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WATCH: Films explore human side of Sheikh Jarrah protest

The affluent Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has become, in the words of one observer, the new battleground of the Israeli left. By now, most readers of +972 are familiar with the story of struggle and dispossession which has typified the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement. In early 2009, Jewish settlers, backed by American-funded organizations like Ateret Cohanim, won a long court battle over ownership of a number of Palestinian houses in Sheikh Jarrah. Siding with the settlers, the Israeli government decided to evict waves of Palestinian families from their homes, claiming that Jews owned the houses before the founding of Israel in 1948.

The legal precedents set by the profligacy of Israel’s legal institutions were not extended to the evicted Palestinians, many of whom owned homes in Jaffa and West Jerusalem before 1948. Some Israeli critics decried the decision, claiming that Israel was making a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital impossible because of the high number of Jews living in Palestinian areas of the city.

The evictions spurred a handful of hearty solidarity activists into holding weekly demonstrations against the ruling. The small demonstrations grew as hundreds of Israelis started showing up on Friday afternoons to protest their government’s policies. The movement became a gateway drug of sorts for a new generation of activists who sought joint struggle with Palestinians as their preferred exercise of political expression.

The development of the protests breathed new life into an Israeli left long dormant from years of status quo and little political gain on the ground. The movement garnered headlines in the domestic and international press as the Israel police used increasingly heavy-handed crowd control measures against the non-violent demonstrations.

Just Vision, the production outfit behind the critically acclaimed documentary Budrus, has just released a series of short films which explore the people who make up this historic movement. From a Palestinian boy who has become active in the joint struggle to an American-born Israeli mother of two Jewish activists, Just Vision’s new film demonstrates the unique mélange of faces present every Friday peacefully demonstrating against Israeli occupation. If you have ever wondered what drives Israelis and Palestinians to jointly demonstrate against Israel’s occupation, this film is a great place to gain important insight.

Disclosure: I am an associate producer of this film project. You can read more about it and see more clips on Just Vision’s website.

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Palestinian bloggers called to join prisoner hunger strike

On 27 September 2011, activists with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) launched a prisoner hunger strike in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails. Rallies have been held throughout the West Bank in support of the hunger strike and now activists are calling on bloggers throughout the world to join.

Ramallah–Protesting the treatment of Palestinian political prisoners, members of the PFLP started a hunger strike in Israeli prisons on 27 September 2011 and set up a number of solidarity tents throughout West Bank cities. In Ramallah, dozens of PFLP and Fatah youth movement members marched through the streets, chanting for better prison conditions for Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was set to visit the main Ramallah support tent at the time of this writing.

Palestinian prisoners in the Gilboa prison have lead the hunger strike demanding better access to lawyers and the end to the policy of solitary confinement. Prisoners throughout the Israeli military prison network are now refusing meals and suffering the consequences of prolonged hunger and thirst. According to Palestinian Authority Prisoners Affairs Minister Issa Karaki, the catalyst for the strike was Israel’s insistence on shackling prisoners during family visits. Among other demands, are that Israel ends its policy of denying prisoners books and newspapers as well as the routine denial of family visits. According to activists, the Israeli prison authorities are not providing the hunger striking prisoners with necessary medical services.

The hunger strike’s demands hinge on ending the isolation for all political prisons and especially that of senior PFLP prisoners such as the group’s general secretary, Ahmad Saadat. Saadat is currently serving a 30 year sentence for his role in the assassination of Israeli politician Rehavam Ze’evi. The Palestinian prisoner support and human rights association Addameer have been instrumental in promoting the hunger strike.

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, Israeli prison authorities have resorted to collectively isolating 53 striking prisoners in a special section in Shatta Prison. Authorities are also reportedly barring lawyers from visiting prisoners on strike.

Bloggers in Palestine announced today a solidarity hunger strike lasting one day for Wednesday. Using Facebook, activists and bloggers have planned a number of solidarity demonstrations throughout the West Bank and Europe. Last Friday’s weekly demonstrations against the occupation and the separation wall were held in solidarity with the prisoners. On Wednesday, a general...

