Thousands of Spanish protesters demonstrate at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid to protest against the economic crisis
Thousands of Spanish protesters have camped out in Madrid and several other cities to demand jobs as well as political change ahead of weekend local elections.
Outraged by Spain’s economic crisis and soaring jobless rate, demonstrators defied a ban by authorities and poured onto Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square and in several cities, including Granada, Seville, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza and Palma de Majorca, AFP reported on Wednesday.
Many protesters held up placards reading “Make the guilty pay for the crisis” and chanted “They call this democracy but it is not”, as they tried to draw attention to their economic hardships ahead of the regional and municipal elections on Sunday.
Disgruntled Spaniards, who began their protests on May 15 to demand jobs, housing and “real democracy,” have vowed to stay until Sunday elections if police try to use force to disperse their peaceful protest.
Reports indicate that about 15 police vehicles took up positions in and around the emblematic square in the capital Madrid on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, opinion polls by the centre-left El Pais and the conservative El Mundo portend humiliating losses for the Socialists candidate in the forthcoming regional and municipal elections, as voters are expected to punish them for the government’s handling of the economic crisis, including the failure to curb high employment rates.
Spain’s unemployment rate soared to 21.29 percent, with 4.9 million jobless for the first quarter of 2011, according to the government statistics published in late April.
In May 2010, the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero introduced a slew of drastic austerity measures, including cutting civil servants pay as part of plans to curb budget deficit from 11 percent a year earlier to within the 3 percent of GDP limit set by the European Union by 2013.
About a decade ago, a record was broken in Palestine. Responding to the outbreak of a new intifada, outside governments dramatically increased their financial contributions to the West Bank and Gaza. By 2002, the occupied Palestinian territories had become the largest recipients of development and humanitarian aid on a sustained per capita basis since the Second World War.
Are Palestinians grateful at being given as much as $1 billion annually in recent times? From conversations I had in Jerusalem and Ramallah earlier this year, the answer would appear to be no. “We don’t want your money; we want your solidarity,” one woman told me. Others spoke of how foreign aid was “bandaging” the occupation, easing some of its symptoms but leaving the core problems to fester.
In The Political Economy of Aid in Palestine, Sahar Taghdisi-Rad illustrates how aid earmarked for the oppressed often ends up in the oppressor’s pockets. “When aid is given in the context of conflict and violence, it becomes part of that context; hence its effect on conflict does not remain neutral, despite what most donors would like to claim,” she writes (87).
Using a phrase coined by the Israeli journalist Meron Benvenisti, Taghdisi-Rad argues that Israel imposes a “deluxe occupation,” whereby it exerts total military domination over the Palestinians under its yoke without taking any responsibility for meeting their basic needs (158).
Rather than holding Israel to account for its most egregious abuses of human rights and international law, donors have generally been willing to accommodate those abuses. By paying for repairs to Palestinian infrastructure damaged by Israel, donors have not only helped prolong this “deluxe occupation,” they have reduced any sense of urgency for a political resolution of the conflict, she argues (17).
Israel benefits from international aid to Palestinians
Taghdisi-Rad examines how far from behaving in an impartial manner, donors are tailoring their aid programs to benefit Israel. She devotes particular attention to analyzing the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan Trust Fund (PRDP – TF), set up by the World Bank (187-192). Promised $7.8 billion mainly by Western governments for the 2008-10 period, it represented a “major political shift” from previous aid blueprints for the Palestinian Authority.
Whereas donors had until then nominally accepted that Israel was an occupying power and that Palestinians should be encouraged to seek independence from it, this plan advocated deeper “cooperation” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as sharp reductions in public expenditure. By stipulating that the PA cut back on its assistance to ordinary Palestinians who had trouble paying their energy bills, the authority was pressurized into buying power in bulk from the Israel Electricity Company in order to avoid service disruptions.
This fits a wider pattern, under which aid supposed to stimulate Palestinian development instead finds its way to Israeli enterprises. The United Nations has calculated that 45 percent of international aid to Palestine ultimately supports the Israeli economy.
