Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Further Adventures in Absurdistan

What do five pitas, one container of hummus, one can of canned tuna, one small bottle water, one or two slices of cheese, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and 5 to 10 olives have in common?

That's all that a private security company is allowing Palestinians to take through the checkpoint they run. Any greater quantity and they have to be checked as someone transporting commercial goods.

But let's not beg the question - why is a private company responsible for running a checkpoint, any way?

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Top Ten Reasons that Havot Ma'on and Ma'on have Got to Go:
Reason Number Four: Havot Ma'on and Ma'on are on Palestinian Land

"Our family used to live in those trees," our partners in Tuba tell us. For some reason, very few people are willing to say this loudly and clearly, but Ma'on and Havot Ma'on are on land that belongs to Palestinians.

According to Israeli organization Peace Now, 16% of Ma'on and Havot Ma'on land is privately owned by Palestinians. 26% of the land is survey land - land seized by the state of Israel for "military purposes", on which it is illegal for anyone to build. (Apparently, that law doesn't apply, in practice, to settlers.) However, 0% of the land is actually privately-owned by Israelis.

Now, to best understand these statistics, you need to understand land registration for Palestinians. Excuse me while this becomes dense and nerdy. I promise it will be over soon: Peace Now defines Privately owned Palestinian land as "A. Land that was registered and recognized as private property before 1968, at a time when the process of land registration was still open and available to Palestinians, or B. Cultivated land which is recognized by Israel as private land according to the Ottoman law." Israel has exploited the fact that under Ottoman rule, only very small parts of the West Bank were actually registered to specific owners. Under British mandate, a process of land registration began. Then in 1968, Israel halted all registration claims , leaving thousands of square kilometers of agricultural land unregistered. Then, Israel claimed this land as state land. So, do these statistics accurately show how much of Ma'on and Havot Ma'on land is actually owned by Palestinians? No. But they do boslter the case of Palestinian families who have farmed and lived on that land for generations.

According to Peace Now, in the West Bank 130 settlements are constructed either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land. Around 51 thousand dunams (quarter acres) of the land used by the settlements is actually private Palestinian land. Privately owned Palestinian land accounts for nearly 40% of land used for settlements. Much of the rest of that land, however, is Palestinian land that has been claimed by the Israeli state. As with Ma'on and Havot Ma'on, the more telling statistic is the percentage of settlement land privately held by Israelis: 1.26%.

Whether it's appropriated by the state or just plain stolen, it's still Palestinian land.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Belgian-French financial group Dexia has announced it will no longer finance Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through its Israeli branch, Dexia Israel. This is the result of a months-long campaign in Belgium, supported by non-governmental organizations, political parties, local authorities, trade unions and other organizations. Dexia's management has stated that financing Israeli settlements is indeed against the bank's code of ethics and thusly, it will stop giving loans for this activity.

Israeli Police Detain Arrest Palestinian Children While Grazing Their Sheep
25 June 2009

[Note: According to the Geneva Conventions, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and numerous United Nations resolutions, all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal. Settlement outposts are considered illegal also under Israeli law.]

On the morning of June 25, Israeli police detained two Palestinian children, Ahmed Omar Jundyye, age 15, and Redwan Ibrahim Jundyye, age 16, near the village of Tuba. The young boys, accompanied by internationals, were grazing their flocks near their village of Tuba, located in the South Hebron Hills. Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost, Havat Ma’on, observed the young boys for sometime before the Israeli military arrived. The Israeli military jeep drove to a home within Havat Ma’on and the soldiers spoke with the settlers. After speaking with the settlers, the soldiers approached the young boys and the internationals demanding that they provide personal identification, saying that the boys were in a forbidden area. The Israeli police arrived at the scene and, after conferencing with the settlers and soldiers, detained the two young boys at 10:00AM and took them to the Kiryat Arba police station. The police refused to provide a reason for the detention of the young boys.

The young Palestinian boys were held in detention at Kiryat Arba Police Station for nearly five hours before being released. Responding to the detention, one of the boys’ fathers said, “they weren’t doing anything, they graze their sheep there everyday.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's about time for a update about the South Hebron Hills, I think. Things have been pretty quite lately because it's so incredibly hot. But settlers have also been harassing people in Tuba regularly and today two teenage shepherds were arrested for...grazing their sheep within sight of Ma'on. As my friend Jessica pointed out, why not arrest all of Tuwani for living within sight of Ma'on?

The village of LaSaffer has also been suffering a string of lightly raids by the army. Soldiers destoryed one how and teriffied the whole village, all in hopes of arresting a man who just threw a rock. It's absurd.

