Thursday, 12 March 2009
Fonte:EI foto: AP on Yahoo
Israeli settlers terrorize Palestinian villagers
Mel Frykberg, The Electronic Intifada, 11 March 2009
AL-TUWANI, occupied West Bank (IPS) - "I couldn't run. My pregnancy was too far advanced and there was nowhere to hide," said Amna Salman Rabaye, 31, as she recalled the terrifying incident several months ago.
Rabaye from the Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Tuwani in the southern West Bank was grazing her sheep when she was assaulted by a security guard from the adjacent illegal Israeli settlement of Ma'on.
"We saw a group of masked Israeli settlers armed with sticks and chains heading towards us. The younger shepherds ran and managed to escape, leaving me with the flock of sheep," Rabaye told IPS.
"It was physically impossible for me to run and I also didn't want the settlers to kill or steal my sheep. The security guard pushed me over but I was not injured," recalled Rabaye who was then seven months pregnant.
Al-Tuwani was established over 300 years ago by nomadic tribes of Bedouin who first moved into the area seeking shelter in the nearby caves. However, Israeli settlers built the adjacent Ma'on settlement in 1982. The nearby illegal outpost of Havot Ma'on was built at a later date.
Outposts normally comprise small settlements ranging from a few caravans, which are sometimes connected to water and electricity, to slightly larger settlements. They are referred to as outposts by the media as they are generally not recognized by the Israeli government.
The settlements, however, which are legal under Israeli law can number from several hundred residents to small towns with thousands of inhabitants, and all the associated infrastructure.
There are nearly 300,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and nearly 200,000 in East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli information center for human rights B'Tselem.
Under international law, including various UN Security Council resolutions, the settlements are built illegally on Palestinian land.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory (Article 49). The Hague Regulations prohibit an occupying power from undertaking permanent changes in the occupied area unless these are due to military needs in the narrow sense of the term, or unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population.
Nevertheless Israeli settlement building on the West Bank has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in the last few years.
This has included the enlargement of already existing settlements and the establishment of new ones, contrary to every understanding and peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli human rights group Peace Now released a report several weeks ago stating that the Israeli government is currently building an additional 73,300 illegal housing units in the West Bank. The report added that this would increase the total number of Israeli settlers in the area by 100 percent.
International human rights organizations have argued that the motive behind the accelerated settlement building is to establish facts on the ground and to make the establishment of a viable, contiguous and independent Palestinian state near impossible.
Currently the West Bank is effectively divided into three cantons by military checkpoints and the settlements. Palestinian towns and villages are surrounded by Israeli settlements while swathes of their land has been confiscated to build settlers-only bypass roads.
While Israeli officials are furthering the facts-on-the-ground scenario through official government policies, an unofficial war between Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers over the continued land expropriation continues unabated.
"The settlers are carrying out a deliberate policy to try and drive us off our land and intimidate us into leaving so that they can take our land," said Hafez Hreini, 37, one of the villagers. Hreini's mother, 79-year-old Fatima, was left bleeding after a settler threw a rock at her head in another encounter with the settlers.
"It is very hard not to physically retaliate when you see people attack your elderly mother but I know if I had done anything back, the Israelis would have used this as an excuse to arrest me and a lot worse," Hreini told IPS. "So we are deliberately applying a policy of non-violence and we are determined to stay here and keep our land."
In 2006 the villagers lost over 100 sheep after the settlers sprayed pesticides on their grazing land. Several donkeys belonging to the village were stabbed to death. The village's water wells have also been poisoned on numerous occasions while crops have been set ablaze. The children of the village and the surrounding villages have been regularly attacked by the settlers as they try to make their way to school.
A group of outraged Israeli intellectuals wrote to incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert several years ago requesting action be taken against the settlers. This led former Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz to order the demolition of Havot Ma'on settlement but the demolition never took place.
The Israeli Knesset, or parliament, also ordered the Israeli army to escort children to and from school to protect them from the settlers. But according to international members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who live in the village, the army patrols are irregular, unreliable and sometimes sources of hostility towards the children.
The CPT have created their own school escorts for the children, and have themselves been assaulted by the settlers. One member received head injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.
The Israeli police seem disinterested. "It doesn't help if we go to the police because they never do anything," Sreini told IPS.
The Israeli rights group Yesh Din has stated repeatedly that only a very small number of settler attacks against Palestinians are investigated by the Israeli police. These result in even fewer arrests and practically no convictions.
All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2009).
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
Este é o trailer do documentário produzido realizado e filmado por Alberto Arce. O realizador espanhol foi na última viagem do Dignity [barco que furava o bloqueio imposto por Israel] e encontrava-se no território quando Israel lançou a sua operação militar contra Gaza. Esperamos ter acesso ao documentário nos próximos tempos (obrigada Bruno!)
Israel's Ugly Face
Pure and Unadulterated Racism
By REUVEN KAMINER
It might be difficult for the uninitiated observer to accept the fact that a racist, crypto-fascist politician is on his way to becoming the second most important figure in the Israeli political arena. It is, therefore, worth re-establishing the factual basis of the charge that we are dealing with the truly ugly face of racism, pure and unadulterated. Avigdor Lieberman is on his way to becoming the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Netanyahu’s new government.
It is clear that the person who shouts “fire” in a crowded theatre cannot claim the privilege of free speech and is responsible for the results of his action. Compare this with the prominent political figure, Avigdor Lieberman, who in Israel centered his recent electoral campaign on the slogan: No citizenship without loyalty.
The slogan, which is only one of the many items in Lieberman’s racist arsenal, is a clear provocation directed against Israel’s Arab population which comprises one fifth of Israeli citizens. Lieberman asserts that Israeli Arab citizens must be assumed to be insufficiently loyal to the state since they refuse, naturally enough, to support Israeli consensual policies on major political issues. Lieberman’s justification of his plan is also revealing. The loyalty oath is not racist, he argues, because it will be administered to all Israeli citizens. But only those who do not pass the test will have their citizenship revoked.
It should be clear to any objective observer that Lieberman’s program is a declaration of war against Israel’s Palestinian minority which comprises a fifth of the population. In our society, which lives on from one war to the next, in a sickening atmosphere of seething hatred and hostility one can, it has been proven, win many votes by calling for the disenfranchisement of 1.5 million Israeli Palestinians. It should be clear that what comes after disenfranchisement is ethnic cleansing…
Avigdor Lieberman, as a senior partner in the new cabinet, is Netanyahu’s certain choice for Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lieberman, who happens to be officially a prime candidate for indictment in pending corruption cases, also gets to choose the Minister of Police and the Minster of Justice. The media, basing itself on the “verdict” of the election results is warming up to the idea that Lieberman is just another legitimate politician in the local arena. However, enlightened public opinion, here and abroad will not accept the fact that a racist, neo-fascist politician has Israel’s government in his pocket. No amount of votes and mandates can legitimize racism and chauvinism.
Maybe Ms. Clinton Did Not Notice
Hillary Clinton did try and restore a bit of enthusiasm for peace prospects in the region during her recent trip to the region. She said that “no time should be wasted” and that “a new and creative approach is necessary.”(Ha’aretz, March 4, 2008). The difficulty is that we have been down this path before and know something about its twists and turns. We have become a bit immunized to statements like this: “It is our assessment that eventually the inevitability of working towards a two-state solution is inescapable.” (ibid)
Sticking strictly to protocol, Ms. Clinton made it very clear that the United States would not conceive of interfering in the ongoing negotiations to form the Israeli coalition. She and Netanyahu came out of their meeting, both smiling from ear to ear. As long as Bibi is smiling, one can be sure that no progress is being made on the Palestinian issue. Moreover, it seems that the two were kindred souls regarding the danger from Teheran. Clinton was almost apologetic to the present and future leaders of the Israel, stressing that the US was proceeding with further sanctions against Teheran to limit the range of Iranian missiles. While Clinton was being nice to the Israeli leadership, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, came up with a really profound suggestion – to eliminate all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from the ME. Ms. Clinton might ponder the fact that the “inevitability” of discussing such a ban is also “inescapable.”
Clinton proved that she knows how to tread softly where Israeli interests are involved. She reached the area after Egyptian diplomacy had just overcome serious difficulties in hammering out a deal between Israel and Egypt on the border crossing issue, only to see the agreement sabotaged by Olmert who decided to surprise everyone including his own people by an ultimatum to include the prisoner swap as part of the border crossings agreement. Olmert, once again was trying to convince everyone that Hamas was on the verge of collapse, but managed to come out of another confrontation with empty hands. Clinton, with a minimum of responsibility, was clearly obligated, out of loyalty to the Egyptians who were carrying the ball for them to calm Olmert down. Instead she went back to the “Israel has the right to defend itself” mantra when the agreement scuttled by Olmert was the real cause for renewed tensions.
