Monthly Archives: October 2011

Education as Resistance for Palestinian Prisoners- Interview with Badia Dwaik, 10/28/2011

Badia Dwaik is Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots Palestinian organization dedicated to the nonviolent struggle to resist the Israeli occupation of Hebron. This Friday I went to Youth Against Settlement’s headquarters, nestled, next to a 2,000 year old olive grove, in between 4 Israeli settlements. Throughout the interview, we observed on multiple occasions soldiers patrolling through the fields around us, a normal occurrence these days for the center of downtown Hebron, plagued now for 30 years by an illegal military and civilian occupying force.

With the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners due to the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, and the end of the Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, still lingering in the air, I decided to ask Badia about his days as a prisoner inside the Israeli prison system. I particularly wanted to learn how the prisoners organized their own educational system within the prison walls, how they managed to learn together about politics, philosophy, history and literature while imprisoned, and how this knowledge strengthened their will to resist. On the way, we talked about everything from how he felt walking home from work at dark as a little boy, to ways of transmitting messages in and out of prison, to the hunger strike as a method of resistance, even to the nonexistence of God!

Freedom

When I woke up in the morning, the sunlight tickled my golden-brown skin
My eyes burned from its rosy rays and moved at the gusts of air
The intensity of the winds undulated
By this remedy, hope for the hopeless was reborn

And it began to smile on me from afar, as if I have a promise to keep
So I took my pen and my paper as my mind fled
A strange feeling seized me
I began to scribble these words
Maybe I will find something in them to express the emotions of my heart and that which
turns in my mind
The golden sun whose rays began to shine came up in the morning
The rays penetrated through the small window, making me question and seek inspiration
My pen turning the pages of memory
Standing on the dews of the near and distant past
The sun became a roll of burning bread
Come, come slowly

Here and there, mocking laughter
Memories of the past awakened in beautiful aching reality
My heart poured forth
The arteries of my heart were jammed with emotion
My eyes flooded, soaking the furrows in my cheeks
My thoughts began to turn and turn in my mind
Between optimism and pessimism, in a bitter struggle of resistance
At last the sun appeared from far away, but in a new robe
After I had drunk cups of bitterness to the dregs
Then I began to breathe with new appetite
And the seas and rivers and trees whistled the melody of freedom

Thoughts from Hebron Prison, by Badia Dwaik

——————————–

My father was arrested before me. My father was arrested in 1988 and I was around that time like fifteen or fourteen years old. I am the oldest one of my family, and I grew up in a poor family, so my parents decided to send me to work when I was 9 years old. So I didn’t have any childhood or young life because even when I became younger I was arrested, so I missed my childhood, and then the time of my youth I spent in jail.

Did you have education when you were 9 years old, or were you pulled out of education to work?

I was working on the side. My life was to work and study in the same day.  So I used to go to the school, and when I finished my school I would have lunch at home and then go to work, until i finished work at 9 in the evening. I was alone, and it was dark on the way home, and I was very scared. I would hurry back home very quickly, running, because it was scary and I was a child at the time, and I felt uncomfortable to walk around. Especially when I had to work in the old town in Hebron, it was not lit up like it is now, it was dark, and it made it even more scary when I had to get home. And i had difficult experiences, there were bad people, trying to do bad things with me and abuse me.
So I grew up in this situation even after my father was arrested. When my father was arrested I was 15 and I was the oldest one in the family, and in our culture the oldest one usually takes responsibility for the family, so I had to take responsibility for everything in the family. My father was in jail for six months and then he was released, but when he was in jail i joined the First Intifada, as a reaction. Because I was angry, and I just wanted to express my feelings about what happened to my father, it was something personal. So I joined the First Intifada, and I was very young at that time, around 15 years old. My father was in jail, so I continued protesting, and I was very active, demonstrating, organizing demonstrations, and I was also part of the Fatah movement. This was the first of my political life, was the Fatah movement. When they started to negotiate about the Oslo agreement, after the First Intifada, I moved to PFLP because I did not like the Oslo agreement.

So by the time they signed the Oslo agreement you were already in PFLP.

Yes. I was arrested three months after the Oslo agreement, but I joined PFLP before I was arrested. I got a scholarship to study in Baghdad before I was arrested. But after I was registered for the scholarship, while I was preparing my documents to go to Baghdad, I was arrested the next week. So the army and Shin Bet were at my home, it was like after 2 in the morning, they arrived, knocked on the door, and we opened the door. Then they were asking my father about the names of my family, my father named the names, and the man stopped him and said ‘We need Badia.’ So I woke up, my father came to wake me up because I was sleeping. I was young, I was 19 at the time. So my father woke me up, I was still in my pajamas. And then I saw sodliers and Shin Bet with them- its easy to recognize the Shin Bet because he speaks Arabic, and wears civilian clothing. He started talking to me, he asked me about the Quran text, about the Bakra sura, and how many lines were in the Bakra sura. I said I didn’t know, I didn’t care about religious issues. He said there were 286 lines in the Bakra sura. He surprised me with this question because he wants to convince you that he knows everything, even the Quran. That is the idea.

But you weren’t religious, you didnt care.

In the beginning of my life i was super religious! I was praying all the time in the mosque, before my father was arrested and even after he was arrested, I was praying all the time, but I did not have good knowledge about Islam, about the religion and about the life in general. So I wanted just to pray and to practice, so I didnt care if i knew what I was practicing or not, i just wanted to be with the culture. The change happened with me when I joined PFLP, and especially in the jail. Because even when I was in PFLP before I was arrested I was still praying. I continued praying for a year and a half in jail and then I stopped.

Why? Because PFLP is a secular movement?

Yes, PFLP is a secular movement. I was young at the time and it affected me. I grew up in a religious place, religion effects Hebron so strong, it is a very religious place, and a lot of tradition. Sometimes the tradition is even more powerful than the religion here. It took time for me to change what is in my mind, and PFLP is about communism. Communism is an ideology, and so to tell someone there is no god, when he grew up in a situation where there was god, it will be a shock for him, it will take time for him.

So the army and Shin Bet took you away that night?

When they came to my father’s home and arrested me, my mother asked ‘where are you taking him?’ They said they just needed me five minutes. Those five minutes took up three years of my life. My first holding cell was a tiny room 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. They kept me there for two nights but those two nights felt like a year. I could not sleep, to sleep I had to put my head on the floor and move my legs up to the ceiling. I had to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door and say ‘please I have to go to the toilet!’ They pretended not to hear me, there were two soldiers outside but they did not listen to me. Eventually I went to the toilet in my cell, and then I had to sleep in it, I put my head next to it on the ground and my feet up to the ceiling.
In the First intifada there were 12,000 people in Israeli jails. In Al-Naqab prison there were 8,000 people. Al-Naqab jail is completely a desert. You cannot see any green thing around you, you cannot see any trees, you cannot see any homes, only desert and soldiers around you and the barbed wires. It is a big jail, there are many different small jails inside it. When you are there, you will see tents, and around the tents there are a lot of barbed wires. Behind the barbed wires there are long blocks, like the [separation] wall. And also there are dogs, and also there are many soldiers in military watchtowers, and the army is also driving by in jeeps with 250 caliber bullet guns. And the food is very miserable, very bad food. When they put you there, you are isolated, without anything you need for your life. When you are a prisoner, sometimes you will be happy just to see a bird! If you see a bird this is some luck coming to you! Really I wished to see a bird in the jail there, because you are already with your same prisoners such a long time. They want to break your psychology, and there is just sand around you, just tent and soldiers and sand. And it was a very big jail, even  when your family wants to visit they get there at 5 in the morning, and they do not get to see you until 5 pm.

