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|Syrian President Hafez al-Asad, 1930-2000 (photo:al-Majalla)|
2000 On January 2, fighting broke out between Muslims and Christians in the mostly Christian Egyptian village of Kosheh. Twenty two were killed, most of them Coptic Christians. The violence led some observers in Egypt to worry that the country was heading into another round of religious intolerance.
On January 27, 2000, Islamic sharia law went into effect in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara. Other Muslim dominated areas of the north said they intended to follow suit. (more; more) (see also Fulani jihad of 1804)
On February 7, 2000, Israel, responding to Hizbullah attacks on Israeli occupation troops in southern Israel, launched air attacks on the Hizbullah stronghold in Baalbek, Lebanon knocking out power to that city and to parts of Beirut. Hizbullah accused Israel of violating the ceasefire of April 26, 1996 in which Hizbullah and Israel had agreed not to attack civilian targets. Israel announced that it would unilaterally withdraw all troops from its self-declared "security zone" in Southern Lebanon by July 7 in an attempt to weaken Syria's negotiating position (Syria was believed to be using Hizbullah as leverage against Israel. Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon effectively dissolved this leverage.) Arabs hastily called a summit of foreign ministers in Beirut and issued a communiqué expressing their alarm and dismay over Israel's tactics. The Syrian-Israeli peace talks track plunged into deep freeze after this. A meeting between President Clinton and Syrian President Asad in Geneva at the end of March failed to restart negotiations.
Israel and the United States turned to the Palestinian track in an effort to mount pressure on Syria to make concessions on the Golan Heights. Syria wanted assurances that Israel would return all the territory on and near the Heights Israel had seized in the1967 war (that is, up to the shoreline of Lake Tiberias (Galilee). Israel insisted on retaining the shoreline as "security." In Geneva, Asad reminisced about swimming in the lake as a younger man, and stated that he would settle for nothing less than the full return of all Syrian territory.
In May, 2000, World Vision Jerusalem reported that 78% of the residents of Gaza were refugees, 55% of whom lived in refugee camps. The infant mortality rate among refugees was 44 per 1,000. Population density in Gaza was 9,126 per square mile (compared with 80 per square mile in Israel). Two out of three households in Gaza were said to be suffering from "deep poverty": incapable of meeting the minimum requirements for food, clothing, and shelter. (EPISCOPAL LIFE, May, 2000).
On May 15, the fifty-first anniversary of the founding of Israel in 1948 - an event Palestinians referred to as the nakba ("disaster" or "catastrophe") - violence erupted on the West Bank following several days of demonstrations in support of Palestinian prisoners waging hunger strikes in Israeli jails. Four Palestinians were killed and 400 injured. Seven Israeli soldiers were injured. Israelis used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. Palestinians hurled rocks, petrol bombs, and some fired live ammunition. The violence was the worst since 1996 when the Israeli government opened a tunnel under the al-Aqsa Mosque (eighty people died in the rioting that followed).
On May 18, 2000, members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), Israeli-backed Lebanese militia units, abandoned a village they were holding in Israel's self-declared "security zone" inside Lebanon. The following week, the SLA and Israeli withdrawal began to snowball as one after the other, SLA units retreated from other held areas and Hizbullah guerillas moved in to take control of their positions. On May 22, SLA units began turning over their arms to Hizbullah militiamen. By May 23, Israeli forces were withdrawing to positions on the Israeli side of the border, and, by dawn of the 24th, six weeks ahead of their self-imposed deadline of July 7, all Israeli troops had withdrawn from Lebanon ending a twenty-two year occupation. The pullbacks were described as "chaotic": frightened Israeli-allied members of the South Lebanon army (a force 2,500 strong) either surrendered to Hizbullah troops or sought asylum inside Israel. Civilians also fled the villages in advance of the arrival of Hizbullah soldiers and Lebanese Shiites. Israel warned it might send troops back into Lebanon to keep Hizbullah forces from overrunning the area.