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'Scuffles' between Israelis, Palestinians on Jerusalem's light rail

Jerusalem is one of the  focal points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its architecture of settlement is one of the most profound examples of Israel’s control over Palestinian sovereignty. Since the 1967 conquest of the eastern parts of the Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, Israel has moved quickly to ensure its control by building settlements and roads which make a Palestinian state impossible. The latest effort of creating ‘facts on the ground’ is the Jerusalem light rail which runs from Mount Herzl in West Jerusalem to the settlement of Pisgat Zeev in the eastern part of the city.

According to Jerusalem city officials, the light rail is a sign of progress for the holy city. It is been billed as a solution to Jerusalem’s growing congestion and a centrepiece of Mayor Nir Barket’s plan to elevate the city’s pedigree as a modern and international city. The project was completed with significant European investment.

Many Israelis have welcomed the light rail as a sign of progress despite many delays which plagued its construction. Palestinians have adopted a different position to the project, which they argue entrenches Israel’s control over East Jerusalem like never before. Activists with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement scored a victory against one of the principle European companies involved with the project. Veoila, a major French company with stakes in various Israeli projects, announced recently that it would sell all of its shares in the light rail project after criticism from the BDS movement that the project entrenches Israeli occupation.

Amid escalating ‘price tag’ attacks against Palestinians inside the West Bank and in Israel, few in Israel are taking note of recent confrontations on Jerusalem’s light rail tram. In just over one month of operation, there have already been a handful of ‘scuffles’ between Palestinian youth and security officials. Last week, two Palestinian youth were reportedly taken off the tram and pepper sprayed by security officials because “they had their feet resting on seats.”

Confrontations were expected given that the light rail is part of a long term Jerusalem construction which runs through a number of Palestinian areas in Jerusalem. Indeed, the light rail project is understood by many in Palestine as part of Israel’s entrenchment of occupation conducted in the plain view of the International community.  Writing in 2007, the Palestinian human rights advocate and author Raja...

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WATCH: Violent eviction of Palestinian family from Jaffa home

New video shows Israeli police beating a Palestinian man during a house eviction in Jaffa. The video raises fresh questions about Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish citizens.

A new video has been posted on YouTube of Israeli policeman from the special YASSAM riot police unit beating and kicking a 34 year old Jaffa man during a house eviction which took place earlier this week. The man, Sameer Kassem, is seen holding his four year daughter while policemen attempt to remove him from the house using excessive force.

According to a Jerusalem Post report on the eviction,

Sameer said he and his family have been homeless since May when his mother, who used to help him with his expenses, died and he could no longer pay rent. He said that he, his wife, and their five children moved to the vacant house on Salameh Street about two weeks ago after someone set their tent at the Shtayim park on fire. He also said that his children were having trouble sleeping at the tent city, especially after recent rainfall. Kassem’s sister had been living at the vacant house for a few weeks and invited him to stay there with his children, he added.

According to Kassem, on Tuesday they were informed by police that they would arrive in the afternoon to evict them and he decided to begin packing their belongings in the meantime. When police finally arrived, he said he decided to take his infant and hole up in the house, hoping that maybe police would relent and allow them to stay.

The Israeli police have rationalized their use of force by stating in a media comment that  Kassem ‘“threatened to blow up the building using a gas tank and to harm his daughter. His sister threw shards of glass at police and opened the gas line. Reasonable force was used in order to rescue the daughter from her father.”

Kassem has filed a lawsuit against the police for their use of force during the eviction. The video was shot by an Israeli activist named Haim Shwartzenberger. Often the only witnesses to house evictions in Jaffa, which is part of the Tel Aviv municipality, are Israeli activists who routinely document and distribute their materials on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

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WATCH: Tony Blair and the Quartet

Former British PM Tony Blair has come under fire for alleged bias in the Middle East. The Guardian reported last week that Blair visited Gaddafi during Libyan loan negotiations by JP Morgan, where he is employed as an adviser. The Telegraph in the UK reported that PLO senior leaders are considering a proposal which would label Blair “persona non grata” in order to isolate him and make his position as the Quartet envoy ‘impossible’. The Palestinian leadership claims that there is no more trust for  Blair as an impartial mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

Two days ago, someone posted a hard hitting expose of Blair on YouTube. It is a fascinating look into the world of Blair and Middle East diplomacy.

