Dignite – Al-Karama update:
“The boat should be off the Gaza coast on Tuesday afternoon,” spokesman Maxime Guimberteau told AFP by phone from Paris on Monday.
“It is travelling slowly, mainly to conserve fuel,” he said.
“The fact that the Dignite – Al Karama is at sea is a setback for the Israeli government which by force or by pressure is trying to perpetuate an illegal and criminal blockade and to silence civil society movements around the world,” a statement issued from the boat said. … Full article
“What is your father’s name?”
“What is his father’s name?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where are you staying there?”
“At the Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp.”
That is as far as my conversation at Israeli passport control goes. I am at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, one of dozens of activists who have flown in from across Europe and the US for the Welcome to Palestine mission, a week of cultural and solidarity activities organized by Palestinian civil resistance groups across the West Bank.
As part of our mission, our Palestinian hosts have asked us to honestly declare our goal of traveling to the West Bank to visit Palestinians. Israel controls all access points into the West Bank. While traveling to the Occupied Territories is not strictly illegal under Israeli law, internationals and Palestinians living abroad are commonly interrogated, searched, harassed, and often denied entry if they state their intention to visit or work with Palestinians.
The political policing at Israeli-controlled borders is just one facet of an elaborate system that keeps Palestinians in the Occupied Territories isolated and under siege. The Welcome to Palestine mission is intended to be a mass challenge to these policies, so of course the Israeli government is doing everything it can to stop it.
In the days before July 8, when hundreds of nonviolent activists were scheduled to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, the Israeli government’s hysteria about the action reached a fever pitch. On July 5, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said of the activists: “These hooligans who try to break our laws will not be allowed into the country and will be returned immediately to their home countries”—conveniently ignoring the fact that none of the activities of the Welcome to Palestine campaign are illegal under Israeli law. In the days before our arrival, Israeli government officials issued numerous threats against us in the media and airport security was beefed up despite our clear statements that we were not planning to stage any demonstrations inside the airport and were committed to nonviolence in all our actions.
In a last-ditch effort to stop Welcome to Palestine activists from reaching Ben Gurion Airport, the Israeli government sent a blacklist to major European airlines containing 374 names of passengers to be barred from boarding their planes in Europe. Most airlines seemed to comply with this list, sending last-minute letters or phone calls to some activists telling them in advance that they would not be allowed to fly. Many more, including the majority of the French delegation, the largest component of the campaign, arrived at the airport and were simply refused permission to board their flights. If the siege of Gaza extends to the shores of Greece, it seems the blockade of the West Bank covers all of Europe.
In London the night before departing, our group of about 15 Brits, Irish and Americans discussed what we would do if we were kept off our flight out of Luton Airport. Those of us who had been speaking and writing openly about the Welcome to Palestine mission were quite sure we would be on the blacklist.
At the airport the next morning, one American is in fact kept off the plane by security at the very last minute. But as the plane takes off, I and the other participants realized that we have cleared the first hurdle and are on our way to Palestine.
From the moment we land at Ben Gurion Airport around 4pm on Friday, it’s clear the security presence is intense. Plainclothes security officers line the hallway leading from the gate to passport control, watching us as we disembark. Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, our delegation leader, gives us hushed updates about other groups that have been stopped in Europe or here at the airport. As we approach passport control, he turns back to us and said simply, “Now it’s our turn.” And it is.
At passport control, anyone who lists their destination as “Bethlehem,” “Palestine,” or “the West Bank” is quickly pulled aside, their passports disappearing into the hands of Israeli immigration officials. After most of my group has been waylaid by security, we are herded into a basement immigration holding area, where a number of French, Belgian and German activists are already being detained. There are about forty of us packed into the small waiting room. The immigration officials are not interrogating us. We think they are mostly just trying to figure out what to do with us.
We are held in the downstairs waiting area for about three hours. During this time I am taking non-stop press calls from Israeli and international media. I am shocked that the Israeli officials let me keep my phone (and even let me charge it) but determined to let as many people know what is happening as possible. I also contact the US consulate in Tel Aviv—not that I expect them to do anything to help us, but on principle I think they should know that Americans are being detained.
Around 7pm, a large number of plainclothes and uniformed immigration officers, police, and Border Patrol soldiers suddenly enter the room. I attempt to sneak a picture of the Border Patrol soldiers with my phone, only to have it roughly grabbed out of my hands by a burly immigration officer in a suit. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hang onto it indefinitely, but the loss of my only connection to the outside world still makes me nervous, especially since something is clearly about to go down. We notice several officers filming us, including one who climbs onto a desk to get a better angle.
