West Bank Village Steps Up Protests Against Israel’s Thefts of Land

copied from my Electronic Intifada article here

Palestinians holding flags face Israeli soldiers

Palestinians in Kufr Qaddoum demand access to their farmland, October 2011.

For approximately five months, the residents of Kufr Qaddoum have united to demonstrate against the illegal Israeli settlement of Kedumim and the Israeli military’s closure of their village’s main road. Kufr Qaddoum, a West Bank village so old that, according to legend, Abraham was circumcised there with an axe, has since 1976 been plagued by Kedumim, a 3,000-inhabitant Israeli settlement that now surrounds the village on five hilltops. Kufr Qaddoum’s main road, which passes through Kedumim to link the village to Nablus, was closed by the Israeli military in 2003.

“The people of Kufr Qaddoum used this road long before the settlements came,” said Murad Shttaiwa, spokesman for the demonstrators. “Before 2003, we could drive through the settlement with no problems. Between 2004 and 2005, after the road was closed to cars, we walked through the settlement with no problems.”

In 2005, the road became closed to foot traffic as well. Before the new, indirect route to Nablus was constructed in 2008, “we used to walk and drive down unpaved dirt roads around Kedumim, but the settlers would still throw stones at cars and people,” Shttaiwa explained. “We would not react to it … for three years, we used to travel on a road made for animals.”

Now that Kufr Qaddoum’s main road is closed to villagers, a 13-kilometer straight journey to Nablus has turned into a 26-kilometer detour through a busy West Bank artery. “Three people have actually died trying to get through the main road,” Shttaiwa said, “because they were ill in ambulances, and the soldiers wouldn’t let the ambulance through.”

Taking the closures to court

When the road was first closed in 2003, villagers organized a single demonstration. “It was very peaceful,” Shttaiwa said. “The people left work and came, took their cars to where the barrier is [on the road], and then just sat and talked. We spoke with the soldiers and the soldiers stated to us that the road will eventually be opened.”

When the soldiers’ promise failed to materialize, however, villagers took the issue to court in 2004. After five years of waiting, in November 2010 Kufr Qaddoum finally received a positive response from the Israeli court system, authorizing its Palestinian villagers to use the road again. At that time, however, the Israeli military groundlessly claimed that the road is “unsuitable” and “unsafe” for human traffic. After all legal appeals failed, villagers decided to organize weekly demonstrations in July 2011.

Since then, Kufr Qaddoum has consistently held one of the most tight-knit, well-organized and well-attended Palestinian-led demonstrations against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

Hundreds of villagers, united with international activists and flanked by gas-masked media teams, walk down the main road towards Kedumim week after week, demanding the right to movement. “I’m very happy that a lot of people from the village are coming out for the demonstrations,” said Shttaiwa. “Even during Ramadan we thought people would fall back from protesting, but they still came out in numbers. Even during harvesting, they did not fall back, they still came out in numbers — after the harvest, they would put away their equipment and come out for the demonstrations.”

Funeral for the occupation

At the front line of the demonstration, villagers often stage a telling spectacle. A week before Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, gave a speech to the UNin September, villagers held a mock funeral for the occupation on 16 September, carrying a coffin draped with an Israeli flag.

A video of the demonstration, produced by the International Solidarity Movement, shows villagers setting the coffin ablaze moments before a phalanx of Israeli soldiers opened fire with tear gas (“Kafr Qaddoum September 16 2011,” 16 September 2011).

Later in September, villagers burnt an effigy of Benjamin Netanyahu after holding a mock trial condemning the Israeli prime minister for war crimes (“Kufr Qaddoum demands access,” International Solidarity Movement, 30 September 2011).

Demonstrations in Kufr Qaddoum have been accompanied by everything from a donkey painted with an Israeli flag to a live band from the Netherlands.

As demonstrations show no signs of losing steam, the Israeli military has escalated its attacks on Kufr Qaddoum. A recent report by the Palestinian news agency WAFAindicated that 12 persons — including five Palestinian children — were attacked with heavy tear gas and stun grenades during a weekly demonstration (“Israeli soldiers suppress Kufr Qaddoum weekly anti-settlements march,” 4 November 2011).

“Even though the demonstrations and the barriers are 500 meters away” from the village, explained Shttaiwa, “the soldiers will get closer and closer … [on 11 November], the soldiers got so close they were right outside my house, and the tear gas got inside the house, so my two-year-old son smelled it, and came up to me and said ‘Daddy, my eyes hurt!’”

Aggression gets worse

The military enters the village, in Shttaiwa’s words, because “the protests are getting stronger and stronger, and they want to stop the protests, so they are becoming more violent and more aggressive.” The Israeli military is also conducting frequent night raids into the village. Four days before a protest on 21 October, the army entered the village at night and arrested nine people (“Permission to enter their own lands: Kufr Qaddoum rampaged again by military,” International Solidarity Movement, 21 October 2011).

