Monday, 27 April 2009

Tom Getman on the Middle East

World Vision’s executive director for international relations until March 1, 2009, Thomas Getman managed World Vision’s liaison activities with the UN and the World Council of Churches and was responsible for diplomatic relations with UN government member missions in Geneva and with countries on sensitive negotiations.

He served until recently on the board of principals for the UN Deputy Secretary General for Emergency Relief and as chair of the premier NGO consortium International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

From 1997 to 2001, Getman served as director of World Vision’s programs in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip where he was responsible for $5-8 million a year in relief and development projects in Palestine and Israel and advocacy for peace with justice.

Previously, Getman served for 12 years as director of government relations and special assistant to the president of World Vision United States at which time he founded WV’s office in DC. Getman interpreted U.S. government policy, pressed for needed foreign assistance, and advanced human rights, relief and development concerns.

From 1976 to 1985, as a Congressional staff member, Getman helped negotiate protocols with the presidents of Uganda and Zambia and encouraged warring factions to move forward with peace negotiations. In the mid-1980s, Getman played a central role to persuade the South African Foreign Ministry to cease support for the Mozambican rebel group Resistencia National Mocambicana (Renamo). He also was an adjunct speech writer for other national political figures, including President Gerald R. Ford.

Before joining World Vision, Getman served as legislative director and senior speech collaborator to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield. In the US Senate, his primary assignments were African foreign policy and social justice, human rights and welfare issues. His most notable legislative contribution was to participate in the drafting team for the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985. Getman also served as a regional director for Young Life for nine years in New England.

I caught up with Tom at St Mark's Church on Capitol Hill in Washington and asked him about the role of Christian Zionism, his hopes for the new US administration and the changes needed in US policy in the Middle East.

Partners for Peace in Washington DC

Since 1989, Partners for Peace has been educating the American public about key issues in the effort to secure peace and justice among Palestinians and Israelis.

Their major projects include the Jerusalem Women Speak: Three Women, Three Faiths, One shared Vision speaking tours; highlighting the nonviolent efforts of Palestinians, Israelis, and citizens of other nations to end the occupation of Palestinian territories; and in-depth advocacy with the media.

Partners for Peace
strongly advocates a connection between means and ends. They think that for the good of both Palestinians and Israelis the occupation should end, but believe this goal is best advanced by nonviolence rather than attacks on civilians. Attacks on Israeli or Palestinian civilians warrant criticism and do significant damage to advancing substantive peacemaking.

They bring to American audiences and the media the voices that often go unheard. They bring the voices of Palestinian and Israeli women seeking a just peace and a brighter future for their children, their communities and their societies.

Partners for Peace is a UN-registered NGO and grew out of a working committee of some 20 professionals here in Washington DC who began meeting in 1988 as a result of their concern about ongoing and deepening violence in Israel and the occupied territories.

In the fall of 1991, the working committee merged with The American Alliance for Palestinian Human Rights, a UN-registered NGO, changing the name of the organization to Partners for Peace.

For several years they researched cases of human rights abuse by Israel against American citizens of Arab origin. These young men were detained without charges, and interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned without due process of law. U.S. government spokespeople said they were able to do very little to protect their rights.

They pursued a media campaign to inform the American public about this egregious violation of human rights. More recently, we have worked on cases of nonviolent Americans beaten, detained, or killed by Israeli security forces for their nonviolent efforts.

They bring forward to American audiences and the media the voices of Palestinians and Israelis seeking a just peace.

In Washington recently, I interviewed Joan Drake about the work of Partners for Peace and her hopes for the Middle East with the new US administration.

Sharing Jerusalem in Washington DC

Sharing Jerusalem is a grass-roots campaign that was launched in the Washington DC metro area in the spring of 2006.

Priorities are to educate, organize, and activate mainline churches in support of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict - specifically, a two-state solution that would include a Jerusalem that is "shared" both politically between Israel and Palestine and religiously among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

I met Jim Vitareollo, the President of Sharing Jerusalem during a three day visit to Washington and asked him about his hopes for peace in the Middle East.

Listen to the interview here:

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Norwegian lawyers file complaint accusing 10 Israelis of Gaza war crimes

Associated Press today carried news of a group of Norwegian lawyers who have filed a complaint Wednesday accusing 10 Israelis of war crimes in Gaza under the country's new universal jurisdiction law, officials said.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni were among those named in the complaint, the lawyers said.

Chief prosecutor Siri Frigaard told The Associated Press that she will now determine if there are grounds for charges or a police investigation. It was not clear how long the process would take.

The Israeli Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One of the attorneys who filed the complaint, Bent Endresen, said a Norwegian law that went into effect last year allows foreigners to face charges in Norway for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

"There was a legal change that now gives a universal jurisdiction" for such war crimes, he said by telephone.

In a statement, the lawyers claim that Olmert, Livni, Barak and seven Israel military officers shared responsibility for "massive terror attacks primarily directed at Gaza's population."

Gaza officials say about 1,300 Palestinian civilians died in the Israeli offensive in December and January. Israel has said the toll was lower, and the "vast majority" of the dead were militants.

The lawyers' statement said the complaint also covered killing civilians, destruction of property, use of banned weapons and attacks on such protected institutions as hospitals.

The lawyers also claimed that Israeli leaders "knew about, ordered or approved the actions in Gaza and that they had considered the consequences."

Norway's Foreign Ministry said the complaint was a matter for the legal system and not the government.

Source: Associated Press

Friday, 24 April 2009

With Gary Demar of American Vision

Today I had the privilege of meeting Gary DeMar, President of American Vision in Atlanta and we recorded several short programmes about the history of Christian Zionism for his daily podcasts. You can listen to the audios or watch the videos:

Christian Zionism and the Middle East Conflict

An Overview of the History of Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism and the Middle East

The Rise of Christian Zionism

Culture Wars of Middle Eastern Civilizations

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. In 2007, he earned his Ph.D. in Christian Intellectual History from Whitefield Theological Seminary. Author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, he also hosts The Gary DeMar Show, and History Unwrapped—both broadcasted and podcasted. Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

His book Last Days Madness has been a great inspiration to me in my own research, in particular. I recommend it highly.

"The end is here...again. At every calendar milestone, self-proclaimed modern-day "prophets" arise to stir up a furor rivaled only by the impending apocalypse they predict. This doom-and-gloom prognostication is not only spread by a few fanatics, but millions of Christians, including some of the most recognized names in mainstream Christianity who are caught up in the latest "last days" frenzy. Seduced by the popular craze, they are driven not to action, but to radical inactivity, ineffectiveness, and lethargy while waiting for the easy-out "end."
In this authoritative book, Gary DeMar clears the haze regarding "end-times" themes by explaining in clear language the interpretation of the time texts, the Olivet Discourse, the rebuilt temple, the abomination of desolation, the man of lawlessness, 666, the return of Christ, the cursed fig tree, the passing away of heaven and earth, the antichrist, armageddon, the rapture, the identity of "mystery Babylon," and more. He sheds light on the most difficult and studied prophetic passages in the Bible, including Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27; Matt. 16:27-28; 24-25; Thess. 2; 2 Peter 3:3-13, and many more.
But more than this, DeMar tests your views, renews your zeal for the living truth, and encourages you to escape the paralysis of last days madness. This is the most thoroughly documented and comprehensive study of Bible prophecy ever written! Last Days Madness will be your survival guide and spiritual compass to insure you escape the paralysis of last days madness."

