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'The great gas robbery': A chronicle of civil resistance

A photo chronicle of the past few years of protest against the Israeli government’s handling of newly discovered offshore natural gas reserves. Social activists, and economists, believe that Israeli citizens — and the state — are getting an unfair deal from the private companies who own the drilling rights.

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Text by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

For the past few years a dedicated group of Israeli social activists have been protesting what they, some economists and even a number of members of Knesset have termed “the great gas robbery.”

The protests came on the tail end of a wider social protest movement, the lasting and central message of which focused on anger toward the concentration of wealth among a small number of tycoons with close ties to the government and politicians.

Read also: Gas exports: Is the government with us, or against us?

Nobody ever really thought that one of the largest gas discoveries in recent history would benefit Israel. Since the country’s inception, Israelis have been mocking themselves for establishing a Jewish state on the one piece of the Middle East with no oil.

Then Leviathan happened. When the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan offshore natural gas fields was made, countries throughout the neighborhood — Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine — all started jockeying for a piece of the pie. Israelis did to.

When Israel granted the licenses to drill for gas, because nobody believed that there was any gas, the contracts were very favorable for the drilling companies — less so for the country. Ever since the discoveries were made, Israelis have been demanding that the flow of gas benefit, first and foremost, Israelis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, wanted to overrule the anti-trust commission. The only problem? He doesn’t have the authority to do so. The only government official endowed with the authority to over-ruled the anti-trust commissioner is Economy Minister Moshe Kahlon, who along with two other ministers, has recused himself from the entire affair due to personal ties with one of the small group of tycoons who control the Israeli side of the gas resources.

Netanyahu is being blackmailed by the energy companies who are threatening to indefinitely delay the flow of gas with litigation if the current arrangement is changed in a way that harms their interests. So the prime minister did what any good...

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A year since protests, detained asylum seekers hint at new strategy

When I meet Jack outside the “Holot” desert detention facility in southern Israel, currently home to some 1,900 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, the first thing he wanted to tell me is what bothers him about the Israelis that come to visit him and his friends.

“Not many people come to visit us at Holot. The few that do come — they help us, and that’s great. But that is not going to change our situation here in Israel. We expect every Israeli to try and affect change through the political system — specifically, the government’s policy toward us, the refugees,” he says.

I met Jack almost exactly a year ago, when hundreds of asylum seekers detainees in Holot decided to up and leave the detention facility and march toward the Egyptian border, demanding that they be allowed to leave Israel.

They had lost hope of being recognized as refugees in Israel, they were unwilling to resign themselves to indefinite detention in the Israeli desert, and thought just maybe they could raise some international awareness. They hoped they could push the United Nations to address their refugee claims.

I had not seen Jack for exactly one year so I went down to Holot to meet him one afternoon last week. As I arrived, many of the detainees were taking advantage of the waning daylight hours when the heat breaks just long enough to take a walk or go for a run.

The asylum seekers detained at Holot are allowed to leave the facility during the day but they must be back in time for a 10 p.m. roll call. Because the detention facility is nearly 50 miles from the closest city, Beersheba, and without any real planned activities, many of the asylum seekers simply wander around the desert around the prison.

Like most of the people who marched on the Egyptian border a year ago, Jack is still detained at Holot. In the year that passed, Israel’s High Court struck down — for the second time — the law that authorized the indefinite detention of African asylum seekers. In response, the Knesset passed a new version of the law, this time limiting detention at Holot to 20 months and reducing the number of times detainees must be present for roll call.

Jack says he sleeps most of the day, breaking up his waking hours by teaching English and...

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Church-based BDS does not unfairly ‘single out’ Israel [op-ed]

Opponents of church-based boycott initiatives often accuse advocates of unfairly ‘singling out’ Israel while ignoring Islamist violence in Syria and elsewhere. Here’s why they’re wrong.

Text and photos by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

In the coming days, three more U.S. churches will consider resolutions to apply economic leverage against the Israeli occupation.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), United Methodist Church (UMC), and various Quaker bodies have taken similar actions in previous years. Now, as the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Episcopal Church, and Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) meet for national conventions, divestment activists say their case has never been clearer.

The bloodshed in Gaza, Netanyahu’s election rhetoric, and a peace process in which even President Barack Obama has lost hope have convinced many that the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) is the best remaining hope for a just peace.

Now, those who “support divestment or other economic activism will have more space in which to make their voices heard,” says Michael Merryman-Lotze of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker agency whose resources have been used by other churches to develop their resolutions.

But as new voices rise up, the Israeli government and its allies are trying to shout them down with an unchanging refrain of anti-BDS slanders. Apart from broad-brush charges of anti-Semitism, these opponents often accuse churches of unfairly “singling out” Israel while ignoring Islamist violence in Syria and elsewhere.

