Friday, November 17, 2006


Calls for Urgent International Action to End Gross Violationsof Palestinians in Occupied Territory

15 November 2006

The third special session of the Human Rights Council concluded its work this afternoon after adopting a resolution in which it expressed its shock at the horror of Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun and called for bringing the perpetrators thereof to justice; expressed its alarm at the gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the occupying power, Israel, and called for urgent international action to put an immediate end to these violations; and decided to dispatch urgently a high-level fact-finding mission to be appointed by the President of the Council to travel to Beit Hanoun.

In a resolution adopted by a roll call vote of 32 in favour, eight against and six abstentions, the Human Rights Council called for immediate protection of the Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in compliance with human rights law and international humanitarian law. It also urged all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, to refrain from violence against civilian populations and to treat under all circumstances all detained combatants and civilians in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949.

The Council said the high-level fact-finding mission would assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors, and make recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli assaults. The mission was requested to report to the Council no later than the middle of December 2006 on progress made towards the fulfilment of its mandate.

The Representatives of Syria, Australia, Lebanon, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Yemen, Colombia, Organization of Islamic Conference, Holy See, African Union and Norway took the floor this afternoon in the general debate as did representatives of the following non-governmental organizations: World Union for Progressive Judaism, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Amnesty International, B’nai B’rith International, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, United Nations Watch, Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, Human Rights Watch and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Speaking in general comments and explanations of the vote before and after the vote were Canada, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, Guatemala, Finland on behalf of the European Union, Ecuador, Algeria, Canada, Japan, Uruguay, Argentina, France, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Peru and Brazil.

The resumed second session of the Human Rights Council will start on Monday, 27 November and will be immediately followed by the third session.


The resolution, while taking note of the sense of shock expressed by the Secretary-General on the Israeli military operations carried out in Beit Hanoun on November 8, expresses its shock at the horror of Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment; condemns the Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, as well as medics in Beit Hanoun and other Palestinian towns and villages, and calls for bringing the perpetrators thereof to justice; denounces the Israeli massive destruction of Palestinian homes, property and infrastructure in Beit Hanoun; expresses its alarm at the gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the occupying power, Israel, and calls for urgent international action to put an immediate end to these violations including those emanating from the series of incessant and repeated Israeli military incursions therein.

The resolution calls for immediate protection of the Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in compliance with human rights law and international humanitarian law; and urges all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, to refrain from violence against civilian population and to treat under all circumstances all detained combatants and civilians in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949.

It further decides to dispatch urgently a high-level fact-finding mission to be appointed by the President to travel to Beit Hanoun to, inter alia, assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors, and make recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli assaults; and requests the fact-finding mission to report to the Council no later than the middle of December 2006 on progress made towards the fulfilment of its mandate.

The resolution was adopted by a roll call vote of 32 in favour, eight against and six abstentions. Cameroon was absent.

The result of the vote was as follows:

In favour (32): Algeria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay, and Zambia.

Against (8): Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and United Kingdom.

Abstentions (6): France, Guatemala, Japan, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, and Ukraine,


KHALIT BITAR (Syria) said Israel had proved to the entire world that through its policies it was destroying the Palestinian people. The latest attack in Beit Hanoun had made it evident and was another example of Israel’s terrorizing policies. There was now a challenge before the international community to bring Israel to accountability for these crimes. The Human Rights Council must provide immediate protection to the Palestinian people under occupation. Syria called upon the Council to adopt the draft resolution as a prerogative to place human rights in Palestine as a priority.

CAROLINE MILLAR (Australia) said Australia was deeply saddened by the Beit Hanoun incident and extended its condolences to the bereaved families of the victims. Australia understood that Israel had said it highly regretted the deaths of civilians and it welcomed Israel’s announcement that it would undertake a full investigation into the incident. Australia shared the international community’s deep concern at the escalation in violence since the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit in June and the increasing number of casualties in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Australia urged all sides to exercise utmost restraint to avoid actions that led to further violence or had an adverse humanitarian effect on the civilian population. Australia was concerned by the one-sided nature of this special session, which did not acknowledge the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel nor Israel’s right to defend its own population against these attacks. It was vital that the rocket attacks ceased. Australia recommended the Human Rights Council in the context of the session to act responsibly and to promote and protect human rights in a balanced and even-handed way. The singling out of one side only for blame in a complex situation was unhelpful and would do nothing to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.

GEBRAN SOUFAN (Lebanon) said it seemed that Israel had been escalating its aggression in Gaza despite the various condemnations sounded by the international community. It was clear through these latest attacks in Beit Hanoun that the systematic Israeli practice of targeting civilians was still in place. Israel had hastened to give justifications. Israeli rockets had assassinated the peace process and the rights of Palestinian citizens without conscience. It was impossible to understand those States who had not yet condemned Israel for these actions. Lebanon called upon the Human Rights Council to provide a solution for this problem and respond to the Palestinian grievances.

CHOE MYONG NAM (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was seriously concerned about the gross human rights violations committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and strongly condemned these transgressions. Recently, indiscriminate shelling in Northern Gaza and Beit Hanoun had killed 19 civilians, including women and children and wounded more than 60, destructed a number of civilian facilities and created a harsh humanitarian crisis. As in the past, Israel had been trying to justify this atrocity on the pretext of “self-defence”.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea believed that lasting peace was key to a fair solution to the Middle East question, including Palestine. It supported the position of the countries in the Middle East that they themselves should play the role of the masters in resolving regional problems in an impartial manner through dialogue and cooperation in accordance with the United Nations Charter and principles of international law as well as a series of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions.

ABDELMALEK AL RAYANI (Yemen) condemned the constant Israeli aggression committed against Palestinian civilians and the massacre in Beit Hanoun, as well as the persistent demolishing of homes and other unfair practices targeting civilians. The perpetrators of these acts must be brought to justice. The sending of a fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Council would be an act of great importance.

CLEMENCIA FORERO UCROS (Colombia) expressed its solidarity with the people of Palestine and deplored the attacks in Beit Hanoun, in which civilians were killed. It also expressed its sympathy to the families of the victims. Colombia said that it was important to go back to the negotiating table to avoid future violations of human rights in the region.

BABACAR BA (Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), noted that all members of the OIC had condemned the heinous acts carried out by Israel. The Council was once again called on to deliver a firm and clear message to Israeli authorities who continued to defy the international community on an ongoing basis. The massacre carried out in Beit Hanoun was just one episode in a vast campaign of murder and systematic attacks. The regrets expressed by Israel further expressed the cynicism and manifested their absolve for these heinous crimes. It was time for the Council to maintain its credibility to explore new initiatives to bring Israel to respect the basic rules of all States in a civilized world.

SILVANO TOMASI (Holy See) said in the short history of the Human Rights Council, it had been persistently challenged by violations of human rights in several places. It appeared that a priority of the Council should be to promote a dialogue to build confidence. The tragic spiral of violence in the Palestine and Israel should come to an end. Both parties must recognize their respective humanity and fully respect of human rights conventions and international humanitarian law. The international community should act to support the peaceful coexistence of both peoples. The international community should promote a peaceful environment. Instability worsened the situation of the civilian population in both countries. Pope Paul Benedict XVI had expressed the wish that God would enlighten Israel and the Palestinian authorities to put an end to the bloodshed and start
negotiations towards a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict.

KHADIJA R. MASRI (African Union) condemned the Israeli military attack in Beit Hanoun, and expressed its indignation on account of the flagrant and systematic violation of human rights and of international humanitarian law. It was imperative for the international community to urgently address the tragic situation in Palestine and bring to an end Israeli aggressions that continued to take the lives of innocent civilians. The Council should face up to the challenge as a result of the recent Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The African Union endorsed sending a high-level fact-finding mission urgently to assess the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip, and particularly in Beit Hanoun.

WEGGER STROMMEN (Norway) expressed condemnation of the massive use of military force by the Israeli Forces in their attempts to stop the firing of homemade rockets from Gaza. It was recalled that more than 300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, many of them children, had lost their lives since the end of June. The international community was once again witnessing Israeli military retaliations which were disproportionate and contrary to international humanitarian law, and which only served to cultivate hatred and continued armed resistance. There was no military solution to this conflict. Norway urged the efforts of President Abbas to establish a national unity government which would reflect the demands as set out by the Quartet. Norway strongly urged restraint in carrying out retaliations that would hamper the efforts towards dialogue and peace.

DAVID LITTMAN, of World Union for Progressive Judaism, said action must be taken to stop the killings and displacements. In order to understand the events in Gaza there was an urgent need to consider the implications of the Charter of Hamas. The Charter quoted Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, of which the Hamas was a wing, as stating “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”.
ROY BROWN, of International Humanist and Ethical Union, said that the international community should seek a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a renewed sense of urgency. Progress on this front rested on the recognition of both the Palestinian and Jewish national aspirations and on the establishment of two fully sovereign and independent states co-existing side by side in peace and security.