In Beirut, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said, "This is the first victory in 50 years of Arab-Israeli conflict." Prime Minister Salim Hoss declared Thursday, May 24th a national holiday ("The Day of the Resistance and Liberation'") and said the Israeli army withdrew "terrified and defeated, wagging behind him the tails of a crushing defeat." (reported by the Associated Press, May 24, 2000)
In May, 2000, while Israel was withdrawing from its self-declared security zone inside the border with Lebanon, Israel continued to occupy an area rich in water resources known as Shebaa Farms located at the foot of the Golan Heights. The United Nations announced it would certify Israel's withdrawal as complete even though the Shebaa Farms territory remained under Israeli control. Ownership of Shebaa Farms was disputed: titles to portions of the land were held by citizens of Lebanon while U.N. maps marked the area as part of Syria. The U.N. ruled that Shebaa Farms belonged to Syria and that its disposition was linked to the settlement of the Golan Heights question. (see also January, 2003, and August 8, 2003).
By May 29, 2000, the Lebanese government had still not sent Lebanese army regulars into the southern zone to impose sovereignty leaving it to Hizbullah to keep the peace, which it was clearly having difficulty doing. The previous day, for example, a Hizbullah regular shot a Christian man to death, and, Israeli troops wounded four Lebanese in a crowd that was trying to storm the border and enter Israel. A leading Arabic daily paper, al-Hayat called upon the Lebanese government to send the army into the zone immediately noting that Hizbullah had already agreed to recognize the authority of the Lebanese government in the zone and abide by its will. The same day, Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah urged Palestinians to follow the example of Hizbullah "martyrs" by pressing on with the struggle for victory over their Israeli occupiers. Some commentators believed this was exactly what Palestinians had in mind when they started their second intifada ("uprising") against Israel in September, 2000. Columnist Bilal Hasan writing in al-Hayat (June 10, 2000) predicted that Palestinians would be inspired by Hizbullah's victory in Lebanon to once again rise up against Israeli occupation.
Hizbullah's self-proclaimed victory over Israel highlighted the plight of the 400,000 Palestinians living in refugee camps inside Lebanon (12% of Lebanon's total population; Palestinians worldwide numbered 3.5 million in the year 2000, the largest single refugee group in the world according to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Palestinians living in Lebanon had no civil rights, and most professions and trades were closed to them. Official Lebanese policy since 1948 had been to grant Palestinians only temporary status in Lebanon. Lebanese blamed the Palestinians for upsetting the delicate balance of religious interests in Lebanon that led to the civil war of 1975 to 1989. For their part, Palestinians pointed to incidents such as that of 1982 when Lebanese Christian militiamen entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla and massacred hundreds of Palestinians.
On May 22, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recalled Israeli delegates conducting peace talks with Palestinian representatives in Stockholm after a two year old Israeli girl was injured in a fire bomb attack in Jericho.
On June 10, 2000, Syrian President Hafez al-Asad died of heart failure in Damascus while speaking on the telephone with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. His last words, according to Lahoud, were, "Our destiny is to build a better future for our two countries. We must leave a better legacy for our children than we inherited."
Asad was the fourth Arab Head of State to die in sixteen months (preceded by the kings of Jordan and Morocco and the Amir of Bahrain). He had ruled Syria since 1971. Like Egypt's Gamal Abd al-Nasser before him, Asad had been committed to pan-Arabism and throughout his thirty year rule aspired to become its leader. Asad's pan-Arabism developed out of his devotion to Ba'ath Party principles.
Asad was succeeded by his son, Bashar al-Asad, an ophthalmologist with little political or military experience. (Asad's eldest son, Basil, whom Asad had been grooming for succession, was killed in a car crash in 1994). Bashar was not expected to make any sharp departures from the policies of his father. Some speculated that a challenge to Bashar's rule, in a country renowned in the pre-Asad era for its frequent coups, might come from the late President's younger brother Rif'at, who was driven into exile following a showdown with Hafez in 1984. And, in the days immediately following his brother's death, Rif'at issued public statements challenging the "constitutionality" of Bashar's accession. However, most observers did not think Rif'at had the support inside Syria to make any serious trouble for Bashar.
