Friday, January 31, 2014

Palestinians Launch “Melh Al-Ard” Campaign by Reviving Ein Hijleh Village in the Jordan Valley

Dear friends,
late on Friday afternoon (Palestinian time), more than 300 Palestinians from across the Occupied West Bank repopulated the village of Ein Hijleh in the Jordan valley.  By early evening the number had grown to more than 500 people, with Palestinians from Nablus, Jerusalem, Bilin, Nabi Saleh and many other towns and villages joining the protest camp.

In a similar vein to the establishment of Bab Al Shams in 2013, the Mileh Al-Ard (Salt of the Earth) camp seeks to restablish Palestinian presence on Palestinian land to protest Israel's ongoing colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

I have included below the press release issued by activists, as well as photos from activists.  I will continue to update Live from Occupied Palestine with news of Ein Hijleh as more news comes to hand.

To get real time updates, you can follow activists at Ein Hijleh on twitter using the hashtags:
#EinHjleh and #MilehalArd

In solidarity, Kim

PRESS RELEASE Friday, 31 January 2014

Hundreds of Palestinians announced today the launching of “Melh Al-Ard” (Salt of the Earth) campaign by reviving the village of Ein Hijleh in the Jordan Valley on land belonging to the Orthodox Church and St. Gerassimos monastery. The campaign is launched in refusal of Israeli policies aimed at Judaizing and annexing the Jordan Valley.

Campaign organizers and participants declared,

We, the daughters and sons of Palestine, announce today the revival of Ein Hijleh village as part of Melh Al-Ard campaign in the Jordan Valley. The action aims at refusing the political status quo, especially given futile negotiations destroying the rights of our people for liberation and claim to their land.

Accordingly we have decided to revive an old Palestinian Canaanite village in the Jordan Valley next to so called “Route 90” linking the Dead Sea to Bisan. The action is part of a continuous step against the Israeli occupation’s plan to take over and annex the Jordan Valley. This step is a popular act against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and the constant Judaization of the land.

From the village of Ein Hijleh, we the participants announce that we hold tight to our right to all occupied Palestinian lands. We refuse Kerry’s Plan that will establish a disfigured Palestinian state and recognizes the Israeli entity as a Jewish State. Such a state will turn Palestinians living inside lands occupied in 1948 into residents and visitors that can be deported at anytime. We affirm the unity of our people and their struggle wherever they are for our inalienable rights.

Ein Hijleh village is located in what is called “Area C” in the Jordan Valley, which is under threat of annexation by Israeli policies and Kerry’s plan. Therefore, we have decided to take charge and call for a national action to protect the Jordan Valley and put an end to the constant Judaization of Palestinian lands.

Based on our support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) we call upon our friends and international solidarity groups to stand with the demands of the Palestinian people and boycott all Israeli companies including Israeli factories and companies that work in the Jordan Valley and profit from Palestinian natural resources.  

For instance, we ask you to boycott Mehadrin, the largest Israeli exporter of fruits and vegetables, some of which grown in the Jordan Valley. In addition, Hadiklaim, that exports dates produced by Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley. We also call on you to boycott both Ahava and Premier, cosmetics companies that use Dead Sea minerals to produce its products.

Our Palestinian village is located near Deir Hijleh or St. Gerassimos monastery, on land that is property of the Orthodox monastery. The land mainly consists of few deserted old houses and palm trees. The white soil is highly concentrated with salt, and the area is surrounded by lands taken and used by Israeli settlers. An Israeli base is separating the land from Deir Hijleh monastery which owns a property of about 1000 dunams, some of which are taken by Israeli forces for the excuse of “security reasons.”  

The campaign, “Melh A-lArd” (Salt of the Earth), quotes a phrase from the bible, Matthew 13:5, which says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” The name of our village, Ein Hijleh, is based on the original Canaanite name and the water spring (Ein) present there.

We the sons and daughters of Ein Hijleh call upon our people to join the struggle to revive the village and protect our rights, history, culture, and land. Daughters and sons of Palestine, be the salt of this earth and stay steadfast on it.

MEDIA CONTACT: Diana Alzeer, 0592400300 or 0525339054

 Arriving in Ein Hijleh. Photo by Activestills.

