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I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

Month

May 2011

Israeli Geography 101

[youtube http://youtu.be/kclUjTG4rIk?]

25 children among the dead in Syrian uprising, some tortured, opposition group says

( Alastair Grant / Associated Press ) – Demonstrators calling for a free Syria protest outside Buckingham Place as U.S.President Barack Obama who is on a State visit to Britain is staying inside the palace in London, Tuesday, May, 24, 2011.

By Associated Press, Published: May 25

BEIRUT — More than 25 children, some of them tortured, are among the victims of the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on an uprising that has killed more than 1,000 people over the past two months, an opposition group said Wednesday.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria, which helps organize the protests against President Bashar Assad, identified the children and the circumstances of their death. Syria has blocked media access in the country, making it impossible to verify the reports independently.

source

Some of the children died “under severe torture,” the group’s statement said.

The children ranged in age from 5 and 17. Many appeared to have been killed in crossfire, such as Mahmood Alkadree, 12, who was struck by four bullets when he went out to buy bread for his family in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the statement said.

The body of 15-year-old Ahmad Radwan was found in the orchards of the coastal town of Banias, shot once in the stomach and once in the chest. Majd Ibrahim Alrfaee, a 7-year-old girl from the southern province of Daraa, died from a gunshot to the abdomen, the report said.

The statement said that 13-year-old Saleh Ahmad Alkhateeb was kidnapped by security forces on April 29 in Daraa, only to be found dead the next day “covered with the effects of severe torture.”

Assad appears determined to crush the revolt, which is posing the most serious challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty. The harsh crackdown has triggered international outrage and U.S. and European sanctions, including an EU assets freeze and a visa ban on Assad and nine members of his regime.

On Wednesday, the state-run Tishrin newspaper quoted Assad as promising reforms are in store.

This week, the government announced lower gasoline prices and promised to loosen media controls. Protesters have brushed off similar pledges by Assad in the past, demanding that he step down.

The protests have continued, taking place in the largest numbers after Friday prayers.

In addition to the Friday protests, many activists in Syria are opting for nighttime protests and candlelight vigils — aiming for a time when the security presence has thinned out.

Rami Nakhle, a prominent Syrian now living in exile in Beirut, says people have gotten better at manipulating security forces.

“They gather in smaller groups but in several areas, almost simultaneously. By the time police arrive to one protest site, the protesters would have already dispersed and gone elsewhere. They are trying to wear down the security forces,” they said.

The darkness of the night also offers the protesters some protection from snipers on rooftops, he said.

Nakhle is in close touch with Syrian activists on the ground and regularly provides the media with live updates and material on demonstrations in Syria.

Video posted on YouTube on Tuesday showed a small group of women marching at night in an outdoor market in Damascus, carrying anti-government banners as stunned shoppers looked on.

Another showed a group of young men in Aleppo marching with candles and banners and shouting, “Why are you scared? God is with us!”

The central cities of Homs and Hama are also witnessing nightly demonstrations. On Tuesday they were shouting, “Bye Bye and goodnight Bashar” and “The people want to topple the regime!”

___

Associated Press Writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report.

Witness: Shattered humanity inside Syria’s security apparatus

By Suleiman al-Khalidi 

May 26, 2011

Reuters journalist Suleiman al-Khalidi, a Jordanian citizen, was arrested by Syrian security police when covering the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the following story, he recounts his treatment at the hands of the Syrian intelligence services and the scenes of torture he witnessed around him during four days of confinement.

Like other foreign correspondents, he was subsequently expelled from Syria. He now reports on the continuing unrest from Amman.

The item is accompanied by an account by correspondent Yara Bayoumy of others’ experiences of abuse in Syrian prisons.

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – The young man was dangling upside down, white, foaming saliva dripping from his mouth. His groans sounded more bestial than human.

It was one of many fleeting images of human degradation I witnessed during four days as an unwilling guest of Syrian intelligence, when I was detained in Damascus after reporting on protests in the southern Syrian city of Deraa.

