2009-04-30

12 Palestinians injured after settler rampage in Urif village

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

At around 5pm on Friday, the 24th of April, nearly 30 masked settlers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Yizhar rampaged through the Palestinian village of Urif, southwest of the city of Nablus.  The armed settlers first gathered at the boys’ high school in the village and proceeded to break doors and windows with metal sticks and farm tools.  They then moved towards the center of the village and began to beat Palestinian residents.  The settlers also shot at the water tanks on top of the roofs of residences, damaging several. Villagers soon gathered in the streets in an attempt to defend themselves.  The settlers opened fire on the villagers with live ammunition.

At this time, the Israeli military arrived and also began shooting at residents with rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition.  Israeli forces also prevented ambulances from entering Urif to treat the wounded, and villagers were forced to evacuate the wounded in private cars.  Most of the wounded were taken to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus.  At least 12 Palestinians were injured from weaponry used by settlers and the military. Among the injured include:

Maher Ghassan Safadi, shot in the shoulder with a live bullet

Noor Mustafa Safadi, shot in his leg with a live bullet

Ibrahim Rahdi Sabah, shot in his head with a rubber bullet

Issam Majah Safadi, shot in his hip with a live bullet

Mahmoud Abdel Rahim Safadi, shot in his foot with a live bullet

The father of one of the injured describes the routine violent behavior from Yizhar settlers:

"I’m afraid from the continued settler attacks.  The settlers from Yizhar are racist and very violent.  The settlers also continue to uproot our olive trees and the army does nothing to stop them.  The world must act to secure our lands from this violent harassment."

Attacks from settlers from Yizhar on surrounding Palestinian villages is increasing.  On the 27th of April, 17-year-old Mohammad Farraj from Madama village was shot in the shoulder by a settler from Yizhar as he was working his lands.

Report: Israeli Use of Palestinians As Human Shields

from The Palestine Telegraph

The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights is a Gaza-based Palestinian NGO mandated "to promote, protect and prevent violations of human rights in general, and economic, social and cultural rights in particular, to provide effective aid to those victims of such violations, and to enhance the quality of life of the community in (Gaza's) marginalized sectors."

It monitors and documents violations, provides legal aid and advocacy, and helps Gazans on "fundamental issues such as basic human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian" matters. It also produces reports and publications on its work.

In April, it published a seven-case study update of its July 2008 report titled: "Hiding Behind Civilians - The Continued Use of Palestinian Civilians as Human Shields by the Israeli Occupation Forces." This article reviews both reports to highlight what international law unequivocally prohibits. Nonetheless, it's customary IDF practice even though Israel's Supreme Court banned it on October 6, 2005.

One Palestinian woman described her experience:

"They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they forced us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns to move although I was blindfolded and pregnant. I heard them pushing others to hurry up as well. I got exhausted and fell down many times. I told them that I was four months pregnant and couldn't continue but a soldier threatened to shoot me."

Other witness testimonies related similar stories, at times with tragic consequences for its victims. Israel is a party to various human rights laws and conventions. As a result, it's obligated to respect and protect the rights of people it controls.

Under Article 3 of the UN General Assembly's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

Under Article 5: "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Under Article 9: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."

The General Assembly's 1977 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) affirms the same rights. Under Article 17: "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence."

Both international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) protect life, well-being and dignity. ILH deals with armed conflicts while IHRL applies to peace as well as war. Hague and Geneva Conventions comprise the main body of IHL, and strike a balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations. As an occupying power, Israel is obligated under them.

Fourth Geneva protects civilians in war time, including those in Occupied Palestine. It restricts the use of force and prohibits seizing non-combatants as hostages, including persons who've laid down their arms or can't fight because of illness, injury or any other reason.

Article 34 states: "the taking of hostages is prohibited." Article 28 states: "the presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations." Article 29 states: "the Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred."

Protocol I, Article 51, paragraph 7 states: "the presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations." In other words, using civilians as human shields is prohibited under all circumstances.

Further, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Rome Statute, Article 8 prohibits the "Taking of hostages." Israel isn't a Court member but is obligated under international law. Nonetheless, it flaunts it with impunity.

Al Mezan collected sworn testimonies of people's homes seized and used as military posts for days with their residents confined for prolonged periods, beaten and abused, prevented from normal activities, and put in harm's way.

Another practice was called the "neighbor procedure," later changed to "the prior warning procedure" to get around a Court prohibition. Israel commandeers civilians, has them knock on neighbors' doors, usually at night, to deliver military orders to submit to arrest. Hostages are put in harm's way when violence at times erupts that may result in deaths or injuries.

Finally the practice was banned, but Israel blatantly disregarded its own High Court ruling as well as its clear obligation under IHL. It continues to use civilian men, women and children as human shields.

During the Second Intifada (especially for Israel's large-scale West Bank Operation Defensive Shield incursion), Amnesty International (AI) said the following in October 2005:

AI "investigated tens of cases where the Israeli army used Palestinians, children as well as adults, as 'human shields' during military operations in towns and refugee camps throughout the Occupied Territories. Palestinians were forced to walk in front of Israeli soldiers who, at times, fired their weapons while shielding themselves behind the civilians. As well (they) were made to enter houses ahead of Israeli soldiers to check for explosives or gunmen hiding inside, to inspect suspicious objects, to stay in their houses when Israeli soldiers took them over to use as sniper positions, or to enter the houses of wanted, possibly armed, Palestinians to tell them to surrender to Israeli forces."

B'Tselem reports that Israel routinely uses "human shields (as) an integral part of the orders received by Israeli soldiers...." Al Mezan documented "dozens of cases" in Gaza in spite of specific High Court prohibitions, usually at times of incursions. Case studies below refute Israeli claims about respecting civilians, not using them as shields, and abiding strictly according to international and its own case law.

Israeli officials lie. As standard practice, they seize Palestinian civilians randomly, including women and young children, then force them into harm's way. Usually to:

-- let soldiers commandeer their homes as military posts and for sniper positions;

-- check for possible booby-traps in buildings;

-- order occupants inside to leave;

-- remove suspicious objects anywhere soldiers may go;

-- shield them from gunfire or thrown rocks; and

-- perform whatever other tasks soldiers order under very real threats they'll be shot if they refuse.

Orders to conduct these practices come from top commanders, not soldiers in the field.

Case Study Examples - 2008 and 2009

Number 1

On July 10, 2008, the IDF forced Rana Mofeed Awad An-Nabaheen, age 11, to visit a relative's house delivering orders to leave. On return, she was shot in the stomach by other soldiers, unaware she was acting under orders. Family member Mahir Hamdan Mheisin An-Nabaheen provided eyewitness sworn testimony. At about 4:30AM, vehicles, helicopters and gunfire woke him.

"I peeked through a window and saw Israeli soldiers breaking into my family member's house and forcing them to get out." Rana delivered orders to leave. He then heard heavy gunfire. "I peeked out and saw Rana near the gate screaming and saying: 'I am injured.' I stepped back into the house and gave her my hand....I pulled her back into the house. The gunfire became heavier. I left Rana bleeding and took cover behind a wall. Rana crawled two steps and lay on the floor....I saw her entrails coming out of her abdomen.
A physician in military uniform came, brought a bandage, and put it on her abdomen. The commander fastened Rana to a carrier, then ordered two soldiers to carry her." This case is typical of many others.

Number 2

It involves the arrest of civilians, including a pregnant woman, from the As-Sreij neighborhood in eastern Al-Qarara village in Khan Younis. They were held in an agricultural field and forced to accompany soldiers towards the separation border. The men were detained, women and children ordered to leave. They were shot at en route, then used as human shields during the operation. Out of fear of reprisals, the witness remained anonymous.

On April 3, 2008, at 7:30AM, her husband wasn't answering his mobile at the time an Israeli force entered the area where he was working. She rushed there with his ID card. "When I was on my way, I heard somebody shouting and ordering me to stop and come towards him....I tried to explain that I had come to give my husband his ID card but they threatened to shoot me."

"They led me to a room where I saw seven men and a woman with her two daughters, who were detained. The men were handcuffed and blindfolded. They handcuffed and blindfolded me. Then, they forced us to move out of the room, pushing me with their hands and guns although I was blindfolded and pregnant....They stopped for a while and took off my blindfold....I saw them taking the men across the border, and then heard one of them ordering us to leave the area....I heard heavy gunfire."

"I had to crawl for a long time to leave the area....I found (soldiers) who forced me to stop. I tried to explain what happened but they threatened to shoot me and forced me to sit down with a child of (a) family....One soldier forced the child to take his shirt off and tied his hands with it. There were many explosions and intensive firing."

"I managed to go home at around 13:00 on the same day. My husband returned home at around 21:00 on the same day. I knew he was detained in a military post close to the border line."

This is another human shield example that "demonstrates the complete disregard of the soldiers for the life of a pregnant woman and her unborn child." They were used as cover for Israeli forces to withdraw from the area.

