Saturday, January 27, 2007

Disgraceful, but nothing new

By Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz, January, 25, 2007

Last week, Israel's Channel 10 aired a short video clip that had been filmed in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, in which Jewish settler Yifat Alkobi can be seen roughly pushing and cursing her neighbors, members of the Palestinian Abu Aisha family. A few months ago B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, gave the Abu-Aishas a camera in order to document what was happening near their home, and they now have many video clips of a similar nature.

What is interesting about this particular one is that the pushing and cursing took place while a few meters away Israel Defense Forces soldiers observed the incident without lifting a finger.Nobody was particularly exercised by these images, and that included Alkobi herself, who was called in for an interrogation and did not even show up.

There is a group of international observers in the city, called TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), and they published an announcement to the effect that the film contained nothing new. "For years we have been publishing information about harassment, damage to property, destruction of buildings, stone throwing and the breaking of windows, carried out by the settlers against the Arab residents, and in the past we have often turned to the IDF and to the police, and nothing happened," said the observers. Their reports are sent to the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and the governments of the six countries that sent the observers (Norway, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Turkey).

B'Tselem also hastened to warn about turning Alkobi into a scapegoat; the fact is that responsibility for what happens in Hebron belongs to all the Israeli governments that have allowed and continue to allow such disgraceful sights to take place.The statistics are familiar. Of the thousands of Arabs who lived in the part of Hebron under Israeli control (according to the agreement of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu), few remain.

The Abu Aisha family of Tel Rumeida lives in a house that has been dubbed the "cage house" because of the bars surrounding it, which are meant to protect it from harassment by the settlers. The other isolated Arab families who have remained in the area near the settlers tend to hide in a similar manner. In other words, the Hebron settlers have succeeded in getting rid of almost all of their Arab neighbors, something the IDF and the police have done nothing to prevent, which means they are in effect helping the settlers.

The Israeli right, which supports the Hebron settlers, has long since slid down the slippery slope of racism. In a meeting in Jerusalem recently, a senior (Jewish) police officer who has left the service told guests from abroad how he had to deal with settlers in the Arab neighborhoods of the city who refuse to obey Arab policemen. "You are Arabs, and we don't talk to you. Bring a Jewish policeman," they say. The guests from Canada were shocked. One of them, a senior official in the Canadian government, said that anyone daring to make such a remark in Canada would be immediately thrown into prison. Here it passes quietly.

Not all the settlers are like those in Hebron. There are also settlers who are trying to build neighborly relations with the Arabs. Both groups defend themselves against claims of dispossession and racism, saying that this has been the situation in the Land of Israel since the beginning of the Zionist settlement enterprise. Tel Aviv was not built only on sands either, and everywhere in the country, from Dan to Be'er Sheva, Arabs were expelled and dispossessed. So what do people want from them?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

It's the little things that make an Occupation

The Israeli government claims that Israel's security requires the matrix of control shown on this map. But even if that were true, Palestinians who have to put up with the "little things" -- the interminable wait at check points, the random curfews, the targetting of children throwing stones, the armed incursions, the house demolitions -- will not be controlled forever. Israel was meant to be a place of refuge, a safe space for Jews in a hostile world. But imposing military and economic control over a captive population has achieved nothing but the hardening of hearts.
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This despicable "looking on from the side"

Looking on from the side, from Belsen to Gaza
By John Pilger, January 17, 2007

Amira Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944." [She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking," she wrote. "This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking on from the side'."

A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. "Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run and no space to hide," wrote the senior UN relief official, Jan Egeland, and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people "living in a cage", cut off by land, sea and air, with no reliable power and little water and tortured by hunger and disease and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.

Egeland and Eliasson wrote this four months ago as an attempt to break the silence in Europe whose obedient alliance with the United States and Israel has sought to reverse the democratic result that brought Hamas to power in last year's Palestinian elections. The horror in Gaza has since been compounded; a family of 18 has died beneath a 500-pound American/Israeli bomb; unarmed women have been mown down at point-blank range.

Dr David Halpin, one of the few Britons to break what he calls "this medieval siege", reported the killing of 57 children by artillery, rockets and small arms and was shown evidence that civilians are Israel's true targets, as in Lebanon last summer. A friend in Gaza, Dr Mona El-Farra, emailed: "I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms [a collective punishment by the Israeli air force] and artillery on my 13-year-old daughter. At night, she shivers with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. I try to make her feel safe, but when the bombs sound I flinch and scream .

