Tuesday, November 17, 2009

President Obama’s Third Mantra

Those who habitually read newspapers or listen to broadcast news know that President Obama had until now two mantras in his mind. His first mantra: “Our support of Israel to live in security is unshakable”, has been heard around the world, loudly and clearly, dozens of times.

His second mantra: “The bond between Israel and USA is unbreakable”, also has been heard around the world on many occasions. He chanted it even at the Cairo University in Egypt. “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable.” These two mantras and some minor variants of the mantras have been chanted just like mantras, repeatedly, by Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton, and Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell every time they found an opportunity to chant them.

To those who are dismayed and bored with President Obama’s two mantras, I have some good news. Rejoice! President Obama has found a new mantra, his third, and has added it to his list. The new mantra is: “We are dismayed that Israelis are expanding the settlements”.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the Palestinian Authority “strongly condemns” the decision to build 900 housing units in Gilo, in East Jerusalem. In contrast, the Obama administration issued a statement that the administration was “dismayed” and asked both parties to avoid unilateral actions that could “pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” I think his administration is sleeping; doesn’t it know that the peace process is dead and gone?

I am dismayed that The New York Times wrote that: “The news that the building plans had moved closer to approval drew a sharp response from the White House, which has declared reviving the talks to be a major policy goal.” And what was White House’s sharp response? The statement – Obama’s third mantra – that “We are dismayed that Israelis are expanding the settlements”. Here is a country that defies international laws, a country that it supports unconditionally with financial and military aid, and a country that it protects from international condemnations at the UN Security Council, and all that the Obama administration can do is express its “dismay” at Israel’s disregard for international laws?

These settlements are not only illegal per international laws, and against UN resolutions, they are opposed by almost the entire world except the USA. Yes, Obama’s administration has in the past stated that “We do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories”; but these are hollow words, not backed up with actions, actions such as ending economic and military aid to an aggressor and oppressor, and an international bully. President Obama has continued to send blank checks to Israel, and on time. It’s high time that the Nobel Peace committee stopped deluding itself that President Obama is a man of peace. I am aware that it is quite unlikely that the committee would withdraw the Nobel Peace Prize already given; but it is never too late to issue a statement expressing its regrets.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Declare Independence of Palestine Now

It is now abundantly clear that the stalled negotiation for peace in the Middle East is now dead.

During Secretary of State Clinton’s recent short sojourn through the region, in her joint press conference with Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem, she effusively praised Netanyahu’s intransigence regarding Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The peace process died when she bizarrely described as “unprecedented” Mr. Netanyahu’s paltry concession to slow down the feverish tempo of building illegal housing units in the occupied territories. Even though she hastily tried to back-track, the damage to the peace process had been done. It was as if she had given the peace process a death blow. The Palestinian negotiators were deeply shocked. Did not President Obama, and even Mrs. Clinton herself, say only a month ago that the Israeli settlements in the occupied land were illegitimate? It dawned on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the peace process was dead, and so he announced that he will be resigning from his position soon. He had threatened to resign a couple of times on previous occasions, of course, but this time it seems that he means to carry out his threat.

At the White House President Obama has been mostly silent regarding the peace process, except for declaring at regular and frequent intervals his commitment for the security of Israel and announcing that the bond between Israel and the USA is “unshakable”. After impressing the entire world with his commitment for peace, and inspiring the world with his soaring speech and dazzling oratory from the august hall of Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, when he said, “America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable…..On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own," he seems to have changed. He seems to have had second thoughts regarding Palestinians’ suffering, and has been tilting slowly, but perceptibly, towards the Israeli side. And the world has noticed this tilt. He has clearly softened his opposition to the ever expanding Israeli settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And perhaps even more shocking: he remained silent as the Israeli government evicted Palestinian and Arab families from their homes in East Jerusalem, and bulldozed two houses.

There are credible reports that Palestinian Prime Minister Mr. Salam Fayyad is seriously exploring his own plan for peace in the Middle East that he first proposed in August 2009 in a 54-page booklet: To unilaterally declare the independence of Palestine bounded by the internationally recognized June 4, 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. For forty years the pursuit of peace has been through endless negotiations; Fayyad would like to seek peace through a declaration. The game of Negotiation versus Declaration should be most fascinating to watch. There are reports also that the plan has earned the broad backing of the UN, the Quartet, and a few European leaders, as well as the Obama administration.

This is not really a novel or new idea as Mr. Fayyad very well knows, because this plan has precedents. For example, on 17 February 2008, Kosovo had issued its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, and the United States and most European Union countries, with which this declaration was coordinated, had rushed to extend diplomatic recognition to this “new country”. So, wouldn’t the USA and the same EU countries now find it awkward to oppose any such unilateral declarations of independence for Palestine? I am afraid they will not find it awkward, because in any matter that pertains to Israel, having a double standard is the norm, not the exception. Consider nuclear weapons, for example. Even though Israel possesses more than 200 nuclear weapons, all the noise one hears coming from Washington and the capitals of the EU countries is regarding the probability of Iran’s acquiring nuclear capability in two or three years. Rockets fired by the Hamas in Gaza into its occupying and blockading neighbor, Israel, is considered terrorism; but the precision missiles fired at Palestinians’ houses, schools, hospitals, mosques, sewage treatment plants, water reservoirs, and police stations, and the phosphorus bombs dropped by Israel on Palestinian civilians is considered self-defense, even though per international law, an occupying power can not claim self defense in justifying its atrocities.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper has reported that in secret meetings with leaders of a few EU nations, Mr. Fayyad has secured support for his grand plan. There are reports that he has discussed his plan with both President Obama and Mrs. Clinton also. Netanyahu, obviously, does not like the plan at all, and he has asked Obama to veto the plan in the UN Security Council should the proposal arrive at the Security Council.

Mr. Salam Fayyad knows that forty years of negotiations with successive Israeli governments have resulted in only three significant things that matter: Increase in numbers of the ever expanding, illegal settlements; and encroachment of vast areas of Palestinian ancestral lands; and loss of even more land for the creation of security “buffer areas”. Even though nothing will be built in these buffer areas, the Palestinians will be forbidden from entering these areas, nevertheless.

Israel now has 121 Jewish-only settlements and 106 out-posts, all of them illegal, on confiscated Palestinian land. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem.

Per Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” I am certain that President Obama knows this. And yet he has decided to go along with Mr. Netanyahu’s plan of expanding the illegal settlements as the world watches in bewildered silence.

If the Palestinians truly wish to establish their independent state, they need to do only a simple thing. After suffering all the terrors of the 41 year occupation and horrors of the Gaza War, and the daily humiliations at the roadside checkpoints, the time has come to take a bold step and do the right and necessary thing: Unilaterally declare independence from Israel, just as the people of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, in February 2008.

Let there be peace on earth.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

President Obama’s Peace Mask Has Cracked

On the political stage, a short period of five months might as well be an eternity. As the world turns on its axis, events least expected can and often do happen, and spin out of control; and carefully laid out plans go awry.

On Thursday June 4, 2009, President Obama spoke to the world from the august Major Reception Hall at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt. Appropriately titled "A New Beginning", the speech was grand and impressive. He described Palestinians' statelessness as "intolerable", and recognized their aspirations for statehood and dignity as legitimate, just as legitimate as Israel's desire for a Jewish homeland. And, of course, he reaffirmed, as he had done several times before, America's alliance with Israel, calling their mutual bond "unbreakable". He was wearing his peace mask. That was only five months ago, and already it seems so very long ago.

