Boycott israHell!

Boycott israHell!
Бойкот на израел и печелещите от окупацията! Boycott israHell and those who profit from occupation!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Board with Free Gaza...

Dear friends of Free Gaza,

A little over a year ago, two small fishing boats from the Free Gaza Movement landed in the port of Gaza challenging Israel’s siege on 1.5 million Palestinians. Since then, people from around the world have joined us in affirming the importance and indeed the necessity of nonviolent direct action to challenge injustice. Recently, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed launched a fund to help support the efforts of the Free Gaza Movement to break Israel’s illegal blockade. First Lady of Malaysia, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor also pledged her support.

From Nobel laureates to parliamentarians and UN officials, thousands are hearing our message: when our governments are impotent in the face of massive human rights abuses, we, the citizens of the world must act!

We would like to introduce to you to some of the amazing people that have joined our voluntary Board of Advisors, representing an impressive diversity of background and experience. The list also includes some of the people on our Gaza Advisory Council (which is still growing).

Board of Advisors

James Abourezk is a former United States Senator from South Dakota. He was the first Arab-American to serve in the Senate, representing South Dakota from 1973 to 1979. In 1980 Abourezk founded the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), a grassroots civil rights organization. In 1989, he wrote "Advise and Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate," and he is the co-author of "Through Different Eyes: Two Leading Americans — a Jew and an Arab — Debate U. S. Policy in the Middle East."

M.Cherif Bassiouni is a Distinguished Research Professor of Law emeritus at DePaul University, where he has taught since 1964. He is also a consultant in international human rights and humanitarian law for the United Nations. Bassiouni is the author of 32 and editor of 47 books on International Criminal Law, Comparative Criminal Law, Human Rights, and U.S. Criminal Law. He has authored 241 articles published in law journals and books in the U.S. and other countries.

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific community as one of the fathers of modern linguistics. Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident and libertarian socialist intellectual.

Gretta Duisenberg is an international human rights activist from The Netherlands. She is the founder of “Stop the Occupation,” an educational and advocacy organization that works in Holland and throughout the European Union. Duisenberg is a board member of "One Justice", an international group of lawyers in Paris and Geneva, and Honorary President of the Arab Centre for Research and Studies on Palestine (Hebron). In 2002 Duisenberg was awarded the Human Rights Peace Prize by the Belgian Human Rights League. In 2005 she was nominated for Woman of the Year.

Jeff Halper is a professor of anthropology, political activist, author, and lecturer. In 1997, Halper co-founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) to challenge and resist the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, and to organize Israelis, Palestinians and international volunteers to jointly rebuild demolished Palestinian homes. In 2006, Jeff, along with Palestinian activist Dr. Ghassan Andoni, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Archbishop Theodosius (Atallah) Hanna is the Archbishop of Sebaste from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Ordained on the 24 December 2005 at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he is the second Palestinian to hold the position of Archbishop in the history of the diocese. Theodosius is founder of the Orthodox Youth Movement in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He is a well-known author, and his articles have been periodically published in various newspapers as well as in local and international magazines. Theodosius is widely known for his work promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue to help foster the spirit of cooperation and unity in Palestine.

Peter Hansen is the former United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Commissioner-General from 1996-2005. Before joining the UN, Dr. Hansen was at Aarhus University in Denmark, where he taught political science from 1966 until he took leave to become Assistant Secretary General of the UN in 1978. From 1985 – 1992 Dr. Hansen was Executive Director of the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations. He also served as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, as well as the Executive Director of the Commission on Global Governance, Geneva, Switzerland, 1992-1994.

Naomi Klein
is the award-winning author of the international bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. She writes a regular column for The Nation magazine and The Guardian newspaper that is syndicated internationally by The New York Times Syndicate. Her articles have appeared in Harper's Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Globe and Mail, and The Los Angeles Times. She wrote and co-produced “The Take,” an award-winning feature documentary about Argentina’s occupied factory movement.

John Pilger is an Australian journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker. In his career as an investigative journalist, Pilger has received numerous human rights and journalism awards, as well as honorary doctorates. His 2002 film, "Palestine is still the Issue," was nominated for a British academy award.

Leila Sharaf is a Jordanian Senator and former Minister of Information. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees of Philadelphia University and a member of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut, as well as a member of the International Academic Council of the United Nations University for Peace. Ms. Sharaf is President of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Human Rights and the Amman Center for Human Rights. She is a former member of the Board of the Arab Organization for Human Rights and a founding member and former Vice President of its branch in Jordan. In 1990, Mrs. Sharaf was a member of the Royal Commission for drafting the National Charter for Jordan, a major document for the democratization process.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh is an Irish political leader and activist. He is currently serving his second term as a TD in the Dáil, Ireland's parliament. Ó Snodaigh previously served as the Sinn Féin representative on the National Forum on Europe and the party’s spokesperson on the Nice Treaty. He is currently the Sinn Féin Chief Whip in Leinster House, as well as the spokesperson on Housing, Justice, Equality and International Affairs.

Baroness Jenny Tonge is a human rights activist and a member of the British House of Lords. Prior to entering the House of Lords, she was the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) for Richmond Park in London from 1997 to 2005 and was her party’s spokesperson on International Development. During that time, she became very involved with the battle for justice for Palestinians. Baroness Tonge currently speaks on this and health issues from the Liberal Democrat front bench in the House of Lords.

Gaza Advisory Council

Mona El-Farra is Deputy Director of the Union of Health Work Committees in Gaza. She is a physician by training, and a human rights and women's rights activist by practice.

Mahfouz Kabariti is a human rights activist and President of the Palestinian Sailing Federation and Fishing & Marine Sports Association in Gaza.

Jamal El-Khoudary is the Chairman of the Popular Committee Against the Siege and an independent member of parliament in Gaza. He is a long-time outspoken advocate for the people of Palestine.

Eyad Sarraj is a doctor and world-renowned human rights activist from Gaza. He is the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), and Commissioner-General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights. Dr. Sarraj is an expert on the mental impact of violence on childhood development and has also written extensively on the subject in English as well as in Arabic.

Amjad Al-Shawa is an organizer and human rights activist and the Director of the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) in Gaza City, a civil and democratic body comprising more than 100 Palestinian NGOs, which seeks to support, consolidate and strengthen the Palestinian civil society.

Finally, because of the massive amount of work that lies ahead of us, the interim board of directors has added three more people to its team: Audrey Bomse, Lubna Masarwa, and Adam Shapiro. We are excited to have them aboard! More on them and our volunteer staff here:

However, it is really you, what each one of you does, that ensures the success of our efforts. We are working hard to prepare for our next voyage to Gaza in the fall, and we need your help. Since our last appeal to you, many have stepped up to volunteer. We are so grateful. We have now established Free Gaza affiliates in 19 cities in 13 countries, we have local coordinators that are doing amazing work, and we have dozens of volunteers working behind the scenes. Our wonderful local coordinators and volunteers have strengthened us and enhanced our work. But we still need more help! Please see for ways that you can join us.

We are aiming to launch our next mission to Gaza in November, but we need your help to make it happen. Please join us!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Settlement university dropped from prestigious architecture competition

Press release, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, 22 September 2009

The following press release was issued by Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP) on 21 September 2009:

The University Center of Ariel in Samaria (AUCS) has been excluded from the Solar Decathlon, an international university competition promoting sustainable architecture.

The self-styled AUCS, claiming to represent Israel, though situated in the illegal settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank, was one out of 20 architecture teams short-listed from university entries last April to compete for the Solar Decathlon-Europe 2010. The Spanish Government together with the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid organizes this most prestigious competition for sustainable architecture in the world.

Although this is the first competition of its kind in Europe, it builds on almost a decade of competitions in the US sponsored by the US Department of Energy.

Selected teams, formed by architects and engineering students are asked to design and build a real house entirely driven by solar energy. Every house should be built in one of the 20 sites in the "Solar Villa" planned in Madrid to host them. To facilitate participation of the various teams, the Spanish Ministry of Housing allocated a sum of 100,000 Euros to every project.

The International Union of Architects (UIA) has already taken note that Israeli architecture and planning in the West Bank is contrary to its professional ethics and Codes of Conduct and Accords. After a motion raised at the UIA Council meeting in Brazil this July, in relation to these activities, the UIA confirmed its policy that:

"The UIA Council condemns development projects and the construction of buildings on land that has been ethnically purified or illegally appropriated, and projects based on regulations that are ethnically or culturally discriminatory, and similarly it condemns all action contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention."

On this basis, the UK-based Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP) initiated a campaign backed by UK and international architects and academics, which was also taken up by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) in Palestine, against official Spanish recognition of the illegal Israeli university in occupied Palestinian territory. The support of many individuals and organizations in Spain for the cancellation of AUCS's participation in the Solar Decathlon culminated in a parliamentary question in the Spanish Parliament and the eventual exclusion of the illegal settlement's academic institution from the competition.

Last Wednesday, 16 September, Sergio Vega, General Director of Solar Decathlon Europe addressed all participant teams to inform them of the exclusion of AUCS: "The decision has been taken by the Government of Spain based upon the fact that the University is located in the [occupied] West Bank. The Government of Spain is obliged to respect the international agreements under the framework of the European Union and the United Nations regarding this geographical area." EU policy is firmly against Israel's illegal settlements and occupation, and this clear, firm and principled response represents the first case of sanctions against an Israeli academic institution in Spain and one of the very first such actions in the West.