PETER SPLINTER, of Amnesty International, said Amnesty reiterated its serious concern about the grave violations and abuses of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel. The attack on 8 November in Beit Hanoun was only one in a series of Israeli attacks that had claimed the lives of more than 600 Palestinians, more than half of them unarmed civilians – including more than 100 children, and have wounded hundreds more since the beginning of 2006. Amnesty called for the establishment of an independent mechanism with a presence in the affected areas to monitor and oversee compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law by both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

KLAUS NETTER, of B’nai B’rith International, also on behalf of Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, voiced their deep dismay over the convening of this special session of the Council. Israel had expressed regret over the incident in Beit Hanoun and had also stated that it would undertake an investigation over the incident. The Council, in adopting the
current draft resolution, would perpetuate its one-sided and institutional bias against Israel. They urged fair-minded States to oppose this one-sided draft resolution.

RAJL SOURANI, of Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said he had just came from Gaza where the human rights situation had never been worse. The level of killing and destruction was unprecedented by all means and standards. The Centre called for full respect of the Geneva Convention and for the protection of civilians in Palestine. There was a need for an effective international protection force to protect the people of the systematic war crimes against them.

HILLEL NEUER, of United Nations Watch, said the special sessions of the Council denouncing Israel were more regular than the regular sessions concerning everything else in the world, and said this should be reversed. Reflection upon the actions of the one completed regular session, held in June, suggested, however, this may not be so simple. It was recalled that the regular session had created a special, permanent agenda item to denounce Israel, for all future sessions. The resolution being presented was entirely one-sided and ignored the systematic Palestinian firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel.

LAZARO PARY, of Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, condemned the Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, and said that the international community should not tolerate in the twenty-first century that a military and economic power continued to arm and support Israel in its effort to annihilate a whole civilization in the Arab world under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON, of Human Rights Watch, called for an impartial investigation into the Israeli shelling leading to the death of 19 civilians. This was not an isolated incident. Almost all shelling attacks on Gaza had targeted civilians. The Israeli Defense Force’s policies had fallen far short of international standards. The Human Rights Council should hold a special session devoted to the situation in Darfur and should meet additional challenges to address human rights abuses whenever and wherever they were committed.

HANAN SHARFELDDIN, of International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, speaking on behalf of Union of Arab Jurists and Arab Lawyers Union, said that the massacre in Beit Hanoun as well as other violations of human rights were not acceptable to the international community, and that it should act immediately to redress the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They stated that the terrorist was the occupier and the freedom fighter was the one resisting the occupation.

General Comments Before Vote

PAUL MEYER (Canada), referring to the programme budget implications, said the document issued by the Secretariat to that effect was an indication that there was a need for additional time to consider the draft resolution. The delegate asked for clarification about the financial implications encompassed by the draft resolution being considered.

ITZHAK LEVANON (Israel) said Palestinians in the Gaza strip had acquired very sophisticated weapons to attack Israel. The only result of this resolution would be devaluating the mechanisms of the Council and exacerbating extremism. Those who supported this resolution did not support the cause of peace in the Middle East.

MOHAMMED ABU-KOASH (Palestine) said the statement made by the delegate of Israel was reversing the facts. It was Israel which had sent millions of Palestinian refugees around the world and which had occupied Palestine. The tactics employed by Israel was to convince the Palestinian to accept occupation and the annexation of Jerusalem, which no one accepted, including the United States. The weapons that Palestine possessed were not significant, as had been claimed. The Palestinians were the victims of the occupation which should come to an end. Human rights and international humanitarian law should apply across the board to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Explanation of Vote Before the Vote

PABLO MACEDO (Mexico), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Mexico condemned the artillery attacks on Beit Hanoun which led to the death of 18 people, including women and children. Mexico also expressed deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a result of the Israeli occupation. It condemned the indiscriminate and disproportionate military action carried out by Israel. At the same time, Mexico condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Mexico would vote in favour of the resolution.

CARLOS RAMIRO MARTÍNEZ ALVARADO (Guatemala), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Guatemala was deeply concerned about the conflict in the Middle East and deeply regretted the loss of human lives and destruction of property. The conflict and the situation being experienced by the Palestinian people called for broad attention by the Human Rights Council to allow for positive action on the ground and thus lead to a lasting peace. Otherwise, the Council would not be fulfilling its role. Guatemala would abstain in its vote.

VESA HIMANEN (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said the European Union had repeatedly expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. It condemned the Israeli attacks in Beit Hanoun, as well as the Palestinian rockets attacks into Israel and called for the immediate cease of hostilities. The Council should address violations of human rights wherever they occurred in a fair manner. The resolution did not fully reflect the situation taking into account the concerns of all the parties involved in the conflict. Therefore, the European Union would not support the resolution.

JUAN CARLOS FAIDUTTI ESTRADA (Ecuador) said Ecuador would support the resolution as it was of the view that it was well within the mandate of the Council to uphold and protect human rights and legal protection, as established in the Geneva Convention pertaining to the protection of civilians. On both sides of the conflict human lives were being lost and the Human Rights Council was obligated to protect the right to life. Ecuador supported all efforts to avoid any future incidents of these types, including that which occurred in Beit Hanoun. Ecuador was of the view that it was a moral imperative to establish the immediate responsibility of the perpetrators to these actions. The rule of law must be achieved through concrete action.

Explanation of Vote After the Vote

ICHIRO FUJISAKI (Japan), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that Japan was deeply concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip. It had urged utmost restraint, from both Israel and Palestine, to avoid further violations of human rights. The resolution was not fully balanced. Therefore, Japan decided to cast an abstention vote. Nevertheless, Japan continued to be deeply involved in humanitarian aid in the region, and reiterated its commitment to support the peaceful solution of the conflict.

RICARDO GONZALEZ ARENAS (Uruguay), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, noted that Uruguay voted in favour since the resolution contained points that were within the purview of the Council aimed at rejecting the human rights violations committed against the civilian population of Palestine perpetrated by Israel. The Council should try to avoid the systematic use of voting over resolutions and only use it as a last resort since the voting did not adequately reflect the concerns expressed. It was essential to reestablish a climate of confidence and dialogue in the consideration of these issues.

ALBERTO DUMONT (Argentina), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, noted with satisfaction that the paragraph suggested by another delegation was included in today’s resolution and this expressed flexibility on the part of the delegations sponsoring the resolution. Argentina expressed deep concern over the situation in the Gaza Strip and called upon Israel to deter from worsening the humanitarian situation in the area. At the same time, it called upon Palestine to stop launching rocket attacks on Israel. In that sense, Argentina wished that the resolution had been more balanced in reflecting with equal emphasis the violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian groups. Argentina said that the Council should strengthen its mechanisms to promote the human rights worldwide, and as much as possible the Council should adopt resolutions by consensus.

JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT (France), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, expressed concern over the tragic events that had taken the lives of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and particularly in Beit Hanoun. Actions affecting civilian populations were in violation of international humanitarian law and particularly the Geneva Conventions. These actions should come to a stop. France condemned the Israeli indiscriminate artillery attack on urban areas. Although it was legitimate for Israel to act in self-defence, Israel must exercise maximum restraint over its military operations to protect the Palestinian civilian population, and it must fully respect international humanitarian law. In addition, France condemned Palestinian rocket attacks into residential areas in Israel as well as the call by some Palestinian armed groups to renew suicide attacks. The Palestinian Authority should guarantee public order and combat terrorism. France thought that it could have been possible for the Council to adopt a text that also condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and call all parties to an immediate cease of hostilities. France was concerned about the way special sessions were taking place and the fact that it was not possible for the Council to adopt resolutions by consensus. In casting an abstention vote, France hoped to appeal to all Council members in that respect.

SARALA FERNANDO (Sri Lanka), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said Sri Lanka had persistently expressed support for the people of Palestine to establishing their own State. Sri Lanka, which had voted in favor of the resolution, had been firmly committed to upholding human rights and international humanitarian laws in all situations. Sri Lanka was no stranger to suffering from trauma as a result of terrorist attacks. There should be a revitalized expression of peace.

BLAISE GODET (Switzerland), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that Switzerland felt that it was not possible to support an unbalanced text, in spite of last minute improvements. One of the tasks of the Council was to denounce violations of human rights wherever they happened. For this reason, Switzerland had abstained.

ALEJANDRO NEYRA SANCHEZ (Peru) said Peru was concerned over the escalating violence in the Middle East and condemned the attacks in Beit Hanoun, which killed 18 Palestinian civilians. Peru urged all parties to cease violence and establish international humanitarian law as a way of protecting civilian populations. Peru hoped that the mission being sent to the region would help to mitigate the suffering of the civilian population. However, it was unclear whether the attacks were intentional or not and therefore Peru warned against any prejudging before the mission concluded its work. Violence, irrespective of its motivation, should not be tolerated. It was imperative upon all countries to fully comply with international laws and Peru hoped that this dialogue would help to relieve the crisis. The promotion and protection of all human rights was of utmost importance and should be the focus of efforts of the Council to reaching a lasting solution to the crisis.

SÉRGIO FLORENCIO (Brazil), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that Brazil voted in favour of the resolution. The disproportionate military action of Israel in Beit Hanoun was unacceptable. Violence only fuelled conflict. Brazil called upon the international community to assist the Palestinian people to address the humanitarian crisis, including the large number of Palestinians in detention in Israeli prisons. It also called for the return of the captured Israeli soldier and an end to Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel, and resumption of diplomatic negotiations.