Within minutes of my arrest I was inside a building of the intelligence services — known, as elsewhere in the Arab world, simply as the “Mukhabarat.” I was still in the heart of bustling Damascus, but had been transported into a macabre parallel world of darkness, beatings and intimidation.

I caught sight of the man hanging by his feet as one of the jailers escorted me to the interrogation room for questioning.

“Look down,” the jailer shouted as I took in the scene.

Inside an interrogation room, they made me kneel and pulled what I could just make out as a car tyre over my arms.

My reporting from Deraa, where protests against President Bashar al-Assad had broken out in March, had apparently not endeared me to my hosts, who accused me of being a spy.

The formal reason Syrian authorities gave Reuters for my detention was that I lacked the proper work permits.

That I was an established journalist working for Reuters, going about my professional business, was not an argument to men whose livelihood depends on breaking human dignity.

“So, you cheap American agent!,” the interrogator shouted.

“You have come to report destruction and mayhem. You animal, you are coming to insult Syria, you dog.”

From outside the room I could hear the rattling of chains and hysterical cries that echo in my mind to this day. My interrogators worked professionally and tirelessly to keep me on edge at every step of the questioning process over several days.

“Shut up, you bastard. You and your types are vultures who want to turn Syria into another Libya,” said another interrogator, who kept yelling: “Confess, liar!”

ARREST IN THE STREET

I had crossed the border from Jordan, where I have reported for Reuters for nearly two decades, on March 18, as unrest was first breaking out in Deraa. I spent most of the next 10 days reporting from that city. Inspired by the fall of Arab dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, the protests rapidly escalated into a grave challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year rule.

I was arrested on March 29 in Damascus as I went to meet someone in an old district of the capital. Two plain clothes security men approached me and told me not to resist as they held my arms and then marched me into a hairdresser’s until an ordinary-looking white car came to take me to the Mukhabarat.

Interrogators showed particular interest in two aspects of my reporting — the fact that I had written about watching protesters burn images of late President Hafez al-Assad, father of the incumbent, and hearing chants attacking Maher al-Assad, brother of Bashar and commander of the Republican Guard.

Iron busts of Assad the father and portraits of the current president adorn the corridors and offices in buildings of the state security apparatus, part of a family personality cult recognizable to students of authoritarian rule the world over.

DEMONSTRATION OF METHODS

I felt my hosts wanted to give me, as a foreign journalist, a demonstration of the methods they use on Syrians. To brace myself for what might yet come and save myself from total breakdown, I tried to fix my mind on old childhood memories.

These mental games helped me avoid thinking of my young twins and wife back home in Amman, who had no way of knowing where I was, or even whether I was still alive.

The questioning lasted eight hours until midnight on my first day of detention. Mostly I was blindfolded, but the blindfold was removed for a few minutes.

That allowed me — despite orders to keep my head down so that my interrogators should remain out of view — to see a hooded man screaming in pain in front of me.

When they told him to take down his pants, I could see his swollen genitals, tied tight with a plastic cable.

“I have nothing to tell, but I am neither a traitor and activist. I am just a trader,” said the man, who said he was from Idlib province in the north west of Syria.

To my horror, a masked man took a pair of wires from a household power socket and gave him electric shocks to the head.

At other moments, my questioners could be charming, but would quickly switch to ruthless mode in what looked like an orchestrated performance to wear me down.

“We will make you forget who you are,” one of them threatened as I was beaten for the sixth time on my face.

I could not see what hit me. It felt like fists.

Twice in detention I was whipped on the shoulder, leaving bruises that stayed a week.

During intervals in the corridor, with my back against the wall and my hands in the air, I stood on display as at least a dozen security men jostled me and hurled abuse.

And yet humanity could appear at the unlikeliest moments.

At one point, the interrogator who was screaming at me that I was a dog (a particular insult to Arabs) took a call on his mobile phone. His tone became immediately warm and affectionate: “Of course, my dear, I’ll get you whatever you want,” he said, switching from professional torturer to indulgent father.

