Friday, September 30, 2011

Speaking Truth to Power: The Irvine 11 speakout!

Dear friends,
please find below an excellent video of a radio interview with two of the members of the Irvine 11, who recently were found guilty on Septembr 23 of two misdemeanors for disrupting the speech of Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren.  The students, stood up one by one stood up and interrupted Oren's speech and then peacefully walked out.   The students, including one who had lost family during Israel's all out attack on the Gaza Strip in December/Januaray 2008/09 which killed up to 1400 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, including 350 children, protested Oren's role as an Israeli spokesperson who defended the Israeli assault.

The students were members of the US Muslim Students Union but did not organise the protest under the name of the Muslim Student Union.  However, UC Irvine’s administration disciplined the Muslim Student Union by suspending its charter for one quarter and placing it on probation for two years even though they maintains that they, as a group, did not organize the action.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas later decided to prosecute the students as a criminal matter, charging individual students with conspiring to commit a crime and for disturbing a meeting.  The students faced up to a year in prison, but ended up being sentenced to 56 hours of community service, fines, and probation.

The video below is of one of the first interviews with students as a gag order had been placed on them preventing them from speaking out during the lead up to and during the trial.  Two of the activists, Osama Shabaik and Taher Herzallah, spoke with Sonali Kolhatkar, the host of the Los Angles based radio program, Uprising.

I have also included an excellent article by Reem Salahi and Dan Stormer, two of the students defense attorneys, on motivation of the prosecution of the 11 activists.  Salah and Stormer note that the motivation was political and discriminatory, noting that similar protests by non-Muslim students have not been prosecuted.

In the wake of the guilty verdict, the student's attorneys have announced that they will challenge/appeal the convictions.
in solidarity,

Salahi & Stormer: ‘Irvine 11’ case motivated by politics, discrimination
By REEM SALAHI and DAN STORMER 09/29/2011 Orange Country Register

If anyone questioned the motive behind the criminal prosecution of eight UC Irvine and three UC Riverside students, Tony Rackauckas's recent column in the Register leaves no doubt that it was politically and discriminatorily motivated. Now that the gag order has been lifted, Rackauckas's office desperately seeks to repaint itself in a sympathetic light following the tremendous outcry in Orange County and across the nation against the aggressive and unprecedented prosecution.
In Rackauckas's self-righteous rant, he conveniently ignores the time and hefty monetary resources expended in this vendetta prosecution. Similarly, Rackauckas is notably silent about the serious misconduct of his top attorneys and investigator who acquired and maintained privileged communications and used at least one attorney-client communication to bring charges against a student. As a consequence, three top district attorneys and the lead investigator were removed from the case weeks before trial. While Rackauckas espouses illogical claims about the First Amendment, he never mentions that his office undermined the students' Fifth Amendment rights to due process and against self-incrimination during its prosecution.

Rackauckas claims that this case is about the violation of the First Amendment, alleging that "The First Amendment rights of the 700-member audience were violated." Yet, even a first-year law student could tell us that only the government can violate one's First Amendment rights. Derivations of nonexistent rights and violations were made throughout this prosecution like one's right to emotional stability.

Rackauckas ends his column by stating that "this case needed prosecution." It is thus appropriate to highlight how this case was prosecuted.

Following the 11 students' arrests on Feb. 8, 2010, the students and the Muslim Student Union underwent protracted university administrative proceedings at both UC Irvine and UC Riverside which lasted up to eight months. Ultimately, the universities imposed sanctions against the students and the Muslim Student Union and UC Irvine publicly expressed satisfaction with its internal discipline.

Yet during that time, Rackauckas's office sent two investigators from the Special Prosecutions Unit who tried to intimidate students to testify against their peers. One student informed us that the investigator banged on his windows and door at 7 a.m. on Sunday yelling "Police, open up!"
Another student told us that the investigator went to her grandmother's house and accused her grandmother of hiding the student. That same investigator was subsequently seen talking to neighbors. These are but two of many accounts of students and community members who were bullied by Rackauckas's office. In fact, during this investigation, community members and interfaith leaders sent letters to the Orange County DA expressing concern over the investigation and the intimidation tactics being used. The response was essentially "butt out."

Between September 2010 and January 2011, the Orange County District Attorney's office issued five search warrants to obtain the private emails of the 11 defendants as well as other UC Irvine students. The warrants falsely indicated a felony investigation. At no point were the students or their attorneys informed about the search warrants prior to the filing of charges against the 11 students. In fact, after receiving the tens of thousands of emails obtained by the OCDA, defense attorney Reem Salahi discovered privileged communications between her and her clients. Subsequently, the court ruled that the OCDA had improperly possessed 20,000 pages of attorney-client and work product privileged communications. As a result of this misconduct, the court disqualified three top district attorneys and their lead investigator from the case. The OCDA immediately entered into an agreement to drop the charges against the 11th student in exchange for community service because they could no longer rely on the privileged communication which they had used in bringing charges against the student.

