+972 Magazine http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 23 May 2015 00:08:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 Jerusalem megaplex caught demanding ‘Jewish only’ drivers http://972mag.com/jerusalem-megaplex-caught-demanding-jewish-only-drivers/107007/ http://972mag.com/jerusalem-megaplex-caught-demanding-jewish-only-drivers/107007/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 16:46:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=107007 For months on end Cinema City Jerusalem demanded that a contracted taxi company send only Jewish drivers for some of its workers. When the company refused, the megaplex cut its ties. An investigative by our Hebrew site, Local Call, in cooperation with ‘Ulpan Shishi,’ Channel 2′s flagship news broadcast.

By Yael Marom

Thair Reg'i, who exposed Cinema City's discriminatory policies toward Arab cab drivers. (photo: Activestills.org)

Thair Raga, who exposed Cinema City’s discriminatory policies toward Arab cab drivers. (photo: Activestills.org)

“If she wants a Jewish driver, she’ll get a Jewish driver, I don’t understand what difference it makes.”

“The two of them just asked for a Jewish driver.”

“A woman needs to make it to Mevaseret Zion, I would like a Jewish driver to come pick her up.”

“One must ask gently and diplomatically for a Jewish driver for the girls.”

These were the words the manager and shift manager at Jerusalem’s Cinema City used when talking to the ride coordinator of the taxi company that drove movie theater workers home at night (the company employs both Jewish and Arab workers). The discriminatory demands were made in recorded phone conversations, as well as by special vouchers that had the words “Jewish driver” written on them, for which Cinema City paid a high price. Local Call was able to get a hold of both the recordings and the vouchers, which are now being exposed for the first time in a special investigative report that conducted in cooperation with “Ulpan Shihi,” the flagship weekend news program on Israel’s Channel 2.


After a long period of time in which the ride organizer at the cab company tried to object to Cinema City’s discriminatory and racist demand, which directly affected the livelihoods of Arab taxi drivers, a senior manager at the movie theater threatened that Cinema City would cut its ties with the company — a threat that eventually became reality.

According to Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation as well as Israel’s Equal Opportunities Law, discriminating against workers due to their origin, nationality or religion is strictly forbidden.

A Jewish driver is part of the service

At the end of February 2014, Jerusalem’s glitzy Cinema City, which includes 19 movie theaters and a small shopping mall, opened to the public. The “A. Mor Hasaot” transportation company won the tender to provide taxis for approximately 20 workers. The company provided nine permanent drivers for the job — three of them Jewish and six of them Arabs from East Jerusalem.

Thair Raga, a 36-year-old cab driver from East Jerusalem, was appointed to be in charge of coordinating the night rides according to the demands made by the Cinema City shift managers. “We got used to the workers, the drivers were nice, there was no problem, everything worked well,” he says.

But three months after the complex opened, three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, followed by the kidnapping and murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir from Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood, there was a military operation in the West Bank and a war in Gaza. War, fear and hate flooded the streets of Jerusalem.

And then everything changed. The workers at Cinema City began saying they were afraid of Arab drivers and demanded that only Jewish drivers take them home. “Everything was fine until the war began in the summer,” says Raga. “The female workers began to get scared, and then it turned into a phenomenon whereby the workers were demanding a Jewish driver, and Cinema City requires us to meet those demands, since it is part of the service. At first I told myself that we would make it work for the time being, since the situation was very difficult in Jerusalem and there are Jewish drivers in the company, and then it would pass. But it didn’t pass.”

According to Raga, when the workers began to feel that their demands for “Jewish drivers” were not being honored, they told the Cinema City management that they would go on strike, and some of them even threatened to quit.

Cinema City Jerusalem. (photo: פארוק/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cinema City Jerusalem. (photo: פארוק/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Raga began receiving more and more requests for a “Jewish driver.” “The shift managers would call and demand a Jewish driver, but would do it out of shame,” he said. “At first they would say a specific name of a Jewish driver that they want, so that they wouldn’t hurt my feelings or have to say outright that they want a Jewish driver.”

What about the rest of the Arab drivers? How did they react to this demand?

“I found myself between a rock and hard place, between Arab drivers to whom I owe an explanation, and the Cinema City management. In the end, I had to explain to them, and they were obviously upset. Sometimes I had to tell the other drivers: ‘Guys, it’s going to be a shift full of racists today, there is no work left for us’.”

10 percent extra per Jewish driver

The summer ended, the war came to an end, Jerusalem calmed down, but for some of the workers at Cinema City, it became acceptable to refuse to ride with an Arab driver. They continued to demand Jewish taxi drivers — a celebration of racism that directly harmed the Arab drivers’ livelihood, and led to higher costs for the company, which was forced to contract Jewish drivers, who do not regularly work with the company, in order to provide the service to the workers.

As 2014 came to a close, Raga decided that he was no longer willing to remain silent. “The situation in Jerusalem calmed down, and I began opposing the policy. I told them that the next diver in line would take the workers, and that it doesn’t matter if its Chaim or Ahmad.”

Raga tried to talk to the managers and workers at Cinema City about the issue. On February 19 of this year, Merav Basher, one of the top managers and a representative of the owners of Cinema City Jerusalem, sent an email to the workers in which she gave guidelines for conduct vis-a-vis the cab company. In it she wrote:

“It is important to be sensitive to the issue of Arab/Jewish drivers. After the HaPisga cab company was fined for a request for a Jewish driver by a client, the Transportation Ministry is checking all the cab companies. One must ask in a gentle and diplomatic fashion for a Jewish driver for the girls.” She also named Raga as someone who is “causing trouble.”