Now, consider this scenario: Imagine an experienced ballerina on a well-lit stage, waiting to dance a beautifully choreographed "Swan Lake". But instead of playing the well-rehearsed and famous Tchaikovsky score, the orchestra suddenly decides to play rap music, and as the startled ballerina tries to take it into stride and begins to improvise, an immense hydraulic pump beneath the stage begins to slowly raise the back of the stage, and as a consequence the ballerina slides and falls on fer face. Now imagine that Secretary of State Clinton was this ballerina. That is what happened to her in Jerusalem last week. This is the sequence of a series of events that started in Washington and culminated in Morocco in a fiasco:

Last week President Obama sent Secretary of State Clinton for a short sojourn through Pakistan to assure Pakistanis of USA's long term committment to Pakistan. From Pakistan Clinton flew to Abu Dhabi, to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and to urge him to rejoin the stalled peace process. He firmly declined that invitation saying that unless Israel froze all settlement activities he will not negotiate. From Abu Dhabi Mrs. Clinton flew to Jerusalem to meet Netanyahu. She emerged from a closed door meeting with Netanyahu and, in a joint press meeting made this befuddled statement: "What the prime minister has offered... a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described, no new starts, for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior negotiations." In other words, Netanyahu would build the recently approved (with Obama's blessimgs) 3000 new housing units on land already confiscated from Palestinians, but he would build them at a slower pace. He will not start new settlements, but will only extend existing illegal settlements. She priased Netanyahu's offer effusively.

This statement caused a great furor in the Arab world. Mahmoud Abbas said Mr. Netanyahu's proposal was a "non-starter," in the words of his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. And Erekat said that halting settlement construction was the "only way to ensure the revival of the peace process." The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said Mrs. Clinton's remarks in Jerusalem "mean that we are once again in the same vicious circle we were in the 1990s". The Arabs saw a clear US tilt towards Israel. The Saudis were upset with Mrs. Clinton; Jordan's King Abdullah was livid. It soon dawned on President Obama that Mrs. Clinton had to tone down, and retune and fine-tune what she was saying. So here in Washington Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley clarified for The Jerusalem Post that the United States is still demanding that Israel freeze all settlement activity, but that it should not be a precondition for talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

And in Morocco, before meeting with the Arab foreign ministers, Mrs. Clinton moderated her praise for Israel's offer to restrain building settlements in Palestinian areas. Regarding Netanyahu's offer she said, "It is not what we want; it is nowhere near enough. But I think when you keep your eye on what we want to achieve, it is a better place to be than the alternative. And therefore, I think we should be trying to keep moving the parties." She insisted that Washington still considered settlement activity in West Bank "illegitimate" and that Obama wanted a freeze.

Even though Mrs. Clinton's "slip" occured in Jerusalem, the crack in Obama's peace mask occured in Washington. That is the nature of political occurences, sometimes. An event occurs in one place, but the consequence can be seen in a distant place, far removed from the place of occurence.

George Mitchell met again with Mr. Abbas, this time in Jordan, on Monday, and also with King Abdullah. In Marrakesh, Morocco, Mrs. Clinton tried to persuade skeptical Arab foreign ministers of the value of Israel's proposal. She even met Libyan foreign minister, Musa Kusa. Wow!

From Marrakesh Mrs. Clinton flew to Cairo to confer with Hosni Mubarak, and to mollify Muslims angry at her remarks at the weekend praising Israel's offer to slow down - but not freeze - settlement construction in the West Bank. Netanyahu would continue to build in East Jerusalem, however.

Be that as it may, I believe that the reason the peace process has not succeeded even after forty years' negotiations is that America loves Israel blindly. Call it motherly love. The USA feels motherly love for Israel, but it has a step-motherly attitude towards Palestinians. That is the very kernel of the problem. Until the step-motherly attitude towards the Palestinians changes, there will be no peace in the Middle East.

It is becoming abundantly clear that President Obama is not unbiased regarding Israel-Palestine conflict. His Middle East policy now has a clear, discernible tilt towards Israel. The peace mask that he wore so successfully for nine months as an unbiased arbiter for peace has cracked.

A new peace mask for Obama is on order, I suppose.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The tide is changing, and the sky is clearing for the Palestinians, at last

Look around you, or peep into the world's window. Do you notice that the world has changed? Yes, it has. The unthinkable has happened. In fact, a series of events unimaginable only a year ago have occured. Even though one of these astonishing events occured in far away Geneva, the show and its entourage will take the center stage right here in New York, at the UN quarters, in a few weeks.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Friday, October 16, 2009, with a majority vote, passed a resolution in Geneva that endorsed the Goldstone Report. Out of the 47- nation Council, 25 voted in favor of the report. They included China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Djibouti, Liberia, Qatar, Senegal, Brazil, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and four other nations. These six countries opposed the resolution: the U.S., Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. Eleven countries abstained: Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay. And five countries did not vote at all. Madagaskar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote; and Britain and France behaved as if they were not presesnt in Geneva at all, but were instead partying elsewhere, and did not vote.

Long before voting, Britain and France had stated very clearly that the report had made many valid points, and so they did not wish to vote against the report. But, apparently, they did not wish to vote for the report either, because of their reluctance to displease President Obama; hence their behavior.

The New York Times wrote about the vote: "On breaches of the Geneva Conventions as grave as those alleged in the report - including its finding that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted civilians - any nation that has agreed to the coventions has jurisdiction to investigate the crimes in their national courts. The Goldstone report recommends that those nations do so, setting up a possible situation of cases being brought against Israeli officials elsewhere." The question now is: Inspired by this vote at the UNHRC in Geneva, and also by the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, would Judge Baltasar Garzon of Spain reopen the case he started eight months ago against the perpetrators of the Gaza War? I wonder.

Following the vote in Geneva, Mr. Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Permanent Observer to the UN, spoke to reporters and said, "Advancing the cause of justice and upholding the international law, it serves the peace process. You can not serve the peace process while you have violation of international humanitarian law. This is not a question of pursuing the Israelis, but a matter of international law." He said also that, "Now it is required from the Secretary General of the UN, based on recommendation two of Goldstone report, to move the report to Security Council."

Palestinian National Initiative's (PNI) Secretary General Mustafa Barghouthi described the majority vote on Goldstone's report as "a victory to the Palestinians and to the families of the victims of Israeli war crimes in Gaza."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter acknowledged the sensitivity of the Goldstone report in Israel and encouraged Israel to handle it in a way that helps the negotiation for peace in the Middle East. Brown and Sarkozy urged Netanyahu to establish an independent and transparent investigation into all accusations made against Israel in relation to alleged war crimes in Gaza. They also urged him to improve humanitarian access to Gaza, and to implement a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

History indicates that until the Gaza War, Britain, France, and Germany did not deviate very much, if at all, from USA's stand regarding Israel, faithfully parroting whatever America dictated to them. The worldwide furor caused by the Gaza War, however, especially the use of white phosphorus on civilians in the Gaza, drastically changed the atmosphere. And now, instead of attentively listening to and focusing both of their eyes on America, countries such as Britain. France and Germany are now keeping one eye on America and the other eye on the world opinion, because America has lost much of its former clout on the world stage.

Encouraged by the vote, the two factions of the divided Palestinians, the Fatah and the Hamas, are now more likely than ever before to unite, so that they could best follow up on the Goldstone report, and face their next challenging task at the UN Security Council, and also at the UN General Assembly. To reconcile their differences and forge unity, representatives of Hamas and Fatah are scheduled to meet in Egypt, again, in a couple of weeks. And now, because of the developments at the UNHRC in Geneva, there is genuine hope that this time the parties will unite at last.

There are reports that if the UN Security Council votes to recommend sending the Goldstone Report to the International Criminal Court in Hague for adjudication, President Obama will instruct his UN Amgassador to veto the resolution. Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has reported that Mirit Cohen, the spokeswoman for the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, has said that the Israeli ambassador was assured by the Obama administration that it would veto in the Security Council any resolution that could be harmful to Israel. Which raises an interesting and pertinent question: What happened to the promise President Obama made to the world from Egypt that he would provide a level playing field to the Palestinians in the peace negotiations, and that he would be unbiased? If he vetoes the resolution in the Security Council, President Obama would be taking the first concrete step to "tarnish" his golden Nobel Peace Prize medal that he won less than a month ago.

