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Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Here are two good reports of daily realities in the West Bank

First, the issue of ‘Natural Growth’ is shown to be a false argument.

The second video shows an example of how aggressive and violent many settlers are.  This kind of behavior is not surprising to anyone who has seen settlers interact with peace activists or Palestinians

Peace Now is doing important work in the Occupied Territories.  It is a testament to the seriousness of the problem when the Israeli government is openly lying about its settlement policies.  Peace Now’s work in documenting settlement construction that is denied by the government, yet is illegal even under Israeli law.

I think anyone interested in Israel should see these videos

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Ezra Nawi

Ezra Nawi… If we had 20 Ezra Nawis, the Occupation would be already finished.  Ezra is one of the righteous men, that thanks to them, we are not yet [destroyed like] Sodom and Gomorrah.                  (Yehuda Agus, Taayush Activist)

If there was one face that represents the efforts of Israeli activists for coexistence and human rights, it would be Ezra Nawi.  A plumber by trade, Ezra is a Jew of Iraqi origin who has been involved in progressive causes and politics since childhood.  Around 1999, Ezra began dedicating his energies and passions to human rights in the Palestinian Territories.

I have found Ezra to be a warm and generous person.  He is welcoming to the newcomer and is ready to give them his attention and respect.  Even in the most difficult situations, Ezra uses humor and grace to put others at ease.  A recent documentary, “Citizen Nawi”, captures the passion and dedication of the man.

Recently, Ezra has been convicted of assaulting a soldier, a charge rejected by those who know him.  He is currently awaiting  sentencing in July.

I have invited a few experienced activists to share their experiences with Ezra and the importance of his role among Israeli human rights activists.  At the end are a few thoughts that Ezra himself shared with me.

David Shulman (Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; author of Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine.)

Ezra Nawi is probably the most courageous person I have ever met. I have seen him in countless moments when settlers violently attacked him and other peace activists, Palestinians and Israelis; his presence of mind, steadfastness, and clarity always got us through such times. He is that most unusual of human beings– a person of profound inner gentleness and moral principle, selfless and creative in finding ways to help the Palestinian shepherds and farmers of the South Hebron hills. It is largely to Ezra’s unremitting efforts that these people are still living on their lands in the face of constant efforts by the Israeli state, the army, police, and rampaging settlers, to dispossess them. Ezra is utterly committed to non-violent protest in the Gandhian mode; he is an inspired force for goodness and a reason not to lose hope in human potential to do the decent thing. But I don’t want to give the impression that he is some kind of saint:  he is an earthy, full-blooded man, certainly capable of anger and capable of verbally expressing his contempt for the (indeed contemptible) soldiers, settlers, and policemen who have turned the lives of the south Hebron Palestinians into a living hell. Although I have an instinctive dislike of “heroes,” and abhor hero-worship wherever I meet it, I have to say that in my eyes, and in my experience, Ezra Nawi is heroic in the finest sense of the word– the sense of an ordinary human being who puts himself at risk, even great risk, in order to do what is right in the service of those who are suffering, oppressed, and in need.

Anat Rosenwaks (Taayush Activist since 2001)

Ezra Nawi. For several weeks I have been trying to decide what to write. Where do I start? There’s so much to say about Ezra, but it’s difficult to convey who he is to those who have never met him. Why have such a diverse group of people been willing to make such an effort to prevent his imprisonment?

I remember when Ezra joined Ta’ayush. Everyone was talking about the Jerusalemite plumber – not the usual activist. Unique in his appearance, (always wearing an interesting hat) Ezra is charming, charismatic and fully devoted to human rights and political activism.

Recently, on the eve of the holiday Shavuot, there was no “official” activity in the South Hebron area, or in any other place in the West Bank. Most people in Israel were resting or getting ready for the holiday. But Ezra, like always, was in Tuba, a small village in the South Hebron Hills next to the illegal outpost of Ma’on. A few days earlier, a young woman from the village was taken to the emergency room in Jerusalem. Ezra, who has supported her family for years, picked her and her father up from the checkpoint and hosted the father for 2 days in his apartment. Ezra then drove them back to their house when she was released.

For many of the families in the South Hebron area, Ezra is the first one to call when they are in trouble. He’s always available, willing to help at almost anytime of day. He speaks fluent Arabic and never hesitates before getting into his car to drive to the place he’s needed, or make phone calls to “half of the world” just to help someone who is stuck at a checkpoint.

Ta’ayush activity has changed tremendously since Ezra joined us and his influence in the improvements in the situation in the South Hebron area is enormous. Without him, for example, there would be no international activists staying permanently in one of the villages.  Without Ezra, the school children of Tuba might still be using a very roundabout way to school, in order to avoid passing next to the violent settlers.  Without Ezra the farmers of Gawawis, a small village that was occupied by settlers, may not have been able to return to their lands. Without Ezra, the people of Tuwane, who without Ezra, might still be attacked by settlers from the Ma’on outpost every Friday night, and have no access to a great part of their lands.

Ezra is welcome in any Palestinian town or village, and as a result, unwelcome by the police and army. They have tried to stop his activity in many ways, by arresting him so many times, searching his car and apartment.  They try to frighten him by saying that the settlers are angry and want to harm him. And now, he has been convicted on false charges. It was his word against the word of two policeman.

I hope Ezra will not go to jail. But even if he does, this will not stop his activity or break him. He is a strong man, and has the support of all his friends in Israel, Palestine and all over the world.

Amiel Vardi (Professor of Classics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

One of the main reasons Ezra is such an important person is his personality.  I mean, he is really easy prey for them [his detractors], being of Iraqi origin and being a plumber.  Most of us activists come from well-established jobs.  He is more vulnerable because of this, and, of course his declared homosexuality makes him especially vulnerable, and it’s used against him.  It’s used by the settlers and it’s used by the police against him all the time.

So this is one thing that makes Ezra a special case.  Another thing is, that Ezra is the only one of us that really has good relations day-to-day with the Palestinians.  It’s not only a question of knowing the language, which is, of course, in his case superb; it’s knowing the habits, understanding what is behind the words, learning them really deeply and getting their approval.  They trust him, like they trust none of us.  And as such, he is the best activist I can think of.

We get into quarrels very often about the way things should be done.  Sometimes perhaps, we are right and he is wrong, but very often his intuition is so much better than ours, simply because he understands the Palestinians so much better – I couldn’t think of any activity in all the region from Jerusalem south without the help of Ezra.  This is true not only for Taayush, but for all the organizations, The Physicians for Human Rights, The Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, all depend on Ezra.  And this is why for us Ezra is the most important issue at the moment.

Ezra in his own words

“If you can see what is going on there (in the Palestinian Territories), you have to get involved.”  Ezra believes that if people ‘realized the price and the pain’ that comes from Israel’s actions in the territories, they would want to change the status quo.  He says that A large problem of the occupation comes from its less visible elements.  For example, “The dehumanization of Arabs and increase in Israeli nationalism.”

Ezra exclaims “Jews have been leaders in liberation and rights movements all over the world, in Russia, Iraq, apartheid South Africa and in the United States.  How come here (in Israel) this hardly exists?”

Despite the setbacks and overwhelming odds, Ezra says, “There is no reason to be depressed or ashamed about the situation.  Only the people who do nothing should feel that way.”  His advice, is “think pink”.

To Help Ezra, please visit: http://supportezra.net/

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Today members of Taayush returned to Hill 26, which as I mentioned in the second half of a previous post, is the site where settlers from Kiryat Arba have illegally built a hut on Palestinian land.  We have been monitoring the development of the structure for the last month or so.

The plan was to build a structure of our own nearby, to see if our structure would be treated differently from that of the settlers.

Israelis and Palestinians standing in front of new structure

Israelis and Palestinians standing in front of new structure

Our contingent of Palestinians, Israeli peace activists and internationals quickly built a small structure.  Some settlers tried to interfere with the construction, but mostly they watched and heckled us.

Settler and soldiers. Behind them is the settler hut

Settler and soldiers. Behind them is the settler hut

After it was built, soldiers, border police, and more settlers arrived.  Some of the newly arrived settlers cursed and yelled at us and shoved members of our group.  They provocatively told us that after we were gone, they were going to use the hut we built for themselves.  One settler struck a female Taayush member in the head, knocking her to the ground, and threw a punch at another woman in the group.

(Above is Baruch Marzel)

Baruch Marzel, a well-known settler from Hebron, shoved a Taayush member, and tore down the Palestinian flag that had been placed atop the structure.

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A young settler threw a flaming stick on top of the structure in an attempt to burn it down.

The military then declared a ‘closed military zone’, and said that everyone – Palestinians, settlers, and Israeli activists – would have to leave.  However, despite this announcement the settlers were allowed to stay where they were while we were roughly driven away down the hill.  In the process, Taayush members were arrested, some for peacefully resisting, others because they just weren’t leaving quickly enough.

The experience was upsetting for a number of the Israeli activists.  Israel’s country and army was acting illegally to protect religious extremists who were breaking the law.  While our group was treated roughly and with hostility, the soldiers allowed the settlers to yell invectives at them, and be ordered around by them.  Unfortunately the army effectively promotes the politics of the settlers and tries to marginalize and silence those who want the rule of law.

The events were covered by the Israeli media, and Haaretz used a video I took in this article.http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1084184.html

Settler behind soldiers enforcing closed military zone only on us

Settler behind soldiers enforcing closed military zone only on us

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This last Saturday was an eventful day for Taayush in the South Hebron area. First we accompanied Palestinians to go farm their lands near the illegal outpost of Asahel.

Soldiers standing next to settlers

Soldiers standing next to settlers

Immediately after arriving near the outpost, a female settler came out and started throwing stones at our group.  A few soldiers were already there, and they just watched while she threw rocks which hit a couple of people.  Soon after this we started working, a young Palestinian man was arrested – apparently for not moving back a foot when the soldiers told him to.

Settlers sitting with a police officer

Settlers sitting with a police officer

The soldiers then demanded that the Palestinians and Taayush members leave the area stop working.  To hasten the process, the soldiers came with a paper they said was a military order identifying the area as a closed military zone, and an accompanying map to prove it.  However, when we challenged the authenticity of the order and the map, they backed down.

Soldiers overlooking Palestinians and others workingSoldiers overlooking Palestinians and Israelis

While this was happening, a few more settlers came down the hill, yelling obscene insults at us.  This included graphic comments about Taayush members engaging in sodomy.  There were more threatening gestures and comments, however.  The male settler pretended to shoot us with his fingers, and said we belonged ‘underground’.  One of the women said to a Taayush member that she would kill her, and threatened another with having his head smashed by a rock.

Eventually the soldiers brought a real military order for a ‘closed military zone’.  The soldiers wanted to make us leave in a way that required the least effort from them.  They proposed that if we left, they would release the Palestinian they had previously arrested,although he would have to report back to the police the next day.  After a bit of wrangling over details, we came to an agreement and set off for our cars with our Palestinian friend in tow.

As we neared the road, two of the settlers approached from the opposite direction.  They had gone around the back of the hill to meet us.  The same female settler as before started throwing rocks at our group, hitting several people.  One time, she was clearly aiming at the head of a young Palestinian, and the rock cut the hand of a Taayush member who tried to block it.

Settlers covering their faces

Settlers covering their faces

During this barrage, the two settlers covered their faces.  The man wrapped his tallit (prayer shawl) around his face, and the woman covered her face with part of her head covering.  It is not clear why they did so because we had already seen their faces.

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The next notable event of the day occurred near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, close to Hebron.  We had heard that some settlers from Kiryat Arba were starting to fence off an area on a Palestinian’s land.

Settler family on Palestinian land

Settler family on Palestinian land

The status of the land there is particularly clear-cut, as Kiryat Arba is fenced off around its perimeter, negating any possible claims that its land extends further.  We went to inspect the land in question and found a family of settlers sitting there surrounded by several poles they had recently erected.  From there, we went about 100 meters to view a structure, apparently some sort of clubhouse, that had been built by settlers.  On this day, there were several boys, none older than 14, standing around this crudely built structure containing supplies of water and gas.

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Three soldiers sudenly arrived, apparently in response to having been alerted by the settler family.  The leader of the three was fairly aggressive, and tried to grab the video camera out of the hand of a Palestinian who was with us.  This soldier then approached him again as if to threaten or engage him physically, but turned away when the Palestinian yelled for us to film what was happening.

Shortly thereafter, the family of settlers came over, and then around 10 more soldiers arrived.  The mother settler immediately started screaming invectives at us, and yelling at the Palestinians with us to ‘go back to Iraq’.  After some Taayush members argued with her for a little while, the soldiers produced a document declaring the area a closed military zone.  However, there were two problems with this claim.

First, the military order wasn’t signed, making it invalid.  Second, and more significantly, the soldiers only wanted us to leave, and to let the settlers stay where they were.  This was a violation of the law, as the structure was on private Palestinian land.  Legally, all of us, including the settlers, should be required to leave, however the settlers were permitted to stay.

The unsigned military order

The unsigned military order

We pointed these facts out to the soldiers, but they told us that if we did not leave the area in the next 10 minutes, we would all be arrested.  During our argument, the settlers all went inside the clubhouse.  With no alternative, we left, but with the knowledge and proof that in this instance the soldiers had broken Israeli law.

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This last Saturday I went along with members of Taayush to accompany some Palestinian shepherds who had recently been attacked by settlers.  The Palestinians are from a village called Sha’ab-el-But’un, which is about 200 meters away from the illegal outpost of Mitzpeh Ya’ir. 

As mentioned, the settlement is in close proximity to the Palestinians.  When the Palestinian shepherds take their sheep out to graze, it would make sense that they should be able to do so near their homes.  However, the settlers prevent this from happening by intimidating the shepherds and frightening their sheep.

 

a settler chasing sheep

a settler chasing sheep

 

 

I was standing along with a few Israelis near a flock of sheep, when three settlers approached.  They walked right up to the flocks of sheep and start yelling and frightening the animals,.  chasing them almost all the way back to Sha’ab el But’un . One of the Palestinians near me says that this happens every day.

Seeing a few 30 year-old adults running around, making strange noises to scare sheep was bizarre, and would be comical, except that these sheep are the Palestinian’s livelihood.  The shepherds tried to keep their flocks together, but gave up in the end, looking on helplessly.

Shortly after this, a number of IDF soldiers arrived, some of whom immediately shook hands with the settlers who had just spent the last 5-10 minutes yelling and running after frightened sheep.  It seems very unlikely to me that the soldiers did not see some of that behavior. 

 

3 soldiers standing in front of 2 settlers (Taayush member bottom left)

3 soldiers standing in front of 2 settlers (Taayush member bottom left)

 

 

More soldiers then arrived, along with other settlers and their children, numbering around 20.  

 

More settlers and their children come

More settlers and their children come

 

 

The settlers quickly engaged in argument with the Palestinians and members of Taayush as their children join in, hurling insults. One of the adults shouted, “We are on the right side of history.”  

The soldiers wanted the Palestinians to go back to their village, the settlers back to the settlement, and us to leave.

 

The commander

The commander

 

 

 The army commander accused us of provoking the settlers.  Apparently, Palestinian shepherds trying to graze their flocks near their own village is a provocation.

More to come soon…

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U.S. citizens critically hurt at West Bank protest – Haaretz – Israel News.

Tristan Anderson, an American with the International Solidarity Movement, was hit in the head by a tear-gas canister fired by IDF troops.  At the time he was apparently not involved in protest, and was not near people who were behaving violently.

This is from two days ago now, but there are a few aspects of this event that disturbed me.  As pointed out in this article in the Guardian, the IDF has started using a different type of tear gas canister. According to the International Solidarity Movement, this type of tear gas canister does not make a noise when fired, fires at a high velocity, and also does not release a visible smoke trail immediately.

It sounds to me like the soldier probably aimed at Anderson’s head.  Also, considering the specifications of this type of tear-gas canister, it seems that it does not make sense to use except as a weapon.

Correction: I made a mistake in presuming the intent of the soldier, there is no way I can know if he actually was aiming at Anderson.

However, I would like to note that B’Tselem recently put out a new report stating that some soldiers have used tear gas as a weapon, intentionally hitting protesters.

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I have returned from my vacation, and hopefully will be back to writing on a regular basis. Yesterday I went out with some members of Taayush to an activity organized by the Palestinian Christian group, Sabeel. This was my first meeting with Sabeel, and I think it was also their first cooperation with Taayush.

Sabeel was well organized, and had about 30 people with them.  We went to an area northwest of Jerusalem, close to the settlements of Giv’at Ze’ev and Giv’on Hahadasha.

As a group we went to an area of land owned by the Sabri family, who live on the other side of the separation barrier, so they are unable to access their land or to work it.  It is important for Palestinians to have their land worked, because there is a law that allows Israel to seize lands that lie fallow for three years.

Here is a picture of a map that Sabeel provided.  The black and white line is there because the map was made before the barrier in that area was finished, but it is now complete there.

