Archive for August, 2009

AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST DESALINATION PLANT TO SECURE WATER AND JOBS

Posted in BDS Success, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on August 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Premier, John Brumby, today announced the AquaSure consortium had been awarded the contract to build Australia’s biggest desalination plant, which will secure Victoria’s water supplies, deliver as many as 1700 direct new jobs and help ease tough water restrictions.

Mr Brumby said the Victorian Government selected AquaSure, consisting of Suez Environnement, Degremont, Thiess and Macquarie Capital Group to build the $3.5 billion desalination plant, with key features including:

• A guarantee to deliver desalinated water by the end of 2011;
• Value for money for water users;
• Delivery of water to meet Victoria’s high water quality standards;
• Flexibility to supply between 0 and 100 per cent of the plant’s capacity in block increments;
• Proven and secure desalination technology; and
• Security of finance for the project in a constrained global economy.

“I am delighted to announce today that AquaSure will build Australia’s biggest desalination plant near Wonthaggi,” Mr Brumby said.

“This desalination plant will be operational from the end of 2011 and is critical to securing water supplies for Melbourne, Geelong and towns in Western Port and South Gippsland.

“Our Government is committed to Victoria’s Desalination Project because we must deliver a solution that is not rainfall dependent in an era of climate change.

“Together with the Food Bowl Modernisation Project and Sugarloaf Pipeline, our new desalination plant will help ease water restrictions. I expect these projects will see our water storages begin to recover in 2012 and restrictions progressively eased.

“At the same time as securing our water supply, we are securing 1700 direct jobs and as many as 3050 indirect jobs during construction in a tough global economy.”

Mr Brumby said AquaSure had committed to additional features and projects, to ensure Victoria’s desalination plant was not only Australia’s biggest, but Australia’s most advanced, including:

• Secure underground power supply;
• Commitment to renewable energy projects to offset the plant’s energy use;
• Minimising the impact on the local environment, including continued use of Williamson’s Beach and the best possible visual amenity at the plant site; and
• Delivering benefits to the local community, such as a new broadband fibre optic cable and a secure local water supply.

Water Minister Tim Holding, said household water bills were increasing as a result of the water projects, but reiterated the Brumby Labor Government’s commitment that average bills would not more than double by 2012.

“Importantly, Victoria’s Desalination Project is being delivered as a Public Private Partnership which ensures that water remains in public hands and delivers value for money,” Mr Holding said.
Mr Holding said the bidders had been able to secure finance for the project in the most challenging economic climate since the Great Depression.

“The capacity of AquaSure to raise the necessary funds in such a tough global economic environment is a testament to the strong Victorian economy under the Brumby Labor Government,” Mr Holding said.

“AquaSure will now seek to diversify its investor base, with the Victorian Government providing a Treasurer’s Guarantee of Syndication. This means the State will be a lender of last resort if required, at commercial rates.

“This innovative arrangement will ensure the project can be delivered on time, despite the global financial crisis.”

Mr Holding said the desalination plant was being built to deliver up to 150 billion litres of water a year, with the capacity to increase production to 200 billion litres if necessary.

“Victoria’s desalination plant will give water users complete flexibility – with the capacity for the Government to order water in annual block increments, starting at zero, then 50, 75, 100, 125, 150 billion litres as required,” Mr Holding said.

An independent reviewer and environmental auditor will ensure quality design and environmental protection.

“Victoria has set high international standards for the project with strict environmental safeguards as well as undersea inlet and outlet tunnels to minimise the impact on marine life,” Mr Holding said.

“AquaSure has committed to develop, in partnership with AGL, the Oaklands Hill 63MW wind farm near Glenthompson which will create 200 new jobs.

Mr Brumby welcomed AquaSure’s commitment to power the plant by the Government’s preferred option – an underground power line travelling largely along the desalination pipeline alignment to Cranbourne.

“We listened to the local community and concluded that underground power was the preferred option to power the desalination plant,” Mr Brumby said.

“By securing underground power, the project will have the least impact on landowners, farmers and other people living and working in the area.

“AquaSure has also committed to running a high speed broadband cable alongside the power line, in another great result for the local community.”

Other local projects to be delivered with the desalination plant include:
• $12 million in road upgrades, many of which are underway; and
• Development of a housing strategy for workers coming to the region.

Mr Brumby thanked BassWater – consisting of Veolia, John Holland and the Royal Bank of Scotland – for their highly professional and competitive bid.

“I believe that either consortium could have successfully delivered the project, however BassWater was unsuccessful in its bid,” he said.

Financial close on the contract will occur by 4 September. AquaSure will begin construction in October on the desalination project, which will include the plant at Wonthaggi, the 86-kilometre transfer pipeline to connect to Melbourne’s existing network, the underground power source and renewable energy projects.

UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON QUESTION OF PALESTINE OPENS IN GENEVA TO DISCUSS ISSUES SURROUNDING GAZA WAR

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on August 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Speakers Call Attacks on Civilians War Crimes and Possibly Crimes against Humanity and Call for Independent Investigations

22 July 2009

An international meeting on the question of Palestine, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opened today in Geneva to discuss the responsibility of the international community to uphold international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians in Occupied Palestinian Territories in the wake of the war in Gaza. In a first plenary meeting, participants discussed the results of various investigations of Israeli conduct during the 2009 war in Gaza carried out by the United Nations, the League of Arab States, United Nations Special Rapporteurs, parliamentarians and other groups.

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, in a message read out by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Under-Secretary-General and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government of Israel had to commit itself fully to its obligations, including to freeze settlement activity. Continued settlement activity would not only be acting contrary to international law but also against a strong international consensus. By contrast, if Israel froze settlement activity, it would facilitate a new environment of cooperation and common purpose from the countries in the region. Most urgently, Israel had to allow basic supplies, goods and reconstruction materials into Gaza through a sustained reopening of crossing points. All parties were urged to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law related to the treatment of detainees, including Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, to whom neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor any other international body had been granted access. “Let us rise to our responsibilities, and thereby help the parties rise to theirs”, he concluded.

Paul Badji, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in his opening statement, said that the Israeli onslaught against Gaza during the 22 days of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January of 2009 had demonstrated the total disregard by Israel of international humanitarian law. Recent testimony by some 30 soldiers who served in all sectors of the Operation had lent further credibility to the allegations. According to the soldiers, they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants. The international community could not show complacency in the face of such allegations. It had to mobilize to prevent future violations of and uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and to hold those committing them accountable. The existing legal instruments, and in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, provided the necessary tools for the international community to ensure the rule of law.

