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Sheizaf: Two more families face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah; hundreds attend protests

May 30, 2010 2 comments

Cross-posted from Promised Land.

Two more Palestinian families from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood received this week eviction orders. According to Haaretz’s report, the families were ordered to leave their houses within 45 days. No alternative residency was offered to them.

“Failure to comply [with the order] will force my client to act against you with all means available according to the law [...] in such a way as may cause distress, anxiety and large and unnecessary expense,” the notices said.

The lawyer who served the order, Anat Paz of law firm Eitan Gabay, informed the families they would be liable to a fine of NIS 350 for each day the remained in their homes beyond the eviction deadline.

Each family was also ordered to pay  NIS 12,000 per year for each of the last seven years. The notices did not reveal names of the claimants to the properties.

The Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah are refugees who fled their homes in Jaffa and West Jerusalem in 1948. They were offered a land in Jerusalem to build their homes on by the Jordanians in exchange for agreeing to give up their refugee status (ironically, that’s what Israel always demanded that Palestinians in Arab countries do). Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and, recently, the pre-1948 Jewish owners of the land in Sheikh Jarrah authorized a right-wing settlers group to have the Palestinians evacuated and the neighborhood settled with Jews.

Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the Jews claiming land based on pre-1948 documents — while at the same time the Palestinians were forbidden from claiming back the houses they left in 1948. Unable to have their old houses, evacuated from their current homes — Jerusalem’s municipality plans on building there 200 housing units for Jews — the Palestinians have literally nowhere to go. They don’t even have refugee status.

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The injustice in East Jerusalem is so evident, that the struggle to stop the evacuation of the Palestinians became a new symbol for many Israelis. What has began as a very local grassroots effort by a handful of activist (many of them Anarchists) is now drawing a crowd of hundreds each week – and sometime more people and more than once a week. Here is a video from the protest two weeks ago, when some 30 demonstrators were arrested by police, and one had his arm broken.

Personally, I find the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah to be the best thing that has happened to the Israeli left in years. The number of the people present there doesn’t seem that impressive, but the crowd grows each week, and it is clear that the police and the municipality will find new evacuations very hard to carry out.

More importantly, this struggle is becoming an inspiration to many who all but gave up on political activism — and not just in Israel. And it’s happening without any political party or a left-wing organization supporting it, and under some very radical massages. For the first time I can remember in years, the left doesn’t try to “move to the center” in order to win the support of the more conservative public, or engage in all sorts of competitions in patriotism with the right — ones that we obviously will never win — but rather sticks to its principles without apologizing or justifying itself.

There is no common platform in Sheikh Jarrah except for this very specific struggle. Nobody asks if you support one or two states, if you are a Zionist, Post Zionist or anti-Zionist. People just come each Friday to Jerusalem and stand for what they think is right – and so far, it works well enough. Sometimes even I get the sense that if this thing wasn’t happening in here, it would have happened somewhere else. The energy feels bigger than this specific incident, as if there are finally enough Israelis who say that things have been going in the wrong direction for far too long — that a line had to be drawn, and it happened to be drawn in Sheikh Jarrah.

I took those two pics on the weekly protest last Friday, to which author Mario Vargas Llosa paid a visit.

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The best way to support the protest in Sheikh Jarrah is to simply come each Friday (more detailshere). If you don’t live in Israel, you can make a donation, as legal expenses for the defense of arrested activists and organizers are mounting.

Renowned Israeli playwright compares Ameer Makhoul to Soviet “Prisoners of Zion”

May 20, 2010 2 comments

The story of the arrest and detention Ameer Makhoul is an eerie glimpse into the willingness of Israel’s security establishment to go to incredible and undemocratic lengths as it attempts to fight perceived internal “enemies.”   Makhoul, an Israeli citizen, was finally permitted to meet with his lawyers after 11 days, but only after his defense team threatened to boycott his detention extension hearing.

Shaken, Israeli playwright Yehoshua (Joshua) Sobol decided to break a taboo and equate Makhoul’s handling by the Shabak to the Soviet treatment of the “Prisoners of Zion.”

