+972 Magazine http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Tue, 31 Mar 2015 10:53:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The IDF unmasks an anonymous source — itself http://972mag.com/the-idf-unmasks-an-anonymous-source-itself/105039/ http://972mag.com/the-idf-unmasks-an-anonymous-source-itself/105039/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 07:38:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105039 Security agencies in Israel love to give reporters information without attribution, refusing to stand behind what they say. Every once in a while, they publish the same information on their official websites.

By Ido Kenan

An Israeli soldier uses a two-way radio during an exercise during the Gaza border, November 19, 2014. (Amit Shechter/IDF Spokesperson)

An Israeli soldier uses a two-way radio during an exercise during the Gaza border, November 19, 2014. (Amit Shechter/IDF Spokesperson)

In July 2011, a year after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, in which passengers attacked Israeli forces who then killed 13 of them, Turkish organization IHH planned a second flotilla to Gaza. In an attempt to preempt the second flotilla, the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, approved the transfer of medical equipment donated by the Turkish Red Crescent to Gaza. At the same time, somebody was trying to do away with Israel’s responsibility for the medical crisis in Gaza, and announced that, “coordination of the transfer of the Turkish aid is taking place on a daily basis and not because of the medical supply crisis in Gaza, which is a result of the internal Palestinian conflict in its medical system, to which Israel is not party.”

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Who is behind that claim? On Israel’s Arutz 7, for example, the quote was attributed to a “military source.” Israel’s Channel 10 published the claim in its own words, without any quotation marks, and preceded by, “the IDF explained.” Originally, the quote was sent to journalists by the IDF under the contradictory classification of “OTR – In the reporter’s name.” As Rafi Mann explained on The 7th Eye website in an article on the rules of attributing information to sources (Hebrew), “In the reporter’s name” is equivalent to the American term “Deep Background,” a ground rule under which you may publish the information, but without attributing it to the source who gave it to you; OTR, or off the record, is information that is intended only for the journalist’s ears, and not for publication. On the surface of things, both news outlets broke the rules — they published the quote, and thereby broke the OTR rule; and they attributed it to a military source, thereby breaking the ‘in the reporter’s name’; rule.”

Security agencies in Israel love to give journalists information on the condition that they not be identified as the source. Ran Binyamini wrote about it on The 7th Eye in 2006 (Hebrew): “Every once in a while the Shin Bet sends journalists messages through the IDF Spokesperson under the strange headline, ‘information in the reporter’s name’: information about Palestinians who have been arrested or assassinated after involvement in terrorism (the press releases explain what they planned and what they said under interrogation). The reporters are asked to publish the information in their own names — and not to attribute it to the security officials who are behind it.” So do journalists cooperate with this unacceptable practice? Binyamini explained that, “the lack of leaks creates a situation in which reporters and analysts become reliant on the official messaging of the Shin Bet and are unable to verify the information they report in their news broadcasts.”

I was caught up in the same system recently when I tried to find out who was behind a “most severe” emergency warning sent out through an official cellular messaging service in the Jerusalem area in mid-February. The IDF Spokesperson sent me a response, all of which was to be written without attribution and OTR, and nothing for quotation or attribution. In order words, I actually received the information that I requested, but officially, the IDF did not issue a response. That wasn’t enough for me, I was supposed to publish the information and at the end of the article, write that, “the IDF declined to respond.”

The attempt to hide the source of the information was especially ridiculous. On ground rules of “information in the reporter’s name,” an IDF spokesperson told me about “Personal Message,” the IDF Home Front Command’s (HFC) system for sending out warnings to the public. Information about “Personal Message” is available to anyone with an Internet connection, on the Home Front Command’s website. “Off the Record,” an IDF spokesperson told me that it was the police who sent out the message through the HFC’s system. That information, including the name of the police officer who sent out the warning message, was given to me in a telephone conversation by an IDF spokesperson with whom I spoke, and without any stipulations about attributing the information to the IDF Spokesperson.

But let’s get back to the anonymous quote about the medicinal crisis in Gaza. How do I know that the IDF sent that message to journalists? Because the IDF itself published it. On the official IDF website, the COGAT spokesperson published the press release about approving the transfer of medical equipment, at the end of which was a quote under the header: “OTR – Information in the reporter’s name,” in bold and underlined. In other words, not only did the spokesperson break the rule it itself set, it also drew readers’ attention to the fact that the quote wasn’t supposed to be attributed to it. The COGAT spokesperson published the press release on its site in Hebrew and but also in English (only marked OTR this time), so that even those readers who don’t read Hebrew could know who the anonymous source was.

In the past, IDF press releases would only reach reporters, and not the wider public. Since the army started using the Internet as a public relations platform, however, its press releases are also published on its official web page. On a previous version of the IDF Spokesperson’s website it was possible to find hundreds of of press releases that included the words “information in the reporter’s name,” but access to them was restricted to those with a password, which are apparently given to military affairs reporters. A search of the IDF Spokesperson’s current Hebrew website returns a few press releases in which the IDF breaks its own attribution rules, all while confusing and failing to differentiate the various rules that it itself sets. Those press releases are not password protected; they are available to any web surfer.

An IDF Spokesperson press release about the conclusion of air-borne activities fighting the 2010 Carmel fire includes OTR information, according to which, “the Air Force is prepared to receive additional planes and helicopters slated to arrive today from additional countries, including Switzerland, Russia, Holland, France, Azerbaijan and Romania. Additionally, a large American firefighting aircraft will land at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

The COGAT website still has a press release from 2013 about preparations for the Christmas holiday, which, under an OTR heading, includes tourist information — the number of tourists, of hotels, and the number of hotel rooms in Bethlehem, and even an anonymous quote: “According to Palestinian tourism officials, hotels are expected to be at full capacity during the Christmas holidays.” It’s not clear why such information would be sent out under the condition that it not be published. In the English-language version of the same message, which includes some extra information and leaves out some of the parts included in the Hebrew press release (and without a quote from Palestinian officials), the information is transmitted as “Background Information,” which can be published.

IDF press release with 'background' on Christmas

Even when the IDF Spokesperson doesn’t accidentally reveal the “in the reporter’s name” or OTR information on its own website, that information has a way of reaching the public through other media outlets and websites that — either negligently or intentionally — publish the IDF press releases in full, without removing the OTR information. Take for example, a press release published during “Operation Protective Edge” about the events of one night in mid-July, that included only numerical data about attacks against terrorist targets and operatives. However, a copy of the press release published on the “Live News” Facebook page reveals that the original press release was significantly longer. Under “information in the reporter’s name,” descriptions of the terror targets are detailed. The IDF Spokesperson also wrote, without taking responsibility for what it was asking others to publish without attribution, that Hamas is “recruiting large parts of the assets and activists in its ranks for military operations, while blurring the distinction between the civilian population and military targets. That lack of distinction of military activities turns the many Hamas activists and assets, including the Interior Ministry, into legal [military] targets according to international law.”

This is where the IDF’s unsuccessful attempts at shirking responsibility for the information it sends our reaches its most ridiculous levels, courtesy of a B’Tselem report published in January of this year — “Black Flag: The legal and moral implications of the policy of attacking residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, Summer 2014.” The report quotes information released as “information in the reporter’s name” about “the operational infrastructure of Mahmoud al-Za’ar, who serves as a member of the political bureau in the Gaza Strip, and the head of the Political Committee and Foreign Liaison Department.” Quite naturally, the B’Tselem report attributes the information to the IDF Spokesperson.

Response: That’s just how things work

In response to our request for comment, a soldier named Chen from the IDF Spokesperson’s Office clarified that the COGAT spokesperson is not part of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office. Regarding off the record information, according to Chen, the IDF Spokesperson’s classification of “OTR” is not information that is forbidden to publish, but information that can be published without attributing it to a source. According to her, “when we send information OTR, it is simply extra information without attribution. It’s as if we are answering questions in the statement, and passing along additional information to be expand the article. We don’t compel anybody to not publish it, it’s simply the way of doing business, like you have in the international press. In the rest of the Israeli press […] they usually insert it as some extra words on the page under their name. It’s not that he is forbidden from publishing it, it’s just the way it’s done. When I pass along information about something attributed to military officials and it’s not for quotation, then it’s not for quotation.”

Two questions that we sent to the IDF Spokesperson were not answered: What does the IDF Spokesperson do to prevent violations of the rules of attribution and the attribution of information to the IDF against its will by journalists and others who publish it; and why does the IDF Spokesperson give journalists information that it is not willing to take responsibility for and stand behind.

Read this article in Hebrew on The 7th Eye.