Also in opening statements, Rudy Salles, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and Vice-Chairman of the French National Assembly, said that one of the Assembly’s initiatives was to organize, with the Government of Malta, a parliamentary symposium on the status of the city of Jerusalem and to come out with proposals that would be sent to the main stakeholders. In a message delivered by Mr. Badji, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, President of the United Nations General Assembly, observed that for the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians who lived there, the Gaza war had not ended and that the blockade continued today. United Nations obligations under the Charter and United Nations resolutions, as well as under international humanitarian law, remained unfulfilled. For Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Representative of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva, the urgency of ending the tragedy and injustice of the Palestinian people, after more than 60 years of statelessness, could not be overstated. While resolving the question of Palestine was urgent for the Middle East, it was also important for the whole world – not only to make peace and security a reality but to make it flourish throughout the whole world.

In a first plenary meeting, on the results of investigations of Israeli conduct during the war in Gaza, John Dugard, Head of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee on Gaza of the League of Arab States, said that his Committee had heard disturbing accounts of cold-blooded killings of civilians by members of the Israel Defense Forces, accounts which had later been confirmed by Israeli soldiers at the Oranim military college. Although Israel had initially denied it had used white phosphorous, it later admitted its use. The Independent Committee found Israel’s actions met the requirements for the actus reus of the crime of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention. George Vella, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Middle East of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, said that currently in Gaza there was a collapse of the private sector due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities. The indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians constituted war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court should accept the declaration lodged by the Government of Palestine. David Hammerstein, Former Member of the European Parliament for Spain, said that the position of the European Parliament was very clear, if the positions of the Members were often not. That included the lifting of the siege of Gaza and the end of collective punishment of the civilian population; the end of use of disproportionate force and illegal weapons; a total suspension of the settlement building; and the building of a large solar plant for electricity and desalinization in or near Gaza. Javier Solana had recently called for the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian State and the two-State solution by a certain deadline even if Israel and others did not.

Also speaking in the plenary, Ran Yaron, Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Department of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, said the findings of the investigations by the Israeli Army into suspected human rights violations in the field of health raised various questions and doubts. The basic problem was that the investigative body formed part of the Army, which made it lose its objectivity and independence. It was important to establish an objective and independent body to investigate the incidents. Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch said that Human Rights Watch had released reports on the use of white phosphorus and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and would soon release reports on IDF shootings of civilians attempting to convey their civilian status, as well as the wanton destruction of civilian property by the IDF. The IDF’s repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus into densely populated areas failed to take all feasible precautions against civilian harm, failed to discriminate between civilians and military targets, and revealed a policy rather than accidental usage.

The International Meeting will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. by holding a second plenary on the responsibility of Governments and intergovernmental organizations in upholding international law.

Introductory Statements

PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that one could still recall the events that had happened in Gaza at the beginning of the year and the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Army, with complete disregard for the civil population. The Committee, along with other international organizations, had condemned the attack, as well as the rocket attacks by armed groups into Israel. Since those events, several missions of inquiry had carried out investigations into the events. The Committee had felt that it was important, following the war in Gaza, to convene this meeting to look into the need for respect of international humanitarian law. The meeting would provide a forum for experts of international law, members of investigation committees and others to present their assessment to representatives of Government and civil society organizations. The Committee was confident that the meeting would strengthen the principles of international law.

SERGEI ORDZHONIKIDZE, Under-Secretary-General and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, delivering a message on behalf of BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, noted that intensive diplomatic efforts were under way to create what the Quartet had recently called the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations. All wanted to see both parties committed to the two-State solution and to their road map obligations, and an agenda of transformative change on the ground. In particular, Israel should commit fully to its obligations, including to freeze settlement activity and natural growth. If Israel continued settlement activity, it would not only be acting contrary to international law but also to a strong international consensus. By contrast, if Israel froze settlement activity, it would facilitate a new environment of cooperation and common purpose from the countries in the region, building on the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative. With its recent welcome measures to ease closures on important West Bank routes, Israel had shown that it was possible to change longstanding practices. Israel should also cease unilateral actions in Jerusalem such as house demolitions, and heed the five-year-old Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall.

The Secretary-General remained deeply concerned about conditions of the civilian population in Gaza, the unsustainable political situation there and the potential for renewed conflict and instability. While there had been a decrease in violence and an attempt to halt rocket fire, all sides should commit to a complete cessation of violence. More also had to be done to ensure that illicit weapons did not enter Gaza and to implement the other key elements of Security Council resolution 1860. Most urgently, the United Nations reiterated its call on Israel to allow basic supplies, goods and reconstruction materials into Gaza through a sustained reopening of crossing points. The United Nations had also presented the Government of Israel with a proposal to begin a first phase of early recovery and reconstruction, which merited a positive response. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority had also to intensify its efforts on the ground. In particular, it was regrettable that Hamas, for its part, had not renounced violence and committed clearly to existing agreements and a two-State solution with Israel. That made efforts to achieve Palestinian unity and statehood much more difficult and Hamas was urged to reconsider those stances.

Following the hostilities in Gaza and southern Israel, the Secretary-General had established a Board of Inquiry into incidents that had affected United Nations premises and personnel. The Secretariat was following up on the Board’s recommendations, including compensation for damages to United Nations property. The Secretary-General was also supporting and following with interest the work of the Human Rights Council fact-finding mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone. All parties were urged to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law related to the treatment of detainees, including Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, to whom neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor any other international body had been granted access. The international community continued to have a crucial role to play in the search for peace in the Middle East. “Let us rise to our responsibilities, and thereby help the parties rise to theirs”, Mr. Ban said in his message.

PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, taking the floor again, noted that they were meeting at a time when there was little reason for optimism with regard to a possible prompt solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The peace negotiations were stalled despite statements by both parties that they remained committed to the tenets of the road map. The conditions recently set out by Israel in the statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 14 June 2009, his statements and those of members of his Cabinet since then and continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank made it difficult to foresee the resumption of a viable peace process in the immediate future. There has not been an end to violence on either side, and they had witnessed the disquieting phenomenon of a significant increase of settler violence against Palestinians, often aided and abetted by the Israeli army. There was at present no sign that genuine political negotiations were about to begin and that the occupation might come to an end. The situation on the ground, therefore, remained volatile and was potentially explosive.

