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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Increasing attention is being paid to the upcoming J Street conference taking place in Washington DC on October 25-28.  I will be attending this conference and am greatly looking forward to it.  A recent article from The Forward, reprinted on the Ha’aretz website, called Sure, J Street is pro-peace – but is it pro-Israel? illustrates pretty clearly the problem of the current Israeli government.  The article says J Street

is still struggling to prove its pro-Israel credentials.  The latest bump in the road was the refusal of Israel’s ambassador to the United States to meet with the group, citing concerns that J Street’s views might harm Israel’s interests.

The problem here is that the Israeli government has not proven that it is truly interested in making any efforts to engage in real negotiations.  The simple dismissal that has come from the Israeli embassy does not bolster their case.  No specifics are offered as to what they don’t like, and instead of engaging in discussion, the ambassador chooses to ignore the group’s invitation.

I think J Street is a pretty moderate group that clearly supports the State of Israel.  I know people on the left who are skeptical of the group because of their strong support of the country.  In my opinion, J Street is acting pragmatically and I have real hope for the group.

If the Israeli government really regarded peace as an important goal, it would at least claim to support J Street’s aims.  Israel has a history of undermining American Jewish groups that advocate for peace efforts.  In the 1970s Israeli officials spoke out against the group Breira, which urged Israel to make greater efforts for peace with the Arab world.

Today’s Ha’aretz has an article elaborating on the Israeli response, and the positive reception by the Obama Administration. It’s encouraging and perfectly understandable that the Obama Administration would see J Street in a positive light, particularly as the Israeli government has been less than honest with the American government.  As pointed out in an article from a few days ago pointing out that ‘despite promises to Obama, construction continues in dozens of W. Bank settlements’ .  It’s difficult to take claims by Netanyahu seriously when he constantly thumbs his nose at the US.  A group like J Street is needed for those who genuinely care about Israel.  The Israeli’s seem set on driving off a cliff, and J Street is trying to stop them.

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This week’s Washington Jewish Week has a short piece about a counter-protest against the TIFF protesters. For those who don’t know, a group of filmmakers, artists and academics protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s holding a special focus on Tel Aviv.  The protest document, called ‘The Toronto Declaration’ has rankled many of Israel’s aggressive supporters for making a comparison to apartheid South Africa and the general characterization of the state.

Now, a group of mostly Hollywood directors, actors and writers have written a letter protesting the Toronto Declaration, calling it an effort at ‘blacklisting’. I personally have some problems with the wording of the Toronto Declaration, but the counter-protest and the Washington Jewish Week piece distort what the Declaration said.  It is hardly a ‘blacklisting’, as the protest does not call for any restrictions on Israeli films or filmmakers.  The focus on Tel Aviv does not appear to be part of a focus on Israeli film, but rather part of an advertising campaign, as noted by Roger Ebert, who is not a signatory to either petition. Not surprisingly, Israel wants to draw attention to the realities of the occupation, and this is part of a new effort.

The aspect of the Washington Jewish Week piece that I find to be most pernicious is the attempt to discredit the signatories of the Toronto Declaration, partly through a subtle racism.  Five signatories are named, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Julie Christie, and Alice Walker.  First is Jane Fonda, who for most people self-identified as “pro-Israel” will dismiss as a lefty radical who supported the Viet-Cong.  Belafonte, Glover, and Walker are all black.  This seems like an effort to characterize blacks as enemies of the Jews, as the number of African-Americans on the list is not very large.  Furthermore, a significant proportion of the signatories are Jewish, and there are a number of Israelis on the list as well.  As for other celebrities, there is Viggo Morternson, Howard Zinn, Slavok Zizek, Ken Loach who are all as notable as Julie Christie.

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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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After last week’s violence in Safa, it seems that the IDF has come to an agreement with the residents and will permit the farmers of the town to work, but no one else will be allowed in the agricultural area.  Therefore, Ta’ayush agreed to not go to Safa, hoping that the farming would resume without problems and that our activities there had indeed been successful.