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Every day is Land Day, on both sides of the Green Line http://972mag.com/every-day-is-land-day-on-both-sides-of-the-green-line/105053/ http://972mag.com/every-day-is-land-day-on-both-sides-of-the-green-line/105053/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 00:57:27 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105053 The word ‘occupation’ evokes the West Bank, but the policies of land expropriation and Judaization were perfected inside Israel long before they were used on Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israeli police officers stand guard as the home of Hana al-Nakib and her four children is being demolished, in the city of Lod, February 10, 2015. The house was built with the help of family members and neighbours who donated money to help the single mother. The house was built on a family-owned land, but without permission from the Israeli authorities. Palestinian citizens of Israel can hardly attain building permits due to Israel's discriminative criterions. Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

Israeli police officers stand guard as the home of Hana al-Nakib and her four children is being demolished, in the city of Lod, February 10, 2015. The house was built with the help of family members and neighbours who donated money to help the single mother. The house was built on a family-owned land, but without permission from the Israeli authorities. Palestinian citizens of Israel can hardly attain building permits due to Israel’s discriminative criterions. Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

In 2005, Amnon Raz-Karkotzkin, a professor of Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University known to his friends and associates simply as Nono, published a seminal article titled “There is No God, But He Promised Us the Land.” The article, published in Hebrew in Mitaam, an Israeli journal devoted to literature and radical political thought, captured perfectly the spirit of the Zionists who founded the State of Israel. While Judaism may have been the source behind the fervor to re-claim Zion, Nono wrote, those who envisioned and founded the State of Israel only used it inasmuch as it provided them a vehicle for demographic and territorial power in their nascent state.

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For instance, the national symbols, created upon the formal establishment of the state, have always been inextricably tied to Judaism. The best example is the national flag, whose double stripes are based on the patterns found on the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). Turning Jewish symbols into national ones was never very difficult; the difficult part was converting the most valuable resource in the country into a national (read: Jewish) asset. That resource, of course, was land.

From the founding of the state until 1966, approximately 90 percent of Palestinian citizens — those who neither fled nor were expelled during the 1948 war — were placed under a military regime. In the Galilee, the Negev and the Triangle, Palestinian citizens (who were given the right to vote in Israeli elections) were subject to a harsh permit regime, strict curfews and very often coerced collaboration (for more, see Hillel Cohen’s “Good Arabs” and Shira Robinson’s “Citizen Strangers”).

It was during this time that Israel’s secular regime expropriated the land of Palestinians refugees who had fled the country as well as much of the land belonging to those who remained. Passing a swath of legislation in the 1950s under the guise of the Absentee Property Law, the new regime transferred land that had — just years earlier — belonged to Palestinians, to the Israel Land Administration. In fact much of the justifications given by Israeli authorities for building settlements in the West Bank are identical to those given for many of the new towns and cities that were built in the years following the establishment of the state. None of this could have been done without a plan for what the authorities themselves termed Yehud, or Judaization of the land.

By the time military rule over Palestinian citizens was lifted in 1966 (less than a year before the Six Day War and the beginning of the occupation), much of that land had already been Judaized. Kibbutzim, moshavim, development towns and new cities were built atop destroyed Palestinian villages, often in order to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and land. Land, not rebuilding the Third Temple, became the national symbol through which Israel’s leaders could redeem their people in their ancient homeland. After all, there is no God, but He promised them the land.

On March 11, 1976, the Israeli government declared its intention to expropriate 20,000 dunams (4,940 acres) of land between the villages of Sakhnin and Arraba, much of it Arab-owned. The Agriculture Ministry openly declared that the primary purpose of the plan was to alter the demographic nature of Galilee in order to create a Jewish majority there. The long-term plan was called Yehud Ha’Galil” (Judaization of the Galilee), which would be enacted through the building of mitzpim — small Jewish settlements consisting of few families — in between Palestinian villages in order to halt Arab territorial contiguity.

What happened on March 30 of that year came to be known as Youm al-Ard, Land Day. Curfews were imposed on the major Arab cities and villages in the Galilee, Palestinians announced a national strike and flooded the streets with protests. They burned tires, threw stones and molotov cocktails. The Israeli army, which was sent to put down the demonstrations with armored vehicles and tanks, killed four Palestinian protesters. The police killed another two. One hundred were wounded, while hundreds of others were arrested.

In retrospect, the protest did little to stop the expropriation plan. The number of mitzpim established reached 26 in 1981 and 52 in 1988. These mitzpim and the development towns of Upper Nazareth, Ma’alot, Migdal Ha’emeq and Carmiel significantly altered the demography of the Galilee, bringing in an influx of Jews to break up the prospect of adjacent Arab localities.

The events of Land Day took place almost nine years after Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since then, much focus has been placed on the Israeli government’s settlement policies, its land expropriation, its restrictions on movement, its permit regime, its coercive collaboration, among others. But we must not lose sight of the trajectory: much of what the Israeli government has and continues to do in the occupied territories was done in the pre-1967 years to Palestinian citizens.

The reasons to mark the Land Day are too numerous to list in any one article. But this year, as American liberals search for that disappearing sweet spot between “democratic Israel” and the undemocratic occupation, we ought to remember that the Judaization of Palestinian land is part of the DNA of the Jewish state, on whichever side of the Green Line it happens to operate.

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When an Arab kid is arrested in the heart of Tel Aviv http://972mag.com/when-an-arab-kid-is-arrested-in-the-heart-of-tel-aviv/105037/ http://972mag.com/when-an-arab-kid-is-arrested-in-the-heart-of-tel-aviv/105037/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 18:11:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105037 The ugly Israeli is not the one who is filmed yelling at stewardesses or hotel receptionists. It is the one who lives in denial of an entire system that oppresses another people. The one who eats his ice cream as a Palestinian child is arrested right in front of him.

By Mei-Tal Nadler

Activists spread postcards from Gaza in the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 21, 2014. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Activists spread postcards from Gaza in the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 21, 2014. (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

A few weeks ago, just days before Israelis headed to the polls, an Arab teenager was arrested on Tel Aviv’s famed Rothschild Boulevard at around 6 p.m. I have no idea who he is, what he did before he was arrested, where he came from or where he is now. Perhaps he stole something, or perhaps he planned to steal or cause harm. He looked no older than 13, maybe 14. A teenager.

In this story, I am the local, a passerby who is walking her dog when she sees a strange sight: a young boy handcuffed to a policeman in civilian clothing, with a policewoman walking next to them. “Why are you trying to escape, huh? You thought we wouldn’t catch you?” asks to the policewoman. He looks frightened. I ask him how old is he, but he remains silent. I asked if the officers explained his rights to him, if anyone knows he has been arrested. “He’s a shabakhnik. [A Hebrew term for Palestinians who enter Israel illegally without a permit.] You want a shabakhnik on your street?” asks the policewoman. He is just a teenager, and to tell the truth, I don’t really care whether he is on my street.

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I ask again whether he knows his rights, whether they are planning on notifying relative know that he was arrested. I know that the number of Palestinian minors who were arrested without notification went up this year. Children are arrested for six hours, 10 hours, sometimes entire days without their parents’ knowledge. Time passes, and no one knows where their child is. I read about this in a report published a few months ago by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) titled “One rule, two legal systems.” “I don’t owe you an explanation,” the policewoman told me, and continued walking down the street. From afar, one could mistake them for parents on an evening stroll with their son. Two police cars waited for them in the middle of the boulevard.

I walked over to a young couple sitting on a bench while their two kids were eating ice cream. “Doesn’t it seem strange to you that they arrested him just like that? He’s only a teenager.” The father became angry, “I don’t understand why they have to do it in the middle of the day in front of all these children.” They continued to eat their ice cream. The Arab was pushed into a police van, and I left. A short while later I called the police to try and find out the boy’s fate, but to no avail. This is life here, before and after elections.

There was something strange about the proximity between an election cycle bereft of the word “peace” and a spontaneous campaign by Israeli citizens who film videos of “the ugly Israeli.” It seems that like every other conversation, the national conversation on the “ugly Israeli” has its own limits. The tribe simply stands on the side and mocks. It turns out that the ugly Israeli acts horribly toward stewardesses, gets drunk on vacations, embarrasses those around him, parks in handicapped spots, threatens to beat up the receptionist and yells at children on the playground because they didn’t let his kid take a turn on the swings. The “beautiful Israeli” is shocked by these displays, quickly joins the national chorus and clears his or her conscience. After all, we are a kind and tolerant people.

Read more: Israelis elected a non-democracy

But this purist discourse (which is violent in itself) does not serve the function of “truly” unmasking the beautiful or ugly Israeli. Its goal is to allow us to continue and repress the “real” ugly Israeli: the one who goes to great lengths to forget about the complex mechanisms that allows his or her state to rule over another nation, to oppress and humiliate that nation, one who has become accustomed to the psychological disconnect between the “territories” and “here,” one who does not get angry when his or her elected officials allocate huge sums of money to continue building settlements whose very existence hinders any real attempt at negotiations. One who does not really care about what happens “there,” as long as they don’t bring “there” here, to the middle of his or her beautiful boulevard. Not in front of the children.

Ignoring this discourse, and its replacement with a morally purist one filled the gap in an election cycle devoid of any real conversation about the occupation and the perpetual denial of human rights. In any case, this denial mechanism is also the superficial answer to the question “how did this happen to us?”

Most Palestinians who work in Israel without permits come from the West Bank due the difficult economic conditions there. They are willing to put themselves in danger, whether due to the possibility of being caught by security forces, prosecuted or even physically harmed, in exchange for small sums of money.

