Friday, 24 April 2009
Testimony: Settlers assault pregnant woman with sticks and stones, April '09
Roqaya al-Hazalin, 23
I am eight months’ pregnant. On Friday, 10 April, I took my sheep to graze in an area southwest of our village, not far from the cattle farm of the Ma’on settlement. I was with other women from the village, among them Amneh Sallem ‘Eid al-Hazalin and Khadrah Suliman al-Hazalin, and a group of children under the age of 15, among them Tareq Sallem ‘Eid al-Hazalin, 13, Musa Suliman al-Hazalin, 12, and ‘Omar Suliman al-Hazalin, 10.
Around 8:00 A.M., we arrived to land owned by farmers from Yatta. We grazed the sheep and gathered plants we use for food. We were more than five hundred meters from the Ma'on settlement. We didn’t go close to the settlement. Around 9:00 A.M., we saw four settlers coming toward us from the settlement. Two of them went down into the wadi [valley] and headed to another group of shepherds, and two of them, who were masked, approached us.
The two who came toward us appeared to be young. They were holding sticks and had pistols on their hips. Amneh was standing close to me, and Khadrah was relatively far from us. When the settlers got to about thirty meters from us, they shouted at us in Hebrew. Their appearance frightened us, and we began to run away. The settlers chased us, and continued to shout at us as we ran.
Being pregnant, I couldn’t run fast. After about one hundred meters, the settlers caught me. One of them hit me in my right arm and left leg with his stick. The other settler threw a stone at me, which hit me in the left leg. Then one of them pushed me, and I fell onto some thorns. My arm and leg hurt a lot. When I fell, the two settlers left me and ran toward the farmers and other shepherds. I remained there, crying. I was in terrible pain.
After a few minutes, Amneh and Khadrah ran over to me and helped me get up. They lifted me up with the help of the children and laid me on the donkey that we had brought with us, and returned me to the village. I was in such great pain that I thought my arm has been broken. I was still crying when we reached the village. An Israeli ambulance came and the medical team gave me first-aid. Then the Israeli police and two army jeeps of the Civil Administration arrived. I told them what happened. Around 11:00 A.M., a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance came and took me to ‘Aliyah Government Hospital, in Hebron.
At the hospital, they examined me and X-rayed me. They found that my arm was not broken. I was very lucky, and the fetus was not harmed. I remained in the hospital for two or three hours, and then went home. My arm swelled up and I am still in pain, a week after the incident.
A Palestinian policeman at the hospital took my complaint. I did not go to the Israeli police because I don’t feel well enough, and because I need somebody to accompany me to Kiryat Arba to do that.
Testimony of Roqaya 'Ali Hamdan al-Hazalin, 22, married with one child, is a homemaker and a resident of Umm al-Kheir in Hebron District. Her testimony was given to Musa Abu Hashhash at the witness's house on 18 April 2009.
Hebron – Ma’an – Israeli soldiers attacked the teachers and children returning from a school trip in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar on Thursday afternoon.
Upon returning from a trip to Ramallah and Jericho, Israeli soldiers halted the busses at the entrance to the town, ordering the children and teachers off the busses. The children were held for three hours before international human rights activists stationed in the village intervened. The presence of teachers and the children’s’ families also prevented the army from holding them longer.
Witnesses said the soldiers “abused and intimidated” their detainees.
The head of the Beit Ummar Municipality, Nasri Sabarnah, denounced the incident as “another crime on top of other Israeli crimes carried out against the residents of Beit Ummar.”
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Ethnic cleansing, one home at a time
Marcy Newman writing from occupied East Jerusalem, Live from Palestine, 21 April 2009
|The Jaber family in front of the apartment occupied by Israeli settlers. (Marcy Newman)|
In the Sadiyya neighborhood inside the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City is the Jaber family home. There, three members of the Jaber family, as well as the Karaki family, have lived with their parents, and later spouses and children, since the 1930s. Like most homes inside the Old City, the residential space has an open center that is shared by those living inside.
Six years ago Israeli police came to the house and told Nasser Jaber that his house no longer belonged to his family, but rather to Israeli colonists from the right-wing Messianic settler organization Ateret Cohanim whose racist ideology is closely aligned with Kach, a political party that advocates the expulsion of Palestinians. But when the Israeli colonial court sent its police to investigate, the court decided that the home indeed belonged to the Jaber family. The scenario was repeated the following year, in 2004, when the judge came to investigate who the house belonged to. Once again after visiting the home and looking at the papers it was decided that the home belonged to the Jaber family. But the story did not end there.