Then in January 2011, the district attorney issued eight grand jury subpoenas. Six students and two UC Irvine administrators were compelled to testify about the protest and the university administrative proceedings under threat of criminal contempt. Grand juries are almost exclusively empanelled in felony investigations, yet Rackauckas's office, again unprecedentedly, used the grand jury in this misdemeanor investigation. During the grand jury, one of the district attorneys admitted to a defense attorney that they resorted to use of the grand jury because some of the witnesses would not voluntarily testify. In other words, the DA used the grand jury in a misdemeanor investigation to intimidate witnesses and acquire information they would have otherwise been precluded from obtaining.

On Day 362 out of 365, the OCDA filed two charges against each of the 11 students, including the 11th student who was arrested as he was leaving the hall with dozens of other protestors. Rackauckas's office assigned the head of their homicide unit, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, to try this misdemeanor case.

During the prosecution, Rackauckas's office, and specifically his chief of staff, Susan Schroeder analogized these students to the Ku Klux Klan and intimated that they were anti-Semitic. Rackauckas's office issued a press release about the charges and published court documents as one of only six links on the OCDA website's homepage. In reviewing the OCDA's website, the authors were unable to locate other press releases or documents related to any other misdemeanor prosecution.

Now, Rackauckas's office is engaging in another libelous media campaign by further smearing the students and improperly trying their case in the media. In his column, Rackauckas selectively and unprecedentedly publicized a handful of emails (not the exculpatory ones) and highlighted comments made by unknown individuals. He also alleges incorrect facts specifically that the students shut down Israeli Ambassador Oren's talk. The reality is that the event did not start until 6 p.m. and the 10th and last student protested at approximately 6:25 p.m. During that time, Oren stepped off the stage for approximately 10 minutes. Following the last protest and a large walk-out, Oren completed his prepared remarks and had nearly 15 minutes to take questions and provide answers. Rather than engage in a Q&A session, Oren left early to attend the Lakers game at the Staples Center and meet with Kobe Bryant. It was Oren, therefore, and not the protesters, as Rackauckas claims, who cancelled the Q&A session and precluded the audience of the opportunity to ask questions.

The reality is that the protest occurred within a 15 minute window. The total time consumed by the student protest, including the clapping and walkout, was no longer than 7 minutes, well within the empirical average of dissent expressed at political assemblies and consistent with many other protests at both UC Irvine and other universities where protestors' disruptions of speeches last 5-10 minutes, if not longer. The only inconsistency has been the ensuing criminal prosecution.

If anyone has acted like organized thuggery, it is Rackauckas and his office. They preyed on the weakest and most vulnerable elements of society: youth, students and religious and ethnic minorities. They employed the mighty power of the state to obtain the private emails of the defendants and other students from Google, AOL and Hotmail and then compelled university administrators and students to testify before a grand jury. They maintained and relied upon privileged communications in violation of the law. In their aggressive prosecution, Rackauckas and his office acted in complete juxtaposition to the will of the universities and the local and national communities, as seen by the countless petitions, emails, editorials and columns. They have criminalized dissent based on its content and engaged in a racist and selective prosecution of students that chills our collective First Amendment protected activities. This prosecution has been an affront to the constitution and our concept of justice.

Reem Salahi and Dan Stormer are among the six defense attorneys representing the "Irvine 11" and are employed at the law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick, LLP.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

B'Tselem & ACRI on the illegal suppression of protests in Nabi Saleh

Dear friends, 
earlier this month, Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem issued a report called "Show of Force", which outlines the conduct of the Israeli military in the weekly demonstrations in the village of An Nabi Saleh.

I have included below the executive summary of the report below To read the report in FULL, click here

Also below, I have included a video of the media conference which took place in Nabi Saleh upon the release of the report, which outlines the findings of the report, includes video footage and explains in some detail the restriction of the right to protest.
If you would like to keep up to date with the non-violent struggle of the people of An Nabi Saleh, please visit the Nabi Saleh Solidarity website here and the Nabi Saleh Solidarity page on Facebook here.

in solidarity, Kim

B’Tselem Report – Show of Force: Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations in an-Nabi Saleh

A-Nabi Saleh is a Palestinian village in the West Bank, north of Ramallah. For for more than eighteen months now, every Friday, its residents have demonstrated against settlers seizing nearby land that belongs to Palestinians. The Friday processions held in the village have become one of the main sites of weekly protest in the West Bank in recent years.

In their handling of the protests in a-Nabi Saleh, Israel’s security forces have infringed the rights of the Palestinian demonstrators in three fundamental ways, as follows:

Violation of the right to demonstrate

B’Tselem’s documentation indicates that Israel does not recognize the right of a-Nabi Saleh’s residents to demonstrate. Israeli security forces prohibit the demonstrators from reaching the site that is the subject of the demonstration – al-Qawas Spring and the land around it – and prevent the procession from exiting the village towards the spring. Also, the army declares the demonstration illegal at the outset, sometimes even before the procession begins. The army also issues an order declaring the entire village a closed military area every Friday, and blocks the roads leading to it. As a result, persons from outside the village are unable to exercise their right to join in the demonstration.