For use of the information media; not an official record


The heart of the matter: Palestine in the world today

Last week's Beit Hanoun massacre is just one more war crime in a long chain of atrocities committed by Israel for over half a century now. Ahdaf Soueif* argues that if the world is to be put back on an even keel, it has to be a world in which the Palestinians achieve equality and justice

The first time I visited Warwick was in the summer of 1985. I visited the Castle and as I walked through the State Rooms and the Towers, I was touched by sadness that what had been a real life, with ambitions and sorrows and loves, with continuity, had become -- merely -- a spectacle for tourists.

Then, I came across the "oubliette". An oubliette is a deep hole in the ground where you throw people who are to be, well, oubliés : forgotten. It was terrifying, in its simplicity, its blatancy, its everydayness. You did not even need great skill to build your own oubliette. And at this point, the fact that the Castle had mutated into a tourist attraction became a comfort. That a life in which balls and banquets or a quiet family evening by the fire could take place while some wretch was forgotten in a hole in the ground not 50 metres away -- that that life had become untenable was OK. It was medieval, I told myself. It was how they did things then. It was over.

How weird, then, how nightmarish, that it isn't over; that we still have oubliettes today. And how obscene that they should be run, not by some individual local baron or war-lord, but by the most powerful state in the world. A democratic state. A land of the free. The articulator, in modern times, of the Rights of Man. And that for all the rhetoric of human progress and development, what it amounts to is that those who have the power also have their choice of destination and transport: 'undisclosed locations' on the planet, and flying machines in which to freight those who are to be forgotten through the skies to their modern oubliettes.

In the 14th Century, the farmer harvesting his crop within sight of the Castle walls did not necessarily know about the prisoner within those walls. Today globalisation, technology and democracy make accomplices of us all.

And of course, the phantom flights and facilities are just one aspect of the general nightmare that our world is being led into. Which, like the best nightmares, has an element of absurdity: how is it that when we should be united in the urgent search for solutions to our environmental crises, when our clear priority should be to nurse our beautiful, damaged planet back to health, we are running around fighting a bogus 'War on Terror'?

The Twentieth Century, for all its problems, can be seen as a progression towards a world community. Institutions were set up to regulate the relationships between nations, to fashion laws that would move us away from physical violence. Discourses of liberation were articulated. We had moved into a post-colonial era, an era of civil rights, of equality for women and minorities, of anti-discrimination and human rights, of celebrating -- some would say to a fault -- cultural diversity and regional variation. It wasn't perfect, of course not, but it seemed that we were on the right path.

Today, we have a world in chaos: the country that sets itself up as the arbiter and policeman of the world engaging in an illegal war, aided and abetted, principally, by Britain. To engage in the war against Iraq the US administration lied to its people, it lied to the UN and to the world. It continues to lie -- about its motivation for the war, its execution of the war, its performance in the war and, now, its possible exit strategy from the war.

While it limbers up for another war, this time on Iran.

And when its friend and ally, Israel, bombs Lebanon, the US -- again and Britain -- block efforts to call a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Israel's occupation of the West Bank continues. More UN resolutions have condemned this than any other matter since the UN was established. Israel stands in violation of the hundred-year old Hague Conventions, the Atlantic Charter of 1941, the Articles of the Geneva Convention, the judgement of the International Court in the Hague in 2004. Look how far we have not come!

Edward Said's Orientalism was published almost 3 decades ago. For all the change that the book wrought, for all that it created a new discourse and a new discipline which has spread the world over, for all that US Intelligence witnesses believe it so affected Middle East studies in the US that American experts who've fallen under its spell are now useless in the 'War on Terror' -- for all that, when the book was reissued in 2003, Said wrote, in a new preface for it: "I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, of Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn't." He speaks of "the hardening of attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalization and triumphalist cliché, the dominance of crude power allied with simplistic contempt for dissenters and 'others'." This Preface was one of the last pieces of writing that Edward Said published in Al-Ahram Weekly before his death.

THE ISRAEL COMPONENT: What I would like to do here is to trace the effect of one component in the situation the world finds itself in. The Israel/Palestine component.

"Palestine," Edward Said argued in 1992, "is today the touchstone case for human rights ... there is hardly an instance when the connection between freedom and interpretation is as urgent, as literally concrete as it is for the Palestinian people, a large part of whose existence and fate has been interpreted away in the West in order to deny us the same freedom and interpretation granted Israeli Jews. The time has finally come to join and recognise these two peoples together as indeed their common actuality in historic Palestine already has joined them together. Only then can interpretation be for, rather than only about, freedom."

This, for me, would be a good enough reason to put Palestine at the centre of this, the Edward Said Memorial Lecture which it is my honour to deliver. But I think a good case can, in any case, be made, for placing the Palestinian issue at the centre of the troubles that beset our world today.

So, my subject is this: the Zionist project in Israel/Palestine is failing. A central question to be answered is what are the possible outcomes of that failure? And what can we do to promote the outcome we prefer?

THE FAILURE OF ZIONISM: A letter in the London Independent last year reads:

"Sir: More and more Jews are coming to see what my great grandfather failed to see, that the only just solution in the Middle East is a Palestine in which Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Europeans, live alongside each other with equal rights and an equal stake in the state; a solution in which the Balfour Declaration is finally put to rest."

The letter is signed by Dan Mayer, the great- grandson of Sir Leon Simon, who helped draft the Balfour declaration.

This perception, while not yet mainstream, is, as Mr Mayer writes, gaining currency. The Zionist project is, after all, anachronistic. When it first started, at the end of the 19th Century it caught the tail end of colonial expansionism. But even then the geography of the enterprise was wrong. Most colonial projects were predicated to some extent on the colonised lands being geographically distant from the colonising power. The home society could be kept largely shielded from the brute mechanics of colonisation.

A completely settler colonial project can only work, history shows us, by getting rid of the original inhabitants. Either by exterminating them or coming so close as to make no difference -- as happened in North America. This is what (Israeli historian) Benny Morris, for example, recognizes, when -- in the context of documenting what the Zionist project did to the Palestinians in 1948, he adds that they did not do enough because, essentially, they left the job undone: "If he [Ben-Gurion] was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleaned the whole country -- the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion -- rather than a partial one -- he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."

The Israeli Zionist project now has 3 problems: the existence of over one million Palestinian citizens of Israel (who were not 'cleansed' in 1948). The existence of some 3 million Palestinians in territories which Israel is not willing to give up. The existence of some 4 million Palestinians in various conditions across the world -- who have not given up the Right of Return granted them by international law. Actually it's really one problem: the existence of the Palestinians.

The 'Peace Process,' culminating in the Oslo Accords in 1993 provided a comfortable screen behind which settler expansion raced ahead. It also made it possible for the majority of Israelis to ignore the problems of Zionism while advocating a separate state for the Palestinians. Problems such as how much democracy a Zionist state can allow to non-Jews, or what the role of Zionism was in the Palestinians' dispossession in 1948 could be ignored for a while. The end of the 'Process' came in the failure of the Camp David II talks and the eruption of the Second Intifada at the end of 2000. The Israeli state came face to face with the failure of the Zionist project.

As ex-CIA workers Kathy and Bill Christison point out in Counterpunch (8 November 2003):

"-New wrongs in the occupied territories increasingly recall old wrongs from half a century ago;

"-Zionism finds that it cannot cope with end-of- conflict demands like the Palestinians' insistence that Israel accept their right of return by acknowledging its role in their dispossession;

"-Palestinian citizens of Israel are more and more demanding their civil rights."

Kathy and Bill Christison continue: "More and more Israelis are coming to accept that Zionism can never escape its past ... [and] that Israel has absorbed so much of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem into itself that the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples can never be separated fairly [in 'Introduction to the Politics of Verticality' , for example, Israeli architect Eyal Weizman deconstructs Israeli settling work, and argues that there was never an Israeli intention to withdraw from the West Bank.]

"The separation wall, says Haim Hanegbi, a non-Zionist Israeli, 'is the great despairing solution of the Jewish-Zionist society. It is the last desperate act of those who cannot confront the Palestinian issue.' One-time Zionist leader Meron Benvenisti, a Palestine-born and a contemporary of Hanegbi, also now supports a secular binational state. Ha'aretz, ran interviews with both men side by side. Both discuss the evolution of their thinking over the decades, and both describe a period in which, after the triumph of Zionism, they unthinkingly accepted its dispossession of the Palestinians. Each man describes the Palestinians simply disappearing when he was an adolescent ('They just sort of evaporated,' says Hanegbi), and Benvenisti recalls a long period in which the Palestinian 'tragedy simply did not penetrate my consciousness.' But both speak in very un-Zionist terms of equality. Benvenisti touches on the crux of the Zionist dilemma. 'This is where I am different from my friends in the left,' he says, 'because I am ... drawn to the Arab culture and the Arabic language because it is here. It is the land. Whereas the right, certainly, but the left too hates Arabs. The Arabs bother them; they complicate things. The subject generates moral questions and that generates cultural unease.'"

