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Dear Friends,

Today turned up many more items than I have included in the 6 below in addition to 2 that I earlier sent independently.   The items below are not connected to one another, except that they contain details about events in or commentary on this small part of the world.

The initial item is about Holocaust survivors and the help they receive from non-profit organizations.  It’s wonderful that there are non profit organizations that try to help these elderly individuals, many who live in dire poverty.  But why non profits?  Why not the government?  The Israeli government that especially at this time of year makes such a big hullabaloo and bla bla about the Holocaust refuses to care of its living victims, while at the same time pours money into colonizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem!

Item two is about refugees but not human ones.  It is about the olive-tree business, big business, with uprooting and moving from the OPT or places in Israel to private individuals for much money or to nurseries which sell the trees for no small sum.  That this has been taking place was widely publicized in 2003 by Yediot.  There are a number of sites on the net that reproduce the report.  I have furnished a link to one such at the end of the report.

Item 3 is brief: Egypt warns Israel to not mess around with Egypt’s opening of Rafa.  Signs of future relations with Israel? We shall see.

In item 4 the PCHR advises us that Israel’s High Court (supposedly of justice) dismissed a petition to lengthen the time given in the present Statute of Limitations so to allow Gazans suing Israel for damages that occurred as a result of the Cast Iron military campaign to allow them to see the claim through.  For reasons given in the report, at present that is not possible.  Justice?  Not for Palestinians.

Item 5 is both a personal story and one typical of the Nakba, as well as typical of how Israel has treated and continues to treat the Palestinian villages whose residents escaped with their lives hoping to return but not being allowed to.  The name of this village is Lifta.

Item 6  Is about Palestinian non-violent protest while the  Western powers stand by with no comment.  But then why should we expect anything positive from these powers who after Cast Lead justified it with the comment “Israel has a right to defend itself”?

All the best,

Dorothy

 

1.  Jerusalem Post,

 

April 29, 2011

Photo by: Courtesy

Surviving the Shoah – and beating Israeli bureaucracy

http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=218345

By RUTH EGLASH

Many Holocaust survivors live in severe poverty, unaware of the benefits owed them, and must fight the system to realize their rights.

David Silberman, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Aviv Lenitzolei Hashoah (Spring for Holocaust Survivors), does not mince words when he proclaims that roughly NIS 250 million in funds meant to assist Holocaust survivors living in Israel remains unclaimed each year.

“It’s a very complicated process, and that’s exactly why we started Aviv,” states Silberman, who created the organization four years ago together with his wife Aviva, a legal expert in Holocaust survivors’ rights.

Speaking ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be marked nationwide on Monday, he adds, “She has been working in this field for more than 17 years and already knew all about the complexities of this topic.

What she did not know, however, was exactly how many survivors are entitled to additional benefits but are not claiming them because the information is unclear and they are simply not aware.”

According to Silberman, “we thought this would only be a shortterm thing and that we would just pass on some information that would help all those involved in allocating resources to reach the actual survivors.”

In the four years since helping to start the NGO, he has become an expert on the ins and outs of the various compensation funds and additional benefit schemes meant to ease the daily living of more than 210,000 aging victims of Nazi persecution.

However, Silberman, who volunteers his time at the charity, points out that while there are some 15 government and non-governmental organizations all working to aid Holocaust survivors here, there is no single authority that can fit all the pieces together. With none of the groups able to see beyond its own paradigm, survivors are forced to go through an intense bureaucratic process even before they can understand what exactly they should be asking for.

Only this past Wednesday – after some 60-plus years of continued disconnect between all the organizations – did the Welfare and Social Services Ministry finally bring representatives of all these bodies, including Aviv, together for a round-table discussion on how to work together to help thousands of survivors live out their final years in comfort and dignity.

Silberman says it’s frustrating: “The survivors have been crying for years, saying they cannot make ends meet or cannot pay for their medicines, [and] social workers and others tell them that they cannot help, but it’s only because they have no idea about the pension schemes for them.”

He adds that “in most situations when you deal with poor people, it is difficult to help them, but when you are talking about Holocaust survivors, there is money out there but no one knows how to get at it.”

AS PART of its outreach work for this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Aviv will release a series of 17 short video clips – available for download from its website (www.avivshoa.co.il) and also to be screened throughout the day on Channel 2 – outlining what rights, benefits and compensation schemes are currently available for each specific group of survivors and how to apply for them, says Hagit Grubshtein, the organization’s deputy director.

“There is so much to understand that we felt the best way to explain would be to explain it visually,” says the 31-year-old trained lawyer who has been working with Aviv for three years. “The problem is that there is no one body that can tell the survivor what his or her benefits should include; every organization does wonderful work but refuses to look at what the others are doing. At the moment, survivors come to us in order to understand the whole picture, and we try to help them.”

Among the videos to be released are ones outlining the eligibility guidelines and application procedures for the four Holocaust survivor compensation funds (two from Germany, administered by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and two operated by the Israeli government’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority). There is also a rallying call to “thirdgeneration” Holocaust survivors, the grandchildren, to come forward and help the elderly survivors access their rights.

Silberman also highlights that one of the videos produced is in Russian, aimed at thousands of survivors who arrived in Israel during the 1990s from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who do not fit the criteria outlined by the four official funds.

“Some of them are not aware that they are in fact entitled to a one-time payment and numerous social benefits that could help ease their lives,” noted Silberman.

According to numerous NGOs working in the field, many of these survivors arrived in the country with nothing and today live in severe poverty, relying on various charities for their day-to-day survival.

“Our goal is to break the stigma that only a lawyer is able to help survivors understand and obtain their rights,” says Grubshtein, who herself is the presenter of most of these low-budget but informative videos.

“There is not much time left to help these survivors, and we need to reach as many people as we can in order to address the injustice of the last 60 years.”

AMONG THE estimated 10,000 people that Aviv has helped since its formation is Ela Yael Kasner, 75, from Rehovot. Two months ago, the Romanian-born grandmother and great-grandmother received a significant payout from the German government, some 3,800 euros, for the three years she spent in a Nazi-run ghetto, thanks to Aviv volunteers who helped her apply for the money.

“We had nothing to eat and no warm clothes to wear when we lived in the ghetto,” recalls Kasner, who was only a child when she moved with her mother and two brothers to the Mogilev ghetto in Transnistria. “I did not see an egg or cheese or bread during those years, I lived on water and corn flour… I did not learn to read or write and only received an education when I arrived in Israel at age 12.”

