Aletho News


Settlers target ‘shared cities’

By Mya Guarnieri | Al-Jazeera | June 21, 2010

Jewish settlers storming the garden of an elderly Palestinian woman may seem like something you would expect to happen in Hebron, not cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. But that is exactly what happened to Zeinab Rachayel, an Arab resident of Tel Aviv’s mixed suburb, Yafo.

Rachayel was in her courtyard on a Sunday afternoon when several buses full of settlers from the West Bank arrived, parking nearby. Armed with Israeli flags, young men lined the sidewalk outside her home chanting “this is our land”. One by one, they entered her garden, until Rachayel was confronted by dozens of settlers in their late teens and early twenties.

“Another one entered and he said, ‘Listen, you’re not staying here. Yafo is just for Jews. Get out of Yafo,'” Rachayel says. The men continued to threaten and intimidate her, repeatedly saying that the Arab presence in Yafo is only temporary.

A cultural hub

Yafo was once Jaffa – the cultural and economic hub of Palestine. Battered during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the conflict that surrounded the creation of the Jewish state, Jaffa’s population plummeted as residents fled or were expelled from their homes.

Jewish immigrants quickly took their places and in 1950, the Tel Aviv municipality swallowed Jaffa, renaming it Yafo.

Today, some 60 years later, the twin forces of settlers and gentrification means the area’s Palestinian community are again facing an existential threat.

On that Sunday afternoon, one of Rachayel’s sons arrived. He used his belt, waving the buckle, to chase the settlers out of the garden. Eventually, the police arrived, but no arrests were made.

Rachayel asks: “If this had happened the other way around, to a Jewish family, what would they have done?”

She stresses that, as is the case in other mixed areas of Israel, Jews and Arabs have long enjoyed close relationships in Yafo. Rachayel grew up next to a Jewish family and recalls how the children were like brothers and sisters to her.

But, she says, ties grew tense during the first Intifada. And now, with settlers trickling into Yafo, Rachayel feels the mood darkening again. “It’s sad,” she tells me.

Going mainstream

Sami Abu Shehadeh, the head of Yafo’s Popular Committee Against Home Demolitions, estimates that approximately 50 settler families are scattered throughout Yafo.

They began moving to mixed cities in the wake of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in a bid to make themselves more familiar to Jewish Israelis and to garner mainstream support.

It is also an attempt to stay on the political radar, Abu Shehadeh says.

“If any of the Israeli prime ministers will have the guts to take a settler out of the West Bank, they will set Israel on fire from the inside. It’s not that they’re going to demonstrate in the settlements. Now they’re here, in the heart.”

Writing for Haaretz, right-wing journalist Nadav Shragai has aligned the settlements inside mixed cities as a battlefront in the so-called demographic war between Arabs and Jews.

“Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, is losing its grip on these cities,” he wrote, adding “settlers in Judea and Samaria have dispatched their best people and rabbis to [Yafo], Acre, Lod and Ramle”.

Forcing Arabs out

Bemuna, a construction company whose name means “in faith”, aims to bring another 20 such families to Ajami, a predominantly Palestinian area considered the heart of Yafo’s fragile Arab community. Bemuna is planning an apartment complex that will be exclusive to national-religious Jews.

“They started in East Jerusalem,” Abu Shehadeh says. “Then they had a big project in Lod. Then they went to Akko. Now, they are coming to Yafo.”

The move, Bemuna claims, is intended to strengthen the Jewish community. But critics point out that rather than building in one of Yafo’s underprivileged Jewish areas, Bemuna purchased land where very few Jews live. The plans to build in Ajami, critics say, are a provocation at best; at worst, it is an attempt to push Arabs from the area.

Abu Shehadeh and other members of the local leadership are concerned with the closed nature of the development. “We felt it is racism, so we went to court.”

Tel Aviv District Judge Yehuda Zaft ruled against the petition, which contested the project’s discriminatory selection of residents and was filed by over a dozen organisations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The group is appealing the decision and on June 21, the Israeli supreme court will hear the case.

Creating new realities

But no matter what the supreme court rules, Yafo will remain embroiled in problems.

Residents are deeply troubled by a recently opened yeshiva, or Jewish institution for religious studies. Like many found in the West Bank, Yafo’s yeshiva is an ideological training ground for national-religious men who intend to join the army. And it is led by Rabbi Eliyahi Mali, who hails from the settlement Bet El.