Was there a library in that jail?

It was very small. There are two types of jails- jails under the military and jails under the police administration. The police administration jails are better condition than the military. Naqab jail was a military jail, so it was not good. But eventually, through my three years in many jails, I started to read Communist Ideology, about Marx, Hegel, about all of these people who wrote about Communism and all about the dialectic.

In jail!

Yes.

How did you get access to those texts in jail?

This is a story of the resistance of prisoners inside the jail. Each thing we have in jail, we do not get it by nothing, we do alot of resistance until we acheive points through our resistance. There are many things we have now in jail which we did not used to have. But because we are here, because we need these things in our life, the Israelis refused to give it to us in an easy way, so we decided to do resistance. Part of this resistance is to open a hunger strike. We wrote our needs down in a list, and then we tried to negotiate with the Israelis about our needs. These negotiations took many different steps and stages, it took long negotiations and conversations, and we put our efforts into trying to convince them that these things are very important for us to survive. But the occupation policy is to control you however they can. They do not care if you are kept alive in dignity or not in dignity. But we are in jail, we lost everything in our lives, so what do we have to be scared from them?
So after that they refused the list of requests, so we started our resistance. Part of our resistance was to pass messages outside of the jail to parents, to families and relatives, to human rights organizations to tell them the situation, and update about the negotiations, and tell them about the future, the next steps. And we asked them to stand behind us and to support us in our resistance, if we decide to do a hunger strike. And we asked them to build advocacy outside of the jail, all over the world. And after that we started to negotiate between each other, we had inside conversations, about who would like to join with us in the hunger strike, and if there is anyone who would not like to join, it is better for him to tell us before we start the strike. And we asked the ill people not to join us in our hunger strike, even if they wanted to join us, because we were concerned about their health. A hunger strike is not easy. You cannot have anything except water and salt, no smoking even! No coffee, no tea, no food, no fruit, no anything.

Were you a smoker at the time?

I used to be a smoker. I am not anymore, but sometimes socially.

So you did a hunger strike to gain the right to education.

Yes, this was one of our requests, to allow us to receive books from outside, from our parents, from our visitors and from the radicals. So we succeeded-

You succeeded!

Yes, it worked. There were many things that were acheived in the jail. For example, in Hebron prison, before the Palestinian Authority, there was a library for us, with 4,000 books. Before the PA, it was an Israeli jail- I think the PA started here in 1996, and I was in jail until 1995. There were around 1,200 prisoners, and the library had 4,000 books. But it started with a very complicated hunger strike, before we were allowed to read books. And they checked the books for messages before they came in- when they received books from the Red Cross, or from lawyers, or parents, or organizations. To see if there are hidden messages or something, or information. But we had different ways to exchange information!

Oh yeah?

We called it a capsule. It’s a very small, thin paper, and we wrote in very small writing, but you can read it. We rolled it up, but carefully, it takes careful and well organized work. And then all this big paper- like 40 centimeters- you make it into 1 and a half centimeters. Then you eat it. But before that you bring nylon, and wrap it with plastic nylon, and after that you burn the side to seal it, and make sure there’s not even a very small hole, even a pinhole. And then some of the people who were going to be released soon, we give him not just one, maybe 30 or 40 capsules. When I used to visit my parents, I was like the Colonel of my party in the Hebron jail, because we had good connections with organizations of people here, and when we needed to exchange information i sent them information with this capsule. We would exchange it by kissing, during visiting. And you can keep it in your stomach for two days. You swallow it completely.

And then how do you get it up again?

Through the toilet! Then you clean it, and after that you open the papers, but the papers wil be ok. It’s very careful and well organized! (laughter) This is the way we exchange information.

So what books did you read?

Different books talking about ideological things, like Communism for example, about history like Vietnam, Cuba, Soviet states. Poetry, books about languages, French, English, Arabic literature…and also many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, and modern Western thinkers like Malthuse, and Hegel, Marx, Engels, Faeurbach, and also Arabic philosophy like Ibn Rushd, and Fukuyama- we studied about all these things, it’s not limited.

How did the Communism help you?

There used to be people who were in jail for a long time, and people who had been in and out of jail five times, they had alot of time in jail. Some of them used to study in Soviet states, for example, and some of them were in many different courses, and they explained for us about Communism and about the dialectic.

Did learning about Communist theory help you as prisoners to gain resolve and understand your situation?

For me not all the Communism helped me. Communism was a stage in my life. I am not a Communist right now, i would maybe say a Socialist. If you ask me is there god or no god, I will not deny that god exists, but it is not very important to waste my time with these stupid questions, to ask if god exists or not, or which is first, the material or the god before. I live in the land, so I discuss my life in this land, not something outside of my power. So this is not my ideology, so it was good for me be a member of PFLP because there were people who cared very much about this culture. They pushed and encouraged their members to study, and to learn as much as they could. For example I was one who was part of the Culture Committee. If I moved from jail to jail they sent with me a note- put Badia in the Culture Committee. So for example I was reading four of six books a month, I was reading regularly. I am not reading as much now, because I can not find the time. But I was in jail, I had the time, and more than that I had the determination to educate myself.
So I was reading about all sorts of resistance over the world, Cuba, Vietnam, Ghandi, other kinds of resistance. And I did not just accept everything I read, I was critical. I examined everything I read, and I thought, I compared what I believed to what I was reading. I did not just accept everytihng I read. Now I have good information in my mind, I can analyse many things around all the world. But I have background about many things in the world now, so because of it I can analyse many things. I succeeded to educate myself, it gave me a way for another stage in my life when I got out of the jail, to continue with the people and with society. Also, the PFLP helped me with many things that are complicated for others to understand. For example this was the first time I started to make a distinction between Jews and Zionists. Before this everything was the same. But I started to educate myself, and also the PFLP cared about these things, we talked about these things at meetings.
We had in a day at least three meetings. The prisoners were like a government inside a government! There was the Israeli jail, which was run by the government, and then within that, our organizations and committees- we would divide ourselves into different committees. Some were in the security committee, some were in the culture committee, some were in the health committee, some in the organization committee, some in the financial committee. So everyone had a role-

How would you meet for these committees?