Censorship: The fate of Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky

Op-ed, Yehoshua Sobol, Israel Hayom, May 12 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the tale of the arrest of Zion Grisha Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky, who was taken in the middle of the night by the KGB.  The story made waves through the international media, yet in Soviet Russia it was prohibited to mention the event in national media outlets.  As in all dark dictatorships, the intellectuals who wanted to know where they lived, developed a network for sharing alternative information: Mouth to Ear, a network that functions at the speed of one’s voice and passes through the thick walls and fences that surround the basement interrogation centers of the KGB.

And thus, thanks to the Mouth to Ear network, every person with some critical opinion regarding the Soviet Empire knows exactly and how and why something happened to Grisha Ameerovitch-Makholsky.  At 3:00am 16 brutes from a special unit of the KGB surrounded Grisha’s house, which is located in a suburb in the distant northern port city of Danyaprokhifovsik.  Five thugs from the special unit broke into the apartment, separated Grisha from his wife and daughters – Dina and Yehudit, refused to identify themselves when asked, and proceeded to search the entire apartment without demonstrating a search warrant.  They took the personal journals of Grisha and his daughters, as well as the girls’ math workbooks.  When they wanted to take Grisha as well, Mrs. Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky stubbornly demanded that the brutes present an arrest warrant.  So they extracted an arrest warrant dated two weeks prior to that night.

In retrospect, the Nobel Prize winner Professor Eliushkin-Sacharov, one of the directors of Man-is-Man, raised these points for consideration: if the security threat was urgent such that the Soviet security forces could wait almost two weeks from the day the warrant was signed until it was implemented, why did the search and arrest have to take place at 3:00am, violently, and in front of the children?  Furthermore, Professor Sacharov asked why the detainee was not permitted to consult with his lawyer, as his wife claims.

But this was not the end of the story.  It turns out that despite the zealous Soviet censorship and the fearful long and strong hand of the KGB, the Mouth to Ear network managed to broadcast news of the grave violation of human rights that occurred.  However, though in Soviet Russia it was prohibited to inform citizens of misdeeds committed by the secret security services, it was permissible to vilify Israel without restraint – the Mouth to Ear network broadcasted the story as if it took place in Israel instead of in Soviet Russia.  And not to a Jewish detainee named Zion but rather with an Arab detainee.  Even the name of the city Danyaprokhifovsik was replaced by the name of a northern Israeli port city, and the name of Grisha Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky was changed to an Arab name.  Further, the name of the organization of Zionist NGOs that Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky led was altered in the rumors to the name of an organization of Arab NGOs.  In this way, the story of the arrest of Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky was broadcasted to all corners of Soviet Russia.

It is difficult to believe that only 50 years have passed since the dark days in which the story of Ameerovitch-Makhoulsky took place, which seems – today – as if it took place before the days of Noah’s Great Flood.  How wonderful that such a dark and shameful event could never take place in a democratic and free country like the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.

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Maariv: ‘Senior official denied Chomsky entry because she was familiar with his extreme leftist views’

May 17, 2010 3 comments

Other Coteret posts on the Chomsky affair: Sheizaf: Chomsky affair demonstrates that the West Bank, not just Gaza, is under siege | Yediot legal editor: Chomsky affair part of trend that “could mark the end of Israel as a freedom-loving state of law” |

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For anyone who was wondering what “system” is behind the growing tide of entry denials to internationals suspected of Palestinian sympathies, Maariv provides a rather banal answer:

It has become apparent that the official in charge of border crossings in the Interior Ministry was the one who gave instructions not to let in Chomsky.  Interior Ministry sources said the official overstepped her authority and was reprimanded.  Sources in the Interior Ministry noted that the official made the decision on the basis of her familiarity with the person’s activity and the fact that he is considered an extreme leftist.

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Official decided: No entry for leftists

Amit Cohen, Maariv, May 17 2010 [page 8; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

Israel prevented yesterday the entry of American Jewish linguist and left wing activist Prof. Noam Chomsky, who planned to hold a several day long visit to the West Bank.

Palestinian Parliament Member Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who invited Chomsky, said that Israeli officials had told Chomsky that his entry was being denied due to his opinions and his criticism of Israel.  Chomsky said that he was surprised by the level of Israeli stupidity.

It has become apparent that the official in charge of border crossings in the Interior Ministry was the one who gave instructions not to let in Chomsky.  Interior Ministry sources said the official overstepped her authority and was reprimanded.  Sources in the Interior Ministry noted that the official made the decision on the basis of her familiarity with the person’s activity and the fact that he is considered an extreme leftist.

