Aqraba, Occupied Palestine – On 25th April 2015 ISM volunteers met with the mayor of Aqraba, Ayman Bani Fadl, who has asked internationals to document the intrusive Israeli occupation forces’ actions over the past week. The Israeli forces have been using civilian farm land to carry out training operations. The military have an encampment where they have stationed around ten tanks and approximately fifteen more armored vehicles, as well as numerous troops.
Israeli occupation forces present on Palestinian land near Aqraba (Photo by Aqraba Muncipality 24.04.15)
The military training in this area is hugely damaging to the farming economy, due to the fact that this seasons harvest began earlier in the month. Farmers are now prevented from carrying out their harvest by the presence of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). The mayor stated that it is likely the military chose the time and area in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the harvest and the livelihoods of the civilian population. He also claimed the actions of the IOF were strategically designed to expropriate the land, forcing the farmers to leave the area. He went on to say that the military have already designated 150,000 dunams of Aqraba land as a military zone. Meaning, the military have full control of the area. Despite this, the IOF have chosen to carry out their present training operations on the 10,000 dunams that remain accessible to the farmers.
These military operations occur on a regular basis and have a permanent and damaging effect on the community. Not least of which is the unexploded ordinance, carelessly left by the military, which has been responsible for killing four individuals and maiming tens of others, mostly children.
To add to the continuing persecution of Aqraba civilians, four months ago the electricity network, financed by the Belgian government, was demolished by Israeli forces. Due to a lack of funds, the municipality has only been able to temporarily reconstruct a portion of the network.
Furthermore, this continual land grab results in Israeli control over highly fertile agricultural soil and cuts off Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, restricting freedom of movement and their right to cultivate their own farming land.
The present military operation in Aqraba is just one example of the ongoing violent harassment and disruption that is one of many tactics used by Israeli forces, to make life so intolerable for Palestinians they will leave and abandon their land. Oppressive tactics of a similar nature are rife throughout the West Bank, with towns and villages in and around the Jordan Valley being particularly subject to persecution from the Israeli forces.
BETHLEHEM – The US Court of Appeals in New York has rejected an appeal from a group of 13 Palestinians seeking damages for alleged “terrorist attacks” by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, Israeli media reported Friday.
The complaint was filed against US-based charities that financially support settlements, alleging that such support leads to terrorist activity and is in violation of US anti-terrorism laws, reported Israeli news source Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The USA Patriot Act enacted in October 2001 prohibits citizens from “knowingly providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.”
Plaintiffs in the case argued that charities were financially supporting terrorist activity by funding settlers who have carried out acts of violence against Palestinians and their land, and desecrated houses of prayer.
Charities accused in the case included Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, the Hebron Fund, Central Fund of Israel, One Israel Fund and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim.
After District Judge Jesse Furman initially rejected the case last year, the appeal was rejected again this week by a panel of appellate judges.
“American federal judges recognize the difference between the financing of murder and violence… and legitimate bona fide financial support of the daily needs of peaceful Israeli settlements over the Green Line,” Israeli Haaretz quoted attorney Nathan Lewin, who represented the charities in the trials.
Privately funded violence
The dismissal of the case is a setback for those fighting to shed light on private US funding that is currently helping to sustain illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, as well as the violence that results from it.
While the U.S. government has condemned ongoing settlement expansion, its citizens have been able to freely donate millions to the illegal enclaves.
The New York Times identified at least 40 American groups in 2010 that had collected over $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last decade.
Israeli watchdog Americans for Peace Now have long fought against tax-exempt donations to settlements.
Among other criticisms, the groups point out that IRS regulations exempting charities from tax deduction define a charitable organization as one that “includes relief of the poor and distressed or of the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening of the burdens of government; promotion of social welfare.”
Such a definition does not extend to charities funneling funds to the Jewish-only settlements of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the group argues, and such donations should not be tax-exempt.
The court ruling on the 13 Palestinians’ appeal is only the latest example of a number of cases in which Israeli settlers have gained legal backing from the US government for illegal practices.
Attacks carried out with impunity
Human rights groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have long fought for effective Israeli law enforcement against the type of violent acts committed by Israeli settlers that the 13 Palestinians were drawing attention to.
Such acts are often termed “price-tag attacks,” and are carried out to retaliate perceived pressure from both Israeli and foreign governments against settlements, most often with Palestinian civilians as their victims.
They are nearly always carried out with impunity from the law.
Following price-tag attacks on Vatican-owned offices in occupied East Jerusalem in May 2014, Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the government planned to begin using administrative detention against suspected extremists.
