Independent 12/13/2008
Families in Gaza, make do with modest celebrations for the Muslim holiday of Eid - Ironic text messages of goodwill for the great festival of Eid Al Adha -- easily as central to the Muslim calendar as Christmas is in the West -- became the vogue in Gaza this week. "Despite there being no salaries, the money we don’t have to give to our children, the high price of Egyptian lamb, and the switching off of power, we will celebrate by the light of an Egyptian candle," read one. It summed up the daily power cuts, the utter impossibility for most families this year of affording the traditional Eid sheep and the fact that smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt have turned into a lifeline for the 1. 5 million inhabitants of blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza. The sardonic text message marking the most miserable Eid in Gaza anyone can remember came up on the mobile belonging to Adel Razeq.

Two Qassams hit Negev, days before Gaza cease-fire set to end
Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Gaza militants fired two Qassam rockets into the Western Negev on Friday, a few days before Israel’s truce with Hamas was set to come to an end next week. The rockets stuck open areas and caused neither damage nor casualties. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday to discuss the future of Israel’s policy on the Gaza Strip. Just hours before the meeting, a Qassam rocket struck the western Negev, following a two-day lull in fire from Gaza. The prime minister would not allow any details of the meeting to be released to the public, but topics on the agenda included Israel’s response to Hamas in light of the militant group’s continued violations of the truce.

PFLP: No more truce; resistance and unity only options
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – An overwhelming majority of factions do not support the idea of returning to the truce with Israel, confirmed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in a Friday statement. Member of the politburo with the PFLP Jamil Al-Majdawi said most factions see the truce as benefitting Israel. The only way to extract Gaza from its current state of siege, he said, was to unify the factions for armed resistance against Israel. Al-Majadwi called for an immediate halt to bilateral talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel. Once this happens, he said, the UN resolutions on Israel must be implemented and international legitimacy must be imposed. On the matter of internal unity the spokesman said the PFLP blamed both the PA and Hamas for the breakdown of talks, and encouraged both to release all the political prisoners in PA and de facto government prisons.

Qassam Brigades confront infiltrating IOF troops east of Khan Younis
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
KHAN YOUNIS, (PIC)-- The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, Thursday night, confronted IOF troops who entered the Gaza Strip at the Faraheen neighbourhood east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis and forced it to withdraw. In a statement, the Brigades said that at 23:00 hours its fighters fired three mortars at IOF troops who infiltrated the Faraheen neighbourhood east of Khan Younis. The Brigades said that this action coincides with the anniversary of the first intifada to stress that the option of resistance and to confirm that the Brigades will retaliate to all occupation crimes against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Brigades dedicated the operation to the martyrs, the captives in the Jails of occupation and Abbas, the steadfast residents of the besieged Gaza Strip, residents of the West Bank and in particular residents of al-Khalil.

2 Kassam rockets hit western Negev
Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
In the latest violation of the faltering Gaza truce, terrorists fired two Kassam rockets from the Strip that hit open areas in the western Negev late Friday morning. No one was wounded and no damage was reported. On Thursday, the IDF raised its level of alert along the Gaza border amid fears that Hamas may try to launch a cross-border attack to coincide with a demonstration Sunday marking the founding of the organization, sources in Southern Command said. OC Southern Command Maj. -Gen. Yoav Galant ordered forces to prepare for a security incident targeted at Israeli civilians, or at soldiers deployed along the border. RELATEDArmy readies for Gaza border attacksIDF officers have called for the resumption of military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the expiration of the cease-fire next Friday.

Al-Quds Brigades warn Israel against Gaza Strip attack, say ''we are ready''
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades warned Israeli forces against conducting any attacks on Gaza, saying they would ‘turn Israeli targets into cemeteries. ’The warning came shortly after reports from Israel indicated that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was considering a major alteration to the military’s response to armed attacks on Israeli targets originating in the Gaza Strip. According to their statement the Brigades see the Israeli rhetoric over attacking Gaza as proof that Israel has failed to withstand the projectile launches from militant factions in the Strip. The Brigades acknowledged that any Israeli attack on Gaza would almost certainly target Brigades and resistance leaders; they said no truce with Israel would be accepted “as long as their crimes of aggression are committed against our people.

2 Qassams hit south Israel; no injuries
Shmulik Hadad, YNetNews 12/12/2008
One rocket lands near kibbutz, another near security fence. Eshkol council head says ’for us the ceasefire ended weeks ago’ -Two Qassams fired from northern Gaza in the late hours of Friday morning landed in Israel’s western Negev region, but there were no reports of injuries or damage. One rocket landed in an open area near a kibbutz located with the Eshkol Regional Council’s limits, while the other landed near the security fence separating Israel from the Hamas-controlled enclave. Eshkol Council head Haim Yalin said that despite the fact that the ceasefire between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups is expected to expire next week, "for us it came to an end weeks ago, when the incessant rocket fire on our communities resumed and when the IDF launched theoperation to collapse the tunnel in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers invade Nablus park, detain four residents
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Nablus - Ma’an - Israeli soldiers seized four Palestinians in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on Friday, according to local witnesses. Israeli forces invaded the Ash-Sheikh Imad neighborhood west of Nablus, residents said. They added that a number of Israeli military jeeps drove into the area, known as the Old Parks Area, where locals tend to congregate during the holidays. Forces reportedly seized four residents at the site before dispersing the crowd that remained behind. [end]

Three Palestinians seriously injured in Israeli assault on Bil’in protest
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Three Palestinian were injured by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Bil’in on Friday, according to a statement received by Ma’an. A “massive march” was organized by residents of the village near Ramallah and attended by a group of international and Israeli peace activists. Also present was a delegation from the Bethlehem-based Committee for Solidarity, an organization that sheds light on the plight of owners of confiscated land and areas affected by the Israeli-constructed separation wall. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and banners bringing attention to the first popular uprising’s anniversary, twenty years since it began. Protestors marched, chanted slogans and called for the removal of the wall, settlements and checkpoints, as well as the release of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

Palestinian boy critically hurt in Hebron
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Troops fire rubber-coated bullets at group of teenagers hurling stones at IDF position in Hebron - An IDF force wounded a 13-year-old Palestinian boy Friday near Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood. Palestinian sources said the boy, Yakub Qasrawi, sustained critical wounds. The army confirmed that the boy was hurt, apparently by a rubber-coated bullet. The Palestinian boy was treated at the scene and later taken to a Palestinian hospital, where his condition was stabilized. He is expected to be transferred to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem later. The incident took place as a group of Palestinian boys hurled stones at an IDF position near Hebron’s Jewish community. The troops at the scene responded with crowd-dispersal means, including rubber-coated bullets. An investigation into the circumstances of the incident is under way.

Palestinian boy seriously hurt by rubber bullet in Hebron Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
A Palestinian boy was taken to a hospital in Hebron in serious condition after he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet on Friday afternoon. The boy was shot in the course of clashes near Hebron between Palestinian residents IDF troops that have been going since Thursday. IDF medics gave the boy preliminary treatment before taking him to a hospital in the city. [end]

Palestinian child seriously wounded in Hebron
Saed Bannoura & Agencies, International Middle East Media Center News 12/13/2008
Palestinian medical source in the southern West Bank city of Hebron reported on Friday that Israeli soldiers shot and seriously wounded a Palestinian child in the city. The sources added that the child was shot in his head while standing on the doorstep of his parents’ home in Tal Romeida neighborhood in Hebron. The child was moved to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem and remains in a serious condition. [end]

IOF kidnap 18 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
KHAN YOUNIS, RAMALLAH, (PIC)-- IOF troops kidnapped on Thursday and Friday a total of 15 Palestinians from various areas of the West Bank and 3 more Palestinians from the southern Gaza Strip. On Friday morning, IOF troops kidnapped three Palestinians from the area east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip claiming that the three approached the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Palestinian lands occupied in 1948. Meanwhile Israeli media reported on Friday that IOF troops kidnapped 9 Palestinians from Bethlehem and al-Khalil in the southern West Bank. On Thursday morning IOF kidnapped seven Palestinians, five of them from the village of Madma in the northern West Bank district of Nablus and two others from the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem. IOF troops also raided the city of Jenin and its refugee camp and the village of Silat al-Hartheyya and erected a roadblock at the entrance of the village of Zbouba.