I interviewed Gary about the work of American Vision

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Introducing Revd Dr Fahed Abu-Akel

Today I am in Atlanta speaking at various churches hosted by Revd Dr Fahed Abu-Akel, former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and Founder and Executive Director of Atlanta Ministry with International Students, Inc.

Here is a short video interview with Fahed.

Christian Zionist Attack on Bishop Tom Wright

Richard Bartholomew has posted news of a disturbing if not unexpected attack against Bishop Tom Wright.

"Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, is one of the UK’s most respected evangelical Anglican intellectuals, and, as “N.T. Wright”, he is a scholar to be reckoned with in historical Jesus research. On Easter Sunday he gave a short exposition on the theology of the Resurrection, which has brought him under attack from Christian Zionists; Cranmer leads the charge, with ammo from the Anglican Friends of Israel:

…the Bishop of Durham tells ‘pilgrims’ that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have nullified the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants over the land we now call Israel – the Replacement Theology thinly cloaked throughout the pilgrimage now surfaces.

In Replacement Theology, the restoration of Israel becomes not a fulfilment of an overarching Scriptural discourse, but an irrelevance at best, and, at worst, a terrible mistake: the return of the Jews to their ancient land is not a sign of God keeping his promises but an illegal assault of colonial interlopers.

Wright’s YouTube talk was posted at Journey to Jerusalem, a blog run by Christian Aid to create a ”virtual pilgrimage” of the “Holy Land” over the period of Lent. Apparently the blog’s postings do not reflect well on Israel, and so, inevitably, anti-semitism must be the reason:"

read more here

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Peacemaking in Atlanta

Today I am in Atlanta speaking at various churches hosted by Revd Dr Fahed Abu-Akel, former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and Founder and Executive Director of Atlanta Ministry with International Students, Inc.

Last night I interviewed Britta Froelicher, Middle East Peace Education Programme Associate of the American Friends Service Committee. She told me about their work and her hopes for the Middle East.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Palm Beach Atlantic University hosts lecture on the Middle East

Last night I gave a lecture to faculty and students at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.

The lecture addressed Christian Zionism and the relationship between Israel and the Church in Scripture. Students had been asked to read my book Zion's Christian Soldiers in preparation and were energised and articulate in the Q&A that followed.

You can listen to, or read, three presentations that amplify the lecture, as well as view PowerPoint presentations that you may find useful for personal and group Bible study.

Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon?

The History of Christian Zionism + PowerPoint
The Theology of Christian Zionism + PowerPoint
The Politics of Christian Zionism + PowerPoint

Christian Zionism: An Introduction
1. Historical Roots
2. Theological Basis
3. Political Consequences

Palm Beach Atlantic is one of my favourite places in the USA. The setting is idylic with beautiful beaches and tall palm trees nearby. The weather is sunny and warm at this time of year although we had a torrential thunder storm in the night.

The university is unique in Florida - an evangelical Christian institution with a core emphasis in the liberal arts. I interviewed one of the faculty - Gerald Wright - about his work at Palm Beach Atlantic:

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Common Word Conference at Fuller Seminary Concludes

The four day international gathering of fifty Evangelical and Muslim religious leaders at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena ends today.

Picking up from the Common Word document and the Christian response from Yale last July, the Fuller conference has addressed the theological and practical challenges of interfaith dialogue.

There has been unanimous agreement among those present for the collaboration to continue in order to enhance mutual understanding and diffuse tensions between the two faith communities.

The atmosphere has been relaxed, honest and open. Issues tackled in a gracious but direct manner include the uniquensss and authority of Jesus, evangelism, conversion, apostasy, the rights of religious minorities and Zionism.

Tim Morgan of Christianity Today made these observations:

1. Muslims and Evangelicals who are committed to the work of dialogue spend a lot of time explaining to each other why extremists do what they do in the name of their own faith.

2. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have been, are now, and will be in a deep encounter for generations to come. While there was little discussion of Jews and Judaism, the reality of this encounter was for me inescapable. Dialogue that does not lead to tri-a-logue will not survive the test of time.

3. Muslims and Evangelicals once and for all must settle, resolve, mutually understand, and respect their divergent doctrines of God. The end value of such a heroic effort of understanding must not be underestimated.

4. One scholar admitted to what he called "dialogue fatigue." Actually, I see that as real progress. When Muslims and Evangelicals press beyond the far point of verbal exhaustion, isn't that when we can breakthrough to some other new place? Listening to God requires our silence.

5. Evangelicals and Muslims do each other a disservice when they mutually shy away from airing their grievances openly due to quick pursuit of easy faith-based harmony.

6. There is true urgency to this pursuit of relationship and understanding between Muslims and Evangelicals. The consequences of growing tension between Islam and Christianity are growing greater. As I said to one participant, "Lives and souls hang in the balance."

My paper on Christian minoritiees living under Muslim rule can be seen here or read here or downloaded here.

The conference has been sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, North Park University, Chicago, and the World Islamic Call Society in Tripoli, Libya. WICS fulfills a role similar to World Vision within the Islamic community.

A conference statement will be issued shortly.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Holy Fire Goes out in Jerusalem on Easter Saturday

18 April 2009- Holy Fire Saturday All Jerusalem Christians were denied entry to the Holy Sepulcher

This Holy Fire Saturday 2009, for the first time in 300 years Israel prevents all local Jerusalemite Christians from accessing freely the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Old City of Jerusalem.

For the fifth year Israeli forces built up check points around the area surrounding the Church of the Holy Sepulcher but for the first time barred local Christians from normally performing their prayers and practicing ancient traditions. The Israeli authorities is imposing this new arrangement of blocking the movement to the Church in this Holy day which changes the Status Quo, that has been the norm for the past three hundred years.

The celebration procedures are part of a Law that has been in place since 300 years. That law, known as the Status Quo Agreement, regulates the celebrations, and according to that Law, local Christians have the right to access the Patriarchate and St. Jacob Cathedral. Preventing worshipers from entering is a violation of the Status Quo Agreement.

The lack of coordination between the different Churches in Jerusalem is coming to the advantage of the Israeli authorities, who have for so long acted in a divide and rule manner. The price today is being paid dearly by the indigenous Jerusalem Christians whom are being pushed to leave their home and City and Holy Places.

