Tuesday 31 August 2010

Palestinian Authority Moves to Modernize Higher Education

August 31, 2010

By Matthew Kalman

Ramallah, West Bank

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said Monday that his government wants to expand access to higher education as it enters the second and final year of its plan to prepare Palestinians for independent statehood.

As part of a sweeping modernization of the education system, Mr. Fayyad pledged $55-million to provide loans and grants for needy higher-education students, among others, and promised a new system of tuition reductions for students in medicine, science, and technical specialties, along with other financing reforms.

"We need stronger institutions both to expedite the end of the occupation and to secure the long-term future of a unified and democratic State of Palestine," Mr. Fayyad told reporters here, identifying higher education as one of "four priority areas of state-building."

Mr. Fayyad said the government's modernization of the education system would be guided by "a strategic national vision to prepare future generations with the knowledge, expertise, and skills to drive progress and prosperity in Palestine."

He spoke on the eve of a Washington dinner marking the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months. He said his reform agenda was designed to ready his people for statehood so they could take the reins of power the moment a peace deal was signed.

In a speech earlier this month, Mr. Fayyad emphasized the importance of education in combating fanaticism, promoting culture, and developing analytical capabilities in Palestinian society. In a 50-page document titled "Homestretch to Freedom" that sets out his priorities for the coming year, Mr. Fayyad says the mission of his government is to "transform the higher-education sector in Palestine, rejuvenating its reputation, and its international and regional competitiveness" and "align the higher-education system and its outputs with the needs of a progressive and developing society."

Scholarships totaling $1.5-million will be earmarked for 1,200 outstanding students, with an additional $10-million in loans and $4-million in grants for needy students. A total of $40-million will be provided to universities.

Enrollment of students with special needs, such as those with physical and mental disabilities, will be increased by 20 percent through the allocation of additional financial support. Additional grants and tuition assistance will be offered to those who enroll in science, medicine, and technology courses. The government will survey the state of scientific research at Palestinian universities, and colleges will be encouraged to participate in regional scientific-research networks.

The government also plans to develop five international programs with overseas universities and improve quality control across the higher-education system.

Monday 30 August 2010

PM Says Palestine Will Soon Be Ready for Statehood

AOL News August 30, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Aug. 30) -- Days before the first direct Mideast peace talks in more than 18 months, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad declared that the process had reached "a moment of reckoning," while in Israel statements by protesting actors and an outspoken rabbi fueled furious public debates.

Launching a 50-page document titled "Homestretch to Freedom," Fayyad said that "by mid-next year, the Palestinian Authority ... will have accomplished a critical mass of positive change on the ground consistent with the emergence of their independent sovereign state."

Fayyad seeks to create all the necessary bodies of a fully functioning independent state, from police and judiciary to banks and tax collectors. A Palestinian currency is in the works, and government-backed investment bonds will be issued in the spring. Schools, universities, health services, diplomatic missions and scientific laboratories are being prepared for independence -- just as soon as a peace deal is signed and Israel withdraws its troops and 300,000 settlers to the pre-1967 boundaries.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addresses a news conference in Ramallah on August 30.
Abbas Momani, AFP / Getty Images
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addresses a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders prepare for the relaunch of U.S.-brokered direct Middle East peace talks in Washington.

Those conditions are far from fulfilled, but Fayyad said the only way to try to ensure the success of this week's Washington talks is to behave as if the sovereign state of Palestine is already on the way.

"I think this can happen. I believe it must happen," Fayyad told reporters in Ramallah. "Our goal here is to prepare for that day, to have arrived at the state of preparation for statehood in the best form that we can possibly achieve."

Last year Fayyad accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting a "Mickey Mouse state" for the Palestinians. Today he said the time had come for the Israeli leader to define what kind of state he had in mind. "I think this is a most fundamental question, and I believe ... we are approaching that moment of reckoning, when some questions really need to be answered seriously," he said.

At the same time, Israelis are debating the 40-plus-year occupation of the West Bank seriously for the first time in many years.

For decades, peace activists and human rights groups have been issuing detailed and often shocking reports about the creeping growth of settlements and the dire conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank. They have been largely ignored by the majority of the Israeli public.

That indifference was shattered over the weekend as the result of a prosaic announcement by several leading theater and dance companies welcoming the completion of a new cultural center and theater in Ariel, one of the largest West Bank settlements with 17,000 residents.

More than 100 actors, playwrights and directors promptly signed a letter to the six leading theater companies refusing to perform at the new theater.

"We wish to express our disgust with the theater boards' plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel," they wrote.

Yehoshua Sobol, the acclaimed author of "Ghetto" and other notable plays, said Ariel was "in occupied territory, and no one can force an Israeli citizen to work or express his art beyond the borders of the country."

Netanyahu denounced the protest and threatened to cut funding from artists promoting "boycotts against Israel's citizens." Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman slammed "the vileness, baseness and hypocrisy of those who work in culture and call for a boycott of us."

Scores more Israeli actors, pop stars and other artists responded by saying they would be eager to perform in Ariel. Nachman reflected after a few days of the controversy that he couldn't have wished for better publicity for his new cultural center.

Israeli theater has for years been a forum for exploring the rights and wrongs of the occupation and its effect on Israeli society. One memorable play, "Plonter" ("Tangle"), portrayed the challenges faced by a Palestinian family waking one morning to find Israel's 30-foot-high security wall built through their living room. The audience entered the theater through a fake but convincing military checkpoint. But the discussion has been confined to the tiny minority of cerebral Israelis who attend theater productions.

In the past few days, as an extraordinary debate has flowed back and forth across the front pages and broadcast media, the arguments for and against the continued existence of such settlements as Ariel have received rare public attention.

