Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When it's a friend...

Living in Ramallah for an extended period of time, to an extent, in errs you against what is happening in the rest of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. In Ramallah, it is possible, even given the Israeli occupation to obtain a degree (just a degree mind you) of normalcy.

Ramallah is a busy, bustling city that never seems to sleep. And inside its surrounds, the worst aspects of the occupation are not always visible. Last week, I travelled to Occupied East Jerusalem, via Qalandia checkpoint, for the first time in about 6 weeks. As I approached the checkpoint in the service, the apartheid wall suddenly appeared before me. I was stunned that I felt quite shocked when I saw it. It made me realise that I had adjusted, at least a bit, to the occupation and having spent the last month mainly in central Ramallah and its surrounds, I had developed a degree of "normalcy".

Sure there were PA soldiers on the streets everywhere, yes every few weeks the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) would enter the city, carry out an attack and just as quickly leave, yes I was still outraged every time I read about what the IOF were doing in Salfit or Nablus or Jenin but now that I was in Ramallah, I was not having to witness every single day the worst aspects of the occupation. And without realising it I had become somewhat complacent.

Seeing the apartheid wall suddenly appeared before me last Saturday and having to traverse Qalandia checkpoint once again soon dispelled that complacency. Just as today it was once again dispelled.

This morning, the IOF entered the northern city of Qalqilya to conduct a military raid, supposedly against Palestinian resistance fighters. Qalqilya, a once thriving city of 50,000 people, is close the Green Line and perhaps only and hour from Tel Aviv and as a result it became one of the first Palestinians cities to feel the bitter bite of the apartheid wall. In 2004, I visited Qalqilya many times and I remember the horror I felt the first time I saw and experienced this completely walled city. (see my 2004 blog: The Wall: a land grab that creates violence

When I read about the military assault today on the Palestinian Maan News Agency website, I thought to ring my friend M, who is from Qalqilya (but now lives in Ramallah) to see if his family was okay. But then I didn't, thinking to myself, that Qaliqilya is regularly raided and I was sure that there was nothing to worry about and his family would be fine. Without realising it my complacency had once again raised its head.

When I did finally ring him two hours later to see if all was okay, I was horrified to hear that the houses of two of his uncles had been demolished by the IOF during the invasion and that two rooms of his parents house had also been demolished. M told me that the IOF had seized one of the house belong to another family member and set up an interrogation base and they were interrogating all the men in the local area. He told me that his father and brother, along with all the other men in the neighbourhood, had been detained.


He was in regular contact with his mother and was waiting on the latest news to make sure that his family were all okay. When I rang him back 30 minutes later to see if he was okay and if his family okay, the answer was no. During that short 30 minutes since I spoke to him, the IOF had gone in and demolished his parent's house completely - the house he grew up in, the house that his mother and father had spent a lifetime building, the house that was home to him and his five brothers and sisters, gone forever.

According to the reports in the Israeli media, the IOF had enter Qalqilya in the morning and more than 30 Palestinian civilians had been injured in the military assault. Some were suffering from teargas inhalation; one young man had been shot in the head. According to the Israeli newspapers, the IOF had surrounded "a cluster of homes in which the IDF said wanted militants are hiding....The troops called over loudspeakers on the militants to surrender, but were met with no response. During the operation, which is still ongoing, IDF bulldozers demolished two of the homes in the compound in an attempt to force the militants out, and are threatening to demolish the rest".


This is of course the usual story put forward by the IOF to justify their actions, their target killings, their house demolitions, their arrests, their curfews, their mass abductions and arrests, their invasions.

The reason why there was "no response" from the supposed militants was because there were no militants in the houses. My friend's family are ordinary Palestinians, just a family trying to survive and get by like any other family in the world. But now their world has been turned completely upside down.


Living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I have been a witness to what my friend Wendy calls the "everyday sorrows of the occupation" – the checkpoints, the curfews, the house demolitions, the arrests, the beatings, the dehumanisation and collective punishment of 4 million people. And like any normal human being, I have felt anger and sadness at the injustice and inhumanity I have witnessed. But today, I could feel no anger. All I could feel was bewilderment, pain and helplessness.

Today, the brutal Israeli occupation cut closer to the bone then it had ever done before - it was a friend, someone I know and care for, someone I admire and respect, someone who is dear to me. Today, the Israeli occupation army destroyed, without blinking an eyelid, the lives of the family of someone I love.