Thair Reg'i, who exposed Cinema City's discriminatory policies toward Arab cab drivers, is seen inside his taxi. (photo: Activestills.org)

Thair Raga inside inside his taxi. (photo: Activestills.org)

The only thing that really occurred in the wake of Raga’s attempts was that the workers understood that Jewish drivers would cost more. And so, toward the end of February, Basher and the manager of A. Mor Hasaot held a meeting, during which it was agreed that Cinema City would pay 10 percent more (on top of the pre-established cost) for a Jewish driver.

In order to keep track, the vouchers for ordering a driver would be marked to show that they were for Jewish drivers. “I told them that I want to differentiate from a Jewish driver from a regular one on the bill. They asked me whether to require two signatures or write ‘Jewish driver,’ and I asked that they write down that the driver was Jewish. They agreed,” Raga tells me as he smiles victoriously. It is obvious to him that the only reason anyone will believe him is because he recorded the conversations. From that moment on, he began demanding that the shift managers call him on the phone in order to make the order, and recorded them, one after another, as they clearly request a ‘Jewish driver.’”

On March 9, Raga decided to confront Basher once again and recorded their conversation. Throughout the conversation he explains to Basher that even workers who do not ride alone with the driver are demanding to be driven only by a Jew. Basher didn’t seem too fazed: “Thair, it is possible that sometimes you order a cab for someone, and then it is decided to add more people to ride along with her. If she wants a Jewish driver, there will be a Jewish driver, what difference does it make? I don’t understand.”

Raga insisted that the cost of a Jewish driver would be much higher, especially if the driver will be making a number of stops. Basher responded: “But this is the situation. If it doesn’t work for you, we can go our separate ways. What difference does the number of stops make?” and added, “I don’t see a problem with any of this. It doesn’t matter to me whether the driver is Jewish, Circassian, Christian or Spanish. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as the driver makes as many stops as he is asked to.”

Raga told Basher about an incident in which one of the workers refused to ride in his cab, since they want “one of ours,” and explained how it made him feel. “It was as if I was trash. And you’re supporting them. That’s how you are treating me, Merav, and it hurts me personally,” reminding her that he has been working with her since Cinema City’s opening day. Basher promised to take care of the issue. Instead, she continued to support the demands of the workers, justified their fear and emphasized the need to provide them with a sense of security.

Two days later, on March 11, Raga called Yaniv Turgeman, the CEO of Cinema City Jerusalem and demanded he get involved and put an end to the discrimination. This conversation was also recorded. Turgeman, who only “barely heard” about “this nonsense,” said that he “told Merav and you should tell everyone that this is unacceptable,” while on the other hand said that in the case that there is a Jewish driver, and this is what the workers want, this is what they must receive.

On March 23, after midnight, Basher called Raga. “Listen, I have a problem. I have a woman who needs to get to Mevaseret Zion. I want a Jewish driver to come pick her up,” she demanded. Raga explained that he had no Jewish drivers available, and that a Jewish driver from another station will want cash for his services.

Basher responded: “There is nothing I can do, nothing. I need this. I cannot send this woman to ride in fear. If not, I will let her take a cab and pay her back tomorrow. This is part of the service that you are supposed to give me.” Basher became angry over the fact that there was a lack of Jewish drivers that night, threatening Raga: “I am putting an end to this tomorrow. I don’t have the energy. I’m moving to a different company. Egged [an Israeli bus company] will provide me with three people a night.”

When shame is too much to bear

On Sunday, May 3, Merav announced that Cinema City would be immediately cutting ties with A. Mor Hasaot.

I have been listening to Raga’s recordings for weeks. One recording followed by another. Friendly conversations that always reach that inevitable moment in which the shift manager must openly use the words “Jewish driver.” The shame in their voices is too much to bear. From the conversations with them, it is clear that they understand that the policy is racist and hurtful, but none of them did anything about it.

During one of my meetings with Raga I asked him why he, too, didn’t remain silent, especially after coming to terms with the personal price he would be forced to pay. Many others would have just put aside their pride and moved on.

“First of all, it’s me. I don’t know how to shut up,” he says. “I pay my taxes. I do everything this country demands of me. I don’t turn my back. So why is it that when I deserve to be treated like a human being I need to take a step back?”

‘Unsatisfactory service’

This investigative report is a result of a joint effort by our Hebrew site, Local Call, and “Ulpan Shishi,” the flagship weekend news program on Israel’s Channel 2. Channel 2 asked Cinema City to respond to the entire affair. The following is their full response:

“The company’s work was terminated over professional differences alone, without any relation to the [ethnic] origin of the company drivers. Cinema City, both in Jerusalem and across the country, employs Arabs in a range of different positions, including management. Thus, the claims of racism and discrimination do not reflect the reality and certainly not the values of Cinema City.

“Due to continual professional dissatisfaction that stemmed, among other things, from dropping off workers at the wrong addresses, as well as significant tardiness of drivers in picking up workers and unsatisfactory service on their part, it was decided to switch to a different company. It must be stated that there is an additional reason for switching companies, although we are unable to reveal the reason for privacy reasons.