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Is the United States going to cut off PA aid money?

The United States Congress is set to withhold upwards of 200 million USD from the Palestinian Authority according to The Independent.  On the surface this sounds like a blow to the Palestinian Authority but it will be the Palestinian people which suffer the most. It is unlikely that the Palestinian Authority will not be fully cut off from US and Israeli aid in the foreseeable future.

The Independent is reporting that the United States Congress is going to withhold 200 million dollars in aid money earmarked for the Palestinian Authority (PA). The move is a response to the unilateral PA move to seek statehood recognition in the United Nations. The aid money was said to be earmarked for food aid, health care and to support efforts to build a nascent state.

In the build up to the Palestinian statehood bid in the United Nations, some conservative American politicians floated the idea that the United States should punish the Palestinian leadership by withholding aid money; a primary source of income for a Palestinian Authority struggling to pays its bills.

The Palestinian Authority is in a dire situation. According to an International Crisis Group report dated 12 September 2011,

By withholding money from PA, the US, presumably with the full knowledge of their Israeli partners, is playing with fire. A severely bankrupt PA unable to pay 100,000 employees could spark outright rebellion against the Palestinian leadership. Growing Palestinian discontent with the PA leadership, easily detected on the streets of Ramallah, could transform into West Bank civil disobedience directed at the PA and, ultimately, the Israeli occupation. But this is not going to happen.

It is increasingly probable that the United States and Israel have decided to slowly move the Palestinian economy in the West Bank back to its Second Intifada levels of ‘near catastrophe.’ Described succinctly in the work of Israeli political philosophers Adi Ophir and Ariella Azouly, Israel kept the Palestinian economy just above catastrophic levels of widespread hunger and economic collapse during the Second Intifada.

Fully aware that widespread hunger and dire economic conditions on the West Bank would engender worldwide condemnation, Israel carefully exerted control over its captive Palestinian economy.  In 2006, when Hamas came into power in the Gaza Strip, Israel along with other Western countries again exercised their ability to punish Palestinians for their decisions however misguided.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel work...

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Palestinians take to the streets for Abbas's speech

Palestinians poured into the streets of West Bank cities to watch and celebrate Mahmoud Abbas’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier in the day, clashes erupted at the Qalandia checkpoint and the Israeli shot dead a Palestinian man in the northern West Bank village of Qasra

RamallahCarrying Palestinian flags and portraits of Abbas, Palestinians of all backgrounds, young and old, men and women, watched attentively in city’s Yasser Arafat Square as PLO Chairman and PA president Mahmoud Abbas made the case for his people and their desire for state sovereignty in front of the UN’s General Assembly.

“Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will the world allow Israel to occupy us forever? Are we an unwanted people? Or are we a missing state?” Abbas asked in his speech.

There were wild cheers as Abbas quoted Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, “Standing here, staying here, permanent here, eternal here, and we have one goal, one, one: to be.”

Mohammed Rahmah, from the small West Bank village of Salfit, came to Ramallah to be a part of the historic day. “The Palestinians have been waiting for this vote for 63 years and finally it is here,” he said half an hour before Abbas addressed the United Nations, “The whole world knows that we deserve a state and finally Abbas is fighting for our rights regardless of what Israel says.”

The excitement that the speech caused and the perception of Palestine as an equal member of the international community allowed Palestinians to momentarily forget about the hardships of their daily lives. But not all were satisfied with the performance of the Palestinian leadership.

Rula Talonisi, a mother of four living in Ramallah, echoed concerns shared by many Palestinians regarding an escalation of violence with Israel in the coming weeks. “I think that Israel is going to tease the Palestinians in the coming days,” she said, holding her two-year-old daughter in her lap.

“I hope that we will avoid confrontation with the Israeli army at checkpoints but I think that they are going to do everything to attack and tease us.”

While Ramallah was preparing for Abbas’s speech and Qalandia was engulfed in a barrage of stones and bullets, Israeli settlers marched into the Northern West Bank city of Qasra waving Israeli flags.

According to Palestinian sources inside the village, Israeli settlers began throwing...

