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Saturday, 23 September 2006

Israeli policy divides Palestinian families

Immigration crackdown in West Bank

BOSTON GLOBE
September 23, 2006

By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

EL-BIREH, West Bank -- Nariman Yazbak and her 2-year-old daughter, Salma, left their home in the West Bank town of El Bireh last April for a routine visit to relatives in Jordan.

Six months later, she is still trying to return. Yazbak's husband, Rami, a human resources specialist at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, has petitioned the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government, the Israeli Army, and even written to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for help. He has filled out all the forms and presented all the necessary documentation, but no one will process the paperwork.

The Yazbaks are among the thousands of Palestinians caught in what human rights activists call a bureaucratic nightmare that has divided families, prevented visitors of Palestinian origin from visiting relatives in the West Bank, and is inducing many long-term West Bank residents to leave their homes.

Israel, which controls all the international borders leading to the West Bank, says it is not trying to break up Palestinian families. It says it is merely implementing existing immigration law and preventing foreign nationals from living in the country illegally.

But Palestinians, many of whom were born abroad and do not have Palestinian identity cards, say the Israelis suddenly clamped down after the January election of the Hamas government, when Israel broke off all ministry-level contacts with the Palestinian Authority after years of allowing them to live in the West Bank on three-month tourist visas.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says in a report issued in July that the result of the policy is ``the forced break-up of the family unit."

The report, ``Perpetual Limbo: Israel's freeze on unification of Palestinian families in the occupied territories," suggests that the Israeli crackdown is part of a broader policy to limit the growth of the Palestinian population ``by preventing the entry of spouses and children of residents, and by stimulating emigration from the area."

The Yazbaks say the result is that they will probably be forced to move abroad.

Rami Yazbak is a Palestinian, born in the West Bank, who returned in early 2000 with his Spanish-born Palestinian wife, Nariman, to their ancestral homeland.

``It was a dream to live in Palestine and to have my family, wife, and kid here," he said.

No one knows how immigrants like Nariman Yazbak can be granted Palestinian permanent residence, which under the Oslo peace accords requires the agreement of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Since the second intifadah erupted in 2000, there have been no contacts between the relevant ministries. So, like thousands of others in a similar position, for the past six years she has been leaving the country every three months and returning with a new three-month tourist visa issued at the border by the Israelis.

Until now.

In April, as Nariman and Salma returned as usual via the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge linking Jordan to the West Bank, they were stopped by immigration officials and turned back. Their passports were stamped ``Entry Denied." Rami Yazbak has contacted every Israeli and Palestinian official he can find, but so far without success.

``I need my family," he said. ``I'm giving it one last chance. We might appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, but I'm afraid they will reject it. Otherwise we will have to go to Spain and start again from zero."

For Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, the troubles began at the start of the second intifadah in 2000, when Israel stopped allowing Jordanian-Palestinians to re enter the West Bank if they were effectively residing there.

Wahel Hushia, 35, from the West Bank village of Katana, married a Palestinian woman from Jordan in 1999. In 2001, his wife went to visit her parents in Jordan with their baby daughter, and the Israelis never allowed them back. Hushia visits them every few months, whenever he can afford the fare, and their West Bank-born daughter, now 6, comes to stay with his family for a few weeks per year.

``We cannot have any more children, because if they are born in Jordan, the Israelis will never let them in," Hushia said. ``I last saw them four months ago."

The Palestinian Ministry for Civil Affairs reports that it has received more than 120,000 requests for family reunification since September 2000, which the Israelis refuse to process. In a few cases, after intervention by B'Tselem and other human rights groups, Israel has granted a few individual requests on a piecemeal basis, as ``exceptional cases."

East Jerusalem lawyers Ibrahim Khoury and Ehab Abu Gosh said there are dozens of similar cases before the Israeli courts.

Khoury cited the case of one family in Beit Hanina, an area of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, whose members left for the United States in 1967 but maintain extensive property holdings and visit each year to see relatives. He said the father of the family, a US citizen, was recently detained on arrival at Ben-Gurion airport and held in the cells there for three weeks before an Israeli judge ordered him released pending a final decision on his status.

The US Consulate-General in Jerusalem, which handles relations with the Palestinian territories, said it was receiving several new complaints every week from Palestinian-Americans who were being denied entry after living in the West Bank for years.

