Archive | May 16th, 2014

Traveling Through Palestine While Black

NOVANEWS
Author(s): Bill Fletcher Jr

In the first several days after returning from Israel and Occupied Palestine, I dreamed of Palestine each night. It was never a pleasant dream. While I cannot remember the details, I was always left with a feeling of anxiety and insecurity. In that sense the dreams matched the realities of the Palestinians, be they citizens of Israel or residents of the Occupied Territories. It also corresponded to the emotions raised in a recent trip in which I participated.

Prison

It has become almost a cliché to speak of Gaza, the Palestinian territories on the Mediterranean controlled by Hamas and blockaded by Israel, as the largest open-air prison on the planet. Yet I am not sure I will any longer agree with the limits of that characterization. The Palestinians are all in prison. While Gaza may be a maximum security facility, the West Bank is nevertheless a prison. So little is actually controlled by Palestinians despite the formal notion of autonomy. Israeli military incursions can and do happen at any time convenient for the Israeli government and its military occupation. Palestinians are prohibited from using certain roads. The ominous and illegal separation wall, better known as the apartheid wall, spreads like a disease across the land, dividing the Palestinians not as much from the Israelis as from their own land.

For all of that, it is the sense of permanent insecurity and maximum humiliation that reinforces the feeling one gets of being in a prison. There are checkpoints at seemingly every turn; one is subjected to being stopped at any time. There is an attitude of arrogance and contempt on the part of most of the Israeli military personnel. With their submachine guns and their insistence on using Hebrew in communicating with the Arabic-speaking Palestinians, they invade the space of the indigenous population, always reminding them that there is no such thing as privacy in the Occupied Territories.

An African-American delegation

Within black America there has for decades been an amorphous constituency that, at a minimum, has been interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and in many cases has been supportive of Palestinians and their fight for national self-determination and democracy. Yet the issue of Palestine has rarely been one around which African Americans, in any great numbers, have organized and mobilized, or for that matter even spoken out.

It has nevertheless been the case that since the June 1967 Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, there have been African Americans who have raised questions about the objectives of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territories and its treatment of its own Palestinian minority. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) offered an historic condemnation of Israel in the aftermath of the June 1967 war, resulting in SNCC losing a significant portion of its white support in the USA. The black radical movement, of which SNCC was part[during the course of the 1970s], frequently linked the cause of the Palestinians with the struggles against colonialism and white minority rule in Africa. And during the 1970s and 1980s, center-left political figures such as Rev. Jesse Jackson began pushing the US mainstream consensus around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, insisting on the legitimacy of the demands of the Palestinian people.

The small African-American delegation of which I was a part of in many ways reflected this internationalist tradition. Though broadly speaking progressive, most of the members of the delegation were under 45 and had little background in the Palestinian liberation struggle. Comprised largely of artists, the members of the delegation were individuals cognizant of but not immersed in international issues at the level of organizing and mobilising.

Almost universally, delegation members were unprepared for the in-your-face brutality of the Occupation. While it may seem melodramatic, the visit was potentially life-changing for each member of the delegation. The question is whether the overwhelming sense of the criminality of the Occupation will be suppressed inside each of us over time since such feelings compel one to ask several questions, not the least being, how can the USA be so complicit in this horror?

The Middle East’s One True Democracy?

It is clear that it is more than possible to visit Israel and have no sense of the apartheid system that operates both within its borders as well as in the Occupied Territories. Such visits happen all the time. It is not possible, however, to visit the Occupied Territories and walk away with such ignorance intact unless, perhaps, one goes directly from Jerusalem to a settlement in the dead of night and fails to leave the settlement’s confines.

Israel has been an explicit occupying power—by international standards—since the June 1967 war when it seized the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai from Egypt.1 Almost immediately after the commencement of the Occupation, Israel began to construct a system and program of settlements in the Occupied Territories. What too many people in the USA fail to understand—or do not wish to understand—is that settlements on occupied territory represent a violation of international law. Both Israel and Morocco (in the latter’s occupation of the Western Sahara) are explicitly in violation of international law through their respective colonization projects. The United Nations has been quite clear that Israel should stop settlements, but in large part due to the refusal of the United States to take a serious stand against this practice, Israel has snubbed its nose at the UN and at most of the rest of the world.2

The term “settlement” does not properly convey what one sees in the Occupied Territories. What strikes any first-time visitor is that the settlements can better be described as suburban communities, not unlike the communities of stucco-tiled homes that line the hills along the coast of southern California. The word settlements brings to mind tent cities or other impermanent housing arrangements with neither water nor sewer service out in the middle of nowhere. That is not what one sees in the West Bank.

Much as they did within Israel proper, the Israeli authorities have seized lands owned by Palestinians in order to create, in this case, settlements on the West Bank. This land has been seized in the name of security in some instances, and has been seized in other instances because the Palestinians have allegedly abandoned it. In still other cases, land has been seized because Israeli authorities have proclaimed an archeological find located in the territory inhabited by Palestinians, thus justifying land theft and the removal of Palestinians. There are a host of reasons that are offered, with desperate attempts to find justification within an alleged legal framework.

But here is where the trick unfolds. The Israeli authorities make and then enforce respect for the laws that they need in order to advance their own objectives. Even in situations such as Hebron where the Israeli court has agreed that certain territory should be returned to the Palestinians, the Israeli military refuses to comply and nothing has been done about it.3

The “settlements” begin with what look like camps. Indeed, some of them are called outposts if they’re originally built without explicit government approval. They seem innocuous at first, but what is striking is that they are each designed as part of a process of surrounding Palestinian cities. While, for instance, the city of Bethlehem is Palestinian, Israeli settlements have been established around Bethlehem which, in conjunction with the refusal of the Israeli authorities to allow Palestinian expansion, essentially chokes the city itself.

So, for a moment, think about a nice suburban community in the USA. Now, think about several such communities being located on hilltops surrounding a central community inhabited by a different ethnic group that is not allowed to partake in any of the resources of those suburban communities. In fact, residents of that central community are not permitted to use the same roads as the settlers and are not even guaranteed water. It was pointed out that one can tell the difference between Israeli settlements and Palestinian communities by who has water tanks on their roofs. Why? Because the settlers are guaranteed access to water pumped into their homes. Palestinians have to rely on water that is collected over time and stored in water tanks on their roofs.

The West Bank is divided into three zones: A, B and C. “A” are those zones under Palestinian control. “B” is under Palestinian administrative control, but the Israeli military has the final word. “C” is under Israeli military control. Sixty percent of the West Bank is classified as Zone C. These designations, which arose out of the fateful Oslo Peace Accords, have resulted in the interminable squeezing of the Palestinian population. There is no room for their expansion, they control no water and there is the ominous separation wall which disrespects international law by its very existence, cutting through the West Bank and cutting off entire communities from the land that they farm. As one Palestinian explained to me, the Palestinian experience is akin to the legendary Chinese water torture, with the drops of water falling on one’s forehead, slowly driving the person insane. In this case, each drop—each micro- and macro-aggression—is aimed at making the situation so intolerable for the Palestinians that they will abandon their homeland.

You Cannot Run Away From Race

Israel and the Occupied Territories exist within the framework of a particular and peculiar racial hierarchy. During the first three decades of its existence, the world was led to believe that race was not a factor in Israel, discounting, of course, the treatment of the Palestinians. With the appearance of the Israeli Black Panther movement in the early 1970s, all of that changed, and actually introduced complications.