"The theatrical world has never before expressed in such sharp terms the experience that Israeli society as a whole is undergoing," says Michel Kichka, a political cartoonist and professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Actors -- citizens with opinions, positions and a conscience -- are prepared to say out loud things that are not so nice to hear. It is impossible to remain on the sidelines. Everyone has the democratic duty to take a stand."

Israelis have a combative, even verbally violent, style of political debate. They were outdone over the weekend by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the octogenarian spiritual leader of the Shas religious party, which is a junior member of Netanyahu's government. In a weekly address to congregants at his synagogue in Jerusalem, the elderly rabbi, who is known for his colorful and often brutal turn of phrase, appeared to call for the death of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (who is known as Abu Mazen) and his people.

"May our enemies and those who hate us be put to an end, Abu Mazen and all these evil people, may they be made gone from the world," Yosef said. "The Holy One, blessed be he, should smite them with plague, they and these Palestinians, the evil Israel-baiters."

His remarks were condemned by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, and Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying they "do not reflect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government's stance."

But the Palestinian prime minister said Netanyahu, who has condemned inflammatory Palestinian remarks and actions, had not gone far enough.

"It certainly does not go well for creating conditions conducive to the success of a process that is aimed chiefly at ending the conflict," said Fayyad, adding that such statements and incitement "probably are in part to blame for extreme actions by extremists, attacks on our citizens by settlers, raids on their farms and homes."

"One should expect more from the government of Israel than to just express reservation vis-a-vis statements of this seriousness," he said.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Analysis: Obama's Credit-Card Peace Plan

AOL News Friday, August 27

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

JERUSALEM (Aug. 27) -- President Barack Obama has come up with a creative idea to break the logjam in Middle East peace talks when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Washington next week.

Obama's plan is peace on credit: sign the deal now and implement it some time in the next decade. He intends to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah next year for the first time since he became president in order to push both sides into making the "painful concessions" necessary for peace.

The Obama administration has come in for flak for announcing the start of peace talks with a festive dinner in Washington next week and the aim of concluding a peace treaty within a year. Netanyahu wants to continue building settlements in the West Bank and keep control of the Jordan Valley. Abbas has no constitutional mandate and lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Neither side has a solution to the demand from some 4 million Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

But perhaps Obama's veteran team, many of whom have been plowing away at the Middle East for so long they have become known as "the peace processors," have come up with an idea creative enough to puncture the cynicism and produce a deal.

The outline of Obama's thinking was revealed in a conference call between administration officials and U.S. Jewish leaders earlier this week.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said today that it obtained a White House transcript of the call between American Jewish leaders and Daniel Shapiro, the National Security Council's top Middle East expert, Dennis Ross, Clinton and Obama's top adviser on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and David Hale, deputy of U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

According to Yedioth, Shapiro told the Jewish leaders the president plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the coming year to try to convince the two sides "to support painful concessions for the sake of peace."

The call took place just before the U.S. officials arrived unannounced in the region for a final set of preparatory talks ahead of the Washington gala.

"This time, Obama plans to get into the thick of things himself," wrote Shimon Shiffer, Yedioth's veteran security analyst.

"The American administration plans to invest every effort to guarantee that the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which will be launched officially next Thursday, will end with an agreement rather than with a crisis, as in previous negotiations," Shiffer wrote. "Obama, whose approval rating has hit a new low, is interested in marking his first success in the Middle East, in light of the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The U.S. plan calls for intensive talks between four Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, which will meet at isolated sites to discuss the "core issues" of Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees, with the aim of reaching agreement within a year. But that agreement would be implemented gradually over the next decade. Netanyahu and Abbas would meet frequently -- Netanyahu has suggested every two weeks -- to solve concrete problems and keep the talks on track.

In case of deadlock, U.S. officials would intervene and attempt to bridge the sides. Washington will also pressure Arab states to offer goodwill gestures to Israel and influence the Palestinians to compromise.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says something appeared to happen in the July 6 meeting between Netanyahu and Obama that led the president to believe the Israeli leader was ready for peace. Perhaps, Makovsky says, "the Israeli leader had confided in him for the first time during the meeting -- specifically, about how he envisioned the endgame with the Palestinians. Previously, Obama had expressed sympathy for Abbas' reservations about opening seemingly futile peace negotiations, but after the Netanyahu meeting, he became the leading advocate for resuming direct talks."

But not everyone is convinced the plan will work. Moty Cristal of NEST Consulting, a negotiation expert who participated in previous rounds including the disastrous Camp David summit in July 2000, tells AOL News that the American architects of this new session "didn't learn any lessons from the Camp David failure."

Cristal says the Americans are locked in a "binary view of war or peace" and continue to ignore "cultural differences in looking at the Middle East reality."

"Most Israelis understand that conflict resolution -- real genuine acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state in this area -- is nothing that can be achieved in this or the next generation," Cristal says.

He proposes instead a treaty that establishes the state of Palestine and its borders, ushering in a long period in which Israelis and Palestinians can grow accustomed to living side by side as equal neighbors in peace and security.

"The outcome of the negotiations should not be peace, conflict resolution or an end of conflict agreement. Rather, it should be conflict management and an agreement to establish the state of Palestine and define its permanent borders now with the exception of Jerusalem, which will remain an issue under dispute to be settled, just like the hundreds of kilometers of unresolved border issues between the U.S. and Canada," he says.

Cristal adds that the division of negotiators into separate teams to discuss core issues was also tried at Camp David, without success.

"Everyone who once in a lifetime participated in these negotiations understands that you cannot discuss these issues separately. You cannot discuss anything. Everything is strongly related," he says. "By saying they will split into four working groups in isolated areas, it means the Americans want to control the process and manipulate the parties. But it won't work. It's bound to fail."

