Reflections on life and work of Abie Nathan

Gideon Levy, famous for his “Twilight Zone” stories of the absurd and oppressive cruelty of life for Palestinians under occupation and of the bland Israeli bureaucratic justifications that try to gloss over it all, wrote today in Haaretz: “It was a Saturday afternoon in the late 1980s. We entered The Voice of Peace’s rickety Subaru truck and drove to Gaza to Mahmoud Zahar’s house. Afternoon coffee with the Hamas-nik, just imagine. Imagine that once it was possible to visit Zahar on a Saturday afternoon. Just think  there once was a man here who dreamed of peace … In the footnotes of history, Abie will be remembered as the man from California, the city’s first hamburger joint; as the man who took the peace flight to Cairo and was erroneously reported to have crashed. And of course, as the man from “Twilight Time,” the unforgettable program on the Voice of Peace, with its daily moment of silence – perhaps the last time we heard silence here, not just incessant intolerable noise … Above all, I’ll remember the other days, when you could drive to meet Zahar on a Saturday afternoon, bring him toys for Gaza’s children (in the trunk of the jalopy that kept pulling to the left), and dream of peace. None of this is possible anymore…” The full Gideon Levy reflection on Abie Nathan can be read in Haaretz here .

From the exact opposite end of the Israeli political spectrum, David Bedein [of his own
Israel Resource News Agency] wrote today (message received by email) that “While the Voice of Peace radio stationed gained popularity over the years, it also earned a certain amount of notoriety for a number of years. On Yom Kippur 5734 (1973), when I heard planes overhead and rumors of an impending war on two fronts, I came home from synagogue and listened to the only station that was broadcasting on Yom Kippur — Abie Natan’s ‘Voice of Peace.’ Natan’s message on that Yom Kippur day: ‘Soldiers must refuse [their commanders’] orders, and must not fight. Instead, they should extend a peaceful hand to the attacking Egyptian and Syrian armies.’ Throughout the day, Nathan played the song ALL WE ARE SAYING IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE, and urged soldiers of the trauimatized nation of Israel not to fight back, and this was the only radio station that was operating. ‘Throw down your guns. Do not fight back. Hug the oncoming Egyptian and Syrian Troops’ was the theme that Nathan played all day , on that loing Yom KIppur, and in those difficult days that followed. The story receives confirmation from The Voice of Peace History, as found in Jim Parkes’ ‘History of Offshore Radio’ (, which writes: ‘During the October war the [Voice of Peace] ship moved to the Suez Canal. While the soldiers listened to the station, they only laughed at requests to lay down their arms’. A few days into the Yom Kippur War, Israeli intelligence closed down Nathan’s transmitter, which operated from the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, owned and operated by Israel hotel magnate Yekutiel X. Federman. A Canadian journalist intern at the Beit Agron Press Center in 1989 who had previously interned with Abie Nathan provided some insight into Nathan’s operation, explaining that the vast majority of the ship’s programming was conducted out of the Dan Hotel. Since the radio station operated without a license, Nathan maintained the myth that THE VOICE OF PEACE was only ‘broadcasting from somehwhere in the Meditarranean’. Abie Nathan, whose voice was silenced by a stroke for the past ten years, will be remembered as the first Israeli to give legitimacy to justify those Israelis who simply did not want to defend the Jewish state in a time of war“.

Abie Nathan, Voice of Peace, dies at age 81 – His chosen epitath: "I tried"

It has been announced in Israel that Abie Nathan has died tonight.