SCREAMS AND COCKROACHES

For long periods, I lay on a mattress in a windowless cell, lit by a small neon light, as cockroaches scurried around.

Occasional screams reminded me of where I was and what might happen. I was kept in solitary confinement and my jailers gave me a piece of dry bread or a potato and a tomato twice a day.

When I wanted to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door of my cell. A jailer would then appear, though it could take over an hour to have my request met.

I thought of the thousands of people in Syrian prisons, and how they endured solitary confinement and constant degradation, many for decades. I thought of Russians I had read about in Siberian exile, and about the meaning of freedom, for Syrians and for other Arabs living under autocrats across the region.

I was not the first person there in the cell, of course. One of my unknown predecessors had carved an inscription on the wall, apparently with his fingernails.

“God against the oppressor,” it read.

My mind went back to the events in Deraa — the thousands of youngsters clapping in unison, shouting “Freedom,” and the expressions on the faces of the women, children and old men who came out to the streets to watch in a mixture of disbelief and euphoria, an electrifying spirit of defiance.

I saw how decades of fear sown in the hearts and minds of people was crumbling as hundreds of bare-chested young men braved bullets fired by security men and snipers from rooftops. I will never forget the bodies of men shot in the head or chest, carried through the blood-spattered streets of Deraa, and dozens of shoes left on the streets by youths running from gunfire.

EXPELLED

Then on the fourth day of detention, my hosts came to move me, putting me in a car that whisked me to what turned out to be the intelligence headquarters several blocks away in Damascus.

It was a huge complex, with hundreds of plain-clothes security men in the courtyard outside, all with grim faces.

“Search every inch of him,” said one man as two others dragged me toward the basement.

I spent two hours in a cell where I reflected on how I would cope with imprisonment in the months ahead.

Then I was brought into a room nearby. To my bewilderment an urbane man with an air of authority told me: “We are sending you back to Jordan.”

I realized later, from looking at pictures in the media, that this had been Major General Ali Mamluk, the director of Syrian State Security himself, a man whose subordinates hold thousands of Syrians in similar jails across the country.

He said my reporting from Deraa had been inaccurate and had damaged the image of Syria.

Within hours I crossed the border and was back home, where I learned that Jordan’s royal family had worked for my release and spared me from a longer and more grueling fate. Other Reuters journalists were also expelled, some also after detention, and now Syria is effectively barred to most foreign media.

Nearly two months later, time has helped me absorb the impact of those four days, to the extent that I can record the experiences in writing. But I am haunted by the human cost of the Arab uprisings for people seeking the sort of freedoms which others elsewhere in the world take for granted.


:: Article nr. 78103 sent on 27-may-2011 09:55 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=78103

Link: www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/26/us-witness-syria-torture-idUSTRE74P2VD2011052
6

Words you don’t say

May 26, 2011, 12:22 PM

Words You Don’t Say

By RACHEL NOLAN
A list of your verboten words in the office of Hugo Lindgren, editor in chief.Gabrielle Plucknette/The New York TimesA list of your forbidden words in the office of Hugo Lindgren, editor of the magazine.

The Times magazine staff enjoyed readers’ response to our post about Kurt Andersen’s “Words We Don’t Say” so much that we posted an unabridged list of your suggestions on our office wall. It is, however, not all that practical. If we ceased to use all the words that readers don’t want us to use, we might publish a blank magazine. Some of your explanations were erudite. Others were downright funny. We know one thing: We will never use impact as a verb ever again.

The full list is below the jump. But first, a few highlights:

From Kyle of Brooklyn: “I hate ‘whip-smart.’ That describes a pack animal that can be driven easy with beatings. It’s not the same as ’smart as a whip.’”

From Jonathan Saltzman of Santa Barbara, Calif.: “‘Input,’ as in seeking someone’s opinion. What am I, something you plug into a computer?”