Although Israeli police had made scores of arrests before that time, there had been few successful prosecutions for price-tag attacks and the government was facing mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.
The US State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism discussed price-tag attacks for the first time in 2013, citing UN figures of some “399 attacks by extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage.”
The report said such attacks were “largely unprosecuted.”
The Palestinian News & Info Agency WAFA has reported that the soldiers stopped the Palestinian, who was walking with a young woman from his family, and started provoking the two, before the soldiers uttered vulgar words towards the young woman.
The incident caused the young man to engage in a scuffle with the soldiers before one of them shot him dead.
The army is alleging the Palestinian “attempted to stab a soldier,” and was shot dead while trying to flee the scene.
The name of the slain Palestinian is Ali Sa’id Abu Ghannam, 16 years of age.
The Israeli army refused to hand the body of the slain Palestinian to the Red Crescent ambulance that arrived on the scene, and took it to an unknown destination.
The Israeli Police alleged the young Palestinian arrived at the roadblock “and started running towards the soldiers while carrying a butcher knife.”
Ynet News quoted a police statement alleging that one of the soldiers managed to hold the Palestinian, “but he continued to run towards the soldiers,” and they shot him dead.
In related news, Palestinian medical sources have reported that two Palestinians were shot and injured, on Friday, after Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinians east of Abasan town, east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis.
One of the wounded was moved to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, suffering a gunshot injury, while the second received treatment by local medics after being shot with a rubber-coated metal bullet.
Norwegian doctor Mads Frederick Gilbert (C) treats a Palestinian child wounded in an Israeli airstrike at al-Shifa hospital on July 17, 2014
Partisans of Israel are not content merely to murder and maim Palestinian civilians. They also launch “weaponized words” against anyone who speaks out against their crimes . . . including the world’s most prestigious medical journals.
The Zionists’ latest verbal salvo has targeted The Lancet, the world’s best-known medical journal. Medical apologists for Israel’s July 2014 assault on Gaza have posted a letter claiming The Lancet’s July 22 2014 article on Israeli war crimes constitutes “stereotypical extremist hate propaganda.” It seems the Israel lobby’s medical division has declared war on The Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, and its publisher, Reed Elsevier.
The Zionists, who have bought up the Western mainstream media and are currently targeting Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians in the biggest wave of hate propaganda in history, are hardly qualified to issue such accusations.
The Zionist doctors’ letter accuses The Lancet of a long list of vague and portentously-worded alleged misdeeds. But it offers virtually no specifics whatsoever to back up its hyper-general accusations. The vacuous list of charges against The Lancet includes “ethical and scientific lapses” (such as?), “failure to apply the normal rigorous standards of honesty and transparency” (with no examples given), failure to “publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed” (without offering a single concrete example of anything the Lancet published that required any such correction).
The Zionist letter attacks The Lancet’s July 22 2014 article “An open letter for the people in Gaza.” The angry authors bombastically assert: “ ‘An open letter for the people in Gaza’ by Manduca et al contains false assertions, unverifiable dishonest ‘facts’, many of them libellous, and glaring omissions.”
But the Zionists cannot name a single false assertion. They are just blowing smoke, hoping that nobody is paying close attention.
The Lancet Ombudsman had already investigated “An open letter for the people in Gaza” and found no false statements. According to HandsOffTheLancet.com, the Ombudsman did cite a “’regrettable statement’ that, because only 5% of Israeli academics had supported an appeal to” Israel to end the “military operation in Gaza (Gur-Arieh 2014), the authors had been ‘tempted to conclude that … the rest of the Israeli academics [had been] complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza.’”
But what is regrettable about such a statement? Can there be any doubt that the vast majority of Israeli academics, indeed a virtual unanimity of Zionists in Occupied Palestine, were actively or passively complicit in the massacre, and the larger genocide? While it may be regrettable that the Zionists in Occupied Palestine are complicit in Tel Aviv’s war crimes, and its larger ongoing program of genocide, it is not the slightest bit regrettable that The Lancet writers have pointed out such a disturbing but indisputable fact. (Polls show that virtually all Zionists in Occupied Palestine support the Gaza massacres, including the so-called Cast Lead in 2008-2009 and Protective Edge last summer.)
The roughly 500 Zionist doctors who are fulminating against The Lancet ought to have their licenses to practice medicine revoked. Then they ought to be put on trial for complicity in genocide propaganda. They are a disgrace to the medical profession, like the Nazi doctors who were indirectly responsible for brutalizing helpless people in World War II Germany because they averted their gazes from the crimes of their countrymen.