Here are three reasons why they’re wrong.

1. Moral consistency

When asked the “what about Syria?” question, Merryman-Lotze, who recently served as the AFSC’s Interim Middle East Regional Director, offered a pointed response (emphasis added):

We have publicly spoken out against violence in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere and have opposed policies and actions that contribute to violence in the Middle East. We have worked on the ground in Syria supporting those working to end the Syrian civil war.

We also work across the U.S. and in Indonesia, Myanmar, Burundi, Kenya, Guatemala, and other locations around the world. Our work in Indonesia is not legitimated by our work in Guatemala.  Our work in Ferguson, Missouri is not legitimated by our work in Myanmar. Equally, our work on Israel-Palestine is not legitimated by how we respond in Syria.

What gives credibility to our work is our relationship with the communities with whom we partner and our consistent application...

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PHOTOS: Palestinians cross into Jerusalem for Ramadan

Tens of thousands of Palestinian women and men over 40 make their way to Qalandiya checkpoint to cross over to Jerusalem in honor of the second Friday of Ramadan. Those who aren’t allowed to cross? They found their own way.

Photos and text by Oren Ziv /

Dozens of young Palestinians crossed Qalandiya checkpoint Friday morning in order to make it to the second Friday prayer of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Since Israel allows only men above 40 to cross the checkpoint, dozens of young Palestinians attempted to climb the separation wall and reach Jerusalem using ladders which they leaned on the eight-foot tall wall. “We don’t need any permits from the army, we just cross to Jerusalem by ourselves,” said one young man from Jenin.

But the clever strategy only worked for a few minutes. Soldiers and policemen arrived on the scene, and many of the men who waited patiently for their turn to climb went home disappointed.

Hundreds of buses brought men, women and small children to the Qalandiya checkpoint starting at 4 a.m on Friday morning. There they were dropped off and cross over to Jerusalem on their way to the mosque. Throughout the year, Palestinians are required to obtain special permits in order to ender Israel. During Ramadan, however, women of all ages and men above 40 are allowed into Israel without any permits.

The Qalandiya checkpoint has one crossing for women and children, and another for men, who undergo a more rigorous search. Some of the women used their time waiting in line to snap photos with the separation wall in the background.

Meanwhile, at the Bethlehem checkpoint the number of people who wanted to enter Jerusalem was so large that the soldiers at the checkpoint were unable to check everyone entering; hundreds simply ran toward Jerusalem. Soldiers searched East Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, near the checkpoint, checking vehicles and passersby in an attempt to find those who entered without permits.

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PHOTOS: Asylum seeker theater troupe re-imagines life in Israel

A theater troupe made up of both asylum seekers and Israelis puts on their debut performance — and lets the audience choose the ending.

Text and photos by Oren Ziv /

Nearly 1,000 asylum seekers and Israelis arrived at Holot detention center on Saturday to watch the premier of a play put on by the Holot theater troupe just outside the facility.

The play — directed by Avi Mughrabi and Chen Alon, which includes refugees jailed in Holot as well as Israelis — tells the story of Eritrean asylum seekers. The actors depict the escape from forced labor in Eritrea, torture in Sinai, life in Israel, being arrested, and the experiences in Holot.

At the end of the show, Alon got up and invited the crowd to re-write the end of the play in order to propose a new solution for the asylum seekers. The crowd made suggestions, which the actors then performed on the spot.

The Israeli government has sent thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Holot, an open detention center in the Negev Desert, since December 2013. Inmates are allowed to leave the premises, but must report back several times a day. Israeli NGOs have successfully petitioned the High Court to shut down the facility; however the government, unmoved by the High Court’s order, has repeatedly passed a replacement law that would leave the detention center open while somehow feigning compliance with the court’s order.

In March, the Israeli government announced that it would begin deporting asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to Uganda or Rwanda, or force them to face unlimited imprisonment in Israel. In April, three Eritrean asylum seekers and former Holot detainees were executed by Islamic State militants in Libya.

ISIS executes three asylum seekers deported by Israel
Israel to indefinitely imprison refugees who refuse deportation
‘I believed them when they said I could stay in Uganda’

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PHOTOS: For Palestinians, checkpoints can pop up at any time

 Nearly 60 percent of the 96 Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank do not lead to Israel, but rather separate Palestinian cities and towns. Sometimes, checkpoints pop up in response to security incidents, other times there is no explanation at all.

By Ahmad al-Bazz /

Israeli forces sealed the Nablus district and closed the city for 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon, after contact was lost with an Israeli truck driver who was initially feared kidnapped but who resurfaced a short time later.

Soldiers blocked the main three entrances of the West Bank city of Nablus — the Huwwara checkpoint, Beit Furik checkpoint and Beit Iba checkpoint — in addition to a number of gates in surrounding villages. Hundreds of cars full of students and workers were forced to wait on both sides of the checkpoints.