Though protests focus on the closure of their main road, the villagers of Kufr Qaddoum resist an occupation which touches on all aspects of their lives. More than half of the village’s land, approximately 11,800 dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters), is situated in Area C of the West Bank — an area under the full administration of the Israeli army. Under the carve-up of the West Bank made by the 1993 Oslo accords, Area C includes all Israeli settlements and most of the Jordan Valley.

That means villagers need permission to access their own land from the Israeli District Coordinating Office. Olive harvesters, therefore, are unable to prepare their trees for the harvest throughout the year, and are only given a few days to complete the harvest itself.

Eyal Ha-Leuveni, a researcher with Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, told The Electronic Intifada that it is “very difficult” for Palestinians who own land around the Kedumim settlement to go through the permit process. “First you have to prove your ownership of the land, and this depends on your family history — if one family member was involved in a crime, likely no family member will get a permit,” Ha-Leuveni said. “The permit process can take years, and in the meantime you get a temporary permit, which is very insecure.”

In addition, Palestinian farmlands in Area C are often stolen by settlers. In March 2008, a legal battle, waged by lawyers from Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din on behalf of Kufr Qaddoum residents, helped expose the method of land takeover characteristic of Kedumim and other settlements across the West Bank (“Court case reveals how settlers illegally grab West Bank lands,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008).

Kedumim’s local council members would map the “abandoned lands” around the settlements, even if they were outside the council’s jurisdiction, with the aim of taking them over. The council would “allocate” the lands to settlers, who would sign an official form stating that they have no ownership claim; and that the council is entitled to evict them whenever it sees fit, in return for compensating them solely for their investment in cultivating the land.

Kedumim’s former security chief, Michael Bar-Neder, testified that the land “allocation” was followed by an effort to expand the settlement. Bar-Neder said that once the settlers seized the lands, an application would be made to the military commander to declare them as owned by the State of Israel, since under an Israeli “law” covering the West Bank, anyone who does not cultivate his land for three years forfeits ownership of it (“Court case reveals how settlers illegally grab West Bank lands,” Haaretz, 17 March 2008).

It is important to emphasize that Israel’s “laws” regarding the West Bank lack any legitimacy as all Israeli settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. In violation of international law, Israel has seized West Bank land, in the words of Ha-Leuveni, “first by military orders, then by state land, then by private acquisition.”

The area where Kedumim now sits, said Ha-Leuveni, “is land that was first taken by military orders, where the army claimed the land was needed for military needs. Israel abandoned this justification in the 1980s, but it did not return any of this land to Palestinian owners.”

In a process that accelerated throughout the 1980s, West Bank land transferred from military to state ownership. “All the policy of declaring state land,” added Ha-Nuevi, “is an Israeli invention. There are large parts of the ‘state land’ of Qedumim that were owned or at least cultivated by Palestinians before Israel called it state land.”

According to a July 2010 report on Kedumim by B’Tselem, “construction of approximately 59 [Kedumim] units deviated from the ‘state lands’ allotted to the settlement; two permanent structures and 12 caravans were erected on private Palestinian land; and a new neighborhood, comprising some 30 caravans, was built west of the settlement, deviating from the allotted ‘state land.’” (“By Hook and By Crook: Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank,” B’Tselem, July 2010).

In addition, Israel plans to erect a wall between Kedumim and Kufr Qaddoum, which, according to a 2005 report by The Economist, would grab another 5,000 dunams more than the 5,000 Kufr Qaddoum has already lost (“Life in the armpits of Palestine,” 7 April 2005).

Shttaiwa estimated that Kufr Qaddoum has already lost 58 percent of its land to Kedumim, and will lose 80 percent upon completion of the wall. Contrary to the Kedumim security officer’s statement, quoted in The Economist, that “not one centimeter of Qedumim is built on land known for sure to be private,” a 2009 B’Tselem map details that much of Qedumim is built entirely on privately-owned Palestinian land (“Private Palestinian land in the built-up and municipal area of Kedumim,” B’Tselem, 2009).

Illegal appropriation of Kufr Qaddoum land to the settlement

This process of illegal appropriation has plagued Kufr Qaddoum since the establishment of Kedumim in 1976. “Every year the settlement has expanded,” Shttaiwa told The Electronic Intifada. “Since the settlement came it has been expanding, as well as stealing more and more land. Over the years they have also attacked people harvesting their olives, thrown stones at them, and stolen their olives. It has gotten worse in recent years.”

Settler violence, Shttaiwa explained, increased after the first intifada, in which Kufr Qaddoum played a minimal role. “At the beginning we had no problems … [but] now these settlers are known to be pretty violent,” he said. “In the first intifada they killed a male from here and injured another one as well. After the second intifada, they began attacking olive trees.”

Two years ago, settlers spray-painted “This is Israel” and other graffiti upon the burial stones of a Kufr Qaddoum cemetery.

In testimony given to B’Tselem last year, farmer ‘Abd a-Latif ‘Obeid said that over the years, Kedumim settlers have intentionally sabotaged his olive harvest, dumped burning refuse onto his land, and stolen more than fifty dunams to build greenhouses and a park (“Testimony: Israel seizes land and hampers access for farmers near the Kedumim settlement,” B’Tselem, 21 June 2010).

