Monday, November 23, 2009

Boycott El Al

Have Israeli spies infiltrated international airports?
Published today (updated) 23/11/2009 16:21

Nazareth – South Africa deported an Israeli airline official last week following allegations that Israeli intelligence agents had infiltrated Johannesburg's airport in an effort to gather information on citizens, particularly black and Muslim travelers.

The move by the South African government came after an investigation by local TV showing an undercover reporter being interrogated by an official with El Al, Israel's national carrier, in a public area of OR Tambo International Airport.

The program also featured testimony from Jonathan Garb, a former El Al guard, who claimed that the airline had been a front for the Shin Bet, Israel's intelligence agency, in South Africa for many years.

Over footage of the undercover reporter's questioning, he commented, "Here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa. We pull the wool over everyone's eyes. We do exactly what we want. The local authorities do not know what we are doing."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry reportedly sent a team to South Africa to try to defuse the diplomatic crisis after the government in Johannesburg threatened to deport all of El Al's security staff.

Garb's accusations have been supported by an investigation by the regulator for South Africa's private security industries.

They have also been affirmed by human rights groups in Israel, which report that Israeli security staff routinely carry out racial profiling at many airports around the world, apparently out of sight of local authorities.

Concern in South Africa about the activities of El Al staff has been growing since August, when South Africa's leading investigative news show, Carte Blanche, went undercover to test Garb's allegations.

A hidden camera captured an El Al official in the departure hall claiming to be from "airport security" and demanding that the undercover reporter hand over his passport or ID as part of "airport regulations." When the reporter protested that he was not flying but waiting for a friend, El Al's security manager, identified as Golan Rice, arrived to interrogate him further. Rice then warned him that he was in a restricted area and would have to leave.

Garb commented on the show: "What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy. You can think he is a suicide bomber, he is collecting information. The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds. This is what we do."

Garb went public after he was dismissed over a campaign he led for better pay and medical benefits for El Al staff.

He and two other fired workers have told the South African media that Shin Bet agents routinely detain Muslim and black passengers, a claim that has ignited controversy in a society still suffering with the legacy of decades of apartheid rule.

Suspect individuals, the former workers say, are held in an annex room, where they are interrogated, often on matters unrelated to airport security, and can be subjected to strip searches while their luggage is taken apart. Clandestine searches of their belongings and laptops are also carried out to identify useful documents and information, they say.

But all of these practices would be in violation of South African law, which authorizes only the police, armed forces or personnel appointed by the transport minister to carry out searches.

The former staff also accuse El Al of smuggling weapons – licensed to the local Israeli embassy – into the airport for use by the secret agents.

A South African Jew, Garb said he was recruited 19 years ago by the Shin Bet. "We were trained at a secret camp [in Israel] where they train Israeli special forces and they train you how to use handguns, submachine guns and in unarmed combat."

Garb added that he was assigned to "armed security" in the early 1990s. "Armed security is being undercover, carrying a weapon, a handgun and at that time as well, sounds crazy but we carried Samsonite briefcases with an Uzi submachine gun in it."

He claimed to have profiled 40,000 people for Israel over the past 20 years, including recently Virginia Tilley, a Middle East expert and chief researcher at South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council. The think tank recently published a report accusing Israel of apartheid and colonialism in the Palestinian territories.

"The decision was she should be checked in the harshest way because of her connections," Garb said.

Tilley confirmed that she had been detained at the airport by El Al staff and separated from her luggage. Garb said that during this period an agent "photocopied all [her] documentation and then he forwarded it on to Israel" – Garb believes for use by the Shin Bet.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the allegations. A letter produced by Garb – signed by Roz Bukris, El Al's general manager in South Africa – suggests that he was employed by the Shin Bet rather than the airline. Bukris, according to the program, refused to confirm or deny the letter's validity.

The Israeli Embassy in South Africa declined to discuss evidence that it, rather than El Al, had licensed guns issued to the airline's security managers. Questioned last week by Ynet, Israel's largest news website, about the deportation of the airline official, Yossi Levy, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said he could not "comment on security matters."

A report published in 2007 by two Israeli human rights organisations, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism, found that Israeli airline staff used racial profiling at most major airports around the world, subjecting Arab and Muslim passengers to discriminatory and degrading treatment in violation both of international law and the host country's laws.

