Briefing Paper September 2008

Palestine’s War of Independence

Where shall we go after the last frontier, where will birds fly after the last sky?

-Mahmoud Darwish-

EU unanimously upgrades Israel ties, turning aside PA objections

Ha’aretz 17/06/08

The European Union, turning aside Palestinian objections, has announced upgraded relations with Israel in the form of a range of steps involving commerce, the economy, and academic ties as well as improvements in the diplomatic dialogue between the sides.

The decision was taken unanimously on Monday by the EU’s 27 member nations, following an intense diplomatic effort by Israel. The upgrade in relations had been in doubt prior to the decision, amid moves to make approval conditional on a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad enraged Israeli officials when he asked the EU not to upgrade ties with Israel unless Israel ceased construction of settlements and the West Bank separation barrier.

PA has charged that Israel delayed and reduced payments of tex revenues it collects for the Authority in order to “punish” Fayyad. In the wake of diplomatic efforts by senior Foreign Ministry officials, the EU made do with a call for movement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, and without conditioning the upgrade on such progress.

Accordingly, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and EU counterparts meeting in Luxembourg on Monday agreed to set up a working group to discuss the outlines of upgraded ties and to present their conclusions by year’s end.

The upgrade will be carried out in a number of spheres. The diplomatic dialogue between the Israeli government and senior officials of EU institutions, by means of annual high-level meetings. In the economic sphere, Israel will join European agencies and working groups with the aim of bringing the Israeli economy closer to European standards, and to help Israeli companies more easily contend with the European commercial market, particularly in the fields of high-tech and aviation.

Upgraded ties may also lead to recognition by European academic institutions of degrees awarded by Israeli universities and colleges, a step which would allow Israeli students to study for advanced degrees in European universities and other academic institutions. In addition, the process would allow grants worth tens of millions of euros to be awarded Israeli scientists and researchers

Message from Mona (a Jerusalemite) 19/06/08

I was stopped by Israeli soldiers who asked to see my papers- they spoke Russian- I thought to myself, these immigrants know nothing of this land they are serving and protecting- they don’t even know the language- They come from Russia, Europe, Africa, the US, and other places and choose to reside in my country- and they can!!!! Not only that but they can limit my movement in my country, and even kick me out of it! When I complained to my lawyer about this injustice he simply answered, ” Mona, this is occupation!!!” Not at all the legal answer I was looking for at- there is no human law that can protect me, or preserve my rights. Needless to say, I have lost my right to return, to my country… the only country I ever belonged to, the only place I ever called home

Dear Friends and Family,

I am writing to share a little about what is happening in my life lately. As most of you know, I have been in Jerusalem since March 18 with Ramzi who at the time had barely turned 5 months. We left Habib and made the sacrifice to be apart for the coming 4 months for the sake of preserving my Jerusalem ID, to keep my residency status. I know this might sound strange, but as a Palestinian who has lived her whole life in Jerusalem, and despite the fact that my family has lived in Jerusalem and Palestine for centuries, according to the Israeli law, Palestinians living in Jerusalem are only residents but not necessarily permanent residents, and therefore are at risk all the time of losing their residency rights.

For the past 3 years, I have been married to Habib, a Palestinian by blood but an American by citizenship, because Habib’s Jerusalem residency was revoked in 2004- although Habib was born in Jerusalem, and has lived there until his adult life. Anyways, now it was my turn to renew my entry visa to “Israel” (yes, I needed a visa in my own country)- I met with a lawyer who asked for a substantial amount to help me renew my entry visa, which would preserve my residency until the next time I have to renew (a maximum of 3 years), but this time the Israelis refused to renew it and instead told me that since I made the decision to marry an “American”, who can’t reside in Jerusalem, I have made a decision to seek residency in a foreign country and am therefore “choosing” to abandon my residency rights in Jerusalem. (Palestinians are not allowed to have dual residency or citizenship, a law that is not applicable to Israelis who are able to hold dual or multiple citizenships.) To make a long story short, I lost my residency rights in my own country!!!! I can only go back to visit as a tourist, and have to acquire a tourist visa from the Israeli embassy!! The ironic thing is that all my family still live there!! But I can never join them, I don’t have a choice in the matter. We, the people of the land are being thrown out!!!

