Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sadly, Israel is no longer democratic

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
Last update - 05:10 01/05/2009
Shulamit Aloni / Sadly, Israel is no longer democratic
By Shulamit Aloni

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin and philosopher Asa Kasher, two respected men around here, published an article entitled: "A just war of a democratic state," (Haaretz, April 24, Hebrew).

A remark about the first part: There are wars that are necessary for self-defense or to fight injustice and evil. But the expression "just" is problematic when speaking of war itself - which involves killing and destruction and leaves women, children and old people homeless, and sometimes even kills them.

Our sages have said: "Don't be overly righteous." And there is absolutely no question that dropping cluster bombs in an area populated by civilians, as we did in the Second Lebanon War, does not testify to great righteousness. The same thing can be said of using phosphorus bombs against a civilian population.

Apparently, according to the Yadlin and Kasher definition of justice, in order to eliminate terrorists it is just to destroy, kill, expel and starve a civilian population that has no connection to the acts of terror and no responsibility for them. Perhaps had they adopted a more decent and less arrogant approach they would have tried to explain the reasons for the fury and intensity that brought about the shocking killing and destruction, and even apologized for the fact that these exceeded any reasonable necessity.

But after all, we are always right; moreover, these things were done by "the most moral army in the world," sent by the "democratic" Jewish state - and here is the meeting point of the two concepts in the title of Yadlin and Kasher's article.

As for the army's morality, it would have been better had they remained silent and thereby been considered wise. This is because the statistics on the destruction and harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip are familiar to everyone, and not divorced from the oh-so-moral behavior of our army in the occupied territories. In the context of this behavior, for example, the army operates with great efficiency against farmers who demonstrate against the theft of their lands, even when the demonstrations are not violent.

The long-term evidence of abuse by soldiers against civilians at the checkpoints - including repeated instances of expectant mothers who are forced to give birth in the middle of the road, surrounded by armed soldiers who laugh wickedly - is no secret either. Day after day, year after year, the most moral army in the world helps to steal lands, uproot trees, steal water, close roads - in the service of the righteous "Jewish and democratic" state and with its support. It's heartbreaking, but the State of Israel is no longer democratic. We are living in an ethnocracy under "Jewish and democratic" rule.

In 1970 it was decided that in Israel religion and nationality are one and the same (that is why we are not listed in the Population Registry as Israelis, but as Jews). In 1992 it was determined in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty that Israel is a "Jewish state." There is no mention in this law of the promise that appears in the state's formative document, the Declaration of Independence, to the effect that "The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex." The Knesset ratified the law nonetheless.

And so there is a "Jewish state" and no "equality of rights." Therefore some observers emphasize that the Jewish state is not "a state of all its citizens." Is there really a democracy that is not a state of all its citizens? After all, Jews living today in democratic countries enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

Democracy exists in the State of Israel today only in the formal sense: There are parties and elections and a good judicial system. But there is also an omnipotent army that ignores legal decisions that restrict the theft of land owned and held by people who have been living under occupation for the past 42 years. And since 1992, as we mentioned, we also have the definition "Jewish state," which means an ethnocracy - the rule of an ethnic religious community that strictly determines the ethnic origin of its citizens according to maternal lineage. And as far as other religions are concerned, disrespect for them is already a tradition, since we have learned: "Only you are considered human beings, whereas the gentiles are like donkeys."

From here it is clear that we and our moral army are exempt from concerns for the Palestinians living in Israel, and this is even more true of those living under occupation. On the other hand, it is perfectly all right to steal their land because these are "state lands" that belong to the State of Israel and its Jews.

That is the case even though we have not annexed the West Bank and have not granted citizenship to its inhabitants, who under Jordanian rule were Jordanian citizens. The State of Israel has penned them in, which makes it easy to confiscate their land for the benefit of its settlers.

And important and respected rabbis, who are educating an entire generation, have ruled that the whole country is ours and the Palestinians should share the fate of Amalek, the ancient tribe the Israelites were commanded to eradicate. At a time when a "just war" is taking place, racism is rife and robbery is called "return of property."

We are currently celebrating the 61st anniversary of the State of Israel. We fought in the War of Independence out of a great hope that we would build a "model society" here, that we would make peace with our neighbors, work the land and develop the Jewish genius for the benefit of science, culture and the value of man - every man. But when a major general and a philosopher justify - out of a sense of moral superiority - our acts of injustice toward the other in such a way, they cast a very heavy shadow on all those hopes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Democracy? Israeli activists under attack

New Profile Movement: Harsh Police Attack on Freedom of Expression

The Police Detained Political Activists from Ramat Hasharon, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem

and Beer Sheva

* “One who believed that criminal cases due to political activism are conjured up “only” for Arab citizens discovers that s/he is also liable to be detained due to the expression of opinions concerning the failures of the society and rule in Israel.”
* Amongst the detainees – a 70 year old ceramic artist, the daughter of a family of “Righteous among the Nations” from Holland, a grandmother to six Israeli grandchildren

This morning the Israeli police descended upon the homes of political activists, members of the feminist movement New Profile, which acts for the civil-ization of society in Israel and against the undue influence of the military on life in the country.

The police demanded that the activists turn over the computers located in their homes, and among other things took the computers of partners of the detainees and in one case also the computer of a fourth grade pupil, the daughter of one of those interrogated. The computers of family members were returned after the activists were released on bail.

Amongst those interrogated: Analeen Kish, aged 70, a ceramics artist, daughter of a family of the the “Righteous among the Nations” who converted to Judaism after her marriage to Holocaust survivor Dr. Eldad Kish, active in organizations of Dutch Holocaust survivors in Israel. The pair have six grandchildren; Miriam Hadar, age 51, an editor and translator, mother of two, married to professor of psychology Uri Hadar. The two women were born in Holland and continue to hold Dutch citizenship.

