USC Students for Justice in Palestine

history, analysis, news, and event updates on the struggle for justice in palestine

Israel’s obsession with hummus is about more than stealing Palestine’s food

Posted by uscsjp on May 23, 2015

When Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their villages and homes in 1948, many left with little more than the clothes on their back. Food was left on the stove. Crops were left unharvested. But the land emptied of its inhabitants was soon occupied by new residents.

From 1948 to 1953, almost all new Jewish settlements were established on refugees’ property. The myth of making the desert bloom is belied by the facts: in mid-1949, two-thirds of all land sowed with grain in Israel was Palestinian land. In 1951, “abandoned” land accounted for nearly 95 per cent of all Israel’s olive groves and almost 10,000 acres of vineyards.

During these early years, many Palestinian refugees attempted to return to their lands. By 1956, as many as 5,000 so-called “infiltrators” had been killed by Israeli armed forces, the vast majority of them looking to return home, recover possessions, or search for loved ones. Palestinian women and children who crossed the frontier to gather crops were murdered.

The Nakba in 1948 was the settler colonial conquest of land and the displacement of its owners, a dual act of erasure and appropriation. Citing “reasons of state”, Israel’s first premier David Ben-Gurion appointed a Negev Names Committee to remove Arabic names from the map. By 1951, the Jewish National Fund’s “Naming Committee” had “assigned 200 new names”.

But it did not stop with dynamite and new maps. The Zionist colonisation of Palestine has also included culture, notably cuisine. This is the context for the so-called “hummus wars”: it is not about petty claims and counterclaims, rather, the story is one of colonial, cultural appropriation and resistance to those attempts.

In the decades since the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins and ethnically cleansed lands of Palestine, various elements of the indigenous cuisine have been targeted for appropriation: falafel, knafeh, sahlab and, of course, hummus.

Though these dishes are common to a number of communities across the Mediterranean and Middle East, Israel claims them as its own: falafel is the “national snack”, while hummus, according to Israeli food writer Janna Gur, is “a religion”.

In a 2002 article on recipes, the Israeli embassy in Washington acknowledged that “Israel lacks a long-standing culinary heritage”, adding that “only a few years ago, Israelis even doubted the existence of their own authentic cuisine”.

Such an admission is hard to find these days, as appropriation has become propaganda.

In 2011, Jerusalem-based chef Michael Katz visited Australia and told a local newspaper how the Israeli government had “decided, through culture, to start improving Israel’s image”.

“They started sending artists, singers, painters, filmmakers and then the idea came of sending chefs.”

In 2010, the Israeli government decided to distribute pamphlets at Tel Aviv airport, to equip Israelis who go abroad with, in the words of then-public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein, the “tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people”. Included in the literature was the claim that “Israel developed the famous cherry tomato.”

Now, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it earlier this year, “Israel has been on the culinary ascent of late, with dozens of food blogs, new high-end restaurants, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and a fascination with everything foodie”.

It is not just food that is enlisted in Israel’s global PR initiatives. A few year ago, pro-Israel students at Brandeis University, in Massachusetts, held a “hookah night” with the help of campus-based “hasbara fellows”, professional Israel advocates who noted without any irony that “hookah is not specifically an Israeli cultural facet”.

In addition to smoking and snacks, the “cultural” evening also included belly dancers. Explaining the rationale for the event, a member of the Brandeis Zionist Alliance said they had found that “students are more receptive to Israel-related education when we use a cultural lens”.

Now we have “International Hummus Day”, launched by an Israeli, Ben Lang, who is explicit about the propaganda value of his project: “The idea was to connect people around hummus and get more people talking about it and hopefully get people to see the good things that are happening in Israel.”

“I just wanted to make sure that people saw that the initiative started in Israel.”

As everything from food to the keffiyeh is used to “rebrand” the state that colonised Palestine in the first place, Palestinians and their supporters have fought back.

When an Israeli choreographer included the dabke traditional dance in his company’s repertoire in 2013, a New York-based dabke troupe responded with a thoughtful critique that noted how, by “appropriating dabke, and labelling it Israeli”, the “power imbalance” is only furthered.

They added: “This makes us feel taken advantage of. Exploited. Commodified.”