On my way back from the lawyer’s office, I was stopped by Israeli soldiers who asked to see my papers- they spoke Russian- I thought to myself, these immigrants know nothing of this land they are serving and protecting- they don’t even know the language- They come from Russia, Europe, Africa, the US, and other places and choose to reside in my country- and they can!!!! Not only that but they can limit my movement in my country, and even kick me out of it! When I complained to my lawyer about this injustice he simply answered, ” Mona, this is occupation!!!” Not at all the legal answer I was looking for at- there is no human law that can protect me, or preserve my rights. Needless to say, I have lost my right to return, to my country… the only country I ever belonged to, the only place I ever called home.

As an adult who has been living under occupation for the past 33 years, I was upset but I can’t say that I was surprised by what happened to me. However, what surprised me was what is happening with my 7 month old, Ramzi. Ramzi was born in the US and therefore got an American passport. Although he is the son of two full blooded Palestinians who call Jerusalem and Palestine home, he was denied residency rights in Jerusalem and was given a tourist visa. I asked the lady at the airport when we first arrived if she could give Ramzi (then 5 months old) a 4 month Visa, rather than the traditional 3 month visa, I showed her my residency card (at the time I still was considered a resident), and showed her our return plane tickets. She said no, and said that I should apply for an extension for Ramzi at the ministry of interior. To avoid conflict and to make my life easier I asked the lawyer to apply for an extension for Ramzi….. to my surprise Ramzi was denied. The Israeli government refused to grant a 7 month old baby an extension on his visa, not even with the help of our lawyer and all his connections!!! So, now I have to face the choice of leaving with Ramzi early and change our vacation plans, or stay with Ramzi here as planned until July 25th, and have my 7 month old be illegally overstaying his welcome in the land of his ancestors. The ironic thing is that this poor little baby can’t even say mama or baba, yet he is posing a security threat to Israel that they denied him a one month extension on his visa!!

So now, my little family of three are added to the millions of Palestinians who lost their right to reside in their country and have been kicked out of their homes. We now are residents of Las Vegas, but I will always refer to Palestine as my home. Since the 1948 diaspora of our people, the Palestinians in the world have been waiting for a just solution, that would give them the right to return to their homeland, and now 60 years later the list gets longer everyday with people just like the 3 of us who were driven out of our country. I will never give up the hope that one day I would have the choice to live in Palestine, and I will make sure that Ramzi also knows that he has a right to return!

We could not even bury our daughter

PCHR Report   19/06/2008

“The Israelis can see everything from their planes,” says Hamdan al-Najjar. “They could see Aya was alone outside, and they could see she was just a small child. When we finally saw [the remains of] our daughter, there was almost nothing left of her. We could not even bury her properly, because her body had been completely destroyed.”

On 11 June, eight-year-old Hadeel Al-Sumairi was killed when her home in southeastern Gaza was shelled by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Less than a week earlier, eight-year-old Aya Hamdan al-Najjar was killed by a rocket fired from an IOF helicopter. These two young girls had been living just a few kilometers apart, both in villages in the southeastern Gaza Strip near the border with Israel. Their violent deaths highlight both the continual dangers facing families who live anywhere near the Israeli border — and the grim and rising child death toll in the Gaza Strip. Sixtytwo children have been killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip this year — almost double the number of children who were killed by the IOF in Gaza during the whole of last year.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is still investigating the circumstances of Hadeel al-Sumairi’s death. Her uncle, Amin Suleiman Ahmad al-Sumairi, has given PCHR an eye-witness account of the IOF invasion of al-Qarara village near Khan Younis, where Hadeel was killed. “I was at home when I heard a huge explosion. I ran from my house and saw fire coming from the home of my brother, Abdul Karim. As I ran towards the house I could smell burning flesh.” IOF had just fired two tank shells into al-Qarara village, and both shells struck the house where Abdul Karim alSumairi and his family lived. His daughter, Hadeel, was killed instantly, her small body dismembered.

Six days earlier, on 5 June, Zahra Ibrahim al-Najjar was at her home in nearby Khizaa village with her young daughter, Aya. “My daughter had finished school just one week earlier and was waiting for her friends to come and join her” says Zahra al-Najjar. “At about 2:00pm I heard the sound of [Israeli] drones and helicopters. I went to the window to see what was happening, but I didn’t see anyone outside. I thought Aya was inside our building, or with a neighbour. Then there was a loud explosion.”