It is becoming obvious that local Palestinians and especially Christian Palestinian are being singled out. Less than a week ago, thousands of Jewish worshipers flocked in the Old City of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover - Pesach. Israel has granted full access to all Jewish worshipers wishing to arrive to the Holy City.

The number of Palestinian Christians who arrive to the Old City for Easter does not exceed few hundreds, and they ought to be allowed to access freely their Holy Sites that Israel controls by force. Jerusalem should never be left to one party to rule over it. Especially a party that is eager to use brutal power against women and children celebrating the Holy Easter. Today, just like last year, children and elderly people were humiliated and brutally blocked from celebrating this Holy day.

The local Christian community were all blocked today to pave the way for the tourists and pilgrims. The space was never the issue. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has hosted all of the worshipers (locals, pilgrims, and tourists) without any reported incidents. Such violations by the state of Israel should stop. The steps taken against Palestinian Christians are illegal. We call upon the Consulates, Embassies, Christian Churches and organizations, and human rights organizations, to intervene immediately, so these atrocities in Jerusalem will end.

The Laity Committee in the Holy Land/East Jerusalem
Contact: Wassim H. Khazmo Mobile: +972 (0)544 626980

Christian Minorities Living Under Muslim Rule

A paper delivered at the third evangelical Christian-Muslim Conference sponsored by North Park University in Chicago, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and the World Islamic Call Society of Tripoli.

"Clearly the status of Christians living under Muslim rule is a controversial subject. Some might even call it a ‘minefield’. It has evoked strong opinions on both sides. There are some within the Islamic community who seem to be in denial as to the contemporary difficulties faced by Christian minorities. And there are some within the Christian (and Jewish) community who exaggerate and exacerbate these tensions for their own purposes.

I will begin with a brief history of the development of dhimmi status for Christian minorities; I will present two contrasting interpretations, give an assessment of the status of Christian minorities today, and then offer a (middle) way forward that neither ignores the anxieties of Christian minorities nor demonises Muslim majorities for the tensions that still exist between our two faith communities."

You can read the full paper here or download a pdf here and listen to the presentation here.

Read Tim Morgan's Christianity Today blog of the conference here.

Meet some of the participants here.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Netanyahu is 'no partner for peace'

Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu is not a partner for peace unless he backs a Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority's top negotiator has said.

Saeb Erekat was speaking after US envoy George Mitchell met Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, a day after talks in Israel.

He said Mr Netanyahu's new demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state was meant to stall talks.

Mr Netanyahu has not endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state.

Mr Erekat also urged the administration of US President Barack Obama to act as an "even-handed" broker.

Mr Mitchell is on his first visit to the region since Mr Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition took office.

After meetings with Palestinians on Friday and Israelis on Thursday, he reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution.

'No mention'

As he met Israeli leaders on Thursday, a senior official in Mr Netanyahu's office said the new prime minister had told Mr Mitchell: "Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognise Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples."

Under previous agreements, the Palestinians have recognised the right of the state of Israel to exist.

US envoy George Mitchell meets Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
President Obama's MidEast envoy (l) flew in to Israel on Wednesday

But correspondents say recognising it as a Jewish state would be tantamount to abandoning one of the Palestinians' key demands in final-status talks, the "right to return" of Palestinian refugees.

In a statement after Friday's meeting, Mr Erekat said the new Israeli condition "serves no other purpose than to stall progress towards negotiations".

"The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] has already recognised the state of Israel. Netanyahu refuses to even mention a Palestinian state," he said.

"Until the Netanyahu government unequivocally affirms its support for the two-state solution, implements Israel's Road Map [2003 peace plan] obligations and abides by previous agreements, Palestinians have no partner for peace," Mr Erekat added.

Mr Mitchell said the 2002 Arab peace initiative - under which Arab states would normalise relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza - should be the basis of peace talks.

"A two-state solution is the only solution," he said.

But during Thursday's meetings, far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the long-standing approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had brought "neither results nor solutions" and new ideas were needed.

Source: BBC News

Fuller Seminary: A Common Word Between Us and You

I've been trying out my new Flip Mino HD at the Evangelical Christian-Muslim Conference at Fuller Seminary. I've asked a few of the participants why they are here and what they hope the outcome will be. Here is what they had to say.

Don Wagner of North Park University, Chicago

Al Jansen of Open Doors

Len Rogers of Venture International

Chawkat Moucarry of World Vision

Fuller Seminary: Third Evangelical Christian Muslim Conference

I am at Fuller Theological Seminary participating in the third Evangelical Christian Muslim Conference. The theme is “A Common Word between us and you“. The conference has brought together evangelical and Muslim scholars from many educational institutions, mission agencies and countries to enhance the work of justice and peace.

Among the evangelicals here are: Donald Wagner, Leith Anderson, Gary Burge, Len Rogers, Colin Chapman, Dudley Woodbury, and Martin Accad. Muslim leaders include: Mahmoud Ayoub, Assad Busool, Asma Afsaruddin, Muhammad Sammak, Jamal Badawi, Sayid Sayeed, Abed Ismail.

Several present were signators of the Common Word declaration and the Christian Response initiaited by Yale. The two previous conferences in Chicago (November 2006) and Tripoli (January 2008) were formative and educational meetings with important friendships gained and fruitful dialogue exchanged. Sponsors include North Park University in Chicago, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and the World Islamic Call Society of Tripoli.

During the conference I delivered a paper entitled “Christian Minorities living under Muslim rule” You can read it here or as a pdf here. You can also watch the presentation here.

Read Tim Morgan's Christianity Today blog of the conference here.

Meet some of the participants here.

With Greg Albrecht of Plain Truth Ministries

Today I'm with my good friend Greg Albrecht, President of Plain Truth Ministries, in sunny Pasadena, California.

We are making some podcasts about the "End Times" and how to bring about peace with justice in the Middle East. The programmes will be aired on their website in June.

You can listen to a previous conversation and an article I wrote for Plain Truth Magazine here.

And here's a taster of today's interviews where I turn the tables on Greg!

Plain Truth Ministries proclaims authentic Christianity without the religion. Their work is Christ-centered, based on God's amazing grace, giving hope to those burned out by legalistic religion.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Dr Jeff Halper on Peacemaking and Antisemitism

Everyone loves peace, but not everyone loves peace-makers. The work of people like Stephen Sizer is crucial to peace-making. “Peace” is not merely a goody-goody term that we use on Christmas or Passover. It has to do with hard realities like conflict, injustice and suffering, all of which require not only good will, but an analysis which identifies the causes of the conflict and offers a way out. Hardest of all, peace-making requires self-reflection, self-criticism and the ability to see the viewpoint of the Other, the “enemy,” especially when “your side” is involved. And one more thing is essential to peace-making: an ability to reach out, even to your detractors, so that a common ground of action can be established.