The Israeli Black Panthers originated in the Mizrahi community, that is, Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. They emerged as a militant protest movement challenging an Israeli establishment that was dominated by Ashkenazis (Jews from Europe). Though the movement borrowed the name from the US-based Black Panther Party, in reality the movements had little in common other than addressing, to varying degrees, race. The Israeli Black Panthers were not a particularly left-wing formation and they were not at all sympathetic to the Palestinian people. Instead, they were a movement that challenged racial discrimination and privilege within the Jewish Israeli bloc, but in no way suggested that the very existence of an Israel that marginalized and oppressed Palestinians undermined any intentions or efforts to eradicate racial discrimination.

Thus, the Israeli racial hierarchy exists with the Ashkenazi Jews largely at the top; then the Mizrahi. At that point the hierarchy reformats given that outside of the Jewish Israeli bloc there are three very separate groups: the Palestinians, the Druze (an ethno-religious community), and most recently, African migrants. There are many people who have been involved with the issue of Palestine who refrain from references to “race” when it comes to describing or analyzing the situation of the Palestinians. Instead, they focus on the “national” aspect of the oppression and the generalized denial of human rights. Yet in walking the streets of Occupied Palestine, and also in walking through Israel-proper, members of our African-American delegation could not escape the feeling that we had seen this before.

The United Nations definition of the “crime of apartheid” from 1973 reads in part: “Inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” This definition is of critical importance for several reasons, not the least being that it is not limited to the South African or even Southern African context. In other words, as far as the international community is concerned, “apartheid,” as a system, is a category of racist oppression that can exist outside of Southern Africa, though the term itself was coined in South Africa. The stench of race and the racism perpetrated against the Palestinians is evident throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories, manifesting itself in various forms. The most obvious form surrounds the matter of the “right of return.” Jews, regardless of nationality, are guaranteed a home in Israel. Palestinians, irrespective of whether their families inhabited a piece of land for generations, are not guaranteed the right to return to their lands in Israel if the Israeli state has declared that they have abandoned the land. This is once again in contravention to United Nations resolutions and Geneva Conventions.

Palestinians, regardless of their country of residence, are subject to humiliating harassment when they attempt to enter or leave Israel. Palestinian citizens of Israel find themselves subject to full body searches at airports and other exit points, not to mention extensive interrogations.

As noted earlier, there are certain roads on which Palestinians are prohibited. This was a matter that our delegation directly experienced. The van we were using was authorized to travel on settler-only roads, but our Palestinian guide could only travel with special permission. Yet these “settler-only” roads often run under or through Palestinian land. The inability of Palestinians to use these roads means that travel between various points within the West Bank is nothing short of onerous. A trip that would normally take 30 minutes can end up taking 90 minutes or more. An additional feature to “race” in Israel and the Occupied Territories is something that can perhaps be described as ecological racism. It concerns trees—specifically, pine trees. In the vicinity of many of the Israeli settlements one finds pine trees. They are very beautiful but there is a problem. These pine trees are not native to Israel/Palestine. They have been brought to the region by Europeans. The planting of these pine trees is as ecologically catastrophic as it is offensive to the Palestinians. There are pine trees that are native to the region, but the settlers have decided to ignore that reality and bring in alien vegetation that is harmful to the land and the water table.4 The settlers have made a practice of planting these European pine trees on the locations of Palestinian villages in the Occupied Territories that were destroyed in order to make way for the Israeli settlements.

In order to understand race, one must appreciate the notion of arbitrariness. Anyone who has directly experienced racism realizes that it is the insecurity and the notion that at any moment matters can be taken out of your hands that makes the racist oppression ever-present and very real. In the case of an African American in the USA, the idea that one can be stopped by the police when driving through a white neighborhood, or in a different scenario, shot and killed by a white homeowner if you happen to knock on his door, that emphasizes the perpetual vulnerability that one experiences.

This is very much the same with Palestinians. A former Israeli soldier, offering insight into the workings of the Occupation, noted that Israeli soldiers are trained and encouraged to engage in random, violent acts against the Palestinians, for example, through invading the homes of Palestinians for no apparent reason. The idea behind such psychological warfare is to keep the Palestinian people perpetually unstable and uneasy.

Violence perpetrated against Palestinians, particularly by settlers, is rarely punished by the Israeli state. Yet any violence by Palestinians against settlers earns the wrath of the settlers and the Israeli military. Again, despite the pretense of a system governed by laws, the Israeli domination of the Palestinians—whether in Israel or in the Occupied Territories—is outside the law. To borrow from the Dred Scott decision in the US, the Palestinians have few, if any rights, that Israelis are bound to respect. Though this is frequently covered in religious and semi-religious rhetoric, the basic fact remains that the Palestinians exist as a subordinate species as far as most Israelis are concerned.

This sense of violence surrounded our experience as a delegation. We never feared a terrorist attack or armed assault by Palestinians. Yet every day, it is fair to say, we approached our activities with caution vis-a-vis the Israelis. One never knew, from one moment to the next, whether we would be held and interrogated, or whether our Palestinian guide would at some point be whisked away from us for allegedly breaking any of the myriad restrictions imposed on the Palestinians by the Israeli establishment.

But the sense of violence was concrete in a different manner. At one point, in a tour of the South Hebron Hills, our van stopped and a guide, who happened to be a former Israeli soldier, had us outside while he was explaining the Israeli system of outposts and settlements. Several settlers drove by, slowly, watching us. In one case a settler, who as it turned out had been implicated in physical assaults on Palestinians, drove by twice, the second time stopping his vehicle immediately behind us where he just sat for several minutes, glowering. Although our Israeli guide was not particularly worried, our delegation, keenly aware of African-American history and black experience at the hands of white vigilantes, was less than sanguine about sitting out in the middle of nowhere. At the end of the day, we all knew that there existed scant (no) justice (system) in the Occupied Territories for people like us. Race has taken on a newer form in Israel with the introduction of African migrants. There are actually two sets of African migrants. First, the Ethiopian Jews (Falasha), many of whom were brought to Israel in a mass retrieval. The Israeli establishment, irrespective of their rhetoric, has never been entirely comfortable with this population, and Israeli right-wing and semi-fascists are even less so. A recent incident whereby a Falasha, who is an elected member of the Knesset, was not allowed to donate blood highlights the point. Nevertheless, this segment of the population is considered, officially at least, to be legitimate. They are found in the Israel Defense Forces and elsewhere.

Separate and apart from the Falasha are the African migrants who have traveled to Israel as political refugees. Described by none other than Prime Minister Netanyahu as “infiltrators”—a term which I only recently learned had originally been coined to describe expelled Palestinians who crossed back into Israel—this population has grown over the last decade. A significant percentage of these migrants are from Eritrea and Sudan. Their likelihood of gaining citizenship or a legal status is slim to none. Yet, as with migrants in so many other parts of the world—including but not limited to the US—the Israeli economy finds such migrants quite useful as a productive and vulnerable workforce, even if the Israeli political Right wishes them expelled.

Walking through the streets of South Tel Aviv on a Saturday afternoon is a surreal experience. Our delegation saw a huge wedding party of East Africans. A park became the home for hundreds of African men, socializing or simply hanging out. This migrant population has become an unstable element in Israel. The political establishment has shown no interest in offering asylum—temporary or permanent—to these migrants, so many of whom have sought freedom from hunger, repression and war. Instead they have been locked up or are living lives in the shadows. In the recent past they have begun to organize and mobilize, insisting upon their human rights. In fact, our delegation spoke with Israeli supporters of the migrants who informed us that the loose organization of migrants wishes to take their case to the United Nations if the Israeli government continues to refuse to recognize their rights as legitimate refugees.