Spain joins the growing number of European governments taking effective steps to uphold international law by boycotting or divesting from institutions and corporations involved in Israel's illegal settlements and Separation Wall built on occupied Palestinian land.

This move of the government of Spain follows the decision of the UK government not to rent offices from Israeli settlement builder Lev Leviev and the divestment of the Norwegian Pension Fund from Elbit Systems, an Israeli company providing surveillance equipment to the Wall. The global company Veolia has lost major European contracts due to its construction of the light railway in illegally annexed East Jerusalem.

The Spanish university teachers, parliamentarians and organizations are to be congratulated for this principled stand with the Palestinian people and international law, and professional ethics.

De-developing Palestine, one "visit permit" at a time

Rima Merriman writing from Jenin, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 22 September 2009

I am an American citizen of Palestinian descent and have been employed by the Arab American University-Jenin (AAUJ) in the occupied West Bank as an assistant professor of American literature for the past two and a half years. This month, while attempting to re-enter the West Bank through the land border with Jordan to start the academic year, I was denied re-entry by the Israeli authorities and questioned at length about my Palestinian heritage. The stated reason for the denial was that I had broken the law.

Through the office of a lawyer in Jerusalem that AAUJ had to hire at great cost and the support of the Israeli Committee for Residency Rights and the Palestinian Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as efforts initiated by the US consulate and AMIDEAST, I am now back in Jenin.

I have managed to avoid the fate of Dr. Stacy Krainz, also an American citizen and the former chair of the English Department at AAUJ, who left on vacation in 2006-2007 only to be denied re-entry and disappear forever and, in the process, incapacitate teaching and learning at the fledgling department for some time to come. She too was told that she had broken the law.

Despite my re-entry, my problems and the problems of my international colleagues employed by Palestinian universities are far from over. Internationals employed by Palestinian universities are deliberately issued the kind of visa that puts us in a de facto illegal status; it's even stamped with "not permitted to work". Alternatively, we are denied entry at the border on the basis that we do not have a work permit, but at the same time, in a Kafkaesque twist, there is no mechanism by which we can get a work permit.

AAUJ expects to renew my restricted "visit permit" when it expires in three months through an Israeli administrative office at the Bet El settlement near Ramallah. I will be issued, as in the past, a tourist visa stamped with "not permitted to work" or one that implies, by its very nature, that paid employment on my part is illegal.

Additional difficulties involve the kind of "visit permit" I have been issued, which is now stamped with "Palestinian Authority only," referring to those discontiguous islands of land in the West Bank determined by the Oslo accords to be under Palestinian semi-autonomy. The trouble is that Israel keeps these violations of my rights as an American citizen and of the rights of Palestinian institutions to build their capacity within the "the forms of law." Such gross violations ought not to be tolerated.

Within the forms of Israeli law, I and all of my international colleagues at AAUJ and at other Palestinian universities are now illegally employed and subject to whatever penalties Israel wishes to apply, such as abrupt denial of re-entry. What's more, my "PA only visa" restricts me to stay and travel but not to work in 40 percent of the West Bank. Within the forms of Israeli law, I and my colleagues could be subject to a penalty at any time.

International academics at Palestinian universities are entitled to know what the mechanism is by which we can enter. Why is there no procedure for me and my colleagues to get work permits for the West Bank through the university at which we work? How can I, as an American citizen with a permit to PA areas only, visit the relatives I have in Haifa, inside Israel?

So far this semester, my American colleagues who entered through Tel Aviv have been given visit permits not limited to PA areas only, even though they have shown their contract with AAUJ at the border and honestly declared the purpose of their stay. My case, and the case of another American academic who teaches at Birzeit University near Ramallah and who was also denied re-entry to resume his post, has another layer of complication. We are Americans of Palestinian descent. This apparently gives Israeli authority the right to belittle our nationality.

I have been writing Consul General Daniel Rubenstein at the US consulate in Jerusalem and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, asking them to safeguard the integrity of my American nationality and all that it entails. My American and other international colleagues and I are waiting for answers from our respective consulates regarding our current legal dilemmas as professionals in the occupied West Bank. We need a mechanism by which Palestinian universities (and by extension all Palestinian development institutions) can apply for work permits for the international staff they hire.

Rima Merriman is assistant professor in the Modern Languages Department at the Arab American University - Jenin.

Israel tightens the noose on advocacy organizations

Mya Guarnieri, The Electronic Intifada, 23 September 2009

Israel has shut the door on non-governmental organizations advocating for those in Gaza in need of medical treatment not available in the besieged territory.
(Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Mutasem Billah Abu-Mastfa was born in Gaza. Though he is just nine months old, his parents are already trying to get him out of the Strip.

Abu-Mastfa was born with severe congenital heart defects -- his heart, riddled with holes, is on the right side of his chest. He is currently receiving treatment at al-Nasser Pediatric Hospital in Gaza, but his condition is deteriorating. And due to the ongoing Israeli blockade the medical system in Gaza -- short on supplies, its staff unable to leave the Strip to obtain further training -- is unable to cope with such a complicated case.

On 13 September, Abu-Mastfa was expected to arrive at an Israeli facility, Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer. There he was due to receive the care that might prolong, or even save, his life. But the date came and went and he remained in Gaza. Abu-Mastafa's parents submitted an application to enter Israel for medical treatment more than two weeks prior to the admission date. However, they never received a response from the Israeli authorities, leaving the couple unable to take their son to the doctors who were waiting for him.

After a Palestinian's request to exit Gaza has been refused or ignored, an Israeli human rights organization such as Gisha (Access), Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, or HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, would ordinarily step in. The organizations contact the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO), the Israeli governmental body that grants exit permits. Palestinians cannot contact the DCO themselves. Instead, they must give their applications to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee (PCAC), which is unable to issue exit permits and has only the token power of passing along requests to the Israelis.

The NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, on the other hand, do what the PCAC can't -- they advocate. By contacting the DCO directly, coordinating between Palestinians in Gaza and the Israelis who control the border, NGOs sometimes expedite exit from the Strip. Human rights organizations also appeal denied applications, supplying the DCO with statements from Israeli physicians who clarify the urgency of the patients' exit. In this manner, the human rights organizations have successfully facilitated medical care, in Israel and other nearby states, for hundreds of Palestinians.

But on 14 September, the DCO shut the door on Israeli NGOs, leaving the needy Palestinians in Gaza who are represented by them, including Abu-Mastfa, with nowhere to turn.

On that day, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and HaMoked received a letter from the head of the DCO, Colonel Moshe Levi, informing them that their requests to assist Palestinians would not be processed. Rather, requests for exit filed by NGOs on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, including those in need of urgent medical care, will be passed to the PCAC, which will then forward them to the DCO. The DCO will no longer communicate with human rights organizations, leaving Palestinians with no way to appeal or expedite decisions, effective immediately.

The letter, Colonel Levi stated, was a "clarification" intended to "serve the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip."

"Best wishes for a happy new year," Colonel Levi wrote as he signed off.

Rather than "happy," the NGOs were shocked and outraged. This "clarification" of procedure came after years of working directly with the DCO. In the past, Colonel Levi has stated that his office "exists for humanitarian reasons." And in recent months, Colonel Levi has expressed the desire to strengthen relations between the DCO and the human rights organizations.

Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and HaMoked united with other human rights organizations to compose a fiery response to Colonel Levi.

"This kind of conduct, in which a government authority attempts to impede the activities of human rights organizations, to drive them away and to make their work more difficult -- to effectively boycott them -- is characteristic of tyrannical regimes and is inconceivable in a democratic state," the organizations wrote in a letter issued on 17 September.

They added that the DCO's "refusal to respond to the appeals of human rights organizations and Israeli attorneys constitutes a grave humanitarian blow to the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip." The NGOs urged Colonel Levi to revoke the decision.

Keren Tamir of Gisha explained that the DCO's move is the latest act in Israel's ongoing campaign against human rights organizations, which began in the wake of the NGOs' criticism of Israel's invasion of Gaza last winter. In recent months, Tamir said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "spoke to the British Prime Minister about not funding [the Israeli NGO] Breaking the Silence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a new department to inquire if the NGOs -- a symbol of democracy -- act by Israeli law."

Of the DCO's refusal to communicate with human rights organizations, Tamir commented that "It's very troubling. It looks like another means to narrow the activity of the human rights organization."

Is hindering the NGOs that assist Palestinians the new face of the Israeli blockade?

"It's another way to further detach Gaza from the West Bank," Tamir responded. "And it definitely makes [circumstances] harder for the Palestinians in Gaza -- they only have a slight chance to exit and enter Gaza even in extreme humanitarian cases."

Ami Gill of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel added that "If it [the DCO's change in policy] continues, then yes, it's not only a continuation, it's an additional aspect of the blockade."

The Palestinian Ministry of Health estimates that 260 access-related deaths have occurred since the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip began in June 2007. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reports that there are between 600 and 800 monthly requests to exit Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez Crossing to travel to Israel or other nearby countries for medical treatment. Approximately 37-40 percent of the applications filed with the PCAC are either denied or delayed. Gill stated, "The human rights NGOs in Israel, specifically those who deal with the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, are the only channel these people have ... all others are blocked or do not exist."