“We’ve been suffering from this situation since 1984,” he states in the report. “All the land seizures, the settler attacks, and the need to coordinate entry are aimed at expanding the Kedumim settlement, which already has a large amount of land, and at taking, little by little, the rest of our land. They force us to neglect our land so it will be easier for them to annex it to the settlement.”

In addition, Kufr Qaddoum suffers from the socio-economic effects of occupation. A 2007 report by the Jerusalem-based Land Research Center estimates that, since 2002, 75 percent of Kufr Qaddoum’s residents became unemployed after construction ofIsrael’s wall in the West Bank and closure of Kufr Qaddoum’s main road shut out many possibilities for income generation in Israel and Nablus (“Closing of Israeli roads in Kafr Qaddum village,” Land Research Center, 7 February 2007).

Now, almost half of Kufr Qaddoum’s residents depend on foreign aid for living, and emigration has reached a record high of 10-15 percent of the total population.

“Everyone is affected”

The demonstrations in Kufr Qaddoum are a long-overdue response to the suffering the village has endured for decades. The whole village comes out to demonstrate — college students who are tired of paying 20 shekels ($5) a day to get to take an extended detour to school in Nablus; farmers who are tired of living in fear, tired of seeing their olive trees burnt, their land stolen, their livelihoods ruined; villagers who demand the right to move freely down a road that is their own.

“In Kufr Qaddoum and throughout Palestine,” Shttaiwa explained, “we do not have demonstrations for the sake of the demonstration itself. None of us likes to be dead, or likes to smell tear gas, or likes to damage his house. We only want our rights. We always say to the Israeli army, ‘give us our rights and we will not go for demonstrations. Leave our land and we will not go to demonstrations.’ That is our message in Palestine.”

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Words From The Man Who Stood Next to Mustafa Tamimi as He Was Shot

copied from my +972mag article here

Ibrahim Bornat, artist and activist from Bil’in, was standing next to Mustafa Tamimi when Tamimi was shot in the head with a tear gas canister at close range by an Israeli soldier (Bornat can be seen standing directly next to Tamimi in these now-iconic photos). Ibrahim is himself no stranger to the resistance. Since 2000, he has been in the hospital 83 times for injuries sustained by the Israeli military during demonstrations, and has been arrested five times. Here is his testimony about his experiences when Mustafa was critically injured on Friday, December 10.

Mustafa and I were alone, it was just the two of us, with the rest of the protesters quite far behind, and we were chasing the jeep and telling it to leave. We got separated from the rest, because the soldiers threw almost 50 tear gas canisters at once, so the whole protest was pushed back. The tear gas went over our heads and we got closer to the soldiers, shouting at them that they had thrown enough. The jeeps turned around to leave as they were shooting gas behind us. One jeep, however, lingered and seemed to be waiting for us to get closer. As we reached the jeep, the soldier opened the door and shot two rounds of tear gas. I think I saw this soldier’s face, but Mustafa definitely saw and whoever he is, Mustafa knows best.

 Mustafa pushed me down, and one canister that was aimed for me flew over my head. The second one hit Mustafa, but I didn’t know it hit him at first because I thought ‘for sure they wont shoot at us from so close’. I thought he had just ducked down, and then I thought that maybe he had just passed out from the gas, because there was gas all around him. I went to him, laying face down on the road, and I turned him over and pulled the cloth off his face.

Of what I can say about it, it is worse than words can say. The whole half of his face was blown off, and his eye was hanging out, and I tried to push his eye back up. I could see pieces of the inside of his head, and there was a pool of blood gathering under him. His whole body was trembling. It started from his feet, then up to his arms, then it reached his chest, and then his head, and then a gasp came out and I’m sure at that moment he died. He gasped, and let out a bunch of air, and I knew at that moment his soul had left. I have seen many people, not a few, die in front of me, and I know death. Maybe later on they revived his heart, but I knew that his soul had left.

 I ran back to get people, because we were far away, but there was no ambulance around, so the people around gathered him and put him in a service [a communal taxi] and tried to leave. The soldiers stopped the service and tried to arrest Mustafa, but when they saw that he was on the brink of death, they began to act as if they were humanitarian, to revive his heart. But what is ‘humanitarian’, to shoot someone to kill, and then to try to help him? These were the same soldiers from the jeep that shot him. They shot him, then say they want to help him. What they really did is prevent him from leaving. The body lay on the ground for half an hour. They wanted Mustafa’s ID, and they also wanted the ID of his mother, of another family member, and of Bassem Tamimi’s wife, because these people wanted to go out with him too. But I don’t know why they wanted the passport of a dead person! They were doing some kind of medical treatment while he was lying on the ground, but this was no hospital, and what he needed was to be taken to a hospital. He should have been flown out in that moment! There is nothing you can do for him on the street there.