We used to meet, but at first it was not allowed. It came through resistance! Right before the Israeli occupation [of the West Bank] started in 1967 the revolution started in 1965. Israel occupied Palestine in 1948, and after that the movement for revolution started in 1965. After that they occupied the West Bank in 1967, and with the struggle against the Israeli occupation there were prisoners. So we tried to do meetings, many times the Israeli jail people were blocking and beating us. So there is a long resistance, and it started when Israel occupied the west bank. It was not allowed for the prisoners to have meetings together and talk about points and subjects- meeting itself was forbidden in the beginning, and it was a big challenge for the prisoners to break these laws, and we succeeded through a long resistance. Hunger striking was one strategy, it was a weapon of resistance in the jail. You cannot eat, until they will listen to your needs. This is the most difficult and dangerous strategy. Everything we get in jail, we did not get in a golden platter! We had to resist, and to deal with the resistance until we achieved these things.
We had three meetings in the day- political meetings, and organization meetings, and cultural meetings. The political meetings, we would discuss the political issues not only about Palestine, but all over the world. Because we are a part of the world, and we are affected by the world! We are one of the people most affected directly by the events of the world! Like the balance between America and the Soviet states used to be good for us, but after the Soviet states were over we got more pressure from Israelis. And after the Gulf War, we got more pressure from Israel. This was the beginning of the permit policy. Before the Iraq war we did not need a permit for Palestinians to come to Israel. After 1991 we needed a permit, we could not drive to Tel Aviv or Haifa with our car.

So when you learned about history and other resistance movements, did you also gain a consciousness of the fact that your resistance was connected to other resistance movements all around the world?

Yes, I believed and I still believe that our resistance struggle is part of humanity’s resistance struggle all over the world. Because maybe we are suffering from occupation, from losing our dignity and justice, but there are many people around the world suffering because of injustice. There are many people suffering from capitalism, capitalism effects the majority of people all around the world, which is an injustice. We here are also effected very directly and strongly by capitalism. This is why I believe that all of us are a part of the resistance struggle for justice all over the world. And this is one of the methods- we can work together. This is why there are internationals here, this is why there are people who come here because they believe that humanity is one, that we are not divided, so they take responsibility for what goes on here, and come to share with Palestinians the resistance, and to show solidarity.

In prison, were you reading about capitalism and other systems of oppression?

The people who were in jail were not stupid people. Some of them were teachers at university, medical doctors, some of them students. Israel would arrange the jail to be a place to kill you psychologically, they can kill you daily many times by making you see the same things all your life- when you see the same people, the same routine, the same food, it makes you feel disgusting inside and you feel very bad about it. That is the Israeli policy, to try to create death in the Palestinian heart and mind. We turned upside down this image and made the jails as schools and universities. Whereas the Israelis planned for the jails to be aplace to kill your soul and harm your psychology, we turned everything upside down and created jails to be like schools, to make educated people.

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Refusing to die in silence: Palestinians resist settler violence during the olive harvest

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

watchingsoldiers
Olive harvesters watch Israeli soldiers after being told to stop picking olives in Burin. (All Photos: International Solidarity Movement)

As this year’s olive harvest sends Palestinian families across all of historic Palestine out to their olive trees, a new nonviolent resistance group called Refusing to Die In Silence is patrolling the West Bank, protecting harvesters from increased settler violence.

womanpickingolives
A woman picking olives in Qaryut.

The 2011 olive harvest, which began in early October, has seen a troubling rise in settler attacks. On October 20, OXFAM reported that Israeli settlers have already cost West Bank Palestinian farmers $500,000 this year in destroyed olive trees. In September alone, 2,500 olive trees were destroyed, out of 7,500 destroyed so far this year (and a conservative estimate of 800,000 destroyed since Israel’s annexation of the West Bank in 1967). This is particularly damaging because this year’s olive harvest is expected to yield only half the oil of last year’s harvest, making each tree all the more valuable more farmers.

An interactive map released by the human rights organization Al-Haq illustrates the “alarming increase in violent attacks” throughout the West Bank in September. In response, Refusing to Die in Silence, launched on September 19 in anticipation of increased violence during the UN vote, has organized daily patrols in the regions between Ramallah and Nablus to protect farmers during the olive harvest. Incorporating Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, armed with cameras and guided by a commitment to nonviolent resistance, the group uses a coordinated system of car patrols, directed from a control room in Ramallah, to respond to settler attacks as they occur.

soldieroliveharvest
Israeli soldiers and olive harvesters in Qaryut.

Says Haifam Katib, a coordinator of Refusing to Die In Silence who has been integral to the group since its inception, “we made the group because the settlers attack the villages in Palestine, especially during the month of the harvest. Last year there were many problems and so we decided to protect our people and to help our people pick olives, and to make what is going on well known…to help them, to push them to continue, to not be scared about settlers, to save their land- this is our plan.”

Like September, the month of October has been rife with settler attacks. On October 1, armed settlers uprooted dozens of olive trees in the village of Madama south of Nablus, and settlers from Yitzhar burnt many olive trees in the Einabous and Huwwara villages, south of Nablus. The same day, olive trees were also uprooted and set afire by settlers in the villages of Nabi Saleh and Dier Nidham, in the Ramallah district, and as the trees burned, Israeli soldiers prevented farmers from extinguishing the blaze and salvaging their sole sources of income.

checkingid
Israeli soldiers checking ID in Qaryut.

Refusing to Die In Silence maintains contact with West Bank Palestinian villages close to Israeli settlements, so that, in case of a settler attack, help is only a phone call away. “We went around to all of the major villages, and we gave our phone number to the local committees and to the popular committees, and to the people close to the settlements who want to pick olives. They have our number, and if they have problems they call us. We go there quickly to see what happened, and all our guys are journalists, they are filming. It’s their job, and they know how to do it.”

On October 6, settlers uprooted 200 olive trees just after midnight in the village of Qusra, south of Nablus, hours before their owners were to reap their fruit. Katib explains, “in Qusra we arrived in the morning, and saw that settlers had come in the night and cut the trees. The land is very important to the Palestinians, and especially the olive trees grow very slowly, and they take care of the trees many years, to take olives after they grow. So it’s very hard [when settlers cut the trees].”

On October 9, dozens of settlers armed with sticks and stones attacked Palestinians from the village of Awarta, east of Nablus, as they attempted to harvest olives close to the boundary of the Itamar settlement. Two days later, on October 11, settlers from the settlement Elon Moreh attacked olive harvesters near the village of Azmoot, east of Nablus, in a fistfight which occurred after a verbal standoff. The same day, settlers set fire to olive trees in the Palestinian villages of Ras Karkar, Beitillu and Deir Ammar, villages west of Ramallah.

burnttree
Trees partially burnt by Israeli settlers in Burin.

“Always I see the same thing everywhere,” laments Haifam. “The settlers try to cut the trees, to burn the trees, to burn all the area, to stop the contact between the farmers and the land. And after, they can take the land. This is what the settlers do, this is their policy, to build more and more settlements.”

The list continues- on October 12, settlers from the settlement Havat Gilad attacked farmers from the village of Jit as well as Refusing to Die in Silence team members, injuring one; on October 21, settlers gathered to photograph and throw stones at farmers in Burin, as soldiers arrested two harvesters; on October 26, Yitzhar settlers blocked Palestinians from harvesting near the village of Huwwara.

In the midst of this flurry of assaults, the Palestinian Authority released a statement on the 24th condemning Israeli inaction, expressing that “Israeli violations against Palestinians and their property and livelihood continue to increase with little or no action by the Israeli authorities to hold people to account under the rule of law.” The next day, the Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din released a new data sheet accusing the IDF of a “general failure to enforce the law” in failing to protect Palestinian olive trees from settler violence, noting that of the 127 cases under Israeli investigation over the last six years, only one has led to an indictment.