Unlike the Nazi Doctors (and their mirror images, the Zionist Doctors), the authors of “An open letter for the people in Gaza” could not avert their gaze:
“The massacre in Gaza spares no one, and includes the disabled and sick in hospitals, children playing on the beach or on the roof top, with a large majority of non-combatants. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances, mosques, schools, and press buildings have all been attacked, with thousands of private homes bombed, clearly directing fire to target whole families killing them within their homes…”
The Zionist Doctors have not demonstrated a single factual error in the above words, nor in any other passage from “An open letter for the people in Gaza.”
The current assault on The Lancet is not the first Zionist war on a leading medical journal. In 2004, British Medical Journal (BMJ) published “Palestine: the assault on health and other war crimes.” According to the article:
“Two thirds of the 621 children (two thirds under 15 years) killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest – the sniper’s wound… Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorized to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat.”
The BMJ article was unprecedented. For first time in history, one of the world’s leading medical journals had documented the murder by sniper fire of more than 600 helpless Palestinian children – many of them “hunted for sport” as described by one horrified eyewitness, the journalist Chris Hedges, in his famous article “Gaza Diary.”
The Zionist reaction was swift. BMJ was castigated with the usual blustering Zionist rhetoric. But not a single factual mistake was found. As usual, the Zionists used vicious ad hominem attacks to obscure the hollowness of their arguments.
On December 9th, 1946, an American military tribunal charged twenty-three leading German physicians with crimes against humanity. Sixteen were convicted, and seven were executed.
Will the Zionist Doctors, whose complicity in genocide propaganda has been demonstrated by their attack on The Lancet, one day meet a similar fate?
BETHLEHEM – The South African minister of higher education said late Thursday that he had been denied entry to Palestine by Israeli authorities in revenge for political stances against Israeli policies.
“This is not only an act against him, but also an act against him as a member of the Cabinet, so by extension it’s an anti-government protest by Israel,” spokesperson KhayeNkwanyana told South African news website News24.
Minister Blade Nzimande was due to travel to the West Bank for a six-day working visit to discuss collaborations between the University of Johannesburg and Palestinian universities, a follow up to an agreement signed when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited South Africa last year.
The Ministry said, however, that the Israeli consulate refused to grant him a visa as a result of his political views in what is being labeled an “attack” on the South African government itself in the local press.
Nkwanyana said that the visa rejection was creating a “serious diplomatic problem,” noting that it effectively barred all South African officials from visiting both Palestine as well as Israel.
All travel in and out of the West Bank is controlled by Israel, meaning that Israeli military authorities hold ultimate control over any individual trying to reach the Palestinian territories.
“We must just boycott Israel,” the minister said in a statement to the press, adding that Israel was trying to “minimize the number of people who can actually see what is happening on the ground.”
He also said that he would urge South African institutions of higher education to cut their ties to Israeli institutions.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki condemned the move in a statement released on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
“Israel’s policies would not succeed in isolating the Palestinians,” he said.
“It will only embolden them into more struggle for ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”
South Africa is a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and numerous government officials have repeatedly compared the Israeli occupation and the systematic discrimination practiced against Palestinians to the racial apartheid policies practiced by the South African government against its black citizens until 1994.
Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied entry to officials from other countries and even from international bodies such as the United Nations that it feel have taken antagonistic political stances.
In January, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences, Rashida Manjoo said she had been denied entry by Israel.
She said she had tried for months to get permission to enter in order to undertake a fact-finding mission, but had been refused entry.
In November, Israeli authorities banned the Colombian foreign minister from visiting the West Bank after discovering that she did not plan to meet with Israeli officials as well.
Academia is far from the bastion of free thinking and free speech it would like to claim for itself, as a newly confected “row” involving the leading medical journal The Lancet confirms.
Recently Southampton University in the UK caved in on hosting an important conference examining Israel and international law, following an intensive campaign of intimidation from Israeli apologists.
Now some 400 medical professors are blackmailing Reed Elsevier, publishers of The Lancet, by threatening to boycott its publications unless the company sacks editor Richard Horton – or as they duplicitously phrase it, “enforce appropriate ethical standards of editorship”.
By refusing to publish papers or peer review them, the professors, including five Nobel winners, hope Reed Elsevier will capitulate from fear that such a boycott might bring it to its knees.
Why target Horton? Because he has committed the cardinal sin of transforming what was once a sleepy academic publication into a journal dealing seriously with global health issues, including – and here’s the rub – reporting on the medical implications for Palestinians of Israel’s occupation, especially its attack on Gaza last summer.
According to the eminent professors, this is “stereotypical extremist hate propaganda” and “dishonest and malicious material that incites hatred and violence”.