The Jerusalem Post reported taht “Abie Nathan, the pilot, entrepreneur, peace activist and founder of the groundbreaking ‘Voice of Peace’ radio station, died Wednesday at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, the hospital said in a statement. He was 81. Nathan burst onto the world of Middle East diplomacy in 1966 with a dramatic solo flight to Egypt in a rattletrap single-engine plane, more than a decade before Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty. Although he failed in his initial bid to talk peace with the Egyptians, his daredevil escapade won the affection of many Israelis and launched a long and often eccentric one-man crusade to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Over time, he earned a reputation as a maverick peace activist who often took diplomacy into his own hands. He was called a crackpot and a prophet. But many admired the daring of the former Israeli air force fighter pilot as he pounded on Egypt’s doors, sailed his pirate radio ship into hostile Middle East waters or risked his life on hunger strikes for peace. Former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid said Nathan paved the way for Israel’s peace movement. ‘He was ahead of his time, and he did everything himself’, he said. Abraham Jacob Nathan was born April 29, 1927 in Iran, educated in India, and served in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot, before joining the Jewish immigrant influx into newborn Israel in 1948. A short, dark man, he flew for El Al and ran an art gallery and restaurant that became the center of Tel Aviv’s bohemian life. His American-style diner even helped pioneer the hamburger in Israel. Convinced that people power could succeed where the diplomats had failed, he ran for parliament in 1965 on a promise to fly his private plane to Cairo and talk peace with then Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. ‘Someone has to do something’, he would say, in the soft lilt that revealed his Indian background. ‘We are getting nowhere with the politicians’. The voters rejected him, but he flew his private plane ‘Shalom One’ to Port Said anyway. Egyptian authorities treated him courteously and sent him home. Israel disapproved of his unauthorized border crossing but took no action … In 1967, he flew to Egypt again and was turned away without seeing Nasser. Israel jailed him for 40 days. After two more fruitless flights on commercial airlines, Nathan changed his tactics, buying a 188-foot, 570-ton freighter that was partially funded by John Lennon. He anchored it off the coast of Tel Aviv and turned it into a pirate radio station, ‘The Voice of Peace’, with a mix of pop songs and peace messages. ‘Shalom, salaam and peace to all our listeners’, Nathan declared in his maiden broadcast in 1973. ‘The Peace Ship is a project of the people. We hope through this station we will help relieve the pain and heal the wounds of many years of suffering of the people of the Middle East’. Over the next 20 years, ‘The Voice of Peace’ became especially popular among youth. It was the only radio station in the Middle East that broadcast music from the world’s “Top 40″ charts and used English as its primary language, yet offered both Israeli and Arabic news … In the 1970s, Nathan went on repeated hunger strikes to try to force Israel to make concessions for peace with Egypt and talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization. He saw the first wish come true when Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979. But it would be years before Israel would reverse a law making meetings with the PLO a crime. Nathan broke the law several times by meeting with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, whom he later referred to as his ‘brother’. In 1989 he was jailed for 122 days, with a one-year suspended sentence if he repeated the offense. He did, and was charged again. It was a measure of the public affection he commanded that during a prison furlough, he was honored with a banquet attended by the cream of the Israeli establishment.
In January 1993, with a more moderate government in power, parliament repealed the law banning contact with the PLO, and Nathan immediately flew to Tunis seeking a fresh meeting with Arafat, this time legally. Eight months later, Israel and the PLO signed an interim peace agreement, and Nathan celebrated with symbolism: He sank the Voice of Peace ship”… In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Nathan said that during one of his prison hunger strikes, he was certain he was going to die. He bought a grave and a tombstone. When asked what he would want written on the stone, he replied ‘Nissiti’, the Hebrew word for ‘I tried’…”

The full notice of Abie Nathan’s death can be read on the Jerusalem Post website here.

Daniel Levy on Rice's visit: An "A" for Effort is just not good enough

Daniel Levy wrote this commentary on Rice’s just concluded visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, in a piece published in the Comment is Free area of The Guardian, and also on his own (apparently-US-based) website:

“In relaunching the peace process last November, the US sought to address three issues. First, get a deal on the parameters of a permanent status peace. Second, significantly upgrade the situation on the ground – enhance security, ease closures and stop settlements. And third, improve the regional climate for peacemaking. In pursuing all three in parallel, they got the ‘what’ right. It is the ‘how’ that went horribly wrong. Next month will mark 15 years of the peace process. At this stage we need more peace and less process. Clearly, defining the endgame parameters, achieving closure, is a necessity. Getting Israelis and Palestinians negotiating again is certainly an achievement. The problem is that after nine months, the negotiations today are barely back to where they left off in January 2001 … In emphasizing the open-ended negotiations, the Annapolis process relegated developments on the ground to being an issue of secondary political magnitude. While the US did enhance its efforts and monitoring on the day-to-day issues, it did so without either a willingness to expend political capital to push for compliance or a readiness to recognise and adapt to certain new realities (in particular Hamas’s election victory and subsequent political pre-eminence on the Palestinian side). Unsurprisingly, the result was too much of the same ongoing deterioration. Settlements continue to expand (see the latest Peace Now report showing that settlement expansion almost doubled this year), obstacles to Palestinian movement have increased not decreased and any gains registered on the security front are at best marginal.

“At the end of her seventh visit, Rice gets an ‘A’ for effort, but the results seem less generous in every other category. Rice could still produce a handover to the next administration, which could be, with some justification, portrayed as a significant improvement on the hand received in January 2001. She may even suggest American guidelines for a peace deal based on her own conclusions from the current talks. But to be useful, such a plan would have to get the content right (and previous Bush announcements are a cause of concern), be adopted by the new president-elect and be introduced at an appropriate moment in the Israeli and Palestinian political cycles (which may not exist between now and January). More likely, Rice will need to hand over a work that is not only in progress but also in need of major repair. A new administration of either political stripe will likely express commitment to continuing negotiations and pursuing peace, but they should be warned that if achieving a two-state solution is still the goal, then an ‘A’ for effort will not be enough this time. It is not an alarmist or exaggerated claim to suggest that on the watch of the next US president the two-state solution will either finally be realised or have definitively passed its sell-by date”.

