Briefing Paper September 2009
Palestine’s War of Independence
The Israelis neither want us in their state or want to give us our own state. They want to kill us off, or keep us in pens.
Palestinian spokesman Sunday Herald 2/08/09
Letting this cesspit of legitimate Palestinian grievance ferment further by wringing small concessions out of Israel is woefully inadequate. If they had any guts or sense of justice , the US and UK would withdraw their limp acquiescence from the Israelis and bring Hamas to the table, alongside Fatah, to discuss the handing back of Palestinian territory and the creation of a coherent Palestinian state.
Joanna Blythman Sunday Herald 02/08/09
Israeli officer promotes war crimes at Harvard
Maryam Monalisa Gharavi and Dr. Anat Matar, The Electronic Intifada, 22 July 2009
On 9 July Harvard University’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) invited Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, former Israeli military legal adviser, to their online Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum. The stated aim was to bring “objective” discussion to the principle of distinction in international humanitarian law, or what the forum organizers called “combat in civilian population centers and the failure of fighters to distinguish themselves from the civilian population.”
Although billed as a lecturer in the Law Faculty at Tel Aviv University — and therefore as a detached humanitarian law analyst — Colonel Sharvit-Baruch was in fact deeply involved in Israel’s three-week onslaught in Gaza in December and January, that counted its 1,505th victim found under rubble earlier this month. With the devastating operation condemned and mourned worldwide, many asked why a ranking member of an occupying army that flouts its legal obligations should herself receive safe havens at two major universities.
What troubled many of the 200 or so participants who “attended” the talk via a virtual chatroom was that Sharvit-Baruch was cut off from public or legal scrutiny as she relayed her PowerPoint presentation. Questions were posed by the moderators, sanitized of any critical content. Yet the indisputable fact is that the army for which SharvitBaruch worked has been accused by all major human rights organizations of committing war crimes in Gaza. Some wondered why Sharvit-Baruch was being given the opportunity to offer a carefully prepared presentation unchallenged in an academic setting, rather than giving testimony to a tribunal or inquiry such as that being conducted Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist heading an independent fact-finding mission into human rights violations during Israel’s attack at the request of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Since the event organizers did not ask pointed questions about Colonel Sharvit-Baruch’s actual role in Gaza, it is worth doing so here. As head of the International Law department (ILD) at the Israeli Military Advocate General’s office, Sharvit-Baruch is known for green-lighting the bombing of a police graduation ceremony in Gaza that killed dozens of civil policemen. This was no ordinary airstrike. It was premised on a legal sleight-of-hand: that even traffic cops in Gaza could be considered “legitimate targets” under international law. In a conversation with conscripts at a military prep academy in Israel, school director Danny Zamir noted, “I was terribly surprised by the enthusiasm surrounding the killing of the Gaza traffic police on the first day of the operation. They took out 180 traffic cops. As a pilot, I would have questioned that.”
Further, the Israeli army used heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas of Gaza, against the UNRWA’s headquarters and a UN school in Beit Lahiya. As reported by Judge Goldstone, Gazans trying to relay their civilian status were also hit. Even though the Israeli military tried several times to deny its use, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on white phosphorous use in Gaza quotes an unnamed Israeli official: “at least one month before [white phosphorus] was used a legal team had been consulted on the implications.” HRW found that “in violation of the laws of war, the [Israeli army] generally failed to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm” and “used white phosphorus in an indiscriminate manner causing civilian death and injury.”
One of the most indelible perspectives about Israel’s legal gymnastics to justify its actions comes from Colonel Sharvit-Baruch’s predecessor, Daniel Reisner. “What is being done today is a revision of international law,” Reisner has said, “and if you do something long enough, the world will accept it. All of international law is built on that an act which is forbidden today can become permissible, if enough states do it.” In expressing how the ILD moves forward by turning back the pages of legal jurisdiction, Reisner says, “We invented the doctrine of the preemptive pinpoint strike, we had to promote it, and in the beginning, there were protrusions which made it difficult to fit it easily into the mold of legality. Eight years later, it’s in the middle of the realm of legitimacy.”
