Monday, April 27, 2009

Soliders confirm Israel's war crimes in Gaza

Dear friends,
the following article was printed in Issue 10 (April 2009) of Direct Action ( It looks at the testimony of Israeli soliders about the war crimes that took place in Gaza.

The article also includes an exclusive interview with Australian human rights activist, Rachel Johnson, who recently spent 5 weeks in Gaza working with the International Solidarity Movement. Rachel gives a first hand account of the aftermath of Israel war in Gaza.

In solidarity, Kim


Soldiers confirm Israel's war crimes in Gaza
Direct Action, Issue 10 (April 2009)

By Kim Bullimore

Testimony given by Israeli soldiers involved in Israel’s 22-day December-January assault on Gaza to a pre-military preparatory program at the Oranim Academic College in Israel on February 13, and which the March 18 Haaretz daily began printing daily excerpts of, revealed that they repeatedly committed crimes with impunity in Gaza.

One soldier, a squad commander, revealed that his unit was instructed to open fire in densely populated areas without warning. “We were supposed to go in with an armoured personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally meaning “cruel”] to burst through the lower door [of Palestinian houses], to start shooting inside and then ... I call this murder ... in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified — we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?” He said his commanding officers “said this was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn’t fled. I didn’t really understand: On the one hand they don’t really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they’re telling us they hadn’t fled so it’s their fault.”

Bombing of Gaza University by Israeli military forces during Israel's Dec-January war on Gaza.

The squad commander said that Palestinian civilians were suppose to be given five minutes’ warning to leave their houses. However, many soldiers under his command challenged this, one soldier saying, “Anyone who’s in there is a terrorist”. According to the squad commander, that sentiment was backed up by other soldiers under his command who said, “We need to murder any person who’s in there ... any person who’s in Gaza is a terrorist”.
‘Do anything you want’

According to the squad commander, the soldiers believed that “inside Gaza you are allowed to do anything you want”. He went on to say that commanding officers did little to counter this attitude and that it was permissible “to write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can”.

Palestinian children killed during Israel's bombing of Gaza in Dec-January 2009

The squad commander also related that soldiers under his command killed an old woman was who walking down the road. When asked why this happened, he responded, “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: you see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don’t have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn’t see any weapon.” 

According to another soldier, the descriptions of the squad commander were accurate. A third soldier said that lax rules of conduct within the attacking Israeli army also resulted in the death of many Palestinian civilians. In one incident, Israeli troops occupied a Palestinian house for several days, detaining the family who owned the house. According to the soldier, after a few days an order came through to release the family. However, not all the soldiers were informed “and they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go”. As a result, a mother and her two children were shot dead.

According to Rachel Johnson, an Australian human rights activist with the International Solidarity Movement, the testimony of the soldiers is just the tip of the iceberg. Johnson, who entered Gaza two days after the war concluded, visited dozens of Palestinian villages and cities, taking testimony and writing reports about the attacks on Palestinian civilians. Along with other international human rights activists, she also provided international accompaniment to Palestinian civilians who were still coming under Israeli fire, despite Israel’s supposed unilateral cease-fire.

Johnson told Direct Action that while it was clear that Israeli soldiers were allowed to act with impunity in Gaza, this “was part of a broader sanctioned policy by the Israeli military that sought to deliberately target Palestinian civilian infrastructure and Palestinian civilians”. She noted that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed civilian houses during the three-week bombardment. “Of the thousands of houses that were destroyed during those three weeks of ceaseless bombardment, the vast majority were in villages that were close to the Green Line [the 1949 armistice line] … In these areas that were harshly targeted during the attacks, entire neighbourhoods were wiped out, with the devastation being total”. She recounted that “in Gaza city, locals often now struggle to orientate themselves”, because “buildings were not just bombed, but the area was then bulldozed, altering the landscape utterly”.
Bulldozers used against residents

According to Johnson, Palestinian civilians not only endured aerial bombardment, but many residential areas were either destroyed by military bulldozers or by the placing of “internal explosives by Israeli ground forces”. She told DA: “The huge civilian death toll is largely a result of the fact that houses were destroyed while the residents were still inside”. She said that in the village of Khoza’a, “Israeli bulldozers tried to bury more than 200 of the residents of the village alive, using debris from the bulldozed houses … When they tried to run, they were shot at ... Finally they were able to crawl away and most of them survived.” However, 15 people were killed in Khoza’a on that night. In addition, 150 houses were destroyed. 

