Briefing Paper August 2011

In the Israel of 2011, every manifestation of basic human empathy toward the Palestinian side, every disclosure of understanding for its aspirations and priorities hits a wall of hatred, distrust and the growing siege mentality.  


The truth behind another Israeli expulsion trick

Amira Hass Ha’aretz 22/06/11

The artificial division between Areas A, B and C was supposed to be erased from the map, and dropped from the discourse, in 1999. Instead, Israel has sanctified and perpetuated it.

Of all places, it is in Azzariyeh, east of Jerusalem, that one can really learn to appreciate the activities of Palestinian law-enforcement authorities in cities like Ramallah and Nablus. In those cities, Palestinian security forces are seen as authority figures who are trying to protect and serve Palestinian citizens, not just as extensions of Fatah or subcontractors of the Israel Defense Forces or the Shin Bet security service.

Unlike Ramallah and Nablus, which are categorized as “A” areas, Azzariyeh and its neighbors Sawahra and Abu Dis are holed up in an enclave of type “B”, where the IDF does not allow the Palestinian police to be fully functional. The interim Oslo 2 agreement determines that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for maintaining public order in Area B, but in the same breath it limits the PA’s authority and the means by which it can protect the people from disruptions of public order. Almost every action taken by the Palestinian police in Area B requires IDF approval.

And Israel, which has no inhibitions about violating key clauses of the agreement, is particularly meticulous here: The number of police officers is limited, police are prohibited from moving from a makeshift police station in an apartment building to a proper one, they are not allowed to carry weapons or wear uniforms, and they are prohibited from bringing in reinforcements on their own to locate drug or weapons dealers or to deliver subpoenas. Is it any wonder that the Azzariyeh-Abu Dis enclave has become a place of refuge for the outlaws of the West Bank? Not that this enclave has not had its share of troubles. Since it was shut off by the wall in 2005, all its ties with its natural and immediate urban centre, East Jerusalem, have been severed. The enclave’s isolation, and the impoverishment and despair to which it gave rise, are as painful as a fresh burn.

The artificial division between Areas A, B and C was supposed to be erased from the map, and dropped from the discourse, in 1999. Instead, Israel has sanctified and perpetuated it. The largest share – 60 percent – is designated Area C, meaning it is under full Israeli security and civil control. It is self-evident why Israel perpetuates the Area C classification. After all, it gives Israel a free hand to continue emptying that part of the West Bank of Palestinians and encourage more Jews to violate international law and settle there.

But what about Area B? Why does Israel insist that drug and weapons trafficking should flourish in an area several dozen meters away from Ma’aleh Adumim and some three kilometres from the Judea and Samaria District police headquarters – both of which sites, as is often forgotten, are violating international law due to their location on the land reserves of Palestinian villages? True, there is also unlicensed public transportation, unlicensed construction, environmental pollution – but the drugs and weapons trade dwarfs those violations. A similar situation exists in A-Ram, the hybrid city between Ramallah and Jerusalem that is also cut off from its past, its surroundings and its land by the wall. Just a hop, skip and jump (over a wall and barbed-wire fence ) away from Jerusalem, some 100,000 people have been left to fend for their own personal safety, a situation that can be reversed.

Is there some deliberate intention behind the painstaking adherence to a clause in an agreement that was supposed to be short-lived? That’s what many Palestinians have concluded. Some say the drugs and weapons dealers are collaborators, or potential collaborators, with Israel. This is why the Shin Bet and IDF are not allowing the Palestinian police to take action against them and why, according to them, Israeli security forces immediately find out about any Palestinian attempt to capture them. Some find here a strategic goal: The worse this intolerable situation gets in neighbourhoods that are so close to the annexed Jerusalem, the greater the likelihood that the residents will leave and head over to Area A. In other words, it’s just another expulsion trick.

Listen to the Palestinians. The subjugated excel at analyzing the implications of their ruler’s actions. And if the Palestinians are wrong, then why will the IDF not let the Palestinian police operate freely?

East Jerusalem suffers heroin plague

Kieron Monks al Jazeera 06/07/11 [an extract]

Arab residents of East Jerusalem and its suburbs are faced with lack of employment, poor education, high poverty levels and political instability – all of which contribute to the current level of drug use

“I didn’t think I would ever stop”, Abu Salah tells the circle. “After 14 years of buying and selling, hashish, heroin and cocaine, I had lost control of my life. I had no job. I would never speak to my family.” His story, and the clinic we are sitting in, is an indication of how Palestine’s drug problem is fast becoming a crisis. The towns in and around East Jerusalem have become breeding grounds for addiction, made vulnerable by poverty and a lack of security.