Sharvit-Baruch herself explained her vision of international law at a presentation for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: “International law is developed according to practices. It changes based on what is happening in the field. These laws must be based on precedents, what already exists. There is flexibility in every law.” By this law of flexibility, the more aberrations of international law a state can legitimize, the more hoary actions it can continue to execute and justify.
Despite the blunt admissions of Israeli soldiers widely published in the Israeli press, it was clear from her calm presentation that Sharvit-Baruch and her cohort live in their own rhetorical universe where even language is assaulted.
In the Colonel’s own terminology, non-existent vocabulary in international law such as “capacity builders” and “revolving doors” is coined to pass over accepted terms such as “civilians” and “non-combatants.” Like the US government’s “torture memo” authors — who in contrast to Israel’s were not uniformed ranking members of the army — the Israeli military attempted to reclassify a “civilian” in a manner making it easier to strip them of protections provided by international humanitarian law. “Architecture of words,” said one participant
Despite all this, by her own standards, Sharvit-Baruch and her team could not be faulted for their efficiency: in Gaza, banning all media from entering; assaulting the population with air missiles, sniper ground troops, and white phosphorus; condemning all criticism of military actions as contrary to state security; keeping a chin above the law; attaining a teaching position at Tel Aviv University and finally a prestigious opportunity to address Harvard students and faculty.
Every dictator, from Hitler to Milosevic, has said that there must be no interference in their sovereign affairs, and that everyone else should butt out. But international law says human rights are universal and cannot be left to individual governments to interpret.
Israel seeks ways to silence human rights groups First goal is to stop Gaza war crimes revelations
Jonathan Cook in Nazareth 05/08/09
In a bid to staunch the flow of damaging evidence of war crimes committed during Israel’s winter assault on Gaza, the Israeli government has launched a campaign to clamp down on human rights groups, both in Israel and abroad. It has begun by targeting one of the world’s leading rights organizations, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), as well as a local group of dissident army veterans, Breaking the Silence, which last month published the testimonies of 26 combat soldiers who served in Gaza. Additionally, according to the Israeli media, the government is planning a “much more aggressive stance” towards human rights groups working to help the Palestinians.
Officials have questioned the sources of funding received by the organizations and threatened legislation to ban support from foreign governments, particularly in Europe. Breaking the Silence and other Israeli activists have responded by accusing the government of a “witch hunt” designed to intimidate them and starve them of the funds needed to pursue their investigations. “This is a very dangerous step,” said Mikhael Mannekin, one of the directors of Breaking the Silence. “Israel is moving in a very anti-democratic direction.”
The campaign is reported to be the brainchild of the far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, currently facing corruption charges, but has the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Early last month, Mr Lieberman used a press conference to accuse non-government organizations, or NGOs, of replacing diplomats in setting the international community’s agenda in relation to Israel. He also threatened reforms to curb the groups’ influence. A week later, Mr Netanyahu’s office weighed in against Human Rights Watch, heavily criticizing the organization for its recent fund-raising activities in Saudi Arabia.
HRW recently published reports arguing that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Gaza, including the use of white phosphorus and attacking civilian targets. HRW is now facing concerted pressure from Jewish lobby groups and from leading Jewish journalists in the US to sever its ties with Saudi donors. According to the Israeli media, some Jewish donors in the US have also specified that their money be used for human rights investigations that do not include Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry is putting pressure on European governments to stop funding many of Israel’s human rights groups. As a prelude to a clampdown, it has issued instructions to all its embassies abroad to question their host governments about whether they fund such activities. Last week the Foreign Ministry complained to British, Dutch and Spanish diplomats about their support for Breaking the Silence. The testimonies collected from soldiers suggested the Israeli army had committed many war crimes in Gaza, including using Palestinians as human shields and firing white phosphorus shells over civilian areas. One soldier called the army’s use of firepower “insane”. Israeli officials are reported to be discussing ways either to make it illegal for foreign governments to fund “political” organizations in Israel or to force such groups to declare themselves as “agents of a foreign government”. Every dictator, from Hitler to Milosevic, has said that there must be no interference in their sovereign affairs, and that everyone else should butt out. But international law says human rights are universal and cannot be left to individual governments to interpret. The idea behind the Geneva Conventions is that the international community has a duty to be the watchdog on human rights abuses wherever they occur.