From RHayes of New York: “‘Proximity’ because no one uses it correctly — proximity means ‘closeness’ but is invariably (inexplicably) preceded by ‘close.’”

From Steve of New York: “The use of ‘event’ to intensify any film or television release. ‘A special motion picture event.’ It’s a verbal epicac.”

From Peterpuleo of Bethlehem, Pa.: “‘Sniffed’ (for ’said’):reveals the author’s bias rather than the subject’s demeanor. Also, it’s physiologically impossible to sniff, which requires sudden downward movement of both diaphragms, and speak at the same time.”

24/7
about exactly
actionable
actually (3 votes)
addicting when addictive is correct
addictive (in food/restaurant writing).
additionally
advisement
after all
agency
aggregate
aha moment
all about
all of the mistakes with Latin-based plurals – “the first criteria is” “the data was” “he was an alumni of”
all things being equal. (they never are)
a lot
amazing (3 votes)
ankled (2 votes)
anxious to mean eager. If you have anxiety you are not eager.
anything-”gate”
anything-based (goals-based, peach-based) or beginning with “on a — to — basis”
anything-centric
anything-wise
appropriate
architect as a verb (same ilk as “author”, etc).
arguably (3 votes)
artisanal (2 votes)
ask as a verb, meaning “assign.”
assumed
as well instead of “too” or “also”
at the end of the day (7 votes)
awesome (4 votes)
baby boomer or “boomer”
baby mama
backchannel me – (versus “reply to me” or “get back to me”)
bad guys
bake off (for “bake”)
bandwidth
bandwidth (as in, “I don’t have the bandwidth to take on that project”
based out of (for “based in”)
basically
bear as in “he was a bear of a man”
begs the question when you mean “raises the question”
behaviors – when did that become a plural?
bemused
benchmark
best in class
best practice
be that as it may
bff
big __________ (e.g., big tobacco, big oil, big government)
big dig (when referring to three city blocks under construction, NOT the Boston project)
birth as a verb
blessed (as in “powers-that-be have blessed”)
blowback
boffo
bomb-throwing anarchist
boots on the ground
bottom line
build out
busted
buttonhole
call out, called out
carrot and stick
cautiously optimistic
chaise lounge
challenges
champion as a verb
chastise
chide
circle back
clearly
close personal friend
closure (5 votes)
cloud (as in “cloud computing”)
coed for female student
collateral damage
come on board, unless you’re talking about a ship
come out as in “thank you for coming out to the concert tonight.”
comfort food
community-based
compelling
competency
comprise
comprised of
conflict resolution
congeries
contextualization
conversate (2 votes)
cougar
could care less instead of “couldn’t care less.”
craft a memo
crafted
crispy is not a word (2 votes)
crown jewel
crumbling infrastructure
curate in any context other than in relation to a museum or art gallery should be banned (2 votes)
cyber
de-plane-ing, as used by pilots and flight attendants
de-train-ing, as announced by the Amtrak conductor
decadent (applied to food)
decidedly (2 votes)
decontextualization
deeply
define himself
deliverable (my wife was once asked to produce “measurable deliverables” on a project)
de rigeur
deserve
dichotomy
dilemma (when the writer means “problem’)
disinterested rather than uninterested
dither
diva
diy
doable
docent (“guide” will do nicely)
dollarize
dotcommer
drapes as a noun (use draperies)
drill down
due diligence
during the overnight
dynamic
edgy
educator
effect as a verb
efforting
elite
emerging (to describe an artist)
empower (2 votes)
enclave
ending questions with “at” (as in “where’s/he/she/it {cringe} AT
enjoy!
enormity instead of magnitude, large scope, etc.
enthuse
epic.