From Jewish Voice for Peace:

Just days after President Obama called for a complete freeze on settlement construction, the Israeli government authorized construction on 300 new homes to be built in an "illegal outpost" in the West Bank. An illegal outpost: that's a settlement that's illegal even according to Israeli law. 60 totally illegal houses, and roads to get to them, have already been built in this outpost. Instead of demolishing it - which is what they should do - the Israeli government is performing a whitewash that will make this whole outpost a "legitimate" settlement.

Yesterday's announcement is a slap in the face to President Obama. As Mitchell Plitnick put it, "Ehud Gives Barack the Finger."

"If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler." So wrote Tony Judt in the New York Times. We call on President Obama to stand by his words and not give in to Israel's expansionism. It is the military aid that the U.S. gives Israel every year - some $3 billion - that allows Israel to keep building settlements and roads and to pay for the ever-increasing military power it takes to oppress the Palestinian population.

We want the billions of dollars the U.S. sends to Israel each year to come with Strings Attached. The United States must withhold that aid until Israel agrees to abide by U.S. and international law - and that includes stopping settlement construction. When Israel continues to blatantly flout the law using American money, and does so with total impunity, America's moral standing in the world and democratic principles are severely compromised. And all this at the cost of Palestinian lives and livelihood and Palestinian and Israeli futures. Enabling such disregard for internationally accepted standards only further fuels the conflict and world hostilities.

We were heartened when President Obama announced that Israel must completely halt settlement construction, and we were glad when Jewish leaders - including the largest association of American rabbis, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, stepped out in support of a complete settlement freeze. Now it's time for action.

Please send an email to President Barack Obama asking him to withhold U.S. aid to Israel until Israel stops all settlement construction and agrees to abide by U.S. and international law and end the occupation of Palestinian Territories. Call on him to back up his words with concrete and meaningful action.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From Bil’in: "We refuse to die in silence."

A world-class drama is unfolding in Canada. The Palestinian village of Bil’in is taking two Quebec-based corporations, Green Park International and Green Mount International to court on charges that they are committing war crimes by building on Bil’in farmland as agents of Israel for the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit. The corporations, assumed to be shell corporations located in Quebec for tax reasons, have been trying to stave off this case by procedural ploys -- including a challenge to the jurisdiction that will take place in the Montreal Courthouse on June 22, 2009. Mohammad Khatib, a Bil’in leader, the Israeli lawyer, Emily Schaeffer, and the Canadian lawyer, Mark Arnold, are traveling across Canada to explain the significance of this case and to raise funds for the court costs.

Video clips of Bil’in’s nonviolent struggle to maintain the confiscated 60% of their remaining farmland bring to mind the ferocious attacks on blacks and integrationists during the most violent civil rights strife in the United States and the beatings of Mahatma Gandhi’s followers in India. The men, women and children of this small village have carried out peaceful demonstrations every Friday after prayers for over two and a half years -- 134 times so far -- to be beaten, shot at, and gassed by Israeli forces. It is apparent from the footage that Khatib, a father of very young children, faces the possibility of being killed at every demonstrations.

Mohammad Khatib’s courageous leadership marks him as an obvious Palestinian leader of the future; many regard him as a giant in their midst. Khatib came to believe in nonviolence both for humanitarian and strategic reasons. Khatib makes the point that Bil’in’s fight is not against Jews -- indeed, many Jewish Israelis march with them -- and he feels their common humanity. Strategically, he wants to expose Israel’s claim that it needs to use violence against Palestinians "for security" as a sham; every week, the world can see -- if it looks -- shocking Israeli brutality against defenseless people. Can this strategy work? Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals notes that nonviolence is only effective under two circumstances: when there is media coverage and when there is no policy of assassination. Neither of these conditions is met in this case. A leader of the neighboring village of Nil’in was killed on June 13, 2009 in what is regarded as a targeted assassination. And unlike the compelling media coverage that turned the tide of public opinion for Martin Luther King’s and Gandhi’s confrontations with brutality, Bil’in’s is virtually invisible to most of the public; one has to use the Internet (www.bilin-village.org) to see these horrifying weekly Israeli attacks.

When asked why the village is putting itself through such torture for its survival, Khatib comments: "we refuse to die in silence". Why are they resorting to a Canadian court? The villagers need to hope. They were hopeful in 2007 when Israeli courts ruled that the developers had no permits to build on their land and that the wall’s route should avoid their farmland. Unfortunately, that win did not translate to changes on the ground. The expectation is that a successful challenge here could also benefit other Palestinian communities similarly affected. It is hoped that this lawsuit will encourage both Israel and Canada to comply not only with their obligations under international law -- particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention -- but with their own laws which support it.