Thursday 26 August 2010

'Who do you love more? Me or the Blackberry?' What Tony Blair was asked by son Leo, 10

By Matthew Kalman
DAILY MAIL 26th August 2010

Tony Blair has revealed in an interview with an Israeli daily newspaper that his globetrotting has left him missing his wife Cherie and children, especially 10-year-old Leo.

The former prime minister, who is currently a Middle East envoy, also denied in the interview that his London business will act as a fund for the super rich and is sanguine about missing out on becoming the first EU president.

Speaking to the Calcalist Hebrew language business daily, Mr Blair, who bought his first mobile on leaving Downing Street, said: 'Today my Blackberry is everything to me, so much so that one day Leo asked me: 'Dad, who do you love more, me or the phone?'

Tony and Leo Blair

Proud father: Tony Blair has revealed that he was heavily involved in son Leo's upbringing in Downing Street, but that his globetrotting means he misses his family

'But nowadays I don’t really have a choice but to stay connected to it all the time. It’s my way of keeping in touch with home when I’m here,' said Mr Blair, who spends one week each month in Jerusalem.

'It’s what makes it even possible for me to do what I’m doing. – to travel around the world and stay in touch with home.'

And despite Mr Blair's travels across the globe, he has said that he was very hands on during the upbringing of his youngest son at 10 Downing Street.

'Oh, I was very involved. Leo was a great blessing, really a gift from God, and as happy as I was when he was born I was also mature enough to understand that. I changed nappies, I read bedtime stories.

'The experience of fatherhood was completely different, and not because I was prime minister but because Cherie and I had him at a relatively late age, when I was 47.'

However his new role has seen him having to take a step back, with an admission that he doesn't see Leo enough.

'When I was in Number 10 I saw him more because we all lived together in the same house. Today I am travelling most of the time and so naturally contact with him is harder.'

But Mr Blair has no intention of stopping, saying he is working harder now than during his ten-year premiership and that finds it easier to concentrate on matters that really interest him now he no longer has an entire country to run.

Tony and Cherie Blair

Globetrotter: Mr Blair and his wife Cherie visited Bangladesh last week, but his jet-setting lifestyle means he rarely sees his wife and children

He continued: 'I stopped being prime minister at a relatively young age. At the time, I didn’t even consider retirement and I continued doing things and I feel I still have things to do.

'I am delighted with the role that the Quartet has given me and with the opportunity to help solve a conflict which on the one hand is so explosive and on the other hand whose solution is so simple in my view, two states for two people.'

And when his current diplomatic role ends, Blair says he has no intention of quitting public life adding: 'It’s not even under consideration. Or as one friend said: Retired is expired.'

But with his new London business already experienced controversy, he has strongly denied that it will act as a bank for the super-rich.

'I have no interest in managing other people’s money,' he said. 'I am not an investment banker and it’s not something I am doing or intend to do.'

Mr Blair doesn't seem to be disappointed about not becoming the first EU president as was predicted.

''To be the president of Europe would have been a wonderful thing, but apparently it was not meant to happen.

'Anyway, even now I am not with my family as much as I would like to be, so I would like to devote the energy and the time I have left to them.'

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Israelis and Palestinians Agree: Talks Doomed to Fail

AOL NEWS August 25, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Aug. 25) -- The announcement that direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will begin in Washington on Sept. 2 has produced a rare convergence of views between Israelis and Palestinians of all political hues: They agree the talks are doomed to fail.

Nahum Barnea, veteran diplomatic commentator for Israel's largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote that Israelis "have learned to distinguish between the festive ceremonies on the White House lawn and life's reality here," while among Palestinians "skepticism prevails to the degree of disbelief or lack of interest."

"It's a good thing to talk," he continued, "but it's highly doubtful whether the talks will lead to something."

Peace talks Israel Palistine
Bernat Armangue, AP
Even before peace talks with the Palestinians begin, Israel's government is fiercely debating a key concession: whether to extend a slowdown of West Bank settlement construction, such as this new housing development in east Jerusalem.

He said that many words had been exchanged between Israelis and Palestinians in the 17 years since the Oslo accords. "In between the words there were many dead and wounded and no peace agreement. ... We were in that scenario time and time again. It's hard to believe that this round will have a happy ending."

Israeli left-winger Yossi Beilin, a key player in the Oslo accords and the main author of a draft peace deal dubbed the Geneva Initiative, calls President Barack Obama's insistence on holding the talks now "reckless" and "irresponsible."

Both sides recall June 2000, when President Bill Clinton strong-armed the Palestinians to attend the doomed Camp David talks, the breakdown of which contributed directly to the outbreak of the second intifada a few weeks later.

"The negotiating parties are clearly not ready," Beilin says. "There is not a chance in the world that in a year -- or two or three -- peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. I don't understand the American administration, which is trying to summon both parties to the negotiating table under the false impression that they already share the same premise for negotiations. America is trying to trick both parties into thinking that the Palestinians want direct talks, and that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will freeze settlement activity."

On the right, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Wednesday that people should "lower expectations and get real."

"This is another event, just as we have seen many festive events from Madrid until Annapolis, innumerable events," said Lieberman, referring to international peace conferences held from 1991 to 2007.

"There's no magic recipe ... that can bring us within a year to a permanent agreement resulting in the end of the conflict and the solution of all of the complicated issues, such as refugees, Jerusalem and Jewish settlement," said Lieberman, leader of Netanyahu's major coalition partner.

