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Lieberman: U.S. demand to end East Jerusalem building is ‘unreasonable’

Last update – 09:54 31/03/2010

By Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Service and Agencies
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday deemed unreasonable the demands of the United States and the international community over Israel’s construction in East Jerusalem.

“This demand from the international community is mainly an opportunity to increase pressure on Israel and to demand unreasonable things,” the foreign minister said at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Meanwhile, the government’s top seven ministers deliberated late into the night on Wednesday over Israel’s response to the demands put forth by the Obama administration regarding construction in East Jerusalem and the future of the peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had anticipated an official reply to the demands from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as early as yesterday, but none was forthcoming.

Israeli diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said a further delay in responding to Clinton could exacerbate the rift between the two countries. They said it may compel U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu in Washington next week.

The “forum of seven ministers” was unanimous in agreeing on the need to resolve the crisis with the United States. Still, a majority of the ministers expressed serious reservations over Clinton’s demands, including the cancellation of the Ramat Shlomo housing plan in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu will make every effort to formulate an Israeli response that will be both agreeable to the ministers and mollify the Obama administration.

During their telephone conversation late Tuesday, Biden failed to persuade Netanyahu to agree to the administration’s demands. “There was a difficult air to the conversation, and it ended with no results and no agreements,” a senior official in Jerusalem said.

The American administration said yesterday that it was still waiting for a reply from Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Clinton departed for Moscow on Wednesday to participate in a conference of the Quartet for Mideast peace. Washington has made clear that it would behoove Israel to submit a response before the Quartet convenes its meeting tomorrow.

The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, delayed his visit to the region this week due to the rift, though Mitchell is now considering whether to arrive on Sunday to advance indirect “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Washington on Sunday for pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference. An Israeli diplomatic source said the Americans are considering a high-level boycott of the prime minister – namely, no meeting with either Biden or Clinton – if he fails to issue an official reply to Clinton’s demands by tomorrow.

U.S. President Barack Obama will not be in Washington during Netanyahu’s visit.


Under the beautiful valley

Danny Felsteiner writing from Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem, Live from Palestine, 6 April 2010

The Silwan neighborhood seen from the Old City of Jerusalem. (Mimmi Nietula/MaanImages)

Sometimes when I walk in Wadi Hilweh, Jerusalem’s beautiful valley, I imagine Hilweh, the legendary Palestinian grandmother for whom this valley is named, treading up the main road in the year 1947 on the way back from her olive grove with a heavy wicker basket perched on her head. If you listened carefully, you could hear her cursing her bad knees. The next scene is Hilweh sprawled on the ground, blood and olives streaming down the valley. The bullet that had pierced her heart made its way from the rifle of a young sniper from one of the Zionist militias. Real events, legends, rumors and beliefs, seasoned with national ethos and zeitgeist, all are kneaded together to create the tales that we hear today. In the end, I tell myself that what I don’t see, I don’t know. Still today, Wadi Hilweh holds many secrets in its air, trees and stones, but mostly, beneath the ground.

Photographs, drawings and written accounts tell us that many years ago, the valley, part of the village of Silwan, was renowned for its perennial gushing spring, the graceful overhanging cacti, the syrupy quality of its figs, and the delicacy of its olives. Countless pilgrims, travelers and merchants have passed through the valley, as it is located just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, and is the closest human settlement to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount. Consequently, the valley served as one of the final refreshment stations, where worn travelers from Bethlehem in the south washed their dusty feet and enjoyed a cold beverage, before arriving in the holiest of halls. In the 62 years since 1948, the beautiful valley has transformed into one of the most densely-populated areas in East Jerusalem, with poor infrastructure and garbage overflowing into the streets, but all this might soon change.

While the world’s eyes are riveted to the diplomatic arguments over Israel’s settlement facts on the ground, Israel is covertly tightening its grip on Wadi Hilweh and al-Bustan neighborhoods in Silwan in a literally underground fashion. Mega-funded by settler organizations and fully backed by the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality, the Israel Antiquity Authority is conducting excavations in tunnels under the neighborhood’s houses and lands. The Authority did not initially inform the residents, nor did it seek their consent. Apart from being ethically wrong according to international archaeological standards and academically challenged worldwide, these excavations pose an immediate threat to the residents’ present safety and future existence, and contribute immensely to the overall instability of the area.