Johnson told DA that “the bombing of houses created an intense level of fear and helplessness among the residents of Gaza”. She “often encountered the rhetorical cry ‘Where could we go? There is nowhere that was safe. We would think to go to the school, but they bomb the schools. We would go the mosque, but they bomb the mosques.’”

White phosphorous was used widely in Gaza, Johnson said. Use of munitions containing white phosphorus is illegal in populated areas under international law. It causes severe burns and death because it is easily absorbed into the skin and burns through soft tissue to the bone and vital body organs, resulting in multiple organ failure. Johnson said many Gazan children are suffering from severe white phosphorous burns. “Doctors in Gaza simply don’t know what to do with these burns, which are very common”.

White Phosophorous fired by the Israeli military reigning down on United Nations School in Jabalya, Gaza during Dec-January war.

Johnson noted that the Israeli military also repeatedly attacked medical personnel and hospitals during its war on the civilian population, recounting that a number of her colleagues who were in Gaza during the war were inside hospitals when they were being bombed by the Israel military. Johnson pointed out that the targeting of medical facilities or people seeking medical aid is a war crime under international law. Her testimony is corroborated by the Israeli-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR-Israel), which issued a report on March 23 noting that in Gaza the Israeli military repeatedly targeted medical facilities and medical teams in contravention of international law.

The report by PHR-Israel noted that in many cases the Israeli military refused to “give medical assistance to wounded human beings that were within several feet of soldiers” and refused to allow the evacuation of wounded or trapped civilians for days, leaving them in isolated areas with no food, water or medical treatment. PHR-Israel also noted that 16 medical personnel had been killed and another 25 wounded by Israeli fire while performing their duties. In addition, the report stated, “34 medical facilities were hit by the army, eight hospitals and 26 primary care clinics”. This was a “severe violation of directives of international law that forbid attacks on medical personnel and medical facilities”. PHR-Israel said that the actions of the military were “in violation of the army’s code of ethics, the medical code of ethics and basic human values”.

Fire in Gaza cause by Israeli bombing in Dec-Jan war.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Palestinian demonstrator murdered by Israeli military with new deadly teargas canister

Dear friends,
the terrible news has just come through that the Israeli military has murdered another Palestinian villager during a non-violent demonstration against the apartheid wall. Bassem Abu Rahmah, a 30 years man old from Bil'in village was shot during a non-violent demonstration with the new deadly teargas canisters fired by the Israeli military.

In March, the Israeli Occupation Forces shot American activist, Tristan Anderson in the head with the same teargas canisters, critically injuring him. The impact of the canister resulted in Tristan sustaining a large hole in the right part of his forehead and caused severe damage to his right eye/ Tristan underwent brain surgery in which part of his right frontal lobe and shattered bone fragments were removed. He remains in a critical condition in hospital in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli occupation forces began using the new teargas canisters in December last year. The canisters are fired from a Rugger rifle at high velocity. Unlike the old canisters used by the Israeli military, the new gas canister does not make a noise when fired or emit a smoke tail and has a propeller to accelerate the weapon mid-air. A combination of the canister’s high velocity and silence is extremely dangerous.

Under Israeli military operation orders, it is illegal for the Israeli military to fire teargas directly into demonstrations, at the heads or bodies of protesters. Israeli soliders, however, regularly and consistently ignore this order, using the teargas canisters as weapons firing directly into unarmed demonstrators.

Please find below the report from the International Middle East Media Centre in Occupied Bethlehem and the ISM media release. I have also included a bried eyewitness account of what happened from one of the Israeli anti-occupation activists, who was at the demonstration.

As the ISM report notes, Bassem is the 18th person killed by the Israeli occupation forces during an anti-wall demonstration.

In sadness,


Bassem flying a kite at an earlier non-violent demonstration against the wall in 2008
Photo by Oren Ziv, Active Stills

Eyewitness report of death in Bil'in

This Friday some 15 Israelis and 15 internationals joined a few dozen Palestinians in their weekly demo in Bil'in. The demonstration's theme was Palestinian prisoners' day, and the demo was headed by people carrying posters demanding the release of Palestinians held by the Israeli occupation forces. As usual, upon reaching the fence the demo was met with shock [grenades] and gas grenades. The strong wind blew in the direction of the demonstrators and spread the gas among them, so only a small group of demonstrators managed to stay close to the fence. This, however, only encouraged the soldiers to keep shooting relatively large amounts of gas and other ammunition.