When a person requests to enter Judea and Samaria directly, his request is not handled by the Interior Ministry, but rather by the army.  Therefore, the instructions not to let him in were given mistakenly.  The Interior Ministry, for its part, intends to lift the restriction on Chomsky’s entry.

Barghouti told Ma’ariv that the arrangements to coordinate Prof. Chomsky’s arrival in the territories had begun four months ago.  Chomsky was invited by Bir Zeit University and by the Palestinian National Initiative, which is headed by Barghouti.  He was supposed to spend four days in the territories and tour a number of sites.  Chomsky was also scheduled to lecture at Bir Zeit University about US policy.

However, when Chomsky arrived yesterday at Allenby Bridge, en route from Amman, he was delayed for many hours.  “He arrived at 11:00 AM along with his daughter and a number of escorts,” Barghouti related.  “To his surprise, he was delayed for five hours, at the end of which he was told that his entry had been denied by the Israeli Interior Ministry.  He was told that the reason for the denial was his opinions, statements he had made and his intention of lecturing here.”  Barghouti added that Chomsky was told that an official statement would be sent to the US embassy.

A security source explained that “his request to enter Bir Zeit University for the purpose of a lecture that could agitate the atmosphere apparently reached the ears of the Interior Ministry personnel.  Someone there apparently decided arbitrarily that his entry was unnecessary, and therefore decided to ban him from entering.  As it appears now, this decision caused more harm than good, and it looks like he will ultimately enter.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel sharply denounced the decision to prevent Chomsky’s entry.  “The decision to prevent a person from expressing his opinions by his arrest and expulsion is a characteristic of a totalitarian regime,” it said in its statement.  “A democratic state, which holds freedom of speech dear, does not shut itself away from criticism or inconvenient ideas, and does not bar guests from entering just because their opinions are unacceptable to it— rather it copes with them by means of a public discussion.”

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Yediot legal editor: Chomsky affair part of trend that “could mark the end of Israel as a freedom-loving state of law”

May 17, 2010 20 comments

In the generally sensationalist tabloid Yediot, Israel’s most popular newspaper, the legal affairs editor, Judge (ret.) Boaz Okon, is a breath of fresh air. He is one of the few mainstream Israeli journalists who dare use the “A word” to describe segregation policies.

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Afraid of the other

Commentary, Boaz Okon [legal affairs editor], Yediot, May 17 2010 [page 3; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

The decision to expel Prof. Noam Chomsky from the border terminal in order to prevent him from lecturing at Bir Zeit University is an act of folly, part of a large series of follies in the recent period, which together could mark the end of Israel as a freedom-loving state of law, or at least pose a large question mark over this.

This decision is first of all patently illegal, since it stands in stark contrast to the most important ruling of the Supreme Court in the Kol Haam affair, in which it was determined that restricting freedom of speech is only legal if the statement is of a kind that could pose a clear and immediate danger to state security.  Truth is not dictated from on high and opinions and ideas cannot be supervised.  The best “test of truth” is the power of an idea to be accepted in the marketplace of ideas.

But in Israel, the government has already started to threaten freedom, at least the freedom of those who are perceived as “others.”  We have ceased to take an interest in what the “others” have to say, not to mention their rights to live here in a normal fashion.  We want them to get out of our sight.  We hound the “others” on the basis of generalizations, suspicions, prejudice or just because they are annoying.

The police detain the demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah on false grounds.  A custody affairs court expels a foreign worker who is pregnant, so that she does not give birth to a foreign child in Israel.  A family court prevents infants from being brought into Israel from India on the basis of groundless excuses, possibly due to distaste for their father’s sexual orientation. Courts issue gag orders easily and as a routine matter, perhaps to cover up the shame.  We even expel clowns who want to attend a festival in Ramallah, because we are afraid.

There is a worrying common denominator here.  When freedom disappears — it comes first of all at the expense of the weak, the marginal groups or the minorities.  But it does not end there.  Now it is also reaching intellectuals with a worldwide reputation.  Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the decision to shut up Prof. Chomsky is an attempt to put an end to freedom in the State of Israel.  I am not talking about the stupidity of supplying ammunition to those who say that Israel is fascist, but rather about our concern that we may be becoming fascists.