Instead of making an effort to save the border crossing agreement – the most effective way to stop the rockets, Clinton tried to expand the list of permitted items on the humanitarian supply. Olmert and Co. were not worried by the visit. They kept up with house demolitions in East Jerusalem and admitted the existence of immediate plans for settlement expansion. Clinton said that this was “unhelpful.”
But regarding Palestinians, where efforts are going on to restore a unity government, Clinton threw protocol to the wind and announced her opposition to the future participation of Hamas in a reconstituted Palestinian government. If this is indeed the US position it is worse than that of the previous Bush administration. A compromise had been worked out whereby Hamas, without changing its own ideological reservations, would agree to participate in a Palestinian government which would proceed on the basis of previous commitments. It may be helpful if she consults George Mitchell who knows all the fine points on this.
It should be appreciated that the Obama administration is conducting some sort of overall review of US foreign policy. But it is unnecessary, even completely “unhelpful” to conduct a visit to Israel according to the old Bush scenario and to signal a neurotic fear of offending Israel’s anti-peace coalitions. One thing is true about Israeli leaders. They have a sixth sense of when Washington is just not serious.
Reuven Kaminer, a resident of Jerusalem who has been an Israeli citizen since he emigrated from the United States to Israel in 1951. He is a founder of the New Israeli Left, a member of the Democratic Front for Peace & Equality (one of the “Arab Parties” seated in the Knesset), a prolific author, activist and long time proponent of the Two-State Solution. He was a former rector at Bethlehem University.
The Settler Question
What Israeli Peace Process?
By FRANKLIN SPINNEY
On March 2, 2009, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now issued a report saying that the Israeli housing ministry plans to build 73,ooo housing units in the West Bank. Peace Now said 15,ooo of these units had already been approved, with another 58,000 awaiting approval. On March 7, 2009, the Guardian reported that a confidential report issued by the EU said Israel continues to annex property in East Jerusalem. It said Israeli housing authorities had submitted plans for 5,500 new housing units (3,000 of which have already been approved) since the Annapolis "peace" conference in November 2007. Readers may recall that the Annapolis conference was supposed to resusitate George W. Bush's moribund so-called Road Map to Peace. Assuming these housing plans are implemented, and only 2.5 Israelis on average inhabit each new unit, the entire program could add as many as 196,ooo Israelis to the 490,000 Israelis already living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yet as recently as September 30, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Omert said Israel should withdraw from almost all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem in order to achieve peace. Of course, Omert's profession of normative behaviour would be deemed gatuitious nonsense in an international court of law, because all these settlements are clearly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. So what gives?
Nothing. What you see is what you get -- simply business as usual. There is no real peace process, only an illusion of one, but an illusion that has been and continues to be used cynically by the Israelis to ethnicly cleanse the best land for Eretz Israel ("best" by definition includes access to the water in the West Bank aquifers -- more on that later) by relentlessly creating irreversible "facts on the ground."
All one has to do is look at the historical record. For the last 20 years, the U.S government and its wholly owned subsidiaries in the thinktanks, academia, and the media have promoted the soothing vision of an ongoing Arab-Israeli peace process. This process has been centered on the ideal of attaining a two-state solution -- namely, establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Dutifully, the mainstream media in the United States (MSM) has innundated the American people with stories describing how the ongoing peace process is a road leading to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But to date, that road has led into the nightmare of the West Bank's roadblocked cantons and the hellish Gaza Ghetto, and the preponderance of MSM reporting, at least in the United States, leans toward blaming the Palestinians for their fate.
To be sure, the MSM also reported about bumps in the road that can be attributed to Israel, especially question of settlements in the Occupied Territories. But such reporting has been usually in the context of the settlements being temporary impediments to a solution, often couched, for example, in vague visions of Israel eventually abandoning most of its settlements, and doing land swaps for others, once the Palestinians renounced terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist. In this context, there have been very few reports that put the question of settlements into an easily understood long term perspective, even though the information is widely available on the internet.
To be sure, the Israelis did evacuate 6000+ settlers from Gaza in 2003, and occasionally, the Israeli government evacuates a trivial number of settlers from the so-called "outposts" on the West Bank. But these Israeli moves have been anomalies to their long term pattern of settlement, which has been amazingly consistent since the rate of settlement began to accelerate in the mid 1970s. In fact, as demostrated in the chart below, the pattern of settlement has been remarkably untouched by the deliberations of the so-called peace processes. It is based on official data produced by the Israeli government and made available to the public by the courageous Israeli human rights organization B'TSelem.
The so-called peace process, which at first was ad hoc, became institutionalized with great optimism in 1993, when the signing of the Oslo Accords ended the First Intifada. But over the next seven years, the Oslo deliberations did not alleviate the economic hardships afflicting the Palestinians, nor did it even slow down the pace of Israeli settlement, as is shown clearly by the pink shaded area of the figure. Oslo effectively ended in in Sept 2000, when Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (Islam's third holiest site) incited the Palestinian uprising that became known as the Second Intifada and helped to catapult Sharon into the office of Prime Minister.
A re-institutionalization of the formal peace process rose tepidly from the ashes of Oslo in June 2002, with the so-called Road Map to Peace initiated by President George W. Bush. The aim of Bush's Roadmap was to establish an independent Palestinian state as early as 2005, and central to achieving that aim was a freeze on settlement expansion by May 2003 (called for in Phase I of the roadmap), as well as a reduction in violence and political reform by the Palestinians. The gray area in the figure spans the time of Bush's so-called road map, and it is clear that his Roadmap, like Oslo, had absolutely no effect on Israel's pace of settlement. Israel's murderous assault on the Gaza Ghetto effectively dumped the detritus of Mr. Bush's illuson into the lap of incoming President Obama in January 2009.
The assault on the Gaza Ghetto, together with a sense of frustration from not being able to weaken Hamas's grip on Gaza, also helped to accelerate an ongoing political shift toward the radical right among the Israeli people, as became evident in the stunning results of the recent Parliamentary election. It now seems likely that Binyamin Netanyahu -- the former prime minister between 1996 and 1999, who worked so assiduously to trash Oslo and increase settlements -- will return to power as prime minister, this time with the neo-fascist Avigdor Lieberman as his foreign minister.
So, based on the history depicted in the chart and Netanyahu's track record, we can expect the rate of settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to continue and probably increase. True to form, in one of his campaign speeches, Netanyahu promised he would not be not bound by Omert's empty promise to evacuate the settlements, and any future peace talks would not be about giving up territory, but about achieving an "economic peace" through economic development -- whatever that means.
And how has Mr. Obama's government reacted to date? The most critical comment I have been able to find is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remark in Jerusalem that the planned expansion of the settlements cited in the first paragraph would be "unhelpful."
One thing is certain, we can depend on being put to sleep with more somnolent visions of peace in our time while the Israelis create more facts on the ground.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem
Dr. Marcy Newman writing from occupied East Jerusalem, Live from Palestine, 10 March 2009
|An Israeli flag hangs from a Palestinian home in Silwan taken over by Israeli settlers.|
Last week when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a press conference in Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian Authority president officially expired on 9 January, a Washington Post reporter questioned her about the 143 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem that Israel intends to demolish in the coming weeks. She responded: "clearly, this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the roadmap." While some hailed this remark as a condemnation of Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing project, it appeared to many on the ground as callous and flippant.
Since the press conference, the number of Palestinian homes Israeli occupation forces intend to level has increased from 143 to 179. It seems that the number of homes and families who will be forced from their homes, and many from their villages entirely, increases every day. Just this past week in the East Jerusalem area, 88 homes in al-Bustan, 55 homes in Shufat refugee camp, 35 Bedouin homes on the Jerusalem-Jericho Road, and 66 homes in al-Isawiyya were slated for destruction, affecting more than 2,000 Palestinians, most of whom have lived there for generations. Ras al-Amoud, al-Abasiyya, Sheikh Jarrah and Ras Khamis appear to be next on the list of targeted areas. The affected families see this method of adding new neighborhoods to the demolition list every day as a means of making it more difficult to challenge and protest these eviction orders.
I recently visited the al-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, one of the many slated for demolition any day now. The roads into the valley where al-Bustan lies were all closed to Palestinian cars with border police blocking off almost every street. Like many neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the homes reflect a mixture of architectural styles from the Ottoman era to the present, although the Israeli government contends that these homes have been built "illegally" because they have not been granted permission to be built in the first place, a permission that is next to impossible for Palestinians regardless of whether they have an Israeli residency ID or citizenship. Such is the logic of colonialism and ethnic cleansing in Palestine over the last 61 years. And accordingly, a number of Israeli colonists have been confiscating and taking over homes and buildings to pave the way for the wholesale seizure of Palestinian neighborhoods.
