Housing Evictions in Sheikh Jarrah – More Proof Israel Doesn’t Want Peace

August 7, 2009

Maher Hannoun: Evicted from his house on August 2nd, 2009
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Early in the morning on Sunday, August 2nd, Israeli security forces forcefully evicted two families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The al-Hanoun and al-Ghawi families were physically removed from their houses and literally thrown out on the street. Groups of settlers, in full collaboration with the Israeli security forces, then proceeded to remove all of their belongings from their houses.

The two families became refugees during the Nakba of 1948 (the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians). In 1956, they were settled in Sheikh Jarrah by the Jordanian Government and the UNRWA as part of a program to house 1948 refugees.

In the case of the Hannoun household, the family was evicted by Israel back in 2002 to make room for settlers who had “proved” the land was theirs in 1972. They moved back into their house in 2006 when the Israeli Land Registry agreed to revoke the settlers registration of the land. Unfortunately, but not suprisingly, the Israeli courts refused to recognize this development and the Hannouns were slapped with an eviction notice in March 2009. Since that time, international activists had been sleeping over the house in solidarity with the Hannoun family.

Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. According to international law, East Jerusalem is Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel has exactly ZERO legal claim over any of the land it acquired in the June 1967 war (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza). This means that Israel has no legal right to implement its laws in any of East Jerusalem. Additionally, the Israeli courts and the Israeli land registrar have absolutely no legal jurisdiction over any of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (that Israel ratified in 1952) states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” What did Israel do the day it evicted the Hannoun and Ghawi families from East Jerusalem? It physically removed Palestinians from their homes and then transferred parts of its own population into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (East Jerusalem).

Following the evictions, the international community unanimously condemned Israel’s policies of forced transfer in occupied East Jerusalem. When asked about the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah the day before, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton said, “I think these actions are deeply regrettable. I have said before that the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations, and I urge the Government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions.” I am definitely happy Hillary made a statement, but she didn’t go nearly far enough. The actions of the Israeli government aren’t only “regrettable,” they are cruel, inhumane and illegal.

The UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, made searing criticisms, saying “I deplore today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel, in which Israeli security forces evicted Palestinian refugee families registered with UNRWA from their homes in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to allow settlers to take possession of these properties. These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. They also contravene the united calls of the international community, including the Quartet’s, which in its recent statement urged the Government of Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including house demolitions and evictions. These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace.”

The British consulate in Jerusalem issued a statement, “We are appalled by the evictions in East Jerusalem. Israel’s claim that the imposition of extremist Jewish settlers into this ancient Arab neighbourhood is a matter for the courts or the municipality is unacceptable. Their actions are incompatible with Israel’s desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow extremists to set the Agenda.”

As I’ve said before, and will continue to say until your heads explode; international law on this matter is extremely uncomplicated. Israeli settlements and population transfers are illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention. There is no doubt that Israel wants Jerusalem to be its undivided capital and therein lies the root of the conflict. Under international law and the two-state solution, East Jerusalem is slated to be the capital of the future Palestinian state. When Israeli makes unilateral decisions to undermine the international consensus (by attempting to unlawfully annex East Jerusalem), it perpetuates the conflict. Ethnic cleansing and transfer of indigenous populations have been the cornerstones of Zionism since its inception. As we can see in the case of the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, not much has changed.

On Monday (8/3), I was able to make my way to the al-Ghawi household in Sheikh Jarrah and take some pictures/videos of the situation there. When I tried to go back yesterday (8/4), Israeli border police were preventing anyone who didn’t live in the neighborhood from entering the area; press included.

Here is a video of the settlers who are now occupying the al-Ghawi house (along with their private security guard in the black shirt):

Here are some pictures of the occupying forces outside of the al-Ghawi house protecting the new illegal residents.

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Here are pictures of the ideological settlers entering their new “home”.

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Update:

Gideon Levy wrote a great article in response to the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. The Israeli judicial system granted settlers ownership over the Hannoun and Ghawi properties because they had the proper Ottoman land deeds. Now it must allow all the Palestinians who were expelled or fled in 1948 to move back into their houses in West Jerusalem and Israel proper (provided they have Ottoman land deeds). It must also violently evict the current residents of these houses and toss them out on the street. Otherwise it would be a double standard, right?