 Arriving in Ein Hiljelh. Photo by Irene Nasser

 Arriving in Ein Hijleh. Photo by Diana Alzeer

Photo by Diana Alzeer

 Photo by Irene Nasser

 Photo by Fadi Arouri

Beginning rehabilitation of the village. Photo by Lema.

Rehabilitating the village. Photo by Lema.

 Rehabilitating the village. Photo by Diana Alzeer

 Residents of Nabi Saleh (near Ramallah) arrive to support Mileh al-Ard campaign 
and rehabilitation of Ein Hijleh. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

 Opposing Israel's ethnic cleansing and colonisation of Palestinian land. 
Photo by Fadi Arouri

 Photo by Diana Alzeer.

 Work break. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

 Ein Hijleh. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

Israeli Occupation Forces watch from the outskirts of the village. 
Photo by Fadi Arouri

Making Bread. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

Fire for warmth. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

Village centre at night. Photo by Diana Alzeer.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Invasion Day: Nothing to Celebrate.

Art work by Azlan McLennan

Dear friends,
as you will be well aware, this blog is primarily dedicated to providing updates, news and information about Palestine.  I do occasionally post on other issues in the Middle East.  Today, my post is specifically about Australia and the 226th anniversary of the European colonisation and ethnic cleansing of this country.

Among other things, one of the reasons, I became active in the Palestine solidarity campaign was because I saw the similarities between the Indigenous struggle of the Palestinian people and the struggle of Indigenous Australians.  Coming from a family of mixed heritage (my mother is Aboriginal and my father comes from a mixed European background), my first engagement with political activism was around Aboriginal and Indigenous rights and the struggle for land rights and justice in this country.

Today, the 26th January, is marked officially as "Australia Day", however, to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (the Indigenous people of Australia), the day is known as Invasion Day and/or Survival Day.  On this day, we commemorate and remember the struggle of Indigenous Australians against colonisation, dispossession and injustice and continue to mark the fact that the struggle for Indigenous Australian rights continues in this country. 

In 2012, I wrote a longer post on this issue, which you can read here.  It discusses in more detail the history of Aboriginal resistance to European colonisation in Australia.    As I noted in my 2012 post:

Aboriginal Australians have been no different from the Palestinians in fighting back against ethnic cleansing and settler-colonisation. Our people actually carried out an extensive armed resistance to European settler colonialism. This resistance began the moment Cook set foot on Australian soil in 1770 – the Gweagal people attacked Cook’s landing party with spears and woomeras. From that moment on Aboriginal resistance never ceased.
This week in Melbourne, Aboriginal resistance to invasion hit the headlines once again when for the second year in a row, the cabin of James Cook (the British sailor credited with "discovering" Australia) was grafittied, drawing attention to the fact that January 26th is not a day of celebration for the Indigenous population of this country.  During the week in Sydney, around the area where Cook first landed, graffiti also appeared noting that Australia was built on the genocide of the Indigenous population.

Cook's cabin with graffiti

Predictably the graffiti caused outrage in the majority of the mainstream media and among many non-Indigenous Australians, all of whom were more concerned about some paint on a few bricks than the fact that a genocidal invasion had occurred in order to establish European colonies in this country. One of the better reports appeared on the Australian public multicultural broadcaster, SBS. You can read the report here.

When my friend, the comedian Aamer Rahman, tweeted congratulations to whoever graffitied Cook's cabin on twitter, he was inundated with a barrage of racist comments and threats, quickly revealing the racist underbelly that exists in Australia.

This of course comes as no surprise to many of us engaged in anti-racism campaigning in Australia. A study done in 2012 found that Australians engaged in nationalist activities, such as flag waving on Australia were more likely to be racist.  According to the study: "People who had flags on their cars, 43 per cent of them believe the White Australia Policy had saved Australia from problems that other countries had experienced".  WA University anthropologist Farida Fozdar who carried out the study noted that: "There were a lot of people who felt negative towards Muslim Australians particularly and towards asylum seekers particularly."

David Beniuk from his 1988 "UnAustralian Folk Songs" 
26 January

Today, on Invasion Day while we remember that "white Australia has a black history" and commemorate the resistance of the Indigenous Australians and the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and our cultures, it is also important that we stand in solidarity with refugees who are being incarcerated by the repeated Australian governments (including the Rudd, Gillard and Abbott govts) in hell holes on Manus Island and Nauru.

