The Big Story – 08-31-2011
On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos brutally attacked Freedom Flotilla 1, killing eight Turkish and one American passenger on board the Mavi Marmara, most having been killed at close range, execution style.. They injured more than 50 other passengers, both on the Mavi Marmara and on the other four boats sailing to the embattled territory of Gaza to bring the attention of the world to Israel’s illegal blockade of 1.6 million Palestinians. Not only were our passengers murdered and maimed, but the Israeli government has refused to return over $1 million in money and equipment, including cameras and videos which are of evidential value.
In the 15 months since Israel’s unwarranted attack on five boats carrying human rights watchers, Israel has been trying to spin the story that their well-armed soldiers were the victims and we were the aggressors. Several reports have already been written, most squarely blaming Israel for its attack on unarmed civilians.
The UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission took evidence from 112 eyewitnesses, reviewed forensic evidence, including autopsy reports and inspected the Mavi. It found that, because a humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza, Israel’s blockade is unlawful and ‘cannot be sustained in law…regardless of the grounds” used as justification. Israel’s blockade is collective punishment and in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, inflicting civilian damage disproportionate to any military advantage. Therefore, since Freedom Flotilla 1 neither presented an imminent threat to Israel nor was designed to contribute to any war effort against Israel, intercepting the flotilla was ‘clearly unlawful’ and could not be justified as self-defense.
Israel refused to cooperate with this UN panel even though the United Nations and governments all around the world called for just such an independent investigation of the events.
Instead, the Israeli government set up its own investigatory panel, The Turkel Commission, led by Israeli retired Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel and three other Israelis issued a report on January 23, 2011 exonerating the commandos, then saying the blockade was legal. The commission did not interview a single passenger or crew member from any of the boats but only received testimony from the Israeli military.
On January 28, 2011, Amnesty International condemned the Turkel findings as no more than a whitewash. “Despite being nearly 300 pages long, the report crucially fails to explain how the activists died and what conclusions the Commission reached regarding the IDF’s specific actions in each case.”
Free Gaza shares Amnesty International’s analysis that the conflict between the Israeli armed forces and unarmed civilians was NOT armed conflict, making international humanitarian law (IHL) the wrong framework; international human rights law and law enforcement norms should have been applied, which would have made the use of force – and especially lethal force –an act of last resort.
Now there is the Palmer/Uribe report due to be released tomorrow, which apparently adopts the same faulty IHL framework.
According to Audrey Bomse, Board member and Legal Adviser to Free Gaza : “If the leaks we’ve heard from Israeli officials are correct, the holes in this report are big enough to sail a flotilla of ships through. There are serious problems with the Panel’s composition, mandate and legal analysis. But most disturbing of all is the fact that the Secretary General’s Panel apparently condones Israel’s gross violations of the human and national rights of the Palestinian people and the rights of those in solidarity with them.”
The Panel has 4 members, one from Israel and one from Turkey, plus Geoffrey Palmer, former prime minister of New Zealand and ex-president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. The choice of Uribe as vice-chairman is suspect, given his intimate association with the military and paramilitary practice of murdering civilians in Colombia. The Panel, was only tasked to review the reports of the national investigations by Turkey and Israel (the Turkel Committee), not to conduct an in-depth objective investigation. Its ultimate goal, was to “positively affect the relationship between Turkey and Israel.”
International humanitarian law (IHL, the law of armed conflict) is the wrong legal framework to be used as the basis for judging the lawfulness of the actions taken by Israel both against the civilian population of Gaza (the blockade) and against those resisting the boarding of the MM. The conflict between the Israeli navy and unarmed civilians on the Mavi Marmara was not armed conflict. International human rights law and law enforcement norms should have been applied, which would have made the use of force – and especially lethal force –an act of last resort. Nor should the legality of the blockade of occupied Gaza be analyzed in the framework of the law of armed conflict.
If indeed the Uribe Rport has concluded that the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza – a serious measure of war – is legal and in accordance with international law, then this Report will contradict numerous other UN reports and resolutions, most recently that of the Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission, on the issue of the legality of the Gaza siege.
As the Human Rights Council Fact‐Finding Mission observed, “public confidence in any investigative process … is not enhanced when the subject of the investigation either investigates himself or plays a pivotal role in the process.”
Contact: Audrey Bomse +44 (0)78615610932, email@example.com
The small village of Harish has become a hot spot of contentious debate since plans were unveiled to build an ultra-Orthodox only city in the predominantly Palestinian region.
Harish is a village in the Wadi Ara, a region in northern Israel that falls in the Haifa District and “The Triangle” in Israel. Wadi Ara is home to roughly 120,000 Palestinians and 10,000 Jews.