At a loss what to do, feeling completely helpless, I rang the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition. Meir, their chief field worker, was surprised when I told him that the IOF had been demolishing houses in Qalqilya. He said that he had not heard any reports about it yet. I explained the situation to him and how my friend, so angry wanted to sue the IOF for the demolition of his parent's house. Before Meir responded, I knew what he was going to say.

"Yes, we have good Israeli lawyers who can help him, but the chance of a successful outcome is very low". He went on to say that the Israeli Courts will not intervene if the IOF say the demolitions were part of a "security operation".

It wouldn't matter that there were no "militants", it wouldn't matter that the homes of three innocent families had been destroyed, it wouldn't matter that the lives of these families have been all but destroyed in just one short afternoon.


So now my friend is waiting.

Waiting to hear if all is okay with his family, to hear if his brother and father have been released, to hear that nothing more has happened to his family.

Tonight three branches of his family, more than a dozen or more people, will be forced to try and find comfort under the roof of his grandfather and extremely ill grandmother's house.

Tomorrow, he will travel to Qaliqilya to see his family and to make sure they are all okay. Tomorrow, he will climb through the rubble of the house that was once his home. Tomorrow, he will sit and try and comfort his mother, father and brothers and sisters. Tomorrow, the occupation will continue and the homes and lives of more Palestinian families will be destroyed.

And tomorrow what will you do? Will you stand up and be counted? Will you move a motion at your union to support the international boycott? Will you organise a rally to call for an end to the siege of Gaza? Tomorrow, will you take stand and say enough is enough? Tomorrow, will you join the campaign to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine?


B'Tselem Report on Qalqilya House demolitions:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Occupation 101 - A must see documentary

Dear friends and supporters

Recently a new documentary called Occupation 101 about the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine was released.

The film has won numerous awards and it can be viewed on the web at:

This documentary, along with the Iron Wall which was released last year are both excellent introductions and explanations of what is happening in Palestine and Israel, and why.

In solidarity, KIm

Occupation 101 - A Must Watch Video

Information Clearing House
August 9, 2007

An award-winning documentary film on the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film depicts life in occupied Palestine under Israeli military occupation.

Synopsis: A thought-provoking and powerful documentary film on the current and historical root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike any other film ever produced on the conflict -- 'Occupation 101' presents a comprehensive analysis of the facts and hidden truths surrounding the never ending controversy and
dispels many of its long-perceived myths and misconceptions.

The film also details life under Israeli military rule, the role of the United States in the conflict, and the major obstacles that stand in the way of a lasting and viable peace. The roots of the conflict are explained through first-hand on-the-ground experiences from leading Middle East scholars, peace activists, journalists, religious leaders and humanitarian workers whose voices have too often been
suppressed in American media outlets.

The film covers a wide range of topics -- which include -- the first wave of Jewish immigration from Europe in the 1880's, the 1920 tensions, the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the first Intifada of 1987, the Oslo Peace Process, Settlement expansion, the role of the United States Government, the second Intifada of 2000, the separation
barrier and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, as well as many heart wrenching testimonials from victims of this tragedy.

Click either of these links to view the entire video:

For more information and to purchase a DVD:

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Time for Celebration

7 August, 2007

Even during a time of occupation and a quisling government, the resilience of the ordinary Palestinian people continues to shine through. Today was one of those occasions.

Today, the Palestinian education ministry released the results for the Tawjihi exam in the West Bank (the results for Gaza had been released 5 days earlier by the deposed Hamas education minister). The Tawjihi exams are the secondary school certificate exams taken by senior high schools students which determine whether or not Palestinian students are able to get into university or not.

Anyone who spends anytime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories will no doubt be struck by the overwhelming importance placed on education by the Palestinian people. Education in Palestine is not an individual affair, it is a family and societal affair that everyone participates in.

Everywhere I have gone in the past four to six weeks, friends and contacts have at different times asked me to excuse them for not being able to attend this meeting or that or only being able to meet at a certain time. The reason was that their children, whether in primary school or secondary school were undergoing their exams and they had to be with them to assist them in their study and preparation.

When my friend, who works for one of the local radio and television stations in Ramallah, told me yesterday that today he and another colleague would spend the entire day on radio announcing the outcome of the exams for the Ramallah and surrounding districts (each individual student names would be read and their score given) it brought home even more the importance placed on the exams.

