Strategies for building awareness for the potential of peace education in Cameroon Ben Oru Mforndip
Special Report
Has Democracy Enhanced Development in Africa? Conrad John Masabo
Permanent Emergency Powers in France: The ‘Law to Strengthen Internal Security and the Fight Against Terrorism’ and the Protection of Human Rights Lena Muhs
Women’s Political Representation in Sri Lanka: Leading towards Prosperity or Peril Pujika Rathnayake
Lack of empathy as a threat to peace Victoria Scheyer
Comment II
The death of democracy in Honduras Daniel Bagheri S.
Berta Vive Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani
The Persons Who Changed the Lives of Terrorists and Criminals Surya Nath Prasad

Teaching Peace from Tales of the City: Peace Education through the Memoryscapes of Nagasaki Patporn Phoothong
Special Report
Reflections of Refugees in Africa Wyclife Ong'eta Mose
Challenges and prospects of AU to implement the Ezulwini Consensus: The case of collective security and the use of force Tunamsifu Shirambere Philippe
The Right to Food Shant Melkonian
Freedom of Expression Under Threat in Zambia Mariateresa Garrido
Douglas Janoff on LGBTQIA Human Rights Luciana Téllez
Common Things: Communication, Community, Communal Peacebuilding Lina Patricia Forero Martínez
The political Crisis of the 2017 Honduran Election Daniel Bagheri S.
Research Summary
Water Security in the Sixaola River Basin Adrián Martinez Blanco and Diana Ubico Durán
Reborn Arunima Chouguley
An Open Letter to the American People: Political Responsibility in the Nuclear Age Richard Falk, David Krieger, and Robert Laney


In the News
Last Updated: 02/11/2004
Divided worlds, divided opinions
Joe Schumacher

News editor Joe Schumacher looks at the new wall that divides Palestine and Israel and breeds divisions around the world.,,2-10-1462_1456844,00.html

West Bank wall divides UN

09/12/2003 09:31  - (SA)  

New York - A divided United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to examine Israel's construction of a barrier that juts into the West Bank.

The vote was 90 in favour, eight opposed with 74 abstentions, reflecting uneasiness in many nations on referring the issue to the world court, based in The Hague, Netherlands. The resolution asks the court to urgently issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier.

In October, the General Assembly voted overwhelming for a resolution calling for the dismantling of the barrier, a 150km network of fences, walls, razor wire and trenches. But several nations said they didn't want the court brought in, and noted that its opinion would not be legally binding.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his government would co-operate with the court's expected investigation of the contentious barrier.

The United States and Israel strongly opposed what they called a biased resolution, arguing that it would "politicise" the court and undermine efforts to reach a Mideast peace settlement. Israel insists the barrier is needed to prevent suicide attacks and its construction is purely for security.

Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman called the vote "a moral victory," saying "most of the world's enlightened democracies" were among the large number of countries that didn't support the resolution while those who voted "yes" were "mostly tyrannical dictatorships, corrupt and human rights-defying regimes."

Arab nations argued that going to the court was the only action available to try to stop construction of the barrier.

Palestinian UN observer Nasser Al-Kidwa started pushing for the resolution after Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a November 28 report declaring that Israel had failed to comply with the General Assembly demand to halt construction of the barrier.

He welcomed the resolution's adoption, saying 90 nations voted for "international law and for what is right - in spite of the immense pressures, and even threats ... to which member states were subjected" not to support the resolution.

"For us, any negotiations are meaningless without first stopping the wall," he said. "For us, it is either the wall or the road map. If Israel continues building the wall, this will be the end of the road map."

Gillerman called the barrier "the Arafat fence," after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable," Gillerman said. "If there were no Arafat, there would be no fence."

He insisted the barrier was not an obstacle to a two-state solution but warned that attempting to involve the International Court "is especially counterproductive" at a time when there is hope for renewing negotiations.

"It will severely complicate, undermine and delay, if not halt altogether, current efforts to restart the implementation of the road map," Gillerman said.



Kingdom-Yemen Emergency Talks Set Over Border Fence
Michel Cousins, Managing Editor


JEDDAH, 10 February 2004 — Saudi and Yemeni border authorities are to hold emergency talks in a bid to defuse tension over a so-called “security screen” being erected by the Kingdom along the Yemeni frontier. A Yemeni delegation arrived in Jeddah yesterday for talks on the subject.

Yemeni authorities claim that the barrier is being built in a common grazing area that had been agreed in the June 2000 border pact that ended a decades-long territorial dispute between the two countries.

The screen is part of a larger plan to erect what will be an electronic surveillance system along the entire length of the Kingdom’s frontiers — land, air and sea. The project, involving fencing, cameras and other electronic detection equipment, has been in the planning stages for several years. According to a report in the Paris daily Le Figaro last month, the French aerospace group Thales is “on the verge” of being awarded the contract to oversee the construction of the system. The project is said to be worth up to $8.75 billion. It would, the French paper says, involve an integrated surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance and communication network. A spokesman for the French negotiators in the Kingdom would offer no comment other than to say that the discussions between the two sides had been going on “for a long time”. Le Figaro said that they had been going on “for 15 years.”

However, Arab News has learned from French sources that any contract is still “some way off”, probably several months. This was said to be due to the fact that the French negotiating team had changed and the new team, from Sofresa, a part-private part-state company linked to the Ministry of Defense, had had to familiarize itself with the details.

Previously, negotiations had been conducted by Sofremi, a part-private, part-Ministry-of-Interior company that exports security equipment. A further delay, the French say, was because the Saudi government wanted the project to be dealt with and signed on a state-to-state basis. This would require a French government minister coming to Riyadh to sign. The name of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was mentioned.

While talking to reporters last month, Interior Minister Prince Naif had indicated there were plans to erect the security screen. With reference to Yemen, he said that officials were in contact with Sanaa and that “we’ll do everything possible to protect our borders in cooperation with Yemen”.

The Yemen section of the plan appears to have become complicated by local tribal issues. Reacting to rumors in Yemen’s Sada province that the barrier would be a concrete wall, despite Saudi assertions otherwise, local Waelah tribal leaders protested to the government in Sanaa, claiming that any such wall would be against their interests and demanded that work cease on a 20-kilometer stretch.

They say that there could be no renegotiation of the existing border between themselves and the Yam tribe on the Saudi side that was approved by a tribal committee five years ago before being endorsed in the Saudi-Yemeni border agreement.

Saudi authorities refuse to call the barrier along a 42-kilometer (26-mile) portion of the border with Yemen a “security wall” opting instead for the term “cement-filled pipeline,” according to Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News. “The cement-filled pipeline being built inside our territories is aimed at curbing infiltration and smuggling,” Lt. Gen. Talal Angawi, head of the Saudi border guards, told the London-based Arabic daily. A similar section of raised, concrete-filled pipeline, had reportedly already been built on Saudi Arabia’s northern border with Kuwait.

Diplomats say Saudi Arabia is urgently stepping up border controls after the surge of militancy last year, fueled by weapons smuggled across thousands of kilometers of desert and mountain borders.

Other officials in the Saudi Arabian border guards have also denied the rumors about a concrete wall. The head of border guards in Asir, Gen. Muhammad Al-Bayali, told Al-Watan newspaper that relations between the two countries are good and that border barriers would largely consist of barbwire fencing and in certain places, infrared cameras.

These were to prevent wanted criminals from escaping across the border and the smuggling of weapons and drugs into the country.

The rumors of a wall had been spread by smugglers, he said, worried about their illegal operations coming to an end.

Saudi Arabia frequently announces arrests and arms seizures along the 1,800-kilometer Yemen border. At the end of December the authorities said they had arrested 4,047 “infiltrators” and seized weapons and ammunition in Najran province.

The Kingdom has also stepped up the hunt for militants blamed for suicide bombings in Riyadh in May and November that left more than 50 people dead. Hundreds of suspects have been rounded up. Yemen has also been tracking down suspected sympathizers of Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda militant network.

Israel may re-route wall to help Palestinians


JERUSALEM - Israeli state lawyers say the route of a barrier designed to stop suicide bombers, which cuts deep into the occupied West Bank, will probably be revised to ease Palestinian hardship.

"The fence route will probably be moved, and a change of policy in the seam-line area is being considered to ease as much as possible the lives of the Palestinians living in it," lawyer Michael Blass told a Supreme Court hearing yesterday.

Completed parts of the barrier have restricted Palestinians' access to fields, schools and neighbouring villages and two Israeli civil rights groups had petitioned the court to declare illegal the barrier's planned route, looping deep into the West Bank to encircle Jewish settlements.

It was not clear when the judges would rule. The World Court in The Hague is to look at the same issue this month.

The petitioners pursued the case despite signals from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office that Israel intended to shorten the route, making it follow the pre-1967 war boundary with the West Bank more closely in a bid to secure US support.

Parliamentary allies opposed to Sharon's plan to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip dealt him an embarrassing blow by abstaining in a confidence motion.

He survived the second such vote in a week with only a few more votes than the opposition.

Israel has so far built 150km of the planned 728km barrier of wire fences and cement walls.

In court, Israel said the barrier had stopped suicide bombers from reaching its cities, where hundreds have died in attacks since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

"The basic reason for the barrier is the duty the Government has to protect the right to life of its citizens," Blass said.

The International Court of Justice is to open hearings in The Hague on February 23 at the behest of the United Nations. Its opinion will not be binding.

In a separate challenge to Israel, Palestinian leaders were considering whether to declare a state unilaterally in the West Bank and Gaza.

A senior Palestinian official said it could counter an Israeli threat to give up on efforts to negotiate a peace and take go-it-alone steps to disengage from the conflict.

Unilateral moves could wreck the peace roadmap, which calls for an end to violence and negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The wall

Israel's Supreme Court opened hearings yesterday into the legality of a West Bank barrier the Government says stops suicide bombers but which critics say encroaches on land Palestinians want for a future state and violates Palestinian human rights.

* Barrier planned to extend for 728km. A first section of 150km was completed in July and work continues on the second and third sections. The cost is $2 million a km.

* About 20km of the barrier is concrete wall designed to stop shooting attacks. The rest consists of fences with electronic detectors and ditches to stop vehicles.

* Its route approximates the "Green Line" that was the boundary before the 1967 Middle East war, but it is designed to loop deep into the West Bank around major Jewish settlements.


The story behind the story

A number of secret meetings between senior Israeli and Jordanian officials are being held. Why? Because the Jordanians fear the result of the unprecedented Israeli 'security barrier'. The fear is that there will be a mass Palestinian emigration to Jordan because life has become intolerable in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Jordanians complain that the ghetto-like wall will separate the Palestinians and the Jews, having a devastating impact on the lives of 210,000 Palestinians, who live in 67 towns or villages. Jordanian commentators believe that many of them will have no other choice but to cross the river and join their Palestinian brothers and sisters in Jordan. For Jordan no outcome could be worse. Roughly half of Jordan's population is Palestinian.

"The Jordanians are terrified and believe that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is returning to his old plan (which he deserted in recent years) that 'Jordan is actually Palestine'," said a Palestinian close to President Yasser Arafat. "After the wall is completed, about 40 per cent of the West Bank will have been confiscated by Israel, the plans for a viable Palestinian state will evaporate and the outcome will be Armageddon."

What next? The secret negotiations between the Israelis and the Jordanians have failed. Jordan could not persuade Israel to stop building the wall, and so Jordan is taking its case to the World Court in the Hague. The court is expected to discuss the wall in the near future.

Arab civil society gets a hearing in Alexandria


Can democracy find a home in the Arab world? While few would predict a major thrust toward democracy in the foreseeable future, the glimmerings of civil society undeniably glow more brightly these days.
The region’s many non-governmental organizations, too often overlooked or ignored by those observing the region, have shown a high level of political awareness and have strived, in deliberate and often sophisticated ways, to increase government accountability. Associational life is richer than is commonly assumed, although there are significant variations among states and classes. There is no doubt, however, that an impact of the war in Iraq has been to reinvigorate debate about political reform, and all the available evidence suggests that radical change is in the making. The question is: Will reform be induced internally or externally? Will it come by conviction or infliction?
It is in that context that at the end of January it was announced that the Library of Alexandria will organize its first ever Arab conference on March 12-14 under the aegis of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to call for political, social and economic reform in the region. It will be organized in cooperation with civil societies in the Arab world, with no governmental or foreign participation.
According to Ismail Serageddine, the director of the Library of Alexandria, the idea of the conference is a timely call for action and follows up on several conferences and individual initiatives, such as the recent Regional Conference on Human Rights and Democracy, held in Sanaa, Yemen, where Arab citizens’ concerns with the challenge of reform and change was noticeable. It also illustrates a realization that civil society is both willing and able to play a role in shaping the national policies governing citizens’ lives.
The decision was made to invite thinkers, researchers academics, women’s organizations and business associations, among others, to offer an overall vision of needed change in Egypt and the Arab world, since the impetus for political reform must come from within these societies and must not be imposed by external factors. Serageddine added that Mubarak’s patronage stemmed from recognition that if open forms of governments were to be made durable, they must be underpinned by viable civil societies. Absent this, experiments in participatory forms of government are unlikely to thrive. A changing world needs changing policies and an effort to look beyond the present; short-term political expediency cannot substitute for fundamental change. Moreover, in a modern world characterized by advanced information technology and intense competition, only economies less centralized than those existing in the Arab world can survive.
The conference will be divided into social, political and economic panels. They will focus on the potential for economic and social development provided by information and communications technologies, whether in fighting poverty or bridging the growing “digital divide” between the Arab and industrialized worlds, between regions and between social and economic strata. This requires appropriate technology development and education in the use of technologies, as well as their effective application to education and capacity building. These technologies must apply to a wide range of skills, native languages, traditions and indigenous knowledge. When they do, the transition to a networked society can be a real step toward the alleviation of poverty and, therefore, a substantial contribution toward sustainable world society.
In a region where freedom is often circumscribed and hollow, where governments are endemically suspicious of independent forms of association, the March conference should be a watershed in regional politics. First, it will reassert Egypt’s traditional role as a pacesetter and promoter of collective Arab action. The need for real institutional reform was enunciated at the second annual conference of the ruling National Democratic Party some months ago.
Second, Arab governments are besieged by myriad problems, each formidable in its own right. Cities are bursting at the seams, economies do not work well, bureaucracies are neither responsive nor efficient, unemployment is rampant and corruption is rife. It is time for civil society to identify the strategic choices available to political leaders. Coping with the challenges surrounding food policy, jobs and investment will require greater integration into the international economy. Such economic changes imply enlarging the role of the private sector, opening up political space, widening the scope of the rule of law and more generally restructuring the state’s relations with its citizens.
The task will not be easy: entrenched interest groups will not easily abandon their privileges.
Third, there are really only two alternatives for Middle Eastern governments: repression or participation. Repression is likely to be ineffective in the long run and will impede the establishment of institutions affording an opportunity for coping with the economic challenges. Moreover, the case for political reform is strong, and some Arab leaders will have to deduce that only through reform will they be able to preserve their power and privilege.
Fourth, the conference will create an opportunity for disparate voices in civil society to be raised throughout the region to express their thoughts about more inclusive political processes. Like people throughout the world, Arabs wish to have a say in how they are governed. As civil society continues to gain its footing, issues of accountability, transparency and performance will grow in importance. Although regular encroachment upon the dignity of individuals linger, the trajectory of Arab civil societies is clearly toward an increased emphasis on individual rights free from the arbitrary abuse of the state.
Only time will show whether an empowered civil society in the Arab world will lead to more participatory politics, or whether it will merely further entrench the political and economic elite.

Mona Makram-Ebeid, a former member of the Egyptian Parliament, is a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR

Israel Hems In a Sacred City
Encircling of Jerusalem Complicates Prospects for Peace

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 10, 2004; Page A01

JERUSALEM -- Israel is close to finishing a decades-long effort to surround Jerusalem with Jewish settlements, walls, fences and roads that will severely restrict Palestinian access to the city and could reduce the chance of its becoming the capital of a Palestinian state, according to documents, maps and interviews with Israelis, Palestinians and foreign diplomats.

The status of Jerusalem -- a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians -- is one of the most divisive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their religious and political capital, but most countries do not officially recognize it as such, and the United States and others keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Under past Israeli-Palestinian accords, neither side is supposed to take any action to change the city's status, which is to be resolved through negotiation.

Projects to cut off access to Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank, which borders the city on three sides, have accelerated since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Today, Jewish settlements outside the city have been integrated with the urban core, redrawing the map of Jerusalem and complicating any negotiations over its future and the future of West Bank settlements, Israeli and Palestinian experts say.

The web of projects includes 13 settlements to the north of the city that are being linked with each other and with Jerusalem by access roads that act as physical barriers to Palestinian communities. To the east, Israel has approved expansion of the West Bank's largest settlement, Maleh Adumim, to absorb a swath of Palestinian land between the community and East Jerusalem. To the south, access and bypass roads and Jewish settlements have carved Palestinian lands into a checkerboard.

At the same time, a new barrier combining trenches, walls, electronic sensors and steel fences is being built around Jerusalem. The project, part of a large fence that is designed to cordon off the West Bank, has split some Palestinian neighborhoods and separated many Palestinians from their schools, jobs, families and lands.

Israeli officials say that several of the measures are designed to deter the movement of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank into Israel and that others are aimed at increasing the proportion of Jews in Jerusalem. Palestinians describe the measures as an attempt to break their religious, economic, political and cultural ties to the city and preempt negotiations over its final status.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, denied that Israeli actions around Jerusalem were an attempt to predetermine the city's future or to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. Many projects, particularly the fence, are temporary measures to stop terrorist attacks, he said, adding, "We are not establishing facts that are irreversible."

"Jerusalem is not going to be a Palestinian capital -- that's the position of this government," Gissin said. "But as far as access and movement, all this could come back when the Palestinians remove terrorism from the agenda."

Avraham Duvdevani, head of the settlement unit of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which implements the Israeli government's settlement program in the West Bank, said that the aim was to consolidate the capital of the Jewish state.

"It's been the formal policy of all governments in Israel that Jerusalem will not be discussed or divided -- Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, to stay undivided forever," Duvdevani said. "Because of that, it was very easy to get permission from the minister of defense and the governments to build settlements that strengthened Jerusalem as the capital and the Jewish majority in Jerusalem and that blocked the option of the Palestinians to build in and near Jerusalem."

To Hatam Abdul Qader, a member of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem, such an approach "will make it impossible to create an independent and viable Palestinian state."

"Jerusalem is the most visible example of Israel's settlement policy of besieging and caging Palestinian communities and controlling their exits and entrances with settlements and roads and fences, which are dividing Palestinian neighborhoods and separating Jerusalem from the West Bank," Qader said.

Under the agreements that ended British rule in Palestine in 1948 and divided the region into Arab and Jewish areas, Jerusalem was to be an international city. But Israel's war for independence ended the following year with Israel in possession of the western part of the city, while Jordan retained the eastern section, as well as the West Bank of the Jordan River. In the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter annexed East Jerusalem and the lands around it -- 27 square miles in all.

Fueled by religious conviction, security concerns and economic pressures -- and encouraged and subsidized by the Israeli government -- Israeli Jews began establishing settlements around the city and throughout the West Bank. Today, there are approximately 175,000 Jewish residents in the parts of Jerusalem annexed in 1967, according to Israeli human rights groups, and another 224,000 in the West Bank, according to Israel's Interior Ministry.

Israeli Court to Rule Quickly on Barrier

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's Supreme Court promised a speedy ruling on a petition filed by human rights groups to halt work on the West Bank barrier, a case seen as a dress rehearsal for a world court hearing on the contentious project.

On Monday, Chief Justice Aharon Barak indicated his ruling might come before the Feb. 23 hearing in The Hague, Netherlands.

Responding to international criticism and the threat of the court cases, Israeli officials have said they would change the route of the barrier to ease some of the hardships on the Palestinians.

The barrier is one-quarter completed. Its planned route cuts deep into the West Bank in several places and encircles some Palestinian towns and villages, cutting off tens of thousands of people from their farmland, schools and social services.

Palestinians charge that the barrier is a thinly disguised land grab aimed at leaving Israel in control of large parts of the West Bank.

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia was in Dublin, Ireland, trying to drum up European Union opposition to the Israelis' planned barrier. Ireland holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation EU.

"If they want to build it within the Israeli territory, they are welcome," Qureia said. "But not one single inch on our territory - that's it."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern reiterated the EU's position that building the barrier in Palestinian territory is "in contradiction to international law."

The barrier is part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan of unilateral steps that he says he will take if peace efforts fail. These steps, which he says are meant to reduce friction with the Palestinians, also include a proposed withdrawal from most of Gaza.

Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, warned parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could be perceived by militant groups as a "victory." But he also said a pullout could put great pressure on militants to halt "terrorist activities," the army said.

Zeevi-Farkash did not take a clear position on Sharon's plan, saying the army is still reviewing it. He added that Israel would probably not see a change in the number of militant attacks.

In Gaza, meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of gunmen firing in the air, protested the arrests of four Palestinian men on charges of planting explosives that may have ripped apart a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October.

The suspects' indictment in a Palestinian military court this weekend was met with skepticism by many Palestinians and in Washington. The charges were announced days after the United States publicized a $5 million reward for information about the attackers. The bombing killed three American security guards.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer was quoted Tuesday as questioning the latest arrests.

"We are frankly not satisfied to date that we have seen enough results," Kurtzer told a conference of conservative rabbis. His comments were reported by The Jerusalem Post.

In court Monday, the Center for the Defense of the Individual argued that the barrier - a network of walls, razor wire and trenches - infringes human rights and is a breach of international law.

It said that if Israel wants a barrier, it should be built on territory it held before seizing the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war.

Those arguments are also expected to be made by Palestinian representatives at the Hague hearings, which begin Feb. 23. Israel does not recognize the old cease-fire line as a border.

Israel will tell the international tribunal that the 440-mile barrier is essential to stop Palestinian attacks on Israel, as state attorney Michael Blass told the court. During three years of violence, more than 400 Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings that originated in the West Bank.

"It is not we who unleashed the demon of terror," Blass said.

Barak, heading a three-judge panel, noted the approaching world court hearing and said he would render a decision "as soon as possible."

Israel has challenged the world court's right to rule on the barrier, arguing that the issue should be resolved through negotiations.

Several other groups also filed objections about aspects of the barrier. Human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman, representing one of the petitioners, said the world court case should be an incentive for the Israeli court to make an exhaustive examination of the facts.

Other lawyers said a full-scale Israeli judicial review could provide useful ammunition to Israeli advocates at the Hague, while demonstrating the Israeli court's own competence.

In new violence, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said it had killed a 50-year-old taxi driver in the West Bank suspected of collaborating with Israel.

The militant group, loosely affiliated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, said the man, Tahsin Abu Arqub, had confessed to aiding Israeli forces in killing and arresting wanted militants.

The US Media and the Wall: Thomas Friedman and 60 Minutes
David Bloom, Patrick Connors, and Tom Wallace, The Electronic Intifada, 4 February 2004

Why do Americans understand so little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the damage created by Israel's colossal West Bank Wall?

The self-imposed US media blackout on the Wall's construction finally began to lift last August when President Bush mentioned the problems created by Israel's Wall "snaking its way through the West Bank." Last December, a year and half after bulldozers began cutting the Wall's path through Palestinian villages, Thomas Friedman hosted a Discovery Channel program in association with The New York Times, and Bob Simon anchored a CBS 60 Minutes segment introducing the controversy surrounding one of the world's largest construction projects.

The Friedman/Discovery program was muddled, but Simon's shorter yet stronger 60 Minutes segment presented a clear picture of the devastation resulting from the Wall's construction. All of the US media's failures in reporting on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict are played out to varying degrees within these two television productions. There are many reasons for the media blackout and failures, but the most important is probably fear that criticism of Israel, even reporting the truth about what Israel is doing, is quickly labeled anti-Semitic.

Both programs cover the difficulty that the Wall causes for the many Palestinians who have been cut off from their land and livelihoods. However, neither program mentions the possibility that Israeli military occupation and expulsion of Palestinians from their land might actually be the root causes of the conflict. On the contrary, one could leave both programs with the impression that Palestinian suicide bombings, which first occurred in 1994, are the cause of a conflict which began in the late 1800s. There is no mention that over 360 Palestinians were killed before the first suicide bombing of this uprising.

Indeed, the vast majority of what we hear and see in the US is about suicide bombing, and in both programs we see the depth of pain inflicted on Israelis by Palestinian suicide bombings through footage of their carnage, and disturbing, emotional scenes. Thomas Friedman actually visits the site of a suicide bombing immediately after it occurs. Although these are appalling scenes, they are certainly no less horrific or newsworthy than an Israeli apache helicopter firing missiles into crowds of civilians, or Israeli tanks killing and wounding Palestinian men, women and children. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, more than 2,673 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks and 24,541 have been wounded. Despite this, we see only examples of the 900 Israeli deaths in these two programs.

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, has an acute ability to convey a sense of objectivity, morality and pragmatism in his writing and on TV, while masking subtle prejudices against Palestinians and Arabs. Although Friedman does interview both prominent Israelis and Palestinians, his biases are revealed by his choice of interviewees, and his attitude towards them.

For official Israeli views, Friedman interviews Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Mayor of Ariel Settlement Ron Nachman. He treats both as sympathetic, reasonable people, who are not to be challenged, even as they orchestrate policies that underlie the conflict and fuel violence. He nods respectfully as Netanyahu speaks, and then politely asks Netanyahu why the Wall is being built "through the Palestinians' backyard." Netanyahu ducks the question with a monologue on suicide bombing, avoiding the main objection of even Israel's allies, the Wall's location. Friedman never challenges Netanyahu, a man who regularly takes more extreme positions than Ariel Sharon.

In the interview with Ron Nachman, the Mayor and builder of the second largest West Baank settlement, Friedman and Nachman simply exchange friendly banter. Nachman jokes about not having horns or carrying a gun, contrary, he implies, to the image of settlers. Friedman doesn't explain the reason for the image - constant settler violence against unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, or note that the settlers, already armed to the teeth, are protected by the Israeli army.

To his credit, Friedman regularly criticizes the settlements in his columns, resulting in some jibes from Nachman in the interview. In the Discovery program, however, Friedman describes the settlements as "Jewish communities", as if they are just warm, cozy and harmless, all of which they could be, if they were not built on seized Palestinian land. He completely leaves out the fact that the settlements' construction, defense and expansion have resulted in a continual use of force against Palestinians since 1967, and that all settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal under international law.

Nor does Friedman place the settlements or the Wall in the context of the historical Zionist strategy of expelling Palestinians from their land, a strategy which began in the early 1900s, created 700,000 refugees in 1948, and continued with the construction of hundreds of illegal settlements. The justification of course is Biblical. After all, for Jewish and Christian Zionists, this is Judea and Samaria, not the West Bank

For official Palestinian views, Friedman interviews at length the mayor of the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Ma'arouf Zahran, perhaps to balance his interview with Nachman. He does not, however, interview a popular Palestinian leader in a position equivalent to Netanyahu, for example a Palestinian Legislative Council member.

Instead, Friedman interviews Canadian Palestinian legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority, Diane Buttu. When Buttu, a younger woman, responds to Friedman's question about strategy on the Wall, Friedman is dismissive for the only time in the program. He tells Buttu that she is wasting her time and money, and that stopping Hamas will stop the Wall in a second. Buttu has no opportunity to respond to Friedman's aggressive challenge, to perhaps mention that the Israeli occupation strengthens support for extremist groups like Hamas, or that occupation and settlement expansion never ceased, even during the Oslo Peace Process.

As in his New York Times columns, Friedman exhibits no difficulties telling Arabs what to do, nor are Arabs allowed to challenge his understandings. He appears clearly more comfortable with Israelis, who are given the space to disagree. Also the "expert analysts" are often Israelis, and rarely Palestinians. This subtle racism pervades most of Friedman's writing on the Middle East.

Discovery does show with maps that the Wall is being built deep within the West Bank. Friedman also films the treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints. He even seeks out and asks young Palestinian men about humiliation, and they talk about their anger and the deaths of Palestinians. However, because Friedman has trouble listening to Palestinians, he is unable to represent their most significant experience, occupation, a word that Friedman amazingly utters only once in his hour long program -- a word that to Palestinians means systematic violence and denial of fundamental rights touching every aspect of life since 1967, a word that means continued invasions, sieges, curfews and death.

Through a discussion with Mohammed Dahleh, the first Palestinian citizen of Israel to clerk for the Israeli Supreme Court, Friedman does reach an important conclusion: because Israel is building a Wall that will leave Israelis on both sides, rather than a Wall separating Israelis and Palestinians, Israel is creating a situation where Palestinians are likely to demand equal rights in a single binational state rather than demanding a Palestinian state of their own.

The much shorter Bob Simon 60 Minutes segment, contrasts positively with Friedman's Discovery show. Despite similar weaknesses in representing the Palestinian experience, 60 Minutes much more clearly identifies the core issue of the Wall project. Simon notes that world leaders recognize Israel's right to self-defense, but that this does not justify the Wall's construction on Palestinian land. Because of its location, Simon suggests, the Wall may become more of an obstacle to peace than to terror. Unlike Friedman, Simon challenges statements by Israeli right-wingers, and interviews Israelis who criticize the Sharon government's policies and the Wall.

The contrast with Friedman is most obvious when Simon interviews Israeli General Eival Gilady. While Friedman listened patiently to Gilady, Simon pointedly asks Gilady how he would feel if he couldn't get from his house to his farm. When Gilady responds evasively, suggesting that all Palestinians are implicated in terrorism, Simon stops him, saying he doubts that the Palestinian farmers he met were involved in terrorism. Chastened, Gilady backs away from his attempt at spin.

Simon then interviews Israeli Minister Uzi Landau. Landau states defiantly that the Palestinians will not have all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (The West Bank and Gaza Strip) because "Judea, Samaria and Gaza are part of our homeland." Immediately afterwards, Simon points out that this Jewish homeland was 3,000 years ago, and that now 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. 60 Minutes lets Landau expose himself by presenting a hardline, religious view about land that is home to millions of Palestinians.

60 Minutes also interviews Ami Ayalon, who, as former Israeli Shin Bet Director, was responsible for security for the State of Israel. Ayalon recently joined three other former Shin Bet directors in criticizing the Sharon government's security policies, saying that they simply create more violence. Ayalon asserts that giving Palestinians hope is more effective than building a Wall. In contrast, Friedman gave no indication that there are any Israeli Jews, let alone members of Israel's security elite, who believe that the Wall will actually decrease security and not increase it.

Simon closes by noting that US government's penalties for construction of the West Bank Wall will cost Israel only about $4 million out of Israel's $2.6 billion in annual US aid. Thus 60 Minutes calls attention to the US government's vital role in supporting expansionist Israeli policies, another important element that is absent from the Discovery show and the media at large.

Despite Thomas Friedman's post-9/11 calls for moral clarity in his New York Times columns, he provides little moral clarity about a Wall that is effectively annexing large tracts of the West Bank to Israel and impoverishing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Just as Friedman used his position as a pundit with the New York Times to help sell the war in Iraq to Americans, and complains now about how the war he sold is being executed, he focuses his wrath on Palestinian suicide bombings while meekly questioning the implementation of Israel's occupation and its expansionist policies.

Israeli "expert" Yaron Ezrahi wraps up Friedman's Discovery show, saying that the Wall stands as a monument to failure. This is certainly true. The responsibility for this failure, however, falls as much on the shoulders of the American media as it does with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Pressure on the American government to stop supporting Israeli aggression must come from the American people. Information necessary for the American public to apply that pressure must come from the American media. Until we begin treating Palestinians as human beings and tell the story beyond the suicide bombings, the violence will continue, fueled by American money and arms for Israel.

In the meantime, groups like the International Solidarity Movement, International Women's Peace Service, and Christian Peacemakers Team will continue to provide more complete news of what is happening on the ground, while supporting Palestinian non-violent resistance to the terror that is occupation.

European Union opposes world court case against Israeli barrier

PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer

The European Union has written to the world court to express its opposition to the opening of legal action against the West Bank security barrier that Israel is building, diplomats said Monday.

Although the EU repeated its criticism of the barrier, the 15-nation bloc believes the problem needs a political, rather than legal, solution and fears the court case could further harm peace efforts.

The EU message was delivered Friday to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, by the Irish government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, ahead of a court deadline for such submissions, officials said on condition of anonymity.

The court is to begin hearings on the barrier project Feb. 23. In accordance with court rules, the EU's letter was not made public, diplomats said.

Despite the move, EU officials repeated their criticism of the barrier itself.

"You very well know our position on the wall -- it does not contribute to peace," Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy representative, told reporters.

EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said, "There is, I think, no doubt between the (EU) member states about the damage which the security fence is doing to the prospects for a solution."

Israel says the 440 miles of fences, walls and trenches are needed to protect against suicide bombers. The Palestinians say the structure amounts to seizure of their land because parts of it cut into the West Bank.

With Palestinian backing, the U.N. General Assembly has sent the case to the court for an advisory opinion. Israel argues that the world court is not the proper forum for the issue. The United States also opposes the court action.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat criticized nations supporting Israel's position.

"They don't respect international law ... but rather follow in this mentality, the mentality of racist actions," Arafat said after a meeting of Christian leaders from Jerusalem.

Although the court's decision would be nonbinding, Israel and the Palestinians see the case as an important battleground for determining the project's fate.

Solana met Monday with the Israeli and Palestinian authors of an informal Middle East peace plan. He voiced EU support for the so-called "Geneva Accord" drawn up in December by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, his Palestinian negotiating partner.

"The initiative ... is timely, is important, and we would like to help them as much as possible," Solana said.

Propaganda war heats up in countdown to ICJ hearing on West Bank barrier



JERUSALEM (AFP) - The propaganda war ahead of a world court hearing on the West Bank separation barrier intensified as pro-Israel groups planned a mass rally to commemorate hundreds of "victims of terrorism".

Palestinian premier Ahmed Qorei, meanwhile, tried to drum up European opposition to the project.

The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said that Israeli and Jewish students from the United States and Europe would take part in a march through The Hague (news - web sites) on February 23, brandishing photos of the both civilian and military victims of Palestinian attacks, to coincide with the start of the hearing in Holland.

The marchers will file past the International Court of Justice building and the bombed-out skeleton of a bus which was wrecked in a Palestinian sucide attack in Jerusalem late last month.

The bus is being flown out to The Hague by Zaka, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish service which recovers bodies from attack scenes.

The initiatives are designed to ram home Israel's argument that the barrier is essential to its security needs while the Palestinians argue that it is being used to pre-empt the borders of their promised future state.

The world court case will come after an expected ruling in the next few days by Israel's supreme court into two petitions filed by Israeli human rights groups against the barrier.

Nearly 900 Israelis have been killed since the start of the intifada in September 2000, according to an AFP count. More than 2,800 Palestinians have also been killed.

Palestinian premier Qorei is currently trying to build up European opposition to the barrier on a brief tour of the continent.

After talks with his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern on Monday, Qorei told reporters in Dublin that the barrier would "kill the choice" of a two-state solution for the region.

The barrier was also expected to feature prominently in talks with Italian officials when Qorei travelled to Rome on Tuesday.

He was scheduled to have dinner with Silvio Berlusconi after the Italian prime minister's return from holding talks in Tripoli with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Meanwhile in events on the ground, the Israeli army said it had arrested 10 wanted Palestinians overnight in the West Bank. Five were members of armed groups linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s mainstream Fatah (news - web sites) movement, a spokesman said.

An armed offshoot of Fatah claimed responsibility Tuesday for the killing of a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israel in the Ramallah region of the West Bank.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement that a group of their activists had shot dead Tahsin Arqub, 52, for "participating with Israeli special forces in the murder or capture of wanted Palestinians."

Witnesses said that Arqub, who worked as a taxi-driver, had been abducted by a group of armed men on Monday evening. His bullet-holed body was later recovered in a suburb of Ramallah.