It is this history of ethnic cleansing, particularly that of the catastrophe of 1948 when three-quarters of the indigenous Palestinian population were forced from their land and property, an event termed the Nakba, that fuels the solidarity work among Palestinians in Jerusalem. Following the lead of Umm Kamel al-Kurd who put up a tent near her home in Sheikh Jarrah after she was forcibly removed from her home four months ago, other neighborhoods in Jerusalem facing a similar fate have set up such tents as spaces for organizing and encouraging others to stand in solidarity with each neighborhood. Such tents exist now on the Mount of Olives and in Ras Khamis. One of the organizers of the solidarity tent in al-Bustan, Ahmed Siam, told me "We will not let history repeat itself. We learned from history. We will not leave our land like we did in 1948. If they come and kill my son, I will not leave. This is our land. Even if they kill me and only my blood remains, it will remain on this land." The 7,000 residents of the area intend to fight for their right to stay on their land rather than see it turned into a new, illegal Israeli colony.
The Silwan community is resisting this widespread confiscation of their land -- for the purposes of a tourist destination called "the city of David" as well as Jewish-only colonies already surrounding it -- by remaining steadfast and staying on their land as member of the al-Bustan Neighborhood Committee Fakhre Abu Diab stated in a letter written to Clinton: "If the Israeli eviction and demolition orders are implanted it will be a catastrophe for our families, children and elders who will suffer the most. In the face of this destruction we are refusing the municipality's plans and we will not leave our lands and houses nor our community under any circumstances."
|An Israeli flag hangs from a Palestinian home in Silwan taken over by Israeli settlers.|
Already the elders and children, in particular, are bearing the brunt of the trauma from the news of this latest catastrophe or Nakba. In the heart of al-Bustan the winding, narrow alleyways with homes tightly packed inside remind one of Palestinian refugee camps. The al-Qadi family who has lived down one of these alleys for 25 years, and in this neighborhood for generations, includes seven children, none of whom have attended school since the orders for their home's demolition were issued by the Israeli occupation authorities. This is indicative of most families in al-Bustan. They explained to me that they are afraid to send their children to school because at any time they could be forcibly removed from our homes while the children are gone. Ironically, they told me, that two days ago the municipality opened a new school in their neighborhood, but they see this as part of the plan by the Israeli occupation authorities.
As the children suffer without their ability to go to school, so do the elderly. Like many families in al-Bustan, the Bedran family has lived here for centuries. Indeed, many of the houses lining the valley were built in the 1870s. Abed and Fatima Bedran built their home in 1980 on land their family has lived on for centuries; like most Palestinian families they built a new home to accommodate their expanding family. Abed, who is 82 years old, suffered from a stroke and is now bedridden after hearing the news of their eviction and house demolition orders for their neighborhood. They, too, refuse to flee their home.
These are just two of the families resisting the latest Nakba in Palestine, individuals who refuse to become Palestine's latest refugees. But the latest ethnic cleansing and colonization plans are not limited to Jerusalem. The number of homes scheduled for demolition in all of Palestine is growing every day. While the focus is on East Jerusalem in much of the international media, this week Palestinians in villages near Nablus and Hebron have also received orders to evacuate their homes. In al-Aqraba and Burin near Nablus, Palestinians are being forced to abandon 20 homes and barns by 26 March. As with the homes in East Jerusalem, some of these pre-date the 1967 colonization of the West Bank. Likewise, in al-Baqaa, near Hebron, eight homes are scheduled to be destroyed in a village whose lands have already been stolen for the purposes of illegal colonies and Jewish-only roads. Dozens of Palestinians will become homeless once their homes are confiscated. And in the village of Nilin near Ramallah, Israeli occupation authorities are in the process of expropriating 35.5 acres of land.
Although most of these families are separated by hundreds of checkpoints and established colonies, what the residents of these villages have in common is their steadfast determination to remain in their homes. From Nablus to Jerusalem to Hebron to Nilin they see their most potent means of resistance as remaining in their homes, refusing to live in a constant state of catastrophe, always on the brink of becoming the next refugees. Jawad Abu Ramoz, the son of a refugee from Hebron who fled to Silwan in 1948, is one of the thousands of Palestinians in al-Bustan who rejects a return to the fate of their parents and grandparents, literally and metaphorically.
All images by Marcy Newman.
Dr. Marcy Newman is Associate Professor of English at An Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. Her writing may be found at bodyontheline.wordpress.com.
Histadrut: Israel's racist "trade union"
Tony Greenstein, The Electronic Intifada, 10 March 2009
| A Zionist poster from the 1930s encourages settlers to buy only watermelons that are produced in Jewish settlements. (Israel MFA) |
Less well known is the fact that Histadrut, an organization of the settler Jewish working class, was the key Zionist organization responsible for the formation of the Israeli state. As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir remarked: "Then  I was put on the Histadrut Executive Committee at a time when this big labor union wasn't just a trade union organization. It was a great colonizing agency."  Pinhas Lavon, as secretary-general of Histadrut, went so far as to describe it in 1960 as "a general organization to its core. It is not a trade union ..."  Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, held that without Histadrut, "I doubt whether we would have had a state." 
Today Histadrut is a shadow of its former self. From a position where it was the second-largest employer, owning 25 percent of Israeli industry, the 1980s and 1990s saw the privatization of nearly all of its industries. The National Health Law of 1995, which severed the ties between Kupat Holim (Israel's National Health Service) and Histadrut, dealt the final blow. Histadrut membership plummeted from 1.6 million in 1994 to 650,000 in 1996 and its 150,000 Arab members declined to less than 50,000. 
Politically, Histadrut operated as an arm of Israeli and US foreign policy. In 1958, the International Institute for Development, Co-operation and Labor Studies was established as a means of furthering western interests in the third world. Half of its graduates came from Africa and a further 40 percent from Asia.  And in 1960 Histadrut formed the Afro Asian Institute for Labor Studies and Co operation, funded by the CIA through the AFL-CIO. It operated on behalf of the US in African countries such as Zaire and Kenya. 
Even the most right-wing, social democratic trade unions opposed apartheid. Histadrut was unique in actively collaborating with the South African state. Iskoor steel company, 51 percent owned by Histadrut's Koor Industries and 49 percent by the South African Steel Corporation, manufactured steel for South Africa's armed forces. Partly finished steel was shipped from Israel to South Africa, enabling the apartheid state to escape tariffs. 
Other Histadrut companies such as Tadiran and Soltam were equally complicit in supplying South Africa with weaponry.  Histadrut also helped build the electronic wall between South Africa/Namibia and neighboring African states in order to keep the guerrillas out.  It was a precursor of Israel's wall in the West Bank.
As its economic importance has declined, Histadrut's political role has increased in importance. Histadrut is recognized by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as the representative of all Israeli workers. It is seen as being on the left of Israeli society, in favor of reconciliation and peace and its delegations abroad always include at least one pliant Arab member. It therefore came as a shock to people that Histadrut supported the attack on Gaza: "Israel had no choice but to respond to the repeated attacks and aggression as an act of justifiable self-defense." 
Histadrut founded Haganah, the Zionist terrorist group, in 1920, later to become the Israeli armed forces, and Mapai, the Israeli Labor Party, in 1930, an anti-socialist party whose supreme value lay in the needs of the Israeli state.  David Ben-Gurion, Histadrut's first secretary-general, became in 1935 chairman of the Jewish Agency, the Zionist government-in-waiting, and in 1948 prime minister of the State of Israel.
Histadrut was formed in 1920 as the General Confederation of Hebrew Labor by the two main labor Zionist parties, Hapoel Hatzair (Young Workers) and Achdut Ha'Avodah (Union of Labor). From its inception it excluded Arab labor and thus rejected worker solidarity in favor of national exclusivism.
Histadrut's primary role was not the defense of its members' wages and conditions but the colonization of Palestine. In the absence of a Jewish bourgeoisie, it had to become that bourgeoisie. As the late William Frankel, editor of The Jewish Chronicle (London), described it, Histadrut was a capitalist union. 
Its enterprises included Tnuva (dairy products), Solel Boneh (building and construction), Koor (manufacturing), Hamashbir (food co-operative) and Bank Hapoalim. It established a holding company, Hevrat Ovdim, to manage these enterprises and even after 1966, it remained 100 percent Jewish-controlled.
Histadrut: an apartheid union
| A Zionist poster from the 1940s reads, "Buy Local Products," referring to goods produced by Jews. (Israel MFA) |
"I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there ... to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they had bought ... to buy dozens of dunums [of land] from an Arab is permitted but to sell God forbid one Jewish dunum to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild the incarnation of capitalism as a socialist and to name him the 'benefactor' -- to do all that was not easy." 
In 1944, "the mere rumor that a cafe in the exclusively Jewish town of Tel Aviv had taken on a few Arab workers provoked an angry gathering of thousands of demonstrators. ... Every member of the Zionist Trade Union Federation -- the Histadruth [sic] -- had to pay two compulsory levies: (1) 'For Jewish Labor' -- funds for organizing pickets, etc. against the employment of Arab workers, and (2) 'For Jewish Produce -- for organizing the boycott of Arab produce.'" 