Read more…

Sheizaf: Chomsky affair demonstrates that the West Bank, not just Gaza, is under siege

May 16, 2010 5 comments

Cross posted from Promised Land.

Much has been written on Israel’s decision not to allow entry to left-wing linguist Noam Chomsky today, and I guess even more will be written. From the official Israeli response, it is not clear who made the decision in this case — a top government official or a low level bureaucrat — and it seems that Chomsky might still be permitted to enter the West Bank, once people realize the PR damage caused to what’s left of the reputation of the only democracy in the Middle East. But that’s not the important issue here.

According to Chomsky, what bothered Israeli officials at the Allenby crossing was not only his views, but the fact that he intends to visit the West Bank, and not Israel. Later it was said that the IDF authority might end up granting him a visa. But whatever way this affair ends, it is clear that Chomsky made a better case against Israel today than in anything he said or wrote. He practically proved that the Palestinians are far from being autonomous, and that the West Bank is in reality under siege, with Israel dictating who and what can leave or enter.

When the Spanish clown Ivan Pedro was denied entry by the Shabak into the West Bank, some people tried to make a national security case out of it, claiming Pedro refused to submit information regarding his contacts in the West Bank. I hope nobody is planning the same line with the Chomsky. Israel simply decided not to let him in because he is pro-Palestinian, like it does every day to many others. The only difference is that in those cases nobody alerts Reuters.

There is no arguing that Israel is now viewing certain ideas, not just actions, as an existential threat, and is willing to make full use of its powers in order to suppress them. It is important to understand this point: Some people think that the state made a stupid mistake today, when it chose to deny entry to Chomsky. But that’s only true if you judge the affair in terms of actual security — then you conclude that making such a fuss over a speech in Ramallah by an aging linguist that no one would even notice is pure madness. But if you are obsessed with the persecution of “dangerous ideas” and constantly searching for ideological menaces, then Chomsky is a threat. In this context, not allowing him to enter your country might be logical and even legal — again, if you consider Israel’s control of all access to the West Bank legal — but it is also scary as hell.

Ameer Makhoul’s defense team threatens to boycott tomorrow’s remand hearing

May 16, 2010 3 comments

Ameer Makhoul

Eleven days have passed since he was arrested by the General Security Services (GSS aka Shin Bet aka Shabak), but Amir Makhoul has still not been allowed to see a lawyer. With his remand hearing scheduled for tomorrow, both the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Palestinian-Israeli human rights group Adalah issued sharp protests this afternoon (May 16 2010.)

According to a press release on Adalah’s website, Makhoul has so far not been allowed to appear at his own court hearings, during which his remand was extended twice.

Secret information was exchanged between the court and the General Security Services (GSS or Shabak) at the hearings. Questions were asked and notes passed between the court and the Shabak. No information was given to his lawyers about the substance of the investigation or his personal health condition or the conditions of his detention. All this information was classified. Thus the court has in effect only heard the side of the Shabak.

His legal team has taken the unprecedented step of threatening to boycott tomorrow’s hearing:

“Due to the utter lack of respect for due process, the representation of Ameer Makhoul in the detention hearings has become meaningless.”

ACRI has, according to a statement posted on its website, “sent an appeal to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein today, demanding that he act urgently to permit the meeting of arrested political figure Amir Makhoul with an attorney.” In her letter to the attorney general, ACRI attorney Lila Margalit wrote:

“It’s critical to remember that a suspect is simply an individual whose involvement in a crime is being examined. As such, he or she is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Respect for his or her due process rights is intended to ensure that the process aimed at determining guilt or innocence is fair and effective.”

Makhoul, 52, heads Ittijah, and umbrella group of Palestinian-Israeli NGOs. GSS agents arrested him in front of his wife and daughters 11 days ago, during a pre-dawn raid at his home in Haifa. It later emerged, primarily via Israeli bloggers, that Omar Said, 50, a member of Balad, an Arab political party in Israel, was arrested last month. The courts placed a gag order on both arrests, but it was ignored by bloggers and was lifted shortly thereafter.

Neither Makhoul nor Said has been charged as yet. The Shin Bet says they are suspected of “severe security offences including contacting a Hezbollah agent.”

In-depth information and analysis on this issue can be found on Jewish-American blogger Richard Silverstein’s site, Tikkun Olam.