In the case of both the Palestinians and the African undocumented migrants there is a demographic concern that eats away at the Israeli political establishment. They are actually quite open about this concern. Contrary to the international notion of an ethnically pluralist democracy, the Israeli establishment believes that they, and they alone, have the right to an ethnically/religiously pure nation-state. However, they face four problems: the existence of Palestinian citizens of Israel who represent approximately 20% of the state of Israel and are growing; the Palestinians in the West Bank; a Palestinian Diaspora that insists upon its internationally recognized right to return to the land that they believed that they temporarily vacated in 1948, and later in 1967; and the undocumented Africans.

For the Israeli establishment the sum total of these problems is a demographic threat to Israel. Specifically, the Israeli establishment is deeply worried that they will quickly become another apartheid South Africa or white minority Rhodesia, wherein the Jewish population ends up constituting a minority and is swamped by non-Jews.5 Although publicly cast in religious terms, the problem really comes down to cold demographics, in that sense so very similar to the US Southwest in the period after the US war against Mexico and the white expansion into lands populated by Mexicans and those populated by Native Americans.

Since We Are Talking About Race…

There is another side to race in Israel and Palestine that gained the attention of our delegation: race within the Palestinian community.

Among Arabs, race is a very complicated matter that cannot be distilled down to skin tone or hair texture. The Arabic word that is frequently used for “blacks” is the same word that is used for “slaves” (Abeed or Abid). Yet, some who use that term—as in the case of Northern Sudanese—would be described as black in a US context.6 It is also worth noting that there has been struggle around the very usage of the term, much as there has been in the USA around terms such as “Oriental.”

One can get different signals from within both Arab and Muslim history regarding race. One of the most important people in Islamic history was an Ethiopian slave liberated by the Prophet Muhammad, named Bilal ibn Rabah. And certainly a “black” presence can be seen throughout the Arab world and Arab history, e.g., in the recent past, Egypt’s Nasser and Sadat. At the same time there was the Arab-run slave trade and in various parts of the Arab World biases against those seen or described as black.

Arabs who migrated to the USA (pre-1980) by and large developed a relationship with African Americans that was less than solidaristic. Arab/African American tensions in the US in part reflected the economic niche that many Arabs came to occupy, that is, store owners in African-American neighborhoods, and otherwise having little constructive contact. This was compounded by attempts by Arab immigrants to assimilate into white America, attempts which grew in complexity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. The problematic side to the relationship between Arabs and African Americans in the US contrasts with the emergence of a significant Muslim trend within black America and also with the attention that the Arab world received within progressive political circles in black America in the context of the anti-colonial struggles of the 20th century. For example, the Egyptian Revolution and the Algerian Revolution were discussed in African-American political movements and frequently served as points of inspiration. The favorable feeling toward the Arab world in much of black America was aided by the outstanding assistance that Arab nations, such as Egypt and Algeria, offered to anti-colonial struggles in other parts of Africa.

The Palestinian movement, as it moved to the Left and became more radical in its analysis and approach, also saw itself as aligned with other anti-colonial and national liberation movements. This included attention to the African-American people’s movement in the US. The Left within the Palestinian movement had an appreciation of the African-American struggle, but the global solidarity work of the Palestine Liberation Organization never matched that of South Africa’s African National Congress or Pan African Congress of Azania in terms of building a breadth of organized support.

Nevertheless, certainly by the time of the Oslo Accords (1993), the PLO/Palestinian Authority adopted a different and more insular view. Much like Ireland’s Sinn Fein, which in the aftermath of the cease fire in the north of Ireland slowly but surely abandoned many of the broader international relationships it had cultivated, the Palestinian Authority turned in on itself, ignoring many of its global supporters, and sadly, ignoring many from the global Palestinian Diaspora as well. As such, connections that seemed to have existed between the Palestinian movement and black America dried up.

Attention to the matter of racism among Arabs reemerged in the context of the civil war that took place in the Sudan (between the North and the South), and subsequently, the war in Darfur and the genocide that unfolded. As a result of the fact that so many countries of the Arab world united behind Sudanese President Al Bashir in both internal conflicts (claiming that the West was attempting to dismantle the Sudan), and ignored the plight of those who suffered at the hands of his and prior regimes, sensitivity to this issue has grown within segments of black America. Our delegation was not immune to that sensitivity. Thus, it was fascinating to have begun the trip with a discussion with Afro-Palestinians. There is a lengthy African presence within and among the Palestinian people. While there are those who can trace their ancestry back 1,000 years, over the last 100 years migrants from various parts of Africa settled in Palestine (what is now Israel as well as the Occupied Territories) and were absorbed into the larger Palestinian community. This community sees itself as Palestinian and there has been much intermarriage with other segments of the Palestinian community. Yet, shades of color and the legacy of the Arab slave trade remain a component of the Arab reality, compounded by the impact of European colonialism and its modification of the ignominious color line.

The biases we occasionally encountered were not surprising, any more than unpleasant encounters between an Arab delegation and some African Americans, if the former were visiting the US. The critical matter that confronted us, as a delegation, was the attitude of leading elements of the Palestinian movement toward race both within and among the Palestinian people, but also vis-à-vis the Arab relationship within and toward the larger African world.7 It was here that we began a constructive dialogue that can be mutually beneficial. Among other things it reminded the African Americans that race does not play itself out identically around the world. Our experience with white supremacy in the US, for instance, is quite different from the rationale and operation of race among Arabs, a formerly colonized people. Our experience with white supremacy, however, shares a great deal in common with the Palestinian experience with Israeli apartheid in both the state of Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Time Running Out

When I first visited Occupied Palestine, in 2011, there was something about the experience that seemed very familiar. It was not only the sense of the racist oppression the Palestinians were experiencing; it was something else. When I returned home I realized what it was.

In 2005 I drove with my family from Los Angeles to Boulder, CO. We drove through a Navaho area. There was a sense of depression, if not despair, from the Navaho we encountered and the realization that this proud people had been relegated by a conqueror to less than perfect lands where they were to remain. Some Native Americans were not so “lucky.” They are only remembered by the names of some rivers and towns, having been annihilated in the process of the European expansion westward.

There was a moment in the early 19th century when the demographic balance of North America was not so unbalanced that it might have been possible for Native Americans to have constructed a different outcome. This was the principal focus of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, but there were others who also recognized the nature of the challenge. Unfortunately, by the time of the US war against Mexico, the balance was clearly against Native Americans. Immigrants from Europe were flooding into North America, and combined with technology (including military technology), the Native Americans were defeated and ultimately marginalised.

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have been correct in affirming that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, this does not mean that every morally just struggle wins, at least in the short-term. There is something about timing, which is linked to organization and the extent of support any cause has within both a nation-state context and globally.

As our delegation rode through Israel and the Occupied Territories I could not help but wonder how much time remained for the Palestinians. I do not mean to suggest that they face physical annihilation, in the sense of extermination through mass executions.8 They do face the possibility of a different sort of annihilation. If their land continues to be seized; if they cannot build; if they remain cornered like rats in a maze; they will cease to exist. They will find themselves without their homeland, and much like Native Americans in North America, relocated to some other territory or simply dispersed onto the winds.