This comment on Rice’s visit and the Bush Administration’s Annapolic-Conference-lead event can be read
here .

"The Bush Administration is not exempt of responsibility for this.."

An Israeli comment published today in Haaretz newspaper on the just-concluded visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:
“For yet another time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Jerusalem and Ramallah yesterday, holding the ritual meetings with the Israeli leadership and the heads of the Palestinian Authority. A look back at the Bush presidency leads to the conclusion that despite his genuine wish to further Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, he has failed. From January 2001 the conflict has undergone many upheavals, but the American contribution to settling it has been minimal in practice. The superpower’s bargaining power vis-a-vis the Israelis and Palestinians has not been used wisely. Ideology lies behind this: The U.S. administration believes its role is to encourage Israel and the PA to reach an agreement and contribute to creating the conditions for the change to take place. But it does not believe in forcing its views on the two sides. This is an enlightened, pleasant approach, but in the Mideast jungle it is terribly out of place. In an era when Israel needs the FBI to crack its homegrown organized crime, the United States can stress more forcefully, both to Israelis and Palestinians, their dependency – in order to shake them out of the status quo … Israel refuses to relinquish its hold over the West Bank. To a significant extent this determines the conflict’s current status. This was blatantly highlighted this week: According to a Peace Now report, settlement construction doubled in the first five months of the year compared to the same period last year. The Bush administration is not exempt of responsibility for this”.

The full comment can be read in Haaretz here.

Notes on Rice's visit

Here are some selected remarks from the press conference by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after they met and had lunch together in the Muqata’a in Ramallah on Tuesday:

President Abbas:

1.) “…the situation in Gaza Strip is intolerable, unbearable”.

2.) “Since things have not succeeded so far, it does not mean that we have failed”.

3.) “if we reach an agreement, then it’s very good. If we do not reach an agreement, then we wish for the new administration, that it will continue what we have already started and where we’ve reached today”.

4.) “I would like to say that these efforts that have been exerted were not wasted, were not done in vain. If they – we felt it was done in vain, then we would have stopped. So we feel that we are exerting efforts and that there is – there are benefits inevitably from these efforts. And hopefully, in the future, you will see these results”.

Secretary Rice:

1.) “We’ll continue to press the Israelis about their Roadmap obligations and to work with the Palestinians on their Roadmap obligations as well”.

2.) “I think I’ve made very clear the U.S. position that the settlement activity is not conducive to creating an environment for negotiations, yet negotiations go on..:”

3.) “I would just like it understood that President Bush has been a tireless advocate of the establishment of the institutions, and ultimately, the establishment of the Palestinian state itself. We still have a number of months before us to work toward the Annapolis goal and we’re going to do precisely that. But again, this is not easy. If this had been easy, somebody would have solved it a long time ago. And it has fallen to us to try again to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. God willing and with the goodwill of the parties and the tireless work of the parties, we have a good chance to succeed”.

4.) “What I can tell you is that it is a very serious negotiating process. They are dealing with all issues before them. No issue is off the table. This is the most intensive discussions that have been there at least since Camp David and, in some ways, they’ve employed new mechanisms to deal with these issues that were not even there in 2000. And so this is very, very hard.  I just want to repeat, if there had been an easy solution to the establishment of two states living side by side, it would have been done a long time ago”.

This is what passes as tough talk from Condi

A pool report from Agence France Presse for the Foreign Press Association in Israel reported this, after a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning — this is what the U.S. apparently considers tough talk:

Rice “It is the position of the United States that the parties should not take steps that somehow would prejudice the final status outcome. In fact, the borders of a Palestinian state and Israel will be determined by agrement. I think that is no secret and I’ve said it [to] my israeli counterparts that i don’t think the settlement activity is helpful to the prrocess, that in fact what we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties and that anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided and we will continue to press ahead to get agreement so that we know that is in Israel and what is Palestinian”.

Livni is either not in the know [this is not the most likely possibility] — or too disengenuous.