As the Committee had stressed on numerous occasions, the continued occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel, which comprised the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was a violation of international humanitarian law. The Israeli onslaught against Gaza during the 22 days of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January of 2009 had demonstrated the total disregard by Israel of international humanitarian law. Attesting to that was the number of deaths and injuries among the population of the Gaza Strip and the extensive and deliberate destruction of property and infrastructure. A huge percentage of the more than 1,400 persons who had been killed during the offensive were civilians, including women, the elderly and children. More than 5,000 persons had been wounded. Not only has a large part of the Gaza Strip been reduced to more than 600,000 tonnes of rubble which, according to the United Nations Development Programme, would take more than a year to clear, but even the several billion dollars pledged for humanitarian aid and reconstruction had been prevented from reaching the territory because of the total Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. The population of the Gaza Strip was kept one step ahead of outright starvation thanks to a trickle of minimal quantities of humanitarian assistance and other indispensable supplies which were allowed to enter the territory.

The Committee was especially disheartened that activities such as the expansion and establishment of settlements and the building of the wall in the West Bank continue unabated. Together with the settlements, the so-called “security barrier” was fast becoming a barrier to peace. Concerning violations of international humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip during the Operation Cast Lead, Mr. Badji said that recent testimony by some 30 soldiers who served in all sectors of the Operation had lent further credibility to the allegations, even though the testimony at the Israeli military academy which initially gave rise to the brief inquiry by the Israel Defense Forces was dismissed as unfounded. According to the soldiers, they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants. The international community could not show complacency in the face of such allegations. It must mobilize to prevent future violations of and uphold international humanitarian and human rights law and to hold those committing them accountable. The existing legal instruments, and in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, provided the necessary tools for the international community to ensure the rule of law.

RUDY SALLES, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and Vice-Chairman of the French National Assembly, said that as a representative of the people he had always worked for a “rapprochement” between people; it was by bringing people together that one could achieve things. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean was trying to achieve that in the whole Mediterranean region. The first discussion they had focused on after the creation of the Assembly of the Mediterranean had been whether all countries of the region could be represented. Some had said that they did not want Israel to be present. After 24 hours of discussions everyone had accepted to have Israel onboard. It was better to speak around a table than to have people fight on the ground. Both Palestine and Israel would be represented again at the Assembly this year.

Mr. Salles said that they had recently conducted a visit to Palestine, Egypt and Jordan and had met the main stakeholders in the region. They wanted to look at how parliamentarians could support the peace process. They did not wish to be another initiative, but their role was important as they were the only organization which included the whole Mediterranean region. Further, they would organize, with the Government of Malta, a parliamentary symposium on the status of the city of Jerusalem and come out with proposals that would be sent to the main stakeholders. The question of Jerusalem, without a doubt, was extremely thorny. It should not divide people and the world; it should become, once again, the city of peace and unity and should be considered a world heritage.

In a message delivered by Mr. Badji, MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN, President of the United Nations General Assembly, observed that the theme of today’s meeting was the responsibility of the international community to uphold international humanitarian law, and to ensure the protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the wake of the Gaza war. But in many ways, for the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians who lived there, the Gaza war had not ended. In the midst of Israel’s 22-day assault against Gaza that ended on 19 January 2009, the General Assembly had passed a resolution that called not only for an immediate ceasefire but specifically called upon all Member States to urgently extend the necessary support to international and regional efforts aimed at alleviating the critical humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, emphasizing the need to ensure the sustained opening of border crossings for the free movement of persons and goods into and out of the Strip. The meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened today, six months later. And yet the blockade continued. The United Nations and the Member States of the United Nations, despite their now six-month-old commitment to ensure the sustained opening of border crossing for the free movement of persons and goods, stood silent. United Nations obligations under the Charter and United Nations resolutions, as well as under international humanitarian law, remained unfulfilled.

With Governments and the United Nations standing mute, unwilling or unable to provide assistance or protection to the people of Gaza, international civil society had taken the lead. Ships carrying humanitarian aid and human rights activists, accompanied by Nobel Peace laureates, parliamentarians and journalists representing people around the world, had been stopped in international seas, far outside Israeli territorial waters, by the naval forces of the Occupying Power, the ships taken forcibly to Israel and their passengers accused of illegal entry. The humanitarian goods had been taken in custody. Convoys of trucks driven by ordinary people from a host of countries, all committed to human rights, and laden with humanitarian supplies were now making their way by land across Egypt, to bring relief and solidarity to the people of Gaza. They in the United Nations would do well to follow that example in bringing international pressure to bear on the Occupying Power to abide by the requirements of international law, particularly that of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Those means were taking shape in the global call for boycott, divestment and sanctions to bring about an end to the violations of humanitarian law.

During the Gaza crisis, Mr. Brockmann had reminded all Member States of the United Nations that the United Nations continued to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law – regardless of what country might be responsible for those violations. That reminder held true today and was the reason why the current conference in Geneva was so important.

IBRAHIM KHRAISHI, Permanent Representative of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva, conveyed the greetings and the message of President Abbas, who had not been able to join the meeting, expressing deep appreciation to the Committee for convening this meeting. Over the decades, the Committee had worked tirelessly for the rights of the Palestinian people and in support of the peace process. The urgency of ending the tragedy and injustice of the Palestinian people, after more than 60 years of statelessness, could not be overstated. While resolving the question of Palestine was urgent for the Middle East, it was also important for the whole world – not only to make peace and security a reality but to make it flourish throughout the whole world. Too much time had been wasted and lives had been lost as a result of the continuation of the tragic conflict.

Following the war in Gaza and the election of a right-wing extremist Government this year, the situation on the ground had further worsened. The situation in the Gaza Strip remained grave as a result of the Israeli blockade. They had to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict which would bring an end to the occupation and establish East Jerusalem as a capital. Immediate efforts had to be undertaken on the ground to make the two-State solution a reality, Mr. Khraishi underscored. The illegal blockade had to end immediately. Border crossings had to be allowed, in accordance with international humanitarian law. Israel had to cease it raids and arrest operations, the construction of the separation wall and the construction of further homes, as that was contrary to the peace process. Israel had to cease all settlement activities. Further, the Quartet had to realize that mild appeals were not sufficient.

Plenary I: The Results of Investigations of Israeli Conduct During the War in Gaza

JOHN DUGARD, Head of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee on Gaza of the League of Arab States, presenting the report of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee, said that the past two decades had seen important developments in international accountability for international crimes: international crimes had been defined with more clarity by international treaties and judicial decisions; international tribunals had been established to try international criminals; and treaties had placed obligations upon States to either try international criminals themselves or to cooperate with other States or international tribunals in the prosecution of those suspected of international crimes. The result was that States and their political and military leaders were no longer beyond the reach of the law. International law had set itself against impunity. Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, had to be seen in that context. Several reports of investigative bodies established by intergovernmental bodies had found that there had been very serious international crimes in the Gaza offensive. The Independent Fact-Finding Committee on Gaza to the League of Arab States had visited Gaza from 22 to 27 February 2009. It had requested cooperation from Israel, which had not been granted. The Committee had nevertheless received evidence of great loss of life and injury in Gaza, with over 1,400 Palestinians killed, representing at least 850 civilians, including 300 children; and over 5,000 wounded.