Witness to a demonstration: A Friday in Nabi Salih

May 15, 2010 3 comments

Lisa Goldman is a freelance journalist and blogger. Her articles have been published in Time Out Tel Aviv, Ynet, the Forward, Haaretz, the Jewish Quarterly, Corriere Della Sera, the Guardian and the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the author of City Guide: Tel Aviv and lives in the city. Cross-posted from her personal blog.

Editor’s note: Lisa’s full photo set from the May 7 2010 demonstration at An Nabi Salih can be viewed here. Another set, by Philip Touitou, the photographer pictured at the end of the post can be viewed here.

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On Friday afternoons in Nabi Salih, it starts like this. A few Israeli and foreign activists arrive at the village around noon, gathering at the home of Bassam Tamimi. His door is open, so there is no need to knock. Inside, villagers and visitors socialize, use the washroom and help themselves from the huge spread of homemade food laid out on the kitchen table. Bassam’s children run between the guests’ legs; and Sameeh, a neighbour from Jaffa, picks one of them up and tickles him. The atmosphere is relaxed, jovial and friendly. Most of these people see one another every Friday, under the same circumstances.

Bassam’s mother (or perhaps mother-in-law) sits on one of the chairs, her legs pulled up in a near-squat, observing the visitors through half-blind eyes. She looks like a Palestinian grandmother out of central casting, with her long white veil, embroidered traditional dress, deeply wrinkled face and thin, arthritic hands. I greet her by clasping one of them and muttering something in mangled Arabic. She responds by telling me to eat — a word I understand because the Arabic and Hebrew roots are the same (AKL), and also because that’s what grandmothers tend to do, the world over — urge you to eat.

After we have eaten and drunk our tea, Bassam says, “So, shall we start?”

Village boys and some older men congregate at the top of the village’s main road. Some carry Palestinian flags. They start to walk down the path, clapping their hands and chanting rhythmically. There are a couple of Palestinian news cameramen, looking prepared for trouble with their gas masks, flack vests and helmets – and a sprinkling of non-Palestinian freelance photojournalists. Some of them have gas masks, too. The non-Palestinians – maybe 10 Israelis and a handful of Europeans – walk on the sides, observing but not participating. The photojournalists and cameramen walk backwards down the hill as they photograph and film the demonstrators. There are no reporters for the Israeli media.

The goal of the march is to reach the spring across the road, maybe 300 meters away, next to the religious settlement of Halamish, a settlement that was created in the late 1970s on expropriated Nabi Salih agricultural land. The cluster of stone village houses is divided by a smooth, new blacktop road from the rows of identical white settlement houses. The villagers continued, for years after Halamish’s cookie-cutter houses were erected, to cultivate the fields next to the settlement. Until one day, a few months ago, the settlers decided to expropriate the spring that is located on that land. Gideon Levy explains that the settlers say they want to use the spring for a spa. They planted an Israeli flag next to it, then used threats of violence to prevent the Nabi Salih villagers from cultivating the farmland upon which the spring was located.

Halamish, as seen from Nabi Salih

For the army, the goal is not to mediate or to serve justice. The goal is to keep things quiet. So, rather than adjudicating between the residents of Halamish and Nabi Salih — e.g., by telling the settlers to take their flag away from the spring and stop preventing the villagers from farming their land – the army declared the area a closed military zone. They did not tell the settlers to take down the flag or to stop threatening the Palestinians who wanted to continue cultivating their fields. Instead, the army prevented the Nabi Salih farmers from reaching their land, because that would make the settlers angry, and when the settlers get angry they get violent, and if there was violence the peace would be disturbed. That is why, on Friday afternoons for the past five months, the villagers have been marching toward the spring. And that is why, each Friday afternoon, the army prevents them from doing so. This is the story of how the army stops the villagers from reaching the spring.

Two minutes into the demonstration, with a violent abruptness that never fails to shock, a caravan of noisy armoured vehicles roars into the village. The back doors slam open even before the vehicles screech to a halt. Border police, dressed in full riot gear, leap out of the back, race forward and shoot tear gas in loud volleys. They also lob sound grenades that explode upon impact with a fearsome bang that makes the village sound like a battlefield.

