An Israeli observer weighs in on America’s presidential race

The Orange Man

by Uri Avnery / 30 July 2016

SO HERE we are. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be our next president.

“Our”? I am not a US citizen, and have no desire to be one.

But I live in a world in which the USA is the sole superpower, in which every decision of the US administration has an impact on the lives of every human being.

FOR ME AS a citizen of Israel, this impact is much greater than for most and much more immediate. I just saw a cartoon showing both Trump and Hillary crawling on the ground and licking the boots of an Israeli soldier. This is not too much of an exaggeration.

Both candidates claim to be unwavering supporters of “Israel”. But what does that mean? Do they support all sections of Israeli society?

Certainly not. They support one certain part of Israel: the ultra-right-wing government of Binyamin Netanyahu, which is supported by the American Jewish billionaires who contribute to their coffers.

Supporting Netanyahu and his even more right-wing coalition partners means acting against me and millions of other Israelis who can see that Netanyahu is leading our state to disaster.

Yet I have no right to vote. It is a clear case of “no representation”, imposed on me and some billions of other human beings.

BE THAT as it may, I have a clear interest in this election. So I want at least to express my opinion.

Right at the beginning, I wrote that Donald Trump reminded me in some ways of Continue reading

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Parsing America’s New Military Aid Giveaway to Israel

Award-winning independent journalist Jonathan Cook analyzes and puts in context the latest package of American military aid to what is already by far the strongest and most advanced military in the Middle East. Amounting to $38,000,000,000 over 10 years (beginning in 2019), it is far more than the US gives to any other nation on earth, for any purpose– almost $500 per year for every Israeli man, woman and child.

Really, it’s a win-win deal– but only if you consider it a plus that America further enhance its shameful role as the world’s #1 merchant of death. Cook calls it a “triple boon to the US weapons industry”, beyond representing a blatant taxpayer subsidy of America’s arms makers, the country’s most powerful lobby. Politically, Netanyahu, Obama, and Hillary Clinton all stand to benefit from the deal, as Cook explains.

Oh, yes, there is one clear loser: It is, not surprisingly, the Palestinian people– and any lingering hopes they might have for ending the nearly 50-year Israeli occupation, achieving their basic human rights, or indeed even putting the brakes on their systematic dispossession.

The original article is found on-line HERE, along with Cook’s bio, publications, email subscription, etc.

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Palestinians lose in US military aid deal with Israel


The announcement last week by the United States of the largest military aid package in its history – to Israel – was a win for both sides.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could boast that his lobbying had boosted aid from $3.1 billion a year to $3.8bn – a 22 per cent increase – for a decade starting in 2019.

Mr Netanyahu has presented this as a rebuff to those who accuse him of jeopardising Israeli security interests with his government’s repeated affronts to the White House.

In the past weeks alone, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has compared last year’s nuclear deal between Washington and Iran with the 1938 Munich pact, which bolstered Hitler; and Mr Netanyahu has implied that US opposition to settlement expansion is the same as support for the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.

American president Barack Obama, meanwhile, hopes to stifle his own critics who insinuate that he is anti-Israel. The deal should serve as a fillip too for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party’s candidate to succeed Mr Obama in November’s election.

In reality, however, the Obama administration has quietly punished Mr Netanyahu for his misbehaviour. Israeli expectations of a $4.5bn-a-year deal were whittled down after Mr Netanyahu stalled negotiations last year as he sought to recruit Congress to his battle against the Iran deal. Continue reading

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Has Israeli “democracy” passed its tipping point?

Israeli expulsion law ‘violates all rules of democracy’

Critics fear the new legislation is designed to empty the Knesset of its Palestinian parties

by Jonathan Cook  – 24 July 2016

Jonathan CookIsrael’s parliament, the Knesset, awarded itself a draconian new power last week: A three-quarters majority of its members can now expel an elected politician if they do not like his or her views.