Other cases were of medical teams forced to carry out life-threatening tasks, homes used as military posts and their residents as human shields, and a 14 year old boy used for the same purpose.

On April 9, 2009, Al Mezan presented an updated report, containing seven new case studies "based on comprehensive field investigations and witness statements," these based on incidents during Operation Cast Lead and one earlier in 2008.

"In endangering the lives of civilian men, women and children through systematically using them as human shields, the (IDF committed) crimes against humanity according to IHL." This is one of many violations against non-combatant Palestinian civilians.

Number 1: 15-year-old child used as a human shield

After being used for that purpose, the child was detained in a hole in the ground with about 100 others for four days. He now suffers from serious mental health difficulties and refuses to speak to strangers. With help from his parents, Al Mezan got him to tell his story and presented excepts from it below. At home with his parents, he was terrified by days of conflict.

"I was lying on the floor sheltering with my mother." His uncle then said: 'Come downstairs.' "So we all went downstairs. As soon as we opened the door, I saw a large number of soldiers. One of them was pointing his weapon at me....I saw my uncle and brothers lined up against the wall. I saw the soldier signaling at me to stand beside them. So I did....he wanted me to put my hands up. So I did. Another soldier came and searched me from top to bottom....He tied my hands to the hands of the people next to me."

"I stood by the wall. A few minutes later one of the soldiers came and kicked me. About two hours later, they ordered us to walk....they made us go into Khalil al-Attar's house....Then they told us all go, as a chain, into one of the rooms." They took us outside the house....I heard the sound of a huge explosion in the area. From there they took us to a farm."

"They made us sit on the ground until dawn the following day. Then they took us outside the field (and) blindfolded my eyes....they led us to a low-lying area. They made us sit on the ground....They tied my hands in front of my stomach. They searched me a third time and made me sit on the ground....After they took of my blindfold....I realized where the low-lying area was. It was a hole made by Israeli forces....south of the American school."

"We spent the whole night in this hole. I couldn't sleep. The weather was really cold and I wasn't wearing a lot of clothing. We stayed in this hole for four days....I could hear the sound of shooting and explosions" close by. We got one meal each afternoon...."On the third day I saw a soldier making a wire fence around the hole (and bring) a lot of people to the hole until the number reached around 100. On the morning of the fourth day, an Israeli soldier untied me, my brother Ali, my cousins Hussein and Khalil. They told us and the women to go to Jabalia.

Case 2: Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo, male, age 40

On January 5 at 9:30AM, he was at home when he heard a loud sound and someone say, "Open the door....I arrived at the door and opened it. I was surprised to see an (IDF) soldier hiding behind a man in his twenties and pointing a gun at me. He said in Arabic, 'Take off your pants.' I took" them off. He ordered him to strip naked, then get dressed. About "15 - 20 Israeli soldiers then entered the courtyard of my house....one grabbed my neck from behind and put his gun to the back of my head."

"Two other soldiers hid behind me....They told me to lead them to the roof, where they searched pigeon coups that I keep in two rooms there." A soldier then asked about the adjacent house, belonging to his cousin and connected to his home by a common roof. "There's no space between the two houses, just the wall."

"After that, one of the soldiers brought a demolition tool and said, 'Drill a hole there.'....Then three soldiers went through the hole to (his cousin's) house." He was told to come as well along with more soldiers, then told, "Get up. Get up," and grabbed violently. "I got up and entered with them through the hole back to my roof, and they all went as a group down the stairs. This happened quickly....The whole group was running."

"The soldiers led me outside. I found myself in a mud road....One of the soldiers was holding me and making me run with him. Another soldier was bringing the young man with him the same way, and (he) had his hands tied. They pushed me in the mosque through its main door to the north....They tied my hands in front of my stomach and tied my legs and sat me down (in one corner). We entered the house adjacent to the mosque. They took us out and turned us toward another house," then sat us down nearby.

In one house, a soldier said, there were gunmen and we killed them. "Go take their clothes off and bring their guns and come back."

"I refused. I asked him to let me return to my family. I said to him:" going into that house "means death, and I don't want to die." The soldier responded, 'You are here to do what we tell you (and said) Go.'

"I walked about 200 meters to the house....I went in...I went alone....but couldn't find anyone. I expected the worst." He encountered three armed men wearing badges saying Al Qassam Brigades. He said he was forced to come. They told him to go back and say what he saw - "three gunmen in the house, still alive....then the soldier said to me, 'The officer says he's crazy and if you are lying to him he swears by his mother he will shoot you."

"A short time later, I heard the sound of heavy gunfire nearby. Twenty minutes passed....and a soldier said to me; 'We killed them now. Go get them.' I refused. I told them that they had told me that if I returned they would kill me, and he shouted at me: 'We killed them.' "

He went again and found one man seriously injured and bleeding and the others alive. He reported back what he saw, then heard heavy gunfire and a very loud explosion. A soldier said; 'Go and make sure they are dead. We bombed the house again with planes...."With difficulty, I entered the apartment. Inside, I saw the three men still living, but they were under the rubble."

Majdi al-Abed Ahmed Abed Rabbo located his wife and children after the IDF released him. His home was totally destroyed by military bulldozers, and he's deeply distressed. Numerous other examples are similar to his account - human shields illegally used by IDF soldiers in violation of international law and Israel's High Court ruling.

Conclusions

The above cases are examples of customary Israeli practice in gross violation of international law and Israel's High Court ruling. They endanger civilian lives and cause "long-lasting psychological trauma."

IHL considers using civilian human shields a war crime and when used systematically against non-combatants a crime against humanity. It's essential to hold parties guilty of these crimes accountable as the way to stop this heinous practice.

Al Mezan condemns Israel's disregard for the law and says that "the continued failure of the international community to fulfill its obligations and its silence on Israeli violations encourages" similar acts in the future - by Israel and others engaged in this outrageous practice.

Shades of Checkpoint Charlie at Rafah Crossing

by Haidar Eid writing from the occupied Gaza Strip

from Electronic Intifada

On Monday 30 June, Gaza was abuzz with the sudden announcement that Egypt would open Rafah Crossing — the only gateway for 1.5 million Palestinians who have been imprisoned here for almost two years — for three short days. Although I had good reasons to use the crossing to leave Gaza, I was unsure about pressing my luck to escape, if only for a short while. Past experience has made me graphically and painfully aware that thousands of my fellow Gazans would also try to capitalize on this very rare opportunity suddenly available to us.

On the one hand, I had also already asked my university to add my name to the list of academics who intended to travel to Egypt to further their studies as I had accepted an invitation to a conference — to be held at University of Brighton — in London in September. Moreover, I wanted to be with my wife who is in South Africa, and whom I have not seen for almost two years as a result of the siege. On the other hand, the story of failed attempts to leave Gaza through Rafah Crossing is an agonizingly familiar one to every family in Gaza.

Nevertheless, the temptation was too great and hope triumphed over experience. At 2pm, on Monday, I called the university’s public relations officer. I was told in two short sentences to be at the Rafah crossing at 2am on Tuesday morning. The reason for this strange departure hour was not explained and I did not question it. If one wants to leave Gaza after two years, one simply follows orders.

My mind went immediately to the myriad tasks that must be completed in preparation for a journey: money, packing, goodbyes, tickets — how would all this happen in less than 12 hours? I was not prepared at all and the banks were closed. I allowed myself 10 minutes to think about the steps I should take to ensure that I would be at Rafah Crossing — 40 kilometers from my home at the end of badly damaged and unlit roads at 2am the next morning.

I then remembered that the bank manager is my neighbor; when I called with my unusual request outside of normal banking hours, he was so helpful that getting the money I needed turned out to be the easiest step. I then called my niece to help me pack and prepare for my unexpected journey. Dozens of phone calls were made, but I did not call my wife because I did not want to raise her hopes only to have them dashed as has happened so many times during this siege of Gaza. I, myself, did not have high expectations but I wanted to try because in Gaza one never knows for sure. It could go either way.

I made another call to our public relations officer just to find out what I was supposed to do on arrival at the crossing. “Wait with the other academics,” was the answer. At around 11pm on Monday night, a colleague called to tell me to delay my departure until morning. His sources at the crossing had informed him that our names were not on the list sent to them by the Egyptians. He suggested I wait for more instructions in the morning. I did not sleep that night. In the morning, I got a call from another colleague, who was also leaving Gaza with me as he had to attend a conference in London. He suggested, on the advice of the public relations officer and another colleague who has contacts on the Palestinian side of the crossing, that we go to Rafah and wait for someone to help us enter the crossing because “our names are on the list.”

We left Gaza City at about noon and drove straight to Rafah. Our taxi was stopped by Palestinian policemen at a mobile checkpoint five kilometers before the crossing. We were asked to leave the taxi and wait along with other people. I was encouraged to see only a few people — perhaps the list was being used and we would be able to leave after all.