Even within Netanyahu's own Likud Party, there is widespread doubt that the gulf between the two sides can be bridged, or whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can deliver anything, since he has lost control of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants to the rejectionist Hamas movement.

For more than a year, following the lead of Obama, Palestinian leaders have insisted on a full settlement freeze as a precondition to direct talks. A 10-month freeze on new West Bank settlement construction, which the Palestinians say has not been fully observed, is due to expire on Sept 26. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that a resumption of settlement construction will torpedo the talks, but it is hard to see how Netanyahu will be able to hold his right-wing coalition together if he agrees to continue the freeze.

"These upcoming negotiations promise to be another futile display of diplomacy," Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council of West Bank settlers, tells AOL News.

"We won't accept any freeze, not for one day on one inch of land in Israel. Jews have the inherent and natural right to build anywhere, anytime on the land of Israel. If we are not given the legal right to actually build homes for our families and children, we cannot allow a situation where this coalition will continue to govern," Bennett warns.

Palestinian commentators and politicians are just as skeptical. Joharah Baker, a commentator for MIFTAH, a moderate Palestinian think-tank, calls the talks "a tragic road to nowhere" embarked upon solely because of pressure from Washington.

"President Abbas' West Bank government has been under excruciating U.S. pressure for months to transition from proximity talks and enter direct talks with Israel," she says. "At one point even Abbas admitted that, 'Never in my life have I experienced such pressure.' And while the United States has repeatedly denied it, media reports have speculated more than once that the U.S. would 'punish' the Palestinians by holding back funds for not agreeing to direct talks."

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman and management consultant who relocated from Ohio to Ramallah to help develop the Palestinian economy, warns that without significant Israeli concessions, the Washington meeting is liable to herald "another round of empty talk from politicians."

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told reporters at a Ramadan dinner in Damascus that the return to direct negotiations with Israel was "nationally illegitimate, carried out by force and American summons." He said the PLO Executive Committee's decision to endorse the talks was "an echo of Washington's orders" and said most of the 11 parties making up the PLO opposed the talks.

Indeed, Abbas' mandate is thin, at best. Only nine of the 18 members of the PLO Executive Committee attended the meeting last week that approved the talks with Israel. Under the PLO's own constitution, the minimum for a quorum is 12.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemned Abbas' decision, and the Palestinian People's Party says the talks will be "a fiasco."

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Israel Poised to Be First Country to Ban Fur Trade

AOL News Tuesday, August 24

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

JERUSALEM (Aug. 24) -- Israel is set to become the first country in the world to impose a blanket ban on the import of animal fur -- a move animal rights activists hope will have a domino effect around the world.

On Sept. 2, the Knesset is due to debate the second and third readings of the groundbreaking bill introduced by Ronit Tirosh, a legislator from the opposition Kadima Party, to outlaw the production, processing, import, export and sale of fur from all animal species not already part of the meat industry.

There was some opposition from religious groups representing ultra-orthodox Jews, whose traditional festive headgear, known as a shtreimel, is made partly from fox fur. Tirosh introduced a clause in her proposed legislation allowing for the import of fox fur for religious purposes.
Israel is set to become the first country in the world to impose a blanket ban on the import of animal fur - a move animal rights activists hope will have a domino effect around the world
Yehuda Raizner, AFP / Getty Images
Animal rights activists wear fake furs covered with fake blood during a protest against selling fur on Nov. 27, 2009, in Tel Aviv.

Israel's fur trade is tiny -- worth only about $1 million a year -- compared with more than $11 billion worldwide, according to the International Fur Trade Federation.

Fur industry lobbyists in Israel and abroad, fearful of the international repercussions of the Israeli legislation, launched a furious campaign and managed to sink a similar bill earlier this year.

"A ban on all fur throughout the country would be a world first -- a major stand against the animal cruelty inherent in the worldwide fur trade -- and it would set an example that other countries would look to and follow," says a report by Humane Society International, which sent two officials to testify before a Knesset committee in Jerusalem earlier this year.

The group says that fur factory farming has already been banned in Austria, Croatia and the United Kingdom. In other countries, including Denmark and the Netherlands, legislation is in place to phase out the farming of certain animals for their fur. The European Union and the United States have banned trade in seal fur products and cat and dog fur. The group says the steel-jawed leghold trap -- one of the chief means used to catch wild animals for their fur -- has already been banned in more than 60 countries, including Israel.

Tirosh, a former teacher and Ministry of Education official, says concern for animal rights is important in teaching humane and ethical values to Israeli children. She says she has been concerned about the issue for some time but began her campaign after watching a TV documentary produced by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel, broadcast in February 2009, that portrayed the cruel treatment of live animals by the fur industry. The graphic footage contained in the documentary, which showed cats and dogs being skinned alive, sparked a major debate in Israel.

She is optimistic her bill will be passed. "The chances of it becoming law are very high. I started a long time ago, and we took it step by step," she told AOL News. "I hope that many other countries will follow us. The world is moving forward regarding the rights of animals."

Public opinion polls commissioned by the International Anti-Fur Coalition and the Israeli animal rights group Let Animals Live found that 86 percent of Israelis opposed the killing of animals "if they are killed only for their fur," and 79 percent said they would "support a bill to ban the trade of fur in Israel."

On Sunday, Tirosh overcame the final obstacle: opposition from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, which had been lobbied hard by the fur industry.

She said she held a spirited debate with Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the industry minister, and persuaded him to not oppose the bill.

"They came under big pressure from the industry and from people abroad," she said. There was strong lobbying against the bill by industry representatives from Denmark and the Fur Council of Canada. Israeli media report that the Danish ambassador to Israel also tried to quash the bill.

Animal rights groups have joined an international campaign to support the bill. They have been joined by such celebrities as Brigitte Bardot and Sir Paul McCartney.