Australia now has one of the most draconian and cruel refugee and asylum seeker policies in the world (Israel, it should be said, probably has the second most draconian and cruel refugee policy).  Every day in Australia, we hear of some new atrocity or some new human rights abuse or some new humiliation of refugees and asylum seekers, responsibility for which lay at the feet of the current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison. 

I am proud to say that many Aboriginal activists have been at the forefront of the campaign in support of refugees and asylum seekers, because as Robbie Thorpe notes in the video below Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have also born the brunt of racism.

Today, on Invasion Day, a salute to all those who have resisted and continue to resist!

in solidarity, Kim

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Butcher of Beirut: On the death of Ariel Sharon - War Criminal, Ethnic Cleanser and Mass Murderer.

Dear friends, 
as you will no doubt be aware, Ariel Sharon - the Butcher of Beirut - has died.  In the wake of his death, we are now seeing widespread attempts both in Israel and internationally to rehabilitate and whitewash his actions and legacy.  Sharon has been described by various mainstream media outlets as "flawed", "controversial", "complicated" and even a "peacemaker" and "hero".   Ariel Sharon, however, was none of these things. 

Ariel Sharon was a mass murder, who was responsible for the death of up to 3000 Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon in 1982. He was a mass murder, who was responsible for the death of 70 Palestinians in Qibya in 1953 and many more in Jenin and across the West Bank in 2002. Sharon was a mass murder who was responsible for the death of thousands of Palestinians over several decades. He was a racist, an ethnic cleanser, genocidist and war criminal. 

While Israeli politicians, mainstream media (both in Israel and internationally) attempt to whitewash his legacy, Human Rights Watch has correctly noted that:

Ariel Sharon died without facing justice for his role in the massacres of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians by Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. The killings constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While Sharon's human rights abuses and war crimes are legion, it is the massacre of unarmed Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp which he is most infamous for.  In 1982, supposedly in retaliation for the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador in London, Israel invade Lebanon. The assassination attempt, however, was not carried out by Arafat’s PLO but by a rival militant group. Israel, who wanted to oust the PLO from Lebanon, used the attempted assassination to launch an invasion supposedly in the name of destroying the PLO. On 6 June 1982, under the direction Israel's Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, the Zionist state began its invasion and occupation of Lebanon, sending in more than 60,000 troops. 

In the wake of the assassination of Lebanese President, Bashir Gemayel, who was killed by a member of the Syrian Nationalist Party, Israeli troops surrounded the twin refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila on September 15. Commanding officers from Israel's Occupation Forces (IOF) were stationed in a number of highrise buildings, allowing them a panoramic view of the two camps for the next three days. From September 15 through to September 16, Israel carried out non-stop shelling of the two camps, which was home to 20,000 unarmed Palestinian refugees. On the afternoon of September 16, 150 Christian Phalangists, trained by and under the direction and control of the Israeli forces, entered the camps. The Israeli military cordoned off the camps ensuring no-one could escape. For the next 40 hours, with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Israel military, the Phalangist forces tortured, brutalised, raped and massacred the unarmed inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila.

On September 18, the first western journalists were able enter the camps. They saw first hand the tortured and mutilated bodies of the refugees. Robert Fisk, one of the first foreign journalists to enter Sabra and Shatila wrote that what he and his fellow journalists found what could only described as “a war crime”

In his book, Pity the Nation, Fisk recalled that:

“Jenkins and Tveit [fellow journalists] were so overwhelmed by what we found in Chatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. Bill Foley of AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked round was "Jesus Christ" over and over again. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. But there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies - blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition - tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey”.

Above and below: images of the massacre in Sabra and Shatila

Fisk went on to recounted how:

“Down a laneway to our right, no more than 50 yards from the entrance, there lay a pile of corpses. There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines”.

“The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old. They were dressed in jeans and coloured shirts, the material absurdly tight over their flesh now that their bodies had begun to bloat in the heat. They had not been robbed. On one blackened wrist a Swiss watch recorded the correct time, the second hand still ticking round uselessly, expending the last energies of its dead owner”.

“On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead”.

“Another child lay on the roadway like a discarded doll, her white dress stained with mud and dust. She could have been no more than three years old. The back of her head had been blown away by a bullet fired into her brain. One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed into her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman's stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror”.