In all these things my fellow peace-maker Stephen excels. Over the years he has shown both courage and good-will, but most important, in my mind, he has provided us with tough analysis, primarily around issues dealing with Christian Zionism, a fundamental obstacle to a just peace in Israel and Palestine, that helps us get to the foundations of the conflict in order to resolve it. One would think Stephen’s work would be appreciated by everyone – Christian Zionists excepted, (although a sizeable number of critical Evangelicals do support his analysis). His seminal book, Christian Zionism, accompanied by films and presentations, provides an authoritative de-bunking of the spurious theology underlying that school’s seemingly “pro-Israeli” positions which make genuine peace-making so difficult.

Why Stephen is attacked and demonized by the organized Jewish community is an absolute mystery to me. After all, Christian Zionism is supremely anti-Semitic: at the End of Days those Jews who do not accept Jesus die. Indeed, the Jews are sacrificed in the battle of Armageddon; witness Pat Robertson’s outrage at Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he ended the attack on Lebanon in 2006, an attack that, in the eyes of Robertson and other Christian Zionists, was supposed to trigger Armageddon – no matter what befalls the Jews/Israelis. Jewish demonization of Stephen, rather than of the Christian Zionists, who Jewish and Israeli leaders cynically consider our allies,” demonstrates nothing more than bad faith. It is perfectly acceptable, apparently, to be anti-Semitic if, like Robertson, you are “pro-Israel.” Simply professing a doctrine in which the Jewish people is exterminated and disappears is no crime, in their view, as long as it somehow serves short-term Israeli interests (and Stephen shows that Christian Zionism does not serve Israeli or Jewish interests in any way).

Ironically, then, it is the peace-makers – anti-anti-Semites like Stephen and even critical Israeli Jews like me – who are the enemy. If that is the case, then all the protestations of the Jewish community against anti-Semitism are hollow. What they really mean is, be anti-Semitic by all means if you combine that with a pro-Israeli position, but woe be unto those who fight such an anti-Semitic creed as Christian Zionism because by opposing Christian Zionism you are somehow opposing Israel. In attacking Stephen in his criticism of Christian Zionism, Jewish leaders have gone so far as to define “pro-Israeliness” in anti-Semitic terms.

But peace-makers are themselves tough people, willing and able to face down bigotry and bad faith. Indeed, this willingness and ability are what makes us peace-makers. To the organized Jewish community I would only say, as an Israeli Jew: remove your moral and intellectual blinders so as to be able to differentiate your true (if critical) friends from your true enemies.

Jeff Halper
April 8, 2009

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

See also Jeff Halper on Gaza: A Critical Reframing

Dr. Jeff Halper is a Professor of Anthropology formerly at Haifa and Ben Gurion universities. He received his PhD in Cultural and Applied Anthropology from the University of Wisonsin-Milwaukee and has taught at universities in Israel, the US, Latin America and Africa. He is the author of 'Between Redemption and Revival', 'Obstacles to Peace' and 'An Israeli in Palestine'. Dr. Halper was Director and Head of the Middle East Center for Friends World College and Coordinating Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He is the recipient of the Olive Branch Award from Jewish Voice for Peace in the USA and he was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans: South East Regional Meeting in Virginia Water on Friday 15th May

The launch in the UK and Ireland of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), the orthodox Anglican movement for mission at global and local level, is to take place on July 6 in London. The Fellowship is the outworking of last year’s GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, at which 1200 delegates signed up to the Jerusalem Statement. Those attending Gafcon 2008 represented some 40 million Anglicans world-wide, 70% of the total active membership of 55 million.

Click here for a larger PDF poster

Visit the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans

Book a place on Friday 15th May here

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Marzieh and Maryam

On March 5th 2009 two Iranian Christian women, Miss Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad (30), and Miss Maryam Rustampoor (27), were arrested by the Iranian security forces, according to reports received by FCNN.

Their only crime is that they are committed Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus. They are being unfairly labeled as ‘anti-government activists’, because of the hostility of the government towards practicing Christians. Their shared apartment was searched and personal belongings confiscated. They were hand-cuffed and first taken to the Police and Security Station 137 in Gysha, West of Tehran for interrogation. Later they were taken to Vozara Detention Centre.

Then they were taken to the Branch 2 of the National Security Section of the Revolutionary Court. Afterwards, several sessions of interrogation took place. Finally, on March 18th, after appearing at the Revolutionary Court, they were sent to the notorious Evin Prison where they are being held without charge. They have been told they could be freed on a bail of US$400,000. This excessive bail level is unrealistic and is designed to intimidate and make the release impossible.

The families have subsequently been told on several occasions a judge is not available to discuss the case. Both women are allowed just a one minute telephone call every day to their immediate families. Both are unwell and in need of urgent medical attention. During their last call on March 28 Marzieh said that she was suffering from an infection and high fever. She said ‘I am dying’.

There has been a noted increase in government intimidation of the Christians. Last year there were over 50 known cases of arrests and imprisonment. There were some cases of torture. Iranian Christian leaders from around the world are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Marzieh and Maryam.

Report from Elam Ministries

Recommended reading: No Place to Call Home by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Guerilla 'flash mob' worship in Liverpool

This is thought to be the first time 'flash mob' has been used to generate a 'random' act of Christian worship. It took place last Saturday at Liverpool One Shopping Centre.

On the dream - re-imagining worship website, some of those involved have posted an explanation:

'We began scattered among the shoppers. At the signal, we all stopped and took off our shoes ... an ancient sign that this is "holy ground". God lives in shopping malls as well as churches! We then made out way to the park at the centre of the mall where we sat together to form a cross ... and prayed silently for a few minutes. We remembered Easter and the cross. We prayed for the current economic situation ... for those who have lost jobs ... and for God's blessing on our city ... we prayed for hope.'

Christine has commented:

'What an amazing event. Walking barefooted was a small reminder of the pain Jesus must have felt when carrying the cross. It was a privilege to be part of such a great vision, thank you. I will be at the next one!....'

For more on Holy Week, read the second in our special series in The Times this week. (Posted by Ruth Gledhill here).

Monday, 6 April 2009

Israel in Gaza: A Critical Reframing

Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) has written an excellent paper examining Israel's policies in Gaza - which is reproduced, with permission, below.

"Israel's core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its invasion of Gaza in late December, 2008, cast Israel as the victim and endeavour that its "war on Hamas" not be seen against the background of prolonged occupation, closure and sanctions, but of the broader Western "War on Terror." The alternative view presented below argues otherwise. As Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of our interminable and bloody conflict with the Palestinians, we contend that security cannot be achieved unilaterally, especially as Israel shows no signs of fully relinquishing its 41 year Occupation so that a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian may emerge. In that context, Israel's attack on Gaza can be considered merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance. The immediate pretext of Israel's attack, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, does not explain the disproportionality of its attack, especially given the unrelenting sanctions, attacks and assassinations carried out by Israel throughout the cease-fire. Indeed, we argue that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, as well as the rise of Hamas to power, if it had accepted the PLO's offer of a two-state solution proffered already in 1988 and has entered into negotiations in good faith.