The first victim was a French demonstrator superficially wounded in her face by a rebound shrapnel. Shortly after, a soldier shot an extended range gas projectile from a few meters away directly at Bassem Abu Rahme who was standing at the fence, knocked him over, left a gaping hole in the middle of his torso, and put him into respiratory distress and shock. Since no ambulance was at the scene, Bassem (a.k.a. Phil, aged 30) was evacuated in a private car toward Ramallah. Some demonstrators maintained their presence at the fence for a while, but as the last of them left the scene, the news of Bassem's death reached at the village.

Friday 17 March

One killed, dozens injured at the Bil'in weekly protest

Bassem being carried by local Palestinian youths after he was shot by the Israeli military (from

A Palestinian man was killed and dozens more injured on Friday during the weekly nonviolent protest in Bil'in village, near the central west Bank city of Ramallah.

Local sources told IMEMC that Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmah, 30, died when soldiers shot him in the chest with a tear gas bomb.

The residents of Bil'in village marched towards the wall today after Friday prayers. The protest was joined by Israeli and international activists.

Protesters' held banners condemning Israel's ongoing policies and violence against civilians and demanding the release of the Palestinian political prisoners held by the Israeli army. The protest began in the center of the village then headed towards the Apartheid Wall which is being built on Bil'in land.

An Israeli army unit stationed behind the wall prevented the crowd from going through the gate and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets to break up the crowd. In addition to the fatal wounding of Bassem, an international supporter was hit in the head and sustained moderate wounds from Israeli fire. Dozens were treated for gas inhalation.

Abdullah Abu Rahmah, from the local committee against the Wall and Settlements told IMEMC that the soldiers shot Bassem with a new type of gas bomb as he was imploring the soldiers to stop shooting as the protest a peaceful one and there were children present.

Abdullah Abu Rahmah added that Bassem will be buried on Saturday after the midday prayers.

New tear gas canisters used by Israeli military against unarmed anti-wall demonstrators

International Solidarity Movement

For Immediate Release:

Funeral for Bil'in demonstrator killed by Israeli forces to be held at 1pm, Saturday, 18th of April.

The funeral for Basem Abu Rahme will take place in the village of Bil'in, Ramallah district.

Baesm was killed during a nonviolent demonstration in Bil'in on the 17th of April. Basem, 29 years of age, was shot in the stomach with a high-velocity tear gas projectile. He was evacuated to Ramallah hospital in critical condition, where he died of his injury. According
to eyewitnesses, Basem was on a hill with several journalists to the side of other demonstrators. Soldiers opened fire from 40 meters, aiming directly with the tear-gas projectiles.

The tear-gas projectile, labeled “40 mm bullet, special/long range” in Hebrew has also critically injured American national, Tristan Anderson at a demonstration in Ni’lin on 13 March 2009 when he was shot in the head from 60 meters.

According Michael Sfard, the lawyer representing the village of Bil’in “The Israeli supreme court has ruled 3 times that the route of the Wall is illegal and needs to be moved. However, to date not a meter of the Wall has been rerouted. ”

Please Contact:

Mohammad Khatib (Arabic, Hebrew & English) 059- 891-4541
Abedallah Abu Rahma (Arabic & English) 059-910-7069
Michael Sfard (Hebrew & English) 054-471-3930 or 03-620-6947
For general information:

ISM Media office: 02-297-1824
Sasha Solanas (Russian & English) 054-903-2981

Basem Abu Rahme is the 18th individual to be killed by Israeli forces during a demonstration against the Wall.

Footage of demonstration and the shooting of Bassem in fluro yellow t-shirt(please note: this video contain graphic and upsetting images) Video by David Reeb

Al Jeezara report on the death and funeral of Bassem (Please note this report contains graphic and upsetting images)

List of fatalities:

February 26th, 2004:
Muhammad Fadel Hashem Rian, age 25 and Zakaria Mahmoud 'Eid Salem, age
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

February 26th, 2004:
Abdal Rahman Abu 'Eid, age 17
Died of a heart attack after teargas projectiles were shot into his
home during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

February 26th, 2004:
Muhammad Da'ud Saleh Badwan, age 21
Shot during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu. Muhammad died
of his wounds on March 3rd 2004.