She clearly remembers how her mother would force her to hide beneath the floorboards whenever she heard the boots of SS soldiers.

“I had to stay down there for hours with the rats,” says Kasner, whose father was taken away from the family during the war and united with the family at its end. He died from typhus only a few months after their arrival in Israel.

Despite the obvious hardships of rebuilding her life here following the war, Kasner says life was bearable until a few years ago, when her husband, also a Holocaust survivor, passed away.

“I faced a dilemma, and I went to apply for additional benefits as his widow but was told I was not eligible,” says Kasner, who then turned to Aviv for help.

The organization helped her to obtain some additional funds from the government and also to apply for a state pension from Germany, where last year a federal court ruled that payments should be made to all those who had worked in a ghetto during the war years.

“My situation is not so bad now, there are many others who are worse off than I am,” says Kasner, who in addition to the back payment will also receive 41 euros a month from Germany.

What is most upsetting, she says, is “knowing there is money but for some reason it does not reach us, they do not hand it out. You have to fight or put on a lot of pressure to get that money.”

“Even after three years, it still kills me to hear these stories,” observes Grubshtein. “I know we have had many successes in helping people, but they are still so few compared to all the bad things and the injustice that has taken place over the last 60 years.”

She adds, “I know that we can’t fix all the evil that has happened, but it is time that all the organizations dealing with this issue put their egos aside and try to work together to tackle the problem before it’s too late.”

=======================

2.Refugees in their own land

 

Trade in ancient olive trees is a big business, often across the Green Line. Arab farmers are tempted by the big cash that wealthy Israelis will pay for such a status symbol, and there’s little the law can do about it.

http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/refugees-in-their-own-land-1.358781

By Maya Zinshtein

Anyone who visits the home of Moshe and Tova Gindi in Savyon will encounter an avenue of ancient olive trees leading up to the family manse. Another four trees, more splendid, more ancient, stand in the center of the yard. These trees did not grow up there. Indeed for decades and even centuries, they sent their roots into soil far from the land of this upscale Tel Aviv suburb. One day they were uprooted, transported to a big nursery, loaded onto a flatbed trailer, and driven to central Israel to decorate the entrance to the home of an upper-crust family.

An investigation by Haaretz has found that the phenomenon of uprooting olive trees and turning them into pet plants for the rich has been going on for several years now without causing much of a ripple, and feeds a market worth tens of millions of shekels.

Trees decades and centuries old are being uprooted, some by thieves, others by their owners, to be sold. Some are transported from the Galilee to select sales points throughout the country; many more are smuggled in from the Palestinian Authority, delivered to nurseries in Israel and from there to private gardens in walled compounds. Olive trees have thus become a status symbol: One can be yours, starting at NIS 30,000, with prices reaching close to NIS 100,000.

The combination of new fads and an ongoing water shortage has sent local landscape architects back to the indigenous habitat. The tropical flora in the gardens of Savyon or Shavei Zion made way for plants and trees that are native to the Land of Israel. Parallel to this, the difficulty of making a living, and the growing demands of construction – and the concomitant rise of prices into the stratosphere – are driving olive-grove owners to break with a longstanding tradition in return for monetary reward, in which a single transaction can frequently yield income equivalent to that of several years’ work. In the West Bank, an additional consideration comes into play: The owners of the groves claim that Jewish settlers uproot their trees, which are left behind, and they then try to obtain some sort of compensation, which will be partial at best.

Olive-tree dealers describe a perfectly legal world in which every tree has a documented pedigree and all of the requisite permits. In practice, the trees’ migration often involves an illicit aspect. The Forest Law introduced in Mandatory Palestine, which constitutes the legal basis for protecting trees in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, prohibits felling, transporting or transplanting an olive tree unless the requisite permits have been granted. Such permits may be provided, including to private landowners, only by Ministry of Agriculture forestry officials and officials at the Jewish National Fund. The Agriculture Ministry and JNF say there is a big gap between the permits they issue and the number of trees on sale in the market; a number of people involved in this business talk about a 50-percent gap.

When the olive trees’ final destination is documented – something that happens quite often – it is often in design articles in glossy magazines, something that tends to blur the murky side of the trees’ appropriation by wealthy individuals.

‘Like a Chagall’

“There are two kinds of people who want to buy ancient olive trees,” says Dedi Golan, whose veteran landscape-gardening firm caters to the very rich. “There are the ones who are looking for status symbols, and an ancient olive tree is such a symbol, like a Bulthaup kitchen or a Chagall original. And since everyone knows that an ancient olive tree costs NIS 50,000 at a minimum, if you place several in your yard, that means that you’re serious and important. The other type of buyer is the person who loves the olive tree and invests in it the way a real art-lover invests in a work of art – with no regard for the cost. After all, if the tree is 500 years old, then it’s priceless.”

A. is a landscape designer with clients of both sorts. He accompanied one for almost two weeks until the client found what he wanted. “We went to two or three nurseries each time and I showed him 20 ancient olive trees before he confirmed that a tree I recommended was in fact suitable for him. It was a lengthy process but the sort you enjoy, which ends in seeing a dream come true,” A. says.

“Everything is done in an orderly fashion, with permits,” he insists. “These are trees that grew for generations upon generations, mainly belonging to Galilee Arabs. In principle, Arabs do not remove trees from the ground, but sometimes they have to enlarge their house, sometimes a road is paved through their land, and then they are forced to uproot the trees and are given permission by the JNF. Trees from the territories? No way. It is forbidden to bring trees from there because the State of Israel does not have permission to uproot there.”

At Al Bustan, the nursery owned by Philippe Nicolas near Baka al-Gharbiyeh, they know A. He passed by there on his quest, strolled up and down the long avenues of ancient olive trees, and also purchased a few.

“We have 21 dunams [1 dunam = 1/4 acre] of olive and other trees and another 100 dunams in Afula,” says one nursery worker. “There are 100-year-old trees and even 1,000-year-old trees. Of the especially ancient kind we have two left, after one was sold. The first one cost NIS 75,000, the second one goes for NIS 60,000.”

When asked who the clientele for these trees is, the employee has a ready answer: “There are a lot of crazy people in this country. In Caesarea, in Savyon,” he replies. But when asked what the source of the trees is – who the seller is – his initial response is silence, and a small smile.