Suddenly, a couple of the officers grab a French man who looks to be of Arab descent and try to pull him out of the room by himself. He protests that he wanted to stay with the group, and his comrades tried to nonviolently resist him being removed from the room. This is all the excuse the police and soldiers needed to move in and start punching, hitting and shoving anyone they can reach.
It’s clear the whole event is a deliberate provocation staged for the camera—perhaps to demonstrate what “hooligans” we are. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine us passively allowing someone to be removed from the group against their will—particularly someone of Arab origin who is quite right to believe they are more likely to be mistreated.
The upshot of the scuffle is that we are not removed from the room one by one, but in pairs or small groups. (We still have no idea where we are being relocated to and no one will tell us.) I pair up with a British woman named Fiona and we link arms so we can’t be separated. I am still trying to regain possession of my phone, which I can see the immigration officers playing with behind the desk. “I’ll turn it off, I’ll delete the pictures, I just want my phone back,” I tell one of the men in suits. No go. We are forcibly shoved out of the room, with one of the immigration officers pinching Fiona hard on the arm to make her comply. When Fiona says something along the lines of “That’s not necessary, we’re going,” the only response is “You fucking bitch.”
We are taken up to a women’s bathroom inside the airport where our bags and persons are searched. (Thankfully we are not strip-searched.) From there we’re taken outside to an isolated corner of the airport where what looked like a normal tour bus with dark windows awaits us. “Get in the limo, you’re going to the Hotel of Immigration,” one of the officers says sarcastically. We are pretty sure the Hotel of Immigration is prison.
Once we enter the bus we realized it has been converted to a paddy wagon on the inside, with metal grates on the windows and hard metal seats. Men and women are separated and put in different sections of the bus. While none of the women are handcuffed or shackled, several of the men were. It is night by this point but still quite hot, and the bus is stifling and crawling with roaches. We sit there for three hours, with no ventilation, no food or water, no toilet access and no information on what will happen next. We finally get a few bottles of water by banging on the metal walls to demand them. Everyone is nervous. If this is how we are being arrested, are there worse things to come?
Around 11pm we finally started driving. No one has told us where we are going, but those in the front of the bus are able to look out the tiny window and identify street signs for Ramla, a Palestinian town conquered in 1948 that is about 30km from Tel Aviv. I know there is an immigration detention center there, which is normally filled with migrant workers who have lost their visas and African refugees who have attempted to cross Israel’s border through the Sinai. Sure enough, Givon Detention Center, with its massive gate and barbed-wire-topped walls, is exactly where we end up.
We’re brought into a large open room to wait while we are processed for detention extremely slowly. Around 1am, after nine hours of detention, we’re finally given some food, which the guards film us eating so they can demonstrate how humanely they’re treating us. We’re allowed to keep our carry-on luggage with us, although our IDs, money, credit cards, and any media and electronics are confiscated. Those of us (like me) who had been stupid enough to check a bag have not been reunited with it, and therefore have no toiletries and no change of clothes. I’m finally processed and put in a cell with five other women around 2:30am—only to be woken up for a headcount at 6:30 the next morning.
It doesn’t matter how “humane” the conditions are—waking up in prison sucks. There’s a lot of anxiety on the first day, since no one knew how long we’ll be here and how the guards might treat us. At one point, a rumor goes around that they’re trying to photograph and fingerprint us all and we must all resist because we are not criminals. I imagine being in a room full of guards, alone, outnumbered, having to physically resist being fingerprinted, and get quite scared. That threat turns out not to materialize—either the rumor wasn’t accurate or they gave up that project after they realized we were all going to resist. But it’s a shaky first day or so.
My first cell contains one Austrian, one German-Palestinian woman whose father was from Gaza, and three Belgians. We’re all between 23 and 31, and four of us are Muslim. Needless to say, these ladies do not exactly fit the stereotype of the meek, submissive Muslim woman.
Some of the women in my cell had been part of a small group of mostly young Arabs who were separated from the large group at the airport and put in a smaller arrest van with a large number of soldiers and police, who filmed them and made sexually suggestive comments. One French Algerian woman was very roughly arrested, beaten, kicked, and put in handcuffs and leg irons before being thrown in the arrest van.
Someone has markers and we distract ourselves by graffiting all over the walls and lockers in our cell. When the guards finally open the doors and allowed us out into the closed-off hall of our cellblock a few hours later, we see that almost every cell had graffiti written on the walls and doors. Many cells have used soap or toothpaste to write “Free Palestine” on the inside of the doors. The prison toothpaste takes the paint off the doors, which is funny until you think about the fact you’ve been brushing your teeth with that.
