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Archive for May 18th, 2012

Israel’s embrace of illegal settler outposts hinders peaceful solution

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2012

Itai Hemo with his children in front of his caravan in the illegal outpost of Migron

RAMALLAH/TEL AVIV,  – Israeli settlers east of the separation barrier in the central West Bank occupy the land most critical for any future final status agreement under a two-state solution. But instead of limiting settlement expansion, critics say the Israeli authorities are setting a dangerous precedent by legalizing new outposts and undermining the law.

God gave us this land 3,000 years ago,” an Israeli bus driver said on the way from Jerusalem towards the Israeli settlement of Psagot. “This land is ours. It’s not for the Arabs,” he added, as the bus crossed from Jerusalem into the occupied West Bank, continuing its way through the rocky landscape east of Ramallah.

Psagot is home to about 1,600 Israeli settlers and the seat of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, which is one of six councils providing municipal services to more than 300,000 Israelis who live in 124 officially recognized settlements in the West Bank.

While all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) are illegal under international law, more than 90 so-called outposts are illegal even under Israeli law. One such illegal settlement is Migron, where about 322 Israeli settlers live in caravans on 36 hectares of privately owned Palestinian land.

Migron is one of several cases where the Israeli government has tried to circumvent Supreme Court decisions on the evacuation of illegal structures, instead supporting settler interests. For the first time since 1996, the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally created new settlements this April by legalizing the three outposts of Rechalim, Sansana and Bruchin.

“There is a big change of policy happening,” Talia Sasson, a former Israeli chief-prosecutor who wrote the influential Sasson report on government support for illegal outposts, told IRIN. “I believe that the price for removing an illegal outpost has become too high to pay, for the Israeli government.”

When Netanyahu formed a new unity government with the centrist Kadima party on 8 May, some analysts said this could bring along changes, while Palestinian officials immediately called upon the new government to freeze settlement activity. But, many warned that settlers were only gaining in strength, holding onto occupied land at any price.

''What happened around Migron and other outposts is a total earthquake of Israeli constitutional balance. There is a major clash coming up between the government, the settlers and the Supreme Court. By legalizing the outpost, the government made clear that it neither cares about national, nor about international law''

Now, say analysts, state support for settlements and illegal outposts has crossed a point of no return, undermining the rule of law and threatening Israeli democracy.

“What happened around Migron and other outposts is a total earthquake of Israeli constitutional balance,” Dror Etkes, an Israeli expert on land issues in oPt, told IRIN. “There is a major clash coming up between the government, the settlers and the Supreme Court. By legalizing the outpost, the government made clear that it neither cares about national, nor about international law.”

The government had asked the Supreme Court to delay Migron’s demolition for three years, which the court rejected, and tried to delay the implementation of another court decision on the demolition of the illegal Ulpana neighbourhood in the Beit El settlement. Efforts are reportedly under way to pass a bill to retroactively legalize Ulpana. This would force the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

Experts say legalization of settlements endangers any future solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the terms of a two-state solution.

“Nineteen years after Oslo and 13 years after a final settlement was supposed to be reached, prospects for a two-state solution are as dim as ever,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a recent report which called for a new paradigm.

Migron “compromise”

The caravans of Migron stand high on a hill close to the Palestinian villages of Burqa and Ein Yabrud. Only 2km further down, bulldozers were digging into the rocky soil, building a new Migron for the outpost’s 50 families, where they will move on 1 August, according to an agreement reached between the settlers and the government after the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled that the illegal structures be removed.

Migron’s residents are confident old Migron will remain, alongside the new Migron that is being built for them.

“Today’s Migron should become an educational institution for soldiers, or we transform it into a farm,” Itai Hemo, a resident from Migron, told IRIN. “In any case, the evacuation will provoke a strong reaction from settler communities all around. We won’t be able to control that.”

The government’s “compromise” with the settlers effectively blocked the Supreme Court decision to demolish the illegal outpost. This only strengthened the settlers’ self-confidence.