"I would like to thank you personally for your help and support promoting the law against the commerce of fur in Israel," Bardot -- a longtime animal rights activist and a supporter of the extreme far-right and often racist politics of French politician Jean-Marie le Pen -- wrote in a letter to Knesset members, urging them to "let Israel be a light unto the nations in the choice between mercy and evil."

McCartney wrote on his blog: "Fur is cruel and unnecessary. To skin an animal alive for a product nobody needs is beyond comprehension. ... By banning such a cruel industry, Israel would provide a shining example in care and compassion that others would be sure to follow."

Wednesday 11 August 2010

East Jerusalem Cafe Draws Customers From All Sides

AOL NEWS August 11, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Aug. 11) -- The tiny cafe on Ali Ibn Abu Taleb Street has less than a dozen tables, and you could walk past the small shop front without knowing it was there. But in the few short weeks since it opened, Dina's has become a key meeting place for the cognoscenti of East Jerusalem.

It is the only place in town where a former Hamas minister for Jerusalem, hiding out in the nearby Red Cross headquarters as he fights deportation from his native city, rubs shoulders with a former Fatah minister for Jerusalem -- while the Israeli police official responsible for enforcing legal actions against both of them sips his coffee at an adjoining table.

Dina's is strategically placed midway between two symbols of conflicting claims to sovereignty in this divided city: the shuttered Orient House headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the barbed wire, armed guards and electronic gates of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. Israeli lawyers and their clients meet at Dina's to go over testimony before heading off to the Israeli District Court on the corner. Palestinians demonstrating in support of Sheikh Raed Salah, the Islamic Movement leader recently sentenced to jail at the District Court for spitting at a police officer, drop by for strong coffee before heading home.

Orient House officials exchange the latest gossip over double-strength espressos. Muslim women in full hijab sit alongside young Jewish women in strapless tops. The last Israeli military governor of Hebron sips a cappuccino, while at nearby tables foreign diplomats from the nearby offices of the Spanish Cooperation Agency and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency tuck into sweet desserts.

On Friday afternoons, exhausted left-wing Israeli and Arab demonstrators throw down their placards and take shelter here to recover from their beatings by Israeli police at the nearby protests against the Israeli takeover of Arab homes in Sheikh Jarrah. A few minutes later, the police officers who beat them flop down at a nearby table. They see eye to eye on very little, but the house rules at Dina's forbid noisy confrontation. All sides agree on ice-cold lemonade.

While foreign journalists and diplomats just off the boat head for the nearby American Colony Hotel, a traditional venue for high-level Israeli-Arab intrigue and discreet peace talks, many locals have relocated here.

"The prices there are insane, and the new security barriers installed since Tony Blair took up residence means it's impossible to park," says one regular at Dina's.

Blair moved into the fourth floor of the Colony in 2007 with a staff of 12 and a rotating four-man security team. Newly posted correspondents can be found hanging out in the cellar bar or the elegant gardens, hoping to eavesdrop on an interesting conversation.

But midlevel officials and local activists prefer the simpler airs of Dina's around the corner. "We call this a place for coexistence," says Ishaq Kawasmeh, an Orient House official and senior adviser to Hatem Abdel Qader, the local Fatah leader and former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem. "This is the only place in Jerusalem where you can find an Israeli police officer having breakfast next to a Fatah activist drinking espresso on the next table. That's what makes this place unique. People like me can't afford the prices at the American Colony."

In the early evening, when parking restrictions are lifted in the surrounding streets, the crowd becomes younger and hipper. Dina's is one of the few places in East Jerusalem where young men and women can meet for what in the West would be considered a mundane date over coffee and cake. Here, the very act of meeting without a chaperon gently pushes the boundaries of acceptable social conduct in this still highly traditional society.

Matt Beynon Rees, author of a series of crime novels about a fictional Palestinian detective, says the crowd at Dina's provides a rich vein of ideas for the characters who populate his books.

"It's a fascinating cross section of East Jerusalem society -- the ordinary people behind the headlines that foreigners rarely meet," says Rees, a former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine. "I can sit in Dina's for a couple of hours and encounter a range of people that it would take me a week's work in the field to find."

The cafe's instant acceptance among such a broad cross section of Jerusalemites also reflects the background of its proprietor, Tareq Abu Toameh, the soft-spoken youngest son of one of the city's most interesting families, with connections across Israeli and Palestinian society.

Abu Toameh's late father, Jamil, was a noted teacher and translator who became head of the Arab school system in East Jerusalem. His uncle Jamal is a prominent attorney who represents Muslim institutions and the PLO in legal battles with Israel. His brother is a prominent Palestinian journalist and commentator, and his sister is a teacher and activist in Neve Shalom, the Israeli-Arab coexistence village on the border of the West Bank.

One brother-in-law is a PLO diplomat in Vienna, another an expert on child psychology. His family still works a large cattle farm in Galilee, and some of his cousins are serving long sentences in Israeli jails for their role in the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades terror group.

"I'm not interested or involved in politics. I just wanted to open a cafe where I would feel comfortable to bring my friends and family in the old tradition of Arab hospitality," says Abu Toameh.

"Our family is a real mix of West Bankers and Palestinians from inside Israel, of villagers and city folks like me, quiet farmers and loud activists," he says. "If all the different characters in my family can get along, then why not have a place like this where different people from all over Jerusalem can meet and get to know each other?"

Friday 6 August 2010

U. of Miami President Halted at Israeli Airport


GOLBAL NEWS TICKER August 6, 2010, 11:06 AM ET

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala was detained and interrogated for two hours at Ben-Gurion Airport on her way back to the U.S. after a visit to Israel last month, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. She was subjected to a "humiliating" security debriefing because of her Arab last name, the newspaper reports.