 Robert Fisk on the massacre in Sabra and Shatila

The massacre shocked the world. Israel’s Prime Minister Menachim Begin was forced to resign. In December 1982, the UN declared the massacre to be an act of genocide (despite the fact that all Western democracies abstained on the vote). An Israeli judicial commission found that the Israeli military had abandon its duty of care and that Ariel Sharon was “personally responsible” for the massacre. However, neither Sharon or any member of the Israeli military or the Christian Phalange were every punished for the war crimes they facilitated and carried out. In 2001, the Butcher of Sabra and Shatila, Ariel Sharon became the Prime Minister of Israel.

During his time as Prime Minister of Israel, Israel's Occupation Forces killed more than 1,430 Palestinian civilians and illegally demolished.hundreds of Palestinian homes in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza.  Sharon's decision to unilaterally "disengage" from Gaza was not an act of peace, as Israeli politicians and much of the mainstream media have argued. Instead, it was simply an attempt to sure up Israel's control of the Occupied West Bank and facilitate Israel's ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the region. 

As Human Rights Watch has noted:

In 2005 he ordered Israel’s withdrawal of nearly 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of four West Bank settlements, but during his term as prime minister, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, increased from roughly 388,000 to 461,000. The transfer by an occupying power of its civilians into an occupied territory is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and a potential war crime.

Israel's disengagement from Gaza did not end the occupation of Gaza, it just changed how Israel facilitated the occupation.  Rather than carrying out an occupation by stationing troops on the ground inside Gaza, Sharon withdraw Israeli troops and turned Gaza into an open air prison controlled by Israel from the outside.

As Robert Fisk has noted in the wake of Sharon's death that the main stream toadying journalists have rushed to "remake history" and whitewash Sharon's image, actions and legacy (to read Fisk's full article, please click here  and to read his 30th anniversary report on the massacre, click here

Sharon's brutality, cruelty and legacy, however, can not be whitewashed no matter how much Israel's apologist try.   

In the wake of Sharon's death, it is important that we remember and mourn  Sabra, Shatila and Qibya and the thousands of others of who died at Sharon's hands.  However, even more importantly, in the wake of Sharon's death, our resolve should be to take a stand and organise against Netanyahu and all those who continue Sharon's legacy today.  One way we can do this is by joining and actively getting involved in the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. 

Demand justice, human rights and self-determination for the people of Palestine and boycott Israel.

In solidarity, Kim


No tears for Sharon at site of Sabra and Shatila massacre

BEIRUT Sun Jan 12, 2014 
Milany Boutros Alha Bourje holds a picture of herself, standing over her dead family after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in her home at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut January 11, 2014. REUTERS-Caren Firouz 
 Milany Boutros Alha Bourje holds a picture of herself, standing over her dead family after the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in her home at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut January 11, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz

(Reuters) - Abu Jamal still remembers when Lebanese militiamen allied to Israel woke him and his family early one September morning more than three decades ago and dragged them out into the street.

The gunmen forced him and other Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps to line up, separated the men and women, and dragged young men from the line to be killed. Abu Jamal's son, 19 at the time, was among those they chose.

"He was in his last year of school," said Abu Jamal, who wears a button with his son's picture on his sweater and asked that his full name not be used. "He never saw his diploma."

Israeli troops did not intervene during the bloodshed, which went down as one of the worst atrocities of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, was defence minister at the time and many Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila still blame him for the hundreds of killings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, survivors showed little sympathy when they heard of the Israeli commander-cum-politician's passing after eight years in a coma.

Sitting in her home down the street from where a memorial stands at the site of a mass grave, 70-year-old Milany Boutrous Alha Bourje recalled how her husband and son were shot dead that day. Sharon, she said, deserved far worse than he got.

"May God send him deep into the earth," she said, black and white photos of her slain family decorated with red artificial roses leaning against the wall beside her.

"I wish he had suffered as we've suffered. Thirty-two years we've been suffering. He was in his state for eight years, but I wished he'd suffered for another 10."

Bourje, who appears in an iconic photograph of the 1982 massacre crying out and waving her arms near a row of bodies, said she was no more optimistic about the future now Sharon was dead.
"Nothing changes," she said. "The situation we are living in does not change."

A 1983 Israeli inquiry found Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for not preventing the bloodshed, pushing him to resign as defence minister. But less than two decades later he rose to lead his Likud party and was elected prime minister.