What the professors would like is for The Lancet to follow the medical establishment’s traditional Three Wise Monkeys approach: they see, hear and speak no evil when it comes to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, including its documented torture, even of children, in its prisons, overseen by Israeli doctors.
Much is at stake here. Very gradually, the space to have an honest and critical debate about Israel is opening up in places where once it was almost impossible, including in the media, in academia and even among the conservative medical community. Those committed to protecting Israel at all costs are desperate to shut down those spaces. It is important that we don’t let them succeed.
There are signs that the apologists’ hand is weakening. Note that Southampton University was so incapable of justifying its decision to shut down the conference on academic or ethical grounds, it was forced to lie and claim that, despite police assurances that they could cope with any protests, the conference could not go ahead because of “safety concerns”.
Therefore, we should support Horton and The Lancet and make sure Reed Elsevier understands that there is also a price to pay if it capitulates to the authoritarian professors. It is good to see that a rival set of medical academics has already written to Reed Elsevier in support of Horton and The Lancet here.
Isam Abu Mohareb, a Palestinian farmer from Gaza, did not think that the Israeli agricultural aircraft’s spray on Tuesday would ruin all his hopes of compensating his loss in the Israeli aggression of 2014.
As the farmers finished their night shift, Israeli agricultural aircraft were spraying unknown pesticides over large farming areas to the south and north of Kissufim military site.
Unaware of the gravity of the spray, Abu Mohareb left the farm and came the next morning to find that the watermelon, pepper, yard-long cucumber, squash, and mallow plants had withered and lost color. He then knew that the aircraft spray had destroyed the crops over 500 meters to the north of Gaza-Israeli borders, with another 700-meter agricultural area destroyed by the pesticides carried by the eastern wind.
The Israeli agricultural aircraft repeatedly sprayed the Gaza agricultural border lands this week, destroying tens of agricultural fields. The Ministry of Agriculture has not estimated the losses yet.
Abu Mohareb said, “We have been in a 30,000-Shekel debt since the last Israeli aggression as the Israeli forces bulldozed a water well, a warehouse of agricultural tools, water networks, and a number of our houses. The Israeli agricultural aircraft destroyed our crops and dashed our hopes. We use the money we earn from our farming to sustain 60 family members.”
Workers of the farm witnessed the incident as the Israeli aircraft flew at 10-meter height above the crops and sprayed foul-smelling pesticides.
Marwan Abu Mohareb, Isam’s brother, appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture and the concerned officials to protect the border farmers from what he called Israeli “displacement campaigns” that target the Palestinian farmers on the Gaza borders.
Marwan continued, “A friend took me on his motorcycle to Abdullah Abu Mughseib’s farm. The land there is low and the Israeli watchtowers and espionage balloons appear clearer.”
Abu Mughseib expressed his surprise as he saw the withered almond and grape buds and the destroyed red-colored squash, beans and okra plants.
He added, “The crops are not in 300-meter buffer zone. Israel destroyed a 500-meter wide strip of our lands and the winds carried the pesticides to destroy another area over 700 meters deep.”
Ahmad Abu Sawaween, a farmer of the destroyed lands, had to increase the irrigation water hoping to recover the destroyed squash and bean plants.
During the last Israeli aggression on Gaza, Israeli forces destroyed Abu Sawaween’s house, murdered one of his brothers, and arrested another.
He said that the Israeli pesticides destroyed the squash, okra, and bean crops, as well as many other vegetable seedlings. He added, “We had to harvest the bean plants ahead of time, and we lost a huge amount of the crops over an area of around 20 acres. This is the second time we lose this season. We are going to remain heavily in debt. We are going to feed the crops for the livestock.”
Israeli deliberate policy
The agricultural engineer, Ahmed Abd Al-Hadi, Director of the Ministry of Agriculture in Deir Al-Balah governorate, said it was the second time for the Israeli agricultural aircraft to spray chemical pesticides over the Gaza farms.
Abd Al-Hadi went on, “The first time was in January following the Israeli aggression of 2014. It is probably pesticides similar to herbicides. It destroyed crops, vegetables, and trees over 90 acres in Wadi Al-Salqa village alone, in addition to large areas in eastern Al-Qarara town.”
Abd Al-Hadi confirmed the Israeli deliberate efforts to destroy the agricultural lands on its borderline with the Gaza Strip. He also asserted that several human rights and humanitarian organizations have recently documented the incident, including the Red Cross, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, and other local and international organizations.
The Palestinian residents on Israel-Gaza borders said that Israel, that used to continuously bulldoze the borders and destroy the crops under security pretexts, has started implementing a new tactic to destroy the crops and evacuate the farmers without military vehicles.
