Israel claims 1,000 acres of land in West Bank

September 2nd, 2014

Ben Lynfield; 1/9/14
Israel declared about 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank to be owned by the Israeli state yesterday, in a move some Palestinian officials fear will cause friction after the recent conflict in Gaza.
The announcement concerning land south of Bethlehem, inside what Israelis call the Etzion bloc of settlements, comes after Israel determined the land was not cultivated with enough intensity for the Palestinians to maintain their ownership rights.
Signs have already been posted on the land by military administrators saying “state land – no trespassing”. Dror Etkes, head of the Kerem Navot NGO which specialises in West Bank land issues, said: “There is enough territory for a very big settlement with thousands of units.”
Danny Dayan, a settler leader, denied that rightful owners would be dispossessed, stressing that people with a claim can lodge an appeal within 45 days.
Other settler leaders praised the land declaration as an appropriate response to the murder of three Israeli teens. “The goal of the murderers of the three youths was to sow fear and disrupt our living routine and our answer is strengthening settlement and building,” Davidi Perl, head of the local settlements council, said.
In Israel’s view, building in the area would not constitute a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation: “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”
The Palestine Liberation Organisation spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi claimed that landowners in the villages of Surif, Husan, al-Jabaa and in Bethlehem would lose their property: “Israel is single-handedly sabotaging any chance for peace.”
The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said: “This decision will in no way inhibit moving forward to two states for two peoples.”

Veteran fights over matters of the heart (2)

September 2nd, 2014

Ron Corben; 1/9/14
The Thai fiancee of an indigenous Australian war veteran has had her visa request rejected despite the backing of former senator Fred Chaney. John Schnaars, 67, from Western Australia, has been championing the cause of recognising war graves for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians for more than a decade.
But Schnaars is fighting a new cause after immigration officers at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok denied his fiancee Jan Bunlom, 43, a six-month visitor visa.
“The character reference about myself from Fred Chaney, obviously meant nothing to this person who made the decision,” Mr Schnaars told AAP. “You just feel a real big kick in the gut,” he said. “I’m not going to give up. I call her on the phone twice a day and then on Skype each night.”
His case has been taken up by Liberal member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt, like Mr Schnaars from the Noongar people of WA. Mr Wyatt told Schnaars he is forwarding letters of appeal to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.
Former Liberal Senator Chaney has known Mr Schnaars through his work on veterans’ war graves and described him in a letter supporting the visa application as a “fine citizen, of good character, and whom he admired”. Since 2001, Mr Schnaars has led the “Honouring Indigenous War Graves Inc”, recognised in 2012 by the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Perth Awards.
The program ensures indigenous veterans buried in unmarked graves are properly recognised with a headstone in a formal ceremony to mark the final resting place. The group has located 180 unmarked graves of indigenous veterans across Australia – most in Western Australia. There are a further 30 scheduled services set for 2014.
The formal ceremonies can be emotionally charged as families remember loved ones as the flags of Australia and the indigenous community are raised.
The voluntary work has been recognised by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs as well as cooperation with Australian War Graves. Mr Schnaars, a Vietnam War veteran, had signed up voluntarily for national service in the 1960s, completing his time as a centurion tank gunner in Vietnam before returning to home in 1968.

SA native title bid 18 years in the making (1)

September 2nd, 2014


One of the most complex native title claims in South Australian history has been resolved, the state government says. The federal court on Monday recognised a native title claim by the Kokatha people over an extensive claim area in SA’s northwest pastoral district. Acting attorney-general Ian Hunter says the ruling will allow the state’s compensation liability under the Native Title Act to be determined and create certainty about land access issues.
Court proceedings to resolve the claim have been ongoing since 1996. An indigenous land use agreement between the Kokatha people, the state government and mining giant BHP Billiton was to be executed immediately after the hearing.
It will provide the Kokatha people with financial compensation recognising the past extinguishment of native title by the state. The agreement also provides certainty for future land use in Andamooka and Pimba, including operations associated with BHP’s nearby Olympic Dam copper-gold mine.
“It is anticipated these benefits will assist the Kokatha to become key players in the economic, social and cultural development of this region,” Mr Hunter said in a statement. “This is a significant and positive agreement for the state, Kokatha people and BHP Billiton.”