All the pressure exerted on the world leaders by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and the dozens of calls and threats made to Palestinian President Abbas have failed to postpone or freeze the voting at the UNHRC in Geneva. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu wants to see the report end up in the ICC in Hague. And now that the Goldstone report has been endorsed by the UNHRC in Geneva, in Tel Aviv there is stunned silence and palpable fear in the air. Haaretz has reported that Netanyahu has suddenly decided to settle the settlements dispute he had been waging with Obama for months. There is no doubt that since the vote in UNHRC in Geneva, the political landscape in Israel has changed drastically. Could the change in physical landscape be far behind? For the Palestinians, the tide has turned at last.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Monday, October 5, 2009

Has President Abbas been bribed, bought, and blackmailed by the USA?

It has been quite apparent even to casual observers of the strange but predictable Middle East Peace Opera that in the last two years Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hasn't done much to help the long suffering Palestinians. Yes, he has whined and grunted and mumbled alot with international reporters, but hasn't done much else. His behavior in the last two months, however, has been so bizarre that it raises an interesting question: Has President Abbas been bribed, bought, and blackmailed by the USA to guarantee his submission to Israel's demands?

For nearly three months Abbas insisted that he will neither negotiate with the Israelis regarding the Road Map for Peace, nor meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in New York during the UN General Body meeting in September, until Israel halted all construction activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But he suddenly changed his mind, nevertheless, and stood meekly near President Obama and extended his hand to Netanyahu, even though Netanyahu approved the construction of nearly 3000 housing units in the occupied territories.

Then the world heard the news last week about Abbas' inexplicable and bizarre action regarding the Goldstone report on the Gaza War. He should have been happy to read the report's conclusion that Israel might be guilty of War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity during the war. Instead of asking the UN Human Rights Commission to review and vote on the report and take stern action against Israel, he actually asked the UN Human Rights Commission to delay reviewing the report.

The newspaper Haaretz in Israel reported: "Palestinian Sources told Haaretz that Abbas made the decision to delay the vote immediately after meeting with the Consul General last Thursday, without the knowledge of the PLO leadership or the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and without any consultation." Haaretz stated also that, "Palestinian officials say that there was "heavy and ongoing pressure" from the U.S., which warned that the adoption of the findings in the commission's report would stymie progress in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians."

Human rights organizations around the world, and also a lot of people concerned with the suffering of Palestinians were deeply shocked at Abbas' behavior. The Palestinian news agency Ma'an has reported that, "In the wake of the uproar, Abbas on Sunday ordered an internal investigation into why his own government ruled to delay the vote." It's quite strange that Abbas acted as if he himself did not know why he asked the UN agency to delay its review of the Goldstone Report.

At first glance his behavior might appear to be bizarre, but on close scrutiny it makes sense. Perhaps there is a good reason and a method to his madness, after all, if you consider this: In the USA it's an open secret that several Senators - both Republican and Democrat - who opposed the national Health Care reform have received huge amounts of cash from the Health Care Organizations and Pharmaceutical Industries. The money given is labeled as Campaign Financing, but in reality it's a form of bribe disguised as campaign contributions. The same process must be at work in the Ramallah offices of Mr. Abbas.

I do not have proof that Mr. Abbas has indeed been bribed, of course. I am only asking a question. But the next time you see Mr. Abbas in a photo or on the TV, if you imagine that you are seeing a studded black leather collar round his neck with a leash attached, his bizarre behavior in the last two months suddenly begins to make sense.

The time to pursue a peace built on a foundation of justice, human rights, and dignity of people and the rule of law has long been over due. In Justice Goldston's words, there is no peace without justice. The belief that accountability and the rule of law can be brushed aside in the pursuit of peace is deeply flawed and misguided. I am certain that President Obama is aware of this basic truth. And yet there have been reports that Secretary of State Clinton - with the consent of President Obama, of course - and the government of the UK, and Egypt's President Mubarak have put intense pressure on Abbas to withdraw Palestinian Authority's support of the UN Goldstone Report. President Obama's and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's role in this sad and tragic travesty of justice is unconscienable. Why whip and thrash the entire population of Gaza, a people already groaning in pain from the wounds of the Gaza war?

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Goldstone Report on the Gaza War has been released: What next?

The eagerly awaited UN report on the Gaza War has been released. Even though the conclusions reached by the commissioners and investigators of the UN were quite expected, the severity of the language, the harsh criticism of both Israel and Hamas, have astonished many, and shocked Israeli politicians. The Israelis are now desperately trying to control the damage the report has caused to Israel's image.
The report recommends that Israeli government, and also Hamas, should begin independent investigations of "serious violations" of international humanitarian and human rights laws, including evidence of war crimes, during the Gaza War.
In a column published in the New York Times dated Sept 17, 2009, Mr. Goldstone explained why he agreed to head the UN commission to investigate possible war crimes committed during the Gaza War by Israel and also the Hamas: "But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm." And he stated that: "In Gaza, hundreds of civilians died. They died from disproportionate attacks on legitimate targets and from attacks on hospitals and other civilian structures. They died from precision weapons like missiles from aerial drones as well as from heavy artillery. Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require."
Mr. Goldstone stated, "In these cases, Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law."
On Wednesday Sept 16, 2009, Israel asked a few senior members of the Obama administration to assist in curbing the international fallout from the Goldstone Commission report. Israel is not complying with President Obama's request to freeze the settlements on West Bank; but it is asking Obama to help it in minimizing the devastating consequences of the stern report. Israel is terribly worried that the matter might arrive at the International Criminal Court for adjudication. Netanyahu has asked Putin for help, and he has also asked some members of the 15-member UN Security Council for help in discrediting the report. It's very unlikely that Britain and France will intervene. But what President Obama will do remains unclear. Would he buckle under the pressure of the Jewish Lobby(AIPAC) and try to discredit the Goldstone Commission report?
Initial response from the Obama administration does not appear to be very promising, and it does not inspire confidence that President Obama would be impartial. In her first reaction to the findings by Goldstone on Tuesday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said: "We have long expressed our very serious concerns about the mandate given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining it....We view the mandate as one-sided and basically unbalanced." And she also objected to Goldstone's recommendations, including one for the 15-nation Security Council to investigate and refer the war crimes to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
It is prudent and wise to note what Mr. Goldstone has said: "Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state... Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during the fighting will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy."
There is an international movement to implement an economic boycott of Israel for its actions in the Gaza War. The release of the UN Goldstone report is likely to give momentum to the budding boycott movement.
Also, It's worth noting that European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has called for the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state by a certain deadline even if an agreement is not reached between Israel and the Palestinians. So finally, after all these years, a consensus is building around the world that the Palestinians deserve a nation of their own and that the UN must help the Palestinians to realize this goal.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Israel Isolated, Alone, and Shunned by the World Regarding its Settlements

Switzerland has become the latest nation that has asked Israel to stop all its settlement activities in the occupied territories. In a statement released on Thursday July 23, 2009, the Swiss Foreign Minisrty said, "Switzerland is deeply concerned about the destruction of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem near the old town and the planned eviction of Palestinian families." It also said that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories and under international humanitarian law Israel must protect the local civilian population, and that, "There is no military necessity that could justify the destruction of these houses or the eviction of Palestinian families. The Israeli settlement policy is not compatible with efforts to find a lasting global solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians."

On Tuesday July 21, 2009, both France and Russia asked Netanyahu to freeze settlement activities. Moscow said plans to build 20 apartments in Sheikh Jarrah should be abolished. "The settlement should be stopped immediately in line with the Roadmap," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. And Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that France summoned Israeli ambassador to demand halt to settlement construction in eastern part of Jerusalem. But in reply, Deputy FM Ayalon of Israel said, " Israel would continue to operate in accordance with its vital national interests. Our right to develop Jerusalem is irrefutable."

Also on Tuesday July 21, 2009, the European Union called on Israel to halt all construction in East Jerusalem, saying it obstructed the Middle East peace process.

