IDF orders seizure of Arab land near East Jerusalem

The Israel Defense Forces recently issued an order expropriating over
1,100 dunams of land from four Arab villages located between
East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

The land is slated to be used for a new Palestinian road that would connect East Jerusalem with Jericho. That in turn would “free up” the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim – through which the current Jerusalem-Jericho road runs – for a long-planned Jewish development consisting of 3,500 apartments and an industrial park.

The Palestinians and the international community, including the United States, have long objected to the E-1 plan on the grounds that it would cut the West Bank in two and sever East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Israel claims that the new road will solve this latter problem.

Due mainly to American objections, the E-1 plan has been frozen since 2004, other than construction of a thus-far empty police station in the area. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told Haaretz last week that police would move into the station by the end of this year. However, Israel promised the U.S. at the time that the station would not serve as an initial stage of the full housing project.

The land is being confiscated from the villages of Abu Dis, Arab al-Sawahra, Nebi Musa and Talhin Alhamar. The expropriation order was signed on September 24.

The new road will run along a route originally planned by the Ma’aleh Adumim municipality in 2005. According to that plan, the route was meant to ensure “transportational contiguity among Palestinian population centers.”

The plan also noted that the proposed housing development in E-1 would create an uninterrupted urban expanse between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Such an expanse would effectively sever the territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank.

Ma’aleh Adumim’s plan also called for building several other new roads to ensure “transportational contiguity” among Palestinian cities after work started on E-1. For instance, it proposed a ring road east of Ma’aleh Adumim that would link Hebron and Bethlehem, south of the settlement, with Ramallah to its north. Until the current expropriation order was issued, however, no steps had been taken toward building any of these roads.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon, the minister in charge of the “seam” region that runs along the border between Israel and the West Bank, told Haaretz that he was not consulted about the expropriation order and knows nothing about it.

The Defense Ministry said that the land was expropriated to pave the road and “has nothing to do with the E-1 issue.”

An official in the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he could not comment on the expropriation order, “since we don’t yet know all the details,” but in general the U.S. opposes any move that could impair the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian final-status deal

Gaza and Democracy

DSC00016--thumbFinally, after several years of wanting to go to Gaza, Dunya and I managed to spend two days there under the auspices of election observation. It didn’t take very long for Dunya to observe that the elections in Gaza City were far cleaner than those in Ohio in 2004, where she was working at the time. Lack of democracy is not Palestine’s problem; the democracy here is more thriving than I’ve seen anywhere else. So our two-day trip consisted of about a half hour of “election observation” amidst many hours of travelling around, talking with people, and photographing everything we saw. I know the West Bank well enough at this point that nothing seems particularly new. But from the moment we arrived at Erez crossing, I began to photograph the buildings, the corridors, the Israeli police dogs, the wall surrounding the Gaza Strip that looks very much like the wall being built now throughout the West Bank.

We stayed in Gaza City with Khaled Nasrallah and his family, one of the two families who had been living in the house in Rafah that Rachel Corrie was killed in front of in March 2003. The bulldozer that killed her did not demolish the Nasrallah’s home that day, but within a year the army completed the task and the family was left homeless. They now live in an apartment in Gaza City while a new house is being built for them in Deir Balah. Most of the people in Gaza who have been displaced by home demolition in the past few years have been displaced at least once before, in 1948, and some of them more than once. They’ve lived in a constant state of terror for the past five years, and according to some, it only got worse after the “disengagement”. Israeli shelling and other destruction from the air is not entirely uncommon, not to mention the sonic booms that only started since the settlers have left. A 9-year-old girl was shot and killed by the Israeli army on Thursday in Gaza, somewhere near a border with Israel. Probably just a few miles from where we were. Someone from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme told us that they have seen no particular change in their work since the “disengagement”, whereas a man at the Gaza International Airport explained a building’s construction by saying, “In the days of the occupation, the Israelis instructed us to build this building so they can observe the border. Now there’s no occupation, so the building is for us.”

The Gaza International Airport is really something else. Or not, but that’s what makes it so remarkable. It looks like any other airport, only with more beautiful design than many. And it is deserted. And the control towers have been bombed by Israeli Apaches. And the runways have been bulldozed every couple hundred meters. According to security at the airport, the only employees currently working there, the airport opened in 2000, and was forced by Israel to close early in 2001. Israel still forbids Palestinians from even beginning to reconstruct the runway. Palestinian Airlines only flies now between Egypt and Amman, and they only have two functioning airplanes. Our host is an accountant for the airline.

And then there’s Rafah. The row of houses along the border of Gaza and Egypt (which arbitrarily divided the community of Rafah in half when the border lines were drawn), are shot up thousands and thousands of times. That is, the houses that are still standing. More of them are in rubble. But the bullet holes through the windows, doors, walls; it looks more like war than anything I’ve ever seen. Our hosts who were displaced from Rafah and now live in Gaza City described to us some of the terror of their last year or two in Rafah: never knowing which rooms were safe to be in, Israeli bullets flying through their windows at all hours, the young daughters waking up in the middle of the night and screaming. The girls are still affected, their mother Samah told us, but only the oldest, now five years old, remembers a specific story from Rafah. The family had been sleeping in the garden because it was safer than the house. At one point they were all at slightly different places, someone in the garden, someone in the house, someone on the stairs. The shooting started, and young Mariam remembers the bullets flying towards their house, hitting a tree, and watching a guava fall off a tree and hit her father on the head. Her mother told the story laughing, saying “alhamdulillah” [thank god] we weren’t hurt any more than we were. She was in the hospital giving birth to her third daughter when their house was finally demolished. Thank god, she said, that nobody was in the house. The things to be thankful for in Gaza are incomprehensible to me.

Hope looks different, too, as Dunya pointed out during our visit to the former settlements. We had hired a driver for the day to take us around. At every turn he explained that the Israelis used to be here, and here, and here. This is where this person was killed, this is a school that was bombed, this is an old checkpoint. And then we entered the old settlement of Netzarim. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting a scene that superficially looked remarkably similar to me to demolished Palestinian homes. The Israelis are good at destroying things, we joked to each other. They destroy Palestinian homes, and they also destroyed the settlers’ homes (and left a huge mess) upon leaving Gaza. And this is hope, I suppose. Can rubble be hopeful?

Speaking of surprise, Gaza City is bustling. We arrived our first evening, met the family, ate dinner, and then Khaled asked, “Do you want to walk around the city?” We were shocked that he would go out at night, especially with two female internationals, but it was completely normal to him. And indeed, the shops were open, everyone was buying ice cream at the local ice cream parlor, last minute campaigning was subtly happening (campaigning is banned for 24 hours before election day, but nobody can be prevented from driving their cars, vegetable trucks, or donkeys around the streets with party flags on them). Apparently Gaza City is the Ramallah of Gaza, a thriving city where poverty is somewhat less apparent than other parts of Gaza. We asked if this is recent, since the disengagement. No, he told us, in Gaza City people have always just gone about their lives, sometimes dodging bullets and shells, but continuing with their lives.

Gaza is beautiful. I’ve heard statistics about it being the most crowded place on earth, so I wasn’t prepared for the open space, the parks of palm trees, the plazas with monuments and wide roads that are pedestrian friendly. But of course, by contrast, while driving south along the road with a beautiful beach and the Mediterranean to the right, we would look left and see refugee camps that look more like I expected refugee camps to look before first coming to Palestine. The camps I’m used to in the West Bank have slightly narrower streets than cities and villages, and a few more visible signs of poverty, but much of the refugee issue is somewhat unseen if just driving by. Some of these camps in Gaza are different, and with their tiny buildings and narrowest of streets they certainly look like they could be described as the most crowded places on earth.