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past month, Haaretz’s Amira Hass wrote [Hebrew] about statements made by Lt. Col. Shmuel Kedar, who rejected the military prosecutor’s request to keep a Palestinian worker who was caught without an entry permit in custody until the end of his court proceedings. Kedar suggested increasing the number of entry permits to Palestinian workers, and said that the Palestinian who was caught did not constitute a security threat. According to Kedar, “As long as Israel does not reach an agreement, the problem of permit-less Palestinians cannot not be solved through the courts, but rather through providing permits to more people. This solution will allow the Palestinian population to make a living, and will provide them with the motivation to live in peace, with no need to break the law.”

I thought to write all this so that people hear about this frightened teenager, one of many, who most likely came to Tel Aviv to wash dishes or to carry sandbags used for construction, anything to give him some money to bring home. But in order to do this I had to take out my cat’s litter box from my work room. He had just undergone surgery the previous day and needed a quiet space. “Should I close the trashcan for you?” asked someone who stood outside with his dog and stared at me. Something in his voice angered me. “What, are you following me?” I yelled at him. “Don’t worry, I know how to close the trash can. I don’t need you for that.” Turns out he is my neighbor. He lives across the hall. I probably could have been even harsher. Standing like that with his dog in the middle of the night, following me as if he has nothing better to do. Bastard, this is my street and I will decide when to close the trash and when not to.

I kept thinking about all the things that anger me, but then I saw him staring at me, his face full of shock. “You know,” I said quietly, “today in the afternoon they arrested an Arab kid here, and no one cared. People continued eating their ice cream as he passed by, his entire body shaking.” We continued to stand there in silence for a few minutes, while I tried to remember the boy’s face. After all, I’ve lived here for almost a year, and he’s my neighbor. “You know, I don’t really care about the trash,” he said. “I know,” I answered.

Mei-Tal Nadler is a poet, a doctoral student in Ben-Gurion University’s Hebrew Literature department and a research fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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WATCH: Masked settlers throw stones at Israeli activists http://972mag.com/watch-masked-settlers-throw-stones-at-israeli-activists/105024/ http://972mag.com/watch-masked-settlers-throw-stones-at-israeli-activists/105024/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 14:36:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=105024 Incident comes one week after six-year-old girl was wounded by stone-throwing in the exact same location.

Settlers from the illegal outpost Havat Maon in the southern West Bank hurled rocks at a group of Israeli activists on Saturday, just one week after a six-year old Palestinian girl was attacked and wounded in her head in the exact same place.

Three settlers, who appear to be quite young, used slingshots to hurl stones at the group of activists. No one was hurt in the incident.

In the video, you can hear Guy, a documentarian of the occupation and veteran activist from Ta’ayush, a Jewish-Palestinian activist group that hold weekly nonviolent activists in the occupied West Bank, calling the police to come quickly. They arrived within 10 minutes, he told +972, but didn’t make a genuine effort to find the assailants.

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“This is especially troubling because of how often it has been occurring, over and over. The girl who was hurt here just last week — her father was stabbed here exactly four years ago. There have been dozens of violent incidents like this, all from Havat Maon,” says Guy. This time, he added, the police appear to be taking a more active role in investigating the incident, likely due to media coverage.

The Mount Hebron Regional Council told Israeli news site Walla! that they do not know the identity of the settlers and are against violence, but added that “Ta’ayush anarchists come every week with Palestinians to the area to stir provocations,” that they are “funded by foreign governments” and “intentionally edit videos to make the residents [settlers] look bad in the foreign press.”

Ta’ayush activists has been documenting violence from the Havat Maon outpost for over a decade.

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PHOTOS: Running between the walls in the Palestine Marathon http://972mag.com/photos-running-between-the-walls-in-palestine-marathon/104999/ http://972mag.com/photos-running-between-the-walls-in-palestine-marathon/104999/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 12:29:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104999 Palestinian and international runners criss-crossed the West Bank town of Bethlehem under the banner of ‘Right to Movement.’

Photos and text by: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org

Runners pass the Israeli Separation Wall dividing the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. Some 3,200 Palestinian and international runners participated in 10K, half marathon and full marathon races under the title “Right to Movement”. Full marathon runners had to complete two laps of the same route, as organizers were unable to find a single course of 42 uninterrupted kilometers under Palestinian Authority control in the area.

Runners pass the Israeli Separation Wall dividing the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. Some 3,200 Palestinian and international runners participated in 10K, half marathon and full marathon races under the title “Right to Movement”. Full marathon runners had to complete two laps of the same route, as organizers were unable to find a single course of 42 uninterrupted kilometers under Palestinian Authority control in the area.

Under the theme “Right to Movement,” about 3,200 participants from all over Palestine—and more than 50 countries around the world—joined the third annual Palestine International Marathon on Friday, which took place in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

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The marathon aimed to highlight the restriction of Palestinian movement under Israeli military occupation. The route also included Aida refugee camp, where hundreds of Palestinians have lived since the Nakba, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland, before, during and after the 1948 war.Palestinians and internationals of all ages competed in either 10K, half marathon or full marathon versions of the race. Like every year, runners had to complete two laps of the same route, since organizers were unable to find a single course of 42 uninterrupted kilometers under Palestinian Authority control in the city, which is surrounded by the separation wall, checkpoints and Israeli settlements.

Ali Sami, a Palestinian participant, said: “I am happy to see people from around the world here in solidarity with Palestine. It is unique to see this number of internationals at such a local event.”

“It’s good to run for Palestine,” said one Spanish participant. “Every time I see the wall I feel trouble, but I am amazed today to see hope in the Palestinians’ eyes while running around their city.”

Participants warm up before the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Participants warm up before the third annual Palestine Marathon, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

A Palestinian participant releases a dove carrying a piece of paper that reads "Back to Jaffa" as a symbol of the right of return at the start of the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

A Palestinian participant releases a dove carrying a piece of paper that reads ‘Back to Jaffa,’ as a symbol of the Palestinian right of return at the start of the third annual Palestine Marathon, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Runners cross the start line in Bethlehem’s Manger Square during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Runners cross the start line in Bethlehem’s Manger Square during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Spectators stand in front of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity Manger Square during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Supporters, both Palestinian and international, stand in front of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in Manger Square during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Palestinian and international runners pass through Aida Refugee Camp during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Palestinian and international runners pass through Aida refugee camp during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Runners pass graffiti on the Israeli Separation Wall dividing the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Runners pass graffiti on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Palestinian and international competitors run along Bethlehem's Manger Street during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Palestinian and international competitors run along Bethlehem’s Manger Street during the third annual Palestine Marathon, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Runners race along the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank city of Bethlehem in the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Runners run along the Israeli separation wall, which divides the West Bank city of Bethlehem, during the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

A participant shows off his olive-wood participants’ medals following the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

A participant shows off his olive-wood medals following the third annual Palestine Marathon, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

 

Brazilian and Palestinian winners celebrate following the third annual Palestine Marathon, March 27, 2015.

Brazilian and Palestinian winners celebrate following the third annual Palestine Marathon, Bethlehem, West Bank, March 27, 2015. (photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

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A Week in Photos: Survivors, art and destruction in Gaza http://972mag.com/a-week-in-photos-survivors-art-and-destruction-in-gaza/104982/ http://972mag.com/a-week-in-photos-survivors-art-and-destruction-in-gaza/104982/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 15:25:35 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104982 Ten photos from Gaza — of survivors and the devastated urban landscape seven months after the last Israeli offensive.

Photos by Anne Paq/Activestills.org

This week marks seven months since Israel’s war in Gaza last summer, “Operation Defensive Edge.” During the course of the war, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed. Tens of thousands are still homeless due to Israeli strikes. Almost no reconstruction has taken place because of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on the import of raw materials into the Strip.

The following are images from the Gaza Strip in the past week, March 17-25, 2015, showing the destruction, the lives of survivors, memories of the dead and daily life in the besieged strip of land.

Elizabeth Tanboura stands with three of her daughters: Sundos, Malak, and Marwa (right), in front of their destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Elizabth's husband, Radad, and their children Ahmed (15) and Amna (13), were killed during an Israeli attack on August 25, 2014. Two other boys survived because they were not in the house at the time of the attack.

Elizabeth Tanboura stands with three of her daughters: Sundos, Malak, and Marwa (right), in front of their destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Elizabth’s husband, Radad, and their children Ahmed (15) and Amna (13), were killed during an Israeli attack on August 25, 2014. Two other boys survived because they were not in the house at the time of the attack.

Issam Joudeh sits where an Israeli attack killed four of his children and his wife in the Tel Al-Za'tar neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Israeli forces attacked the yard of the family's home without any warning on August 24, 2014. Three children survived, one of them Thae'er had his leg amputated and is still in Germany where he is receiving medical treatment.

Issam Joudeh sits where an Israeli attack killed four of his children and his wife in the Tel Al-Za’tar neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Israeli forces attacked the yard of the family’s home without any warning on August 24, 2014. Three children survived, one of them Thae’er had his leg amputated and is still in Germany where he is receiving medical treatment.

A photo of Abdallah Abdel Hadi Al Majdalawi amid the ruins of his home, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Abdallah (13) was killed alongside his brother Abdelrazek (19) and his cousins Rawan (9) and Mahmoud (8), by an Israeli attack which took place without any warning on August 3, 2014. The attack also destroyed the adjacent home of Ahmed Al Majdalawi.