Feminism pushed child abuse reform: report

September 2nd, 2014


The crime of child sexual abuse has been denied, marginalised and “discovered and rediscovered” at various stages throughout Australia’s history, a new report says.
The report, commissioned by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, found broader social awareness of child sexual abuse emerged in the 1960s because of the efforts of feminist groups.
Prior to women’s rights advocates challenging government responses to sexual violence, psychoanalysts and other theorists downplayed the significance of sexual abuse on children and officials downplayed its prevalence and impact.
Between the late 1800s and 1960s “child sexual abuse was denied or minimised by academics, psychoanalysts and the broader community as the fantasies of disturbed individuals or the result of sexually promiscuous or aggressive children,” the report said.
The report, prepared by the Australian Institute of Criminology, found that the greatest period of reform in Australia’s child abuse laws occurred after the 1970s.
“Feminist groups contradicted historical understandings of child sexual abuse as infrequent acts perpetrated by sexual deviants,” the report said.
“These groups sought to raise awareness and understanding of sexual violence, and were openly critical of government and criminal justice system responses to victims of violence.”
Prior to the late 1800s, the report found, only a small number of offences criminalised sexual contact between children – then defined as under 10 or 13 years of age – and adults.
Attitudes to child sexual abuse have evolved considerably in the past century.
Child protection laws began not as government initiatives but as a result of social pressure and campaigns by activists.
One influential event, the report said, was the case of “Mary Ellen”, who was found badly beaten in her home in New York in 1873.
Police were unable to intervene and the social worker involved sought help from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which succeeded in court in getting Mary Ellen removed from her abusive mother and in having her mother charged with assault.
“As an issue of social and political importance, child sexual abuse has been, at various stages throughout Australia’s history, marginalised, denied, `discovered’ and `rediscovered’,” the report says.
Royal Commission chief executive officer Philip Reed said the report, and a second one looking at the development of relevant legislation, would assist the commission and other organisations working in the area of child sexual abuse.
“Both of these reports will contribute to the Royal Commission’s understanding of the historical context of child sexual abuse in Australia and the development of relevant legislation,” Mr Reed said.

Children ‘treated as baby convicts’

September 2nd, 2014


Children in institutions in Northern Ireland were exported to Australia like “baby convicts”, a witness has told a public inquiry into historical abuse.
The Sisters of Nazareth order of Catholic nuns was responsible for the removal of 111 child migrants aged as young as five before and after World War II, some of whom faced grave sexual and physical violence after arrival. Another 20 were sent by other institutions.
In some cases parental consent was not sought, migrants were separated from siblings and some deprived of their real identities by withholding of birth certificates, a lawyer for the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry said on Monday.Reasons for transport included boosting “Catholicisation” in Australia, propping up the number of white inhabitants of the Empire or saving money and emptying overcrowded workhouses, the investigation heard.
A statement from one witness said: “We were exported to Australia like little baby convicts.”
The inquiry was established by ministers in Northern Ireland following a campaign by alleged victims.
Survivors have given graphic details of their ordeals, according to inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart. Approximately 130 young children, in the care of religious voluntary institutions or state bodies after being orphaned or taken away from unmarried mothers, became child migrants, most in the decade after the war.
The experiences of around 50 of them will be examined in person or via video-link and their statements furnished to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia.
The Sisters of Nazareth, based in Londonderry and Belfast, sent 111 children between 1938 and 1956. Many were Queensland-bound in eastern Australia because it was seen as a very Catholic state and considered best for the girls. Others went to Fremantle near Perth or other parts of Western Australia.
A witness, who has since died, submitted a statement to the inquiry. He said: “My life in institutions has had a profound impact on me. I have always wondered what it would have been like to have had a family, a mother and father and brothers and sisters.
“I never got the chance to find out because I was sent to Australia. “I was treated like an object, taken from one place to another. I found it very hard to show affection to my children when they were young. “I have a nightmare every night of my life; I relive my past.”
The inquiry panel, sitting in Banbridge in County Down, is limited to what happened to children in institutions in Northern Ireland and does not have the power to investigate what befell migrants in Australian institutions. Sir Anthony said: “That does not mean that their accounts of their experiences in Australia will be swept under the carpet. I want to assure them that will not be the case.”
The inquiry is probing claims that the process for sending young people was abusive. Christine Smith QC, barrister representing the inquiry, said the migrants allege they were seriously abused in institutions and many lost all contact with their parents and siblings.
Ms Smith said the inquiry needed to consider what efforts the sisters made to keep informed about children’s progress in Australia. “It is a common complaint by migrants that they received no letters from home, that letters were kept from them if they were sent and that their parents in many instances were unaware that the children were sent to Australia..”

Pope Francis has transformed the Church – it’s time the Church stopped stifling groups who embrace that transformation

August 29th, 2014

22/8/14; Chris McDonnell

There are times in all our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.
Such a step-change occurred in the life of the Church in March 2013 with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome. The present successor to previous holders of that office is within the tradition of the Church, there is no argument with that. He has however shown us a willingness to break new ground through his evident easy relationship with people. Over recent months the internet has been littered with his examples of a simple life style that seems natural to him and puts others at their ease.
One key word must be dialogue, not just the dialogue of words but also of relationships. In recent years, groups have been formed in various parts of the world seeking dialogue, bringing together people whose commitment to the Church is faithful, but who also recognise real problems that cannot, must not, be ignored.
Such groups should not be seen as a threat, for their giving voice to current issues is all part of their pilgrimage as Christian people. They often meet with resistance from many directions, from those who seek the holy comfort zone of what used to be, or are fearful of where we might be heading.
Richard Rohr, in his recent book, Falling Upward, puts it this way. “This resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we come to expect from religious people who tend to love the past more than the future or the present”.
Because some people are willing to take the risk of a journey, to question where we are and where we might be going, that should not make them the subject of suspicion. Their courage in leaving home should be applauded.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland has raised serious questions over the last three years and have often been castigated for it. In the US, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who met this week, who live out their vocation in a real and messy world, has had its integrity challenged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here in the United Kingdom, the establishment of the group a Call to Action (ACTA) in 2012 following a gathering at Heythrop College in London raised concern in some quarters when the only wish of those involved was to establish open dialogue for the good of the Church. Likewise, the Movement for Married Clergy, MMaC, has since 1975, sought an honest discussion on the “necessary” relationship between ordination and celibacy. Sincere discussion should be welcomed by both the hierarchy and the laity, for the good of the Church.
In the early days of August, we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We should remember that, now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.
We mustn’t be afraid of challenging voices from whatever quarter they come, but ask only questions of their sincerity and then be willing to dialogue a way forward together.

