West Bank

‘Baird you are not welcome in Palestine’: Protesters hurl eggs and shoes at Canada’s foreign minister

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territory — Dozens of Palestinian protesters in Ramallah hurled eggs and shoes at the convoy of Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

Baird travelled to the West Bank city today to meet with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.

The protesters held signs reading: “Baird you are not welcome in Palestine.”

Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party had earlier called for a boycott of the minister because of the Canadian government’s perceived pro-Israel stance.

AP Photo/Nasser NasserA Palestinian protester holds a poster with a photo of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird that reads in Arabic, “You should be ashamed of your biased position towards Israel,” during Baird’s meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in front of the Palestinian foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday.

Baird is in the region for four days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

In a statement this morning, he described his meeting with Malki was “cordial and constructive,” and said it included “candid and frank exchanges on areas where we differ in opinion.”

Canada is opposed to the recent Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.

Baird’s statement says he asked Malki to “strongly reconsider the consequences of moving forward with any action that may be counterproductive to a negotiated solution with the State of Israel.”

It was also his first meeting with the Palestinian Authority since the United Nations Security Council blocked a Palestinian motion to set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.

Baird has spoken out against the move, as he has with similar Palestinian statehood initiatives at the U.N..

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

AP Photo/Nasser NasserPalestinian protesters hurl eggs at the vehicle of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird as he leaves following his meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in front of the Palestinian foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday.

The minister later met in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and is scheduled to meet with other Israeli politicians.

In a statement, Baird noted his meetings come a year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Israel, and the two signed a declaration outlining co-operation in the diplomatic, trade and development areas.

“Canada and Israel share similar views on the world stage,” said Baird.

“Canada strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself by itself and its right to live in peace with its neighbours. Canada will fight any efforts internationally to delegitimize the State of Israel, including the disturbing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.”

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

AP Photo/Nasser NasserA Palestinian protester carries a banner that reads in Arabic “we refuse to receive this criminal, get out you child killer,” while another protester chants slogans and holds a photo of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird during Baird’s meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in front of the Palestinian foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty ImagesPolicemen stand guard in front of Palestinian protesters holding placards outside the Foreign Affairs ministry before the meeting between Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki and his Canadian counterpart John Baird on Sunday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

With files from The Canadian Press

Jewish settlers stone U.S. consular officials during West Bank visit, Israel police say

JERUSALEM — Jewish settlers attacked American consular officials Friday during a visit the officials made to the West Bank as part of an investigation into claims of damage to Palestinian agricultural property, Israeli police and Palestinian witnesses say.

The incident is likely to further chill relations between Israel and the United States, already tense over American criticisms of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and Israeli perceptions that President Barack Obama is only lukewarm in his support of Israeli diplomatic and security policies.

Settlers have often spoken against what they call foreign interference in their affairs, but this is the first known physical attack against diplomatic personnel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that a small number of settlers threw rocks at officials who had come to an area near the Jewish settlement outpost of Adi Ad in two consular vehicles to look into Palestinian claims that settlers uprooted scores of Palestinian olive trees the day before.

He said that after the rock barrage began, the vehicles left the area, adding that police had opened an inquiry following the filing of an official complaint.

Another police official, spokeswoman Luba Samri, said that the American security personnel did not use their weapons during the attack.

Awad Abu Samra, who owns the land in the village of Tormousyya where the damage to the olive trees allegedly took place, said he accompanied the officials with two relatives. He described the officials as security personnel who had arrived in the village in advance of a larger party from the American consulate in Jerusalem, which was scheduled to arrive in the village later that afternoon.

“There were six security guards from the consulate riding in two cars,” Abu Samra said. “When they got out of the cars they were attacked by young settlers from the outpost who were carrying clubs and axes. They struck the cars with clubs but the security guards did not respond with their weapons.”