A photo of Abdallah Abdel Hadi Al Majdalawi amid the ruins of his home, Gaza Strip, March 19, 2015. Abdallah (13) was killed alongside his brother Abdelrazek (19) and his cousins Rawan (9) and Mahmoud (8), by an Israeli attack which took place without any warning on August 3, 2014. The attack also destroyed the adjacent home of Ahmed Al Majdalawi.

Ahmed al-Nashash, 50, stands in front of a closet that still contains clothes belonging to his sons, who were killed during the last Israeli offensive, Rafah City, Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015. The al-Nashash family was fleeing attacks on July 27, 2014, when they were struck by an Israeli missile some 100 meters from their home. Seven members of the family were killed, including his wife of Ahmad, Hana (45), and their five sons. Two of his daughters, Meena (4) and Fatma (2) survived.

Ahmed al-Nashash, 50, stands in front of a closet that still contains clothes belonging to his sons, who were killed during the last Israeli offensive, Rafah City, Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015. The al-Nashash family was fleeing attacks on July 27, 2014, when they were struck by an Israeli missile some 100 meters from their home. Seven members of the family were killed, including his wife of Ahmad, Hana (45), and their five sons. Two of his daughters, Meena (4) and Fatma (2) survived.

Gaza Strip artist Raed Issa during the opening of his exhibition, "Simple Dreams," in the Eltiqua Gallery in Gaza City, March 23, 2015. The exhibit included some of his destroyed paintings that he salvaged from the ruins of his home. Issa’s home, which included his studio, was destroyed by an Israeli attack last summer. Raed lost many paintings and art materials.

Gaza Strip artist Raed Issa during the opening of his exhibition, “Simple Dreams,” in the Eltiqua Gallery in Gaza City, March 23, 2015. The exhibit included some of his destroyed paintings that he salvaged from the ruins of his home. Issa’s home, which included his studio, was destroyed by an Israeli attack last summer. Raed lost many paintings and art materials.

Graffiti is seen in on rubble in the destroyed quarter of Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is being recycled to produce low quality concrete.

Graffiti is seen in on rubble in the destroyed quarter of Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is being recycled to produce low quality concrete.

Palestinians walk through a destroyed quarter of Al-Shaaf neighborhood, in Al-Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are still internally displaced and many are living in very dire conditions.

Palestinians walk through a destroyed quarter of Al-Shaaf neighborhood, in Al-Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are still internally displaced and many are living in very dire conditions.

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

Palestinians drive through a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf neighborhood, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015.

A Palestinian removes rubble from a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf area, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is then recycled to produce low quality concrete for reconstruction.

A Palestinian removes rubble from a destroyed quarter of Al Shaaf area, in Al Tuffah, east of Gaza City, March 21, 2015. The rubble is then recycled to produce low quality concrete for reconstruction.

 

The ruins of a four-story building belonging Abdul Jawad Mheesin, which was destroyed during the last Israeli military offensive, Gaza Strip, March 25, 2015. The attack killed Nisreen Ahmad (38) and her son Hussein (8), who were living in the adjacent home, as well as Suheir Abu Meddin (43), who was living in the tower and went back inside to take some belongings minutes after a warning missile was fired.

The ruins of a four-story building belonging Abdul Jawad Mheesin, which was destroyed during the last Israeli military offensive, Gaza Strip, March 25, 2015. The attack killed Nisreen Ahmad (38) and her son Hussein (8), who were living in the adjacent home, as well as Suheir Abu Meddin (43), who was living in the tower and went back inside to take some belongings minutes after a warning missile was fired.

 

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The long road to Bethlehem http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:38:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104862 It wasn’t the soaring arches or the elegant windows, with their curved caps. It wasn’t that the first room of the house was built in 1808. It wasn’t the jasmine that, like a woman letting down her hair, released its heavy perfume at night. It wasn’t the olive, loquat, lemon, almond, and apricot trees that filled the garden. Nor was it that the fruit from that garden seemed sweeter here in Bethlehem than it was in Jerusalem.

The apartment’s biggest selling point, in my landlady’s opinion?

The well.

She showed it to me the first time I saw the place, before I’d decided to rent the apartment. The well was hidden behind a curtain in the kitchen. She pushed the fabric back, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Inside the nook stood a pump and, on the floor, a large stone with a wrought iron handle. My landlady, who was in her seventies, gave the handle a tug. The rock lifted. There was a clunk as she placed it on the kitchen floor.

My landlady got on her knees and peered into the hole, a spot of night surrounded by chiseled white.

“See?” she tapped my calf, signaling that I should get on the floor, too. I obliged her.

I peered into the well. I didn’t see anything. But I could smell the collected rainwater below us.

My landlady put her hands on my back and pushed herself up. As she brushed the dirt off her knees, she explained to me that, if I were to take the apartment, we would share the well. And while our neighbors’ taps would run dry—as they always do here, eventually—we would never go without.

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

I remembered a long, waterless weekend I’d spent in Bethlehem in 2010. An American friend who lived and worked there had invited me to come celebrate his birthday. I was living in Tel Aviv then and had only been to Bethlehem once before, to work on an article for The National. The photographer who’d been assigned to the story also had Israeli citizenship. Unlike me, however, he had a car. That day, we’d left the Bethlehem area via the settler checkpoint outside the tunnels—a checkpoint we should have breezed through as two Jews riding in a yellow-plated vehicle. But the female soldier stopped us and asked for my ID. Nervous about the fact that I’d been in Bethlehem, which is off-limits to Jews who hold Israeli IDs, I gave the solider my American passport. She rifled through it looking for my visa. When she didn’t find it, she rolled her eyes at me, sighed, and asked me in Hebrew, “Where is your identity card?”

The photographer and I talked our way out of trouble. But I was rattled by the experience and feared that I’d be arrested the next time I was caught. Still, when my American friend asked me to come out to the West Bank for his birthday, I said yes. I told myself that I didn’t need to think too far ahead—I’d worry about leaving when it was time to leave.

When I got there, I found my friend’s house filthy; his kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. “The water’s out,” he explained. He showed me how we could flush the toilet and brush our teeth using the water he’d saved in plastic bottles ahead of time. I would learn later that other friends keep buckets in their showers to collect the grey water. Because this is what you do in the West Bank, where you’re always waiting for the taps to go dry, where the Jewish settlements you can see from your window or that you pass on the road—the nice, neat, clean settlements that are locked away behind fences and surrounded by security—have green lawns and full swimming pools.

Despite the water shortage, what was supposed to be an overnight trip to Bethlehem turned into three nights of sleeping on my friend’s couch. Every time I thought about leaving, I remembered my confrontation with the female soldier. There are checkpoints on every side of Bethlehem: how could I get out of here without getting caught? And this time I was without a car: wouldn’t it be even more difficult on public transportation? Because I’d be coming out of a Palestinian area, I’d be on a Palestinian bus. And while settlers’ buses just roll through the checkpoints, Palestinian buses are always stopped, passengers IDs are always checked.

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I couldn’t figure it out, and I dreaded the soldiers, so I just stayed. And stayed. I joked with my American friend that it would be easier for me to go to Jordan and take a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv than it would be to just take the bus home.

Finally, on the fourth day, I realized that I couldn’t just wait out the occupation. The checkpoints and soldiers weren’t going to disappear. And I needed to take a shower. I had to get back to Tel Aviv somehow.

When I left my friend’s apartment that day, I had no idea how I’d get home. Nor did I know that Bethlehem would soon be my home; that I’d end up moving here less than three years later, into a house—a house with a well—owned by refugees from Jaffa.

***

It happened in steps. First I left Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem. Comfortable enough in Hebrew, I started studying Arabic. I began writing less about migrant workers and African refugees—my old south Tel Aviv beat—and more about the occupation. I started teaching at a university in the West Bank.

The commute from my apartment in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel was long, sometimes taking as much as two hours door to door. First I’d walk to the light rail. Then I would take the light rail to Damascus Gate, get down, and walk to the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. The territories aren’t just under occupation, they’re also under separation—separation from each other, separation from the Jews. After waiting for the segregated bus to fill, I would ride it to Abu Dis.

I wept — out of shame for the things I said; because I meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now.

To arrive on time for my 8 a.m. class, I had to wake up at five and leave the house around 5:30. I needed the half-hour cushion for delays, like when the light rail was stopped because somebody reported a suspicious package. It was during Israel’s 2012 pummeling of Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense.” With the light rail at a standstill and time racing ahead, I had no choice but to hail a taxi.

I got in and told the driver that I was going to Damascus Gate.

Shaar Shkhem?” He repeated in Hebrew, sounding surprised.

“Yes.”

He glanced at me in the rearview mirror, giving me a weary look, sizing me up. I worried that he might refuse the ride. Once, on my way from Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, a cab driver had threatened to dump me on the side of the highway when, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I wrote for Al Jazeera.

But the driver continued. As we neared the city center, however, he insisted on dropping me off there.

“No,” I pushed back. “I need to get to Damascus Gate.”

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

“But,” he began, “are you Jewish? Because, if you are, it’s not safe for you there. Especially not now.”

What, when we’re pummeling Gaza for no good reason? I thought. Instead, I just said, “It’s fine. I’m safe.”

