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Home arrow Blog arrow February 2009 arrow February 19, 2009

February 19, 2009
February 19, 2009: Coming soon The PT; today's words from Uri Avnery and Free Gaza Movement
I have recently been working towards the first and soon to be released edition of The PT:

The Palestine Telegraph:
an electronic newspaper based in Gaza and internationally supported whose mission is to change our world by giving voice to those ignored by corporate media.

More on that effort will come asap!




Ms Tantalus
By URI AVNERY


TANTALUS IS punished by the Gods for reasons that are not entirely clear. He is hungry and thirsty, but the water in which he stands recedes when he bends down to drink from it and the fruit above his head continually evades his hand.  

Tzipi Livni is now undergoing a similar torture. After winning an impressive personal victory at the polls, the political fruit keeps slipping from her grasp when she stretches out her hand.

Why should she deserve that? What has she done, after all? Supported the war, called for a boycott of Hamas, played around with empty negotiations with the Palestinian Authority? OK, she has indeed.. But such a terrible punishment?
 

HOWEVER, THE results of the elections are not as clear as they might seem. The victory of the Right is not so unambiguous. 

Central to the election campaign was the personal competition between the two contenders for the Prime Minister's office: Livni and Netanyahu (or, as they call themselves, as if they were still at kindergarten, Tzipi and Bibi.)

Contrary to all expectations and all polls, Livni beat Netanyahu. Several factors were involved in this. Among others: the masses of the Left were terrified by the possibility of Netanyahu winning, and flocked to Livni's camp in order to "Stop Bibi!" Also, Livni - who was never identified with feminism - remembered at the last moment to call Israel's women to her banner, and they hearkened to her call.

But it is impossible to ignore the main significance of this choice: Netanyahu symbolizes total opposition to peace, opposition to giving back the occupied territories, to the freezing of the settlements and to a Palestinian state. Livni, on the other hand, has declared more than once her total support for the "Two-Nation-States" solution. Her voters opted for the more moderate line. 

True, the big winner in the elections was Avigdor Liberman. But his triumph is far from the fateful breakthrough everyone foresaw.  He did not win the 20 seats he had promised. His ascent from 11 to 15 seats is not so dramatic. His party is indeed now the third largest in the Knesset, but that is less due to its own rise than to the collapse of Labor, which fell from 19 to 13. By the way, not one of the parties won even 25% of the vote. Israeli democracy is now very fragile indeed.

The Liberman phenomenon is ominous, but not (yet?) disastrous.
 

HOWEVER, THERE is no way to deny the most significant message of these elections: the Israeli public has moved to the right. From Likud to the right there are now 65 seats, from Kadima to the left only 55. One cannot argue with numbers.

What has caused this shift?

There are several explanations, all of them valid.

One can consider it as a passing phase after the war. A war arouses strong emotions - nationalist intoxication, hatred of the enemy, fear of the Other, longing for unity and for revenge,. All these naturally serve the Right - a lesson sometimes forgotten by the left when it starts a war.

Others see in it a continuation of a historical process: the Zionist-Palestinian confrontation is becoming wider and more complex, and such a situation feeds the Right.

And then there is, of course, the demographic factor. The rightist bloc attracts the votes of three sectors: the Oriental Jews (a majority of whom vote for Likud), the religious (who mostly vote for the fundamentalists) and the Russians (most of whom vote for Liberman). This is a group vote, almost automatic.

Two sectors in Israel have an especially high birth-rate: the religious Jews and the Arabs. The religious vote almost unanimously for the Right. True, the Orthodox and the National-Religious parties have not increased their strength in the elections, probably because many of their natural voters chose Likud, Liberman or the even more extreme National Union. The Arab citizens almost completely abstained from voting for Jewish parties, as many of them used to in the past, and the three Arab parties together gained one more seat.

The demographic development is ominous. Kadima, Labor and Meretz are identified with the old-established Ashkenazi sector, whose demographic strength is in steady decline. Also, many young Ashkenazis gave their votes - at least four seats worth - to Liberman, who preaches a secular fascism. They hate the Arabs, but they also hate the religious Jews.

The conclusion is quite clear: if the "center-left" does not succeed in breaking out of its elitist ghetto and striking roots within the Oriental and Russian sectors, its decline will continue from election to election.
 

NOW MS TANTALUS must choose between two bitter options: to retire to the desert where there is neither water nor fruit, or to serve as a fig-leaf for an obnoxious coalition.

Option No. 1: to refuse to join Netanyahu's coalition and to go into opposition. That is not so simple. The Kadima party came into being when Ariel Sharon promised its members - refugees from right and left - power. It will be very hard for Livni to hold the lot together in opposition, far from the seat of power, far from the posh ministers' offices and from luxurious official cars. 