And then today, my Palestinian friends and colleagues, one after another, came around with chocolates, kanafi and other sweets to celebrate the fact that their brothers or daughters or nieces had passed the exams with flying colours. According to a friend, tonight we should expect to hear fireworks being set off all over Ramallah as families celebrate the outcome of the exams.

The Tawjihi exam celebrations reflect that fact that education has traditionally been a high priority for the Palestinian people. A fact that can be seen in the high literacy levels in Palestinian society. According to the Palestinian Right to Education campaign there is a 98.2% literacy rate between 15-24 year olds and a 91.1% total adult literacy. Palestine also has the highest enrollment rates in the Middle East and North Africa, a fact that is reflected in the number of schools and educational institutions to be found in Palestine. In 2005, there were 11 Palestinian universities, 5 university colleges and 25 community colleges. The education of girls is also seen as a priority in Palestinian society. According to Bir Zeit University in 2005, female students made up more than 52% of their student body.

The majority of Palestinians believe that education can improve their living conditions not only by opening doors to employment but also act as an inoculation against the attempts to destroy the Palestinian identity and the Palestinian culture.

Gaining an education in Palestine, however, is not a simple thing. Every single day, students and their families have to deal with the ongoing brutal Israeli occupation. As with all aspects of Palestinian life, the occupation with its checkpoints, curfews and the apartheid wall is the main barrier to any normalcy and peace for the Palestinian people. The occupation impacts on every single aspect of Palestinian life, including the right to education.

In 2001, according to Dima Al-Samma from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, "Violence and blockages the Israeli government imposed on Palestinian areas for the past 255 days hindered the educational process on all levels. Teachers have been forced to take difficult and rough side routes and bypass roads, which are extremely dangerous in light of the Israeli settler aggression. Teachers have also been subjected to physical and verbal abuse. 21 teachers were arrested. Furthermore, teachers were over burdened with transportation fees that doubled due to the prolonged routes."

During the same period, three schools in Hebron were confiscated and turned into Israeli military posts and 66 schools in the West Bank had to suspend their schooling at different times. In Bethlehem, four schools were closed for 62 days. In Nablus, two schools were closed for around 23 days. At one stage 50 schools were forced to evacuate because there was fear of random bombings by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

In 2001, the Ministry of Education noted that 90 students had been killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces, while another 2151 were shot and wounded of whom many are handicapped and bedridden. Furthermore, 76 students were arrested. In addition, the Israeli government prevented 67 out of 854 students from taking the Tawjihi examination

Bir Zeit University, in 2005, as part of their Right to Education campaign noted that between September 2000 and 2005, more than 676 children, 199 university students and 39 teachers had been killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces. In addition 2500 children had been arrested, 269 schools damaged as a result of shelling by the Israeli military, in the Gaza 73 educational institutions had been destroyed. In 2004, 14 children under the age of 14 years had been injured or killed in their classrooms in the Gaza. Iman Sameer Al-Hams, 13 years of age, was just one of several children killed on their way to school by the Israeli military. Iman was shot and killed by 20 live bullets: she was wearing her school uniform and carrying her school bag.

The Right to Education campaign also noted that in 2004, 1289 schools had been closed during sieges and curfews and 48 turned into military bases. In addition, Israel's apartheid wall has resulted in students in 22 localities being cut off from the educational institutions, resulting in more than 14, 740 students not being able to reach their classrooms.

In Palestine, there is often so much to be sad and angry about as the Israeli occupation brings with it everyday sorrows, sorrows which at time can seem overwhelming. But there is also much in Palestine to celebrate: the people, their resilience and the collective resistance. And because of this, today is a day of celebration.

A celebration not only that one's child, or niece or brother past the exam but a celebration that despite everything and despite the brutal Israeli occupation the Palestinian people will not be suppressed or made subservient. It is a day of hope and a day for congratulations and haflas (parties) and to celebrate once more Palestinian people's resilience and their struggle for freedom against overwhelming odds.

Palestinian Right to Education Campaign:

Friday, August 3, 2007

Oslo Mark II and the making of the Third Intifada

4 August, 2007

Now the dust has settled, Palestinian President and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas and the unelected Prime Minister of Palestine, Salaam Fayyad, along with the minority of the old Fatah guard have revealed that they have nothing to offer the Palestinian people except a return to the failed “peace process” of the 1990s.

Over the past two weeks, anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Palestinian politics would have had a distinct feeling of Déjà vu – that distinct sinking feeling that you are either experiencing something or been somewhere before. One just has to listen to the excited proclamations coming out of the mouths of Abbas, Fayyad and Olmert to feel like you have been transported back body and soul to the 1990s.

