Briefing Paper February 2007
Palestine’s War of Independence
Editorial Return Review Nov 2006
A mere 5 months after the Palestinian parliamentary elections Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that he approved the transfer of arms and ammunition to Mahmud Abbass’ Presidential Guard in the West Bank in order to strengthen him against Hamas (Ha’aretz 14/6/06) Additional arms shipments were received from Europe, Egypt and Jordan, during the past months (Reuters 4/10/06).
More absurd is the fact that the generous suppliers of these weapons are the same governments that imposed crippling economic sanctions against the elected government in Palestine because it refuses to dismantle its military infrastructure. How cynical that western democracies should prefer to supply guns to a starving people instead of food.
If the authors of the current embargo against the Palestinian people really wish to bring about a change and genuine democracy in the region, they must first effect a fundamental change in policy. There must be a change of attitude to the Palestinians. Without their recognition of the fact that Palestinians cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness no less than Americans, nothing would succeed.
Hamas touts 10-year ceasefire to break deadlock over Israel
E MacAskill/H Sherwood Guardian 1/11/06
Hamas is urging Britain to back its proposal for a ceasefire of up to 10 years as a way of breaking the impasse over its refusal to recognise the state of Israel. The most senior delegation from the Hamas government to visit Britain is in London this week to promote its offer to allow a period of “co-existence” with Israel as a way to move to an eventual settlement of the Middle East conflict. The two-man delegation, representing the Palestinian government, is also urging the British government to lift its ban on contact with Hamas.
“We would welcome talks with Tony Blair,” said Ahmad Yousef, senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, in an interview with the Guardian. “We would like to work with him and work with his government to help end the Israeli occupation. We’re sending a message to the British government – we’re offering a hudna [ceasefire] for 10 years in return for the end of occupation.” Hamas wants European governments to accept its ceasefire plan in lieu of the Islamist group formally recognising Israel.
We hope the Europeans will become aware of the concept of hudna, and that it can become a substitute for recognition of Israel,” said Mr Yousef. “Debate about a political nation’s right to exist seems infantile. Israel is a state now, it is part of the UN, it is de facto there, and we deal with it every day.”
The Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – have demanded that Hamas formally recognise Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, before the Quartet lifts the economic embargo on the West Bank and Gaza imposed after Hamas won elections in January. Mr Yousef said that there was no support in Gaza and the West Bank for recognition of Israel, and he could not propose such a change at present. “If I did, I would end up like Michael Collins,” he said, referring to the Irish republican leader assassinated in 1922 for accepting an Irish two-state solution. “We need to change people’s minds on how they look at the conflict, and it will take time. The climate will change if we have a period of peace.”
Mr Yousef and Said Abu Musameh, a former Hamas leader and now a member of the Palestinian national assembly, said the ceasefire proposal, first put forward a decade ago by the late Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, would be a de facto recognition of Israel. A period of peace could create the environment for later negotiations on a full Middle East peace deal. Mr Yousef was pessimistic about the prospect of serious talks with Israel about a peace deal in the next two years, saying such talks would have to await the replacement of the Bush administration with a government that would put pressure on Israel. Israel will reject any such ceasefire proposal unless accompanied by formal recognition. Hamas is planning a conference in Doha, Qatar, next month to discuss the plan with leaders from other Arab and Muslim countries.
The Foreign Office yesterday ruled out any meetings with the Hamas delegation, despite helping to arrange the visas which allowed them to visit the UK. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “They are in the UK to attend a private conference, and it will not be attended by anyone from the government. Our policy has not changed.”
An extremely public humiliation of a woman, who was taken out of a shared taxi and had her ID and phone removed. She was fighting back the tears, trying to retain her dignity, but was clearly distressed. Everything about the soldiers interaction exuded contempt for her. One in particular was clearly getting something from “punishing” her.
