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Football in Burin

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

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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.

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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.”

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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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Palestinian Freedom Rides Echo the Civil Rights Movement

copied from my Alternative Information Center article with Mya Guarnieri here

This week’s Palestinian Freedom Rides will resemble those of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. As the American Jewish community was widely supportive of the Civil Rights movement, the event serves as an opportunity for American Jews to reflect on Israel’s system of segregration–a system that it opposed in the United States. 

 

 

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Rabbi Dresner and another American rabbi being arrested during the African-American Civil Rights Movement

 

The Palestinian Freedom Rides, which are set to begin on Tuesday, will seek to replicate those of the African-American Civil Rights movement. Palestinian youth activist and organizer Fadi Quran explains, “this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in the US. Apart from disrupting the segregation and challenging the oppression imposed on us by Israel, we chose this form of direct action to highlight the similarities between the Palestinian struggle and the [African American] civil rights movement to an American audience.”

 

Despite the similiarities, there are crucial differences between the Freedom Rides that were held in America during the 1960s and those that will take place this week in the West Bank. Those who participated in the American Freedom Rides were United States citizens who sought to reform the country’s discriminatory policies. The Palestinian Freedom Rides, on the other hand, is a people’s attempt to assert their rights in the face of a foreign military occupation. While the African-Americans sought merely to level the playing field with their white oppressors, it can hardly be said that West Bank Palestinians simply demand equal access to settler roads and buses. They seek to call attention to and dismantle an inherently oppressive system.

 

The event also holds potential for the American Jewish community–which was, by and large, supportive of the African-American Civil Rights movement–to reflect on the segregation the Jewish state enforces in their name.

 

Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner was a white, Jewish-American Reform Rabbi who joined the 1960s Freedom Rides as part of the ‘Interfaith Riders’, a group of black and white clergymen and rabbis who became known as the ‘Tallahassee Ten’ after their arrest for attempting to desegregate an airport restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida.

 

“I became a ‘dove’ in the few years after the Six Day War”, says Dresner. “By 1970 I had already realized that the occupation was a disaster.”

 

Dresner was arrested in the 1970s for marching on behalf of the refuseniks, and has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians since the early 1980s.

 

“As long as they remain nonviolent”, he says about the new Palestinian Freedom Rides, “I’m all in favor of this…there are major differences [between the two Freedom Rides] of course…[but] the occupation has led to a buildup of hatred in Israel, the kind of hatred we call racist hatred- the kind that says ‘all Arabs are bad, all Palestinians are terrorists’…so the occupation has been a disaster for Israelis and for Palestinians.”

 

Nonetheless, following a typical path of ‘soft’ liberal criticism of Israel,  he prays essentially for the reform of what he believes to be an originally and ultimately morally just state. “I love Israel,” he reassured the Jewish Week in an article published in May 2011. “I’ve been there 36 times. I was married there. Israel means a great deal to me, and I just feel that their policies are self-destructive.”

 

Dresner, who today sits on the Executive Board of Meretz USA, told Rabbis for Human Rights in 2010 that “I’ve been a dues-paying, card-carrying Zionist for 68 years, and Zionism today has been corrupted and corroded…we have to correct it, we have to reform it to change the annexationist policies…”

 

Dresner is not the only Jewish American Freedom Rider who would come to question Zionism. Henry Schwarzschild became a civil rights lawyer and activist who publicly declared himself Israel’s enemy after the 1982 siege of Beirut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Freedom Rides’ to Resume in Palestine

copied from my Palestine Chronicle article here

Freedom Rides will protest Apartheid. (Alternativenews.org)

 

On Tuesday, November 15, Palestinian youth activists in the West Bank, along with Israeli and international activists, will reenact the U.S. Civil Rights Movement’s historic Freedom Rides through the American South, boarding segregated Israeli public transportation headed from the West Bank to East Jerusalem in an act of civil disobedience which attempts to highlight the apartheid policies of the Israeli occupation.

In the words of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, “Israelis suffer almost no limitations on their freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territory, and are even allowed to settle in it, contrary to international law. Palestinians, in contrast, are not allowed to enter Israel without procuring a special permit from Israeli authorities. Even Palestinian movement inside the Occupied Territories is heavily restricted…while it is not officially forbidden for Palestinians to use Israeli public transportation in the West Bank, these lines are effectively segregated, since many of them pass through Jewish-only settlements, to which Palestinian entry is prohibited by a military decree.”

The Palestinian Freedom Rides has tethered itself very tenuously to an event in the past, and has thereby taken a stand in a historical legacy that leaves itself highly open to interpretation. Says Palestinian youth activist and organizer Fadi Quran, “this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in the US. Apart from disrupting the segregation and challenging the oppression imposed on us by Israel, we chose this form of direct action to highlight the similarities between the Palestinian struggle and the civil rights movement to an American audience.”

