Why the curious renewed interest in the former Prime Minister?
‘He’s neither alive nor dead.’
Raanan Gissin, Sharon’s former advisor, made the above comment last month as quoted in the Jerusalem Post (20-10-2010) upon the exhibit of a lifelike sculpture by Noam Braslavsky in Tel Aviv. The wax figure shows the comatose Sharon’s chest move up and down “to depict Sharon’s dependence on a breathing machine.” Some have found the work unsettling. “It’s very tragic,” Gissin noted. It’s “only sickening voyeurism,” Kadima MK Yoel Hasson declaimed. Braslavsky created “the sculpture because Sharon has been absent from the public eye for so long,” according to the Post’s article. Regardless, the exhibit has stirred up the Israelis as they are forced to revisit the former PM who is not yet dead.
Coincidentally, this week Christoph Schult published an article in Spiegel Online titled “The Israeli Patient: Searching for Ariel Sharon’s Political Legacy.” While noting that the former Prime Minister has been in a coma now for 5 years, “his presence looms over the country’s political course.” In an effort to explore whether or not the comatose PM would have taken Israel into peace negotiations with the Palestinians or not, he decided to interview Sharon’s sons and selected friends. Sharon’s sons offer little, indeed nothing worth recounting if the article’s lack of quotes is true. But Schult makes this point, “the entire country is living with the consequences of a policy that the former Prime Minister began but was never able to end. It was Sharon who ordered the construction of the security wall … and withdrew the Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip…” But Braslavsky got it wrong; Sharon breathes but lives via a gastric feeding tube. Can he hear? Can he see? Will he recover? No one seems to know for sure. His sons hope he will eventually wake.
So why the curious renewed interest in the former Prime Minister? It seems that the current policies of the Netanyahu administration, the increased vigor in the Knesset as it rams through a series of “thought” legislation, and the uncertainty that surrounds Obama’s ambiguous thrusts and withdrawals regarding his negotiations have shed klieg lights on what Sharon wrought before he fell into the coma. Five years ago I wrote an article, “Hope Destroyed, Justice Denied, The Rape of Palestine,” (11-29-2005) that reflected then, when Sharon first went into the coma, what legacy he left to the Jewish state. It is a legacy of calculated carnage both of the people of Palestine and Judaism; it is imaged in his Wall of Fear that physically imprisons the Palestinians on one side and psychologically imprisons the Jews in fear and victimhood, a true legacy of isolationist tribalism as their efforts to control thought symbolizes. Magnify and multiply the abuses this man inflicted in 2005 by the atrocities of the 2006 Lebanon invasion, the Christmas invasion of Gaza, and the attack on the Marmara, added to those reported in B’Tselem since 2005, and one can understand why this state needs to hide behind thought control and the insulation that protects ruthless self interest. This passage from that article illustrates the point:
“As we moved through month after month of 2005, Sharon’s forces have continued their illegal “targeted killing” of Hamas militants, a short hand way of saying Israel has disbanded the basis of law in the West to reintroduce the law of the ancient barbarian states that granted license to the tribal chief or local tyrant absolute authority to determine guilt without arrest, without issuance of a charge, without counsel, without a plea, and without a court resulting in illegal assassination that goes unnoticed and unpunished in Israel and the United States, the self-extolled bulwarks of Democracy in the world. What hypocrisy. Thus have we come full circle in the mid-east as a new barbarian horde inflicts its merciless power on the innocent as well as the condemned for it inevitably happens, as it did this week, that innocent bystanders suffer the same fate as the object of the extrajudicial execution. The IDF record as reported by the Palestine Center for Human Rights as of January 2004 shows 309 civilians killed as a result of 157 executions. Rule without law, an action approved by the US government and supported by the American tax dollar. Yet no one objects. The above litany of Sharon’s brutality constitutes what is countable in the way of deaths attributable to the illegal actions of the IDF. But there are other consequences to this occupation that are lost to the non-observant eye…”
“The decline in the well-being and quality of life of Palestinian children,” reports Human Rights Watch, “[in the occupied territories] over the past two years has been rapid and profound according to CARE, 17.5% of children in Gaza are malnourished.” Thirteen percent of children between the ages of six months and five years “have moderate to severe acute malnutrition.” Nearly half of Palestinians live below the poverty line. Hospitals are in dire need of basic supplies including water and electricity. Almost ninety percent of the Rafah population depends on food aid. And while malnutrition and poverty imposed by the Israeli oppressors seems hideous enough, it pales in comparison to the reality facing the children as they grow up in the occupation. Dr. Shamir Quota, Director of Research for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programs, makes this observation: “Ninety percent of children two years old or more have experienced ¬ some many, many times ¬ the [Israeli] army breaking into the home, beating relatives, destroying things. Many have been beaten themselves, had bones broken, were shot, tear gassed, or had things happen to siblings and neighbors.”
Contemplate that statistic, ninety percent of two year olds growing up have witnessed soldiers bursting through the door of their home, rifles pointed at their mother or father, pushed against walls, beaten perhaps, shouted at certainly, cursed we might assume, and left in fear knowing another raid is imminent. What torture is here? This is intentional, calculated, psychological torture, genocidal “mental harm” as described in the UN Convention.
But there’s more. I left Palestine shortly after the “disengagement” from Gaza, a word that masks the reality of that “peace” move by Sharon. There is no disengagement: Sharon’s government owns the sky above Gaza; it owns the fence around Gaza; it owns access and exit from Gaza; it owns sea passage and use of the sea that borders Gaza; and it owns the missiles that it hurls from F-16s into the cities and refugee camps inside of Gaza indifferent to the innocent incinerated by its savagery. The only real disengagement that Sharon authorized in Gaza is disengagement from responsibility under the Geneva Conventions for occupying powers to provide adequately and humanely for the people so occupied. That means Israel does not have to pay for the care of the people who are locked into their prison in this most heinous apartheid on the face of the planet.”
But lest the disengagement plan be observed as an Israeli weakness in light of world opinion against its occupation policies, Israel redoubled its efforts to punish the Palestinians in Gaza.
“Israel’s policy of assassinating wanted Palestinians continued in Gaza following the unilateral withdrawal. The policy was reaffirmed by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Military Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, at a meeting on 8 November 2005. According to statistics from Al Mezan, 47 targeted assassinations took place from 12 September 2005 to 10 September 2006, usually in the form of air strikes on a moving vehicle. Such attacks killed and wounded a total of 25 bystanders; for instance, an attack on 27 October 2005 killed seven Palestinians, including three children, and injured 19 more. Based on Al Mezan statistics, 362 Palestinians in Gaza died as a result of Israeli military attacks in the year following the unilateral withdrawal: 151 from 12 September 2005 to 27 June 2006, and 211 in Operation ‘Summer Rains’ between 28 June and 10 September 2006. The majority of casualties were civilian. The number of attacks escalated over the course of the year. Between 12 September and 31 December 2005, 544 artillery shells were fired into Gaza, and there were 124 air strikes. Between January and April 2006, more than 3,600 artillery shells and 63 air strikes were launched. Most recently, in June alone, there were 1,376 shells fired and 122 air strikes, as well as an explosion on Beit Lahiya beach which a Human Rights Watch investigation attributed to Israel; these recent attacks resulted in the deaths of thirty-six people, including 12 children, and injured 110. (The Disengagement Plan and Israel’s Status as Occupying Power, NGO in Consultation Status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN).
Following Sharon’s withdrawal into the coma, Israeli politicians were faced with determining what actions to pursue: continued disproportionate and ruthless military attacks against Gaza and the West Bank in keeping with Sharon’s policies or withdraw to a more conciliatory posture to appease growing international criticism of that behaviour. It didn’t take long for the world to witness Israel’s answer. The fall 2006 invasion and razing of Lebanon’s infrastructure followed by its merciless killing of over a 1000 Lebanese including the second destruction of Qana village (the first occurred ten years earlier) where 63 Lebanese refugees including 42 children were hunted down, chased from home to home until destroyed. Again, the savage behaviour executed by Israel was meant to demonstrate to the world that Israel was not defeated by world opinion.
But world opinion appears to be having an impact. Neve Gordon notes in “Thought crimes in Israel” that Israel’s Knesset has a raft of laws before it that will “seal Israel’s transformation into a fully fascist state that persecutes and marginalizes everyone who does not subscribe to the official racially-oriented ideology.” These measures include swearing an oath of loyalty and allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and to its laws and symbols as a condition for receiving public funding for film projects; for newly naturalized citizens to declare loyalty to the Jewish character of the state (similar Gordon notes to Jews and Muslims in Britain to swear to loyalty to the Church of England); for those protesting against or denying Israel’s Jewish character incarceration can be levelled effectively denying political freedom of speech; for those desiring to live in settlements who do not accept the settlement committee’s political views or religion no recourse is allowed to achieve their end thereby making it legal for settlements to deny access to non-Jews and Palestinians; for those who wish to mark the anniversary of the Nakba, public funds will be denied thus preventing expression to citizens of views that are critical of Israeli actions; for those who wish to encourage boycotts or disinvestment actions against the state monetary penalties will be imposed effectively silencing free speech; for all these measures the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has warned that they would effectively make an alternative political ideology, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens, a crime.
This then is the legacy of Ariel Sharon: a retreat into self-righteousness that finds fault with all who oppose the Zionist ideology, the isolation within that fears anyone who does not accept the Zionist mindset of force that ensures adherence to rights determined by them to be rights. It is imaged in Sharon’s Wall of Fear that would visually erase their neighbours whom they have erased from their minds as people, to force their citizens to walk the streets, roam the highways, bathe in the sea yet not see one who is different from them though they live in the same land, raise their families under the same sun, drink from the same aquifers, and retire in rest as they watch the sun set over the same sea. But they are not the same if they do not believe what the Zionists believe for there is cemented into that mindset an absolute understanding that they alone determine what will be at any cost regardless of international law or international agreements, and they will use whatever means at their disposal to control all who could or would find fault with their desires and will. … Full article
Stolen Palestinian books labeled “absentee property.” (Courtesy of The Great Book Robbery)
A new documentary reveals a hidden chapter in the history of the Nakba — the Palestinian expulsion and flight at the hands of Zionist militias as Israel was established in 1948 — which saw the systematic looting of more than 60,000 Palestinian books by Israeli forces and the attempted destruction of Palestinian culture.