“Netanyahu legalized the outposts and showed his clear intentions. It is a statement to all settlers and residents of illegal outposts that the government continues to support them,” Lior Amichai, who works for Peace Now’s Settlement Watch Project, told IRIN.

Observers say illegal outposts impact negatively on neighbouring Palestinian communities.

“This is the area of Migron in 1999,” Dror Etkes said, looking at a satellite image that shows huge planted fields that once belonged to nearby Palestinian villages. “And this is Migron today,” he continued, pointing out the built-up area of Migron on another satellite image. “Hundreds of dunams in agricultural land were taken away from the villages, severely affecting their livelihood. And a settler road closed off Palestinian access.”

“The heart of Israel”

Migron’s residents are national-religious settlers who make up about 80 percent of Israelis living east of the separation barrier, on land that would become part of a Palestinian state under any realistic final status agreement.

They are driven by the belief that settling the land is both a national and religious duty, and compared to secular and Ultra-Orthodox settlers, they are more unwilling to leave the land for compensation, past surveys have shown.

“Eighty percent of what happened in the Bible happened here. This is the heart of Israel, also geographically. If we don’t have [a] presence here, it would mean the end of Israel,” Miri Maoz Ovadia, liaison officer from the settlers’ umbrella organization, the Yesha Council, told IRIN.

Strategically located on a hill like most outposts, Migron’s residents have lived in illegal structures since 2002. The Israeli Ministry of Housing and Construction generously funded them with more than US$1 million, according to the so-called Sasson report.

“Coming here was not only an ideological decision. I simply love this place,” Itai Hemo said, while resting on the porch in front of his caravan, overlooking the picturesque landscape.

“When you look into the Bible, you will see many of the holy places that are actually here,” he added. “But the conflict about the land is a political one. Any researcher will tell you that Palestinians came from other Arab countries. But it doesn’t mean we have to expel them. Co-existence is possible.”

But the details of this “co-existence” are far from anything that could be acceptable to Palestinians.

“The West Bank is separated into area A, B and C. Israel would annex area C, where all of today’s settlers live, while offering citizenship to the Palestinians there. Area A and B would get some kind of autonomy,” Miri Maoz Ovadia said.

An estimated 150,000 Palestinians live in Israeli controlled area C, which makes up over 60 percent of the West Bank. About 70 percent of it is off-limits for Palestinian construction.

Photo: Andreas Hackl/IRIN
The view of Ramallah from the settlement of Psagot

Influencing the state

The Israeli settlers who live in illegal outposts and settlements east of the barrier appear to have effective channels of influence to the government, the military and state institutions.

“Before Gaza-settlements were evacuated in 2006, we organized demonstrations. But the evacuation of Gush Katif (Gaza settlements) broke the movement,” Miri Maoz Ovadia said. “We also understood that Gaza was emotionally not in the heart of Israel, but the West Bank is. We have other channels of influence today.”

Today, the regional councils and the Yesha Council increasingly focus on advocacy, bringing politicians to speak in illegal outposts and attracting Israelis through tourism and volunteering. “We want to bring the heart of Israel to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank),” Ovadia added.

Since the Israeli High Court ordered the evacuation of Migron, politicians have come to pay tribute, many from Netanyahu’s Likud party. “We had a lot of members of Knesset [parliament] here. At least 30,” Itai Hemo said.

One of them was Reuven Rivlin, speaker of the Israeli parliament. During a January visit to the outpost, Rivlin called on the government “to take responsibility” and not to relocate or evacuate Migron.

The influence of settler ideology on the Likud was further boosted by the rise of the national-religious politician Moshe Feiglin.

“That Feiglin got 25 percent of Likud’s votes, affects the whole party. It pushes all others who compete with him towards a more extreme position,” Talia Sasson said. Feiglin advocates a greater Israel and encourages all Palestinians to leave.

“Of Likud’s 130,000 party members, 9,000 are settlers. Because they always vote as a united bloc, they are very strong,” Dror Etkes said. Other analysts estimated that at least 20 percent of Likud’s members are settlers.