According to Adalah, a law centre representing the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian citizens, the so-called expulsion law has no parallel in any democratic state. The group noted that it was the latest in a series of laws designed to strictly circumscribe the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority and curb dissent.

Others fear that the measure is designed to empty the Knesset of its Palestinian parties.

“This law violates all rules of democracy and the principle that minorities should be represented,” Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Human Rights Association in Nazareth, told Al Jazeera. “It sends a message to the public that it is possible, even desirable, to have a Jewish-only Knesset.”

The four Palestinian parties in the parliament, in a coalition called the Joint List, issued an open letter on Friday warning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government “want a Knesset without Arabs”.

Zeidan noted how quickly that could happen: “It would only require one Palestinian legislator to be expelled and there would be enormous pressure on the others to resign their seats in protest.”

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian Knesset member (MK) for the Joint List, said the law created “MKs on probation”, intimidating them into silence or “good behaviour”. Its effect, he added, would be to strip tens of thousands of voters of the right to representation.

MKs ‘on probation’

Those advancing the law, including Netanyahu, have done little to conceal their intention to use the measure against only Palestinian MKs. The Joint List has 13 seats and is currently the third-largest faction in the 120-seat Knesset.

The legislation’s immediate target is Haneen Zoabi, a politician with the Balad party who is reviled by most Jewish MKs. The measure was originally termed the Zoabi Law.

Late last month, in a dramatic prelude to the law’s passing, more than a dozen Jewish MKs stormed across the chamber towards Zoabi as she made a speech concerning the Israeli government’s reconciliation pact with Turkey. She had to be protected by Knesset guards.

She had outraged the MKs by referring to the “murder” of 10 humanitarian activists by Israeli commandos in 2010. The Israeli navy attacked an aid flotilla, in which Zoabi participated, as it sailed in international waters from Turkey to Gaza. The incident led to the split with Ankara.

Rather than criticise the Jewish MKs, Netanyahu said Zoabi had “crossed every line” with her comments against the commandos and there was “no room for her in the Knesset”.

Similarly, opposition leader Isaac Herzog called for all of Zoabi’s speeches to be censored from the Knesset TV channel.

Dangerous escalation

Celebrating the law’s passage, Netanyahu posted on social media: “Those who support terrorism against Israel and its citizens will not serve in the Israeli Knesset.”

Zeidan said the new law was a “dangerous escalation” in a wider trend of suppressing dissent and inciting hatred. “We are entering a new era. Before, there were racist laws and policies, but now we are heading rapidly towards outright fascism.

“The constant incitement against the Palestinian minority from the prime minister down moves this on to the street, where there will be more violence and more attacks from the Jewish public on Palestinian citizens.”

Zoabi was reported to have refused a Knesset bodyguard this month, even though the level of threats against her required it, according to Israeli police.

Proceedings against a politician can be initiated with the backing of 70 MKs. An expulsion will be carried out if 90 MKs find that the politician either incited racism or supported armed struggle against Israel. There is no definition in the legislation of what constitutes “support”.

The Knesset will be able to take into account the legislator’s statements – and the majority’s interpretation of them – and not just actions or stated aims, noted Adalah.

Until now, a politician could be removed from the Knesset only if convicted of a serious crime.

Fear of kangaroo court

Netanyahu spearheaded the legislation in February after Zoabi and her two Balad colleagues in the Knesset, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas, met a dozen Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem whose sons had been killed either during lone-wolf attacks or in clashes with security services. The three MKs promised to help put pressure on the government to return the bodies for burial.

Israeli officials claimed the visit was tantamount to support for “terror”. The three were suspended from the Knesset for several months. Under the new law, they could be permanently expelled.

Zahalka, leader of the Balad party, said Palestinian MKs would face a “kangaroo court, where hostile MKs serve as judge and jury”.

He said the Joint List faction was preparing to send a letter to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation representing 170 parliaments worldwide, urging it to oust the Knesset from membership.

Given the large majority needed for an MK’s expulsion to take place, some have claimed the new law will be nearly impossible to implement.

