June 2010

Israeli human-rights groups and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, have condemned a decision by Israel to expel four Palestinian politicians from East Jerusalem by the end of this week. The Israeli government revoked their residency rights in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, after claiming they were “in breach of trust” for belonging to a “foreign parliament”, a reference to the Palestinian Legislative Council. All four men belong to Hamas and were arrested a few months after taking part in the Palestinian national elections in January 2006.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s far-right foreign minister, set out this week what he called a “blueprint for a resolution to the conflict” with the Palestinians that demands most of the country’s large Palestinian minority be stripped of citizenship and relocated outside Israel’s future borders. Warning that Israel faced growing diplomatic pressure for a full withdrawal to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, Mr Lieberman said that, if such a partition were implemented, “the conflict will inevitably pass beyond those borders and into Israel”.

As Israel this week declared the “easing” of the four-year blockade of Gaza, an official explained the new guiding principle: “Civilian goods for civilian people.” The severe and apparently arbitrary restrictions on foodstuffs entering the enclave – coriander bad, cinnamon good – will finally end, we are told. Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants will have all the coriander they want.

Two dozen strictly religious Jews, 22 of them women, were on the run from the Israeli police yesterday, as the country faced a rapidly escalating confrontation between the secular courts and the small but powerful ultra-Orthodox community. The crisis has been provoked by a Supreme Court ruling against segregation at a publicly funded haredi school, enforced through partition walls in the classrooms and playground, designed to keep girls from different ethnic backgrounds apart.

The letter that arrived in Ahmed Tibi’s in-tray last week warned him he had only “180 days to live” and that his death would be “cruel and accompanied by terrible suffering and agony”. The parliamentarian’s offence, said a New York-based group calling itself Pulsa Denura, was his “poisonous stance against Israel and Zionism”. Mr Tibi said the group’s name alone was cause for alarm. Pulsa Denura is an ancient rabbinical death curse reported to have been invoked against Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, shortly before his assassination.

The first reports of Israel’s May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla surfaced among the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens alongside rumors that Sheikh Ra’id Salah, head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel, had been shot dead on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. Salah is alive, but at the time his demise seemed confirmed when it emerged that large numbers of police had been drafted into northern Israel, where most of the Palestinian minority lives, in expectation of widespread violence.

Israeli authorities are pressing ahead with plans to build a courthouse complex on a large historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem that is already at the center of protest over plans to locate a “Museum of Tolerance” there. The proposed courthouse is expected to provoke stiff opposition, especially from Islamic groups, after it was revealed that an excavation last year for the museum, close by, unearthed as many as 1,500 Muslim graves.

The ostracism of Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, over her comment that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany, America and elsewhere is revealing in several ways. In spite of an apology, the 89-year-old has been summarily retired by the Hearst newspaper group, dropped by her agent, spurned by the White House, and denounced by long-time friends and colleagues.

Why are Israelis so indignant at the international outrage that has greeted their country’s lethal attack last week on a flotilla of civilian ships taking aid to Gaza? Israelis have not responded in any of the ways we might have expected. Instead, they are engaged in a Kafkaesque conversation in which the military attack on the civilian ships is characterised as a legitimate “act of self-defence”, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, and the killing of nine aid activists is transformed into an attempted “lynching of our soldiers” by terrorists.

An Israeli parliamentary committee recommended stripping an Arab MP of her privileges yesterday in a move to prepare the ground for putting her on trial for participating last week in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla attacked by Israeli commandos. Haneen Zoubi, who has become a national hate figure since challenging Israel’s account of the confrontation, said yesterday she was facing “a witch-hunt”.

Israel yesterday worked to fast-track the release of hundreds of foreign peace activists arrested in its raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla earlier this week. A steady flow of buses ferried detainees to land borders and the main airport. Israel said all 680 detainees would be released yesterday after a heated debate among government ministers on Tuesday night at which most agreed it was important to minimise the damage to Israel’s severely battered image.

Moshe Dayan, Israel’s most celebrated general, famously outlined the strategy that he believed would keep Israel’s enemies at bay: “Israel must be a like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” Until now, most observers had assumed Dayan was referring to Israel’s military and possibly its nuclear strategy. But the Israeli commando attack on Monday on the Gaza-bound flotilla, in which several crew members and international solidarity activists were killed and dozens wounded as they tried to break Israel’s blockade of the enclave, proves that this is now a diplomatic strategy too.

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament who was on board the international flotilla that was attacked on Monday as it tried to take humanitarian aid to Gaza accused Israel yesterday of intending to kill peace activists as a way to deter future convoys. Haneen Zoubi said Israeli naval vessels had surrounded the flotilla’s flagship, the Mavi Marmara, and fired on it a few minutes before commandos abseiled from a helicopter directly above them. Terrified passengers had been forced off the deck when water was sprayed at them.