The helicopter had just fired a rocket, which, with pinpoint accuracy, hit Aya as she stood just three or four meters from her own house. Zahra al-Najjar, who was struck in the head by shrapnel from the rocket, did not know her daughter had just been killed. It was the neighbors who found a small hand in the rubble outside. After collecting the other parts of Aya’s body, which were scattered over a distance of more than 150 meters, they then had the grim task of telling Zahra and her husband, Hamdan Hamdan al-Najjar, that their daughter was dead.

Zahra and Hamdan al-Najjar believe that Aya was deliberately targeted by IOF in retaliation for the death of an Israeli civilian earlier the same day. The Israeli man was killed between 11:00am and 12:00pm, by mortar shells fired from inside the Gaza Strip that struck the Nir Oz kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. “The mortars [that killed the Israeli] had been fired at least two hours before Aya was killed” says Hamdan al-Najjar. “But those mortars were not fired from here, there was no shooting in our village, and there was no one outside our house except for my daughter. She was not carrying a gun and she did not fire a rocket. They wanted revenge for the death of the Israeli.”

Parents of other children that have been killed by IOF in Gaza this year have also consistently alleged that their children were deliberately targeted by IOF. On 20 May, 12-year-old Majde Ziyad Abu Oukal was killed in Jabaliya in northern Gaza by a missile fired from an IOF drone. His parents, Ziyad and Tahariya Abu Oukal, believe he was deliberately targeted in order to put pressure on local parents to stop resistance fighters from launching rockets towards Israel.

The deliberate targeting of civilians is illegal under international human rights law, and constitutes a gross violation of human rights amounting to a war crime. PCHR is investigating these allegations in depth, and this summer will publish its findings in a report on child killings committed by IOF in the Gaza Strip.

Driving along the eastern border of the Gaza Strip is a sinister experience. In between villages like al-Qarara and Khizaa are vast tracts of empty land and hundreds of boarded up and abandoned houses. IOF make frequent incursions here, and local Palestinian villagers are fleeing in fear of their lives, and the lives of their children.

“The Israelis can see everything from their planes,” says Hamdan al-Najjar. “They could see Aya was alone outside, and they could see she was just a small child. When we finally saw [the remains of] our daughter, there was almost nothing left of her. We could not even bury her properly, because her body had been completely destroyed.” All that Aya’s parents have left of their daughter now is one small, grainy photograph.

(This report is part of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ Narratives Under Siege series.)

Israelis Assault Award Winning IPS Journalist Mel Frykberg

GAZA CITY, Jun 28 (IPS) – Mohammed Omer, the Gaza correspondent of IPS, and joint winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was strip-searched at gunpoint, assaulted and abused by Israeli security officials at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank on Thursday as he tried to return home to Gaza.

Omer, a resident of Rafah in the south of Gaza, and previous recipient of the New America Media’s Best Youth Voice award several years ago, was returning from London where he had just collected his Gellhorn Prize, and from several European capitals where he had speaking engagements, including a meeting with Greek parliamentarians.

Omer’s trip was sponsored by The Washington Report, and the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv was responsible for coordinating Omer’s travel plans and his security permit to leave Gaza with Israeli officials.

Israel controls the borders of Gaza and severely restricts the entrance and exit of Gazans allegedly on grounds of security. Human rights organisations accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext to apply collective punishment indiscriminately.

While waiting in Amman on his way back, Omer eventually received the requisite coordination and security clearance from the Israelis to return to Gaza after this had initially been delayed by several days, he told IPS. Accompanied by Dutch diplomats, Omer passed through the Jordanian side of the border without incident. However, after arrival on the Israeli side, trouble began. He informed a female soldier that he was returning home to Gaza. He was repeatedly asked where Gaza was, and told that he had neither a permit nor any coordination to cross. Omer explained that he did indeed have permission and coordination but was nevertheless taken to a room by Israel’s domestic intelligence agency the Shin Bet, where he was isolated for an hour and a half without explanation.

“Eventually I was asked whether I had a knife or gun on me even though I had already passed through the xray machine, had my luggage searched, and was in the company of Dutch diplomats,” Omer said. His luggage was again searched, and security then proceeded to go through every document and paper he had on him, taking down the names and numbers of the European parliamentary officials he had met.