The most serious attack so far this year occurred on October 21, when masked settlers from the settlement Esh Kodesh, armed with metal poles and firearms, descended upon villagers harvesting olives in Jaloud near Nablus, injuring four, including a 12-year-old boy and an Israeli activist. Katib explains that the presence of cameras in Jaloud helped de-escalate a situation that could have turned lethal. “In Jaloud, one international group went to help the farmers to pick olives. When the settlers saw the farmers coming to pick olives they came with guns. But since there was a group that came with cameras, the soldiers came and tried to speak to the settlers, and the soldiers were very nice this time. But be sure, when we do not have cameras, we do not have a good day with settlers.”

By fixing an international eye on the actions of the settlers, the presence of the camera can halt their aggression and de-fuse their violent intentions. “I feel the camera can stop the violence,” says Katib, “because the camera is always a witness in the place…I think the settlers know now that if they want to come and do this, they will be filmed.  Maybe they are starting to be scared by the camera, it is good. ” The camera can also force soldiers to actually adhere to their stated policy of protecting farmers from settler attacks. In the village of Jeet near Nablus, for example, Refusing to Die in Silence accompanied the farmers to their fields “because they were scared to pick olives. Some soldiers were protecting the area, we saw them but we did not care about it, and we started to pick olives. After half an hour the settlers came with covered faces, and they started to throw stones, they started to scare the farmers, and  the soldiers did nothing. But when the group of settlers saw the cameras, in this moment they were surprised, and the soldiers and the police, when they saw the cameras, came very quickly and kicked the settlers out. This was because of the cameras.”

Thom, a British activist working with Refusing to Die in Silence, concurs that the camera can effectively counter settler violence as it occurs. “The idea [of Refusing to Die in Silence] came from there being a lack of media as settler violence is taking place. There are numerous reports of settler violence, you can find alot of media covering violence after it happens and reporting about it, but there seemed to be little or no media trying to cover the violence as it was going on. So we came to try and fill that gap, and also not just to have an observer role but also to use the international solidarity here in Palestine to try to deter the violence.”

The presence of internationals in the organization is crucial. Says Katib, “always we have internationals and Israeli activists to be with us, and it is very important. Nobody can believe Palestinians. Nobody, except sometimes the media here. When the media comes from outside, from CNN and the like, they do not believe the news when we speak about settlers killing two or three or four, and it takes time. But when we have an Israeli activist and international activists speaking about this and showing and writing about this, nobody can tell them it is a lie. This is a very important thing. If they see this from their own yes, they are a witness in Palestine and they can speak to their own country about this.”

The presence of internationals on the scene, however, can not always save the day for Palestinian olive harvesters. In what has unfortunately become a yearly ritual for the conflict-ridden area, Palestinian harvesters in Hebron’s illegal settlement Tel Rumeida could not harvest their 3000-year old olive trees on October 22 without constant harassment from extremist settlers- who taunted them by standing on the Palestinian flag- and Israeli soldiers- who joined in the harassment and blocked the path of international activists, present at the scene to protest the occupation and stand in solidarity with the farmers.

‘James’, from Britain, was one of these international activists.  “We were there to support and show solidarity with the farmers,” he said, “because they are under siege, they are very beleaguered in that area. They are surrounded by four settlements, and they want  outside support. It’s really important to them, so that internationals know what’s happening there.”

Haifam Katib, and the other coordinators and participants of Refusing to Die In Silence, are optimistic about the project’s present and future role in developing a coordinated response network, across the West Bank, to challenge and counter settler aggression as it occurs. “In Hebron they have popular committees also doing the same thing. We have many people in Palestine, doing this everywhere, in Jerusalem, in Bil’in, in Al Masara. Also B’tselem is doing the same thing, giving out cameras and going around to document.

“It is the beginning,” he says, “and we hope to continue and to collect more people, and to have cars all around the West Bank, but its really hard. We have some students, some people have another job, so some people can come today but they cannot come tomorrow, and other people continue, its like this. Hopefully we will continue a long time, and we will grow stronger, and continue to make a difference.”

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Occupy Wall Street AND Free Palestine

As pro-Palestinian discourse begins to make its voice heard in the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement, right-wing organizations and individuals in the United States, including the Republican National Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel, have denounced the protests as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

As the people-powered movement for social justice and democratic equality, which began in New York City in September, has spread to more than 900 cities in 82 countries worldwide, it has generated a global discourse critical of the economic and political powers and privileges of the world’s richest 1%, and has opened a space for the 99% of humanity to come together in solidarity, united by a common struggle for freedom. As it gains momentum, its message of protest has broadened to target injustices committed not merely on Wall Street but all over the world, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Among the myriad posters of protest can be seen messages like ‘End Military Aid to Israel’, ‘Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street’, and, from Palestine, ‘Occupy Wall St., Not Palestine- Freedom for Palestinian Political Prisoners!’ There have also been many organized events in support of Palestinian rights- to give just two of many examples, on Tuesday October 18, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine held an event in Boston entitled ‘Occupy Boston, not Palestine’; on October 8, at an anti-war rally at Occupy Chicago, speaker Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, discussed the links between Israeli occupation and American imperialism.

As the voice of Occupy Wall Street grows louder and more compelling, right-wing voices have, predictably, risen to attack the movement in any way they can. Pointing out, among the innumerable signs and posters of Occupy Wall Street, a few deplorable manifestations of anti-Semitism, and conflating these with many more genuine criticisms of the State of Israel, conservative Zionist organizations- such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, who released a video on the 13th insisting that ‘hate is not an American value’ (days before board member Rachel Abrams would use her blog, following the release of Gilad Shalit, to call Palestinians “death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages’, ‘devil’s spawn’, and ‘unmanned animals’)- have used the moment to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they can repeat their familiar mantra that ‘to question Israel is to persecute the Jewish people’, thereby shielding Israel, in the thick of this storm of popular revolt, from legitimate criticism; simultaneously, they can smear Occupy Wall Street as a hateful movement, defending their class interests as card-carrying members of the 1% by seeking to delegitimize a mass uprising which questions their power.

To be sure, Occupy Wall Street has shown the world a few instances of genuine anti-Semitism. When a protester insists that “the smallest group in America controls the money, media and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers. I am against Jews who rob America. They are one percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge in the East Coast is Jewish”, we can discern an irreducibly anti-Semitic leap of logic that, by positing Judaism as the root cause of 21st century corporate and political dominance, blindly swipes at economic, judicial and ideological power structures, ignorantly and erroneously reducing their complexity to a single ethnic explanation- ‘it’s the Jews’. “From the 13th century expulsion of England’s Jews”, says Ryan Jones in Israel Today magazine on Sunday, October 16th, “to the 19th century Russian pogroms to the Nazi Holocaust, sour economic conditions have historically formed the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism”, and it is pitiful that, 100 years after ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, such superstitious belief still bubbles up, obscuring clear comprehension of the real enemies.

Yet many of those who have spoken out against anti-Semitism in Occupy Wall Street employ a no less nefarious method of ideological obscurity when, in the same breath, they attack those who speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Consider this paragraph from the Israeli news outlet Ynet– “Among the signs that could be seen in the protest were, ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ‘Hitler’s Bankers’, and a sign urging people to Google the following: Wall St. Jews, Jewish billionaires, Jews & Federal Reserve Bank. In addition, the anti-Israel group Code Pink: Women for Peace was spotted as well as other Arab groups.”