Two years ago, locals felt tiny and oddly-timed earthquakes beneath their feet. Some thought they were losing their sanity because of the voices echoing from under the floors. Cracks appeared in sturdy walls, and droplets that made their way through fractures in ceilings spattered on children in their sleep. This led to the discovery of the clandestine underground operation. A lengthy legal struggle ended with the Israeli high court approving the continuation of the excavation work, ruling that history is important to unearth and that no proof was presented to the court as to the relation between the excavations and the damage to the houses in question. Ever since that decision, many new cavities have opened in the street, some several meters deep, and only by luck or divine intervention, no child has yet to fall and be injured.

Children playing in Wadi Hilweh (Danny Felsteiner)

The Palestinian children that I teach in the Madaa Silwan Creative Center in Wadi Hilweh have learned to express their predicament in a straightforward way: “The Jews want us to fall.” “I’m a Jew and I don’t want you to fall,” I reply. Then they smile, embarrassed, tell me that I’m different or a “good Jew” or in some awkward magic moments, that they love me, and we continue in our music lesson. Although I appreciate their reassurance of my distinction from the rest of the Jews who want them to fall, I can’t tell them that they are wrong with their simple view of things.

Every child that joyfully comes to the center to do music, art, theater or dance, carries a dark personal story that reflects some part of the overall situation here. Fatme just learned to depict realistic shadings in the art lessons, so she draws her house because it has a demolition order against it and she would like to remember how it looked like before it gets knocked down by “the Jews.” Waseem does really bad in school — he can’t study at home because “the Jews” excavate all day long and use noisy machines that disturb his concentration. Mahdi’s room, which he shares with his four siblings, has become a freezing pool because of the recent cracks in the ceiling caused by the diggings of “the Jews.” These children are not anti-Semitic, they are just paying attention. (In contrast, my childhood in Haifa did not involve “the Muslims” undermining my house, only cleaning the stairway.) When a major hole opened up in the middle of Wadi Hilweh’s main street, all the kids ran out to pose for the photographers. Journalists poured in and asked how it happened and who was responsible. You already know what the kids told them.

The circumstances of that major hole were quite ironic. Several months ago, the Jerusalem municipality decided to start operating the Israeli bus company Egged in Silwan and around the eastern slopes of the Old City. The pretext was the growing number of Jewish settlers, several hundred in total, who moved to live in those areas amidst hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Presumably, the Jewish settlers had an urgent need for their own familiar Israeli public transportation. The full-size bus, line 43 (numbered perhaps in celebration of the impending 43rd anniversary of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem) travels up and down the valley eight times a day. Since Palestinians have their own perfectly efficient East Jerusalem bus company, and settlers make use of their private fancy cars or bullet-proof minibuses, line 43 is almost always empty. It is a tax-money-eating, traffic-jamming, political, useless ghost-bus, and on 2 January 2010, it got stuck in the large hole caused by the underground excavations.

Recently, Madaa Creative Center opened a course in journalism for teenagers and two enrolled. After some investigation, the staff in the center realized that children had either lost faith in journalism or thought it was an inconsequential pastime activity like soccer or lizard hunting. In the last two years every correspondent to every newspaper and channel in the country and abroad has visited Silwan to write or film a very important piece. Everyone was here, but the excavations go on, and the Jerusalem municipality is about to confiscate more land, and Fatma’s neighbors were sent to the street after their house had been demolished, and it seems to the young residents of Silwan that no one really cares.

Ever since the line 43 bus was stuck, more holes and cracks materialized in various locations, popping up like overturned mushrooms after heavy rain. In a recent visit to one of those holes, just above a kindergarten, the municipal engineer was recorded admitting the reason to be the excavations. Media rushed to the scene and the kindergarten children were ushered outside and told to look sad. What awaits these children in reality?

According to municipal and state plans, Wadi Hilweh might soon become verdant and attractive again, as in its glory days. Roads will be closed off to traffic and become lovely promenades, floral bicycle paths will replace dingy alleys, ivy-coated trees will be happily planted in every corner, and extinct biblical birds will be genetically resurrected and forced to nest in strategic tourist locations. Pilgrims with heavy wallets will be heartily welcomed in inns and chain restaurants. They will once again be able to wash their pedicured feet in the spa bubbling waters, and guzzle down cold margaritas with a wonderful view of Jerusalem’s Old City. Line 43 will convert into an open double-decker site-seeing tour bus and will never be empty again!

A sketch of the proposed layout for the al-Bustan neighborhood that will replace Palestinian homes.