According to the Israeli definition of combatant, which was not accepted by the Committee, everyone somehow related to Hamas was a combatant. The Committee had also heard disturbing accounts of cold-blooded killings of civilians by members of the Israel Defense Forces, accounts which were later confirmed by Israeli soldiers at the Oranim military college. Moreover, although Israel had initially denied it had used white phosphorous in the offensive, it had later admitted its use but denied it had been used unlawfully. There was also substantial destruction of and damage done to property during the offensive. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed and over 11,000 damaged; 215 factories and 700 private businesses had been seriously damaged or destroyed; and 15 hospitals and 43 primary health care centres had been destroyed or damaged. There was no evidence that the destruction served any military purpose and the Committee considered it as clearly disproportionate.

The Independent Committee found Israel’s actions met the requirements for the actus reus of the crime of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention, in that the Israel Defense Forces were responsible for killing, exterminating and causing serious bodily harm to members of a group – the Palestinians of Gaza. However, the main reason for the operation was not to destroy a group, as required for the crime of genocide, but to engage in a vicious exercise of collective punishment designed either to compel the population to reject Hamas as the governing authority of Gaza or to subdue the population into a state of submission. Israel’s offensive against Gaza presented a real dilemma for the international community. On the one hand, important developments in international law relating to the accountability of States and their leaders for international crimes insisted that there should be no more impunity. On the other hand, no serious attempt was being made to hold Israel accountable for Operation Cast Lead. As far as the European Union and the United States were concerned Israel was beyond the reach of the law – it was above the law. The consequence was that the rules of international law on accountability for international crimes were not only undermined, their very existence was brought into question. Either the international community held Israel and its leaders accountable for their actions or it abandoned its efforts to secure international justice.

GEORGE VELLA, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Middle East of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, reporting on the visit to the Middle East by the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean in May 2009, said that the war in Gaza had attracted the world’s attention because of its intensity, the inequality of firing power of the two sides involved, and the total disregard by the attacking forces to make any distinction between civilian and military targets, and by their obstinate refusal to concede adequate access to vital humanitarian aid services. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean had decided to embark on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East to get to know more about the situation in Gaza, especially the plight of the civilian population and the consequences of the Israeli military operation. In an earlier visit this year, he had been impressed by the strict controls at Rafah check point, the huge amounts of aid material stacked at El Arish and by the large number of ambulances arriving from the Gaza Strip. Evidence of mortar and rocket fire on civilian buildings, with quite heavy damage, could be seen at regular intervals in all areas of Gaza they had passed through along their route. Homeless people were living in appalling conditions, in makeshift sheds, using material salvaged from the destruction, and in all sorts of tents, with no sanitary facilities, and no running water.

Turning to the current situation, Mr. Vella said that it was estimated that 500 or 600 truckloads of provisions were needed daily, but Israeli forces allowed in only 75 truckloads a day. There was a collapse of the private sector; fuel was in short supply; unemployment had risen to 46 per cent; and reconstruction was impossible, due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on bringing in any types of construction material. The situation was dramatic, and could only fuel more hate, more radicalism, and more instability. The indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians constituted war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court should accept the declaration lodged by the Government of Palestine.

Mr. Vella announced that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) had unanimously decided to award the PAM Prize to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for the commitment, dedication and efficiency with which that United Nations agency was seeing to the needs of the civilian Palestinian population.

DAVID HAMMERSTEIN, Former Member of the European Parliament for Spain, said that the position of the European Parliament was very clear, but the positions of the Members were often not. When the European Council got together that was a problem, as there was rarely a consensus needed to take a decision. The European Parliament’s position included the lifting of the siege of Gaza and the end of collective punishment of the civilian population; the end of use of disproportionate force and illegal weapons; a total suspension of the settlement building; and the building of a large solar plant for electricity and desalinization in or near Gaza for energy and water autonomy.

The European Union’s top foreign policy representative Javier Solana had recently called for the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian State and the two-State solution by a certain deadline even if Israel and others did not. After a fixed deadline, a United Nations Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-State solution. European Union policy on the Middle East did not really exist, because the needed unanimity by the 27 countries was hard to reach. There was now a new policy on the Middle East by Barack Obama and the European Union often played the sherpa for the United States Government trying the ground. The European Union was a great payer, but not a great player. The European Union’s greatest allotment of aid per capita was for the Palestinian authority, but was the European Union financing an occupation? That humanitarian aid should be questioned which could lead to destabilization in Gaza, but it would also put the brunt of the occupation on Israel. At the moment, many people in Israel thought the current situation was the best possible case because the occupation did not cost Israel anything.

RAN YARON, Director of the Occupied Palestinian Territories Department of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, said that his presentation would focus on the subject of the investigations by the Israeli Army into suspected human rights violations in the field of medicine in health. During the attacks, numerous testimonies had been collected from Palestinian civilians and others raising suspicion that both sides had committed war crimes and grave human rights violations. Based on the belief that a democratic society had to examine itself, eleven human rights organizations active in Israel had contacted the Israeli Attorney-General and had demanded that an independent and impartial body be established to investigate the behaviour of the Army in the Gaza Strip. The request had been rejected on the grounds that the Israeli army had appropriate tools to examine the various suspected violations of international law.

The Army had established eight committees of investigation and had published the findings of five of them in April 2009. Their findings raised various questions and doubts regarding the facts they had included and their wording. The basic problem was that the investigative body formed part of the Army, which made it lose its objectivity and independence, as shown by the appointment of a colonel to head the investigative team. The investigation had found that Hamas had systematically used medical facilities and ambulances as a cover for its military operations. Did one or two such examples justify the damage caused to 34 medical installations and 26 first aid clinics by Israeli fire during the attack on Gaza as well as attacks on 12 ambulances and 25 medical personnel, 16 of whom were killed? Clearly not, Mr. Yaron said. The provisions of international law explicitly prohibited that and Israel had violated the provisions of international law.

The examples given in the conclusions of the investigation by the Israeli Army regarding damage to rescue vehicles and injury to medical personnel were isolated and vague. They did not include the date, circumstances, and location of the incident and it was difficult to address them seriously. Furthermore, the Army had not contacted any organization that had collected information, despite the fact that organizations in Israel had contacted the Army and had attempted to forward information regarding human rights violations. The Army had also silenced soldiers, Mr. Yaron observed. In that way the Army delegitimized testimonies that diverged from its public relations line. For all those reasons, it was important to establish an objective and independent body to investigate the incidents.