The other day as we were travelling through Zatara checkpoint between Ramallah and Nablus, I witnessed a particularly disgusting display of power by the Israeli army. An extremely public humiliation of a woman, who was taken out of a shared taxi and had her ID and phone removed. She was fighting back the tears, trying to retain her dignity, but was clearly distressed. Everything about the soldiers interaction exuded contempt for her. One in particular was clearly getting something from “punishing” her. We were prevented from speaking to her, which made our ability to intervene somewhat limited. What we were able to do was remain present until she was released. Most of the time I do not feel very effective; the most I can do is be present.
Apparently her ID did not “allow” her to travel to another part of the West Bank. Apart from being extremely punitive, excessively controlling and frankly wrong by any book, it is also arbitrary. The rules of the game change. I have been in shared taxis with people who have been turned back…. ‘last week’ they could make that journey, ‘yesterday’ they could make that journey, ‘next week’ they ‘may’ be able to make it, but today “NO”. After a while I feel like I can never hear the word “LO” again (Hebrew for “no”), it is barked and shouted countless times a day, controlling so much of day to day life for Palestinians.
After an hour, on this bitterly cold day, the soldier returned the woman’s ID. He simply took it out of his pocket and gave it to her. Clearly she was not a “security threat”. Detaining her, frightening her, and publicly humiliating her, were blatantly intended to make sure she would not attempt this journey again. I was enraged. The soldiers are boys with guns and egos. They have so much power in a situation that is impossible for them to understand with their conditioning and youth.
At this same checkpoint, in this same period of time, another situation was unfolding. It was hidden away and not for public view. I became suspicious and approached a soldier and border policeman; it was then that I saw a boy of around 15 years, sat hunched behind a concrete bollard, hidden from view, his face wet with tears. He looked petrified. He has good reason to be. Every single person in Palestine will know someone who has been arrested or detained. Ill treatment is commonplace, and torture is far from being eradicated. I have no idea how long the boy had been held for. He was in tears as the soldiers were speaking to him, but fortunately he was “allowed” to go.
Recently I was travelling through Nablus to a nearby village, the taxi driver pointed out a street where, just half an hour before, the army shot dead a man. Apparently a targeted assassination. Five other people were injured, one seriously. “Normal life” (whatever ‘that’ is living under Occupation) continues just a few streets away.
My time here is coming to a close, I am in a quiet, reflective mood. From all the conversations I have had, with countless people, two things are screaming out for attention. One is the overriding sense that things are getting worse. And worse. And worse. I was not here during the bloody years of the Intifada, but I think it is absolutely vital to understand that although the bloodshed and violence is less, the situation is worse. The oppressive control, which works on every level, mental and physical, is steadily going to new levels. One of the women I am working with grew up under Apartheid in South Africa. Along with several other South African activists who are here in the West Bank, she says that Apartheid here is ‘even worse’ than it was in South Africa. This has not been said lightly. The other thing I am forever requested, “tell people what is happening”.
Letter:European inaction and complicity as Gaza burns
Ali Abunimah The Electronic Intifada 6/11/06
Dear Minister Tuomioja,
I am writing about the statement issued by the Government of Finland in its capacity as President of the European Union, concerning the current violence in Gaza. Since this issue concerns me very deeply as a Palestinian and a human being, I hope you will not mind if I make a number of points and suggestions.
Your November 4 statement says: “the European Union is profoundly concerned by increased violence in Gaza. The Presidency deplores the growing number of civilian casualties the Israeli military operation has caused. The right of all states to defend themselves does not justify disproportionate use of violence or actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law.”
It adds that, “The Presidency calls on the Palestinian leadership to bring an end to terrorist activities,
including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory.” I would like to draw your attention to the following:
Israeli leaders indicate that they make no distinction between civilians and combatant resistance fighters.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told the
Knesset on October 30 that in the past three months, the Israeli military has killed 300 “terrorists” in the Gaza Strip. According to B’Tselem’s investigation, Israeli occupation forces did indeed kill 294 Palestinians in Gaza between June 26 and October 27. However, over half of those killed — 155 people, including 61 children — did not participate in the fighting when they were killed. These figures do NOT include the 49 Palestinians killed by Israel since November 1.
