Wednesday, December 29, 2010

who cares if a Palestinian civilian is killed by Israel?

Of all the Israeli human rights organizations, B'tselem stands tall in doggedly following the plight of the Palestinians, documenting it and pushing the facts in the face of Israel.

The latest publication, Void of Responsibility, I have just received in the mail. It deals with the policy of the Israeli military not to investigate the killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers.

I want to reproduce some brief excerpts so you can understand how Palestinians not only have no meaningful rights in the eyes of Israel, but that they are not even considered worthy of attention beyond coercion and the application of force.

First, Israel slacks off investigations -
From the beginning of the first intifada, in December 1987, to the outbreak of the second intifada, in September 2000, the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) investigated almost every case in which Palestinians not taking part in hostilities were killed. At the beginning of the second intifada, the Judge Advocate General's Office announced that it was defining the situation in the Occupied Territories an “armed conflict,” and that investigations would be opened only in exceptional cases...and treated every act carried out by soldiers as a combat action, even in cases when these acts bear the clear hallmarks of a policing action.
Then B'tselem challenges this, the Palestinians having no hope of successfully doing so -
In November 2005, in the framework of a hearing on a petition filed by B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel objecting to the policy of not opening MPIU (Military Police Investigation Unit) investigations, the army instituted a procedure calling for preliminary investigation, within a limited period of time, of cases in which Palestinians not taking part in hostilities were killed. However, the procedure did not set a time framework for making decisions whether to order an MPIU investigation or to prosecute alleged offenders.
Israel makes motions to deal with it, but doesn't
The establishment, in 2007, of the Office of the Judge Advocate for Operational Matters, which was intended to improve the efficiency in handling complaints and reduce the handling time, did not bring about significant change.

During the period covered by the report (2006-2009), B'Tselem made a demand for an MPIU investigation in 148 cases. The Judge Advocate General's Office ordered an MPIU investigation in only 22 cases. In 36.3 percent of the cases in which an MPIU investigation was opened, the investigation did not begin until a year or more after the incident occurred. Where an MPIU investigation was carried out, two ended with the Judge Advocate General's Office's decision to close the file without prosecution; the others await decision. In 95 cases, 16 of which date from 2006, preliminary handling by the Judge Advocate General's Office has not been completed, and B'Tselem has not been informed whether an MPIU investigation will be ordered.

But B'tselem, like a dog with a bone, is persisting by issuing the report mentioned above
To explore the considerations, the report analyzes a number of instances in which the decision was made not to open an MPIU investigation and finds that MPIU investigations were not opened also in cases in which there was a serious suspicion of clear breach of international humanitarian law.
Should you wonder, like I do, about what organization to support over any others, B'tselem is a good choice. They are in the trenches, pull no punches and publicize what they do. Giving videocams to Palestinians to document what happens to them is another brilliant idea of theirs.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ethnic cleansing for a theme park and settlement in East Jerusalem

The Silwan Protest Tent

The picture above shows the tent erected by Palestinians in their neighborhood of Al-Bustan in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem. It was set up in 2008 to bring attention to the evictions taking place in the area to make way for Jewish settlers (East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank, the occupied territories) and a biblical theme park for tourists. This is a project to be expected of a country intent on turning biblical mythology into fact while erasing the people who live there. Jimmy Carter has visited the tent in support of the human rights effort it represents.

the vision: a theme park and settlement to replace Palestinians
(biblical theme park for tourists at left, City of David settlement at right)

Needless to say, the tent is a serious threat to Israel's project because it strips away the clean urban planning theme to show the ugly truth. Adnan Gheith is a central character in this account because he was one of those who planned the tent and is a leader in the weekly protests that occur there. He is a marked man, just like Adib abu Rahma, and for exactly the same reason - he is a leader of effective non-violent resistence for which Israel's weaponry is useless.

To illustrate the uselessness of law for the protection of individual rights, consider this list of arrests for Adnan Gheith:
  1. Israeli security force arrives at Gheith's home at 3AM, takes Gheith away for questioning. He is told that stone throwing and the tent must go. After a few hours he is released.