The story of Karima Abu Dalal, a 33-year-old Palestinian resident of Gaza who suffered from Hodgkin's lymphoma, paints a stark picture of what might lie ahead for Palestinian patients in the Strip. After the Rafah Crossing with Egypt was closed in 2007, Abu Dalal traveled to Nablus to continue the chemotherapy she previously received in Egypt. After undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy in the West Bank in August of 2007, doctors noted an improvement in her condition. But they emphasized that more treatment was necessary to prevent a reoccurrence.

Abu Dalal was scheduled to receive two more courses of chemo, again in Nablus. Her first application, submitted to the PCAC and forwarded to the DCO, was denied for "security reasons." Her second application was ignored and Abu Dalal missed her medical appointments in the West Bank.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel turned to the Israeli high court in December of 2007. They included in their petition the testimony of an Israeli physician who stressed that Abu Dalal would die unless she continued to receive treatment. The Israeli high court declined to intervene.

Karima Abu Dalal died in Gaza in November of 2008.

Unless the DCO's decision is reversed, Gill said, "There will be a severe decline in the number of patients who can access treatment." That means there will be more stories like Abu Dalal's. That means Abu-Mastfa, the nine-month-old baby who is trapped in Gaza, might meet a similarly tragic fate.

Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv based journalist and writer and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. Her work has also appeared in Outlook India -— India’s equivalent to and subsidiary of Newsweek -— as well as Maan News Agency, Common Ground News Service and other international publications.

Obama's peace effort has failed but our struggle continues

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 24 September 2009

US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in a kitschy reprise of the famous 1993 White House lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. (MaanImages)

There is the old joke about a man who is endlessly searching on the ground beneath a street light. Finally, a neighbor who has been watching him asks the man what he is looking for. The man replies that he lost his keys. The neighbor asks him if he lost them under the streetlight. "No," the man replies, pointing into the darkness, "I lost them over there, but I am looking over here because here there is light!"

The intense focus on the "peace process" is a similarly futile search. Just because politicians and the media shine a constant light on it, does not mean that is where the answers are to be found.

The meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel on 22 September signaled the complete and terminal failure of Obama's much vaunted push to bring about a two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

To be sure, all the traditional activities associated with the "peace process" -- shuttle diplomacy, meetings, ritual invocations of "two states living side by side," and even "negotiations" -- will continue, perhaps for the rest of Obama's time in office. But this sterile charade will not determine the future of Palestine/Israel. That is already being decided by other means.

Before coming to that, let's recall those heady days in May when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out the Obama Administration's firm policy on Israel's colonization of the West Bank: "We want to see a stop to settlement construction -- additions, natural growth, any kind of settlement activity -- that is what the president has called for."

Obama's envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, traveled to the region almost a dozen times to convince Israel to implement a freeze. Every proposal he took, the Israelis rejected. And to emphasize the point, the Israeli government accelerated the approval of major new settlement plans. Instead of threatening consequences for such intransigence, Mitchell simply diluted American conditions to meet Israeli objections until finally there was little left of the American demands -- or credibility.

So it was that in his remarks at New York, Obama's call for a total construction freeze was reduced to a polite request to Israel merely to "restrain" itself from devouring more Palestinian land.

Speaking to reporters after the New York meeting, Mitchell dropped the demand for a settlement freeze and made the US surrender official. "We are not identifying any issue as being a precondition or an impediment to negotiation," Mitchell said, adding, "We do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them and we urge others not to impose them."

This is of course completely untrue. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, continues to boycott Hamas (which has a legitimate electoral mandate to represent Palestinians under occupation) on the grounds that Hamas has refused to meet one-sided American preconditions!

The next day in his UN speech, Obama repeated the call for negotiations without preconditions. He did not explain why such negotiations would be any more fruitful than the 200-odd negotiating sessions held between the PA and the previous Israeli government headed by Ehud Olmert. Obama may have told the UN that the peace process must "break the old patterns," but he is simply repeating them.

The New York meeting produced yet another image of an American president cajoling reluctant Israeli and Palestinian leaders to shake hands, a kitschy and tiresome reprise of the famous 1993 White House lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin with President Clinton looking on, that sealed the ill-fated Oslo accords. Unsatisfied by its failures to date, the Obama Administration apparently craves more. It aims for a resumption of "negotiations" within weeks, to be inaugurated with what a US official called a "launch event." Ideas under discussion, the unnamed US official told the Israeli daily Haaretz, include "a meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt."

That this is the level of thinking within the Obama Administration is utterly depressing. I can see it now -- as we have so many times before -- another meeting at the Egyptian resort attended by all the usual suspects: Israeli and Palestinian leaders (except of course Hamas), "moderate" leaders of repressive US client regimes like Jordan's King Abdallah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, and the whole pack of peace process parasites led by Quartet representative Tony Blair and EU "High Representative" Javier Solana. We can expect more statements that there is a "window of opportunity," that this is "the only game in town," and that "time is running out."

If this is not absurd enough, consider what the US is really saying to the Palestinians in the wake of Mitchell's failure: "We, the greatest superpower on Earth, are unable to convince Israel -- which is dependent on us militarily, economically and diplomatically -- to abide by even a temporary settlement freeze. Now, you Palestinians, who are a dispossessed, occupied people whose leaders cannot move without an Israeli permit, go and negotiate on much bigger issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem and settlements, and do better than we did. Good luck to you."

Even if Israel agreed to a settlement freeze and negotiations resumed, there is no chance for a viable two-state solution or any just resolution coming out of such talks. So like its predecessors, this administration is substituting process and gimmicks for substance.

If the "peace process" is not driving events, then what is? Israeli colonization -- as Obama initially understood -- is the major factor determining the present and future of Palestine/Israel. Geographer and former Israeli deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, has observed that Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip effectively ended the 1948 partition. "The decades since the war have proved that 1967 was not a disjunction but quite the opposite, a union, and that the preceding period was merely a reprieve," Benvenisti wrote in 2007.

After more than 40 years, Benvenisti views the "occupier/occupied paradigm" as too limited and misleading to describe the post-1967 reality. It is, he writes, an "anachronism that hides behind the portrayal of a temporary condition." He proposes instead that we call the situation in Palestine/Israel a "de facto binational state ... because it describes the mutual dependence of both societies, as well as the physical, economic, symbolic and cultural ties that cannot be severed except at an intolerable cost."

Repartition of Palestine would only change the shape of the conflict, not solve it. Even if Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were given a state, an unreformed, ultranationalist "Jewish state" of Israel would be more likely to turn its aggression and ethnic cleansing against its own 1.5 million Palestinian citizens than live in peace. After all, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked repeatedly, what is the point of a two-state solution that doesn't produce an exclusively Jewish state?

The 1967 boundary may have legal and political salience, but it does not demarcate geographically compact, ethnically homogenous and economically independent geo-political units. Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may harbor fantasies about creating a "de facto" Palestinian state in the West Bank, but the close collaboration between Israel and the PA only confirms the trend towards binationalism -- of the wrong sort to be sure.

Isn't it ironic that the most enthusiastic boosters of the ugly collaboration between the Israeli occupation army and US-trained PA militias to suppress resistance to the occupation, simultaneously insist that it is implausible for Palestinians and Israelis to build a joint society under conditions of equality? Apparently Palestinians and Israelis can collude to maintain oppression and injustice but not to transcend them!

A second factor determining the present and future is the resistance in all its forms that Israeli colonization continues to generate: the movement of Palestinians within Israel for full equality in a state of all its citizens; the refugees' steadfast insistence that Israel not be allowed to prevent them returning home just because they are the wrong religion; the refusal of Palestinians in Gaza to buckle under a crippling blockade. During Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of fasting Palestinians endured unbelievable hardships to break Israel's ring of steel around Jerusalem to enter the occupied city for Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque.

This spirit of resistance is expressed in millions of daily acts and refusals by individual Palestinians, but also in highly directed, creative and organized ways such as the weekly demonstrations against Israel's apartheid wall in the West Bank, or the rapidly expanding Palestinian-directed international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

These forms of organized resistance and solidarity are changing the balance of moral and political power and have the potential to force Israeli Jews to abandon their quest for ethno-religious purity and domination just as Afrikaners did in South Africa, Unionists did in Northern Ireland, and white Americans did in the southern US. They are bolstered by the growing calls for international accountability, the most recent of which include the Goldstone report's recommendation that Israeli leaders be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

Official complicity with Israel's crimes -- such as the Obama Administration's despicable decision to attack and quash the Goldstone report -- are likely only to spur further support for BDS. These sources of power are still comparatively small compared to Israel's military and diplomatic might, but their momentum is increasing and official Israel's panic in the face of the growing challenge is palpable.

For years, scholars and activists calling for serious research and discussion about a unified state guaranteeing the rights of all who live in it, were ignored or ridiculed by defenders of the failed two-state solution. But the growing appeal of a vision that inspires and attracts individuals because of its universalism is terrifying the high priests of partition. The peace process industry, its think tanks and "experts," understand that they can no longer monopolize the discussion. Peace will not be made at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan; it will be made everywhere that people of conscience are prepared to join the struggle for liberation, justice and equality for all the people who live in Palestine/Israel.

In one sense then, the significance of the New York meeting was its utter insignificance. The real struggle for justice carries on regardless.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Arab officials condemn Aqsa raid

Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and stun grenades, wounding many Palestinian worshippers [AFP]

Jordanian and Palestinian officials have condemned the Israeli security forces for storming Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque on Sunday during clashes that left many Palestinian worshippers wounded.