As it is almost impossible to go anywhere in Gaza without bumping into familiar faces, true to form, I immediately saw my cousin, whose wife has cancer, waving at me. He said he had been at this checkpoint since the night before! Needless to say, this was not good news. My colleague and I then called our friend who has contacts on the Palestinian side. He told us to wait there because one of the policemen at the checkpoint would be informed by his senior to allow us to walk to the crossing. That call never came.

Our contact himself then called to get our exact location because he was on his way to fetch us. What relief! Three hours later, we were still waiting and the mobile checkpoint was disbanded. We decided to drive to the crossing itself.

That is when reality hit us: tens of thousands of people were waiting there, children, old people, women, and worst of all, terminally ill people, all sitting under the baking hot sun of this semi-desert area. My heart sank! But we had to try our contact again — how could we not, when the crossing itself was so tantalizingly mere meters away now? And if we passed, what freedoms awaited us: bookshops, movies, theatre, chocolate, friends, fuel, food, fruits and of course, in my case, my long-suffering partner. Our contact gave us more hope by asking us to move closer to the electronic gate and ask a policeman named Bassam to let us in.

The next problem on this long journey was trying to reach the gate through the masses of people jealously guarding their spots on the way to the gate. Finally we got to the gate which is where we realized that it would not open for us. The authorities would not open to let a small group of academics through — list or no list — simply because the waiting crowd would surge through the gate en masse. In any event we never did find Bassam to open the gate for us.

But we waited. The heat became even worse, children cried, and the sick and the elderly sat desperately on the ground — they could no longer stand and would have to sit on the ground to wait for the gate to open. I decided to join them because it was clear that the wait would be a long one.

Worse news was to follow: our names were not on the list — and the crossing was, in fact, closed! We had to wait outside until somebody allowed us to go inside the Palestinian hall to spend the night there. I was so tired and felt ill. I was also desperate for a toilet as none had been made available to us for all these hours.

Next to me was an old woman talking on her cellphone about the pain she was in. Next to her was the family with seven daughters, all on their way to Jordan. Opposite me was an ambulance with a cancer patient — they had been waiting there for 12 hours. The place was so hot and sticky. After three hours I felt a sudden sharp pain in my stomach; I stood up to lean against the wall while yellow circles danced in front of me and a humming began in my ear. Then, everything went blank. I must have fainted. When I opened my eyes, people were giving me water, chocolate, cheese and asking me to eat and drink. Some pronounced it a diabetic episode, others were convinced it was low blood pressure. I was sure it was sunstroke. Whatever it was, I resolved to go back home right away.

On my return home, I was so relieved to see my bed — and my flat felt like Paradise! That night I wanted to cry; cry for myself, for my dignity; cry for the old woman sitting next to me; cry for my cousin’s wife; cry for the patient in the ambulance and for the 50,000 desperate people at the gates of Rafah Crossing.

The horror at the crossing continued after I left. Many people spent the entire night there, only to be told the following day that the crossing was still closed and that they should leave. It took me almost two days to feel physically better, but every single muscle of my body still hurts. I am angry and sad and do not have the words to express the depth of my feelings about this experience.

The situation that the tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children faced at the Rafah border crossing this week was inhumane and unconscionable. Nothing can justify this. Most rushed to Rafah Crossing in as short a time as I did with similar stories of frenzied activity and hope. More than 3,500 of them are terminally ill patients in urgent need of medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals. Others hold residency permits in other countries and have been trapped in Gaza for at least a year. Some are academics and students, traveling abroad to attend conferences or further their studies.

So, instead of giving them a chance to do these very ordinary things: go to a hospital, study, go to a conference or work, go back to other homes and other loved ones, the failure to open the Rafah Crossing, instead, increased their misery. Many of them spent three sleepless nights hoping to be allowed to cross into Egypt. Like me, many fainted, or suffered from dehydration and sun stroke. The failure to open Rafah Crossing reminded them of their imprisonment and their lack of human rights; it reminded them that they move at the whim of others and it reminded them that the siege of the Gaza Strip has still not been broken.

All the people who were at the Rafah border are civilians. Under the Geneva Conventions they are entitled to freedom of movement and protection from collective punishment.

During the Cold War, much was made of Checkpoint Charlie as the dividing line: we have a new Checkpoint Charlie today and it is called Rafah Crossing.

Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in Cultural Studies at Al-Aqsa University-Palestine.

Due to Siege and War, housing rental jumps high

by Fares Akram


Rami Salama was scheduled to marry on the first day of this year after he almost completed furnishing his small apartment at his family house.

But the building, which embodied his apartment, was wiped out by Israeli bulldozers during the major offensive against the Gaza Strip which started in December and ended on Jan. 18.

Everyday since then, Rami has been looking for an apartment to rent, but still he didn't find a suitable house with a suitable price.

"My marriage is subjected to finding a house for me and for my family," said Rami, the 26-year old man whose house was located near Jabaliya town in northern Gaza Strip.

Rami's father Mohammed built and furnished a one-story house in 2005. A year later, he laid the structure of another apartment for his son on the top of his house.

When Mohammed started painting and installing the interior components of the house, Israel had already sealed off the Gaza Strip after Islamic Hamas movement seized control there, allowing only little more than basic food, medicine and humanitarian needs.

"I managed to buy the furniture and the electrical appliances during the siege; everything was very expensive and with poor quality but I was able to get the necessary things," Rami explains.

During the offensive, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, Israel destroyed more than 14,000 buildings, most of which were civilian properties.

More than three months have passed since the end of the war but no notable improvements occurred on the cargo transportation into Gaza through the Israeli-controlled commercial crossing points.

Hamas paid 4,000 euros for the residents of most of the houses that were completely destroyed, saying this money was paid "as a transitional solution to help the families renting houses until the crossing opens and the reconstruction starts."

According to a broker, the demand for renting houses, especially apartments, has largely increased after the end of war and there was almost no supply or offers for renting.

Before the Israeli blockade, the rental fee of an apartment was about 150 U.S. dollars per month. Now, with the lack of apartments, the price went up to 300 dollars per month.

In case someone wants to buy an apartment in Gaza, before the blockade, an apartment cost 40,000 dollars. Now it would coast 60,000.

"The apartments are like any other commodity; it is subject to demand and supply," said Muin Rajab, an economy lecturer at al-Azhar University.

"The Israeli closure had led to the decrease in the apartments' supply and this encouraged the owners of the available apartments to increase the rentals," he said.

"The pressing need by the one who wants to marry or the family which lost its house made the house seekers pay more for the owners due to the absence of other alternatives," he added. Yousef al-Manssi, public works minister in the Hamas administration of Gaza, said the territory needs at least 20,000 residential units to meet the demand of the people. "Since more than 20 months ago, no new residential units have been built due to the Israeli closure," he said.

Israel imposed the closure on Gaza after Hamas routed security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and seized the security installations there in 2007.

Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement are now seeking reconciliation in dialogue to come up with a unity government that would help lifting the siege to allow the reconstruction of Gaza.

In March, international donors pledged 4.5 billion dollars in aid to the Palestinians, but nothing has been done on the reconstruction.

Robert Fisk: Is this the price of America's new friendship with Syria?

by Robert Fisk


Pro-Damascus generals held for the assassination that sparked turmoil in Lebanon walk free after four years

They're out. The four top men blamed for the murder of the Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in the Saint Valentine's Day massacre four years ago have been freed from their drab prison at Roumieh north of Beirut, amid a flurry of gunfire and fireworks. In Damascus – their home from home if you believe what Mr Hariri's men tell you – they must be drinking champagne.

Once more the UN donkey, clip-clopping on to the world stage after the murder of Mr Hariri, has been proved a mule. Judge Daniel Fransen, of the UN tribunal, declared in the Hague yesterday that the Big Four – how well we know their names in Lebanon – should go free: The Lebanese General Security commander Major-General Jamel Sayed, the former Internal Security director general Major-General Ali Haj, the ex-intelligence director general Raymond Aza and the former Presidential Guards commander Brigadier General Mustafa Hamdan.

There was much kissing and ululating among the relatives outside the north Beirut prison when Mr Fransen declared – quite correctly in law, it has to be added – that there was, after a four year investigation, "insufficient evidence" to continue the detention of the men. If this "evidence" existed (and the UN examined millions of phone calls recorded by British intelligence on Mount Troudos in Cyprus), then it failed to prevent the decision yesterday. Barack Obama's new friendship with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must be going great guns.

Guns, unfortunately, may be the issue of the day, since Lebanon's national elections start on 7 June, when the growing Shiite-Muslim opposition, along with a weird Christian ex-General's party, threaten to collapse the Hariri-led bloc that has led the Lebanese government for four years, albeit with a year-old veto on cabinet decisions by Hizbollah. And here lies the problem. In five weeks' time, Hizbollah, the most loyal and the most security-conscious guerrilla movement in the Middle East – a new arrest in Lebanon of three alleged "spies" in the organisation attests to this – wants to depose the narrow majority of seats held by Mr Hariri's son, Saad, and his supporters (including the world's greatest nihilist, Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader). Well, we shall see.