Excessive use of means for dispersing demonstrations

The security forces’ use of means to disperse the demonstrations is excessive and occurs even when the demonstrators are nonviolent and pose no threat. The forces fire enormous quantities of tear gas inside the built-up area of the village, which is home to hundreds of persons. In one demonstration, at least 150 tear-gas canisters were fired. In another demonstration, security forces hurled tear gas canisters at a procession of children in costumes who were flying kites. At times, the tear gas canisters are fired directly at the demonstrators, endangering their lives. Also, security forces throw stun grenades almost without limitation at children and adults alike, to disperse them, even when they pose no threat whatsoever.

Photo by Oren Ziv

Harm to the civilian population

The army and the Border Police invest a great amount of resources in dispersing these regular demonstrations, in which several dozen people participate. These resources include the deployment of forces at the main intersection of the village, and the vast quantities of means to disperse demonstrations. Handling of the demonstrations in this manner is disproportionate. It intimidates hundreds of villagers and forces them to remain in their houses for many hours, making it impossible for them to lead a normal life. The massive amounts of tear gas fired penetrate the houses close to the main intersection in the village, and the occupants are unable to escape.

Also, the restrictions on movement in the area every Friday create difficulties for residents of all the nearby villages.

In advance of the expected declaration of a Palestinian state on 20 September 2011, Israel’s defense establishment is preparing to cope with wide-scale demonstrations in the West Bank. As part of the preparations, the security forces must recognize Palestinians’ right to demonstrate, and must allow them to protest against infringement of their rights. The decision to disperse a demonstration must be made only after the relevant authorities have properly balanced the right to demonstrate against other relevant interests, as is done in the case of demonstrations held inside Israel. In any event, means for dispersing demonstrations must not be used in a way that injures persons or punishes all residents of the village.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I am Nabi Saleh

Dear friends,
the village of An Nabi Saleh is one of the hundreds of Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank which is engaged in non-violent struggle againsts Israel's occupation.   I first went to the village in December 2009, when the village began holding its non-violent demonstrations against the stealing of more of their land and water springs by the illegal Israeli colony of Halamish.  Since that time, I have spent a lot of time in the village and befriended a number of the families, as a result the village and its residents are very special to me.  

I am so happy that Alison Ramer, a photographer and activist, who has lived in the village for some time and regularly attends the Friday demonstrations has involved the children of the village in a photographic project and exhibition, documenting the issues that not only effect their lives but also documenting the story of their village.

Please find below an article by Palestine Monitor on the project and exhibition, as well as two short videos about the project: one that explains what the project is about and allow the children of the village to introduce themselves and explain what they want to document and why and a second video of the opening night of the exhibition in Ramallah.

If you would like to keep informed about the struggle of the village and what is happening there, click here to go to the Nabi Saleh Solidarity website and click here to go to the Nabi Saleh Solidarity page on Facebook.

In solidarity,


“I am Nabi Salih” — photo exhibition shows there is more to village than weekly protests

By Silvia Boarini : Palestine Monitor: September 13, 2011

The brainchild of Alison Ramer, the photo project “I am Nabi Salih” aims to show the human faces behind the iconic village, famous for it’s popular resistance movement.

Looking at the images covering the walls at the Academy of Arts in Ramallah, one might not realize that these photos were all taken by young adults, between the ages of 14 and 17.

The young artists, all from the now-iconic village of Nabi Salih, were handed digital cameras and under the guidance of internationally renowned Palestinian photographer and video maker Issa Freij, sought to document a different aspect of their daily surroundings.

“There are many aspects of Nabi Salih that I can show,” says Rawan Jalal Tamimi.

“I am Nabi Salih” manages to portray a side of the village that remains unknown even to the tireless Friday activist. More importantly, Ramer stresses, “it was a chance to do something other than just bringing more journalists or more NGOs to the village.”

Ramer’s relationship with Nabi Salih goes back a long way. She first arrived in Israel from the USA in 2006 as part of the Zionist Youth movement, but quickly decided she needed to explore both sides of the divide. She wanted to try and understand Palestine.

Her first port of call was Nabi Salih.

“The village has played a big part in educating me about the occupation,” she says.
Community leader Bassam Tamimi, currently imprisoned for participating in the Friday demonstrations, once told Ramer, “you came to remove the occupation from your mind.” And Ramer agrees. She says that is exactly what coming to Nabi Salih has done.

“The power is understanding how to take a photo that will attract people’s attention,” Issa Freij says.

The multi-layered context in which these children live–with daily military incursions, night raids, arrests and the aggression at Friday demonstrations–means that this participatory workshop has worked on different levels: both as an art project but also as trauma treatment, empowering the children to regain control of their world.

On the opening night of the exhibition in Ramallah, the excitement is palpable. Kids run around the gallery, eager to point out which set of pictures is theirs.