Harish was built as a kibbutz in 1992, one of a string of settlements positioned along the Green Line as a means of strengthening Israel’s hold on the border, a strategy conceived of by then housing minister Ariel Sharon. Failing in its original formulation, today it is home to only 1,000 people.
Since 2009, plans to transform Harish into an ultra-Orthodox city have been pushed forward by members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, namely Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing Minister Ariel Atias.
Plans for expansion, approved in 2010, are now being implemented with 6,000 housing units soon to begin construction.
An executive committee was formed to promote the new city, which is sidestepping the planning process of the local and district planning committees.
Harish was declared an economically “preferred area” in 2009, which means the price of land will be government subsidised.
This was facilitated by a recent bill, which dictates that any city whose population is set to grow to seven times its size and whose religious character is changing should be a preferred area, criteria fitting the description of Harish perfectly.
The plan has caused much consternation among the mostly Jewish residents of Harish and the nearby Palestinian villages, mainly because the city, to be expanded by 1000 dunums (247 acres), will use land belonging to the villages and kibbutzim.
The aggrieved communities united to form the Harish Regional Campaign Coalition, including Palestinian villagers, Jewish residents of Harish, and members of nearby kibbutzim, to advance a common goal: for Harish to become a small and pluralistic city, allowing residents to remain and avoiding social friction in the area. The Coalition is also challenging the lack of transparency in the planning process being conducted by the housing ministry, and the destruction of unique forest land that expanding Harish will necessitate.
It is Palestinian villages that will be most grievously affected, as the current blueprints will see them hemmed in, preventing their own expansion. Harish is set to expand in a big arc, cutting off access between the villages of Kufr Kara, Umm al-Qutuf, Arara, Barta’a and Meiser.
The ultra-orthodox—or Haredim—have a reputation for intolerance among Palestinians in surrounding villages and Jews in Harish, who believe they would be openly hostile towards outsiders. Palestinians say they will not attempt to use Harish’s new roads due to fear of aggression from the Haredim, forcing them to travel around its boundaries to reach villages on the other side.
Under the leadership of Taqfiq Jabareen, the villages are challenging the discriminatory policies of the housing ministry by arguing against the use of the “preferred area” law Jabareen is currently pursuing a court battle that began in March 2010.
While most of their complaints have been batted aside by the National Council for Planning and Building, they did succeed in reducing the original plan for 150,000 new residents to 60,000.
Mr. Jabareen believes the state is implementing a similar strategy in Wadi Ara as it has in the Naqab and the Galilee, which are focal points of the Judaization drive. State policy here is based on the expropriation of Palestinian land and encirclement of Palestinian communities, in order to keep their numbers from rising.
Katsir, a neighbouring settlement, originally joined with Harish to make a local council though Harish is now set to become an independent town. The boundaries of the two settlements will still meet, ensuring the fragmentation of the villages.
This process will lead to the ghettoization of the villages, Mr. Jabareen predicts.
Take Barta’a, for example. To the east of the village is the Green Line, while on all others will be expanded Harish. Barta’a has tried to expand on surrounding lands but is continuously rebuffed by the national planning commission, which claims this land is too precious and unique for building. This same “natural reserve” is part of the space that will accommodate the new Harish.
Israel’s national settlement plan is guided by the principle that Palestinian centres of life should never be contiguous, which is achieved by breaking up towns and villages with Jewish municipalities.
Bimkom, an Israeli organisation for planning rights, noted in a 2003 report that all the spaces between Palestinian communities belong to a neighbouring Jewish regional council.
This way, Palestinian towns never grow to become cities and acquire the political and social dynamic of urban spaces, effectively keeping this population politically weak and pre-empting development.
Wadi Ara, with its high Palestinian population, is a salient site for this project.
A new settlement of national religious people, Mizpe Ilan, located very close to Umm al-Qutuf, was recognised by the state five months ago. Settlers began to set up trailers on state land three years ago and the state now says it will allow three hundred families to live there.
The Palestinian village of Dar al-Hanun, on the other hand, has existed in Wadi Ara since the 1920s but attempts to obtain official recognition are persistently thwarted, the state insisting the environmental character of the area is too sensitive for human habitation.
The village, falling inside the Menashe regional council, does not receive any basic services from the state, such as electricity, paved roads, water supply or sewage system.
Mustafa Abu Hilal is chairman of the village’s council. “I am not opposed to the expansion of Harish, but to the discrimination; I cannot obtain recognition of the home I have lived in for decades,” he told Ha’aretz newspaper in 2009.
In the first plan for Harish, Dar al-Hanun was included in the city. “It was only after we protested about this that they altered the plan to go around the village,” Mr. Jabareen explained.