If it weren't so sad and so predictable it would be funny: the first town to be handed back to the Palestinians was Ariha/Jericho. That was where the reconstruction of the Palestinian nation was to begin. And what was the business enterprise that had been built there with 'international' money? A casino. The parallels with the Native American 'sovereign' homelands is glaring to the point of caricature.

But at the end of 2000 it became clear that the Palestinians were not going to allow themselves to be disappeared. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories adopted a policy of sumoud. Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated solidarity (and 13 of them were shot dead during a peaceful protest). Palestinians in the 'Diaspora' found their voice and proclaimed their identity loud and clear. In the Arab world, despite their rulers, the people continued to see Palestine as their top foreign policy concern, a concern which spread to many countries in the non- western world. And even in the West, public opinion was shifting, was showing signs of a preparedness to see Israel as it really is and not through spectacles misted over with remorse and a certain romance.

Consider Israel's predicament: a militarily powerful state (the 4th in the world), unable to gain the acquiescence of those it sees as 'the enemy'. Former Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon has said that the army must "sear into the Palestinian consciousness that they are a defeated people." But as Edward Said used to say "You are not defeated until you agree that you're defeated." And Israel cannot get the Palestinians to say "OK we're defeated. Do with us what you will. Break us up into cantons. Make us into an underclass. Ration our procreation. Erase our memories. Tighten the noose till we die or leave. We will pretend that all is well. That we are not here. That we were never here." The Palestinians will not say this; rather they are like Walter Benjamin's historian, who has the "gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past" because he is "firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins."

SO WHAT CAN ISRAEL DO? Well, it could always have divested itself of Zionism: seen it as an ideology that had served its purpose, something to be outgrown, as Tony Judt, Avraham Oz and many other post-Zionists propose. Or it could have pulled back to the Green Line and made a kind of peace manqué as the mainstream peace movement in Israel has been urging since 1967.

But of course it did neither; it carried on with the Zionist programme: the assassinations, the demolitions, the re-invasion of the West Bank, the construction of the Wall. In doing so it knowingly created a blue-print for other, future wars.

In Hollow Land, Israel's Architecture of Occupation, (to be published in 2007) Eyal Weizman has a chapter called "Walking through Walls". It deals with the Israeli military and I think it's probably the most chilling thing I've ever read. In an interview with IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, Halutz confirms that the Israeli army sees the conflict with the Palestinians as "irresolvable and permanent." The IDF has "geared itself to operate within an environment saturated with conflict and within a future of permanent violence." It sees itself acting "just under the threshold of international sanctions ... keeping the conflict on a flame low enough for Israeli society to be able to live and prosper within it."

Let me give you an example: an IDF team, co- operating closely with the US "Transformation Group" under Donald Rumsfeld, developed a concept for the "domination of the Palestinians after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank ... through an invisible occupation: Israel should seal the hard envelopes [the Wall] around Palestinian population centres and manage the area by generating 'effects' within it ... the new form of control will no longer engage with territoriality but will be directed against the human elements of resistance, that is the killing of Palestinian military and political activists." This concept is already being implemented.

Clearly this tries to alleviate the burden I mentioned earlier; the problem posed to Israeli society by the geographical closeness of the Palestinians, and the unhappiness of world opinion with the actions of the occupation. The solution: wall the Palestinians in and shoot them at will.

But back to 2000, and the card that Israel continued to hold: its relationship with the United States, now the one power in a uni-polar world. Soon into 2001 George W Bush became President and the US administration was staffed by neo- conservatives.

There is probably no need to rehearse how back in 1996, several of the neo-cons had presented a policy paper to the then new Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, urging "a clean break from the slogan 'comprehensive peace' to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power".

Or how in January 1998, another configuration of neo-cons wrote to President Clinton urging him to attack Iraq for the security of "Israel and our allies". Their view was that the road to a Middle East peace "goes through Baghdad". Among the signatories were John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.

So here's the scene: in Israel, a stalled Zionist project, and in the US a Neo-con administration around a born-again president and a mobilized and growing Christian-Zionist population -- courted assiduously for years by Binyamin Netanyahu.

ISRAEL'S ROLE POST 9/11: The attacks of September 11 took place and played straight into the neo-con/Israeli dream scenario. That day four major Israeli politicians, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu, took to the TV screens to assert that the terror just suffered by the Americans was the identical terror endured by Israel since its establishment -- to drive home the point Israel had been pushing for years: that Israel's interests were America's interests, Israel's enemies were America's enemies.

The figure of the "Islamic Terrorist" was now fully realised. Edward Said, we should remember, predicts the emergence of this figure (but in a characteristically hopeful formulation) in his 1981 book, Covering Islam, when he asks "Is 'Islam' going to be confined to the role of terroristic oil-supplier?... Or will debate and reflection be better employed around topics more suited to world community and peaceful development?"

The question stands. And the role of Israel in influencing the answer becomes clearer by the day: the role of Israel, allied to its supporters, the neo-cons and the American Christian Right, (as distinct from the mainstream Christian churches which are, in fact, joining the Boycott Israel Campaign) is to exaggerate and escalate the conflict. Now, instead of the world's eyes being fixed on the Palestine/Israel issue, we have to take in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon -- and we must fear for Syria, Iran and Sudan. Instead of a conflict over land and political rights in Palestine/Israel the conflict shifts into the metaphysical sphere: a conflict with an enemy so nebulous as to be found anywhere where resistance to American or Israeli policies might lurk; an enemy with whom no negotiation is possible, who 'hates us' simply because of 'who we are'.

This is a logical move within long-term Israeli strategy. Israel has always sold itself to the West on the basis of the state's oppositional relationship to its chosen environment. Back at the end of the 19th century, Theodore Herzl assured the British Foreign Office that Israel would provide a civilised bulwark against the barbarian hordes of Islam. Now, again as Edward Said puts it in Covering Islam : "Israel's security in American eyes has become conveniently interchangeable with fending off Islam, perpetuating Western hegemony and demonstrating the virtues of modernization... Three sets of illusions economically buttress and reproduce one another in the interests of shoring up the Western self- image and promoting Western power over the Orient: the view of Islam, the ideology of modernization, and the affirmation of Israel's general value to the West."

THE RACE: It was within this rubric that the 2003 war on Iraq was launched. The old language of colonialism surfaced once again and the old troopers crowded back on stage: the apologists for Empire, the instant experts on Islam and Jee had, the comprador intellectuals, the whole sorry, shoddy lot.

Meanwhile the US administration and Israel look like they're racing to get the world sorted the way they want it -- before the world catches up with them.

The role of Israel in promoting the war on Iraq is well documented. Indeed, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt argue in their study "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" ( The London Review of Books, 23 March 2006) that there probably would have been no invasion but for Israel and, above all, its partisans inside the US." Everybody remembers prominent neo-con Richard Perle taking the Iraqi pretender, Ahmad Chalabi, under his wing and -- against strong objections from the CIA -- installing him in the Pentagon. Perle resigned as Chair of the Defence Policy Board Advisory Committee when his and Chalabi's lies about Iraq started to be exposed. Now he has surfaced again and who does he have in tow? An Iranian Ahmad Chalabi: Amir Abbas Fakhravar -- allegedly a leading student dissident -- except he's not. Laura Rosen reveals his provenance in "The Talented Mr Fakhravar" ( [sic], 6 October 2006).

Now Israel pushes for an attack on Iran. And pushes for the US to go into Darfur as Gary Leupp reveals in a May essay in Counterpunch.

Then we have the devastation visited on Lebanon. It's true Hizbullah had captured two Israeli soldiers against the backdrop of an ongoing low- intensity border conflict; previous captures had led to negotiations and the release of prisoners. But Israel and the US had already planned a Lebanese war for the autumn. US Vice-President Cheney had, it is said, approved it in March. In their hurry to smash the Middle East into the shape they wanted they decided to bring their war forward. This is why the US and British governments opposed a ceasefire, because they wanted Israel to cause as much damage in Lebanon as possible.

Syria has recently repeatedly offered to talk, to try to solve the Golan issue. Neither Israel nor the US wants to listen.

Three years ago the Saudis put forward a plan that would give Israel normalisation with every Arab state in return for a solution for the Palestinian problem. That plan has been so thoroughly buried that you don't even see it in the history of Arab-Israeli peace initiatives.

And, of course, we have the current unspeakable situation in Palestine.

WHAT THE WORLD WILL LOOK LIKE: What we are seeing now is a taster, a trailer for what the world will look like if this symbiosis between a Zionist Israel and a neo-conservative America is allowed to continue.

The neo-conservatives, as we all know, espouse a doctrine of ongoing war, a conflict that will 'last for generations.' They have spoken of 'constructive chaos', as Israeli leaders have spoken of the 'opportunities' that war brings. And, as we've seen, the Israeli Army now thinks in terms of pitching permanent conflict at a level it can get away with.

