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Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem

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Dear Friends,

Tonight’s 7 items are entirely about Israel/Palestine.

I included item one about Israel’s latest GDP because on the surface it looks great, and is wonderful for those who profit nicely, but is much less so for the 60,000 Holocaust survivors who in Israel in their old age live in dire poverty and must depend on soup kitchens and the good-will of others to survive.  A few years ago the number was 80,000.  But apparently 20,000 have passed away, not unusual since these are people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.  Shameful that in Israel of all places in the world, Holocaust survivors must suffer so.  Likewise, the good GDP news is much less ‘good’  for patients and staff in Israeli hospitals which we daily hear the past month or so have in some wards 140% or more patients, so that patients’ beds  have to be in the halls or dining areas because there are insufficient rooms, and insufficient medical care, and even insufficient intensive care.  And one could go on.  So what does the government do with all its money?  How much more would it have for social welfare, health, and education had it not had to support an occupation, expansion, and ethnic cleansing?  Hmmmm?

Item 2 is Gideon Levy’s well-placed anger and analysis of the current Minister of Education’s (Gideon Saar’s) brilliant idea of sending school kids on school trips to Hebron.  The Saar’s of this country are exactly the people who should not be in charge of education.  All that students will learn under their tutelage is to be more Zionist, more xenophobic, more militaristic, and to question not at all.  This bodes not well for the future.

Item 3 reveals that Israel is the only Western country (is it really Western?  How many Western countries are grounded on a single religion or ethnicity?) that bans migrant workers from love.  Yes.  Honestly.  Read and you will see.

Item 4 relates that Israeli troops killed 3 Palestinians in Gaza.  As is customary in these affairs, the IOF has one version, the Palestinians another.  Experience has taught me to question IOF versions of things.  In any event, one way or another, there are 3 more Palestinian families mourning today.

Item 5 begins with a link to “Meanwhile in Gaza,” from Gaza Gateway, the point being that notwithstanding the tremendously important events happening in the Middle East, Gaza should not be overshadowed by them.

Item 5 then updates on events in Al-Araqib today, where the residents notwithstanding the 18th demolition of their huts or tents the past weeks, refuse to leave their land.  This is heartbreaking.  Israel becomes more and more brutal with every passing day!

Item 6 reports on a program that I have in the past (a couple of years ago?) sent details about, but for those of you who have forgotten or missed the message here it is.  This is another propaganda means, like Birthright and other such programs, it tries to create emotional ties of youth in the Diaspora to Israel, in this case by allowing them to play soldier.

Item 7 is somewhat good news: Netanyahu faces increasing international isolation.  Well, let’s hope that this carries over to the country that he heads.

All the best,

Dorothy

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1.  Haaretz,

February 17, 2011

Israeli GDP [gross domestic product] surges up OECD ranks in 2010

Economists now believe that the Bank of Israel is extremely likely to raise interest rates for March to keep a lid on inflation.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-gdp-surges-up-oecd-ranks-in-2010-1.343832

By Moti Bassok

The Israeli economy easily outstripped forecasts in last year’s final quarter, achieving annualized growth of a stellar 7.8 percent. While growth rates in other developed countries range from vanishingly small to around 3 percent, Israeli gross domestic product grew 4.5 percent last year, the Central Bureau of Statistics said yesterday.

Economists now believe that the Bank of Israel is extremely likely to raise interest rates for March to keep a lid on inflation.

The pace of Israeli growth is the fifth highest among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which Israel joined last year. Israeli growth outstripped that of the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany, France and most other countries in the group, too. Economic growth by the OECD nations averaged 2.8 percent last year, while the average for continental Europe was even lower – a mere 1.7 percent.

In 2009, the Israeli economy had only grown by a meager 0.8 percent.

Analysts’ forecasts hadn’t even come close. Most thought fourth-quarter growth would be around 4 percent.