A statement like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’ is not an ignorant racist slur aimed at the Jewish people as an ethnic group, but a cogent political critique of the state of Israel as an occupying power. By claiming that this statement, or that the anti-war group CODEPINK, is anti-Semitic, pro-Israel forces are using a favorite time-tested tactic- shooting down legitimate political criticism of Israel the militarized nation-state, by falsely portraying such criticism as racism aimed at the Jewish people.

The day after the Emergency Committee for Israel published their political ad– which juxtaposed footage of Democrats Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi expressing support for Occupy Wall Street, footage of a few harsh-anti-Semitic outbursts that regrettably occurred on the streets, and photos of pro-Palestinian signs like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ending by reminding the viewing public that ‘hate is not an American value’- columnist MJ Rosenberg correctly identified in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera that “the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests…[using] Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.”

By super-imposing anti-Semitism upon Occupy Wall Street and the pro-Palestinian struggle, it seeks to stain the left and portray the right as the guardian both of Israel and ‘American’ values. The insistence of right-wing political groups to attack Occupy Wall Street and defend Israel shows to what extent the corporate interests of the American 1% desire a strong Israel to safeguard their imperial programme. By portraying Occupy Wall Street as both anti-Israel and anti-American, then, their actions reveal the very American-Israeli ideological, corporate and military power network they seek to obscure, and highlight, for those who can see past this smokescreen, the common struggle shared between those fighting the occupation of Palestine, and those supporting the occupation of Wall Street. Implying that a strong Israel wants a weak Occupy Wall Street, then, it pits the Occupy Wall Street 99% on the side of Palestinian freedom, and the 1% on the side of Israeli occupation, thereby revealing the contours of battle lines that have already been drawn.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are clearly realizing that there is a direct economic, political and ideological link between the corporate power they confront on Wall Street, and the Israeli occupation that the Palestinian people confront on a daily basis. As John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt said in their 2007 book ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy’, “American taxpayers’ money has subsidized Israel’s economic development and rescued it during periods of financial crisis. American military assistance has strengthened Israel in wartime and helped preserve its military dominance in the Middle East…as of 2005, direct U.S. economic and military assistance to Israel amounted to nearly $154 billion (in 2005 dollars), the bulk of it comprising direct grants rather than loans…remarkably, Israel is the only recipient of U.S. economic aid that does not have to account for how it is spent. Aid to other countries is allocated for specific development projects…but Israel receives a direct lump-sum cash transfer…another form of U.S. support is loan guarantees that permit Israel to borrow from commercial banks at lower rates, thereby saving millions of dollars in interest payments.” (23-28)

Now more than ever, America pours economic and military support in Israel’s direction for political reasons. “The problems that the United States and Israel face in [the Middle East],” Mearsheimer and Walt remind us, “have not lessened….indeed, they may well have grown worse. Iraq is a fiasco, Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in conflict, Hamas and Fatah are battling for dominance within the Palestinian community, and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is deeply troubling. Iran is still seeking to acquire full control of the nuclear fuel cycle, groups like al Qaeda remain active and dangerous, and the industrial world is still dependent on Persian Gulf oil. These are all vexing problems, and the United States will not be able to address any or all of them effectively if Americans cannot have a civilized conversation about our interests in the region and the role of all the factors that shape U.S. foreign policy, including the Israel lobby.” (Preface, xi)

By beginning to link a critique of American corporate domination with a critique of American foreign policy in Israel, Occupy Wall Street seeks to initiate such a civilized conversation. The difficulty of speaking about Wall Street’s influence on the American-Israel relationship, however, lies between the signs ‘Zionists control Wall Street’ and ‘Google Wall St. Jews’-  both found at Occupy Wall Street- where a delicate and slippery slope separates a significant and objective factual trend (that the rise of neoconservative economic and political hegemony favors a strong Israel) from a dangerous anti-Semitic generalization (that ‘Jews control Wall Street’).

As Phillip Weiss correctly pointed out on October 21, “the neoconservatives who arose…to justify the military occupation of Palestine and American military support for it have helped to corrupt American politics. The neoconservative rise was aided…by the Israel lobby. I don’t think any analysis of our foreign policy can get anywhere without dealing with these facts.” Two equally dangerous Fascisms confront level-headed analysis of this neoconservative Zionism- the anti-Semitic Fascism of pointing the finger at an ethno-religious group rather than a concrete neoconservative interest group, and the pro-Israel Fascism of threatening anyone who dares point a finger at American-Israeli imperialism with charges of anti-Semitism.

The Arab Spring, where it sprung up, sought to throw off the yoke of dictatorship within a single country; Occupy Wall Street seeks to disentangle the American dream from a diffuse and all-pervasive system of economic, corporate, and ideological oppression; the Palestinian people seek to liberate themselves from a foreign occupier of their soil. What unites these diverse movements is the struggle for collective liberation. As the BDS movement said in their statement ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine’, released October 13, the same day as the Emergency Committee for Israel’s video- “Our aspirations overlap; our struggles converge. Our oppressors, whether greedy corporations or military occupations, are united in profiting from wars, pillage, environmental destruction, repression and impoverishment. We must unite in our common quest for freedoms, equal rights, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, and world peace. We can no longer afford to be splintered and divided; we can no longer ignore our obligations to join hands in the struggle against wars and corporate exploitation and for a human-friendly world community not a profit-maximizing jungle.”

    The paranoid racism of the few Occupy Wall Street protesters who blame Jews for capitalist corporate domination is deplorable. No less deplorable, however, is the effort by right-wing Zionist power groups to use the specter of anti-Semitism to squash criticism of Israel as an oppressive occupying power. The sparks of pro-Palestinian solidarity that flare up at Occupy Wall Street should be fanned into a flame, as part of the struggle to secure ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the 21st century.

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Hebron Teachers Protest Measures that Keep Them From School

reposted from my +972mag article here

For nearly two weeks, a group of young schoolchildren and female teachers from the Qurduba School in Hebron have been holding lessons every morning outside of Checkpoint 56, to protest increased security measures at the checkpoint.

For the past seven years, teachers at the Qurtuba School have been allowed to bypass the usual metal detectors  at the checkpoint, and cross through a separate gate in order to reach their school, which lies in the treacherous area between the aggressive Israeli settlements of Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai. On Tuesday, October 11, for no apparent reason, the army announced that it had suspended this procedure, and that teachers must pass through the metal detectors and present their bags for inspection every day. At the same time, the army announced that pregnant women and people with heart devices or other medical complications, who had previously also bypassed the metal detectors, may no longer do so, and must now put their physical well-being at risk on a daily basis.

That same Tuesday, the teachers refused to submit to inspection at the checkpoint, and instead held an impromptu silent demonstration on the Palestinian side. At 9 A.M., their students, boys and girls between the ages of six and 13 and now deprived of education, marched to the checkpoint carrying signs and chanting slogans. Israeli soldiers threw them up against stone walls, kicked and hit them with the butts of rifles, forcibly dragged them through the checkpoint, and one settler attempted to push them out of the way with her car as she drove by; nine children were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Hebron students and teachers protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

Hebron teachers and students protest, October 2011 (Photo: Ben Lorber)

One of those injured was 11-year-old Yazan Sharbati. “There were no teachers in the school,” Sharbati relates in an interview with the International Solidarity Movement, adding “We protested to the army that we wanted our teachers. The army told us to go back to school, and we told them that without teachers there is no school…I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen. [The soldier] pushed me very hard.”