eponymous
especially significant
essentially
excellent
experience. As in “I enjoyed my shopping experience.”
fabulous
facilitate
fail in lieu of failure
famously
fantastic
farther instead of “further.”
fashionista
fervently
fidicuiary responsibilty
flat world (that one is for T. Friedman only)
focus on
forever as in “this will change the . . . forever.”
forewarn (for “warn”)
for free
frame (unless you are in the picture-framing business or the criminal-justice business
frankly
fridge
friend as a verb (2 votes)
fun
functionality
future plans
gal
garlicky
gas guzzler
genius
gestalt
gift as a verb (3 votes)
ginormous
go-to
goal-oriented
going forward (7 votes)
golf as a verb
go to
graduated college
graduate high school, college, etc.
great
green (as a verb)
grilled (as synonym for “questioned”)
grinding, as in “grinding poverty.”
grok
grow a company
grown ups
grow the economy
grow your business (3 votes)
guestimate
guru
Harvard-educated
hangout
hard for difficult
having said that
headlines that begin with “Whither …”.
headscratcher
heads up
helmed, meaning “directed”: we’re not on a ship (6 votes)
hey day
hicks
hip
holler
holly wood liberal
holy grail
home to mean house, as in town home, home for sale, lake homes
honestly (as in “I honestly believe”)
hopefully as a sentence starter
however
hugely
icon (10 votes)
ideate (2 votes)
if you will (2 votes)
impact as a verb (12 votes)
impactful (3 votes)
in and of itself
in any way, shape or form
incent (3 votes)
incentivize (5 votes)
inclement weather
incongruities
incredible
incredibly
individual
info (2 votes)
informed by
in order to
inserting any word describing unique: rather, very, more, most
in shock to mean “shocked.” Unless you really do mean “a life-threatening loss of blood pressure.”
instant classic.
instant red pencil
intensive purposes
interesting (two votes)
interestingly
interface as a verb
in their DNA to
intone
invite (as a noun)
ironic
irregardless (4 votes)
islamofascism
issue as substitute for “problem” (2 votes)
it’s the _______ stupid
iterative
it is important to note
it is what it is
ivory tower
journaling
kabuki dance
key learnings
kind of/sort of
kissed” in the context of food writing
knowledgeable
knowledge share
kudos
lame
learnings (3 votes)
legendary
level-set (what DOES this mean?)
level playing field
leverage
liaise (3 votes)
liberal elites
lifestyle
lift up” (as in: “draw attention to”)
limned
literally (5 votes)
lower instead of “reduce”
low hanging fruit (2 votes)
make my day
maximize efficiency
me and her, him and me, her and I
meet up – does this mean something like “meet”?
melty
men are from Mars, women are from Venus
merge together
methodology
metrics (2 votes)
milieu
misappropriate (for “steal”)
misrepresent (for “lie” or “deceive”)
monetize (3 votes)
moreover
mother’s worst nightmare
moving forward
my bad (your bad what?) (3 votes)
myriad (3 votes)
needless to say – so why are you saying anything about it? (2 votes)
need to when have to, ought to, should are hanging about unused.
network (as a verb)
new beginning (for those tired of those same old beginnings)
next steps
niggardly
nom
no offense but
no problem (2 votes)
no pun intended
normalcy
nosh
nostalgia (when it’s used wrong)
nothing for nothing
nuanced
numerous
obscure trade journal
off the grid
on demand
ongoing
on the ground
on the same page (3 votes)
open the kimono
operationalize…and many other words that frequently get -ize attached to it (e.g. incentivize)
opine
orientate (2 votes)
ousted
outrage
out there (for available or existent)
own it
panties
paradigm
paradigm-shifting (2 votes)
parameter instead of “limit”
parenting (2 votes)
parsed
party as a verb