But the highlight of the new pilgrims’ visit will surely be the magnificent underground network of tunnels and roads. Above them, there won’t be a single Palestinian living anymore, because the plan also directly includes the demolition of dozens if not hundreds of Palestinian houses and confiscation of Palestinian lands, and subsequently brings to the expelling and relocation of Palestinian residents. The municipality is trying to sell the plan by promising the residents to retroactively legalize some houses and even to issue several permits for construction of second floors. They promise green parks, economical growth and eternal sunshine. But the residents are no fools, and neither are the children of Silwan who have lived a childhood of discrimination and neglect under Israeli occupation and know the bitter truth: Wadi Hilweh and al-Bustan will be plasticized, commercialized and ethnically cleansed.

Today, when I walk in the Wadi Hilweh and al-Bustan neighborhoods I can sadly visualize the biblical touristic paradise that the settlers and the Israeli authorities are planning. They have even shamelessly published a drawing of their vision. On the other hand, it is impossible for me to visualize or grasp the circle of violence and generational hatred that their plans might entail. In a region where the butterfly effect brutally manifests itself on a daily basis, one sniper’s bullet can change the course of history, and Fatme’s drawing of her once-standing home might precede the next horrible bloodshed. The tunnels are being excavated right now, as you are reading this article. What you don’t see, you don’t know? Now you know.

Danny Felsteiner is an Israeli-born musician and writer who lives in Jerusalem. Together with his wife they run a free music school for Palestinian children in Silwan, as part of the Madaa Silwan Creative Center ( They also travel several times a year to Jordan to give music workshops to Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and to Jordanian children with special needs ( He can be reached at dannyfelsteiner A T gmail D O T com.

Gazans barely survive under Israeli siege: UNRWA chief

Sun, 28 Mar 2010 02:32:38 GMT
Andrew Whitley, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
The following is a rush transcript of Press TV’s interview with Andrew Whitley, director of the New York Representative Office of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). The interview was first broadcast on March 24 in Press TV’s Face to Face, hosted by Rhonda Pence.

Press TV: We are talking today about the status of refugees in Gaza. Thank you for joining me today. Recently, at a Brookings event, Congressman Keith Ellison – our first Muslim elected to Congress – was comparing a visit he had to Gaza, about a year ago, to coming back to Gaza now… he says he wishes the status of Gaza had remained the same. But he says that, unfortunately, things have deteriorated; Schools have not been rebuilt, there are not enough jobs to go around and people in Gaza are on the brink of starvation. Do you agree with his assessment that things have deteriorated that dramatically in the past year?

Andrew Andrew Whitley:Congressman Ellison is a wonderful advocate. He is a great speaker for the Muslim world, and a great advocate in the Congress for downtrodden people, particularly in Gaza, which he has really made his personal cause. I don’t say that it’s been a dramatic decline. Certainly, there has been a decline. Living standards continue to deteriorate. Nothing is static in this world after all, and, as the siege has not been lifted to any appreciable degree, you are still getting into Gaza perhaps 20 percent of the volume of goods that are required for daily subsistence of people. People are effectively living on a subsistence diet. The kind of food and other products that we can bring in provide the barest essentials for life. People have got their noses just above the waterline. But, in the meantime, what has happened is that those few small remaining businesses, which had provided some local employment, have virtually all collapsed, because there is no money in circulation. Poverty is deepening in Gaza every day. So, today we probably have 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. People have survived until now through the tunnel economy, which certainly was bringing in some illicit goods – drugs, weapons. We know about that. But, most if it, it was a lifeline for people providing normal goods. It was a means of being able to keep some commerce going and being able to provide consumers with a few essentials certainly needed for ordinary life which were not coming through the largely closed Israeli crossings from Israel into the Gaza Strip. So, there is the problem of the tunnel economy which is being threatened now as a result of the construction of the wall that Egypt is putting on its side of the border…

Press TV: This is a 20-mile (32-km) steel wall…

Andrew Whitley: It is a huge wall. We don’t know the whole plans, but it is obviously a massive enterprise which is designed to interdict the tunnels that have been running. Perhaps several hundreds of them throughout the entire area, that have provided the basis for the economy. But, everything else has come virtually to a halt. Apart from the tunnel economy, you’ve got UNRWA which supports about 17,000 people directly. Over 100,000 people indirectly who are being supported by them. Plus the Palestinian Authority, which is paying for people to largely sit at home and not do their jobs, and then Hamas of course, which has had its own sources of money, which has been able to keep it. That is it; That is what people are living off. All the traditional ways that people used to live – on agriculture, on fishing – those all virtually have collapsed.