“Do you see these? I got them yesterday. We brought them at 11 P.M., with a 50-ton crane and 20 workmen. This is a 2,500-year-old tree. It’s not from here, it’s from abroad. From Palestine. It’s all from the territories,” he explains. “I go to the owner of a grove in the territories, pick out trees and say: ‘I’ll pay you for a tree like this, say, $10,000,’ and then he goes into shock. If he keeps the tree, the olives won’t bring in that kind of money even over 10 years. For them this is serious money.

“If the potential seller agrees – and not everyone agrees; there are some who won’t hear of it – I arrange for a person who goes in and buys. And then he goes through the checkpoints with a permit. We get clearance from [the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and register the tree and receive a license. Just like an Arabian horse gets a permit that it’s a thoroughbred Arabian, it’s the same for the tree.”

No permits, no smuggling

The Civil Administration, which is the only body authorized to permit olive trees to be brought into Israel, has a different version. Samir Mouadi, the Agriculture Ministry’s officer at Civil Administration headquarters, maintains that no permits whatsoever were granted last year for the transfer of olive trees from the West Bank. Administration officials add that they are not aware of any trees being smuggled into Israel – an intriguing claim considering that the phenomenon has been going on for years and that one of its aspects received considerable publicity in the past: In January 2003 the daily Yedioth Ahronoth ran an extensive article on a massive uprooting of olive trees in the territories, in particular along the route of the separation barrier being built at the time. According to that article, construction of the barrier necessitated the uprooting of thousands of trees, some of which were never returned to their owners as required but were allegedly sold by several of the contractors working on the barrier – with the Civil Administration’s knowledge.  [For the 2003 Yediot Ahronot report on uprooting olive trees for sale and replanting use this link.

http://www.mail-archive.com/bdnow@envirolink.org/msg06330.html D.]

Mohamed Muqbel, of the West Bank village of Qaryut, for example, keeps safe in a bag the Jordanian land registry certificate of ownership for the property his father bought even before he was born. The map demarcates his grove of olive trees more than a century old, which Israel allows him to visit only twice a year. Along with the registry document, the bag contains a pile of complaints that Muqbel filed over the past 10 years with the Israel Police and the Binyamin District Coordination Liaison Office in response to settlers attacking, trespassing on private property and uprooting trees.

“I am 70 years old and I don’t have the strength any longer to deal with this,” he sighs, and then discusses a neighbor who has an almost identical story to his own.

Many of the trees on the market are sold with their owner’s consent, sometimes prompted by moderate commercial pressure. South of Baka al-Gharbiyeh, for example, within Israel proper but adjacent to the separation barrier, the Al Bustan nursery has seen some serious competition crop up. These nurseries – which number in the dozens and have become a mecca for private buyers, gardeners and owners of nurseries in Israel – also offer row upon row of splendid trees.

“We worked on him, a real job, until we managed to get it out of him,” one nursery owner said of a tree’s owner. “He didn’t want to sell, but the tree wasn’t producing olives, so we persuaded him to begin planting new olive trees in its place. In the end we tossed a package of money on the table, until he was persuaded. But I myself would never sell a tree like that in my life. No way. “

One of the places such nurseries are flourishing is the village of Hableh in the Qalqilyah region. The fence route cut right through the village, leaving residents east of the barrier and their lands to the west, within Israel.

The solution the Defense Ministry offered the villagers was to open so-called “fabric of life” gates, which are intended to enable landowners to pass through the barrier in order to continue working their land or operate other enterprises there. The nurseries established there in recent years constitute the primary form of business. The trees reach them, that is, enter Israeli territory, through those same “fabric of life gates,” passing through checkpoints, and continuing from there to their new homes in Israel.

Tree dealers complain that the PA has been making life difficult for them lately.

“I’m allowed to bring goods onto my property, but with olives it’s harder,” complains one nursery owner. “The PA asks that olive trees not be uprooted because from an economic standpoint they are one of the most important resources in the West Bank, and we’re just barely keeping the inventory restocked.” In the next breath, he offers to sell six ancient olive trees that came into his possession just a month ago.

Trees can also be ordered in advance according to specification. “I don’t have such a large tree right now, but within a week I can get you a 500-year-old tree,” he adds.

Asked where it will come from, the nursery owner laughs: “It’ll come, don’t you worry,” he says. “It’ll come here and you’ll pick it up here. I’ll call when it arrives.”

Dispute in the ministry

The Agriculture Ministry has a special unit with increased enforcement powers: permission to conduct investigations, make arrests and carry arms. It has been dubbed “the agriculture police.” The flora and fauna supervision unit is supposed to monitor the entry of animal and plant products from the PA to Israel, to prevent smuggling and the introduction of diseases and blights.

According to a ministry employee, this unit has been almost paralyzed for the past two years because of a dispute with another ministry department – the flora protection and inspection services. The latter is supposed to issue permits for destruction of farm produce seized by the flora and fauna supervision unit. In the past two years, the employee claims, protection and inspection has not been forwarding the permits, and in their absence the agents of flora and fauna supervision have stopped seizing produce to prevent its becoming a hazard altogether.

The Border Police and the ombudsman of the Agriculture Ministry investigated a ministry employee, a veteran intelligence coordinator named Asher Yitzhari, who was allegedly involved in tree trafficking, and particularly the trafficking of ancient olive trees. The suspicions concerning Yitzhari had previously been brought to the attention of the ministry’s director general, Yossi Shai, and it was he who instructed the ombudsman to investigate. The ombudsman’s report contained, among other things, the finding that Yitzhari had two police records when he joined the unit. One of these two cases ended in his conviction and sentencing to six months of community service.

Following the ombudsman’s recommendation, the JNF filed a police complaint in 2005, and after the Border Police conducted an undercover investigation, Yitzhari was arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes, breach of faith and trafficking in olive trees worth hundreds of thousands of shekels. Today, after his case was closed for lack of evidence, he remains in the same ministry department.

In the meantime, Yitzhari’s case was transferred to the Civil Service Commission to determine whether he should be brought up on disciplinary charges. The commission, in turn, recommended in December 2009 that the Agriculture Ministry hold a hearing and initiate reprimand proceedings – not for receiving bribes, but rather for conflict of interest. It turns out that Yitzhari has a nursery of his own. The former intelligence coordinator only recently submitted a declaration of conflict of interests.