"When I was last in Gaza, Dr Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist, showed me the results of a remarkable survey. "The statistic I personally find unbearable," he said, "is that 99.4 per cent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to trauma you see why: 99.2 per cent of their homes were bombarded; 97.5 per cent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 per cent witnessed shootings; 95.8 per cent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed." Dr Dahlan invited me to sit in on one of his clinics. There were 30 children, all of them traumatized. He gave each pencil and paper and asked them to draw. They drew pictures of grotesque acts of terror and of women streaming tears.

The excuse for the latest Israeli terror was the capture last June of an Israeli soldier, a member of an illegal occupation, by the Palestinian resistance. This was news. The kidnapping a few days earlier by Israel of two Palestinians - two of thousands taken over the years - was not news.

An historian and two foreign journalists have reported the truth about Gaza. All three are Israelis. They are frequently called traitors.

The historian Ilan Pappe has documented that "the genocidal policy [in Gaza] is not formulated in a vacuum" but part of Zionism's deliberate, historic ethnic cleansing.

Gideon Levy and Amira Hass are reporters on the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. In November, Levy described how the people of Gaza were beginning to starve to death . "there are thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment . the shadows of human beings roam the ruins . they only know the [Israeli army] will return and what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions."

Amira Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944." [She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking," she wrote. "This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking on from the side'."

"Looking on from the side" is what those of us do who are cowed into silence by the threat of being called anti-Semitic.

Looking from the side is what too many western Jews do, while those Jews who honour the humane traditions of Judaism and say, "Not in our name!" are abused as "self-despising".

Looking on from the side is what almost the entire US Congress does, in thrall to or intimidated by a vicious Zionist "lobby'.

Looking on from the side is what "even-handed" journalists do as they excuse the lawlessness that is the source of Israeli atrocities and suppress the historic shifts in the Palestinian resistance, such as the implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas.

The people of Gaza cry out for better.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

News From Ramallah

Occupation magazine - Life under occupation

The IDF and my daughter`s hamburger
by Sam Bahour Email Fri, 05 Jan 2007

Dear friends,I wanted to write this last night but was exhausted from playing umpteen hands of the card game UNO with my 6 year old daughter, Nadine. Why this card frenzy, especially given I hate playing cards? Well, we were in the center of Ramallah yesterday afternoon, at 3:40pm when the almighty Israeli military decided, again, that it was time to wreak havoc on our city. I should not really complain since what happened in Ramallah yesterday happens across the West Bank and Gaza regularly. Nevertheless, I will make an issue about it and urge every Palestinian, in every city, to make an issue about every Israeli infraction on our lives.

Yesterday I was extremely busy all day and had a dinner appointment with a serious venture capitalist in Jerusalem in the evening, so I agreed with my wife and girls that since I would not be home all day and night, that I`d pick them up at 3:30 sharp and we would go for a late lunch. We haven`t been out much given all of the infighting lately so my girls were thrilled. I rushed home at 3:30 to pick them up and found my daughters dressed to kill. To them, this was a serious outing after a long holiday break which was spent mostly at home. The restaurant they had as first choice was closed due to the holidays, so they reverted to their favorite popular place, Angelo`s Pizzeria, for those that know it. Angelo`s Pizzeria is on the main street in Ramallah, a few hundred meters from Lion`s Circle, the smack middle of town where you saw on the the news Israeli bulldozers destroying cars last night.

I parked on the Friends Girls School road which is behind the restaurant. As soon as I exited the car I felt something was wrong. As we walked into the restaurant I looked up and could see an Israeli gunship helicopter hoovering overhead firing at some unknown target. We thought it would be safer to enter the restaurant rather than return home. The restaurant was full with most tables nervous at the sound of gunfire from overhead. The waiters, who have been through this dozens of times, visited the tables and played and joked with the kids. They knew that things were not right and went out of their way to make life normal, at least while we were their customers. The restaurant manager, a friend, came to our table and asked me for my car keys. He wanted to move my car because word came that the Israeli jeeps and armored vehicles that were operating in town were crushing cars parked on the side of the road. He found my car already in a safe spot and reassured us that this will pass soon. He knows, he has lived this reality every day for 40 years now!

We ordered a pizza and salad and Nadine insisted that Angelo`s Pizzeria has the best hamburgers in town and wanted one as well so she ordered one herself. As we sat, things outside were clearly deteriorating. I got a call on my cellular hone from my dad back in Youngstown, Ohio. He asked where we are because no one answered at home. He briefed me on the live reports he was watching about what was happening outside the restaurant door. After talking with my father, I made frequent visits to the restaurant door to view people rushing away from the city center. While I was standing at the door, a friend of mine had finished eating with his wife and 4 kids and stood at the door contemplating to leave to cross the street to his car. I kept a lookout and gave him the all clear as he rushed his family across the street to his car and he was off. At this stage, I knew it was not only military activity overhead but something very close by.