I was with the family the whole night afterwards, especially with his father, who is very sick and on kidney dialysis. Mustafa’s family believed there was still some hope, so I did not want to tell them that I knew he was already dead. His father is very sick, and kept falling asleep and waking up again, and we didn’t tell him much at first, only that Mustafa had been shot but that, God willing, he would be okay. There are some things that are hard and give you no hope, and then there are some things that are hard, but there is something nice about them. Martyrdom is something that is hard, but it is also honorable, and that gave his family a lot of comfort.

I knew Mustafa as a brother in the resistance. We were close in the resistance to the occupation. Anyone who comes out with me in our resistance to the occupation is close to me, as close as my mother, brother, or father, whether they be Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, or international. He was free, and a person who is free fights the occupation. That’s the thing I can most say about him- he was freedom.

We defend ourselves through strength, through courage, through our right to this land, through steadfastness. The occupation, to defend itself, has to kill people. But we defend ourselves with our right. This is my philosophy.

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Football in Burin

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

burin team

The Burin football team (All Photos: Ben Lorber)

On the 7th of December, a windy Wednesday morning behind the boys’ school in the Palestinian village of Burin, 15 teenagers, dressed in red uniform, took to the football field under the coach’s whistle. As the team began its warm-up exercises, another youth team arrived from the neighboring village of Huwwara, led by its determined coach. Under the morning sun, the football game began. As fans, coaches and players cheered and yelled from the sidelines, a Burin teenager scored a goal in the first ten seconds, setting the tone for the rest of the match. Two hours and two injuries later, Burin came out on top 4-0 against Huwwara, bringing the season’s record to 8 wins for Burin, 1 win for Huwwara, and 2 draws. As the boys walked away sweaty and satisfied, the school bell rang and children poured outside for recess.

huwwara team
The Huwwara football team

In occupied Palestine, the youth football league becomes, not a routine taken for granted, but a rare blessing. “We love to practice and to play,” said the Burin goalie, “but usually we cannot play on this field, because we are afraid of the settlers or the army. And there is nowhere else to play.” Overlooking the boy’s football field on all hilltops, the illegal Israeli settlements of Yitzhar (birthplace of the extremist ‘price-tag’ campaign of violence), Bracha, and a Bracha outpost loom menacingly.

“When times are good”, says Ghassan Najjar, co-coach and former Burin football player, “when there are no attacks, we can play. When times are bad, we cannot get together and have games.” At 21 years old, Najjar’s memories of his own days on the field are still fresh in his mind. “Children here have no outlet. They are lost. They cannot play on the streets because it is too violent, but they do not want to sit at home…my outlet, when I could play, was football.”

yitzhar best
Playing in the shadow of the Yitzhar settlement.

Though the last month has spared the village of settler attacks, Israeli soldiers arrive at the school almost on a daily basis. “The boys’ school,” says Ghassan, “is right by a settler military road that heads up to the settlement. Sometimes the army comes into the principal’s office and says that he cannot let the boys outside of the school to play, for no reason. There is a 24 hour presence of the army outside the school, and the boys are frequently forbidden from leaving.” A football game, like outdoor recess, is a precious window of opportunity for children accustomed to living in fear.

Football- of which the Algerian philosopher Albert Camus, a devoted football goalkeeper before turning to intellectual pursuits, once said “all I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football”- has long cemented Palestinian culture and spirit. Time and again, it appears on the scene as a potent weapon in the resistance struggle, as on October 11, when a football game erupted on the front lines of a hunger strike solidarity protest outside of Ofer Prison in Ramallah.

Once a locus of national consciousness, Palestinian football was deliberately denied international recognition until the Palestine Football Association was recognized by FIFA in 1998. “Prior to 1948”, says Issam Khalidi in ‘Body and Ideology- Early Athletics in Palestine (1900-1948)’, an excellent study of the politics of sport in Palestine,

“there were some 65 athletic clubs in Palestine…these clubs had a tremendous impact on the lives of Palestinian young people, shaping their character and preparing them for social and political involvement…these athletics teams provided a social, national and institutional base for Palestine’s political organization in the first half of the twenty-first century. They developed alongside and in response to Jewish immigration and the Arab-Zionist confrontation. Athletic clubs were important in evoking the Palestinian national consciousness, [and] sustaining connections between villages and cities…the advancement of organized sports in Palestine was closely linked to the development of education. Even though education officials did not emphasize physical education programs in schools, most institutions had competitive football teams.”

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Living under threat of demolition in the Jordan Valley

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

The threat of imminent demolition hangs over the Palestinian village of Al-Hadidiya in the Jordan Valley

jordan-valley

A tent of a resident of Al-Hadidiya, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. The Israeli settlement of Roi is visible in the background (photo: Ben Lorber)

Before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began, Al-Hadidiya, near the Jordan Valley villages of Tubas and Jiftlik, was inhabited by over 100 families. Today, only 14 families remain. Since 1967, the village has been demolished four times.  In 1970, Israeli declared the area a closed military zone, despite the absence of any noticeable military activity. Since then, over 3000 dunums of agricultural land has been appropriated by the nearby settlements of Ro’i and Beqa’ot.

