Friday, December 30, 2011

Testimony of a Palmach fighter who expelled Palestinians during the Nakba: "We came to inherit the land ... The land was not empty when we inherited it".

Dear friends,
The Israeli group Zochrot has posted a video testimony from Amnon Neumann, a man who fought with the Palmach during the Nakba of 1948. “Zochrot", which means "Remembering" in Hebrew and seeks to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba, especially among Jews in Israel, who bear a special responsibility to remember and amend the legacy of 1948.”

The video was filmed on 17 June, 2010 in Tel Aviv, with an audience of about 20 people. The event was initiated and organised by Amir Hallel. The testimony was video-recorded by Lia Tarachansky. Miri Barak prepared the transcription. Eitan Bronstein edited, summarized, and added footnotes. Translated to English by Asaf Kedar. Video editing by Zohar Kfir

In the video Neumann discusses the ethnic cleansing and massacres carried out by Zionist terror forces against the unarmed civilian Palestinian population in 1948.  Nuemann was a member of the Palmach, which was the "elite" of the Haganah (the fore runner to today's Israeli Occupation Forces - the IDF).  

Neumann explains that the reason for the Nakba was "Zionist ideology".  He explains: "This is very clear. We came to inherit the land. Who do you inherit it from? If the land is empty you inherit from no-one. The land was not empty when we inherited it".

Warning:  this video may be distressing to some, especially Palestinian refugees as the video describes in detail the forced expulsion and the killings of Palestinian civilians.

in solidarity,

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is normalisation?: Normalising the Abnormal

Dear friends,
in the last couple of weeks, there has been a debate (once again) on a number of Palestinian and Israeli sites, as well as twitter and Facebook about the issue of "normalisation" and what it means in relation to the Palestinian struggle.   This latest discussion came about as a result of Palestinians activists taking a stand against a range of pro-normalisation conference in Occupied East Jerusalem.  It has come to light in the last few days that the organisers of at least one of these conferences also organised a pro-normalisation conferences held in the illegal Israel colony of Ariel.

As most Palestinians will tell you, opposition to the "normalisation" of Zionist-settler colonial occupation and apartheid has long been a central component of Palestinian national movement.  One of the first major anti-normalisation campaigns staged by Palestinians occurred in 1936 when Palestinian engaged in a six month boycott against Zionism and British imperialism. 

Having spent an extensive amount of time in Palestine, it has been my experience that the majority of Palestinians both in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and outside the territories oppose normalisation with Israel as long as Israel continues to oppress, occupy and carry out apartheid against the Palestinian people. 

In October this year, the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott campaign against Israel issued a statement explaining in detail what "normalisation" is and isn't.  In my opionion, the definition adopted by both PACBI and by the Palestinian BDS campaign in 2007 is simply a formalisation of what Palestinian society has widely understood to be "normalisation".   I have included it below.

In solidarity, 

Israel’s Exceptionalism: Normalizing the Abnormal

In the Palestinian and Arab struggle against Israeli colonization, occupation and apartheid, the “normalization” of Israel is a concept that has generated controversy because it is often misunderstood or because there are disagreements on its parameters.  This is despite the near consensus among Palestinians and people in the Arab region on rejecting the treatment of Israel as a “normal” state with which business as usual can be conducted. Here, we discuss the definition of normalization that the great majority of Palestinian civil society, as represented in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has adopted since November 2007, and elaborate on the nuances that it takes on in different contexts.

It is helpful to think of normalization as a “colonization of the mind,” whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with. Those who engage in normalization either ignore this oppression, or accept it as the status quo that can be lived with.  In an attempt to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights, Israel attempts to re-brand [1] itself, or present itself as normal -- even “enlightened” -- through an intricate array of relations and activities encompassing hi-tech, cultural, legal, LGBT and other realms.

A key principle that underlines the term normalization is that it is entirely based on political, rather than racial, considerations and is therefore in perfect harmony with the BDS movement’s rejection of all forms of racism and racial discrimination.  Countering normalization is a means to resist oppression, its mechanisms and structures.  As such, it is categorically unrelated to or conditioned upon the identity of the oppressor.

We break down normalization into three categories that correspond to differences pertaining to the varied contexts of Israel’s colonial oppression and apartheid.  It is important to consider these minimum definitions as the basis for solidarity and action.

1) Normalization in the context of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Arab world
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context “as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.” [2]  This is the definition endorsed by the BDS National Committee (BNC).

For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, any project with Israelis that is not based on a resistance framework serves to normalize relations.  We define this resistance framework as one that is based on recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and on the commitment to resist, in diverse ways, all forms of oppression against Palestinians, including but not limited to, ending the occupation, establishing full and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promoting and advocating for the right of return for Palestinian refugees – this may aptly be called a posture of “co-resistance” [3].   Doing otherwise allows for everyday, ordinary relations to exist alongside and independent of the continuous crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.  This feeds complacency and gives the false and harmful impression of normalcy in a patently abnormal situation of colonial oppression. 

Projects, initiatives and activities that do not begin from a position of shared principles to resist Israel’s oppression invariably allow for an approach to dealing with Israel as if its violations can be deferred, and as if coexistence (as opposed to “co-resistance”) can precede, or lead to, the end of oppression.  In the process, Palestinians, regardless of intentions, end up serving as a fig-leaf [4] for Israelis who are able to benefit from a “business-as-usual” environment, perhaps even allowing Israelis to feel their conscience is cleared for having engaged Palestinians they are usually accused of oppressing and discriminating against.

The peoples of the Arab world, with their diverse national, religious and cultural backgrounds and identities, whose future is more tangibly tied to the future of Palestinians than the larger international community, not least because of continued Israeli political, economic and military threats on their countries, and the still-prevalent and strong kinship with the Palestinians, face similar issues with regards to normalization.  So long as Israel’s oppression continues, any engagement with Israelis (individuals or institutions) that is not within the resistance framework outlined above, serves to underline the normality of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid in the lives of people in the Arab world.  It is, therefore, imperative that people in the Arab world shun all relations with Israelis, unless based on co-resistance.  This is not a call to refrain from understanding Israelis, their society and polity.  It is a call to condition any such knowledge and any such contact on the principles of resistance until the time when comprehensive Palestinian and other Arab rights are met.