If the Civil Administration hasn’t heard anything about tree smuggling, and the flora and fauna supervision unit doesn’t have any teeth, then the deterrent power that all the parties involved rely on is the JNF’s supervision unit, consisting of fewer than 10 people who are supposed to cover all of Israel and the PA combined.

Violating the landscape

“We are working to catch every olive tree that was transplanted without authorization and without a license, to put the person responsible for it on criminal trial, and have the tree itself confiscated by the state,” says Amikam Riklin, who heads the JNF’s supervision unit. “Whoever violates the olive tree violates the landscape of the country, and we cannot let trees be taken without authorization to the home or the neighborhood of whoever it is.”

In practice, the law permits inspectors to act only in one case: when they catch offenders in the act of either uprooting or transporting trees. Once the trees have been planted in soil – even the soil of a nursery that nobody would mistake for the site of a 200-year-old olive grove – their hands are tied. So the inspectors wander Israel’s roads and try to catch criminals, a not-very-efficient undertaking when you consider the number of inspectors, the number of roads and the number of hours in a day.

The inspectors are convinced that most of the trees in the “vanity market” do come from the West Bank, where there are an estimated 10 million available. But the JNF says that the Galilee is also fertile ground for trafficking in ancient olive trees.

“Many landowners in the Galilee seek to have agricultural land rezoned for construction,” notes the Agriculture Ministry’s national forest commissioner, Hagai Snir. “When there are permits for changing the land-use designation, we help them out and provide felling permits. When they don’t have these permits, they will probably look for other ways to get rid of the trees.”

Says Ido Rasis, the JNF official in charge of enforcing the law in the central region: “We know categorically that there is an enormous gap between the number of felling and transplanting permits that the JNF issues and the number of trees in the possession of tree dealers. But we’re only a handful of inspectors dealing with an entire industry. In the past the Israel Police and Border Police would assist me in road seizures. Less so today.”

Just this year the JNF began systematically documenting the permits it issues for felling, transport and transplanting of trees. According to its data 18,900 such permits were issued for olive trees – a seemingly astronomical number. But the vast majority of the trees on the list don’t match the specs of those that are sought after on the vanity market. Rather, they come from young groves that kibbutzim were forced to clear because of rising water rates.

For now, then, the state is indicting mostly those who had the misfortune of showing up on its radar screen, whether through the efforts of the JNF supervision unit or following complaints by alert citizens. About four months ago this radar missed a series of trucks that traveled across the country carrying stolen olive trees from a military base, and it was only an inquiry by Haaretz that led to their capture (see box ).

The heavyweight traffickers and their envoys are often instructed to pull over to the side of the road for inspection; this too is a practice that sometimes ends in an indictment. For example, one major tree dealer who had been caught is Avi Yehezkel of Moshav Haniel, not far from Netanya. In October 2010 he was convicted in the Netanya Magistrate’s Court of transporting olive trees without a license. The sentence noted that “the offenses are serious [and] the accused has a previous conviction that speaks for itself.”

Reached for his comment, Yehezkel said: “I was accused of transporting trees without a permit, but that is not true. I had a transplanting permit from the JNF’s forest commissioner, but I didn’t have a transporting license, because he told me it wasn’t necessary.”

Another big-time tree trafficker, Aharon Sadeh, was convicted in the Kfar Sava Magistrate’s Court after he and another man were caught transporting three ancient olive trees from the village of Hableh without a license in 2005.

“That was a procedural mistake on our part. We even considered appealing,” he contends today. “It happened as part of a barter we did with an Arab dealer. Our driver simply made a mistake. All in all it was minor. We received a fine of NIS 2,500 and the trees were confiscated.”

Even when an indictment is filed and ends in a conviction, it does not provide an element of deterrence. The few indictments over the past five years show that the punishments that were imposed on most of those convicted were unusually low fines, ranging from NIS 750 through NIS 1,500 and up to NIS 5,000 – extremely modest sums considering that a single tree goes for tens of thousands of shekels on the market. As noted, trees can only be confiscated if they are discovered while in transit . Nevertheless there have been some developments on this front. One of these is new cooperation between the JNF and the Israel Tax Authority’s national unit for investigations and field intelligence.

“This industry has a turnover of tens of millions a year and we’re seeing an increase over the years,” says Yosef Shbiro, deputy director of the central region investigations unit at the Income Tax Authority. “Any self-respecting builder of a villa feels compelled to plant a tree, and because of the rising tide in construction of villas, the olive tree market has also grown.”

The tax authorities have a clear idea where the olive trees are coming from. “A substantial share comes from the PA and a smaller share from Israel, because here it’s gradually dwindling,” Shbiro explains, spelling out what has remained apparently invisible to those in charge of this matter at the Agriculture Ministry and the Civil Administration. “I imagine there are many olive trees that are uprooted without a permit. The authorities issue a few dozen transplanting licenses per year, not more, whereas the market has a turnover in the millions [of shekels]; it has hundreds of ancient olive trees all about and demand outstrips supply. After all, there is a shared economic interest and a meeting of wills, so both sides profit.”

According to Shbiro, the olive tree passes through additional stations on its way to the nursery: the uprooter and the middleman. “There is a person who uproots, and there are nursery owners who sell a lot to other nurseries themselves. By the time the tree reaches the final nursery, its price has climbed, with everyone involved making a bundle. The profit sometimes exceeds 100 percent.”

Ongoing problem

Tree dealer Philippe Nicolas was arrested last October on suspicion of concealing income of NIS 2 million from the tax authorities, income earned from, among other things, trafficking in ancient olive trees. In his remand request the police national investigations unit stated that intelligence activity had raised the suspicion that Nicolas was selling the olive trees to clients without reporting his activities in full to the taxman. What the request did not mention is that Nicolas is one of the two traffickers responsible for the trees on the Gindi estate.

“Two of the three biggest tree traffickers have already been punished,” says the JNF’s Ido Rasis, “but the JNF’s problem remains unchanged. We can stop a truck and seize the trees, but nothing more. Once they are at the nurseries, in the ground, we can’t do a thing – and all this is in accordance with section 18 of the Forest Law.”

The landscape architect Dedi Golan offers scant comfort: “When everyone takes out a loan so that he can put an olive tree in his yard, and there are loads of nouveaux riches living in ostentation, the trend will eventually lose its power,” he says. But until that happens – if ever – the olive tree will be without any real protection.