Press TV: So, are the agriculture and fishing industry damaged beyond repair? I mean, is this just gone?

Andrew Whitley: I wouldn’t say that it is damaged beyond repair. But, obviously the pollution that has been going into Gaza has severely damaged the water quality in the area and is damaging the fishing fleet. The main restrictions on fishing at the moment are those imposed by the Israelis, because they prevent the boats going out to sea in order to be able to catch the more lucrative fish which are a little bit further off shore. As far as agriculture is concerned; that is a long-term trend. Most of Gaza’s traditional agricultural lands have been built over. A lot of it has been destroyed in the repeated Israeli incursions that have been coming in as bulldozed ……….. the traditional date palms or orange groves or other normal crops that they had in the area. It is not completely destroyed, but just recently Hamas took a decision to ban farming in certain areas of Gaza, because they said that the land had been contaminated as a result of the toxic metals that were left behind after Israel’s operation a year ago. So, that was a further blow to people wanting to have a little bit of agriculture. People are just about surviving in Gaza today. Through ways that they hardly know how they are going to manage.

Press TV: So, they are hungry every day. Are the kids going to school?

Andrew Whitley: The kids are falling asleep in school, because they are not able to eat enough. They are not concentrating. There is serious and growing problem of malnutrition in Gaza, and that is going to have a long-term effect. We are already seeing the stunting of children. This is something that happens only after a few years of malnutrition. So, we are affecting a whole generation, which not only has no prospects in life, but is going to grow up weak and hungry and anemic and, unfortunately, ill equipped to be able to deal with normal life, if and when it returns.

Press TV: You mentioned that wall that is being constructed. Why is this wall being constructed and is it in compliance with international agreements?

Andrew Whitley: Well, one of the reasons that the wall is being constructed, and it is a perfectly legitimate one, is in compliance with resolution 1860 from the Security Council, which called for an end to arms smuggling into Gaza. One of the main routes – probably the main route – was through these underground tunnels that were coming through. And, the consequence of that is that it is going to further deepen the hardships, the deprivation, that the ordinary people are facing, if there is no comparable opening up of the crossings on the Israeli side. Because, clearly, there is no other way in which the population is going to survive. People have to remember that Gaza depends for 80-90 percent of its normal subsistence on imports and on exports. Most of that in the past used to come through Israel. Israel has closed that door, and attempted to throw away the key, allowing in only a very small quantity of goods, most of which comes in through the United Nations and most of which my agency is responsible for distributing.

Press TV: So, Israel stopped UNRWA from providing medicine, food and goods to the refugees?

Andrew Whitley: No, I would not go that far. We now have a fairly established régime with the Israelis, after some difficulties for some months, where, for month after month, we were not able to bring cash in for example. We couldn’t even pay our own staff. Which I thought was particularly unfair. When people do a month’s work, they are entitled to their wages which they depend on to support their families and their extended relatives who depend on them for income. Now that has eased, and we do at least have enough money to be able to pay our staff and to meet some of our social welfare obligations to people who have no means of support for themselves, who are registered refugees, who are unemployed and who are completely without any means of sustenance for themselves. And we are able to bring in most of the basic goods that we want, but there are many things in addition to the food commodities and medicines that we need. Spare parts for machines, for example. Light bulbs for our classrooms. Other essentials of life, which we have to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, sometimes for months, to be able to say, “are these things on a prohibited list or not?”. We assume that they are not dual-use items. They are the kinds of things which are the normal consumer goods. They are not going to have any negative consequences, if you bring in a truck-load of paper for textbooks for example, and yet we were not able after the war to print the right number of textbooks, because we did not have enough paper locally to be able to do it. So, three kids at a desk were sharing one book. That is no way for getting an education going.

Press TV: So, about 6 months ago, if this is the right timeframe, you were having difficulty getting medicine and food in, because of some restrictions from Israel, but things have lessened. Is it because of negotiations that UNRWA has been making with Israeli officials?