Over the next two days, students and teachers, joined by the Director of Education in Hebron, representatives from the Governor’s office, and local and international press, held lessons outside the checkpoint, standing up at intervals to chant, “We will not return, we want our right to education!” Mohammed Abutherei, Director of Education in the Hebron Municipality, was optimistic. “God willing the army will allow the students and teachers to pass normally,” he said, “because for four days now the children cannot learn properly! Why do they do this to our students?”

His optimism was short-lived, however, when on Sunday a line of about 20 soldiers and border police forcibly pushed the schoolchildren back from the checkpoint, and announced over a loudspeaker that the crowd would be arrested if it did not disperse within five minutes. “This is their character!” exclaimed Tamer, a Palestinian activist from the group Youth Against Settlements, based in Hebron. “This is their behavior, this is their ethics! Yes, we are terrorists,” he said sarcastically, “because we want to learn, we want an education!”

When the crowd remained, soldiers projected a high-pitched siren noise nicknamed ‘The Scream,” and fired rounds of tear gas to forcibly scatter the crowd. In the rush to flee, one teacher was arrested, and at least five were injured as multiple rounds of tear gas were fired down the main streets of Hebron for 20 minutes in the middle of the morning traffic.

Palestinian residents of Hebron suspect territorial motivations underlying the Israeli army’s seemingly random decision to force Qurtuba School teachers, who as individuals have peacefully passed through Checkpoint 56 for seven years, to now submit to daily metal detector scans and personal inspections. Abutherei said, “Now that the school is closed [for these days] I’m afraid the settlers will attack the building, or try to take it over”. Similarly, Tamer claimed that “this is the first step for evacuating the school. They want to close the school because this is an apartheid state. They want to make the whole area for Jews only.”

The school sits atop a hill in the middle of downtown Hebron, within ample view of the Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida and Admot Yishai settlements, each of which consists of a few buildings and a handful of settler families. Across the street from the entrance to the Qurduba School, a door  has long been adorned with graffiti reading “Gas The Arabs! JDL [Jewish Defense League].” Scarcely a month passes by when its students and teachers are not harassed or assaulted on the way to or from school, or when the school building is not vandalized or set afire (for a partial list of attacks against the Qurduba School, see the Tel Rumeida Project).

Says Abutherei, “It’s very hard to have education in H2 [the Israeli settlement district of Hebron]. The occupation affects [the children’s] social health. The students suffer from fear, worry and sadness. How to get an education, how to learn to read when you are attacked by settlers on the way to school? The same for the teachers…we need students to learn in safety, and not to have to worry about these things.”

The protesters have said that they will continue until teachers can once again walk to school without IDF harassment.

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Harvesting Olives as a Statement of Resistance

 

 

 

Ghassan Najjar, director of the Burin Community Center, stands as soldiers order his family to leave their olive grove. (David Shaw)

 

Palestinian villages across the West Bank are undertaking their annual olive harvest this October, amid fears of harassment and violence from Israeli settlers and soldiers.

While the Palestinian olive harvest is a tradition that stretches back countless generations, the phenomenon of settler violence during the olive harvest is only as old as the illegal Israeli settlements themselves. Every year around October, grandparents, parents and children saddle up the donkey and, tree by tree, day by day, methodically comb, scrape and pick sack-fulls of olives from their family’s allotted portion of the 10 million olive trees that dot the hills and mountains of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to an Oxfam report, “more than 80 percent of olive farmers are small-medium scale farmers, owning olive orchards equal to or less than 25 dunams (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters) in size … olive cultivation provides employment and income for around 100,000 farming families who are olive oil producers … in a good year, the olive oil sector contributes over $100 million income annually to some of the poorest communities” (“The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to Developing the Economy of Olive Oil in the West Bank,” October 2010 [PDF]).

This way of life, vital for the economic survival of countless Palestinian families, is becoming increasingly threatened — both by the hostility and violence of settlers who live near Palestinian villages, and by the crippling restrictions and regulations of the Israeli military.

Surrounded by settlements

The village of Burin, near Nablus, offers a prime example of the dangers faced by the 2011 olive harvesters. Burin’s 4,000 inhabitants live in a valley, surrounded on all hilltops by Israeli settlements — Yitzhar, Har Bracha, and a Yitzhar “outpost.” Last month, settlers from Yitzhar, proud birthplace of the “price-tag” campaign of racist violence, burned 200 olive trees as villagers were celebrating a wedding (“Yitzhar settlers violently crash Burin wedding, military watches,” International Solidarity Movement, 6 September 2011).

This followed a similar attack in late June, described by Burin residents as the worst attack in 10 years, as 2500 olive trees on more than 900 dunams of land were destroyed, according to a report by the Monitoring Israeli Colonizing activities in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza project (“Israeli colonists Set tens of Olive Fields Alight in Burin,” 2 July 2011).

Ghassan Najjar, director of the Burin Community Center, told The Electronic Intifada that “every year it is getting worse, and this year it is a lot worse. It used to be they burned trees once a year, but this year they have burned trees four times since April. Since April, they have cut down and burned entire areas to clear the land so we can use nothing.”

The olive harvest is frequently a target for settler attacks in Burin. Between 9-16 October 2010, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported four separate settler attacks against Burin olive harvesters (“List of incidents in which damage was caused to Palestinian olive trees or property,” 28 October 2010).

Over the course of the 2009 olive harvest, almost 250 olive trees were cut down by settlers, often with chainsaws, as activists with the Michigan Peace Team documented in October 2009 (“Burin tree massacre,” 3 October 2009).

“Like a sister to me”

Ibrahim El Buriny is a 27-year old olive harvester whose family has combed the trees on Burin’s hillsides for generations. “This land is like a sister to me,” he said. “My grandfather bought this land in 1975 from the village of Huwara. They have records. The papers are in the PA and Israeli databases.”

On the first day of this year’s harvest in Burin, he spoke of how settler attacks in the last five years have escalated. “Settlers are getting more radical as they are growing stronger,” he said. “They are growing in numbers and are better armed … Usually groups of 25 settlers come [from the hilltops down to] us, many with guns. [Or] settlers will get out of their car on the main road, curse at us and shoot at us. The soldiers come and defend the settlers … there are two alternatives — either run and leave all the olives, or stay. If we can, we scare them or chase them away.”

Settlers burn olive groves in an attempt to physically erase Palestinians’ claim to the land, and they attack olive harvesters intending to terrify Palestinians into submission and exile. One-third of Yitzhar sits on privately owned Palestinian land, according to data provided by the Israeli Civil Administration (“Guilty! Construction of Settlements on Private Palestinian Land,” Peace Now, March 2007).

For the settlers of Yitzhar, a burning Palestinian olive tree signifies exactly what a burning cross signified to the Ku Klux Klan in the US of the 1950s — in either case, the message is racial intolerance, and the purpose is ethnic cleansing. “The settlers use fear, they intimidate people to leave their homes … they say ‘we cut down the trees because a Palestinian touched this and made it dirty. This is our land and we can do whatever we want,’” Najjar said.