State to court: Rescind release of settler who shot Hebron Palestinians
Tomer Zarchin, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
On Thursday, a judge at Jerusalem District Court Thursday tightened conditions for Braude’s release, confining him to full house arrest. Judge Malka Aviv of the city’s Magistrate’s Court released Braude Wednesday with restrictions, allowing him to remain only within the confines of Kiryat Arba, the Hebron-area settlement in which he lives. Following the State Prosecutor’s Office appeal of Aviv’s decision yesterday, Judge Orit Efal-Gabbai said at the hearing that "At this stage, it is difficult to say whether the incident was the initiative of the defendant. " "I don’t agree with the initial court ruling, as it does not reflect the danger presented by the defendant should he be immediately released," she said. The judge ruled that Braude’s contention that he fired in self-defense does not explain the resort to violence, which according to the indictment he initiated.

Hebron shooting suspect confined to house arrest
Ofra Edelman, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
A judge at Jerusalem District Court yesterday tightened conditions for the release of Ze’ev Braude, the West Bank settler caught on film allegedly shooting two Palestinians during the evacuation of Hebron’s so-called House of Contention. The decision confines Braude to full house arrest. Judge Malka Aviv of the city’s Magistrate’s Court released Braude Wednesday with restrictions, allowing him to remain only within the confines of Kiryat Arba, the Hebron-area settlement in which he lives. Following the State Prosecutor’s Office appeal of Aviv’s decision yesterday, Judge Orit Efal-Gabbai said at the hearing that "At this stage, it is difficult to say whether the incident was the initiative of the defendant. ""I don’t agree with the initial court ruling, as it does not reflect the danger presented by the defendant should he be immediately released," she said.

Prosecutor’s office appealing release of Hebron shooter
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office asks Supreme Court to overturn decision to release man accused of shooting two Palestinians during events that surrounded eviction of disputed Hebron house, claiming he represents a danger to his surroundings -The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office appealed to the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn the release of Ze’ev Brauda, a settler from Kiryat Arba accused of shooting at two Palestinians who was recently put on house arrest. According to the district attorney’s office, Brauda represents a danger to his surroundings and should not be released before evidence has been examined. Brauda’s lawyer asked that the appeal be delayed until after the settler receives medical treatment. The Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court released Braudas to house arrest on Wednesday.

State appeals Braude’s release Staff And Dan Izenberg, Jerusalem Post 12/11/2008
The State Prosecution on Friday appealed to the Supreme Court against the previous day’s decision by the Jerusalem District Court to hold Ze’ev Braude, the Kiryat Arba man who wounded two Palestinians in Hebron last week, under house arrest only. On Thursday, a day after Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Malka Aviv rejected the state’s request to remand Braude in custody until he is indicted on the charge of assault with aggravated intent, Jerusalem District Court Judge Orit Efaal-Gabay partially accepted the state’s appeal and ordered him placed under house arrest. However, a dissatisfied State Prosecution called for Braude to return to police custody and remain there until a decision on an indictment is made. The State claimed that Braude posed a danger to society and that he should never have been released since he chose to turn off. . .

Free Gaza ship departs with 11 students denied exit by Israel
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an - A ship with the Free Gaza movement left the Strip late Thursday night with 11 Palestinian students aboard. The students had previously been denied exit by Israel to attend universities abroad despite having all proper documentation from the institutions. Over 700 students are currently trapped in Gaza, unable to obtain permission from Israel to continue their education abroad, according to the group. Accompanying the students were two British academics, Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP), an organization of UK-based educators that calls for an academic boycott of Israel. "As academics, we are particularly pleased to be traveling on the Dignity [the ship of the Free Gaza movement] on this mission to enable at least some of the hundreds of students. . .

The Dignity arrives back at Cyprus, Iranian and Lebanese vessels to Gaza soon
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
LARNACA, BEIRUT, TEHRAN, (PIC)-- The Free Gaza Ship "Dignity" arrived Friday afternoon at the port Larnaca carrying eleven Palestinian stranded students as well as a number of academics and foreign sympathisers, according to the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza. In a press statement, the organisation said that the ship was greeted by members of the Palestinian community in Larnaca and representatives of civil society organisations. This is the fourth trip carried out by the Free Gaza Movement and on this trip there were two British Academics; Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP), an organization of UK-based academics responding to Palestine’s Call for an Academic Boycott of Israel. The academics who expressed satisfaction at helping some of the hundreds of stranded students. . .

Free Gaza Movement: Dignity ship leaves Gaza with Palestinian students
International Solidarity Movement 12/12/2008
International Actions - Gaza Region - (GAZA PORT, GAZA - 11 December 2008) - The Free Gaza Ship "Dignity," departed from Gaza International Port at 22:10 hours, Thursday 11 December. Aboard the ship were eleven Palestinian students who had been denied exit by Israel to attend their universities abroad. Over 700 students are currently trapped in Gaza, unable to obtain permission from Israel to continue their education. Accompanying the students are two British academics, Jonathan Rosenhead and Mike Cushman, of the London School of Economics and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine (BRICUP), an organization of UK-based academics responding to Palestine’s Call for an Academic Boycott of Israel. According to Rosenhead and Cushman, "As academics we are particularly pleased to be traveling on the Dignity on this mission to enable at least some of the hundreds of students. . .

Kuwait’’s Rahma Charitable Society distributes 18,000 kgs of meat in Gaza
Kuwait News Agency - KUNA, ReliefWeb 12/12/2008
GAZA, Dec 12 (KUNA) -- Kuwait-based Rahma Charitable Society has distributed more than 18,000 kilograms of fresh meat to needy families in Gaza Strip, as part of Eid Al-Adha sacrificial slaughter of cattle. In a press release on Friday, the charity’s representative Kamal Musleh said more than 100 calves and ten sheep were slaughtered over a three-day period, and that the meat was distributed throughout the Strip in cooperation with reputable societies here. "Despite the high costs, the society exerted great effort to slaughter as many animals and to provide meat to the greatest number of families in need," he said. Israel had prevented the entry of sacrificial animals into Gaza, causing a hike in the price of meat in the Palestinian market. Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) © All rights reserved

This week in Palestine Week 50 2008
IMEMC News - Audio Dept, International Middle East Media Center News 12/12/2008
Click on Link to download or play MP3 file|| 11 m 30s || 9. 66 MB || This Week in Palestine, Week 50 This Week in Palestine, a service of the International Middle East Media Center www. imemc. org, for December 6 through 12th, 2008. GENERAL LEDE: While the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip continues for its seventh week, Palestinian rival parties trade accusations for failing to reach a national agreement, these and more are coming up, stay tuned. Nonviolent Activities Let us begin our weekly report with the nonviolent activities in the West Bank with IMEMC’s Samer Jaber Bethelehm The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) suppressed residents from Al Masara village today during a popular demonstration against the wall that’s been built on Palestinian lands. This is happening on the 21st anniversary of the first Palestinian Intifada.

UN chief: Israel, Palestinians setting stage for peace
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/12/2008
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says Israeli, Palestinian negotiators ’are setting the stage for peace’ - 2009 "is a year which I hope will bear fruit in the Middle East," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday. Progress toward Middle East peace is being made "somewhat below the radar" by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, he said. "They are setting the stage for peace. " The UN chief said he was convening the so-called quartet - the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations - to meet Monday with Arab partners for discussions on Middle East peace efforts. Ban said US President-elect Barack Obama has assured him he will work for a "stronger partnership between the United Nations and the United States. " ’Rise above regional divides’Ban, in Geneva for observances of the 60th anniversary. . .

Israeli stranglehold on Nablus begins to loosen; more restrictions to be eased
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Nablus residents show reserved optimism as Israeli travel restrictions to the northern West Bank ease after years of pleading from the Palestinian Authority (PA). Nablus suffered a slow strangulation since 2001; labeled by Israeli TV as the “City of Suicide Bombers,” for seven years the Israeli army made almost nightly incursions. Roads into the city were blocked to all but those with special permits, and no Nablus resident with a car has been able to drive to Ramallah on the main road since the Huwwara, Awarta, At-Tur, Beit Furik, Asira Ash-Shamalia, Beit Iba and Shave Shomeron checkpoints were installed. Once the financial capital of the country housing the Palestinian stock market and over a third of West Bank residents; the Israeli military presence and enforced closure of the city and stifled its growth.

