Bearing Witness

In Village, Palestinians See Model for Their Cause

BILIN, West Bank — Every Friday for the past four and a half years, several hundred demonstrators — Palestinian villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists — have walked in unison to the Israeli barrier separating this tiny village from the burgeoning settlement of Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village’s land. One hundred feet away, Israeli soldiers watch and wait.

The protesters chant and shout and, inevitably, a few throw stones. Then just as inevitably, the soldiers open fire with tear gas and water jets, lately including a putrid oil-based liquid that makes the entire area stink.

It is one of the longest-running and best organized protest operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.

For that reason, a group of famous left-leaning elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter — who caused controversy by suggesting that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank amounted to apartheid — came to Bilin on Thursday and told the local organizers how much they admired their work and why it was vital to keep it going.

The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also on the visit, said, “Just as a simple man named Gandhi led the successful nonviolent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bilin are leading a nonviolent struggle that will bring them their freedom.”

Mr. Tutu, a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke on rocky soil, surrounded by the remains of tear gas canisters and in front of coils of barbed wire, part of the barrier that Israel began building in 2002 across the West Bank as a violent Palestinian uprising was under way. Israel said its main purpose was to stop suicide bombers from crossing into Israel, but the route of the barrier — a mix of fencing, guard towers and concrete wall — dug deep into the West Bank in places, and Palestinian anger over the barrier is as much about lost land as about lost freedom.

Bilin lost half its land to the settlement of Modiin Illit and the barrier and took its complaint to Israel’s highest court. Two years ago, the court handed it an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to stop building its new neighborhood and ordered the Israeli military to move the route of the barrier back toward Israel, thereby returning about half the lost land to the village.

“The villagers danced in the street,” recalled Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for the village. “Unfortunately, it has been two years since the decision, and the wall has not moved.”

The village is back in court trying, so far in vain, to get the orders put into effect.

Ms. Schaeffer was explaining the case to the visitors, who go by the name The Elders. The group was founded two years ago by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and is paid for by donors, including Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay. Its goal is to “support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.”

Both Mr. Branson and Mr. Skoll were on the visit to Bilin, as were Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland; Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil; and Ela Bhatt, an Indian advocate for the poor and women’s rights. Their visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories has also included meetings with young Israelis and young Palestinians.

Mr. Cardoso said that he had long heard about the conflict but that seeing it on the ground had made a lasting impression on him. The barrier, he said, serves to imprison the Palestinians.

Like every element of the conflict here, there is no agreement over the nature of what goes on here every Friday. Palestinians hail the protest as nonviolent, and it was cited recently by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as a key step forward in the struggle for a Palestinian state. Recently, one of the leaders here, Mohammed Khatib, set up a committee of a dozen villages to share his strategies.

But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.

“Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires at defense forces and the security fence,” the military said in a statement when asked why it had taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the night. “Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members of the defense forces have been injured in these villages,” it added, including three soldiers who were so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army. It also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year and a half.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, a village teacher and one of the organizers of the weekly protests, said he was amazed at the military’s assertions as well as at its continuing arrests and imprisonment of village leaders.

“They want to destroy our movement because it is nonviolent,” he said. He added that some villagers might have tried, out of frustration, to cut through the fence since the court had ordered it moved and nothing had happened. But that is not the essence of the popular movement that he has helped lead.

“We need our land,” he told his visitors. “It is how we make our living. Our message to the world is that this wall is destroying our lives, and the occupation wants to kill our struggle.”

* This article was written by Ethan Bronner and first published: August 27, 2009 in the New York Times.

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

Israel says shooting of unarmed American activist a justifiable act of war

The Israeli military has declared the shooting of an unarmed American peace activist an act of war. The activist, Tristan Anderson, was critically injured when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head in March. Anderson was taking part in a weekly non-violent protest against Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank village of Nilin. The Israeli military says Anderson was involved in a hostile act, which would absolve the military of any liability for his injuries. Michael Sfard, an attorney for Anderson’s family, said, If [an] unarmed civilian demonstration is classified by Israel as an act of war, then clearly Israel admits that it is at war with civilians.

Link to footage of the incident on youtube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjVcluwdCC8

At least their admitting it now, as in my opinion Israel has been at war with civilians since the massacre at Deir Yassin in 1948. For more on Deir Yassin go to http://www.deiryassin.org/  

August 26, 2009 Posted by | My Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank

Israel’s targeting of civilian resistance to the separation wall proves the two-state solution is now just a meaningless slogan.

It is quite likely that you have not heard of the most important developments this week in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the West Bank, while it has been “occupation as normal”, there have been some events that together should be overshadowing Gaza, Gilad Shalit and Avigdor Lieberman.

First, there have been a large number of Israeli raids on Palestinian villages, with dozens of Palestinians abducted. These kinds of raids are, of course, commonplace for the occupied West Bank, but in recent days it appears the Israeli military has targeted sites of particularly strong Palestinian civil resistance to the separation wall.

For three consecutive days this week, Israeli forces invaded Jayyous, a village battling for survival as their agricultural land is lost to the wall and neighbouring Jewish colony. The soldiers occupied homes, detained residents, blocked off access roads, vandalised property, beat protestors, and raised the Israeli flag at the top of several buildings.

Jayyous is one of the Palestinian villages in the West Bank that has been non-violently resisting the separation wall for several years now. It was clear to the villagers that this latest assault was an attempt to intimidate the protest movement.

Also earlier this week, Israel tightened still further the restrictions on Palestinian movement and residency rights in East Jerusalem, closing the remaining passage in the wall in the Ar-Ram neighbourhood of the city. This means that tens of thousands of Palestinians are now cut off from the city and those with the right permit will now have to enter the city by first heading north and using the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Finally – and this time, there was some modest media coverage – it was revealed that the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem would be expanded by the appropriation of around 420 acres land as “state land”. According to Efrat’s mayor, the plan is to triple the number of residents in the colony.

Looked at together, these events in the West Bank are of far more significance than issues being afforded a lot of attention currently, such as the truce talks with Hamas, or the discussions about a possible prisoner-exchange deal. Hamas itself has become such a focus, whether by those who urge talks and cooption or those who advocate the group’s total destruction, that the wider context is forgotten.

Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.

Recognising what is happening in the West Bank also contextualises the discussion about Israel’s domestic politics, and the ongoing question about the makeup of a ruling coalition. For the Palestinians, it does not make much difference who is eventually sitting around the Israeli cabinet table, since there is a consensus among the parties on one thing: a firm rejectionist stance with regards to Palestinian self-determination and sovereignty.

During the coverage of the Israeli elections, while it was clear that Palestinians mostly did not care which of the candidates for PM won, the reason for this apathy was not explained. Labor, Likud and Kadima alike, Israeli governments without fail have continued or intensified the colonisation of the occupied territories, entrenching Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule, a reality belied by the false “dove”/”hawk” dichotomy.

Which brings us to the third reason why news from the West Bank is more significant than the Gaza truce talks or the Netanyahu-Livni rivalry – it is a further reminder that the two-state solution has completed its progression from worthy (and often disingenuous) aim to meaningless slogan, concealing Israel’s absorption of all Palestine/Israel and confinement of the Palestinians into enclaves.

The fact that the West Bank reality means the end of the two-state paradigm has started to be picked up by mainstream, liberal commentators in the US, in the wake of the Israeli elections. Juan Cole, the history professor and blogger, recently pointed out that there are now only three options left for Palestine/Israel: “apartheid”, “expulsion”, or “one state”.

The path of the wall, and the number of Palestinians it directly and indirectly affects, continues to make a mockery of any plan for Palestinian statehood. Jayyous is just one example of the way in which the Israeli-planned, fenced-in Palestinian “state-lets” are at odds with the stated intention of the quartet and so many others, of two viable states, “side by side”. As the World Bank pointed out (pdf), land colonisation is not conducive to economic prosperity or basic independence.