The University of East Anglia’s student body has endorsed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in a motion passed last Thursday.
Meeting for the final time this academic year, the Council of the Union of UEA students passed the motion “in support of international law and human rights in Palestine” with 41 in favour and 15 against, with 11 abstentions.
The motion commits the SU to severing ties with companies that “facilitate Israel’s human rights abuses, military capacity, or settlement expansion”, as well as to opposing any university contract with complicit companies.
The SU also resolved to lobby the university “to adopt an academic boycott of Israeli universities” and provide scholarships for Palestinian students.
The motion describes Israel as “an apartheid state” and mentions specific crimes and abuses including illegal settlements, atrocities in Gaza, and “systematic” discrimination in both the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and inside Israel’s pre-1967 lines.
Israel’s “expansion” in the oPt is described as “a settler-colonial project, predicated on the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of its indigenous people.”
Proposed by a member of the campus Amnesty International group and seconded by the Ethnic Minorities Officer, the motion notes recent pro-BDS resolutions at NUS National Executive Council, NUS Women’s Conference, NUS Postgraduate Conference and NUS Black Students Conference.
In addition, it was recalled that students have voted for boycotts of Israel on campuses across the UK, including “Kent, Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, Kingston, Swansea, Exeter, Brunel, the University of Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Dundee, Essex, Sussex and SOAS.”
The case for BDS, according to the motion, is based on “Israel’s multitude of human rights and international law violations” and its lack of accountability. The motion affirms Palestinian students’ right to education unhindered by discrimination, and the necessity of international solidarity from students in response to the BDS campaign.
The motion asserts that “global boycotts are a non-violent, legitimate and effective tactic”, that “all other methods of pressuring Israel and the ending of the occupation have failed,” and that members of an academic community “have a responsibility to ensure that ethical considerations and social justice are at the heart of research and academia.”
The Union Council rejected a proposed amendment which would have removed BDS from the motion. Procedural motions to delay the vote were also voted down.
There are many illusions about what is happening to the Yarmouk district of Damascus and its Palestinian refugee population. The district was originally set aside in 1957 for Palestinian refugees already living there, whom Israel had expelled from their homes in 1948, with periodic additional populations thereafter. Today it is home to around one million Syrians and Palestinians, of whom the Palestinians number roughly 170,000. Palestinians in Syria have all the rights of Syrian citizens except voting, and in Yarmouk their homes are indistinguishable from those of the Syrian residents.
Starting in 2012, armed elements trying to overthrow the Assad government gained a foothold in Yarmouk. Most Palestinians disapproved, since this violated the traditional exchange of Syrian hospitality for Palestinian neutrality. However, there was no consensus among Palestinians to forcibly expel the intruders.
By June, 2013, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) had established a siege on the camp in order to prevent further encroachment toward the center of Damascus, which already receives a daily dose of random mortar attacks. (Three landed just outside my hotel in April, 2014, one killing three people.) Most of the population fled, until only 18,000 remained by October, 2013, according to Fateh leader Abbas Zaki, as reported to Ma’an News. Many thousands are now living outside the camp, in shelter provided by the Syrian government and Syrian humanitarian aid organizations.
In April, 2014 I visited a school that had been converted to living quarters for Yarmouk refugees. The accommodations were immensely crowded and by no means comfortable, a consequence of having to provide for nearly 8 million displaced people in government areas, doubling the normal population for those areas. Nevertheless, food is being provided, as well as education and health services.
Until Daesh (ISIS or the Islamic State) entered the camp on April 1, 2015, the figure of 18,000 residents continued to be reported consistently for the next year and a half despite a siege that cut off electricity and water and reduced the availability of essential food and medical supplies. More than a hundred civilians are reported to have died of starvation or lack of medical treatment during those eighteen months. Who are the remaining civilians and why are they refusing to evacuate to outside shelter like so many others?
Local humanitarian relief supervisors report (personal communication) that some of them are not from Yarmouk and some are not Palestinian. They include the families of Syrian and foreign fighters that are trying to overthrow the Syrian government by force of arms, and some of them came from districts adjacent to Yarmouk, such as the Daesh stronghold of Hajar al-Aswad. It is hard to know how many are being forcibly prevented from leaving by the armed groups in the camp and how many choose not to leave because they are afraid of the potential consequences.
Some might be considered “human shields”, used by the fighters to deter attacks against them. But they might equally be concerned about becoming “human hostages” if they leave, i.e. of being used to pressure fighters to surrender. The motivations can be complex, but no evidence has been presented to show that the Syrian government is preventing civilians from leaving the camp. In fact, 90% of the population has already left.