The driver argued that I was putting myself at risk. He asked why I was getting out at Damascus Gate anyways.

I explained that I worked in the West Bank.

And thus began the political conversation I’d been trying to avoid. Because I knew where the discussion would go. Because it was early in the morning and I’d already read the bad news coming out of Gaza and because I’d dealt with the light rail stopping because of a suspicious package. Because I just wanted to get to work.

Things went exactly where I expected them to, with the cab driver telling me that Operation Pillar of Defense was necessary, that the Palestinians were getting what they deserved, that we needed to obliterate Gaza and re-occupy it.

A face flashed before my mind’s eye: one of my favorite students. Born and raised in a refugee camp near Hebron, she was hardworking, curious, sensitive, gentle, compassionate, and smart. Kind. Open-minded. Non-judgmental. In Arabic, she would be described as having a “white heart.” This student was in my Monday/Wednesday eight a.m. class and on those mornings, she was the reason I got out of bed at five. Knowing she would be there in Abu Dis, waiting for me, was what got me moving.

And the cab driver thought the Palestinians were getting what they deserved. Did my beloved student—did any of my students—deserve this?

I didn’t realize I was speaking until I heard my voice. I was shrieking at the driver, cursing him, ya ben zona, you son of a bitch, wishing death—“No, not just death. Death full of pain”—upon him and all of his family.

“You and all of your family!” I repeated as I hurled the cab fare at him and exploded out of the taxi. I turned my back to the street and faced the Old City so he wouldn’t be able to see my face as he rounded the traffic circle and headed back toward West Jerusalem.

I wept.

Out of shame for the horrible things I’d said to him; because I’d meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now, because I wanted to take them back; because I knew my favorite student would never wish death on anyone, because she would be disappointed in me, because she would no longer look up to me. Because I was disappointed in myself, because I was disappointed in the cab driver, a fellow Jew, because I was disappointed in the Jewish state.

I cried for the driver and the hatred he lugged around, for the life he was trapped in. Because he was brainwashed by the state that kept him poor, by the government that pitted him against Palestinian workers and stoked the flames of racism.

I cried for Gaza.

And then, with my 8 a.m. class drawing ever closer and my student waiting for me there in Abu Dis—her face round and innocent and full of expectations and hope, even in the middle of a war, even though her brother, in a matter of months, would be detained by the same army that had already arrested so many of her uncles and cousins—I pulled myself together and continued on my way.

On my way to the Palestinian bus station, I stopped to buy a tea from a street vendor. He saw my puffy eyes and noticed me wiping my nose with the back of my hand like a child. “What happened?” he asked me in Arabic. I told him that I was upset about what Israel was doing to Gaza.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Hezbollah will join the war soon, inshallah.”

I would have burst into tears again if I’d had any left.

***

There was another reason I headed out from my apartment in Kiryat Yovel at 5:30 a.m.: I needed the half-hour cushion because the Palestinian buses don’t run according to a schedule; they only leave the station when they are full. Another reminder of Israeli privilege. You can count on Jewish buses, the green Egged buses, which are subsidized by the state. In general, you can plan around the Egged buses, you can arrive on time. These little things end up making an impact on bigger things, like morale and productivity and the economy.

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

But it wasn’t just the five a.m. wake-up and the two hour commute that wore me out. It was also what happened during the trip. Leaving East Jerusalem, the bus would roll through the checkpoint like all the other cars entering the West Bank. Coming back in to the city, however, the Palestinian buses were singled out and pulled over. The Egged buses full of Jewish Israelis headed to and from settlements—which are illegal according to international law—were free to pass.

(Stop and think about this for a second: the settlers, the people whose presence is illegal in the territories, are free to leave the West Bank and enter Jerusalem as they wish while the Palestinians are treated like criminals. Under occupation, everything is hafuch al hafuch al hafuch—the reverse of the inverse of the reverse. Down is up and up is down and down is up. And as you struggle to make sense of it all—as you try to figure out which way is indeed up and which is down and if it even matters anymore—everything starts to seem senseless all over again.)

Coming from Abu Dis, a Palestinian area, meant that I was on a Palestinian bus. As other cars and Egged buses drove through the checkpoint, our bus would ease over to the side and slow to a stop. The driver would open the door. Everyone would get off and file into a walkway lined with chicken wire—what can only be described as a cattle chute. A soldier would stand at the front, between us and the now-empty bus. One by one, we would present him with our IDs so we could get back on the bus and continue to Jerusalem.

Because it was going directly to and from the university, almost all of the passengers on my bus were students, professors, or other administrative staff. Almost all were East Jerusalemites, meaning that they held an Israeli ID card that, from more than a foot away, looked nearly identical to mine. So, most of the time, nothing looked amiss to the soldiers. They see what they want to see—or what they expect to see. And because I’d gotten off a Palestinian bus and was surrounded by Palestinians and because I was holding up a blue ID, just like everyone else, and maybe because I look ambiguously ethnic, they waved me through, assuming that I, too, was Palestinian.

But every once in a while, the difference in my ID would catch a soldier’s eye. The reaction was the same every time. First, a double take. Second, they’d take my ID out of my hand. Next: a long look at the ID, a glance at me, back to the ID.

And then the question, sometimes whispered, sometimes barked. Sometimes asked in awe, sometimes anger.

Mah at osah po? What are you doing here?

I work at the university in Abu Dis, I’d answer in Hebrew.

The awe or anger invariably gave way to disbelief as they asked: Mah at osah sham? What do you do there?

I teach there.

Sometimes that was it and I was free to get back on the bus. Sometimes the soldier would call a second soldier and they’d puzzle over my ID together and ask me more questions, questions designed to ask without asking. Where do you live? Which neighborhood? How long have you lived there? Where did you live before that?

But sometimes they would just ask: are you Jewish?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be in Abu Dis and it’s legal for me to be on this bus. Irritated, I also pointed out the irony that I, a civilian, was explaining the laws to him, the soldier. If anyone should know the laws here, it’s him, not me, right?

Another time, a concerned girl soldier took me aside to ask me if everything was okay, if I was safe, had I been hurt?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be on this bus.

Once, a soldier didn’t believe that I was, indeed, the person in the ID. He thought I was using someone else’s to try to sneak into Jerusalem and he asked me to produce another form of identification with a picture. I had not yet bothered to get an Israeli driver’s license—I didn’t have a car—so I gave him my old Florida driver’s license. He was skeptical about that ID, too: At b’emet mi’Florida? You’re really from Florida? Asked as though I don’t speak Hebrew with a heavy American accent.

I started to panic. A Kafkaesque scenario flashed before my eyes—what if I can never prove to him that I’m me? What if he locks me up and no one believes that I’m me? And I’m arbitrarily detained forever?

I realized, of course, that my fears were absurd. But the occupation is an absurdity. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

As was the soldiers’ inability to wrap their heads around my presence at the checkpoint. Was it that hard for them to believe that a Jew worked at a Palestinian university? That a Jew could ride a Palestinian bus? And that I could do all these things without being harmed?

Every trip through the checkpoint—whether I was waved through or whether I had trouble with the soldiers—was distressing. I was upset, of course, at the checkpoint’s mere presence and all that it implied for Palestinians’ human rights and freedom of movement (or, rather, the lack thereof). The checkpoint was a reminder of segregation, of people’s inability to reach their friends, family, work, schools, and medical care.

And then there was my reaction to the soldiers who manned the checkpoint. I would see a Star of David dangling from a soldier’s neck and remember the chai necklace that my mother made me wear when I was a child. The thought would pop into my head: these are my people.

No. I would push back. These are not my people.

Who are my people?

***

After a semester of commuting, I was exhausted, so I took a room in Abu Dis. I’d spend the weekdays there and head back to Jerusalem for the weekend. I thought this would simplify my life. I quickly found out that it would just make things more complicated.

I realized this one bright spring morning, after I’d lived in Abu Dis for a few months. I’d just finished teaching my eight a.m. class and was headed to the hummus joint 100 meters or so from the university when a line of Israeli army jeeps came roaring up the street. They looked absurdly out of place: the ugly military green clashed with the stone buildings rendered warm and mellow by the rising sun. Their boxy shape was an affront to the rolling hills and soft edges of the olive trees that shimmered silver in the wind; their uniformity strange before the patchwork of stores and restaurants and houses, before the colorful blankets and rugs that housewives hung from their balconies. Even the jeeps’ sound didn’t fit the place, the engines drowning out the village’s morning murmurings of sabah al-kheir and sabah al-noor and Fairuz’s songs drifting from an open window and the birds’ gossipy chatter.

Entering Abu Dis, which lies beyond the wall, is a provocation in and of itself. It’s a reminder that the occupier is always near. And when he isn’t near, he’s inside: inside your village, raiding your house, demolishing your home, arresting your children, shooting unarmed civilians to death, confiscating your land for settlements, manning the checkpoints that rob you of your time and dignity. But first, before the occupier gets out of the jeep and does any of that, he drives.

The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping ‘them,’ the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep ‘us,’ the Jews, ‘in.’

