Saturday, June 25

Cheese and Peace

As the hot summer months approach, Israel enters the school vacation period with lethargy, boredom and increased apathy. The biggest worry for parents of young school-going children is what to do with them during the hot, unpleasant, summer months which somehow bakes our brains and dulls the senses.

The Arab uprisings are continuing and the cruel massacres of Syrians opposing the Bashar Assad tyranny goes on unabated creating a horrendous refugee problem as Syrian families flee into Turkey. Over 1500 Syrians have lost their lives. The Syrian opposition opposes Iran and Hezbollah, who are Assad's cruel allies. They want them out of Syria. This is not the case in Gaza. Iran and Hezbollah are arming Hamas, not for the achievement of human rights and democracy in Gaza, but for their own cruel agenda of oppression and colonization of future Palestine under their fanatic influence.

Another hotspot in the uprising is Libya where NATO Forces seem to be embroiled in a situation that is approaching a stalemate as Qaddafi clings to power stubbornly. He continues to abuse his people and suppress them with a cruelty that is beyond description. This is barely mentioned in the Israeli Press.

The main coverage in Israel is the price of local cottage cheese and the corruption in the national soccer clubs of fixing matches and timetables.

What does cottage cheese have to do with peace? At first glance - nothing! However, the cheese prices resulted in a determination amongst the Israeli public to fight the price rise by rallying to the boycott of cottage cheese until the price falls. Naturally, a Face book page was created to increase support for this boycott.

When something of this nature hits the pockets of Israelis they know how to protest and force the government to take action despite the oppressive summer heat.

When it comes to peace negotiations with the Palestinians in order to solve the conflict there is total apathy. Most Israelis are dulled by a sense of apathy. They avoid mention of the subject. There seems to be unawareness in Israel of the Arab uprising in the neighbouring countries. As far as they are concerned, the status quo is wonderful - business as usual - and no sign of any end to the building of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian lands. Both Israelis and Palestinians do not view each other as partners for peace - each side for its own reasons.

Israel's economy is strong, the wealthy are getting wealthier, and the poor are getting poorer. This is all part of "Bibinomics" and lack of concern for Israel's people. This also creeps into decision making as far as peace is concerned. The pandering to the right wing settler movements to maintain coalition support is self-destructive.

If only Israel's citizens would demonstrate their opposition to the right wing government's policy of occupation and expansion with the determination they showed in their opposition to the rising prices of cottage cheese then we would find a partner for peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It is time that both sides lay down their mantras and be serious about achieving a just and lasting peace. This would involve painful concessions on both sides. For Israel it would mean withdrawal to the 1967 pre-June borders with agreed land swaps based on the Obama plan. The Palestinians will have to give up on the right of return of 1948 refugees and be satisfied with financial compensation. Jews who escaped from Arab lands in 1948 must also be compensated for the loss in their property and valuables by the Arab states concerned. Jerusalem must be recognized as the capital of both Israel and Palestine even if it is divided according to demography as agreed upon by both sides. This could be done by division into municipalities responsible for the welfare of both peoples.

It seems unlikely that the Palestinians and Hamas agreements will last. They are already showing signs of disagreement as to having Salam Fayyad as prime minister in an interim government until new elections are held. Hamas is opposed which is hardly surprising. Hamas has no interest in rehabilitating their people. Their strength lies in poverty and ignorance. Progress and democracy as well as Palestinian human rights will sign the death knell of that notorious, merciless group of brigands. They are a branch of Ahmadinajad's hateful regime in Iran.

This now brings me to the "peace flotilla" scheduled to make its way to Gaza. While opposing the Israeli blockade on Gaza for humanitarian reasons, the flotilla strengthens and aids Hamas in Gaza. We must oppose the flotilla for this reason. Hamas is not democratic nor is it concerned with human rights. It is of the same mould of extremism and hate as the evil Iranian regime. Opposition against Hamas is treated cruelly and without mercy! If the "peace flotilla" would oppose Hamas as well as the Israeli blockade on Gaza then it is deserving of support. However, this is not the case. It is also doubtful whether humanitarian aid that it carries will reach those Palestinians in need rather than fall into the hands of Hamas rulers and their ilk. Surely this is a good enough reason to oppose the flotilla! Anyway, it has also fallen out of favour, even with Turkey!