Umm al-Qutuf has not had the same fortune. 150 dunums of the village’s private land lies inside Harish’s boundaries, in an area zoned as residential in the new plan.
Housing Minister, Atias warns that having Palestinians in a Haredi residential area would be irresponsible due to the likelihood of inter-communal clashes. The villagers wonder why the minister insists on bringing tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox to Wadi Ara when he understands the kind of social tension that will result.
The housing ministry has offered to give these landowners commercial space instead. They refuse on the grounds that having commercial property is worthless since the Haredim will surely boycott Palestinian business. Mostly, however, they feel they have a right to their own land despite the grand schemes of the authorities.
The land on which Harish was established was confiscated from Palestinians gradually, some of it in 1961, some in 1983. The road that acts as a boundary between Harish and Umm al Qutuf was built in 1993, also on confiscated land.
The state typically explains these policies with the need to convert agricultural land into public land. Campaign activists from Umm al-Qutuf point to the contradiction in using so-called public land for the benefit of only one sector.
“Public” in Israel can generally be interpreted as “Jewish.”
The nationwide tent protests have also reached Harish, also opposing the new city.
Harish resident Limor Lieberman has set up camp in a caravan on state land. She moved to Harish three years ago, attracted by the low house prices and ease of access to major centres like Tel Aviv with the proximity to Route 6, the main artery running the length of Israel.
“If the plan for Harish becomes a reality, we will have to move,” she stated.
Vanessa, a Jewish resident of Harish, agrees that living conditions will be made impossible by the influx of Haredim. “I lived in Jerusalem as a child and have seen it happening. Rocks would be thrown at our car,” she recounted.
She considers subsidised housing for the Haredim unfair to everyone else. “Lots of people need cheap housing,” she asserted, “but Shas is favouring the ultra-orthodox.”
The infrastructure for an open town already exists but Atias and his ilk have demanded that everything be rebuilt to suit the specific needs of an ultra-Orthodox community. This will incur a much higher cost, inspiring further ire amongst residents, who consider it a waste of state money.
According to Lieberman, there is co-existence in Harish, among secular Jews, a small number of national religious Jews, and a small minority of Palestinians.
“The new plan will destroy this balance, with Harish as a microcosm of the whole area,” she continued. “We want a pluralistic city. If a community was designated for secular people alone there would be outrage.”
The housing ministry insists anyone can live here though the city is being marketed to Haredim only and locals believe Shas will secretly pay off contractors who will sell to Haredim.
Limor claims that for years Shas officials in the housing ministry and Israel’s Land Administration have frustrated attempts by outsiders to move there. The ministry has reportedly feigned that no group other than the Haredim is willing to live in Harish, in order to mask the long-standing plan to build their city.
“Contractors have filed lawsuits against the ministry for denying them the right to buy land here,” she noted.
The Harish Regional Campaign Coalition echoes these concerns. It criticises the appeals committee, which it claims “has permitted discrimination against Arab citizens who will not be able to purchase homes in the city of Harish, in clear defiance of the Ka’adan ruling which put an end to discrimination against Arabs in the purchase of houses.”
Nissim Dahan, a former Shas minister, is the mayor of the Katsir-Harish regional council. Although mayors are normally elected in direct elections and unaffiliated with political parties Dahan was appointed by Interior Minister, Yishai. Jabareen believes Shas wanted to have an insider to pass the controversial plan while inhabitants of Harish bristle at having an ultra-Orthodox mayor for their secular town.
In 2008, Dahan affirmed that “we want to Judaize the Wadi Ara area … The state wants to put this place in order so that the Arabs won’t rear their heads. 150,000 Jews who will live here will put them in proportion.”
To the idea that secular Jews may not want to live amongst a Haredi community, Dahan retorted, “Go live with the Palestinians. Want to live in a small village? You are harming Israel’s security.”
When later questioned about these comments, he explained his intention was “to create a border and a sequence of Jewish habitation. The locality of Katsir-Harish is on the seam zone of Israel’s eastern border and these issues were said after terror attacks that took place in the area.”
Conversely, as Roi Maor of +972 Magazine has pointed out, no terror attacks took place in the area in the years before he made these comments.
Planning in Israel can be understood as an extension of politics and the bias of elites. Palestinian communities often do not have any local planning commissions and they are generally excluded from planning on the national level. A Bimkom report concludes that the lack of representation of Palestinian communities on regional planning and building commissions “render[s] their official status as citizens next to worthless.”
The establishment of a Haredi city in Wadi Ara may be convenient for Shas’ efforts at accommodating their ultra-Orthodox voting bloc, but Mr. Jabareen worries that this development “will only end in clashes and hatred.”