The salad showed up in no time and we enjoyed it. Then the famous hamburger followed and then our pizza. All the time my wife was trying to make phone contact with her sister who we invited to join us but never showed up. She wanted to make sure she was ok given all the shooting and commotion outside. My older daughter, Areen, was a bit nervous, wondering how we were going to get back home. We reassured her that all would be fine. In reality, we had no idea. Forty minutes later, my wife, Abeer, Areen and I had finished eating and were ready to go. Nadine, was happily, and very slowly, enjoying her world-class hamburger and fries while every so often reassuring us. ` They come, shoot, arrest, and what`s the problem? When they leave, we will go home, right dad?` `So what`s the problem?`! The problem is how can a 6 year old calmly sit through a mini-war happening outside the restaurant while enthusiastically devouring a hamburger without the slightest hint of being disturbed?

Nadine finally finished and we headed home. Luckily we were parked in the opposite direction of the shooting, so we drove the wrong way down a one way street and headed home. On the way, taxis were rushing about, driving worse than usual, shuttling people away from the center of Ramallah. When we got near our home we had to cross the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. Looking left about 200 meters away my girls yelled out that the IDF was blocking the street. I glanced and it was a mess. Jeeps all over, rocks filled the street, behind the jeeps I could see the open market was full of soldiers.

We finally got home. Turned on CNN, nothing! Switched to Jazeerah and they had live pictures of what was happening and the extent of it - another Israeli invasion into Ramallah. An undercover Israeli hit team tried to arrest someone and were exposed and came under Palestinian fire. They called in reenforcements and all the lone rangers came running (and shooting and plowing). I was contemplating with my wife if I should risk heading to Jerusalem later in the evening. We agreed to wait and see how it develops given the news reports started to say the IDF was completing their operations and leaving the city center (only to move back to their permanent position of surrounding our city).

I went to check my email and cancel a radio interview appointment with CBC that I missed because of this mess. This is when Nadine came and asked if I could accompany her to the bathroom. She never asks to be accompanied. The bathroom in our small flat is literally 1 meter from my computer and 3 meters from the living room where Abeer was watching the news and Areen was letting Grandma Sarah in Youngstown know we were all home and ok. I immediately understood and gladly accompanied Nadine and even made it a fun trip. Then I cancelled all my appointments that evening and spent the rest of the night doing exactly what Nadine asked for - to play UNO. We played alone, with Areen, as a family, and then alone again, multiple times. When bedtime came she kissed me good night and headed to her room along with her sister as usual - no escort. I felt that UNO therapy had worked. I may even claim for a new deck of UNO on my health insurance policy.

My friends, I write this not to bore you with one family`s experience during 2 hours of occupation, but rather to scream to the world that we need your help! 4 Palestinian civilians were killed last night in this attack, 20 were injured, 5 of them seriously. I have no statistics on the number of children, like Nadine, whose skin become thicker during this latest Israeli adventure. Israel has lost her way and the US is Palestinian-blind. Israel is creating yet another generation of Palestinians that are more numb to their military occupation than any other. Likewise, it is creating a generation of Israeli occupiers that see my city as the wild, wild, west. It is stripping children, Palestinian and Israeli, of their childhood. It must stop and NOW.

We need your active support:
Organize locally, at your church, community center, union, etc.
Support Jimmy Carter`s stance against Israeli Apartheid.
Read his book.
Write letters.
Visit and engage your representatives.
Demand public statements.
Sponsor a Palestinian student.
Invest in Palestine.
Request Angelo`s Pizzeria start exporting hamburgers by express mail. and most importantly, play UNO with your kids.

Braced for the 4 funerals that will start in 3 hours.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"It's fun to be free"

Twilight Zone / What are you doing for the holiday?

By Gideon LevyHaaretz 5.1.2007

"The easing of restrictions of the closure" is already at its height: Hurray, we can travel to Qalqilyah. We can even somehow m ake it to Nablus, whose houses can be seen from every window in the village. Not in our private car, it's true; they won't dream of such luxuries here. But in several taxis and on foot, from checkpoint to checkpoint. A few checkpoints, believe it or not, are even temporarily deserted. Oh, the enlightened occupation.