April 16th, 2004:
Hussein Mahmoud 'Awad 'Alian, age 17
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Betunya.

April 18th, 2004:
Diaa' A-Din 'Abd al-Karim Ibrahim Abu 'Eid, age 23
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Biddu.

April 18th, 2004:
Islam Hashem Rizik Zhahran, age 14
Shot during a demonstration against the wall in Deir Abu Mash'al.
Islam died of his wounds April 28th.

February 15th, 2005:
'Alaa' Muhammad 'Abd a-Rahman Khalil, age 14
Shot dead while throwing stones at an Israeli vehicle driven by
private security guards near the wall in Betunya.

May 4th, 2005:
Jamal Jaber Ibrahim 'Asi, age 15 and U'dai Mufid Mahmoud 'Asi, age 14
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Beit Liqya.

February 2nd, 2007:
Taha Muhammad Subhi al-Quljawi, age 16
Shot dead when he and two friends tried to cut the razor wire portion
of the wall in the Qalandiya Refugee Camp. He was wounded in the thigh
and died from loss of blood after remaining a long time in the field
without being treated.

March 28th, 2007:
Muhammad Elias Mahmoud 'Aweideh, age 15
Shot dead during a demonstration against the wall in Um a-Sharayet -

March 2nd, 2008:
Mahmoud Muhammad Ahmad Masalmeh, age 15
Shot when trying to cut the razor wire portion of the wall in Beit

July 29th, 2008:
Ahmed Husan Youssef Mousa, age 10
Killed while he and several friends tried to remove coils of razor
wire from land belonging to the village.

July 30th, 2008:
Youssef Ahmed Younes Amirah, age 17
Shot in the head with rubber coated bullets during a demonstration
against the wall in Ni'lin. Youssef died of his wounds August 4th

December 28th, 2008:
Arafat Khawaja, age 22
Shot in the back with live ammunition in Ni’lin during a demonstration
against Israel's assault on Gaza.

December 28th, 2008:
Mohammad Khawaja, age 20:
Shot in the head with live ammunition during a demonstration in Ni’lin
against Israel's assault on Gaza. Mohammad died in the hospital on
December 31st 2009.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Don't Ask Palestinians if They Recognise Israel

Dear friends,
please find below an "open letter" by Palestinian activist, Hanna Kawas, regarding the issue of the recognition of Israel and what the demand for such recognition means to Palestinians.

in solidarity, Kim

Please find below my response to the Canadian Immigrant Magazine, regarding an inaccuracy in an article they put [out] about Voice of Palestine ( in Vancouver, BC. The magazine has since agreed to do an amendment, although it appears they will not be putting [out] the full open letter. However, this is an issue that all Palestinians face when trying to inform the Canadian public about our legitimate human and national rights.

Hanna Kawas

Hanna Kawas, Voice of Palestine, Vancouver

April 3, 2009
Open Letter to Canadian Immigrant Magazine

Thank you for writing the article “Airwaves of Hope” that featured my volunteer work on Voice of Palestine.

Your reporting was generally positive and accurate except where you state: “But Kawas, who says he acknowledges the right of Israel to exist as a state, …”. I believe either you misunderstood what I told you, or the insertion of this statement was an editorial decision not to offend the pro-Israel propaganda machine.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain why such a statement is unfair, offensive and upsetting to me and to the vast majority of Palestinians.

1. Israel as a state was built on stolen Palestinian land and as a result of the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the Palestinian people from their homeland. In the process of the establishment of the state of Israel over four hundred Palestinian towns and villages were wiped out from the map of the world and two thirds of the Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed from their homeland and have never been allowed to return to their homes

2. Israel as a state is an apartheid supremacist state where Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, that constitute 20% of the Israeli population, are treated as second-class citizens. Calls continue to this day to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Palestinian people from their homeland, and the current Israel foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is a prime example. Israel is not a state for all of its citizens, and offers privileges based solely on religious affiliation.

3. The Zionist movement that built the state of Israel is a settler colonialist ideology that was never happy with the usurpation of just 78% of historic Palestine. It is an expansionist movement that continues to this day to steal more Palestinian land and build new illegal Jewish only settlements on this land, something the new Israeli government is set to not only maintain but also aggressively increase.