So who killed Rafiq Hariri? Until yesterday, the Lebanese, whose protests after the massacre forced the Syrian army out of Lebanon, thought they knew. And who was it who wanted, as President of the United States, to open a new door to the Syrians? President Obama. And who was it who stood next to Rafiq Hariri's son, Saad, in Beirut, three days ago, to assure him of US support? Why, Mr Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, of course.

Two Elderly Palestinian Farmers Brutally Attacked by Israeli Settlers in the Southern West Bank

from Palestine Solidarity Project

On April 26th at 1:15pm, Israeli settlers beat two elderly Palestinian farmers with stones and sticks while they were working their lands close to Bet Ayn settlement, located in the southern West Bank.  The attack occurred shortly after Israeli soldiers, having observed the two farmers, left the area.  They did not reappear even after the attack.

Both farmers are from the village of Beit Ommar, with lands in Saffa, close to the illegal Israeli settlement. Abdullah Soleiby, aged 80, sustained two hair-line fractures and received ten stitches to the top of his head after three settlers held him down and repeatedly smashed his head with stones.  His brother, Hamad Soleiby, aged 72, was also beaten though he managed to put his brother on the back of a donkey and take him to the village, where he was briefly treated before being transferred to the hospital in Hebron.

This is not the first time this family has been the victim of vicious attacks by settlers from Beit Ayn.  In 2006, Hamad’s head was also fractured by masked settlers while farming in the same area.

The day before on April 25th, Beit Ommar farmers accompanied by international solidarity activists, were able to work lands close to the settlement in the same area.  The army and settlers left the farmers alone, though two carloads of Israeli activists were prevented from entering the village earlier that day to take part in the action.

2009-04-29

Recalling Gaza war: Sleeping in one room with my four brothers, sister, mum and dad…

from The Palestine Telegraph

Wearing jeans day and night because my brother told me that it's the strongest tissue against the white phosphorus...

Sitting next to the radio 24 hours a day...
Sleeping on death news and waking up on the sounds of explosions...
Waiting for my neighbors house to be bombed...
And waiting for death...

All these memories were never out of my mind, but I recalled them with a smile of bitterness last week when I heard the news. Northern Korea launched a long- range missile into space. As a result, the security council held an urgent immediate session in the same day to discuss the issue.

The purpose of the meeting was to condemn Korea for violating of the united nations' resolutions, and to take the necessary procedures to punish Korea appropriately and to make sure that such a "provocative act" will not be repeated.

However, hundreds of innocent civilians lying in everywhere our sight could reach was not pressing enough to conduct an urgent meeting to stop Israel.

The security council needed one full week to hold its meeting and another week to hand out the draft of the non- resolution, which included neither time nor date, to the Israeli government. Moreover, it asked for bilateral cease- fire as if the two parties were equal.

And after the war, Ban Ki Moon( the Secretary General of the United Nations) came to Gaza to inspect the damage and the destruction caused by the Israeli war machine. But, the Israelis refused but to take him to Sedrot to see the damage caused by our pieces of iron as if it was comparable.

Also, doctors from all regions, Arabs and foreigners, who thought themselves qualified, admitted that their qualifications and experiences were nullified in Gaza. Surgeries were performed successfully, but patients die. Why?? God knows... They could not identify the materials that penetrated the bodies and destroyed it from the inside; therefore, they could not find the therapy. However, human rights institutions needed tens of days to decide whether what happened in Gaza was war crimes or not as if a thousand and a half dead and thousands of permanent disabilities and impairments was not enough number.

Each day passes makes me more aware of the unjust world we live in where the jungle law prevails. It's a world where the one who has the power is the one who survives. But, we will not be defeated that easy.

We will survive...
Hana Omar Al- Yaqubi

No Independence for the Oppressed

by Joharah Baker


I can’t believe it almost slipped my mind. Walking up to Jaffa Gate with my kids the other day, I noticed an unusual buzz of activity where east meets west, just outside the large gate that takes a person out of the walled city. There is an open-air Israeli mall called Mamilla (eerily similar to Ma’man Allah, the nearby Muslim gravesite which Israel plans to build the tolerance museum over). The mall’s parking lot is even built on part of this cemetery, according to Waqf officials. Anyway, on the spacious plaza before one descends the stairs to the shopping area, booths, makeshift kiosks and a mobile zoo were set up for the hundreds of eager shoppers and frolickers that day. Just in the distance, blue and white balloons were bunched up and tied to a pole so as not to fly away and at least 30 Israeli flags blew in the brisk wind. 

Oh yes, how could I have forgotten? This week marks the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence. For Israelis this is a time of pride, of achievement and of celebration. There will be barbeques, concerts and speeches on the occasion. The country will be strung out in blue and white, with Israelis proudly boasting of its brave soldiers who took back the Jew’s “Promised Land.” 

For those who don’t yet know, there is another chapter untold. The Palestinians, represent the dark side of this joy, the dirty hidden secret and the open and festering wound that will not heal as long as Israel does not recognize and make amends for their original sin. 

For my children, the mobile zoo with all of its slimy reptiles, exotic birds and curious rodents, was a pleasurable experience. They walked around looking at the animals, at the children at play, happily babbling in Hebrew. They have yet to realize that these celebrations are about a country created and sustained at the expense of another people. 

As for me, I was split down the middle. One part of me was happy that my children were happy, seeing things they would not necessarily experience otherwise. The other side could not feel but a sense of resentment. Ok, maybe it was not completely down the middle. If I am to be honest, the feelings of resentment and sadness were far more. 

Looking at the Israelis rejoicing in their independence, I could understand how an outsider would see only that. They are a people like any other and to them, this is a country they fought for and rightly own. In this sense, they are no different than any other people taking pride in who they are. But just like the United States or Australia, hailed as leaders of the free world, there is a dark side to their independence. The Palestinians, the Native Americans, the Aborigines – we all share the same story, do we not? 

In any case, I cannot celebrate Israel’s independence. There are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees – mostly descendants of the original 800,000 who were expelled from their homes in 1948 – who will not let me forget. One of the booths at the independence celebrations was selling T-shirts and trinkets calling for peace and coexistence. I stopped a second to look at the goods and I was impressed that there were Israelis there who did see the necessity of coming to a peaceful solution. But I was also acutely aware that coexistence can never really happen as long as the great injustice done to the refugees is not made right. We Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem are not the only Palestinians and a solution to our problem cannot include only us. There are those who have waited for over 60 years for the international community to step up to its responsibilities and grant their right of return. Sidelining them would be sidelining any real chance for peace. 

But as long as we’re talking about us Palestinians here, Israel has ensured their independence week is not very festive for us either. A tight closure on the West Bank has been imposed for three days, ensuring that no Palestinian “crashes the party.” Israel’s closures have increased in frequency as of late, which means thousands of lives are disrupted; people cannot get to jobs, work, family, appointments, or anything else inside Israel. As of May, Israel has announced it will register all those with Israeli permits coming in and going out of the West Bank into Israel to ensure no one remains “illegally” inside the country. God forbid, a West Banker should sleep in Jerusalem. 

So, as Israel carries on with its independence celebrations, I would like to take a moment to remind everyone of just who really paid the price. The western world will congratulate Israel on its fabulous achievements, its fight against terror and its ability to “make the desert bloom.” In the meantime, we know there is more to the story. As long as there are Palestinians who continue to live under the yoke of Israel’s oppressive military occupation and Palestinians who are forced to live a life of refuge away from their homes and their land, Israel’s independence celebrations will remain a painful reminder of what we are forced to endure, each and every year. 

- Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

Israeli forces shoot protester in the head with tear-gas during Ni’lin demonsration

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

On Friday the 25th of April at 12.30 pm the weekly prayer demonstration was carried out in Ni’lin. Approximately 100 Ni’lin residents, accompanied by international and Israeli solidarity activists took part in the demonstration. The Israeli army was already present at the usual prayer site before residents arrived. During the demonstration, Israeli forces shot tar gas canisters directly at protesters, causing four to be injured including one who was shot with a canister in the head. Another 22 were heavily tear-gassed and required medical attention. Rubber coated steel bullets and sound bombs were also used by the army, causing one demonstrator to be shot with a rubber coated steel bullet.

After the prayer, demonstrators were prevented from entering the olive fields by the army. A military incursion into the village caused several residents to throw stones in response. Half of the demonstrators remained inside the village and another half proceeded to the construction site of the Apartheid Wall. On the other side of the construction site, next to the checkpoint between Ni’lin and Tel Aviv, settlers living on Ni’lin’s confiscated land gathered. There was no confrontation between the two groups.