The Civil Administration had this to say in response: “In 2010 no permits were issued to Palestinians to transfer olive trees from Judea and Samaria into Israel. At the gate located in the village of Hableh permission is mainly granted for transferring work tools and goods that serve the landowners, in view of the fact that there are no permanent residents in this part of the village.”

Moshe Gindi offered this comment: “I did not buy any tree from the territories. Everything was handled in a professional manner by subcontractors.”

Zafrir Rinat contributed reporting to this story.

Where did the trees go?

In mid-December, last year, a truck drove along the coastal road carrying a load of ancient olive trees. The driver had a license from the JNF to transfer trees from the Hahotrim military base in the north to other public destinations, for preservation purposes.

The driver, equipped with instructions from his dispatchers, left the base and headed south. At the end of the journey he unloaded the trees at a private nursery, where they were priced for sale for thousands and tens of thousands of shekels. This truck was only one of many that traversed Israel that month carrying 95 ancient olive trees, protected under the law, that were then smuggled onto the market.

The Defense Ministry had applied to the JNF for a permit to transplant 62 ancient olive trees from an army base in the north. The JNF consented, and Michael Weinberger, the organization’s director for the Western Galilee and Carmel region, granted the Israel Defense Forces a license. The terms of the license stated that the trees would be transplanted according to a systematic plan that would specify their destinations: monuments, other IDF bases and sites owned by the JNF itself. To execute the plan,

Weinberger enlisted Ofer Cohen, an ex-military man known in JNF circles as a project manager.

Only 62 trees were granted transplant permits, but the number of transport permits grew to 95. Aharon Sadeh’s nursery, Hadar Noi, in Moshav Beit Oved near Rishon Lezion, was one of the places the trees wound up. Sadeh claims that he received 25 trees, and that all of them had transport permits citing his nursery as their destination.

Haaretz found that Sadeh actually received 41 olive trees, each of them between 150 and 200 years old, worth an estimated NIS 45,000 each on the market. None of these trees was supposed to reach the Hadar Noi nursery: One of them was meant for the monument on Kibbutz Degania; others were listed on the permit as destined for “Tel Hashomer” – that is, Sheba Medical Center.

According to Sadeh, the trees represent partial repayment of a debt the IDF owes him. “Over three years, I supplied the IDF with 80-90 trees. To Training Camp 1, for example, we sent 40 trees in 2009. That was done through Ofer Cohen, and he told me that he would repay me in time,” Sadeh explains, though he did not present any documents to back up his claim.

Another place the IDF olive trees wound up was Geva’ot Olam, the organic farm that the former army lieutenant colonel Avri Ran built in the West Bank, without permits, in the late 1990s. Ran, who became religiously observant and a leader among the so-called hilltop youth, received five trees; Haaretz did not receive a comment from him by press time. The major tree trafficker Avi Yehezkel denies that he received trees from the IDF base. Ofer Cohen declined to comment on the grounds that the matter is under investigation.

The JNF offered the following comment regarding the trucks affair: “The JNF views the matter very gravely and therefore a prompt preliminary inquiry was conducted immediately, and in its wake a complaint was filed with the police. So long as a police investigation is ongoing, the JNF cannot, with the best of intentions, provide further details that might disrupt it. When the investigation is over the JNF will draw and learn the [necessary] lessons.” (M. Z.)

[For the 2003 Yediot Ahronot report on uprooting olive trees for sale and replanting use this link.

http://www.mail-archive.com/bdnow@envirolink.org/msg06330.html Dorothy]

===================================

3.  Haaretz,

 

April 30, 2011


Egypt warns Israel: Don’t interfere with opening of Gaza border crossing

Rafah’s opening would be a violation of an agreement reached in 2005 between the U.S., Israel, Egypt, and the EU; Israel official tells the Wall Street Journal developments in Egypt could affect Israel’s national security.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/egypt-warns-israel-don-t-interfere-with-opening-of-gaza-border-crossing-1.358969

By Haaretz Service

Tags: Israel news Gaza Egypt Middle East peace

Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt’s plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel’s concern, Army Radio reported on Saturday.

Egypt announced this week that it intended to permanently open the border crossing with Gaza within the next few days.

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt’s uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.

An Israeli official on Friday told The Wall Street Journal that Israel was troubled by the recent developments in Egypt saying they could affect Israel’s national security at a strategic level.

Israel’s blockade on Gaza has been a policy used in conjunction with Egyptian police to weaken Hamas, which has ruled over the strip since 2007.

Rafah’s opening would be a violation of an agreement reached in 2005 between the United States, Israel, Egypt, and the European Union, which gives EU monitors access to the crossing. The monitors were to reassure Israel that weapons and militants wouldn’t get into Gaza after its pullout from the territory in the fall of 2005.

Before Egypt’s uprising and ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, the border between Egypt and Gaza had been sealed. It has occasionally opened the passage for limited periods.

===========================

4.  PCHR

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Press Release

Ref: 38/2011

Date: 30 April 2011

Time: 11:00 GMT

Israel’s High Court of Justice Dismisses Petition Filed on Behalf of More Than 1,000 Victims of Operation Cast Lead

On Thursday, 28 April 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition brought by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and litigated by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz.

The petition was filed on 21 December 2010, by PCHR in relation to more than 1,000 victims of Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip (Operation ‘Cast Lead’), in order to challenge the 2-year statute of limitations imposed on filing tort (compensation) cases. The petition requested that the High Court of Justice order the State Attorney to refrain from raising a claim under the statute of limitations in future civil suits brought before Israeli courts. According to PCHR, the right of access to the courts demands that the statute of limitations on bringing such civil cases begin to accrue only once Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip has ceased.

PCHR have consistently argued that the statute of limitations, imposed monetary barriers, and the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, combine to fundamentally deny victims’ legitimate right to an effective judicial remedy. In effect, they contribute to the establishment of an ‘accountability free-zone’ in the Gaza Strip, wherein Israeli forces are free to violate international law without consequence. At issue in this petition is the fundamental – and universally recognized – right to compensation in the event of a violation of international law.

Yesterday’s High Court of Justice ruling represents a serious setback for the victims, and their legitimate quest for accountability and redress.

Significantly, the Court’s decision to dismiss the petition was procedurally flawed. PCHR had a right to reply to the State’s submission before the Court decided on the matter. The date fixed by the Court for PCHR’s reply is 3 May 2011.