The demonstrators are still well inside their own village. They are not carrying any weapons – not even stones. The group include small children; one has Down’s Syndrome. Everyone scatters to get away from the tear gas. I am standing a few meters away, behind a stone wall that surrounds a private house, which has become a target for several tear gas canisters all at once. The familiar bitter taste and prickling sinuses remind of how disgusting tear gas is; and I back away to avoid getting a full dose from the next barrage. But too late. Pop! Pop! Pop! Ping! One of the canisters lands right near me and I’m groping in my bag for a scarf and a bottle of water.

A young man standing just inside the doorway of the house looks at me and says, in Arabic-accented English, “Get in!”

Inside, a middle-aged woman wearing a hijab and a long dress sits nervously on a couch. Her son and daughter, maybe 5 and 7 years old, sit next to her, in silence. The boy is playing a game on his mobile phone, while the girl just sits on her pink plastic chair, looking occasionally at her mother for reassurance. The mother smiles at me and indicates that I should sit down. She brings me a glass of orange juice on a tray, and half an onion to hold up to my nose as an antidote to the tear gas. Every few minutes she gets up and turns on the fan to disperse the gas, which seeps in through the cracks around the windows and doors, but that doesn’t always help.

At one point her son stands up abruptly, goes wordlessly into the kitchen and fetches another onion, slices it in half and returns to the couch, holding half for himself and the other half for his little sister. To distract them, I take their photos and show them their images. The boy smiles a little, but then another volley of tear gas lands outside their front door and he stops smiling.

Outside, the local boys were throwing rocks at the border police, who continued to fire tear gas. Many had wrapped scarves around their faces, partly to ward off the tear gas and partly to disguise their identity so that Israeli security forces, which videotape the demonstrations, would not be able to target them for arrest during the night-time raids. The IDF raids the village several times a week, arresting teenage stone throwers and keeping them in detention for extended periods.

This is the image that frightens and angers Israelis: a muscular teenage Palestinian, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, a keffiyeh wrapped around his face and a rock or a slingshot in his hand. It’s a classic shot that has appeared on the front page of Israeli newspapers on many occasions.

And there, at the bottom of the road, is the image that frightens and angers Palestinians: armed soldiers inside their village, eager for action and not very disciplined, shooting tear gas, throwing sound grenades and sometimes adding some plastic or rubber bullets and skunk gas as well.

The Palestinians define these demonstrations as non-violent because they don’t throw stones unless the army shoots first. There are those who argue that demonstrators cannot call themselves non-violent if they are throwing stones – even if the targets are wearing helmets and carrying riot shields. And then there is the argument that if the villagers don’t throw stones in response to the tear gas, then there will be no media coverage at all.

Well, I don’t know. Perhaps if the villagers had all sat down on the road and just allowed themselves to be asphyxiated by tear gas or dragged away to jail, there would have been some media coverage. Or perhaps not. Then again, the stone throwers did not hurt anybody. But on the other hand, the images coming out of that demo – the classic ’scary Palestinian’ shots of boys with keffiyeh-covered faces throwing stones – are the ones that will make the biggest impact on Israelis. Once they see that image, which elicits such primordial responses of fear, they are highly unlikely to ask what the villagers were protesting, or why the army is breaking up a demonstration that is taking place inside the village and not harming anyone, and whether or not the Palestinians have the right to demonstrate – and if not, why not?

Anyway, things quieted down for a few minutes so I left the home in which I’d taken shelter and started walking toward the olive grove at the foot of the road. But then there was another round of tear gas. A voice from the roof above my head said in English, “Hello! Come up here. You can see better.”

The view from Zeynab’s roof.

So I entered the house and walked upstairs, where teenage Zeynab and her sisters, who seemed to range in age from 10-14, had an excellent view of the soldiers and the local rock throwers, three of whom were crouching behind a wall. Cat-and-mouse.

Tear gas outside the house.

Zeynab said quietly, “Something so evil is happening here.” After a few minutes she gestured toward the local boys and called out to them in Arabic, pointing toward the soldiers who were waiting below, in the olive grove. I looked down and saw sunlight glinting on the barrel of a tear gas dispenser as it was aimed directly at us on the roof. “Ya banaat!” I shouted, but there was no way to beat the tear gas. It exploded on the roof. We rushed down the stairs, with the smaller girls retching loudly. One of them slammed the door to the bathroom and sounded as though she were throwing up, while another called out that their living room window had been shattered by the impact. The younger brothers raced into the kitchen, sliced onions and passed them out to all of us. A boy who looked about 8 years old warned me to stop rubbing my eyes, because I would just spread the tear gas deeper.