Abu Samra said that after the attack began the American security guards returned to their vehicles and drove away, explaining that they were under strict instructions not to engage the settlers in any way. He said that the planned visit of the additional officials from the consulate was called off after the incident.

The American Consulate General in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.

The United States is by far Israel’s most important foreign ally, providing the country with some $3 billion in annual aid and supporting its positions in international forums, despite frequent criticism.

Washington has long opposed Israeli settlement construction and maintains teams at diplomatic facilities in Israel that regularly monitor the settlements and their growth.

Abu Samra said that last spring he and his family planted some 10,000 olive tree saplings on land the family owns in the village, but that since then, settlers have uprooted most of them.

13:15ET 02-01-15

Palestinians tell Canada to back Geneva Conventions meeting on Israel

OTTAWA — The top Palestinian diplomat in Canada says the Harper government should not have boycotted a United Nations conference this week that harshly criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Said Hamad says Canada should have joined other countries at a conference in Geneva examining the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the rules of war and military occupation.

Some 126 countries of the 196 international parties to the convention adopted a resolution Wednesday saying Israel’s construction of settlements does not conform to its international legal obligations as an occupying power.

Along with Israel and the U.S., Canada boycotted the conference, another example of unwavering Conservative support of Israel — a position that has exposed deep differences with the majority of the United Nations.

“We had hoped Canada would participate in this conference, given its long-standing policy that ‘Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,”’ Hamad said in a written statement.

“We urge all countries absent from the conference to rejoin the international community’s efforts to enforce the rule of law.”

Hamad was quoting from Canada’s written foreign policy, posted on the Foreign Affairs Department website — a written policy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have been reluctant to repeat out loud.
Hamad did not respond to a request for an interview.

In his own statement, Baird said Canada stayed away from the Geneva meeting to avoid lending credibility to a process it views as one-sided and politicized.

The meeting “serves only to single out one country, Israel, for criticism,” Baird said.

“Canada has complete faith in the strength of the rule of law in Israel, and we believe the Israelis are capable of
investigating matters surrounding the events that took place in Gaza in the summer of 2014.”

The 50-day war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, says the UN. In Israel, 72 people were killed, most of them soldiers.

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the Gaza war, and is to table a report in March. Baird has criticized the council for singling out Israel and ignoring the Hamas rocket attacks, and generally regards its work as being biased against Israel.

Baird said the UN’s latest examination of the issue this week risks “undermining the integrity and credibility of the Geneva Conventions and the neutrality of their application. Such a misguided approach will neither serve the cause of peace nor bring the parties closer to a negotiated settlement.”

Israel says the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem because the Palestinians have never had their own sovereign state.

However, Canada’s own written foreign policy statement says they do.

“Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip),” says the statement on the Foreign Affairs website.

“The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.”

The intractable Middle East conflict has also driven a wedge between Canada and the European Union this week.
Baird said he was “deeply concerned” by a decision by the EU’s General Court to take Hamas off its list of terrorist organizations. Canada has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“We understand that restrictive measures remain in place for the time being, and we call on the EU to take the immediate remedial steps necessary to keep Hamas listed as a terrorist entity,” Baird said in a separate statement.

Boycott of Israeli goods, which peaked during Gaza conflict, is faltering, Palestinian official admits

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

WEST BANK — A Palestinian official has admitted that the Palestinian boycott of goods made in Israel is faltering, both because of a lack of substitutes for Israeli products, and the dissipation of some of the anger toward Israel over last summer’s fighting with Hamas in the Gaza Strip that left more than 2200 Palestinians dead. The boycott is part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which aims to make Israel pay an economic price for its continued control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

“There has been a decline in the boycott on some items — most of the Israeli food products are still being boycotted, but the main problem is fruits and vegetables,” PLO Executive Committee member and BDS advocate Mustafa Bargouti said. “The boycott reached its peak during the war,” he added.

An Israeli government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that the Palestinian boycott was having an effect on his country last summer.

“There were some days in specific areas where Israeli products were not purchased. These cases during Operation Protective Edge (Israel’s name for the fighting in Gaza) were caused and motivated by Palestinian business entities that had an economic interest in reducing the volume of the import from Israel,” the official said.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty ImagesA Palestinian man reads posters calling for people to boycott Israeli products.

At the same time, Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said that following the Israeli-Hamas conflict, the numbers of trucks carrying Israeli products that entered the West Bank this year, 22,810 were fewer than in 2013 when the total reached 23,945.

This could be the reason why Mr. Bargouti, also the President of the Palestinian National Initiative (Al Mubadara), still classifies the boycott as “successful.”

However, the Israeli government official denied that the Palestinian boycott is having a real effect on the Israeli economy.

“The export of Israeli products to the Palestinian Authority areas continues normally,” he said.

Palestinian economists say it is hard to find accurate statistics on how much Israel has been affected by the Palestinian boycott, but they agree that enthusiasm for boycotting Israeli goods is declining on the Palestinian street.

‘I shouldn’t preach that everyone should boycott but I do admit it’s much harder for people living in the occupied Palestinian territories’

“If the boycott of Israeli goods reached its peak during the war on Gaza, and was 80%, now it is no more than 20-30%,” Birzeit University professor Nasr Abdelkarim said.

He said items such as water, gas, oil, electricity, were impossible to boycott. Total imports from Israel are $4.5 billion annually. He says $3.5 billion are things like electricity and water that the Palestinians do not have the resources to produce themselves, leaving $1 billion of goods that could be boycotted.

“There were really no numbers in the beginning of how many people were boycotting,” Palestinian economist Jafar Sadaqa said. He says the increase in West Bank residents using non-Israeli products was a reaction to what Palestinians see as Israeli aggression in Gaza rather than a “nationalistic decision.”

“From what I hear or see on the streets, the boycott campaign has lessened and regrettably the fear is that this was temporary due to the anger over Gaza,” he said.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty ImagesA Palestinian boy leaves a store that has a poster calling for people to boycott Israel in East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina in August 2014.

Palestinian journalist Mohamed Abu Resh says that this past Ramadan — the month-long Palestinian month of prayer and fasting, which often includes parties and feasting at night — was the most serious the boycott has ever been.

Omar Salah, who runs Abu Rami Stores in the West Bank village of Abu Dis, says his customers are still supporting the boycott, although they do not talk about it as much. “Today, the Israeli product has lost its credibility among the Palestinian consumer,” he said.

He says Palestinians come in seeking alternatives from countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Mr. Salah, better known by his nickname “Abu Rami” points to Israeli made Ketchup bottles sitting on the counter. “See those? I took those off the shelves today because they expired,” he said. He says he orders what the customer wants.

“Monthly, I used to get ten boxes of Osem pretzels, now I just get two boxes,” he said pointing to the shelf that contains the Israeli snack.

When Salam Fayyad was the Palestinian Prime Minister, his government launched a campaign against “products from Israeli settlements only and not on all Israeli products manufactured inside Israel.” That boycott has since been extended, at least unofficially, to all Israeli products, without differentiating where they were made.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images“There has been a decline in the boycott on some items — most of the Israeli food products are still being boycotted, but the main problem is fruits and vegetables,” a PLO official said.

Mr. Salah says it’s not possible to do a complete boycott of Israeli goods. As an example, he says Palestinians have been unable to make a substitute for sugar free products.

During the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza, Ramallah resident Ibtisam Basim would go door to door asking residents to open their refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. If she found Israeli products, she would ask them to use Palestinian products.

“We always talked about boycotting but no one really took it serious until the Gaza massacre happened and people really boycotted and were happy to do so,” Ms. Basim said. Four months later, she does not go house to house anymore but says her family is supporting the boycott of all Israeli products.

“I shouldn’t preach that everyone should boycott but I do admit it’s much harder for people living in the occupied Palestinian territories,” she said.

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