PCHR believe that the procedurally flawed dismissal of this case represents an example of the Israeli judiciary’s complicity in the perpetuation of a climate of pervasive impunity, whereby those Israeli officials and soldiers suspected of committing international crimes are shielded from justice, and victims’ legitimate rights to the equal protection of the law are systematically denied. In this context it is noted that the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict concluded that the series of acts that limit Palestinians in the Gaza Strip’s “access to courts of law and effective remedies could amount to persecution, a crime against humanity.”

It is imperative that victims’ fundamental human rights be respected and upheld, and that recourse to mechanisms of international justice be supported and encouraged by the international community.

Background Information

Customary international law recognises all victims’ right to reparation (including compensation) in the event of a violation of international law. However, Palestinian victims from the Gaza Strip are currently faced with a number of significant hurdles which effectively prevent them from accessing justice, in violation of their fundamental rights. Claimants face three principal obstacles:

1. Statute of Limitations. Under Israeli law, a complaint for civil damages must be brought within two years of the date of the incident, or the right to compensation is irrevocably lost. As a result of the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, and the significant number of victims of Operation Cast Lead, this two-year limit means that the victims are often unable to submit their cases within the required time-frame. Prior to 1 August 2002, the statute of limitations was seven years.

2. Monetary Barrier. Israeli courts often require claimants to pay a court insurance fee before the case can begin. While this is a discretionary fee applied by the court, in practice, this fee is always applied to Palestinian claimants. The exact value of the fee is not fixed, and it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the court. With respect to claims for damage to property, the fee usually constitutes a percentage of the value of the property being claimed, however, for death or injury there is no informal guideline. In PCHR’s experience this amount is typically set at a minimum of NIS 10,000 (about US $2800); however, it can reach significantly higher amounts. In a recent case brought by PCHR, the claimants were required to pay an insurance fee of NIS 20,000 (US $5,600) for each of the five wrongful deaths claimed. Thus, grave violations equal extremely high monetary barriers to justice. This insurance fee constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to justice. Simply put, claimants from Gaza – crippled by the economic devastation wrought by the occupation and the illegal closure – cannot afford this fee and their cases are being dismissed and closed.

3. Physical Barriers. Under Israeli law, in order testimony to be valid, the victim or witness must be present in court to undergo cross-examination. However, since June 2007, despite a letter from the court requesting their presence, the Israeli military authorities have not allowed a single individual to leave Gaza to appear in court. As a result, their cases are dismissed and closed. Further, PCHR’s lawyers – although qualified – cannot enter Israel to represent their clients before the courts. As a result, PCHR is forced to work with and hire lawyers in Israel (at extra cost). However, clients are not allowed to enter Israel to meet with their lawyer, and all requests made by lawyers to enter Gaza – to meet with clients, visit the crime scene, and so on – have been denied. Necessarily, this affects the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients, thereby undermining victims’ right to an effective remedy.

The Petition

The petition, brought by PCHR and litigated by Attorneys Michael Sfard and Carmel Pomerantz, challenged the two-year statute of limitations. An injunction was sought from the court suspending the two-year statute of limitations period. The petition highlighted a number of barriers to justice created as a result of Israeli policy, including the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip.

This petition is brought by PCHR in relation to 1,046 victims of Operation Cast Lead, representing the overwhelming majority of cases prepared in the aftermath of the offensive. These cases cover virtually the entire spectrum of international humanitarian law violations, and among them are the most infamous cases of the offensive, including those of the Samouni, Abu Halima, and Al-Dia families.

The policies and practices challenged in this petition serve to comprehensively deny victims’ right to access justice. They perpetuate a climate of pervasive impunity, and effectively contribute to the establishment of an accountability free zone in the Gaza Strip.

Public Document

**************************************

For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 – 2825893

PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip. E-mail: pchr@pchrgaza.org, Webpage http://www.pchrgaza.org

======================

5.  The Independent,

 

30 April 2011

The ghost town between Palestine’s past and its future

Catrina Stewart visits an abandoned settlement, frozen in time 63 years ago, that may soon become a luxury housing development

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-ghost-town-between-palestines-past-and-its-future-2276864.html

Walking through the abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta, Yacoub Odeh is transported back to a time more than 63 years ago when as a child he would play in these streets before his carefree existence came to an abrupt end.

As he points out the old mosque and olive press, names come tumbling back, events, memories – a life before 1948, the fateful year that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their ancestral homes during Israel’s war of independence, most of them never to return.

All that remains of this once-prosperous village are the shells of dozens of houses dotted throughout the valley, their outer walls largely intact but now overgrown with wildflowers and weeds.

How much longer the village will remain in this state is anyone’s guess. It is at the centre of a wrangle over whether it should be preserved in its current state as a reminder of the Palestinian dispossession or redeveloped into luxury housing. The Israel Land Administration, now the legal owner of the land, is marketing plots to developers to construct an upscale neighbourhood based on the buildings that already exist.

“They [the Jews] did not destroy Lifta in time of war, so they should not destroy it when Israel is talking about peace,” says Mr Odeh, a Palestinian in his early 70s who spent his early childhood there.

Lifta is the last of the deserted Palestinian villages still standing in modern-day Israel. The several hundred other communities abandoned have either been built over, destroyed or resettled. Proponents of redevelopment say it is not as simple as letting Lifta remain as it is. Architects involved with the new housing project in its early stages say to do nothing at all would ensure the eventual disappearance of the village.

But Shmuel Groag, one of the same architects who wanted to restore the village, is aghast at the scale of the new project, targeted at wealthy buyers. Developers have drawn up a plan that adds another 268 apartments and a hotel to the 55 houses currently there.

The developer handling the project declined to be interviewed for this story, but the Jerusalem municipality which first approved it in 2006 insisted the village’s character would not be changed, and the existing houses and buildings would be carefully restored and preserved.

Petitioners, including former residents of Lifta and Israeli NGOs, have secured a temporary injunction to freeze the project on technical grounds. It is an imperfect solution as, even if the developers are forced to return to the drawing board, they could return with an amended plan. What the petition fails to address is the issue of two competing historical narratives that has underscored the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis for generations.

“On setting up its state in 1948, Israel set about demolishing every vestige of Palestinian life and history in the land,” writes Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian author, in a recent letter to the Los Angeles Times. “The battle to preserve Lifta must be won – it remains a physical memory of injustice and survival.”