Incessant rain fell on the occupied West Bank this Sunday, the dark sky and freezing cold a supremely fitting backdrop to these festival days. It was the second day of the holiest of Muslim holidays, the Festival of the Sacrifice, and the last day of the accursed year 2006, during which no fewer than 683 Palestinians lost their lives, far more than the year before, which was also a bloody one. Only the new holiday clothes of the children who splashed in the mud and rain between the checkpoints, skipping from puddle to puddle, from taxi to taxi, carrying holiday gifts on the way to Grandma and Grandpa, lent a bit of joy to the scene.

The boy Akram Arman also set out, accompanied by his two young sisters on the way to their aunt in Nablus, all three dressed in new sweaters and trousers. But the soldier at the Beit Iba checkpoint at the entrance to Nablus was not in a festive mood: ID cards, he demanded. But the girls don't have ID cards yet; they are not yet 16 years old.

"So bring birth certificates," ordered the soldier, and the embarrassed and frightened children went back home to their village to get their birth certificates. Imagine: Your children go to visit their aunt in Kfar Sava on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and they're sent home rudely because they forgot their birth certificates. Happy holiday to the Arman family.

Their village, Jit, is a pretty place, high on a hill west of Nablus. The hills opposite are sown with the houses of Kedumim, a settlement that spreads from hill to hill, ever growing. There a neighborhood of trailer homes, here an antenna rising in the distance, the new Zionism celebrating its small and temporary victories. There are 2,500 residents in Jit, and half of them live by working their land. Their land? Only what is left of it. On the way to a significant portion of the lands to the west, one has to pass several checkpoints. Sometimes it's possible and sometimes it isn't.

Citizen Jemal Bakr, an English teacher in the school in the neighboring village of Sera, has to travel about 40 kilometers each day in order to get to the school, which can be seen from his window - you can stretch out your hand and touch it. Instead of traveling on the direct road to the village on the opposite hill, he has to travel via the Beit Iba checkpoint to Nablus and from there to Sera, sometimes an hour and a half, sometimes a day and a half, depending on the checkpoints. Now he is traveling to Kafr Tal to visit his sister, which is also a complex operation. Since the previous holiday, the teacher has not seen his sister-neighbor. The teacher cannot travel there in his private car, only on foot and by taxi.

The fate of the teacher's father is even worse: He cannot reach his own house. Mahmoud Abu Bakr, an elderly man of 76 with a hearing aid, has not been able to go to his house for about four years. Located on the slope of the hill, an isolated house at the foot of Jit but still in the area of the village, it is on a road where the Israel Defense Forces prohibits any Palestinian traffic. On the black snaking path that descends from the village - the short route to Nablus - there is sometimes a "surprise checkpoint." Sometimes the "surprise" is a jeep that quickly descends from the IDF position on the mountain whenever a resident dares to get on the road - an unruly rebel on foot or by car. Abu Bakr, who was a refugee from Haifa, gave up his home on the slope and rented a room inside Jit. Zakaria Sada, the village human rights activist, has a letter in his pocket written in 2004, from Captain Shiran Asher, the ombudsman in the Central Command, in which the officer writes that "there is nothing to prevent traveling on the road," and "if there is a localized problem the resident should turn to the Nablus Coordination and Liaison Office to solve the problem." But this letter is already creased from having been presented to soldiers so often, and it is still impossible to travel on the road. A half-deaf old man leaning on his stick certainly cannot live in a house where there are almost always "localized problems."

A week ago, Abu Bakr did try to visit his house, but was chased away in disgrace. He is allowed to live in it, but he is not allowed to get to it.The children of the old man are scattered in the surrounding villages; two of them live in Jaffa. His grandson is now coming for a holiday visit straight from his home on Yehuda Hayamit Street, an Israeli teenager, a student in the Neve Shaanan school in the city, coming to see a different way of life. The whole family has not gathered for a holiday meal in years. Samar Sada gave up on the holiday customs and the traditional family visits this year. A pleasant man, 29, the father of three children, he makes a decent living as a warehouse worker in the Barkan industrial zone, but he doesn't have the strength for holiday visits, with the harassment and humiliation at the checkpoints. Samar is staying home this year.

A few weeks ago, the workers who cultivate the family olive grove on the slope asked him to come to the plot to show them its boundary, "to introduce them to the land" as he says in his good Hebrew, prior to the olive harvest. It was a Shabbat afternoon, and Samar drove with his neighbor and his young children to the plot, several hundred meters from the village. The trip to the olive grove passed successfully, as did the briefing of the workers, but the way back was an experience he would like to forget. A Hummer descended the hill.

"Don't you know that you're not allowed to pass here?" asked the soldier.

"Why isn't it allowed?"

"Bring me a permit."