"Our research showed that the checks conducted by El Al at foreign airports had all the hallmarks of Shin Bet interrogations," said Mohammed Zeidan, the director of the Human Rights Association. "Usually the questions were less about the safety of the flight and more aimed at gathering information on the political activities or sympathies of the passengers."

The human rights groups approached four international airports – in New York, Paris, Vienna and Geneva – where passengers said they had been subjected to discriminatory treatment, to ask under what authority the Israeli security services were operating. The first two airports refused to respond, while Vienna and Geneva said it was not possible to oversee El Al's procedures.

"It is remarkable that these countries make no effort to supervise the actions of Israeli security personnel present on their territory, particularly in light of the discriminatory and humiliating procedures they apply," the report states.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi. It is reprinted here with permission.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bantustans and the unilateral declaration of statehood

Bantustans and the unilateral declaration of statehood
Virginia Tilley, The Electronic Intifada, 19 November 2009

From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage. The European Union, the United States and others have rejected it as "premature," but endorsements are coming from all directions: journalists, academics, nongovernmental organization activists, Israeli right-wing leaders (more on that later). The catalyst appears to be a final expression of disgust and simple exhaustion with the fraudulent "peace process" and the argument goes something like this: if we can't get a state through negotiations, we will simply declare statehood and let Israel deal with the consequences.

But it's no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing -- even declaring as a right -- precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan.

It has become increasingly dangerous for the Palestinian national movement that the South African Bantustans remain so dimly understood. If Palestinians know about the Bantustans at all, most imagine them as territorial enclaves in which black South Africans were forced to reside yet lacked political rights and lived miserably. This partial vision is suggested by Mustafa Barghouthi's recent comments at the Wattan Media Centre in Ramallah, when he cautioned that Israel wanted to confine the Palestinians into "Bantustans" but then argued for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 boundaries -- although nominal "states" without genuine sovereignty are precisely what the Bantustans were designed to be.

Apartheid South Africa's Bantustans were not simply sealed territorial enclaves for black people. They were the ultimate "grand" formula by which the apartheid regime hoped to survive: that is, independent states for black South Africans who -- as white apartheid strategists themselves keenly understood and pointed out -- would forever resist the permanent denial of equal rights and political voice in South Africa that white supremacy required. As designed by apartheid architects, the ten Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black "peoples" so that they could claim the term "Homelands." This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African "peoples" (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the "white" Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?). The idea was first to grant "self-government" to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood.

The challenge for the apartheid government was then to persuade "self-governing" black elites to accept independent statehood in these territorial fictions and so permanently absolve the white government of any responsibility for black political rights. Toward this end, the apartheid regime hand-picked and seeded "leaders" into the Homelands, where they immediately sprouted into a nice crop of crony elites (the usual political climbers and carpet-baggers) that embedded into lucrative niches of financial privileges and patronage networks that the white government thoughtfully cultivated (this should sound familiar too).

It didn't matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands' territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these "nations" were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe.

The thorn in this plan was to get even thoroughly co-opted black Homeland elites to declare independent statehood within "national" territories that transparently lacked any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water -- again, sound familiar? Only four Homeland elites did so, through combinations of bribery, threats and other "incentives." Otherwise, black South Africans didn't buy it and the ANC and the world rejected the plot whole cloth. (The only state to recognize the Homelands was fellow-traveler Israel.) But the Homelands did serve one purpose -- they distorted and divided black politics, created terrible internal divisions, and cost thousands of lives as the ANC and other factions fought it out. The last fierce battles of the anti-apartheid struggle were in the Homelands, leaving a legacy of bitterness to this day.

Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa -- getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves -- finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.

The reasons that the PA-Ramallah leadership and others want to walk into this trap are fuzzy. Maybe it could help the "peace talks" if they are redefined as negotiations between two states instead of preconditions for a state. Declaring statehood could redefine Israel's occupation as invasion and legitimize resistance as well as trigger different and more effective United Nations intervention. Maybe it will give Palestinians greater political leverage on the world stage -- or at least preserve the PA's existence for another (miserable) year.