An economist by training, Taghdisi-Rad worked for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) until a few months ago. Her former employers do not escape criticism. UNCTAD used to take a bold stance in the 1990s, when it argued that the main requirement for economic progress in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was an end to the Israeli occupation. Now, however, it “seems also to follow other donors’ less ambitious approaches to Palestinian development,” she writes (129).
For the most part, those approaches are characterized by an ideological blindness that can defy common sense. Donors have been so gung-ho in promoting trade liberalization and the private sector that they have ignored obvious obstacles. The “quick impact projects” championed by former British prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair are particularly ridiculed.
Unveiled in 2007, one such project undertook to provide marketing advice to Palestinian exporters. Predictably, such advice proved useless, given that Blair was not prepared to use his platform as an international “peace” envoy (as he is habitually described in British newspapers) to demand that Israel lift the restrictions which prevented Palestinian firms from exporting goods in the first place (170).
US aid to Israel
International aid to Palestine is usually categorized as “development” or “humanitarian” in nature. It is eclipsed in volume by US financial assistance to Israel of about $3 billion per year; such aid is released even though Israel is internationally recognized as a developed economy.
Taghdisi-Rad complains that the US’s funds “allow Israel to carry out its illegal settlement and military activities” and is not conditional on respect for Palestinian rights. By contrast, the US and the EU told a Palestinian administration incorporating Hamas in 2006 that it could only receive foreign aid if Hamas “recognized” Israel. Taghdisi-Rad suggests that the West’s position was tantamount to instructing Hamas to accept Israel’s system of apartheid.
“Unlike any other country in the world, Israel, based on Zionist ideology, does not define itself as a state of its residents, or even a state of its citizens, rather, as a state for Jews only,” she writes. “Recognizing a state which treats all non-Jews as second-class citizens is not even legal under international law” (173).
This is not an easy book to digest. Although its conclusions are cogent, most of the writing suffers from a clunky style. The high number of acronyms clogging its pages sometimes left me feeling like I was drowning in an alphabet soup. Read patiently, however, it offers a hugely informative guide to topics that are of central importance to the future of Palestine but usually neglected in mainstream media coverage.
The book was completed before the assessment published by the World Bank in April that the PA was “well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any time in the near future” (“Building the Palestinian State: Sustaining Growth, Institutions, and Service Delivery“ [PDF]).
Nonetheless, it demolishes the fantasy that Palestine will soon be magically transformed into a viable nation. “It is interesting to note that from its establishment to this day, being one of the most financially-supported governments in this world, the PA has yet to contribute its own resources to public investment and the provision of public services,” Taghdisi-Rad writes (181).
That observation — and many others — makes this work both perceptive and pertinent.
David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press.
The University of London Union (ULU) has voted 10-1 to institute and campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in support of Palestine. The motion called for “thorough research into ULU investments and contracts” with companies guilty of “violating Palestinian human rights” as set out by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC). Ashok Kumar, Senate member for LSE, speaking in favour of the motion, argued, “We have precedents for boycotting campaigns at ULU, especially with South Africa and the boycott campaign over Barclays bank, that supported the Apartheid regime. We are now responding to the Palestinian call for civil action in support of their fight against racism.”
The motion also called on other students’ unions to join in the campaign for Palestinian human rights. ULU is the largest students’ union in Europe with over 120,000 members from colleges across London. ULU senate consists of the presidents of the 20 students unions representing every University of London University. James Haywood, President-elect at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, stated, “We are delighted that this motion has passed, and with such a clear vote as well. We have seen throughout history that boycotts are a crucial nonviolent tactic in achieving freedom, and target institutions, not individuals.”