The Shin Bet officials then started to make fun of the European parliamentarians, and mocked Omer for being “the prize-winning journalist”. The Gazan journalist was repeatedly asked why he was returning to “the hell of Gaza after we allowed you to leave.” To this he responded that he wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. He was told he was a “trouble-maker”. The security men also demanded he show all the money he had on him, and particular attention was paid to the British pounds he was carrying. His Gellhorn prize money had been awarded in British pounds but he was not carrying the entire sum on him bodily, something the investigators refused to believe.

After being unable to produce the prize money, he was ordered to strip naked. “At first I refused but then I had an M16 (gun) pointed in my face and my clothes were forcibly removed, even my underwear,” Omer said. At this point Omer broke down and pleaded for an end to such treatment. He said he was told, “you haven’t seen anything yet.” Every cavity of his body was searched as one of the investigators pinned him down on the floor, placing his boot on Omer’s neck. Omer began vomiting, and fainted.

When he came round his eyelids were being forcibly opened and his eardrums probed by an Israeli military doctor, who was also armed. He was then dragged along the floor by his feet by the Shin Bet officials, with his head repeatedly banging on the floor, to a Palestinian ambulance which had been called. “I eventually woke up in a Palestinian hospital with the doctors trying to reassure me,” Omer told IPS.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS that Foreign Minister Maxime Zerhagen spoke to the Israeli ambassador to The Netherlands and demanded an explanation. The Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv has also raised the issue with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which in turn has promised to investigate the incident and get back to the Dutch officials. Ahmed Dadou, spokesman from the Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS, “We are taking this whole incident very seriously as we don’t believe the behaviour of the Israeli officials is in accordance with a modern democracy. “We are further concerned about the mistreatment of an internationally renowned journalist trying to go about his daily business,” added Dadou.

A spokeswoman at the Israeli Foreign Press Association said she was unaware of the incident. Lisa Dvir from the Israeli Airport Authority (IAA), the body responsible for controlling Israel’s borders, told IPS that the IAA was neither aware of Omer’s journalist credentials nor of his coordination. “We would like to know who Omer spoke to in regard to receiving coordination to pass through Allenby. We offer journalists a special service when passing through our border crossings, and had we known about his arrival this would not have happened.

“I’m not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behaviour of the Shin Bet.”

In the meantime, Omer is still traumatised and in pain. “I’m struggling to breathe and have pain in my head and stomach and will be going back to hospital for further medical examinations,” he said.

Jewish “Klansmen” tie Palestinian to power pole, beat him savagely

Khalid Amayreh in el-Sammou, 06/07/08

Even in his wildest dreams, Midhat Radwan Abu Karsh never imagined that one day he would be tied up to a power pole and savagely beaten by bigoted Jewish settlers who believe that non-Jews are animals in a human shape. Yet, this is exactly what happened to him earlier this week when four Jewish terrorists ganged up on the 31-year-old Palestinian teacher as he was hiking in his land, awaiting Israeli peace activists whom he wanted to brief on the daily acts of vandalism, harassment and land theft at the hands of fanatical Jewish settlers, protected by the army and backed by powerful political parties.Abu Karsh accuses the settlers of being hell-bent on driving Palestinians away in order to take over their land.”As I was standing in my land, suddenly four settlers descended from the settlement of Asnael, and started cursing and beating me with clubs. As you know, I am physically handicapped and couldn’t escape because of my leg,” Abu Karsh told reporters on Sunday at his home in the small town of El-Sammou, 35 kilometers south west of Hebron.

“Then they dragged me along the thorny terrain, causing me indescribable pain, until we reached the power pole just out of the settlement. There they tied me up rather tightly to the pole and began beating me with the clubs all over my body, including my head. What kind of people would do this to a handicapped person who can’t defend himself?

“When they tightened the robe around my neck, I thought I was going to die.

The attempted lynching and beating continued unabated even after an Israeli army jeep, carrying three soldiers, arrived at the scene.

“Initially, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the soldiers coming. I thought they would rescue me instantly and arrest or at least stop the settlers. However, to my disappointment, the settlers kept up beating me, causing a lot of bleeding in my head and face while the soldiers kept looking on.”

Abu Karsh said the soldiers begged the settlers “to stop it,” but to no avail.