On November 10, the community received demolition orders for 17 structures. If Israeli forces follow through on the threats, 72 people will be affected. As lawyers struggle to postpone or annul the orders, the people of Al-Hadidiye wait in uncertainty and fear.

Abu Sacher is a shepherd whose tents are slated for demolition. Before the first demolition of Al-Hadidiya took place in 1967, Abu Sacher, like all other villagers, lived in a sprawling stone house.

“Do the Americans, the French or the British think that [their children] and the children in Palestine are equally valuable? Do they want to live under occupation? America was under British occupation and they didn’t like that,” Abu Sacher remarked.

Most of Al-Hadidiya’s residents have relocated to nearby villages such as Tubas, Jiftlik, or Nablus. Others, like Abu Sacher, whose home has been demolished six times, remain on their land.

“I will not leave my home”, he said. “Even if the entire population of America comes and settles here, I will still be here.”

In June 2011, the Israeli military demolished 33 structures at Al-Hadidiya, leaving 37 residents homeless, and undermining the livelihood of another 15.

A week after the residents received the latest demolition orders, Stop the Wall spearheaded a letter-writing campaign and diplomats from 7 European representative offices visited Al Hadidiya to learn more about the residents’ plight.

As a consequence of policies designed to remove Palestinian Bedouin from Area C of the Jordan Valley, the people of Al-Hadidiya lack direct access to education, health care, electricity and water resources. Because villagers are barred from digging water wells or using the Mekorot water pipes that run under their feet, they cannot pursue their traditional agricultural lifestyle and must rear animals, a task made more difficult as more dunums of grazing land are appropriated by settlements.

Standing near his tent, his livestock Abu Sacher says that his parents were farmers who lived in a stone house. “But we have been made to live like Bedouin,” he adds.

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The Jewish PLO

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

Abraham Weizfeld is a co-founder of the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians, whose motto is ‘Jews & Arabs Are United, Israel’s Wrongs Must Be Righted’. He was also a founder of the Jewish People’s Liberation Organization. Here, he speaks with the Alternative Information Center (AIC):

 

jews-against-zionism

Jews who are opposed to Zionism marching in Canada (photo: flickr/Ullyses)

 

Zionism formed in response to European persecution of the Jewish people. Where did it go wrong?

 

Zionism said that the Jews should establish a Jewish nation state in their own name, excluding any other nation, just as the Jews have been excluded from Germany and Europe, because they realized that Jewish liberty in Europe was not feasible. So instead of opposing the exclusionary European nation state, they adopted the same methodology and chose to implement it in their own name, with the alliance of those European nation states, which considered that the Jews didn’t belong in their nation state, and that the Jews should go to their Jewish nation state, and incidentally form an outpost of European colonialism.

 

Zionism was separatist, it wanted to segregate the Jewish people in Palestine. That’s the true origin of Zionism. This has corrupted Jewish spiritual culture, and has destroyed a great part of Jewish political culture, the Yiddish language. Now I am a Yiddish speaker who can speak with nobody. Nobody speaks Yiddish, except the Hasidim.


Instead of Zionism going off and establishing its own nation state on the model of European exclusionary nation states, how could they have stayed and fought persecution?

 

In Poland the Jewish workers’ movement formed a civil rights movement, much like the African Americans did, and they developed it into a political party and a trade union federation called the Jewish Labor Bund. My mother was a member of the Bund and so was her brother, who became a partisan during the Nazi invasion of Russia.

 

This Jewish Bund, which means ‘union’, was of the opinion that the Jewish people who lived in Poland were legitimately Polish, as legitimate as any other Polish person. They had had lived there for over 500 years. They spoke Polish to each other in their home as well as Yiddish. My parents spoke to each other in Polish, not in Yiddish, and with me they spoke Yiddish. They were as Polish as any other Polish person, only they were Jewish as well, they had a dual identity.

 

The Jewish people are one of the least religious nations in the world nowadays…but the Jewish cultural-national identity continues to exist. The Jewish Bund was based on this national identity…The Jewish Bund developed on a civil rights basis as an alternative to Zionism, in fact it was anti-Zionist.  It was devastated both by the Nazis and the Stalinists, but it survived nonetheless, and here I am. I was raised as a Bundist by my mother, who was also an anti-Zionist.


It’s interesting that whereas the Bund sought to maintain a duality between their national identity as Jews, and their full participation in the Polish or Russian class struggle as Poles or Russians, Zionism sought to collapse that duality into a single identity, where the cultural-national identity as Jew immediately coincides with the nationalistic identity as Israeli.

 

The Zionists are so fanatical on that point, their official ideology doesn’t even allow an Israeli national identity to be established. There is only a Jewish identity, though two thirds of the world’s Jewish people do not have a vote on the Israeli elections… That’s why I advocate a Jewish revolution against Zionism, for the independence of the Jewish people from the state of the Zionists. There may be an Israeli nation now, but it is not a Jewish nation. It does not represent the Jewish people.