Another sphere of influence is the Israeli army, where settlers volunteer. In addition, the settler councils actively attract more and more Israelis to participate in pre-army volunteer programmes.

Asked whether a future confrontation between settlers and the army over Migron was possible, Miri Maoz Ovadia replied: “61 percent of the settlers from here volunteer in combat units. It would be a fight against ourselves.”

But their increasing influence on the army and politics could make future demolitions or evacuations more difficult to implement.

“From Gaza they evacuated some 8,000 people. But the West Bank is different. It is in the heart of the country; 350,000 settlers are impossible to evacuate,” she added.


While most settlers pursue their interests non-violently, radicalized settlers have also directed attacks against Palestinians, left-wing Israelis and the Israeli state.

The weekly average of such attacks by settlers resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage increased by 144 percent in 2011 compared to 2009. An ideologically driven radicalized movement has grown in West Bank outposts over the years, following a strategy called “price-tag attacks”, meant to increase the price the government has to pay for demolishing illegal outposts.

“We are dealing here with two main ideological dimensions – both coming from Jewish religious teachings which place the conflict with the non-Jew at the centre of their teachings,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst with the ICG.

“The first comes from the teachings of anti-statist religious leaders like Rabbi Ginzburg of the Yitzhar outpost. The second from Rabbi Meir Kahana’s teachings. The young activists who follow such political-theologies often come from broken and disaffected families,” he added. The two Rabbi’s justified violence against Arabs and objected to partitioning the land.

Analysts also say radicalization among settler youth is linked to decreasing loyalty to the state, partly as a result of past government support for the Oslo agreements, which many national-religious settlers see as incompatible with the messianic reading of Jewish law.

Most national-religious settlers oppose the “price-tag movement”, but have one goal in common: pressuring the government to not to demolish outposts.

“The settlers are playing a dangerous game. They condemn the radicalization and violence, but at the same time, are using it silently to pressure the government not to demolish outposts,” Hagit Ofran, head of Peace Now’s settlement watch project, told IRIN.

Dror Etkes said most settlers are represented by the Yesha Council which seeks to influence the state through formal channels, while there is a more radical minority in outposts around Hebron and Nablus.

“The Council uses the radicals to tell the government: ‘If you don’t compromise our interests, you will have to deal with these radicals’,” he added. “There is a mutual interest.”

ah/eo/cb source

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Blame game defers solution to Gaza’s energy crisis

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2012

A beachside restaurant close to Gaza city. The lights are powered by generators because of daily electricity cuts

GAZA CITY,  – From factories to the fishing industry, the Gaza Strip economy is being affected by more than two months of fuel shortages and power outages, taking a toll on the livelihoods of its 1.6 million inhabitants.

To make a living on the sea, Madlene Kollab needs 20 litres of fuel each day. Unable to afford that, the Gaza Strip’s only fisherwoman has seen her catch halve to just 1.5 kilos per day. “I [began] fishing with my father when I was six years old, but without fuel I can hardly survive.”

The 10-week fuel crisis has hit power generation, with Gaza’s diesel-fired power station forced to make daily electricity cuts lasting for up to 12 hours.

Thabit Tarturi, who runs a beach-side restaurant in Gaza City, is seeing his earnings eaten up by the cost of the fuel needed to run his generators. “There is absolutely no profit at the moment. Our only [earnings go to] food and survival, that’s it,” he told IRIN.

The power cuts are also “disrupting the delivery of basic services, including water and healthcare”, Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the oPt has warned.

Gaza’s only power station was forced to shut down on 14 February due to the lack of fuel, which has previously been imported in amounts of up to one million litres a day, smuggled through underground tunnels from the Egyptian border post of Rafah. OCHA estimates that less than 100,000 litres is now arriving.

The dramatic fall-off is reportedly linked to a clampdown by the Egyptian authorities on smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula by Bedouin tribes, who took advantage of the insecurity following the fall of Hosni Mubarak to extend their criminal influence. The fuel is pumped from trucks on the Egyptian side into Gaza through pipes in the tunnels.