Israel's re-invasion of Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah in Spring 2002, Weizman tells us, was "at the centre of the attention of foreign militaries, especially the American and the British, as they geared themselves to the occupation of Iraq." We need to get away from the traditional idea that these people go into wars to win them. War itself is the condition they desire for designated parts of the world. Happily, it also channels US taxpayer dollars into the pockets of friendly corporations. We need to understand the new calculus of profit and loss that the US and Israeli governments are using.

What is being spread is not just actual war and destruction but a way of looking at and dealing with the world. Edward Said's project in Orientalism was "to use humanist critique to open up the fields of struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical, thought-stopping fury that so imprison us... [to attempt] to dissolve Blake's 'mind-forg'd manacles' so as to be able to use one's mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding." Today, to quote Weizman again, commenting on the language and the philosophical apparatus used by the IDF, "in no uncertain terms, education in the humanities -- often believed to be the most powerful tool against imperialism -- is being appropriated as a powerful weapon for imperialism."

In the last two years Israel has demolished more than 4000 Palestinian homes. Israeli soldiers have wrenched multiples of thousands of olive trees from the soil. In this past month Israel has killed 56 Palestinians and demolished 24 Palestinian houses. In September it killed 30. In August it killed 72 and wounded 98. In July it killed 162 and wounded 433. In June it killed 55 and wounded 220. In May it killed 42 and ..... how far back should I go? Since the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, 760 Israelis have been killed and 5330 Israelis wounded. But I don't know that any of these dead and wounded matter to the Israeli state. Just as I don't know who -- apart from their families and friends -- cares about the dead young Americans in Iraq.

A way of looking at the world is being spread; a way that is blasé and thuggish and criminal.

We witness disregard for International Law and contempt for International institutions.

We witness Israel testing new weapons -- chemicals and nerve gases -- on the people in Gaza, phosphorus and uranium-based munitions in Lebanon, while the US uses phosphorus bombs and depleted uranium in Iraq.

Until recently Israel was the only state whose laws permitted the use of torture. Now that the US has joined it we have the spectacle of Harvard lawyers quibbling over precisely what levels of mistreatment have to be attained to be defined as torture. We also know that Israeli interrogators were present in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and that Israel has been coaching US interrogators in interrogation techniques -- supposedly custom- made for Muslim men!

In the UK it can be argued that Israeli coaching led directly to the shooting of Jan Charles di Menezez in Stockwell underground station last year.

Then down to the details: the use of plastic wristbands pioneered by Israel and put to such good use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The use of barbed wire to control civilian populations. The use of home demolitions and collective punishment and arbitrary detention.

We witness the erosion of civil rights in the world's largest democracy.

The attempts to gag free speech: everyone now knows about the media uproar earlier in the year over the Mearsheimer and Walt article on the influence of the Zionist lobby in the USA. But on 4 October, Professor Tony Judt's talk for the organisation 20/20 in New York was cancelled after the Polish Embassy withdrew its offer to host it. The Polish withdrawal was ascribed to phone calls from the chairs of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Judt, one-time secretary of the Labour Zionist youth movement in Britain, has, since 2003, called for Israel to transform itself from a Jewish state into a binational one. On 9 October, the French Embassy in New York cancelled a reception for distinguished Australian publisher, editor and author, Carmen Callil's book, Bad Faith, a masterly documentation of the harrowing stories of French Jews during the Vichy regime, because "it could not endorse a personal opinion of the author expressed in the postscript of the book." What was that personal opinion? "What caused me anguish," wrote Callil, in the last paragraph of her 444-page text, "...was to live so closely to the helpless terror of the Jews of France, and to see what the Jews of Israel were passing on to the Palestinian people.... Like the rest of humanity, the Jews of Israel 'forget' the Palestinians. Everyone forgets; every nation forgets." She is now receiving the usual torrent of abusive mail.

What is being promoted is a Zionist way of looking at the world; a way that privileges one group of people over others because of who they are; a way that condones any means of preserving that privilege, however destructive, however illegitimate.

WHO WAGS WHOM: One of the debates that have come up repeatedly over the last couple of years is the debate on who is the agent and architect of this state of affairs, Israel or the US? But what matters is the confluence of attitudes between the US and the Israeli ruling establishments. Of course the military/industrial complex, the financial world and its interests, are movers and beneficiaries of conflict. But the political will and attitude of the ruling establishment is critical to making war, setting up detention facilities, changing laws, tapping phones, controlling the flow of information and so on.

And the political will of the current White House and the Israeli government seem to be identical. Rather than seeking peace they seek to expand war. Rather than trying to understand the causes of tension they obfuscate them by positing cosmic conflicts and irrational enemies. Rather than searching for more equitable ways for us all to live on this planet they promote cut-throat -- and in many cases fraudulent -- global capitalism. Rather than celebrating or at least accepting diversity they preach exceptionalism and seek to force us all into one mould: their own.

It is clear to many people that the influence of the Zionist project on the ideology, the attitude and the modus operandi of the United States is doing major harm to the entire world. This can be seen in its most flagrant form in the actions and preaching of the Christian Zionists in the United States, this very active population of some 30 million who actually yearn for and work towards promoting Armageddon and the end of the world.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? In the last 2 months Israeli 'checkpoints' in the West Bank have increased by 40 per cent. They now number 528.

Israeli commentator Ran HaCohen recently observed that "Israel's atrocities have now intensified to an extent unimaginable in previous decades." Land confiscation, curfew, the "gradual pushing of Palestinians from areas designated for Jews" have accompanied the occupation all along, he wrote, but the level of oppression now "is quite another story.[This is] an eliminationist policy on the verge of genocide."

The Foundation for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based institution, came to much the same conclusion. Israeli actions, it wrote, "particularly the 'relentless' increase in territorial control have compromised not only the prospect for genuine Palestinian independence but also, in ways not seen in Israel's 36-year occupation, the very sustainability of everyday Palestinian life."

As the Christisons note: "What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is not genocide, it is not a holocaust, but it is, unmistakably, ethnicide. ... We are all made to think always about the existential threat to Israel, to the Jewish people. But the nation in imminent danger of elimination today is not Israel but the Palestinians."

Chris McGreal writes in the Guardian on 7 February 2006: "Perhaps the conflict will evolve into something ... that will produce parallels even more shocking than that with apartheid.

"Arnon Sofer has spent years advising the government on the demographic threat posed by the Arabs. The Haifa University geographer paints a bleak vision of how he sees the Gaza Strip a generation after Israel's withdrawal. 'When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. These people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamental Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day,' he told the Jerusalem Post. 'If we don't kill we will cease to exist. The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.'"

Now Ehud Olmert has invited Avigdor Lieberman into the Israeli government. Lieberman comes with 11 representatives from the "Israel is our Home" Party. He is a settler, a recent immigrant, a Moldavian ex-bouncer, and openly advocates the transfer of Arab citizens out of Israel.

AND ALL THIS, FOR WHAT? In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappé describes what the Jewish National Fund does with the Palestinian landscape in Israel: "When it set out to create its national parks on the sites of eradicated Palestinian villages... the JNF... opted mainly for conifers instead of the natural flora indigenous to Palestine. In part this was an attempt to make the country look European ... in addition ... it was meant to support the country's aspiring wood industry." He goes on to quote the tourist brochures describing these forests, skipping a millennia of Palestinian villages and referring to all things as 'Biblical' or 'Talmudic'. I would like to mention here the Israeli group, Zochorot, who challenge this obliteration and run a kind of guerrilla campaign to replace, and keep replacing Arab names and information on the sites of destroyed villages.

But the Zionist project is -- what ? To create Theme Park Israel where Jews can live on their own, ignoring the oubliettes a few miles from their homes where their army deals with 'the human element' by murdering it from the air?

Israeli intellectuals wonder at the malaise that grips their country. Two Nobel Prize laureates, Professors Yisrael Aumann (Game Theory, 2005) and Aaron Ciechanover (Chemistry, 2004), sounding "as if they are fighting back tears" bemoan the "fatal disease: the depletion of spirit ... [the] cancer that has spread through Israeli society." They attribute it to a kind of generalised "selfishness" which they, oddly, think may be OK in Switzerland but not in Israel. It's nothing to do with "the enemy" they say, because the enemy they can handle with their "wisdom and technology".

Einstein, their distinguished predecessor, expressed grave doubts about political Zionism. A letter he signed in the New York Times in December 1948 warned against the emergence in Israel of (future Prime Minister) Menachem Begin's "Freedom Party". The letter cited Deir Yassin, where Mr Begin and friends, eight months earlier, had killed 240 men, women and children and "were proud of this massacre." "This," the letter goes on, "is the unmistakable stamp of a fascist party for whom terrorism ... and misrepresentation are means, and a 'Leader State' is the goal."

Does it really need Einstein to diagnose what's wrong with Israel today?

ROOM FOR HOPE: One of the most valuable examples that Edward Said set for us all was that he found hope in the most bleak circumstances. It was real hope, because he saw the bleakness clearly but never gave up presenting a vision of how things ought to be, and he always had proposals for how that could be made to happen, for how you could help to make it happen. In an interview First published in Middle East Report with Barbara Harlow in 1991, he describes the cause "involving justice, principle, truth, conviction" that the American intellectual needs to affiliate him or her self to; it is "that the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world, now based upon profit and power, has to be altered to one of coexistence among human communities that can make and remake their own histories and environments together. This is the number one priority -- there's nothing else of that magnitude."