PA negotiator: Israel wants 6.8% of West Bank
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Israel asked to annex nearly 7% of West Bank as part of peace deal with Palestinian Authority, PA negotiator Ahmed Qureia tells reporters; PM Olmert proposed that Israel take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees, he says - Qureia reveals negotiations details: The chief Palestinian negotiator says Israel has asked to annex 6. 8% of the West Bank in a peace deal with the Palestinians. Negotiator Ahmed Qureia also says Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed in peace talks that Israel take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees over five years. Qureia says neither offer was acceptable to the Palestinians. Qureia says Israel never revealed its position on the most contentious issue - Jerusalem. He spoke to Palestinian reporters. His comments marked the first time he spoke in such detail about the year-long talks.

Carter calls for bigger US role in peace process, expects Obama to try
Daily Star 12/13/2008
BEIRUT: Former US President Jimmy Carter said Friday that the United States must play a critical and constructive role in establishing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, while noting that the Palestinian people have been increasingly denied their basic human rights since the Camp David Accords. Speaking of his first meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Carter said, "I found that the American president has a great influence over the leaders of Israel. " "That holds and it’s a great opening," he added. To this end, Carter expressed the hope that US President-elect Barack Obama would play a proactive and just role in solving the 60-year-old conflict. Carter, closing out a five-day visit to Beirut, delivered his remarks Friday night at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Hall as part of the Distinguished Peacemakers lecture series.

’US spies on Israel’s nuclear program’
Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
The United States routinely attempts to gather information on Israel’s assumed atomic arsenal and secret government deliberations, a new official history of Israel’s intelligence services, reviewed by Reuters, says. While espionage by allies on their friends is not uncommon, a new Israeli state-sponsored publication acknowledges it openly. The book "Masterpiece: An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Israeli Intelligence," claims American spy agencies use technologies like electronic eavesdropping, and specially trained staff located in the US embassy in Tel Aviv, for "methodical intelligence gathering. " "The United States has been after Israel’s non-conventional capabilities and what goes on at the decision-making echelons," says the book in a chapter on counter-espionage written by Barak Ben-Zur, a retired Shin Bet officer.

Editor’s Notes: This time, it will be different
David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post 12/11/2008
US army Gen. Keith Dayton is quietly overseeing the recruitment and training of a seven-battalion Palestinian National Security Force. Already partially deployed in the West Bank, the NSF is intended to confront the bad guys - not the Israelis. The general well understands why Israelis may doubt the viability of this effort. And he fully believes the skeptics will be proved wrong. Keith Dayton is a modest, no-nonsense man. The bio sent out by his office runs to just three tight paragraphs. It briefly notes his more than three decades of US army service - from artilleryman to lieutenant-general. The periods he spent as the US defense attaché in Russia, commanding the Iraq Survey Group, and as the army’s chief strategic planner, are dispatched in a couple of sentences. In person, Dayton is similarly precise and unpretentious.

Livni doesn’t take back Shalit statements
Michele Dor, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Dozens protest in front of FM’s house in protest of Thursday comments that ’we can’t always bring all our soldiers home’ - Kadima chairwoman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni refused to revoke her statements on Corporal Gilad Shalit, during a Friday meeting with representatives of the Headquarters for the Release of Gilad Shalit. Livni called representatives of the movement into her home in Tel Aviv, after dozens of protesters gathered there to object to her Thursday statement that "we cannot always bring all of (our soldiers) home. " The foreign minister told representatives that she would not take back her statement from the day before adding that, "there’s a felling that Shalit’s release depends on whether the government wants to secure it or not… That’s a horrible question to ask. ""The question is not whether we want or don’t want," Livni emphasized.

Ashkenazi: Schalit never off the agenda
Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Friday "there is not a day where the subject of returning [kidnapped IDF soldier] Gilad Schalit goes off the agenda. " Ashkenazi, speaking during a visit to Druse villages in honor of the Eid al Adha, or Festival of the Sacrifice, made the comments after earlier in the day Foreign Minister, Kadima leader and prime ministerial hopeful Tzipi Livni said the state cannot return each and every captive soldier. On Friday morning, Livni met representatives of a group that was demonstrating for the release of Schalit outside her Tel Aviv home. It followed comments made the previous day by Livni at a Tel Aviv high school in which she hinted that Schalit might remain in the hands of Hamas in Gaza for some time to come. Livni reiterated her remarks to the demonstrators whom she invited into her home on Friday.

Ashkenazi: Shalit always on our agenda
Ahiya Raved, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Army chief stresses commitment to Shalit’s release in wake of controversial Livni remarks - The return of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is constantly on Israel’s agenda, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Friday. In a meeting with Druze and Bedouin leaders on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha holidays, Ashkenazi said that "vast resources are being invested on this front. " "I’m hopeful that we shall be able to bring Gilad back to his family as soon as possible," the army chief said. Ashkenazi’s comments follow controversial remarks by Kadima Chairman Tzipi Livni, who spoke about Shalit in an appearance at a Tel Aviv high school. "We can’t always bring our troops home," the foreign minister said during the session. "The thought that I can free Gilad and am not doing it is a horrible thought.

Money arrives in Gaza; PA salaries to be paid
Roee Nahmias, YNetNews 12/12/2008
PA employees in Strip to receive salaries in wake of fund transfer from West Bank, Palestinian news agency reports - Some Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza received their salaries Friday, after Israel approved the transfer of NIS 100 million (about $25 million) from the West Bank to the Strip. The fund transfer approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and was aimed at assisting Gaza banks in dealing with cash flow problems. Gaza banking sources told Palestinian news agency Na’an that PA officials in the Strip were expected to receive their salaries at 5 pm Friday. According to the report, the employees would be able to withdraw their money at automated teller machines or wait for banks to open on Saturday. However, top PA officials are not yet satisfied. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, speaking at a Ramallah press conference Thursday, said that the amount of money transferred to Gaza is insufficient.

European campaign deplores Abbas’s smearing campaign against relief vessels
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
BRUSSELS, (PIC)-- The European campaign for lifting the siege on Gaza has strongly condemned on Thursday the "defamatory" statements of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas against the foreign vessels dispatched by the campaign to help the besieged people of Gaza. According to officials in the campaign, the attack of Abbas on the vessels leaves no doubt that the man doesn’t want to break the Israeli economic blockade on his people. "The statements of Abbas that described the vessels as a silly game unveils his participation and connivance in this unjust siege, and display him as the president that calls on foreign countries not to help his starving people", asserted Dr. Arafat Madi, president of the European campaign in a statement he made in Brussels and a copy of which was obtained by the PIC. He also denied Abbas’s allegations that identities and passports of passengers on the vessels and. . .

Abbas criticizes Libya for helping Palestinians in Gaza Strip
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
LONDON, (PIC)-- PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has lashed out at the Libyan government on Thursday for sending the Marwa vessel to help the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza Strip, asserting he was mulling declaring the tiny Strip a "renegade entity". Abbas’s comments were made in an interview with the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper where he also belittled the arrival of a number of foreign boats loaded with relief items and medicines to the 1. 5 million Palestinians blockaded in the populated costal Strip. However, international and local observers opined that Abbas’s criticism was a reflection of the state of confusion he and his Muqata’a in Ramallah are going through after the ships succeeded, although partially, in breaking the unjust Israeli siege on the Strip, which, according to local sources, Abbas was sanctioning.

Hamas: Abbas’s assault on solidarity vessels proves his role in the siege
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Hamas Movement has strongly condemned the "unethical" statements of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas against the foreign boats that come to help the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza Strip. The Movement also considered those statements as clear indication that Abbas was part of the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, and that he was pushing for tightening the siege. "Indeed, the statements of Abbas reflect the level of disturbance those successful voyages cause him, and they prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was part of the siege equation on the Strip", asserted Fawzi Barhoum, the spokesman of Hamas in Gaza. According to Barhoum, the statements of Abbas demonstrate the degree of harassment the sea voyages had caused him because the supporters were neither Arabs nor Muslims but they came from different parts of this world.

Cash sent to Gaza banks, PA employees receive paychecks
Avi Issacharoff Jack Khoury and Tal Levy, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
NIS 100 million in cash was transferred to Gaza banks Thursday to enable salaries to be paid to Palestinian Authority employees in the Strip. But PA officials in Ramallah admitted there is no guarantee that some of the money did not find its way to Hamas. The delivery was approved by Israel at the PA’s request. Hamas, which controls the Strip, provided security for the armored trucks carrying the money. And although Thursday was an official PA holiday, the PA ordered Gaza’s banks to open so that some 70,000 employees could collect their November salaries. But in private conversations, senior PA officials - including PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - admitted that there is no way to check whether the entire sum really reached the employees for whom it was earmarked.