Much of the Israeli political establishment believes that Palestinians should be evicted and moved to Jordan. In that sense the Israeli strategy for a slow-moving annexation of the West Bank, as criminal as it is, is nevertheless quite understandable. They want to turn the conditions in the Occupied Territories, along with the conditions for Palestinian citizens of Israel, into something so inhospitable, that there is no choice but to move.

Our delegation certainly was moved to speak out against this abomination. Yet so much more is necessary. Insofar as the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is prepared to make serial and humiliating concessions to the demands of Israel and its US sponsors, the future of the Palestinians will resemble the reality of today’s Native American nations in North America. In the alternative, the extent to which the global community is moved to counter the current denial of Palestinian rights, appropriation of Palestinian lands, and displacement of Palestinian people—as occurred with regard to colonialism and white minority rule in Africa—is the extent to which Dr. King’s arc will bend toward justice.


1 Some in the Palestinian movement have taken the position that the entire area of historic Palestine is occupied. They base this claim on the manner in which the United Nations divided up the then-British-controlled “Palestine Mandate” into Jewish zones and Arab zones (and Jerusalem as an international city) without the input or approval of any Arabs, not the least being the exclusion of the Palestinians themselves. In the text of this essay, however, the use of the term “occupied” makes reference to territories seized by Israel through the June 1967 war. 2 Morocco, in part due to its alliance with France and the US, has done much the same. 3 For more on the situation in Hebron, see: Allison Deger, “Palestinians in Hebron demand Israel ‘Open Shuhada Street’ and protest 20th anniversary of Ibrahimi Mosque massacre,” Feb. 24, 2014, mondoweiss.net/2014/02/palestinians-twentieth-anniversary.html. Additionally, see: Alternative Information Center, “Settler Aggression Against Palestinian Children in Hebron,” Institute for Middle East Understanding, April 14, 2011, at imeu.net/news/printer0020752.shtml. 4 It is interesting to note that European settlers did much the same thing in South Africa. The post-apartheid government began taking steps to remove the alien vegetation due to its impact on the environment. 5 A close examination of the current numbers, if one were to look at the Gaza, West Bank, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, points to the basis for the demographic unease within the Israeli establishment. This helps to explain the xenophobic tendencies within the right-wing of the Israeli establishment that would actually like to envision a wholesale population “swap.” 6 Look at a picture of Sudan President Al Bashir, for instance. 7 The wording of this challenge is complicated by many factors. “Arab” represents a culture and Arabic is a language. Arabs are themselves quite diverse. In fact, there is an overlap between Arabs and other ethnic groups in North Africa especially, e.g., the Berbers. Arabs are part of Africa (and Asia) and the broader African world, while at the same constituting their own Arab world. Neither is monolithic. The Maghreb, or the Arab world to the west of Egypt, includes various tribes and ethnicities as far west as the Western Sahara and Mauritania. 8 The Deir Yassin massacre is among the most well-known of the ethnic cleansings carried out against Palestinians between 1946-’49 at the hands of Zionist military units.

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Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst on the Ukraine Crisis ”VIDEO”

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“I can coexist with I$raHell but only when I return home,” says Nakba survivor

NOVANEWS

150515-nakba-day-2.jpg

Elderly woman sits in bed

“Our life was great. We lived in peace, working in our own lands,” Um al-Walid Eid says of Zarnuqa village before the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

“Kadima!” — a Hebrew word meaning “advance quickly” — is one of the words that Um al-Walid Eid still remembers from the day she, her husband and their two small children, along with the approximately 2,600 other Palestinian inhabitants, were forcibly expelled from the village of Zarnuqa.

Beginning in late 1947 and throughout 1948, Zionist militias and later the Israeli army began the organized expulsion of Palestinians. Some 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from more than 450 from villages, towns and cities in Palestine; the violent dispossession has since been called the Nakba. This catastrophe is marked each year on 15 May — Nakba Day.

The expulsion of the residents of Zarnuqa in June 1948, by the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade, was part of “Operation Barak.”

Today Um al-Walid and her husband Abu al-Walid Muhammad Eid, both in their eighties, live in the Maghazi refugee camp in the occupied Gaza Strip, where they still carry many memories of their expulsion and their life before it.

“I remember that day well. I was so frightened that I forgot to pick up my son, Walid, who was only ten days old and wrapped in swaddling clothes. My sister helped me by picking him up and we all headed for Gaza to begin living far away from our homes, farms and lives. As we left, one of the Jewish militia members shouted at us ‘Kadima!’”

Um al-Walid is now in frail health and spoke from her bed from which she can only move with difficulty. She recalled some of the horrors perpetrated by the invaders.

Terrorized

“What had intimidated and terrorized us, forcing us out of the village swiftly, was the Zionists killing of a chaplain and a woman, right at a local small mosque that belonged to Sheikh Issa Shurbaji. We heard that the Zionists stormed the mosque and threw a grenade inside, instantly killing Sheikh Ahmad Abu Shawish as well as Sheikh Shurbaji’s wife. This was the most heinous crime that forced us to flee for our lives.”

Despite her poor health, Um al-Walid remembers better days when she was young and worked with her husband on the farm. “Our life was great. We lived in peace, working in our own lands. The day we were forced out we had about 600 Palestinian pounds in savings.”

Visitors

Abu al-Walid, who wears dark glasses and a white beard, sat on his own bed, near his wife. A retired employee of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, he and his wife live with their children and grandchildren in a modest house with a small yard where an olive tree is planted.

Visibly emotional, he recalled the day he went back to Zarnuqa as a visitor in 1973. That was six years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Palestinians could travel to see their former homes with relative ease. Today, with the Gaza Strip virtually sealed off, such a visit would be all but impossible.

“My friends and I took a cab to visit Zarnuqa,” Abu al-Walid said. “While we were looking for our abandoned homes, an Israeli man and his wife came up to us and asked us what we wanted. We said we were going to see those old homes and the man responded by saying, ‘You should first ask permission from the homeowners.’ I felt extremely sad and wondered how fate had turned us from the owners of the houses into mere visitors.”

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“I’m not going to accept any compensation for my hometown and lands,” says Abu al-Walid Muhammad Eid.

A suburb of Rehovot, a town in the center of present-day Israel, is built on much of Zarnuqa’s lands today. According to All that Remains, Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi’s seminal volume on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the few original village houses that remain standing are “either occupied by Jewish inhabitants or fenced in and used for storage.”

After this episode, Abu al-Walid decided not to go back to Zarnuqa except when Palestinians as a whole are allowed to return to their original lands and homes.

“I am still dreaming of going back to Zarnuqa and I am not going to compromise my village and farmlands, even in return for the holy shrines in the city of Mecca,” he declared.

Going home

Asked if he would accept financial compensation instead of return — as many peace plans have proposed — Abu al-Walid insisted: “Over my dead body. I’m not going to accept any compensation for my hometown and lands. My family and I owned about twenty acres where we produced many vegetables that we used to sell in the city of Ramle just a few miles away.”

Abu al-Walid said he hoped that Palestinian negotiators would never renounce the rights of refugees like him. But he sees no contradiction between his right to return and the possibility of the kind of peaceful coexistence he remembers from his youth.