The main impetus for the fourth-quarter leap was strong growth by public consumption, which increased by 6.5 percent, a nearly 19 percent leap in investment in fixed assets, and a 7.1 percent increase in exports (mainly diamonds).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz ascribed the jump to sound economic policy, and analysts struggled to explain how they had gotten it so wrong. Just this week, the Bank of Israel itself had predicted fourth-quarter growth of between 4.3 and 4.6 percent.

Amir Kahanovich, chief economist at Clal Finance, said that at first glance, the Central Bureau of Statistics figures look like they’re data for China. The figures show the strength of the Israeli business sector, he said – and also the potential for inflationary pressure.

=================

2.  Haaretz,

February 17, 2011

How school trips to Hebron resemble visits to Auschwitz

Just as upon return from the state-sponsored trips to Auschwitz, Jewish students will come back from Hebron feeling more nationalist than ever before.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/how-school-trips-to-hebron-resemble-visits-to-auschwitz-1.343873

By Gideon Levy

More than half of Jewish school children in Israel have visited Auschwitz; each year more than 10,000 go on a trip to Poland or on the March of the Living, a pilgrimage to the death camps. They come back shocked and nationalist. These tours mislead the weeping students for a moment as they wrap themselves in the national flag, before and after downing a Vodka Red Bull in their rooms.

These programs bring back thousands of teens who have learned nothing about the danger of fascism, who have heard nothing about morality, humanity and the slippery slope on which a dangerous regime might pull down a complacent society. Just more and more blind faith in strength, xenophobia, fear of the other and inflamed passions. So in their current format, these tours are missed opportunities whose damage is greater than their use.

Now Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar wants to add a tour to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Thousands of teens will be taken in armored buses to the danger zone, accompanied by soldiers and armed bodyguards. A safari in Hebron. During the visit, a curfew will be imposed on the last Palestinians left in the neighborhood. The students will be hurried into the ancient site that is believed to be the Cave of Machpelah – the tombs of the patriarchs and matriarchs who are probably not buried there. No one will show them what is around them. No one will tell them what happened to the thousands of people who lived near the tomb.

Their guides, the most violent and atrocious of the settlers in the territories, will not tell them what they have done. They will discuss the history of the place with Zionist selectivity. They will tell them about the 1929 Hebron massacre, but not about the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre. The students will see a ghost neighborhood around them and will not ask why it is abandoned, and whom the inhabitants were afraid of when they fled.

Here, too, as at Auschwitz, they will only scare them more and more. At Auschwitz they will make them frightened of the Poles and in Hebron of the Arabs. Everyone always wants to annihilate us. They will return from Hebron excited at having touched the ancient stones and even more blinded from not having touched the people who lived alongside those stones. They will see nothing and learn nothing. As at Auschwitz, they will come home even more nationalist: Hebron forever, and the force of arms.

After all, what will they be told? What are the hidden messages? That the sanctity of the place means sovereignty. That the place is sacred to us, but only to us. That there is Abraham but no Ibrahim. That the fact that there is Jewish history here must “sanctify” it, even in the eyes of secular students, whom one would suppose have nothing to do with anything holy. A mixed multitude of fabrications, propaganda and uneducational messages.

If the education minister were true to his job and his image as a relatively enlightened minister, he would have organized a true tour of Hebron. A “Let Us Ascend to Hebron” program? Indeed, but on condition that everything is included: the Jewish tradition and the Jewish injustice.

That will not happen, of course. If Sa’ar were honest, he would have also encouraged heritage tours for the Arab school children in this country. Let the Jewish kids go to Auschwitz and Hebron, and the Arabs to Deir Yassin and Sheikh Munis. They also deserve to learn about the history of their people and their country. It would be better if all Israeli school children, Jews and Arabs, went to all those heritage sites, learning each other’s fate. That will not happen either, of course. Instead, we have an education minister who tries to have it all: sitting like a liberal in Tel Aviv’s Cafe Tamar with Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, and as a nationalist, sending students on trips to the occupied Tomb of the Patriarchs.

But the problem, of course, is not who is education minister. The problem is what we are instilling in our students; where we are taking them (and ourselves ) and what we are telling them there. The students who return from the annual field trip to Hebron will be worse students. They will learn to touch history and hide from reality. They will believe that Abraham the patriarch has been buried for thousands of years in Hebron, but they will learn nothing about justice and humanity, which are buried there a thousand times deeper.

===========================

3. Ynet,

February 17, 2011

The right to love

Op-ed: Israel only Western country banning migrant workers from engaging in romantic relationships

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4030069,00.html

Noa Galili

The UN committee to abolish discrimination against women has recently published its conclusions. One prominent area of their report was the way Israel treats its migrant workers, and in particular the Ministry of Interior’s controversial regulation – which states that if a foreign worker is caught in a romantic relationship, her work visa will be denied.

Yes, you read that right. The essence of a migrant worker, their whole existence and purpose is in a simple definition: They are here to work. Only to work. The harder they work, the better. The State of Israel expects that at the end of a long, exhausting day of work, the foreign workers – who receive a pitiful salary and are also deprived of most basic civil rights – return to an empty house, and heaven forbid there should be a loving spouse to greet them there. Love? Not here. Not in Israel’s vision.

Indeed, Israel’s motives, as well as her policies in regards to bringing the migrant workers here to work, don’t stop at philanthropy. The system works like this: The State and manpower companies bring the workers here, and in the process make a fortune. Bringing these laborers here makes a very nice profit for the companies and our country, employing them here and – believe it or not – deporting them, is profitable for the parties involved. The ones who pay the heavy price are solely the women who came here to work.

Sadly, the right to fall in love isn’t the only privilege denied to foreign workers here in 2011. Israel is the only Western country that forbids migrant workers from engaging in romantic relationships.

Modern-day slavery

The State of Israel has every right to decide that it doesn’t want foreign workers, but if that’s the decision, Israel needs to stop importing them immediately. We cannot have it both ways – on one hand, enjoy cheap labor, and on the other hand expect human beings to act like tools. If Israel chooses to keep encouraging migrant workers to come here, there is a human cost to pay; that is treating these migrant workers as human beings with equal rights, and not to deny them the right to love, and marry, and bring children into this world. If Israel isn’t ready to accept the cost, then it needs to stop ordering more workers this very day.

A few days ago the world celebrated Valentine’s Day, a day meant to symbolize the right of each one of us to fall in love, and be loved in return. In Israel, in 2011, the right to fall in love isn’t a trivial one, and one is only entitled to it if he or she were born to the right ethnicity, and came to this country under the right circumstances. No exceptions.

It’s time for Israel to start treating the migrant workers as people, and stop the modern-day slavery that has been created here. These workers are not machines or robots but living, breathing human beings who are entitled, just like us, to fall in love and have relationships, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day in any way that they desire with the people they choose to be with.

Noa Galili, Spokesperson for Israeli Children, the organization leading the fight against the deportation of migrant workers’ children

==========================

4.  BBC,

February 17, 2011

Israeli troops fatally shoot three Palestinians in Gaza

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12492867

Israeli soldiers have shot dead three Palestinian men in northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army said its soldiers had opened fire after the men were spotted planting explosives in a no-go zone along the border overnight.

But Palestinian relatives of the men, who were all in their 20s, say they were unarmed civilians who had been gathering sea shells.

None of the militant groups in the Hamas-held Gaza has so far said the men were members.

Israel maintains a buffer zone along the border fence, where Gaza militants have planted bombs and explosives targeting Israeli troops in the past.

Israel often opens fire on people who “got too close to the fence” to stop attacks by militants, BBC Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison says.

More than 50 Palestinians, including 12 civilians, were killed by Israeli troops near the border in 2010, the UN says.

=======================

5. Meanwhile in Gaza

http://www.gazagateway.org/2011/02/meanwhile-in-gaza/

————————————

The stand-off at Al-Araqib continues between the residents who refuse to leave their lands and the Israeli authorities.  I’d hoped to have had a later report, but this is what I’ve received today—my hasty translation  from the Hebrew sent by Hilel Barak today (the 17th) at 1:41 PM.

Al Araqib Thursday, February 17, 2011

Special forces of the Israeli police shot sponge bullets at men and women who had come from the village of Rahat to show solidarity with the people of Al-Araqib.  About 60 had come from Rahat, but were prevented by the police from joining the people of Al-Araqib who were in the cemetary.

The women sat at the side of the road while the men asked the police to allow them to pray with the Al-Araqib men in the graveyard.  The police refused and gave them ½ a minute to leave, but started shooting immediately, and continued shooting while the people from Rahat were running away.  Several were injured and 7 were detained.

====================

Just found slightly more news about today

http://www.imemc.org/article/60663

==============================

6.  The Guardian,

February 17, 2011

[for other oldies like myself who have not kept up with the latest terminology, a ‘gap year’ is a year off—between studies or other on-going activities]

View from Jerusalem with Harriet Sherwood

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/view-from-jerusalem-with-harriet-sherwood/2011/feb/17/israel-palestinian-territories

Gap-year teenagers get a taste of Israeli military life

IDF programme for young Jews from outside Israel is part of a militaristic culture

[ Participants in the Israeli military’s Marva programme at the Western Wall ceremony this week. Photograph: Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian]

At Jerusalem’s Western Wall, in blustery rain one evening this week, a couple of hundred young soldiers stood to attention to sing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, or Hope, at a ceremony to mark the end of their stint in the army.

Dressed in olive-green fatigues, with M16 assault rifles slung over their shoulders, these young men and women of the Israel Defence Forces proudly faced the enormous stone edifice, one of the most important sites in Judaism and of huge national symbolism to the state of Israel.

Except these soldiers weren’t quite what they seemed. For a start, they weren’t Israeli; secondly they had completed only a few weeks in Israel Defence Forces uniform; and lastly their M16 assault rifles were jammed with concrete rather than filled with live ammunition.

These were Jewish teenagers from outside Israel who had opted to spend part of their gap year on an IDF programme aimed at giving them a taste of Israeli military life.

The programme, Marva, runs for eight weeks, and includes weapons training, exercises and education.

According to the website of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which organises gap year experiences for teenagers,

Marva presents a unique opportunity for young Jewish adults who want to become familiar with Israel by experiencing the physical and emotional sides of the country, its challenges and its people. Through hiking the land, living in field conditions, navigating deserts and hillsides and participating in seminars and lectures, you will learn about the issues of the country. Marva will help you strengthen your ties to Israel, whether you’re a tourist or potential new immigrant.

At the end of this week’s ceremony, I asked one of the participants, Lucy Cohen, 18, from London, why she had chosen this programme.

“I came to Israel for a year to live as an Israeli,” she said. “The IDF is such a huge part of life for Israelis of my age, and I felt it was important to experience it. I wanted to try to understand this, to have more connection with Israeli girls of my age.”

She admitted to ambivalent feelings about the programme. “It’s fun putting on a uniform – it feels like dressing up. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. When you get on a bus or walk down the street, you get respect and admiration.”

This, she said, was misplaced in the case of Marva participants – “I’m not a real soldier; I’m not due any credit”.

An IDF video on youtube says that, in lectures and training, emphasis is placed on Israel’s security situation. I asked Lucy Cohen how that came across, and whether there was any acknowledgment of the IDF being an occupying force in the Palestinian territories.

“I would say no. I feel like there’s still part of the education that’s missing.”

Her group had done a role play on an IDF mission to search a “house with terrorists”. Some of the group, she said, equated “Arabs” with “terrorists” without distinction. “I would say that there’s quite a lack of education,” she added.

I’ve spoken to young Britons, here on holiday or to visit family, who report a feeling of awe or admiration at their Israeli counterparts in uniform and toting loaded weapons.

Others are repelled by what they see as the glorification of the military.

The role that compulsory national service plays in Israeli society serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it provides the IDF with the raw material any army needs to fight battles. Secondly, it strongly reinforces the sense – felt acutely by most Israelis – that their nation is under constant existential threat. Thirdly, it serves to bind people together in a common experience.

The decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has produced a deeply-militarised culture on both sides. Instead of inculcating young people in weapons training and their inalienable right to the land, the prospects for a peaceful solution might improve if Jewish and Palestinian teenagers were taught more about a culture of peace, reconciliation and co-existence.

===========================

7.  Haaretz,

February 17, 2011

Netanyahu faces international isolation as peace process stalls

According to foreign diplomats and senior officials in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s main problem is that world leaders doubt his seriousness about moving the peace process forward.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/netanyahu-faces-international-isolation-as-peace-process-stalls-1.343834

By Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under increasing pressure and international isolation as a result of the breakdown in the peace process. European leaders do not believe he is serious about achieving peace, the Chinese are still furious with him for canceling his trip at the last minute in November, and India has been diplomatically sidestepping his request to visit.

Netanyahu’s growing isolation is particularly obvious when looking at his travel schedule abroad. He ventured outside Israel for the first time as prime minister in April and May of 2009, to Cairo and Amman (respectively), for short talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II. During his first year in office, he went abroad 13 times and visited nine countries.

In his second year in office, however, he took only eight trips abroad, visiting six countries. Three of those trips were to Egypt and three to the United States. During that same year, he only visited one major European country, when he attended the OECD conference in Paris, in May 2010.

Netanyahu’s only planned trip at this point is to both Sofia, Bulgaria and Prague, Czech Republic, set for the beginning of April. By then, he will have not left the country for five months, except for a quick trip to Egypt in early January.

Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are part of a small group of European Union countries that do not criticize Israel at all, including the West Bank settlements. It seems Netanyahu has not visited major European countries, like Britain, Germany and Spain, to avoid any criticism or political pressure on the Palestinian issue.

In fact, Netanyahu has been getting the cold shoulder from a number of countries. Last year, the Prime Minister’s Bureau tried a number of times to organize a trip to India, but the Indian government begged off, citing a crowded schedule. He also wanted to visit Jordan again, but King Abdullah was not eager to oblige.

After months of efforts to secure a visit to China, in October 2010 Netanyahu finally received an invitation. The trip was to have taken place the following month, but at the last minute the Prime Minister’s Bureau informed the Chinese that the visit was off – and Netanyahu instead attended the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America. The Chinese were insulted, and the Foreign Ministry believes it’s unlikely the prime minister will be invited to Beijing again anytime soon.

According to foreign diplomats and senior officials in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s main problem is that world leaders doubt his seriousness about moving the peace process forward.

Two months ago, Netanyahu met with the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store, who told him: “I think you’re serious, but many of my colleagues in Europe think the exact opposite.” Store urged him to press on with the peace efforts.

A lack of faith in Netanyahu could clearly be seen during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last visit to Israel. She had a tough conversation with him on the Palestinian issue, asking: “What is your plan?” She seemed particularly disappointed when Netanyahu made do with general statements such as “I may make a political speech in the future.”

Merkel told Netanyahu he would have to take practical steps, not make do with mere statements. She also made a tough speech in Tel Aviv the day after their meeting, which angered Netanyahu. Neither would admit it publicly, but mutual suspicion and tension had never been as high.

Netanyahu’s ties with French President Nicolas Sarkozy are also quite tense, and the number of their phone conversations has dramatically declined. The same is true of Netanyahu’s relationship with Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. And European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told him Tuesday that he could not continue dragging his feet, and that he was losing his closest friends in Europe.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau responded by saying that Israel has a solid relationship with many countries and the number of Netanyahu’s trips abroad is “not a litmus test of ties with those countries,” but rather stems from the prime minister’s hesitation to travel abroad in light of the burning domestic issues at hand.

“Only a few days ago, Germany’s chancellor and cabinet visited Israel. In the coming days the Polish president will visit Israel with his cabinet, [evidencing] the strong relations between the two countries and an agreement to hold joint cabinet meetings,” the bureau said, adding that similar joint meetings are to be held with the cabinets of Italy, the Czech Republic and Greece.

“Israel is at an advanced stage of talks with a number of countries, some of which have already approached Israel with invitations – such as Australia, China, Britain, France, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Holland, the United States, Brazil and others,” the bureau said.

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