“We must emphasize that today, Egged provides rides to the workers in Jerusalem, and the service is provided by both Jewish and Arab drivers. Unfortunately, A. Mor chose to seek revenge on Cinema City after the latter ended the contract through false and biased claims.”

The response was formulated by the office of PR king Rani Rahav. The response only confirms the fact that Cinema City did exactly what Basher threatened to do in her conversation with Raga, and began working with a different company. The “satisfactory” service was, in effect, providing Jewish drivers on demand. Raga refused to provide this service.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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WATCH: ‘Jaffa flotilla’ marks destruction of Palestine’s cultural capital http://972mag.com/watch-jaffa-flotilla-marks-destruction-of-palestines-cultural-capital/106997/ http://972mag.com/watch-jaffa-flotilla-marks-destruction-of-palestines-cultural-capital/106997/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 11:15:19 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106997 Dozens of Palestinians and Israeli Jews sailed along the coast last week to mark the destruction of Jaffa — the former political, cultural and economic capital of Palestine — during the 1948 War. Organized by the Israeli NGO Zochrot, which works to raise awareness of the Nakba and promote the right of return among Israeli Jews, the participants, which included Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, listened to first-hand stories of the fear, expulsions and mass exodus of Palestinians from the city by the pre-state Zionist militias.  

The road out of the occupation runs through the Nakba
S. African Jews in Lubya: We’re here to acknowledge the Nakba

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Playing with fire: IDF to use new weapon on West Bank protests http://972mag.com/playing-with-fire-idf-to-use-new-weapon-on-west-bank-protests/106981/ http://972mag.com/playing-with-fire-idf-to-use-new-weapon-on-west-bank-protests/106981/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 09:50:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106981 A new type of sponge-tipped bullet introduced in East Jerusalem last summer has broken arms, fractured faces, destroyed eyesight and killed a teenager. Now a similar projectile is slated for use against Palestinians in the West Bank.

An Israeli policeman prepares to fire a sponge-tipped bullet during a Nakba Day demonstration in East Jerusalem, May 15, 2013. (Haim Schwarczenberg)

An Israeli policeman prepares to fire a sponge-tipped bullet during a Nakba Day demonstration in East Jerusalem, May 15, 2013. (Haim Schwarczenberg)

Following the introduction last summer of a new type of sponge-tipped bullet into the Israel Police’s arsenal, the Israeli army is now set to begin using a similar projectile in order to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank, according to Ynet [Heb]. The new bullets will be phased in during the coming weeks as a pilot, following which they will be distributed among routine army units.

The debut of the new black sponge-tipped bullets in Jerusalem brought with it facial fractures, broken arms, eye loss (predominantly among children) and at least one death. The bullets are a harder version of the blue sponge-tipped bullets previously used by police; made out of heavier material (synthetic rubber), they are far more likely to cause serious injury.


The army officer interviewed in Ynet’s report claimed that the new bullets for the IDF have been purchased from a different manufacturer to those used by the Israel Police, and have undergone more rigorous testing. The officer further asserted that their new sponge-tipped bullets are less dangerous than those deployed in East Jerusalem.

However, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has thrown this claim into doubt. ACRI attorney Anne Suciu stated that the army’s new sponge-tipped bullets will be “at least as hard as those used by the police.” Although they will be blue — the same color as the old, softer bullets — they are weapons of a different grade, as the original blue sponge-tipped bullets have been deemed “ineffective” in dispersing protests.

Suciu further confirmed that the sponge-tipped bullets will eventually replace rubber bullets in the West Bank, a transition that had originally been planned for the end of 2013. Regarding the army officer’s claim to Ynet that they are a “more humane” means of breaking up demonstrations, Suciu explained that although this is technically correct, the irregular use of such projectiles — e.g. firing them at the upper body, as has consistently occurred in East Jerusalem — renders them far more dangerous than they are supposed to be.

Read: Losing sight of the consequences of ‘less-lethal’ weapons

In that vein, ACRI on Thursday issued its second appeal [Heb] in as many months for the police to immediately suspend the use of the black sponge-tipped bullets until their safety had been fully investigated (both letters were written by Suciu). Responding to a request from the Legal Advisor to the Israel Police for all information they hold relating to injuries caused by the black sponge-tipped bullets, ACRI also passed on statistics provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA reports that between June 1st and December 31st 2014, 1,003 Palestinians in East Jerusalem required medical treatment for injuries caused by sponge-tipped bullets. While OCHA refers to “rubber bullets” in its statistics, ACRI clarifies in the letter that they do not know of any use of such projectiles in East Jerusalem, and therefore conclude that the report relates to sponge-tipped bullets (OCHA’s statistics correspond to the date of the introduction of these weapons into the Israel Police’s arsenal).

Israeli police with black sponge-tipped bullets in East Jerusalem, November 12, 2014. (Photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Israeli police with black sponge-tipped bullets in East Jerusalem, November 12, 2014. (Photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Of the 1,003 cases cited, 144 of the injured were evacuated to hospital; at least 47 of those had been shot in the upper part of their body, in contravention of the regulations governing the police’s use of these bullets.

ACRI discovered in March that the black sponge-tipped bullets had been in use for six months before guidelines on their use were issued and training was conducted. However, these measures seem to have done little to reduce the number of serious injuries caused: on Thursday afternoon, the day of ACRI’s letter, yet another Palestinian child was shot in the eye near Shuafat Refugee Camp. The condition of the 10-year-old’s eye is currently unknown.