 

The Jewish Bund was proven correct in its critique of Zionism, in the sense that it was not necessary for Jewish people to run away to Palestine to preserve their identity. Jewish people are not going to lose their identity, they are not going to be assimilated, even though they live in other societies. Jewish people are strong enough to have a dual identity.

 

You can speak more than one language. You can have more than one identity. Humans are not limited to being just one thing. To be Jewish is to be creative, it is to develop new ideas, to adapt new ideas, to learn from other cultures, and to fuse them with what the Jewish people have learned from the various cultures, to develop an internationalist culture which is very dynamic.

 

We have formed an international Jewish opposition to Zionism now. There are various Jewish organizations that are either anti occupation or anti Zionism… Jewish identity has to be asserted in an independent fashion, and Jewish identity has to be rebuilt, without feigning allegiance to the Zionist state, which is artificial and is not representative of the actuality of Jewish culture in any country.

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Palestinian Prisoner Self Education

copied from my Palestine Chronicle article here

Books freed prisoners. (Photo: Rana Way)

On the third floor of the Nablus Municipality Library, there sits a room of over 8,000 books set apart from the rest. Many of these books are very old and tattered; many of them, in lieu of a normal face, are adorned with images taken from old National Geographic or Reader’s Digest magazines. Some are laboriously written by hand. The spines of the books show a variety of languages, from Arabic to English, French and Spanish. ‘The New English Bible’ is flanked by ‘The Great American Revolution of 1776’ on one side and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ on the other; across the aisle, Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ and ‘The Greek Myths’ look on silently, next to ‘Elementary Physics’ and a study of ‘The Chinese Road to Socialism’.

One day in 2008, Italian artist Beatrice Catanzaro became fascinated with this section of the Nablus Library. “I would return day after day”, she related, “to pour over every detail- how the work was sown, the notations, the drawings.” A librarian, seeing her fascination, told her a story:

“A few years ago an old man asked me for a specific book. [She picks up and shows me a thick hard covered grey book with old yellowish pages.] He started to explore the perimeter of the cover with his fingers, searching in the bookbinding gap. When [I] asked him what he was searching for, the man looked at [me] with a discouraged expression: ‘in prison I use to hide my embroidering needle in the binding of this book’.”

What fascinated Beatrice about this collection? This 8,000-book collection is no ordinary collection, but the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Library. Here are gathered books that lived with generations of Palestinian prisoners behind the bars of Israeli prisons. The shelves are adorned with weathered tomes of economic theory, slim volumes of poetry, well-worn novels, textbooks on mathematics and physics, classic works of philosophy and history, and much more. Personal and political annotations, scribbles and drawings adorn these pages, which captivated the hearts and minds of decades of Palestinian prisoners before finding their way, after the closure of two ex-Israeli military detention structures in 1996, to this library.

PFLP leader Abdel-Alim Da’na, who was imprisoned for a total of 17 years between 1970 and 2004, spearheaded PFLP educational programs behind bars to spread the philosophy of resistance to less experienced prisoners. He explains the foundation of prison pedagogy- “everyone, when they enter the prison, must learn to read and to study. Some people, when they enter the prison, cannot read or write, and we put an end to their illiteracy. Some of them are very famous journalists now, some are poets, some are writing in the newspapers and doing research in the universities, some are men in the Palestinian Authority, some are activists!”

Khaled al-Azraq, a refugee from Aida Refugee camp who has been a political prisoner for the last 20 years, testifies that “through the will and perseverance of the prisoners, prison was transformed into a school, a veritable university offering education in literature, languages, politics, philosophy, history and more…Prisoners passed on what they knew and had learned in an organized and systematic fashion. Simply put, learning and passing on knowledge and understanding, both about Palestine and in general, has been considered a patriotic duty necessary to ensure steadfastness and perseverance in the struggle to defend our rights against Zionism and colonialism. There is no doubt that the Palestinian political prisoners’ movement has played a leading role in developing Palestinian national education.”

Khalil Ashour was a Palestinian political prisoner from 1970 to 1982. Years later, he became Director of the Ministry of Local Government for the PA in Nablus until his retirement in 2005. He was also a central figure in Beatrice Catanzaro’s aptly-titled exhibit in the Prisoner’s Section of the Nablus Municipality Library, ‘A Needle in the Binding’.

In conjunction with the exhibit, Khalil Ashour wrote a moving personal testimony called ‘The Palestinian Detainee and the Book’. In accordance with the wishes of Ashour and Catanzaro, it is reproduced here in full ..

The Palestinian Detainee and the Book

By Khalil Ashour

The tragedy of detention is the deprivation of freedom of choice, or the limiting of this freedom to the minimum. If someone imposed their rules on you and oppressed you, you are their subject even if you are not a prisoner. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lived this tragedy in the Israeli detention centers starting from the year 1967 until now, and the ugliest image of this tragedy was when Palestinian detainees were prohibited from reading and writing. They were allowed only to write letters of ten lines to their families, and if they were to write more than ten lines by one word or more, the prison administration used to tear up the letter. During this period Palestinian detainees used to spend their time in narrating stories they knew and films they had watched before detention.