In the 1990s, Abu Mazan (Abbas) was the key Palestinian negotiator in what was to become known as the Oslo Peace Process – a process which many Palestinians believed and still believed turned the PLO leadership into a tool of the Israeli state.

In the mid 1990s, however, many Palestinians, like many Israelis held out great hope for the peace process. Ordinary Israelis were tried of Israelis wars in Lebanon and the OPT. After 26 years, the Palestinians people also wanted an end to the brutal Israeli occupation – so much so that they were willing to commit themselves to the bad deal their leaders had signed them up too – a deal which saw the Palestinians renounce the claim to 78% of their historical homeland.

Olso, however, was never really about bringing about a just peace. Arafat weakened and unable to control the first intifada saw the Olso negotiations as the only way to retain power, while Israel simply wanted an immediate end to the Palestinian intifada and an end to the international pressure being placed upon them to end the occupation. As Guardian reporter, David Hirst noted in 2001, “for the Israelis, security - theirs, not the Palestinians' - was the be-all and end-all of Oslo”. The job of Arafat, Hirst noted was “to supply it on their behalf”.

Similarly, Israeli academic, Tanya Reinhart (who died last year) noted in 2001 at the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada that the Oslo Accord allowed Israel “to reduce the cost of the occupation, using a Palestinian patronage regime, with Arafat as the senior cop responsible for the security of Israel”.

In addition, wrote Reinhart, Olso was designed to set in train a process that:

“should lead to the collapse of Arafat and the PLO. The humiliation of Arafat, and the amplification of his surrender, will gradually lead to loss of popular support. Consequently, the PLO will collapse, or enter power conflicts. Thus, the Palestinian society will loose its secular leadership and institutions. In the power driven mind of those eager to maintain the Israeli occupation, the collapse of the secular leadership is interpreted as an achievement, because it would take a long while for the Palestinian people to get organized again, and, in any case, it is easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression, when the enemy is a fanatic Muslim organization”.

During Arafat’s life time, however, as Reinhart notes the collapse of the PA was staved off. This was because of what the Palestinians called “Sumoud” or steadfastness - a refusal to give up their land willingly, a refusal to give into the Israeli occupation and a refusal to turn on one another. In spite of Israel, Palestinian society refused to collapse and refused to fragment, instead they remained Sumoud, even as Israeli deepened its occupation and breached its Olso obligations again and again.

Over the next 7 years from 1993 until the outbreak of the Al Asqa Intifada in September 2000, the hope that the Palestinian people placed in the peace process was dashed on the rocks of the continuing Israeli occupation and Israeli intransigence.

Under the 1993 Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accord) signed by Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Israel agreed that it would not take any unilateral steps to alter the situation in the occupied territories. In addition, they promised that they would not expand the all ready established illegal Israeli settlements.

However, through the 1990s, Israel continued to build and expand the settlements and by the 21st century had establish more than 75 new settlements in breach of the Oslo Accord agreement. Throughout the 1990s, in breach of Oslo, Israel continued to steal Palestinian land and to deepen the occupation, it continued to arrest Palestinians and jail them, it continued to set up checkpoints, roadblocks, to demolish houses and impose, illegally, collective punishment on more than 4 million Palestinians living in the OPT.

Under Oslo, both the US and Israel demanded that the Palestinian people conduct free and democratic elections. However, as the Palestinians soon discovered in 2006, if they fairly and democratically elect a leadership that neither Israel or the US like, then they will be starved, blockaded and beaten into submissions until a quisling government is established.

After Olso was exposed once and for all at the Camp David Summit, the Palestinian people rose up again in popular revolt as they realised that Oslo would never bring about an end to the Israeli occupation. The Al Asqa Intifada, sparked by Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount was simply the expression of the Palestinian refusal to submit to occupation even in the name of peace.

After 14 years of abject failure, it has become clear to just about everyone, except Mahmoud Abbas, that Israel was never interested in negotiating a real lasting peace with the Palestinian people. Abbas, as former CIA analyst, Kathleen Christison noted in a recent article on the Counterpunch website that “despite being repeatedly slapped in the face”, the leadership of Fatah who started the peace process (ie. Abbas) continues with “blind desire to please the U.S. in the expectation that this behaviour would bring some political benefit to the Palestinians, despite repeated evidence to the contrary”.

