Thursday 24 April 2008

Israel might surrender Golan Heights, says Syria

Thursday, April 24th 2008


JERUSALEM - Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Syria he is willing to return the Golan Heights to the terror-tied state in exchange for peace, Syrian and Turkish officials said Wednesday.

Olmert's office did not deny the report - infuriating Israeli hard-liners and members of his own centrist Kadima Party.

Israel first occupied the strategic plateau, towering above the Sea of Galilee, in 1967 and annexed it in 1981, settling some 5,000 Israelis there. Syria has always demanded its complete return.

The reports may have some truth: On Monday, former President Jimmy Carter said Syria and Israel had resolved "85%" of their differences over the disputed border and described Syrian President Bashar Assad's "eagerness" for peace.

The Syrian daily newspaper Al-Watan reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned Assad to tell him of Olmert's readiness to "to withdraw completely from the occupied Syrian Golan in return for peace."

Assad told a meeting of his ruling Baath Party that "friendly parties were making efforts to organize contacts between Syria and Israel."

Olmert's spokesmen refused to comment on the Al-Watan report, saying only that "Assad is familiar with Israel's position regarding peace talks and vice versa."

Angry members of Olmert's Kadima Party vowed to force any decision on withdrawal to a national referendum.

"Evacuating the Golan Heights will pump Hezbollah forces into the region, who will make the lives of the residents of the north miserable," said David Tal, chairman of the Knesset House Committee.

Yuval Steinitz, a foreign affairs expert in the opposition Likud Party, said: "Without the Golan, Israel will be faced with great difficulties in defending itself and keeping the Sea of Galilee and water resources. I haven't the slightest doubt that the people of Israel adhere to the Golan much more than they do to Olmert."

Polls show Olmert trailing badly to Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yossi Beilin, a leading left-wing legislator, encouraged Olmert to talk to Syria.

"Peace with Syria is a key part of regional peace and will lead to the implementation of the Arab peace initiative and to a dramatic change in Syria's relationship with the extreme elements in the region," Beilin said.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Israel finally agrees to pay £1.75m compensation to family of British man shot dead by Gaza soldier five years ago

DAILY MAIL, 22nd April 2008

By Matthew Kalman

The family of a British filmmaker shot dead by Israeli troops is set to receive £1.75 million in compensation from the Israeli government.

Prize-winning documentary maker James Miller, 34, was killed by soldiers guarding a security zone in the border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on May 2, 2003.
He left a wife, Sophy, and two young children, Alexander and Lottie.

The £1.75 million payout to Mr Miller's widow and children was reported by an Israeli newspaper yesterday. It comes after five years of mounting legal pressure on Israel to accept responsibility for the fatal shooting.

The soldier who shot Mr Miller, Lieutenant Hib al-Heib, was cleared by an Israeli army inquiry then promoted to Captain.

Mr Miller's widow, elderly parents, brother John and sister Katie have pursued the case even though the military probe decided the soldiers on patrol that day had not acted beyond their orders.

His family filed a suit against the State of Israel for murder, and in 2006 a British inquest ruled the killing a murder.

A hearing on the case is set in the Tel Aviv District Court for May 13.

The filmmaker's brother John told the Mail from his home in Paris that the family had not yet been officially notified of the Israeli decision and were awaiting confirmation from the foreign ministry.

"We haven't had an offer," he said. "We do have a scheduling hearing due for May 13 and I suspect because of that they have leaked this."

He said the family had already spent more than £1 million recovering his brother's body, carrying out the autopsy and employing expert witnesses to pursue the case.
The family had sued for compensation in excess of £3 million based on loss of earnings, but "it has never really been about the money," he said.

"It's five years since this happened. You have to reach a point where there's a lot to be said for settling because it takes up an incredible amount of time and effort.

"My parents are both retired should be enjoying life. They have seen the film of James being killed more than 500 times, and that's really not ideal for their situation and not the way to spend their retirement.

"We are quite motivated to end this. I don't imagine we would do it regardless of money, but it certainly isn't the real issue," he said.

"It's about being able to move on five years later rather than having the prospect of another few years in court," he added.

After a lengthy Israeli investigation, officials in Jerusalem originally decided in March 2005 not to press criminal charges against those involved because of insufficient evidence.