Egyptian guards shoot dead African man trying to cross into Israel
The Associated Press, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Egyptian officials say border guards fatally shot an African man as he tried to illegally cross into Israel. A security official says the guards fired into the air Friday to warn the African trying to get across the border barbed wire. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. He says the man didn’t respond to the warning shots. Dr Imad Kharboush of the emergency medical unit in North Sinai says the 22-year-old Togolese died from a bullet wound in the head. Hundreds of Africans seeking political asylum and jobs try to cross from Egypt into Israel every year. Human Rights Watch recently said that since June 2007, Egyptian guards have killed nearly three dozen migrants, including a 7-year-old girl.

PA security forces intensify anti-crime measures in Jenin
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Jenin – Ma’an – Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces intensified police activities in Jenin and nearby West Bank villages on Friday in a stepped up anti-crime campaign, according to the city police’s public relations office. The PA office pointed out that particular areas of concern, such as Qabatia, Araba, Kafr Ra’i and Fahma Refugee Camp, would be targeted with an increased police presence. Ten stolen cars were confiscated on Friday and many accused robbery suspects were arrested, the office told Ma’an. Jenin Police Brigadier Rady Asidah said that PA forces “will continue their work to put an end to all illegal activities” and called locals to cooperate with police. Jenin Police Chief Wasim Jayousi told Ma’an that police and medical officials rushed to the scene, taking the five injured Palestinians to a local hospital, but were unable to save the 40-year-old woman.

Abbas, Bush to hold ’farewell’ meeting
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will travel to Washington for a "farewell" meeting with President George W. Bush, a Palestinian official said Friday, as impending leadership changes raise questions about the future of peace talks. The Palestinian leader will meet Bush at the White House on Dec. 19, Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said. The two will discuss peace negotiations with Israel, he said, but "it will also be a farewell meeting between the two men. " Meanwhile, a new poll showed Thursday that most Palestinians believe their Abbas’s term should end in a matter of weeks, indicating that support for him could erode if he stays on after a Jan. 9 deadline. Abbas has said that Palestinian law gives him until early 2010. His Hamas rivals reject that claim. The poll showed 64 percent believe the Abbas’s term should end now.

Abbas to bid farewell to Bush during US visit followed by top level Moscow meetings
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Ramallah – Ma’an – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will hold a farewell meeting in Washington with outgoing US President George W. Bush, and is set to meet with top Russian officials in Moscow in the coming weeks. Abbas will be visiting the United States later this month and is scheduled to meet with Bush on 19 December, said his spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudiena on Friday. On the agenda will be the peace process and its progress since the Annapolis conference in November 2007. Following his visit with Bush, Abbas is expected to travel to Moscow where he will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 22 December. It is expected that the Moscow effort to follow up on the Annapolis talks will be the main topic on the agenda.

Rizka: Livni’s remarks regarding 1948 Palestinians reek of extremist racism
Palestinian Information Center 12/12/2008
GAZA, (PIC)-- Dr. Yusef Rizka, PM Ismael Haneyya’s political adviser, described statements made by Israeli FM and Likud leader Tzipi Livni as "statements reeking of racism and extremism against the indigenous Arab population. ""These statements form a hard blow to the [PA] negotiating team who wager on meetings with this terrorist, racist woman and consider her to be a woman of peace," adding that negotiating with such people means giving up the right of return of Palestinian refugees. He raised an important question to those negotiators: if Livni rejects the presence of 1948 Palestinians in their homes and towns, how is she going to accept the return of Palestinian refugees? Rizka rejected the notion that Livni’s statements were in the context of the elections race stressing that it is the extremist right wing feature of Zionism.

Livni fantasises about MORE Arab expulsion, in reality, this is a crime against humanity
AFP News Briefs List, Palestine Think Tank 12/12/2008
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a frontrunner in the race to become premier, said on Thursday that Arab Israelis should move to a Palestinian state when it is eventually created. "My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two distinct national entities," she told a group of secondary school students in Tel Aviv in remarks broadcast by army radio. "And among other things I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Arab Israelis, and tell them: 'your national aspirations lie elsewhere. '"The remarks drew an angry rebuttal from Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi. "She must decide whether she means to leave a million Arabs without political rights or a national identity, or whether she really intends to transfer a million Arab citizens to the Palestinian state that will be established," he said. -- See also: Israeli Arabs should live in Palestinian state: Livni

Jewish Agency freezes youth aliyah program
Danny Adino Ababa, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Successful NAALE project, which brought over 11,000 Jewish youths from across the world to Israel, faces risk of closing down due to financial difficulties - NAALE, one of the Jewish Agency’s flagship programs, which helped bring to Israel over 11,000 Jewish teenagers from across the world, is now facing the risk of being shut down due to financial difficulties and lack of donors. The program was launched in 1992 by the government and the Jewish Agency with the aim of bringing to Israel thousands of Jewish youths and providing them with full scholarships that would enable them to graduate from high school with a diploma. Throughout the years, NAALE has had enormous success. Jewish Agency emissaries and graduates of the program managed to persuade more than 11,000 10-12 grade students from Argentina, the former Soviet Union, east European countries and the United States to take part in the project.

Netanyahu: I don’t want to rule in West Bank
Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of European ambassadors in Tel Aviv that he has no interest in Israel ruling over Palestinians in the West Bank and that he is more optimistic about the Palestinian negotiating track than the Syrian. "I’m not interested in continuing to control the lives of Palestinians," Netanyahu told them. The meeting between Netanyahu and the diplomats had been planned long in advance, but he recently asked French ambassador Jean-Michel Casa, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of the month, to postpone the meeting until after Likud primaries. The Likud chief emphasized the importance he placed on the Palestinian issue, saying he has no intention of stopping negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu asked several times during the meeting to avoid forming preconceptions about him.

Far-right Belgian party Vlaams Belang says invited to Jerusalem meet
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
The leader of the Flemish far-right Vlaams Belang party said Thursday that MK Aryeh Eldad has invited him to an anti-Jihad conference in Jerusalem next year, though Eldad denies this. According to Filip Dewinter, Eldad invited him to an event scheduled for March. The conference was planned as a follow-up event to an anti-Jihad summit which Professor Eldad is expected to open on Sunday in the capital. Although many observers do not view Vlaams Belang’s anti-immigrant platform as anti-Semitic, and its leaders speak of Jews and Israelis as "allies" against radical Islam, Belgium’s Jewish leadership has boycotted the party, citing "strong anti-Semitic characteristics. " After an initial inquiry from Haaretz, Dewinter confirmed yesterday to Joods Actueel, a Dutch-language Jewish-affairs publication based in Antwerp, that Eldad had. . .

Carter visits South, calls for end to ongoing occupation
Compiled by, Daily Star 12/13/2008
Former US President Jimmy Carter marked the last day of his five-day visit to Lebanon on Friday by calling for "a solution" to Israel’s occupation of Lebanese territory and violation of the country’s sovereignty. "During my visit, I visited the South and took a close look at your country’s occupied territories in the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar. . . I also received a report of the several Israeli overflights that are being conducted on a daily basis. . . There must be a solution for all such violations," Carter told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh. Commenting on Lebanese-Syrian relations, the former president said that establishing diplomatic ties and demarcating borders would be a major contribution toward achieving peace and stability in the Middle East. He added that he was positive the incoming US administration would have a new perspective on Lebanon and Syria.

Jimmy Carter: I would have been delighted to meet Hezbollah officials
News Agencies, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Former U. S. President Jimmy Carter said Friday that he would have been delighted to meet Hezbollah officials and that he regrets the meeting didn’t take place during his current visit to Lebanon. Carter spent five days talking to top Lebanese leaders and members of parliamentary blocs but didn’t meet with lawmakers from the militant Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed Shiite group is on the U. S. State Department’s terrorist list. The former U. S. leader had said he was ready to meet Hezbollah but they refuse to meet current or former U. S. presidents. Carter has offered that his Atlanta-based Carter Center monitor Lebanon’s parliament elections next year. The vote will be fiercely contested between Western-backed anti-Syrian groups that hold majority seats in the current 128-member parliament and a Hezbollah-led coalition supported by Syria and Iran.