The checkpoints were reopened the Israeli army confirmed that contact had been reestablished with the driver and no incidents had been reported.

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
PHOTOS: West Bank villagers protest: Open our gate!

This was an extraordinary incident. But Palestinians suffer from checkpoints — especially flying checkpoints that appear without any notice — on a daily basis. Days earlier, Israeli troops closed the only gate to the Palestinian villages of Beit Furik and Beit Dagan, also near Nablus.

There are 96 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank, 57 of which are internal, only 39 of which lead to Israel — the remaining 57 separate Palestinian cities and towns, according to B’Tselem. In April 2015, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) counted 361 flying checkpoints.

In addition to manned checkpoints, the Israeli army has blocked roads with 358 physical barriers in 2014. According to B’Tselem, as of March 2015, there were 60.92 kilometers of roads in the West Bank that Palestinians are forbidden from driving on.

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The Month in Photos: Marking the past, demanding a better future

Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, right-wing Israelis celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem, modern-day migrants demand their human rights across the globe, and Palestinian villagers struggle with restrictions on their movement.



















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West Bank village wakes up to no water

The municipal council of Qarawat Bani Hassan was not warned that their water supply was going to be nearly shut off for days, and attempts to get answers from Israel, through the Palestinian Authority, did not bear any fruit.

Text and photos by: Ahmad al-Bazz /

Last Wednesday, without any prior warning, the majority of houses in the West Bank village of Qarawat Bani Hassan, near Salfit, woke up to find that they had no running water. Municipal workers checked the village’s main water valve, located on Road 505, a few meters from the illegal Israeli settlement outpost of Ma’ale Israel.

“We discovered that the main water valve was almost shut off, [and locked in place] with a lock and chain in order to limit our portion of water and prevent anyone from increasing it,” said Hosam Asem, the manager of Qarawat Bani Hassan municipal council.

“We contacted the Israeli side through the Palestinian authority but we didn’t get any answers or explanations for such a step,” He added. “It’s odd that the Israelis didn’t inform us beforehand.”

According to the municipal council, the supply of water for each villager has now been reduced to about two liters per day, as all of the neighboring Palestinian villages now receive a total of 97 cubic meters per hour. The four surrounding Israeli settlements, Barkan, Revava, Kiryat Netafim and Ma’ale Israel were reportedly not affected by the crisis.

Those villagers who own small water wells beside their homes decided to put them to use, while others were forced to buy water in tanks from other villages. After four days, 90 percent of the homes were back to being supplied with the normal amount of water. The remainder were still waiting a solution for their problem.

According to Ewash, Palestinians currently utilize no more than 10 per cent of the West Bank’s shared water resources, while Israel exploits the remainder. The coalition of 27 organizations working in water and sanitation in the occupied territories argues that under international law, the water resources should be shared equitably and reasonably by Israel and Palestine. The average domestic consumption rate for Palestinians living in the West Bank is 70 liters per day. The “absolute minimum” recommended by the WHO is 100 liters per day. In Israel, the average is 300 liters per day.

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PHOTOS: When Israel decides to cut Palestinian farmers off from their land

The Israeli army decided last week to close the main gateway Palestinian farmers from four villages use to access their lands — which Israel cut them off from with the separation fence. After a protest the army re-opened the gate, but the incident shows how Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian life.

Photos and Text: Ahmad al-Bazz /

Since Israeli started building its separation barrier in the West Bank, Palestinian farmers living along the fence have been cut off from their agricultural lands t

When Israel started building its separation wall and fence through the West Bank over a decade ago, the route it chose cut many Palestinian farmers off from their lands. As a result of legal appeals and other arrangements, the army built gates in the fence and wall through which it permits the farmers to reach their lands on certain days and during certain hours.

Read also: A journey into the dark heart of Israel’s permit regime

Last week, the Israeli army’s Civil Administration, the military government in the West Bank, informed Palestinian farmers from four West Bank villages — Kafr Jammal, Kafr Zibad, Kafr Abbus and Kafr Sur — that the gate they use to reach their lands, which lie on the other side of the fence.

In order to reach their lands, the army told the farmers that they would have to use another gate near the village of Jayyous, about 15 kilometers from their usual gate near the village of Falamya. Some of the farmers told Activestills they believed the decision was the beginning of an attempt to confiscate their land. Israeli authorities often exploit an Ottoman law that permits the state to confiscate land that hasn’t been cultivated for a number of years.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday the farmers arrived at their usual gate near Falamya, the gate their were told would be closed. They staged a demonstration demanding that the gate be re-opened.

Following the protest, the army decided to re-open the gate, saying that the closure was a pilot program, which was scrapped in light of the residents’ protests.