passed instead of died (4 votes)
past experience
penultimate
perfect storm (5 votes)
perfect with crusty bread
personal
peruse
pet peeve (2 votes)
phoney-baloney
physicality
plate as a verb (2 votes)
pleaded: the nuns always pounded “pled” into me until I bleaded.
plethora
pop as a verb
populace
positive role model
potentially could (for “could”)
powers-that-be
pre-board
pre-order
pre-planned
pre-register
precise estimate
pretentious (when it’s used wrong)
preventative
price point
print out (why not just print?)
prior to or subsequent to. The English language gives us “before” and “after.” Use them.
proactive (5 votes)
program (e.g., “cocktail program”)
purpose-built
purposely means “on purpose”; “purposefully,” means “with great determination”
pushback (2 votes)
put in place
putting out fires
quaint
quality (as an adjective)
quantum leap (unless you mean a transition between quantum states)
quasi- anything
quintessential
quip
quipped
random
rapture
reach out to (3 votes)
reality-based
really (2 votes)
real time
reboot
recoup
redouble – that’s quadruple, right?
reference is not a verb; the verb is “refer to.”
reimagine
relatable
relevancy
remains to be seen
repurpose (2 votes)
revert
revolutionary: What happened in Egypt was a revolution. Lady gaga definitely isn’t.
right to work
robust (3 votes)
rorschach inkblot test
sabermetrics
same difference
sammich
sans
savvy
scalable
scrapbooking (2 votes)
sea-change
secure (as verb)
sensibility (2 votes)
serve up
shady or sketchy
share instead of “tell.” (2 votes)
shout out (2 votes)
signage
singing from the same hymnal
situation (2 votes)
skill set (2 votes)
slammed—unless you’re talking about doors
slathered
slowing up
snark
sophomoric
space when used to describe a business or industry (4 votes)
speaks out (2 votes)
speak to
spiraling anything (e.g., debt or conflict)
stakeholders (2 votes)
sticks
stop short of
storied
super
supplement meaning some herbal garbage
surmise
suss
synergy (4 votes)
take – as in “Her take on that …”
take a meeting
talented
tap into – isn’t “into” built in?
teachable moment (2 votes)
team when used to mean “the group of people that I am the boss of.”
temblor
that being said (2 votes)
the White Stuff, as in snow
the entire passive tense
the midnight hour
the next level
the poor man’s anything
think out of the box
though for although
thusly
toast meaning washed up, out of action or incapacitated
to partner
to team
to the best of my ability
tour de force (2 votes)
tout
towards instead of “toward.”
transition as a verb (2 votes)
trappings
tremendous
tucked into, as a meal
turn-key
tweak (3 votes)
tweet
ubiquitous
underserved, which looks so much like undeserved.
underway (should be two words, if used at all) (2 votes)
unique
unless you’ve been living under a rock
unpacking
use/usage
utilize and all its irritating cousins. Just use “use.” (6 votes)
veggie/veggies (4 votes)
verbage
verbing nouns, in general. As Calvin once said to Hobbes, “It weirds the language.”
very (very overused)
very unique (3 votes)
vexed as in “the vexed question of…”
vibrant
viral
vis-a-vis should be stricken from the English language, and probably the French language as well
vision for an organization
vital
voted with their feet
walk-off home run (what was wrong with “game-winning”?)
we applaud your efforts
wearing many hats
weather event
welfare queens
went missing (3 votes)
whatever (2 votes)
where is it at?/Where are you at
which includes and “also”
white paper instead of “paper”
whopping
win-win (2 votes)
with regard instead of …..in regards.
woo
wordsmith
work-life balance
worrying instead of worrisome
x is the new y (2 votes)
x meets y
yummy
über- anything (3 votes)