"I went to my land, only 15 minutes. What have I done? What permit?"

"Stand at the side." They stood at the side of the road for 20 minutes.

"You're all saying that you don't know that you need a permit to travel on this road," said the soldier angrily. "

The soldier lost patience," recalls Samar, "began to shout and said to me 'Come down' to the Jit checkpoint." At the checkpoint, the soldier gave the ID cards of Samar and his neighbor to the soldiers at the checkpoint, signaling "four" to him with his fingers. Four fingers mean four hours. Four hours of delay at the checkpoint, a punishment for chutzpah, or for an unapproved trip on an unauthorized road on the way to the family olive grove. Samar, his neighbor and his two young children were thus sentenced, in an accelerated procedure, to a humiliating four hours in the car.

"How we talked, how we pleaded, what we did so he would release us after an hour. An hour is all right, but four hours?" Night began to fall, the cold began to freeze their bones, the children cried, they weren't even allowed to get out of the car. In the house in Jit, Samar's Israeli employer from Raanana, who had come to visit his employee, was waiting, but Samar was delayed. "I'm stuck here with your soldiers," Samar apologized on his cell phone. The human rights activist, Zakaria Sada, also rushed to the site, trying to use his connections, but in vain. After an hour and a half, the soldiers allowed the children go home in the car of a neighbor who had come down to the checkpoint. Even the employer from Raanana, who also came down to the checkpoint, was unable to convince the soldiers to lighten the punishment.

At 8 P.M., not a minute less than the sentence of a four-hour wait, Samar and the neighbor were released. The soldier, says Samar, even asked for a cigarette, but Samar refused.

"Next time, if you travel on the road, we'll delay you for 10 hours."

"Look brother, I don't want you to detain me even for 10 minutes. They said that during the olive harvest traveling is allowed, but with you, even when they say it's allowed, it's forbidden."

Samar lights the kerosene heater that spreads a little heat in the room, and offers sweets for the holiday. "We're imprisoned here. My children haven't left the village for four years. I haven't gone to Nablus for four months. Why should I go there? A soldier will tell me 'Bring a permit.' I have a smart card for Barkan, but if there's a soldier who has it in for Arabs, I don't know for what reason, he'll tell me 'Stop at the side.' So why should I go? I prefer to be at home, not to go out and not to encounter such things." A holiday at home.

On Saturday, Samar went to the mosque, then he visited the old and the sick in the village and returned home. His wife comes from the village of Rujeib, beyond Nablus, and she wanted to go to visit her parents, but Samar refused: "I told her: What do you want? To go out now in this cold with the children, to stop at the checkpoints? There's no chance that you'll get through without stopping. So it's better to stay home. She called them and told them she wasn't coming.

That's how a holiday is an ordinary day for us. No different from any other day. There's nothing to make it different. You want to go on a trip, you want to get to the sea, it's only from heaven that you'll be able to get to the sea. My children don't know what the sea is and what a trip is."

Only once in recent years did Samar see the sea: That was when he went to a trial on work matters in Tel Aviv, and he sneaked off to the beach in Jaffa. "I like trips, trips means being mabsut [content], not mebuas [disgusted].

It's fun to be free. But our life is permits. You go to your land and you need a permit, you go to your job and you need a permit, a life of permits. It's good that there's no checkpoint at the door to my house. My company went on a trip to the North. To the far North. As much as they talked, the boss and his wife, that we would be given a permit to join, it didn't help."

They are five Palestinian workers at a warehouse for building materials in Barkan, including Nasser, Samar's brother, who is sitting in the living room with us. Most of the workers are Israelis from Raanana and Petah Tikva.

"Believe me, we can live together. What do you think, is the soldier enjoying sitting at the checkpoint now? Nobody enjoys standing in the rain and doing something bad. Standing in the rain and asking people for documents, that's not part of life.

"Ask my son, 5 years old, what a bomb is, what soldiers are, what fear is. The child should know only how to play and to like his school. He should forget that there is life after that. Games, toys, and that's it. Let him end up with a mind that's open to life and not a mind that's blocked, blocked from fear. If you frighten a little boy, that stays in his head all his life and that becomes the basis for bad things."

What will happen in the coming year, I ask Samar several hours before our New Year's parties are set to begin.

"It won't be good. They say that in 2007 there will be a big war." Six people from the village are imprisoned in Israel, and they are thinking about them as well on this holiday. Samar and his brother Nasser are trying to name them: Abed and Nabil and Mustafa and Omar and another Abed and Ahmed, who is an illegal resident, and in effect we're all in prison, in a big prison.