In December 2014, after a campaign by Palestinian students and their allies, the student assembly at Wesleyan University in Connecticut agreed to remove Sabra hummus from campus dining facilities. The product symbolises Israeli appropriation and ongoing brutality; its parent company, the Strauss Group, donates to the Israeli military.

Accusations of cultural appropriation can produce some misleading responses. It’s not about who is “allowed” to eat what, or even about an objection to the natural cross-pollination that occurs in culture through language, cuisine and more.

That is not the point. It is about the claim of ownership in a context of historic and ongoing violent erasure and displacement.

It is about efforts to create an artificial history that justifies the establishment and continued existence of a settler colonial state.

Even a mainstream Israeli food writer like Gil Hovav has pointed to this reality. “Food is about memory and identity,” he told the Israeli media last year. “Claiming ownership over a food is a way to assert a nation’s narrative. Israeli Jews have made hummus their own.”

Cuisine is where efforts to both deny the existence of Palestine and appropriate its land and heritage meet. It is both an act of theft itself, and a way of justifying that theft.

Ben White is a journalist and the author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide

On Twitter: @benabyad


–Ben White, The National, May 23, 2015

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From Democracy Now! Report: Israeli “Policy of Indiscriminate Fire” Fueled Civilian Deaths in Gaza

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015

A new report based on the testimonies of Israeli soldiers has concluded the massive civilian death toll from last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza resulted from a “policy of indiscriminate fire.” The Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence released testimonies of more than 60 Israeli officers and soldiers which it says illustrate a “broad ethical failure” that “comes from the top of the chain of command.” More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the assault, the vast majority civilians, while in Israel 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. In a video made by Breaking the Silence, a first sergeant, his voice distorted, describes how a commander told him, “There are no innocent civilians,” and to assume anyone within 200 or 400 meters of the Israeli Defense Forces was an enemy.

Israeli first sergeant: “And I quote: ‘The rules are: Any person at a distance that could put you at risk, you kill him with no need for clearance.’ Meaning, anyone at a distance of 200, 300, 400 meters from us, isn’t an ordinary civilian. According to IDF logic, he must be there for a reason, because an ordinary civilian would flee the area, and so, we must kill him with no need for clearance. For me, it was just spine-tingling.”

–Democracy Now, May 5, 2015

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NPR: Protesters Clash With Israeli Police Over Treatment Of Ethiopian Jews

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015


Israeli security forces battled several thousand people yesterday in Tel Aviv. They were protesting what they call discrimination and police brutality toward Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Dozens of officers and protesters were injured, and more than 40 people were arrested. As NPR’s Emily Harris reports, some Israelis are drawing parallels to events in Baltimore.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: At first, protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a highway, snarling traffic for hours. Police mostly watched. Later, the demonstrations turned violent.


HARRIS: Protesters threw stones and bottles. Police used tear gas and water cannon. Officers on horseback charged into crowds of demonstrators. This, and similar confrontations in Jerusalem last week, stem from years of discontent among Ethiopian-Israelis. The latest trigger was a video that caught a police officer beating up on an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says it’s not a pattern.

MICKEY ROSENFELD: Unfortunately, once in a while, our police officers use excessive force; it’s understandable out of the thousands of times that they respond and react to different situations.

HARRIS: But Jewish Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent say otherwise. Alemo Fahada is among the tens of thousands of young Ethiopians whose parents migrated to Israel after rabbis decided they were descendents of a biblical Jewish tribe. He recently finished his tour of duty as an Israeli soldier and says he’s tired of discrimination against dark-skinned Israelis.

ALEMO FAHADA: We want to stop this because this is going more than 25 years and nobody says nothing. For the government, we are the black people. We are nothing for them.

HARRIS: He and his friends say they see parallels to their experience in the footage they’ve watched of protests and police treatment of African-Americans in Baltimore and other parts of the U.S. But Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, head of an Ethiopian rights organization in Israel, told Israel’s TLV1 Radio he is not ready to draw those connections.


FENTAHUN ASSEFA-DAWIT: I want to believe – I want to believe we’re not there. Although there is discrimination and racism and we see the brutality against the Ethiopians, maybe this should be gone. I don’t want to see like the black Americans in the United States, who’ve been there hundreds of years, still facing that.