On 2 April, while Nasser was visiting his mother in the nearby Wadi Joz neighborhood, 42 Israeli colonists from Ataret Cohanim, armed with M-16s, broke down the door of the house and confiscated the apartment inside belonging to Hazem Jaber. It was 2:30am and they were aided by Israeli special forces. The mosque in the neighborhood alerted families in the area and a fight ensued in the street. Twenty Palestinians, including women and children, were beaten up by special forces police and seven were arrested, including Nasser, his brothers, and his son. Sami al-Jundi, one of Nasser's neighbors who was beaten up, observed, "They did not use live ammunition or tear gas bombs. Instead they beat us with batons and sprayed us with pepper spray. They know that if Palestinian blood spills in the streets of the Old City a third intifada will follow."
Umm Alaa Jaber, who married into the family 55 years ago, whose wedding and the birth of her nine children took place in this very house, believes the struggle over her house and her neighborhood is about forcing them into submission. She remarked, "This is exactly like Gaza. Like Gaza happened here. Everyone who moves is beaten up. And the reason they beat the children is to make them afraid to fight against the occupation. Now they declare their hatred inside our house." It has been especially difficult for the women of the Jaber and Karaki families, having to endure foreign men occupying their home and invading their privacy. Umm Alaa said their ordeal, "My eyes have become so tired from the tears. My heart, too."
With two Israeli colonists already illegally occupying Palestinian homes a few doors down from the Jaber family, one house since the 1980s, Palestinians in the Sadiyya have been working together to ensure this will not be the fate of the Jaber family home. They were initially successful in kicking out the settlers from the house, but last week the court ruled that each family -- the Jabers and the colonists -- would be able to have guards in the house. Thus, Ateret Cohanim sent members of its private security company to guard Hazem Jaber's apartment inside the house, armed with M-16s. Palestinians however are not legally allowed to own weapons nor are there any private Palestinian security companies that could protect the Jaber family. Although, according to the Jabers, the Israeli group Peace Now promised to send guards, the family says they have yet to follow through.
Nasser Jaber expected that his hearing in court last week would have reaffirmed that this house belongs to his family. Instead, the court date to render such a decision has been postponed to this week. This will be the third such court date that has postponed a decision since 2 April. For Nasser and his family, as well as people in the neighborhood, it is not just about his house. Nasser said, "When we talk about the situation in our house we are also talking about the situation in the whole country, in the village, in every house."
Indeed, the Jaber family house is symbolic of the struggle to resist the ethnic cleansing practices of the Israeli colonial regime. Unlike the nearby Silwan or Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods where hundreds of Palestinian families have received eviction notices -- because their homes are slated for demolition so Israeli colonists may occupy their land -- inside the Old City the pace of such creeping annexation is slower, but no less serious. In the Old City, as elsewhere, the court, the police and the colonists work as a team to further dispossess Palestinians. However, without a police force or a legal system to protect Palestinians in Jerusalem, and without the ability for most Palestinians to travel to their capital city, it is far more difficult for Palestinians to resist the takeover of their homes in the same coordinated fashion. Nevertheless, Palestinians in each of these neighborhoods under threat are determined to fight for their right to exist on their land.
What is significant about the Jaber family's battle for their home is the way this fight is emblematic of the twin processes Israel has been using to Judaize the land: creeping annexation and delaying negotiations. Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip (as well as other Arab territories), the ethnic cleansing has been steady but slow, unlike the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in both 1948 and 1967. One house or neighborhood at a time, Palestinians are removed from their land. And just as the Jaber family finds the court continually delaying its decision about their home, for the last 16 years Palestinians have experienced the realities of the Oslo process as a delay process. Although to much of the world Oslo signifies a "peace process," for Palestinians Oslo has meant an escalation of land confiscation among other things. Under Oslo Israel has continually delayed negotiating the core issues that would lead to a just solution, particularly regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem. Palestinians in the Sadiyya neighborhood know all too well that delay means that Israeli colonists use that process to establish further "facts on the ground." But the residents of Sadiyya vow to continue their resistance to support their neighbors because they know this is not only a battle for the Jabers, but also for their city, and their country.
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.
Maymanah Farhat, The Electronic Intifada, 20 April 2009
|A scene from Telling Strings.|
Swiss filmmaker Anne-Marie Haller's 60-minute documentary Telling Strings provides a rare look into the profound workings of a Palestinian family of musicians. Initially, the film appears unassuming yet its powerful content, stunning cinematography and informing moments make it a welcomed addition to a long list of documentaries on Palestine. Traversing between the interior and exterior spaces of their lives, Haller captures how culture flourishes within the private realms of Palestinians inside the virtual prison of the Israeli state.
Originally, from al-Rameh village in the northern Galilee, the Jubran family is the focus of the film. It begins with the return of daughter Kamilya from Paris, where she lives and works as a singer/musician. Prior to moving to Europe, Kamilya was a member of Sabreen, a leading Jerusalem-based musical group that later emerged as an influential Palestinian non-profit organization that promotes music education and talent. Her visit serves as a means to revealing the story of her father Elias, a musician and instructor who has been building traditional string instruments such as ouds and bouzouqs in his al-Rameh workshop since 1965.