Instead, Israel, the strong party in the conflict and the sole Occupying Power, chose to dramatically increase its settler population, construct a permanent infrastructure of separation and control, remove "Greater Jerusalem" from Palestine and encircle the West Bank with its expanded borders: that of the Separation Barrier incorporating Israel's major settlement blocs and the "security border" of the Jordan River. Israel is not a victim; it is the active perpetrator of a permanent apartheid regime over all of Israel/Palestine. It is toward that goal that Gaza is being violently pacified today, Israel's killing with impunity scores of Palestinian civilians constituting nothing less than State Terrorism.

The following pages present the essential elements of the Israeli government's framing of its assault on Gaza, followed by a critical re-framing that introduces context, policies and aims which the government's version purposely omits.

· Israeli PR: Like all countries, it has a right and duty to defend its citizens.

An alternative framing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures which rob another people of its rights, aspirations and very livelihood, and to then refuse to truly engage with that people's elected leaders (a policy preceding Hamas's rise to power), is what puts your own people at risk. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, which is a 41 year-old occupation which the oppressed will resist, by "legitimate" means or not.

· Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians.

An alternative framing: Israel had a choice. In the past three years alone Israel – together with the US, Europe and Japan – imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. This war is no "response:" it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. Hamas firings on Israel were for the most part, if not exclusively, responses to Israeli actions either not reported in the press or discounted as legitimate unilateral action – such as assassinating leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations, often with a high toll in civilian casualties. To present the "barrage" as an independent variable disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous. Indeed, had there been a genuine political process which offered the Palestinians hope for self-determination, the rocket firings could have been avoided altogether.

· Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process. An alternative framing: "Terrorist" is a problematic term. States always use it to delegitimize and demonize non-state actors who resist their oppressive policies, as apartheid South Africa did, for example, with the ANC. The term assumes that states, bad as they may be, have the right to employ military force as they see fit. If, however, we take "terrorism" to mean the killing, harming or intimidation of non-combatant civilian populations, then states are far more terroristic, kill far more innocent civilians, than do non-state groups. In the eight years since the second Intifada broke out (September 2000), almost 500 Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians while almost 5000 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israelis. All attacks on civilians are unacceptable, no matter how just the cause. Yet it is only the Palestinians to whom the term "terrorist" is applied.

An alternative framing: Presenting Hamas as merely a "terrorist organization" removes the political element from their struggle and presents them as a criminal organization. This not only distorts reality in a fundamental way but, by preventing negotiations, it ensures the perpetuation of mutual suffering. Hamas has its military wing – though nothing compared to the Israeli army – but it is essentially a grassroots religious-political movement that democratically won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and earned the right to establish a government – which was denied it by Israel, the US…and the Fatah part of the Palestinian Authority. It does deny Israel's legitimacy, as any colonized people would, and there is no reason why it should accept the loss of 78% (or more) of its historic homeland. But Hamas has agreed, as a signatory to the "Prisoners' Document" and in repeated public pronouncements, to respect the outcome of negotiations of other Palestinian parties (like Fatah) with Israel, if they result in a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. So despite its militant and scary image, despite the fact that it will not legitimize what it considers another people's colonization of its homeland, Hamas does accept, as a practical political matter, a two-state solution. Given the fact that negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference of 1991 have yielded nothing – indeed, Israel's massive settlement enterprise has perhaps eliminated the possibility of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel – Hamas's resort to armed resistance is understandable. All attacks on civilians are prohibited in international law. In this regard both Hamas and Israel engage in terrorism, with the later taking by far the greatest of civilian dead, injured and traumatized.

· Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the "disengagement." Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

An alternative framing: Israel claims there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; instead, these are "disputed" territories with no clear claimant – and certainly not the Palestinians who, in Israel's view, do not constitute a people with rights of self-determination in the Land of Israel and who never exercised sovereignty over any part of Palestine. This position is rejected utterly by the international community. Indeed, the Road Map initiative uses the term "occupation" explicitly. Neither does it accept Israel's claim that the occupation of Gaza really ended with "disengagement" in 2005, since occupation is defined in international law as exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza. To then argue that Gaza could have developed under these conditions is unfair and unreasonable. Neither Israeli control exerted over Gaza since 1967 nor the economic closure imposed upon it in 1989 ever ceased, even if Israel removed its settlers and army. Gazans were never allowed to open their sea or air ports, nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed to develop. And then, in early 2006, less than six months after "disengagement," Gaza was sanctioned and hermetically isolated by Israel and the international community as punishment for voting the wrong way. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, wrote that this was the first time in history the oppressed was sanctioned and the Occupying Power freed of any responsibility. Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza. Let us also remember Israel's special responsibility towards the people of Gaza. These "civilians" are, for the most part, refugees driven from their homes in Israel in 1948 and their descendants, people dying and suffering at the hands of Israel for the past 41, if not 60, years. This adds a particular poignancy to the assault – yet another assault.

· Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it carries full responsibility.

An alternative framing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through Egypt) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border crossings (at least partially) in return for a end to rocket fire on Israel. Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air continued, and on the American election day in early November it attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people. In response Hamas launched rockets and….the truce began breaking down.

· Israeli PR: There is no humanitarian crisis; Israel is only attacking the "infrastructure of terror."

Alternative View: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure, from traffic cops (non-combatants under international law) to schools to military installations, "belong" to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli attacks go beyond "the infrastructure of terror." Gazan sources claim that some 5000 homes have been demolished and the Islamic University has been severely damaged. According to the UN OCHA report of January. 5, the tenth day of the war: ü "More than a million Gazans still have no electricity or water, and thousands of people have fled their homes for safe shelter;.

Gaza's water and sewage system is on the verge of collapse, 75% of Gaza's electricity has been cut off;

The sewage situation is highly dangerous, posing serious risks of the spread of water-borne disease;

Hospitals are unable to provide adequate intensive care to the high number of casualties. There is also an urgent need for more neuro-, vascular-, orthopedic- and open heart surgeons.

· Israeli PR: Israel only targets Hamas fighters.

An alternative framing: Who's a "Hamas fighter?" The graduating class of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on Gaza? Professors and students who attend the "Hamas" Islamic University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted for Hamas? Attacking a grassroots political-religious-social movement engaged in military resistance to occupation in densely crowded urban settings makes it either impossible or inconvenient for an invading army to distinguish between civilians and fighters.

· Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it's because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

An alternative framing: Gaza being such a barren, exposed and tiny area (360 sq. miles, half the size of London), separating civilian from military areas, though desirable, is impossible, especially since, in concept, Hamas is a people's militia. It's worth noting, however, that Israel's military headquarters are located in the center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in the densely populated Neveh Ya'akov neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel's center for biological and chemical warfare is located in the town of Ness Tziona, close to Tel Aviv, its main weapons development centers or in Haifa, and most settlements in the West Bank have military camps embedded within them – or vice versa. Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization, carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and keeping the fighting away from them. In a situation where this is impossible, as in Gaza, an invading force like Israel should avoid engagement, or engage only when legitimate military and political aims (such as defense) are genuinely endangered – which is not the case here. Israel has political and negotiating options that can end both the immediate threat of rockets and the longer-term conflict, but it chooses not to use them. A terrifying development: According to the Israeli press, Israel has decided to ignore the distinction between civilians and combatants which lies at the root of international laws of warfare. Citing what the IDF calls the "Georgia rules," the two military correspondents of Ha'aretz (Jan. 6 and 7) explain: [IDF Chief of Staff Gabi] Ashkenazi had said in earlier discussions that use of major fire power would be inevitable even in the most densely populated areas. The Israeli solution was thus to be very aggressive to protect the lives of the soldiers as much as possible. These are 'Georgia rules,' which are not so far from the methods Russia used in its conflict last summer. The result is the killing of dozens of non-combatant Palestinians. The Gaza medical teams might not have reached all of them yet. When an Israeli force gets into an entanglement, as in Sajaiyeh last night, massive fire into built-up areas is initiated to cover the extraction. In other cases, a chain of explosions is initiated from a distance to set off Hamas booby-traps. It is a method that leaves a swath of destruction taking in entire streets, and does not distinguish military targets from the homes of civilians….

The incident in which some 40 Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel Defense Forces mortar shells hit an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp Tuesday surprised no one who has been following events in Gaza in recent days. Senior officers admit that the IDF has been using enormous firepower. "For us, being cautious means being aggressive," explained one. "From the minute we entered, we've acted like we're at war. That creates enormous damage on the ground ... I just hope those who have fled the area of Gaza City in which we are operating will describe the shock. Maybe someone there will sober up before it continues."

What the officer did not say explicitly was that this is deliberate policy. Following the trauma of the war in Lebanon in 2006, the army realized that heavy IDF casualties would erode public (and especially political) support for the war and limit its ability to achieve its goals. Therefore, it is using aggressive tactics to save soldiers' lives. And the cabinet took this into account when it approved the ground operation last Friday, so it has no reason to change its mind now.

Nor is it likely that Tuesday's incident, with its large number of civilian deaths, will result in an immediate cease-fire…. Until Tuesday's incident, the world appeared relatively indifferent to Palestinian civilian casualties. On Monday, 31 members of the Samouny family were killed when a shell hit their house in Gaza City; that same day, 13 members of the Al-Daiya family where killed by another Israeli bomb. Yet international media coverage of these incidents was comparatively restrained. This is an absolutely unacceptable development in modern warfare – particularly urban warfare which involves and entraps large populations of civilians – and must be condemned and rejected by the international community. If the Israeli-Georgian "rules" become a de facto norm of warfare, the entire edifice of human rights and international which has been constructed over the past 60 years will collapse and we will enter into a new age of barbarism. Again, All attacks on civilians must be opposed, whether sanctioned or not by military doctrine.

· Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islamist fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah.

An alternative framing: Hamas was allowed by Israel to develop as a political force in Occupied Palestine in the late 1980s in order to counterbalance the secular PLO, which Israel regarded then as its real enemy but today considers a "moderate" force which should be supported in order to counterbalance Hamas(!). It has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, but is a particularly Palestinian phenomenon that arose in response to increasing Israeli repression, the loss of Palestinian land, rights and honor, and the corruption and high-handedness of the ruling Fatah party. It cannot be conflated with the Shi'ite Hizbollah (which emerged in Lebanon only in the wake of threw 1982 war), al-Qaida (which has a completely different global agenda and ideology) or Iran (in which the theocrats were an organized but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran's democracy in 1954 and installed the repressive regime of the Shah – for whom Israel trained his dreaded SAVAK security police, noted for their widespread torture of "dissidents"). Painting Hamas as part of a global conspiracy when it's a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous and a gross distortion of history. Indeed, as the history of Hamas, Hizbollah and the Iranian clerics shows, Israel itself had played a significant role in the rise of political Islam. An alternative framing: have to get beyond such simplistic and self-serving terms as "terrorists" and "terrorism" – especially since the Western politicians that use them refuse to apply them to themselves, as in the case of Israel in Gaza. It will do no good to dismiss Hamas as a "terrorist organization." The issues, grievances and demands upon which it arose must be addressed. From the point of view of its voters, who include many who do not share Hamas's religious or political agenda, Hamas is a quintessential liberation movement, a Palestinian liberation movement. Attempts by Israel to delegitimize Hamas and disassociate it from the Palestinian people, even to have the gall to suggest that the carnage created by Israel in Gaza will benefit the people by "releasing them from Hamas's grip," only serve – as they are intended to do – to neutralize Hamas as an effective source of resistance to Israel's Occupation.

· Israeli PR: In attacking Hamas in Gaza, Israel is only doing its part in the West's War on Terror.

An alternative framing: This brings us to why Israel actually attacked Gaza and why the slaughter has gone on far beyond Israel's declared goal of ending the rocket fire through negotiations. Immediate causes played their role, to be sure. Public pressure to end the rocket fire, especially in an election period, could not be ignored, nor the need to assert national pride. But this does not explain the immense scale of the operation; the rocket firings were the immediate trigger (and Hamas may have erred in its brinksmanship), but not the true reasons, which were several.

First, the invasion of Gaza was an exercise in pacification. On one level, it is an attempt to destroy Hamas as a political force, the only effective Palestinian resistance to Israel's ability, through the Annapolis Process, of imposing an apartheid regime on Palestine. On another level it seeks to pacify the Palestinian people by delivering "a message:" If you keep resisting, this is what is waiting for you. You have no hope to force Israel to withdraw from its settlements and expanded borders.

Second, it is an attempt to resuscitate Israel's image as an effective ally in the War on Terror after the humiliation of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This is crucial for Israel's security politics, especially vis-à-vis the US, and the Palestinians are paying the price for Hizbollah's success. Third, it is an exercise in urban warfare, an opportunity to field-test new weaponry and tactics of counterinsurgency in dense urban environments that can be exported – both as part of Israel's security politics (earning its place with the Big Boys at the table of the War Against Terror) and as part of its economic export strategy (60% of Israeli export firms deal in security). "Tested in Gaza" (or Nablus or Fluja) is one of Israel's most effective marketing pitches.