Chris McDonnell is the secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy

$6B in damage: Gaza economy reels from four weeks of war (4)

August 29th, 2014

/8/14 Ben Piven @benpiven

Hamas is branded a radical extremist group by its enemies, but in the current Gaza conflict it tacked to the Palestinian political center. “When Palestinians look at the Hamas demands, they say, ‘This is what we want, what all Palestinians want,’” says Israeli analyst Gershon Baskin.
That’s because Hamas has focused its cease-fire terms on breaking the economic stranglehold imposed on Gaza by Israel with the help of Egypt, calling for an opening of border crossings and the expansion of areas where Palestinians may fish and where farmers may till their lands.
But even if the siege is eased or lifted — and there’s no sign yet that the troubled search for a truce would produce such an outcome — rebuilding Gaza’s economy will remain a formidable challenge.
“You cannot say there is an economy right now,” Omar Shaban, director of the PalThink Institute for Strategic Studies, said last week. “There was ongoing shelling 24 hours a day, and I hadn’t been out of my home for the past 24 days. This applies to everybody. Farmers can’t go out, and factories are not working.”
More than 485,000 people have been displaced, the U.N. says, as residents of neighborhoods in the border areas controlled by Israel fled to Gaza City. More than 10,000 homes have been demolished and another 5,000 significantly damaged. The destruction is more severe than in either of the past two wars between Hamas and Israel.
‘You cannot say there is an economy right now. This applies to everybody. Farmers can’t go out, and factories are not working.’ Omar Shaban director, PalThink Institute for Strategic Studies
Even before the current war, the blockade’s choking off of diesel supplies meant that Gaza suffered power cuts about eight hours a day. During Operation Protective Edge, electricity was out more than 20 hours per day, Shaban said. He described Gaza’s electric power breakdown: 32 megawatts from Egypt, 120 MW from Israel (down to 40 MW, with only two lines functioning) and 70 MW from Gaza’s only power plant (knocked offline).
Shaban, an economist, said that before the current conflict, there were few Egyptian goods arriving in Gaza through the smuggling tunnels into Rafah. The Egyptian military’s campaign to destroy the tunnels accelerated in July 2013, after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
“We used to have cars with Egyptian fuel — lower quality, but cheaper,” he said. “Milk and cigarettes from there we also stopped seeing. So I don’t imagine the smuggling has continued.” Gaza’s economy was in dire straits even before last month, with falling growth and a staggering 70 percent of residents dependent on humanitarian aid.
Some of the primary industries in Gaza are textiles, food processing and farming — including citrus, strawberries, dates, olives and flowers. Employees of the former Hamas government stopped receiving salaries after the April formation of a technocratic unity cabinet. Under pressure from the U.S., funds from Qatar to the 44,000 civil servants could not reach Gaza.
Unemployment stood at more than 40 percent before the current round of fighting, and construction — one of Gaza’s biggest sectors — shed 17,000 jobs over the last year, since the import of cement was halted.
Shaban fears for the economic aftermath of weeks of intense fighting. “I’m not asking Hamas to love Israel or for Israel to love Hamas,” he said. “But the more the war continues, the bigger the challenge for reconstruction.” Relief rather than reconstruction has been the focus of outside groups as the war has exacted a brutal toll on the civilian population.
“The policy right now is that only humanitarian goods are allowed to go to Gaza,” Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) under Israel’s Ministry of Defense. “That includes food, water, fuel and medical supplies.”
He explained how Israel sees a security risk in allowing in construction materials such as cement, insisting on close monitoring of future supplies. “Instead of building Gaza and taking care of their population, they preferred using building materials for terror tunnels,” he said. “They would have been able to build a three-floor clinic for each tunnel.” Palestinians say the tunnels are a legitimate strategic component of self-defense.
The U.N. refugee agency UNRWA has appealed for $115 million in immediate relief aid. Saudi Arabia has offered $53 million to the Palestinian Red Crescent, the UAE committed $41 million for home reconstruction, and U.S. humanitarian aid pledges total $47 million. In addition, Turkey has airlifted medical aid through the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing.
The Palestinian deputy prime minister estimates that the war cost $6 billion, including lost output, infrastructure and homes destroyed. That figure is more than double Gaza’s $2.9 billion annual GDP, according to the World Bank and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Israel has lost an estimated $2.9 billion, which is just 1 percent of its GDP. The Palestinian deputy prime minister estimates that the war cost $6 billion, including lost output, infrastructure and homes destroyed. That figure is more than double Gaza’s $2.9 billion annual GDP.
Dana Erekat, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Planning’s head of aid management and coordination directorate, said just 250 million shekels ($73 million) remained in Gaza’s banks, according to unofficial figures. And merchants reportedly gave up making money on goods. “What I’m told is that shopkeepers are selling products at cost, given the emergency situation. Most are not trying to make a profit.”
After convening emergency government meetings in Ramallah through the military escalation during the Eid holiday last week, Erekat said: “We are preparing for reconstruction plans whenever there is a ceasefire. But for now, under the attacks, we can’t do any assessment.”
Yet, even if a truce were to hold, “unless restrictions and the siege are lifted, no amount of funding will lead to sustainable development in Gaza,” Erekat said, adding that the contamination of the water infrastructure by bombing poses an immediate challenge. Israel says it supports economic reconstruction in Gaza, but ties lifting the siege to its demand for the territory’s demilitarization.
Even if that demand won support from Western and Arab powers, however, it remains highly unlikely that Hamas would surrender arms the movement considers its only effective leverage against the occupying power.
The key to the territory’s development, then, remains a political solution to the wider conflict. “If Gaza is still isolated as a separate territory under Israeli control of exits, borders, coastal waters and the population registry, then forget it,” said Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. “Even money doesn’t solve the problem. People will not give up their fight for freedom.”

