In the early morning hours of 29 December 2010, settlers set fire to a family’s dwelling in Susiya village.
The great majority of Susiya residents live in tents as their historic stone and cave dwellings have been demolished several times over by the Israeli military. Many of the tents now used have been provided by humanitarian organizations and serve as bedrooms, kitchens, storage and sitting areas for the families living in them.
The Palestinian village of Susiya is sandwiched between a handful of settlements and outposts, an army base, and an ancient synagogue. Shepherds are unable to graze their flocks freely on their own land and farmers are unable to access their fields to harvest wheat and olives due to the area’s designation as a ‘closed military zone’ (see the video below). Israeli settlers in the South Hebron Hills, who have a reputation for being some of the nastiest settlers around, often direct their venemous aggression at Palestinians from Susiya who are surrounded on all sides.
Palestinians have no recourse to defend themselves, access their privately-owned land, or to seek prosecution for attacks against their persons or their property. The collusion between the Israeli authorites and the settlers — many of whom are on a first-name basis with policeman and soldiers stationed in the area, or in many cases stationed inside the settlements — is palpable after spending mere hours in the area. Israeli police and military often refuse to respond, or respond with tardiness and negligence, when Palestinians report crimes and file complaints against Israeli settlers. Many Palestinians whom I have worked with in the area, have stopped bothering to file complaints because of the fruitless hours spent at the nearby Kiryat Arba Police Station trying to convince Israeli policemen to hear their testimony or view their video and photographic evidence.
In the incident which occurred on 29 December 2010, there were seven members of a family asleep in the tent when settlers set fire to the structure. Fortunately, a hajji (an elderly matriarch) was awake and heard the dogs warning of the intruders. Nasser Nawa’jah, a field researcher for B’tselem and a resident of Susiya, said that the villagers were unsure whether the intruders had poured petrol on the tent and then lit the flammable liquid or whether they had thrown a molotov cocktail at the tent, the latter a tactic which settlers have used previously in Susiya.
The hajji woke those sleeping in the tent in time for them to escape and to remove the tanks of gas that were in the kitchen. As they emerged from the tent, they saw a car on the dirt road escaping in the direction of Susiya settlement (the Palestinian village and the nearby Israeli settlement have the same name).
The Villages Group, an Israeli organization which routinely provides assistance to Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, reported on the incident and expressed little hope of any investigation:
The military and police authorities are, of course, well aware of the identity of the natural suspects for both attacks. Unfortunately, given the track record showing the settlers and military as two arms of the same effort to uproot the local population, and the total impunity accorded to the settlers by the military, there is little hope that any serious investigation will take place.
Unfortunately that rings true with my experience, and is a repetition of the statements made by the Palestinian man from Susiya who despaired in the above video:
If this happens to one of the settlers, they would arrest all the people, all the Arabs here. But here, three settlers come at night with a car and try to kill Arabs, they didn’t even arrest one of the settlers. We want the police to investigate fairly here to arrest the settlers, not to help the settlers.
Samuel Nichols is an activist from the US working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. He lives in al-Tuwani, a small village in the South Hebron hills, amongst Palestinians committed to nonviolent resistance to land confiscation and settler violence. Following Samuel on his blog, Do Unto Others, at samuelnichols.blogspot.com and on Twitter, twitter.com/samuelnichols.
Thomas Freidman’s Folly
Debunking the tsunami of hype about biofuels doesn’t require much. A standard calculator will do. Alas, Thomas Friedman can’t be bothered to do the handful of simple calculations that prove the futility of the biofuels madness.
In a recent piece, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author praised the Navy and Marines for, as he put it “building a strategy for ‘out-greening’ Al Qaeda, ‘out-greening’ the Taliban and ‘out-greening’ the world’s petro-dictators.”
Hmm. I’ve never heard of Taliban fighters using tanks or F-15s. And if Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives are worrying about the size of their carbon footprints, that revelation might eclipse the latest news about Lady Gaga – at least for a few hours.
Nevertheless, Friedman reports that the military is planning to “run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with bio-fuels.” Friedman goes on to say that the brass at the Pentagon is only pursuing “third generation” biofuels made from algae and non-food sources. But here’s the reality: the commercial viability of advanced biofuels is a lot like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy: lots of people believe in it but no one ever sees it.