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Tear Gassed in Bi’lin

August 1, 2009

On Friday, July 31st, I went to the weekly demonstration in the Palestinian village of Bilín. Every week, for the past 5 years, internationals and village residents have marched to the separation barrier Israel has built right through Palestinian farmland. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the barrier Israel is building through the West Bank is contrary to international law. You can see a map of the separation barrier here (Bilín is to the northwest of Ramallah/Jerusalem). The separation barrier, that wraps around the Israeli settlement Modiín Illit, has confiscated 60% of Bilín’s farmland. In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a portion of the barrier being built in Bilín needs to be relocated. During the ruling, judges said that “this will require destroying the existing fence in certain places and building a new one,” and ordered the government to come up with a new route in a “reasonable period of time.”  Israeli forces declined to implement the Supreme Court ruling and the barrier has not been relocated. It shouldn’t suprise the international community that Israel continues to disregard international law (which it has ignored for decades). However, what is to be said of a state that refuses to even respect the rulings of its own high court? The rule of law means nothing to the Israeli cowboys in the Wild West Bank.

About 150 internationals and 150 residents of Bilín met in front of the village mosque. When afternoon prayers were finished the demonstrators began their march to the separation barrier.DSC01656 

We walked to the wall amongst chants of “Free, Free Palestine!” and “”No, No to the Wall!” A few children left the main contingent of protestors and ran to other parts of the barrier to throw stones at soldiers. When we reached the protest site, Abdullah Abu Rahama, a coordinator with the Popular Committee Against the Wall and a Jewish representative from Gush Shalom (an Israeli peace organization) asked IDF soldiers to disobey their orders. The Israeli army informed us that we were “demonstrating illegally” via their loudspeaker. After the formalities, protestors approached the barrier and began dismantling it. Upon making a hole in the barrier, demonstrators made their way to the Israeli controlled side and began taunting soldiers. The Israeli Occupation Forces reacted by ordering a large white truck to spray demonstrators with a foul-smelling skunk liquid. It smelled like a combination of rotting corpse and human waste. Watch the video here (double click it and watch it in youtube for High Definition):

Israel consistently tries out new weaponry on the Palestinians demonstrating against the annexation barriers in Bilín and Nilín. In April 2009, a resident of Bilín named Bassem Abu Rahme was killed when a new type of high velocity tear gas canister struck him in the chest from 40 meters away. Tristan Anderson was left critically wounded when he was shot in the head with the same high velocity canister. Israel continues to use the West Bank as its testing ground, and the Palestinians are the guinea pigs. The advent of a ‘skunk truck’ was no suprise to anyone.

Once the white truck ran out of skunk liquid, protestors returned to the barrier and continued taunting soldiers. Palestinian protestors and Israeli troops in riot gear played a game of cat & mouse. Palestinians would pass through the wall and riot troops would chase them back.  A protestor next to me began humming the Imperial March from Star Wars upon seeing the riot troops.

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All of a sudden, without warning, a military vehicle with a cannon on its roof, simultaneously shot around 30 tear gas canisters at the protestors. I had to duck and dodge to prevent getting hit by the dozens of canisters flying towards me. The next thing I knew I was in a huge cloud of gas. The smart thing to do would have been to stay calm and move slowly away from the gas. However, I panicked and ran which caused me to inhale large quantities of the stuff. It was 30 of the most painful seconds of my life. Here is a video of my panicked flight:

Another video of the tear gas from further away:

A cameraman named Haitham Al Katib took an amazing video of the same protest. My skills pale in comparison.

There would be absolutely no problem with the separation barrier if Israel built it on its own borders. However, Israel built the wall well past the green line and on Palestinian land. All 15 judges of the International Court of Justice agree that the wall is contrary to international law. Stealing land and building settlements on stolen land are provocations. They are the roots of the conflict. If Israel wants to resolve things peacefully then it must address the genuine grievances of the Palestinian people. However, Israel is more interested in land annexation than peace. One only needs to look at a map of the separation barrier to realize that. Until a movement is built to put an end to this madness, Israel will continue to grab land and occupy the indigenous inhabitants of the West Bank with unconditional support from the red, white and blue.

How the Israeli Government Gets Support from its Population

July 29, 2009

In order for the Israeli government to continue its policies of land expropriation, settlement construction and occupation it needs a consenting public. Despite the fact that the Israeli government is violating basic tenets of international and humanitarian law, the Israeli public continues to support it. How do you explain the widespread unconditional support for the Israeli Government’s morally and legally unjust policies in the West Bank? How come 94% of Israelis supported the massacre of defenseless Palestinians in Gaza back in December 2008/January 2009?