Additionally detained for interrogation were Amir Givol, a resident of Jerusalem, Sergei Sandler, a resident of Beer Sheva, and Roni Barkan, a resident of Tel Aviv. The computers of all those interrogated were taken by the police, who presented search warrants.

All five were interrogated in the Ramat Hachiyal station in the Yarkon Region of the police. At the conclusion of the interrogation they were released on bail and under limitng conditions, and all were told that during the next 30 days they are forbidden to contact other members of the movement.

The New Profile Movement expressed rage over the interrogation and the demand to not have contact with other members, which means a partial paralysis of the activities of this important organization in civil society in Israel.

Attorney Smadar Ben Nathan, who is representing New Profile, said that the investigation of the police is focusing on the website of New Profile, which has links to other sites on the internet. Ben Nathan added that the New Profile Movement is a recognized non-profit association which acts openly and publicly, in accordance with the law, and the use of a criminal investigation in this context is invalid and exaggerated, and stands in opposition to freedom of expression.

New Profile is a feminist movement established ten years ago. The movement has been warning for years of the exaggerated and destructive influence of Israeli militarism on civilian life, and provides legal aid and social support to young people desiring not to do military service, both for political and personal reasons.

The New Profile Movement noted today: “These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up “only” for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel.”

For interviews:

Dr. Diana Dolev, telephone: 052 872 8300
Attorney Smadar Ben Nathan, telephone: 052 358 9775

For further details:

Ofra Leith, telephone: 050 552 4372
Eilat Maoz, Coordinator of the Women’s Coalition for Peace, telephone: 050 857 5729

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Demo against the Wall in Bilin / Manif contre le Mur a Bilin-24.04.2009

(c) Anne Paq/, Bilin, 24.04.2009

Hundreds of Palestinian, Israelis and internationals protested the murder of Bassam Ibrahim Abu Rahme, which was shot by an Israeli soldier on the Friday demonstration last week in Bilin. During the demonstration and despite the massive use of tear gas, the demonstrators managed to build a memorial for Basem where he was shot close to the Wall.

Des centaines de Palestiniens, Israeliens et internationaux ont proteste contre le meutre de Bassam Ibrahim Abu Rahme qui a ete tue par un soldat israelien lors d'une manifestation la semaine derniere a Bilin. Pendant la manifestation et malgre l'emploi massif de gaz lacrimogene, les manifestants ont reussi a construire un memorial pour Bassem a l'endroit ou il a ete tue, pres du Mur.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Funeral of Bassam Ibrahim Abu Rahme, Bilin / Funerailles de Bassam Ibrahim Abu Rahme, Bilin

(c) Anne Paq/, Bilin, Palestine, 18.04.2009

Bassem was murdered by the Israeli army, during a protest against the apartheid Wall in Bilin on the 17/4/2009.
A soldier shot him with an extended range tear-gas projectile that was aimed directly at him from a distance of 30 meters. Bassem was critically injured in the chest and died shortly after arriving at a hospital in Ramallah. A video taken during the demonstration clearly shows that there was no danger for the soldiers. The demonstration was non-violent, no stones have been thrown. Basem was talking to the soldiers when he was shot. Since when a so-called "democracy" kills demonstrators in cold blood.
Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals participated to the funerals.
see the video on:

Bassem a ete tue par l'armee israelienne pendant une manifestation contre le Mur a Bilin le 17 avril 2009. Le soldat l'a tue par une grenade de gaz lacrymogène à forte propulsion. Le projectile, flanqué de l’inscription en hébreu « balle 40 millimètres, spéciale à longue portée » est du type de celui qui a gravement blessé le ressortissant américain Tristan Anderson lors d’une manifestation à Ni’lin le 13 mars 2009. Tristan est toujours dans un etat critique a l'hopital de Tel Aviv. Une video montre clairement qu'il n'y avait pas de danger pour les soldats israeliens. La manifestation etait non-violente, et Basem etait en train de parler aux soldats quand il a ete touche. Depuis quand une soi-disant "democratie" tue les manifestants de sang froid? Des centaine de Palestiniens, Israeliens et internationaux ont participe aux funerailles.

Un palestinien assassiné par l’armée israélienne lors de la manifestation de Bil’in
publié le samedi 18 avril 2009

Younes Salameh

L’histoire tragique de ce résident de Bil’in est cependant devenue courante en Cisjordanie.

Comme tous les vendredis, les résidents de Bil’in se mobilisaient hier dans leur village pour protester contre le Mur qui menace directement les terres du village. Depuis février 2005, les villageois organisent des actions non violentes contre le mur et les colonies. Malgré la répression par l’armée israélienne, des manifestations ont lieu toutes les semaines. Bil’in est devenu progressivement l’un des symboles de la résistance non-violente contre le Mur et l’occupation.

La manifestation de hier coïncidait avec la journée des prisonniers palestiniens. Malheureusement, plus que les revendications des manifestants réclamant la libération des quelques 11 200 prisonniers palestiniens, on retiendra davantage le décès de Basem Ibrahim Abu Rahma, un résident du village tué par l’armée israélienne par un tir de gaz lacrymogène.