To be sure, the logisticians at the Pentagon know that the US military’s profligate use of oil on the battlefield is a strategic liability. And while it’s obvious that the Defense Department could – given its nearly $700 billion in annual spending — make significant contributions in the development of new energy technologies, those advances are unlikely to happen on the biofuels front.
For decades, various pundits have been proclaiming that biofuels will displace our need for oil. Back in 1976, energy analyst Amory Lovins, a darling of the Green/Left, wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs in which he said that there are “exciting developments in the conversion of agricultural, forestry and urban wastes to methanol and other liquid and gaseous fuels.” He went on, saying that those fuels “now offer practical, economically interesting technologies sufficient to run an efficient U.S. transport sector.”
Today, 34 years after Lovins said that biofuels “now offer” the ability to run the transport sector, biofuels remain little more than a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars. According to the Congressional Budget Office, producing enough corn ethanol to match the energy contained in a single gallon of conventional gasoline costs taxpayers $1.78. Even with those subsidies, which total about $7 billion per year, corn ethanol still only provides about 3 percent of America’s oil needs. And by mandating the consumption of ethanol, Congress has created an industry that now gobbles up about one-third of America’s corn crop.
Those numbers are germane to Friedman’s claim that biofuels will be an essential part of the DOD’s new “green” future. The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist lauded the Navy for its experiments with jet fuel derived from camellina, a plant in the mustard family. In April, the Navy flew an F-18 using a mixture of conventional jet fuel and camellina-based fuel. The cost of that biofuel: about $67.50 per gallon.
The fundamental problem with using plants to make liquid motor fuel isn’t want-to, it’s physics. We pump oil out of the earth because of its high energy density. That is it contains lots of stored chemical energy by both weight and volume. Camellina, like switchgrass, and nearly every other plant-based feedstock now being considered for “advanced” biofuel production, has low energy density. Thus, in order to produce a significant quantity of liquid fuels that have high energy density – such as jet fuel, diesel, or gasoline — from those plants, you need Bunyanesque quantities of the stuff.
Friedman would have understood that had he done a bit of math on soybean-based biodiesel. The US produces about 3.2 billion bushels of soybeans per year and each bushel can be processed into about 1.5 gallons of biodiesel. Thus, if it made sense to do so, we could convert all US soybean production into diesel with total output of about 4.8 billion gallons.
How much fuel is that? By Pentagon standards, it’s not much. In 2008, the DOD consumed 132.5 million barrels of oil products, or about 5.5 billion gallons. Put another way, even if the US decided to convert all of its soybean production into motor fuel, doing so would only provide about 87 percent of the Pentagon’s total oil needs.
Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School who has written extensively about the problems with biofuels, says that biofuels don’t make much sense because it “takes a huge amount of land to produce a modest amount of energy.” The key issue, says Searchinger, is scale. He points out that even if we used “every piece of wood on the planet, every piece of grass eaten by livestock, and all food crops, that much biomass could only provide about 30 percent of the world’s total energy needs.”
Some crops can provide a relatively good feedstock for biofuels. For instance, Brazil utilizes sugar cane to produce ethanol. (Brazil is the world’s second-largest ethanol producer, behind the US.) But even if the US military commandeered all of Brazil’s ethanol production — which totaled 6.5 billion gallons in 2008 – that volume of energy still wouldn’t be enough to keep the Pentagon’s planes, trucks, and tanks moving. Recall that ethanol contains just two-thirds of the heat energy of gasoline. Therefore Brazil’s 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol is equal to 4.3 billion gallons of refined oil product, far less than the US military’s consumption of 5.5 billion gallons per year.
Going beyond Brazil, biomass-based fuels may be worthwhile on tropical islands, like Hawaii, that have lots of rainfall and plenty of arable land. Furthermore, fuels derived from photosynthetic algae might – repeat, might – someday become commercial.
Friedman ended his column by saying that “we might really get a green revolution in the military.” Sure, that’s a possibility. But before Friedman writes another article about the promise of biofuels he should invest in a calculator.
A Tunisian protester has died of his injuries after police shot him in the town of Menzel Bouzaiene, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
Chawki Belhoussine El Hadri, a 44-year-old man, was shot during protest on December 24. He died on Thursday, the FIDH said in a statement.
Mohamed Ammari, a Tunisian teenager, had been killed by police bullets the same day that El Hadri was injured. Another young man, Houcine Falhi, committed suicide by electrocuting himself in the midst of another demonstration on December 22, after shouting out that he was tired of being unemployed.