The former U.S. secretary of health and human services, under President Clinton, had been among a delegation of U.S. university presidents organized in part to protest the academic boycott of Israeli universities, and to discuss a new medical school being built in northern Israel as a joint venture between Miami and Israel's Bar-Ilan University.

Her hosts said they had told airport officials that she was expected. Ben-Gurion security officials said they had no record of the incident.

Ms. Shalala said after returning to the U.S. that she expected the joint venture to encourage more travel to Israel. "My hope is that faculty members will go back and forth, that students will go back and forth, that researchers will go back and forth, and to some extent that patients will go back and forth, because many of our patients spend considerable time in Israel," she told Miami Today.

UPDATE: Ms. Shalala issued the following statement about the incident after this article was published: "While I was inconvenienced, Israel's security and the security of travelers is far more important. I have been going in and out of Israel for many years and expect to visit again."

Wednesday 4 August 2010

UN Exonerates Israel Over Deadly Border Clash

AOL News August 4th, 2010

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM (Aug. 4) -- United Nations peacekeepers have exonerated Israel over a border clash that left four Lebanese and one Israeli dead, confirming that Israeli forces clearing bushes along the border fence had not crossed into Lebanese territory when they came under fire.

All five casualties of Tuesday's firefight were buried today in their respective countries.

A spokesman for UNIFIL, the 30,000-member peacekeeping force that helped restore calm after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, also confirmed today Israel's claim that the routine maintenance work had been coordinated in advance with his forces, and even delayed at the U.N.'s own request so it could get organized.

Nada Ashi, mother of Lebanese soldier Rupert Ashi
Mahmoud Zayat, AFP / Getty Images
Nada Ashi, the mother of Lebanese soldier Rupert Ashi, kisses his portrait during his funeral on Wednesday.

"The trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side," said UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti, referring to the U.N.-demarcated boundary established after the 2006 war.

UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas was scheduled to host a meeting between senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at UNIFIL's headquarters in Ras el Naqoura, Lebanon, tonight.

In an interview with the Beirut A-Nahar, a Lebanese military spokesman also confirmed Israel's claim that the Lebanese fired first. But he argued that it was their right "to defend Lebanon's sovereignty."

Milos Strugar, a senior political adviser to UNIFIL, said in an interview with Israel Army Radio that Israel had "informed UNIFIL that it was going to conduct maintenance works" on the border. He acknowledged that the Israeli unit had been "on the northern side of the border fence," but that it was nonetheless "south of the international borderline."

"The Israelis pruned a tree south of the Blue Line," Strugar said. "The IDF coordinated the pruning work with the Lebanese army through UNIFIL."

He warned that tensions along the border had been rising for some time.

"We deal with complaints on provocations of Lebanese soldiers against IDF units on a daily basis," he said, adding that incidents occur "almost every day. There's a lot of tension round the border, but what happened is the worst incident since 2006."

Israeli army officers carry the coffin of Lieutenant Colonel Dov Harari during his funeral.
Uriel Sinai, Getty Images
Israeli army officers carry the coffin of Lieutenant Colonel Dov Harari during his funeral.

Israel has often cast itself as the victim in various incidents referred to the U.N., but its version of events has seldom been accepted by the international community.

Earlier this week, Israel agreed to a U.N. inquiry into the boarding of a Turkish ship en route to Gaza in May, when nine Turkish activists were killed.

In Tuesday's incident, Israeli commanders say their soldiers walked into a preplanned ambush coordinated by a local Lebanese army officer. They said the unusual presence in an otherwise obscure border village of so many press photographers and reporters -- one of whom was killed in the firefight -- suggested that those behind the ambush had invited the media along to record the event.

The Israeli army says it notified UNIFIL at 6 a.m. Tuesday of its intention to trim or remove a tree across the border security fence, but on the Israeli side of the the U.N.-demarcated international border. UNIFIL asked for a delay of several hours so it could organize its own forces and informed the Lebanese army.

UNIFIL commanders confirmed to the U.N. Security Council late Tuesday that Israel had indeed given advance notification of its plans.

According to Israel, the local Lebanese army commander, a Shia with radical leanings but not a member of Hezbollah, decided to use UNIFIL's delay to plan an ambush, deployed troops firing rocket-propelled grenades and snipers, and invited the media to cover it.

The Israelis are blaming the local Lebanese commander -- and also their own military intelligence -- for failing to know about the Lebanese army plans. Israeli officials went out of their way to say that Hezbollah, until now Israel's main enemy in Lebanon, was not involved.

Israeli army spokesman Maj. Avital Leibovitch told AOL News that the Israeli colonel who died was standing on a small hill at least 30 meters from the soldiers when he was hit by sniper fire. A captain standing alongside him was wounded.

"There appeared to a team of snipers," Leibovitch said. "The colonel who lost his life received a direct wound to the head. Both commanders were very well equipped with helmets and flak jackets. The snipers knew exactly where to hit them. The distance there between our security fence and the Blue Line is 200 to 300 meters."

She said the reason for the tree cutting was to prevent Hezbollah from operating too close to the security fence.

"We have been clearing bushes along the border for the past year," Leibovitch said. "It's not something new that began yesterday. Let me take you back to 2006 with the kidnapping of the soldiers. In that area, the terrorists hid behind bushes very similar to the ones we took down yesterday. This is one of the reasons why we conduct this maintenance work."

Border clash kills Israeli colonel and four Lebanese

DAILY MAIL August 4th, 2010

By Matthew Kalman

A senior Israeli army officer and four Lebanese were killed in a firefight on the border between the countries yesterday.