Consular officials begin arriving that morning. The two people from the American consulate are friendly and do call our families, but they don’t seem to have much power or information about what will happen to us. They initially tell us we will be deported that night—it turns out they’re off by three days.
On Saturday, when the consular officials are present, our cell doors are kept open most of the day. We’re still confined to a closed hallway, but at least we can move about and talk to each other. The next day, Sunday, we’re locked up 21 out of 24 hours. We demand phone calls, only to be told “later.” We start to joke that in Hebrew, later means never. When we point out that it says on the “prisoners’ rights” document on the wall that we are to be allowed phone calls within 24 hours, we are told: “You’re special—those rights don’t apply to you.”
On the second night, I switch to the cell across the way without asking permission. It turns out the guards aren’t keeping track of us that carefully and no one notices. I want to be with Donna, the other American, since there are only two of us.
One of the prisoners in my second cell is Pippa Bartolotti, the only Brit who made it through passport control, perhaps because she is very posh and does not look like a “typical activist,” whatever that is. She is a Brit with an Italian name because her grandfather was sent out of fascist Italy as a teenager—other family members did not survive. On Friday, she made it out of the airport only to get a frantic text from one of us while we were being attacked by security in the basement. Her no-nonsense approach to getting back into the airport was effective (you can, and really must, watch the video here) but did result in her getting thrown to the ground and roughly handcuffed with someone’s knee on her back. The marks from the handcuffs are still visible and the bruises are just beginning to appear.
There is also an older French woman in our cell who has diarrhea. Her requests to see a doctor are being ignored. We take care of her—thankfully Donna is a nurse—but it’s not until the day we’re released that she’s finally able to see a doctor to her satisfaction. It’s pure luck that she doesn’t become seriously ill.
A sort of primitive communism develops in which everyone instinctively shares food, clothing, toiletries, and the most precious resource, information. Enough people speak either French or English that those become the common languages. When French and Belgian activists come back from their consular visits reporting that our story is huge in the European media and there are protests in support of us in Paris and Brussels, it’s like a ray of light.
We find ways to entertain ourselves, sharing stories and singing songs. The light switches for our cells are outside in the hall, so once the doors are locked at 8pm, there is no way to turn the lights off. The girls across the hall from us work out an ingenious solution that involves a spoon attached to a mop head and some feeling around for the light switch with the guidance of your cellmates across the hall.
Some of us begin to be allowed to see lawyers, although who is permitted to go seems totally random. We have two wonderful Palestinian lawyers, Anan and Samer, from Addameer, a prisoners’ rights organization, who are representing us pro bono. They are allowed to see us between 2pm and 5pm—not nearly enough time to talk to the approximately 120 of us who are here. I am the last person of the day to see them on Sunday, and they spend half our meeting arguing with the guards, who are trying to kick them out before they can give us any information. The guards seem determined to humiliate them, but they somehow maintain their dignity. I guess they’ve had a lot of practice.
The main thing they are able to tell us is that we are in a sort of legal black hole. The Israeli government is arguing that we have not formally entered Israel and are still “in transit,” as we would be as if we were being detained at the airport. Our lawyers are countering that this is absurd since we have now spent several days in a prison 30km from the airport. They warn us in no uncertain terms not to sign anything the Israelis give us. They tell us that it can take up to four days to get a deportation hearing, at which point the judge can decide, arbitrarily, to hold us for another four days—meaning we could be here for up to a week. This seems to me to be a pale shadow of the system of administrative detention that Palestinians face—except what’s days for us can be months or years for them.
At 1pm on Monday—almost three full days into our detention—I am finally allowed to make my phone call. I go with Pippa, whose phone was confiscated and still has not been returned. While Pippa is arguing with the guards, demanding to use their phone (request denied), I’m able to send some surreptitious text messages. I call my parents and tell them to call an activist friend in New York. “Tell her to call the media, tell everyone what’s happening, do something to get us out,” I say. At that point I’m promptly told, “Your time is up now.”
On Monday afternoon some people start to be deported. We hear that two of the British men have left. We later learn that there were numerous empty seats on the flight they were on. I think it’s just pure disorganization that some of the women were not put on that flight.
On Tuesday afternoon, eight of our English-speaking crew are finally driven to the airport. We are taken to a completely empty security screening area, made to sit down and surrounded by about twenty immigration officers and police. Suddenly we are told: “You can go to Bethlehem now.” No one is sure exactly what is going on, but being surrounded and outnumbered two to one by threatening security officers makes it really hard to believe this is a sincere offer. We are at the airport—surely they have already secured seats for us on the EasyJet flight that’s about to depart. We notice they are filming us again. Maybe the point of this is to film us refusing their offer—which we do on principle since dozens of our comrades have already been deported—so they can say “Look, we offered them the chance to go to Bethlehem and they didn’t really want it, so that proves they were just here to make trouble.”
