Friday, December 18, 2009

Reporting from the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Dear Friends,
as you may have gathered from my last post, I am currently back in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Over the coming weeks, I hope to file regular posts about what is happening on the ground here.

I am still trying to get an accurate assessment of where things are politically. However, the first thing you notice is the deepening and 'normalisation' of the occupation. While there are still arrests, house demolitions and restriction of movement occurring on a daily basis, it is clear that 'normalisation' has been occurring at a much high level than when I was previously here.

Travelling from Hares to Ramallah, this 'normalisation' is evident in the number of the checkpoints which had existed when I was here in all my previous visits that are now "unstaffed" by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). This did not mean, however, Israeli soldiers were no present either at checkpoints or in the surround vicinity. It simply means their ever present presence is not as "visible" as it previously was.

For example, at Zatara, the major junction which divides the middle of the West Bank from the North of the West Bank, while the checkpoint coming from my village is unstaffed, soldiers are still present, armed and on duty at sniper points on the nearby hill and the roundabout. When making the trip a few days back, my team mate and I while waiting for a 'service' (Palestinian shared taxi) to go to Ramallah when we observed the Israeli sniper on the hill top yelling at Palestinians who walked through the junction to get to their villages to stop and lift their trouser legs. Presumably this was to see if they had explosives or weaponry. The second soldier stationed at the round-a-bout at one stage came up to harass the Palestinians near us waiting to also get transport, apparently because they were standing to close to the settler bus shelter (which services the illegal settlers from the colony of Tapuach).

Despite or perhaps because of the increasing "normalisation", the occupation continues to deepen. On the day that my team mate and I arrived in Hares, we were immediately contacted by villagers in both our village and in the neighbouring village about the IOF invasion of the villages and kidnapping of teenage boys (16 yrs) – 5 in Hares and 3 in Dier Istyia. According to the families in Dier Istyia, the children were taken at 2 am in the morning, accused of stone throwing. One has already been sentenced to 80 days jail and a fine of NIS 1500 (around $500 Australian – a small fortune for a Palestinian family).

Earlier in the week, the IOF carried out a number of raids, arresting civil society/non-violent struggle leaders of the anti-occupation struggle in Nablus and Ramallah, with the Ramallah arrest being of Abdullah Abu Rahme, a highly visible leader of the non-violent struggle in Bil'in village. Previously, the IOF have informed the Israeli lawyers working with the leaders of the Bil'in struggle that they would seek to use legal means to destroy the non-violent struggle (note: if Palestinians are arrested, they will often be detained for the length of the court proceedings, which could be up to 14 months, even though they have not been found guilty of anything. Thus by arresting leaders of the non-violent struggle, they can detain them for extended periods of time in order to destroy any organized dissent to Israel's brutal occupation).

On the same day, that non-violent activists in Sheikh Jarrah were being beaten by Israeli police and occupation forces defending the illegal settler, in one of the villages not far from where we live in the West Bank, Israel settlers entered a mosque and burnt the dozens of copies of the Quran, pray mats and furniture. There are now calls by Peres and Netanyahu for the culprits to be caught, but this of course more PR than anything else, as the Israeli military continue to protect and often aid the settlers.

Despite all of this, the Palestinian people remain sumoud (steadfast) and continue to struggle. In the short time I have been back, many of the Palestinians I have spoken to have asked that both myself and other internationals continue to speak out in support of the Palestinian people and their struggle for human rights, freedom and dignity. I have promised them that we would.

As the first anniversary of Israel's murderous war on Gaza looms, please consider what you can do to be part of the campaign to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It could be as simple as making a donation or writing a letter to your local newspaper or politician or talking to your friends about what is really happening in Palestine. It could be holding an educational film night or stall in your local mall, joining your local Palestine solidarity group, organising a solidarity action or demonstration, moving a motion in support of BDS in your workplace, community group, church or union and getting your colleagues actively involved in the campaign. No matter how big or small, what ever you do helps and is important.

End the Siege of Gaza!
End the Occupation Now!
Free Palestine!

In solidarity, Kim

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Telling Lies about Sheikh Jarrah

In June 2008, I wrote an article called 'Telling Lies about Bil'in' in which I outlined how the Israeli military, assisted by Israel's corporate Zionist media lied about a peaceful non-violent demonstration in the Palestinian village of Bil'in, depicting it as 'violent' in order to justify the Israeli Occupation Forces use of unrestrained violence against the peaceful demonstrators. After 42 years of attempting to justify its brutal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Occupation Forces lies have become a matter of course. This week the Israeli Occupation Forces and the Israeli police once again engaged in the violent suppression of a non-violent demonstration and then lied about their actions. The only difference this time around was that it took place in Sheikh Jarrah in Occupied East Jerusalem, rather than in Bil'in in the Occupied West Bank.