The commander of the Israeli force that shot and killed Mr Miller faced disciplinary proceedings for illegal use of firearms, but was exonerated.

An Israeli army inquiry found that Mr Miller's death was a "tragic accident."

An army spokesman claimed that the Londoner "walked right into the middle of an ongoing battle" with heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in bad light.

But John Miller said the footage his brother shot that night suggested a different story.

"My brother was filmed going out of the building holding a torch which he was shining on a white flag," he said.

"The film shows my brother, reporter Saira Shah and another journalist walking from the building shouting they were British journalists in English and in Arabic.

"They reach a point where a shot is fired and it's silent apart from that shot.

"They stand still, holding the flag. Then 10-15 seconds later there is a another shot – the one that killed my brother. You see the flag dropped and a great deal of commotion and shouting."

"There were no other shots except for those two and I believe they both came from the Israeli side," he said.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

American Internships in Israel Promote Extremism, Report Says

Wednesday, April 16, 2008



A forthcoming report on American student internships in Israel and the Palestinian territories says that some programs are promoting extremist politics instead of academic values.

The report, "Human Rights Internships That Promote Conflict, Not Education," is to be published in May by NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog based here.

A draft copy of the report obtained by The Chronicle singles out programs at the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies and George Mason University's Center for Global Education, both of which send students as interns to human-rights nongovernmental organizations, or NGO's, in the Middle East.

"Many of these NGO's are highly political and partisan," says the draft report.

"The NGO's involved in these internship programs are systematically biased in promoting a pro-Palestinian political agenda, and present human-rights and international law in a simplistic, partisan, and misleading manner, in which the environment of terrorism and asymmetric warfare is erased," the draft charges.

Some targets of the criticism assailed the draft report as a right-wing smear, and they said the interns furthered their studies in rigorous academic programs.

Among the NGO's criticized is the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an Israeli group that promotes an anti-Israeli boycott and denounces Israeli "apartheid" and "atrocities." That committee and Mossawa, an Israeli-Arab rights group, have compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Another group criticized in the draft report, I'lam, was involved in an "Israel Apartheid" week at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

"These internships are an inappropriate element of any kind of university educational program," said Gerald M. Steinberg, executive director of NGO Monitor and chairman of the political-studies department at Bar-Ilan University. "Such one-sided political campaigning by unaccountable NGO's is antithetical to academic norms and standards of conduct."

Mr. Steinberg called on the American universities to "end such biased internships, and to appoint an independent committee to review this and similar activities."

'Clear Right-Wing Political Agenda'

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, an official at the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said Mr. Steinberg and NGO Monitor were pursuing "a clear right-wing political agenda ... he's trying single-handedly to put us out of business."

She said her group made no secret of its political agenda, which opposes the Israeli policy of destroying the homes of Palestinians built without permits and the homes of militants in retribution for their attacks.

"We're very political," she said. "We campaign for the human right to have a roof over your head. We say that people's human rights are being abused because of the occupation. If we were in South Africa, then the Israeli separation policies being implemented on the West Bank would be called apartheid­that's the translation."

She said the Israeli committee welcomed students who wanted to study the conflict close-up.

"I have no problem with people who want to learn," she said. "Let them spend time with us and with NGO Monitor. Let them see for themselves."

A Smear?

Yehuda Lukacs, director of the Center for Global Education at George Mason University, accused NGO Monitor of "trying to smear programs like ours."

"Professor Steinberg is labeling all these programs as human-rights and international-law internships," Mr. Lukacs said. "Our program is none of that. It's a workshop in civil society, politics, and conflict resolution."

"Professor Steinberg would have our students wear blinders and pursue only one point of view," he said, "and we don't do that."

He said students spent two months in the Middle East, met with Israeli and Palestinian activists and officials representing all viewpoints, and then began their internships.

"The objective of the program is to let the students decide for themselves what is happening in the area," he said. "This is a rigorous academic program with a full syllabus and lots of course requirements, including research papers. It does not have any particular ideological bent, except that we would like you to see the situation with your own eyes."

A Student's Perspective

Julie Szegda, a master's student in international peace and conflict resolution at American University, interned at Mossawa, the Israeli-Palestinian rights group, through the George Mason program in 2007.

"I didn't feel as though I was involved in political activity," said Ms. Szegda. "I saw myself as someone interested in conflict resolution coming in to analyze the level of grassroots organizations and advocacy within the conflict. I felt like, going into Mossawa, I was really aware of who they were and what they represented and what I was going to get out of it."

Mr. Lukacs drew a broader analogy. "Every year hundreds of students head to Washington to intern with U.S. senators for college credit," he said. "Would Professor Steinberg say they were involved in political activity?"

Thursday 10 April 2008

International Group of Archaeologists Unveils Proposal for Safekeeping of Israeli and Palestinian Artifacts

Thursday, April 10, 2008



Israeli, Palestinian, and American archaeologists this week unveiled a draft agreement on archaeological and cultural heritage that they hope to see included in a future Middle East peace agreement.

Presenting their proposal to an audience of archaeologists at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute here on Tuesday, the participants said it was the first time that Israelis and Palestinians had discussed the fate of thousands of artifacts discovered in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel occupied those territories in 1967.

The proposal was presented to Palestinian archaeologists last summer.

"We were not trying to conduct negotiations on a final settlement, but to set out items for future discussion in the peace talks," said David Ilan, director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Jerusalem, and one of the Israeli participants.

The draft is the result of five years of secret work by the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, a group of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists who met for talks in London, Vienna, and Jerusalem.

The issue is so sensitive that of the nine participants, two remain anonymous.

The five-page draft agreement has been presented to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, U.N. officials, and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy. It calls for Israel to repatriate all items excavated in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians except for those with "deep symbolic value," which should remain on loan to Israel. The group also urges both sides to respect and preserve archaeological sites on both sides of any new border.

Regarding Jerusalem, the group proposes a special "heritage zone" to safeguard the city's "unique archaeological heritage."

The group says that both sides "hold special responsibility to preserve the archaeological heritage of Jerusalem as it significance extends far beyond national borders."

The group has compiled the first publicly accessible computer-mapped database of more than 6,000 archaeological and heritage sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, locations that had previously been kept secret by the Israeli occupation administration.

Potential Opposition

A heated debate erupted at the Jerusalem meeting when Shuka Dorfman, director general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, criticized the group for what he called its secrecy and its political tendencies.

"I agree with almost everything in this document," said Mr. Dorfman. "I have no problem with dialogue. It's very important. It's essential. But not when it becomes political. This is politicization of archaeology."

But Ran Boytner, director of international programs at the University of California at Los Angeles's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, rejected Mr. Dorfman's criticism. Mr. Boytner and Lynn Swartz Dodd, curator of the Archaeological Research Collection at the University of Southern California, started the working group and secured money for its activities.

"What is the role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?" said Mr. Boytner. "We didn't politicize archaeology, we tried to solve a political problem affecting archaeology."

"My hope is that when there will be a final peace agreement, that this document will serve as the foundation to build the archaeological chapter," he added.

Facilitators at the group's meetings included Moty Cristal, a former Israeli Army negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from 1994 to 2001. He said there was a long history of so-called Track 2 negotiations involving academics and experts from both sides, which had accompanied the peace talks since the early 1990s.

"Before Camp David, we consulted with dozens of professors and experts, and it helped enormously," said Mr. Cristal, referring to the Clinton-Barak-Arafat peace summit in July 2000.

"This is a very, very important document," said Mr. Cristal. "We will hear attacks from all sides, but this document will be on the shelf and available to the negotiators. If they want it, they can take it."

Under the 1993-94 Oslo Accords, Israel ceded control of archaeological sites in territory handed over to the Palestinian Authority, with the exception of an ancient synagogue in Jericho and Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Both those sites were seized by Palestinian militants at the start of the intifada uprising in 2000.

Under the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, Israel returned all archaeological artifacts discovered in the Sinai Peninsula, as required by the 1954 Hague Convention. Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who oversaw that process, said he favored a similar deal with the Palestinians but warned that many of the items returned in 1979 were now inaccessible and had effectively been lost to science. He also described the legal position as more complicated than the Egyptian model.

"The Hague Convention only applies to sovereign states, and in 1967 the sovereign state controlling the West Bank was Jordan," said Mr. Dahari. "If we are to return the artifacts to the Palestinians, which I personally favor, then it will be a matter of negotiation, not of law. At the same time, I oppose handing over items of supreme importance to the Jewish people, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those must remain in our possession."

The group's document could meet with stiff opposition from a broader cross-section of archaeologists.

"I think this paper will divide Israeli opinion. Many Israelis would not agree with returning the items," said Adi Keinan of the Israeli Institute of Archaeology, who was the principal researcher on the group's West Bank database.

Monday 7 April 2008

Iran fears spark Israel terror drill

Monday, April 7th 2008


JERUSALEM - Israel launched a week-long nationwide Civil Defense drill
Sunday as speculation mounted about a possible U.S.-led strike on

Sirens blared and rescue workers rushed to simulated chemical and
biological attack scenes across the Jewish state as authorities
mounted the biggest-ever drill in Israel's history. Officials insisted
that the exercise - code-named Turning Point 2 - is part of a
long-term plan to increase civil preparedness after the failed 2006
invasion of Lebanon.

"This is a routine drill," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "The State
of Israel is not seeking violent confrontation." Israel's neighbors
and Palestinians blasted the drill as a prelude for more cross-border
attacks in Lebanon, Syria or the Gaza Strip.

The drill also came amid rising saber-rattling with Iran, which the
U.S. accuses of meddling in neighboring Iraq. A British newspaper
reported that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq,
will set the stage for military action against Iran when he testifies
before Congress this week.

Two weeks ago, Petraeus accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of
carrying out rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad that left 15
civilians dead.

A joint U.S.-Israeli strike on Iran might take aim at the Islamic
Republic's fledgling nuclear program - and also seek to deter it from
interfering in Iraq. Israeli commentators have speculated that any
attack on Iran would most likely take place after the November
election, in the dying days of the Bush presidency.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Palestinian University Closes Temporarily After Violent Clashes on Its Campus

Wednesday, April 2, 2008



Classes have been suspended at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City until
Thursday after violent clashes on Monday that were blamed on
supporters of Hamas.

The university is regarded as one of the last bastions in Gaza of the
Fatah movement, which is headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas. The rival Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian
parliament, seized power in Gaza last year.

According to witnesses of Monday's clashes, Hamas supporters,
including many nonstudents, broke into the campus at dawn, detained
university security guards, and attacked several lecturers and

The intruders festooned the campus with Hamas flags and portraits of
Hamas's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and held a ceremony to mark the
fourth anniversary of his assassination in an Israeli helicopter

The commemoration violated an order from the university administration
banning student political activities on the campus.

Ayman Shaheen, a political-science professor at Al-Azhar, told The
Chronicle that the infiltrators began beating staff members and
students who tried to remove the Hamas flags and posters.

"Because of the tense situation in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, the
university administration decided a month and a half ago to stop all
student political activities on campus," he said on Tuesday. "The
university wants to avoid any clashes between the two main groups. But
the Hamas supporters forced their way in to hold their festival."

There were conflicting reports about whether Hamas security forces
aided the demonstrators.

A Hamas spokesman flatly denied that the security forces had a role in
Monday's clashes. "The police were not involved," the spokesman, Sami
Abu Zuhri, said. "This was an internal matter and very small."

"The Islamic students' committee has been repeatedly denied permission
to hold any kind of activity in Al-Azhar University, and the
administration has not given them any explanation," Mr. Abu Zuhri
said. "On Monday they wanted to mark the anniversary of the death of
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin but the university withheld permission. So the
students insisted on going ahead with the celebration anyway. ...
There were small clashes with other students who supported Fatah."

Since Hamas took power in Gaza, Al-Azhar has managed to stay open, but
Hamas security officials have raided the campus at least five times.

Several female students were beaten on Monday while attempting to tear
down posters in support of Hamas, according to news reports. One
student told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that she was
beaten and sprayed with chloride.

Jaber El-Da'our, the university's vice president for administrative
affairs, told the human-rights group that he and two colleagues were
pursued through the campus by Hamas members.

"The teachers and I decided to stay away from them and their ceremony.
However, they pursued us again and started to assault us till we left
the campus. We demonstrated near the main university entrance;
however, the police came and beat us and insulted us, using gas to
disperse us," he said.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights called on all parties to keep
educational institutions out of the struggle between Fatah and Hamas,
and to protect academic and public freedoms.