Andrew Whitley: Absolutely, and we do have at least a cooperative, cordial, working-level relationship to be able to explain what the basic essential goods are that we need to be able to bring in to the area. I mean, this is within a highly restricted environment. Let me not go too far and to suggest that somehow we approve of the overall restrictions, or the blockade. Absolutely not. But we do need, as we are dependent entirely on the cooperation of Israel, to bring these goods in to be able to negotiate with them to explain exactly what the purpose of the goods are. What we would like to have done, which we have not succeeded at all, is doing any reconstruction. We have got hundreds and hundreds of buildings of refugee shelters, our own schools, our own warehouse in Gaza which was destroyed exactly a year ago, and all the contents of it, which we are not able to rebuild, because we don’t have the structural steel, we don’t have the cement, we don’t have the building aggregate. So, important re-housing projects to at least give a normal life to people who have been living in truly miserable conditions for a long time, we weren’t able to finish off. We provided guarantees to Israelis that there was going to be no diversion of supplies; that the goods were going to go directly to where we wanted. We’d supervise them. We do direct implementation. It is not as if we are subcontracting to someone else. It is our engineers who oversee those sites. We import directly the goods ourselves, so that they are not going to get misused for concrete bunkers, by Hamas for example, for which is one of the arguments Israel makes. And, besides, if Hamas wants to build concrete bunkers, it can import the cement through the tunnels. So, they don’t need us to use it; that is a pretext. So, unfortunately, on many of the big things that we have wanted from Israel, we have not got it. We have got bare essentials.

Press TV: How is this going to affect the conditions in Gaza, long term?

Andrew Whitley: I don’t believe this is a permanent situation. I believe that Hamas is exerting its authority by showing a determination to say “we are here to stay. You can’t wish us away. You have to deal with us”. And, that is the message that is being sent to Fatah and to the outside world, saying “we need to be taken into account and we are a part of the eventual solution for the Palestinian issue”. Clearly, it is our view. It is a strong UN-held principle that there needs to be Palestinian reconciliation. There needs to be a unified Palestinian leadership, in order to be able to re-unify Gaza and the West Bank, which are increasingly drifting apart, in order to be able to ensure that the Palestinian national project of ending the occupation and building a state can finally be achieved. It will not happen, in our view, if Gaza remains under Hamas control and simply build up the West Bank under the PA (Palestinian Authority) control. Because, how is the PA going to be able to deliver on the people of Gaza when it has no presence there?

Press TV: We haven’t talked about the United States yet and, recently, at a panel discussion at Brookings – and you were on the panel – one of the experts was talking about how the Gazans expect the United States to step in, rebuild their homes, repair their sewage system. What is the United States doing?

Andrew Whitley: There is a touching faith in the power of the United States. There is a great belief, I think, that President Obama’s speech in Cairo inspired a large number of people to believe that there were going to be different policies. I think that people are willing to give [US special envoy to the Middle East] Senator Mitchell credit for the seriousness and determination with which he has approached his task. Obviously, they have not seen much by way of concrete results yet, but then perhaps they were expecting too much too soon. But they do recognize that the keys are in the United States’s hands, and that they expect that the Israeli government will listen to what Washington has to say. Obviously, that is not always exactly the case. The Israeli government has got its own views. It’s got its own perspective on what are its priorities and its policies. Prime Minister Netanyahu has at least committed himself to a two-state solution and to entering into negotiations. Those must happen. It remains everyone’s goal to eventually bring about the end of the occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. How do we get there, given these deep divisions which are being played upon by outside forces also, and that is a factor. The United States is by far the most important actor in this process, but there are a number of others, in the region and further afield, who have been playing a role – some of them constructively, some of them not so constructively.

Press TV: President Bush was criticized because he wasn’t involved enough in the Palestine-Israeli conflict and, as you said, President Obama did give an inspiring speech in Cairo. But that was about a year ago. Do you really see any progress since then? Because there are some Middle Eastern experts out there who say that the United States really hasn’t done enough.

Andrew Whitley: To be a UN official and to be a diplomat, you have to be a professional optimist. You have to – despite what looks like a temporary bleak or negative picture – try and look a little bit beyond that and you have to try to assume that hose who are involved in it – because they are serious people who do recognize the centrality of being able to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, and specifically the Palestinian aspect of it, how central this is to the wider issue of the Muslim world. And, therefore, I give credit to President Obama and to Senator Mitchell for being determined to try to bring about a solution within a determined period of time. I think this point is very important, which is that this is not just about process, about an open-ended process that would drag on and drag on. Senator Mitchell has made clear in recent days, and I think we should take comfort from this, that he sees this as a two-year timeframe. In other words, he is saying to those people who might like to say, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used to say, that we’d just kick the negotiations into the long grass and we’ll be able to just play out the flock. No, I think what they are saying is, “we are serious, gentlemen. We want a two-year timeframe and we believe you must do it within this period”. Setting a deadline, saying that you must move towards it, under certain preconditions that have to be met. Obviously, on the Palestinian side, the issue of the settlements in the West Bank is a very serious one, because those continue to expand and I think that the US administration was right to be able to make this an important issue. They didn’t get the results that they were hoping to, in terms of the commitment to be able to halt it and president Abbas is standing firm and insisting on this… What Senator Mitchell is clearly aiming at is to be able to, by hook or by crook, by some means, to be able to get the negotiations started again. To change the dynamics of where we are at the moment, where is one where there is an increasing pessimism and fatalism about where we are going.