As stated, since November 1 until today, Israeli occupation forces have killed 49 Palestinians, injured more than 150, and caused massive destruction to a people under occupation which under international law, Israel is bound to protect. Among the victims of these latest Israeli atrocities are at least seven children, two women, and two Red Crescent paramedics rendering assistance to the injured. Can you tell me how many Israelis have been killed or injured by the “terrorist” activity that you allege authorizes the Israeli military action in Gaza?
While no one can dispute the “right of all states to defend themselves,” Israel is patently not engaged in self-defence, but in protecting an ever-expanding colonial infrastructure and occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found in July 2004, Israel has the option to defend itself by withdrawing all of its soldiers and settlers from the territories occupied in 1967, as required by international law. Your failure to call on Israel to do this is tantamount to an endorsement of Israel’s illegal settler-colonies and its use of force to maintain them.
Your statement makes mention of “terrorist” activities by Palestinians while failing to uphold their right to resist foreign military occupation. This right is universally recognized. You are no doubt aware, for example, that the constitution of your sister Scandinavian nation and EU member state, Sweden, prescribes that should any part of that country come under occupation, it is the duty of all public servants “to act in the manner which best serves the defence effort and resistance activities,” and “in no circumstances may any public body make any decision or take any action which imposes on any citizen of the Realm the duty to render assistance to the occupying power in contravention of international law.” It is therefore unclear why the EU constantly reaffirms Israel’s supposed “right” to defend “itself” while making no mention of the Palestinian right to self-defence and resistance. Even worse, it appears to be EU policy that Palestinians are indeed under an obligation to assist their occupiers in suppressing resistance and helping to oppress them. If, heaven forbid, your country came under hostile military occupation what would you do?
I wholeheartedly agree with that part of your statement which says, “Violence will only aggravate an already grave situation in the region.” But violence will not be ended by empty condemnation of the victims and craven appeasement of the occupier. It will end when governments like yours take action to make Israel, as the occupying colonial power, accountable. If you do not want Palestinians to have to resort to any form of violence, then you should provide an alternative. Before the eyes of the world, Israeli occupation forces opened fire with live ammunition on a demonstration by courageous and exemplary unarmed Palestinian women in Beit Hanoun. EU member states have done nothing to assist Palestinians to peacefully resist, even as Israel mows them down with machine guns. If your stated desire for peace is serious and sincere, here are six steps you can call for immediately:
(1) Noting the serious escalation of crimes and human rights abuses by the Israeli government, includingindiscriminate murder of civilians and continued confiscation of land and construction of illegal settler-colonies, suspend with immediate effect the EU-Israel Association Agreement pursuant to Article 2 of that agreement.
(2) Implement a complete arms embargo preventing EU States from buying or selling weapons to Israel.
(3) Noting the new statements by Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Threats AvigdorLieberman threatening to carry out the extrajudicial execution the Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, and calling for the “surgical removal” (in other words ethnic cleansing) of all Arab citizens from Israel (See Ha’aretz newspaper, November 4 and 5), severely reduce contacts, aid and trade with Israel until it renounces violence, state terrorism, colonialism and ethnic cleansing and commits itself to the full implementation of international law and UN Resolutions, the ICJ decision on the West Bank Wall, and to ending all forms of officially-sanctioned and legally-enshrined racial discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens.
(4) Noting that one third of the representatives and cabinet ministers elected by Palestinians under occupationhave been kidnapped and held hostage by Israeli occupation forces since June, EU states should refuse to issue visas to
any Israeli officials to travel in EU territory until all Palestinian elected representatives are released forthwith and allowed to conduct their duties unmolested by the occupation forces.
(5) Noting the repeated statements of the leaders of Palestinians under occupation, including prime minister Ismail
Haniyeh, calling for a 10-year-truce modeled on that between the IRA and the United Kingdom government that began the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, immediately end the sanctions against the elected Palestinian Authority and conduct talks with all Palestinian parties.