BILL VAN ESVELD, of Human Rights Watch, said that the Israeli authorities continued to bar Human Rights Watch from access to Gaza, but they had entered the territory via Egypt on 21 January and had stayed for two weeks. It had conducted a second two-week research trip in April (2009). Human Rights Watch had released reports on the use of white phosphorus and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and would soon release reports on IDF shootings of civilians attempting to convey their civilian status, as well as the wanton destruction of civilian property by the IDF. White phosphorus was a chemical substance used primarily to obscure the movement of armoured vehicles and troops. It was not a chemical weapon and was not banned per se under international law. It ignited and burned on contact with oxygen and continued burning at up to 816 degree Celsius. When white phosphorus came into contact with skin it created intense and persistent burns, sometimes to the bone; infection was common and the chemical was toxic in the body and could cause serious organ damage and death. On at least three occasions, the IDF had air-burst white phosphorus in densely populated areas. In several attacks, including on the UNRWA compound, Human Rights Watch could find no military justification for the use of the phosphorus as a smoke screen, as there were no Israeli forces on the ground at the time, suggesting it was used for its incendiary effect. However, even if intended as a smoke screen, the IDF’s repeated firing of air-burst white phosphorus into densely populated areas failed to take all feasible precautions against civilian harm, and failed to discriminate between civilians and military targets. Israel’s repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus in populated areas until the last days of the operation revealed a policy rather than accidental usage. All of the white phosphorus shells that Human Rights Watch had found came from the United States, and it called on the United States to halt all further transfers of those munitions to Israel pending an investigation.

Turning to the drones, which were used extensively in the Gaza conflict for surveillance and attack purposes, Mr. Esveld noted that if doubts arose about a target after a missile had been launched, the drone operator could divert the weapon such as by flying it into the ground. Despite the advance capabilities of drones, however, in Gaza, Israel’s targeting choices led to the loss of many civilian lives. Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations reported 42 drone attacks that killed 87 civilians. Human Rights Watch did not find evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time. In terms of new reports, Human Rights Watch had investigated seven cases where small arms fire had killed 11 civilians. In each case the victims had been standing, walking or in a slowly moving vehicle with other unarmed civilians who were waving a white flag, and the events had taken place in areas over which the IDF had effective control and no fighting was ongoing at the time. In the most serious case, on 7 January, two women and three children were standing outside their home for a few minutes, at least three of them holding pieces of white cloth, before an Israeli soldier opened fire, killing a seven-year-old and a two-year-old girl. Human Rights Watch was preparing a second report based on its investigation of widespread and unnecessary destruction of private homes, public infrastructure, factories and businesses in a manner which suggested a policy of destruction that amounted to collective punishment.

Boycotts as a Legitimate Means of Resistance

Posted in Apartheid, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on August 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

As Determined by the Oppressed People

by Kim Petersen / August 29th, 2009

Prejudice does not always come with an ugly face. The same holds for Zionism and racism. It is entirely possible for well-intentioned people to hold a prejudice and, even worse, act on held prejudices.

Uri Avnery opposes the brutality inflicted on Palestinians. He campaigns for peace with Palestinians. But he also has a Zionist past. He is European born and fought for the terrorist Irgun in perpetration of a holocaust (Nakba) against Palestinans. He later renounced Irgun’s tactics. He is antiwar, but he is not anti-the fruits of war. He approves of a two state solution. In other words, Israeli Jews will keep the fruits of their dispossessing others — this while continuing to press for the return of what they were dispossessed.1

Avnery advocates selective use of tactics against Zionism. This is apparent when it comes to an international boycott of Israel. Avnery states that no one is better qualified than South African archbishop Desmond Tutu to answer this question.2

What does Tutu say? He has called on the international community to treat Israel as it treated apartheid South Africa. Tutu supports the divestment campaign against Israel.3

Avnery’s fellow Israeli, Neve Gordon, agrees that it is time for a boycott.4 Avnery laments, “I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.”

Indeed, the apartheids — while in many respects similar — are also different. Gary Zaztman pointed to a key difference:

For all its serious and undoubted evils and the numerous crimes against humanity committed in its name, including physical slaughters, South African white-racist apartheid was not premised on committing genocide. Zionism, on the other hand, has been committed to dissolving the social, cultural, political and economic integrity of the Palestinian people, i.e., genocide, from the outset, at least as early as Theodor Herzl’s injunction in his diaries that the “transfer” of the Palestinian “penniless population” elsewhere be conducted “discreetly and circumspectly.”5

Boycotts as a Tactic against Racism

Avnery says Tutu told him: “The boycott was immensely important, much more than the armed struggle.”

But it was the revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, who refused to give up the right to armed struggle, who negotiated the dismantling of South African apartheid.6

Tutu also told Avnery, “The importance of the boycott was not only economic but also moral.”

Avnery writes, “It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.”

So what is Avnery saying? First he states that Tutu is best qualified person to speak to the effectiveness of boycotting as a tool in the fight against racism, then he says Tutu has it wrong. So is Avnery saying, then, that he is best qualified to speak on the effectiveness of boycotts against racism?

Avnery fears that Israeli Jews will feel “the whole world is against us.”

However, isn’t that, in a sense, what the purpose is: to show that the whole world is against Jewish racism against Palestinians? It must be emphasized that the world is not against Jews, as Israeli propaganda would choose to portray it. Although he doesn’t specifically state it, Avnery is using a version of the anti-Semitism smear: if you are against anything Israel does, then you are against Israelis. Hence, you are anti-Semitic. This grotesque perversion of morality and logic holds that to be against racism toward Palestinians makes one anti-Semitic.

Avnery admits, “In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling [sic] it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the ‘anti-Semitic world’. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)”

Avnery merely states what is the current status quo. Israel is already hunkered down in an extreme right fortress mentality. The boycott is not the cause. Avnery fixates on the population dynamics. What is the relevance of majority and minority in Avnery’s reasoning? It would seem that Palestinians being in the minority – and the fact that the Palestinians support the boycott – to be even greater reason for international support of the boycott. Who and what is Avnery supporting: Palestinians from racism or Israeli Jews from the economic effects and moral stigma of an international boycott?