Why these fuzzy visions are not swiftly defeated by short attention to the South African Bantustan experience may stem partly from two key differences that confuse the comparison, for Israel has indeed sidestepped two infamous fatal errors that helped sink South Africa's Homeland strategy. First, Israel did not make South Africa's initial mistake of appointing "leaders" to run the Palestinian "interim self-governing" Homeland. In South Africa, this founding error made it too obvious that the Homelands were puppet regimes and exposed the illegitimacy of the black "national" territories themselves as contrived racial enclaves. Having watched the South Africans bungle this, and having learned from its own past failures with the Village Leagues and the like, Israel instead worked with the United States to design the Oslo process not only to restore the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its then Chairman Yasser Arafat to the territories but also to provide for "elections" (under occupation) to grant a thrilling gloss of legitimacy to the Palestinian "interim self-governing authority." It's one of the saddest tragedies of the present scenario that Israel so deftly turned Palestinians' noble commitment to democracy against them in this way -- granting them the illusion of genuinely democratic self-government in what everyone now realizes was always secretly intended to be a Homeland.

Only now has Israel found a way to avoid South Africa's second fatal error, which was to declare black Homelands to be "independent states" in non-sovereign territory. In South Africa, this ploy manifested to the world as transparently racist and was universally disparaged. It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said "as you are, you are now a state" that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of "independence" in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence -- the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.

Responses from Israel have been mixed. The government does seem jumpy and has broadcast its "alarm," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened unilateral retaliation (unspecified) and government representatives have flown to various capitals securing international rejection. But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel's interest in order to allay that very suspicion. Another is appeasing protest from that part of Likud's purblind right-wing electorate that finds the term "Palestinian state" ideologically anathema. A more honest reaction could be the endorsement of Kadima party elder Shaul Mofaz, a hardliner who can't remotely be imagined to value a stable and prosperous Palestinian future. Right-wing Israeli journalists are also pitching in with disparaging but also comforting essays arguing that unilateral statehood won't matter because it won't change anything (close to the truth). For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened unilaterally to annex the West Bank settlement blocs if the PA declares statehood, but Israel was going to do that anyway.

In the liberal-Zionist camp, Yossi Sarid has warmly endorsed the plan and Yossi Alpher has cautiously done so. Their writings suggest the same terminal frustration with the "peace process" but also recognition that this may be the only way to save the increasingly fragile dream that a nice liberal democratic Jewish state can survive as such. It also sounds like something that might please Palestinians -- at least enough to finally get their guilt-infusing story of expulsion and statelessness off the liberal-Zionist conscience. Well-meaning white liberals in apartheid South Africa -- yes, there were some of those, too -- held the same earnest candle burning for the black Homelands system.

Some otherwise smart journalists are also pitching in to endorse unilateral statehood, raising odd ill-drawn comparisons -- Georgia, Kosovo, Israel itself -- as "evidence" that it's a good idea. But Georgia, Kosovo and Israel had entirely different profiles in international politics and entirely different histories from Palestine and attempts to draw these comparisons are intellectually lazy. The obvious comparison is elsewhere and the lessons run in the opposite direction: for a politically weak and isolated people, who have never had a separate state and lack any powerful international ally, to declare or accept "independence" in non-contiguous and non-sovereign enclaves encircled and controlled by a hostile nuclear power can only seal their fate.

In fact, the briefest consideration should instantly reveal that a unilateral declaration of statehood will confirm the Palestinians' presently impossible situation as permanent. As Mofaz predicted, a unilateral declaration will allow "final status" talks to continue. What he did not spell out is that those talks will become truly pointless because Palestinian leverage will be reduced to nothing. As Middle East historian Juan Cole recently pointed out, the last card the Palestinians can play -- their real claim on the world's conscience, the only real threat they can raise to Israel's status quo of occupation and settlement -- is their statelessness. The PA-Ramallah leadership has thrown away all the other cards. It has stifled popular dissent, suppressed armed resistance, handed over authority over vital matters like water to "joint committees" where Israel holds veto power, savagely attacked Hamas which insisted on threatening Israel's prerogatives, and generally done everything it can to sweeten the occupier's mood, preserve international patronage (money and protection), and solicit promised benefits (talks?) that never come. It's increasingly obvious to everyone watching from outside this scenario -- and many inside it -- that this was always a farce. For one thing, the Western powers do not work like the Arab regimes: when you do everything the West requires of you, you will wait in vain for favors, for the Western power then loses any benefit from dealing more with you and simply walks away.