In the most serious incident since the end of the 2006 war, the Lebanese say they opened fire after Israeli troops crossed the border.

The Israelis deny entering Lebanon.

There are fears that the incident could erupt into full-scale war after weeks of tension.

A UN flag flies above trees which Israeli soldiers apparently attempted to uproot on the Lebanese side of the fenced border, sparking the deadly clash

A UN flag flies above trees which Israeli soldiers apparently attempted to uproot on the Lebanese side of the fenced border, sparking a deadly clash

The Israeli victim was named last night as Lieutenant Colonel Dov Harari, 45.

Shooting erupted after Israeli forces apparently crossed a security fence near the border between the Israeli village of Misgav Am and the Lebanese village of Adaysseh.

The local commander of UN peacekeeping forces went to the area and managed to restore an uneasy calm that appeared to be holding last night.

Lebanese officials said the Israelis crossed the UN-demarcated border near Adaysseh around noon and refused to stop when warning shots were fired.

A spokesman said the clashes erupted after Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree on the Lebanese side of the border.

They said an Israeli tank and helicopter opened fire at a Lebanese military position in the village, killing three soldiers and a journalist for the Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar.

Four others, including a reporter for the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar, were injured.

Israel said its troops were carrying out 'routine maintenance' on the other side of a border security fence but within Israeli territory when they came under fire from Lebanese soldiers.

But Lebanese sources said the Israelis were trying to erect a surveillance camera on the border fence.

Lebanese president Michel Suleiman called on the army to defend their country, whatever the consequences, against Israeli aggression.

Two other Israeli soldiers were wounded in the firefight.

'Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the grave incident, and warns of the consequences should these continue,' the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

The army added: 'Our forces, in one of our positions, inside our own territory, were carrying out a task that was notified in advance to UNIFIL.

'The Lebanese army plainly and clearly opened fire in an unprecedented manner on Israeli soldiers and our soldiers returned fire. It's a clear provocation by sources within the Lebanese army.'

Israel has been on maximum alert as Lebanon prepares for the publication of a potentially explosive report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Leaks suggest that the prime suspects in the murder of Hariri will be named as senior operatives in Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, who has warned that indictments against his men for the murder would be 'unacceptable', last night said his troops would not stand silent if Israel attacked Lebanon.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Firefight Between Israel and Lebanon Leaves 5 Dead

AOL News, Tuesday, August 3rd

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Aug. 3) -- Lebanon and Israel traded angry accusations today after a senior Israeli army officer and four Lebanese nationals, including a journalist, were killed in an exchange of fire across the border.

The firefight, the most serious incident since the end of the 2006 war, erupted after Israeli forces crossed a security fence near the border between the Israeli village of Misgav Am and the Lebanese village of Adaysseh.

After weeks of growing tension, due in part to controversies over Hezbollah, there were fears that the incident could erupt into full-scale war. The local commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces dashed to the area and managed to restore an uneasy calm, which appeared to be holding as darkness fell.

Lebanese officials said the Israelis crossed the U.N.-demarcated border and refused to stop when warning shots were fired. A Lebanese army spokesman said the shooting began near Adaysseh after Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree on the Lebanese side of the fenced border.

An Associated Press photo shows an Israeli standing on a crane reaching over the security fence erected by Israel between the two countries. The fence, however, does not run along the border in all places, and the Israeli military said in a statement that the tree was in Israeli territory.

Lebanese officials said Israel responded with tank and helicopter fire at a Lebanese military position in the village, killing three soldiers and a journalist for the Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar. Four others, including a reporter for the Hezbollah TV station Al-Manar, were injured. An Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed and two Israeli soldiers wounded in the firefight.

Israeli officials said its troops were carrying out "routine maintenance" on the other side of a border security fence but within Israeli territory when they came under fire from Lebanese soldiers.

Lebanese sources said the Israelis were trying to erect a surveillance camera on the border fence.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, a former military chief of staff, urged the Lebanese army to "confront any Israeli aggression whatever the sacrifices."

In a statement issued by his office, Prime Minister Saad Hariri condemned the "violation of Lebanese sovereignty and demands ... the United Nations and the international community bear their responsibilities and pressure Israel to stop its aggression."

moke rises above an Israeli tank moving on its side of the border with Lebanon
Ali Diya, AFP / Getty Images
Smoke rises above an Israeli tank moving on its side of the border with Lebanon, Tuesday, where brief clashes erupted along the tense border.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement that its soldiers were "operating along the Lebanese border in coordination with UNIFIL," the U.N. peacekeeping force deployed in South Lebanon after the 2006 war.

"Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the grave incident, and warns of the consequences should these continue," said the Israeli Foreign Ministry in a statement.

Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, the Israel army spokesman, told Israel Radio, "Our forces, in one of our positions, inside our own territory, were carrying out a task that was notified in advance to UNIFIL.

"The area is not disputed and is not claimed by Lebanon or anyone else," he said. "The Lebanese army plainly and clearly opened fire in an unprecedented manner on Israeli soldiers, and our soldiers returned fire. It's a clear provocation by sources within the Lebanese army. It's an action that defies common sense."

Benayahu said the Lebanese army had been infiltrated by "provocative elements" aligned with Hezbollah that might have an interest in raising tensions between the two countries.

Both sides said they would file official complaints with the U.N. Security Council.

Israel has been on maximum alert as Lebanon prepares for the publication of a potentially explosive report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Leaks suggest the prime suspects in the murder of Hariri, father of the current prime minister, will be identified as senior operatives in Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that indictments against his men for the murder would be "unacceptable." He was due to deliver a speech on the subject this evening.