Under the leadership of Abbas, the process set in train by Oslo and outlined by Reinhart has begun to bear fruit. The refusal of a small coterie of the Fatah leadership to accept the fact they are no longer the dominate player in the Palestinian political landscape and that they no longer control the PLC has resulted in Israel being able to ferment in just 18 short months,what it has not been able to achieve in nearly 60 years – civil war between the Palestinians. This “power conflicts” as Reinhart called them have now made it “easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression” in the name of opposing a supposedly “fanatic Muslim organization”.

Over the past few weeks, since the dismissal of the democratically elected Hamas lead PLC by Abbas, while the world has focused on Israel and the US have attempted to bolster him and Fayyad and the range of “good will gestures” including the release of 250 prisoners and the release of some of the Palestinian tax funds that Israel stole, little attention has been paid to Israel’s ongoing brutality both in the West Bank and Gaza.

In just one week, between 5 – 12 July, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that Israel had killed 12 Palestinians, including 3 civilians; wounded 30 others, including 25 civilians, carried out 38 invasions into Palestinian communities, razed at 200 dunums of land in the Gaza, arrested 79 Palestinian civilians, imposed a total siege on the Gaza (meaning that 1. 3 million people are trapped in worsening humanitarian conditions).

Since the Sharm el Sheik Summit, Israel has also arrested more than 400 Palestinians (almost twice as many as they freed and mostly from Fatah) and have killed nearly 50 Palestinians.

The world media, however, is content to ignore these facts. Instead they focus all their attention on Bush’s announcement that he will convene of an international peace conference later this year is an attempt to bolster Abbas. However, true to form, Bush also has made it clear that all concessions in the so-called peace process would come from the Palestinians, not Israel.

As with the last peace processes, both Oslo and the Road Map, both Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have refused to set a deadline for final status discussions with Palestinians on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements and security. According to a July 20 report by Ha’aretz journalists Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner, “the demands Bush presented to Israel were mild, almost imperceptible, compared to the challenge he gave the Palestinians”.

In the clearest rehash of Olso so far, in late July Olmert announced in the lead-up to the conference that Israel will seek to negotiate an “agreement of principles” with Abbas. The agreement of principles, as with the Oslo Declaration of Principles will push permanent status issues such as refugees, borders and Jerusalem to the backburner. Instead, the negotiations would revolve around the characteristics of the Palestinian state, its official institutions, its economy and the custom arrangements it would have with Israel.

Olmert’s plan, like the failed Oslo Accords and the Road Map, proposes a nominal exchange of land for peace. However, the larger Israeli “settlement” blocs in the West Bank will not be dismantled and will remain under Israeli control. Israel would also not withdraw from East Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives or the Old City and its environs. It would only withdraw from Arab neighbourhoods not considered part of the historical city.

Olmert has, however, come up with something new in relation to his Agreement of Principles – according tot he Israeli media he plans to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through an under ground tunnel, supposedly in “order to offer the Palestinians territorial contiguity, prevent friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and preserve security”. However, Israel will demand compensation for digging the tunnel in Israeli territory.

While Olmert, Bush, Rice and Elliot Abrams (the key instigator of the US policy for the overthrow of the democratically elected Palestinian PLC and the National Unity government) are all going around slapping each other on the back and promoting Oslo Mark II, the Palestinian people are not fooled.

Fourteen years after Oslo Mark I, they are well aware of the reality of the “peace process” and the fact that it did not bring them peace, justice or a state. Abbas knows that it will be a hard sell and an even harder sell if Gaza remains isolated.
Despite, Abbas having the international backing his government is weak, something he knows as well as do the US and Israel. Israel security officials have stated that they recognise that despite everything and all of Abbas pronouncements there is enormous pressure from the Palestinian people regarding unity.

The Palestinian people do not want a divided nation and Hamas is very much part of the political landscape, whether Israel or the US like it or not. The Palestinian people will not accept two separate Palestinian territories, they will not accept the division amongst the factions and the demonising of one faction by another, they will not accept a divided struggle. Recent polls have reaffirmed this with one poll by a Norwegian NGO revealing that 85% of Palestinians want national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Israel and the US think they have won and they think they have crushed the Palestinian people but they have not.

The Palestinian people will remain “sumoud” despite the inadequacy of their leadership. And if Abbas, Olmert and Bush are not careful they will once again have another intifada on their hands, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year or next year, but when a people have nothing more to lose, then the struggle is the only thing they have left.