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WATCH: Against UN backdrop, violence erupts in West Bank

Ramallah – So much attention has been focused on the question of whether violence will break out in the West Bank due the historic United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood. Yesterday, mass peaceful rallies were held inside West Bank cities such as Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron. However, late yesterday afternoon, clashes between stone throwing Palestinian youth and rubber bullet firing Israeli soldiers broke out at the Qalandia checkpoint, the main checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Israel has sealed the Qalandia checkpoint to Palestinian traffic randomly for the past several days, citing security concerns and leading to frustration among local Palestinians. Yesterday, the frustration boiled over into clashes which lasted until the evening. Palestinians threw stones and rolled burning tires at Israeli soldiers, who returned fire with a mix of tear gas, rubber and live bullets. Some Palestinian protesters even fired what seemed to be fireworks at the Israeli soldiers guarding the checkpoint (see video).

When the dust settled, three Palestinian youth were left with medium to serious injuries caused by Israeli rubber bullets. One 15-year-old Palestinian boy lost his eye after an Israeli soldier fired a rubber bullet directly at his head. The Israeli military did not report any injuries during the clashes at the time of writing.

Ten Palestinians were arrested by soldiers and Israeli undercover police, and they are currently being held at the Ofer military jail outside of Ramallah. As you can see in the embedded video, both the Palestinians and the Israeli army are playing with fire in Qalandia. It might only be a matter of time before things get out of control.

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PHOTOS: Ramallah rallies for a Palestinian state

At least 3,000 Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah in support of the PLO’s statehood bid in the United Nations. The PA officially closed Palestinian schools in order to boost numbers of protesters. Roughly 80,000 PA employees were also given the day off in order to join the demonstrations. The demonstration took place in Clock Square which has been recently renamed Yassir Arafat Square. Massive signs with the words “UN 194” covered many of the buildings ringing the square.

Various speakers addressed the mostly young crowd with strong speeches declaring the right of Palestine to full membership in the United Nations. Many speakers stressed the fact the peace process has failed and it is now time for Palestine to be a state. The PLO’s official band, Al Asheqeen, also played for the crowd  in the afternoon sun of Ramallah. The atmosphere was festive and jubilant without harsh revolutionary overtones. Pro-statehood demonstrations are also being held in Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus.

Heavy PA police presence was seen throughout the streets of Ramallah as many undercover PA police were combing the area in order to contain the demonstrations inside PA controlled Ramallah. After the Ramallah demonstration got underway, Israel closed the Qalandia checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah leading to small clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. Haaretz is reporting that the Israeli army has used the ‘Scream’ to disperse the protesters.  Palestinian activists are also reporting that Israeli settlers are dressing as Palestinians in order to infiltrate pro-statehood rallies and to attack demonstrators. Additionally, the Israeli army has reportedly fined Palestinians near Israeli checkpoints who had the pro-statehood flag.

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New song mocks PA's statehood bid

Palestinian activists in Ramallah have created a new song which mocks the PLO attempt for statehood at the United Nations later this week.

The lyrics in English:

The blue chair

This is the story of a magical blue chair… A blue chair that will
travel, soar and fly!
It comes in dark blue…and in white, Palestine, is drawn (2X)

This chair…is not just any chair (2X)
This chair is an extraordinary and magical kind!

This blue chair…can rise high
This blue chair…can achieve
It can a bring us a state
This chair is one magical blue chair!

This is the story of a magical blue chair…a blue chair that will
travel, soar and fly
It comes in dark blue…and in white, Palestine, is drawn
This Chair…is not just any Chair (2X)
This chair is an extraordinary and magical kind!

This blue chair… a chair for our refugees
This blue chair…will give us our “Right of Return”
This chair…will give us back Jerusalem and Palestine

This is the story of a magical blue chair…a blue chair that will
travel, soar and fly
It comes in dark blue…and in white, Palestine, is drawn
This Chair…is not just any Chair (2X)
This chair…is of an extraordinary kind

We’ve got our blue chair…with its own number too
An enemy to the settlements it serves

We are the Palestinians…with our magically dangerous blue chair
We are people…not like any other people
We are people… who have fallen in love with chairs!