  2. Israeli security force in ski masks arrives at 3AM, takes Gheith away for questioning. This time there is shouting by the interrogator with a death threat. Gheith is in custody for 6 days, the last 4 in solitary confinement.

  3. Israeli security calls Gheith in and more threats are made, but he is free to go.

  4. A hearing is held about demolishing the protest tent. At 5AM the next day police come looking for Gheith at home, don't find him and call him in. More shouting and threats, this time including hints that his family will be harmed. The police want 20 days of house arrest but the court allows "only" three.

  5. Police call Gheith in to again shout at and threaten him over the protest tent and stone throwing but he is allowed to leave.

  6. Police call Gheith in to serve him notice that he will be expelled from East Jerusalem
That last item was on November 28, 2010. Now, a man who has done nothing wrong awaits eviction from not just his home but his home town. Where is the law in all this? There isn't any when one is subject to military justice. Americans, comfortable in our homes, support this injustice with every dollar we send to Israel and with every pro-Israel resolution passed by our Congress.

There are too many Americans who are under the mistaken belief that in the Middle East there are two sides equally to blame for an unsolvable mess. Nothing could be further from the truth but such a view allows people to do nothing while injustice occurs. Israel is grateful for this view held by many Americans because it permits that state to continue to force a native people off their land.

Let Adnan Gheith speak for himself (starts 1:20 in). He needs our help, will we give it? Jewish Voice for Peace provides a way you can protest.

UPDATE: Adnan Gheith must leave East Jerusalem for four months. According to the article in Haaretz, "Jith (Gheith) was never issued with an indictment, nor did the authorities produce any evidence against him." He has two weeks to appeal.

Monday, December 20, 2010

hypocrisy, U.S. government style

In a previous blog post, I covered the case of Abdallah Abu Rahmah. Here is a YouTube video that captures completely the total hypocrisy of the United States government when it comes to anything concerning Israel, in this case the imprisonment of Abu Rahmah.

A follow-up...March 2011, from the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee

Jailed Bil’in Protest Organizer, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Released One Day Behind Schedule

Abu Rahmah was released this evening, after having served the 16 months sentence imposed on him by the Israeli Military Court of Appeals for organizing demonstrations. Abu Rahmah was received by his family, friends and supporters at the prison’s gate and vowed to continue the struggle.

After much delay, Abu Rahmah who was supposed to have already been released yesterday, was finally released from the Ofer Military Prison this evening. He was received by hundreds who waited for him at the prison’s gate.

Abu Rahmah, who during his trial was declared a human rights defender by the EU and a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International, vowed to continue struggling against the Occupation, despite his unjust imprisonment and the six-months suspended sentence still imposed on him. He said, “On my release, I have no intention to go back home and sit there idly. In fact, by imprisoning me they have silenced me long enough. Our cause is just, it is one striving for freedom and equality, and I intend to continue fighting for it just as I have before”.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010: a good year

Though I have only been blogging for the past few months of the year, overall, 2010 leaves me optimistic about the situation for the Palestinians. Though the chances of breaking the bond between the U.S. Congress and Israel is still daunting, the rest of the world is acting to right a terrible wrong without America.

Some good things:

Jewish Voice for Peace is becoming a real force in standing against the Israeli land grab. I still cannot tell if JVP is anti-Zionist, but I don't sense they refuse help from those who are.

The mainstream U.S. pro-Israel groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League are more transparent than ever in their attempts to equate opposition to Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. I'm going to watch the movie Defamation soon, a documentary on Abe Foxman's organization.

The Jewish National Fund (tree-planting) and the Jewish Assembly in New Orleans were both invaded and disrupted by anti-occupation, if not anti-Israel agitators with the resulting media attention.

The complete failure of President Obama to stop settlements, even after offering a ridiculous collection of gifts to Netanyahu's administration only makes perfectly clear the farce that is the United States position regarding Israel. Eyes were opened by this.

Palestinian student groups in the U.S. are finding their voice. I've attended several events in the Chicago area, one of which was the initial public event (with a good turnout) for the North Eastern Illinois University Palestinian student group. I look forward to more from them.