4. The state of Israel has never adopted a constitution nor defined its borders. As a result of this omission, Israeli borders keep expanding. From the 56% of Palestine the UN Partition Plan allotted to a “Jewish State” to now all of Palestine plus other Arab lands.

So the fair and logical question is: Do you want me to recognize the rape and dismemberment of my country Palestine? Do you want me to recognize the thief who stole my land and murdered my people? Do you want me to recognize a racist apartheid state that to this day does not allow me to go back home to live, nor be buried in my homeland where I was born? Do you want me to recognize a state with elastic borders that keeps committing injustices and war crimes on [a] daily basis?

During your interview with me, we were talking about a solution to the conflict and this is where, I believe, your misunderstanding has [a]risen. I am sure the space and political limitations on your article contributed to that, so let me repeat what I did say and what I believe in.

· I believe that there will never be peace or recognition, not tomorrow and not even in another sixty-one years, unless justice prevails. That means that first Israeli Jews should recognize the injustice that befell the Palestinian people in 1947/48, and second, pledge and work to rectify these injustices.

· I believe that Israeli racist laws should be dismantled as discrimination between Jew and non-Jew is institutionalized in Israeli laws and infrastructure. An example of this is the Israeli law of return, which applies to any Jew in the world (Israeli or not) while the same law does not apply to Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship because they happen to be Muslims or Christians. Without recognizing the inherent inequalities of such laws and reversing them there can be no peace with justice

· I believe that discrimination of any kind is not conducive to reconciliation. Discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation in land ownership is neither democratic nor ethical. For example, 93 per cent of the land in Israel, mostly stolen from Palestinians, is controlled by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its affiliates and is reserved by law for Jewish citizens only, something that is being challenged right now even in Israeli courts.

· Another manifestation of the injustices of the ethnic cleansing of 1947/48 is the creation of the Palestinian refugees. There are around six million Palestinian refugees and their descendents are crying out for justice and for UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian refugees to be implemented. Without the acknowledgement of the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian refugees, including their right of return and to compensation, there can be no mutual recognition or reconciliation.

Here is what I do recognize now at this moment in history.

* As I stated before I recognize the inalienable historic human and national rights of the Arab Palestinian people in historic Palestine.

* I recognize the fact that 60% of Israeli Jews are actually Arab Jews (Sephardim). They should be welcomed to live in any Arab country if they so choose and they are entitled to equal rights and privileges in any Arab country, especially in Palestine.

* I recognize that the vast majority of Israeli Jews are now native to historic Palestine (Israel/Palestine). At least three generations of Israeli Jews were born on the land since the original sin of 1947/48. They should not carry the guilt of their Zionist settler parents who committed the original sin and the initial ethnic cleansing of Palestine, but they are responsible for their own actions.

We have entered the 21st century. Peace anywhere in the world, and especially in the Middle East, will never be achieved if we have states that give privileges to one group over another, based on religion or ethnicity or gender. This is an outdated concept that will only hold all of us back from achieving true reconciliation.

Finally, only after the conditions of equality, decency and morality are met, and after a referendum to decide on the name of the country among the citizens of the land of Israel/Palestine, only then could I say I recognize Israel if that name is chosen by the majority of the people of Palestine/Israel.

Would we have asked the South African blacks to recognize Apartheid, before we took note of the legitimacy of their struggle? Would we have asked the French resistance to recognize the Vichy government and the Nazi regime before we acknowledged the credibility of their goals? No, and it is grossly unfair to tell Palestinians that they must recognize the state that is building an annexation wall on their land and massacring civilians in Gaza, before those same Palestinians will be allowed to have a say in their future.

Only with justice, freedom and equality for all will there be peace in historic Palestine, the Holy Land, and accordingly on earth.

Hanna Kawas
Voice of Palestine

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The censoring of Jeff Halper & Israeli / Jewish critics of Israel in Australia

Dear friends,
please find below an article by Israeli anti-occupation activist, Dr Jeff Halper, who recently did a speaking tour of Australia. Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation policies and the war on Gaza. Halper was one of the first Israelis to enter Gaza aboard the Free Gaza boats which broke the illegal and ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.

The article below is Halper's response to the Australian Jewish News (AJN), Australia's leading Jewish newspaper refusal to publish an paid adverstiment regarding his speaking tour and the attempts by the Zionist lobby in Australia to discredit and censor Halper.