At this point I feel they’re just screwing with us and get quite angry. I stand up and start questioning the head immigration officer, the thug who orchestrated the attack on us in the basement holding area on Friday night. “If you say you’re letting us in now, why didn’t you let us in four days ago?” He says something about there being dangerous people in our midst. “Who?” I demand. “You know.” “No, I don’t know. Tell me who.” I try to get him to say something about “terrorist” Arabs or Muslims among us, which I’m sure is what he means, but he, at least, is too smart for that.
Finally we are put on the plane, separated from all the other passengers. We get our passports back from a flight attendant. Most people’s are stamped ENTRY DENIED, but mine is stamped with nothing. It’s as if I never entered the country, even though I’ve been in prison for the past four days. It is 8pm on Tuesday when the plane finally takes off. We have been detained for 100 hours.
Throughout the whole process, we never saw a single piece of paper stating why we were being detained. If we have deportation orders, we did not see or sign them. We have no information about whether we are banned from re-entering Palestine, although I don’t think any of us expect a problem-free entry in the future.
We are well aware, as we fly off from a country we supposedly never entered, that things could have been much worse. We all know that the way we were treated is nothing—nothing—compared to what happens to Palestinians. As internationals, we have the luxury of only encountering the repressive system on its mildest setting. Our prison experience was full of barked orders, petty meanness, and lies upon lies upon lies, but we learned by the end that the guards were very much unwilling to use violence against us. Not because they were particularly nice, but because they knew the story would get out. As westerners our lives are still perceived as having some value. Less so for the poor migrants who filled the rest of the prison, and not at all for Palestinians.
Like the response to the Flotilla, like the violence against the Nakba and Naksa Day protests and the brutality that unarmed protesters in Palestine face every day, the Israeli government’s response to the Welcome to Palestine mission shows that they know only one way to react to nonviolent protest—with brute repression and total stupidity. If they had simply let us in, there would have been no story. Instead they created a multi-day media embarrassment for themselves and ensured that all of us came out of prison more determined to fight.
By detaining dozens of Europeans and Americans for simply declaring their intent to visit Palestinian cities, the Israeli government has only internationalized the struggle. We will return to our countries and build the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. We will continue to speak out against Israeli apartheid and for Palestinian human rights. And we will return to Palestine. We know we are always welcome.
Laura Durkay is a member of Siegebusters Working Group and the International Socialist Organization in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauradurkay.
The full-court press on the FTAs represents a reversal for a president elected on a trade reform platform. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama proclaimed his opposition to the NAFTA-style FTAs and boasted of his stance against the devastating North American and Central American agreements. As candidate Obama, he carefully distanced himself from the open-market, pro-corporate policies of his predecessor, calling for significant changes to the NAFTA model, including enforceable labor and environmental standards, and consumer protections.
The Global Crisis
In the three years since Obama wooed voters with talk of bold changes in trade policy, the need for reforms has reached crisis proportions. The global economic crisis left the United States with skyrocketing un- and under-employment rates. The government paid billions of dollars in bailout money to the corporations who caused the crisis. These corporations then turned around to post record profits and hand out astronomical executive pay bonuses. The evidence that FTA-fueled outsourcing benefits those corporations while putting Americans out of work has piled up, and polls show that a majority of U.S. citizens oppose NAFTA-style FTAs.
Abroad, labor violations and increasing inequality have exacerbated the plight of poor and working people in FTA countries, while creating a new class of mega-rich that often control national economies.
This would seem to be precisely the moment to make good on the promises to fix trade and investment policy, and to give workers everywhere a fair shake in a globalized economy that has been severely skewed toward the interests of powerful corporations — to devastating effect.
Instead, the Obama administration has gone from the audacity of hope to the audacity of presenting three pro-corporate trade agreements to a public suffering from a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. As United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard concludes in a letter to Congress opposing the trade agreements, “Trade deals force working Americans to assume all the risk and encourage big multinationals to reap all the rewards.”
The new agreements look nearly identical to the NAFTA model, despite some tweaks and promises of advances that are mostly left outside the actual text of the agreements. Some of the most noxious elements that persist in the FTAs before Congress are: prohibitions on financial sector regulation and capital controls, foreign investment incentives that encourage off-shoring, separate legal regimes in which corporations can sue governments in specialized tribunals, weak environmental standards, vague and toothless labor standards, and intellectual property rules that monopolize knowledge needed for the public good.
