Bearing Witness

Taking over Jerusalem

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.

Sheikh Jarrah is in a valley down from the American Colony hotel where Tony 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 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.

* This article was writen by Matt Kennard and first published in the Guardian news paper on  Wednesday 5 August 2009.

August 6, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Peril of Forgetting Gaza

By Sara Roy, First published on Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The recent meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu  generated speculation over the future relationship between America and Israel, and a potentially changed U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Analysts on the right and left are commenting on a new, tougher American policy characterized by strengthened U.S. demands  on Israel.

However, beneath the diplomatic choreography lies an agonizing  reality that received only brief comment from Obama and silence from  Netanyahu: The ongoing devastation of the people of Gaza.  Gaza is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of aid-dependent paupers. This context is undeniably one of mass suffering, created largely by Israel but with the active complicity of the international community, especially the U.S. and European Union, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Gaza’s subjection began long before Israel’s recent war against it. The Israeli occupation – now largely forgotten or denied by the international community – has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006. Although economic restrictions actually increased before Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006, the deepened sanction regime and siege subsequently imposed by Israel and the international community, and later intensified in June 2007 when Hamas seized control of Gaza, has all but destroyed the local economy. If there has been a pronounced theme among the many Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who I have interviewed in the last three years, it was the fear of damage to Gaza’s society and economy so profound that billions of dollars and generations of people would be required to address it – a fear that has now been realized. 

After Israel’s December assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible. In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. 80 percent of Gaza’s agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well fenced and patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished.  One powerful expression of Gaza’s economic demise and the Gazans’ indomitable will to provide for themselves and their families is its burgeoning tunnel economy that emerged long ago in response to the siege. Thousands of Palestinians are now employed digging tunnels into Egypt – around 1,000 tunnels are reported to exist although not all are operational. According to local economists, 90 percent of economic activity in Gaza – once considered a lower middle-income economy (along with the West Bank) – is presently devoted to smuggling.

Today, 96 percent of Gaza’s population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a 22 March decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10, at best meeting 23 percent of required need. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial items to enter Gaza compared  to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006. According to the Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, Gazans still are denied many commodities (a policy in effect long before the December assault): Building materials (including wood for windows and doors), electrical appliances (such as refrigerators and washing machines), spare parts for cars and machines, fabrics, threads, needles, candles, matches, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses, musical instruments, books, tea, coffee, sausages, semolina, chocolate, sesame seeds, nuts, milk products in large packages, most baking products, light bulbs, crayons, clothing, and shoes. 

Given these constraints, among many others – including the internal disarray of the Palestinian leadership – one wonders how the reconstruction to which Obama referred will be possible. There is no question that people must be helped immediately. Programs aimed at alleviating suffering and reinstating some semblance of normalcy are ongoing, but at a scale shaped entirely by the extreme limitations on the availability of goods. In this context of repressive occupation and heightened restriction, what does it mean to reconstruct Gaza? How is it possible under such conditions to empower people and build sustainable and resilient institutions able to withstand expected external shocks? Without an immediate end to Israel’s blockade and the resumption of trade and the movement of people outside the prison that Gaza has long been, the current crisis will grow massively more acute. Unless the U.S. administration is willing to exert real pressure on Israel for implementation – and the indications thus far suggest they are not – little will change. Not surprisingly, despite international pledges of $5.2 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, Palestinians there are now rebuilding their homes using mud.

Recently, I spoke with some friends in Gaza and the conversations were profoundly disturbing. My friends spoke of the deeply felt absence of any source of protection-personal, communal or institutional. There is little in society that possesses legitimacy and there is a fading consensus on rules and an eroding understanding of what they are for. Trauma and grief overwhelm the landscape despite expressions of resilience. The feeling of abandonment among people appears complete, understood perhaps in their growing inability to identify with any sense of possibility. The most striking was this comment: “It is no longer the occupation or even the war that consumes us but the realization of our own irrelevance.” 

What possible benefit can be derived from an increasingly impoverished, unhealthy, densely crowded, and furious Gaza alongside Israel ? Gaza’s terrible injustice not only threatens Israeli and regional security, but it undermines America’s credibility, alienating our claim to democratic practice and the rule of law. If Palestinians are continually denied what we want and demand for ourselves – an ordinary life, dignity, livelihood, safety, and a place where they can raise their children – and are forced, yet again, to face the destruction of their families, then the inevitable outcome will be greater and more extreme violence across all factions. What looms is no less than the loss of entire generation of Palestinians. And if this happens – perhaps it already has – we shall all bear the cost.

Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. She is the author of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

This Blockade of Gaza, that is now in it’s third year, is clearly an act of collective punishment – which is outlawed under international humanitarian law. Again I ask, Why does the international community not hold Israel to account for this and many other violations of international law ?

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tell me again. Who are the aggressors?

An article produced by the Gaza Defence Committee.

There are Israeli apologists demanding that others ought to read up on history. It is they who ought to do the reading.

In his Complete Diaries, Vol.II, Page 711, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, says that the area of the Jewish state stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates”.

Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the U.N. Special Committee of Enquiry on July 9, 1947: “The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates. It includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.”

1938

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” –David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”, which appears in Simha Flapan’s “Zionism and the Palestinians pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech.

1947

According to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Likud, terrorism can be justified in the service of (Zionist but not Palestinian) national struggle: “Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can be used to deny the morality of terror used as a means of war…. We are very far from any moral hesitations when concerned with national struggle. First and foremost, terror is part of the political war appropriate for the circumstances of today.” – Hazit (Aug.1943, Journal of Lehi, the terrorist organization Shamir led before Israel’s independence

1967

“Let us approach them [the Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories] and say that we have no solution, that they shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave — and we will see where this process leads. In five years we may have 200,000 less people – and that is a matter of enormous importance.” Moshe Dayan September 1967

“Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” General Moshe Dayan, Former Israeli Defense Minister

Before [the Palestinians] very eyes we are possessing the land and the villages where they, and their ancestors, have lived… We are the generation of colonizers, and without the steel helmet and the gun barrel we cannot plant a tree and build a home. – Famous Israeli Army Commander Moshe Dayan

1969

” Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal Al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan Date: 4 April 1969

1983

When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle. – Israeli Army Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan, 1983

2002

“We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day. Michael Ben-Yair Article/book #: 3837 Title: The war’s seventh day

There can be only one victor in a war; the only alternative to complete resignation was to do what Israel is doing. And what is that? It is assuring that the Palestianians (in the words of Moshe Yaalon, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces in 2002) “are made to understand, in the deepest recesses of their consciousness, that they are a defeated people.” The more relentless the assault, and indeed the more civilians you legitimately kill, the deeper the recesses of consciousness that you are able to penetrate.

“It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.” — Henry Kissinger

As of 1946 the Arab owned land in Palestine was 94 percent, arab population 65 percent with the Arabs owning almost all of the cultivated land. The 35 percent of Jewish population owned the remaining six percent of the land. Today the Palestinians are crammed into less than 10 percent of their country.

Tell me again. Who are the aggressors?

June 16, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An open letter to President Barack Obama

President Obama, I cried a few days ago as I marveled at your historic and amazing win. I couldn’t help it. It was amazing the way that you were able to transcend racial, ethnic, and age lines to bring Americans together. You inspired me to believe in the US again.

You see, I moved to the United States from Palestine in July 2001. History soon shaped my experience in the US, and I found myself in a country where being Muslim and Palestinian made me a threat. I survived the hate-filled stares on 9/11, the people calling me “Victor” since “Hammad” is “too hard to say.” I got searched for three hours at SFO airport as a suspected terrorist where I was not allowed to call my family or know my rights, and had my computer’s contents searched. A portrait of President Bush looked over me. For the seven years I have lived in America, President Bush has been in charge. The America I moved to was not the one I always imagined. The America of hope and opportunity turned out to be the America of discrimination and horrible public education.

Growing up in a small town near Ramallah in Palestine, I always had an image of an America of opportunity. An America where dreams come true and people are judged by their character, not skin color or background. I dreamed of the America where one’s religion didn’t define them. You see, I lived my entire life in an area where I was first judged by my perceived nationality and religion. As a Palestinian in an Israeli-occupied military zone, there was no opportunity. A green “hawiya” listing my Palestinian background and religion kept me in an open-air prison. There, I watched my classmates run out of school to escape hovering Israeli F-16s, and watched the police station next to my school get bombed. To get to school, about two miles away, took at least an hour. We had to take a taxi through back roads, in snow (yes, it snows sometimes in Palestine), rain, wind, and heat. I sat in the corner of an 8-person taxi to and from school each day. It wasn’t just the back roads that were built for Palestinian drivers that made us feel subhuman. (Israeli highways circling through the West Bank are reserved only for Israeli Jewish settlers who illegally are transferred and build “hilltop communities” on private Palestinian land). It was also the two checkpoints Israelis made me walk through to get from my Palestinian town to the next city where my school was located. It wasn’t seeing people beaten or spit on that got to me. It was that as a 13-year old, I had to walk for a quarter mile every day to cross through the checkpoint on a mountain and wait for another checkpoint to get me to school. The problem was that Israel’s “security” regime took away my sense of security. Israel’s web of 500 checkpoints in the West Bank alone was part of the reason my dad’s restaurant failed. My story is not unique and is filled with privilege. Most Palestinians my age have been shot at or arrested. 6 million Palestinians still live in refugee camps. I was also lucky, since I had an American passport—which was the only reason Israel sometimes looked at me as a human being. My family was able to leave. Most Palestinians aren’t.

Throughout this campaign, I have watched you distance yourself from your former colleagues and friends because of their Palestinian background. I watched Foxnews report on Palestinian Professors as “terrorists” and was disappointed that you had no comment on the subject. I stood by when you retracted your comment that “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” I stood by as you remained silent about those who called you “Muslim,” as if it were a slur. I understood you needed to get elected, and that as a Black man in the US, it wouldn’t be easy and that it wouldn’t make sense to stand up against the ignorance and racism that has been increasing against Muslims and Arabs in the US. I watched you deny being a “Muslim” but never heard you say that it shouldn’t matter if you were. I rooted for you to win the Democratic nomination and spent a weekend with friends campaigning for you in South Carolina. I was there when you won by a landslide, and rejoiced at your speech. I didn’t wash my hands for a few days after shaking yours.

 I am not a one-issue voter. I did not, DID NOT, vote for you because of your policy on Palestine and Israel. You see, if it was this issue that I judged you by, I would not have voted for you. I watched you give a hawkish pro-Israel speech at AIPAC the day after you won the nomination. I understood the state of US politics and the need for you to not take a controversial or new stance on an issue that would lose votes in the Jewish-American community that was already skeptical of this man whose middle name was Hussein.

However, I was still disappointed by the levels you sunk to appear as “Israel-loving” as possible. I listened with shock as you declared that Jerusalem should “Israel’s undivided capital.” Even President Bush did not try to change international law or take a stance on a final status issue without Palestinian and Israelis negotiating it. And was happy the next day when you clarified your remark.

I was working with young Palestinians in three West Bank refugee camps and used your story as inspiration for them to see hope in their future and to follow their dreams. These kids are third and fourth generation refugees living in crowded refugee camps, and waiting for any of their basic human rights to be implemented. Then, I saw the difference in your visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. You spent over 27 hours in Israel, visiting museums, civil society, different government organizations and religious sites. In the Palestinian areas, you spent half an hour at President Mahmoud Abbas’ compound, which caused many main streets in Ramallah to be closed for ordinary Palestinians. As if the checkpoints weren’t enough.

I wondered at the time whether you saw the Qalandia checkpoint as you were whisked through in your motorcade. Did you see the wall that cuts across the land? Did you see how tall it is? In Berlin you gave a speech a few days later saying: “When you, the German people, tore down that wall – a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope – walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened.” How could you justify a wall that divides Palestinian territory, steals land, is not built on the green line, and is in some places twice as large as the Berlin Wall and four times as long? If it was about security, then the wall could have been built on Israeli territory and not around water sources and illegal settlements. 

Did you know that in a bakery in Ramallah, they prepared “O” pastries in your honor? You probably didn’t since you asked to leave Ramallah early to return to Tel-Aviv leaving behind a prepared Palestinian meal at Abbas’s compound. As a Christian, shouldn’t you feel disappointed that the Church of the Nativity, where it is believed Jesus was born, is cut off from Jerusalem by a wall that is 30 feet tall with multiple watch and sniper towers? You probably don’t know, since you didn’t visit the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, where Palestinian Christians are emigrating in record numbers since the building of the wall and the impact on the local economy.

Then, I remembered what it was that you stood for and that caused me to become a supporter. I listened when you discussed hope and opportunity in the US. Speaking of race you said: “”the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding.”

I wonder if you also can apply this statement to your policy in Palestine. I didn’t speak up during the election, because I believe you ARE the best choice for America. Now, I ask whether you will stand for human rights and against discrimination?

This has nothing to do with so-called “shared values” with Israel. This isn’t about being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. This is about being pro-justice for a better future in the Middle East. This is a way to address the base of many conflicts in the Middle East. This is to improve the moral standing of the US and to hold our “allies” accountable for their actions. It is about using our leverage to push an agenda of justice, peace, equality, and democracy.

Mr. President-elect, the day after your nomination, you chose Rahm Emanuel , an Israeli as your Chief of Staff known for his hawkish pro-Israeli politics. His father was involved in the Irgun, a Zionist terrorist organization that murdered British troops and Arab civilians in Israel. I wonder if you would have appointed an equally-qualified person who happened to be Muslim. And if that person’s father was involved in a bombing that killed 60 people, would it really not be an issue? The same father is quoted to have said to an Israeli newspaper (in an article with the headline: “Our man in the White House”): “”Obviously, he will influence the President to be pro-Israel. Why shouldn’t he do it? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floor of the White House.”

I am so proud of the United States for electing you as our President. I am proud to have voted for you. Now, I wait, along with millions in the US and around the world, to see if you will be different when it comes to Israel and Palestine. I genuinely hope you can hold Israel accountable for the more than 3 BILLION in aid we send every year. These are my tax dollars at work—lets make them work on bringing down walls and finding a lasting solution that allows for justice and freedom for Palestinians (which is not opposite to Israeli security). Lets improve our image and reputation in the Muslim and Arab world. Let’s not get muddled in President Bush’s “us vs. them,” and “axis of evil” bullshit.

Because we can change, extremists in the Muslim world can no longer use the argument that America wants to bring a new crusade. By voting for the son of a Muslim from Kenya, we have silenced the extremists. Now, lets do something fresh and positive to keep them silent forever. Let’s be the America of hope and justice.

* An open letter to Barack Obama by hammad hammad an American of Palestinian heritage.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t believe the hype

My time in the Middle East has only reinforced my beliefs that there is a double standard when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not to mention a fair amount of  miss information. This double standard is evident in both media reports and international political responses to the situation and are most clearly evident in reports and responses to the Oslo peace process and 2006 and 2009 invasions of Gaza.

In 2006 after an Israeli solider was “kidnapped” by Hamas, Israel was given cart blanch by the media and foreign governments to address the situation as it saw fit – under the auspice of security. However every night Palestinians live with Israeli incursions and arrests, yet Hamas  are given no means of recourse by the media or foreign governments. Even the language used to describe the same activity – Hamas “kidnaps” Israeli’s and Israel “arrests” Palestinian “suspects”, lets not forget that Hamas is also a democratically elected government. 

A democratic government that Israel and America has stated aims to overthrow, their justification for this is that Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist – pointing to the Hamas charter and ignoring the fact that Hamas has repeatedly called for negotiations on a long term cease fire and a two state settlement. An offer ignored over and over again by Israel and the United States.

When Hamas kill civilians, they are labeled terrorists – and rightly so, as any targeting of civilians is in my book terrorism. Compared to when Israel kills civilians, it’s labeled an accident and justified by security concerns. Who has the  more advanced military and therefor should be less likely to make mistakes ? And who really has security concerns ? Considering a 2007 United Nations report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] reported that since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 until the end of July 2007 at least 5 848 people have been killed as a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of those 5848 deaths, 4228 where Palestinians, 1024 where Israeli’s and 63 where foreign citizens. Meaning Palestinians are dying at a rate of over four to one compared to Israeli’s.

In 2008 Israel’s blockade of Gaza – a form of collective punishment outlawed under international humanitarian law – kills  around 300 Gazains as a result of a lack of access to medical treatment, again Hamas are given no means of recourse. However Hamas rockets kill three Israeli’s and the international community again sees this as justification for killing over 1000 Palestinians and injuring many more.

Unfortunately the Australian governments response to the 2009 invasion of Gaza showed this double standard at it’s clearest. While condeming Hamas rocket attacks that had killed three Israeli’s, they only expressed concern over the Israeli military action – which at that stage had killed around 750 Palestinians. What happened to equality ? A human life is a human life, no matter what side of the apartheid wall you live on.

The media so often portray Israel as the innocent victims of this conflict and the Palestinians the terrorist aggressors, personally I have found the opposite. I have heard on several occasions Israeli’s speak positively about Palestinian deaths. While during my time in Nablus and the occupied terrirories I never heard Palestinians speak positively of Israeli deaths. I did though hear many people in Nablus and the occupied territories express their understanding of Hamas actions and in many ways I can see their point of view. Israel as the creator of the extreme situation, must accept some of the responsibility for the extreme behaviour that this situation creates.

Even the reporting on the failed Oslo peace process shows these double standards. It was widely reported that the Palestinians walked away from a generous Israeli offer of self determination, East Jerusalem, all of the West Bank and Gaza. This was not the case, what was on offer at Camp David was 10 small Palestinian enclaves- not connected to one another. In addition to this Israel would still control the population registers of these enclaves – determining who can live where and who can travel and when. Plus the Israeli’s would maintain control of the water, maintaining the current distribution ratio – where in the West bank 20% of the water goes to the Palestinians who make up 80% of the population. In addition to this Israel would still control the air space above the enclaves, fertile farming land was to be swapped for arid desert, Israel would still control Jerusalem and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees – called for by several UN security council resolutions. Does not sound so generous to me and I certainly would not call it self determination, even one of the Israeli negotiating team, at Camp David, latter stated that if he where “Palestinian he would not have accepted the deal”.  Also take into consideration the fact that the whole way through, the so called “peace process”, Israel had expanded settlement construction in contradiction to it’s obligation under the Oslo agreement – settler numbers in the West bank doubled to nearly 500 000 during the peace process.

Even the conditions placed on the Palestinians by the international community, namely the US, to restart negotiations about a two-sate solution show this double standard. The Palestinians have to recognise Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept the road map to peace – three conditions that are not placed on Israel. Israel definitely does not except Palestine’s right to exist, the 2006 and 2009 invasion of Gaza clearly show they have not renounced violence and the fact they continue to expand their settlements in the West Bank show they do not accept the conditions of the road map to peace.

The Palestinian refugees are so often the forgotten victims of this conflict, they have in some cases been refugees for over 50 years and as we know from our experience in Australia the physiological effects of refugee status can be dramatic. The effects of living in fear and limbo, of family separation,  of lack of access to rights and services are quite well documented in Australia after only several years, Palestinians have been living like this for  generations, and again are given no means of recourse through international institutions or the media.

So with all this evidence of misinformation and double standards, the question has to be – why ? Who benefits from this miss information and double standards ?

January 25, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No words left

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this latest catastrophe. International civil society must act now.

“I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas “terrorists”. In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.

Palestinians are at a loss to describe this new catastrophe. Is it our 9/11, or is it a taste of the “bigger shoah” Matan Vilnai, the deputy defence minister, threatened in February, after the last round of mass killings?

Israel says it is acting in “retaliation” for rockets fired with increasing intensity ever since a six-month truce expired on 19 December. But the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel’s method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people – mostly refugees and children – caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the warplanes.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, pleaded that Israel wanted “quiet” – a continuation of the truce – while Hamas chose “terror”, forcing him to act. But what is Israel’s idea of a truce? It is very simple: Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonise their land.

As John Ging, the head of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said in November: “The people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence … at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food.”

That is an Israeli truce. Any act of resistance including the peaceful protests against the apartheid wall in the West Bank is always met by Israeli bullets and bombs. There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel’s extrajudicial killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never stopped for a day during the truce. The western-backed Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has acceded to all Israel’s demands. Under the proud eye of United States military advisors, Abbas has assembled “security forces” to fight the resistance on Israel’s behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian in the West Bank from Israel’s relentless colonisation.

The Israeli media report that the attack on Gaza was long planned. If so, the timing in the final days of the Bush administration may indicate an Israeli effort to take advantage of a moment when there might be even less criticism than usual.

Israel is no doubt emboldened by the complicity of the European Union, which this month voted again to upgrade its ties with Israel despite condemnation from its own officials and those of the UN for the “collective punishment” being visited on Gaza. Tacit Arab regime support, and the fact that predicted uprisings in the Arab street never materialised, were also factors.

But there is a qualitative shift with the latest horror: as much as Arab anger has been directed at Israel, it has also focused intensely on Arab regimes – especially Egypt’s – seen as colluding with the Israeli attack. Contempt for these regimes and their leaders is being expressed more openly than ever. Yet these are the illegitimate regimes western politicians continue to insist are their “moderate” allies.

Diplomatic fronts, such as the US-dominated Quartet, continue to treat occupier and occupied, coloniser and colonised, first-world high-tech army and near-starving refugee population, as if they are on the same footing. Hope is fading that the incoming administration of Barack Obama is going to make any fundamental change to US policies that are hopelessly biased towards Israel.

In Europe and the Middle East, the gap between leaders and led could not be greater when it comes to Israel. Official complicity and support for Israel contrast with popular outrage at war crimes carried out against occupied people and refugees with impunity.

With governments and international institutions failing to do their jobs, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee – representing hundreds of organisations – has renewed its call on international civil society to intensify its support for the sanctions campaign modelled on the successful anti-apartheid movement.

Now is the time to channel our raw emotions into a long-term effort to make sure we do not wake up to “another Gaza” ever again.

* This article was  taken from the Gaurdian website @ www.guardian.co.uk and was written by Ali Abunimah, Ali is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

UN: 290 settler-related attacks on Palestinians by November

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Friday that settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank increased this year.

Within the first ten months of 2008, OCHA recorded 290 settler-related incidents targeting Palestinians and their property. This figure, while not comprehensive, “reflects a worrying trend,” the UN office said, “since it surpasses the total recorded by OCHA in each of the previous two years.”

In 2006 OCHA recorded 182 attacks for all 12 months combined, while in 2007 the sum was 243.

Similarly, Palestinian deaths and injuries resulting from settler-related incidents in 2008 exceeded the number of Palestinian casualties in each of the previous two years (131 in 2008, compared to 74 in 2006 and 92 in 2007).

Approximately half of all Palestinian injuries from settler violence each year since 2006 have been made up of children, women and the elderly over 70 years of age, the UN office found.

Some areas of the West Bank suffer far higher levels of settler violence and related activity than others, as well. While incidents were recorded by OCHA in all governorates during the first 10 months of 2008, they were more frequent in Hebron and Nablus, with 42 percent and 21 percent of all incidents, respectively.

This trend was also witnessed in the preceding two years.

A root cause of the phenomenon is Israel’s decades-long policy of facilitating and encouraging the settling of its citizens inside occupied Palestinian territory, defined as transfer of population and prohibited by international humanitarian law.

* This article was taken from www.maannews.net
This report does not include the settler violence that was sparked across the West Bank in December by the eviction of settlers from Al-Rajabi family home, the house of contention, in Hebron.The other thing worth noting about the OCHA report is that the vast majority of settler attacks go unreported as Palestinians know they are rarely investigated, let alone prosecuted. Around 90% of these documented attacks go unprosecuted !

December 20, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Thoughts | , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t believe the hype – Hebron and Gaza

I have just returned from a day in Hebron and was horrified to discover that the Al-Rajabi family home is not back in the hands of  it’s rightful owners, the Al-Rajabi family – as was widely report. Yes the settlers have been evicted, but the home is now being used as Israeli Occupation Force [IOF] watch tower. Leaving the Al-Rajabi family still homeless, 13 months after their home was first occupied. Did the Palestinians of Hebron and the West Bank suffer the desecration of their Mosques and graveyards, stoning, beatings and shootings for another IOF watch tower in Hebron ? Did the Al-Rajabi family spent a year in the Israeli court system to get the settlers evicted, so their home could be turned in a  IOF watch tower to protect the very settlers who occupied their house ?

While in Hebron I also was shown by my guide Tom, from the International Solidarity Movement [ISM], a Palestinian home that had been fire bombed during the settler violence that followed their eviction from the Al-Rajabi family home. The house was next door to IOF watch tower, but when questioned by ISM volunteers the IOF soldiers stated they “heard and saw nothing”. I found this strange as they noticed me taking photo’s straight away – I have never heard a Molotov cocktail being thrown but some thing tells me it’s louder than my camera.

I was also told how scores of children where arrested for throwing stones at the settler in vain attempt to protect their homes, Mosques and graveyards. While the only settler arrested was the man accused of shooting two Palestinians, and he was only arrested after B’tselem release video footage of the shooting to the media.

These incidents show just a few of the double standards that exist in the occupied territories, of which there are many more. They clearly show that there is one policy for Palestinians and another for Jews, fitting the definition of apartheid – the development of practices and policies of separation along racial lines. While also showing that the IOF, who under international law is responsible for for protecting Palestinians in the occupied territories, rarely fulfill these obligations. 

While where on the don’t believe hype theme lets talk about Gaza, I am sure that every time Israel lets the smallest shipment of food into Gaza, it’s widely reported in the western media as noble humanitarian gesture, but again don’t believe the hype. These shipments are like a small amount of rain in a drought, it’s welcome but it’s not drought breaking. The blockade of Gaza has now forced UNRWA to closed its doors as of Thursday 18th of December, saying it would be unable to provide emergency food aid to Gazans, since Israel continued to refuse to allow aid shipments into the Gaza Strip, UNRWA is responsible for feeding 750 000 Gazans. This another violation of international law, as it is a form of collective punishment. 

Again I ask, why is the world less offended by the oppression of the Palestinians people than it was by oppression of Black South Africans ? where are the boycotts and international condemnation ?

The Al-Rajabi family home, now being used as an IOF watch tower

The Al-Rajabi family home, now being used as an IOF watch tower

An IOF watch tower, next to a Palestinian home that was fire bombed by settlers after their eviction for the Al-Rajabi family home.

An IOF watch tower, next to a Palestinian home that was fire bombed by settlers after their eviction for the Al-Rajabi family home.

The results of the fire bomb

The results of the fire bomb

My guide Tom admiring the rubbish disposal methods of settlers

My guide Tom admiring the rubbish disposal methods of settlers

December 20, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different and grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians. These demonstrate the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military. While this reality which is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders exists in Israel’s back yard, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name. Discharged soldiers who return to civilian life discover the gap between the reality which they encountered in the Territories , and the silence which they encounter at home. In order to become a civilian again, soldiers are forced to ignore their past experiences. Breaking the Silence voices the experiences of those soldiers, in order to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created. 

The end of the month will mark five years since the outbreak of violent confrontation in the Territories, and the IDF still does not believe in writing regulations for opening fire. Maybe the killing of dozens of innocent civilians, in the “Wild West” as a soldier described it, would have been diminished if the soldiers had been given regular open-fire regulations. And if in the past there was an official booklet for open-fire regulations that was passed to every soldier who served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it has been buried since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. The soldiers receive the regulations orally from the commanders in the field, and they vary from sector to sector, unit to unit, commander to commander. This grey area allows for the winking and turning away of eyes, whether from negligence or from contempt for the value of Palestinian life.

The latest reminder of this grey area was received three weeks ago in the Tul Karem refugee camp. Five Palestinians were killed, and the statement of the IDF spokesman dryly noted that “An IDF force came across a number of armed fugitives who belonged to the Islamic Jihad organization.” The commander of the Nahal Brigade, Col. Roni Numa, clarified: “None of those killed was an innocent passer-by. Exchanges of fire took place between the force and the terrorists, fire-bombs and charges were thrown in their direction.” Later it turned out that none of the Palestinians was armed, it is doubtful if any of them was a dangerous fugitive, and in any case there were no “exchanges of fire.”

The following stories exemplify the opaque situation in which the soldiers find themselves.

“My team killed six innocent people, or probably innocent,” says “R”, a commander in an elite paratroopers’ unit. “We would joke about it and give them code names: the baker, the woman, the child, the old man, the drummer. Some of them by mistake, but as I see it, they were simply executed on illegal orders.

“There were many nights on which we received orders that whoever we see on the street between two and four in the morning is sentenced to death. Those were the exact words. We were in Nablus and we started to advance using the ‘worm’ procedure so as not to be exposed. The houses were adjacent and had shared walls. Blow a hole in a wall, pass through a house, blow a hole in a wall, pass through a house. We advanced slowly, until at the end we stopped and came across what is called a ‘controlling house.’

“We set up sniper positions in the windows and waited. One of the marksmen identified a man on the roof. Two roofs from us, a distance of up to seventy metres, at two in the morning, an unarmed man walking on the roof. I saw with my own eyes that the man was not armed. That was also what we reported on the radio. The company commander said ‘take him down.’ Just like that, on the radio, he made a decision and settled on that. You think about that, in the United States there is a death penalty, there are a thousand appeals and convictions and judges. Here a 26-year-old man, my company commander, gave the order from afar to kill him, and the sniper fired and killed him. The company commander defined him as a ‘lookout’.” But what is a ‘lookout’? How does he know what he is? He doesn’t know.

“The next man was the baker. We entered the Old City in Nablus, and as usual the open-fire regulations were that every man walking on the street at night is sentenced to death. The team commander said that it was from the brigade commander. The pretext of course was that there was information from Shabak [the General Security Service, Israel’s internal intelligence agency ]. Really. Shabak knows if Ahmad the baker or Salim the carpenter has to get up to go to work? We did the ‘straw widow’ procedure – enter a house, concentrate the family into one room, then set up sharpshooters’ positions in the windows. In the morning we send out vehicles as bait in the hope of attracting the armed men against us, then we shoot them. The idea is to take down the armed men.

“That night we took over a house in an excellent position, and about four in the morning the sharpshooters’ position identified a man walking with a bag. I saw him on Jami’at al-Kabir Street with the bag in his hand. I went down to report, and the sniper, a friend of mine, was on duty. I reported to the commander who reports to the company commander. The order was ‘take him down.’ And so a man fell, 70 metres from his house.”

Two residents were witnesses to this incident, which happened under the window of As’ad Hanun, age 50, from Nablus. “I woke up to the sound of a shot,” she said a few months ago to members of Btselem. “After the shot I heard yelling from the street, ‘brother, I’m wounded, people, I’m wounded.’ The voice sounded very close and I was afraid to look out. After a few minutes I opened the window. The street was dark and I did not see the wounded man, but I saw the neighbours’ son. I asked him who was wounded, and he answered that it was a young man and he was in front of him. Immediately I went down to try to help. The wounded man was sitting on the ground and wearing a white hat.”

A soldier from the unit, who watched from the house opposite, continues. “Right away the jeep from the command post came, and the company commander got down and carried out a barbaric kill-verification just like that, with grenades, and he even sprayed the body with bullets. It’s a good thing that the IDF spokesman denies that there’s such a procedure. Then they went and checked what he had in the bag. What do you think was there? Bread.”

“I saw an Israeli jeep approaching,” the neighbour also related. “I was afraid they’d shoot so I went back into the alley. In the meantime the street was lit up with flares that the army lit; afterwards I heard about 10-12 consecutive shots. I did not see who was shooting, but I heard the wounded man yelling. After the last shot I heard the sound of an explosion and after that I heard nothing, no shooting and no yelling. It was clear that he was dead because he did not show any sign of life.” The neighbour identified the killed man as ‘Ala al-Din, an employee of the a-Silawi bakery. “In the bag,” she corrects, “were work clothes, not bread.”

“K”, a soldier in the armoured corps, testifies that he received a similar order in the Gaza Strip. “We went out in a tank from the base after mortars were fired at the settlements and we drove on the Tancher Highway until we entered Deir al-Balah. On the radio the battalion commander announced the open-fire orders: every person we see on the street, shoot to kill. Without asking questions. I remember that when we went in, somebody was running there, unarmed, and right away we shot him without any particular reason until he was definitely dead. That is to say, he fell into the bushes and afterwards we emptied a great many bullets into him. In the company we were not excited about killing, but we were happy that there was action. We didn’t think in terms of right or not.”

“A”, a commander in another paratroopers’ unit, served in Jenin and says that he received orders along the lines of “no innocent person has any reason to walk around on the street during the night hours.” As he says, “in every big city there are people who walk on the street, even at three in the morning. So is it right to kill them from a distance?”

The drummer

As dawn approached, one night during the month of Ramadan, a Nablus resident walked the streets with a drum to wake up the occupants before the fast. “No one told us that in the morning in Ramadan there was a custom like that,” says “R”. “We saw him with something in his hand, and like in most of the times an expedited arrest procedure was carried out. That is, we yell ‘stop, stop’ quickly, according to the protocol, right away we shoot in the air, and if he doesn’t stop, we shoot to kill. No shooting at the legs.”

The terrified drummer started to flee and entered an alley, relates “R”, and they entered into pursuit of him until in the end they killed him in one of the alleys. “They did a kill-verification on him according to the procedures they knew, grenades and afterwards a bullet in the head. Only then did it emerge that what he was holding in his hand was a drum. Only afterwards, in the investigation, did we learn that they wake people up that way during Ramadan. OK, so we, the simple soldiers, didn’t know. But even at the Brigade HQ nobody knew? Could be that they should have been more careful, or moderated the open-fire regulations.”

According to the IDF spokesman, the “drummer” was Jihad al-Natur, 24 years old when he died. An officer at the Judge Advocate-General’s office stated in reply that the death of the “drummer” was investigated, “and one of the lessons was that it is also important to know about Ramadan and the drums.”

Live fire at the knees of a child

The unit of “M”, a soldier in the Giv’ati Brigade, was stationed close to the Ganei-Tal settlement. “They call it ‘easy’ when they shoot live bullets at the knees of a child. There is a long line that separates the Jewish settlements from Khan Younis [in the Gaza Strip] and in parts of it there is no fence. In front of Ganei-Tal was a dune, which was a dead zone regarding our ability to observe it. In order that they not penetrate into the settlements, we created a situation in which the Palestinians knew exactly how far they could go from the edge of the neighbourhood.

“The top of the dune was a garbage dump next to which children played every day. When the ball falls, we execute deterrent fire to keep them back, first in the air and then maximum 50 metres from them so they go back. That was the procedure. For a long period it was like cat-and-mouse and it lasted a long time, until one day my assistant company commander decided that he had had enough, that it was not effective, that the children played there too much. He told us, ‘next time, call me.’ He came, and fired from a modified M-16 rifle with a telescopic sight, at the leg of one of the children. A boy who definitely had nothing on him, there wasn’t even a suspicion that he had anything, besides the fact that he had crossed some imaginary line. To shoot a nine- or ten-year-old boy who was playing football and innocently chasing the ball, and make him disabled for his whole life, in my eyes that is more than problematic. The children ran away as long as their breath was in them, and adults came to evacuate the boy who was lying there. They understood the aggressive message. For a few days at least, the children were afraid to cross the line.”

“R”, from the paratroopers, who spoke before about the ““lookout”” and the “baker,” describes – this time testifying to what he heard on the communications system – what happened to the “child.” It happened when the Brigade Commander in Nablus was replaced, and “there was an operation that we jokingly called ‘the Brigade Commander’s horror show.’ At the last stage there were roadblock operations with plastic [barriers] that we called ‘New Jerseys.’ All the time the children, the ones who throw stones, would come and move them. It was a total mess. Then the battalion commander gave everyone an order on the radio: whoever touches a ‘New Jersey,’ shoot him in the legs. Live fire.

“In my Abir [military vehicle], we said right away, ‘is he cracked or what?’ Somebody touches a barrier and you shoot him in the legs? For sure he’s just showing off. But no. That battalion commander was actually a good guy. It was very important to him to set a personal example. At the checkpoint, where I was not personally but there were friends of mine there, the man saw a boy and aimed at his legs, but you know how it is with the commanders, they have so many meetings they don’t have time to calibrate their weapons. He missed the leg and hit the boy in the chest. I was not there, but when we returned from the operation to the base everybody was talking about it. They all said that the battalion commander shot a boy and were talking like he was a ‘murderer of children.’ Was the boy killed? I assume nobody went and checked for a pulse, but very few children survive a bullet in the chest.”

In the unit they give a confused explanation. “The battalion commander did not miss but deliberately shot to kill,” said one of the officers confidently. “We talked to him and he checked the incident personally. His gun was definitely calibrated, and everything was done with the intention to kill. It was a Fatah activist, Hani Qandul, 17. He was supervising a serious disturbance that was endangering the soldiers. So he was shot dead. The orders permit the shooting to death of a chief instigator.”

But Qandul’s ID card reveals that he was only 13 and a half when he died. Was this the dangerous activist that the battalion commander deliberately shot to death? It turns out that Hani Qandul was killed on another occasion; an eyewitness described it to a Btselem investigator, a short time after the incident. “Hani, who was 18, stood 20 metres from us, with his seven-year-old brother. Suddenly I heard shooting (…) I saw Hani fall to the ground.”

If so, the battalion commander killed Qandul in May 2004. And what about the “child” that the soldier “R” speaks of? “We don’t know of a shooting like that or of a child who was killed,” it was reported from the unit. “If there was an order to shoot at the legs, it was the result of intelligence information of intention to endanger the soldiers.” Operation Calm Waters ended with the deaths of five minors.

The Military Prosecutor responds: “Too bad the soldier told you that. If he had reported to us, it would have been possible to comment with more precision. I have not heard specifically about ‘easy.’ ”

Everyone who is standing on a roof

“A”, an officer in a “Kingfisher” [Shaldag] unit, was posted in Rafah during Operation Rainbow in May of last year, and “I had direct access to the brigade commander. I was in Command Group 2 of Pinky (Pinhas Zwartz, commander of the Southern Brigade at the time – S. G.). At the beginning of the operation I commanded a team, and a friend of mine commanded another team, and the mission was to do ‘straw widows’ [to occupy Palestinian homes] and to put snipers on the upper floors of the houses.

“When we entered, we saw that there was really no danger. It was an uncongested built-up area with greenhouses, in front were our tanks and a D-9 [Caterpillar bulldozer] that was destroying houses and greenhouses. We were there more than 24 hours and we didn’t see any armed people, and it was quite boring for everybody, if one can say that. But the whole time, about every hour or two hours, they called us from the command post to ask why we were not shooting. But our feeling of danger was very low. No one shot at us, we were not in a state of anxiety.

“The open-fire regulations were clear enough: every Palestinian on a roof is supposedly a ‘lookout,’ and the snipers shoot him right away. And every civilian on the street who bends towards the ground is suspected of setting explosives and they shoot him. At one point we saw somebody standing on a roof. Just standing, without binoculars. There was no reason to assume that he was on the lookout rather than just going up for a breath of air. I got authorization to shoot – and we hesitated. I agreed to second it. To this day I ask myself why.

“The procedure was that the three snipers shoot together. He got two bullets in the chest and died on the spot. Afterwards we heard ambulances. Hand on heart I had a feeling that it was not OK, but the guys pressured me and I backed down. I failed. That time I did not withstand the pressure from above and from below. There were three snipers who had spent a lot of time training and wanted to put their skills into practice. At the end of the day an officer from the brigade operations branch did a cursory investigation, about two minutes. The question of whether the shooting was justified at all did not come up. Afterwards I and four other officers who saw similar incidents were so surprised, that we decided to write a letter to the corps commander, with a copy to the Chief of Staff, what is really going on.” At the end of Operation Rainbow the IDF spokesman announced that dozens of armed men were killed as well as 14 civilians.

At the Southern Command they know that the order to open fire on every person on a roof is not legal. The matter had been clarified a half year before, when a soldier in the Paratroopers refused a similar order. “I served in Netzarim, in which there are dozens of guard posts,” relates Zafrir Goldberg. “At the briefing they explained the open-fire regulations and I was shocked. I talked to the company commander, and he said that he was sorry, but those were the regulations. I also talked to an officer in the Intelligence Branch and the assistant battalion commander.” The Association for Civil Rights contacted the Judge Advocate-General and warned about a “patently illegal order.” At the beginning of January 2004 the Judge Advocate-General replied: “We have instructed the command elements to ensure that the briefings given to soldiers do not include such an order.”

The reply of the military prosecutor: “International law permits attacking any combatant, including those who are observing and guiding. The question is how to determine whether someone is a lookout and not someone who went up to hang laundry. I do not know the specific incidents, but theoretically it could be that a soldier who shoots does not see the whole picture. The requirement for authorization from a higher level teaches a certain degree of caution. A soldier who identifies an armed terrorist shoots without authorization.”

The do not identify. They shoot

The unit of “K”, a soldier in the Haredi Nahal Brigade, was positioned above Ramallah in order to dominate the al-Bireh neighbourhood. According to him, “In our position it was relatively quiet, occasionally there was shooting in our direction from a Kalashnikov. It was ineffective fire because of the distance and because the shooters were below. But it was clear that according to the regulations we were not to be passive but were supposed to shoot back and ‘return fire to the sources of fire.’ The problem was there was no chance of identifying the sources of fire, and in practice we returned ‘general’ fire, in the direction of the houses.

“At first, whenever there was fire towards our position, we immediately went into the return-fire procedure: we fired wildly towards the neighbourhood. We sent down a rain of MAG [machine-gun] bullets and thousands of M-16 rounds without identifying a source of fire. It was clear to me that it was not logical. I went to the company commander and told him that it was a waste of money. Isn’t it pointless? I didn’t explain to him that there were residents and children living there, because everyone understood that. I only said that it cost a fortune. I suggested that they bring snipers who would try to take them down one by one.

“The first houses were about 600 metres from us. The source of the shooting was further back, 900 metres from us. There was no chance that they would hit us with a Kalashnikov, and for sure there was no chance of hitting them with return fire. After a month and a half the situation changed: when they didn’t shoot at us, we got bored. So the soldiers decided that we wouldn’t wait for them to start. They said something like today it’s our turn to start, and we’ll shoot first.

“We called it ‘initiated’. It was a kind of routine that the whole company knew, that happened dozens of times. Everybody recognized the word ‘initiated’, and the meaning – just start freely spraying bullets towards al-Bireh. Just shooting, and when possible, towards the windows when they were open. Obviously if anybody complained, we would say that the Palestinians fired first. Every day they would empty several ‘bruces’ (wooden ammunition boxes – S. G.) of ammunition. There were times when I saw ambulances go in, but I didn’t know what happened. On at least one occasion I know that we wounded a girl, because I saw an ambulance, and a day later there was a report in the newspaper that the IDF returned fire to sources of fire in al-Bireh, and that there was a girl whose leg we took off.

“The staff knew everything and gave us to understand that there was no problem. For example, when we had to calibrate our weapons, the Company Commander encouraged us to aim at the fluorescent lights of the mosque. I’m sure that the Brigade Commander knew about it as well, because at least once they reported to him, after an officer from another unit visited the position and reported to him. He heard shots, and asked the soldier what he was doing. The soldier said that they had shot at him, and the officer said, ‘hold it, I heard, don’t lie.’ He reported it to the brigade commander, and they talked about it for several days, but nothing happened. That whole period we were in contact with the people from the Pisgot settlement, whom we were guarding, and after a week they told us that the matter was closed, that an officer like him won’t last long in the brigade.”

The IDF spokesman, in an initial reply: “Commanders of the unit were replaced and retired and it is hard to get comments from them.” IDF spokesman in a second reply: “According to the commanders, they were not there at that time.” Lt.-Col. Libman: “There are no open-fire rules ‘just to shoot’. There are regulations that deal with shooting at an unidentified source of fire, which are subordinate to the basic rule that you do not shoot at a place where you endanger a civilian population. The regulation is supposed to be transmitted to the soldiers at briefings and before all actions and it makes clear what is forbidden.”

“M”, from the Giv’ati Brigade, tells of those unwritten procedures, when he served in a position in front of Rafah in May 2004. At the edge of the neighbourhood was an abandoned house from which armed men occasionally opened fire, and the soldiers returned fire, including with a 40 mm grenade-launcher. “The problem is that the way to shoot well with a grenade-launcher is the way they used to do it with mortars in the armoured corps. First you miss, identify where it landed, and adjust and improve accordingly. Every hundred metres of divergence is a few millimetres to move the gun. In a discharge there are about 20 grenades. Every time you shoot to the right of the building, you hit the neighbourhood. That’s also how they calibrate the machine-gun. It’s clear that it’s impossible to hit right away, and of course there were live grenades that fell in the middle of the neighbourhood. I remember times we saw ambulances going in after our shooting. Why did they go in? I don’t believe that somebody in the neighbourhood had a heart attack right then. Logically we simply hit people. That shooting was done regularly and received all the authorizations from above, at least up to the division commander.”

Shooting at the population also happened in Nablus, as related by soldiers from a paratroopers’ unit. “R” recalls a young woman of 24 who was shot in the neck, due to what he describes as his and his friends’ “irresponsible shooting” towards houses, and an old man who took a bullet in the belly, that he himself apparently fired in similar circumstances. He too describes a reality in which they believe in the sentence: “You must return fire to the sources of fire,” even when nobody identifies them. “In practice everybody shoots freely in 360 degrees at [rooftop] water reservoirs and at everybody whom maybe they identify in the windows.”

“To say that we were under pressure is nonsense,” says “R” in reply to the necessary question. “In my opinion most of the shots that I and my friends fired were not because of nervousness and fear, but from the desire to put an X on our guns. Everyone who was a combat soldier knows how much he wants that X on the gun. Without that you’re not a man. I have one in my team with five X’s, and he doesn’t care. They tell you, ‘listen, they’re not naive. What was she standing at the window for?’ or ‘an unfortunate mishap.’ In my opinion it’s just the result of irresponsible shooting. Needless and senseless killing.”

* For more on Breaking the Silence checkout www.breakingthesilence.org

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

Why ?

As rewarding as this experience has been, it can be quite depressing here – as what I am witnessing is systematic and methodical ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

 

Whether it’s checkpoints and road detours; encouraging settler violence and expansion; strangling the economy; separating families through assignations, imprisonment or the permit system; forcing them to live in refugee camps for generations or merely the trauma that comes with living in a constant state of fear. It all amounts to a and meticulous plan to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of the Palestinian people, through forced transfer – basically make life so difficult, they leave.

 

How can the world celebrate the 60 the anniversary of the declaration of human rights while this is occurring ? And not just in Palestine – Darfur, Burma, Chechnya – and unfortunately the list goes on. When will the world realise that the protection of human rights are more important than strategic alliances and profits ? 

   

December 16, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , | Leave a comment