Unlike neighbouring Egypt and Lebanon, Palestine has no historic connection with the drugs trade. Its arrival has been sudden and spectacular, with heroin in particular spreading like wildfire. Al Quds University estimates there are over 6,000 addicts in East Jerusalem today, compared with 300 in 1986. In the town of Al Ram, pressed up against Israel’s Separation Barrier, degradation has set in. Once a lively suburb of Jerusalem, since 2006 it has been locked out by the Barrier, which surrounds it on three sides. The effect of this sudden disconnection from the city has been devastating.

One-third of all businesses have been forced to close, 75 per cent of youths under 24 are unemployed, and around half of the town’s 62,000 residents have been denied the ID they require to enter Jerusalem. Al Ram, like neighbouring Abu Dis and Al Ezzariya, has been left in limbo. It is now classified as a mixture of Area B and C, under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which stipulates Israeli security control with some Palestinian Authority administration. Palestinian police are forbidden from operating here without permission, so residents live with anarchy.

“There is no authority, no security and no police”, says Dr Ajman Afghani of al Maqdese, a social development NGO. “It is easy to steal cars and rob houses, and it has become like a supermarket for drugs”. Palestinian Authority Spokesman Ghassan Khatib acknowledges the problem; “these areas are suffering because we are not allowed to function, and is Israel is neglecting them as a policy.” Dr Afghani fears that Al Ram has become well known as a safe haven for dealers and users. He points to a small hole in the Barrier outside his window, which he claims is used to smuggle drugs. “Every night they bring heroin through here”.

In the absence of an authority to address the trade, civil society institutions like Al Maqdese have stepped into the breach. They have a number of programmes tackling different strands of the drug problem; visiting schools to promote awareness, offering counselling to people who need it – they have trained psychiatrists – and a progressive harm-reduction scheme that distributes clean needles, straps, and condoms to addicts. Harm-reduction seeks to contain the spread of deadly blood diseases. A 2010 study conducted by the World Health Organisation paid 225 addicts to give blood for testing. The startling results showed over half of the subjects were infected with the incurable AIDS or Hepatitis C viruses. Were this ratio projected to cover all of East Jerusalem’s addicts, the number of carriers would easily dwarf the rest of the Palestinian Territories combined.

The severity of the problem has forced a traditional, conservative community to accept the presence of drug-workers in their town. A generation ago, a programme to distribute syringes would have faced serious opposition. This new atmosphere of tolerance has allowed Nihad Rajabi, a former heroin user, to found what he calls “the only rehab centre in Palestine” in one of Al Ram’s most populous areas. It has been busy since it opened in 2007.

“Up to 23 people can stay here at a time”, he says. “They stay for one to three months and they get clean. Sometimes their families bring them here, or they come themselves. Before, people (in Al Ram) were thinking that one who uses drugs cannot be saved; now they are pleased to have us here.” Rajabi estimates the centre has a 40 per cent success rate, and that the rest will return to addiction. He cites the lack of employment opportunities and constant presence of dealers, ready to prey on any weakness, as factors leading to relapse.

The chances are better when the patient has a Jerusalem ID and can be referred for follow-up care. The centre has an informal partnership with a better-resourced NGO in the city, the Al Sadeq Al Taleb Association, which often treats Rajabi’s patients when they have exhausted the maximum three-month stay in his facility.

Addressing the supply to Palestinians is problematic, given the lack of autonomy in and around Jerusalem. It is a widely held belief among Palestinians that the Israeli authorities encourage addiction in Arabs, in a conspiratorial effort to undermine their national aspirations. While such a claim is impossible to prove, and likely exaggerated, there is little effort from Israeli police to halt the supply to Arabs. The same dealers can be seen in plain sight day after day.

Israel’s COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) recently made a statement to Ha’aretz denying their responsibility for towns like Al Ram, claiming; “By dint of agreements there are no routine enforcement activities of the Israel Police…except in cases where Israeli citizens are involved in the crimes.” Palestinians both sides of the Barrier tell me their appeals to Israeli authorities have fallen on deaf ears.

Hassan, a shopkeeper close to Damascus gate, reported a dealer operating close to his store. “They asked me if he was selling to Jews or Arabs”, he says. “I told them ‘Arabs’ and they did nothing.”

A more legitimate Palestinian grievance is that Israel has weakened their communities, making them more vulnerable. Access restrictions around Jerusalem have negatively impacted on schooling, resulting in a situation of 5,000 Palestinian children not attending any school at all. As a result, the NGOs are treating addicts as young as nine. The lack of qualifications inevitably haunt them even if they recover.

Access restrictions from the Separation Barrier lost thousands of Al Ram residents their jobs overnight. Construction work, previously a well-paid profession, has dried up and there is no equivalent labour market east of the Barrier.

It is becoming increasingly common for addictions to spread in families where the chief breadwinner has been laid off and instead spends their time at home abusing substances. This phenomenon is widely blamed for the rise in female users, and there are a number of documented cases of fathers selling their daughters into prostitution for their next fix.

In 1994, apartheid came to an end and Palestine became the only developing country in the world under the subjugation of a Western affiliated regime . . . There are other regimes, particularly in the developing world, that suppress human rights, but there is no other case of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing country and that has done so for so long.

Rights in Principle – Rights in Practice       Badil

Jordan Valley families left homeless

Ma’an Hilary Minch (EAPPI)   23/06/11

“The big soldier wouldn’t speak to me. He just said ‘This is my job, sit down and shut up’,” the newly homeless Ralia Darraghmeh, a diabetes sufferer in her sixties said of the one of the crew who had come to demolish her home Tuesday morning.

She was sitting alone, crying in Khirbet Yarza, a tiny Bedouin hamlet, as her tin home was taken down by order of Israel’s Civil Administration, which governs planning and permit issuing in the 60 percent of the West Bank categorized as Area C under the 1993 Oslo Accords. According to an observer from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, 30 people, including 8 children were affected by the demolitions.

The Darraghmeh family represent almost all of the residents of the hamlet. The eldest son of the group had planned to get married in July, but his brother said the goods and savings that would have supported the marriage were buried underneath the debris of their home. “I really don’t care about my suffering, but what about the children?” asked another of the elder sons in the family as he surveyed the damage.

With their belongings strewn in the rubble, the men, women and children of the hamlet began gathering up their goods, salvaging what was possible, and trying to decide where to go. The family said they were warned by the army that the soldiers would return if the family remained in the area or received humanitarian assistance.

According to a report from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, home demolitions in the first six months of 2011 displaced 706 individuals, including 341 minors.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday condemning the house demolitions. In an urgent appeal action, the organization demanded that the Israeli authorities place a moratorium on house demolitions and forced evictions in the West Bank. The statement also called for planning and building regulations in the Jordan Valley, and elsewhere in the occupied territories, to be the sole responsibility of local Palestinian communities.

Picasso in Ramallah, Bulldozers in Bir Al-Ad and the Fear of Missiles

Adam Keller   Gush Shalom 25/6/11

“You here don’t deserve to have electricity!”

This week there arrived at the International Academy of Art, Palestine – in Ramallah – the painting “Buste de Femme,” which Pablo Picasso painted in 1943 when he lived in Nazi-occupied Paris. The painting is usually located at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Its value is estimated at seven million dollars and it was lent to the Palestinian gallery for one month.

Horani, director of the Academy of Art, who had conducted the negotiations with the Dutch museum told that it took no less than two years of discussions and coordination and struggles to overcome numerous bureaucratic obstacles and allow the valuable painting to move from the Amsterdam airport to that of Tel Aviv and from there through the IDF checkpoints to Ramallah. “Nothing is normal over here” Horani said. “We planned to get an art work here, but found ourselves going through all the political complications.”

Fortunately, the project of the “Picasso in Palestine” exhibition got very energetic assistance from Hourani’s Dutch colleague, Charles Esche, who said “Our Picasso was changed in the course of its journey to Ramallah. It gets another meaning, and the story of this travel will remain part of this painting’s history.”

Never before was a work of art on this level exhibited in the Palestinian territories. (Art Knowledge News).

On that same day, at almost exactly the same hour that the valuable painting arrived at the showroom in Ramallah, bulldozers of the Israeli Defense Forces made their way to the tiny village of Bir Al-Ad in the South Hebron Hills, and in less than an hour demolished its miserable huts, destroyed sacks of animal food, uprooted plants and shrubs, leaving behind heaps of rubble and ninety homeless people. The nearby caves, also used for housing, were on this occasion not demolished, but the soldiers made sure to cut and sever the electricity cables which the inhabitants had installed to light them. “You here don’t deserve to have electricity!” said one of the soldiers to a resident who dared to protest. Ezra Nawi and Rabbi Arik Asherman, Israeli peace activists who arrived at the spot after hearing the inhabitants’ desperate pleas for help, were immediately taken off to ilitary detention.

