Wednesday 24 October 2007

Analysis: Wheels turning again on Middle East 'road map' to peace

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track?

That's the question occupying diplomats as they prepare for a Middle East meeting called by President Bush for Annapolis, Md., next month or early December. A recent flurry of diplomatic activity appears to have breathed new life into the U.S.-backed "road map," encouraging some to believe it could recover from a near-fatal blow in June with the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.

The charge is being led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to return next week to Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks for the eighth time this year. Wrapping up her latest round of talks last week, she said her efforts stood a "reasonable chance of success."

But even her personal involvement has so far failed to bridge the gap required for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to sign a joint declaration of principles that would pave the way for a solution to the conflict. Some observers even say it would be better to cancel the meeting than allow it to fail.

"The idea is not to raise expectations that can lead to frustration and to violence, because we need to learn from past experience," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said recently, alluding to the failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000 that was followed by the Palestinian uprising known as the intifada.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has urged Palestinian and other Arab leaders to stay away altogether, calling Bush's invitation a "new door for capitulation. ... We urge our Arab brothers not to go down this dark tunnel."

Writing in the Jerusalem Post last week, David Kimche, a former deputy commander of the Mossad spy agency, said, "Failure is not an option. Its consequences would be too harrowing - the collapse of the moderate, anti-violence and pro-peace camp of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas, victory for Hamas and other extremist factions and the eventual demise of the two-state solution."

While the Annapolis meeting has garnered international attention, work on the ground is being spearheaded by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the newly appointed Middle East representative of the so-called Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Brushing aside skepticism that greeted his appointment in July, Blair has thrown himself into his new job, planting a 10-person team in offices in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem and promising to spend at least one week a month in the region.

"The most important thing is that things are moving again," Blair said during a recent trip to New York. "There is momentum back in this process. That doesn't mean to say that we are foolishly optimistic after all the difficulties of the past. But things are moving again."

Blair said that by year's end, the Palestinian Authority is expected to create a blueprint for institutions needed to create an independent state, and that he has been working with international donors and private business investors to create the economic conditions necessary to make that happen. His efforts closely mirror the conclusions of three recent reports from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and British government that call attention to the deepening economic crisis in the Palestinian territories and suggest that without an economic solution, a political process is impossible.

Blair is considering a graduated program of action, beginning with issues affecting the daily life of Palestinians - mobility, education and employment. Blair will ask donors to create jobs and improve Palestinian living conditions by funding a slew of major infrastructure projects, ranging from roads and factories to power stations and sewage treatment plants.

Some Palestinian officials, however, say they have heard it all before.

"Palestinians keep hearing about economic recovery plans submitted by this or that envoy or representative, when they, even as individuals, can hardly travel from one city in the West Bank to another," said Walid Awad, a senior official in Fatah, the moderate faction headed by Abbas. "They hear about security plans and wonder about their own security, hear about one peace initiative or another, when in effect, nothing changes on the ground, except for the worse."

But this time, Blair is determined to reach results. He is helped by the fact that Israeli and Palestinian leaders sense that this may be the last chance to save Palestinians from spending the next century in a constant state of war under a fundamentalist Islamic regime led by Hamas.

After Fatah was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in June and left to rule only in the West Bank, Abbas and Fatah officials know they must end corruption and lay the foundations of their future state, many analysts say.

All this requires Israeli cooperation. The Olmert administration must remove military checkpoints in the West Bank, release Palestinian prisoners and make diplomatic progress if ordinary Palestinians are to feel any benefits from Blair's mission, most analysts say.

But the Israelis also are faced with a serious quandary. They are under almost daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to call for Israel's destruction. Nor is the Hamas threat confined to Gaza. Only last month, a suicide bomb wired in a belt was discovered in Tel Aviv after a huge security operation netted a Hamas bombmaker in a Nablus refugee camp.

"Everyone understands that Tony Blair has a crucial mission here," said Mark Regev, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We have no interest in Israel living next to a failed society with a failed economy. It will only create instability and provide a recipe for further violence. Israel has its own interest in the Palestinians getting their act together - economically, politically and socially. We are behind Blair."

This article appeared on page A - 13 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Monday 22 October 2007

Israeli Academic Year Begins With Faculty on Strike

Monday, October 22, 2007



Israel's academic year began deep in crisis on Sunday as faculty members at universities throughout the country went on strike in pursuit of a 20-percent pay raise.

Hours earlier, university heads rescinded their threat not to open the campuses, in protest of government delays in honoring a commitment to provide an extra $75-million in support this year. In a compromise with the government, the presidents accepted an infusion of $55-million instead.

The universities opened, but most of the teaching-staff members stayed away. Students spent the day completing administrative procedures, registering for library cards, and shopping for last-minute materials.