As for the aim of the boycott campaign: “to deny Israel the financial means to continue to kill Palestinians and occupy the lands.”7

Avnery raises “the Holocaust” arguing that Jewish suffering has imprinted itself deeply on the Jewish soul. That the Nazis rounded up Jews in concentration was a moral outrage. But what is the lesson of World War II? That suffering imposed on any identifiable group of people is evil and wrong, or that one group can appropriate a holocaust, make it their own, and use past suffering as a shield to inflict a holocaust on another people? Avnery argues that boycotting Jews will remind them of Nazism, but when Jews use Nazi-type techniques what should they be reminded of?

Avnery says it is okay to boycott of the product of the “settlements.” He draws a distinction between “settlers” (i.e., “colonisers”) and other Israeli Jews. How then does Avnery rationalize the fact that the “settlers” are in the West Bank?

Avnery asserts, “Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.” Indeed, despair is life for many Palestinians under occupation or in refugee camps.

Avnery states that an international boycott would be difficult to achieve, and the US would not be behind it. It was not easy to achieve against the apartheid regimes in South Africa either. Is that a reason not to try? Did not the US oppose a boycott of South Africa? Yes, it might take a long time. But times do change. The US (and its western allies’s) recalcitrance was steam rolled in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and elsewhere. Empires have risen and fallen throughout history.

Avnery finds that the tactic of boycotting is “an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.”

Avnery continues, “In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.”

Seems there is some faulty analysis going on. “Whites did not want partition”? How can Avnery state something so factually inaccurate? What were Venda, Lebowa, the Bantustans, if not sections of South Africa partitioned off by the White government? Furthermore, that Zionism is now no longer dependent on Palestinian labor does not mask that it at one time was dependent on such labor; Avnery is cherry picking in his argument. Denying Palestinians the right to work in historical Palestine is a tactic that evolved from Zionism.

Also, how is it that Avnery can argue against an international boycott of Israel when Israel maintains a crushing illegal embargo against Palestinians – a war crime? As long as Israel uses such a tactic, then resistance through boycott, certainly, is legitimate.

Avnery says Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common. However, this same lack of commonality was true between White and Black South Africans as well. Nonetheless, I take exception with the thrust of such argumentation. It prepares the ground for racism. Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Black and White South Africans are all humans. They all eat, work, sleep, have dreams, have families. This should be reason enough to act humanely toward each other: love of humanity. It is entirely possible to embrace our shared humanity and respect diversity.

Avnery concludes, “In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.”

This is logically flawed reasoning, much like the logical and moral flaw that being a victim of a genocide minimizes one’s own culpability in a subsequent genocide. One suspects that Avnery may well be the victim of a pained conscience and cognitive dissonance. I submit that the two “conflicts”8 are fundamentally similar. Fundamentally, colonial Israel and colonial South Africa share these hallmarks: a racially, culturally, spiritually, linguistically different group of outsiders through preponderant violence dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their homeland, and set up an apartheid system which humiliates the Indigenous peoples and privileges the occupiers.

Avnery focuses on certain “fundamentals” — which I submit are not fundamentals but nuances — that he considers different.

Avnery’s solution lies with “a comprehensive and detailed peace plan” from US president Barack Obama and “the full persuasive power of the United States” to lead to “a path of peace with Palestine.”

Avnery remembers well previous US-backed peace plans, like Oslo and the Roadmap. Why, then, does he cast his audacious hope on AIPAC appeaser Obama? Avnery hopes that Israeli Jews will realize that peace with Palestinians is the way? The peace activist touts a solution that has failed and been rejected many times. He rejects a solution that worked in South African because of the sensibilities of the oppressors.

But let us examine Avnery’s logic that fundamentally different “conflicts” demand different struggles.

Oppression is overthrown by struggle. Fundamentally different “conflicts” can succeed through similar struggles. As one example, revolutionaries overthrew an American-backed dictatorship in Cuba through armed struggle and Cuban revoluntionaries defeated South African forces in Angola through armed struggle.9

In his article’s finale, seemingly assured of his own argumentation over the person he deems the best qualified authority on boycotts as a tool to overcome apartheid, Avnery points to a prayer of Tutu’s – a prayer that would serve all of us well:

“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”

Hopefully, Avnery abides by such humbleness when he sees the error of his ways as well.

1. See Dinah Spritzer, “Last chance for Holocaust restitution?” JTA, 30 June 2009.
2. Uri Avnery, “Tutu’s Prayer,” Gush Shalom, 29 August 2009.
3. Desmond Tutu, “Israel: Time to Divest,” New Internationalist magazine, January/February 2003. Available online at Third World Traveler.
4. Neve Gordon, “Boycott Israel,” Los Angeles Times, 20 August 2009.
5. Gary Zatzman, “The Notion of the ‘Jewish State’ as an ‘Apartheid Regime’ is a Liberal-Zionist One,” Dissident Voice, 21 November 2005.
6. See Bill Keller, Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela (Boston: Kingfisher, 2008). Mandela wanted to pursue a peaceful, non-violent settlement, but when faced with the violence of state power he felt compelled to use violence as a method of struggle. Mandela did emphasize that this violence was not terrorism: 98.
7. ”Aim of the boycott campaign,” Boycott Israel Now.
8. The word “conflict” minimizes the atrocities wreaked on Palestinians and South Africans by their oppressors.
9. Isaac Saney contends that the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was the “turning point in the struggle against apartheid. ”Isaac Saney, “The Story of How Cuba Helped to Free Africa,” Morning Star, 4 November 2005. Available at Embajada de Cuba en Egipto.

Oxford City Council calls for boycott

Posted in International BDS Actions on August 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Oxford City council called for a boycott of Israeli products following Israel’s assault on Gaza. In an unprecedented move, the Council passed a motion, which as well as condemning the loss of civilian life in Gaza, called for individuals to boycott products made by Israel.

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John Greyson withdraws his film “Greyzone” from Toronto Film Festival following the BDS Call

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Cultural Boycott on August 30, 2009 by Marcy Newman

Filmaker John Greyson has written this principled letter explaining the reasons to withdraw his film “Greyzone” from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Piers Handling, Cameron Bailey, Noah Cowan
Toronto International Film Festival
2 Carlton St., 13th floor
Toronto Canada M5B 1J3

Dear Piers, Cameron, Noah:

I’ve come to a very difficult decision — I’m withdrawing my film Covered from TIFF, in protest against your inaugural City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv.

In the Canadian Jewish News, Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin described how this Spotlight is the culmination of his year-long Brand Israel campaign, which includes bus/radio/TV ads, the ROM’s notorious Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, and “a major Israeli presence at next year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywoodand Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.” Gissen said Toronto was chosen as a test-city for Brand Israel by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and thanked Astral, MIJO and Canwes for donating the million-dollar budget. (Astralis of course a long-time TIFF sponsor, and Canwest owners’ Asper Foundation donated $500,000to TIFF). “We’ve got a real product to sell to Canadians… The lessons learned from Toronto will inform the worldwide launch of Brand Israel in the coming years, Gissin said.”