On a normal day, Israeli soldiers open the gate at 6 a.m. to let the farmers access their lands and reopen it at noon, allowing them to come back. Sometimes, when the farmers finish their work early, they have to wait for hours until the soldiers come...

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PHOTOS: Jerusalem Day brings tensions in divided city to the fore

The traditional ‘march of the flags’ on Jerusalem Day, marking the ‘reunification’ of the city under Israeli sovereignty, has more to do with domination over Palestinians than celebration.

Photos and video by Oren Ziv, Keren Manor, Faiz Abu-Rmeleh, Tess Schaflan, Yotam Ronen /
Text by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

Jerusalem Day is billed as a celebration of the city’s “reunification” in 1967. In practice, it is a day for Israeli nationalists, draped in flags, dancing in circles, singing and chanting “death to Arabs” as they march through East Jerusalem and the Old City. Many of the Jewish demonstrators are bused in from right-wing yeshivas in Israel and the West Bank.

Palestinian shopkeepers are told to shutter their stalls and stores and Palestinians are cleared from the streets ahead of the march in order to prevent the ultra-nationalist participants from attacking them.

The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City. And although Israel annexed the territory and included it in the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, its residents were not granted citizenship; they hold permanent residency, which can be revoked for any number of reasons, often at the discretion of the Israeli interior minister.

Israel has revoked the residency 14,416 East Jerusalem Palestinians since it seized control of the territory in the 1967 Six Day War, which rights groups have termed a policy of quiet deportation. In 2014, it revoked the residency of 107 East Jerusalem Palestinians, including 56 women and 12 minors, according to information provided to and published by Hamoked — Center for Defence of the Individual.


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PHOTOS: West Bank villagers protest: Open our gate!

A-Zaim’s only gateway to East Jerusalem has been closed since a 16-year-old resident carried out an alleged stabbing attempt last month.

By Ahmad al-Bazz /

Residents of A-Zaim, a village in the West Bank, protested on Friday against the ongoing closure of a gate in the separation wall, which is their only gateway to East Jerusalem.

Barring two hours a day, the gate has been closed since a 16-year-old Ali Abu Ghannam allegedly tried to stab a Border Police officer at the adjacent checkpoint two weeks ago. His family claims that Abu Ghannam, who was fatally shot, was killed in cold blood.

Protest against movement restrictions, Al Zaeem, West Bank, 8.5.

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A month in photos: Bringing the struggle to Tel Aviv

Separately, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish Israelis of Ethiopian descent protest against institutional discrimination and racism in Tel Aviv’s central stage: Rabin Square. Palestinians mark Israeli Independence Day with a ‘March of Return,’ two Palestinian teens are shot dead by Israeli forces, Palestinian journalists denounce Israel’s imprisonment of reporters, and West Bank villages continue their struggle against the Separation Wall and the occupation.




















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Ethiopian-Israelis' protest against police violence is met with police violence

Police use stun grenades, violence against protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, sparked by video of two officers beating a black Israeli soldier. Dozens reported injured, at least 26 arrested.

Photos by Oren Ziv, Yotam Ronen, Keren Manor / Activestills
Text by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man

A protest by Israelis of Ethiopian descent against discriminatory police brutality was met with police violence for the second time in a matter of days, this time in central Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Police used stun grenades, water cannons, riot officers and mounted officers to disperse several thousand protesters who arriving in Rabin Square some five hours after the demonstration began elsewhere in the city.

There were dozens of injuries reported by protesters and police. A police spokesperson later said that 26 people were arrested. Activists indicated that more protesters were in police custody.

The protest followed a similar demonstration in Jerusalem Thursday night, which was a response to video of Israeli police beating an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent.

Protesters flipped over a police car in Rabin square and were throwing plastic bottles at officers.

A number of members of Knesset joined the protest when it started. The protesters soon descended onto Tel Aviv’s main freeway, blocking traffic in both directions for hours.

Eventually police used force to clear the freeway and the protesters continued marching toward the city’s most famous square, Rabin Square.

“I was in the Border Police and I’ve never seen stun grenades used at a protest [in Israel],” protester tells Channel 10. “We’re Israelis, we’re Jews.”

Even in the most tense and violent days of Tel Aviv’s social protests in 2011 and 2012, in nights when bank windows were broken and 90 people arrested, police did not use crowd control means generally reserved for the West Bank and Arab protesters.

In late 2014, intense protests against discriminatory police violence took place in the northern Israeli town of Kafr Kana after Israeli police killed an Arab man while he was fleeing. Earlier this year, massive protests took place after police killed two unarmed Arab men in the southern city of Rahat.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh was one of the only public figures to make the connection between the various struggles against police violence directed at specific racial or ethnic groups in Israel.

“As a member of the Arab population,...

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