Is the Syrian government preventing the distribution of food and medicine in the camp?
Siege is one of the most common military strategies of the SAA. Typically, the army lays siege to an area and prevents food, medicine and of course arms from entering, to the extent possible. On the other hand it welcomes evacuation of civilians, and provides humanitarian aid to those who leave.
The objective is to remove the civilians from the area as much as possible and then attack the enemy or provoke surrender, sometimes with amnesty as an inducement. This is classic military strategy, though hard on the civilians, as usual.
In the case of Yarmouk, there is another dimension to the siege. The Syrian government has a long-standing agreement with the Palestinian governing council of the camp that it will not enter without their request. However, the council has never made such a request and the Syrian authorities have never asked for permission. This agreement still holds, although Palestinian forces defending the camp against Daesh have recently formed a joint command and are coordinating their efforts with the Syrian military, which has been providing artillery and aerial support. In addition, the army has been attacking areas adjacent to Yarmouk that are Daesh strongholds, in order to impede their access to Yarmouk and prevent resupply to Daesh forces in the camp.
There is no indication that the SAA is preventing humanitarian aid from being distributed in Yarmouk. Despite the siege, it has allowed the stockpiling of supplies on the edge of the camp and it has permitted civilians from inside to collect and distribute the aid. However, the government wants the civilians to leave, not to introduce additional persons into the camp, so it is reluctant to allow outsiders to enter, especially in consideration of the fact that they have no means of assuring their safety. Nevertheless, it has permitted humanitarian NGOs, including UNRWA, to distribute aid roughly half the time.
The result has been a modest but insufficient flow of aid to camp residents until Daesh captured much of the area. In the fighting to defend the camp and retake the Daesh-occuped areas, it has been much too dangerous for anyone to undertake aid distribution, with horrific consequences on the remaining civilians. As a result, the number of civilian residents has probably dropped to less than half of the 18,000 initial estimate, despite their qualms about evacuating.
Has the Syrian military been using barrel bombs on Yarmouk?
There is no recorded use of barrel bombs in Yarmouk before the entry of Daesh in late March, 2015. Their use in April, 2015 is confirmed, although the number of casualties due to such ordnance is astonishingly small. One or possibly two barrel bombs appear to have been dropped on the street outside the Palestine Hospital in the camp, but with no reported casualties. Higher numbers have been mentioned, but without evidence.
During the heaviest fighting, the Syrian Air Force (SAAF) has used both conventional bombs delivered by jet aircraft and “barrel” bombs in the Daesh stronghold of Hajar al-Aswad and the adjacent part of Yarmouk. Residents report hearing dozens of explosions, but it is unclear how many were in Yarmouk, how many casualties there may have been and how many were civilians. A total of 18 civilian casualties were counted in all of Yarmouk during a week of intensive fighting at the beginning of April, but none have been attributed to the barrel bombs and it is uncertain who is responsible for the killings.
Does the Syrian army massacre civilians?
One of the main complaints against barrel bombs and the tactics of the SAA is that they cause massive civilian casualties. There is no doubt that disproportionate numbers of civilian casualties have occurred on specific occasions. Overall, however, the number of civilians killed by government forces and loyalists is less than the number of casualties in the fighting forces themselves, possibly as low as two combatants for each civilian. Not since World War One has this been the case for US forces.
As for the “barrel bombs”, the claims of their use against civilians and their exaggerated savagery do not hold up. Like any bomb, they are made of high explosives, sometimes with projectiles added. In this respect they are no different from many types of explosive ordnance used in military forces throughout the world. They are designed for destruction, including destruction of life.
The complaints against them are that a) they are by nature indiscriminate and hit unintended targets and b) they are almost invariably used against civilians. The first is patently untrue. Conventional bombs are usually delivered by fighter-bombers at high speed and often in proximity to the target. In Syrian and other engagements, the speed of delivery offers protection from ground fire. Such speed also reduces accuracy, but the relative proximity to the target compensates substantially for this disadvantage.
Barrel bombs are usually deployed from relatively a greater height that is out of range of ground fire. However, they are dropped from stationary helicopters, which provides greater accuracy that compensates for the height disadvantage. There are few if any reports of barrel bombs failing to hit their intended target (although occasionally the selected target might be the result of poor intelligence).
It has been reported that thousands of barrel bombs have been used by the SAAF since 2012, when they were first deployed, and that there have been thousands of casualties from such weapons. Unfortunately, little more is known except for anecdotal cases. Although some bombs have resulted in only material destruction, others have caused two dozen or more casualties. The available data do not provide much statistical help, such as the average number of casualties per use. Is it more or less than for convention bombs or for US drone weapons, for example? How many of the casualties are civilians and how many combatants? We do not know, but the overall civilian casualty rate remains unusually low compared to most other conflicts in the past century.