“We can’t leave”

For the Palestinians of Burin, the olive harvest — in the face of settler violence — becomes a political statement of resistance. “The land is like our mother and father,” said El Buriny. “We can’t leave our land, and who would leave their land? That’s the number one reason [we continue to harvest]. But in our situation, we also need [to harvest] this land for the money as well. [But] even if we had money we wouldn’t give up our land. Even if they forbid us from our land, we are not going to drink a cup of fear, and we’re not gonna stay quiet.”

Najjar echoed this determination emphatically. “Olives are the most important farming product here for us. Of course the olive harvest is important for the olives and for the resistance. We know for certain that if we leave the land they will steal it, and claim it is their land.”

As an aside, Najjar added, “we know for certain that it’s not their land, because they burn it.”

Oftentimes, settler attacks spark confrontations between farmers and settlers. El-Buriny, while stressing that villagers almost never retaliate, insisted on their right to repel the attacker, and to defend themselves, and their olive trees, if in danger. “How can we let someone come on our land, and not let us be on our land, and hit us, and curse at us, and stay quiet? … All we have is a rock to defend ourselves. We don’t have anything but a rock, our hearts, and God,” he explained.

As conflicts have escalated in recent years, the Israeli military has committed itself to administrative and on-the-ground interference in the olive harvest. Its stated intention has even been to protect Palestinian farmers from settler attacks.

In the words of the 2008 United Nations report “The Olive Harvest in the West Bank and Gaza,” “As a military occupying power, the [Israeli army] is obligated to ensure public order and life in the Occupied Territories and the Government of Israel has repeatedly committed to ensuring that Palestinian farmers have access to their fields … according to the Israeli authorities, the IDF and the police will be present at friction points for designated few-day periods to ensure protection for Palestinian farmers from settler harassment” (“The olive harvest in the West Bank and Gaza,” October 2008 [PDF]).

In reality, however, the presence of the Israeli army only offers a minimal amount of meaningful protection for Palestinian farmers, and serves rather to intensify the administrative barriers and physical dangers facing the farmers during their olive harvest.

In 2008, Omar Suleiman, an olive harvester from Kafr Qalil near Nablus, was harvesting with his son when, he told The Electronic Intifada, “six or seven settlers came over the hills with guns and said ‘this is not for you, this is for us, go!’ Since then, the military comes to protect us.”

To a certain extent, he said, “the soldiers are here to make sure there are no problems between settlers and Palestinians.” However, the presence of the Israeli army means that “now, for the last three years, we have to ask the army for permission [to harvest] … [and] if the settlers come to attack us again, the soldiers will help them.” Najjar echoed this claim that “the soldiers are there to protect the settlers. Most of the army are settlers anyway.”

To regulate the olive harvest, the Israeli District Coordination Committee (DCO) provides farmers with permits to access their own land with the “protection” of Israeli forces. Thus, Palestinian families often harvest their land in plain view of the military jeeps and white DCO vans parked on the adjacent hillside. Far from sheltering the Palestinians under a benevolent wing of protection, however, the army will frequently forbid families from accessing their land, usually with no explanation. Additionally, the DCO decides on which days farmers can legally access their land, and usually allots only one or two days for harvesting time, not nearly enough for the majority of families. Finally, if a family does not request a permit from the DCO, the army is given a pretext to prevent them from harvesting, especially if their land is close to a settlement.

On 12 October this year, the Israeli military drove up to the fields of Burin at 9am and ordered the families, on the first day of harvesting, to leave their harvest. Soldiers refused to give an explanation. The military then stated that families would be allowed to return to their fields for the next three days. Two days later, however, the military returned to kick one family off of their land, declaring the area a closed military zone and again offering no further explanation.

Najjar was present with his family when they were ordered to stop harvesting on 12 October. “This is normal for us,” he said later that day. “We are used to it.”

He continued: “This is not the first time we have been kicked off our land. That is no reason for us not to go back and continue work. If my father was not there, I would have been angry and refused to leave. But in front of my father I controlled my emotions, and did not show that I was upset.”

Israeli army’s inaction toward settler violence

Realistically, the presence of the Israeli military during the olive harvest, far from meaningfully alleviating the threat of settler violence, works instead to thicken the layers of oppression through which the Palestinians must struggle in order to make it to their olive trees and back.

In October 2010, Oxfam noted that, “in the first six months of 2010, the United Nations reported that hundreds of dunams of agricultural land and thousands of olive trees and other crops had been damaged in settler-related incidents. Israeli NGO [non-governmental organization] Yesh Din, an Oxfam partner, recently published a study in which it did not find a single case where the Israeli authorities had taken action to bring those involved to court.” (“Palestinian olive oil profits in the West Bank could double if Israeli restrictions ended,” Oxfam, 15 October 2010).

As the settlers grow more radicalized and Israeli regulations grow more dense, October 2011 may be a rough olive harvest for Palestinians in the West Bank. However, Omar Suleiman from Kufr Qalil offered a glimmer of hope. While an Israeli military jeep, a DCO van, and a small group of settlers sit perched together on the opposite hillside, he continued to affirm the pride, steadfastness and determination of his people.

“This settlement [pointing to Har Bracha] came here 20, 30 years ago. Israel has been here for 60 years. My family has had this land for 4,000 years.”

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Settler Tour, Monday October 18

A crowded Palestinian marketplace, mid-afternoon, the sun is slowly descending, and a cool breeze blows plastic bags past the feet of a jumbled crowd of young men, small boys, women in hijab with their daughters, and old men. They have gathered, this midday mass of Palestinians, with outstretched necks and searching eyes, to stare at the Israeli army trucks that have mysteriously and inexplicably planted themselves in the midst of their crowded marketplace.

Israeli soldiers, nervous-looking young men and women in green army outfits with huge rifles, stand beside the heavily-armoured trucks, scanning the immobile crowd of onlookers with cold eyes stuffed under riot gear helmets.

It is a Monday afternoon outside of Israeli checkpoint 56 in the middle of downtown Hebron, and the air is tense in Babi Zawya square. Though the square, since the Oslo Accords, is officially under solely Palestinian civil and military control, there are  Israeli soldiers on the ground and on the rooftops surrounding the market square, pointing their guns out to the crowds and hassling Palestinians to clear the emptied street. Two long tour buses have parked themselves sideways behind the army trucks to serve as barriers, blocking the Palestinian gaze from the hallowed space the IDF has chosen to occupy. Palestinian policemen form a double barricade between the IDF and the Palestinian crowds, barking at kids on bicycles or old men who try to approach the checkpoint on their way back home. International activists from ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, and the Christian Peacemaker Team meander in and out of the crowd, taking pictures of the soldiers.

Finally, the reason for the midday military shutdown of a major artery of Palestinian traffic and commerce begins to slowly trickle out of the checkpoint.  Bit by bit, what looks like a motley crew of secular Jewish tourists and religious Jewish settlers makes its way down the freshly deserted street.