He drives up the street, the street I walk down every day. The one that leads to the produce shop where I buy my fruit and vegetables and the stand that sells olives from the neighboring village, the market where I buy fresh shrak and labaneh and eggs and meat. The street that takes me to another road that takes me home, to the place where I cook and eat and laugh, where I sleep at night, where I wake in the morning to hear birds chirping outside my window. My friend and her husband and her three kids don’t live off this street but they live in that house over there, that house where in the winter, during the rain, I leave my wet boots by the door and she gives me a pair of nice, clean socks and after lunch I help her with the dishes as though I’m not a guest but part of her family, and I speak broken Arabic with her three children. The house where—when I’ve already been there for four hours and I need to get home—my friend says badri, badri, telling me it’s too early for me to go. Stay, stay. Haliki, haliki, ya Mya.

This is the street where, when I walk alone, colleagues and acquaintances stop to offer me a ride home. They know that I’m Jewish; they know that I have an Israeli ID. One sees a parallel to his own life—he’s really PFLP, he confides in me, but pretends to be Fatah so he can keep his job at the university. This is the street where we keep each other’s secrets. This is the street that keeps me safe.

And with the jeeps headed straight toward us, the street moved as one. The boys around me picked up rocks. I didn’t think, my body mimicked those around me.

I bent over and reached for a stone.

Wait, wait! a voice inside of me said in Hebrew. I saw them in my mind’s eye: the baby-faced boys in the jeeps, child-soldiers who had started learning about the Holocaust in preschool, who believed that Palestinians pose a mortal threat, human beings who had been brainwashed and believed that they were doing something good for am hayehudi, the Jewish people.

My people.

No, no, I argued with myself. These are not my people.

The spell was broken. I was no longer moving with the street. Feeling something heavy in my hand, I looked down and was shocked to see that I was holding a rock. I dropped it just as the boys around me began to pelt the jeeps with stones and the soldiers began to fire tear gas.

The jeeps stopped and the soldiers got out, guns in hand. I heard a pop I recognized from protests—rubber-coated bullets. Caught between rocks and guns, I ducked and looked for a way out of the mess. A store owner who’d come outside to close his steel shutters waved at me. He pointed at a line of parked cars and then himself. I understood. I should get behind the cars, run alongside them and then into the store.

I did and I was safe. But the moment I bent over and picked up a stone was something that I would return to over and over in my head—how I’d lost myself in my surroundings, how confused I’d felt when I thought of the soldiers, how I felt at once connected to them and the village. How mortified I’d felt when I looked down and found a rock in my hand.

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

***

Finding it increasingly difficult to relate to Jewish Israelis, even those who weren’t in uniform, I began dating a Palestinian journalist I’d met in Ramallah. He was a West Banker with a green ID. This meant that he wasn’t supposed to visit me in Jerusalem—where I spent most of my weekends—without an Israeli army issued permit.

But he came anyway. There are a number of places where the separation barrier isn’t finished, where there are gaps in the chain-link and barbed wire fence. One is within sight of a checkpoint; my partner arrived to that particular hole in one afternoon, on his way to Jerusalem to see me, only to find soldiers on the other side. They’d closed the fence and were admonishing the crowd of Palestinians that had gathered and were waiting to cross, tut-tutting them, warning that they’d better not even try it.

“Then the soldiers got in their jeep and drove away and one of the men took out some wire cutters,” my partner laughed as he recounted the story, using the air and his fingers to show me how the fellow had cut the fence and held it open.

The hole, my partner explained, leads to the checkpoint.

“Huh?”

“The parking lot,” he clarified. “I caught the Jerusalem bus from there. First they take the people who have come through the checkpoint with permits. Then they pick us up.”

“No way. Really?” I asked him, in Hebrew.

He answered in Hebrew in kind, ken, yes, and showed me the pictures he’d taken on his phone. There was the guard tower, just meters away. There was the group that had gathered as soldiers attempted to enforce the new closure in the fence; there was the fellow holding the hole open; there were men helping an elderly woman and a young lady through. The parking lot; the bus. I was struck again by the absurdity of it all. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

That’s not to downplay Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. It’s more to point out that if someone wants to slip into Israel without a permit, they can. In fact, approximately thirty thousand Palestinian workers do it every day. But, in doing so, they risk injury, arrest, and death. In July of 2012, a Palestinian day laborer was killed when soldiers opened fire on a car full of workers that tried to pass a checkpoint without permits.

Despite the danger, we managed to see a lot of each other. But it’s impossible to have a proper relationship—to unite, to become one—when there’s a wall dividing you, making certain that you remain two. Which is, of course, the point. The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping “them,” the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep “us,” the Jews, “in.”

Moving to the West Bank started to make sense. Though I could be arrested if I was caught in the “wrong” area—that is, Area A, the pockets of the West Bank that Oslo largely put under Palestinian rule—the consequences were far less severe for me than they were for my partner. We thought it very unlikely that a Palestinian would hurt me; conversely, inside of Israel, Palestinians have been attacked in public places on numerous occasions.

The center of my life had—slowly, unintentionally—shifted to the area beyond the wall, to a place I called “outside.” It was natural that my body would follow.

***

In May of 2013, I made a trial move to Bethlehem, staying in a friend’s apartment while she was in Gaza researching a book. Still without a car, I left the city only once that month. Bethlehem is hemmed in by checkpoints—every road out leads, eventually, to a checkpoint, two of which are off-limits to me as a Jewish citizen of Israel.

There’s the one known as “300”—the massive complex of cement and spikes and barbed-wire and turnstiles and booths and bullet-proof glass and guns and bullet-proof vests and the child-soldiers who wear them—that stands between Bethlehem and its big sister, Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem and entering Bethlehem via 300 isn’t difficult for people like me: Jewish citizens of Israel who hold a second passport. If you’re driving through, you flash a smile and the outside of your foreign passport to the guard in the booth, who presses the button that lifts the arm ahead. And that’s it, despite the two signs outside of the checkpoint warning that it is illegal for Israelis to enter Area A and that doing so puts their lives in danger.

On foot, the soldiers don’t even look at you as you enter Bethlehem via 300—yet another reminder that the army isn’t there to protect the occupied, as it is obligated to do according to international law.

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

But turn around and try to enter Jerusalem—which the state considers “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”—and you’ll fast remember why the Israeli military is there. Those who are driving in have to pop the trunk of their car so that the soldiers can inspect whatever is inside. Those who pass on foot are subject to metal detectors and humiliating searches. A friend once saw soldiers ask an elderly woman to remove her shirt.

And, coming in to Jerusalem via 300, every ID is scrutinized.

I can’t chance it. I’m too likely to be arrested. So, via public transportation, there is only one other way to get in to Jerusalem: the Beit Jala bus. As the name suggests, the bus exits the Bethlehem area via Beit Jala, a Bethlehem suburb where, technically, Israelis are allowed to be. It then passes through Area C, using the same road that leads to the Har Homa settlement. When the bus arrives to the checkpoint outside of the tunnels that lead to Jerusalem, it’s pulled to the side. Meanwhile, the settlers roll on through.

And then it’s the same routine I knew from my Jerusalem-Abu Dis commute: everyone gets off, stands in line, presents their ID to a soldier, and then gets back on the bus that continues to Jerusalem.

While, technically, I was allowed to be at that checkpoint, being on the Beit Jala bus could arouse some suspicion because the line begins in Area A. But because Palestinian buses will stop to pick up people on the side of the road—a bit like taxis—I could have, in theory, boarded in Areas C or B. I’d memorized the names of restaurants and businesses that were on the strip of the road that was in Area C so, if need be, I could say I’d been somewhere legit. But I hate lying. And I’m such a terrible liar that I was once detained at the Qalandia checkpoint for answering the question “where are you coming from?” honestly: Ramallah.

The easiest way out of Bethlehem, for a Jewish citizen of Israel, was via a yellow-plate (Israeli) car. But because I was carless in May of 2013, I only left Bethlehem once. I didn’t move for the rest of the month. And it was fine. So fine that I ended up subleasing another apartment in Bethlehem in August. And that was fine, too. So I looked for something a little more permanent—a search that would lead me to the house with the well.

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Diaspora Jews, it’s time to step up http://972mag.com/diaspora-jews-its-time-to-step-up/104978/ http://972mag.com/diaspora-jews-its-time-to-step-up/104978/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:04:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104978 For years there have been calls for on-the-ground opposition to the occupation. Now there are a growing number of Jewish platforms — and voices — seeking to make it happen.

By A. Daniel Roth

Activists hold a sign reading 'Segregation is not our Judaism,in Hebron , October 25, 2013. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Members of the ‘All That’s Left’ collective at a direct action protesting segregation in Hebron, West Bank, October 25, 2013. Seven of the Jewish activists were arrested and later released. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The way the world is talking about the Israeli occupation is changing. Alongside that change, opportunity is knocking for those of us standing in opposition: calls for diaspora Jews to be present on the ground in Israel and Palestine are increasing. An important shift is beginning to take place — right now.

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The writing is on the wall. Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected, U.S. President Obama and his staff have been speaking differently about the once-incontrovertible two-state solution. One campus Hillel changed its name instead of changing it’s programming to adhere to Hillel International’s rules. If Not Now stormed onto the scene last summer in response to the violence in Gaza. Boycotts and BDS campaigns are sprouting up on campuses and at supermarkets all over the world.