After approximately 30 minutes the demonstrators headed back to the village where the army wear shooting teargas at the protesters in the main street of Ni’lin. At around two o’clock one boy was shot with a teargas canister directly at his head while standing in the main street of the village and had to be taken by the ambulance to the local clinic. He was shot just above the right eye and had to be stitched with 10 stitches. The demonstration moved from the main street up to the clinic.

At around four o’clock the army entered the village main street with one hummer and a jeep firing at the demonstrators through the backdoor of the jeep. The demonstration ended up at the entrance of the village and while the protesters moved back to their homes three Palestinians wear detained at the entrance while coming back from Ramallah. The protest ended at 5.00 pm.

The people of Ni’lin have been demonstrating against the illegal Apartheid Wall since May 2008 that will annex 23 hectares of agricultural land from the village. In addition to the wall two tunnels that are planned as the only entrances in and out of Ni’lin will annex 2 hectares. 432 hectares of farming land have already been annexed by the Israeli state since 1948 leaving Ni’lin with only 23 hectares of land including the land the houses are build on. When the apartheid wall is completed it will completely encircle the village together with two roads that can only be used by Israelis. The constructions turns Ni’lin into a small enclave closed off from the rest of the West Bank.

Non-violent protests against West Bank barrier turn increasingly dangerous

by Rory McCarthy


Palestinian demonstrations intended to be peaceful met with Israeli teargas, stun grenades and sometimes live ammunition

It began calmly enough with a march down the high street after midday prayers at the mosque. Palestinian villagers were surrounded by dozens of foreigners singing and waving flags. They turned and headed out to the olive-tree fields and up towards the broad path of Israel’s West Bank barrier. There, behind a concrete hilltop bunker, the Israeli soldiers looked down on them.

The crowd approached the barrier, still singing. One man flew a paper kite shaped as a plane. “This land is a closed military zone,” an Israeli soldier shouted in flawless Arabic over a loudspeaker. “You are not allowed near the wall.” Then the soldiers fired a barrage of teargas.

It has been like this every Friday in the village of Bil’in for more than four years – the most persistent popular demonstration against Israel’s vast steel and concrete barrier. It is a protest founded on non-violence that is spreading to other West Bank villages. But it has become increasingly dangerous.

On April 17, on the hillside at Bil’in, a Palestinian named Basem Abu Rahmeh, 31, was shot with a high-velocity Israeli teargas canister that sliced a hole into his chest, caused massive internal bleeding and quickly killed him. Video footage shot by another demonstrator shows he was unarmed, many metres from the barrier and posing no threat to the soldiers.

The Israeli military said it faced a “violent and illegal riot” and is investigating. On Friday the demonstrators at Bil’in wore Rameh’s image on T-shirts and carried it on posters.

Last month another demonstrator, an American named Tristan Anderson, 38, was hit in the head by an identical high-velocity teargas canister in a protest against the barrier at the nearby village of Na’alin. He was severely injured, losing the sight in his right eye and suffering brain damage. “To shoot peaceful demonstrators is really horrifying to us,” said his mother, Nancy.

Friday’s demonstration lasted around three hours. The crowd repeatedly surged towards the fence, then retreated under clouds of teargas. The military sounded a constant, high-pitched siren, interspersed with warnings in Arabic and Hebrew: “Go back. You with the flag, go back” and, incongruously, in English: “You are entering a naval vessel exclusion zone. Reverse course immediately.”

The Bil’in demonstration was always intended to be non-violent, although on Friday, as is often the case, there were half a dozen younger, angrier men lobbing stones at the soldiers with slingshots. The Israeli military, for its part, fires teargas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and sometimes live ammunition at the crowd.

There have long been Palestinian advocates of non-violence, but they were drowned out by the militancy of the second intifada, the uprising that began in late 2000 and erupted into waves of appalling suicide bombings.

Eyad Burnat, 36, has spent long hours in discussions with the young men of Bil’in, a small village of fewer than 2,000, convincing them of the merits of “civil grassroots resistance”.

“Of course it gets more difficult when someone is killed,” said Burnat, who heads the demonstration. “But we’ve faced these problems in the past. We’ve had more than 60 people arrested and still they go back to non-violence. We’ve made a strategic decision.”

Some, like the moderate Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti, hope this might be the start of a broader movement throughout Palestinian society. “It is a spark that is spreading,” he said in Bil’in. “It gives an alternative to the useless negotiations and to those who say only violence can help.”

But it is not so much that all the young men of the village are converted to the peaceful cause, rather that they respect and follow their elders. “I personally don’t believe in non-violent resistance,” said Nayef al-Khatib, 21, an accountancy student. “They’ve taken our land by force so we should take it back from them by force.”

The barrier at Bil’in cuts off the village from more than half its agricultural land and has allowed the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements, including the vast, ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit, even though all settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law.

The international court of justice said in a 2004 advisory opinion that the barrier was illegal where it crossed into the West Bank, and even Israel’s supreme court ruled nearly two years ago that the route at Bil’in did not conform to any “security-military reasons” and must be changed. But it has not been moved.

Like most of the men in the village, Nayef al-Khatib has spent time in jail. He was arrested aged 17 for demonstrating and spent a year behind bars, taking his final year of high school from his prison cell. That jail term means he cannot now obtain a permit to travel to Jerusalem or across to Jordan and is often held for hours at Israeli military checkpoints inside the West Bank. “But it was an honour for me. Now I’m like the older men,” he said.

Some of those older men are influential. Ahmad al-Khatib, 32, was once a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a prominent militant group, and was jailed for a year for transporting weapons. Now he is committed to non-violence, even objecting to the stone throwers.

“I don’t apologise for what I did, but I’m not going back to it,” he said. “We are an occupied nation according to international law and we have the right to resist, though that doesn’t mean I support suicide bombers. But I don’t want to resist all my life.”

He argues that a non-violent strategy brings fewer Palestinian casualties. “I have no problem dying to get back my land, but I’d say to hell with my land if it just brought back our martyr who died last week. The life of a human being is more important than the land itself.”

Often the most sensitive issue for the villagers has not been whether to take up arms, but whether to accept in their midst so many foreigners, and in particular so many Israeli demonstrators. Ahmad al-Khatib said it was the “most disputed question” and that many feared the Israelis were spying on them until they saw they, too, were being injured and arrested.

One of the first Israelis to join the Bil’in protest in its earliest days was Jonathan Pollack, 27, an activist and member of Anarchists Against the Wall who lives in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv. Although they warmly welcome him now, it was tense at first. “I’m still not one of their own and I don’t pretend to be,” he said.

Unlike most other joint peace initiatives, in this case the Israelis are in the minority and in the background. “I think it is very important that the struggle is Palestinian-led and that the colonial power relations are knowingly reversed,” said Pollack.

Israeli forces raid Awawi home in Hebron

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

In the early hours of Sunday 26th of April, the house of the Awawi family in the old city of Hebron was raided by a group of 10 Israeli soldiers.

Arriving at midnight, the soldiers ruthlessly searched the house, noting all the families’ possessions before throwing them on the floor. They made drawings of the layout of the house and photographed the 9 young children who live in the small, compact house. After three hours, they left, finding nothing of note.

The Awawi family has frequently been harrassed by settlers and army, due to living in a house which provides good access to the old city for the settlers. On one occasion the room on the roof of the house was even set on fire by settlers and the water tanks destroyed.

Democracy Now! Headlines for April 28, 2009

from Democracy Now!

Report: Israel Built 9,000 Homes in Occupied Territories under Olmert

A new report has determined the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert built or issued bids for some 9,000 settlement homes for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli watchdog groups Peace Now and Ir Amim urged President Barack Obama to step in quickly and pressure Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt further settlement expansion.

Group: 2008 Was Deadliest Year for Palestinians since 1948

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948. A total 860 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 161 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting.

2009-04-28

Robert Fisk: Obama falls short on Armenian pledge

by Robert Fisk


It was clever, crafty – artful, even – but it was not the truth. For in the end, Barack Obama dishonoured his promise to his American-Armenian voters to call the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 a genocide. How grateful today's Turkish generals must be.

Genocide is what it was, of course. Mr Obama agreed in January 2008 that "the Armenian genocide is not an allegation... but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide... I intend to be that President." But he was not that President on the anniversary of the start of the genocide at the weekend. Like Presidents Clinton and George Bush, he called the mass killings "great atrocities" and even tried to hedge his bets by using the Armenian phrase "Meds Yeghern" which means the same thing – it's a phrase that elderly Armenians once used about the Nazi-like slaughter – but the Armenian for genocide is "chart". And even that was missing.

Thus once more – after Hilary Clinton's pitiful response to the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israelis (she called it "unhelpful") – Mr Obama has let down those who believed he would tell the truth about the truth. He didn't even say that Turkey was responsible for the mass slaughter and for sending hundreds of thousands of Armenian women and children on death marches into the desert. "Each year," he said, "we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire." Yes, "massacred" and "marched to their death". But by whom? The genocide – the deliberate extermination of a people – had disappeared, as had the identity of the perpetrators. Mr Obama referred only to "those who tried to destroy" the Armenians.