In the last year more than 50 Palestinians living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah have been left homeless as a result of being forcibly evicted from their homes by settlers, supported by Israeli occupation forces [1]. For the last 42 years, the 28 Palestinian families (more than 475 people) of the Karm Al-Ja'ouni have been fighting in the Israeli courts to stay in their homes.

The families, all refugees from 1948, originally received their homes by the United Nations Refugees Works Agency (UNWRA) and the Jordanian government, which was in control of East Jerusalem from 1949 until the region was illegally occupied and annexed by Israel during the 1967 war. In 1967, two settler organizations - the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesseth Yisrael Association (which later sold its claim to Nahalat Shimon) - claimed that they owned the land and that they had deeds dating back until 1875. Five years, after their first claim, the settler organizations attempted to register their claims with the Israeli Land Administration. While their claim to ownership was noted in the Land Registry, their claims were never formally registered as a title claim. In 1982, without the families consent, their lawyer agreed to recognize the settler's ownership of the land in return for granting the families legal status of protected tenants. The families, however, refused to pay rent on their own homes and continued to fight the settler's claims in the court. The lawyer's actions, however, provided the settler organizations with the basis for current eviction orders.

Since the 1967 claim, Israeli courts have been presented with irrefutable proof that the settler's claim was a fraud, including Palestinian landowner, Suleiman Darwish Hijazi presenting the court with documents certifying his ownership, as well as tax receipts from 1927. Earlier this year, the families new lawyer, Salah Abu Hussein traveled to Turkey and located documents in the Ottoman Archives in Ankara proving the settler's documents were a forgery. According to March 19 report in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, "the Ottoman document proves that the Sephardic Leadership never purchased the compound but only rented it" and that "another Ottoman document confirms that the document presented by the Jewish [settler] party is not authentic" [2]. All such documentation, however, has been repeatedly dismissed out of hand by the Israeli courts.

Not content to evict the families, the Israeli police have continued to harass the evicted families, who are living on the streets outside their homes, destroying their shelter and protest tents. The families have also had to endure continue intimidation and harassment from the illegal Israeli settlers now occupying their homes [3]

On Friday, 11 December, Israelis from groups such as Anarchists Against the Wall and Tay'yush demonstrated in solidarity with the Palestinian families for the fourth week in a row. My team mate and I joined the 100 or so mostly young Israeli activists as they began the long march to Sheikh Jarrah from Mashbir Plaza/Ben Yehuda St in West Jerusalem. For an hour, we weaved through the streets of West Jerusalem, announcing our presence with the sound of the well organized drum team and chants in Hebrew, and sometimes in English, for freedom for Sheik Jarrah and the settlers to be removed from the homes belong to the Palestinian families.

The response from Israel's West Jerusalem residents was mixed. Some joined our march, many stood by in shock, others yelled abuse and angrily argued with the Israeli activists, while one unseen person high up in one of the residential apartments pelted the march with eggs, while another person in the same apartment grabbed a house and stuck it out their window to spray the passing march with water.

Water hose spayed from apartment onto demonstrators

Undeterred the march made its way to Sheikh Jarrah. Along the way we also crossed paths with hundreds of Israeli Occupation Force soldiers wandering down the opposite of the street, amongst the road works taking place. For a moment, the chants to free Sheikh Jarrah ceased and the Israeli activists in Hebrew began to call out in unison the refusenik slogan to the passing soldiers "Soldiers listen well, you to have the right to refuse".

We soon entered Sheikh Jarrah and made our way to the home of the Al-Kurd family. The Al-Kurd's became the fifth Palestinian family to be forced from their home on December 1, when settlers occupied one section of their home [4]. Israel's Magistrate Court ruled that an extension added to the Al Kurd's home 10 years ago was illegal and gave permission for Israeli settlers occupy the house The Al-Kurd's appeal was dismissed by the court. The following day, settlers backed by heavily armed private security and Israeli police occupied the home, savagely destroying the families household possessions and dumping them in the yard outside the home.