HARRIS: He wants the problem in Israel resolved before more anger and frustration build.

Emily Harris, NPR News, May 4, 2015


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EI: Lauryn Hill cancels Israel show after Palestinian boycott call

Posted by uscsjp on May 5, 2015

Lauryn Hill has canceled a 7 May concert in Israel, following a request by Palestinians and a campaign by many of her fans.

The former lead vocalist of The Fugees made the announcement in a message on her Facebook page addressed to “Friends and Fans in Israel.”

“When deciding to play the region, my intention was to perform in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah,” Hill writes. “Setting up a performance in the Palestinian Territory, at the same time as our show in Israel, proved to be a challenge.”

She says she wanted to perform in the region “but also to be a presence supporting justice and peace.”

“It is very important to me that my presence or message not be misconstrued, or a source of alienation to either my Israeli or my Palestinian fans,” Hill states. “For this reason, we have decided to cancel the upcoming performance in Israel, and seek a different strategy to bring my music to ALL of my fans in the region.”

A victory

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and Palestine solidarity activists will see Hill’s move as a victory.

Her name will be added to the growing list of artists who have pulled out of shows in Israel which includes Sinéad O’Connor, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Talib Kweli, Moddi and Carlos Santana.

But Hill’s strategy of seeking to offset the Israel show with one before a Palestinian audience in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank will likely raise concerns.

In its guidelines for the cultural boycott, PACBI states that artists “attempting to visit Palestinian institutions or groups in a ‘balancing’ gesture contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.”

While Palestinians welcome visits, PACBI says that “solidarity entails respecting the boycott call, which is an authoritative call of the oppressed, and not combining a visit to Palestinian institutions or groups with activities with boycottable Israeli institutions.”

For now, however, Hill has heeded the Palestinian boycott call – a very significant step.

Israel’s Walla! News called Hill’s cancellation a “painful” blow at the hands of “pro-Palestinian” organizations.

Palestinian call

In a letter in April, PACBI told Hill that it was “deeply troubled to learn that you are scheduled to perform in Rishon Lezion’s Live Park amphitheater on 7 May 2015, while Israel continues unabatedly with its settler colonial and apartheid designs to further dispossess, oppress and ethnically cleanse native Palestinians from their homeland.”

“Performing in Israel today is the equivalent of performing in Sun City, South Africa during the apartheid era,” PACBI added.

“Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils have repeatedly declared that Israel has created a form of racial apartheid that is far worse than anything that existed in South Africa.”

A social media campaign, including a spoof of Hill’s hit cover of the song “Killing Me Softly,” had in recent weeks driven home the message.

In a press release, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation thanked Hill for canceling the concert and noted that more than 11,000 people had signed a petitionasking her to do so.

Separately, the director of the Israel Festival recently revealed that the flagship government-backed cultural program has had to curtail its 2015 schedule due to the growing impact of the boycott, especially in the wake of Israel’s killing more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza last July and August.


–Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, May 4, 2015

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Al Jazeera: Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian youth in Jerusalem

Posted by uscsjp on April 25, 2015

Israeli soldiers have shot and killed a young Palestinian man after an incident near a checkpoint in the East Jerusalem area, police say.

Israeli police said the young man wielded two knives and had tried to attack the soldiers on Saturday, however the dead man’s relatives have denied the claim.

The youth was aged 16, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The incident occurred around midnight near the A-Zayyim checkpoint at the outskirts of East Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.

The dead man’s cousin, Haitham Abu Ghanam told the Reuters news agency that his cousin was killed for no reason.

“We were shocked to hear the news of the death of our cousin, he is a martyr,” Ghanam said.

“He arrived to A-Zayyim checkpoint when the soldiers shot him for no reason, without him attacking them. Witnesses told us that they saw them (the soldiers) shooting him and executing him,” he said.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Reuters that paramilitary border police fired warning shots into the air to warn the man.

Samri said the troops “fired precise shots neutralising him (the suspect)” when he failed to heed their warnings, and that doctors had confirmed the suspect had died of his injuries.