The European Commission has criticized Israel's settlement policy. "Israel's settlement policy helps strangle the Palestinian economy and makes the Palestinian government more dependent on foreign aid. Expropriation of fertile land for Israeli settlements, roads that serve settlers only and West Bank checkpoints help constrain Palestinian economic growth and make the Palestinian government more dependent on aid."

The current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, Sweden, has urged Israel "to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolitions and evictions, as stated also by the Quartet 26 June, 2009. Such actions are illegal under international law."

At a meeting in the Italian city of Trieste last month, the Middle East Quartet - the EU, Russia, the USA and the UN - called on Israel to halt West Bank settlement expansion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration also urged Israel not to build more settlements, and warned that it risked political suicide if it continued to do so. Mr. Puprecht Polenz, the head of German Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Israel's aim of having secure borders would only be possible with a two state solution.

President Barack Obama, too, has asked Netanyahu repeatedly, and through his Middle East envoy Mr. George Mitchell, and also in person in Washington, to stop all settlement building activities.

But so far Netanyahu has resisted pressure successfully, and he hasn't budged. He has said clearly and bluntly that his government has no intention of recognizing international laws or opinions with respect to Israel's land-grab in the West Bank, which he calls "Judea and Samaria." "I wish to make this clear," he has said, "the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel."

The United Nations does not recognize the term "Judea and Samaria". People who refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria in political debate usually believe that these territories are part of Israel and should remain so.

On Thursday July 23, 2009, the Israeli government rejected France's demand to halt settlement expansion activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The settlements have been built in violation of the Fouth Geneva Convention, which says the occupying power is not allowed to transfer citizens from its own territory to the occupying territory.

It is now abundantly clear that there is a synchronized effort among the major nations of the world to put pressure on Israel to change its ways. Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the European Union, Russia, USA and the UN - all have asked Israel to freeze its settlements. India, which aspires to be a world class technology giant and economic super power, is strangely silent regarding Israel's settlements. I suppose Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is still thinking about how to respond and what to say. I wonder whether a cup of strong Darjeeling tea might help to wake him up.

But all this heat from all the corners of the world, I am sad to say, has generated no light. The peace tunnel is ominously dark and gloomy. Thousands of bombed-out Palestinians in Gaza are homeless and still living in tents.

Wahington has declared through its State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley, that it is not contemplating financial or economic pressure against Israel in response to Mr. Netanyahu's intransigence. I suppose tanks, and missiles and white phosphorus bombs and other military weapons will continue to flow into Israel, and billions of American dollars will continue to fill Israeli coffers. Which raises an interesting question: Would Netanyahu change his settlement policy secure with the knowledge that President Obama wouldn't use military and economic sanctions against Israel? And if Netanyahu need not pay a price for his short-sighted policy, why would he change it and antagonize the settlers?

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “My Donkey Has Three Legs.”

In the elementary school –Annie Besant School - I attended in Mangaluru, India, when I was in the fourth grade, we had a learned, kind, patient teacher who regaled us with stories to make or illustrate a point. Each of the stories he told had a seed of wisdom, a grain of truth, a moral value, a point to remember, and a lesson to learn. We would all listen to him in silence, our mouths half agape, in awe of his abundant wisdom and vast knowledge. Among the dozens of his stories that I still remember vividly even now, one story is relevant to Israel’s Netanyahu today. It’s titled, “My donkey has three legs”.

The story is short and simple: In a school in a small village, a teacher asked his first grade pupils, “How many legs does a donkey have?” A dozen tiny hands were raised by students very eager to answer the question. There was a consensus. They all agreed that a donkey has four legs, except for a boy named Krishna, who shouted that donkeys have only three legs. “Why do you say that donkeys have three legs?” asked the teacher, and showed Krishna a picture of a donkey. “Now tell me, how many legs does a donkey have?”
“Three,” said Krishna, “because, we have a donkey at home. It has three legs.”
The teacher turned away from Krishna, and said,“A sane, wise man must not argue with a stubborn, unreasonable man, a man who refuses to see.”

To resolve the long simmering conflict between Israel and Palestine, President Obama asked Netanyahu to dismantle all illegal outposts and freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu responded, saying that Israel will not freeze the settlements, and that, instead, it would build 1450 more houses in the Adam settlement. President Obama asked Netanyahu again to freeze the settlements. Netanyahu responded by announcing that his government has decided to allow construction of 20 settler residences at the site known to the Palestinians as Karm al-Mufti (Vineyard of the Mufti) in East Jerusalem. In his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu had pledged that his government will not be confiscating privately-owned Palestinian land anymore. But he has changed his mind again. His administration is considering confiscating privately-owned Palestinian land near the West Bank settlement of Ofra, to build a new sewage treatment plant for the residents. This announcement was made by the state prosecutor, in response to a High Court petition filed by a resident of the West Bank town Ein Yabrud and the human rights association Yesh Din.

When confronted by such obstinacy, what can President Obama do? The answer is quite simple. Cut off the almost unending flow of US tax-payer dollars into the Israeli coffers (about 3.9 billion dollars per year in economic and military aid). He will see instantaneous results, and he will even hear a change in Netanyahu’s pitch and tone. It’s time to stop the unending haggling over the settlements with the intransigent Israeli government. Mr. George Mitchell need not fly all over the world pretending to negotiate to bring peace to ME. Why waste valuable jet fuel?

Instead of wasting time negotiating with unreasonable politicians, President Obama should announce that his administration has recognized the State of Palestine as bounded by the internationally recognized 1966 (pre-1967) borders, and ask the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution recognizing the state of Palestine also. This is essentially what Mr. Javier Solana, EU High Representative and the current EU president, has suggested that President Obama should do. The old roadmap for peace died on the day Netanyahu became Israel’s Prime Minister. I believe that now Solana’s suggestion is the only road that will lead to peace in the Middle East.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Israeli Settlements: The Red Button That Could Detonate and Destroy the Peace Process

Have you seen the map lately of the West Bank and its adjacent areas – the land on which the people of Palestine are expected to establish their nation? I did, and it looked like an odd shaped, badly cut slice of a Birthday cake that has been gnawed surreptitiously not by mice, but by rats. To some it might even look like a slice of Swiss cheese with giant holes carved out to create the ever-expanding and illegal Israeli settlements and outposts.

President Obama, to his credit, has been clear and unequivocal regarding his stance on these settlements: that they are against the International laws, and UN resolutions, and that they are an obstacle for peace in the region. These outposts and settlements do not conform to, nor comply with, the Roadmap for Peace, he has stated. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, has been unequivocal regarding these settlements. She has said curtly, “We want to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions… That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” Mr. George Mitchell, President Obama’s Middle East envoy, meets mostly behind closed doors with Israeli leaders, only to emerge to shake hand with them and pose for the press photographers with a bright smile on his face, as if every thing is hunky-dory.

It’s obvious that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration loves Palestinian ancestral lands a lot more than it is willing to grant justice for Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has been adamant from the very beginning regarding the construction of more housing in the settlements. “We will not freeze the settlements,” has been his mantra. But the intense pressure he has been feeling, even from Israel’s traditional allies - Britain, France, Canada and Australia - and the universal criticism he has been facing, regarding the settlements and the encroachment of Palestinian ancestral lands, have had an impact on him, and his feet seem to be buckling a bit, and he has revised and modified his mantra to “I will agree to a temporary freeze for three to six months.” But the question remains: What will happen at the end of six months? I am astonished that few major magazines and newspapers have asked this pertinent question. Will the construction of houses in the West Bank and the demolition of houses belonging to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue after the three month freeze expires? Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak had approved very recently the construction of 50 new houses as part of a cluster of 1450 houses soon to be built in the Adam settlement; but this fact was leaked to the press only after Mr. Barak returned to Israel after meeting with President Obama in Washington. When Mr. Barak was in Washington, he was silent regarding these fifty houses he had approved.

Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Ehud Barak have been using euphemisms and code words and fancy terminology to describe the actual and also the anticipated settlement activities: “accommodating natural growth”, “vertical growth, building vertically, adding more floors”, and “building next to or near the existing houses, but within the boundary of the established settlements”; but the boundaries of the settlements haven’t been clearly established, and they are always subject to interpretations and change. Also, illegal and unauthorized outposts which were dismantled by the military, under court orders, magically reappear within days after being dismantled.

The central fact regarding the settlements is indisputable. As a group, the settlements are akin to a glaring red button which, when pressed, could detonate and demolish the entire peace process. It’s beyond dispute that for peace to sprout, the settlements must be frozen; and for peace to endure, the settlements must remain dormant. In the last eight years of the Bush administration, seeing an unwavering friend in the White House, the Israelis went on a settlement building spree, with the aid of billions of dollars that the US happily gave; and they have been brazenly waltzing and tap-dancing around this red button. But the old band is gone now, and a new band is now playing an alien and unaccustomed tune, with a distinct Saudi Arabian lilt, which the Israelis have already felt as grating upon their pampered ears. But sooner or later, the new band, too, shall stop playing the startling and Middle-Eastern sounding music, and the settlement expansion party will be over. All parties do inevitably end. And when the music stops and the dancing ends it’s time that the dancers look in the huge mirror on the wall and ask the question, “Do we really want peace?”
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Israel-Palestine Conflict: A New Peace Proposal From Yesh Prabhu

The negotiation for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict now being conducted by the Obama administration has encountered its first major obstacle: Israel's determination to continue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. After returning to Israel from Washington, Mr. Netanyahu announced that he will not freeze the building of settlements in the occupied territories. And today, two senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that Israel would continue to build more settlements.

Forty years of negotiation for peace has ended in the devastation of the Gaza War. Relying only on negotiations to achieve peace is not likely to succeed. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton tried their best to resolve the conflict through elaborate negotiations. I believe that there is a much better way to achieve peace in the Middle East. It involves only three simple steps:

1. President Obama should declare that his administration recognizes Palestine bounded by the 1966 (pre-1967) border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

2. President Obama should ask both the United Nations Security Council and the UN General Assembly to vote for the creation of Palestine and declare that the UN recognizes Palestine bounded by the 1966 border. The UN should ask all occupying foreign powers to vacate Palestine. The Israelis who wish to continue to live in Palestine must apply for permission from the Palestinian government to live there as immigrants. After five years the Israeli settlers could become eligible for Palestinian citizenship just as immigrants to the US become eligible for American citizenship after five years’ residency.

3. The UN should ask Israel to relocate the wall Israel has built encroaching Palestinian ancestral land to its internationally recognized borders (1966 or Pre-1967).

Other nations from around the world can start recognizing Palestine, and send their ambassadors to East Jerusalem. Let the US be the first nation to recognize the free and independent Palestine.

I know that there are ten thousand and one suggestions and peace plans for the Middle East on the Internet from various organizations and columnists and politicians for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. I know also that the chance of President Obama’s reading about my “Peace Plan” is infinitesimally small. But who can predict? Lightning does strike occasionally, when least expected.

I hope that President Obama will succeed in his efforts to resolve the conflict. Peace in that region is desperately needed. King Abdullah of Jordan has predicted that if Israelis and Palestinians do not sign a peace treaty soon, a major war will erupt in the region in 12 to 18 months. And President Obama seems to concur with that statement.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Thursday, May 21, 2009

For Israel, the Bitter Fruits Of the Gaza War: Mr. David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary, Calls for the creation of Palestine now.

When the Israelis planned the Gaza War with the approval of the USA and connivance of Egypt, they hoped that all the death and destruction and the horror of the war the Palestinians will soon endure will compel the Palestinians to blame their suffering on the Hamas, and so boot the Hamas away. And the Israelis also hoped that even if they did not eradicate the Hamas completely, at least they will render it much weaker. But they accomplished quite the opposite: the Hamas emerged stronger than ever.

The Iraq War, too, has had startling and unexpected effects on people and nations around the world. The bombs dropped on the sleeping civilians in Baghdad during the “Shock and Awe” war destroyed Iraq’s bridges, power plants, military buildings and its infra-structure, of course; but like a boomerang, the war has come back to haunt the US, and it has sullied its reputation. Even the UK, a secondary participant in this war, has felt the war’s devastating effect. The Iraq War has sullied its reputation also, which prompted Mr. David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, to declare that, “It is well to be clear about how Britain is viewed as a consequence of its decision to back George Bush.” And he said that it reinforces a prejudiced view created by British history.

The Gaza War was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Mr. Miliband was utterly shocked at what he saw in Gaza. The scale of the destruction wreaked by the Israelis has truly horrified him. UK’s strong support for Israel, almost as unwavering as US’s support for Israel was until very recently, is now gone. Using clear, succinct words, Mr. Miliband has called for the creation of a Palestinian state without further delay: “Urgent action on progress towards a two-state solution is needed to prevent a fatal and final blow to the scope for compromise,” Mr. Miliband has said. “It requires the new Israeli Government to freeze settlements and accept a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.”

In the United States, President Obama, too, has called for the creation of a Palestinian state, bounded by the internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, without delay.

If the support for Israel is dwindling around the world, it’s the result of the Gaza War. In Spain, the Netherlands and the UK, support for Israel is at an all time low. The UN Human Rights Council’s investigation of the War Crimes perpetrated in Gaza - the investigation team headed by Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa - is progressing. Who would have guessed, only a year ago, that the UK and the US governments would be so critical of Israel’s actions? This is not what the Israelis had hoped to accomplish. Israel is seeing now the astonishing and bitter fruits of the Gaza War. Isn’t it true that you reap what you sow?
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A step in the right direction: The UN team headed by Judge Richard Goldstone is preparing to visit Gaza to investigate alleged war crimes

The UN team headed by Judge Richard Goldstone is preparing to visit Gaza to investigate alleged war crimes of Israel Defense Forces troops and Hamas during the Gaza War (December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009). In a resolution adopted in January, the Human Rights Council gave the UN inquiry team a mandate to investigate the war crimes, as people around the world demanded that the alleged war crimes must be investigated. Several human rights organizations from around the world, including some from Israel, and many prominent people – including several Nobel Peace Prize laureates such as Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984), President Jimmy Carter (2002), and Mairead Maguire (1976) had called for an investigation.

Of particular concern is Israel’s use of white phosphorus bombs on civilians in densely populated areas of Gaza; the use of phosphorus bombs in densely populated areas is forbidden under War Laws.

Judge Richard Goldstone’s team includes Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, and retired Irish colonel Desmond Travers, and British international law professor Christine Chinkin. The team held its first closed-door meetings in Geneva this week. Israel has said that it will not cooperate with the United Nations inquiry.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, and Reuters reported on May 09, 09 that Ms. Navi Pillay , the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that of special concern was an incident in which IDF bombed a house in Gaza, killing 30 Palestinian civilians.

This incident has been extensively covered by several newspapers, and the BBC and Aljazeera TV. Four days after the house was bombed, the International Red Cross found several toddlers lying amidst their dead mothers and several decaying corpses; the toddlers were hungry and starving, and too weak to walk because they were without food and water. The Israelis had prevented the rescue workers from entering the house to give the surviving children aid, and this, understandably, lead to demand from people shocked and horrified by the incident that such acts must be investigated to determine whether they constitute war crimes.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Friday, May 1, 2009

A lit candle for peace, on this gloomy day

This morning at dawn, the sky which is normally pale blue here in Plainsboro, was cloudy, dark and gloomy. But I did not mind the gloomy sky; in fact I welcomed the clouds with a joyous heart, because dark clouds carry in them the seeds of rain, and often shower us with the precious gift of water so essential for life on earth.

With a cup of coffee in hand, when I accessed one of my favorite websites: www.counterpunch.org, I was thrilled to see a letter written by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, to President Obama. It was an open letter to President Obama. I was thrilled because, in it she has written about the plight of the Palestinians using words and phrases that I so often use, and she has made the points that I have so often made. President Jimmy Carter, too, has written extensively about the plight of the Palestinians and Israel’s apartheid. Mairead Maguire has written quite eloquently and elegantly also, without using the “beaurocratese” that politicians so often use. Reading her letter was like seeing a candle lit on a windowsill on a gloomy day. I thought readers of this blog site might wish to read her letter.