The Fourth Geneva Convention obligates all signatories to enforce its provisions. Under Article 146 all signatories -- which include Israel and Canada -- are under a contractual legal obligation to prosecute those responsible for committing any "grave breaches" against (in this case) Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories, which include: wilful killing, inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. UN officials and peace activists have long appealed to the international community to fulfil these obligations. The World Council of Churches, in appealing to its members to approach their governments, noted that until these obligations are met, we will all continue to be complicit in these violations of human rights. Palestinians must be supported by the public’s demands that their governments enforce these important provisions.

Arnold compares this situation to others such as the war on Vietnam, the US civil rights movement, and the struggle against South African apartheid. He believes that as in those cases, this blatant injustice cannot last.
An Open Letter to President Obama from Christian Peacemaker Teams: Call on Israel to Stop Its Violence against Palestinians

Dear President Obama,

On Tuesday June 15th, you said of the protests in Iran, “When I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, whenever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people.” For the last 13 years, Christian Peacemaker Teams have witnessed the brutal suppression of peaceful dissent here in Palestine. In the city of Hebron and the village of At-Tuwani, CPT supports vibrant Palestinian nonviolent resistance to Israel’s military occupation. Every day, Palestinians hold nonviolent demonstrations and defy curfews and closed military zones. They rebuild demolished homes and work their land despite the threat of arrest and attack. Though their struggle is largely ignored by the media, we find inspiration in the way Palestinians are working for justice and peace.

We are deeply troubled by the way Israeli authorities respond to this nonviolent resistance. On April 22, 2006, Israeli police beat and arrested the mayor of At-Tuwani village and his brother for doing no more than holding a peaceful demonstration against the illegal Israeli wall. CPT has documented the Israeli army demolishing the homes of nonviolent resistance leaders, harassing them at checkpoints, and targeting them for arrest.

Too often, Israeli forces respond to nonviolent resistance with lethal force. In the past nine months, Israeli soldiers have killed four residents of the village of Ni’lin during demonstrations against the Israeli wall. Ahmed Mousa, age 10, was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on July 29, 2008. Yousef Amira, 17, was shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets in next day. On December 28th 2008, 22-year-old Arafat Rateb Khawaje was shot in the back with live ammunition. The same day, Mohammed Khawaje, 20, was shot in the head with live ammunition. On March 22nd 2009, American demonstrator Tristan Anderson was shot in the face with a tear gas canister. He still lies in the hospital in critical condition. Each of these incidents raises a simple question: why do Israeli soldiers respond to unarmed protestors with deadly force?

When Israel arrests, attacks and kills Palestinians who practice nonviolent resistance, it is saying to the Palestinian people, “No matter your methods of struggle, no matter the justice of your cause, we will not share power with you.” In this context, it is a grave mistake to call, as you did in your Cairo speech, for Palestinians to abandon violence without calling on Israel to do the same. To speak as though there is no Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement is worse than naïve; it gives Israel permission to continue to ignore their cries for justice and freedom.

In his recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined his conditions for peace with Palestine. He described a future Palestinian state that would not be a state at all. Its borders and airspace would be controlled by others. It would be demilitarized while Israel remained free to continue building a nuclear arsenal. This is not a plan for peace. It is a demand that Palestine submit to Israeli domination.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu makes these demands, his government continues to suppress Palestinian nonviolent resistance. Unarmed demonstrators in N’ilin are still met with tear gas and live bullets. In Hebron and At-Tuwani, children on their way to school are still attacked by Israeli settlers and settlements continue to grow. We ask you, President Obama, to demand that Israel stop its campaign of violence against the Palestinian people. We echo the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement’s calls for justice and human dignity. Only justice will lead to peace.

In Hope,

Christian Peacemaker Teams-Palestine

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Top Ten Reason Ma'on and Havot Ma'on Have Got to Go:
Reason Number Three: Settlers Harass and Attack Palestinians on a Daily Basis

The settlers of Havot Ma’on and Ma’on are waging a campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at driving Palestinians off of their land. In addition to attacking school children, settlers have insulted and threatened Palestinian farmers, as well as throwing stones, beating, and shooting them. This violence makes the daily tasks of living – everything from agricultural work to walking home through the hills – dangerous and terrifying for Palestinians. Here is an incomplete list of acts of violence settlers have perpetrated against Palestinians over the last two years:

- The Ma’on settlement security guard pushed a pregnant woman to the ground and stole the herbs she was gathering.

- Settlers attacked school children 14 times during the 2007-2008 school year and beat a CPT volunteer in the head with a rock.