Speaking to Israeli Channel Seven, Rabbi Mali called his work in Yafo “an important mission like no other,” adding that if West Bank settlements “would send one tenth of their residents to large cities … this one tenth of people imbued with faith will establish a community, a yeshiva, and a centre amidst the Jewish populace, which will create a different reality than we know today”.

Abu Shehadeh says: “In their vision, this [Palestinian] neighbourhood does not exist in the next 10 years.”

It is a common sentiment amongst Arab residents – the yeshiva is a sign of a takeover, an attempt to turn Yafo into a West Bank settlement.

Palestinian residents report that they have been verbally harassed by yeshiva students. Now, they avoid both the building and the street it is on, out of fear of further altercations.

Ihlas Yateen, a Palestinian resident of Yafo, calls the yeshiva and settlers “dangerous”.

“What are they doing here?” she asks.

“I don’t know why the state lets them do it. They can’t forbid them from entering here? What, they’d let [Arabs] enter Bnei Brak?” she adds, referring to the Orthodox Jewish city near Tel Aviv.

Highest bidders

Her comment points towards gentrification’s role in Yafo’s problems.

The government-controlled Israel land authority sells to the highest bidder. In the case of the lot slated for the 20-unit settlement that was Bemuna. Money dictates who can buy where.

Yafo’s Palestinian residents point out that, for the most part, their community is poor. And Ajami is the weakest link. Perched on a hill close to the sea, Ajami is also prime real estate.

Yehudit Ilani, a Jewish Israeli resident of Ajami and an advocate for Palestinian home and land allocation rights, explains that the Israeli government has strict codes regarding houses in Yafo.

If a growing family adds a room to their home or fails to maintain a building’s appearance in accordance with the state’s standards, they face astronomical fines, eviction or demolition.

Once a home has been emptied or destroyed, the land authority can sell the plot.

“There are 498 court cases to kick people out of their homes,” Ilani explains. Of these, all but one are against Arab families. The only Jewish family facing eviction are an impoverished Mizrahi (Arab Jewish) family.

Ilani says there are other residents facing eviction as the land authority seeks to cash in on a hot market. These families receive some compensation, she explains, “but it’s not enough money to get back in the market”.

Ilani points out that, as the Palestinian community is “being torn apart,” the state can make the choice not to sell the property. “They’re hiding behind the market, denying that a nationalist principle is involved,” she says.

“Gentrification is being used as a method of ethnic cleansing, in effect.”

From sharing to segregation

Ilani says the Jewish Israelis who decide to live in Yafo are not the problem. Rather it is the state policies that are “part of a much larger picture” threatening the area.

This has dangerous implications for the state, Ilani says. “It’s a completely segregated society. Only in the shared cities is there some sort of a discourse, a dialogue, knowing each other. The shared cities could be the basis of a way of living together.”

But gentrification and settlers are chipping away at this hope, little by little.

Esther Saba is a Palestinian resident of Yafo who faced demolition due to an unauthorised addition to her family home. She points out that when the bulldozers arrived, Jewish Israeli activists played a pivotal role in saving her home, standing in the front yard and on the roof to guard it.

“There is no problem with regular Jews,” Saba says. “We have a very good connection.”

But the growing presence of settlers is worrisome, Saba says. “They don’t want [Arabs] here in Yafo.”

Neither Bemuna nor Yeshivat Yafo responded to multiple requests for comment.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | 1 Comment

The Obama administration and its pundit-defenders

By Glenn Greenwald | June 21, 2010

Even in the context of America’s wretched civil liberties abuses over the last decade, the case of Mohamed Hassan Odaini stands out.  He was 17 years old in 2001 when his father sent him from Yemen to study at a religious university in Raiwand, Pakistan, and when a campus house in which he was staying there was raided by Pakistani authorities in early 2002, he was turned over to the U.S. and shipped to Guantanamo, where he has remained without charges for the last eight years (he’s now 26).  A federal court this month granted his habeas petition for release, finding that the evidence “overwhelmingly supports Odaini’s contention that he is unlawfully detained.”  Worse, the court described the multiple times over the years — beginning in 2002 and occurring as recently as 2009 — when the U.S. Government itself concluded that Odaini was guilty of nothing, was mistakenly detained, and should be released (see here for the court’s description of that history).