THE GENERAL’S SON

MOVE OVER AIPAC

Feeling the Ignorance at AIPAC 2011

[youtube http://youtu.be/JQuREXMICWU?]

Obama’s Draft Speech to Urge ’67 Borders, Negate PA’s State Bid

US president’s coming speech about Washington’s Mideast policy to demand PA recognize Israel, drop unilateral UN bid for statehood, while urging Israel to return to ’67 lines, cease settlement expansion

By Yitzhak Benhorin

May 17, 2011 “YNet” — WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama is set to give his next political speech at 6pm Thursday, just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for Washington and according to a draft of the speech, obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth, the American president’s Middle East policy, though unwavering, may not be as discordant as some have feared.

Obama is expected to urge Israel to return to the 1967 lines while negating the Palestinian Authority’s planned unilateral bid for statehood in September.

According to the draft – which may change again by Thursday – Obama will call on Jerusalem and Ramallah to reignite the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying it is the only way to achieve viable peace.

Obama stands to demand the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and that the Palestinians unequivocally abandon terror.

He is also likely to stress Israel must cease any settlement expansion in the West Bank and further avoid any act which could be construed as changing the status quo on the ground.

The subject of Jerusalem also stands to be included in the American president’s speech: Washington sees the city as the capital of both Israel and the Palestinian state, with its east Jerusalem neighborhoods – which are largely populated by Palestinians – under the PA’s sovereignty, and its Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty.

Following Netanyahu’s vehement speech before the Knesset plenum Sunday, it seems Washington has decided to lower its expectations of Netanyahu.

Still, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said that the White House was not “as pessimistic” as reported, adding that the peace process “faces immense challenges.”

Israeli Media Reveals U.S. President’s Forthcoming Mideast Speech

By Xinhua

May 17, 2011 “Xinhua” – JERUSALEM — U.S. President Barack Obama will call on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders and agree to additional concessions that will enable a resumption of the peace process, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth revealed on Tuesday.

The newspaper claimed to have obtained a draft of Obama’s planned speech at the State Department on Thursday in which he will outline his administration’s Middle East policy, in light of the anti-government protests that have swept the region over the past year.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Sunday that Obama would raise the need for progress in the peace process. However, he did not reveal whether the president planned to present a diplomatic initiative to revive the process, after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last September.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Obama will call on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 cease-fire lines with territorial adjustments that will be agreed on in the negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority. The president will label the West Bank settlements as “illegal” and emphasize that Israel must halt their construction.

Obama’s position on the settlement blocs, which Israel slates to remain under its sovereignty in any peace deal, is yet unclear.

The president is also expected to announce his solution regarding the status of Jerusalem and call for its division. The U. S. envisions the city as the shared capital of the two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side in peace.

Such a stand would essentially echo the so-called “Clinton Parameters” offered by then-president Bill Clinton in 2000, which called predominantly Arab neighborhoods to come under the Palestinian sovereignty while Jewish neighborhoods remaining within the Israeli territories.

Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the contents of Obama’s speech were shared with Netanyahu’s national security advisor Ya’akov Amidror and his predecessor Uzi Arad in their recent discussions with senior U.S. officials.

Amidror and Arad were dispatched to Washington last week to prepare the ground for Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting with Obama on Friday, the report said.

The two purportedly met with White House national security advisor Tom Donilon, trying to convince him and other officials that Obama’s positions essentially matched those of the Palestinians.

The Israelis are said to have stressed that Obama’s initiative will not enable “real” peace negotiations and demanded that changes be inserted, according to the paper, which quoted an unidentified U.S. official as answering the two that “you are familiar with the positions of American administrations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already specified in detail an Israeli-Palestinian agreement last October.”

Amidror, however, on Monday categorically denied that such a meeting had ever taken place, saying that “Not one word in that article is correct.”

“There was no meeting with Donilon … no talks. The meeting simply never occurred,” Amidror told Army Radio.

Obama’s address will not be short of demands on the Palestinians, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. The president is expected to explicitly demand a Palestinian willingness to accept the conditions set forth by the Mideast Quartet, including a recognition of Israel’s right to exist, a renunciation of violence and incitement, and dropping a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September.

As a precursor to his speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress next Tuesday, Netanyahu on Monday evening presented lawmakers his basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that Israel was prepared to “cede parts of our homeland for true peace,” though he assessed that there is no partner on the Palestinian side.

In his address, Netanyahu expressed Israel’s willingness to withdraw into several West Bank settlement blocs while maintain its military presence in the Jordan Valley. The future Palestinian state, he said, would be demilitarized and created only through a peace agreement.

Netanyahu outlined his preconditions for entering peace negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that these preconditions enjoyed the support of a majority of the Israeli public.