Sean Rillo Raczka, incoming ULU Vice President, “I’m delighted that ULU has passed this BDS policy on Israel. We stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people, and as Vice President next year I will ensure that the University of London Union does not give profit to those denying the human rights of the Palestinians”
The text of the motion passed is as follows:
1) to boycott is to target products, companies and institutions that profit from or are implicated in, the violation of Palestinian rights
2) to divest is to target corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as enshrined in the Geneva Convention, and ensure that investments or pension funds are not used to finance such companies
3) to call for sanctions is to ask the global community to recognise Israel’s violations of international law and to act accordingly as they do to other member states of the United Nations
4) that in 2009 the The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa released a report stating that Israel was practising a form of apartheid in the occupied West Bank, (http://www.hsrc.ac.za/Media_Release-378.phtml)
5) that Israel continues to build a 8 metre high “annexation” wall on Palestinian land inside the post-1967 occupied West Bank, contravening the July 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice (the highest legal body in the world, whose statutes all UN members are party to) and causing the forcible separation of Palestinian communities from one another and the annexation of additional Palestinian land.
6) that within the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continues a policy of settlement expansion in direct violation of Article 49, paragraph 6 of the 4th Geneva Convention which declares “an occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.” 6) that the Gaza Strip continues to face a suffocating siege from land, sea and air by Israel, and continues to suffer military incursions into the territory by the Israeli army
7) that Palestinians living in Israel continue to suffer third-class citizenship and are heavily discriminated against from healthcare, education, landownership and in many cases having ‘unrecognised’ villages completely demolished
8) that there continues to be millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the world who are racially discriminated against by not being allowed to return to their homes in Israel and the Occupied Territories, which is legally recognised under international law, including United Nations resolution 194.
9) that ULU and the NUS nationally adopted the call for BDS in the 1980s when it was called for by South Africans fighting racism and apartheid
10) that Ronnie Kasrils, the Jewish South African Minister of Intelligence said “The boycotts and sanctions ultimately helped liberate both blacks and whites in South Africa. Palestinians and Israelis will similarly benefit from this non-violent campaign that Palestinians are calling for.”
11) that the call for BDS has come from over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations, including student organisations, as well as organisations within Israel and across the global; and that the campaign is founded on the basis of anti-racism and human rights for all
1) that unions should work to support the Palestinian people’s human rights and uphold international law
2) that BDS is an effective tactic, which educates society about these issues, economically pressures companies/institutions to change their practices and politically pressures the global community
3) that unions have a moral responsibility to heed the call of oppressed peoples, like we did so proudly during the BDS campaign to end South African apartheid
4) that the BDS movement has united human rights campaigners from different nationalities, races, religions and creeds across the world
Passed 10-1 in ULU – largest union in Europe, 20 universities and 130,000 students.
(1) Institute thorough research into ULU contacts with investments and companies,including subcontractors, that may be implicated in violating Palestinian human rights as stated by the BDS movement
(2) Pressure University of London universities and affiliate students’ unions to divest from Israel and from companies directly or indirectly supporting the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies;
(3) Promote students’ union resolutions condemning Israeli violations of international law and human rights and endorsing BDS in any form;
(4) Actively support and work with Palestine solidarity organisations such as the BDS Movement, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, British Committee for Palestinian Universities , Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
(5) Affiliate ULU to the Palestine BDS National Committee and engage in education campaigns to publicize the injustice of Israel’s discriminatory policies against the Palestinians and its illegal occupation
Goldsmiths University Students’ Union
On May 12, the New York Times did a very curious thing.
In an article entitled “Indian and Afghan Leaders Forge Deeper Ties in Meeting” by Alissa J. Rubin and Sanger Rahimi, the newspaper failed to mention that during his visit to Afghanistan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had endorsed peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai.
The Times’ piece—buried on the back pages—led with an agreement by the two governments to “move ahead on a strategic partnership” and then prattled on about aid. The words “Taliban” and “talks” never appeared.
In contrast, a May 13 Reuters article led with “India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, backing Kabul’s peace plan to reconcile with the Taliban-led insurgents.” According to Reuters, the Prime Minister said, “Afghanistan is embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise.”
A BBC broadcast also led with the “Taliban talk” news, and the print version put it in the third sentence. To date the New York Times has yet to report the fact that India abandoned its previous opposition to opening talks with the Taliban.
How could the Times miss a story like that? There are only two explanations. One, that the two reporters are the kind that would have asked Mary Todd Lincoln if she liked the play. Two, that the reporters put the breakthrough remarks into the story, and an editor in New York took them out.