Instead, he waffled on about "the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalise their bilateral relations" – a reference to the appeal of landlocked Armenia appeal to reopen its border with Turkey thanks to Swiss mediation (via another of America's favourite "road maps") – and the hope that Turkish and Armenian relations would grow stronger "as they acknowledge their common history and recognise their common humanity". But the only real improvement in relations has been an Armenian-Turkish football match.

Turkey is still demanding a commission to "investigate" the 1915 killings, a proposal the poverty-stricken Armenian state opposes on the grounds (as Obama, of course, agreed before he became President) that the genocide was a fact, not a matter in dispute. It doesn't have to be "re-proved" with Turkey's permission any more that the Jewish survivors of their own genocide have to "re-prove" the crimes of the Nazis in the face of a reluctant Germany.

Armenian historian and academic Peter Balakian – speaking as he stood by a 1915 mass grave of Armenians in the Syrian desert – was quite frank. "What is creating moral outrage," he said, "is that Turkey is claimed to be trying to have a commission into what happened – when the academic world has already unanimously agreed on the historical record." So much, then, for one-and-a-half-million murdered men, women and children.

2009-04-27

Israel's secret plan for West Bank expansion

by Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem


Palestinians condemn 'extremely dangerous' scheme to grow settlement

Israel has taken a step towards expanding the largest settlement in the West Bank, a move Palestinians warn will leave their future state unviable and further isolate its future capital, East Jerusalem

The Israeli Peace Now group, which monitors settlement growth, said it had obtained plans drawn up by experts that the interior ministry had commissioned which call for expanding the sprawling Maale Adumim settlement near Jerusalem southward by 1200 hectares, placing what is now the separate smaller settlement of Kedar within Maale Adumim's boundaries.

The expansion is on a highly sensitive piece of real estate that both sides see as holding the key to whether the Palestinians will have a viable state with their own corridor between the north and south parts of the West Bank.

Israeli plans also call for expanding Maale Adumim northward in an area known as E1, but US opposition has thus far stopped Israel from building residential buildings there, although a police headquarters has been established.

The new plan, if approved by the interior minister, Eli Yishai, will help pave the way for the building of 6000 housing units between Maale Adumim and Kedar and on other lands to be annexed by Maale Adumim, says Peace Now staffer Hagit Ofran. "What they have in their minds is the expansion of Maale Adumim and this is one step towards that," Ms. Ofran said of government planners

The Palestinian MP Hanan Ashrawi said the plan was "extremely dangerous". She said that the new plan, combined with Israeli plans to build at E1, plans to demolish 88 houses in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem on grounds they were built without permits, the planned eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and other steps reflect "a mad rush to expand settlements to complete the isolation and siege of Jerusalem. Israel is destroying any chances of an agreement."

Hizki Zisman, a spokesman for the Maale Adumim municipality, said making Kedar part of Maale Adumim is an administrative matter of uniting local authorities and does not involve expropriating more land from Palestinians. He said the panel recommendation was "professional, not political" and that there was a great need to expand the settlement because of young couples needing bigger apartments.

An aide to Mr Yishai said the plan to make Kedar part of Maale Adumim arrived on the minister's desk yesterday and he had not yet taken a decision on it.

Mr Yishai, from the ultra-orthodox Shas party, is supportive of settlement activity but the timing for expanding Maale Adumim may not be propitious given the international scrutiny of the new right-wing Israeli government. An official in the Prime Minister's office declined to say what the attitude of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was to the expansion: "Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered a comprehensive review on a host of issues including settlements and the attitude towards peace talks. This will take a few weeks."

Ms Ofran said expanding Maale Adumim to include Kedar was also aimed at making the route of the West Bank separation barrier that is still being constructed penetrate deeper into the occupied territory.

Israel says the barrier is aimed at thwarting suicide bombers but the International Court of Justice has ruled it illegal, for being built inside the West Bank.

The Israeli supreme court is deliberating on the route of the barrier in the Maale Adumim area and received a recommendation from the relatively dovish Council for Peace and Security – made up of former senior security officers – that Kedar should not be included within the fence.

"If the fence is supposed to become the border of Israel, than making Kedar part of Maale Adumim expands the border," Ms Ofran said.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government yesterday adopted a rejectionist approach to peace talks.

The Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, ruled out opening negotiations with Syria unless it dropped all its pre-conditions relating to the Golan Heights. Days earlier, he said that Syria was not a "genuine partner for peace".

Syria recently said it would be willing to resume indirect talks as long as they focused on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967. 

Closing statement of the fourth Bil’in International Conference on Non-Violent Resistance

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

The Fourth Bil’in International Conference on Non-Violent Resistance, in honor of Basem Abu Rahme

April 22-24, 2009

As we conclude our conference today, we remember our friend and fellow in struggle, Bassem Abu Rahma, who was killed by the Israeli army last Friday during the weekly peaceful demonstration. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and we wish them peace in these hard times. Our thoughts and prayers are also with Tristan Anderson and his family. Tristan, an American solidarity activist, was shot and seriously injured by the Israeli army last month while he was visiting Ni’lin village.

The Fourth Bil’in Conference for Non-Violent Resistance is held this year at a critical stage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As Israeli violence and oppression against the Palestinian people to force it into submission has intensified, and an extremist Israeli government ascended to power, the Palestinian leadership is unacceptably divided and weakened.

Palestinians in Gaza are still suffering from the impact of the barbaric Israeli attack on them in Operation Cast Lead and the inhumane blockade imposed on the Strip for years now. In the West Bank, the Israeli authorities have intensified its ethnic cleansing efforts especially in the Jerusalem area, through house evictions, systematic killings, detentions, settlement building and the construction of the Apartheid Wall. Through an elaborate control system of more than 600 military checkpoints and hundred of military orders of house demolitions, land confiscation and blockade, Israel is actively creating facts on the ground that shall render any peaceful settlement of the conflict impossible.

Facing this painful reality, the Palestinian people must continue and develop their popular resistance to protect their basic rights to life and freedom and realize their aspirations of a peaceful future, like the rest of the world.

The participants of the Fourth Bil’in Conference for Non-Violent Resistance are committed to the rights of the Palestinian people through: supporting and promoting popular forms of resistance throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, encouraging the Palestinian leadership and civil society to assume a more active role in the popular resistance movement, promoting the culture of resistance and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, unifying the Palestinian people geographically and politically through involving Palestinians the Gaza Strip in the popular movement and helping overcome the blockade and isolation, and raising the awareness of the daily realities of Palestinian suffering under the occupation through field visits.

The participants of the Conference emphasize the importance of the popular resistance as an effective strategy to resist oppression. Recently, several popular resistance campaigns throughout the occupied Palestinian territories have been launched or expanded. The participants discussed the developments in Ni’lin, Al-Ma’sara, the Jordan Valley, Southern Hebron and Bil’in as models of effective popular resistance. This is complemented by important developments in the BDS movement on the international level. In France and Canada, law suits have been filed against those who benefit from the occupation and settlements. The New York-based boycott campaign against settlement-builder, Lev Leviev, has spread to the UK and Norway.

Based on the discussion in the Conference and the workshops, the participants have decided to adopt the following unifying strategies as a basis for the work on the popular resistance movement:

· Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel (BDS)

1. Holding organizing conferences within the different regions active in BDS to coordinate BDS campaigns and initiatives.

2. Based on the resolution adopted by the World Social Forum this past January, it was decided to hold the Global BDS Day of Action on March 30 of each year, which also coincides with Land Day.

· Promoting legal accountability for war crimes

1. Intensifying the popular campaigns locally and internationally to prosecute Israeli war criminals.

2. Coordinating between the Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations in Europe and the US involved in prosecuting Israeli war criminals.

· Spreading and supporting the popular nonviolent resistance

1. Creating a coordination committee including representatives of the popular committees who attended the conference in order to facilitate the implementation of the conclusions of the BilĂ­n Annual conference on Popular Resistance and to support the popular resistance.

2. Increasing the coordination between the Popular Committees.

3. Providing accessible data on the activities of the Palestinian popular resistance movement.

4. Reaching out to media, focusing on success stories of the popular resistance movement.

5. Sharing experiences and learning from other popular movements around the world.

6. Differentiating between the role of the popular movement and that of the Palestinian Authority political parties and factions.

· Building an international movement in solidarity with Palestine

1. Improving coordination of international civil society groups working in solidarity with the popular nonviolent resistance, through transversal initiatives like the working groups of the World Social Forum for Palestine.

2. Strengthening communication, advocacy and lobbying capacity of the solidarity movements focusing on respect of international law and human rights in Palestine, and putting more pressure on foreign governments and politicians.

