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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Mahmoud Abbas “on trial”

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A youth group in the Gaza Strip held a mock trial for the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. The Youth Parliament, a group under the media department of the Islamist group Hamas, prosecuted Abbas on charge of “betraying the blood of the martyrs and the injured”.

The charge was in reference to Abbas’s agreement to defer the vote on the Goldstone Report at the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month. Many human rights groups have been pressing nations to endorse the UN report critical of the Gaza War seeing it as a way to hold both Israel and Hamas accountable for the hundreds of civilian deaths in the devastating war. The vote on the Goldstone Report was delayed to next March, which looked like a victory for Israel, and some Palestinians charged his decision had raised serious questions about Abbas’s leadership. Abbas, doing some damage control, pledged to push for an exceptional UNHCR session, which is being held on Wednesday. (Read more here.)

A panel of three teen judges presided over this trial held at the Hamas media offices in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip. A man with a similar physique as the Palestinian Authority president acted the part of the defendant, wearing a mask with a picture of Abbas’s face, standing handcuffed and chained at the ankles throughout the trial. He also mimicked Abbas’s accent and intonation.

The prosecutor’s opening statement was followed by testimonies from a human rights group representative, an Arab League representative, Abbas’s defense lawyer, and Mahmoud Abbas “himself”. A young girl, representative of “the children of Palestine”, claiming to have come straight from school to testify against the “traitor”, spoke as a “witness to the crimes committed against the children”.

Evaluating Obama

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obamaThe limelight this week was on U.S. President Barack Obama who made his debut at the United Nations in New York brokering his first summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday and delivering his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. (Read more here.)

Reviews of his performance are in from the Middle East and they are not in the main favorable.

The Iran question, again

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It seems last week’s focus, settlement expansion, has given way to this week’s prime focus: Might Israel attack Iran?

Last week the Arab media found Israel’s refusal to cease settlement expansion unsurprising and affirmative of what they said was Israel’s unwillingness to pursue a peace settlement with the Palestinians. An op-ed in Al Ahram Weekly, an English-language newspaper in Egypt, questioned the Arabs’ ability to challenge Israel: “Will they have the courage to shift the focus back from the Israeli-instigated ‘Iranian threat’ to the clear and present Israeli danger to the region?”

Hopeless or Hopeful?

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The trilateral summit tomorrow at the United Nations in New York will be the first time the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president will be meeting since the suspension of peace talks last December, but nobody’s waiting with bated breath. According to our latest article, the inability to reach an agreement on a settlement freeze and Israelis and Palestinians accusing each other for the lack of efforts to revive peace negotiations, continue to be the bumps in the road to peace. (Read our FACTBOX about Israel’s settlements.)

After the U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s week-long shuttle diplomacy ended last week without obvious result. He had attempted to break the negotiation deadlock between the two sides, any chance of bringing three leaders together for dialogue – albeit “without preconditions” and promise for resumption of negotiations – should seem to be an occasion worth anticipating. (Read more of our coverage here.) Israeli newspapers, however, were not encouraged, calling the summit “the flight to nowhere” and projecting it would be “solely symbolic”.

Insulting the intelligence

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Good morning, children.

Today we are going to learn about two common rhetorical tricks that help greatly with the cynical manipulation of arguments.

First, disingenuousness. The Oxford Shorter English Dictionary defines disingenuous as “lacking in frankness, insincere, morally fraudulent”, in the sense of pretending not to know what you in fact know very well.

In the firing line

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PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/GAZA-AMNESTYIsrael’s military has been hit with a barrage of human rights reports this week. One, by the Israeli human rights group Gisha, criticises Israel’s policy of banning Palestinians from leaving the Gaza strip. The Red Cross has also filed a report, “Gaza: 1.5 Million People Trapped in Despair,” as well as a film(Gaza: Paying the Price) criticising Israel’s three-week incursion into Gaza last winter, known as “Operation Cast Lead.”

Meanwhile, former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone has begun collecting evidence about Operation Cast Lead for the UN Human Rights Council.

Branding Israel

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For many Israelis the sight of European delegates walking out during a speech by Iran’s president at last week’s U.N. conference on racism was a rare moment of solidarity by countries often critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

“Defeated” read a front-page banner headline in one Israeli newspaper next to a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had to face the mass walkout by Western diplomats at the forum in Geneva when he called Israel a “racist state” in his speech.

The Holocaust’s untold toll

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As Israelis prepare for their annual Holocaust commemorations on Monday, one scholar has taken a different tack on the tragedy by estimating how many Jews might have been alive today were it not for the Nazi genocide.

According to demographer Sergio DellaPergola, the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War Two more than halved the potential global Jewish community in the long-run. Rather than numbering some 13 million now, there might have between 26 million and 32 million Jews, he says in an article to be published in the journal of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

from Global News Journal:

Gaza shows Kosovo “doctrine” doesn’t apply

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Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army's disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas."We have a moral duty," said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to "bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe".The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international "Responsibility to Protect" civilians in conflicts. Advocates of "R2P" proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using "disproportionate" force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through "soft power" -- diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the "responsibility to protect" concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas -- which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of "senseless destruction." He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel's response "goes beyond what international law allows."Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of  "proportionality" on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided "guerrilla" villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed "proportionality" as a deterrent."We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction," said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot."This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised," he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel's action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO's own bombing of Serbia killed "hundreds of civilians".Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a "fair fight" or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures -- which Israel says are suspect-- some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B'Tselem have called for investigations.

from Global News Journal:

Two weeks under fire in Gaza

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

Voices get loud and excited over the radio Reuters news crews use in Gaza to call in the latest information. Some people complain there are no "Western reporters" inside. But we all work for Reuters, a global agency that sets the international standard.

After two full weeks of bombardment we are all worried about our families but we work and work the story. We hope it will stop.

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