Deploring the Israeli action, the officials said it amounted to a "violation of the mosque's sanctity".

Trouble had broken out after a group of about 150 Israelis turned up and entered the mosque compound, reportedly under the guard of local authorities, on the occasion of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day.

Speaking to the JNA state news agency on Monday, Nabil al-Sharif, the Jordanian media affairs minister, said Amman viewed the Israeli action as a "provocative act".

"Both international law and relevant conventions and resolutions call for protection of places of worship against any violations", he said.

"We decry the repeated storming of the mosque by extremist Jewish groups and Israeli forces as a provocation that would exacerbate tension and ignite further violence that threatens regional security and stability."

Jordan's foreign ministry summoned the Israeli charge d'affaires in Amman to denounce the raid, saying that it came at "a time of concerted international efforts for resumption of peace talks" to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Palestinian condemnation

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Israeli security forces' action was a deliberate provocation in support of unwelcome settler hardliners who opposed an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Noting that riots during Yom Kippur were becoming an annual event, Erekat compared Sunday's scuffles to the violence that followed the trip to the site in the year 2000 by the ex-Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.

"We've seen this before, and we know what the consequences are," Erekat said in a statement. "

"Providing a police escort for settlers who are against peace at all costs, and whose presence is deliberately designed to provoke a reaction, are not the actions of someone who is committed to peace, but of someone who will go to extraordinary lengths to scuttle all hopes of peace," Erekat said.

Raid details

Sunday's clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinian worshippers saw the Israeli forces intervening and firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.

The Al-Aqsa Foundation had warned a few days earlier that Israeli authorities were planning to permit settlers entrance to the area. Officials in East Jerusalem predicted that the break-in would occur on Sunday under the pretext of marking Yom Kippur.

Jews refer to sections of the mosque complex as historically part of their Temple Mount.

Many Palestinians sustained serious eye and head injuries. Nine Palestinians were also detained following the scuffles, Israeli sources said.

Clashes also erupted near Majlis Gate, one of the main entrances to the mosque, after police prevented worshippers from entering the area, according to witnesses. More clashes followed noon prayers near the Lions' Gate entrance to Al-Aqsa.

Last year, a similar incident on the Yom Kippur holiday resulted in damage to dozens of cars and shops.

Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it along with the rest of mostly Arab East Jerusalem in a move not recognised by the international community.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gaza's disabled cut off from payments

Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 11 September 2009

Yunis al-Masri was luckier than his two brothers from Gaza. Although the truck that plowed into their car as they traveled to work in Israel 24 years ago killed Jaber and Kamal instantly, al-Masri survived with shattered bones, internal bleeding and brain damage.

Today, aged 49 and after many operations, he has difficulty walking and problems remembering to do things. Any hope of working again was crushed in 1985 amid the car wreckage.

Like tens of thousands of other Palestinian manual laborers who worked inside Israel before Gaza was progressively sealed off to the outside world from the early 1990s, al-Masri had paid regularly into Israel's social security fund from his salary.

Certified as disabled by an Israeli medical committee, he is entitled to a monthly allowance of $800 from Israel's National Insurance Institute, out of which he has supported his wife and 10 children in their home in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza.

In early January, however, the transfers of disability benefits stopped arriving in his bank account in Gaza. About 700 other injured workers are in the same situation.

The reason, they have learned, is that while the Israeli army was rampaging through the Gaza Strip during its winter assault, the Bank of Israel severed ties with Gaza's banks.

The ending of financial relations between Israel and Gaza, in a deepening of the three-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled enclave, means al-Masri and other disabled workers have been without a source of income for the past nine months.

Al-Masri said he had been forced heavily into debt to keep putting food on the table, adding that the whole family was now dependent on his daughter, Nura, 26. During Ramadan she started part-time secretarial work that brings in $100 a month, though the job is far from secure. "How far will that money go to feed and support a family of 12?" he said.

Nura added: "When the benefits first stopped arriving, we called the National Insurance Institute and were told it's a political decision and that when Gilad Shalit was returned we would get our money." Sgt Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas in June 2006. It is believed he is being held in Gaza.

Al-Masri's sister-in-law, Hasna, who lost her husband, Jaber, in the crash, said none of her four children were earning and the family was without any source of income. She had recently told her eldest son, who is studying in Romania, that there was no money left for his course fees.

"We are happy go to the checkpoint at Erez to pick up the cheque in person if that is what it takes," al-Masri said.

The workers' cases have been taken up by the Al Mezan center for human rights, based in Gaza, and by an Israeli legal group, Adalah, which launched a petition against the government's decision in the high court last week.

Mahmoud abu Rahma, a spokesman for Al Mezan, said the 700 injured workers had been part of a large workforce of as many as 80,000 Gazans who regularly worked in Israel during the 1970s and 1980s. The numbers only began to dwindle in the early 1990s as Israel introduced a closure policy and built an electronic fence around Gaza. The Oslo accords of the 1990s, which held out the hope of Palestinian self-rule, further reduced the opportunities for work as Israel entrenched its policy of separation.

Much of the manual labor, once done by Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, is today performed by 300,000 guest workers, mainly from the Philippines, Thailand, China and eastern Europe.

Abu Rahma said the disabled workers, having lost the chance to work, were now suffering the indignity of not being able to provide for their families.

"Israel has absolute control not only over the physical borders of Gaza, but also over our monetary system, too," he said. "We depend on the Israeli currency of the shekel and Israel's banks can turn on and off the money supply at will."
Israel's blockade of Gaza has been progressively tightened since Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections in early 2006. Following the Islamic movement's rout of an attempted coup by the rival Fatah group in summer 2007, Israel declared Gaza an "enemy entity" and started cutting off fuel and power supplies. Now only the most essential items get through.

The only two Israeli banks dealing with Gaza, Hapoalim and Discount, received approval from the Bank of Israel to cut their links during the assault on Gaza. The central bank had previously opposed such a move, fearing that it would bring about the collapse of Gaza's economy.

This week, a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development noted that 90 percent of Gaza's population was living below the poverty line, with employment restricted almost entirely to government and public administration and small service industries.

Abu Rahma said the disabled workers included the poorest and most vulnerable among Gaza's population of 1.5 million, and many were in danger of starvation if payments were not resumed soon. "They have no other sources of income and are really struggling without their benefits."

In 1998, Fadil Qomsan fell seven stories from a building site in Ashdod, 25 kilometers north of Gaza, breaking his back.

During the two weeks he spent in a hospital in Tel Aviv, he said, the site's manager came to his bedside to tell him that the construction company was denying responsibility. "He told me that I had fallen because I was using drugs. The police organized many blood tests during my stay, but they all came back negative. Eventually I won my right to disability allowance."
Qomsan, 46, from Jabaliya camp, who needs a back brace to walk, has been assessed as 81 percent disabled. He was receiving $450 to support his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is seven. "Our financial situation was desperate even when we were getting the cheques, but now it's beyond miserable."

He said the family had been forced to survive on the charity of family and friends.

Taysir al-Basoos has been blind since 16 when a nail fired from a nail gun on a building site in Ashkelon, 10 kilometers north of Gaza, penetrated his chest, severed the blood flow to his brain and left him blind.

Al-Basoos, 47, said his wife and six children, including the youngest who is five, were entirely dependent on his monthly disability benefits.

"Workers like me helped to build the State of Israel; we did not put Hamas in charge of Gaza," he said. "I am not politically active at all, so why am I being punished? Our case is a humanitarian one."
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, said six representative cases of disabled workers from Gaza who were denied benefits have been presented to the Israeli high court. They included construction workers who fell; a gardener for a local council who was crushed by a falling crane, and a car wash operator who lost two fingers.

Zaher said Adalah had first approached the National Insurance Institute, the Bank of Israel and various government ministries in April, when the change in policy became clear, but they had all shirked responsibility.

"We were told by the NII that it was trying to negotiate a solution with the Palestinian Authority, possibly by transferring the money through the [Fatah-run] West Bank, but it led nowhere."Adalah argues that the decision to block the payments to Gaza violates Israeli law. "The money is the property of the disabled workers and this decision unjustly deprives them of their property," Zaher said.

Adalah is also claiming that the decision, because it affects the welfare entitlements of Palestinian workers only and not of Israelis, constitutes racism.

Abu Rahma said there was an additional concern that some of the workers could not afford essential medicines needed in their treatment.

Sharif Qarmout, 58, of Jabaliya camp, has been paralyzed from the waist since 1979 when he fell six stories from a building site in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv. The loss of his monthly allowance of $1,150 has plunged the family into great hardship as they struggle not only to buy food but also to pay the $350 bill each month for the 15 different drugs he needs to control his incontinence, improve blood circulation in his legs and prevent depression.

"A year and a half ago Israel stopped giving my wife permission to go to the hospital in Ashkelon to collect the medicines," said Qarmout, who uses a wheelchair. "I was forced to buy them privately in Gaza, but now I don't have the money. I've been using different pharmacies, paying on credit, but it can't go on much longer. I've started reducing the doses to make the drugs last longer."

Qarmout said his three grown children were living in the house to care for him, as his wife was mostly confined to bed with severe back problems from 30 years of lifting him.