As the violence which came to mark the formation of Israel erupted, Palestinian families living in the urban centers and villages of the country fled their homes in search of safety and refuge. One Palestinian family after another escaped, and believing that they would soon return, many left behind their most precious belongings. As Palestinian homes sat silent in the haze of conflict, however, a systematic Israeli campaign was underway to enter the homes and rob them of a precious commodity — their books.
Between May 1948 and February 1949, librarians from the Jewish National Library and Hebrew University Library entered the desolate Palestinian homes of west Jerusalem and seized 30,000 books, manuscripts and newspapers alone. These cultural assets, which had belonged to elite and educated Palestinian families, were then “loaned” to the National Library where they have remained until now. Furthermore, across cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias and Nazareth, employees of the Custodian of Absentee Property gathered approximately 40,000-50,000 books belonging to Palestinians. Most of these were later resold to Arabs although approximately 26,000 books were deemed unsuitable as they contained “inciting material against the State [Israel]” and were sold as paper waste.
This untold story of the Nakba has remained hidden over the years until, by complete accident, Israeli graduate student Gish Amit stumbled across archives documenting the systematic looting of Palestinian books. “I came across this topic quite accidentally,” Gish admits. “I spent the first few months of my doctoral studies at various archives, among them the archive of the Jewish national and university library, where one day, I discovered the first documents regarding the collecting of the Palestinian libraries left behind during the 1948 war. Anyhow, it took me a few more weeks — and dozens of documents — to realize that there was a story to tell. A story that hasn’t yet been told and one that might enrich our knowledge about the Palestinian culture and its erasure.”
Although many Palestinian families were aware that their books were taken during the aftermath of 1948, they had no idea that there was a systematic and conscious effort to appropriate their books.
Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian activist and author who lived in Jerusalem until 1948 when her family was forced to flee, recalls that her father was an avid reader and had an impressive personal library. “My family was part of the small, relatively educated elite in Palestine at the time which has lots books,” she explains. “For the Zionists to steal those books … I don’t know, it’s shocking. Well, they stole everything so I guess it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
The cultural destruction that occurred during the Nakba has remained a relatively marginalized aspect of the wider narrative of Palestinian suffering. It is seen as a small, irrelevant detail which affected a small minority of urban elites living in the cities, as apposed to the complete annihilation of Palestinian villages that affected a large portion of the Palestinian population.
“What you need to understand is that the Palestinian loss was so massive that such details were overwhelmed,” says Karmi, who now lives and works as a university lecturer in the UK. She is also the author of several books including In Search of Fatima, a memoir of her family’s experience during the Nakba. “People lost their homes, their lives, their land and I guess the loss of books in the homes of a small Palestinian elite would not have been high up on the scale. Now that all these years have passed since the Nakba, these details are starting to emerge and their importance is being acknowledged.”
In fact film director Benny Brunner, Arjan El Fassed (co-founder of The Electronic Intifada) and others have made it their task to highlight the state-sponsored looting of 1948-49. The Great Book Robbery is a project and documentary in the making which hopes to expose the untold story of the book looting and help Palestinians reclaim their cultural heritage and even revive it (a brief video is available on the film website).
Brunner, a Dutch and Israeli citizen who has worked on various films related to Israel and the Palestinians, says “The story is really significant because it’s more than the fact that 60,000 books were looted — it’s about the destruction of a culture. That’s the real impact of this event; that’s the real significance and I think that needs to be communicated. And if possible, efforts have to be put in resurrecting the lost cultural world that was destroyed in 1948.”
Before the Nakba scattered the Palestinian elites, cities such as Jerusalem and particularly Jaffa were a hive of cultural and political activity. Well-educated elites published newspapers, magazines, books and poetry and intellectual clubs thrived and cafes served as venues for discussion of important issues. This all came to an abrupt end in 1948 and is now an almost completely forgotten chapter in Palestinian cultural history.
While the books seized by Israel were initially marked with the names of the Palestinian owners, in the 1960s this policy was changed and the books were later marked with just two letters: “AP” or “abandoned property.” As time passed, these became “Israeli” books especially as a vast majority of them were embedded in the national collection and so it became impossible to trace the looted Palestinian books. “They became ‘our’ books and part of ‘our’ cultural heritage,” says Brunner.
As Karmi explains, “What’s really horrible about the book thefts is that it’s like saying, ‘I’m not only going to steal your home and your land but also an intellectual heritage’ because they took these books, put in them in their Israeli libraries and then pretended that they were always there. Therefore we’re in a fight because we’re not just trying to reclaim something which has been sitting there gathering dust — we’re trying to reclaim something before it’s destroyed. And that’s why it’s so urgent and why [Brunner’s] project is extremely valuable.”
Right now, Brunner is trying to trace more Palestinians who either witnessed the looting or lost their books in the Nakba. “We want people to tell us how they see the event, to analyze it and to contribute to us, not only financially — although that would help — but with their stories.”