And this destruction was nothing new or unusual in the history of the Israeli occupation on the West Bank. It happens routinely, on one week in the southern West Bank and next week in its east, although such events receive very little attention and are rarely reported in any media. Had I wanted, I could have post here every week – and maybe two or three times a week – the story of the latest destruction, and they would all be alike as two peas in a pod (or two drops of blood), different only with changing name of the most currently destroyed village. As usual in such stories, the land of Bir Al-Ad is coveted by settlers – in this case, the settlers of the nearby Mitzpe Yair. Officially, Mitzpe Yair is an illegal outpost, even by the rather permissive standards of the Israeli occupation. Which in no way disturbs the same authorities to consider its inhabitants fully deserving of a regular supply of electricity which the army takes care to provide.

And two days after these events, the Army’s Home Front Command conducted a civil defense exercise in unprecedented dimensions throughout Israel. And in this exercise horror scenarios were postulated of war on four fronts, against the Palestinians and the Syrians and the Lebanese and the Iranians simultaneously and the fall of seven hundred missiles. And citizens were to take the air raid alarms seriously and run immediately to the nearest shelter, if any. And a senior Home Front Command officer expressed dissatisfaction with the indifferent behavior of many citizens, especially the Tel Avivians who ignored the blaring sirens and continued to bathe in the sea. “When real missiles fall, we will see them running” said the officer with some vindictiveness.

But maybe the fall of the real missiles can be averted. If the day comes when e residents of Bir Al-Ad can live peacefully in their miserable homes, and when loaning paintings to a gallery Palestinians would no longer need to struggle through the coils of Israeli military bureaucracy, and when all Palestinians – rich and poor, rural and urban – are a free people in their homeland of Palestine, then might also the officers of the IDF Home Front Command consign the horror scenarios to the archives and take off their uniforms for a refreshing swim on the Tel Aviv sea shore.

Israel has become a society of force and violence

Gideon Levy   30/6/11

We have become a society whose language is violence, a country that seeks to resolve nearly everything by force, and only by force.

Are we listening to ourselves? Are we still aware of the awful noise coming from here? Have we noticed how the discourse is becoming more and more violent and how the language of force has just about become Israel’s only official language?

A group of international activists is slated to sail a flotilla to the shores of the Gaza Strip. Many of them are social activists and fighters for peace and justice, veterans of the struggle against apartheid, colonialism, imperialism, pointless wars and injustice. Just stating that is difficult here, since they have already been described as thugs.

There are intellectuals, Holocaust survivors and people of conscience among them. When they fought against apartheid in South Africa or the war in Vietnam, they won admiration for their actions even here. But to say an admiring word now about these people, some of whom are elderly, who are risking their lives and investing their money and time for a goal they see as just, is considered treason. It’s possible that some violent people have intermingled with them, but the vast majority are people of peace, not haters of Israel but those who hate its injustices. They have decided not to remain silent – to challenge the existing order, which is unacceptable to them, which cannot be acceptable to any moral person.

Yes, they want to create a provocation – the only way to remind the world about Gaza’s situation, in which no one takes an interest unless Qassam rockets or flotillas are involved. Yes, the situation in Gaza has improved in recent months, in part because of the previous flotilla. But no, Gaza is still not free – far from it. It has no outlet to the sea or air, there are no exports, and its inhabitants are still partially imprisoned. Israelis who freak out if Ben-Gurion International Airport shuts down for two hours should be able to understand what life without a port is like. Gaza is entitled to its freedom, and those aboard the flotilla are entitled to take action in an effort to achieve this. Israel should be allowing them to demonstrate.

But look at how Israel is reacting. The flotilla was described immediately, by everyone, as a security threat; its activists were classified as enemies, and there was no doubt cast on the ridiculous assumptions that defense officials are making and the press has lapped up eagerly. We haven’t heard the last of the campaign to demonize the previous flotilla, in which Turkish citizens were killed for no reason, yet the new campaign has already begun. It has all the buzzwords: danger, chemical substances, hand-to-hand combat, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, terrorists and maybe some suicide bombers. Blood and fire and pillars of smoke!

The unavoidable conclusion is that there is only one way to act against the passengers aboard the flotilla: by force, and only by force, as with every security threat. This is a recurring pattern: first demonization, then legitimization (to act violently). Remember the tall tales about sophisticated Iranian weaponry coming through arms-smuggling tunnels in Gaza, or those about how the Strip was booby-trapped? Then Operation Cast Lead came along and the soldiers hardly encountered anything like that.

The attitude toward the flotilla is a continuation of the same behaviour. The campaign of scare tactics and demonization is what contributes to the violent rhetoric that is taking over the entire public discourse. For what will Israelis think about when they are spoon-fed scary stories about the flotilla, if not about the use of force? Those activists want to kill Israel Defense Forces soldiers? We’ll arise and kill them first.

Now the politicians, the generals and the commentators are competing with one another over who can provide the most frightening description of the flotilla, who can most inflame the public, who can best praise the soldiers who will save us, and who can deliver the most pompous rhetoric of the kind one would expect before a war. One important commentator, Dan Margalit, has already waxed poetic in his newspaper column: “Blessed are the hands,” he wrote of the hands that sabotaged one of the ships meant to take part in the flotilla. That’s another thuggish and illegal action, one that wins immediate applause here, without anyone asking: By what right?

This flotilla, too, will not get through. The prime minister and the defense minister have promised us this. Once again Israel will show them, those activists, who’s more of a man – who’s strongest and who’s in charge, in the air, on land and at sea. The “lessons” of the previous flotilla have been learned well – not the lessons of the pointless killing or the violent and unnecessary takeover of the ship, but of the humiliation of Israel’s military.

But the truth is the real humiliation lies in the fact that naval commandos were deployed to intercept the ships in the first place, and that is something that reflects on us all: how we have become a society whose language is violence, a country that seeks to resolve nearly everything by force, and only by force.

The Jewish Ayatollahs

Uri Avnery       July 2, 2011

What really set off a storm was a passage in the book that says that it is permitted to kill children, when it is clear that once they grow up, they can be “harmful”. It is customary for a book by a rabbi interpreting Jewish law to bear the endorsement – called haskama (“agreement”) – of other prominent rabbis. This particular masterpiece bore the “haskama” of four prominent rabbis. One of them is Dov Lior.

The Archbishop of New York announces that any Catholic who rents out an apartment to a Jew commits a mortal sin and runs the risk of excommunication.

A protestant priest in Berlin decrees that a Christian who employs a Jew will be banished from his parish.

Impossible? Indeed. Except in Israel – in reverse, of course.

The rabbi of Safed, a government employee, has decreed that it is strictly forbidden to let apartments to Arabs – including the Arab students at the local medical school. Twenty other town rabbis – whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers, mostly secular, including Arab citizens – have publicly supported this edict.

A group of Israeli intellectuals lodged a complaint with the Attorney General, arguing that this is a case of criminal incitement. The Attorney General promised to investigate the matter with all due haste. That was half a year ago. “Due haste” has not yet produced a decision.

The same goes for another group of rabbis, who prohibited employing Goyim. (In ancient Hebrew, “Goy” just meant a people, any people. In the Bible, the Israelites were called a “holy Goy”. But in the last centuries, the term has come to mean non-Jews, with a decidedly derogatory undertone.)

This week, Israel was in uproar. The turmoil was caused by the arrest of Rabbi Dov Lior. The affair goes back to a book released more than a year ago by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. Shapira is, perhaps, the most extreme inhabitant of Yitzhar, which is perhaps the most extreme settlement in the West Bank. Its members are frequently accused of carrying out pogroms in the nearby Palestinian villages, generally in “retaliation” for army actions against structures that have been built without official consent.

The book, called Torat ha-Melekh (“the Teaching of the King”) deals with the killing of Goyim. It says that in peacetime, Goyim should generally not be killed – not because of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which, according to the book, applies to Jews only, but because of God’s command after the Deluge (Genesis 9:6): “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man.” This applies to all Goyim who fulfill some basic commandments. However, the situation is totally different in wartime. And according to the rabbis, Israel has been at war since its foundation, and probably will be for ever more.

In war, in every place where the presence of a Goy endangers a Jew, it is permitted to kill him, even though he be a righteous goy who bears no responsibility for the situation. It is permitted – indeed, recommended – to kill not only enemy fighters, but also those who “support” or “encourage” them. It is permitted to kill enemy civilians if this is helpful for the conduct of the war. (Intentionally or not, this is reflected in the tactics employed by our army in the “Cast Lead” operation: to protect the life of a single Israeli soldier, it is permissible to kill as many Palestinians as necessary. The result: some 1300 dead Palestinians, half of them non-combatants, as against five soldiers killed by hostile action. Six more were killed by “friendly fire”.)

What really set off a storm was a passage in the book that says that it is permitted to kill children, when it is clear that once they grow up, they can be “harmful”. It is customary for a book by a rabbi interpreting Jewish law to bear the endorsement – called haskama (“agreement”) – of other prominent rabbis. This particular masterpiece bore the “haskama” of four prominent rabbis. One of them is Dov Lior.

Rabbi Lior (the name can be translated as “I have the light” or “the light has been given to me”) stands out as one of the most extreme rabbis in the West Bank settlements – no mean achievement in a territory that is abundantly stocked with extreme rabbis, most of whom would be called fascist in any other country. He is the rabbi of Kiryat Arba, the settlement on the fringes of Hebron that cultivates the teachings of Meir Kahane and that produced the mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein.

Lior is also the chief of a Hesder yeshiva, a religious school affiliated with the army, whose pupils combine their studies (purely religious) with privileged army service. When the book – now in its third printing – first appeared, there was an uproar. No rabbi protested, though quite a number discounted its religious argumentation. The Orthodox distanced themselves, if only on the ground that it violated the religious rule that forbids “provoking the Goyim”. Following public demand, the Attorney General started a criminal investigation against the author and the four signatories of the “haskama”. They were called in for questioning, and most did appear and protested that they had had no time to read the book.

Lior, the text of whose “haskama” testified to the fact that he had read the book thoroughly, did not heed repeated summons to appear at the police station. He ignored them openly and contemptuously. This week the police reacted to the insult: they ambushed the rabbi on the “tunnel road” – a road with several tunnels between Jerusalem and Hebron, reserved for Jews – and arrested him. They did not handcuff him and put him in a police car, as they normally would, but replaced his driver with a police officer, who drove him straight to a police station. There he was politely questioned for an hour and set free.

The news of the arrest spread like wildfire throughout the settlements. Hundreds of the “Youth of the Hills” – groups of young settlers who carry out pogroms and spit on the law – gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem, battled with the police and cut the main road to the capital. . . . . .   But closing roads and parading the released Lior triumphantly on their shoulders was not the only thing the young fanatics did. They also tried to storm the Supreme Court building. Why this building in particular? That requires some explanation.

The Israeli right-wing, and especially the settlers and their rabbis, have long lists of hate objects. Some of these have been published. I have the honour of appearing on most. But the Supreme Court occupies a place high up, if not at the very top. Why? The court has not covered itself with glory when dealing with the occupied territories. It has allowed the destruction of many Palestinian homes as retaliation for “terrorist” acts, approved “moderate” torture, assented to the “separation fence” (which was condemned by the international court), and generally positioned itself as an arm of the occupation.

But in some cases, the law has not enabled the court to wriggle out of its responsibilities. It has called for the demolition of “outposts” set up on private Palestinian property. It has forbidden “targeted killing” if the person could be arrested without risk, it has decreed that it is unlawful to prevent an Arab citizen from living in a village on state-owned land, and so on. Each such decision drew a howl of rage from the rightists. But there is a deeper reason for the extreme antagonism.

Unlike modern Christianity, but very much like Islam, the Jewish religion is not just a matter between Man and God, but also a matter between Man and Man. It does not live in a quiet corner of public life. Religious law encompasses all aspects of public and private life. Therefore, for a pious Jew – or Muslim – the European idea of separation between state and religion is anathema.

The Jewish Halakha, like the Islamic Shari’a, regulates every single aspect of life. Whenever Jewish law clashes with Israeli law, which one should prevail? The one enacted by the democratically elected Knesset, which can be changed at any moment if the people want it, or the one handed down by God on Mount Sinai for all time, that cannot ever be changed (at most can be interpreted differently)?

Religious fanatics in Israel insist that religious law stands above the secular law (as in several Arab counties), and that the state courts have no jurisdiction over the clerics in matters that concern religion (as in Iran). When the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the most respected Orthodox rabbi easily mobilized 100 thousand protesters in Jerusalem. For years now, religious cabinet ministers, law professors and politicians, as well as their political supporters, have been busy chipping away at the integrity, independence and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

This is the crux of the matter. The Attorney General considers a book calling for the killing of innocent children an act of criminal incitement. The rabbis and their supporters consider this an impertinent interference in a learned religious debate. There can be no real compromise between these two views. For Israelis, this is not just an academic question. The entire religious community, with all its diverse factions, now belongs to the rightist, ultra-nationalist camp (except for pitiful little outposts like Reform and Conservative Jewry, who are the majority among American Jews). Transforming Israel into a Halakha state means castrating the democratic system and turning Israel into a second Iran governed by Jewish ayatollahs.

It will also make peace impossible for all time, since according to the rabbis all of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River belongs solely to the Jews, and giving the Goyim even an inch of it is a mortal sin, punishable by death. For this sin, Yitzhak Rabin was executed by the student of a religious university, a former settler. Not the whole religious camp subscribes to the unrelenting extremism of Rabbi Lior and his ilk. There are many other trends. But all of these keep quiet. It is Lior, the rabbi who Possesses the Light, and his like-minded colleagues, who chart the course. [a further insight into this topic can be found in Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel by Israel Shahak & Meron Mezvinsky (Pluto Press)]

Born at a checkpoint

IRIN 05 /07/11

It is estimated that 10 percent of pregnant Palestinian women were delayed at checkpoints while travelling to hospital to give birth . . . 69 babies were born at checkpoints during those seven years. Thirty five babies and five of the mothers died, an outcome which she considers to amount to a crime against humanity.

For three years now a UK medical journal, the Lancet, has been working with Palestinian health professionals and researchers to document the effects of stressful living – coping with economic difficulties and shortages, restrictions on movement, political tensions and fear of outside attack – and has just published its latest findings.

Restrictions on movement are an everyday irritant in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt): Apart from tedious and humiliating searches at checkpoints, residents never know for sure how long their journeys will take, or whether, indeed, they can be made at all. But in a medical emergency these restrictions can be a matter of life or death.

Last year the Lancet’s collaborators described vividly the terror of women waiting to give birth during Israeli bombing raids on Gaza in early 2009: They knew they might need urgent medical care at a time when they were trapped in their homes during the attacks. This year another of their researchers has looked at what happens to women already in labour who are caught at oPt checkpoints.

Halla Shoaibi of Ann Arbor University in the USA estimates that in the period she studied (2000-2007) 10 percent of pregnant Palestinian women were delayed at checkpoints while travelling to hospital to give birth. One result has been a dramatic increase in the number of home births, with women preferring to avoid road trips while in labour for fear of not being able to reach the hospital in time.

Their fears are well founded. Ms Shoaibi says 69 babies were born at checkpoints during those seven years. Thirty five babies and five of the mothers died, an outcome which she considers to amount to a crime against humanity.

When the Lancet group held their first meeting in March 2009, Gaza was still reeling from the Israeli attacks known as Operation Cast Lead, which led to the deaths of well over a 1,000 people. In the latest publication, researchers return to that period, with further analysis of survey material about the effects of the attack on the civilian population. The disruption to normal life was great. Forty-five percent of those surveyed had to leave their homes and move in with other people for at least 24 hours; 48 percent had other people moving in with them; 48 percent of homes were damaged. Nearly everyone had power cuts all or part of the time, and many also suffered disruption to other services – telephone, water supply and rubbish collection.

Psychological effects

In terms of psychological effects, over 80 percent reported a family member screaming or crying or having nightmares. Loss of appetite was also commonly reported. But although Gaza is a relatively small area, the effects varied considerably according to where the respondents lived, with the governorates of Gaza and North Gaza the most, and Khan Younis and Rafah (near the border with Egypt) the least affected.

Another study looked at the feelings of insecurity which remained, even six months after the end of the attacks. Some of the results might have been expected – women, for instance, felt more nervous and insecure than men. The groups who reported lower levels of insecurity were those who were better educated, and had a better standard of living, and also older people, those over 65.

Not all the studies published are directly linked to the Palestinian political situation; topics include smoking among teenagers, the number of pharmacists working in the territories (rather high, as it turns out) and the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. The Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, stresses the importance of encouraging academic research into all aspects of health, as part of the process of rebuilding Palestinian society and strengthening its academic institutions.

He says he sees two immediate priorities: “First, while the collaboration between scientists in Gaza and their colleagues in the West Bank is encouraging, even more effort needs to be invested to create productive alliances between Palestinian academic institutions. And second, while there is much strength in public health research, there is a gap in the clinical sciences. More attention needs to be paid to strengthening research in the many excellent clinical facilities in the region.”

Boycott Bill

Amy Teibel Associated Press   12/07/11 [extracts]

It will “serve as a weapon in the hands of those people who claim that Israel is not a democracy and does not respect human rights,”

A new law that seeks to impede boycotts against Jewish settlements in the West Bank sparked a ferocious debate Tuesday between supporters who praised it as a bulwark against efforts to isolate Israel and critics who warned it threatens the nation’s democracy. Human rights groups said they would ask the Supreme Court within days to overturn the law, which allows settlers or settlement-based businesses to sue Israelis who promote settlement boycotts. Courts would determine whether a boycott caused financial harm and, if so, assess damages.

The law passed late Monday despite a warning from parliament’s legal adviser Eyal Inon that it violated freedom of expression and could be illegal.

The dispute reflects a growing chasm separating Israelis who support the country’s 44-year-old occupation of the war-won West Bank and others who view the presence of soldiers and settlers in the territory as a national calamity. Some foreign backers of Israel were clearly uncomfortable. “To legally stifle calls to action — however abhorrent and detrimental they might be — is a disservice to Israeli society,” wrote ADL director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

The bill’s sponsor, Zeev Elkin of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, told Army Radio that the law “is not meant to muzzle anyone, but to protect the citizens of Israel” who are settlers. Co-sponsor Danny Danon called it a way to punish “those who would support our enemies abroad.” Critics, however, predicted the law would provide a tail wind to a worldwide activist campaign to boycott Israel over its conduct toward the Palestinians — an effort many in Israel regard as masking a deeper challenge to the country’s very right to exist.

It will “serve as a weapon in the hands of those people who claim that Israel is not a democracy and does not respect human rights,” said law professor Amnon Rubinstein, a former leading Cabinet minister. “Yesterday will be remembered for years to come as the blackest day in parliament’s history,” Rubinstein wrote in the Maariv newspaper.

In a related development, Israel’s parliament is set to consider a proposal next week to investigate foreign funding of local dovish groups that call for action against Israel. “What we are talking about is investigation committees into organizations that use foreign money to delegitimize Israel,” Faina Kirshenbaum of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which initiated the proposal, told Israel TV.

Liberals also see the new law as part of a bigger trend — a siege mentality that seems to grow deeper with each diplomatic blow that Israel absorbs over its treatment of the Palestinians. These have included a U.N. report accusing Israel of committing war crimes during a military offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2009, and a global uproar over a deadly naval raid last year on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists seeking to break a sea blockade of Gaza.

In the past two years, since Netanyahu was elected, nationalists have put forward a succession of bills that they say are necessary to preserve Israel’s Jewish identity and to fend off various challenges.

Among the new laws:

-New citizens are now required to pledge a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic state” — a measure that critics have called racist because it is not required of Jews being naturalized.

-State funding will be denied to any municipality that commemorates Israel’s 1948 creation as the “nakba,” or “catastrophe,” because of the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The measure is seen as targeting the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are Arabs.

-Small communities now have the authority to reject admission to applicants that are perceived as not fitting into their social fabric — another measure seen as targeting Arabs.

Nationalists are also trying to take action against groups that provide information that could be used to support war crimes allegations against Israel in court cases raised in other countries.

Marked increase in forced displacement of Palestinians

Ma’an 21/07/11

More demolitions have taken place so far in 2011 than in all of 2009 and 2010 combined.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report Thursday documenting alarming trends in the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C. The OCHA report found that more demolitions have taken place so far in 2011 than in all of 2009 and 2010 combined.

The Khan Al-Ahmar village near Jerusalem received four stop work orders last week, the report said, and there are ongoing demolition orders against another two hundred and fifty structures in surrounding communities. Around twenty Bedouin communities with a population of 2,353 people live in the Jerusalem periphery with over 80 percent of them at risk of displacement due to the expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement and the separation wall.

The report, based on field visits to thirteen communities in Area C, found that in most cases Palestinian families are being forced to leave due to “restrictive policies and practices of the Israeli authorities, including movement and access restrictions, settlement activity and restrictions on Palestinian construction.” Thousands are at risk of displacement, the report added.

Three hundred and forty two Palestinian owned structures were demolished by Israel in the first half of 2011 and 656 people, including 351 children, lost their homes in the first half of 2011, almost five times more than within the same period last year. There are also over 3,000 demolition orders outstanding, including 18 targeting schools.

Scottish Friends of Palestine


Hugh Humphries

contact: 0141 637 8046

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