Here is the letter that she wrote:

An Open Letter to Barack Obama from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire
Stand Up to Israeli Apartheid

I found your book ‘Dreams from my Father’ a moving and inspiring story of your own struggle to find your identity and purpose in life. You found it for sure, and today carry the hopes and dreams of so many people in our world. We pray for you and your family. We wish you all good health and happiness. You carry so much responsibility. We hope you will change the policies of USA (both domestic and Foreign) to people centred policies, based on the values and ethics which you try to live out in your life.

Reading your book I was inspired by your involvement (during Sophomore year at University) in the South African anti-apartheid Divestment campaign. Your own words - ‘I found myself drawn into a larger role – contacting representatives of the African National Congress to speak on campus, drafting strategy, I noticed that people had begun to listen to my opinions.’, encouraged me to share with you the following opinions, and experiences, of many of the people I met during my most recent visit to Palestine/Israel.

Earlier this month, I attended the 4th Bil’in International Conference on Popular Nonviolent Resistance held in Bil’in, near Ramallah, in the Israeli occupied Terrority of Palestine. Here, all the Palestinian people are asking of you, President Obama, is to listen to their opinions and use your position to help end the racist, apartheid policies of Israel, which continue to cause so much pain and suffering to them. Each week, for the past four years, the villagers (after prayers in the Mosque) walk to the Wall which has annexed much of their land, and cuts them off from their farms and olive groves, and their ability to make a living for their families. As you know, under International Law the Apartheid wall is illegal but Israel continues to ignore International Laws (and some 62 UN resolutions) and annex more land from the Palestinians, all the while demolishing Palestinian homes, building illegal settlements both in East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, and laying Siege to the Gaza strip (l and a half million people), thus breaking the Geneva Conventions and committing crimes against humanity.

To visit Palestine is to walk with a people whose lives are being made unbearable by Israeli Policies of ethnic cleansing. Each year when I visit I ask myself ‘how can the Palestinians bear so much suffering and still have hope?’ The Philosopher Karl Jung says ‘Go into your grief for there your soul will grow’. Being privileged to walk alongside the Palestinian people, one sees so much soul. Many are materially poor having been made refugees and often pauperised by Israeli occupation and siege, but their dignity, courage, and persistent resistance to injustice is awesome to witness. It reminds me of the magnificence of the human spirit and, I feel humbled to be welcomed as a friend of the people of Bilin, Ramallah, Gaza, and Palestine. I wish that you President Obama would go and walk with them as you walked in spirit with the people of South Africa in their great and inspirational anti-apartheid movement.

Walking every week in the peaceful protest to the Apartheid wall, are Israeli activists and Internationals. It takes great courage to come from Israel to the occupied terrorities and oppose your own Government’s Policies and I pay tribute to the Israeli peace activists who continue to do so, often at the cost of punishment by the Israeli Government. Yet, they come, and here is the hope that not all Israelis support their Government’s racist and apartheid policies of siege, occupation and militarization of both Israel and Palestinian villages and towns. I also pay tribute to the Internationals who put their lives daily on the line to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Last month in the Village of Nilin, one young man from your own country of America, Tristan Anderson, was targeted by Israeli soldiers, and hit in the head with a gas canister. He is currently in intensive care, and we all hope he will recover.

At the Bilin Conference an Israeli asked me ‘how can we touch the hearts of the Israeli people’ so they can change their Government’s policies?’ I believe there is so much fear amongst the Israeli’s of ethnic annialiation but this fear can be dissolved by the politics of the heart. Israel should not be afraid of the Palestinians or Arab world. They are not the enemy and this can be borne witness to by the Israelis who come to stay in this village and who are taken care of, with such love, by the Bilin villagers. The Israeli people must make friends with the Palestinians and indeed the whole Arab world, and take seriously the peace agreement offered by the Arab countries. There will never be a military or armed struggle solution to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, as it is a political problem with a political solution. What is lacking is a real political will, on behalf of the Israeli Government, to enter seriously into all inclusive unconditional talks.
During the peaceful protest to the wall, we were assaulted by the Israeli soldiers with teargas, and rubber bullets. Many of us were overcome with the teargas and others seriously hurt with steel tipped rubber bullets. On 17th April, 2009, at this wall, one of the protesters, Bassem Abu-Rahma, was hit in the chest with a teargas metal container and killed. He was a young man from the village much loved by all and his death caused great pain and anger particularly amongst his peer group. I marvelled at the skill of the Village Leaders and Muslim women, who kept reminding the young men that they must keep their protest peaceful, but the atmosphere felt like a pressure cooker with the lid about to blow. How much longer must this injustice to Palestinian people be allowed to continue unchallenged by your administration? If you do not insist upon Israel Upholding its International responsibility immediately, this anger will grow and the daily humiliation of Palestine, by Israeli injustice and soldiers will push more people towards retaliatory violence. (As one of our great Irish poets W.B. Yeats wrote ‘too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart’).

I appeal to you President Obama, to change USA Policies and stop supporting through military aid, etc, Israelis occupation of Palestine, and to move immediately to help lift the siege of Gaza and say to Israel ‘enough is enough’.

In the meantime I support the Bilin committee’s strategy of BDS in an attempt to get their freedom and rights. You, as a supporter and activist for South Africa’s BDS campaign know it succeeded in ending Apartheid as Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Tutu often reminds us. Such a strategy can work for Palestine too. Some South Africans Anti Apartheid leaders when visiting Israel have said it is much worse than the days of Apartheid in their country. However, I believe President Obama, you can do so much more than those of us who support the BDS campaign. You can bring your experience in your own struggle for peace and freedom to help solve this problem.

Love and hope gives us all courage and belief that peace and freedom is possible.
God bless you and your family.

Mairead Maguire won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finally, some action against the perpetrators of the Gaza War: Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak charged with War Crimes.

On Wednesday April 22, 2009, a group of six Norwegian lawyers petitioned Norway’s Chief Prosecutor to charge Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and former Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and seven senior Israeli army officers with War Crimes, for having committed “massive terrorist attacks” in the Gaza strip during the Gaza War. The lawyers have also asked for the arrest and extradition to Norway, of the 10 accused.

The lawyers, lead by Kjell Brygfjeld and Harald Stabell, have charged the Israelis of the crimes of “killing civilians, illegally using weapons against civilian targets and deliberately attacking hospitals and medical staff.”

Norway's public prosecutors said they would study the complaint filed by the lawyers accusing Israeli leaders of war crimes over Israel’s assault on Gaza.

The lawyers filed the complaint using a recently passed law, under which foreigners can be charged in Norway with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, even if the alleged acts were carried out elsewhere.

Siri Frigaard, chief prosecutor at Norway's National Authority for Prosecution of Organized and Other Serious Crimes said, “We received the complaint today. We will follow normal procedure, which means we will look through the complaint to determine whether or not to send it to the police to carry out a formal investigation.”More than 1400 Palestinians were killed, and at least 5300 Palestinians were wounded by Israel’s military in Gaza in the war. There is incontrovertible evidence that Israel used phosphorus bombs on civilians. Under the laws of war, it is a crime to use white phosphorus bombs in densely populated areas. Several Palestinian children burned to death by phosphorus bombs in the assault on civilians by the IDF (Israel’s Defence Forces).

Some twenty Palestinian families living in Norway have lost either loved ones or property in Gaza, lawyer Kjell Brygfjeld said.

Under Norwegian Penal Codes, Norwegian courts may hear cases involving war crimes and other major violations of human rights. Countries such as Spain also permit their prosecutors to charge foreign leaders with war crimes.

A few weeks ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council began investigating allegations of human rights violations by both Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza War. The investigation is lead by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, an eminent jurist of unquestionable integrity.