The Palestinians would first have to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Netanyahu said. A peace agreement also must end the conflict and any further Palestinian demands. Netanyahu said Palestinian refugees would not resettle in Israel and the settlement blocs would remain under the Israeli sovereignty.

Regarding Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the city would remain Israel’s “united capital,” a position echoed by all Israeli governments since 1967.

The prime minister added that Israel would not be able to strike a peace agreement with a Palestinian government if half of it was comprised of the members of Islamist group Hamas.

source

Former Israeli soldiers break the silence on military violations

Testimonies posted on YouTube by campaign group describe routine harassment and humiliation of Palestinian civilians

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem

Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza

Campaign group Breaking the Silence has met with a hostile response from Israel, especially after it published testimony by soldiers who took part in the war on Gaza in 2008-09. Photograph: Ali Ali/EPA

Transgressions by the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territories will be disclosed by a group of former soldiers in an internet campaign aimed at raising public awareness of military violations.

Video testimonies by around two dozen ex-soldiers – some of whom are identifying themselves for the first time – will be posted on YouTube. The campaign by Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former soldiers committed to speaking out on military practices, launches with English subtitles on Monday.

Some of the former soldiers describe the “neighbour procedure”, a term for the use of Palestinian civilians, often children, as human shields to protect soldiers from suspected booby traps or attacks by militants. The procedure was ruled illegal by Israel‘s high court in 2005.

Others speak of routine harassment of civilians at checkpoints, arbitrary intimidation and collective punishment.

Idan Barir, who served in the artillery corps, describes in his testimony how an officer forced Palestinian civilians to crawl in a “race” towards a checkpoint near Jenin in the West Bank during the 2000 olive harvest. Only the first three out of “teams” of eight were allowed to pass.

Another, Itamar Schwarz, says Palestinian homes were routinely ransacked in search operations. He describes the day of the World Cup final in 2002, when soldiers confined a Palestinian woman and child in the kitchen of their home for two hours while the unit watched the game in the middle of an operation.

Arnon Degani, who served in the Golani brigade, describes the distress of a young woman who tearfully pleaded to be allowed to pass through a Jenin checkpoint in order to sit an important exam. He gradually came to understand, he says, that the Israeli army’s intention was “to enforce tyranny on people who you know are regular civilians” and to “make it clear who’s in control here”.

“Part of the silence of Israeli society is to believe these are isolated and exceptional incidents. But these are the most routine, day-to-day, banal stories,” said Yehuda Shaul, of Breaking the Silence.

Identification of the ex-soldiers willing to speak out was important, he said, “so that Israelis understand that there are people behind these stories, that in a sense we’re all involved”.

The former soldiers were aware of the potential legal and social consequences of going public, Shaul added. “They understand that they risk being prosecuted for what they’re saying. But they’re doing it because it needs to be done.”

Since Breaking the Silence was launched in 2004, it has met with a hostile response from Israel’s political and military establishment, partly targeting the anonymity of some witnesses. There have been attempts to discredit supporters and block funding, and its leaders have been subject to interrogation. Censure increased after it published testimony by soldiers who took part in the war on Gaza in 2008-09.

Schwarz, 29, who served in the Nahal infantry brigade between 2000 and 2003, told the Guardian that he had gone public with his testimony “because to me it’s important that Israeli society is exposed to the moral price and moral experience that an Israeli soldier goes through in armed service”.

The events he describes are “things that are really little, but they tell you the big picture of the occupation”.

He said his army experience was “like a scar, I carry it with me. We have to talk about it, to put it out to the world. Only then can a society deal with the moral price.”

The Israeli Defence Forces said: “The allegations made by Breaking the Silence are unfamiliar to us. The organisation has been informed, on numerous occasions, of the option of filing specific complaints including personal testimonies and other evidence through the appropriate channels. This is to ensure that their allegations are subjected to a thorough and proper legal investigation. To date the organisation has refused to provide substantiated allegations, making it impossible to properly examine their claims.”

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