Halper submitted the article for publication to the AJN, who refused to publish it. As a result it was subsequently published on the blog of Antony Loewenstein, an independent Sydney based journalist. Loewenstein is an outspoken Australian Jew, who is opposed to the Israeli occupation. He the co-founder of Australian Independent Jewish Voices and the author of My Israel Question - a book which was inspired by the Australian Zionist lobby's hysterical and laughable over-reaction to Palestinian activist, Hanan Ashrawi, being awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2003.

It was Loewenstein's article, The Peace Activist the Jewish News rejects (see below), which first exposed the refusal of AJN to run the Halper advertisement.

In solidarity, Kim


Loewenstein's introduction: The following article is written by Israeli/American peace activist Jeff Halper for the Australian Jewish News but the paper refuses to run the piece, despite spending weeks attacking Halper and his supporters in its pages.

Israeli anti-occupation activist, Dr Jeff Halper

An unhelpful discourse on Israel
By Jeff Halper.

The uproar in the organized Jewish community over the prospect of my speaking in Australia is truly startling to an Israeli like me. Granted, I am very critical of Israel ’s policies of Occupation and doubt whether a two-state solution is still possible given the extent of Israel ’s settlements, but this hardly warrants the kind of demonization I received in the pages of The AJN. Opinions similar to mine are readily available in the mainstream Israeli media. Indeed, I myself write frequently for the Israeli press and appear regularly on Israeli TV and radio.

Why, then, the hysteria? Why was I banned from Temple Emmanuel in Sydney , a self-proclaimed progressive synagogue? Why did I, an Israeli, have to address the Jewish community from a church? Why was I invited to speak in every university in eastern Australia yet, at Monash University, I was forced to hold a secret meeting with Jewish faculty in a darkened room far from the halls of intellectual discourse? Why, when the “leaders” of the Jewish community were excoriating me and my positions, did the Israelis who attended my talks express such appreciation that “real” Israeli views were finally getting aired in Australia, even if they did not all agree with me? Given the support my right to speak evidenced by most of the letters published in The AJN, this all raises disturbing questions over the right of Australian Jews to hear divergent views on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians held by Israelis themselves.

It raises an even deeper issue, however. What should be the relationship of Diaspora Jewry to Israel ? Whatever threat I represented to the organized Jewish community of Australia had less to do with Israel , I suspect, than with some damage I might to do to the idealized “Leon Uris” image of Israel which you hold onto so dearly. This might seem like a strange thing to say, but I do not believe that you in the Diaspora have internalized the fact that Israel is a foreign country as far from your idealized version as Australia is far from its image as kangaroo-land. Countries change, they evolve. What would Australia ’s European founders think – even those who until very recently pursued a “White Australia” policy – if they were to see the multi-cultural country you have become? Well, almost 30% of Israeli citizens are not Jews, we may very well have permanently incorporated another four million Palestinians – the residents of the Occupied Territories – into our country and, to top it off, it’s clear by now that the vast majority of the world’s Jews are not going to emigrate to Israel . Those facts, plus the urgent need of Israel to make peace with its neighbors, mean something. They mean that Israel must change in ways Ben Gurion, Leon Uris and Mark Leibler never envisioned, even if that’s hard for you to accept.

Yet I see this as a positive thing, a sign of a healthy country coming to grips with reality, some of it of its own creation, even if it means that Israel will evolve from a Jewish state into a state of all its citizens – a bi-national or democratic state. Rather than “eliminating” Israel , this challenge is in fact a natural and probably inevitable development. It will not be easy, but if you can become multi-cultural, so can we.

But that’s our problem as Israelis. What’s your problem? Why should discussing such important issues for Israel be the cause of such distress for you? Because, I venture to say, you have a stake in preserving Israel ’s idealized image that trumps dealing with the real country. In my view, Israel is being used as the lynchpin of your ethnic identity in Australia ; mobilizing around a beleaguered Israel is essential for keeping your kids Jewish. I would go so far as to accuse you of needing an Israel in conflict, which is why you seem so threatened by an Israel at peace, why you deny that peace is even possible, why a peaceful Israel that is neither threatened nor “Jewish” cannot fulfill the role you have cast for it, and thus why you characterize my message as “vile lies.”