This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months ago, resulting in over 1000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security wall, and the further enshrining of the check-point system. Such state policies have led diverse figures such as John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond Tutu to characterize this ‘brand’ as apartheid. Your TIFF program book may describe Tel Aviv as a”vibrant young city… of beaches, cafes and cultural ferment… that celebrates its diversity,” but it’s also been called “a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli apartheid” (Naomi Klein) and”the only city in the west without Arab residents” (Tel Aviv filmmaker Udi Aloni).

To my mind, this isn’t the right year to celebrate Brand Israel, or to demonstrate an ostrich-like indifference to the realities(cinematic and otherwise) of the region, or to pointedly ignore the international economic boycott campaign against Israel. Launched by Palestinian NGO’s in 2005, and since joined by thousands inside and outside Israel, the campaign is seen as the last hope for forcing Israel to comply with international law. By ignoring this boycott, TIFF has emphatically taken sides and in the process, forced every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line.

Let’s be clear: my protest isn’t against the films or filmmakers you’ve chosen. I’ve seen brilliant works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past TIFFs, and will again in coming years. My protest is against the Spotlight itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a”vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic young city… commemorating its centennial”,seemingly untroubled by other anniversaries, such as the 42nd anniversary of the occupation. Isn’t such an uncritical celebration of Tel Aviv right now akin to celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963, California grapes in 1969, Chilean wines in 1973, Nestles infant formula in 1984, or South African fruit in1991?

You’re probably groaning right now — “inflammatory rhetoric!” — but I mention these boycott campaigns because they were specific and strategic to their historic moments, and certainly complex. Like these others, the Israel boycott has been the subject of much debate, with many of us struggling with difficult questions of censorship, constructive engagement and free speech. In our meeting, for instance, you said you supported economic boycotts like South Africa’s, but not cultural boycotts.Three points: South Africa was also a cultural boycott (asking singers not toplay Sun City); culture is one of Canada’s (and Israel’s) largest economic sectors (this spotlight is funded by a Canadian Ministry of Industry tourism grant, after all); and the Israel rebrand campaign explicitly targets culture as a priority sector.

Many will still say a boycott prevents much needed dialogue between possible allies. That’s why, like Chile, like Nestles, the strategic and specific nature of each case needs to be considered. For instance, I’m helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival, co-sponsored by Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Inside Out Festival. It’s a doc that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. Technically,the film probably qualifies as meeting the technical criteria of boycott — not because it was directed by an Israeli filmmaker, but because it received Israeli state funding. Yet all concerned have decided that this film should be seen by Toronto audiences, especially Jews and Palestinians — a strategic,specific choice, and one that has triggered many productive discussions.

I’m sorry I can’t feel the same way about your Tel Aviv spotlight. Despite this past month of emails and meetings, many questions remain for me about its origins, its funding, its programming, its sponsors.

You say it was initiated in November2008… but then why would Gissen seem to be claiming it as part of his campaign four months earlier? You’ve told me that TIFF isn’t officially a part of Brand Israel — okay — but why haven’t you clarified this publicly? Why are only Jewish Israeli filmmakers included? Why are there no voices from the refugee camps and Gaza (or Toronto for that matter), where Tel Aviv’s displaced Palestinians now live? Why only big budget Israeli state-funded features — why not a program of shorts/docs/indie works by underground Israeli and Palestinian artists? Why is TIFF accepting and/or encouraging the support of the Israeli government and consulate, a direct flaunting of the boycott, with filmmaker plane tickets,receptions, parties and evidently the Mayor of Tel Aviv opening the spotlight? Why does this feel like a propaganda campaign?

This decision was very tough. For thirty years, TIFF has been my film school and my community, an annual immersion in the best of world cinema. You’ve helped rewrite the canon through your pioneering support of new voices and difficult ideas, of avant-garde visions and global stories. You’ve opened many doors and many minds, and made me think critically and politically about cinema, about how film can speak out and make a difference. In particular, you’ve been extraordinarily supportive of my own work, often presenting the hometown premieres of my films to your legendary audiences. You are three of the smartest, sharpest, skillful and most thoughtful festival heads anywhere– this isn’t hyperbole, with all of you I speak from two decades worth of friendship and deep respect — which makes this all the more inexplicable and troubling.

What eventually determined my decision to pull out was the subject of Covered itself. It’s a doc about the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival, which was cancelled due to brutal anti-gay violence. The film focuses on the bravery of the organizers and their supporters, and equally, on the ostriches, on those who remained silent, who refused to speak out: most notoriously, the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the Canadian Ambassador in Sarajevo. To stand in judgment of these ostriches before a TIFF audience, but then say nothing about this Tel Aviv spotlight — finally, I realized that that was a brand I couldn’t stomach.

Peace,
John Greyson

For the duration of TIFF, I’ve posted Covered at: www.vimeo.com/greyzone

COMMENTS

Israeli director Udi Aloni is supporting the Canadian protest and is calling on Israeli artists to take the same steps. Aloni told Haaretz that he had talked to the festival curator to try to convince him not to hold an event in a format so uncritical of Israel. According to Aloni, Israeli artists need to rethink their participation in the festival.

“Wherever they appear they must decide if they are representatives of the Foreign Ministry or of an uncompromising opposition to occupation and racism in Israel,” he said. “Israeli directors don’t have to be defensive and ask ‘Why are they attacking us?’ but say to the Canadian directors: ‘We’re with you on this. We don’t represent [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman; we represent the opposition.’ There are only two options. It’s no longer possible to shoot and cry.”

In a letter addressed to Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, makers of “The Bubble,” Aloni asked them: “Are Israeli artists Lieberman’s new foreign service cadets?”

This short film has been pulled from official selection at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in protest against their Spotlight on Tel Aviv program and in solidarity with the Palestinian call for a boycott against the Israeli government.

It will available here online for the duration of the festival (until September 19th, 2009).