Zahalka disagreed. He told Al Jazeera: “If you see a gun in the first act, you know it will be used in the last act. And so with this law. When we have the next ’emergency’ or the next war, Jewish MKs – even those who now criticise the law – will rally to expel those who are outside the consensus.”

Record suspension

Zoabi has found herself repeatedly rounded on by almost all the Jewish parties in the Knesset.

In the summer of 2014, during a major Israeli attack on Gaza, the Knesset’s ethics committee suspended her for a record six months – the longest period then allowed.

During an Israeli radio interview, she had criticised Palestinians behind the abduction of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank, but refused to call them “terrorists”. The Israelis were later found dead.

Zahalka said Palestinian MKs now faced an “extraordinary” situation. “In every country, parliamentary immunity confers on legislators greater rights than ordinary citizens to help them carry out their parliamentary duties,” he said. “Only in Israel will elected representatives have more restricted freedom of speech and action than ordinary citizens.”

The expulsion law follows the outlawing last year of the northern Islamic Movement, the largest extra-parliamentary movement among the Palestinian minority in Israel. Its head, Sheikh Raed Salah, is considered a spiritual leader to a large section of the community.

At the time, Netanyahu hinted that the Islamic Movement was linked to “terror” activity. Leaks from government ministers to the Haaretz newspaper, however, revealed that the Israeli security services had found no such ties.

Battle against Arab parties

Zeidan observed that the Israeli right had been waging a battle to rid the Knesset of Palestinian parties for some time.

Over the past 15 years, the Central Elections Committee, which is dominatedby Jewish parties, has repeatedly tried to ban Palestinian MKs from standing for election. However, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the decisions on appeal.

In 2014, the government tried a different route. It passed a Threshold Law, raising the proportion of votes needed to win a place in the Knesset. The threshold was set too high for the four small Palestinian parties to clear it.

The move, however, backfired. The parties responded by forming the Joint List and became one of the largest blocs in the Knesset after last year’s general election.

It was in this context, noted Zeidan, that on the eve of the election, Netanyahu made his much-criticised comment warning that “Arabs are coming out in droves to the polls”.

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University, told Al Jazeera that the expulsion law might realise for Netanyahu his stated goal of discouraging participation by the Palestinian electorate. Turnout had fallen to barely more than half of the minority’s voters before the Joint List’s creation in time for the 2015 election.

“If we see these attacks on Arab representation in the Knesset continue,” Ghanem said, “then voters may conclude that enough is enough and that it is time to withdraw from the political game.”



MORE >>>

If you’ve read this far, have a look at Jonathan Cook’s follow-up post of August 1, 2016 which broadens the picture of what it means to be a Palestinian citizen of the State of Israel:

Palestinians inside Israel are under attack

And this, his September 2016 post detailing Israel’s creeping criminalization of political activity among its Arab-Palestinian citizens:

Palestinians in Israel warn of bid to ‘criminalise’ political activity



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Through the American Colony Lens: THE COLOSSAL STONES OF BAALBEK

Here’s a photo that sort of jumped out at me a while back, it was so striking: a great quarry stone at the ancient site of Baalbek in Lebanon. Look at the people, look at the scale! This stone, which was never fully detached from the bedrock, weighs in at something like 1,000 tons! (By comparison, a fully-loaded 747 is on the order of 400 to 450 tons.) To me, it’s just astounding!


The Grand Quarry of Baalbek. (Scan from 2×2-in. color slide reproduction of a hand-tinted print; LOC/Matson image #22986.)

Baalbek is a town in Lebanon’s Beqqa Valley, about 53 miles northeast of Beirut. In Greek and Roman antiquity, it was known as Heliopolis, and today the site possesses some of the best-preserved Roman period ruins in Lebanon, including one of the largest temples anywhere in the Roman Empire. The gods that were worshiped there included Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus.