"No one is taking responsibility for people like me -- not Hamas, not Israel."
Marie Badarne, of the Laborers' Voice, a workers' rights group based in Nazareth, said the Israeli government's abuse of the disabled workers echoed a much wider problem faced by Gazans who had been employed in Israel until recently.

She said thousands of workers from Gaza had their contracts in Israel terminated without notice by employers in spring 2004, shortly after the government of Ariel Sharon announced it would be "disengaging" from the enclave in summer 2005.

Most had been working in construction, garages, textile factories, carpentry workshops or as agricultural laborers inside Israel or in a handful of Jewish settlements inside Gaza that were dismantled in August 2005.

"Overnight more than 20,000 workers had their work permits withdrawn and lost their livelihoods," she said. "They had been paying into the social security system, some of them for decades, but have been denied their legal entitlements, such as severance pay, overtime and holiday allowance."
The Laborers' Voice said its investigations had also shown that most Israeli employers had been paying Gaza's workers below the minimum wage.

According to its calculations, the laid-off workers from Gaza are each typically owed between $12,000 and $50,000, meaning that Israeli employers have "defrauded the workforce of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars," Badarne said.

In July, the Nazareth group submitted claims on behalf of more than 40 workers to the labor court in Beersheva, which has agreed to hear the cases. All the workers were employed by a furniture company, mostly as carpenters, at the Erez industrial estate close to the Gaza Strip.

Badarne said the company did not deny that the workers were owed money but had defended its actions on the grounds that Gaza had been declared an "enemy entity."

"Their lawyers have said that, because Gaza is an enemy entity, the residents should be treated as a hostile population," she said. "They told the judge that Israel must not open its doors to terrorists and that ending the economic siege would work against the interests of the Israeli state.

"In an attempt to bolster their argument that the case in support of the workers should be dismissed, the lawyers even sent the court a copy of the Hamas charter and an analysis of what it means."
She added that, despite the fact that Israeli employers made social security deductions from Gazans' salaries, the workers could no longer make use of the benefits they should be entitled to.

"If they get sick, for example, these workers should have the right to use Israeli hospitals because they paid health insurance, but of course that obligation is no longer being honored. In some cases, given the deteriorating provision of health care in Gaza under the blockade, that right could mean the difference between life and death."
Ronit Gedultir, a spokeswoman for Israel's National Insurance Institute, said officials were seeking a solution for the disabled workers' families affected by the bank's decision.

"This is a very delicate issue and we are not neglecting it," she said. "The money is waiting here for the families, but so far we have found no way to deliver it to them."
Israel has also been seeking to end the right of Palestinian civilians to seek compensation for injuries they have suffered at the hands of the Israeli army.

A bill that exempted the state from legal claims by Palestinians for personal injury or damage to property inflicted by the army during the second Palestinian intifada was passed in summer 2005 but overturned a year later by the high court.

Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah, said the law had recently been amended in an attempt to bypass the court and was expected to be resubmitted to the parliament this month.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

Israel targeting fishermen, farmers in Gaza

Eva Bartlett, The Electronic Intifada

Masoud Tanboura at Kamal Adwan hospital. (Eva Bartlett)

On 31 August, Israeli gunboats shot at and shelled the fishing trawler of Khaled al-Habil, destroying it completely and leaving the boat's 18 fishermen and their families without a source of income.

One week earlier, on 24 August, Israeli soldiers along Gaza's northern border shot dead a young farm worker, Said al-Hussumi. Sixteen-year-old al-Hussumi was killed while working on land a few hundred meters from the border with his cousin Masoud Tanboura, who was seriously wounded.

"We were working in Attatra, near the sea, about 350 meters from the [border] fence," said Tanboura of Beit Lahiya.

Tanboura's survival is miraculous as his chest cavity was pierced from left to right by a bullet. After seeing his cousin fall dead upon being shot in the chest, Tanboura ran and walked what he estimates was a kilometer, bleeding heavily from his chest, until he came across farmers with a donkey cart. He was transported by donkey cart until a car was able to take him to the Kamal Adwan hospital.

Israeli military sources told reporters two "suspicious" persons had approached the border with Israel and ignored warning shots.

"There was no warning," Tanboura said from his hospital bed. "The Israelis started shooting as soon as we got to the land."

Farm laborers working for 20 to 30 shekels ($5-$6) a day, the two youths had been scouring for pieces of metal to use to fence off the plot of land. They had gotten closer to the border, but this was normal.

"We went there all the time," said Tanboura. "The Israeli soldiers always saw us, they knew we were just taking metal. Many people go there to take metal from destroyed houses," he said.

According to Tanboura, his cousin's dead body was dragged across the ground by Israeli soldiers who took the corpse to Israel and returned it hours later via the Erez crossing.

Tanboura, like some of his brothers, used the meager salary from day labor on farms to support the 15 other siblings in his family.

Killed while collecting figs

On 4 September, 14-year-old Ghazi al-Zaneen from Beit Hanoun was killed when an Israeli soldier shot him in the head. Along with his father, uncles and some of his siblings, the youth had gone to collect figs on their land east of Beit Hanoun. Although it is near the border with Israel, the farmland where al-Zaneen was killed is still more than 500 meters away.

"They had driven to the land and were walking in the area. Ghazi got up on the rubble of a house to look further. Then the Israelis started shooting heavily. Everyone lay on the ground. When the shooting stopped, they got up to run away and realized that Ghazi had been shot in the head," said his aunt.

Maher al-Zaneen, Ghazi's father, testified to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that Israeli soldiers continued to fire as he carried the injured boy to the car. Ghazi al-Zaneen succumbed to his critical head injuries the following day.

The day after his death, Ghazi's mother sat surrounded by female relatives and friends. She asked, "How would mothers in your country feel if their sons were killed like this? Don't your politicians care that Israel is killing our children?"

Israeli authorities reportedly claimed that "suspicious Palestinians approached the fence" and troops responded by "firing into the air." But the shot to Ghazi al-Zaneen's head and the two bullet holes in Maher al-Zaneen's car suggest otherwise.

Since the end of Israel's three-week winter invasion of Gaza during which approximately 1,500 Palestinians were killed, nine more Palestinian civilians have been killed at sea or on the strip's border regions. This includes four minors and one mentally disabled adult. Another 30 Palestinians, including eight minors, have been wounded by Israeli shooting and shelling, including by the use of "flechette" dart-bombs on civilian areas.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, roughly one third of Gaza's agricultural land lies within the Israel's unilaterally-imposed "no go zone," or "buffer zone." This band of land stretching south to north along Gaza's borders to Israel was established in late 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada. Initially set at 150 meters, it has varied over time. At one point, it was nearly two kilometers in the north and one kilometer in the east. At present, Israeli authorities say 300 meters along the border are "off limits" and those found within the area risk being shot at by Israeli soldiers.

However, one case demonstrates that Israeli soldiers will shoot at Palestinian civilians as far away from the border as 1,800 meters. Sixty-three-year-old Fawzi Ali Qassem was on his land east of Beit Hanoun, at least 1,800 meters away from the border, when Israeli soldiers opened fire on farmers. Ali Qassem was hit in his left thigh on 23 August 2009.

Under a brutal 27-month-long siege, the Israeli military is killing fishermen, farmers and other civilians in areas it is deliberately trying to depopulate. This represents yet another component in Israel's matrix of control over the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. In the face of such blatant Israeli military terrorizing, Palestinians remain defiantly resilient, farming, fishing and living under fire.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who arrived in Gaza in November 2008 on the third Free Gaza Movement boat. She has been volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement and documenting Israel's ongoing attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. During Israel's recent assault on Gaza, she and other ISM volunteers accompanied ambulances and documenting the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

My rights, my remedy

Ahmed Moor, The Electronic Intifada, 11 September 2009

"Zionism": an international movement originally for the establishment of a racially pure Jewish national or religious community in an ethnically cleansed Palestine. (

The occupation looms large over everything in Palestine. Men with guns patrol your neighborhoods, detain your family and neighbors and dictate exactly when you can leave your house. There are days when you can't get to school or go to the beach on your rutted roads, and most of the people you know are poor. You learn before long that the men with guns are Jews -- and the people living in the beautiful homes on the hills behind barbed wire are Jews. The language on your milk carton is Hebrew. Not long after that, you begin to ask why things are the way they are.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "Zionism" as "an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel." While the word "Palestine" appears in that definition, the word "Palestinian" is noticeably absent. Zionists will argue that there were no Palestinians, as such and that the Merriam-Webster dictionary is not guilty of any omission or historical elision. Zionists miss the point.

There were people in Palestine, Jews and an even greater number of non-Jews. Whether you call him a Palestinian, or southern Syrian, or Jordanian, or pan-Arab, the fact remains that my grandfather lived in Beer al-Sabaa in May of 1948. It is also a fact that Zionists drove him out of his house at gunpoint. The village was Judaized and renamed Beer Sheva. In light of these facts, I would rewrite the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of "Zionism" to read: an international movement originally for the establishment of a racially pure Jewish national or religious community in an ethnically cleansed Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel."

My amended dictionary entry explains why Zionism is racism and why Zionists are racists. In plain English, Zionism is the view that Jews have a right to the land of Palestine to the exclusion of non-Jews. Practically, that means that tracts of land that are inhabited by non-Jews need to be ethnically cleansed so that Jews may take their place. That is what happened in Beer al-Sabaa in 1948 and that is what is happening in Jerusalem and Hebron in 2009. Zionism is indeed a form of nationalism, but that nationalism is constructed around a territorial claim to a territory inhabited by indigenous non-nationals.