BDS activists may always go above and beyond our basic minimum requirements if they identify subcategories within those we have identified.  In Lebanon or Egypt, for instance, boycott campaigners may go beyond the PACBI/BNC definition of normalization given their position in the Arab world, whereas those in Jordan, say, may have different considerations. 

2) Normalization in the context of the Palestinian citizens of Israel
Palestinian citizens of Israel – those Palestinians who remained steadfast on their land after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 despite repeated efforts to expel them and subject them to military law, institutionalized discrimination, or apartheid [4] – face an entirely different set of considerations.  They may be confronted with two forms of normalization.  The first, which we may call coercive everyday relations, are those relations that a colonized people, and those living under apartheid, are forced to take part in if they are to survive, conduct their everyday lives and make a living within the established oppressive structures.  For the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as taxpayers, such coercive everyday relations include daily employment in Israeli places of work and the use of public services and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals.  Such coercive relations are not unique to Israel and were present in other colonial and apartheid contexts such as India and South Africa, respectively.  Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be rationally asked to cut such ties, at least not yet.

The second form of normalization is that in which Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have to engage as a requirement of survival.  Such normalization might include participation in international forums as representatives of Israel (such as in the Eurovision song competition) or in Israeli events directed at an international audience.  The key to understanding this form of normalization is to consider that when Palestinians engage in such activities without placing them within the same resistance framework mentioned above, they contribute, even if inadvertently, to a deceptive appearance of tolerance, democracy, and normal life in Israel for an international audience who may not know better.  Israelis, and the Israeli establishment, may in turn use this against international BDS proponents and those struggling against Israeli injustices by accusing them of being “holier” than Palestinians.  In these instances, Palestinians promote relations with mainstream Israeli institutions beyond what constitutes the mere need for survival.  The absence of vigilance in this matter has the effect of telling the Palestinian public that they can live with and accept apartheid, should engage Israelis on their own terms, and forgo any act of resistance.  This is the type of normalization that many Palestinian citizens of Israel, along with PACBI, are increasingly coming to identify and confront.

3) Normalization in the International Context
In the international arena, normalization does not operate all that differently and follows the same logic.  While the BDS movement targets complicit Israeli institutions, in the case of normalization there are other nuances to consider.  Generally, international supporters of BDS are asked to refrain from participating in any event that morally or politically equates the oppressor and oppressed, and presents the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis as symmetrical [5].  Such an event should be boycotted because it normalizes Israel’s colonial domination over Palestinians and ignores the power structures and relations embedded in the oppression. 

In all these contexts, “dialogue” and engagement are often presented as alternatives to boycott.  Dialogue, if it occurs outside the resistance framework that we have outlined, becomes dialogue for the sake of dialogue, which is a form of normalization that hinders the struggle to end injustice.  Dialogue, “healing,” and “reconciliation” processes that do not aim to end oppression, regardless of the intentions behind them, serve to privilege oppressive co-existence at the cost of co-resistance, for they presume the possibility of coexistence before the realization of justice.  The example of South Africa elucidates this point perfectly, where reconciliation, dialogue and forgiveness came after the end of apartheid, not before, regardless of the legitimate questions raised regarding the still existing conditions of what some have called “economic apartheid.”

Two Examples of Normalization Efforts: OneVoice and IPCRI
While many, if not most, normalization projects are sponsored and funded by international organizations and governments, many of these projects are operated by Palestinian and Israeli partners, often with generous international funding.  The political, often Israel-centered, framing of the “partnership” is one of the most problematic aspects of these joint projects and institutions. PACBI’s analysis of OneVoice [6], a joint Palestinian-Israeli youth-oriented organization with chapters in North America and extensions in Europe, exposed OneVoice as one more project that brings Palestinians and Israelis together, not to jointly struggle against Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies, but rather to provide a limited program of action under the slogan of an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state, while cementing Israeli apartheid and ignoring the rights of Palestinian refugees, who compose the majority of the Palestinian people.  PACBI concluded that, in essence, OneVoice and similar programs serve to normalize oppression and injustice. The fact that OneVoice treats the “nationalisms” and “patriotisms” of the two “sides” as if on par with one another and equally valid is a telling indicator.  It is worth noting that virtually the entire political spectrum of Palestinian youth and student organizations and unions in the occupied Palestinian territory have unambiguously condemned normalization projects, such as OneVoice. [7]

A similar organization, though with a different target audience, is the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which describes itself as “the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of 'two states for two peoples’.  IPCRI “recognizes the rights of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people to fulfill their national interests within the framework of achieving national self-determination within their own states and by establishing peaceful relations between two democratic states living side-by-side.” [8]  It thus advocates an apartheid state in Israel that disenfranchises the indigenous Palestinian citizens and ignores the UN-sanctioned right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Like OneVoice, IPCRI adopts the ubiquitous “conflict paradigm” while ignoring the domination and oppression that characterize the relationship of the Israeli state with the Palestinian people.  IPCRI conveniently neglects a discussion of the roots of this “conflict,” what it is about, and which “side” is paying the price.  Like OneVoice, it glosses over the historic record and the establishment of a settler-colonial regime in Palestine following the expulsion of most of the indigenous people of the land.  The defining moment in the history of “the conflict” is therefore not acknowledged.  The history of continued Israeli colonial expansion and the dispossession and forcible displacement of Palestinians is conveniently ignored, as well.  Through IPCRI’s omissions, the organization denies the resistance framework we have outlined above and brings Palestinians and Israelis into a relation privileging co-existence over co-resistance.  Palestinians are asked to adopt an Israeli vision of a peaceful resolution and not one that recognizes their comprehensive rights, as defined by the UN.  