UN Seeks Access to Israel for Assessment Mission (3)

August 29th, 2014

28/8/14 UN News

An independent United Nations expert has requested access to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to gather first-hand information on the impact of current hostilities on the human rights situation.
“As a newly appointed Special Rapporteur, it is my priority to see with my own eyes the situation on the ground, to listen and to speak face-to-face with victims and witnesses, and to discuss issues of concern with officials on both sides,” Makarim Wibisono said in anews release.
Mr. Wibisono is tasked by the Geneva-UN Human Rights Council with monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The last visit of a Special Rapporteur with this mandate to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory was in 2007. Access was then granted by Israel, but no meetings with Israeli officials were held.
Lifting the seven-year old blockade on Gaza is an essential step towards ending this perpetual crisis and allowing the people of Gaza to rebuild their lives
“The recent escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and heightened tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have given me an even greater sense of urgency to see at first-hand the impact on the lives of civilians,” he stressed.
The Rapporteur voiced dismay at the renewed escalation of hostilities, and urged leaders to take “bold and courageous steps to immediately bring this senseless violence to a halt, particularly in light of the exceedingly high loss of life.”
Over the past six weeks of hostilities, the death toll has already exceeded 1,450 Palestinian civilians, including over 490 children, and four civilians in Israel. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in UN shelters or with host families across the Gaza Strip, the news release pointed out. It is estimated that around 17,200 housing units have been totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable across the Gaza Strip, with life-sustaining infrastructure for entire neighbourhoods in need of urgent repair.
Mr. Wibisono reiterated the joint appeal made with fellow UN experts before the Human Rights Council in July to both sides to abide by the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and for much more to be done to protect civilians.
“Lifting the seven-year old blockade on Gaza is an essential step towards ending this perpetual crisis and allowing the people of Gaza to rebuild their lives,” he added. “I call on all parties to return to the negotiating table. Only by putting international human rights and humanitarian law at the heart of the talks will the cycle of violence and destruction be brought to an end.”
Mr. Wibisono, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, plans to conduct his mission in September 2014, with a view to preparing his oral update to the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly in October 2014 and his first substantive report to the twenty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council in March 2015.

Children Tear Gassed as School Year Begins (2)

August 29th, 2014

Thursday, 28 August 2014, 1:10 pm;International Solidarity Movement

Israeli forces fired 15 tear gas grenades and canisters, as well as five stun grenades, at children as they waited to go to school yesterday morning in Hebron. Children in the West Bank have begun their new school year, while children in Gaza have so far been unable to return.
A Red Crescent ambulance was called as two teachers and two children, aged 10 and 12-years-old, required medical treatment for excessive tear gas inhalation.
A British International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteer, Ally Cohen, who was present at the checkpoint stated, “I was standing with my fellow ISM’er next to two young boys who were both under six-years-old. We saw a few teenagers run towards the checkpoint and throw stones; they then ran away very quickly. The soldiers then threw two stun grenades very close to us.
- We tried to comfort the two young boys when they [the stun grenades] exploded, but what could we say?
They were both terrified. We walked with them down closer to their school and they began to run. At that moment, a tear gas grenade was fired and there were no children throwing stones. The smoke was thick and I began choking, it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I can’t imagine what this sensation would have been like for a child, and there were so many present. From there the situation just seemed to get worse, with so much tear gas in the air, children were unable to reach their schools.”
One young boy spoke to an ISM volunteer, with his eyes still red from tear gas, he pointed towards the checkpoint and said, “The soldiers from Gaza are here!”
International activists monitor the checkpoints the children are forced to pass through on their way to school, both to document the events and to stand with the children. Israeli forces’ firing military weapons at children is unfortunately common. Between May and June, the last month of the school year, ISM documented 11 tear gas grenades and 13 stun grenades used against schoolchildren in al-Khalil, some as young as 4-years-old.; Watch the video here:

Gaza: Crisis will repeat unless restrictions are lifted (1)

August 29th, 2014

28/8/14 Oxfam NZ

Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize the opportunity of the new ceasefire to end the violence once and for all. Lasting peace for all civilians will only be possible if Israel permanently lifts its restrictions on Gaza’s economy and people, Oxfam said in a new report issued today.
“Recent history must warn everyone that this ceasefire will only be a short-term fix, rather than a foundation for lasting peace, as long as Palestinian civilians in Gaza are denied their basic rights,” said Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
Oxfam said lessons must be learnt from the last ceasefire, in November 2012, which ultimately broke down. The following year was marked by the quietest security period in a decade, but commitments to ease the Israeli blockade of Gaza and improve the lives of civilians there remained largely unmet.
“Civilians cannot afford for the same mistake to be made again. The deadly hostilities of the past 50 days are likely to re-occur ever more frequently without an end to the blockade, which has left people in Gaza mired in poverty, unable to trade or move freely,” said Pandey.
The current humanitarian crisis is the worst Gaza has seen in decades. More than 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed and are sheltering in overcrowded schools with less than an hour of running water a day. Billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure will take years to repair.
Oxfam’s report, “Cease Failure: Rethinking seven years of failing policies in Gaza,” says long-term peace for Palestinians and Israelis will require not only an end to the violence by both sides, but also an end to policies that have reduced a once vibrant economy to dependency on international aid. Israel’s “policy of separation” – economically, socially and politically isolating Gaza from the West Bank – fuels poverty, denies people basic rights, and undermines the chances of a viable two-state solution.
The blockade of Gaza – part of the “policy of separation” – has prevented farmers, manufacturers and businesses in Gaza from selling their produce in other Palestinian markets in the West Bank. Now, exports from Gaza are at just two percent of levels before the blockade was put in place in 2007.
Students, families, businessmen and women, and government officials cannot freely travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
Only three students from Gaza have been allowed to study in the West Bank in the past 14 years. Fishermen are prevented from going more than a few kilometres out to sea so are unable to make a living.
The report sets out specific immediate steps that should be taken to ensure rights and development for people in Gaza while addressing Israel’s security concerns, including:
• Protecting civilians on both sides from military operations and rocket fire, by deploying international personnel to monitor ceasefire violations, and ensuring adequate border inspection.
• Ensuring people can move between Gaza and the West Bank by re-opening crossings to all except cases related to specific security concerns, instead of the current broad restrictions on civilian movement.
• Ensuring movement of goods essential for Gaza’s recovery and development, by removing restrictions on vital goods and upgrading the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.
• Increasing diplomatic engagement with the new technocratic Palestinian unity government, which offers an opportunity to overcome divisions between Gaza and the West Bank and is a necessary step towards a viable two-state solution.
• The full briefing paper is online here:
• Oxfam’s 2013 report, “One year since the 2012 ceasefire,” is available here: It finds that despite overall improvements in security, the blockade continued and promised improvements to the lives of Palestinian civilians in Gaza failed to materialize.

Pope Francis: Christian unity not division

August 29th, 2014

27/8/14 Vatican Radio

Pope Francis on Wednesday said that in a Christian community division is one of the worst sins because it comes not from God. He made the comment during weekly General Audience on Wednesday in St Peter’s Square.
The importance of unity was at the heart of Pope Francis’ catechesis at his weekly General Audience on Wednesday, telling the estimated ten thousand pilgrims and tourists present in St Peter’s Square that “ while we, the members of the Church, are sinners, the unity and holiness of the Church arise from God and call us daily to conversion.
The Holy Father said that the sins against unity, such as jealousy, envy, and antipathy come about when we place ourselves at the centre and even occur even in our parish communities.
Then the Pope underlined that in a Christian community division is one of the worst sins because it comes not from God but from the Devil.
God’s will, stressed Pope Francis “is that we grow in our capacity to welcome one another, to forgive and to love, and to resemble Jesus.”
Giving an example of Christ’s unity and Holiness at work, Pope Francis recounted a story he had heard about an elderly woman who, all her life worked for her parish. She was a women who never gossiped, never spoke ill of anyone and always had a smile on her face. This is the kind of woman, said the Pope that could be “canonized tomorrow”. This, the Holy Father noted, is the holiness of the Church – “to recognize the image of God in one another”.
Concluding his Catechesis, the Holy Father asked that we all examine our consciences and look for forgiveness “for the times when we have given rise to division or misunderstanding in our communities and may our relationships mirror more beautifully and joyfully the unity of Jesus and the Father.”; (see pervious article “Sealed with a handshake” by Mark R Francis The Tablet; 16/8/14; where the Italian and Spanish complained about the Sign of Peace in the Eucharist) and also:;
Rome, Eucharist
Cardinal’s child sex abuse views out of step