Streaming past recently abandoned shop doors littered with Arabic graffiti and plastered with posters of Palestinian martyrs and political figures, some of the black-hatted Orthodox men walk with downcast eyes and a hurried, nervous gait, like aggravated businessmen, trying uneasily to ignore the row of armed soldiers and the immobile, gawking inhabitants of a city that stand beyond; teenagers in t-shirts and kepahs (head coverings) amble by, leisurely and confident, with smiles on their faces and cameras in their hands, laughing, pointing at and filming the Palestinian crowd.

Bearded men in buttoned-up, tucked-in white shirts stand with their hands on their hips, glaring at the crowd of Palestinians and waving angrily at the soldiers, as if to ask why the Arabs hadn’t been completely expelled from sight; traditionally-dressed mothers walk with smug confidence alongside little children, who are gleefully enjoying an afternoon stroll. In a repetition of history as ironic as it is tragic, this tour treads on occupied territory to visit the grave of Otniel ben Knaz, an ancient Jewish Judge who, in the Biblical Book of Joshua, conquered the Canaanite city of Kiryat Sefer, southwest of Hebron, and drove out the native Canaanites from their land.

This is Hebron in a nutshell, and these are the two peoples, the unhappy neighbors who walk day by day and sleep night by night side by side, a stone’s throw from the other’s doorstep on this single patch of land- the Jewish settlers, who have the path cleared and the carpet laid for them by the Israeli army; and the Palestinian residents of Hebron, who, for the moment, are forced to stand still in the army’s crosshairs and stare, from a distance, after the steps of the occupier. Settlers and Palestinians, occupiers and occupied, gaze at each other from across the street, the former like self-satisfied zoogoers, the latter with unblinking eyes that know right from wrong, that take into account, hold accountable, and count the days until freedom.

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Israel’s Brutal Repression of Palestinian Prisoner Hunger Strike Spurs, Not Deters Resistance

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

On the thirteenth day (11 October) of hunger strikes held by some 3,000 Palestinian political prisoners imprisoned behind Israeli bars, Israeli authorities have agreed to meet some demands for better treatment, an attempt at partial concession that, according to most spokespeople for Palestinian prisoners’ rights, does not go far enough.

hunger_strike

On Sunday, Ma’an News Agency reported that the Israeli prison administration “has agreed to allow the transmission of satellite television, has allowed prisoners to go on family visits without handcuffs, has permitted visits between different sections of prisons to take place…[and has met] a demand by prisoners to be given whole chicken, instead of chopped chicken”[1]. These minor allowances, however, fail to address central demands of the prisoners, chief among which is an end to solitary confinement. In fact, solitary confinement has thus far been used by the Israeli prison administration to punish prisoners who declare a hunger strike! To quote the words of Ma’an, these peripheral concessions by Israeli authorities fail to recognize that the hunger strike is ‘about isolation, not chicken’.

 

The initiative of the Palestinian political prisoners began on Sunday 25 September, when prisoners belonging to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) issued a statement announcing their intention, beginning on the 27th, to reject all prison orders and to refuse to wear uniforms, stand up for daily counts,or accept food, in order to “declare to the steadfast, struggling brave masses of the Palestinian people and to all free people in the world…[that] we demand our rights and our dignity, as we struggle for the victory of our values and ideals.”[2]

 

Their principal demand is to free Ahmad Sa’adat, a Palestinian national leader and the General Secretary of the PFLP, who has been imprisoned since March 2006 and, since winter 2009, has been held in solitary confinement following his call to resist the Israeli military attacks on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 (Operation Cast Lead).The additional demands of the political prisoners include the right to family visits (which are frequently denied), the right to academic study (which is mostly denied), an end to the use of solitary confinement as punishment, an end to humiliation and harassment of visitors, an end to the abuse of prisoners while they are transferred from one prison to another, an end to the excessive use of fines as punishment and profiteering, an end to the shackling to and from meetings with lawyers and family members, an end to the denial of books and newspapers, an end to all forms of collective punishment such as night searches of cells and denial of basic health treatment, and more.

 

By 2 October,all political prisoners from PFLP were participating in the open-ended hunger strike on a full time basis. Currently, political prisoners from other Palestinian factions- Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)- have joined the strike in a partial or complete manner in eight Israeli prisons, bringing the estimated total of participants to 3,000. This means that some 50% of all Palestinian political prisoners are participating in the hunger strike.

 

The strike inside the prisons has been met with an outpouring of support in Palestine and abroad. Within Palestine, solidarity tents have been pitched for over a week in the center of all main cities in the West Bank and Gaza, complementing demonstrations that have erupted over the last two weeks in Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and other communities.

 

On the ninth day of the hunger strikes, volleys of tear gas and showers of rubber-coated steel bullets greeted Palestinian and international activists who were protesting and standing in solidarity with the prisoners outside of Ofer prison, near the Betunya checkpoint adjacent to Ramallah.

 

The over 200 protesters, many of whom were students at Birzeit University, marched and gathered in the early afternoon outside of Ofer Transmit Terminal, a temporary holding cell and transfer point for prisoners, before their voices were quickly silenced by the brute force of the Israeli army which, in response to isolated incidents of stone throwing, shot tear gas from behind the barred metal gates of the prison before charging the crowd. This marked the first confrontation between protesters and Israeli forces in the nine days since the hunger strikes began, a time in which protests have been frequent, but frequented only by Palestinians and Palestinian Authority policemen.

 

As the hunger strike grows, so is the international solidarity as groups as diverse as the Irish Republican Socialist Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and others have publicly announced their support. The latter insisted in a public statement that “we stand with these political prisoners and prisoners of conscience all around the world who are imprisoned unjustly, and unjustly treated”[3], while the former echoed this rallying cry of solidarity- “Our strength is your strength as you commence your hunger strike, and your victory will also be our victory.”[4]

 

The Israeli government has been quick to punish prisoners in an attempt to deter them from striking. In addition to heightened intensity of everyday oppression and mistreatment, prisoners have been denied access to lawyers and have been warned that for every day of their hunger strike, they will be denied family visits for 1 month. In addition, over 40 prisoners have been placed in solitary confinement, or have been abruptly and abusively transferred to other prisons, for participating in the strike.

 

One woman at the protest outside of Ofer prison, where 9 prisoners have so far been placed in solitary confinement and robbed of all their personal belongings, revealed in an interview that she is the mother of a prisoner who is participating in the hunger strike, and who has now been in solitary confinement for 9 days. Her son was a student at Birzeit University when he was arrested for becoming politically active at the university. Asked if she was scared for her son, she replied, “how can I be scared? I’ve lived like this for more than 40 years. Maybe they will eventually kill my son, they may eventually kill me. We’re all gonna die someday, so why should I be scared?”

 

At a sit-in in Ramallah on Tuesday, Nariman Al Tamimi, a former political prisoner from the village of Nabi Saleh whose husband, Bassem Al Tamimi, is a current political prisoner, related that “all we want is to be able to see our sons, daughters, husbands, fathers and mothers. We want them to be treated according to international law. We want to have our rights like anyone else around the world. I am sure that most of you heard about the Israeli captured militant Gilad Shalit, but I wonder if you heard about the [thousands of] Gilad Shalits in Israeli jails? Most of them are civilians, including women and children. I call all human rights organizations and activists to take the side of justice and save our prisoners.”[5]

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