I recall that a detainee narrated for us the story “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, in several chapters. He used to narrate one chapter a day, until he finished the story after two weeks. We used to wait anxiously everyday until nighttime to listen to a new chapter. We all felt as if “Jean Valjean” the hero of the novel, was living among us. The last night we were so sad, as “Jean Valjean”  was leaving our detention center, knowing that we were never to meet him again. And when the moment of separation arrived, a sorrowful silence fell upon us all.

This was our situation in Asqalan prison in the years 1970-1971. However, in Biet Led, in 1972, the prison administration allowed three things: the first one was to allow the “Jerusalem Post” Newspaper into the prison, which is published in English. One of the detainees who is fluent in English used to translate articles and news relevant to our interests as detainees for freedom. The second was distributing Israeli books which explain and defend the Zionist Movement, the Jewish right to Palestine, and that the Palestinian Organizations are a group of “terrorists” who are going to fail, in order to inject detainees’ minds with the Israeli version of the situation, bring despair to their hearts and smash their morale. The third one was that every detainee’s family is allowed to buy two books every month for their detained family member, however, these books were to be approved by the prison’s administration first, in addition to the fact that they should remain in the prison if the detainee is released or transferred to another prison. This is how the first library was established in Beit Led prison.

However, cultural life in Nablus prison was rather different. The prison was managed by the Jordanian Police before 1967, there was a small library of tens books in this prison. Most of the books were novels, poetry and few school books that talk about the Jordanian History. However books that address philosophy or politics were originally prohibited in the Jordanian Reign. A remarkable improvement occurred during one of the Red Cross’s visits near the end of the year 1972, the delegation handed us a long list of the books that are allowed and approved by the prison’s administration. The list was distributed to the detainees to choose whatever they wanted, it included books about Marxism, Leninism, Communist theory, and Socialist thought. It was a golden opportunity for the Popular Front and democratic front organizations’ members, as their leaders say that they are leftist organizations that defend laborers’ rights, and lead the proletariat revolution from the inside of the Palestinian national movement and Arab nationalism. This was the first time that the communist books were seen in prisons.

Every time a delegation from the Red Cross used to visit the detainees, the number of red books increased, as well as religious books, especially those authored  by Hassan Al-Banna, Sayed Qotob and his brother Mohammed Qotob, as well as Mohammed Al-Ghazali.  Those authors were the founders and poles of the Muslim Brotherhood that was established in Egypt in 1928.

Based on these books, the thoughts that lie within their pages, and according to their viewers and readers, three intellectual trends appeared and spread among detainees. 1. A patriotic and national movement 2. A communist and socialist movement 3. A religious and Salafi movement. Fruitful and rich discussions and debates occurred between these three parties, which improved the intellectual and cultural level of the detainees. These movements also influenced residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as its ideas spread among the populace, especially amongst university students and educated people. When the communist and socialist movements disintegrated as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union after the year 1989, the leftist parties and organizations suffered from a sever tremor, and a deep shock, as they started flopping aimlessly searching for an identity, which resulted in the spread of the Religious and Salafi movement’s values, thus gaining more popularity, as it found itself more free to compete with the national movement.

In addition, books’ spread in Israeli prisons, and the variation in its genres and subjects, opened new horizons for the detainees; even those who were illiterate, mastered reading and writing. Detained students completed their education, became Tawjihi degree holders, and joined universities after they were released. Those who were interested in language learned Hebrew, English and French. Those with little knowledge read books about geography, history, economy, politics, philosophy, astronomy, religion, and literature. This is how Palestinian detainees turned prisons, through reading and writing into active and living workshops, as a room in any prison used to be calm at time allocated for reading and noisy when holding sessions and conducting debates, regardless of the number of inmates. In order to test erudition and level of knowledge, they used to conduct a weekly “question & answer” tournament, and award the winning team. As a result of this tournament, the spirit of competition spread among detainees, they started reading more, and copying books to send to other prisons that lacked them. It is known that copying books helps in memorizing more than reading. Translations also became common from Hebrew or English into Arabic. Detainees used to hold a special meeting to listen to translated articles’, which used to be read by the translator himself. They even held meetings in order to listen to translated literature.

One of the cultural activities also was that a group of detainees worked on preparing and distributing magazines, where they would hand write their articles in notebooks. Here one can see how the desire for learning, reading new books and self-education, was spread amongst detainees, as it was their priority. Books played a pioneering role in the significant change in detainees’ lives and hearts, and the clear evidence was that detainees were different when they were released; different than how they were several years ago when they were arrested. They occupied important and influential positions in society after they were released, in fact, some of them were top students at universities, and some of them went on to complete their MA and PHD degrees.