As we entered the yard, drums beating, it was impossible not to trample over the family's already destroyed possessions strewn around the yard – toys, shoes belong to adults and children alike, a broken table and the little sentimental nick naks which make a house a home. As I looked around the yard, I was astounded to see that the settlers had also ripped the kitchen stove from the section of the Al-Kurd's home they were occupying and dumped in unceremoniously in the front yard. To the right of the occupied house, the Al Kurd family stood quietly and with dignity in a makeshift shelter.

For the next 30 minutes, the very loud protest continued peacefully, chanting and drumming, calling for the settlers to leave the house. Behind the cordon of Israeli police, some of the younger settlers stood watching the demonstration, some attempting to argue with the protestors.

According to the Jerusalem Post's report on the demonstration, however, "Sheikh Jarrah locals and left-wing activists staged a violent protest in the east Jerusalem neighborhood on Friday afternoon against the growing number of Jews moving into houses there" [5]. The JPost went onto state, "A violent clash ensued when security forces attempted to prevent the demonstrators from entering Jewish houses in the neighborhood". Israeli's most liberal newspaper, Haaretz, also reported the lie being told by police that the demonstrators were violent and trying to enter the occupied house. According to Haaretz, "protestors marched from the city centre to Sheikh Jarrah, where police said they tried to enter a home that is partly occupied by Jews before being stopped" and that "Police were instructed to disperse the demonstration, but protestors refused to leave" [6]

This was of course a lie. At no stage did any of the peaceful demonstrators attempt to enter the occupied house and the violence perpetrated on the day came solely had the hands of the Israeli police and military present against unarmed and peaceful demonstrators.

The police violence, as often is the case, came without warning. Suddenly our non-violence was met with violence, as the police began viciously beating those standing closest to the occupied house. Some our number attempted to stand in the way of the police and their immediate victims to stop the attack, others just tried to get out of the way of the vicious attack. The courtyard we were in was small and suddenly between 100 and 120 people were surging towards the only exit and entrance.

At the time, I was simultaneously trying to film what was happening, while moving towards the exit. As I reached the exit, I either fell or was knocked over by the surge of the crowd attempting get out of the way of the brutality of the police.

Suddenly I was being trampled under foot by a hundred people. Recognising it was more dangerous to try and get up, I immediately curled up into a ball to protect myself, as I had been taught in non-violent direct action training. I lay in that position for what seemed like an endless amount of time, my fellow activists tripping over me as the police beat them. Suddenly, one of the Israeli activists and some of the young Palestinian men were trying to pull me out of the way to safety. In the end I was lucky, I ended up with only some bruising to my legs, arms and to my right cheekbone from being kicked in the face.

By this stage the police had violently driven the hundred or more protestors into the street outside the Al Kurd's family home. The police's violence, however, didn't end here. For the next hour, the police brutally continued to beat the non-violent demonstrator and the arrests began. The Israeli activists, skilled in non-violent civil disobedience, however continued to non-violently resist. Drumming, blowing whistles and chanting, they attempting to protect their fellow activists by putting their bodies in front of their comrades who were the target of the police's unrestrained aggression.

Reinforced by dozens more police and Israeli military, the police began to brutally headlock the Israeli activists. Dragging them brutally to the ground and across the hard rocks and pavement. Other police began to spray pepper spay into the eyes of the non-violent activists. Again engaging in time worn civil disobedience tactics, their fellow activist tried to prevent the police vehicles leaving with the arrested by standing in front of it. The number of the police arriving kept increasing as did their violence. At one stage, either private security or police officers with black balaclavas over their faces to hide their identity entered the crowd. Each of them carried long black truncheons, a signal that things were about to get even more violent. However, as the hooded men entered, the crowd surged back towards the other end of the street and suddenly the hooded men were whisked out of sight by other security personnel.

Israeli police use pepper spray on non-violent activist in Sheikh Jarrah

Many of the Israeli activists arrest on the day were women. Later, after the police had finally decided they had made enough arrests, several of the female activists I spoke to reported they had also been sexually assaulted by the Israeli police during the violent attack on the demonstration. One activist, M, told me how when one of the police officers grabbed her breasts (a tactic use by Israeli security forces, which has become common place, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in Israel against woman activists). M told me that she yelled to his commander who was standing nearby that his subordinate was sexually assaulting her. The commander's, however, refused to take action, instead derisively tell her that she was ugly and that his subordinate wouldn't touch her.

In the end the police's brutality resulted in more than 10 people – Palestinian, Israeli and Internationals - being injured and 24 non-violent activist being arrested, the majority of whom were Israelis. Speaking with Israeli activists later, many commented that the force used by the police was unprecedented. They also believed that the order had been given for the police to try and stamp out dissent and solidarity with the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah.