29/10/14 Kathy Marks Across the Ditch; NZ Herald

Cardinal George Pell’s career with the Catholic Church reaches back nearly five decades, roughly spanning the period during which the scandal of child sexual abuse has come to light internationally.
He has been a priest, a bishop, Archbishop of Melbourne and, as Archbishop of Sydney, head of the church in Australia.
Yet he still doesn’t get it.
In evidence to a national royal commission scrutinising child abuse within institutions, Pell claimed last week that the church was “no more legally responsible for priests who abuse children than a trucking company which employs a driver who molests women”.
Not surprisingly, he was widely condemned — including by the Australian Trucking Association, which accused him of insulting the country’s 170,000 professional drivers.
Sean Cash, a barrister representing one abuse victim, Paul Hersbach, challenged the analogy, noting that the church was supposed to be “an organisation of the highest integrity”.
The royal commission’s chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, noted that priests — unlike truck drivers — were given access to children, with their parents’ consent.
Pell’s clumsiness and insensitivity in the witness box were entirely typical of the way he dealt with abuse complaints while heading Australia’s two largest archdioceses.
In Melbourne, in 1996, he set up the “Melbourne Response”, which capped compensation payments at a miserly A$50,000 ($55,765) and forced victims to waive their legal right to civil action.
In Sydney, in 2007, he fought to the NSW Court of Appeal to ensure the church’s vast wealth remained out of the reach of those foolhardy enough to sue.
In his personal dealings with victims, he demonstrated a “sociopathic lack of empathy”, according to Anthony Foster, whose two daughters, Emma and Katie, suffered horrific abuse in primary school at the hands of the late Father Kevin O’Donnell, their parish priest. Emma developed anorexia and was admitted to hospital or detox more than 50 times before committing suicide in 2008. Katie took to binge drinking, and was hit by a car in 1999 while in a drunken stupor. She now requires 24-hour care.
Yet Pell’s career hasn’t suffered.
This year, he was given a plum Vatican job of overseeing the church’s finances.
He gave evidence by video-link from Italy and was cold, legalistic, defensive.
He attributes the abuse to sinful individuals, rejecting any suggestion that the church’s culture — or its celibacy rule — played any part.
His arrogance, and his wilful blindness, are breathtaking.
As for the church hierarchy, we’ve heard scathing words from Pope Francis, who has called the sexual abuse of children by priests “an ugly crime”.
But actions count more, and his promotion of a man who showed — and still shows —so little Christian kindness towards such victims of that crime speaks volumes.


UN, Global warming human-caused, dangerous

August 29th, 2014


A draft report by a UN panel has drawn the conclusion that global warming is caused by humans. Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous – and it’s increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group.
There is little in the report that wasn’t in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what’s causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report says.
The final report will be issued after governments and scientists go over the draft line by line in an October conference in Copenhagen.
Depending on circumstances and values, “currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous,” the report says. It mentions extreme weather and rising sea levels, such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. It even raises, as an earlier report did, the idea that climate change will worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems and could hinder efforts to grow more food. And ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by oceans, will harm marine life, it says.
Without changes in greenhouse gas emissions, “climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century”, the report says.
In 2009, countries across the globe set a goal of limiting global warming to about another 1 degree Celsius above current levels. But the report says that it is looking more likely that the world will shoot past that point. Limiting warming to that much is possible but would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon dioxide pollution.
The report says if the world continues to spew greenhouse gases at its accelerating rate, it’s likely that by mid-century temperatures will increase by about another 2 degrees Celsius compared to temperatures from 1986 to 2005. And by the end of the century, that scenario will bring temperatures that are about 3.7 degrees Celsius.
“The report tells us once again what we know with a greater degree of certainty: that climate change is real, it is caused by us, and it is already causing substantial damage to us and our environment,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in an email. “If there is one take home point of this report it is this: We have to act now.”
Online: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:;

Girls commended for speaking about abuse

August 29th, 2014


Two young girls who were sexually abused by a deputy principal in NSW have been commended in court for their courage in speaking out so quickly.
The girls, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were seven and nine when their parents dropped them off to the home of Mark Roberts Forbes and his wife at Keiraville in the Illawarra on March 28 last year. At the time the 54-year-old was the deputy principal of Albion Park Primary School.
During the evening, the court heard that – while his wife was in another room – Forbes continually “manoeuvered” the girls so he could get them alone. He proceeded to indecently assault the girls, before sexually assaulting the youngest. At his sentence hearing on Wednesday, Sydney’s District Court heard that after the abuse the girls began crying and confided in Forbes’s wife.
She immediately contacted the girls’ parents and took them home. The police were later contacted. Judge Mark Marien said the courage of the two girls was “something the children are to be commended for”.
In victim impact statements read to court, the girls’ mother described how her eldest daughter is a powerful girl but that on the night Forbes molested her “she felt disempowered and unsure of herself. Eventually she got the courage to tell (Forbes’s wife),” the mother said.
The abuse, she said, has created a chain of events like when a “stone is thrown into a pond”. “We seem to be constantly see-sawing between the older way of parenting and the special parenting required for trauma.
“Because of the extremely private nature of sexual assault (my eldest daughter) and the family find it difficult to talk to people. “Since the incident we have shied away from socialising. Our whole family has been traumatised … (It) has shaken our sense of trust with people … I’m not sure if we will ever be the same again.”
When her eldest daughter gave evidence at Forbes’ trial earlier this year, the mother said she went into the cross examination confident but came out “looking grave”. Meanwhile her youngest daughter suffers flashbacks, an eyesight problem termed “psychological blindness” as well as behavioural difficulties.
The court heard that Forbes has ruined his career and marriage as a result of his abuse. He will return for sentence at a later date for five counts of indecent assault and one count of aggravated sexual intercourse with a child aged under 10.