3. Joining the BDS movement, promoting fare trade relationships with Palestine, rejecting the upgrading of cooperation agreements between the European Union and Israel and asking for suspension of such agreements till Israel violates international law.

4. Pressing governments and parliaments worldwide to take a position against the siege on Gaza, holding Israeli war criminals accountable in international tribunals (including a Russell Tribunal for Palestine) and highlighting the voice of Israeli anti-occupation groups who denounce those crimes.

5. Empowering other international initiatives to: contrast arms trade with Israel, protect Palestinian prisoners, promote twinning projects with Palestinian towns/universities/refugee camps, send civilian peace teams to the Occupied Territories and organize field visits of politicians, lawyers, journalists.

The participants also demand the following:

· On the Palestinian level

1. Achieving national unity, which is a prerequisite for national liberation.

2. Serious efforts by the Palestinian president and government to implement the ruling of the International Court of Justice of July 9, 2004 and the subsequent UN General Assembly resolution.

3. Supporting the popular resistance movement by the Palestinian leadership and officials and taking a firm stance against the Judiaization and ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem as well as the expansion of the settlements and the construction of the Apartheid Wall.

4. The endorsement by the Palestinian national factions of the popular resistance, namely BDS movement.

· On the Israeli level

1. Strengthening the relations with Israel peace groups that join the Palestinian popular resistance against the occupation and oppression.

2. Rejecting any and all forms of normalization and isolating those involved in it.

· On the International level

1. Institutionalizing the relations between the Palestinian popular resistance movement and international solidarity activists and inviting more activists to join and support the movement.

2. Calling on all the international organizations, unions, peace activists and civil society institutions to present the Palestinian narrative as they witnessed first hand and combat the Israeli propaganda that dehumanizes the Palestinian people.

Finally, the participants of the Conference decided that Bil’in International Conference on Non-Violent Resistance will be held in April of each year.

Nonviolent action by Palestinians and internationals stops settler road construction in Um al Kheir

from Christian Peacemaker Team via International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

Palestinians from the South Hebron Hills village of Um al Kheir today changed the route of a road being constructed by settlers from the illegal settlement of Karmel. The villagers, acting with internationals, nonviolently blocked the road-building equipment as it prepared the roadbed on land which belongs to Palestinians living in the village of Um al Kheir.

Palestinians and internationals gathered to confront settlers from Karmel, Israeli soldiers, and Israeli border police as work began at 7:00 AM. Israeli soldiers allowed the road work to continue despite a pending legal complaint filed by the village in Israeli court. One older Palestinian man who was sitting in front of earth-moving equipment was accidentally struck by stones which were dislodged by the work.

Survey markers placed the previous week in the village indicated that construction of the road would include the demolition of a Palestinian home and several agricultural structures. As marked now, the road will include the annexation of a large area of Palestinian land by the settlement, but will not include demolition of the home. A legal decision on construction of the road is expected within ten days.

Representatives from the United Nations Refugee Works Administration (UNRWA) were also present during the work because the villagers have refugee status. Residents of the Bedouin village of Um al Kheir bought the land the village currently occupies, including the land being used for construction of the settler road, fifty years ago. They were forced to move the village from its original location near Arrad in 1948, after the creation of the state of Israel.

Recent expansion of the Karmel settlement has included the construction of twelve double houses around the perimeter of the settlement. These are surrounded by a fence and a military road, which encroaches onto Palestinian land. The new road as proposed will extend the settlement farther into Um al Kheir, and will result in the annexation of a substantial area of land outside the existing settlement houses. Numerous other Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills have been impacted by the expansion of settlements and outposts in recent months.

The residents of Um al Kheir, along with villagers from nearby At-Tuwani and other villages in the area, remain committed to nonviolence as they struggle to oppose the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements and outposts. Villagers have filed legal complaints, and staged nonviolent grazing actions in the South Hebron Hills throughout the spring grazing season.

Construction of Israeli-only road threatens homes of Umm al Kher-al Faqir residents

from International Solidarity Movement (ISM)

“My family bought this land in 1948 after being expelled from our old home. It was just us, the birds, and the trees here at that time. But in 1967 the Israelis started to attack us, and ten years later they built a military outpost. Five years after that the settlers started buiding their homes on our land. Today they even tried to tear down our camp,” says Salim, a 60 year-old man from Umm al Kher-al Faqir.

A military road around the Karmel settlement, built on stolen land, is under construction, and was planned to go through the village demolishing some houses. The demolition order of the Bedouin camp outside Hebron was due at four o’clock on Sunday, 26 April 2009, but did not take place.

When the bulldozer started work on the land early in the morning, people from the camp attempted to prevent the demolition by sitting down in front of the bulldozer. After about three hours of applying pressure, the families of the village managed to re-route the construction of the road, so now it appears that less tents will be affected by the construction of the settler road.

Umm al Kher-al Faqir is a Bedouin camp in the South Hebron hills with 12 families and about 150 inhabitants. The people of the camp became refugees in 1948, after the beginning of the Israeli occupation. In 1981, Carmel settlement was established in the area. At that time, 40 dunams of land owned by the Palestinian residents were confiscated and given to the settlement, and residents of the camp consequently lost their farming plots. In early 2008, the Carmel settlement was expanded to include a new neighborhood occupying 50 more dunams of land from Umm al-Kheir. Since the establishment of the new neighborhood, settlers have regularly attacked the residents of Umm al-Kheir, with the intention of driving them out of their land.

Israeli soldiers storm a wedding, abduct groom

from The Palestine Telegraph

Twenty-four-year-old Ahmad Abd Al-Hadi Tayoun was married in the West Bank village of Hajja, east of Qalqiliya on Sunday.

Tayoun was not able to spend the night with his bride, as he was abducted by Israeli soldiers at 2am. The troops raided the house and seized him in front of his wife. He is now being held at an unknown location.

During house-to-house raids in the village, Israeli soldiers also seized 20-year-old Ahmad Bashir.

The Tayoun family said that Ahmad had no political affiliation, and they did not expect him to be detained. They called on rights organizations to intervene and secure his release.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces also stormed the nearby village of Al-Funduq and raided the house of Jamil Jab'iti, beat his 30-year-old daughter Sahar, destroyed furniture and they shredded a copy of the holy Quran.

Non Violence in Palestine: Timing and Intentions

by Anoushka Gangj


When one speaks of or advocates non-violence, does he promote such an idea because he believes that historically it has been a more effective means of liberation, or is it purely because he thinks that it is a more self-respecting means of struggle?

In recent history, many advocates of non-violence have been celebrated as modern day icons. From Ghandi to King, songs are written in their honor, their life stories fill the pages of our children's history volumes as noble examples of which everyone must aspire to emulate. Holidays are instituted in their honor and around the world; streets and boulevards carry their namesake.

Why is it that the "establishment" goes to such great lengths to lift up these individuals? Where are the holidays commemorating the life and sacrifices of Malcolm X, where are the stories of Crazy Horse or Geronimo? Could it be possible that these figures remain in the shadows of pacifists because their ideals shook up the status quo just a little too much? When the "establishment" celebrates individuals for their non-violence, could that be another way of recognizing them for making just enough commotion, but not too much commotion?

For decades, the Palestinian struggle for freedom was largely a non-violent movement. With occasional pockets of armed resistance, Palestinians in the occupied territories employed methods of general strikes, demonstrations and the like to express their demands and desires to finally live in freedom. And yet these were the years where Palestinians saw that great majority of their homeland swallowed up into what is now the State of Israel. Land was stolen with no recompense to its owners, prisons burst at the seams with prisoners who never received a trial, houses demolished by the hundreds, entire orchards of olive and fruit trees ransacked and burned. All this was carried out in the confines of an "Intifada-free" society. So, it might be suggested that Palestinians gave non-violent resistance more than a fair shot.

It seems that there is an ongoing trend among many in the "establishment" to celebrate those broken and oppressed refugees who in spite of more than sixty years of bondage call for non-violence or passive resistance. While the intention is in itself honorable, one must question the timing.

Recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report entitled: "UN: 70% of Palestinian youth oppose violence to resolve conflict with Israel". The report addressed a survey conducted in the occupied territories that interviewed 1200 youth in the West Bank and Gaza. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of young adults in the occupied territories do believe that the use of violence is "not helpful" to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The report stated that only 8 percent found violence a necessary tool, and it also found that 80 percent of young Palestinians are depressed, 55 percent being "extremely depressed".

In recent months, Palestinians have endured some of the most painful blows since the early years of Israeli rule. The recent bloodletting in the Gaza Strip claimed the lives of more than 1400, wounded thousands, and robbed millions of any sense of security, safety and hope for a better world. Human rights groups around the world decried the Israeli genocide as war crimes, World leaders committed to filing charges at the International Court of Justice and have Israeli leaders tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The liquidation of Gaza became center platform in Israeli elections. Cluster bombs, white phosphorous and God only knows what other illegal weapons were unleashed on a starved and sieged civilian population where relief workers strived to pinpoint just what chemical weapon only leaves behind the evidence of a human skeleton?