Nasir Samara, membre du comité populaire explique la scène : “Ibrahim n’était pas tout près du mur quand un soldat lui a tiré dessus à moins de 20 mètres. Il portait un drapeau palestinien et criait que la manifestation était non violente. Le tir de lacrymogène l’a frappé en pleine poitrine ce qui l’a tué sur le coup’’. L’incident a été filmé.
L’histoire tragique de ce résident de Bil’in est cependant devenue courante en Cisjordanie. En mars dernier, le militant américain Tristan Anderson avait été blessé en pleine tête par ces mêmes tirs de gaz lacrymogènes lors d’une manifestation à Nil’in. Il est aujourd’hui encore toujours dans le coma. L’armée israélienne, si elle avait déploré l’incident, avait prévenu que cela pouvait se reproduire à nouveau si les manifestations se poursuivaient.

Abu Rahma est la troisième personne à être tuée dans la lutte contre le mur depuis décembre dernier. Deux jeunes hommes, Mohammed Khawajeh et Araft Khawajeh, avaient alors été tués par balle a Ni’lin.

Dans une indifférence quasi-totale des medias occidentaux, 16 Palestiniens dont 11 adolescents ont été tués dans les manifestations contre le mur qui ont débuté en 2004.

Le décès de Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma intervient alors que le village de Bil’in organise la semaine prochaine la quatrième conférence sur la résistance populaire. Sont notamment attendus Salam Fayad, la vice présidente du Parlement européen Luisa Morgantini ainsi que le prix Nobel de la paix Mairead Maguire. Le décès de Bassem hier viendra inévitablement alimenter les débats de la conférence et donner une ambiance particulière à la manifestation de vendredi prochain…

Friday, April 17, 2009

Palestinian killed in Bilin protest

Palestinian man killed by tear-gas canister in Bil'in
Date: 17 / 04 / 2009 Time: 14:09
تكبير الخط تصغير الخط
Bethlehem - Ma'an - A Palestinian man was killed on Friday when Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators in the West Bank village of Bil'in, near Ramallah.

Palestinian medical officials identified the man as 29-year-old Basem Ibrahim Abu Rahmeh, who had previously been listed in serious condition following a direct shot to the stomach from an Israeli fired tear-gas canister on Friday afternoon.

Nasir Samara, a member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall, explained, “Ibrahim was not even close to the [w]all when he was a shot from a distance of less than 20 meters. He was carrying a Palestinian flag and shouting that this was a nonviolent demonstration. The tear gas canister hit and entered his chest, killing him.”

This is the second time soldiers have fired on unarmed demonstrations from a lethal range in the past two months. On 13 March 2009, American activist Tristan Anderson was shot in the head by the same type of ammunition, putting him in a coma and nearly killing him.

In a statement, Israel's military said it would investigate this latest incident.

A member of the Popular Committee filmed the shooting and subsequent death of the Palestinian demonstrator.

Abu Rahma is the third person to be killed in the past three months alone in the struggle against the wall. Two young men, Mohammed Khawajeh and Araft Khawajeh, were both shot dead in Ni’lin in December. 16 Palestinians, 11 in their teens, have been killed in the anti-wall struggle that began in 2004.

Witnesses told Ma'an that the projectile was labeled "40 mm bullet, special/long range" in Hebrew, the same type of weapon that critically injured Anderson, who was shot in the head from a distance of 60 meters.

Meanwhile on Friday in Ni’lin, another village near Ramallah, ten protesters were injured, including an American peace activist, after Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets at the crowds assembled there.

Ma’an's correspondent reported that an undercover Israeli unit had infiltrated the village in a Palestinian-plated car and fired on demonstrators, leading to violent clashes that erupted after dozens of Israeli soldier arrived to the village where they set up camp on rooftops and fired tear gas and bullets at residents.

and these are the horrifying comments that you can on Jerusalem Post- the article talks about Bilin "riot" and not "protest" and claimed that there were hundreds of stones that were hurled on the Israeli soldiers - not true according to the people who were there:

9. Does anyone remember the old adage:people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. This guy got what he asked for. Period.
Roz - USA (04/17/2009 22:54)
8. No sympathy
Anania - U.S.A. (04/17/2009 22:31)
7. #3 your front must have been too dirty to hit
observer - (04/17/2009 22:22)
6. weekly violent "protest"
al Kafr - (04/17/2009 20:15)
5. isn't it time to make a biilin a closed military zone , problem solved
hal tripp - bolivia (04/17/2009 18:53)
4. Surprise. People riot, someone will get hurt.
Saba Pete - Israel (04/17/2009 18:47)
3. It all started when the Israelis hit me back.
Yousuf Ali The Liar - (04/17/2009 18:04)
2. When you play with fire, you may get hurt!!!
Anat - (04/17/2009 17:03)
1. Had to happen. After so many stones, eventully a thrower gets killed. That's what they want.
Rebecca - (04/17/2009 16:16) "

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Denied to be back to her home to Gaza

The quintessential Palestinian experience
Laila El-Haddad writing from the United States, Live from Palestine, 14 April 2009

Laila El-Haddad and her daughter, Noor, in the US in 2008.

"Its not very comfortable in there is it?" said the stony faced official, cigarette smoke forming a haze around his gleaming oval head.

"Its OK. We're fine," I replied wearily, delirious after being awake for 30 hours straight.

"You could be in there for days you know. For weeks. Indefinitely. So, tell me, you are taking a plane tomorrow morning to the US?"

It was our journey home that began with the standard packing frenzy: squeezing everything precious and dear and useful into two suitcases that would be our sustenance for three months.

The trips to the outdoor recreation store in preparation for what I anticipated to be a long and tortuous journey across Rafah Crossing to Gaza. The insect repellent, the mosquito netting, the water purifier, the potty toppers for my kids and the granola bars and portion-sized peanut butter cups. This time, I wanted to be ready, I thought to myself, just in case I got stuck at the crossing. The crossing. My presumptuousness is like a dull hit to the back of my head now.