We sat on cushions in the living room, wiping the mucus and tears with tissues and laughing a little as we recovered. After awhile there was a lull outside, so I said goodbye and left, after photographing one of the girls in front of the shattered living room window. She giggled as she wrapped her brother’s scarf around her face and posed.

Read more…

Shabak blocks participation of West Bank protest leader in European conferences

May 2, 2010 7 comments

Actually, Burnat got off lightly. Advocacy on behalf of the unarmed protest movement in the West Bank (termed “Popular Terror” by the IDF) is a crime punishable by incarceration. Here are a few recent examples:

  • July 2009: Mohammad Srur, a Naalin activist, arrested after testifying before Goldstone commission.
  • September 2009: Head of Bilin Popular Committee Abdallah Abu Rahma indicted for displaying spent ammunition casings used by IDF against village demonstrators.
  • January 2010: Bilin councilman, Mohamad Khatib, arrested following Ynet interview in which he predicted a new Intifada.

Shabak bars protester from Bil’in from traveling to conferences in Europe

Iyad Burnat wanted to cross the Allenby Bridge to travel to conferences in Switzerland and Italy. He waited at the crossing for three hours until he was told: “You’re going back”

Amira Hass, Haaretz Online, May 1 2010 [Hebrew edition only, original here]

Arrest of Iyad Burnat in Bilin

Burnat, 37, married and the father of three sons and a daughter, came to the bridge this morning with his four-year-old daughter. The border crossing to Jordan is under full Israeli control and Palestinians are allowed to cross only with Shabak permission. The officer at passport control instructed him to sit and wait right after he entered his personal information on the computer.

Burnat told Haaretz that three hours later an Israeli wearing civilian clothes, who did not identify himself or his office, appeared and said: “You’re going back.” Burnat asked other Israelis stationed at the border crossing why he was prevented from crossing and he was told these were Shabak orders and that the reason is “security.” He asked to meet the Shabak officer at the crossing but was refused.

One of the conferences in which Burnat was supposed to participate was organized by the mayor of Geneva Rémy Pagani and its subject is the Geneva conventions.

The popular struggle activists believe the prevention of travel is one of the measures taken by the security authorities to suppress their movement. The measures include mass arrests, raids on houses, declaring villages as closed military areas and holding leading activists in custody for months. All this is beside the massive force used to disperse demonstrations.

Burnat was arrested and tried for his activity in the first intifada and jailed for two years. In the five years of fighting against the separation fence he has been arrested a few times at home after demonstrations but he was never indicted or tried. The last time Burnat traveled abroad was in April 2009.

In the weekly report of his activities that he distributes by e-mail, Burnat wrote about the demonstrations that took place in Bil’in yesterday, with the participation of Palestinian trade union activists in honor of May 1.

The Shabak today (Saturday) barred a resident of Bil’in, active in the struggle against building the separation fence in the village, from crossing Allenby Bridge to travel to conferences in Switzerland and Italy. Iyad Burnat was supposed to speak at the conferences about the popular struggle against the separation fence.

Administering corporal punishment to a young Popular Terrorist

April 28, 2010 1 comment

At bottom is a set of photos is from page 8 of this morning’s (April 28 2010) Haaretz (Hebrew edition only; download as PDF here.) Caption reads:

Pepper spray into the eyes of the Palestinian protester, at point-blank range

A 15 year-old Palestinian was arrested yesterday by Border Policemen during a demonstration against construction of the separation fence near the village of Wallaje, and was sprayed with pepper gas at point blank range during the arrest. About 60 demonstrators protested against construction of the fence south of Jerusalem. According to one of them, at one point the teenager saw the the Border Policemen were documenting the event and panicked. “He jumped off the bulldozer, ran home and stumbled into a policeman by accident., He tried to continue running but the policemen jumped on him, beat him murderously and sprayed him with pepper gas, after they had got him under control. The Border Police responded: “The arrest was made after the suspect disturbed the peace, attacked the policemen and even resisted arrest. During the arrest, pepper spray was legally used. In any case, the photo will be transferred to the Police [internal] Investigations Department [at the Justice Ministry] through the [police] Public Appeals Officer for further examination. (Liel Kyzer)

The photo is not very ambiguous: Point blank range is certain and it would be hard to claim that the protester was not incapacitated when the spraying occurred. I would be more skeptical if this was an isolated incident. It is not.