What strand of resistance ties the Freedom Rides of then to the Freedom Rides of now? The Freedom Rides through 1960s segregated America were staged by citizens of a country in protest of its apartheid policies, while the Palestinian Freedom Rides will assert the rights of a sovereign people under foreign military occupation. Nonetheless, apartheid is apartheid, no matter where it rears its ugly head. To examine the link between the two movements, and shed light on the bridge of historical development that separates them, we may ask- what are the 1960s Freedom Riders’ views on the Palestinian struggle?

John Lewis, the son of Alabama tenant farmers, joined the Freedom Rides when he was 19- “he rode to Birmingham with the Nashville cohort, endured the angry mob in Montgomery, was arrested in Jackson and served jail time at Mississippi’s Parchman State Prison Farm”. He is now serving his 12th term representing Georgia as a Democrat in the House of Representatives. On January 20, 2002, in the midst of the Second Intifada and two months before Operation Defensive Shield (and, coincidentally, on the 20th anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s democratic election to the Presidency of the Palestinian National Council), the San Fransisco Chronicle published an op-ed piece by Lewis called ‘‘“I have a dream” for peace in the Middle East- Martin Luther King Jr.’s special bond with Israel’, in which Lewis emphasized Dr. King’s fervent belief that, as ‘one of the great outposts of democracy in the world…peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality’. Lewis continued-

[King] consistently reiterated his stand on the Israel- Arab conflict, stating “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is uncontestable.” It was no accident that King emphasized “security” in his statements on the Middle East…During the recent U.N. Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa, we were all shocked by the attacks on Jews, Israel and Zionism. The United States of America stood up against these vicious attacks.

Attempts were made at this September 2001 conference to draft legislation accusing Israel of racist policies towards the Palestinian people, and after four days of negotiations the United States, Israel and Canada withdrew. In this op-ed, Lewis clearly intends to drive home the message, as he states in the opening paragraph, that King, who “sought ways to achieve liberation and peace…thus understood that a special relationship exists between African Americans and American Jews. This message was true in his time and is true today.” Thus, in a manner similar to Israel’s ‘pinkwashing’ campaign, Lewis attempts to use his and Dr. King’s civil rights credentials to block criticism of Israel’s right to military ‘security’ as a persecuted state, and to suggest, paradoxically, that anyone who dares accuse Israel of racism is butting up against Dr. King himself (the assertion of King’s Zionism, by the way, is questionable). Lewis equates the African-American struggle against persecution not with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, but with the history of Jewish oppression that Israel carves into the wrathful sword of its state.

Henry Schwarzschild, who fled from Berlin to the U.S. in 1939 at the age of 14 and was executive of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in the 1950s, was arrested as a Freedom Rider in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. Once he was released, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote on his imprisonment forms, “Your courageous willingness to go to jail for freedom has brought us closer to our nation’s bright tomorrow.”

Schwarzschild’s own ‘bright tomorrow’ would see him write a series of articles for the journal Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. Over the years he grew progressively more critical of  the lamentable situation whereby, as he said in 1972, “Israel and American Jewry believe that the proper response to Arab claims against the State of Israel is to defeat the Arabs and reject their claims, to maintain protectorates in Gaza, Sinai, and the West Bank, to persist in the annexation of Arab Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, to manufacture legitimacy for the expropriation of Arab property, [and] to continue a military government over Arab settlements in Israel”.

In 1975 he wrote a piece called ‘Racism, the Unavoidable National Sin’, reacting to the very 1975 U.N. Zionism-equals-racism resolution that was allegedly a precursor to the 2001 U.N. conference Rep. Lewis found so appalling. Drawing on his experiences fighting racism during Freedom Rides in America, Schwarzschild insists that “the ethnic nation-state is by its nature exclusionary vis-a-vis other ethnicities…The insistence by ethnic nations upon being in the majority in their state, upon creating the state in whatever image they choose, and upon letting ethnic-national values predominate in it, is the functional equivalent of racism…The Jewish state, conceived as the solution to the Jewish problem, has become the Jewish problem. That melancholy irony proclaims the absolute end of Zionism.”