Israeli tanks fired at Gaza on Friday after Israel said a rocket was fired from the territory during Independence Day celebrations a day earlier. There were no casualties in those incidents.

–Al Jazeera, April 25th, 2015

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Ron Jacobs in CounterPunch: Talking About Palestine

Posted by uscsjp on April 25, 2015

The recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel was a resounding blow to the fantasy of a peace process in Palestine. His anti-Arab pronouncements in the last minute of the campaign were an indication of the true sentiments of the Israeli establishment and much of Israel’s Jewish population. Likewise, his easy rejection of those pronouncements after his victory was assured proved once again the meaninglessness of the so-called peace process. In other words, there really is no process working towards peace between Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the only process occurring between the two nations is one that is intended to wipe any fact of Palestine from human memory. If there is no history that mentions Palestine, then there will be no future that includes it. This is the intention of the Zionist project.

The fact of this intention is not new. Nor is the ongoing media relations attempt to pretend that the erasure of Palestine is not Zionist Israelis’ design. As Noam Chomsky and historian Ilan Pappe make quite clear in a new book of conversations and essays edited by human rights activist Frank Barat, erasing history is a weapon of the powerful. In terms of how this relates to Israel and Palestine—where the mediators in the “peace process” accept the same definitions as the Israeli government, “…the past becomes an obstacle to the so-called mediators, but the past is everything in the eyes of the occupied and oppressed people.” Similarly, when the US tells Iraq to forget about the US invasion and move on, it is an attempt by the more powerful nation to obfuscate its true role.OnPalestine_cover_2

This new book, titled simply On Palestine, includes a series of dialogues between Chomsky and Pappe with Barat gently guiding the direction the dialogues take. Because the conversations took place in 2013 and 2014, the reality of Netanyahu’s continued rule does not exist. However, this makes very little difference and actually verifies the general veracity of the point being made: that Israel’s intent has always been to push the Palestinians out of their homes, their lands and history itself. As the dialogues make clear, this truth is present in the documents of and statements of early Zionist settlers and in more recent ones. Despite the varieties of Zionism that have existed historically and exist today, the intent of most of its adherents is that objective and that objective alone.

Chomsky makes an interesting point during the discussion about the right of a state to exist. There is no such thing, he states. To demand other peoples and nations to accept any nation’s right to exist is absurd and without precedent. Yet, this is precisely what Israel has demanded. In addition, now Israel demands that others recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state. As the book points out in terms of a comparison, Iran has named itself an Islamic Republic, yet that does not mean it can demand that it be recognized as such. Returning to Israel and Palestine, the Palestinians (from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority) have acknowledged that Israel exists as a geographical fact; however this does not require them to officially recognize that. As a comparative example, Washington did not even recognize the People’s Republic of China until 1979, thirty years after the fact of its existence.

Some readers of On Palestine will want to emphasize the differences between the two men, specifically in regards to their differences regarding the academic aspect of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. However, a more useful reading in reviewer’s mind would be one that sees this and other disagreements that arise in the conversations transcribed in the text as the beginnings of an attempt at synthesis between the various approaches that have arisen in support of the Palestinian struggle. As both men point out, the Palestinian groups that compose the national liberation movement itself are anything but unified. This therefore makes it more difficult for those supporters who are not Palestinian to come up with a single approach in their work, as well.

This book is a very accessible discussion of the issues surrounding the question of Israel/Palestine. It is a lesson in the politics and history of the conflict between the two peoples that by its nature includes philosophical inquiries into questions of nationhood and nationalisms, religion and ethnicity, imperialism and the struggle against it. Through the questions from Frank Barat, Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky provide the interested reader with an honest and profound discourse on all of the above. While doing so, the discussion broadens and deepens the context of this issue into an exploration on the meaning of history and politics as only these two intellectuals can. The inclusion of a few essays by each man at the conclusion of the text enhances the dialogue that precedes them.

Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series.  All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground . Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.    He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He can be reached at:

–CounterPunch, April 24-26, 2015

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Pervez Hoodbhoy: Hooray for the Iran-US Deal – but watch out for Israeli-Saudi sabotage

Posted by uscsjp on April 10, 2015

There was jubilation in Teheran as Iranians took to the streets to celebrate, while at Mehrabad airport Iran’s negotiating team received a hero’s welcome. They had just returned from the nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the end of tortuous negotiations that had dragged on for many months. A fuller agreement is to be finalized by the end of June, but both sides are claiming victory: President Obama said that “every path leading for Iran to make a nuclear weapon has been cut off”, while most Iranians are jubilant at the partial acceptance of their key demands. In a world where things go wrong more often than right, for once peace has been given a chance.

But there is gloom in the capitals of Washington’s two closest allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the deal as posing a “grave danger” to Israel while newspapers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia dourly noted that Iran had succeeded in furthering its deceptions. Both countries would much rather have seen Iran bombed, preferably with bunker busting nukes, but now this is only a remote possibility. Worried at the possibility of a still wider Iran-U.S. rapprochement, and asserting that Iran will cheat along its nuclear path, both had strongly denounced the talks. But the United States, still licking its wounds after its Iraq debacle, is in no mood to start another war.

U.S.-Israeli relations are unusually frosty these days. Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress last month was a calculated insult to President Obama. Manipulating the deep divide within American domestic politics, and backed by AIPAC together with other powerful Jewish groups, he brazenly called for obstructing U.S. policy. To Obama’s chagrin, Netanyahu’s anti-Iran rant received thunderous applause with several Democrats joining in. Then, last Sunday, denouncing the talks yet again, Netanyahu told his cabinet, “The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped.”

Anti-Obama forces in the U.S. teamed up with their Israeli counterparts to obstruct a deal. On March 24, the head of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, suggested that Israel “go rogue” – meaning it should bomb Iran without U.S. support. Else, he said, Israel’s security would remain threatened for the remaining 22 months of the Obama presidency. Earlier, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership that the nuclear agreement will not outlast President Obama.

Saudi Arabia, for its own reasons, is even more gung ho. While expressing token opposition to Israel’s stash of nuclear weapons, it has long concentrated its fire on Iran’s nuclear program. Thanks to Wikileaks, it is now well known that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had repeatedly urged the U.S. to destroy Iran’s nuclear program and launch military strikes to “cut off the head of the snake”. In 2011, the influential former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador in London and Washington, Prince Turki bin Faisal, described Iran as a “paper tiger with steel claws”, which used these claws for meddling and destabilizing efforts in countries with Shi’ite minorities. Saudi Arabia has reportedly given tacit assent to overflights by Israeli bombers en route to the Persian Gulf.

And what of my country, Pakistan? A former supplier of centrifuges to Iran via the covert A.Q. Khan network, and formerly its friendly neighbor, it has maintained a studious silence. For long a Saudi client state, Pakistan is now rushing to defend Saudi interests in Yemen, implausibly claiming that Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity is threatened by Yemen’s impoverished Houthi minority. Which side Pakistan would have taken if the nuclear talks had failed, and if Iran had been attacked, is not in doubt.

While the Israeli-Saudi cause has received a terrific setback, a determined campaign to derail the agreement may well have just begun.  At the core, Iran and the United States have widely divergent interests. Therefore many fears and fault lines are just waiting to be exploited.

Here’s the problem: Iran currently does not have an active program to convert its fissile material into bombs. But it does want a capacity to make nuclear weapons as insurance against an American (or Israeli) effort at regime change. It cannot forget that a 1953 CIA coup had removed Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Reza Shah Pehlavi as head of state. Also, as an ideological state, Iran seeks to extend its influence beyond its borders. So if it could become a nuclear state, its punch and prestige would increase dramatically.

The world, in fact, has long suspected that, contrary to official denials, the Iranian program had a bomb component. In 1998, Iran was delighted by Pakistan’s successful nuclear tests. Just five days later, foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Islamabad to congratulate Pakistan. Iran had hoped at that time to benefit from Pakistan’s expertise and eventually purchased the Chinese nuclear weapon design from the A.Q. Khan network. From the economic point of view, moreover, Iran’s massive investment in nuclear infrastructure makes no economic sense.

The United States has diametrically opposite interests. It is Iranophobic and will strain every muscle to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon. It realizes, however, that eliminating the Iranian nuclear program is impossible. Therefore its immediate objective is reducing Iran’s “break-out” capacity to at least one year. So, if someday Iran tries to race for a bomb, the U.S. wants enough time to detect and destroy it.