Gaza demonstrates in microcosm the shift in Israeli priorities and policies as its long-standing commitment to hold onto the Occupied Territories for both nationalist and security reasons comes into conflict with its broader regional and global agendas, centered today around its campaign to neutralize Iran's nuclear potential. The Saudi Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League, holds out the tantalizing offer of Israeli integration into the Middle East – meaning that Israel, whose foreign policy interests match those of the "moderate" Arab states, could assume a regional role. But because of public opinion in the Arab and Muslims worlds, this offer is good only if Israel relinquishes enough of the Occupied Territories that the Palestinian leadership could sign off on an agreement. Hence Israel's courting of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Mubarak and even Assad of Syria and the Saudis. And hence Israel's readiness to offer Abbas yet another "generous offer – short, however, of dismantling its major settlement blocs, relinquishing control over "greater" Jerusalem or giving up control of the border with Jordan, for which no Israeli government has a mandate. Caught between the necessity of maintaining its settlements – a position Netanyahu still endorses – and its desire to assume a role as one of regional hegemons, Israel is trying to find a way to finesse its way through. This explains Olmert's sudden readiness to change direction and talk of the necessity for a two-state solution, as well as the hasty Annapolis Process. Hence Abbas and Mubarak's support for Israel's action in Gaza (with mild, perfunctory criticism of its excesses). Their virtual collaboration with Israel raises even further in the eyes by many Palestinians and other Arabs the standing of Hamas as the only genuine source of resistance.

So there are high stakes involved in the Israeli-Hamas war, which diminish the seemingly decisive role the firing of rockets into Israel had. We do not believe that Israel can either impose an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people nor sustain its Occupation. If anything, as is becoming obvious, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emblematic as it is throughout the entire Muslim world and beyond (among, for example, progressives civil society on every continent), will impact negatively on European and especially American efforts to stabilize the global system, and in particular the volatile Middle East where the US remains bogged down. It is our role as proponents of human rights, international law, decolonization, the integrity of cultures and a just peace in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere to highlight the injustice and unsustainability of Israel's Occupation both on the ground and globally, the quicker to bring it to an end. May the suffering of the both peoples in this war on Gaza, one oppressed and the other held hostage to an image of the Palestinians as "permanent enemies," be the last straw. A just peace in Palestine will relieve a major obstacle towards global justice.

· Israeli PR: Israel, acting as any life-loving nation would, has a right to be a normal country living in peace and security.

An alternative framing: By now you should be empowered to provide a critical response of your own.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Please visit our websites:

Jeff Halper on Peacemaking and anti-semitism

Saturday, 4 April 2009

New York Times: Israel on Trial

George Bisharat is a distinguished professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He has written a devastating op-ed in today's New York Times detailing Israel's violations of international law in Gaza. This is a potential turning point in Americans' understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"CHILLING testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions. While Israel disputes some of the soldiers’ accounts, the evidence suggests that Israel committed the following six offenses:

• Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.

• Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.

• Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”

Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.

• Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.

International law authorizes killings of civilians if the objective of the attack is military, and the means are proportional to the advantage gained. Yet proportionality is irrelevant if the targets of attack were not military to begin with. Gaza government employees — traffic policemen, court clerks, secretaries and others — are not combatants merely because Israel considers Hamas, the governing party, a terrorist organization. Many countries do not regard violence against foreign military occupation as terrorism.

Of 1,434 Palestinians killed in the Gaza invasion, 960 were civilians, including 121 women and 288 children, according to a United Nations special rapporteur, Richard Falk. Israeli military lawyers instructed army commanders that Palestinians who remained in a targeted building after having been warned to leave were “voluntary human shields,” and thus combatants. Israeli gunners “knocked on roofs” — that is, fired first at corners of buildings, before hitting more vulnerable points — to “warn” Palestinian residents to flee.

With nearly all exits from the densely populated Gaza Strip blocked by Israel, and chaos reigning within it, this was a particularly cruel flaunting of international law. Willful killings of civilians that are not required by military necessity are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes under the Nuremberg principles.

• Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.

• Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.

Israeli political and military personnel who planned, ordered or executed these possible offenses should face criminal prosecution. The appointment of Richard Goldstone, the former war crimes prosecutor from South Africa, to head a fact-finding team into possible war crimes by both parties to the Gaza conflict is an important step in the right direction. The stature of international law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity."

The New York Times is bound to be flooded with letters. Please write your letter supporting Bisharat's position today. Letters to the editor should be under 150 words and include your name, address, and phone number(s) for verification purposes. Please send your letter to today.

See also BBC Report: UN Appoints Gaza War Crimes Team

UN Appoints Gaza War-Crimes Team

The UN has finally appointed a war-crimes team to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by the IDF in Gaza. In a strategic move they have appointed Richard Goldstone to head the team. Goldstone is a former UN chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He is also a former judge at the South African constitutional court. He is also on the board of governors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Mr Goldstone said he was "shocked, as a Jew", to be invited to head the mission. His appointment may help undermine accusations of bias and ensure impartiality.

Here is the BBC Report:

The UN has appointed South African judge and former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to lead a fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip.

Mr Goldstone will investigate alleged violations of international law during the recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Martin Uhomoibhi, president of the UN Human Rights Council, said the mission would be independent and impartial.

Israel calls the council biased and has previously refused to co-operate.

Mr Goldstone will lead a four-member team, which also includes experts from Pakistan, Britain, and Ireland, in investigating "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the Israeli campaign in Gaza that ended on 18 January.

"It's in the interest of the victims. It brings acknowledgment of what happened to them. It can assist the healing process," Mr Goldstone said.

"I would hope it's in the interests of all the political actors, too."

The fact-finding mission, which will aim to provide clarity on the legality of the deaths and destruction, is due to start work in the region within weeks, the UN said.

Read more of the BBC report here.

James Jennings, Ph.D, and Leonard Rodgers, both members of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, would welcome lending testimony to the United Nations fact finding team being formed by the newly appointed U.N. war crimes prosecutor from South Africa, Richard Goldstone, investigating possible war crimes by both parties to the Gaza conflict based on our first hand observations of the war.

Signed: Leonard Rodgers, Executive Director, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding and James Jennings, EMEU Advisory Board.

See also:

Zionists Attack UNWRA the UN Relief Agency

War Crimes: Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorous bombs

War Crimes: Israel used human shields in Gaza war

Israelis told to fight 'holy war' in Gaza

Gaza: How long before a War Crimes Investigation?

Al-Haq report on Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

Attack against Red Cross coordinator in Gaza

The Geneva Conventions: the core of international law

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Israel's Covert War on Iran Faces Disapproving White House

Richard Sale, writing in the Middle East Times, describes Israel's covert war against Iran and the mounting opposition from the US administration.

"Facing mounting U.S. opposition behind the scenes, Israel still plans to continue a covert operation to delay Iran's nuclear program by assassinating key Iranian scientists, U.S. officials said.

The Israeli program which has been in place for almost a decade, involves not only targeted killings of key Iranian assets but also disrupting and sabotaging Iran's nuclear technology purchasing network abroad, these sources said.

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst for Stratfor, a U.S. private intelligence company, commented publicly that key Iranian nuclear scientists were the targets of the strategy.

"With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key [Iranian] assets involved in the nuclear program and the sabotaging of the Iranian nuclear supply chain," he said.

But U.S. opposition to the program has intensified as U.S. President Barack Obama makes overtures aimed at thawing 30 years of tension between the two countries."