The Hamas government in Gaza began to use the tunnels after Israel imposed a tight blockade on the Strip in mid-2007. Despite the easing of restrictions by Israel in 2010, that trade has continued as fuel from Egypt is significantly cheaper. Two kinds of tunnels exist: those that are taxed and controlled by Hamas, and the others which are non-affiliated. But in both cases, “the electrical connections are courtesy of Rafah municipality, to which the smugglers pay a license fee”, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

''Each side in this game is trying to pressure the other, and Egypt is in the middle of it, trying to solve the problem. But Egypt is also cautious and angry about Hamas, because smuggling through the tunnels has caused troubles in Egypt. Multiple parties are involved in the same problem and that makes it all complicated''


A sustainable solution to the current crisis means agreement among the four main players: Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel and Egypt.

On 13 April, Egypt brokered a deal in which Hamas would channel money to an Israeli company through the PA, given that Israel has no direct links with Hamas. Upon payment, the Israeli company would deliver fuel through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza. So far, about US$8.9 million has been paid, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said.

As a result,  some 6.1 million litres of fuel in 13 separate consignments have been delivered to the Gaza power plant via the Kerem Shalom crossing between 4-23 April, according to OCHA. Fuel brought in from Israel is twice as expensive as that smuggled from Egypt.

The Gaza power station requires more than 400,000 litres of diesel a day, and currently operates just two of its four turbines, producing 35 megawatts (MW) instead of 80-85 MW. It has managed to reduce power outages from the 18 hours a day that prevailed in February and March.

But “a legitimate solution for the transfer of sufficient fuel is imperative to ensure that the most basic services can be maintained”, said OCHA’s Rajasingham.

In its absence, humanitarian efforts have brought some short-term relief. A delivery of 150,000 litres of fuel by the International Committee of the Red Cross on 2 April restored the fuel reserves of Gaza’s  hospitals for an estimated two more weeks.

“The current agreement is not a long term solution. It only serves the people of Gaza until other solutions are in place,” said a senior PA official, Ghassan Khatib.

According to Khatib, only the terms of a previous agreement between Egypt and Hamas, announced on 23 February, could provide a sustainable solution. “This includes building a gas pipeline from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and linking the two electricity grids with each other. But this will take at least eight months.”

However, the conditions under which this agreement will be implemented, if at all, remain unclear.

Blame game

“Each side in this game is trying to pressure the other, and Egypt is in the middle of it, trying to solve the problem. But Egypt is also cautious and angry about Hamas, because smuggling through the tunnels has caused troubles in Egypt,” Abdel Monem Saed, president of the Egyptian Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told IRIN, adding: “Multiple parties are involved in the same problem and that makes it all complicated.”

The Egyptian government is reluctant to accept responsibility for Gaza’s energy crisis, but rather holds Israel responsible as it controls the main entry point to the territory at Karem Shalom, said Sami Abu Sultan, a humanitarian aid worker from Gaza. “It is clear for Egypt that Israel is trying to push the responsibility about Gaza towards it.”

Hamas objects to a solution involving Israel, arguing that this could give Israel the opportunity to cut supplies in times of political tension. Instead, it wants direct trade with Egypt via the Rafah crossing, according to Ahmad Abu Al-Amreen, spokesperson of the Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip.

Analysts think that is unlikely to happen. “Egypt has no interest in delivering fuel directly to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing or the underground tunnels. Rafah is a crossing for persons, not for goods. And the tunnels are not an acceptable way of transfer,” said Monem Saed.

Amreen said some fuel was also expected from Qatar. “A ship loaded with about 30 million liters of fuel as a donation from Qatar is currently waiting at Suez port…Negotiations with Egypt are underway to facilitate the delivery to the Gaza Strip.”

Meanwhile, Egyptian parliamentarians are also exerting some pressure. “We, in the Egyptian parliament, are trying to pressure the government to act for the sake of the people in Gaza. I believe that Rafah is an option, simply because it’s the quickest way,” Sayed Majida, chairman of the parliamentary energy committee, told IRIN.