The FBI raids on the homes of people charged with nothing have illustrated how weak are the laws that protect Americans from their government, something we supposedly pride ourselves on. Could there be any better reason to support the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)?

The Israeli Knesset continues to shoot itself in the foot by bringing forth legislation that is clearly undemocratic. Israeli clerics spout hatred and nonsense, allowing Americans to see how valuable is the separation between church and state.

Best of all, outstanding video keeps coming out of the occupied territories, revealing to the world the dire situation of the Palestinians and the need for sanctions against Israel for the blatant and illegal land grab under the protection of the Israeli army, the IDF. Palestinian non-violent protests can now be followed as can the heavy-handed treatment of the leaders of these protests by Israel.

I believe the tide is turning and I look forward to 2011

Thursday, December 16, 2010

master's thesis creates a fuss in Canada

A remarkable master's thesis has been written by a Canadian who is a Jew, Jenny Peto. The title is The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education

You can get a PDF of the thesis. I read it and I recommend it to you.

Here's the abstract - boldface is mine...
This paper focuses on issues of Jewish identity, whiteness and victimhood within hegemonic Holocaust education. I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West. Despite this privilege, the organized Jewish community makes claims about Jewish victimhood that are widely accepted within that community and within popular discourse in the West. I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state. I focus on two related Holocaust education projects – the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope – to show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state.
The March of Remembrance and Hope (for anyone) and the March of the Living (for Jews), take teenagers to a former concentration camp in Poland and then on to Israel. It will come as no surprise that the organizers are the same folks who provide the Birthright tours of Israel (occupied territories not included) that hope to make American Jewish kids believe they are entitled to claim another people's land as their own, or at least indoctrinate them to support those who do.

Peto's analysis of the psychology involved in the tours is persuasive. Zionism has always been an activist program - whether driving Palestinians from Palestine or recruiting Jews to move to Israel, Zionists have a single goal in mind and have been successful to date. Yet the exposure of the program for what it is rather than what Zionists claim it to be is eroding support rapidly.

As you might guess, Peto's work has been denounced as anti-Semitic, a charge that becomes more like that of the boy who cried wolf every day.

That the U.S. Congress is a Zionist captive is clear from news today of the unanimous House of Representatives resolution to block any recognition of a Palestinian state even as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay do so with others likely to follow. It's as if a blizzard is forecast and the United States puts on a bathing suit while others bundle up.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The JNF - from white to black

There is a term for pro-Israel propaganda, hasbara, that is being used more and more as "the story of Israel" is coming out from the kind of storytelling known in the movie "Exodus" to the truth of a relentless quest for land regardless of those living on it.

With the truth of the story of Israel becoming more generally known, it's interesting to see the truth about the Jewish National Fund (JNF) come to light. What could be more benign than a group with the intention of planting trees in an arid place? Surely beautification and the creation of forests cannot be bad. If you look on their website they are highlighting the recent Carmel forest fires, that forest is an interesting case.

The Carmel forest didn't exist early in the 20th century, but Palestinian villages in that area did. With the coming of Israel these villages were erased and the JNF planted the trees in order to completely obliterate any trace of them, making it impossible for the evicted residents to return. Max Blumenthal has written an account of it, The Carmel Fires are Burning All Illusions in Israel.

The JNF has an annual meeting in the U.S. and this last summer it was disrupted for the first time, I believe, by protesters one of whom has written an account and explanation for the demonstration.

The tree-planting effort by the JNF in order to extinguish the past continues to this very moment in the Negev desert where Bedouin Israelis have had their town, Al-Araqib, demolished by their own government six times (and counting). In this case, the JNF has teamed up with another fervid group, GOD-TV to create the GOD-TV Forest complete with a sign announcing the fact.

Notice the sign says nothing about anyone or anything that was present before the creation of the forest. That would be an inconvenient detail, just as it would be for the other projects of the JNF.