As Emily Schaeffer pointed out yesterday, unnecessary use of force by Israeli security forces in suppressing unarmed protest is the norm. A recent Coteret post asserted that the new term “Popular Terror” was useful in creating the dehumanization necessary for Israelis to accept this phenomenon.

Schaeffer: What if Bil’in held a demo and the army didn’t show up?

April 27, 2010 10 comments

Emily W. Schaeffer is an American-Israeli human rights lawyer and activist based in Tel Aviv, born and raised in the Boston area. Click here (or scroll to bottom of post) to read a profile of Emily in Ode Magazine, which selected her as one of 2009’s 25 Intelligent optimists for her work in Bil’in.

Cross-posted from The Only Democracy?

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Some of us have become so used to West Bank demonstrations meaning major Israeli army presence, and, typically, the use of weapons, that we have forgotten what demonstrations in a democracy look like. We’ve forgotten that a protest against oppressive working conditions in downtown New York City, or against oppressive abortion policies in Fredericton, Canada, or against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in cities including London, Sydney, Paris, San Francisco and Toronto — means police presence only when the protests become so large that they overcrowd public spaces and need direction, when they damage city property, or (get this) when the protesters themselves might be at risk from onlookers with opposing views.

And so we attend demonstration after demonstration — from Bil’in to Al-Ma’asara to Hebron to Nabi Salah,and more — and we are enraged time and time again by the unjustified, disproportionate, immoral response of the army and border police.

But we hardly ever ask ourselves: Why are they even here?

Imad Rizka, shot in Bil'in on April 23 2010 (Photo: Hamde Abo Rahma)

What would happen if the army didn’t show up one Friday in Bil’in, for instance? If the army hadn’t shown up on Friday, April 23, at the 5th Annual Conference Demonstration, then Eymad Rezqa (also spelled Imad Rizka, dedicated Palestinian-Israeli activist) would not have been shot in the head with a tear gas canisterand rushed to surgery; 2 Italian demonstrators, one Israeli activist, 2 Bil’in residents, a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem and a Palestinian journalist would not have been lightly injured by direct shots or shrapnel of tear gas and shock grenade canisters, and as it is rumored from a new type of weapon; 3 Israelis, one Mexican citizen, and one Palestinian would not have been arrested and detained for nearly 12 hours, released on the condition that they post bail and stay out of Bil’in and Ni’lin for 15 days; hundreds would not have suffered from the horrible feeling of tear gas inhalation (which studies show may damage reproductive organs, among other risks); and several pre-teens and teens might not have risked being caught by army cameras today only to be arrested out of their beds tomorrow and called in for interrogation for stone-throwing, likely to be given months of jail time for an offense that in most countries would bring a fine or perhaps a few weeks’ community service.

The army has repeatedly claimed that their use of dispersal tactics (that have proven lethal) against the demonstrators is based on 3 main factors: 1) the demonstrations in and of themselves are illegal, as according to Israeli military orders a gathering of more than 10 people with a political or ideological purpose is an illegal assembly (and as of the latest military order it is illegal for Israelis to be within 200 meters of the wall); 2) they are responding to the dangerous stone-throwing by demonstrators, and in fact several soldiers and border police have been injured by these stones; and, 3) they are protecting the wall.

So technically when 10 Palestinians sit in a courtyard and discuss over tea the fact that they couldn’t access their fields yesterday they are committing an illegal act and should be tear gassed and/or arrested. Why does this sound logical to any thinking person? But let’s bring it to the more common example — the demonstration. Popular protest exists all over the world. Occupation is a scenario that logically leads to protest, and in fact under international law it is fully justified. Now Israel can compare itself to plenty of brutal occupations and dictatorships and perhaps still come out on top; but that’s not what Israel proclaims itself to be. Rather, Israel claims to be a democracy with the most moral army and occupation in the world. Under that paradigm, how can we reconcile the suppression of popular protest? Moreover, how can we justify it for 43 years and counting?

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