In addition packing the suitcases, we were also packing up our house -- my husband Yassine was finishing up his residency at Duke University and set to start a medical fellowship at Johns Hopkins in July. In the meantime, we were "closing shop," putting our things in storage, selling the rest, and heading overseas: me to Gaza, my husband to Lebanon to visit his family; and eventually I was to meet him there (assuming I could get into Gaza, and then assuming I could get out). Yassine is a third-generation Palestinian refugee from the village of Waarit al-Siris in northern historic Palestine; he was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and holds a laissez passer for Palestinian refugees. Israel denies him return to his own home -- or even to the home of his spouse in Gaza. So when we go overseas, we often go our separate ways; we cannot live legally, as a unit, as a family, in our own homes.

I hold a Palestinian Authority passport. It replaced the "temporary two-year Jordanian passport for Gaza residents" that we held until the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the mid 1990s, which itself replaced the Egyptian travel documents we held before that. A progression in a long line of stateless documentation.

It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.

We finished packing as much as we could of the house, leaving the rest to Yassine who was to leave a week after us, and drove four hours to Washington, DC, to spend a few day at my brother's house before we took off.

First, we headed to the the Egyptian embassy.

Last year, my parents were visiting us from Gaza City when Rafah was sealed hermetically. They attempted to fly back to Egypt to wait for the border to open -- but were not allowed to board the plane in Washington. "Palestinians cannot fly to Egypt now without a visa, new rules," the airline personnel explained, "and no visas can be issued until Rafah is open," added the Egyptian embassy official. They were in a conundrum, aggravated by the fact that their US entry stamp had reached its six-month limit. Eventually, they got around the issue by obtaining an Egyptian tourist visa, made easier by their old age, which they used to wait in Egypt for one month until Rafah Crossing opened again.

I did not want to repeat their ordeal, so I called the embassy this time, which assured me the protocol had changed. Now it was only Palestinian men who were not allowed to fly to or enter Egypt; women were allowed and could get their visa at the Egyptian port of entry. I was given a signed and dated letter (6 April 2009) by the consul to take with me in case I encountered any problems. It read:

"The Consular Section of the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt hereby confirms that women, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, and who hold passports issued by the Palestinian Authority are required to get their visa to enter Egypt at Egyptian ports and NOT at the various Egyptian consulates in the United States on their way to the Gaza Strip for the purpose of reaching their destination (i.e. Gaza Strip)."

With letter and bags in hand, we took off, worried only about the possibility of entering Gaza; the thought of not being able to enter Egypt never crossing my mind.

Two long-haul flights and one seven-hour transit later, we made it. I knew the routine by heart. Upon our arrival, I was quick to hit the bank to buy the $15 visa stamps for my children Yousuf and Noor's American passports and exchange some dollars into Egyptian pounds. I figured it would help pass the time while the lines got shorter.

I then went and filled out my entry cards. An officer came and filled them out with me seeing my hands were full, a daypack on my back, Noor strapped to my chest in a carrier, Yousuf in my hand.

We submitted our passports and things seemed to be going smoothly. Just then the officer explained he needed to run something by his superior. "You have a Palestinian passport. Rafah crossing is closed ..."

"I promise it will just be five minutes," he assured me. But that's all I needed to hear. I knew I was in for a long wait. It was at this point I yanked out my laptop and began to Tweet and blog about my experience. At first I thought it would simply help pass the time; it developed into a way to pool resources together that could help me, and ended as a public awareness campaign.

The faces were different each time. Three or four different rooms and hallways to navigate down. They refused to give names and the answers they gave were always in the form of cryptic questions.

The first explained I would not be allowed entry into Egypt because Palestinians without permanent residency abroad are not allowed in; and besides, Rafah Crossing is closed, he said (my response: so open it). I was told I was to be deported to the United Kingdom first. "But I have no British visa," I explained. I was ordered to agree to get on the next flight. I refused. I didn't come all this way to turn back.

I was escorted to the "extended transit terminal." It was empty at first, save for a South Asian man in tightly buckled jeans and with a small duffel bag, who spent the good part of our time there there in a deep sleep. During the day the hall would fill up with locally deported passengers -- from villages and cities across Egypt, and we would move our things to the upper waiting area.

Most of the time was spent in this waiting area with low-level guards who knew nothing and could do nothing.

At different intervals, a frustrated Yousuf would approach them angrily about "why they wouldn't let him go see his seedo and tete [grandpa and grandma]" and why "they put cockroaches on the floor." When we first arrived, he asked if these were the "Israelis," his only experiences with extended closure, delay, and denial of entry being at the hands of the Israeli soldiers and government. "No, but why don't you ask why [Israelis] are allowed through to [Egypt to] sunbathe and we aren't allowed to our own homes?"

"Rabina kbeer," came the response, signifying impotence. God is great.

There was very little time I was given access to anyone who had any authority. I seemed to be called in whenever the new person on duty arrived, when they were scheduled for their thrice daily interrogation and intimidation, their shooting and crying.

Officers came and went as shifts began and ended. But our status was always the same. Our "problem," our case, our issue was always the same. We remained, sitting on our chairs, with our papers and documents in hand, waiting.

Always waiting. For this is what the Palestinian does: we wait. For an answer to be given, for a question to be asked; for a marriage proposal to be made, for a divorce to be finalized; for a border to open, for a permit to be issued; for a war to end; for a war to begin; for a child to be born; for one to die a martyr; for retirement or a new job; for exile to a better place and for return to the only place that knows us; for our prisoners to come home; for our homes to no longer be prisons; for our children to be free; for freedom from a time when we no longer have to wait.