Every year the U.S. State Department grades countries on human trafficking, but it would do well to look at its own J-1 visa program, which one organizer called “the ultimate captive guestworker program.”
The Summer Work Travel program for students was widely exposed when three hundred J-1 student guestworkers from China, Turkey, Ukraine and other countries walked out of a Hershey’s packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania August 17.
The students demanded a refund of program fees, and said the jobs should go to local unemployed people at a living wage.
The students presented a petition to management and then marched out chanting in English and their native languages. Three Pennsylvania labor leaders blocked the door and were arrested, while Jobs with Justice put out a call for funds and solidarity, and the National Guestworker Alliance, which helped the students organize, demanded that the State Department eject the company responsible from the student guestworker program.
“Why did they bring us here?” said Harika Duygu Ozer, a medical student from Turkey. “Because they want to make profits from us instead of giving good jobs to local workers.“
Saket Soni, executive director of the NGA, said that if the jobs were living wage jobs, with a union contract, they would have paid $15 million this year to currently unemployed Pennsylvania workers and their families.
The striking workers are college students who were solicited by a dizzying range of sponsoring groups with splashy websites promoting a fun four-month cultural exchange visit to America.
The Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA) provided the workers to the Hershey’s-owned plant. CETUSA describes itself as “a non-profit, global exchange organization dedicated to helping people from different cultures develop more compassion and understanding for one another.”
To employers, it markets its services as a way to fill seasonal staffing needs, “No matter if you own a little candy shop in Texas or run a huge processing plant in Alaska.”
The Palmyra J-1 workers packed and lifted 65 pound boxes of candy at breakneck speed, many on night shift. They complained of severe back pain, bruising, and numbness in their arms.
Workers were subjected to camera surveillance and were told they would be fired if they didn’t keep up the pace. Zhao Huijiao, a 20-year-old international relations student from China, said managers pushed them, “work, work faster, work.” Students said they were threatened with deportation if they didn’t keep up.
Inflated housing costs were deducted from their paychecks, leaving them as little as $95 for a 40-hour week, said Godwin Efobe, a Nigerian medical student who works night shift in the plant.
The last straw, some students said, was when they discovered that they were paying more than double the rent of their non-J-1 neighbors. Typically, four students crammed into an apartment with a market rent of $600. The company deducted $400 from each student’s paycheck, adding up to $1,600 a month.
Housing wasn’t close to the plant, either, requiring a 20-minute walk followed by a 40-minute bus ride. Students were told they could not rent for themselves because they were staying such a short time. The costs of damage deposits, bus fare, hats, and gloves were also deducted. One student ended up with a paycheck of six cents after her first week’s work.
The wage theft is especially galling because the students paid between $3,000 and $6,000 to enter the program, a fee which included round-trip travel.
Like many agricultural guestworkers, they found themselves “captive workers,” they had to keep working to pay off their debts. Some had hoped to save money for fall school expenses, but the paychecks barely met their daily needs.
A Ukrainian student told television news in her home country that she couldn’t leave because her parents had invested so much, and if she came home she’d have to pay her own travel, piling on more expense. How would she look her parents in the eye? she asked.
When management got wind of worker unrest, they threatened deportation, in a meeting that one of the students audiorecorded.
Hershey’s laid off 600 workers in 2009, when it moved some product lines to Mexico, said Diane Carroll, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chocolate Workers union (BCTGM). Four hundred more union jobs will soon be lost to automation when a new plant opens, replacing the original Hershey factory. Some of the Palmyra packing jobs used to be union, too, but the company closed that plant in the early 1990s.
After that, the union tried to organize the current plant, but Hershey’s said it only owned the building, the real employer was subcontractor Exel, and therefore the workers were not covered by the Hershey’s contract.
It is not clear how long Exel has used J-1 students, some say five years. The employers take advantage of varying college schedules around the world to maintain staffing year round, although the students only work 4 months each.
“Quick turnover is part of the recipe for exploitation,” said Stephen Boykewich, a Guestworker Alliance organizer. He said other guestworker programs, administered by the Department of Labor, have been scrutinized lately due to worker organizing and renewed enforcement, but the J-1 program has virtually no safeguards.
The Summer Work Travel program was originally fashioned during the cold war to promote America to foreign students. Now it annually accounts for 130,000 college students, in low-wage jobs, while another 200,000 J-1 visas are issued to workers in year-long trainee and intern programs.
Unlike other guestworker programs, J-1 employers don’t have to advertise jobs locally to show that Americans don’t want them, and there is no limit on the number of J-1 visas issued. The H2A agricultural guestworker program brings 40,000 workers while H2B, the non-agricultural program, is capped at 65,000.