We have seen the opposite happen, we have seen the neo-cons insist that power and profit would be the only determinant of American foreign policy in the "New American Century". This position was formulated in close alignment with Israel.

The American/Israeli symbiosis has to be broken. It will be broken. I believe we are seeing attempts to break it now. Dissenting groups are proliferating in the United States, in Israel and in the world. A community of human beings is determined to resist the deadly grid being imposed upon it.

John Pilger, writing recently in the New Statesman, recalling the demonstrations against the projected war on Iraq that swept the world in February 2003, admits they did not stop the war but "the same universal power of public morality has, I believe, stalled attacks on Iran and North Korea, probably with 'tactical' nuclear weapons." People being moved too far from their notion of their best selves, their image of themselves, are trying to reclaim that image. The names of the dissident groups are significant: in the USA, Not in Our Name, the World Can't Wait, If Americans Knew, etc. In Israel, Zochorot, Jews for Justice, Ta'ayush, Musawa. Words like 'empathy' or 'the common good' are making their way, once again, into American public discourse. So far they reach out to American society. They will need to embrace the world.

It is tremendously heartening to see the role that culture is playing in the resistance to power. Film, music, theatre, plastic art are all engaging specifically with Palestine and with the broader issues Palestine is coming to represent.

Every day that passes, each authentic expression of the Palestinian identity in film or music, painting or dance or embroidery, each act of violence that Israel commits against the Palestinians, articulates the Palestinian cause as the great cause of conscience for our world today. From Canada to Australia citizens of the world invent original ways to express their solidarity with the Palestinians. The internet buzzes with information, testimonies, news of activities, fund-raisers and calls to action. In the absence of a constructive response from Israel, the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel is growing.

Edward Said wrote that "we need to be able to say what we are for in our world and in our lives ... we need a developed sense of what it is we care about." And a large proportion of the world's citizens now cares about Palestine. The sense is growing that if the world is to be put back on an even keel it has to be a world in which the Palestinians achieve equality and justice.

* The writer is an Egyptian British novelist. The above text was delivered at Warwick University, UK, on 31 October 2006, as the Edward Said Memorial Lecture . Copyright Ahdaf Soueif, 2006

C a p t i o n : A Palestinian child from Bil'in village, where close to 60 per cent of the land was confiscated to construct Israeli settlements and Israel's separation wall (above); graffiti on the apartheid wall, by British artists Bansky

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By Richard Walker

While two executives of the powerful Israeli lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) await trial on charges of spying against the United States, the FBI has now broadened its investigation to look at whether the group tried to strike a deal with a leading member of Congress. In particular, federal investigators wish to know if AIPAC tried to reach a shady arrangement with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

According to a recent report in a mainstream magazine, the alleged deal was that, in the event Democrats took control of Congress, AIPAC would lobby for Harman, now a member of the House Intelligence Committee, to become the chair of that committee. In return, she would be expected to press the White House and Justice Department to go easy on Keith Weisman and Steven Rosen, the two former AIPAC executives soon to be tried for espionage.

Weisman and Rosen were connected to a spy ring involving the self-confessed traitor, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin. In January 2006, Franklin was sentenced to 12 years in prison for being part of a conspiracy to communicate America’s national defense secrets to a foreign power, namely Israel.

According to Franklin’s explosive indictment, his co-conspirators were not only Rosen and Weisman, but also Uzi Arad, a former Mossad agent, and Naor Gilan, the lead Mossad agent at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Gilan and Arad left the country before they could be interviewed by the FBI, but Rosen and Weisman were not so fortunate. It soon emerged that the FBI had a wealth of incriminating video and wire-tapped material on the two AIPAC executives and had also extracted information from Franklin about his links to them and how he passed them classified papers.

Through their lawyers, Rosen and Weisman argued that they were not guilty of treason and had been doing only what AIPAC had always done: They had pressured important people in the Pentagon and Congress and passed whatever information and documents they got from them to Israel.

The latest claims that AIPAC has been meddling in intelligence circles in Congress will come as no shock to those who know just how powerful the Israeli lobby in Washington is. So far, Harman and AIPAC have denied a secret deal. However, to many insiders, such an arrangement is reasonable given AIPAC’s stated goal of shaping U.S. foreign policy to suit Israel’s agenda in the Middle East.

Many people suspect that the FBI investigations into AIPAC and Harman will go nowhere. However, the Israeli lobby cannot put the Rosen-Weissman espionage case under the rug. The evidence in the case shows conclusively that AIPAC has been the means by which Israel has acquired critical intelligence on America’s Middle East policy, which it has used to influence American public opinion and White House policy.

The most staggering aspect of the Franklin conviction was that, even though it proved AIPAC was spying on the United States, the majority of members on both sides of the House turned a blind eye to that fact. In other words, Congress was nowhere near as concerned as U.S. courts were that America’s national secrets were being acquired by a powerful special interest group on behalf of a foreign power.

From the moment news of the FBI investigation in AIPAC broke in 2004, the Israeli lobby in Washington called in powerful friends and started circling the wagons.

When it was leaked that Pentagon analyst Franklin had confessed to passing classified national security documents to the Israelis, the Anti-Defamation League called for a probe into FBI leaks as though leaks were more important than espionage.

AIPAC used its powerful friends in the U.S. media and Congress to play down its role in the espionage conspiracy. To that end, it persuaded Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver the keynote address to the May 2005 AIPAC convention in Washington. The event was also attended by Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and leaders of the House and Senate.

Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.

(Issue #46, November 13, 2006)

Alliance of Civilizations

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Alliance of Civilizations group was established under the auspices of the United Nations to consider the state of relations between the Islamic world and Western societies. It has conclusively rejected the Zionist propaganda known as the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis, and concludes that the main basis for conflict is the lack of just resolution of the plight of the Palestinians. From the Report of the High-level Group dated 13 November 2001 (pdf):

4.4 The partition of Palestine by the United Nations in 1947, envisaging the establishment of two states - Palestine and Israel - with a special status for Jerusalem, led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, beginning a chain of events that continues to be one of the most tortuous in relations between Western and Muslim societies. Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and the unresolved status of Jerusalem - a holy city for Muslims and Christians as well as Jews – have persisted with the perceived acquiescence of Western governments and thus are primary causes of resentment and anger in the Muslim world toward Western nations. This occupation has been perceived in the Muslim world as a form of colonialism and has led many to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel is in collusion with "the West". These resentments and perceptions were further exacerbated by Israel’s disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon.

4.5 In another critical context, the Middle East emerged as a vital source of energy crucial for prosperity and power. Cold War powers vied for influence in the strategic and resource rich countries of the region, often in the form of military and political interventions that contributed to stunting those countries’ development and eventually backfired on the powerful countries with repercussions that continue to be felt today. One of these events was the 1953 coup in Iran, the aftermath of which demonstrated both the limitations and the dangers of foreign interference in a country’s political development.

4.6 The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 opened another line of confrontation. As part of the Western policy of supporting religious opposition to contain Communism, the US and its allies, including some Muslim governments in the region, bolstered the Afghan resistance - the "mujahedin" - eventually forcing the Soviet retreat in 1989. After a period of instability, the Taliban regime seized control of the country and supported Al Qaeda, fomenting deep hostility against the West and setting in motion a chain of events which were to scar the start of the new Millennium.

4.7 The terrorist attacks perpetrated by Al Qaeda on the United States in September 2001 drew near universal condemnation irrespective of religion or politics and demonstrated the depth of this extremist group’s hostility. They provoked a forceful retaliation against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Later, these attacks were presented as one of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq, whose link with them has never been established, feeding a perception among Muslim societies of unjust aggression stemming from the West.

4.8 In the context of relations between Muslim and Western societies, the perception of double standards in the application of international law and the protection of human rights is particularly acute. Reports of collective punishment, targeted killings, torture, arbitrary detention, renditions, and the support of autocratic regimes contribute to an increased sense of vulnerability around the globe, particularly in Muslim countries, and to a perception of Western double standards. Assertions that Islam is inherently violent and related statements by some political and religious leaders in the West – including the use of terms such as "Islamic terrorism" and "Islamic fascism" - have contributed to an alarming increase in Islamophobia which further exacerbates Muslim fears of the West.

4.9 Conversely, violent attacks targeting civilian populations in the West, including suicide bombings, kidnappings, and torture, have led to an atmosphere of suspicion, insecurity and fear in the West. Many in the West also perceive double standards on the part of Muslim leaders. Indeed, while Western military operations are widely condemned by Muslims, this is not the case with intra-Muslim conflicts. Sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis in certain Muslim countries and the atrocities committed against civilians in Darfur, for instance, has not led to widespread condemnation in the Muslim world.

4.10 These reciprocal perceptions of double standards contribute to the climate of suspicion and mistrust that undermines relations between Muslim and Western societies.”

5.1 With regard to relations between Muslim and Western societies, we must acknowledge the contemporary realities that shape the views of millions of Muslims: the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the violence in Afghanistan, and the increasingly violent conflict in Iraq.

5.2 We must stress the increasing urgency of the Palestinian issue, which is a major factor in the widening rift between Muslim and Western societies. In this regard, it is our duty to express our collective opinion that without a just, dignified, and democratic solution based on the will of all peoples involved in this conflict, all efforts – including recommendations contained in this report – to bridge this gap and counter the hostilities among societies are likely to meet with only limited success.

5.3 Our emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not meant to imply that it is the overt cause of all tensions between Muslim and Western societies. Other factors also create resentment and mistrust, including the spiraling crisis in Iraq, the continued instability in Afghanistan, issues internal to Muslim societies, as well as terrorist attacks on civilian populations in many countries. Nevertheless, it is our view that the Israeli– Palestinian issue has taken on a symbolic value that colors cross-cultural and political relations among adherents of all three major monotheistic faiths well beyond its limited geographic scope.

5.4 Achieving a just and sustainable solution to this conflict requires courage and a bold vision of the future on the part of Israelis, Palestinians and all countries capable of influencing the situation. We firmly believe that progress on this front rests on the recognition of both the Palestinian and Jewish national aspirations and on the establishment of two fully sovereign and independent states living side by side in peace and security.

5.5 Reaching this objective will require Israel not only to accept but to facilitate the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. The peace accords involving Israel, Egypt and Jordan demonstrate that such constructive steps taken in line with international law are workable. Moreover, the terms of reference agreed to by all parties at the Madrid Conference in 1991, the peace initiative by President Clinton in 2000, and the peace proposal by the Arab League in its meeting in Beirut, Lebanon in 2002, make it clear that the framework for a broad-based accord does exist and the political will can be generated.”

Simply based on the results of thinking based on the Clash of Civilizations thesis – Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank – you would have to conclude that the thesis is not just wrong – although it is unclear whether a thesis that is basically an incitement to hatred could ever be right – but insane. It is an idea created by specific Zionists with the sole purpose of concealing the real reason for the conflict - Israeli wrongdoing - behind a form of xenophobia masquerading as a legitimate political thesis.

posted at 3:18 AM permanent link

Map of the imperial history of the Middle East demonstrates that Jews have no special claim to Palestine

Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Europeans...the list goes on. Who will control the Middle East today? That is a much bigger question.

Peace never

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Dina Ezzat seeks out the Israeli drive for peace

The straddle

Latif Dori, secretary of the Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue, likes to introduce himself as a friend of Yasser Arafat and a staunch opponent of the clinically dead Ariel Sharon. The 74-year-old member of the left- wing Meretz Party is equally keen on being identified as "a Jew of Arab origin" -- born in Baghdad and, as he likes to phrase it, "brought to Israel" in 1951.

This is his way of associating the rights of Arab Jews -- "second-class citizens of Israel, compared to their European counterparts" -- with those of Palestinians who obtained citizenship after the 1948 Nakba on the one hand and "the cause of Palestinians" living in territories occupied in 1967 on the other. He maintains that the former are, after all, "the third-class citizens of Israel".

Dori is particularly proud of his meetings with Arab leaders, including President Hosni Mubarak; he boasts of speaking fluent Arabic in Iraqi, Palestinian and Egyptian dialect -- and his jokes bear testimony to the fact. At his Tel Aviv Meretz Party bureau , Dori identifies himself as "a leftist Jew who has done everything he can to expose the Israeli massacres of Palestinians". Starting from Kafr Kassim, in the heart of historic Palestine, on 29 October 1956, through the Sharon-led 1982 slaughter of Palestinians in the camps of Sabra and Shatila south of Beirut, and up to the 1996 and 2006 Qana massacres -- the last mentioned at the hands of Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, a symbol of the Israeli left, and the current Ehud Olmert -- the genocide, he says, will likely go on.

Dori can spend hours telling the story of how he entered Kafr Kassim in secret, hours after Israeli soldiers had murdered Palestinian civilians in cold blood. It was with the testimonies he then collected that the public outcry which eventually forced the then prime minister Ben Gorion to acknowledge the massacre was made. "These massacres," Dori insists, "should not be forgotten. Along with Palestinian friends, this year, I commemorated 50 years since Kafr Kassim." But it is arguably his own predicament as "a Jew of an Arab origin" that he commemorates most often.

One day, he says, when the state stops discriminating against them, the history of those "brought to Israel" -- whether by force or through the illusion of a "perfect homeland" -- must be told in its entirety. Their contribution to the making of Israel, he complains, is barely acknowledged, with very few books dealing with them: "They only talk about those who came from Europe."

This is interesting in the light of the number of Arabic books on Arab Jews, most of which, admittedly, point a positive picture of pre-Israel Jewish life in the Arab world. In her latest book, for example, historian Zobida Mohamed Atta argues that, except for a few isolated instances, Jews were not persecuted in the Arab world, that the majority of them felt as much a sense of belonging to their countries as any other citizens, and that they all formed an integral part of Arab society until they left, whether to Israel, Europe or North America. It is a view Dori shares, his own life bearing ample testimony to its veracity. "I was brought to Israel," he repeats, with a sigh, "from my hometown of Baghdad when I was only a teenager enjoying a good life with no problems at all."

Under Nouri Al-Said's government, he elaborated, the Jewish Agency could "buy us at 10 dinars per person". Each Iraqi Jew was allowed no more than 20kg of clothing and given 50 dinars together with a permanent exit visa: "It was actually written in our passports: exit with no return." The process was not particularly popular in the Jewish community, Dori says, especially in Baghdad. "Why should we want to leave? We had good lives, we are well-educated, with well- paid jobs."

A few weeks after the first "batches" were transferred, the community suddenly embraced the deal. "There were a few explosions near the synagogue. Jews were told they were targeted and should fear for their lives." Within months some 10,000 Jews had boarded planes to Israel, he said.

But "the perfect homeland" was not so perfect: once they were handed new identity cards, Dori and his family were "put on a truck and driven for hours into the desert, to be unloaded into our tents". For these well- off Baghdad Jews the sight was a shock -- all the worse in the light of being told that they would stay there for months. "Later we realised it was really years -- five years." A respectable civil servant, nearly 60 by the time he arrived, Dori's father was required to dig to help build housing compounds. "Many wanted to go back; they simply could not. We were no longer Iraqi citizens, so all we could do was stay on and somehow make a living."

The sense of having been tricked was doubled when they realised the attacks that caused the scare, back in Baghdad, had been orchestrated by none other than the Jewish Agency.

They had been deceived for the sake of substantiating the new country. But had they not been better off in their original homes? Was the creation of Israel in their interest? "It was in the interest of Jews from Europe," Dori says unequivocally -- not only to make up for their suffering under the Nazis but because, in Israel, they instantly became "the privileged minority". At this point Jews from the East were the majority, and the Arabs in particular were discriminated against.

When a new group arrived from Romania, for example, Dori remembers seeing them settling in brand-new apartment buildings while his own people stayed on in tents; when they were moved out, indeed, it was to a barracks, and the Dori family had to seek funds from relatives in Baghdad to afford an apartment on the outskirts of what would become Tel Aviv.

With other Eastern Jews, Dori called for "equal rights"; the Labour Party never responded. "In 1977 we made Maapai pay the price -- we supported Likud, which remains the party favoured by Eastern Jews even to this day." The downside was Likud's reluctance to make peace with Arabs, even despite its settlement with Egypt. Nor did it bring about justice as fully as Dori had hoped.

With Labour, Likud or indeed Kadima, Dori wonders, is justice possible in a state founded on the principal of excluding the other? "The future is bleak for all of us," he says. "Israel's current rulers are not interested in making peace; they've built a racist wall separating us from our neighbours; they're bringing in more Russians to make Eastern Jews a minority; they're building settlements. Peace has been so elusive, precisely because they want it on exclusively Israeli terms."

As far as Dori is concerned, a peace settlement should not be as hard as all that. It should devise "a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with some adjustments. A return of some 100,000 refugees to the state of Israel, because it would be war if the entire four million Palestinian refugees were to come back. West Bank refugees to be replaced with settlers. And East Jerusalem to be recognised as the Palestinian capital provided that the Jewish quarter remains under the control of Israel."

Suddenly, Dori's position seems questionable. Is it fair to deny those who survived the massacres the right of return? And what is wrong about a one-state solution, given that Jews lived peaceably with Muslims and Jews in Palestine before 1948? Was 1948, in fact, the year of the Nakba or the year of the foundation of Israel? The question now, Dori insists, is how to achieve a two-state solution. "Once that is done, then we can have a confederation leading to a singe state. That confederation would ideally join the Arab League, in which case," he smiles wryly, "it could no longer be the Arab League but would have to be the Middle East League."

Chronicle of a disappearance
"We are a minority," cries Michael Warschawski, co-chairman of the Alternative Information Centre and member of Taayosh (Co- existence), a Palestinian-Israeli gathering of mostly left-wing activists focussed mainly on Israeli society. "Our voice is terribly marginal."

Since the day he moved to Israel from France as a theology student in the years following the Nakba, Warschawski, or rather Micado, as his often Palestinian friends call him, has been speaking, writing, demonstrating, getting beaten up and jailed for opposing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and what he refers to, again and again, as "the oppressive treatment" of Palestinians.

Micado is just over 50, energetic and dedicated. But speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly in East Jerusalem, his body language reflects utter frustration with what his government is doing, whether to Palestinians -- be they Israeli citizens, residents of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, or inhabitants of Gaza. With the segregation by the wall, humiliation at checkpoints, imprisonment of over a million Palestinians in Gaza: only a very few Jewish Israelis -- "20, 30, 40 or maybe a few more" -- are willing to oppose such measures. It makes Micado angry and ashamed that so few of his countrymen will champion justice. He asserts that speaking out against Israel's occupation and discrimination against its own citizens, not only the Palestinians of 1948, but Jews of Arab origin, is not about politics or international law. It is first and foremost about being human. "It is what I think a good Jew, indeed any religious person, should do, which is to spare the other. As a Jew with a long history of oppression and demonisation, I cannot accept what Israel is doing to Palestinians."

It is this "sense of responsibility", he says, together with awareness of how few people there are willing to stand by Palestinian rights, that has kept him in the country. "It is true that I love the landscape of Jerusalem but I feel I have a challenge to live up to. [It is the challenge] to speak to those Israelis, whom I almost pity, against the misleading Zionist propaganda to which they have been constantly subjected." It is a challenge he accepts against the odds. Polls conducted during the recent Israeli war on Lebanon point to the increasing fragility of the Israeli peace camp; most Israelis -- including the bulk of the left, the traditional bastion of peace activism -- were supportive of the war, looking to the elimination of Hizbullah.

Indeed the lack of anti-war protests prompted criticism from within. In the last days of the war, Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary-general of left-wing Zionist Peace Now movement, told the press there was no peace now. Micado speaks of "the collapse of the peace movement in Israel". Some peace activists see the heyday of the call for peace in the wake of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, though others were dismayed by the impact they made on the image of Israel. For Micado, those were "more active times", but even then, he says, many would not acknowledge the truth of what the Israeli government was doing, not only in Lebanon but, more significantly, to Palestinians under occupation. Now, there is no longer even a modicum of acknowledgement of the need for compromise.

"Now," he explains, "we who oppose the notion that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side and that it is Palestinians who should be held responsible are but a small minority. The government is making deals with Europe and the Americans," Micado sounds dismayed as he says this. "Palestinians simply do not count."

For Micado, Israeli violations date back to the mid-1950s, when as a child he was shocked by the brutality of an Israeli soldier towards a Palestinian woman, long before the invasion of Lebanon: "To me there was no difference between this arrogance and brutality and that of Nazi occupation soldiers towards the French as recounted by my father." There are countless stories: lines of Palestinian villagers trying to cross the checkpoint, only to end up dead a few hours later.

However, Micado and his wife's dedication to the struggle against occupation disgraced their children: "My son used to disown us. His friends at school would tell him that his parents were not lawyers but terrorists." It is what he calls "the mentality of paranoia", which also leads to the accumulation of traditional and new-fangled weapons, including nuclear arms. "If you consider the whole world a threat and, as Barak puts it, Israel 'the villa in the jungle', you can no longer lead a human life. If war were eternal and inevitable, if we really believe that everybody is out to get us, what is the point of being here? Why not just take our children and go?"

"Micado is truly unique," commented human rights activist Khulood Badawi, another member of Taayosh. "It's true there are only a few dozen like him among Israeli Jews." Born to a Palestinian family that survived the Nakba in historic Palestine, Badawi is a secular Muslim intent on co-existence. As she stressed, however, it is not enough that the "1948 Arabs" or other Palestinians should be willing to co-exist if Israelis are not. The effectively limited opposition to the construction of the wall that is eating up at and further fragmenting Palestinian villages, she said, is a clear indication of how shallow the will to co-exist is among Israelis.

"In the euphoria that followed Oslo, people were under the impression that peace was within sight; but in fact, while Israelis were enjoying the fruits of Oslo, Palestinian society was suffocating under poverty, crossings and checkpoints. Neither Peace Now nor Meretz did anything about it. Even worse, they subscribed to the negative labels that were attached to Palestinians. For the vast majority of Israelis, even those who profess themselves as peace activists, Palestinians are good only insofar as they agree to compromise their rights. Israeli Arabs are good only insofar as they remain a minority. There is no real desire for co-existance."

Unlike those of other peace movements, members of Taayosh are subject to harassment by the authorities -- not, according to Badawi, that this is going to stop them from speaking out against the atrocities of the occupation, but also about the ineffectiveness of the Israeli peace camp as well.

The wider peace camp will tend to dismiss such accusations, however. "What are we to do?" declaimed Yossi Beilin, a prominent left- wing member of the Knesset. "Our role is to talk, try to convince." A veteran of the peace movement -- as he perceives himself and is perceived by most of his friends, many of whom are Arab -- in his office Beilin hangs a photo of himself as a young man smiling at an inexplicably joyful Anwar El-Sadat, the former president of Egypt who famously made peace with Israel. Yet it was none other than Beilin who, during the war on Lebanon, suggested that, instead of Lebanon, Israel should undertake military operations against specific military targets associated with Hizbullah training in Syria. "By damaging the whole of Beirut we achieved nothing. What we should have done was to get the training camps we know exist in Syria."

Contrary to "the mistaken" approach of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Beilin suggested that Israel should start peace talks with Syria -- which is "undoubtedly the key" to a comprehensive settlement -- as soon as possible: "For me Syria is the address to either retaliation or negotiation." No need to critique the war too much, apparently: "No war can be a great thing. War is an option for every state." And sadly he is not alone in such convictions.

"I go to the army because this is my duty," says Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, "even as a peace activist." On his mobile phone, Oppenheimer proudly keeps one picture of himself in military uniform, another in a demonstration against the war on Lebanon -- pulled together towards the few last days of the war. In his car, a uniform lies alongside Peace Now booklets. As far as he is concerned, there is no contradiction between serving in an occupation army and being a peace activist. Israel has occupied "the Arab people" because "it had to in 1967"; today it has no partner with whom to make peace. And rephrasing Olmert, he asks, "even if we were willing to sacrifice parts of what we call the Holy Land, who do we talk to end the occupation?"

It may sound paradoxical that Oppenheimer is widely disliked by right- wingers for his views -- ostracised by other soldiers who had to evacuate Israeli settlements in Gaza against their best judgement, rejected by his commanders for announcing that he would disobey an order to kill a civilian who does not pose a threat and avoid shooting children throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. For settlers in particular, his name is bad news. "They would never want to talk to me," he says, "but I try to talk to them... We need to work on public opinion."

His ideas are pragmatic at their best: he believes that Israel must strengthen Abbas by releasing soldiers; Israel must talk to Hamas and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad because they are the ones who make decisions; Israel must pursue the Arab peace initiative since it is the only holistic peace plan on the table. When it comes to the occupied territories, however, Oppenheimer is reticent. He knows little about the occupied territories and has never been to a Palestinian refugee camp. It is not his call, he insists: "I have not been to Ramallah or Nablus. It is not part of my work. We are not a human rights organisation."

For their part, Jessica Montell, Sarit Michaeli and Naijib Abu Rokaya of the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'TSELEM) spend most of their time in the occupied territories and refugee camps. They argue that all humans are born free with equal rights. In one of its most recent reports, B'TSELEM quoted the number of Palestinian prisoners from Gaza and the West Bank: They number 9,000, the vast majority of whom are detained inside Israel's sovereign territory, not in the occupied territories. This is a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the transfer of civilians, including detainees and prisoners, from the occupied territory to the territory of the occupying state. Israel's disregard for this prohibition is one of the main reasons that prisoners and their families are unable to exercise their right to visits in any reasonable way.

The report "sheds light on the many difficulties and the suffering faced by the prisoners' families, residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in their efforts to visit their relatives imprisoned in Israel". The organisation also broaches issues of restriction of movement of Palestinians, the wall and the use of lethal force in Gaza. Since the second Intifada, B'TSELEM representatives say, the call for peaceful co-existence has been all but silenced within Israeli society.

"Israeli public opinion is now [in a mindset of] personal security... and of the global war on terror," says Montell. "Even the huge humanitarian suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is unlikely to elicit public sympathy. They say the Palestinians voted for Hamas and so forced us to do this to them. Actually, they do not really want to know what is happening in Gaza or elsewhere. Their understanding is that there is no peace because it is the Palestinians' fault and that is that."

Given that the government is in the process of employing Avidgor Lieberman, recently described by Gosh Shalom as "a racist and a threat to the fabric of Israeli society", and that the peace camp has had little to say about the 33-day war on Lebanon, it is hard to see how Israel could be making peace any time soon.

According to Micado, indeed, "the government is weak and so is the society -- even though the state is strong." He will not be alone in thinking that weak governments and societies will sooner look for an excuse to go to war, than exert the least effort to make peace.

C a p t i o n : Latif Dori (l) with Arafat and Uri Avnery; The Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza Strip on 8 November, 2006. Israeli shelling had killed 18 civilians, including women and children

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