The introduction of a new weapon into the West Bank is always cause for serious concern, but is even more alarming when its use has already produced such devastating consequences. Although the army officer interviewed by Ynet insisted that the sponge-tipped bullets represent a less-damaging method of crowd control, the wider context of the current situation of army and police violence at West Bank protests cannot be ignored.

From increasing the use of live ammunition to firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters and attacking photojournalists, Israeli security forces have been stepping up their means of suppressing demonstrations. In such an environment, declarations of concern for civilian life (especially when juxtapositioned competitively against that of the police, as the army officer in Ynet’s article has bizarrely done) are questionable.

Furthermore, any IDF claim as to the “less-lethal” nature of their weapons is contingent upon their use in accordance with army regulations, rules that are consistently flouted. As B’Tselem has reported, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and 0.22-caliber live ammo — all supposedly “non-lethal” means of dispersing demonstrations — have killed numerous Palestinians over the years, primarily due to irregular use.

Despite how the army is framing the introduction of their new weapon, we are likely to see a spike in the type of injuries that have so blighted East Jerusalem over the last year.

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Ultra-Orthodox paper photoshops women out of gov’t portrait http://972mag.com/ultra-orthodox-paper-photoshops-women-out-of-govt-portrait/106965/ http://972mag.com/ultra-orthodox-paper-photoshops-women-out-of-govt-portrait/106965/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 17:34:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106965 Yom-LeYom, the official weekly of the Shas party, published the traditional group portrait of the cabinet and the president this morning — with one notable amendment: Ministers Miri Regev (Culture), Ayelet Shaked (Justice) and Gila Gamliel (Immigrant Absorption and, you guessed it, Gender Equality) were all airbrushed out.

Here is the original:

The 34th Government of Israel (GPO)

And here is the Shas version:

Yom LeYom, the Shas party's weekly paper, airbrushes the three female ministers out of the government portrait.

Although there is no specific instruction in Jewish law that bans pictures of women, many ultra-Orthodox publications err on the side of caution so as not, um, lead their readers into temptation. Haredi media famously censored pictures of the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march in Paris, clumsily photoshopping leaders like Angela Merkel out of the front row. The Israeli media responded with a predictable flurry of memes, from the dramatic:

By Uri Breitman (Facebook)

to the hyper-realistic:

By Irit Barton Goldenberg (Facebook)

By Irit Barton Goldenberg (Facebook)

The censoring of the group portrait is odious enough, but take a look at the original again: despite this Knesset having more women that the previous one, Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to compose a government made up of 21 ministers, in which only three are women. Only one, Shaked, is senior enough to sit at the cabinet table. As is often the case in Netanyahu’s Israel, the big picture is hardly an improvement on the small.

Shas’ stunning election ad is a challenge to both Right and Left
Can a feminist Mizrahi woman find her political home in Shas?

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Jerusalem Police shoot 10-year-old Palestinian boy in the eye http://972mag.com/border-police-shoot-10-year-old-palestinian-boy-in-the-eye/106956/ http://972mag.com/border-police-shoot-10-year-old-palestinian-boy-in-the-eye/106956/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:29:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106956 Over the past several months, Jerusalem Police has been stepping up its use of a new weapon: black-tipped sponge bullets. 

A Palestinian youth displays a black sponge-tipped bullet shot by Israeli police near the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, November 7, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth displays a black sponge-tipped bullet shot by Israeli police near the Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, November 7, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli Police wounded a 10-year-old Palestinian child in the eye Thursday afternoon while dispersing protesters near the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, according to Arabic media outlets in East Jerusalem. The boy, who was most likely hit by a black-tipped sponge bullet, was hospitalized in moderate condition in Hadassah University Hospital. It is unclear what will be the fate of his eye.


Jerusalem Police responded to the incident, stating that “Public works projects take place in the Shuafat refugee camp, including the expansion of an entry/exit lane and a large parking lot for students. Several dozen residents assembled and began to throw stones at Border Policemen, who were guarding the projects. The Border Police used riot-dispersal means. Among the rioters, a boy was evacuated by the Red Cross to the checkpoint after likely being hit by a sponge-tipped bullet. From the checkpoint he was transferred by an ambulance to the hospital.”

The connection between shooting a 10-year-old boy and the details of the public works projects is not entirely clear.

Over the past several months, Jerusalem Police has been stepping up its use of a new weapon: black-tipped sponge bullets. These have already led to the death of one teen, have caused four children to lose their sight, and have led Walla! and Activestills photographer, Tali Mayer, to sustain facial fractures. Just two months ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) called on the Attorney General to put an end to the black-tipped sponge bullets.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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Lifelong refugees: Palestinian boat people search for a new home http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/ http://972mag.com/lifelong-refugees-palestinian-boat-people-search-for-a-new-home/106943/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 11:15:58 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106943 After escaping the horrors of the Syrian Civil War by boat, a group of Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of Greece. Now they are wandering the streets of Athens without food or shelter.

By Samah Salaime

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

Palestinian refugees from Syria fleeing the horrors of war on a boat originally headed to Italy.