On July 10, 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak departed Israel for a summit meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David, Maryland having narrowly survived a vote of "no confidence" in the Israeli Knesset and the desertion of three religious parties from his governing coalition. Barak's dissenters were mainly right-wing Likud Party members (among them Ariel Sharon) and some of the religious parties who feared Barak would make too many concessions to the Palestinians. Arab expectations were low. No one was sure whether or not Barak was strong enough politically to negotiate a deal that would be acceptable to Israeli voters. In spite of the low hopes, stakes were high for President Clinton, for whom this was perceived as the "last chance" to achieve a major goal of his presidency: a peace deal for the Middle East. Fifteen days later (July 25) to no one's surprise, the talks broke down. The final status of Jerusalem was said to have been the sticking point. A year later (on July 19, 2001), the BBC reported that Robert Malley, advisor to former U. S. President Clinton, had published an article arguing that Yasser Arafat was being unfairly made to shoulder most of the blame for the failure of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 which led to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa uprising. Others found much more blame to lay at Arafat's doorstep, especially in Arafat's refusal the following January of an offer that would have brought the Palestinians nearly everything they had asked for. (more on the peace process)
In the summer of 2000, The Israeli human rights group B' Tselem reported that 150 Palestinian villages containing a total of 215,000 residents were not connected to any water pipeline. Many cities in the West Bank did not have sufficient running water. In Hebron, some hospitals and nursing homes had running water only one day a week. Consumption of water by Israelis (the highest in the Middle East) was running five times that of Palestinians. (Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, August/September, 2000, 17). (More on the struggle for water in the Middle East)
In the summer of 2000, the number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes soared past 3,000. (Washington Report for Middle East Affairs, August/September, 2000, 19).
Also in September, 2000, United States ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk had his security clearance pulled temporarily after it was discovered that he had committed irregularities in the handling of classified information.
On September 28, 2000, violent protests erupted on the Haram al-Sharif (the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem during a visit by right wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon. By mid October, Arabs had begun referring to the spreading unrest as "intifada al-Aqsa," the al-Aqsa Uprising. Many critics viewed these events as the logical outcome of the deeply flawed Oslo Accords.
British historian and journalist Patrick Seale saw a "turning of the tide" taking shape in the Middle East with Israeli imperialism and American hegemony beginning to end, and a trend toward increasing autonomy for the Muslim nations of the region on the rise.
On October 12, 2000, a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Cole, was bombed while refueling in Aden, Yemen leaving 17 sailors dead. Suspicions pointed to the involvement of Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden. Two men in a small boat loaded with explosives pulled up alongside the ship and detonated them.
By the end of the third and final round of elections to the People's Assembly in Egypt on November 14, at least twelve foreign journalists had filed complaints about being roughed up by Egyptian police at polling places. The Muslim Brotherhood made gains: 17 out of 18 Islamist seats went to the Brothers. While this represented a gain over the past several years, it was still a far cry from the 65 seats the Brothers held in the late 1980s. There were numerous complaints of opposition voters being turned away from polling places by police, in many cases violently. The ruling National Democratic Party picked up 12 more seats for a total of 400.
In a surprising development on December 9, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak resigned, setting in motion the legal process that would lead to early elections in sixty days. The move was seen as an attempt by Barak to improve his own chances of reelection. Under Israeli law, only a member of the Knesset could run for PM. The only person in Israel at the time capable of defeating Barak was former PM Benjamin Netanayu who was not then a member of the Knesset. Netanyahu and others cried foul and lobbied for an amendment to the law. Barak was eager to create for himself a much stronger mandate in the face of criticism of his handling of the al-Aqsa intifada (uprising).
On December 8, 2000, the United Nations reported that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had launched a new campaign to force Kurds from their homes in the oil-rich region around Kirkuk in the north in a drive to "Arabize" the region (see). By this point, 805,000 Kurds (23% of the population) had been displaced putting huge burdens on relief agencies (New York Times, December 11, 2000).
On December 18, authorities in Algeria reported that 40 people had been massacred by rebel Islamic militants in three separate incidents. Violence had been on the rise again in Algeria since the summer. More than 100,000 had been killed since the unrest broke out in 1992 following the government's suspension of elections that Islamic groups would surely have won.