In a democracy where the elite/ruling class can’t crush dissent with the use of violence (i.e. China’s massacre of students at Tiananmen Square or Iran’s recent violent suppression of Mousavi supporters), the government depends on a filtered media and a system of indoctrination to control the population that gives it power. The establishment media in Israel fails to engage in objective/truth-telling journalism and inevitably acts as the spokesperson for the Israeli government. As a result, the Israeli pubic has been led to believe that it is surrounded by numerous anti-Semitic Arab nations that want nothing but to push the Jews into the sea. These Arabs will continue to blow themselves up until they see the ultimate destruction of the State of Israel. It is simply inherent anti-Semitism, and not the result of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza, that causes Arabs to commit acts of terror. Additionally, Israel has successfully cast itself as the role of the eternal victim which enables it to avoid taking any responsibility regarding its brutal policies. Jeff Halper of ICAHD on Israel’s self-victimization, “A victim, after all, is a victim and cannot be held accountable, since his or her actions come merely out of self-defense.” By painting itself as the victim of irrational Arab hatred, and not acknowledging that it is provoking resistance via the occupation/settlements, Israel is able to carry out atrocities with the support of the public.

Israel has also been able to convince its citizens that unconditional support for Israeli policies is synonymous with being a good Jew. Remember, the Israeli government (including Netanyahu at the White House) has long insisted that Israel be recognized as the State of the Jewish People. The result is that the Israeli government continues to pursue policies that go against basic Jewish values. One of the most famous Jewish leaders in history, Rabbi Hillel, was once asked to discuss the essence of the Torah. He stated, “What is hateful to you do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and study.” Imagine if the Palestinians were building a massive wall through Israel’s sovereign borders and were violently reppressing the Jews who resisted it. Imagine if Palestinians were bulldozing houses (legally owned by Jews) within Israel’s legal borders because God allegedly gave them the land 2000 years ago. The Israeli government’s policies are, in fact, antithetical to basic Jewish values of compassion and love for your neighbor. Zionism has perverted Judaism, and the values of the Jewish people, in order to accomplish its territorial goals.

The Israeli government claims that the occupation is the best deterrent against Palestinian terrorism. The reality is that the occupation actually increases the risk of a terrorist attack against innocent Israeli civilians. By claiming that suicide bombers are killing Israeli citizens because of radical fundamentalism and anti-Semitism, the GOI is able to whip up a state of fear within its society. George Bush Jr. made similar ridiculous statements following the 9/11 attacks, for the explicit purpose of scaring the hell out of the American people. ““Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’ They hate what we see right here in this chamber: a democratically-elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” The Israeli and U.S. governments purposefully neglect to tell their populations that terrorism is the result of occupation. Both governments understand that a scared population is easier to control.

Israel also claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East and its citizens pride themselves as being members of a democratic society. However, blindly consenting to governmental policies does not automatically make you a good citizen. This applies to citizens living in Israel, America, France, England and any other country that alleges to be a democracy. If the policies of your government are unjust or illegal, then citizens involved in the democratic process have a responsibilty to question such policies. Israelis are happier not knowing what is occuring right in their backyard (the West Bank). Rather than going through the process of learning about the conflict, they accept and echo government talking points. I have no doubt that Israeli citizens are inherently good people but if they wish to be members of a healthy democracy they can’t just accept government statements as facts. The truth is that life is easier without getting involved in complex political issues and ignorance appears to be bliss for the Israeli public. But as Thomas Jefferson famously said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” I understand that the Israeli media and the government are incredibly adept at whipping up apathy and fear; but if Israeli citizens want to claim to live in a democracy they need to step outside of the box and question the policies being carried out in their names.

Bi’lin – Peaceful Resistance to Illegal Barrier

July 21, 2009

During our first week in I/P, the interns took a trip to the West Bank village of Bi’lin. The interns met with Abdullah Abu Rahmah, from the local committee against the Wall and Settlements in the village. For years, Bi’lin has been a bastion of noviolent resistance to the separation barrier that Israel is constructing directly over its land. The barrier annexes 60% of Bi’lin’s land for a nearby Israeli settlement and prevents residents of Bi’lin from accessing their own farmland. The residents of the village, along with international activists, hold weekly protests against the barrier. Every week, Israel reponds to the protests with teargas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and even live rounds. A Palestinian named Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmeh was killed in April during a protest in Bi’lin when an IDF soldier shot him in the chest with a teargas canister.
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Here are a couple of videos showing the IDF’s reaction to Palestinian nonviolent resistance/civil disobedience in Bi’lin.

The IDF also consistantly rolls into Bi’lin and arrests Palestinian and International activists involved in nonviolent resistance against the separation barrier.