What seems clear is that the western press, governments and NGOs have treated barrel bombs as the devil’s weapon. The reason seems to be that while conventional bombs are capable of inflicting just as much damage and loss of life (and are being used extensively by the Ukrainian government), western arsenals do not contain barrel bombs. If these weapons can be sufficiently vilified as a weapon type rather than by their manner of use, Syrian military forces can be blamed for inhumane weaponry without the taint falling upon nations that use different weapons, even ones that are equally or more destructive. Oddly enough, the inhumane DIME and white phosphorous weapons used in Gaza did not provoke equal condemnation, even though the ratio of Israeli military to civilian casualties has been as much as 100 times higher than for the Syrian military.
Why, then, are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Chris Gunness of UNRWA, and most western press agencies condemning the Syrian government for the use of barrel bombs, for starving camp residents, and for preventing residents from leaving? Palestinians and their supporters are accustomed to false and biased reporting on the subject of Palestine. They know that the western media work overtime to protect Israel. That is their agenda. Do they think that these agencies are unbiased with respect to Syria?
The west, Israel, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and many sycophants and puppets of western powers have made abundantly clear that they intend to overthrow the Syrian government, in violation of the UN Charter and other international law prohibiting wars of aggression, and against Syrian national sovereignty. AI, HRW, and other human rights imperialists have never once recognized these facts vis-à-vis Syria. In fact, they have supported the west’s illegal push for regime change.
Is it not also clear that western institutions and media are distorting their coverage of Syria in order to promote this goal? Apparently not, even to persons who should know better and are accustomed to seeing such distortions in the reporting on Palestine.
Paul Larudee is one of the founders of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements and an organizer in the International Solidarity Movement.
Aref Tohta with the demolition order in his hand and his family
Jerusalem, Occupied Palestine – On Wednesday night, the Tohta family received a demolition order for their house in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz. After being warned that soldiers would come early on Sunday morning for the demolition, the family was joined by a group of about a dozen international supporters. Despite the warning, nothing happened that night – leaving the family afraid that their house could be demolished at any time without prior warning.
After being told by soldiers that during a demolition they “don’t see anything in front of [them]”, meaning everything will be destroyed, Aref Tohta and his family moved their most needed and precious belongings out of the house. They piled up boxes with warm clothes and blankets for the night, as far away from the house as possible, moved animal shelters and gave the five family dogs away knowing that they would be killed in a demolition.
A demolition of the family home will leave the fifteen family members without a shelter. Twelve of them are children aged between four and eighteen years. Jenny, an ISM-volunteer, staying with the family during the night explained: “any noise – a car door slamming somewhere, a voice heard in the vicinity – made everyone turn their head towards it, fearing an imminent destruction of the house. The fear was visible on everyone’s face”.
When no demolition happened, the father believed it was because the army did not want to have an international presence documenting this aggression. Now, the family lives in constant fear of the army showing up without any prior warning and tearing down the house. Aref Tohta explained the uncertainty the family has to live with every day: “Tomorrow, I don’t know if I have a place to sleep”.
Wadi al-Joz located directly outside the Old City of Jerusalem, is a vulnerable neighborhood that has seen three demolitions in the last three weeks. On 31st of March, the army illegally demolished the Amro family home, neighbors of the Tohta’s, without any demolition order or prior warning.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Israel decided not to meet former US President Jimmy Carter and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland when they visit the region over their expected meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haneyya and over their anti-Israeli views, Yediot Ahranot revealed.
Carter and Brundtlend will arrive on April 30 for a 3-day trip to Israel, the Palestinian Authority territories, and the Gaza Strip. Israel officially decided to boycott Carter’s visit, although it will not prevent him from entering Israel or entering the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing, the newspaper said.
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin heeded the Foreign Ministry’s advice and decided not to meet former US President Jimmy Carter and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland when they visit the region.
Carter and Brundtland are both members of the Elders, an independent group of global former leaders who work together for peace and human rights. They were brought together in 2007 by Nelson Mandela.
Carter had earlier met with head of Hamas’s political bureau Khaled Mishaal and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haneyya.
Sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the reason they were boycotting Carter’s visit was because “he consistently helps delegitimize Israel and that any meeting with an Israeli official would only contribute to this process.”
Carter will arrive in the region on an emergency mission, mainly intended to mediate between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza, according to the newspaper.
Carter has been vocally critical of Israel in recent years. He has referred to Israeli apartheid numerous times.