Other groups reported to be in the Foreign Ministry’s sights are: B’Tselem, whose activities include providing Palestinians with cameras to record abuses by settlers and the army; Peace Now, which monitors settlement building; Machsom Watch, whose activists observe soldiers at the checkpoints; and Physicians for Human Rights, which has recently examined doctors’ complicity in torture.
The government’s new approach mirrors a long-running campaign against left wing and Arab human rights groups inside Israel conducted by NGO Monitor, a right-wing lobby group led by Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv. The government’s current campaign follows a police raid on the homes of six Israeli women peace activists in April.
The women, all members of New Profile, a feminist organization that opposes the militarization of Israeli society, were arrested and accused of helping Israeli youngsters to evade the draft. The women are still waiting to learn whether they will be prosecuted.
. . . . . it is not force they need to deploy but the moral power of their argument and their undeniable rights. Civic resistance and diplomatic war are the arms that might – just might – deliver these rights.
The Agony of Fatah
The historic movement of Palestinian national aspiration for freedom and statehood, the Fatah party of the late Yassir Arafat, has managed to convene its first congress inside the occupied territories, after 20 years without meeting at all. What a spectacle it offers. Fatah today resembles nothing so much as a bloated gerontocracy, a loose aggregate of colliding, ego-driven agendas. More interested in the trappings of statehood-without-a-state than the difficult practice of statecraft, its leaders, mostly over 70 and in their gleaming cars and suits, bear no relation to a young population struggling in poverty and walled into the shrinking residue of Palestine.
What should have been a historic congress – to rescue Fatah from its further slide into corruption and irrelevance after being trashed by the Islamist (but honest) Hamas in the 2006 general elections – was largely taken up with arguments about how to elect a new leadership, amid widespread accusations of vote-buying.
Fatah, which kept Palestinian hopes alive and put Palestine on the world’s agenda, is heading for the dustbin of history unless it quickly re-articulates a national platform and comes up with a credible leadership – respected by Israelis as well as Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas, the elected Palestinian president, is not that person. He has nothing to show for his conciliatory approach except an expansion of the Israeli occupation. By far the most credible Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, is in an Israeli prison.
After years of being sidelined by the gerontocrats, Mr Barghouti is expected to be elected to the leadership. Although as a former militia leader he has a complex and difficult history for the Israelis, they have discreetly let him conduct diplomacy from his jail cell, including on the so-called Prisoners’ Document of 2007 which amounts to a Palestinian united front in favour of a two-states solution based on the 1967 borders. It is with such leaders – capable of delivering not just the rank-and-file of Fatah but Hamas – that Israel will have to deal if it ever wants a negotiated solution.
Palestinian leaders should also reflect on where violence has taken their people: into the prison of Gaza and the Bantustans of the West Bank. With Barack Obama, a peacemaker, in Washington, it is not force they need to deploy but the moral power of their argument and their undeniable rights. Civic resistance and diplomatic war are the arms that might – just might – deliver these rights.
Uri Davis was doing alternative civilian service in the early 1960s guarding the perimeter fence of a kibbutz, one of Israel’s collective agricultural communities, on the edge of Gaza. As a pacifist at that time, he refused to carry a gun.
After one of many shouting matches, an exasperated kibbutz member led him into a eucalyptus grove inside the fence and pointed to piles of stones. “Those aren’t stones, they’re the ruins of a village called Dimra. Our kibbutz is cultivating the lands of Dimra,” he told the teenage Davis. “The families are refugees on the other side of this fence [in Gaza]. Now do you understand why all the Arabs must hate Jews and want to throw us into the sea?” Dr Davis says he understood better the look he was shot by the man when he replied that the kibbutz members should invite the refugees back to share the agricultural land.
The first Israeli Jew in Fatah’s parliament Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem 22/08/09
If a single person deserves the title of serial thorn in the side of the Israeli state, Uri Davis, a professor of critical Israel studies at Al-Quds University on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, might be the one to claim it. The crowning moment for Dr Davis arrived last weekend when he became the first Israeli Jew to be elected to one of Fatah’s governing bodies, the Revolutionary Council.