“Would you believe it, soldiers begging the settlers to stop beating a handicapped Palestinian? Just imagine how Jews and non-Jews would react if criminals, say in France, attacked a Jew who is physically or mentally handicapped, say in Paris or Leon?”

At one point, the settlers warned the soldiers to keep away, or else they would attack the soldiers. Israeli soldiers serving in the occupied West Bank have strict orders barring them from responding to settler violence in any active manner.

When the soldiers, who had backed off a few meters, started calling their superiors to notify them of what was going on, the settlers carried out a last round of beating, kicking Abu Karsh in his underbelly and genitals.

He said he nearly fainted.

Forty minutes later, an Israeli police jeep showed up, with one policeman reportedly telling the settlers to bring a bucket of water from the settlement and pour it right on the victim’s head, ostensibly in order to wash away the blood before the arrival of journalists and photographers.

“Even at this point, I was still tied to the power pole and the police wouldn’t untie me. And, of course, they didn’t arrest any of the settlers,” Abu Karsh said.

Eventually, an Israeli ambulance transferred Abu Karsh to a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance which took him to the main hospital in Hebron.

Abu Karsh accused the settlers of deliberately starting a fire in the area and blaming it on him.

The incident, the second of its kind in less than a month, was witnessed by Israeli peace activists from the Ta’ayosh (coexistence) group.

One of the activists was quoted by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz as saying that he saw the settlers kick the victim while he was bound up.

“When we arrived at the scene there were already lots of the army’s troops. I saw a settler approach him and kick him, as he was tied to the pole. His whole body was bound up, I saw they bandaged a head wound and he was half conscious.”

Last month, masked, stick-wielding Jewish settler terrorists attacked with clubs elderly Palestinian peasants near the West Bank town of Yatta.

The brutal attack was filmed on video by a Palestinian woman, which embarrassed the Israeli government which refuses to take any meaningful action against settlers who attack Palestinian villagers.

The wide dissemination of the video also prompted Jewish settler leaders in the Hebron region to warn settler terrorists to make sure that their “anti-Palestinian activities” are not being filmed or photographed.

B’Tselem provided about 100 cameras to Palestinians who bear the brunt of settler terror and violence. The project, dubbed “Shooting Back” is aimed at documenting settler brutality and attacks.

Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories have already documented numerous cases of settler attacks, harassment and vandalism against Palestinians.

However, the Israeli army and Shin Beth (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency), have consistently refused to rein in the settlers, thus effectively encouraging them to keep up their terror against the unprotected Palestinians.

Most of the terrorist settlers attend Talmudic schools, or Yeshivot, run by extremist rabbis who inculcate their students with virulent hatred of every thing non-Jewish.

Israeli soldiers torture 10-year-old in his home Report, Defence for Children International- Palestine Section,

10 July 2008 A 10-year-old boy was subjected to physical abuse amounting to torture for 2.5 hours by Israeli soldiers who stormed his family’s shop on 11 June, seeking information on the location of a handgun. The boy was repeatedly beaten, slapped and punched in the head and stomach, forced to hold a stress position for half and hour, and threatened. He was deeply shocked and lost two molar teeth as a result of the assault.

On Wednesday 11 June 2008, at around 10:30am, 10-year-old Ezzat, his brother Makkawi (7) and sister Lara (8) were in their father’s shop selling animal feed and eggs in the village of Sanniriya, near the West Bank city of Qalqiliya. The children were suddenly startled to see two Israeli soldiers storm in to the shop.

Interrogation and abuse in the shop

One soldier wearing a black T-shirt started shouting in a loud, menacing voice in Arabic, “your father sent us to you to collect his gun.” A terrified Ezzat responded, “My father does not own a gun.” The soldier responded by slapping Ezzat hard across the right cheek and his brother Makawi across his face. The soldier then ordered Makkawi and Lara to leave the shop. Once the younger children had left the soldier demanded once again that Ezzat hand over his father’s gun. Although Ezzat repeated that his father did not own a gun the soldier ordered him to search for it in the sacks containing the animal feed. Ezzat kept insisting that there was no gun in the shop so the soldier slapped him once again, this time across his left cheek.

One of Ezzat’s friends, realizing that something was wrong, tried to enter the shop but was kicked by the soldier standing at the door and prevented from entering. Soon a group of local people had gathered outside the shop. Some of the people in the group also tried to enter the shop but were prevented from doing so by the soldier at the door.