At Lausanne the U.S. got some of what it wanted. Iran agreed to increased access by the IAEA to Iran’s nuclear facilities; no enrichment beyond that needed for nuclear power production; sharply reduced stockpiling of fissile material stockpiles; far fewer centrifuges; reconstruction of the Arak reactor (so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium); and close monitoring of weapon related issues. If implemented, these will drastically curtail Iran’s ability for a break-out. In exchange Iran got some of what it wants: sanctions relief from the U.S. and EU, a transparent procurement channel for its civilian nuclear development, and international cooperation to help Iran in R&D.

The triumph of Iranian pragmatism has left Israel and Saudi Arabia deeply dismayed. Their diplomats and lobbyists will now be assigned the task of destroying the Lausanne agreement. They must so wish the easily discreditable firebrand, Mahmoud Ahmedijad, rather than the moderate Hassan Rouhani, was their adversary. But now Iran may well be on its way towards ending its international isolation. Could this also lead to a more normal, and less interventionist, Iran?  My Iranian physicist friends across the border tell me that they are delighted at the agreement for this reason more than any other.

A final note: sadly, the irony of today’s situation is likely to be lost on countless millions of Muslims, including the majority of my university’s faculty and students, who have long imagined an Islamic bomb as the solution to the Muslim world’s current situation – a predicament for which they blame the enemies of Islam. Who could that bomb be aimed at?

1977: Deposed prime-minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto addressed posterity from his death cell in Rawalpindi Jail saying he had gifted Pakistan an “Islamic” bomb. He had India in mind.

1992: Iranian vice-president Sayed Ayatollah Mohajerani appealed to all Muslims asking them to jointly produce an atomic bomb. He surely had Israel in mind.

2015: If the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could somehow make its “Islamic” bomb – perhaps with Sunni Pakistan’s help – it would have only Shia Iran in mind.

The author teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad

–Pervez Hoodbhoy, ZNet (original source: teleSUR English), April 7, 2015

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Matt Peppe in CounterPunch: Israeli Aggression as Self-Defense?

Posted by uscsjp on March 17, 2015

Last July, shortly after the outbreak of war in Gaza, President Barack Obama declared that “Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.” To demonstrate the general moral applicability of this position, he said that “no country can accept rocket [sic] fired indiscriminately at citizens.” Obama’s claims provided ideological cover for Israel to carry out wholesale slaughter over the next six weeks in which nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed.

Obama also conveniently turned reality on its head by ignoring the fact that it wasIsrael that was responsible for nearly three times as many cease fire violations as Hamas since December 2012. Israel’s violations of the 2012 cease fire caused the deaths of 18 people, while Palestinian violations caused none. Since the end of the 51-day war in August 2014, Israel predictably has gone on violating the most recent cease fire even more brazenly and with complete impunity.

The latest cease fire agreement stipulated that Hamas and other groups in Gaza would stop rocket attacks, while Israel would stop all military action. As with past truces, Hamas has observed the conditions. On the rare occasions that individuals or groups have fired rockets from Gaza, Hamas has arrested them. (See also here and here.)

Israel, on the other hand, has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. This is consistent with past practice. Israel has continued its illegal siege on the Gaza strip, while indiscriminately harassing and shooting at the local population. Fishermen and farmers, who are trying to subsist amid dire economic conditions, have born the brunt of the aggression.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documented 18 instances of Israeli soldiers firing on Palestinian fishermen operating within internationally recognized Palestinian waters in September 2014 alone.

By December, Humanity for Palestine reported 94 total cease fire violations since the August truce. In addition to the many attacks on fishermen, Israeli border guards targeted “protesters;” “fired sporadically at Palestinian homes and agricultural property with machine guns and ‘flashbang’ grenades;” and “seriously injured” a teenager who was shot near the Kerem Shalom crossing.

The first months of 2015 have seen more of the same. According to International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC):

*On February 25, “Israeli forces opened fire at farmers in the central Gaza Strip.” The previous day, farmers near Khan Younis had been fired on. Two days prior farmers near Rafah were fired on.