The J-1 program is “Particularly offensive because it appears to be standard-less,” said Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project, who works on guestworker rights. “It’s used in a way to subvert the already low standards of the other programs.”
Two hundred student workers who struck walked back into the plant three days later, but this time they returned as “labor justice monitors,” said Boykewich of the Guestworker Alliance. They are armed with badges and logbooks, looking for labor violations of any kind.
“This forces the plant management to take a very different approach and be on guard about minimal labor standards for the first time,” he said. No one has been fired yet.
Simultaneously, the students are launching a kitchen table listening tour, visiting the families of Pennsylvanians who reached out to them when their strike hit the news. Many offered the students food and places to stay.
The students are taking them up, making connections with people in the area who have been hit by corporate cost-cutting like Hershey’s. The outlook is good for some real cultural exchange, they say.
The army is establishing two virtual lines for each of the settlements that are near a Palestinian village. The first line, if crossed by Palestinian demonstrators, will be met with tear gas and other means for dispersing crowds.
The second line is a “red line,” and if this one is crossed, the soldiers will be allowed to open fire at the legs of the demonstrators, as is also standard practice if the northern border is crossed.
Each map was approved by the regional brigade commander, and the IDF force that is deployed to the area will be ready to respond on the basis of the lines determined.—Haaretz
Shortly after dawn on August 29th, with the soft light spreading across the hills, eight armed soldiers climb out of their military vehicle to watch sheep.
Na’il is unperturbed. He makes a clicking noise with his tongue and drives his flock a little further up the slope. The soldiers are on the opposite hill, visible against the brightening sky. They guard an illegal settlement from us – two Palestinian shepherds, two international activists, and a small battalion of sheep and goats.
In these hills, sheep farming is political. Rights to this land are re-enacted daily by grazing flocks. The sheep kick back the dusty earth to find short grasses and sparse roots; goats strip the sharp thorns from the scrub. Some days, the shepherds will hang back in the low fields. Others, they will push a little higher, a little further, a little closer towards the boundary.
The sheep do not look up as they scour the earth. The grass is no different here from there; no wall stops their wandering. It matters little to the sheep that up there, the land is claimed by Zionist settlers, who guard it with sticks and stones and guns; nor that the Zionist settlers say this land will one day all be theirs, promised to them by God. As the sheep search onwards for fresh pasture, they do not notice the soldiers on the hilltop; they do not sense the cautious glances of the shepherds; they know nothing of the Oslo Agreement or UN resolutions or international law. They chew the earth, swallowing it in sandy mouthfuls with the roots and the shrubs. It is fine, dry, powdery, physical. But the boundary – that is entirely imagined.
The boundary is not a place; it is a ritual. It cannot be seen in itself, but only in the behaviour it creates. Stray too close to the settlement, and the shepherds know they will meet a response. Today, the army is here – an alien force in an occupied land, frightened young men who came to fight terrorists and find themselves supervising shepherds. They watch, but they do not intervene. The shepherds are permitted to come this far, but no further.
But it is not the army that Na’il and Khaled are worried about. Soldiers can be brutal, but they are by and large ordered, pragmatic, predictable. The illegal settlers, by contrast, are zealous, fanatical. They follow no commands, only Commandments; they recognize no law, only the Law, the Torah, the eternal and unalterable word of God. An army sergeant who used to serve in these hills describes it as the Wild West: ‘the Arabs can be beaten up, the settlers are untouchable.’
Like the original Wild West, the settlers – the cowboys – are violent, lawless, appropriating the land of the native inhabitants through theft and assault. And like the original Wild West, mythologized by Hollywood, their story is retold in the Zionist press, the illegal settlers as bold pioneers and the Palestinians as irrational savages.
The shepherds’ gaze oscillates between the sheep and the settlement, alert to any approach from the self-appointed sheriffs. We are right on the boundary now; the ritual has begun. For about an hour, nothing happens. The soldiers watch us, we watch the soldiers. The only sound is the grinding of ovine teeth and Na’il quietly reciting verses from the Qur’an. With the sun now high in the eastern sky, the shepherds start to drive their sheep back to the fold. As we turn to leave, we see the soldiers climb back into their jeep and disappear over the horizon.
But we have crossed the boundary, and that is enough. With the soldiers gone, we see a lone figure coming down the hill from the settlement. He is moving quickly; in his left hand he is carrying a stick. He moves with purpose, following the contours around the valley. He is some way out of the settlement now.
He is coming towards us. Na’il points: ‘Mustawtan.‘ Settler.