It was Histadrut which mapped the route the Zionist project would take in Palestine. From the start it excluded the Palestinians, first from the economy and later from the land itself. Class struggle was redefined as the struggle against Arab labor, as Ben-Gurion railed against "the evil of mixed labor"  Ben Gurion explained to those who mistook Histadrut's red flags for socialism that "Nothing is further from the mind of Jewish labor than to engineer disputes with all the material and political loss in their train. For it, the supreme charter of our generation is reconstruction and Aliyah [immigration to Palestine]. ... It is a charter meaningless without Jewish labor."  With typical colonial condescension, Ben-Gurion spoke of Arab workers acquiring "a smattering of culture" through mixing with Jewish workers. 
The role of the working class was a national one, to construct the Jewish state; "Socialism was never an aim in itself but a tool for the advancement of national objectives."  It was Ben Gurion who "coined the slogan from class to nation ... both perspectives saw the role of labor as a nationalist role." 
Zionism was following a well-worn path. All settler colonial projects, e.g. the Boer trek in South Africa and the colonization of America began as collective endeavors. Private capital could only operate once the threat from the indigenous populace was eliminated.
As Arthur Ruppin, the father of land settlement in Palestine and a fervent believer in the racial sciences, explained: "I can say with absolute certainty: those enterprises in Palestine which are most profit-bearing for the businessman are almost the least profitable for the national effort and per contra many enterprises, which are least profitable for the businessman are of high national value." 
Where exclusively Jewish labor was not possible, as in government employment, Histadrut campaigned, like its South African counterparts, for higher wages for Jewish workers. Although the British refused this demand, in practice four different rates of pay for unskilled labor developed depending on whether the worker was Jewish or Arab.  Ernest Bevin, leader of the British Transport and General Workers' Union and former British foreign secretary, was emphatic: "No, we would be absolutely against two wages."  But to Berl Katznelson, Ben-Gurion's effective deputy in the Labor Zionist hierarchy, equality "was only a whip with which to scourge the concept of Jewish labor." 
The Union of Railway, Postal and Telegraph Workers (URPTW) was a bastion of the political left with a mixed Arab and Jewish membership. Histadrut sought to incorporate them in order to hive off the Arab workers into a separate national section.  Arab workers who joined this Arab section objected to Histadrut's Zionism, not least its policy of Jewish labor. At a meeting in Haifa in 1924, union activist Elias Asad described how Arab workers "saw on the membership card the words 'Federation of Jewish Workers' and they cannot understand what purpose this serves. I ask all the comrades to remove the word 'Jewish,' and I am sure that if they agree there will be a strong bond between us and all the Arabs will join. I would be the first who would not want to join a nationalist labor organization ..." 
Ironically, when at the end of 1923, the leaders of the Arab Railway Workers Club filed a request with the British Mandatory Government to establish a workers' organization, the Palestinian Arab Workers' Society (PAWS), Histadrut lobbied against its recognition, denounced it for being separatist and exclusionary and thus against the spirit of workers' solidarity! 
In 1936 Arab workers in Palestine declared a general strike that lasted six months, one of the longest strikes in labor history. This provided Histadrut with the opportunity to replace striking Arab workers with Jewish labor. With the support of the British authorities, the Jewish Agency and Histadrut established Tel Aviv as an alternative port to Jaffa, which was strike-bound. Far from being a trade union, Histadrut was a scab organization.
The leadership of the Histadrut and Labor Zionism portrayed themselves as being lofty idealists, incorruptible. In fact Ben-Gurion and the other leaders lived the life of a labor elite, with foreign holidays and large apartments. Not only were their wages much higher than ordinary workers but they also made large loans to themselves from Histadrut funds which were quietly written off in 1926.  Ben Gurion's debt equalled an ordinary worker's annual salary.
Histadrut was run by a self-perpetuating elite that avoided elections. There were four years between the second and third Histadrut conventions, six between the third and fourth and nine years between the fourth and fifth in 1942. As Zalman Aranne, a member of the Histadrut Executive from 1936 to 1947 and later Minister of Education stated, the rule "is not to hold elections for years on end, and even when elections are held, we are not the ones who vote. It is some appointment committee that does the voting."  Even today, at its seven-year convention, less than 10 percent of the delegates are directly elected. As Frankel noted, the appointment of delegates to the Histadrut Conventions are from party lists, primarily the Zionist parties. They elect the leadership and "in national elections, the voters have no say in the choice of the individuals elected to represent them." 
Between 1948 and 1966, Palestinians living in Israel were subject to military rule. Due to Histadrut's close affiliation to the military administration of the Mapai governments, Histadrut was not popular with Arab workers. Arab members to this day are seen as opportunists and collaborators. 
In 1959 the Histadrut Convention decided to admit Arabs as members. They were however confined to an Arab (later disingenuously called the Integration Department) headed by a Jew. In 1966, Histadrut changed its name to the General Confederation of Labor in the Land of Israel. "Land of Israel" is a euphemism for the biblical land of Israel, which includes at least all of historic Palestine. A resolution from Rakah, the Israeli Communist Party, to change the name to General Federation of Labor in Israel was defeated.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot even join Histadrut, unlike Jewish settlers, even though they inhabit what Israelis consider to be part of the "Land of Israel."  However, many Palestinians did work for Histadrut's construction company, Solel Boneh, which built most of the early settlements.  Migrant workers from the Philippines and elsewhere also cannot become members of the Histadrut.
Class struggle was always anathema to Histadrut, before and after Israel was formed. In the seamen's strike of 1951, strikers were drafted into the army with Histadrut support. Like their predecessors in the Gdud Avodah workers brigades in the 1920s, some of the most militant workers did break from Zionism. Gdud Avodah were starved into submission by Ben-Gurion in the 1920s.  But this was the exception, not the rule. The seamens' strike was the most violent strike of its kind in Israel, with ships being commandeered and used against the forces of the state.
In the 1969 Ashdod port workers' strike, the Histadrut accused the Jewish strikers of being equivalent to agents of Fatah, the main faction in the PLO, i.e. "terrorists" and "saboteurs." But the trial of the militants in a Histadrut tribunal backfired and it was terminated without reaching a verdict.
In February 1976, thousands of Arab citizens of the Galilee demonstrated for their rights to the land and against confiscations. In March 1976, the Arab leadership called for a general strike. In response, Histadrut's Labor Council in Haifa actively opposed the strike. Six Palestinians were shot and killed by the police and army, an event marked each 30 March by Palestinians as Land Day.
When Histadrut was a major employer, Arabs were not employed in its security industries -- i.e. arms, oil, chemical, electronics, aviation, shipping, airlines, electricity, gas, telecommunications -- as military service was a condition of employment. They were seen as a "security threat." This systemic racial discrimination continues to this day.  This was mirrored in the fact that only 0.8 percent of employees of government companies are Arabs and in 2004 only 5.5 percent of Israel's civil servants were Arabs, 56 percent of whom worked in the health ministry alone. 
The exclusion of Arab workers from whole sections of Israeli industry is tantamount to a color bar. Histadrut consciously did not invest or create factories in Arab towns or villages. Far from being their trade union, Histadrut was one of the primary causes of Arab unemployment and poverty, a situation that continues to this day. According to the National Insurance Institute, 52 percent of Israeli Arab citizens live below the poverty line, as opposed to 16 percent of Jewish Israelis.  Almost half of the Arab employed persons work in the low-wage sectors of manufacturing, construction and retail trade.
In 1985 the government of Benjamin Netanyahu's Stabilization Plan permitting "flexibility" in the labor market paved the way for globalization as the US and Israel signed a free trade agreement. Koor Industries, a holding company for hundreds of Histadrut companies, was sold off in 1991 to reduce Histadrut's debt. Haim Ramon's election as secretary-general in 1994 led to the demise of Hevrat HaOvedim, which owned Histadrut's industries.  In 1994, Histadrut was renamed New Histadrut.
Histadrut has never supported Arab workers' fight against racial discrimination, such as the mass layoffs of Arabs that occurred after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 or a labor dispute of Arab and Jewish employees with the Dead Sea Hotel Nirvana in 2003, when an Arab manager was fired because he refused to forbid his co-workers to speak Arabic in front of tourists, although nominally Arabic is an official language of Israel. Likewise it has done nothing about McDonald's Israel's policy decision in 2004 not to allow Arabic to be spoken in the restaurants or the situation at a building site in the Knesset grounds in 2004 when Arab workers' helmets were marked with a red X, to facilitate assassination by marksmen in case of emergency. 
The occupation, Histadrut and Palestinian workers
The exploitation of Palestinian workers from the occupied territories was institutionalized by an Israeli cabinet decision of October 1970. It provided that the military administration should supervise their employment. Their wages would be distributed by the payments department of the National Employment Service. Histadrut was a partner in this arrangement. National Insurance coverage was permitted in only three areas: work accidents, employer bankruptcy and a grant on the birth of a child in an Israeli hospital. Ten percent of the wages of Palestinian workers went to a special "Equalization Fund," which was supposed to supply the population in the occupied territories with social and cultural services. In fact, this money was used to finance the occupation. The workers did not receive unemployment and disability benefits, old-age pensions, a monthly child allowance or vocational training.
In addition, each Palestinian worker had to pay one percent of his or her wages as dues to Histadrut. Workers saw nothing in return and now a fraction of this money has been returned, as a propaganda ploy, to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. When the Shin Bet intelligence service used work permits as a means to coerce Palestinian workers to collaborate, with those who refused being placed on a blacklist and their work permits cancelled, Histadrut again did nothing. 
In the last decade, new workers' organizations have arisen in Israel, such as Kav La'Oved (Worker's Hotline), Commitment, the Center for Aid to Foreign Workers, Sawt el-Amel and Workers Advice Center. It is this sector which can serve as the basis for a new union, accessible to all and not connected with the Zionist establishment.
Tony is a trade union activist, a member of UNISON, Brighton & Hove Trades Council and Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, where he works as an employment adviser. He runs a socialist, anti-Zionist blog, www.azvsas.blogspot.com.
 Observer, 24 January 1971, quoted by Uri Davies, Utopia Incorporated, Zed Press, p.142.
 Moed, Histadrut Department of Culture and Education, 1963, p.3, quoted by Arie Bober (ed.), The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism, p.125.
 Moshe Pearlman, Ben-Gurion Looks Back in Talks with Moshe Pearlman, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1965, p.51.
 Sawt el-Amel, "Separate and Unequal: The History of Arab Labour in pre-1948 Palestine and Israel," December 2006, p.16.
 Benjamin Beit Hallahmi, The Israeli Connection, I B Tauris & Co. Ltd., p.39.
 Haim Hanegebi, Moshe Machover, Akiva Orr, "The Class Nature of Israeli Society," New Left Review, January-February 1971, Pluto Press, p.11. See also, Confidential US State Department Central Files, PALESTINE-ISRAEL, 1960-January 1963, INTERNAL AFFAIRS Decimal Numbers 784, 784A, 884, 884A, 984, and 984A and FOREIGN AFFAIRS Decimal Numbers 611.84, 611.84A, 684, and 684A Project Coordinator Robert E. Lester Guide Compiled by Blair D. Hydrick, accessed 8 March 2009.
 Sunday Times Review 15 April 1984, James Adams, The Unnatural Alliance, Quartet. Extracts from the book were serialized by the Sunday Times.
 Jane Hunter, Israeli Foreign Policy, South End Press, 1987, p.62.
 Uri Davies, Israel: Utopia Incorporated, Zed Press, p.97.
 "Histadrut Statement on the Situation in Southern Israel and Gaza," 13 January 2009.
 Zeev Sternhell, Founding Myths of Zionism, Princeton University Press, 1998, p.180.
 William Frankel, Israel Observed, Thames & Hudson, 1980, p.183-186.
 David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Nation Books, 2003, Second edition, p.185, citing Haaretz, 15 November 1969.
 Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah, Ink Links LTD, 1979, p.184.
 David Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and destiny of Israel, Philosophical Library, 1954, p.74.
 Ibid, p. 79.
 Ibid, p. 53.
 Zeev Sternhell, p.177.
 Noah Lucas, Modern History of Israel, Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1975, p.49-50.
 Walter Lacquer, A History of Zionism, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, p.151, citing Arthur Ruppin, Building Israel, Selected Essays, 1907-1935, Schocken Books, 1965, p.47-9.
 Gabriel Piterberg, The Returns of Zionism, Verso, 2008, p.77.
 Josef Gorni, The British Labour Movement & Zionism 1917-48, 1983, Frank Cass, p.95.
 Zeev Sternhell, p.157.
 Piterberg, p.72-73
 Sawt el-Amel citing Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948, University of California Press, 1996, Chapter 3: The Railway Workers of Palestine (I): The Struggle for Arab-Jewish Unity, 1919-1925 'Struggling for Unity.'
 Sternhell, p.295-7, 295.
 Sternhell p.271, 273.
 Frankel, p.186.
 Sawt el-Amel op. cit. p.19.
 Michael Shalev, "The Labor Movement in Israel: Ideology and Political Economy," in The Social History of Labour in the Middle East, edited by Ellis J. Goldberg, Westview, 1996, p.4: "Membership has never been offered to the non-citizen residents of the occupied territories, even though the majority of the Palestinian working class in the territories, who are employed inside Israel's pre-1967 borders, are legally required to pay the Histadrut for At the same time, within its targeted constituency, the Histadrut is generous to a fault in opening its ranks to non-workers. Surveys of the Jewish adult public suggest that at least half of the self-employed are Histadrut members."
 Jewish Chronicle, 7 January 1983.
 Sternhell p.198-216. See also "The Left" in the Gdud Ha'avodah (Labor Brigade) and the Palestine Communist Party until 1928, Anita Shapira, Zionism Vol. 1. , Massada Publishing Co. Ltd., Tel-Aviv University, 1975, p.127-156.
 Emmanuel Farjoun, "Class Divisions in Israeli Society," Khamsin, no. 10, 1983, p.31-35.
 Sawt el-Amel citing Sikkuy, "Sikkuy Report 2004-2005."
 Sawt el-Amel, p.2.
 Jewish Virtual Library entry, "Hevrat Ha-Ovedim," accessed 1 March 2009.
 Sawt el-Amel, p.21.
 B'Tselem, "Poalei Tzion: Violations of the Human Rights of Workers from the Territories in Israel and the Settlements," 1999 (Hebrew).
Interview: Children Need More Support in Gaza - UNICEF Head
'Children must have trained professionals available to help them deal with the trauma.'
By IRIN News
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman recently paid a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to assess the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with special focus on children. As of 5 February, 431 Palestinian children had died and 1,872 had been wounded in the 22-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Veneman spoke to IRIN in Gaza City during her visit.
IRIN: After visiting Gaza, what are your first impressions and priorities?
Veneman: We focused on the impact of the conflict on children. So often children are the ones that are hurt by the wars of adults. The total population of Gaza is about 1.4 million, of which 56 percent - approximately 793,520 - are children, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Humanitarian access to all, especially to the most vulnerable, must be unhampered.
IRIN: How are the health and nutrition standards for Gaza’s children since the recent war?
Veneman: UNICEF remains concerned that the nutritional status and general health of children in Gaza is likely to deteriorate given the dependency of Gazan families on food aid and cash assistance, as well as the lack of access to clean tap water.
From mid-January, UNICEF has provided basic essential supplements of vitamin A and D, and iron-folate, to 50,000 infants and children under five through health ministry centres and UNRWA [UN agency for Palestinian refugees] clinics.
We saw lines of people [in Gaza] queuing for gas, fuel and food aid. Right now many families are living in tents and with relatives. Certainly a lack of adequate housing can lead to a lack of clean water.
At the end of February, an UNRWA assessment indicated that 2,350 families need to have their homes reconstructed; 10, 500 families have homes needing repair, and these figures are likely to rise.
I visited Al-Nasser Children’s Hospital in Gaza City [one of two paediatric hospitals in Gaza], where UNICEF is providing training and supplies, including incubators, monitoring equipment, and essential drugs.
The hospital is lacking equipment and medical supplies, mostly due to the 18-month blockade... The neonatal unit lacks spare parts that are needed to repair equipment.
IRIN: How has the recent war affected education standards for Gaza’s children?
Veneman: I visited Jabaliya Co-educational School in north Gaza, under the Palestinian Authority (PA), where UNICEF is providing educational and recreational supplies. It was surprising how many schools were hit - directly and indirectly, including UNRWA and PA schools and even the American International School was destroyed.
Classrooms were devastated by the attacks and UNICEF has provided tents to facilitate continued learning. Education is very important to children, creating a sense of normalcy and routine.
Due to the severe damage to six PA schools in northern Gaza, 4,711 students were relocated to seven other PA schools, leading to overcrowding and double shifts. Prior to the hostilities, 151 schools out of 351 were already working in double shifts due to restrictions imposed on construction materials needed to build additional schools.
Concrete, cement and other construction materials have not been allowed into Gaza since 5 November, hindering major repairs to damaged schools, hospitals and houses, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). School repairs, education supplies and psychosocial support for children remain a priority in the education sector.
In the past week, 50 Early Childhood Development Kits and 57 boxes of children’s toys from UNICEF were prevented from being transported to Gaza by the Israeli authorities. According to COGAT, the Israeli civil-military liaison body, the toys were not a humanitarian priority.
IRIN: What is your assessment of the psychological impact of the war and the blockade on Gaza children?
Veneman: It varies within the children themselves - but clearly it has had an impact. I visited psychological support programmes in northern Gaza run by UNICEF in partnership with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society [PRCS] which include art therapy, singing, and stress relieving activities.
In the centre today the children were drawing missiles that were aimed at their houses. One little girl drew a black area at the bottom of her picture, saying ‘This is where the dead people are’ - perhaps indicating a cemetery.
Children must have trained professionals available to help them deal with the trauma and time is of the essence.
IRIN: What are the most pressing needs of children in Israeli towns and cities neighbouring Gaza?
Veneman: Palestinian and Israeli children’s psychosocial well-being and mental health has been severely affected by the recent violence. The children in Israeli towns and cities neighbouring Gaza have been affected by the conflict and are in need of psychosocial assistance and support. Children on both sides of the conflict have borne the brunt of the violence for far too long.
(Originally published in IRIN News – www.irinnews.org. Photo design: Ron Moore. Original photo: AFP)
'Clinton was the star; Mubarak celebrated his achievement in getting them all together.'
By Uri Avnery – Israel
This week I had a nostalgic experience. I met a parliamentary delegation from one of the European countries. What turned this meeting into a special occasion for me was its location.
The “Pasha Room” of the “American Colony” Hotel in East Jerusalem is a beautiful square hall, decorated in traditional Arab style. I was in this hall at the moment Yitzhak Rabin held out his hand to Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn at the Oslo agreement signing ceremony.
We gathered there spontaneously, Israeli peace activists and Fatah leaders, to celebrate the event together. We watched the proceedings on TV and cracked bottles of champagne. I still have one of the corks.
Just an hour before, I had witnessed a no less exciting meeting. A group of young Palestinians, delirious with joy, marched through the streets, olive branches in their hands and a large Palestinian flag fluttering over their heads. At the street corner, a unit of the Border Police – the most aggressive anti-Arab force in Israel – was waiting. At the time, even the simple possession of a Palestinian flag was a crime.
For a moment, we held our breath. What is going to happen? The Palestinians ran towards the policemen and thrust olive branches into their hands. The policemen did not know what to do. They were obviously in a state of total disorientation and did not react at all. The enthusiastic youngsters continued on their way through the streets of East Jerusalem, singing and rejoicing.
Today, 15 and a half years later, one can only look back with longing at the passion for peace that possessed all of us then. Nothing has remained of that fervor, that hope, that zeal for reconciliation.
All these have now been replaced by a poisonous mix of hopelessness and dejection.
* * *
If you stop any ten random passers-by in a Tel Aviv street and ask them what they think about the chances of peace, nine of them will shrug their shoulders and answer: It won’t happen. No chance. The conflict will just go on forever.
They will not say: We don’t want peace, the price of peace is too high. On the contrary, many will declare that for peace they are ready to give back the occupied territories, even East Jerusalem, and let the Palestinians have a state of their own. Sure. Why not? But, they will add: No chance. There will be no peace.
Some will say: The Arabs don’t want it. Others will say: Our leaders can’t do it. But the conclusion is the same: It just won’t happen.
A similar poll of Palestinians would probably yield the same results: We want peace. Peace would be wonderful. But there’s no chance. It won’t happen.
This mood has produced the same political situation on both sides. In the Palestinian elections, Hamas won, not because of its ideology but because it expresses the despair of peace with Israel. In the Israeli elections, there was a general move to the Right: Leftists voted for Kadima, Kadima people voted for Likud, Likud people voted for the fascist factions.
Without hope there is no Left. The Left is by nature optimistic, it believes in a better future, in the chance of changing everything for the better. The Right is by nature pessimistic. It does not believe in the possibility of changing human nature and society for the better, it is convinced that war is a law of nature.
But among the despairing there are still those who hope that an intervention by foreigners – Americans, Europeans, even Arabs – will impose peace on us.
This week, that hope was severely shaken.
* * *
On TV we were shown a uniquely impressive conference, a huge assembly of world leaders, who all came to Sharm-el-Sheikh. (Remember that during our occupation of Sinai it was called Ophira? Remember Moshe Dayan saying that he preferred Sharm-el-Sheikh without peace to peace without Sharm-el-Sheikh?)
Who was not there? Chinese and Japanese rubbed shoulders with Saudis and Qataris. Nicholas Sarkozy was everywhere (Indeed, it was well-nigh impossible to take a photo without the hyper-active French president appearing in it somewhere.) Hillary Clinton was the star. Hosni Mubarak celebrated his achievement in getting them all together on Egyptian soil..
And for what? For little, poor Gaza. It has to be rebuilt.
It was a celebration of sanctimonious hypocrisy, in the very best tradition of international diplomacy.
First of all, nobody from Gaza was there. As in the heyday of European imperialism, 150 years ago, the fate of the Natives was decided without the Natives themselves being present. Who needs them? After all, they are Primitives. Better without them.
Not only Hamas was absent. A delegation of Gaza businessmen and civil society activists could not come either. Mubarak just did not allow them to pass the Rafah crossing. The gate of the prison called Gaza was barred by the Egyptian jailers.
The absence of delegates from Gaza, and especially from Hamas, turned the conference into a farce. Hamas rules Gaza. It won the elections there, as in all the Palestinian territories, and continues to govern it even after one of the mightiest armies in the world spent 22 days trying to dislodge it. Nothing will happen in the Gaza Strip without the consent of Hamas. The world-wide decision to rebuild Gaza without the participation of Hamas is sheer foolishness.
The war ended with a fragile cease-fire that is collapsing before our very eyes. In his opening speech to the conference, Mubarak hinted that it is Ehud Olmert who is now preventing an armistice (called Tadyah or calm in Arabic). Nobody at the conference reacted. But when there is no cease-fire, another even more destructive war is looming. It’s just a matter of time – months, weeks, perhaps days. What has not yet been destroyed, will be destroyed then. So what is the good in investing billions to rebuild schools, hospitals, government buildings and ordinary homes, all of which will be demolished again anyhow?
Mubarak spoke about the exchange of prisoners. Sarkozy spoke with much pathos about the soldier “Jilad Shalit”, a French citizen who all French people want to be freed. Interesting. There are 11 thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. How many of them also hold French citizenship? Sarkozy did not say. It doesn’t interest him. Even in this bunch of hypocrites, he strives for championship.
The participants of the conference promised Mahmoud Abbas fabulous sums of money. Nearly five billion dollars. How much will actually be paid? How much of this will actually pass through the sieve of the high-flying set in Ramallah and reach Gaza? According to a Gaza woman who appeared on television, a homeless mother who lives in a small tent in the middle of a huge mud puddle: Not a cent.
Was the political part of the performance more serious? Hillary spoke about “Two States for Two Peoples”. Others talked about “the Political Process” and “Peace Negotiations”. And all, all of them knew that these are nothing but hollow words.
* * *
In his poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling asked whether “you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” This is now a test for all those who stood at the cradle of the “Two State” idea some 60 years ago.
This vision was – and remains – the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sole realistic alternative is the continuation of the present situation – occupation, oppression, Apartheid, war. But the enemies of this vision have smartened up and pretend to support it on every occasion.
Avigdor Liberman is in favor of “Two States”. Absolutely. He spells it out: several Palestinian enclaves, each of them surrounded by the Israeli military and by settlers like himself. These Bantustans will be called “a Palestinian state”. An ideal solution, indeed: the State of Israel will be cleansed of Arabs, but will continue to rule over all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Binyamin Netanyahu has a similar vision, but differently worded: the Arabs will “govern themselves”. They will govern their towns and villages, but not the territory, neither the West Bank nor the Gaza Strip. They will have no army, of course, and no control of the airspace over their heads, neither will they have any physical contact with neighboring countries. Menachem Begin used to call this “autonomy”.
But there will be “economic peace”. The Palestinian economy will “flourish”. Even Hillary Clinton ridiculed this idea publicly before meeting with Netanyahu.
Tzipi Livni wants “Two Nation-States”. Yes’ Ma’m. When? Well… First of all there have to be negotiations, unlimited in time. They did not come to fruition during the years she has been conducting them, nor have they got anywhere at all. Ehud Olmert speaks about the “Political Process” – why did he not bring it to a successful conclusion during the years of his stewardship? How long must the “Process” go on? Five years? Fifty? Five hundred?
So Hillary speaks about “Two States”. Speaks with great vigor. Is ready to speak about it with any Israeli government that will be set up, even if inspired by the ideas of Meir Kahane. The main thing is that they talk with Mahmoud Abbas, and that Abbas in the meantime receives money, a lot of money.
* * *
An extreme right-wing government is about to be set up. Kadima has laudably decided not to join. On the other hand, Ehud Barak, the father of “We Have No Partner For Peace”, is looking desperately for a way in.