At first Kamilya narrates her journey home to Palestine. After leaving the airport, she is shown driving down roads lined with Israeli flags as she discusses her village, once considered the capital of Galilee. She comments on al-Rameh's persistence and survival but admits that its inhabitants "have been losing more and more of their material and spiritual existence to this new entity." Despite growing up in her ancestral village, Kamilya reveals it wasn't until she moved to occupied East Jerusalem that she could completely submerge herself in her Palestinian identity "with full consciousness and vitality," alluding to the many ways in which Palestinians are subjected to an overwhelming sense of isolation. Increasing restrictions on mobility for those living in Israel, the occupied territories or in the diaspora have created a devastating psychological effect on the Palestinian people, one that, as Kamilya contends, reaches the very spiritual and social core of their existence. Yet, as we are shown throughout the film, where local culture can be found, a refuge awaits.
Once arriving in her village, the narrative quickly turns to the stories of each individual member of her family; Kamilya then becomes a type of liaison between the camera and their intimate world. When necessary, she even adopts the role of interviewer, stepping out of the frame in order to draw the viewer into private conversations. Although these exchanges are prompted by questions regarding their interest in music, the topic invariably turns to the conditions they face as "second class citizens" in Israel.
With his wife Nuhad, who once aspired to be a singer, Elias passed on a love of music to his children, all of whom have built on his teachings and created their own paths. Classical Arabic music has thus been a way of life for Kamilya and her brothers since their childhood. Khaled is an Arabic music theoretician who runs the independent Urmawi Centre for Mashriq Music, which supports local musicians and students and regularly organizes concerts and workshops throughout the country. Rabea, although trained in computer science, picked up the bouzouq after moving to Jerusalem.
There is a visible love and mutual respect that is present when Kamilya sits with her father, yet her interactions with Elias are often of a pedagogic nature. His interviews carry much of the film, not only through his authority on music but with the firsthand experiences of life as a Palestinian before and after the 1948 Nakba. Some of the most compelling footage shows Elias recounting when Zionist forces attacked al-Rameh and residents were taken as "prisoners of war." These testimonies are scattered throughout the film, appearing to ground the narrative in a historical context. He expresses the hardships of daily existence since then and being cut off from the rest of the world. Something as simple as obtaining instruments or sheet music suddenly became nearly impossible after 1948. Out of these circumstances came the need to build his own instruments, the process of which has since become an escape from the reality that surrounds him.
Khaled, on the other hand, maintains a defiant attitude, as is seen in his intellectual approach to both culture and politics, which calls for a nuanced look at classical Arabic music in light of the Western teachings he received in local institutions. Despite experiencing decades of intense prejudice in Jerusalem, he upholds a certain resolve, refusing to let Israeli repression impact his life, work and state of mind. He attempts to maintain his music center in the face of the obstacles imposed on his students and colleagues who are quickly being shut out from the area due to the insurmountable constraints of the checkpoints and wall that are suffocating the neighborhood. For Khaled, there is no other choice but to continue, as a result he often organizes his classes and workshops in makeshift locations throughout the country.
Working at one of Intel's offices in Israel, youngest brother Rabea describes the constant degradation he faces living in Jerusalem. Even though he is in "a digital world," where one would expect external politics to remain outside of its confines, he has come to terms with working in a perpetually demoralized state. He cites music as his "true love" and like his father, sees it as an exit from this actuality.
Serving to emphasize the sociopolitical situations of her subjects, the director injects subtle yet powerful scenes of Palestinian neighborhoods enclosed by Israel's expansive concrete wall. Through a scene of Khaled driving along the massive structure near his music center the viewer gets a sense of the claustrophobic effect it has on the residential and commercial areas it surrounds. In a scene that is both surreal and jarring, the wall stands dismal and brooding against an overcast sky while in a neighborhood only a few feet away from the structure people attempt to go about their daily lives. One can only imagine the landscape or homes that once lay before them, now replaced by this gray abjection.
Another scene shows Rabea playing his bouzouq in his living room, the sounds of which the director infers travel outside to neighboring homes where children stare up at the camera. Haller's camera cuts to a panning shot of a rooftop view of his Jerusalem suburb, where the imposing barrier can be seen in the distance. The director then returns to Rabea as he finishes his playing; this sequence provides evidence of that which might inform his music.
Various musical recordings by members of the Jubran family serve as a soundtrack for the film, serving to help augment the story and pace the film. Kamilya's experimental tracks are haunting and sorrow-filled, those played by Elias emit a certain amount of nostalgia, and Rabea's speak of an attempt to find his bearings. An exquisite portrait, Telling Strings explores the many ways in which culture has provided solace for generations of Palestinians while simultaneously fashioning a sense of resistance within the collective consciousness.
Maymanah Farhat specializes in modern and contemporary Arab art. Her collected writings can be viewed online at http://maymanahfarhat.wordpress.com.