Seven years later, in response to the 1982 Israeli siege of Beruit, Schwarzschild published an open letter announcing his resignation from Sh’ma, and stating that “I now renounce the State of Israel, disavow any political connection or emotional obligation to it, and declare myself its enemy.  I retain, of course, the same deep concern for its inhabitants, Jewish, Arab, and other, that I hold for all humankind.” He continued-

the War on Lebanon has now made clear to me that the resumption of political power by the Jewish people after two thousand years of diaspora has been a tragedy of historical dimensions…I now conclude and avow that the price of a Jewish state is, to me, Jewishly unacceptable and that the existence of this (or any similar) Jewish ethnic religious nation state is a Jewish, i.e. a human and moral, disaster and violates every remaining value for which Judaism and Jews might exist in history.  The lethal military triumphalism and corrosive racism that inheres in the State and in its supporters (both there and here) are profoundly abhorrent to me.  So is the message that now goes forth to the nations of the world that the Jewish people claim the right to impose a holocaust on others in order to preserve its State.

Twenty-nine years later, fifty years after Schwarzschild’s Freedom Ride, his daughter Hannah, a Philadelphia attorney and Palestine Solidarity activist, publicly connected her father’s legacy to her own support for the 2011 Freedom Flotilla II mission and America’s ship, the Audacity of Hope. Calling the flotillas ‘a modern-day Freedom Ride’, she, like many others at the time, drew an explicit link between the two human rights missions, drawing attention to “the audacious hopes of thousands who have committed their money and time to this nonviolent mission of resistance to enduring racism and injustice…they will be armed only with a legacy of the courage of their activist forebears, the moral outrage of a growing worldwide movement for freedom and justice in Palestine, and the steadfast hopes of an illegally occupied people”.

Like Henry Schwarzschild, Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner was another white, Jewish American who joined the Freedom Rides in solidarity with the struggle against oppression. The self-proclaimed ‘most arrested rabbi’, he was first arrested as a teenager in 1947 for protesting, with other members of the Zionist youth group Habonim (supposedly modeled after the Boy Scouts), outside of a British-owned business in Brooklyn, in response to the British government’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees to immigrate to Palestine. He was arrested in the 1970s for marching on behalf of the refuseniks, and has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians since the early 1980s.

“As long as they remain nonviolent”, he says about the new Palestinian Freedom Rides, “I’m all in favor of this, and of all demonstrations of any sort against the occupation…there are major differences [between the two Freedom Rides] of course…[but] the Israeli occupation has been not only a bad thing for the Palestinians, it’s been a bad thing for Israel. Just as slavery and segregation were bad for not only Africans, they were bad for Americans, they were bad for the south!…the occupation has led to a buildup of hatred in Israel, the kind of hatred we call racist hatred- all Arabs are bad, all Palestinians are terrorists…so the occupation has been a disaster for Israelis and for Palestinians…I’ve always been in favor of justice and peace for everybody, for the Jews and for everybody else.”

Nonetheless, following a typical path of ‘soft’ liberal criticism of Israel,  he prays merely for the reform of what he believes to be an essentially and originally morally just state. “I love Israel,” he reassured the Jewish Week in an article published in May 2011 (a mere two days after Hannah Schwarzschild connected the Freedom Rides and the Freedom Flotillas). “I’ve been there 36 times. I was married there. Israel means a great deal to me, and I just feel that their policies are self-destructive.” Dresner, who today sits on the Executive Board of Meretz USA, told Rabbis for Human Rights in 2010 that “we should know better than to have Jews persecuting someone else. I’ve been a dues paying, card carrying Zionist for 68 years, and Zionism today has been corrupted and corroded. It’s not the Zionism that I knew when I first became a Zionist….we have to correct it, we have to reform it to change the policies of the annexationist polices of annexing land, annexing people, annexing houses, etc, etc,etc…”

If we can trace a spectrum ranging from John Lewis’s pro-Israel advocacy, past Israel Dresner’s left-wing Zionism and arriving at Henry Schwarzschild’s whole-hearted opposition to Israel as a Jewish state, we would have to place Stokely Carmichael, another Freedom Rider, beyond even Schwarzschild in his through-and-through condemnation of the Zionist project. Carmichael’s well-known drift from SNCC non-violence to Black Panther militancy represents a clear departure from the peaceful civil disobedience of his Freedom Rides days, as does his later separatist belief, which distanced him from even the Panthers, that white activists needed to organize their own movements before joining the black liberation struggle. “Zionism is the baby child and interest protector of imperialism in the Middle East,” he said in the 1980s. “The Palestinian state belongs to the Palestinian people, this is a fact…Zionism took Palestine through raw and naked terrorism…Zionism is racism according to the United Nations, so at this point I won’t even hide behind the united Nations, I know it’s racism!…in no way can I be anti-Judaic, but I am anti-Zionist and will remain so until it is destroyed, because it is an unjust, illegal, immoral and racist system…the state of Palestine must be a secular state”.