Conservationist Valerie Taylor urges MPs to block SA marine park changes (3)

August 29th, 2014


A decorated conservationist who lends her name to one of South Australia’s new marine parks has staged a lone protest outside State Parliament against a move to weaken the protected areas. Valerie Taylor and her late husband, shark protection pioneer Ron, were renowned for their marine documentaries and other film credits, including footage for the blockbuster Jaws.
The state’s 19 marine parks were introduced almost two years ago, but fishing bans in more than 80 sanctuary zones inside the parks are still being phased in. An Opposition bill to allow fishing in 12 sanctuary zones, by reclassifying them as habitat protection areas, has passed the Legislative Council.
Opposition Environment spokeswoman Michelle Lensink, who introduced the amendment bill, believes the parks will hurt regional communities in their current form and should be changed. The bill still has to face the House of Assembly next month, where the spotlight will shift to independents Martin Hamilton-Smith and Geoff Brock, who hold the balance of power.
Ms Taylor, who is also an ambassador for the parks and a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), has urged both MPs to block the proposed changes and keep the sanctuaries intact.
“I was here months ago and I thought it was a done deal. I thought the marine parks were there for good and I have been told that perhaps they’re not,” she said. “I feel incredibly distressed that two people who perhaps don’t understand the situation very well have the power and the ability to stop something that took 10 years to make. “I believe that there should be places kept, like museums, like a treasure – which they are – for the future.”
The 78-year-old says South Australia has the “most unique and rare” marine environment in the country and it needs to be conserved. “It’s personal to me because there are two parks out there named in honour of my husband and myself,” she said. “It meant a great deal to me and I don’t want to see it taken away.”
But Ms Lensink argued: “There aren’t these restrictions in place at the moment and I think most people would look at those areas and say ‘they’re in pristine condition so just drawing a boundary around an area and saying fishing can’t take place is not good conservation’,” she said.
“It’s disappointing that the conservation sector hasn’t examined the history of this issue in great detail because if they spoke to a lot of the people who are going to be impacted… they would understand how disappointed many people in regional South Australia are.”
In a statement Mr Brock, whose regional seat of Frome borders the Upper Spencer Gulf park, said he is “still considering the issues that have been put to me by various individuals and organisations and my position will be made clear in parliament.” The Neptune Islands Group, named after Ms Taylor and her late husband, is one of South Australia’s 19 marine parks.

Koalas caught in Qld development plan (1)

August 29th, 2014

Stephen Johnson 27/8/14

A Brisbane koala population is at the centre of a contentious development application. Less than five years ago, Brisbane City Council wanted to buy privately-owned bushland at Upper Kedron, in the city’s northwest to create an environmental reserve.
But the Liberal National Party-controlled council is now considering a plan to develop housing lots on that land, presently zoned as environment protection. Koalas are also known to live in that bushland, near D’Aguilar National Park.
A spokesman for Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the council’s original plan to buy 50 hectares for environmental purposes would not have benefited ratepayers. “Council did not proceed with its plans. However, if it had done so it would have been at a significant cost,” he said in a statement.
West Australian developer Cedar Woods is asking council for permission to create a $900 million master-planned community with 1350 housing lots over a decade, on environmental and rural zoned land.
This includes the 50 hectares initially earmarked as an environmental reserve, as it also spends $68 million over four years buying 227 hectares of land from private owners. The developer is proposing to set aside 90 hectares of bushland as an ecological corridor, as part of council’s brief to ensure local koala populations are “not detrimentally impacted by the proposed development”.
But the Australian Koala Foundation’s chief ecologist Douglas Kerlin said the plan to set aside only 90 hectares of “tiny, tree-lined corridors” would fail to save koalas from dog attacks and cars. “Southeast Queensland was certainly one of the big hotspots for koalas in Australia and the numbers are declining significantly,” he said.
Locals opposed to the development application have set up a Save The Gap campaign. The group’s spokesman Shane Bevis said the area’s one major access road would be unable to handle extra cars and buses.