After four days at sea, with no food or fuel, 175 Palestinian refugees were rescued by the Greek navy. After fleeing the horrors of war in Syria for neighboring Turkey and paying huge sums to their smugglers, who promised to bring them to Italy (not to mention ensure they had entry permits, as well as food and drink), the refugees found themselves living in the streets of Athens. Dreaming of reaching Europe on one hand, while facing the possibility of deportation on the other.

Some of those same refugees are members of the Salaime family, from the Palestinian village Sajara, which was destroyed in 1948. My family’s village.


As it made its way to the beaches of Greece, the same boat carrying the Palestinian refugees washed up on the shores of my consciousness. That’s it, I can no longer pretend that that the war in Syria is far removed from me or my children. Now that members of my village, along with other refugees, have escaped from Yarmouk and Al-A’idan refugee camps, there are people who will tell the story. There are photographs of the boat and there are children begging for a piece of bread, after they lost all their food at sea. There are the tears of a helpless mother as she faces her children.

And there is the human trafficking between Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. “War traffickers,” said Abu Ahmad Salaime, a 54-year-old engineer who was chosen to head the group of refugees who left Turkey in an old, rusty boat carrying 175 people.

There was no single whole family on the boat. Everyone has been separated between Syria and Turkey. “They don’t put the entire family on one small boat in the middle of a huge sea,” said one of the survivors. And anyway “who has the money to pay the smugglers, who take between $5,000 and $10,000 per person? This is the equivalent of an entire house in a Syrian camp. So imagine, Samah, binti, what we had to do to get here. We’ll make it where we make it, and then we’ll demand family reunification. This is how everyone does it.”

The photos and horrific stories that have been coming out of Yarmouk would shock anyone. But this is not happening here, not at our door, we’ll be okay. This mantra keeps us Palestinians in Israel calm.

Lifelong refugees

Two years ago, the Arabs in Israel took part in the humanitarian mission for the Syrian Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, and then came the stories that the Jordanian authorities refused to allow Palestinians from Syria into the camps. I was overcome with rage by Jordan’s decision, which did not allow a Syrian-born Palestinian into the country despite being married to a Syrian woman, after claiming that according to the United Nations, a person can only be a refugee once in their life.

Syria receives world support for absorbing Palestinian refugees from 1948 — this is a status that stays with you your entire life until a solution is found and the Palestinians return to their land, said the Jordanians. Now, when the Syrians have themselves become refugees, it has been decided that there is no “double sale.” Syrians were welcomed with open arms, while the gates slammed shut on the Palestinians.

In this war, half of the Syrian people became refugees. The war, which engulfed the entire country, did not pass over the Palestinian refugees. The smart and lucky ones, who left before ISIS captured Yarmouk, found safety across the world — especially in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands — with friends and relatives. The joke about the new Palestinian capital established in southern Sweden no longer makes me laugh.

The boat that carried several of my family members did not reach Italy, its original destination. After several days, the dates, raisins and drinking water disappeared. There was no bread left, which was meant solely for the children. The fuel ran out in the middle of the journey, and the person who was supposed to come from Benghazi to help them refuel never came.

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

Palestinian refugees seen in Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, Syria. (photo: Walla Masoud/UNRWA)

The Egyptian captain reached a point of desperation and could not make contact with the smugglers. Under pressure from the frightened passengers, he agreed to call for help from the Greek navy. After several hours, a large ship arrived with a helicopter, and pulled the boat toward the nearest Greek island. The entire ordeal lasted 10 hours.

Trampling our dignity

On the beaches of Greece, volunteers from the Red Cross waited for the refugees with a tent encampment. “Finally, food and a mattress to sleep on,” one woman told me. “Thank God, the people in this camp are really very nice. There is food, drink and medical treatment. Everything. We even had access to the internet to call our family members and tell them we were saved.”

And we, Palestinians in Israel and across the world, breathed easy. The photos from the boat were published in the Facebook group dedicated to the villagers of Sajara, and we knew that the group made it to shore safely. Hundreds of family members rushed to “like” the photos and bless the survivors. However, it turned out that they could remain in the camp for no longer than four days. The Greeks kicked them out, since there were more boats on the way, and the group was asked to leave Greece as soon as possible.

The refugees were thrown into the streets of Athens with some clothing, 50 euros per person and a temporary freedom of movement pass. They began to wander, in the streets and public parks or in dilapidated apartments and packed hotels, with nine people to a room for an exorbitant price. “Here is another industry of exploitation in a city suffering from a difficult financial crises,” says Abu Ahmad Salaime, “Everyone wants to make money off us. That’s how it is: those who have money live, and who do not get stepped on.”

The churches and orphanages of Athens are full of refugees. The story of two young children whose parents drowned on one of the boats, hasn’t left me for the past few days. A Palestinian activist in the city, who today is a Greek citizen, said that the Palestinians in the city are collapsing under the load and the requests for help. There is no one to talk to at the Palestinian embassy in Athens, and people across the city have lost all hope.

Sometimes people find food in the street, other times they don’t — everything depends on the kind heartedness of passersby.

“A few days ago a truck came to the park and provided us with food bags,” says Abu Ahmad. “Many people ran over to the truck, but I stood to the side and watched. It pained me greatly. Of course I also wanted to eat, but I felt like my pride was being trampled on. I am an engineer and my daughters are brilliant students who are also studying engineering and computer science. Why should I be in this position? What have I done in my life?