We have become accustomed to hearing platidudinous condemnations of the Zionist Israeli settlement project in the West Bank. US President Barack Obama insists that Zionist colonial settlement program in the West Bank runs counter to American interests in the Middle East. US Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John Kerry both came out strongly for a settlement freeze as have a number of administration and non-administration officials. Even The New York Times editorial board "commend[s] President Obama for demanding that Israel halt all new construction." Nevermind that he "demanded" that Israel halt all construction, new and ongoing; that's beside the point. Settlements are no longer "unhelpful," they're an obstacle to peace -- that's the new consensus.

But not everyone is convinced. Far rightists in the Zionist establishment -- like Gush Emunim, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Israel's Shas political party -- strongly disagree. They rightly argue that the current settlement program, the program which began after 1967 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, is the continuation of the same ethnic cleansing process that created Israel in 1948. One cannot be opposed to the current settlement program, they argue, without being opposed to the existence of the Zionist state.

I attended a lecture by the late Tanya Reinhardt as an undergraduate several years ago. She presented the face of the Israeli left's moral authority. An influential linguistics scholar, she came out in support of limiting European support for Israeli academia in light of human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. She was dispassionate as she made her case against the settlements, against arbitrary detention of adults and minors, house demolitions, water hoarding and unequal distribution, race-based restrictions on movement, and the occupation in general. I was impressed by her lecture and her commitment to justice in Palestine.

However, during the question and answer segment of the lecture, she referred to the Nakba, or the forced displacement of the indigenous population in what is now Israel, as a necessary foundational evil. I'm paraphrasing, but Dr. Reinhardt believed that there was nothing wrong with Israel's existence, even at the expense of another people. Therein lies the fundamental contradiction for what's called the "peace camp" in Israel and elsewhere, those who are known as "soft Zionists." These are people who are opposed to the treatment of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionist Israeli government. They usually also oppose the current settlement project in the West Bank. Their opposition is based almost solely on moral considerations. Yet, they insist that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. They fail to understand that the messianic Zionism of today is functionally no different than the Labor Zionism of 1897; both movements exist to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population for occupation by Jews.

The current settlement program in the West Bank is merely the continuation of a process that began a century ago. The choice for soft Zionists is binary: either colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing are wrong, or Jews have a right to ethnically cleanse tracts of land in order to occupy them. Ethnic cleansing has no temporal mitigants; what is wrong today was wrong in 1948.

The right/remedy principle

American jursiprudence is informed by a principle that states for every right, there is a remedy. That means that if my right to property is violated, there is a way to make me whole. My remedy may take the form of monetary compensation, or the return of my property, and so on.

Otherwise good people everywhere insist that Zionist Israel has a right to exist. This is usually interpreted to mean that Israel has a right to exist as a state with a majority of citizens who are racially Jewish. Now, roughly 20 percent of people with Israeli passports are not Jews. These are not refugees like me in the Gaza Strip; these are Palestinians who did not become refugees in 1948 or 1967 and are Israeli citizens. These Palestinian-Israelis tend to have higher birthrates than Jewish-Israelis. Keeping the right/remedy principle in mind, what remedy does the Jewish state have to keep itself from being overrun by non-Jewish babies, something that would violate its right to remain majority Jewish? If Israel has the right to exist as the Jewish state, can it do as former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her successor Avigdor Lieberman suggest, and ethnically cleanse the state of its non-Jewish citizens as a remedy? Can it sterilize vast swaths of the citizenry as a remedy? The history of the 20th century is full of such remedies; we know how this story ends.

I have the right to return and my right too, has a remedy.

Israel is an apartheid state. It rules over me in Gaza yet does not permit me to vote in an Israeli election. It hoards my resources in the West Bank, it detains me and dictates the terms of my survival. It issues my travel documents and denies me the right to travel. I cannot associate or marry or build or import or consume -- in short, I cannot live -- without Israel's permission. Yet, I do not have the right to vote. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then Defense Minister Ehud Barak demonstrated to the world that they are my government in January. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and "Palestinian Authority President" Mahmoud Abbas are my unelected government. I have the right to vote for the men who dictate the terms of my existence, however, my apartheid government refuses me this right because of my race. I have the right to return to Beer al-Sabaa. My country stretches from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean sea. My country is not a series of discontinuous bantustans connected by some air-car or subterranean rail system. All of Israel/Palestine is my country, and the men who rule it are my government. What is my remedy?

Combine the fact that "Zionist Israel" does not have the right to exist with my right of return and my right to representative government and one ends up with a liberal society that respects the rights of the individual over those of the collective. This is Western Liberalism at its core. Individual liberty and equality irrespective of sex or race are the governing principles of a well-functioning society. This is the kind of society that America strives to be. My own personal experience bore this out. Imagine, I lived and worked alongside Jewish-Israelis in New York, but I cannot live and work alongside Jewish-Israelis in my own country.

I am confident that Palestine/Israel will one day embrace individual rights and liberty over race-based discrimination. One day, I will exercise my human right -- or is it my birthright -- to return home and to elect my government.

Ahmed Moor is a 24-year-old Palestinian born in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. After graduating from university in Philadelphia, he spent three years working in finance in New York and is currently pursuing Palestine-related opportunities in Beirut, Lebanon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boycott movement derails Jerusalem's transit system

Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 18 September 2009

An ill-fated light railway under construction in Jerusalem was originally heralded by Israeli officials as a way to cement the city's "unification" four decades after the city's Palestinian half was illegally annexed to Israel.

But the only unity generated among Jewish and Palestinian residents after four years of disruptions to the city's traffic and businesses is general agreement that the project is rapidly becoming a white elephant.

After engineering problems, rows between the contractors and the municipality and delays caused by archaeological discoveries along the route, completion of the first 14 kilometers section of track is not expected until the end of next year at the earliest -- more than 18 months behind schedule. The budget overspend is estimated at more than $500 million.

This week, in an indication of the deepening crisis, Israel's Dan bus company was forced to step in to buy the five percent stake of Veolia, a French company that is supposed to operate the line for the next 30 years. Dan, which is waiting for the Israeli government to approve its bid, has no prior experience of running a rail system.

Shmuel Elgrably, a spokesman for the transit system, told the Haaretz newspaper last week that the loss of Veolia had "screwed" the project.

Veolia's unexpected withdrawal from City Pass, a French-Israeli private consortium backed in part by public finances, is being claimed as a victory by Palestinian officials and activists whose boycott and lobbying efforts appear to have forced the company to quit the project.

They have accused Veolia and another French firm, Alstom, which is laying the tracks and providing the rail cars, of violating international law by working on a project designed to benefit Jewish settlements in the occupied part of Jerusalem.

Since East Jerusalem's annexation, Israel has moved some 200,000 Jews into illegal colonies surrounding more than a quarter of a million Palestinian residents.

Despite pressure from Washington for a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared this week: "Jerusalem is not a settlement and construction [of homes] will go on as planned."

Officials announced this month that 500 new apartments are to be built in Pisgat Zeev -- a settlement of more than 40,000 Jews that will be connected to West Jerusalem in the first phase of the rail system's construction.

The line, which is supposed to serve 150,000 passengers a day and ease congestion on Jerusalem's roads, will also pass by the famous Damascus and Jaffa Gates of the Old City.

Future sections of track are supposed to link up other Jewish settlements, including Neve Yaacov, Atarot and Gilo.

When the transit system contract was signed in 2005, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister at the time, said it would "sustain Jerusalem for eternity as the capital of the Jewish people."

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been targeting Veolia and Alstom over their involvement, wrote this month in the Jerusalem Quarterly magazine that the railway was part of "a comprehensive, long-term strategy ... to cement the integration of those [settlement] blocs into an ever sprawling 'Greater Jerusalem.'"

Barghouti claimed that the transit system is part of a secret Israeli plan, the outlines of which were revealed by the Haaretz newspaper in May, to create large infrastructure projects to prevent the future division of Jerusalem and thereby thwart any hope of a peace agreement.

The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for state.

The project's supporters, however, point out that five of the 23 stations along the first line will be located in Palestinian neighborhoods, including the deprived Shuafat refugee camp.

To be profitable, says City Pass, the light rail must cater to the city's large communities of ultra-Othodox and Palestinians, both of whom are heavy users of public transport but currently use different bus routes.

Yet there are few indications that either group is keen to be brought on-board the transit system.

Palestinians are likely to be wary of using a railway dominated by settlers, and there may be severe limitations to their access to the service.

Shir Hever, a Jerusalem-based economist, said many Israeli Jews would be unwilling to share trains with the city's Palestinian inhabitants, particularly after a series of attacks last summer in East Jerusalem, mostly using bulldozers.

"The real questions," he said, "are how many Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem will be left out of the loop of the rail system and, even where there are stops, what security requirements will be imposed on Palestinians, compared to Israeli Jews, before they can board the train?"

Some observers suspect that, after the first attack following the railway's opening, it will be closed to Palestinian travelers.

The ultra-Orthodox appear equally distrustful. Their rabbis have condemned the transit system because it will encourage men and women to mingle and replace the community's own segregated "modesty" buses. Last year, seven rabbis wrote to the municipality to complain that their followers would have to pass through secular neighborhoods "where a God-fearing person would not set foot."