Instead we went to accompany Palestinian shepherds from the small village of Tu’ba  who wanted to graze their goats near the chicken houses of the settlement Ma’on.  There was little vegetation to graze in the area, and even less in places further from the settlement.  Our group was a few hundred meters from the settlement itself, and the chicken houses were only inhabited by chickens, so we were not very close to any settlers.  Nonetheless, settlement security came to the area and called in the IDF, Border Police and civilian Police.  They declared the area a Closed Military Zone and said we had to leave in 5 minutes.  No explanation was given even though we repeatedly asked for one.  Luckily, by that time the goats had nearly finished their grazing so we were not upset about leaving.

We received a phone call that some Palestinians in the village of Sha’ab al-Buttun had been attacked by settlers from Mitzpe Ya’ir, so we gathered in our cars and went there.  By the time we arrived the settlers had already left, but the Palestinians showed us some video they had taken on a phone.  Apparently, 3 settlers entered the village and went inside the homes of a few residents.  They also hit some of the Palestinians, one of whom showed us the welts on his arms.  Perhaps most disturbingly, the settlers also broke the legs of 3 of the Palestinian’s sheep.  We will try to file a complaint and hopefully be able to press charges against the settlers.  There is a chance of some success because their faces are on video.

Finally we went to visit the small Palestinian village of Susya, where the Border Police and IDF had followed us.  After drinking tea and some discussion, it was decided to go up to Givat HaDegel, the illegal outpost built by settlers from the settlement of Susya on private Palestinian land.  The soldiers and Border Police were already at the outpost when we arrived, ready with an order for a Closed Military Zone.  At least 15 soldiers and Border Police prepared to eject our group of 15 from the area.  After a brief argument, we went back to the village of Palestinian Susya and said our goodbyes

IDF soldiers on Givat HaDegel

IDF soldiers on Givat HaDegel

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Most of the group continued back to Jerusalem after this, but I went to Beit Ummar with two others from Ta’ayush to say hello to Issa (a Palestinian Ta’ayush activist) and to see if the Palestinians in Safa were able to do their work.  We found that the farmers were able to work today without any problems, which was very positive news.  However, we also heard that the IDF had destroyed part of the walls on either side of a path leading to the farm area and also destroyed a few fruit trees.

Apparently, an army vehicle became stuck in a ditch in the farmland area.  To get it out, the soldiers decided to bring  a bulldozer, which then destroyed part of the walls on either side of the path, leaving rocks and rubble in the road.  Another vehicle had driven in between the fruit trees, at least one of which was totally destroyed, and two or three others were seriously damaged and did not look to me that they would survive.  I don’t think the soldiers intentionally did this damage, but the way they did it indicates that it does not matter to them.  They did not make efforts not to damage property, and there was no discussion with any of the Palestinians about it.  This destruction didn’t take place during a military operation or any kind of emergency, it just was easier for the soldiers to do their work this way.

(Photo by Mairav Zonszein)

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During this last week, settlers from Bat Ayin destroyed over 100 fruit trees belonging to the Palestinian town of Khirbeit Safa.  For the last few months there has been regular violence and harassment against residents of Safa following the murder of a boy from Bat Ayin.  The man who committed the murder had been apprehended quickly, but revenge attacks against the entire village continued.

The Palestinian farmers have been consistently prevented by the Israeli Army and Border Police from working their fields, which lie between Safa and Bat Ayin.  This is contrary to an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that the IDF should not order Closed Military Zone’s that prevent Palestinians from agricultural work.  The Border Police and IDF have issued Closed Military Zone’s over the fields of Safa on an almost continual basis since the beginning of April.

IDF and Border Police pushing Taayush activists

IDF and Border Police pushing Taayush activists

This morning members of the Israeli-Palestinian group Taayush, along with other activists and internationals attempted to accompany residents of Safa onto their farmland.  Israeli soldiers and Border Police numbering at least 30 were already there when we arrived, and immediately proclaimed a Closed Military Zone.  Initially they said that if the Israelis and internationals left, 3 residents of Safa would be permitted to stay and work.  This number quickly went down to zero whereupon they resorted to force in trying to remove us from the area, shoving and grabbing men, women and children.  The activists and Palestinians non-violently resisted and a number refused to leave, resulting in 15 Israelis being arrested.

arresting Taayush activist

arresting Taayush activist

In the course of the struggle, Border Police threw people to the ground, grabbed people’s throats, and one Israeli had her arm twisted behind her back causing a serious sprain.  One Palestinian man who was thrown to the ground, bloodying his face, had his leg broken through IDF aggressiveness.  I overheard one Border Policeman say to a distraught Palestinian, “stop the theater”.