It is a public relations breakthrough for Fatah – which held its sixth congress last week, this time under occupation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem – in which Dr Davis clearly takes some pride. His presence on the 120member council is unlikely to make a significant difference to Fatah’s policies, which will continue to be largely dictated by Mahmoud Abbas, the president, and his inner circle. But it does have huge symbolic significance. His polling in the 31st place for one of 80 seats contested by more than 600 Fatah members, he said in an interview, challenged Israel’s suggestion that the Palestinian people and its leaders regard the Jews as their enemies. He was raised an Ashkenazi Jew in Jerusalem and schooled in Kfar Shemaryahu, a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv. He then spent a decade in exile from Israel starting in 1984, after his recruitment to Fatah by one of the founders of the PLO, Khalil al-Wazir, known as Abu Jihad. He ran the party’s London bureau until the mid-1990s, when he was allowed to return under the Oslo accords. He surprised friends by choosing to move to Sakhnin, a Palestinian community in northern Israel, from which he led a campaign against laws and practices that force Jewish and Palestinian citizens to live almost entirely apart.
He is more circumspect about discussing his current circumstances. His marriage to a Palestinian woman from Ramallah a year ago, his fourth, violated yet another Israeli taboo. Last month, he had to watch the indignities heaped on his wife after her brother, suffering from cancer, was transferred to a hospital in East Jerusalem, which is illegally annexed to Israel. She was denied a visitor’s permit and could only hear about her brother’s slow demise from Dr Davis and friends.
“This situation is not unique to my family, of course. It is part of the cruelty perpetrated by the occupation
I have spent an hour sitting there (a police car). We went deeper in the neighborhood, into the area where the families had been expelled from their homes. I could see the ultra-Orthodox men and women, in their distinctive clothing, walking quietly along the road, towards the grave of Shimon the Tzadik. No police blocked their way. I reflected that I was seeing the beginning of an innovation. No longer simply a “Jews Only” road. From now on, roads would be reserved to a specific kind of Jews, to those who “look Jewish”
There are no words to describe the injustice and folly of this, we are walking with our open eyes into the abyss. If we will not be smart enough to live together, Arabs and Jews, as in the days of the [British] Mandate when there were two mayors in Jerusalem, then we will be dragged into transfer, and if this is not enough, what will we do then? Erect concentration camps?
The court ruling seems to open the door for Palestinians to make claims upon property that they abandoned during the 1948 War. This is a result that one would think the court would certainly want to avoid. Ben-Artzi states that the court has opened a “Pandora’s Box.” One property that she says could be transferred to Arab ownership is owned by the Prime Minister’s own family. Of course, Israel would never apply the court decision to expel Jewish residents.
I know that Netanyahu’s family has a house in Talbiyeh and it also is abandoned property, maybe it also will be returned to its owners.
Ben-Artzi (Netanyahu’s Sister-in-Law) Counterpunch 10/08/09
Ethnic Cleansing in Sheik Jarrah
Alternative Information Center 06/08/09
The neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, housing about 500 Palestinians in East Jerusalem is under siege. Armed forces have been stationed here since early Sunday morning when the Hannoun and Gawi families were forcibly evicted from their homes by as many as 500 police officers.
Now it’s a waiting game. The families are sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their homes until they’re taken away by force. This isn’t the first time they’ve been made to leave their homes. They are Haifa refugees from the 1948 Nakba, what Israel calls the War of Independence. The UNRWA made an agreement with the Jordanian government (who controlled East Jerusalem at the time) to provide them with houses in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, where the families have been living ever since.
Since the two evictions on Sunday, 2 August, 23 people have been arrested, including members of the Gawi family. Two children from the Hannoun family were walking around with their arms in slings from being roughed up by the cops when they were dragged out of their homes.
[Background: According to Hatem Abo Ahmad, the lawyer representing the Hannoun and Gawi families, when the Jordanian government built the houses for Palestinian refugees in Sheikh Jarrah the administration was supposed to transfer the property rights to the families within three years. This never happened. Instead, the Oriental Jews Association and the Knesseth Yisrael Association used Ottoman period documents to claim ownership of the land in Sheikh Jarrah in 1982.
Ahmad says he holds a letter from the Turkish government proving that there was no original document to the one presented by the settler organizations, which supposedly dates back to sometime around 1870. This evidence was presented to the court in March of this year, about a month after the court ordered the Hannoun and Gawi families must leave their houses by March 15, or they would be evicted. The court ruled the documents presented had come two years too late. The appeal had to be made within 25 years of the original claim to land put forward by the settlers. The Hannouns and Gawis were served papers on 30 July, saying they had 10 days to voluntarily leave their homes or they would be taken out by force. They have been living there since 1956.]
Sheikh Jarrah is in a valley down from the American Colony hotel whereTony Blair stays in a luxury suite when visiting Jerusalem as the Quartet’s “Peace Envoy”. When you look out of the Hanouns’ window, you can see Blair’s hotel 30 metres away; Blair can probably see the Hanouns’ house during his morning swim. He has said nothing.
The most disturbing fact about Israel’s eviction programme is that when you look around East Jerusalem and the surrounding area there are considerable plots of land without homes. If they wanted to build new illegal settlements without kicking out Palestinians in the area they could do so. The targeting of Sheikh Jarrah and other areas is actually a process of racial purification, the transformation of East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem.
The Guardian 05/08/09
A couple of months ago I spent a fortnight in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement – activists who help Palestinians non-violently resist Israeli oppression. The most pressing of many issues during my stay was the attempts by an Israeli settler company, Nahalat Shimon, backed by the Israeli courts, to cleanse East
Jerusalem of its Arab population, focusing its efforts at that time on the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
I spent a week sleeping on a floor in the house of the Hanoun family – a husband and wife and their three children. Longer-term activists were sleeping there as well, ready to document their inevitable eviction. Well, last Saturday at 5.30am the Israeli border police did come and forceably evict them (so forceably that the son Rami had to be taken to hospital). The activists were arrested, as were protesters who subsequently took to the streets. The Hanouns were offered a tent by the Red Cross.
The Hanoun family have been the victims of terror for decades as they have fought off Israel’s attempts to take their homes. Maher Hanoun’s father was a refugee from the nakba (or “the catastophe”, as Palestinians call the founding of Israel in 1948). The Jordanian government gave them the property in 1956 as compensation and transferred the ownership to them in 1962. Maher was born in 1958 so has spent his whole life, and bought up all his children, in his home.
As in other parts of East Jerusalem, Maher was offered payment if he would go quietly. He refused. “This is my home,” he said to me. “I would never respect myself if I sold my home for money. They want to build a settlement on our hearts, on our dreams.”
Across the way, there is a makeshift tent where a 62-year-old woman now lives after settlers took over her house. Initially they only took two parts of her house so she was literally living next to them. Then she was kicked out. Her husband had a heart attack when their house was violently repossessed with the help of more than 50 soldiers (on the night of Barack Obama’s US election victory). After spending some time in hospital, her husband had another attack two weeks later and died. The family again refused money to leave their homes. “I don’t have a life now,” she said from her tent. “With my husband and house gone, there is no life. I just hope with the help of God that this occupation will stop and we can return to our homes.”
I don’t know what happened to this women in the eviction on Saturday night, but one report I read said even her tent had been destroyed.
The one good thing about the Netanyahu-Lieberman administration is that they are much more honest about their colonisation programme than their “centrist” predecessors. The Netanyahu administration is now willing to get rid of some “outposts”, in return for continued expansion in East Jerusalem and “natural growth” in existing settlements throughout the West Bank. That was the policy negotiated by Ehud Olmert and George Bush before the Annapolis conference in 2007. Netanyahu is just more honest in saying that it obviates the possibility of a Palestinian state.
Maher agrees: “I can’t see how we can have a capital if there is no land, no houses, no people,” he said.
The next stop in this attempt to cleanse the putative future capital of Palestine of its indigenous population is the Bustan area of Silwan which sits in the valley down from the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. When I first arrived in Israel I went on the City of David tour, which functions as a three-hour Israeli propaganda extravaganza (dressed up as an archeological experience). King David in Biblical lore is said to have been the first Jewish leader to settle the land in Jerusalem and his son King Solomon is said to have built the First Temple in 960 BC.
In 2005, some archeological finds purported to provide evidence that the lore was true. Now, the Israeli government wants to turn the homes of the people of Silwan into an archaeological theme park. Eighty- eight houses are due for demolition, home to about 1,500 Palestinians.
When South Africa assigned rights according to race they called it apartheid. When Israel assigns rights according to religion they call it the only democracy in the Middle East.
US turns blind eye to Israel’s new separation policy. Israel welcomes American Jewish settlers, bars Palestinian-American
Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem 18/08/09
In an echo of restrictions already firmly in place in Gaza, Israel has begun barring movement between Israel and the West Bank for those holding a foreign passport, including humanitarian aid workers and thousands of Palestinian residents. The new policy is designed to force foreign citizens, mainly from North America and Europe, to choose between visiting Israel – including East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed illegally – and the West Bank. The new regulation is in breach of Israel’s commitments under the Oslo accords to Western governments that their citizens would be given continued access to the occupied territories. Israel has not suggested there are any security justifications for the new restriction.
Palestinian activists point out that the rule is being enforced selectively by Israel, which is barring foreign citizens of Palestinian origin from access to Israel and East Jerusalem while actively encouraging European and American Jews to settle in the West Bank. US diplomats, who are aware of the policy, have raised no objections.
Additionally, human rights groups complain that the rule change will further separate East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state, from the West Bank. It is also expected to increase the pressures on families where one member holds a foreign passport to leave the region and to disrupt the assistance aid organizations are able to give Palestinians.
“This is a deepening and refinement of the policy of separation that began with Israel establishing checkpoints in the West Bank and building the wall,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah who heads a Right to Enter campaign highlighting Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement.
“Foreign governments like the US ought to be up in arms because this rule violates their own citizens’ rights under diplomatic agreements. So far they have remained silent.”
Mr Bahour, 44, said the immediate victims of the new policy would be thousands of Palestinians from abroad who, like himself, returned to the West Bank during the more optimistic Oslo period. Well-educated and often with established careers, they have been vital both to the regeneration of the local Palestinian economy by investing in and setting up businesses and to the nurturing of a fledgling civil society by running welfare organizations and teaching at universities. Although many have married local spouses and raised their children in the West Bank, Israel has usually denied them residency permits, forcing them to renew tourist visas every three months by temporarily leaving the region, often for years on end.
Mr Bahour said the latest rule change should be understood as one measure in a web of restrictions strangling normal Palestinian life that have been imposed by Israel, which controls the population registers for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In early 2006 Mr Bahour, who is married with two daughters, was affected by another rule change when Israel refused to renew tourist visas to Palestinians with foreign passports, forcing them to separate from their families in the West Bank. After an international outcry, Israel revoked the policy but insisted that Palestinians such as Mr Bahour apply for permits from the Israeli military authorities to remain in the West Bank.“This latest rule like the earlier one, fits into Israel’s general goal of ethnic cleansing,” he said. “Israel makes life ever more difficult to encourage any Palestinians who can, such as those with foreign passports, to leave.”
Mr Bahour said the new restrictions would further sever the West Bank from Jerusalem, the centre of Palestinian commercial and cultural life. Overnight, he said, his Ramallah business consultancy had lost a quarter of its clients – all from nearby East Jerusalem – because he was now barred from leaving the West Bank.
He lost his limited privileges last month when he finally received a Palestinian ID. He said he had been forced to take the ID, which supersedes his American passport in the eyes of the Israeli authorities, to avoid the danger of being deported. “The ID was bittersweet for me. It means I can’t be separated from my family here, but it also means my American passport is not recognized and I am now subject to the closures and arrests faced by ordinary Palestinians.”
“Many of the aid organizations working in the West Bank have offices and staff in East Jerusalem and even in Israel, and it’s difficult to see how they are going to cope with this new restriction.” Staff of major international organizations such as the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], and its humanitarian division, OCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], had been denied entry at Ben Gurion airport after declaring that they were working in the West Bank. “When Israel prevents access to an area, it raises the question of what is happening there,” she said. “What are we being prevented from seeing?”
Human rights groups are also concerned by the wording of the new restriction, confining foreign citizens to the “Palestinian Authority”. The PA rules over only about 40 per cent of the West Bank. The groups fear that in the future Israel may seek to prevent foreigners from moving between the PA-controlled enclaves of the West Bank and the 60 per cent under Israel control. Guy Imbar, a spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said the phrase referred to the entire West Bank. But Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions warned: “Given Israel’s track record, it is right to be suspicious that the restriction may be reinterpreted at a later date.”