Despite that, the Obama administration has refused to release him for the past 16 months, and fought vehemently in this habeas proceeding to keep him imprisoned.  As the court put it, the Obama DOJ argued “vehemently” that there was evidence that Odaini was part of Al Qaeda.  In fact, the Obama administration knew this was false.  This Washington Post article this weekend quotes an “administration official” as saying:  “The bottom line is: We don’t have anything on this kid.”  But after Obama decreed in January that no Yemeni detainees would be released — even completely innocent ones, and even though the Yemeni government wants their innocent prisoners returned — Obama DOJ lawyers basically lied to the court by claiming there was substantial evidence to prove that Odaini was part of Al Qaeda even though they know that is false.  In other words, the Obama administration is knowingly imprisoning a completely innocent human being who has been kept in a cage in an island prison, thousands of miles from his home, for the last 8 years, since he’s 18 years old, despite having done absolutely nothing wrong.

It really is hard to imagine many things worse, more criminal, than imprisoning people for years whom you know are innocent, while fighting in court to keep them imprisoned.  But that’s exactly what the Obama administration is doing.  Every day that Odiani is kept in a cage is a serious crime.  Just imagine what has happened to his life by being shipped off to Guantanamo for 8 years, starting in 2002 during that camp’s darkest days, with absolutely no justification.  As the court put it:

I honestly don’t understand how any Obama DOJ lawyer or official could involve themselves with anything like this.  If you’re willing to work to keep a person whom you know is innocent imprisoned, what aren’t you willing to do?  What decent human being wouldn’t be repulsed by this?  I don’t care how many times someone chants “Pragmatism” or “The Long Game” or whatever other all-purpose justifying mantras have been marketed to venerate the current President; these are repellent acts that have no justification.

Of course, none of this is new for the Obama administration; it’s consistent with their course of conduct from the start.  I highlight this today only because there is an obvious, concerted effort by a slew of Democratic Beltway pundits over the last month or so to attack the so-called “Left” for daring to express displeasure with the Obama administration, and to demonize those objections as unserious, shrill, irrational, purist and all the other clichés long used by this same cadre of party apparatchiks for the same purpose.  This is all coming from a homogeneous clique of Democratic Party pundits who have strikingly similar demographics and background, most of whom supported the Iraq War, and who spend a great deal of time talking to one another in public and private and reinforcing their talking point platitudes, and have spent years railing against the Left.  Just look at who is purporting to lecture liberals on how to promote progressive goals.

The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait — vocal Iraq War cheerleader (from a safe distance) who works for a magazine whose declared editorial mission is to have Joe Lieberman’s worldview “once again guide the Democratic Party” — has written yet another lecture chiding liberals for unfair and irrational discontent with his beloved leader.  Peter Connolly — a D.C. lobbyist and telecom lawyer for Holland & Knightpublished a screed this weekend at The Huffington Post condemning progressives who are mounting primary challenges against conservative Democratic incumbents for creating a terribly unjustified “civil war” in the Democratic Party, which, after all, is led by what he called that “unabashed liberal” Barack Obama.  Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter — the first known mainstream pundit to explicitly call for torture in the wake of the 9/11 attack and one of the creepiest Obama loyalists around — has been running around the country promoting his book by spouting “the typical warmed over Village sentiments, particularly as it relates to liberal critics of the President.”

Lanny Davis published a column this weekend arguing that “the Left” is a threat to good Democratic principles and that Obama should “Sister Souljah” progressives who are criticizing him.  The New York Times‘ conservative columnist Ross Douthat even adopts their script today by pronouncing liberal disenchantment with Obama to be “bizarrely disproportionate” and grounded in unrealistic expectations of Obama.  And a whole slew of other, similar Obama-defending Democratic Party loyalists (Jon Chait, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Bernstein) — for whom the excuses of “not-enough-time-yet” and “Pragmatism” are now dry wells — have together invented a new one:  none of this is Obama’s fault because the Presidency is so weak and powerless (though Klein, to his credit, accurately acknowledges that that excuse is “less true on foreign policy than on domestic policy”).