“I remember that very close to my village there was a Jewish neighborhood. I used to exchange morning and evening greetings with a Jewish farmer while he and I were bending down in labor on our separate farms. I only exchanged greetings with him and I have no problem to exchange greetings and to coexist again when I return home to my village of Zarnuqa.”

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On Western “left” appropriation of Palestinian Nakba

NOVANEWS

Submitted by Sarah Irving

On one hand, it’s an encouraging indicator of the power of the Palestinian rights campaign that Nakba Day is an increasingly prominent date in the global political calendar.

On the other, it is a measure of the appropriation of Palestinian suffering and dispossession by Western left-liberals that a self-proclaimed “radical” publisher such as Verso Books — which numbers Palestinian greats such as Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish amongst its authors — can publish a “Nakba Day reading list” which contains noPalestinian writers, and which consists largely of Israeli authors.

This is not to disrespect some of those Israeli writers: Eyal Weizman, Ilan Pappe and Shlomo Sand have all had important and courageous critiques to make of their country. It is also not claim that only Palestinians are entitled to have opinions about or to analyze a subject which is, of course, of international significance.

But on Nakba Day, the day when Palestinians commemorate the decades of crimes which have been committed against them, to silence Palestinian voices in this way is a disturbing reflection of the way in which the Western left appropriates the “other” for its own purposes.

The “Nakba Day reading list” in question was blogged by Verso’s Publicity & Marketing Manager, Jennifer Tighe, and publicized on Twitter. The shorter, press-friendly version of the list starts like this:

As the text shows, the authors highlighted in the publicity campaign are Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Norman Finkelstein and Shlomo Sand. The other writers on this version of the release, not shown in the screen grab, were Eyal Weizman, Audrea Lim and Josh Ruebner. The page ended with a link inviting readers to click through to “Verso’s Nakba Reading List in full.”

The link directed readers to a longer list. At the beginning of the working day, this featured the authors named above, and again highlighted mainly Israeli (and also male, academic) writers:

However, by late afternoon, Verso Books had come in for plenty of criticism on Twitter, with commentors – many apparently inspired by a tweet from Helena Cobban of Just World Books — calling Verso’s list “shameful” and “pathetic.” After some time, Verso Books also weighed in, admitting that “You’re right! That was stupid. We have updated the list.”

An updated version of the list had indeed appeared, featuring Palestinian writers from Verso’s catalogue, including Said, Darwish, and also Ghada Karmi and Naji al-Ali.

It was an improvement, and credit goes to Verso for admitting their mistake and going some way to rectifying it. But the main point is not this one list and its contents. It is what it represents.

To many Western leftists, what are Palestinians, and what is the Nakba? A marker of their own radicalism? A marketing opportunity — whether for booksellers or political parties? Or a genuine commitment to finding ways to be a responsible ally to a people oppressed and dispossessed by, or with the collusion of, our own regimes?

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Infographic: How the I$raHell ID card system enforces Apartheid

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Ali Abunimah

This powerful new infographic from Visualizing Palestine shows how Israel’s system of identity cards is used to enforce apartheid on Palestinians. The type of ID one has determines how much of historic Palestine one is allowed to access. Israeli Jewish citizens are free to move and live in virtually the whole country, while at the bottom end Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are restricted to tiny enclaves.

Millions of exiled Palestinian refugees have no access to the country at all for one reason alone: they are not Jewish. No wonder many Palestinians compare Israel’s ID card regime to apartheid South Africa’s notorious pass laws.

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“We’re exhausted from being homeless”: recalling the Palestinians’ plight on Nakba Day

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Scene of overcrowded refugee camp with cement buildings and lots of electricity wires

Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.

“We walked and walked and walked for days until we finally settled on the beach of Damour,” said 80-year-old Um Zohair. “On the beach we fetched green banana leaves together and with bamboo sticks we made a hut that sheltered us for three months on the sand.”

Sixty-six years ago, Um Zohair — Nada Mousa — was one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, Palestine.

“That was the first time we were displaced,” she said. Since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, a series of upheavals and struggles has marked Palestinian refugees’nomadic life in exile. A new chapter in this history of dispossession has been added by the violence against Palestinian refugees in Syria.

“Palestinians from Syria are living in sewers. Come and look,” Um Zohair told me.

Recently while I was on a visit to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, I was told about Um Zohair’s family and the conditions they endure.

Abedlrahman, a young Palestinian refugee from Syria, led the way. At an alley’s dead end, we needed to leap over the reeking water to get into the entrance of a murky dungeon. Once inside, it seemed like we had crossed into an invisible parallel world — except that the sewer’s stench stang the nostrils as a reminder of the dark reality surrounding us.

A dim, windowless subterranean room once an underground bomb shelter in the 1980s “War of the Camps” — and later a storage room — is now home to eight members of a fragmented family. Inside sat an old woman surrounded by four smiling faces and a fifth whose permanent scowl was hard to break: arms crossed, 14-year-old Mahmoud sat on the edge of a decomposing sofa.

Daily struggle

Um Zohair’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren have fled to Lebanon without their breadwinners, their exact whereabouts in Syria remain unknown. As Um Zohair watched over her grandchildren, their mother, Um Mahmoud, left her five children (Ahmad, 10; Issa, 8; Haytham, 6; Mahmoud, 14; and Huda, 15) and went around Shatila refugee camp, hunting and gathering, looking for any menial job she could score in exchange for money or food.

The mother’s daily struggle to put food on the table is but one part of the bigger burdens of finding $200 to pay for Lebanese residency permits for each of the four family members who are over the age of ten. As if the Lebanese residency fees weren’t hard enough to find, she also has to come up with rent money for the dungeon that shelters them: $200 per month.

Six-year-old Haitham has stopped going to school because of a new-found intolerance for loud noises and overcrowded places. The eldest boy, Mahmoud, said: “I wish I could find a job; I’ll take any job so my mother won’t have to go out every morning and beg people in humiliation for money and food.”

Mahmoud pressed his lips, his frown tensed to prevent tears from gathering, and hissed, “I cannot find a job in the camp, and I’m afraid to venture outside Shatila. We don’t have residency permits. I do not want the police to catch me. I swear I’ll work at anything.”

The three meter by four meter storage room Um Zohair and her grandchildren rent comes with a faucet and a bucket hanging from it, functioning as a kitchen sink. In the corner opposite the kitchen is the toilet: a caved-in drain in the floor enclosed by a curtain made from a vintage bedsheet. The black hole in the room, a drain/toilet, continuously emits unpleasant smells.

The floor, never having seen tiles, is a clammy, uneven bumpy surface of olive green cement. The beds are but two sponge mattresses no more than five centimeters thick. When there is food to cook, Um Zohair and her daughter-in-law use a little camping stove donated by a sympathetic neighbor.

Failed promise

In 1917, Arthur James Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, proclaimed that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Almost one hundred years later, Zionist settlers continue to degrade the identity, history and wellbeing of the original inhabitants of Palestine.

This failed promise that nothing should be done to prejudice Palestinians’ rights has today developed into what can be safely called apartheid.

Um Zohair, like many Palestinians, is more accustomed to displacement than any human being should be. One year ago she and her family fled war-ravaged Syria. Their last home was in a Palestinian refugee camp near the Damascus international airport.

Um Zohair, who seems to suffer from numerous health problems, held her cane in one hand and rummaged through a plastic bag full of medicine in the other. When asked about Palestine she jerked her head high and her eyes sparked as she reminisced. “I am from Safed, Palestine; my village and place of birth is called al-Qatiyya. Do you know it? It is right next to Naameh. I was 13, a young girl, when we were attacked, our house burned and later forced to leave by the Haganah [a Zionist militia].