There was no violent demonstration in Sheik Jarrah as the Israeli police and occupation forces claimed. Instead there was once again a peaceful non-violent demonstration, which was met with brutal force by the Israeli police and occupation forces. To justify their brutality and illegal behaviour, the Israelis "security" forces once again lied to its own citizens, the Israeli military and the rest of the world.

In Occupied East Jerusalem, just as in the Occupied West Bank, the Israeli police and military serve the illegal settlers, assisting them to carryout their illegal activity, doing little to stop their rampages and assaults on Palestinians, whose land and homes they have stolen. There are, however, other Israelis: courageous, determined and outspoken, who actively oppose the reign of the settlers and the apartheid policy of their state. Each week they stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and stand up for human rights and freedom. Despite the brutality of their government and their police force and "security" forces, they will be, once again, next week at Sheikh Jarrah to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian families who remain "sumoud" (steadfast) and continued to struggle for their human rights and freedom.

[1] Palestinians evicted in Jerusalem, BBC News, 2 December 2009
[2] Settlers occupying al-Kurd house in Sheikh Jarrah continue to harass evicted Palestinian families, ISM Media release, 8 December 2009
[3] Hasson, N., (2009) Turkish documents prove Arabs own E. Jerusalem building. Haaretz, 19 March.
[4] Armageddon is coming to East Jerusalem, Palestine Monitor, 5 December 2009
[5] Police, locals clash in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem Post, 12 December 2009
[6] Hasson, N., 21 left-wing activists arrested in violent East Jerusalem clashes, Haaretz,
12 December 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Refuting pro-Israel hasbara: Official PGFTU statement in support of Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment campaign against Israel

Dear friends,

as you will be aware with the increasing success of the Palestinian initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) Campaign against Israel, the Israeli state, pro-Zionist media outlets and pro-Israel groups have sought to discredit the campaign.

In particular, with increasing support for the campaign coming from trade unions around the world, Israel and pro-Israel groups have engaged in hasbara claiming that the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) does not support the campaign. This was despite the fact that the PGFTU, along with other Palestinian trade unions signed onto the original 2005 Palestinian Unified Call for BDS and that the PGFTU and other trade unions are members of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (the national Palestinian steering committee for the BDS campaign). See:

Over the last few months the Histadrut (Israel's key trade union federation), along with the recently founded pro-Israel trade union lobby group, TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine) have sought to perpetuate this hasbara about the PGFTU and the BDS campaign.

Recently both TULIP (running a report from Trade Union Friends of Israel and the Jewish Chronicle ( ran stories claiming that the head of the PGFTU, Shaher Sa'ad had stated that the PGFTU were not interested in participating in the BDS campaign. Following the news story, the BNC issued a press release which included Mr Sa'ad denial of such a statement.

At the same time the PGFTU issued a statement (in Arabic) clearly outlining their support for BDS. The statement has now been translated into English and is below.

Also below is the BNC Press release welcoming the PGFTU's reaffirmation of support and participation in the BDS campaign.

Please feel free to distribute to your networks.

In solidarity,



A Statement* by the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the Palestinian Trade Union Blocs and Frameworks

25 November 2009

Based on the national and trade union position, which PGFTU has always been a part of, representing the unified national and trade union framework for all Palestinian trade union and labor blocs and frameworks, PGFTU with all its organizations, branches and member trade unions stresses its advanced historic and national role in the Palestinian national movement [in the struggle] to accomplish the national tasks, at the forefront of which is putting an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization and establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and with the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were expelled.

In addition, our Federation unambiguously states its principled and committed position for the boycott of Israel in all international forums, and appreciates all international forces, institutions and trade unions that stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and adopt this position. PGFTU and its member trade unions reiterates that is has been and will always be a key and authentic part of the Palestinian national coalition for the boycott [the BDS National Committee, BNC] and confirms the necessity of supporting the national Palestinian production and of building an [independent] economy free from economic dependency.


Together we continue on the path of national and social struggle

Long live the unity of our people and its national forces

Long like the unity of the Palestinian trade union movement

Glory and immortality to our martyrs and freedom to our prisoners.