She said she has been told that Israeli settlement activity has dramatically diminished: “The peace proces is not to be affected by any kind of settlement activity… In the end of the day the role of the leaders is to try to find a way to live in peace in the future and not to let any kind of noises that relate to the situation on the ground these days to enter the negotiation room. I would like to suggest to my partners not to use it as an excuse and I know they are not using it as an excuse but I understand their frustration sometimes. But at the end of the day the Israeli government’s policy is not to expand settlements, not to build new settlements and not to confiscate Palestinian land. According to my knowledge settlement activity is reduced in the most dramatic way especially in the parts on the other side of the fence. There were some small activities but they will not influence the abilility (to negotiate) nor the future of the future borders of the Palestinian state”

Condi says there's work to do — and she'll keep on pushing

Here are exceprts from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s interaction with reporters on board her airplane en route to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday:

“I’m looking forward to what will unfortunately be a brief visit to the – to Israel and to Ramallah to discuss how we continue to push forward in the negotiations, to talk with people about the situation on the ground. General Fraser is with me and he’s going to stay behind to continue to work on some of the issues on the ground. I think at some point perhaps it’ll be a good thing for him to talk a little bit with you about some of the things that have been going on there.

“But obviously, we keep trying to push all of the tracks of Annapolis forward. And the trilaterals that I’ve had have been useful in helping the two sides to find areas of convergence, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. Undoubtedly, it will not be my last trip here.

“…the way that we’ve been conducting these trilaterals is to help the parties in what has, for the most part to date, been a process that – in which they have not wanted to have public discussion of what they’re doing. They’ve wanted to push forward on these – on sensitive issues and continue to do that. They have an agreement that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. They also have an agreement that they’re not going to go out and talk about what they’re doing in each of the meetings. And so I honor that when we go to the trilaterals, because I think it’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.

“We continue to have the same goal, which is to reach agreement by the end of the year; a lot of work ahead to do that, and obviously, it’s a complicated time. But, you know, it’s always complicated out here. And we’ll just continue to do what I’ve done in these trilaterals over the last, I don’t know, four or five that I’ve had

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Foreign Minister Livni spoke to the press last week and she warned against too much international pressure, too much pressure to try to bridge the gaps. And obviously there’s an election coming up in the Kadima party, so are you mindful of that as you head into this trip?

“SECRETARY RICE: The internal politics of Israel are the internal politics of Israel. But I don’t think that anyone has been trying to bring pressure to bridge the gaps. What we’ve been trying to do is to help the parties to see how their own conversations might converge. And we’re going to continue to do that. And I think if you look back, you will have seen – you will have seen comments like that several times before.

“QUESTION: What is your assessment now of where Israel is in terms of respecting its Roadmap commitments and in terms of the quality of the roadblocks that it has removed?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that – let me start by saying both sides continue to have work to do on the Roadmap. And General Fraser and I have been talking on this trip about the importance of both sides accelerating their progress. I will say that there have been a couple of major – well, let me call – use the word “significant” checkpoints that have been lifted. That’s a good sign. Obviously, there is more that needs to be done. But that’s a good sign. And I think the Jenin project continues to mature. That’s also a good sign. But on both sides, in terms of Palestinian security and judicial reform, and in terms of movement and access, the Israelis and the Palestinians have work to do.

“…we said early on that if there – that calm in Gaza would be a useful thing because it – the Egyptians, who – with whom we worked, have managed to keep what is a very fragile situation at least stable, and that’s certainly a help to any process of trying to move forward on the peace process.

“Ultimately, though, Gaza has to be resolved and it has to be resolved on the basis of the – Abu Mazen’s program for it, which is that legitimate Palestinian Authority institutions have to be reinstated. I think we want to continue to look at what can be done at the crossings for regularization of those ultimately along the lines of the November 2005 agreement. So this is not, I think, a metastable situation, but it’s a situation that for now has seemed to allow at least people to – you know, the levels of violence to stay low, and that’s welcome.

“QUESTION: Do you see Hamas wanting a political role? Do you see Hamas wanting a political role and that’s why it’s calm?

“SECRETARY RICE: I think there are multiple incentives and motivations for the calm that is there. But Abu Mazen himself has laid out how a political “reconciliation” could take place. But obviously, a return to the status quo ante and a number of other steps will have to be taken, including continuing – including accepting the agreements that Palestinians have signed decades ago.

“There’s no doubt that the prisoner exchange is extremely important to – very important to the Palestinians. It’s something that Abu Mazen brings up each time we meet. And I don’t know whether or not it’s taken place, but if, in fact, it does, it would be a very good step. This is something that matters a lot to the Palestinians. It matters a lot to the Palestinian people. And it obviously is a sign of goodwill, particularly because it’s my understanding that some of these are pre-Oslo prisoners, which has been particularly of concern”…

Tzipi Livni speaks in part for moderate Palestinians, she says

The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today that “we decided to launch negotiations (with the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) because it is important to reach an agreement with the pragmatic moderates” who believe in a solution with two states – Israel and Palestine — living side-by-side in peace and security.