Some 120,000 Israeli university students are affected by the strike. They join 600,000 high-school students locked out of their classes as a separate wage dispute by high-school teachers entered its 10th day on Sunday.

Israeli higher education is only just recovering from a crippling student strike over fees last semester. The student action, which went on for 41 days, forced universities to extend classes into the summer-vacation period. And the end of the previous academic year was disrupted by the Lebanon war, which closed down campuses in northern Israel, exiled thousands of students from their homes, and caused hundreds of students and staff members to report for reserve military duty.

In the current dispute, a faculty-union representative, Zvi Hacohen, a professor of desert research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, said lecturers' salaries had been eroded by 15 percent since the last wage agreement was signed with the government, in 2001.

Israeli university lecturers earn the equivalent of $2,500 to $5,250 a month, much less than their American and European colleagues, even after adjustments for the lower cost of living in Israel.

Mr. Hacohen said the low pay had contributed to a "brain drain," with some 3,000 Israeli professors now working abroad, compared with 4,500 still in their own country.

"The negotiations broke down because we have asked for one thing from the beginning, that there be a mechanism to ensure there will be no more erosion of faculty salaries," said Mr. Hacohen. "Salaries rise automatically in the public sector. That doesn't happen among academics."

An education ministry official criticized the professors for going on strike instead of continuing talks. The walkout "will unnecessarily harm the students and the higher education system," the official said.

The president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Menachem Magidor, said he had some sympathy for the professors' plight, but he said their decision to strike was "counterproductive."

He said the university heads had settled their dispute with the government by compromising on their original demands, and he urged professors to do the same.

"There was some attrition in their salaries, compared with the public sector and definitely with the overall economy," Mr. Magidor said. "But I don’t think it's as large as they claim and I don't think it's realistic to expect to get the full thing now. I think that what would be reasonable would be to have a formula to compensate for some attrition that happened in the past and a guarantee that there will be less or no attrition in the future."

Some classes went ahead on Sunday, taught by part-time or junior staff members who are not represented by the senior-faculty organizations. Students were divided between those concerned about losing yet more hours of study and those who support the lecturers' demands.

Ronit Tirosh, a former director general of the education ministry who is now a member of parliament, called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to take radical steps to solve the burgeoning education crisis by reordering the government's priorities and dramatically raising salaries. Ms. Tirosh, who is a member of Mr. Olmert's Kadima Party, conceded that such a move would cost "billions of shekels."

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Palestinian Students Accepted at Israeli Universities Wait in Limbo

Wednesday, October 17, 2007



Palestinian students on the West Bank are being prevented from taking their places at Israeli universities and colleges under a blanket government ban that was challenged almost a year ago by the Israeli Supreme Court.

But as the new academic year begins, the Israeli military commander in the West Bank has so far failed to comply with the court's request to provide clear criteria for denying Palestinian students access to Israel so they can attend class.

In December 2006, the court asked the Israeli government to explain its refusal to extend the six-month entry permit of Sawsan Salameh, a 30-year-old Palestinian woman who is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (The Chronicle, January 12). Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch said that, in the absence of a "security or private reason preventing the extension of the permit, we assume the renewed permit will be granted."

Ms. Salameh's permit has been extended every six months since then, but each time the court has met to hear the army's criteria for banning other students, the government has requested an extension.

At the last hearing, in September, the three-judge panel headed by Justice Beinisch rejected requests for a further extension and set November 1 as the date for a hearing.

Enforcing Unwritten Criteria
Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human-rights group that sued the government, said the delay had effectively forced Palestinian students to miss the start of another semester. The Israeli academic year is scheduled to begin this month.

Gisha is also representing Saed Hasan, a West Bank student who was due on Monday to begin an executive M.B.A. program run jointly by Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University. Israel refused to give Mr. Hasan a permit, telling Tel Aviv University that he "does not meet the criteria." But the government has told the court that it has not yet drawn up the criteria.

"Since 2000 the unpublished criteria have apparently become stricter and stricter," said Ms. Bashi. "As a result, there has been a steady decline and a chilling effect on the willingness of Palestinian students to apply to Israeli universities and the willingness of the universities to accept them because they don't know if they will get permits."

Another petitioner to the court is the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, in southern Israel. The institute brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and other Arab students and academics to study regional environmental issues.

"Seven of our Palestinian students for this academic year need permits, and we put in a request two months ago and called almost every other day," said David Lehrer, executive director of the institute. "Last week we received a negative answer that none of the Palestinian students would be allowed to come to the institute. They had not checked the individual students but imposed a policy not to allow Palestinian students to study long-term programs in Israel."