*On February 27, Israeli forces “opened gunfire on Palestinian houses in the Central Gaza strip.”

*On March 2, “Israeli gunboats again opened fire … towards fishermen’s boats in the Gaza strip.” The Israeli forces reportedly “chased some fishing boats off the coast.”

*On March 7, fisherman Tawfiq Abu Ryala, 34, was killed when he was shot in the abdomen by Israeli navy ships. Several attacks in previous days were reported in which Palestinian fishermen were injured. “All took place while the boats were in Palestinian territorial waters.”

*On March 11, “several armored military vehicles and bulldozers carried out … a limited invasion into an area east of the al-Maghazi refugee camp, in central Gaza, and bulldozed farmlands.”

On March 13, Palestine News Network reported that “Israeli Soldiers Open Fire on Palestinian Lands and Farmers East of Khan Younis Again.” The articles states that “witnesses reported that the Israeli soldiers in the borders towers opened their guns [sic] fire on the the [sic] shepherds and farmers near the security line east of Al Tuffah neighborhood east of Khan Younis.”

The vast majority of the rampant Israeli cease fire violations are not reported by the American and the Western press. When they are, the Israeli military is given the opportunity to provide self-serving rationalizations which serve as the authoritative account of what transpired.

When a fisherman was killed on March 7, a Reuters article cites an Israeli military spokesperson claiming that “four vessels had strayed from the fishing zone and that the Israeli army opened fire after the boats did not heed calls to halt.” Of course, the fishermen is not able to tell his side of the story because the organization Reutersquotes killed him.

There is no mention in the article of any of the multiple attacks on Palestinian fishermen that happen routinely in Gaza. In many similar shootings, surviving victims and witnesses can attest that fishermen are within the agreed-upon six-mile nautical limit, and certainly well within the 20-mile limit guaranteed by the Oslo accords.

In a December article in the New York TimesIsabel Kershner writes that “Retaliating for a rocket fired into Israel on Friday, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike on a Hamas site in southern Gaza.” She begins the sentence by stating it is Israel retaliating against Palestinian actions. Whoever fired the rocket presumably was not “retaliating” for the dozens of Israeli military cease fire violations over the previous months, but was implicitly initiating aggression.

More importantly than this biased framing of the narrative, Kershner buries the lead at the bottom of the story: “Also on Friday, six Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire near the border fence in northern Gaza.” She obsequiously follows this statement with Israeli military rationalizations that “soldiers first fired into the air to try to disperse protesters approaching the fence then fired at the legs of some of them.”

Someone who commits a violent action is obviously not a partial source for an honest account of the facts. Would a journalist report on a shooting by only repeating the side of the suspect who claims self-defense?

Six months after repeated, documented Israeli breaches of the cease fire agreement – without any by Hamas – New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof claimed in an Op-Ed that “Hamas provokes Israel.” He provides no evidence for this assertion. As the record clearly shows, Kristof has it backwards.

If no country can accept rockets fired at its population, then surely neither can they accept M16s fired at them. Or tanks and bulldozers invading their land. But perhaps Obama was deliberate in choosing his words. He stated that no country can accept rockets “fired indiscriminately at citizens (italics mine).”

Since Palestinians live under Israeli sovereignty but are denied citizenship, they are not technically covered by Obama’s moral truism. But assuming what he says should apply to all people – even those who are politically subjugated by racist regimes – Obama’s words would apply equally to Palestinians.

But when asked by a reporter whether Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves, an Obama administration spokesperson denied Palestinians this right. She did not explicitly say so, but by evading and refusing to respond to a simple yes or no question, she gave the equivalent of a direct denial. “I think – I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” she said. After the reporter restated his crystal-clear question, she replied “What are you specifically referring to? Is there a specific even or a specific occurrence?”

In the same way that omission of material facts may constitute fraud, refusing to answer a question about whether a person enjoys a right constitutes a direct refusal to recognize that right.

Obama did not only pervert the issue of the right to self-defense by falsely pretending it was a moral truism that he clearly and demonstrably does not extend to Palestinians, he also misrepresents the applicability of self-defense to Israel in the first place.