Let’s look at the big picture. All of the settlements in the West Bank are contrary to internataional law under Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention. The International Court of Justice, in its advisory opinion, ruled that the entire Separation Barrier being contructed through the West Bank is in violation of international law. The settlement of Modi’in Illit, right next to Bi’lin, and the barrier enclosing it are both illegal under the tenets of International Law. It is crystal-clear that Israel has no intention of abiding by acceptable international standards for resolving the conflict. It is choosing land over peace. The purpose of the settlements and the wall, in the words of Ehud Olmert, are to “create a clear boundary as soon as possible, one which will reflect the demographic reality on the ground. Israel will maintain control over the security zones, the Jewish settlement blocs…” Israel is creating illegal facts on the ground and the residents of Bi’lin are resisting these facts through nonviolent means.

On September 4, 2007, the Israeli High Court ruled that the government needed to redraw the path of the wall because of it’s negative effect on Palestinian life in Bi’lin. The government and the IDF have neglected to act upon this ruling. Not only is the Israeli government showing complete disregard for International Law, it is disregarding the laws of it’s own Supreme Court. It’s official, Israel is a cowboy-like society. What’s the point of even having a supreme court if the Israeli government doesn’t respect its rulings?

Once the internship is finished I will go to one of the weekly protests against the barrier in Bi’lin. Hopefully I will have a video of that uploaded soon thereafter.

How One Family Has Been Resisting Israel’s House Demolition Policies

July 13, 2009

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This is the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh in Anata, which is located in ‘Area C’ (full Israeli control) northeast of Jerusalem. Their house has been demolished four (4) times by Israeli authorities and the Supreme court has ruled that it has to be demolished a fifth time. The structure has become a symbol of resistance against Israel’s house demolition policies as the residents have repeatedly reconstructed it in defiance of the Israeli government.

One of the main arguments used by the Shawamreh family is that the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power from extending its law and administration into an occupied territory. Remember, Israel has exactly ZERO title to any of the land it acquired in the course of the June-1967 war, which includes all of the West Bank. So the process of granting or denying housing permits to Palestinian families living on their own land in the West Bank is, in itself, illegal under international law.  Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention states that “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. Phase 1 of the Roadmap reaffirmed international law by requiring a halt to the demolition of Palestinian houses and infrastructure. Israel has continuously ignored the laws set forth by the international community and has demolished about 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. Using international law to fight the Israeli legal system is virtually impossible, because the GOI (Government of Israeli) doesn’t even recognize its occupation of Palestinian land.

The process of applying for a building permit is extremely grueling and Israel intentionally withholds permits from Palestinians. Palestinians must pay 5,000$ each time they apply for a building permit regardless of whether it is approved or not. If a demolition order is placed on a house the residents must demolish it themselves or face fines and imprisonment.

In June (2009) the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the Shawamreh family’s second appeal to have a 17-year old demolition order on their home repealed. The Shawamreh family was also denied issuance of a building permit and, as a result, their house is slated to be demolished for a fifth (5th) time. Israel is using a 1942 British-era plan, RJ-5, — which states that the entire southern portion of the West Bank is “agricultural land,” —  to justify its rejection of housing permits to Palestinians. Ironically, Israeli authorities have approved numerous  Israeli settlements on the same “agricultural” land. So it appears RJ-5 is being used selectively as a tool to push Palestinians off of their land.

The house has gained a lot of publicity from Palestinians, Israelis and international activists. As a result, the Israeli Civil Administration declared in an interview in Haaretz (Israel’s most respected newspaper) that the Shawamrehs would get a permit if they provided two missing signatures on their deed of ownership.  In the end, the Civil Administration refused to reveal what signatures were missing and claimed that they lost the Shawamreh file altogether. The Shawamreh family argued that all legal channels of remission were closed to them and that they had shown ‘good faith’ to the Israeli authorities. The judges rejected this argument and accused the Shawamrehs of ‘unclean hands’ for rebuilding their home four times without a permit. They were fined $2,000 for bringing the case to court.

There is also a tremendous emotional toll on the family following the demolition of their home. Salim told us that his children no longer trust him to keep them safe and protect their belongings. When his children see their house getting demolished and their father being arrested, it is difficult for them to have confidence in him.

The Shawamreh’s no longer live in the house; it is now known as Beit Arabiya. It serves as a meeting place for Palestinians, Israelis and international activists. By turning the house into a cultural center Israel is less likely to carry out a house demolition on it. Here is a picture of Salim Shawamreh in Beit Arabiya:

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Source: Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

The Separation Barrier – Bethlehem

July 9, 2009

Before reading this post, take a few seconds to analyze the direction of the separation barrier Israel is building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Compare the location of the Green Line and the location of the separation barrier. MAP HERE.