Surely the energies of peacemakers would be better spent in gaining ground root support for ending the occupation and Hamas terror. We need to adopt this two pronged approach in a peaceful fashion. An independent, democratic Palestine with a strong and prosperous economy alongside Israel is in the interests of all peoples of the Middle East and the world community.

It is five years since Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas. The way the various Israeli Governments since 2006 has handled this issue is disgraceful. The suffering of the parents and family of Gilad does not seem to make any impression on the Israeli Government. Meanwhile the price for his release increases all the time. His conditions are intolerable and the Geneva Convention does not seem to be applicable in this case. Nobody knows whether he is alive. He has had no contact with his family for years and seems to have been abandoned by Israel. The excuse - the price is too high for his release! I wonder if Bibi Netanyahu's son or any other member of Israel's high ranking cartels’ sons were in Gilad's situation, he would say the price is too high to release Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands" as an exchange. The hypocrisy is shocking. No price is too high for Gilad's release!

Would the people of Israel forgive the Israeli Government if Gilad's life were sacrificed? After all, he was captured in the line of duty for his country and now his country abandons him. All the lip service for Gilad's release coming from Netanyahu's lackeys is meaningless and cynical. Netanyahu can thank his lucky stars that his son is not in Gilad's shoes!

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Saturday, June 11

The Naqsa and Syria

President Bashar al-Assad of SyriaImage via Wikipedia
The Naqsa, also known as "the setback", is commemorated by Palestinians since Israel's victory after the Six Day War in June 1967. There are descendents of Palestinian refugees who fled from Israel during the 1948 War of Independence and settled in squalor in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and of course, the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Nothing was done to rehabilitate these refugees and they lived in dire poverty for at least three generations. They were fed on anti-Israel propaganda and were brainwashed in hating Israel. All this had created a very embittered society. The successive autocratic, despotic rulers kept the flames of hate burning, destroying the dignity of the Arab people, and the Palestinians, the latter became stateless refugees. All their failures were blamed on Israel's existence and, after June 1967, the Palestinian status was exacerbated. This mantra of hate served the interests of despotic Arab tyrants whose failures and abuses fed the hate for Israel forming a semblance of unity and a common motive to destroy Israel.

The uprisings in the Arab countries by pro-democratic youthful demonstrators initiated the movement to overthrow the despotic tyrants. New opportunities for all the peoples of the Middle East were created to move towards a new order - hopefully a democratic system, but there is no guarantee.

The despotic rulers oppressed their people. Now with the uprisings in the Arab world, some autocratic states are clinging to power with a resilience that is bloody and relentless. The despots of Tunisia and Egypt fell because of the peoples' determination to fight corruption and despotic dictatorships. They fell with relative ease. However, the human spirit for change in Libya, Syria and Yemen is meeting with a cruelty by the despotic rulers with an unprecedented tenacity.

The battle for overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Bashar el Assad of Syria is far more complicated. While Syria's army remains strong and supportive of Assad, the chances of success of the Syrian uprising are slim. There are signs of desertion of Syrian Army officers joining the demonstrators, but at this stage, it is not in large numbers. Maybe it will increase when the situation of Bashar Assad gets more complicated.

Many Syrians are fleeing for Turkey whose borders are porous. The cruelty of the Assad repression and the brutal killings has created a very tragic situation in Syria.

While the world stands by and voices are being heard in the UN Security Council condemning the Bashar Assad regime, the latter decided to use the usual Palestinian mantra to divert world pressure on his regime. The Syrian Palestinians were encouraged to demonstrate and infiltrate Israel's northern border at great risk to their lives. The death toll was 22 Palestinians on that day. Assad knew that Palestinians would be killed by the IDF which would divert the world's attention away from Syria and condemn Israel for killing Palestinian infiltrators. More than 300 Syrian demonstrators were massacred by the Syrian Army at the time.

He could then continue slaughtering his opponents while the UN condemns Israel. The number of Syrian opponents to the cruel Assad regime is now running into the thousands and the rate of killings is increasing.

Many Palestinians born in Syria fell for this ruse of the Assad regime. As expected, Palestinian lives were lost for maintaining the diversion and decreasing world pressure on Assad's crimes against his own people. A new Syrian refugee problem has been created seeking refuge in Turkey.