It is natural for detainees to pursue any mean in order to free themselves from imprisonment, and search for a way to escape from their harsh and bleak reality. Those who are deprived of bread dream of bread, and those who are deprived of freedom seek freedom. The Palestinian prisoner resorted to books in order to dream and free themselves through words as well as to escape to an alternative to their lived reality. If the book was a novel, the prisoner lives with its characters and moves amongst them from one place to the other, eavesdrops on their discussions, experiences their feelings, and walks around in their homes. This feeling creates another life for the prisoner, another world, and another reality.

Hence, books transferred and freed prisoners, even if it was temporary, it is the path to their salvation, as it also brings new ideas to the reader, and new beliefs, it introduces us to different lived experiences, which leads to a widening of horizon and an openness towards difference. The more books a human reads, the more minds he tackles and deals with, the more he enriches his knowledge.

A book is a spring of knowledge that quenches the intellect’s thirst for learning, blessed are those minds that are forever thirsty.

A book is a new world – we add to the world we know a space for another. The book is a transformation tool from a state to a better one, if we listened carefully to what it says and comprehended what it means. A book does not redeem humans from illiteracy, ignorance, delusion and myth only, it redeems one from corruption, bad manners, bad behavior, narrow mindedness, and bias.

Books reveal your true self, guide you to what you will become, and illuminate your world just like the sun lights your day. There are two truths in this world, the first is God which is a permanent truth, and the second; the world, is temporary. We came to this life to read the second truth in order to understand the first, and those who do not know are the ones who do not read.

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Community Building In The Face of Israeli Occupation

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

While the Palestinian-led weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier are an important and visible part of non-violent resistance, a children’s community center in Burin fights the occupation on a daily basis just by opening its doors, sometimes for as little as half an hour.

burin_construction_3

Residents of Burin build their community children’s center, which is named for Bilal al Najjar. (Photo: Ghassan Najjar)

In the West Bank village of Burin near Nablus, local youth are building a new children’s center to foster hope in their community.

 

Burin’s 4,000 inhabitants live in a valley, surrounded on all hilltops by Israeli settlements — Yitzhar, Har Bracha, Givat Arousna, and a Yitzhar “outpost.” The children and adults of Burin live, day and night, in constant fear of settler attacks and army raids.

 

21-year-old Ghassan Najjar is the director of Burin’s Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, built in 2008 and named after a villager who died in 1984 while he was being interrogated by the Israeli army.

 

“The youth here are lost,” he says. “There is no outlet for their frustration. The gym that was once open was closed. The boy’s playground is large, but people are too afraid to play there because of the constant army presence in the area…the girl’s school is tiny, and looks like a jail because of all the bars that are up- a caged-up area is the only place where they can play.”

 

In 2005, when they were teenagers in the village, Ghassan and 25 of his friends committed themselves to building a community center. “We wanted to get the youth away from a life of hanging around, smoking cigarettes and doing nothing…we wanted this center to be their outlet, to give them hope.”

 

The teenagers went from door to door raising funds. “People were skeptical at first”, Ghassan remembered. “They would disregard what we were doing, or brush it off, and say ‘how can that help?’ But we were determined.”

 

When the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center was finally established in 2008, the Israeli army began to crack down. From 2008 to 2010, Israeli soldiers targeted the center for harassment, invasion, and vandalism, usually at night.

 

“From 11 pm to 4 am”, Ghassan says, “everyone in Burin knew this village was for the Israeli army… they would break down the doors, break the computers, and trash the center. They would come and go as they pleased, and hang around, and do whatever they want. But this is something that we came to expect. We used to get upset when they harassed our center, but we continued.”

 

In 2010, 22 of the 25 organizers were arrested while cleaning the streets of Burin, and sentenced to a year in prison. While in prison, Burin’s younger generation took on the responsibility of maintaining the community center. One of these young men, who wished to remain anonymous, insisted that “we were dedicated to keeping the center open. It is very important to us. We made sure to open it every day, even if only for half an hour, just to show that we were going to keep it open.”

 

Now, the young men of Burin are building a new children’s center to better serve as a safe haven for Burin’s children. “There are 112 children here who still have nowhere to go”, relates Ghassan. “They don’t want to stay home and sit with their family, they want to go out and have some fun, but they can’t really play in the streets because of fear of army raids and settlers. So they come and hang out in the center but it is small and there is nowhere to play. There is only space to sit and talk.”

 

At the new children’s center, which is currently under construction, the people of Burin hope to maintain extensive athletic, recreational and educational facilities. Villagers have reported seeing Israeli soldiers enter the construction site at night, but they are not deterred. “Once the center is up we expect soldiers to come, this is normal for us. They can enter as much as they like, we will just continue, and renew whatever they destroy.”

 

Ghassan, along with the other directors of the Bilal Alnajjar Community Center, are optimistic. “We have a lot of hopes and dreams. We are still young, we are 21, and we hope to educate the ones younger than us to take over the center. We are not dictators, we will one day move on, but we hope that the young people of this village will keep it up, so Burin can remain strong in spirit.”

 

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