Sam Bahour, a prominent West Bank businessman, has lived in El-Bireh since 1995. He applied to Israel for residency in the West Bank before the Palestinian Authority even existed but never received a reply. For the past 11 years, he said, he has traveled to and from the West Bank via the Israeli-controlled borders with Jordan on a three-month tourist visa. But the last time he went to the Israeli authorities they refused to extend it for more than one month.

He was given until Oct. 1 to leave the West Bank, and the Israeli soldier who stuck the visa in his passport scribbled ``final permit" across it in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

``I hope to find the decision-makers within the Israeli system and resolve the issue," said Bahour. ``If not, I will be separated from my family. My work has already been affected. I have been unable to take on any new projects in the past 45 days."

``I won't violate the visa and stay here illegally," he said. ``I won't give the Israelis that gift."

Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry, denied there was any policy change.

``There has been a clarification of the instructions," Hadad said. `` . . . When a foreigner, from the USA or any other country, comes to the border and they know they are coming to visit the territories, they need a visitors' permit for the territories, from the army."

Sunday, 10 September 2006

ISRAELI FORCE TO TRIPLE IN SOUTHERN LEBANON

CONFLICT IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Israel's Security Cabinet gives army another month to force Hezbollah fighters north of the Litani River and halt missile attacks

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Page A-1

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Zarit, Israel -- Israeli leaders decided on Wednesday to triple the country's ground invasion force in Lebanon and extend the fight against Hezbollah to the Litani River, about 18 miles across the border.

Justice Minister Haim Ramon said the huge ground operation is necessary to achieve "the cessation of the Katyusha rockets and an alteration of the status quo in southern Lebanon." The army was given another month to complete the mission.

The deployment about-face was widely expected after a month of aerial attacks and commando raids failed to halt Hezbollah rocket fire bombarding northern Israel. It came a day after Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was named to replace Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's northern command, in overseeing the Lebanon campaign.

"This operation must be won. We have no choice. It is a war of no option that was forced upon us. The consequences of this war are far-reaching for the state of Israel and for the entire region," Ramon said.

Israel's Security Cabinet debated the new battle plan for six hours in the shadow of news -- not released to the public until midnight on Wednesday -- that the nation's forces had suffered the worst losses since the fighting began: 15 dead and 25 wounded.

Until Wednesday, Israel had hoped to overcome the 3,000-strong Hezbollah fighting units with just 6,500 Israeli ground troops, backed by heavy artillery fire, aerial bombardment and armored divisions. But four weeks into the campaign, Israeli forces are still taking heavy losses in Hezbollah strongholds such as Aita al-Shaab, a Shiite village a mile across the border that they have been trying to capture since the first days of the fighting.

The Cabinet decided to hold the final order for a day or two to see whether diplomatic moves at the United Nations could bring about a cease-fire that would force Hezbollah to disarm -- a move so far rejected by the Lebanese government.

Michael Oren, fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank, and author of "Six Days of War," about the 1967 conflict, said the decision should have been made three weeks ago and seemed designed to improve Israel's position in the post-battle diplomacy.

"They are going to try and reach the Litani River and expand Israel's leverage in negotiations, in the hope that Israel can hold out not just for the deployment of the Lebanese army, but for the deployment of an international force," said Oren. "Israel can't trust the Lebanese army to keep Hezbollah out because the army is half-Shiite."

Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel's National Defense College, agreed the move should have been made weeks ago.

"This is the only decision that can help us reach our goals," said Amidror. "One is the cessation of the firing of Katyusha rockets into Israel, or at least 90 to 95 percent of them. The other is to severely cripple the Hezbollah forces, which, up until now, have felt almost no harm. It will also make the other side think twice before starting a war with Israel."

Oren said the hesitant handling of the war so far might reflect the absence of ex-soldiers in Israeli government.

"This is the first Israeli war where all the decisions have been made by a civilian government with no military experience," he said. "In the past, there have been complaints that Israeli governments have been dominated by generals and submissive to the military. This one time, when the civilians control the military, a sizable proportion of the population is dissatisfied with their handling of the war and would have preferred a more robust approach."

On Wednesday night, about 20,000 Israeli troops, together with long columns of tanks, armored cars and military bulldozers, were snaking their way up through the winding roads near the Israel-Lebanon border, poised to pour into the battlefield.

Dozens of tanks, armored cars and military support vehicles lined the road near the border village of Zarit, near the spot where a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli patrol on July 12 sparked the current conflict. Israeli reservists sat inside the armored vehicles, sheltering from the midday sun, playing backgammon or trying to catch some sleep.