As a whole, Times coverage of the Afghan War has not been very good, certainly not nearly as good as the reporting by the McClatchy newspapers, let alone the international press. But their reporters have rarely demonstrated incompetence, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that Rubin and Rahimi are not good reporters. They could have missed what is probably the most important development in the past year—if so, time for reassignment to the Metro Desk—but it is much more likely that higher ups in New York left it on the cutting room floor.
Bad news sense? Maybe, but than again, maybe not.
On May 14, the Times wrote an editorial entitled “Pakistan After Bin Laden” where the following paragraph appears:
“The Obama administration also needs to take a harder look at military aid to Pakistan, to determine what is vital for counterterrorism and what might be tied to specific benchmarks, like apprehending the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, and members of the Haqqani network.”
In short, the Times is arguing that Pakistan should take out the very people whom the Karzai government will need to talk with in any negotiations with the Taliban. There is an old rule in the business of negotiations: don’t arrest or kill the people you want to talk with. That is, unless you don’t really want to have talks. … Full article
The western-manipulated International Criminal Court, which has indicted only African leaders, tries to give the world the impression that barbarity descended on the continent when the white colonists left. But four aging Kenyan “Mau Mau” freedom fighters, demanding reparations, are forcing Britain to acknowledge the savagery of white settlers and soldiers. “The generation of Africans who fought against colonialism is dying without recognition of their fight or their suffering at the hands of racist colonialism.”
In early April 2011, four elderly Kenyansi—three men and one woman—appeared in the High Court in London, accusing England of systematic torture during their siege of the so-called Mau Maus and demanding reparations for their treatment. One of the men was castrated by the British colonial government in Kenya. Handcuffed and pinned to the ground with his legs pulled apart, his genitals were sliced off by the white officers. He was then left for days without medical attention until he was liberated by Kenyan rebels. The one woman claimant was subjected to sexual torture. White soldiers repeatedly inserted bottles of boiling hot water into her vagina. In addition to these cases, thousands of Kenyans were maimed, lynched and brutally murdered by the British during the last century. Thousands of others were subjected to rape, forced labor, and gross abuse and torture in detention camps. It was part of a deliberate policy of the colonial British government to break a civilian population cast as “baboons,” “barbarians,” and “terrorists” and who were seen as a threat to the colonial order in east Africa.
The proper name for the liberation forces that fought against British colonialism and land-grabbing in East Africa was the Kenya Land and Freedom Army.ii The movement was derisively called “Mau Mau” by the British propaganda machine in an attempt to depict these African freedom fighters as a primitive and anti-white tribal cult. Against this, the late C. L. R. James described the movement as “an ad hoc body of beliefs, oaths, disciplines newly created for the specific purpose of gathering and strengthening the struggle against British imperialism, its military, political and economic domination and, in particular, the Christianity it sought to inject and impose.” And it was land and white settlers, not African “tribal” beliefs that were at the heart of the so-called Mau Mau revolt against British colonialism.
The colonial invasion of Central Kenya began in the late 1880s. It was formalized through military conquest, particularly over the most numerous ethnic group, the Gikuyu, as well as the Embu and the Meru. By 1903, the British colonial government sent in waves of white settlers, from South Africa and England, with the hope of creating another “white man’s country” in Kenya. They stole between 60,000 and 1 million acres of land, settling whites in the most fertile regions with the coolest climates—an area they eventually named the “White Highlands.” By the time the colony of Kenya came into being in 1920, more than 10,000 whites had settled over 25% of Kenya’s best territory. At the same time, the African population, mainly but not entirely the Gikuyu, were driven into reservations or were forced to work as sharecroppers. Then, through hut and poll taxes, restrictions on movement through the issuing of kipande (identity passes), and limits on agricultural production, Africans became systematically entrapped into the racist Kenyan colonial system. Add to this mix the ever-expanding power of the white settlers and Christian missionaries, and Kenya was primed for a revolution.