As Noura Erakat explained in her July 2014 article “No, Israel Does Not Have the Right to Self-Defense in International Law Against Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Israel is “distorting/reinterpreting international law to justify its use of militarized force in order to protect its colonial authority.” Obama willingly enables Israel’s lawless actions by accepting their rewriting of international law to justify their aggression.

What Obama is really saying when he talks about self-defense is that as the leader of one rogue nation, he supports the right of his rogue client state to violate the rule of law and make fraudulent claims that are neither morally nor legally justified.As John Quigley explains in The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense, failing to challenge Israel’s bogus claims of self-defense in the 1967 war – as the United States has done by providing a diplomatic shield, vetoing more than 40 U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israel – has had disastrous consequences for Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the system of international law in general.

“The flawed perception of the June 1967 war serves to perpetuate conflict in the Middle East. It also serves to promote the expansion of the concept of self-defense and thereby to erode the prohibition against the use of force,” Quigley writes.

The United States government under the Obama administration continues to carry this even further. Undoubtedly the situation will only get worse in the future. Last month in Haaretz, Gideon Levy wrote that there will inevitably be another war in Gaza.

“Israel knows this war will break out, it also knows why – and it’s galloping toward it blindfolded, as though it were a cyclical ritual, a periodical ceremony or a natural disaster that cannot be avoided. Here and there one even perceives enthusiasm,” Levy writes.

This will mean more death, more destruction, and more Palestinian lives destroyed as the world looks on and does nothing. Sadly Levy is right. When the next war comes and Israel succeeds in baiting Hamas to start firing rockets into Israel, all the talk will be about Israel’s right to defend itself. Obama (or the next American President) will repeat the same charade. He will frame the narrative in terms of Israel’s victimization and Israel’s rights, while denying this treatment to the Palestinians.

The media and the public will uncritically support the position of American and Israeli power. Thousands of Palestinians will be indiscriminately killed, but not because Israel is defending itself. Palestinians will be killed because the U.S. government refuses to protect them from a belligerent and aggressive regime, and refuses even to recognize their right to protect themselves.

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

–CounterPunch, March 17th, 2015

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Democracy Now!: Netanyahu Vows Not to Allow Palestinian State If Re-elected

Posted by uscsjp on March 17, 2015

Voting is underway in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tight race for re-election. Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud Party lagging slightly behind the Zionist Union Coalition, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Herzog. Netanyahu has emphasized his right-wing positions in recent days, visiting the Har Homa settlement in occupied East Jerusalem and vowing to ramp up settlement construction, deemed illegal under international law. In an interview with a website owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, one of his leading backers, Netanyahu unequivocally vowed never to allow a Palestinian state, if he is re-elected.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel. This is the genuine reality that was created here in the past few years. Those who who do not understand that bury their heads in the sand. The left-wing parties do it, bury their heads in the sand, time and again.”

The Obama administration has pressed for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians which includes a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s closest rival, Yitzhak Herzog, has sought to capitalize on public frustration with Netanyahu’s hardline policies.

Yitzhak Herzog: “The public is genuinely frustrated. The public want a change, the public ask for a change, and the public aspire for hope and is revolted by and fed up with the status quo. I am the only one who can change the country’s situation. I am the only one who can get a mandate from the president (to form a government). To get a mandate from the president, I need to lead a clear majority over the Likud and Netanyahu.”

Running third place in Israeli polls is the Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties which could be decisive in forming a new coalition that would unseat Netanyahu.


–Democracy Now!, March 17th, 2015

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Democracy Now!: Palestinian Activist Rasmea Odeh Sentenced to 18 Months for Immigration Fraud

Posted by uscsjp on March 13, 2015

A Palestinian activist accused of immigration fraud has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. A U.S. judge in Detroit called Rasmea Odeh a terrorist as he sentenced her for concealing her conviction on bombing charges by an Israeli military court more than 40 years ago. Odeh says her confession to the bombings was obtained through torture and sexual assault in Israeli custody. Her supporters say she was targeted by U.S. authorities over her support for Palestinian liberation. Odeh served as associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago and has lived in the United States for 20 years. She will be deported after her prison term.

–Democracy Now!, March 13th, 2015

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