2001 In early January, 2001, Palestinian leader Arafat met with U.S. President Clinton in the White House and rejected a new peace plan that Clinton had urgently wanted. Clinton did not want to leave office without securing a peace deal for the Israelis and the Palestinians. He did not want the failure of the previous summer's Camp David summit to be the last mark of his outgoing administration. The plan gave the Palestinians nearly everything they had asked for: the return of nearly 97% of Israeli occupied lands, all of Jerusalem except the Jewish and Armenian quarters and Jewish rights to worship at the Western Wall, and $30 billion in compensation. Arafat's rejection of the plan was widely seen as the beginning of his downfall. A year later (January, 2002), Arafat had become a virtual prisoner in his Ramallah headquarters surrounded by Israeli tanks. (more on the peace process)
On February 6, 2001 in Israel, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon won a landslide electoral victory (25 point margin) over incumbent Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Sharon called for a unity government and began negotiations with Ehud Barak and other prospective coalition members. Sharon's chances of forming an enduring governing coalition were seen as mixed at best. The following day, a car bomb went off in an orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon's career spanned more than fifty years, most of them as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (soldier in 1948 war, commander of Unit 101, role in 1973 war, role in 1982 invasion of Lebanon and as a target of investigation - Kahan Commission). More recently, he had been involved in politics (Housing Minister, 1990, Infrastructure Minister, 1998, Foreign Minister, 1998, (see especially his speech of Nov. 15, 1998).
On February 12, twenty six more died in yet another massacre in Algeria, in a village sixty miles south of Algiers. The dead included eleven children with one under six months of age. France came under fire for its support of the military ruling regime which was widely suspected to be involved in the massacres. Ties between Algeria and France ran deep, dating from the colonial period (19th century). The dominant language was French, many Algerians had worked or lived in France, and members of Algerian elites typically received their educations or other training in France.
On February 16, 2001, American and British aircraft carried out bombing raids on targets near Baghdad in efforts to decrease Iraq's capacity to violate the two "no fly" zones imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War of 1991. The same day, an Israeli soldier was killed in the disputed Shebaa Farms area by Lebanese Hizbullah guerillas. Violence was on the rise again in Israel and the Occupied Territories as the Labor and Likud parties neared a deal in which Labor's Ehud Barak would serve as Defense Minister and Shimon Peres Foreign Minister in the Likud led unity government of Ariel Sharon. The deal fell apart a week later when Barak backed out. An editorial in al-Hayat (February 19, 2001), a leading Arabic news daily, complained that the Arab world felt caught between two overwhelming and hostile forces: "Bushism and Sharonism."
On March 22, 2001, the Palestinian Authority closed the Gaza and West Bank offices of the Arabic news agency al-Jazeera claiming that some of its coverage had been insulting toward Yasser Arafat. Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, was one of the few uncensored news gathering organizations in the Arab world and had won high praise for its coverage. Spokespersons for the news agency announced they were opening temporary offices in Israeli West Jerusalem.
On March 29, 2001, the Syrian parliament approved a plan permitting private banks in the country for the first time in forty years. Under the new law up to 49% of all Syrian banks could be foreign owned.
Also in March, 2001, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban destroyed two giant statues of the Buddha (one 175 feet tall, the other 125 feet tall) that had been carved into cliffs more than 1,500 years ago in the Bamiyan Valley on the old Silk Route through central Asia. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had declared the treasures "idolatrous" and ordered their destruction.
On April 5, Israel announced plans to construct 700 new homes for settlers in Palestinian territories expanding settlements near Jerusalem and Nablus. The United States, in an unusually sharp rebuke, denounced the initiatives as "provocative." The following day, violence on both sides escalated sharply. On April 13, Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Musa, went much further than the U.S. in his characterization of Israel's new settler policy as "flagrantly provocative."
On April 11, three Lebanese Druze women were injured in a parcel bomb attack. Since the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon the previous year, Lebanon had split along religious lines over the question of Syria's continued military presence in the country with Christians and Druze arguing for Syrian withdrawal and Muslims for the Syrians to stay.
Also in early April, 2001, 40 Iranian reformists were detained in what was seen as an effort by the judiciary and security services (controlled by conservative Shia theocrats) to weaken reformist elements ahead of presidential elections in June.
In the early hours of April 16, 2001, Israeli warplanes attacked Syrian radar sites inside Lebanon at Dar al-Baidar on the main road between Damascus and Beirut. Three Syrian soldiers were killed. Later in the day, Israeli jets buzzed Beirut setting off sonic booms. Arab leaders warned of the increasing danger of a new regional conflict. Israel claimed its operation was in retaliation for Syrian support of Hizbullah in its attacks on Israeli troops along the border of Israel and southern Lebanon, attacks which were seen by Israel to be flagrant violations of the UN decree certifying Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon as complete (see above), even though Israel continued to occupy the Shebaa Farms area of Syria.