(6) Lend moral, political and other forms of support to Palestinian civil resistance especially the campaign ofboycott, divestment and sanctions for which hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations have called.
I trust that you will see these measures as the minimum reasonable steps that you are obligated to take given your country’s commitments under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and your attachment to principles of peace, justice, anti-racism and human rights. I am sure that you would want the European Union to do no less for you if you were in the same situation as the Palestinians.
I eagerly await your positive response.
[co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of “One Country – A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” (Metropolitan Books, 2006)]
As a coup de grace, Lieberman has recently demanded the execution for treason of any Arab parliamentarian who talks to the Palestinian leadership.
The furore that briefly flared this week at the decision of Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to invite Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government coalition is revealing, but not in quite the way many observers assume. Lieberman, a Russian immigrant, is every bit the populist and racist politician he is portrayed as being. Like many of his fellow politicians, he harbours a strong desire to see the Palestinians of the occupied territories expelled, ideally to neighbouring Arab states or Europe.
Lieberman, however, is more outspoken than most in publicly advocating for this position. Where he is seen as overstepping the mark is in arguing that the state should strip up to a quarter of a million Palestinians living inside Israel of their citizenship and seal them and their homes into the Palestinian ghettoes being created inside the West Bank (presumably in preparation for the moment when they will all be expelled to Jordan). He believes any remaining Arab citizens should be required to sign a loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” — loyalty to a democratic state alone will not suffice. Any who refuse will be physically expelled from Israel. And, as a coup de grace, he has recently demanded the execution for treason of any Arab parliamentarian who talks to the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories or commemorates Nakba Day, which marks the expulsion and permanent dispossession of the Palestinian people in 1948. That would include every elected representative of Israel’s Arab population.
These are Lieberman’s official positions. Apparently unofficially he wants even worse measures taken against Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the occupied territories. In May 2004, for example, he told a crowd of his supporters, in Russian, that 90 per cent of the country’s Arab citizens should be expelled. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost.” His speech could have had second billing with one by Adolf Hitler at a
Nuremberg Rally. Despite Lieberman’s well-known political platform, Olmert has been courting him ever since Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) upset the expected three-way struggle between Olmert’s Kadima party, Labor and Likud in the March elections. Lieberman romped home with 11 seats in the Knesset, making his party a sparring partner of both Likud and the popular religious fundamentalist party Shas. According to reports in the Israeli media, Lieberman has not joined the coalition until now because he has been playing hard to get, making increasing demands of Olmert before agreeing to sign up for the government. His hand has grown stronger too: according to opinion polls, he is now the most popular politician in Israel after Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party. In the newly established post of Minister for Strategic Threats, Lieberman — the avowed Arab hater — will shape Israel’s response to Iran, leading the chorus threats being made by Israel that the country is only a hair’s breadth from dropping bombs, possibly nuclear warheads, on Tehran. After that, he will presumably help the government decide what other “strategic threats” it faces. While Olmert enthuses over Lieberman, most in the Labor party seem quietly resigned to his inclusion. Labor’s elder statesman and former leader, Shimon Peres, says he has no objections, so long as Lieberman does not challenge the core policies agreed by Kadima and Labor. This, of course, is precisely what Lieberman is doing — it was the price of the bargain he struck with Olmert.
Lieberman wants no peace overtures to the Palestinians, and favours the hardline neoliberal economic policies pursued by Kadima. The Labor leader Amir Peretz, a supposed socialist and former head of the Israeli trade union movement, accepted Lieberman’s entry to the coalition, as Olmert surely knew he would. In typical Labor style, Peretz bought off his conscience by insisting on a package of modest benefits for Arab citizens, the same Arab citizens Lieberman wants expelled. The last time the government made a similar promise to its Arab minority back in late 2001 — when the prime minister of the day, Ehud Barak, needed their votes — the $4 million pledge was broken immediately after the election. So why are Israel’s politicians, of the left and right, so comfortable sitting with Lieberman, the leader of Israel’s only unquestionably fascist party? Because, in truth, Lieberman is not the maverick politician of popular imagination, even if he is every bit the racist — a Jewish Jorg Haider or Jean Marie Le Pen.