Telling Strings will be screening at the 2009 Chicago Palestine Film Festival.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 20 April 2009
|An olive press in Gaza City, October 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)|
In spring 2008, several years of careful negotiations finally culminated in the first Palestinian olive oil being awarded Fairtrade status. The oil, sourced from the Palestine Fair Trade Producers Company (PFTPC), based in the West Bank city of Jenin, is both the first Palestinian product to receive Fairtrade certification, and the first olive oil to be allowed to use the mark.
The accreditation means that PFTPC's oil can now carry the distinctive green and blue mark, used as a guarantee of fair conditions for producers by schemes which are members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLOI). FLOI member groups operate in the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and 14 European countries, so the move could be a major boost for the Palestinian olive oil market. Surveys show that the label is recognized by 70 percent of British consumers, and total UK sales of Fairtrade labelled products such as coffee, tea and fruit topped 700 million British pounds ($1 billion) in 2008.
The Fairtrade olive oil story
The effort to persuade the British Fairtrade Foundation that Palestinian olive oil was worth accrediting is largely the work of Zaytoun, a social enterprise founded in London in 2004 by a pair of women who had visited the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement and the International Women's Peace Service.
"It was an accidental business," said Heather Masoud, one of those women. "We thought we'd bring in a few hundred bottles as an experiment, for friends and family, but we got a really strong response through word of mouth, then had people chasing us for Palestinian olive oil. So we thought we'd better make it happen properly."
Zaytoun was established as a Community Interest Company, a structure which includes an "asset lock," meaning that profits are plowed back into the firm.
By 2007, Zaytoun's turnover was around 260,000 ($380,000). Its product range has extended beyond olive oil to include almonds, couscous, dates and Nablus soap, and it is involved in the Palestine Fair Trade Association's Trees for Life olive planting scheme. But moving outside the Palestine solidarity and politicized fairtrade markets proved a challenge. The help of mainstream health food wholesaler Equal Exchange proved invaluable in getting the oil into independent retail outlets.
But while several of the olive oil suppliers Zaytoun sources from have organic certification, the Fairtrade accreditation process -- which includes several site visits by FLOI and scrutiny of the ways in which money is transferred to producers -- has taken a lot longer.
Fairtrade accreditation has been a big new step for Zaytoun and the Palestinian olive oil it wholesales. From its beginnings on stalls at Palestine solidarity events, the label has meant that the oil can now be found on the shelves of mainstream supermarkets. The Co-operative, a chain which has 2,500 stores across the UK and is the country's fifth biggest food retailer, is now stocking the oil. A British government minister joined Jenin farmer Mahmoud Issa and Zaytoun, Equal Exchange and Co-operative Group staff at the oil's London launch, and the Fairtrade Foundation's press release included a personal commendation (without a touch of irony) from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Benefiting Palestinian farmers
Of Zaytoun's turnover, around 40 percent goes directly to the farmers who produce the olive oil. Another 20 percent is spent on processing the product -- bottling, packaging, labeling and transporting it. A high proportion of this value stays in the West Bank, and the company is also looking into having leaflets and posters printed in the West Bank, ensuring that the money goes to a wide range of economic sectors, not just olive farmers.
But the difficulty of guaranteeing supplies that have to come through Israeli security means that warehousing costs in the UK are also high, because Zaytoun always has to keep large stocks in reserve.
"The suppliers have to go through a lot of bureaucracy to get movement certification to have the oil picked up from the West Bank and taken to Haifa to be shipped, and it changes all the time," said Masoud. "So Canaan Fair Trade, for example, have to stack their pallets at a height where a sniffer dog can jump over them, and this is not a very commercially viable thing -- you want to be able to stack pallets as high as you can. Another problem is that the nearest checkpoint, Jelameh, is pretty much permanently closed, so they have to go via Tulkarm."
Shipping the oil via the container port at Haifa has also presented problems in the past.
"It's not something we can definitely say is intentional," said Masoud. "But we've had a couple of containers go astray, one ended up in the Netherlands and one in Italy. And because pretty much all of the people at our suppliers have West Bank IDs, no one can go to Haifa and see what's happening when things go wrong," said Masoud, referring to Israel's permit regime that controls Palestinian movement.
As well as benefiting a variety of West Bank industries, Zaytoun is also committed to working with different groups in Palestinian society. Its couscous is produced by a women's cooperative, and the jarred olives it's been trialing in the UK are also processed by women. While the olive oil comes mainly from the Jenin, Nablus, Salfit and Tulkarm areas, Zaytoun's dates come from the Jordan Valley, and couscous from Jericho.
"We did have one delivery of couscous from Gaza, via PARC [the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees]," said Masoud, "but that's impossible at the moment. We'd like to have more products from Gaza in the future."
Fairtrade and the Palestinian economy
Fairtrade has, believes Masoud, a significant role to play in improving the health of the Palestinian economy. PARC has also applied for accreditation, although this is likely to take some time to approve.