We are now half a kilometer away from the settlement, but the illegal settler continues to follow us. We lose sight of him for a moment, then suddenly he appears over the brow of a hill. He approaches Abu, an Italian activist, shouting with rage. I thought for a moment he might hit Abu with the stick, but instead he pushes him, hard, and screams
“Nazi, Nazi, go!” Abu walks backwards slowly, and responds that he is Italian.
“Italia, Mussolini, fascist” shouts the settler, continuing to push him, shouting now right into his face. For these illegal settlers, anyone who denies their right to this land is a fascist, an anti-Semite, supporting the Arabs who they say stole this land from the Jews two thousand years ago.
“Fascist, go, now, now!”
And so the promises of scripture and the tragedies of twentieth century Europe are thrown together in a sense of entitlement, of indignation, of rage, in this dusty field in Palestine.
A few meters away, I film what happens; Na’il films too, on a video camera provided by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. This is the only protection that these shepherds have – observation, recording, and the meticulous chronicling of truth. Rarely is justice served. But the knowledge that their actions may be known elsewhere sometimes gives the illegal settlers pause. The worst violence takes place when cameras are not there. Today, the settler goes no further. Perhaps the presence of cameras makes a difference. After a few minutes he turns and storms off, marching in long strides across the stony ground. He shouts insults at the shepherds as he leaves, which they shout back in turn.
Back in Khaled’s tent we stretch out on thin mattresses and rest. He speaks no English and I only understand a few words of Arabic; we talk with our hands and our faces, in gestures. He pulls up his shirt to show a scar from a bullet wound on his belly – this is what can happen, sometimes, this is why the settlers are feared, this is why he brings cameras and foreigners to help him graze his sheep. Usually, he says, six illegal settlers come down, threatening and sometimes attacking the shepherds, guarding the land that is not theirs to guard. This is how the land is stolen; not in a grand historical moment, but in increments, dunam by dunam, hilltop by hilltop, the imagined boundary moving a little further each day.
Olive branches strike against the car window as we take the bumpy track back to Yatta. We take this detour through the olive groves because the main track has been blocked, a giant rock pushed across the route by illegal settlers. The straight, smooth illegal settler road bisects the landscape; it, too, is a kind of boundary. Palestinians near the settler road attract attention, Musa tells us, as he maneuvers his car across a stony field. The tarmac stretches away into the distance, a sign in Hebrew and English pointing the way to the Israeli town of Be’er Sheva. Cars and trucks with Israeli plates speed up this road in Palestine. The Promised Land turns beneath their wheels.
The rumble of the trucks can be heard from the tents, where the shepherds wait out the hot noon hours until it is time to take the sheep out again. As the sun drops in the West, and the women begin to prepare the iftar meal to break their Ramadan fasts, they will drive their sheep up the hill once more, towards the boundary. They will keep going back, because it is the only way to live like this, on their land, all of it their land. Like connoisseurs of the absurd, they wait for the invisible boundary to disappear, as Khaled mutters:
“Kul yom. Kul yom. Kul yom.”
Everyday, everyday, everyday.
Bank fraudsters, torturers, and war criminals running free…
With bank fraudsters, torturers, and war criminals running free, the US Department of Justice (sic) has nothing better to do than to harass the famous Tennessee guitar manufacturer, Gibson, arrest organic food producers in California and send 12 abusive FBI agents armed with assault rifles to bust down yet another wrong door of yet another innocent family, leaving parents, children, and grandmother traumatized.
What law did Gibson Guitar Corp break that caused federal agents to disrupt Gibson’s plants in Nashville and Memphis, seize guitars, cause layoffs, and cost the company $3 million from disrupted operations?
No US law was broken. The feds claim that Gibson broke a law that is on the books in India. India has not complained about Gibson or asked for the aid of the US government in enforcing its laws against Gibson. Instead, the feds have taken it upon themselves to both interpret and to enforce on US citizens the laws of India. The feds claim that Gibson’s use of wood from India in its guitars is illegal, because the wood was not finished by Indian workers.
This must not be India’s interpretation of the law as India allowed the unfinished wood to be exported. Perhaps the feds are trying to force more layoffs of US workers and their replacement by H-1B foreign workers. Gibson can solve its problem by firing its Tennessee work force and hiring Indian citizens on H-1B work visas.
In Venice, California, feds spent a year dressed up as hippies purchasing raw goat milk and yogurt from Rawesome Foods and then, decked out in hemp anklets and reeking of patchouli, raided with guns drawn–always with guns drawn–the organic food shop. The owner’s crime is that he supplied the normal everyday foods that I grew up on to customers who requested them. For this heinous act, James C. Stewart faces a 13 count indictment and is held on $123,000 bail.