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As we left the fields and entered the town of Safa, the soldiers and Border Police followed and said we also had to leave there.  The Border Police escorted our cars to the entrance of Beit Ummar.  When we got out of our cars, they presented us with another Closed Military Zone order for Beit Ummar.  They also claimed that our driver had entered “Area A” by coming so close to Beit Ummar.  In fact, although the IDF has put a sign up at the entrance that Beit Ummar is “Area A”, it is actually “Area B” as can be seen on all official maps.  Furthermore, our driver is not an Israeli citizen, but has Jerusalem residency, which grants him the right to enter “Area A” if he wanted to.  Our driver was threatened with arrest under these false charges.

The Police then took his ID and said we would have to come to the Etzion Police Station to get it.  We all went to the station, where we found our members who had been arrestted earlier.  We were all detained at the station, totaling 30 people.  Two of those who had been arrested told me that after their arrest the Border Police brought them to the station.  However, along the way, two Border Police stopped the vehicle, took out 3 activists and proceeded to beat them.  One was punched in the face, another was hit on the head with a baton, and a third was hit and was pulled by his hair.

They wanted to file a complaint against the officers who did it, who made a countercomplaint.  Our group was not told why were being held or given any information.  We were in the police station for 3 hours before we were all released without charges.

A video clip I took of Border Policeman twisting Taayush activist’s arm

(All Photos Taken by Mairav Zonszein)

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On this last Saturday, June 6, Taayush members started the day by going to Safa.  Honestly, after last week’s violence I wasn’t that eager to go, but as Amiel said, for that reason, “the people there need us the most.”

We went to the fields where the villagers of Safa pick grape leaves.  Upon arriving we discovered that the army had declared a “Closed Military Zone” on the lands they use for agriculture.  Not only was the land off-limits, we were told that the order was in effect until June 21, over two weeks.  By that time, many of the grape leaves may no longer be usable.  Furthermore, this goes against an Israeli Supreme Court ruling stating that the Palestinians should not be prevented from accessing their agricultural lands.

The IDF, in trying to make their own job easier, is essentially punishing the Palestinians for the settler attacks against them.

After we photographed the military order for a Closed Military Zone we left.

Our next activity took place in the village of Susya, in the South Hebron Hills.  The Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace had organized a group of about 100 Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to erect a structure along-side the developing illegal outpost ‘Givat HaDegel’.

The land the outpost is on is unquestionably Palestinian.  The owner has documentation, the IDF did not dispute it, and Israeli news confirmed it.  Nevertheless, the IDF is allowing the settlers from the settlement of Susya to build there.

Back in January I wrote about the developments at Givat HaDegel. A couple months after that, I saw that they had started to build a cement floor.

Cement floor at Givat HaDegel

Cement floor at Givat HaDegel

On this Saturday, when we ascended the hill, I saw close-up that a full building had been constructed.

G HaDegel

The Combatants for Peace and the people that joined them built what was essentially a ‘sukkah’, and covered it with the colors of the Palestinian flag.  Immediately soldiers started to dismantle it.  After a short time they declared a Closed Military Zone.

Palestinians waving their flag and colors after their 'sukkah' was dismantled

Palestinians waving their flag and colors after their 'sukkah' was dismantled

I cannot say that I was surprised by what happened.  However, Givat HaDegel is not on the government list of illegal outposts, which has 26, far short of the actual number.  Also, Israel’s Channel 2 news had a brief piece on the event, but neglected to even mention the settler’s construction.

There is something very wrong here when it is regarded as radical action for people to go to their private land.  It is somehow normal here that the land owner is not allowed onto his own land, and that the IDF is used to keep him off, while permitting Israeli citizens to build on it.  This is the situation Palestinians find themselves in.  The Israeli police and military have authority over them, but only work to protect Israeli citizens, even when they are committing crimes.

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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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