The protests began in the town of Sidi Bouzid when a young university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, attempted to end his life by setting himself on fire. Bouazizi is receiving treatment for his severe burns at a hospital in Tunis.
Security forces broke up a demonstration in Monastir peacefully on Thursday, but used violence in Sbikha on Thursday, the FIDH said. The same happened in Chebba, where one protester had to be hospitalised.
Protests entered their twelfth day on Friday.
“The FIDH again firmly condemns the use of firearms by the Tunisian security forces, and calls for an independent inquiry to caste light on these events, to hold those responsible accountable and to guarantee the right to peaceful protest,” the organisation said.
Officials have said that the police’s use of firearms against protesters last week in Menzel Bouzaiene was necessary after rioters barricaded a police station during the unrest, and used Molotov cocktails to torch the building and some police cars.
Lawyers speak out
Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), told Al Jazeera that lawyers across Tunisia have been “savagely beaten” on Friday morning.
Lawyers gathered in central Tunis, while others assembled in the capital’s suburbs, the town of Monastir and elsewhere in the country, after the national lawyers’ order called on them to speak out against the government’s repression.
“It was to demand the release of lawyers arrested over the past two days, and to express solidarity with the wider protests in Sidi Bouzid,” Trifi, who has participated in the gathering outside the courthouse in Tunis, said.
“There was a savage attack on the lawyers, who were protesting extremely peacefully,” he said.
He said many people have been injured, some severely, when police beat the lawyers with clubs and punched and kicked them, arresting some and breaking up the meeting. The repression was the most violent in Tunis, he said.
The police also confiscated cell phones to prevent people from filming the incident in the capital.
Many lawyers have been arrested for supporting the protesters. Abderrahman Ayedi, pictured above, says he was tortured by police on December 28, after they arrested him.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sacked the governor of the region of Sidi Bouzid where the protests had begun.
Mourad Ben Jalloul was dismissed on Thursday, as Ben Ali’s government struggles to respond to the political crisis the protests have provoked.
Three ministers and two governors have now been removed for reasons relating to the popular uprising, including Oussama Romdhani, the communications minister.
But Khadija Cherif, the secretary-general of the FIDH, told Al Jazeera that Ben Ali’s response to the crisis hasn’t taken into account the major reforms the protesters are calling for. Neither has it allowed for the debate to be opened, she said, noting the Tunisian media’s failure to report accurately on the events.
Most Western governments have stayed silent over the violent repression of the protests, in a marked contrast to the international outcry over popular protests in Iran in 2009.
By keeping silent over what is happening in Tunisia, Cherif said the world is “showing indifference to a population that is rising up in the face of massive repression”.
“We can clearly see that it’s self-interest that counts, not values like democracy or freedom,” she said. “This discredits European and Western countries.”
She condemned the tendency to describe Tunisia as an economic miracle.
“Just look at what this ‘miracle’ has led to,” she said, referring to those marginalised by the liberalising economic path the government has taken.
France’s Socialist Party, the main opposition, condemned the “brutal repression” of the protesters on Thursday, calling for those arrested to be released.
“It’s unfortunately not the first time that the Tunisian security forces distinguish themselves by sometimes fatal repressive measures,” Pouria Amirshahi, the party’s national secretary, said in a statement from France.
Amirshahi called on the Tunisian authorities “to guarantee the safety of activists, journalists and lawyers, and to protect the right to information and the right to peaceful protest.”
Some 80,000 Tunisians graduate from higher education annually, but analysts say the Tunisian economy is incapable of absorbing so many highly skilled workers.
The unemployment rate is 14.7 per cent, according to the World Bank.
Nouredinne Miladi of the University of Northampton points to unemployment figures from non-governmental sources. In the town of Sidi Bouzid, where the protests started, around 25 per cent of male university graduates are jobless, as are 44 per cent of female graduates.
He said the simmering resentments that led to the recent protests are rooted in years of systematic marginalisation of not only the young, but of significant parts of the country.
Flourishing coastal cities receive the bulk of the government’s attention, he told Al Jazeera, while much of the rest of Tunisia goes overlooked.
The World Bank may have recently praised Tunisia’s weathering of the global economic crisis, but the economic reality within the country is very different from how it is typically viewed abroad, he explained.
“What is promoted around the world is this lovely picture of tourism and so forth,” he said.