But more importantly, the South African comparison helps illuminate why the ambitious projects of pacification, "institution building" and economic development that the Ramallah PA and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have whole-heartedly embarked upon are not actually exercises in "state-building." Rather, they emulate with frightening closeness and consistency South Africa's policies and stages in building the Bantustan/Homelands. Indeed, Fayyad's project to achieve political stability through economic development is the same process that was openly formalized in the South African Homeland policy under the slogan "separate development." That under such vulnerable conditions no government can exercise real power and "separate development" must equate with permanent extreme dependency, vulnerability and dysfunctionality was the South African lesson that has, dangerously, not yet been learned in Palestine -- although all the signals are there, as Fayyad himself has occasionally admitted in growing frustration. But declaring independence will not solve the problem of Palestinian weakness; it will only concretize it.

Still, when "separate development" flounders in the West Bank, as it must, Israel will face a Palestinian insurrection. So Israel needs to anchor one last linchpin to secure Jewish statehood before that happens: declare a Palestinian "state" and so reduce the "Palestinian problem" to a bickering border dispute between putative equals. In the back halls of the Knesset, Kadima political architects and Zionist liberals alike must now be waiting with bated breath, when they are not composing the stream of back-channel messages that is doubtless flowing to Ramallah encouraging this step and promising friendship, insider talks and vast benefits. For they all know what's at stake, what every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying lately: that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom.

This is why it is so dangerous that the South African Bantustan comparison has been neglected until now, treated as a side issue, even an exotic academic fascination, by those battling to relieve starvation in Gaza and soften the cruel system of walls and barricades to get medicine to the dying. The Ramallah PA's suddenly serious initiative to declare an independent Palestinian state in non-sovereign territory must surely force fresh collective realization that this is a terribly pragmatic question. It's time to bring closer attention to what "Bantustan" actually means. The Palestinian national movement can only hope someone in its ranks undertakes that project as seriously as Israel has undertaken it before it's too late.

Virginia Tilley is a former professor of political science and international relations and since 2006 has served as Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. She is author of The One-State Solution (U of Michigan Press, 2005) and numerous articles and essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based in Cape Town, she writes here in her personal capacity and can be reached at vtilley A T mweb D O T co D O T za.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Boycott Israeli goods

European Courts: No customs breaks for Israeli goods from settlements

Israeli goods produced in West Bank settlements are not eligible for customs benefits in the European Union, stated an advocate general of the European Court of Justice last week. Israel and the EU have a free-trade agreement that gives Israeli exports substantial customs breaks. The advocate general's non-binding opinion, if followed, could mean that goods produced in the occupied territories will be saddled with full customs duties. The opinion, submitted in a case in Germany brought by water purification firm Brita in 2002, could serve as a precedent in the EU.

The company was ordered to pay 19,155 euros in customs for equipment it imported from the Israeli firm Soda Club, whose factory is in the West Bank. German customs authorities asked Israeli authorities whether the goods were produced in the territories and, when no answer was received, Brita was ordered to pay customs duties. Currently, for goods from the territories to receive customs breaks, they must bear a certificate issued by the Palestinian Authority.

The disagreement with the EU over Israeli exports from the territories has been going on for a long time. At one point, the EU threatened sanctions against all Israeli exports if an agreement was not reached.

However, Israel refused to label or otherwise differentiate products from the settlements. Five years ago, Israel and the EU agreed that all exports would be labelled with the place of manufacture or the factory's zip code, and the EU customs authorities would then decide whether to levy customs. Israeli exports to the EU totalled $17.8 million in 2008.

Der Spiegel recently reported that a third of Israeli exports to Europe are made in part or in full in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Adapted from "EU court: No customs breaks for Israeli goods from settlements", written by Ora Coren and published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Nov. 3, 2009. For full text, see:

Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)



PAJU (Palestiniens et Juifs Unis) no 457 le 13 novembre 2009

La Cour de l’UE refuse des avantages aux produits des colonies de

La cour Européenne a décidé la semaine dernière que les avantages douaniers pour les produits israéliens ne s’appliqueront pas à ceux qui viennent des colonies. Si cette décision est appliquée, ces marchandises exportées n’auront plus les avantages douaniers qu’elles avaient en vertu de l’accord conclu entre Israël et la communauté Européenne.