"In terms of not being a donor-dependent economy, we think that Fairtrade has a really important role," said Masoud.
"There's a lot of charitable focus on Palestine, especially from a lot of the Muslim charities, but we think the trade focus is so important in building a long-term future."
Zaytoun's work has not just been about buying olive oil from Palestine, but helping to increase the capacity of the farmers' cooperatives which produce it. European Union regulations, for example, include strict requirements for the chemical composition of extra virgin olive oil, and this has meant that the plastic storage vessels used for domestic storage had to be replaced with stainless steel processing equipment.
Cooperatives have also had training to strengthen their collective voices, empowering them to reject Israeli traders who often paid individual producers below the cost of production for their oil. And the social premium which is a condition of Fairtrade accreditation will help programs like educational scholarships for the children of farmers to continue.
But, Masoud stressed, real support for the Palestine economy needs major changes in how Western governments view Palestine.
"There was a conference in December 2008 with Gordon Brown and [Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East] Tony Blair and all this talk of private sector investment saving the Palestinian economy. But these dialogues go on in a vacuum where no one talks about the occupation and the fact that Israel is pretty much intentionally destroying the Palestinian economy," she said.
"If you look at ethical trade initiatives they are driven by awareness of what Israel is doing, so these small-scale projects have a real place in addressing that. The large-scale negotiations are just talking in another world where we don't have checkpoints and Israel controlling all the sea, land [and] air borders."
Sarah Irving is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2003-04. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine.
Arjan El Fassed, The Electronic Intifada, 20 April 2009
Al-Ram, occupied West Bank, April 2009. (http://www.sendamessage.nl/)
"My dear Palestinian brothers and sisters, I have come to your land and I have recognized shades of my own." These are the first 20 words of an open letter written by Farid Esack, a South African scholar and political activist known for his role in the struggle against apartheid. The total length of his letter is 1,998 carefully chosen words in which he argues that the situation in Palestine is worse than it ever was in South Africa under apartheid rule. Esack, a black South African who worked closely with Nelson Mandela, is astonished at how ordinary people beat about the bush when it comes to Israel and the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinians. "Do 'objectivity,' 'moderation,' and seeing 'both sides' not have limits?" he asks. "Is moderation in matters of clear injustice really a virtue? Do both parties deserve an 'equal hearing' in a situation of domestic violence -- wherein a woman is beaten up by a male who was abused by his father some time ago -- because 'he,' too, is a 'victim?'"
Almost five years after the International Court of Justice declared the wall that Israel built on Palestinian land "illegal" and ruled that it should be dismantled, Palestinians have started to spray-paint Esack's letter along a three kilometer (1.85 miles) stretch of the structure. This is done as part of the Dutch-Palestinian collaborative project www.sendamessage.nl. Since 2007, this project has allowed Internet users from anywhere in the world to ask for an 80-character message to be spray-painted on the wall on their behalf, in exchange for a 30 euro ($40) donation. The bulk of the money raised supports small grassroots social, cultural and educational projects in Palestine. Some of the messages already sent vary from the romantic to the humorous to complete recipes. The messages remind Palestinians trapped inside the wall they have not been forgotten. Since its inception, more than 800 people from around the world have sent messages through sendamessage.nl.
Farid Esack's open letter also aims to give Palestinians hope. "We stand by you in your vision to create a society wherein everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, or religion shall be equal and live in freedom," he writes. "In the face of this monstrosity, the Apartheid Wall, we offer an alternative: Solidarity with the people of Palestine. We pledge our determination to walk with you in your struggle to overcome separation, to conquer injustice and to put end to greed, division and exploitation."
"Esack passed the anger," says Justus Van Oel, founder of Sendamessage.nl. "He reconciles and is able to identify with Palestinians. He is convincing and affects. A combination that is unique when it is about Palestine."
Five years ago, Van Oel traveled to Palestine. He was shocked with what he saw and by "everything he obviously did not know or did not wanted to know." Afterwards he traveled again to Palestine, this time accompanied by Dutch advertising professionals with whom he led a workshop together with creative, young Palestinians. The idea of Sendamessage.nl popped up at one of those workshops in Ramallah. Together with Faris Arouri and Yusef Nijim from the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Youth Forum, Van Oel developed the idea and implemented the project.
A year ago Van Oel asked Farid Esack to write an open letter. Because the project is independent, the painting of Esack's letter will be entirely sponsored by donations received through the site. A documentary film was set to be filmed as the first 500 words were painted on 19 April on a stretch of wall south of Ramallah. The complete letter is expected to be in place on May 10.
"The wall won't fall just because your text is written on it, true," says Van Oel. "But these messages keep hope alive. Palestinians involved in this cooperation send with this a single message: 'We are human beings, just like you, with sense of humor and lust for life.' That is why we do this and enjoy it."