The Tunisian government deserves praise for having made education a higher priority than other countries in the Maghreb like Algeria or Morocco, Lahcen Achy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Al Jazeera.
But the problem lies in the type of sectors that have been developed in Tunisia, which offer mostly low-skilled employment.
Highly educated young people are blocked from entering public life, whether it be politics, media or commercial spheres. Instead, economic development has focused on sectors such as tourism and textiles, which don’t meet the expectations of these graduates.
The government has a responsibility to design policy that encourages domestic and foreign investment in sectors that would provide jobs suitable for so many highly educated graduates.
“We have much more investment coming from Europe … just looking for cheap labour,” Achy said.
Little freedom of expression
Beyond the employment dilemma, Miladi said there is a need to allow for greater freedom of expression.
“There has to be new initiatives with regards to opening up the media in the country,” Miladi suggested.
Government has controlled television, radio and print media for decades.
“Only the internet remains probably the only source of opportunity for young people and others to voice their opinion,” he said.
International media face many barriers in reporting from Tunisia. The government has banned Al Jazeera completely. The main source of information on the protests is coming from information Tunisians are posting to YouTube and Twitter.
Many of those tweeting about the popular uprising are beginning to question what they see as the failure of international media to cover the protests, compared to the outcry over pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009.
Two Truthful Statements From Avigdor Lieberman
The foreign policy mantra of Israel’s radical, Moldovan-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, can be accurately summarized in just four words: always blame the victim.
He may be more vocal than most, but it is the paradigm by which all Israeli ministers operate: the victims, not the perpetrators, are responsible for their own suffering. Whether it was the July 2006 war on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the innocents killed effectively brought Israel’s wrath upon themselves.
The doctrine also applies to those accidentally/deliberately killed (always a murky distinction) by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for standing up for Palestinian rights, such as when an armored bulldozer crushed American peace activist Rachel Corrie to death as she tried to prevent a home’s destruction; or when an IDF sniper shot British activist Thomas Hurndall in the head while he was rescuing Palestinian children in the line of fire; or when American student Emily Henochowicz lost an eye after being shot in the face with tear gas grenade as she peacefully protested the Israeli raid on the Turkish flotilla.
So when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogen demanded a formal apology from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the May 31 commando raid on the MV Mavi Marmara (the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s lead relief vessel aboard which nine Turkish aid workers were murdered) Lieberman replied that it was Ankara who owed Israel the apology for attempting to break the inhumane Gaza embargo.
“I think the matter of an apology borders on chutzpah or beyond. If anything, we are waiting for an apology from the Turkish government, and not the other way around.”
But in the midst of his speech to Israeli ambassadors, two rare statements of truth emerged from the mendacious Lieberman.
Mahmoud Abbas is an illegitimate president
“It is forbidden for us to reach a comprehensive deal today with the Palestinians. To put it clearly, you have to understand that their government is not legitimate … It is a government that has postponed elections three times, that lost elections, that does not hold elections, does not plan to hold elections and there are no guarantees that next time they do hold elections, that Hamas won’t win again.”
Peace is certainly not dependent on an elected party or person to take effect. It remains true, however, that the four-year term of the Palestinian Authority’s ostensible leader, Mahmoud Abbas, expired on Jan. 9, 2009 (he unilaterally extended his term for an additional year thereafter). Abbas’ authority can thus legitimately be called into question.
Because he holds no love for Hamas—the landslide victor in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections—Abbas has remained in the good graces of the United States and is regarded by Israel as a leader with whom they can do business.
Little headway has been made in Fatah–Hamas reconciliation ever since Fatah was ousted from Gaza in June 2007 when Abbas dissolved the unity government and declared he would rule by presidential decree. Indeed, his protestations of Israel’s brutal December 2008 attack on the tiny enclave were notably feeble, if not mute.
Lieberman is technically correct in his statement although it remains the hollowest of excuses, meant solely to avoid substantive negotiations with the Palestinians (and an ironic one, considering what Israel was able to accomplish under the docile Abbas).
Peace is impossible
“It’s not only that it is impossible [to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians], it is simply forbidden.”
Once again putting aside the ridiculous assertion that peace is “forbidden,” Lieberman is correct in contending that it is impossible at present.