“If people care about their past and making a serious attempt to revive part of the cultural heritage they need to be a part of this project,” says Brunner. He urges Palestinians to “look into your family history and see if there is anything you can contribute to this project” and to get in touch directly if they can.
Karmi emphasizes the urgency of reclaiming this part of Palestinian history and the significance of this moment: “We are no longer in a stage of trauma or shock which Palestinians have been in for a very long time. The actual shock of losing everything and having to build yourself up again has occupied people’s energies for a very long time. Now, it’s time to reclaim our history, our culture, our towns, our architecture, our geography before the Israelis demolish everything.”
But even Karmi admits that some things have been lost forever. Manuscripts which were never published, books sold as paper waste, personal diaries or even the Arabic-English dictionary which Karmi’s father was working on at the time of the Nakba is now lost forever. Even so, both Karmi and Brunner believe that Israel must return the 6,000 books that are clearly marked as Palestinian property to their rightful owners.
Karmi also adds that it’s time for a Palestinian movement to emerge — parallel to the movement reclaiming Jewish and other cultural artifacts lost under the Nazis — dedicated to relocating pieces of cultural heritage lost during the Nakba. The Great Book Robbery aims to highlight the scale of the loss and hopefully act as a first step in this direction.
Arwa Aburawa (http://arwafreelance.wordpress.com/) is a freelance journalist based in the UK who writes on the Middle East, the environment and various social issues.
(Photo: Hamde Abu Rahme)
Today, November 9 at about 3:00 in the morning, the Israeli army entered the village of Bil’in. About 50 soldiers entered the village by jeep and foot. When they arrived at the two targeted houses, they ran and took positions outside while a number of soldiers entered the house.
At first the soldiers were hammering on the door of one house, demanding to see 30-year old Ashraf al-Khatib. It turned out they went to the wrong house. They then went to another house – forcing one of Ashraf’s brothers to show them where Ashraf lives. Soldiers then entered that house, and his brother’s family’s house, and again they woke up the family, asking for Ashraf al-Khatib. His brother, Haytham al-Khatib, is a journalist from the human right’s group B’tselem and was of the ones woken up by the army. Even though they entered a house where their target didn’t live, they stayed there for about one and a half hours, searching all the rooms.
Haytham al-Khatib told me about his 6-year-old son’s reaction to waking up to see dozens of soldiers in his house, “he asked me to close the door, because he didn’t want to see them.” Haytham himself was prevented when he wanted to record the raid in his family’s houses – the soldiers simply locked him in a room for more than an hour, away from his children and wife. The children in the houses are ages 1,5 and 8 years old, and this is not the first time they have seen their homes raided at night.
However, after 1.5 hours of searching for the target in three houses, two of which he doesn’t reside in, Ashraf al-Khatib was not found. Five weeks ago Ashraf was shot in his leg with live ammunition by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in Bil’in. The bullet went through his leg, breaking the bone. Even though he was heavily injured and in major pain, the soldiers tried to arrest him. Luckily he was brought to safety, and then taken to a hospital for surgery by fellow protesters. Tonight the army decided to come and take him in front of his wife and 1.5 year old daughter instead.
The soldiers finally retreated from the targeted houses by foot, walking toward the military road that follows the illegal segregation fence in Bil’in, at about 4.30 AM. The village of Bil’in has suffered from frequent night raids over the last few years, and a number of villagers have been taken for interrogation and imprisoned for their non-violent resistance to the occupation and segregation wall on Bil’in’s land.
In the first of the three videos, I asked Shafiq and Ruhal about the brutal conditions in the US prison at Kandahar airport, where they were taken following their capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, after they had survived a notorious massacre of prisoners in container trucks and a stay in the Northern Alliance’s brutal and overcrowded Sheberghan prison. I also asked them what they knew about the US prison at Bagram airbase, where Aafia Siddiqui was held, and asked them about the isolating effect of not only being prohibited from receiving any visitors, but of not even receiving letters from their family — or only receiving letters that were heavily censored.
In the second video, Shafiq and Ruhal talked about the despair they felt in Guantánamo when it became clear that the British government had no intention of helping them. I also spoke about how torture is both illegal and counter-productive, and asked Shafiq and Ruhal to explain how the use of torture can lead to false confessions, which allowed them to explain how, in Guantánamo, they eventually made false confessions after being subjected to the “frequent flier program,” a program of prolonged sleep deprivation that involved being moved from cell to cell every few hours, being held in isolation for five months, where they were given very little food, being short-shackled in painful stress position for two to three days at a time, when they were obliged to urinate and defecate on themselves, and being subjected to extremely loud music.
In the third video, Shafiq and Rasul explained how their treatment in Guantánamo led them to think of committing suicide, and, following up on how they were forced into making false confessions, I noted how false confessions don’t necessarily lead to prisoners being released from Guantánamo. I also asked Shafiq and Ruhal to explain more about the circumstances that led to their release, and Shafiq explained how, on the date that they were supposedly filmed at a training camp with Osama bin Laden, he was attending university in the UK (although he also explained that British agents suggested that he might have traveled on a false passport).