“I was very angry at my parents, who turned us into refugees in Syria, but somehow I managed. I told myself that the most important thing is to remain quiet. The most important thing is a roof, a job, a family and a livelihood.

“And here I am, waiting for a strange man to hand me a bag of food. All of a sudden I think that my parents, who were uprooted from their land, were lucky. Despite their difficult conditions and the war, they remained with the members of their village, all of them from Palestine. They remained together, and their journey ended in an Arab country. The Syrians are just as miserable as us, but could speak Arabic. You know, all of a sudden I miss being surrounded by the Syrian accent. In Turkey they didn’t speak to us in Arabic, and here we’ll have to learn another language in order to receive a single can of food.”

“I chose to flee with my father,” tells me one of his daughters. “Perhaps I will continue to study in Europe. My mother remained in the camp with three brothers and she is waiting for us to call and save her so that we will go back to being together. My sister and I had to leave because we were afraid of being kidnapped by the fighters. Many young women have been raped and kidnapped, and on the way from Homs we passed areas controlled by different armed groups — Nusra Front, ISIS, Al-Ahrar. Every area is controlled by a different group. We paid the rebels to allow us to pass peacefully.”

Jaffa flotilla

Several days ago I participated in the “return flotilla” to Jaffa, organized by the Israeli NGO Zochrot. We boarded the “Sababa” ship in Jaffa port, where we listened to an elderly man (also named Abu Ahmad) describe how he was pushed into a boat with hundreds of people without parents and food during the 1948 war. His boat was meant to sail to Egypt, but he found himself on the beach of Gaza, 11 years old, alone. It took him a few more years until he went back to Jaffa.

I thought to myself: “What am I doing on this fake flotilla, on a boat used to sell ice cream and cold drinks, with a group of enlightened Jews who are shocked by what happened to us 67 years ago? The same thing is happening today to the descendants of those same refugees. Today and every day.

This time around, the irony of life took its toll. I couldn’t sit in the restaurant after the tour like everyone else. I came home with pain all over my body, and spoke for hours with the survivors from the boat, only to hear their story, cry and feel their pain.

There is only one question on my mind since then: why didn’t these damn boats, with the new-old asylum seekers, reach Acre?

Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he/she is a blogger. Read it here.

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Suspending bus segregation won’t solve a thing http://972mag.com/suspending-bus-segregation-wont-solve-a-thing/106929/ http://972mag.com/suspending-bus-segregation-wont-solve-a-thing/106929/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 15:59:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106929 The bus segregation plan is but one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. 

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)

On Tuesday night the plan to segregate Palestinians and Israelis on buses in the West Bank was put into effect, reported Haaretz. On Wednesday morning the Prime Minister decided to suspend the program, following criticism.


When each development is more awful than the last, perhaps there are no more wise arguments to be made. Instead, I have documented the cycle of attitudes around this week’s example, which reflects, in broad strokes, the deadlocked mentality of the conflict itself.

1. The Israeli Defense Minister justified the separation with the following logic, quoted in Haaretz:

You don’t need to be security expert to realize that 20 Arabs on a bus with a Jewish driver and two or three passengers and one soldier with a gun is a set-up for an attack.

According to this, any Arab majority situation is a security threat to a Jew. Israelis inside the Green Line may soon view any bus with 20 Arabs, 2-3 Jews passengers, a Jewish driver and a soldier as a security threat to Jews, even though the soldier is the only one with a gun. They may then prefer to segregate buses inside Israel too.

2. Those who favor segregation will back it up with any case of Palestinian violence, which they link to the huge, historic and intractable problems. The collective voice will say this:

When they stop killing us, we’ll let them ride the buses together. Just this morning, there was a terror attack in Jerusalem. It is proof that if we hadn’t won in ’48 they would have slaughtered us.

It is true that a Palestinian driver charged into a group in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in what is presumed to be a terror attack, injuring two police officers. He was shot and killed.

3. Haaretz reports that the former Central (District) Commander had said that mixed buses do not pose a danger. He observed that Palestinians taking the mixed buses into Israel have work permits, and have been deemed safe enough to work among Israeli civilians inside the Green Line.

4. Those who support segregation will ignore #3, those opposed do not believe #2 justifies segregation, or argue that repressive policies contribute to #2. Points 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive for most Israelis.

5. The bus segregation plan is one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. It is a sprawling multi-ministerial task force with mechanisms so complex that policymakers don’t know how to manage it, hence the slow-motion development, implementation and backtracking on this single policy.

Read more: Segregation does not begin or end on buses

6. The ability of Palestinians to move freely around where they live and work has deteriorated severely and steadily since 1967. For the first 20 years, there was relative mobility around the whole region including Israel; movement has been choked off in stages each decade since the first Intifada broke out in 1987 and at present is more restricted than ever, especially given the situation in Gaza.

7. Associations with apartheid and images of Jim Crow are appearing with greater frequency lately. Recently, Israeli police fired water cannons at black citizens who were demonstrating against discrimination. Images of Birmingham 1963 rose in my mind. An American-Israeli friend thought the comparison exaggerated, and pointed out that the demonstrators had blocked the country’s main highway for hours earlier that day. But rationalizing it didn’t make the association go away.

8. If any foreign media criticizes the segregation plan or caught the story before Netanyahu suspended it, Matti Friedman will say there is a global conspiracy of the foreign press to make Israel look bad. Because writing about suspending a plan for bus segregation makes Israel look good.