Press TV: The question that is actually burning inside of me right now is that, do the refugees have two years?

Andrew Whitley: I must say that the capacity of Palestinians, their resilience, in the face of great and deep adversity, always makes me full of admiration. They are living in very difficult circumstances, in Gaza in particular. Yes, things are getting better generally on the West Bank. But, let’s not forget that there are approximately 600 checkpoints in the West Bank, which are restricting normal movement, normal commerce to be able to live free lives of free movement. Do they have two years? Yes, I think that they probably do. They have been enduring already over forty years of occupation since the 1967 war. We are talking about forty-three years now, and they probably could hang for a little bit more. But, people in Gaza are not just dependant on food. They need hope. They need concrete signs of things getting better for them. Young people in particular need to be offered something tangible, which is more than the very nihilistic environment they are living in these days. They need to be given some reason to think that their lives and their families’ lives are going to get better in a certain defined frame, and not to be treated as if they are simply playthings in a larger political game.

Press TV: I have heard a statistic recently that 70 percent of the population of Gazans is under 30. Is that correct?

Andrew Whitley: I think that is a very reasonable statistics. Certainly, over 60 percent of the population is under 25.

Press TV: And, what is the unemployment rate?

Andrew Whitley: The unemployment rate is off the scale. Frankly, it is very hard to come up with a realistic unemployment rate in a situation like Gaza today, because there are very few real sources of employment. You can’t measure it in an economy that is destroyed like that. The real question to ask is how many people are actually in regular employment, which is a tiny percentage. Probably only of the active, potential labor force – not those who have given up – because many people have given up looking for a job, or think that there is no prospect for them, perhaps only 20-25 percent of people are actually working in a normal, regular, productive fashion, and most of those are on the payroll of either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority or UNRWA.

Press TV: Do the rest just sit around?

Andrew Whitley: Yes…. They don’t have much to do.

Press TV: So, what are the prospects for young people growing up in Gaza today?

Andrew Whitley: We try to provide an alternative. I recognize that we can’t do everything. Our financial means and our capacity and our mandate are limited to the refugee population, although let’s remind listeners and viewers that the refugee population is 70 percent of the population of Gaza – 1.1 million out 1.5 million are registered refugees. For those young people, we have a summer games program that provides some fun, some normality of life to them. Some remedial education. Some connections to Gaza’s ancient culture. Looking at their archeology, for example. Something to be able to give them something better to hope for than the drabness and the dreariness and the tensions and conflicts at home and in the streets that they face every single day. But, this is only a sop. We need to be able to give people, not just education, but a sense of where that is going to lead to. It is not in UNRWA’s hands. We are a UN organization; that’s a developmental organization, that can only go so far. We can’t create private sector jobs out of nothing. We have a small micro-enterprise program which can help people to be able to set up some more jobs. We have a skills training program that is overwhelmed with demand for its vocational training centers. But, these meet perhaps 10 percent of the goals. Most young people unfortunately will drift into the underground tunnel economy and, tragically, large numbers of young teenagers have been killed in these dangerous conditions, burrowing under the ground in order to be able to complete a tunnel or bring goods through the tunnel, mostly because they are so unsafe. Or else, they will join one of the militia groups and think that they will earn at least some credit and some kudos, for some brave, perhaps futile, act of resistance.

Press TV: With these conditions remaining the way they are, doesn’t this really cause more insecurity and instability for Israel, for the United States, for the world?

Andrew Whitley: That certainly is our view. We certainly believe very strongly that the policies that have been applied to Gaza are counterproductive. That they lead to increased radicalization. That it simply creates a tinderbox on Israel’s border, which, ultimately, is not in Israel’s interest. Gaza can’t be wished away. It is not some offshore island that is going to disappear and go somewhere else. It’s part of the geography of the region, whether you like it or not and Egypt has made clear that it is not going to assume responsibility for this problem. The problem lies, ultimately, in reuniting Gaza with the West Bank and dealing with the Palestinian issue on its own land.

Press TV: Do you think Israel is going to budge? You said that have been in negotiation. Are you hearing any melting of that wall?

