+972 Magazine » +972 Blog http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:24:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Netanyahu’s status quo strategy: Thwarting a Palestinian state http://972mag.com/netanyahus-status-quo-strategy-thwarting-a-palestinian-state/98190/ http://972mag.com/netanyahus-status-quo-strategy-thwarting-a-palestinian-state/98190/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:38:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98190 The Americans got it wrong. By seemingly doing nothing but trying to preserve his seat in power, the Israeli prime minister is in fact advancing a process that makes a Palestinian state an impossibility.

By David Zonsheine

In his Atlantic article on the growing crisis between Jerusalem and Washington, Jeffrey Goldberg quoted American officials slamming Netanyahu, one now-famously called him “chickenshit.” The substance of the criticism was that he lacks the “guts” to strike Iran and is only interested in “protecting himself from political defeat.”

Beyond the damage Netanyahu and his government are causing Israel in the international community – hurting ties crucial for a small country with limited resources in a complicated region – I disagree with the American diagnosis. In Netanyahu’s case, preserving his rule without any apparent progress towards a clear goal is part and parcel of his plan to deepen the deeply-ingrained process of preventing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and splintering the Palestinian people. Even if Netanyahu did not start these steps, he is propelling them with pristine efficiency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Every day that Netanyahu tries to maintain his seat is another day of settlement construction in the West Bank, another day of Palestinian displacement, of destroying Palestinian assets and other grave human rights violations; another day in which Netanyahu’s strategic goals are being achieved.

Unlike the objective of peace and ending occupation, Netanyahu’s objectives don’t have a big fan base in the international arena. He knows this all too well, and this is why he cunningly operates to maintain the status quo. Ostensibly this means doing nothing; in practice it means rapidly changing facts on the ground in the West Bank.

His declaration of support for the two-state solution at Bar Ilan University and the negotiations led by Kerry were conducted in parallel to government actions on the ground – constituting an integral part of his strategy.

Netanyahu surely must have taken the Americans’ criticism as a complement. They thought they were insulting him but in fact they were praising him. They revealed that they do not understand Netanyahu’s strategy – mistaking his effective methods for fear and lack of political vision. They also positioned him perfectly in his battle for right-wing voters. He is simultaneously standing tall in front of the Administration while winking to his benefactors and allies in the Republican Party ahead of Senate elections. At the same time, he is not “giving in” to Bennett, who perfectly fills the role of the settler youth who makes the prime minister appear like the experienced, rational centrist.

A trip to the West Bank and a perusal of reports by human rights organizations, like the recent B’Tselem report on the Burqah village, can attest to these processes. While Netanyahu’s rhetoric focuses on Iran, ISIS, the war in Gaza and the high cost of living, the West Bank continues to undergo significant changes and the Palestinian people continued to be divided and conquered.

Netanyahu is the victor in Goldberg’s Atlantic story. And he continues to be the leading candidate for Israeli prime minister, precisely because of his ability to sell his de facto strategy of change as a status quo strategy.

David Zonsheine is the chairman of B’Tselem.  

Related:
‘Chickengate:’ In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are only a sideshow
How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle

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Why the status quo on the Temple Mount isn’t sustainable http://972mag.com/why-the-status-quo-on-the-temple-mount-isnt-sustainable/98162/ http://972mag.com/why-the-status-quo-on-the-temple-mount-isnt-sustainable/98162/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:20:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98162 Israel’s tightening grip on the Temple Mount — and reactions to it — cannot be disconnected from the wider political reality. Tensions on the Temple Mount lead to unrest in the streets of East Jerusalem, many argue, not the other way around.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

A sign warns of the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque sat Najah National University in Nablus, West Bank, September 26, 2013. The signs were hung by students in protest of visits by Jewish nationalists to Al-Aqsa Mosque and suspected Israeli intentions to divide the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A sign at Najah National University  in Nablus warns of the destruction of Al-Aqsa mosque, Nablus, September 26, 2013. The signs were hung by students in protest of visits by Jewish nationalists to Al-Aqsa Mosque and suspected Israeli intentions to divide the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

With the escalating violence and tensions in Jerusalem in recent months, the Temple Mount has become a major item on the social and political agenda. Aspirations of apparent extremists to change the status quo on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif are raising concern among many Israelis, the Arab world, and the international community — which seeks to maintain the status quo there; that is, to maintain the autonomy of the Muslim Waqf in managing the complex, while allowing Jews to visit the Mount on certain occasions.

Some argue that the tension in East Jerusalem is tied to the question of sovereignty over the Temple Mount: that is, tension on the Mount leads to unrest in the streets, not vice versa.

If we examine the history of the Temple Mount over the past 2,000 years, we see that its rulers have changed many times, and each sovereign altered the situation on the ground. In the first century CE, the Jewish temple was destroyed, but already in the second century CE, the Romans had built a pagan temple in its place.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire in the fourth century, the Temple Mount became a waste area — seemingly out of disrespect for its status, yet the Christians’ need to turn the mount into a place outside of the boundaries of the city attests to their desire to redefine it.

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth throw stones during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al Amud, with the Aqsa Mosque seen in the background. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Arab conquest restored the mount’s religious centrality, and from the end of the seventh century, structures of prayer and commemoration were built there. The most recognized are the Aqsa Mosque and the memorial building that later became a mosque — the Dome of the Rock. In addition to these, the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif contains collonades, madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and domes, and other structures that make it what it is today – the sacred precinct of Islam.

But even during Muslim rule, the picture on the mount was not uniform, and changes took place according to the political situation. The Umayyad leaders (seventh century) strengthened the sanctity of the place, while the rulers of the House of Abbas (eighth century) reduced its value.

Read more: Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site

Crusaders in the 12th century turned the Aqsa Mosque into a church and identified it as one of the holy sites of Christianity. Immediately after Jerusalem reverted to Muslim rule during Mamluk reign in the 13th century, the mount underwent rapid development and religious structures were once again built to reinforce its importance in Islam. Even in the years when the mount was under British control (the Mandate period), changes were made to the status quo.

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth hold a Palestinian flag outside the Aqsa Mosque in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, East Jerusalem. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

When Israel decided to manage the political conflict rather than resolve it, and to strengthen its control over East Jerusalem, it likewise sought to manage the situation on the Temple Mount. Management does not mean freezing the situation. Yet when the faithful Israeli public sees that Israel is deepening its hold on East Jerusalem, it will likewise require a change in the status quo in the holy place.

The yearning of millions of Jews for the Temple cannot be solved by managing the conflict or maintaining the status quo, but only by a political solution to the conflict as a whole. Otherwise, Israel will change the situation on the Temple Mount, as it continues to change the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

When one takes into account the status of the Temple Mount in Judaism, the military and political power of Israel in the region, and the unwillingness of many Israelis recognize the importance of the site in Islam in general and to the Palestinians in particular, it becomes evident that Israel’s tightening grip on the Temple Mount is a result of the wider political reality.

The author is an archaeologist in Emek Shaveh, an organization that deals with the role of archeology in the political conflict.