The newspaper said that Carter has visited Israel in the last few years, but former Israeli president Shimon Peres would generally meet him even though Carter spent the meetings criticizing the former president’s views.
Jenin, Occupied Palestine – The room was overflowing with people who had come to witness the opening of the play The Siege. Pushing our way through the throng we managed to find some seats, squashed in the middle of a diverse and lively audience. We were sitting in the Freedom Theatre, a Palestinian community-based theatre and cultural centre located in Jenin Refugee Camp in the northern part of the West Bank. Started in 2006, the theatre’s aim is to generate cultural resistance through the field of popular culture and art as a catalyst for social change in the occupied Palestinian territories. So, after two months of rehearsals, they were finally ready to show us their eagerly anticipated new play.
Poster for the play – The Freedom Theatre
The day started off with a theatrical memorial for Juliano Mer-Khamis, one of the founders of the Theatre School who was shot and killed in 2011 by a masked gunman. We then watched Journey of a Freedom Fighter; a documentary that recounts the story of Rabea Turkman, a talented student of the theatre who turned from armed resistance to cultural resistance. He was subsequently shot by the Israeli army and died a few years later as a result of his injuries.
Inspired by the true story of a group of freedom fighters, now exiled across Europe and Gaza, The Siege tells of a moment in history that took place during the height of the second intifada in 2002. The Israeli army had surrounded Bethlehem from the air and on land with snipers, helicopters and tanks, blocking all individuals and goods from coming in or out. For 39 days, people were living under curfew and on rations, with their supply of water cut and little access to electricity. Along with hundreds of other Palestinians, monks, nuns and ten activists from the International Solidarity Movement, these five freedom fighters took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, one of the holiest sites in the world.
The play gives some insight into what it was like to be trapped inside the church, surviving on so little, with the smell of decaying dead bodies in the building, shot by Israeli snipers. It brings out the hard choice they were faced with between surrendering or resisting until the end. However, no matter what they chose, they were given no other option than to leave behind their family and homeland for ever, as all the freedom fighters – in reality 39 – were deported and have not been able to come back since.
The play exceeded all expectations! Everyone seemed amazed by what they had just witnessed. We talked with Osama, a student and a friend from the Freedom Theatre School who was brought up in Al Azzeh refugee camp, in Bethlehem. His words were lost in the power of his emotion. “I would have loved to play in that show!”, he finally managed to share. Only 12 at the time when the tanks entered his city, the show related so much to his childhood and brought back many memories of that time in his life. He recounts how the loud bang, heard at the start of the play, was a reenactment of the shot that had pierced the city’s water tank. This sound is still strongly engrained in his mind as it was the start of the long and difficult days that the inhabitants were about to face. “We are under occupation, but we are not weak. We stand up with what we can, be it our bodies, our voices or our guns!” – Osama believes in armed resistance as one of many ways to fight the occupation. And as an actor, it is important for him to represent these resisters in “another way, a good way. We die because we want to live!”
Alaa Shehada, the assistant director of the play, explained a bit about the making of The Siege. During their research period, they had gone over to Europe and interviewed 13 refugees in order to hear their stories first hand. They even managed to get an interview with one of the 26 refugees in Gaza. He explained how this story is not just about what happened during 2002, but is a microcosm of the whole Palestinian struggle. It reveals the continuous Israeli propaganda that has been going on since 1948, representing the Palestinians as terrorists through false accusations. In this particular situation, the Israeli army blamed the fighters for having attacked the church and holding the monks inside it. This has later been proven to be a lie. The truth being that the monks had allowed the fighters in and they were working together during the whole time of the siege. Ultimately, during the 67 years of Israeli occupation, even with the whole world watching, there has been no justice for the Palestinian people. 50% of Palestinians are refugees from their own country and still have not been given the right to return.
At the Freedom Theatre, Cultural Resistance is their way of defying the occupation. Ahmed Jamil Tobassi, one of the actors from the show, explained that among many other things, theatre creates a context that can support other forms of resistance. It revives stories, gives people a way of expressing themselves and ultimately frees the mind. The idea of cultural resistance is to work alongside other forms of resistance, not against. Yet “if you cannot start by deconstructing the occupation within yourself, how are you going to be able to free the country from the bigger, external occupation?” argues Jonatan Stanczak, managing director of the Theatre.
During the months of May and June, this play will be touring the United Kingdom, a country the theatre group has not yet been too. It is also as a message for the British to take responsibility for their prominent role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the ongoing occupation.
You can get more information on the dates and the play on the Freedom Theatre UK Friends website: www.thefreedomtheatreukfriends.com
Frida and Jenny.