That was on display for anyone to see last week in Washington D.C. The J Street conference, which brought together over 3,000 people, saw a series of fired up conversations that put shone a spotlight on the American-Jewish relationship with Israel. During a panel on liberal Zionism, Israeli journalist (and +972 blogger) Noam Sheizaf made a clear plea for a collective refocusing from “state solutions” to the urgency of ending the inequality that exists for millions under occupation, who lack freedom of movement or access to civilian courts.

Peter Beinart also took a step forward on stage, calling on young Jews from North America and around the world to stand physically in Israel and Palestine, and to take part in Palestinian non-violent resistance to the occupation.

For years there have been calls for on-the-ground participation from a variety of communities. Recently, there has been a surge in Jewish platforms for those communities to take part in peace and justice work.

A Jerusalem-based volunteer program for young American Jews (which I co-founded) called Solidarity of Nations-Achvat Amim engages in human rights work and learning based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. All That’s Left (of which I am a member) is a collective aimed at engaging the diaspora in anti-occupation learning, organizing, and on-the-ground actions. The new Center for Jewish Nonviolence has already brought a delegation to help Palestinian farmers to replant trees the IDF uprooted last spring.

It is important that Jewish communities with connections to Israel take part in this movement. Whether they have a personal, communal, religious or cultural relationship with this land, diaspora communities should be on the forefront, stepping up to take responsibility for a peaceful and just future here.

The groups and initiatives I mentioned above are working on engaging even more people in this work: bringing dozens of diaspora Jews — who are already living and learning in Israel — to do solidarity work with Palestinians. In the coming months, they hope to bring hundreds more from around the world for direct actions and educational initiatives in the West Bank.

There are important roles for people from all over the world, of various backgrounds, in organizing opposition to the occupation. Right now, at this very moment, there is a growing call for diaspora Jews to to find their way here and stand up for equality. It’s time to answer that call.

A. Daniel Roth is a journalist and educator based in South Tel Aviv. His writing and photography is at allthesedays.org and you can follow him on Twitter @adanielroth.

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PHOTOS: When even holding signs is forbidden by Israeli Police http://972mag.com/photos-when-even-holding-signs-is-forbidden-by-israeli-police/104950/ http://972mag.com/photos-when-even-holding-signs-is-forbidden-by-israeli-police/104950/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:36:00 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104950 Dozens of Israeli, Palestinian and international activists protested in the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah against the Judaization of Jerusalem. The police, however, didn’t take kindly to their expressions of free speech.

By Natasha Roth, photos by Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org

Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators march against Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators march against Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israeli, Palestinian and international activists gathered at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City Friday afternoon, before marching to the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in order to protest the Judaization of East Jerusalem.

The march came amid increased tensions over the attempt by Jewish settlers to take over property in Palestinian areas of the city, following the attempted eviction of the Sub Laban family from their home in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The most recent attempt on March 15 failed, thanks to the presence of Palestinian and Israeli activists who went to the Sub Labans’ home to try and prevent them from being forced out. The threat of eviction, however, remains.

The crowd, which included individuals from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement and Women in Black, began to move away from Damascus Gate, holding signs calling for the end to the occupation and settlements in East Jerusalem, while accompanied by drumming and chanting.

Members of the Shamasneh family speak during a protest against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Members of the Shamasneh and Sub Laban families speak during a protest against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The police immediately approached and informed demonstrators that it was illegal for them to carry their signs (without explaining why), and as the march made its way up Nablus Road in the direction of Sheikh Jarrah, they began confiscating signs one by one. Those who attempted to hold onto their signs — including elderly women — were manhandled by the police. One Palestinian who passed by the demonstration even shouted at the police about freedom of expression and questioned what kind of a democracy engages in such behavior.

An Israeli policeman confronts an Israeli demonstrator during a march against the Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

An Israeli policeman confronts an Israeli demonstrator during a march against the Judaization in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

The march continued — with the majority of signs confiscated — escorted by two Border Police on horseback, Jerusalem Police on foot and a Border Police patrol car. After pausing briefly at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah, where more police cars arrived, the procession descended into the neighborhood, where protesters met with several members of the Shamasneh and Sub Laban families, both of which face eviction. They explained their plight and thanked the demonstrators for their solidarity. One of the speakers pointed out that if the police wanted to confiscate signs, that was their problem — he would bring a thousand more.

The march carried on to the outskirts of Sheikh Jarrah, where the police again began assaulting demonstrators holding signs that had not yet been confiscated. Several scuffles broke out as police officers continued to snatch signs and tear them up, as well as attempting to confiscate people’s drums. Eventually, however, the drumming started up again, and some of the signs were returned to demonstrators who held them at the edge of the pavement, facing the traffic. It seemed that the entire performance was simply a show of force on the part of Israeli security — against an unarmed, peaceful crowd, which counted children and the elderly among its numbers.

And Israeli policemen confiscates a sign from a protester during a demonstration against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

And Israeli policemen confiscates a sign from a protester during a demonstration against the Judaization of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, March 27, 2015. (photo: Mareike Lauken, Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

As the protest drew to an end, members of the two families again thanked the participants and reminded them that the battle to save their homes is ongoing. There was just enough time for one final opinion to be expressed: a car driving past the group slowed, the window opened, and a young Israeli eyeballed the crowd, while putting up his middle finger. And so, another Friday in Sheikh Jarrah came to a close.

Natasha Roth, a British immigrant to Israel, is a freelance writer and researcher, and a former coordinator at the ARDC. She can be found on twitter at @NatashaRoth01.

Related:
Palestinian family under threat of eviction by settlers
The occupation doesn’t take a day off for elections in E. J’lem

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License to Kill, part 3: Why did Colonel A. order the sniping of Ihab Islim? http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-part-3-why-did-colonel-a-order-the-sniping-of-ihab-islim/104943/ http://972mag.com/license-to-kill-part-3-why-did-colonel-a-order-the-sniping-of-ihab-islim/104943/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:59:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104943 Members of a family are standing on a balcony and chatting. The commander of IDF forces in the region orders snipers to open fire on them. One brother is killed, the other one loses an eye. The commander fails to account for the order in the investigation that ensues. The case is closed, and the commander is promoted. In the following months, other civilians in the region are killed in the exact same manner. No one is found guilty. The third installment of the License to Kill series. [Read part one and two.]

By Noam Rotem (translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman)

License to Kill, part 3.

In the first two installments of the License to Kill series, we surveyed two cases in which the need for a professional investigation was completely obvious and the failures of the Military Police and the Advocate General were glaring. However, in both cases the IDF insisted on arguing that people were shot because they had constituted a threat, despite the fact that the courts concluded otherwise. The following case is somewhat different: here the IDF has admitted that an innocent person had been shot, and that the targeted sniping of 17-year-old Ihab Islim in his head was carried out without him having committed a crime.

Yet the Military Police has failed to find the shooters; an IDF video clip that documents the shooting and the preceding events; or the operations logs that could have shed some light on the events that transpired in Nablus on June 25, 2004.

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Similar failures have occurred in the investigation of the killings of other innocent civilians in the same region. Some of them will be surveyed here. These failures cast doubts on the claim that the shooting was an isolated case that resulted from an error, and may attest to an illegal open-fire policy. Despite testimonies that corroborate this version, the Military Police also failed to investigate the allegation.

The sniping of Ihab Islim

The end of June 2004 — the twilight of the Second Intifada. IDF forces are carrying out large-scale activities in the Nablus region, under the codename “Ishit Loheztet“ (Man2Man). Every night, the soldiers enter the city and the nearby refugees camps, arresting tens of Palestinian residents who are taken to a conversation with the Shin Bet security services. Soldiers who were there describe an intense, “action-laden” period that claimed quite a few casualties, mostly on the Palestinian side.

On the night of the 25th, at around 9 p.m., the father and two brothers of the Islim family went out to the balcony of their house, located in the Yasmina neighborhood of Nablus. They leaned on the railing as they chatted among themselves, as well as with the neighbors across the street, for two hours. Until, all of a sudden, a bullet cut through 17-year-old Ihab’s head, killing him on the spot. Another bullet (or perhaps the same one) hit the eye of his 15-year-old brother. Ihab’s father and little sisters, who were standing at a distance, were hit with shrapnel. Palestinian medical services were unable to save his brother’s eye, also due to ongoing IDF shooting which prevented them from immediately reaching the Islim family.

The investigation fails to find the shooters

Not a single investigation was opened for two years. No efforts were made to try and find out what had really happened there, although the basic failure — the shooting of innocent youths, standing in their house, far away from any military activity — was known to the army from the start.

Following a letter sent by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem to the IDF Military Advocate General, the Military Police was instructed to examine the details of the case. Only a year later would an investigator contact B’Tselem to receive documents and the family’s phone number. Three months later, a military investigator on reserve duty interviewed the family and the witnesses. It is clear from their testimonies that Ihab had been shot for no reason.

[See some of the original investigation materials in Hebrew, here.]

Three more months passed before the hunt for the operations logs began. The investigator made tens of phone calls, during which he tried to locate the logs from that period. Again and again, he was told that these were to be found in a locker, and the only key was with an officer who happened to be in the Golan Heights. Later the investigator was told that the logs had been destroyed, before being told that they were actually found.