Andrew Whitley: Not much. Not much in the near future.

Press TV: What about the United States? What could the United States do right now to just get things moving?

Andrew Whitley: I hope that the prisoner exchange, which has been brewing for a long time, will actually change the dynamics. Will change the mood. Will remove the pretext for the maintenance of the blockade, at least of the severity that it is, and start to allow the traditional business elites in Gaza – the strongly entrepreneurial class – who want to be able to establish links with the outside world, including with Israeli businesses, to actually be in a position where they can start having some normal business life and social life and that education can be completed. All those young Gazans who would like to be able to complete their education abroad or in the West Bank universities have not been able to do so. We need to be able to give them a sense of perspective in their future. So, I’m hoping, and I think many of us do, that, the prisoner exchange, when it happens, will not be an end in itself, but that it will lead to a virtuous circle.

Press TV: We are almost out of time, but I have one last question. It appears to many that the United States lacks political will right now in this situation. Is that what you are seeing?

Andrew Whitley: I don’t think so. I mean I don’t think that we should underestimate the determination of the United States within a difficult political environment. They have to work within practical constraints and they know what the limits are to which they can push and the timing is very important also. At what stage do you decide that you do really use the levers, the ‘tools in your toolbox’ as they sometimes call it, in order to be able to put pressure on? So, I think that we should be a bit more patient.

Press TV: Right, we’ll have to be patient. Thank you very much, Mr. Whitley for joining us today on Face to Face.

OpEd from Alan Hart: Zionism’s Dark Forces Don’t Want the Lights On

By Alan Hart

March 22, 2010 “Information Clearing House” – – At the opening of AIPAC’s annual foreign policy conference its new president, Lee Rosenberg, was not a happy man. As he put it, “In recent days we have witnessed something (the Obama administration’s initial public anger with Netanyahu and his government) very unfortunate.”

The Biden “incident”, Rosenberg said, was “regrettable”, but Netanyahu had apologized “four separate times” and said “the announcement” (of more Jewish construction in occupied Arab East Jerusalem) was “hurtful and should not have been made.” Quite so, Mr. Rosenberg. It would have been much better from Zionism’s point of view if the announcement had not been made and Israel had just got on with the business of de-Arabizing East Jerusalem.

In any relationship even the best of friends were going to disagree, Rosenberg said, but it was “how friends disagree, how they react when missteps occur, that can determine the nature of the relationship.”

Then he made his three key points:

“Number one, the people of Israel and the democratically elected government of Israel passionately believe in peace. And Israel is committed to its alliance with America.

“Number two, the United States and Israel both have a responsibility to work with one another and achieve that peace. That is what allies do.

“And three, allies should work out their differences privately.”

That brought AIPAC’s new president one of three standing ovations.

Why should disagreements between American administrations and Israeli governments be kept from the public?

Rosenberg’s answer was: “History shows that when America pressures Israel publicly, it provides an opportunity for those who wish to derail the peace process to have their way.”

Ah, so it’s not Israel that is making peace impossible?

Rosenberg could not have been more explicit with AIPAC’s take on that aspect of the matter.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let us be clear, the reluctant partner in this peace process is not Israel’s elected leader Prime Minister Netanyahu. (Another standing ovation).

“The recalcitrant partner is the Palestinians and their leader – President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The Palestinians are bitterly divided between Hamas and Fatah – that is a problem. The failure of President Abbas to end his nay-saying and come to the table for direct talks which Prime Minister Netanyahu has been committed to from the start – that is a problem. The failure of the Arab world to begin normalizing its relationships with Israel – that is a problem.

“Israel is not the problem. Israel is America’s partner. (The third standing ovation).

When I was a child my father often said to me, “Boy, there are none so blind as those who don’t want to see.”

But blind though AIPAC is for that reason, it’s not completely out of touch with reality. It knows that the more Zionism’s on-going colonisation is exposed to the light, the more the world understands that Israel is the obstacle to peace. (The world now includes some of the U.S.’s top military men who are going on the public record with their view that support for Israel right or wrong is not in the best interests of America).

If you are a Zionist, the case for keeping the lights off is a very strong one.

At the time of writing, I’m waiting, as no doubt many others are, to see if President Obama returns to his surrender mode when he meets with Netanyahu tomorrow.

Alan Hart has been engaged with events in the Middle East and their global consequences and terrifying implications – the possibility of a Clash of Civilisations, Judeo-Christian v Islamic, and, along the way, another great turning against the Jews – for nearly 40 years.