Silwan. Remember that name. Its violence will soon overshadow that of Hebron.
Fifteen minutes of hate in Silwan
(The vicious anti-Arab sentiments flowing through the streets of this Jerusalem neighbourhood are a shock to the senses)
It’s searing hot, but there’s some pleasantness about the stone-flagged path rising from the centre of Silwan, Jerusalem.
Maybe it’s the breeze, or the stone houses oozing coolness into the air, or maybe it’s the wide-open mountain landscape. There are three of us – Ilan, the director, Michael, the cameraman and me, the interviewee. We’re making a film on the blatant institutional discrimination against the residents of this Palestinian east-Jerusalem neighbourhood; authorities favour the Jewish settlers who are not hiding their desire to Judaise the neighbourhood, to void it of its Palestinian character.
Even before we position the camera, a group of orthodox Jewish girls, aged about eight to 10, come walking up the path in their ankle-long skirts, pretty, chattering, carefree. One of them slows down beside us, and pleasantly asks us if we want to film her. What would you like to tell us, we ask. I want to say that Jerusalem belongs to us Jews, she says as she walks on, only it’s a pity there are Arabs here. The messiah will only come when there isn’t a single Arab left here. She walks on, and her girlfriends giggle and rejoin her.
Two minutes later a young, well-built young man comes up, carrying a weapon and a radio, without any uniform or tag upon his clothes. Even before he opens his mouth I’m already guessing he’s a security guard, an employee of the private security contractor operated by settlers but sponsored by the housing ministry at an annual budget of NIS 40m (£4.6m). This security company has long since become a private militia policing the entire neighbourhood and intimidating the Palestinian residents without any legal basis whatsoever. A committee set up by a housing minister determined that this arrangement was to cease, and the security of both Palestinian and Jewish residents must be handed over to the Israeli national police. The government endorsed the committee’s conclusions in 2006, but recanted six months later, under settler pressure. The private security contractor went on operating.
What are you doing here, the guy asks us. What are you doing here, I reply. I’m a security guard, now tell me what are you doing here, he says, growing more irate. It’s none of your business, I reply. What’s your name, he asks. What’s your name, I answer. It doesn’t matter, he says, I’m a security guard. So my name doesn’t matter either, I reply. The security guy, visibly annoyed, resorts to conversing with his radio. If we were Palestinians, we’d have cleared the street at first notice. That’s the unwritten rule. But we are Hebrew-speaking Israelis. It’s a problem. The operation centre apparently explains our man that we’re on public ground and there’s little he can do about it. He positions himself nearby with his gun, not leaving us the entire trip.
We move on. A few minutes later two teenage girls, aged 17 or 18, come walking up the path. They’re not orthodox, and one can see that they’re not local. One of them stops in front of the camera. Film me, she pleads. Would you like to be interviewed, we ask. She says yes. She’s from the town of Gan Yavne, and came to visit Jerusalem, City of David. Why here, we ask. Because this is where King David was, she says. It’s a very important place for the Jewish people. It’s such a shame there are Arabs here, though. But very soon all the Arabs will be dead, God willing, and all of Jerusalem will be ours. She walks on.
Two minutes pass by, and an ultra-orthodox Jewish family comes striding up the path. The husband, all in black, asks Ilan: say, do both Jews and Arabs live in this neighbourhood? Both Palestinians and Jews, Ilan replies, but most residents are Palestinians. It’s only temporary, the ultra-Orthodox man reassures him, pretty soon there won’t be a single Arab left here.
I exchanged glances with Ilan and Michael. We’ve been here for less than 15 minutes, we haven’t asked anyone on what they feel about Arabs or the future of Jerusalem, we only stood for a short while in the street. Hate flowed toward us like a river to the sea, freely, naturally. Do you think, I ask Ilan, that we’ll run into someone who’ll say something positive, something human, something kind about human beings? Forget human, Ilan replies, I wonder if we’ll run into someone who’ll be content to just say something nice about the clear Jerusalem air.
Silwan. Remember that name. Its violence will soon overshadow that of Hebron.
(This article was originally published in Hebrew on the Israeli blog Haokets. English translation by Dimi Reider.)View all →