The investigator drove to the brigade headquarters only to find out that the man with the key was absent. He went back to his unit, sent mails, faxes, called, went up and down the chain of command, and finally, after a year full of dozens of attempts, he was notified that the logs had been transferred to the IDF archive. But when he searched there, the investigator could not find the regiment’s operations log. Furthermore, the report had been blotted out with a pen from the brigade logs. It is not clear by whom and for what reason. However, one can still read the claim that two people had been observed crawling on a roof. This version was later refuted by the accounts of all those involved. The investigator was also told that the computer on which the operational debriefing had been stored crashed just a few months after the shooting.

Instead of looking further into this coincidence, which would almost make the entire investigation redundant, the investigator gave up on trying to find the only documentation of the incident. Two years after the start of the investigation and four years after the shooting, the Military Police was able to begin its work, but without any physical evidence or written documentation. The consequences of this should be obvious.

Does crawling on the roof justify shooting?

The investigators interviewed five soldiers over the next three years. Four of them either did not remember that they had been at the scene or argued that they had not been there. Some of the soldiers argued that crawling on the roof is an action that justifies shooting, while others thought that those who are crawling can only be shot if they have something in their hand.

In any case, the question of crawling is entirely irrelevant, since the family was standing on the balcony of their home. Indeed, this is the top floor of the building, and the distance to the roof is just two meters, but there is no testimony that claims the family was on the roof.

Posters in Nablus commemorate the killing of Ihab Islim by IDF snipers.

Posters in Nablus commemorate the killing of Ihab Islim by IDF snipers.

Furthermore, the aforementioned testimonies contradict the open-fire regulations, which allow shooting only in response to a clear and present threat to the soldiers’ lives, and not due to “suspicious behavior.” In addition, some skimming of the brigade’s operations logs from that era reveals at least eight cases in which soldiers identified young Palestinians on a roof, or crawling on it, and did not open fire. Therefore the soldiers’ claim regarding an order to shoot anyone observed crawling on a roof cannot be accepted as truth. In any case, such testimony is completely irrelevant to this case.

Later on, the investigator interviewed Major G., who claimed he had arrived at the scene only after the shooting. According to G., the commander of the shooting force told him that Ihab and his brother “were behaving in a soldierly way.” Although he himself commanded the snipers who shot and killed Islim, he claims that he “does not remember the names” of the snipers. Major B., another officer who was questioned and claimed he was not involved, said that his soldiers were not the ones to identify the brothers or shoot them. However, he did remember some talk about crawling as the reason for the shooting. He also claimed that when it comes to such long distances, soldiers do not carry out the arrest procedure, but shoot instead.

The investigator did not bother to ask what risk was posed by the family if they truly were so far from Israeli shooters.

The figures become dangerous, two hours later

The only relevant interviewee whom the Military Police investigators managed to find, six years after the shooting, was Colonel A., who served as both brigade commander and operational commander on the ground during the incident. His account of the events was quite strange: he claimed that an observation post had identified two figures on the roof, at a distance of 200-300 meters from the force. The figures stood there for two hours, during which, according to his testimony, they did nothing but talk to one another. In spite of this, he gave the order to shoot, even after he used the special snipers’ gear to see who was in the crosshairs.

Two or three snipers fired between one to four bullets each at the two figures who were standing and talking on the roof at a distance of 200-300 meters from Colonel A, and did not pose a threat to anyone. And that’s it. This seemingly incriminating evidence, remains untouched. No reason, no justification, except for “they looked suspicious.”

The commander of the force, Colonel A. is not even confronted with the indisputable fact that this was an erroneous decision. And in any case, he did not have to pay for it. Since the shooters were not found, it was impossible to pit his version against theirs, making it impossible to examine the plausibility of that decision.

Colonel A. now serves in a senior position in the IDF.

Shooting on rooftops at will

During the Second Intifada, the IDF’s finger on the trigger was much looser. However, even the “shooting due to suspicious behavior” defense is not very plausible. As a regiment commander, Colonel A. knew the open-fire regulations well, and he must have known that suspicious behavior in itself does not justify shooting.

Things look even worse when one takes into account additional killing incidents in the region. One is under the impression that a serious investigation of the shooting of Ihab Islim could have prevented the harming of other innocent Palestinians in the following months and years.

Less than two months after Ihab’s death, on August 16, 2004, Zaher Samir Abdu el-Adham was shot in the head when he was on the roof of his house in Nablus. No investigations have been opened in his case.

One day later, a nine-year-old boy, Khaled Jamal Salim el-Usta, was shot and killed at the entrance to his home in Nablus, according to B’Tselem. Ibriz Durgham Dib el-Manawi, 19, from Nablus, was shot while standing on the roof of her house on on September 17, 2004.

There had also been previous incidents. One month before the Islim family incident, on May 7, 19-year-old Bassim Bassam Muhamad Kalbouna was been shot in his chest while standing on the roof of his house with some friends. On May 2, Jamal Shehada Radwan Hamdan was shot in the back while standing on a street in Nablus. The evidence collected in these cases shows that the victims posed no threat to IDF soldiers when they were shot.

In the very same region, in April of that year, Dr. Yasser Ahmad Muhammad Abu Laiman, 32, was shot in the village of Talouza. The IDF claimed at first that this had been a targeted assassination, since Abu Laiman was suspected an active member of Hamas. After it turned out he was just a lecturer at the Arab-American university in Jenin, the IDF spokesperson changed his version. According to the new one, Abu Laiman was in contact with Palestinians wanted by Israel. This version too was refuted, and eventually the IDF admitted that the assassination was carried out by mistake, since the deceased wore clothes resembling those of the wanted Palestinian militant who was allegedly to be in the area. No investigation was opened in this case.

One month earlier, six-year-old Khaled Maher Zaki Walweil was shot and killed while watching soldiers raid Balata refugee camp from his window.

After the Intifada: The pattern repeats itself

Similar events also occurred after violence in the West Bank decreased significantly. Amer Hassan Bassiouni, 16, was killed by sniper on March 3, 2006, in Ein Beit el-Maa near Nablus. Amer, too, was shot while was standing on the roof of his house. Muhammed Ahmad Muhammed a-Natour, 17, and 16-year-old Ibrahim Muhammed Ahmad a-Sheikh Ali, both from Balata refugee camp, were shot and killed on March 19, 2006, while standing on the roof of Ali’s house.

On March 2, 2007, a curfew was imposed on Nablus. Fifty-two-year-old Anan a-Tibi went up with his two sons to the roof of his house at noon to fix the water tanks. When they saw soldiers nearby, they began to go down the stairs and back into their house. Shots were fired at them. Anan was hit in the neck, fell down the stairs, and died. No investigation was opened in this case as well. The Military Advocate General argued that at that time in Nablus, “no innocent people were supposed to be outside.” This is an irrelevant argument since the family members were on the roof of their house, and were shot when they were going down the stairs.

The limits of the Military Police

The accumulation of these events attests to a recurring pattern that should have been, at the very least, a key component in the investigation of the Ihab Islim case, and bring about a minimal effort to find the shooters and those who had called for the shooting of the family. Most of all, the issue of open-fire commands, which were in effect in the region, should have been brought to a military and criminal investigation. This is all the more evident in view of the soldiers’ testimonies, which clearly attest to an erroneous understanding and implementation of the instructions. Instead, Colonel A. has been promoted.

The conduct of the investigation of Ihab Islim’s killing is outrageous. It took the Military Police investigators four years to interview five people. During one of the interviews, Major G. says that the whole incident was probably filmed on video, but a perfunctory examination by the investigators reveals that by that time, four years after the incident, the tapes had disappeared and had apparently been destroyed.

None of the investigators bothered to confront those being questioned with the fact that they all speak of two figures, when in fact at least three people were standing at the scene, and all three were shot by the soldiers (as well as two little sisters who were wounded by shrapnel). No one even bothered to ask about the “life-threatening situation” toward the officers who were standing hundreds of meters away from the two youths.

The investigators also did not bother to check why, even after two hours during which the brothers were standing and chatting among themselves, IDF soldiers armed to their teeth, sensed such a threat to their lives that they had to kill the brothers. Furthermore, the investigators fail to find the two or three soldiers — according to the testimony of the commander of the force — who fired the shots. And these are only the visible failures.

The army can no longer hide behind justifications of “combat” when it shoots people, since this army serves as a de-facto policing force. The entire condition of a military occupation, under international law as well as Israeli law, should be a temporary matter. The role of the military police in any army is to investigate its ranks, and we are convinced that in matters of order, discipline and even drug and arms trafficking in and out of the military, this unit does a great job. But when it comes to finding those who are guilty of shooting protected persons by members of the very same army, the Military Police fail time after time, and in an utterly shameful way.

In this case too, when events seemingly take place during operational activity, when the physical evidence completely refutes the soldiers’ version and when the commander of the force himself admits to an unjustified shooting of innocent youths — even then no one is to blame.

The IDF Spokesperson was asked for comment on the matter several weeks ago. The comment will be published here if and when it is received.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call, where this series was first published. Read it in Hebrew here.

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