We waited for the next shift as we were instructed by those who made their own instructions. Funny how when you need to pass the time, the time does not pass.

"You need to speak with whose in charge -- and their shift starts at 10am." So we pass the night and wait until the next morning. "Well, by the time they really get started it's more like noon." So we wait until till noon. "Well, the real work isn't until the evening." And we wait until evening. Then the cycle starts again.

Every now and then the numberless phone would ring, requesting me, and a somber voice would ask if I changed my mind. I insisted all I wanted to do was go home; that it was not that complicated.

"But Gaza is a special case, we all know that," I was told. Special -- as in expendable, not human, not entitled to rights, I thought.

Unfamiliar faces that acted as though though I was a long-lost friend kept popping in and out to see me. As though I were an amnesiac in a penitentiary. They all kept asking the same cryptic question, "So you are getting on a plane soon, right?"

First, a gentleman from the Palestinian representative's office that someone else whose name I was meant to recognize sent. "It'll all be resolved within the hour," he promised confidently, before going on to tell me about his son who worked with Motorola in Florida.

"Helping Israeli drones do their job?"

"That's right!" he beamed.

An hour came and went, and suddenly the issue was "unresolvable," and I was "a journalist up to trouble."

Friends and family in Egypt, the US and Gaza worked around the clock with me, calling in any favors they had, anyone they knew, doing anything they could to get some answers and let me through. But the answer was always the same: State Security and Intelligence says no, and they are the ultimate authorities. No one goes past them.

Later a second Palestinian representative came to see me.

"So you are not going on that second flight, are you?"

"What are you talking about? Why does everyone speak to me in question form?"

"Answer the question."

"No, I came here to go to Gaza, not to return to the US."

"Ok, that's all I needed to know; there is a convoy of injured Palestinians with security clearance heading to the border with some space; we are trying to get you on there with them; 15 minutes and it'll all be resolved, we just need clearance, it's all over," he assured me.

Yousuf smashed another cockroach.

We were taken down a new hallway. A new room. A new face. The man behind the desk explained how he was losing sleep over my case, how I had the whole airport working on it, how he had a son Yousuf's age. He then offered me an apple and a bottle of water and told me to rest, a command I would hear again and again over the course of the 36 hours.

Is this man for real? An apple and a bottle of water? I thought to myself, my eyes nearly popping out of my face.

"I don't want your food. I don't want to rest. I don't want your sympathy. I just want to go home! To my country. To my parents. Is that too hard to understand!?" I screamed, breaking my level-headed calm of the past 20 hours.

"Please don't yell, just calm down, calm down, everyone outside will think I am treating you badly, come on, and besides its ayb [disgraceful] not to accept the apple from me."

"Ayb? What's ayb is you denying my entry to my own home! And why should I be calm? This situation doesn't call for calm; it makes no sense and neither should I!"

"C'mon lady don't have a breakdown in front of your kids, please. You know I have a kid your son's age and its breaking my heart to do this, to see him in these conditions, to put him in these conditions, so please take the plane."

"So don't see me in these conditions! There's a simple solution, you know. Let me go home! It's not asking a lot, is it?"

"Hey now, look lady," he said, stiffening suddenly into bad cop mode, his helpless grimace disappeared.

"Rules are rules, you need a visa to get in here like any other country, can you go to Jordan without a visa?"

"Don't play the rules game with me. I had approval from your embassy, from your consul general, to cross into Egypt and go to Gaza; and besides, how else am I supposed to get into Gaza?" I shouted, frantically waving the stamped and signed document in front of him as though it were a magic wand.

"So sue him. State Security supersedes the foreign ministry's orders, he must have outdated protocol."

"The letter was dated 6 April, two days ago, how outdated could it be? Look, if I could parachute into Gaza I would, trust me. With all due respect to your country, I'm not here to sight-see. Do you have a parachute for me? If I could sail there I would do that too, but last I checked Israel was ramming and turning those boats back. Do you have another suggestion?"

"What is it you want, lady? Do you want to just live in the airport? Is that it? Because we have no problem letting you live here, really. We can set up a shelter for you. And no one will ever ask about you or know you exist. In any case you don't have permanent residency abroad so our government policies say we can't let in a Palestinian who does not have permanent residency abroad."

"I have a US visa -- the stamp in my passport is expired but my extension of status document is valid until the end of June. And besides -- what kind of illogical law is that? You aren't allowing me back home unless I have permanent residency abroad?"

"I don't read English please translate."

"You see it says here that my status is valid until 30 June 2009."

"Good, so then we can deport you back to the US," he said, picking up the phone and giving a quick order for the Palestinian convoy of injured Palestinians heading to Rafah Crossing to go on without me, my only hope of returning home dissipating before my eyes at the hands of a barely literate, manipulative enforcer.

"You just said if I have permanent residency abroad I can go home, now you say I can't, which is it?"

"I'm sorry you are refusing to go on the plane. Take her away, please."

We were ushered back to the extended waiting area, back to the roach-ridden premises that had become our home, along with a newly arrived Luxemburger and French couple and their two children who had failed to produce their passports and were being sent back home. Here I was, about to be deported away from home, over-prepared, with my documents and signed papers, from consulates and universities and governments -- and they, used to traveling passport-free within the EU, being sent back home because they had only their ID cards.

It wasn't long before a new guard came to us, and requested we follow him "to a more isolated room." "It will be better for you, more private. All the African flights are arriving now with all their diseases, you don't want to be here for that! It'll get overcrowded and awful in here."

Given the the well-wishes that preceded my last interrogation about the "discomfort" I might endure, I somehow had a feeling where we were headed.