Carter offers to monitor Lebanese election
Middle East Online 12/12/2008
BEIRUT – Former US President Jimmy Carter offered on Thursday to monitor Lebanon’s parliament elections next year. Carter proposed a monitoring mission by his Atlanta-based Carter Center during a Beirut meeting with the interior minister, Ziad Baroud, who welcomed the offer but said the Cabinet must approve it. The vote has to be held between April 20 and June 20, though no specific date has been set. The Interior Ministry is in charge of organizing and overseeing the elections. Carter also met members of parliamentary blocs, but he did not meet with lawmakers from Hezbollah. Carter said he is ready to meet with Hezbollah but they refuse to meet current or former US presidents. "We have sought meetings with all the main parliamentary blocs and parties in the upcoming election and Hezbollah was one of those meetings we had requested," said said Rick Jasculca, a spokesman for the Carter Center.

UNRWA Commissionner-General appeals for intensified efforts to support Relief and Reconstruction activities for Nahr El Bared
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in, ReliefWeb 12/11/2008
Beirut, 11 December 2008: The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Karen AbuZayd, who has just completed a three days mission in Lebanon, including a visit to Nahr el-Bared camp, appealed to donors and the Lebanese government to intensify efforts to secure additional donations for relief activities and the reconstruction of the camp. UNRWA has recently received a number of contributions from donors for its Relief and Early Recovery Appeal (RERA) that will enable it to cater for the critical needs of the displaced refugees of Nahr el-Bared camp until early 2009. Thanks to generous donations from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) (1 million USD), Italy (400,000 Euro), Norway (453,000 USD), Germany (350,000 Euro), the Balearic Islands (180,000 Euro), and ECHO (1. 5 million Euro), a total of 8.

Forum on free press gets off to censored start
Daily Star 12/13/2008
BEIRUT: Four journalists and rights activists from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia were prevented by their governments from traveling to Beirut to attend a regional forum on Arab press freedom on Friday. Over 160 journalists, bloggers, publishers, editors and press freedom advocates came together for the first session of the two-day Third Annual Free Press Forum in Beirut. This year’s gathering, which was organized by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) in partnership with local daily An-Nahar and held at the Monroe Hotel, coincided with the third anniversary of the assassination of MP and An-Nahar publisher Gebran Tueni. Tueni’s murder in a car bombing came just six months after leading An-Nahar columnist Samir Kassir was killed in a similar attack. The culprits of both assassinations have yet to be identified.

Syrian-Israeli talks must not undermine Lebanon - Lahoud
Daily Star 12/13/2008
BEIRUT: Minister of State Nassib Lahoud said Friday that Lebanon expects the United States not to allow Lebanese sovereignty to be damaged by Syrian-Israeli negotiations. "Indirect talks are being held between Syria and Israel under Turkish auspices. We hope this process will lead to ending the occupation of the Golan Heights and the establishment of a just peace," he said. But "the international community and mainly the United States are strongly expected not to allow Lebanon’s sovereignty to be put in jeopardy at these talks," he added. Lahoud made his remarks at a conference in Washington. Addressing the issue of Hizbullah’s arsenal, he said the party’s military capabilities should be integrated into the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). "This demand does not, by any means, aim to marginalize the large segment of the Lebanese population that supports Hizbullah or to undermine their political and social rights," he added.

Australia announces Human Rights budget; funds women’s rights institution in Ramallah
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Bethlehem - Ma’an – On the anniversary of the declaration of Human Rights Australian Foreign Minister Steven Smith announced a 1. 5 million US dollar contribution to projects in Asia –Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. It is expected that the projects will help non- governmental organizations in promoting good governance, justice, gender equality, rights for the physically disabled and rights of the child. In Palestine the 144,100 US dollar donation will fund a project documenting violations of women’s rights in order to support legal action on behalf of the women. Implementing the project will be the Society for the Protection of Village Women based in Ramallah. The project will run for two years.

France donates extra 500,000 Euros for PA projects
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Jerusalem – Ma’an – The French General Consul in Jerusalem Alan Remy, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad signed an agreement adding 500,000 Euros to the amount pledged by France at the Paris summit in December 2007. The funds will go to support public service projects in the West Bank and Gaza. [end]

Meretz plans expanded left-wing party
Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post 12/11/2008
Meretz will wait until after its primary next week to decide which spots on its Knesset list will be filled by representatives of Hatnua Hahadasha (The New Movement), party chairman Haim Oron said Thursday. On Sunday between 2 p. m. and 9 p. m. , the nearly 1,000 strong Meretz council will vote at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to rank the 22 candidates. Meretz officials and Hatnua Hahadasha members discussed the details of their joint run for the Knesset on Thursday. Hatnua Hahadasha was established by prominent figures from the Left in an effort to strengthen Meretz in February’s elections. Once a merger is approved, the new group is to change its name to Hatnua Hahadasha-Meretz, and another merger, with the Green Party, will be examined in an attempt to create a broader and stronger left-wing block in the next Knesset.

Religion, geography remain key to Arab politics
Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
Hadash seeks to be more than ’Arab party" as it reaches out to voters Composng a list of candidates for the Knesset is no small matter and especially when it comes to an Arab list. For example, it is not considered politically correct to talk about this in public and certainly no one from the Arab parties is eager to reveal the matter to the media, but a piece of information of supreme importance in this delicate work is the candidate’s religion. Even if he is secular or a Communist, he will be classified by his religion, or more precisely, the religion of the community in which he lives. No protest will avail. Even in Hadash they are very particular about this matter, although the movement came into being in order to expand the ranks of the Israel Communist Party, which has a known attitude towards religion.

Barak: Likud still far-right, despite Feiglin demotion
Mazal Mualem Haaretz correspondent and Haaretz Service, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Labor Chairman Ehud Barak declared late Thursday that Likud remains a far-right party, despite having demoted controversial figure Moshe Feiglin on its Knesset line-up. "We know there is still a far-right party, and we have remained in the center," Army Radio quoted Barak, who is also defense minister, as saying of Likud. The Likud elections committee earlier Thursday moved Feiglin from the 20th place on the Knesset list to 36th, despite his strong showing at this week’s party primary. Barak added: "We have the best team of all the parties. We see the winds of change, but this is no reason to become euphoric. "He made the comments at a Labor meeting in Tel Aviv. The Likud move was seen as a triumph for party Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who was concerned that the success of his archrival Feiglin and his supporters in the. . .

Yatom plans to appeal against Likud list demotion
Jpost Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
Former MK Ehud Yatom said Friday that he planned to appeal against the previous night’s decision by the Likud Elections Committee to move him to the 38th spot on the party’s Knesset list from 29th place. If Yatom wins his appeal, it will likely improve the position of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu’s ultra right-wing rival, Moshe Feiglin, who was demoted by the committee from the 20th slot on the Likud candidates list to the 36th. Yatom told Army Radio that Netanyahu still had not officially informed him of the committee’s decision. "Apparently, when the shadow of Feiglin is hanging over Netanyahu’s advisers, their opinions are distorted," he added. "I heard people saying that in order to harm Feiglin, it’s no big deal to sacrifice Yatom. " RELATEDThe revised Likud listThe reason the committee. . .

Likud cries foul over Kadima affirmative action rules
Cnaan Liphshiz, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
Likud officials yesterday accused Kadima of "racism" against Western immigrants after the rival party announced that only candidates born in the former Soviet Union can contest slots reserved for immigrants in the December 24 primary. In a response Kadima called the issue "irrelevant," since there are no potential candidates from other countries seeking these spots. Likud and Labor also employ a slot-reservation system to ensure that the party’s list for the general election includes women, immigrants and members of various minority groups. But while the Labor and Likud immigrant slots are open to anyone who came to Israel after 1988 and 1984, respectively, Kadima restricts those slots for immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived 1977. "The only way to describe it is racism," said Likud spokeswoman Dina Libster.

Yisrael Beiteinu reaches out to Anglos
Raphael Ahren, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
Danny Ayalon said he intends to establish branches of Yisrael Beiteinu in Europe and in the United States after the February 10 general election. The former Israeli ambassador left his position as co-chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh in October to pursue his political career. The latest Haaretz-Dialog poll gives Yisrael Beiteinu nine Knesset seats. Senior party sources say Ayalon is likely to be among the top five names on the roster. Ayalon, who is also chairman of the international Yisrael Beitenu movement, plans to target Israel’s English-speaking population in the election campaign, which launches Sunday. "I intend to go and reach as many Anglos as I can, whether they are British, American, South African, Australian - even Germans, for that matter, since they are a group I know and appreciate very much," he said.