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The rhetorical abuse of unarmed Palestinian resistance by Mahmoud Abbas

My colleague, Dahlia Scheindlin, in her thoughtful analysis of PA president Mahmoud Abbas’s major speech on the Palestine statehood bid, notes,

Yes. Dahlia’s point is a powerful one.  Non-violent Palestinian resistance is a real thing which has the transformative power to radically challenge the established narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the proliferation of social media, Palestinian activists have a clear opportunity to change the way we understand the conflict. They are able to reformulate our understanding from a peace/security narrative to one which highlights the struggle for human rights in a situation in which those rights are deprived.

Based on his public rhetoric among Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in pushing this narrative. As I reported last week, the PA president recently ridiculed popular unarmed resistance movements such as those in Bil’in and Nabi Saleh as nothing more than a ‘festival.’ His argument was that the unarmed resistance is helpful but it is ultimately within the political arena, the arena where the PA and PLO reign supreme, that real change can take place. He might be logically correct but the track record of his Palestinian Authority in negotiating with an Israeli government that harbours little regard for international law has not bode well for the rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation

To add insult to injury, Abbas directly attacked one of the core components of contemporary Palestinian unarmed resistance, the global campaign to boycott Israel, in his recent statehood address. He stated in clear language that the PA, under his leadership, is not out to ‘delegitimize Israel,’rather it was working to ‘delegitimize’ Israel’s occupation. Leaders of the popular non-violent movements in the West Bank would likely take issue with such a stance for the simple reason that they operate under the assumption that one can’t separate Israel from its occupation, or the incredible inequality alive within the official Israeli position vis-a-vis Palestinian citizens of the Jewish state. Thus, any attempt to ‘delegitmize’ Israel’s occupation ultimately targets the legitimacy of Israel as a whole.

The Palestinian Authority is the middle of a crisis. It’s statehood attempt is understood by a growing number of Palestinians as a last ditch effort to shore up what little legitimacy the PA still has (remember the Palestine Papers, they still play heavily in people’s minds in Ramallah and Bethlehem). Abbas’s speech, which...

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Palestine statehood bid: is about rights or separation?

Last week, Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the U.S., was quoted by USA Today as saying total separation is needed between Palestinians and Israelis.

The statement came during a press conference on the Palestinian statehood bid sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington. Areikat’s exact statement was, “I believe, as a first step we [Israelis and Palestinians] need to be totally separated”

Notable neoconservatives such as Elliot Abrams quickly fired off a response arguing that Areikat’s comments were examples of anti-Semitism in action. Areikat was forced to step back from his comments, telling the Huffington Post’s Joshua Hersh, “Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine.”

Instead of perpetuating the accepted rhetoric that the two state solution is running out of time and separation is a natural remedy to the problems endemic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Areikat and the entire Palestinian leadership are in a position to reformulate the conflict narrative to highlight the rights based nature of Palestinian thinking.

However, Areikat’s statements reflect the stale thinking pervasive inside the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. The narrative of separation, the oft cited claim of two states for two peoples, is not realistic at the present moment given the entrenchment of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank. Most Palestinians are aware of this and while they argue that statehood is their legitimate right, they also understand that their constant deprivation of rights is the core of their grievance with Israel and, by extension, the Palestinian leadership.

Given their fight for political survival and legitimacy, not to mention the looming economic crisis in the West Bank, it is unlikely that the PA/PLO will take the bold moves necessary to challenge Israel’s dominance over the Israeli-Palestinian narrative. Instead, we can expect more simplistic and unrealistic statements like Areikat’s comment on separation.

If the United Nations statehood bid fails, which is increasingly likely given that the United States has promised a veto in the Security Council, the PA might soon be dealing with a fed up and financially strained population. The proliferation of young activist movements inside the West Bank and Gaza, armed with the social media knowledge necessary to challenge the Israeli-Palestinian narrative in the hearts and minds of international civil society, might just lead a movement of civil disobedience which will bring the...

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The subtle reformulation of Jewish identity in America

Somehow, this short trailer fell through the cracks of my email and I forgot to post it last week. The film looks like yet another sign that a subtle reformulation of Jewish identity in the United States is well underway. An identity in which Zionism plays a small, if not insignificant role. An idenity which is based on awareness of Israel treatment of non-Jews. Slowly, American Jews are opening a new chapter in Jewish history which just might be called “After Zionism.”

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”400″][/vimeo]

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