"We challenged this ban in the Supreme Court last winter, and the court agreed with us that the ban was unreasonable," he said.

Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Israeli Government activities in the occupied territories, said that for security reasons, Palestinian undergraduates would be allowed to study in Israel only if the courses were not available in the West Bank. He said there was a specific problem with the Arava Institute because Palestinians were not allowed into that area of Israel except in exceptional cases and not for long periods.

Monday 15 October 2007

Israeli Arab farmer has 8 wives and 67 children

Shehadeh Abu Arar with some of his 67 kids in village of Burgata

Monday, October 15th 2007


JERUSALEM - He has eight wives, 67 children and two more on the way.

And Shehadeh Abu Arar says he couldn't be happier.

The Israeli Arab farmer and camel breeder boasts of knowing all his
little ones by name and brushes off questions about his unusual

"I am happy I have kids, this is what God gave us," said Abu Arar, 58.
"This is what He wants, and I do what He tells me."

Abu Arar has more children than any man in Israel, where Arab
population growth causes some to fear that Jews will someday be a

He first married in 1967 and had 31 children from his first two wives.
His eldest son is 37 and his youngest child is less than 1. So far, he
has 20 grandchildren.

All of them live with him in an extended family compound in the
village of Burgata, where he shuttles from one lovely to another.

"Every night I decide which wife to go to," Abu Arar recently told the
Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

His youngest wife is only 23, a Palestinian from the Jenin refugee
camp in the West Bank.

Abu Arar is not stopping there - eight wives, apparently, is not enough.

"Now I am thinking about a new wife, No. 9, and I am already preparing
for the marriage," he said. "There are many women who wish to marry

The family grows flowers and vegetables near its home. It also raise
cows, sheep and goats that provide food for the extended clan.

Every morning, a bus comes and takes 30 of the children to the local school.

It's not all milk and honey for the wives.

"Each one has to take care of her own children, and I have my own
chores," Abu Arar told Yedioth Ahronoth. "It's very difficult. But,
thank God, my children help out, and we make a good living."

Under Israeli law, Bedouins like Abu Arar may take as many wives as
they like without being considered a polygamist.

In a quirk of law, only 53 of the children are Israeli citizens - the
other 14 are considered Palestinians because their mothers came from
the West Bank.

Some Israeli nationalists fret that higher birthrates may one day make
Arabs, who represent about 20% of the Israeli population, a majority
in the Jewish state.

Friday 12 October 2007

Leonardo's lady protests

Friday, 12 October

Leonardo DiCaprio's Israeli model girlfriend, Bar Rafaeli, is suing
her native country's largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for libel
after claiming she said, "I am not sorry for not serving in the army
... Why is it good to die for our country? Isn't it better to live in
New York?" Rafaeli's lawyer Dror Arad Alon said the statements are
false and that she was "wickedly manipulated by the newspaper's
reporter and editors," The News' Matthew Kalman reports.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Israel's top secret sites on Google Earth

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Jerusalem -- Israel's most top secret security installations have been
jeopardized by a new version of Google Earth, Israeli military experts

Satellite photographs of the sites, downloaded from Google Earth, were
published last week on the front page of Israel's largest-selling
newspaper. The latest version of the popular Internet mapping tool
clearly shows sites viewed by the government as sensitive - such as
the nation's classified nuclear research station in the Negev Desert
city of Dimona, the headquarters of the Mossad spy agency, Israeli air
force bases, the location of the Arrow missile defense system and the
central military headquarters and Defense Ministry compound in Tel

Yediot Ahronot, the Israeli daily that published the photographs on
its front page, said the upgraded Web site is an "asset" to enemy
states and a "treasure" to terrorists. Israel has spent decades and
millions of dollars hiding these sites from public view. All are
heavily guarded round-the-clock, and the location of the Mossad
headquarters is a closely guarded secret. Reporters in Israel are
forbidden from photographing or revealing any details about these
locations under strict military censorship.

Israeli government and security officials refused to comment on the
photographs. But a former military intelligence officer, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said: "Anything I say will be
counterproductive. I think I'll avoid that issue completely."

But Professor Gerald Steinberg, chairman of the political science
department at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, disagrees. He says
Israel has been prepared for the new Google Earth images, which he
says do not endanger Israel's security.

"Israel has had 10 years to prepare for this," said Steinberg, who
helped draft an agreement with the United States limiting satellite
resolution imagery. "It was the Clinton administration's policy to
make available high-resolution imaging. Israel was granted a cushion
which for clear security reasons does not put all the available
information on the Internet.

"The satellite pictures were available before now to anyone with a few
thousand dollars. They are not real-time pictures, and they were not
taken yesterday. I don't think this is a major change in security."