So the homogeneous Party loyalists who cheered for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, who spend their time privately railing together against those misguided liberal critics, have all magically come forward in unison, with the same script, to decree that The Left’s discontent with the President is so terribly shrill, unrealistic, unfair, and unSerious.  The same trite pundits who reflexively ingest and advocate whatever the political establishment spits out are announcing that criticisms of the President are so unfair.  Jon Chait, Jon Bernstein, Jon Alter, Lanny Davis, Peter Connolly, Ross Douthat and friends know what good Progressives must do — with their track record, who could possibly disagree? — and that’s be grateful for the President we have and to refrain from all this chattering, irrational, purist negativity.  Meanwhile, the administration does one thing after the next along the lines of what it’s doing to Mohamed Hassan Odaini, rendering these You-Leftists-are-so-UnSerious sermons no more impressive or worthwhile than when the same unfailingly wrong establishment spokespeople, driven by exactly the same mentality, were spouting them back in 2003.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on The Obama administration and its pundit-defenders

Who Says We Can’t Criticize Israel?

By Peter Ewart | Palestine Chronicle | June 21, 2010

Like a postage stamp that has been licked too often, a word can lose its power and authority if it is used indiscriminately.

So it is with the word “terrorist” that is now routinely applied by governments all over the world to demonize and marginalize political opposition. And likewise with the word “anti-semitic” which is a label stuck on just about anyone who is not in total support of the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.

Indeed, Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, was given precisely that label after calling Israel an “apartheid state”.

Even South African Judge Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish, who led a UN authorized fact-finding mission into Israel’s invasion of Gaza last year has been called anti-semitic for his findings which have been labeled as “anti-Israel” by the Israeli government.

Closer to home, Canada, the aid organization Kairos had its funding cut off by the Harper government because of, the government alleges, its support for the boycott movement against Israel and its “anti-semitism”. Kairos is a joint venture of thirteen Canadian churches and church organizations, including Catholic, Anglican, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Society of Friends, and United Church.

The latest public figure to get the “anti-semitic” label is NDP MP for East Vancouver, Libby Davies. She has had this pinned on her because she expressed support for the international campaign to boycott and sanction Israel for its blockade of Gaza, as well as suggesting that Israel has been “occupying” the land since 1948.

Prime Minister Harper has since called for Davies to resign as deputy NDP leader and Liberal Bob Rae has accused her of “hostility and ignorance”. Even some members of her own party, the NDP, have attacked her, with Thomas Mulcair NDP MP calling her comments “egregious” and out of step with her party.

It is quite interesting that, while the caucuses of the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are very quick to jump on Davies, they have made no criticism of the killings by Israeli commandoes of the nine people on the ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza by Israel.

It is also quite interesting that, as a 2007 BBC poll shows (see footnote 1), 52% of Canadians have a negative view towards Israel, while only 23% had a positive one. The question should be asked: Just who is out of step with who? Is it Libby Davies or is it the three federal parties in parliament who are out of step with the Canadian people?

Indeed, it is these same three federal political parties that have formed “The Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-semitism”, the members of which are claiming that criticizing Israel is a “new form” of anti-semitism. Dylan Penner, founding member of Independent Jewish Voices, believes that the ultimate objective of this Parliamentary Committee is “to introduce legislation that would make it a crime to criticize Israel”.

All of this raises serious questions about freedom of speech and right to conscience in Canada. Parliamentarians and Canadians themselves should have the right to criticize the policies and practices of any of the 190+ countries in the world as they see fit, and that includes Israel. If criticism of Israel is “off limits” and “illegal”, how soon before it becomes a crime to criticize the Canadian government itself?

In an interview, Libby Davies has also said that there are other federal MPs who do not approve of Israeli actions, such as the blockade of Gaza and the invasion of Lebanon, but who “are actually afraid to speak out.” According to her, this constitutes a new type of “McCarthyism” in Canada.

Why are they afraid to speak out? A number of analysts have commented about the strength of the Israel lobby in the U.S. and that members of Congress are afraid to criticize Israel for fear of being targeted by this well-financed lobby. Is that the case in Canada? More than a few believe that is also true (see footnote 2).

So what are the implications for politics in Canada if MPs are afraid to speak out because they fear reprisal from the lobbyists and supporters of a foreign government? For one thing, perhaps such MPs should not be in Parliament. If they are intimidated by these lobbyists, how can they be expected to stand up for their own constituents?