The soldier in the black T-shirt asked him once again to produce the gun. Ezzat answered, “We do not have anything.” The soldier responded by punching him hard in the stomach causing Ezzat to fall over onto empty egg boxes. Ezzat started screaming and crying out from pain and fear. The soldier in the black T-shirt started making fun of Ezzat and imitated him crying. Ezzat remained in the shop alone with the soldiers for a further 15 minutes when the soldier in black abruptly grabbed him by his T-shirt and dragged him out of the shop. Ezzat asked the soldier if he could lock up his father’s shop but the soldier said he wanted it to remain open so that it could be robbed. The soldier also threatened to put Ezzat in his jeep and take him away.

Once they were out of the shop, Ezzat was ordered to walk in front of the soldiers to his house, whilst a gun was pointed at his back. The soldiers hit him several times on the nape along the way. On approaching his house Ezzat saw many Israeli military officials surrounding the house and a number of green military vehicles parked outside. One of the olive-colored jeeps had the word “police” written on it.

Interrogation and abuse in the home

After arriving at the family’s home the soldier in the black T-shirt stood Ezzat in the yard and ordered him to search the flower basin for the gun. Before Ezzat had a chance to respond the soldier slapped him so violently that Ezzat fell down face first into the basin. Without giving him the chance to stand up the soldier grabbed him by his T-shirt and lifted him up roughly. He was then instructed in Arabic by another soldier to head to the guest room.

On approaching the guest room Ezzat could see his father standing by the door. The soldier slapped him on the neck and Ezzat fell to the ground. As Ezzat stood up the soldier slapped him a second time making him fall to the ground once again. All this happened in front of his father. He then grabbed Ezzat by his T-shirt and lifted him in to the air. The soldier told Ezzat’s father that he was going to take his son to prison. He also threatened to take Ezzat’s 19-year-old sister to prison. Ezzat was then pushed forcibly in to the guest room where his mother and four of his other siblings, including his sisters Diana (19), Raghda (18), (Aya) 15 and brother Jihad (3), were being held. His mother was crying. Ezzat was also crying and when asked by his mother why he was crying, he said it was because he had been hit by the soldiers. His mother asked the soldiers to stop beating her son and to beat her instead.

After several minutes Ezzat was taken out of the guest room and slapped several times by the soldier in black, once so hard that he fell to the ground. After being moved to several locations in the house Ezzat was told to stay in the boys’ bedroom. The same soldier then left the room but would return every five minutes to slap Ezzat and also to punch him several times in the stomach. Each time this took place Ezzat would shout and scream out in pain and burst in to tears. The soldier would then imitate him and make fun of him. The soldier hit him around six times..

‘Worse than apartheid’

Gideon Levy Ha’aretz, July 10, 2008 (edited)

I thought they would feel right at home in the alleys of Balata refugee camp, the Casbah and the Hawara checkpoint. But they said there is no comparison: for them the Israeli occupation regime is worse than anything they knew under apartheid. This week, 21 human rights activists from South Africa visited Israel. Among them were members of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress; at least one of them took part in the armed struggle and at least two were jailed. There were two South African Supreme Court judges, a former deputy minister, members of Parliament, attorneys, writers and journalists. Blacks and whites, about half of them Jews who today are in conflict with attitudes of the conservative Jewish community in their country.

Some of them have been here before; for others it was their first visit.For five days they paid an unconventional visit to Israel – without Sderot, the IDF and the Foreign Ministry (but with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and a meeting with Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinisch. They spent most of their time in the occupied areas, where hardly any official guests go – places that are also shunned by most Israelis.

On Monday they visited Nablus, the most imprisoned city in the West Bank. From Hawara to the Casbah, from the Casbah to Balata, from Joseph’s Tomb to the monastery of Jacob’s Well. They traveled from Jerusalem to Nablus via Highway 60, observing the imprisoned villages that have no access to the main road, and seeing the “roads for the natives,” which pass under the main road. They saw and said nothing. There were no separate roads under apartheid.

They went through the Hawara checkpoint mutely: they never had such barriers.