A direct deal between Egypt and Hamas is also supported by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which denies any responsibility for the energy crisis. That deal, observers believe, is in line with Israel’s shared interest with Egypt on threats to stability coming out of Gaza.

“We are not at all involved in this crisis. We bear no responsibility and we think that fuel should be supplied to Gaza directly from Egypt. That would make things a lot easier,” said Yigal Primor, spokesperson of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“All players have roles in this crisis,” Samer Zaqot, field work coordinator at Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, told IRIN . “But if we go back to the roots, we need to ask why Hamas decided to become dependent on smuggled fuel from Egypt.”


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Uneasy calm in Sebha after clashes

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2012

A resident of Tayuri stands against a bullet-riddled wall of his house, which was partly destroyed during last year’s clashes

SEBHA,  – A tenuous peace has taken hold in Libya’s southwestern city of Sebha more than a month after tribal clashes killed at least 70 people, with tensions still high between communities living here, many of whom have their own armed militias, according to local residents.

“You see that place?” Adoum Abaka, a Tubu from Tayuri, a poor neighbourhood of Sebha inhabited mainly by Tubu and Tuareg families, told IRIN, pointing to a nearby building on a hill with gaping holes where the walls used to be. “That is where some of us hid when Tayuri was under attack by the Awlad Sulayman [tribe]. We were fighting with Kalashnikovs. One person was killed there.”

The latest clashes erupted in March between the Tubu ethnic group and the Arab Awlad Sulayman and Awlad Abu Seif tribes. The clashes are said to have begun after a man belonging to the Abu Seif family was killed allegedly by the Tubu. But other narratives suggest the conflict followed a dispute over several million dollars which the ruling Transitional National Council (TNC) was planning to spend in Sebha. The violence went on for six days until the TNC brought in forces from the north to quell it.

The same communities clashed in February in the oasis of Kufra.

TNC forces have brought some semblance of peace to Sebha, but most tribal groups still have their own militias. Wanees Abu Khamada, head of the Special Forces and military governor of southern Libya, told IRIN the military recently banned people from carrying weapons at night. However, no process has yet been established to take back the weapons.

When asked if the army lacked the ability to bring the region under control, he said: “We are still trying. The army is not weak, but it is restricted by law. The militias on the other hand can just go and attack a place on their own.”

Despite the presence of the military, residents of Sebha are apprehensive. Adam Ahmad of Tayuri said the ceasefire between the two groups was an “obligation”, and many were afraid of what would happen if the army pulled out.

“Fighting has ceased, but we don’t know for how long,” said Al-Zarooq from the local council.  

Outside the camp council of Tayuri, an assortment of weapons, including mortars, rockets, artillery and unexploded munitions lie scattered on the ground.

In nearby Al-Hijara, charred remains of abandoned houses and cars stand testimony to the destruction wrought on the neighbourhood. Ali Mohamed Boubacar Julwar, a teacher who fled Sebha for the southern town of al-Qatroun, came back to find his family gone and his house destroyed.

“I found my neighbours outside, no shelter, their property stolen,” he said. “They said Awlad Sulayman did it, and some Sebha families.”

Identities and allegiances

The Tubu, an indigenous black African tribe, live in southern Libya, along the Tibesti mountain range, and in Chad and Niger. While some Tubu from Chad were encouraged to migrate north to work in the oil industry under former president Muammar Gaddafi, many indigenous to Libya experienced marginalization and exclusion by the same regime and took up arms on the rebel side during the 2011 uprising. Those living in Kufra in the southeast had their identity cards and passports withdrawn under a 2007 policy aimed at deterring more of them from entering Libya and authorities in the area were told to treat them as foreigners.

“The nomadic nature of the Sahara desert tribes and the fact that they have extensions in neighbouring countries were reasons for the previous regime to deny them their rights,” Adam Ahmad, a Tubu leader and head of Tayuri camp co

''The Awlad Sulayman told the people of Sebha that the Tubu want to control the city. So the people of Sebha, who have always been prejudiced against the Tubu, attacked their areas''

uncil, told IRIN.