Before we were asked to bring all our luggage and escorted down a different hallway. This time we were asked to leave everything behind, and to give up our cameras, laptops, and mobile phones. We took our seats in the front of a tiny filthy room, where 17 other men (and one Indonesian woman who was sleeping on the floor, occasionally shouting out in the middle of her interrupted sleep) of varying nationalities were already waiting.

A brute man -- illiterate by his own admission -- took charge of each of the files, spontaneously blurting out vulgarities and ordering anyone who so much as whispered, to shut the hell up or get sent to real prison. The room was referred to as "habs," or a cell; I can probably best describe it as a detention or holding room. A man with a protruding belly that seemed at odds with his otherwise lanky body was the door guard.

Officer number one divided up the room into regions: the five or so South Asians who were there for whatever reason -- expired paperwork, illegal documentation -- were referred to as "Pakistan" when their attention was needed. The snoozing, sleep-talking woman in the back was "Indonesia," and the impeccably dressed Guinean businessman, fully decked in a sharp black suit and blue-lined tie, was "Kenya" (despite his persistence to the contrary). There was a group of Egyptian peasants with forged, fake, or wrongly filed ID cards and passports: a 54-year-old man whose ID said he was born in 1990, another who left his ID in his village five hours away, and so on.

By this point, I had not slept in 27 hours, 40 if one were to count the plane ride. My patience and my energy were wearing thin. My children were filthy and tired and confused; Noor was crying. I tried to set her cot up, but a cell within a cell did not seem to her liking and she resisted, much as I did.

We took the opportunity to chat when officer number one was away. "So what did you do?" asked "Kenya," the Guinean businessman.

"I was born Palestinian," I replied. "Everyone in here is being deported back home for one reason or another right? I bet I am the only one being deported away from home; the only one denied entry to my home."

Officer number one returned, this time he asked me to come with him "with or without your kids." I brought them along, not knowing what was next.

There were two steely-eyed men on either end of a relatively well-furnished room, once again inquiring about my "comfort" and ordering -- always in the form of a question -- whether I was taking a flight that morning to the US.

Noor began making a fuss, bellowing at the top of her lungs and swatting anyone that approached her.

"She is stubborn. She takes after her mother, I see," said the man.

Soon we were escorted back to the waiting area. I knew there was nothing more I could do. We waited for several more hours until my children exhausted themselves and fell asleep. I bathed them in the filthy bathroom sinks with freezing tap water and hand soap and arranged their quarters on the steel chairs of the waiting room, buzzing with what seemed like a thousand gnats. Thank God for the mosquito netting.

Eventually, dawn broke, and we were escorted by two guards to the ticket counter, our $2,500 flights rerouted, and put on a plane back to Washington.

I noted on one of my tweets that I would be shocked if my children's immune system survived this jolt. It didn't.

My daughter vomited for the whole flight to London as I slipped in and out of delirium, mumbling half-Arabic, half-English phrases to the flustered but helpful Englishman sitting next to us. I thank him wherever he is for looking after us.

Whatever Noor had, Yousuf and I caught along with an ear and throat infection in the next days.

Eventually, we reached Dulles Airport. I walked confidently to the booth when it was my turn.

What was I going to say? How do I explain this? The man took one look at my expired visa, and my departure stamps.

"How long have you been gone?"

"Thirty-six hours," I replied bluntly.

"Yes, I see that. Do you want to explain?"

"Sure. Egypt forbade me from returning to Gaza."

"I don't understand -- they denied you entry to your own home?"

"I don't either, and if I did, I wouldn't be here."

With that, I was given a a stamp and allowed back to the US.

Now that we are warm, clothed, showered, rested and recovered from whatever awful virus we picked up in the bowels of Cairo airport, I keep thinking to myself: what more could I have done?

"The quintessential Palestinian experience," historian Rashid Khalidi has written, "takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified."

In this place, adds Robyn Creswell, "connection" turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges's famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence."

Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian freelance journalist, photographer and blogger ( who divides her time between Gaza and the United States.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gaza war changes Middle East equation at Israel’s expense

The long march of folly that began in 1967
Gaza war changes Middle East equation at Israel’s expense

The European Union’s policy of funding Gaza’s development is just one casualty of Israel’s unprecedented attack, which has weakened the Palestinian Authority but left Hamas politically stronger than ever
by Alain Gresh

“They’re still living in the War of Independence (1948) and the Sinai campaign (1956). With them, it’s all about tanks, about controlling territories or controlled territories, holding this or that hill. But these things are worthless. (…) The Lebanon war (2006) will go down in history as the first war in which the military leadership understood that classical warfare has become obsolete” (1).

This view, expressed in September 2008, comes not from an Israeli pacifist but the country’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert. It would take a highly sophisticated analyst to fathom the subconscious of this politician, who is responsible both for the catastrophic war in Lebanon in 2006 and the recent offensive in Gaza, and who at the same time claims his country needs to abandon its narrow vision of security.

He and the majority of those who govern Israel probably share the view bluntly expressed in 2002 by Israel’s then chief of staff, general Moshe Yaalon: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people” (2). With each new war comes the same old refrain from Israel’s leaders: the Arabs only understand force; teach them a lesson and peace will at last be possible. “We’re going to keep our finger on the trigger” (3) was how foreign minister Tzipi Livni put it. Olmert and his government are in favour of peace in the same way that the US government in the 19th century was in favour of the peace 
they decided to impose on the Native American tribes.

The shelling of Gaza came to a provisional halt on 18 January. The Israeli government wanted its troops out of Gaza before Barack Obama was sworn in and Hamas gave Israel a week to withdraw its soldiers and reopen crossing points with Gaza. Beyond the deliberate destruction of vital infrastructure – which includes ministry buildings and fire stations, the parliament and the university – the human cost shown on TV screens the world over has been overwhelming. Even the French media, which has previously been very timid, hasn’t been able to obscure the extent of the catastrophe. Leaving to one side a moral reckoning and the crimes which may mean that Israeli leaders one day face an international tribunal, how has the fighting changed the political landscape at local and regional level?

The prime objective of the Israeli government was to permanently weaken Hamas politically and militarily. It claims to have succeeded in this and taught the “terrorists” a lesson. But is it that simple? The tactic of massive bombardments and avoidance of close combat limited Israeli army losses – the third phase of the operation, which was never put into action, would have been an infantry assault of towns – but hasn’t broken up the military core of Hamas, which comprises between three and five thousand fighters. Like Hizbullah in 2006, Hamas was able to keep firing rockets until the very last moment and its arms supply lines held up, albeit at a reduced level.

Whatever the criticisms of Hamas’s strategy, including their rocket attacks on civilian targets, the vast majority of the Palestinian population holds the Israeli government responsible for the destruction. As Elena Qleibo, a Gaza-based aid worker from Oxfam and an ex-Costa Rican ambassador to Israel says: “People are extremely angry, and the level of hate against Israel is very high. I have lived and worked in Gaza for many years, and I have never seen such hatred from the population” (4).

The Palestinians also resent the Palestinian Authority’s passivity during the war. The internal crisis in Fatah, which was already factionalised, has deepened, in spite of the call for unity and resistance made by Marwan Barghouti from prison. President Mahmoud Abbas, who is himself weakened and marginalised, has called for the creation of a government of national unity. So the Gaza of tomorrow will either remain under Hamas control or will be governed by a national authority in which Hamas plays a central role. Surely not what Israel wanted.
The next phase

The focus of the next phase will be the reconstruction of Gaza, which the Israeli government wants to control tightly. No project will be accepted and not a dollar will reach Gaza without their agreement, according to Israeli officials. In addition, Hamas are to be prevented from claiming this aid. Israel has gained support on this from the EU commissioner for external affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner (5), but as there is no other authority in Gaza but Hamas, reconstruction risks being limited to humanitarian aid. All the conditions for renewed hostilities against Israel will once again be met; the Israeli blockade was one of the principal causes for the last escalation.

The war has profoundly altered the regional order, too, though not in the way that Israel wished. First, it has confirmed the isolation of the Palestinian Authority. It has encouraged the consolidation of a resistance front based in Qatar (site of the biggest US base in the region) and Syria. This alliance was made concrete at a meeting in Doha, in which 12 Arab countries took part (among them Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Iraq, America’s supposed ally) along with Senegal (which holds the presidency of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference), Turkey, Indonesia, Venezuela and Iran. Mauritania has suspended diplomatic relations with Israel and Qatar has broken off economic links. Venezuela and Bolivia have also severed their diplomatic relations.

A few days later, on 19 and 20 January, the Arab summit in Kuwait brought a fragile reconciliation even if it didn’t remove differences of opinion. This was made easier by Israel’s refusal to negotiate a ceasefire as proposed by president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Angered by this rebuff and by the signing of a separate US-Israeli agreement to combat arms imports to Gaza (and therefore control the border with Egypt), Mubarak toughened his stance.

Turkey, Israel’s traditional ally, has confirmed its growing importance on the regional stage. Like Mubarak, Turkey’s prime minister, Recip Erdogan felt humiliated by Olmert, who kept quiet about his intentions regarding Gaza when he saw his Turkish counterpart during a visit to Ankara on 22 and 23 December. The day after the offensive was launched on 27 December, Erdogan said: “This attack, coming while we are making such efforts for peace, is a blow against peace” (6). Not only did Turkey, the mediator which had brought Israel and Syria to the verge of resuming direct negotiations, suspend its efforts, it also called for Israel’s suspension from the UN the day after it fired on UN buildings in Gaza.

During the crisis, Turkey has strengthened its relations with Hamas and is hoping to mediate between it and the Palestinian Authority. And Turkish popular opinion has translated into demonstrations in which several million people have taken to the streets in Turkish towns 
and villages.

Iran has also seen its regional position strengthened. It has extended its alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. Its radical discourse has been increasingly echoed within the region and it is now in a position of strength vis-à-vis the new US administration. However, Tehran has shown restraint in the crisis. Iranian supreme leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei has even declared that “our hands are tied on that terrain” (7). The firing of rockets from Lebanon prompted fears that a second front might open up. Although this didn’t happen, the incident can be taken as a warning: Iran has told the Egyptian government through diplomatic channels that it will not allow Hamas to be crushed.
Contempt for Arab opinion

Western governments have nothing but contempt for Arab popular opinion. This was clear when they challenged Hamas’s victory in the democratic elections held in Palestine in 2006. They simply shrugged when in a communiqué on 12 January the Saudi government condemned the “racist genocide” in Gaza. They ignore the extent of protest in the Arab and Muslim world, especially in Egypt (despite the state of near-siege in Cairo) and in Afghanistan. Yet which Arab government would now be willing to sit down to peace talks with Israel? The Saudi king has announced that the 2002 Arab initiative for a comprehensive peace between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state on territory occupied by Israel in 1967 won’t remain on the table for much longer.