The Arab uprising is continuing. Nobody can predict how it will end and whether a democratic change will occur in the Arab countries. If there is no serious attempt to write a constitution that guarantees human rights, free democratic elections, and serious reconstruction of state infrastructure, then all these attempts will be futile.

These countries have no democratic traditions and the future governments will have to do much hard work to ensure the success of the Arab uprising. The danger of military dictatorship in Egypt cannot be denied. This could happen. The balance of power is in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The situation in Syria is unpredictable. Here a brutal and tenacious leadership stops at nothing. There is a wholesale massacre unknown anywhere else in the area.

The Palestinians here are a diversion serving Assad's desire to cling to power by using the anti-Israel mantras that is part of his regime.

The Arab uprising has filtered down to the Palestinian people as well. The Arab countries are very busy in their revolutions and the Palestinian issue is very much on the back burner. It remains to be seen what will happen on September 2011 when a Palestinian state is declared unilaterally.

Israel's occupation of the Palestinians is now entering its 45th year. The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, put it concisely when he addressed the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday 31st May, 2011. He said: "We have a new central player in the region, the street".

The circumstances in all the Arab states undergoing transition are different where regime change is occurring. The bloodiest changes are occurring in Syria.

The Palestinians are in a different situation entirely no matter where they reside. They have two problems in their quest for democracy:

  1. They have to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation in order to reach a stage of self-determination.
  2. They have to challenge the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza so that they can demonstrate support of the Arab uprisings in the neighbouring Arab countries.

Israel cannot afford to be indifferent to the changes in the Arab world. The Israeli Government can show support for the Arab uprisings and condemn the massacres of pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and everywhere else. Israel arrogantly claims that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East" now is her chance to turn words into deeds.

The importance of changing attitudes to well worn mantras on both sides is more than overdue. Time is moving against Israel and the Israeli Government is sending its diplomats to many countries in the world to prevent them from supporting a unilateral declaration of independence of a Palestinian state. Whatever happens, the US will use its veto to prevent this eventuality.

The failure of Israel to engage in serious negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel could result in a severe blood bath and Israel's increased isolation. Violence could develop which will be a catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians. The IDF is capable of putting down violent unrest but the loss of Palestinian lives could be horrific. This is a real cause of concern. Even a high ranking officer in the IDF stated that "the Palestinians now have the initiative. If they decide to go down that path, there is little we can do to stop them."

The Israel Government must show willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians despite the presence of Hamas in the Fatah - Hamas agreement. Israel cannot dictate to the Palestinians with whom they are prepared to negotiate. The same applies to the Palestinians. In the Israeli Government, there is the arch racist, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and croneys. I am sure that the Palestinians are not happy to have him in the negotiation team either and with every good reason. Nevertheless for the good of both sides, pre-negotiation comprises must be made and accepted so that the peace negotiations can begin in earnest.

Israel could on the other hand grant asylum to an agreed number of Syrian refugees fleeing the Assad regime. Oh yes, I sense a severe opposition in the Israeli side at this suggestion! That is tantamount to heresy! However, it would also go a long way to improve Israel's status in the world and would not be a danger to Israel’s existence which is used as an excuse for every opportunity to prevent any negotiations from being initiated. Also more goodwill measures must be made to end the occupation and move towards a solution. The Netanyahu Government does not have it in them to move towards a solution. Further settlement plans to appease the extreme right wing parties in his coalition is more of a priority.

Another move on Israel's part that would go a long way in improving the atmosphere for peace negotiations with the Palestinians is the acceptance of President Obama's suggestion as mentioned in his speech last month. Two states for two peoples based on the pre-June 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps.

However, it is not certain whether Hamas will accept the Obama plan. If this is the case, the agreement between Hamas and Fatah will collapse. This will also affect the Palestinian declaration of an independent state in September 2011.
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Wednesday, June 1

Hypocrisy - "Bibiocricy" - Double Talk

                                                                    Sami and Yuli Ofer

There is a tendency amongst many Israelis to say that one cannot trust the Palestinians. Those who subscribe to this mantra maintain that the Palestinian leadership engages in double talk. They talk about peace with Israel. In Arabic, they speak about not recognizing Israel's right to exist and that jihad against Israel's right to exist must continue.