Livni, who is also deputy Prime Minister, is in charge of Israel´s direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

The head of the Palestinian team is Ahmad Qurei´a (known as Abu Alaa) who participated in the secret “Oslo” track that led to the 1993 diplomatic recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to a series of “Oslo Accords” that in many but not all aspects are no longer actually in effect.

The two sides have agreed to keep all details of their discussions secret, and there have so far been few if any leaks of what has been happening behind closed doors. But, Livni said, in answer to a question, that she now has “a better understanding of the sensitivities and what is important to them. And I discovered that they are very suspicious when it comes to Israel”.

Now, she said, “we have started to draft part of the agreement, and I also hope they know more about Israeli concerns”:

Livni was speaking at a briefing in Jerusalem on Thursday organized by the Foreign Press Association in Israel

Before even being asked, Livni said she wanted to address the question of whether there could still be an agreement by the end of the year. She said “a timeline is important, but [even] more important is the content. Any attempt to bridge the gap (between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators) which is premature to bridge, or any attempt to avoid the comprehensive agreement we want to reach, can lead to clashes, misunderstandings, and violence”.

Livni said that this is what happened after the failed Camp David peace talks in July 2000, which ended with recriminations and blame – mostly on the Palestinians for not having responded to what was called a major concession by Israel´s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

A provocative visit by Ariel Sharon accompanied by a large and armed Israeli security contingent to the Haram as-Sharif/Temple Mount in East Jerusalem´s Old City a few months later, in late September 2000, ended in clashes with Palestinian protesters, a number of Palestinian deaths and injuries– and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which was characterized by clashes between the Israeli military and the newly-created and armed Palestinian security forces, then a determined Israeli assault on these same forces, accompanied by a re-invasion of Palestinian urban areas. It is only very recently that the U.S. has been helping to retrain and rebuild the Palestinian security capacity – and only to the extent to which Israel permits.

“Here I represent not only the Israeli Government but also the Palestinians, and if we can reach agreement, the international community should respect it. We are working on a comprehensive agreement on the core issues, which will give answers to the concerns of both sides,” Livni told reporters.

It was surprising to hear Livni telling journalists that she was also representing specific points in the Palestinian position. It did not appear to have been a slip of the tongue, but rather a deliberate statement arrived at in prior consultation. Pressing the point, Livni repeated the same formula a little later in the press conference.

“The aspiration of the Palestinians is to have a state that includes the Gaza Strip”, Livni said. She added that if she said anything else, “I would be blamed of doing something against the Palestinian interest – this is what we were accused of before our withdrawal from Gaza[in 2005].”

But the Oslo Accords never even mentioned the words Palestinian State, and only laid out in great detail an interim period that theoretically should have ended in 1999, which should have led to “final status” talks. It was only since the beginning of this year that Israel reported that “core issues” and “final status” matters are now being negotiated between Livni and Qurei´a.

Livni admitted today that “it took some time” in Israel to accept the idea of “dividing the land”. Now, she said, she believes that the former left-vs-right divide in Israeli politics is “something that belongs to the past. Two states is in Israel´s interest, and represents [the will] not only of the government but of the entire Israeli people”.

Livni indicated that in the negotiations, “Everybody is using the formula, and this is the basic understanding between Israel and the Palestinians: two states for two peoples. Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people [– “this is the raison d´etre of the State of Israel”, she added seconds later –] and the Palestinian state will be the homeland for the Palestinians”

“The answer to the [Palestinian] refugee problem is the creation of a Palestinian state”, Livni said. “But unfortunately some Arab and Palestinian leaders are calling for two states but also demanding the right of return to Israel, which is the Jewish state. This is not a theoretical question. This is the basic understanding [between the two negotiating teams] And this is one of the two basic pillars … the other of course is Israel’s security.”

She said that “the borders should not be vague – or say only 1967 lines, plus or minus a percentage. No, we need outlines on the map, so that the day after the agreement there will be no misunderstanding”.

And, Livni said, for Israel, “it is important to know what will be on the other side of these borders … and to know that it´s demilitarized”.

What we cannot afford, she said, is “a failed state or a terror state”.

Livni added that “We have no hidden agenda – a future Palestinian state includes the West Bank and Gaza. This is the Palestinian aspiration. But in order to create a state, they need to give an answer to the situation on the ground”.

Hamas is currently in control in the Gaza Strip.

Livni did not say what she thought should be done about that. Israel has recently concluded a kind of truce (“tahdia”) with Hamas, but has apparently ambivalent views about actually dealing directly with Hamas, something which the U.S. rejects rather more categorically.