The Economic Policy Institute calculates that the South Korean FTA alone will cost 159,000 U.S. jobs. Department of Commerce data shows that over the past decade of free trade policy multinational corporations cut their U.S. workforce by 2.9 million and increased overseas employment by 2.4 million. Under these trade and investment regimes, U.S. workers clearly suffer, which is why voters have supported candidates critical of NAFTA-style free trade. Although job displacement is frequently viewed as a zero-sum system where workers of different nations compete, the reality is that decent jobs — with dignified working conditions and real labor rights — are lost everywhere. FTAs turn the world into a global labor bazaar for corporations to bargain-hunt.
Labor unions in the countries purportedly hungering for a U.S. FTA overwhelmingly oppose them. Colombian labor organizations have consistently taken a stand against the Colombia FTA, asserting that it creates binding terms between two vastly unequal economies; would negatively affect agriculture, manufacturing, medicines and other vital sectors; would generate few if any net jobs; and would place thousands of local businesses in jeopardy. A group of Korean unions, farmers, and civil society groups traveled to Washington last January to “prevent the negative consequences that the Korea-US FTA will have on both of our countries.”
Both groups have presented their testimony to the U.S. Congress, exploding another myth: that FTAs are a “reward” to be bestowed on deserving allies. Powerful economic interests in these nations – typically over-represented by their governments — have brought tremendous pressure to bear in favor of the agreements. Meanwhile, the poor, workers, small farmers, the displaced, and indigenous and ethnic organizations nearly unanimously oppose them.
Colombians Against the FTA
A letter to the U.S. Congress signed by 431 U.S. and Colombian organizations urges members to reject the U.S.-Colombia FTA, citing “serious labor, human rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and environmental concerns in Colombia.” The letter points out that Colombia continues to be “the most dangerous country in the world for trade union activists” and cites a 94 percent impunity rate for assassins of labor leaders. Fifty-one trade unionists were killed in 2010, and killings continue unabated in 2011.
An Action Plan developed between the U.S. and Colombian governments to assuage concerns does not form part of the binding text of the agreement. At this stage, the plan amounts to good intentions without establishing a firm basis for collective bargaining for cooperative members, or clear benchmarks for reducing violence, abuses, and impunity.
Promoters have countered criticisms of the Colombian government’s labor practices by asserting that increased U.S. investment can serve as a positive force in upholding workers’ rights. This argument has not been borne out in practice. In Guatemala, unionist murders increased following passage of CAFTA. The logic is simple. With more powerful economic interests in the country competing in a globalized economy, companies too often view workers’ rights as economic liabilities.
The debate on the Colombian FTA has also ignored the need to assess the effects of increased foreign investment on the continued armed conflict in Colombia. NAFTA proved that FTAs have much more to do with revamping investment regimes for multinational corporations than with the exchange of goods and services.
These investments also direct money into paramilitaries involved in drug export, money-laundering, and other crimes. There is ample evidence of these shady relations in the past, most notably the recent case of Chiquita’s payoffs to paramilitary organizations as part of “doing business” in Colombia. Such investments, associated with huge agricultural projects and mining ventures, often go hand in hand with violence and displacement. A report on Inter-American Development Bank megaprojects by the Americas Program and the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities showed the correlation between the expansion of palm oil mono-crops and forced displacement. At a recent prayer breakfast, Lisa Haugaard of the Latin American Working Group spoke of her experience gathering evidence of landowners expanding cattle ranching or mining operations at the point of a gun.
The many attacks on Afro-Colombian populations as part of this process led 24 members of Congress to write President Obama on July 6 stating, “We are concerned that the FTA would stimulate business development in Colombia at the expense of these vulnerable populations.” The congressional members also note that an estimated 5.2 million people in the country are already displaced – more than one out of nine Colombians.
The Colombia FTA provides the clearest case of why free trade in the context of inequity and violence not only does not help but exacerbates the problems. The question of whether Colombia “deserves” the FTA can be easily answered. No population deserves an international agreement that directly or indirectly promotes displacement, violence, targeted murder, and the continued violation of the rights of indigenous and Afro-American populations.
Labor, human rights, and faith-based organizations are pushing back hard against the FTA onslaught, and offer tools for citizens to make their voices heard over the din of corporate lobbies.
For Congress to turn a deaf ear to those at greatest risk and in greatest need — both in the United States, and in the countries affected by the toxic trio of FTAs now making the rounds — would contradict U.S. values and U.S. public opinion. Especially now, as the U.S. economy still struggles to regain its footing, the best way to rebuild stability is to learn from mistakes of the past and strive for more fairness. A necessary step is to reject the Colombia, South Korea, and Panama Free Trade Agreements.
Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City at www.cipamericas.org.
Israel Rules Out Non-Violence
It was an Arab legislator who made the most telling comment to the Israeli parliament last week as it passed the boycott law, which outlaws calls to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied territories. Ahmed Tibi asked: “What is a peace activist or Palestinian allowed to do to oppose the occupation? Is there anything you agree to?”
The boycott law is the latest in a series of ever-more draconian laws being introduced by the far-right. The legislation’s goal is to intimidate those Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, who have yet to bow down before the majority-rule mob.
Look out in the coming days and weeks for a bill to block the work of Israeli human rights organisations trying to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from abuses by the Israeli army and settlers; and a draft law investing a parliamentary committee, headed by the far-right, with the power to veto appointments to the supreme court. The court is the only, and already enfeebled, bulwark against the right’s absolute ascendancy.
The boycott law, backed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, marks a watershed in this legislative assault in two respects.
First, it knocks out the keystone of any democratic system: the right to free speech. The new law makes it illegal for Israelis and Palestinians to advocate a non-violent political programme — boycott — to counter the ever-growing power of the half a million Jewish settlers living on stolen Palestinian land.
As the Israeli commentator Gideon Levy observed, the floodgates are now open: “Tomorrow it will be forbidden to call for an end to the occupation [or for] brotherhood between Jews and Arabs.”
Equally of concern is that the law creates a new type of civil, rather than criminal, offence. The state will not be initiating prosecutions. Instead, the job of enforcing the boycott law is being outsourced to the settlers and their lawyers. Anyone backing a boycott can be sued for compensation by the settlers themselves, who — again uniquely — need not prove they suffered actual harm.
Under this law, opponents of the occupation will not even be dignified with jail sentences and the chance to become prisoners of conscience. Rather, they will be quietly bankrupted in private actions, their assets seized either to cover legal costs or as punitive damages.
Human rights lawyers point out that there is no law like this anywhere in the democratic world. Even Eyal Yinon, the naturally conservative legal adviser to the parliament, assessed the law’s aim as stopping a “discussion that has been at the heart of political debate in Israel for more than 40 years”. But more than half of Israelis back it, with only 31 per cent opposed.
The delusional, self-pitying world view that spawned the boycott law was neatly illustrated this month in a short video “ad” that is supported, and possibly financed, by Israel’s hasbara, or propaganda, ministry. Fittingly, it is set in a psychiatrist’s office.
A young, traumatised woman deciphers the images concealed in the famous Rorschach test. As she is shown the ink-splodges, her panic and anger grow. Gradually, we come to realise, she represents vulnerable modern Israel, abandoned by friends and still in profound shock at the attack on her navy’s commandos by the “terrorist” passengers aboard last year’s aid flotilla to Gaza.
Immune to reality — that the ships were trying to break Israel’s punitive siege of Gaza, that the commandos illegally boarded the ships in international waters, and that they shot dead nine activists execution-style — Miss Israel tearfully recounts that the world is “forever trying to torment and harm [us] for no reason”. Finally she storms out, saying: “What do you want – for [Israel] to disappear off the map?”
The video — released under the banner “Stop the provocation against Israel” — was part of a campaign to discredit the recent follow-up flotilla from Greece. The aid mission was abandoned after Greek authorities, under Israeli pressure, refused to let the convoy sail for Gaza.
Israel’s siege mentality asserted itself again days later as international activists staged another show of solidarity — this one nicknamed the “flytilla”. Hundreds tried to fly to Israel on the same day, declaring their intention to travel to the West Bank. The goal was to highlight that Israel both controls and severely restricts access to the occupied territories and to Palestinians.
Proving precisely the protesters’ point, Israel threatened airlines with retaliation if they carried the activists and it massed hundreds of soldiers at Ben Gurion airport to greet arrivals. Some 150 peaceful protesters who reached Israel were arrested moments after landing.
Echoing the deranged sentiments of the woman in the video, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the various flotillas as “denying Israel’s right to exist” and a threat to its security.
In reality, however, the surge in flotilla activity reflects not an attack on Israel but a growing appreciation by international groups that Israel is successfully sealing off from the world the small areas of the occupied territories left to Palestinians. The flotillas are a rebellion against the Palestinians’ rapid ghettoisation.