Cette décision pourrait servir de précédent dans l’Union Européenne (UE).Il s’agit de commerce en Allemagne qui concernait la compagnie Brita en 2002.On a demandé à la compagnie de payer des droits de douane de 19 155 euros pour de l’équipement de purification d’eau provenant de la firme israélienne Soda Club, dont l’usine est en Cisjordanie. Les autorités douanières allemandes ont voulu savoir si ce matériel était fabriqué dans les territoires occupés. Restant sans réponse d’Israël, la douane allemande a demandé à Brita de payer les droits de douane. Brita a fait appel de cette décision à la cour appropriée. La cour à Hambourg a demandé alors l’avis de l’autorité légale de l’UE. Pour recevoir actuellement l’exonération des droits de douane, les marchandises doivent être accompagnées d’un certificat de l’Autorité Palestinienne.

Le désaccord sur les exportations venant des territoires occupés remonte à loin. L’UE a même menacé d’appliquer des sanctions sur toutes les exportations venant d’Israël qui refusait depuis toujours de mettre une étiquette permettant d’identifier l’origine de la marchandise

Il y a cinq ans, Israël et l’UE se sont enfin mis d’accord sur l’étiquetage de tous les produits exportés, information détaillant le lieu de fabrication et le code de l’usine.

Les exportations israéliennes s’élevaient à 17.8 $ millions de dollars en 2008.Le magazine allemand Der Spiegel écrivait qu’un tiers des exportations actuelles était en fait produit, en tout ou en partie, dans les territoires occupés.

Adapté de « EU court: No customs breaks for Israeli goods from settlements » écrit par Ora Coren et publié dans le quotidien israélien
Ha’aretz le 3 novembre 2009. Text intégral :

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Palestinians symbolically dismantle sections of the wall Multimedia report, The Electronic Intifada, 10 November 2009

Multimedia report, The Electronic Intifada, 10 November 2009

"Tear down this wall!" then US President Ronald Reagan told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, demanding he tear down the infamous Berlin wall. Two years later, on 9 November 1989, media around the world broadcast images of crowds of Germans from both the east and the west climbing atop the barrier and tearing down large sections of the wall. For many, the event was highly symbolic as it was perceived as the end of the Cold War and the start of a period when the world was headed in a more just and peaceful direction, free of walls keeping peoples apart.

However, two decades later, walls of separation still exist throughout the world. Israel's wall in the West Bank is much bigger than the Berlin wall ever was, as it encloses more than two million Palestinians inside the occupied West Bank. This wall separates Palestinians from their families, land, natural resources and communities.

For years Palestinians in various West Bank villages, along with Israeli and international supporters, have led regular nonviolent demonstrations protesting the wall. In Nilin village, located near the West Bank city of Ramallah, protestors decided to do something different on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

In a symbolic action, the protestors in Nilin on 6 November were able to knock down a section of the wall before the Israeli army arrived and fired tear gas at the crowd.

Nilin media activists reported:

One protestor managed to climb on to the wall and he raised the Palestinian flag, hereby sending a message to Israel that the Palestinian flag will always go up on Nilin's land. Even if the land is cut off from the village now, the people of Nilin will never give up the right to their own land. Simultaneously, a group of youth threw bottles with red paint at the Israeli soldiers, the red paint representing the blood of the martyrs in Nilin that were killed by these soldiers.

A small group of participants brought a jack that they placed under one of the concrete segments of the wall. After two hours, the concrete started coming off the ground, partially falling down. This was a strong message from Nilin, one protestor stated: "last Monday the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall was celebrated all over the world; now it's time for the apartheid wall to fall and this will start in Nilin. We in Nilin are most determined to get our land back, and we will break down this ugly wall."

In a similar action on 9 November dubbed "We are going to Jerusalem," near the Qalandiya refugee camp outside Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians along with dozens of internationals attached a rope to the wall as they used a truck to tear down one of the concrete slabs. As they demonstrated over the downed segment of the wall, Israeli soldiers arrived firing teargas and rubber bullets at the crowd.