The young Rawan Jalal Tamimi points at a group of pictures depicting sparse, domestic interiors captured in beautiful lighting. One picture is of an old woman baking bread. “These are my photos,” she says proudly.

It was the first time she had a camera all to herself. She chose to document the poverty in Nabi Salih and the camera opened doors to a world she did not know.

“I discovered that nearly half of the people of Nabi Salih live at or below the poverty line,” she explains. “Now when I take photos I understand that there are many aspects of Nabi Salih that I can show.

She hopes that Palestinian officials will visit the exhibition. “There is no work and many families have low incomes. Officials should come here to really understand how it is,” she says.

Tamimi now also appreciates the power that comes with holding a camera. Seeing people looking at the photos on the wall has made her understand the potential of a picture, that it can carry a message to the outside world.

She points out that now, “I understand more about how people react to an exhibition and that you have to bring the right picture to the story you want to tell.”

“The village has played a big part in educating me about the occupation,” workshop producer Alison Ramer says.

Palestinian Video-maker Issa Freij, who run the workshops, nods as Tamimi says this. “That’s the power, he says, “understanding how to take a photo that will attract people’s attention.”
A veteran photojournalist and filmmaker, Freij was initially sceptical of teaching children, but now is convinced they are the best students. “It was hard to catch their attention at the beginning,” he says, “because they were not into photography. You know, this isn’t a game. It’s serious stuff and there are rules for it.”

The photos on the walls are all extremely good in terms of composition, exposure and focus but it is the wide range of subjects covered that really makes it stand out from the average participatory workshop exhibition.

“At the beginning we were choosing one subject for the whole group but the kids were going everywhere together all the time. And the village is only one street,” Freij laughs, “they were all coming back with the same photos.”

So themes were assigned. This forced the children to look into Nabi Salih, rather than at Nabi Salih. The subjects go far beyond the usual shots of soldiers but all analyze and reflect how the occupation impacts everyday life.

There are photos tackling the lack of playing space for children by portraying toddlers using weapon parts left over by the army as toys. One set of photos takes on the theme of water shortage and another one examines the problems of garbage disposal. These are issues that most children, from an early age, will already be familiar with here.

The cameras will remain with the children and the hope is they will keep on taking photos as a way of telling an alternative story of the village and of exposing the occupation.

This is an undertaking that may prove less dangerous, or fatal, than the weekly demonstrations but that, as they have learned, also has an impact.

This exhibition is now on display at The International Academy of Art Palestine, but is bound for a tour of Europe, the US and elsewhere. It has already widened the horizons of the participants and will go on to   widen the horizons of viewers abroad for months to come.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Remi Kanazi: This Poem Will Not End Apartheid

Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi: This poem will not end apartheid - a poem about BDS,  which says more eloquently than I ever could why you should support the Palestinian initiated BDS campaign. 
Kanzi peformed this poem at the Sept. 15, 2011 NYC rally for full Palestinian rights including the Right to Return all over Palestine/Israel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BDS protestors picket the Jewish National Fund in Melbourne

Dear friends,
pro-Palestine campaigners and BDS activists held a successful picketed outside the annual Gala Dinner of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) at the Crown Casino in Melbourne.

As the call for the action noted:

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is a quasi- government organisation in Israel that buys up land in Israel from Palestinians and refuses to sell or lease it to non-Jews. Created in 1901 to acquire land for a Jewish State in Palestine, the JNF is most commonly known for its campaign to ‘plant a tree in Israel’ in order to ‘make the desert bloom.’ However, the trees are not planted in a barren desert empty of inhabitants that Jewish people have come to populate and make flourish. Lands were, and still are, obtained from their Palestinian inhabitants through exploitative land sales, forced removal or other apartheid state policies.

Sadly despite the JNF being an instrument of Israeli Apartheid, the JNF
currently has tax exempt status in Australia and is supported by the major political parties. The JNF’s Gala dinner on Sept. 21 will be attended by Victoria’s Premier and the Israeli Ambassador to Australia.
Protestors in line with the Palestinian initiated BDS campaign called for: 

End the occupation of Palestine.
Equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel.
Let the Palestinian refugees return.
No Australian support for apartheid. End the JNF’s tax exempt status.
In addition they called for: Australian state and Federal governments to break all economic, political and military ties with Israel and for Australia to Impose immediate sanctions on Israel.

Below is a copy of the media release issued by protestors.  

For more information on the BDS campaign and  the Stop the JNF campaign  - click here.

The Stop the JNF campaign was established by a coalition of solidarity organizations around the world including Palestinian and Israeli groups, aims to expose the JNF’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law, promote civil and legal challenges to the JNF throughout Europe, the Americas and Australasia, seeking to annul the JNF’s charitable privileges and tax-exempt fundraising, and have JNF offices world-wide shut down

Visit the Stop the JNF  website - click here

I have include a link to the also included a number of links, including my article which appeared in Direct Action about Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouin.  The articles outline the JNF role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and how the JNF and the Israeli state "greenwash" their actions.