“That day is always in my memory. I remember, before the assault, elders in the village kept warning us about the Haganah gang who were coming to attack us. My father said those were rumors and we should not leave our land and house. Rumors kept increasing about the arrival of European Jews to attack our village and take our homes; this prompted some people to leave, but we stayed.”

Um Zohair went silent for a minute and looked again in her medication bag. Then, as if the memory of her hometown came back to her, she resumed talking.

“Long walk to Lebanon”

“That morning they broke into houses and forced everyone out to the streets. The Israeli Haganah soldiers started shouting for us to go out and gather in the village’s square. I remember our neighbors, they were Jews, those were our friends and we coexisted for as long as I remembered.

“It was not they, our neighbors, who attacked us; it was the nationalist Israelis, the Europeans. They pointed their guns at men who were in the village and led them to the village’s outskirts. My father was taken with two of my uncles and we never saw them again afterwards. Our Jewish neighbors came to our defense at first and I remember clearly how they shouted in Hebrew at the Israeli militants.

“However, our neighbors could not stop the Israeli militants as they started to burn down one house after another in the village. I don’t remember what happened after that but I remember my mother, my two sisters and I, together with other families, stayed put in the village’s square for two days until the European militants came again and forced us to leave. They started shouting, asking why we were still in the village, and ordered us to join the others who fled their villages from the Safed region. We fled and started the long walk towards Lebanon.”

Um Zohair can still remember her home where she was born and raised in al-Qatiyya. She recalled the serenity and simple life she took for granted at the age of 13 in her family’s stone house and her father’s wheat field.

She wished for her grandchildren to return to al-Qatiyya and have a chance to live with dignity.

“Palestinians are there for each other. Those around us in Shatila know about our plight; they too are not in a much better situation but they still share with us the food they cook. Palestinians are exhausted from being homeless for so long.

“In Syria, my sons used to work from morning until night at a brick factory. I had four boys and two girls; one of my girls was killed last year by shrapnel.

“My other daughter is still in Syria; they cannot afford to flee. Two of my four boys have been missing since last year; one of them is the father of these kids with me. Each night as the eight of us gather to sleep we hope that this will be the last night on the floor of this room.”

Being ethnically cleansed means that Palestinian refugees are estranged from their homeland. They move from one place to another, never feeling at home.

Palestine, their homeland, is still occupied and their internationally-recognized right of return is continually denied and violated by Israel.

The urgency and determination to return to Palestine was broadcast to the whole world during the attempt to return while commemorating the Nakba three years ago on 15 May 2011.

Then, more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon headed to the border with occupied Palestine. The vast majority of them were young Palestinians determined to fight for their right to return to Palestine. In response, as the whole world watched, Israeli occupation forces did what they have been doing best for the last 66 years: they hunted down and killed Palestinians with sheer cruelty, killing nearly a dozen.

Um Zohair’s story is a tale of a lifelong struggle. She is one of millions of Palestinians stuck in exile, banned by Israel from returning to their roots, their villages and orange trees.

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Haneen Zoabi on NAKBA commemoration ”VIDEO”

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Odeh Hamad, shot dead by I$raHell on his birthday

NOVANEWS

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Men carry body of young man wrapped in yellow flag

Odeh Hamad’s funeral procession in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, 21 December. (Yasser Qudih

One of the most pervasive myths about Israel is that it has withdrawn from Gaza. Attacks on Palestinians near Gaza’s boundary with present-day Israel expose the claim as false.

Four Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the boundary areas so far this year. In March, the Israeli military was responsible for at least 28 shooting incidents in the boundary areas.

The story of Odeh Hamad illustrates the dangers faced by Palestinians in Gaza trying to make a living under Israeli occupation.

The 27-year-old should have been celebrating his birthday on 20 December 2013. Instead, he was shot dead as he tried to collect scrap metal with his younger brother Raddad.

According to Raddad (now aged 23), Odeh had only started joining him in collecting scrap metal near the Gaza-Israel boundary four months earlier. Raddad’s work involves taking material from a waste collection site in that area and then selling it in a local market.

About to leave

Raddad recalled that he and Odeh were wrapping up some scrap metal and were about to leave the area when they heard “a round of live ammunition from an Israeli watchtower.”

“At this point, Odeh was shot in the head and I was shot in the hand,” he said. “We remained about one a half hours in the same spot, until an ambulance crew entered the area to aid us. By then, Odeh was dead.”

The two brothers lived with their father and stepmother in a modest house in Beit Hanoun, a town in northern Gaza.

Warda Sehwail, Odeh’s stepmother, said that Odeh had planned to earn some money so that he could celebrate a birthday and contribute towards fertility treatment that his wife was undergoing. “We are all still shocked by his death,” his stepmother said.

War crimes

Jihad Hamad, Odeh’s father, used to work as a police officer for the Palestinian Authority. He has been out of work since Hamas took charge of administering Gaza in 2007.

“I look forward to seeing a unity government between Hamas and Fatah that would invest in people’s welfare — including education, health and labor — so that young people here will not be killed while earning a living, like what happened to my son Odeh,” he said.

After Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005, it unilaterally declared a “buffer-zone” which Palestinians were forbidden from entering. The “buffer-zone” applied to both the land boundary between Gaza and present-day Israel and the sea off Gaza’s coast.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) argues that Israel’s attacks on civilians in the buffer-zone constitute war crimes, irrespective of whether they involve direct targeting or indiscriminate gunfire. Stopping Palestinians from tending land in the buffer-zone or undertaking other economic activities also violates the rights to work and a decent quality of life.

In theory, Palestinians may venture as close as 300 meters to the boundary between Gaza and Israel. Yet PCHR has found that attacks against civilians can take place up to 1.5 kilometers from the boundary. This means that Palestinians are at risk from Israeli gunfire on 17 percent of Gaza’s territory.

The four people killed in the boundary area so far this year include 58-year-old Amina Qdeih, a woman with a developmental disability, and according to Human Rights Watch, 16-year-old Adnan Abu Khater, who was on a picnic with some friends.

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Palestinians in Hebron face violent revenge for filming Israeli soldier’s violence

NOVANEWS
Submitted by Rania Khalek

Israeli soldiers have raided the office of Youth Against Settlements four times since the organization in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron posted a video to YouTube two weeks ago showing Israeli soldier David Adamov cocking his assault rifle at unarmed Palestinian youths.

The video went viral and has since provoked a violent backlash from Israeli soldiers who have mounted social media campaigns expressing their solidarity with Adamov’s actions.

Revenge

“They are going after everyone who was part of this video,” said 34-year-old Issa Amro, the founder and director of Youth Against Settlements, speaking to me over the phone yesterday from Hebron.

During one of the raids, an Israeli soldier threatened to shoot Amro and declared that Israeli soldiers are in Hebron to protect Jews, not Palestinians. The exchange was caught on video and posted online by Amira Hass of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Saddam Abu Sneinah, a 20-year-old activist with Youth Against the Settlements who appears in the now famous video being kicked by Adamov, has been subjected to the most brutal harassment of all.

To excuse Adamov’s behavior, the Israeli army falsely claimed that Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. Youth Against Settlements immediately responded with asecond video showing Abu Sneinah armed with nothing more than prayer beads.