Palestine – 25 November 2009

Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)

Secretary General Shaher Sa’ed and the members of the Executive Committee

Endorsed by: Youth Workers Movement, Central Office for the Workers Movement, Progressive

Workers Block, Progressive Labor Union Front, Workers Unity Block, Workers Struggle Block,

Labor Solidarity Organization

*Arabic original:

Report on PGFTU's Website (Arabic):

Shaher Sa'ad (on right) meeting with international trade union representatives (photo: PGFTU website)


BNC Warmly Welcomes PGFTU's Statement Confirming Unambiguous Endorsement of BDS

[Press Release: 1 December 2009]
The Palestinian BDS National Committee, BNC, warmly welcomes the statement issued on 25 November 2009 by the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) -- signed by its Secretary General, Mr. Shaher Sa'ad, and its Executive Committee, and endorsed by all the main Palestinian trade union blocs that are represented in the Federation. In particular, the BNC welcomes PGFTU's affirmation of its "principled and committed position for the boycott of Israel" and its praise of international trade unions and other civil society organizations that stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights and adopt the boycott against Israel.
We are further encouraged by PGFTU's commitment to remaining a "key and authentic component" of the large civil society coalition that leads the global BDS movement, the BNC.

While Mr. Sa'ad himself signed PGFTU's endorsement of the BDS Call when it was first launched on 9 July 2005, this new statement by the leadership of PGFTU confirms the Federation's unqualified commitment to BDS in the struggle "to accomplish the national [Palestinian] tasks, at the forefront of which is putting an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization and establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and with the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were expelled," as the Federation's just-released statement affirms.

All three Palestinian trade union federations -- the General Union of Palestinian Workers (a constituent mass organization of the PLO), PGFTU and the Palestinian Federation of Independent Trade Unions -- have endorsed BDS against Israel and have been part of the BNC since its inception. This has provided a unified Palestinian labor voice in support of boycotting Israel until it ends its three-tiered oppression of the Palestinian people: its occupation and colonization of the 1967 occupied territory; its institutionalized system of racial discrimination, or apartheid; and its denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian refugees, especially their right to return to their homes of origin.

Despite this complete unity behind BDS, Zionist media outlets as well as Israel lobby groups in the West have launched a campaign of deception and disinformation, using unofficial utterances by this or that Palestinian trade union official to claim that part of the Palestinian trade union movement was unenthusiastic about the boycott or, worse yet, in favor of normal relations with Israel and its complicit institutions. This hasbara was most vigorous in the UK, where well-oiled pressure groups, like Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI), kept the fraud going and tried to influence major trade unions not to support BDS. With the truth finally being revealed about Israel's war crimes, apartheid and colonial policies, however, motions supporting BDS were passed with overwhelming majorities in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Scottish Trade Union Congress, several major British unions and, finally, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), leaving the Israel trade union lobby in tatters, facing imminent collapse. With the steady and remarkable spread of BDS among major labor unions across the World, the Israel lobby has evidently reached a level of despair that is compelling it to intensify its reliance on fabrications, intimidation and outright lies in its abortive attempts to hinder the growth of the boycott.

In the latest fatal blow to whatever credibility these Israel lobby groups may still have had in some trade unions, PGFTU's Secretary General himself accused TUFI of fabricating or misrepresenting the statement they attributed to him in a Jewish Chronicle article on November 12, in which he allegedly distanced the Federation from BDS. The BNC and the Palestinian labor movement afterwards strongly urged PGFTU to issue an official statement committing itself to the BDS campaign and thus putting an end to all the rumors and innuendo spread by the Zionist lobby in the West that shed any doubt on PGFTU’s commitment to the boycott. By issuing this recent, clearly-worded statement, PGFTU has confirmed that it not only unequivocally supports the boycott against Israel but that it also still considers itself an integral part of the BDS campaign leadership, the BNC.

The Palestinian labor movement has never been as united as it is today in supporting the boycott against Israel and calling on all international trade unions and trade union federations to endorse BDS as the most effective form of solidarity with the people of Palestine in general and our working class in particular. Furthermore, we repeat our appeal to all international trade unions to sever their links with the Histadrut, a racist organization that has always played a key role in perpetuating Israel's occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination, and that has justified and applauded Israel's war crimes in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

As the struggle against apartheid in South Africa has shown, effective and consistent international solidarity with an oppressed people is best expressed in forms that the oppressed themselves call for. Since 2005, Palestinian civil society, including its trade union federations and all the trade union political blocs, has been united in calling on people of conscience and institutions around the world, particularly trade unions, to endorse BDS against Israel and to implement the boycott in diverse ways that best suit their respective contexts. BDS remains our best hope to end Israel’s occupation and apartheid and to attain our UN-recognized rights, particularly our right to self determination.

The Palestinian Civil Society BDS National Committee (BNC)