On April 16, 2001, for the first time since it handed control of Gaza over to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords of 1994, Israel sent forces into sovereign Palestinian territory dividing the Gaza Strip into three parts. Arabs called the move "reoccupation." (more) (see also)
On April 18, 2001, the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned Israel for violations in three areas: its policy of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, its use of Israeli military forces to quell Palestinian unrest, and its occupation of Syria's Golan Heights. Of the fifty three countries represented on the commission, fifty voted in favor of the resolution, one abstained, and one was absent from the voting. The United States was the only country to vote against the resolution.
In an editorial piece in al-Hayat (April 19, 2001), a leading Arabic newspaper, Bilal Hasan wrote that the speed with which the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza occurred following severe American criticism proved that the United States was the power calling the shots in the Arab-Israeli conflict: "The violence that has occurred since Sharon came to power could only have happened with American consent." Comprehensive American objectives in the region, he went on to say, included Arab submission to American plans to continue sanctions against Iraq, Arab acceptance of the military alliance between Israel and Turkey and their sovereignty over the region, and the expectation that Arabs would join the United States, Israel, and Turkey in a war with Iran should Iran resist this arrangement.
In late April, 2001, riots broke out in Algeria between Berber youths and security forces. Berbers made up one third of the Algerian population. They had long demanded that their Berber language rank equally with Arabic. Fears spread that Algeria's civil strife might become a two front struggle with Berbers fighting the government from one side and Islamists from the other.
On May 4, a report by the commission led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell investigating the causes of the al-Aqsa intifada was prematurely leaked. A key finding was that Israel's settlement activity in Palestinian territories was a root cause of the unrest. Israel flatly rejected the report.
The BBC reported on May 14 that a two day conference was opening in Beirut on "honor killings": the murder of girls and women by male relatives for having sexual relations outside of marriage. Honor killings in Lebanon were said to occur on average once a month, although experts believed that the number was actually higher and concealed by reports of "accidental" deaths. Motives included men who wanted to get rid of their wives in order to marry again, and fathers who wished to cover up having raped their own daughters. Lebanese law had been amended in 1999 so that pardons for honor killings (which had been routine) were no longer permitted.
Also on May 14, Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms, a disputed territory of Syria occupied by Israel, came under an artillery attack from Lebanese Hizbullah forces. The attack was meant as a show of solidarity with Palestinians who had sustained heavy attacks from Israel. On May 17, after several weeks of raids on Palestinian positions inside Palestinian territories, Israel announced it was setting up outposts inside Palestinian territories which it intended to occupy "indefinitely."
On May 19, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, Egypt at the Arab League in response to Israel's use of F-16 fighter jets against Palestinian targets on May 18 recommended that all political contacts between Arab states and Israel be severed until Israel ceases its attacks. The use of jets was a first for Israel since the 1967 war and was seen as a dangerous escalation of the conflict.
On May 21, 2001, in a development the U.S. government labeled "deeply troubling," Egyptian human rights activist and American University of Cairo professor Saad al-Din Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of accepting funds from abroad to make a film deemed critical of the Egyptian government. He was released in February, 2002 and granted a new trial, but on July 29, 2002, the sentence of seven years hard labor was upheld. Human rights organizations inside and outside Egypt viewed these developments as deeply troubling. A piece Ibrahim wrote in July, 2000 criticized a growing trend in Arab countries: the anointing of sons of rulers as successors. The article was considered an aggravating factor in his conviction.
In another case which had drawn the attention of human rights organizations inside and outside Egypt, feminist professor Nawal al-Sadaawi appealed a court ruling brought by Islamist lawyers charging her with insulting Islam by calling it a pagan religion. If convicted of ridda (apostasy), she faced compulsory divorce from her marriage to her Muslim husband. The case was reminiscent of a similar ruling in 1996 against Egyptian Professor Nasr Abu Zaid and his wife Ibtihal Younis. The Sadaawi case was thrown out of court in late July. (See also "Wars of Words and Images")
Also on May 21, the commission investigating the causes of the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians published its report. The commission found fault with both sides and urged that both sides renounce violence. In addition, the commission called for a halt to all new settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that while no new settlements would be constructed, Israel intended to allow existing settlements to expand in order to accommodate "natural growth."