In reality, Lieberman is entirely a creature of the Israeli political establishment, his policies sinister reflections of the principles and ideas he learnt in the inner sanctums of the Likud party, a young hopeful immigrant rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and, of course, Ehud Olmert. From their political infancy, the latter three were schooled in the minor arts of Israeli diplomacy: feel free to speak plainly in the womb of the party; speak firmly but cautiously in Hebrew to other Israelis; and speak in another tongue entirely when using English, the language of the goyim, the non-Jews. But Lieberman, who arrived in Israel as a 21-year-old, was not around for those lessons. He imbibed nothing of the principles of “hasbara”, the “advocacy for Israel” industry that has its unpaid battalions of propagandists regularly assaulting the phone lines and email inboxes of the Western media. He tells it exactly as he sees it, even if mostly in Russian. Inside the Likud party, his political training ground, that hardly mattered. He rapidly rose through the ranks to become director-general of Likud from 1993-96 and soon afterwards to head the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. For many years he was the darling of the Likud, a party that today exists in two halves: its original incarnation, once again led by Netanyahu; and the renovated, sleeker model, Kadima, founded by Sharon. But it was in breaking from Likud and founding his own party, Yisrael Beiteinu, in 1999 that Lieberman finally found his voice outside the Likud’s smoke-filled rooms. The audience for his message was as untutored in the deceits of Israeli politicking as Lieberman himself.
Lieberman immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978, leading the vanguard of a wave of immigration from Russia and its satellite states that reached a peak in the early 1990s as the Soviet empire broke up. By the time most Russian speakers began pouring into Israel, Lieberman was already well esconced in the Israeli political system. Yisrael Beiteinu’s openly racist agenda spoke to the darkest instincts of the one million newly arrived Russian speakers. Many of them poor and struggling to adapt to Israeli culture, they live far from the prosperous centre of the country in their own neglected ghettos, Little Moscows, where the signs and street language are more than a decade later still in Russian. They feel little affinity for the Jewish state — apart from a loathing for everything Arab. The state has found it easy to manipulate these immigrants’ emotions. They have little understanding of the historic reasons for Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, and like other Israelis learn almost nothing more at school. With no context for appreciating why the Palestinians might carry out suicide attacks, Russian speakers assume the Palestinians are simply the hate-filled barbarians described to them by their politicians. When young Russian men do their three years of active duty in the occupied territories, all these prejudicies are confirmed.
Now one of the largest blocs of Israel’s citizen army, the Russians are assigned some of the toughest spots in the West Bank and Gaza, often their first experience of meeting “Arabs”. When they return home, they find it hard to make sense of Israeli officialdom’s lip service in distinguishing between Arab citizens, who have some rights in the Jewish state, and the “Arabs” of the occupied territories, who have none. Many Russian speakers wonder why Israel does not simply kill or expel the lot of them. And this is where Lieberman steps in. Because usefully this is exactly what he not only believes but also openly declares. Lieberman can tap the support of nearly a million voters, a huge reservoir of support for any prime ministerial hopeful trying to assemble the coalition needed to form a government under the fractious Israeli political system. Neither Olmert nor Netanyahu can afford to say what is really on their minds: that they want to cleanse the region of as many Palestinians as they can manage — most certainly those in the occupied territories, and later the even bigger nuisance of the ones who have citizenship and undermine Israel’s Jewishness. But instead they can let a Lieberman, the charismatic leader of a popular party who does dare to say these things, join the government with minimal damage to their own reputations. They can also let him use the platform provided by a cabinet position to shape a new coarser political language in which ideas of expulsion and transfer become ever more mainstream. Until one day the policies Lieberman advocates, reflections of the values he imbibed during his long years spent in Likud, become acceptable enough that a Prime Minister — Olmert or Netanyahu or Lieberman himself — will be able to put them in the government’s programme.
Instead of using words like “disengagement”, “convergence” or “realignment”, Israel’s politicians of the near future may simply call for the expulsion of Arabs, all Arabs. Even now they do little to conceal the fact that such thoughts are uppermost in their minds. Netanyahu, currently Israel’s most popular politician and leader of the opposition, has repeatedly called the 1.2 million Arab citizens of the country a “demographic timebomb”. Back in 2002, for example, he told an audience of policymakers: “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens We therefore need a policy that will first of all guarantee a Jewish majority.” Unlike Lieberman, Netanyahu never spells out what policies he is advocating. But most Israelis understand that in practice, if he felt free to speak his mind, his platform would not look much different from Yisrael Beiteinu’s. Olmert too uses code words readily understood by his Israeli audiences. In late 2004, in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, he said: “There is no doubt in my mind that very soon the government of Israel is going to have to address the demographic issue with the utmost seriousness and resolve. This issue above all others will dictate the solution that we must adopt.” He added that he feared the Palestinians would soon be a majority in the area comprising both the occupied territories and Israel, and that then they could launch a “dangerous” struggle for “one-man-one-vote” similar to the one against apartheid in South Africa. He concluded: “For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.” What “solution” was Olmert referring to?
Israelis know only too well.
Every year since 2000 Olmert, Netanyahu, Peres and other senior policymakers have been meeting at the Herzliya conference, near Tel Aviv, to draw up ideas about how to deal with the demographic threat: the rapidly approaching moment when the Palestinians, either those with Israeli citizenship or the non-citizens living under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, will outnumber Jews. The solutions they have proposed have been similar to Lieberman’s. Both the disengagement from Gaza and the planned limited withdrawals from the West Bank came out of Herzliya. But so did a range of measures to deal with the country’s Arab citizens: land swaps to lose areas of Israel densely populated with Arabs in return for the settlements in the West Bank; loyalty oaths as a condition of citizenship; stripping the Arab population of their right to vote; and forcing all political parties to subscribe to Zionist ideals. These are not fanciful ideas; they are now firmly in the mainstream. Israel already has legislation requiring all parties running for the Knesset to support Israel remaining a “Jewish and democratic state”. Technically, the only non-Zionist parties — two Arab parties and the small joint Jewish and Arab Communist party — could quite legally be disqualified from all general elections under the current legislation. They expect that at some point in the near future they will be too. The two previous prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, both secretly favoured land swaps in which large numbers of Arab citizens would be removed from the Jewish state. Barak proposed such a scheme at Camp David in the summer of 2000, as several participants later confirmed. And in February 2004 Sharon floated the same idea during an interview in the Maariv newspaper. When it caused a storm, he backtracked, but investigations by the paper revealed that he had been formulating a land swap for some time with his advisers and had even consulted the then Labor leader and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, on its feasibility.
At the top of Lieberman’s list of demands before agreeing to enter Olmert’s coalition are major changes to Israel’s constitution, including the introduction of a presidential system to replace the current parliamentary system. Israel already has a President, currently Moshe Katsav, who is facing a string of rape and sexual harassment allegations, but the post is entirely symbolic. Lieberman wants a president who has the authority to make major legislative changes, even constitutional ones, without having to make the backroom compromises to keep together the coalition governments that characterise Israel’s current political system. The president Lieberman has in mind would be more on the lines of an autocratic ruler.
Olmert is apparently sympathetic to Lieberman’s plans to change the political system. It is not difficult to understand why.
-Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the author of “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” Pluto Press SOURCE: PALESTINE CHRONICLE
Death sentence for stone throwing
Gideon Levy Ha’aretz Dec 17th 2006)
What is now going through the mind of the soldier who fired a loaded weapon at a boy on the Sunday before last – and killed him? What was he thinking when he aimed at the boy’s head? Is he still thinking about his victim? Why does live ammunition have to be used against children, even if they are throwing stones at a armored vehicles? Don’t the soldiers have other means of punishment? And what about the security cabinet’s decision to promote calm in the West Bank, too?
On December 3, after all, the security cabinet decided that arrests in the West Bank would henceforth be made only with the authorization of the GOC Central Command – but apparently, in order to fire at the head of a boy and kill him, no authorization is required. It’s enough to get out of the jeep, aim and fire. The Israel Defense Forces, we know, opposes a cease-fire in the West Bank, too.
Jamil Jabaji, 14, the “boy of the horses” from the Askar refugee camp in Nablus, had been throwing stones at an IDF Hummer making its way toward the camp, and a soldier killed him in cold blood. The vehicle was moving slowly, according to the children’s testimony, stopping every once in a while, in what the youngsters thought was a type of provocation, as though trying to lure them closer, until it stopped and two soldiers stepped out, aiming their weapons at them. No teargas, not even rubber-coated bullets. Live fire. A death sentence for stone-throwing.
Jamil liked horses, acted in the drama group of the local community center, took karate lessons, was the goalie of the children’s soccer team in the camp, and a member of the Boy Scouts. He was the tallest of the youngsters who stood on the cliff and threw stones at the jeep on the road below; maybe his height decreed his death. Maybe that’s why the soldier aimed specifically at his head. The one bullet that entered the forehead and exited at the back of the neck, spelled instant death.
The next day the children erected a memorial for Jamil – a small pile of stones and a floral wreath, with his photograph in the center – at the edge of the olive grove, not far from the horse ranch where his beloved steed, Musahar, is stabled. Precisely at the spot where he fell. Jamil is the third boy to be killed here in the past few years, between Askar and the settlement of Elon Moreh, which dominates the area from the ridge of a hill across the way.
The narrow alleys in the new Askar camp are now decorated with pictures of the slain boy. It’s cold in the Jabaji home and Grandma Askiya, swaddled in blankets, lies on her iron bed and spends all day staring at the photograph of her grandson, hanging on the opposite wall, wreathed in flowers. She is 78 and was born in Lod. Jamil was her youngest grandchild, the pampered baby of the family.
The father, Abed al-Karim, is not around. For most of his life he had worked in Eli’s sausage factory in Bnei Brak; now, when Israel has killed his son, he is out of the country and cannot afford to return to mourn for him. A few days before the tragedy he went to Jordan with his son Hamis, 19, who has a rare terminal disease. Hamis is due to have surgery in Jordan, and his father doesn’t have the money to return for the mourning period.
Wafiya, the bereaved mother, is wailing. She pulls Jamil’s schoolbag out from under her bed and hurls it furiously onto the floor. “Did they say he was ‘wanted’? He was afraid even to go to the outhouse in the yard by himself at night … I always had to go with him.”
A boy, Mohammed Masimi, enters the house, and the signs of shock are apparent in him as well. His face is frozen, he chews on his fingernails and stares vacantly. He was Jamil’s best friend. “I still don’t believe he is gone,” he mumbles softly.
The two grew up together from infancy in the camp’s alleys; together they went to the camp’s school a week ago Sunday, together they were in Grade 9, together they returned home at midday. Jamil told Mohammed that in the afternoon he would go to his drama group in the community center. Afterward Jamil asked his mother for a shekel, to buy a sandwich until lunch would be ready. He left and never returned. He probably bought the sandwich and then went to the horse ranch at the end of the alley, at the edge of the camp, to see Musahar. He went to see the horse every day, fed it sugar and brushed it. That Sunday he also went off to the ranch, until he and his friends noticed the army jeep coming down from Elon Moreh. About 10 children, most of them Jamil’s age, hurried to the nearby olive grove, under which passes the road that descends from the settlement toward the northern part of Nablus.