I also asked Shafiq and Ruhal to discuss how receiving medical treatment at Guantánamo was entirely dependent on cooperation with the interrogators (in other words, making false confessions). This allowed them to explain how Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was just 15 years old when he was seized (and who was recently convicted in a trial by Military Commission), was one of the many prisoners deprived of medical treatment because he would not make false confessions, even though his wounds were “horrific,” and they couldn’t understand how he was still alive. They explained that they regularly heard him crying in an isolation cell, and also explained that he had been subjected to the “frequent flier program,” adding that, although he is now 24 years old, he “still has that child mentality,” In a moving finale, Ruhal reflected on the barbarity of separating Aafia Siddiqui from her children, and on how they may have been used in an attempt to secure her compliance, as the authorities at Guantánamo had no qualms about abusing child prisoners.
The United States has become a battleground for both the struggles of the peoples of Palestine and Kashmir, for freedom from military occupation and for justice. Awareness amongst the US public is broadened as the repression of both struggles grows ever more violent, and meanwhile those wishing to stifle debate on these issues in the US resort to harassment and intimidation.
The same day that renowned activist and writer Arundhati Roy commented that “Kashmir was never an integral part of India,” for which her home was later attacked, I was subjected to harassment here in the US while I spoke about the human rights situation in Kashmir. Though not threatened in the way that Roy was, what we both experienced were attempts to silence us. Forces sympathetic to the same right-wing ideology as those who attacked Roy mobilized their ranks by putting out an alert stating: “An Indian Muslim Woman is speaking about azadi [freedom] of Kashmiris and we should protest.”
After my presentation at the main public library in San Jose, California last month, I was told by one member of the audience that “You are the very reason why we Hindus hate Muslims,” and that comment was followed by many that were worse. I was called an extremist and told “Your presentation is a lie; this is India-bashing.” The abuse I received will be familiar to those who have been on the receiving end of the backlash when speaking about the Palestinian cause.
Indeed, a week earlier, Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa was called an extremist by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz at the Boston Book Festival after she presented well-established facts about Palestine. He resorted to name calling and ad hominem attacks.
Israel and India are often represented in US media as bastions of democracy in the Middle East and South Asia, respectively. Supporters of the policies of both governments delegitimize any resistance or criticism and discourage revelation of the truth through intimidation and personal attacks.
Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world with close to 700,000 Indian troops. According to Professor Angana Chatterji of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), between the years of 1989 and 2000, “In Kashmir, 70,000 are dead, over 8,000 have been disappeared and 250,000 have been displaced … India’s military governance penetrates every facet of life. … The hyper-presence of militarization forms a graphic shroud over Kashmir: detention and interrogation centers, army cantonments, abandoned buildings, bullet holes, bunkers and watchtowers, detour signs, deserted public squares, armed personnel, counter-insurgents and vehicular and electronic espionage” (“Kashmir: A Time For Freedom,” Greater Kashmir, 25 September 2010).
Because she has spoken out, Chatterji has become a target of right-wing Hindutva groups — those espousing an exclusivist Hindu nationalist ideology in India that often denigrates and denies the legitimacy of non-Hindus in India. Hindutva groups in the US and India have attacked her because of her work tracking funding to Hindutva groups from the US after the 2002 pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat and more recently as co-conveyor of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir. Chatterji told me: “I was threatened with rape by Hindutva groups in 2005. Since announcing the Kashmir Tribunal in April 2008, each time I have entered or left India since, I have been stopped or detained at immigration.” Richard Shapiro, her partner and chair and associate professor at CIIS, was banned from entering India on 1 November 2010.
Hindutva groups try to scuttle any broader discussion about human rights violations in Kashmir, the conditional annexation by India in 1947 or right to self-determination by limiting it to the issue of the displacement and killings of the upper caste minority Kashmiri Hindu Pandits in the late 1980s and by insisting that Kashmir is not an international issue.
Similarly, Zionists seeking to draw attention away from Israel’s abuses of Palestinians’ human rights often focus exclusively on suicide bombings or the rule of Hamas. Their aim is to silence any discussion of the historic Palestinian demands for the implementation of the refugees’ right of return, an end to the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and equality for Palestinian citizens in Israel.
And the front line in the battle to influence US public opinion towards both the Kashmir and Palestine struggles can be found at the university campus.
“There is a well-orchestrated and funded campaign of intimidation and harassment by Zionist and Hindutva groups on campuses to target academics,” says Sunaina Maira, Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis campus. Zionist academics tried to pressure the University of California, Berkeley to cancel an event last month titled “What Can American Academia Do to Realize Justice for Palestinians,” organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine. In a letter to the school’s chancellor, the groups urged him to withdraw official university sponsorship of the event and publicly condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid at the school’s campus.
A similar attempt was made in 2006 by Indian American members of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, when they tried to cancel a panel titled “South Asian-Arab solidarity against Israeli apartheid” at Stanford University. The objective was to bring South Asians and Arabs together to take a unified stand against US imperialism and Israeli apartheid and speak up against the Zionist-Hindutva alliances. Despite the attempts by outside groups to stifle free speech, both these events eventually did take place on the campuses and were quite successful.