Jewish National Fund: Zionism, ethnic cleansing and environmental racism - click here

Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouin - click here

Israel approves plan to uproot 30,000 Bedouins - click here

In solidarity, 

JNF Protest - 21 Sept 2011, Melbourne
Photos by Gin Gordon

BDS Protesters picket the Jewish National Fund

When: 6pm, Wednesday September 21.

Where:  Crown Plaza. Cnr. Queenbridge St. and Whiteman St. Soutbank.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a Zionist organisation set up to confiscate Palestinian land and plants forests to hide the ruins of Palestinian villages are having a gala dinner. The event will be attended by Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu and Israel’s Ambassador to Australia.

At $150 a head, this gala dinner is the biggest annual fundraiser for the JNF.  It will be  attended an array of Australia’s “elite” collectively meeting to show their support for an organisation committed to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and whose constitution requires it to lease land ‘in perpetuity’ only to ‘persons of Jewish religion, race or origin’.   

Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) will be there to show our opposition to the JNF and the Australian governments political consensus support for Israel and calling for the Victorian and Australian government to break all economic, military and political ties with the Israeli state.

James Crafti, a Jewish anti-Zionist and one of the 19 BDS protestors arrested on July 1, sees the need to break Australia’s ties with Israel.

He said, “JNF functions have been attended by Labour and Liberal leader. Kevin Rudd has attended past JNF events and Ballieu is attending this one. Australia is the largest per-capita sponsor of the JNF internationally and that is because Australian governments continue to back this apartheid state. Within the last three months, Baillieu wanted the ACCC to litigate against the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement. He employed Zionist leader, John Searle, as chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and is a guest of honour at the JNF’s function. The agenda of this government is clear.”

Since its inception, the JNF has played a key role in ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population from their land.  In the 1940s, units of the JNF were been responsible for compiling what was known as the “village files”, a systematic collection of data about the geography, demographics, economy and political affiliations of Palestinian villages, which was used to help ethnically cleanse more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 during the Nakba.

Melanie Mayze, one of the rally organisers and a member of the CAIA says it is important to make a stance against the JNF, saying "Today, the JNF continues to play a central role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians but now it is done under the cover of ‘enviornmentalism’”. 

Mayze said: “In the last year, one Palestinian Bedouin village, al-Arakib has been demolished more than 30 times by the JNF, so a forest can be built in its place. At this moment, the Israeli government are planning to forcibly move 30,000 Palestinian Bedouin from 13 unrecoginised villages in the Negev”.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nabi Saleh: Military whistleblower tells of 'indiscriminate' Israeli attacks

Dear friends,
please find below an article from The Independent, which confirms the indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli Occupation Forces on Palestinian non-violent demonstrations. In particular, the article discusses the village of An Nabi Saleh, a village I have spent a lot of time in and confirm that the military regularly fire on the unarmed and peaceful demonstrations.  Despite the claim by the Israeli military (repeated in this article) that they don't use live ammunition, I have been in the village participating in the non-violent demonstrations when the Israeli Occupation Forces have open fired on us with live ammunition.

In solidarity,


Military whistleblower tells of 'indiscriminate' Israeli attacks

Troops fired tear gas during a curfew in a West Bank village to stop peaceful demonstrations

By Donald Macintyre, Friday, 16 September 2011 The Independent

Palestinian protesters run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops in Nabi Saleh in January 2010
Palestinian protesters run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops in Nabi Saleh in January 2010

Israeli troops fired tear gas indiscriminately and sometimes dangerously to enforce a daytime curfew inside a West Bank village to stop Palestinians holding a peaceful demonstration on their own land, a military whistleblower has told The Independent.

The soldier's insight into the methods of troops comes as the Israeli military prepares for demonstrations predicted when the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submits an application for the recognition of statehood to the UN next week.

The testimony also reinforces a report by the human rights agency B'Tselem which argues that the way Israel deals with protests in the small village of Nabi Saleh is denying the "basic right" to demonstrate in the West Bank. The right to demonstrate is enshrined in international conventions ratified by Israel.

The soldier, a reservist NCO with extensive combat experience, was among more than 20 soldiers sent into the village more than two hours before a planned Friday demonstration in July, to try to quash protests before they began. The protests started in December 2009 after Jewish settlers appropriated a spring on privately-owned Nabi Saleh land.

The reservist, who originally testified to the veterans' organisation Breaking the Silence, told The Independent that they went into a house in the village and took a position on the roof. "The sun was very hot, but we had to keep our helmets on," he said. "Then some soldiers start getting bored and start shooting tear gas on people. Every guy who is not in his house or in the mosque is a target."

He said that 150 rounds of tear gas or stun grenades were fired during the day and one soldier boasted that he had fired a tear gas canister which passed within one centimetre of a resident's head.

Army rules prohibit firing canisters directly at people because they have caused serious injuries in the past. Another soldier travelling with the whistleblower in a military vehicle out of the village was left with an unfired tear gas canister. 