Among the 22,000-plus images belonging to the Matson Collection of the U.S. Library of Congress, there are actually scores of American Colony pictures depicting Baalbek and its various monuments and ancient ruins. These images were the product of both the Colony’s early photo expeditions and, later, sightseeing tours conducted by Colony members for the benefit of visitors to the Holy Land. Indeed, in those days one could jump in a car and drive virtually anywhere–it was a different world! Continue reading

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*UPDATED* Restoration Work Begins on the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre

This post mostly reflects my own curiosity about the restoration work just getting underway at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. The specific focus is the edicule, the built structure which stands at the center of the church’s rotunda, marking the spot of Jesus’ Tomb. In a sense, the edicule recreates the tomb, ever since the original bedrock tomb-shrine was demolished in a great destruction of the church in the year 1009. As such, it serves as the focal point of the premier church of all Christendom. Thus, the very fact that the church’s rival Christian communities were able to come together and agree on the repairs–however badly needed–represents a small miracle in itself. 

It is to be a conservative restoration, intended to return to structural integrity the present 1810 edifice, which is built mostly of marble. Beneath the 1810 masonry, however, there apparently lie elements of the earlier edicules, from the 16th and 12th centuries–plus, presumably, traces of the bedrock Tomb of Jesus. It will be interesting to see how deep the restorers’ explorations actually go!

Like the church itself (whose restoration spanned the 1960s to the 1990s), the edicule has been impacted by earthquakes (especially that of 1927), by the heat and smoke of oil lamps and candles, right down to the breath exhaled by millions of pilgrims! Once the work is completed, the biggest change visitors will likely notice will be the absence of the external bracing of iron girders installed by British engineers in the 1940s, a safeguard which, by all accounts, is the main thing that’s kept the structure from collapsing into a pile of rubble. Continue reading

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Through the American Colony Lens: A BRIEF WINDOW TO ANTIQUITY


The Upper Siloam Pool, looking north: Roman period wall & moulding (top). (Full-frame scan from glass plate stereograph negative, LOC/Matson image #08471)

The American Colony photographers were often documenting sites of biblical importance, at least the traditional places as they were then understood and being presented to pilgrims and tourists. They also captured on film, whether intentionally or more by chance, things of archaeological interest from antiquity. And, they were sometimes recording scenes that, unbeknownst to them, would be obscured or completely lost to future generations. The two very interesting images featured here — similar in appearance but clearly separated in time — encompass all these facets of the photographers’ work!

The pictures provide evidence — now hidden by layers of later construction — that the traditional Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem is indeed the remnant of a much larger ancient pool on exactly the same site. The photos, looking north, were taken sometime after the completion of the excavations of Fredrick Bliss and Archibald Dickie in the area in the 1890s, after which a mosque (top left corner of photos) was constructed adjacent to the existing pool (and inside the ancient one). The excavators, who carried out their work on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund, wrote in 1898:

Continue reading

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Through the American Colony Lens: GRAF ZEPPELIN OVER JERUSALEM


The German airship Graf Zeppelin over the Old City, 11 April 1931 (LOC/Matson image #04721)

The view here is looking eastward across the Old City, the vantage point a rooftop, or perhaps the city wall, in the Christian Quarter. The large gray dome (bottom) is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; beyond that the distinctive Dome of the Rock sits atop the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount; and on the skyline is the Mount of Olives, punctuated by the tall Russian Ascension bell-tower.

Graf Zeppelin Over Pyramids of Giza

Graf Zeppelin near the Pyramids, 11 April 1931 (public domain)

The photo depicts what is actually a well-documented event: the visit of the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin to Jerusalem on April 11th, 1931. The famous airship had begun it’s brief journey to the Middle East on April 9th from its base in Friedrichshafen, Germany, and it landed at Heliopolis near Cairo at dawn on the 11th. That same morning, it set off on a one-day, round-trip sightseeing excursion to Jerusalem, reaching there at 10 a.m. in conditions of intermittent rain. Continue reading

Posted in American Colony, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, For FUN (mostly), JERUSALEM, Modern History, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments