December 31, 2010

Spanish artists paint on Israeli apartheid wall (PHOTOS)

Ma'an - Spanish artists paint on the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Qalqiliya, taking time to plant an olive tree near the site of their work in the latter on December 26, 2010.

The artists, members of Mujeres Artistas Por La Paz (Artist Women for Peace) were in the area for Christmas. 

December 23, 2010

How the Israel Lobby engineers Islamophobia


Inside the Bizarre Cabal of Secretive Donors, Demagogic Bloggers, Pseudo-Scholars, European Neo-Fascists, Violent Israeli Settlers, and Republican Presidential Hopefuls Behind the Crusade

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era.  It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance.  Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly -- and perhaps predictably -- morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.

Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.

Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.

Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.

Birth of a Network

The Islamophobic crusade was launched in earnest at the peak of George W. Bush’s prestige when the neoconservatives and their allies were riding high. In 2003, three years after the collapse of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq, a network of Jewish groups, ranging from ADL and the American Jewish Committee to AIPAC, gathered to address what they saw as a sudden rise in pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses nationwide. That meeting gave birth to the David Project, a campus advocacy group led by Charles Jacobs, who had co-founded CAMERA, one of the many outfits bankrolled by Chernick. With the help of public relations professionals, Jacobs conceived a plan to “take back the campus by influencing public opinion through lectures, the Internet, and coalitions,” as a memo produced at the time by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company stated.

In 2004, after conferring with Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-Israel think tank where Chernick had served as a trustee, Jacobs produced a documentary film that he called Columbia Unbecoming.  It was filled with claims from Jewish students at Columbia University claiming they had endured intimidation and insults from Arab professors.  The film portrayed that New York City school’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures as a hothouse of anti-Semitism.

In their complaints, the students focused on one figure in particular: Joseph Massad, a Palestinian professor of Middle East studies.  He was known for his passionate advocacy of the formation of a binational state between Israel and Palestine, as well as for his strident criticism of what he termed “the racist character of Israel.” The film identified him as “one of the most dangerous intellectuals on campus,” while he was featured as a crucial villain in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, a book by the (Chernick-funded) neoconservative activist David Horowitz.  As Massad was seeking tenure at the time, he was especially vulnerable to this sort of wholesale assault.

When the controversy over Massad’s views intensified, Congressman Anthony Weiner, a liberal New York Democrat who once described himself as a representative of “the ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] wing of the Democratic Party,” demanded that Columbia President Lee Bollinger, a renowned First Amendment scholar, fire the professor. Bollinger responded by issuing uncharacteristically defensive statements about the “limited” nature of academic freedom.

In the end, however, none of the charges stuck. Indeed, the testimonies in the David Project film were eventually either discredited or never corroborated. In 2009, Massad earned tenure after winning Columbia’s prestigious Lionel Trilling Award for excellence in scholarship.

Having demonstrated its ability to intimidate faculty members and even powerful university administrators, however, Kramer claimed a moral victory in the name of his project, boasting to the press that “this is a turning point.” While the David Project subsequently fostered chapters on campuses nationwide, its director set out on a different path -- initially, into the streets of Boston in 2004 to oppose the construction of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.

For nearly 15 years, the Islamic Society of Boston had sought to build the center in the heart of Roxbury, the city’s largest black neighborhood, to serve its sizable Muslim population. With endorsements from Mayor Thomas Menino and leading Massachusetts lawmakers, the mosque’s construction seemed like a fait accompli -- until, that is, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Boston Herald and his local Fox News affiliate snapped into action.  Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby also chimed in with a series of reports claiming the center’s plans were evidence of a Saudi Arabian plot to bolster the influence of radical Islam in the United States, and possibly even to train underground terror cells.

It was at this point that the David Project entered the fray, convening elements of the local pro-Israel community in the Boston area to seek strategies to torpedo the project. According to emails obtained by the Islamic Society’s lawyers in a lawsuit against the David Project, the organizers settled on a campaign of years of nuisance lawsuits, along with accusations that the center had received foreign funding from “the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia or… the Moslem Brotherhood.”

In response, a grassroots coalition of liberal Jews initiated inter-faith efforts aimed at ending a controversy that had essentially been manufactured out of thin air and was corroding relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the city. Jacobs would not, however, relent. “We are more concerned now than we have ever been about a Saudi influence of local mosques,” he announced at a suburban Boston synagogue in 2007.

After paying out millions of dollars in legal bills and enduring countless smears, the Islamic Society of Boston completed the construction of its community center in 2008. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, nothing came of the David Project’s dark warnings. As Boston-area National Public Radio reporter Philip Martin reflected in September 2010, “The horror stories that preceded [the center’s] development seem shrill and histrionic in retrospect.”

The Network Expands

This second failed campaign was, in the end, more about movement building than success, no less national security. The local crusade established an effective blueprint for generating hysteria against the establishment of Islamic centers and mosques across the country, while galvanizing a cast of characters who would form an anti-Muslim network which would gain attention and success in the years to come.

In 2007, these figures coalesced into a proto-movement that launched a new crusade, this time targeting the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a secular Arabic-English elementary school in Brooklyn, New York. Calling their ad hoc pressure group, Stop the Madrassah -- madrassah being simply the Arab word for “school” -- the coalition’s activists included an array of previously unknown zealots who made no attempt to disguise their extreme views when it came to Islam as a religion, as well as Muslims in America. Their stated goal was to challenge the school’s establishment on the basis of its violation of the church-state separation in the U.S. Constitution.  The true aim of the coalition, however, was transparent: to pressure the city’s leadership to adopt an antagonistic posture towards the local Muslim community.

The activists zeroed in on the school’s principal, Debbie Almontaser, a veteran educator of Yemeni descent, and baselessly branded her “a jihadist” as well as a 9/11 denier.  They also accused her of -- as Pamela Geller, a far-right blogger just then gaining prominence put it, “whitewash[ing] the genocide against the Jews.”  Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative academic previously active in the campaigns against Joseph Massad and the Boston Islamic center (and whose pro-Likud think tank, Middle East Forum, has received $150,000 from Chernick) claimed the school should not go ahead because “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with Pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.” As the campaign reached a fever pitch, Almontaser reported that members of the coalition were actually stalking her wherever she went.

Given what Columbia Journalism School professor and former New York Times reporter Samuel Freedman called “her clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach,” including work with the New York Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League after the September 11th attacks, the assault on Almontaser seemed little short of bizarre -- until her assailants discovered a photograph of a T-shirt produced by AWAAM, a local Arab feminist organization, that read “Intifada NYC.” As it turned out, AWAAM sometimes shared office space with a Yemeni-American association on which Almontaser served as a board member. Though the connection seemed like a stretch, it promoted the line of attack the Stop the Madrassah coalition had been seeking.

Having found a way to wedge the emotional issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict into a previously New York-centered campaign, the school’s opponents next gained a platform at the Murdoch-owned New York Post, where reporters Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter claimed her T-shirt was “apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple.” While Almontaser attempted to explain to the Post’s reporters that she rejected terrorism, the Anti-Defamation League chimed in on cue. ADL spokesman Oren Segal told the Post: “The T-shirt is a reflection of a movement that increasingly lauds violence against Israelis instead of rejecting it. That is disturbing.”

Before any Qassam rockets could be launched from Almontaser’s school, her former ally New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg caved to the growing pressure and threatened to shut down the school, prompting her to resign. A Jewish principal who spoke no Arabic replaced Almontaser, who later filed a lawsuit against the city for breaching her free speech rights. In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that New York’s Department of Education had “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel” by firing Almontaser and urged it pay her $300,000 in damages. The commission also concluded that the Post had quoted her misleadingly.

Though it failed to stop the establishment of the Khalil Gibran Academy, the burgeoning anti-Muslim movement succeeded in forcing city leaders to bend to its will, and having learned just how to do that, then moved on in search of more high-profile targets. As the New York Times reported at the time, "The fight against the school... was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle."

“It’s a battle that has really just begun,” Pipes told the Times.

From Scam to Publicity Coup

Pipes couldn’t have been more on the mark. In late 2009, the Islamophobes sprang into action again when the Cordoba Initiative, a non-profit Muslim group headed by Feisal Abdul Rauf, an exceedingly moderate Sufi Muslim imam who regularly traveled abroad representing the United States at the behest of the State Department, announced that it was going to build a community center in downtown New York City. With the help of investors, Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative purchased space two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan.  The space was to contain a prayer area as part of a large community center that would be open to everyone in the neighborhood.

None of these facts mattered to Pamela Geller. Thanks to constant prodding at her blog, Atlas Shrugged, Geller made Cordoba’s construction plans a national issue, provoking fervent calls from conservatives to protect the “hallowed ground” of 9/11 from creeping Sharia. (That the “mosque” would have been out of sight of Ground Zero and that the neighborhood was, in fact, filled with everything from strip clubs to fast-food joints didn't matter.)  Geller’s activism against Cordoba House earned the 52-year-old full-time blogger the attention she apparently craved, including a long profile in the New York Times and frequent cable news spots, especially, of course, on Fox News.

Mainstream reporters tended to focus on Geller’s bizarre stunts.  She posted a video of herself splashing around in a string bikini on a Fort Lauderdale beach, for instance, while ranting about “left-tards” and “Nazi Hezbollah.”  Her call for boycotting Campbell’s Soup because the company offered halal -- approved under Islamic law (as kosher food is under Jewish law) -- versions of its products got her much attention, as did her promotion of a screed claiming that President Barack Obama was the illegitimate lovechild of Malcolm X.

Geller had never earned a living as a journalist.  She supported herself with millions of dollars in a divorce settlement and life insurance money from her ex-husband.  He died in 2008, a year after being indicted for an alleged $1.3 million scam he was accused of running out of a car dealership he co-owned with Geller. Independently wealthy and with time on her hands, Geller proved able indeed when it came to exploiting her strange media stardom to incite the already organized political network of Islamophobes to intensify their crusade.

She also benefited from close alliances with leading Islamophobes from Europe. Among Geller’s allies was Andrew Gravers, a Danish activist who formed the group Stop the Islamicization of Europe, and gave it the unusually blunt motto: “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” Gravers’ group inspired Geller’s own U.S.-based outfit, Stop the Islamicization of America, which she formed with her friend Robert Spencer, a pseudo-scholar whose bestselling books, including The Truth About Muhammad, Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, prompted former advisor to President Richard Nixon and Muslim activist Robert Crane to call him, “the principal leader… in the new academic field of Muslim bashing.” (According to the website Politico, almost $1 million in donations from Chernick has been steered to Spencer’s Jihad Watch group through David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.)

Perfect sources for Republican political figures in search of the next hot-button cause, their rhetoric found its way into the talking points of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin as they propelled the crusade against Cordoba House into the national spotlight. Gingrich soon compared the community center to a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, while Palin called it “a stab in the heart” of “the Heartland.” Meanwhile, Tea Party candidates like Republican Ilario Pantano, an Iraq war veteran who killed two unarmed Iraqi civilians, shooting them 60 times -- he even stopped to reload -- made their opposition to Cordoba House the centerpiece of midterm congressional campaigns conducted hundreds of miles from Ground Zero.

Geller’s campaign against “the mosque at Ground Zero” gained an unexpected assist and a veneer of legitimacy from established Jewish leaders like Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman. “Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he remarked to the New York Times. Comparing the bereaved family members of 9-11 victims to Holocaust survivors, Foxman insisted, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

Soon enough, David Harris, director of the (Chernick-funded) American Jewish Committee, was demanding that Cordoba’s leaders be compelled to reveal their “true attitudes” about Palestinian militant groups before construction on the center was initiated.  Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, another major Jewish group, insisted it would be “insensitive” for Cordoba to build near “a cemetery,” though his organization had recently been granted permission from the municipality of Jerusalem to build a “museum of tolerance” to be called The Center for Human Dignity directly on top of the Mamilla Cemetery, a Muslim graveyard that contained thousands of gravesites dating back 1,200 years.

Inspiration from Israel

It was evident from the involvement of figures like Gravers that the Islamophobic network in the United States represented a trans-Atlantic expansion of simmering resentment in Europe.  There, the far-right was storming to victories in parliamentary elections across the continent in part by appealing to the simmering anti-Muslim sentiments of voters in rural and working-class communities. The extent of the collaboration between European and American Islamophobes has only continued to grow with Geller, Spencer, and even Gingrich standing beside Europe’s most prominent anti-Muslim figure, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, at a rally against Cordoba House.  In the meantime, Geller was issuing statements of support for the English Defense League, a band of unreconstructed neo-Nazis and former members of the whites-only British National Party who intimidate Muslims in the streets of cities like Birmingham and London.

In addition, the trans-Atlantic Islamophobic crusade has stretched into Israel, a country that has come to symbolize the network’s fight against the Muslim menace. As Geller told the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Israel is “a very good guide because, like I said, in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man.”

EDL members regularly wave Israeli flags at their rallies, while Wilders claims to have formed his views about Muslims during the time he worked on an Israeli cooperative farm in the 1980s. He has, he says, visited the country more than 40 times since to meet with rightist political allies like Aryeh Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset and leader of the far right Hatikvah faction of the National Union Party.  He has called for forcibly “transferring” the Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied West Bank to Jordan and Egypt. On December 5th, for example, Wilders traveled to Israel for a “friendly” meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, then declared at a press conference that Israel should annex the West Bank and set up a Palestinian state in Jordan.

In the apocalyptic clash of civilizations the global anti-Muslim network has sought to incite, tiny armed Jewish settlements like Yitzar, located on the hills above the occupied Palestinian city of Nablus, represent front-line fortresses. Inside Yitzar’s state-funded yeshiva, a rabbi named Yitzhak Shapira has instructed students in what rules must be applied when considering killing non-Jews. Shapira summarized his opinions in a widely publicized book, Torat HaMelech, or The King’s Torah. Claiming that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature,” Shapira cited rabbinical texts to declare that gentiles could be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “There is justification,” the rabbi proclaimed, “for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”

In 2006, the rabbi was briefly held by Israeli police for urging his supporters to murder all Palestinians over the age of 13. Two years later, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he signed a rabbinical letter in support of Israeli Jews who had brutally assaulted two Arab youths on the country's Holocaust Remembrance Day. That same year, Shapira was arrested as a suspect in helping orchestrate a rocket attack against a Palestinian village near Nablus.

Though he was not charged, his name came up again in connection with another act of terror when, in January 2010, the Israeli police raided his settlement seeking vandals who had set fire to a nearby mosque. One of Shapira's followers, an American immigrant, Jack Teitel, has confessed to murdering two innocent Palestinians and attempting to the kill the liberal Israeli historian Ze'ev Sternhell with a mail bomb.

What does all this have to do with Islamophobic campaigns in the United States?  A great deal, actually. Through New York-based tax-exempt non-profits like the Central Fund of Israel and Ateret Cohenim, for instance, the omnipresent Aubrey Chernick has sent tens of thousands of dollars to support the Yitzar settlement, as well as to the messianic settlers dedicated to “Judaizing” East Jerusalem. The settlement movement’s leading online news magazine, Arutz Sheva, has featured Geller as a columnist.  A friend of Geller’s, Beth Gilinsky, a right-wing activist with a group called the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero and the founder of the Jewish Action Alliance (apparently run out of a Manhattan real estate office), organized a large rally in New York City in April 2010 to protest the Obama administration’s call for a settlement freeze.

Among Chernick’s major funding recipients is a supposedly “apolitical” group called Aish Hatorah that claims to educate Jews about their heritage. Based in New York and active in the fever swamps of northern West Bank settlements near Yitzar, Aish Hatorah shares an address and staff with a shadowy foreign non-profit called the Clarion Fund. During the 2008 U.S. election campaign, the Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs of a propaganda film called Obsession as newspaper inserts to residents of swing states around the country. The film featured a who’s who of anti-Muslim activists, including Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed “former PLO terrorist.” Among Shoebat’s more striking statements: “A secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than is Islamofascism today.” At a Christian gathering in 2007, this “former Islamic terrorist” told the crowd that Islam was a “satanic cult” and that he had been born again as an evangelical Christian. In 2008, however, the Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning newspaper, exposed him as a fraud, whose claims to terrorism were fictional.

Islamophobic groups registered only a minimal impact during the 2008 election campaign. Two years later, however, after the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections, the network appears to have reached critical mass. Of course, the deciding factor in the election was the economy, and in two years, Americans will likely vote their pocketbooks again. But that the construction of a single Islamic community center or the imaginary threat of Sharia law were issues at all reflected the influence of a small band of locally oriented activists, and suggested that when a certain presidential candidate who has already been demonized as a crypto-Muslim runs for reelection, the country’s most vocal Islamophobes could once again find a national platform amid the frenzied atmosphere of the campaign.

By now, the Islamophobic crusade has gone beyond the right-wing pro-Israel activists, cyber-bigots, and ambitious hucksters who conceived it. It now belongs to leading Republican presidential candidates, top-rated cable news hosts, and crowds of Tea Party activists. As the fervor spreads, the crusaders are basking in the glory of what they accomplished. “I didn’t choose this moment,” Geller mused to the New York Times, “this moment chose me.”

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Beast, the Nation, the Huffington Post, the Independent Film Channel,, Al Jazeera English, and other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute and author of the bestselling book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party (Nation Books).  

Spies and lies, especially against your allies

Reports from the United States say that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to ask for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard. A report in the New York Times claims that Pollard's release will be the subject of a "public request" to President Barack Obama; he was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and received a life sentence.

Recent reports from Egypt speak of Israelis being charged in absentia of trying to recruit Syrian and Lebanese nationals for obvious purposes. There is no doubt that such things go on all the time around the world and we probably don't hear of most cases. What makes the Pollard case stand out is the fact that Israel recruited and employed a spy for espionage against its closest ally. While the whole spying business is very murky, you can at least understand why sworn enemies might want to spy on each other; but Israel spying on the United States of America? With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Moreover, Pollard is not the only person convicted of spying for Israel in the US; around the same time, another US citizen, Ben-Ami Kadish was doing the same thing; he wasn't charged until 2008 but due to his advanced age by then (eighty-four years old) he was fined instead of being sent to prison. A former chief of the US Justice Department's internal security section claims that between 1950 and 1980, "the Israeli intelligence service... was the second most active in the United States"; the Soviet Union was in number one spot.

There may well still be spies working in the US and passing secrets to Israel; the Zionist state's spy agency, Mossad, used forged passports of European allies in its assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh almost a year ago. Clearly, Israel has no qualms about treating its friends with contempt if it serves its own interests to do so. In fact, Israel has a history of this, sometimes with very bloody consequences.

In June 1967 during the Six-Day War, for example, Israeli jets and motor torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters 25 miles off the coast of Egypt. The Liberty was a floating intelligence platform - a spy ship clearly-marked and flying the US flag. The former ITN and BBC foreign correspondent Alan Hart wrote in his book Zionism: The real enemy of the Jews (volume two), that it had been sent there by the Johnson administration to let the Israelis know that it could monitor radio traffic and learn in advance of any plans to attack Syria; America feared Soviet intervention if that happened.

Victims of Israel's attack on the US ship which killed 34 men and injured many more. (Photograph: Popperfoto)

An Israeli reconnaissance aircraft flew over the ship on 8th June, so low that members of the crew waved and saw the co-pilot wave and smile back. During the subsequent attack on the Liberty, 34 US servicemen were killed and 174 were wounded. Despite that, nobody has ever been brought to justice by the US or Israeli governments, leading to accusations of a high-level cover-up of the lethal attack, described by one Israeli general as "pure murder". Only the officer who gave the orders - General Moshe Dayan, according to Hart   really knew the reasons why Israeli forces attacked a ship of its ally the United States. It could have had something to do with the plan to attack Syria and Dayan didn't want any witnesses, as Hart claims. However, it is known that while the Liberty was steaming up and down the Egyptian coats, using the minaret of the mosque in El-Arish as a reference point; Israeli troops were massacring Egyptian prisoners in the town.

According to James Bamford in his book Body of Secrets, "three days after Israel launched the [Six-Day] war, Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai had become nuisances. There was no place to house them, not enough Israelis to watch them, and few vehicles to transport them." What did the Israelis do? "Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners." Bamford quotes Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki   "he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs". It is believed that as many as "1000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai," were killed by the Israelis, "including some 400 in the sand dunes of El-Arish."

Americans and Egyptians were not the only victims of Israeli crimes during that period. As the Israeli troops advanced across Sinai, they met "a convoy of Indian peacekeepers, flying the blue United Nations flag". The Indian UN observers pulled over to let the Israelis pass. "As the Israelis approached... One of the tanks rotated its turret and opened fire from a few feet away. The Israeli tank then rammed its gun through the windshield of an Indian jeep and decapitated the two men inside. When other Indians went to aid their comrades, they were mowed down by machine-gun fire."

When Israelis fired shells at UN compounds and schools in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9, they were repeating what their forebears had done in 1967: "In Gaza, Israeli tanks blasted six rounds into UN headquarters, which was flying the UN flag." Fourteen Indian UN peacekeepers were killed by Israel on that day.

One of Israel's senior officers just south of El-Arish at the time of the massacre of prisoners and the attack on the USS Liberty was a certain Ariel Sharon. In 1995, when he was addressing the issue of Israeli war crimes, Sharon said, "Israel doesn't need this, and no one can preach to us about it - no one".

In Body of Secrets, James Bamford says that "the extensive war crimes were just one of the deep secrets Israel had sought to conceal since the start of the [Six-Day War]." From the very beginning, he says, "an essential element in the Israeli battle plan seemed to have been to hide much of the war behind a carefully constructed curtain of lies. Lies about the Egyptian threat, lies about who started the war, lies to the American president, lies to the UN Security Council, lies to the press, and lies to the public". Thus, adds Bamford, as the American naval historian Dr. Richard K. Smith noted in an article on the Liberty for United States Naval Institute Proceedings, "any instrument [i.e. the USS Liberty] which sought to penetrate this smoke screen so carefully thrown around the normal 'fog of war' would have to be frustrated".

In the late nineties, during his first term of office, "Prime Minister Netanyahu's office declared: 'Israel does not use intelligence agents in the United States'." As Mr. Netanyahu prepares his "public request" for Jonathan Jay Pollard's release, one wonders how many other lies are being prepared to convince a very skeptical CIA and Obama administration that this will be in America's best interests. That won't bother Israel and the Israel lobby in the US, of course; their prime concern is the best interests of the Zionist state, regardless of who has to pay the price; allies, even one's most loyal supporter in every sense, are fair game. Spies and lies, especially against your allies is not only a snappy rhyming headline; for Zionists, it appears to be a way of life.

Related links:

Ibrahim Hewitt is the chairman of Interpal, a British charity Palestinian Relief and Development Fund.

December 20, 2010

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December 19, 2010

Palestinian family takes stock after mass home demolition

LYDD, Israel (Ma'an) -- The 67 members of the extended Abu Eid family assessed the remains of their six concrete homes on Wednesday; two days after police in Lydd demolished them amidst sheets of rain and blustery winds.

The six buildings were among more than 100 in the city under immediate demolition orders, following a fall Knesset decision to destroy an estimated 4,000 illegal housing structures in a plan said to cost millions of shekels.

A dozen other homes have been bulldozed in previous years, sparking periodic protests by hundreds of Arab residents. Yousef Asfour, coordinator with Amnesty International’s Israel branch, said an earlier incident in October saw two homes in the same neighborhood of the mixed Jewish-Arab city bulldozed.

The most high-profile demolition to date was Monday's demolition of the entire Abu Eid family compound.

Most of the extended family members said they were home at around 8 a.m. when an estimated 500 police officers in tactical gear stormed the courtyard of the compound, broke through doors and quickly turned the men, women and children out into the season's worst storm without shoes or jackets. Police made no arrests.

Eleven-year-old Odei was home alone with his 12-year-old sister when police broke through his door. “They pointed rifles at me and said ‘don’t move,’” he related. Once outside, he said, "I was wet and cold. They were like gangsters,” he added of the young police in face-concealing riot gear.
Homeless after Israeli demolition, children are searching the rubble for their belongings.

All that remained after the five-hour bulldozing operation was chewed-up grey concrete, bent fans, broken air-conditioners and furniture beneath rubble. A paddock containing goats was partially broken and nearly half of what the family said was 100 animals went missing.

Family members said they were not allowed to rescue of their possessions and watched as refrigerators were destroyed and food was thrown to the floor. Five allege that they were shoved or kicked, including Shareen, 27, who is three months pregnant and had re-entered her home to try to assist her mother.

Sinam, a mother of seven, claims that officers took gold jewelry she had in safekeeping to use as dowry for her two engaged daughters. A ring with precious stones was returned, she said, but a gold chain remains missing.

Thirteen-year-old Noor claims he watched as a soldier threw his puppy – tied up and barking – and then shoot it in the stomach. “I came over and it was dying,” he said quietly as other boys noted his tears that morning.

Lydd’s police chief and mayor declined multiple requests for comment.

Contesting demolitions

The family claims the six houses and small office destroyed Monday were built more than 50 years ago. Each family said it had been paying rent for decades to a state-owned company to use the land, but was only allowed to build up to 100 square-meter homes since it was zoned as agricultural.

As the family grew, it requested but was declined approval to expand their houses. Expansions were nonetheless made and retroactive permits sought. After many court appeals, family members were told to expect the demolitions at the end of December.

Some 30 homeowners in same area have received notices that their houses will also be bulldozed at the end of the month.

Families whose homes are demolished are asked to pay the municipality for the steep cost of the action or be jailed; some Arab residents in Lydd have taken to demolishing their own homes because it is cheaper.

Arab homes principal target in larger plan

It is a scene being repeated across Israel with increasing frequency. Some 42,000 Arab homes built without required permits are threatened with demolition: 13,000 could be carried out at any time and 30,000 are at some stage in local courts, said Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, a Palestinian civil society organization.

Last year, 165 of these homes were bulldozed, Amnesty International said.

“It’s the same story for all the mixed cities: destruction and construction,” said Busayna Dabit, a project coordinator with the New Israel Fund and a Ramle resident. These “mixed” cities also include Haifa, Yaffa and Acre.

More than two-thirds of Arabs in Ramle and nearby Lydd are living in illegally built houses. Hundreds have demonstrated periodically in Lydd, where the roughly 27,000 Arabs represent a third of the population.

The phenomenon is pervasive across Israel, from targeting Arab homes in mixed cities to the homes of Bedouins in the NEGEV. A collection of some 40 small population centers THERE house an estimated 40 percent of the Bedouins in the Negev, have been settled locations for decades and in some cases used as seasonal encampments for centuries. The areas are not demarcated on maps, receive no water, electricity, road repair or other municipal services.

In Shameer, an unrecognized village of some 4,000 near Lydd, virtually every home has been issued a demolition order. A portion of the houses, however, are being legalized under a master plan that involved negotiations between the city, the Israeli Land Authority and Shameer’s inhabitants, including amounts that the government will pay as compensation.

Next door, some 13 families in the neighboring village of Dahmash are awaiting a court order to determine not only the fate of their homes - which are also under demolition orders - but whether Lydd or the adjacent city of Ramle will be forced to absorb them into their municipalities, or whether a plan it has drawn up to make its residences legal retroactively will be approved.

The roughly 600 residents of Dahmash say the government told its original families to move there after they were forced off their lands from 1951 through the mid-1980s. While some houses have stood for more than 60 years – and one pre-dates the war – no municipal services, such as water, electricity or sanitation, have been provided to its residents. After three Dahmash children were killed crossing the railroad tracks on foot, the village won a recent court fight to bus them to schools in Ramle.

The Dahmash residents facing expulsion have been told to seek housing Ramle’s Juarish neighborhood, where thousands of Arabs were concentrated after the 1948 War of Independence but have never been given residential building licenses because the city has not registered their names.

National and local officials are intentionally not granting Arab-Israelis planning rights to allow them to develop any land, charged Amnesty International’s executive director for Israel, Itay Epshtain. “It is a form of diminished citizenship because a lot of the services you depend on are at the municipal level.”

Emek Lydd’s leader, Minache Mosche, denies that Dahmash exists.

“There is no settlement or village by the name of Dahmash and there never has been one,” he said. He claimed that, with the exception of one pre-war house, there was nothing on the land except for two farm storage buildings until illegal construction of homes began in 1990.

Asked where the villagers should move, Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi said: “It’s a free market. You can buy everywhere.” “They are poor in culture, poor in behavior. No ambition.”

The cost

A kilometer away from the Abu Eid family, the wreckage of the homes of nine other families whose homes were destroyed in 2008 remains visible, across some railroad tracks from where one of the sons of a former homeowner now sleeps in a lot with dozens of sheep and his car repair shop.

The Wihwah brothers and five of their neighbors paid 15,000 shekels altogether to wreck their own homes two years ago after receiving an initial demolition order in 2003. The owners of the other two homes “didn’t think they would come,” said Telal. One week later, each had to pay 90,000 shekels when the police carried out the demolitions.

Talal said his family had to pay 250,000 shekels ($69,624) in back city taxes, despite not having received municipal services. He and his brothers say they are afraid to open bank accounts, out of fear that the city would confiscate any deposits.

“It’s very painful to look at these stones,” said Ahmad, one of his two brothers. “My grandfather owned this land. Now, I suffer from claustrophobia.”

Anne Usher is a freelance journalist based in Tel Aviv. She has written for The Christian Science Monitor and Ynet since moving to Israel and is a former editor for Cox Newspapers. Her bio can be found at

December 18, 2010

40 rendered homeless in demolition by Israeli Occupation Forces

Al Jazeera - Israeli bulldozers demolished seven houses in the city of Lydd - inside the Green Line - under the pretext of "missing permits", a few days after demolishing houses and barns in the village of "Khirbet Tana" east of Nablus in the northern West Bank under the same pretext.

Hundreds of Israeli police and Special Forces surrounded the demolition area in the city of Lydd, and evacuated residents from their homes.

Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Israel Elias Kram described an appalling scene, and said he saw a number of children crying while the rest of the family members were stunned and in a state of shock.

Kram said that "missing permits" is always the argument adduced by Israeli authorities, pointing out that Israeli authorities do not offer any permits to the Palestinian population inside the Green Line.

He pointed out that Israel - citing city officials - demolished about 170 houses during the last five years in the city of Lydd and Ramla adding that there are 60,000 houses in the cities of Haifa, Acre, Ramla and Lydd, in addition to the Galilee and the Negev, under threat of demolition.

Al-Jazeera's correspondent said that the Palestinian leadership inside Israel is trying to contact the Israeli authorities to develop a plan to avoid demolition, noting that the contacts did not yield any results and Israeli authorities "dramatically" demolished Palestinian homes.  

Israeli bulldozers during the demolition of homes in the village of al-Taweel, Negev.

More Demolitions:

These demolitions come four days after the Israeli army destroyed the houses and barns in the village of "Khirbet Tana" east of Nablus in the northern West Bank under the pretext of construction without a permit, where nothing is left in the village but its mosque.

Palestinian official in charge of Settlement Archive Ghassan Douglas said that Israeli bulldozers went to the village early Wednesday, and embarked on the demolition of their homes as well as a school of 3 classrooms.

Douglas added that this is the third time in a row that the Israeli authorities conduct demolitions in the village where they have demolished about 45 houses in earlier periods.

Human Rights Watch stated that obtaining building permits is almost impossible for the Palestinian population, indicating that the Israeli Civil Administration has rejected 94% of the requests for building permits to the Palestinians in the West Bank between 2000 and 2007, according to government figures.

On the other hand, the Israeli Civil Administration facilitates granting of such permits to settlers for the construction of new buildings and retroactively grants permits to buildings already constructed by settlers. 

Palestinians hold community Christmas tree lighting, a resistance to occupation

JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- National and religious institutions in Jerusalem invited guests to join Sheikh Jarrah families in lighting its Christmas tree Monday at 4 p.m.

Organizers said the event would be a chance to "voice your rejection and opposition to Israel’s ethnic cleansing policy in Jerusalem," and support the "lawful struggle" of many residents to remain in their homes.

In Bethlehem, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation will host a tree-decorating contest for Palestinian communities across the West Bank in an effort to encourage community participation in holiday traditions.

Contestants must design and implement a large-scale Christmas tree exhibit completed by the children of the community and ready for presentation by Dec. 17.

December 11, 2010

Fox News acting like Israeli leaders

Just a few days ago, Fox News called for the assassination of Julian Assange for treason, although Assange is not a US citizen. Bob Beckel, Fox News analyst, said that he's "not for the death penalty", but is willing to make one exception.

Bob Beckel excoriated Assange for leaking the State Department cables that have roiled the world in the past week, and said that American Special Forces should kill him.

"A dead man can't leak stuff," Beckel said. "This guy's a traitor, he's treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I'm not for the death penalty, so...there's only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch."


This attitude is similar to that of Israeli leaders who suggest killing 10,000+ Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas four years ago as he was enforcing Israel's occupation and blockade of the Gaza Strip.


Fox News is acting like Zionists who think that they can take away the lives of innocent people without charge, trial or conviction.

November 30, 2010

Israel accused over murder of Iranian scientist

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.
Press TV - Unknown terrorists detonated bombs in the vehicles of Dr. Majid Shahriari and Professor Fereydoun Abbasi in separate locations on Monday morning between 7-8 a.m. local time.

Shahriari was martyred immediately, but professor Abbasi and his wife sustained injuries and were transferred to hospital.

Both men were professors at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

"The sworn enemies of the sacred establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran have once again shown their savage character by martyring [Iranian] scientists," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Monday.

Iran's enemies in vain try to obstruct the path of the Iranian nation's progress towards knowledge and development, Mehmanparast added.

"These inhumane crimes are carried out by the terrorist groups connected to the Zionist Regime [of Israel] with the support of countries advocating human rights," the Iranian official said.

Tehran Police Chief Brigadier General Hossein Sajedinia said a motorcycle approached Shahriari's car and attached a bomb to the car which exploded a few seconds later.

He added that in a separate incident terrorists attached another bomb to Abbasi's car and escaped. He noted that the professor and his wife were wounded in the attack and are now in good health.

Resolution 1747 adopted by the United Nations Security Council in March 2007 against the Islamic Republic cited Abbasi's name as a "nuclear scientist," thus suggesting that perpetrators behind the assassination could be traced through those who included the professor's name in the UN resolution.

Iran has blamed Israel and Western powers for the terrorist attacks, hinting at the possible connection between the recent remarks of the head of the British intelligence agency (MI6) about Iran and the European Parliament's new stance regarding anti-Iran terrorist group.

On October 28, John Sawers accused Iran of pursuing clandestine nuclear activities and said spying is crucial to stop Tehran's nuclear program.

"Stopping nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed purely by conventional diplomacy. We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons," Sawers said.

Last week, the European Parliament issued a declaration, urging Washington to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The European Union took the MKO off its blacklist in 2009. The terrorist group has been on the US terror list since 1997.

The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community and is responsible for numerous acts of terror and violence against Iranian civilians and government officials.

The organization is also known to have cooperated with Iraq's former dictator Saddam Hussein in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and the massacre of Iraqi Kurds.

Video: Israeli Occupation Forces fire on international protesters

On the International Day of Solidarity with the People of Palestine demonstrators expressed their solidarity by painting messages of support on a wall in Beit Hanoun and demonstrating against the ongoing siege of Gaza. Despite this entire event being completely peaceful, Israeli occupation forces shot at the protesters.  


November 28, 2010

Wikileaks Under Attack

Wikileaks has previously released documents relating to Iraq and Afghanistan. (BBC)

Wikileaks is "under a mass distributed denial of service attack", the organization reported on its Facebook page.

The website informed its followers on Twitter that "El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down."

This week the U.S. government has shut down dozens of Web sites without court order.

Wikileaks is set to dump leaked classified documents, cables and secret communiqu├ęs involving Israel and the United States, the main funder of Israeli occupation.

Earlier today Israeli district police found no criminal wrongdoing in the actions of the Border Police soldiers who left an American art student without an eye after getting hit in the face with a tear gas canister at a protest in Qalandiyah six months ago.

Israeli occupation forces continue abducting Palestinian children and using them as human shields.

November 26, 2010

British Aid Convoy Enters Gaza

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- A humanitarian convoy that set out from London in October entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt Thursday evening.

A member of the Road to Hope convoy, identifying himself as Shabz from London said it felt "great" to be in Gaza. "We've got toys for the children, equipment for the hospitals. We've got blankets," he said, speaking on the phone from the road from Rafah to Gaza City.

Speaking from London, convoy spokeswoman Leyla-Rubaina Hyda said that only 37 members of convoy had been permitted to enter.

Egyptian authorities banned several others, including some who had participated in the Turkish-backed "Freedom Flotilla" in June in which nine people were killed by Israeli commandos who boarded the Gaza-bound ships.

One man who had been onboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, Irish activist and former US Marine Ken O'Keefe, was permitted to enter Gaza, Hyda said.

The convoy brought a consignment of some 30 vehicles and £500,000 ($788,750) in humanitarian aid. The activists and their cargo arrived in the port city of El-Arish on Thursday after Egypt refused to allow the group to enter the country overland from Libya.

The Road to Hope mission also earned notoriety three weeks ago when a Greek ship's captain held 10 members of the convoy captive after an apparent dispute over payment. Greek commandos boarded the ship after the captain brought the group against their will to the port of Piraeus.

"This has been an incredibly long road to Gaza and it highlights the incredible obstacles and potential dangers of helping the people of Palestine," O'Keefe said in a statement posted on his website earlier on Thursday.


Israel bulldozes Palestinian agricultural projects worth hundreds of thousands of dollars

Several Israeli units demolitiong a Palestinian village.

NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces demolished two agricultural projects south of Salfit in the northern West Bank on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said.

Both projects were funded by the Palestinian Finance Ministry and were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. [It is likely that much of the financing came from US aid.]

The mayor of the village of Deir Istiyya Nathmi Salman saidan that Israeli forces raided Wadi Qana area near the village and declared the area a closed military zone.

He said crews from the Israeli Civil Administration and the Society for Protecting Nature in Israel arrived with bulldozers which demolished the Wadi Qana rehabilitation project which cost the Palestinian finance ministry 120,000 US dollars.

Salman added that a water canal was destroyed and parts of a reservoir and a water network carrying water to orange groves were confiscated. The fence surrounding the project was also removed.

The official also said Israeli forces raided the area known as Beer Abu Ammar near Qarawat Bani Hassan village. They destroyed a land reclamation project and confiscated equipment there. The project was also funded by the Palestinian ministry of finance.

According to local sources in Qarawat Bani Hassan, Israeli forces also arrested the mayor of the town, Abdul Karim Rayyan in an attempt to disperse to residents who clashed with the invading soldiers.

The soldiers had attacked the farmers who were at the scene and arrested mayor of the town Abed Al-Karim Rayyan in an attempt to disperse to residents and to intimidate them.

Ayoub Issa, a resident of the town said dozens of farmers rushed to the area in an attempt to fight back the soldiers.

He added that the Israeli authorities had ordered the owners of the lands months earlier not to continue working on these on the grounds that Israel declared the area "state land."

Settlers to link two settlements

In a separate incident, Israeli settlers bulldozed some 50 dunums of Palestinian farmland near the village of Jalud, south of Nablus, in the process of constructing a road between two nearby settlements, officials said.

PA settlement affairs official Ghassan Daghlas said "Settler bulldozers had overturned the lands between the settlements of Shillo and Shavut Rachel located west of Jalud in an attempt to link the two."

He added that the road under construction between the two settlements was a part of a plan to seize new land in order to expand the two settlements.

WATCH: Israeli Ethnic Cleansing of A Palestinian Village

November 25, 2010

Israel rejects Swiss scientist's article that Mossad killed German politician

Mossad agents wanted in connection with the killing of a senior Hamas official. The suspects are accused of using fake passports bearing their own pictures, but the names of innocent citizens. Twelve of the passports used were British. The other 15 on the list are reported to have used stolen identities from Australian, French, Irish and German citizens.

Ma'an - Israel rejected Monday a claim by a retired Swiss chemistry professor that the murder of a German politician 23 years ago had the hallmarks of a Mossad assassination.

Uwe Barschel, premier of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, was found dead in a Geneva hotel room in 1987. The cause of death was on overdose of a sleeping drug. His family has never accepted the view of most pathologists that Barschel, 43, committed suicide.

The professor, Hans Brandenberger, revived on Sunday his longtime contention, based on tissue analysis, that Barschel was incapable of deliberate action at the time when the drug, cyclobarbital, and a hypnotic substance, noludar, entered his body.

Brandenberger said he spoke out after his retirement gave him the leisure to read for the first time a 1994 book, The Other Side of the Deception, by US-based author Victor Ostrovsky, who claims to be a former Mossad agent.

The book suggests Mossad killed Barschel at the hotel with drugs and made the death look like suicide.

In an article published Sunday in the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Brandenberger, 89, said his tissue findings fitted "astonishingly well" with the method of secret assassination described in the book.

Yigal Palmor, Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, rejected the speculation.

"There's no basis on which one could connect Israel to this case, he said in Jerusalem. Asked if Germany should re-open its own inquiry, he said, "It's not up to us to tell the German authorities what they should do or not do."

Welt am Sonntag quoted those Germans who believe Barschel was murdered as calling for a fresh inquiry.

Ostrovsky's 1994 book claimed Barschel was killed because he knew about alleged Israeli arms sales to Iran.

Israeli spokesman Palmor said Ostrovsky was not a credible author.

"Half of what he says is lies, and the other half is invented, Palmor said.

Swiss prosecutors have always rejected Brandenberger's urging to treat Barschel's death as a murder.

The suicide thesis is that Barschel drank a lethal cocktail of sedatives in the wake of an unsavory political scandal in his state which culminated in his resigning as premier nine days before his death.

Brandenberger's thesis is that a murderer gave Barschel a tasteless "knock-out" drug in a glass of wine to make him compliant, then forced him an hour later to swallow the lethal overdose.

The Swiss professor argues that the timeline can be proved from the varying concentrations of the drugs in different organs.

But no suspects were ever seen in Geneva, and no other evidence for murder was ever found.

American roots artist makes his Palestine debut

Bill Kirchen and his band perform at Ma`an studio in the southern West Bank
city of Bethlehem, 22 November 2010. (Maan Images)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Grammy-nominated American roots musician Bill Kirchen made his Palestine debut Monday, in a special performance highlighting his week-long tour through the occupied West Bank.

The guitarist, singer, and songwriter, who has performed for audiences in the US and around the world for more than 40 years, was in Bethlehem for a workshop in a refugee camp after a televised performance at Ma'an studio.

In the region on behalf of the US Consulate General in Jerusalem's Palestinian-American cultural exchange program, Kirchen said he was looking forward to meeting local musicians to "find a common ground and play together."


Kirchen's performance Monday was one of several in Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, and East Jerusalem introducing his band's unique mix of “rockabilly,” which includes elements of rock, blues, and bluegrass.

"We call it roots music," Kirchen said. "We draw on the blues that came over from Africa originally and settled in the southern states in the US. Music that started in England, ballads that started in England and morphed into American culture music.

"It comes under the general heading of roots rock ‘n’ roll, I think, best, with a lot of country influence and some boogie-woogie, some swing influence. Music that's drawn from the roots of music that, if it's American music, ended up in America."

His visit is funded by a performing arts initiative grant from the US Department of State, and received special funding from the US Consulate and America House, both of which are located in occupied East Jerusalem.

"It's really a pleasure for us to host Bill Kirchen and his band," Frank Finver, the US consul for press and cultural affairs, told Ma'an. "They've been here a few days, and we don't want them to leave."

Finver said the US hosts programs "very often. We try to bring American artists -- musicians, dancers, visual artists, and guests speakers -- to really show what America's all about, to exchange cultural ideas and learn about Palestinian culture."

Kirchen is accompanied by his band, including vocalist Louise Kirchen, percussionist Jack O’Dell, and bassist Maurice Cridlin. The group will share the stage with Palestinian rock group Sheibat for performances in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Kirchen performed a community concert at Cinema Jenin and Al-Hambra Palace in East Jerusalem, and will close out the tour Tuesday at the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open 7:30 p.m.


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