And why not? He won’t be the first political prostitute from his party.
In 1977, Moshe Dayan deserted the Labor Party in order to serve as Foreign Minister and fig-leaf for Menachem Begin, who forcibly prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state. In 2001, Shimon Peres got the Labor Party to join the government of Ariel Sharon, in order to serve as Foreign Minister and fig-leaf to the man whose very name made all the world shudder after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. So why should Ehud Barak not become a fig-leaf for a government that includes outright fascists?
Who knows, perhaps he will even represent us at the next conference in Ophira - sorry, Sharm-el-Sheikh – the one that will be convened after the next war, in which Gaza will be razed to the ground. After all, a lot of money will be needed to build it up again.
- Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
No Headlines As Epic Journey To Gaza Nears End
British convoy enters Gaza, Monday, March 9. (Aljazeera)
By Sonja Karkar
An epic journey across eight countries is nearing its end. Gaza is almost within sights of the weary drivers and their navigators. On Day 21, the British convoy leaders decided to by-pass the towns of Benghazi and Bayda in Libya after consulting with Libyan officials to cut the time it would take to get to Gaza. This meant a desert crossing of some 400km - enduring not what many would think to be hot and stifling conditions, but rather the bitter cold of winter winds unbroken by vast expanses of emptiness. Perhaps few thought of what would await them on this journey when they first set out, but certainly, despite the hardships no one is complaining. What the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering is so much more and that is uppermost in everyone's minds.
Nevertheless, poor and oftentimes non-existent phone signals, no landmarks, breakdowns, sandstorms and security restrictions are just some of the hiccups that have made the epic journey a writer's dream story - after all, there are some 300 people sharing in the experience and each with their own story to tell. Under normal circumstances, it would be splashed across pages and TV screens in large headlines with a blow-by-blow account of various travellers' tales. Not so on this voyage. The media is strangely silent, seemingly uninterested even in the historic opening of the border between Morocco and Algeria that has been closed since 1994.
The first time The Guardian decided to cover the convoy's journey was to paint a negative picture of the successful progress made through eight different countries by reporting gossip picked up from the blogosphere. (1) Undeterred, George Galloway's office responded to the malicious rumours of graft and corruption by reminding people that the intrepid volunteers who have come thus far "deserve celebration, not denigration by The Guardian."
Everyone knew why they were going. The 100 aid-filled trucks would never be enough to make a difference to a starving population of 1.5 million people (although the few that will benefit is surely better than nothing). No, it was not just about aid, but about sending a message to the world that there are people who care about what happens to the people of Gaza. It was about some 300 volunteers who have been prepared to sacrifice time and the comforts of home for fellow human beings they do not know, hoping that their trek would resonate with the world's conscience and make a difference to how governments respond to the plight of the Palestinians.
Well all that may have happened if the media was on side, but they are clearly not. And that is not surprising when the media mogul Rupert Murdoch blithely announced yesterday (2) that Israel should be welcomed into the NATO alliance saying "in the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace, who reject freedom, and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb, and the human shield." That is obviously how Mr Murdoch sees the 1.5 million Palestinians who have been left to rot after Israel's 22-day merciless bombardment of Gaza's impossibly cramped cities, neighbourhoods and farming lands. No compassion there for the women and children, the sick and the aged, the doctors, teachers, health workers and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people trying to make sense of Israel's illegal collective punishment.
I wonder how long Mr Murdoch would have survived under the blistering phosphorous rain exploding from Israel's war planes, or how he would have liked Israel's conventional bombs dropped down on him with no safe place to which he could run, or how long he would last on Israel's enforced "diet" on the Gaza population before the griping hunger pangs begin to drive him crazy, or how he would cope without any pills when illness begins to prey on his ageing body and mind because Israel refuses to allow medicines in or patients out. But of course, Israel and Mr Murdoch already have a cosy relationship so he will never have to suffer what Israel is making the Palestinians endure. And the world is not being told because Mr Murdoch's media empire is colluding in Israel's crimes by ignoring the human disaster in Gaza that lurches from doom to death without a word of outrage or calling Israel to account. Well may Mr Murdoch sit comfortable in the twilight of his life propped up by his trainer, herbalist and beautician, but their miracles alas for him are finite, and he too will wither and pass the way of all of us when his time comes. The Palestinians though will endure from generation to generation, no matter how many bombs are dropped on them or how silent the world remains. They will outlive Mr Murdoch and Israel's never-ending parade of corrupt politicians to whom the rest of us are expected to bow and scrape as if we owe them some allegiance for our very existence.
When will we wake up? When will we say "enough?" When will we realise that we are being deluded in the world's biggest charade of lies and cover ups to preserve an internally decaying Israel? Is the ethnic cleansing of 1.5 million people not enough for breaking news headlines, news alerts, and daily updates? Obviously not yet. Instead, we are sacrificing the Palestinians to rest easy in our beds without the hassle of defending ourselves against the usual diatribes unleashed whenever Israel is criticised? Be assured that these diatribes will not stop with the demise of Palestine. The more we close our eyes and turn our backs, the more we will find ourselves unable to raise a whimper about the bigger targets Israel has in its sight and more people will suffer and die on the flimsy pretext of Israel's security.
The aid convoy is in Egypt now and the question is will Egypt let them into Gaza? They probably will and then what? If they're lucky the aid will be distributed, the now battered vehicles will be left for a limited life in Gaza and some 300 people will know what they always knew - that the Palestinians are being cruelly subjected to a life of universal contempt and utter humiliation in the open-air prison Israel has created with the world's help. They will return home to families and communities and tell them their stories and some of them will be heard far and wide, but no thanks to the media usually so adept at shaping public opinion.
Really, it is up to everyone of us who knows what is happening to spread the word. Tell your family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, and acquaintances about the amazing 5000km trek from London to Gaza. Tell your local communities, church groups, schools, volunteer organisations, talk-back radio. Write and talk and ask for help: never be afraid to speak up for human rights. One day your own rights may be in jeopardy.
What this convoy has achieved is worth celebrating, just as those first lone boats which sailed into Gaza, deserve our admiration. There are indeed people who are willing to act on what they believe, and if we cannot do it, let us at least give them resounding support and encouragement for trying to make a difference against the might of institutionalised power. The ripple effect has a way of creating a tsunami and that is what Israel fears most. Do not believe for a moment that things cannot change for the Palestinians: they said the same thing about the African slaves in America, apartheid in South Africa, child labour in the factories in England and the coal mines in Wales, the emancipation of women, indentured servitude in the colonies, the demand for an 8-hour day, the oppression that stirred resistance and revolutions, and the list goes on. None of these things would have changed or come about if people had remained silent and inactive. The Palestinians though need our help because they are in prison. They are not the "cold-blooded killers" that Mr Murdoch propagates through his media outlets, just people like you and me, yet all the more extraordinary because they will not be intimidated into oblivion. And, it would serve us well to remember that none of us would be either, if faced with same cold, stark reality.
- Sonja Karkar is the founder of Women for Palestine and co-founder and co-convener of Australians for Palestine. She has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and on-line journals in support of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: email@example.com.
(1) See Guardian.(2) "Murdoch backs Israel's NATO bid" by Carly Crawford, The Herald Sun, March 6, 2009
Monday, 9 March 2009
Eva Bartlett, The Electronic Intifada, 9 March 2009
|A bullet-riddled home near the "buffer zone" in southern Gaza. (Matthew Cassel|
BEIT HANOUN, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) - Dates in the calendar to mark the rights of women mean little to Manwa Tarrabin, 56, and her two daughters. They have lost home, and any rights to it.
Until 17 January, they were living in a small bungalow in the al-Amal quarter of Beit Hanoun, within 200 meters of Gaza's eastern border, in a region declared by the Israeli authorities a "closed military zone."
Prior to the three weeks of Israeli air, sea and land attacks on Gaza it had been a tidy home at the top of a slight rise, surrounded by open fields and a smattering of olive and fruit trees. Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops, the house is a pancake of angles and debris, one of 80 homes demolished in the Beit Hanoun border area.
A dirt path leading to the Tarrabin house crosses agricultural land torn up by tank and bulldozer tracks, and passes numerous former homes, likewise demolished on the day before Israel unilaterally declared a ceasefire.
A farming and herding family, the Tarrabins lived off what their sheep and goats produced, and what they could sow in the fertile agricultural land around them. After the attacks began on 27 December, they continued to stay in the house. On the afternoon of their forced eviction, Manwa and her daughter Sharifa, 22, were in the house.
"I was so scared when I saw the tanks. My heart dropped to my feet," Tarrabin said, recounting how the Israeli army demolished her house.
"It was around 2:30pm on 17 January, and we were inside our house when I heard the tanks. There were four of them and two bulldozers, one of them very, very large. The Israeli soldiers shouted at us over a megaphone to leave the house.