The new high-resolution images, made available to Google Earth users
last week, consist of one pixel per 2.4 square yards. Until now,
previous images of Israel were limited to one pixel per 12 to 24

Cordy Griffiths, a Google spokesperson in London, said the images were
upgraded last week in line with a Google Earth policy of improving its
service to users. But Griffiths said all Google Earth images are
bought from commercial satellite imaging companies and governed by the
U.S.-Israel agreement.

"These new images fall within the law," said Griffiths. "It is higher
resolution than the imagery we had before, but it is freely available
material that we buy from third parties. The onus is on them to check
that everything is legal."

Griffiths preferred not to answer whether Israeli officials have
complained to Google since the new images were posted. "We would be
happy to discuss any concerns the Israeli government might have," she
said. "None of the images have been changed since the imagery update
for Israel in Google Earth last week."

Griffiths also denied reports that Google images of India were
deliberately blurred or distorted to protect security installations in
that country.

"Google does not intentionally degrade or distort image quality.
However, we use the imagery that comes to us from our data suppliers,
some of which includes clearly blurred or degraded imagery. For
example, an airbase in the Netherlands, the vice president's residence
in Washington, D.C.," she said.

According to Israeli experts, the photographs in question are a year
or two years old, and clearly show the layout of top-secret buildings.
The photograph of the nuclear plant at Dimona shows the approach
roads, internal walkways and individual buildings in a facility that
is off-limits and hidden behind electric fences with large warnings
signs and a complex array of cameras and other security devices.

The images also include Camp Rabin, the heavily guarded defense
headquarters in central Tel Aviv that is surrounded by anti-terrorist
blockades, a high wall and buildings with bomb-proof windows. It
contains the underground bunker from which Israel's top generals
command their military campaigns, as well as the offices of the prime
minister, defense minister and Shin Bet secret service.

Moreover, the alleged Mossad headquarters, whose location is a highly
protected secret, was identified and labeled by a Google Earth user.

"This contains a stock of information in which any intelligence body
would be willing to invest a great deal of money and effort in order
to get its hands on it," said Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot security
correspondent. "Locating sensitive strategic and security facilities
in Israel is a major objective for countries like Iran and Syria."

But political scientist Steinberg recalls similar fears when the first
satellite photos of Dimona were declassified by the United States some
10 years ago.

"There was concern this would have a negative impact on Israeli
security," he said. "It doesn't seem to have given any information to
anyone that was used to carry out attacks."

This article appeared on page A - 13 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Israelis accuse French network of staging film of Gaza slay

Wednesday, October 3rd 2007


JERUSALEM - A senior Israeli official is accusing a French TV station of staging news footage to make it look like the Israeli Army was to blame for the shooting death of a Palestinian boy.

Images of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura bleeding to death in his father's arms in Gaza in September 2000 swept the world and became a central image of the Palestinian intifadeh.

The army at first apologized for Mohammed's death, but a subsequent investigation by the Israeli Defense Forces said it was more likely he was killed in crossfire by Palestinian bullets than by the Israelis.

The boy's family rejected Israeli requests at the time to examine the boy's body to determine which side killed him.

Until now, Israeli officials have kept a low profile on the case. But last week, Daniel Seaman, director of the Israel government press office, openly accused the correspondent who aired the footage, Charles Enderlin, and the Palestinian cameraman who captured it, Talal AbuRahma, of a "blood libel" against Israel.

"Israel was accused of murdering a small child after the event by the world press, and his image has been burned into the collective Arab memory as a symbol of the brutality of the Zionist state," Seaman wrote in a letter to the Israel Law Center Shurat Hadin, which had demanded he rescind the press credentials of the network that aired the film, state-owned France 2.

"The events of that day were essentially staged by the network's cameraman in Gaza," wrote Seaman, but he said he would not withdraw the network's press passes.

Israel has asked France 2 to release the full 27 minutes of footage filmed that day in Gaza, but the network has so far refused.

Earlier this year, Enderlin and France 2 won a libel suit in a French court against media watchdog Philippe Karsenty, who accused them of staging the incident. Karsenty is appealing the verdict.

Enderlin told the Daily News he stood by the original broadcast. "The video is authentic and we will continue filing libel suits against people who say contrary," said Enderlin. "The story was not staged."

He said France 2 had refused to release the full footage on principle, "just as any newspaper will refuse to show the private notes of journalists." But he said he welcomed a decision by the French appeals court to screen the 27 minutes of film to a judge next month.

In Gaza, Jamal al-Dura, Mohammed's father, said there was no question an Israeli soldier had fired the fatal bullets.

"The Israelis killed my son. Now they are trying to deny responsibility. They want to erase the case of my son," he said.