The attempts to silence those who speak out in the US are not the only thing that Kashmir and Palestine have in common. Both Kashmiris and Palestinians are struggling for justice and freedom against highly-militarized occupations. The recent protests by stone-throwing Kashmiri youth drew comparisons to the first intifada in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
And it is perhaps the linking of these struggles that those who stand in the way of freedom for oppressed peoples fear the most. Notably, Zionists and Hindutva advocates have adopted a similar Islamophobic language and worldview that considers any grievances or struggles by Muslims to be simply a cover for “jihadism” or “wahhabism” and thus justifies treating all such movements for justice — however they are conducted — as “terrorist.”
While the situations in Kashmir and Palestine are not completely analogous, in recent years India and Israel have fostered political and military links, including arms sales, joint intelligence, trade agreements and cultural exchanges.
Historically India has been supportive of the Palestinian struggle. But in 1992 India established diplomatic relations with Israel and ties were further strengthened in 2000 when India Home Minister L.K. Advani visited Israel; Advani is considered the architect of the rise of the Hindutva movement in the 1980s and ’90s. Today India is the largest buyer of Israel’s arms and Israel is training Indian military units in “counter-terrorist” tactics and urban warfare to be used against Kashmiris and resistance groups in northeast and central India.
The repressive governments of both India and Israel enjoy a warm relationship with the the US. Bilateral defense ties between US and India — based on the new strategic realities of Asia — is one of the objectives of US President Barack Obama’s current visit to India, according to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), a Washington-based think tank. The US also gives $3 billion in military aid to Israel annually.
Such alliances between states, which aim to perpetuate injustice and maintain regimes that are rejected by those forced to live under them, underscore the need for education and solidarity among supporters of those long denied their freedom, equality and self-determination.
Those in the US who defend the status quo may resort to tactics of intimidation. But just as state repression in Kashmir and Palestine has failed to quell those struggles for freedom, those of us in the US concerned with justice in Palestine and Kashmir — and the US government’s role in each — will not be intimidated into silence.
Yasmin Qureshi is a San Francisco Bay Area professional and human rights activist involved in social justice movements in South Asia and Palestine. Her article on Kashmir, “Democracy Under the Barrel of a Gun,” was published in June 2010 by CounterPunch and ZCommunications.
Do we want the rule of jungle to override the Declarations of Human Rights?
(Excerpts from a speech presented at the first National BDS Conference in Australia October 2010.)
Israeli propagandists attacking the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement often claim that pro-Palestinian activists hide behind words like International Humanitarian Law to promote a hidden agenda aimed at demonizing and deligitmizing Israel. But there is no hidden agenda. We are explicit and clear in what we say and what we call for. We don’t hide behind International Humanitarian Law we stand by it. This is precisely why Israeli propagandists have good reason to worry. Israel knows that its fight to legitimize its behavior cannot be won for as long as the BDS movement continues to expose its violations of IHL. So it is pushing back with its army of lawyers and experts in an effort to exonerate itself of accountability, redefine the rules of IHL and undermine international bodies and institutions. If Israel succeeds, Palestinians will not be the only ones to suffer. The implications of legitimizing Israel’s behavior will have far reaching affects on all citizens of this globe.
In calling on Israel to comply with its obligations under IHL, the BDS movement highlights the strength of the Palestinian cause. Palestinians don’t need to negotiate for rights they are already entitled to, they need to demand these rights. The right of return, the right to citizenship, the right to equality, the right to self determination, the right to live free from occupation, the right to education, the right to freedom of movement, the right to security the right to fair trials etc, these are all non-negotiable human rights Palestinians are already entitled to under IHL.
BDS activists and Palestinian solidarity groups have taken note of that, but we have to be aware that time is precious and we must move fast. Right now, Israel is fighting a ferocious battle, headed by its best lawyers, military experts, politicians and academics to redefine the rule of law. This is especially dangerous because of the close ties they share with countries fighting ‘the war on terror’ such as Canada, Australia, the US, Britain and others who have a vested interest in rolling back international law and eliminating any protection their non-state foes and the civilians they kill maybe entitled to.
Jeff Helper wrote about this in his article The Second Battle of Gaza: Israel’s Undermining of International Law where he identified some of the leading Israeli figures who feature prominently in this campaign. One of them is Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy and “practical ethics” at Tel Aviv University who wrote in Haaretz in 2009 “We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad…What we are doing is becoming the law”.
Another prominent Israeli figure involved in this campaign is former head of Israel’s International Law Division in the Military Advocate General’s office, Daniel Reisner who told Yotam Feldman of Haaretz “International law develops through its violation… an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries”. Reisner gave an example of how Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations was initially viewed by most governments and international bodies as illegal; but now it is “in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”
We see the laws changing in many western democracies as we adopt new ways of dealing with alleged ‘terror’ suspects and anti-war protestors. Recent examples include the FBI raids of homes of anti-war activists in the US, the Canadian Police brutalizing citizens during the G20 protests in Toronto and the WikiLeaks evidence of war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan [the release of which normalizes the violations, aiding Israel in the process]. Our governments are violating our civil rights, and the rights of the civilians in the countries where they are waging war. Our world is changing. Kasher and the Israeli military establishment know this. The more often so called western democracies apply principles that originated in Israel in places like Afghanistan and Iraq as well as domestically under the cover of a ‘war on terror’ the more chance there is that these new principles will become valuable parts of IHL.