Australia, Environment

Barrier Reef: government MP says he ‘got it wrong’ on dredging spoil support (2)
Oliver Milman; 27/8/14
The Coalition MP George Christensen has admitted he was wrong to support the dumping of 5m tonnes of sediment into the Great Barrier Reef marine park and has said he will push for alternatives to the plan. In an open letter to readers of the Whitsunday Times and Whitsunday Coast Guardian, Christensen said: “Politicians don’t often say they got it wrong, but here it is: I got it wrong.”
The federal member for Dawson, an electorate which lies adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, said he “didn’t foresee the angst the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park would cause tourism operators and the residents of the Whitsundays”.
Christensen has supported the expansion of the Abbot Point port, near the Queensland town of Bowen. The expansion, for increased coal exports, involves the controversial dredging of 5m tonnes of seabed, with the sediment to be dumped within the marine park.
It has emerged that scientists at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority warned against the dumping, only to be overruled. Unesco has also expressed concern over the dumping, which was approved in January. Opponents of the plan claim it will smother coral and seagrasses, which are a vital food source for turtles and dugongs.
The federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, has insisted the dredging and dumping will have little impact on the reef. However, Hunt has also promised a “line in the sand” that will prohibit any further dumping within the marine park.
Christensen’s letter states the MP has “started talks with the owners of Abbot Point about land-based options for the disposal of the dredged material. They’ve agreed to re-examine all land-based options before proceeding with any works.” He added that if a “viable option emerged, I will ensure that the spoil is dumped on land, not at sea”.
A Department of Environment assessment report released in December suggested that alternatives to offshore dumping “would involve significant expenditure”, with North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP), the Abbot Point project overseer, estimating that onshore disposal would cost between $120m and $460m.
Felicity Wishart, the campaign director at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said she was happy with Christensen’s change of heart. “I’m surprised but pleased,” she said. “George has previously dismissed the environmental concerns but he’s done a turnaround which is very welcome.
“What we’d really like to see is a commitment to ban dredging and dumping because the dredging itself will be damaging. That said, we recognise some dredging will go ahead and so we need to identify land-based sites where we can put the sediment.”
The North Queensland Conservation Council has launched a legal challenge against the sea-based dumping. NQBP has yet to identify an exact site for the dumping, despite the plan being approved by the federal government.

Indigenous patients face too many barriers to seeing specialists, say doctors (2)

August 29th, 2014

Melissa Davey;, 27/8/14
Access to government-subsidised medical specialists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is piecemeal and rife with barriers, according to the leading organisation representing physicians and paediatricians in Australia.
Indigenous Australians used specialists 178 times less per 1,000 people compared to the general community, the president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Professor Nicholas Talley, told a national forum of Indigenous health experts in Sydney on Wednesday.
This was despite Indigenous people having greater health needs. “Clearly the college and many other health organisations are concerned about closing the gap, and there is still a very significant gap,” he said.
Following the forum, the college will present the federal assistant health minister, Fiona Nash, with a proposal for a national specialist access plan that could be included in the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan, he said.
Dr Mary Belfrage, from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, said there were several barriers to Indigenous people accessing specialists, including a lack of political will to make Indigenous people a focus of health and social services policy.
“That’s been the case since colonisation, where policy makers haven’t had the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their vision,” she said. “There is also subtle institutional racism that systematically discriminates against Indigenous Australians, and that’s true of health services. There are two dimensions to this issue. There are services not being offered, referrals not being made, medicines not being prescribed and procedures not being done.
“But also, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders may not be taking up the services being offered to them, and that’s about trust and belief in the value of the service.”
There was also evidence services were not being offered by medical staff because they assumed those offers would not be taken up, she said.
Dr Mahiban Thomas, a general, head, and neck surgeon at Royal Darwin Hospital, said geographical barriers often meant Indigenous Australians did not always make it to appointments with him.
“I travel to Gove district hospital once a month to spend a day there operating, and another day seeing patients in the clinic,” he said. “When I’m doing clinic, I will often be sitting there twiddling my thumbs because patients from each community have to agree to get onto the plane and make what can be a large trip to come and see me.
“I am not being critical of those patients in any way. Because in a way, the system is letting them down because we don’t have an adequate way of communicating the need for them to attend clinic, to go to follow-up specialist appointments, and sometimes there are cultural issues which mean patients don’t stay on treatment.”
There must be a willingness to work within Indigenous cultures and communities, Thomas said. One intervention he and his staff were examining was taking appointments as close to the patients’ homes as possible.
“What we are also doing is setting up a coordinator who can set up a conversation via video and then look at the various issues individuals have, so that might be educating a patient and empowering them about their care, or helping them to access transport in an appropriate timeframe. But a lack of government funding means it is hard to take our staff and equipment into very small communities.”
According to a council of Australian governments report released in May, the heart attack rate for Indigenous people in 2011 was 2.5 times higher than that of other Australians. In 2010, the prevalence of lung cancer in Indigenous Australians was nearly double that of other Australians.
Dr Tamara Mackean, chair of the college’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health advisory committee, said the specialty services lacking depended on the area. But there was a greater need for cardiac, respiratory, oncological, paediatric and gastroenterological care, she said.
A framework for better care should look at well-established medical specialist services in some communities that were working well and resulting in improvements to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, she said. “The proposed framework will support the integration of specialist care with the care provided by community and primary healthcare services, and will ensure the care needed is accessible across all of Australia,” she said.
Nash’s office had not returned calls from Guardian Australia at time of publishing.