Every time I see the wall I remember a heated argument between a woman and I following a film screening during Israeli Apartheid Week (back in March). She insisted that the separation barrier was actually a fence and that I was a lunatic for thinking that Israel is constructing a wall in the West Bank. I pointed out to her that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referred to it as a wall in its famous 2004 ruling. I also pointed out that credible organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International referred to portions of it as wall also. I acknowledge the fact that portions of the separation barrier are lengths of fence infused with barbed wire but a large portion of the barrier I’ve seen in the West Bank is comprised of 6-8 meter slabs of concrete. The fenced parts of the barrier (in Bi’lin for example) serve the same purpose as the concrete portions of the wall. They cut through the West Bank and annex portions of Palestinian land so that Israel can continue its colonization project. The separation barrier in Bi’lin is especially egregious because it cuts right through Palestinian farm land. The Israeli high court judged that the barrier in Bi’lin needed to be relocated but the Israeli army has declined to enforce the ruling.

From now on I am going to avoid arguing about terminology (wall vs. fence) and focus on the political motivations behind the separation/annexation barrier.

Most of the barrier Israel is building to annex East Jerusalem is comprised of these massive concrete slabs. We traveled to Bethlehem recently where Israel is building the wall past the Green Line in an attempt to annex land and fragment Palestinian communities. Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone.

Bonus: A few of the interns noticed an unintentionally hilarious sign as we were in our bus passing through the separation barrier from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem. Israel builds this massive illegal structure to annex land and then praises itself for being such a peaceful neighbor. The irony speaks for itself…

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Combatants for Peace and The Shiministin

July 7, 2009

At the beginning of our trip the interns met with representatives from the organizations Combatants for Peace and The Shiministin. Combatants for Peace was founded in 2006; the organization offers IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants an alternative to using violence to achieve political ends. The Shiministin are a group of Israeli high school refuseniks who refuse to serve in the IDF.

Combatants for Peace:
We heard testimonies from a Palestinian named Wael Salam and an Israeli Jew named Itomar. Salam was arrested back in 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, for allegedly throwing stones in Israel’s northern industrial area. He says that he was walking by a factory while Palestinians were throwing rocks through windows and was not participating in the disobedience. Later that day, the IDF surrounded his school and arrested him. He sat in an Israeli jail cell, without trial, for an extensive amount of time (I think he said years but his English wasn’t clear). He joined Fatah during the 2nd Intifada and was caught attempting to detonate a car bomb in retaliation of an Israeli massacre. After his prison sentence was completed he met Itomar, who showed him that violence only provoked Israel and hurt the chances of a lasting peace.

Itomar was born in Tel Aviv, into a military family. His father was a pilot, his brother was a pilot and his other brother was a commando in an elite combat unit. He was raised a Zionist and explained that the Nazi Holocaust and past Jewish suffering heavily shaped his identity. He read books about the Nazi Holocaust and had a strong desire to reinstall the Jewish state. He was able to temporarily escape his blind nationalism during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which he viewed as inherently wrong. After the war he continued to serve in the Israeli military but had a new found respect for the Palestinians.

He soon became a commander in the Israeli armed forces and engaged in operations against “bad guys” who carried out attacks on Israelis during the 2nd intifada. During a patrol, he and his unit opened fire on Palestinians in a jeep because they refused to stop for them. 5 Palestinians were killed. He remembers that he felt no doubt, asked no questions and his body was pumping with adrenaline.

After his service he went into a state of deep depression and self-denial regarding his behavior in the IDF. Once he got back on his feet he helped to found “Breaking the Silence” (Israeli veterans against the occupation). The main conclusion he derived from his service is that the occupation is the root of the conflict. He now believes that non-violent resistance (within Israel and Palestine), in tandem with increased international pressure on Israel, will be necessary to resist the occupation and give the Palestinians a viable state.

Edit: While we were sitting by the Western Wall, Itomar told me that when IDF soldiers are initiated they receive the Torah in one hand and a battle rifle in the other. His entire family was present and were all extremely proud of him. He laughed and shook his head while recalling the experience.

Shiministin:
Two young women, Maya and Sahar, talked about their decision to refuse compulsory Israeli military service. I was incredibly impressed and moved by these young ladies. By refusing to serve in the Israeli military these women marginalized themselves in a society where compulsory military service is never questioned.