"He should have fired it into an open field but we passed a grocery story with some people outside it with children. After we passed it he just turned round and fired it at them."

The reservist was given a week's preparation on the use of stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. He had been impressed by a four to five -hour visit to the trainees by the Binyamin Brigade Commander Sa'ar Tzur who addressed "issues of ethics and human life, not just on our side but on the other side".

Some soldiers complained about the strictness of prohibitions – not always honoured, according to the leaders of the weekly Nabi Saleh protests – on the use of live ammunition. But Colonel Tzur "was very strict on the fact that these are the rules and that anyone who breaks them will pay for it".

But the battalion officer, a religious West Bank settler, was "exactly the opposite," he added. "At the base there was a mission statement signed by the Brigade Commander which said 'we need to maintain the fabric of life for the civilian population, Israelis and Palestinians.' The battalion officer crossed out the word 'Palestinians' and all the soldiers around started laughing."

The reservist's testimony supports B'Tselem's s main conclusions, including that the military makes "excessive use of crowd control weapons, primarily the firing of tear-gas canisters."

He said: "It was very difficult for me. I want to be in the army to defend my country. On the other hand I saw that the job I was doing did not have any connection with defending Israel." 

He said that his unit was called to the village square when the battalion officer showed around 40 Palestinians and foreign activists a written order declaring the village a "closed military zone." The soldiers had earlier heard shouting elsewhere by demonstrators before they were almost immediately dispersed by border police firing tear gas. The reservist said the people in the square "were just standing there. The officer said to the soldiers: 'Everybody should get out of here. The Palestinians into their homes and the foreigners should get out. Anyone left should be arrested.' One Palestinian was arrested when a soldier decided that he had 'looked at him in a way he didn't like'." 

As well as 35 Palestinian injuries in Nabi Saleh this year, there have been 80 detentions since the protests began, including of 18 minors, and protest leader Bassem Tamimi, currently awaiting military trial based largely on the interrogation of a 14-year-old boy arrested at home at gunpoint at 2am. 

The military said it has "clear, detailed, and professional guidelines" for the use of tear gas to disperse "riots", and that after two years of "dangerous and violent riots" it declared the village a "closed military area" on Fridays to "prevent these riots before they turn into violent ones". 

The military's tactics have varied. A 13-year-old Palestinian boy was seriously injured by a rubber-coated bullet fired at close range during protracted clashes between armed troops and stone-throwing youths observed last year by The Independent. Those clashes started when troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the hitherto peaceful march towards the spring.

The reservist said he had seen no stones thrown on the day he was there. adding: "If they want to stop people throwing stones at the spring, why don't [the troops] wait at the spring? Why are they coming into the village?" He added: "The headline of the whole Friday, as I see it, if the army won't be in the village nothing would happen because the demonstration was not violent."

Friday, September 16, 2011

The story of Anna and Lina: solidarity, hope and human rights

Dear friends,
please find below an article from Haaretz called An Organic Bond by veteran Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy on IWPS & ISM volunteer Anna Weekes-Majavu and Lina Taamallah, the young Palestinian girl Anna donated a kidney too.

Anna and I have never met or spoken, but Anna is the person who was responsible for me going to Palestine for the first time and for me becoming active with the International Women's Peace Service (IWPS). IWPS was formed in 2001 at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada and in the immediate years that followed, IWPS issued a number of calls for women from around the world to join them on the ground in Palestine.

Anna, a South African activist with IWPS sent the call to activists here in Australia who had links with the anti-apartheid and South African struggle and it was through them that I came to hear about IWPS and the call for women to join them in Palestine.

The trip was to have a profound effect on me and to change my life in many ways. Before going to Palestine, I had already been active in Palestine solidarity work and I had a good understanding of the historical struggle, but as many activists has said - nothing can prepare you fully for what you experience and see on the ground.

Even though I have never had the opportunity to tell her so myself, I have always been grateful to Anna for being instrumental in helping get me to Palestine and introducing me to the amazing women of IWPS.

Anna and Lina's story, as Gideon Levy notes, is one which which has the ability to make us happy but still leave a bitter taste in our mouths. It also reveals the amazing commitment and dedication of so many Palestinian, Israeli and international activists that goes much further than just the political struggle which is shared together.

In the article, Anna down plays what she did for Lina saying: "It was nothing. The body does not need two kidneys. I did not do anything special. I don't think it was a noble act, as you said. I know the family and I have known Lina since she was born. I know the ordeals the family endured when they had to go through the hills by foot to get her to the hospital during the period of the curfew. It was only logical for me to donate a kidney for her. That was my duty. I just worry that Lina's kidney will function and that no problems will arise in another few years."