Days later, Abu Sneinah was arrested, beaten and tortured. And the attacks didn’t stop there. He has been detained several times since his release and just last night Abu Sneinah’s home was raided, his mother and sisters beaten and his brother arrested in what Amro described as “revenge” for the video.

Times’ false report

Meanwhile, The New York Times refuses to properly correct its reporting after spreading the Israeli army lie that Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. Amro, who was interviewed by the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, told me he alerted her to the video evidence exposing this as false, but she neglected to mention it in her article

What follows is a transcript of the phone interview I conducted with Amro, which has been lightly edited for clarity. Based on his account, it is clear that the Palestinians of Hebron are at the mercy of racist and violent Israeli soldiers accountable to no one.

Rania Khalek: Several news outlets report that Israeli soldiers raided the Youth Against Settlements office in Hebron in retaliation for the video. How many times has this happened?

Issa Amro: Israeli soldiers raided our office four times after the video was posted to YouTube. Once on Thursday, 1 May, twice on Friday, 2 May, and again on Saturday.

The first time they came to see who filmed the video and they threatened us that next time they will not be silent about provoking the soldiers by filming them.

They asked who filmed it. I told them I was the one who filmed it, which is not true. I said this to protect the other activists who are not well-experienced in defending themselves from the soldiers. The soldier did not believe me. He said, “No, it was someone else.” So I took the commander aside and I told him, “Listen, now we have a better camera, which is an HD camera filming you from above,” because we have a CCTV system.

And he was afraid, so they started to leave. When they were going out the commander told me, exactly, “We will not be silent about you provoking the soldiers. We will shoot you directly.” I told him, “Wait, wait. I want to film you saying that.” But he refused to repeat it in front of the camera.

The day after, on Friday morning, two soldiers and two settlers came to our center. One of the settlers claimed that someone threw stones from the center. I told her, “Okay. What time? Tell me because I want to check the CCTV system to see who did it.”

Then she started saying, “No, I don’t remember. I don’t see.” I told her, “You said that it was five minutes ago and now you don’t remember? Please leave, you and the soldiers.” The soldiers start shouting and yelling at me not to talk to them in this way. Then the soldier told me directly that they are there to protect the Jews not the Palestinians. I was telling him, “No, you are here to protect me as well as the Jews. I am your responsibility.”

Then one of them told me that he doesn’t protect a son of a bitch. I told him, “If I am a son of a bitch, then you are what?” He told me, “I am waiting for you to say it so I can shoot you.”

Then, that night, Israeli soldiers invaded our center and the surrounding neighborhood for training.

Yesh Din [Hebrew for “there is law”], an Israeli legal advocacy organization, found that soldiers by law aren’t allowed to train in inhabited areas.

But unfortunately soldiers came to have a training to scare us and to give us a hard time. Imagine that you are in the middle of something and you see soldiers pointing their guns at you.

They raided the office from three directions and pointed the guns at us, then they left outside in our yard and into the neighborhood, which is three or four meters from our center, shouting “fire, fire, fire!” Because we have experience with this, we knew that it was a training. But it was still so scary.

On Saturday morning the same soldiers came to the entrance of our center and one of them gave the signal [slashing-throat gesture] for slaughtering someone.

RK: What is the purpose of these raids?

IA: It’s not about destroying. It’s not about invasion. It’s about scaring the people who filmed and published the video. It’s about showing unity with the soldiers of the Nahal Brigade [of which Adamov is a member] and to show that they are heroes in front of the Israeli public.

The Israeli public gives them false motivation to be the best soldier who misbehaves and has a very bad reputation. The solidarity campaign to support the soldier encourages other soldiers do whatever they like and be aggressive as they want.

RK: Have Israeli soldiers targeted you outside of the Youth Against Settlements office?

IA: From time to time, they detain us at the checkpoints. Last Friday I was attacked by the soldiers when I was filming protests in Hebron, a solidarity protest for the hunger strikers. One of them threatened that he will shoot me if I have a camera. If you go to our YouTube channel you see video of this [author’s note: see the video at the top of this post].

I have a lot of false arrests. My lawyer now is suing the Israeli government for misbehaving and arresting me many times without any reason.

RK: The Israeli army claimed that Saddam Abu Sneinah was armed with brass knuckles. But Youth Against the Settlements released a video showing that he was holding prayer beads. Are Israeli soldiers threatening Saddam as well?

IA: Saddam was detained. Then he was released and went home. Then he came back and unfortunately he came during the soldier’s action after the soldier cocked his gun to attack the other kid in the white T-shirt who is 15-years-old. So the soldier targeted Saddam and slapped and kicked him. It was very obvious to the soldier that Saddam didn’t have anything dangerous in his hand.

Saddam was released that day; he was not rearrested. Then they arrested him three days after the video was posted. The video was filmed on Sunday, 27 April and Saddam was arrested on Wednesday.

In his arrest he was beaten badly. They kept beating him until he fainted.  Then he was kept handcuffed and blindfolded on the concrete floor for all the night. They kept him until Thursday night. He was held for 24 hours and they had to take him to the hospital. There they released him. Then they detained him again. Then they released him. They are detaining him whenever they see him.

But it is not just Saddam. They are going after everyone who as part of this video.

[The call ended abruptly here. When I reconnected with Issa thirty minutes later, he had news to share about Sadam.] 

IA: Something happened just now. The Israeli soldiers invaded Saddam’s house. They attacked his sisters and his mother and arrested his thirty-year-old brother. When Saddam called me, he was crying and I could hear a lot of screaming and shouting inside the house. It is revenge for the video.

RK: Youth Against Settlements have been filming soldiers in Hebron for a while now. Have they always been this aggressive toward you?

IA: The soldiers are less aggressive in the area of the cameras. Saddam’s house is outside our target area where we film all the time.

RK: Without the cameras, what do you think would happen?

IA: In the past many Palestinians were shot and killed by the soldiers and the soldiers would put a fruit knife near them and claim that they tried to attack them. A camera is the most trusted witness and the best protection tool in Hebron.

RK: Israeli soldiers staunchly defended the soldier in the video you posted when they wrongly believed he had been punished for cocking his gun at unarmed Palestinians. What do you think that means about the state of mind of these soldiers?

IA: First of all, they don’t punish soldiers who are violent to Palestinians. On many other occasions, soldiers attacked Palestinians and humiliated them, but they were not punished. What happened tonight to Saddam’s family is one of the best examples. His family was attacked and beaten up and the soldiers will not be punished at all. This is the normal situation.

The video embarrassed the army. What embarrassed them more is that many people showed their support, which means that soldiers are getting more and more support from the Israeli public these days to become more wild.

When we published the video we thought that the Israelis will be ashamed and embarrassed about their soldiers. We saw something different. The soldier got solidarity and support from the Israeli public and soldiers, which means that they want more and more violence towards the Palestinians. This shows that the external plans for peace negotiations is going in the wrong direction by putting high pressure on the Palestinians and not putting high pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation.

RK: Do you think Israeli society is becoming more extreme?

IA: Yes. It is so extreme, so fanatic. A lot of comments on the video are against us, calling to kill and smash our heads in the future. It is a really, really sick environment.

In Hebron, the Israeli soldiers and settlers are working hard to displace the Palestinians from the old city of Hebron. There is continuous harassment and frequent attacks by the soldiers and by the settlers towards the Palestinians to make their life under occupation impossible, to force them to leave on their own.