In Israel, men are required to serve 3 years in the military and women are required to serve 2 years. During their senior year of high school, the refuseniks write letters to the Ministry of Defense announcing their decision to refuse service. On the day of the draft they do not show up for duty and are sent to military prison. After the completion of their sentences, the Israeli government attempts to draft them again. A total of 10 seniors refused to serve this year (7 women and 3 men) and they had the support of over 200 students. They reject military service because they don’t think the government should make important life decisions for them and because military service feeds the occupation of Palestine. The Israeli government doesn’t recognize the rejection of military service for political reasons. Eventually the Shiministin are flagged with ‘mental health’ problems and are not forced into service. The status of ‘conscientious objector’ can only be achieved if you claim a universal pacifist. Disapproval of Israeli colonization and occupation is considered to be a mental health disorder by the government. They each served prison sentences of 2 months.

The two women acknowledged that they were marginalized by their peers and family members for their decision. The social consequences of being a refusenik in Israel are enormous. One of the girls, Sahar, grew up in a radical leftist family, so questioning the policies of her government was was ingrained in her from a young age. It was interesting to hear Maya’s story, who didn’t question the system around her for most of her life. She grew up in a Zionist family in Jerusalem and witnessed a bus bombing during the 2nd Intifada. She asked herself why people were willing to blow themselves up for political reasons. She also heard stories of soldiers acting immorally and joined groups where she could discuss the internal politics of her society. She concluded that the occupation and land annexation were indefensible.

Talk about courage.

Hebron: Ideological Settlers and Occupation Make Life Miserable for Palestinians

July 5, 2009

On Wednesday, myself and the interns visited the West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron has experienced brutal violence from both sides of the conflict and, as a result, international presence was a requirement of the 1993 Oslo I agreement. The tension in the city has been ripe since the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the 1929 Hebron massacre, Arab rioters killed 67 Jews and wounded around 60; hundreds of Jews survived thanks to help and shelter offered to them by their Arab neighbors. Since then, the tension and conflict hasn’t receded. Hebron is home to some of the most rabid and ideological Jewish settlers in the West Bank. About 400 settlers in Hebron have the backing of at least 2000 Israeli soldiers. These ideological settlers believe that Hebron should be an exclusively Jewish city and they are willing to use violence to achieve their goal. These settlers — many of them are armed — repeatedly tear through the streets of the city, harassing and opening fire on Palestinian residents. The violence in Hebron culminated on February 25th, 1994 when an Ideological settler named Baruch Goldstein (a Jew from brooklyn and an ideological settler of the right-wing Kach party) opened fire on Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of Machpela. 30-50 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were wounded. [Sidenote: the radical settler who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin was also a member of the now banned Kach party]. Goldstein has a shrine dedicated to him in the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. From wikipedia: ‘The gravesite has become a pilgrimage site for those with extreme right-wing political views; a plaque near the grave reads “To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel.” After the massacre, the UN Security Council called for an international presence in Hebron.

The 1997 Hebron Agreement split the jurisdiction of the city between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. H1 was the area that came under Palestinian control and H2 [which includes the Jewish quarter] came under Israeli control [MAP]. After the Second Intifada, Israeli soldiers occupied H2 and since have constructed several permanent watch towers and outposts. Since that time several ideological settlers have illegally settled in the H2 portion of Hebron, constantly harassing and brutalizing the Palestinian inhabitants.

We were stopped by a flying IDF checkpoint outside the city of Hebron and were held for about half an hour. The man who was supposed to be our tour guide is a social justice activist and the IDF refused to allow us to meet with him. Our internship coordinator arranged to have TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) escort us around the city.

As soon as I stepped out of the bus I felt uneasy. The situation in Hebron is extremely dire and I could literally feel the tension in the air; a result of the occupation/conflict. The IDF were not happy to see us there and the coordinators of our group instructed us to not take pictures lest we antagonize them. Israeli soldiers harassed us multiple times as we tried to get into the Old City. Here is video of the occupation outside of H1 and the checkpoint we passed through to get into the Old City (which is within H2).

As a result of the occupation and settler harassment (which is essentially backed by the IDF), life in Hebron has become unbearable. The settlers living in the Old City throw garbage, rocks, acid and human waste down on the Palestinians in the streets. The people of H2 can not walk on their streets without fear of being assaulted. Palestinians have fashioned a chain-linked fence to create a sort of net that catches the various objects being thrown down on them by the settlers. I have a video of the garbage filled net here..