Though all ethnic groups were affected by British colonial land-grabbing and dispossession, the Gikuyu experienced this most acutely. They did not take lightly the heavy theft of land. When, in 1943, the colonial government threatened groups of Gikuyu with yet another eviction from their lands, they decided to take action. Their struggle began with overt passive resistance but was quickly radicalized. Wings of the movement began armed guerilla attacks on white settler holdings and on Africans who supported the British regime. At the height of the revolt, it was estimated that 1.5 million Gikuyu and other Kenyan groups had taken secret oaths of unity to fight against white settlers and colonial rule. They were met with a brutal armed retaliation. By late 1952, the colonial governor of Kenya declared a state of emergency. The colonial government established and enforced communal punishment, curfews, schemes to confiscate African properties, censors for publications, detention without trial, control of African markets, forced migrations, and detention and labor camps.
By late 1954 the revolt was said to have been militarily defeated by the British army, but the state of the emergency was not lifted until 1960. During the six intervening years, the Mau Mau struggle continued as the British colonial government established a terrorist state. The assault on the Africans continued both through the campaign to arrest and dispose of the alleged Mau Mau leadership, and in detention camps, prisons, and “emergency villages.” The British focused primarily on forcing the Gikuyu to renounce their oath of unity by the most brutal means. According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, by the time the colonial government ended the state of emergency, over 90,000 Kenyans were executed, maimed, or tortured, while 160,000 were held in detention camps. Others have argued that the numbers were higher. What is well documented is how colonial agents were unrivaled in their barbarity. They castrated and sexually abused, starved, and maimed detainees in order to force the alleged oath takers to confess. They used electric shock, cigarettes and fire, broken bottles, gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin, and hot eggs were thrust up men’s rectums and women’s vaginas. The assault only came to an end when the Gikuyu population was almost physically decimated and psychologically broken.
If not for the legal case brought against the British government by four surviving Kenyans, we would not know about the trove of secret colonial files documenting the systematic nature of their torture of Africans. The generation of Africans who fought against colonialism is dying without recognition of their fight or their suffering at the hands of racist colonialism. In the current context where Africans, through organizations such as the ICC, are constructed and targeted as the greatest purveyors of “crimes against humanity,” it is well worth remembering the venal work of Europeans in Africa. The demands for reparations may begin with four elderly Kenyans traveling to the old center of the British empire, but the colonial archive surely documents crimes against the Herero, the Congolese, and many other victims of European colonialism. We should not forget their struggles.
i – Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Jane Muthoni Mara, Paulo Nzili, and Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua
ii – For Further Reading: C. L. R. James, A History of Pan-African Revolt (1995); Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005); Cora Presley, Kikuyu Women, the Mau Mau Rebellion, and Social Change in Kenya (1992); Gerald Horne, Mau Mau in Harlem? The U.S. and the Liberation of Kenya (2009)
Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com.
Bombing a Peace Conference
On Saturday morning, May 14, in a press conference broadcast on a Libyan satellite t.v. channel, government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim presented strong evidence that a massacre of Libyan religious leaders by NATO was carried out in the oil port of Brega. The press conference was attended by Libyan religious leaders, mainly Muslim but including both Orthodox and Catholic representatives.
According to the charges made by Moussa Ibrahim, on Friday, May 13, over 150 of Libya’s most senior Imams gathered in Brega to hold a peace conference on how to end the fighting in Libya. Brega was chosen for the site because it is the closest government held town to the rebel-held stronghold of Benghazi and the Imams planned to send a delegation to Benghazi with a peace proposal following the conference.
Early during the evening of Friday, May 13, NATO forces bombed the conference site, killing at least ten and hospitalizing over 40 Imams. Libyan television showed the site, which was clearly demolished. Moussa Ibrahim described it as the oil industry’s temporary residential complex or guest quarters and later provided the Google Earth coordinates for viewers to confirm the location.
Statements were made by two Imams who had driven through the night from the Brega site to Tripoli for the press conference to condemn the NATO bombing of their brethren.
NATO confirmed attacking Brega that evening but claimed it struck a “command and control center”.