9. The organization responsible for implementing the bus segregation is called the “Civil Administration,” which in effect is a body inside the Defense Ministry, responsible for the lives of regular people living under military law. Lately there has been some political wrangling over which party will control it – Jewish Home has formal control in the new government, which it wanted presumably to strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank. But Likud prefers de facto control, presumably so that it can strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank.

10. Israelis who raise an outcry against segregation on buses will be criticized from the far-Left for hypocrisy and complicity, because they don’t embrace the right of return for Palestinians.

 11. Human rights advocates have promised to take the bus segregation plan to the Supreme Court. In the past, the Court ruled against the route of the separation wall, and ordered the re-integration of Road 443 following a decade of closure for Palestinians. After those rulings, the occupation continued.

 12. Supporters of a two-state solution will say this is a terrible development that highlights the urgency of reviving negotiations for a two-state solution.

 13. More critical supporters of an agreement will say that in the 25 years of two-state negotiations security has gotten worse for Israelis, occupation has gotten worse for Palestinians – and both sides have failed to sign an agreement. They will advocate for new models, such as a confederate political separation with relaxed borders and greater human rights emphasis.

Then the policymakers in the region and in Washington will say that such a thing is a utopian fantasy — a distraction from the pragmatic options already on the table following 25 years of negotiation. This is how they will sound: “We all know the outlines of the solution, it just takes political will.”

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Segregation in Israel does not begin or end on buses http://972mag.com/segregation-in-israel-does-not-begin-or-end-on-buses/106927/ http://972mag.com/segregation-in-israel-does-not-begin-or-end-on-buses/106927/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 14:27:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106927 Whether or not the plan is scrapped, the fact is that Israel is a country where senior ministers propose and implement segregation — and keep their jobs.

Palestinian workers board a new segregated bus line at the Eyal checkpoint, March 4, 2012.

Palestinian workers board a new segregated bus line at the Eyal checkpoint, March 4, 2012. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org) Israel began segregating buses carrying Palestinian laborers into Israel years ago. On Wednesday, authorities announced a pilot program to segregate buses taking them back to their homes.

There is something disturbingly disingenuous about the 12 hours of furor that erupted over the segregation — and subsequent “desegregation” — of a handful of Israeli bus lines Wednesday morning. When Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the “unacceptable” segregation scheme suspended, a sigh of relief could be heard sweeping through mainstream Jewish Israel.


Democracy lives to see another day; the separation barrier once again kept segregation from infiltrating the Green Line.

The bus segregation sparked outrage in Israel not because of the segregation itself (a majority of Israelis support the idea), but because it took place within Israel proper. Palestinian workers’ morning commutes — originating in the West Bank — are already segregated. But heaven forbid that someone be discriminated against — on the basis of nationality — on a public bus originating in Tel Aviv, in Peter Beinart’s “democratic Israel.”

The international community might only recognize Israeli sovereignty within the 1949 armistice lines, but Israel makes no such distinction. True, the Israeli army — not the Israeli government — is technically the sovereign power in the West Bank. But the generals take their orders from the government. Thus, a single Israeli regime run by a single government with a single set of ministers, rules over the entire area between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.

A Palestinian child watches as Israeli soldiers place a concrete and steel barrier to segregate Palestinian pedestrians from Israeli traffic along a road in the H2 section of Hebron, October 22, 2013. The road connects the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron's old city with the nearby Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba. Israelis are allowed to drive on the road, but Palestinians are prohibited from driving there without special permission. All settlements in the occupied Paletinian territories are illegal under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian child watches as Israeli soldiers place a concrete and steel barrier to segregate Palestinian pedestrians from Israeli traffic along a road in the H2 section of Hebron, October 22, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Under this singular regime, not only do segregated bus lines already exist, there are also segregated towns, cities and villages; there are segregated legal systems. In the same small plot of land ruled by a single regime, one population has freedom of movement — the other does not. One population has freedom of political expression and the right to protest — the other does not. One population has a right to unionize — the other does not. One population has the right to live with their spouse and family — the other does not. One population has the right to walk down certain streets — the other does not. One population must live in fear of losing their home if a loved one commits an atrocious crime — the other does not. One population receives state support in establishing new communities — the other faces demolition and expulsion. One population has near impunity for committing hate crimes against the other — the other does not.

In a normal country that claims to have democratic values, an elected government official who planned and implemented a plan to segregate bus lines would be quickly fired, or at least shamed out of politics. Not in Israel. Not Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Not even close.

Special coverage: The Apartheid Debate

And this is not the first time that Ya’alon has attempted to segregate buses. Prime Minister Netanyahu — and the rest of the country — can feign as much outrage and shock as he wants over the bus segregation, but Ya’alon made his plan public before the most recent elections. It was with full knowledge of those plans that Netanyahu once again made him defense minister.

On Wednesday, the prime minister called the bus segregation plan “unacceptable.” Has he ever used that word to describe the separate legal systems Palestinian and Israeli children are subject to in the West Bank? Has he ever declared the segregation of entire streets in Hebron as unacceptable? Has any Israeli minister, ever, denounced the imprisonment of Palestinian non-violent human rights defenders for the crime of organizing political protests?

As long as there is occupation there will be segregation. As long as the State of Israel interprets being a “Jewish state” as meaning some citizens should have more individual and group rights than others, then discrimination, segregation and inequality will be the norm, not the exception.