Another disturbing, but again entirely predictable, aspect of the work of IPCRI is the active involvement in its projects of Israeli personalities and personnel implicated in Israeli violations of the Palestinian people’s rights and grave breaches of international law.  IPCRI’s Strategic Thinking and Analysis Team (STAT), includes, in addition to Palestinian officials, former Israeli diplomats, former Israeli army brigadier generals, Mossad personnel and senior staff of the Israeli National Security Council, many of them reasonably suspected of committing war crimes. [9]

It is no surprise, therefore, that the desire to end the “conflict,” and the desire to realize “a lasting peace,” both of which are slogans of these and similar normalization efforts, has nothing to do with obtaining justice for Palestinians.  In fact, the term “justice” has no place on the agenda of most of these organizations; neither can one find clear reference to international law as the ultimate arbiter, leaving Palestinians at the mercy of the far more powerful Israeli state.
An Israeli writer’s description of the so-called Peres Center for Peace, a leading normalization and colonial institution, may also well describe the underlying agenda of IPCRI and almost all normalization organizations:

In the activity of the Peres Center for Peace there is no evident effort being made to change the political and socioeconomic status quo in the occupied territories, but just the opposite: Efforts are being made to train the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and prepare it to survive under the arbitrary constraints imposed by Israel, to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews. With patronizing colonialism, the center presents an olive grower who is discovering the advantages of cooperative marketing; a pediatrician who is receiving professional training in Israeli hospitals; and a Palestinian importer who is learning the secrets of transporting merchandise via Israeli ports, which are famous for their efficiency; and of course soccer competitions and joint orchestras of Israelis and Palestinians, which paint a false picture of coexistence. [10]

The normalization of Israel – normalizing the abnormal – is a malicious and subversive process that works to cover up injustice and colonize the most intimate parts of the oppressed: their mind.  To engage in or with organizations that serve this purpose is, therefore, one of the prime targets of boycott, and an act that BDS supporters must confront together.
[2] Translated from Arabic:
[10] Meron Benvenisti, A monument to a lost time and lost hopes, Haaretz, 30 October 2008.
Posted on 31-10-2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas in Gaza

by Ruqaya Izzidien
24 December 2011 | Al Akhbar English

(Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien, Al Akhbar English) - Click here for more images

This Christmas marks the third anniversary of the 2008-2009 Israeli war on the Gaza Strip; a winter in which 19-year-old Ramy El Jelda saw his home bombed just two days after Christmas. He returned to the site a couple of days later to find his Christmas decorations scattered across the road.

“The baubles and bells were on the floor. The tree had been blown out of the house and was in the street. We cried. That is how we celebrated Christmas in 2008.”

Today the small number of Christmas trees that grace Gaza are primarily plastic and limited to Christian households, hotel lobbies and uptown restaurants. The Israeli blockade leaves Christmas tree fairy lights in a ghostly darkness during the daily eight-hour rolling blackouts.

For Ramy and the 3,000-strong Christian community in Gaza, festive Christmas celebrations go hand-in-hand with isolation and travel restrictions to Bethlehem, despite Israeli public claims to the contrary.

But this year holds hope for a happier occasion, despite the obstacles that Palestinian Christians in Gaza continue to face.

“Christmas helps children remember they are young,” explained Ramy, describing the traditions of the Greek Orthodox community, which celebrates Christmas on January 7. “On Christmas Day we go to our grandmother’s house and my whole family has lunch together. It is a small Eid (feast) but we celebrate for three days, visiting each others’ homes.”

Jaber El Jelda, a distant relative of Ramy, is the director of the Orthodox Church, one of Gaza’s few churches, along with the Baptist Church and Holy Family Catholic Church. He explained how the Orthodox Christian community marks the occasion.

“We organize a party on the first of January and offer children gifts, celebrating Christmas with songs and folklore and the traditional Palestinian dabka dance. We, and members of the Baptist and Catholic churches celebrate in each others’ celebrations. We’re like one.”

Although Christmas in Gaza bears a resemblance to its portrayal in other countries, the echoes are overwhelmingly superficial, as Ramy explained, “We put up a tree in the home and decorate it with bells. We put candles and holly around the house and children receive gifts of money, called eideyya.”

Ramy considers Christmas in Gaza to be disconnected to festivities outside of the siege. “Christmas in Gaza is different; it is a local celebration, not connected to Christmas outside. We don’t really ‘do’ Santa and it’s not like I’ve seen Christmas celebrated in the movies.”

Bethlehem off-limits: Israel’s Facade of Tolerance
Christmas for Gaza’s Palestinians entails far more complications than complex wrapping and tree decorations. As a small minority in the coastal enclave, the Gaza Christian community would traditionally visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Ramallah for the festive season, joining their families and communities in a full celebration.

Ramy described how all Christians used to be permitted by the Israeli government to visit the West Bank for Christmas. “Now they only give permission to a few people and you must be over 35 or under 16. Invariably, if parents receive permission, the children don’t and vice versa.”

It is a loophole that many Palestinians believe is being exploited by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli authorities have advertised that 500 Christians are allowed to celebrate Christmas in their holy sites as a ‘goodwill gesture.’ But in practical terms, very few of those eligible are granted the right to make the fifty mile trip from Gaza to Jerusalem, and those who do have to sacrifice a Christmas with their families.

Jaber has given up requesting permission because his sons are at university and therefore will automatically be denied travel rights. “My uncle and cousins live in Ramallah, but I can’t celebrate Christmas with them because my children are over 16 and are therefore too old for permits. How could I go out of Gaza to celebrate Christmas if I can’t take my children? It’s ridiculous.”

Even the process of receiving permission is unreliable, Jaber explained. “My brother is 52 and wanted to go to the West Bank for Christmas, the Israeli authorities just told him that ‘although we know you aren’t a terrorist, we don’t want you in Israel.’ He had worked in Israel for about 25 years.”

For this reason, Ramy considers the Israeli publicity machine to be exploiting the Christian community, “The Israeli government does this to benefit from us, so that they can say that they allow Christians to go to Bethlehem for Christmas, but really we can’t practically go. They exploit us to improve their image.”

Jaber stressed how the Christian community in Gaza suffers at the hands of the Israeli authorities at other times of year too. “Our Greek priest and archbishop face problems getting to Gaza, even though they have diplomatic passports. They have to enter through Israel but sometimes access is denied.”

Muslim-Christian relationship
Ramy studies at the Hamas-run Islamic University, like a number of Christian students in Gaza. He was offered a place at Birzeit University, but he was forced to continue his education in Gaza, as Israel forbade him from studying in the West Bank.

Despite this, he enjoys his time at the Islamic University and says he is exempted from certain classes, like Quran study, to accommodate his beliefs. “All my friends are Muslims. I don’t care if my friends are Christian or not. My Muslim friends here in Gaza also wish me Merry Christmas and come to visit me at Christmas. So what the media says about Arabs and intolerance isn’t true.”

Jaber agrees that the relationship between Muslims and Christians is very good in general, although his church has experienced infrequent targeting. “Fourth months ago the cables for our church bells were cut, but now everything is good. The government told the community to leave us alone and this helped.”

He stressed that such attacks are unpleasant but not representative of Gazan Muslims as a whole, “It’s a minority of people who create problems; most people understand us and believe that we have our religion, and they have theirs.”

Rana Baker is a Palestinian Muslim who studied at the Catholic Holy Family School in Gaza City. “It was a great experience; at school, my Christian classmates fasted Ramadan with us and we celebrated Christmas with them. We had Islamic books and they had Christian books. I never saw any discrimination and, as a student, you were judged solely on your academic merit.”

Rana remarked that, however small the celebrations, the festive season is one that is marked and enjoyed in Gaza, even for Muslims. “I really love Christmas, I like to hang out with my Christian friends at this time of year. I wish them a happy Christmas and they do the same for me on Eid.

“The relationship between Muslims and Christians in Gaza is really good. Palestine is one of the few places left where Muslims and Christians are really close. We are brothers and sisters.”

Christmas in Bil'in

by Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: 24 December 2011

Bil'in marks Christmas with Santa dropping by to protests against the Wall. The army shoots tear-gas canisters directly at protesters.
Two Days before Christmas Day, the village of Bil'in shows some holiday spirit. A few dozen residents, joined by Israeli and International activists, joined the weekly demonstration against the Wall and settlements.

With a number of protesters dresses as Santa Claus, the merry march proceeded from the center of the village towards the separation Wall, ringing bells and chanting slogans for Palestinian independence. Upon reaching the Abu Lamon grove, which has been recently returned to the village following a long popular and legal campaign, some protesters were able to cross the barbed wire which surrounds the Wall.

For the battalion of soldiers, this apparently gave a signal for the opening salvo. The army began instantly shooting large amounts of tear-gas canisters, some directly at protesters in breach of army's own open fire regulations.

This manner of direct shooting caused the death of Mustafa Tamimi in Nabi Saleh three weeks ago, as well as the death of Bassem Abu Rahma in Bi'lin. Some clashes then erupted near the Western end of the Wall, between local youth and the army, luckily not ending in any severe injuries.

A similar demonstration was also held in the neighboring village of Ni'ilin, where it also ended relatively peacefully, with no injuries or arrests recorded. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Live Sniper-Fire Injures Protester in Nabi Saleh

by Popular Struggle Coordination Committee: 23 December 2011

Two weeks after the killing of Mustafa Tamimi during a demonstration in the village, an Israeli sniper shot a protester with live 0.22" caliber ammunition, banned for crowd control purposes.

Earlier today, an Israeli military sniper opened fire at demonstrators in the village of Nabi Saleh, injuring one in the thigh. The wounded protester was evacuated by a Red Crescent ambulance to the Salfit hospital. The incident takes place only two weeks after the fatal shooting of Mustafa Tamimi at the very same spot. Additionally, a Palestinian journalist was injured in his leg by a tear-gas projectile shot directly at him, and two Israeli protesters were arrested.

Protester evacuated after being shot with live ammo in Nabi Saleh. Picture credit: Oren Ziv/ActiveStills
Protester evacuated after being shot with live ammo in Nabi Saleh today. Picture credit: Oren Ziv/ActiveStills

The protester was hit by 0.22" caliber munitions, which military regulations forbid using in the dispersal of demonstrations. Late in 2001, Judge Advocate General, Menachem Finkelstein, reclassified 0.22” munitions as live ammunition, and specifically forbade its use as a crowd control means. The reclassification was decided upon following numerous deaths of Palestinian demonstrators, mostly children.

Despite this fact, the Israeli military resumed using the 0.22” munitions to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank in the wake of Operation Cast Lead. Since then at least two Palestinian demonstrators have been killed by 0.22” fire:
  • Az a-Din al-Jamal, age 14, was killed on 13 February 2009, in Hebron,
  • Aqel Sror, age 35, was killed on 5 June 2009, in Ni'lin.
Following the death of Aqel Srour, JAG Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit reasserted that 0.22” munitions "are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances. The rules for use of these means in Judea and Samaria are stringent, and comparable to the rules for opening fire with ‘live’ ammunition.

Contrary to the army's official position, permissive use of 0.22” munitions against demonstrators continues in non life-threatening situations.

Late in 2009, settlers began gradually taking over Ein al-Qaws (the Bow Spring), which rests on lands belonging to Bashir Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council. The settlers, abetted by the army, erected a shed over the spring, renamed it Maayan Meir, after a late settler, and began driving away Palestinians who came to use the spring by force - at times throwing stones or even pointing guns at them, threatening to shoot.

While residents of Nabi Saleh have already endured decades of continuous land grab and expulsion to allow for the ever continuing expansion of the Halamish settlement, the takeover of the spring served as the last straw that lead to the beginning of the village’s grassroots protest campaign of weekly demonstrations in demand for the return of their lands.

Protest in the tiny village enjoys the regular support of Palestinians from surrounding areas, as well as that of Israeli and international activists. Demonstrations in Nabi Saleh are also unique in the level of women participation in them, and the role they hold in all their aspects, including organizing. Such participation, which often also includes the participation of children reflects the village’s commitment to a truly popular grassroots mobilization, encompassing all segments of the community.

The response of the Israeli military to the protests has been especially brutal and includes regularly laying complete siege on village every Friday, accompanied by the declaration of the entire village, including the built up area, as a closed military zone. Prior and during the demonstrations themselves, the army often completely occupies the village, in effect enforcing an undeclared curfew. Military nighttime raids and arrest operations are also a common tactic in the army’s strategy of intimidation, often targeting minors.

In order to prevent the villagers and their supporters from exercising their fundamental right to demonstrate and march to their lands, soldiers regularly use disproportional force against the unarmed protesters. The means utilized by the army to hinder demonstrations include, but are not limited to, the use of tear-gas projectiles, banned high-velocity tear-gas projectiles, rubber-coated bullets and, at times, even live ammunition.

The use of such practices have already caused countless injuries, several of them serious, including those of children - the most serious of which is that of 14 year-old Ehab Barghouthi, who was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet from short range on March 5th, 2010 and laid comatose in the hospital for three weeks.

Tear-gas, as well as a foul liquid called “The Skunk”, which is shot from a water cannon, is often used inside the built up area of the village, or even directly pointed into houses, in a way that allows no refuge for the uninvolved residents of the village, including children and the elderly. The interior of at least one house caught fire and was severely damaged after soldiers shot a tear-gas projectile through its windows.

Since December 2009, when protest in the village was sparked, hundreds of demonstration-related injuries caused by disproportionate military violence have been recorded in Nabi Saleh.

Between January 2010 and June 2011, the Israeli Army has carried 76 arrests of people detained for 24 hours or more on suspicions related to protest in the village of Nabi Saleh, including those of women and of children as young as 11 years old. Of the 76, 18 were minors. Dozens more were detained for shorter periods.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Israeli activist choose jail over freedom in solidarity with Palestinians arrested at Mustafa Tamimi's funeral

Dear friends,
please find below Haggai Matar's article about one of the Israeli activists arrested at Mustafa Tamimi's funeral along with 22 other Palestinian, Israeli and international activists last week.  The activist choose not to be released from jail instead taking a stand to remain in jail while the Palestinians activists also remained jail. 

While Haggai Matar is right that this is the first time in a long time that an activist arrested at a protest in the Occupied West Bank refused to be released in an act of solidarity with Palestinians rather than be released immediately after their arrest, there have been a number of recent cases where Israeli activists arrested either in the Occupied West Bank or in Israel when they participated in anti-occupation actions, who have choosen to go to jail in an act of solidarity with Palestinians rather than pay fines to the Israeli state. The two activists to do so most recently were Israeli activists, Kobi Snitz and Jonathan Pollak.

In solidarity, Kim


Lesson from Israeli who chose jail, solidarity over segregation

For the first time in many years, an Israeli activist chose to put into practice the notion promoted by Henry David Thoreau: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…”

By Haggai Matar | Translated by Ruth Edmonds 

Truth be told: We all should have acted like ‘A’. Every Friday, across the West Bank, Israelis and Palestinians demonstrate together. They stand together opposite the same soldiers, chant the same slogans, give the same speeches,  run away from the same clouds of tear gas and the same spray from the disgusting “skunk” machines, and get arrested for the same reasons and with the same false accusations.

However, it is at that point that the legal mechanisms of racism start kicking in. The Israelis are released from the police station with limited conditions or with similar conditions from court. An Israeli detainee has to be brought in front of a judge within 24 hours. The Palestinians are taken to Ofer Military Prison. From the outset, the military orders that dictate their lives allow the authorities to detain them for eight whole days before they are even required to allow judicial review of the detention. Even then, in most cases, the court will decide to allow an extension and then another extension and then detention till the procedure regarding an indictment has ended. This process can take a number of months and in the end, the arrested Palestinian is released. The arrested Israeli, however, his friend and partner, was free that whole time.

That is how it always is under apartheid law. As a rule, we activists always made sure that if Palestinians were arrested, Israelis are arrested too so as to show solidarity, to protect our friends inside detention and to document the way they are treated. But then we sign the required injunction – and go back home.

Until A. came along. A. was arrested last Friday together with 20 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals at the main demonstration in Nabi Saleh marking a week since the murder of Mustafa Tamimi. Among those arrested was a close family member of the Tamimis, Mohammed Tamimi, as well as Mohammed Khatib from the Popular Committee of Bil’in – one of the most moral, creative, funny, determined, brave and moving people I have ever met in my life. When the time came to sign the conditional release form at the police station (a 15 day-injunction to stay away from Nabi Saleh) A. and another friend refused. They were brought before the judge, refused again, and were sent back to detention. They notified the authorities that they were standing in solidarity with their friends Tamimi and Khatib and they would not agree to be released while the two others were still in detention.

In the end, Khatib was released and so was A.’s friend, who finally signed the conditional release form. But Tamimi and A. stayed in detention – Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Yesterday morning (Monday) A. was supposed to be brought in front of a Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem, which was expected to extend her detention once again. However, the police had apparently grown tired of A., and decided to release her without conditions – thus almost literally throwing her out of her detention cell.

A. succeeding in communicating an exceptional message of solidarity. She demonstrated, with her action, with her imprisoned body in a disgusting cell at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, the absurdity of the apartheid laws of the occupation, the way they differentiate between partners in the struggle by their origins, by the nationality dictated to them, by the ID card they carry in their pockets.

The distance between home to jail
The truth is that this is what we all should have been doing. Just like we are arrested together, so should we stay in prison together. We should refuse, all of us, to sign the release forms, all the Israeli activists arrested in the same protest together with all the Palestinian activists. Our community “elders” say that once, it really was like that, in the first Intifada and before. Everyone refused, everyone was jailed together (at the time, they explained, authorities would not separate between the arrestees at the detention center, unlike today).
Bus alas, we do not refuse. We sign. We give up on demonstrations for two weeks in one place and go to others, and then come back again to the place from where we were originally banned. At the end of the day we always go home: to comfortable warmth, to a soft bed, to sleepy cats, to familiar food, to favourite books and to the embraces of lovers. We go back to routines, to work, to tasks, to meetings, to nights out, to Facebook, to the blogs, the newspapers, the greengrocer, the neighbour whose bike is blocking ours, to family dinners, to a light that needs fixing in the hall, to our studies and to the streets that turn into a river when it rains for more than five minutes.

Our friends do not. They stay dressed in IPS (Israeli Prison Service) issued uniform, in a cold tent in Ofer Military Prison, with nothing from home. Remember how Abudallah Abu Rahmah described the months in jail with no shoes and no watch? Well, it’s something like that.

Abu Rahmah, like Tamimi and Khatib, are the men jailed under a government that unjustly imprisons just about anyone. They are the men Thoreau was referring to. And this is the place for the just man to be imprisoned too. A. was doing the most just thing that can be done under the regime we have here.

There is no end to the reasons for signing a release form, for the reasons to return home. It can be said practically that it will not help since, of course, the Palestinians are not released any sooner due to this refusal. It can be said that it just snatches away more good activists who are very much needed on the outside. It can be said that a worthy struggle requires  not only fairness but also the well-being of the strugglers, and there is a need to do as much as possible so as to survive and not burn out. It can be said that it is a more sustainable way as opposed to a situation where we will all be in jail. And it’s true. It’s all true. However, despite everything, there is something very right, more right, in A.’s actions. Something that marks clearer than ever before the ugliness of the system. And like a beacon of light illuminates the alternative to this method. Therefore, today, also those of us sitting at home – we are all A.

Haggai Matar is an Israeli journalist and political activist, focusing mainly on the struggle against the occupation. He is currently working at Zman Tel Aviv, the local supplement of Maariv newspaper, and at the independent Hebrew website MySay.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Palestinian artist, Larissa Sansour banned and censored by French company Lacoste from Lacoste Elysée Prize in Photography.

Dear friends,
over the last few days, more and more information has been unfolding about the banning and censorshp of the Palestinian artist, Larissa Sansour and her stunning photographic art work, Nation Estate.

I have included Ali Abunimah's original article on the censoring of Sansour, as well as Abunimah's follow up article which sheds some light on why Sansour may have been censored. According to Abunimah's research, one of the largest shareholders of Lacoste is a major donor to Israel and Zionist causes.

In the wake of the controversy, Musée de l’Elysée cancelled the competition altogether and Lacoste issued a statement pulling out of funding the competition in the future.  Links to both statements can be found in Ali Abunimah's second article below.

I have also included Sansour's stunning images. You can visit her website here to see more of her wonderful work.

Personally, I fell in love with her photographs as soon as I saw them.   As a huge sci-fantasy fan, not only do I love the political content of her work, I also think her dystopic sci-fantasy depiction of a futuristic Palestinian nation estate is a stunning re-imagining of the Palestinian struggle.

in solidarity, Kim


French clothing firm Lacoste censors, expels Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from prestigious contest

Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize
The high-end French clothing chain Lacoste has demanded the removal of work by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist for the €25,000 Lacoste Elysee Prize that is awarded by the Swiss Musee de l’Elysee with sponsorship from the firm.

A Palestinian who is “too pro-Palestinian”

Sansour was among eight finalists shortlisted for the 2011 prize. According to a press release issued by Sansour, “Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labelling it ‘too pro-Palestinian.’”
This latest instance of apparent censorship of Palestinian artists by a cultural institution comes just months after the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, California censored an exhibit of art by children in Gaza just before its planned opening under pressure from anti-Palestinian Zionist groups.

Sansour refuses to sign statement that she withdrew voluntarily

Sansour, who is based in London, is a native of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The press release explains:
As a nominee, Sansour was awarded a bursary of €4,000 and given carte blanche to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging. In November 2011, three photos for Sansour’s Nation Estate project were accepted, and she was congratulated by the prize administrators on her work and professionalism. Sansour’s name was included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website as an official nominee. Her name has since been removed, just as her project has been withdrawn from an upcoming issue of contemporary art magazine ArtReview introducing the nominated artists.
In an attempt to mask the reasons for her dismissal, Sansour was asked to approve a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’. Sansour has refused.
Søren Lind, Sansour’s assistant, told The Electronic Intifada today that the Lacoste company had yet to give any public response on the matter. A Google-cached image of the official Elysée Prize website captured by The Electronic Intifada proves that Sansour’s name was on the shortlist until at least 12 December, and then removed on the current version.

Imagining a Palestinian state as science fiction

Sansour’s multimedia project Nation Estate was “conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Nation Estate depicts a science fiction-style Palestinian state in the form of a single skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population. Inside this new Nation Estate, the residents have recreated their lost cities on separate floors: Jerusalem on 3, Ramallah on 4, Sansour’s own hometown of Bethlehem on 5, etc.”

Sansour was born in Jerusalem and her multimedia work has been exhibited all over the world. The photo above, from the exhibit, is published courtesy of Sansour. More can be seen at her website.


Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize

Owner of Lacoste, which censored Palestinian artist, is major donor to Israel, Zionist causes

Image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project censored by the Lacoste Elysée Prize
One of the largest shareholders of high-end French fashion firm Lacoste is a major donor to Israel and Zionist causes.

Lacoste has been at the center of a scandal over the company’s insistence that Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour be forced out of the prestigious Lacoste Elysée Prize in Photography.
The Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, which administers the prize today took the extraordinary step of canceling the 2011 contest in protest at Lacoste’s insistence that Sansour be excluded. Lacoste has also announced that it will no longer sponsor the contest, which now appears to be dead.

Ownership of Lacoste

Philippe Nordmann, a Swiss national, is CEO of Maus Frères SA a family-owned holding company which owns stakes in several retail brands. Maus owns France-based textile firm Devanlay which holds a 35 percent stake in Lacoste SA. The other 65 percent of Lacoste SA is owned directly by the Lacoste family, according to the Lacoste company press kit.
Devanlay is the global manufacturer and distributor of Lacoste’s clothing and hold the license for the Lacoste brand in the United States.

Lacoste stakeholder’s close ties to Israeli president

Nordmann, a direct descendant of the founder of Maus Frères SA, has been a major philanthropist to Israel and Zionist causes.
He is a member of the international board of governors of the Peres Center for Peace, and almost certainly a donor to the organization named after Shimon Peres, the current President of Israel.

Supporting Judaization of Palestinian land at expense of Palestinians

Earlier this month Nordmann was at Peres’ official residence to receive the “Distinguished Citizen’s” award given by the Beautiful Israel Yakir council. According to The Jerusalem Post:
The council recognizes individuals, organizations, institutions and industrial plants that have undertaken projects to beautify the environment and to improve the quality of life.

The Magshim (Realization) award went to the 35 development towns from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat that are collectively celebrating the 60th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s decision to send new immigrants to barren stretches of rock and sand all over the country, and to establish vibrant communities.
In contrast to this Zionist mythology, the areas where dozens of Jews-only “development towns” were built were not barren, but had been the homes of ethnically-cleased Palestinians who now live as refugees, forbidden from returning because they do not meet Israel’s ethno-religious criteria. Nordmann funds many projects in Israeli towns, the Post adds.
Ironically, Sansour’s censored art project Nation Estate imagined the reconstruction of the Palestinian homeland in the form of a skyscraper.

Why was Sansour forced out of the Elysée Prize?

There’s no evidence that Nordmann had a direct role in the decision to force Sansour out of the contest, but given the mystery surrounding the affair, it is fair to note as a matter of public record his company’s major stake in, and influence over Lacoste as its brand manager and distributor, and his public support and philanthropy for Israel and Zionism.
The Musée de L’Elysée confirmed in its press release announcing the suspension of the contest that Larissa Sansour’s work had been withdrawn from the Lacoste Elysée Prize under pressure from the sponsor - Lacoste:
The Musée de l’Elysée has based its decision on the private partner’s wish to exclude Larissa Sansour, one of the prize nominees. We reaffirm our support to Larissa Sansour for the artistic quality of her work and her dedication.

A high-ranking someone at Lacoste”

Sansour herself told Lebanon’s Daily Star:
Last week the director of the museum [called] me and [said] that unfortunately a high-ranking someone at Lacoste (nobody knows his name) demanded that I be taken off the list of nominees … The strange thing is that Lacoste was in on [the selection] process from the very beginning, so they were fully aware of my work when they nominated me.
Images captured by The Electronic Intifada prove that Sansour was at least until 12 December listed as a nominee and then subsequently removed from the competition’s official website.

Lacoste’s denial

In a 21 December statement, reproduced at The Washington Post, Lacoste denied a political motive for the censorship of Sansour, and claimed that her work, uniquely, out of the eight nominees did not fit the theme.
Today, Lacoste reputation is at stake for false reasons and wrongful allegations. Never, was Lacoste’s intention to exclude any work on political grounds. The brand would not have otherwise agreed to the selection of Ms. Sansour in the first place.

After receiving works from all entries, Lacoste and the Musée de l’Elysée felt the work at hand did not belong in the theme of “joie de vivre” (happiness), which had been the case for other applicants at previous steps in the selection process.
After agreeing with the Musée de l’Elysée, the decision was made known to Ms. Sansour and she was presented by the Musée de l’Elysée with an offer to hold an exhibition of her works in a different forum.
This explanation makes no sense. Why would the financial sponsor of an art competition that was to judged by an independent jury of artists prejudge the contest by removing one artist in advance?
This was a point the Musée de L’Elysée made in its own statement: “An expert jury should have met at the end of January 2012 to select the winner of the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011.”
That won’t happen because someone at Lacoste, we don’t know who, did not want Larissa Sansour’s work to be seen.

Corporate censorship of the arts

Lacoste’s reaction and the Musée de L’Elysée’s failure to stand up earlier to the company’s pressure only vindicates Sansour’s own warning about corporate involvement in the arts.  In her 20 December press release breaking news of the scandal, Sansour said:
I am very sad and shocked by this development. This year Palestine was officially admitted to UNESCO, yet we are still being silenced. As a politically involved artist I am no stranger to opposition, but never before have I been censored by the very same people who nominated me in the first place. Lacoste’s prejudice and censorship puts a major dent in the idea of corporate involvement in the arts. It is deeply worrying.”
But there is a bright side. The clumsy and crude attempts at censorship – whoever is behind them – have backfired, and more people are likely to see and appreciate Sansour’s work than ever before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

10,000 Egyptian women march in Cairo calling for the fall of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)

Dear friends,
more on the inspiring protest by Egyptian women.  According to the Associated Press article run in The Australia, around 10,000 women have marched through central Cairo calling for the fall of Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

The Guardian also has a series of stunning photos from the Women's March, which can be viewed by clicking here.


In solidarity, Kim

AP's raw footage of Women's march in central Cairo


Egyptian women hit street over violence

Associated Press report: The Australian: 21 December 2011

Egyptian women shout slogans during a protest in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Egyptian women shout slogans during a protest in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square to denounce the military's attacks on women and to call for an immediate end to the violence against protesters. Source: AFP
AROUND 10,000 women have marched through central Cairo demanding Egypt's ruling military step down in an unprecedented show of outrage over soldiers who dragged women by the hair and stomped on them, and stripped one half-naked in the street during a fierce crackdown on activists the past week. 

The dramatic protest, which grew as the women marched from Tahrir Square through downtown, was fueled by the widely circulated images of abuses of women. 
Many of the marchers touted the photo of the young woman whose clothes were partially pulled off by troops, baring her down to her blue bra, as she struggled on the ground.

"Tantawi stripped your women naked, come join us," the crowd chanted to passers-by, referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since the February 11 fall of Hosni Mubarak. 
"The daughters of Egypt are a red line," they chanted.

Even before the protest was over, the military council issued an unusually strong statement of regret for what it called "violations" against women - a quick turnaround after days of dismissing the significance of the abuse.

The council expressed "deep regret to the great women of Egypt" and affirmed "its respect and total appreciation" for women and their right to protest and take part in political life. It promised it was taking measures to punish those responsible for violations.

The statement suggested the military's fear that attacks on women could wreck its prestige at home and abroad, which has already been heavily eroded by its fierce, five-day-old crackdown on pro-democracy protesters demanding it surrender power. 
The ruling generals have campaigned to keep the public on its side in the confrontation, depicting the activists as hooligans and themselves as the honorable protectors of the nation, above reproach.

In unusually harsh words, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday accused the Egyptian security forces and extremists of specifically targeting women.

"This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people," she said.

In a possibly significant hint of new flexibility, the council also said in its statement that it was prepared to discuss any initiatives to help the security of the country. In recent days, a number of political factions have pressed the military to hand over power by February, rather than June, when it promised to hold presidential elections.

In the past, police in Mubarak's regime were accused of intentionally humiliating women in protest crackdowns. But images of women being abused by soldiers were particularly shocking in a society that is deeply conservative and generally reveres the military. 
The independent press has splashed its front pages with pictures of soldiers chasing women protesters, including ones in conservative headscarves and full face-veils, beating them with sticks and clubs and dragging them by their hair. The crackdown has left 14 people dead - all but one by gunshots - and hundreds wounded.

The images of the half-stripped protester, whose identity is not known, clearly had a powerful resonance. A banner showing a photo of her on the asphalt - one soldier yanking up her black robes and shirt, another poised to stomp on her chest - was put up in Tahrir Square for passing drivers to see.

"The girl dragged around is just like my daughter," said Um Hossam, a 54-year old woman in traditional black dress and a headscarf at the march. "I am a free woman, and attacking this woman or killing protesters is just like going after one of my own children."

Ringed by a protective chain of men, the women marched from Tahrir to the Journalists' Syndicate, several blocks away, chanting slogans demanding the military council step down.

Many accused the military of intentionally targeting women to scare them and their male relatives from joining protests against the generals. Previously, the military has implied women who joined protests were of loose morals. In March, soldiers subjected detained female protesters to humiliating tests to determine if they were virgins.

"They are trying to break women's spirits, starting with the virginity tests. They want to break their dignity so that they don't go out and protest," Maha Abdel-Nasser, an engineer who joined the march, said.

Two sisters, Yomna and Tasneem Shams, said they never took part in previous protests because their parents wouldn't allow them. But they happened to be downtown and spontaneously joined the women's march.

"No one should ever be beaten for expressing their opinion," Yomna, 19, said. "I am proud I took part in today's protest. I feel I can tell my kids I have done something for them in the future."

Some also criticized Islamic parties, which stayed out of the antimilitary protests and did not participate in the march - even though religious conservatives often tout their defense of "women's honor." Pro-democracy activists accused them of being worried about anything that might derail ongoing, multistage parliamentary elections, which the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and the more conservative Al-Nour Party have dominated so far.

"This is a case of honor. But they clearly don't care for honor or religion. They now care only about their political interests," said Mohammed Fawaz, one of the men in the protective chain around the marching women.

The protest also is likely to deepen the predicament of the military as critics began to talk openly about putting them on trial for abuses, and politicians are floating ideas for their exit, perhaps in return for immunity.

Emad Gad, a newly elected lawmaker, said that without guarantees they would not be prosecuted, the generals won't hand over power by the end of June as promised. Foremost on their minds, he said, was the fate of Mubarak, who ended in court facing charges that carry the death penalty after ruling Egypt for nearly 30 years.

"They didn't get clear assurances and that is why they try diabolical tactics to make sure they get these guarantees," he said, citing the military's attempt to enshrine in the next constitution language that would shield it from civilian scrutiny.

"We have to address their fears, their interests and future role," he said.

The public and many activists welcomed the military when it took power from Mubarak in February. But relations have deteriorated sharply since as the democracy activists accused the generals of hijacking their uprising, obstructing reforms, human rights abuses and failing to revive the ailing economy or restore security.

The most recent protests - and an earlier round of protests that saw a deadly crackdown last month - have seen unprecedentedly bold ridiculing of the military, which for decades was considered a revered institution above criticism. Young protesters have heaped profanities into their antimilitary slogans, demanded the execution of Tantawi and taunted soldiers in Tahrir.

On Monday, a member of the military council, Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, took a hard-line in a press conference, denouncing the protests as a conspiracy to "topple the state" and accusing the media of fomenting sedition.

He defended the use of force by troops, saying they had a duty to defend the state's institutions and declined to offer an apology for brutality toward female protesters. He did not dispute the authenticity of the image of the woman being dragged half naked by soldiers, but said Egyptians should not see it without considering the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The apparent change in attitude with the statement of regret left some women unimpressed.

Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, a 31-year old activist, doubted the promise to punish those responsible and said the statement was in response to the US criticism. "This is an apology to one woman, Hillary Clinton."

"This is like someone raping a girl, and then going to the police station to marry her (to avoid prosecution) and then divorce her as soon as he leaves," she said. 
"It is an attempt to exonerate themselves after the deed is done, but with little accountability."