Olmert questioned for 12th time in corruption investigation
Efrat Weiss, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Fraud unit investigators question PM for two hours at his Jerusalem residence on Investment Center affair -Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was questioned at his official Jerusalem residence on Friday for the 12th time in recent months by the police fraud investigation unit. The prime minister was questioned by investigators for about two hours on the Investment Center and political appointments affair. It is suspected that during his tenure as industry, trade and labor minister Olmert granted favors to a factory represented by his associate, attorney Uri Messer, through the ministry’s Investment Center. Last week State Prosecutor Moshe Lador decided toclose the Bank Leumi case against Olmert. The Leumi case centered on suspicions that Olmert, while being the locum tenens for the finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, used his influence to make sure. . .

Police question Olmert for twelfth time in corruption probe
Jonathan Lis, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
Police questioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday as part of an ongoing corruption investigation, in the twelfth such session in recent months. The questioning, which took place at Olmert’s official residence and lasted for two hours, dealt with what is known as the Investment Center and political appointments affair, was conducted by the National Fraud Investigation Unit. The Investment Center affair and the political appointments affair were combined by the Israel Police a few months ago. In the Investment Center affair, Olmert, while serving as the industry, trade and labor minister, allegedly granted large state investment funds to a company that his close associate and former law partner, Uri Messer, had been hired to represent.

Katsav to confront accuser
Aviad Glickman, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Former president, plaintiff who accuses him of rape agree to renewed legal proceedings; Katsav’s lawyers demand gag order -The plaintiff A’, who accused former president Moshe Katsav of sexual harassment and rape, is willing to confront him through legal proceedings, A’s lawyer announced Friday. "She’s interested in doing everything necessary to bring the truth to light and bring about Mr. Katsav’s conviction in court," said advocate Danny Srur. Thursday, Katsav, following a consultation with his three lawyers - Avigdor Feldman, Zion Amir and Avi Lavi - decided that he was ready and willing to confront complainant A’. However, one of his lawyers’ conditions for this agreement is a gag order on the filmed testimony during the trial. The possibility for a renewed confrontation between Katsav and A’ was brought up by a new state prosecutorial team headed by Ronit Amiel, who instructed the police to look into the matter.

And then there were six finalists for the ’Arabic Booker’
Daily Star 12/13/2008
BEIRUT: The judges for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) announced their shortlist of six finalists for the award on Wednesday. Also known as the "Arabic Booker," a reference to the Man Booker Prize, the prestigious literary award given to the best novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, IPAF was launched in 2007 in Abu Dhabi. It is a collaboration between the Emirates Foundation, the Booker Prize Foundation, and the Weldenfeld Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The shortlisted authors for this year are: Jordanian-Palestinian Ibrahim Nasrallah, for "Time of White Horses," published by Arab Scientific Publishers; Tunisian Habib Selmi, for "The Scents of Marie-Claire," published by Al-Adab; Iraqi Inaam Kachachi for "The American Granddaughter," published by Al-Jadid; Egyptian Mohamed El-Bisati for "Hunger," also published by Al-Adab; Syrian. . .

Support Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Palestine Think Tank 12/13/2008
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition needs your support! We call on you to help implement the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and land of origin.  Al-Awda was founded in the year 2000 at a time when there was heightened anxiety among Palestinians in relation to the so-called final status negotiations. The concern was that PLO leaders could be pressured to abandon advocacy for the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and lands in the pursuit of a "settlement" with the Zionist state. Palestinians continue to be under intensified attack in the homeland and elsewhere … The sacrifices of our sisters and brothers in the homeland are now greater than ever. 1.  The genocidal two-year siege of the Gaza Strip by the Zionist occupation has escalated to horrific proportions.

Help EI keep the light shining on Palestine in 2009
Appeal, Electronic Intifada 12/12/2008
As you read this, one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are without access to food, medicine or fuel from outside the tiny territory. Half of the bakeries in Gaza have shut down, and others have resorted to baking bread with animal feed. This is not the result of a natural disaster, but the intended consequence of a political decision by Israel’s government. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip an "abomination" and said that the international community’s "silence and complicity" about the crisis in Palestine "shames us all. " For almost eight years, The Electronic Intifada (EI) has worked to break the silence, expose the complicity, and give voice to those working for a different world. Every day, educators, activists, journalists, diplomats, students and thousands of others turn to us knowing they will find independent and original news, comment and analysis from leading reporters and writers.

Jericho amphitheater sees 8,000 at performance of Egyptian singer
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Jericho – Ma’an – Eight thousand Palestinians from the West Bank and Israel gathered in Jericho on Thursday to hear renowned Egyptian singer Hani Shaker. The concert was organized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Tourism on the occasion of the one millionth tourist of the year arriving in Palestine. The concert was an effort to celebrate and revive the tourism industry in the area, and to promote travel to Palestine to those in Jordan, Palestinians in Israel and guests from around the world. Hundreds of Palestinian security forces were deployed around the Jericho amphitheater, and were at the ready in case the crowed got out of hand. All went smoothly, however, and Head of the Police Department in Jericho Rashid Hamdan said the ability of the police during the concert showed that the force was ready to help host Jerusalem City of Culture events next month.

Poll: Most Palestinians believe Abbas’ time is up
Associated Press, YNetNews 12/12/2008
Majority of Palestinians think moderate president’s term should end now; 74% support continuing ceasefire with Israel -A new poll shows most Palestinians believe their moderate president’s term should end in a matter of weeks. That indicates Mahmoud Abbas’ support could erode if he stays on after a Jan. 9 deadline. Abbas says Palestinian law gives him until early 2010. His Hamas rivals reject that claim. The poll shows 64 percent believe the Western-backed Abbas’ term should end now. Only 24 percent believe he has another year. The poll was released Thursday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Pollsters surveyed 1270 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The margin of error was 3 percentage points. The poll shows 40 percent of Gazans wish to emigrate, compared to 25 percent in the West Bank.

Gaza children celebrate Eid by the hundreds at Hamas event
Ma’an News Agency 12/12/2008
Gaza – Ma’an – Hundreds of Palestinian children participated in a festival organized by the public relations department of Hamas on Wednesday, celebrating the third day of the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha. Children living in the Ashu-Shja’eiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, where nearly 1,000 kids took to the streets carrying the Palestinian flag, painted their faces and carried banners with slogans on prisoners and the Israeli siege. The child-friendly rally was led by several clowns. In the At-Tuffah neighborhood, Hamas organized another festival for children on Wednesday, during which kids listened as clowns presented funny stories and games, participants said. [end]

cartoon of the day
Mary Rizzo, Palestine Think Tank 12/12/2008

Tehran protest deplores Israeli blockade
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/13/2008
TEHRAN: Thousands of Iranians on Friday chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" as they demonstrated in Tehran against Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. The demonstration took place on streets leading to the Tehran University compound where the weekly Friday prayers are held. Israel began its crippling siege of the impoverished territory after Hamas routed the rival Fatah movement in parliamentary polls deemed fair and democratic by international observers in 2006. The Jewish state further tightened its chokehold on Gaza after Hamas preempted what many have described as a US- and Israeli- backed offensive by Fatah aimed at ousting the Islamists from the enclave in 2007. "I am sure victory is close and that the breaking of the Zionist regime’s bones can be heard," said Mohammad Hassanian, a student with the Basiji, Iran’s volunteer militia.

’Israel has reached the end of the road’ Staff, Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
Thousands of Iranians held a protest rally in Teheran Friday against the blockade of the Gaza Strip, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Israel had "reached the end of the road. " The protested chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" as they demonstrated on streets leading to the Teheran University compound where the weekly Friday prayer service is held. Also attending the rally, Ahmadinejad told reporters that the Israelis "have reached the end of the road and their abnormal behavior is due to anger and even their supporters are shaky in backing them. "By committing these atrocities they want to pressure the Palestinians to influence their elections. " Ahmad Khatami, conducting the Friday prayers, slammed the "United Nations, Organization of Islamic Conference, Egypt, the Europeans and United States" for their inaction on Gaza.