Planners too, it seems, are preparing for trouble. The 42 rail cars -- each costing more than $3 million -- are designed to withstand stones and firebombs.

But the very survival of the project is now in question after the BDS movement's successful lobbying. A Dutch bank, ASN, pulled its investments from Veolia in 2006, and the company lost a large contract in Sweden this year.

Alstom is also under great pressure. The Swedish national pension fund, AP7, excluded the French firm from its investment portfolio this year and activists are now seeking to force its withdrawal from a consortium awarded a $1.8 billion contract in Saudi Arabia to build the Haramain Express between Mecca and Medina.

In addition, both Veolia and Alstom are battling the Palestine Liberation Organization through the French courts over their involvement in City Pass.

The consortium's woes have only increased with the election last year as Jerusalem mayor of Nir Barkat, a right-wing businessman who is a vocal opponent of the venture. Costs have already exceeded $1.1 billion, twice the original projections, with the Israeli government sinking in $200 million itself.

Earlier this year Barkat threatened to terminate City Pass' contract after the completion of the first line. He believes other routes can be served by a fleet of buses that would be five times cheaper to run.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Wael's farm

Marryam Haleem writing from Beit Hanoun, occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 18 September 2009

Abu Wael's garden. (Marryam Haleem)

Abu Wael, my white-haired host in Beit Hanoun, so gentle and soft-spoken, sat and graciously urged his guests to eat more of food that he grew with his own hands on his northern Gaza farm, while he spoke of his grief.

The farm used to be planted with olive trees. During the olive harvest in October 2004, Abu Wael went with some workers and relatives to begin the harvest. However, Beit Hanoun came under attack by the Israeli army. That day, as they reached the farm, they received news that a cousin, Luay, was hit by a helicopter rocket and seriously wounded. So they left the farm out of concern for Luay and the family.

The third day after the attack, with Luay dying in the hospital and nothing else to be done, Abu Wael returned with the workers and relatives to harvest the trees. When they reached the farm, however, they were met by Israeli bulldozers that began to chase them. As they fled the fields, the Israeli army razed the land, crushing beneath their machines and metal blades the trees and their just-ripened olives.

That same day, 7 October, Luay passed away. Abu Wael fell ill, because of the land and because of Luay. But that would not be the last of his grief that year.

Three days later, Abu Wael and his son Ahmad stood on their balcony at 5am. An attack had just taken place and they were trying to figure out what had happened. Another cousin (also named Ahmad) decided to go the hospital to see what was going on. Ahmad was in the street, only 15 meters away from Abu Wael's house, when he was hit during a missile strike fired from an Apache helicopter.

Abu Wael's own son Ahmad went down running and found his cousin badly injured and also wounded in the leg, so he carried him and took him to the hospital. But there was no chance. He died that same day.

It was 15 days of attacks in Beit Hanoun. Five persons were killed. Each three days a new martyr. And the green all round crushed into rubble and dirt. It was a terrible time. Each day brought something worse than the last. Abu Wael did not recover from his illness for two months.

The beginning of 2005 brought a new year and new determination and Abu Wael came back to plant his fields. He planted the farm with orange trees. It was hard work; first they had to clear the farm of the rubble of the last destruction and build a new irrigation system. Within six months the trees were growing and growing fast.

However, the tanks came to raze the orchards once again.

But Abu Wael never gave up. He fought for his land with each seed he planted that next year. In 2006 he planted watermelon. He cared for the plants and they grew well. It was time to harvest again.

Once again, there would be no harvest. Over the border came the bulldozers and they destroyed in a few violent moments what took so much effort and time to grow.

Each invasion of the tanks meant a loss of money and time and work, and more sickness and heartbreak for Abu Wael.

But still he worked, and in 2008 he planted his land with many types of vegetables. This time the Israeli tanks bulldozed the farm a few weeks before harvest.

And they never stopped. During last winter's massacres in Gaza the Israeli army destroyed Abu Wael's land again. It was planted with cabbage and other vegetables. They destroyed the whole land as well as the irrigation system. So now the farm is nothing. Abu Wael cannot plant because there is no water to irrigate the fields with.

That's how it is in Beit Hanoun. The farmers sow the seeds of wholesome provision, for themselves and their families and their people, and the Israeli forces destroy it. So the farmers come back to plant. And the tanks and bulldozers come back to destroy it again. And the farmers come back to plant.

They'll always come back to plant.

I could tell from Abu Wael's story that he felt more connected to his farm than to anything else in life. The kind of person who hates to be separated from it even for a day, Abu Wael goes there, even though he is old and even though he does not have the same strength he used to have.

It was not mere sentiment only, of course. He is a father of seven determined to see his children through college and the farm was their main source of provision.

That is why Abu Wael plans now to go to his municipality and ask for some irrigation equipment as some trees still stand in his devastated farm and he needs to bring them water. Even though he's tired and even though he's sick, it's his way to fight and his way to survive.

Marryam Haleem is a senior at the University of Wisconsin studying philosophy and comparative literature and spent this summer in Gaza doing research for her senior thesis.

AHAVA Occupied for a Second Time in support of Palestine

At 11am on the 18th September two members of the International Solidarity Movement entered Ahava in Covent Garden, London and closed the shop by locking themselves inside. Under the banner of "Stolen Beauty from Stolen Land", the action was in support of the International Day of Action Against Ahava which had been called for by a number of international groups inclusive of Code Pink, Adalah NY, International Solidarity Movement, Palestine Solidarity Camapaign and the Boyctt Israeli Goods Campaign.

Ahava's cosmetic products are manufactured in the illegal settlement of Mizpe Shalem. Based inside Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Israeli Settlement has stolen land and natural resources away from Palestinians. Furthermore, the sale of these products acts to finance and support war crimes committed by the Israeli state.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention and further ruled by the International Criminal Court Act 2001, Israeli settlements are illegal. They have drawn significant condemnation internationally and are seen as a key obstacle to realising any peace agreement.

The day of action -19th September 2009 - supports the Palestinian non-violent efforts at resisting the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine through the movement for international boycotts, divestments and sanctions.

The two people locked inside were eventualy cut out of the concrete blocks they were attached to at around 4:30pm. They have since been bailed and are due to appear in court on the 29th September. The people in support outside undertook significant outreach with passers by explaining what was going on and why and generated lots of interest which was a key success of the day.

Previously,three people locked themselves inside Ahava for 6 hours on the 10th January 2009 during the height of Operation Cast Lead. Despite arrest, all charges were eventually dropped. Since then, there have been a series of pickets and protests outside the London store. There have further been protests, pickets and actions internationally against Ahava for their complicity with war crimes and the sale of stolen goods.

Following the efforts of Adalah NY to highlight the use or Kristin Davis, the Sex and the City star as the face of Ahava, in August 2009 Oxfam finally suspended Kirsten Davis from being a goodwill ambassador.

Kristin Davis is no longer the face of Ahava.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The volatile Hebron colonization project

Zak Brophy writing from Hebron, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 15 September 2009

Israeli settlers occupying Palestinian property in Hebron often discard their waste onto the Palestinians below. (Zak Brophy)

According to the Abrahamic religions, that is to say Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Hebron is where human civilization started. It now appears to me to be where it is tearing itself apart. The ideological and actual struggle between the Palestinian population and the Jewish Israeli settlers is fraught with hatred and violence and while walking through the now dilapidated markets of the Old City or the deserted streets of the Israeli settlement, a sense of intransient destruction pervades.

Trade and activity in the antiquated souq or market of the Old City is sluggish at best due to the strangulation by the settlement developments and the forced closure of hundreds of shops. Some resilient traders remain. "This shop has been in my family for more than 60 years and I will stay here till I die" said Jamal, a Hebron market trader.

In the alley outside his store there is wire mesh and fencing overhead to protect those walking below from the waste that the settlers throw down from above. "They throw on to us dirty nappies, used toilet paper, waste water, half-full cans of drink," seethed an angry but defiant young man who still lives with his family in the Old City. The proof is there for all to see rotting on the wire mesh in the mid-day sun.

Once inside the Jewish Israeli settlement there was a complete absence of any signs of life or activity. All of the shops were barricaded and the trees and shrubs were reclaiming the buildings. To demarcate this desolate territory as exclusively Jewish all of the shop fronts have been sprayed with the Star of David along with plenty anti-Arab graffiti. One can't help but feel that there is either a complete misunderstanding or disregard for history. Didn't the Nazis mark all Jewish properties in the same manner?

While searching for signs of life I found a small group of children playing on a brightly colored playground flanked by an army watchtower. It was a strange juxtaposition that poignantly reflected the settlers' attempts to create a semblance of normality in this hostile home. I spoke to one of the adults sitting nearby and although he wasn't prepared to be interviewed himself, he arranged for me to meet with the official spokesperson for the Jewish community in Hebron, David Wilder. I challenged David about the rubbish thrown down on his Palestinian neighbors and he reasoned, "We have been trying to clean that for a number of years but we have been prevented because it can be used as a serious piece of propaganda against us. One has to remember that for many years people were physically attacked, even killed ... and there were times when some people, especially the younger folk, had difficulty controlling themselves."