Amidst the grief and rage that followed, Belgium found it fitting to nominate one sorrow-stricken doctor and father of three lovely daughters from Gaza, the Nobel Prize, in recognition of his efforts to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The 55 year old physician, Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, lost his three children in a most viscous way, when Israeli shells hit his house, crushing and suffocating all those inside. Dr. Abu al-Aish just happened to be talking on Israeli television about the suffering of the people of Gaza when he was informed that the shell hit his home with his family inside. He suppressed his anguish long enough to express his hope that his daughters would be the last victims of Israel's attack.

While it cannot be denied that such a man deserves the highest honor for his commitment to the population of Gaza, and for the personal sacrifice he has endured, the irony of his distinction coming at such a time, after the most horrifying of sieges, after the grisly killing of his children, but more, after the grieving father responded with a poignant message of "reconciliation".

In the midst of this mess, where is the call for Israel to embrace non-violence? Would the media and the world community press the Israelis to embrace non-violence, had they endured such atrocities such as those witnessed in Gaza?

And once again, the intentions of the "establishment" come in to question. One has to wonder, if Abu al-Aish would have responded with the resolve of so many grieving parents who vowed to "never leave" to "rebuild" to "resist until victory or death in its pursuit", would he still be recognized for his efforts to promote peace among Palestinians and Israelis?

Just why does the UNDP find it fitting to highlight a survey that concludes that most Palestinian youth find violence "unhelpful" at such a time? And why does the world renown a man who calls for reconciliation, a term that somehow suggests a conflict between people of equal standing, while his daughters rest in fresh graves? Some may suggest that non-violent resistance in such situations is the embodiment of the dignified struggle.

Others might call it surrender.

Anoushka Gangj is a student of Law and pro-palestinian actvist based in london.

Israeli forces seize nine Palestinians in overnight raids

from Ma'an News Agency

The Israeli military seized nine Palestinians from their homes during overnight raids in the West Bank on Monday.

According to the military, three Palestinians were taken from the Nablus area, two from Tulkarem, two from Ramallah and Bethlehem, and the rest from Hebron.

Among these, two young Palestinian men were taken from their homes in the village of Urif, south of Nablus early on Monday morning.

Local sources told Ma’an that Israeli forces stormed the village took 32-year-old Isam Safadi and 41-year-old As’ad Safadi to unknown location.

Australia's Samson and Delilah

by Kathy Marks


An Aboriginal love story starring two untrained actors has created a huge buzz ahead of the Cannes Film Festival

It is the film some critics are saying Baz Luhrmann ought to have made instead of his overblown Outback epic, Australia. Produced for a sum equivalent to Luhrmann's catering budget, Samson and Delilah, set in a remote Aboriginal settlement, is winning awards and creating an international buzz even before its cinema release.

Selected for next month's Cannes International Film Festival, Samson and Delilah is a brutally realistic depiction of daily life in the indigenous communities of central Australia. It stars two 14-year-old untrained actors, features minimal dialogue, and is being hailed as one of the most important films ever made Down Under.

Samson and Delilah are two teenagers growing up without family support in a community outside Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. They fall in love. Faced with the challenges of poverty, violence, boredom, drugs and sexual abuse, they are almost crushed, but survive.

The story's backdrop is the hauntingly beautiful red desert landscape of the interior: a region unvisited by most Australians, who are more likely to pass by at 30,000 feet on their way to Europe or South-east Asia. Warwick Thornton, the film's writer and director, believes that while they're aware of the area's social problems, they view its Aboriginal inhabitants as barely more than statistics.

Thornton, an indigenous film-maker based in Alice Springs, aims to humanise his people through Samson and Delilah, which will be released nationally next week. He hopes to open the eyes of mainstream Australia to their plight, but insists his first feature-length work is about the redemptive power of love, not a political statement.

First shown in March at the Adelaide Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award, the movie – which cost just A$1.6m (£771,000) to make – had its Australian premiere 10 days ago in Alice Springs. More than 2,500 people, many from the Aboriginal camps that ring the town, attended an outdoor screening at the old Telegraph Station.

Around the nation, meanwhile, Samson and Delilah is receiving reviews that Luhrmann, whose A$180m film was widely panned, could only dream of. The Age in Melbourne described Thornton's film as "a film of delicate simplicity and gut-wrenching power", while another critic said it was "one of the bravest Australian films I've ever seen". Variety magazine called the movie "an engrossing and touching snapshot of an Australia too often left on the cutting-room floor".

It confronts the problems of black Australia with an unflinching honesty. Samson, feckless but endearing, is a petrol-sniffer who reaches for his tin can – representing oblivion – the moment he wakes up in his shack. He roams the rubbish-strewn community, making trouble, and is beaten up by his elder brother after smashing the latter's guitar.

Delilah, a quiet, serious girl, looks after her ailing grandmother, wheeling her to the clinic and to the tin-roofed church every day to pray. An unscrupulous art dealer buys an elaborate dot painting from the old woman for A$200, then offers it for sale for A$22,000 in his Alice Springs gallery. When her grandmother dies, Delilah is attacked by stick-wielding relatives accusing her of neglect.

She and Samson flee to Alice Springs, stealing a car, and descend into a spiral of misery, living rough under a bridge and pilfering food. The only person to show them kindness is an alcoholic tramp, Gonzo.

Thornton, 38, is familiar with this milieu. "I grew up in Alice Springs and I spent most of my childhood on the streets at night," he said in an interview in Sydney. "Everything in that film I have witnessed."

Poignantly, Gonzo is played by Thornton's elder brother, Scott, an itinerant alcoholic in real life. The director persuaded him to undergo rehabilitation before shooting went ahead last year.

The two young leads are also steeped in the environment, which is why Thornton cast them rather than experienced actors. Rowan McNamara grew up in Santa Theresa, outside Alice Springs and his elder sister sniffed glue for years. Marissa Gibson spent her childhood in the isolated outpost of Kintore, where petrol sniffings, beatings and stories of girls forcibly "taken out bush" were rife. The Northern Territory is dotted with such dysfunctional settlements, some worse than others, none without dire problems. They include Mutitjulu, situated in the shadow of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, one of Australia's biggest tourist attractions; most of its 400,000 annual visitors are not even aware of the community's existence. An inquest took place last week into the suicide of a 15-year-old Mutitjulu girl, allegedly given petrol by adult men in exchange for sex.

That a girl should live and die in such circumstances is difficult to comprehend, and, likewise, Samson and Delilah, while utterly compelling, makes for uncomfortable viewing – particularly since it reflects real life unembellished. Thornton says: "As far as telling a story that's realistic, I needed to go all the way and not hold back on how grim things are.

"I'm trying to say: 'There's a world in Australia that you haven't seen, and it's beautiful, it's hard, it's gut-wrenching, but it's empowering, and for you to see this side of us will make you a better you.'" Thornton, whose short films have won several awards, including one at last year's Berlin International Film Festival, is particularly exercised by the fate of young Aborigines with nothing to do. He admires their "beauty and strength", saying: "Most 14-year-olds in Alice Springs are walking around with the knowledge of a 90-year-old, from what they've experienced. They're bullet-proof."

Samson and Delilah survive, although the former's petrol-sniffing lands him in a wheelchair. Delilah looks after him tenderly. Their love – which blossoms after he scrawls "S4D onley [sic] ones" on the wall of a store, and she then tosses him a packet of beef jerky (dried sliced meat) – is largely wordless. In traditional Aboriginal society, body language and gestures count for more.

The film has little in common with the Bible story, which Thornton read only recently. He points out that many Aboriginal people have Biblical names, having grown up in Christian missions. And indigenous women cut their hair while in mourning. (Both Delilah and Samson do so, the latter not realising the custom does not apply to men.)

Some scenes have particular resonance. In an Alice Springs supermarket, the white check-out girl looks at Delilah's bruised, swollen face, takes her money and intones: "Have a nice day." In the pedestrian mall, Delilah sits down near two white schoolgirls her age; one is eating a big ice cream, the other talking excitedly on a mobile phone. To them, she is invisible.

Later, Delilah tries to sell paintings to stony-faced tourists drinking coffee in the mall. A waitress orders her to leave. She walks around a church in a daze, gazing at the statues of Jesus. The white priest watches her, but says nothing.

According to Thornton, his movie offers no answers, only questions. And he is lukewarm about the state's so-called intervention into failing black communities, noting that successive governments have been trying different solutions, without success, for decades. "The intervention will come and go, and these kids will still be in trouble," he observes.

As for Baz Luhrmann, Thornton is diplomatic, suggesting that their films have different aims. While Luhrmann's is a romanticised portrayal of Australia 70 years ago, he says, "if you want to tell the world what Australia is like today, you should watch Samson and Delilah".