Issues like bus segregation get people angry. Activists start to plan freedom rides and massive campaigns, the international media starts to pay attention, and it seems that, for a fleeting moment, people care about the fate of Palestinians living under occupation. Until that same energy and anger and mobilization materializes around the occupation itself, against the concept of institutionalized supremacy and oppression, there will only be more symptoms over which to feign outrage.

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A dark tale from Netanyahu Nation http://972mag.com/a-dark-tale-from-netanyahu-nation/106919/ http://972mag.com/a-dark-tale-from-netanyahu-nation/106919/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:20:09 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106919 Assassinations, lies and conspiracy theories. 

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the infamous "Rabin the Traitor" rally in Jerusalem, October 1995. (Screenshot)

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the infamous “Rabin the Traitor” rally in Jerusalem, October 1995. (Screenshot)

If you want to know about the right-wing culture that rules Israel today, the following isn’t a bad illustration. Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday that Netanyahu’s pick for director-general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, wrote an article in the settler publication Nekuda after the Rabin assassination blaming the Shin Bet for the murder, which is sort of the Israeli right’s answer to Holocaust denial, that’s how popular a conspiracy theory it is. (Filber, along the way, was Netanyahu’s chief of staff in his first term, and headed the Likud campaign in the last election.)


Filber’s response in Yedioth: he always believed, then and now, that Yigal Amir and no one else killed Rabin, but agreed, as a junior employee of the Yesha settlers council following the assassination, to sign his name to the article because the true author, Uri Elitzur, then Nekuda editor and a senior figure in the Yesha Council, thought it would hurt his standing as an opinion writer to have his name signed on to it. Filber says that “out of regard for Elitzur and desire to help put down the incitement campaign against settlers, I agreed to sign in his place. Since then, I have expressed myself forthrightly that the conspiracy theory is delusional and illogical.”

Let’s look at this. First of all, it’s very convenient for Filber to say the article was written by Elitzur because Elitzur can’t deny it, being dead. Elitzur, by the way, wrote the infamous article posted on Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked last summer calling for the killing of not only Palestinian terrorists, but also their mothers, the people who write Palestinian textbooks, people who give terrorists “moral support” — basically all Palestinians except collaborators.

Here’s the thing: what sort of person agrees to sign his name to a long article making a very controversial claim, one that he considers “delusional and illogical,” when he didn’t even write it? And what kind of writer would write such an article and ask somebody else to take responsibility for it?

Setting aside the issue of Elitzur, who is not relevant and cannot defend himself, Filber is a liar any way you look at it — either he is lying about not having written the article (and is slandering a dead man, not to mention being a believer in vicious nonsense), or he is telling the truth now and agreed then to sign his name to a major article he never wrote. Either way, it’s a dark tale about the kinds of people Netanyahu raises up, about the character of the powers that be in contemporary Israel.

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PHOTOS: When Israel decides to cut Palestinian farmers off from their land http://972mag.com/photos-when-israel-decides-to-cut-palestinian-farmers-off-from-their-land/106877/ http://972mag.com/photos-when-israel-decides-to-cut-palestinian-farmers-off-from-their-land/106877/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 10:30:57 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=106877 The Israeli army decided last week to close the main gateway Palestinian farmers from four villages use to access their lands — which Israel cut them off from with the separation fence. After a protest the army re-opened the gate, but the incident shows how Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian life.

Photos and Text: Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

A view on an agricultural gate in the separation fence in Falamya village (Gate number 914), West Bank, May 18, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

A view of an agricultural gate in the separation fence near Falamya village (Gate number 914), West Bank, May 17, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian farmers are seen beside the agricultural gate of the separation fence in Falamya village (gate 914), West Bank, May 18, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Palestinian farmers walking through an agricultural gate near Falamya village (gate 914), West Bank, May 17, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Palestinian farmer drive his tractor on the western side of the separation fence in Falamya village, West Bank, May 18, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Palestinian farmer drives his tractor on the western side of the separation fence in Falamya village, West Bank, May 17, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

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

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

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

Palestinian farmer stands beside an agricultural gate in the separation fence in Falamya village (Gate number 914), West Bank, May 18, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

Palestinian farmer stands beside an agricultural gate in the separation fence near Falamya village (Gate number 914), West Bank, May 17, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

The International Court of Justice has published its opinion that the route of the wall is illegal and called on Israel to cease construction of it. Israel claimed at the time that the route was temporary and did not constitute a change to the Green Line or attempted annexation.

The route of the separation fence/wall, however, does not follow the 1949 Green Line, which most of the world recognizes as the interim border between Israel and the West Bank. It snakes through the Palestinian territory and Israeli officials have even admitted that it is intended to be a future border, which would constitute illegal annexation.

Further, Palestinians whose privately owned land lies trapped on the other side of the separation barrier but still within the West Bank — the seam zone — must obtain permits from the Israeli Civil Administration. Often times such permits are arbitrarily denied, and are often used as leverage — one of many ways that Israel maintains its undemocratic control over the occupied population of Palestinians.

A Palestinian farmer argues with an Israeli soldier on the western side of the separation fence in Falamya village, West Bank, May 18, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org

A Palestinian farmer argues with an Israeli soldier on the western side of the separation fence in Falamya village, West Bank, May 17, 2015. Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org


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