How did raw milk become a “health threat?” Far more Americans have died from e-coli in fast food hamburgers and from salmonella in mass produced eggs and chicken. Like many of my generation, I was raised on raw milk. Mathis Dairy delivered it to the homes in Atlanta. Even decades later a person could purchase Mathis Dairy’s raw milk in Atlanta’s grocery stores. How did supplying an ordinary staple become a crime?
The FBI agents who broke down Gary Adams door in Bellevue, Pennsylvania, claim they were looking for a woman. Why does it take 12 heavily armed FBI agents to apprehend a woman? Are FBI agents that effete? If the feds can never get the address right, how do we know they have the name and gender right?
I can remember when it only took one policeman to deliver a warrant and to arrest a person, and without gun drawn and without breaking down the door, tasering or shooting the object of arrest. It turns out that the FBI agents who broke into the Adams home not only were at the wrong address but also didn’t even have a search warrant had they been at the correct address.
The practice of sending heavily armed teams into American homes has resulted in many senseless murders of US citizens. The practice must be halted and SWAT teams disbanded. SWAT teams have murdered far more innocents than they have dangerous criminals. Hostage situations are rare, and they are best handled without violence.
Jose Guerena, a US Marine who served two tours in Bush’s Iraq War was murdered in his own home in front of his wife and two small children by a crazed SWAT team, again in the wrong place, who shot him 60 times. When his wife told him that there were men sneaking around the house, he picked up his rifle and walked to the kitchen to see what was going on and was gunned down. The hysterical SWAT team fired 71 shots at him without cause. Brave, tough, macho cops out defending the public and murdering war heroes.
I have seen studies that show that police actually commit more acts of violence against the public than do criminals, which raises an interesting question: Are police a greater threat to the public than are criminals? On Yahoo I just searched “police brutality” and up came 4,840,000 results.
Meanwhile, the real master criminals, such as Dick Cheney, who, if tried for his actions at Nuremberg, would most definitely have been executed as a war criminal, run free. Cheney is all over TV hawking his memoirs. On August 29, interviewed by Jamie Gangel on NBC’s Dateline, Cheney again proudly admitted that he authorized torture, secret prisons, and illegal wiretapping. These are crimes under US and international laws.
Cheney claims breaking laws against torture is “the right thing to do” if “we had a high-value detainee and that was the only way we can get him to talk.”
Three questions immediately come to mind that no member of the presstitute media ever asks. The first is, why does Cheney think the office of Vice President, President, or Attorney General has the power to “authorize” breaking a law? Our vaunted “rule of law” disappears if federal officials can authorize breaking laws.
The second is, what high-value detainees is Cheney talking about? Donald Rumsfeld declared the Guantanamo detainees to be “the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth.” http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=43817 But the vast majority had to be released when it turned out, after years of their lives were spent in a torture prison, that the vast majority of the detainees were hapless innocents who were sold to the stupid Americans by war lords as “terrorists” for bounties. To save face, the US government has held on to a few detainees, but hasn’t enough confidence in their alleged guilt to put them on trial in a court of law.
The third is why does Cheney think that he knows better than the accumulated documented evidence that torture doesn’t produce truthful or useful information. If the person under torture is actually a terrorist, he knows that his tormentors don’t know the answers that they are looking for and so he or she can tell the torturers whatever serves the tortured victim’s purposes. If the person under torture is innocent, he has no idea what the answers are and seeks to discover what his torturer wants to hear so that he can tell him.
As Glenn Greenwald makes clear, Dick Cheney, who presided “over policies that left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead from wars of aggression, constructed a worldwide torture regime, and spied on Americans without the warrants required by law” is now being feted and enriched thanks to “the protective shield of immunity bestowed upon him by the current administration.”
Meanwhile Gibson Guitar faces prosecution because of the feds’ off-the-wall interpretation of a law in India, and the owner of Rawesome has a 13-count indictment for supplying customers with a food staple that was a part of the normal diet from colonial times until recently.
In America we have the rule of law–only the law is not applied to banksters and members of the executive branch but, as Greenwald says, is only applied to “ordinary citizens and other nations’ (unfriendly) rulers.”
A country this utterly corrupt is certainly no “light unto the world.”
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is the former head of policy at the Department of Treasury. He is a columnist and was previously an editor for the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, “How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds,” details why America is disintegrating.
The Israeli produce company Agrexco, which has been a key target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Europe, is set for liquidation, the Israeli business publication Globes reported Tuesday.
Agrexco, Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter, has come under pressure because the majority of its goods are grown in illegal Israeli settlements — though they are often misleadingly labeled as “product of Israel” in European supermarkets. The Israeli government also holds a 50 percent stake in the company.