That would give us a rightist government which includes open fascists, pupils of Meir Kahane (whose party was banned because of his racist teachings), the advocates of ethnic cleansing, of the expulsion of Israel's Arab citizens and the liquidation of any chance for peace. Such a government would inevitably find itself in confrontation with the United States and in worldwide isolation.

Some people say: that's good. Such a government will necessarily fall soon and break apart. Thus the public will be persuaded that there is no viable rightist option. Kadima, Labor and Meretz will stew in opposition, and perhaps a real center-left alternative will come into being. 

Others say: too risky. There is no limit to the disasters that a Netanyahu-Liberman-Kahanist government can bring upon the state, from the enlargement of the settlements that will torpedo any future peace, to outright war. We can't stake everything on one card, when the chip is the State of Israel. 

Livni's option No. 2: to swallow the bitter pill, give in and join the Netanyahu government as a second, third or fourth wheel. In that case, she must decide at once, before Netanyahu establishes a fait accompli with an extreme-right coalition which Livni would then be invited to join as a junior partner.

I shall not be surprised if President Shimon Peres takes the initiative unofficially and promotes this option - before starting, in a week's time, the official process of consulting with the Knesset factions and entrusting one of the candidates with the task of forming a government.

Could such a government move towards peace? Conduct real negotiations? Agree to the dismantling of settlements? Accept a Palestinian state? Recognize a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas? 

Hard to imagine. In the best case, it will go on with the charade of meaningless negotiations, quietly enlarge the settlements, lead Barack Obama by the nose and mobilize the pro-Israel lobby in order to obstruct any real American moves towards peace. What was will be.
 

CAN ISRAEL change course? Can a real peace-oriented alternative arise?

The two "Zionist Left" parties have been decisively beaten. Both Labor and Meretz have collapsed. Their two leaders who called for the Gaza War and supported it - Ehud Barak of Labor and Haim Oron of Meretz - have received the punishment they richly deserve. In a normal democracy, both would have resigned the day after the elections. But our democracy is not normal, and both leaders insist on staying on and leading their party to the next disaster.

Labor is a walking corpse - the only "social-democratic" party in the world whose leader's sole aim is to stay on as war minister. When Barak spread the mantra "there is no one to talk with" he overlooked the logical conclusion "therefore we don't need anyone to talk with them". 

The Labor Party has no party, no members, no political program, no alternative leadership. It will fail in opposition as it failed in government. Barring a miracle, it will end up in the junkyard of history.

It will find Meretz already there. A socialist party that lost its way a long time ago: a party without any roots in the classes at the foot of the socioeconomic ladder, a party that has supported all our wars.

Some believe in easy solutions: a union of Labor and Meretz, for example. That is a union of the lame and the blind. No reason to expect that they would win the race.
 

THE REAL task is far more difficult. A completely new building must be erected in place of the one which has collapsed. 

The need is for a new Left that will include new leaders from the sectors that have been discriminated against: the Orientals, the Russians and the Arabs. A new Left that will express the ideals of a new generation, people of peace, advocates of social change, feminists and greens, who will all understand that one cannot realize one ideal without realizing all of them. There can be no social justice in a military state; no one is interested in the environment while the cannons are roaring, feminism is incompatible with a society of machos riding on tanks, there can be no respect for Oriental Jews in a society that despises the culture of the Orient.

The Arab citizens will have to leave the ghetto in which they are confined and start to talk with the Jewish public, and the Jewish public must talk with the Arabs on equal terms. The Liberman slogan "No Citizenship Without Loyalty" must be turned around: "No Loyalty Without  Real Citizenship". 

As Obama has done in the US, a new language, a new lexicon must be created, to replace the old and tired phrases. 

Much, much must be changed if we want to save the state.
 

AS FOR Ms. Tantalus: she can contribute to this process of change, or her torture will continue. 

Echoing Pyrrhus, king of Epirus and Macedon, she can well say: Another such victory and we are undone.

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Gazan coast becoming a 'no-go' zone

16th February, 2009

 On Saturday 14th February, 23 year-old Rafiq abu Reala was shot by Israeli naval forces whilst fishing in Gazan territorial waters, approximately two nautical miles out from the port of Gaza city. He was in a simple fishing vessel, not much larger than a rowing boat, with a small outboard engine, known locally as a 'hassaka'. Rafiq, his brother Rajab and another friend were following the course of a shoal of fish. A group of five more hassakas were out at the time, about a kilometre to the west of Rafiq's boat, further out to sea. An Israeli naval gunboat approached the area and began shooting at the other hassakas, which quickly changed course and headed east, back towards shore.