Related:
Disturbing the ‘peace’ in Jerusalem’s holiest site
In Silwan, the settlers are winning – big time
PHOTOS: Protests in Jerusalem over Aqsa Mosque closures

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Photographed punching an Arab woman? Sue the photographer http://972mag.com/photographed-punching-an-arab-woman-sue-the-photographer/98152/ http://972mag.com/photographed-punching-an-arab-woman-sue-the-photographer/98152/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:30:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98152 A freelance photographer who documented three young Jewish women attacking an Arab woman in Jerusalem is being sued for defamation after Israel’s most popular television news channel published her photos. Now she is asking for the public’s help to fund her legal defense.

By Oren Persico / ‘The 7th Eye

The incident in Jerusalem, as photographed by Dorit Jordan-Dotan. (Screenshot from the fundraising campaign.)

The incident in Jerusalem, as photographed by Dorit Jordan-Dotan. (Screenshot from the fundraising campaign.)

Dorit Jordan-Dotan, who last year photographed a group of Jewish women attacking an Arab woman in Jerusalem, launched a campaign last week to fund her legal defense; the Jewish women whom she documented in the scuffle are suing her for NIS 300,000 (roughly $80,000) in damages. Under the banner, “Political lawsuit against freedom of expression,” Jordan-Dotan is asking for the public’s help — through an Israeli website similar to Kickstarter — in funding her legal defense. At the time of writing, she had raised over two-thirds of the requested amount (NIS 30,000).

In February 2013, Jordan-Dotan, an independent documentary photographer, saw a scuffle break out at the Kiryat Moshe light rail station in Jerusalem. She picked up her camera and documented what she saw. According to the three plaintiffs, Shafra Richter, Ruth Meshulami and Chen Alfas, who are being represented by Attorney Doron Nir-Zvi, Jordan-Dotan caused them great harm by distributing the photos in which they can be seen striking the Arab woman, “without putting forth the photographs from when the incident began, from which it would be possible to see that the plaintiffs were defending themselves against the same Arab woman.” According to them, Jordan-Dotan “provided the deceptive photographs to media outlets that distorted reality, whereas the light rail security cameras show that it was actually the Arab woman who started the skirmish.”

Another claim of theirs touches on the fact that Jordan-Dotan did not blur the young Jewish women’s faces, despite the fact that they were minors at the time of the incident, and she therefore committed a criminal offense and violated their privacy. The plaintiffs also claim that in an interview to Channel 2 News, Jordan-Dotan said that the Arab woman was the victim of an attack, which they claim, is contrary to reality. Channel 2 News is also being sued by the three women.

On behalf of his clients, Attorney Nir-Zvi demanded in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that each of his three clients be compensated NIS 100,000 (roughly $26,000). Additionally, he asked that Jordan-Dotan and Channel 2 News be ordered to “destroy all of the publications and photographs relating to the plaintiffs that exist on the Internet.”

From the archives: Press freedom in Israel

Through her attorney, Yadin Elam, Jordan-Dotan filed her response to the suit last week. According to her, she documented the violent incident that she saw and passed along the documentation to media outlets in good faith. She added that she did not witness the start of the scuffle and did not document that part of the confrontation. She passed along all of the photos in her possession to media outlets, she emphasized, without any selection or filtering on her part. According to Jordan-Dotan, she did not know and could not have known what the plaintiffs’ ages were, and the moment that she was made aware that they were minors at the time of the incident, she removed those photos in which their faces could be seen.

According to Jordan-Dotan, the lawsuit was filed against her is a frivolous suit designed “to send a clear, tough and threatening message to anyone who in the future may find themselves in the defendant’s shoes — who sees such an incident and dares to give their photos, testimony and impressions to a journalist.”

“After the photos were published in the media, the defendant suffered mudslinging and slander attacks, including threats and insults via email and Faceook as well as responses in newspapers,” Jordan-Dotan says. Attorney Itamar Ben-Geir, who was representing the plaintiffs at the time, even raised the possibility that Jordan-Dotan herself was part of a conspiracy with the Arab woman who was attacked. In light of that claim of defamation, Jordan-Dotan is demanding counter-damages of NIS 100,000 (roughly $26,000) from the plaintiffs.

“It is incumbent upon the plaintiffs to take up their claims about the publication with the publishers, and not with the defendant,” Jordan-Dotan added.

Photographer Dorit Jordan-Dotan being interviewed on Channel 2 News about the incident she documented, February 26, 2013. (Screenshot)

Photographer Dorit Jordan-Dotan being interviewed on Channel 2 News about the incident she documented, February 26, 2013. (Screenshot)

Channel 2 News claims, through its attorneys Yishgav Nakdimon and Dakela Biran, that the reports which it published about the incident were “truthful reports based on photographic evidence of the incident — that took place in a public space — and about the police investigation that was opened into it.” Channel 2 added that in doing so it was — legally — carrying out “its journalistic and public duty to publish materials of public interest.”

Channel 2 goes on to argue that, “the photos that were published in the news reports speak for themselves and prove that the young Jewish women photographed in them, attacked the Arab woman and struck her with their hands.”

“The reason that the attack began is of no importance,” Channel 2 News argued. “And even if the physical attack shown in the pictures was provoked somehow by the Arab woman, that does not lessen the severity of the young women’s violent response, which is shown in the photos.”

Channel 2 News also claims that there is nothing in its report that could defame the plaintiffs. In addition, the company’s counsel emphasized, its employees did not know that the photographed women were minors at the time of publication.

In its response to the suit, Channel 2 News points out that it removed from its website — “Mako” — the interview with Jordan-Dotan as well as another report on the incident, without admitting to any of the claims against it. In addition, the company wrote, it blurred the faces of the Jewish women in other articles that remain on its website. However, the Channel 2 interview with Jordan-Dotan from immediately after the incident remains available on the website of Channel 2 concessionaire “Reshet,” which also publishes material from Channel 2 News.

This article was first published in Hebrew by The 7th Eye media watchdog website. It is reproduced here with permission from the author.

Related:
A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
Palestinian beaten by Jews in J’lem: ‘Attacks against us happen every day’
Press freedom in Israel: Democracy in the age of self-censorship

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A life of forced labor: Why Israel’s Eritrean refugees fled home http://972mag.com/a-life-of-forced-labor-why-israels-eritrean-refugees-fled-home/98144/ http://972mag.com/a-life-of-forced-labor-why-israels-eritrean-refugees-fled-home/98144/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:52:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98144 Is Eritrea’s brutal dictatorship on the verge of collapse?

By Elizabeth Tsurkov

Israel is home to about 35,000 Eritrean asylum-seekers. While the Israeli government claims that they are work migrants, so as not to violate its own laws, Israel does not forcibly deport Eritreans back to their country of origin. As long as Eritrea is ruled by the current regime, the millions of Eritreans living outside of their homeland cannot return, but is it possible that the regime in Eritrea will soon collapse?

Recent reports from Eritrea and refugees who recently fled the east-African country indicate that the regime is struggling to maintain its control over the population. The regime relies on repression, its most extreme fashion being open-ended national service, to scare the population into submission. At the same time, revenues from mining, nearly free slave labor and taxes Eritreans abroad are forced to pay, allow the regime to sustain itself economically. In recent years, however, these pillars of the regime’s stability have begun to crack.