The troops were forbidden from giving their full names under army regulations. Shai, a 24-year-old student from Ashdod, said he was called up more than a week ago and was still waiting to be sent into Lebanon.

Two hours later, the same road was empty, except for discarded plastic bottles and food wrappers marking the spot where the tank brigade had been waiting.

Farther along the road, the same scene was repeated several times. Either long lines of military vehicles and waiting soldiers, or discarded trash where they once stood. In some places, the roadway bore the scars of heavy half-track vehicles.

Around a corner near Manara, a convoy of 10 tanks were rumbling up the road, interspersed with fragile-looking family vehicles trying to overtake them on the hairpin bends.

A few hundreds yards across the border, Israeli artillery shells could be seen crashing into targets in the Lebanese villages where heavy fighting continued Wednesday between Israeli and Hezbollah forces. The Israeli hits sent huge clouds of white, black or brown smoke billowing into the sky, depending on the target.

Close up, the villages that served as Hezbollah strongholds clearly showed the damage of nearly a month of Israeli fire. Many of the buildings have been reduced to burned-out skeletons. Others have gaping holes, like blackened, toothless mouths. Many landmarks are simply missing, blown up by Israeli forces.

From the upper floors of some of the few remaining buildings, there were flashes of gunfire from Hezbollah forces putting up fierce resistance against the Israeli invaders. Israeli helicopters hovered behind the lines, unleashing missiles that whistled overhead before exploding with deadly force across the border.

As the fighting continued, two particularly large clouds of white smoke apparently signaled direct hits on large stores of weapons. Maj. Avi Ortal, chief of operations for the Alexandroni infantry brigade, said his soldiers had discovered more than 150 Katyusha rockets in a single house in the nearby village of Rahamin two days ago.

Ortal, a lawyer in civilian life, said his soldiers had no doubts about their duty despite losing three men last week in a battle with Hezbollah.

"I feel that the war is very moral. The fact that Hezbollah is sitting on our borders, kidnapping our soldiers, invading our sovereignty, threatening the civilian population on the borders -- is something that we had to stop," he said as plumes of black and brown smoke billowed into the air behind him from Hezbollah villages where his men were fighting, supported by Israeli artillery.

Ortal said Wednesday's Cabinet decision had no immediate effect on his men. "In terms of the mission that our brigade gets, it is very clear and we will do it. This decision has not changed anything for us," he said.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Jordan gunman kills Brit and hits 6 more tourists

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday 5 September

BY MATTHEW KALMAN
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

AMMAN, Jordan - A British man was shot dead yesterday afternoon and six other Western tourists were wounded when a gunman opened fire on their tour group near the Roman amphitheater in the Jordanian capital.

The gunman was caught by onlookers after a 15-minute gun battle with cops.

"This is a cowardly terrorist attack, which we regret took place on Jordanian soil," Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez said. "This operation is considered a terrorist act unless the man is found to be deranged."

The wounded included tourists from Britain, Holland, New Zealand and Australia. The dead man was identified only as a 30-year-old Brit.

The group had just left the ancient site in the center of Amman and were climbing steps to exit when the gunman, hiding among Roman pillars, started shooting with a pistol.

A Jordanian police sergeant, Awni Zawahri, gave chase and opened fire at the gunman, igniting a 15-minute gun battle in which Zawahri was shot twice before the gunman was overpowered by onlookers.

"I saw him shooting at the tourists. They were screaming at him, but he just kept on firing until he emptied the whole clip," said shopkeeper Rommel Kamel Hamad, 30.

"He was shouting 'Allahu Akbar' [God is great] as he fired at them," Hamad said. "Then he loaded a second clip and started shooting at the police. He shot the sergeant in the hip and the stomach but then the gun seemed to jam. When we saw he had stopped shooting, a few of us ran after him and caught him. He kicked and punched us, but we managed to hold him down until two police officers arrived, including the wounded sergeant," he said.

The gunman was identified by Jordanian officials as Nabeel Ahmed Issa Jaourah, 38, from a village northeast of Amman near the hometown of Abu Musab alZarqawi, the Al Qaeda-linked terror leader killed in June in Iraq. Jordanian authorities said they believe the man was acting alone.

The attack came despite heavy security in Jordan, a key U.S. ally, since a string of bombings at hotels last November that killed 63 people. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed to have staged that attack.