What is amazing about Anna's attitude is that it is shared by so many of the international activists I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with. It is also an attitude shared by many Israeli activists who each week put their bodies on the line to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. And it also is a common attitude among so many of the Palestinian activists I have worked with and meet in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The willingness to stand up for not only what you believe in but also to stand in solidarity with your fellow human beings, not only in political struggle but also in life and share their fate - is in my experience - a common currency among those who fight for human rights, not only in Palestine but around the world. As Che Guevara explained in 1967 in his message to the Tricontinental, solidarity "is not a matter of wishing success to the victim of aggression, but of sharing his fate; one must accompany him to his death or to victory". Anna and Lina's story is just one of the many ways this has been put into practice.

in solidarity, Kim


An organic bond
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 16 September 2011

Six years ago, Anna Weekes-Majavu donated a kidney to a Palestinian toddler. Since then, the South African-born peace activist has been prevented by the Israeli authorities from seeing the child whose life she saved.

This is a bad story with a happy ending. It's also a story that makes one happy, but still leaves a bit of a bitter taste in one's mouth.

It's the story of a Palestinian baby girl who was born during a period of unrelenting siege and curfew in her village and became ill, so that her parents had to carry her through the hills to a hospital. It's the story of a Palestinian infant who needed a kidney transplant but for whom no suitable donor was found in the family; finally, a courageous South African woman decided to donate one of her kidneys to the little girl. It's the story of how the donor got to Israel, after a complicated legal effort involving government authorities and after donations were collected to finance the operation. It's the story of a successful transplant and the girl's full and joyful recovery. But it is also a story that has something bad about it: At present, Israel is preventing the donor from visiting the girl whose life she saved.

Lina Taamallah Photo by: Miki Kratsman

It was Lina Taamallah's bad luck to be born on the day Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, in the late winter of 2002. The delivery was in Rafadiyeh Hospital in Nablus. It was a rainy day, tanks and soldiers were everywhere, and most of the villages and towns were under curfew.

"It was a miracle that we made it to the hospital at all," recalls her father, Fareed, 37, who holds a master's degree in journalism and international relations from Birzeit University and works for the Palestinian Authority's elections commission. His wife, Amina, a housewife, gave birth to Lina by C-section.

A few months later, Lina fell ill. For a week it was impossible to get her out of the house and to a doctor because of the curfew in their village, Qira, near Salfit. Lina, who developed a high fever and had severe diarrhea, was treated according to telephone instructions by a pediatrician, using medicines in her parents' home.

In an article Fareed Taamallah published in The Los Angeles Times in May 2006, he described how his wife once had to carry Lina five kilometers through the hills of the West Bank to reach a doctor. In the wrenching article, Taamallah drew a connection between Lina's ordeal at that time and the kidney failure that afflicted her a few months later.
When she was a year old, Lina contracted anemia. At first she was thought to be suffering from thalassemia, a blood disorder, but her parents had undergone genetic testing before the birth so that was ruled out. A few months later, Lina (who has three healthy siblings ) was diagnosed with renal failure. The family endured 16 hard months, in which she underwent dialysis every four hours, 24 hours a day, via a special machine suitable for infants.

Her physical development was arrested and her parents' life became unendurable. Distraught, they turned their home into a kind of miniature hospital and they themselves became a medical team: It was essential to ensure that Lina did not come down with any infection. "I can't bring myself to remember that period," Fareed says now. "It was a nightmare."

It was urgent to find a kidney donor for Lina, to save her life and then upgrade its quality. Her parents were willing to donate a kidney but were quickly found to be incompatible. Desperate, they looked for another solution. They examined the possibility of obtaining a kidney from Egypt or Pakistan, but discovered there are serious ethical problems about the way kidneys are harvested in those countries. Fareed says he did not know what to do.

Anna Weekes-Majavu Photo by: Miki Kratsman

Around this time, he met Anna Weekes (whose father is Jewish ), who later went by the name Majavu, from Cape Town; she was born in 1973. They met at a summer camp of Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists in the West Bank. Anna stayed with the family after the camp disbanded and became a good friend. She knew Lina almost from the day of the girl's birth. After a time, Anna was put on the Israeli authorities' blacklist and deported due to her pro-Palestinian activity in the West Bank; she was in Britain at the time Lina fell ill. Fareed informed her about the development by e-mail, and she replied immediately that she would donate a kidney.

"I didn't believe it. I thought she only wanted to express solidarity and friendship, and that the offer was meant just to make me happy," Fareed says. He thanked Anna politely and added that at that point, he and his wife were then undergoing tests to see if they could be donors. Two months later, Fareed wrote to Anna that both they were incompatible, and Anna repeated her offer and emphasized that she was perfectly serious.

Anna then suggested that the transplant be done in Britain, however, under British law, organs must be donated by a member of the family. She decided to come to Israel for a compatibility check, and entered using a different passport which she carried legally. She underwent the examination in a private hospital in Nablus, in the meantime taking part in demonstrations against the separation fence in Bil'in and Budrus - and was again deported. She was found to be compatible.