Only BBC World carried a short clip of the press conference which was ignored by all other international news channels who instead focused on a claim made by the Italian foreign minister that Muammar Gaddafi had been wounded in a previous bombing of Tripoli. The Italian minister claimed that he was informed of Gaddafi’s injuries by the Catholic Bishop of Tripoli, a claim that the Catholic Bishop denied making.
It appears that NATO is growing increasingly desperate despite the description of the present military situation on the ground in Libya as a “stalemate”. Libyan government forces continue to tighten their control over most of the south and claim they are regaining control of the eastern oil producing region, which would mean ending any chance of the rebels exporting significant quantities of oil to fund their rebellion.
Libyan government forces, on some accounts, have also regained control of the water pipeline known as the Great Man Made River (GMMR) which supplies Benghazi and its surroundings with almost all of its water from the Nubian aquifer in southern Libya. If the Libyan government is able to cut the water flow from the GMMR to Benghazi it will leave the rebels in the east with only a single reservoir in the town of Ajdabiya to use, which is estimated to only have a one month supply of the amount of water Benghazi needs.
Bombing a peace conference of Libyan religious leaders shows just how much NATO is threatened by any chance of a cease fire. Any break in the NATO air offensive will only benefit the government and hurt the rebellion, with reports from western journalists in Benghazi telling of increasing infighting between local rebels and those recently returned from exile who have been trying to take over. If Benghazi loses its water supply the clock starts ticking toward the day when Benghazi’s rebel fighters must surrender or evacuate the city.
Thomas C. Mountain lives in Asmara, Eritrea. He can be reached at: thomascmountain at yahoo dot com
They are extraordinary scenes. Film shot on mobile phones captured the moment on Sunday when at least 1,000 Palestinian refugees marched across no-man’s land to one of the most heavily protected borders in the world, the one separating Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Waving Palestinian flags, the marchers braved a minefield, then tore down a series of fences, allowing more than 100 to run into Israeli-controlled territory. As they embraced Druze villagers on the other side, voices could be heard saying: “This is what liberation looks like.”
Unlike previous years, this Nakba Day was not simply a commemoration of the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians in 1948, when their homeland was forcibly reinvented as the Jewish state. It briefly reminded Palestinians that, despite their long-enforced dispersion, they still have the potential to forge a common struggle against Israel.
As Israel violently cracked down on last Sunday’s protests on many fronts — in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and on the borders with Syria and Lebanon — it looked less like a military superpower and more like the proverbial boy with his finger in the dam.
The Palestinian “Arab Spring” is arriving and Israel has no diplomatic or political strategy to deal with it. Instead on Sunday, Israel used the only weapon in its current arsenal — brute force — against unarmed demonstrators.
Along the northern borders, at least 14 protesters were killed and dozens wounded, both at Majdal Shams in the Golan and near Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon.
In Gaza, a teenager was shot dead and more than 100 other demonstrators wounded as they massed at crossing points. At Qalandiya, the main checkpoint Israel created to bar West Bank Palestinians from reaching Jerusalem, at least 40 protesters were badly injured. There were clashes in major West Bank towns too.
And inside Israel, the country’s Palestinian minority took their own Nakba march for the first time into the heart of Israel, waving Palestinian flags in Jaffa, the once-famous Palestinian city that has been transformed since 1948 into a minor suburb of Tel Aviv.
With characteristic obtuseness, Israel’s leaders identified Iranian “fingerprints” on the day’s events — as though Palestinians lacked enough grievances of their own to initiate protests.
But, in truth, Israeli intelligence has warned for months that mass demonstrations of this kind were inevitable, stoked by the intransigence of Israel’s right-wing government in the face of both Washington’s renewed interest in creating a Palestinian state and of the Arab Spring’s mood of “change is possible”.
Following in the footsteps of Egyptian and Tunisian demonstrators, ordinary Palestinians used the new social media to organise and coordinate their defiance – in their case challenging the walls, fences and checkpoints Israel has erected everywhere to separate them. Twitter, not Tehran, was the guiding hand behind these demonstrations.