Today, Israel stands in violation of 65 UN Resolutions on issues related to Palestinians refugees, Jerusalem, its borders, its assaults on its neighbors; its violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, its building of illegal colonies and its refusal to abide by the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
As the definition of ‘terror’ stretches, and as the ‘war on terror’ spreads Israel’s campaign to undermine IHL will have a terrible impact on the people of the world. We need these laws to protect us. They are not just some abstract notion that affects someone else in a faraway country. These are laws that touch our lives as civilians everywhere on this planet.
Make no mistake about it, oppression spreads. Powerful states are only too happy to allow Israel to redefine the rules of engagement so they too can practice impunity in their own wars. We the people of the world will be left to pay the heavy price. Do we want to be deprived protection as civilians in times of war? Do we want to be denied fair trials? Do we want to be robbed of our civil liberties? Do we want the rule of jungle to override the Universal Declarations of Human Rights? Do we want to legitimize Israel’s behavior? Today the BDS campaign is not only at the forefront of the battle for Palestinian rights, it is at the forefront of standing up for the rule of International Humanitarian Law.
- Samah Sabawi is a writer playwright and poet. She was born in Gaza and is currently residing in Melbourne Australia.
RAMALLAH — The Israeli occupation authority (IOA) has extended the administrative custody, without charge, of Muntaha Al-Tawil, the wife of El-Bireh Mayor and Hamas leader Sheikh Jamal Al-Tawil, for three months.
Taghrid Jahshan, the legal advisor to the women’s society for female political prisoners, said that Muntaha was detained on 8/2/2010 for a six months period that was renewed for three months and now is facing a third renewal of three more months ending 8/2/2011.
The lawyer said that she was in contact with the Israeli Hasharon jail and received the news on the phone, adding that she contacted the woman’s husband and told him of the new development. The lawyer expressed concern over the continued detention of Muntaha without charge and holding her away from her husband and four children.
Muntaha is studying social service at the open Quds University and is a member of many human rights groups that defend prisoners’ rights.
The Israeli military judge approved the detention of Muntaha depending on the so-called secret file tabled by the internal security apparatus. The defendant and her lawyer are not allowed to read contents of the file on the pretext of preserving sources of the information in it.
The prosecutor said that Muntaha poses a danger to the security in her area of residence.
1000 injured in nuclear protests, police at breaking point
Like the Roman legions vanquished in the Teutoburger Wald in Lower Saxony in 9 AD, the 17,000 police officers that marched into the woods around the nuclear storage facility in Gorleben in northern Germany on Sunday morning looked invincible. Police personnel from France, Croatia and Poland had joined in the biggest security operation ever mounted against protestors against the a train carrying nuclear waste to a depot in an isolated part of Lower Saxony’s countryside. Helicopters, water canons and police vehicles, including an armoured surveillance truck, accompanied an endless column of anti-riot police mounted on horses and also marching down the railway tracks into the dense woods. Tens of thousands of anti riot police clattered along the tracks, their helmets and visors gleaming in the morning sun, and wearing body armour, leg guards and carrying batons.
But by Sunday night, those same police officers were begging the protestors for a respite.
Trapped in black, icy woods without supplies or reinforcements able to reach them because of blockades by a mobile fleet of farmer’s tractors, the exhausted and hungry police officers requested negotiations with the protestors. A water cannon truck was blocked by tractors, and yet the police still had to clear 5000 people lying on the railway track at Harlingen in pitch darkness. The largest ever police operation had descended into chaos and confusion in the autumn woods of Lower Saxony, defeated by the courage and determination of peaceful protestors who marched for miles through woods to find places to lie down on the tracks and to scoop out gravel to delay the progress of the “the train from hell.”
The police union head Reiner Wendt gave vent to the general frustration when he issued a press statement via the DPA news agency last night saying the police had reached exhaustion point and needed a break. Behind the scenes, a battle seemed to be raging between the police chiefs, tucked up in their warm headquarters urging more action, and the exhausted officers on the ground.
The police on the ground won out. The Castor train – called a “Chernobyl on wheels” because it has been carrying 133 tonnes of highly radioactive waste to an unsafe depot – was stopped in the middle of the countryside and Nato barbed wire was placed around it. Lit by floodlights and guarded by a handful of police, the most dangerous train on the planet was forced to a halt after a 63 hour journey across France and Germany.
The defeat of the legions at Teutoburg marked the end of the attempt by the Roman empire to conquer Germania magna. And the failure of the biggest ever police operation two thousand years later in the woods of Lower Saxony to tame women, elderly people and school children protesting the government’s nuclear policy, could well also go down as a turning point.
The Berlin government can no longer rely on the discredited mainstream media to control the way people see issues. Too many people recognise it to be a tool of propaganda. The government now needs to resort to brute force to bludgeon through decisions that enrich corporations and banks and impoverish everyone else. But the police forces at its disposal are simply not sufficient given the scale of the protests now gripping Germany. Only 1,500 police reinforcements could be mustered on Morning from the entire territory to deal with road blockades by thousands of protestors aiming to delay the transport of the nuclear waste on the final leg of its journey.