A few other countries are also expected to follow Norway’s lead and charge the 10 Israeli Political and military leaders in the near future.

It is high time that the people who planned and perpetrated the assault on the Gaza civilians are held accountable for their nefarious deeds.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The rapidly vanishing world-wide sympathy for Israel: The tide is turning

The unthinkable has happened, at last. What was unthinkable only four months ago, is now a universally acknowledged fact. Within a week after Israel ended the war in Gaza, it noticed that behind the fortress like wall that it built on the Palestinian ancestral land, which it had encroached, it was now standing alone without its coterie of friends – European leaders and national heads of many governments around the world.

The Gaza War – code named Operation Cast Lead – has backfired. World leaders such as Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, et al, who, before the Gaza War, routinely sang in chorus praises of the “lone democracy in the Middle East”, were now suddenly critical of Israel’s assault on the Palestinians. They boldly said that several of IDF’s (Israel’s Defense Forces’) actions amounted to war crimes and they demanded that IDF’s use of phosphorus bombs on Palestinians, and eye witness accounts of the shooting of unarmed, white flag-waving women and children, the bombing of schools, and the burning of UN warehouses, and attacks on police stations and hospitals must be thoroughly investigated by the United Nations.

If the effect of the Gaza war on the Palestinians has been tragic, its effect on Israel’s image abroad has been devastating. Many of Israel’s ardent defenders around the world were shell shocked at the wanton killing of Palestinian women and children, and the destruction of Palestinians’ properties. In the live coverage of the war on Aljazeera, the world witnessed the horrors inflicted on the unarmed civilians. And the heart rending images people saw on the BBC have prompted many world leaders to condemn IDF’s atrocities.

And now Israel stands almost alone.

The Gaza War did not accomplish any of Israel’s stated goals; but it did accomplish a startling, completely unexpected thing: it gave a devastating blow to Israel’s image in the world as a moral, civil society. The war has left Israel’s image totally tarnished for ever.

In response to the calls from Amnesty International and many world leaders, leaders such as Nobel Laureates President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, former President of Ireland Ms. Mary Robinson, US Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Mr. Ralph Zacklin of United Kingdom (United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs (1998-2005), and dozens of other eminent people, the United Nations has finally set up an enquiry into alleged abuses of International Laws by Israel in Gaza, and has appointed Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa, an eminent jurist and a man of unquestionable integrity, to head the investigation.

Several human rights organizations in Israel, organizations such as B’Tselem, have been gathering evidence of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

This is indeed a major development regarding the unending Israel-Palestine conflict. The pro-Israel tide has turned. The result of the UN investigation will have major consequences not only for Israel but also for its ally, the USA.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

President Obama addresses the Muslim world from Turkey

From the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, President Obama spoke to the Muslim world about his determination to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and to bring peace to the entire Middle East region.

President Obama said that his administration would seek the creation of Palestinian state, pointedly stressing that Israel and the Palestinians agreed on that goal under the Saudi sponsored peace plan, which has been endorsed by the US. “Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” He said. “That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of good will around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.”

With pressure building on Mr. Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, from Mr. Gordon Brown of the UK, and Mr. Nicholas Sarkozy of France, and Mr. Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic, the current President of the European Union, to accept the “Two States Solution” at the center of the Saudi sponsored peace proposal, and now even more pressure from President Obama himself speaking from Ankora, Mr. Netanyahu quickly issued a brief statement: “Israel appreciates President Obama's commitment to Israel's security and to the pursuit of peace,” declared Mr. Netanyahu. “The government of Israel is committed to both of these goals and will formulate its policies in the near future so as to work closely with the United States.”

President Obama also addressed the perception of Muslims around the world that the US government is pursuing an as yet undeclared war against Islam. “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” he said, to huge applause.

Turkey is a secular Muslim democracy. “The United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union,” President Obama said. “We speak not as members of the E.U., but as close friends of Turkey and Europe.”

With this important address in Ankara, I hope President Obama has signaled his administration’s decision to implement an even handed, a more balanced, approach for resolving the unending Israel-Palestine conflict. And I also hope that his declarations in Ankara signal the dawn of a new chapter, a bright new beginning, for his administration as an unbiased and sincere arbiter for real peace in the Middle East.

The world will soon find out how sincere President Obama is in resolving the conflict. Mr. George Mitchell, US special envoy to Middle East, is due to arrive in Israel again, on April 13. After meeting with Mr. Netanyahu what he will say would be very instructive. Will he describe the Israeli settlements merely as “unhelpful”, the way Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton remarked about the settlements? Will he courageously and emphatically state that those settlements contravene International Laws, and so they must be dismantled?

Mr. Obama seems to regain his clear voice when he lands on foreign shores. But when he is in Washington, every phrase he utters regarding Israel seems to be carefully calibrated so as not to grate upon the Jewish Lobby’s (AIPAC’s) ears. Even his silence on certain topics, for example, his refusal to criticize Israel’s use of white phosphorus bombs on Palestinian civilians, and other equally atrocious actions of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) during the Gaza War, and also his refusal at his first news conference at the White House to name Israel as the only state in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons, is deliberate and intentional, so as not to offend Israeli sensibilities.

Let us wait and see whether there will be real change in the US policy regarding the Palestinians.

Let there be peace on earth.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The thrill of reading the very first reader's comment

When I checked my e-mail today, I was surprised and very happy, to read a brief but pleasant comment about my Blog. A lady named Tara Marinello wrote:

I came across your blog at Blogger.com. It is very well written and interesting. I like how you have explored the topic.

Positive and encouraging comments and feedbacks such as this will inspire me to write more columns, and help me to write even better columns in the future. Readers’ comments are always welcome. Even negative comments and criticisms I shall read carefully.
My thanks to Ms. Tara Marinello.

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ
April 2, 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A ray of hope for peace in the Middle East

On Thursday, March 26, 2009, I read in the New York Times a column titled, “The Fierce Urgency of Peace”, by Mr. Roger Cohen. It was well written, gripping, and highly readable. I was quite impressed. I thought it was quite courageous of him to have written that column, knowing as he does what could happen if he provokes the ire of the Jewish Lobby (AIPAC). We know how Charles Freeman was forced to withdraw only 18 days ago, on March 11, as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; the position was offered to him by Denis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence. AIPAC did not like Charles Freeman, thought he was anti-Israel, and so started a vile campaign against him, vilifying him.

In this column Mr. Cohen informed the readers that 10 prominent Americans had written a letter to President Obama urging him to have a more balanced policy regarding the Palestinians and the Hamas, and to discard George Bush’s policy based on the belief that “Israel can do no wrong”. The ten prominent Americans who signed the letter were: Paul Volcker, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering.

I was so impressed with the column that I was inspired to submit a comment to the New York Times. Of course, the NYT refused to publish it. NYT is not pleased when a reader criticizes Israel too severely. Fortunately for me, I have this Blog where I can publish my comments without worrying about an editor of the NYT censoring it. Here is the comment that I sent them :

For the first time in over ten years, I saw a few rays of hope regarding peace in the Middle East when I read this column. Reading this column really cheered me up.

I disagree with you only on a minor issue: To meet with the ten signatories of the letter, President Obama need not wait until a new cabinet in Israel takes over. Instead, he should meet with them as soon as possible, say, within the next few days, because time is of the essence. With more settlements appearing in the West Bank with the passage of time, the entire area now looks like a gigantic slice of Swiss cheese with large areas fenced and carved out of Palestinians' ancestral land to create illegal settlements for Israeli settlers. The chance to implement the two-state solution is drastically reduced with the creation and establishment of each new settlement.

Until now Israel's strategy has been to talk endlessly about their desire for peace, while building more residences in haste in the West Bank to transform the landscape. At this rate, very soon, the two-state solution will vanish and, in its place the one-state solution will take root. Is this what Israel is striving for?