Although the protests are not yet a third intifada, they hint at what may be coming. Or, as one senior Israeli commander warned, they looked ominously like a “warm-up” for September, when the newly unified Palestinian leadership is threatening to defy Israel and the United States and seek recognition at the United Nations of Palestinian statehood inside the 1967 borders.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, alluded to similar concerns when he cautioned: “We are just at the start of this matter and it could be that we’ll face far more complex challenges.”
There are several lessons, none of them comfortable, for Israel to draw from the weekend’s clashes.
The first is that the Arab Spring cannot be dealt with simply by battening down the hatches. The upheavals facing Israel’s Arab neighbours mean these regimes no longer have the legitimacy to decide their own Palestinian populations’ fates according to narrow self-interest.
Just as the post-Mubarak government in Egypt is now easing rather than enforcing the blockade on Gaza, the Syrian regime’s precarious position makes it far less able or willing to restrain, let alone shoot at, Palestinian demonstrators massing on Israel’s borders.
The second is that Palestinians have absorbed the meaning of the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. In establishing a unity government, the two rival factions have belatedly realised that they cannot make headway against Israel as long as they are politically and geographically divided.
Ordinary Palestinians are drawing the same conclusion: in the face of tanks and fighter jets, Palestinian strength lies in a unified national liberation movement that refuses to be defined by Israel’s policies of fragmentation.
The third lesson is that Israel has relied on relative quiet on its borders to enforce the occupations of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, in particular, have allowed the Israeli army to divert its energies into controlling the Palestinians under its rule.
But the question is whether Israel has the manpower to deal with coordinated and sustained Palestinian revolts on multiple fronts. Can it withstand such pressure without the resort to mass slaughter of unarmed Palestinian protesters?
The fourth is that the Palestinian refugees are not likely to remain quiet if their interests are sidelined by Israel or by a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations in September that fails to address their concerns.
The protesters in Syria and Lebanon showed that they will not be pushed to the margins of the Palestinian Arab Spring. That message will not be lost on either Hamas or Fatah as they begin negotiations to develop a shared strategy over the next few months.
And the fifth lesson is that the scenes of Palestinian defiance on Israel’s borders will fuel the imaginations of Palestinians everywhere to start thinking the impossible – just as the Tahrir Square protests galvanised Egyptians into believing they could remove their dictator.
Israel is in a diplomatic and strategic dead-end. Last weekend it may have got its first taste of the likely future.
GAZA — The Israeli prison service (IPS) has refused to release a detained Palestinian mother of six despite a court order to the effect, the Ahrar center for prisoners’ studies and human rights said.
Fuad Al-Khafsh, the Ahrar director, added in a statement on Tuesday that Samha Hijaz, 37, was detained while on her way to visit her two detained brothers Yasser, who is serving a life sentence, and Hisham, who is serving 10 life sentences.
He said that Samha, from the Ramallah village of Mazra Sharqiya, was detained on 8 February 2011 and charged with planning to smuggle mobile phones to her brothers.
Samha categorically denied the charge but was kept by the Israeli intelligence in custody and was subjected to cruel interrogation rounds then taken to prison with homicide convicts before being transferred to Hasharon jail.
Khafsh said that an Israeli military court decided last Sunday that Samha should be released but the IPS refused.
The Ahrar director urged human rights groups and international organizations to demand the release of Samha without any further delay and let her return to her husband and six children.
The bodies of 21 people, most likley killed by the US occupation forces in the town of Fallujah, west of the Iraqi capital, were discovered on Tuesday in a cemetery.
According to Fallujah police chief Brigadier General Mahmud al-Essawi, the bodies were found in body-bags with Latin letters and numbers on them. “They were blindfolded, their legs were tied and they had suffered gunshot wounds,” Essawi said.
The discovery was made in a section of Al-Maadhidi cemetery in the centre of the town, 60 kilometers (35 miles) west of Baghdad, as a grave was being dug in preparation for a funeral, a security official said on condition of anonymity.
Essawi and town mayor Adnan Hussein both said the dead were killed in 2004 when the US occupation army launched two major offensives on Fallujah to dislodge insurgents.
Hussein charged that the 21 were killed by US occupation forces. “The black body-bags and the manner in which they were buried proves this,” he said.
According to AFP, the US military declined immediate comment on the report.