As The Electronic Intifada reported earlier this summer, more than a hundred activists from nine countries convened for the first ever European Forum Against Agrexco. Stephanie Westbrook reported for The Electronic Intifada:
From 4-5 June, delegates from Italy, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Germany and Palestine joined the French organizers for two full days of workshops aimed at strengthening the boycott campaign against the Israeli agricultural export giant.
The liquidation of Agrexco can be seen as a major victory of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is making it increasingly undesirable for multinational companies to be entangled in the Israeli occupation.
While certainly factors besides the mounting pressure on Agrexco from the BDS movement were at work here, the movement has made an impact on the Israeli economy.
Bloomberg News reported yesterday that Israeli stocks aren’t doing so well:
Israeli shares traded in New York are heading for their worst month on record on concern global economic growth is faltering and the Palestinian Authority’s quest for statehood may destabilize the country.
The Bloomberg Israel-US 25 Index of the largest Israeli companies that trade in the US retreated 0.2 percent to 85.48 yesterday, extending its August drop to 13 percent, the worst monthly performance in data going back to September 2005. SodaStream International Ltd., the maker of machines that carbonate water, led the gauge’s decline, falling 50 percent after its profit forecast trailed estimates. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the world’s largest maker of generic drugs, dropped 13 percent on concern new products won’t boost sales.
Yesterday, The Electronic Intifada reported that Sweden’s largest grocery chain, Coop, removed the popular Sodastream products from its shelves, as they are manufactured in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank:
The Israeli maker of home carbonation devices, Sodastream, took a direct hit when the Coop supermarket chain announced on 19 July that it would stop all purchases of its products due to the company’s activity in illegal Israeli settlements. This marked another important victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, as Sweden is Sodastream’s largest market, with an estimated one in five households owning a Sodastream product.
In her report for The Electronic Intifada, Stephanie Westbrook added:
In disclosing risk factors as required in SEC filings, Sodastream listed both remaining in and transferring from Mishor Adumim as potential liabilities. The risks associated with staying include “negative publicity, primarily in Western Europe, against companies with facilities in the West Bank” and “consumer boycotts of Israeli products originating in the West Bank.”
Complying with international law and leaving the illegal settlement, on the other hand, would “limit certain tax benefits” enjoyed by companies in industrial parks in illegal settlements.
However, for more and more companies, those tax incentives fail to compensate for the negative publicity. On 19 July, the multinational corporation Unilever, after unsuccessfully attempting to sell its shares in the company, formally announced plans to move its Bagel and Bagel pretzel factory from the Barkan industrial zone in the Ariel settlement bloc to within the green line, Israel’s internationally-recognized armistice line with the occupied West Bank (“Bagel Bagel leaving territories,” 19 July 2011).
While governments continue to perpetuate the status quo of Israeli impunity, colonization and warfare, the BDS movement is effectively challenging business-as-usual with Israeli apartheid.
At a time of increasing settler violence in the West Bank, the International Solidarity Movement is issuing an urgent call for volunteers to participate in the 2011 Olive Harvest Campaign at the invitation of Palestinian communities.
The olive tree is a national symbol for Palestinians. As thousands of olive trees have been bulldozed, uprooted and burned by Israeli settlers and the military – (over half a million olive and fruit trees have been destroyed since September 2000) – harvesting has become more than a source of livelihood; it has become a form of resistance.
The olive harvest is an annual affirmation of Palestinians’ historical, spiritual and economic connection to their land, and a rejection of Israeli efforts to seize it. Despite efforts by Israeli settlers and soldiers to prevent them from accessing their land, Palestinian communities remain steadfast in refusing to give up their olive harvest.
International and Israeli volunteers join Palestinians each year to harvest olives, and this makes a big difference. It has proven in the past to help limit and decrease the number and severity of attacks and harassment. The presence of activists can reduce the risk of extreme violence from Israeli settlers and the Israeli army and supports Palestinians’ assertion of their right to earn their livelihood. International solidarity activists engage in non-violent intervention and documentation and this practical support enables many families to pick their olives. In addition The Olive Harvest Campaign also provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with Palestinian families in their olive groves and homes.
The campaign will begin early October and run for approximately 6-8 weeks, depending on the size of the harvest. We request a minimum 2 week commitment from volunteers.
The ISM will be holding mandatory two day training sessions which will be run every week. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
In addition to the olive harvest, there will also be other opportunities to participate in grass-roots, non-violent resistance in Palestine.
Experiencing the situation for yourself is vital to adequately convey the reality of life in Palestine to your home communities and to re-frame the debate in a way that will expose Israel’s apartheid policies; creeping ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem as well as collective punishment and genocidal practices in Gaza.