Arjan El Fassed is cofounder of The Electronic Intifada and author of Niet iedereen kan stenen gooien (Uitgeverij Nieuwland, 2008).
The Death of Bassem Abu Rahme
By Frank Barat
On April the 17th, like any Fridays afternoon for the last 4 years, the small village of Bil'in, north of Ramallah, was preparing for the usual demonstration against Israel's annexation wall (some people call it apartheid wall or separation wall. The Israeli government refers to it as the security fence).
The village of Bil'in has, since the mid eighties, lost more than 60% of its land for the purpose of Israeli growing settlements and the construction of the wall. The inhabitants of the village used to live mainly from agriculture and olive trees plantations but more and more, the people of Bil'in have to rely on the women to survive. Embroidery has become one of the main resource of the place, located a few kilometers away from Tel Aviv. (On a nice day, you can see the “inaccessible”- for the Palestinians- beach from the roof tops of Bil'in).
In January 2005, a village committee (led by Mohamed Khatib, Iyad Burnat and Abdullah Abu Rahme) was created and a month later non-violent demonstrations started, first taking part every day, then once a week, on Yum Al Juma'a (Friday, day of prayer).
The village won a huge battle in August 2008 (1) when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the new route of the barrier in Bil’in was in violation of the Court ruling released on September 2007(2) (which ruled that the Wall path was prejudicial to Bil’in and must be altered) and ordered the State to present within 45 days a new route, which will uphold the principles of the ruling.
On Friday the 17th of April 2009, the wall still had not moved one inch and while the inhabitants of the village were praying at the village mosque many internationals (coming from all around the world) and the strong Israeli contingent (including people from the Alternative Information Centre (3) and Anarchists Against the Wall (4)) were looking for some shade (to hide from the baking sun) and chatting about the day's event. As soon as prayer was over with, the demonstration started to move forward in direction of the wall, a few kilometers away.
You can be sure that Bassem (aka Phil) was right at the front of the march. He always was. I had met Bassem a few times while visiting Bil'in. He was a strong looking man, singing the loudest, joking all the time, jumping around and leading the way, accompanied by the rest of the village committee and the Israeli contingent.
As it usually happens, as soon as the march reached the corner where the Israeli soldiers can be seen, the tear gas started. A few brave ones continued anyway and reached the beginning of the wall, after a few minutes. Bassem, as usual, was one of those. The Israelis, present at the front of the demonstration started talking with the nearby soldiers in Hebrew and Bassem too, screamed “We are in a non violent protest, there are kids and internationals...”. He was shot in the chest and never managed to finish his sentence. He fell on the floor, moved a little bit, fell again, and died.
Bassem was shot by a new kind of Tear Gas, called “the rocket”. The soldier who shot it was a mere 40 meters away. This is the same type of tear gas that critically injured US citizen Tristan Anderson a few weeks ago. Those tear gas canisters are as fast and lethal as live ammunition. Very hard to get away from. Normally, tear gas canisters fly in the air for a long time, then fall and bounce a few times. Those ones fly like a bullet and go straight, not up and down.
Once more, Israel using the West Bank as its testing ground, the Palestinians as guinea pigs.
The soldier who fired, knew what he was doing and who he was targeting. The shame is that he probably knew Bassem. Bassem was always at the front, and had been for a few years now. The soldiers often come back more than once in Bil'in and start to get to know the ones facing them.
On April the 17, Bil'in and Palestine lost one of their heroes.
What is going to happen next?
Israel has already said that it will investigate the incident (out of every single investigation into such crimes, only 6% of the soldiers were ever prosecuted, often let off with a few weeks suspension), but before it did, started the usual propaganda, saying that the protest had been violent and that the soldiers had to react. (The video of the demonstration clearly shows otherwise).
We might even hear in a few days that it was actually the Palestinians who fired the tear gas and killed their beloved friend.
The P.A, instead of issuing the strongest statement against this act, stopping once and for all the negotiations with the Israeli government and joining the demonstrators every Friday to be hand in hand with its people, said next to nothing, and is looking forward the coming up White House meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Obama (this is being planned while I write).
The media hardly reported this. The Palestinians do not count. Even more shocking when a video of the event is available to all and could have been used to great effects.
The international community (for what it means) will not mention this “incident” (it is for them) and continue issuing calls for the Palestinians to renounce violence and resist peacefully while saying nothing about Israel's killings (since the start of the second Intifada, 87% of the dead have been Palestinians), violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians.
It is therefore down to us, the citizens of this world, to act, join solidarity groups, write articles, make films and talk, constantly, about the plight of the Palestinian people.
Palestine has to become the number one issue.
This is a must.
For Bassem, his family, Bil'in and Palestine.
(The village of Bil'in is organizing its fourth conference from the 22nd till the 24th of April. For more info click here.)
-Frank Barat is in the organizing committee of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and a member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK.