Iranian cleric raps Obama for stance on Hizbullah
Daily Star 12/13/2008
TEHRAN: A top Iranian cleric on Friday slammed US President-elect Barack Obama’s stance regarding Tehran’s nuclear program and the Islamic Republic’s support of groups resisting Israeli occupation. " He [Obama] recently opined that the development of nuclear arms in Iran would be unacceptable, and also that Iran’s support for ’terrorist organizations,’ such as Hizbullah [in Lebanon], is unacceptable," conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University. "I want to say that these statements are made by a raw person, an upstart [in politics], who has just reached power and is traveling the world of thoughts and imagination. The policy of deception and fraud has been an instrument that has defamed all American presidents," he said. Khatami, a member of Iran’s powerful oversight body, the Assembly of Experts, was speaking to worshippers in Friday prayers broadcast on state radio.

THE TANGLED US-IRAN KNOT, Part Change or deja vu? Obama divides Iran
Gareth Porter, Asia Times 12/13/2008
TEHRAN - Iranian national security officials and political leaders have been carrying out an internal debate over how much freedom President-elect Barack Obama will have to change US policy toward Iran, and those who have argued that he will not be able to do so have gained the upper hand since Obama’s announcement of his national security team, interviews with Iranian officials and their advisers reveal. The outcome of that debate, which is very sensitive to signals from Obama and his national security team, could be a key factor in how far Iran goes in indicating its own willingness to make concessions to Washington next year. Two different views of Obama and his administration’s likely policy toward Iran emerged within the regime in the first weeks after his election, according to the officials interviewed in Tehran. One interpretation was that Obama’s election is the result of a fundamental shift in US politics and offers an opportunity for Iran to find a way out of its decades-long conflict with the United States.

Leviev responsible for one-quarter of all growth in banks’ problem debts
Sharon Shpurer, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
Doubtful debts rose by NIS 6. 4 billion in third quarter to NIS 42. 9 billion The problematic debts of the five big banks jumped in the third quarter of this year by NIS 6. 4 billion to reach NIS 42. 9 billion. One -quarter of the increase in such debts in the three months from July through September is due to Bank Hapoalim’s exposure to Lev Leviev’s companies. The total amount of problematic debt at Bank Hapoalim grew in the third quarter by NIS 2. 6 billion, of which NIS 1. 5 billion stems from Leviev controlled businesses. Bank Leumi’s exposure to Leviev is much smaller. In response, Bank Hapoalim said it does not provide information other than its official financial reports. Also, Leviev’s spokesman said they were not able to answer such questions. Bank Hapoalim is exposed to Leviev not only through its loans to publicly traded Africa Israel, but also. . .

Employment outlook turns negative in Q4
Haim Bior, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
More workers lose jobs than find new ones for the first time in five years The slowdown in the Israeli job market has become much worse in the fourth quarter. The number of open jobs has dropped drastically while the number of people losing their jobs has worsened this quarter, reports the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. For the first time in five years the number of people leaving jobs has outstripped the number finding jobs. This is being caused by a drop in the number of jobs created and a rise in the number of people losing their jobs. It encompasses the entire economy and all business sectors, affecting both large and small companies. Ministry figures show that there have been between 23,000 and 27,400 available jobs on any given day this quarter, a 45% drop from the third quarter and a 57% drop from the same period a year earlier.

Syria sees Iraq-US pact as threat
Middle East Online 12/12/2008
DAMASCUS - Syrian officials and academics argue that the recently endorsed agreement between the United States and the Iraqi government on the future status of the international military presence there is a risk to Syria’s security. Damascus is worried that the agreement will open the way for Iraq and the US to launch attacks on Syrian territory as part of their fight against Iraqi militant groups. In September, the US carried an air strike on a Syrian village along the border with Iraq, killing eight civilians, according to the government in Damascus. US officials said they targeted a key al-Qaeda figure who they believed was engaged in smuggling insurgents into Iraq. “The American presence in Iraq, whether permanent or temporary, threatens Syrian security,” said Syrian vice-president Farouq al-Shara in a recent address to political party members in Damascus.

Does Syria need nuclear power?
Middle East Online 12/12/2008
DAMASCUS - Syrian analysts are divided over a decision to consider whether to build a nuclear power plant, with some saying it is essential to secure future energy supplies, and others concerned that the project could divert attention from more pressing priorities. On November 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA approved a Syrian request for a three-year, 350,000 US dollar study into the feasibility of establishing a nuclear power station. The decision was made despite vocal opposition from the United States and other western nations, which said such aid would be inappropriate at a time when Syria remains under investigation for allegedly pursuing a covert nuclear programme. Ibrahim Othman, head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission, welcomed the IAEA decision, saying it showed “an understanding of Syria’s position”.

40 years after Israel’s first transplant, donor’s family says his heart was stolen
Dana Weiler-Polak, Ha’aretz 12/13/2008
The law in force at that time, which allowed organs to be harvested without the family’s consent. - For the medical profession, last week’s 40th anniversary of Israel’s first successful heart transplant was a festive occasion. But for one family, it brought back bitter memories - because the transplanted heart, according to the donor’s family, was obtained through deceit and trickery. Avraham Sadegat arrived at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva in December 1968 after suffering a stroke. According to his wife, Ofra, the doctors said he was doing well, but later a nurse asked her not to stay the night. "I asked a lot of questions about Avraham’s situation, but the doctors answered tersely, evasively. They averted their heads, they almost wouldn’t look me in the eyes. "The next day, Ofra said, she was once again told that Avraham was doing well, but that she should not stay the night. . . "

Weak oil prices force Iraq to slash spending again
Agence France Presse - AFP, Daily Star 12/13/2008
BAGHDAD: Iraqi Finance Minister Baqer Jabr Solagh said on Friday that he will make more cuts in budget spending plans for 2009 because of further falls in the price of oil, the country’s main source of revenue. "In recent days we have seen a surprise and significant fall in crude oil export prices and the ministry is attentively watching market rates," the minister said in a statement. The ministry will "take steps in early 2009 to revise the budget and reduce spending not judged to be necessary to sustain the economy and allow growth," Solagh said. On November 11, the government adopted a 2009 budget of $67 billion after Solagh scaled down initial proposals for 80 billion, a target set when oil prices were at record highs in July. Crude oil is trading less than one third of the peak above $147 a barrel. The official budget, drawn up in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, is based on an assumption that oil will average $62.

US general: Iran backs off lethal roadside bomb in Iraq
Associated Press, Jerusalem Post 12/12/2008
Iran is no longer actively supplying Iraqi militias with a particularly lethal kind of roadside bomb, a decision that suggests a strategic shift by the Iranian leadership, US and Iraqi authorities said. Use of the armor-piercing explosives - known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs - has dwindled sharply in recent months, said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, head of the Pentagon office created to counter roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Thursday. Metz estimated that US forces find between 12 and 20 of the devices in Iraq each month, down from 60 to 80 earlier this year. "Someone. . . has made the decision to bring them down," Metz told reporters. Asked if the elite Iranian Republican Guard Corps has made a deliberate choice to limit use of EFPs, Metz nodded: "I think you could draw that inference from the data.


YouTube Partners with MOSSAD - ADL
Haitham Sabbah, Palestine Think Tank 12/12/2008
      It seems that the days of using YouTube as #1 media to distribute documentaries, videos and presentations about the truth of Israel and Zionist and their horrific war-crimes history and terrorism profile, has come to an END.
     Yesterday, it was announced that YouTube officially connected to the infamous ADL as partner to "Fight Against Hate."
     NEW YORK, Dec. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ - YouTube has reached out to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for its expertise in dealing with hate on the Internet. In one outgrowth of that partnership, the League is now a contributor to YouTube's newly launched Abuse & Safety Center, where users are empowered to identify and confront hate, and to report abuses.
     The YouTube Abuse & Safety Center features information and links to resources developed by ADL to help Internet users respond to and report offensive material and extremist content that violates YouTube’s Community Guidelines on hate speech.…

Eid proves hard in Gaza

Al Jazeera 12/12/2008
      In an occasional diary piece, a member of staff from the charity Oxfam writes on the situation in Gaza, where residents are celebrating Eid al-Adha with basic goods and power in short supply.
     A lot can happen in a month. A lot has happened in Gaza since I was last there five weeks ago.
     Since Israel tightened the blockade on the Gaza Strip in November, bakeries have run out of gas. People are now queuing for bread. Gaza’s only power plant has been shut down.
     Light, water and heating are in scarce supply. Banks ran out of money. It is bad enough to think about this, but what is it like to live with?
     I phoned my colleague, Nidal, who works with Oxfam in Gaza. He started by telling me that power to his home in the Bureij refugee camp has been off for the past two days. His son Tareq, a toddler, is frightened by the dark and has stopped eating properly.

East Jerusalem’s planning trap

Efrat Cohen-Bar, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
      This week a new mayor and city council took office in Jerusalem. Also this week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel published its annual report. The report shows that the capital’s new municipal government has its work cut out for it, if it has any intention of correcting the city’s discriminatory policies in East Jerusalem.
     According to the ACRI report, 67 percent of Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem are impoverished. It also notes that there has been an official and declared Israeli policy to preserve a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, and that the bureaucracy has been enlisted to advance this goal. In what is supposedly a unified city, west and east are worlds apart, in terms of both human rights and development opportunities. One of the best examples is embodied in municipal planning procedures.
     One third of Jerusalem’s population lives in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. These residents suffer from residential congestion, a lack of suitable infrastructure and mountains of obstacles on the path to obtaining building permits. Neither existing plans, nor the new ones currently being touted by City Hall, meet the minimal housing needs of the city’s Palestinian residents....

''I was afraid they would destroy our trees''

Eva Bartlett writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Electronic Intifada 12/12/2008
      Leila pointed towards a lone tree and small house on a ridge above what appeared to be a vacant lot. "This was a great field," she said, "filled with lime, guava and orange trees. They destroyed them, killed the trees," she explained, referring to Israeli invasions over the years. "A few days after he learned his trees had been destroyed, the man who owned and tended to the trees passed away."
     She began to speak of Israel’s last large-scale invasion, at the end of February and into the first week of March, which Israel dubbed "Hot Winter." During the invasion Israeli forces killed at least 120 Palestinians, and wounded hundreds more. This was the invasion during which Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians in Gaza with a "holocaust" in response to the firing of homemade rockets from the Strip towards Israel.
     Leila’s family home in Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, lay in the thick of the slaughter. Israeli soldiers took over her home, using the top floor room overlooking a main street as a sniper position, from which to target people outside.The family was kept locked in one room, at gunpoint, for three days, as is often the army policy when invading Palestinian areas."We weren’t allowed to cook, to heat milk for my baby, to wash for our prayers. The soldiers said we could only go to the bathroom alone, but I refused this. I’m a woman, I don’t want to be alone with soldiers," she explained. As it was, Leila said that the women complained of soldiers not allowing them to close the door when using the toilet.

60 years of refugeehood and human rights

Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star 12/13/2008
      Sixty years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a powerful, universal call to treat all human beings with dignity, respect, opportunity and equal rights. The 28 articles of the declaration are stunning in their simplicity, clarity and sheer human decency. The declaration remains a beacon of hope for those people around the world in situations of oppression, occupation or marginalization.
     I especially admire the preamble, which says that, "... the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," and adds that, "... if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.
     Also 60 years old this autumn is the Palestinian refugee situation. Curious about the linkage between these two anniversaries, I sat down for a chat in Beirut this week with Karen AbuZayd, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the body charged with meeting the basic needs of Palestinian refugees.

The Middle East needs media freedoms even more than other parts of the world

Editorial, The Daily Star, Daily Star 12/13/2008
      Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia formed their own club on Friday, overcoming serious differences in government structure and orientation to find common ground. Tunisia and Syria are officially republics, while Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The Saudis and the Tunisians are aligned with the United States, while the Syrians are allied to Iran - and Damascus has particularly frosty relations with Riyadh. Nevertheless, the three leaderships agreed on one thing: the need to keep some of their citizens from attending a conference in Beirut on, of all subjects, a free press.
     The peoples of the Middle East and North Africa have suffered more than most from the repercussions of information being controlled and/or misconstrued by a select few. Ignorance about this part of the world has provided a freer hand for the launching and maintenance of colonial projects, impunity for the betrayals carried out in their dissolution, cover for the dispossession of the Palestinians, and impunity for the overthrow of sovereign governments (including some that were freely and fairly elected). Nowhere should citizens and their governments be more aware of the need for open media environments that enhance the likelihood of decent governance by fashioning some degree, however modest, of accountability for those who rule over others.

The sheikh’s handshake

Jack Shenker, The Guardian 12/11/2008
      "I said shake, rattle and roll," sang rock legend Bill Haley in 1954, "well, you never do nothin’ to save your doggone soul." Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi was a young theology student in 1950s Cairo and so probably wasn’t well-versed in Haley’s back catalogue; still, had he paid closer attention to the song’s lyrics he might have found them alarmingly prophetic. Last month Sheikh Tantawi, now Egypt’s top cleric and arguably the highest authority in Sunni Islam, shook the wrong hand, rattled the Muslim world, and is now facing increasingly-belligerent calls for his head to roll.
     The ill-fated clasp took place at an interfaith conference in New York and the recipient was Israeli president Shimon Peres. Sheikh Tantawi, who as the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and university occupies the highest seat of learning in the Sunni world, claims the embrace was purely accidental. "I shook his hand like I did the others: at random, without even knowing him," Tantawi told the incredulous Egyptian press. Israeli reporters tell a different story, suggesting that it was Tantawi who approached Peres and that the two men had a warm and serious conversation throughout dinner.
     Regardless of who is right, the handshake stirred up a storm of controversy that has dominated front pages for days in Egypt and beyond. The problem is that, intended or not, a friendly gesture between the Supreme Islamic Guide for the Muslim world on the one side and the president of a Zionist state on the other is seen by many in the Middle East as a painful propaganda gift to the Israelis, just as hundreds and thousands of Gazan Muslims remain trapped under brutal siege by the Israeli army. The pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi called Tantawi "absurd"; the Egyptian opposition daily, al-Dostour, is now running a high-profile campaign for his dismissal.

Our mothers’ sons

Rod Solaimani and Hammad Hammad, Ha’aretz 12/12/2008
      The patio greeted us with a coolness and calm that seemed anything but natural in Deheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem in the West Bank, where the sheer density of people has eroded any notion of private space. Above us, grape vines curled around the rafters of an unfinished ceiling. It’s strange that since 1948, the visual reminder of a refugee’s transience seems to have evolved from temporary tents to constant construction.
     What exactly were two recent American college grads (Hammad, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rod, an Iranian Jew) doing when they chose to spend their summer living and working in a refugee camp? What started as an idea born over Red Bulls at 2 A.M. one night last spring at Georgetown University, evolved into summer camps in the Deheisheh, Jalazun and Al-Azzeh refugee camps last July. As idealistic college students, we aspired to inspire refugee youth to become agents of change in Palestinian society, so they could proactively take steps (using the arts, media and sports) to make peace and stability a day-to-day reality in their lives.

A life in writing: Mourid Barghouti

Interview by Maya Jaggi, The Guardian 12/13/2008
      I learn from trees." The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti gestures around his mother’s terraced garden in the hilly Jordanian capital, Amman. "Just as many fruits drop before they’re ripe, when I write a poem I treat it with healthy cruelty, deleting images to take care of the right ones."
     Barghouti has published 12 poetry books in Arabic since the early 1970s, as well as a 700-page Collected Works (1997). He has read in overflowing amphitheatres and in refugee camps. Midnight and Other Poems, his first major collection in English translation, is out this month from Arc.
     It was his memoir, I Saw Ramallah, published by Bloomsbury in 2004 in a translation by Ahdaf Soueif, that first won him a readership in English. The late Edward Said saw it as "one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement". Reflecting on crossing the bridge from Jordan to his West Bank birthplace in 1996 after 30 years’ exile - a visit under Israeli control that he refused to call a return - he described a condition of permanent uprootedness. A student in Cairo when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war broke out, he was prevented, like many others, from returning to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He was later exiled from Jordan for 20 years, Egypt for 18 years, and Lebanon for 15 years. Yet all writing, for him, is a displacement, a striving to escape from the "dominant used language" and the "chains of the tribe - its approval and taboos".

I believe in Miracles

Nahida Izzat, Palestine Think Tank 12/11/2008
      You can break my bones
     My free spirit is invincible
     You can cause me the loss of sight
     The light of my insight
     You’ll never take away
     In the shadows of darkness
     Lies the corpse of your might
     You can destroy my house
     The windows of my hope,
     You cannot break
     The pillars of my faith
     You can never shake
     You can threaten me
     With weapons of death
     And mass destruction
     Implanting fear in my heart
     You cannot achieve
     Nor can you cut off
     My divine connection
     With a missile...