Read +972′s full coverage of refugees in Israel

National service in Eritrea starts in the 11th grade and ends when the person is no longer capable of performing his service, usually around the age of 50. Eritreans who fought in the country’s war of independence from Ethiopia (which ended in 1991), for example, are still mobilized. The 400,000-strong military and national service force makes up about 10 percent of the population. The servicemen and women are rarely involved in military-related activity, as Eritrea hasn’t fought a war since 2001. Instead, according the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, the servicemen and women carry out “manual labor on agricultural farms or construction sites… A large number of draftees… work in civilian administration, infrastructure projects, education and construction.”

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a think-tank, adds: “national service is used as a source of free, forced labor for ‘parastatal’ farms or companies directly in the hands of individual generals.” Since most of the duties performed by Eritrean draftees has nothing to do with military service and the service is open-ended, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has labeled the national service in Eritrea as forced labor, which is prohibited under numerous ILO conventions that Eritrea has ratified.

Soviet tank abandoned by Ethiopian forces retreating from northern Eritrea in 1991. (Photo by David Stanley/CC)

Soviet tank abandoned by Ethiopian forces retreating from northern Eritrea in 1991. (Photo by David Stanley/CC)

During national service, religious practice or the possession of religious books is forbidden, even if the religion is one of the four recognized religious denominations in Eritrea. Anyone raising questions about the service or its conditions are detained, sometimes underground and at other times in metal containers placed under the scorching sun, and tortured. Anyone caught attempting to flee or evade service is detained and tortured, sometimes to death. The UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea adds: “Alleged or actual failure to execute tasks during national service is severely punished… national service conscripts live in constant fear; the threat of severe penalties, sometimes of life-threatening nature, being part of their daily life.”

Due to the endless nature of the national service and the perpetual fear of being subjected to abuse, thousands defect from national service every month. According to UN statistics, about 4,000 Eritreans fled their homeland every month in the first six months of 2014, doubling the number of people fleeing the country compared to 2013. According to Eritrean-Swedish activist Meron Estefanos, since September 2014, the average number of Eritreans arriving in Ethiopia daily has reached 200, meaning, each month about 6,000 people flee to Ethiopia alone (while many others flee to Sudan).

Many of the refugees are unaccompanied minors who flee forced drafts. This process has started to deplete entire villages. Eritreans are fleeing despite the regime’s draconian policies to stymie the exodus – a policy of shoot-to-kill at the border, detention and torture of those caught attempting escape, and even of Eritreans suspected of “plotting to leave the country.” The conditions in detention are life-threatening and the detainees are not provided with enough food. Relatives of people who successfully escape the country are forced to pay a high fine (50,000 nakfa) or face detention themselves. In addition, Eritreans deported to their country of origin after illegally leaving it “face torture, detention and disappearance in Eritrea,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.

Eritrean refugees living in Israel take part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in the city of Ramat Gan, February 1. 2013. The protesters were calling for the ousting of the dictatorship regime in Eritrea, and the release of all political prisoners. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills.org)

Eritrean refugees living in Israel take part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in the city of Ramat Gan, February 1. 2013. The protesters were calling for the ousting of the dictatorship regime in Eritrea, and the release of all political prisoners. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/ Activestills.org)

Due to the shortage in slave labor, the military police goes on routine forced-conscription round-ups (“giffas” in Tigrinya), during which anyone who appears healthy enough to serve is forcibly taken, including children under the age of 18. Those who resist being taken are at times executed on the spot. The regime resorts to these round-ups because many Eritreans simply don’t show up for the obligatory service and must be physically compelled to perform it. According to activists in Eritrea, only 50 of the 400 who Eritreans who were recently granted a short leave to see their families returned to service. According to Meron Estefanos, the regime recently began calling up men over 50 for military training, due to the manpower shortage. Very few men showed up, forcing the regime to issue a second call.

The salaries of national servicemen is about $10 per month, precluding servicemen and women from supporting their families throughout their service. As a result, families of servicemen struggle to survive, while the cost of basic staples of food, gasoline and rent keeps rising. The impoverished regime, at the same time, cannot provide its citizen with even the basic services of water and electricity, which are recurrently cut for several hours every day. As one Eritrean described it to The Guardian: “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared” and even middle-class families struggle to find food. As a result, “many Eritreans rely on informal work to feed their families.” Soldiers at border crossings, for example, demand up to $1,000 to smuggle people safely out of the country.

Read +972′s full coverage of refugees in Israel

The militarism and discipline that characterized the years of the war of independence against Ethiopia are no longer necessary, but the regime is attempting to keep them alive to preserve its rule. After independence, Eritrea’s revolutionary leader-turned-dictator, Isaias Afawerki, instituted mandatory national service, “the official aim was to inculcate the younger generation with the spirit of the liberation struggle, but the impact was to cow society,” writes the International Crisis Group. The indefinite military service, institutionalized under the Wefri Warsai Yika’alo development campaign, “serves the dual purpose of eliminating dissent and reinforcing the army, which has become increasingly necessary for maintaining power,” writes the ICG. “The result is overwhelming militarization of an already authoritarian regime… Therefore, the military plays a leading role in coercing and intimidating the population.” To justify not demobilizing an army that makes up 10 percent of the population while there is no war, “Isaias played on the general animosity between states in the region to promote the idea that Eritrea is surrounded by enemies,” according to the ICG.

But this ideology of paranoia and militarization is losing adherents – thousands of Eritreans abandon their service every month, tired of slaving away for years while being subjected to constant abuse. Ethiopia, the major ‘enemy’ justifying the general mobilization, is home to about 100,000 Eritrean refugees. No wonder then that when the Ethiopian military made incursions into Eritrean territory in 2012, it was met with little resistance. That same year, the information minister, once deemed ultra-loyal to Afawerki, defected and fled the country. In January 2013, a group of soldiers voiced their opposition to the regime by taking over “Forto,” the building of the Eritrean Information Ministry. The soldiers forced the station’s director to read a statement on air calling for the release of political detainees and for the implementation of the 1997 constitution. The crisis ended with the soldiers retreating to their barracks. Following the incident, the regime carried out several rounds of arrests of political and military figures. In 2013, rumors circulated in Eritrea that numerous generals and lower-ranking officers were dismissed or neutralized, as Afawerki attempts to prevent any challenges to his rule. As the Eritrean military grows weaker and is seen as unreliable by Afawerki, he began relying on a 20,000-strong force of Ethiopian guerrillas (TPDM) who are based in Eritrea to police the population, which is resentful of the foreign force.

Eritrean activists outside of the country launched the “Freedom Friday” movement two years ago. The activists would randomly call Eritrean landline numbers and urge people to stay at home that day to quietly voice their opposition this way. Since then, the underground movement in Eritrea has grown, with activists now pasting posters on walls in Eritrea, calling for protests against the regime. The public discourse in Eritrea is also apparently changing, with citizens openly criticizing the regime in public spaces.