Suddenly Rafiq realised the gunboat was bearing down on their hassaka. As he recounted the events of that day, Rafiq likened the predatory nature of the naval vessel to that of a wolf. It circled their fishing boat and began shooting heavy ammunition in their direction. The three terrified fishermen threw themselves down flat in the bottom of their boat. The Israeli captain ordered them via megaphone to raise their nets and leave the area. At this point the gunboat was less then 20 metres from Rafiq's hassaka. The second time the gunboat came around no attempt was made to communicate with the fishermen. Rafiq was desperately pulling in the nets with his back facing the gunboat. An M-16 assault rifle was fired hitting him twice with explosive 'dum-dum' bullets, which peppered his back with shrapnel from the bullets themselves.

The force of the shots threw him in the water, plunging him down about six or seven metres below the surface. Rajab asked their friend to control the boat while he rescued Rafiq. Being a strong swimmer, he dived in after Rafiq and pulled him out of the water into the hassaka. However, Rafiq was unconscious by this time. The outboard was being slowed down by the weight of the nets so they headed towards another hassaka 300 metres away where they dumped the nets. The fishermen in this vessel had a mobile phone and made an emergency call. The stricken hassaka reached port at the same time as the ambulance arrived and Rafiq was taken to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza city in a serious condition.

A couple of days later it was possible to visit Rafiq in hospital. He was weak and in a lot of pain, with some difficulty breathing, but was beginning to improve. His x-ray clearly indicated the presence of the bullet shrapnel between his shoulder and his spine. An enquiry regarding the possibility of surgery to remove the fragments was met with a solemn "no" from Rafiq's uncle, present at his bedside, who explained, "The pieces are too many, too small and too widespread. His whole back would have to be opened up." It is not only Rafiq's back which has the metal shards still embedded in it; the shrapnel also penetrated his lungs. They sustained pulmonary contusions, resulting in a haemothorax. The only treatment Rafiq can benefit from at this time is to have blood drained which is collecting in the pleural cavity in the upper left side of his chest. 1.5 litres of blood was initially drained off when he was first admitted but this amount later decreased and stabilised. Medication is limited to painkillers and antibiotics.

It could take Rafiq months to fully recover yet he has a family to support. He married just six months ago and his wife is now expecting their first baby. After five years of working as a fisherman, he has experienced Israeli naval forces firing warning shots on many occasions but this was the first time he has been directly targeted. However, Rajab survived being shot in the chest by the Israeli navy two and a half years ago. It is sobering to note that 14 Gazan fishermen have been killed by the Israeli navy since 2000. Rafiq described the level shooting on Saturday like an open war. Fishermen were attacked from Wadi Gaza, south of Gaza city, all the way to the north of Gaza. A number of hassakas were targeted that day, some vessels sustaining serious damage from the shooting.

Palestinian fishermen have come under daily assaults from Israeli gunboats since Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire which supposedly came into force on 18th January. Reports of heavy gunfire and even missile fire are now becoming the 'norm'. Rafiq is the third Gazan fisherman to be shot by the Israeli navy during this non-existant ceasefire. On 26th January, Alaa al-Habil was shot in the lower leg whilst trawling less than one nautical mile off the coast of Gaza. On 6th February, Mahmoud al-Nadar was shot in both legs whilst 1.5 nautical miles off the coast of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. Nowadays it is unthinkable for fishermen to venture beyond three nautical miles from the Gazan coast, with many vessels staying just metres from the beach. However, Gazan territorial waters reach 12 nautical miles offshore – indeed, the Oslo Accords grant a fishing zone extending as far as 20 nautical miles.

 

Israel is attempting to create arbitrary 'no-go' zones in the sea – enforced solely by the gun. They might succeed if it weren't for the resilience of the fishermen. All this is akin to what is happening on land. The Israeli Occupation Force has declared an area of Palestinian land a kilometre in from the Green Line a 'closed military zone', affecting an audacious land grab which threatens to swallow a vast swathe of rich agricultural land all the way along the eastern length of the Gaza strip.

 

International human rights observers are currently accompanying farmers determined to harvest their crops in one such area. In the months prior to Israel's war on Gaza, members of ISM Gaza Strip were accompanying Palestinian fishermen on a regular basis and witnessed countless acts of Israeli military aggression against them whilst in Gazan territorial waters, despite a six-month ceasefire agreement holding at the time.

The international community remains silent about these daily violations of international human rights law. One cannot help wondering what an outcry there would inevitably be if the tables were turned and an Israeli civilian received similar injuries. Such an incident would scupper current negotiations attempting to broker a more genuine long-term ceasefire. Yet whilst it is Palestinian civilians who suffer such atrocities, the world gazes on, indifferent.

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The Paradoxical Commandments
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People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
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Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
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