It’s getting worse and worse.

RKThe New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, interviewed you about the video, yet she still repeated the Israeli army’s claim that Saddam was armed with brass knuckles. Did you tell her about the second video that showed him holding prayer beads?

IA: I explained to her exactly what I told you now. I speak in the same language all the time. But unfortunately she chose a small part of my speech and she didn’t mention that the Palestinian didn’t have anything dangerous and that it was not brass knuckles, it was beads.  She didn’t mention that the soldier is violent and the soldiers are violent in general. I mentioned to her even Breaking the Silence, what the ex-Israeli soldiers say about accountability toward the misbehaving soldiers.

I mentioned to her the reality in Hebron. I mentioned to her that the soldier was not in a dangerous position, that it was the soldier who provoked the Palestinians and attacked them and accused them and humiliated them.

In the end she reported it as a confrontation and that the soldier was reacting to aggressive provocation from Palestinians.

But it’s about occupation. There’s something wrong because of the occupation, not because of the confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.

We are not talking about Tel Aviv. We are talking about Hebron, where the governments agreed to a two-state solution and this is a part of Palestine, not Israel. She didn’t talk about that at all.

Ynet, Haaretz and other Israeli media talked about the story in a different way than The New York Times. No one was defending the soldier or showing that he was in a bad position except The New York Times and Israeli right-wing websites.

But this did not surprise me.

The New York Times wrote a fake story once about the settlers having good relations with a sheikh who represents many Palestinians in Hebron. It is known that he is a bad person and he doesn’t represent Palestinians. He’s not even a sheikh [religious leader]. It’s a completely fake story not related to the truth at all. It was about showing settlers and Palestinians in Hebron coexisting in peace, which is not true. It was written by the same person [Jodi Rudoren].

RK: You continue to film in spite of the death threats from Israeli soldiers. Why?

IA: I believe in my right to defend my people. I consider myself a human rights defender. I believe in human rights and the Palestinian cause and I think that we can make a change. If we all as Palestinians get scared, we will lose our future and we will be displaced from what is left of our land.

RK: Are there any avenues for accountability?

IA: We file complaints against the Israeli army with the help of Yesh Din. But there is no accountability for Israeli soldier misconduct and violations of international law.  We file complaints just to show we are trying within the Israeli system to punish the law violators. But it doesn’t work. It’s just a recording for history, nothing more.

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New York University conflates Palestine solidarity with religious prejudice

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Palestinian woman stands among rubble of destroyed home with Israeli settlement in background

Approximately 160,000 Palestinians have been made homeless by I$raHell house demolitions since 1967.

On 23 April, in a protest action calling attention to Israel’s illegal demolitions of Palestinian homes, New York University Students for Justice in Palestine slipped more than 2,000 mock eviction notices under every door on every floor of two of NYU’s largest dormitories, Palladium and Lafayette. The flyers, which were clearly marked as fake, made explicit reference to the 160,000 Palestinians who have been left homeless by Israel’s policy of building Jewish-only settlements on land captured illegally in 1967.

Neither NYU SJP nor any of its members had been charged with a violation — or even contacted directly — by the NYU administration when university spokesperson John Beckman told a news site that the school’s student affairs division was  looking into this as a judicial matter.”

Our action was an act of peaceful protest protected by NYU’s rules of conduct.

So why punish us at all?

The colonization of Palestine is not a religious conflict. NYU SJP is not a religious group, and our protest action was not a religious act. So why did NYU’s spokesperson tell a journalist our punishment for peaceful political protest would involve “restorative justice” in which “we will bring together the parties to work together under the direction of our Muslim and Jewish chaplains?”

NYU abandoned this framework of interfaith dialogue following pressure from NYU faculty and students. Perhaps the administration wanted to avoid the sort of backlash Univers of Northeastern ity faced when it suspended its SJP chapter for carrying out a mock eviction notice action of their own (Northeastern University SJP has since been reinstated). These episodes demonstrate two related trends: growing efforts to suppress Palestine solidarity on US campuses, and the failure of those efforts to significantly deter activists.

But while the NYU affair was resolved by a meeting between SJP’s leadership and NYU housing officials, this alternative was premised on the threat of punishment should we refuse. We call on NYU to publicly take back its earlier statements, as they implied not only guilt on our part, but also wrongly suggested relevance of religion to our protest.

Distraction

The fact is that painting Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing, discrimination and segregation as a millennia-old “conflict” between Jews and Muslims is a distraction from the issue we raised by carrying out this action.

The morning after the action, Laura Adkins, vice-president of the Israel lobby group on campus TorchPAC, published a blog post on The Times of Israel website accusing NYU SJP of distributing anti-Semitic flyers, targeting Jewish students and being funded byHamas. Her baseless, incoherent accusations were parroted by the Anti-Defamation League and the mainstream media, after which individual SJP members began receiving harrasing phone calls and online messages.

The intimidation only intensified after Adkins reiterated her allegation of financial ties to Hamas in an interview on FOX News. Although several articles (including one I wrote forMondoweiss) were published refuting each of Adkins’ claims about us and our action, the NYU administration nonetheless caved in to pressure to take disciplinary action.

The pressure came not only from TorchPAC, but also Brooklyn Assembly member Dov Hikind, a local politician with a history of involvement in the extremist Jewish Defense League, who last year led the charge to censor a pro-Palestinian event at Brooklyn College.

Knee jerk reaction

The knee-jerk reaction on the part of Israel’s apologists is revealing.

Unable or unwilling to debate the Zionist project of an ethnically-exclusive state, they deliberately conflate support for Israel’s policies with Judaism and Jewish identity. They deliberately conflate SJP, a non-religious political student group — whose members are not predominantly Muslim — with Islam and an Islamist movement. Although Beckman has stated that claims of anti-Semitism and targeting Jewish students were unfounded, his “restorative justice” comment indicates that NYU accepts this framing of our action and the response to it.

NYU SJP rejected any disciplinary action, including “restorative justice,” on the basis that we simply didn’t do anything wrong. Our protest didn’t harm TorchPAC or its members, and it didn’t shut down dialogue on Israel-Palestine. On the contrary, it has led to more discussion of the Palestinian perspective on campus than ever before.

But what made Beckman’s proposal particularly offensive — besides the fact that we learned about it from a news article — is the notion that it is at all appropriate for an exchange between SJP and a right-wing student group to be facilitated by two campus religious leaders.

The so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t a conflict between two equal parties, and it certainly isn’t a age-old war between Jews and Muslims. It’s about the policies of a state that receives $3.1 billion a year in military aid from our own government, a state that turns 66 on 15 May (the date Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, as the vicious ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s establishment is known). When even the US Secretary of State admits that preserving Israel as a haven of ethnic privilege is incompatible with democracy and equality, it’s time to stop talking about religion and inferring that “both sides” enjoy equality.

Illegal home demolitions have nothing to do with Judaism or Islam, and everything to do with the Israeli government’s accelerating settlement policy, which involves ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the most valuable land in the occupied West Bank and claiming it for Israeli settlers. Our media don’t show us the Palestinians whose houses are destroyed, whose olive trees and livelihoods are uprooted, whose loved ones are terrorized and killed by Israeli soldiers and vigilante settlers.

But the Palestinians are calling out for freedom. An ocean away, our action amplified their voices. So why would NYU try to silence them?

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USAComments Off on New York University conflates Palestine solidarity with religious prejudice

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