UN and WHO concerned with Gaza healthcare

UN, WHO concerned with Gaza healthcare
Wed, 20 Jan 2010 17:48:06 GMT
Palestinian children hit a poster showing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (R) and the head of Kadima Party Tzipi Livni.
The United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) voice concern about the blows the Israeli-imposed blockade have dealt to the Gazan healthcare system.

“We are deeply concerned about the current health system in Gaza and in particular its capacity and ability to deliver proper standards of healthcare to the people of Gaza,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylard was quoted by AFP as saying on Wednesday.

“This adverse situation is not like Haiti. Haiti has been destroyed by an earthquake…. The circumstances here are entirely man-made and can be fixed accordingly,” he added in an apparent reference to the iron-cast Israeli blockade which has deprived the Gazans of their basic needs since mid-June 2007.

The comments were echoed by those of WHO, which says the embargo has made certain medication scarce, delayed or blocked the entry of vital equipment and spare parts, and kept doctors and nurses from pursuing advanced training, AFP added.

Referring to Israel’s refusal to allow many Palestinian requests for decent medical attention, Tony Laurence, the organization’s head for the Palestinian territories said, “If that happened in my country, in the UK, in Europe, in Israel, if an individual who needed urgent treatment was unable to get out because of a bureaucratic obstacle, it would be a scandal.”

“Here it happens to 300 or 400 people every month,” he added.

The WHO figures show that some 231 such applications were denied by the Israeli officials last month. The world body claims 27 Palestinians died last year, queuing up for the permission.

Gaza’s main Al-Shaifa hospital is reportedly in a near-collapse condition, as patients die because of a lack of specialist doctors and basic medical equipment. The hospital is not safe from the threat of Israeli offensives amid claims by Israeli intelligence sources that Palestinian fighters were hiding in its basement.

The three-week-long Israeli raids on the enclave in December 2008-January 2009, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, and the Zionist regime’s sporadic attacks ever since have worsened the humanitarian catastrophe, which threatens the lives of some 1.5 million Gazans.

Last week, Israeli forces attacked a clinic and children’s hospital. The attack on the al-Dorra children’s hospital was in defiance of a UN Security Council call for ceasefire.

Joe Sacco Creator of war-reportage comics An Interview

Interview: Joe Sacco
By Laila El-Haddad
When he first learnt about the massacres, Sacco questioned why he had not heard of them before[Joe Sacco]

When it comes to the world of cartooning, Joe Sacco is considered a luminary. Sacco, who is hailed as the creator of war-reportage comics, is the author of such award-winning books as Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde.His latest work, Footnotes in Gaza, is an investigation into two little-known and long-forgotten massacres in 1956 in the southern Gaza Strip that left at least 500 Palestinians dead. It is a chilling look back at an unrecorded past and an exploration of how that past haunts and shapes the present – including the beginning of mass home demolitions in 2003 in Rafah.

Sacco navigates the fuzzy lines between memory, experience and visual interpretation almost seamlessly all while painting an intimate portrait of life under occupation and in spite of occupation – a life not only of repression and anger but one full of humour and resilience.

My mother narrowly escaped death during the 1956 massacre in Khan Yunis. Yet I struggled to find any information or record of this event as I grew older. Why do you think that is?

I was curious about the same thing.

What led me to this is a UN document referenced in books about the Suez War according to [which] up to 275 [Palestinians] were killed in Khan Yunis and then a few days later, about 111 in Rafah.

These are large mass killings the UN is alleging. And it was a surprise to me that I had read very little about them.

I thought clearly some of the people who lived [through] this must still be alive. Why not go and try to actually make an attempt to gather their stories?

The book speaks a lot to the inexhaustible nature of this conflict. As you state in the book, headlines written 10 years ago could very well be today’s headlines. To what extent do some of the book’s themes – exploitation, massacre, subjugation, occupation, disenchantment, survival – repeat themselves till this day?

I think you see a lot of those elements.

Palestinians are very weary of other Arab regimes. They’re weary of their own government. And I think you see that in the parts about 1956, about the Egyptian army not putting up much up a fight, and even the fedayee basically coming to the conclusion that the Egyptians were using them which is probably the case.

And today, you see the fact that a lot of Arab regimes give lip service to the Palestinian cause but then you see what the Egyptians are doing on the border with the help of the US army corp of engineers; obviously in their mind it’s clear the Egyptian government has thrown in its walk on the side of the blockaders. So yes, there are certain themes that are repeated.

What is your favorite scene? . . .

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