Meanwhile, on Sunday 18 January, while Western journalists broadcast images of Gaza’s lunar landscape, prime minster Olmert was to be seen expressing his pleasure to six European leaders, including Nicolas Sarkozy, over their “extraordinary support for the state of Israel and their concern about its security”. More than in any other conflict since 1967, the European position, especially that of France, has been aligned with the Israeli government’s (see “A people abandoned”). In retrospect, the upgrading of relations between the EU and Israel in early December 2008 looks like a green light to the operation in Gaza. In spite of the Israeli offensive, the EU (and France) will strengthen their bilateral relations with Tel Aviv (8).

This Western alliance engaged in the fight against “Islamic terrorism” has more than a hint of the crusades about it. Without going as far as Silvio Berlusconi, who explained in Jerusalem: “When I heard about the rocket fire at Israel, I felt that it was a danger to Italy, and to the entire West” (9), or the director of L’Express, who wrote that the Israeli army was fighting “for our peace” (10) – some on the right used to explain in the 1980s that the apartheid government was fighting “for us” in southern Africa, against communism, the Soviet Union and Cuba – president Sarkozy has explained on many occasions that Hamas bore a heavy responsibility for this war as it had broken the truce, which is untrue (see “Reasons for war: lies, lies and more lies ”, opposite).

In spite of Sarkozy’s flying around on numerous foreign trips, France has lost a great deal of credit, as demonstrated by the unprecedented attacks on it in the Arab press, including in moderate countries, where it is now bracketed with the US of George Bush. The Saudi daily Al Watan wrote on 11 January “all the great powers have supported Israel’s position, including France, which has thus far been the symbol of balance in regional causes”. And France’s decision to fight against smuggled arms in Gaza can only be construed as an operation to protect an occupying power: no one has called upon Israel to stop re-arming itself.

“A pointless war has led to a moral defeat for Israel” – so ran the headline in the British Sunday paper, the Observer on 18 January. The majority of moral barriers have crumbled in Israel during the Gaza offensive. A phrase sums up this vision: baal habayit histhtageya (“the boss has gone mad”). Its essence is captured by Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser: “If our civilians are attacked by you, we are not going to respond in proportion, but will use all means we have to cause you such damages that you will think twice in the future” (11).

This tactic was used in Lebanon in 2006 and was referred to as the Dahiya doctrine, after the district in south Beirut where Hizbullah was based. The aim is to destroy an entire district or village as soon as it is believed to harbour terrorists who are firing on Israel. It was employed again in Gaza and constitutes what international law recognises as a war crime. Yet it is now openly demanded in Israel. In a letter to prime minster Olmert in 2007, the former Sephardic grand rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu explained “there is absolutely no moral prohibition against indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launching” (12). The longer the occupation, the more it corrupts the occupier. One can only imagine what liberties would have been taken by France in Algeria if the war had gone on for 40 years.

The South African government, showing more determination than most, has condemned Israeli aggression against Gaza. The long experience of fighting the apartheid regime taught ANC leaders all about the hypocrisy of western rhetoric on violence and terrorism. Writing about his negotiations with the white South African government and its demands for the end to violence, Nelson Mandela said: “I responded that the state was responsible for the violence and that it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle. If the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently. In our case, it was simply a legitimate form of self-defence” (13).

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Olive trees cemeteries in Wadi Rash and Ras Tira / Cimetieres d'oliviers a Wadi Rasha et Ras Tira

(c) Anne Paq/, Wadi Rasha and Ras Tira, 07.04.2009.

Lands were bulldozed and more than one hundred olive trees were destroyed in the West Bank villages of Wadi Rasha and Ras Tira in one day, on 07.04.2009 for the building of a second wall around them (this wall will stand between them and the settlement of Alfe Manashe). These two villages are already in an enclave, south of Qalqilia. Access to the West Bank is only through one gate in the wall. They are not connected to the Palestinian water and electricity system, and most houses have demolition orders. Caught betweem two walls, what is the future for them?

Des terres ont ete nivellees par des bulldozers et plus d'une centaines d'oliviers ont ete detruits en une journee dans les villages de Wadi Rasha et Ras Tira, situes en Cisjordanie, pres de Qalqilia; a cause de la construction d'un deuxieme mur (qui va se situer entre ces villages et la colonie de Alfe Menashe. Ces villages sont deja dans une enclave, coupes de la Cisjordanie car ils se trouvent de l'autre cote du Mur. Ils sont connectes a la Cisjordanie que par un passage dans le Mur. Ils ne sont aussi pas relies aux reseaux publics palestiniens d'eau et d'electricite; et la plupart des maisons ont des avis de demolition. Etrangles entre deux murs, quel est l'avenir de ces villages?

Egypt Denying Palestinian Mother and Children Entry to Gaza

Egypt Denying Palestinian Mother and Children Entry to Gaza

Leila Al Haddad a Palestinian citizen of Gaza, well known blogger and journalist, is currently being held with her two young children in the Cairo airport. Al Haddad arrived in Egypt from the United States intending to go to Gaza via the Raffa, Egypt border crossing.

Al Haddad holds both a Palestinian and an American passport. She is being told by the Egyptian port authorities that they have orders not to allow any Palestinians with residency abroad into Egypt and that her and her children will be sent back to the US.

Al Haddad’s husband is a Palestinian refugee, currently living in the U.S.; Because his right to return to Palestine is denied by Israel the couple have lived together on and off with Leila and the children living In Gaza for the rest of the time.

The Raffa border crossing is the only way Al Haddad can get into Gaza as Israel has blocked all sea and air access to Gaza as well as the land crossings under it’s control.

On Al Haddad’s blog,, she describes “the trials of raising my children between spaces and identities; displacement and occupation; and everything that entails from potty training to border crossings. My husband is a Palestinian refugee denied his right of return to Palestine, and thus OUR right to family life. Together, we endure a lot, and the personal becomes political.”