The settlers live completely separated from the Arab community in a fortified complex dominated by barbed wire, concrete roadblocks, army watchtowers and a road network reserved exclusively for Jewish Israelis. Throughout the markets they have occupied the upper floors of many of the buildings and in some cases, they control whole streets that are barricaded with steel gates and barbed wire. Consequently, they can roam through the upper floors of the sealed buildings and the overhead passageways almost completely out of view of their unwanted neighbors. Normal interaction between the two communities is non-existent.

The click click of rotating turnstiles and the bleep bleep of metal detectors is not the sound one usually associates with the entrance to a place of worship. It is unfortunately the welcome received at the Ibrahimi mosque in the heart of Hebron's Old City. As well as being the supposed burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Rebecca, Joseph, Jacob and Leah, it is also the site of one of the most barbaric incidents in Palestine's recent history. During morning prayers on 25 February 1994, in the month of Ramadan, a Brooklyn-born settler by the name of Dr. Baruch Goldstein burst into the mosque in Israeli military uniform and opened fire on the prostrating worshipers. By the time he was overwhelmed and killed he had managed to murder 29 men and boys and wounded almost 200 more. It is shocking and depressing that his tomb and memorial are to this day sites of pilgrimage for ultra right-wing Zionists.

In the eyes of the settlers the real breakdown in trust and coexistence between Palestinians and Jews in Hebron was in 1929 with the murder of 67 Jews by Palestinians and the expulsion of the remaining community by the British. The immorality of this act is undeniable but the question of causality has to be raised. Was it not the case that the violent breakdown in Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine was because of the stated designs of the Zionists to take over the whole country for Jewish domination?

David Wilder's response was categorical. "No, not at all! The fact is Hajj Amin al-Husseini [the Palestinian grand mufti at the time] was a tremendous Jew hater and anti-Semite. In 1929 it was the period before the war of independence when Zionism was still a very small movement ... the land was pretty much desolate." This is very thin ice to tread. By 1929 the Balfour declaration had been signed and the Zionists had the support of the British for their homeland in Mandate Palestine. Arab fears and resentments were very real and justified. That the land was pretty much desolate is a myth that has been categorically disproved so many times, and often by Israeli sources, that it's not necessary for me to dispute it here.

The power of the settler communities is growing. Most of their support and money comes from ideological Zionists, particularly from the US, who have a firm belief in the creation of a Jewish homeland in all of Eretz Israel with all of Jerusalem as its capital. I wanted to know if David thought that if Israel were to be guaranteed its security in a final political solution, then the Palestinian people should be granted a viable and sovereign state of their own. His answer was very telling: "Of course, they can form a state in Sinai [Egypt's desert peninsula] if they want ... or east of the Jordan river in the country that is today called Jordan." In essence, he means there is no place for the Palestinians in Palestine!

Many Israeli apologists try to portray the disastrous colonization of Hebron as the workings of a group of fundamentalists living in a messianic fantasy world outside of mainstream Israeli society. However, the Israeli government provides approximately 4,000 soldiers to protect the community of 500 to 800 settlers and it builds the settler-only roads, the watchtowers and the fortifications. With such blatant and explicit support from central government it is not credible to dismiss this as the workings of a fringe group of extremists. The continued presence of the settlements in Hebron is fomenting an engrained culture of violence, distrust and hatred and it is with the Israeli government that the buck must stop for this downward spiral.

Zak Brophy is a freelance print and broadcast journalist from the UK and has been living between London and the Middle East for the past six years, including Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Targeting Britain's war industry

Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 15 September 2009

"Warfighters around the world rely on Brimar products every day," a small company from Manchester in northwest England boasts on its publicity material. Brimar makes screens and viewfinders which allow helicopter pilots and tank gunners to carry out their bloody jobs in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. But a new local campaign is looking to turn Brimar's boast on its head, and it's just one of a number of British campaigns confronting the companies which arm the Israeli military.

"We know that Brimar supplies display components for the Apache attack helicopters which the Israeli military uses," said Anna Freeman of the Target Brimar campaign, "because in 2006 they admitted as much themselves."

The company has been under pressure from British activists since it was revealed that its helmet-mounted display systems were used by the Israeli military. During Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, when the state was accused of a number of human rights abuses including the bombing of an ambulance, Brimar's director David Eldridge admitted to that the company's systems are used for the American-made, Israeli-operated Apache helicopters.

"If British companies are prevented from supplying the Boeing Apaches because they'll get sent onwards to Israel, is that going to stop them from being sent? Of course not, they'll just move on to other suppliers and it would make no difference beyond hurting British business," Eldridge told the Guardian newspaper at the time.

The Israeli military has also used Apaches for attacks in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. This includes extra-judicial "targeted assassinations," like those of Tanzim leader Hussain Abayat near Bethlehem in 2000 and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the wheelchair-bound spiritual leader of Hamas, in Gaza in March 2004.

Moreover, Amnesty International published a report in July detailing the human rights abuses committed in Gaza during Israel's recent winter invasion. This included the killing of three paramedics and the 12-year-old boy who was showing them where to find two wounded men. The four were killed by an Israeli-fired missile marked AGM-114 -- the designation for a US-made Hellfire missile. The bodies of those killed could not be recovered for two days, as those trying to collect them came under further fire from Israeli troops.

According to Target Brimar's Anna Freeman, Hellfire missiles can be launched from a range of vehicles of which two, the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, are used by the Israeli military. Freeman explained, "There is a significant possibility that the missile used in this incident was fired by a Brimar-equipped Apache."

A Times of London journalist described the effect of the Hellfire missiles, which create a vacuum and blast wave affect that "sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies."

Local action

The Target Brimar campaign, which is calling for a "launch demonstration" on 17 October, says it's looking to other successful anti-military campaigns in the UK for inspiration.

Since 2004, regular protests have taken place outside the EDO factory in Brighton where campaigners claim the company manufactures bomb release clips for American F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft. EDO also makes components for Paveway "precision guided bombs" and Hellfire missiles. Demonstrations at EDO have included vigils, blockades and "noise demos." Although the campaign's organizers have been subjected to significant police harassment and attempts by the company to use legal injunctions against them -- both documented in the 2008 film On the Verge -- they have maintained their presence.

In the last five years, the Smash EDO campaign has succeeded in generating major media coverage of the company's business concerns. It has successfully depressed the company's value to the point where its former parent company sold it to ITT, a US corporation with major defense interests.

"We're hoping that Brimar will one day see the kind of regular vigils and protests which EDO has experienced over the years," said Anna Freeman. Target Brimar is also allying its 17 October demonstration with a call for a week of action in support of the "EDO Decommissioners." The Decommissioners are a group of six activists currently awaiting trial for breaking into the EDO factory during Israel's invasion of Gaza, throwing computer equipment out of windows and causing #300,000 worth of damage (approximately $491,250).

Since their arrest in Brighton, several of the Decommissioners have also been arrested for carrying out an occupation of the rooftop of Raytheon's factory in Bristol. According to a press release put out by the campaigners in June 2009, Raytheon electrical equipment is used on Israel's wall in the West Bank and "Fragments of Raytheon weapons have been found in Lebanon and more recently a school in the Gaza Strip."

Not just Israel

Campaigners against military manufacture at the Brimar factory in Manchester and Raytheon in Bristol point out that it's not just war crimes in Palestine that they're concerned about.

Brochures produced by the US Marine Corps detail a project conducted in conjunction with Brimar to develop sight equipment for tank gunners with the Marine Second Tank Battalion. This equipment was deployed with the Marines in Iraq by early 2005. In addition, the EDO Decommissioners pointed out that Raytheon's Paveway guided bomb system was the most widely deployed precision-guidance equipment used during the invasion of Iraq.

Brimar also has sales offices in Pakistan and Turkey. In 2007, global security research organization Saferworld expressed concern over "the [British] Government's continued authorization of the export of military equipment to countries renowned for their violation of human rights ... such as Turkey and Pakistan."

The British Army's Warrior fighting vehicles, which are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, also use Brimar equipment. Similarly, Apache helicopters deployed by the British Royal Air Force in Afghanistan are also likely to be Brimar-equipped.

Destroying jobs in a recession?

Anti-corporate campaigns are often controversial, especially during recessions when every job loss has an impact. But, say the campaigners at Target Brimar, they're not looking to close the company down. Although the company currently states that 80 percent of its turnover comes from military sales, it still develops specialist equipment for the media and film industries. In addition, much of the firm's history and reputation as a British company has been as a supplier of TV and radio equipment, not weapons.

Although the weapons export industry employed approximately 65,000 individuals in the UK in 2004, according to government records, the industry also received #890 million in public funding. This amounts to around #13,000 per job, (roughly $23,500).

Research by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) claims that the massive subsidies given to arms export industries by the UK government could be better spent in other ways. A 2008 CAAT report stated that "the diversion of resources from other forms of manufacturing activity that, if provided with similar long-term government investment, could actually have generated greater employment and direct benefits to the civil economy through improved technologies and industrial processes." In particular, CAAT and other campaigners believe that the technically skilled work being done by workers at companies like Brimar might be better directed at developing energy-efficient technologies or new means of generating energy.

"Public money is being poured into Brimar," says Target Brimar's Anna Freeman, "both in money being used to stop banks like the HBOS [Group], which it owes money to, going under, and in the subsidies which prop up the arms industry in the UK." She added, "Our wishes as taxpayers aren't taken into account by the government, so we believe we have to take action as responsible citizens to expose the human rights abuses being fueled from our doorsteps."

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine. She has also been involved in helping the Target Brimar campaign's publicity effort.