Halper at protest attempting to stop Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian residence

This, to be honest, is the threat I represent. Only this can explain why rabbis, community “leaders” and Jewish professors choose to meet me secretly rather than have me, a critical Israel , in their synagogues or classrooms. This is all understandable. You do need a lynchpin if you are to preserve your identity as a prosperous community in a tolerant multi-cultural society. I would just question whether the real country of Israel can fulfill that role, or even if it’s fair to Israel to expect it to.

We are different peoples. Israel can no more define Diaspora Jewish life than you can define Israel . Rather than knee-jerk defense of an imaginary place, you need to develop a respect for Israel and Israeli voices, a respect that will come only when you start regarding Israel as a real country. And you have to get a life of your own. You have to develop alternative Diaspora Jewish cultures and identities. Ironically, after all I have said, the Israeli government will resist that, for it uses you as agents to support its policies, often extreme right-wing and militaristic policies that contradict your very values of cultural pluralism and human rights. Remember: Israel does what it does in your name. Unless you take an independent position, you are complicit.

What befell me in Australia is just a tiny piece of a sad story of mutual exploitation: you using Israel to keep your community together, Israel using you to defend its indefensible policies. Perhaps something good can emerge from all this: robust discussion on the nature of Israeli-Diaspora relations. I’m going home to Jerusalem . You have to let Israel go and get a [Jewish] life.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a peace and human rights organization dedicated to achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He can be reached at


The peace activist the Jewish News rejects
by Antony Loewenstein
12 March 2009

Antony Loewenstein

Dr Jeff Halper is an American born, Israeli-based professor of anthropology, author and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). This 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominated group resists the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the illegally occupied West Bank. It uses non-violence and civil obedience.

In 2008 Halper sailed as the only Jew on a protest boat from Cyprus to Gaza to highlight Israel’s collective punishment of the Strip. He told an audience in Canada in January that, “The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not because there was a hurricane. There are [Western] countries that are creating starvation in Gaza”.

Halper has just arrived in Australia for a two-week national tour, appeared on yesterday’s Radio National Breakfast and ABC Radio PM, with much more media to come, and will be speaking at universities and public meetings across the country.

But you won’t be reading about his Sydney events in the Australian Jewish News (AJN). The publisher has refused to run ads by Jews Against the Occupation (JAO) that simply inform people of Halper’s schedule. The group was given no reason for the decision except that the publisher had instructed the paper not to allow the ads to appear. Crikey has seen the ad and it only contains titles and locations of the lectures and contact phone numbers.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald also confirms that a planned talk at a leading Sydney liberal synagogue was cancelled due to pressure from the Zionist lobby.

I contacted the AJN’s National Editor, Ashley Browne, to shed more light on the decision to block the ad. He said that the paper was not obliged to run the ads and refused ads all the time.

When pushed, he acknowledged that he supported the publisher, Polaris Media’s Robert Magid – who recently claimed in the paper that the late English playwright Harold Pinter was a “political extremist” for daring to criticise Israel – to cut ads that would “offend significant members of the community, especially subscribers”. I asked him how an ad that simply listed a handful of events would be “offensive”, but he gave no further information.

Magid told the Herald that he rejected the ad because he didn’t “like the crowd who are bringing him out.” He went on: “I am familiar with them. They use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community.”

I queried Browne why the paper seemed happy to run irregular ads from the fundamentalist, West Bank settler movement. “Nobody has ever complained about those ads,” he replied. Clearly the message of the colonial project in the West Bank – a recent EU report found yet more evidence of illegal development around East Jerusalem – is less “offensive” than a mild-mannered Jewish peace activist.

This latest example of censorship follows a long history of the mainstream Jewish establishment being fearful over honestly debating Israel/Palestine (something we’ve seen over the last days in the US over the forced resignation of Israel critic Charles W Freeman from the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Read more here.)

It’s hard to disagree with leading British Jewish thinker, Antony Lerman, who wrote in last week’s London Independent that until Jews stop always seeing themselves as victims, peace in the Middle East is impossible. It’s a shame the AJN doesn’t take its democratic responsibility seriously. Debate over the Middle East is raging overseas and new, more moderate voices, are emerging. Such perspectives are largely absent from the country’s only national, Jewish paper.

Instead, the AJN ran a piece last week by novelist Alan Gold, arguing against the UN’s upcoming anti-racism conference, Durban II: “And now that the storm clouds are gathering over Geneva, we can only look on in horror, and feel as our parents or grandparents must have felt in 1933.”

Memo to the AJN: Hitler died in 1945.