The Map

The Map

We all worked together – Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals – planting olive and almond trees.  It was tiring work, and in the end we planted about 100 trees.

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Part of the group working.  The settlement of Giv’at Ze’ev in the distance.

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On Saturday I was given a sort of tour around the South Hebron Hills.  I saw some new areas and learned more about the history there.  It was a tough day mentally – hearing upsetting stories, and seeing the difficulty of Palestinian life in this area first-hand.

I will break up the day into a few posts.  First, the road to Avigail.

One of the most affecting parts of the day involved driving on the paved road leading to the illegal outpost Avigail.  When I say ‘illegal outpost’, this means it is illegal under Israeli law, not just International law.

The terrain around the outpost is rocky and hilly.

Avigail in the distance

Avigail in the distance

The road at the bottom leads all the way around to Avigail, which is a fair distance.  Here is what is amazing about this road.  It was originally built by local Palestinians to lead to their villages.  There are a few small villages in the area, I have been to one of them, Jinba.

Anyway, the Palestinians built this road with their own money.  According to haaretz the outpost was built in 2001, and The Washington Post reported in 2002 that Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the settlers there to be evacuated. I guess the IDF is still waiting for the right moment to make the settlers leave.

In the meantime, the road was paved with money from the Israeli government, and the Palestinians who had originally built the road are no longer allowed to drive on it.  You can see on the picture above that the terrain is rough.  There are now no roads leading to the Palestinian villages near Avigail.  As I mentioned before, I have been to Jinba, one of the small villages nearby.  The drive to get there – over rocks and hills – was like being on a roller-coaster.  For all practical purposes, these villages are inaccesible by car.

More to follow soon…

The Road

The Road

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So now both Hamas and Israel have declared a cease-fire of sorts.  I hope it lasts, but I am not overly optimistic.  There has been tremendous destruction in Gaza, and a very high civilian death toll among the Palestinians, maybe half of the 1200 or so killed.

And what has Israel accomplished, aside from harming its very soul? Well, it has surely damaged its reputation, perhaps irrevocably. I have heard some people say, “Everyone hates Israel anyway, so what does it matter?”  It matters.  This may be a turning point in many people’s view of the state, and it certainly doesn’t look like Israel is making many efforts in the way of peace.

Speaking of which, I have read people suggesting that this may bring a new stage of peace negotiations.  Let’s just say in theory that some negotiations are accomplished soon, what is the impact of the military action in itself?  I would expect that the Palestinians view of Israel will become even more hostile, and that possible relations between the two peoples will become more distant on a personal level.

The real question for me now is, what will be the result of all this?  Will Hamas’ popularity in Gaza and the West Bank rise after this? Is Israel setting a precedent in terms of its military responses?  Will the humanitarian situation in Gaza improve? etc.

I don’t want to make any predictions on these, but I want to note a Pew Research poll that says Hamas’ popularity was declining before the IDF assault. We can only wait to see if this decline will sharpen or reverse.

I want to end by bringing attention to the plight of Palestinian civilians in this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLUJ4fF2HN4

This might be all in Hebrew, but it is horrifying to listen to.  A doctor from Gaza, who works in an Israeli hospital, is speaking on the phone after 3 of his daughters and his niece are killed by an Israeli shell.  It’s hard for me to see how anything can justify this.

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So, after the military assault on Gaza has been going on for 19 days, bringing the death toll in Gaza to apparently more than 1000 people, Barak and Livni think their job is done. Olmert ignoring calls from Barak, Livni for immediate Gaza truce – Haaretz – Israel News.

Livni and Barak can congratulate themselves for the deaths of more than 300 Palestinian children.  However, it seems that Ehud Olmert has not had enough.  It’s hard to see how his time as Prime Minister could be more successful.  He is the first PM to start TWO wars of choice, and within 3 years.

He has had to resign his post because of corruption charges, but it seems he wants to do as much as possible before his time is up.

Additionally, this war, unsurprisingly, is not really helping Israel’s PR.  According to an article in Haaretz, Israel’s actions in Gaza may have caused the state’s reputation to hit a new low, that the country may not recover from quickly.

Personally, I have received some comments and questions from friends in Europe and the US that indicate the concern and discomfort with Israel’s actions is unusually high.  Most of my friends are supportive of Israel, or neutral, but I can understand that these last 19 days may have changed their minds.

(I will comment more on the Palestinian situation in my next post)

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