NEVATIM, ISRAEL // The Zakai and Tarabin families should be a picture of happy coexistence across the ethnic divide, a model for others to emulate in Israel.
But Natalie and Weisman Zakai say the past three years – since the Jewish couple offered to rent their home to Bedouin friends, Ahmed and Khalas Tarabin – have been a living hell.
“I have always loved Israel,” said Mrs Zakai, 43. “But to see the depth of the racism of our neighbours has made me question why we live in this country.”
Three of the couple’s six dogs have been mysteriously poisoned; Mrs Zakai’s car has been sprayed with the words “Arab lover” and the windows smashed; her three children in school are regularly taunted and bullied by other pupils; and a collection of vintage cars in the family’s yard has been set on fire in what police say was an arson attack.
To add to these indignities, the Zakais have spent three years and thousands of dollars battling through the courts against the elected officials of their community of Nevatim, in Israel’s southern Negev desert, who have said they are determined to keep the Tarabins from moving in.
Last week the Zakais’ legal struggle looked like it had run out of steam. The supreme court told the two families the Tarabins should submit to a vetting committee of local officials to assess their suitability – a requirement that has never been made before by the Negev community in the case of a family seeking to rent a home.
“The decision of the committee is a foregone conclusion,” Mr Tarabin said.
Chances for Jews and Arabs to live together – outside of a handful of cities – are all but impossible because Israel’s rural communities are strictly segregated, said Alaa Mahajneh, a lawyer representing the Zakais.
Israel has nationalised 93 per cent of the country’s territory, confining most of its 1.3 million Arab citizens, one-fifth of the population, to 120 or so communities that existed at the time of the state’s creation in 1948.
Meanwhile, more than 700 rural communities, including Nevatim, have remained exclusively Jewish by requiring that anyone who wants to buy a home applies to local vetting committees, which have been used to weed out Arab applicants.
But Mr Mahajneh, from the Adalah legal centre for the Arab minority, noted that legal sanction for such segregation was supposed to have ended a decade ago, when the supreme court backed an Arab couple, the Kaadans, who had been barred by a committee from the community of Katzir in northern Israel.
Although the Kaadans were eventually allowed to move into Katzir, the case has had little wider effect.
In fact, Mr Mahajneh said, the decision in the Zakais’ case suggests “we’re going backwards”. The Kaadans won the right to buy a home in a Jewish community, whereas the Tarabin family were seeking only a short-term rental of the Zakais’ home.
The Zakais said they had been told by the officials of Nevatim, a community of 650 Jews a few kilometres from the city of Beersheva, that it would not be a problem to rent out their home.
Mrs Zakai brought the Tarabins’ ID cards to the community’s offices for routine paperwork. “When I handed in the IDs, the staff looked at the card and said, ‘But they’re Muslims’.” Later, according to Mrs Zakai, the council head, Avraham Orr, rang to say the Arabs would be accepted in Nevatim “over my dead body”.
Several weeks later, Mrs Zakai said, two threatening men came to their door and warned them off renting to Arabs. Soon afterwards 36 cars belonging to Mr Zakai, who has a used car business, were set on fire.
Then behind the Zakais’ back, Nevatim went to a local magistrate’s court to get an order preventing them from renting their home. The couple have been battling the decision ever since.
Mr Mahajneh said the Tarabins had accommodated a series of “extraordinary conditions” imposed by Nevatim on the rental agreement, including certificates of good conduct from the police, a commitment to leave after a year, and limited access to the house’s extensive grounds.
But still Nevatim officials were dissatisfied, insisting in addition that the Tarabins submit to questioning by a vetting committee to assess their suitability. Although 40 other homes in Nevatim are rented, Mr Mahajneh said testimonies from past members of the vetting committee showed that this was the first time such a demand had been made.
“It is true that anyone buying a property in Nevatim is supposed to be vetted by the committee, but there is no reference in the community’s bylaws to this condition for renters,” Mr Mahajneh said.
In 2008, a district court judge in Beersheva overruled Nevatim’s new condition, arguing that the vetting requirement would be “unreasonable and not objective”. The supreme court judges, however, sided with Nevatim in their concluding statements on March 10.
Mrs Zakai said they had offered to rent their home to the Tarabins after the Bedouin couple’s home burnt down in their village in early 2007, killing one of their 10 children. The Tarabins have been living with relatives ever since, unable to afford a new home and keen to move away from the site of the tragedy.
Mr Tarabin, 54, said: “I want Khalas to rest and heal and this place would have been perfect for her. The house has large grounds and we could have kept to ourselves. No one in Nevatim needs to have anything to do with us if they don’t want.”
A Nevatim resident who spoke anonymously to the Haaretz newspaper last week suggested reasons for the community’s opposition: “If tomorrow the entire Tarabin tribe wants to live here and we don’t agree, what will people say? The problem will start after the first one comes because then dozens more families will want to move here.”
The close friendship forged between the Zakais and Tarabins is rare in Israel. The privileged status of Jews legally and economically, communal segregation and the hostility provoked by a larger national conflict between Israel and the Palestinians ensure that Jewish and Arab citizens usually remain at arm’s length.
But Mr Zakai, 53, whose parents emigrated from Iraq and who speaks fluent Arabic, befriended Mr Tarabin in the late 1960s when they were teenagers in Beersheva. Later they served together in the Israeli army as mechanical engineers.
Mrs Zakai said: “If Jews were being denied the right to live somewhere, it would be a scandal, but because our friends are Arabs no one cares.”
Avraham Orr, the Nevatim council head, denied that he was opposing the Tarabins’ admission because they are Arab. “There are rules,” he said. “Every family that wants to buy or rent a property must first go through the committee.”
Fearful of the implications of the Kaadan ruling, Jewish communities in the Galilee unveiled a new approach to barring Arab applicants last year. They introduced bylaws amounting to loyalty oaths that require applicants to pledge to support “Zionism, Jewish heritage and settlement of the land”.
When the American embassy called in August 2004, I was just nine days away from starting a job at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I had already shipped my possessions from Geneva, Switzerland, where I was living, to Indiana, and enrolled my kids in a school near our new home. Suddenly, however, an embassy official was telling me my visa had been revoked. I was “welcome to reapply,” the official said, but no reason was offered for my rejection. Sitting in a barren apartment, I decided the process had become too unpredictable; I didn’t want to keep my family in limbo, so I resigned my professorship before it began. I launched a legal battle instead.
It was hardly a fight I had expected. Less than a year earlier, the State Department had invited me to speak in Washington, D.C., and introduced me as a “moderate” Muslim intellectual who denounced terrorism and attacks against civilians. Now it was banning me from U.S. soil under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows for “ideological exclusions.” My offense, it seemed, had been to forcefully criticize America’s support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. accused me of endorsing terrorism through my words and funding it through donations to a Swiss charity with alleged ties to Gaza. Civil-liberties groups challenged my case in court for almost six years until, in late January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the allegations against me, effectively ending my ban.
In early April I will make my first public appearance in the U.S., at New York City’s Cooper Union, participating in a panel discussion about Muslims. While it’s a victory of sorts, the fight is not over. Numerous foreign scholars remain banned from U.S. soil. Until the section of the Patriot Act that kept me out of the country is lifted, more people will suffer the same fate. Although the exclusions are carried out in the name of security and stability, they actually threaten both by closing off the open, critical, and constructive dialogue that once defined this country.
In my case, criticizing America’s Middle East policies cast doubt on my loyalty to Western values and cost me a job. But prejudice may ultimately cost the U.S. more. By creating divisions and disregarding its values, even in the name of security, America tells the world that it is frightened and unstable—above all, vulnerable. In the long term, it also reinforces the religious, cultural, and social isolation of minority groups, encouraging the very kind of disloyalty that these ideological exclusions are meant to prevent.
It’s not the first time America has tried to shield itself from dissenting opinions. During the Cold War, dozens of overseas artists, activists, and intellectuals—including British novelist Doris Lessing, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez—were denied visas because of their left-leaning ideas. Today, though, the American concept of the “other” has taken on a relatively new and specific form: the Muslim. America must face the reality that, in the West, many adherents to Islam demonstrate loyalty to democratic values through criticism. While violence must always be condemned, such debate must be encouraged if those values are to last.
Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and author of What I Believe.
Isabele Kershner, writing in the NY Times the other day, presented a scoop that surely made her controversial boss proud. Her boss, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan “AbuBenTzali*” Bronner, has been criticized for his lack of objectivity, but his colleague Kershner showed that she too can compose pro-Israel slanted news stories.
Kershner reports that the octogenarian Israeli President, Shimon Peres, who she incorrectly implies has a moderating effect on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, floated a bridging proposal which was meant to mend the current rift between feuding American and Israeli officials.
Peres sought to introduce a distinction between building colonies on open land in and around occupied East Jerusalem (presumably OK) and building within already existing Arab neighborhoods there, which usually entails booting out Palestinian residents (presumably, not helpful.) Both practices are equally illegal and threaten the Arab presence in the city. The first, which has been going on for over forty years, is actually the more significant in terms of altering the demographics of the area, although the second has recently generated demonstrations and much bad publicity. The Obama administration has explicitly called for a halt to all new settlement construction. The Americans would surely dismiss Peres’ meaningless distinction, which Kershner finally acknowledges in her last paragraph.
Shimon Peres, who is a former Israeli Prime Minister, has had a more than six-decade career as an important Israeli politician. However, he now occupies the ceremonial position of President and his real influence on policy has diminished to close to zero. What makes Peres’ thoughts newsworthy is anyone’s guess. It definitely is not the modest venue in which he chose to “float” (Kershner’s word) the proposal, which was an elementary school in a suburb of Tel Aviv! This is decidedly an odd place to test out thoughts on foreign diplomacy. One wonders if Kershner personally attended the event or was it was covered by a local “stringer.” Maybe some precocious and enterprising sixth grader tipped the paper about the Peres statement.
After it was made public recently that Ethan Bronner’s son had enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), his editor Bill Keller dismissed charges of conflict of interest,arguing that the fact that his chief correspondent’s family is embedded in Israeli culture only increases the quality of his contacts and enhances his understanding of events. I suppose that Kershner, who like Bronner, is married to an Israeli and is said to be more embedded than him, could possibly have a son or daughter in the class that hosted Peres. How is that for having contacts that most American reporters lack!
Reporting the non-story of Shimon Peres’ meaningless proposal is only one small example of the bizarre lengths that Bronner and Kershner will go in order to make Israel look good. In fact in the same piece, Kershner leads with the claim that Netanyahu’s quick and official repudiation of his crackpot brother-in-law’s accusation that President Obama is an anti-Semite is an indication that the Israeli Prime Minister is trying to be conciliatory. Yet later on in the article she admits that Netanyahu shows no inclination to budge on the very issue that caused the flap: building in East Jerusalem.
Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of the Times, recommended that Bronner be reassigned, since readers “don’t expect a correspondent sent to cover an intense overseas conflict to wind up heavily invested in one side….” This prescription should also apply to Kershner, whose life and writing, like Bronner’s, points to the fact that she is “embed.”
*AbuBenTzali may be translated from Arabic and Hebrew as “Father of Kid IDF.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will press the American administration during his upcoming visit to Washington to release sophisticated bunker-busting bombs needed for a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, the Sunday Times reported in its website.
Netanyahu will leave for the United States on Sunday evening in order to attend a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He is also expected to meet with senior administration officials.
In Washington, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A meeting with President Barack Obama is in the works.
The Scotland Herald reported last week that hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs were shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran. The newspaper quoted a manifest from the US navy as saying that the shipment included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.
Experts told the paper that the ammunition was being put in place for an assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Herald said, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. According to the newspaper, the preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision.
The London Weekly said that for the first time since Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, Israel has agreed to ease the blockade on the Strip, discuss all core issues during the proximity talks, with the condition of reaching final conclusions only in direct talks with the PA. It added that Netanyahu will seek returns for the concessions, asking Washington to provide the IAF with the ‘bunker-buster’ bombs.
Without proof, Israel and the West accuse Iran of using its enrichment program to build a nuclear bomb, a charge Tehran firmly denies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued on Saturday a Persian New Year’s address to Iranians, in which he said that Iran would resist Western pressure even more determinedly in the coming year.
On March 17, the following note appeared on the Promised Land blog:
And this also happened this week: the office of the minister of education forbade distributing a booklet for kids about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it didn’t like two articles in the declaration, as well as some of the illustration in the booklet.
The relevant link was to an article in Hebrew. I asked Noam which two articles had been specified, and he replied that the nrg.co.il article implied Article 14 and Article 18. These two articles are as follows:
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (Article 14)
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Article 18)
But apart from that Hebrew language piece, there is also a translated version of the story available here. Here is an extract:
The Ariel municipality decided to buy hundreds of copies of the book to distribute them as a gift to kindergarten children. But after the Education Ministry’s intervention, the books were returned, even though they had already been bought with money and a message from the municipality pasted in them. This is because the Education Ministry inspectors from the state religious department did not like two illustrations and two sections of the declaration, and decided to disqualify the book…
Mayor Ron Nahman said, “it is positive and good to hand out a book about children’s rights. But our attention was drawn to two sentences that are not exactly what we teach the children. The Education Ministry said this was wrong and we accepted its decision.”
Palestinian medical sources in the southern West Bank city of Hebron reported Friday evening that 47 residents were wounded during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the city and the nearby Beit Ummar town.
21 residents received treatment after inhaling gas fired at them in Hebron, and nine others were wounded by rubber-coated bullets. The clashes took place near the Ibrahim Mosque.
Similar clashes took place in Al Zahed area in the city while the army fired gas bombs and rubber-coated bullets.
Sources at the Red Crescent in the Hebron reported that some of the wounded residents were moved to the local governmental hospital, and the Muhammad Al Muhtasib Hospital, while the rest received treatment by field medics.
The sources added that the army fired a gas bombs at one of the ambulances while transporting some wounded residents. The gas bombs hit the windshield of the ambulance and shattered it.
Soldiers also occupied rooftops of several homes and used them as military posts and monitoring towers.
Twenty residents received treatment after inhaling gas fired by the army while six others were wounded by rubber-coated bullets in Beit Ummar town.
Several youths hurled stones at settler vehicles causing damage to three cars; the army invaded the town and prevented local ambulances from reaching the wounded residents.
Bethlehem – Israeli soldiers shot dead two Palestinians near Nablus in the northern West Bank on Sunday.
Palestinian security sources identified the victims as 19-year-old farmers Muhammad Faysal and Salah Muhammad Qawariq.
Both were from the Awarta village, southeast of Nablus, and were en route to farmland carrying agricultural tools and herbicide, the same sources said.
Israel’s army said the two attempted to stab a soldier who was on a “routine patrol” near the Awarta military checkpoint. “In response, forces opened fire and identified a direct hit,” an army spokeswoman told Ma’an.
Eyewitnesses said Israeli forces declared the area a “closed military zone” and deployed in neighboring Palestinian villages. Soldiers closed the main entrance to the village of Madama, south of Nablus, they said.
Red Crescent officials told Ma’an that the army informed them that two Palestinians were killed near the illegal Itamar settlement southeast of Nablus, asking them to come and evacuate the victims.
They were the third and fourth killed in 24 hours in the northern West Bank. A teenager died early Sunday from injuries sustained at a protest a day earlier, when another boy was shot dead. Useid Qadus, 16, was shot in the head by Israeli forces, medics said, and Muhammad Qadus, also 16, died of a wound to the chest shortly after the a protest in Iraq Burin, another village south of Nablus.
The Israeli military said its forces opened fire with riot-control means to disperse a violent riot, denying allegations its soldiers used live ammunition against the two teenagers.
Medical officials and human rights advocates have disputed the army’s version of events, pointing to photographic evidence and an X-ray they say proves the army used live fire.
In this photo released by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, an
X-ray of Useid Qadus`s head, taken by the Israeli human rights group
B`Tselem`s Nablus field worker, appears to show a live bullet lodged in his
skull, 20 March 2010. [MaanImages/Salma Ad-Deb`i, HO]
Gaza – March 21, 2010
You are already well aware of the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza consequent on Israel’s devastating military attacks and its siege. As recently as December 27of 2009, you called the blockade of Gaza “unacceptable.” While this statement is certainly valid, it constitutes a gross understatement of the actual situation which amounts to slow genocide. Such understatement suggests that you are trimming your language to accommodate US pro-Israeli policy. We live an ongoing, illegal, crippling Israeli siege that has shattered all spheres of life, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, to describe it as “a prelude to genocide”. Your own UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by the highly respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity,” as did major international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Goldstone report concludes that Israel’s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
The 1948 Genocide Convention clearly says that one instance of genocide is “the deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a people in whole or in part.” That is what has been done to Gaza since the imposition of the blockade by a UN member state, namely Israel, and the massacre of 1434 Palestinians, 90 per cent of whom were civilians, including 434 children.
On your second short visit to Gaza since the end of the Israeli onslaught in 2008-09, you will find what Professor Sara Roy, an expert on Gaza, describes as “a land ripped apart and scarred, the lives of its people blighted. Gaza is decaying under the weight of continued devastation, unable to function normally…” Professor Roy concludes that “[T]he decline and disablement of Gaza’s economy and society have been deliberate, the result of state policy–consciously planned, implemented and enforced… And just as Gaza’s demise has been consciously orchestrated, so have the obstacles preventing its recovery.” Israel is intent on destroying Gaza e because World official bodies and leaders choose to say and do nothing.
As civil society organizations based in Gaza, we call on you to use your position as Secretary General of the UN, the world body responsible for holding all governments accountable for the safeguarding of the human rights of all peoples under International Law to bring to bear on Israel the full force of your mandate to open the borders of Gaza to allow the import of building materials as well as all the other requirements for decent living conditions for us, the besieged Palestinians of Gaza.
We understand you are coming to Khan Younis to inspect an UNRWA housing project designed to provide housing for Palestinians whose homes were demolished by Israel’s war machine and who have been waiting for over five years for replacement. Of course the building project will not have been completed because of the blockade, even though it is an UNRWA project. The brazen refusal of Israel to cooperate with the decision of the International Community to re-construct Gaza, for which several billions of Euros were pledged, should not be tolerated. Israel’s attacks have damaged or completely destroyed many public buildings and have according to the UN’s own OCHA report as of April 30, 2009, severely damaged or completely destroyed some 21,000 family dwellings. Many other Palestinians who have spent the past several winters in flimsy tents have also been promised the means to rebuild homes and schools, though to date nothing has been done to alleviate their suffering.
In addition to the very visible lack of shelter, we, in Gaza, also suffer from the contamination of water, air and soil, since the sewage system is unable to function due to power cuts necessitated by lack of fuel to the main generators of the Gaza power grid. Medical conditions due to injuries from phosphorous bombs and other illegal Israeli weapons as well as from water contamination cannot be treated because of the siege. In addition to the ban on building materials, Israel also prevents many other necessities from being imported: lights bulbs, candles, matches, books, refrigerators, shoes, clothing, mattresses, sheets, blankets, tea, coffee, sausages, flour, cows, pasta, cigarettes, fuel, pencils, pens, paper… etc.
Mr. Secretary General,
When you visit Khan Younis, keep in mind that a huge UN storage depot was directly targeted by Israeli phosphorus bombs only last year destroying tons of badly needed food and other essentials. At that time your UNRWA chief John Ging spoke of massive obstacles preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the civilian population of Gaza: those obstacles must be removed. The Red Cross called the Israeli assault “completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles and values.”
We sincerely hope you will live up to your responsibility and speak for the suffering people of Gaza to those who hold the keys that could easily end the barbaric blockade, as the first step towards the implementation of all UN resolutions in Palestine.
University Teachers’ Association in Palestine
General Union for Health Services Workers
General Union for Public Services Workers
General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers
General Union for Agricultural Workers
Union of Women’s Work Committees
Union of Synergies—Women Unit
Union of Palestinian Women Committees
Women’s Studies Society
Working Woman’s Society
Arab Cultural Forum
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
One Democratic State Group
Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society