In 1947, a United Nations partition plan proposed to divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state with Jerusalem as an international city. The Arabs opposed the plan, and fighting erupted between the two sides as they scrambled for territory before the British Mandate expired.

The Palestinians claim that they were driven out by the Jews or frightened into flight by acts of brutality in other villages, while Israel contends that they left of their own accord during a time of war, foregoing the right to their land under Israel’s absentee laws.

Mr Odeh was just eight years old when the shooting started one day in January 1948. Tensions were already high – a month previously, the Stern Gang, the pre-state Jewish militia, had killed six of the villagers in the coffee house in an apparent reprisal attack. Occupying a strategic position at the entrance to Jerusalem, Lifta became an important target for Jewish fighters. When the first shots were fired in the village, Mr Odeh’s father hoisted his youngest child on to his shoulders, and bade his wife and children to follow as they made for a nearby road. With several other families, they boarded a truck heading away from Jerusalem.

“We went only in the clothes that we wore because we [thought we] were coming home the next day,” says Mr Odeh. “Everything – clothes, food – remained at home.”

Like most Palestinians who fled, he could not return home. Jewish soldiers blew up the roofs of their homes to make them uninhabitable, and chased off those who did try to come back. By the end of February, the village’s nearly 3,000 inhabitants had all left.

The family initially lived in Ramallah, where Mr Odeh says he slept under a tree and queued long hours for food. His father succumbed to illness and depression and died soon after. The family later settled in Jerusalem, and, when he was old enough, Mr Odeh joined the Palestinian resistance, a step that would earn him 17 years in an Israeli jail and see his family home destroyed once again, this time in retribution.

The Palestinians describe the events that led to the creation of Israel as the Nakba, literally “catastrophe” in Arabic. By UN estimates, more than 750,000 Palestinians fled during fighting in 1947-1948, some to the West Bank, others further afield to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where most ended up in refugee camps that still exist today.

Many dream of one day returning to their villages, and still hold the deeds to their abandoned homes. But, for now, there is little meaningful discussion at government level in Israel regarding the mass return of Palestinian refugees, which many Israelis believe would spell doom for Israel.

“Many places in Israel were abandoned,” says an official from the Israel Land Administration, pointing out that Jerusalemites are leaving the city in droves due to a shortage of housing. “If we waited for all the refugees to come back, we wouldn’t have a country.”

Some argue that Israel could nevertheless seize an historic opportunity by allowing a symbolic number of refugees to return to Lifta, a move that would create goodwill at little cost.

“If we do destroy it, this would send a very bad message on many levels to the Palestinians,” says Eitan Bronstein of Zochrot, an Israeli organisation that has meticulously recorded all the pre-1948 villages. “It sends a message that we don’t care and will continue with this plan to [keep] this country only for Jews.”

It was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who said “the old will die, and the young will forget” in an assurance that the Palestinians would never come back. Mr Odeh, who these days takes guided tours around Lifta, is determined to ensure that will never happen, bringing his children to this spot at least once a year, urging them to remember.

“We lost everything when we were kicked off our land,” he says, adding that he simply wants Israel to acknowledge what he and others went through. “We have the right to live free in our home.”

=============================

6.  Al Jazeera,

 

April 28, 2011

When Montgomery comes to Nabi Saleh

As the nonviolence movement in Palestine continues to be threatened, knowledge of its existence remains minimal at best.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/04/2011427184153217415.html

Mark Perry

Weekly nonviolent protests, such as those held in Nabi Saleh or Bil’in, rarely evoke interest from the international community, yet its increasing momentum is giving Israel cause for worry [EPA]

On March 24, the Israeli government arrested Bassem Tamimi, a 44-year-old resident of the small Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which is just west of Ramallah.

Tamimi was arrested for leading a group of his neighbours in protest marches on a settlement that had “expropriated” the village’s spring – the symbolic centre of Nabi Saleh’s life.

Tamimi was brought before the Ofer military court and charged with “incitement, organising unpermitted marches, disobeying the duty to report to questioning” and “obstruction of justice” – for giving young Palestinians advice on how to act under Israeli police interrogation.

He was remanded to an Israeli military prison to await a hearing and a trial.

The detention of Tamimi is not a formality: under Israeli military decree 101 he is being charged with attempting “verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.”

As in Syria, this is an “emergency decree” disguised as protecting public security. It carries a sentence of 10 years.

A strategic choice

The arrest of Tamimi marked only the most recent escalation in Israel’s campaign to suffocate the Nabi Saleh movement: in the two months prior to his arrest, Israeli officials detained more than 18 Nabi Saleh youths; over the last two years, nearly 15 per cent of Nabi Saleh’s population has spent time in Israeli jails; half of those arrested have been under the age of 18 and the youngest of them was 11.

But what is extraordinary about the Nabi Saleh campaign is its effectiveness. The protesters are trained in non-violent tactics.

“Our strategic choice of a popular struggle – as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives, and future – is a declaration that we do not harm human lives,” Tamimi has said. “The very essence of our activity opposes killing.”

Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the movement. On the morning of April 8, about 80 villagers marched from Nabi Saleh’s main street towards the settlement.

As they crossed into some nearby fields, they were attacked by Israeli soldiers with teargas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades.

The villagers fled, but then reorganised themselves, defiantly linking arms in front of the soldiers. Again, the Israeli army responded harshly and, by that evening, had arrested six villagers.

But these are small incidents in a continuing battle. The protests go on day after day, week after week – and have over the course of the last four years.

Nabi Saleh does not stand alone.

The non-violent protests actually began eight years ago in small communities near Israel’s security wall, then took root in the villages of Mas’ha and Budrus; the protests have now spread to towns and villages across the West Bank, encompassing mass rural movements from Hebron in the south to Nablus in the north.

“Dangerous”

The protests have involved dozens to hundreds, and on rare occasions, thousands of villagers.

But pride of place for this widespread non-violent resistance movement belongs to Bil’in, a village that (like Nabi Saleh) has seen much of its land taken over by a settlement.

The leader of the Bil’in protests is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, the head of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall. Like Tamimi, Abu Rahmah has trained his young activists in the principles of non-violence, sparking movable protests that the Israeli army has found impossible to suppress.