During recent clashes, local perceptions of the Tubu as outsiders fuelled the violence, as residents in Sebha unrelated to the initial disputes were urged to take up arms against them.

“The Awlad Sulayman told the people of Sebha that the Tubu want to control the city,” Omar, a resident of Sebha who preferred not to give his full name, told IRIN. “So the people of Sebha, who have always been prejudiced against the Tubu, attacked their areas.”

The discourse over who is truly Libyan and who is an outsider underlies multiple conflicting accounts of the Sebha clashes and larger identity politics in the region.

The city, home to about 210,000 people, has long served as a hub and transit point for migrants entering the southern borders, often illegally, from Niger, Chad and other countries. As increasing numbers of Tubu arrived in Sebha to support their people during the clashes, the conflict escalated, and xenophobic fears of foreigners led to some cases of arbitrary arrests of African migrants from neighbouring countries like Chad.

“Not all the Tubu are Libyan. Libyans are welcome here, but outsiders are not,” said Mohamed Shahhat, a member of the local council in Sebha, from the Awlad Sulayman tribe. “There are rumours around that Tubu have their nation in the south of Libya. We are afraid of a situation similar to what is happening in Mali where the Tuareg are trying to establish their country. The Tubu are not just a tribe, they are a nation.”

While the Awlad Sulayman express fears of a Tubu takeover, the Qaddadfa and Awlad Sulayman are among the most prominent tribes in Sebha. Many of the latter were allied to the Gaddafi regime, while others fought on the rebel side during the uprising. In the four months after Sebha was liberated, residents of Sebha allege that Awlad Sulayman militias took control of the city and that crimes were committed.

Members of the Awlad Sulayman were reluctant to talk to IRIN about their involvement in the conflict or to give interviews with those whose relatives were killed.

Photo: Zahra Moloo/IRIN
An assortment of ammunition used during the attacks on Tayuri settlement in Sebha still lies scattered outside Tayuri camp council

Ayoub al-Zarooq said the Awlad Sulayman may have their own ambitions to assume control of the area around Sebha. “Many of the militias are from Awlad Sulayman. The street talk is that they want to control the city and perhaps even the south of Libya,” he said.

It is difficult to say who truly holds power here, according to Bill Lawrence, director of the North Africa Project of International Crisis Group (ICG). “Certain districts in and around Sebha are controlled more by one group or another, and certainly Awlad Sulayman have had the upper hand, but I would not say that one or another group truly holds power, especially after the revolution which made things murkier,” he said.

Security south of the city

Both the Tubu and the Awlad Sulayman have lived side by side for decades and both inhabit regions that extend beyond Libya’s borders. It is in these border regions where migrants and smuggled goods make their way north that the conflict which spread to Sebha is said to have originated. “They say the fight started here in Sebha, but in fact, trafficking and smuggling routes are in control of these two groups,” said Omar. “And each one pays the other. This is where the fight actually began, on the border.”

Ahmad Naas Mohamed, a member of the local council from the Abu Seif tribe, denied these claims. “Awlad Sulayman are not controlling the border areas, they are just doing some commerce there,” he said. “It is the Tubu who are in control.”

Adam Ahmad of Tayuri local council said much of the southern border region is controlled by the Tubu, but that the Awlad Sulayman may also have their own trafficking routes. Al-Zarooq said the borders presented the greatest security challenge to the southern region, and stability in Sebha would largely depend on securing these regions.

“Stability depends in part on dialogue between the communities and the ability of leaders to avert the worst,” ICG’s Lawrence said. “Eventually, the overall stability of Libya and these regions will depend on issues of legitimacy and governance and service delivery.”

The government has said it will investigate the Sebha clashes, but military governor Abu Khamada said it will take time and facts are hard to gather.

Meanwhile, the residents of Al-Hijara are still waiting for justice. Yusuf Said, a young Tubu who said his mother was killed in the local hospital during the conflict, believes the Tubu must be ready to defend themselves again.

“We consider the war is not over,” he said.

zm/eo/cb source

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