Secondly, rather than having a parliamentary committee examining and dissecting the beliefs of ordinary Canadians, maybe it’s time would be better spent looking at the power of lobbyists in Ottawa who lobby on behalf of foreign governments and who seek to make criticism of these governments off limits or even illegal.

Now that is a postage stamp that might just stick.

– Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, British Columbia. This article was contributed to He can be reached at:


(1) BBC World Service poll. March 6, 2007.
(2) Canada’s Israel Lobby. By Peyton Vaughan Lyon, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Carleton University

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pakistan ignores US on Iran gas deal

Press TV – June 21, 2010

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister says his country needs energy, emphasizing that Islamabad will continue a gas pipeline deal with Iran despite sanctions on Tehran.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters on Sunday that the present government has struck the gas pipeline deal with Iran in view of Pakistan’s energy requirements.

“This agreement is in the interest of Pakistan and it will only see its interests and the international laws…… the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline agreement will not come under the ambit of the sanctions on Tehran,” he said, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister disclosed that all the different phases of the gas pipeline agreement have been finalized and Islamabad wants it to proceed as planned.

On Sunday, Tehran and Islamabad finished signing a multi-billion-dollar contract, which supplies Pakistan with Iranian natural gas from 2014.

That same day, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, warned Islamabad that a recently signed gas pipeline deal with Iran could run afoul of new sanctions being finalized in the US Congress.

“We cautioned the Pakistanis to try to see what the (Congressional) legislation is, before deciding how to proceed because it would be a disaster if … we had a situation develop where an agreement was reached which then triggered something under the law,” he said.

Under the $7.6 billion deal, the Islamic Republic has agreed to provide 50 million cubic feet of natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis from mid-2014.

The pipeline will account for 20 percent of the recipient’s demands once Iran’s giant South Pars gas field is connected with Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline, stating that as a country with huge gas reserves, it is capable of guaranteeing global energy security.

The project, which aims to transport gas from Iran to Pakistan through a 2,600-kilometer pipeline, was first advanced in 1994 but has been stalled by a series of disputes between Pakistan and India.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | 1 Comment

Israel threatens deportation for Jerusalem protesters

Ma’an – 21/06/2010

Jerusalem – Israel is set to take action against the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, sources told Ma’an, as media reports claim municipal officials will soon begin mass demolitions of Al-Bustan homes.

Hebrew media quoted Israeli security circles in Monday morning reports, recommending the municipal and federal government give directives to the interior ministry and National Insurance Institute to use their weight to impose sanctions on Jerusalemite families whose children partake in protests against Israel.

Punishments, the sources said, will include the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights, re-evaluation of taxes owed and reduction in welfare benefits to the tax-paying residents of Palestinian neighborhoods.

The Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights said in a statement released the same morning, that several complaints from Jerusalemites had already been received, as families were threatened with deportation. At least two teenagers known to have been involved in protests against Israeli settlers, home evictions and planned demolitions, received unofficial warning from Israeli intelligence officers.

The two were told they would be deported if they continue to “incite” against the state of Israel.

Four Palestinian lawmakers affiliated with Hamas’ Change and Reform bloc were given notice that their Jerusalem residency was being revoked, while Director of the Palestinian prisoner’s society in Jerusalem Nasser Qaws and senior Fatah official Hatim Abdul Qader were also put on alert by Israeli forces.

In 2008, Israel revoked 466 Jerusalem residency cards, with the number expected to skyrocket for 2010.

Silwan demolitions

A news conference for Israel’s Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat is set to announce the construction of a national park on what will be the ruins of at least 88 homes in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan, in East Jerusalem, as plans to start demolitions will be authorized on Monday, Israeli media reported.

Palestinian residents of the neighborhood plan to hold a news conference of their own, and continue to push the municipality to accept an alternative city planning initiative, that would see the area “greened” and involve zero forced home demolitions.

Under the Israeli plan, families in the western half of Silwan must move into the homes of families from the eastern half as theirs were set for demolition under the city planning guide. Residents of the eastern section who refuse to accommodate families, alternative planner Youssef Jabareen told Ma’an, will also face home demolitions.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | Comments Off on Israel threatens deportation for Jerusalem protesters