The legacy of the Freedom Rides has been used by African-American Riders both to protect American-Israeli imperialism, and to call for its utter destruction; correspondingly, white-Jewish Riders have both asked Israel to be nicer and gentler, and have turned away from it entirely. This makes the stated legacy of Palestine’s Freedom Rides all the more more complex, challenging and compelling. Much has changed between then and now, and the four young civil rights activists, once united in a single cause, have in time scattered across the diffuse spectrum of the Left. Despite contextual differences between the two movements, however, and despite the shifting political ideologies of the human actors who have been pulled in different directions by the turbulent tides of history, the struggle, then and now, remains the same.

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

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Settler Attacks Countered by New Refusing to Die In Silence Group

copied from my Alternative Information Center article here

 

Settler Attacks Countered by New Refusing to Die in Silence Group

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:14 Ben Lorber for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)
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On Tuesday afternoon (20 September), Israeli settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar arrived at the Palestinian village of Affira Al-Khaeliya outside of Nablus and, after a brief demonstration, stormed the village, assaulting its inhabitants and damaging property.

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Launch of new campaign Refusing to Die in Silence, on Sunday 18 September 

Israeli soldiers eventually arrived, only to protect the heavily armed settlers from the local unarmed Palestinians, who attempted to defend their village with the stones at hand. In the ensuing conflict between soldiers and Palestinians, one 13 year old boy was hit in the back by a close-range high-velocity tear gas canister, and at least three people were injured by rubber bullets.

 
Thom, an international activist from Britain, arrived on the scene at 3 pm with ‘Refusing to Die in Silence‘, a solidarity group formed on Sunday by popular resistance committees in the West Bank. When he arrived at Affira Al-Khaeliya, “the soldiers were standing in between the settlers and the villagers, protecting the settlers as they went back to their settlement. As we tried to confront the soldiers and ask them what they were doing, they threw many sound grenades at us and started firing tear gas and later, rubber-coated steel bullets. They fired a tear gas canister straight at a boy who was 13 years old, hitting him in his back before he fell to the ground. At the time it looked like he had been paralyzed, I don’t think he was, but he couldn’t move and had to be carried to an ambulance. When the owner of a nearby house tried to walk to her house, they threw a tear gas canister at her feet. She is 80 years old. She was taken to an ambulance as well, but she is ok…once the settlers had returned to the settlement, the soldiers started to move back and fire less tear gas, and the conflict slowly dissipated.”

 

‘Refusing to Die in Silence’ was launched on Monday (19 September) in the Ramallah-area village of Nabi Saleh. The group uses a coordinated system of cars and video cameras to monitor, respond to and intervene in settler attacks occurring this September across the West Bank. Speaking of the need for the group this September, Bil’in resident Mohammed Khatib of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee noted on the committee’s website that “If anyone needed further proof that Palestinians cannot count on Israeli authorities to prevent settler violence, recent events show beyond doubt why we need to organize to defend ourselves. This is exactly what these volunteers will do in a civic and peaceful manner”.

 

“The idea” behind the group, explains Thom, “is that we get a call from the villages experiencing settler attacks, and we immediately get in the car. There are two Palestinians in the car and two internationals and two cameras, one video recording camera and one photo still camera. We go straight to the village where it’s happening and document the settler violence and, if feasible, if there are no soldiers and it appears the settlers are attempting to escalate violence, then as internationals we get out and try to deter the violence.”
Refusing to Die in Silence represents a concerted attempt to unify the efforts of popular committees from villages all across the West Bank, in face of an almost certain increase in settler violence as the UN bid for statehood commences this week. The best way to respond to settler violence, which strikes unexpectedly and disappears as soon as the damage has been done, is to respond quickly and to protect Palestinians. Thom notes that “the idea came from the lack of media as settler violence is actually taking place. There are numerous reports of settler violence, you can find alot of media covering violence after it happens,but there seems to be little or no media trying to cover the violence as it is occurring. So [‘Refusing to Die in Silence’] came to try and fill this gap.”
Internationals play a crucial role in the organization, not merely as observers watching the conflict from afar, but as actors standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. “We use the international solidarity here in Palestine,” says Thom, “to try and deter the violence and stop settlers from entering the villages.”
The settlers entered Affira on Tuesday in response to the anticipated UN vote, as part of a new initiative to ‘show Palestinians whose land it is’. They also attempted to show this to Palestinians later on in the day, outside the nearby village of Awarta when, at about 5:30, settlers could be seen, in Thom’s words, “on the fields of Awarta playing music and waving Israeli flags and singing and celebrating.” This region has seen much violence and harassment recently- last week, in the village of Burin, next to Affira Al-Khaeliya, settlers burnt two hundred and twenty olive trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.

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