Sale claims, "A former senior CIA official described several joint U.S.-Mossad operations to derail Iran's nuclear program as "something out of slapstick." All had failed miserably, he said.

A new wave of assassination and sabotage programs were launched in spite of the fact that in 2005, the United States had little to no intelligence about the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

According to U.S. sources, in 2004, the CIA had lost its entire agent network in Iran when a CIA headquarters communications officer was about to send instructions to an agent via its Immarsat transmitter/receivers. The CIA officer attempted to download data intended for a single operative, but accidentally hit a button that sent it to the entire U.S. spy network in Iran, these sources said.

The information was received by a double agent who forwarded it to Iranian counterintelligence, which quickly wrapped up the entire network, leaving Washington completely blind.

Perhaps the earliest attempt to derail Iran's efforts was launched in 2000, under the Bill Clinton administration when, under the code-name "Operation Merlin," it gave a Russian defector and nuclear engineer plans for an atomic bomb and he delivered it to a high-ranking Iranian official in Vienna. The operation was personally approved by Clinton.

The plans were scary – they were for a Russian-made TBA 480 "firing switch' that could create an implosion that would trigger a chain reaction in a small spherical core of uranium"

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Rejects Road-Map and Two State Solution

Avigdor Lieberman, the new Foreign Minister of Israel, has probably achieved more in his first 24 hours in office to endanger the security of Israel than Hamas and Hezbollah have achieved in 24 years.

According to the BBC Israel's new ultra-nationalist foreign minister has said it is not bound by a US-sponsored 2007 agreement to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. "The Annapolis conference, it has no validity," Lieberman said.

In an article headlined, "Israel FM rejects Annapolis deal" the BBC records Lieberman's outburst at the handover ceremony at the foreign ministry, prompting his predecessor Tzipi Livni to interrupt and diplomats to shift uncomfortably. At Annapolis, each side agreed to further discussions aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state. Correspondents say officials at the foreign ministry seemed taken aback at such a sudden and public repudiation of one of the main planks of Israeli diplomatic activity.

'No' to Annapolis = 'No' to Palestine

"There is one document that obligates us - and that's not the Annapolis conference, it has no validity," Mr Lieberman said. The document he was referring to was the international peace plan known as the Road Map, signed in 2003, while "the Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament".

Haaretz reports, "New foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that Israel was changing its policies on the peace process and was not bound by commitments it made at a U.S.-sponsored conference to pursue creation of a Palestinian state."

Although the incoming Netanyahu government has avoided committing itself to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Road Map endorsed by Mr Lieberman was also meant to achieve that aim.

On the Two State Solution

On the Road-Map Two State solution, Lieberman has said, "Israel needs to explain that the demand for a Palestinian state and the refugees' right of return is a cover for radical Islam's attempt to destroy the State of Israel."

Middle East envoy Tony Blair earlier warned Israel that the Palestinians must have their own state to avoid a major conflagration in the region.

"The alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. If there is a one-state solution there is going to be a big fight," the former UK prime minister said on a visit to Brussels.

After Mr Lieberman's comments were published, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Mike Hammer, said the Obama administration remained "committed to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security".

On Peace with Egypt

On peace with Egypt, Lieberman said recently, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak should "go to hell", and has suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, drowning Egypt in the waters of the Nile.

Warning that Egypt was liable to surprise Israel with an attack, as it did in 1973, he continued: "There are enough signs and enough assessments that Egypt is waiting for the right moment."

On Peace with Syria

According to the BBC, Lieberman has insisted he opposes withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights as part of peace negotiations with Syria. He said he was "very much in favour of peace with Syria - but only on one basis - peace in return for peace" and not, by implication, a land-for-peace deal.

On War with Iran

Back in July 2007, Israel Today quoted the then Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman as saying that he received the tacit blessing of Europe and the United States for an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

“If we start military operations against Iran alone, then Europe and the US will support us,” Lieberman told Army Radio following a meeting earlier in the week with NATO and European Union officials.

Lieberman said the Western powers acknowledged the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat to the Jewish state, but said that ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are “going to prevent the leaders of countries in Europe and America from deciding on the use of force to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities,” even if diplomacy ultimately fails.

The message Lieberman said the NATO and EU officials conveyed to him is that Israel should “prevent the threat herself.”

In a Spiegel interview, Lieberman said "Iran is not an Israeli problem, it is a problem for the whole free world. What we have here is a clash of "different" civilizations, and Israeli is located at the front line. Bin Laden for example is not a rational person. What do you want to offer him? Money, territories? He would not accept anything in return for ending terror. The same is true of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad... We have to take into account that the international community may not do anything and that Israel may have to act alone."

On Arabs in Israel

In the Spiegel interview Lieberman said "When Ariel Sharon developed his disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, I argued: On the one hand you are establishing a monolithic Palestinian state without a single Jew, while Israel maintains an Arab population of 20 percent. It cannot be that there are one and a half states for one people and only half a state for the other. The connection between the Arabs in Israel and those in a Palestinian state will destroy us for sure."

On Israeli Foreign Policy

Reuters reports some of Lieberman's opinions that may well find their way into Israeli foreign policy.

2009 - "No loyalty, no citizenship" -- Lieberman's election slogan calling for legislation to require Israelis, including Arab citizens, to swear loyalty to the Jewish state.

"What we state unequivocally is that we are completely opposed to what has been and still is the guiding principle of Israel's foreign policy: 'land for peace' ... There is either 'peace for peace' or the exchange of territory and populations."

(Referring to his proposal to trade Arab-populated parts of Israel to a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel annexing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank)

"You have to be generous to your friends and cruel to your enemies. We are simply a society of wimps."

2008 - "Time and time again our leaders go to Egypt to meet (President Hosni) Mubarak and he has never agreed to make an official visit here as president. If he wants to talk to us, he should come here. If he doesn't want to come here, he can go to hell."

2007 - (To an Israeli Arab fellow member of parliament:) "You are an ally in the Knesset of terrorists. I hope that Hamas will take care of you and all the rest once and for all. Don't worry, your day will come."

"If Israel has to deal with the Iranian threat by itself, it can do so."

2006 - Speaking of Israeli Arab legislators who support the Palestinian cause: "The fate of the collaborators in the Knesset will be identical to that of those who collaborated with the Nazis. Collaborators, as well as criminals, were executed after the Nuremberg trials at the end of the World War Two. I hope that will be the fate of collaborators in this house."

2001 - "Mubarak continues to act against us and to travel for consultations with Saddam Hussein. If he carries out his threat and puts forces into the Sinai, it would be an example of a (crossing) of the red line to which we would have to respond strongly, including by bombing the Aswan Dam."

Richard Sale has an excellent article, "Israel's Covert War on Iran Faces Disapproving White House" in the Middle East Times

See also The Independent on Lieberman's rejection of the Two State Solution.