(Video: Eritreans read anti-regime posters pasted on walls in Asmara, the capital, 2013.)

Repression of an entire population requires dedication, resources and people willing to take part in the repression. All these elements are wavering. As the Russian dissident Andrei Amalrik who predicted the fall of the USSR back in 1969 wrote: “The regime is simply growing old and can no longer suppress everyone and everything with the same strength and vigor as before… We can visualize all this in the following allegory: A man is standing in a tense posture, his hands raised above his head. Another, in an equally strained pose, holds a Tommy gun to the first man’s stomach. Naturally, they cannot stand like this for very long. The second man will get tired and loosen his grip on the gun.”

Related:
Eritrean asylum seekers: Caught between jail and death
Asylum seekers: Israeli support for Eritrea prevents us from going home
WATCH: Eritrean refugee’s shocking personal testimony

Elizabeth Tsurkov works at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli human rights NGO, and can be followed on Twitter.

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Israel increases pressure on nonviolent struggle’s flagship village http://972mag.com/israel-increases-pressure-on-nonviolent-struggles-flagship-village/98084/ http://972mag.com/israel-increases-pressure-on-nonviolent-struggles-flagship-village/98084/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:52:20 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98084 Whether as a result of the violence in Jerusalem or just because there’s a new commander in town, the Israeli army is once again increasing its oppressive measures in the West Bank village of Bil’in.

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil'in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil’in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

By Roy Wagner

There’s nothing new under the sun in Bil’in.

If you take a look at the Wikipedia page on Bil’in, you’ll see that the last updates about the village’s struggle against the separation wall refer to 2012. B’Tselem’s page on Bil’in was last updated almost two years ago. One could easily be led to believe that the struggle is over. But Bil’in continues to demonstrate.

Perhaps updating Wikipedia and B’Tselem’s website isn’t necessary. The situation in Bil’in remains as it was. Veteran protesters even experience flashbacks to 2008, when the demonstrations took place near the old route of the wall. This is the same route that stole nearly half of the village’s agricultural land, and which the High Court later ordered be dismantled and moved west. This was before the new route was built and introduced in 2011 — the same one that steals only one third of the village’s land.

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil'in (Haggai Matar)

Demonstrator overlooking wall and settlement in Bil’in (Haggai Matar)

Over the last several weeks, however, Israeli soldiers have been waiting for the protesters on the old route, near the monument for the late Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was shot and killed at close range by a high-velocity tear gas grenade. As far as I can tell from the videos and testimonies, Abu-Rahme was likely murdered intentionally. (The IDF closed its investigation into the killing without indictment.) From high positions the soldiers fire barrages at the protesters who try to make their way along the “Freedom Road.” Afterward, the soldiers descend toward the built-up areas of the village and fill people’s homes with tear gas.

Soldiers recently set on fire a building that stands between the old route and the new one. The army issued a demolition order for a playground that was built there. During the last protest a man who said he was a village resident told me that 20 of his olive trees, which are located on the other side of the wall, were set ablaze. Arresting protesters and assaulting them while in custody, practices that have become rarer in recent years in Bil’in, are once again becoming common practice.

Adeeb Abu Rahme, one of the residents of Bil'in who appears in 5 Broken Cameras, confronts the IDF during a protest in 2007 (Activestills)

Adeeb Abu Rahme, one of the residents of Bil’in who appears in 5 Broken Cameras, confronts the IDF during a protest in 2007 (Activestills)

According to photojournalist Haitam al-Hatib, soldiers raided the village last Saturday, confiscating agricultural tools. The soldiers retreated in the end, but not before they threatened to demolish another house. Abdullah Abu Rahme, one of the leaders of the nonviolent struggle in the village, who was recognized as a “human rights defender” by the European Union and a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, was once again convicted in military court for resisting the occupation (“obstructing the work of a soldier”) and is likely heading back to prison.

Struggling, not just protesting

The goal of the demonstrators has not changed since 2005. They are not “protesting.” They are not “expressing an opinion.” They are not taking part in the “game of democracy,” whose rules don’t even apply to the occupied territories in the first place, and where every protest is considered illegal. The goal of the protesters is to tear down the wall and cross to the other side in order to reach their lands (upon which sit military positions and the Modi’in Illit settlement).

Although the wall — which supposedly save lives — is full of gaps (proof: tens of thousands of permit-less Palestinian workers cross it regularly), it is still continuous enough to separate Bil’in’s residents from their lands. Week after week, the protesters are left on the east side of the wall, yet they are persistent about their demands.

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil'in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Palestinians, international and Israeli activists demonstrate against the separation barrier and the occupation in the West Bank village of Bil’in, October 17, 2014. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The chances that the stolen lands will return to their rightful owners through some kind of legal or political arrangement is near zero. Bil’in’s residents understand this fact. The demand to cross over to the lands on the other side of the fence is one that embodies the demand to end the occupation and the apartheid regime on both sides of the wall. The response to the protests remains the same, whether it includes chanting or rock throwing, whether the demonstrators are able to approach the wall or remain far from it, whether the army uses tear gas and stun grenades, rubber coated bullets or live fire. Life-threatening violence by well-armed and armored soldiers against unarmed protesters.

Every once in a while, someone in the IDF will come to the conclusion that its time to put an end to these demonstrations. They invent “new” tactics, “new” weapons, “new threats.” But after more than 10 years of protests, there is really nothing new. The protesters know all the scenarios. Regardless, the demonstrations continue and as far as I can see, they’ll keep on going for many years to come. As they do in Ni’ilin, Ma’asara, Kufr Qadum, Nabi Saleh and other villages.

I do not know whether the escalation in Bil’in today, which is happening more than 10 years after the first demonstration in 2005, has to do with Operation Protective Edge, or with the growing resistance in East Jerusalem, or with the caprices of the local command. I also do not know how long the escalation will last. Perhaps in a week or two the military will relax. Maybe another protester will be killed.

The right to incite

The European-Israeli fantasy of a Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., who will lead the popular struggle toward a political overhaul, continues to stagnate. This fantasy forgets that there is no Gandhi without Ambedkar (who fought against the British using arms), and there is no King without Malcolm X. And in any case, this isn’t India or America and the political violence of this place has its own characteristics, which adopts the cruel patterns of French colonialism in Algeria, at the expense of the less brutal tactics of British rule in India or white rule in the U.S.

Every week a few dozen Israelis and internationals come to Bil’in and join another few dozen Palestinians for a protest. Every once in a while there is a larger demonstration.

I will not pretend that additional Israelis coming to the protests will tip the scales. The Israeli public, which is unable to effectively pressure the government to change its health, housing and welfare policies, will probably not be the one to end the occupation. Those who fail to protect the rights of poor and vulnerable Israeli citizens living inside Israel will probably not be able to save the residents of Bil’in. The weekly protests will continue with us or without us.

A Palestinian youth places a flag on the Israeli wall during a protest marking nine years of struggle against the wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 28, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth places a flag on the Israeli wall during a protest marking nine years of struggle against the wall in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 28, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

But in a place where someone like the peace-loving Abdullah Abu-Rahmah is convicted for “incitement,” perhaps, at the very least, it is fitting to incite others to fight against the occupation. To continue and resist in Bil’in and in other places. To continue and resist on both sides of the wall that bisects Bil’in. To continue and resist in order to maintain an infrastructure of resistance, so that one day, when the political conditions change, when something here changes, it will also change in Bil’in. A place where, at least for now, there is nothing new under the sun.

The IDF Spokesperson issued a response regarding the protest in Bil’in two weeks ago, stating that:

During the illegal and violent riot in Bil’in, west of Ramallah, which included 30 Palestinian rioters who threw stones and acted violently toward our forces, our forces responded with riot-control measures, while approaching the direction of the village, in order to prevent the confrontation from reaching the area near the security fence. The rest of the claims are baseless, the IDF will continue to enforce order and will not allow harm to the security of the region.

Roy Wagner is an Israeli activist who has been attending the demonstrations in Bil’in for the past five years. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
IDF court convicts Palestinian non-violent organizer
PHOTOS: What the press missed in Bil’in tear gas flower garden
Bil’in revisited: The small changes in life under occupation

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Treat Palestinian killers like you treat Israeli killers http://972mag.com/treat-palestinian-killers-like-you-treat-israeli-killers/98026/ http://972mag.com/treat-palestinian-killers-like-you-treat-israeli-killers/98026/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 10:29:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98026 We often quip that being a Palestinian is a crime. Judging by the hundreds of Palestinians who are in administrative detention — detained without charge or trial — that statement is not too far off.

By Talal Jabari

Illustrative photo of a man being arrested after police used a tazer (Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of a man being arrested after police used a tazer (Activestills.org)

More dead children. A Palestinian and an Israeli. More grieving families. And I can’t help but feel that the Israeli justice system is responsible for both deaths. This justice system has an affliction that in any other democratic country would paralyze the entire judicial system: rather than being blind to ethnicity, the Israeli justice system has perfect vision, especially when it comes to crimes of a political nature.

Take two recent incidents as prime examples: a Palestinian driver collides with a crowd of people getting off a train, killing a child. He is killed on the spot and the authorities immediately announced that he has a record of “security related offenses.” I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but after the collision, his exited his vehicle and ran. Why wasn’t he arrested? Why was he not given the chance to defend himself? Could he not just have been driving recklessly? Instead, he was shot and killed.

The other incident occurred in the Palestinian village of Sinjil, where an Israeli settler ran over two girls walking along the side of the road, killing a five-year-old girl. Was this an accident? Possibly. Will there be an open investigation? Very unlikely. And most importantly, the driver wasn’t gunned down as a terrorist moments after the incident.

And this isn’t a one-off. Whenever a Palestinian is suspected of killing an Israeli, he is convicted, jailed or killed without what would be called “concrete evidence”in a democratic nation, or even a semblance of a real, fair or open trial.

And it doesn’t usually just end there. Now the family that has lost a husband and a father, for an event for which he may or may not be responsible, but in which the family played no part, has their home destroyed. Then the man’s close relatives who obviously played no part in the event  — otherwise they they would have met with his same fate  — get nasty little marks put onto their secret police files, making it very difficult for them to get permits to enter Israel or even travel abroad. (Generally speaking, when a Palestinian is killed by Israeli forces, their close relatives’ entry permits are revoked out of fear that they will seek revenge.)

So one Palestinian allegedly (judging by the way Israeli news articles are written, “allegedly” is a word that doesn’t exist in the Hebrew language) commits a crime, and several dozen people pay the consequences potentially for years to come.

This is the same justice system that allows for the detention of hundreds of Palestinian children every year. And while my hypothetical example was of the act of killing, you don’t really have to have committed any crime to end up on the wrong side of an Israeli detention facility. Any public political expression by a Palestinian, for example, is a crime. A Palestinian taking his sheep to pasture too close to a settlement is a crime. A Palestinian defending himself from a settler attack is committing a crime. In the Jordan Valley, where water is scarce, collecting water from an overflowing pump, is a crime.

We often quip that being a Palestinian is a crime. Judging by the hundreds of Palestinians who are in administrative detention — detained without charge or trial — that statement is not too far off.

Illustrative photo of masked undercover Israeli police arresting a Palestinian (Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of masked undercover Israeli police arresting a Palestinian (Activestills.org)

Hundreds of meters away, behind their fences, live the settlers.

Case in point, the self-confessed killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy they doused in gasoline before burning alive. The team of killers includes one adult and two minors. And whereas Palestinian minors are detained with adults for merely throwing stones, these murderers continue to be treated as minors.

There are Israeli settlers who routinely attack Palestinians as the latter pick their olives. There are settlers in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood who are constantly harassing their Palestinian neighbors. Israeli human rights organizations supply Palestinians with video cameras, so there is actual footage of these attacks, but that has lead to almost no convictions. Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1651 that in the absence of law, the resulting human nature is terrifyingly chaotic, and nowhere is that clearer than among the settlers of the West Bank, who act without fear of ramifications.

What I am trying to say here is that the double standards are frustrating. Yes, I realize that we live under occupation, and under occupation you can’t really ask for justice. But the result is a frustrated populace that due to ongoing restrictions feels increasingly that they have nothing to lose. I’m not saying that when a Palestinian kills an Israeli that they should be let off the hook. What I am saying is treat them the same way you would treat an Israeli who kills a Palestinian.

President Reuven Rivlin says it’s time to admit Israel is a sick society in need of treatment. But that’s not going to happen in the absence of rule of law, and more importantly, justice. As long as a double standard exists whereby rabbis like Dov Lior can spew hate speech with no recourse. As long as the Israeli army comes to the aid of or turns a blind eye to settlers attacking Palestinian’s, as long as Palestinians are killed rather than arrested, the “treatment” President Rivlin seeks isn’t going to come.

Talal Jabari is a Palestinian award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist from East Jerusalem. He tweets from @TalalJabari.

Related:
For near identical crimes, an Israeli and a Palestinian’s fate couldn’t be more different
Hebrew U. threatens Palestinian students with expulsion over political activities
IDF court convicts Palestinian non-violent organizer, EU human rights defender

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‘As U.S. Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have in ending the occupation’ http://972mag.com/as-u-s-jews-we-need-to-figure-out-what-leverage-we-have-in-ending-the-occupation/98019/ http://972mag.com/as-u-s-jews-we-need-to-figure-out-what-leverage-we-have-in-ending-the-occupation/98019/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 18:01:56 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98019 Amid the Gaza war this summer a group of young American Jews formed a new group, ‘If Not Now, When?’, which aims to challenge the American Jewish establishment’s unquestioning support for the occupation. +972 sits down with one of its founding members to find out who the group is and what they hope to accomplish.

By Tom Pessah

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

For decades, American Jewry has been dominated by its own “one percent” – a small group of donors and unelected executives who lead organizations like the Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International.

Recent surveys have shown that American Jews are much more willing to criticize Israeli policies than the leadership of the organizations that claim to represent them. A quarter of Jews aged 18 to 29 believe that the U.S. is too supportive of Israel, according to a Pew survey, but their opposition has been muted.

However, since this past summer young Jews throughout the U.S. have been holding vigils outside the offices of major Jewish establishment organizations, protesting their complicity with war and occupation.

I recently spoke with Yonah Lieberman, an young organizer with “If Not Now, When,” a new movement of young American Jews opposing the occupation and the American Jewish establishment’s complicity and support of it.

Tell me a bit about your background?

I’m 22 years old from in Washington, DC. I went to the University of Michigan and after graduating, was part of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps in Brooklyn. Now I am a community organizer working with low-income tenants to create more affordable housing in New York City.

How did If Not Now, When begin?

It began two weeks into this summer’s violence. People were wallowing in self-pity, reading news articles, unable to function. I couldn’t get any work done at my job because I was so distracted by what was going on in Israel and in Gaza.

The folks involved knew each other from Jewish progressive organizations in New York City and were frustrated no one was doing anything about the war. They sent out a mass email asking for a meeting. I got a call from Daniel May, who had been the director of J Street U (the university organizing branch of J Street) and a mentor for me. “You have to be at this meeting,” he told me.

Our first action was that Thursday, and the next one the next Monday, when people got arrested. We organized a Shabbat protest service, and 300 people showed up. Then there was a Tisha B’Av demonstration, grounded in the framework of the [religious] service. It was in a public atmosphere but without picket signs or shouting. In late August – another big demonstration. Then the tashlich action a few weeks ago.

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

An action by If Not Now, When, for Tisha B’Av in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

We’ve been meeting weekly since.

We did not know what we were doing, we didn’t intend to create a national movement to change the Jewish community, and yet – that’s what we’re doing.

Tell me more about the members?

There are three types. Some have been working on the issue for years. Second, there are people like me, who had moved on but got back into it over the summer. And then there are the most interesting ones: people who are Jewish and progressive but never thought they’d be taking action against the occupation. It is those people who are leading the movement.

We’re not J Street, and we’re not a front for Jewish Voice for Peace (JPV). We’re just a group of people who came together.

I was active in J Street U; I think it helped shift the conversation. But they got it wrong this time around. They supported the war with sentiments like: “we support Israel’s right for self-defense.”

How did you write the statement that you read at the Tashlich (A religious Jewish custom of casting away one’s sins during the Jewish new year)?

It’s a time of year when people look inward and criticize themselves. So we asked people to answer the question: “how am I complicit in the occupation?”

The statement is a compilation of the responses we got.

How did the movement spread out of New York City?

A lot of American Jews were frustrated about the war and 47 years of occupation and they want to do something about it. We told people there would be a conference call, gave out the number, and we’ve had several calls with 30-40 participants each.

We now have “If Not Now” activists coast to coast, in Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New Hampshire, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle.

Folks are coming together and saying, “we’re no longer accepting the complicity of the American Jewish leadership that only asks, ‘what do you want Israel to do?’” They are asking: “Why were you [the American Jewish leadership] so silent for the nine months of the peace process,” which failed. That American Jewish leadership is refusing to take a nuanced view of how the war came about, saying only, “we support Israel and its right to defend itself.”

Why now?

It’s a culmination of several factors but this summer was the last straw.

Since I became aware of Israel-Palestine politics in 2005, there’s been some kind of war or conflict every few years: the Second Lebanon War, the Flotilla, the attacks on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and now this.

People who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s no longer give Israel the benefit of the doubt about why so many civilians are killed. There’s frustration about the total intransigence of the Israeli government, outrage about building more and more settlements and the constant warmongering about Iran and Hamas.

This was the most egregious war, with the highest percent of civilians and children who were killed. We were just sitting and watching the numbers of dead civilians increase.

There’s a sense of urgency we haven’t felt for a long time. We realized that if we don’t act now, we’ll have another war in two years, if not sooner. The occupation could enter its 50th year, its 100th year.

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Organizer Simone Zimmerman speaks to some 250 If Not Now, When activists at a Tisha B’Av action in New York City, where participants read the names of Israelis and Palestinians who died in this summer’s Gaza war. (Photo by Gili Getz)

Tell me more about your goals?

A lot of the Jewish leadership says, “war is sad, but it’s inevitable because they hate us.” But it’s outrageous to say war is inevitable when serious diplomacy has never been tried, when there is no serious desire to take bold action.

The reason why Israel feels it can do whatever it wants to do in the name of self defense is that the people who lead the major Jewish American organizations (AIPAC, the ADL, the Federations) have given them the green light. People of my generation reject this green light. We’re saying, “hold on, we need to do something about this.”

As American Jews, we need to figure out what leverage we have. We believe that the American Jewish community is a lynchpin of the occupation because it legitimizes the right-wing groups that want to perpetuate it.

If we get the major organizations to say, “we think the occupation is wrong, it’s bad for Israel, we need to end it,” then people in Israel will no longer have the green light to move into Palestinian homes, like they just did in Silwan. If we stop giving them money this will stop happening. The people building the settlements will have no one in America to give them support. If we can get [ADL director] Abraham Foxman to say that, things will shift.

How are you positioned in relation to groups like J Street, or JVP?

JVP are Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. They’re a hugely important group. But we’re not a solidarity group. We’re also not trying to speak on behalf of Palestinians.

There are a lot of groups out there, and we don’t condemn other types of activists, but we’re unique in that we’re targeting the major Jewish organizations.

We don’t talk about BDS, the one-state solution, the two-state solution – we’re just trying to end the American Jewish leadership’s complicity in the occupation. We bring people from the far left who talk about “one person, one vote” together with people who are Zionists and think Israel should exist.

We come together because we all believe in ending the occupation.

What about Open Hillel?

We support them. We need more open spaces where people can come together and have real conversations.

What responses have you gotten from the Jewish establishment?

A lot of silence.

They have hundreds of young Jews at their doorstep, and there’s so much debate right now about how to get young Jews engaged. After we got arrested, [executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations] Malcolm Hoenlein said we’re doing this because it’s “in.”

In reality, we’re doing it because of the values that were instilled in us by the Jewish community.

What are your plans now?

The challenge is how to maintain the same sense of urgency as we had during the war. We need to build a movement.

We’re organizing Shabbat dinners all across the country where people can get together and share stories. We hope that will keep up the momentum.

Read also:
At Open Hillel conference, Jews demand their spot at the communal table
BDS’s Jewish roots: A lesson for Hillel
‘Open Hillel’ seeks to redefine U.S. Jewish debate on Israel-Palestine

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A Palestinian admirer of ‘Night,’ disenchanted by its author Elie Wiesel http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-admirer-of-night-disenchanted-by-its-author-elie-wiesel/98022/ http://972mag.com/a-palestinian-admirer-of-night-disenchanted-by-its-author-elie-wiesel/98022/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 16:39:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98022 Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others.

By Amjad Iraqi

Night is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. I was 16 years old when my Jewish-Israeli high school teacher assigned it to my class, and I still remember to this day where I was as I went through its pages. It was a short but powerful story of the horrors of the Holocaust, and my most intimate glimpse yet into one of the darkest periods in human history.

Having left such a strong mark on my learning, it pains me to see that the book’s author and subject, Elie Wiesel, was a signatory to a recent newspaper ad praising the takeovers of dozens of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Wiesel signed the ad as chair of the public council of Elad, an organization which explicitly aims to transform an ancient multicultural city into a place where one ethnic/religious group would have superior rights and a dominant narrative over others. Wiesel not only serves on this board, but actively promotes its work and ideology locally and abroad without hesitation.

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum  / Remy Steinegger)

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum / Remy Steinegger)

The Silwan takeovers, which were facilitated by Elad and other settler groups, are not a mere issue of real estate. In principle, everyone should be allowed to live wherever they wish. But that is not what happens under Israeli sovereignty. Here, Jews are given that right, while Palestinians are confined to select spaces and are even losing those spaces rapidly. Nowhere is this more acute than in Jerusalem, where Palestinian lands are confiscated, residencies revoked, houses demolished, and families pressured out of their homes to pave the way for Jewish-only residences and state infrastructures.

These practices are not occurring in Silwan alone. In the “E1” area east of Jerusalem, the Jahalin Bedouin will be forcibly evicted from their lands in order to close the gaps between Israel’s major Jewish settlement blocs. In the Jerusalemite village of Issawiya, Palestinian residents will lose acres of their land for state plans to build a garbage dump and a national park. Even Arab and Armenian Christians living in the Old City face frequent harassment by Jewish settlers, including vandalizing private property and spraying racist slogans on the walls of their buildings. These actions are protected by security forces, praised by government officials and defended by high-profile figures like Wiesel. This racial asymmetry is why Netanyahu’s defense of the Silwan takeover — that he could not possibly tell any Jewish or Arab family not to live where they please — is a farcical argument for him to make.

The ruins of a Palestinian home in the Old City of Jerusalem that Israel demolished. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The ruins of a Palestinian home demolished by Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The events in Silwan are hardly the first time that Wiesel has displayed his allegiance to such groups (for example, he is also an advisory board member of the right-wing NGO Monitor). But seeing him again openly lauding such a movement only increased my existing frustration with his lack of moral compass on this issue. The same man who speaks out against racist attacks in many parts of the world inexplicably becomes a mouthpiece for them in Israel. Because of discriminatory policies like those supported by Wiesel, Jerusalem today has lost much of its preciousness and moral weight. The city’s atmosphere instead is one of hostility and self-righteousness, with ideological obsession taking precedence over multicultural preservation.

Wiesel is thus part of the wider, serious problem behind the city’s deteriorating fate. Beyond the issue of protecting the rights of non-Jews to their homes in Jerusalem, is the need to challenge the very belief that such a historic and holy place can belong to one group more than another. Both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty of this, and it has to stop. The racist objectives that control the city today come from organizations like Elad, the Israeli government, and Israelis from both the Left and Right who believe that Jerusalem should remain the “eternal undivided capital” of the Jewish people alone. On the opposite spectrum is the belief of many Arabs and Muslims in Palestine and the region who think that Jerusalem must be “liberated” under a nationalist or Islamist flag. Meanwhile, the many Palestinians and Israelis who envision Jerusalem as a city of true diversity and equal rights, as it is meant to be, are pushed aside by the noise of nationalism and religious fanaticism — to which Wiesel appears to be contributing.

As such, I have nothing but disappointment for the writer of that powerful book I read in high school. Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others. The Jewish people deserve their history, safety and identity in this land as much as Christian, Muslim and other Palestinians, especially in the shadows of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But they do not deserve it by uprooting and oppressing another people to achieve their goals, and by claiming superiority of rights by virtue of their race or faith. That is the very evil that men and women like Wiesel should be fighting against, not promoting. That is one of the most important lessons I took from reading Night. I hope that its author will learn the same.

Amjad Iraqi is a projects & advocacy coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent Adalah.

Related:
Elie Wiesel and Amos Yadlin congratulate East Jerusalem settlers
Israel’s very own tunnels of dread in Jerusalem
Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination

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Hebrew U. threatens Palestinian students with expulsion over political activities http://972mag.com/hebrew-u-threatens-palestinian-students-with-expulsion-for-political-activities/97987/ http://972mag.com/hebrew-u-threatens-palestinian-students-with-expulsion-for-political-activities/97987/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 15:59:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97987 Twelve Palestinian students are facing possible expulsion from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University for participating in an ‘illegal’ political protest. In the past, the university only took steps against particular student groups. Now, it’s switching gears and targeting individual students.

By Rami Younis

Near the end of September, 12 Palestinian students received a notice from the Hebrew University administration, stating that Dean of Students Udi Shavit had lodged a complaint against them over their participation in an “unauthorized demonstration that goes against regulations,” which took place on July 10, 2014. The notice said that the administration was waiting for a response from the students before it decides whether they will face a disciplinary committee. The students were then given seven days to respond to the claims, despite the fact that the contents of the complaint was never made clear to them. Should they be asked to stand before the committee, they would face possible suspension or expulsion from the university.

The event took place against the backdrop of the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike. At the time, many events and protests took place across the country and the world. The aforementioned event did not include a demonstration. A small number of students gathered spontaneously outside the “Forum” area of the Mt. Scopus campus, and expressed support for the hunger strikers and administrative detainees.

Palestinian students protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner that are currently on a hunger strike inside Israeli jails, in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, June 10, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian students protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoner that are currently on a hunger strike inside Israeli jails, in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, June 10, 2014. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

“It was definitely not a protest,” says Khalil Gharra, a 22-year-old philosophy and political science student, and one of the 12 who faces potential expulsion. “I have no idea who organized it. It was most likely a spontaneous gathering of a few people who came to protest against the conditions of Palestinian administrative detainees, and to support them in their hunger strike.”

According to the students, they did not know that the event was unauthorized or that it violated university regulations. “University security personnel arrived and moved us into a small area outside the entrance of the university. They did not inform us that the action was illegal. Actually, the opposite was true. The fact that they even moved us in the first place allowed for the gathering to continue, and gave other students the opportunity to join. This created the feeling that the event was legal and authorized,” says Gharra.

“Only later did the university claim that the event violated regulations and was unauthorized,” he adds.

This isn’t the first time that Hebrew University has been accused of limiting its Palestinian students’ freedom of speech. Gharra, like other students, believes this stems from targeted persecution. “This is a direct continuation of the past two years. The university made the same accusations after the Balad student group organized a cultural event at the Hadassah campus in June 2013. They said that Hanin Zoabi spoke without permission. This was totally false – she didn’t even speak. They just made up a reason to attack the group.”

A heckler shouts at demonstrators protesting against Israeli government attempts to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel, May 7, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A heckler shouts at demonstrators protesting against Israeli government attempts to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens of Israel, May 7, 2014. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

“And it didn’t end there,” Gharra continues. “During a protest against the conscription of Christians into the army, which also took place in the Forum area, the university security called the police. The police arrived in huge numbers, along with undercover policemen dressed as Palestinian students. Students said that they saw security personnel hand out blue hats with the word “security” on them to the Jewish counter-protesters. Twelve students were arrested, including myself, after the police and security personnel used excessive force.”