Abu Rahmah, a high school teacher at the Latin Patriarch School in Ramallah, began organising Bil’in’s protests in 2004, even as the violence of the Second Intifada was beginning to wane.

Every Friday after prayers, Abu Rahmah would lead a group of Bil’in residents on a protest march towards a local settlement – and every Friday his march would be intercepted by the Israeli army.

In one demonstration, an Israeli sniper used a .22 calibre rifle to disburse the protesters, killing a Palestinian boy.

Twenty-one unarmed demonstrators, among them five children, have been killed in non-violent West Bank demonstrations since the beginnings of the movement.

In the village of Nil’in in 2008, American activist Tristan Anderson was paralysed after an Israeli soldier fired a high velocity tear gas canister at his head from a distance of 15 meters.

In December of 2009, Israeli soldiers raided Abu Rahmah’s home, arrested him for incitement, and sentenced him to 12 months in prison.

At the end of his sentence, the Israeli military asked his sentence to be extended for another four months, describing Abu Rahmah as “dangerous”. The court agreed.

Abu Rahmah has become a symbol of the protests. While in prison, he smuggled letters to his supporters, including one – written this last February – that has become a kind of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” of the movement.

He wrote:

Ofer is an Israeli military base inside the Occupied Territories that serves as a prison and military court. The prison is a collection of tents enclosed by razor wire and an electrical fence, each unit containing four tents, 22 prisoners per tent. Now, in winter, wind and rain comes through the cracks in the tent and we don’t have sufficient blankets, clothes, and other basic necessities. Food is a critical issue here in Ofer, there’s not enough. We survive by buying ingredients from the prison canteen that we prepare for our tent. We have one small hot plate, and this is also our only source of warmth.

One month after penning this letter, Abu Rahmah was released, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s arrested again – and shut inside one of the half-dozen Israeli military prisons and administrative facilities that dot the West Bank.

Israeli tactics, the mass arrests, and the use of live fire have been condemned by a long list of human rights organisations. But not by the United States.

Demonising nonviolence

Just how much do the Bil’in-Nabi Saleh protests worry Israel?

One widely circulated article from the popular Israeli political daily Yediot Ahronot described Naji Tamimi, who helped his cousin Bassem organise the Nabi Saleh movement, as “a pied piper” who “fans the flames of violence” (despite the fact that not one Israeli has died as a result of the protests).

The article went further: “Even though it hasn’t been proven, it seems that sources connected to the Palestinian Authority are directing the activities and that the funds paid out to the youths is coming from donations from organisations registered abroad.”

Not proven – because it’s not true.

In fact, while Fatah and Hamas officials monitor the protests (PA officials have come to Nabi Saleh – before scuttling back to their offices in Ramallah), they have been careful not to interfere in them.

They view the protests as a credible and powerful movement that is better left alone. Hamas leaders agree.

“We wish them well. We hope they succeed. We support them. We are staying away,” a senior Hamas official says.

A group of international activists have been helping the Nabi Saleh protests.

Jonathan Pollak, a 29-year-old native of Tel Aviv, has found himself at the centre of the protests – and has written about them extensively.

“I grew up in a progressive home,” he says, “but I don’t think that anyone in my family could be described as a radical. I came to Nabi Saleh and realised I had to help. What’s happening here is just wrong.”

Joseph Dana, a New York native and journalist, works alongside Pollak. He came to Israel to find his Jewish identity. “I haven’t found it,” he says. “What I found instead was an army that arrests children.”

Silencing nonviolence

Pollak, Dana, and other international activists are working to bring attention to the Nabi Saleh movement and have escorted diplomats from Europe through the village.

A few low-level American diplomats from Jerusalem have come to Nabi Saleh, but no senior American officials have visited.

“The international community has been asking for years where the Palestinian nonviolent movement is,” Joseph Dana says from his home in Jerusalem. “Well, here it is. And the Americans are nowhere to be found.”

Pollak and Dana are being modest. While the events at Nabi Saleh and Bil’in have been largely ignored in the United States, they have sparked a simmering conflict between Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers.

The Israeli army has taken the side of the settlers, arresting hundreds of young Palestinians (many of them minors) and using (in one case) the testimony of a 14-year-old boy to condemn the movement’s leadership.

“They kept him up all night, shouting at him,” Dana says. “He was frightened, alone. Finally, he did what they wanted. If you can imagine, Israeli soldiers subjecting a child to mental torture.”

While the world’s attention has been diverted by the events in Tahrir Square, Israeli officials have struck back against what may well be the greatest threat to their settlement project – condemning non-violent protesters as “terrorists” and standing aside while settlers have taken more and more land from unarmed and defenceless people.

Israel has poured increased funds into countering the protests, deployed more and more soldiers to stop them, and escalated the arrest of its leaders – breaking down the doors of their homes in pre-dawn raids designed to frighten and intimidate them.

Nothing has worked.

The quest for civil rights

Unfunded and unnoticed, Bassem Tamimi, his cousin Naji, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, and a handful of others have organised and trained battalions of young men and women in the art of non-violent resistance.

Bassem Tamimi’s arrest has not stopped the protests. They are growing, and spreading. The movement is now in the hands of Bassem’s wife, Nariman, who vows to fight on.

She has already spent time in an Israeli jail, but remains undeterred.

“There is no knowing what the future holds,” she says from her home in Nabi Saleh, “but our path is clear and so is our goal. We know well that it is possible to achieve it, and we will continue to fight for it. To a great extent, the question of our victory is also one that should be directed to the American people and their government – are you on the side of justice and victory, or on the side of continued oppression?”

The Arab Spring has seen revolutions come to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. In each revolution, US president Barack Obama has praised the crowds seeking democracy and freedom.

Again and again he has talked of the need to fight extremist violence. He has paid homage to the young men and women who have brought freedom to Egypt and Tunisia.

He has supported those defending themselves in the streets of Benghazi, Sanaa, and Damascus. His talisman has been non-violence, his pole star the American civil rights movement.

In Cairo, in June of 2009, Obama linked the Palestinian quest for freedom to the American civil rights movement.

“Palestinians must abandon violence,” he said. “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.”

He was right. So why is it that now – when finally, Montgomery has come to Nabi Saleh – he chooses to remain silent?

Mark Perry is a military and political analyst and author of eight books, including Partners In Command, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace, and most recently Talking To Terrorists.

This article first appeared in Foreign Policy.

 

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