"Now we had a compatible donor but one who could not enter the country," Fareed recalls, going on to describe the family's ordeal to save his daughter's life: They considered having the operation done in South Africa, Egypt, Jordan or Pakistan, but discovered that in all these countries the donor had to be from the family. They found that the most suitable place for the transplant was Israel, where organs can be donated by people who are not family members after a professional committee considers the motives for the donation.

A few devoted friends of Fareed's - Israeli peace activists who had heard about Lina's illness - rallied to the cause. "We now faced two battles," Fareed explains, "the battle to get Anna into the country and the battle to raise $40,000 to pay for the transplant." They had to choose between Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva and Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, Jerusalem. With the help of local friends, they chose the latter, which offered to do the operation at a discount. After lobbying, the Palestinian Authority agreed to cover half the cost of the transplant, the Peres Center for Peace also contributed and the rest was obtained through private donations. All that remained was to bring in Anna.

Attorney Gabi Lasky, who specializes in human rights cases, conducted negotiations with the Interior Ministry for Anna to be allowed to enter the country because of the special humanitarian situation. The authorities finally relented - on condition that Anna go directly from the airport to the hospital, have the kidney harvested and then return directly to the airport. Fareed himself was (and still is ) barred from entering Israel, and Lina's mother took her for the preliminary tests at the hospital alone.

In September 2005, Lina entered Hadassah. Anna arrived from South Africa - after she was interrogated for several hours at the airport - and the operation was performed on October 2, 2005. Lina was three years old at the time. Her father also finally received a permit to be with her at the hospital. On the day of the operation, Anna's fiance, Mandisi Majavu, arrived to be with her at the hospital.

The transplant was successfully performed by Prof. Ahmed Eid, head of the department of surgery at Hadassah in Ein Karem. Anna was discharged after a week and taken to Qira for recovery. She stayed there for about a month and flew home to South Africa on the day Lina was discharged. "We only had a few hours when the two of them were together," Fareed relates.

On the last night of Anna's stay in the village, the family held an improvised wedding reception for her and her fiance, who would be married a few weeks later in South Africa. The photos of the party in the family album reflect tremendous joy: Anna in a colorful and traditional embroidered Palestinian dress; Mandisi in a kaffiyeh and galabiya, both pure white, rolling amber beads with his fingers.

A short while later at the airport, Anna was again interrogated for a few hours before being allowed to leave. The security people told her she would never be allowed into Israel again. She did not sign any document, she said this week. Since then, she and Mandisi have become the parents of a daughter in South Africa. Her name: Bil'in Nkwenkwezi.
Lina recovered fully. We met her this week in the family's second home, in an affluent suburb of El Bireh, next to Ramallah. She is a charming girl, full of life. One cannot see any outward signs of what she went through. She is in the fourth grade in the American School of Palestine, which is near her home.

Every few months she goes to Hadassah for a checkup, and because her father cannot enter Israel, an Israeli volunteer takes her from the checkpoint to the hospital. It's usually Shraga Gorny, a 76-year-old Jerusalemite. Gorny, an electronics engineer, worked for 41 years at the Hebrew University and for the past 10, did medical research at Hadassah. Gorny regularly volunteers to drive Palestinian children for medical treatment at the hospital, which is how he met Lina and her family and got to know them well. (He is one of a group of Israelis - among them Herzliya-based peace activist Dorothy Naor - involved in such efforts. )

A few weeks ago, Gorny wrote me: "The girl who was like a matchstick before the transplant now looks beautiful and blooming."

According to Fareed, Lina is not yet able to appreciate what Anna did for her. For her part, Anna told me this week, on the phone from Cape Town: "It was nothing. The body does not need two kidneys. I did not do anything special. I don't think it was a noble act, as you said. I know the family and I have known Lina since she was born. I know the ordeals the family endured when they had to go through the hills by foot to get her to the hospital during the period of the curfew. It was only logical for me to donate a kidney for her. That was my duty. I just worry that Lina's kidney will function and that no problems will arise in another few years."

Anna is now a journalist in South Africa and raising Bil'in. Meanwhile, in a few weeks, the family will celebrate the sixth anniversary of the transplant. They celebrate Lina's rebirth every year and their dream is for Anna to join them. Lina has never met Anna since the operation, but Anna is still banned from entering Israel.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority sent the following response to Haaretz: "An examination of the details shows that there is no request by Mrs. Weekes to enter Israel. The interrogation she underwent when she left the country was not carried out by a representative of the authority, so, accordingly, in the absence of a reason of which we are not aware, there is nothing to prevent her from visiting Israel. "It should be clarified that if she wishes to enter the territories of the Palestinian Authority," the spokeswoman continues, "she must arrange this with the coordinator of government activities in the territories. It is also desirable to check the question of why she was delayed [at the airport] with the relevant authorities."

The Shin Bet security service provided this response to Haaretz: "Usually, the person authorized to either permit or deny the entry of Mrs. Weekes into Israel would be the interior minister, or someone associated with him. At this time, it is not his intention to recommend, to any authorized figure, to object to her entry unless negative up-to-date security-related information about her is received which would change his position."