Things get personal

Riham Nassra, a 24 year-old law student who is also facing possible expulsion, has no doubts: “We’re seeing a new strategy of individual complaints submitted by the dean. Until now, the complaints were submitted against Palestinian student groups, which lead to them being temporarily suspended. Balad was suspended, Hadash were harassed and threatened several times, and Palestinian students continued with their political activities in the student groups.”

What’s the difference between complaints against political student groups and individual complaints against students?

“There’s a big difference. The university saw that the student groups continue to function, while the students continued to demonstrate, so it simply moved toward personal deterrence. It is known that the consequences of facing a disciplinary committee can be disastrous for a student. In many cases it can end in suspension, probation or even expulsion. When you go after a student group, the harm is collective rather than personal. They probably think that personal targeting will serve as a more effective deterrence.”

What is really surprising about this entire story is both how exactly the university knew to identify those same students who were present at the gathering, and how it began taking action against them. Nassra has a feeling that the university is using new methods of harassment.

“They probably came prepared. They let us stay there, and allowed other passersby to join. Then they started implementing methods reminiscent of intelligence services, which do not show respect for an academic institute, in order to identify us.”

Right-wing students demonstrate in support Operation Cast Lead at Hebrew University, Dec. 29, 2008. (photo: Activestills.org)

Right-wing students demonstrate in support Operation Cast Lead at Hebrew University, Dec. 29, 2008. (photo: Activestills.org)

“And you know what? Out of the 16 or 17 students that were there on that day, 12 complaints were lodged against university students. That’s a majority of the people who were there. Most of the other students were likely not from the university, which means the university could not target them. This can definitely be seen as an attempt to cause innocent students to fall into a trap. The university takes no steps against the ‘Im Tirzu’ student group, which has been recognized as a racist group by an Israeli court, and whose members chant racist chants during protests against Arab student groups.”

The students have yet to receive dates for their disciplinary committees.

The university’s conduct raises many questions. Lately we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in harassment and targeting of Arab students in universities and colleges across Israel. However, in this case, at least according to the students, the transition from threatening a political body on campus to directly threatening the academic future of students runs contrary to the values of freedom of expression and freedom to protest. There is no doubt that this story will only harm the university’s reputation, as well as that of the Israeli academy, especially in light of growing international pressure to boycott Israeli universities.

Hebrew University responded to the allegations:

The students were summoned to the disciplinary committee after they organized a protest with no prior authorization, as is required by university procedures – an act that constitutes a violation of the university’s disciplinary rules. The university treats all of its students equally, and calls on every student to respect its regulations. The university will take action against any student who chooses to violate the regulations, regardless of national, religious or other affiliations.

The author is a Palestinian activist and writer. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
Jerusalem police arrest Palestinian activist in his Hebrew U dorm
PHOTOS: Hebrew U. students protest pressure on Christians to join army
At Hebrew University, Arabic textbooks reflect a Zionist reality

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Legal experts cannot erase Israel’s history of torture http://972mag.com/legal-experts-cannot-erase-israels-history-of-torture/97979/ http://972mag.com/legal-experts-cannot-erase-israels-history-of-torture/97979/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:51:36 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97979 Since 2001 over 850 complaints of torture have been submitted by Palestinians. Not a single criminal investigation has been opened. 

By Dr. Ishai Menuhin

Whenever Israel signs a treaty, international standards require it to come up with creative bypasses and convoluted legal answers for its actions. At the same, the Israeli government finds it difficult to implement the commitments it has taken upon itself in our name. This is because both the General Security Service (GSS) and the broader Israeli security establishment are interested in violating the human rights of those they interrogate, rather than observe international standards and rules.

On Monday, Israeli representatives presented the state’s position before the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva regarding country’s commitment to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel signed in 1966 and ratified in 1991.

Palestinian organizer tortured in Israeli jail (activestills)

A Palestinian organizer who was tortured in an Israeli jail (Activestills.org)

Representatives from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) were also present at the meeting. They argued that Israel has failed to meet its commitments, and that no significant change has been seen since the time Israeli representatives stood before the committee, four years ago. Members of PCATI further explained that the Israeli government has not yet enacted a law against torture, despite its stated commitments per the convention, as well that of the Convention Against Torture, to do so. Both the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture (CAT) have repeatedly recommended that Israel enact such a law, which is required by any country that signs the aforementioned conventions. The Israeli government and the Knesset have refrained from doing so.

Legal experts have authored long and creative replies explaining that although there is no law against torture, it is strictly prohibited by sundry sections of Israeli law. Thus, they argue, there is no need for legislation. They have also refrained from implementing the Turkel Commission’s recommendations to enact any such law.

PCATI members also argued that the refusal of the government and the Knesset to introduce protective mechanisms against torture are completely contrary to Israel’s actions in the treaties it has signed and ratified. These include audiovisual documentation of interrogations of security suspects or mechanisms for unannounced visits to interrogation facilities by independent bodies. Audiovisual documentation is also part of the Turkel Commission’s core recommendations. However, respect for the now-disbanded commission is lower than that of the attorney general and GSS legal advisors, both of which who have no interest in documenting interrogators who commit torture, not to mention exposing them to criminal investigation.

Furthermore, members of PCATI drew the committee’s attention to the discriminatory methods used for the examination of complaints. These include an inspector responsible for examining complaints, who can merely recommend the opening or closing of a criminal investigation (a minor change introduced last year makes the inspector, who as noted can only make a recommendation, an employee of the Ministry of Justice rather than of the GSS); a supervisor of the inspector who is authorized only to close complaints and is not empowered to order the opening of a criminal investigation against GSS interrogators; and the attorney general, or a person empowered thereby, who has the sole authority to order the investigation of a GSS interrogator.

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

PCATI also drew the committee’s attention to an appalling statistic: Since 2001 over 850 complaints of torture have been submitted by Palestinians, yet not a single criminal investigation has been opened. The three attorney generals who have served over this period have “successfully” and consistently prevented the investigation of complaints of torture, thereby damaging the rule of law. As opposed to ordinary citizens, it seems that attorney generals are allowed to ignore the rule of law whenever it applies to figures in the security establishment.

As noted, the Israeli government has signed onto numerous international treaties on our behalf, yet it has no interest in observing them. It has declared that we are a country committed to protecting human rights. But the occupation requires the use of prohibited means, and torture “for occupation – each occupation – has its own principles,” as the Israeli writer S. Yizhar noted as early as 1967, “but there are no and have never been lovable occupiers.” It is not possible to be a democracy today without a staunch commitment to human rights. The government’s convoluted replies are given in order to hide its use of torture, and attempt to prevent any meaningful change in Israel’s attitude toward Palestinian human rights.

Dr. Ishai Menuhin is the Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and a chairperson for Amnesty International – Israel. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
‘Protecting Palestinians isn’t part of Israel’s ethos’
What the bones remember: Israeli doctors talk torture
Palestinian kids detail abusive interrogations, arrests

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