Livni has several times in recent months described her view of an overall scenario where “extremists” – and in this group she includes Iran and Iranian-backed Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, but not Syria – as getting stronger.

The task, and the remedy, as she describes it, is to reinforce the “moderates”.

“In Annapolis we decided to negotiate with pragmatic Palestinians”, Livni explained. A simultaneous decision was made, she said, “to delegitimize Hamas and keep the pressure on them” – that is, unless they accept the right of Israel to exist, end terror and violence, and accept the former agreements reached in the Oslo process between Israel and Palestinians, Livni indicated.

She suggested that “since there is no hope with Hamas”, the negotiators are working for what is being called a “shelf agreement”.

Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.

She suggested that war is a much easier and cleaner affair when the protagonists are states.

Drawing a hypothetical future parallel with the Palestinian situation, Livni said that between two states there could be misunderstandings, and even war. “The Lebanon war could have been ended in a few days if it had just been between states”, she said. “But with a terror organization it is completely different”

Acting for a moment as a candidate for higher office, Livni appeared to criticize the involvement if not predominance of the Israeli military in decision-making – and this appeared to be a reference to the widely-criticized conduct of the Second Lebanon War. Livni said that “The Israeli Prime Minister needs to understand the threats and trends in the region. Preparation is needed, and not only of the army….There are different options, and the Prime Minister needs to put on the table what is the goal of Israel, what are the options, and to choose from then. Then [and only then], we [the political leadership] should ask our military experts what is best, after already choosing between the options”.

Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister — Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.

Livni said that in 2006, “It was important for Israel and the international community not to undermine the Lebanese Government, and we worked against Hizballah in south Lebanon only”.

Now, she said, Hizballah is getting stronger in Lebanon, and is part of the government, so the international community should ask “for state responsibility for the situation in Lebanon”.

She repeated Israeli complaints that the arms embargo contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is “not being enforced”.

UN Security Council resolution 1701 says that there should be “no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government”. But, now that Hizballah is part of the government, is this Israeli criticism still legitimate?

Three days of official mourning for Mahmoud Darwish

The Associated Press has reported, in a brief story picked up and published in the Jerusalem Post, that “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for three days of mourning for Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish died Saturday at the age of 67, following open heart surgery at a Houston hospital … After the announcement of his death late Saturday, dozens of Palestinians gathered in downtown Ramallah and lit memorial candles”. The full report can be read here.

Haaretz is reporting that he may be buried in Israel or in Palestine: “According to the sources, Palestinians intend for Darwish to be buried either in his home town in the western Galilee, that had since been demolished with the Jewish Moshav Ahihud erected in its stead in 1950, or in the neighboring village Jadaida, where Darwish’s family still resides. However, it is also possible that his body be laid to rest in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Arab press reports on Sunday said that Darwish asked in his will to be buried in Palestine”. The full Haaretz article can be read here .

My guess is that he will be buried in Ramallah — and maybe even in the Muqata’a, near the Yasser Arafat mausuleum. Or maybe in the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, where he apparently lived in Ramallah.

Mahmoud Darwish lived almost all the possible states and statuses that are Palestinian. He was born in a small village near Acre (Akka). His family went into exile — apparently briefly to Lebanon — as refugees. Somehow — it is not entirely clear to me yet how, as return was usually prevented on threat of death — his family returned to what had by then become the north of Israel, though their original village had been destroyed. They became “internally displaced persons”, a category used everywhere in the world, except in Israel.

Darwish grew up in Israel, joined the Communist Party, became a journalist for a Communist Party newspapers, and as I recall caused great controversy when he marched with the Israeli Olympic team at one of the opening ceremonies somewhere, sometime. Then, in the 1970’s, he turned in his Israeli passport, and joined the PLO in exile. He went to Beirut. He travelled. He left Beirut after Ariel Sharon’s war against the PLO in Lebanon in 1982, and went to Tunisia. He split from the PLO in protest against the Oslo Accords which were publicly revealed in late 1993.

One of the books of poems he wrote about Palestine was called: Unfortunately, it was paradise¢2006).

Obitiuary articles today remind me that Mahmoud Darwish was one of the authors of the Declaration of a Palestinian State — a document that was deliberately and consciously written as a kind of parallel or mirror to Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence — that was proclaimed by Yasser Arafat at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers in November 1988.