Although Netanyahu’s comments sound delusional, there may be a method to the madness of measures like the boycott law and the hysterical overreaction to the flotillas.
These initiatives, as Tibi points out, leave no room for non-violent opposition to the occupation. Arundhati Roy, the award-winning Indian writer, has noted that non-violence is essentially “a piece of theatre. [It] needs an audience. What can you do when you have no audience?”
Netanyahu and the Israeli right understand this point. They are carefully dismantling every platform on which dissident Israelis, Palestinians and international activists hope to stage their protests. They are making it impossible to organise joint peaceful and non-violent resistance, whether in the form of boycotts or solidarity visits. The only way being left open is violence.
Is this what the Israeli right wants, believing both that it will confirm to Israelis’ their paranoid fantasies as well as offering a justification to the world for entrenching the occupation?
Netanyahu appears to believe that, by generating the very terror he claims to be trying to defeat, he can safeguard the legitimacy of the Jewish state — and destroy any hope of a Palestinian state being created.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.
An Israeli robotic arm with a rifle attached to it injures a Palestinian kid in the occupied Palestinian lands. (File photo)
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released a report Monday on the findings of a investigation into the arrest, detention and interrogation of 50 Palestinian minors detained by Israeli military forces for throwing stones. The investigation shows a pattern of consistent abuse of the rights of minors both under Israeli and international law.
B’Tselem’s report into the arrest and detention of Palestinian minors on suspicion of throwing stones by Israeli forces has exposed a system of legal abuses conducted by the Israeli justice system such as beatings, forced confessions and the denial of legal representation and parental presence during interrogation.
The report was based on the testimony of 50 Palestinian minors on their experiences at the hands of the Israeli military justice system.
Thirty of the minors interviewed reported that they were taken during the middle of the night by Israeli military forces.
During the interrogation 47 stated they were not allowed adequate sleep, 23 stated they were not allowed access to the bathroom or to food or water and 19 said they were treated violently.
More broadly the report documents that at least 835 Palestinian miners were charged between 2005 and 2010 for throwing stones of which only one was acquitted.
Imprisonment was the punishment imposed in 93% of cases between 2005 and 2010. 60% of 12-14 year-olds were imprisoned despite this being illegal under Israeli law. Sentences increased with the age of the offender.
Many Palestinian minors enter into plea bargains with Israeli authorities so as to cut down on the time of their detention which is enforced throughout court proceedings.
The human rights organization stated their belief that the Military Youth Court, established in 2009 to hear the cases of Palestinian minors in the West Bank, has not alleviated the situation of accused Palestinian minors despite declarations by the court that it would rule in the spirit of Israeli youth law.
Palestinian youth are tried under adult military law which does not conform with Israeli or international standards for criminal proceedings against minors.
The treatment of Palestinian minors has twice been discussed in recent months in the British Parliament after British MP’s and Lords reported widespread human rights abuses against charged Palestinian minors similar to those reported in B’Tselem’s report following a fact finding mission to the West Bank.
The Dignité-Al Karama crew, which had told Greek authorities that their destination was the Egyptian port of Alexandria, have decided instead to sail towards Gaza after a long debate.
The French yacht has been the only one that succeeded in evading the Greek Authority’s decision to prevent the ships from leaving their shores. Out of the 300 activists and dozen ships that made up the Freedom Flotilla II only ten activists and one small ship is left.
The passengers see themselves as “representatives of the whole Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human”. Among them, are representatives of the Canadian, French, Greek and Swedish Boats to Gaza, and also renowned Israeli journalist Amira Hass, reporting for Haaretz.
They view their voyage as “a message to the Israeli government, to the international community and to the besieged people of Gaza: The Canadian Boat to Gaza & Freedom Flotilla II are not giving up, until the inhumane and illegitimate blockade of Gaza is lifted. Gaza, we are coming!”
Updates at: http://www.freegaza.org/
JERUSALEM — A group of Israeli settlers attacked three Palestinian shepherds near Jerusalem on Monday, police said.
The shepherds were tending to their sheep on a hillside near Mikhmas east of Jerusalem when they came under a “brutal” attack by the ultra-Orthodox settlers who beat and stabbed them, Palestinian police said in a statement.
They were evacuated to hospital where medics said two victims sustained serious wounds, police said. The statement did not elaborate on their identities or say at which hospital they received treatment.
The alleged attack follows a string of violent events in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A report by the Palestinian Authority found that settler violence increased “dramatically” in June 2011, documenting 139 attacks in the West Bank and the destruction of over 3,600 olive trees and vineyards.