Judging from what President Obama has said and done so far regarding the plight of the Palestinians, I did not have much hope of witnessing a Middle East blessed with peace. Secretary of State Clinton has described the creation of new settlements in the West Bank as "not helpful", and in violation of the road map for peace. She could have expressed her unhappiness using much stronger words. It's quite likely that she used those words deliberately, and only after consulting with President Obama.

Too many people died in Gaza during the war. The killing of people and the destruction of residences and infra-structure must stop. President Obama must object to the bulldozing of Israeli Arabs' houses in East Jerusalem. Israel has bulldozed two houses, and it has announced that 80 more houses will be destroyed to make room for a new settlement near East Jerusalem. President Obama must put a stop to this. He must also adopt a more balanced policy towards the Palestinians, and take the role of a genuine arbiter for peace, and act now to bring peace to the entire Middle East.

— Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Primary Requirement for Peace in the Middle East

The primary requirement for peace in the Middle East and the creation and establishment of Palestine is that the two major factions of Palestinians, the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), unite and speak with one voice. The Israelis have succeeded in occupying Palestine and controlling the Palestinians because they have learnt, from the British, I suppose, that the principle “Divide and Rule” always succeeds. Isn’t it true that the saying “United we stand, divided we fall”, is true to this day? The British were able to rule India from 1858 to 1947, a country twenty-five times the area of England and fourteen times the area of the entire Great Britain, by meticulously adhering to the rule: Divide and Rule.

Hamas considers the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for valid and justifiable reasons, a stooge of the Israeli government and a puppet of the American government. Hamas does not trust Abbas; their distrust of Abbas is based on his own record and behavior: Abbas’ muted complaints against the ever expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and Israel’s astonishingly large number of check-points and guarded gates in the tiny area, and his half-hearted protests against the frequent searches, seizures, and arrests of Palestinians at will, with tacit approval of the US, and dozens of such grievances and sore points. In short, the Hamas believes that Mahmoud Abbas has sold the Palestinians’ rights and interests to the governments of Israel and the USA for political gain and to remain in power.

Hamas feels aggrieved too, because it considers itself as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, since it won the majority in the Palestinian general elections of 2006. But the United States, with help and connivance from its European allies, has branded Hamas as a terrorist organization, and has so far steadfastly refused to negotiate with it.

It is imperative that the two factions of the Palestinians bury their differences and unite and speak with one voice. If the Palestinians unite, then neither Israel nor the US will succeed in sweeping away as with a broom the dignity and rights of the Palestinians, the way they have so brilliantly succeeded until now.

But there are signs for hope. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has recently said that to bring peace to the Middle East, his government has scrapped its boycott of Hizballah, and would hold talks with the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite movement. Can the recognition of Hamas be far behind? That certainly will be his next step.

I am addressing this question directly to the Palestinians: Why don’t you unite and speak with one voice? If you wish to see the creation of Palestine, you have no choice but to unite. Put aside your differences. Also, renounce violence, because violence begets only more violence. If you unite and renounce violence, the decent people of the world will support you. And history will be on your side, too. India achieved its freedom from the British by uniting and speaking with one voice, under the leadership and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi. He was committed, of course, to non-violence. It’s an excellent idea for you to emulate India and adhere to the principle of non-violence in your fight for freedom from Israel’s brutal occupation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A sane voice for peace in the Middle East

On December 28, 2008, as I watched first on the BBC, and later on the Aljazeera channel the IDF's(Israel's Defence Force's) assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza, I was shocked and deeply traumatized. As the missiles flew from the Israeli jets and the bombs dropped, buildings crumbled. Houses, mosques, schools, and police stations turned into rubble and ruins. Even hospitals were not spared. Chunks of concrete and bricks, and pulverized roofs and walls of Palestinians' homes flew up in the air. Thick clouds of dust rose up in the air also, and a strange, white, mist-like haze pervaded and lingered in the air. Only about a week later did I learn that the strange, white, mist-like haze was caused by burning phosphorus; the Israelis had dropped white phosphorus bombs on the densely populated areas of Gaza.

As the haze slowly cleared, I saw screaming and terrified people running helter-skelter, and away from the explosions, only to encounter more explosions in front of them. I was horrified and I felt numb from shock. Women clutching infants and dragging toddlers befind them, screaming children trying to follow their mothers and grand mothers, and wounded, bleeding people desperately trying to run for their lives.

"This is not right," I said to myself, shaking my head.
"This is terribly wrong. And unjust, and immoral," a voice within me - my conscience - said. I felt as if I were witnessing a hunter shooting a fenced-in animal, an animal that could not escape. The Palestinians had no safe place to escape to.

But this was only the beginning. The worse was yet to come. And it came when I saw more than a dozen tiny, neatly wrapped bundles, the dead infants wrapped in tiny white shrouds and displayed in a morgue for all to see. The infants had been killed by the IDF in its bombing raids. And when I saw the tiny bundles meticulously laid down in a line, it broke my heart. Some of the bundles were stained with blood that oozed from the infants' war-inflicted wounds. And then I heard on the BBC that some of the children were burnt alive by phosphorus bombs. When phosphorus comes in contact with skin, it burns through skin and flesh, and down to the bones. Death by burning phosphorus is a most painful and agonizing experience. Eye witnesses have described the children screaming as they burnt in sight of their parents.

How could our government allow this war to proceed? I wondered. And when I read in the news papers that Mr. Obama had chosen to remain silent about Israeli's assault on the Palestinians because he felt that we have only one President at a time, and it wouldn't be proper for him to comment on the situation. I felt very sad and also a deep sense of revulsion at what I had seen on the TV. The biased and extremely pro-Israel coverage of the Gaza War on all major TV channels, and radio stations, and even in newspapers such as The New York Times, added to my sense of gloom.

My deep gloom lasted for over ten weeks. And then today, finally, I decided that instead of just wallowing myself in sorrow at the 1417 Palestinians senselessly killed, more than 15,000 senselessly wounded, and 20,000 rendered homeless, and 14,000 homes destroyed, I should work for peace, and ask for fairness and justice for the brutalized Palestinians, who feel oppressed under Israeli occupation of their ancestral lands for over forty years. People - both the Israelis and the Palestinians - deserve to live in peace. A three thousand years old Hindu prayer in Sanskrit, a simple prayer of great beauty is: Sarve' Janaah sukhino bhavantu! Which means: Let all people around the world live happily! How I wish a man of stature and principles, a man like Mahatma Gandhi, who was the embodiment of non-violence, were born in the Middle East to bring peace to the region!. Instead of Mahatma Gandhi, we have had the likes of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, and now we have Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and the ultra-right wing party leader, Avigdor Lieberman.

Over the last ten or more years, I have thought long and hard about how to bring peace to the Middle East. I know and I admit that because I am neither an influential columnist nor a well-known editorial writer at a major magazine or newspaper, what I write in this blog will barely cause a ripple, much less a deep introspection and change of heart regarding the plight of the Palestinians. Nevertheless, I intend to express my thoughts clearly, precisely and freely. I am not running for any public office, nor am I beholden to AIPAC, the Jewish Lobby; so, unlike most US politicians and some commentators and columnists, I can afford to say clearly what I think, and mean what I say.

To those who wish to know who I am, I have this to say: I am a chemist by profession, and a writer by choice. For over thirty years I have worked at two major pharmaceutical companies and one biomedical devices manufacturer, here in NJ, in their analytical labs and also in their Regulatory Affairs departments. My novel titled "The Beach Tree" was published in March 2004 by Author House. I am now working on my second novel. V. S. Naipaul, Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen, J. D. Salinger, Arundhati Roy, and Rudyard Kipling are my favorite authors. I am an avid gardener, and grow orchids on my window sills to remind me that miracles bloom even on slender twigs. And at night I meditate for peace of mind. I have been a life-long vegetarian because I was born in a Hindu vegetarian family. I am totally non-violent; I do not harm, much less kill, even ants, flies, spiders and insects. Like Mahatma Gandhi, I am committed to the principle of Ahimsa(non-violence).

Your comments regarding my posts are welcome.