Monday, 20 April 2009
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson has confirmed to Al Jazeera that it will not co-operate with a United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes during the 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip.
Up to 1,300 Palestinians, mostly women and children, were killed before Israel ended the offensive in January.
Thirteen Israelis, 10 of them soldiers, were killed during the same period.
The UN Human Rights Council has appointed Richard Goldstone, a South African judge and former UN war crimes prosecutor, to examine claims of human rights violations by both Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters during the conflict.
Israel has previously complained that the UN body is biased against it.
"The investigation has no moral ground since it decided even before it started who is guilty and of what," Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman, said earlier this month.
Human rights groups have called for the UN investigation to look into allegations that the Israeli fired imprecise artillery and controversial white phosphorus shells in built-up neighbourhoods.
It is also expected to examine the indiscriminate firing of rockets into southern Israel by Palestinian fighters, Israel's stated reason for launching the offensive last December.
Sporadic rocket fire into Israel has continued since the war, and on Thursday Israel bombed a house in a Gaza refugee camp. No casualties were reported.
Goldstone's four-member team is expected to travel to the region in a few weeks' time and will issue a report to the council in July.
But Israel's refusal to work with the investigators raises questions about whether an adequate investigation can be completed.
However, Israel said that Goldstone, who is Jewish and has close ties to Israel, was not the problem.
"[It's] not about Justice Goldstone," Aharon Leshno Yaar, the Israeli ambassador to UN organisations in Geneva, said on Tuesday.
"It's clear to everybody who follows this council and the way that it treats Israel that justice cannot be the outcome of this mission."
In New York, a leading human rights group urged both sides to co-operate.
Human Rights Watch noted that it has criticised the UN rights council in the past "for its exclusive focus on Israeli rights violations".
However, Goldstone has the "experience and proven commitment to ensure that this inquiry will demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality," the group wrote in a letter to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and 27 European foreign ministers.
Hamas has already welcomed the investigation.
The investigators "will find full co-operation of the Palestinian government and Palestinian people because the crimes of the occupation are clear and no one can underestimate them", Yousef Rizka, an adviser to Ismail Haniya, the de facto prime minister in Gaza, said.
Israel is co-operating with a separate investigation into several attacks on UN facilities during the conflict, including one which destroyed a warehouse belonging to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides food aid for the Gazans.
April 20, 2009
A Regional Realignment?
Obama's Multi-Polar Middle East
By NADIA HIJAB
Back in the Bush days we had "the Greater Middle East" -- born on the way to a G8 summit in 2004. To some, the term was a source of humor in a part of the world with little to laugh about. To others, the nomenclature could not counter the perception of American control over the region either directly or through its ally, Israel.
Now, in less than 100 days of its existence, the Obama Administration has uncovered a very different Middle East: a more multi-polar region where power is balanced between several actors. This mirrors the global realignment that the new administration is dealing with as a result of the military and economic excesses of its predecessors.
The move toward a multi-polar Middle East is incidental to special envoy George Mitchell's mandate as he shuttles through the region. But it is important for Barack Obama's smarter nuclear strategy, which situates the engagement with Iran within a declared United States goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
Two strands of this strategy are worth mentioning here. The first is the tacit recognition -- in Obama's Prague speech -- that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been breached by the very nations that have the power to uphold it.
The P5 -- the UN Security Council's five permanent, veto-wielding members -- were supposed to eliminate their nuclear arsenals after the NPT was signed in 1970. They have not, and have left the other 183 NPT signatory nations the choice of living under the P5's nuclear shadow or trying to acquire their own nuclear weapons.
A goal of US and Russian reduction of nuclear warheads is the second key strand of Obama's strategy. But if this is to make sense then countries that have not signed the NPT must be brought into the fold. In the Middle East, this means India, Israel, and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are each believed to have some 35 nuclear devices. Israel's nuclear stockpile is said to contain anywhere from 100 to 400 nuclear devices.
With two of the P5 committed to reducing the nuclear weapons they are asking Iran to forswear, the United States decision to engage directly in the P5+1 (Germany) talks with Iran becomes much more meaningful. Obama's strategy appears to be also sending a quiet message to China, Britain, and France: One day, they too must bite the nuclear bullet.
Obama has not gone soft on Iran. The media has focused on Iran's rebuff of his Persian New Year greeting. Less reported is the fact that his message came just a few days after America re-imposed sanctions against Iran, something that was not lost on that country's leadership.
By contrast, the Iranian leadership has welcomed the less flowery but more significant US reengagement in the P5+1 talks.
In the Obama era's multi-polar Middle East, Iran is being treated as a regional power with valid security concerns. Close observers of the US-Iranian courtship believe that the two are seeking a strategic rather than a tactical relationship.
Work on this strategic relationship is reportedly being managed through the National Security Council rather than the State Department. This further sidelines the hawkish Dennis Ross, whose appointment as Hillary Clinton's advisor caused alarm in Middle East circles. Despite reports to the contrary, Ross does not -- yet -- exercise significant influence over the Iran relationship. Any advice he gives is said to go to the NSC.