On Friday, Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Yizhar set fire to Palestinian land near the village of Burin, south of Nablus, a member of its agricultural committee, Belal Eid, told Ma’an.
Two days earlier, a Palestinian teenager sustained bruises after Israeli settlers pelted his car with stones near the site of the former Israeli settlement of Homesh, which was evacuated in 2005.
Israeli settlers uprooted on Tuesday Palestinian farmlands in Sair town, north of the southern West Bank city of Hebron; Israeli soldiers were present but did not attempt to stop the settlers.
The Land Research Center in Hebron reported that four bulldozers driven by fundamentalist settlers bulldozed vast areas of farmlands close to the “Asiar” illegal settlement outpost. The settlers came from Asfrat illegal settlement.
Resident Mustafa Ash-Shalalda told the Land Research Center that the lands in question are not within the boundaries of the illegal settlement, and that they belong to members of his family.
Ash-Shalalda voiced an appeal to the International Community and human rights groups to intervene, and also called on local and international media agencies to document the ongoing violations carried out by the settlers and the soldiers.
Israeli settlers are carrying out constant attacks against the residents and their lands, in an attempt to force them out of their homes and lands, in order to control more privately-owned Palestinian property.
Tel Aviv – The Knesset ethics committee voted on Monday to strip Arab member of parliament Hanin Zuabi of her rights to address parliament and vote in committees.
Hanin Zuabi speaks in parliament (File Photo)
The decision comes one year after Zuabi had other parliamentary rights taken away from her, including her diplomatic passport, financial help for legal assistance and the right to travel to countries Israel does not have official ties with.
The stripping of these rights came after Zuabi sailed on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara during last year’s Gaza flotilla.
Zuabi was first elected in 2009 as a member of Balad. The 42-year-old Palestinian from Nazareth is one of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens.
When some of her parliamentary rights were revoked last year, Zuabi went to the High Court of Justice to get the privileges back, but they were ultimately stripped by a Knesset vote of 34-16.
MK Zuabi said on Monday that ‘this is the first time that the ethics committee of the Israeli parliament have punished parliamentarians for their behavior outside of parliament’, adding that MKs had been punished before but for conduct inside of parliament.
Zuabi continued, saying that the committee’s decision contradicts the rules of conduct for the committee and reflects a profound desire for a political vendetta, reflected by a hysteric racist right-wing majority that doesn’t differentiate between its right-wing positions and political legitimacy.
Zuabi stated ‘the political majority in Israel is not the source of legitimacy instead it should be the law, therefore the question is whether I did something against the law or not. I did not do anything contradictory to law, unless in this case the right-wing groups control the Israeli courts, creating a judicial system that reflects a right-wing majority.’
Zuabi also affirmed that the political immunity that is given to Knesset members is specifically granted to protect them from the oppression of the majority, so as to protect them from sanctions that might be imposed on them. Therefore the decision by the ethics committee conflicts with the immunity which should provide protection for MKs during such cases.
Zuabi has been a vocal critic of some of Israel’s policies both inside and outside the Knesset. Last week she was taken out of the Knesset hall by security officers after interrupting a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the recently-passed anti-boycott law.
After weeks of hue and cry about Murdoch gate there seems to be a prevalent unwritten agreement among the British main stream media to ignore one fact.
While ordinary British citizens are buried under piles of news about Murdoch’s empire hacking into the voicemails of the royal family, celebrities, high-ranking politicians, a murdered teenager and the relatives of the dead soldiers, almost all media fail to report the worst allegation: the endorsement of illegal war in Iraq.
Observers accuse Murdoch’s newspapers of being the main newspaper propagandizing the fraudulent military conflicts.
The media tycoon had given his full support to the illegal Iraq war, and many times praised former Prime Minister Tony Blair for his courage saying: “I think Tony is being extraordinarily courageous and strong on what his stance is in the Middle East.”
News International papers began doing their best convincing people about what they called the grave threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons, even two years before the publication of the government’s dossier on Iraq’s non-existent Weapon of Mass Destruction.
As the UK government was beating the drums of the war louder in 2003, Murdoch’s newspaper initiated even more pro-war propaganda. Murdoch who was a strong supporter of attacking Iraq and ousting Saddam, even said: “The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in the any country.” However after the invasion News International never apologized for the false information they had published pushing the economy to the brink of collapse.
Murdoch’s papers and TV channels have been backing all the wars imposed by Britain in the last thirty years and has continued backing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Murdoch’s media empire has even prepared the ground to keep the war in Libya going.
One may ask which one is more guilty? The Murdoch’s corporation or the other British media which are deliberately turning a closed eye to his role in recent wars?