- Settlers shot at Palestinians on four different occasions: January 13, 2008, March 26 2008, March 25 2009, and April 5th 2009.

- The Israeli army took three Palestinian boys, ages 10, 11, and 14, and delivered them to Ma’on settlement, where a group of masked adult settlers beat them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A few days ago, I met a couple of fellows from Ireland, one of whom had family from Derry, Northern Ireland. As we talked about George Mitchell and the prospects for the peace process, he made an important point: during the Northern Ireland peace process, the facts on the ground changed as talks went forward, giving republicans a reason to keep talking. How about the same in Palestine? So far, the settlements and the wall just grow and grow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just wanted to let you know you expect soon the next two installments of “The Top Ten Reasons That Ma’on and Havot Ma’on Have Got to Go.” I’ve finished writing them and am just waiting for technology to cooperate long enough to get them posted. So, as my mom likes to say, keep your eyes peeled.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A couple of months ago I had the great pleasure of watching Palestinians successfully graze their sheep near Avigail settlement, on land where they are regularly attacked and harassed. The joy I felt in seeing my friends and partners grazing on their land was overwhelming. Sitting on the hill and eating lunch together felt like having a party.

As the day drew to an end, one of the Palestinian leaders excitedly explained to me the strategy he had used in dealing with the army and settlers that morning. Mahmoud told me how, even though the army had declared the area a closed military zone, he firmly stood up for his rights. He explained how he pretended to slowly begin to comply with the military order, all the while challenging the soldiers and insisting on his right to graze his sheep. Eventually, he said, the army lost control of the situation and gave in. When he finished his description, Mahmoud turned to me and grinned. "I read in a book that this is called nonviolence," he said, laughing.

When President Obama called on Palestinians to practice nonviolence, I laughed just like Mahmoud. Palestinians like Mahmoud have never needed to be told about nonviolence. The English word may be unfamiliar but the steadfast, daily acts of resistance known as nonviolence are nothing new. In the South Hebron hills, Palestinians face Israeli soldiers and violent Israeli settlers who are illegally expanding their settlements and attacking Palestinians, including children walking to school. In response to this profound injustice, Palestinians are organizing demonstrations, refusing to comply with military orders, filing complaints against settlers, and courageously working their land despite the risk of arrest and attack. They don't need President Obama to tell them to practice nonviolence.

From the British Mandate to the first intifada, to the loose-knit but powerful community-based movement of today, Palestinians have practiced nonviolent resistance for the last 60 years. Certainly, it's inaccurate to omit armed resistance from Palestinian history, but it is equally false to claim that Palestinians are unfamiliar with nonviolence. President Obama missed the point in his Ciaro speech - Palestinians do not need to admonished towards peacefulness. It's radical settlers and Israel's government who do.

Instead of preaching to Palestinians, Obama should insist emphatically on the dismantlement of illegal Israeli settlements and law enforcement against violent settlers, like those living in the South Hebron Hills. After decades of Israeli military occupation, it is time for a US president to call on Israel to stop its violence towards Palestinians.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

By the way, in the intervening month of radio silence, I went back to the USA and returned to Palestine. I'm back now and you'll be hearing from me more, I promise.
I've been quiet lately. I think it's because I hate the word "indescribable."

As a writer, I hold as an article of faith a believe in the ability for words to reflect truth, to convey meaning across distance, whether that distance is geographic, social, or ideological. Through words, we tell our stories and together we find ways to make them matter.

But a couple of months ago I witnessed an incident that I can write and write about without out coming close to describing it. On April 5 2009, three boys from the village of Juwiyya, ages 10, 11, and 14, were taken by the Israeli army and handed over to a group of masked settlers who insulted and beat them. This remains the most horrifying situation I've witnessed.

For me, besides being so unable to do anything as this went on, talking about what happened was the most difficult part of responding to this situation. Over and over again, I got phone calls from news agencies and NGOs verifying the story. "They really took those kids and handed them over to the settlers? Really?" "Yes," I wanted to scream, "it happened. Really."

I'm embarrassed to talk about myself so much - there's so much trauma in this country and mine is small in comparison. But this indescribable corners of human experiences, the places we can only gesture mutely towards,are the places we desperately need each other. In these hidden places, where memory refuses to walk, we need someone to come alongside us and whisper, "I believe you. I understand."

And somehow we must trust each other enough to say the truth out loud: that this occupation is wrong, that Gazans don't deserve to the bombed, that in 1948 750 thousand Palestinians were driven out of their homes, that Palestinian homes are still being razed today, that guns can't protect a nation from the truth.

This is for the more than 9,000, 000 Palestinian refugees whose Nakba is denied and for three boys from Juwiyya: I believe you.