In occupied East Jerusalem meanwhile, Israel has continued its process of Judaisation, enforced through bureaucracy and bulldozers. The latest tightening of the noose in Ar-Ram is one example of where Palestinian Jerusalemites are at risk of losing their residency status, victims of what is politely known as the “demographic battle”.

It is impossible to imagine Palestinians accepting a “state” shaped by the contours of Israel’s wall, disconnected not only from East Jerusalem but even from parts of itself. Yet this is the essence of the “solution” being advanced by Israeli leaders across party lines. For a real sense of where the conflict is heading, look to the West Bank, not just Gaza.

This article was written by Ben White for the Guardian and was first published on Friday 20th February 2009.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seperation Wall

I have Just returned from Bethlehem, where my main objective was to checkout some the art work on the Separation Wall. It is claimed by the Israeli Government that the wall is being built for security reasons, however if that was the case it would be being built on the Green Line. The term Green Line refers to the 1949 Armistice lines established between Israel and its neighbours Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This is not the case, with the wall being built far into the West Bank to include often illegal Jewish settlements – redefining the boarders to even further limit Palestinian movement. The Palestinians have about the same population as Israel, but are limited to around 10% of the land. In many instances the wall comes right up the edge of Palestinian city’s cutting the local residents off from their farm land just outside the city. Not to mention separating family members and friends who now have to travel for hours, if your lucky enough to obtain the relevant permit, to stay in contact with some one who used to live down the street. It has been stated by some Israeli officials in unguarded moments that the plan behind the wall is to take as much land as possible with as few Arabs as possible – a land grab plain and simple. The other effect of the wall is to further limit Palestinian movement, with the aim of making life so difficult for the residents of the West Bank that they decide to leave – transfer by stealth, which is a commonly occurring theme in Israeli policy in the occupied territories.

This is the case of a Palestinian I shared a service taxi with today, he is a Doctor who lives in Rammalla and has to travel to Bethlehem every day for work – a trip that used to take 40 minutes before the wall, checkpoints and road detours [most of which has been put in place during the so called peace process]. The same trip now takes three hours at best, today taking four hours due to being detained at a Israeli Defence Force [IDF] checkpoint, while my passport and the other passengers Israeli issued ID cards where being verified – not sure how IDF soldiers verified them as they had several cigarettes and joked to them self’s while the passports and ID cards where sitting unopened on the ground, where they stayed until they where hand back to our driver. It makes you wonder weather these checkpoints, just like the wall, are as the Israeli’s clam there for security or weather there real purpose is just to further inconvenience the Palestinians already forced to endure the longest occupation in modern history and all that comes with it.

I likened the situation to apartheid in South Africa in the 80’s in a discussion with Hakim the director of Project Hope, only to be told that it was worse, as Black South Africans never had any where near the same limitations placed on their movement as Palestinians do living in the occupied territories. Which is of course true,  so why then is the oppression of Palestinians less offensive to the world ? 

  

At least this depicts a fair fight - which is definitely not the case in the occupied territories.

At least this depicts a fair fight - which is definitely not the case in the occupied territories.

 

The Palestinian and the cat, both pinning for freedom.

The Palestinian and the cat, both pinning for freedom.

 

I thought this was appropriate as the US gives Israel between $2 to $3 billion in aid a year.

I thought this was appropriate as the US gives Israel between $2 to $3 billion in aid a year.

 

Kennedy's famous comparison between himself and a jam donut.

Kennedy's famous comparison between himself and a jam donut.

 

Does any one have a Rhino for sale ?

Does anyone have a Rhino for sale ?

 

The only Banksy I could find, always wonderfully playful with the most controversial.

The only Banksy I could find, always wonderfully playful with the most controversial.

 

Nothing lasts forever - inshallah.
Nothing lasts forever – inshallah.

 

November 29, 2008 Posted by | My Thoughts, My Travels | , , , , , | Leave a comment

West Bank Map 2007

02

* This Map was produced by the United Nation Office for Humanitarin Affairs [OCHA] 7 June 2007.

November 27, 2008 Posted by | Media, My Travels | , , , , , , | Leave a comment