Andrea Tenenti, a UNIFIL spokesman, said the the peacekeeping force was investigating whose version was correct and added that the important thing was to restore quiet.

"The important aspect of what we've been doing today, our immediate priority at the time, was to restore calm in the area," Tenenti said in a radio interview. He added that the UNIFIL commander had flown to the site and contacted commanders on both sides, asking them to stop all firing in the area.

"The situation at the moment is quiet," he said.

The incident on Israel's northern border came shortly after trouble on other fronts. Over the weekend, a rocket was fired from Gaza on the Israeli town of Ashkelon, prompting Israeli warplanes to bomb several sites in the enclave, killing one Hamas commander. A taxi driver was killed in Jordan on Monday after a missile apparently aimed at the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat fell short of its target.

Monday 2 August 2010

Israel Criticized for Ruling on Illegal Immigrant Children

AOL News August 2, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Aug. 2) -- After more than a year of heated debate, the Israeli government has reached a compromise on whether to expel some 1,200 children of illegal foreign workers and their families, or allow them to remain in the only country most of them have known. But the government's decision to allow 800 of the children to stay and subject 400 to possible deportation was widely described as a fudge that fails to resolve a touchy issue.

The controversy has highlighted growing illegal immigration into Israel, a tiny country of just 7.6 million people. Last year about 10,000 people entered the country illicitly, either by sneaking across the border from Egypt or by overstaying work and tourist visas. There are currently 100,000 illegals in Israel, and a substantial proportion of the 150,000 legal migrant workers are expected to further swell those ranks once their visas expire.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-orthodox Shas Party says the presence of so many non-Jews threatens the Jewish character of the country. His ministry set up a special immigration police unit to track down and deport offenders, but the plight of the children, who speak Hebrew and were mostly born in Israel, inspired a noisy campaign to halt Yishai's plans.

Vardit, 9, Benita, 8, and Benedikta, 9, all daughters of illigal immigrants from Africa, attend on October 18, 2009 an exhibition in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv where portraits of children of illegal immigrants were shown to pressure the government to let them stay in the Jewish state.
Yehuda Raizner, AFP / Getty Images
Children of illegal immigrants from Africa attend an exhibition last year in Tel Aviv, Israel, where portraits of children of illegal immigrants were shown to pressure the government to let them stay in the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally announced the government's decision after a tense cabinet meeting that divided his own party and revealed the steely power of the minority religious groups in his ruling coalition.

"We are searching for a way to absorb and take into our hearts children who grew up here and were educated here as Israelis," Netanyahu told the cabinet in Jerusalem. "On the other hand, we do not want to create an incentive for hundreds of thousands of illegal labor migrants to flood the country."

The government said that children whose parents entered Israel legally, who spoke Hebrew, were enrolled in the school system and presented various documents within 21 days would be allowed to stay.

Isaac Herzog, the welfare minister who had campaigned for all 1,200 to remain, abstained in the cabinet vote but said afterward that it was "a reasonable decision" that would deter future illegals.

"A government has to clarify rules and procedures. It cannot act on gut feeling alone," said Herzog, adding that many of the remaining 400 children could also eventually be approved by a special committee. "It solves the problem for the majority of the children and as regards the rest, there is an appeals process and the possibility for flexibility in many borderline cases and considerable time to prepare the paperwork."

But human rights groups accused Herzog of selling out. They said the bureaucratic process engendered by the government decision was likely to lead to a nightmare race against the clock in a country where the processing of simple paperwork is notoriously slow and in a season when many government offices are closed.

Karen Tal, principal of the Bialik School in south Tel Aviv, where more than 300 of the 800 students are illegal immigrants, said the government had missed an opportunity to settle the issue.

"If the minister is right and all the children will eventually be allowed to stay, then why put them through this Via Dolorosa and the continuation of this never-ending uncertainty?" Tal asked. "Why not focus on the straightforward? There are 1,200 children in total. Why not allow them all to stay instead of differentiating between them?"

Eitan Haber, a former government adviser who now writes a column for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, called it "a dumb, senseless solution."

"Someone over there has lost it," Haber wrote. "In the past, the State of Israel has bombed nuclear reactors, made it all the way to Uganda to rescue hostages in Entebbe, wasted billions on all sorts of trains that are still not in operation, and paid hundreds of millions of shekels to people who contributed nothing to the state. Yet now the government decided that 400 children will be our downfall? Are you crazy?"

Sigal Rozen at the Hotline for Migrant Workers said the problem would simply repeat itself in five years' time because the manpower service companies who provide foreign laborers insist on rotating workers every five years to make larger profits. "There are financial interests at work; 600 new workers arrive every month," Rozen said.

Noa Maiman, an actress who has been prominent in the campaign for the children, told AOL News the decision was "cruel."

"If you already plan to do something good, we should go all the way and not have a Solomonic trial and a selection process of that sort. I believe many of the children, even if they are supposed to get the documents, will fail due to the impossible process," she said.

As part of the campaign, Maiman joined photographers and other celebrities to create an exhibition titled "Childhood" featuring portraits of 100 immigrant children talking about their likes, dislikes and fears, each one with the word "Deported" stamped across his or her chest. Maiman's portrait was of 4-year-old Fira Karbajal from Peru, who has now been saved by the decision.

Fira is named after Noa's grandmother, a Holocaust survivor now age 95. Fira's mother Magna is the old woman's caregiver, and the family say they are paying forward the kindness shown during the Holocaust, when the old lady was hidden by a Polish family who saved her life.

"Fira was born and raised at my grandmother's. The day she passes away, Fira would have been taken from us. My grandmother made me swear that we will promise to take care of her," Maiman said.