The little bit of election observing we did was exciting, if only to see the incredible amount of civic engagement. In fact, you couldn’t be in Palestine and not be doing some sort of “election observing” during these past couple weeks, when all anyone has been talking about has been politics. I realize that I come from an American context where civic engagement is among the lowest in the world, so it excites me to be somewhere where even with such difficulty living under occupation, at least 75% of eligible voters voted. There is, of course, the knowledge in the back of my head that Israel is holding 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners who can’t vote from Israeli prisons, that the Israeli government only permitted 6% of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in the Palestinian elections, and that the 2/3 of the Palestinian population that lives outside of Palestine, mostly as refugees, do not have any say in who will be representing them and potentially negotiating away their right to return to their land. Not that negotiations will be happening any time soon here, since Israel refuses to negotiate with a Hamas that doesn’t disarm. I wish Hamas would refuse to negotiate with an Israel that doesn’t disarm. Maybe Hamas has already said something to this effect. I don’t know, I haven’t been reading much of the news. Mostly I have just been talking to Palestinian people, people who are shocked, excited, worried, and curious about what their future may bring. Hamas won on a platform of “change and reform” that mostly focused on ending corruption within the Palestinian Authority and bringing economic development to Palestine. Apparently they did not focus either on religion or resistance against Israel, probably realizing that these two points would get them less popular support from the Palestinian people. And indeed, they received in votes what people say is twice the amount of popular support they actually have. So there is shock. Some hope in the possibility of change, but concern about the opinion of the international community, and specifically the end or slowing down of cash flow from Western governments.

The most common joke I’ve heard made in the past couple days, if it can be called a joke, is that I’ll have to start covering myself fully. A man joked today that he’s already starting to grow his beard. I was in Dheisheh refugee camp yesterday where the kids were discussing the election, and the teenage girls unanimously decided they would never wear hijab, even if Hamas legislated it. One of the boys we were working with told us he didn’t want to eat any sweets that we had brought for our meeting, because Hamas won. We had a vote on the title of the exhibit that we’re putting together with the children about the trips we took them on, with suggestions like “Life Within Two Days”, “New Life”, and “Destroyed Villages”. At the end of the voting one of the kids said, “Hamas won!” So there is a lot of light joking about the situation, while everyone waits to see if Fatah will agree to work with Hamas or not, whether the government will have enough support to maintain control over the people, what their relationship with the outside world will be, and whether religious law will or will not come into place in some form.

Either way, as I’m reminded daily here, there is still occupation. I was able to meet my friend Fatima’s mother in Rafah, who hasn’t seen her daughter since 1997 because people in Gaza can’t get out and people in the West Bank can’t get to Gaza. A 20-year-old man we spent some time with in Gaza did not go an hour without saying, “Take me with you to the West Bank”. He’s never been there. Our crossing out of Gaza showed us firsthand for the first time what can only be described as indentured servitude. Thousands of Palestinian workers, those lucky enough to have permits, were standing shoulder to shoulder, waiting for hours to be allowed to cross back home to Gaza after a long day at work in the fields or building construction. They would go home for an hour or two to sleep, and come back to the border at midnight to wait until 6 am to cross back through again.

So the occupation and injustice goes on in all of Palestine, regardless of its status. In Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Israel, Palestinians do not have equal rights. Someone tried to convince us yesterday that while Palestinians inside Israel don’t have equal rights, at least they have some rights. Unequal rights are not rights, Dunya pointed out. It’s a concept that seems to escape many people in this context, people who in other contexts would agree and would be fighting for justice.

I know the Gaza “disengagement” caused people around the world to start thinking that occupation is over and everything is okay. I hope the Hamas win does not cause even fewer people to work for justice here. I haven’t been reading newspapers and I don’t know what you’re being told. But I’m pretty confident that I can advise you to be skeptical of both words and images that come out of this place these days. I doubt the mainstream media has suddenly decided to start telling the truth in the past two days. So question, question, question, and know that Palestine still needs all the support it can get.

The Apartheid Wall

The Guardian
Said Rhateb was born in 1972, five years after Israeli soldiers fought their way through East Jerusalem and claimed his family’s dry, rock-strewn plot as part of what the Jewish state proclaimed its “eternal and indivisible capital”. The bureaucrats followed in the army’s footsteps, registering and measuring Israel’s largest annexation of territory since its victory over the Arab armies in the 1948 war of independence. They cast an eye over the Rhateb family’s village of Beit Hanina and its lands, a short drive from the biblical city on the hill, and decided the outer limits of this new Jerusalem. The Israelis drew a line on a map – a new city boundary – between Beit Hanina’s lands and most of its homes. The olive groves and orchards were to be part of Jerusalem; the village was to remain in the West Bank.
The population was not so neatly divided. Arabs in the area were registered as living in the village – even those, like Rhateb’s parents, whose homes were inside what was now defined as Jerusalem. In time, the Israelis gave the Rhatebs identity cards that classified them as residents of the West Bank, under military occupation. When Said Rhateb was born, he too was listed as living outside the city’s boundaries. His parents thought little of it as they moved freely across the invisible line drawn by the Israelis, shopping and praying inside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Four decades later, the increasingly complex world of Israel’s system of classification deems Said Rhateb to be a resident of the West Bank – somewhere he has never lived – and an illegal alien for living in the home in which he was born, inside the Jerusalem boundary. Jerusalem’s council forces Rhateb to pay substantial property taxes on his house, but that does not give him the right to live in it, and he is periodically arrested for doing so. Rhateb’s children have been thrown out of their Jerusalem school, he cannot register a car in his name – or rather he can, but only one with Palestinian number plates, which means he cannot drive it to his home because only Israeli- registered cars are allowed within Jerusalem – and he needs a pass to visit the centre of the city. The army grants him about four a year.
There is more. If Rhateb is not legally resident in his own home, then he is defined as an “absentee” who has abandoned his property. Under Israeli law, it now belongs to the state or, more particularly, its Jewish citizens. “They sent papers that said we cannot sell the land or develop it because we do not own the land. It belongs to the state,” he says. “Any time they want to confiscate it, they can, because they say we are absentees even though we are living in the house. That’s what forced my older brother and three sisters to live in the US. They couldn’t bear the harassment.”

The ‘apartheid wall’

There are few places in the world where governments construct a web of nationality and residency laws designed for use by one section of the population against another. Apartheid South Africa was one. So is Israel.

Comparisons between white rule in South Africa and Israel’s system of control over the Arab peoples it governs are increasingly heard. Opponents of the vast steel and concrete barrier under construction through the West Bank and Jerusalem dubbed it the “apartheid wall” because it forces communities apart and grabs land. Critics of Ariel Sharon’s plan to carve up the West Bank, apportioning blobs of territory to the Palestinians, draw comparisons with South Africa’s “bantustans” – the nominally independent homelands into which millions of black men and women were herded.
An Israeli human rights organisation has described segregation of West Bank roads by the military as apartheid. Arab Israeli lawyers argue anti-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court by drawing out similarities between some Israeli legislation and white South Africa’s oppressive laws. Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and chairman of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission, visited the occupied territories three years ago and described what he found as “much like what happened to us black people in South Africa”.
As far back as 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African prime minister and architect of the “grand apartheid” vision of the bantustans, saw a parallel. “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state,” he said. It is a view that horrifies and infuriates many Israelis.
A prominent Israeli political scientist, Gerald Steinberg, responded to an invitation to appear on a panel at a Jerusalem cultural centre to debate “Is Israel the new apartheid?” by denouncing the organiser, a South African-born Jew, for even posing the question.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, the pro-Palestinian and anti-semitic campaign to demonise Israel focuses on the entirely false and abusive analogy with South Africa. Using the term ‘apartheid’ to apply to Israel’s legitimate responses to terror and the threat of annihilation both demeans the South African experience, and is the most immoral of charges against the right of the Jewish people to self-determination,” he replied.
Many Israelis recoil at the suggestion of a parallel because it stabs at the heart of how they see themselves and their country, founded after centuries of hatred, pogroms and ultimately genocide. If anything, many of Israel’s Jews view themselves as having more in common with South Africa’s black population than with its oppressors. Some staunch defenders of Israel’s policies past and present say that even to discuss Israel in the context of apartheid is one step short of comparing the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, not least because of the Afrikaner leadership’s fascist sympathies in the 1940s and the disturbing echoes of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws in South Africa’s racist legislation.
Yet the taboo is increasingly challenged. As Israel’s justice minister, Tommy Lapid, said, Israel’s defiance of international law in constructing the West Bank barrier could result in it being treated as a pariah like South Africa. Malaysia’s prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has called for a campaign against Israel of the kind used to pressure South Africa.
“Like the struggle against apartheid, the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation of their country enjoys enormous support from the global community,” he said. “Therefore a more concrete expression of this support by global societies to this campaign is timely and fitting.”
Anglican, Presbyterian and other churches have backed sanctions against Israel. Last year, one of the UK’s university teaching unions endorsed a boycott of two Israeli universities, before reversing its decision amid a torrent of criticism over the reasoning behind the move.
The Israeli government has condemned boycotts as anti-semitism and an attempt to “delegitimise” the Jewish state. It asks why only Israel, a democratic country, is singled out for sanctions. A few protests are not a bandwagon, but underpinning Israeli hostility is a fear, expressed in a secret Israeli foreign ministry report, that Israel’s standing abroad could sink so low in the coming years that it might find itself on a collision course with Europe which could see Israel as isolated as the apartheid regime and with serious economic consequences.
Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip last year, and the relinquishing of direct Israeli control over that territory, temporarily dampened some of the criticism. But even as the Gaza pullout was under way, Israel was entrenching its control of those parts of the West Bank it wants to retain, using the barrier to mark out an intended future border that would carve up the territory, and expanding Jewish settlements it intends to annex – a strategy that, if carried through by Sharon’s successors, is likely to strengthen the comparisons with apartheid and fuel calls for sanctions.
Israelis are genuinely bewildered that anyone might see similarities between their society and the old South Africa. Where, they ask, are the signs directing “Jews” and “non-Jews” to match the “petty apartheid” of segregated buses, toilets and just about every other facility in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
There are conspicuous differences, of course. Arab Israelis have the vote, although they were prevented from forming their own political parties until the 1980s. They are mostly equal under the law and these days the Israeli courts generally protect their rights. Jews are a majority in Israel; white South Africans were a minority. And Israel spent the first decades of its existence fighting for its life.
But for some of those with a foot in both societies, the distinctions are blurred by other realities. Some Jewish South Africans and Israelis who lived with apartheid – including politicians, Holocaust survivors and men once condemned as terrorists – describe aspects of modern Israel as disturbingly reminiscent of the old South Africa. Some see the parallels in a matrix of discriminatory practices and controls, and what they describe as naked greed for land seized by the fledgling Israeli state from fleeing Arabs and later from the Palestinians for the ever expanding West Bank settlements. “Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land,” said the Jewish South African cabinet minister and former ANC guerrilla, Ronnie Kasrils, on a visit to Jerusalem. “That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the occupied territories; the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common.”
Others see the common ground in the scale of the suffering if not its causes. “If we take the magnitude of the injustice done to the Palestinians by the state of Israel, there is a basis for comparison with apartheid,” said the former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel. “If we take the magnitude of suffering, we are in the same league. Of course apartheid was a very different philosophy from what we do, most of which stems from security considerations. But from the point of view of outcome, we are in the same league.”
Perhaps the real question is how Israel came to be in the same league as apartheid South Africa, whether by mirroring laws and political strategies, or in the suffering caused. And how it is that the government of a people who suffered so much at the hands of discrimination and hatred came to secretly embrace a regime led by men who once stood on the docks of Cape Town and chanted: “Send back the Jews.”
Torn between two struggles
In 1940, an Afrikaans-speaking Jewish boy called Arthur Goldreich was living in Pietersberg, the brutally intolerant capital of the Northern Transvaal. Goldreich was 11 and South Africa was at war with Nazi Germany.
One morning, his secondary school headmaster announced that students would be learning a foreign language, German. The implication was clear: many Afrikaners, including some of their political leaders, hoped and believed that Hitler would win the war. When Goldreich’s teacher distributed the German “textbook”, the Jewish boy found himself staring at a Hitler Youth magazine. He balked and wrote to the prime minister, Jan Smuts, refusing to learn German and demanding to be taught Hebrew. Goldreich got his way and was headed on a path that tore his life between two struggles; against white domination in South Africa, and for the survival of the Jewish state in Israel.
In 1948, both of Goldreich’s worlds were transformed within a few days of each other. Israel declared its independence on May 14, a fortnight before the apartheid Nationalist party won South Africa’s election and the men who backed Hitler came to power. Goldreich had already determined to go to Israel and fight to save it from strangulation at birth. “The reason I went was the Holocaust and the struggle against British colonialism but, of course, the Nats winning the election left me in no doubt about what I had to do,” he says.
Goldreich returned to South Africa in 1954 to join his other struggle. After a few years of political agitation, he became an early member of the African National Congress’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, led by Nelson Mandela. Goldreich wasn’t known to South Africa’s security police, so he was installed with his family as the tenant of Lillieslief farm in Rivonia, north of Johannesburg, where the underground leadership of the banned ANC met secretly.
Mandela wrote in his autobiography how he turned to Goldreich as one of the few in the ANC’s nascent guerrilla army who knew how to fight. “In the 1940s, Arthur had fought with the Palmach, the military wing of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. He was knowledgeable about guerrilla warfare and helped fill in many gaps in my understanding.”
In July 1963, the police raided the farm and captured a slew of wanted men, including Walter Sisulu, the ANC leader, and Goldreich.
Five of the 17 arrested at Rivonia were white, all of them Jewish. The captured men and Mandela, who was already in detention, were charged with sabotage and plotting violent revolution, which carried the death penalty. Before he could be tried, Goldreich broke out of a Johannesburg jail and eluded a much publicised nationwide hunt by fleeing to Swaziland disguised as a priest. Goldreich now lives in the affluent and tranquil city of Herzliya on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. There was a time when he believed the young Jewish state might provide the example of a better way for the country of his birth. As it is, Goldreich sees Israel as closer to the white regime he fought against and modern South Africa as providing the model. Israeli governments, he says, ultimately proved more interested in territory than peace, and along the way Zionism mutated.
Goldreich speaks of the “bantustanism we see through a policy of occupation and separation”, the “abhorrent” racism in Israeli society all the way up to cabinet ministers who advocate the forced removal of Arabs, and “the brutality and inhumanity of what is imposed on the people of the occupied territories of Palestine”.
“Don’t you find it horrendous that this people and this state, which only came into existence because of the defeat of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and in the conflict six million Jews paid with their lives for no other reason than that they were Jews, is it not abhorrent that in this place there are people who can say these things and do these things?” he asks.
Goldreich went on to found the architecture department at Jerusalem’s renowned Bezalel Academy, from where he saw architecture and planning evolve as tools for territorial expansion after the 1967 war. “I watched Jerusalem with horror and great doubt and fear for the future. There were those who said that what’s happening is architecture, not politics. You can’t talk about planning as an abstraction. It’s called establishing facts on the ground,” he says.

Beyond the green line
There was a part of Johannesburg that most residents of the apartheid- era city never saw. By the 1970s, the bulk of the black population was already forced out under the Group Areas Act, which defined living areas by race. The Sophiatown neighbourhood, once a thriving corner of black life, was bulldozed and replaced by rows of dreary bungalows for whites. But several hundred thousand black people remained in Alexandra township, close to Johannesburg’s most affluent neighbourhood, Sandton. The traffic out of Alexandra was one-way. Its residents left each day to work in the mines and shops or to clean homes in Sandton. Whites rarely ventured the short drive off Louis Botha avenue into the overcrowded, often squalid, unpaved back streets of an Alexandra deprived of a decent water supply, adequate schools and refuse collection.
The contrast between West and East Jerusalem is not as stark, but the disparities between Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods are underpinned by attitudes, policies and laws similar to those used against Johannesburg’s black population. Most of Jerusalem’s Jews never cross the “green line” – the international border that divided the city until 1967 – and many of those that do go only as far as the Wailing Wall to pray. If more Israelis were to travel deeper into the city they claim as their indivisible capital, they would encounter a different world from their own, a place where roads crumble, rubbish is left uncollected and entire Palestinian neighbourhoods are not connected to the sewage system.
According to the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, Jerusalem’s Jewish population, who make up about 70% of the city’s 700,000 residents, are served by 1,000 public parks, 36 public swimming pools and 26 libraries. The estimated 260,000 Arabs living in the east of the city have 45 parks, no public swimming pools and two libraries. “Since the annexation of Jerusalem, the municipality has built almost no new school, public building or medical clinic for Palestinians,” says a B’Tselem report. “The lion’s share of investment has been dedicated to the city’s Jewish areas.”
Take the interior ministry offices on each side of the divide. In the west, Jewish residents face a relatively short wait in an air-conditioned hall. In the east, Palestinians begin queuing in the middle of the night, or pay someone else to do so, to stand a chance of being served. Once the sun comes up, they wait for hours in the heat in front of an iron-grilled gate on the street for identity documents, or to register the birth of a child or the death of a parent. In Johannesburg, white people and black people were directed to different entrances of the home affairs ministry and afforded service – or not – according to their skin colour.
There is many a city in other parts of the world where minorities are forced into poor, underfunded neighbourhoods and treated as unwelcome outsiders. Where Israel’s self-proclaimed capital differs is in policies specifically designed to keep it that way, as in apartheid Johannesburg. In Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied territories, Palestinians face a myriad of discriminatory laws and practices, from land confiscations to house demolitions, de facto pass laws and restrictions on movement. “The similarities between the situation of East Jerusalemites and black South Africans is very great in respect of their residency rights,” says John Dugard, the international law professor widely regarded as the father of human rights law in South Africa and now the UN’s chief human rights monitor in the occupied territories. “We had the old Group Areas Act in South Africa. East Jerusalem has territorial classification that has the same sort of consequences as race classification had in South Africa in respect of who you can marry, where you can live, where you can go to school or hospital.”
Palestinians in East Jerusalem, often the city of their birth, are not considered citizens but immigrants with “permanent resident” status, which, some have found, is anything but permanent. In the old South Africa, a large part of the black population was treated not as citizens of the cities and townships they were born into but of a distant homeland many had never visited. “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants, who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right,” says B’Tselem.
“The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.”
Israel says it has offered citizenship to anyone born in Jerusalem and that few Palestinians take it up because doing so implies recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city. The government says that by choosing not to become citizens, Jerusalem’s Arabs subject themselves to restrictions.
After the entirety of Jerusalem was brought under Israeli rule, the Jewish state annexed about 70 sq km of Palestinian territory and incorporated it within the new municipal boundaries – sometimes taking land from villages such as Said Rhateb’s, but leaving the people and their homes outside the city. Israel then wrote laws to permit the government to confiscate property wholesale with one purpose: to transfer land and homes from Arabs to Jews.

Laws of division

“Planning and urban policy, which normal cities view as this benign tool, was used as a powerful partisan tool to subordinate and control black people in Johannesburg and is still used that way against Palestinians in Jerusalem,” says Scott Bollens, a University of California professor of urban planning who has studied divided cities across the globe, including Belfast, Berlin, Nicosia and Mostar. “In South Africa there was ‘group areas’ legislation, and then there was land use, planning tools and zoning that were used to reinforce and back up group areas. In Israel, they use a whole set of similar tools. They are very devious, in that planning is often viewed as this thing that is not part of politics. In Jerusalem, it’s fundamental to their project of control, and Israeli planners and politicians have known that since day one. They’ve been very explicit in linking the planning tools with their political project.”

At the heart of Israel’s strategy is the policy adopted three decades ago of “maintaining the demographic balance” in Jerusalem. In 1972, the number of Jews in the west of the city outnumbered the Arabs in the east by nearly three to one. The government decreed that the equation should not be allowed to change, at least not in favour of the Arabs.

“The mantra of the past 37 years has been ‘maintaining the demographic balance’, which doesn’t mean forcing Palestinians to leave,” says Daniel Seidemann, a Jewish Israeli lawyer who has spent years fighting legal cases on behalf of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. “It means curtailing their ability to develop by limiting construction to the already developed areas, by largely preventing development in new areas and by taking 35% [of Palestinian-owned land in greater East Jerusalem] and having a massive government incentive for [Jews] to build up that area.”

The political decision to discriminate against Arabs was an open but rarely acknowledged secret. The authors of a 1992 book on Jerusalem, Separate and Unequal, laid bare the policy. The writers, two of whom were advisers to the city’s mayors, said that Israeli policy since 1967 was “remorselessly” pursued with four objectives: to expand the Jewish population in the mainly Arab east of the city; to hinder growth of Arab neighbourhoods; to induce Arabs to leave; and to seal off Arab areas behind Jewish settlements.

In 1992, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Avraham Kahila, told the city council: “The principle that guides me and the mayor is that, in the Arab neighbourhoods, the municipality has no interest or reason to get into any kind of planning process. Thus, we encourage the building of Jewish neighbourhoods in empty areas that have been expropriated by the state of Israel. But so long as the policy of the state of Israel is not to get involved in the character of existing Arab neighbourhoods, there is no reason to require plans.”

The mayor at the time, Teddy Kollek, was so identified with the city that he was known as Mr Jerusalem. Talking in 1972 about East Jerusalem, Kollek’s adviser on Arab affairs, Ya’akov Palmon, told the Guardian: “We take the land first and the law comes after.”

At a city council meeting two decades later, Kollek was confronted by a lone councillor outraged at the evident discrimination in limiting Arab housing development. According to an Israeli newspaper report at the time, Kollek responded that the council was adhering to a policy “followed by all governments since 1967″ of restricting the growth of Palestinian neighbourhoods.

By then, discrimination was so entrenched that Kollek’s statement drew almost no attention, let alone criticism.

Of the 70 sq km of annexed Arab land around Jerusalem, the state expropriated more than one-third to build homes for Jews without constructing a single house for Palestinians on the confiscated land. The Jewish population of East Jerusalem had fled or been driven out in 1948. A gradual return after 1967 turned to a flood as the settlements ate into the east of the city. Today, the population of Jewish settlements in and close to East Jerusalem has grown to nearly two-thirds that of the Arab neighbourhoods.

“Houses were built for Israelis, but the lands were overwhelmingly taken from Palestinians,” says Seidemann. “This was the tool by which Israel was able to consolidate its hold over East Jerusalem. This was based on the law of expropriation for public purposes, but the public bearing the brunt of this was always Palestinian and the public benefiting from this was always Israeli.”

One method of preventing further construction by Arabs in the east of the city has been to declare many open areas to be “green zones” protected from building. Bollens says about 40% of East Jerusalem is designated as a green zone, but that this is really a mechanism for land transfer. “The government calls it a green zone to stop Palestinians building homes there, and then when the government wants to develop an area [as Jewish] it lifts that green zoning miraculously and it becomes a development place.”

Jerusalem’s mayor, Uri Lupolianski – who chaired the city’s planning and zoning committee in the 1990s – declined to be interviewed in person on these issues, but responded to written questions. “We have to keep a reasonable balance between residential areas and open green zones. We’ve designated green zones in all parts of Jerusalem, not just the eastern one,” he wrote. “We’re keeping the green zones in the entire city free from construction, and we plan to keep it this way. We believe that the development of parks and green zones in eastern Jerusalem will improve the quality of life of the people living there.”

During the 1990s, about 12 times as many new homes were legally built in Jewish areas as in Arab ones. Denied permission to build new homes or expand existing ones, many Palestinians build anyway and risk a demolition order. Israel’s former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, routinely defends the demolitions by arguing that any civilised society enforces planning regulations. But Israel is the only western society to deny construction permits to people on the grounds of race. Until 1992, so did South Africa.

Land confiscation

Israeli law also restricts where non-Jews may live. “Muslims and Christians are barred from buying in the Jewish quarter of the old city on the grounds of “historic patterns of life of each community having its own quarter’,” says Seidemann, in a phrase eerily reminiscent of apartheid’s philosophy. “But that didn’t prevent the Israeli government from aggressively pursuing activities to place Jews within the Muslim quarter. The attitude is: what’s mine is exclusively mine, but what’s yours is mixed if we happen to target it.”

Israeli law permits wholesale confiscation of property inside Israel or Jerusalem that is owned by Palestinians who live in areas defined as “enemy territory”, including the West Bank, which was occupied by Jordan until it lost the war against Israel in 1967. “Any Palestinian who was at any point in ‘enemy territory’ after 1967, forfeits his property,” says Seidemann. “But enemy territory includes the West Bank. It’s a remarkable situation. Any property that was ever ‘abandoned’ by any Palestinian becomes state land and is then ‘turned over to the Jewish people’. Any property that once belonged to a Jew is ‘recovered to the Jewish people’ and turned over to the settlers.”

“I hate the term ethnic cleansing in the context of this,” he says, “because of the connotations of rape and pillage, which this is not. But there was and is an active government effort using procedures such as this to rid targeted areas of its Palestinian residents and turn it into an exclusively or predominantly Jewish area. And I say, with regret, that the efforts have been moderately successful.”

The law is not applied in reverse: Jews who go to live in West Bank settlements do not lose property they may own in Tel Aviv. Last year, Sharon’s government quietly confiscated thousands of acres of Palestinian-owned lands within greater Jerusalem without compensation, after a secret cabinet decision to use a 55-year-old law on abandoned property against Arabs separated from their olive groves and farms by the West Bank barrier. Previous governments decided not to apply this law to East Jerusalem and the Sharon administration was embarrassed enough to expropriate the lands in secret before dropping the policy after an international outcry when it came to light. The Palestinians called the confiscations “legalised theft”.

“What stands out for Jerusalem and Johannesburg is that it was and is such a prolonged use of planning in pursuit of a political objective,” says Scott Bollens. “One distinction with South Africa is the racial identifiers and the racial rhetoric was so blatant, and it was so visible and it was so much part of apartheid South African language. But, despite the difference in rhetoric, the outcomes are very, very similar and the urban landscape Israel has created in the Jerusalem region is just as unequal, just as subjugating of the Palestinians as the ‘group area’ planning was in South Africa for the blacks.”

In 2004, Jerusalem’s council approved the first new masterplan for the city since 1959. The plan acknowledges some of the injustices and problems in East Jerusalem, provides for greater construction of homes in some Arab areas, and criticises Jewish settlement in the east of the city. But critics say that at its core is the same obsession with demography and what the plan describes as “preserving a firm Jewish majority in the city”.

A former Jerusalem city councillor, Meir Margalit, says the process was flawed from the start because the steering committee of 31 people who put the plan together included only one Arab. “It is characteristic everywhere of colonial regimes which believe that the ‘natives’ are worthy neither of suitable representation nor of being masters of their own fate. The planning team apparently sets out from the assumption that, in any case, one is dealing with a Jewish city and therefore there is no reason to ask the opinion of anyone who does not belong to the Jewish people,” he says.

‘Grey racism’

“One cannot but receive an impression that behind the document lies an attempt to restrict the natural increase of the Arabs in the east of the city. With their historical experience, the planning team understands that this cannot be achieved through doing away with all the firstborn sons, but the plan assumes that by restricting the Arabs’ living space, they will be compelled to leave the city and move into places in the periphery where they will be able to build without restriction.”

Margalit says that the measures used to bring this about, including restrictions on Palestinians travelling into Jerusalem and preventing women who marry men from the east of the city from moving there, amount to “grey racism”.

“This, in fact, is the strength of municipal racism. It is neither brutal nor openly visible, preferring to take cover behind apparently neutral formulations. Thus it is always carefully concealed behind consensus-oriented wording, hidden beneath a thick layer of cosmetic liberal language,” he says. “This is how a unique term which does not exist in the professional literature was born in our country: ‘grey racism’. This is not a racism stemming from hatred of the ‘other’, but a ‘lite racism’ rooted in a Zionist ideology which strove to be democratic but, in giving priority to Jewish interests, inevitably deprived others of their rights. When there is no equality, there is bound to be discrimination, and when all those discriminated against are of the same nationality, there is no alternative but to call it what it is – ‘national discrimination’ – which belongs to the same family as the infamous racial discrimination.”

Over the years since the 1967 occupation, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have made it easier for the Israelis by refusing to vote in city council elections on the grounds that this would amount to recognition of Israel’s claim over the entire city. Uri Lupolianski, the mayor, says that maintaining the demographic balance is no longer as crucial under the new masterplan, but he acknowledges that Arab neighbourhoods are disadvantaged. “The situation in eastern Jerusalem does leave a lot to be desired. However, during the last two years, we’ve taken significant measures to improve it and separate the needs of the residents from political issues,” he wrote. “A new central bus station was opened, as well as the biggest Arab school in Israel. I’ve ordered a new plan to rebuild the roads in those neighbourhoods. Also, we’ve expanded the route of the light train that’s currently in construction to include Arab neighbourhoods. The largest Arab cultural centre in Israel is being planned in the area.

“In the new masterplan, we have designated a wide area in eastern Jerusalem for construction for the Arab residents. There are more than 10 building plans, initiated by the municipality, currently in the works for eastern Jerusalem.

“There’s no basis for comparison with South Africa. We do not separate racially between the Jews and Arabs. We do, however, acknowledge the fact that different areas are populated by different groups, and we meet the needs of all groups. We keep the building and zoning laws completely separate from any political issues.”

According to the municipality’s most recent annual figures, the council issued 1,695 building permits in the city in 2004. Of these, 116 went to Arab parts of East Jerusalem and, of those, 46 were to build new homes. The balance was for extensions to existing houses. In 2004, a total of 212,789 sq metres was built in all of Jerusalem; 7% was in Arab neighbourhoods. Several months ago, Israel’s cabinet minister for Jerusalem, Haim Ramon, described the 33ft-high wall dissecting Arab neighbourhoods – which the government has insisted is purely a security measure with no political intent – as having the added advantage of making the city “more Jewish”.

The mask of equality
Israel’s one million Arab citizens are on a firmer footing. They can vote – the primary evidence, for many angered by the apartheid analogy, that Israel is not the old South Africa – at least, within Israel’s recognised borders. But the Jewish state has long viewed its remaining Arab population with suspicion and hostility, and even as the enemy within, through the country’s wars for survival against hostile neighbours and in the competition for land. Until 1966, Israeli Arabs lived under “military administration” which allowed detention without trial and subjected them to curfews, restrictions on jobs and where they could live, and required them to obtain passes to move around the country.

Israeli governments reserved 93% of the land – often expropriated from Arabs without compensation – for Jews through state ownership, the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Lands Authority. In colonial and then apartheid South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for whites. The Population Registration Act categorised South Africans according to an array of racial definitions, which, among other things, determined who would be permitted to live on the reserved land.

Israel’s Population Registry Act serves a similar purpose by distinguishing between nationality and citizenship. Arabs and Jews alike can be citizens, but each is assigned a separate “nationality” marked on identity cards (either spelled out or, more recently, in a numeric code), in effect determining where they are permitted to live, access to some government welfare programmes, and how they are likely to be treated by civil servants and policemen.

Ask Israelis why it is necessary to identify a citizen as a Jew or Arab on the card and the question is generally met with incomprehension: how can it be a Jewish state if we don’t know who the Jews are? The justification often follows that everyone in Israel is equal, so it does no harm. Arab Israelis will tell you differently.

Generations of Israeli schoolchildren were imbued with the idea that Arabs did not belong on the land of Israel, that they were somehow in the way. In the mid-1980s, the military was so concerned at the overt expressions of racism and anti-Arab hatred from within its ranks, sometimes cast within the context of the Holocaust, that it thought to re-emphasise “moral values”.

In 1965, the government declared some lands on which Arab villages had stood for decades, or even centuries, as “non-residential”. These “unrecognised” villages still exist but they are denied basic services, and subject to periodic demolitions and land confiscations.
The US state department’s annual human rights report – not a document known for being hostile to Israel – concluded that there is “institutionalised legal and societal discrimination against Israel’s Christian, Muslim and Druze citizens”. “The government,” it says,
“does not provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20% of the population, with the same quality of education, housing, employment and social services as Jews.”

Unequal education

In the 2002 budget, Israel’s housing ministry spent about £14 per person in Arab communities compared with up to £1,500 per person in Jewish ones. The same year, the health ministry allocated just 1.6m shekels (£200,000) to Arab communities of its 277m-shekel (£35m) budget to develop healthcare facilities.

Five per cent of civil servants are Arabs, and a high proportion of those are hired to deal with other Arabs. The foreign and finance ministries employ fewer than a dozen Arab Israelis between them, when their combined staff totals more than 1,700 Jews. Until recently, the Bank of Israel and the state electricity company did not hire a single Arab.

Dan Meridor, a former cabinet minister in several governments and a one-time rival to Ariel Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party, blamed social factors and years of conflict – not intent to discriminate – for the low representation of Arabs in the civil service. “I don’t have the figures, but I think generally speaking it may be true. One has to check whether it relates to the level of education. If, for example, people in the government civil service are of higher education than the general public and the Arab population are generally lower in education than the general public, it may explain some of the differences,” he says.

“Some jobs may be less accessible. Not officially, but in fact. Take the number of workers in, say, the electricity company that are Arabs and it is much much smaller than the proportion in the country. There’s a historical reason for that. Jews fighting Arabs and Arabs fighting Jews was not only with weapons. There were two communities fighting for hegemony and power in the very broad sense of the word. This is the ethos of the Jews versus Arabs in the electricity company, on the land, in the labour market, in the building industry. Generally speaking, there has been improvement, but there is still, I think, in some areas, a lot to be done. Not on the legal basis – legally, everyone is equal – but on the opportunity basis.”

Arab Israelis who fail to find employment in the civil service because of a lack of education say that this is the result of government policy. Israel maintains separate schools for Arabs and
Jews on the grounds of language differences, but many Israeli Arab parents say this is a cover for systematic discrimination against their children.

Separate and unequal education systems were a central part of the apartheid regime’s strategy to limit black children to a life in the mines, factories and fields. The disparities in Israel’s education system are not nearly so great and the intent not so malign, but the gap is wide. The Israeli education ministry does not reveal its budget for each of the two systems, but 14 years ago a government report concluded that nearly twice as much money was allocated to each Jewish pupil as to each Arab child.

A Human Rights Watch report two years ago said the situation has not significantly changed and there remain “huge disparities in education spending” and that “discrimination against Arab children colours every aspect” of the education system. The exam pass-rate for Arab pupils is about one-third lower than that for their Jewish compatriots. In 2004, a threat by angry Arab Israeli parents in Haifa to register their children in Hebrew-language schools so shocked Jewish parents that the authorities quickly took steps to improve Arab schools there.

The suspicion with which the state still regards its Arab citizens was displayed by the recent revelation that the Shin Bet security service places Jewish teachers into Arab-language schools to monitor the activities of the other teachers. A Shin Bet official is also a member of the committee appointing teachers.

Israel’s education ministry failed to respond to requests for an interview. Approached individually, a senior politician who formerly had responsibility for education and who has acknowledged that discrimination exists, and spoken against it, declined to be interviewed, saying he did not wish to criticise his former ministry.

Asked for an interview to respond to specific allegations of discrimination in the civil service, education and housing, the government replied through the deputy director general of the Israeli
foreign ministry, Gideon Meir. He conceded that there had been de facto discrimination but said it was rooted in historic conflicts and suspicions, not an intent to subjugate.

“There was never an intention because if we really wanted to create apartheid we could have done it. The fact is we have never done it, there was never even a thought about discriminating,” he said. “Yes, during certain years there were fewer funds given to the Arabs. There were also years after 1948 when the Arabs were under military control. Slowly, slowly the Arabs made their way up. The Arabs today can go into the civil service. The foreign ministry opened to Arabs only in 1989. It took time to build trust. I have in my department today a Bedouin.

“The fact is that Arabs were always members of the Knesset, even those who were delegitimising the Jewish state. They can participate. Is it enough? No, it’s not enough. Can we do more? Yes, we can do more. But ask the Arabs who live in Israel if they want to be part of a Palestinian state and they say no, they prefer to remain where they are. Why?”

Sharon laws

Under Sharon’s tenure as prime minister from 2001, new forms of discriminatory legislation were passed, including the now notorious Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, which bars Israelis who marry Palestinians from bringing their spouses to live in the country. The legislation applies solely to Palestinian husbands or wives. Hassan Jabareen, a lawyer and director general of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, challenged the law before the Supreme Court. He told the judges there was a parallel with a landmark case in 1980s South Africa – the Komani case – which successfully challenged the pass laws that broke up black families by preventing spouses from joining their husbands or wives in towns.

“As a constitutional lawyer, I find myself bringing landmark cases from the apartheid era before the Israeli Supreme Court because comparative cases from modern and democratic countries are not that helpful. You have to bring harsh cases in order to warn the Supreme Court about racist laws; not discriminatory, but racist,” said Jabareen. “We had a case two years ago which essentially said Arabs would receive lower child-support allowances. We compared it to laws of economic discrimination in apartheid South Africa. In the end, the Knesset scrapped the law.”

Justice was also not always blind to the difference between Arab and Jew. In June 1986, 18 months before the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising (intifada), a Tel Aviv judge drew protests for sentencing a Jewish Israeli to six months’ community service for killing an Arab boy. But the present supreme court has proved more willing than its predecessors to confront discrimination. It has yet to rule on the Nationality and Entry Law, but the then Labour interior minister in the coalition government, Ophir Pines-Paz, called it “draconian and racist” and pressed parliament to amend the legislation. The Israeli parliament responded by extending the regulations. In the past few days alone, the police have arrested eight women, the Palestinian wives of Arab Israelis, in the Israeli village of Jaljulya and deported them to the occupied territories.

Among women living under the threat of future deportation is the wife of an Israeli football player. MPs say the law has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the security threat posed by Palestinians.

Its backers question how anyone can accuse them, as Jews at the end of a long line of persecuted generations, of racism, or in any way of resembling the old Afrikaner regime. But for years, much of South Africa’s Jewish population and successive Israeli governments made their own pact with apartheid – a deal which exchanged near silence by most South African Jews on a great moral issue for acceptance, and clandestine cooperation between Israel and the Afrikaner government that drew the two countries into a hidden embrace.

A Call to Fight the Occupation – Not Each Other

With the intention of forming a human chain across Ramallah from the Hamas-controlled parliament building to the Fatah-controlled PA headquarters, an estimated 500 to 1,000 Palestinians gathered yesterday in the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the internal violence plaguing Palestine. The demonstrators, from towns all over the West Bank, held hands and stretched out from the parliament to the center of town, at which point everyone began marching, singing and chanting with signs and banners towards the PA Headquarters.

Organized by the Palestinian Farmer’s Union, the demonstration gathered farmers, workers, schoolchildren, women’s groups and international activists together to demand an end to the recent violent conflict between Fatah and Hamas. The infighting has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths, mainly in Gaza, leaving many Palestinians calling for national unity and support from leaders in ending the violence. Many demonstrators feel such internal conflict weakens Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. One large banner which depicted a destroyed olive tree, read, “Let’s work together to protect the land, and halt Palestinian bloodshed.”
At the PA headquarters, the crowd chanted for about ten minutes outside the entrance when the gates opened and armed Palestinian guards welcomed the demonstrators inside the government compound. After a few moments, a presidential spokesperson arrived and informed the people of President Abbas’ strong support for national unity and an end to the fighting among Fatah and Hamas members.

Ten-year old girl brain dead after border police shooting

Abir Aramin, ten years old, who was wounded by an Israeli border policeman Tuesday the 16th was announced brain dead this morning at the Haddasa Ein Karem hospital and is being examined by a committee to determine whether or not to unplug her from life support machines.

Bassam Aramin, the girl’s father, is a member of Combatants for Peace, the Israeli-Palestinian peace organisation. Israeli and Internationals supporters have gathered at the girls School in Anata to express their solidarity and protect the traumatised students from the ongoing threat of the Israeli border police.

Hassan, a sixteen-year old student who witnessed Abir’s injury and carried her back to the girls school stated “the students of the girls school and the boys school had both just come out of an examination. A border police jeep approached the gathering of girls. The girls were afraid and started running away. The border police jeep followed them in the direction in which they were retreating. Abir was afraid and stood against one of the shops at the side of the road, I was standing near her. The border policeman shot through a special hole in the window of the jeep that was standing very close to us. Abir fell to the ground. I picked her up and took her to the girls school. I saw that she was bleeding from the head.”

According to Avichai Sharon of Combatants for Peace and a friend of the family “The Israeli border police have been entering Anata frequently when students go and return from school for the last year and eight months. This began with the construction of the Wall near Anata, supposedly in order to protect the construction workers from the students, but construction of the wall was completed over a month and a half ago”. According to Wael Salameh, a close friend of the family and a member of Combatants for Peace, “This week border police would invade the village twice a day when the students were going and returning from school.”

The occupier defines justice

On Jerusalem’s Jabotinsky Street, opposite the President’s Residence, a medium-sized plaque is fixed on a locked gate, enclosing a broad building and a lovely garden: “This building was the location of the British Mandate Government’s High Military Court, which held the trials of the Hebrew resistance fighters from the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi.” The sign bears the emblems of the Jerusalem municipality and the three resistance organizations. It further notes: “The resistance fighters refused to acknowledge the authority of the court to judge them, and asked to be recognized as prisoners of war.”

The speaker of the Palestinian Authority’s parliament, who was arrested two weeks ago by the Israel Defense Forces, also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Military Court to judge him. Obviously the two latest detainees, whose arrest was deemed by Israel to be the appropriate solution to its shortcomings in releasing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will make the same declaration. Nasser A-Shaer, the Palestinian education minister and deputy prime minister, and Mahmoud Ramahi, chief whip of the Palestinian Legislative Council, were arrested on Saturday and Sunday. Incidentally, the Palestinians have lately ceased using the verb “arrested” in regards to the arrests of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. Instead they use the verb “abducted.”

These three detainees/abducted join about 10,000 other Palestinian prisoners and detainees. As with the prisoners of the Hebrew resistance, who saw themselves as POWs regardless of their actions (killing British soldiers or Arab civilians), some Palestinians request that their prisoners be declared POWs. Others prefer the definition of political prisoners. Let’s let the definitions rest. In any case, from the offense to the jailing, Israel, as an occupying force, plays around with the definitions as it sees fit.

On Sunday, at 4:30 A.M., IDF soldiers shot and killed a worker, Jalal Uda, 26, and injured three other Palestinian civilians. This happened not far from the Howara checkpoint, south of Nablus. Palestinian newspapers referred to it as the “crime scene.” The young men rode a taxi in a road bypassing the checkpoints. For the last several weeks the army has again forbid young men under age 32 from leaving Nablus. But people have to make a living, and thousands are looking for hidden routes. An offense punishable by death, so it seems. The soldiers acted as prosecutor, judge and executioner. According to the rules of occupation, when soldiers kill Palestinian civilians, they and those who sent them are never criminals, suspects, accused or convicts. The brigadier general who limits the age of those who exit the Nablus compound, by virtue of his belonging to the “Defense Army” can also not be considered a criminal, suspect or convict.

When a Palestinian kills an Israeli – soldier or civilian – his name, picture and details of his indictment will be published. He will automatically be condemned to life in jail, and his prime minister or the leader of his organization will be considered responsible and hence a target for arrest or assassination. The soldiers who kill Palestinian civilians are sheltering under the wide apron of the occupation army. Their names will not be known in public, and their prime minister and commanders will not be deemed accountable.

The Palestinian detainees are led to a military court: The same military establishment that occupies and destroys and suppresses the civilian population is the one that determines that to resist occupation – even by popular demonstrations and waving flags, not only by killing and bearing arms – is a crime. It is the one to prosecute, and it is the one to judge. Its judges are loyal to the interest of defending the occupier and the settler.

Allegedly every Palestinian is tried, convicted and jailed as a private person who committed a criminal offense. But a sharp discrimination in the conditions of imprisonment proves that the Palestinian security prisoner is punished not as an individual, but as a representative of a group, as part of its overall suppression. Contrary to international law, the majority of Palestinian prisoners and detainees are not held in the occupied territory, but rather inside Israel. Contrary to popular myth, Israel does not respect the right to regular family visits.

The army does its best to disrupt the visitation schedule, using various security and technical excuses. Only relations of the first degree (parents, siblings and children) are allowed to visit the prisoners, but hundreds of them have not had the privilege of any visits for several years. The right to make daily use of a telephone is given to the most dangerous of criminal prisoners, and is denied from Palestinian security prisoners, among them citizens and residents of Israel. This is done via a weak and unconvincing excuse of a security establishment that has advanced and effective surveillance devices. The path of sentence reduction and clemency is open to the Jew (especially when he is a settler) and is almost hermetically shut to the Palestinian.

It is no wonder that the Palestinians support every action – such as kidnapping soldiers – that tries to break the rules of this discrimination game. Every Palestinian prisoner’s personal history is an _expression of the freedom Israel allows itself in the implanting of an extreme subculture of double standard, discriminating blood from blood, human being from human being, nation from nation.

Read about Gaza

Amnesty Report , Israel and the Occupied Territories 2007

ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

STATE OF ISRAEL

Head of state: Moshe Katzav
Head of government: Ehud Olmert (replaced Ariel Sharon in April)
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
International Criminal Court: signed but declared intention not to ratify

Increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians resulted in a threefold increase in killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian armed groups diminished by half. More than 650 Palestinians, including some 120 children, and 27 Israelis were killed. Israeli forces carried out air and artillery bombardments in the Gaza Strip, and Israel continued to expand illegal settlements and to build a 700-km fence/wall on Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories. Military blockades and increased restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of Palestinians and the confiscation by Israel of Palestinian customs duties caused a significant deterioration in living conditions for Palestinian inhabitants in the Occupied Territories, with poverty, food aid dependency, health problems and unemployment reaching crisis levels. Israeli soldiers and settlers committed serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, against Palestinians, mostly with impunity. Thousands of Palestinians were arrested by Israeli forces throughout the Occupied Territories on suspicion of security offences and hundreds were held in administrative detention. Israeli conscientious objectors continued to be imprisoned for refusing to serve in the army. In a 34-day war against Hizbullah in Lebanon in July-August, Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Israeli bombardments killed nearly 1,200 people, and destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes and other civilian infrastructure. Israeli forces also littered south Lebanon with around a million unexploded cluster bombs which continued to kill and maim civilians after the conflict.

Bil’in Announces Plans to Build Hotel on Israeli Occupied Village Land

This morning at 10 am, residents of Bil’in, the Palestinian village that has become the very symbol of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation announced their intention to build a hotel on land belonging to the village, but occupied by Israel. Villagers erected a 5×3 meter sign-post advertising the forthcoming hotel called ‘Falastin’, and intend to submit a planning application to the Israeli Civil Administration which is responsible for civilian matters on occupied Palestinian land.

The village land is behind the illegal apartheid barrier that the Israeli military has enforced on the village. The sign has been erected in the illegal settlement of Matityahu East near to the apartments Bil’in villagers tried to move into in July, and the project was inaugurated with the laying of a foundation stone.

In a similar way to Bil’in villagers’ attempt back in July to legally move into an apartment building in the Israeli settlement, this measure is both symbolic and practical. The intention is genuinely to build a hotel on the land. At the same time, the action is being undertaken to highlight the apartheid nature of the Israeli legal system. The Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction forbidding the occupation of apartments in the Matityahu East settlement as this land was stolen from Bil’in through fraudulent land purchases – the affidavit affirming the transfer of ownership was signed by an attorney representing the settlers, instead of by the head of Bil’in, as is required. However, Jewish settlers have been moving into apartments in Matityahu East in defiance of the Supreme Court and with the complicity of the police and military.
In stark contrast to this treatment of settlers, during the attempted move-in in July, after the Bil’in arrvived in the empty apartments in Matityahu East, the military declared the area a closed military zone and Border Police forcibly evicted the families and removed them to the other side of the apartheid wall.

In July the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the construction company responsible for the expansion of the illegal settlement to demolish two partial structures, restore some of the land to its previous pre-colonial agricultural state and build an access road for Bil’in villagers. The company demolished the structures last month in order to boost their chances of gaining retrospective permission for the other apartments built illegally, but no attempt has yet been made to fulfill the other parts of the court’s decision.

Politics as Usual

_42606761_water203My friend Silvia, from Deir Ballut village, had barely had time to sit down after returning through checkpoints and roadblocks from her university in Nablus, when she turned to me and asked, “Want to hear a joke?”

I couldn’t resist, so she began:

A man saved a girl from dying, and in the process a cat died. A journalist went to talk with the man and told him, “Tomorrow in the newspaper I’m going to write, ‘American hero saves girl from death.'”

“But I’m not American,” replied the man.

“Okay,” said the journalist, “I’ll write, ‘Spanish hero saves girl from death.'”

“But I’m not Spanish,” said the man, “I’m Palestinian.”

The next day the newspaper came out. The headline read, “Arab terrorist kills innocent cat.”

We laughed, continued to tell a few more jokes, drank tea, and talked. As the rest of the world continues to respond to the Palestinian elections as though Palestinians have killed an innocent cat, life here continues. Of course, the elections and the political situation in general are never far from people’s minds these days. Every time any leader makes a speech about Hamas or the Danish cartoon, the room I’m in goes quiet as people’s eyes are glued to the television.

I’ve gotten into the habit of asking children who they voted for, although of course they didn’t actually vote. Usually they say “Fatah” or “Hamas,” generally following the party line of their parents. I was in the home of a Palestinian policeman (Fatah) a couple weeks ago and I asked his 3-year-old daughter who she voted for. “Hamas,” she replied. Her father looked at her incredulously and asked, “Whose daughter are you?” She quickly corrected herself: “Fatah.” I was in the home of another friend a few days ago and I asked his 3-year-old son who he voted for. “Dr. Waji,” he replied, giving me the name of the specific candidate who had gone from Fatah to independent during a series of misunderstandings among the Salfit Fatah party.

Last night my host family here in Dheisheh told me that the PA has been meeting and making as many decisions and changes as they can before Hamas takes power. Apparently they have voted for many significant powers to be transferred back from the parliament to the president’s office (Abu Mazen / Mahmoud Abbas is still president), essentially meaning that Fatah will retain power. “Will Hamas accept this?” I asked. “They have no choice,” was the response. And meanwhile, I heard that the US Congress has officially decided to boycott the PA because Hamas will be taking power in the PLC.

It’s all a bit of a mess, but people are excited to see what will happen. Even people heavily involved in the Fatah movement have told me, “The people taught us a lesson. We weren’t united, we ran too many candidates and our support was split, we were corrupt, people wanted change.” Several people have even told me that Hamas is the only party that can make peace with Israel and make it look like a victory for the Palestinian people, rather than a compromise of more and more rights. I’m curious to see what that might look like, although I’m not convinced the Palestinians will have a partner after the Israeli elections. Netanyahu’s mean face is plastered on huge billboards all over Israel right now, with the simple phrase, “Strong against Hamas.” Olmert continues to talk about unilateral steps that he will be “forced” to take. It doesn’t seem anyone is willing to actually negotiate. I’m not sure if this will make any concrete difference in people’s lives here, since negotiations have mostly benefited Israelis and harmed Palestinians, but again, I’m curious to see what will happen.

Last night while we were watching the news in Dheisheh refugee camp, my host father told me about the “old days” when there was no electricity. Dheisheh got electricity in 1978, but before then, he remembers going with his father and brothers to a big room to watch the only television in the camp, run by a motor. Now it’s hard to find a house that doesn’t have the TV on all the time. Usually it’s music videos from Lebanon and Egypt, interspersed with the news, but these past few weeks people have definitely been watching more of the news. And it seems people are especially interested in what’s happening in Israel as well. Every day people ask each other if Sharon is still alive, though the next comment is usually, “It doesn’t really matter. And anyway, it’s like with Arafat, he’s been dead for a while and they’ll just tell us that he’s dead when they want to, probably around Israeli election time.” Last week we read the streaming headline on the bottom of the screen that Sharon might die that night, followed by the statement: “Before he goes to the grave, ask him how many centimeters of Palestinian land he’s taking with him.” My host family started laughing and said, “I can’t believe they wrote that on the news, that’s great!” Last night we watched a very cheaply made program that is on every night, in which a person holds up an Israeli newspaper, and a voice translates the headlines into Arabic. I asked my host father if there’s any commentary. “No,” he said, “just the translation.”

The program ended, and on came a speech from a Hizbollah leader about Denmark. I asked my host family why the community is now so organized in boycotting Denmark and Norway, and not Israel and the US. “There’s no substitute for the Israeli vegetarian schnitzel I’ve been feeding you,” responded my host mother. It’s not about the schnitzel, I told her, and I’d happily give that up as part of a boycott. But they would hear nothing of it. We’re too intertwined with each other, they said. Israel is here, it’s not going away, whereas Denmark is not “here” (in Palestine) in the same way and it’s not so difficult to boycott them. Another friend said something similar. “When the Arab world and the rest of the world implements real sanctions and boycotts and divestment against Israel, then you can start talking to us about boycotting.” I see the point, but I’m still not entirely sure I agree that one needs to come before the other. In any case, it does frustrate me that Denmark and Norway are taking the blame for what is perpetrated more by the US than any other country in the world. Of course, I’m happy on a personal level not to walk down Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem and see the sign, “Americans are not welcome in our land,” but on a political level I do think that would make a lot more sense than, “Danish are not welcome in our land,” which I saw in the window of a shoe store yesterday.

Well, I suppose I did have a lot to say about politics after all. I had planned to write more about the daily interactions I’ve been having, but I suppose politics infuses them all these days. I will share one final story which perhaps can be seen as a feminist response to the political situation, but which is probably more indicative of teenage girls’ obsession with love. On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, almost every girl I know defied the school’s rules and wore red to school. Some of the bolder girls wore red jackets and shoes, others wore red t-shirts under their uniforms. One friend told me, “The headmistress made an announcement that everyone wearing red would be punished, but what are they going to do, punish the whole school?” If only this principle would be applied again to resistance, maybe something could change for the better.

DUTCH COMPANY INVOLVED IN CONSTRUCTION OF THE WALL

Research undertaken by United Civilians for Peace, a Dutch NGO-platform dedicated to promoting justice and peace in Palestine and Israel, has revealed that Dutch company Lima Holding BV, in Spijkenisse, is involved in the construction of the illegal Wall that Israel is building in the occupied West Bank.

Lima Holding, which operates in Israel under the Riwal brand name, provides mobile cranes for putting into place the up to 9-metres high concrete elements that make up the Wall.The exact scope and nature of the company’s involvement in the construction of the Wall is yet to be determined.

The company’s role in the construction of the Wall became known after a report by Dutch television’s Netwerk, which showed one of Lima Holding’s cranes building the Wall and carrying the Riwal logo. A Dutch journalist of RTV Rijnmond recognised the Riwal brand name as belonging to a company in Dordrecht, a city near Rotterdam. In Dordrecht, Riwal is the main sponsor of soccer club FC Dordrecht.

The journalist of RTV Rijnmond did an item about the issue, for which he approached the Dutch company. In a statement, the company admitted its involvement in the building of the Wall and argued that the related activities were accepted and executed purely as a “commercial order”.

Following the item of RTV Rijnmond, Bert Koenders, foreign affairs spokesperson of the Dutch Labour party, asked Ben Bot, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, parliamentary questions. In one of his answers, Bot claimed that Lima Holding was in fact an Israeli company and that the Dutch Riwal company was not directly involved in the construction of the Wall. Remarkably, the Minister based this answer exclusively on information provided by the Dutch company.

To clarify the ownership of the company participating in the construction of the Wall, United Civilians for Peace approached research firm Profundo. With little effort, Profundo proved that Lima Holding is 100 per cent owned by two Dutch holding companies: D.Schalekamp Beheer BV and MDN Holding BV. Dick Schalekamp owns D.Schalekamp Beheer, while Doron Livnat, an Israeli businessman living in the Netherlands, owns MDN Holding.

Moreover, Schalekamp and Livnat are two of the three owners of Schalekamp Beheer BV, the holding company that runs the Riwal Group’s activities in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and France.

On 16 September, the research by United Civilians for Peace was made public through an article in Het Financieele Dagblad (the Dutch version of The Financial Times). Bert Koenders announced he would seek further clarification from the Dutch government.

Martin Siepermann is the lobby & campaign coordinator of United Civilians for Peace.

Next Page »