Beyond Iran, Obama's trip to Turkey also contributes to the multi-polar Middle East. He saluted Turkey not just as a solid ally but also as a country that is better managing diversity at home and abroad -- as a model for the rest of the region.
As Syria slowly steps in from the cold, America's traditional allies like Egypt and Israel face increasing irrelevance in this new Middle East. But the biggest threat to multi-polarity comes from Israel, which has aggressively guarded its capacity for uncontested deterrence, particularly its unilateral access to nuclear power.
Like its predecessors, the Netanyahu government has said it will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Israel's threats don't ring hollow: It destroyed Iraq's French-built Osirak reactor in 1981, and a suspected Syrian facility in 2007.
So far the United States has kept a firm hand on the leash, but Israel is clearly raring to go. Several of Iran's 27 nuclear sites are in major cities -- Tehran, Isfahan -- which would greatly add to the horror of any Israeli attack, and the magnitude of Iran's response.
Obama's biggest challenge will be to bring Israel into a multi-polar Middle East. So far he is moving very cautiously, and rightly so, to defuse this ticking bomb. But he is moving.Nadia Hijab is a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Reporter's diary: Obstacles in Gaza
By Zeina Awad in Gaza City
Many Palestinians sheltered in tents after their homes were destroyed in the war [GALLO/GETTY]
Israel's three-week war on Gaza caused billions of dollars in damage and left the already-tattered local economy on the verge of collapse.
Some of the world's richest countries - including the US which has promised a $20-million aid package - have pledged monies to rebuild the Gaza Strip.
Al Jazeera's Zeina Awad reports that rivalry between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and other Palestinian factions threatens to scuttle efforts to rebuild Gaza and rehabilitate its people.
We came across Tayseer Jneed, a father of four, as he waited in queue outside a post office in Gaza City to cash a cheque Hamas had distributed to many Palestinians who, like him, had lost family and homes during Israel's recent war.
But Jneed was already disappointed.
"I am unhappy because Hamas promised me 6,000 euros but I am getting 4,f000 euros," he told Al Jazeera.
Jneed's home was destroyed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and he has been forced to live in a tent donated by the UN.
Like many of the makeshift tents housing hundreds of Palestinians who have recently lost their home, there is no water and the family of six are forced to resort to a makeshift toilet constructed by one of their neighbours.
The financial handout is meant to help his family survive until real reconstruction gets under way in Gaza.
"I need more money, I need a home, I need to be able to pay for my children's education, food, and clothes."
Others at the post office told us that they also did not get all the cash they had been promised. They took whatever they could from Hamas, because it may be the only money they will be receiving for a while.
The Hamas authorities in Gaza said they will be distributing more emergency funds in the weeks to come.
However, cash has been in short supply in Gaza ever since Israel imposed its siege in 2007, following Hamas wresting control of Gaza from its rival, Fatah, after a unity government collapsed.
However, many Palestinians living in Gaza see the rivalry as posing a serious threat to any reconstruction initiatives the territory so desperately needs today.
Hamas maintains that it was democratically elected and therefore carries the mandate of the people. Hamas officials say they should play a key role in reconstruction efforts.
The Fatah-led PA, however, says it is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
For their part, international donors say they will not recognise Hamas because the Islamist movement refuses to recognise Israel and does not honour previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
They say they will only deal with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of Fatah.
But Fatah has no authority in Gaza.
|Abbas insists he is the legitimate representative of the Palestinians [AFP] |
Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based independent economist, says: "We are not talking about delivering some assistance here and there. We are talking about building 5,000 flats and rehabilitating another 20,000, rebuilding around 500 institutions, rehabilitating the roads."
"All of this needs a very strong government and close coordination with that government," he said.
A strong government is something the Palestinians do not have. Instead, the Gaza Strip is run by the deposed Hamas government, while the West Bank is under the PA – led by Abbas.
Hamas and the PA have held reconciliation talks on numerous occasions, but instead of uniting, their rivalry has become more entrenched.
"If the division between Fatah and Hamas continues, then I do not know how the reconstruction process can happen," Shaban says.
He told Al Jazeera that reconstruction programmes require close coordination between the local municipalities and land authorities on the one hand and Hamas, the power in Gaza, on the other.
Embargo on material
For its part, Israel refuses to allow glass, cement, and other desperately needed building material into the Gaza Strip as long as Hamas is in control.
For many in Gaza, every day without reconstruction means another day of living in makeshift shacks and tents, without electricity, water, or basic services.
That is the reality of daily life for Jneed and his family.
The 4,000 euros will make life easier for him now but in the long-run he sees no way out.
He blames Israel first and foremost for the carnage in Gaza but acknowledges that he will not get his home back until Palestinian politicians stop bickering and start proper planning.