Peace cannot occur when West Bank land is being expropriated by new and expanding settlements. Peace cannot occur when Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are evicted from their homes. Peace cannot occur when 1.5 million residents of Gaza are not free to obtain medical care, leave their open-air prison to visit relatives in the West Bank, or adequately rebuild their homes, hospitals and schools.
For once Avigdor Lieberman got it right … for all the wrong reasons.
Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.
The Israeli Knesset approved its 2011-2012 budget on Wednesday, which includes two billion shekels (approx. US$ 564 million) for settlements construction, services and security, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
According to the budget, in 2011, 200 new housing units will be marketed in the settlement of Maaleh Adumim, west Jerusalem, and another 500 units in Har Homa, in the occupied territory that lies across from Bethlehem, beyond the Green Line. A total of 238 million shekels will be spent on Har Homa by 2012.
In addition, a large amount of money will be transferred to roads, mainly, to join different settlements with other areas. 180 million will be spent on the road between the Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev and Tel Aviv, which human rights group Peace Now recently called “a clear obstacle to peace.”
Also, some NIS 225 million will be transfered to repair the road between the Adumim plain and the Good Samaritan junction, and Pisgat Ze’ev and the Zeitim intersection.
With regard to East Jerusalem, the budget for settlers living in the occupied area, defined as a security expense, represents a rise of 40 percent in the new budget, reaching NIS 3,160 per settler.
In addition, the state will compensate the loss incurred by exporters from settlements to the European Union with NIS 22 million, due to settlement produce no longer being recognized as from Israel by the E.U., and thus losing free trade status under the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement.
The budget also shows a contradiction between the information provided by The Central Bureau of Statistics and the World Zionist Organization, while the first organization indicates 120 official settlements in the West bank, the WZO claims 136 “communities”, which indicates that the WZO could support at least 16 illegal outposts.
The protection for settlers will also be the responsibility of the state’s expenses; as the “overall reinforcement and security ingredients in settlements and conflict zone areas reaches over NIS 630 million.” Haaretz quoted.
Every settler may request the state to have extra protection in his personal car, and subsidies for public transport for settlers and the ultra-orthodox will reach NIS 31 million per year. In addition, the protected buses with special window frames will cost another 10 million NIS.
The wealthy Jewish lobby in Britain working under the title of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) has been tipped as the Conservative Party’s paymaster.
The CFI as described by British political analysts is beyond doubt the most well- connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups. It works in support of the interests of the Israeli regime.
The CFI’s finances may be legal but they are hardly transparent as the lobbying group is an unincorporated association. This is how the British media report on the CFI’s financial transactions.
The register of MPs’ interests shows that CFI board members and their businesses gave the Conservatives over 2 million pounds in the last 8 years.
The reports also say more than 30,000 pounds from CFI members went to campaign funds of the members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s team when he was first elected as the party leader in 2005.
Also in 2005, Cameron himself had received 15,000 pounds from a pro-Israeli lobby facilitator. The facilitator had also donated 50,000 pounds to the Conservative Central Office.
“Donations from all CFI members and their businesses to the Conservative Party of Britain have topped over 10 million pounds over the past 8 years”, according to reliable sources inside the UK.
Here’s an example of how the pro-Israeli lobby works in the UK.
After the 22-day Israeli war on the Gaza Strip a fact-finding team was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the war and identify the culprits.
A few weeks after the UN was to vote on a resolution following judge Goldstone’s report which condemned Israel for abusing human rights in Gaza, the CFI ran to now foreign secretary William Hague’s office and after consulting with them David Cameron gave them this quote:
“Unless the draft resolution is redrafted to reflect the role that Hamas played in starting the conflict we would recommend that the British government vote to reject the resolution”.
But, it was under former Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Israel lobby first acquired real influence in government.
Former chairman of the Labour friends of Israel John Mandelson boasted:
“Zionism is pervasive in new Labour, it’s automatic that Blair will come to Labour friends of Israel’s meetings”.
Shortly before Blair became Labour party leader in 1994 he met Michael Levy the pop music millionaire at a social event arranged by the Israeli embassy. They became friends, played tennis and Levy became Blair’s fundraiser. It’s estimated that he raised almost 15 million pounds for Labour before the row over cash for peerages.
When Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, he awarded Michael Levy a life peerage and made him his special envoy to the Middle East, but because Levy was unpaid and working directly with the prime minister, what he negotiated between the Israeli entity and Arabs on behalf of Britain was kept secret.