The police officers were exhausted after shifts of 24 hours or more, often without any food or just a cappucino and snack bar, and they had nothing to look forward to but more of the same drudgery after a night spent four to a room in a Youth Hostel.
A leading figure in a German police police union Bernard Witthaut today even lashed out at the government for trying to drive through unpopular policies using the police.
“Whether in Stuttgart or in Wendland today my colleagues are simply not getting out of their anti riot gear because of the wrong decisions by the government,” he said.
Many police officers also expressed sympathy with the protestors’ aims.
The question now is: how long can the use of police to bludgeon protestors continue when the protests are reaching this scale? How long can Germany be governed by a semi authoritarian regime using brute force when the force at its disposal is so small? The German army cannot be deployed on this kind of mission without sparking even more outrage. A false flag terrorist operation will hardly wash when the people are so fed up with the government lies and the media lies. EU soldiers will find it hard to deal with the Germans. The German and EU secret police cannot infiltrate all of the protestor’s organizations when there are simply so many.
The German people as a whole are on the march.
“Citizens in rebellion,” shouted a TAZ headline.
“Civil war in Wendtand,” fumed Bild.
NGO chief Kersin Rudek spoke for many when she said:
“We have lost faith in the government until they prove that their politics is for the people and not for the corporations.”
She talked about the “anger” among people at the “arrogance of the political class.”
As in the Stuttgart 21 railway protests, it was people from all walks of life, a genuine grass roots movement, that arrived in Wendland to protest the decision by the CDU/CSU/FDP government to ignore a legally binding deadline to phase out nuclear power. Against the wishes of the majority, Bilderberg Chancellor Angela Merkel announced this autumn that 17 reactors would continue for another 12 years at gigantic cost to the tax payer in subsidies.
The tax payers of Lower Saxony even have to foot the bill of 50 million euro for the police operation to protect the nuclear waste – and not the electricity companies making a fortune from the extravagant energy source while the government keeps investments in ground-breaking new renewable energy technologies such as the third generation solar cells at a negligible amount.
As in Stutggart, the police used savage force against peaceful demonstrators reinforcing the impression of a government out of control and refusing to respect the basic democratic right of people to hold protests without being beaten to a pulp. Videos of the Castor transport on Sunday show police beating people with their truncheons, punching them and throwing them to the ground. Police also used tear gas, pepper spray and water canon.
One clip shows a police officer using his fist to punch a man lying on the railway track in the head.
About a 1000 people were injured, it is reported. 950 people are reported to have suffered eye injuries due to pepper spray and tear gas, according to a spokesperson of “Castor schottern”. Another sixteen protestors suffered broken bones. There were 29 severe head wounds. Two people had to be taken to hospital.
One person had to be taken by helicopter after suffering multiple bone fractures after being trampled by a police horse.
But as in Stuttgart, the people did not give up in spite of the risk of savage beatings at the hands of the police. They insisted on their civic right enshrined in the constitution to hold peaceful political protests.
More than 50,000 people from all parts of the country and all walks of life attended a rally on a field close to Dannenberg. Thousands then marched through the autumn woods, splitting into small groups to descend into the valley, break through police lines to chain themselves to the rails or remove gravel from the tracks to delay the train.
According to Spiegel, 7000 people alone took part in the road and railway blockades.
An armoured police car was set on fire by masked men but it is not clear if this was an agent pravocateur acting to discredit the protestors. A video shows a man able to walk up to the armoured car and set it alight unhindered.
The overwhelming number of protestors were peaceful.
In spite of the sub zero temperatures and ground frost, up to 5000 protestors lay down on the railway tracks at Harlingen late in the evening and refused to move. Supplies of hot tea, food and blankets were brought to them by mobile kitchens. Fires were lit to help stay warm.
The police worked from midnight until 7 am to clear protestors blocking the track, dragging many to an open air “prison concentration camp” where people were forced to sleep in fields surrounded by police trucks.
This morning, the protestors have regrouped today and thousands are reported to be preparing to block the transport by road of the nculear waste from Dannenberg to Gorleben.
The organisers of the protest kept journalists and the public informed using live tickers, press releases and at Infopoints so that the whole country could follow the events outside the mainstream media. Radio Wendland is also broadcasting updates on the incredibly heroic resistance of so many people. At great personal risk, tens of thousands of people gave an example of courageous and peaceful non-violent resistance that will surely go down in history.
If this is the resistance for Castor and Stuttgart 21, just imagine what will happen when Germans finally grasp the scale of the banking scam being carried out by their “elite.”
The CDU/CSU/FDP government has already hit record lows in the polls and after Sunday’s savage police operation against peaceful protestors, support for them is sure to plummet further.
The feudal lords without a feudal army to push through their agenda of robbery are facing the end of the road now that their media propaganda apparatus based on the Springer and Bertelsmann empire is falling apart and their strategy of divide and rule through a false left/right political paradigm is no longer working.
A new freedom and power was born in the woods of Wendland. And it belonged to the people who have had enough of the arrogant authoritarian political class.