*Note: If video playback is choppy, turn off HD*

Read the open letter to TIFF here: tiny.cc/tiff_open_letter

Tell TIFF what you think of their Spotlight at tiffg@tiff.net

If you would like more information about Queer Sarajevo or to support the festival contact Organization Q: queer.ba/en/home

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The Palestinian National Committee for the BDS Campaign sends an open letter to Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador

Posted in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions on August 29, 2009 by Marcy Newman

President Rafael Correa,

On behalf of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which is drawn from the major Palestinian political and social forces and tasked to promote the Palestinian Unified Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, we would like to express our deep concern regarding the statement by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman published in the Peruvian El Comercio which read “the Israeli minister of Infrastructure (Benjamin Ben Eliezer [sic]) will be visiting Ecuador soon.”[i]

We are also deeply concerned about the possibility that an arms deal with Israel be finalized during the visit.

Your country’s exemplary new constitution defines Ecuador as a territory of peace and guarantees its inhabitants the right to a culture of peace. It is a symbol of the struggle for self-determination of the indigenous people in the Andes and around the globe and is in opposition to colonialism and racism. The invitation of Israeli ministers to your country, however, gives legitimacy to a government that continues the decades-old policies of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian people, practices racial discrimination against them,and continues to occupy and colonize their lands in open defiance of international law and human rights principles.

The current government of Israel is accelerating the construction of the Wall and the settlements and maintains the illegal, barbaric siege on Gaza which UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Prof. Richard Falk, called a‘prelude to genocide’. Its coalition partners have proposed laws to prohibit the commemoration of the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people from their homeland, and it has decided to remove indigenous Arabic names from streets and towns in order to wipe our existence out of history. Only days ago,the Knesset approved a land reform that effectively excludes the indigenous Palestinians from land rights[ii], pre-empting the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin[iii].

We are further concerned that the Israeli interest in a visit to Ecuador may be aimed at promoting the finalization of the two, possibly not-yet signed contracts, for Israeli unmanned aircraft vehicles (drones). According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Ecuador has readied two contracts with the Israeli Aerospace Industries for six drones in 2008, apparently still pending signature[iv].

Drones, in addition to their use for scouting and tracking targets, were used by Israel in some of the more horrific war crimes against defenceless civilians during the 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-9 war of aggression against Gaza, such as the January 3 attack which killed 15 Palestinians and injured 30[v].Drones are further employed by the Israeli occupation army for extrajudicial killings.

We highly appreciate the principled positions on Palestine that Ecuador has taken under your presidency. We particularly appreciate your principled stance at the United Nations during the Israeli assault on Gaza in January2009. While Ecuador promotes through its Ombudsman an Advisory and Ethics Tribunal on Palestine and Bolivia seeks regional allies to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court, buying drones from Israel seems politically contradictory and morally unacceptable. Furthermore, this would be at odds with the constitutional obligation of Ecuador to “promote a new trade and investment system among the states that supports justice and solidarity […].”[vi]

The profits from the exports of the Israeli military industry are a core part in the economic sustainability of the occupation regime. Its weapons are tested and developed in the oppression and killings of the Palestinian people.

Finally, we fear that Israeli diplomatic activity in Latin America may have negative effects on regional integration and would hinder the trends of greater South-South cooperation. After Venezuela and Bolivia cut diplomatic ties with Israel, the Israeli government has become increasingly concerned about South American solidarity with Palestine and is attempting to undercut a possible spilling over of this trend into decisions of other governments. During his recent trip to the region, Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, clearly fomented opposition to Venezuela, a founding member of the ALBA, and attacked the links between Latin America and the Middle Eastern energy producing countries. Within the framework of a vision of a new world order, based on global justice and international relations of solidarity and equality, we can only deplore these attempts and hope that Ecuador will not open its doors further to such agitation within and between the states of Latin America.

We hope instead that Ecuador will follow the call made by H. E. Father Miguel D´Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, regarding Israel:

“Twenty years ago we played a major role when following civil society and decided it was necessary to apply sanctions to put a nonviolent pressure against South Africa. Today we shall follow the example of a new generation of our civil society that is calling to a similar non violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to put pressure on Israel.”[vii]

We believe that Ecuador can play an important role in promoting the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to develop effective mechanisms to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations under international law, as was done against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

We sincerely hope that Ecuador will uphold its ethical message of peace and justice and its commitments to international law by declining to host representatives of the Israeli government and, most crucially, refuse to enter into arms deals with Israel.

Sincerely,

Secretariat, Palestinian BDS National Committee

CC: His Excellency, Fander Falconi, Foreign affairs Minister of Ecuador

[i] There is an evident mistake in the report as Uzi Landau is the current minister of Infrastructure and Benjamin Ben Eliezer is the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor. http://e.elcomercio.pe/101/impresa/pdf/2009/07/29/ECMD290709b7.pdf

[ii] Palestinians are excluded from land rights on 68.2%of all residential areas and 84% of the rural communities in Israel andtransfers the properties stolen from the Palestinian refugees to other (Jewish)owners

[iii] See: http://www.adalah.org/features/land/admission_committees-Eng_FINAL%5B1%5D.pdf

[iv] See the database on www.sipri.org

[v] They were praying when a drone fired at the Martyr Ibrahim al-Maqadma Mosque See http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/English/2008/03-2009.html (Three more died later of their injuries). For more war crimes involving drones, see: www.stopthewall.org/downloads/pdf/Elbit-fc.pdf

[vi] Constitution of Ecuador, Section VIII, chapter 1, Article 416, para. 12.

[vii] Statement of H.E. FatherMiguel D’Escoto Brockmann, President of the United Nations General Assembly, onthe International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinan people, November 242008. http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/221

The Israeli national basketball team is boycotted and not wellcomed in Zaragoza, Spain.

Posted in BDS Success, Sports Boycott on August 29, 2009 by Marcy Newman

On august 26th, ASSI, organized in the framework of the global BDS call a Boycott activity against the presence of the Israeli National basket Team in Zaragoza, Spain.

Several dozens of activists gathered together in the entrances of Prince Felipe Pavillion and handed out leaflets and flyers explaining the Boycott calls regarding the presence of Israeli teams in Europe. They are considered “cultural ambassadors” of the State of Israel. They play whitewashing the face of Apartheid, colonialism and occupation.

Once inside, they showed banners and palestinian flags as well as shouted slogans in solidarity with Palestine when the spanish police in full coordination with israeli secret service agents forced them out of the premises and took some of them for interrogation. No arrests were made but the organizers are absolutely astonished to feel the impunity with wich plain clothes israeli security agents move around a place where they should not have any kind of jurisdiction.

Specially since 2005, Maccabi Tel Aviv has faced the same kind of Boycott activities both in Barcelona, Catalonia, and Alava, Basque Country. Everytime Israeli teams play in european cities, the face interrumptions and protests.

The Boycott activity in Zaragoza will be followed in the coming weeks by a general declaration of Maccabi Tel Aviv as “non grato” in the Spanish State.

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