The IDF and Israeli government are supporting these ideological settlers in the Palestinian portion of Hebron that make life for the inhabitants barely tolerable. I’m not suprised that the government is backing these right-wing lunatics. Allowing these settlers to rampage around the city matches the overall Israeli goal of pushing Arabs out of Eretz-Yisrael.

Israel is Killing the Two-State Solution Before My Eyes

July 3, 2009

We did an enormous amount of traveling over the past week and i’ve become extremely backed up due to the fact that I haven’t had access to the internet. I am spending the month in Ramallah and working in East Jerusalem at Al-Quds University. I have found an internet cafe in Ramallah so I will be catching up over the next month. There are many disturbing and enlightening experiences that I need to share with everyone.

On Sunday (June 27th) we heard Jeff Halpert of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), who gave a short presentation regarding Israel’s wanton disregard for International Law and utter lack of respect for Palestinian property rights. In the June 1967 Six-Day war, Israel conquered the West Bank, Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian Sinai. According to the UN charter, the acquisition of land through war is illegal under International Law. You can’t change borders through war. Therefore Israel has no title to any of the land in the West Bank, the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights (this includes East Jerusalem and the Jordan River valley). Since 1967, Israel has been settling on these portions of the West Bank and the Golan Heights (but not the Sinai and Gaza Strip). Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that is contrary to international humanitarian law for the occupying power to transfer portions of its population onto occupied territory. So all the settlments are illegal under the tenets of international-humanitarian law.

Unfortunately, international law is non-binding. The assumption is that the international community will intervene in situations where these laws are breached. They are internationally recognized standards of acceptable behavior but they must be enforced by the international community. Unfortunately, the United States and Israel possess the 1st and 4th largest militaries in the world and abiding by international law would be contrary to their imperial ambitions of conquest and pillage. The US and Israel’s rejection of the international consensus is the reason why the prospects for peace are becoming exceedingly grim.

If you believe that the international consensus is the way to solve the conflict, then the following information will show you how Israel is the belligerent party in this conflict. If you believe Israel has a right to defy the international community and that God thinks the Jews should have an ethnically pure state of Israel (a la Manifest Destiny) then don’t continue reading.

Israel is de facto annexing portions of the West Bank by building a monstrous separation barrier throughout portions of the West Bank. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall is illegal under international law and needs to be dismantled. Israel is building this concrete monstrosity (I have pictures that are utterly disturbing) around East Jerusalem — the economic center of Palestinian life. It has also built a massive settlement called Ma’ale Adumim that essentially bisects the West Bank into northern and southern cantons. Check out the route of the wall [LINK]. Maale Adumim is within the big area of the wall to the east of East Jerusalem[MAP].

On top of these gross violations of international law, the Israeli legal system is extremely discriminatory towards the Palestinian inhabitants residing in East Jerusalem. The goal is to make life so difficult for these people that they will eventually leave. Israel gives Palestinians living in East Jerusalem ‘residency’ status as opposed to full citizenship status. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not allowed to vote in parliament, they get travel documents instead of passports (which limit their freedom of movement) and if they leave East Jerusalem for 7 years they are not allowed back. Most of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are living in “illegal” houses because the inherently racist Israeli bureaucracy makes it very difficult to obtain housing permits. I will get into the logistics of the circus-like Israeli legal system designed to make live difficult for Palestinian Jerusalemites.

Our tour guide informed us that a wealthy American gambling tycoon paid to have an Israeli police station moved from East Jerusalem to E-1 (the area in between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim). This police station will be the pretext for settlement construction within the area of E-1. There is already a sign that names it as an Israeli settlement. Irving Moskavich is a Californian gambling tycoon who has ‘exploited cheap undocumented Mexican labor‘ to fund his Zionist settlement enterprise. He also gives a 50,000$ prize for Zionism to West Bank settlers (watch this video by Max Blumenthal [LINK]. Here are pictures of the Moskavich police station in E-1 [here and here].

Israel also has 88 Palestinian houses slated for demolition in the town of Silwan in East Jerusalem. A right-wing Zionist company called ElAd, that is excavating archeological sites in the area, is lobbying the Israeli government to demolish Palestinian houses sitting above ‘important’ Jewish archeological sites. Israel has decided that archeology is more important than people and their right to hold property.

The annexation wall/separation barrier, the Israeli-exclusive highways connecting the illegal settlements (the vast majority of people who use the roads are Jews) and 600+ checkpoints in the West Bank are killing any hope of a viable  Palestinian state. It is clear that Israel has absolutely ZERO intention of respecting Palestinian property rights and international law. Why choose peace when you can get away with stealing land and resources? It appears that the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement is going to be the only way to put an end to this madness.