On May 31, Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini died of a heart attack in Kuwait. Husseini, scion of one of Palestine's leading families, was the Palestinian official in charge of the Palestinians' Jerusalem office, "Orient House."
In the wake of ongoing escalation of the violence associated with the Palestinian uprising, a leading Arabic news magazine al-Majalla in its May 27-June 2, 2001 issue (pp.14-20) ran a series of articles in which Arab leaders indicated they were preparing for the increasing likelihood of a regional war with Israel.
On June 4, 2001, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami announced that the Salman Rushdie case was considered closed. The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had imposed a death sentence upon Rushdie in a fatwa (religious opinion) in 1989 for defaming Islam in his book, The Satanic Verses. On June 8, Khatami was resoundingly reelected to a second four year term as President garnering nearly 77% of the vote, a message that the Iranian people stood solidly behind Khatami as he continued to press for reforms. Later in the summer, Amnesty International and other human rights groups reacted strongly to reports that two women had been stoned to death recently in Iran for adultery (one in May, the other in July). Some observers believed the conservative Iranian judiciary was using such practices to undermine the authority of President Khatami.
On June 17, 2001, the BBC aired a program arguing that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was indictable as a war criminal for his role in the massacre of Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel reacted sharply, charging the BBC with anti-Semitism. Then, on June 23, a leading U.S. based human rights group (Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Division) called for a criminal investigation into Sharon's possible role in the massacre noting that not a single individual had yet been brought to justice in the matter. Nearly two years later, Belgium added momentum to the campaign to indict Sharon. (see also) (see also Kahan Commission findings, 1983)
On June 19, 2001, Lebanon announced that Syria had withdrawn 6,000 troops from the greater Beirut area and redeployed them in the Bekaa Valley. The move came after pressure from Lebanese Maronite Christians who had long chafed at Syrian military presence going back to the Lebanese civil war of the seventies.
On June 29, Lebanese Hizbullah guerillas fired mortars at Israeli positions in the disputed Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area along Israel's northern border. Two days later on July 1, Israeli jets attacked a Syrian radar station in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
On July 10, the United States State Department sharply criticized Israel's demolition of at least 17 houses in the Gaza strip the previous day. On the same day, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for expansion of settlements on the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war, saying that this was the only way to turn the Golan into "a reality that cannot be reversed." (BBC report, July 10, 2001).
In late July some Arab states attempted to put the question of whether or not Zionism was a racist ideology on the agenda of a U.N. conference on racism set to begin on August 31 in Durban, South Africa. The U.N. General Assembly had passed a resolution to the effect that Zionism is racist in 1975, but it was repealed in 1991. Maher Uthman writing in al-Hayat (July 30, 2001) blamed the United States and the Israeli lobby for pressuring the U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to preempt the move: " Thus, the United Nations finds itself once again the captive of Washington's policies and the pressures on Washington coming from Israel, the biggest violator of resolutions of international law." On September 3, just days into the conference, Israel and the United States announced they were pulling out after efforts to delete language critical of Israel from official records failed. Israeli delegates heard their nation branded by some participants as an "apartheid" nation guilty of crimes of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" of Arabs in the occupied territories. In addition, the United States was unhappy with calls from some quarters for the U.S. to pay reparations to descendants of American slaves.
In August, Israel's ambassador to Denmark Carmi Gilon, provoked an angry response in Denmark when he stated in an interview that Israel ought to resume its former practice of using "moderate physical pressure" in its interrogation of Palestinian prisoners.
On August 17, Egyptian national security advisor Osama al-Baz warned the United States that its failure to play a more active role in trying to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians in their current conflict was strengthening extremists and weakening moderate forces in the Middle East. (Go to the transcript of an interview with a Palestinian suicide bomber) His warning echoed events on the ground in Palestine-Israel: polls showed that the Israeli public was rapidly losing confidence in the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and that the Palestinian militant Islamic group HAMAS was rapidly gaining support among Palestinians.