Jody Kollapen, who was head of Lawyers for Human Rights in the apartheid regime, watches silently. He sees the “carousel” into which masses of people are jammed on their way to work, visit family or go to the hospital. Israeli peace activist Neta Golan, who lived for several years in the besieged city, explains that only 1 percent of the inhabitants are allowed to leave the city by car, and they are suspected of being collaborators with Israel.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy minister of defense and of health and a current member of Parliament, a revered figure in her country, notices a sick person being taken through on a stretcher and is shocked. “To deprive people of humane medical care? You know, people die because of that,” she says in a muted voice.The tour guides – Palestinian activists – explain that Nablus is closed off by six checkpoints. Until 2005, one of them was open. “The checkpoints are supposedly for security purposes, but anyone who wants to perpetrate an attack can pay NIS 10 for a taxi and travel by bypass roads, or walk through the hills. The real purpose is to make life hard for the inhabitants.

The civilian population suffers,” says Said Abu Hijla, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in the city.

In the bus I get acquainted with my two neighbors: Andrew Feinstein, a son of Holocaust survivors who is married to a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and served six years as an MP for the ANC; and Nathan Gefen, who has a male Muslim partner and was a member of the right-wing Betar movement in his youth. Gefen is active on the Committee against AIDS in his AIDS-ravaged country.”Look left and right,” the guide says through a loudspeaker, “on the top of every hill, on Gerizim and Ebal, is an Israeli army outpost that is watching us.” Here are bullet holes in the wall of a school, there is Joseph’s Tomb, guarded by a group of armed Palestinian policemen. Here there was a checkpoint, and this is where a woman passerby was shot to death two years ago. The government building that used to be here was bombed and destroyed by F-16 warplanes. A thousand residents of Nablus were killed in the second intifada, 90 of them in Operation Defensive Shield – more than in Jenin. Two weeks ago, on the day the Gaza Strip truce came into effect, Israel carried out its last two assassinations here for the time being. Last night the soldiers entered again and arrested people.

Edwin Cameron, a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeal, tells his hosts: “We came here lacking in knowledge and are thirsty to know. We are shocked by what we have seen until now. It is very clear to us that the situation here is intolerable.” A poster pasted on an outside wall has a photograph of a man who spent 34 years in an Israeli prison. Mandela was incarcerated seven years less than that. One of the Jewish members of the delegation is prepared to say, though not for attribution, that the comparison with apartheid is very relevant and that the Israelis are even more efficient in implementing the separation-of-races regime than the South Africans were. If he were to say this publicly, he would be attacked by the members of the Jewish community, he says.

No less beautiful than the famed Paris cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, the central cemetery of Nablus rests in the shadow of a large grove of pine trees. Among the hundreds of headstones, those of the intifada victims stand out. Here is the fresh grave of a boy who was killed a few weeks ago at the Hawara checkpoint. The South Africans walk quietly between the graves, pausing at the grave of the mother of our guide, Abu Hijla. She was shot 15 times. “We promise you we will not surrender,” her children wrote on the headstone of the woman who was known as “mother of the poor.”

She was deputy defense minister from 1999 to 2004; in 1987 she served time in prison. Later, I asked her in what ways the situation here is worse than apartheid. “The absolute control of people’s lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw.”

Madlala-Routledge thinks that the struggle against the occupation is not succeeding here because of U.S. support for Israel – not the case with apartheid, which international sanctions helped destroy. Here, the racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa. “Talk about the ‘promised land’ and the ‘chosen people’ adds a religious dimension to racism which we did not have.”

Equally harsh are the remarks of the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times of South Africa, Mondli Makhanya, 38. “When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. In a certain sense, it is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.

“The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all. How can a human brain engineer this total separation, the separate roads, the checkpoints? What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible – and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible. We also knew that it would end one day; here there is no end in sight. The end of the tunnel is blacker than black.

“Under apartheid, whites and blacks met in certain places. The Israelis and the Palestinians do not meet any longer at all. The separation is total. It seems to me that the Israelis would like the Palestinians to disappear.There was never anything like that in our case. The whites did not want the blacks to disappear. I saw the settlers in Silwan [in East Jerusalem] – people who want to expel other people from their place.”

Afterward we walk silently through the alleys of Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, a place that was designated 60 years ago to be a temporary haven for 5,000 refugees and is now inhabited by 26,000. In the dark alleys, which are about the width of a thin person, an oppressive silence prevailed. Everyone was immersed in his thoughts, and only the voice of the muezzin broke the stillness.

View all →