We now leave the house, too, following in Jamil’s last steps. In Mahmoud Adawi’s ranch the grayish horse is munching on hay. Five horses are locked in the skeleton of an empty truck; they are being trained for races. A few days before Jamil was killed, his Musahar won a competition in Jericho. Jamil never rode the animal – he was too heavy for a racehorse.
At the ranch we meet M. – a short, sweet boy with a chirpy voice, wearing a T-shirt that says Street Team – and A., a muscular kid of 15 whose hair is slicked down with gel, like most of the boys in the camp. M. and A. were among the boys who threw stones on that fatal Sunday. A.’s leg is scarred: In 2002 the IDF fired a shell at his home in the camp, killing four people, including his father and a boy of eight, and wounding him.
From the ranch we head for the olive grove. M. leads us, speaking in his childish voice. An autumn sun is shining. The grove is well tended, its soil tilled and strewn with rocks. The homes of Elon Moreh overhang the hill, the black road winds down from it. The road passes by the foot of the grove, but because of its steepness, it is visible only if one stands on the very edge of the nearby cliff, which is about 10 meters high. From here the road continues to the Wadi Bazan checkpoint, which separates Nablus and the Jenin area.
The children relate that they began to run along the cliff and threw stones at the Hummer; the road is still littered with them. The vehicle, they said, traveled slowly, stopping every few meters. They are convinced that this was done to make them throw more and more stones, and to come ever closer to the edge. The children fell into the trap. They spread out on the cliff, Jamil in the middle, busy throwing. And then the vehicle came to a full stop and two soldiers got out. They aimed their rifles and fired four bullets at the children.
Jamil was hit in the head and crumpled. The others ran for their lives in panic. Only M. and A. stayed behind, trying to drag their friend’s body. But Jamil was a heavy boy and with their small arms they were unable to move him, until Ali Abu Sanafa, who lives in the last house before the olive grove, arrived on the scene, and helped them evacuate the boy. Jamil was taken in a taxi to Nablus’ Rafidia Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The children say that his brains had spilled onto his clothes.
Why did you throw stones, I ask the children from Askar. Little M. offers his shy smile and says nothing. A. says, “It’s a game.” Since the tragedy they have not dared come back here. It was here, too, that another boy, Oday Tantawi, 14, also fell; over there Bashar Zabara, who was 13, died. Both of them were killed in the olive grove, just meters from the makeshift memorial for Jamil. The owner of the ranch says that Jamil sometimes came by at six in the morning, before going to school, to feed his horse.
Jamil did not have a room of his own. He shared a double bed. There is no table in the house. On the wall hangs a certificate attesting that Jamil has achieved a yellow belt in Shotokan karate. His mother also shows his Boy Scouts certificate, with the image of a boy in a blue tie, light-blue shirt and blue beret.
In the camp’s community center a young volunteer from Sweden explains to a refugee girl where Africa is on the colored map on the wall. Jamil’s photograph has already been pasted on the glass door. The center’s director, Yusuf Abu Saraya, says that Jamil participated in most of the center’s activities, but liked the drama group especially. Here is his photograph, showing him standing on the stone stage in the well-kept playground, a gift from Europe, his face painted with war colors.
“We hope the army will not come to Askar anymore,” Abu Saraya says. “It is hard to prevent the children from throwing stones. There is no army base here, only a refugee camp. The olive grove is the only place where the children can leave the crowded camp and breathe fresh air. Jamil is not the first boy to be killed there.”
Abu Saraya adds: “The Israelis do not say they killed a boy. They say they killed someone who was endangering the soldiers’ lives. But what child can endanger the lives of soldiers? Sometimes they say the boy was armed – but what child can carry a rifle? What excuse do they have to come here at all? If you want to defend your country, do not come to Askar. From here you do not defend Tel Aviv. Askar does not endanger Tel Aviv.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s response: “At the behest of the military advocate general, an investigation has been launched by the military police into the circumstances surrounding this incident. At the culmination of this inquiry, the findings will be submitted to the advocate general’s office.”
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