Here is a poem Mahmoud Darwish wrote in 2006, after already having faced death more than once – it is, unusually, almost entirely personal:

What Remains of life
If you were told: you’re going to die here this evening
What would you do in the remaining time?
Look at my watch
Drink a glass of juice
Munch an apple
Watch an ant who has found what to eat
Then look at my watch
There’s still time to shave have a bath
I say to myself: One needs one’s finery when about to write
So I’ll wear the blue shirt
I sit til noon alive at my desk
I do not see the effect of color on words
Whiteness whiteness whiteness
I prepare my last lunch
I pour out wine into two glasses
For me and for the one who will come
Then I take a siesta in between two dreams
Yet the noise of my snoring will wake me
I look at my watch
There is still time for reading
I read a chapter of Dante and a section of al Mualaqa and I realize how my life
Is about to leave me to stay with the living here
And I do not question what will fill the gap
Like this?
Like this like this.
Then what?
I comb my hair and throw away the poem, this poem, in the wastepaper basket
I am wearing the most chic Italian shirt.
And in the company of Spanish violins
I say farewell to myself and walk toward the cemetery.

Here is another poem on the same site — about the 1982 Israeli siege and bombardment of Beirut:

I was there a month ago
I was there a year ago
I was there always, as if I had never been anywhere else
In the year ’82 of the last century something happened to us, somewhat like
what is happening to us now. We were besieged, we were killed and we held out against our share of hell’s offerings.
Those of us who were killed do not look alike. Each martyr has his own features, his own way of standing, his own eyes, name and age.
It is the killers who look alike, because hidden in the machines they are like a single performer who presses the electronic buttons of mechanical devices. He kills and disappears. He sees us; we do not see him. Not because he’s a ghost, but because he has a mask of lead without features, eyes, age or name. He is he.
And he has chosen to have only one name: Enemy.

This and a few other of his poems can be found here

For me, one of the saddest parts of Mahmoud Darwish’s life was his love and marriage to — then separation and divorce from — the beautiful Syrian-Palestinian poet, Rana Kabbani. I once spotted her working at a desk in a room in the Syrian Embassy in Washington (where I went to get a visa), when her father was posted there. They were married — and divorced — twice. I am told that she is now married to Patrick Seale, and living in Paris.

Mahmoud Darwish’s poem Rita (Her name is Rita), which was just one of his works later put to to music by Marcel Khalife, was about this. It was included in Khalife’s debut album Promises of the Storm, released in 1976, which a Palestinian radio station was playing Saturday evening, as I was listening on my car radio, trying to get more news about the reports of Mahmoud Darwish’s increasingly critical condition. Here is a clip from Marcel Khalife’s website of the song Rita from the poem by Mahmoud Darwish as set to music and sung by Marcel Khalife.

Another Mahmoud Darwish poem sung by Marcel Khalife is Passport, a short clip of which can be heard here (Passport from the poem by Mahmoud Darwish as set to music and sung by Marcel Khalife.

For more, also see my post on UN-Truth, here .

Amendments required to revised plan for Jerusalem Old City's religious flashpoint

The Israeli government’s Regional Planning Committee on Jerusalem has just issued a split ruling on objections brought by the Israeli NGO Ir Amim to a revised design plan for reconstruction of the damaged ramp that leads from the Western Wall Plaza up to the Mughrabi Gate (Bab al-Maghariba) entrance to the Haram as-Sharif esplanade where Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located.

The Western Wall Plaza below - the Haram as-Sharif above

The Committee has set down some general principles, and has asked for the submission of an amended design.

The damaged ramp was built on the remains of the Mughrabi Quarter that was razed after Israeli forces conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the June 1967 war.

Part of the ramp collapsed after winter rains and snow in February 2004, and the Israeli authorities initially decided it was a good opportunity to reconstruct areas of the Western Wall Plaza – including the ramp access to the Mughrabi Gate – to suit its own estimates of its present needs, including greater security access to the mosque esplanade, and an expanded prayer area for Jewish women.

Ir Amim’s legal adviser, attorney Daniel Seideman reported that objections he presented to several earlier versions of the reconstruction plan were accepted in large part – but not in their totality – by the Regional Planning Committee in the first week of July.

Ir Amim is an NGO working for the equitable sharing of Jerusalem, which it calls a city “of two peoples and three religions”.

“Where we were successful is that the Committee ordered the preservation of artifacts including from the Ottoman and Mandate periods, which includes the remains of the Mughrabi Quarter”, Seidemann said, whereas last November the government indicated that it wanted to raze all artifacts dating later than 1700 A.D.

But the wording of the Committee’s decision – directing without greater precision only that the design for reconstruction would have to “take into account” the artifacts that have been found there – leaves a lot to discretion, Seidemann noted.

A proposal which would have transformed some of the vaults of the Islamic-era structures that have been unearthed under the ramp in recent Israeli excavations into Jewish prayer halls has been rejected, Seideman reported.