Is the Israel right wing coalition of parties under the Likud umbrella any different? Are they any less guilty of double-talk than the Palestinian leadership? Even the 10 month settlement freeze was not observed in its entirety. The excuse for settlement expansion that was prevalent at the time - "natural population growth”.

When P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu was in the US recently, he made a speech in the US Congress and received 30 standing ovations. There is no doubt that Netanyahu is a master of oratory and his excellent English, tainted with an American Philadelphian accent, is an expert at whitewashing and omitting. He won the hearts of many congressmen, whose knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is poor. However, if one reads between the lines as to what was said, it is clear that Netanyahu is not prepared to return to the pre-June 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, including "agreed land swaps" as President Obama had stated in his speech. The excuse is that the 1967 borders are "indefensible". Netanyahu then rambled on about Iran and the danger it poses to world peace as well as the desire of Iran to destroy Israel. He spoke about increasing sanctions on Iran. This is all very nice! Suddenly a bombshell occurred. The Ofer brothers' (Sami and Yuli Offer) group were blacklisted by US intelligence for trading with Iran.

It is rather difficult to believe that the multi-millionaire Ofer brothers' business dealings were unknown to the Israeli Tax Authority. The Israeli Government also denied any knowledge of the Ofer brothers’ clandestine deals with Iran involving millions of dollars. It is very difficult to believe this knowing how draconian and efficient the Israeli Tax Authority is at catching tax evaders using invasive methods into one's privacy for tax evasion involving far smaller amounts of money.

Is it possible that the Israeli Government and Tax Authority are unaware of the Ofer brothers’ dealings with Iran? It took the US to discover this. This all occurred while Netanyahu was talking about the dangers of Iran's nuclear programme. You can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time.

Well, it is all about money and astronomical amounts of it. We have just witnessed an excellent example of double-talk by Israel's Prime Minister that makes Palestinian double-talk child's play in comparison. Of course, the Ofer brothers will go to great lengths to deny this (does one really expect them to admit this?). The donations of the Ofer brothers to various Israeli causes are tremendous, even to governmental institutions.

Netanyahu's speech in the US Congress is another example of "Bibiocricy" at its best. However, while he returned to Israel on a bubble of success, the Ofer brothers' blacklisting by the US for their business dealings with Iran, using shadowy indirect go betweens to sell an oil tanker to Iran will hasten the bursting of Bibi's bubble of temporary success and popularity.

The Palestinian leadership, which is now also bolstered by Hamas, has strong competitors for the double-talk diploma. The Netanyahu government with its "status quo" policies of occupation and not yielding and the Ofer brother companies dealing with Iran will be a further headache for Israel in its relations with President Obama and the US.

While money comes into Israel and the sources of the business deals are kept secret, all is kosher. Once the bubble bursts then a string of denials becomes the Israeli Authorities’ best line of defense.

We are paying a heavy price for the antics of this fat cat, right wing government of political hacks. The retirement age is pushed up, taxes - indirect and direct, are increasing. Young couples are finding it more difficult to purchase homes. There is something very rotten in Israel's self righteous right wing government. It is also responsible for the lack of progress in solving the important problems of negotiations with the Palestinians. The problems existed even before Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement. The use of this agreement as an excuse for not negotiating with the Palestinians is hollow. If Israel's Ofer brothers did business with the evil Iranian regime and it took US intelligence to discover this while Israel's government pleads ignorance, the conclusions are obvious. Big money whitewashes everything but does not hide the hypocrisy (and Bibiocracy) of Israel's rulers.

September 2011 is coming and with it, the unilateral declaration of independence of a Palestinian state. This will result in Israel's further isolation and further reliance on the goodwill of the US to weather the storm. Maybe Israel will need to take a loan from the Ofer brothers to help them through BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) from their Iranian business dealings.

We have had our fair share of crooked politicians whose behaviour is more suited to rulers of banana republics. Is Israel on that road as well? What we are witnessing today is “Iran gate Israel style”! They plead ignorance in not practicing what they preach. What a dent on what is left of Israel's credibility! Ignorance of what is happening on the turf of the richest family in Israel, if not the world, in their business and profit motives in dealing with the evil Iranian Regime does not exonerate Israel's government's responsibility in this case.

When one confronts the average Israeli government supporter about these activities, the answer one gets is an unapologetic, justification answer: "Israel does what every other country does, so why pick on Israel?"
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