UPDATE: January 1, 2012 - the following video gives a short overview of how the JNF operates, starting with mention of El-Araqib, where Palestinian citizens of Israel have been evicted 30 times to date.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

FBI questions U.S. citizen on travel to Israel/Palestine

Americans are proud of their freedoms. We'd like to think we can travel freely and visit any country we wish, but if you want to see Israel and the occupied territories, the FBI may be calling you. Here is a letter from an American, Sarah Smith (so American a name it sounds fake!) telling what happened to her:

I Am Being Subpoenaed By the FBI
by Sarah Midge Smith on Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Friday morning, December 3rd, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions. I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage. Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip.

The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states. So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street? I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians.

I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for the support they have given me and I encourage everyone to check out to learn more and to sign the petition against this witch hunt.

You can help by donating to my legal defense by sending a tax-deductible check to NLG Foundation. In the memo write: FBI Raids. You can mail it to Sarah Smith at 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, Il 60608.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

to see if I am smiling

My niece is in the armed forces. For her it has been all positive - gung ho, team spirit, flags snapping in the wind and jets flying in formation overhead. I have never served because I was lucky enough to get a high number in the Vietnam draft lottery. The number for my birthday was 262. The number for the day before my birthday was 8.

Life is like that.

I don't think I have ever felt such sorrow as when I visited the Vietnam war memorial in Washington, DC. It is the perfect object for its purpose, a dark wedge of marble, starting small, growing tall and deep, then becoming small again, just as did the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. I can't stand before it without tears because I know the 55,000 who died were my brothers who got the short straw. But I cannot forget that over two million Vietnamese died in that war under the assault of a nation from the other side of the world.

So my heart doesn't pound when bands play, troops march in parade and crowds cheer. Defense is necessary, glorification is not.

To see the truth, I ask you to watch a whopping 60 minutes of video, made by Israelis about young Israeli women drafted into the IDF. The title is mysterious but comes through powerfully late in the show. Please watch To See if I am Smiling.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

settlements will continue, the truth is now clear

In the news, the Obama administration admits defeat in its attempt to get Israel to stop building settlements.

It should be noted that at no time was the possibility of withholding the huge annual payment of over $3 billion to Israel from the United States even mentioned. If there was any doubt anywhere about the strength of the Israel lobby in the United States, it should now be gone. The President of the world's only superpower has no power whatsoever over a tiny country of 7 million on the other side of the world as it proceeds in a project that is as alien to the principles of human rights, liberty and justice supposedly valued by America is can be.

This is certainly a wake up call for all Americans, because it shows that the United States is bound to a rogue state that feels free to do as it wishes regardless not only of world opinion but of the policy of its one and only supporter.

Israel continues to move to more extreme positions that contradict the separation of religion and state in the U.S. There's no better example than the effort of a group of rabbis to deny housing to non-Jews by calling for property owners to refuse to rent to them in the Israeli city of Safed, claiming this is called for in the Torah. With this, the support for Israel by world Jewry will be further reduced, further clarifying the distinction between Judaism and Zionism.

At the same time, the blindness of the Israeli government to what it is doing to the Palestinians in the occupied territories is shown in Benjamin Netanyahu's condemnation of the rabbis' effort. Netanyahu claims the refusal to rent to non-Jews is unbecoming of a democracy, even as his government continues to support the settlers who take land from the Palestinians with no regard to the right of the owners to defend themselves in law. The Palestinians are under the complete control of Israel, that daily exerts its power to do with them as it pleases. Yet, refusing to rent to non-Jews is an affront to democracy!

Israel fails to recognize that it has no future on its present course. Either the Palestinians get a state of their own, now very unlikely, or Israel becomes a true democracy with equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians. There is a feeling among Palestinians that the best thing to do now is nothing and let the settlements continue until the Palestinians are thoroughly distributed within "greater Israel". Their plight as non-entities will be so egregious that Israel will sink to the bottom of nations (not much further to go), justly reviled and isolated, unable even to keep the support of the United States, whose citizens will be repulsed by blatant apartheid.

The rabbis intent on discrimination are paving the way. Expect much more such arrogance to come.