Israeli excavation activity now appears to have stopped.

The biggest remaining problem, according to Seidemann, is the Committee’s ruling that the Western Wall Plaza could be expanded – though he said it would be less than in the earlier proposal.

So, he warned, “this is not over”, and the situation will require continued close attention.

The Israeli government in 2006-2007 signed off on a ramp redesign plan at every level up to and including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after which excavations were carried out under the ramp, in accordance with requirements of Israel’s antiquities law.

But, the original redesign plan was severely criticized by 18 leading Israeli archeologists who said they were appalled by the potential damage to one of the most important archeological sites in Israel-Palestine, and a main focus of all the various civilizations that have coexisted in Jerusalem from ancient biblical times through the present day. The original plan was described as “megalomaniac” and “phatasmagorical”.

Following strong international protests, the Israeli government agreed to begin a consultation process under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Jordanian government and the Waqf (Islamic Trust Foundation) in Jerusalem participated in these consultations, which were apparently indirect – meaning that the delegations were not all in the same room.

A revised plan was filed, but objections persisted. As required by the Israeli approval process, the government’s Regional Planning Committee – which is administratively part of Israel’s Ministry of the Interior but which is composed of members of a number of other ministries, as well as of the Jerusalem Municipality, as well as two members of the public – has been considering these objections.

Now, the Regional Planning Committee has just ruled that the revised reconstruction plan must be further amended, and still has to sign off on the revised plan that it now awaited from local Jerusalem architect Eli Ilan, before a building permit is issued.

More hearings could be required if the design revisions are extensive, Seidemann indicated.

Tourists visiting the Haram as-Sharif

This project could become a model for working in such an immensely significant and sensitive site, according to Seidemann, but he noted that there is also still the potential to revert back to fighting that could cause “an interreligous conflagration”.

Adnan Husseini said this week that he was concerned that Israel was not paying attention to the negotiations conducted last February by UNESCO, and was just using the fact that these meetings were held “as an umbrella to get to their target”. The whole story, he said, is about Israel’s intention to enlarge the prayer area in the Western Wall Plaza. To so, he said, Israel could destroy 1400 years of history. “We ask UNESCO to take a serious role”, Husseini said. “This is an entrance to our Mosques, and it [the ramp as well as the archeological remains] is Awqaf property”. He urged UNESCO to take a position, and be firm and clear – and not just allow Israel “to show a picture of having discussed the issue with others, while in the end imposing everything on the ground”.

According to a report in Haaretz, the Israeli government is planning to spend 17 million shekels (over $5 million, at the current rate of exchange) on this project.

Israel considers the site to be an area of Israeli sovereignty. Israel extended its law and administration over East Jerusalem in the wake of the 1967 war, and Israel later proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1980 – a move that was declared null and void by United Nations member states, and which is recognized by fewer than a handful of countries.

A “de facto” arrangement put in place in 1967 by then-Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan left authority over the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade to Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf (trust foundation) – while Israel proclaimed itself in full charge of the site´s Western Wall and the plaza created where the Mughrabi Quarter previously stood, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry website states now that “the Temple Mount lies within the sovereign jurisdiction of the State of Israel”.

The two concepts – of delegating authority to the Waqf while retaining sovereign jurisdiction – could be interpreted in various ways that could be more or less accommodating to the two sides. However, Israel has appeared in recent years to be moving to a more and more restrictive interpretation.

The Waqf continues to claim the entire area of the Mughrabi Quarter, including the ramp, as its property.

And the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council, in 1988, approved the declaration of independence of the State of Palestine, to be established on the territory captured by Israel in the June 1967 war, with East Jerusalem to be its capital.

Israeli Border Police at gate to Muslim mosques in East Jerusalem

Seidemann said that Israel’s Regional Planning Committee appears to have at least taken into consideration the views of the other parties, and he believes “there were clear instructions from the political echelons to handle the situation responsibly”.

But, the situation could go either way, Seidemann said: the revised plan could be “upgraded to something close to what is acceptable to the Waqf, the Jordanians, and UNESCO, or it could degenerate into something close to the original plan”.

Israel, in its 1994 Peace Treaty with Jordan, stated that it “respects” Jordan´s “special role” in the “Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” (but not, however, in management of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, for which Jordan also reportedly wanted a special status during the peace treaty negotiations). The 1994 Peace Treaty also says that Jordan´s “historic role” in the Jerusalem shrines will be given “high priority” when “negotiations on the permanent status” [i.e., between Israel and the Palestinians] “will take place”

Seidemann cautioned: “To fall asleep at the watch now would be exactly the wrong thing to do”.