Yad Vashem – Beautiful Museum is Exploited for Political Gains

July 1, 2009

We took a trip to Yad Vashem during our educational tour of I/P today. For the most part, the museum was absolutely beautiful and it truly touched my heart. It was an amazing tribute to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. I will dedicate my life to fighting fascism and preventing something like The Final Solution from ever happening again. The extermination of the Jewish people during the Shoah was a scar, not just on the Jewish people, but on the history of human kind.

My only criticism was that the museum didn’t mention that the founders of Israel cared more about populating Israel than they did about rescuing Jewish DPs facing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe (a sin of omission). There was no mention of Ben-Gurion’s (Israel’s first prime minister) infamous quote in 1938. “If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael, I would choose the latter—-because we are faced not only with the accounting of these [Jewish] children but also with the historical accounting of the Jewish People.” (Righteous Victims, p. 162) The Zionist founders of Israel cared more about the creation of the Jewish state than they did about saving Jewish displaced peoples (DP’s). Noam Chomsky cites strong evidence to back this up in The Fateful Triangle. The last section of the museum was a tribute to the foundation of Israel with pictures of all the founding fathers  (Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Chaim Weizzmann) and refugees of the Nazi Holocaut immigrating in to Israel. To someone who isn’t familiar with the history it may seem like the creation of Israel was a response to the Nazi Holocaust.

The similarities between the fascism of Hitler and the Third Reich and Israel’s drift to the right are already evident. When we walked into the museum there was a quote by Kurt Tucholsky that read, “A country is not just what it does… it is also what it tolerates” in reference to fascist Germany. The nation of Israel is tolerating war crimes, illegal land grabs, apartheid against its Palestinian neighbors and blatant racial discrimination of Israeli-Palestinians.

Another quote, “A citizen of the Reich is a subject of the state who has German blood.”  A citizen of Israel is a subject of the state who has Jewish blood. Israel is the state of the Jewish people and there is only a democracy for the Jewish inhabitants of Israel. Israel-Palestinians are treated like second-class citizens (I will have a post soon explaining the disparities in rights between Arab and Jew) and there is a system of Apartheid in the West Bank that specifically targets the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants who ‘unfotunately’ happened to be living in Eretz Yisrael.

Another quote by the Nazi, Heinrich von Treitschke, wrote that “the Jews are our misfortune.” The Zionist founders frequently expressed their annoyance at the Arab population occupying the land they believed to be theirs. Israel’s right-wing Foreign Minister Avignor Lieberman wants the 20% Israeli-Palestinian majority to be expelled from the area of Israel proper (excluding the West Bank and Gaza). Another example… The Supreme Court will vote on legislature that would ban demonstrations/remembrance of the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians). Certain factions of the Israeli government don’t think Palestinians have the right to be sad about their own misfortunes. This would be as absurd as preventing Jews from publicly remembing the Nazi Holocaust or making it illegal for the Native Americans to reminisce about the Trail of Tears. Israel was supposed to be a ‘land without people for a people without land,’ the Arabs are simply an obstacle to colonization.

There was more shocking irony in the section regarding the Warsaw ghetto. The Nazis got the Jews in Warsaw to build a wall to contain themselves. The segregation was based on ethnicity and religion; with the Jews being enclosed in a concentration camp based solely on their genetics and religious practices. There are many comparisons with the containment of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Palestinians within the concentration camp in the Gaza strip. Large walls enclose the Palestinians and the IDF are ordered to shoot anything that moves if it comes near the security zone within the wall. The revolt of the Warsaw ghetto inhabitants was considered justified rebellion but the rockets fired by Hamas are considered to be savage terrorism. Can’t the citizens of Israel see the irony?

The museum itself was amazing. However, the Israeli government is using the memory of Holocaust victims to justify commiting horrible atrocities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. While we were taking our tour there we numerous platoons of IDF soldiers (photo at bottom of the page) taking tours of the museum. After their training and indoctrination, many of them will be sent to the West Bank to support Israel’s occupation and illegal expansionist policies. Even though they will inevitably carry out atrocities against a resistant Palestinian people, they are indoctrinated to think that because the Nazi Holocaust happened to the Jews, they have a right to violently stifle Arab self-determination. Even though Jews were systematically destroyed in one of the darkest periods of history; it does not give Israel the right to punish the Palestinians and steal their land.

IDF at Yad Vashem