The killings came after the assassination of the Christian president-elect Bashir Gemayel and Sharon argued they were part of a vendetta between the militias and the Palestine Liberation Organisation that predated Israel's occupation.

Palestinian refugees live in dire conditions in Lebanon, where many are packed into overcrowded, impoverished "camps" which are really more like urban slums of concrete buildings, pot-holed roads and tangled wire.

Sabra and Shatila in Beirut are crowded neighbourhoods of narrow alleys where pictures of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and young men killed in conflicts with Israel cover many walls.

Lebanese authorities, fearful of altering the sectarian balance that underpins the political power system, refuse to naturalise the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Palestinians and ban them from a wide variety of professions.

Many blame the arrival of the refugees for fuelling conflict that caused Lebanon's war, during which both Israel and Syria sent troops into the country.

Youssef Hamzeh, born the year before Israel's 1948 founding, said he saw little hope Palestinians' lot in Lebanon would improve soon, saying peace talks had produced nothing.

"These negotiations are futile. All the dialogue is futile because Israel's culture is blood," he said.
Standing near a sign at the memorial reading "We will not forget," he echoed others in the camps when he said Sharon should have been put on trial over the killings.

"As a witness to this person and from what I suffered from this person, I say to hell with Sharon and to Sharon's supporters in the Israeli leadership ... who still commit massacres," he said.

"It's not enough that Sharon died."
(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Save Yarmouk: Speakout for Palestinian refugees starving in Yarmouk Camp, Syria

Dear friends,

on Saturday in Melbourne we held a small speakout for Palestinian refugees under siege and starving in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria.  The speakout was called by ASPIRE (Australian Society for Palestinian Iraqi Refugees Emergency) as it has been estimated that up to 50 people have died from starvation in Yarmouk due to the camp being under siege with no food or medicine being able to enter the camp for 6 months.

In 1948, when Israel ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and razed 500 Palestinian villages, Palestinian refugees fled to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  The size of the refugee population in these countries has grown over the years due to Israel's refusal to abide by international law and allow Palestinian refugees the right of return to their homeland.  Since the war in Syria began, Palestinian refugees like the rest of the population have been at risk.

According to a statement by UNRWA on Dec 17, “of the 540,000 Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Syria, about 270,000 are displaced in the country, and an estimated 80,000 have fled. 51,000 have reached Lebanon, 11,000 have identified themselves in Jordan, 5,000 are in Egypt, and smaller numbers have reached Gaza, Turkey and farther afield".

Yarmouk camp was home, for many years, to 250,000 of the 540,000 Palestinians refugees living in Syria.  Of those 250,000 in Yarmouk, more than 150,000 who were formally registered as refugees. Since the war began in Syria, the vast majority have fled to neighbouring countries. It is estimated 18,000 - 20,000 are still left in the camp, which has been under total siege since July 2013. No food, medicine or humanitarian aid has been able to get in. For the past year the camp has been without electricity or heating. The UN puts the number of people who have died from malnutrition (ie. starvation) at 15, but the figure is most likely higher with estimates between 30 and 50 people having died.

According to the director of the Palestinian Refugees Support Network in Syira, Ayman Abu Hasham, residents of the camp are now eating grass to ward off starvation.   It has been estimated that if a supply line with food and medicine is not opened in the next 10 - 14 days, hundreds of Palestinians in the camp face the imminent threat of death.  Last week, when there was an attempt to transfer
300 patients from the camp to receive medical treatment, snipers from the Assad Syrian government opened fired at them, injuring the director of a relief committee Fuad al-Omar.

The Syrian government, Israel and the international community are responsible for the plight of the refugees in Syria.  Now more than ever we need to demand the right of return for not only the refugees in Syria, but all Palestinian refugees to their homeland.

It is imperative that Palestine solidarity activists, human rights activists and refugee rights activists in Australia and around the world, raise their voices in support of the refugees in Yarmouk and publicly call for an immediate end to the siege being imposed on the camp and for food and medicine to be allowed into the camp and for the safe evacuation of all those in need of medical care.

For more information about the situation in Yarmouk, please see Ramzy Baroud's excellent article at Palestine Chronicle.  You can access it by clicking here.

In solidarity, Kim

Melbourne Speakout: