Palestine solidarity activists in Thessaloniki, Greece, engaged in a creative action in support of the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing on 28 May when they entered an Estee Lauder cosmetics store with tree saplings in tow.
According to a press release from an activist performance group calling itself the Land Annexation Society, six participants dressed in suits as members of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and “proceeded to ‘plant’ trees over the Estee Lauder shop space … flyers were distributed to shoppers and staff informing them that ‘this Estee Lauder space is currently being rezoned.’”
The JNF is an Israeli quasi-governmental institution which has facilitated ethnic cleansing operations since 1948 and continues to administer land-grabs for Jewish-only use in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and in places like al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) desert. It was tasked with literally covering up the destruction of approximately 500 Palestinian villages beginning in the late 1940s by planting trees and forests over the ruins of Palestinian homes. The JNF has currently re-branded itself as an environmental charity organization, and has implemented its land confiscation policies as ones under a benign-sounding “re-greening” project in the Naqab.
The press release continued:
This was to draw a parallel with the actions of the JNF, which has been involved in forcibly appropriating Palestinian homes and ”rezoning” them under an ecological reforestation scheme. By this “planting” of trees without prior announcement or permission, the Land Annexation Society say they wish to highlight the very activity engaged in by the JNF on Palestinian lands.
The action comes a day after the JNF hit the headlines in the UK, with British Prime Minister stepping down from his honorary patronage of the organisation following a letter from the Stop The JNF. This followed calls in the UK Parliament for the JNF’s charitable status to be revoked.
The Estee Lauder cosmetics retailer was chosen as a target due to its chairman, Ron Lauder, who also sits as the chairman of the JNF. Activists called on customers to boycott Estee Lauder as part of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against companies involved with or profiting from the violation of Palestinian rights.
Today the JNF holds over half of the seats on the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) Council, a state institution that sets policy for 93% of Israeli land held in the public domain, while the JNF itself directly holds 13% of such land. In recent years there have been legislative attempts to bring into law the JNF policy of preserving land exclusively for Jews while a bill calling for equal allocation of land among Jews and Arabs was last year rejected.
A video of the Estee Lauder action can be viewed here. The action comes just weeks after a similar tree-filled protest took place against the JNF at their fundraiser in New York City.
RAFAH – The opening of Rafah on 28 May, the only official border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, has created a lifeline for Palestinians living in Gaza, but some, mostly refugees, will still be restricted to their localities because they lack identification papers.
Palestinians were allowed to pass freely from Gaza into Egypt through Rafah for the first time in four years. The decision marked a huge shift in Egyptian foreign policy, introduced after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and provides a critical valve for the 1.6 million people trapped within Gaza’s borders since June 2007.
The crossing was partially opened in May last year after the deaths of international activists on board a flotilla attempting to break the siege. It operated a five-day week, from noon until 4pm, but was open only to foreign passport holders, Palestinians with foreign visas and medical patients.
The restrictions had made it incredibly difficult for Palestinians to enter Egypt, even on genuine medical grounds. From April 2011 to date, around 2,100 Palestinians have been denied entry into Egypt for unspecified reasons, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Under the new rules, all women, minors and any man under 18 and over 40 will be able to pass freely without a visa six days a week from 9am until 4pm.
Mohamed Matar, 39, a shopkeeper from Rafah, who was among the thousands of people lining up at the crossing on 28 May hoping to leave Gaza, said: “I won’t be 40 until October but I’m still going to try. My Mum is in Egypt and very sick with Alzheimer’s. She is 80 years old and none of her sons are with her. We are all here in Gaza.
“When I speak to her on the phone she sounds very tired and weak. I’m afraid she will die. If I get through the border tomorrow, at least I can sit with her for a week so that she recognizes me again.”
Not everyone happy
Not all Palestinians are as optimistic. For men aged 18-40, the reopening makes little difference. Unless they can provide proof of having a place at university abroad or a foreign visa, they will remain stuck in the Gaza Strip.
There are also hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, mostly refugees, without identification documents who cannot leave. While it officially withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel retains control of its maritime, air and most of its land borders. It also retains control of its population registry, including the issuance of Palestinian ID numbers without which it is impossible to travel.
Sana Easa, 39, has not seen her family in Cairo since she moved to Gaza to marry her husband Salah 12 years ago. Both need medical treatment unavailable in Gaza’s hospitals, but even with the new policy at Rafah, they are stuck.
Sana is a Palestinian but was born in Cairo and lived there most of her life. Her parents left Gaza as refugees in 1967. Her Egyptian passport expired in April 2004 but in order to renew it, she must go to Cairo in person. She is still waiting for the Palestinian ID number she applied for 12 years ago.
“The last time I tried to cross Rafah with my husband was in May 2010,” she says. “We got to the Palestinian border at 4am and reached the Egyptian side at 11pm. The Egyptian officials told my husband he and my son could pass through but they told me that because I have expired Egyptian travel documents and I don’t have a Palestinian ID I had to turn back.
“At 1am we decided we would come home together. My husband refuses to go to Egypt for the operation alone. He will be a patient and will need help. It was a disaster. This new opening means nothing to me because I know my case.”
The border opened at 10am local time on 28 May and within 90 minutes 200 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt. Travellers coming in the opposite direction spoke of huge changes on the Egyptian side of the border.
“It’s incredible. Anyone who came to the terminal, they just stamped their passport and gave them entry just like that. I am from Gaza and have a black passport but there were many different passports coming through – yellow, blue, red. There was a huge difference,” Hamad Yusef told IRIN.
Israeli concerns dismissed
Dismissing Israeli concerns about increased security threats to their borders, Ghazi Hamad, director of crossings in Gaza, said that Hamas and Egypt had proved – over the past four years, during which they had run Rafah crossing without European Union or Israeli supervision – that they could operate according to international standards. Claims that weapons, drugs and criminals had been smuggled through the border were false, he said.
“This is a very important day for Gaza… For four years we have been living under a siege. Now not all our problems are solved, but it’s better.
“We are in talks with the Egyptians and hope that the restrictions applied to men aged 18-40 will be lifted soon.”
Israel objects to the reopening believing that Hamas militants will funnel weapons into Gaza through Rafah.
London – A spokesperson for David Cameron on Friday refused to comment on the rationale behind the British prime minister’s decision to step down from his position as honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move comes as pressure on the JNF steps up in Britain, and is being hailed by activists as a big victory in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Campaigners with activist group Stop the JNF had written to Cameron earlier in May calling on him to cut his links with the JNF. Registered as a charity in the UK, the JNF is involved in development of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) inside Israel and stands accused of institutionally racist practices and complicity in ethnic cleansing since 1948.
Cameron’s press office told The Electronic Intifada that the decision had been made after a review of all the charities Cameron supported: “This is not a particularly recent decision,” said a spokesperson on Friday. In a short statement Thursday, the prime minister’s office had said the JNF was one of a “number of charities” Cameron stood down from following the review which was undertaken “[f]ollowing the formation of the Coalition Government last year.”
The statement did not specify any reason for the move. When asked if it was related to the JNF’s involvement with Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the British government, in line with international law, considers illegal) the spokesperson said they were “not going to get into any further details.”
The spokesperson implied that Cameron is only involved in local causes: “The charities that he’s currently involved with will normally be charities in his [local parliamentary] constituency … or a couple of national campaigns. There aren’t really any that deal with specific issues in specific foreign countries,” he stated. He would not comment on why this had changed after Cameron had become prime minister.
The JNF’s UK office refused to comment on the matter. A report in The Jewish Chronicle on Thursday suggested “time constraints” were behind the move, although the email statement did not mention this (“Cameron leaves the JNF,” The Jewish Chronicle, 26 May 2011). On the Spectator website Monday, staunchly Zionist columnist Melanie Philips used her blog to describe the move as “the latest act of aggression against Israel by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government],” and suggested that the time constraints justification are “unconvincing” (“Cameron drinks the Kool-aid,” Spectator blogs, 30 May).
The spokesperson refused to name the other groups, saying he didn’t “think it would be very fair on the other charities that he stepped down from to name them.” While the statement claimed a “full list of all the charities and organizations the prime minister and Mrs. Cameron are associated with is published on the Cabinet Office website,” several searches for this list were unsuccessful. The spokesperson declined to provide The Electronic Intifada with a link to the list.
According to a list on the JNF’s UK website, the move leaves former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the only serving member of parliament left as honorary patron to the group. Other figures on the list include staunch supporters of Israel such as former prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Israeli government figures such as Shimon Peres. An open letter signed by campaigners calling for current Labour leader Ed Milliand to “break from this tradition” of party leaders patronizing the JNF was printed by The Guardian in October. So far he has not followed Brown, Blair or Cameron (who became patron while opposition leader).
The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization that controls large swathes of state land in Israel. This land is reserved for the use of Jews only — to the detriment of Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled from that land by Zionist militias in 1947-48.
The JNF has in recent years tried to re-brand itself as an environmentally-friendly charity, an effort critics have branded “greenwashing.” But pressure on the JNF mounted Saturday as Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, at its annual general meeting, voted to endorse the Stop The JNF campaign. Chief Executive Stan Blackley said FoE Scotland was “pleased” to join the call for revocation of the JNF’s charitable status, according to a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) press release (“Friends of the Earth Scotland endorses call …,” Stop the JNF website, 28 May).
The JNF has been connected with ethnic cleansing and abuse of Palestinian rights on both sides of the green line — the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Journalist Max Blumenthal reported that the fund recently “set its sights” on al-Araqib in the Naqab (or Negev) desert. The Bedouin village has been destroyed 21 times since July 2010 so that the JNF can “develop” the area as part of the government’s Judaization campaign (“On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed,” MaxBlumenthal.com, 30 March 2011). The JNF is also involved in funding projects in illegal West Bank colonies such as Sansana in the south Hebron hills.
According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as of 2007 the JNF owned a total of just over 2.5 million dunams of land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters), the majority of which was seized from Palestinian refugees.
In the course of a 2004 legal challenge by Adalah, the JNF confirmed in a response to the court its discriminatory policies against non-Jews: “The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel … The JNF… does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state” (“Land Controlled by Jewish National Fund for Jews Only,” Adalah press release, 29 July 2007).
Stop the JNF, which emerged in May of last year, is a working coalition of different campaigning groups including the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). The campaign will be holding a series of workshops in London on 4 June.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the editor of a book about the Russell Tribunal on Palestine coming out on Pluto Press later in 2011. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
Remember how the U.S. government “proved” that Osama bin Laden (and, by extension, apparently, the entire nation of Afghanistan) was responsible for 9/11? No, you don’t, since at least before the invasion of Afghanistan happened, there was little if any actual proof. But at least it was, in some way at least, a provable event.
Then there was the invasion of Iraq. Here, the proof was a combination of faked and imaginary, but again, the alleged reason for the invasion was, at least, in some way provable.
But now we have the latest declaration: the Pentagon says that cyber attacks on the U.S. will be met with physical counterattacks. Aside from the minor Constitutional issue (“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” an unnamed military official told the Journal, which kind of skips the “Congress authorizes wars and the President orders them” step), we are now really in the realm of the unprovable, not to mention the spoofable.
How can we not imagine the possibility that hackers in country A could “shut down our power grid” and make it look to all the world as if the attack came from country B? Or how can we not imagine, to be even more paranoid but not that much less realistic, that the U.S., wanting to attack Iran, could have one part of its cyber-war apparatus shut down the power grid and make it look to another part of the apparatus that the attack came from Iran? Or perhaps the evidence, which none but the tiniest handful of people would ever see anyway, will be inconclusive (just like the evidence of the Lockerbie bombing, to name but one of many examples), but the U.S. will announce (and who will be able to disprove them?) that it was conclusive and go ahead and attack whoever they want to?
It’s a scary development.
In a Haaretz column today, Gidi Grinstein, the founder and president of Israel’s Reut Institute argues that US President Barack Obama should support the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral efforts to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September. The reasons he gives, however, have nothing to do with supporting Palestinian rights, but precisely with negating them. Grinstein writes:
a declaration of a Palestinian state in September includes the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough as well as significant advantages for Israel. The establishment of such a state will help anchor the principle of two states for two peoples, shape the permanent situation with Israel controlling the security assets and the new state’s surroundings, and diminish the refugee problem by marginalizing UNRWA and limiting refugee status.
Despite Obama’s speeches, the diplomatic process will remain at a dead end as the moment of decision in September approaches. Then the United States will have another opportunity to do the right thing: to ensure that the establishment of a Palestinian state conforms to Israel’s needs.
In other words, Grinstein hopes that UN recognition will set rolling a bandwagon that limits any Palestinian state to precisely the kind of demilitarized bantustan under overall Israeli control that will “solve” Israel’s legitimacy and diplomatic problems while marginalizing Palestinian rights, especially refugee rights.
Grinstein’s Reut Institute is the organization that has set out the strategy Israel’s current campaign of “sabotage and attack” aimed at global Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The ruthless Israeli campaign against so-called “delegitimizers” involves defaming long-standing organizations that campaign for Palestinian human rights, especially the rights of refugees, such as the London-based Palestine Return Centre. The “anti-delegitimization” campaign inspired by Grinstein last year also targeted The Electronic Intifada.
Advantages to UN declaration?
Meanwhile, international law expert Victor Kattan has written an interesting brief for Al-Shabaka titled, A State of Palestine: The Case for UN Recognition and Membership. Kattan argues that while the strategy entails major risks, it may have some advantages, and does not foreclose the possibility of a single democratic state in historic Palestine.
While Kattan’s contribution is important and well worth reading, the advantages he lays out are marginal compared with the risks, which I explained in Recognizing Palestine?, a piece I wrote on Aljazeera.net.
That an implacable foe of Palestinian rights such as Grinstein should embrace the UN statehood effort, should only make us even more wary of it.
A still from Iara Lee’s footage shows an Israeli Blackhawk helicopter as it drops troops onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara in the early morning of 31 May 2010.
In the early morning hours of 31 May 2010, Israeli forces carried out a violent, unprovoked assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as it sailed in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli commandos in speed boats and helicopters commandeered the six ships killing nine people and injuring dozens more aboard the largest vessel, the Mavi Marmara.
Amid intense Israeli efforts to jam communications, any picture, such as this one showing a person with blood on their life vest, gave vital clues to the seriousness and violence of the Israeli assault.
Countering Israel’s propaganda
Israel not only attacked the ships but commandeered them with all their passengers and crew to the port of Ashdod, where they were held incommunicado for many days. All video and photographic footage was confiscated, and media were not allowed to speak to the hundreds of kidnapped passengers. Israel has still not returned the footage and other evidence it stole.
In the first hours and days, Israel’s propaganda – or hasbara – machine went into full swing, publishing false and distorted reports and images – such as the infamous ‘man with a dagger’ photo, and heavily edited and misleading video.
Independent reporting, using information from sources ignored by mainstream media, was key to countering Israel’s propaganda.
Lubna Masarwa, one of the first Mavi Marmara passengers to be released from Israeli custody provided a harrowing eyewitness account, published by The Electronic Intifada on 8 June.
And despite Israeli censorship, independent filmmaker Iara Lee who was aboard the Mavi Marmara managed to smuggle an hour of footage off the ship and past her Israeli kidnappers.
Analysis of this footage has provided vital corroboration of what happened during the Israeli assault, including: the use of European and American weapons and indiscriminate live fire by the Israeli attackers. Iara Lee’s footage also provided a poignant glimpse of the last moments of Turkish journalist Cevdet Kılıçlar, one of the nine people killed.
JENIN– The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) led military bulldozers into the Al-Farisiyya and Al-Meita areas in the Salt Valley in the northern Jordan Valley, and destroyed 13 structures owned by Arab Bedouins.
The force crushed eight homes in Al-Meita in the upper Salt Valley where Bedouins have been residing for many years, although the homes were remote from Israeli military camps. It destroyed six more buildings in neighboring Al-Farisiyya.
Damage was inflicted on homes and barns as military jeeps took guard to protect the bulldozers. Other hamlets and shelters used for animals have been destroyed within the last few months in the same area.
Locals say Israeli forces seek to restrict shepherds in the area in order to curtail their usage of the land for grazing and it also seeks to push them out.
The Salt Valley is characterized by warm and plentiful water resources. It is also an agricultural and pastoral area valuable to many farmers in the provinces of Tubas and Tamoun. There are five Bedouin hamlets and communities that live there.
The IOF handed locals notices in April 2010 declaring the area a closed military zone and forbidding Palestinians from roaming there or using the land.