"They told me our house was now in a closed military zone," Manwa said. "They said it was a 'decision from the top' and that we had to leave immediately and walk towards Gaza. I refused, and tried to negotiate with them for time to gather our belongings. They refused."
Tarrabin said she and her daughter were forced from the house with only the clothes they were wearing, without even time to take their identity cards or personal items.
"We walked down the track from our house and when we were far enough away, I stopped to watch the soldiers." At approximately 5pm, less than 12 hours before Israel declared a ceasefire, Israeli soldiers bulldozed the Tarrabins' house.
This demolition came in an area that had been under Israeli military control since early January after Israeli tanks rolled over the border.
Since 2000, areas all along the internationally-recognized green line marking the boundary between Israel and the West Bank have been off limits to Palestinians. The area was unilaterally declared a "buffer zone" by Israeli authorities. This zone was expanded from 150 meters to 300 meters, with Israeli soldiers shooting at farmers and residents in the region as far as 600 meters away.
In tandem, Israeli bulldozers and tanks have deliberately destroyed thousands of dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters) of Palestinian farmland within and well beyond the "buffer zone," as well as the poultry and other farms in the region, some even 2.5 kilometers from the border with Israel.
On 17 January Israeli authorities again unilaterally extended the "buffer zone," increasing the off-limits area to a kilometer from the green line. The 80 houses leveled in the Beit Hanoun "buffer zone" rendered an approximate 400 residents homeless and landless.
The Tarrabin family had already lost much of their grazing and agricultural land to the "buffer zone," yet like the majority of those living within its limits, they have no option but to risk injury and possible death in returning to live and work on the land.
On 29 January, for the first time since the demolition, Manwa and Sharifa returned to their destroyed house in the now very high-risk region, accompanied by international human rights observers and a film crew.
To either side of the ruddy dirt path to the Tarrabin home, recently demolished and uninhabitable houses littered the landscape. "That house belonged to the Khadera family," said Manwa, pointing to the remains. "The mother was killed in the shelling.
"There were goats and sheep at the bottom level of this house. Soldiers bulldozed the house with the animals inside," said Manwa, pointing to a house where its elderly owner was tending a small fire for tea next to the broken structure.
Down the track a little further, the Wahadan family house was now rubble. "They destroyed the house, the water well and its pump too," said Saber al-Zaneen, a local aid worker.
Not far from the Tarrabin house, the Abu Jeremi family house stands intact. Revisiting their home for the first time since they were evicted by Israeli soldiers 27 December, Freije Abu Jeremi said their rabbits, chicken and sheep were slaughtered when Israeli soldiers demolished the animal shed.
According to al-Zaneen, Beit Hanoun region is one of the most fertile areas in Gaza. "These flat fields around us once held around 750 dunams of olive, lemon and palm trees," he said, gesturing towards the land rendered desolate since the encroachment of the "buffer zone." "People from all over Gaza had work here."
At her ruined home, Manwa Tarrabin quickly realized that her hopes of retrieving a change of clothing, identification papers, and her cash were futile: they all lay buried beneath an unmovable slab of concrete. To reach them will require a bulldozer, impossible because no non-Israeli bulldozer can enter the region under Israeli military control.
Among the crimes of war Israel is being accused of are the intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal under international human rights law and humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such destruction has been common also in areas outside Beit Hanoun, such as the Abed Rabu region east of Jabaliya and the Attatra region in the north-west of Gaza, besides Gaza City itself.
The organization Save the Children estimates that 100,000 people (56 percent of them children) are homeless following the attacks.
Sharifa and Manwa Tarrabin left swiftly after they arrived at what was home after Israeli soldiers fired four shots in the direction of the group digging through the rubble of her house. "They were close," said al-Zaneen. "I heard the bullets whiz past."
The family has since relocated to a relative's home in Khan Younis, far from their broken home.
All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2009).
Where every day is a woman's day
Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, The Electronic Intifada, 9 March 2009
BEIT SAHOUR, occupied West Bank (IPS) - We've been warned she's a "harsh case." Hesitantly she enters, a withdrawn smile hidden behind glasses and a canopy of thick black hair. Impassively, she tells her life story -- as if it's about someone else entirely: she's 19. Since seven, she's been sexually assaulted by "an influential family relative."
He used to tell her what they were doing was "normal between a man and a woman." She felt secluded from her own family by a vow forced upon her not to reveal their "little secret": "I didn't know what to do -- he's so well-known in our community. I couldn't speak to my dad whom I love so much. My mother was of little comfort. I was afraid."
Last year, she heard two younger sisters suffered the same ordeal. But, they were now married, whereas she remained at home, alone in her helplessness. Two months ago, she left, "not knowing where to go."
Finally, she found a haven within the ochre walls of this new complex on a Bethlehem hillside looking down on the rugged Judean desert -- the Mehwar Centre for the Protection and the Empowerment of Families and Women. At this center every day is a woman's day, every week a woman's week.
Mehwar means "the core" in Arabic. The center shelters Palestinian women and their children seeking refuge from difficult domestic circumstances within the conditions that typify Palestinian reality.
Najmlmolouk Ibrahim, the center's director, gently caresses the cheek of the woman "with no name." "They're referred by the police, by relevant government agencies or NGOs [non-governmental organizations]," she says. "Sometimes, they find us on their own. Shelters are usually secret places. We choose instead to send a strong message: this is an open space, not only for victimized women, but also for their community. Violence should not be a secret. It must be dealt with."
Mehwar is the first Palestinian center providing integrative answers to domestic violence. At the center they not only protect physically and sexually abused women, they seek "to empower" them to play a defining role in society.
An Italian Cooperation Office trust fund administered by the World Bank, the center has, since its inauguration in 2007, cared for 84 women. The first such Middle East pilot project, Mehwar is open to all women and children in conflict situations. "They come to us from all walks of life and society, from wealthy and poor families, better or less educated, from refugee camps, villages and cities around the West Bank," says Ibrahim.
The haven's 35 rooms are arrayed around a peaceful patio, alongside a nursery for children from the local community, a clinic and a discussion hall which doubles as an exhibition space for their home-made products. "We're a temporary platform -- ideally women stay for a year but we're flexible," says Ibrahim. She is supported by a staff of qualified social workers, vocational trainers and teachers, a doctor, a psychologist and a family rights lawyer.
A day in the life of Najmlmolouk is a day at Mehwar. She lives nearby with her husband, the Palestinian author Nasser Ibrahim, and their two daughters. Already at work by 7:30am -- "after which I haven't a single free minute" -- her day unfolds with emergency meetings, calls to partners, follow-ups with the police, handling threats. "There's enormous pressure from families for a woman 'to come home' before she reveals her story, so we forbid family visits before she's had a chance to open up."
A day in the life of the center is a strict regime of activities. To infuse a lost sense of community, domestic responsibilities are shared equitably. There are discussions about social concepts -- the meaning of family, violence, honor and prostitution. The most traumatized undergo psychotherapy, "learning to regain self-confidence and self-esteem, to express their needs, to define their skills, their self," says Ibrahim.
Until recently, before the center felt the global financial downturn, vocational skills -- pottery, English and computers -- were taught. "We've trained hairdressers, medical staff, seamstresses and designers. Some women plan to continue their medical studies; others are employed as secretaries, cooks, or vendors," says Ibrahim.
Mehwar operates also as an outreach platform. "We aim to infuse the family with serenity, for children to get attention, women their dignity. Students, educators, parents, doctors visit the Centre to teach, and to be taught. We're trying to develop procedures and policies of community awareness by working with the Ministry of Social Affairs, with police officers and judges.
"Palestinians used to 'solve' cases of abuse through contacts with heads of family-based clans. We're against that patriarchal system. Going public is the best protection. But our laws are archaic. So, we're pressing for an overall personal legal and penal code against violence, and for its implementation. If not, we'll be trapped in a vicious circle."
Still, there are hopeful signs. A national committee charged with increasing the number of shelters and improving laws has been established. Mehwar cooperates with a special police unit for family protection. A girl can only be questioned by a female police officer. But Ibrahim recognizes that determination and patience are needed. "Changing patterns of behavior takes time -- perhaps a full generation. And, religious leaders could play a more positive role, simply by instilling moral values that ought to be inherent in family relations."
Nor is the prosaic test of their journey back to society -- setting "wounded" women "free" -- without dilemmas. Some are scared to remain alone, and want to marry at any cost to be protected from the risk of being abused again. "We don't lose touch," Ibrahim says. "We offer external counseling."
And the woman who's agreed to let her wounds speak openly? She's begun the painful process of filing a legal complaint, but remains consumed by an irresolvable desire to punish the perpetrator of her torments: "He's not human, I want him dead!"
The center, though, has also given her hope: "Here, I feel secure; here I'm not alone. I can speak out, and I'm heard. Our pain is shared. I want to study, be a doctor. I want to succeed."
All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2009).